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Wednesday, 21 July 2010

#FridayFlash: A Last Hurrah

The Pixies will return next week, in the meantime the following story is my entry for Deanna Schrayer's Birthday Writing Contest. It is also the 100th post here at Future; Nostalgic, I can't think of a better post to mark my first century.


Biting back the tears, Mary gazed deep into Tom's eyes. Birthdays weren't supposed to be like this, she thought, they were meant to be joyous occasions, not something papered over with a veneer of bonhomie. At least Tom seemed happy. It was sometimes hard to tell these days, but as she watched him sitting up in his hospice bed, slowly working his way through a steak dinner and sipping his wine, she began to relax a little.

'Lovely steak, dear,' Tom mumbled, 'My compliments to the chef.'

Mary smiled.

'Shame Sarah couldn't join us,' Tom continued, 'but I know she's busy, what with work and the kids.'

Mary felt the sudden stab of anxiety. 'I'm sure she'll be here tomorrow.'

'I hope so.' Tom took another mouthful of wine.

Mary did not respond. She was re-living the previous day's argument with her daughter, the reason why Sarah hadn't come to visit her father on his birthday.

'Mum, you can't!'

'But love, it's what he wants.'

'He can't!'

'He's old...'

'His mind's going. I'm having no part in this lunacy.'

Mary sighed. 'He's old,' she repeated gently, 'But his brain's as sharp as a tack. He knows his own mind.'

'But Mum!'

'No buts. If it's what your Dad wants for his birthday, why should I argue? Don't you think he's earned it?'

'But, what about the kids? What will they think? What do I tell them?'

'That their Granddad is old, he's happy, and that he knows what he wants.'

'He's dying, Mum. For God's sake!'

'No. It's decided. He's decided. I'm not going to argue with you any more. And don't you dare say anything to him about it. I will not have him upset.'

The last sentence hung in empty air, Sarah had already left, the slowly closing door the only reminder of her presence.

* * *

As Mary drove Tom out to the airfield the next morning, she didn't really expect to see Sarah's car in the car park, but still felt a pang of regret that it wasn't there when they pulled in. While Tom wheeled himself across to the hanger, she dialled Sarah's number on her mobile phone and stared up at the clear blue sky while the phone rang, and rang. Voicemail.

Mary dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief as she walked slowly over to the hanger. Tom, newly kitted out in blue overalls, was deep in conversation with a man in a pilot's uniform. Seeing her looking a bit lost, the pilot excused himself and walked over, extending his hand.

His grip was warm and reassuringly firm. 'Good morning, you must be Mary?'

'Yes. Is he...' she glanced over at Tom, ' he...'

'He's just fine. We'll take good care of him. Don't you worry.' The pilot smiled, patting her hand. 'I'm Adam by the way, I'll be flying Tom today.'

There were so many questions Mary wanted to ask, but her voice had deserted her. Taking the silence for agreement, Adam continued. 'You can watch from the spectators' area,' he said steering her towards the door. 'It's over there,' he pointed, 'just where that little shelter is. The thing that looks like a bus stop.'

'Thank you, 'Mary murmured. 'I just wanted to ask...' she began, but Adam was already out of earshot, walking towards the plane that dominated the hanger. Mary wandered over to the spectators' area and settled herself on the bench inside the perspex shelter.

Her heart was in her mouth, white knuckles twisting the hankerchief into knots as the plane was pulled out of the hanger and started its engines. As it taxied across the apron, Mary saw it brake suddenly as a figure dashed out from the hanger and clambered aboard.

'Oh God,' she whispered, 'Please tell me there's something wrong with the plane so he can't go.'

The plane began moving again and was soon climbing into the azure morning sky, leaving Mary a lonely, disconsolate figure on the tarmac.

After what seemed like hours squinting fearfully into the sun, Mary watched as first one, then another, then finally a larger black speck emerged from the plane and began to fall away back to earth. When, a few seconds later, the canopies opened, Mary let out the breath that had been tightening her chest. Even she had to marvel at the sight of her husband, in tandem with his instructor floating serenely towards the large white “X” marked on the grass in front of her.

As Tom swooped in low for a landing, Mary caught sight of his face. He was grinning. A huge, sparking grin that lit up his face, and just for an instant she was transported back to the dance in the church hall, April 12th, 1940, when she'd seen that grin for the first time as the sergeant with paratrooper insignia on his shoulders had asked her to dance.

It wasn't until the canopies had been gathered in and Tom gently lowered back into his wheelchair by his instructor and the photographer, that Mary noticed the other figure again. She bent down to kiss Tom, pulling her helmet off and shaking out her long blonde hair as she straightened. Mary's heart leapt as Sarah turned towards her mother and waved, a mirror image of her father's grin lighting up her face.

Sarah ran over and hugged her Mother.

'I'm sorry, Mum, I nearly missed it,' she mumbled into Mary's neck. 'You were right though, I couldn't not go with Dad, could I?'

Mary held her daughter out at arm's length, gazing deeply into her daughter's blue eyes. 'Thank you,' she mouthed.

Mary pecked Tom on the cheek then stood back, not wanting to intrude on the memories her husband was excitedly sharing with his instructor.

'Dad, that was brilliant!' Sarah laughed, 'Bloody scary though.'

Tom roared with laughter at his daughter, a knowing, bittersweet look passing privately between him and Mary.

'Aye, kid,' he replied, 'As birthdays go, that one wasn't too bad.'



Walt said...

I became wrapped up in this story quickly. I was eager to find out more on why the daughter was avoiding her fathers plans.

I'm glad the story ended on a happy note with Tom enjoying himself on what I presume would be his last birthday.

Well done

Laura Eno said...

This is a beautiful entry for Deanna's contest! You made me feel anger, then joy over the daughter's involvement in her father's birthday. Well done!

Aislinn O'Connor said...

That made me cry. Brilliantly written, and I'm glad Sarah turned up - if it were possible to murder someone else's character, think I'd have throttled her if she hadn't!!

Great one to reach your century with, Sam, and very best of luck with the contest. :-)

Cathy Olliffe said...

OH GREAT... so I'm at work, sneaking a peek at the blogging world, so I decide to read your story and it's FREAKING AWESOME and I start BAWLING, honestly bawling, only without noise because I'm at WORK... so I've got tears in my eyes and the boss comes over to talk to me and now she thinks I'm NEUROTIC which I am but anyway, way to go for making me cry! Geez, Sam, did you have to????
I guess when it's your 100th blog you're entitled.
Loved it, loved it, loved it!

Carrie said...

Darling story Sam!

Deanna Schrayer said...

Sam, this is absolutely beautiful. I too had tears in my eyes. You packed so very much emotion in such a short space. Bravo!

I suppose we should also say happy birthday to you, this being your 100th post and all, so happy birthday!

Good luck in the contest, and thanks for entering!

Lily Mulholland said...

Ah, a bittersweet birthday indeed :) Happy centenary, Sam!

Jen Brubacher said...

This was so fun! I wasn't sure how tragic it was going to be, and I really wanted it to end well. Thank you for not disappointing me. What a lovely story :)

katdish said...

Nope. Definitely not in the 4%. Great stuff.

John Wiswell said...

I'd just like an ice cream cake this year, if that's okay.

Happy 100th post!

Eric J. Krause said...

Good story! Great emotion in it. Loved his reaction at the end. Good post for number 100, and good luck in the contest.

pegjet said...

This one grabbed me from the get-go. The smiles did it for me.

I might have sniffled at the end.

Anonymous said...

Such a sweet story. I'm really glad his daughter decieded to honor his birthday the way he wanted to. Great job!

Mike Robertson said...

I'm not sure I've seen your work before, Sam. Now I'm a fan for sure. Sharp, sure, clear, moving.

Michael Solender said...

Great pacing and fine story Sam, we should all take that plunge.

Jason Coggins said...

When I read your work I leave feeling the world really is an amiable place. I like your style for every week it makes me smile and this story is not exception, cheers.

Marisa Birns said...

Just stunning in it's bittersweet beauty.

Your writing always leaves me awed.

*looks for tissue box*

The Pen Warrior said...

Being a 6' 2" Yorkshireman I don't know if I should admit to being brought to tears reading this story.

Congratulations on your 100th post.

dan powell said...

A touching piece. The point of view of the wife/mother is spot on as the bridge between daughter and father. Loved the scene with her watching the specks in the sky from down on the ground.

Anne Tyler Lord said...

Aw, that was a fantastic tale of love & the human spirit. I really enjoyed that story!!

Rachel Blackbirdsong said...

Great and touching story. I love the father's last line. It was perfect.

Julie (Okami) said...

Absolutely wonderful!!

Your writing is awesome!! Remember, I knew you when - better write that letter, it'll be worth something one of these days. LOL.

T.S. Bazelli said...

A beautiful story. It was like living a moment plucked from someone's life. There was something that felt so true about this one.

PJ said...

Sam, this is a beautiful story - lots of emotion running through it. Well done!

ganymeder said...

This drew me in right away. I couldn't figure out what was going on, but at the end you made me tear up.

Well done.

Anonymous said...

I was sure I commented already... but I'll say it now/again:

Loved this, Sam! Such a wonderful bittersweet story, it made me teary.
Well done!

mazzz in Leeds said...

Awww, lovely piece, Sam!
Heh, this dad is the exact opposite of my dad, I'm actually chuckling thinking about my dad skydiving :-D

Anonymous said...

What's this I hear about your 110th post? Well, congratulations, then!

This is a gorgeous story, Sam. Just a perfect little snapshot of someone's life. I really loved it.

Good luck in the contest! (If it's not already over... darn computer)

Valerie said...

I was so worried that he had more ominous plans for this particular jump but what a lovely story and a sweet ending.

KjM said...

Impossible to stop reading once I started - an excellent tale.

You got the balance and tension in this just right and the Mary's memory of the first time she saw her husband's grin evokes pure emotion.

Really, really well done.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Oh, beautifully written, as always. I do love a happy ending, and you do them better than most! So glad he got his last wish - and glad Sarah had a go too!

Travis King said...

Grrr... I'm a hard-hearted bastard, and I'd like to tell you how much a mushy story like this makes me want to retch. But that would be a lie. Way to strike right at the heart, Sam. Very well done. Also, every revelation--the argument, Tom's past, the identity of the figure on the tarmac--came at just the right time; this story is perfectly crafted.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful story, Sam. A great entry for the contest. Good luck!

Pamila Payne said...

Absolutely lovely. All that tension and then you give us a happy ending. It's a fine thing that you do, a fine thing.

Anonymous said...

You have a great and charming way of enfolding the reader quickly into the tale and whisking them away to wherever you want to take them. This one is no different; I was caught up immediately and the soft landing at the end set me down gentle as a feather on a breeze.

Great read, Sam.

Anonymous said...


This is a lovely story. Gentle and sweet and evocative. Well done. ~ Hazel

Sam said...

Thanks for reading and for all the fabulous comments and kind words you've left me. You guys are awesome! :D

Deanna Schrayer said...

Just a quick note to Sam’s readers - there's less than 15 hours left to vote in the contest. Have you cast your vote?
We'll be partying at The Other Side of Deanna on Monday. I hope everyone can stop in!

Deanna Schrayer said...

Hi Rachel. We're having a party today - hope you and your readers can stop in:
Thanks so much for entering the contest!

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