by Webmaster, 22nd July 2021
You think you know someone. But do you... really?
There's an escapism to writing that few other interests allow. Take Greta Thunberg and her climate-change activism. Which is to be admired. Of course it is. But it must be incredibly frustrating.
What if, instead of attending summit after summit, achieving precious little, she kidnapped the President of the United States and refused to give him back until the country had reduced its carbon emissions by 50 percent. Chances are she'd be hunted down by the CIA and be spending the rest of her days in Guantanamo Bay, or somewhere equally removed from cosy Sweden.
But that's the sort of caper you can get away with scot free in a story. You can allow your wildest fantasies to spring forth and bring joy, triumph, disaster or, of course, vengeance. Sweet, sweet vengeance.
We're not saying that was on the mind of Jacqueline Jeynes when she penned her curious tale of a mother and daughter not quite on the same page. But...
"Not sure if (the idea) came from memories of my ex!" she tells us, mischievously.
The grey, striped tie was neatly folded and lay next to the sky-blue tissue paper. Marion slowly stroked its surface, smoothing out the creases, enjoying its soft, sensual surface against her fingertips. She placed the tie in the middle of the tissue, carefully folding each edge to the centre, pressing the creases with the back of her thumb nail to form a perfectly symmetrical square.
Stephie watched the movements of the older woman, mesmerised by the slow, deliberate actions, yet unclear what symbolic significance they held.
‘Well, it’s a relief that’s over and everyone’s gone now. Nice and peaceful,’ she sighed, stretching the muscles in her shoulders and neck with slow, circular movements.
‘You seem very calm about it all, Mum.’
‘We knew it would happen eventually…’ Marion’s voice trailed off.
‘Yes, but you did your best, Mum. You can’t blame yourself, now, can you?’ said Stephie quickly.
She was becoming very uneasy at the lack of visible emotion from her mother, despite just returning from her husband’s funeral. Stephie hugged her mother’s shoulders, leaning over the seated figure still folding the paper, lost in her own memories. She held her mother briefly, her gaze fixed on the blue tissue, the rhythmic movements and soft, silk-like rustling increasingly hypnotic.
They were good, caring hands but Stephie was startled to realize how lined they’d become. Faded brown freckles floated amongst the blue streams of fine veins beneath taut skin, knuckle joints creaking out early signs of arthritic pain to come.
My mother is getting old!
Hardly an unexpected development. Yet still, the shock of realisation rocked Stephie.
‘I’ll make us a cuppa,’ she said, feeling an urgent need to do something – anything.
Waiting for the boiling kettle, she leaned back against the traditional quarry-tile worktop, watching the greying, not unattractive 58-year-old woman seated at the table calmly – obsessively? – fingering the neat blue parcel.
Mother and daughter had the same soft, green-grey eyes that blazed vividly when either was upset or angry, although Stephie’s complexion was quite sallow compared with the pink tones of her mother’s skin. Her mother had always worked and, despite the emerging signs of ageing, she conceded that Marion had always taken pretty good care of herself.
Goodness. She must have lost a couple of stone with all the worry in the last few months, she thought sadly.
‘Come on, Mum, forget the past now. You’ll soon be back on your rounds with the health centre regulars. Biscuits?’
Stephie put the cups down, opening a new packet of bourbons as she sat opposite her mother. Resisting the temptation to dunk, and thus incur the inevitable parental disapproval, she absent-mindedly swept the scattered brown crumbs of biscuit and chocolate cream into a little pile with her index finger. Her pearly, coffee-coloured nail polish toned rather nicely, she thought.
As she continued to push the crumbs around her saucer, she reflected that this was the second stepfather Mum had buried in the space of four years. There’d been other male friends appearing briefly and moving on just as quickly. Her mother wasn’t promiscuous, of course, and she reminded herself that Marion had cared for them all as district nurse. You can’t get more intimate than that, really, can you?
Yet still she was concerned. This calmness, sense of inevitability, was very disconcerting. Was she really so accepting, so philosophical about death? Especially the death of a loved one?
The image of her father’s funeral exploded into her consciousness, alarmingly vivid, excruciatingly painful. The clarity of remembrance was frightening, especially the devastating feeling of pain and loss experienced so many years ago.
Her mother's voice jolted her back to the present.
‘I said, dear, that I’m not going back to work. I’ve had enough. Malcolm left me well provided for, as did Wilfred, and I’m not so decrepit that I can’t still enjoy life. So, I’ve booked a cruise.
‘And sold the house.
‘Close your mouth, dear. It’s very unbecoming looking like a guppy struggling for breath.’
Instinctively obedient, Stephie clamped her jaw shut, though unable to bring her eyebrows down from the top of her head quite so quickly. ‘But you can’t… you’ve lived here since Dad died… it’s our home. My home!’
The inane phrases tumbled out sounding just as futile to her as they clearly did to her mother.
‘How could you do this? Without a word. Didn’t you care about Malcolm? About Dad or me?’
‘Of course I did, dear. Malcolm was a very nice man, and we both knew he was dying when we married. Admittedly, we didn’t realise how soon it would be.’
‘But I know he was happy when he went.
‘As for your father, it's 15 years since he died, for goodness’ sake. And you? Well, you’ve got everything you need, haven’t you?
‘Anyway, it’s all settled now. The furniture goes into storage and I leave in ten days. Another cuppa?’
The chair scraped across the fashionable, but unyielding flagstones as Marion took the cups over to the teapot to fill up. The noise jarred on Stephie’s ears. She couldn’t believe her mother would do this without consulting her. Why? Why sell the house – why not let it out? Why not tell her only daughter?
‘Mum. For God’s sake leave the tea! Why are you doing this? Where are you going to live when you get back? I just…’
Stephie burst into tears, crying from frustration and bewilderment as much as self-pity. ‘What about me?’
Marion placed the replenished cup in front of her daughter, giving her a quick placatory pat on the arm as she resumed her place in the chair opposite.
‘Well, it’s done now, dear, so there’s nothing more to say. I’ll send lots of postcards when I can.’
It was the final insult. Stephie leapt up, cups rattling in their saucers as the table jerked forward.
‘I can’t stand this!’ she screeched, furious at her mother’s selfish attitude. ‘You never once cared about anyone else, did you? Apart from your precious patients of course,’ she sneered, eyes blazing emerald green as she stood nose to nose with her mother across the table.
‘They’re not called patients, now, dear. We refer to them as residents.’
Marion’s quiet calm infuriated Stephie even more, and with a spectacularly grand gesture of waving arms, her daughter stormed out of the room, the click-clack of her heels echoing around the house where ornaments and clutter had already been removed.
Briefly glancing towards the still shaking door, Marion shrugged. She was in no rush to lose this moment of tranquillity, savouring the tannin-rich flavours of her tea. She gathered the now scattered crumbs into the saucer with the edge of her hand and hummed to herself as she washed and dried the last two cups and saucers left out of the packing case.
‘It’s not as if we see each other regularly for little “mother and daughter” chats, is it? I suppose it is a big step. Still, it’s done now,’ she cheerfully said aloud, excitement already mounting at the prospect.
With a great flourish, she threw the nearly-full packet of bourbons into the bin. Only ten days left to lose the last half stone.
‘A pity Stephie didn’t even notice I’ve lost a couple of stone already. Too concerned about her own little world, that’s her trouble. No spirit. No sense of adventure.’
She started to hum the first few bars of their favourite song when she glimpsed the travel brochure stuffed behind a cushion. Just ten days to go before finally saying goodbye to this house. Had she been happy here? Maybe. She never felt Stephie had been very happy. But then, she was “Daddy’s girl”, so Marion had ceased to care a long time ago.
She flicked casually through the well-thumbed pages of the brochure, bright glossy images promising “Excitement and Glamour on our World Cruise”.
What more could you need? she thought. ‘Who knows who I might meet? Bound to be lots of men on board, single or not, so there should be some good company. And they must have money, otherwise they couldn’t travel in such style, could they?’
Marion was conscious that she talked to herself more and more, lately. Not out loud mind, but definitely two-way conversations.
It was time to move on and meet someone new. Preferably someone healthy this time, at least in the short term. She’d look after him, make him happy until it was his time, like she had done for Malcolm. He was on his way out anyway, so not unexpected. His death. No surprise at all, really. Well, maybe for Malcolm, of course.
Someone new. So, a new character, a completely new temperament? That means another tie to buy with matching tissue paper. A different colour, more fiery perhaps. Yes…an exotic burnt orange…or deep, cinnamon red. Well, there’d need to be two parcels really, to keep the draw tidy, so why choose now?
Marion picked up the small blue packet, stroking it gently as she smoothed out the tiny creases. Oh, how she loved the sensual feel and the rustling sounds of this simple, versatile wrapping. The smile she couldn’t quite suppress played on her lips as she slid open the shallow bureau draw. There was the space, all ready for the latest – last? – memento, all the other little parcels lined up. Four rows of two, eight in all with this one. Each man’s favourite tie preserved in a different colour to reflect her feelings about him. Malcolm’s soft pale blue, Timothy’s sunny yellow, and the harsh red of Wilfred’s. She shuddered involuntarily as she revisited emotions associated with Wilfred.
She did feel some regret about Malcolm. They’d been happy together for a while and he’d been very caring, and considerate, right up to the end.
Unable to resist one more fleeting touch of the soft tissue, she resolutely closed the drawer, then shivered, smiling as the familiar tingle of anticipation returned, reaching her fingertips and even the roots of her hair.
‘Yes. Definitely time to move on to my next adventure.’
Have you got a short story or book excerpt you'd like to share with readers on our Creative Corner pages? Send it to email@example.com and include a bit of background about yourself, what inspires you, etc.