Suitable Arrangements for Annie

Ginny Swart

Email: ginny@ginnyswart.com


“Maggie, wait! You’re going too fast, wait for me!”

Annie’s relentless whine bore into Margaret’s brain. She tightened her fist until her nails dug into her palm, something she’d started doing a lot lately to stop herself.

Doing what? Violence against the three hundred pounds of sweating lard that lumbered behind her?

She took a deep breath and turned, smiling patiently as she waited for her older sister to catch up.

“Look, Maggie, what I picked. Flowers!”

Annie’s guileless blue eyes beamed into her own as she thrust a ragtag of wild flowers and weeds under her nose.  Smellies! For you!”

“Thank you, Annie, they’re lovely.”

A woman walked past them, smiling in sympathy.   

“Not for you!” roared Annie belligerently. “For my sister! Flowers!”

“Yes, the lady knows that,” said Margaret quietly. “Let’s go home, Annie. Tea time.”

“Doughnuts?” asked Annie hopefully.

“Doctor Harris said no doughnuts, Annie, you know you’re on a diet.”

“Don’t like a diet.”

Her moon face crumpled beneath the lank grey hair, her soft shapeless lips trembling at the disappointment of a treat denied.

I don’t know why I bother, thought Margaret wearily. Months of fighting about sweets and cakes and all she’s lost is four pounds. I can’t cope with the misery.

“Don’t cry Annie, we’ll buy a doughnut then,” she said.

“Won’t cry!” Annie brightened immediately. “A chocolate doughnut?”

“Sure, why not.”

As she opened the front gate, Margaret automatically checked the post box for an official brown envelope, but of course there was nothing. Mrs Wolfson from Social Services had made it clear it was pointless to hope.  

“No letters for you,” boomed Annie, pouncing on the brightly coloured flyer inside.  “One for me. Pretty letter!”

Annie hoarded a mountain of glossy advertisements in her room and at night she shuffled through them, crooning with pleasure.

“Lucky Annie. Timeshare in Portugal ? That would be fun, wouldn’t it? You go and look at it, I’ll make tea.”

Margaret switched on the kettle and dropped tea bags into two plastic mugs. Annie had chipped or broken all their mother’s delicate china and these days plastic just seemed more practical.

Then she took the wad of dying weeds from her pocket and threw them into the bin, careful to hide them under an old bread wrapper in case Annie noticed. Her sister was unexpectedly observant about odd things like that, even though she couldn’t find her way home from the bus stop two blocks away.

“Wash your hands, Annie. Here’s your doughnut.”

Silently, Margaret looked away as Annie tore noisily into the confectionary, sticky crumbs spraying across the table as she chewed  with gusto.

            “You should close your mouth when you - ” Oh what was the use.

Watching her sister eat turned her stomach. Her table manners had grown worse in the last twelve months. In fact since their mother’s death she seemed to have deteriorated in every way. Her appalling weight and gargantuan appetite, her behaviour, her booming voice. Her rank smell.   

Margaret remembered the years of hot, shaming embarrassment at the reaction of school friends when they discovered Daft Annie was her sister. The fat loony who shouted at people from behind the gate.

It wasn’t fair of Mum, she thought dully. Making spaniel eyes at me while she was dying, clutching my hand and making me promise.  Annie’s dragging me down, suffocating me, a dead weight that’s pinning me inside this awful old house for ever. She ruined my school life and now she’s destroying any chance I have of happiness. Forty-eight isn’t too old to find someone, other women do.

But I’ll never meet anyone while I’m tied to Annie.

 “Maggie? Why you look so cross?” 

Like an automaton, she waited with a wet cloth while the endless helpings of sugar were carelessly scooped into the mug, then quietly wiped the granules spilled across the table. 

“I’m not cross, Annie,” she said, unclenching her fingers and rubbing away the red crescents dug into her palms. “Just tired.”

Margaret wished her mother hadn’t left them that wretched little nest egg. Once Mrs Wolfson had found out about that, she’d laughed.

“Your chances of getting your sister into any State facility are just about nil,” she said. “If you have private resources I’m afraid you are expected to pay for a private home yourself.”

“My mother enquired before she died, but their fees are enormous. I couldn’t earn enough to keep Annie in one of those. And the money my mother left is disappearing pretty quickly.”

“I’m sorry, but these days if there is a family member able to care for Annie, I really can’t recommend her for a place. Much as I’d like to in your case. But it’s not as if Annie is violent, is she?”

Margaret almost said that it wasn’t Annie she need worry about when it came to violence, but just smiled politely.

“We’ll manage, I suppose.”

As Annie started to lick the doughnut wrapper with wet voluptuous slurps, Margaret  gently removed it from her. A familiar pain started to throb behind her eyes.

“TV, Annie? I’ll switch it on.”


Annie’s favourite programme. She waddled through to the lounge and dropped heavily into her armchair. The springs had long since been crushed into submission, and Margaret knew she would be settled there until bedtime.   

She went to the bathroom for some aspirin, glancing into her sister’s room as she passed. The huge sheaf of colourful flyers spilled across the carpet in a careless swathe. Estate agents, clothing sales, offers of discounted computers. More mess.

She bent to pick them up and a coarse brown envelope slipped out and fluttered to the floor.

Miss M. Livingstone.

From the Department of Social Services.

Suddenly unable to breathe, she ripped it open with fingers that shook slightly.

“I am pleased to inform you that a place has become vacant at the Shearwater  Home  for the severely mentally impaired.”

I’m free, she exulted silently. Free! Free!

“If you wish to take up this place for your sister Anne, please advise me by the end of this month or I will assume you have been able to make other arrangements and offer the place to someone else.


Betty Wolfson.

Underneath Mrs Wolfson had added, “Isn’t this a stroke of luck?”

It was dated four months previously.

Margaret read it twice, her mouth dry. 

Well then, she’d just have to make those other arrangements.

She picked up the feather pillow from Annie’s bed and walked slowly towards the front room, the screeching of the Tweenies drowning the thudding of her traitor’s heart.

Detached, from somewhere near the ceiling, Margaret watched herself enter the room quietly and stand behind Annie. She noticed how her own hands shook as she held the pillow above her sister’s head, her mother’s garnet ring twinkling reproachfully on her little finger.

She looked down at Annie’s straggly parting, scattered with flecks of dandruff and sighed. I must remember to buy some of that special shampoo tomorrow and use it when I wash her hair, she thought.

“Maggie? Come sit by me. Tweenies.” Annie looked up and smiled widely, patting the arm of her chair. “You like Tweenies?”

Margaret sat down shakily. She panted slightly, as if someone had just punched her in the stomach.

“Love the Tweenies, Annie,” she said.


©2009 Ginny Swart

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