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A good day today - a short story
What was her name?
“It should be a good day today; I’ll probably meet you later on Doreen. It seems so long since I last saw you.
Right, I’ll just move my chair a little bit. This blooming chair’s needed recovering for at least ten years, mind you, I’ve sat in it for the last forty years.
I can see the telly, not that there’s much to see, and out of the window, I can see right down the street, as far as the Post office. Your photo on the mantelpiece is faded these days; I remember the day we took it, Bridlington sixty-three. We’d just had fish and chips from that shop on the corner we used to like. ‘Best chip shop on the east coast,’ you always said.
Oh, there goes Mrs Gardener, I never had much time for her Doreen, but you used to chat with her a bit. You used to say ‘poor Mrs Gardener her husband knocks her about, you know,’ and then when he died, you used to say ‘poor Mrs Gardener she must miss her Harold.’ She probably poisoned him, if you ask me, I couldn’t stand him either.
I’ve not bothered with any breakfast this morning, doesn’t seem any point somehow.
I’m sure there’s something matter with that clock, I didn’t think I’d been here so long, it’s almost dinner time. Perhaps I nodded off again. I’ve always hated that thing, your parents bought it for our Silver Wedding, but those balls spinning round all the time, it just gets me cross.
I can’t be bothered making any dinner, the council used to send us meals; Betty, who used to bring mine was a nice lass, she always had time for a little chat. Then the council had to cut its services and that was that, I suppose some bright spark got an extra bonus for thinking that one up.
I like gazing out of the window. I’ve lived in this street all my life, not in this one house; I can see number twenty-three just across the road, that’s where I was born. We’ve had some fun here over the years, what about the celebration for Elizabeth’s Coronation? The street was cobbled then; bunting hung everywhere and everyone brought out their tables and chairs and us kids had a great time. It was the first time I’d ever seen a banana, sugar was still on ration I think. The mill band came and entertained us, and we sang Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory until our voices gave out. My Mum said it was such a good tune that it should have been the National Anthem. Mr and Mrs Clegg had bought a television for the occasion. It only had a nine-inch screen and a great big magnifying glass in front of it. It was the first time I’d ever heard somebody talking posh. Typical BBC plum in his gob commentator, my Dad hated that sort of accent.
With Bentley’s mill at the bottom of the road, it’s always a busy road. There were hardly any cars then, and the mill-lasses would walk arm in arm, their heels clicking on the cobbles. Sometimes they would sing as if they were in a film like that Lancashire lass, never could stand her myself, what was her name. I’m useless with names these days. Vera Lynn, no… she was the wartime singer; it’ll come to me.
I see old Bill is off for his pension, me and him was mates right from Sunday School. I’ll just keep my eye on him, because he has to run the gauntlet of that mob that hangs round the off licence. At one time, you could stick up for yourself, but you daren’t now. Hoodies, or whatever they call themselves, yobs that’s all they are. I asked one why they just hung about, he said ‘it’s cool man’ . I didn’t even understand his answer.
We used to hang about as kids, kicking tin cans and riding us bikes round and round, but we never threatened anybody. I think being cool , must be very boring, no wonder they all look so fed up, and what a humourless lot they are. The language they use is dreadful, I worked all my life on the shop floor and we never used it like that, and you never swore in front of a woman. If you did, you went cap-in-hand to apologise.
Old Ben, his family was so poor he didn’t have any socks, not even in winter. I remember one year his feet were red raw, he only had a pair of wellies. I gave him some of my socks and I told my Mum I’d lost them after P.E at school. My Mum felt sorry for them too, and whenever she made bread she would send a loaf over to their house, it was just the sort of thing people did then. I once told him we were having chicken for dinner, and he sneaked up and peeped through our kitchen window just to look at it. Mum made some stock out of the carcass and some really nice soup. We sent Ben’s family some of course.
Even the post office has changed. Mr Khan seems a nice enough chap, but I can’t understand a word his wife says, so if she’s serving in the shop, I usually go back later. I like the sari thing she wears, nice and colourful, far better than them drab printed floral frocks most English women wear. You can spot them a mile off when you’re on holiday in Spain or somewhere. Go on holiday with Saga, and it’s one long procession of floral frocks, sensible shoes, or silly sandals. What do they keep in those big square handbags that complete their uniform? Loads of biros, most that didn’t work, their address book, so that they could send off the postcards to all and sundry, ‘wish you were here, we’re having a lovely time, the foods nice, Sid forgot his cap and got his head burnt.’
They should have sold pre-printed cards with that on, because everyone said the same. We never went on holiday as a kid, my Mum would take us to Saltaire on the trolleybus and then we’d walk across the bridges to the Glen tramway. What a treat that was. It was such an exciting journey as it climbed slowly up the hill, and we couldn’t wait to get to the top and run about on Shipley Glen. We’d sit and dangle our toes in the stream and race twigs down it, and then it was time for a picnic. If we were really lucky, we could walk to Harry Ramsden’s chip shop, it was a fair few miles, and by the time we got there, we were ready to eat. It wasn’t as posh then, but it was still Harry’s chip shop and the queues sometimes went right around the shop. Worse bit was, walking back to Shipley full of chips to catch the bus home.
I think I was fourteen before we could afford a holiday by the sea. Three days in Scarborough, I can still remember it. Aberdeen walk, that was where we stopped, the landlady was a Scot and she taught me to play patience.
Where’s me zapper? I don’t know why I bother with the telly, it’s one thing I won’t miss. Repeats, repeats that’s all there is, or soaps. Doreen, you liked some of them, but I never was one for gossip and other folks’ business it
never really interested me. All they seem to do is fall out anyway, none of them have much joy; all those ‘celebrities’, fancy having to live in the jungle or do some other humiliating thing, just because you’re so desperate to get your name known. There seems to be more channels and less choice, I can’t figure that out.
There used to be the Cosy cinema at the end of the street, it was great; it’s a co-op supermarket now. My grandma used to take me to the Saturday matinee, we’d watch Dan Dare save the world of the future, and Zorro save the poor folk in Mexico; I didn’t know where that was, but I remember thinking what a dusty place it was. All for less than a tanner, and with a bag of nuts thrown in too. I’d charge off home with my gabardine just buttoned on its top button and it flapping out behind me like a cape, spurring on my imaginary horse I’d save the world. Grandma would puff her way behind me; telling me all the time to put my coat on properly
People have changed too; you used to know all your neighbours, if I came home from school and my Mum was out, I could always go next door. Mrs Middlemas was a great cook, and she always fed me, sometimes it was egg on toast or even baked beans, she called it ‘the cowboys breakfast’ said it would make me grow up as strong as Roy Rodgers. It used to give me wind, I know that. She said it was why they called Kansas the windy city, because of their habit of always eating beans. I didn’t really understand, but I laughed anyway.
Doreen, you was always a good cook. You used to say that, that was why I married you. It wasn’t just that, I thought you was the bonniest lass I’d ever seen in my life. I don’t know how you did it at times, I started work at seven o’clock and there’d always be a cooked breakfast, ‘a man can’t work all day without a good start’ you’d say. You’d have me ‘jock’ ready for me dinner in a green tin with a wire handle ready for when I left. The thermos was always primed and ready to go. Do you remember, I made a special frame to carry it on my bike and the lunch box in the basket on the front? Usually it was two slices of bread cut as thick as doorsteps smothered in ‘mucky drippin’. Lovely! Modern nutrition folk would have a fit. Let them. It was good stuff, I’m eighty-two, so it didn’t do me much harm. After that you had our Terry to get off to school too. He were a good lad, always thought the world of you.
Four o’clock, you don’t need a clock to know that, kids are everywhere. Shouting and going on, no respect for anyone. Her next door fetches hers from only two streets away in a great big four-by-four thing. I laughed the only day we had snow last winter, she left it at home, and their Dad had to take them to school.
My heads swimming a bit, I’ll take a few more of these tablets as soon as I can get the strength to lift that bottle.
It’s dark now, I think I’ll stop here tonight, I’ve not the strength to go upstairs. I’ve never liked going upstairs since you went, it’s like the house has lost its sole somehow. We were always keen gardeners, but these last few years… I’ve let it lapse a bit, it’ll take some work now to clear it up. The only gardening I’ve done of late, is seeing to your little plot. I wonder if you see it.
I’m going to take the rest of these tablets, I’ve plenty of bottled water to drink and wash them down. I hope you won’t mind me coming to see you this way, but I’m fed up of everything here. My papers are all in a pile there, our Terry will be upset, but he has his own family now. They moved south to get a better job and I only see them at Christmas if they’ve time. His wife never really seemed to want to be part of our family. It was as if she had made her mind up that whatever we liked she would dislike, even food. He’ll have the money from the house, and a few bob I have in the post office, it should get them a good holiday or two. The wills we made out at that solicitor’s up North Street I’ve put in a envelope, he’ll find them.
Our…somebody, I still can’t think of her name.
That seems odd; the kids are coming home from school. I wonder what day it is, I don’t remember them going this morning.
Someone’s knocking on the window. I can’t see them. I don’t rightly know where I am, it’s those tablets, I think I must be in bed. Who’s that? Is that you Doreen? Who are you all? Grace, our Gracie, Gracie Fields, I knew it would come to me.