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A little cheese and a little whine

Baby Talk (Short Story)

Marjory Dawson looked at the clock on her mantelpiece and smiled inwardly. It was nearly six thirty, and her niece, Pamela, would soon be home from work. Pamela had lived with Marjory ever since Marjory’s husband had died nine months earlier, and Marjory was grateful beyond measure for her company. Pamela took good care of her, sitting with her in the night when James’ absence had been too much to bear, helping her find a reason to get out of bed at the start of the day, and in general just being there to hold her hand.

Pamela was single, and very career-focused. Marjory didn’t really understand what she did but it had something to do with advertising. No; marketing. Pamela had explained the difference once. As it was, the flat was ideally placed for Pamela’s work so living there rent free was an attractive proposition for her.

Still, Marjory liked to make sure that Pamela knew she was appreciated. Today, she had ventured out to the shops to buy a bottle of Pamela’s favourite wine. Pamela didn’t always have the money to treat herself to things like that, but James had left Marjory well off by any standards and she was more than happy to indulge her niece. Sometimes Pamela chided her for wasting her money; but she had asked Pamela, not long after James died, to sort out her money so she could have a little to spend each week without drifting into penury. She had no head for figures herself, none at all, but she knew that money was not in limitless supply. Pamela had set her an allowance, and Marjory had little difficulty living within it. At her age, there was very little to spend money on. Doting on Pamela seemed as good a thing as any.

She sat forward on the sofa and plumped up the cushions around her, paying scant attention to the TV show she had been watching. She loved this room, with its cushions and curtains and ribbons and bows. She had never worked; and while James was out at the office, this was the room where she spent most of her days, with the TV, the radio and the telephone for company. She had built it up like a little fortress of comfort. Smiling to herself at so many happy memories she settled back into the nest she had built for herself and began idly flicking through the channels with the remote.

Pamela had little time for creature comforts. She went running every morning, didn’t smoke, drank only a little, and drank much more for taste than intoxication. Marjory was seldom more than a few feet away from a source of chocolate but Pamela hardly ate sweets of any description, even fruit. But Pamela understood how important comforts were to Marjory, how the cushions and the TV and the pot pourri and the sherry and the macaroons and the pot of tea at four all wove together to make a world that Marjory could live in quite happily.

She turned off the TV.

Surrounded by her cushions and her sweets, and with the promise of Pamela’s arrival to bring the process to an end, Marjory allowed herself to think some uncomfortable thoughts.

Her life had never really amounted to much. She had had a lot of fun and she knew that she was lucky to be where she was, but other than landing a successful husband, she had accomplished very little. Her father, realising early on that Marjory wasn’t bright enough to work as his secretary, let alone follow him into the legal profession, never really wanted her to grow up. As long as she was still a child, her lack of accomplishment was never a problem for him. He could be proud of how beautiful and kind his little girl was, not ashamed of his daughter’s stupidity. So she had continued to act like a child as she grew older, and he had carried on his role as the indulgent parent. And Marjory had learned that there was no shortage of men who would jump at the job of protector to a woman who was happy to remain, in some measure, a little girl. The years took her from a doting father, through numerous doting fiancés, to a doting husband, and in all that time she had had everything she wanted, all the comfort and fun and friends and parties, and she had never really grown up.

The telephone rang, and she reached over to answer it. “6794,” she said into the receiver.

“Marjory? It’s Paul. Paul Gardner.”

Paul Gardner had never doted on her. He could never afford to. A friend of her cousin Catherine, he came from a much more modest home than Marjory or her circle of friends. He had loved her, though, and whereas the other men in her life had wanted her to be a little girl, Paul had always wanted her to be a woman, and more importantly, her own woman.

“Paul! How wonderful! It’s been years! How are you?”

They had met at sixteen, and Paul had quickly realised that Marjory would never be his. But he had stood by her through the years, doing his best to help her find her own way. She could not count the number of times she had gone to him for advice as she navigated the perilous social world of her late teens and early twenties; and she knew that despite everything, his heart had broken a little the day she married James.

“I’m – still alive, I suppose. Did you – did you hear about Catherine?”

“No, what’s happened?”

“She passed away last night.”

“Oh lord. How?”

“It seems she had a stroke in her sleep. I thought you should know.”

Marjory was sad that even now, Paul couldn’t really say what he felt. Marjory hadn’t spoken to Catherine for years. There had been no falling out; they had just never been especially close. Paul wasn’t telling Marjory about Catherine’s death for her benefit. Catherine had been Paul’s oldest and closest friend, and he needed someone to help him grieve.

“Oh, Paul, darling, that’s terrible. When is the funeral? Would you like me to come? Is there anything I can do for you?”

She had loved him, too, all those years ago. A part of her had always wished she could be the woman he wanted her to be. That he believed she could be. But it was easier to act like a child, and have her father, and James, and the others, provide her with the comforts she needed.

“I don’t know. I’ve been to so many funerals lately. It feels like everyone has gone, now.”

Paul had not had a happy life. After she had married James, Paul had settled into a fairly loveless marriage which had ended in divorce three years later. His next attempt was more successful, but after twenty years of marriage his wife Rebecca had developed cancer. For five years he had devoted himself to her care before she finally slipped away, no longer able even to recognise him.

“Oh, Pauly, you sound so unhappy.”

She knew he didn’t like her baby talk but she could think of nothing more to say.

He paused for a moment. “I just don’t know what to do. I don’t see much point in carrying on.”

“You must miss Catherine terribly.”

“Catherine. And Rebecca. And Michael and James and Penelope – Some people in my position might choose to end it all.”

She had no doubt as to who some people might be. “Do you think so?” she asked quietly.

“Some people might feel terribly alone. They might feel like nothing mattered anymore.”

“But some things matter, don’t they?”

“Do they?”

She knew, as clearly as she had ever known anything, how important her next words would be.

“But – what if someone went to those people, those people who felt so alone, and offered them some kisses?”

She kicked herself. Even now, with so much at stake, she could not speak like a woman; even in this moment, she spoke like a child. There was silence on the other end of the line. She waited, not daring to breath, for what seemed like forever. Then Paul spoke again.

“Then I think some people might be able to carry on for a while.”

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Filed under: Writing

2 Responses

  1. Ayeball Dan says:

    Hey there –
    Great job describing Marjory in her living room, her ‘nest’. How terrific! Then, leading right into her ‘metaphysics’ was perfect. I was already asking about what her life had amounted to when she snapped off the tv. Good work!

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My Bookshelf

The Golden Bough
The Value of Nothing
The Fire
A Wolf at the Table
Devil Bones

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