Here is the sixth in a series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub. Jackie Green retired and moved to Southsea for a change of lifestyle and to try to finish her first novel. New grandchildren, lost loved ones and bad plumbing have swallowed the first year but The Writers @ Lovedean saved her sanity. They also introduced her to the Portsmouth Plugged In project which has been a welcome introduction to the vibrant local writing community.
‘But you can’t take it with you dad,’ Stan watched his daughter’s greedy lips moving, but heard nothing. Her overblown face was immobile and her lips spat out an endless chain of words. Beryl’s voice cracked with impatience as she clattered her cup down on to the saucer.
Stan hadn’t seen her for years but since his heart attack last week she had been all over him like a swarm of bees. She droned on and his gaze immediately switched to the open window of his care home.
‘You’re just not thinking straight. It’s the drugs,’ she explained nervously. ‘And what about our young Stanley?’ She nudged the seated teenager roughly, but he was oblivious, wire dangling from both ears.
Stan glanced at the boy. His chubby stomach vibrated to the buzzing rhythms destroying his ears and the nylon seams of his T-shirt were stretched to transparency.
Stan sighed. If it was not for the huge window his small magnolia room would be depressing. The glass-etched logo of the care home caught the sun, reflecting the black pyramids on to the wall opposite.
Egypt. He’d been there. El Alamein 1942. It was hailed as a victory for Monty but had been a tragedy for his mates.
Stan’s eyes looked around the soulless room. Like the pharaohs, he was surrounded by the possessions he’d chosen to take with him to the after-life.
His eyes rested on the faded square photograph of his bronzed army friends, leaning far too casually against the desert jeep. He was the only survivor but he could hear their laughter echo through his memories.
The larger silver-framed wedding photograph stood directly behind. His wife beckoned, and he remembered her hair, soft as butterfly wings, brushing against his cheek.
Her trusting smile brought back far more pain than the wounds he’d returned home with.
His daughter’s voice droned on. She’d inherited nothing of her mother’s features. He remembered her angry bulbous face, as she was thrust hastily into his arms. The doctors fought hard to save Jean’s life. His wife’s brave smile broke his heart as he lifted their wailing daughter to the fading light in her eyes.
The child had continued to suck the life out of Stan. In an effort to replace the mother she’d lost, Stan had stuffed her open mouth with food. As he got thinner, Beryl expanded.
Such a tiny mouth, gorging everything he’d worked hard to provide.
‘Give your granddad a kiss then Stanley.’
The young boy king was pushed towards him unceremoniously, as the umbilical cord to his MP3 broke.
His face almost registered pain as he moved from his slumped position in the chair, to lean forward. The lad didn’t even try to kiss him, only managed a reluctant hug of the duvet.
Stan assessed his small dynasty, as they glanced wistfully towards the door.
‘See Dad. He loves you.’ Beryl leaned forward pulling the covers up, almost obliterating him. ‘There. We’re off. Have a proper think about it,’ she added, trying to catch her son, lumbering towards the door and freedom.
‘As I said, you can’t take it with you,’ she shouted slamming the door behind her.
‘Oh, but you can,’ he thought, smiling at the picture of his lovely Jean.
He had used the equity in his small semi, his ISAs and his savings accounts to support Maternity Worldwide, a charity committed to raising maternity care and the health of women in developing countries.
He pulled out the latest newsletter from his bedside drawer. It featured a young mother from Ethiopia holding her smiling baby.
She spoke of a great sadness that her own mother had died through lack of simple hygiene. The new mum beamed at the camera.
He had provided well for his daughter, Beryl, but it was never enough.
He chuckled remembering the annual endowment he had left her. It would benefit her family but only if she volunteered one day a month for his charity.
She might even get that lump of a grandson working. Now that would be a legacy worth leaving.
Stan picked up the photograph of Jean and nodded. ‘Yes, I know, dear, a little mean, but even Cleopatra was a mother and a Queen.
‘She probably had to work her gems off to keep her hands on that empire of hers.’
• Have a story you’d like to appear in The News? Send it to the Portsmouth Literature Worker, Tessa Ditner at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information check out the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub Facebook page: facebook.com/groups/portsmouthwritershub