Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition 2018
32 Ivy Close
By Janette Owen
I feel like the richest man in the world on bright days like this, though others beg to differ. I’ve seen ‘em, wrinklin’ their noses and muttering under their breath while they’re passing by, showing their ignorance. Druggy indeed; vagrant – cheeky beggars. I’ll have them know I have a place of my own and it’s finer than theirs, I bet. There’s wrought iron gates with fancy scrolls, and a flagged path what’s knitted together wi’ moss right up to my place; 32 Ivy Close. You should see the flowers arranged around it, and the pretties that take pride of place on my shelf. If any cared to look, they’d see that they’ve no room to turn their noses up. Still, they can think what they want if they leave me in peace.
Ah, the paper shop. I’ll cross the road while it’s quiet and have a sit down and a read afore I go to see our lass. She’s not been right well, you know, and it’s been too long since I saw her.
Aarghh – horns! Too loud!
‘What’s the bleedin’ rush?’ I match the van-driver’s fist-shaking when I get my breath back. ‘That’s five miles off your tires, you know! Let me cross and you’ll be on your way soon enough.’
That’s another problem with the world. Everyone in a rush, ignoring all the rest. Not everyone’s as bad, I know, see? – today’s Telegraph, left neatly folded by the bin. Some good soul usually knows I’m coming this way. Leaves a paper and often a bite to eat, like now.
Umm, the burger could be hotter, but it’ll put me on ‘til teatime. I’ll finish it on my way to the park. It’s looking right nice in there now the spring flowers are through. Our lass likes daffs. Sunshine on a stalk, she says.
Here we are, nice bench by the pond … ooh, and a packet of biscuits and a bottle o’ juice.
‘Mummy, mummy, there’s a man on our bench!’
I hadn’t seen the young lass and her mam, squatting to look in the water. It’s usually me who’s invisible. Hey, the young un’s coming over to say hello, her curly hair bouncing in the wind.
‘Olivia! Come back here! I’ll buy another snack.’
Her mam doesn’t seem so keen, so I turn to the one who hasn’t learned to despise me yet. ‘Olivia’s a pretty name. Did you see any tiddlers down there?’
The girl shakes her head, sending her curls into a dance.
‘Here, I think these are yours.’
‘Olivia! I. Said. NO!’
Her mam snatches at Olivia’s hand, screwing her pretty face into spitefulness as she leads the lass away.
‘Mummy, why does that man smell?’
‘Because he’s a tramp, and you musn’t go near men like that, you hear?’
Olivia twists her head back as she’s marched away. So young and already she’s learning about prejudice. Shame to let the biscuits go to waste though.
I rinse ‘em down with the juice then shake my paper open. Finally, words that don’t talk down to me. That don’t judge the fella who holds the paper they’re written in. Mind you, they do go on …
‘C’mon, let’s be having you.’
The shake to my shoulder wakes me with a start. I squint up at a police lass whose voice belies her dainty frame. She’s another who shrinks back as though I might steal something.
‘Relax, I’ll not hurt you.’ My voice stretches to a yawn as I lift out my arms. She’s moved back a few steps, though her voice still has me by the collar.
‘Maybe not, but you’re offending others. You know you can’t stay here.’
‘Wouldn’t want to.’ I blink up at the sky, already darkening. ‘I only thought to have forty winks, only it must have been nearer four hundred.’
‘I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the regulations against sleeping rough …’
It’s like she’s reading from the walls of her narrow mind. I get to my feet and answer her lecture with a wag of my finger. ‘Don’t start casting aspersions, young lady, I do have a place to go to. Ivy Close, number 32 in case you were asking, and these britches you’re wrinkling your nose at are proper worsted, unlike yours. Isn’t a man allowed a little time to relax in the park? Isn’t that what these benches are for? Anyhow, what time is it?’
‘It’s time you were on your way, Sir.’ Miss prissy knickers watches while I walk away.
‘I thought it were only parking lots supposed to be timed,’ I call over my shoulder. The nerve of these people.
The skies to the west bleed all colours as the sun sinks. Tells me it’s time to eat.
‘It’s chicken today, Joe,’ the serving girl says while ladling out the soup. ‘And there’s a cheese sandwich to go with it, if you’d like one.’
Now here’s a lass who’s learned that a smile and a friendly word costs nothing.
‘Been up to anything today?’
‘Nice sit in the park, you know, afore I go to see our lass. She hasn’t been right well, you know.’
‘Hasn’t she?’ Her kind eyes tell me she has a bit o’ sympathy, but I can see she’s only being polite so I bid her goodnight. My, it hit the spot, that soup did.
Stomach filled, I make my way home. The gates sing as I close them behind me, then tread the mossy path, lit by a single street lamp and the silver of the moon.
Taking the weight off my weary bones, I bring out my treasures. I carries them around, you see. Don’t want some bugger stealing ‘em. I like to run my fingers over each one as they take their place on my stone shelf.
The paint’s rubbed off my pottery girl’s face and, never mind, she has a fresh chip. And our lass’s photo frame; silver with crystals along the edge, at least those that haven’t dropped off. She smiles back through the broken glass.
I like to shake the tin I next bring out. I’ve added a few dents, but its rattle proves I’m still a man o’ worth.
A watch. My dad had one like it, and it’ll work again, I’m sure, with a new battery. Perhaps the fancy pen’ll write again too, with a nib.
Oh, here’s the pretty bottle that smells like our lass did on our wedding day when I open it. And my pebble that looks like a sleeping cat in the right light. I call him Felix.
Finally, I bring out our lass’s coat to cover me while I sleep … on my stone. At my head it says Ivy Close, 32.
To my left, another table tomb bigger than Ivy’s, but I’d rather keep to this one. You see, to her right lies our lass, ‘cause she weren’t right well. She’s got no headstone, though I like to swap the flowers around to make sure her grave looks the best.
On mild nights like this, I feel blessed. I couldn’t be in any finer place, or have any better company.
Biography – Janette Owen
Born and raised in Bradford, I have enjoyed creative writing for as long as I can remember and am often inspired by local voices and settings for writing projects, including 32 Ivy Close.
My earlier projects were mostly short pieces, including two mumming plays written in the 90s, when my husband joined a local mumming team. The team were impressed enough to adopt my plays, performing them at local and major folk events around the country, and they remain part of their repertoire to this day.
When I left my position as PA at a catalogue company to work from home, I found time to venture into book-length projects, though I am yet to be published. My first book was a time-travel story aimed at a younger audience, which evolved into historical fiction about an ancient queen. My present project hasa dual timeline, the historical part of it set in the 1960s.
I believe that becoming part of a supportive writing circle is essential for serious writers, and I am fortunate to be part of a group who have recently formed an online community called Den Of Writers, after our old site came to a sudden close. I have this group to thank for encouraging me to join in the ‘internal’ short story competitions. This year I decided to enter competitions outside of the group, and I am delighted that 32 Ivy close has proved successful. The story was inspired by experiences my daughter spoke of in her capacity as a charity support worker for the homeless.
Away from writing I am an avid reader, though I enjoy nature walks and visiting historic sites.