KEEPING A SECRET.
My Auntie Meg was a pig. She gourmandized her food as if there wouldn’t be any left for the next meal.
Auntie Meg wore her clothes too tight, ‘ I want to look nice and slim she said.’
She wore too much make up; ‘I need to hide my wrinkles. I’m starting to look old.’
I felt like saying, ‘you are old,’ but I didn’t have the courage to say it out loud. Over all, Auntie Meg looked like an over blown rose.
My parents and I made fun of her sniggering behind her back, mimicking her speech and eating habits.
One day she caught us out coming to our door and over hearing us laughing at her as we sat having a meal. We had the grace to be ashamed of ourselves because Aunt Meg had been crying. She looked like clown. Her make – up had run down her plump cheeks.
‘What’s the matter, Meg?’ Mother asked her distressed sister.
‘My little dog Fifi has died. What am I going to do?
‘Well, it’s only a dog,’ Father stated practically, like any male would do.
‘But it was my only friend. It loved me,’ and Aunt Meg began to cry all over again.
‘Yes, but you all laugh at me and I feel hurt. When I eat I don’t hurt so much.’
‘Come and sit down and have something to eat, you’ll feel better Mother said rising from her chair and dishing up a great plate of food and placing it in front of Aunt Meg.
We all gasped at the size of the serve, but Aunt Meg polished it all off and sighed, ‘I needed that. I do feel better as you said, Enid. Well I better be off and get ready for the funeral service this evening.’ Turning to Father, in a commanding voice, ‘Doug you will come over and dig a grave for Fifi. Enid, you and young Jessica here come over at six pm for the service and after we will have a wake.’
Father obediently dug the grave and at 6 pm Mother and I went over to Aunt’s house. The table fairly groaned at the amount of food on it.
Out in the garden, we stood around the little grave. Father lowered the tiny body wrapped in a white blanket, into the grave.
Auntie Meg cried loudly, causing her make up to run making her look like a clown again.
When a prayer was said we all trooped back into the house celebrate Fifi’s life. Aunt Meg ate and ate and ate, we were gob smacked.
‘I feel real good after all that lovely food’ Aunt Meg said between burps.
‘Why do you eat so much, Aunt’ I couldn’t help but ask.
‘Eating makes me happy. It’s all I have.’
‘But you have us,’
‘Yes, but you all laugh at me and I feel hurt. When I eat I don’t hurt so much.’
We all looked at out feet, ashamed of how we had treated Aunt Meg.
Wen we arrived back home, Mother spoke, ‘It is true. When Aunt Meg was a child and anyone her or teased her or hurt her and she cried, my mother would give her something to eat to stop her crying. So now when she’s hurt she eats to get over it.’
‘ But Fifi was only a dog,’ I was puzzled
‘No. Fifi was not a dog. It was a still born child.’
But how come,’ I stuttered, ‘she wasn’t married.’
‘You don’t have to be married to have a child,’ Mother looked sad, ‘ Her friend Adam Sock took advantage of her. She has just buried her child. Under the cover of it being a dog.
‘ But-‘ I was stunned.
‘It is a secret between you and me.’ Mother’s face was hard and her eyes cold, ‘It is all over.’
| THE YELLOW JUMPER |
by GWEN LEANE ( A Short, Short story )
Oh, look, Betty, that yellow jumper will match my yellow shoes, I’m going to buy it.’ I caught Betty’s hand and dragged her through the door of the boutique. ‘Can I help you?’ a silky voice spoke at my shoulder.
‘Certainly, I would like to try on the yellow top in the window, please’ I looked at my image in the mirror, ‘Wow! Don’t I look glamorous, I’ll buy this.’
‘You won’t be able to eat for a week. You might even loose the roof over your head,’ Betty warned me when she caught sight of the price. The yellow jumper was wrapped and I danced out. I intended to go to the Maid and Magpie tonight wearing the yellow jumper and shoes. I stepped on the bus and put my parcel and bag on the seat beside me while I checked on my make-up. When I went to pick up my parcel it was gone.
‘Who took my parcel?’ I yelled. The bus was packed with commuters I brazenly looked in as many bags as I dared, ‘Did any of you see who took it?’ I asked angrily. I was met with blank stares. It was time to get off the bus. I would not be wearing my yellow top after all. When I got home I could smell burning in the back yard, there was my yellow shoes, a smouldering pile of blackened leather straps. I looked around for who did it.
The neighbours’ head popped up, ‘My dog escaped through the fence and found your shoes lying on the veranda and began to chew them, my son was afraid you would kill the dog, so he lit a fire to burn them so you wouldn’t find out.’
A scream split the air, my precious shoes were ruined. I didn’t have a top or a pair of shoes, but I did have a credit card that would take a year to pay off. To keep a roof over my head I’d have to go and live with Mum and Dad.
I rang Betty, ‘What am I going to do?’ I sobbed into the phone. ‘I’m broke, homeless and naked.’
‘Don’t be such a drama queen. Come and live with me.’
A MISGUIDED STEP by Audrey Christophersen (Guest writer )
“It can’t be true!” Eric exclaimed after he had examined the latest audit. The owner of the Home Hardware store was heard to say out loud. “I’m losing money fast!” He determined to ring his manager at once.
Six months ago, Eric took Joe on the payroll as manager. He came to the job with impeccable references.
These days, Eric was finding shop work onerous. After all, he was pushing eighty and should have a young man directing things for him. Eric still had a sharp mind though, and anyone who thought they could take him for a ride was barking up the wrong tree. Eric wondered if he was slipping for this to be happening to him.
“Hello, is that Joe Carter?” he asked. “O good! You are the one I want. I need to see you as soon as you can get away from the shop. Will you come around to my home as soon as you can?”
Eric did not want to give Joe any idea that he had discovered discrepancies in the registry.
Exactly at five forty five there came a knock on Eric’s front door. That will be Joe, Eric thought as he walked firmly to the front porch. Happy-go-lucky, Joe was standing on the stoop with a beaming smile on his face.
“Come in!” Eric invited, leading Joe into his warm lounge where a cosy fire crackled behind the glass of the combustion heater. The large central heater had not sold and Eric thought it would make a good retirement present to themselves before he took Joe on as his chief administrator.
“I have been looking at this month’s sales and there are a few things I want you to explain to me. There are certain items missing from the shop and there is no entry in the day book.” Eric spoke trying to keep calm.
“Errr, Errr,” stammered Joe, as he shuffled his feet and his face dropped. He lost eye contact with Eric and looked uncomfortable.
“Well?” Eric prompted. “I thought I could trust you but it seems I have made an error of judgment.”
“Well, it’s like this”, Joe took a deep breath. “Cliff the plumber was in a tight spot, was owed money from one of his customers who in turn was in debt to someone else. You know how it goes.” Joe paused for a breath.
“No, I don’t know how it goes, as you say.” Eric straightened in his comfortable chair looking squarely at Joe who was starting to sweat.
“I know Cliff will pay up at the end of the month,” Joe coaxed a hopeful smile onto his face.
“How long has this been going on?” Eric asked. “I hope there are no other customers you have been giving tick to.”
“Two months ago when the recession was starting to bite, I knew Cliff would go to the opposition so I started keeping a special book for him and Pete.”
“Who’s Pete?” Eric exploded, his face going red.
Joe struggled to maintain a calm and business-like manner. “Pete’s a painter in hock to the paint company and I was just trying to help him out.”
“With my money!” Eric shouted.
Eric’s wife heard the yelling and aware that there was a problem entered the room. It’s time for a cup of tea she thought.
“How about a cup of tea boys?”
“It’s alright Mary… But that’s not a bad idea.” Eric puffed out his cheeks. Trying to control his emotions.
Mary could be heard filling the electric jug and rattling some cups and saucers.
Both men were grateful for the diversion.
“They ARE the only ones.”
“They had better be,” Eric threatened.
“Am I for the chop then?” Joe asked screwing up his courage.
“I’ll think it over and let you know. You had better start looking elsewhere for work. I can’t have people working for me that I can’t trust. I will see you in the morning.”
“Thanks Mary, for the tea, you’re a lifesaver I don’t think you have actually met my manager Joe”.
“Nice to meet you Joe,” Mary beamed.
That night Joe did some serious thinking. He thought about all the other people who would love to have his job and began to visualize just what it would be like to be back on the dole. He realized he was not as fit as he was in his teens and did not relish the idea of offering his services as a gardener or heavy storeman jobs available for a man of his age. He was too ashamed to front up to at his father’s door for a handout so what was he to do?
His stomach churned as he reached for a stiff drink but he pulled his hand back as his wife entered the room. She must not know the pickle he had got himself in. In his heart of hearts he knew he needed a clear head and drowning his sorrows was not the way to go.
Joe thought about Cliff and wondered if he was as broke as he made out he was. Joe wondered if Cliff could manage at least to pay half the money that was owing and decided on the spot to give him a ring.
To Joe’s surprise, Cliff had been paid all of the money that was owed to him and could easily pay half the money still outstanding in Joe’s special book. Encouraged, Joe rang Pete on the strength of his success in getting Cliff to pay up. Joe knew that the paint company was hot on Pete’s heels to recoup the money and this might not be an easy ask. Then again it was really Pete’s fault that he had run up this debt in the first place. It was not fair that he should expect others to bail him out. Joe would put the bite on Pete. He would let him know that it would be the end of the road for both of them if the debt to Eric could not be paid. Joe expected at least sixty percent of the total amount.
Joe rang Pete to explain the predicament. “Could you at least pay two thirds or thereabouts as soon as possible?”
Pete was mortified that Joe might lose his job on his account and realized that he could no longer use another man to pay his debts. Pete’s kids all had good jobs so he passed the hat around and came up with the required amount to satisfy Joe at Home Hardware and thus save him from having to look for a job he was unlikely to get at his age.
Next morning Joe spruced himself up, much to his wife’s amazement. She cast jealous eyes over her husband. Was he trying to impress a female member at work? Little did she know that this could be the last day he would have as manager at the hardware store?
Eric was there already and was waiting in the Manager’s office to give his verdict. Nervously Joe opened the door and took the spare seat usually made available for an employee or a sales rep.
Eric spoke first asking Joe what he thought should happen to him for mismanaging his money.
“Well Sir,“ he replied in the humblest tones he could manage, “ I managed to get onto Cliff and Pete last night and they can’t pay all the money that’s owing, but,” he quickly added,” they can pay. Cliff can pay half of the amount and Pete managed to raise sixty percent of the total amount.”
“I’ll think about it today, Joe. I warn you though, to be prepared to pack up your belongings. This is a serious matter and I view it as straight out theft from your employer. Just remember the CCTV is there to watch out for shop lifters and you will be treated no differently to them.”
Joe’s face paled as he saw himself standing before the judge being treated as a common shoplifter.
Joe spent a long day acting as if nothing was wrong. It was the longest day he could remember, not because something nice was waiting for him at the end of it but something that could cause him incalculable shame.
It was nearly knock off time when Eric arrived back at the shop. Joe did not lock up as was his habit, but went straight into his office.
“I have given your position some serious consideration and in a way I suspect your motives were not all that bad. You did read correctly that Cliff and Pete would not be totally loyal to us taking their custom to the opposition. That weighs in your favour,” Eric began.
“Thank you, Sir,” Joe swallowed hard trying to gain composure.
Eric continued, “ Good managers are hard to get and I suspect you might not get an equal position easily at your age so because you seemed not to be acting as a common thief but out of compassion for customers and our overall interest, I am giving you a chance to redeem yourself.”
“Thank you, Sir” gulped Joe. “I have learnt my lesson and it will be strictly by the book in future.”
Eric went on. “You are not let off the hook, Joe. There are still conditions to you remaining manager of my shop. The balance of that money owed is coming out of your wages over a period of time. I still have to pay my taxes and don’t see how it is fair for me to pay for your mistakes. We will say no more and there is no need to call the police in on this matter provided you keep your side of the bargain.
Joe thought for a moment about Cliff and Pete. Were they going to have a free ride at his expense but maybe it would be good to remind them they still owed him. He thought about it again and accepted it might be best to wipe the slate clean and count himself lucky he still had a job. He had made a silly mistake and it was not an experience he intended to repeat. He would be much more careful in the future when it came to money matters.
Audrey Christophersen ©