My mum, Gilda (pronounced Jill-da) tried her hand at a few things. She was a published short story writer a few years before I became published. She would have been 90 this month (Oct 2017) and I found a couple of her stories and here they are, just as she'd typed them. When I find the others, I'll post them, too. Bless your socks, Mum x
She had met Darby a couple of years ago at a pub in town and that night together convinced her that a change in lifestyle might be good for her. So, when he casually suggested that she come and live on the farm with him, she thought, “Why not?”
Phyllis had been alone most of her life and she looked forward to their time together.
Two days later he met her at the bus stop where she arrived with a couple of battered old suitcases – all she owned in the world.
“It’s only a short walk to the farm,” he said, picking up one of the cases. She carried the other but had to stop and rest several times. Her high heeled shoes were not made for walking on dirt roads. He waited at the gate, closing it after her.
“C’mon,” he said, impatiently. “You’re just in time to make a cuppa before tea.”
The house was old weatherboards, needing painting as did the gates and fences, an air of neglect all around it.
Picking up her case she followed him through the front door into a room filled with furniture many years old, all of it dusty, dirty and in need of some repairs. What passed as a kitchen was at the far end of the room. She could see dirty dishes on a table and the sink but he moved on to another room and she followed.
A single bed, covered by a coloured but dirty bedspread, a wardrobe and a dresser with a cracked mirror, furnished the room. She stared, dismayed at what she saw but couldn’t back out now. She’d given up her room in town and bragged to friends about her new life on the farm.
“I’ll clean up later,” she thought.
The kitchen was no better but the kettle was boiling on the fire stove. She washed the cups and saucers in a large dish and made some tea.
Next day she was up early but Darby was already outside. There were a few sheep around the yard and he was feeding the chooks. She thought that maybe she could sell any extra eggs and supplement her pension. She washed more dishes and pans then looked in the cupboard for food.
“Nothing much here,” she thought. “At least, there’s plenty of eggs.”
Darby didn’t do much around the place; he chopped wood and cleaned the chook yard sometimes. The farm, left to him by his parents, was about ten acres, a scrubby and rocky piece of land on the side of a hill. He would occasionally load a piece of furniture on to his truck and go to town for a couple of days. He never spoke of any proceeds and she never asked.
He began to call her Joan, which she didn’t like and the village people did so as well. He would laugh and say “Darb and Joan, eh?” and even painted the sign on the gate DARBYJOAN’S.
Television had been in the village for years. Darb still had the old black and while one but it gave up a few weeks after Phyllis came and a colour se, complete with remote control, came into the house.
Things changed after that.
The remote control sat on a small table on the far side of his chair along with the weekly program. She wasn’t allowed to use the remote control “as it is far too complicated for a woman,” he said. The instruction book was carefully placed in the stiff plastic bag that held all of Darb’s important papers. She never looked in it.
The television wasn’t turned on unless Darb wanted to watch something in particular – he’d heard it used a lot of electricity, he told her. Phyllis couldn’t understand this. She knew some women watched all day and well into the night too.
This particular day she’d filled her basket at the local store with as much as she could carry up the hill. Darb was a busy man and could never find time to help with this chore. At the checkout she chatted with two women about the weather and local events. One woman hoped that reception on TV would be good tonight so that this wonderful old film could be seen.
“Bette Davis in Now Voyager,” she said. “It’s years and years old and a real sob story. I’ve seen it many times and always have good cry at the end.”
Phyllis knew nothing about reception on television but she asked Darb about seeing the picture anyway.
“What! That old stuff,” he roared. “Must be fifty years old, I don’t want to see it – it’s rubbish. That’s final!”
Phyllis sat quietly in her chair, knitting on her lap. She stared at the blank screen and wondered why the film was rubbish. But, she let it go and picked up her needles.
After a while, Darb coughed and rustled the paper. She got up and made tea for him then went to bed though far too early to sleep. She lay there drifting in and out of dreams before she realised she could hear voices somewhere. Phyllis slid carefully from the bed and went barefoot into the hall. She could see over Darb’s head to the television.
A black and white film was playing.
Two people were on the screen, a man, tall fair, handsome and a woman, dark haired and beautiful, were talking. Phyllis could barely hear the words but the love displayed on the faces of the actors wrenched at her heart. Phyllis knew they were saying goodbye to each other and as the man took the woman in his arms they kissed. She held him close, her arms around his neck then released him and turned away as the picture faded.
Holding her breath, Phyllis stood and waited then the picture changed to sport. “He’s pressed the remote,” she thought.
Next morning Darb went into town for the day. Phyllis hurried to feed the chooks and gather the eggs. Then she opened the plastic bag and took out the instructions for the remote control.
The colour pictures changed, ads came and went and talk shows kept her entranced. During one group of advertisements she started packing her bags and finished them in the next. She went to the shed then to the gate with a paint pot and brush in her hands.
Phyllis left then and struggled down the hill to wait for the bus which would bring Darb back. He didn’t see her as he alighted and started up the hill. Phyllis stepped on the bus just before it left on the return journey.
The remote control was in her bag.
He didn’t notice the painted sign on the gate for some days.
It now read just DARBY’S.
LAMENT OF A LONELY MAN
I am a rather shy man. Over the years I have tried to overcome this trait in my character but seem to have struggled in vain. As a child my shyness would cause many a problem for me with my parents and even at that time I felt sure that they did not understand my feelings at all.
When visitors came to call I would be brought to the sitting-room to endure the small talk between the adults. It was strange, I thought, that I had to be there yet I was completely ignored by all during these afternoons.
I remember quite clearly that I once shouted “Why don’t you talk to me?” but that was met by a terrible silence from the guests. My Mother rang a small bell on the table and the maid came and removed me from the room. I was kept in my bedroom for several days after that, seeing only my Mother who would bring my meals and tuck me into bet but without saying a would to me. Eventually I learned that any attempt to express my feeling or interests would be soundly suppressed.
I was sent to boarding school at the age of nine, there to “make a man of me” my father said. Instead I withdrew more and more into myself, seeking release through my studies only. I made no friends, though the fellows there were pleasant enough, in the first year anyway.
It was in the first term of my third year that life took a slight turn for the better. John Turner arrived at the school and became my room mate. I looked forward to this as I had been one of the few at the school in a room by himself and no matter who joined me I hoped we could be friends.
We introduced ourselves, each eyeing the other off in the manner of eleven year olds, so stiff and formal for a while as we tried to sort each other out. I ventured to ask if I could help him unpack and he showed me his box of books to be placed on the shelves while he stored his clothes away in the wardrobe and drawers. He seemed withdrawn and quiet but I put this down to his new surroundings. I remembered my first day at school only too well and felt I could understand his attitude.
We had only two classes together, History and English, and at discussion time were able to communicate easily as out thoughts seemed to run along the same lines. Once back in our room we rarely spoke, and after a while I realised I liked the silences between us and he didn’t seem to mind either. Of course, I knew he had friends within the other rooms, for at recreation time he would be with others playing ball games or walking and talking in the groups that gathered before the bells rang again. I never joined in these groups, preferring my own company while I read or walked.
Sometimes we would all go for long hikes across the hills and occasionally he would join me for a chat, then dash off to the others, full of bright spirits and energy which I could not match. Yet, sometimes he would sit and stare out of the window for many minutes then abruptly shake himself, pick up his books and study hard for the rest of the period
One night later in the year I lay awake long after lights out. My mind would not release the maths questions I had to answer the next day. I knew it must have been very late when I heard John’s movements carefully pushing back the covers and leaving his bed. He pulled on his dressing gown and must have carried his slippers as he left the room quite soundlessly. I could not bring myself to follow him and lay awake for what seemed hours but he did not return. Next thing I knew was the dressing bell and John was there in his bed. I tentatively nudged him but it took a few shakes to wake him fully. He stared at me for a moment then his eyes cleared and he hurried to dress also. He didn’t mention his excursion of the night and neither did I.
Over the next few weeks he left the room six times. My mind must have been tuned to his movements and I would wake as he left the room. One night he came towards me and I feigned sleep, my heart pounding - (surely he could hear it as he stood over me!). When, at last, I had the courage to open my eyes he was gone. After that night I often felt him staring at me. I no longer felt comfortable with him yet I could not say why.
I studied hard that year. My parents made only one weekend visit and that, it seemed to me, was quite unsuccessful for I had nothing to talk to them about. I could not mention John or his nightly visits to wherever he went. Apart from studying my mark chart and commenting that maybe I could do better they had nothing to say either. I cried myself to sleep that night and John came and sat by my bed and held my hand. I was uncomfortable with him even in the midst of my misery and soon he left me alone.
One day during the following week John abruptly packed all his things and was placed in a room of his own. I knew rumours abounded but I had no idea what they meant. I was called to the Head Master’s office to answer questions that I did not understand, questions that made me shake with horror yet I could not fully comprehend what they were saying about John and I. Trying to answer their questions but frantically seeking answers for my own. I was crying when John was brought into the office.
He stood, his head high, eyes staring at me and I saw him shake his head, heard him deny his questioners and eventually leave the room. I never saw him again.
I did not return to school the next year. Indeed, I had tutors for the rest of my school days and did reasonable well. I still preferred my own company but some part of me always wanted to break out and join in with visitors and discussions but somehow, this never happened.
Much older now, I still live in the same house that I was born in but I am free now. My parents have both died and left me a comfortable legacy and I can maintain my lifestyle as I wish. I felt the need to do something to occupy my time and applied for several positions.
I am waiting now for the postman to deliver any mail. He comes to my house, blows his whistle and moves on. I wait till he is well on his way then hurry to the letter box, fumble with the key to the lock and the little door opens – ah – one letter today!
Back inside, I carefully lock the front door. Holding the letter in my hand, I know deep within me that this letter will be the answer to my hopes and dreams...but I carefully place it on the hall table with all the other letters which have arrived and I have not opened.