The Common

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Seed

Seed

Seeds come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the variety of the tree.

Some seeds come with a protective nut or shell around the seed. Some seeds are found inside the flesh of the fruit. Some seeds are found in protective pods or cones.

Anywhere conditions are favourable, a seed will stick, germinate, sprout, and grow.

© 2019 MR. TREE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Emma

Emma hadn’t realised how much of herself she would lose. There seemed to be practically nothing left. She had a name once, money, a career, such as it was, today it felt as if none of that was left.

She had gone into this a young thirty-something with fashion sense and a hair style she could afford to maintain. Ten years later she felt an invisible forty-something. Where had she gone, that woman who could get ready and go out at a moment’s notice? A confident, self-assured young woman, perhaps not pretty but beautiful and funny and educated, alive?

Here she stood watching her second and last child enter school for a full day, for the first time. The first time in many, he didn’t know that life, from now on, would be just a little less carefree, just a little less fun. She did.

Other mother’s stifled tears, but Emma’s overwhelming feeling was relief. Both children delivered to one place for a finite amount of time, no half days, no asking favours off people, barely known, to tie her over the half an hour between a shift ending and her arrival. Six hours, knowing they were safe, eating healthily and being educated, whatever that meant.

First job, walk the dog. Paddy, a rescue from Battersea, was a mixed breed of no one knew what. Whippet shaped, Greyhound timid, but hairy and bearded. He had once been sleek and black but had sprouted hairs all over the place and was grey before his time. Emma had been wary of looking like her dog, after she started noticing that there might be some truth in the adage. There was a couple who she would sometimes meet out walking Paddy who were red headed, tall, sporty types that had a Rhodesian Redback, for example. Emma looked at Paddy, she felt spindly and untidy too. She had noticed some grey hairs coming through more regularly now, they showed up so much more in dark hair, although luckily with her brown tones she could still convince herself it looked more highlighted than grey, for now at least.

No one much about on the common this morning. The times she had dragged a child round here. Stopping for imaginary cups of tea and slices of cake, to sit in a house or pretending to fly an aeroplane. Not today, she could whip round in half the time and travel twice the distance. Perhaps not so much fun. It wouldn’t look quite the same, a grown woman balancing on the tree, wedged between two other trees, making in impromptu seesaw. Or bouncing on a suspended tree branch, singing ‘horsey, horsey’.

Emma wished she could enjoy this time of year more. It was still bright and sunny most days, but the trees were turning, the leaves bleached of colour, crisping at the edges. Dryer looking, tired. Although she still wore flipflops today, it wouldn’t be long before, trainers would be back on. Followed by long sleeves. Jumpers then coats, scarves, then boots and then gloves and then the battle against the wind and the rain, then the ice. She shivered at the thought.

An elderly woman approached with her dog, Rosie. It was strange how often you would know the name of a person’s dog but not their owner. Rosie was a fat, old, argumentative Jack Russel. Emma knew Rosie would have a go at Paddy, she always did. And the well-spoken lady would apologise and tell Emma how out of character it was, mumbling something about wondering ‘what’s got into you today?’, as she passed, just like she did every time, which was at least twice a week.

“Rosie! Stop that! Come here!” But Rosie wouldn’t take the least bit of notice and Paddy would stand in a strong pose but with his skinny tail tucked between his legs and wait for Rosie to finish her piece, circle him, sniff his bottom and move on.

Jim

It wasn’t easy. Going from living at home with your mother, to living at home with your wife, to living at home, alone. Even though, this time, it had been a gradual adjustment. Jim had always wondered what he would do if she went first. It always seemed to be the man who died first in his family and in all the families he had known. And the women appeared to thrive. They had a second lease of life, plans, they almost looked forward to it. It was as if they had done their time of doing what everybody else wanted for all those years and now, as a widow, it was their turn, their right, to go out and enjoy themselves. Jim had no ambition to go on a walking holiday with strangers or learn a musical instrument or language or indulge his artistic talents. No husband should have to bury his wife, he believed, just as no parent should have to bury their child, and now he had done both of those things.

Jim couldn’t complain, he had their daughter, Caroline. She visited, most weeks, better than some grown up children he’d heard about. They would sooner put elderly parents in a home than have to speak to them regularly, let alone visit. Although her visits were more frequent now they were less convivial. They were functional and a lot more punctual than before. Have you made an appointment for this? did you fix that? have you phoned them? and of course the dementia detecting questions, as standard: What year is it? What month is it? Without looking, what time is it? Count backwards, name the months in reverse. She would throw these questions and demands in randomly, and he would panic a little to get them right, and in a time frame he thought she would believe was within the normal range. Who was the Prime Minister?

“Easy, Winston Churchill” He would always joke.

Their relationship had never been simple. Afterall, Caroline hadn’t always been an only child. There was a time she was the youngest, the little girl to her big, boisterous brother, a time where she could do no wrong. And although it was a long time ago, he often wondered what she would have been like, to have been able to continue in that role.

Jim felt he could never quite live up to Caroline’s expectations. He wanted to be that man, but she always seemed to want better than him. Women like her didn’t exist in his time. She was just more educated, more refined, more ambitious than him, and she couldn’t help reminding him of that fact. Jim didn’t think Caroline was aware she was even doing it, it would be a look, a sigh, a flicker of frustration across her face.

“You should go out more. When’s the last time you left the house?”

“I went out yesterday, as a matter of fact… I bought the bins in.”

“Oh yes and the day before you put them out. Seriously Dad, it’s no life.”

“It’s life enough for me”

“What would Mum say? She’d say, ‘get out and stop feeling so sorry for yourself!’ What happened to table tennis? You used to enjoy that.” Caroline suggested.

That was true, it was a game he’d played as a boy, and had found he was quite good at it. Once a doctor recommended it as an exercise whilst Ruth was still alive, and he’d pretty much dismissed it immediately. Then, when he’d notice a group that met at the local scout hall he’d thought ‘why not’. It was only around the corner, and Ruth could be left alone for an hour, or so, at that point.

“Well Mum’s not here.” Said Jim, with a choke in his voice.

It was still raw. He still woke up, and turned to her side of the bed to ask her if there was anything she needed to make her more comfortable. Often, for a split second he’d wonder where she could have got to. Once or twice he had sat up to see if she’d fallen out of bed. After everything, it was just so sudden in the end.

“I will be back next Tuesday, I’m working from home, so I’ll be here about quarter past one.”

He turned his face from hers and she pretended not to see.

Jim didn’t move for a while after that. He heard the front door open and close, a car starting and pulling away. There had been so much to do while Ruth was still alive, medication to sort and administer, soiled sheets to be stripped off their bed and washed, meals to prepare and feed to her. Endless meal planning, what will she fancy? What can she eat? What have we had recently? What did she used to like? What have we got in? Now he barely ate. The days of well-wishers dropping off shepherd’s pie was well and truly over. Why did people always bring a shepherd’s pie? He thought to himself. At one point there were three in his freezer. At one point he couldn’t face another mince-based meal, now he rather missed them.

Jim didn’t feel like cooking, he was never any good at it, Ruth was a woman of her time and it was his responsibility to provide the money and sort the bills, she stayed at home. Her job was to do everything else. It had worked. Until Ruth got ill, then he needed a crash course in domesticity, which she was able to give him at the time, ordering him round from her chair. He hadn’t realised how much was involved in keeping on top of just day to day life. He found himself wondering where to put away his clean socks, even when he had been absentmindedly finding them in his drawer for his entire married life.

It was then he realised he’d been sitting at the kitchen table for some time. It had got late, and the house was getting dark. Too late to go to the shops now, even though it opened till eleven pm. After a tin of cold beans and a hot cup of tea, he went to bed.

Emma

So, this is it, Emma thought as she attached her magnetic name badge. The badge made her feel she should work in a bank or on a shop floor but when she secured it to her clothes it was obvious she did not. Emma got to wear casual clothes, which she liked, but missed the amour of a good suit and business like heals. But suits and heals were no good when searching for an escapee or changing soiled clothes or avoiding food missiles.

Emma had wanted to contribute financially and so she had taken a part time job, one that was local and had varying shifts and initially had just got her out the house. Now her husband expected her to contribute, after all the children were at school now so what must she do with her time?

The Friendship Care Home, had all the components of a happy place, music played, laughter could be heard, ‘fun’ activities were provided but all that couldn’t disguise the overwhelming sense that this was the end of the road. No one appeared to stay that long, staff or ‘SU’s’ (service users), if you made two Christmases you were doing well. Emma had started when Clara was two and was heading for a seventh Christmas. As a part timer, Emma felt she never really got to know anyone, she was never appraised, she was never really asked an opinion, even though, if you added her hours up, she was the longest serving member of staff by far. It was a long way from her career in education law. Her opinion used to matter, she had ideas, and knowledge, she had presented to full lecture theatres and advised on government policy. Her mother had offered to look after the children for a couple of days a week to provide childcare cover, but it took more than physical hours to go into London. It took immersing yourself in problems and legislation, hours of reading and research, planning and preparation with two small children who wouldn’t sleep and wanted attention. No, The Friendship Care Home was strictly four hours of an alternative reality, not better or worse, then back to her own reality, sometimes not that different.

“There’s a new one in Room 14”, Sandra told her. “Can you just go in and sit with her for a while? She was quite distressed when she came in, it’s Mary.”

Emma walked along the corridor to Room number 14, she hadn’t even been to her locker in the staff room, but as the room was on the way, she decided to say hello first. The name of the previous occupant was still written on the white board outside, Emma used her fingers to wipe off Alf Morris’ name and allowed herself to remember him for a minute before going in. She thought she may ask the new patient her surname as a way into the conversation.

“Hello”, she tried to sound friendly and upbeat on seeing the frightened older woman cowering on the only chair in the room, the kind familiar in care homes and hospitals, upholstered in plastic and placed meaningfully by the window, “it’s Mary, isn’t it?”

“Have you got the bag?” Mary asked urgently. Mary was looking at the bag Emma had slung over her shoulder.

“I have a bag, Mary.”

“Good,” she seemed to relax and put her hand to her chest, “it’s got the money in it.” Emma stood for a moment wondering what to say next. She didn’t want to upset the woman further but equally didn’t want people thinking she may be in possession of a bag full of this confused lady’s life savings. She decided to change the subject.

“Mary, what’s your surname?”

“McLennan. Do I know you?”

“My name is Emma, I work here.”

“Where am I?” murmured Mary. Emma thought for a moment, but the Friendship Care Home sounded so daft, thought up by some council worker in an office trying to put a positive spin on ‘end of life care’. When Emma said it out loud, she found she felt a little embarrassed at the frivolity of the name and the seriousness of the concept. Some of the syllables got stuck in her throat, and she was aware that not all she had said was audible.

“The Ship?” questioned Mary, “our Davy loves this pub.” Emma, grabbed onto this piece of information and tried to use it to make a connection with the woman who sat in the chair in front of her.

“Who’s Davy?” to Emma it sounded a bit over familiar so she added, “Or David?” She asked and instantly Mary’s eyes lit up,

“He’s my son, good boy he is.”

“Oh yeah? Is he here with you today, David?”

“David who?”

Emma tried to smile comfortingly, “I’m just going to go and put my bag away and I’ll be back in a minute, okay? Did you want a tea or a coffee?”

“Half a stout, if you’re buying.” She looked around and lowered her voice, “and take care of that bag, you could retire on that.”

Smiling again Emma left the room, and used the whiteboard marker dangling from a piece of string to write Mary’s surname. A thought crossed her mind, and she wondered how long those pen marks would be there, before being rubbed off again by someone’s fingers.

After a busy shift she found herself fifteen minutes early for school pick up and she was always surprised when even at 2.55pm she was the seventh car to draw up on Elm Road. What did these people do all day? When exactly did they arrive to get the coveted first spot? As she sat in her car waiting, she watched the parents, mostly mothers arrive. Everyone seemed to know someone, they walked together and gossiped and stood on the pathways around the school mumbling to each other, furtively looking over their shoulders moaning about some teacher or complaining about the behavior of someone else’s child, a good-looking husband, an anorexic mother, a child minder with alcohol on their breath.

“She said what?”

“I always thought he was too good to be true.”

“Autism? Bad parenting more like!”

Snippets Emma was never really involved in. Somehow, she had missed out. With Clara’s group of parents, she’d always had Bertie to think about. Nights out didn’t seem much fun if you were going to be woken at five in the morning, coffee shop chats with a toddler. Either glued to a device, something she had always avoided, or rolling about on the floor and climbing furniture, just when it was starting to get interesting. She took a deep breath and got out of the car.

“You’re Bertie’s mum, aren’t you?”

“Yes, that’s right” she replied hesitantly, not really knowing if this was going to be a good thing or not.

“Noah is always talking about Bertie, I’m Leah”

“I’m Emma, Bertie has mentioned Noah … and Ray?’

“Oh yeah, I’ve met Ray’s mum, Anita, from what she says, our three are pretty inseparable”

“Oh, that’s nice…friends, we can tick that box, ‘has social skills’” Emma mimed making an imaginary note.

“Yes, it’s good really, I was a bit worried about Noah, ’cause he used to just growl at people”

****

“Grandma will be there when we get home.” Emma noticed a flicker of happiness cross her eight-year old’s face. Clara hadn’t been happy for a while, she found school difficult, not so much academically, but almost everything else. Emma’s mother had a way with Clara, they enjoyed each other’s company, something Emma didn’t always managed to achieve, with either her mother or her daughter.

“Yay, sweets!” It was easier to read Bertie.

“Yes, but you’re not to eat them until after dinner, you know how Grandma feels about that.”

“But we’re hungry now”.

“There’s plenty of fruit in the bowl. Look, Grandma only comes once a week, for this one day can’t you eat fruit and do your homework before watching TV… for me? I’ll slip you a biscuit if you change out of your uniforms.” Bribing her children to behave as her mother wanted them to be was doable, one day a week.

Fiona Watts, Emma’s mother, was a well-dressed woman who took pride in her appearance. She had old fashioned ideas about manners, childcare and obesity but conversely, scratch the surface and she was politely radical with cutting edge ideas on gender and immigration. Fiona loved both her daughter’s, but lived through the one she never saw, by quietly undermining the daughter she did. Every Thursday she would visit Emma, stay the night, help a bit and allow Emma and Chris a free evening for what she reluctantly referred to as a ‘date night’.

Once the homework was done and the children gawped at God knows what, but they were quiet, Emma put the kettle on and prepared for the weekly update from her mother. Her mother walked around Paddy observing an approximate 30cm forcefield-like radius. Her nose always slightly upturned, as if his smell offended her. Fiona balanced, rather precariously, on a stool at the dated breakfast bar. Everything about Emma’s life appeared distasteful to her mother, from her choice of partner, to her choice of children’s names, the house they chose to buy and the way they hadn’t got around to decorating it yet. She often made references to another Bert and Clara who may have lived there, leaving their mark in the beige kitchen, with it’s mounted rotisserie oven and brown patterned Flotex floor.

“Catherine called”, Fiona liked to remind Emma of her over-achieving sister.

“Oh yeah, how is she?”

“Well, she got the promotion which means they can afford the beach house and Finn is doing so well at school. I think with just the one child, they can give him so much. They are always following him about the country on some swim event or another”.

“I will have to give her a call, is she coming for Christmas?”

“Not this year, too much on. New job, new weekend house to organise, I think she has her hands full!”

“You could always go there?” Emma said under her breath.

“Why can’t you be more like your sister?” Fiona said wistfully.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, she would never put up with this?” Fiona said holding her hands up and looking round.

“Meaning?”

“What happened to you? You used to be so outgoing, bright. You’re brighter than your sister, you know”.

“I’d like to hear you tell her that”.

“It’s just that you’re stuck here, fetching this, carrying that. Is that what you want? Look, I just want the best for you and looking like that, looking at you, as you are, this minute, I have to ask is this the best you can be?”

Emma busied herself with preparations for dinner, unperturbed Fiona continued.

“I mean, both children are at school now. I think a 10-year career break is enough, don’t you?”

“Mother we have talked about this. My ‘career’ is, was, all encompassing, who would get the children to school, who would meet them, walk the dog, who would do all this and how much would you have to pay them?” she said, gesturing at all the ingredients spread out on the worktop breakfast bar, bought to complete a balanced, nutritious dinner.

“Catherine has managed, and you have got it easier because I am around, although I don’t want anything to do with him.” She waved her hand towards Paddy.

“How could you say that. Paddy’s lovely. Sometimes I think he’s the only one who truly appreciates me. He greets me in the morning, listens to my rants and apologises when it’s not even his fault. He keeps me company, expects very little in return and I don’t have to put my hand into his dirty socks to straighten them out before washing. You’re beautiful, aren’t you?” Emma looked at Paddy who instinctively knew she was referring to him, his tail brushed across the floor and knocked against the beige kitchen cupboard rhythmically.

“I need a poo”, Bertie interrupted, coming in from the other room, as if Emma had paid him to illustrate the point. Emma followed him out.

“Can’t he do that by himself yet?” Fiona called after them, and Emma pretended to be out of ear shot, not wanting to hear her mother’s opinions on toilet training. Paddy now felt confident enough to get up and approach his beloved owner’s mother, tail still wagging. Unluckily for Fiona he didn’t have any of her boundaries and Fiona shooed him away with her hand. Paddy returned to his bed crestfallen.

“What mummy?” Bertie read the look on his mother’s face. “We did my homework, and I ate a banana.” Emma replaced the scowl on her face with a smile.

“Sorry, I was just marveling at your timing.” Bertie didn’t respond, his face was contorted in the concentration of delivering the poo.

Jim

Quarter past one. Jim found that he had been waiting for the past twenty minutes already. He’d spent the best part of an hour trying to make the place look more like he was coping. He tried to look at the house through his daughter’s eyes. First, he did the rooms she was most likely to go in. In the kitchen he put a washed-up fork and mug away, he put a load of washing on, even though he could have waited for a few more days, he tidied the pile of recycling, mostly newspapers and junk mail. He emptied the bin, hiding the empty tins of beans in case it prompted her to ask what he’d been having for dinner. He had even wiped surfaces.

Next, he moved into the living room, depositing any discarded packets into the bin and plumping cushions that had been scattered and piled into strange configurations to suit his own comfort. He just had time to go upstairs. Jim hurriedly made the bed and flushed the toilet, just to refresh the bowl. Oh yes, coping very well. He heard the key in the lock and his daughter finishing a phone call on her mobile which she had gripped between her shoulder and chin.

“Sorry,” she said over the mobile phone, as she bustled in, “we are having a reshuffle at work and some of us are having to ‘adapt’ our roles. It means my job description will change, yet again, but it could mean more money and ultimately a promotion. But right now, all it means is more work. I’m late.” She dumped bags of shopping down, looking at his vacant face. “Barbara is being moved to the Northern office,” Caroline continued, covering her hand over the mouthpiece. “She says it’s a step up, but everyone says it’s across, at best. I think she just can’t hack the pace.” Jim must have been emanating confusion, “it’s work dad…that’s why I am late.”

“Tea?” He filled the kettle and returned it to its base. Caroline nodded at him as she finished the call.

“The thing is with Barbara, she’s unmarried and has absolutely no other responsibilities, except for some dog she goes on and on about. But if she takes it, which I know she will, she wants to jump before she’s pushed, she can’t take the dog with her. Which is why…” Caroline stopped to study her surroundings, then looked deep and seriously into her father’s face, and added, “which is why, I’ve said you’ll have it.” Jim looked away to replay the conversation so far in his head, what was happening here? Like a fast-talking salesman at the front door, he got the feeling he was about to be had. “I mean just until I can find an alternative.” Caroline added.

“I’m sorry? What are you talking about?”

“I am saying” she said patiently, “that a colleague of mine is being relocated and can’t take her dog with her, so I have said you will look after it for a while until I can find alternative arrangements.” Jim stood back for a minute processing, “it’s just what you need, a companion, a reason to get out, someone to care for, take your mind off things”

“I don’t want my mind taken off things, I have enough to do, just looking after myself.” Jim surveyed his surroundings, and wished he hadn’t been as fastidious in tidying up.

“Look, it won’t be forever, a few weeks, at the most, and to be honest you’d be doing me a favour, the sooner Barbara moves on the better, in my opinion, she’s a bit like dead wood in the department.”

“Hang on, you do realise what you’re saying here? Just because you have an awkward colleague, and in order to make your path clearer, I have to take in a dog.”

“Don’t make it sound like that, I just thought…she’s worried about moving because of her dog, she doesn’t want it going into a dog kennel, she wants it to go to a home and you’ve got a home. And a garden and no one in it.”

“Except me!”

“Well, anyway, just think about it.” Caroline looked exasperated. “I can’t stop now after all. I bought you some shopping. I’ll be round next Thursday evening. We’ll talk about it some more then. What month is it?” And with that she was gone. The kettle clicked off.

“September,” he made himself a mug of tea. A dog, what would he do with a dog?

******

Jim couldn’t remember how many times he had prepared to leave the house on a Tuesday evening. He’d got his polo shirt on, with loose fitting trousers and his one and only pair of trainers. But he’d never got to digging out his table tennis bat. He would decide it was too cold, or he was too tired or there was something he needed to watch on television. Today though he had found his bat, in a plastic shopping bag on the back of the door to the cupboard under the stairs. He was looking in there for the dustpan and brush, he needed to sweep up rice he had spilt while searching for a tin at the back of the cupboard, that he might be able to eat. He had found it because he had banged his funny bone when he opened the door, then swung at the bag in anger only for it to fall off the hook and land rather painfully on his big toe. A catalogue of disasters, that might have happened for the reason of telling him that tonight was the night he should go back to table tennis. That, and the fact he thought if he could tell his daughter that he’d been out, she would think he wasn’t lonely enough to warrant having a dog, at least.

“Jim, long time no see.” David greeted him as he entered the hall.

“Hi David, still winning I see”, Jim indicated the blackboard of scores.

“Oh, you know, can’t help being the best.” A voice from the tables alerted David to the fact he was up again and off he went confidently, expertly throwing and catching a ball in one hand. Jim added his name to the list of this evenings players and sat on the chairs.

The club was small and as non-competitive as you can get in a group of male players, mostly over the age of 50. Occasionally younger players came along, occasionally women attended, but they didn’t stay long, put off by men of a certain age trying too hard to win against them. There was a strict system, which Jim never fully understood. When you arrived, you added your name to the list. There were two tables, a warm-up one and the competition ‘top table’. The winner of the ‘top table’ recorded the score then ‘stayed on’ but once you lost you sat down to queue for another turn to play. But mostly Jim just waited until someone prompted him to get up or move down a seat.

“I’m sorry to hear about your wife, how are you getting on?” asked Peter. Jim had spoken to Peter regularly when he had played in the past. Peter hadn’t got a wife, Jim had gathered from conversations, but he had never really had the chance to find out why. Their conversations were usually on the superficial side and were never very detailed. “I read about it in the ‘Announcements’.”

“Oh…you know…” Jim thought and desperately wanted to add more to sound if he was coping better, but he couldn’t think of a single thing.

“It gets better.” Peter said, as he stood for his turn, looking towards the tables.

David took his place beside Jim. Jim wanted to start a conversation, but he wondered who else knew about Ruth, if he were given sympathy who knew what could happen. Fortunately, David rarely talked about anyone bar himself and his wife. Jim couldn’t work out whether he hadn’t any children or they were all grown up. He suspected the former as he was sure David was the type of person to go on about successful offspring, the way he went on about the holidays and weekends away he and his wife had done, were doing or were planning on. Either that or his children were in prison or something.

“Just got back from Dubai.” David announced.

“Great.” Jim acknowledged; the way people do when someone makes a statement that doesn’t necessarily need a response.

“41 degrees!”

“Great”

“No, not ‘great’, too bloody hot. We went from the hotel to a shopping centre all bloody weekend. Still the wife liked it. Did all her Christmas shopping!”

“…great” Jim genuinely couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Anyway, haven’t seen you round here for a while, you been away?”

“No…”, fortunately that was the point Jim’s turn came around, and apologetically he got up to play a game, which he lost. It seemed he hadn’t only lost his skill for general conversing but at table tennis, too. Too often that evening he was aware of his one-word answers and thoughts inside his head, of desperately scrabbling for small talk that even then alluded him. What did he have to say? My wife died. I have nothing to do all day. I have forgotten what I used to do because caring for her for her last 18 months took all my time. That is why I’m here, what about you?

“…Yes…” Peter sat next to him again and continued a sentence as if they were in the middle of a conversation. “It’ll be 24 years next May that Maureen passed away.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know…” Jim didn’t know what to add, …you were even married…you were on your own. “You’ve never said…”

“Well, there comes a time when it’s not relevant anymore, believe it or not. Twenty-four years is a long time.”

“I suppose so.”, Jim was unsure he would be around in 24 years-time and wasn’t sure if this was a positive or negative thought.

“But I remember the early days, and months, the first year especially. It’s not easy”. Peter stared into the distance. They both sat there in silence and gave a little time to remembering their loved one, which was strangely comforting.

Jim left shortly after that. At least he could tell Caroline that he’d got out, she needn’t know it was for little over an hour. There was a pub across the road from the scout hall but no one from table tennis ever seemed to suggest going there. Jim thought how much he wouldn’t want to share a pint with David. But maybe next time he’d mention it to Peter.

Emma

“Emma, this is Anita, Ray’s mum… Anita,” Leah gesticulated at Emma, “this is Emma…”

“…Bertie’s mum. Hi, I have heard all about Ray”, she interrupted.

“All good I hope”, Anita enquired giving the impression she really meant it.

“Oh yes,” Emma wanted to follow up with some specifics but, at that moment, all she could remember about Ray was that Bertie told her he had got in trouble for weeing on the field.

“How’s Bertie settling in? Ray has found the ‘transition’ quite hard. I think that’s the expression the school used to explain his kleptomania.”

“His what? You never told me about this.” Leah announced louder than she’d intended.

“Shh,” Anita, walked a little way from the crowd of mostly mother’s and rounded to face their backs. Watching for any sign of anyone else listening. Emma was quite proud to be included in this discussion, at last she felt part of something at the school gate. “Last week Ray came home and dashed upstairs” Anita began, “I knew something was up because he didn’t ask for food, which he always does the minute we are in the house. A little later, I took him something up to the bedroom, and when I opened the door, he quickly tucked something under his duvet.” Leah loved a good story and held her hands theatrically up to her mouth as Anita continued. “Anyway, after some persuasion Ray handed me a mobile phone”.

“A what? Where did he get that from?” Again, Leah was louder than she meant to be, and a group of lone parents turned to see where the exclamation had come from.

“Shh, it wasn’t a real one, well, it was, but it wasn’t working, just an old one they have in the dress up corner”.

“I was going to say!” said Leah, “if it worked, that would be proper hardcore theft”.

“Anyway, I thought I would nip this in the bud, so I explained to Ray I would be taking it back to school the next day and handing it back to Miss Bounds”.

“How did he take that?” Emma felt she should contribute attempting to forge her part in this friendship group.

“Well, he didn’t want me to, but I explained I had to because he had taken something that wasn’t his, blar, blar.”

“So, what happened?”

“We brought it in the next morning at drop off, but it was awful. Miss bounds made a theatrical performance about it being wrong of him and that he had taken her mobile phone and ‘how do you think that makes me feel?’ and ‘what would you do if I took something that belonged to you?’”

“How did Ray react?” Emma asked.

“Well, he looked as if he wanted to cry. I blame myself, I did it in front of some other mums with children because I thought she would just laugh it off, I didn’t think it was that unusual. But the rest of the class were on the carpet looking at him and then I felt like I could cry for having set him up”.

“That’s awful, have you talked to anyone else about it?”

“Well after school, when everyone was gone, I asked to talk to Miss Bounds and their helper, Mrs. Clark. Miss Bounds didn’t apologise, as such, but Mrs. Clark had said she had seen it before.”

“I like Mrs. Clark she was a helper in there when my daughter started, I think Miss Bounds is newly qualified, so she might not have realised,” Emma added hoping to sound helpful.

“Well I would want to talk to the Head. It’s not right making a four-year old feel that bad.” Leah declared. The classroom door swung open noisily.

“Maisy, your mum’s here.” Miss Bounds had opened the classroom door and the conversation came to an abrupt halt, the three of them colouring a little imagining anyone having overheard, especially Miss Bounds, “Jamie. Your mum is here, and Dexter”.

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