Pretending to Care

This short story was written as part of a writing project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and associated with the Sutton (South London) Past on Glass project.

The story is based on one of the thousands of images of local people taken by photographer David Knights-Whittome, between 1904 and 1918. To find out more about the discovery and preservation of this amazing local archive of places, events and most of all the local residents of Sutton, visit the Past on Glass wordpress blog.

Below is the lovely Miss Daly, photographed in 1905, who inspired my story for the project. I don’t know Miss Daly’s first name, but to me she is, now and forever, my little Iris.

Pretending to Care is entirely fictional and is not based on any real people, places or events.

Pretending to Care

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Chestnut Avenue Care Home, 2010

They like to pretend they care. That’s why it’s called a care home, I suppose.

Yesterday it was the one with the eyebrows serving the mess they call lunch.

I’d have been an opera singer, if it hadn’t been for the war.

That’s interesting, Iris, she said.

She couldn’t care any less if she tried. Thinks I don’t know the difference.

Chocolate pudding, Iris dear.

It’s the skinny one today.

Thank you, I say. My favourite.

This one at least has a bit more wit behind the orange war paint. It used to be the thing to be pale. A lady stayed out of the sun. All nonsense of course. Bodies, appearance; all vanity. All useless in the end.

Is it your favourite, Iris? Chocolate pudding, really?

No idea, I reply.

Body worn out, or almost; mind like a frayed ribbon.

So what’s the tastiest pudding in the whole wide world? If you could have anything you wanted. Have a think, Iris.

I can’t help giving a snort. But I never did like to disappoint people. A people pleaser they call it nowadays, as if it’s a condition, a bad thing. Perhaps they’re right.

Parties, I say. Birthday parties.

Me too, I love parties, she says. So what food did you have? Jelly? Trifle?

Blind man’s bluff, I say. And piggy-in-the-middle.

She kneels down on the floor next to my chair and pats my hand.

Shall we go back there? See what’s for tea?

As I said, I like to please. She looks so keen, I can’t just tell her to get lost, can I?

Sardines all over the house. Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clement’s.

Presents too. Nicest one ever was a fur coat, soft as a kitten’s paw, from my dear Papa. A gorgeous fluffy hat to match. I was as cosy as an Eskimo. Papa tweaked my cheek and sent me down to the drawing room to show all the family. ‘Look at Iris!’ my brother Lionel shouted when I trotted in, so eager to please the gathering of aunts and uncles. ‘She’s a roly-poly Swiss roll, with a mighty meringue on the top!’ They all laughed of course. It’s what grown-ups do. I can still see their vile faces. Double chins wobbling, false teeth rattling. And the children laughing too. Fat cousin Francis with his tiny eyes shining, like buttons stitched into a cushion. Even my adored mother smiled, though she pretended not to when I hid my face in her lap.

I wake with a jolt. The skinny one is shaking my shoulder.

Wakey-wakey, Iris! Naughty thing, you fell asleep on me. We’ll never find that favourite pudding!

Meringue, I say. A huge, fluffy white meringue.

That’s wonderful. You remembered. Shall we see if we can make it for you sometime?

I nod. This one really does care. Gets it all wrong of course, but she tries.

I never could stand my brother Lionel. He was a bully to the core. Christmas, summer, I’d count the days until he went back to school. I found a baby rabbit once, kept it in a box in the gardener’s hut. It wouldn’t have lasted I suppose, poor little motherless thing, but I loved it nonetheless. Lionel let the dog in deliberately. Bit its neck right through. Baby rabbit head left on the floor for me to find.

The day Lionel went for good it felt as if the whole house sighed with relief. I can picture him now, suddenly apprehensive in his officer’s uniform. Would the bully be bullied, or worse? I covered my face with Papa’s handkerchief to hide the fact that I didn’t care if I never saw him again.

So you see there’s nothing new you can teach me; I know all there is to know about pretending to care.

Miranda Lewis 2017

Steam Trains and Bunting

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Steam Trains and Bunting, Red Flannel Petticoats and Buns for Tea

The 1970 film of the Railway Children (with the lovely Jenny Agutter as teenage Bobby/Roberta) transported me to the Edwardian countryside for a spiffing adventure of mild peril and temporary muddles.

Thirty years later Jenny Agutter played the mother in a television version. Are you enjoying it? I asked my small son. Yes, but Bobby is being very silly and pretending to be the mum. Confusing!

One day maybe, I’ll stoke up the old video player and chug off on a nostalgic journey with my grandchildren. And for Bobby’s famous line – Daddy, my Daddy! – it will be hankies all round once again.

Miranda Lewis 2019

(Genre: unreliable memoir)

Welcome to Friday Flash Fiction! (Yes I do know it’s still Thursday and I am aware this isn’t really fiction.) A big brass-band-and-bunting thanks to our host Rochelle and a wave from the platform to Sandra Crook who supplied the photographic inspiration.

Steam trains will always conjure up E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children for me: girls in white pinafores and ribbons, boys in britches and caps; happy endings and of course those buns for tea.

Thanks to all who visit and most especially to those who stay to comment. For a world of other stories step aboard here.

Spoiler alert, this is that famous tear-jerker of a scene form the 1970 film (Jenny Agutter as Bobby)…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkHTT3dJL9E

And actually I won’t even need to preserve my old video of the 2000 TV version because it’s here in its entirety. An hour and a half well spent I’d say! (Confusingly Jenny Agutter as the Mum!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3zO0zm5FTU

 

Tidying Up After

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Tidying Up After

You left early, mid-sentence; grass uncut, the bird table you were attempting to mend face down on the patio. Mind you, you tidied away that last bottle to the very last drop.

Back home, I have taken to washing up teaspoons, burning old postcards, composting diaries.  Don’t be alarmed; I am but a finger’s stretch closer to the shadows. I won’t say anything significant, at least until I’ve cleared this cupboard.

My partner on the other hand is accumulating wood and screws, enough to open a hardware shop. Or build an arc. Or in the event, our coffins. Now that’s tidy.

Miranda Lewis, 2018

(Genre: unreliable memoir)

Welcome readers and writers to Friday Fiction, hosted by the indefatigable, inestimable Rochelle, with thanks to Ronda Del Boccio for the photo prompt. Now you might be thinking it isn’t Friday and this isn’t really fiction, but on the other hand it is 100 words.

Thanks to all who visit and most especially those who stay to comment. To graze on a whole pasture of stories click here.

In the beginning was the sheep…

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In the beginning was the sheep…

How far back to go? To fleeces washed and combed, dyes of blackberry and onion skin? Or further still, to grass and rain and starlight, the endless chewing of the cud?

Come now, past carding, twisting and beyond to the clacking of the needles – eyes bright behind perched spectacles –  those numerous episodes of Midsomer Murders.

Oh joy in the unwrapping! Behold the snugness of the fit. Glory in the crowning splendour of the pom-pom!  ‘Thanks Grandma!’  Then, miracle of miracles – the first soft flakes of snow.

Praise Christmas knitters everywhere and peace to woolly hat wearers near and far.

Miranda Lewis 2017

Welcome to Friday Fiction hosted by the talented writer Rochelle. Thanks also to Bjorn Rudberg for the great photo. Thanks to all who visit and most especially to those who stay to comment. Hats off to Friday Fictioneers gathered here. Please visit and comment widely!

Under the Clouds

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Under the Clouds

The morning after my son’s graduation I noticed a small grey cloud floating somewhere above my left shoulder. Seasonal September blues? The last child all grown, yet barely grown?

Or none of these? Like the clouds my worries are more often there than not; both gather and clear to their own rhythms. But do not assume all worriers are pessimists; there are as many patches of blue as mighty storms.

In the garden, the first fat drops of rain. All futures are uncertain, all tracks unclear, sometimes in many places. My son will follow his own path whether I worry or not.

Miranda Lewis 2017

(Genre: Metaphorical memoir)

By the end of this week I will have attended a graduation, a funeral and a wedding celebration. Perhaps a little worrying and philosophical musing is understandable.

For more stories (that probably read a bit more like stories) click here.

Thanks as ever to our host Rochelle who rounds us all up and keeps us all going along that 100-word track of Friday Fiction and to Danny Boweman for the photo.

Camping for the Bourgeoisie

 

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Camping for the Bourgeoisie

The first year we bedded down in a tiny tent, the baby nestled between us.

Ten years later we’ve acquired:  three more children; a huge canvas castle; tables and chairs; three-ring gas cooker and ‘compact’ fridge; bikes and sand toys; tablets, board games and teddies. Fairy lights and bunting are inessential but fun. A bubble machine, bat detector and barbecue inspire admiration and envy in equal measure.

One day we’ll pack two mugs, a good knife and a hammock and head for the hills. In the meantime, I just have this load of washing to finish and a groundsheet to air.

(Genre; unreliable memoir)

Miranda Lewis, 2017

It’s been a while since I took part in Friday Fiction. Being under canvas when this week’s photo (copyright Jan Wayne Fields) was posted by our esteemed host, Rochelle, I couldn’t resist.

Camping is a strange beast. Once a cheap option for the shy, the adventurous, the lover of nature it has become a huge industry. It’s also a great way to people watch – on a busy campsite you can see almost everything that usually goes on behind closed doors (and probably hear everything you can’t see.)

To go right inside all those yurts, tepees, wigwams and tents of the world click here.

Here’s a comment from my friend Natalie who linked in from my facebook page. (Aren’t I just the social media butterfly!) This made me laugh: ‘Your story could be about my family. We started with all four of us in a little 2 man tent for a night in Poole. Ten years later we had a trailer tent with double mattresses, electricity, a fold out sofa, gas BBQ, fridge, gazebo…the works!’

Life and Other Distractions

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Life and Other Distractions

My daughter once built magical cities from wooden IKEA blocks and now studies Architecture. My son pestered his patient teacher with ‘why’ questions: Why did they vote for Hitler in the first place? This month he takes his History finals.

In my empty nest I finally had time to write, but when spring came I stuffed my unfinished manuscript inside a tree trunk. (Who am I kidding, delusional fool – it was barely started!) Instead I meandered for miles by a river, tended a flower garden, volunteered on a farm and trained as a children’s mentor.

Wonder what I’ll do when I grow up?

(Genre: unreliable memoir, 100 words, or so)

Miranda Lewis 2017

Welcome to Friday Flash Fiction, hosted by the talented writer Rochelle and with a photo this week from Sandra Crook. Thanks to all who drop by and especially those who stay to comment.

Please respect the copyright of the author and the photographer.

Here is a link to my daughter’s Instagram of her beautiful final pieces for this year.

A Death in the Family

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A Death in the Family

Strangely death and beauty are often companions. Closed lids hid the milky cataracts of his decayed old age. Pearl-pink pads decorated delicately curled feet. I placed a cheek on his curved back and felt the last of his fur-wrapped warmth.

The grave my husband dug on that dark January night made criminals of us all. No, not my granny, I quipped to a neighbour. The old cat. Tears flowed freely as we said goodbye and buried the box, securing the lid against foxes.

Alone at last; silent house. I open the freezer, reach deep for the wrapped package and cradle the frozen form in aching arms.

M J Lewis 2017

Welcome to the world of Friday Flash Fiction, hosted by the talented writer Rochelle. Thanks as ever to our seemingly tireless host and also to Liz Young for the photo.

The above is partly true – I’ll leave you to decide what is fiction and what is imagination! Thanks to all who visit and especially those who stay and comment.

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The Jewelled Locust

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The Jewelled Locust

The room was almost unbearably hot. A ceiling fan stirred the soupy air listlessly.

My grandmother’s face when she turned to me was yellow, skin taught over sharp cheek bones, eye sockets deep pools of purple.

She indicated the box of jewels. ‘For you and you alone. The very best.’

All I saw was the blood and toil of others, wealth won with deception and malice.

Outside, I opened the lid and handed a brooch to the child who guarded the decaying lobby. Fake emeralds, nevertheless valuable.

Unknown to my grandmother my half-sister and I still speak: different box, same lies.

M J Lewis 2017

Very late to the Friday Feast of Fiction this week, but such a stunning photo, thanks to Shaktiki Sharma. Thanks also, of course, to our esteemed host, Rochelle, and thanks to all who visit, especially those who stay to comment.

Things My Grandmother Taught Me

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Things My Grandmother Taught Me

Lavender sprouted from my Grandmother’s fingertips and lilac nodded around her backdoor.

‘Let us pray,’ she’d say as she knelt, trowel in hand. ‘Amen, and one for the squirrel,’ was my cue to heave her up. Once we tumbled right over, her stick-thin frame cushioned by my stocky little body.

Today I’ve brought all her favourites – purple crocuses, alliums, tulips. I stick the fork into the rich soil and she raps on the window.

‘Who the heck are you?’ she hollers across the lawn.

The best thing about spring bulbs – you can plant them in hope or despair; they’ll bloom anyway.

M J Lewis 2016

It’s Friday already so I’m late for Friday Fiction. Thanks as ever to our talented host Rochelle and to C. E. Ayr for the beautiful photo. For more prose, purple and otherwise, click here. 

Purple is one of my favourite garden colours, so my brain took me straight out into the garden. But hoping somebody writes, or has written, a story about the creation of Henry Perkin’s purple dye, Mauveine. If nobody’s done so, might have to do it myself. It did create a sensation at the time, not unlike a version of tulip fever.

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