This is a story I submitted for my latest Creative Writing assignment. I got my mark back today so I am now free to publish it on here. I would appreciate any and all feedback please.
Walker Road, 2014
The last of the mourners milled around the house. Some were in the kitchen, some in the lounge and one or two braved the biting wind in the garden, nursing cigarettes and glasses of wine away from the children inside. Lauren could stand it no longer. All these people invading her beloved Granny’s house when none of them were there for her when she lived, many pretending to care that she had died, and none of them knew her as she herself had.
Pushing her way past a distant uncle sitting on the bottom stair, she made her way up to her grandmother’s spare room where she quietly closed the door and breathed in its comforting atmosphere. Lauren had spent many a happy afternoon in this room when her mother was at work and her grandmother looked after her for a few hours each day. Lauren only realised much later that Granny relished her company as much as she did her Granny’s, but as a toddler and then a more grown-up pre-schooler, all she knew was that Granny was a hoot when it came to telling stories and keeping her occupied with pretending games. She especially loved the days when she was allowed to go through the big boxes and suitcases stored in this very room, putting on the old clothes and hats that must have belonged to Granny or her sister when they were young women and riffling through the old magazines and brochures of theirs stored here for many years.
‘Oh Granny, I am going to miss you,’ she whispered to the air. A tear slid down her cheek, which she brushed away with embarrassed impatience. It was right and proper to cry during the funeral itself, but she felt silly crying, alone, upstairs at the wake. But she didn’t want to let her anyone see her cry now, least of all her father. She worried that it might be the last straw for him after all he had been through recently. He had been Granny’s primary carer for the past twelve years or so, and was completely distraught at being the executor of her Will following her death last week. Lauren had never seen him so bewildered and lost as he had been in the immediate aftermath of his mother’s passing. It had fallen to her to make sure he had eaten properly and had remembered to have a wash and a shave before he went about seeing to the necessaries ahead of her funeral. She knew their relationship had not been an easy one, and it disturbed her to see just how much he had been affected by her death.
Lauren enjoyed the peace in the spare room for a little while, trailing her fingers along the edges of the familiar boxes and picture frames still stacked up against the walls since the days of her early years’ exploration. Granny’s antique dressing table had been placed in the centre of the room, which was the only thing that she could see had changed in all that time. She supposed it had been put in here to make room when they had to bring in the at-home hospital equipment a few weeks ago.
Having never been invited to breach the privacy of the dressing table before, Lauren was curious to know what was in it and gently pulled open the narrow drawer underneath the mirror. Unsurprisingly, seeing as it belonged to Granny, the tiny space was crammed with bits of paper – bus tickets, receipts for the TV in the dining room and the microwave purchased fifteen years ago, a pressed flower that would have been a vibrant pink once, a handwritten recipe for ‘chef’s cream’, a concoction which sounded like it was meant to be a substitute for the more luxurious crème patissiere devised during the eggless rationing years of the Second World War, a reminder to pay the milkman several decades ago and a page torn out of the local newspaper dated 1942.
This last item seemed a little incongruous alongside the rest of the things in the drawer, and it piqued Lauren’s interest. She saw that it was a story about a bombing raid in December 1942 where, had it not been for the quick thinking of a fire-watcher on the roof of the Avro factory on Greengate, the lives of hundreds of men and women working there that night might have been lost. Lauren was intrigued. The hero’s name was Reuben Spicer, an unusual name but one that struck a distant bell in the back of her mind. Reading on, Lauren learned that he had seen an incendiary device land between two ridges of the saw-tooth roof and had scrambled over several glass peaks with a small hand-held stirrup pump to reach it. He had managed to douse it and kick it over the edge before it exploded, then raised the alarm for ground crews to locate it and extinguish it properly before making his way back over the roof to his lookout post as more bombs rained on the factory. Lauren wondered why her grandmother would keep a random cutting from the war in her keepsake drawer but before she could give it much thought her father entered the room.
‘Ah, there you are love,’ he said, glancing round the room at his mother’s treasured collection. ‘Missed you downstairs. What are you doing up here?’
‘I’ve found this,’ she said, waving the cutting at him. ‘Something about a fire-watcher at Avro’s in a bombing raid. There must have been loads of them so I don’t know why she’s kept this one in particular.’
‘Let’s have a look, let’s see what she’s been saving now,’ her father said, picking his way through the tea-chests and boxes to reach Lauren and the fragile newspaper cutting.
Lauren handed the yellowed scrap of paper over to him and watched him pale as he read it.
‘What’s up Dad? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
‘Erm, I don’t know love, I’m just…I don’t know…it’s a bit odd that’s all,’
‘I don’t understand?’ she asked. ‘You always like stories about the war. Do you know who this bloke was or something?’
‘Well yes, I think I do. But it can’t be right. Your Granny always told me he died just after the start of the war, and this article doesn’t make sense.’
‘Who? Who died Dad? What do you mean?’
‘I’ll tell you the story as I was told it, but this here makes me think that what I’ve been told all these years is wrong. Your Granny always said…’
Walker Road, 1947
‘….your Dad’s long gone Jimmy. I don’t know why you keep mithering about him. You’re going to make me ill with all your questions!’
My Mam gave my tie another tug and made sure that it was straight against my collar. She tucked it into my borrowed jacket and accidentally cuffed me on the side of my head as she moved her arm away. I chose to believe it was accidental. This time.
There were lads in my class who had not got Dads anymore because of the war but they all knew what had happened to them. Arnold Blackstaffe’s Dad only had two stumps left after a field gun he was loading suddenly dislodged and slipped, taking both legs off above his knees, and Billy Johnson knew his dad was shot down and captured in Germany. I only wanted to know what had happened to mine but whenever I asked my Mam or my Gran about him I got shouted at and told I was a good for nothing Nosey Parker who should Mind His Own Business.
I hated being called a Nosey Parker. I didn’t think I was being nosey in wanting to know where my Dad was, and at ten years old, there were things I needed from him that I couldn’t ask Mam about. The other lads at school were alright I suppose, but when my Mickey Mouse voice started jumping around all over the place, they just laughed at me instead of reassuring me as I wanted my Dad to do.
As I ducked away from Mam’s cuff, she started on her well-oiled monologue. I’d heard it so many times I could have saved her the trouble and recited it myself, but not wanting a totally thick ear and seeing as it was her special day, I let her get on with it.
‘Useless he was. As soon as I let him know I’d got caught with our Susan I never saw ‘ide nor ‘air of him after. He joined up as soon as he could, and he bought it at the training camp ‘cos he couldn’t bleedin’ hold a rifle straight! Shot ‘isself the dozy pillock. Did us all a favour doing that. Couldn’t look after the family he had when you were born, no chance when Susan came along an’ all. Good riddance if you ask me!’
I never did ask her, but she always finished her diatribe with that one. Sometimes she would vary the middle bit and tell me she didn’t know why she’d married him in the first place and sometimes she would add a few more expletives. It always ended the same though, and those six words cut me to the bone every time she spat them out. There was something in her story that never rang true, and even though I usually got a slap for asking, I couldn’t let it go entirely. For instance, why did they give new recruits rifles anyway? And if they did, how did he manage to shoot himself with one? Weren’t they too long to do that? And if he was dead, why don’t I remember a funeral? And why does Mam get so angry all the time? My younger sister Susan doesn’t remember anything about him because he’d gone before she was born. But I was four years older than her and though my memory was patchy, I remember Grandpop’s funeral when I was three, so why not my Dad’s?
I had decided earlier today that I wouldn’t ask anyone about my Dad anymore because today I was getting a new one: Arthur – you can call me ‘Sir’ – Templeton. I was to drop my old surname and take his, so my name from today would be James Reuben Templeton. I would slip down a place in the school register and I would be after Alan Swain now which meant I didn’t have to sit next to Colin Smith, the cock-of-the-form, any more. There were some advantages of gaining a step-father after all.
Walker Road, 2014
Lauren stroked her father’s arm gently.
‘Do you know who this story’s about Dad? I don’t like to see you upset like this.’
Her father, Jim, gave her a weak smile and pulled her close to him for a hug.
‘If this article is what I think it is, then I think your Granny has been telling me lies ever since I was about four years old,’ he said. ‘She always told me that my Dad was killed in training at the start of the war, but I always felt she wasn’t telling me the truth.’
‘What do you mean, your Dad was killed in the war? I remember going to Granddad’s funeral when I was about fifteen! I know that was like twenty five years ago or so, but he couldn’t have been killed in the war if I went to his funeral. What do you mean, Dad? You’re not losing it are you?’
‘No, love, I’m not losing it, but there’s something I suppose you should know. I wasn’t born a Templeton, and your Granddad wasn’t really your Granddad. Well, I suppose he was because he was married to your Granny, but they got married when I was about ten and your Aunt Susan about six, just after the war ended. When I was born, my surname was Spicer but when your Granny, my Mam, got remarried, my new Dad gave me his name and I became a Templeton.’
‘So, this man in the newspaper article is your Dad, my real Granddad?’ asked Lauren incredulously. ‘This Reuben Spicer, the hero, is my flesh and blood?’
‘We’ll have to do some digging at the registry office, but yes it looks like it,’ confirmed her father.
Lauren squeezed her father’s waist and tucked her head into his chest.
‘Why would she tell you he was dead when he wasn’t?’ she whispered. ‘That’s just not very fair at all.’
Her father didn’t answer straight away, and concerned for him, Lauren looked up into his face. She saw tears were in his eyes and his lip trembled.
‘Dad? Daddy? Are you ok?’
‘No, I’m not,’ he said. ‘But I will be. All my life I have wondered about him. All my life I was told he was a loser, a waster, someone who couldn’t even handle a weapon in the Army. Someone who couldn’t provide for his family. Someone who turned his back and ran away rather than face the responsibility of looking after us. And here he is – a bloody hero! All my life I have mourned someone I dreamed about, and it was all based on lies. He wasn’t even in the Army! Where’s he been? And what else hasn’t she told me all this time?’ His anguish was infectious and Lauren found she couldn’t speak around the sudden lump in her throat.
‘There’s got to be more to it love, there’s got to be!’ Jim tore away from her and began to frantically pull more papers out from the drawers. ‘There’ll be something here, I’m sure of it!’
‘Dad, Dad! Leave it for now, we’ll look properly when everyone’s gone. Come on, let’s go downstairs again and we’ll come back up. I promise.’
Jim and Lauren made their way downstairs and as they reached the bottom, the doorbell rang. Lauren expected it would be the Vicar, calling for his obligatory cup of tea, but instead, there stood a perfectly erect gentleman dressed in black, holding a walking stick in one hand and a folded newspaper in the other.
‘I’m sorry to intrude,’ he said with a slight bow to Lauren. ‘I saw it in the obits and I’m here to pay my respects to the family. You probably won’t know me, but I knew your Grandmother a long time ago.’