DUST

DUST

Ella was glad to come on her annual visit to house-sit for her son while he and his family took their two-week summer holiday and she was looking forward to it. She had arrived a few days before so as to give her time to spend with her two grandchildren, Tom, aged six and Helen, aged nine but after a few days, she was exhausted. It was the untidiness of family life that got to her. Now, after waving good-bye as they drove off, she shut the front door firmly and leaned back against it.
Signs of a hasty departure met her gaze and she wandered into the kitchen. She needed a cup of tea. Taking it into the lounge, as she passed the sideboard, she automatically ran her finger along the top, then, inspecting the tip and wrinkling her nose, she grunted, “Ugh, dust.” It was always the same. Every time she visited, she wanted to clean the house from top to bottom. It wasn’t really dirty, she had to admit, but it wasn’t spotless. She liked ‘spotless’. That’s the way she had been brought up and that was the way she had kept her house all of her married life. ‘A place for everything and everything in its place.’ It had driven her late husband mad. He was a patient man but one day, he grabbed the cleaner, wrenched the dust bag open and tipped the offending dirt out on to the middle of the lounge carpet, saying “There, there’s a bit you’ve missed.” With that, his paper tucked under his arm, he retired to the potting shed. Helen was dumbstruck but put his uncharacteristic behaviour down to a mid-life crisis and proceeded to clear up the mess.
Nowadays, no dust had the nerve to settle in her house. Everywhere shone to sparkle, even the empty milk bottles that used to sit on the doorstep, had glinted like cut-glass. The milkman no longer called and she was deprived of polishing the bottles to perfection as milk was now in plastic bottles from the supermarket. She hated plastic. You couldn’t get a shine on it.
During the first week, she scrubbed and cleaned and sorted to her heart’s content. She washed the curtains and re-hung them, tidied the cupboards and generally spent a happy and rewarding week. Then she started on the garden. It seemed that all the weeds shrivelled and the snails and slugs ran for cover the minute she stepped out of the back door.
On the Wednesday of the second week, she decided she had done all she could and feeling a bit tired, after all she wasn’t as young as she used to be, needed an early night. She fell asleep almost at once and slept the sleep of the true workaholic.
In the early hours, she was woken by the sound of a terrible crash. She was in the back bedroom and struggling out of bed, donning her dressing gown and slippers, she opened her bedroom door to find that lights were shining into the hall from outside. The front door’s open, she thought, then glancing towards the lounge she realized that the dividing wall between the hall and the lounge was no longer there. In its place was the nose of a large truck, gently smoking and exuding petrol fumes. Staring at her through the windscreen was the startled face of the driver. She promptly fainted. When she came to, she was being carried down the stairs on a stretcher. Descending, she automatically ran her drooping hand along the banister and grumbled weakly through the oxygen mask, “Ugh..dust.”
She was suddenly struck by an agonizing pain in her chest and promptly passed out again.
A couple of weeks later, the vicar, standing by her newly dug grave, was befittingly and reverently intoning “Dust to Dust…

© Marion Sharville

HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?

Bert Harding was proud of his little garden. He and his wife, Hetty, had lived in their ‘two-up, two-down’ cottage for the last thirty years. It was one of a row to house the original railway workers who had built the line, which ran along the bottom of their garden. Since retiring from his job as the local butcher Bert had spent every day, weather permitting, in his garden. If it were warm and sunny, he would sit on the back doorstep drinking a mug of tea, surveying the neat regimented rows of vegetables. He would listen to Hetty singing to herself as she prepared their lunch and he was content.
One day, after handing Hetty his empty mug, he wandered out to the front of the house. He stood at the gate looking back and appraising the neat lawn with its border of scarlet Salvias and the round bed, a riot of colour in the centre of the tiny plot; not a weed in sight. The vicar and his wife, who were passing, stopped to admire his handiwork.
“I don’t know how you do it, Bert.” The vicar was effusive with his praise. The vicar’s wife was envious. An understandable sin, she consoled her conscience when she reflected on the size and tangle of the ground around the vicarage.
Bert usually revelled in the admiration. On this occasion though, after they had gone their way, he surveyed the neat garden path that led to the snow-white front step and felt a slight feeling of dissatisfaction; something was missing. The feeling persisted all through lunch. Hetty’s suggestion of a small statue was rejected. “No,” he told her, “not colourful enough.”
“What about a garden gnome, then?” she laughed.
“Mmm…that might be an idea…they’re certainly colourful. Leave the dishes, we’ll nip down to the garden centre and see what they’ve got.” Hetty was a bit taken aback that he had cottoned on so readily to her light-hearted suggestion but was glad he was still taking such an interest. She had been worrying about his retirement, wondering how he would spend his time. Would he be forever under her feet? Not that it would bother her too much but one had one’s routine.
He’d always been a man dedicated to his job. “It’s not everybody’s cup of tea,” he would say, “but some-one’s got to do it and I pride, myself on doing it well.” He prided himself on doing everything well. It sometimes made Hetty feel a bit inadequate.
The array of gnomes at the garden centre posed a problem, there were so many to choose from. Bert decided they would just take two for now, but which ones?
Later, over tea, he was rather quiet. “I wish I’d bought that one with the wheelbarrow, it would look a treat planted with pansies…then, that one with the long white beard and Wellington boots was nicely sculptured, almost a work of art.”
“They’re not sculptured Bert, only moulded. They’re alright, I suppose but hardly a work of art.” Hetty was dismissive.
“Well, I like them, they’re cheerful.”
Over the next few days, he dug up the central flower bed and made it into a pond. Then he set one of his new acquisitions, a gnome with a fishing rod, on a small rustic bridge which spanned it. He felt the bridge gave the garden a Japanese touch. He called Hetty to come and see. “Hmmm…it makes a change,” she remarked, dashing indoors to attend to the dinner. The next day, he came home with four more. “Couldn’t resist them,” he explained.
“It’s getting a bit crowded, I don’t think you should buy anymore.” Hetty was perplexed and a little worried by her husband’s sudden attachment to these garden accessories. She’d been warned about a man’s mid-life crisis. Some of her friends’ husbands had gone through it. At sixty-five she felt, Bert was having his a bit late. She’d kept herself looking good and cooked all his favourite dinners in an effort to ward off any extra-marital fascinations…but garden gnomes?
That evening, he took Hetty to stand with him in the front bay window. He wanted her to watch the reaction of the evening strollers who gazed in admiration at the spectacle in the front garden of No.8 Railway Villas. The ‘oohs’ and “aahs’ floated across to them and Bert’s heart filled to overflowing as he squeezed Hetty’s hand.
That night he slept the sleep of a man fulfilled but contentment did not last. Despite the local appreciation of his skills, Bert was downcast. Hetty couldn’t understand it. As she made the bed, she thought about it. All his working life he had been happy. Now, when he should be relaxing, enjoying his well-earned retirement, he was discontented. She didn’t know what to make of it. She plumped his pillow extra hard as she straightened the bedspread.
A few days later, he said, “I’m just nipping down the road…won’t be long.” ‘It’s unlike him to go off, like that, without saying where he’s going,’ she thought. ‘I hope he’s not going to the pub. Oh! I hope he hasn’t taken to drink. Mrs Bolton’s husband did when he retired.’ But those fears were unfounded as, on his return, he was stone-cold sober and clutching another couple of gnomes. For a fleeting moment, she would have preferred the drink but she pushed the idea away. After a few more lone trips to buy more gnomes despite her pleas, she began to get really worried. The front garden was getting far too crowded and even Bert could see it was spoiling the effect.
That evening, after supper, he startled her with, “We’re going to have to move.”
“Move? I don’t want to move.”
“We need a bigger garden. This one’s cramping my style. I’ve got to expand Het…I’ve got to have more scope for my creative talents, don’t you see, Love?”
“Creative talents, my foot! All I see is that you have gone stark raving mad over garden gnomes. There’s so many now, that soon, we won’t be able to get to the front door. The milkman and the postman are already complaining. We’re not going to move and that’s that. If you want more space, put them in the back, there’s more room there.”
“But no-one will be able to see them.”
“And, another thing…” Hetty had built up steam. “If another gnome comes in that gate, I’m walking out.”
Neither of them slept well, that night. The icy cold of disagreement crept into their bed and wedged itself between them and at four o’clock, Hetty was wide awake.
Next morning, they were disturbed by a loud knocking. Opening the door, they were confronted by a policeman carrying the fisherman. Outside the front gate stood a police van, unloading its cargo of gnomes. The garden was bare.
“Is this your property, Sir?” the policeman enquired.
“Yes, it’s mine. What’s happened?”
“It was found, fishing in a kerbside drain, causing a hazard to passing vehicles.”
“What? Where are all the others? “They were found, lined up at a nearby bus stop, Sir. The driver of the early morning bus drew up and as they made no attempt to get on, he reported the incident to us. A youthful prank, might I suggest, Sir? Might I also suggest that you keep your gnomes under control or we may have to arrest you for wasting police time. Now, where do you want them?”
Hetty was adamant, “Around the back, they’ll be safer there…and thank you, Officer.”
The police van departed and Bert, head in hands, groaned, “They can’t stay there, Het, no one will be able to see them.”
“No one will be able to steal them, either,” his wife replied.
“But, Het, I want people to appreciate what I’ve accomplished there’s no point in doing it, otherwise.” She took pity on him.
“I know, Love, but think on it. There’ll be more room to landscape in the back…and maybe a little stream down the middle?…and just a few more gnomes? They won’t be so crowded and with your skill, you’ll make it beautiful.”
“But who will see it?”
Hetty put her hand on his arm, “The people on the train, of course. They’ll look forward to it. I shouldn’t wonder if it doesn’t become a tourist attraction.”
“Oh, Hetty, do you think so?”
“I’m sure of it.”
As she went back into the kitchen to put the kettle on, she grinned to herself and wondered what the neighbours would have thought if they had seen her, in her dressing gown, at four o’clock in the morning, going backwards and forwards to the bus stop.
© Marion Sharville

YOU CAN’T TEACH AN OLD DOG…

George Belling took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the fresh salty air as he stepped out towards the sea front. It had been a long dark winter and even the early spring and occasional promise of better weather had not lured him out. At his age, he felt the cold. This morning, however, the gentle warmth of the English sun seemed to have taken ten years from his eighty-six-year-old body and he walked with a spring in his step, at least, as much as his arthritis would allow.

It was a Saturday and the small town was already busy. He decided to walk through the park, past the Bowling Green. A few enthusiastic players were softly padding about in their flat, white shoes, preparing for an early game. George decided that he would try to enrol as a member, this year. The slow pace of the game appealed to him. It came back to him that when he was small his grandfather had taken him to their local Green and he had watched them play and had been allowed to touch the beautiful shiny bowls, too large and heavy for his little hands to hold but he had loved their spherical beauty and the smooth feel of them. The tactile pleasure returned to him, even after so many years.

He strolled past the workmen busy placing out the new bedding plants. ‘Neat,’ he thought, ‘everything in rows. Still, I suppose that’s what people want, in a park.’ He preferred the riotous anarchy of the woods and the fields, ‘Still, everyone to his own.’ He walked on. Leaving through large wrought-iron gates and crossing the busy coastal road, he trudged across a small piece of wasteland, scattered with children at play. In one corner was an official play area, where tiny tots and watchful Mums were making the most of the sunshine. On the far side, George spied a vacant bench. He made straight for it; he was ready for a sit-down. He reached it with a sigh of relief. Mopping his face with his handkerchief (he still preferred them to paper tissues) he surveyed his surroundings. The bench was so positioned that, looking to his left, he could see along the length of the broad promenade and out to sea, and to his right, he could watch the children playing on the grass. The sun was pleasantly warm and set to get warmer as the day progressed. He was glad he’d worn his old panama hat. He remembered the little shop where he had bought it, years ago. It had been on the corner, near Lyons Tea-shop in the High Street; all gone now.

Having settled, he gazed with idle curiosity, at what was going on around him. He relaxed. Piping voices to his right drew his attention.

“Run…run”

“One…two…’urry up. Get after it…three…”

A group of small boys were enthusiastically enjoying their own ‘Test Match Special.’ George watched as the batsman, a small skinny lad of about seven, skidded into the crease just as the balding tennis ball arrived within a yard of the wicket; a home-made affair, concocted from three odd sized sticks stuck into the ground and a small sandal balanced on top, acting as bails. The mate of the sandal had been discarded some way off and the bowler was bare-foot. The game progressed between arguments.

Happily content, George was gradually lulled into a doze but suddenly, a rasping sound, punctuated with crashing and clacking noises, which, gathering momentum, put paid to any idea of a nap. Turning towards the promenade, he saw, careering towards him, an armada of skate boards, their riders, arms outstretched, knees bent, completely in control of the wheels beneath their feet. They jumped, turned, hopped on to the small dividing wall between the promenade and the piece of wasteland and landed back among the whirl of boards. No-one, crashed, broke any bones or were decapitated. George watched, at first with horror, then admiration as they swept towards him.

His thoughts sped back once more to the days of his youth. He felt again, the challenge and thrill of climbing seemingly unclimbeable trees, of jumping ditches on his bike, getting up to speed on his home-made wooden scooter with the ball-bearing wheels and the satisfying rhythm as they crumped across the paving cracks. Oh, how he envied these skateboarders. He felt the adrenaline pulsing through his body…if only he was younger… he’d show them. Mentally he was shooting the rapids of the promenade, balancing, jumping, dancing over walls, flying low and landing with the precision with which he used to land his Spitfire.

Lost in his memories and imagination, he was suddenly aware that the riders had skidded to a halt in front of him. The leader, a long lanky youth, whose dark hair stood up in stiff little spikes, stared with arrogance straight at George. Seeing something in the old man’s expression, and sensing that here was an appreciative audience, the boy flipped his skateboard into the air with one foot, landing both feet on it as it came down, then he was off; a solo turn, swift, skilful; a first-class performance and all, George was certain, was for his benefit. His admiration was genuine but tinged with resentment for he knew the boy, with the unintentional cruelty of youth, was rubbing his nose in it. As the lad stopped neatly in front of the old man, he swept his arms, as if to include all his mates in the joke, and challenged George, with a grin, “I bet you wish you could do that, Grand-dad, don’t you?”

George smiled ruefully. “Maybe, but it’s too late, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, can you?” Just then, a shout arose from the band of young cricketers.
“Out!” “
“ ‘s not, I was back in. I got a run.”
“Yer didn’t. You was run out.”
“Who sez?”
“ I sez. It’s my bat, so I’m captain. You gotta do what I say. Stands to reason, if it’s my bat, I get to say who’s out.” The skinny batsman, his face twisted with anger, threw the bat to the ground. “Keep yer rotten bat. It’s gotta wobbly handle anyway. My Dad’s going to buy me a proper bat…and I’m not letting you have a go…” The captain rushing to pick up his bat, set up such a wail that the skateboarders turned to see what was happening

“You’ve broken it now. See what you’ve done, Bobby Miller. I’ll tell yer Dad. You’ve gone and busted it…”

“Ain’t that your little brother, Will?” One of the bigger boys was addressing their leader. “Yeah, I’d better sort it.” Tucking his skateboard under his arm, Will ran down towards the squabbling boys and turning to the now crestfallen batsman, said, “You stay where you are. I’ll deal with you in a minute. It’s no good you running off, I know where you
live. Reaching his small brother and resting his hand on his shoulder, he tried to comfort him. “Don’t take on…lets have a look at it. We might be able to mend it…anybody got any string?” The boys started to turn out their pockets but among the assortment of sweet wrappers, pebbles, pocket fluff, only one short piece was discovered, and that with a suspect sticky blob attached to it.
“That’s no good, it’s too short…haven’t yer got anything else?” Shaking their heads, they stood defeated.

“This any good?” George proffered a neatly tied hank of thin red cord.

“Cor! Ta! “ Will took the offering and, with his little brother steadying the blade of the bat, he held the two split lengths of the handle together and started to wind the string round and round, ending in a knot, as tight as he could make it. Swinging the bat to test it, he declared, his voice showing his disappointment. “ That’s no good, it’s too wobbly, it won’t hold…sorry, kids, it can’t be done.” A miserable silence settled on the team,

“Excuse me,” George held out his hand. “Bring it here, I’ll show you.” Untying the cord, he told them,“ It needs whipping.”
“Whipping?”
“Yes, you know, like the way the wooden handle on your Grannie”s old potato peeler is tied on. That’s whipping. My Dad taught me and now I’m showing you. Here, hold it steady.” Placing the split sides of the handle together,
he set about it.

“Watch,” he said, as they all crowded round. “Lay the string double. in a long loop along the two parts to be whipped, with one piece only just a bit longer than the handle, then, holding both ends of the looped string in place, wind the long piece tightly, really tightly, round and round towards the loop end, making sure the cut end of the looped string is left clear. Wind as far as you need. Then pass the winding string through the loop and grabbing and tugging the short piece, at the other end, the loop will pull it back through the coils to fit snuggly underneath. They watched silently as he slowly demonstrated. At last, holding it up and testing it, he announced, “There you are, tight as a… well that’ll hold. Cut the string left over and Bob’s your Uncle!” Neatly slicing the string with his pocket knife, he handed the bat back and getting up, prepared to make his way home.

“Cor! Ta, Mister.” The little cricketers dashed away to resume play, their captain swinging his resurrected bat; quarrel forgotten in the wonder of this unexpected miracle.

“Wicked! Thanks!” Will grinned, shouting back as he mounted his skateboard, “Reckon you’re one old dog, who doesn’t need new tricks. See yer around, Grand-dad.”

© Marion Sharville

WINTER PLANTING

“What do you mean, you don’t want to be bothered?”
Sybil was furious. She had just taken a mug of tea down to the garden shed, for William, her husband of forty years, and had been feeling pleased with herself. She had offered him the tea, along with the brilliant idea that had come to her on what to spend the unexpectedly large prize she had won at bingo. She was going to buy him a new shed. His lack of enthusiasm was like a slap in the face. She banged the mug of tea down on the bench, splashing it over the crossword he had been doing.

“Watch it, watch it.” William Warwick dabbed the offending pool of tea with his handkerchief, careful not to rub a hole in the damp paper.

“Here! Not your hanky, that’ll stain, that will. Honestly! Why don’t you use that kitchen roll? It’s always the same with you; the easiest thing to hand. You’re getting worse. You spend nearly all day in this tumbledown shed, supposedly tending your plants and half the time, you’re doing crosswords. There’s plenty of odd jobs about the place that need doing, if you can muster up the energy, instead of wasting your time in here. I’m telling you, this shed’s so old that, one day, it’ll fall down around your ears. It’s like a refugee from the allotments. I offer to buy you a new one and all you can say is, you don’t want to be bothered. It’s not as if you’ll have to do anything, the shed people will put it up.”

“I know, I know, but I’ll have to move all my plants and pull this one down. It’ll be a lot of work and that new one will cost quite a bit.”

“I know that… I’m paying for it, aren’t I? So that needn’t worry you. Here’s me, offering to spend my winnings on you and you throw it back in my face. I tell you this for nothing. I’m going to get a new shed, whether you like it or not. I’ll get one of those, you know…like a Swiss chalet and I’ll have it put right in front of yours so that I don’t have to look at that eye-sore anymore.”
Stalking off and entering the kitchen, she slammed the back door. The new shed duly arrived and took pride of place at the far end of the lawn, blotting out Sybil’s view of the potting shed. She was delighted with it and started to make it into a small home from home; a remnant of carpet, table and chairs and an electric point to boil a kettle. On warm sunny days, she sometimes invited her friends to tea; sitting on the small veranda, enjoying the sunshine.

William, passing to tend his plants could be heard to mutter “Blooming Wendy house.” After a few months, the novelty wore off and with winter coming on, they were back to their normal routine. They had always walked their dog, Sandy, every morning and evening but several times, lately William had said, ”You go. It doesn’t need two of us.” He’d make some excuse or other. In the end, Sybil went on her own. She decided it wasn’t worth an argument but she was worried about his growing laziness.

Their usual walk took her through a small wood. She wasn’t nervous, she had the dog after all, but one morning, she noticed an old van dumped among the trees. There was a man, sitting on the cabin step. He was dirty and unshaven. Sybil was startled and Sandy started to growl.

“Good dog, good dog.” The man held out his hand. The dog walked towards him, timidly, and the hand stayed outstretched. The voice was soothing. Sybil was surprised to note it was a cultured voice. She watched nervously as the dog, on reaching him, submitted happily to the fondling of his head and the gentle comforting words. The man looked up at Sybil. She noticed his eyes were a startling bright blue, even in the shade of the trees. He spoke,
“That’s a fine dog you have. I’m sorry if I frightened you.”
“Oh, no, not really,” she lied. “It’s alright. Come along, Sandy,” and she resumed her walk. She told William of her little adventure and next day, he accompanied her. He told her he wouldn’t let her go alone. She was rather touched.

The tramp appeared to have taken up residence in the van for he was there every day when they passed and they would nod a greeting. Sybil started taking him a flask of tea. And they would sometimes stay for a short chat. “Just call me Reg,” he said and, after a while, they learned that he was alone in the world, having no relatives or friends. After a week or two, William, saying he thought he was harmless, went back to avoiding the exercise of walking the dog. Winter really set in and one evening, finding the man wrapped in a blanket and looking frozen and ill, she couldn’t go back to her warm house and leave him there to freeze, so, she decided to take him home, with her.
Later, in the kitchen, while Reg was soaking in their bath upstairs, William, shocked out of his usual apathy, voiced his horror at what she’d done. “What got into you, woman? We don’t know anything about him. Social Services should be looking after him. He’s not our problem. He can’t stay here.”
“He’s a gentleman, Will. You can tell by his voice.”
“They’re the worst kind,” William warned her. Sybil shrugged, “Well, It’s obvious Social Services don’t know about him. At least let him enjoy his hot bath.”
“It’ll probably kill him.”
“Don’t be stupid…and you can lend him your old pyjamas … and give him some of your old clothes. We’ll have to burn his.”
“But where’s he going to sleep?”
Sybil gave it some thought.
“I suppose he could sleep in my shed. There’s a point for a kettle and he can have the blow-up bed.”
“Your precious shed?”
“Well, he can’t go back to that van in this weather.”
“Why not? That was his choice, and, what’s he been living on, I’d like to know?” Will was getting hot under the collar.
“Oh, stop making a fuss. You said yourself, you thought he was harmless. Go on.” She gave him a slight push, “Go and get out the blow-up bed and I’ll get him something to eat.”

That night, Sybil slept peacefully, revelling in a ‘good feel’ factor. William slept uneasily, trying to remember if he’d bolted the back door and being too warm and comfortable to go and check. Next morning, Sybil was awakened by a frantic William.
“Sybil, Sybil, I told you that bath would kill him.” His wife, rudely wakened, yawned “What do you mean, kill him? Who’s been killed? Someone we know? “
“No, someone we don’t know… the man in the shed.”
“What do you mean, dead?” She was wide awake, now. “He can’t be. He was alright, last night. He tucked into my hot-pot, right enough. . Dead? What are we going to do? Oh, my Goodness,””
“It might be your goodness that has done for him… your hot-pot on an empty stomach.”
“Oh, don’t say that, William… they’ll have me up for murder…I’ll go to prison…what’ll we do?”
“Don’t take on, it might not be as bad as that…it’ll probably be manslaughter, you won’t get quite so long.”
“William!” “Oh, Will, you’ve got to do something. I can’t go to prison. I’ve never even had a parking ticket.”
“I know, old girl… but if it was your hot-pot, I expect we’ll have to tell the police.”
“Do we have to? Nobody knows he’s here. Can’t we take him back to the van…let someone else find him?”
“We can’t do that. It’s broad daylight. We’ll be seen…and he’s wearing my pyjamas.” After a few minutes, he asked, “No one saw you last night, did they?”
“No, I don’t think so, it was dark.”
“Well, that’s a relief! So, no one knows he’s here.” He sat on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands, thinking. Sybil spoke, a faint trace of hope in her voice. “Are you sure he’s dead…not just sleeping in…he must have been tired?” Her husband shook his head,
“He’s dead, alright. I looked in on him this morning and I couldn’t wake him. He was icy cold.”
“Oh, Will, the poor man.” William got up suddenly from the bed with a brisk air that was unusual for him.
“What are you going to do?” Sybil panicked.
“I think I’d better look in his pockets to see if there is any identification. You haven’t burnt them, already, have you?”
“No. They’re in a black bin bag, in the kitchen.” Will disappeared downstairs. A few minutes later, he called up,
“It appears his name is Reginald Plant. That’s all there is, there’s no address… hand-stitched labels…good quality clothes…”

Over coffee, they pondered on what they were going to do. Sybil, despite her fear of being arrested, could see no way around it and felt that they would have to inform the police but her husband hesitated. “It’ll be such a palaver, I can’t be bothered with all that. There’ll be questions and statements, then we’ll have to give evidence at a Coroner’s hearing. It’ll go on and on and be such a lot of trouble. I don’t think I’m up to it. What’s more, if it turns out that it really was your hot-pot that did it, your Women’s Institute will never let you bake another cake for their market stall. And, just think of it, if you get sent to prison, it’s bound to be miles away for visiting. I’m not sure I’ll be able to…” Seeing the look on her face, he quickly added, “But, of course, I’ll come.”
“Oh, Will”
“I’m sorry, old girl. I wish there was another way to avoid all this upheaval but I don’t see how…” He relapsed into a state of pensive melancholy, but suddenly brightening, he caught hold of her hand. “Are you sure no one saw you?”
“Certain.”
“ I’ve had an idea. We could get rid of the body ourselves. After all, he’s got no relatives or friends. He told us that himself. We could give him a decent burial and say nothing about it. No one needs to know.”
“But where can we bury him? The neighbours are bound to see us.”
“I’ve been thinking…no one would think anything odd about me spending all day in my shed. What they won’t know is that I’ll be digging up the floor. Then tonight, when it’s dark, we’ll carry him from the other shed and bury him, and cover it with my plants,” Suddenly a rueful grin crept across his face, “Come to think of it, with a name like Plant, he should feel at home.”
“Oh, Will, don’t talk like that, this is no joke.”
“Quite right, old girl. I’d better get on with it.

Sybil, at last accepting the situation, decided that a bit of digging, manual labour, might do him good.
William had been digging for a couple of hours. He was out of breath and his back was killing him. He was muttering about irresponsible strangers, inconsiderately dropping dead where they weren’t wanted when, a shadow fell across a tray of winter pansies and a voice broke in on his complaining.
“Good morning.” The voice was bright and cheerful. William straightened up to find himself gazing into the bright blue eyes of the stranger who, rubbing his hands together, in an attempt to revive his circulation, remarked,
“That’s the best night sleep I’ve had in ages but I’m frozen. It’s like a morgue, in there. May I use your toilet?”

© Marion Sharville

CAR OWNER PREFERRED

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I was sitting in the Doctor’s waiting room the other day when, unbeknown to me the whole of my life was about to change. I don’t go to the doctor’s very often. Well men don’t as a rule, do they? But I’ve been having trouble with my back and the pain has been so bad lately that I deemed it wise to stagger down to the doctor’s to get something to relieve it. It’s a sure sign that something’s wrong when a chap can’t cock his leg over the saddle to mount his bike.

It was three years almost to the day since I lost Elsa and I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. I’d been managing quite well until now, I thought. I’d carried on coping with all the everyday things and I’d almost convinced myself that I was getting over it but there was still an awful emptiness inside. What with that and the back-ache I didn’t feel as if I could push a bus over, as my old mother used to say.

There is always an embarrassing silence in the waiting room as if those there are slightly ashamed of being caught going into a confessional. A small boy, with no shame was busy raking through an assortment of broken plastic toys, which had been well fingered and chewed by previous tiny visitors. I picked up a magazine. I’m not a one for magazines as a rule…except ones about motor cars and I didn’t expect to find anything in this one to interest me but my eye was caught by a column offering me friendship.

Friends have been very scarce on the ground since Elsa went so I decided to see what was on offer. There was a scattering of men modestly stating their attributes and rather a lot of ladies interested in gardening and long walks. Several declared that they were non-smokers and loved animals and I was invited to contact them. Some cautious applicants suggested that they would appreciate a photograph. They all seemed to be very sincere genuine people but the thing that struck me was that most of the ladies added to their list of acceptable requirements, ‘car owner preferred.’ Now, I don’t own a car…used to, but not any more. No one stipulated ‘bike owner preferred’. So, it seemed to me that I was destined to remain friendless. This made me feel worse than when I came in.

Just then, my name George Belling came up on the electric notice board announcing to all and sundry that the doctor was waiting to see me. In the time it took me to hobble the few steps to his consulting room I was already convinced that he would tell me I’d only got two weeks to live, the up-side of which, I bravely assured myself, was that it would solve the friendship problem. In the event, I was given a prescription for some liniment and told to bend my knees when lifting anything heavy. Being friendless didn’t seem to be so important any more and I walked out with a much lighter step. However, I missed the bus and sitting on the seat in the bus shelter, purposely designed to be uncomfortable, I realised that I was still clasping the magazine and the lack of friends re-imposed itself upon my mind.

For several weeks I could think of nothing but the possibilities opened up by the friendship column. The lack of a car was, it seemed, a failing on my part. I’d known that for a long time for I did miss my car and being retired, I hadn’t the means to replace it.

Thinking of the opportunities I was missing I was, at first, bitter at my inability to claim a friend because of my mode of transport. The men advertising, it appeared to me, were just hoping for someone who wasn’t bad looking and who could cook and would appreciate their jokes. Suddenly I had an inspiration. Why shouldn’t a man request ‘car owner preferred’?
No sooner the thought than the deed and I penned my notice and sent it off to the address on the bottom of the friendship page. I felt I owed it to myself to present my qualifications in the best light so I did not mention my weak back, my knock-knees or the fact that I tend to get wind when excited. I am a non-smoker and six foot tall so that should count in my favour.

I spent the next few days in an agony of suspense but endured this time of apprehension by cleaning and polishing my bike in case I received no replies and in a sort of attempt at an apology to it for classing it as second-rate to a motor car. After all, it had been a true friend to me since I became car-less.
When I deemed the time was right I went by bike to the local post office to fetch any mail from the box number I had given and had wind all the way home knowing there were three letters resting in my saddle bag.

Arriving home I considered myself very restrained for I made myself a cup of strong sweet tea with an extra spoonful of condensed milk to strengthen me before I opened them. There, at the kitchen table I opened the first one. It was a great disappointment. She sounded quite nice but had no car and hoped that because of her other attributes I might consider her even without a car. It hurt me to do it but it went straight into the bin.

The second one was from a lady living in Russia who had a Skoda. She was hoping I would pay for the transportation of herself and her car as she had always wanted to come to England. I was tempted but the state of my finances meant that this was another one for the bin. My hand shook as I opened the third. Two photos fell out and I stared with wonder at the photo of the car. It was identical to the car I used to own, my beloved Morris Minor. This is the one, I thought. It was love at first sight. I turned over the other photo and there staring straight at me, smiling and looking just as lovely as the day she left me for the insurance man, taking my car with her, was my wife, Elsa. I was stunned. Surely this was fate. Elsa, I knew, was a great believer in fate and I felt sure that here was my opportunity to win back the love of my life …and of course, Elsa. What’s more she already knows about my weak back, my knock-knees and my tendency to wind.

© Marion Sharville

THE GUNNY BAG

“Have you been queuing long?” She was feeling a bit confused and had turned to the man behind her.

“I don’t know, it seems like an eternity but my watch has stopped.”
“So has mine.” She shook her wrist, peering again at the lifeless dial.
“Mine too.” Another voice.
“And mine.”
“That’s odd.” She felt even more confused. “And look at the length of this queue. When do the gates open?”
“He says they’re always open.”
“Who?”
“That chap over there. The one with the halo.”
“Is he in charge?”
“Seems to be.”
“Do we have to pay?”
“I expect so.” He shrugged. “You don’t get anything for nothing, these days. Still. I expect you’ll get in cheap, being a senior citizen.”
“We’re moving.” She shifted her handbag to her other hand. It was making her arm ache; it was so heavy, “Why is it taking so long if the gates are always open. What’s the hold-up?”
“He’s dishing out our Gunny-bags.”
“What are they, when they’re at home?”
“Don’t you know? What religion are you, then, if you don’t know about Gunny-bags ?
“RC.”
“And they never told you about Gunny-bags?”
“No.”
“Well I never. I thought the Pope was supposed to know everything. It just goes to show.”
“What are they, then?”
“Well, by rights, you’re not supposed to take anything with you when you go. You’ll have to hide that handbag. But, when you get to the gates, St Peter does give you your own personal Gunny-bag in which are stored items collected over the years and you are allowed to take them in, That is, if there aren’t too many.”
“Really! That’s interesting but I wish they’d get a move on. I don’t know about you but I’m feeling a bit puffed out. That climb was a bit steep.”
“Jacob’s ladder, you mean?”
“Yes…and no handrails. You’d think they’d have had handrails or even a Stannah stairlift. After all, when you’ve just died, you’re not exactly feeling your best, are you?”
“No, and Rigor Mortis doesn’t help, either.”
“You’re right. Oh, it’s my turn next.”
“Name?”
“Marion Sharville.”
“You can’t take that handbag, Madam.”
“But I never go anywhere without it.”
“There’s always a first time….Gabriel, another one for the pile. Now, let’s see. Where’s your Gunny-bag?”
“That big one over there has my name on it.”
“I’ll say it’s big. What, in Heaven’s name, have you got in there? He opens it and peers inside. “Why,” he looks slightly shaken. “It’s full of worries. How did you manage to collect so many?”
“I do have seven children.”
“That’s no excuse. We’ll have to get rid of some of this lot.”
“You can’t do that. I’ll get withdrawal symptoms. I’ll have you know that I am a fully paid up member of the League of Anxious Mothers.”
“Really. And what rights does that give you?”
“We share our worries. A trouble shared is a trouble halved, they say. And every year we assemble and travel to the tomb of the unknown worrier. It is very moving.”
“That’s more than can be said for this queue. Can’t you get a move on?” The man behind was stamping his feet to ease them, remarking that the damp cloud he was standing on was getting to him. He added that he had been dead for twenty-four hours and he was still waiting. Turning to his neighbour, he grumbled. “It’s worse than the N.H.S. Look at the queue behind us.”
St Peter apologised. “Sorry. Yes, there is rather a lot. It must have been the ‘flu epidemic.” Turning again to the woman, he continued. “Now, Madam, let’s see what we can get rid of. This is much too heavy.” The woman responded with a bit of spirit. “You leave those worries where they are. There’s plenty of other memories to lighten the load…lots of laughs, for instance.”
“Such as?”
“There’s the time I put the baby’s plastic knickers through the mangle…and they exploded…And that bad winter, when, every morning I had to give our Gerbil the kiss of life as it was always frozen stiff, with its legs in the air. We had no central heating then. There was the year that I dropped the Christmas turkey, straight from the oven, into the dog’s basket and I had to re-pluck it before I could dish it up. Luckily, the dog, sensing danger had just moved out of range. Nobody ever knew, at least, not until now. Then there was the time, in a fit of dire economy, we dyed the faded living room carpet maroon and the little ones all had beetroot red knees and bottoms, for simply ages. So you see there are plenty of things to lighten the load…and there’s the Abacus.
“Abacus?”
St Peter was beginning to look all of his two-thousand years. “Spare me any more, please.” Then, sighing and shaking his head, said “These still don’t outweigh the worries.” Wearily, he tried to explain. “It’s all a question of weight, you see. Anything over the limit has to be discarded.”
“But, the Abacus…for counting my Blessings. That must be worth considering.”
“Hmmm…perhaps…wait a minute. What are all these letters? There’s dozens of them.”
“Oh, they’re my letters of thanks. I wanted to deliver them to Him, in person as I couldn’t rely on the post. I know they’re usually pretty good but I didn’t know the post code.”
St Peter was defeated. He shrugged. “I give up, you can go through,”
The man behind heaved a sigh of relief.
“About time, too. My feet have gone dead standing here, while you two argue.”
St Peter, ignoring the remark, turned and called after the retreating figure as she trundled off with her Gunny-bag.
“Hold on a minute, Madam,” he called. “Can you play the harp?”
“No but I play the piano.”
“Oh, yes, I’ve heard you…right…you’ll be with Les Dawson’s lot. Turn left at the end of that cloud.”

© Marion Sharville

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