Saturday, January 01, 2011

guttering

Mrs Ellery slowly descends on the stair lift, an enamelled Chinoiserie walking stick propped between her legs, her hands resting on the handle, her face as set as her hair, her gray eyes counting down the pastoral scenes on the opposite wall. Her husband William, a loose affiliation of braces and whiskers, stands to attention at the bottom of the run with a coat and hat, carrier bag of prescription medicines, toiletries and a crook to his back from the weight of it all.
‘Have you got everything?’
‘It’s all here. I think.’
‘What about the doctor’s letter?’
‘Oh.’
He shuffles off into the kitchen as the chair judders to a halt. We help her dismount.
‘Is it cold?’
‘The snow’s gone.’
‘Well.’
Mr Ellery hurries back in.
‘The letter!’
‘Let’s go.’
‘Just a minute.’
She swaps the stick from one hand to another, then raises her chin as magnificently as a prisoner being led to the firing squad.
‘Onwards.’

**

I wave goodbye to Mr Ellery and slam the ambulance door shut.
Mrs Ellery winces.
‘Sorry. I have to slam it otherwise the alarm sounds.’
She says nothing, but smoothes the blanket down in front of her as we lurch off the pavement and set off.

**

With the paperwork all done I settle in to the chair and smile at Mrs Ellery.
‘So. How long have you and William been married?’
‘Five years.’
‘Oh.’ I had expected her to say fifty. But the response is primed and goes off anyway: ‘That’s wonderful.’
The pause is a tragic acknowledgement of conversations the world over. Eventually – graciously – she picks it up again.
‘Of course, he’s not my first husband.’
‘Oh.’
‘I lived on my own for thirty years.’
‘Thirty years? So your first husband died young, then?’
She frowns.
‘He was eighty five. He died last week.’
‘Oh.’
‘We divorced after ten years.’
‘I see. Children?’
‘Three boys.’
My attempt at working out the maths is almost audible. I give up.
‘So – did you learn about your ex-husband’s death through your sons?’
‘Through the youngest. I hadn’t seen the eldest in thirty years. He’s in his fifties.’
‘So..?’
‘So when we divorced my eldest son went off with my ex and the other two stayed with me. I heard nothing more from them – until last week, when he turned up at the funeral.’
She looks at me. ‘The eldest – not the ex. You have got the doctor’s letter, haven’t you?’
‘Yep.’ I wave it in the air, Lame Chamberlain-style.
The ambulance yaws and staggers.
‘Oops,’ I say. ‘I think the bad weather’s broken up the roads.’
‘Really?’ She sniffs, and grips her stick more tightly. I seek shelter in the paperwork. Eventually I peek out again: ‘That must have been awkward, seeing your eldest son again like that.’
‘Like what again?’
‘At your ex’s funeral.’
‘Not at all.’
She takes the stick in her hand and pokes at her feet through the blanket like an arctic explorer sensing a crevasse.
‘What did you talk about?’
‘Guttering, mostly. That’s what he does apparently – fascias, soffits, guttering.’
‘Ah ha. And were the other two there?’
‘The youngest. Not the middle one. Who knows where he is.’
‘Why? What happened?’
‘I gave him some cheques to pay in. Which he did, of course. His own account. Then cleared off.’
‘But you’ve kept things up with the youngest?’
‘Charles? Oh Charles is fine. He lives round the corner. Didn’t approve when I married William, though.’
‘How did you two meet?’
‘An old friend of mine. She was coming round for dinner. She’d got problems with her hip, so a friend of a friend offered to drive. She told him to wait in the car. But I said: ‘Audrey. The man can’t just sit there whilst we eat. You’ll have to fetch him in. So she did – and he’s been there ever since.’

22 comments:

call me any name said...

"a loose affiliation of braces and whiskers"
priceless, Spence, as ever.
Happy New Year!

Older School said...

What an amusing and dizzying story! Doesn't that little voice in your head sometimes say, "Oy - I am sooo sorry I asked."?

Spence Kennedy said...

Happy New Year, call me any name! Thanks for the comment.

Hey Older School! Well - I have got a bit of a reputation for 'asking the question'. (I don't think that's a compliment, btw...) :) Happy New Year to you, too. Hope it's a good one.

tpals said...

The question that's a lot like 'a box of chocolates'. Brave Spence.

martine said...

I was just going to make the exact same comment as above, the braces and whiskers thing is why I come back and read your posts, it's not just your observational skills but the way you say things.
always a pleasure
thanks for sharing
martine

heathers teas said...

Enchanting read...

Bouncin' Barb said...

Wow Spence...what a separate family eh? One son doesn't talk for 30 years, middle one disappears with money, divorced the first, makes you wonder what the 'queenbee' was really like to live with. Happy New Year to you.

Jean said...

Lives are rarely simple, eh?

Happy New Year, Spence!

Ashleigh said...

Haha I feel terrible about it, but I almost want to punch that lady for you... how aggravating. Good thing you're obviously much more patient than myself.

Spence Kennedy said...

tpals - I'm not sure it's brave - prob more foolhardy. But it's a long ride sometimes, and it's good to have a chat about family stuff...

martine - Thanks v much. The good thing about working this job is you get to meet so many interesting characters. It beats having to make them up!

heathers teas - Thanks v much for reading, and dropping by on the comments board :)

BB & Jean - I'm always guilty of jumping to conclusions / making false assumptions. I never seem to learn. But in my own defence, I have to say her family was even more complicated than usual :/

ashleigh - I'm prob no more patient than anyone else, but it's in our contract not to punch the customers, so what can you do? Anyway, I've met far worse. Not sure I'd marry her, but then she'd prob say exactly the same about me! :/

***

Happy New Year! *<:0)

Mariodacat said...

Small talk can be fun - gives you lots of things to ponder!

saffy said...

How many of us would attend the funeral of their husband that they had divorced so many years ago ?...it made me curious as to why the divorce happened. Sad though to read that the children do not seem to be close to her either, but, still she has her new husband of five years, and as long as she is happy.
:)
peace and light
saffy

Spence Kennedy said...

MdC - Def agree! Small talk is underrated. I love it - you just unhitch and drift...

saffy - It is strange that she went to the funeral (but in retrospect I'm not sure she did - these are the facts that I really should try harder to get right). It is sad that the family seems divided like that, but not that uncommon. She seemed pretty content with her new partner, though. He was def the helpful kind :) x

Miss Havisham said...

Contrary to other folks, I don't think it is strange that she might have gone to the funeral.

No mention of why they divorced but it's normal to attend a funeral for someone you knew. He was father to her three sons, after all.

In my experience there's a scriptwriters treasure trove of stories in the backroom of most families. I was neither shocked nor surprised at the goings on described here. It makes you wonder why, what had happened etc. My main thought was how nice it was that she'd found happiness (assuming she had that meeting husband no.2) late in life. And I think she is a bit of a minx by making sure you knew that she was fit enough to find husband no.2 such a short time ago. Cheeky devil.

Spence Kennedy said...

That's very true. Regardless of the fact they divorced and lived so long apart, they shared enough of a life to bring three people into the world, so it's good she felt able to go to the funeral.

And you're right about the stories that everyone has in their families. For a lot of people you barely get past the hello / how are you and you're in to very interesting territories.

It was heartening that she found William later on like that. I hope I'm as open to radical changes in my life when I'm that age. And I suppose you're right about the 'cheeky devil' aspect, too. I'd not thought of that! *blush*

porkchop abracadabra said...

The entire piece is beautiful but my favorite line has got to be: "I seek shelter in the paperwork." On it's own, that one brief line says so much and puts the reader into such an intimate space within the narrator's mind.

I'm dying to know, how do you manage to feel inspired enough to write after such exhausting work? It's clear in your writing that you see a certain uniqueness in these situations that's worth documenting. Do you know while the episode is happening that you're going to write about it later? Or do you just reflect on the day and remember one particularly memorable experience that is hard to forget?

Anyways, thank you.

Mystica said...

First time here! this is a gem of a conversation!

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much Porkchop.

I must admit I don't get to do much writing when I'm working. It's 12 hours, plus all the travelling to and from, so I'm pretty done in by the end of it. We work three on three off, the last of the three is generally a night, so I get to do some writing in the day, and my days off are good for a few hours (theoretically - I'm a terrible one for finding other things to do).

I suppose I do get a feeling for what's good material when it's happening, and make some rough notes a day or so later to be written up when I've got time. Some things I have to leave for ages, though, because they'd be too identifying.

I keep my eyes and ears open - but I try to do that anyway, not just for the blog; the same as I like to read, watch films, listen to music etc. I suppose it's an effort to make sense of the world, because at heart I've got no idea.

Thanks for the comment. Really appreciate it.

Hey Mystica! Thanks for reading and dropping by. I love these conversations - they're def a perk of the job. :)

jacksofbuxton said...

Occasionally when I'm cutting the hair of a young boy they'll tell me they are off on holiday or have just come back...

"Lovely,did you mum and dad have a good time?"

"Daddy doesn't live with us any more"

You just change the subject as quickly as possible.

Happy New Year Spence.Another fantastic blog.

Spence Kennedy said...

It's always a bit of a minefield - but the normality for so many people, of course. And who knows - it might well be the case that the split was beneficial, and the household is more stable than it was when the couple were together.

Happy New Year, Jacks. Hope it's a great one for you and your family. :)

The Real Housewife of Greensboro said...

I think it's wonderful that you get to meet so many different types of people and that you attempt to make conversations with them as well. I'm guessing you never have a dull day with what you do. Oh BTW Happy New Year!

Spence Kennedy said...

I have a go! And getting to chat to people about this and that is def one of the perks of the job. Happy New Year to you & yours, too, RHG. Hope you have a great one.