Paul Dundon’s Weblog

Icon

A little cheese and a little whine

Wednesday Morning (short story / study piece)

This is a study piece. The aim was to write a story made up entirely of mundane events which nonetheless had a sense of drama and pathos.

Fifty years, Tom thought, was a very long time in prospect, but in retrospect, it was no more than the blink of an eye.

He looked at where his wife lay dosing fitfully on the bed, her brow damp from the fever. She was ill. No more likely to die today than any other day, but unwell, and miserable. At least now she was asleep, the cough that had kept them both awake the previous night held at bay with codeine.

He knew he shouldn’t leave her, that if she woke to find him gone it would upset her beyond measure. But there was little left in the house to eat, and no milk, which meant no tea. And there was a little spare money, enough maybe to –

He’d been a nurse, once; he’d been around sick people, dying people, most of his life. And he’d learned that, in the end, all you can really do is make people comfortable. Death and age are inevitable: people filled their lives with purpose and adventure, but in the end it was stripped away, and all that remained were the small things, the simple joys and the petty miseries.

Turkish Delight. Margaret loved it, but it was something they only ever had at Christmas. It was a luxury, not so much something they couldn’t afford but just something that was part of the extravagance of the festive season, and stayed there, like tangerines, and walnuts, and dates. But today, a little box… a little box might lift her spirits, and make the ‘flu’ more bearable. He could do nothing to hold back time, or make them young again. There would be no more adventures, and little purpose to speak of. But he could dispel the misery, just for a little while.

The morning sun shone strong outside. It was a little after ten. Margaret would be asleep for another half hour, more than enough time to get to Mr Ammindeep’s shop along the road and back. Some milk, some bread and some bacon. And a little box of Turkish Delight.

Treading carefully to avoid waking his wife, he crept from the room. Time had been kinder to him than to many of his friends and his bones creaked only a little as he lifted his coat from the hook in the hall and put it on. He checked his pockets to make sure he had his wallet and cursed inwardly. His wallet was there but his keys were not, and he remembered at once that they were in his trouser pocket, draped over the chair in the bedroom.

He crept back in and, as quietly as he could and wary of spilling the keys or the change from his pockets, picked up the trousers and reached inside. The keys retrieved, he placed the trousers back on the chair once more and gently walked from the room, closing the door behind him. He walked to the front door and opened it; stepping through, he inserted the key into the Yale lock and turned it so he could close the door without making a sound. This task accomplished, he looked about him at the autumn morning, and set on his way.

 

No more than 15 feet wide, Mr Ammindeep’s shop nestled between a fast food bar and a hairdresser’s, yet the small space inside was always full to overflowing, seemingly containing anything a reasonable man might desire. Groceries, hardware, newspapers, sweets – Mr Ammindeep’s emporium, as Tom liked to call it, had them all. Stepping inside, Tom gathered up the bread, milk and bacon that he wanted and carried them to the counter.

Mr Ammindeep, like his shop, was impossibly thin, but brimming over with good things. Wiry, friendly, and fiercely energetic, he greeted Tom enthusiastically and rang up the goods he had placed on the counter.

“That will be four pounds ninety eight please, Mr Jacobs,” he said brightly. Tom could see Mr Ammindeep’s son Aki in the back of the shop, busily re-organising boxes, trying to cram still more produce into the tiny space. He wondered fleetingly if Mr Ammindeep’s wife performed a similar function spiritually, spending her nights cramming more warmth and enthusiasm into Mr Ammindeep himself.

“And…” said Tom a little hesitantly. “And a box of Turkish Delight.”

“Oh, I am very sorry,” said Mr Ammindeep, his face suddenly grave, “but I do not have such a thing. Mrs Stephens came in this morning and purchased the last one. I have Milk Tray, Quality Street, Jellied Fruits?”

Tom shook his head. “Thank you,” he said, “but they won’t do. Oh dear.”

“Mr Jacobs. I am sorry that I have disappointed you. But I think that the supermarket on the high street will have the thing you want.”

Tom considered. The supermarket would most likely have Turkish Delight, but it was a bit of a walk and he would be cutting it very fine to get home before Margaret woke up. And while the groceries he had bought weren’t very much they were still quite a lot for him to carry all that distance.

He handed Mr Ammindeep a five point note. “Yes,” he said, “yes I will have to try there.”

“Mr Jacobs,” said Mr Ammindeep, handing him his change. “That is a long way for you to carry this bag. Why don’t you leave this here, and go to buy your Turkish Delight, and pick it up as you return home?”

“That’s very kind,” said Tom.

“Think nothing of it. For a valued customer like yourself, it is the least I can do.”

 

Tom looked at his watch as he stepped into the street. He had been gone from the flat just eight minutes, but that didn’t really leave long enough to get to the supermarket and back. Still, it was worth taking a chance.

He knew, though, that there was another danger involved in a trip to the high street: the dreaded Mrs McKenzie, organiser of Help The Aged and terror of the local geriatric community. A lifetime in the medical profession had brought Tom into contact with many overbearing do-gooders but Mrs McKenzie trumped them all. She had been bothering him to come to one of her cursed social afternoons for weeks now, and he was uncertain whether he would be able, were he to meet her, to fend her off any longer.

He quickened his pace as much as he could and walked to the end of the road where it met the busy high street. Turning right, he saw the signs for the supermarket a few hundred yards away and, stiffening his resolve, continued on his way.

The supermarket was, for Tom, no patch on Mr Ammindeep’s shop. It was too regimented, too anodyne. He wandered past the fruit and veg, past the refrigerated section, past the soups, the tea and coffee and the soft drinks until he found chocolate and sweets. Conscious that time was ticking away, he didn’t try to find the Turkish Delight himself, but instead asked one of the staff, a young man who looked to Tom as if he might not have been on solid foods for very long, for help locating it. After lengthy consultation with numerous colleagues, the young man led Tom to a shelf in the middle of the aisle, and left him to contemplate the varieties available.

A moment later, clutching his prize, Tom made his way to the checkout. The girl there had none of Mr Ammindeep’s warmth or energy, but listlessly swiped the box past the scanner and punched a few keys.

“Three pounds forty nine, please,” she said. Tom reached into his coat for his wallet.

It wasn’t there. He patted himself down, hoping to detect a tell-tale bulge in one of his pockets, but besides his keys there was nothing. He realised, with a sudden sinking feeling, that he must have left it, with his groceries, at Mr Ammindeep’s shop.

“I’m very sorry,” he said, “I seem to have forgotten my wallet.”

She looked at him unsympathetically, and said nothing. Well, he thought, what could she say?

“I’m very sorry,” he said again, and walked away.

 

He sat at the bus-stop, dispirited. He could only afford a minute’s rest or he would never get back to the flat in time, but there was no possibility of fetching his wallet and returning to the supermarket. He felt like such a miserable old fool. He had wanted so much to do something to cheer Margaret up and now the chance had passed. He would be able to make her a nice cup of tea and, if she felt up to it, a sandwich, but he had wanted –

In the distance he caught sight of Mrs McKenzie. Ordinarily, this would have sent him scurrying for cover. But in the circumstances, he realised that this was probably the only chance he had of salvaging his morning. Mrs McKenzie would help him, he was sure. She would patronise him to the point of humiliation, and there would probably be a further price to pay, but she would help him.

With a deep sigh he stood, and waited for her to arrive.

“Mrs McKenzie,” he greeted her brightly. “I wondered if you might do me a favour?”

She smiled a smile which made Tom feel like a post-coital preying mantis.

“Why Mr Jacobs, of course. Are we having a little problem?”

 

By the time Tom reached home again, his wallet and groceries safely retrieved from Mr Ammindeep, he was committed not only to the pensioners’ social the following Wednesday but, to his chagrin, calling bingo the following Friday. At least four hours of the company of Mrs McKenzie to look forward to. But she had gone back into the supermarket with him and paid for the Turkish Delight, and that was the important thing.

He stood quite still in the bedroom, watching his wife dosing in the bed. Perhaps hearing him breathe she woke, suddenly. Confused for a moment, she smiled brightly when she saw it was him.

“Hello, dear,” he said. “Did you have a good rest?”

She sat up and rested against the headboard. “Yes. I feel a bit better.”

“I’ve been to the shops,” he said. “I got you these.”

He handed her the box, and watched as her face lit up, delighted at what he had done. “You spoil me,” she said; and like patient, quiet guests the past fifty years of loving and caring were suddenly there with them.

He took her hand. “I know,” he said.

He wanted to hold her hand forever; he wanted to see her smile every day for the rest of time. He never wanted to let go. And the knowledge that one day he would have to let go was for a moment more than he could bear, until those silent guests gathered closer, and he felt himself there, fully present in that moment, and content. For this moment at least, there was joy, and love, and comfort.

“Go on, open it. I’ll make us some tea.”

Advertisements

Filed under: Writing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 13 other followers

My Bookshelf

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

My del.icio.us links

%d bloggers like this: