Dead or Undead – Week 22 of the 52 week short story challenge

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Another list.

A shorter one but one which tugged at her heart strings.

You blame FaceAche of course. In the days before social media people would tell each other how they felt – face to face, or on the phone – but people thought about what they were saying – usually.

Social media made it all so simple.

Snappy, ill-thought out comments typed on a computer, a tablet or a phone.

Press the send button and move on.

Blame it on auto correct or a typo if people take offence.

Shrug it off if you don’t care.

Time and experience had led you to an understanding of depression and unhappiness. You empathise with those who felt the pain and were in awe of those who fought against their demons on a daily basis.

Some survived the sadness.

Some didn’t, and she mourned the loss of them and that they could see no light at the end of the tunnel.

Then there were the people on the list.

People you knew and cared for.

People who you had listened to and did your best to support.

People whose unhappiness was rooted in the past, long before you knew them or was in a position to have any impact on their lives.

So why were they laying the blame at your door now?

Sitting on your shoulders, the pensive and impulsive angels watch as you scan the list.

‘Get rid of them.’ said Impulsive. ‘You don’t need people like that in your life. It’s only social media and if you block and unfriend them you can’t see what they have to say about you anyway.”

‘So sad.’ said Pensive. ‘These are people that you care about. Why do you want them out of your life?’

Does someone care about you when they send you hateful messages because you won’t do as you’re told?

Surely if people care about you they will accept you as you are – regardless of your political beliefs or whether you choose not to like the people that they like?

‘Be yourself.’ said Impulsive. ‘You don’t need people like that. They’ll sap your energies and make you feel guilty for things that aren’t your fault. Surely you should be allowed to choose your own friends and hold your own opinions without being told that you have to change to make other people happy.’

‘Yes.’ said Pensive. ‘But these are people who have been supportive to you. Friends who you trusted. Do you really want them out of your life. Do you want them to disappear?’

If they are going to blame you for their unhappiness, then yes.

Spotting phonies and parasites has always been so easy – except that spotting them long before anyone else does can cause issues. You find yourself wary and unable to trust them when everyone else is singing their praises.

Then the person concerned realises that you have seen through their facade; that you pose a risk to their life and slowly, they begin to spread the poison about you whilst proving themselves to be such a good and valuable friend to everyone.

‘I know the type.’ said Impulsive. ‘If your other friends are so blind then they can’t be worth much anyway.’

‘But they are.’ said Pensive. ‘It isn’t their fault that they are more trusting and gullible than you are. It isn’t a reason to cut them out of your life is it?’

In some cases, yes. The constant nagging to get you to change your mind wears you down. The pleading on behalf of a person who took money from you, told lies about you and put you in this unhappy situation. The hateful messages blaming you for everything that has ever gone wrong. You want them gone. You want them dead to you.

Pensive sighed, as was her way. Impulsive grinned, knowing that she had won this particular battle. They watched as the pen scratched through the first three names on the list.

‘What about these two?’ said Pensive. ‘What makes them different from the others?’

‘If they are making you unhappy, strike them off too.’ said Impulsive.

These are harder to get rid of. These two are people whose demons tell them that anyone who doesn’t think the same as them is against them. These two are people who either cut you out of their life, or who are not content to let you have your own beliefs and be true to yourself.

Before social media it didn’t matter.

Before social media you could think what you wanted about politics and it was your own business and no one else’s.

But now, you see a post that you believe in and you want to share it with your friends.

You work on the basis that if you see a post from a friend and you don’t like it, then you move on and ignore it.

These two people don’t see it that way.

One wants you to stop expressing your opinions on social media because they feel that you are wrong.

The other feels that you can only post your opinions provided you post the opposite opinion as well. This person feels that you need to provide more balance. This person insists on putting unpleasant comments on your page. Comments that upset you and your friends.

So you delete them.

The person repeats the comments and refuses to stop.

So you delete them again.

You send a message politely requesting that the person just ignore comments that they don’t like or keep their comments on their own page.

The person says they are trying to put balance on your page.

Both people blame you for their unhappiness and insist that it is you who must change to make them happy.

But that will make you unhappy.

‘You aren’t to blame for their sadness.’ said Pensive.

‘Even if you did what they asked you to do, something else would inevitably cause them distress and you would have compromised for nothing.’ said Impulsive.

That’s why they have to go.

That’s why they are on the list.

They will be missed but time will heal as it does with any mourning.

The pen strikes out the last two names.

The sun is shining through clouds.

‘Fresh air.’ said Impulsive. ‘Let’s go to the seaside and eat ice cream.’

‘Yes.’ said Pensive. ‘Time to move away from FaceAche and think more positive thoughts.’

Dead but not dead.

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‘Clicketty-Click: Confessions of a really bad Bingo caller’

During a summer many years ago, I found myself working under  the job description of ‘Events Organiser (Elderly Persons).  This was a very grand title for one of a handful of people who went round the lunch clubs held at different homes for the elderly.  This was long before any swingeing governmental cuts;  in the days when most homes had at least one large lounge where the residents and day centre attendees could cluster and hopefully be entertained. The lounge would inevitably smell of disinfectant and the stale urine that lingered in the crevices of the institutional high-backed vinyl-covered chairs regimented in a semi-circle.  Faded silk flower displays cluttered the surfaces in a failed attempt to cheer up  the pale green or blue painted walls, dark spill-proof carpets and curtains that were never closed unless there was a funeral.

There was always a gentle rivalry between the residents and those who were brought to the home in the minibus from their own homes. Residents tended to be frail and confused whereas the day centre people were judged to be more self-caring but in many cases they were just hanging on to independence by their fingertips.  The day centres gave them the opportunity to go somewhere warm where they were guaranteed morning and afternoon coffee and biscuits, as well as a hot lunch and some form of ‘entertainment’.  I use that word very loosely.

I spent most of my time in the early part of that summer doing the washing up.   There was always a great deal of it and it was the ideal opportunity to escape from the scariness of old age and confusion.  No matter how hard I tried, I always left someone out on the coffee round, or failed to order enough lunches.  This kind of catastrophe resulted in a hurried reloading of plates by the kindly but gently disapproving volunteers who had been helping out at lunch clubs for years and were vaguely condescending to us paid employees.

As the summer wore on, I found myself participating and then eventually organising the activities for groups of twenty to thirty elderly people who weren’t always sure where they were or why. We had quizzes and memory games, local entertainers would come with a Bontempi organ, small amplifier and a microphone to sing wartime songs and send the odd hearing aid haywire .  There would be outings in the minibus; to garden centres, museums and sometimes the beach.  Long trips entailed the organisation of lunch somewhere, usually in a pub which could be guaranteed not to lose patience with our haphazard ordering and the probability that at least half of our charges would have forgotten what they had ordered beforehand anyway.

We couldn’t take everyone on these trips and it was always sad to see the faces of those left behind peering out from behind the ever-open curtains like disappointed children.

The mainstay of the lunch club entertainment was Bingo.  Every home had a box containing photocopied Bingo blanks, half-sized ball pens that had been pilfered from Argos or Littlewoods, a set of numbered balls in a black cloth bag, and the number chart and counters so that the caller could blank off the numbered ball  once it had been called.

Some homes were more sophisticated; they had invested in proper Bingo (or Lotto) sets with a see-through circular ball into which the numbered balls were loaded and dispensed randomly, defeating any allegations of cheating. I always got stuck with the black cloth bag.

The Bingo prizes were donated by the lunch club attendees and had to be closely vetted.  I remember one packet of coconut mallow biscuits that turned up at nearly every lunch club, donated by the person who won it last time.  The mallow had dried out, the biscuits were soft and the coconut had gathered in a pile at the bottom of the cellophane packet.  The sell-by date had been worn off by the many pairs of old, dry hands that had clutched the packet triumphantly.  I took an executive decision one day and binned them, together with out of date tins of baked beans, tomato soup and snails – probably an unwanted present from someone’s daughter-in-law after a family trip to France.

I replaced them with nicer, newer food from my own larder and was gently but firmly reprimanded by one of the older volunteers who felt that I shouldn’t be wasting my money. I was never quite sure why this lady volunteered.  She was always the first to snatch away half-drunk cups of coffee, half-eaten lunch plates and was hustling the day centre attendees into their coats long before the bus had arrived.  Every activity was accompanied by a long-suffering sigh and she spent even more time washing up than I did.

I will never forget the first time I was asked to do the Bingo.  I though it would be easy.  After all, I had spent many sessions observing and helping (badly) to cross off numbers once they were called.

Part of the job was remembering the names for the numbers; two fat ladies, Kelly’s eye, key to the door and my nemesis, clicketty-click. I was so bad at remembering the names that one of the old ladies very kindly wrote them down for me but her writing was so tiny and cramped that the stress of pulling the balls out of the bag rendered my list unreadable.

It seemed that whenever I did the Bingo there were no early winners, just a cluster of elderly people  fighting over tins and biscuits at the very end.  It got to the point where my ineptitude was so legendary that they would ask for me to do the Bingo just so they could have a good laugh. To this day I don’t know what I was doing wrong but Bingo is a game I avoid at all costs.  I tremble at the sight of halls full of people with their multiple cards and brightly coloured dabbers for marking off the numbers. Far more efficient than our badly photocopied blanks and tiny pens.

For my last day at the lunch clubs, before moving on to bigger and more challenging things, I was allowed to organise a day trip, and to bring my husband along – such a very supportive man.  I arranged for us all to have lunch in a pub that we knew would be particularly sympathetic, was wheelchair accessible, had disabled toilet facilities ( a rarity in those days) and wasn’t far from our afternoon excursion to the beach at Mudeford.

Lunch went off with only one wrong order – and that was the bus driver.  We loaded our satiated charges back onto the bus and headed for the sea.  It was sunny but one of those pleasantly balmy afternoons where you can happily sit for a while and bask without burning.

There were no mishaps at the beach either; Dame Fortune smiled on me that day but was probably smiling at the sight of two dozen elderly people paddling in the sea or sitting in the wheelchairs on the sea wall clutching their 99 ice creams in the sunshine.

It was truly a grand day out.