Waiting for Walt By Holly Searle
Ruby sat down in front of the dressing table mirror with a petulant thud.
She had woken up alone.
She wriggled about a bit until she made herself more comfortable and then studied the image that reflected itself back at her from the mirror.
She didn't look happy.
She wasn't best please with Walt, and it showed.
She let out a long sigh and pulled that mean face that Walt said he found unsettling. Closed her eyes in a theatrical diva fashion, and then got up and headed for the stairs.
She made her way half way down the stairs, before plonking herself on one of the steps in an unceremonious stroppy fashion.
Her mood was so well executed, that it is was a shame that there was no audience to witness it.
The carpet felt rough beneath her bottom, but she was far too cross to let it bother her.
In fact, its discomfort was yet another unnecessary evil and thoughtless predilection that she would blame Walt for, when he finally got home.
She made a mental note to do so.
Boy, was he in for it.
From her vantage point on the stairs, she was able to stare unblinking at the front door.
If he arrived home in the next few minutes, she thought with glee, he would find her sitting there in a trace like state, whilst staring menacingly at the front door.
The front door that he had double locked on his way out late last night.
He wouldn't expect to find her sat there like that, waiting for him and ready to confront him about his whereabouts.
If looks could kill, Ruby thought, he would be done for within seconds of opening it.
She could just see his expression. How surprised he would be.
She definitely had the upper hand and that was a first.
Waking up alone, without Walt was horrible.
Where was the idiot?
Although, she reasoned, on the plus side, it did mean she had had the luxury of having the whole bed to herself without him being there and fidgeting about all night.
It was something at least.
But not to come home at all. Well, that was just unforgivable.
How dare he.
She decided that she would punish him by ignoring him for the rest of the day when he finally got home. He hated it when she did that. But what did he expect. Stupid man. Didn't he know how lucky he was to have someone like her at home waiting for him?
She let out a small sorrowful moan that sounded huge in the silence of the empty house.
And now she just felt sad and alone and abandon.
Oh Walt, Walt, Walt. Where are you?
She got up and made her way down the stairs and headed into the kitchen to get herself a drink.
The thing was, Ruby relied upon Walt for everything. She knew she shouldn't, but she did. He was her world.
She didn't have to work and had the run of the house.
She saw her friends whenever she wanted too. When she thought about it like that, she thought she was probably quite lucky, but she didn't feel lucky this morning, she just felt alone.
Her Mother had advised her not to trust men as they would take advantage of her.
Ruby didn't like to believe everything her Mother had told her about men, especially as far as Walt was concerned.
But her advice was starting to take on an I told you so arms folded stance this morning.
Ruby dismissed these negative thoughts from her mind as she helped herself to some water and then sat at the kitchen table staring out at the garden.
It was a beautiful morning.
She liked the garden. She liked spending time in it with Walt. They had spent many hours out there pottering about together.
He would witter on, as was his want, while she just listen and thought to herself how lucky she was to live with a man like him.
Maybe she would revise her thoughts about him, if he didn't get home soon.
She yawned, got up and made her way back down the hallway and before she reached the front door, turn left into the living room.
She liked this room. It was comfy and warm.
The large clock ticked over the mantelpiece mirroring the rhythm of her steady heartbeat.
She sat down on the sofa in the spot that Walt always favoured for himself.
Ruby favoured the same spot as well.
Ruby closed her eyes and thought of all of the nights that she and Walt had spent in this spot.
Just the two of them, cuddled up and warm, while the clock ticked as they watched something on the box that sat opposite.
She opened her eyes and saw her reflection in the box. She looked like a statue.
She looked smaller and slightly distorted in this reflection.
She studied herself. People said how beautiful she was, and she quite liked that.
Walt liked it as well.
When she mentioned it to her friend Mabel who lived opposite, Mabel’s response was “Yes, I hear that a lot as well. I rather like it too.”
Mabel lived with George.
George drank a bit too much on Friday nights.
But Mabel loved him never the less and wouldn't hear a bad word said against him.
Walt would often say to Ruby on hearing George drunkenly singing in their street on his way home from the local on a Friday night.
“I bet you're glad you're not Mabel Rubes?”
And sometimes Ruby was.But not today.
At least George always came home. Unlike Walt.
Mabel and Ruby shared secrets about George and Walt.
And that ultimately was the string that bound their friendship together.
It was an escape and a blessing to have a friend like Mabel, one with whom you could share so much.
Just wait until Ruby saw her later when she would sound her out about her displeasure with Walt's behaviour and see what Mabel thought about it all.
She began to grow restless and annoyed all over again.
She wished she could talk to Mabel now, but she knew that she was busy with George this morning and besides, all the doors were locked and Ruby was trapped in the house until Walt got home.
Walt had become more security conscious in the last few weeks after a spate of burglaries in their area.
Thank God no one had broken in to their house as the thought of strangers scared her.
Probably kids the neighbourhood watch man who had paid them a visit had said.
Ruby disliked children. They made her nervous.
She liked order and routine. She didn't like Walt being thoughtless and inconsiderate of her welfare like he was being now.
The more she thought about it the more she realised that he took her love and acceptance of him and his ways for granted a bit too much.
Maybe her Mother had been right after all.
She didn't want to sit in their spot any longer, not while she was so angry with him.
So she walked over to the window and parted the curtains.
Oh come on Walt, she thought, where in heavens name are you?
As she looked out onto the street and saw the familiar unfolding weekend routine coming into play.
There was George across the street putting out the rubbish.
Maybe George did like a tipple or two on a Friday after work, but he never left Mabel alone over night wondering where he was.
And there was Mabel by his side.
And in that moment, Ruby saw their affection they had for one another and wondered if people ever consciously noticed the same of her and Walt.
And now she wasn't so annoyed any more, now she just felt sad and lonely trapped in the house, on this beautiful morning whilst the clock ticked away the time, waiting for Walt to get home.
She returned to the sofa and sat down. She was tired of waiting. She yawned, sat back closed her eyes and swiftly fell asleep.
At first she thought she was dreaming.
But her ears had definitely heard it, that unmistakable solid click of the lock as the key rotated to the right from the outside of the front door signalling his return.
Ruby opened her eyes and turned her head towards the sound that was quickly forward by the familiar sound of Walt's footsteps as he entered the house.
“Rubes?” He called out.
Ruby stayed where she was. He could wait she thought.
She sat up and and decided to adopt an air of indifference towards him.
She had waited and waited and now he could wait.
She sat very still, she was very good at that.
She heard him hang up his coat and take of his shoes.
“Ruby! Ruby Ruby Ruby”
She heard him bound up the stairs and the creaking of the floorboards above her head, confirmed that he was checking all the rooms for any sign of her.
Her indifference turned to excitement as she waited for him to find her.
She heard him coming back down the stairs and head towards the kitchen.
“Oh God, I hope I didn't lock you out Rubes.”
She waited. As still as a statue. She'd win a prize if they were playing that game.
She heard him fill the kettle and the click as he turned it on to heat the water.
Heard him exhale in exasperation at not being able to find her.
And then she heard him walking back down the hallway and met his eyes as he entered the living room.
She cock her head to one side as she looked at him and smiled.
“why didn't you answer when I called you?”
The tone of his voice indicated that he was annoyed.
Now you know what it feels like she thought.
He looked at her and pushed his hand through his hair.
She remained silent.
He looked guilty.
She turned away from him and looked towards the window.
He crouched down so that he could meet her eye line.
“I am so sorry that I didn't come home. I know that you have been locked in the house. It was unavoidable. If you had a mobile, I could have called to let you know, but seeing as you don't, well, what could I do?”
There was a funny tone to his voice, something playful.
She turned back towards him.
She blinked at him and decided that she wouldn't keep up the pretence.
She got up and walked into the kitchen and he followed behind her.
“I'll tell you what Rubes, how about I make you your favourite supper later. A big sorry for me to you. Would you like that?”
Ruby made her way towards the back door.
Yes, she thought, yes Walt, that would be a start. But right now though, she needed to get out of the house as she wanted to go into the garden as she needed some fresh air and more urgently she needed a pee.
She turned and looked at him and chirped.
“Is that a yes then?”
She repeated the sound.
Oh get on with it and open the door Walt she thought.
He bent down and stroked her.
She repeated her chirping, mip, mip, mip noise and became more animated as she stood by the back door.
Walt finally got the message and unlocked the it.
Thank God for that thought Ruby.
And with Walt home, and the back door open, she stuck her tail in the air and made her way out of the house and into the garden and was finally free at last.
The Fax By Holly Searle
Pixie Watkins had been a full time extra for the past ten years. Now however she was a part time extra and a full time mother to a 16 month old baby.
Although she loved being a mum, she was knackered and so when her agent had called her to say that she had a job for her, she jumped at the chance of a day away from it all.
She had been in the business for what seemed like a lifetime and although she reasoned that she would probably never win a BAFTA, she had been invited by them to attend the screening of a film that she had once had a small part in. How many people could make that claim she thought as she finished applying her make-up. She smiled at her reflection and thought with all things considered, she looked acceptable.
With her baby in the care of her mother, she made her way to the airport, where she boarded a small plane that took her on the very short blink or you'll miss it flight from London to Plymouth.
On arriving in Plymouth, she hailed a cab, gave the cabbie the address of the location and they set off to find the film crew.
A local regional news reporter's busy schedule had been her gain it would seem as her role for today was to act as her stand in so that the reporter could be released to read the early evening news.
Pixie didn't mind. It was just good to be able to have some time to herself for a few hours and to be part of the familiar buzz of a film set.
She always loved the way the passing public would stop to look to see what was going on. Did they wonder who she was she thought and smiled to herself. She was no great actress, but they didn't know that and it didn't really matter in the scheme of things, it was just exciting to be part of it all.
The filming was taking a little longer than anticipated and the assistant director came over to inform her that as it was now too late to fly back to London they had booked her into the local four star hotel for the night. She knew him from other jobs she had been on, so he suggested that she join him and some of the crew for dinner and drinks later that evening at the hotel.
After they wrapped, cabs were called and people were ferried to the hotel. Pixie checked into her room and plonked her bag on the floor and gave the en suite a quick once over before sitting on the bed.
She picked up the telephone to call her mother to see how the baby was and to inform her that she wouldn't be home until tomorrow afternoon.
She then called her boyfriend Stan, a photographer's assistant, life long Smiths fan and practical joker.
After two rings he answered. "Mark Redman and Associates, Stan speaking, can I help you?"
"Hellllooooo Stan, I am sure I can think of a few ways that you could."
"Well helllooooooo Miss Watkins, I am sure I could if I so wished, but I have to warn you that I am very expensive and charge by the hour. Whats up?"
"Oh, not much. The filming ran over sooooo, I am staying in Plymouth for the night. Shame you're not."
"Oh, I see, that's exciting for you. Are you in a hotel?"
"Yes I am. Why?"
"Oh nothing, just wondered. What are you going to do then?"
"Have dinner with Sean and the rest of the crew from Reels and enjoy myself."
"Oooooohhhh, get you! Well don't enjoy yourself too much."
"Oh give me a break!"
"Oh alright then. Look have a great time. Mark and I are off for a mince in the local, what's the number there? Actually, do they have a fax number?"
"Oh, never you mind. Maybe a fella might want to send his gal a special something later."
"Stan, don't muck about."
"I am not mucking about, I am being serious, just give it to me doll face."
"Okay, but I am trusting you not to do anything bloody stupid. It's 01752 661 610 for the hotel and the same for the fax accept that there is a one at the end of that number instead of a zero."
"Cool beans. Yeah, don't worry, I promise I won't."
"Okay. Don't drink too much. Love you."
Pixie replaced the handset and laid down on the bed. I am going to regret that she thought.
Later that evening she joined Sean and the others for dinner. It felt bloody odd to be sitting at a table with other adults instead of sitting at one and feeding the baby. At least this is evening she wouldn't end up with food all over her.
Sean told her to order whatever she wanted. She sensed that he felt at bit responsible for her being there, but after a few glasses of wine, she didn't mind. Just relax and enjoy it, she told herself, it's an evening off and when was the last time you had had one of those?
She couldn't remember. As a consequence, she ate and drank far too much. She thanked Sean and excused herself from the table and even though they wanted her to stay for more drinks, she doubted that she would still be upright after one more, so she made her way up to her room where she just managed to make it to her bathroom, before throwing up.
She sat on the bed. She had succeeded, she thought, in over doing it and that wasn't enjoyable. She turned her attention to the tv, staggered over to it and switched it on. There was laminated card resting on the top of it. She picked it up and returned to the bed which she proceeded to lay on in order to read it the card.
The card listed a selection of movies that could be accessed via the in house hotel film channel, most of which Pixie had seen. Her attention, however, was drawn to those listed under the Adult section and one in particular entitled Pinocchio made her raise her eyebrows. Curiosity got the better of her and she pushed herself off of the bed and gently made her way back to the tv. She found the remote, sat back down on the bed and followed the instructions on the card.
The film started just as the telephone rang.
She press pause and answered the phone.
“Oh, Stan, it's you. I am a bit drunk, no, I am a lot drunk..and I am just about to watch a film, so..”
“A film eh? Did you get my fax?”
“Are you drunk, you sound it. No, what fax?”
“I sent you a little something, just like I promised I would.”
“Oh God! No! I haven't had a fax. Where did you send it?”
“To the number you gave me.”
“Well, I have no fax, but I have a film too watch. I shall let you know if I ever get it. Bye!”
Stan was laughing “Yes do, as I want to hear what you think of it. Byeeeeee!”
After several attempts, Pixie successfully replaced the handset. Where was I, ah, yes. She turned back towards the tv, located the remote and pressed play.
She focused her attention on the film. Porn was probably the best kind of genre to watch especially if you found yourself alone and drunk in a hotel in Plymouth as the storyline was pretty thin and the end result a given.
She was quite looking forward to it when there was a knock at the door. She frowned. She looked at the tv grabbed the remote and swiftly ended the movie.
“Hold on, I am just coming.”
She caught a quick glimpse of herself as she passed the full length mirror on the wall. God she looked rough and contrary to her earlier thoughts, she had ended up with food on her clothes post throw up. Jesus, she thought, one night away from home and your attempts to tick every box on the form entitled Human Degradation and Embarrassment is nearly full.
She opened the door to find two police officers standing there, one WPC and one PC.
“Yes, is everything okay?”
“Good evening Miss, no far from it. Do you know a Mr Mark Redman Miss?”
“Yes, my boyfriend works for him, why?”
The PC looked as though he was going to break out into fits of laughter, the WPC didn't.
“Well Miss, they have received a rather offensive fax in reception and they called us.”
“Offensive? Do you have it with you?”
“No Miss, but if you could speak to your boyfriend and ask him not to send any further faxes Miss, we would appreciate that Miss.”
Pixie mentally ticked another box on the form.
“Yes, I shall do that right now officer.”
The WPC just looked at her.
If looks could kill Pixie thought, I would be toast. “Thank you Miss.”
She looked from one to the other and nodded at them both and then shut the door.
She made her way back to the bed and sat on it and dialled Stan's number.
“Hello, what exactly was in this fax you sent me?”
He started to laugh.
“Why, haven't you got it?”
“No, I haven't got it, but two members of the Plymouth Police force have just paid me a visit and have informed me that it is rather offensive.”
He was still laughing.
“It's not funny Stan, now tell me what was on it?”
“Oh it was just a photo I thought you might like, that's all. A nice young man, just your type.”
“Right, well, what can I say other than cheers for embarrassing me.”
“Oh, come on, don't be like that Pix, I thought it would make you laugh.”
“Laugh? Yeah, it's hilarious, enjoy the rest of your evening!”
She hung up. She was furious, not so much about the fax, but due to the fact that her evening off had been ruined with her over indulgence and because she would never get to find out what Pinocchio was capable of.
She decided just like Scarlet O’Hara that tomorrow was another day and went into the en suite to get ready for bed.
After cleaning herself up, she felt a little better. Snooze time she thought. She turned off the lights and snuggled down until she found her favourite sleeping position.
She was just starting to relax when she heard a shuffling sound outside her door. Her heckles suddenly went up. Then came the sound of muffled laughter as something was pushed under the door.
She got up and walked over to the door. There on the floor was a plain brown envelope. She returned to the bed, sat down and opened it. Inside there was a folded piece of paper. She unfolded it and there sitting on an Emmanuel styled round backed wicker chair was a man, a naked man. A naked man with a huge erection that you could have hung a coat on. Written across the top on the fax in magic marker were the words How about this boy then? Stan xxxxx
Everyone’s a comic she thought. She folded it and pushed it back in the envelope and went to sleep.
The following morning when she woke up, she suddenly developed a healthy attack of paranoia as she recalled in the cold light of the morning the events of the previous evening. God The team on reception would know all about the activities of the guest staying in her room and the fact that she had tried to watched Pinocchio. God The film crew that would be paying for her room would know about it as well. God
She switched on the tv. On the breakfast show they were running a feature on the 80's pop star Yazz. They were playing her hit The Only Way is Up.
Life mocks me once again she thought.
She got dressed and packed her things away and decided that the best course of action was to adopt the guise of a fleeing criminal. So she called reception and asked them to arrange a cab for her. When it had arrived, they called her to let her know, at which point, she made a dash for the lobby, left the keys on the front desk and jumped into the waiting cab.
She arrived home to find a bunch of flowers waiting for her from Stan.
The note with them simply read "Forgive me?"
She called him.
"Thanks for the flowers, you are forgiven, although I am still slightly annoyed with you."
"Ah, don't be annoyed, it was a well intended joke. I am sure you'll look back on it in a few days time and laugh about it."
"Yes, be guided by your conscious."
"What? Are you telling me to that I should always let my conscious be my guide?"
"And why exactly is that funny?"
Stardust By Holly Searle
For my friend Nik Ratcliffe, one of the best girlfriends I have.
Kitty Ryan's favourite Singer had been Nat King Cole. She was a girl and then a woman who embodied romantic notions of love, so when she had first heard him crooning from the radio, she knew he was the one for her. It was love at first note.
His rendition of Stardust was therefore the song she had chosen to bid her farewell on her exit from this mortal coil. At last she would be reunited with Frank in the cemetery plot that they had purchased together and in which he had been resting for the past twenty odd years.
Maybe not the most appropriate tune for a funeral Walt pondered as he sat in the church listening to Nat's melodic silken tones, but then again, why not? Who had the final word in their own ending if not for the person who had been the major participant in it? Fair play to Kitty, it was after all her day.
It summed up Kitty and all she had stood for in her 87 years on this planet Walt thought. She had always been an eternal optimist always making time for others, listening to their woes and offering a shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear as well as a sweet cup of hot tea. No, no one would dare voice an uncharitable word or cynical eye roll about her musical choice. Quite the opposite in fact, for if they had truly known Kitty, they would be smiling with tears in their eyes.
Bill had met Kitty after he had retired from his life in London to the seaside and moved into the modest little house opposite hers in a quiet back street in Brighton.
All the tiny Victorian cottages were painted in complementary pastel shades that would have looked out of place in any other location other than by the seaside. Bill had liked that, he felt that after all that he had seen, that the tranquil coloured houses were just what he needed. Happy houses he had thought when he had first had laid his eyes upon them.
It was after Bill had just moved in and was finally settled and unpacked, that one sunny afternoon he had first met Kitty. He was tending to the window boxes at the front of the house, when he heard a voice.
“ My Frank always loved flowers. “ it said. Bill turned towards its direction and there was Kitty with her beaming smile.
Bill moved towards her and introduced himself “William Hawkins” he said extending his hand out to her. “Please call me Bill.” Kitty took it and said “Katharine Ryan, Kitty, very pleased to meet you Bill.”
She was much older than Bill, mid eighties he thought, but still beautiful and well kept. She had a way about her, a friendly manner that was long gone in so many others these days. It shone out of her like sunshine he thought.
“ I saw that you had moved in, I thought that I would wait until you were more settled before I said hello.” She said “I live just opposite, in the green one.” She indicated with her hand pointing backwards over her right shoulder. “If you need to know anything about the area, who, what or where, just ask.” She continued. “Being a stranger in a new place can often be isolating and we don't want that do we?” She smiled.
“No, indeed we do not.” Said Bill smiling back.
And that was how their friendship had begun, as so many do, with a simple exchange and a smile.
After that day, Bill became more aware of Kitty and her ways. She wasn't a nosy old dear, just a genuine people person. He felt quite protective towards her as their friendship developed and even though she was very independent he would often ask if she needed anything when he was popping out to the shops, or if she needed any help.
“No Bill, I am fine thank you dear.” She would always say.
On bright clear days she would open her front window to “Let the day in and the night out and to cleanse her thoughts.” On those days, Walt would often hear the gentle sounds of Nat King Cole drifting across the road from her house to his. This was always a great comfort to him and would make him smile.
And Kitty wasn't lonely either, as there was always a steady stream of visitors of both family and friends to her home.
One crisp day when Bill was on his way home from from town, Kitty called out through her front window as he was passing and asked him if he'd like to join her for a cup of tea. Why not he thought. Thereafter this became a regular thing between the two of them. Walt soon discovered why Kitty had so many friends. She was a joy and a pleasure, a treasure trove of a human being who was easy to talk to and who never tired of listening. She also had many colourful tales of her own to tell about her life both before and after Frank, that Walt adored hearing. She was a very rare thing, a true human being who made no demands on others and who was very wise. She was a gift.
Bill hadn't really wanted to reveal too much about his life before his move, but in a way it was good to share his history with a friend. Especially one that was as non judgemental as Kitty.
During one afternoon in her garden Kitty asked “Bill, forgive me, but I have to ask. You intrigue me.” Bill frowned, it was the first time he had heard anyone in his fifty years ever describe him in that way. He had always just been Walt, that reliable bloke, dedicated to his job, a good work colleague that could be trusted to do what was expected of him, but never intriguing.
“Why?” he said.
“ Well, my Frank used to say A man alone is a mystery to me and he was right. I see a man and he is on his own and that is a mystery to me because I cannot for the life of me understand why Bill?”
Walt returned her gaze as Kitty took his hand in hers “ We are friends and forgive me, but I just don't understand why you are alone. When you first arrived here, I thought to myself Oh I wonder when his wife and children will arrive? but they never did”.
“ Oh, I see, that.” Bill replied a little uncomfortable. “ Well, there is no mystery Kitty, I just never found the right woman, some of us weren't as lucky as you and Frank.”
Kitty squeezed his hand “ Weren't? Why are you speaking in the past tense? You're still a young man, handsome, caring and you like flowers.” She laughed “ Why if I was twenty-five years younger!” And they both laughed. But Bill felt the need to explain.
“I was always so busy at work, I never really had the opportunity to meet the right person.” He offered. “ I joined the police as a young lad and spent my entire career focusing on my work. I kept thinking I would meet someone, then one day I realised how much time had passed me by without even knowing it and I was shocked, so when the option to retire came up, I decided I had done enough and just wanted some time to reflect.”
Kitty raised her eyebrows and nodded her head and gave him her please continue look.
“ Well, I saw so much during my career, things I cannot even begin to talk about Kitty, so I found it hard to let anyone in. So many ugly things and situation, who else would have understood all of that? Being soft just wasn't an option. It never seemed fair to burden another person with the life I chose. In the end, I felt that I had given my all and I was so tired of it all, but now I see that it was at a cost, as I wish had found someone. Maybe I underestimated the empathy that another person could have been capable of? Maybe now is a good time to think about my Options?”
Kitty nodded and held his gaze, but Bill removed his hand from hers to give himself some space, as he suddenly felt very self conscious. He covered his action by drinking some of his tea. He felt exposed discussing personal things. He was so tired of the discomfort he felt. But is was true. Now he had retired and moved away from his previous life, his loneliness appeared to be amplified. If he hadn't made friends with Kitty, he might have gone on thinking it was okay. But now more than at any other time in his life, he didn't so much feel lonely, but just craved the companionship of another human being. God bless her caring enough to notice. Now that had he vocalised it, it sadden him, but it was also a relief.
How he wanted to break out, to be free to find a compass to guide his way forward from this point. Where was he? Adrift in a vast ocean of loneliness that's where. The only tangible thing he had was Kitty.
He was suddenly overwhelmed by this revelation and he began to cry as he mourned for all the time he had lived without that connection to another human being.
“Let it all out Bill.” Kitty soothed, “ Better out than in.” She offered up with all the knowing of someone who had also dealt their loss in the same way.
She moved closer and stroked his back and there they sat in the peace of her garden for as long as it took to dismantle the past.
Bill looked around the church. It was full to the brim. So many people, this was the measure of someone’s life he thought, the people who came for whatever reason, to celebrate the fact that you had once been here. His eyes rested on Kitty's family. Her children Nathan and Annie, their respective spouses and their children. All here because Kitty had once been. Walt felt a sudden tinge of jealousy and then ashamed to be thinking of himself on such a day.
After the funeral, Nathan and Annie had arranged a gathering at the church hall. Bill had never really spoken to them although he had often seen them when they had visited Kitty. He entered the hall and was pleased to see them welcoming the mourners at the door. He approached and introduced himself to them both.
Both Annie and Nathan gave him the same warm welcome that their mother always had.
“ I am so sorry.” Bill said extending his had towards Nathan “ She was a true inspiration, a lovely woman. I will miss her.” Nathan shook Bill's hand and placed the other on his shoulder “ Thank you mate.” Nathan replied. “ She mentioned you often and enjoyed your company and we were glad that you were there, just opposite her if she needed anything, although knowing Mum, she probably never did, but all the same.”
“The street won't be the same without her.” Said Bill. “No.” Said Nathan.
When he arrived home Bill looked out of his window towards Kitty's house. There was no music now and he wondered if there would ever be again. He blew a kiss in the direction of her house “I will miss you Kitty.”
A few weeks later, early one morning, Bill became aware of the all noise and activity across the street at Kitty's house. He looked out of the window and saw Nathan with Annie overseeing the grim task of removing items from Kitty's house. He felt for them, the thought of having to sort through someone else’s items, couldn't be a pleasant. He left them to it with a tear in his eye and a pain in his heart.
Later there was a knock at his door and Bill was pleased to see that it was Nathan.
“Hello mate, how are you?”
“ Oh, could be better. We are sorting through Mum's stuff and I found these and I wanted to give them to you in person while I was here.” Nathan handed Bill a letter addressed to him and a small flat wrapped item. Walt took both and looked at the letter. “Thank you.” He said “I will read this later.”
“Also, are you busy, can I ask you a favour?”
“Of course.” Said Bill “Please come in.”
After Bill had made Nathan a cup of tea and they had settled in the living room, Walt said “So, what can I do for you?”
“Well.” Said Nathan “ Mum said that you had been in The Police, is that right?” “Yes, thirty years service.” Replied Bill “ What do you need? ”
“Annie and I have decided to sell Mum's house, she wanted us too, but it needs a bit of work doing on it and as we aren't close by, and seeing as you are, and well because you knew Mum and because of what you did, we just wanted to know if you could keep an eye on the house? Please say no if you can't, we will understand.”
“I would be delighted” Bill replied “ It is the least I can do as she never allowed me to do anything for her in the, well in the past, look it will be a pleasure Nathan.”
“Thanks Bill, but only if you are sure? We can leave you a set of keys and exchange numbers? That way, I can let you know when someone is coming to quote on the work, is that okay?”
“Absolutely Nathan, my pleasure.”
Later after Nathan had gone, Bill hung Kitty's keys on a hook in the kitchen. He then picked up the letter and the package that he had also given him and went in to the garden. He sat down and placed the small flat shaped item on the garden table and then turned his attention to the letter.
I am so glad that we had the opportunity to become friends.
Our time together meant the world to me.
I have left you one of my most treasured items.
Listen in good health, especially the third song.
And please remember Walt, never say never.
All my love,
Walt placed the letter on the table and picked up the item. He unwrapped it and saw that it was a CD, a Nat King Cole CD. He turned it over and looked at the track listings. Track number three was When I fall in Love. He immediately walked back into the house and slipped it into the CD player and selected the track and pressed play. He then walked to the window and opened it as wide as he could and smiled.
When Nathan called Bill later that week to say that a man called Jim Masters, a local builder, would be calling in on him to collect the keys later that day, he asked him if he wouldn't mind showing him around. Walt, said it was fine and he would.
At just after seven, a van pulled up outside Walt's house and a young man in his late twenties got out. He looked at Kitty's house across the road and then at a piece of paper he held in his hand, before turning on his heels and heading for Bill's front door.
Walt grabbed the keys to Kitty's house on the way to answer the knock at the door. Jim Masters held out his hand “Hi, Bill? I am Jim from Master Builders, I understand that you have the keys to number 46?”
Bill shook Jim's hand. “Yes, I am and I do. Nice to meet you Jim. Shall we go?”
As they crossed over the road to Kitty's house Jim Said “Nice road, nice house, I understand that you were a friend of the lady that lived here?”
“That's right. “ said Bill “She was a lovely lady, I miss her very much. It is a great house, I am sure is won't be on the market long before someone puts an offer in, but I doubt they will be able to replace Kitty.”
Bill opened the door and Jim followed him in and closed the door behind him. It felt odd and intrusive to be entering Kitty's house without her being there to invite them in. It was the first time he had been there without her ever being there. He suddenly realised that it had been emptied and now all that was left was the house itself and that just felt hollow.
Jim's voice suddenly filled the void. “Shall I have a quick look round? Nathan said he thought it needed a bit of work, but to be honest, and you won't hear this from that many builders, but it looks to be in pretty good nick to me. Great house, nice original features and I bet there is a solid wood floor under the carpet crying out to be seen.”
“Yes do” Said Bill and Jim disappeared up the stairs to see the rest of the house. Bill remained downstairs and slowly walked around, he could hear Jim above him knocking on walls and opening and closing doors and windows.
Bill went into the garden and waited for Jim. After a short while he heard him coming back down the stairs. Moments later, Jim was standing next to him. “ Well, are you going to call Nathan and give him a quote for the work?” Bill asked “I think I am going to do more than that, I think I am actually going to put in an offer for the place.”
“Really?” Bill responded “For yourself or to sell on? Sorry, it isn't really any of my business.”
“No, no, not for me, for my Mum actually, Julia, she asked me to keep a look out for any properties for her to buy. Long story, which I won't go into, but she would love this house. I shall take a few photos if that is okay to show her and then, if she likes it, great, if not I will call Nathan and give him a quote for the work.”
“ Sounds like a plan, yes work away I am sure Nathan won't mind and I am sure knowing Kitty, she wouldn't have either.”
“Great.” Said Jim and “I will try not to keep you too much longer I am sure your family must be wondering if you have been abducted by now?”
“Sadly not, as I don't have one.” Said Bill “Oh, sorry mate, I didn't mean to. I mean I just assumed.” “Like you said Jim, long story. Photos?” Bill reminded him. “Yep, on it, I won't be long.” And with that Jim was off again, visiting each room to take photos to show his Mum.
Bill walked Jim back to his car, said goodbye and returned to his house.
The following morning Nathan called him. “Hi Bill, I just wanted to say thank you for showing Jim Masters around Mum's house last night.”
“My pleasure Nathan, he seemed very keen on the house.”
“Yes he was very keen, so much so, that he has put an offer in, which Annie and I are considering. Listen do you mind keeping hold of the keys for a bit longer?”
“No, not at all, just let me know if you need me to do anything else.”
“Will do. Thanks again mate, bye.”
Bill replaced the handset and thought about what Kitty would think and decided that she would have liked Jim Masters.
A few days later, Bill was returning home when he saw Jim's van parked outside Kitty's house with Jim sitting in it. As he drew closer, both doors of the van opened and Bill got out of one side, while a woman got out of the other.
Jim turned and waved at Bill and Bill waved back. The lady also turned and smiled at Bill.
“Bill, this is my Mum Julia. Mum this is Bill.”
“Please to meet you Bill.” Said Julia.
“Please to meet you too.” Said Bill.
“Are you here to look at the house?” Bill asked “ Mum came down from London today, out of the blue after I had told her about it, I know it wasn't planned, but do you think it would be okay?” asked Jim. “Let me just call Nathan” Said Bill “Great” Said Jim.
Nathan said it was fine, he also told Bill that they had decided to accept Jim's offer and said that he would call Jim in a while to tell him. In the meantime, he asked Bill to let them into the house before he called them with the news.
Bill did as he was asked and left Jim and Julia alone in the house while he returned to his own to make some lunch.
While he prepared it, he decided a bit of Nat King Cole was needed, so he went into the living room, placed the CD kitty had left him into the CD player and opened his front window and pressed play.
Just before track three started to play, there was a knock at the front door. When Bill answered it he was surprised to see Julia there. “Jim said that you were the key holder, well for now at least, so I am just returning them.” She smiled and handed them back to Bill. “Thanks.” He said “ What do you think of the house?” “It's just perfect.” Beamed Julia “And they have accepted the offer, so hopefully it won't be too long before we are neighbours.” “That's great.” Said Bill smiling back at her surprised by his own openness towards someone he had just met.
Julia smiled “ It isn't isn't it?”
“Yes” Said Bill.
“That's Nat King Cole isn't it?”
“Yes it is”
“I just adore him and this is one of my favourite songs, that's a good omen as well isn't it?” Said Julia.
“Yes” Said Walt “I believe it is.”
Hands By Holly Searle
The idea for the following short story Hands was inspired by a combination of two factors; Max Bygraves and my love of hands and their own personal history which is often overlooked.
Now he was retired, Joseph Culloty wondered how he ever managed to work a fifty hour week with so much going on in his life, although he was glad that he was, retired that is.
Martha had woken him with a kiss this morning and he embraced it and her as he always had and did with the wholehearted knowledge that he still had the woman he loved, in his arms, in his life and in their bed.
As usual Martha had left him with a further kiss and a cup of tea in bed as she was off out to meet their youngest daughter Ruby for lunch.
Joseph liked the fact that Martha was able to spend time with their daughter and that they enjoyed their time together, it made him smile.
He drunk his tea and listened to the silence in the house. The air still held a trace of Martha’s scent that formed the trail of her momentary former presence before leaving for the day. He liked that as well.
He moved his body from beneath the cover of the duvet and stood up and stretched his arms above his head and felt the twinge of sleep’s stiffness in his back. He didn’t for one moment think this might be his age as at fifty-five he didn’t feel old, he felt lucky.
Today he intended to finish his latest project.
Being retired at a younger age had afforded him choices that had made all of his working life worthwhile.
It was a pleasure not to be confined by time or a train timetable (or in a train for that matter), gridlocked in traffic or held hostage by harsh weather conditions that had always made his commute home a nightmare.
No, he’d finished those chapters of his life and had managed to turn down the corner of a page just past the half way point of his own personal novel.
No, not old at fifty-five, but just beginning to explore the heart of the story, where all the threads of his narrative had started to join up and the conclusion was still a mystery and a far off destination.
In the bathroom he studied his naked reflection in the mirror. Even though the unnatural light was a flattering ally, he took this into consideration whilst making his inspection and came to conclude that he wasn’t in too bad a condition. His body was still toned and defined rather than an out of control heap. A closer look at his face revealed a network of lines and creases. Distinguished Martha called it laughing at his vanity, weather-worn he thought, laughing at himself. He could do with a shave, but decided that as he didn’t need to and because he quite liked his dark rural appearance and the fact that Martha had vocalized her own appreciation of it, by making that “Grrrrrrr” noise as she rubbed her face against his in bed earlier that morning confirmed his decision. “Grrrrrrrr” he said to his reflection.
He showered and dressed and made his way downstairs to the kitchen where he made himself another cup of tea. He had been a coffee drinker once, but now he found that he preferred tea. It was less urgent and intrusive somehow.
He looked out the kitchen window at the day and liked the lush greenery of the garden and the peace it generated.
With his mug in hand, he opened the kitchen door and commenced his now route to work as he crossed the garden and arrived at the door of his humble work shop that he had built for moments such as this.
As he opened the door he was greeted with the familiar warm smell of wood and sawdust (or tree snow as Ruby had called it when she was little).It was a dry and embracing smell that was both friendly and tactile towards him and his senses.
He placed his mug on his work bench and switched on the radio.
For years he had designed and overseen the construction of buildings as an architect for so many people. Mostly they had been domestic. Other people’s visions of the space that they wanted to inhabit. He had taken pride in most of what he had achieved for them, but he would be lying to himself if he didn’t admit that some jobs had been taken on purely for monetary gain.
He drunk some of his tea and considered what he needed to do today. In the background the radio filled the vacuum of movement and created what he like to think of as an unobtrusive assistance.
This was interrupted by the sound of the cat flap as Moss made his way into the workshop and jumped up onto the workbench.
“Hello fat cat” Joe said stroking him as the cat made its way to his usual spot and sat down. Moss was a good workshop companion, quiet and non judgemental but not without wages. Joe had a packet of biscuits on a shelf above his workbench from which he sourced half a digestive for the expectant Moss. He dipped it in his tea so that it was soft and easy for the cat to consume.
Moss waited patiently while Joe went through this tried and tested means of consideration and then ate it and helped himself to a drink of water from the bowl on the window sill that the workbench rested against, then looked at Joe hopefully. “Maybe later eh?” Joe said to him and Moss sat down and blinked at him in acknowledgement of this offer.
Set for the day, Joe turned his attention to the item that rested on the floor. No one knew what he was making. It was something he had wanted to do from the moment his eldest daughter Grace had announced she was expecting his and Martha’s first grandchild.
Martha had asked him if he was working on a private commission “Of sorts” he had responded and winked at her. She was as curious as the cat that watched over him now, but not as easily distracted by a digestive biscuit. “I don’t want to show you until it is finished” he had offered her. Unlike Moss, Martha had given him a blank look and hadn’t blinked at all.
As he finished his tea, his attention was taken by the radio and his face broke into a smile as he lent over and turned it up a little. Laughing he said “Well I’ll be Moss!” The cat’s ears twitched at the mention of its name (and probably in the hope of further biscuits) as Max Bygraves deep nasal tones sang out from the radio.
“You need hands to hold someone you care for…you need hands to show that you’re sincere..”
Joe hadn’t heard this song in years. He stood and listened and was transfixed. Not by the vaudevillian production it conjured up, but by the song and the memories associated with it that he had long since forgotten.
He saw his father clearly singing and comically miming the actions of the words to him when he had been a small boy.
“…When you feel nobody wants to know you, you need hands to brush away the tears”
Both of them laughing while his mother protested telling his father not to get him all hyped up before his bedtime. His father had ignored her and had dealt with her jovial protests by taking her in hand (literally) and had made her dance with him which had made a small Joe laugh even more as his parents took a turn around the kitchen floor. His mother had laughed as well and telling his father to behave himself with a smile on her face as well as in her dance steps.
“When you hold a brand new baby..you need tender hands to guide them on their way”
Joe looked down at his hands and thought about his babies; Grace, Hannah and Ruby. He called them his three muses and Martha had asked “And what does that make me?” “Why a Goddess of course” he had replied. “Charmer!” She had said laughing.
He held his hands up and inspected them. Just like his face they had a used look about them, but they had worked hard for him and the thought suddenly occurred to him that they were also a record of his history so far.
“You need hands to thank the Lord for living and giving us this day..Let’s dance ladies and gentlemen”
It was a profound thought that moved him. They had held his mother’s hand to and from school until he was old enough to be aware of the childish nature of this action. The thought sadden him as he would give anything to feel her hand in his once more.
“You need hands to show the world you’re happy..and you need hands when you have to stop the bus”
Happy hands, when had his hands been happy? When he had held Martha’s for the first time and then placed a ring on her finger after she had agreed to marry him. When he had rested them lovingly on her huge pregnant belly (more than once) and had held his babies proudly for the entire world to see. They had built sandcastles in the summer (sandy hands) and snowmen in the winter (icy hands).
They had placed reassuring plasters on the cuts of his crying children, they had taken photographs, written postcards to his parents while he travel and dialled numbers from far away telephones to let his loved ones know he was safe. They had worn gloves (how many?) for warmth and safety; they had learnt to tie his own laces with pride as well teaching his children how to tie theirs. They had wound up watches and clocks and had, on request, zipped up his wife’s dress for numerous special occasions as well as having to unzip them again, he smiled.
The had defended him and had demonstrated his frustrations over the years, they had signed cheques and paid bills, had removed splinters, drawn up plans, driven cars, decorated Christmas trees, pushed prams, peeled potatoes, painted walls. They had given away his daughters to their soon-to-be husbands.
“But the hands we love so dear are the hands we love to hear…are the hands you give to us”
They had certainly shown his appreciation over the years. He had always found clapping a primitive sort of action. They had clapped at speeches (some deserved, some not) at graduations and at the end of expensive productions as well as his children’s various school nativities.
“Everybody, are the hands that you give, Everybody, that’s nice, thank you, Thank you ladies and gentlemen, thank you”
The song ended and Joe leant over his workbench and turned the radio down.
“Thank you Max” he said. Moss stirred at the sound of his voice and Joe blinked at him.
He turned his attention to the unfinished object on the floor and moved towards it and trailed his hand across its finished surfaces. It felt smooth and satisfying to touch. Once he had waxed it, the crib would be finished.
Joe was pleased with it, pleased with what he had produced and all he had achieved. He imagined Grace’s new baby sleeping in the crib and thought about its own tiny hands and its mother’s gently rocking it to sleep.
He turned back to his workbench and reached for the tin of wax that was on the shelf and placed it on the bench. Then he gave a grateful Moss another piece of biscuit and set about his task while the spirit of Max Bygraves lingered in the workshop and his heart.