John Cleese of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” fame often remarked: “Now for something completely different.”
Many people know that I write fiction. I concentrate on historical novels but now and then I have the urge to dip my toe into the short story format. This is the first installment of the story I’ve wedged in between novels. (The fact that it’s set in the U.K. explains why some words are spelt as they are.)
I’d be interested in knowing what you think about my effort. Thanks, and get your friends to subscribe to my blog, will ya?
© 2018 Robert Edwin Stone, II
Semple didn’t need to check his phone to know that today was the first anniversary of Emma’s death: he felt in his bones. A lorry driver—an undocumented immigrant—had been glued to his mobile, not minding his speed; nor was he watching for people in the crosswalk. During the inquest the young Pole swore that the “olt voo-man” stepped from the kerb, oblivious to the oncoming traffic. Semple bristled: Emma was only fifty-five!
The items that spilled from his wife’s Tesco carrier bag attested to the collision’s violence. There was a squashed loaf of bread (patterned by tyre tracks and dimpled with gravel); two litres-worth of milk (coating the pavement); and a package of fresh chicken thighs (compressed into greyish-pink paté). A severe WPC came to the house to notify Semple about what had happened. She extended the Force’s sympathy for his loss and promised that Emma’s killer would be brought to justice.
Three days later a tip led to the driver’s arrest. His employer did not contest the court’s decision to award the grieving husband a large cash settlement. Indeed, the firm seized the opportunity to boot the fellow back to his native land, lest some hungry young solicitor convince Semple to pursue the case further.
The local council lost no time in having a new LED pedestrian crossing light installed at the accident scene. Every Wednesday Semple tied a cello-wrapped spray of lilac, Emma’s favourite flower, to the pole. The first few times he did this passersby paused to pray or offer their condolences. After a while they stopped but Semple took it philosophically.
He recalled how, in the weeks following 9/11, airline pilots encouraged passengers to talk to those beside whom they sat, probably in hopes of preventing a repetition of that beautiful fall morning’s tragedy. Semple also noted that the practice faded as quickly as it had begun.
Emma’s co-workers in the Oxfam office three bus stops from the house attended the chapel service. The young Methodist minister engaged by her sister to preside over the memorial service knew little about Emma: the generic homily he delivered was proof of that. Semple averted his gaze when the motorised conveyor belt jerkily transported the wooden casket into the crematorium chamber, to the accompaniment of a CD recording of “Abide With Me.”
Semple’s adult daughters had rushed from their jobs on the Continent—Brexit be damned—to help him navigate the funeral and its immediate aftermath. He was touched when both Maisie and Wrenna promised to maintain regular contact with him, albeit via Skype.
* * *
Semple patronized the local bookshop, which was fighting a delaying action against amazon.uk’s onslaught. Conversations with the owner, who devoted considerable shelf space to fantasy novels, convinced Semple that he might be able to shoulder in between Gandalf and Harry Potter. Creative writing was something he had contemplated for many years, even though his wife pooh-poohed the idea.
“You’ve enough bloody make-believe in your life, without intentionally seeking out even more of it.” Emma had spoken in her no nonsense way. “If you want to become a writer, my dear, why not focus on reality? It is strange enough!”
Semple put his plan in motion soon after Emma’s funeral. He took early retirement from the marketing firm for which he had worked for thirty years. Confident that the story ideas he’d scribbled in a notebook on his nightstand had potential, he set about transforming Emma’s sewing room into what he jokingly called his “aerie.”
The first thing Semple did was to donate the sewing machine, myriad spools of thread in a rainbow of colours and a pile of half-finished projects to a women’s shelter. A contractor scraped away the flowered wallpaper; spackled nail holes from Emma’s collection of English pastoral scene prints; painted the walls a modern, neutral color, and installed a sturdy bookshelf within easy reach of the brand-new IKEA desk. The two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary held pride of place among bookshelf’s reference works. An updated laptop, a large flatscreen monitor and a Wi-Fi printer were the finishing touches.
The sunshine and mild temperatures augured well for the inaugural day of Semple’s new career. Following a breakfast of buttered wheat toast with strawberry jam and a pot of Darjeeling he settled into his desk chair and turned on the computer. His fingers were poised above the keyboard when the doorbell buzzed. He was surprised to see Rose Chamberlain before him.
Fifteen years earlier Emma had engaged the woman as their once-a-week charwoman. A dependable soul, Mrs. Chamberlain never filched anything and was disciplined about limiting her breaks. The smiling, portly woman standing on the step wasn’t dressed for hoovering, and Wednesday, not Monday, was her usual workday. Semple showed her inside.
“I don’t recall hearing that you needed to alter your schedule, Mrs. C.”
“I’ve come to give my notice, Mr. Semple. Our son living in Edinburgh and his partner have a large enough house that Alfred and I can live with them. The arrangement will enable our savings to go a lot further than they would in England.”
Semple congratulated Mrs. Chamberlain on her good fortune, wrote out a final cheque for her services and wished her and Alfred well. Passing through the kitchen after Mrs. C departed, he contemplated the breakfast dishes in the sink.
Surely I can keep the place acceptably clean on my own?
Spurred on by this thought Semple washed the teacup, saucer, dish and utensils. Returning the items to their storage places, he felt a modest sense of accomplishment.
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