My Father In Reflection
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Three Short Fiction Stories from my Father.
Sprits of the Times
He examined the decorating with a critical eye and turned around as he sensed the other man approaching. “Oh, hello George; I was just looking at the decorating. What do you think?”
“Good morning Robert. Yes, I suppose it looks all right, although, as you know, I am no great authority on internal decorating.”
“Nor are you an expert on external decorating either, as I recall.”
“Well that was the bloody ladder’s fault, George, not mine.”
“I am not too certain about the colour scheme. It is all a bit too lurid for me. I like magnolia as a colour. You can’t go too far wrong with that.”
“That’s old fashioned nonsense, my friend. I suppose that next you will be telling me that you like anaglypta wallpaper?”
“What’s wrong with it? It covers a lot of faults.”
“Rubbish, the walls just crumble behind it. Noah had anaglypta in the bloody Arc.’
Robert shrugged. “Oh well, opinions differ. Let’s have a look at the kitchen.”
In the kitchen they found Debbie, looking thoughtful and stroking her chin.
“Hello, boys. What do you think?”
George nodded. “Big changes. It looks very modern and trendy.”
“And much easier on the woman of the house.” Robert instantly regretted his words.
Debbie was instant in her reply. “And you still wonder why your wife left you?”
George pointed to the far wall. “When I moved in there was a wood burning range alongside there.”
“What was that like?”
“Bloody awful, there was smoke and soot everywhere but bloody warm in winter.”
Robert added his opinion. “Not only that but everyone smoked. It was like living in a permanent blue haze.”
Debbie looked out the window. “A car has just pulled up. I think it is that real estate woman. Do we want to hear what she thinks?”
Robert was eager. “Yes, please, I heard her say the other day that she would check the finished job. I think she might also bring a possible buyer with her.”
The two men agreed. “Yes.”
“But no noises, please,” warned Debbie.
They heard the front door opening and two women entered, walked into the hall and then into the lounge room. The younger woman, aged about thirty, carried a file and clip board on which she busily made notes.
The other woman, aged about fifty stood in the centre of the room, slowly pivoting as she looked at the decor. “Very nice. Really good work.”
George exchanged glances with Robert and whispered, “See what I mean; she agrees with me.”
Robert snarled back. “She doesn’t even know you exist, you idiot.”
“Or you, you dick.”
Debbie glared at her companions and hissed “Be quiet, children.”
The tour of inspection continued with the younger woman continuing to make her notes and the older continuing to make appreciative noises. The three watchers smiled at each other, clearly in approval of the developing rapport between the two main characters.
Finally the older woman smiled. “Bethany, thank you. We don’t need to go any further. You have convinced me. I will put in an offer and speak to my solicitors as soon as I get home. Thank you.”
“Rose, I am delighted. Thank you.” They shook hands and a few minutes later left the house together and drove away.
The watchers smiled broadly. “I approve,” said Robert and the other two nodded in agreement.
“She seems a pleasant woman,” said George.
“Now remember, you two”, warned Debbie, “No weird noises in the middle of the night or she’ll think the bloody place is haunted.”
They all laughed, creating a faint wind which rattled the windows.
Some Days Are Diamonds, Some Aren’t
Sharon was not happy, not happy at all. Most Monday mornings failed to impress her, and this one was no exception. Things had begun badly before she even left her flat, but she preferred not to dwell on that. Now, things got steadily worse.
She couldn’t find a seat on the train and had bags of trouble trying to apply her make up while standing. To be truthful, she spent more time staggering than standing and was momentarily pleased when Southern Rail arrived, only seven minutes late, at Waterloo.
“Damm, damm, damm,” she snarled as she pushed down the stairs towards the Underground. Someone in the throng trod on the back of her right shoe, and she was shuffled to the passage way hopping on one leg. “Give me a break you bastards.” Finally she was able to stop and examine the shoe. She closed her eyes in anger and frustration. The bloody heel was broken. Sharon limped onto the Bakerloo line train with her fellow passengers looking at her very strangely. “The heel is broken,” she snapped at no one in particular. “I didn’t leave the house like this.” They looked away in silence. She twisted her face in what she hoped was a derisive look. “Tossers”, she snarled to herself.
It was then that she seemed to have something in her eye and she rubbed angrily at the irritation. Big mistake! She caught sight of her image in the glass of the train window and saw a scowling girl with one black eye staring back. She ground her teeth in helpless anger.
The Tube train stopped just outside Leicester Square Station and after being stationary seven or eight minutes, an announcement informed the over heating passenger that there was some kind of security alert at Holborn and the train would terminate at Leicester Square.
“Bugger shit bugger.” Sharon intoned this mantra with increasing fervour as the train limped painfully into the station. In the time this operation took to accomplish, the man beside her exuded rising levels of body odour and she was seriously groped from behind. The train was so packed that she was unable to twist round and identify the offender. Eventually they were disgorged onto the platform. Sardines receive better treatment than passengers of London transport.
She struggled to street level where a fine drenching rain had started. Sharon looked at the grey heavens. “What have I ever done to you, God?” There were no taxis and she finally caught a bus, arriving at her office thirty minutes late, very wet, and as savage as a wounded tiger. She was greeted by George, the security officer, glancing at her black eye and dishevelled appearance. “Good afternoon, Miss Temple. Have you taken up boxing?”
“How very droll, George. Have you considered a career move, to the Palladium perhaps?”
Sharon’s first stop was the Ladies where she repaired the ravages to her face but was unable to do much with her shoe. She went to her boss’s office to apologise for being late. Ben stopped her. “Don’t worry about it; I heard about the problem on the Tube. I was late myself. Look, I need to turn this report into the Queen’s English by lunchtime.”
Relieved, Sharon took the report and invited Mr Gates to help her. It was a struggle, even with spell checks and clever Microsoft tools. On her seventh or eighth mistake she realised that her mind was not in the office, but on her problems and the turmoil of her life. Who was to blame, who was responsible for her situation. What was happening? She had split with Simon, before taking up with Nick; in between there has been Zac, briefly and unsuccessfully. Had they caused this, or had her parents failed her. No, my girl, this is down to you, just you.
Sally from the Marketing Department breezed in. “Fancy a drink at lunchtime?”
“No, I don’t. Sod off you drunk.”
“Well, excuse me for breathing.” Sally flounced off.
“What should I do? Phone Simon? Call Nick? Zac, screw him.”
Finally, the day ended and Sharon shuffled home, wearing a spare pair of shoes which she had borrowed from Sally, after a grovelling apology. It was still raining and the whole obdurate day depressed her. She wanted to get home, but suspected that home would depress her further. It did. She opened the door to her flat and stood in the doorframe dripping, her blonde hair resembling rats’ tails. She pulled off her wet clothes and went into the bathroom, leaving a trail of crumpled clothing.
“Here we go,” she said out loud and took out the hated test kit. Sharon held her breath as the process developed in front of her eyes. The result was the same as it had been in the morning. “Shit. I’m bloody pregnant.” She thought about Simon and Nick and Christ Almighty, sodding Zac. Shit.
Message in a Bottle
They clung together, standing on a small headland overlooking the English Channel, the wind flicking their clothing. Sarah, with Richard’s strong arms enveloping her, felt small and safe, more like nine than nineteen. Her reverie was broken by the sound of an aircraft engine and reluctantly they broke apart to gaze skywards.
“Spitfire?” she guessed.
He shielded his eyes against the weak May sunshine. “Yes, a Mark XI, I think, a PR job. Probably been taking pictures over France.”
She took his hand. “It must be soon”. It was half question, half statement.
“I hope so. If it doesn’t come soon, England will sink into the sea with the weight of all the men and tanks and stuff.”
She gently touched the blue and white ribbon of the DFC nestling under his RAF wings. “You won’t be too brave, will you?”
He grinned at her. “You know me, it’s against my religion. I’m a devout coward.”
“Please be careful Richard. Remember I love you.”
He kissed her. “Don’t worry, I’ll be all right. When I get back…..”
She put her finger to his lips. “We can talk about that when it is all over.”
“I wish the damm thing would start.” He looked at his watch. “I have to be getting back to the station.”
They walked back to the little MG, Sarah’s senses trying to capture and hold the moment, the roughness of Richard’s uniform against her skin, the gentle smells of an English spring in her nostrils.
He dropped her at the hospital and she watched the car until the throaty sound of the engine died away. She sat in the garden and was aware of the hot tears starting their path down her face.
“May I join you?”
Sarah’s head jerked guiltily. “Oh, please, Sister. I’m sorry, I don’t know your name. I’ve only been here for two weeks.”
The older woman smiled, lighting up her face, and lending a beauty to her face. “Thank you, I’m Sister Malloy, and you are?”
“Nurse Archer, Sarah Archer.”
“Was that your young man?”
“Yes. Richard. He’s in the RAF.”
“Will he be going to France?”
“Well, he can’t say, but they will all be going to France, won’t they?”
The older woman nodded. “They all will. My young man went to France in 1916. I was a trainee nurse, here at this hospital. On his last day before leaving we walked on the cliffs over by Lovers’ Leap.”
Sarah gave a little gasp. “Richard and I were there today.”
“Yes, I know you were, my dear. Michael and I had a small picnic there. Afterwards we wrote down our hopes for the future and put them in two lemonade bottles and threw them into the sea.”
An icy hand was beginning to grip Sarah’s stomach. “Did you get them back?”
“Well dear, mine came back, after a few months. It only got as far as the Isle of Wight.”
“And Michael’s?” Sarah already knew the answer.
“No, never, only mine.”
Sarah dreaded the next question, but had to ask it. “And Michael?” The fear was rising in Sarah, constricting her throat.
“No, he didn’t come back either. Michael was killed on the first day of the Somme, like thousands of other boys. I must go, dear. God bless you.” Sarah watched as Sister Malloy walked away around the corner of the hospital.
In the evening as she went on duty she met the Matron, a fearsome creature. “Matron, where does Sister Malloy work?”
“Malloy, Sister Malloy. The only one I knew was Mad Molly. She worked here during the last War. As I remember it, her chap died on the Somme and she killed herself in 1921 or 1922. Threw herself over Lovers Leap. It’s sometimes called Molly’s Jump around here. Why?”
Sarah’s heart leaped; she could taste the fear rising in her throat. “No reason, thank you, Matron.”
When she came off duty at 8AM, Sarah walked in the soft spring rain to Lovers’ Leap. She carried a bottle in which she had sealed a note. She hurled it into the sea, 200 feet below. The note said. “Richard, I love you. Come home safe.”
Written by B.M