Nostalgia – Week 26 of the 52 week short story challenge – halfway there

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The scene in the photograph is idyllic; a long garden with flowered borders and a neatly mown lawn. At the end of the lawn is a large tree and under it, a group of children cluster around a young girl. I am one of those children and looking back up the garden to the house, I can remember seeing all the grown-ups looking out at us with glasses of champagne in their hands.

The house belonged to my grandparents. The celebration was for the twelfth birthday of my cousin Caroline, it is she that is sitting like a queen in our midst. She is chubby for her age and the pink be-frilled party dress that my aunt has dressed her in makes her look like one of those crinoline ladies that people put over their toilet rolls.

She is an only child and spoiled rotten. We are a large family. Our grandparents had seven children and nineteen grandchildren ranging in ages from my cousin Andrew aged fourteen, down to our newest cousin Rachel. She is only a few months old and is back in the house with the grown-ups and half a dozen other under-twos who can’t be let loose in the garden.

One of my aunts emigrated to New Zealand; she and her husband don’t think that Caroline’s birthday party merits uprooting their four children in order to make a long and very expensive journey to England. They are off the Christmas and Birthday card list as far as my grandparents are concerned.

We’ve only had a twenty minute drive to get here and I didn’t think it was worth it either. It was my birthday a month ago and my grandparents didn’t even turn up at our house on the day; they were busy doing something or other with Caroline.

Caroline’s father jumped ship when she was three years old. His wife, my Aunty Suzy, had spent every last penny he earned on Caroline and herself. He had grown exhausted by Suzy’s excesses and, finding a sympathetic ear, went off with his secretary. Suzy and Caroline came to live with our grandparents and the rest of the family were knocked back into insignificance almost immediately

My Uncle Charlie fell out with Suzy some years ago, so he, his wife and their two children are absent as well. Like all his other brothers and sisters, Charlie felt that Suzy and Caroline were running through the family inheritance as fast as they could but he was the only one to stand up to her. Suzy is the apple of her parents’ eyes; she could do no wrong and Caroline has inherited all of her most toxic traits.

My grandparents were not bad people. They loved all their children and grandchildren – just not equally.

I am back in the present day. I am tired and tetchy. I have to juggle a demanding job, a neurotic ex-husband, two daughter at universities and my mother. I don’t want to look at photographs but it is the only thing that makes my mother happy nowadays.

My mother, her memories faded by time, looks at the photograph and smiles.

‘That was such a happy day.’ she says as she touches the faded photograph with her forefinger and turns the page of the album.

‘Was it?’ I say, doing my very best to keep my voice even. ‘Don’t you remember what happened after that photograph was taken?’

She shakes her head and I am in a quandary. Dementia has robbed her of her memories and although I want to shake her and share my memories, I can’t and I won’t, but I remember it all so clearly.

Caroline presided over our group because she did that in everything, but as today was her birthday she had even more special powers. She had been given a book on palm reading – when I say given – I mean demanded from her grandparents. She had decided, after reading a few pages and looked at some pictures, that she was now an expert and would read all our palms.

She started with Andrew; technically the eldest but we all knew that he was different. He was quiet, fascinated by insects and animals, and today we would probably say he was at the lower end of the autistic spectrum, but in those days he was just different.

He very reluctantly held out his grubby hand. Caroline looked at it with disgust and made some pretence at tracing the lines without actually touching them.

‘Hmmm, your lifeline isn’t very long. Can’t see you living past your mid-thirties. No children and a failed marriage. You really haven’t got much to look forward to have you?’ Caroline smirked and motioned Andrew to move away from her.

I was the next oldest.

‘Come on Trisha. You aren’t scared surely?’

‘No thanks.’ I managed a brief smile and backed away.

‘Coward! The twins next then.’ She beckons Sally and Tom over, knowing that at eight years old they are still under her power. She fails to find anything interesting in either of their hands and waves them away to join Andrew on the outskirts of the group.

She deals with my four year old cousin Alice in a very imperious fashion, knowing that her mother and Alice’s mother aren’t on speaking terms at the moment either.

Apart from myself, that leaves one child – my beloved baby brother Gerald. He is three years old and a beautiful but frail child. He has spent much of his short life in hospital and we are devoted to each other. Unfortunately he has yet to realise that the golden-haired, pink-clad Caroline is to be avoided. He breaks free of my grasp and runs to her when she offers him a sweet.

Grabbing his hand, she looks up at me triumphantly.

‘Gerry’s lifeline is very short Trisha. No marriage and no children but then he was never expected to last very long was he?’

I pull Gerry out of her grasp and with him under my arm, I carry him back to the house. My mother can see something is amiss and takes me aside. When I tell her what Caroline has said, she calls my father over and he starts gathering up our belongings.

‘Leaving so soon?’ Suzy purrs. The other children – and Caroline – have come in from the garden and Caroline has lost no time in telling her mother HER version of the incident.

‘It’s just a bit of harmless fun darlings. Caroline didn’t mean to upset Trisha, but you have to accept, she does get upset SO easily.’

Nevertheless, we leave, followed speedily by the rest of the family visitors. The birthday tea untouched, the birthday candles on the cake have not even been lit. Yet again, Caroline and Suzy have split the family.

My darling brother Gerry died a month later, and whilst we knew that Caroline was not the cause, I still blamed her for his death, and went on blaming her whenever anything went wrong in our lives.

My cousin Andrew got married just before his thirtieth birthday. We all thought there was a chance of success because she worked with adults with learning difficulties and seemed to understand him. She certainly understood the benefits system. Andrew became very depressed when his bride of a year left him. A neighbour found him unconscious after overdosing on the pills that were supposed to help. He never regained consciousness. Thanks Caroline.

My grandparents were so wrapped up with Suzy and Caroline that they barely noticed our absence. As they grew older and more frail, Suzy put them in a care home. She had very cannily arranged power of attorney for both of them, and had them change their wills so that she was the sole beneficiary. We didn’t even know where they were until they died – within a few days of each other. The solicitor contacted us to tell us the outcome of their wills.

It was just a formality.

It didn’t take Suzy long to run through the money, and then the house had to be sold. Caroline was in private education and the bills for her dance classes, elocution and etiquette sessions had to be paid.

Caroline lost weight; she became willowy and glamorous courtesy of costly nips, tucks, breast augmentation and a nose job. She treated her mother with contempt, especially after their inheritance was no more. Suzy aged badly after this, sold up the smaller house that she and Caroline had moved to, bought a small retirement flat for herself and rented an apartment for Caroline up in London.

‘Caroline has so many good friends in London and she needs to finish her courses if she wants to settle there.’

Famous last words Aunty Suzy. Where were Caroline and her good friends when you were diagnosed with terminal cancer?  If you had gone to the doctor sooner; if you hadn’t spent all your money on Caroline and her wonderful lifestyle, if you hadn’t raised one of the most selfish, hateful women I have ever met.

Suzy died penniless last year and we clubbed together for her funeral; her remaining sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces – even those who still live in New Zealand.

My mother sits in the armchair in my front room. She spends much of her time there in a rosy cloud of nostalgia, looking at pictures of the old days.

The old days.

The days before Caroline got involved in sticking cocaine up her nose.

The days before she got involved in drug smuggling for her ‘good friends’ to pay for her nasty habits.

The days before she was found dead in her rented apartment. The police broke in after the landlord advised that she hadn’t been paying the rent and there were a lot of flies around. No sign of those good friends now.

It is time for another funeral. We have had to club together again. Caroline wanted a pink hearse with horses but we can only afford the basic package. I’m hoping that my mother will have forgotten about the pink hearse and the death of her only son when she cries at my cousin’s funeral.

 

Pink Hearse

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Inside a car – Week 13 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

I woke up when he drew back the curtains and the bright shaft of sunlight hit my eyes.

He turned to me and grinned.

‘Let’s go to the seaside. It’s gorgeous out there.’

I never need to be told twice.

It took him slightly longer to get ready than me but then he has to take his paraphernalia with him; wet suit, surfboard, shoes, towel, shorts. I travel a lot lighter.

Outside the sun is even stronger and after we are seated, he opens the car window for me, knowing how much I like to feel a breeze in my hair.

We live about half a mile from the beach; he has surfed at better places but on a day like this we don’t want to be driving for hours. I can see how happy he is at the thought of being in the water again, and although I’d rather stay dry, I can appreciate his eagerness to get in the sea on such a lovely day.

It’s still early and there are no other cars in the car park when we arrive. Aware of the fact that the fine for not paying the car park fee is pretty steep, he nips out of the car, buys a ticket and displays it on the dashboard.

I sit tight whilst he unloads his kit; I know better than to get in his way.

Making sure that he has everything he needs, he comes back into the car and sits beside me, ruffling my hair and smiling.

‘I won’t be long. See you soon.’

And he is gone.

The window is open a couple of inches, and at first the fresh breeze that blows through it takes the edge off the sweltering sun but as the sun moves up in the sky and the breeze changes direction I start to feel uncomfortable. I wriggle down in my seat in order to avoid the heat but it doesn’t help.

Looking over my shoulder I see that the back seat is still in the shade. It means moving away from my window but he said he wouldn’t be long. I clamber between the two front seats; it’s a tight fit but eventually I am on the back seat and it is much cooler.

Time for a doze. I was up early this morning after all.

I don’t know how long I was asleep but a knocking on the window wakes me and I sit up with a start. It’s really hot in the car now and the sun has moved again so that I am directly in its glare. The front seats are just as bad and I am so thirsty.

I hear the knocking again and look up to see a woman peering in at me, shading her eyes against the strong sun. I don’t make a sound though because I know he will be back very soon and all will be well.

The woman stops knocking but I hear her talking into her phone. The words are indistinct. I squeeze myself into the tiniest patch of shade left in the very back of the car where he usually keeps his surfing gear.

There is a bag of food and drink there and I sort through it looking for anything to slake my thirst. I know that I shouldn’t be doing this but I’m beginning to feel desperate. He isn’t usually gone this long. Something must be wrong.

The woman comes back and she has some other people with her. I look for his face in the crowd but it isn’t there.

There is a woman in a uniform outside the car now. She taps on the window trying to attract my attention but I sit very still and do as I have been told.

A car draws up beside her.

It is a police car. I know this because he has told me all about them when we are out driving. He always drives more slowly when he sees one of these cars.

I can hear the people talking outside the car again.

The man from the police car moves to the passenger window and I shrink back as he smashes his metal stick into it. The glass goes all over the seat and I hope that I won’t be blamed for the mess.

He opens the passenger door and reaches through to open the rear door. I am torn between fright and the relief that I feel from the rush of air that fills the car.

The woman in the uniform climbs into the back seat and sits down. She is smiling so I think that perhaps I may not be in trouble after all.

‘Come here sweetheart. Come and get some fresh air and a drink.’

I am so hot and thirsty that I do as she says. I climb over the back seat and sit beside her. She strokes my hair and helps me down out of the car.

I don’t make a sound; not even when she slips a collar over my head and attaches a lead.

‘Good girl,’ she says, and I follow her to a shady spot where a bowl of water is waiting for me.

I lap at it and wait anxiously while she refills the bowl from a plastic bottle.

The policeman is looking at the parking ticket. He does not look happy.

‘I’ve checked the temperature out here – 27 degrees – according to this ticket she’s been in the car for nearly three hours. ‘

The woman in uniform shakes her head in disgust. The policeman has already asked the people in the crowd if they know who owns the car, but they all came to the car park after us so they wouldn’t have seen him go off with his surfboard.

Then I see him.

He is limping and a man in red shorts is supporting him and carrying the surfboard.

He tries to break into a run when he sees the crowd around the car but he falls over and the policeman rushes to help pick him up.

‘Is she okay? I didn’t mean to be away so long. I twisted my ankle and had to wait for some help.’

The policeman and the woman in uniform still look very stern.

‘She was very hot and thirsty. Have you any idea how hot it was in the car? You parked it in full sunshine. We had to break your window to get her out. Another half an hour and she would probably have been dead.’

‘I’m so sorry. I only meant to have a quick surf before taking her for a walk along the beach.’

The woman in uniform shakes her head again.

‘You should never leave your dog unattended in a car at all. How would you like it if someone put you in a thick fur coat and locked you in a car with little fresh air and nothing to drink?’

He is sitting on the edge of the driver’s seat now with me in his lap.

I lick his face.

It is salty but not the kind that comes from the sea.

The man in the red shorts has strapped up the twisted ankle and although I can see the pain on his face, my man says that he can manage to drive us home.

The policeman takes his details and says that he might be taken to court for animal cruelty.

The woman in the uniform is looking less stern. She has been watching me as I settle happily against him, my paw on his arm. He is mine and he is tethered and safe.

She strokes my head and I smile my doggy smile.

‘She’s had some water. I think we caught her in time.’ She turns to the policeman and shakes her head but this time she is smiling.

‘Do you live far away?’

‘About ten minutes drive.’  I have never seen my man this unhappy and I lick his cheek again. He buries his face in my hair and holds me very tight.

‘Go on. Go home and get some ice on that foot. RICE! Rest, ice, compression and elevation. I can see a little dog who will be very happy to make sure that you keep off that foot.’

The lady in the uniform is still smiling as we drive away. I am in the back seat because of all the glass where I usually sit.

We drive home slowly and he keeps telling me how sorry he is and how he will never do it again.

I know that he won’t and I am happy.

But now I know the things I know And do the things I do, And if you do not like me so, To hell, my love, with you.” Dorothy Parker

Quotable-Dorothy-Parker-in-Pictures.004

I am fast approaching my Heinz beanz birthday and I can’t help wondering – how old do I have to get before people stop telling me who and what I should like?

I am embarking upon another ranty blog –  so look away quickly if you are easily offended.

No one and nothing on earth will ever make me vote for a political party that targets the poor, the sick and the elderly in order to put money in their own  pockets and those of their already well-off mates. I was brought up as a socialist (thanks to Lovely Mum) and have yet to see anything that will make me change my mind. I will post and share what I like on FaceAche and if you don’t like it – ignore it. No amount of unfriending, blocking or emotional blackmail is going to turn this woman.

Toxic people have no place in my life. If the only way you can be happy is to make others unhappy then I don’t want to know you.

I finally unfriended someone who has irritated the hell out of me over the years with whines, complaints, envy and spite. I helped this person out some years ago when the police were threatening  prosecution over something done in this person’s name. A policeman turned up at my place of work to take a character reference in support of the person. I never even got an acknowledgement from them,  just some snide FaceAche comments accusing me of making a fuss about nothing after I had an accident at work.

This rant was sparked by Biker Boy and I having another of our stimulating conversations about W-O-R-K. He cannot understand how ANYBODY can spend all day in an office in front of a computer. Some of us had no choice.  Before you read this next bit, please let me point out that as per my blog disclaimer ‘All characters in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, live or dead, is purely coincidental.

So ner.

There have been people who I thoroughly enjoyed sharing an office with. I’m still in touch with most of them – so you know who you are and you have my undying admiration for having survived sharing an office with me. There were others possessed of such tunnel vision that they had no awareness of how their behaviour impacted upon others – and probably would have burst into crocodile tears if anyone ever dared challenge them.

  • Miss Trivia – our Boss gave this female a week of undeclared leave when her pet dog died whereas I was told that I had to take annual leave to look after my children when Hub was in hospital with kidney stones. I didn’t bat my baby blue eyes and simper enough obviously. Miss Trivia also became so obsessed with buying a house with her long-suffering boyfriend that every day the office was bombarded with updates on what kind of kitchen scouring pads she had bought, the colour of her washing up bowl and what excellent taste she had. She made such extravagant plans for their impending nuptials that said boyfriend broke off the engagement and moved out until she could be persuaded to scale things down
  • The ‘Not-in-my-Day’ tyrants – older women who would kick up a fuss if anyone in the office with children was allowed time off to deal with a domestic crisis. ‘I was never allowed time off with MY children – it wouldn’t have happened in MY day’. Strangely enough they made no complaint about Miss Trivia’s leave …
  • Smokers – as an extremely ex-smoker myself, I have every sympathy with those who cannot give up the evil weed, but all understanding went out of the window when they hung their smoke-ridden coats on top of mine – leaving me to travel home stinking of stale tobacco
  • Football fans – having a ‘discussion’ with a colleague who doesn’t support the same team as you so loudly that no one else in the office can hear the person they are trying to have a conversation with on the phone. I tried asking them to keep it down once and was told off for being rude
  • Those with ‘ungrateful’ grown up children – who, when they weren’t being berated on the phone during working hours, were the burning topic of endless office diatribes
  • Infinite beverage makers and washers up – one of the most effective ways of avoiding work is to make endless cups of tea and coffee for your colleagues, and ensure that you also do the washing up afterwards. People will think that you are kind and helpful without realising that they are doing all the work while you are swanning off to the kitchen area in your Marigolds
  • Fridge pilferers – they creep into your office in the gap between staff leaving at the end of the day and the cleaners coming in – sometimes they are so brazen that they carry out their dirty doings while the cleaners are there. Tins of biscuits that were half full are  empty the next day. Cans of fizzy drink left in the fridge mysteriously disappear – even foodstuff stored away in your own drawer isn’t safe unless you lock it away. One pilferer was so determined that he had a method of unlocking drawers with a penknife. I left him a very rude note and a piece of ripe Camembert once. The drawer was a bit smelly for a while but it did seem to put him off 🙂

Of course, at the root of all office-based conflict is the manager. I have worked under good managers and bad. I had thought that laissez-faire management was the worst but I had to invent a new category for one manager – flaccid-faire. If the man couldn’t shout you down when you asked him to do a bit of managing, he would shrug his shoulders, put on a wimpish face and bleat ‘Give me a break’.

Senior managers are often a bad joke. They are merely for show, get paid an extortionate amount of money and are classic examples of people who are so adept at avoiding dismissal that they just keep getting promoted up the ladder into jobs with titles that no one really understands. There is usually a very loyal and intelligent administrator lurking in the shadow of such senior managers. This person has to make their dental, doctor and hair appointments, rewrite their badly written reports and lie about their whereabouts to family and colleagues – as in ‘No, he’s not back at his desk yet. I think he had to see someone else on the way back from his meeting.’ Said manager can usually be seen outside the building in smoker’s corner. Lesser mortals have to clock out and back in again when they need a cigarette but not managers.

I made the decision to become self-employed in July 2013. I was somewhat forced into the decision but I only have regrets about it at Christmas time when I don’t get an outing to Wetherspoons for a cheap roast dinner or a Secret Santa present that only goes to show that Santa couldn’t really give a monkey’s about what I might have liked as a present. No one ever bought me a cattle prod or a taser. Even comedy ear muffs might have eased my office-based burden.

There are no arguments over beverage making in my home office. I don’t drink tea and only drink coffee made by the penguin coffee maker that was a present from Hub (Scoob and the boys) on Mother’s Day. Hub and I take it in turns to wash up depending on whether he is at work or not.

No need for smart, sensible office clothes. I am typing this wearing my nightshirt and it has gone midday! Such decadence. Scoob is sitting next to me and providing moral support. My chair is my own and so is my computer. No one from IT moans at me because I mouse left-handed and I don’t have to answer the house phone within three rings because it is usually some dork trying to sell me a boiler, new windows or wanting to run a health check on my pc.

Nob off!

Important calls and texts come in on my mobile, which rarely leaves my side.

The downside is that I haven’t actually earned any money yet, and my intolerance of other people has increased now that I don’t actually have to suffer fools any more.

BB is just as intolerant and even less forgiving than me but he will find his way in life I have no doubt – I managed to get this far without actually killing anyone (in reality anyway).

But hey, haven’t I had enough of being dictated to now? Am I old enough to meet someone – online or off – and decide that I don’t want them in my life? Am I old enough to have my own political and social opinions yet? Am I old enough to wear purple and a red hat that doesn’t go? (Thank you Jenny Joseph.)

You bet I am.

‘The Peace of Easter’

I put this rant on my FaceAche page just before the schools broke up for Easter.  I must admit to getting just a tad annoyed  by the cacophony outside my kitchen window every weekday morning and afternoon

. It should be pointed out that the local school is of a particular religious denomination and as a consequence many of the pupils and their parents live some distance away – hence the expensive overpowered cars.  The particularly strident parents (some of whom have threatened us for having the temerity to park in our own driveway while they are trying to get their offspring to school or back home)  sound a little bit Scally.

We have been known to take our boys to school by car but when they were small we used to park in the pub car park (with the owner’s blessing – his trade increased hugely on sunny days) and walk round the corner.  When they got bigger and went to high school we were permitted to drop them off and collect them only if we parked in a side road away from the school and didn’t play the car stereo too loud – SO embarrassing.  As the boys are n-n-n-nineteen and almost twenty-one now, those days are gone; replaced by longer and more complicated collections and droppings off.

The school-bound moronic mummies ceased to bother me when I went back to work full-time but now that I am home and not particularly gainfully self-employed, they make me a bit cross – sometimes – at other times I want to dash out there and slash their tyres but I am reluctant to blunt any of my new kitchen knives.

Rant!!!!!! We live on a blind corner. There is a very good reason for 20 mile an hour signs. My breakfast preparations have been marred yet again this morning by the sight (and sound) of screeching brakes and screeching thirty-something harpies in over-powered 4 x 4s who have narrowly avoided a head on crash outside my kitchen window. Oy! Surely it is a greater sin to kill your children, your air-headed selves and to smash up your car than to be a few minutes later for the school drop off? Get up earlier! Drive more slowly! Look where you are going! Oh Brainless Bimbo Mummies! (and Daddies but Mummies are in the majority).  Yes, you know who you are! Your parking is selfish and thoughtless but pales in comparison to your awful driving. Rant over – will eat breakfast now and shut up. The sun is shining and it is good to be alive. Let’s keep it that way eh?

Well, they really are dreadful.  When my boys were small I would often walk them to school and back – when I say walk I mean one in the buggy and the older school age one hanging off the back.  It was me that did the walking. Trying to get past the on the pavement by the school just up the road (not the one my boys went to) was almost impossible. Huge gas-guzzling cars barred my way whilst I ran the gauntlet of gossiping mothers with far bigger, better buggies than  mine, looking down their noses at me as I struggled to get past.  They only used said buggies to transport the youngest from the car  to the school gate; the wheels were spotless and only a matching designer changing bag hung from the handles whilst mine were festooned with carrier bags.

After one particularly frustrating trip which resulted in us taking a detour past the  local shop (once an old-fashioned newsagent with jars of sweets and a man who did bird impressions – now an estate agent), I phoned the council to complain and was rewarded with a set of zig zag lines outside the school.

Not that the mummies took much notice. In some cases they are parked up on the other side of the road as much as an hour beforehand leaving the latecomers to park as close to the zig zag lines  as possible and leave no room for cars to get through the middle – especially when the car doors are wide open as they take an age to lash their little ones into the car seats.

Just before the Easter holidays bestowed peace and tranquility on all our houses; I called the police to have a moan. The woman on the other end of 101 listened patiently and even gave me a crime number.

I was mollified.

Whilst sipping my Vanilla-Latte-Macchiato (no added Valium or painkillers) and idly channel-flipping, I received a call from a very nice PCSO from the local (and very nearby) police station.

She was picking up on my complaint about the speeding and parking.  She was very sympathetic (she’s a local girl) but told me a few facts that make me dread the coming term even more.

  • The 20 and 30 mile an hour signs that have blossomed on lamp posts throughout the locality are not enforceable.  They have been put there by the council as a traffic calming initiative.  This may be why the mummies don’t take any notice of them – or it might just be because the mummies are morons and paid someone else to take their driving test.
  • Similarly, zig-zag lines outside a school are not enforceable and the Highway Code suggestion that you should not park right on road junctions is merely that – a suggestion.
  • The mummies could get done for dangerous driving if caught in the act but with five primary schools and a  high school on their beat, the police are trying to solve real crime – allegedly.
  • The mummies could get busted for obstruction if their god-awful parking barred the lawful progress of an emergency vehicle – no doubt trying to speed through and attend an accident caused by other stupid mummies.
  • The police say it is the council’s responsibility to sort out the parking and speeding issues, the council says it is the school’s responsibility, the school says it is up to the police and hey presto! We are back where we began.

The nice PCSO promised to get a colleague to pop into the school after the break and have a word. I can think of several but I am still mellowed by the uninterrupted sound of birdsong and my dog wuffing at the postman – oh, and the people across the road having a very colourful and explitive filled row – and the man on the other side of them throwing his empty whisky bottles into the blue recycling bin.

Dammit!  Back to earplugs and  ‘Homes Under the Hammer‘ on subtitles next week then.