My 2017: July

July was a busy month for lots of reasons, but as usual it was dominated by writing…. Here’s a story I wrote for one of my writing groups – not one that I lead, but one that I just go to! It’s set in the fictitious Umbrella Factory Museum

The Boy

“Julie! Hello! Did you have a wonderful time?” I called.

She saw me and worked her way between the tables with her tray. I stood up as she arrived and took her coffee and carrot cake and set it down took off her coat.

“Hello, Dora, you’re looking well! What news?”

She sat down and then moved the table a little, altering the angle of her chair so she could see the counter. I thought she might have been bursting to tell me about the holiday… maybe it hadn’t gone as well as she hoped, although she’d definitely caught the sun. She glanced back to the counter, looking for her ‘boy’ as she called him.

The rest of us in the book club used to have a little chuckle, well, actually quite a big chuckle over Julie and the boy. Julie is the same age as us I guess, somewhere between mid-fifties and early sixties, the boy is probably about forty, so not really a boy at all. We could never see what she saw, he was an OK looking guy, very pleasant and friendly when he served us coffee or whatever. Julie had a big what we used to call ‘crush’ on him… which did amuse us!

I didn’t have much news; the hens were laying well, I’d made a great batch of both quince and crab apple jelly… the usual sort of domestic things, and I’d done a lot of walking and writing. She asked how my walking book was going. She was pushing bits of carrot cake around the plate. It’s her passion and usually she attacks it with gusto.

I was more interested in hearing about the Cape Verde Islands, but I obliged her with recounting where I was up to in my guide to unusual and unexpected places, and how to get there via an interesting route.

“How’s Ruby?” I had to ask after her mother. We tried to avoid it because otherwise the whole conversation would take a downward spiral. We all felt so sorry for Julie; Ruby her mother was lovely and we tried to visit regularly, but she was very wearying… sweet, but so dependent and so… well, so … well, trying really.

We took it in turns to have the book club at each other’s homes, but now we only saw Julie when it was her turn to host it – she couldn’t leave Ruby in the evenings. Ruby insisted on ‘being sociable’ and joining in, but she’d never read the book, and always tried to talk about other things. As I said, we felt so sorry for Julie that we put up with it, but it made it difficult to get any new members; a new person wouldn’t want to have a book club where we talked about Princess Diana and how Woman’s Weekly wasn’t as good as it used to be.

Julie was looking across at the counter; there’d been a big reorganisation in the museum, the café had become so popular that it had expanded into what had been the old library. The museum staff were expected to serve in the café as well as doing the museum work. We meet here regularly, good coffee, nice cakes, and a museum! What more could you want! But for Julie there was an extra, the boy.

The boy was Rohan and as I said we used to have a private chuckle over how much Julie ‘liked’ him – we called him her toy boy and it got shortened to the ‘boy’. We would tease her gently as she came back blushing and happy if he happened to serve her, and roll our eyes when we met her outside and she told us about him, what he’d been wearing, what he’d said to her, what she’d said to him – it was only ever ‘Is it raining outside?’ ‘Yes, a bit.’ ‘I thought it might be everyone’s coming in with umbrellas.’ That sort of thing…

“So, come on, how were the Cape Verde Islands?” I asked.

I thought for a moment she was going to cry, but she blinked it back.

“It should have been wonderful, it should have been such an escape! I should have felt free!” she exclaimed, almost angrily. I felt desperate for her; it was the first time she’d been away from her mother for more than a couple of days since she’d moved in when her marriage broke down. It turned out her husband had spent all their savings and remortgaged the house. Julie had had no choice but to live with Ruby… to become her carer in effect… her nurse…

Julie worked at home doing secretarial and the accounts for a firm in town, and a couple of times a week Ruby went to an old people’s social club which gave Julie the freedom to come out and meet her friends, as she was meeting me now. We nearly always met in the museum… I think it was the highlight of her week to sit drinking coffee and watching the boy surreptitiously.

So the holiday… Every day she was away Julie had rung the care home where Ruby had been accommodated… and it was always something… Ruby begging her to come back early, Ruby not eating (the food was disgusting she said) Ruby not sleeping (the beds were like concrete) Ruby not wanting to get up… the care home had been wonderful and told Julie there was nothing to worry about, her mother was fine… but it had ruined the holiday.

“And now I come back to this!” she said…

She’d come into the museum last week and again this week, several times she told me, and the boy was not here, not on any of the days he usually worked, nor was he working anywhere else in the museum.

“I thought maybe because it was half term last week he was looking after his son,” she was genuinely upset. “But no, now he’s still not been here!”

She abruptly changed the subject to the novel we were reading for book club. She always read them, even though she only saw us once in a blue moon.

Poor Julie… and we arranged to meet the following week, back here in the museum.

***

“Hello there, what can I get you?” it was Rohan, the boy, back behind the counter. He smiled in his friendly way and we had a trifling conversation about the new type of coffee beans. He was quite handsome I suppose, but I couldn’t really see what Julie saw.

I took my coffee over to her where she sat beaming. We don’t often embrace but she jumped up, unloaded my tray then gave me a hug.

“Your boy’s back!” I exclaimed and she grinned. “Are you going to ask him out? I’ll sit with Ruby!”

“Don’t be silly… it’s not like that… of course it isn’t… And anyway, even if he was older or I was younger it still wouldn’t be like that! I’m not free am I? But to come here a couple of times a week…” she stopped. “I know you think I’m ridiculous, that I’m a ridiculous old woman, and I know you all laugh at me, but the boy…” She tapped the side of her head. “In here, in my head, anything is possible! In here I’m free!”

© Lois Elsden 2017

If you want to read more of my stories, here’s a link to where you can find my ebooks, and my paperback Radwinter:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

And some more from the Umbrella Factory Museum

I’m sure my two different stories from the Easthope and area local history Museum, known as the Umbrella museum because it’s situated in what was an old nineteenth century umbrella factory, will come together at some point and make something longer, maybe a novel… Maybe I could use these ideas for Nanowrimo – the national Novel Writing Challenge this year. (it’s an online challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel in the month of November)

The first strand of story is total fiction, a youngish man, David, becomes friendly with someone sharing his house who works at the museum; the curator, Malcolm, is  rather eccentric and David and the other house-mates are intrigued by him.

The second strand is totally different but also involves someone who works at the museum, Darius; Darius is happily married with three young children and he doesn’t realise that certain members of a book-club who meet in one of the public areas of the museum by the little café are fascinated by him – he’s young, virile, good-looking, and some of the ladies of a certain age always have an eye on him. he would be embarrassed if he knew!

This is the next part of the Malcolm story-line… but it may need quite a bit of rewriting!

A visit to the museum

After that it seemed that I bumped into Malcolm more frequently, and I actually began to wonder if he coincided coming out of his room when he heard me on the landing. We exchanged the usual sort of ‘all right, mate?’ ‘glad that rain’s stopped’ sort of pleasantries which made me feel like my granddad – I’d be talking about pruning the roses or the price of petrol next!

Then one day for no reason – or maybe I actually thought that maybe he was a bit lonely, I asked him if he wanted a cup of coffee – I’d had an excruciatingly tedious day at work and needed caffeine. I wanted to dump my things and go straight back downstairs again for coffee then maybe a beer and chill with the others.

He thanked me as if I’d offered him something much more exciting – what a dull life he must lead. I said did he want to come down, or… but he said, yes, he’d come down… and so the pair of us went downstairs. I made coffee for everyone who was home, mentally thanking our landlord for the dishwasher as I found mugs. Coffee made and distributed, I slumped onto the settee, and he perched on the edge and I could see that the others wanted to make some crack, but restrained themselves. They restrained themselves until he finished his coffee and thanked me and went back to his room.

“Your new best friend, Dave!” Adam said and we had a laugh then turned on the telly to watch the footie while we decided which pizza to get from Domino’s.

***

 I suppose you might call it a quirk of fate – well you might, but actually I wouldn’t… it’s one of the things granddad would be more likely to say in one of his old stories… I’ve heard them all so often I could almost join in with the telling, but I never mind, he’s my granddad and that’s what granddad’s are for… anyway, quirk of fate or whatever, my boss asked me to drop something off at the local history museum, as it was ‘on my way home’. Well, actually, no it wasn’t.

I did think about just giving it to Malcolm when I saw him later, but no, the boss wanted it there tonight. I said the museum wouldn’t be open, but yes it would; his cousin was giving a talk on the buffalo of the Great Plains, and it was his cousin I had to deliver the package to.

I thought it would be mean not to say hello to my new friend Malcolm. I handed the big buff envelope to the boss’s cousin who  looked nothing like him, especially as he was actually dressed as a Native American, complete with  war paint. He asked me if i would stay for the talk, but regretfully I had a prior appointment… I didn’t say it was an appointment with the quiz team in the Lark.  I asked a museum person where I might find Malcolm and he directed me to the ‘stores’ where Malcolm was getting out the artefacts.

I was about to knock on the door when it flung open as I had my hand still up in the air. Malcolm looked astonished to see me.

“David! Thank goodness! I don’t l know what to do!”

He dragged me into the store-room. I was rather overwhelmed by the amount of objects in piles, in heaps, on tables, under tables, dusty and seemingly neglected, but he pulled me through a short passageway into a back room, more ‘artefacts’, probably junk to my ignorant eye, presided over by the sadly benign head of a buffalo, yes an actual buffalo – or is it a bison?

It was huge, absolutely massive, and a sort of grey colour… It was obviously dust, but in my imagination it was not just the musty motes from the museum store-room, but from the prairies of the Wild West.

It somehow didn’t look real, rather fluffy, its glass eyes dull… they needed polishing, but wouldn’t it be rather creepy, polishing a bison’s eyes, or is it a buffalo. I remember we did a project in history about the American west and all the things which could be made from the buffalo…

But my meandering thoughts about buffaloes and bison came to an abrupt and shocking full stop as I saw what Malcolm was pointing at. He had grabbed my arm and I could feel him trembling and was pointing with his other hand…

“It’s Margaret!” he exclaimed, a catch in his voice.

I’d never know what she looked like, no-one would ever see her face again. I’d not noticed her, transfixed by the dusty bison; she lay to the side of the room, what appeared to be a tomahawk in her hand, but her head, well, her head or what was left of it was beneath a squat but massive totem pole, and a rather nasty puddle of something pooled beneath her.

“Good grief…” I said.