Finis: One Cold, Cold Day


Well you saw the first imaginings and the start and the growth of the story and now this is the final version, ready to be the first short story on the upcoming (some weeks away yet) www.bryanislipauthor.com  ... remember, you saw it here first!

One Cold, Cold Day 

Roger the barman pulled to top up the glass, spatula’d off an excess head of beer, handed him his next pint. ‘You OK, Tommy?’ he said, then, ‘Sorry, sorry. Stupid question. Listen mate, cheer up. What is it - three months now and not a word? She just cannot be worth it.’

Tommy shifted on his bar stool, said nothing. He’d said enough. He was trying not to think about Glo and her new man; Angelo the plumber! whoever that bastard might be. Snow had piled up outside in the corners of the pub’s window panes like on all the poxy Christmas cards. No sooner that postman-breaking Christmas gone than yet more cards today; bloody Valentine’s. All the coloured envelopes, some with stuff on the back: SWALK, BURMA, ISYU. Most of them obviously husband to wives or more likely wives to husbands or more likely wives to someone else’s damn husband. Had Gloria sent this Angelo one? He fingered the unopened envelopes in his pocket. There were always a few for him; all of course anonymous, some of them really crude. Most postmen got them. Well, this postman for one couldn’t give a damn.

‘You finished for today?’ Roger asked.

‘Yeah.’

‘Good. Listen Tommy, mate, you’ve just got to get a grip.’ He wiped off the bar top. ‘Shit happens. ’Postman drunk in charge of a push bike’ - that wouldn’t help, would it? He laughed. The man in the suit sitting along the bar momentarily raised his head from his newspaper. Roger went on, ‘If it snows much more you’ll be having to dig your bike out. Leave it there. I’ll see it‘s OK. You’re best off home on good old Shanks’s pony today.’

‘Maybe; bike belongs to the Post Office. Let them come and dig it out,’ Tommy muttered. The room was moving. He concentrated on keeping his head still. Didn’t help. There was a good fire in here. Nice and warm but those sickening smells of yesterday’s booze and today’s fried food! He was not hungry. He wasn’t thirsty either but he was set fair to getting himself outside a whole lot of beer today. Like most days since Glo had gone. To hell with her and her Italian bloody stallion. Plumber, she’d said! Angelo the plumber. Sounded like some stupid Ninja Turtle. Well, he’d plumbed Gloria all right, the bastard! He blinked back tears of self-pity. Twenty seven years married and she hadn’t told him anything about it. Not a blind thing ‘til he’d got home that time, picked up the envelope off the kitchen table. Nothing. Not how long it had been going on for nor any damn thing except she loved the man and, ‘I don’t want to hurt you Tom, because you know I’ve always loved you as best I could in my own way. I’m so sorry there have not been any family. I’m so sorry!!!’ No address where they’d buggered off to. Nothing!

The rest of his new pint disappeared in one long swallow. He banged down the glass for another and the bar stool somehow tipped over sideways. He went down hard. Something seemed to be breaking; something other than his heart.


The black became white and the white became shapes and the shapes became faces, the faces of strangers dressed as medics. The youthful face under its green hair cover moved its lips. ‘Well hello there. Welcome back, Mister Barlow.’ it said. ‘Don’t move now. You’re going to be all right but best to keep still for a bit. You had a fall.’ An index finger moved from side to side in front of his eyes. ‘You’re in Southampton General and I’m Doctor Sikorski and this is Nurse O’Reilly.’ The young man smiled down at him. ‘Just testing now, Tommy. What did I say was my name?’

‘Silosky. Doctor Silosky?’ What the hell’s the guy to smile about? His tongue seemed too large for his mouth and he would never have recognised the gravelly voice as his own. ‘Or Sikosky is it?’ He groaned.

‘That’s near enough for anyone with your amount of alcohol aboard. You’re going to be fine. You took a bit of a bang on your head and your hand’s suffered some laceration but nothing permanent.’ He straightened up, stethoscope swinging, then moved out of sight. ‘Nurse, help him sit up. Back in an hour or so.’ 

He felt the nurse moving around the bed, tucking in and arranging the covers. Finally she crooked an arm around the back of his neck, helped him to sit, plumped up the pillows, lowered him gently. She smelled of flowery deodorant, liquorice, lipstick, antiseptic; woman. Yes, plenty of woman beneath the blue hospital dress. She drew up a chair, took out and shook down a thermometer, inserted it into his mouth. ‘You don’t recognise me then, Mr Postman Tommy Barlow?’ She smiled. Tawny blonde hair curved out from under the cap: nice lips, friendly eyes with just the right network of the finest lines, about his own age, mid forties maybe. Pretty lady.

In spite of his aching head and the pain in his bandaged right hand Tommy felt the attraction and how long since the last time he’d felt that? He managed to speak around the device lodged under his tongue. ‘Don’t think I would have forgotten, nurse. But can’t say I remember you, no. Should I?’

‘Thirty nine Napier Avenue?’

The response came as if on automatic; ‘Mrs Belinda O’Reilly! The one with all the heavy catalogues. Right, of course. We’re near neighbours.’ 

She leaned forward to remove the thermometer, looked at it, shook it down, replaced it in its case and the case into its correct breast pocket position ‘Yes, neighbours so we are, Mister Barlow. But the Mrs? Once upon a time, maybe. So the Mrs is what you might call a courtesy title. …’ There was a soft and pleasing Irishness in there somewhere.

‘Please, I’m Tommy,’ he said.

‘Tommy. Yes of course. I -‘ she hesitated, then, ‘I heard about your wife. I am sorry.’

Christ, had the whole world been in on it? On the shame of it? ‘Don’t be,’ he muttered. ‘There’s nothing to be sorry about.’ He wanted to say shit happens. ‘Things happen,’ he said.

‘Yes.’ She stood up, smoothed her nice blue uniform over her nice round thighs and then, more briskly; ‘Perhaps, Mister Postman, you’d like to open your own mail now? You had these in your pocket.’ She handed him the three envelopes. ‘It would seem you have yourself a bit of a fan club.’ She smiled. ‘I’ll leave you to it now.’

The two coloured envelopes obviously contained Valentine cards; one of them even bore the inevitable capitals on its reverse. The third envelope was addressed to him at home in formal type. It contained another, smaller envelope and a letter headed St Stephen’s Hospice, Lower Dobden, West Sussex. His overworked heart skipped a beat or two and his headache ratcheted up several notches as he began to read …

Dear Mr Barlow,
It is my sad duty to advise you as next of kin that your wife passed away here at 08.15, today the 12th of February 2011. On behalf of all at the Hospice I would like to express our deepest sympathy. Gloria was a fine and a brave lady and was universally liked and admired by the staff.  
Your wife was expressly concerned that you should not know of her condition until it had led to its inevitable conclusion, at which time I was instructed to send you the enclosed private communication.
If it is your wish, I can see to the funeral arrangements on your behalf. To this end I shall travel, hopefully to meet with you immediately following your receipt of this letter. However sombre an occasion I shall look forward to that.

Yours most sincerely.

Michael McCorquodale,
Head of Hospice.

The typed sheet with its torn open envelope fell from his fingers. Stupidly he turned over and over the sealed envelope bearing Gloria’s beautiful handwriting.

‘Are you all right?’ He lifted his eyes. The nurse’s face betrayed the depth of her concern ‘Is there something I can do, Tommy?’

He shook his head. The pain grew in intensity.

‘There’s a man would like to see you,’ she said’ He’s the one who called the ambulance and came in with you. He was in the bar when you - when you fell down?’

‘No. Not yet. Just leave me alone.’ He looked up. The nurse’s image was blurred by tears. ‘I’m sorry, Belinda. Would you thank him for me, ask him to give me a little time? Please?’

Dearest Tom
I am sorry.
By the time you read this I shall be wherever it is we all go in the end. I’m going to say straight away that I love you and have always loved you and only you since we met. (Writing that made me just think about that first night at the funfair and then afterwards down by the river! Sweet sixteen?) but I’m not sad now except for causing you pain. I knew I had to go and that type of cancer would not be any easier for you than me. That’s why I used some of mother’s inheritance to go away to this place quietly. They are brilliant here, Tom, and have looked after me wonderfully well.
Dearest darling Tom I just could not bear to have you see me - well you know. Even my make-believe “Angelo” has to be better than that!! The only Angelo was my angel in heaven Tom! I don’t know if he is or was a plumber but I had to make him something for you to focus on didn’t I. Otherwise you would worry even more about me and where and why and everything.
As I sit here writing this I am thinking of how wonderful our life together really and truly was. Some people would think our lives were ordinary but what do they know?! I thank you from the bottom of my heart, dear husband mine! I must close now. Before that I want to say one more thing. Find yourself someone. PLEASE. I hope you do and that you spend many happy years with her. It wont be the same as you and me, Tom, it cant be but it can be as good in other ways. And you will still be mine as well as hers if there really is a hereafter. (I shall find a way to let you know if so!) You are a good man and I will love you forever, whatever forever really is.
Your Loving Wife

Gloria Barlow

He dropped the note, picked it up, read it through again and then again. After a while he looked up and out of the window. It was still snowing. In spite of that, rooks like black rags sailed and wheeled on the wind, nest building already within winter-bare treetops. From out of the cold would come new life.

Ends

I promised to show how this tale could have become a long story or even a complete novel. Tomorrow, will do. Thanks for staying with me thus far.





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