Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Mary’s son, Ethan, has come straight out of the shower.
‘She’s upstairs in bed,’ he says, one hand holding the door, the other the towel round his middle. ‘Excuse me whilst I finish off.’

The commotion in the hall has woken Mary.
‘I’m normally a bit more with it,’ she says, struggling to push herself upright. ‘But you see I had a restless night last night and I feel all...’ She smacks her lips drily and waggles her fingers in the air to illustrate.
I explain who I am and what I’ve come to do.
‘Be my guest,’ she says. ‘Only first let me get my plate in. I’ll make more sense.’

I work through the obs. Ethan brings in a tray of tea and then sits down in a low, fabric armchair to drink a cup. He’s the polar-opposite of naked now, wearing a heavy-knit, patterned sweater now, khaki trousers and sandals, all perfectly in keeping with the general, Nordic style of the place: wooden carvings of dragons, masks and heroic figures, prints and sketches, framed academic scrolls. Mary has a bearskin over the bed. 
‘I was younger then, very little observable conscience,’ she says, gently stroking the fur. ‘Poor thing. I feel guilty as hell now, of course, but there you are, the deed was done.’
‘Did you kill the bear yourself?’
‘May as well have.’

When it comes to having blood taken she’s not quite so sanguine.
‘I have a bit of a phobia,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t help that I’m difficult. My veins dive for cover whenever they see a needle. See what you think – but please, not the hands!’
 ‘I can’t believe you’re ninety-five,’ I tell her, tapping around for anything remotely usable.
‘Nor can I. Do you know – I distinctly remember when I was seven years old. I’d come down to visit my grandmother, and she’d taken me for a stroll by the sea. Well, we came across all these ancient folk, on a day out from the local hospital. Being wheeled along the promenade in what amounted to giant baskets on wheels.  You see at that time I was mad about climbing trees. If I saw a tree, I was up it! No better than a squirrel. No bigger than one, I should think. I remember my grandmother solemnly pointing to the old folk’s parade, and saying If you carry on climbing trees, that’s how you’ll end up. It didn’t do any good, of course. I didn’t agree with her then and I don’t now. I think climbing trees and the rest of it is what kept me fit. Up until now, of course. Any luck with the ... you know what?’
‘No. I’m afraid not. You’re going to need a specialist.’
‘Bad luck, mother,’ says Ethan, draining his cup and springing to his feet. ‘More tea?’

* * * 

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

gloria & the robot

When Lionel smiles it’s like the friendly gape of a wet-mouthed hound, the fleshy corners of his mouth a little sad and down.
‘Do come in!’ he says, but he doesn’t make quite enough room in the vestibule, especially as there’s another, inner door to open, and as I’m laden down with obs bag, weighing scales, folder and other things, we’re forced to do a little dance in the limited space available.
‘If you could just…’
‘I tell you what, if you…’
‘Of course….’
‘That’s it!’
We manage to get the door closed, and stand together in the main hallway, an impressive room, with a geometrically tiled floor, an ornamental fireplace, and a chandelier hovering above our heads like some elaborate, crystalline spaceship.
‘If you’d like to come this way,’ he says. I follow him through into the living room.
‘You have a lovely house, Lionel.’
‘Thank you. That’s so kind. It’s just me now, of course. I rattle around somewhat. I’m thinking of downsizing.’
‘Thinking about it! It’s hard to move when you’ve been in a place as long as we have. Sixty years, this autumn. But Gloria passed last year, so now it’s just me.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘Yes. Well.’
He sits in his armchair, and begins turning his wedding band round and round.
‘It’s supposed to get easier,’ he says. ‘Time the great healer and all that guff. But you know, I don’t think it does. If anything, it gets harder.’
‘In what way?’
‘Well you see, to begin with I was so busy. There was lots to do. People kept coming round, family and so on. How are you coping, Lionel? Do you have everything you need, Lionel? Taking me places and so on and so forth. But that can’t go on forever. People have their own lives. So it all falls away rather, and you’re left to your own devices. It’s the little things that take you by surprise. I’d just finished reading this…’
He picks up a book on Hollywood from the side table. ‘And it just happened to mention The Day the Earth Stood Still. Have you heard of it?’
‘Absolutely! It’s famous.’
‘Oh! Then you may be interested to know that Gloria knew the robot.’
‘Or the man who played the robot, at least. When she was a student in California back in the fifties, she had a job selling tickets at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, and the doorman there, a really tall chap, got hired to play Gort. I remember she said they were jealous as anything at first, but as it turned out, he didn’t have a nice time of it. Half suffocated to death in the rubber suit, by all accounts.’
He puts the book back on the table and folds his hands on his lap.
‘Now it’s just me, sitting on my own, thinking about robots.’

* * *

(For more stories like this, why not come over to ? t'd be great to see you there!)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Follow the dog!


Thanks very much for visiting Siren Voices again.

I thought I'd put one last post up in a shameless attempt to persuade you to come over to It's much the same kind of thing - character studies (carefully anonymised), anecdotes, happy / sad vignettes... I think you might like it!

with thanks & best wishes,

Jim (Spence, as was)