March 2015 – beautiful feeling – Bitter Sweet by John Pilling

Bitter Sweet

John Pilling

Carrying his breakfast cup of tea, Clarence Evans moved to the window of his upstairs council flat and stared gloomily out onto the wet streets. It was raining hard from a dark low sky and the few people about scurried along under umbrellas. Matching his mood, everything seemed tinted with grey in this third week of November.

Christmas in a few weeks he thought, that’ll be fun, Flo gone, Jim and his wife buggered off to Australia. They won’t be back for sure. Don’t blame them really, not much left in this country for them, low wages, jammed in with all sorts of folk, thousands more coming in all the time. Young country like Australia, plenty of space, lots of sunshine and beaches for the kids. His face softened momentarily as he thought of his three grandchildren. The twins, Brian and Joe and the latest a little girl they’d christened April May…daft names, Sarah had sent him lots of photos of the new arrivalshe was a right little blondie. Flo would have been over the moon with a little granddaughter like that to spoil…except of course, she never saw her. Never even knew Sarah was pregnant again.

Moving away from the window, he sat down heavily in his chair thinking back to that awful evening when Jim broke the news that he and Sarah were thinking of emigrating. He’d been offered a good secure job in the New South Wales police force…three times the money he was earning over here, and the chance to buy a house to go with it. Clarence had looked across at Flo but before he could speak she’d said.

“What a wonderful opportunity for you, of course you must go. Don’t you worry about us love, we’ll save up and when you’ve got settled we’ll come out and visit you…it’ll be a lovely holiday for us, we’ve never been abroad.”

Later that night when they’d gone, she cried as he’d never seen her cry. They’d only had the one child and, of course, they never would go on that lovely holiday. She knew as well as him that they couldn’t save that sort of money and then she got ill so that was the end of that.

He’d never said anything to her, but in his heart of hearts he always thought it was the stress of them going that brought on the cancer. She just faded away, got thinner and thinner, bloody doctors giving her this treatment and that treatment…never did no good, any of it. Then one morning he’d woken up and she was stiff and cold next to him. Merciful release they’d said, best thing really they’d said…bloody fools. He didn’t think so, he missed her every moment…all the time. Shaking his head he went to put his cup in the sink then hearing a familiar double knock he went across the little hall to open the flat door to the post man.

“Morning Clarence, how’s things with you?”

“Oh I’m alright Charlie, bit bleedin’ fed up that’s all …things ain’t been the same since Flo went.”

“Well I got something for yer, might cheer you up.”

“What is it?”

“Now ‘ow would I know? I don’t open them up do I? I do know it’s come from abroad and you ‘ave to sign for it. Maybe it’s from that son of yours in Australia.”

“I doubt it, I ain’t heard from him in weeks,”

“Well you never know mate, sign just there. Ta… keep smiling now.”

Closing the flat door he carried the brown paper packet back to his chair and tore open the outer cover. Inside were two packages with an envelope taped to the larger. Opening it he read.

“Dear dad, I suppose you’ve been wondering why you haven’t heard much from us for a while, you’ll see why when you open the boys packet, that’s the smaller of the two enclosed with this. The larger one is from me and Sarah, it’s your Christmas present and also hopefully, in a funny sort of way, your Christmas present to us. Much love, Jim and Sarah.”

“What’s he on about?” Clarence grumbled to himself, “my Christmas present to them, I ain’t even bought them anything yet, don’t know whether I’ll bleedin’ bother either.”

Picking up the larger packet he tore the wrapping open. As he did so, a small white folder and a sheaf of bank notes spilled out across his knees. Bewildered he opened the folder to find a further note from his son.

“Hi again.” It read, “attached is your air ticket to Australia…our Christmas present to you, the money is to buy yourself anything you might need for the trip. You’ll notice the ticket is one way only, because when you get here we don’t want you to go back. We want you to stay here and live with us. That would be your Christmas present to us…please use it.”

Clarence reached for the other packet from his grandchildren. It contained a photograph showing a house with what looked like a new extension built onto one side. Someone had drawn a large arrow on the photograph pointing to the extension with the words “Granddads house” underneath.

Slow tears starting from his eyes, Clarence sat back in his chair and savoured the strange delightful feeling of a future refilled with family and grand children. If only Flo….

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