I thought I’d share a short story today that is part of my new collection, and will be published soon. The book is entitled ‘Life’, and consists of 18 short stories covering various significant life events. I originally intended it to be just about birth, death and marriage, but other events were begging to be told…
She had been killed by a speeding car in 1967, when Harry was but a new-born babe in arms. Over the years he had heard so much about Nan; her kindness to others, the hardships she had endured as a young mother on her own, the laughter, and of course the boundless love she had always given her children and grandchildren. This knowledge had left him feeling that somehow he had been short-changed. He had never known her; his own paternal grandmother.
He glanced at the photo of his grandmother and Steph that he had managed to display on his iPhone. Steph looked about 8, and was standing next to a tall, willowy lady in a flowery dress and court shoes, who was smiling and had one arm around Steph’s shoulders.
His sister was 10 years older, with deep-seated memories. All he knew about Nan was that her name had been Edith, and that she had been 64 when her life had ended on that foggy November night 48 years before. Steph remembered that Edith had been excited about his birth, and had been on her way round to catch a first glimpse of him, but had never arrived. Steph’s 10 year old brain had blocked out the tears and heartache, and try as she might she could not remember if their father had gone looking for his mother, or whether the police had knocked on their door instead.
The older graves in the lower part of the cemetery were mostly untended now. Thick brambles had sprung up over many years, and he pushed them to one side, treading respectfully around the headstones whilst looking for the name he knew so well. The dank air seemed to fit with his mood; it would have been Edith’s 112th birthday had she lived, and he had a sudden mental picture of a birthday cake, candles, piles of presents, and a laughing elderly lady surrounded by her extended family. However, try as he might he could not imagine Edith looking anything other than the 62 year old currently displayed on his iPhone’s screen.
He came to find the grave every year around her birthday. He thought it strange to feel a connection with somebody he had never known, but Edith had been on her way to see him when she had died, and he felt somehow guilty that his birth had been the cause of her life being snuffed out like a candle on her non-existent birthday cake.
The plastic pot was still there from last year, but with just brown stalks sticking out from the earth inside it. Harry took the pot over to a nearby rubbish bin, and then tided the grave of leaves and detritus. This year he had splashed out and bought a proper marble vase with ‘Nan’ engraved on the front. He placed the vase in front of the headstone and arranged a posy of colourful winter pansies inside it, noticing how the yellows and violets of the petals contrasted vividly with the grey marble. He read again the words that he had come to know so well; ‘Edith Margaret Wilkins, born 7th November 1903, died 13th November 1967. Remembered with love and gratitude’.
He had no memories of her at all, but somehow he knew that she would have accepted him, faults and all. Her husband had been a womaniser and a gambler, and Edith had had her hands full in bringing up his father and Aunt Eileen alone, but as Harry stared at the pansies he knew indeed that he had inherited his grandfather’s wandering eye. Donna had taken him back yet again, but this time Mandy was a few years older and was well aware what had been going on. He was losing his daughter, just as his grandfather had lost Eileen’s love and respect, and with a sigh he realised that he did not like his current situation one little bit.
He sat down on the marble slab, willing Edith to tell him what to do. Sometimes the answer to his problems came straight away, and other times she teased him, just like the breeze did that played with the withered autumn leaves around the grave.
Harry placed his hands on the cool, flat marble and closed his eyes. Six feet below lay his grandmother, once as alive and vibrant as he was now. He thought of her struggling as a single parent while his grandfather satisfied his carnal desires all over the South of England. At that precise moment he hated himself for what he had done to Donna and Mandy. There and then he decided it was time he grew up, stopped chasing other women, and loved his wife, the mother of his child, before it was too late. His father had often told him he would end up a lonely old man, and deep down inside, Harry knew that the old man was talking sense.
He opened his eyes reluctantly. He always felt at peace when visiting the grave. He had no idea whether it was the quietness of the cemetery that aided the gathering of his thoughts, or whether Edith really did manage to reach out to him from wherever she had been for nearly half a century. Either way, he had his answer now; it was time he acted on it.
Standing up, he took once last look at the headstone, smiled, and then turned and walked away.
Update: 1st May 2016 – Life: 18 Short Stories is now published.