Part 4 Titled One cold cold day

This has all been edited so, if you can stand it, it’s best to read it as if for the first time. Today it leads into part four of four - that is, to its close.

One cold cold day  (Provisional title)

Roger spatula’d off the excess head of beer, pulled to top up the glass, 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 can’t 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 back-breaking Christmas gone than yet more cards today; bloody Valentine’s. All the coloured envelopes, some with stuff on the back like 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.


‘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 won’t help, will it? He laughed and the business type 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! Tommy 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, both. Plumber, she’d said! Angelo the plumber. Sounded like some bloody Ninja Turtle. Well, he’d plumbed Gloria all right. Bastard! He blinked back the tears of self-pity. Twenty two 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 lady is Nurse O’Reilly.’ The young man smiled down at him. ‘Just testing now, Tommy. What did I say was my name?’

His tongue seemed too large for his mouth and he would never have recognised the gravelly voice as his own. ‘Silosky. Doctor Silosky? Or Sikosky?’ 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 there’s nothing permanent.’ He straightened up, stethoscope swinging, then moved out of sight saying, ‘Nurse, stay with him for a while, yes? 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. Finally 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 curving out from under the cap, nice lips, friendly eyes with just the right network of the finest lines. About his own age maybe. Pretty lady.

In spite of his aching head and the pain in his bandaged right hand Tommy felt the attraction, and how long an age since the last time he’d felt like that? He managed to speak around the device lodged under his tongue. ‘Don’t think I’d 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 is what you night call a courtesy title. Once upon a time, maybe …’ There was a soft and pleasing Irish twang 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 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 had the inevitable block letters on its reverse. The third envelope bore his typed name and address. 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, began the letter, 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. (Paragraph.) On behalf of 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 all our 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. (Paragraph.) 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 and the enclosed. However sombre an occasion, Iwill look forward to that. (Paragraph.) Yours most sincerely. (Paragraph.) Michael McCorquodale, Head of Hospice.

The typed sheet with its torn open envelope fell from his fingers. Stupidly he turned over and over the still 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 to see you,’ she said.’The one who came in with you?’

‘No. Just leave me alone.’ He looked up. Her image was blurred by tears. ‘I’m sorry. Give me a little time? Please?’

Dearest Tom, she had written. 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!) but I’m not sad now except for causing you pain. I knew I had to go and I knew 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 that “Angelo” has to be better than that!! The only Angelo was my guardian angel, 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 years with her. It wont be the same as you and me, Tom, it cant be but it can be as good. Because you are a good man and I will love you forever, whatever forever really is.

Some while later nurse O’Reilly knocked and came in followed by the man he had last seen reading his newspaper in the pub. ‘Tommy,’ she said. This is Mr Michael McCorquodale. He’d like to talk to you for a while. And so would I,’ she added.

The end - but needs tidying up. At 1868 words it is longer than I had intended. Tomorrow I’ll explain how I might have made this unto a full length (4-5000 word) short story or even as the basis for a novel.

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