All Posts By

Carol Hall

Short story - Romance

Circles

‘Do you still love me, Pete?’

‘What sort of a question is that?’

‘The sort of question that I want you to answer. Truthfully.’

‘Of course I love you – I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t, would I?’

‘You might. You get all your meals cooked for you, your shirts washed and ironed, your children cared for, all your physical needs met…’

‘Okay, okay, okay. Why not just call me the world’s most useless husband and have done with it.’

‘You’re not useless, just…’

‘What? What am I, Lisa?’

‘Well, a bit neglectful, I suppose.’

‘You suppose.’

‘What I mean is, I don’t feel loved. You always have that phone stuck to your ear and you don’t do anything that makes me feel cherished.’

‘Cherished? Ha! I don’t have time for cherishing. Have you not noticed that I work all the hours God sends to keep you in clothes and food and holidays and everything you ever need?’

‘So you think that running this house and bringing up the kids isn’t hard work? You should try it.’

‘I’m not saying you don’t work hard, I’m just…’

‘What? Making out that what I do isn’t as important as your fancy job selling houses?’

‘No! Listen to me! Look, we both work hard, we’re both tired at the end of the day. I think we both need to make more of an effort to care for each other.’

‘Well, you need to.’

‘Lisa, do you love me?’

‘Don’t go turning the tables! I’m the one who’s feeling unloved, remember?’

‘Do you think I feel loved?’

‘Well, you should do, the amount of things I do for you.’

‘Actually, I’ve been worrying lately that you’d gone off me, stopped loving me.’

‘Pete, how…’

‘Let me finish. I appreciate all the work you put into looking after me and the kids, but when was the last time you sat down and talked to me?’

‘I’m always talking to you.’

‘Yes – about the kids needing new shoes, or how you got held up in a traffic jam on the school run. I’m talking about real talking, where you ask me how I’m feeling about life, about us.’

‘I’m talking to you now, aren’t I?’

‘You are, and I’m glad. But it’s still about you, isn’t it, Lisa? You want me to do something to make you feel better.’

‘Well, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that what marriage is all about?’

‘Marriage is about mutual, unconditional love, Lisa, not about one partner making demands of the other and then sulking when they don’t deliver. Come on, don’t cry; let’s make a pact to show each other every day how much we care.’

‘I’m sorry, Pete, I…’

‘There’s nothing to be sorry about. I know you love me.’

‘But do you love me, Pete…?’

The Painting - 48 hours to turn back time

Episode 3 – Mary: New York, March 2015

Mary Scanlon sighed as she sat back in her chair, pulling her shawl tightly across her shoulders. Autumn was nearly here, she could feel it in her bones.

She hated the New York winters, they were so much colder than the ones back home. The mild, wet weather was the thing she missed most about home. When it rained almost every day you knew where you were, knew what to expect. Here in New York it could change from warm and sunny to cold and windy in the space of a day.

Mary looked around the small living room of the apartment she had lived in since she first came to the USA from Ireland over fifty years ago. Everything looked shabby, a bit like her. She had never had quite enough money to smarten up the place. She had never married and, keen to leave Ireland and see something of the world before it was too late, she had secured herself a job at one of the city’s hospitals. Her salary was reasonable but didn’t run to luxuries like decent furniture or quality clothes.

Much of her furniture and possessions had been bought at charity shops or junk emporiums. Even the painting. Mary stared at it from her chair. Looking at it always made her pulse race, which worried her slightly, as her doctor had recently told her that her heart was failing.

She had had the surprise of her life when she had spotted the painting in a junk shop. She kept asking the shopkeeper where it had come from, who had brought it in. He couldn’t remember, or couldn’t be bothered to. It was just a dusty old picture by some amateur, as far as he was concerned. He wasn’t paid to give his customers a running commentary on the provenance of each item in the shop.

The thing was Mary recognised the scene in the painting. Two cottages in the foreground built very close together, as if they were best friends. A third cottage in the background, slightly aloof. It was definitely the same place.

Mary knew the large cottage in the foreground well – she had worked there as a Mother’s Help in her teens. Her employer, Bridget had been quite incapable of running a house and bringing up a brood of children. Mary had loved working there.

But she was a lonely old lady now with few friends – even these were not real friends like she had back home. Looking at the picture she felt waves of nostalgia wash over her until she could hardly breathe. Had he painted it? she thought, and how on earth did it end up in New York?

Staring at the painting, Mary felt a heavy pain in her chest. She pulled her shawl more tightly across her as the world went dark and she let out one last sigh.

Short stories on International Women's Day

My Susan

This story was entered into Writing Magazine’s 750-word short story competition in 2015 and went on to win first prize.

She came to see me again yesterday. That nice woman.  She keeps telling me her name but I can’t remember it.  I think she’s one of those do-gooders.  She’s really kind though, comes twice a week to see me, reads to me, brings me chocolate and magazines.  I wish I could remember her name…

I don’t know how long I’ve been here. I keep asking them, the nurses, but I forget what they say.  I should write things down.  I think it must be at least a year because the Christmas decorations are up again, like they were when I first came here.  Or could it be two years?  I’m not sure.  When you get to my age, Christmases all merge into one.

It was different when I was young. Oh, yes, Christmas was a magical time then, especially when my Fred was still alive and our Susan was little.

Ah, Susan! My lovely daughter.  I wonder what’s happened to her.  Haven’t seen her in months.  She used to be such a good daughter.  Maybe she’s moved away and forgotten to tell me.  Or perhaps she did tell me and it’s slipped my mind – I really must start writing things down.  Perhaps her car’s broken down and she can’t get here. Yes, that’ll be it.  But she could get a bus, couldn’t she?  They stop right outside the door of this place.  I can see the bus stop from my window.  Sometimes I spend hours watching people getting on and getting off the bus.

When she came to see me yesterday, that nice woman, she seemed a bit sad. Kept holding my hand and looking concerned.  I said to her, my daughter Susan used to look at me like that sometimes, like there was something on her mind that she didn’t want to talk about.

In my day, girls looked after their mums. I certainly did.  My mum eventually went into one of those awful nursing home places.  I can still remember the sound your footsteps made on the lino and the stench of cabbage and disinfectant.  You wouldn’t catch me in a place like that, full of old people drinking weak tea and shuffling about in cardigans and slippers!  I visited my mum every day, sat with her, sometimes washed her hair, even did her laundry – well, there’s no way I was having her knickers washed with everyone else’s!  No, I looked after her until the day she died.  Bless her.

But not my Susan. She’s obviously got better things to do than to visit her old mum once in a while.  I do miss her.

I said to that nice woman yesterday – you know, the one who visits me – I said, you remind me of my daughter Susan. Same smile, same hair.  My Susan has lovely hair, thick and shiny.  Doesn’t get it from me with my lanky locks!  There’s a young girl who runs the hairdressers in town, comes in on a Tuesday to do my hair.  I think it’s Tuesday, or is it Thursday?  I don’t like the way she does it – she puts the curlers in too tight – but I don’t say anything, I don’t want to hurt her feelings.

When my Susan was little, I used to love doing her hair. On bath nights, I used to wash it for her, then plait it, so when she woke up the next morning and untied the plaits she released this golden cascade of curls.  Beautiful it was!

She was only seven when her dad died. Got knocked off his bike on his way home from work.  Susan was inconsolable.  I should have re-married really – a girl needs a father – but instead we just clung together and tried to get on with life, just the two of us.  We were close, though, always very close.  I do miss her.

That nice woman who visits me told me she lost her father when she was young, too. Oh, I said, just like my Susan.

She looked so sad…

Oh, I’ve just remembered! It’s the nice woman’s birthday next week.  That kind nurse, the fat one, reminded me this morning.  I must get her a birthday card and give it to her when she next visits.  But I can’t remember her name!  Oh, what is it, what is it?

Ah yes, I remember it now. It’s… Susan.

Short story - Family saga

Musn’t grumble

I’d always fancied a cruise. Even as a little girl, I used to gaze in wonder at films on the television of big ocean liners leaving port, their passengers crowding the balconies, waving excitedly at someone or no-one in particular on the shore. I would dream that one day, I’d be on a ship like that, sailing off to somewhere warm and exotic.

Of course, my parents could barely afford to take my brothers and me on a week’s holiday in a caravan in north Wales. The closest we ever got to cruising was hiring a pedalo and bumping up and down on the waves at Llandudno.

As a teenager, I dreamed of meeting an older man who would fall passionately in love with me and whisk me off on a Mediterranean cruise, where we’d spend a week or two being pampered and indulged on the high seas. How exciting, I thought. How romantic, how sexy that would be!

I did eventually meet my ‘older man’. Ken, his name was. Lived a few doors away with his mum. I’d known him all my life but had never really spoken to him until that fateful day when the tyre on my bike had a puncture. He was standing on his doorstep smoking a cigarette and saw me pushing it home. He came out to help me, intercepting me half-way up the street. After he’d expertly fixed the puncture, I was so grateful I asked him what I could do in return and he said, bold as brass, ‘Come to the pictures with me tonight!’

I was just twenty. He was nearly thirty. We married the following year.

I didn’t mind that he wouldn’t let me work. He said it was a man’s job to earn the money. I kept myself busy in the little house we were renting, keeping it clean and tidy, the way Ken liked it. I couldn’t grumble. Money was tight though. Ken gave me a notebook, with instructions to write down everything I spent. It was a ritual we followed every Friday night: Ken would look at the notebook and ask me questions about what I’d spent, giving me tips on how to make the money go further. Then he would ceremoniously hand over next week’s housekeeping allowance. He gave me what he thought I needed to run the house and pocketed the rest. I never saw his wage packet, never knew how much he earned.

I asked him about it once, but you’d have thought by the look on his face that I was asking him if he was having an affair! I never asked again.

When the babies started coming, things got even tougher. He still gave me the same amount of money each week and still expected me to account for every penny. I had to ask him for money when I needed clothes or a hair-do. He never actually refused me, so I couldn’t grumble, but he always handed it over grudgingly, as if he was disappointed with me.

Just after our youngest started school, Ken got a promotion at work. ‘Well done,’ I said to him, anticipating a nice increase in my housekeeping. It didn’t happen. He claimed that there was no extra pay with the new job, just the glory of having a supervisory role. I didn’t believe him.

We had a quiet life together, no dramas or upsets. Ken never messed around with other women like some of my friends’ husbands did. And he never raised his voice or his hand to me. I couldn’t grumble. But there was little passion or excitement and no prospect of the cruise I’d always yearned for. ‘Waste of money,’ he’d say if I mentioned it. ‘And you’d only get sea-sick.’

No, Ken’s only passion in life was stamp collecting. The only time I ever saw him animated was when one of his precious First Day Covers arrived. His face used to light up like a child’s on Christmas morning. I didn’t understand it – ‘Postage Porn’, I used to call it. Ken wasn’t amused.

He kept all of his stamps in a tin box under the bed. He forbade everyone in the house from touching it, even our little Philip who was showing some interest in his father’s hobby and longed to share it with him.

When the kids grew up and left us, I was bereft. Ken didn’t seem to notice that the kids had gone, let alone that I was grieving. He continued to keep me short of money but he had by now at least dropped the weekly expenditure audit, so I suppose I couldn’t grumble.

I often paused to wonder what he spent his money on. He wasn’t a profligate man. Apart from his love of stamps, he didn’t smoke, hardly drank and never gambled, as far as I knew. No, I couldn’t grumble. There were worse husbands in the world.

I was only fifty-five when he died. He was just sixty-five and a few weeks away from retiring. He got up one morning, walked to the bathroom and collapsed, calling my name as he crumbled onto the cold, hard floor. Massive heart attack the doctors said. Went out like a light. It was such a shock, though I suppose I couldn’t grumble – at least I didn’t have to nurse him through some terrible disease that took him slowly and painfully away.

I cried when I saw his tin stamp box under the bed some months later, when I was feeling strong enough to start clearing out his things. I opened the box and carefully lifted out album after album of his beloved stamps. I couldn’t believe how many he’d collected over the years, bless him.

I didn’t have a clue what to do with them. I couldn’t just throw them away. My son Philip suggested I take them to a dealer to be valued. He said some of them looked like they might be worth something.

The dealer, Mr Ellis, said he had not seen such a fine collection in years. Yes, I thought, I went without all my married life so that he could waste his money on small squares of paper that he hid under the bed! Anyway, Mr Ellis told me that some of the stamps were very valuable and one of them – he told me to sit down before he said this – was worth a small fortune…

***

A glass of chilled champagne in my hand, I look around my stateroom, taking in the large bed, the flat-screen TV, the glass doors opening onto the private balcony. And beyond that, the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean.

No, I can’t grumble.