A Secret – Week 40 of the 52 week short story challenge

‘Whose turn is it now?’

Suzie looked round the table and pointed at her aunt.

‘Auntie Carole! Come on Auntie Carole. You must have a secret tucked away?’

Carole felt a cold shiver down her spine and did her best to avoid looking at her mother who was sitting next to Suzie.

‘I might have to think about that Suzie. Move on to someone else while I do?’

Suzie looked disappointed but turned instead to her Uncle Paul.

‘How about you Paul?’

Squeezing his wife’s hand, Paul looked as if he were dredging up a past memory.

‘I know,’ he said. ‘Before I was courting your Auntie Marie, I actually fancied her friend Deborah. In fact I thought I was going to the pictures with her but she never turned up. Luckily I bumped into Marie, invited her to the pictures instead and the rest is history.’

Marie punched him in the arm.

‘You never told me that! You told me that you were going to meet up with some mates who let you down! I didn’t even know that you fancied Deborah!’

He squeezed her hand again and smiled.

‘I did say it was a secret. I didn’t tell you because once I’d spent the evening with you I didn’t fancy her anymore.’

‘Did Deborah ever tell you why she didn’t turn up?’ Suzie asked.

‘She went out with a guy called Tommy instead. You knew Tommy didn’t you Carole? He was in the same gang as you and your friends for a while.’

Another chill went down Carole’s spine and she began to get a sickening feeling in her stomach. It was the mere mention of his name that caused it. That sparked a far too vivid memory of his dark curly hair and his dark brown eyes. She glanced over at her mother and saw the barely perceptible shake of the head.

They were conspirators.

Carole and her mother.

Keepers of a secret that no one else knew about.

‘Whatever happened to Tommy?’ said Paul. ‘He was always hanging around and then, when I came back from America there was no sign of him. I suppose he gave up on Carole when she went off to stay with your Great Auntie Meg in Wales. It would have been a bit of a trek for him – even on that old motorbike he had – but I thought he was really smitten with you Carole.’

‘Ancient history darling,’ said his mother. ‘Come on birthday girl, choose another person with a dark and desperate secret.’

Suzie grinned, loving the attention, loving the fact that she had her family around her on this special day. She looked round the table again.

‘Daddy? Have you got a terrible secret?’

Her father took in a deep breath which made his wife hold hers in fear of what would come next.

‘Okay. I have never told anyone this but when I was a bit younger than you Suzie, I pinched some eggs from the farm next door. There was a stack of boxes outside on a table and a honesty box. Your Grandma had sent me out to buy eggs but I spent the money on tobacco so I had to pinch the eggs instead.’

‘I’m shocked Dad!’ said Paul, trying to keep a straight face. ‘Did you get caught?’

‘No. I had a birthday the following week and I used some of my birthday money from my sister Meg to put in the box. That’s the only thing I ever pinched and I spent the whole week feeling dreadful.’

‘Your turn Suzie? What secrets have you got hidden away?’

Trying not to blush now that the wrong kind of attention was turned on her, Suzie gulped and turned to her Auntie Carole.

‘I went into your room to try on one of your dresses once. I saw a box of letters in your wardrobe and I was going to look at them but I heard Mummy calling me so I sneaked out again. Who were the letters from Auntie Carole?’

Her mother interrupted before Carole could speak.

‘I expect she means the letters that you and I sent each other when you were in Wales Carole. We used to write to each other every week without fail. I got rather lonely without either of my children at home. I didn’t know that you’d kept all those letters Carole. How sweet of you.’

The expression Carole saw on her mother’s face was anything but sweet and she knew that she would have to find a new hiding place for the letters that held her secrets.

‘But then I came along,’ said Suzie ‘And you weren’t lonely anymore.’

‘You were a bit of a surprise but you were also a blessing my darling. Daddy and I had you all to ourselves when you were a baby.’

‘Life in the old dog yet, eh Dad?’ said Paul winking and leering. His wife punched his arm again, a little harder this time and pulled a face at him. He shook his head in bewilderment, but made no more comments.

‘Have you thought of anything yet Auntie Carole?’

Carole took in a deep breath, far deeper than her father’s and squared her shoulders.

‘I do have a secret. There’s only one person in this room that knows my secret apart from me and it’s one that I’ve kept for years.’

‘Tell me?’ Suzie jumped up and down in her seat. Her mother got up from the table.

‘That’s enough now. I need to clear the tea things away, and didn’t you say that you and Marie were going on to friends this evening Paul?’

This time Marie kicked him under the table, and Paul, knowing his wife’s methods of non-verbal communication, nodded.

‘Come and help me wash up Carole dear.’

Now silent, Carole followed her mother from the room. Her father fetched Paul and Marie’s coats, then with Suzie holding possessively onto his arm, walked them out to the car and waved them goodbye.

Paul was quiet at first but once they were clear of the house, he stopped the car and turned to Marie in puzzlement.

‘What was all that about? All the punchings and kickings?’

Marie shook her head.

‘For an intelligent man you are incredibly dim at times.’

‘What? What?’

‘How old is Suzie?’

‘Fifteen. You know she is. It’s her birthday today.’

‘And where were you when she was born?’

‘In America?’

Correct. And where was Carole?’

‘In Wales with  Auntie Meg? She went there to recover from glandular fever.’

‘Glandular fever was it?’

‘I don’t know. I wasn’t here. She seemed fine when I went off to do my gap year in America and then I come back to find that she is in Wales herding sheep and my mother has had a baby. At her age!’

Marie looked pityingly at her husband.

‘Have you never wondered why it is that your parents, you and your sister are all fair with blue eyes, and Suzie has curly black hair and brown eyes?’

‘My God! Are you saying that my mother had an affair?’

Marie raised her eyes heavenwards.

‘You really are slow on the uptake sometimes Paul. Not your mother. Your sister. Carole.’

‘No! Who with? Some Welsh bloke? That would explain the colouring.’

‘Tommy. I saw the expression on Carole’s face when you mentioned his name so I didn’t say anything about what happened to him.’

‘What did happen to him?’

‘Motorbike accident. Well some say it was an accident, others say it was deliberate because Carole had had been sent away. Your parents wouldn’t tell him where she had gone and I don’t suppose he knew about your Auntie Meg living in Wales.’

‘But – but – if the baby was Carole’s how did Mum get away with pretending it was hers?’

‘Cushions, I suppose. People were a little surprised but a late life baby isn’t unusual. Your Mum and Dad went to Wales to see Carole for a fortnight and miraculously came back with Suzie. No one questioned it.’

‘So Suzie is my niece, not my sister?’

Marie nodded and put her hand on his knee.

‘What do I do Marie? What can I say?’

‘Say nothing. It isn’t your secret after all. I think that Carole came close to telling me once but your Mum came in and interrupted us. You love Carole and Suzie don’t you?’

‘Of course.’

‘I expect that they will tell Suzie one day – but it’s up to them. Apart from which I have a secret that I’ve been aching to tell you all afternoon.’

‘Oh no. Not more revelations!’

She took his free hand and placed it on her stomach.

‘This is the best kind of secret. I did a test this morning. I’d like to keep it a secret for another couple of weeks though?’

 

 

 

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‘No Yo Ho Ho! – Not For Another Month at Least, Please?’

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We all love Christmas.

Well, most of us love Christmas.

Erm; a decreasing number of us love Christmas.

I loved Christmas as a child.

I still love it.

I cherish the story that I wrote at infant school about how I got a scooter from Father Christmas – with pictures too.  I can remember the bright blue paint, clean and unsullied. I rode that scooter round the streets until it eventually fell apart and was beyond repair.

I think that may have been the Christmas that I got a Teeny Tiny Tears too – considerably smaller than Tiny Tears but she still had the capacity to cry and wee once you had filled up the water reservoir in the middle of her back.

This could have caused me to grow up with some very strange notions about how babies took on and expelled water but luckily I had baby cousins who dispelled those notions the first time I watched my aunt changing a nappy.

There were rules about Christmas in our house.

We didn’t start it too early – usually around the weekend nearest the tenth of December – the Chinese lanterns and crepe paper streamers were unearthed and strung around the room.

Christmas wasn’t a real Christmas without the tree lights malfunctioning.  A vivid Yuletide memory is of my Dad swearing quietly under his breath as he tried to track down the wayward bulb. We knew instinctively to keep out of the way until  the tree lit up, at which point we would all appear and make noises of glee and approval.

Christmas Eve was special.

We used to go to the house of one of my aunts; it started off in a quiet way with sandwiches and nibbles.  Giggling with our cousins at our great-aunt when she took her false teeth out and flicked fag ash into the peanuts (given a very wide berth by us knowing children but we didn’t tell the adults – cue more giggling).

Over the years, as their family expanded and they moved to a bigger house, my aunt and uncle’s pre-Christmas celebrations grew as well.  My uncle was Polish and introduced much of his heritage to the rest of the family at their parties.

Polish sausage, pickled herring, Bigos (ham and sauerkraut stew) and (shudder) brawn.

The sight of the pig’s head boiling away in the kitchen to make the brawn left me reluctant to even sample a tiny bit.

The peanuts were safe from fag ash now, the great-aunt had smoked her way into another place.

I miss those Christmas Eves; the joy of meeting up with the family and putting presents under the tree, buffet browsing Anglo-Polish style and pinching the odd glass of sherry when no one was looking.

Blessed as I am with a bevy of beautiful and talented cousins, I think that the reason we are so close – despite geographical distances – is because of those Christmas Eve parties.

It was usually Christmas Day by the time we left, tired and giddy and clutching carrier bags of presents that we weren’t allowed to open till the morning with the other presents that Father Christmas would be bringing.

Of all the Christmas Days I enjoyed as a child, the one that sticks in my memory is the Christmas When Every Thing Went Wrong.

The day began with the sprouts (eurgh) melted the plastic colander.

Then it was discovered that my Lovely Mum had forgotten to take the giblets out of the turkey before she cooked it. They were in a plastic bag. Mum invented an early form of shrink wrap.

Dad put too much alcohol on the Christmas pudding and rather than burning with a bright blue flame, it incinerated to a black shrivelled lump.

Needless to say, tempers were frayed.

My Dad shouted.

My Lovely Mum hit him with a rolled up newspaper.

We howled.

The dog, unsure if this was domestic violence or just a playfight, decided that it needed to be stopped.

So he bit Lovely Mum on the arm.

Things went very quiet after that.  The dog went out in the garden very quickly and Mum’s arm went under the tap – bruised but not bloodied.

There was also a strict rule about when the decorations came down.

I know a lot of people take them down as soon as they can – after New Year’s Day usually  – but as Lovely Mum’s birthday was on the 4th January, we left them up for her and had a mad dash to get them down and put away before Twelfth Night. Although Lovely Mum has left us, I still leave my decorations up till after her birthday.

I do like Christmas really.

Christmas carols make me cry; in my semi-religious phase I couldn’t get through Midnight Communion without blubbing – ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ gets me every time and ‘Silent Night’ – I’m welling up just thinking about it..

Little school choirs singing in shopping malls turn me to a gibbering wreck .

I never managed to stay dry-eyed during either of my children’s nativity plays and had to make sure that I always wore a large scarf to absorb my tears and hide my quivering lip.

“Oh Mother – you are SO embarrassing!”

So why the grumpy title?

It’s only the 28th October!

Just under two months till Christmas.

So why are the shops full of Christmas stuff?  Poor old Halloween is being shuffled into a side aisle.So unfair to think of skulls, witches and ghouls being ousted by snow-persons, fat robins and Father Christmas.

Shops are beginning to play ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’ on an endless loop that drives the salespeople bonkers and does not encourage a festive spirit because we’ve all heard the tunes SO many times before.  Even the starving poor across the world will know that it is Christmas because of that flipping song!

Now this is the bit where I show myself to be a hypocrite. Having moaned about the early incursion of Christmas into the shopping arena – I cashed in on it.

Two years ago we got rid of our huge holly berried and fir-coned false Christmas tree and bought a nice fibre optic 1 metre high tree that needed very little in the way of decoration and took less than ten minutes to put up.

I loved that little tree.

We had to get the decorations down a bit sharpish as, for the first time ever, we were flying off on holiday for the New Year and couldn’t face the idea of unpacking, washing and undecking the halls.

I don’t know what happened to my little tree.

We hunted high and low in the run up to last Christmas but it was nowhere to be found so we went off to the garden centre to get a replacement.

All the nice trees were gone and a real tree was out of the question, as Scooby had come to live with us and we weren’t quite sure if he could differentiate between an outside tree and an inside one.

We continued our search but by this time it was mid-December and they were beginning to set out the Easter egg displays.

We settled for a slightly larger tree that appeared to be fibre optic and looked as if it could stand the vigors of tail lashing and large-male bashing.

It was a hideous monster tree and what I thought were fibre optic lights turned out to be translucent globs on the ends of the branches.

Every branch had to be fluffed out and attached  to one of the three stems that made up the body of the tree. The fake fir was rough on the fingers and I broke two nails trying to insert the branches. When we finally got it upright it was HUGE and very drab, so we had to go out and buy MORE decorations for it.  Of course, by this time there were hardly any decorations left, just a mish mash of broken or ugly coloured baubles. We could have used Easter eggs I suppose.

Bezzie Mate and  went for lunch at my favourite garden centre a couple of weeks ago  and I noticed that they had the mock-Christmas trees on display.  Against my better judgement but fuelled by a decent lunch, we had a rummage in the festive section but they didn’t have the tree I wanted.

Undaunted we drove down the road to the bigger  garden centre (more choice but the cafe is more like a transport cafe and always seems to be full of screaming kids).

My heart leapt; we had barely got in the door when I spied my long-lost tree shimmering amongst its larger (and uglier) fir-y brethren.

BM toddled off for a browse amongst some boots and I combed the centre desperately seeking an assistant.  I found one but he was having an intense conversation about bulbs with a very demanding woman who kept grabbing his forearm.  He didn’t seem to mind though.

I waited.

And waited.

I got bored then and had a competition with myself to find the most tacky Christmas decoration in the store. It was a toss-up between some very ugly opaque white rigid plastic trees of about 6 inches and an array of ‘fibre-optic Christmas tapestries’. Closer inspection revealed them to be printed material pictures with lights in funny places. They were the winners but they were all hideous I couldn’t choose the worst.

My assistant was free!

I took him to my tree and asked if he could find me one that was boxed up.  He took the tag and disappeared.

I went in search of BM who was in the process of falling for some stout walking boots that were half-price.

My assistant returned toting a long white box. He turned it round to look at the picture and check that he had the right one.

He had the wrong one and disappeared again into the bowels of the garden centre.

We carried on browsing but feared the worst when he returned with a furrowed brow.

“I can’t find it.”

“But you have one on display. You can’t have sold out of them yet? “

“No, they’ve only just come in but it wasn’t where it should have been. If you want to reserve one, we could call you when we find it?”

I’ve been caught like this before. I reserved something then turned up to find that another member of staff had sold it because they thought it was a returned item.

“Can I pay for one now? Then I can come in and collect it when you find one.”

“Oh – erm – okay.”

So I bought it and filled in all number of forms with my name, address and telephone number.

By this time, BM and I were exhausted and had to test out a range of conservatory furniture before toddling home for homemade curry.

I got a phone call a couple of days later to say that they had found my tree. Hub and I went to collect it and found that with his (not-very-constant) gardener card, they could knock off a further eight pounds! We also bought BM’s boots and sent them off to him because they weren’t on sale online. They rub one of his ankles.

Bargain.

I admire people who get all their Christmas presents in the January sales – almost as much as I admire those who dash around the store on Christmas Eve snapping up ‘bargains’.

Hub is notoriously hard to buy for. He only really wants paintball bits – although now he and Gap Boy are sharing a motorbike there might be some mileage there. GB has already started demanding his Christmas presents. Uni Boy is home this weekend but I doubt that he will come up with anything helpful.

Ah, but I am blessed with good friends who like silly things, and an adorable bunch of small children and babies who can revitalise my Christmas spirit.

Mine’s a very large sherry please.

‘Mouldy Thursday and other misconceptions’

runcorn bridge

 

Personally, I think Mouldy Thursday sounds better anyway.  If you observe Lent and have been depriving yourself for weeks you’ll be feeling pretty mouldy by now.  I gave up eating brussel sprouts, cauliflower and drinking tea for Lent.

I have been remarkably successful.

As a child, for me Mouldy Thursday conjured up visions of elderly people looking disconsolately at small, smelly leather bags of gone-off chocolate coins bestowed by the Queen – or rather by one of her accompanying ladies in waiting – she wouldn’t want to get her immaculate gloves dirty after all.

When I found out the real name and the meaning of Maundy Thursday, I felt better knowing that the Queen was actually rewarding a bunch of nice elderly persons who had been doing good for the community, and that it was real money and the bags weren’t mouldy at all.

Phew!

I don’t think I was particularly deaf as a child so I can’t blame my hearing for my misconceptions, but I was certainly very short-sighted.  This may well explain my misreading of the word ‘Metropolis‘ in Batman comics.  I fantasised about the city of Metropols and was sorely disappointed to find that it wasn’t a special place after all but merely a name for any large city or urban area.

My Father swore blind that ‘Pepys Avenue‘ was pronounced  Peepiss – much to amusement/embarrassment of the rest of the family.  Was he serious?  I’ll never know.

My Hub tells me that he was very disappointed about the pronunciation of ‘Antipodes‘  or Auntypoads in his mind.

Uni Boy  followed on in the family tradition when he was much younger (he asked me to emphasise the MUCH).  He was fascinated by cars and at the age of six, Parker’s Car Guide was his constant companion.  He couldn’t get his tongue are ‘Cinquecento‘; it became Twinkletwinklechento in his terminology.

It’s still in mine even if they don’t make them any more.

UB was also very keen on cooking things in the Michaelwave.

Gap Boy was less inventive.  When asked what he was doing, his usual reply was ‘stuff’‘, which covered a multitude of his inevitable sins.  He was responsible though for the christening of the Nuncle Bridge  (Runcorn) whenever we drove off into North Wales.

I loved it when my Lovely Mum and her sister R sang about

Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wooden shoe?

and the explanation;

If the words sound queer and funny to your ear, a little bit jumbled and jivey,
Sing “Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy.”

There was something very special about it that makes me smile even now – or perhaps it is the memory of them singing the song and laughing.

The natural progression from my family’s misconceptions is the mondegreen or misheard lyric.  The most famous being Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Kiss the sky‘ being heard as ‘Kiss this guy‘  – the name of one of the most popular misheard lyrics sites:  http://www.kissthisguy.com/ Some of the mondegreens are a bit contrived but others made us giggle.

The favourite for Hub and me – and the one that we were singing our hearts out to in the car as we drove South – is Sue Lawley by the Police (So Lonely).  We are also rather partial to Red Olive (Radar Love) and Mice Aroma (My Sharona).

Strangely enough, there are no misheard lyrics connected to Rubber Bullets by 10cc – which is absolutely the best ever to sing along to VERY VERY LOUD in the car – but only when there are no children present because they will only tut and look disapproving..

Happy Mouldy Thursday anyway and may all your eggs be chocolate.