These are my musings and observations on my daily life, loves and the laughter that are all a part of my experience of living now in the shires of England.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Short Story - Hard Times by Marjorie H Morgan

It started.  It finished.  What else was there?  Harold Charles, known to others as either Harry or Charlie, depending on who was talking to him, stood back and looked around him.  He couldn't quite put a handle on the emotion he was feeling; was it sadness because it was all over, or was it satisfaction that it was finally completed?  Harold, as he always called himself since his mother had named him, really didn't know what to think or feel. 

For a moment, the very idea that he had a choice over what to think or feel was with him intensely and Harold had to admit to himself that even though this control sensation was part of his secret dreams in this place for these past 37 years he had never thought that it would ever be a reality.  And now here he was, reflecting, in peace, making a choice without . . . Harold shuddered.  He didn't even like to think of the sentence that he had just completed involuntarily in his mind and the new life he was about to begin.  'Sentence,' he mused to himself, 'now that is a strange way of looking at these past years Harold James Charles.'  As he said his complete name the memories of his total existence flashed before him as though he was watching it all on a large screen in front of his eyes, a screen right there on the wall where that precious framed picture used to hang before it so quickly and mysteriously disappeared from its place like Houdini did out of his bonds: Harold could feel the ancient spirit of escapism enter his mind and within moments his mental chains were broken - now he just had to make it all real.

Nobody called him by his full name, the name on his birth certificate, except Edith and his mother when she was alive. 'God rest her soul,' Harold said as he thought of his mother.  Daphane Charles was a proud woman who had worked hard to make sure her children, three boys and two girls, never wanted for any of the basic essentials in life and never coveted the belongings of others by being taught to be satisfied with their meagre home and her abundant love.  She had passed on 'to a better place,' thought Harold, when she was in her early fifties after years of hard times as a single mother.  Harold, the middle child, and the youngest boy, was 26 when she went but had never admitted to another living soul just how much he missed her, thought of her often, and visited her grave whenever he had the chance.  She had been his place of refuge when times were oppressive, and today he longed for her motherly hug, comforting presence, and the total acceptance she gave to him.

Harold straightened his knitted cardigan so that the buttons lined up down the centre of his chest and stood up at the window to wait.  He didn't know exactly what he was waiting for but instinctively he knew that he would recognise it when the time was right.  He remembered doing a lot of waiting over the years.  First he had waited for a good honest woman to marry, that had been for a period of twelve years after his mother had died; then he had waited for ... so much ... so much ... It seemed like the rest of his life.  Harold's mind wandered. As he stood there looking out, he felt tense, and looking down he saw that he slowly clenched and unclenched his fists.  After what seemed like hours, but was in reality only 90 seconds, he snapped himself back into his present and the consciousness that went with his current environment; he then opened his hand and slapped his palm against his right leg.  The anger spread through his whole body, up and down his thigh, he felt rage consuming him as he was aware of every muscle within him coming alive.

Yes!  'Harold, the Patient One' was finally fed up beyond any imaginable comparison: frustrated with waiting.  Waiting for someone to call.  Waiting for someone to talk to him.  Waiting for the bus into town on a Saturday.  Waiting at the back of all those eternal queues.  Waiting for letters to let him know what he could or couldn't do.  Waiting for visitors.  Waiting, waiting, waiting, and still waiting.  All the things that were promised to him as a young, eager teenager, as a youth, as a young man, and finally as an older, respectable elder, ready to retire; all those empty promises were forever floating just out of his reach as his ears were constantly assailed by the platitudes of 'Never mind this time, I'm sure there's a better opportunity coming along for you,' and 'I'm sure something just right for you will come along Charlie boy'.

Harold reflected that it was probably the sarcastic use of 'boy' that made him decide not to wait any longer.  After all, at 63 years old, with a small crop of grey adorning his neatly trimmed short black hair that was the crown of his six foot two frame - which he had got into the habit of holding slightly bent on far too many occasions - he was definitely not a boy any more: in fact he hadn't been a 'boy' for over 50 years.
He picked up his brown felt hat and placed it carefully on his head, taking his time he gingerly picked his way around the obstacles in the room and, reaching for his coat from the stand in the other room, he raised a slightly arthritic shoulder and let the garment fall easily over his back.  Harold James Charles then walked the short distance from the quiet office to the bookies in the High Street and from his reflection in the passing windows he noticed that he looked taller than usual.  Each step made him feel lighter as if heavy weights were being shed from his upright back with the ease of fish scales flying of a repetitive cleaning knife.  He took up his customary position, for a Saturday, near the counter; the picture was in his hand.

Although it was not a Saturday: it was a Wednesday, a race day, and quite busy, nobody made Harold wait for a thing that day.  When he went to the counter to place a bet to win on 'Going All The Way' in the 3:15, the other people parted like the Red Sea in front of him.  Was it because Harold had an impatient air about him, was it because his neat brown check trousers were uncharacteristically marked with dark red irregular patches or was it because of the blood stained machete that he carried loosely, but with skill, and the knowledge of adept use, in his good right hand?

Harold wept silently as his chosen horse won;  he really knew how to pick the winners.  That was something he had learned while waiting and watching.  Harold wept because his mother would be so sad; he wept for all the younger versions of himself that he knew were just around the corner of life because he knew they would still remain invisible and hated; he wept because he had wanted the sun on his face when it was his time and it was windy and cold today.  Harold James Charles wept with the tears racking his body as the machete rattled against the legs of the stool and he asked aloud of nobody in particular, “Why did it have to go all the way to this? Why did this have to happen? Damn people love to do daylight robbery on man and man, that’s why! I’m not stupid you  know... What did you think would happen? Every dog has his day.” The last few words were almost whispered. Harold was tired now. But he looked up at the people around him.

Silence responded.

The only sound that Harold could hear was the occasional audible sob. He was shocked and snapped his head in both directions to see who in the bookies was crying. Hw suddenly realised that it was him. His own sobs were interrupting the silence as the film of an unfair, unjust life played in his mind's eye while he sat on the stool with his back turned to the counter.  Harold had made his choice when he received his letter that morning stating that due to 'unforeseen circumstances' the company would close down in the next three months and all employees had to see their section manager at 10:00 that morning.  After being told that 37 years of dedicated work was done without a “legally binding contact of full-time employment,”and “I'm sorry that there is nothing we can do to help you financially - hard luck this time Charlie”, Harold nodded understandingly and left the office quietly and without a word of dissent - as was his custom.  As he walked in a slow and thoughtful manner down the iron treads that led from the engineering section manager's office he heard the staff laughing that “that was easier than we imagined” and congratulating themselves that they had had such a stupid worker for all those years costing them next to nothing to get rid of. 

He had matured quietly in this company, from an apprenticeship to a fully qualified driller he had steadily completed his time. There were opportunities to go to other companies or to try other paths but he had, in his own way, enjoyed his work despite the constant ribbing from his work colleagues because he knew that he excelled in anything that he put his mind to regardless of external recognition.  As they baited him he remembered the words his mother had used to instructed him and his siblings with, and he bit his lip and let it all pass with a smile.  “Children, come . . .” she would call them to gather around her lap usually as the dusk fell she and had finished her evening cleaning job, one of three that she usually had at any one time, “Come, let me tell you a story”.  Harold wished he was a child again, he didn't want to be old and to know what he now did.  For a moment the memory was almost too much for him to recall, but he needed the strength that he had felt when she was the centre of their world.  He had felt that anything was possible in those days, he had believed that the world would indeed be his oyster if he wanted it enough.  He had wanted it but had never managed to get within the reach of any of his major goals. He remembered that as children they had jostled for a position on the settee or on the floor around her thick stockined legs and listened to the woman who they all adored despite her strict discipline.  Whatever story she told always had some kind of moral in it which, although they didn't pay much attention to it at the time – that understanding came much later, for Harold it had arrived today. He was remembering those evening tales that acknowledged the wisdom of her words.  

Harold also knew that they all remembered her differently, this had become clear 5 years after her death when a disastrous Christmas of trying to recreate the atmosphere of their family home had caused an ugly argument.  Since then they had stopped talking about her when they met because of the pain that each of them felt about the way she was remembered and the way she had died. Some things are best left alone. Others are not.

Harold returned to the office an hour later at 11:42 and paid back all of the silent suffering that he had been made to endure.  He had used to chop cane in his teens so his movement was good, and his allotment was used to the sharp shiny machete, but never before this day had it been used on anything but plants.  He went about his task with a single-minded determination that he could not remember since he ran barefoot across the fields in an effort to be the first one home and to share the news that he had yet again won the class prize for the most outstanding student in the school year.  He had gone to the garden shed where he had spent many a happy hour of reflection with his cigarettes and radio while preparing for the satisfying work that he did working with the soil and seeds.  Today the shed was a cold unwelcoming space where he sat and carefully and purposefully honed the edge of his tool until it was bright with menace.

The tears slipped down his lignite hued cheek as he waited for his time to come.  Each tear, like acid on paper, burned his soul with pain, as it represented an unjust act, an ignorant remark, a distasteful cruel comment, another lie against his unsullied character.  The years of bearing it all without any outward sign of the effects took their toll on his body today.  He held the 7 year old picture of his long service award ceremony in his left hand and, thinking of all his hard work for the company and their final treatment of him, Harold straightened his hat and held his head high - there would be no more bowing for him.  He had waited patiently for his time, his turn, and his right to be.  Now with a strength and dignity he had been unable to display openly for decades, he used the machete to open the door to meet his mother.  As unconsciousness covered him he laughingly thought, “No more waiting and being invisible for me ...”

© Marjorie H Morgan 2012 

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