Davide Castel Davide Castel
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(")inverted comment in wrong direction.

Jim Miller Jim Miller
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Need a space between coma and quotation mark. "...piano at the Rose," Harry's mum would say,...

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Nelly Harwood Nelly Harwood
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The photograph


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She had a friend.

Another story in the series, each is linked to the last by a character, a theme or an object.


The Photograph


She ran through from the back of the shop, arms wide.


“Daddy!”


He picked her up and kissed her. He loved her smell, a mixture of coal tar soap and sugar.


“Milly!” he said triumphantly. It was their usual greeting.


She tipped her curly head to one side. He looked down at the small, snub nose.“I need….” There was a pause. She liked to inject a little drama….  “a big smile!”


He pursed his lips producing a tiny tight-lipped little smirk just to tease.


“No!” Finger-waggling at him. She was not amused. ”A real smile!” 1 comment


Joe grinned and with a tiny movement he turned his head towards her so that she could see his gold tooth. Laughing and holding his jacket sleeve she pulled him near to her. Reaching up she tapped the tooth with her stubby forefinger.


Milly's welcoming ritual still surprised him.


Three pals blown to bits and he’d only lost a tooth. The gold in his mouth had always been an intruder, the enemy. It was a reminder of the terrible joy he’d felt in the seconds after the bomb. Just the act of flicking his tongue across the tooth had been enough to bring on a wave of guilt. All those wives and mothers back home waiting for news. For three full years after he came back he’d avoided chewing on that side.


But this girl, his darling Milly. The tooth made her laugh.


Joe ’s wife laughed. “Daft as brushes….both of you!”


“Now then Mrs Jackson,” he said.


His wife caught a strand of hair and pushed it back inside her headscarf. He caught his breath in a rush. He imagined loosening the hair, hairgrip by hairgrip. He thought of putting his mouth against the flesh between her neck and her shoulder. He thanked his lucky stars. He was so lucky,


It had all been Harry’s mother’s idea.


“I’ve bought a shop Joe, a little corner shop up in Hawes,” she’d said.


He’d nodded. It was the night after Harry had died, he’d gone to pay his respects and somehow he thought they’d be talking about the past, not the future. He must have frowned a little because she added as if in explanation.


“It’ll seem strange I know to talk about this on a day like today. But we’ve waited, me and Glad; it’s only been half a life. You know that.” She stopped for a moment and looked at the photo of Glad and Joe on the mantelpiece.


“We need something to do, something to look forward to.” She stuck her hand in her pocket for her hanky.


The lines on her face were chiselled into the flesh. She looked so much older than the woman who’d waved him and Harry off to the Front a decade or so ago. He remembered her laughing at them, like twins she said, in their uniforms.


“Sounds like a good thing,“ he’d said.


He understood. He knew, more than anyone, what they’d been through.
Harry. It didn’t seem possible that he was gone. The kitchen still smelt of the Listerine they steeped his pyjamas in.


It was terrible at the end. His face half gone, his stomach a mess of shrapnel. Ten years of constant pain. Ten years of stinking bandages. And ten years of pretending that they were glad he was alive.


He didn’t want them to go he suddenly realised. He’d got used to his visits.


What would he do on Friday nights without sitting with Harry? Who would he talk to about his week at the Rail Yard.


He’d become part of the routine at Harry’s house too. After a while he was letting himself in and making a pot of tea to take upstairs. Glad and Harry’s mum would rush past him, the briefest of hellos before their night out at the Rose and Crown.


“Lovely piano at the Rose, “ Harry’s mum would say, not wanting to admit that they did a nice Milk Stout as well. 1 comment


The Friday night pattern continued over the years. They all got older. In time, Harry knew everything about the Rail Yard. He loved talking about Joe’s workmates. “’E’s allus slackin’ that ‘un,” he’d say nodding. For a moment he was back in a man’s world of hard work and long hours.


“I’ll miss you,” Joe said to Harry’s mum. And he meant it. No wife, no family. What did he have to look forward to? He’d been glad for his friend that all his suffering was over but now he wished he was still here.


As if she could read his thoughts the old woman put her hand on his arm. “Why don’t you come with us Joe?”


He’d met her gaze and he knew in an instant what she was saying.


“You and Glad are still young,” she said. “She’s bonny. You’re a good worker. And you’ve enough in common.”


He thought he could see a hint of a blush. Surely she should be ashamed? He’d opened out his hands and considered the stretch of his fingers. He wanted to spare her feelings by not looking at her.


To be honest he was shocked.


This was his friend’s mother.


This was a woman who’d wept noisily at her son’s graveside just yesterday.


And now she was suggesting he marry Harry’s widow!


“But Glad,” he began. “I hope you haven’t mentioned this to her…” He tailed off. It was all so awkward.


“But she’ll be grateful,” she’d said. “Glad doesn’t have too long.” She raised her tired old eyes to his. “Before she’s showing.”


He must have looked dumbfounded.


She nodded her head, almost as if she was encouraging his suspicion. “That’s right. She’s having a baby. And of course it isn’t Harry’s.” Her face twisted in grief.
She took a deep breath and then took his hand.


“Joe, you’ve been a good friend, to all of us. You know what she’s had to put up with... and she’s never complained. I can’t lose her too. She did her best for my poor, brave boy and now….” She sniffed and felt for her handkerchief again.


”It’ll be a new life for us.” She said. She squeezed his hand. 1 comment


“A new life for all of us.”


And that was that.


He’d finished at the Yard, he’d given notice on his flat, he’d returned his books to the lending library and followed Glad to Hawes.


He never did know who the baby’s father was.


He just knew it was right.


All those sad years deserved a happy ending.


His girl. His gorgeous four-year old bundle of bossiness.


She tugged at his arm. “Daddy! Come on!”


She dragged him into the airy kitchen behind the shop. She’d been helping Glad with the cleaning. Picking up the bright yellow duster she reached for the tiny framed wedding photograph. The silver rose petals of its frame were bright against the grainy grey of the picture. Young and smiling, Gladys and Harry, his uniform new and shiny looked out at them.


“Look daddy. I’m helping. And this is you and Mummy. Your happy, happy day!” she said triumphantly.


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Next: Riley's Story Part 1