DPChallenge

Que Sera Sera

In a dark corner of a village pub sat an old man nursing a pint of bitter. He was there every night without fail, just sitting and staring into the depths of his drink. He had been there for so long that the villagers no longer noticed him. It was like he was another oil painting on the wall or broken piece of furniture that everyone avoided. His hair was white and stuck out crazily around his heavily wrinkled face. He had a dark wooden cane which he used for walking; he was never seen without it. His muddy brown eyes darted curiously around his surroundings every now and then, between long periods of silent brooding. Nobody spoke to him and he spoke to nobody. Even the barman didn’t attempt conversation. He just poured the old man a pint and took the money offered silently. I looked around my new local pub, curious as to why such a sad old soul was being left to fester in the corner, ignored by his neighbours.

I’d not been living here long, but I was being welcomed like I belonged in the little village of Adstock. I had been born there, but my family had moved away when I was two so I don’t remember. My parent’s moved back here after I moved out and went to University. I went straight from Uni to teaching in a school about an hour away. I am ashamed to say that I had only ever visited my parents a handful of times in the intervening years. They had somehow always ended up coming to visit me instead. They lived in Spain now. They won some money on the lottery and bought themselves a beautiful place out there with their own pool and a balcony leading off their bedroom with fantastic views. I was now renting their house from them in Adstock. It wasn’t exactly ideal, but after my husband Matt and I filed for divorce there wasn’t much else I could do. It hadn’t been a bad breakup, there was no adultery, no recriminations, not even any arguments. Matt and I just drifted apart and didn’t know how to get back to each other. Once we had decided not to keep trying to repair the damage in our marriage, I’d said a tearful goodbye and moved out fairly quickly. It hurt so much walking away but I couldn’t face seeing him; feeling the chaotic swarm of emotions that engulfed me when I looked at him. Adstock was far enough away that I didn’t have to see anyone I knew, and nobody here really knew me.

After a few weeks, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked the barman about the man sitting in the corner. I couldn’t bear the desolate look in his eyes or the way he clung to his pint like it was some kind of lifeline. I needed to know what had happened to this poor man that he seemed to have nothing to live for. Of course I had tried talking to him first; his eyes had met mine for a few seconds before he went back to staring at nothing and ignoring everything around him. The barman took his time answering me, he frown slightly in thought and wiped down the bar absent-mindedly.

“John Walters was a scientist. He’s got some fancy letters to go after his name but he refuses to use them. He abandoned his research and went to work on a farm just outside Adstock years ago. I can only tell you the urban myth about him. I can’t tell you how much is true, or how much is exaggerated gossip, here-say, or just plain made up.” He stopped for a moment to serve someone at the other end of the bar and then came back over to me to lean against the pumps.

“When John was in his late 20’s, he was one of the most brilliant minds in the world. He might be now if he permitted himself to use it. He was given an apprenticeship with this mysterious scientific research laboratory. Nobody can remember what it was called exactly, but everyone agrees it had an obscure name like The Lab, The Science Lab, Lab of Learning or something like that. John was obsessed with time travel and rumour has it that he succeeded. At the time, John was in a relationship with a girl called Maria. Maria was beautiful, intelligent, funny, caring, gentle, cheeky, charming; everything a man could possibly want in a woman.

“Like I am sure any man would if they had the ability, John wanted to know what his life would be like in a few years time and whether he would still be with Maria. He tested his time machine on himself and went forward in time by five years. What he found broke his heart. He had married Maria and had twin girls, but she had passed away. He didn’t know how, but he had arrived in the future on the day of her funeral. He watched her mother and sister blame his future self for her death. They shouted and sobbed that it was all his fault and she would still be alive if it wasn’t for him. Understandably, John was horrified at the desolation he glimpsed on his future face. The idea that he had killed the love of his life was a terrifying one. One he didn’t think he could ever live with. He came back to his own time with an aching heart, unable to shake the misery he had seen in the future. He destroyed his machine, quit his dream job at the lab and pushed Maria away. He was afraid to get too close to her, afraid his love for her would ultimately kill her.” The Barman, Mike, broke off his story and looked up at a burst of laughter coming from across the room. It jarred, so removed from the emotion of the story I was being told, and I winced slightly at the sound. The ladies of Adstock had a book club, which was really just an excuse to have a drink and a gossip, and by all accounts were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Mike glanced up the bar to make sure nobody was waiting to be served, and when back to his story.

“The first few months were the most difficult for him. Everyone thought he was crazy for breaking up with Maria, especially because he couldn’t give her a real reason. She could tell he still loved her and tried to win him back but he was adamant that it was for the best this way. In the end she gave up trying but she never got over him and despite dating a few guys she met, nothing ever lasted. John moved away because he couldn’t bear to be near her. Three years later she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. It was inoperable and the doctors told her she only had a year to live. As determined as she was, she survived for almost two years. Maria’s funeral was held on that very same day John thought he had avoided. Maria was still dead, and her mother and sister still blamed him, saying that she hadn’t really lived after he left her, that she would have been more willing to see a doctor if she had been happy and if she had been seen earlier they could have operated. John was devastated. He didn’t know what to do with himself. He had avoided everyone who had even the smallest link to Maria so he hadn’t known she was dying. He didn’t know anything until he had received the dreadful phone call.

“He knew now that he had made a terrible mistake. Not only had he lost the love of his life, but he had removed 5 years worth of memories of her from his life. Worse, he had never had the opportunity to tell her exactly how much she had always meant to him. He should have married her. He should have had children with her. Suddenly he pined desperately for the twin daughters he would never know. Five years before, when he had seen himself alone with two little girls, he had been afraid. He didn’t know how to raise children alone. He never imagined he would be able to do it, let alone long to do it. He never got over the loss of his family and the realisation that he only had himself to blame for the isolation he found himself drowning in.

“He has been working on the Farm outside Adstock ever since, and lives in a tiny cottage on the farmer’s land. He comes here every night to drown his sorrows. He speaks to nobody, and believe me, many many people have tried. All newcomers to Adstock try. You are welcome to, but I don’t suppose it will do much good. You are better off just leaving him to his thoughts.”

The barman fell silent. I was staring at my glass thoughtfully, pondering all I had heard. I felt for the old man sitting in the corner, but the barman was right. There was nothing I could do for him. He was just waiting to die so he could be with his love. In my opinion, Mother Nature was being rather cruel in making him wait such a terribly long time. It also got me thinking about my own situation. I had often thought in the last couple of weeks that I would have been better if I had never met Matt. I had moved away so that I was away from everything that would remind me of him. After hearing John’s story, I couldn’t help but think back over the years I had spent with him. All the times he made me laugh, the times he held me as I cried, all those incredibly tender moments we had shared since we had first met. The thought of not having those memories cut me to the bone. There is no way I could ever give them up. Not for anything in the world. I could feel the tears start to form and my bottom lip trembled. I hastily drained my glass, thanked the barman and left. I kept my head down so that passers by wouldn’t notice the tears as they began to fall. I hurried home and picked up the phone. I hesitated for just a second, took a couple of deep calming breaths, then dialled in the phone number for my old home.

“Matt? It’s Beth. Can….can I come and see you?”

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Nameless – A Short Story

I wrote this in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge. Click here to see the challenge details.

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Nameless

I would introduce myself but I don’t know my own name. They say I was hit over the head and mugged. I had no wallet or phone when I was found. They say I should thank my lucky stars that I am alive; that I woke up from the coma. How do I know that’s a good thing? I can’t remember anything about my life. I have a wedding ring on, so I guess someone should be looking for me. But then I might be separated or divorced and in denial. Or maybe I’m a spy for some government agency and I have amnesia and someone is coming to kill me, like that film with Liam Neeson. What’s it called….? Dammit. Why can I remember his name and not the name of the film? Why can I remember his name but not my bloody own? I know who the prime minister is too. That’s a good thing apparently. It means I haven’t lost years of memory, just memories of certain things. Like myself. I mean honestly, who forgets themselves?

Still, it’s not all bad news; the doctor says this type of amnesia is often temporary. I should get most of it back, except maybe the actual accident. I’m happy with that. I’m not particularly keen to remember being knocked about and robbed.  The doctor said that if I could remember something to trigger my memories like, I don’t know, my name; it’s likely I would start remembering things pretty quickly. I have been warned that it might be distressing, having all those memories all at once. I guess I won’t know till it happens, but it can’t be worse than this. I have tried and tried to remember something, anything, about my life and my past but I just can’t. I am nobody: no age,  no family, no friends, no home address, no job, nothing. All those unknown things, all outside of my reach because I don’t know what my name is. I’ll never underestimate my name again. I will cherish it and wear it with pride, even if my name happens to be something silly, like Ivor Biggen or Reginald Rumplebottom. It’s better than having no name at all. It’s like I don’t exist, like I am a ghost, observing the world but not being able to live in it because I don’t know my place.

The doctor says someone is coming to see me shortly. He didn’t say who, but said he was hoping they would be able to help me find my name in this mushed up brain of mine. It’s probably a psychiatrist or hypnotherapist or something. Maybe they will dig my name out of my unconscious and give it back to me. Maybe it will be written on a shiny plaque. That might be nice. Oh, they are here. It’s a woman. A rather attractive woman if I may say so myself. I like her already. Wait, that perfume. I recognise that smell. My wife wears that….. Julie.

“Julie? Is that you?”

I start to cry as I regain precious memories of my life with Julie. The day we met, our first kiss, my proposal, our wedding, the birth of our first child… I’m a daddy! To some, two, I think, my name is Daddy. It’s too much, far too much to take in one go. Leave me be for a while. Please. I need some time to….process.

 

*     *    *

 

My name is Graham Henderson. This is my wife Julie. I got my memories back when she came to see me in hospital eight days ago. My birthday is August 23rd, 1980. I am thirty-three years old, and I am a mechanical engineer. My wife and I have been married for six years and have a four year old son and two one year old twin daughters. Their names are James, Lily and Rose. I can’t wait to see them. I remember them now, but the memories are hazy. I want to see them. I want to be sure that they are real. I want to be sure that I am who I think I am. The doctors are happy with my progress. My stitches are healing nicely and my bruises have faded to a pale yellow. I should be going home this weekend. The first thing I am going to do is sew my name into every single item of clothing I own. I never want to go through that again. When I caught the scent of Julie’s perfume (one I first bought for her) it was overwhelming. At first it was just a name. Julie. Then I was assailed with memories all at once of everything, relating to Julie. After that, my regained memories triggered more and more. Just like that, within two days, I knew who I was. I couldn’t speak at first, it was just too much. I am man enough to admit I cried like a baby, quite a bit. It was frightening, and upsetting. I relived the loss of my father, my older brother, and our first baby when my wife miscarried at four months. That’s a lot of grief in a very shortspace of time. It wasn’t all bad though. I found I have a younger brother, and he has a wife who is expecting. That news seems somehow even more exciting the second time around. I also have a baby sister who has just been accepted to her first choice university.

My name is Graham Henderson which means I am also a husband, daddy, uncle, colleague and friend. You may think a name is just a name. It’s not. Your name contains your entire life within it. Your name is not just what you are called, it is who you are.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Golden Years – Why I Am Not Looking Forward To Turning 30

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Picture from www.zazzle.co.uk

This is in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge: Golden Years

As you read the title for this post, I can hear you all saying “Pfft. Thirty? You’re still a baby! What’s not to look forward to?” And i would agree. I don’t think turning 30 is bad because it means i will be old, far from it. I have a completely different reason for not exactly greeting my 30th birthday (which is just over a week away) shaking a set of pompoms whilst doing a happy dance.

When i was young and naieve I decided that i didn’t want to have children too young. This was partly because i didn’t want to regret having children too young and embarrass the life out of them by attempting to have a ‘second youth’. So there i was, at 16, deciding that 30 was the perfect age to start a family. I’d have plenty of time to experience work, settle down with Mr whateverhisnamewillbe, get married (at around 26/27) and have a few years as a married couple before having children. When i reached 25 i started worrying. If i didn’t meet Mr whateverhisnamewillbe soon, i’d never be able to enjoy married life before starting a family at 30. When i was 28 i decided i’d better relax my plans. As long as i was in a committed relationship when i turned 30, with plans to get married and have babies on the near horizon, i could live with that. I was in a relationship so i was reasonably happy with how things had turned out to that point. Unfortunately my boyfriend got a new job which meant he was constantly on the road, driving this huge truck thing around. Slowly but surely i started to hear less and less from him. Our chats became little more than “Hi baby, i’m really tired, been driving all day so i am going to sleep. Love you, bye x” by text. I was heartbroken. We loved each other, but i wasn’t getting what i needed from him. I was willing to wait, as long as i knew we had a definite future. He couldn’t even commit to making time to talk to me anymore, let alone take time off to actually spend time with me. I booked flights to California for a two week holiday that he cancelled because he said he needed to work. I tried to re-arrange twice, but he cancelled those too. In the end i confronted him. I wasn’t a priority in his life and I needed to be. I want to settle down, I want to have a family. I don’t want to be sitting at home waiting for a quick “Hi, love you, bye” every couple of weeks over the phone, and waiting months or longer to actually spend some quality time with him.

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Picture from www.invitationtemplatesworld.com

We broke up. It might not make sense to some, but i would rather start again now, than wait another couple of years and still be where i am now. So here i am, about to turn 30. Not feeling old, but feeling frustrated that I am not where i thought i would be. To me, the 20’s were for having fun, finding love and getting married. Now i am entering the family making decade, but i have nobody to make a family with.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. I’m not sure what the reason is yet, but maybe i am not supposed to. I just have to keep hoping that things will work out in the end. One thing my impending birthday has spurred me on to do, is to look into other areas of my life that i have more control over and see what changes i can make there. I have started a creative writing course and i hope to write fiction, just because i enjoy it. Who knows. Maybe it’ll lead me to my Mr whateverhisnamewillbe and my happily ever after. Maybe it will lead to a new and exciting career.

I guess i just have to keep on living and loving and one day, as my mum always used to say, “it’ll all come out in the wash.”

The Importance Of A Mother’s Instinct

When my mum called to tell me my sister was pregnant, I tried not to get too excited. My sister had suffered 2 miscarriages in the previous 18 months. The most recent having happened on Christmas Day, the very day that she had announced the pregnancy to the family. Whilst my sister and her boyfriend had not planned to have a child, they had begun to fear that they would never be successful and so some months after the second miscarriage, began trying to conceive. Out of fear of a further miscarriage, my sister didn’t tell my mum until she was almost 12 weeks pregnant.

When my sister was 16 weeks pregnant my mum called me for advice. My sister was unable to keep even the slightest quantity of food or water down and was losing weight rapidly. They had been to see a doctor who had sent them away with “it’s morning sickness.” My mum didn’t know what to do and my sister was exhausted and terrified that her baby wouldn’t get the nutrients he/she needed. Fortunately (though my poor friend may not think so) one of my closest friends had suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum during her pregnancy so I recognised the symptoms. (The Duchess of Cambridge was in hospital with it during her pregnancy.) I emailed my mum some information and told her to go back to the doctor, tell him what we thought it was and to request a second opinion if they did not take the situation seriously. My mum and my sister visited the doctors again the next day and when the doctor tried to brush them off, they did as I suggested and asked for a second opinion. The doctor called up a specialist at the hospital to placate my sister that she was just overreacting. However, upon answering the specialists questions, the doctor was surprised when the specialist requested my sister be admitted to hospital immediately. At this point in her pregnancy, about 16-17 weeks, my sister had already lost 2.5 stone. Now my sister is pretty stubborn and refuses to go to hospital if she can possibly avoid it. The doctor and specialist eventually agreed on twice-weekly visits to the doctor to test her hydration levels. If her level of hydration dropped below a certain point, she would be admitted by ambulance to hospital immediately. The doctor prescribed some medication to stop my sister from being sick and sent her home. Although my sister was sick through almost her entire pregnancy, the medication reduced the frequency, meaning she was able to eat properly and didn’t lose any more weight.

At 28 weeks my sister had a scare. She’d stretched in bed one morning and heard a ‘pop’. She leaped out of bed in fright to find a wet patch between her legs. Her waters had leaked. At the hospital, they checked the baby, deemed that there was plenty of fluid around him/her and he/she wasn’t distressed, and sent her home. The rest of my sister’s pregnancy passed without major incident.

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My sister went into labor in the morning of 22nd February 2013, 3 days before she was due to be induced. She spent the day with my mum and went home to attempt to sleep through the contractions where possible. The next morning she went to hospital with her boyfriend and both grandmas to be. My sister has a slipped disc in her back and before long the pain in her back was too much to bear and she requested an epidural. Unfortunately, her baby’s heart rate dropped just after the epidural had been carried out. Apparently this is a common effect of the epidural. The doctors decided the safest thing for the baby was to deliver him by emergency caesarian. My nephew was born by caesarian section on 23rd February at 17:27. My sister and her boyfriend named him Leo.

Before Leo was even an hour old, my sister was convinced there was something wrong with him. She called a nurse to look at him and said that he kept shaking. The nurse told my sister that there was nothing wrong and that it was natural, as a first time mother, to worry unnecessarily. My sister wasn’t convinced and resolved to ring the bell every 5 minutes until a doctor was called to take a look at Leo. Eventually the nurses got so fed up with the constant bell ringing that a doctor was called up from SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit) to calm my sister down. From what I have been told, it was clear that the nurses had spoken to the doctor before he entered my sisters room because he was talking before he was even through the door.
“Right Miss Harvey, now it’s perfectly normal for a newborn baby to…”
The doctor stopped mid sentence as he glanced down at my nephew in his cot. A split second later, he had snatched Leo out of his cot and gone running out of the ward. My poor sister was left alone in her room with no baby and no explanation.

A nurse quickly came to find her and let her know that the doctor had taken Leo for some emergency tests because he hadn’t been shaking, he had been fitting. At just an hour old, doctors took spinal fluid from Leo for testing. The results came back confirming the doctor’s fears. Leo had meningitis. He was moved to SCBU an put on an antibiotic drip. The doctors warned my sister that Leo could have some brain damage, or loss of vision or hearing as a result of the illness, but that thanks to her determination to have him seen, he had the best chances of a full recovery.

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Leo responded so well to treatment that he was allowed home after two weeks of antibiotics. The relief of finally being allowed to take her son home was obvious in my sister and she soon settled into motherhood. My sister was only 21 (and two weeks) when she gave birth and she was invited to attend a local group for young mums. The staff at the group were impressed with her story and invited her to talk to the younger mums there about a mother’s instinct and how important it is to listen to it. The nurses told my sister Leo was fine. If she had been any less stubborn, she may have accepted this and Leo may not have been diagnosed for days. This could have had devastating consequences. On a fairly regular basis my sister repeats her story to younger girls who are expecting or who have just given birth, teaching them now important their instincts are. My sister theorises that her mother’s instinct is as strong as it is because of everything she had to go through to have him. While my sister has been careful not to become too over-protective, she knows that her mother’s instinct saved her son’s life.

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My nephew turned 1 just over a week ago and I am happy to say that he suffered no ill effects from his upsetting start to life. He is intelligent and cheeky and already running around causing my sister all kinds of trouble. Her advice is always this. Never let anyone talk away your fears without investigation and never be afraid to ask for a second opinion. You know when your child isn’t right because you know your children better than anyone in the world.

This post is inspired by the Weekly Writing Challenge.