Woke up this morning at half past three with a bloody great crash bang! I thought the house was falling down, or the Royal Philharmonic had crept into the attic to play the 1812 overture. But no. It was just the mother and father of all thunderstorms.
And then I thought, hell’s teeth, the washing. The line out in the garden was loaded with it. All dry. (Which is important when you are a dilettante washerwoman).
I thought about leaving it. And then I thought about all the other washing waiting to go out…So two minutes later there I was, in my jammies, lightning cracking over the greenhouse, feverishly tearing the pegs off the line and throwing clothes in a basket while raindrops as fat as grapes burst on my head and shoulders.
Then there was another enormous kettle drum of thunder and, almost instantly, the sky split with a horizontal flash as if it were taking a picture of the garden.
The pattering on the leaves stilled for a moment, and then the rain roared down. I picked up my basket and fled.
Back upstairs, job done, I dried myself off, went back to bed with a cup of tea, consoled two uncertain dogs and watched the lightning arc across our neighbour’s field. I felt very, very smug.
Until I had to get up four hours later.
Sybil and Edie went out together every week. Edie loved those trips. Every Sunday they would get in Sybil’s car and go somewhere different for lunch. Sometimes, on a Monday, if there was a special deal for pensioners, they went to the cinema. Sometimes, on a Wednesday, because Edie and Sybil loved watching TV programmes about antiques, they went to an auction. And sometimes, Marge or Phil would go too. It was fun.
Edie’s daughter Tessa came to visit. ‘Sybil has this great idea,’ Edie said. ‘She’s put a little box between the front seats in her car. She’s cut a slot in the top, so whoever gets a lift can put money in the box to help pay for her petrol.’
‘Why’s that great?’ said Tessa. ‘Why can’t she just ask for a contribution?’
‘Well, said Edie. ‘That would be embarrassing. And this way, we can put a pound in whenever we like.’
‘A pound?’ said Tessa.
Edie looked at her daughter. ‘To help with the costs.’
‘Yes,’ said Tessa. ‘But think of the cost of petrol. You’d need to put more in than just one pound.’
‘I know that,’ said Edie. ‘Sometimes I put in two.’
Picture via Creative Commons, courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/teegardin/5737272581/
Edward King was 92 when he moved into a care home. He hadn’t wanted to leave his house. ‘I’m perfectly all right,’ he told his daughter.
Edward, a retired builder, had lived alone, ever since his wife Doris had run off 20 years before with an encyclopaedia salesman.
Shortly after Edward’s daughter sold the house, the new owners found the body of a man behind a false wall. Detectives naturally thought it was the encyclopaedia salesman and went to see Edward, but he kept telling them, ‘Stop harassing me. You’ve got the wrong man.’
Detectives soon found out, indeed, that the dead body had never been an encyclopaedia salesman. ‘Told you you had the wrong man,’ said Edward. ‘I put Doris’s lover under the patio.’
pictures courtesy of http://www.dailyfinance.com/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/ via Creative Commons
Jim was from Yorkshire. He didn’t like fancy food, people from Lancashire, or modern art. His daughter Tessa took him to an art show. It was full of abstract paintings.
‘Any fool could paint them,’ Jim said. ‘How can a blue splodge be a nude woman with a fan? Why don’t they just call it, ‘Blue splodge?’ I could do better than that.’
‘Go on then,’ said Tessa.
Jim bought paints and canvas. A year later his picture was accepted by the Royal Academy of Arts for its summer exhibition.
‘It’s just lots of big red splodges,’ said Tessa. ‘What’s it called?’
‘Load of old bollocks,’ said Jim.
Story inspired by Bruce Goodman’s post Picture at an exhibition
Picture by kind permission of the Canham junior art collective.
Edie liked to play Scrabble with her friend Bunny. Edie was 93 and Bunny was 97. Every Tuesday they got together, drank tea, ate cake, gossiped and played Scrabble. Bunny always won. She knew all the two-letter words off by heart; words such as jo and xu and za. Edie would have liked to have won, just once. But she knew that was never going to happen. Then Bunny died, quite suddenly, in the early hours of a Monday morning. Bunny’s daughter Fran came to break the news.
‘Shall we play Scrabble?’ said Edie. She didn’t know what else to do. She got out the cake she had made for Bunny, and poured the tea. They sat down and Edie began to win. She put a seven-letter word down. She scored 108 with a crafty placement of a j and a z on a triple word score. She thought of how Bunny would react at the news. Then she put her rack of letters on the table. ‘I’m fed up with this,’ she said.
Caroline was having trouble with a guy at work. He kept asking her out, and she kept refusing, because after all, she loved her husband. Then she went on a business trip. That night in her hotel bedroom she sat down to text her husband. ‘ Miss you darling. Love you. Xxx.’ And then she clicked the wrong button and sent it to the guy at work.
This is my solitary contribution to National Poetry Writing Month. I have no idea where it came from, apart from the end of my pen:
The feathered shadows of the grass now lie
Against the moon. Its light is falling on
The shivering lake. And soon I shiver too.
I can’t escape the flat and sober calm
Of voices from the news, that follow me
As I run, stumbling, screaming to the stars,
My hand upon my growing, beating belly.
I fall face down upon the sucking mud
And dig my fingers in the slime.
I hold on now as bodies in the streets
Let go of life, and sirens scream among
The bloody shops. I am that empty shoe;
That piece of skirt; that constant lonely phone.
And you were constant once. ‘I like a bit
Of peace,’ you said, and gently touched my hands.
It takes a gentle touch to wire a bomb
And tell it to obey. I know that now.
I loved you then. You made me laugh that day
Beside the lake when I forgot the cups.
You knelt by me and cupped your hands instead.
You stroked my chin, you smiled; my face was wet.
I broke the silent years and stumbled out
My secret hopes to you. But you were blank
And deep inside I knew you would not stay.
Deep in that dark and silent space, the place
I call my soul, I knew what you were doing.
I knew, and kept my knowledge locked.
I knew and did not know. I can’t explain.
I don’t know why I never spoke, except
That night we spent in silence by the fire,
Flames on your glowing skin; our whispering clothes.
Your eyes met mine and then they slid away;
You touched my lips. How silent could I be?
And then last night in bed you sat up stark
And quivered at the quiet note that came
From someone else’s lips. You slipped into
Your clothes and coat and out into the dark.
You made a bomb and planted it – for what?
It took the earth apart. I saw it on TV.
You made a bomb and planted it in me.
© Elaine Canham 2014
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear in the garden centre,
the time of messing about in the potting shed has come,
and the voice of the lawn mower
is heard in our land.
My next door neighbour was, I think, a fully paid up member of that dying breed – the British eccentric. Every morning, Mr P.,as I shall call him, came out of his decaying house (or his gentleman’s residence, as he liked torefer to it) and stood, in his pyjamas and dressing gown on his front lawn ready to torment the dog next door. This dog, a friendly enough Jack Russell, belonged to Vi, a sturdy widow, who had no time for Mr P. Not surprising, really, given that as soon as Mr P spied the dog he would start skipping up and down, waving his walking stick and hooting loudly. The dog, Muffy by name, after a second of startled staring, would then hurl herself at the fence, barking and howling with increasing frenzy, until Vi came out to get her.
‘I keep telling you Mr P, you’re driving my dog mad! You’re not to do this!’ said Vi, gathering the squirming dog into her arms, and glaring at our neighbour.
But Mr P would simply lean on his walking stick, look at her kindly and say, ‘It has to be done, Mrs Dillon. Has to be done. I’m training her to attack burglars.’
Which was all very well until the day he had to call on Vi, and Muffy bit him in the leg.
There’s a little park in the City of London that is like a secret, other world. It’s been built in the ruins of a Christopher Wren church that was bombed in the war. You walk up the steps, through the archway, and, well, you’re in Narnia. It has little paths, and all sorts of exotic plants, and miniature lawns, and in the middle is a pool and a circle of benches surrounding it. There is no noise of traffic and, on a summer’s day, above you there is only dappled sunlight and a blue, blue sky – if you’re lucky, that is, because this is London we’re talking about.
So there I was, sitting on one of those benches at lunchtime, eating a prawn mayonnaise sandwich from the Tesco Metro on Eastcheap and generally wondering if anybody would notice I didn’t go back to the office, when this bloke wandered in, and sat down next to me.
He was in his late sixties, maybe; he had quite a craggy face and grey hair, and he was wearing a tweed jacket and a polo neck jumper and jeans. I didn’t pay too much attention to him, after all, he was just another passing stranger. But then I noticed he had reached down into the little backpack by his side and instead of a camera, or a sandwich or a book, he had brought out a CD case, and then he just sat there with it on his lap, staring at it. Well then, I looked at the case too, and it said, I am not kidding, H&R Block tax prep CD, whatever that meant. I thought he was a bit weird, finished my sandwich and went back to work, on time for a change.
Next day, he was in there again, same bench as me again, and this time, when he got the CD out, he started crying. Not the sort of frenzied weeping, that would make you think he really was crazy, but just slow tears dropping on the case. I thought about moving, but I couldn’t leave him like that, so I rummaged in the bag I’d got with that day’s sandwich (beef and horseradish), got out the little paper napkin it came with and passed it to him, and he took it without a word and blew his nose.
I said something like, ‘Are you all right?’ And he nodded. After a bit he just looked at me and shrugged and tried to smile.
‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘I appreciate your kindness.’
So he was an American.
I said something like, ‘Oh that’s ok,’ and opened my yoghurt, and when I’d had about three spoonfuls, he began to talk.
‘I used to meet my wife here,’ he said. ‘We started coming when it opened, in 1970. Before we married.’ He paused. ‘She died last month. In the Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles.’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’ Which sounded a bit inadequate, so I added, ‘Was she an American too?’
He smiled then. ‘No, she was a Brit like you. From Tunbridge Wells. Feisty. God was she feisty. I met her at the Grosvenor Square riots in 1968. We’d both come to protest about the Vietnam war and got more than we bargained for, let me tell you. We had police horses coming at us, and cops swinging their batons. And they’d closed the square off so nobody could get out. God, what a mess; I’d just gone there for a peaceful protest, and next thing I knew some cop was taking a swipe at me, and this girl, who’d I’d never seen before, just whacked him, just like that with this stupid beaded hippy bag. Well that was us both in the cooler.’
I looked at this man again. I was trying to imagine him as a young student. He looked at me and smiled.
‘I know what you’re thinking,’ he said. ‘I’m just a college professor now. Some old fart. But we old people were young once too, you know. Hey,’ he grinned. ‘I’m younger than Mick Jagger.’
‘Everybody’s younger than Mick Jagger,’ I said. ‘Even God.’
He laughed and looked around at the soft grey walls and the shining trees.
‘Well, go on,’ I said. ‘Don’t keep me in suspense. What happened then?
He shrugged. ‘So after we’d been formally introduced by the cops, we kind of hit it off big time. She worked near here and I was at Imperial College. I used to come and see her at lunchtimes, and then when this garden opened we came here all the time. And then I got my degree and we got married, and then we moved to California.’
He reached into his jacket and pulled out his wallet. ‘That’s her. Jeanie. On our honeymoon in New York.’
I peered at the picture of the pair of them; he had black hair then, and plenty of it, and an extremely dodgy moustache, and she looked like Ali McGraw in Love Story, and they were both holding some ridiculous glass apple paperweight or something and pulling faces at it. ‘Big Apple, ‘ he said. ‘Yeah? We bought it as a joke.’
I put the empty yoghurt pot in the bag with the sandwich wrapper.
‘We never came back,’ he went on, grasping the CD case.’Not until now.’ He looked around the garden. ‘It’s even more beautiful than it was then.’
There was a long silence, and then I couldn’t avoid the question any longer. ‘Look, I’m sorry, but what is it with the CD? I mean you can’t have her ashes in there…’ I trailed off. Why did I always have to be so tactless and blundering? The bloke looked as if I’d stabbed him. He grasped the CD case even more tightly if anything, and then he just sighed, big time, and opened it. Inside was a pressed flower.
‘She took it the last day we came,’ he said. ‘To remind her. She was going to come back. We were always going to come back, but we had kids and commitments and then when we had the time she got sick, and she made me promise that I would come after she…’ he breathed deeply. ‘After she died.’
He touched the flower very gently with his forefinger, and then, of course, just as I was going to say something sensitive and lovely, my mobile phone rang. It was work. I should have just ignored the call. Graham, my boss, was on the warpath. ‘You’re late, again,’ he said. ‘Where the hell are you? I’ll have to give you a verbal warning, now, and one more of those and you are on your way out, Karen.’
‘I’m really sorry,’ I began, looking at the guy and his cd flower. I stood up and moved away a little. ‘I’ll be…
‘Cut the crap,’ said Graham. ‘I want you back in five.’
In five? Who says ‘in five? ‘In five minutes, Graham. You’re not on TV you know, you’re a bloody IT monkey.’
‘Don’t you speak to me like that. I have people lining up to do your job.’
‘Well bloody get them, then. I’m resigning. You can stuff your job where the sun don’t shine.’ I rang off and then turned back to the guy.
‘I’m really sorry about that…’ I began. Only he wasn’t there.
There was nobody in that lovely park at all, just me and some faded petals on a seat.
I wrote this story as a challenge from Geanieroake, who gave me three objects I had to include; a cell phone, a red apple paperweight, and a CD entitled H&R Block tax prep CD.