Short Stories

Here’s a short story I wrote for a friend earlier this year. It was entered into the Takahae Short Story competition but did not place.

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An audience with the Pope

From Runanga to Rome is a bloody long way.

Especially when you’re a wet behind the ears twenty four year old seminarian, embarking on three years of Theology studies before ordination.

From the moment I arrived jet lagged at Leonardo da Vinci Airport I felt like a fish out of water; just as I had felt in the preceding five and half years of seminary life and study in NZ.

I never set out to become a priest, although in many ways it was preordained that I would eventually be ordained. I was the second son in a line of five growing up in a traditional Catholic mining family.

My eldest brother Patrick was destined to become a lawyer, or a Doctor; he chose Law.

Desmond the middle brother was earmarked for the NZ Police.

Kevin a teacher; followed by Breandan, who regularly fell foul of Des; then having to use the services of Paddy to get off charges of petty theft or affray. That was until youthful exuberance spent, he followed Dad into the mine.

My sisters Colleen and Rosaleen; before becoming mothers, studied dental nursing and teaching. Oonagh joined the Sisters of Mercy Convent and Shonagh worked bars, my parents never knowing she was lesbian.

So there I was, Terrence Seamus Iain O’Guire, living and studying in the heart of Catholicism, Vatican City Rome.

My long journey started in my last year of school.

‘Have you ever considered a career in Christ?’  My stern humourless School Rector asking me at my Sixth Form Retreat.

‘No Father,’ I answered, ‘I want to be a professional musician.’

Father Scanlon with his dreary sun-spotted face peered over his diminutive spectacles, ‘it’s great to have dreams Terry, but a musician’s life is no life for a young man of your talents. For every thousand wanting to become a musician; a Beatle, or an Elvis, only one will ever make it, that’s if they’re lucky! Most will struggle and end up doing some meaningless thankless job for the rest of their days.

I’ve spoken with your parents; they’re keen for you to take up the cassock. And after your misadventure with Miss Rita Moffatt earlier this year, some religious study, piety and chastity will do you no harm. After all, you do not want to disappoint your parents, your Parish and your School again, do you?

Besides, if you want to be a musician the Church can offer you the world, all without the need to worry about lodging and food. You have talent Terry, it would be a sin to waste it on unfulfilled dreams. Offer it to the Church, give yourself to a life with Christ, you will be well rewarded both in this life and the next.

Two weeks later NZR, the Catholic Church and my own parents railroaded me straight into my future. Taking the Railcar to lyttelton, embarking on the Rangatira, sailing to Wellington and then catching the train to Hastings. My final destination; the Society of Mary Seminary in Napier. I was about to become a Marist.

Rita  Moffat…Rita…; Rita and I were mates from way back. We had kicked around together for as long as I could remember. Raven hair with eyes the colour of a Karamea Nikau, Rita had the attitude of a brush tail possum. As a young fella I used to  deliberately kick my ‘Ka Mate,’ (rugby ball) over our back fence into her section, just so I could see her.

‘Your shorts are so baggy,’ she used to laugh, ‘I can see your dak’s when you climb over the fence. Don’t get your nuts caught; you might need em’ one day!’

‘…Well,’ I would answer, fumbling for my words, ‘my mum says that one of these days, your mouth is going to get you into a load of trouble.’

But it wasn’t her mouth that got her into trouble; it was me and my nuts.

In the summer of 1972 and 1973 Rita and I, along with her two cousins Ted and John formed a band, The Dilettante’s. I played lead, Ted bass, John on the drums. Rita was our vocalist and man what a vocalist she was! But it wasn’t just her voice that brought people in. Her on-trend geometric hair style, her penchant  for short black shift dresses and knee high leather boots always bringing gasps from older women, adoring jealous stares from younger women, and bawdy lustful grins from the guys. Grizzly older men would stand at the back, hands on hips with funny looks plastered on their faces; perhaps remembering that female flesh need not be as lumpy dumpy and comfortable as their wives overworked scones were.

And when Rita danced the world caught fire, the dance floor sizzled, sweat pouring off anyone even attempting to keep up with her. From the Hollies to the Beatles, from Stevie Wonder to David Bowie we played em’ all.

From Haast to Karamea and everywhere in between, we played every Pub, every Working Mens ‘ Club and RSA, travelling in style in the Runanga Four Square delivery van which Ted was allowed to use on the weekends. In the twelve weeks of the school holidays we must have travelled over 2,000 miles and played at least thirty gigs. Halcyon days which came to an end all too soon with the peeving call of the late January school bell.

‘You’ve knocked me up Terry,’ Rita told me one day six weeks after we had returned to our schools. ‘I’m up the duff.’

‘Fuck, fuck, fuck,’ I cursed. ‘I’m so sorry, I knew we shouldn’t have.’

‘But we did,’ she spat, ‘so shut up you dick.’

‘What are we going to do?’ I asked nervously.

‘It’s already done; tomorrow I’m catching the Rail car over the hill to Christchurch. I’m being sent to live with my Auntie. I’ve been enrolled in the Secretarial College and when the baby comes it will be adopted out. Then, I will have to find a job.’

Without a goodbye she turned and walked away out of my life.

It was many years before I saw Rita again; and during all those dark years the memory of the resigned look of hopelessness on her once carefree face haunted me.

Me, circumstance, parents and Church had all but extinguished Rita’s light, a light which had flickered so brightly but way too briefly.

I sat by the edge of the green rocky pool staring at the Fountain of the Eagle; this was my favourite fountain in the Vatican Gardens. Its size and sound resonating deep within; bringing back memories of dense verdant bush, of waterfalls and Rita. It was September 1978, Rome had just experienced a wonderfully long and hot summer. The Vatican and the Church were buzzing, a new Pope had been elected, Pope John Paul 1. For most, Rome was the place to be, but for me it was torture.

It was 6.30am on a fine Saturday morning; I had thirty minutes free time before morning prayers. I sat day dreaming, my acoustic guitar resting between my legs; so lost in thought I didn’t see a man in white flanked by two Swiss Guards approach.

The man in white stopped in front of me. ‘May I sit with you my son?’

I looked up and gulped, ‘Your Holiness, yes of course.’

‘You play?’ John Paul asked, glancing at my guitar.

‘Yes’, your Holiness.

‘Where are you from young man?’ the Pope asked smiling.

‘New Zealand your Holiness.’

John Paul continued to smile, ‘I see, a Marist I presume.’

I smiled back and nodded.

‘Well play for me Marist man, perhaps something from New Zealand.

I thought for a moment then nervously picked up my guitar, hoping I could remember all the chords to Pokerekere Ana.

My own private audience with the Pope!

I played the best I could; closing my eyes attempting to sing my best vocal ever. As I finished the Pope touched my shoulder, a beaming grin lighting his eyes. It was the smile that could win a million hearts and subsequently did.

‘You play very well, my son, sang so beautifully. You have real talent. Please tell me what it means?’

I played it again, this time singing in English.

They are agitated
the waters of Waiapu,
But when you cross over girl
they will be calm.

Oh girl
return to me,
I could die
of love for you.

I have written my letter
I have sent my ring,
so that your people can see
that I am troubled.

Oh girl
return to me,
I could die
of love for you.

My love will never
be dried by the sun,
It will be forever moistened
by my tears.

This time the Pope clapped loudly ‘belissimo!’ He exclaimed.

‘I do not want to withhold you from your prayers my son, but tell me who is your Confirmation Saint?’

‘St Anthony of Padua,’ I answered.

‘I knew it, I knew it,’ he laughed, his hands slapping his legs, his eyes twinkling, smile infectious. ‘I knew you were playing and singing for something lost! So young Kiwi, as you have played for me, now let me pray for you.’

He bowed his head, I followed his lead.

‘O blessed St. Anthony, the grace of God has made you a powerful advocate in all our needs and the patron for the restoring of things lost or stolen. I turn to you today with childlike love and deep confidence. You have helped countless children of God to find the things they have lost, material things, and, more importantly, the things of the spirit: faith, hope, and love. I come to you with confidence; help me in my present need. I recommend what I have lost to your care, in the hope that God will restore it to me, if it is His holy Will.’

‘My Son,’ he said, as he got up to leave. ‘Our Lord wants you to be happy; he wants you to live your life with all your talents in the way you choose to live it. He has no interest in making you feel sad or unhappy. And, if he feels that way, then who I am to argue with him? Go home Son, find what it is that you have lost. Then, when you have found it, make your choice. The Church will always be here waiting.

Bless you my young New Zealand friend; you have entertained me wonderfully well this beautiful morning. Go in love and go in peace.’

Back in NZ I found Rita easily enough. Although when I did she was already married and had two young children, Lorraine and Beverley. It took another fifteen years before she was free, her husband wanting a divorce after having an affair with his secretary. During my years of waiting I became a Music Teacher at Burnside High School.

Two years after her divorce Rita and I married. We managed to have one child together, Colin, he was born with Downs Syndrome due to our advanced age we presumed. Colin is a lovely loving lump of a lad and still lives with me today; he misses his Mum terribly, as do I.

Two years ago, we received a letter from a middle aged man called Warwick Stephen’s, he was the son we never knew, our son who was ripped from Rita’s arms when she was still a teenager. Rita enjoyed getting to know Warwick in the twelve months she had left, but last year, just after Easter, she passed from the cancer which had been haunting and stalking her for her last three years.

I never went back to the Church. Its doors forever closed for an ex Seminarian who married a divorcee. An Institution which had so much bearing on my life had ultimately turned its back on me. Although John Paul’s prayer to St Anthony came through for me, I often can’t help wondering whether he was actually praying for the Church.

Kia Ora Roly

 

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Lost

‘Please  let  me  stay  with  you,’  pleaded  the  strawberry  blonde  with  pounamu  eyes.

I’d  met  her  two  hours  earlier  and  although  she  was  only  eighteen,  of  beautiful  figure and  face,  I  hesitated.

I  wasn’t  single;  although  technically  there  were  only  seven  days  separating  a  love  lost  cohabitation  from  emotional  freedom.  I  was  twenty  eight  and  my  long  term  partner  of  seven  years  and  I  were  splitting.

‘I’m  sorry,’  I  replied,  draping  my  arm  over  her  shoulder,  leaning  in  closer.  ‘I’m staying  in  a  hotel  room  with  three  other  guys.  It  just  wouldn’t  be  right.’

‘Please,’  she  insisted.  ‘I  need  to  be  with  someone,  I  feel  lost.  Sorry,  I  don’t  want  to  have  sex  with  you,  I  just  need  to  be  held.’

I felt  fragility  in  the  wavering  warm  arm  she’d  wrapped  around  my  waist.  I  saw  the  brittleness  of  her  gaze,  the  pain  behind  her  eyes.  When  she  spoke  I  heard  the  emptiness  of  her  heart.

‘Please?’

‘But  this  is  a  rugby  trip,  the  guys  are  going  to  assume  the  worst.  Tomorrow  morning,  at  breakfast,   girls  taken  back  to  the  hotel  tonight  will  have  to  be  introduced  and  presented  to  the  rest  of  the  team.  It’s  pretty  degrading.’

She  looked  up  defiantly,  ‘I  don’t  care.’

Just  as  she  finished  someone  grabbed  my  right  shoulder.

The  hand  on  my  shoulder  guiding  me  to  the  right,  toward  the  bar,  away  from  my  bemused  new  acquaintance.

‘Roly,  you  sly  dog,  have  a  beer.  C’mon,  come  and  have  a  beer  with  the  boys,   c’mon  get  it  down  ya!’

A  shaky  hand  passed  me  a  spilling  pint.

‘Jesus  Pat,  you  bastard,  I  was  in  the  middle  of  something  over  there!’

‘Yeah,  getting  far  too  cosy  for  my  liking,  what  would  Megan  think?’

‘Pat,  you  don’t  know  anything  alright,  I’ll  finish  this  drink,  then  I’m  going  back,  okay.’

‘Whatever  you  say  Skip,’  Pat  replied,  a  mischievous  smile  painted  all  over  his  cheeky and  annoying  face.

Two  of  my  team  mates  were  snoring  nearby,  another  was  trying  unsuccessfully  to  make  love  as  quietly  as  possible  from  the  bed  closest  to  the  door.

We  lay  together  on  a  single  bed,  her  curves  and  closeness  welcome  relief  from  the  hard  mattress  and  thin  pillow.  Her  freckled  face  barely  an  inch  from  mine  we  kissed,  her  thin  lips  warm  and  inviting,  her  eyes  now  smiling.

‘You’re  sweet,’  she  murmured.

Under  the  sheet  my  hand  traced  the  contours  of  her  firm  shapely  body.

‘Please,  no,’  she  asked  politely.

I  desisted.

‘Let’s  talk,’  I  whispered  trying  to  distract  my  mind  from  fervent  physical desire.  ‘What’s  your  story  angel;  how  the  hell  did  you  end  up  here  with  me?’

She  paused,  spoke  slowly,  deliberately;  ‘well  two  months  ago  my  boyfriend  killed himself,  hung  himself  from  a  tree.  I  didn’t  see  it  coming  and  I  don’t  know  why  he did  it.  Now  I  don’t  know  who  I  am.  Now  I  don’t  know  anything.  I  can’t  feel  anything  anymore.  I’m  lost.’

Instantly  my  erection  died;  instinctively  I  drew  her  closer.

‘Jesus,’  I  replied. ‘Fuck!  Have  you  spoken  to  anyone  about  this?  About  how  you  feel?’

‘I’ve  tried  but  no  one  understands,’  she  answered. ‘They  try  to,  but  they  don’t  get  it; not  my  family,  not  my  friends,  no  one.  But  honestly,  if  I  don’t  understand  it,  how  the  heck  can  they?’

‘I  get  it,’  I  volunteered  nervously.  ‘I  understand.’

Her  body  stiffened,  she  looked  at  me  sceptically.

‘My  younger  brother  topped  himself  six  years  ago  and  I’ve  been  struggling  ever  since.  Afterwards,  I  didn’t  know  what  to  feel,  I  didn’t  know  what  to  think.  Was  it  my  fault,  was  I  somehow  to  blame?  Did  I  miss  something?’

‘And  you  know  what,  I  still  feel  that  way.  It’s  been  like  I’m  on  a  never-ending  journey.  A  journey  I  never  wanted  to  take  and  a  journey  I  want  to  get  off  but  can’t. So  I  really  do  understand  and  I  do  feel  for  you.  I  am  so  sorry.’

She  hugged  me  tighter  and  kissed  me.  It  wasn’t  a  kiss  of  passion,  it  was  deeper  than that.  It  was  a  heartfelt  kiss  of  empathy  and  tenderness.

We  didn’t  sleep  much.  I  spooned  her  back,  occasionally  she  rolled  over  and  we  kissed.  There  was  no  touching  beyond  this.

Saturday  morning  rays  of  sun  started  peeking  into  the  smelly  room  of  four  boozed  up men  and  two  young  women.  The  concoction  of  stale  beer,  sweaty  bodies,  menthol cigarettes  and  sweet  cheap  perfume  overpowering  everything.  I  jumped  up,  pulled  the curtains  and  opened  the  window.

A  chorus  of  blasphemy  and  cussing  erupted  within  the  room.  I walked  over  to  the  bed  closest  to  the  door.

‘Jimmy…,  Jimmy,’  I  said  louder,  shaking  him. ‘Wake  your  girl  up.  It’s  seven  o’clock. Get  her  up  and  I’ll  take  her  downstairs  with  mine,  get  them  into  taxi’s  before  the other  guys  are  up.  Breakfast  is  at  eight,  she  doesn’t  want  to  be  here  then.’

‘Fuck  off  Roly,’  Jimmy  retorted  curtly.

‘Yeah  fuck  off  mate,’  came  a  raspy  shrill  voice  from  beneath  Jimmy’s  sheets. Swearing  quickly  replaced  by  giggling  as  Jimmy  reached  down,  grabbing  something soft  and  ticklish.

I  led  my  bed  buddy  out  of  the  room  into  the  hallway.  As  we  were  about  to make  our  way  down  the  stairs  an  adjacent  bedroom  door   opened.  Pat  strode  out  wearing  only his  y-fronts.

Standing  in  the  hallway  he  scratched  his  balls,  then  his  head.

‘So  where  are  you  two  going?’  He  asked  sarcastically,  ‘you  know  the  rules  Roly,  any overnight  guests  need  to  be  presented  to  the  team  at  Breakfast.’

‘Not  this  one,’  I  spat,  ‘fuck  off  Pat.’

When  we  reached  the  street  I  handed  her  twenty  dollars,  grasped  her  hand,  kissed  her  cheek  and  said  goodbye.  For  unknown  reasons  last  nights’ intimacy  evaporated  into  clumsy  daytime  awkwardness.  Out  of  courtesy  I  asked,  ‘will  I  see  you  again?’

‘Oh  yes, ‘she  smiled,  ‘sooner  than  you  think.’

I  turned  away  quickly,  walking  back  into  the  hotel  and  making  my  way  to  the  dining  room.  There  were  already  a  few  guys  there  sitting  heads  in  hands,  all  of  them  looking  worse  for  wear.  How  were  we  ever  going  to  play  rugby  today  I  wondered?

Sporadically  small  groups  of  hung-over  men  scuttled  and  shuffled  into  the  dining  room. Jimmy  and  three  others  had  brought  girls  back  to  the  Hotel,  as  each  one  entered  the dining  room  they  were  introduced  to  the  team.  After  every  introduction  howls  of laughter,  hoopla’s  and  whooping  exploded,  the  girls  turning  red  hanging  their  heads  in  sober  and  sombre  humiliation.

At  the  customary  court  session  after  breakfast  I  was  charged  by  Pat  for  failing  to adhere  to  the  Law  of  Respect  by  not  introducing  my  overnight  guest  to  the  team.  Pat insisting  the  judge  make  an  example  of  me;  I  was  fined  $50.

The  game  was  fierce.  Playing  against  country  boys  on  their  home  ground  always bringing  an  extra  edge  and  extra  bruises.  The  experienced  country  boys  wanting  to demonstrate  to  the  city  slickers,  the  ‘townies,’  that  manual  labour  resulted  in  bigger, fitter,  stronger  bodies;  bodies  practiced  in  the  art  of  handling  and  administering  pain.

Hangover’s  aside,  we  won,  barely.  The  ‘townies’  speed  and  agility  eventually  gaining  the  upper  hand.

At  the  after  match  function,  I  unexpectedly  felt  a  tug  on  the  back  of  my  shirt.  I  turned.  To  my  delight  it  was  my  companion  from  the  previous  night.

‘What  are  you  doing  here?’  I  asked  enthusiastically.

She  smiled,  ‘my  father  is  the  captain  of  the  team  you  played  against.’

‘So  you  knew  last  night  but  didn’t  say  anything?’  I  quizzed.

‘Yep,’  she  smiled  again.’  At  first  it  wasn’t  important,  I  hate  rugby,  but  after  you  were  so  nice  to  me  I  thought  I’d  turn  up  today  and  surprise  you.’

‘Well  you’ve  certainly  done  that,’  I  replied,  smiling,  then  nervously  running  my  fingers  through  my  hair.

We  were  interrupted  by  someone  speaking  on  a  microphone,  calling  the  two  captains  to  the  stage.

I  made  my  speech;  thanking  the  opposition,  thanking  the  referee,  the  linesmen  and  the  ladies  in  the  kitchen.  I  nervously  shook  hands  with  the  opposing  Captain, presenting  him  with  our  club  badge.  He  reciprocated.

After  the  formalities  I  shared  a  drink  with  him.  He  was  a  nice  guy.  A  big  guy.  It  was  civil,  it  was  pleasant,  and  it  was  going  well;  then  Pat  came  over.

I  introduced  Pat,   small  talk  following until  Pat  recognized  my  affaire   de coeur  standing  at  the  bar.

‘You  see  that  lovely  piece  of  arse  over  there,’ Pat  motioned,  gesturing  luridly.

No!  I  screamed  silently,  no!

‘Well  Roly  here,’  Pat  started,  ‘our  captain,  well  he  shagged  her  silly  last  night,  then  tried to  sneak  her  out  of  the  hotel  first  thing  this  morning,  but  I  caught  ya  didn’t  I  Roly?’

I  watched  the  big  man  quake.  I  felt  sorry  for  him,  I  felt  for  his  daughter.  I  wanted  to  tell  him  the  truth,  but  knew  he  would  never  believe  me.

I  looked  at  him,  he  looked  at  me,  we  stepped  apart  and  backed  away.

Within  a  crowded  noisy  club  room  suddenly  we  had  both  become  lost.

End.

Immediately below is my entry into the Colm Toibin International Short Story Competition (Ireland). There were over 350 entrants from all around the world. Unfortunately my entry did not make the long nor short lists, however, good experienced gained and after all, this only my third ever short story.    

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Remember

After visiting Frank and Dolly, I made my way from the Cemetery to Lakeside, the tedious mid-afternoon traffic making a sombre journey seem even more arduous. 

As usual she looked confused, ‘so who are you here to see again?’

‘I’m here to see you Carol, I come every Sunday.’

‘So you don’t want to see Tom then?’ Carol asked in agitation.

‘No, no I’m here to see you.’

‘Oh, so what’s your name again, I’m sure I don’t know you?’

I was about to answer when Tom came out of the bathroom, he sauntered up smirking; put his arms around Carol’s waist.

She smiled.

It was nice to see her smile.

‘Tom,’ she said, ‘this man says he’s here to see me.’

‘Tell him to fuck off,’ Tom spat gruffly, before spinning her away, escorting her down the corridor.

I watched them walk away; at least they look happy I thought. After a moment I turned away almost bumping into Dr Fielding.

‘Sorry Andrew,’ I said, ‘my fault entirely, I wasn’t thinking.’

He smiled kindly, no apology necessary; actually I’m pleased we ran into each other Bob. You gotta couple of minutes?’

‘Sure,’ I said.

I followed him to his banal little office opposite the Nurses’ station.

We sat knees up around a tiny coffee table in a space which could easily have had an alternative use as broom closet.

‘Bob,’ he started, ‘Stratford-Barnett the drug company are developing a drug which they say can stimulate the Hippocampus; the theory they’re working on is that memories are actually not lost with Alzheimer’s, but simply unable to be retrieved. They believe that if the Hippocampus can be stimulated, it may be possible to retrieve lost memories. Pre-clinical studies of this drug, along with Stage One and Two trials reveal promising results. So they are now moving to Phase Three.

They would like to study some residents of Lakeside, and I would like Carol to be included in this trial. I don’t think Carol will ever be cured, but I do think that there is a chance her Alzheimer’s can be slowed, and possibly for some of her memories to return. I think it’s pretty exciting and well worth exploring. What are your thought’s Bob?’

‘Jesus, Andrew, talk about dropping a bombshell,’ I answered completely stunned. ‘You mean there’s a possibility she will get better?’

‘Only a possibility Bob, you see she may end up in the control group, or the drug might not even work. To find out, all I would need is for you to use your Power of Attorney and give consent for Carol to participate in the trial.’

‘Sounds like an ethicists dream and a Rest Homes nightmare,’ I muttered before leaving.

During the drive home my head spun; confusion, indecision reigned. I had undertaken to give my response to Dr Fielding by Wednesday latest. That only gave me a couple of days to get my head around it. What the bloody hell was I to do?

I met Eve two years before Carol went into care. I met her while measuring her house for new carpet. He husband had recently died and she was having renovations completed. Over a cup of tea she broke down, telling me how horrific it had been watching her husband of nearly thirty years endure Pancreatic Cancer then suffer a slow and agonizing death. Afterwards, I shared my story of Carol’s battle with Alzheimer’s; the creeping death.

Neither of us wanted it to happen, but it did; and we soon fell into each other’s arms. It wasn’t love, and it isn’t now; it was just comfort and understanding. We don’t live together, but we are a couple. We’re sure our families and friends are blissfully unaware that grief and grieving has thrown us together, and that within each other we have found our own private refuge, a keep strong enough to withstand almost anything. 

And it has. When Frank and Dolly died last year, there was no way I would have been able to continue without the kindness and support of Eve. It was tragic and devastating enough with her being there for me, let alone me handling it on my own.

Last year my son Frank and my only grandchild Dorothy were killed in a car accident, driving home from Lakeside. Dorothy was only seven and always refused to be called Dorothy or Dot, so she became Dolly. Elaine, my Daughter in Law was driving and had no chance to avoid the accident. A drunk driver charging through a red light, smashing them into the path of another car. Frank and Dolly died instantly, Elaine spent thirteen weeks in hospital.

Now I don’t hear much from Elaine, she moved back home to her Mothers up north. But at least once a month I leave a voice mail message extending my love and sympathies, but to date these messages have gone unanswered. Everything in its own good time I guess.   

Carol doesn’t know Frank and Dolly are dead. She never asked, so there seemed little point in telling her. It would only cause additional confusion, concern and upset. I remember two years ago picking up all her photographs from Lakeside. Evidently Carol had become angry and didn’t want them in her room. Complaining and insisting she did not want to be surrounded by people she did not know.  

Before her illness Carol was never stroppy; she may have been prim and proper but never stroppy. Tall, slender and elegant, posture perfect and refined, Carol was the archetypal School Mistress, and she played her part to the tee. I look back now and wonder how we ever got hitched.

I was a rough around the edges ‘tradie’ when I first met Carol. Despite major differences in our social standings, differences in intelligence, we seemed to click. I guess I was a bit of rough for her and she was my bit of posh. Opposites attract they say and they certainly did with us. We shared over twenty five years of happy contented marriage, until the Carol I knew and loved started to slowly disappear.

By that time we had had two children, Jennifer and Francis. Francis or Frank as I called him followed me into the flooring business, while Jenny studied law and finance, becoming a Capital Markets Lawyer. She now lives in New York with her Merchant Banker Husband. I never get to see her and it is unlikely she will ever have children. Career, money and success being far more important.

When the time came for Carol to go into care, I had three vans on the road, ‘Bob Bushell and Son,’ emblazoned on them all in bright red letters, ‘Carpet’s and Laminates our specialities.’ My knees and back had long given up the ghost, so I was in charge of measuring, quoting and business development. Frank was in charge of the day to day running of the business.

If I thought getting over losing Carol was hard enough, it was nothing compared to getting over Frank and Dolly. I never have and don’t suppose I ever will.

It was Tuesday evening. Sitting down, a long scotch resting on the chairs arm, I dialled Jenny’s number again. 

Straight to voice mail.

‘Jenny, it’s Dad, how are you and JJ? Hope you are both well. Look, there’s a new drug being trialled which might help your Mum get some of her memory back. Lakeside want her to trial it. What do you think? I need to let Dr Fielding know by tomorrow. I appreciate its short notice but I have been trying to get hold of you by email and mobile as well. Can you please get back to me before tomorrow so we can discuss it?’ 

 I knew she wouldn’t. 

Jenny fought hand over fist to stop me putting Carol into Lakeside and she has hated me ever since. And of course when Frank and Dolly died, it was somehow my fault, because if Carol wasn’t in Lakeside then they would never have been killed. They would never have been visiting Carol.

Alzheimer’s may have taken Carol, but a drunk driver killed my Son and Granddaughter then stole away my daughter.  

I had one more phone call to make. 

Theresa was the Executive Nurse at Lakeside and was the life and soul of the dreary place. Doctors, Nurses and carers looked after the residents, but it was Theresa Sio who nourished the families; the friends, lovers, who called without reward every day, every week only to see their loved ones slowly but ever so surely slip away, meaning that they themselves would eventually become lost in a fog of obscurity and oblivion.   

 ‘Theresa, its Bob Bushell, you got a few minutes to have a chat?’

‘Of course Bob, she replied happily, how can I help?’      

‘Tom…, Carol’s new beau, what’s he like?’ 

‘Oh, he would never hurt Carol, if that’s what you’re asking Bob,’ Theresa answered sympathetically. ‘He’s a bit rough, definitely not from the same side of town as Carol, but they seem to hit it off. They seem happy; it must be so hard for you Bob.’

‘It is a little, but so long as she’s happy. Theresa, can you tell me a bit about Tom and what he used to do, if you’re allowed of course?’  

‘I’m not allowed, but will anyway Bob, just between you and me alright?’

‘Agreed,’ I answered.

‘Well Tom’s surname is Clouston, he never has any visitors. His case is interesting, evidently he became clinically depressed and it is his depression they think brought his Alzee’s on early. He was a Truck Driver and killed some people in a road accident, which is bad enough, but he was also over the limit and ended up doing time for it. From there everything spiralled out of control.’

‘Thanks Theresa,’ I said, ‘that helps a lot.’ I said goodbye and hung up.  

I sat at Andrew’s Fielding’s miniature coffee table waiting for him and my coffee. 

He appeared smiley but flustered. ‘Apologies Bob, got caught up.’

‘No worries,’ I answered honestly, stalling this decision was a good thing.

‘Andrew, I have a couple more questions, sorry.’

‘Shoot,’ he said as our coffees arrived.

‘Is Carol happy?’ I asked. 

‘Happiness is hard to define in a setting like this Bob. However, if you were to ask me if Carole is safe? Then, yes she is. Does she lead a relatively low stress life? Then, yes she does. Is she in good general health? Yes, she is. Is she active and stimulated? Yes she is. Is she well cared for? Yes she is. Does she have personal freedom? Yes to some degree. Although due to health and safety reasons alone, she can never leave this complex. So Carol is shielded from a lot of the pain that everyday life can bring Bob; but is she happy, you tell me?

‘Thanks,’ I said.

‘Another question I have relates to the drug trial. What memories are likely to be able to be retrieved if the drug is successful?’

‘No one can be sure exactly Bob,’ Andrew answered earnestly, but earlier indications suggest it is memories associated with deep emotional events such as falling in love, weddings, funerals, births etc. these are the ones that could be retrieved.’

‘Accidents,’ I asked?

‘Yes, I imagine so; so long as there were deep rooted emotions attached to the memory, then yes I suppose it could.’ 

‘That’s great Doc,’ I smiled, ‘that’s cleared up a few things for me.

I think you guys have a saying Primum Non Nocere, so it’s for this reason I do not want Carol to participate in the trial and therefore will not give my consent. I’m sorry. However, I would very much like for her position to be given to Tom Clouston.’ 

As I left Dr Fileding’s office, I bumped into Tom on the way out. 

‘Morning Tom,’ I smirked before striding down the corridor smiling. 

Copy  ends

Competitions

 

      

This year I have decided to enter into a few competitions.

Over the last few months I have entered 3 short story competitions. I have never really written short stories before, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the process and the format. Until the competitions have been judged I am unable to publish them on my blog. Rest assured though at the first opportunity I will publish them here. The competitions I have entered so far include:

  1. The Page and Blackmore National Short Story Competition (NZ), my entry was titled ‘Lost’
  2. The Takahe Short Story Competition (NZ),my entry was titled, ‘An audience with the Pope.’
  3. The Colm Toibin International Short Story Award (Ireland) (Part of the Wexford Literary Festival), my entry was titled, ‘Remember.’

I have also entered my Novel ‘The cry of the Kuaka’ into:

  1. The International Rubery Book Award (Great Britain).

Throughout the year I intend to enter a number more competitions and will post my entries and results (maybe,hope so, fingers crossed, pretty please) as soon as I am able.

Kia Ora Roly