For the moment novel-less, I am working on two short stories. One is for a local competition and one will go farther afield to a collection edited by a member of an online writers’ group.
The online editor asked for stories about “Kickass Grannies”. I liked the theme but I couldn’t come up with anything featuring old ladies in black leathers riding Harley-Davidsons. No matter how I tried, grandmas with attitude seemed to be beyond me so I offered a more simple urban story of old ladies doing things to help their home town along, although the story contains a hint of the mysterious.
As I began to work on the first, another story emerged, also about an older woman in an urban setting. However, this one is a bit more feisty, and as I write her I think of an ageing Shirley Valentine.
Short stories are always hard work. The writer has to think of just about every single word and its potential impact on a reader’s mind.
Here is the beginning to the first short story.
THE EYES OF THE GRANDMOTHERS
Looking up from the vegetables, Julia Ward found her granddaughter’s eyes watching with thoughtful concentration.
“Yes, Poppy?” She smiled at the eleven-year-old and continued to chop. This after-school hour was sacrosanct to the affairs of childhood. Poppy could do whatever she wanted to do; no chores were allowed to intrude.
“Jackson Bird had another bruise today. He said it hurt.”
The knife stopped for a moment. “Did he, pet? Where was it?”
“On the top of his arm, like last time. Right on the top. He showed it to me. He said his dad punched him again.”
“That really must hurt. Was he upset?”
“I don’t know. He said it was OK but he looked down a lot. You know, more than he does usually, and he wouldn’t put his hand up in maths. And he said I mustn’t tell anyone because it would upset his mum. I didn’t promise. I wanted to tell you and Dad but I won’t tell anyone else.”
“Best not to, pet. People have got to keep things private, although sometimes not too private. Friends can always help.”
“It’s funny. Jackson’s dad is a really nice man. Why would he hit him so hard? When he brings Jackson to school he always says hello to Miss Leonetti and makes her laugh.”
“I don’t know, pet. Sometimes adults have a lot of things to cope with.”
Poppy slid off the tall stool. “Will you tell Dad?”
“I will, duck. Now where are you off to?”
“My cubby house . . . Grandma?”
“Do you think you and Mrs Morrison and the other ladies could do something?”
Julia stopped chopping and opened the door to the backyard. “Off you go. It’ll be homework time before you know it.”
“Yes, but will you ask them?”
“I’m having coffee tomorrow morning at the retirement village. Will that do?”
“Yes, great! Thank you, grandma. Will you say ‘hello’ to Mrs Morrison for me?” The girl skipped off.
Returning to the veggies, Julia thought about Poppy and her now close friend, Mrs Morrison. About a year ago the three ladies had been at a table outside Moxi’s café in the main street of the small town. They called Julia across because there was something she needed to hear, and Poppy came too.
“Leave your lassie with me,” Adeline Morrison said. “You talk to Evelyn and Dot.” While she spoke to the two other ladies as instructed, Julia saw that Poppy and Mrs Morrison had gone into what could only be called a huddle, talking to each other; Poppy listening closely, Adeline patting the girl’s hand now and then.
Sitting back at the end the old lady nodded. “You and I will do fine, my honey. Make sure that your grandma brings you here again.”
Some months later Mrs Morrison presented Poppy with a crystal ball, bigger than a tennis ball but still small enough to be held in the palm of an adult hand. It was a true crystal ball, made of quartz and not of glass.
“This is great,” said the girl on their return home. “Look, grandma, you can see into it but you can’t always see through it. Mrs Morrison said that I should put it away until I’m a woman, so I’ll need a box.”
From her store of this and that Julia found a box that would do. It was made of wood, had a hinged top with a latch and was decorated with painted roses and lavender. Poppy carefully wrapped the crystal ball in tissue paper and placed it in the box.
“When I’m grown up,” she said, giving it to her grandmother for safe keeping.
After tea, stacking the dishwasher, Julia asked David, her divorced son, about Jackson Bird’s father.
“Ken Bird? Well, I know who he is. Nice bloke. He’s a Fly-in Fly-out worker – flies up to Newman, seven days on, seven days off, and when he’s around he goes down to the town’s social club a lot. Why are you asking about Ken Bird?”
“He punched his lad, the one in Poppy’s class. She said he had a big bruise.”
“Did he? Well, the boy probably . . . No, no! I’m sorry, Mum.” The man put up his hands. “That came out wrong. Don’t tell any of your old lady friends. I don’t want to find myself on the wrong end of one of their staring campaigns. No, Ken did the wrong thing, but you never know what’s behind a punch, especially with a FIFO worker.” He set the dishwasher going.
“Poppy?” he called.
“Up here, Dad!” Poppy was in her bedroom.
“I’m watching the news now. Then I want to see your homework.”
“Yes, Dad. I’ve finished it.”
“It can be bad, working up there,” David addressed his mother again, “and it’s the rainy season. He could have been stuck at the mine site runway for hours, waiting for the water to clear; perhaps they had to fill in potholes before the plane could take off. And isn’t he a haul truck driver? I can’t see how anyone could ever feel safe driving one of those monsters! Not surprising that he could have hit his kid without meaning to.”
“Maybe, but the boy’s such a skinny little thing.”
“His mum seems to look after him well,” offered her son, making for the lounge. “She’s a good mother is Maggie, by all accounts. Ken’s a good bloke.” The door swung closed behind him.
And there you are, thought Julia. Jackson Bird is the son of a father under stress from work, if not for other reasons. If he punches his son, about four times smaller than him, it can be understood if not completely excused, and the man’s still a good bloke. This flying up to the north to work nearly a thousand miles away from home, for the sake of the good money it brought in, had real problems attached. Saying goodnight to your little ones through Skype would get to a man, not to mention what might be happening in his wife’s life and him not around to help her or detect the signs. Yes, the money was good, but a family might end up paying too highly in other currency for it.
After the divorce David had brought Poppy back to his home town, opting for a modest information technician’s job in the local hospital until his life changed again. He didn’t have a lot of spare cash but he wasn’t under stress. But Ken Bird was under stress and he could be letting it out on his little boy. Wife too? Not as easy to tell with wives. But she might go and have a look. Perhaps very soon. She’d talk to the ladies tomorrow.