Nanowrimo is a compelling challenge to write 50,000 words during November: that’s an average of 1667 words per day. My plan is to write a set of 30 short stories each 1667 words long instead. Each story comes from a prompt, a lot from fellow bloggers.
This double picture prompt is from the same setting; the first picture, taken this year shows Hordle Churchyard in South Hampshire on the edge of the New Forest. It was provided by Derrick Knight. The second picture is from 19th May 1984 – a rather memorable day for me.
Till Death Do Us Part?
‘Where’s Gramps, mum?’
‘I expect he’s gone to see Granny, Cathy?’
‘Does he go everyday?’
‘Come rain or shine.’
‘Is it healthy? Shouldn’t he move on?’
Grace wiped her hands and hugged her daughter. ‘He always said that, after they met as teenagers they never spent a day apart. It’s only a half hour catch up.’
Cathy ruffled her son’s hair as he showed her his picture. ‘That’s lovely, Henry. What is it?’
‘A snake. Gramps said he’d show me one.’
Grace smiled. ‘There you go. He’s looking to show Henry a snake.’
‘Come on mum, spending his days at her grave isn’t a good sign.’
‘We’ll just leave some flowers for Granny then we’ll go and find us an adder.’
‘Daddy says adders are good at sums, Gramps.’
‘Daddy is a wise man. Here we are.’
Ronald watched as his great grandson ran ahead, curving like an aircraft taking evasive action. For a moment he was back sixty plus years as he chased his brother around the garden. Henry jumped one grave and skidded to a halt by another, newer grave in sombre red granite. There he knelt by the side, oblivious to the wet grass and lifted the fading irises out of the vase.
‘Can I put the new ones in please, Gramps?’
They’d had irises at their wedding in 1969. May. He’d remembered the day in a moment. One fine day with storms either side. ‘Bloody lucky, son.’ His dad always said he was bloody lucky. Especially finding Victoria. ‘Real gem that girl. No need to polish her, eh lad?’ No, it was him who…
‘Come on Gramps. Let’s go!’
Ronald pinched the bridge of his nose and followed. ‘See you tomorrow, love.’
See you my darling.
‘Who was that Gramps?’
Ronald looked at the two trusting brown eyes, so like his darling Victoria’s. ‘Did you hear it?’
‘A lady said ‘See you my darling’.’
The innocence of the young. Ronald imagined Victoria looking on and laughing. ‘Let’s sit for a moment. That was Granny.’
‘She’s over there, isn’t she?’ He pointed at the grave.
‘I think she’s somewhere. Sometimes, if you listen hard enough you can hear her.’
‘Will she come and find snakes?’
‘She doesn’t really like snakes.’
Henry stood, nodding his serious face. ‘Girl’s don’t do they?’
‘Some. I think we should have that walk.’ As Henry ran ahead Ronald sighed. This was going o be difficult.
‘What on earth did you tell him, Gramps? He’s convinced Granny spoke to you both.’
Ronald sat opposite his granddaughter and stared at his plate. How do you explain to someone with so many certainties? His daughter Grace laid a hand over his and he glanced at her. She said, ‘I think it’s nice they can spend time thinking about her.’
Cathy took a pile of plates to the sink. ‘He was adamant he heard her voice. How’d you do that Gramps? Throwing your voice?’
‘Cathy stop teasing.’
‘Mum I’m the one to pick up the pieces when he’s in tears because Granny isn’t there. You brought us up to be told the truth so when I have to explain – again I might add – that she’s dead it’ll be me who’s the villain.’ She moved behind her grandfather and hugged him round the shoulders. ‘I’m sorry Gramps. I know it’s hard losing her. It’s just Henry’s very impressionable.’
Just then Henry called and Cathy went to him.
Grace turned to face her father. ‘She forgets we lied to her until she was old enough to understand. Why do the young think they have a monopoly on things like sex and child-rearing?’
‘Maybe I shouldn’t take him?’
‘Don’t be silly. She’s right about Henry. Try not to upset him. Cathy’s back on Friday, so it’s only a couple of days. You go off on your rambles, say your hellos to Mum and then at the weekend we can go to the seaside and Henry will think about crabs and chips.’ She moved to put the kettle on. ‘You might cut out the ventriloquism, though.’
‘Does Granny ever come out of her grave, Gramps?’
Ronald smiled. He’d forgotten how small children used ‘why’ more than any other word save ‘no’. ‘Well, Henry, Granny and I married in this church. So did Gran and Grandpa and your Mummy and Daddy. When Granny and I wed we didn’t have a lot of money so my brother took the pictures…’
‘Who’s your brother?’
‘He is.. was your great-great uncle Lonnie. He’s buried over that side.’
‘Does he talk to you?’
‘No, only Granny.’
Ronald ruffled his great grandson’s hair. ‘Come on Henry. Granny must be having a nap. I think, today, we might find some fritillaries flying down by the stream. Can you fly like a butterfly.’
‘Look Gramps, I’m flying.’
Ronald waited until Henry was a way ahead and winked towards the side of the Church. ‘See you soon, my love’
‘I know. Soon.’
At dinner Henry was full of the butterflies he’d seen and the dragonflies that had landed by his hand. ‘I kept so still, Gran. Like a statue Gramps said.’
‘What colour were they?’
‘Red and green. We saw Granny too.’
Grace looked at Ronald who raised an eyebrow. He said, ‘When did you see her, Henry?’
‘She was peeking round the side of the Church. You spoke to her, when I was being a butterfly.’
Ronald sighed. ‘I didn’t think he was listening.’
Grace gave her father a stern look. ‘Dad…’
Henry finished his mouthful of food. ‘She was like in that picture.’
‘Which picture is that?’ Grace’s voice was soft but her glance at Ronald told him he was sinking into deeper and deeper water.
Henry’s chair scraped back and he shot out of the room, coming back moments later.. ‘Here.’
It was a photo from Ronald’s wedding: Victoria, head slightly bowed, walking between the gravestones. ‘She still had her white hat on.’ He touched his Granny’s face. ‘She’s very pretty.’
‘Yes she was.’
‘I know. Cathy will be cross.’
‘I was thinking about you. Mum’s been dead four years.’
‘We were married for forty-five.’
‘You know that’s not what I mean.’
‘I’m not stupid, Grace. Do you know the quack gave me a leaflet last week: the seven stages of grief…’
‘Dr. Norton is a good man.’
‘Let’s agree that he means well and leave it at that. You know what the last stage is?’
‘Yes Dad. Acceptance. These games with Henry hardly suggest acceptance. And you didn’t tell me you’d gone to see him. What did he say?’
Ronald remained silent for a moment. He knew he should probably say but that would cause even more fuss than Henry talking to Victoria. ‘I have accepted she’s dead.’
‘If you say so. Look, maybe until Henry’s gone back home you should steer clear of the Church. It’s only a couple of days.’
Ronald rose early the next day. A silver dew covered the lawn as he slipped out and walked the mile to the Church. He eased himself onto the bench, the damp air seeping into his hip causing him to wince. ‘Dear Henry is getting me into trouble, love.’
‘I know. He’s very sweet. You’ll miss your walks.’
‘Perhaps. We can both watch him, can’t we?’
‘Oh yes. The view is stunning. I’m glad you ignored Grace. Poor thing always tries to please everyone..’
‘And Cathy tries to control everything.’
‘Who does that remind you of?’
‘That was a long time ago. I learnt to let go.’
‘Really? Is that why you come everyday?’
‘I’d better go. I’ll need to think of a distraction for Henry until Cathy collects him.’
‘It’s close now, my darling. I can feel it.’
‘I thought we’d go and see the old Gibbet tree, Henry. It’s where they hung the highwaymen…’
‘Can we go and see Granny?’
‘I think we should probably give her a rest today. And mummy will be here for lunch. Do you want to read your book before she comes?’
‘Hi Gramps. You were out of it. Where’s Mum and Henry?’
‘Henry went upstairs to read and Grace was ironing.’
‘I’ll go and say hi to my little bundle. Do you want to tell Mum I’m here.’
Ronald nodded. He was just entering the kitchen when he heard Cathy calling for Henry. In no time the house was in a panic. Henry had disappeared. ‘Christ Mum,’ Cathy could barely stop twisting and turning. ‘He’s seven. Where is he?’
Ronald started. ‘He’s in the Churchyard.’
Cathy glared at her grandfather. ‘You’re not helping, Gramps. Why there? We have to focus. I’m going to call the police and check with the neighbours.’
Ronald didn’t listen. He grabbed his hat and headed for the road. He was too old to run but he moved quicker than he’d moved in years, his heart thumping against his chest.
In the Churchyard he slowed. Henry was sitting on a gravestone while Victoria sang to him in her soft soprano. They turned as one and smiled at him. Ronald nodded and sat heavily on the bench.
Behind him a car braked hard, doors slammed and Cathy and Grace hurried out.
‘Henry…’ Cathy’s words died on her lips as mother and daughter took in the scene. Henry ran to his mother.
‘Come on Mummy, come and say hello to Granny.’
Cathy stared at her grandmother, resplendent in her wedding dress. Her image was fading as they watched.
Grace moved to Ronald’s side. She looked at his face and gasped. ‘Oh god.’ She looked at Cathy. ‘Maybe you could take Henry for a walk. I think he’s…’
Henry ran over. ‘It’s ok Gran. Granny told me he’s going to be with her now. They’re off on holiday together. We mustn’t be sad.’ He frowned. ‘She said to say that it’s not over.’
Grace nodded and hugged the little boy. ‘I think you’re right, dear. I think for them it is just beginning.’
And that dear readers, is as good a place to end this month of short stories as any. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as I have writing them. I must express my huge gratitude to everyone who’s been involved, whether as provider of a prompt, cheering me on or as an assiduous or occasional reader. I’m both touched and grateful for everything.
Today also happens to be my birthday so I’m being taken out for a treat by the rather special lady in the second photo above.