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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‘Seconds Away! Round Two’

Saturday afternoons. ‘World of Sport‘ in the mid 1960s.

Curled up on the sofa next to her beloved Daddy for a whole three-quarters of an hour that seemed to go in a flash.

A fair-haired tomboy who lived for the moment that her Daddy came home from work mid-afternoon, reveled in the joy that was British wrestling, then stole quietly from the room so as not to disturb him whilst he listened to the final scores and checked his pools coupon.

Jackie Pallo, Mick McManus, Kendo Nagasaki, Big Daddy (why would anyone call a boy Shirley?) and best of all, Les Kellett.

It never occurred to her that anyone got hurt when they wrestled; they seemed to be made of india-rubber, and although there were times when her funny hero Les appeared to have been worn out and in pain, she learned quickly that this was just part of his act.  He would be on the verge of collapse but once his opponent had been lulled into a false sense of security, Les would come back with a vengeance and wipe the floor with him.

Together the child and her Daddy shouted encouragement and hissed at the designated ‘baddy’ who in turn was hurling mild insults at the umbrella wielding grannies ringside. It was real and scary and exciting; at that time there was little talk of fixing matches and the limited black and white camera shots showed only what the producers wanted the public to see.

It was bliss. It belonged to a time when she was Daddy’s little ‘Chuckles’.  A time when she first encountered the consequences of choice.  Coming home on the bus from her Auntie’s house in the early evening.  Should she fall asleep leaning against the warm cloth of Daddy’s coat sleeve, then be carried home in his loving arms and put straight to bed.  Or should she stay awake, enjoy the ride, skip home holding his hand and have  the luxury of a few extra minutes before it was bedtime?

Mummy was home; laughter and mock anger, the shaking fist whenever they tried to take a photograph of her, the steak and kidney pie which always had a little bit of pastry left over so that the child could make a grey and grimy jam tart.  Mummy was the one that read books and answered questions.  If she didn’t know then the four handsome blue and gold-bound volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica did.

It was a time of few complications. Of a large and loving family, of sunny evenings playing out with her friends, of learning to ride a friend’s bicycle, despite it being too big and the cause of her falling off often only to get straight back on it again.  The fearlessness of this action impressed her Daddy so much that he walked five miles to the nearest bicycle shop, bought a bicycle that they could ill-afford and proudly walked it back home. To see the look of joy on the child’s face and watch her, wobbling at first but growing in confidence as she rode round and round the grassy triangle outside the house, it made it all worthwhile.

Halcyon days with no indication of the storms to come.

In any relationship between two people there will be issues and challenges. Opposites may attract but the strength of a relationship depends not on the ability of one person to change the other, but on the desire to adapt to each other, to grow together or to part before any real damage is done.

Take a volatile woman with ambitions; with a need to acquire knowledge and experiences.

Take a man with a tendency to dark moods; with a history of war horrors and a need for quiet domesticity.

Take a child who loved them both dearly and who was growing distressed by her Daddy’s constant pleas that she would stay with him and always be his Chuckles, and by the increasing amount of time that her mother was spending at work .

The storm broke late one night. Her Mummy had been out at work, her Daddy had been particularly sad and demanding when she had wanted to be left to read her book.  She had felt resentful towards both of them and went off to bed early.  Raised voices from downstairs woke her and the child was witness to the sight of her Mummy, knife in hand, being strangled by her beloved Daddy.  The presence of the screaming child brought them to their senses and they backed away from each other, not realising that the scene would be imprinted in the child’s memory for many years, and that she would always feel that she was the cause of their separation.

Bags were packed, a taxi called and the child left with her Mummy in the middle of the night. She was shocked by the sudden change of circumstances and guilty because she felt that somehow, it must be her fault for having been cross with her parents.

She saw her Daddy once but the visit was spoiled by his insistence that her Mummy was a bad woman who had split the family up.  She wanted reassurance from him but all she got was anger and hurt.  She concentrated on her relationship with her Mummy from then on and her anger became focused instead on her Daddy.

The child stayed away from him for five years. Her Mum remarried and the child became a resentful and truculent teenager.

Adolescence raises many questions and circumstances led to a reconciliation.  An unspoken decision between the girl and her Dad meant that they never discussed her Mum.  The girl visited him once a week and ate his overcooked meals and eye-watering pickled onions with a love that repaired their separation.

There was no need for choice anymore.  She loved them both and the passage of time had mellowed the hurt for all of them.

The girl became a woman and after a series of wrong turnings, she found the right man.  Her Mum loved him and so did her Dad.  She knew she had made the right choice and was determined that if they had children, they would never have to experience the sudden shock of separation as she had, would never be frightened  by the murderous anger between two people who once loved each other.

Both parents are gone now but they lived to see their children make happy marriages and to know their beloved grandchildren.

For a long time the woman continued to blame herself for the events that led up to that night when she so nearly lost both her parents.  Eventually, and with some help, she realised that her parents – as adults – were  responsible for all that happened.  How could she, as a child, possibly have influenced their actions?  Her presence had not caused the split but it had certainly prevented a potential death and incarceration.

She broached the subject with her Mum some years after her Dad’s death, only to find that time had eroded the details of that night and been minimised to a minor spat, engineered by her Mum because she needed to escape the marriage so desperately.

The woman was glad that she had never discussed it with her Dad.

Saturday afternoons. Seconds Away!  Round Two.