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.

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No Title

Monday: Forgot my husband’s name. Surprisingly easy to cover.

Tuesday: Couldn’t remember the route to work. Somewhat trickier.

Wednesday: Stayed home.

Next day: Somewhere a wardrobe door swung drunkenly on broken hinges; a bookcase toppled, spilling its entire contents.

Another: Curtains sleepwalk from open windows.

And another: I am kneeling in the garden, someone‘s gnarled old hands holding my trowel. A young man bearing a beautiful mauve flowering plant is crossing the lawn.

He turns the label towards me and I read, ‘Phlox Paniculata, Purple Kiss. Names are so important don’t you think…’ He indicates the sticky label on his pullover. ‘Henry. What a considerate young man you are. Your family must be very proud.’

He grins. ‘Especially my Grandma.’

The wardrobe door gently closes; the bookcase temporarily rights itself. The windows are secure, the curtains still as I smile into his handsome face, recalling momentarily the first day I held him, rosy and new: my very own grandson, Henry.

MJ Lewis©2016

(Flash fiction 160 words)

Out to Grass

Out to Grass

A fire crew was called today to Sunny Outlook Retirement Home, where a fire had broken out in a conservatory used for growing herbaceous crops. Fortunately, the team of ten fire-officers quickly had the blaze under control.

Resident, Buttercup Meadows (92), described the scene. ‘Plucky young men going about their business with smiles on their handsome faces – beats Bingo any day.’

Gardening resident, Herbert Border (98), was philosophical. ‘All my work up in smoke. But what the Lord gives…’

Tea and cookies were served to the brave fire-officers, who were advised to walk home and return for their vehicle later.

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Here we are again at the free festival of Friday fiction, with our graciously creative hostess of peace and love, Rochelle, leading the line-up. Thanks to Roger Bultot for the fiery photo prompt.  For more acts to follow click here. Meanwhile a piece of responsible usage advice from our nonagenarians, Herb and Buttercup. (Yes, I know I’m cheating, but couldn’t fit their conversation into the 100 words.)

‘Even big chaps like those fine firemen need to be careful – that stuff can mess up your memory.’

‘Now who told you that, Herb?’

‘Can’t rightly remember, Buttercup.’

Oh I do love to be beside the seaside

Thanks once more to Rochelle for harvesting the Friday Fictioneers 100-word stories. You’ll find the whole hoard in the store-cupboard at this little LINK. My story is set in September 2015, in the English seaside town of Lyme Regis (sandcastles, cream teas, fossils and Jane Austen).

Thanks also to Marie Gail Stratford for the photo prompt.

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Oh I do love to be beside the seaside

Your beloved cove – it’ll be as good as new.

That’s my son, the oil company PR guru. But he didn’t expect me to go and see for myself.

We honeymooned there, my late husband and I; slept deep to the sound of waves, woke to the call of seagulls.

Last night I lay awake as the huge machines washed the sand and filtered the seawater.  After my morning coffee I rang a few newspapers, packed a bag and fetched my walking stick.

Eighty-five-year-old woman joins environmental camp.

My beloved son – doesn’t he realise who gave him those PR skills?

M J Lewis ©2015