Friday, 27 May 2011
“What have you done? You silly old fool.”
She levers her arthritic body out of the car, every joint protesting. Nothing works fast enough for her to be the woman she was. But her voice does. She can still shout.
“You silly old fool. What did you have to go and do that for?”
He sits, his old legs splayed. His head is swimming. One minute he was upright, going to get her a parking ticket, now he is on the ground. He can smell dust, and the rubber tyres of the car beside him, and he tastes blood in his mouth. Her voice is the only familiar thing. He looks for her, blinking in the bright spring sun. What happened? It’s as though he’s been drinking. And he doesn’t need to move to know everything hurts.
“You alright Grandad?” A young man appears, and puts a hand on his shoulder.
He stares at the stranger. Why is he calling him ‘Grandad’? He isn't one of his grandsons. His mouth opens to speak, but confusion has hidden his tongue.
“Silly old fool.”
She has hold of his arm now, trying to raise him, trying to rouse him. “What did you have to go and do that for eh? No thank you dear,” she says to the young man. “He’s all right.”
“I’m a nurse,” the man says, bending down, but the old woman flaps him away.
“He’ll be all right, won’t you dear?”
The old man sits lost in the sunlight. Once upon a time he was her lover. He was ‘Bill’, not ‘Grandad’, an engineer who won three medals for saving lives in the war. But not any more. Now he is a tottery old man who trips over pavements, and about whom passers-by say “Awww, look at the poor old dear.”
It’s been some fall.
Wednesday, 25 May 2011
This story is written in response to this week's TIC TOCC challenge, in which Kat posted the above picture, and the following prompt:
'The executor of the will placed four things on the table. An elaborate floral brooch, pair of miniature shoes, a CD and a sealed envelope. What does the envelope contain? What's on the CD? What's the story behind the shoes and brooch?'
Use all or some of the objects as inspiration or focus on the envelope's contents. Keep the idea of these being presented at a will reading or make up your own story behind these objects. Write, draw, paint, collage, compose....create in any way you wish in ten or twenty minutes.
Regular perusers of 'Tales' will have noticed story production has been rather scant of late, but 'ta-da'!!! Today I am inspired, so I hope you enjoy it.
It’s raining by the time our bus reaches its stop, the rain turning Aberdeen’s grey pavements and granite buildings appropriately sombre. I screw up my face, pull up my collar, and totter as quickly as is possible in these heels, cursing my choice of peep-toes. Not the most appropriate footwear for a day like this, but they are the most sensible and respectable pair of shoes I own. I want to look smart for Aunt Julia.
Beside me, Reece glares up at the rain as though it were falling in some personal vendetta against him. This causes his face takes on a rather bovine quality. It is the tip of my tongue to say so, and to ask him to glaring, but I desist. He is, as my mother would say, no oil painting. Asking him to stop looking unattractive is a waste of my breath.
Finally, number twelve Rosemount Terrace, the offices of Lennox, Finchingly and McMurdo, Aunt Julia’s solicitors. I spring up the shiny stone steps, and ring polished brass bell. There is a hiss as the intercom crackles into life.
“Good afternoon, do you have an appointment?” A woman’s voice asks.
“I’m Morven McLeod. I’ve got an appointment to see Mr. Lennox.”
“Miss McLeod. Come in please.”
We are shown to chairs in Mr. Lennox’s office, a cold room with dark mahogany panelling, shelves and shelves of ancient legal texts, and gloomy, dark green walls, hung with oil paintings. Had the light been turned on, the room might have seemed more welcoming. Instead, with the watery grey seeping through the windows, it is an appropriate setting for the execution of Aunt Julia’s last wishes. She would have approved.
Beside me Reece shuffles. He is uncomfortable in his chair. It is too small to support his expanding bulk. When we first met he was plump in a kind of jolly way. Now he is fat and sweaty. When he lies on top of me, he squashes the air from my lungs. Not that I let him lie on top of me very often these days. I pretend to be asleep.
He nudges me.
“Reckon the old bird was worth much then?” He breaks off into asthmatic laughter. My expression remains ironed in place, as though I hadn’t heard him speak, as though nothing inappropriate had been said. Once upon a time he was funny. Now he is just childish. I am glad Aunt Julia never met him. She wouldn’t have been impressed.
The door opens. It is Mr Lennox. He looks exactly the same as ever he did, as though he’s studied how to appear wise, dignified and sober. He shakes my hand. He doesn’t shake Reece’s. I note this slight, and smirk to myself.
“Julia McLeod left a number of items for you, Miss McLeod,” he says, and bends down to open a drawer. He pulls out four things; her favourite brooch, the dolls’ shoes Aunt Emily brought back from Canada, a CD, and a padded brown envelope. Reece makes scoffing noises at the brooch and the shoes, he doesn’t know how much I played with them when I was a child. He doesn’t know what to make of the CD, but his interest picks up at the sight of the envelope. I should think he’s imagining it stuffed with money; lots and lots of lovely money.
“Open it,” he urges, with all the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. “Open the envelope. Let’s see what’s inside.”
I tut. I’d prefer to do this alone, to see what Aunt Julia has left to me, for there can be no doubts I was her favourite. The others were terrified of her. My father used to visibly quake whenever she marched up our garden path, plaid shawl falling off her shoulders, wild grey hair sneaking from its messy bun. But I loved her. She was the purveyor of fantastic stories, the source of illicit bon-bons when my parents weren’t looking, and her island home was a retreat to which I wish I could still escape. But her mind was the thing which finally ran off, and she’d spent the last twenty years in a nursing home in Portree with no idea who or what she was.
“Go on Morven, open it!” Reece’s greedy enthusiasm is as ugly as his face. I puff my cheeks and let out a long sigh. Both he and Mr. Lennox assume this is sadness on my part at losing Aunt Julia, but really, it’s the weight of what must be done to get through to Reece that I’ve had enough. Subtle hints will not pierce his hide.
I slit the envelope, and my fingers delve inside. They do not feel wads of money, and for a second, I’m caught in the wash of disappointment. There is a single sheet of paper in the envelope. I pull it out. It is an old photograph.
“What is it?” Reece’s excitement ebbs away as his eyes see it is a photograph of a mountain; nothing more, and nothing less. Even Mr. Lennox’s cultivated air of superiority softens into disappointment. But my heart skips first one beat, and then another. I can feel my cheeks growing hot. And in that instant, I know I am not going to tell either man what this means.
“It’s Aunt Julia’s favourite mountain,” I say. “Morven. I was named after it.” An idea comes to me, and I run with it, guiding them away from the truth. “She took this photograph on the day I was born. I always wondered what happened to it,” I smile, looking down at it. But it’s much, much more than that.
I turn it over as Reece harrumphs, and Mr. Lennox shuffles his papers. And there, in the corner is what Aunt Julia has bequeathed me, a reference number. It is the number to the vault where she put the picture Salvador Dali painted of her mountain when he visited the West Coast. She said they were lovers; I don’t know for sure. The truth went with her mind into the same chasm as my love for Reece. I really must tell him that it’s over.
[please note this is fiction - I have no idea if Salvador Dali ever visited Scotland!]
If you are interested, this story was inspired by a poem by one of my favourite poets, the late Norman MacCaig. He wrote this poem 'Aunt Julia', which I adore.
Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic
very loud and very fast.
I could not answer her -
I could not understand her.
She wore men's boots
when she wore any.
- I can see her strong foot,
stained with peat,
paddling with the treadle of the spinningwheel
while her right hand drew yarn
marvellously out of the air.
Hers was the only house
where I've lain at night
in the absolute darkness
of a box bed, listening to
crickets being friendly.
She was buckets
and water flouncing into them.
She was winds pouring wetly
She was brown eggs, black skirts
and a keeper of threepennybits
in a teapot.
Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic
very loud and very fast.
By the time I had learned
a little, she lay
silenced in the absolute black
of a sandy grave
But I hear her still, welcoming me
with a seagull's voice
across a hundred yards
of peatscapes and lazybeds
and getting angry, getting angry
with so many questions
Tuesday, 24 May 2011
This is a daily occurance, and I take back every time I've moaned about my children - starling babies are a million times more demanding! The parent birds look scrawny at the moment, which is hardly surprising since their brood follow them relentlessly, squabbling to be fed, and snatching every last morsel from the adult bird's beak, whether it meant to feed them or not. And every morning, after I've put out food, the cat pretends he is a stealthy hunter and sits in the flower border, biding his time. Then again, I used to think he was too fat to catch anything, but sadly, he likes to prove me wrong. He leaves his victims' corpses on the doorstep, and sidles indoors to miaow for cat biscuits. Such a sweet-natured creature!
Sunday, 15 May 2011
You know, I've been trying to post my efforts for Kat's fifth Tic Tocc challenge since Thursday, but life keeps interrupting. But now, children in school, phone off the hook, and no appointments for an hour or so, here goes - at last!
As seems to be something of a habit down here in 'Tales', I've adopted, shall we say, a 'loose' interpretation of Kat's brief, namely to create something around what might be found inside the copper kettle.
The picture reminded me of both my Grandmas, not because either has or had a copper kettle, but the the kettle reminds me of tea and cake, something they always had in plentiful supply.
Officially, my twenty minute artistic effort for the week was to make the extremely yummy gingerbread cake, it took me that long to weigh out and mix the ingredients. This photograph took me ages though. I was aiming for magazine artistry, but as you can see, that didn't happen!
I chose different elements which remind me of my Grandmas; the fabric, the china, and the broach. I copied the recipe onto a piece of paper, to make it look as though it belonged to them; their recipes tended to be written, if they were written at all, on scraps of paper. I tried to make my paper look old by soaking it in tea, and smearing it with cake-mix. But I think the result is disgusting, rather than authentic, although this could be because I know I caught dog-of-small-brain licking the paper while I was trying to set up the picture. Yucky!
Anyway, I also wrote a short story. I'm not showing off here by the way, only on Friday I thought I'd shelve the picture idea, get two birds with one stone, and write something for both TocTocc and 'Friday Flash'. Only problem was the story was abysmal. It was so bad on Friday, I could hardly bear to read it myself, never mind post it online. I'm still not particularly pleased with it, but I think it's as good as it's going to get! Here goes...
Good Afternoon, and welcome to Ambrose House.
No really, welcome to Ambrose House. It’s my job to mean it, just as it’s my job to stand here holding the door open, corporate smile plastered across my face, and dressed in a random tartan upon which you’re almost bound to remark. Unless you’re actually Scottish, in which case you either roll your eyes, or puff with nationalistic pride. Me? Oh, I just work here. It’s my job to welcome you here, here to Ambrose House, one of the finest hotels in Scotland.
What an amazing place, you say, throwing your arms wide in rapture at our antiques, our ambiance; even our cobwebs brim with historical anecdotes. Not that we have any cobwebs, mind you. Mrs McLeod dusted in here only yesterday.
“Good afternoon, and welcome to Ambrose House.”
You hear the voice, and turn. I hear the voice, and melt. Fraser, the duty manager appears in the foyer to welcome you. I see you are impressed by his suit, his air of responsibility. Me too; I don’t blame you. And have you noticed his eyes, I wonder. Forget-me-not-blue, that’s what I’d call them, so lush you could drown in their depths without noticing. Not that I will ever drown in Fraser’s beautiful eyes. To him I am invisible. The only time he sees me is when he remembers there’s something wrong.
You spot the old copper kettle hanging by the fireplace, and your brain registers your parched mouth. A cup of tea, you say to Fraser, that would be nice. Are there tea-making facilities in the rooms, you ask. I bite my lip to stop laughing out aloud. A hotel like Ambrose House doesn’t have tea and coffee-making facilities in every room. If you want a cup of tea, it’s my job to make it for you. Or at least, it used to be. Fraser throws me a queasy glance.
“I’ll get someone to bring some tea,” he says, turning away from me. “And how about some cake, or sandwiches? If you come this way, I’ll show you upstairs.”
You follow him like hungry seagulls following a trawler, or the children who danced after the pied piper. I stand in the foyer, waiting for the next guests, and glare at the copper kettle. It’s all the kettle’s fault, I think, scowling at its polished, shiny surface. Everything was all right until the afternoon when a tiny Japanese lady walked up to me, carrying the gleaming kettle. Fraser used to like me.
Please,” she said, and held out the kettle. I took it, and smiled even though I didn’t know how to explain it wasn’t for sale.
“Please,” she said, and gave a tiny bow. “You make tea?”
Oh. Relief ebbed through my body. I opened my mouth to ask which room she was staying in, but pride seized my tongue. We are supposed to know our guests by name. Fraser expects us to know that Mr and Mrs Newman are staying in the blue suite, while Mr and Mrs Oshwani are staying in the turret.
“You make herb tea,” Mrs Oshwani said, and she handed me a tiny paper packet. “You boil water. You bring upstairs.”
Right away Mrs Oshwani, I said, and I hurried through to the pantry. I emptied the packet into a teapot, and poured on the water. I wrinkled my nose. It smelt odd. But that’s oriental medicine for you, or so I’m told.
Mr Oshwani frowned as though he hadn’t been expecting me when he answered the door. I explained I’d made tea, and set the tea tray down on the table. He thanked me, and I hurried back downstairs to finish setting tables for dinner. I was still busy when Grace, our evening housekeeper, arrived to turn down the beds. Her screams still reverberate in my ears.
“Who was the last to see Mr Oshwani alive?” Fraser asked. The policeman pursed his lips.
“Me,” I said. “When I brought him the herb tea.”
“What herb tea?” They both asked.
“The tea Mrs Oshwani asked me to make, I said, biting my lip.
“Mrs Oshwani?” Fraser’s eyes turned as cold as the sea in springtime. “Who is Mrs Oshwani, Theresa?”
I swallowed. The way he says my name makes my knees go weak. But he wasn’t smiling. The policeman leaned forward, his mouth pulled into a thin, humourless line.
“His wife?” I guessed, but both men’s scowls deepened.
“There was no ‘Mrs Oshwani’ staying here,” Fraser snaps. “Mr. Oshwani was staying here on his own. But I think you know that, don’t you?”
I didn’t. I hadn’t looked at the guest list that day. But I make sure I do now, not that it matters. I should leave really, but I’ve done nothing wrong, and besides, I’d hate to give Fraser the satisfaction. So I smile when I open the door, and I say “welcome to Ambrose House.” But I’m not allowed to make tea.
Hmmm. Definitely not one of my better ones... I think it's on a par with my photography skills.
Monday, 9 May 2011
This week Kat posted a photograph of a headland and a beach, with the following prompt.
'Whilst admiring the peaceful sunset vista it was hard to imagine that the beach had been shut to the public all day following the unexpected.....'
I was absorbed by two things: either the contents of a shipwreck washed up on the beach in a 'whisky galore' style, or the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental matters being uppermost deep down in the darkest recesses of 'Tales' these days, I went with that idea. Wanting to produce a picture, I tried something I've never tried before: collage. I took Kat's photo, and put it at the centre of the picture featuring on one side how we enjoy the beauty of the seaside, and on the other, how the demands of our consumer society can destroy it. I'm not sure it works particularly, but I spent a very comforting twenty minutes cutting and sticking.
Hmmmm. I know what I was trying to say!
If you've visited these pages before, you might have caught me moaning about the state of my back garden. The following picture was taken roughly twelve months ago. There had been a falling-down grotty garage/workshop combo where you see the water. It had just been demolished, and this was what happened after a heavy thunderstorm.
As you might note, there was something of a drainage problem! It was the beginning of March this year before the builders managed to come back to dig it all out. [And yes, that is Dog-of-small-brain posing beside the car!]
I didn't take a picture prior to work beginning last week, but I think you can imagine it was just an expanse of bare soil. Every time any of us went down the garden, we had to traipse across it, and, as you can imagine, a large amount of it ended up being either trod into the house, or blown away, turned into dust by our recent spell of very dry weather. It was awful.
My DIY skills are decidedly dubious and definitely don't stretch to ground works, so last week, a gardening chap started work. It didn't take long. He's laid paths, a patio, and a couple of paved areas, all based on a sketch I did on the back of a supermarket till receipt. I think he's done a fantastic job!
And here's the patio I wrote about last week, which my neighbour has conceded looks nice! I'm going to edge it with lavender.
I'm jolly pleased with it all! I've been spending every spare moment digging plants and seeds into the borders, not to mention cursing the dog for trampling them, the cat for treating everywhere I've dug as one giant kitty-litter tray, and flocks of damned pigeons for eating my seeds.
After twelve months of ploughing through water and mud, it's so wonderful to have a proper path, I have to pinch myself it's real every time I step out there. I haven't written a single word anywhere since I last blogged on Wednesday (hurrah you might say!)'Flash Friday' came and went, and I barely noticed.
And this is all I'm doing on the writing front today too. As soon as I've posted this, I'm off dodging the showers to dig in a load of little plants another neighbour gave me earlier. You could say I'm playing 'ostrich' with soil instead of sand, but it's all I can think about doing. This is one week in which I won't be grumbling at eldest son for having grubby fingernails: mine are definitely worse!
Wednesday, 4 May 2011
On the way back down, we were making our way along a rough, windswept path, when we came across something unexpected, a lone shoe. Now, I don’t want to give the impression this is a common occurrence, but I do often see single shoes lying by the side of roads, and I always wonder just how on earth people come to lose them out here in the countryside. I mean, wherever people go, they drop all sorts of rubbish, but shoes, how does that happen? Recently I saw a smart pair of men’s loafers dropped by the side of the road. There is a story brewing somewhere, but it hasn’t bubbled to the surface just yet.
This morning, we found the lone shoe just off the path on the side of the hill. Actually, it was one of those trekking-type sandals, perfectly intact, no straps broken. I picked it up, puzzled. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking mountain walking here, but the terrain does require stout footwear. I don’t think anyone would choose to walk it barefoot. So how on earth does someone manage to lose a shoe up there?
Okay, I agree. It must have been one of a spare pair, although walking around these gentle slopes with spare shoes does seem rather over-the-top. My imagination dished up a juicier explanation. It probably belongs to someone who’s disappeared, maybe even murdered, it whispered. Put it down, you silly fool.
I dropped the shoe and hurried away. If my imagination is right, and it insists it is, the shoe could be a vital piece of evidence. And if that’s true, then, as my imagination keeps hissing at me, chastising me with the thought, my fingerprints are all over it now. I don’t think we’ll walk up there again for a while, and how I wish I hadn’t found it! Paranoid, me? You bet!
I'm now expected to do three things, thank Tammy over at her blog, write down seven random facts you don't know about me, and pass the award on to four other bloggers.
I have thanked Tammy, so here are seven things you'll wish you didn't know about my good self. (Tammy's are very funny!)
- I am a huge Dr. Who fan, regardless of the fact the current Doctor isn't in my eyes, as 'hot' as the last one. (sorry Clare!)
- In my dreams I am the best bass guitarist the rock world has (n)ever known. (can't actually play a note... just in case you were impressed!)
- There is no such thing as drinking too much tea.
- I think I'm doing my kids a favour by eating all their sweets.
- I'd be trimmer if they hadn't invented chocolate biscuits.
- I'm learning to tap-dance! (yes, really!!)
- I would have liked to have been a tv correspondant like Orla Guerin. (Ah if only I'd trained as a journalist. What wouldn't I say to my dopey teenaged self if I could time-travel?)
So there you have it! And now it is my solemn duty to pass on this award to four other bloggers. I'm choosing these guys, because they're all well-worth a visit, and I love keeping up with what they're posting.
I could have happily given this to everyone on my list of people I follow, so I feel a bit mean for just choosing four. But maybe in time it will get passed to everyone I've missed. In the meantime, I'm going to go and make myself a celebratory cup of tea!
Tuesday, 3 May 2011
Out of the Undergrowth
It is, as my mother would say, a beautiful day for drying. I’m just hoping she’s going to notice, and say something nice, something appreciative when she gets home and sees that I’ve actually pegged it out for her. I want a lift into town later. Maybe she’ll be so pleased with me, she won’t moan. Usually it’s “Oh Celia, don’t you know how much petrol costs these days? Can’t you use your bike? Can’t Melanie’s parents pick you up?” And that old cliché, “Do you think I’m a bloody taxi service?” It’s so lame when she says that. I roll my eyes, and groan at her from behind my ironed fringe. But there will be none of that today, oh no. Today I will be top dog, the golden girl. I’ve even remembered to peg everything upside down, the way she likes, even though there’s no sane reason for this weird foible.
I am pegging the last thing, my brother’s rugby shirt, when sudden sound startles me. There is a rustle in the wilderness beyond the mowed lawn. I teeter forwards, and peer into the melee of overgrown privet and wild honeysuckle. Maybe it’s the cat. He has a nasty line in baby rabbits. I look for something to fend him off, so I can rescue this latest victim. But the lack of squealing means it’s probably too late.
“Marmalade, is that you?” I duck and weave, searching dark green for a hint of orange. Instead, my brother’s face bursts out of the undergrowth. I yelp and jump backwards, my heart hammering in alarm.
“Justin! What are you doing in there? Why aren’t you at work?”
“Shut-up Celia,” He hisses, his head darting this way and that. “Keep your bloody voice down, will you?” He moves forwards, still looking around, and I notice his shoulders are bare. His chest is bare. His waist is bare. I gawp, mouth hanging.
“Don’t just bloody-well stand there like that,” Justin squeaks, shooing me with his hand as though I'm an annoying fly. “Someone’ll see.”
“See what?” I recover some of my kid-sister attitude. “What are you doing in there anyway? Why aren’t you at work?”
“Why are you alive?” He retaliates, and then softens. “Celia, is Mum in?”
“She’s at work,” I shrug. He knows that.
“What about Dad? Is Dad here?”
“No.” I stuff my hands on my hips as though this was the most ridiculous question in the universe. Justin sighs.
“Thank god for that.”
My brother steps out of the bushes as naked as the day he was born. He covers his willy with his hands, and growls at me as though it were perfectly normal for him to appear from the bushes at this time of day, completely starkers. I look round for the hose pipe as he makes a run for the house, but I am too slow. Before I reach the tap, he has dashed inside.
There is a scream from indoors, and the sound of breaking crockery. I smirk. I should have told him really. But he was in such a hurry, he didn’t think to ask if Grandma was indoors.