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Sylvia Merrett Sylvia Merrett
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Miss Freda Haythornethwaite

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She had a friend.

This writing was produced during a Creative Writing class.  The structure is based on the book 253 by Geoff Ryman and the piece (not including the names and headings has 253 words.


Outward appearance
Thin elderly woman with grey tightly permed hair.  Cream roll neck jumper, pointed nose.  Sits upright like she has a broom handle down her back.

Inside Information
Well respected spinster of the parish.  Regular Chapel attendee, lives on her own in small Dales village.  Her respectable life is tinged by the fear that someone one day find out her guilty secret that she had a love child when she was 19.

What is she doing or thinking
Reflecting about yesterday’s church service.  
It was a special day, the Chapel’s 50th Anniversary and her mind had been on the number of scones she had been up all night making and would there be enough?  She had mentally checked that she remembered to turn the boiler on for the water to make the tea.  It had been just a passing thought as she has been helping with the refreshments for many years and wasn’t expecting any mishaps.  She remembered the warm glow she got when the Minister thanked her for all her hard work.
The Rev. Peter Hardcastle’s announcement that the money from the collection would go to the charity ‘Supporting Single Mums’ had taken her by surprise as it had interrupted her reverie and forced her to remember it was also the anniversary of the day her baby was handed over for adoption, his little fingers peeping out of the swaddled blanket; her hot scalding tears; her little Peter gone but not forgotten.  Might he one day find her?  Does she have the courage to confess and ask the Minister for help?

Freda’s Secret

by Sylvia Merrett

Lucy - my observational piece has now turned into a short story!

It was yet another Sunday afternoon in Freda’s life.  They had a predictability, like the coming of dawn.  Sixty nine, and a stalwart attendee of the Thorn Street Methodist Chapel, Freda in all her adult life had very rarely missed a service.  
Freda Braythwaite, spinster of the parish, was considered eccentric but harmless by everyone. She went about the routines of her daily life year on year, seemingly happy with the simple things; love of a biscuit with a cup of tea, and of course her weekly attendances at chapel.  Her black cat called Custard for some strange reason, her only companion.  Custard liked catching frogs and bringing them home, often alive.  Freda would never forget the morning she got out of bed and put her foot in her slipper and felt something cold and soft!!
Her outward demeanour suggested that she lacked any kind of passion, with her grey tightly permed hair, and a gait that would be equally at home on an army sergeant…  Her clothes were of a utilitarian style in neutral colours – cream v-neck blouse, navy blue cardigan and a grey A-line skirt.  She wore black lace up shoes of the style favoured by so many of her generation.  In fact you might think it was a uniform as there was little variation in her dress.  It only changed with the seasons. In  winter she wore a navy woollen coat, and in summer a pale blue pacamac – you never knew if it might rain.
This particular Sunday was different though, as she made her way along the street, half an hour earlier than usual, as noted by George who ran the newsagents as he was shutting up shop ready for his Sunday lunch of roast lamb. She felt a small tinge of excitement. It was the Thorn Street Methodist Chapel’s 50th Anniversary and she was in charge of the teas.  Her mind was full of the number of scones she had been up all night making and would there be enough?  Her arms were aching with the bags she was carrying, fifty scones all neatly lined up in the Peek Freans biscuit tins saved from Christmases long past, two half pounds of butter and a jar of strawberry jam.  She took the old fashioned door key out of her handbag, entered, and automatically went to the kitchen to switch the boiler on.
Others were now arriving and she took her usual seat in the back row, sitting upright like she had a broom handle down her back.  She nodded her hellos to the people as they came in.  Mr Grimshaw, Mr & Mrs Cuthbert and Elsie Harris.  These were people she had known for many years, but who she would not necessarily call friends – she didn’t have many of those.
Following the first hymn, one of her favourites ‘And Can it Be’ (known irreverently by some as the Cyclists Hymn due to its reference to chains falling off, not that she approved…) she slipped into a reverie, her mind on her scones, with just a passing anxiety about whether she had remembered to turn the boiler on, only to be suddenly jolted awake by the Minister the Reverend Peter Hardcastle announcing that the collection today on this special occasion, would be going to the charity ‘Supporting Single Mothers’.
Startled by this announcement, her heart pounded. Freda’s outwardly respectable life, in her eyes, hid a shameful secret.  Her fear was that someone may one day find out her secret.  She had a love child when she was 19.  As was the custom in those days so that no one knew of her disgrace she had been sent off to live with an aunt in Bradford, on the pretext that the aunt wasn’t well and needed someone to take care of her.
Where was her little Peter now?  It would have been his 50th birthday only this last Tuesday, and she remembered as if it was yesterday how painful it had been to hand him over for adoption.  Hot scalding tears had coursed down her cheeks; his little fingers peeping out of the blue swaddled blanket. Might he one day find her?  Had she the courage at this late time in her life, when society was much less judgemental about sex outside marriage and single parenthood, to confess to the Minister in case he could help?  She remembered her recent scare following her routine mammogram and the lump they had found that had to be removed; life could be very short.
The Reverend Hardcastle too was not without emotion as he made this announcement, he had recently found out that he had been adopted as a baby.  Following the death of the woman whom he thought was his mother (and she was really in everything but birthright) his father had felt that his son needed to know the truth before it was too late.  The Reverend had written to the Wesley Care Trust seeking information as to whether they still had records of the mother and baby home that his father thought had been known as Martha’s.  He knew that the searching out of this information could possibly have an emotional impact on him as he was used to witnessing other people’s distress in his pastoral care of his flock and felt this prepared him for whatever lay ahead.
Freda, after the service was over and all the clearing up had been done was sitting by her fire.  Cup of tea in hand and digestive biscuit.   Her mind was on that afternoon’s service and how it had stirred up memories. She remembered the warm glow she got when the Minister thanked her for all her hard work.  He was a nice man.  
Peter Hardcastle too was sitting drinking a cup of tea, in his study.  He was going through his post from the day before.  There was a letter in a stiff cream envelope post marked London WC1.  He picked up his letter opener, sliced it open with one quick swipe and pulled out the paper with trembling fingers.  
Dear Mr Hardcastle,
We are pleased to let you know that we have found the records of your birth and can tell you that we have the name of your birth mother.  She is Freda Mary Braythwaite, spinster.
Please contact us if you feel we can be of any further help.
Yours sincerely
There was a knock at the door.  Slightly annoyed at being interrupted at such an important moment he yanked it open.  “I am very sorry to bother you” said Freda in a trembling voice.  “Would you be able to spare me a few minutes please as I feel I really need to tell you something”?
Seeing who it was he stifled his irritation at being interrupted.  “Come in” said Peter.  “I think I know why you might be here?” and Freda looked puzzled.
Mother and son looked into each other’s eyes.  Freda’s with confusion as to what the Minister was thinking, and Peter with the dawn of realisation that this woman whom he had known now for five years, but didn’t really know, was in fact his birthmother.
What did he want to say?  There were so many questions in his head.  Freda meanwhile unsure as to what to do next as there seemed to be something bothering the Minister, almost turned round and fled in her nervousness about why she had come.  
“Wait”.  Peter put his hand on the door sensing her need for flight.  
His years of being a Man of God, a man of compassion, automatically kicked in.  This grey haired old lady, who was suddenly looking more frail than he remembered, was his flesh and blood.  He touched her arm gently with his hand.
“Come and have a cup of tea.  I might even have some digestive biscuits somewhere”.  Peter thought they could both do with something to help with the shock.  “ I think we have a lot to talk about” and he showed her the letter from Wesley Care.
Freda collapsed into a chair, the tension in her body melting away as she realised her secret was no longer only her secret.  This nice man who she had seen every week for years was saying he was her son?  Reassured by his sympathetic manner she gave a tremulous smile as he handed her, a cup of tea.  Didn’t life have a strange way of turning out sometimes.

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