Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Short story: 'Buried' (the first piece of fiction I've ever shared online!)



Hello you. 

Well, this is something new; I'm sharing a short story of mine today. Which is a first. 

I wrote it last summer, as my final piece of work for Laura Jane Williams's 'Don’t Be a Writer, Be a
Storyteller
' writing course, where the prompt had been to write a short story inspired, somehow, by the prompt 'Woman in crisis'. And it features several generations of women, with the crisis affecting the woman 'off stage' so to speak, the Great Grandmother of the narrator. 

A narrator who - for the record - is not me! It's written in a similar tone to how I write here so I thought I'd just clarify before we begin that it's definitely fiction and not based on my life or family at all. (The photos aren't of my family members either, they're just part of my vintage paper collection!).

If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen that I hinted, in this recent post, that this story features the topic of conscientious objection. A subject I'm particularly interested in and one which I spent some time researching last year; which is how this story came to revolve around the revelation that ... well ... no ... I won't spoil it for you ... I'll just let you get on and read it for yourself.  So, please enjoy ... 

***

Buried: a story by Julie Kirk 


“I’ll never forget what she said to us on the day of me grandmother’s funeral.”

My own grandmother had paused leafing through an old photo album and with a nobbled finger was tapping at the image of her mother.

“There was me -” she concentrated, squinting behind bifocals, peeling away the years “- our Sally-Anne, Lillian, George-Henry – Georgie – you never met him, he was long gone before you were even a twinkle.” She nudged me playfully, her well-rounded but ageing flesh yielding to mine. “And, erm … who have I said? Me, Sal …” she silently counted, head nodding, trying to recall the names which had grown increasingly, maddeningly, elusive. “Did I say Arthur?” 

I shook my head, no, and the omission seemed to pain her. 

“Well, he was still with us then so ... yes, Arthur.”

And she set the scene: it was the morning of the funeral and she and her siblings were waiting for their mother in the front parlour, lined up as if on parade. As she began casting back, though I could feel the comforting weight of her against my arm, I felt part of her slip elsewhere. 

“There we all were, a bit sniffly and teary, missing Granny - even though she was right behind us, in her coffin - it was what people did in them days.” Then, like a film set collapsing around Buster Keaton’s ears, the intervening years dropped away, leaving her standing awkwardly in a cold street house in 1913.

“And mother looks us up and down” she went on “and says ‘Well, at least you’re all looking smart; no one can say owt about that’. That was it, all she had to say. Bugger that her mother was dead and her kiddies were sad. So long as we weren’t giving the neighbours nowt to talk about, she was happy.” 

Her finger struck the photograph, a typist hitting a full-stop. 

“Right stuck up bitch she was.”




“Grandma!” I mock-chastised. Not that the sentiment itself had surprised me, I’d always sensed the spectre of a rift, but it was more the rawness, the youthfulness, of it.

“What?” she asked defiantly. “No, no. You don’t know. Two of my brothers would be alive today if she hadn’t worried so bloody much what other people thought.”

“Well, maybe not quite, eh?” I said, meaning they’d be well over 100 by now, but, misunderstanding, she dug in.

“Listen, when that war broke out, the first one I mean, our Georgie couldn’t wait to get his head in an army cap. It was all he’d talk about, thought it’d be one big adventure.” she said, officiously polishing her glasses with a hankie. “Said he’d be off with his pals the minute the recruiters set up in the town centre.” she gestured behind her with the arm of the frames. “But, she wouldn’t have it, would she? Leaving home? Going off to war? Not her blue-eyed. Oh no!”

Apparently, a battle had then commenced within the walls of their two-up two-down and Gran described how my Great Grandmother had initially thought that ordering her son not to enlist would be enough to stop him. Then, when it became clear it wouldn’t, she’d tried ‘weeping and wailing for a week solid’ instead.

“But, he must have persuaded her, because ...” I flipped ahead in the album to a photo of lanky limbs trussed up in scratchy wool; Georgie as a Tommy.

“Oh, he went alright. But that was down to Mother seeing Alfie Monroe from a few doors down walking past in uniform. And well, that was that.” With a finger, she made slow circular movements against her temple. “Little cogs started turning. Got her thinking how impressive her boy would look in uniform, how everyone would look up to him ‘doing his bit’”. She shook her head in something close to disgust. “That dried her tears sharpish and he was signed-up by the end of the week.”

“Then once that novelty wore off she turned to Arthur. But he’d always been a gentle one - ‘Soft as shite’ me Dad used to say. And he wouldn’t go. Wouldn’t take a life. Said all the weeping and wailing she liked wouldn’t change his mind.”

Satisfaction rippled over her face as she recounted how, despite the pressure, from his parents, from men too old to sign-up, and even from ‘some daft girls up on Market Street who’d pushed a white feather into his pocket’, Arthur steadfastly refused to enlist.

“And then conscription came in, didn’t it? Kitchener wanted you” she turned to me and pointed “and he was going to bloody well have you, whether you liked it or not.” 

“So, what happened?” I asked, turning the pages to check if I’d missed a photo of Arthur in uniform. I hadn’t.

“He became a conchie.” she announced matter-of-factly. “An erm, what was it now, oh, err, an ‘Absolutist’, that’s it, that’s what called him. Couldn’t budge him an inch. Went to jail for it in the end.”

I was confused. Until then, Great Uncle Arthur was just someone who’d pressed a shiny coin into my palm, or conspiratorially sneaked me a packet of crisps during one of his post-pub Saturday afternoon visits to Gran and Grandad’s. As a toddler, I’d ridden on his shoulders; as a travel-hungry teenager I’d pummelled him for stories about his trips to Europe. And now I had to make space in my understanding for Arthur the conscientious objector, Arthur the prisoner.

When I told Gran that this was the first I’d heard of it, she hooted.

“Oh, she’d’ve liked that would Mother! Me keeping the family secret.”

She gave the photo album a nudge, sending a plate of digestives skittering across the table like a game of shove ha’penny. “She never mentioned him again after they put him in that prison y’know?”

I frowned sceptically.

“No. Not once.” she stood firm. “When he refused to do anything for the war effort she was ashamed. Wouldn’t visit or write, forbid any of us to an’all. Said he was good as dead to her.”

“What? Really?” I asked. “She didn’t.”

“She did.” she flashed me an ‘I told you so’ face and continued. “That’s what I’m telling you, that’s what my mother was like. And, wait ‘til you hear this, even when Georgie was killed in action, God rest his soul, she still wouldn’t have anything to do with Arthur. Could’ve welcomed him home, water under the bridge. Could’ve held one of her sons again. But no. Nothing.” she paused before delivering the final blow.

“The three of us left at home always said that the Jerrys killed one of our brothers and our mother killed off the other.”

“Oh Gran.” I sighed, reaching out to take her hand, but she gently waved me – and her own approaching tears – away. 

With a crack of cartilage, she levered herself out of the chair, walked around the table to rescue the biscuits from their precarious position on the edge, and wound herself forward in time a little.

“Y’know I never saw hide nor hair of him again until after the second war; 1947 it was. At her funeral.”

She came to a stop behind my chair and with arthritic hands, fingers bent at a right angle to the palms, held on to my shoulders.

“All them years of nothing and then there he was. Big and broad. Suited and booted. A proper man. Different, but when I looked in his eyes he was still there. Me big brother. And, do you know what I said to him, after all that time?”
I tipped my head backwards to look up into her face “Tell me”.

“‘Well,’ I said, ‘You can take that off for a start’ and I pulled at his tie – posh one it was – in a big knot.” she smoothed her fingertips against my shirt collars as she spoke. “And I said to him ‘If you’re going to look all smart like that, what will anyone have to talk about?’”

“And, at first, I thought it’d been too long, been too many years in between, that he wouldn’t know what I getting at. But then he lifts his big hands to the top of my head and he says, ‘In which case …’ and he ruffles my hair into a right mess! I’d only had it set that morning. And, well, we must have looked a proper pair; him with his tie all skewwhiff and my perm like a bird’s nest. Mother’ll have been rolling in her box!” And she flipped my fringe loose from behind my ears with a laugh that sparked from deep within her.

“And then” she said, after the laughter had burnt out into a splutter. “Then, we held each other’s hand … and watched them drop her into the soil.” 

***



So - I hope that was a vaguely diverting ... erm ... diversion in your day. 

If you know someone who might enjoy reading it too, will you direct them towards it? Thank you, you're ace.

Feel free to leave me a comment either here, (or on Instagram where I'm @withjuliekirk), either: 
  • about my story;
  • about short-stories you think I'll enjoy;
  • about conscientious objection as a subject;
  • about your own family experiences of war ... or secrets ... or both;
  • or about anything else this post has stirred up in you. 
Thanks for reading me today. 

Julie 


4 comments:

  1. Really enjoyed that Julie. Well done for being brave and hitting publish. Not easy I'm sure.

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  2. I loved this! "With a crack of cartilage", brilliant! It's a difficult subject to weave into a short story, but I think you've done an excellent job.

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  3. I am feeling far, far less wordily good than you just now (possibly mostly in the face of this bit of splendidness), so am just going to say <3 <3 <3. And also agree with Ruth above about the perfection of 'a crack of cartilage'. Mine definitely doesn't do that all the time as if I was someone's Grandma, which is absolutely not why it sang out so beautifully and painted such a sharp word-picture. It's all just lovely, though - a perfect vignette which manages to create strong, identifiable characters in such a short space of time. xxx

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  4. As I read this I could hear my mother in law's voice - you've got the conversational tone of people who grew up in that era absolutely spot on. Not to mention the ebb and flow of memories of names. Also that attitude of being ashamed and cutting someone out of your life completely, it's hard to imagine nowadays but you have nailed it! Well done!

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