So I’ve been writing short stories for a while and they’re all nicely stored on my iPad. Doing nothing. So here’s one, enjoy.
Looking at the screen of her new laptop, Viv smiled at the figures in her online banking account. £2.5 000000. Years of scrimping and saving and investing what little money they had; her and Brian, her late husband, had finally done it; they had enough to change the lives of their children and still be alive to see them benefit from it. Brian had always said he hated the thought of Martin and Steven only getting to enjoy life once their parents were dead. He didn’t want years of them arguing over the house and the savings and the China tea set. No, it was better this way; invest everything you can in stocks, shares, bonds and property until the final life insurance policy pays out and then count the winnings. Neither of them had foreseen quite how much that would be. They had simply paid out for 53 years. Once the letter had dropped onto Viv’s welcome mat stating that Brian’s life insurance could now be paid out to her she decided to ring her solicitors’ office and get them to sort it out.
Now that she had it, it was time to decide how to divide it. She stared at the picture of her and Brian together, the last picture they had taken at their granddaughter’s eighteenth birthday party. Danielle was coming up to twenty now and was on the last leg of her gap year in Australia. She had worked solidly for three years, doing all kinds of jobs from dog walking to waitressing, sweeping hair in the local salon to babysitting the neighbour’s children. With the money that she had saved she had travelled the world, picking up part time jobs as she went to make sure she had enough for the next plane ticket.
Viv smiled at the picture, “Well, Brian, you miserable old bugger, its all here. Its a bit more than we thought, it will definitely change their lives. But will it change them? They used to be such good boys but since you’ve gone, love, I never see them. Its like they’re waiting for me to go too. Oh I get flowers and chocolate brazils on my birthday and Mothers’ Day and a cursory invite at Christmas; they remember the important times. I’d like to just be invited for tea though, or to go shopping with Carole or Brenda; see the kids, treat them to an ice cream.” She wiped at the tear that was gathering speed as it slid down her lined face. “Right. Thats it. I’ve decided” Viv planted a kiss on her fingers and touched the silver framed picture. “I do miss you, my love.”
* * *
The mobile phone flashed and vibrated on top of the microwave. Even before I looked at the screen I knew it would be her. I sighed and steeled myself for the questions.
“Hi Viv.” I was bright and breezy. “Steve’s at work.”
“Carole love, how are you?” Her voice was old and cracked with age.
“I’m fine, Steve’s at work.” I tried not to sigh.
“Steven. Oh I know he is, he’s always working, he does his best. But how are you?”
Why? Every time, why must she correct me? Everyone except her calls him Steve. I flicked the kettle on and peered through the kitchen doors into the playroom to see the kids engrossed in a computer game, still in their pyjamas.
“I’m fine Viv. Did you want something?” I tried to sound casual and not as though I was dying to get her off the phone and get back to making something edible for tea.
“I was just thinking it’s been a while since I saw you all. Are you especially busy?” She sounded older than the last time I spoke to her.
“I am to be honest, the kids are busy and I’ve got guests for tea today so I need to get sorted before they arrive and before Steve gets home.” I put a bit of emphasis on Steve’s name. I’m his wife, I should be able to refer to him as I want to with feeling like I’m stealing her precious baby; he’s a grown man for God’s sake.
“Oh lovely, what are you having for tea?” She sounded hopeful.
“Erm, I’m doing Indian I think.” I poured the boiled water from the kettle over my tea bag in my favourite, chipped, pink mug. She doesn’t really like Indian.
“I love a korma, reminds me of having a takeaway night with Brian; he’d have a tikka masala and I’d have a korma and he’d joke about how it was so mild it had no reason being called curry. So who’s coming to tea then? Is it a special occasion?” She chuckled slightly and gave a little cough, I heard her reach for an inhaler and have a quick, discrete puff.
I answered quickly.
“No, no. Nothing special, just Brenda, Martin and the kids for a meal and a drink.” I cringed slightly, why the hell didn’t she ring Steve, she’s his bloody mother, and Martin’s for that matter, why didn’t she ring him first? I peered into the fridge, there was an odd smell in there. Might have to be takeaway after all.
“Now I’ve not seen our Martin for a few weeks either. I tried ringing him but Brenda answered and said he was asleep.”
“Right. Well I’ll let Steve know you called.” Hopefully that was firm enough but breezy enough that she would end the conversation.
“Yes, love if you wouldn’t mind. Oh, I don’t know what to have for tea now; I’ve not much in, my leg’s been giving me grief so I’ve not been out to the shops this week.”
Here it is, the guilt trip.
“I’m sure you’ve got something in that pantry of yours, Viv, you’re such a creative cook.” Nothing in? That was a joke, her next door neighbour’s daughter took her to Marks and Sparks every other week for a big shop. A big shop! Who does a bloody big shop in Marks’?
“Its nice when someone just puts it in front of you though, I can’t be bothered making the effort just for one. Right, love, if you’re busy I’ll let you get on.”
“Ok, Viv, see you soon!”
I pressed the button and put the phone down on the counter. Bloody Steve. I picked it up again and scrolled through to find his number.
* * *
I knew it would be mum before I even looked at the screen. Its been a few weeks and she always calls on a Saturday afternoon. A few weeks? God, I am a bad son. I’ll nip round in thee week after work and take her some chocolate brazils or something, she’ll be made up.
“Hi Mother, how are you?”
“Hello, Martin love, I’m ok how are you?” She sounded distant and frail. I pulled the car over into a lay-by.
“I’m ok, mum. I’m just on the way to pick Josh and Lucy up from a birthday party and then we’re off out for our tea.”
“Oh yes, I just spoke to Carole, she said something about an Indian.”
“Oh, did she? I thought she was cooking. Never mind. What are you up to?”
“Nothing really, my leg’s bad again this week so I’ve not had chance to go out. I just fancy something nice and spicy for tea.” Spicy? Mum hated spicy food, I’ve never known her even look at a curry, never mind eat one.
“What have you got in that freezer of yours? There must be something nice in there, has Katie not taken you shopping this week?” That bloody girl, how hard was it to take an old lady shopping once every couple of weeks?
“No not this week, shes on holiday with her new boyfriend.”
“On holiday? And did she make sure you were stocked up before she went?”
“Well, no but…”
“Well thats not on. So have you nothing in?” I glanced at the clock on the dash; fifteen minutes before I had to pick the kids up.
“Yes, Martin, I’ve got something in, I just fancied someone else cooking for a change, thats all.”
“Right, well as long as you’re sorted. Look I’ve got to go, Brenda will go mad if I’m late for the kids. I’ll see you in the week.”
“Ok, love.” She sounded sad. I’ll definitely nip round after work this week.
* * *
It might be 3am Sydney time but Nan has never been one for good time keeping. I remember her saying how she was late for her own wedding because she was nattering on to her cousin and she lost track of time. I pressed the green button on my phone and Nan’s face came into view, or half of it at least.
“Nan, just sit back a bit, I can only see your left eye!”
“Sorry, love, I always forget.” She shuffled backwards and pushed the laptop further away. “Better?” She waved.
“Much. Have you had your nails done?”
“Yes! She flashed her bright blue nails at the camera and laughed. “Do you like? Katie did them before she went away, she gave me a voucher as well for that salon round the corner to go and get my feet done too.” It was so nice to see Nan’s smiling face again. I didn’t have wifi in the last hostel I stayed in so we had to rely on using the landline to speak.
“That was nice of her. We’ll invite her out for afternoon tea with us when I’m back to say thanks for looking after you while I’m away.”
“Good idea. How’s Australia?” I could see her leaning back in the chair and sipping a brew. She’d had her hair done as well, it made her look younger. I yawned.
“Oh my goodness! What time is it there? Oh bugger it, I’ve done it again haven’t I? And I’ll bet you’ve got to be at work soon haven’t you?” She was all of a fluster as she slopped her tea down on the table.
“Its fine Nan, don’t worry. I was on an early shift this morning so I’ve been in bed since 9pm, I start at 5 o’clock so i’d have to get up soon anyway. Those sharks had better be ready for my eagle eyes.” Out of all the jobs I’d had while travelling, this was the best and the worst. Shark spotting on the beach was interesting at times but my god, it was tedious too.
“Oh, Danielle, you do some odd jobs. You’re not likely to get eaten are you?”
“No Nan, I’m at the top of a life guard tower, I’m not actually in the sea. Another eight weeks of this and I can come home and still have enough money to see me through a couple months before uni starts. Anyway, enough about me and the sharks; I’ve loads of pictures to show you of them when I’m back. Have you spoken to mum and dad?”
“Yes I spoke to your mum earlier, she’s having uncle Martin and auntie Brenda round for a takeaway.”
“Nice, bet mum couldn’t be bothered cooking. What are you having for tea?”
“Not sure yet, I fancy a curry now.” She looked sad when she said it. I knew something was amiss, probably with mum and dad.
“Didn’t they invite you?”
“Well, you know how busy they are…”
“No, love, they didn’t. They didn’t. It’s been a little while since I’ve been for tea actually.”
“Right. I’m not having that,”
“No, Nan, they’re not being fair. I suppose dad was moaning about Katie being away as well.” I was seething. They were bloody selfish, the lot of them. Since grandad died they’ve all but forgotten about Nan. Grandad wouldn’t have stood for it and he made sure we all did things as a family. Nan isn’t as strong as that.
“Close, it was Martin actually. Never mind that, tell me more about this boyfriend you’ve got,” she fixed a smile on her face and gave me a little wink. I giggled and before I could stop him, Brad chipped in.
“How are ya, Mrs Smithson?” Brad had no top on and had clearly just emerged from my bed. This was not the meeting I’d had in mind.
“Oh, hello. Well I must say, it’s been a while since I saw a set of muscles like those and is that tan real?” Nan looked a little flustered.
“Sure is, Mrs Smithson, I’m looking forward to meeting you properly when I head over to the UK with Danni.”
“Yes Brad, I’m looking forward to meeting you too, with or without your clothes on, either is fine with me.” I saw her wink at him down the camera and he laughed.
“Well, love, if you will go parading buff young men in front of me you can’t expect me…”
“Anyway, ladies, this buff young thing has waves to catch before work so I’m going to grab a shower and some breakfast before the sun comes up. Mrs Smithson, take it easy.”
“Bye, love!” Brad walked out of the room past the camera, mercifully he had boxer shorts on.
“Right nan, since you’ve got me up anyway I might as well have breakfast too.”
“Ok, love. I’ll let you go and I’ll make a boiled egg or some soup for my tea.” She looked sad and older somehow. That mischievous sparkle had gone from her eyes.
“No, it’s ok, we can eat together. I’ll ring you back in about 20 minutes, just get yourself a plate and something to drink.”
“Oh thanks, so I’ll sit here with my empty plate while you eat your breakfast..”
“No! I’ve just been online and ordered you a curry, it will be there in about 20 minutes, so you can eat your korma and I’ll eat my eggs and bacon. Deal?” She didn’t say anything. She was so still and silent I thought the computer had frozen. Then I saw one single, silent tear snake its way down her lined face. I panicked. Why was she crying? “Nan?” She sniffed and wiped the tear away.
“So from the other side of the world you’ve managed to order me a takeaway and my own sons couldn’t even be bothered to pick me up and take me for my tea. Danielle, that is bloody amazing.”
“Well when you put it like that…it was nothing really, the Internet is an amazing thing though. Look, is that ok with you? I mean, you did want a korma didn’t you? Only you said…”
“Yes. I wanted a korma, it reminds me of…”
“Of grandad.” I chipped in before she finished her sentence.
“Yes. It does.” A shadow of grief and longing lingered on her face for a few seconds. “So how much was it?”
I glanced at Brad’s laptop, the one I’d used while he was chatting my nan up and I was dying of shame, “seventeen pounds seventy. And you got a free bottle of lemonade with it as well.” I heard her laugh and I looked back at my screen to see her pulling a bottle of gin from the shelf above her head.
“Well, there’s no point wasting good lemonade on ice alone. You go and get showered darling and I’ll call you back when it’s here. And I’ll transfer you seventeen pounds seventy into your account.”
“Don’t you dare! It’s my treat!” It was good to see her smiling. A few months ago she couldn’t speak of grandad without crying.
“Absolutely not! You can treat me when you’re home and safe and not at risk of being shark food. Now go and shower.” A wicked grin flashed across her face. “And say hi to Brad while you’re in there.”
“NAN!” It was too late, she’d ended the call and left me in the dark, looking at a black screen knowing full well that my cheeks were bright scarlet. I decided to call mum.
* * *
Viv studied her cheque book and wrote the amount down carefully and deliberately, ‘ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FIVE THOUSAND POUNDS ONLY’ made payable to Miss Katie Sunderland.
“The price of a house. She’s such a good, kind, hardworking girl. Now she can get married to that nice boyfriend and have babies and have her career and still live near her mum. Family.”
Her bright blue fingernails then tapped lightly and expertly over the keys on her laptop as she signed back into her online banking account. The figure was pretty impressive for a miner and a former housekeeper. She mentally deducted the amount earmarked for Katie and transferred the rest into Danielle’s account. Viv smiled as she typed ‘FOR THE TAKEAWAY’ into the ‘notes’ section and pressed ‘enter’.
Then she reached for the gin and toasted the picture of her and Brian in the silver frame.
“Here’s to us, darling.”