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  1. #1
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    Aug 2014
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    (Short Story) The Bride Carried Yellow Tulips - Part One

    Posting this in two to follow the rule of about 1000 words

    Mainly for your enjoyment, although serious critique is welcome, because we can never stop learning, right? Thanks

    DW

    **
    It was still there when I called back on Thursday. The Stoke City FC mug with the chip in it, sitting on the table between the two wing chairs. When I’d left on Tuesday, it had been full of tea. Now it was two thirds full, and a dark brown skin had formed on the top.

    “Shall I wash that up for you?” I asked Peggy, knowing that she would say no.

    In her wing chair, the sun slanting in through the bay window folded her in a bright yellow blanket of light, and her hair looked like fine silver threads. Eyes that were once the aching blue of an Indian summer sky but now milky with clouds, turned to me. She laid her book in her lap and smoothed down her pinafore with knobbled, twisted hands.

    “That’s quite all right, dear. George will do it when he’s finished.”

    Her eyes wandered through the window, out to the garden where George’s wheelbarrow lay drunkenly by the tulip bed. He’d discarded his gloves and trowel, and left a trail of muddy boot prints along the garden path and towards the back door.

    The boots lay inside the back porch now, on a folded out copy of The Sentinel¸ in a bed of long-dried mud dust.

    “Oh, before I forget,” Peggy pushed her slipping glasses up the bridge of her nose and picked up her book again. “George said could you get him some pig pudding the next time you are in Hanley market? You know the butcher he likes don’t you, duck? Hatcher’s?”

    Hatcher’s had closed down in the early 80s, not long before the old indoor market had been demolished to make way for Hanley’s rejuvenation. Bill Hatcher had died not long after. This was back in the day of shoulder pads and big permed hair, and when “Don’t You Want Me, Baby” by The Human League was one of the songs I danced to at Tiffany’s night club in Newcastle.

    “Of course, Peggy.” I began dusting the bookcase, carefully moving the little ornaments and silver photo frames. Here was one of Peggy’s daughter, Sheila. Peggy told me she lived in Australia now and worked as a nurse. This was taken out in the back garden here, when she must have been about seventeen. Next to it, one of a freckled, dark haired boy, his face dirty, his foot up on a football. According to Peggy, the spit of his dad. He now lived in London, with a wife, two kids and a mortgage the size of a small country’s debt.

    ***
    On Saturday, before I called round, I got the black pudding. The new butcher in the Potteries Centre market asked to be remembered to Peggy.

    “Terrible business – George I mean,” he said while weighing the ring of fat, black blood sausage and wrapping it in waxed paper. His fingers, pink and bloated, looked exactly like the pale pork sausages that he had piled in a pyramid at the front of his glass cabinet. “No one saw it coming. I guess we all believed he’d be around for ever, pottering about in that garden of his. His tulips were some of the best in Staffordshire. We all miss him down the pub. It’s been six months but it seems like only yesterday.”

    When I told Peggy later that the butcher – Evans, his name was, not Hatcher – missed George, she shrugged in a strangely vacant way and carried on knitting. She had chosen the brown flecked wool especially for George, for a new jumper he could wear out in his potting shed.
    “He feels the cold,” she said, and her needles clacked and chatted.

    ****
    Peggy once had long black hair that shone like the surface of a polished ebony table, or a baby grand piano. Slim of hip and wicked of character, she had been endlessly pursued by most of the men in Stoke. I knew this because she told me, on Sunday, as the rain pelted against the house and ran in huge rivulets down the bay window. We were doing a crossword together – me with my funky Specsaver varifocals with the peacock motif on the arms, and Peggy with the large square magnifying glass that George had used to play Scrabble.

    “It made George so mad,” she said, and I swear I saw that mischievous twinkle, magnified by the glass in front of her face. “All the attention I got from men. Before we were married, he tolerated it. But after….” She sighed and shook her head. “I tried to make him believe that I only had eyes for him.”

    The eyes that she only had for George blinked in the concave glass; fringed with eyelashes mostly grey but still long and lush; touched at the corners with lines that could have come from an artist’s brush. Lines that added beauty, depth, and a story to those eyes. A signature etched deep in papery flesh.

    Beauty, however, is not always truth. Art can sometimes be artifice. Whenever Peggy spoke of her life with George, I sensed that all was not as it seemed.

    “Tulips,” she said, and the abnormally huge plume of white lashes fluttered.

    “What?” My mind had been travelling.

    “Twenty across: ‘Dutch flowers of various colours, with bell shaped blooms’.

    “Tulips.” And her giant eyes looked out the window at the abandoned bed.

    ****
    Peggy never had visitors, so when I called on Wednesday with some oatcakes and couple of Judy Picoults from the second hand bookstall in the market, I was surprised to see a car in the drive. The last time a car had been there, a young couple from Burslem had come to kick the tires of George’s old Fiat and negotiate a knock down price. Because of the rust on the left nearside wing, and the aerial that was permanently stuck up, Peggy let them have it for £200 – half of what she had asked for it.

    This car had no sign of rust. A brand new Mondeo; silver, generic. It looked like a hire car.

    In the kitchen, Peggy had the radio on low and Neil Diamond’s “Song Sung Blue” drifted out. From the living room, I could hear the sound of crockery; of cups rattling on saucers, the soft tinkle of spoons, and the faint murmur of conversation.

    I smelled the flowers before I walked into the living room and saw them. They were in the middle of the coffee table, in the heavy crystal vase that Peggy never used. Sunshine yellow bells nodding heavily on thick green stalks.
    Last edited by Dublin Writer; 08-08-2014 at 10:28 AM.



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