20 – BIRTHDAY WISHES

20 – BIRTHDAY WISHES

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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THE LIFE AND LOVES OF ANNIE GRABLE - 20

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Annie, sitting in her well worn old chair, the comfortable one she reserved for herself should she have visitors, though such things as visitors were unknown with this darned lock-down and the virus that was on the news every day, politicians who know nothing making decisions that seem meaningless while people all around are dying. Thousands of them, and if she so much as put one step out of doors when someone was standing there she might well catch it and die herself. And despite the enormity of her age she didn’t feel ready for the cemetery yet.

A hundred and two. That was her age now. It was the fourteenth, so it was her birthday and she’d stopped being a hundred and one and started being a hundred and two. It sounded quite old when she said it to herself. But then, she was used to being a big number. Way back, a quarter of a century ago, she’d been a big number or at least had thought so at the time.

Letitia was the first to ring. She couldn’t pop round to wave, she said, because she was at work, but happy birthday anyway. Then Daniel rang. He was in one of those care homes because he had dementia, but he was alert enough to ring her and say something, it wasn’t happy birthday but that was what he meant.

Put some flags out, bunting and stuff, and balloons,” he told her, and she knew he’d forgotten why she should be celebrating when he meandered off into discussing the weather over the English Channel.

She said thanks and goodbye and all her love, and hung up. Poor Daniel, but dementia is such a cruel master, the way it steals memories and dreams from human minds. And it didn’t seen so long since he’d started school. His words about flags and bunting took her back.

Way back to when he’d been five she had no idea how he’d end up, but then she supposed neither did Mrs Hitler when she was crooning at her newborn infant. But time passes, time roughs a person up from time to time and then, with luck, it smooths things out again.

He’d started school, and there were flags and bunting everywhere because the country had been awash with street parties celebrating the end of war. Six long and bloody years and very little to show for them except for poverty, hunger and rationing. She supposed that the only positive outcome was the little runt in Germany, Hitler, who’d stirred up the German people to the point of them being brain-washed to hate anyone he said they should hate, was dead. That, she supposed had been a good enough reason for all that bunting.

She’d helped organise the street party where she lived and looking back on it they’d done themselves proud with very limited resources. But everyone provided something and although to todays kids it would have seemed a very peculiar party with very peculiar comestibles, to them it had been a glorious celebration of a welcome freedom from fear.

You wouldn’t have been around back then,” she told the thrush, the one who seemed to believe it was his duty to keep her company on the other side of her window whenever he could. “You wouldn’t even be an egg or the egg of an egg,” she cackled to herself, “you have such short lives, but it was all seventy five years ago. Think of that! And I have a son who was five back then, but who is eighty now and losing his marbles in a home for the lost and helpless. They don’t call it that, but it’s what it seems to me when Letitia takes me to see him, her granddad. But how many thrush lives had passed since then? How many eggs have hatched, I wonder? How many cats have sacrificed their eyes to this or that Mr Thrush? Time’s a funny thing, don’t you think, my friend?”

Everyone had put in an appearance at the street party. She had scavenged some sausage meat and made sausage rolls. There were sandwiches galore, but some of them had rather dubious fillings and next day half the street complained of a bad stomach but laughed it off because any one of them might have accidentally poisoned them all. And there had been gallons of tea.

The vicar of St Mark’s had put in an appearance, doing the round of similar events and recruiting souls he might try to save in the future if they could bother to turn out on Sundays, and if he didn’t actually save them they’d hopefully put in an appearance on Sundays anyway to be saved later and put their coppers on the offertory plate.

The Good Lord decided it was time for hostilities to cease,” he boomed officiously as if he was constantly in his pulpit. That was the trouble with him. Everything good was curtesy of the good Lord and everything bad to do with human failings.

Was it the same Good Lord who who decided it was time for the war to start six years ago?” asked one cynic.

No, sir, that was Mr Hitler,” replied the vicar. He’d heard that question before and was ready with the answer. He moved on to another party in another street before someone decided to ask why the Lord hadn’t arranged it for damned man’s mother to have a miscarriage that ended the pregnancy from which he emerged, and thus remove at least one tyrant from the planet. That booming vicar didn’t like awkward questions. He had his cosy Universe with God in the middle and somewhere amorphous and beyond the reach of science a paradise for Heaven whilst the devil burned his toast in Hell.

Daniel had done well at school right from the word go. She’d taught him how to read some words before he started, and the teacher, an elderly spinster of the old school who thought that all children ought to be able to read the entire Holy Bible before they left her reception class or be punished for failure, was able to build on that.

She’d also produced dear little Elizabeth after the war was done and dusted, but she was a different story. Yet her smile was beautiful and her love sincere, so that was all right.

But I hadn’t liked him reading the bible,” murmured Annie, probably to herself seeing that all her avian visitors were temporarily elsewhere, “it’s not a good book for little ones. It doesn’t tell the truth or there’d be no point in we women believing we should strive to be equal to men because that bloody book says we’re not. And I’ve always believed in equality even before the feminists of the sixties came along, burning their bras! My mother, bless her, she had to be both a man and a woman when she brought me up, and though I suppose she had some failings, she didn’t do a bad job. I’m still alive, and perfectly capable of holding a conversation with any friendly bird who happens to come my way!”

On an impulse she decided she might celebrate her birthday by taking a breath of fresh air. She did it sometimes, opened the front door and stuck her nose out. There was something about fresh air that seemed to refresh her mind and give her renewed strength when it came to combing through her memories.

Hello day,” she said, and smiled before adding, “it’s my birthday today and it would be really nice to see at least one person before it’s no longer my birthday...”

How old are you then, misses?” asked a voice behind the fence that divided her house from next door. The cheeky boy who lived next door, the one who spent half his life teasing the half blind cat. Cheeky boys are all right, she thought, as long as they know their place.

Guess,” she suggested.

Humph, misses,” he said thought fully, “I’ll bet you’re a ‘undred, to say the least!”

He was trying to be cheeky and maybe a bit insulting, she could tell by the tone of his voice.

I’m older than that,” she said, “try again!”

More’n a hundred?” he gasped, then “you look old, misses, but not more’n an ’undred years old.”

That’s most kind of you, young man, most kind indeed,” she said quietly, “I’ll have to go back indoors and think about that!”

And before he could confuse her with the sort of chat that small boys can confuse old ladies with, she said, “goodbye to you for now,” and disappeared into the safety of her home.

© Peter Rogerson 19.05.20



© 2020 Peter Rogerson


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Added on May 19, 2020
Last Updated on May 19, 2020
Tags: strret parties, peace time, school


Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 76 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

Writing