Monday 30 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 Z is for Zest

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012
Z is the ultimate letter in this sequence of 26 short stories of 250 words or fewer. This final story is just a little longer – 385 words. All the stories are about the life and times of a fictional character called Alice.

Alice shepherded everyone into the sitting room. It was a tight squeeze but everyone found a seat. The granddaughters sat on the floor while their babies and toddlers played around them.

The last time the whole family had gathered was for Norman’s funeral three years previously. Alice’s 85th birthday made a good excuse to meet under happier circumstances. Emily and her family had travelled from Paris the previous day. Alice didn’t see them very often though she did occasionally travel by Eurostar to visit them. Rebecca’s children lived in and around London and she  saw them more frequently, though they were very busy – no-one could live in London and not be busy, she thought. It was Ted’s family she saw most – they all lived nearby – and of course, Ruth was a regular visitor.

While Alice played with her great-grandchildren her daughters organised tea. Afterwards she unwrapped a mound of gaily-wrapped gifts and was touched by the thought that had gone into them – National Trust membership, a subscription to a favourite magazine, gardening and book tokens, a large print of one of her favourite photographs, a voucher for a spa day. Then Rebecca’s husband gave her a DVD and urged her to play it for all of them. He had compiled it from family photographs and video recordings and set it to music.

Alice’s life unfolded before her. Monochrome gave way to colour and she thought that was a fine allegory for life. There were her parents and her three strong brothers. What fine young men they had been. Here was Norman, smiling into the camera, looking ridiculously young and so proud on their wedding day. She watched her babies grow into toddlers and then into young adults with babies of their own. The final photograph was of all her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including the youngest, four-month-old Rosie.

Everyone clapped and cheered and Ted produced a bottle of champagne with a reassurance that there were another two in the fridge so there would be plenty for everybody. They drank Alice’s health and commended her zest for life. She nodded and smiled, quite overcome.

Later, after everyone had left, Alice watched her DVD again, pausing it now and then to study an image more closely. ‘What a wonderful gift,’ she thought. ‘Photographs hold the greatest memories.’

Saturday 28 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 Y is for Yarn

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012

Y is the penultimate letter in this sequence of 26 short stories of 250 words or fewer. All the stories are about the life and times of a fictional character called Alice.

Through all the years of their marriage Norman was always able to make Alice laugh. He had a sense of the ridiculous and one of the things Alice loved about him was his ability to spin a yarn. He could elaborate on the most mundane event until his audience was laughing so hard they were gasping for breath. It didn’t matter to her that she had heard his stories many times before. A large part of her enjoyment was seeing the pleasure they brought to others. A shared sense of humour was one of the most important things in any relationship, she thought.

She considered her children. Ted had a pronounced sense of fun. He stopped short of practical jokes and she was grateful for that. It always seemed a cruel kind of humour that made people anxious or embarrassed them.

Rebecca shared Norman’s aptitude for story-telling and revelled in her daughters’ antics. She was quite as skilled as he at holding her listeners’ attention.

Emily, Alice’s youngest child, was quieter than her siblings, more introspective. She often said she couldn’t tell a joke to save her life and it was true – she always forgot the punch line – but she loved puns and witty repartee.  Alice supposed Emily was more like her than Norman, though Alice never claimed to be witty.

Alice was pleased that each of them had partners with whom they could share laughter. Laughter, as well as love, made the world go round.

Friday 27 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge X is for X-ray

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012
X is the next letter for stories in this sequence of 26 short stories of 250 words or fewer. All the stories are about the life and times of a fictional character called Alice.

Alice had never broken more than a fingernail. The day she slipped in the kitchen she lay on the floor, gazing at the ceiling and wondering if it would be advisable to try and get up. Her elbow hurt but she thought everything else was in working order.

Norman called out, ‘Is tea ready?’ and Alice grimaced as she replied, ‘Not quite. I’m a bit incapacitated at the moment.’

Norman came to investigate. As soon as he saw her he said, ‘I’ll call an ambulance.’ Alice told him not to be silly but despite her protests he insisted she should at least have her arm x-rayed. He drove her to the hospital where she joined a waiting room full of patients in varying states of medical distress.

It was an opportunity to see Joe Public at his most vulnerable. A young mother nursed a small baby and comforted her little girl who was whimpering in pain. An older boy with a face as pale as his sports kit held his arm protectively against his body and tried to joke with his pals. A man in workman’s dusty overalls sat stoically staring ahead out of the eye that wasn’t covered with a bandage. Ambulance men carried in a still form on a stretcher.  Alice shivered, feeling she was there under false pretences.

After several hours her arm was x-rayed; as she expected, it wasn’t fractured. She returned home, exhausted. She realised afresh how fortunate she was. A bruised arm was nothing.

Thursday 26 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 W is for Wisdom

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012
The next story in this sequence of short stories of 250 words or fewer starts with W. All the stories are about the life and times of a fictional character called Alice.

For most of her life Alice felt like a child, learning from other people. Even as a grandmother she doubted her competence to offer advice. Everyone around her seemed so knowledgeable and younger people were the most intimidating. She wondered if she would ever feel sensible and mature.

One Christmas a few years after Ivy’s death, she and Norman were staying with Rebecca. They overheard their son.

‘Mum was the one I took my troubles to. She listened, really listened, and she always knew what to do. When I was growing up she was the only person I could talk to and she was never shocked by anything I said.’

Then came Rebecca’s voice. ‘Mum’s a great listener, very wise. She won’t give advice unless she’s asked and even then she makes it sound as though you’ve found the answer for yourself. I wish I could be like her.’

Alice felt her ears burning and a flush suffusing her face. Could they really be talking about her? Was that all wisdom was? Listening and advising when you’re asked? She knew it must involve more than that – experience, of course, the sum of little things. She felt ridiculously happy and suddenly quite grown-up.

Norman squeezed her hand and whispered, ‘You’re my very own Wise Woman. You cast your spell on me the first time we met.’

Alice snorted. ‘You make me sound like a witch,’ she said.

‘Oh, yes, that’s what I meant,’ said Norman and winked.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 V is for Violets

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012
The next story in this sequence of short stories of 250 words or fewer starts with V. All the stories are about the life and times of a fictional character called Alice.

Alice’s favourite flowers were violets, quiet, unassuming little plants that returned faithfully year after year. They had spread in her garden until they carpeted the grass under the trees, a perfect purplish-blue gift for tired eyes.

Alice was often weary. Ivy had broken her hip shortly after her 90th birthday and her recovery had been protracted.  She was scared of further falls and less independent and so needed constant companionship. Ruth kept her company at night but was still working so Alice volunteered to stay with her mother during the day. Ivy had a limited range of repetitive conversation, preferring to revisit well-worn topics rather than take an interest in current affairs. Alice found it hard to maintain a dialogue.

Gradually, Ivy’s character changed. She began to treat Alice like a servant, giving her orders and complaining in querulous tones. Dismayed, Alice realised that it was almost impossible to recognise her mother. Ruth was finding her difficult, too. When she started throwing things at them they realised they could no longer cope and found a care home for her where sympathetic staff looked after her and calmed her as best they could.

Alice and Ruth visited her regularly but soon she didn’t know them and was confused by their presence. There were brief moments of clarity when she asked after Daniel.

Ivy died in 1990, aged 93. Alice grieved but was also relieved. Her mother’s last two years had been filled with bewilderment and distress. Finally she was at peace.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 U is for Umpteen

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012
The next story in this sequence of short stories of 250 words or fewer starts with U. All the stories are about the life and times of a fictional character called Alice.

Oops! My chronology went a bit wrong!! Emily is married the year of Ivy's birthday and has four small children immediately . . . Ted's twins, born the same year, have mysteriously had babies themselves . . . oh dear - and it was all going so well;-)

Ivy’s 90th birthday was an excuse for a family get-together. Their house was too small to accommodate everyone so Alice and Norman booked a hotel and reserved rooms for all the family.

Ivy thought she was going out for lunch and then to a matinee so when she walked into the hotel restaurant and saw her entire family clapping and smiling she was speechless. Lunch ensued with much laughter and chatter. Ivy was delighted to see Emily with her four small grandchildren, three girls and a baby boy. She didn’t see her or her family very often as she lived in France. The little girls spoke French to her and she spoke English to them and they all got along splendidly.

After lunch the head chef brought Ivy a beautiful cake decorated with fresh flowers. He helped her cut the cake and complimented her on her beautiful family.  

‘You have so many daughters and granddaughters,’ he said.

‘Granddaughters and great-granddaughters,’ she corrected with a smile. ‘Umpteen of them.’

She sat with Alice and Ruth and her older granddaughters and their babies and watched as the younger cousins played together. She noted the similarities between them as well as the differences and recognised gestures that reminded her of John or Charles. The newest baby boy, just a few months old, resembled Daniel. She sighed. Poor Daniel.

‘Enough of that,’ she scolded herself. ‘You are a very lucky woman.’

She turned to Alice. ‘Thank you so much,’ she said. ‘This is perfect.’

Monday 23 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 T is for Tempus Fugit

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012
The next story in this sequence of 26 short stories of 250 words or fewer about the life and times of a fictional character called Alice brings us to T.

No sooner had Alice and Norman accepted the responsibilities of parenthood than their children were transformed into adults or so it seemed. The traumas of childhood and adolescence and the hurdles of examinations and first job interviews had been conquered. Norman and Alice considered their children as friends. She knew how fortunate they were. Some of their friends were estranged from their children.

Ivy was 89 and still living in her own home. A few years previously she suggested Ruth move in with her. They each worried about the other so it was to their mutual benefit they should live together. Ruth had trained as a nurse and was a practice nurse at the local surgery. Returning to her empty house each day had become burdensome. Now she went home to Ivy’s cooking and warm companionship. It was most satisfactory.

Emily’s 21st birthday in October was cause for celebration and she chose the occasion to announce her engagement. She planned to marry her French fiancĂ© the following year and they would be starting their married life in Paris. Everyone cheered.

There was a further announcement. Ted said, ‘I don’t want to hog my little sister’s special day but I thought you’d like to know we’re expecting twins next March.’

There was general uproar and much kissing and hugging. Ivy said, ‘I’ll have to look out my crochet patterns.’

Alice smiled at Norman. ‘We’ve only been parents for what feels like five minutes. Now we’re going to be grandparents. Time flies.’

Saturday 21 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 S is for Silver

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012
S is the next letter in this sequence 26 short stories - 250 words or fewer- about the life and times of a fictional character called Alice.

Alice and Norman had a garden party to celebrate their Silver Wedding anniversary in 1981. It’s always a gamble organising an outdoor event in England but August that year was mostly warm and dry and the day of the party dawned bright and clear.

Alice watched Norman as he chatted with their guests. His hair was greying and receding at the temples and his laughter lines were deepening but he was still a good-looking man. Alice had discovered silver in her hair, too, but her hairdresser disguised it.

She looked at her children, young adults now. Edward John, more usually called Ted these days, was studying medicine and intended to marry once he had qualified.  Rebecca was a journalist on the local paper and hoped to make a career in the national dailies one day. Emily, sweet sixteen, was considering teaching as a profession.  

Alice breathed in the jasmine-scented air and smiled. She was so fortunate.

Her mother hadn’t been so lucky. She had lost all three sons. Though Daniel still lived his mind had wandered far away. John had died fourteen years ago and Ivy was lonely. Norman had offered to build a ‘granny annexe’ so she could live with them but she had declined - she valued her independence. Ruth spent a lot of time with her but Alice wondered if that was always helpful. They had both loved Daniel and grieved for him. Raking over the past didn’t help either of them, visiting Daniel even less so.

Friday 20 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 R is for Resolution

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012

R gives us the next in a series of 26 short stories of 250 words or fewer about the life and times of a fictional character called Alice.

1965 was a momentous year for Alice’s family. Emily was born in May and was greeted with rapturous delight by Rebecca. Edward John, now eight, greeted his baby sister with unaccustomed gravity, promising to look after her.

In July Daniel had a complete breakdown after refusing to take his medication and becoming increasingly irrational. More wretched than she had ever been Ruth called the doctor who said Daniel must be admitted to hospital immediately. Daniel refused to cooperate and had to be forcibly removed.

Shortly after that event, which shook the whole family, John had a serious heart attack. Shocked and frightened, Ivy blamed herself and swore henceforth to follow all the medical advice she was given. Alice hoped she would keep her promise.

One day in August Ruth knocked at Alice’s door. Alice was surprised to see her but invited her in and made tea.  

Ruth said, ‘I should have listened to you. I knew Daniel wasn’t getting any better. I wouldn’t admit the tablets weren’t working. Daniel was so devious he convinced the doctor he was coping and I covered up for him. I thought I knew what was best for him. All those wasted years when he could have been getting the help he needed . . . and you and I could have been friends. Is it too late for us, now?’

‘I’m sure if we try we could be friends again,’ said Alice.

‘I’d like that,’ said Ruth.

Thursday 19 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 Q is for Quirk

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012

Q brings the next of 26 short stories - 250 words or fewer - about the life and times of a fictional character called Alice

All children are unique. So Alice reminded herself daily as Rebecca raced round the garden in her fairy costume. Was it normal for her to insist on wearing the same clothes every day when she came home from school? She was six years old and the fairy dress had been a present for her third birthday. She could hardly squeeze into it now. The zip was broken, the sequins were hanging off the ragged net skirt and the original pretty pink was now faded and greyish.

Rebecca insisted on wearing it to parties. She was a strapping child, not a dainty waif, and the addition of bilious green frog-faced wellington boots did nothing to improve her image. While other little girls sat prettily and played nicely with each other Rebecca was playing football with the boys or trying to climb trees. She was two years younger than Edward John and copied everything he did. When she wasn’t following him she was a dog, answering only to the name Rover, speaking in woofs and growls and eating her meals under the table.
Ivy told Alice it was just a phase that Rebecca would grow out of.

‘Was I like that?’ Alice asked.

‘No, you were such a good little girl,’ said Ivy, ‘Not that Rebecca isn’t a lovely little girl, too,’ she added hastily. ‘She’s just imaginative.’

Alice sighed and wished her daughter would imagine herself into a quiet, presentable young lady. However would she cope when the baby was born?

Wednesday 18 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 P is for Parents

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012
P is the next of 26 short stories - 250 words or fewer - about the life and times of a fictional character called Alice.

It is a truism that the child is father to the man. As children become parents and their own parents turn into grandparents it is inevitable that roles begin to reverse. Alice was pleased her parents lived nearby and could see her little boy so frequently but she worried about her father.

John had retired from the police force when he was sixty, the year before she married. Until then he had received regular medical check-ups and was an active, fit man. Since his retirement he had been more sedentary and gained a lot of weight. Now, four years later, he was breathless after the slightest exertion and inclined to sit for long periods, reading the paper or listening to the radio. Ivy fussed after him, cooking his favourite meals and encouraging him to ‘take it easy.’

Alice told John he should see the doctor about his breathlessness and lack of energy. As she had predicted, the doctor advised more exercise and a stricter diet, reducing fats and sugar. He also prescribed tablets to moderate his blood pressure and regulate his heart. Ivy clucked her tongue, maintaining, ‘A little of what you fancy does you good.’ Alice agreed but suggested her father didn’t really need three cooked meals a day with puddings after two of them. Ivy nodded and carried on baking cakes and biscuits for them to enjoy with elevenses and afternoon tea.

Alice continued to worry. John continued to be breathless. Ivy continued to spoil her husband.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 O is for October

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012
O is for the fifteenth of 26 short stories - 250 words or fewer - about the life and times of a fictional character called Alice.

In October 1957 Alice’s first child was born. When Ivy visited her in hospital she gazed at the pleated face of her grandson. He yawned and opened his fathomless navy blue eyes.

‘Have you thought of any names?’ Ivy asked.

‘Norman and I decided on Edward John,’ said Alice. Her mother blinked back tears and looked down at the baby.

‘He has a look of Edward about him,’ she said softly as the baby grasped her finger.

As Edward John grew into a sturdy toddler his resemblance to his late uncle intensified. Even Norman’s parents, who had only ever seen photographs of Edward as a young man, remarked on the likeness.

Daniel’s perpetual gloom lifted whenever he saw his nephew. The lines of pain scored on his face softened and Ruth, watching him, glimpsed a shadow of the young man she had married. Not for the first time she wondered if her marriage would have been happier if there had been children. The little boy was quieter when he was with Daniel, as though he sensed an unquiet soul.

For Ivy, he was her lost son returned. His temperament was exactly that of Edward’s. He was a mischievous, loving child, often in scrapes and full of smiles. His infectious giggle made everybody laugh, particularly Ivy, whose face lit up every time she saw him. The years of sorrow dropped away and she became again the spirited woman she had been before the war.

Monday 16 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 N is for Norman

N starts the second half the alphabet and brings the fourteenth of 26 short stories - 250 words or fewer - about Alice’s life and times.

Norman considered himself fortunate to have married Alice. She was different to other girls he had known, intelligent and more mature, and he enjoyed their conversations about books. He had met her in the library where she worked.

Norman was an only child and his parents were delighted to welcome Alice into their family. She felt at home with them instantly. They never referred to the war. ‘The past is the past,’ they said. ‘We look forward to the future.’ Alice contrasted this attitude with her mother’s. Ivy couldn’t forget.

Norman had liked Alice’s parents immediately but had been disturbed by her brother. Daniel was like many soldiers he had met, more damaged mentally than physically though there was no denying that losing both legs was hard for anyone to adjust to.

He had spent two years in the army at the end of the war and was lucky to have escaped injury. He had seen others killed and maimed and thought his life was a tremendous gift. He determined not to dwell on the past but make his future the best it could be. He tried to strike up a friendship with Daniel, discussing topics he might be interested in, but Daniel could only talk about how the war had blighted his life. After a while Norman abandoned any hope of having a meaningful relationship with him. Alice was grateful to him for trying but understood that it was impossible. Daniel was essentially lost to them all. 

Saturday 14 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 M is for Marriage

M marks the middle of the alphabet and the thirteenth episode in 26 short stories of 250 words or fewer about Alice’s life and times.

Alice and Norman were married on a cool August day in 1956. Ruth didn’t attend. She told Ivy Daniel wasn’t well and she must look after him. Alice was sad but not surprised.  
John swelled with pride as he walked his daughter down the aisle and Ivy dabbed at her eyes and hoped there would be some grandchildren soon.

After the reception the newly-weds left for a hill-walking honeymoon in Wales. Ivy and John returned to their empty house, exhausted after a long day.

‘I hope they’ll be happy,’ said Ivy.

‘I’m sure they will be,’ said John. ‘They’re a lovely couple.’

‘We’ve been happy, haven’t we?’ said Ivy, ‘Despite everything?’

John squeezed her hand. ‘Of course we have,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t have asked for a better wife or a happier life.’

‘The boys?’ said Ivy.

John considered his answer carefully. ‘I wish they were with us as much as you do, but they’re not and we have to carry on, like so many others.’

Ivy nodded, her eyes shining with unshed tears. ‘I still hope . . . ‘

‘I know but it’s been too long. If, by some miracle Edward had survived, he would have found his way home by now.’

They sat in silence, holding hands, lost in thought. A knock at the door made them jump. Ivy’s hand flew to her mouth as John went to open it. Ruth had come to ask about the wedding. She sounded genuinely sorry she hadn’t gone.

Friday 13 April 2012

Programme warnings

Programme warnings

I suppose we’re all accustomed to warnings before programmes are broadcast – ‘contains language that some listeners might find offensive,’ ‘includes flash photography,’ ‘some viewers may find the content of this programme upsetting,’ and so forth.

The other day I came across a different warning – ‘This programme contains scenes of surgery and strong language.’ SURGERY??

My husband was glad of the warning – he’s rather squeamish – but there was very little to be concerned about. There’s much worse in Silent Witness and CSI!

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 L is for Lies

L is the next letter in the 26 short stories of 250 words or fewer about Alice’s life and times.
L is for Lies

Lying is not always wrong but it can be misleading when used to alleviate others’ concerns. Ruth was so accustomed to fielding questions about Daniel that she didn’t even have to think before she trotted out the well-worn phrases.  ‘He’s fine,’ was her usual response to friends’ inquiries. To more searching questions she replied, ‘I think he’s improving,’ or ‘He’s much happier.’

Faced with her challenging gaze anyone doubting her veracity kept their qualms to themselves. Only Alice knew the truth. Ever since John and Ivy’s Ruby Wedding Anniversary Ruth had trusted her.

Every day Ruth withstood a barrage of physical and verbal abuse. Daniel didn’t care that Alice was in the room when he set about his wife. She saw the strain on Ruth’s face and knew that matters were far worse when she wasn’t present. He controlled himself when his parents visited but as soon as they left he got up on his artificial legs and started again, screaming, throwing things at her, punching her where it wouldn’t show. After each attack he ended up sobbing and apologising.  

Alice told Ruth to seek help but Ruth refused. ‘I love him,’ she said. ‘He loves me. He’s suffering.’

Alice was frightened by Daniel’s mental deterioration and feared for Ruth’s life. Reluctantly she broke Ruth’s confidence and told her father. He contacted the doctor who took charge. Ruth was incensed; thereafter there was coldness in her manner towards Alice but Alice knew she had done the right thing. 

Thursday 12 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 K is for Kith and Kin

K is the next letter in this series of 26 short stories – 250 words or fewer - about Alice’s life and times.

It was John and Ivy’s 40th wedding anniversary in May, 1956. The war had been over for eleven years and rationing had finally ended two years earlier. There was a sense of excitement and optimism in the air and Ruth and Alice decided they should organise a party.

It was the first celebration the family had planned since before the war and they wanted to make it an occasion to remember. They invited John’s sister and Ivy’s brothers and their families. Daniel was reluctant to attend but Alice persuaded him it would be fun to see their cousins again. He remarked sourly that they had all survived the war intact.

With their friends there were fifty guests in all. It was fortunate the evening was warm and they could spill into the garden. Everyone was enjoying themselves; even Daniel was chatting animatedly when a tipsy aunt prodded Ruth and whispered, ‘When are you going to give Ivy some grandchildren? Mustn’t leave it too late, you know. We’ve already got five.’
Ruth went white, mumbled an excuse and ran upstairs. Alice found her sobbing in the bathroom. 

‘I’ll never have babies. We don’t . . . Daniel can’t . . . our marriage isn’t like other people’s.’ Alice rubbed her back. She had suspected something of the sort.

John and Ivy thanked them for arranging a wonderful party. Ruth smiled, ‘I’m glad you liked it.’

 Alice never felt greater love and pity for her sister-in-law than she did at that moment.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Not enough drama in your life?

Not enough drama in your life? Try this . . . Not so quiet Belgians;-)

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 J is for John

Continuing 26 short stories – 250 words or fewer - about Alice’s life and times, we arrive at J.

John’s job in the police force often involved danger and he had seen more of the dark side of human nature than he felt anyone should have to experience.  His overriding instinct was to protect his family.

When war was declared he felt a dull ache in the pit of his stomach that remained with him throughout its duration. He knew his sons would be called up eventually but when all three enlisted within a few months he knew a mixture of pride and fear.

He watched as worry consumed his wife and extinguished joy. He felt the loss of their sons as keenly as she but held no false hopes for Edward, grieving for him as he did for Charles. Though he would never have confessed it, in his heart he thought it would have been kinder for everyone if Daniel had died too - his torment continued and increased. His bitterness drained the life and energy from Ruth. She maintained a facade of optimism but John glimpsed the despair in her eyes when she thought no-one was looking.

Alice was the only one who had escaped relatively unscathed. She mourned the loss of her brothers and did her best to encourage Daniel, yet was able to move on and anticipate the future. John was delighted when she introduced Norman. It was refreshing to share the company of an optimistic young man who had survived the horrors of war and felt no need to dwell on them.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 I is for Ivy

The ninth of 26 short stories – 250 words or fewer - about Alice’s life and times is about Ivy.

I is for Ivy

Alice’s mother Ivy had withstood the privations of war and shown immense strength when news came of Edward’s loss and Charles’ death. She knew Edward was dead but a part of her clung to the hope that he would return one day. Miracles sometimes happened. In her bleaker moments she wondered at the wisdom of such hope. Daniel had returned maimed in body and spirit. He had learnt to walk on artificial legs but his mind remained caught in the horrors of war.

When Daniel was discharged from hospital he and Ruth moved into a small house nearby. Ivy protested that he should come home to his family where everyone could look after him but Ruth insisted he needed peace and quiet. Ivy had not argued but she and Ruth were no longer as close as they had been. 

Alice knew Ruth was right. Her mother hovered over Daniel and made him uneasy. Her artificial brightness and attempts to jolly him along irritated him. Ruth’s quieter manner soothed him. Alice learnt from Ruth and moderated her behaviour when she visited. She wished her mother would do likewise. She couldn’t bear the sadness in Ivy’s eyes when Daniel brushed her away. She hated the despair etching lines ever deeper on Ruth’s face. Most of all she couldn’t accept that Daniel was broken beyond repair.

In 1950 Alice introduced her boyfriend to her family. Norman had seen three years’ action in the war. Ivy was elated.  Meeting Norman might help Daniel.

Monday 9 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 H is for Helplessness

The eighth of these 26 short stories – 250 words or fewer - about Alice’s life and times gives us H.

Alice longed to see Daniel in hospital but her mother told her to wait until he was stronger.
Ruth came home from her daily visits drawn and pale. Alice’s anxious inquiries brought monosyllabic replies which told her little. Her parents maintained a cheerful attitude but she saw the strain in their faces after their visits. Daniel’s recovery was protracted.

After a few weeks Ruth said Daniel wanted to see Alice. Alice was excited, sure it was a good sign.

Entering the long ward she was struck by the number of young men. Some lay in bed, motionless. Others propelled themselves in wheelchairs, racing along the corridor, laughing and shouting to each other. Some wore bandages across their eyes. Some chatted. Some moaned. Some were mute. Ruth had tried to prepare her but Alice was shocked.

Daniel was sitting at the side of his bed. He greeted her with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. She tried to engage him in conversation but he barely responded.

Ruth chewed her lip and twisted her wedding ring round her finger. Alice understood her distress. Daniel had come home from the war but his mind was elsewhere.

When the bell sounded for the end of visiting Daniel grabbed Ruth’s hands. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I’m so sorry.’

Ruth said, ‘It’s alright, love. Don’t worry. I’ll see you tomorrow.’

Outside she sighed. ‘It’s always the same,’ she said. ‘ He needs me but he can’t talk to me. It’s hopeless.’

Saturday 7 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 G is for Glory

G brings us to the seventh of 26 short stories – 250 words or fewer - about Alice’s life and times.

G is for Glory

The first months of the war were surprisingly quiet and became known as the Phoney War. People relaxed and stopped carrying their gas masks everywhere. In the spring of 1940 they were made to think again when the Netherlands and Belgium were invaded and the battle for France began. Suddenly the enemy seemed uncomfortably close.

Letters home calmed the anxieties of Alice’s family but they had little idea where the brothers were. They dreaded seeing the telegram boy and sighed with relief when he passed by. One day in 1941 he stopped at the house. Edward was missing in action, presumed killed. He was just eighteen. His parents wept and Ruth and Alice did their best to comfort them though they could hardly stop their own tears from falling.

Three years later another telegram arrived reporting Charles’ death. His ship had been torpedoed in the Atlantic in early January. 

When VE day came in 1945 there were ecstatic celebrations for those who welcomed home their loved ones. There was proud reference to the sacrifices of ‘our glorious dead’ but the bereaved could not see it and could not rejoice.

Finally, Daniel returned. He’d left his legs behind on a battlefield but at least he had survived. Alice watched Ruth as she got ready to visit him in hospital.  She was trembling. Alice recognised her fear and hoped somehow Daniel would be the same as he had ever been.

She was thirteen - half her life had been lived in wartime.

Friday 6 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 F is for Foreboding

This is the sixth of 26 short stories – 250 words or fewer - about Alice’s life and times.

F is for Foreboding

There had been rumblings and rumours for months but most people hoped and prayed that Chamberlain’s 1938 declaration of ‘peace for our time’ would hold true. As 1939 wore on and international peace looked ever more vulnerable Alice’s father and brothers shook their heads and tried to remain optimistic. On September 3rd they huddled round the wireless as Neville Chamberlain announced ‘this country is at war with Germany.’

In the days that followed Alice heard her parents talking about men being ‘called up’ and asked Daniel to explain. She looked thoughtful. ‘You and Dad and Charles and Edward?’ she asked.

‘Not Dad. He’s a policeman – he’s needed at home. Not Charles - he’s still at university. Edward’s too young. I’ll be called up, but probably not yet.’

Alice was reassured until a few weeks later when all three brothers told their startled parents that they had enlisted, Charles in the Royal Navy, Daniel and Edward in the Army. Daniel announced that he and Ruth were getting married immediately.

The wedding was a bittersweet affair. Two young people promising to remain together ‘till death do us part’ emphasised the fragility of a world at war. Nonetheless, the newlyweds were sent on their honeymoon with much laughter and good wishes. Alice was pleased that she now had a sister who would be living in her house.  In time, she hoped, there would be babies.

All too soon, her brothers left for their training establishments. The house felt shockingly empty and quiet.

Thursday 5 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 E is for Edward

Letter E brings us to Edward, the youngest of Alice’s three brothers. This is the fifth of 26 short stories – 250 words or fewer - about Alice’s life and times.

Edward had been the baby of the family but was ousted when Alice was born. It was a shock to realise the family dynamic had changed and he resented his baby sister for shaking him from his comfortable complacency. However, his sunny disposition ensured that he soon stopped sulking.

As Alice’s personality developed Edward began to enjoy her company. He was the most audacious of her brothers and urged her to attempt things she would not have dared otherwise. She was a willing disciple, trotting after him from an early age and copying what he did. She became adept with a bow and arrow and held her own in conker contests.

She went scrumping when she was six and learnt to jump down from the apple trees and scramble through the hedge to safety. Edward got into trouble for that. ‘Encouraging your sister to steal is not acceptable,’ his father scolded and Edward hung his head in shame. 

Alice didn’t like him being rebuked and cried but Edward looked sideways at her and winked. He gave her confidence and above all he was fun. Spending time with him stimulated Alice, sometimes so much that she became over-excited. ‘There’ll be tears before bedtime,’ her mother would say, shaking her head at Edward and leading Alice away to quieter pursuits.  

Edward would just grin and blow Alice a kiss. On the next fine Saturday they would go out again. Daniel and Ruth joined them sometimes but those occasions were necessarily more restrained.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 D is for Daniel

The fourth letter of the alphabet is about Alice’s brother Daniel. This is the fourth of 26 short stories – 250 words or fewer - about Alice’s life and times.

It is often the case that the middle child of three of the same gender differs from the first and third. So it was with Daniel. Charles and Edward were broad-shouldered, with light brown hair and hazel eyes, like their father. Daniel’s eyes were cornflower blue and he was more finely built than his brothers.  Alice’s eyes were the same colour as his and she too had high cheekbones like their mother.

Daniel was a serious little boy and grew into a thoughtful, quiet young man. He wanted to be an accountant and studied hard, attending evening classes to gain the necessary qualifications. He was the brother Alice took her troubles to. He mended her toys and dried her tears and sat with her while she practised her piano scales.

When she wanted respite from the rough and tumble of games with Edward she sought refuge on Daniel’s lap and listened to the wireless. She was intrigued by the squeals and hisses it made as Daniel searched for different stations. The staccato bursts of music, the crackles of signals that could not quite be tuned and the voices of broadcasters speaking unfamiliar languages made a kaleidoscope of sound that comforted Alice and made her feel she was a part of the wider world.

In 1938, when Alice was six, Daniel shyly introduced his girl-friend to the family. Alice’s mother worried that her daughter would be upset by this new, important person in Daniel’s life but Alice took to Ruth immediately.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

April A-Z blogging challenge 2012 C is for Charles

The letter C brings the third of 26 short stories – 250 words or fewer - about Alice.

Charles was the eldest child in the family and took his responsibilities seriously. From an early age his parents had exhorted him to be a good example to his brothers and it was a natural extension of this that he should look after Alice. He pushed her in her pram, negotiating kerbs with care and ensuring that no draughts chilled her. His friends often accompanied them and so, from an early age, Alice had many surrogate brothers.

Charles hoped to become a teacher and enjoyed reading to his little sister and playing with her. She couldn’t pronounce his name and called him Dars. The name stuck and before long it was difficult to remember a time when he had not been Dars.

Charles was nineteen the summer that Alice was five. When he arrived home from college she rushed towards him. ‘Dars, Dars,’ she cried and screamed with delight as he swept her up and swung her round.

During the long, hot days the boys took her into the countryside to fish and swim. As soon as she tired a strong pair of arms scooped her up and let her ride on broad shoulders. She favoured Charles to carry her because he was the tallest and she liked being up high. At other times Daniel and Edward would link hands to make a chair for her and swing her along between them. They sang as they walked and her musical voice made a pretty counterpoint to their deeper tones.