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

Exit Stage Left

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Exit Stage Left

I still like to look my best – my red coat with the high collar, a decent heel. It’s a smaller audience nowadays of course, but there’s the usual flutter of applause, the appreciative twitter. I bow my coiffured head in acknowledgement and reach for the rail to descend the stairs.

 

‘You’ve gone really pale.’

‘It’s that old crow at the end house. Says here she slipped and died in her own garden.’

‘What was she doing outside in this weather?’

‘Feeding the birds, it says. She was an understudy to the stars, there’s an old photo.’

‘Wow, what a beauty!’

Miranda Lewis 2020

Well this is a first, sending out my Friday Flash Fiction on the Wednesday…

Greetings to all those stepping out around the world and most especially to our leading lady, Rochelle who also provides the photo this week.

Thanks to all who visit and especially those who stay to comment.

In a dream I strolled barefoot in a quiet garden

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In a dream I strolled barefoot in a quiet garden…

Ducking beneath roses, I escaped a glittering gathering behind mullioned windows and wandered alone amongst beds peopled with purple allium. I hailed a laburnum drunk with blossom and traced a hidden path beside a buttercup bank.

In a meadow a blackbird peeped at my intrusion and cows gathered at the fence to say, ‘Nobody is allowed, except our friend the solitary gardener.’

Now he has locked his modest shed and gone. But look around and he is everywhere, in root and leaf and sky. And in his dreams does he still tramp the lawns and greet the trees he tended?

Miranda Lewis 2018

Welcome to 100-word Friday Flash Fiction, hosted each week by the talented writer Rochelle. (Get a sneak preview of here novel in progress here.) Thanks to the appropriately named Nathan Sowers for this week’s photo prompt.

Where else could I go this week, but out into the garden? But not just any garden; this dream garden is based on the real garden tended for the past decade by the Anxious Gardener. You can read his final, wistful farewell to this particular garden on his blog here, and also catch a glimpse of some beautiful photos, including that drunk laburnum.

For more tales from Friday Fictioneers stick your trowel in here.

You can even find me in the garden here on Instagram, if that’s not one click too many.

Thanks!

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!

Underneath the Chestnut Tree

 

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Underneath the Chestnut Tree

(Genre: historical fiction)

Amy arrived at the barn flustered, cheeks flaming almost to the colour of her hair. The lambing man’s face in contrast was grey with exhaustion.

For once her words were bold, urgent.

‘The meadow, courting corner; ewe caught in the hawthorn hedge.’

His thoughts were muddy with lack of sleep.

‘Courting, caught?’

‘Under the old Chestnut. She’s birthing a lamb.’

It was the word lamb that did it. He rose, shaking himself to wakefulness.

‘Pass me them sacks,’ he said.

He took her hand and pulled her with him into the yard.

‘You’ve the hands of a midwife at any rate.’

Miranda Lewis 2017

Welcome to Friday Fiction and hello again after a bit of a hiatus. Thanks as always to our host, the writer Rochelle, whose own story can be found here, along with all the rules of play and Friday Fictioneers from around the globe. Thanks to Sandra Crook for the photo. (Realised I could have put a crook in the story, Sandra! Take the shepherd’s crook as read.)

(Please respect photographer’s and writers’ copyright. Join in, read and comment on other stories, but please do not use the photo for any other purpose than Friday Fiction.)

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!’

Sheep Walks into a Diner (two)

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Sheep Walks into a Diner (again)

A play for three characters: Squirrel, Sheep, Waitress

(100 words of dialogue)

Setting: A diner.

Squirrel: Two sheeps?

Sheep: Two sleeps, not sheeps. Anyway the plural is sheep.

Squirrel: I know that.

Sheep: And you thought I didn’t? Shh! It’s that waitress again, the one who looks at us funny.

Waitress: What can I get you?

Squirrel: The nut-burger please.

Sheep: Is the mango smoothie vegan?

Waitress: Sure.

Sheep: Anyway this article said two periods of sleep, not one long one, used to be much more common and even today some folks are probably programmed for more than one sleep.

Squirrel: And?

Sheep: Well it all makes sense, only I’m programmed for…

Squirrel: Four or five sleeps.

Sheep: There speaks the guy who dozes away half the winter.

Miranda Lewis (2017)

It’s been a while, but here we are back at Friday Fiction, hosted by the writer, diplomat, cat-herder and generally delightful purple-clad Rochelle.

And it would seem (possibly to some bemusement) we are back in the diner with my good friends Sheep and Squirrel. To those of you not acquainted they are just your average inter-species couple trying to get along in a world that is not always kind.

Thanks to all who visit and most especially those who stay to comment. For more stories try here. Thanks to Dale Rogerson for the photo. (Please do not use the photo for any other purpose than an entry to Friday Fiction.)

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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A Fair Wind

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A Fair Wind

The seventh of seven daughters, and all my sisters married, I was promised to a merchant of Moorish extraction in exchange for a cargo of Madeira.

The wine – sweet and rich, the colour of menstrual blood – restored my father’s fortune and I insisted on a male tutor, fair skinned but well-travelled. I mastered algebra and anatomy; the constellations and the continents; theology and food storage.

When my ship comes in I will not be locked in any fine palace, tending a full womb. There will be but two courses to navigate: to sail by my husband’s side or escape.

M J Lewis 2017

It’s Friday and so I’m late for Friday Fiction. I can only plead fantastic gardening weather. All hail to Rochelle, our indefatigable host, and to Fatima Fakier Deria for the nautical photo.

Thanks to all who visit and a huge thank you to those who stay and chat.

I dedicate this piece to all those (children and adults – you know who you are!) who have questioned the part algebra has to play in a well-rounded education.