My last post was tongue in cheek but here is a taste of my more serious short fiction.
Chocolate in Summer
Seated at the grand piano, Margot became the woman she might have been rather than the one she was. Gone was the carping woman craving her headache pills; in her place was a maestro.
‘Oh how wonderful. You’ll have some help,’ people cooed when I muttered through clenched teeth that my mother-in-law was coming to stay. How they thought it was helpful to be driving over a hundred and fifty miles to the airport, with a two-month old breast-feeding baby in tow, I couldn’t imagine.
She spent the entire six weeks moaning. The bedroom was too hot, too cold, the baby cried, my cooking was terrible, I didn’t iron Patrick’s shirts properly.
‘She’s asking for Gentleman’s Relish,’ I said to Patrick. ‘What the hell is that? I’ve never heard of it.’
‘Oh yes, she used to love it on toast,’ he said, frowning over our bank statement. ‘She used to put a little jar of it in my school tuck box every term. I’d sell it to one of the older boys because I hated it, and bought sweets from the tuck shop with the money. She never packed sweets. You can probably get it at Fortnums.’
‘Are you insane? Do you really expect me to high-tail it to London to get a jar of something for her bloody toast?’
But make the journey I did, for Margot must be appeased, although nothing would ever make me good enough for her son.
‘Have you put Toby’s name down for Patrick’s prep school yet?’ she asked one Sunday lunchtime while I was clearing the table.
‘Margot, he’s barely three months old,’ I said. ‘Rather premature, don’t you think?’
‘These good schools are subscribed years in advance,’ she said curtly.
‘Besides which,’ I said, ‘I do not intend for my son to be sent away to school, even if we could afford it, which we can’t.’
‘Patrick, surely you can’t want your son educated in a state school?’
‘I rather think I do, Mother,’ he replied. ‘I have no wish to put Toby through what I endured.’
I didn’t hear the end of that conversation because Toby began to wail, much to my relief. I hurried off to placate my son who would not be sent away at the tender age of eight when, I hoped, he would still be wanting a story, a teddy snuggled into his bed and a goodnight kiss.
Each year, two months of summer were utter misery. As he grew older, even Toby began to dread the visit from Grandma: her headaches that demanded his utter silence; the outings that were curtailed because she felt unwell; the meals that must be just so.
‘Give me a hand,’ Patrick yelled down the stairs one Saturday before the impending visit. ‘I need you to hold the ladder. It’s wobbling.’ I switched off the iron, glad to have respite from squirting steam over the curtains from the spare room, Margot’s room, and plodded up the stairs, pushing my damp hair behind my ears.
I held the ladder while Patrick inexpertly painted the room in his mother’s favourite colour.
‘She’ll like this,’ he said as he rolled the paint on. ‘She found the greens too bright.’ He was being tactful; ‘nauseous’ was the word she’d used. My carefully chosen two-tone green room disappeared under a coat of magnolia-meets-mushroom. The curtains would look quite wrong now but at least they would be dust and crease-free.
A month later, I heaved Margot’s luggage up to the room. She was already lying on the bed in the delicate pose of a dying martyr.
‘Pull the curtains,’ she ordered. ‘There’s too much sun. Where are my pills, I think a headache is coming on.’
‘Do you like the new colour?’ I asked as I slid the curtains closed, banishing the few rays of sun to have graced our summer that year.
‘I’ve made your favourite cake so pop down for tea when you’re ready.’
‘I couldn’t possibly eat cake. My digestion. Some cucumber sandwiches, I think.’
‘I’m afraid I don’t have any cucumber. How about tomato?’
‘Tomato? With my delicate stomach? Good gracious girl, you should know this by now. Just run out and fetch a cucumber. It’s hardly too much to ask.’
It was when we visited my new neighbour who had invited us for coffee, that the ground shifted. Standing in their airy living room was a grand piano. Enormous, shiny and proud, it took up most of the space. Margot drifted towards it and trailed her fingers on the keys.
‘Do try it, if you’d like to,’ trilled the neighbour.
To my astonishment, Margot seated herself on the padded stool and began to play. Music rippled from beneath her fingers as effortlessly as breeze on water.
That was the day I first saw her smile.
If you would like the read the whole story it is published in The Greenacre Writers Anthology Vol 2 available from Greenacre Writers
or for just 39p from Alfie Dog Fiction