I had some short stories, poems and photographs to share ... and so here I am

A Short Story

 

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When Thomas arrived at his usual place on the café terrace, he still hadn’t decided whether to say anything to the others about the death of his wife. Why didn’t I ever bring her here? Would it have been such a big effort? My darling, impossible Valerie. Barely able to keep a hold of his frosted-up glass of beer, he sat down opposite Paul and forced a smile. He also acknowledged Bernard, at the next table, with a clipped wave. ‘Nice day for it,’ he said. Some bold sparrows skipped from table to table, attacking plates not yet cleared away. Don’t need to worry about us oldies, eh? Too slow now to be a threat.

‘Nice day for what?’ asked Paul. He had both hands spread around his drink, as if he were hoping for some heat, with his book, keys and cigarettes neatly lined up in front of him.

Thomas sighed. Everything tidy. Everything in its place. He saw that Paul’s long grey hair remained unbrushed and greasy. Forget the tidy piles, my friend; you need to look after yourself.

‘See? You can’t answer,’ said Paul. ‘Just another silly expression people use.’

‘Well, nice day for a beer is the first thing that comes to mind,’ said Thomas. ‘A nice, cold beer in the sun.’ After taking a generous mouthful, letting it rush down in one go, he clasped his hands and let them rest on his belly. His wedding ring glistened in the sun. Was it the second or the third Saturday in August, 1952? Who would’ve thought, eh? All that time together. I always said she’d go first, though.

‘Don’t need nice weather to enjoy a beer,’ said Paul.

Thomas couldn’t help but feel regret for all those days he’d left Valerie at home. What else did she do, except fuss over household jobs that hadn’t really been necessary for years? He knew that at some point he would have to phone a list of distant people and tell them the news. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps in a week. And is it better to say "died" or "passed away"?

‘Paul’s gone all moody because he lost a big whack on the horses,’ said Bernard. He turned on his mischievous look: the little-boy-grin, the gyrating of his chin, his green eyes lost among wavy skin and a silver fringe.

‘The figures were all over the place!’ said Paul. He hunched further over his drink, his nose almost touching the beer. ‘Earlier bloody wins and losses weren’t right. How can I calculate things with dodgy figures?’

Nearby, council workers fought with the remains of the morning market, hosing away the shards of ice that still stunk of fish, scraping up rotten bits of cabbage and cauliflower. Thomas didn't think it was right that the sky hadn't turned grey. How can it remain so bright and still after such an awful event? He wanted to say something about Valerie. He really did. But how does someone just bring up something like that, all of a sudden, in front of men like this?

After a few minutes of silence Bernard said, ‘Where’ve you been the last few days anyway, Thomas?’

Paul nodded and frowned. ‘Yeah, where have you been?’

Thomas thought for a moment. ‘Been having a bit of a time.’ He crushed some leaves about his feet, this time scaring away some of the sparrows.

‘Don’t tell me you’ve found a woman,’ said Paul. ‘You cunning old devil!’

Thomas put his finger on the lip of his glass and made slow circles. ‘I’m a married man.’

‘Oh, yeah, that's right,’ said Paul. ‘Veronica, isn’t it?’

‘My little pixie,’ said Thomas. He quickly put his beer up to his lips, surprised he’d let those words slip out. That was just our secret. Not just for anyone to hear. He then heard Valerie’s light voice calling him her “unicorn” for the very first time. The pixie and the unicorn.

Bernard rolled a cigarette, folding his legs and leaning forward. ‘Little pixie?’ He squinted, suppressing a smile. ‘I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure.’

‘No, I don’t think you have,’ said Thomas.

The spray from the hose came close to the terrace. One of the council workers yelled out, ‘I can refill your drinks if you want! Hold them steady.’

The three men waved and nodded. 'Best to humour him,' said Bernard. 'Poor fellow obviously wasn’t the sprightliest of the litter, coming up with the same joke every Saturday.'

Paul put on an exaggerated frown. ‘You know what, Thomas? It’s not our fault if you never bring your wife along.’

‘I don’t think he said it was our fault,’ said Bernard. He pretended to hit Paul on the back of the head.

Thomas avoided Paul’s gaze. ‘Funny, because I was thinking about that just this morning.’ He downed the rest of his beer in one go. ‘I don’t know why I never considered bringing her along ... and it’s Valerie, by the way.’

Paul slouched back in his chair, his eyes looking red and tired. ‘I knew it started with a V.’

Bernard spat out slightly to get some tobacco off his bottom lip. ‘Better off without the ladies anyway. Better left at home, I say.’

Thomas took off his cardigan, gently touching the leather patches that Valerie had put on the elbows just a few weeks before. He’d worn it to the service that morning, on the other side of the city. Why buy a dark suit just for one day? Valerie would’ve been against it. Anyway, she loved this cardigan, having mended it so many times. He hadn’t chosen the church. He hadn’t chosen anything. Valerie’s sister, Ann, had become the efficient organiser. She'd started crying, though, when he told her that he wouldn’t be staying for the reception after the service. But he didn’t care any more about her tears; Valerie was no longer there to make him apologise. He'd ended up lying, telling Ann that his own friends had organised their own reception in his wife’s honour.

‘How long have we been friends?’ asked Thomas. Is “friends” really the right word, considering the circumstances? He stood up and signalled to the barman that he wanted another beer. His legs felt like slabs of stone.

‘Not all that long,’ said Bernard. ‘You’ve only been here a couple of years, haven’t you?’

‘Must be three,’ said Paul. ‘You came the year we got our kitchen done.’

Bernard took a hold of Paul’s ear. ‘Never seen your bloody kitchen. You go on about it, but we’ve never actually seen it.’

Thomas slumped down onto his seat again and folded his arms. ‘Suppose I should’ve introduced you to Valerie. Just didn’t think it was urgent. Seems like only yesterday we moved here.’

Paul patted him on the shoulder. ‘Don’t worry. Retirement is a full-time job. Everything in its own time.’

The young barman arrived with the beer. ‘How are things with you lot then?’

‘Could be better,’ said Thomas.

The barman walked on, pushing in chairs and taking away some of the dirty plates. ‘You’re not going to start complaining are you?’

Thomas shook his head. ‘No, that wouldn’t do, would it?’

Bernard and Paul spotted one of their friends from the Irish dancing club. They seemed to come to life as they moved off over the road to greet him, putting on Irish accents, hitting each other on the back. They admired their friend’s new car, a Buick Electra, imported from the States, according to the talk in the pub. Now that’s a car Valerie would’ve loved. Something she never got the chance to ride in.

After finishing his beer in three quick gulps, Thomas decided to leave. He felt sick when he thought about the task that lay ahead: he’d bought large plastic rubbish bags to pack up Valerie’s clothes. The woman from the charity shop had insisted that she would take everything, as long as they were clean, but Thomas knew that Valerie would never have left any dirty clothes in the cupboards. He pictured her standing there complaining about the way he always left his clothes around the house. He didn’t want to cry, not there on the terrace, not in front of the boys, so he made for the exit on the other side of the café.

‘Tell them I’ll see them next week,’ he told the barman.

‘You haven’t had your lunch yet, Thomas.’

‘No. Having lunch with the wife today. Too much time in here has gone and made her all lonely.’

The barman nodded, looking confused. ‘Didn’t even know you had a wife.’

Thomas stepped out into the street and put his head down to avoid the direct sunlight. ‘You and me both, my friend.’ The unicorn forgot about his little pixie. On the walk back to the flat, his tears made it almost impossible to see the way. He had to stop on a bench at one point, overcome with the realisation that Valerie wouldn’t be there with a cheerful greeting when he walked in the door. He sat there for hours, just simply observing all of the couples, young and old, hurrying past.


© Copyright, 2007. Seamus Kearney. "Little Pixie"

29 comments:

Julie said...

...this feels like you've very carefully observed the shock and subtle denial reaction in grief. Slow pace is brilliant in building up the effect.

- my awol eagle was based on a real incident re a bird of prey centre; they fly a condor (3m wingspan) but have to starve the beggar first to make sure it comes back!

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

What a poignant story, Shameless. Well told with an almost curious juxtaposition of the real and the not quite real. Unsettling and sad.
Well done.

Oh PS, you've been "infected" over at my place... some kind of viral tag...
;-)

Sarah Hina said...

This was so touching, Seamus. Perfect combination of banal details (life will move on) and a tidal wave of emotion. Beautifully conveyed, and the ending really shined.

Shameless said...

Julie - Thanks for your feedback. :-) I've seen this several times in different situations. Very strange to watch. Incredible titbit about the eagle!

Absolute Vanilla - Thank you. Ah, that whole thing about regret and people only becoming something important when they're no longer there. :-)

Sarah - Cheers for your nice words. :-) We probably all know elderly people like these men, spending their lives on terraces, in bars, watching the world putting on the brakes. You wonder about their home lives, if they have one. Poor Thomas.

Lane said...

What a beautiful illustration of waste/taking life for granted. Also so poignant in portaying the dribbling away of precious retirement years, Valerie with her 'needless tasks' and Thomas watching the world go by (in the same place every day).
Lovely:-)

Billy said...

The last line is as poignant as they come. The couples, young and old, hurrying past. Wow. It quite literally says everything.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Seamus!

That's heartwrenching! I cried!
I'm still misty about it.

That means it was well written.

Good job.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Eric Valentine said...

~ Love the story, such are the frailties of mankind with their faults. Human nature at its best, reflecting “the old boys club’ and the absence of ‘little Pixie’ in this part of his life. ~ Poor Thomas, ‘why didn’t I ever’ etc etc..

“Didn’t even know you had a wife” ~ Such a powerful statement. ~ And then,"‘You and me both, my friend.’ The unicorn forgot about his little pixie." This really hit to the heart.

Excellent, Excellent story Seamus.

Julie said...

Seamus - I've just done a Google search on references to Shameless Lions and come up with 256K references.

Shameless said...

Lane - Thanks. I'm realy pleased that feeling came across. I can honestly say that I really felt like I knew these characters when I wrote it. :-)

Billy - I'm glad you liked it. Hurrying is the word. Normal to us, hurrying to someone who's already lived it. :-)

Wanderlust - Oops! Didn't want to make anyone cry. :-) Thanks though. I'm glad the story spoke to you. :-)

Eric - Thanks for your comments my friend. I didn't want us to not like Thomas ... just to understand his situation, and Valerie's, and it sounds like that got through.
:-)

Shameless said...

Julie - Wow and wow! So 14,000 actual links or mentions/displays of the award on blogs could be accurate? Wow. Wildfire. Stuart has emailed since to say it is definitely 14,000 plus, and climbing fast. We will probably stop counting now! lol

Wayne said...

Enough already. Rips my goddamn heart from my chest and leaves behind a bleeding cavity, gaping, for all to see.

Church Lady said...

Lane said it--can anyone have regrets larger than realizing you've dribble away time?
Their conversation felt so authentic. So sad that while they were 'friends,' they didn't seem to really know each other. We have lots of people walking about like that, don't we.
I also love how you paced this. Slow, with careful attention to detail. It was the perfect way to tell this story.
Very well done. I absolutely loved it.

Julie said...

e mine - xkcd is the in geek strip; I'm going to post one or two more of the less esoteric ones (that don't need a knowledge of differential calculus to get the punch line??)

Yep - difficult to track SL now -
rename it Exponential Lions....!!

Sons camera was a Canon Ixus bought online. I'm very tempted; has a number of very attractive features and the short video clips are ace.

Shameless said...

Wayne - Ripping out a heart, just before Christmas? What was this boy thinking! :-)

Church Lady - Thank you very much for your feedback. It's really appreciated. I'm glad people got the slow build-up thing and the daily life going on before the climax. :-)

Julie - Oh, yes, please do publish some more of those strips ... that's the thing of our times now. Yep, Canon was recommended in lots of mags I read and by the chain I bought it from ... there was a complete line-up of similar models and they were all judged by experts in this and that. Your Blenheim Palace lion is up now, btw, at the circle site. He is gorgeous!

L.M.Noonan said...

As usual, I'm always at the end of a long queue of comments and everone has said it all...already. So yay verily ditto, darling.

Shameless said...

LMN - There's nothing like being at the end of the queue ... it means we're not rushing to the end of our lives! :-)

witnessing am i said...

Lovely, Mr Shameless, just lovely. You have written a wise piece, yet an emotional raw piece. I love the old men, their routine, their banter. I get a real sense of what would happen if Thomas did divulge his news, I am convinced that his fellow drinkers would offer him a genuine and warm touch. I'd like to think so anyway.

This was very nice, Seamus, a beautiful story.

Shameless said...

WAI - Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. I enjoy doing these little slices of life. :-)

Julie said...

Come and see what I've got.

Shameless said...

Julie - Ooooooo! I love a mystery. I'm coming over straight away. :-)

Julie said...

Ha ha - thanks; sieze the prey and all that. The feel good factor for other people is really nice as a knock on ripple effect - no wonder its spreading like wildfire.

Marja said...

A tear escapes my eyes. What a heartbreaking story of the reality of life. How often do we not realise what we have and engage in the superficial....till we wake up when it is to late. Your story is painted in wonderful detail. No film or pictures ared needed.

Shameless said...

Marja - Thanks for your comments. I'm glad the story spoke to you and it's satisfying to see that your reaction is exactly what I hoped the story would evoke. :-)

Jessica Schneider said...

"He turned on his mischievous look: the little-boy-grin, the gyrating of his chin, his green eyes lost among wavy skin and a silver fringe."

That's a nice musical sentence. Good story with a good end. See? You don't need sandcastles being hit by waves to get a powerful moment.

Shameless said...

Jessica - Thanks for your feedback. I really enjoyed writing this ... putting myself into the shoes of these old men. God, maybe I am an old man! lol :-)

Jessica Schneider said...

I always try to put myself in the mind of others. Empathy is important like that.

Nathan said...

My first read of your work. I like your style. Do you write more poetry or short stories? Which do you prefer?

Shameless said...

Jessica - Yes, I think that is a must! :-)

Nathan - Hello and welcome. Thank you for leaving a comment, and I'm glad you liked this. To be honest, I like both - poems and short stories. I can't go for long without producing something. You're very welcome to call by again.