A Sad Tale

 

I never really knew the family. I’d seen the mother, attractive young woman, early twenties I guess, pushing a pram with a small boy running beside her, trying to keep up. Not sure what happened to the husband, can’t say I ever saw him. They say he worked in London doing some high-powered job in the city, and when the children came along he began to spend more time at work than at home. It seemed family life was not for him.

With two young children the mother began to let herself go, now not having a man in her life to make an effort for, what was the point? Before she’d always dressed smartly and the children too. I remember seeing them playing in their front garden, the girl in a bright yellow dress with small pink flowers embroidered around the edge and the boy in a blue shirt and trousers. I never saw them in jeans and t-shirts, not until the husband had vanished for good. It would seem a life wheeling and dealing was no match for the drudge of parenthood and commitment, though, I hasten to add, this is not my sentiment, it’s what I heard from others. After he’d left, she took to wearing jogging trousers and baggy sweatshirts. Her hair, always immaculate, looked unwashed and unkempt, what surprised me most, she’d taken up smoking cigarettes. The last time I saw the family they were on their way to the park with a black and white dog in tow whilst the children, laughing, ran along the pavement playing tag.

At the bottom of the street, where this family lived, is a cornfield. A fun place for children to hide and sometimes get lost amongst the tall golden stems. Once the police, with tracker dogs, had to find them. The worst time for children to play in the cornfield would be when the corn was bing harvested. No one wants a combine harvester to come across a hidden child to be diced and sliced in the monster’s big cutting blades.

Oh, I remember the night well, it was mid-summer and raining heavily. Sirens from emergency vehicles woke me. I dressed and ventured out to see what was the cause the commotion. Two fire engines, a police car and ambulance were outside this family’s home, which was engulfed in a ball of flame. I overheard someone in the crowd saying they had seen the mother, just wearing a nightie, running off barefoot down the road towards the cornfield looking distraught and calling out her children’s names. The children were found clutching each other within the burnt out home but there were no sign of the mother or the dog. They found the charred body of their mother in the in the cornfield at the centre of a circle of trampled stalks. The strange thing, there was no sign of burning on the stems of corn.

They say that on the anniversary of the fire, a black and white dog is seen sitting in front of where the house once stood and if the wind is blowing in the right direction, a woman’s voice can be heard calling the names Eva and James from the cornfield.

 

 

 

 

 

Too many birds for Christmas

It was 1941 with meagre rations in the shops and Christmas soon to be here, my grandmother had nothing to roast for the Christmas day. Their white haired spaniel terrier cross, pawed the door wanting to get outside.

“I’m going out to the Christmas fair at the village hall.” My Grandmother called as she was preparing to leave. She called to my father who was in his bedroom. “Come down and take Pip for a walk, he wants to go out.”

Just as they were about to leave my Grandfather appeared carrying his gun. “And where might you be going?” My Grandmother asked.

“Finding something to eat for Christmas,” he retorted and left the house.

My father grabbed his jacket from its peg and followed my grandfather outside. “What are you going to shoot?” He asked his dad.

“Anything I can find,” he said and set off to walk towards the river.

“Come on, Pip,” my father said, and he and the dog set off for the brooks in the opposite direction.

The cold winter weather blew from the north, so my father and dog strode briskly towards the low-lying land, just north of their village, to circumnavigate the pools of water lined by tall reeds obscuring whatever hid amongst them. The dog stopped now and again to sniff blades of grass as they traipsed over frozen ground. A noise from the other side of the reeds made them stop. The dog held his head to one side to listen, then in one bound he was through the reeds and disappeared from my father’s view.

“Pip,” my father called and a little way down the path, the dog emerged carrying a duck in his mouth. Pip came up to my father wagging his tale and dropped a dead female mallard duck at my father’s feet. The air grew colder as the clouds hung heavy in the sky, promising snow.

“Come on, Pip,” my father said. With the duck in hand, they quickened their pace.

Over an hour later my father, now carrying a second mallard duck, a male this time, returned, with Pip, to the house. They entered the scullery and there his mother stood proudly with her arms folded.

“Well what do you think?” she asked him. “We don’t need to worry about a roast for Christmas.”

“No, you’re right, Mum,” my father said. “Pip, bagged us two mallards.” He placed the two ducks on the kitchen table right beside a plump prepared goose. “Where did that come from?”

“I won first prize in the raffle.” She told him, smiling broadly. “Isn’t it a beauty? We shan’t go hungry this Christmas.”

The back door banged and in walked my grandfather carrying something large and white. “Hungry, of course we won’t go hungry ‘cause I got us a Swan.” and he off-loaded the bird onto the draining board.

That Christmas they ate like kings, goose, duck and swan. My grandmother prepared the swan and ducks so they could be cooked, but couldn’t fit the swan in the oven so she had to use a hacksaw to cut the end off so it could fit. There was plenty to go around so much so that they shared their bounty with the neighbours and friends.

Hide and Seek

Sitting in the middle of the lounge, an eighteen-month old toddler busied himself posting coloured bricks down the chimney of a small multi-coloured house. He squealed with glee each time the posted brick tumbled out of at the bottom of the slide to one side of the house and on to the carpet. He didn’t know the proper names of each colour, but, from his mummy, he knew them by other names.

To the toddler’s left was the fireplace and to his right, the long comfortable seat where he and his mummy would cuddle together to read a book before bedtime. He did not see his father very much because he worked late and he would be fast asleep in his bed when he arrived home. Behind the boy and beside the seat was a door, firmly shut, so he could not venture up the stairs on his own. In front of him, through an archway was a table with his special tall chair beside it. To the right of the table and chairs his mummy stood by the sink washing up the dishes.

He picked up a brick which brought a smile of delight to his face and dropped it down the chimney. Choosing a different coloured brick he started to open and close his mouth mimicking a fish which also disappeared down the hole in the roof. The next brick caused him to frown and look stern, this was his angry face and he quickly dropped it after the other bricks.

The door behind him opened and there stood his daddy. The toddler stood up and tottered unsteadily to greet him, bumped into his legs and promptly sat down. His daddy swayed slightly and he smelt funny. Ignoring his son, the man crossed the room almost tripping over the little house. He yelled to his wife, she came to him drying her hands on a towel. The man grabbed her hair with his left hand and with his right he picked up the little house and with some force hit her head with it a few times. Letting go of her, she fell on to the comfortable seat. The boy looked at his daddy bewildered at what he’d just seen and then at his mummy. He climbed up beside her whilst his daddy staggered to the sink to wash his hands.

The toddler tried to wake his mummy placing a hand on her head. She did not move. He pulled his hand away and looked at it and showed his angry face. Not knowing exactly what to do, he slid off the chair and made for the open door. There to his left were the stairs and to his right another open door leading to a larger room. He knew his shouldn’t climb the stairs without someone with him so he chose the larger room, which was dark except for lights shining from tall posts. He crossed the grass and disappeared behind one of the bushes. He loved Hide and Seek but this time he did not want his daddy to find him.

The Homecoming

Hedged, amidst fragrant sea, a cottage lies

Within its white washed walls, a spinster dwells

The rose is her life, a true desire.

Though she was cherished by a lover once

 

Thirty years, he’d left for a distant shore

First she pined, hoping for a swift return

Nothing arrived, no news, a forlorn dream

But on her mantelpiece a picture fades

 

One day, while tending to a scented bloom,

Standing at her front gate, a man unknown

He smiles, calls her name in a tender voice

Memories unlock, her love has come home

 

She runs to greet him like a giddy girl

Flings open the gate for a warm embrace

“Don’t touch,” he says, moves with a swift recoil

So invites him in to a place he’d known

 

“I wrote to explain I’ve a tale to tell”

He sees his photo, leaves a letter there

“I’ll read it later,” she says, “a coffee, tea?”

“No. Let’s walk in the back field as before”

 

“We can’t,” she says, “it’s a housing estate”

“Show me.” She leads him down the garden path

A knock at her door, she hurries back to find

Two policemen waiting, so she lets them in

 

“We found a man, dead in a rover car

“He carried this letter addressed to you”

Exactly like the one her lover left

But on the mantelpiece, his had gone

 

“He’s here, outside, I’ll fetch him, you’ll see”

She runs fast down the path to fetch him in

The houses have all gone, the field restored

He waits, arms outstretched, they embrace as before

 

Inside the cottage the police look down

The spinster lying prostrate on the floor

“Shock must have killed her,” one policeman says

“Maybe she’s with him,” the other retorts

Where Sleeping Dragons Lay

PHOTO PROMPT -Copyright – Rochelle Wisoff-Fields
PHOTO PROMPT -Copyright – Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

 

This reminded me of the fires we had when I was eight years old. Just before bedtime, dressed in pyjamas and dressing gown and holding a hot mug of warm milk, I would stare into our fire, of coal and wood, letting my imagination fly.

The glow from the hot coals illuminating passageways into the interior where dragons slumbered, their flames, as they exhaled, erupting from hidden lairs.

I also saw the flames as horses with knights riding on their backs leaping from one piece of wood to another.

This all too brief encounter ended when bedtime came.