Friends

21 May 2017

MY WINNING STORY


The room is so quiet that if you stood outside the door you would suppose it to be unoccupied; but there is an abundance of sound: crackling firewood, squealing chair springs, the vibrating window when a plane takes wing, the tap of steel needles, and the expletives when I drop a stitch. You might hear these sounds if you listen hard but you would not see Jeffrey's wicked endeavours to make me lose count, my voice rising with each enumeration as I walk two fingers along the pin, determined to outwit the arm-waving comedian and cursing the misfortune of being saddled with an imbecilic brother. The mantel clock proclaims its own opinion, issuing dull thuds, which are supposed to be reverberating chimes. Two o'clock, and the rest of the day to get through. Even the fire-logs serve to emphasise the hour, a pair of charred timber chunks spilling to the hearth. I toe to safety the smithereens of charcoal and inhale the intoxicating smell of burning wood as I study the flames, remembering my youth, when Jeffrey persistently devised new ways to destroy my concentration and the strife at school when homework was inadequately completed.

The dreadful clacking of Jeffrey's dentures infiltrates the reverie, transporting me to present time like an exploding bomb. First I am ensconced in daydreams, then, suddenly, I encounter reality head-on. Unexpectedly, my brother's grinning countenance brings a swelling to my throat. Family features: grizzled hair, bristly brows and pointed nose, except that Jeffrey now has pendulous jowls, skin dark with liver-spots, and hazel eyes mottled with age. At eighty-five he should be past indulging in puerility, but it is too late for him to change and, anyway, I am fond of his desultory ribbing. Occasionally.

While he gazes at me in his silly fashion, I set the rocking chair in motion, anxious to start the next stage of the complicated pattern yet hesitant in case Jeffrey renews the struggle for power. He looks docile enough, sitting erect like a spectator waiting for the show to begin, but I never know when he will embark on another wild prank. In two minutes I could be despising him; in three, I could be storming to pack his bag and return him to the home from which I delivered him, beseeching the dear Lord to explain why a man in my life is so essential.

My confession might shock you. If you could witness this scene of cosy domesticity you might think I am satisfied with my life, that my days consist of snug tête-à-têtes and happy reminiscences or that the daily woman's duties give me ample time to knit and amuse my brother. But how can I expect her to clean the mess that incontinence affords, or supervise his eating, and encourage him to aim for his mouth instead of his shirt? And yet, on reflection, your assessment could be right. Beneath the grievances, you might detect a glimmer of the affection I feel, for despite intensifying bouts of wrath and irritation I love the old fool to pieces.

Pleased that Jeffrey has settled to read I resume my occupation. Pins clicking furiously, my thoughts roam the years, evoking instances of his outlandish behaviour. Though his impaired mental state drives me to distraction he can be enormously entertaining; like now, as he absorbs the printed word, contorting his lips and nose as if they are moulded from rubber.

In the shadow of a frivolous father and two ebullient brothers, Jeffrey grew vague and bewildered before his time. As a consequence he relied on me for support, seeing me as an island of sanity in the midst of a chaotic existence. That's why I never married. The concept of leaving my guileless brother to fend for himself was inconceivable, though lately I long to be free of obligation. Notwithstanding, the good days outweigh the bad. In fact, until the onset of true dementia, most were agreeable; funny even, if an old man's waywardness can so be called.

As dotage accelerated, Jeffrey became quite adventurous. At seventy, equipped with his pensioner's pass, he toured the county for bargains. But his logic left much to be desired. He once travelled a distance to save twenty-pence on melon, then spent ten times that amount on chocolate. I still remember his gleeful look when he produced the melon and the box of chocolates, and my incredulity.

The fingers are flying now and the rocker's going like a swing as I call to mind that day we waited in Woolworths for our brother to end a discourse with a chum. Thirty minutes trudging round counters, failed attempts to resist Jeffrey's pestering at the photograph booth and the endless wait for obscure pictures. Secretly chuckling, I recall Jeffrey's restlessness and his entreaties for a go on the weighing machine - several times - for the sheer joy of cramming weight cards in his pockets, which on the journey home were distributed among the passengers on the bus, his laughter so infectious that the whole of the upper deck joined in.

My feeble eyes are filling up; it always happens when I reproduce the images of bygone days. A pity they couldn't stay the same.

You should see Jeffrey now, playing peek-a-boo around the Daily Mail. I pretend not to notice his buffoonery. I could curb him but he's been in enough trouble since the episode next door. Unbeknown to me, on the days when I allowed him out alone, he developed the custom of going in the neighbouring gate and walking into Miss Smedley's house demanding tea. Initially she humoured him with biscuits or a cake, but when he burst in and ordered tea and toasted soldiers, with no regard for her undressed state, she ceased to think it amusing. He's now on tight rein lest the woman carries out her threat to call the police.

The room is dimming now that the winter sun has disappeared, and the fire needs banking. The clock thumps its message home. Four o'clock, it says. Time for tea. My daydreaming has taken me to girlhood and back, through teen-years to adulthood. And Jeffrey's cardigan is almost done. If the Almighty is willing I will finish it tomorrow, that is if Jeffrey deigns to let me get on. But then I'd worry. Since silence is an alien characteristic I wouldn't know if he was behaving or indisposed. Oh, if you could see him playing his game, retreating behind the paper like a guilty schoolboy whenever he catches my eye. I cannot help sniggering at his expression, a fooled-you kind of look, the sort meted out when my counting goes completely awry. I am tempted to teach him a lesson and leave his cardigan sleeveless but I cannot succumb to spite. You see, he won't have many more birthday gifts, and I won't have the foolish fun that life with him has brought.

See his face, see the way he peers at me like the simpleton he is. My throat constricts at the sight of him. Dear God, don't take him yet. For my sake, give him a year or two more.

14 comments:

Denise inVA said...

Wonderfully told the relationship between a brother and sister. Bursting in next door demanding his tea ignoring the state of undress made me empathize with the neighbor and yet chuckle at the same time. Great story Valerie :)

S. J. Qualls said...

I can see why that is a winning story! You have the feelings all wrapped up as a present for the reader. I could have been sitting there with you.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

What details in this story, Valerie. I could picture the scene in my mind through your wonderful use of descriptions and setting the scene. Jeffrey is indeed fortunate to have such a loving and caring sister.

Valerie said...

Hi Denise and thank you. It was a chance putting the funny part in but it seemed to have worked quite well.

Valerie said...

SJQ, I like unique way you described the presentation and I'm pleased that you liked the story.

Valerie said...

Hi Beatrice. Writing a story is a bit like seeing a picture so I'm happy you saw it that way.

Ron said...

Valerie, it is no surprise to me that is you winning story because it's sooooooo well-written! And it is absolutely beautiful, with so many levels. You really get a clear sense of the relationship between brother and sister; both the frustrations and the unconditional love.

I know I've shared this with you before so many times, but you are such a gifted writer. And I really mean that. You have an incredible way of describing everything in such a way that the images simply appear in my mind as if appearing on a movie screen; watching it all play out. Your attention to detail is amazing!

Brava, dear friend! BRAVA!

Have a lovely week!
X

Valerie said...

Good morning, Ron. Unfortunately, because the story was published in the WI magazine, I was unable to send it to other publishers and thereafter I don't think my work reached required standards, plus the fact that I didn't know the rules. I did have some nice comments but there was always an 'unfortunately' clause. Hey Ho!

Geraldine said...

Oh well done with the award Valerie, that's terrific.

The emotions, the atmosphere, the heartbreak and angst...it all comes through powerfully in your words. A very touching story that would ring true for so many people in similar circumstances. Again, well done and KEEP WRITING!!

Valerie said...

Geraldine, after this was published a lady came up to me to ask how my brother was. I had to explain that the story was a piece of fiction. She told me that my descriptions were absolutely accurate. Amazing that she thought I was writing about a relative.

A Cuban In London said...

I, too, would have been (pleasantly) confused as the lady. It felt "real" in a very nice way but at the same time, sad, way. You drew the life of those characters and made us see it and feel it. It's such a vivid stiry. Thanks.

Greetings from London.

Mr. Shife said...

You certainly deserved the award, Val. You are a talent and I'm so grateful that you share your abilities with us.

Valerie said...

Cuban, I wanted to incorporate a happy theme as well as a sad one because, well, that's life! I guess I succeeded.

Valerie said...

Thank you, Matt.