A Magical Object – Week 30 of the 52 week short story challenge

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It is hidden on the lowest shelf of the display cabinet; tucked between a Peter Rabbit christening mug, a pale blue lustre-ware coffee set and a Jubilee medal. It is only hidden to prevent small hands from taking it out – although those hands are no longer small.

She knows it is there. She has known it all her life; has been privileged to hold it, to feel the weight of it in her hand and smell the leather sheath that protects it. There are others too: larger and more frightening than this replica which sits in her hand so comfortably.

During the war her father was a Marine. He could often be distracted into telling tales of his experiences but it was when he talked about the Ghurkhas that she listened intently, hanging on to every word. Often she would curl up on his lap. She was his little Chuckles and he was her hero.

Photos and memories of that time portray him as a tall man with a mop of curly hair that he controlled with Brylcream. That is how she sees him in her mind still. Carrying her from a bus trip to see his oldest sister; her blonde head tucked into his neck, feigning sleep until they got home.

He had seen it all during the war. Death and disorder. His time in Malaya sparked his admiration of the Ghurkhas. He had stood chest high in the freezing sea helping to assist his fellow soldiers onto dry land. The sadness and futility of war saddened his mind and the bitter cold affected his heart and chest, and would be the death of him one day. Having travelled, he had little or no ambition left, would not learn to drive or rise above his steady job in a supermarket warehouse.

His wife had a lust for learning; she wanted to travel, to holiday in somewhere more exotic than Hayling Island or Highcliffe. Over the years she became more dissatisfied and found excuses to stay later at work rather than come home to a man she had begun to despise.

Her parents were not well-matched. Sometimes he would shout and sometimes he would sulk; his sulks turned into a depression that could last for weeks. Her mother was the one with the fiery temper; in snapshots of time she was shaking her fist and scowling at whoever had the temerity to take her photograph, but she was warm too, and loving and always wanted the very best for her children. She  had fallen out of love with him long before she left and it was only the children that kept them together.

He gave his children legacies though. He made them hot chocolate with rum in it; sprinkled curry powder on their dinners and got them up in the middle of the night to glory in the spectacle of a thunderstorm. As a consequence, even now, his youngest daughter loves rum and thunderstorms although she got into trouble for asking for curry powder to spice up her school dinners.

Her parents split up when she was ten years old. She was Daddy’s girl and a part of her wanted to stay with him but she was the youngest, trauma touched them all and she left in the middle of the night with her mother. She chose not to see her father for another six years.

When they met up again he had changed. No longer tall, rather portly and his glossy black hair was grizzled and grey. He looked like Albert Tatlock from Coronation Street. It didn’t matter though, he was still her Dad and she was still his little Chuckles.

When she moved into a shared house, he brought her a small black kitten so that she would have reason to come home at night. Sprog. A wild and often malicious creature that liked to hide in the bottom of sleeping bags and emerge like a bullet from a gun when the occupier’s feet made contact. He would also lay in wait for the housemate who had to go through her room to get to his own. He was no match for a fluffy black cannonball with needle sharp claws.

Once a fortnight, regular as clockwork, her father would send her a postal order for three pounds. Her maintenance, it often paid for a takeaway curry or a drink or two at the Students’ Union bar. His cooking never really improved; most things were cooked to a crisp or had a strange mixture of ingredients. She visited every week for the evening and they would watch TV together; he burping gently and she sucking a tactfully concealed indigestion tablet.

He approved of the man she chose to be her husband, and lived long enough to meet and hold both his grandsons. In the same year that his youngest grandson was born he was struck down by a fatal heart attack. He went quickly. He went the way he would have wanted to go; in the middle of making tea and coffee for a group of workmen who were installing central heating in his block of flats. They gave him CPR but it was no good. The damage done by the cruel sea all those years ago finally took its toll.

Her brother had the big Ghurkha knives after their father died but he remembered her attachment to the little replica knife and this is why it sits in her display cabinet now, why she takes it out sometimes to stroke it and smell the leather sheath, and remember the man who brought it home from the war.

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