Silent Sunday: 13 April 2014


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Silent Sunday: 6 April 2014


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By the Butterfly Tree: Part Eighteen

And here it is… At last, the final part of my little story that grew… You can start at the beginning here.

It had been a warm, sunny, and, for Laura, a strenuous morning. Elizabeth and Philippa McGeogh were at last asleep again after a feed each. Prior to this, they had jointly and simultaneously appealed to the universe in regard of their perceived lack of nourishment. Feeling rather exhausted, Laura had just made a cup of tea and allowed herself the luxury of sitting down to drink it. Then she stood up again with a gasp, as the telephone rang.

(Ross was now deputy project manager; Balfour, McAllen had now provided him with a phone at home, and a car – he’d already learned to drive using another of the firm’s vehicles. Robert McAllen figured that both were a good investment in this young man. Living near the city as they did, it was a dial type telephone, too, not like they had out in the villages, such as where Ross’s grandpa now lived.)

“Harbourside, four two three seven…?”
Laura heard an operator cut in. “Connecting you, caller…”
“Hello…? Oh, Laura, it’s Grandma Helen here. How are you, pet?”
Laura sighed. “Shattered, to be honest. Their ladyships are snoozing and I’m drinking tea before facing the rest of the housework. What about you?”
“Och, not so bad for an old one. But you try and look after yourself as well. I really rang you because Grandpa and I have just been thinking – now that you’re just about on your feet, and we’ve sorted a few things here, we’d like to have a wee party for you all. Maybe you and Ross – bring the twins, of course – Ross’s folks and Janet, your Sarah with Geoff and wee Paul, and Sarah’s folks if they’ll come. D’you think you could make next Saturday?”
“Oh, I’d love that. It’d be a lovely break. I’ll tell Ross tonight. I’m sure he’ll want to speak to Grandpa. Sometimes I feel a bit stuck on a treadmill, here. I mean, Ross helps how he can, and everything, but…”
“Listen, pet. Going from being a couple to a family of four’s bound to have knocked you sideways a wee bit – both of you. I’ll tell you what: come a bit early – say just after lunch. We can have woman talk while Ross helps Grandpa set stuff out, if he wouldn’t mind.”
“That’s sweet of you. You’re sure you can manage, though? It sounds a lot.”
“Och, well, it’ll be a squash, but we’re all used to that. Now, I’d better see what Grandpa’s up to. See you soon. ‘Bye, pet.”
“Love to you both. ‘Bye.”
Now drinking lukewarm tea, Laura once again blessed the day she had married into the McGeoch family.

The twins, complete with demountable pram and a varied assortment of baby-related sundry items, were now ensconced in the back of the Morris 1000 Traveller. Laura leaned back in the passenger seat, and very soon dozed off as Ross made his way to South Hills. On this sunny summer afternoon, he felt the luckiest man alive. As the close urban atmosphere gave place to country air, he wound down the window. Life was tiring, but good.
Once some warm greetings had been exchanged, and the twins’ pram set up in a shady part of the lower back garden, Ross helped Archie to arrange the living room to the best advantage, and set bottles and glasses at the ready. They grinned as they heard the steady stream of non-stop chatter emanating from the kitchen.
“If I were you, I wouldna strike a match out there, laddie.”
Ross looked up. “Too much gas about?” It was an old joke, but Archie’s favourite.

“Look, Grandma Helen, there’s not much left to do. If I just put this cream on the trifle, would you check on the twins for me? Make sure Grandpa’s OK, though, as you go.” Laura knew that, put like that, Helen would need no second bidding. Sure enough, she paused only to finish her cup of tea, before entering the living room. The menfolk had done well, Helen thought. She was looking forward to a lovely evening. Ross was polishing glasses with a tea cloth. Archie was just emptying the vacuum-cleaner he had been using, in the small yard at the side of the cottage. Ross had been joking with him earlier about this method of cleaning.
“You have electricity, grandpa? Right out here, in the wilds?”
“Och, aye, laddie. Real glass in the windies, an’ a’.”
When it came to repartee, it would be a very smart fellow indeed who ever beat Archie McGeoch.

Ross walked through to the kitchen to find Laura, with her back to the doorway, putting the finishing touches to the trifle. From behind, he grabbed her in a bear-hug. “Guess who?”
“I should know by now. Careful, you, or you’ll get plastered in cream.”
“I should be so lucky.”
“No comment.” Laura turned to give her husband a tantalising peck on the lips, before tackling a few bits of washing-up.
In the meantime, Helen had stepped out through the French doors and onto the terrace at the back of the cottage, and now looked down into the lower part of the garden, lost in thought. Then, very deliberately, she walked across to where Archie had come round from the side yard. Without a word, she took his hand. Together, they descended the short flight of steps, and walked across to where Laura had carefully positioned the twins’ pram. At that moment, two peacock butterflies settled on the top blanket before returning to the buddleia, drawn by the heavy scent.

Quietly and gently, Archie and Helen kissed, and then Archie’s eyes filled. Helen reached for the handkerchief in her sleeve, and dabbed her own eyes, before resting her hands on her husband’s shoulders. His face and body were now racked with unstoppable sobs. Lines of tears ran unheeded down Helen’s face.

Ross and Laura had now finished the last details of the preparations they had been attending to, and went to join the others in the garden. As they took in the scene that met them, they stood quietly at the other side of the pram, holding hands very tightly. Then, as Laura looked into the pram at her children, she felt an overpowering surge of emotion; a tide of maternal love. As she turned her head slightly to look at her husband, Ross caught the smile that started in the corners of her eyes and spread over her whole face. The same smile that had first knocked him senseless.

Still not a word was spoken. All the talking had already been done. It seemed that, just as the tears were streaming down the two older faces, so pain, grief, and sorrow were pouring out of their hearts, draining away to leave only inward joy behind. While the four watched as the pram blanket gently rose and fell, and listened to the gentle murmers of the sleeping pair, each knew what the other three were thinking. The circle of life was complete. At last, twin babies dozed, close by the butterfly tree.

* * * The end * * *

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Silent Sunday: 30 March 2014


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By the Butterfly Tree: Part Seventeen

My story heads towards its close… but if you’re new to this piece of fiction, it’s best to start here.

Alex Balfour, production director of Balfour, McAllen and Company (Engineering) Limited, looked down from the office walkway at the fabrication shop. The foreman, Ross McGeoch, was going from job to job, checking that everything was going as smoothly as humanly possible. That young man was a gem, Alex reflected. He blessed the day that his uncle, Robert McAllen, had taken him on as an apprentice after he’d done some summer holiday work for the firm, several years previously. He’d make a terrific project manager when Uncle Jo retired, he thought.
As he watched for a few moments longer, though, it seemed that something wasn’t quite right this morning. Ross seemed to be… what? Sort of… jumpy. Bothered. He’d just fetched another drawing from the office. Oh, and it must have been the wrong one. Now he was frowning, and dashing off for something else. And so on it went. Not like him at all. Something wasn’t quite right. Alex decided that a friendly chat at coffee-time would be in order. If there was a way he could help, he’d try and get out of him what the trouble was, he thought, as he headed for the stairway.

At ten fifteen, Ross made his way to the top offices. Alex had seen him earlier, and just said he’d like ‘a wee chat over a coffee.’ It was the the way Alex solved everything.
“So.” Alex pushed a cup and saucer in front of Ross, and pointed to the sugar bowl and biscuits on a tray.”How’s it all going?”
“Oh, a few snags on the Matthewson job, but nothing that can’t be sorted by the day’s end.”
“Good. Now… Listen, laddie. I don’t want to pry, but you don’t seem quite yourself today. Just happened to notice you seemed a bit… worried, maybe?”
Ross sipped his coffee, flicked one hand through his hair, and shrugged with a half grin. Not the usual cheery one, Alex thought. “Oh, I dunno…”
Alex just smiled, drank his own coffee, and waited. He knew Ross by now. Sure enough, he suddenly sighed. “Thanks for being so decent about this. It’s about Laura, the wifey.”
“Go on…?”
“Well, as I think I’ve told you, there’s a bairn on the way, yes? She’s about half way. Well, you know how they give mums-to-be all kinds of check-ups these days? Blood tests, and what all? Laura’s been for them all, regular as clockwork, and no problems to report. Then, just the other day, she got a letter. Putting it simply, it turned out that they wanted to repeat one of the tests, so it was down to the clinic for a blood sample repeat. She tried to get out of them what it was all about. Eventually, someone admitted that the result they’d got was a bit abnormal, so they wanted to run the test again. It happened all the time, they said. They didn’t make any big deal of it, so she wasn’t too bothered. Anyway, yesterday, she gets a letter in the post. Again, cutting it short, it was an appointment to go up to the hospital. Not a lot of explanation, except for some reference to this same test. Now of course, she’s worried sick. And, to be frank, so am I.”
“So when’s the appointment?”
“This Friday morning.”
“Right. Thursday afternoon, just make sure everything’s ticking O.K, especially the Matthewson stuff, of course. Then, Friday, take the morning off, and go with that lass of yours. No need to book anything out – I’ll square it with Uncle Bob. Would that help?”
Ross felt that a lead weight had been lifted off his back. “That would be absolutely terrific. Thank you ever so much for your concern.”
Alex lowered his voice. “A word, laddie. You’ve made a very positive contribution to this firm in the time you’ve been with us. I’m quite sure I speak for all the directors when I say that I wish you both all the best, and I fervently hope nothing’s wrong. But in any case, I think you should accompany your wife. And… give her the directors’ best wishes, will you?”

On Friday morning, Ross and Laura made their way to the obstetrics and gynaecology department of the local hospital. Laura was just holding herself calm as she gave her name at the reception desk. Fortunately, the sister on duty that day was one of a growing new breed, who realised that setting people at ease went a long way in antenatal care.
“Ah! Teamwork, I see. Always good.” She motioned towards the seats in an inner waiting area. Not all staff took this view, Laura knew. She sighed with relief. The sister looked at her notes. “Laura McGeoch, is it? Right. One of the ladies here will see you shortly. And then the prof will see you, too…” She rolled her eyes. “That’s when he appears. I’m sorry about this. I think us lot here are having a wee whip-round for a nice clock for him, as a retirement present. Only we’re no’ goin’ to wait for his retirement. We’re going to make it an alarm clock.” Ross and Laura grinned.

After a short interval, a young midwife beckoned to Laura and led her into a side-room. “O.K… I’m Gina, by the way. I’ve checked the notes, so let’s have a look at you, and a wee feel of that tummy.”
Laura made herself comfortable on the couch, partly undressed. Gina carefully and painstakingly inched her gentle fingers over Laura’s tummy, using a stethoscope at the same time. At length, she stopped and smiled. “Well, so far, so good. But, if you don’t mind, I’ll not say any more until Mr Munro’s seen you.”
Laura rejoined Ross to await Professor Munro’s arrival. In the bustle around him, Ross had tried unsuccessfully to read a magazine. He was glad to see that Laura looked a little more relaxed. After around half an hour, Laura was called away to see Mr Peter Munro.

The Professor did only about as much as Gina had done. Finally he smiled.
“O.K, fine. Relax. Your husband’s with you, I gather? I think we’ll call him in.”
When Ross was called, he felt sick, and then relieved as he took in the smile of the consultant. He and Laura sat down in front of his desk. And then Peter Munro, a man with bushy eyebrows over clear grey-blue eyes, a mop of greying hair, and more letters after his name than in it, began a part of his job that he rather enjoyed.

“Well, first of all, Mr and Mrs McGeoch, I must apologise to you if all this procedure has given you cause for alarm. I can imagine how you both may have felt over the last few days, having got one of the hospital’s standard letters without much explanation.” Clearing his throat, he went on. “However, I’m very glad to be able to say that, in your case, there is absolutely no need to worry any longer.” Noting the visible signs of relief on the two faces in front of him, he continued. “Very simply, we routinely do tests to look at the amount of a certain substance in the mother’s blood. If it’s higher than usual, it can mean there’s a problem. But in this case, there’s another factor we need to take into account.” He paused, savouring the moment. Ross looked puzzled, then broke in.
“I hope this doesn’t get much more complicated, professor.”
Peter Munro looked up calmly and smiled, holding the fingers of both hands like steeples as he did so. “There… isn’t really a complicated way to say the next bit, even if I tried.”
He turned to Laura. “You are expecting twins, Mrs McGeoch. Congratulations, both of you.”

The eighteenth and final part will follow soon!

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Silent Sunday: 23 March 2014

S.S. 14-03-23

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By the Butterfly Tree – Part Sixteen

And so the story continues. Once again, if you’re new to this little saga, it’s best to begin here.

Archie and Helen now lived in an old, but cosy and refurbished, cottage in a village some fifteen miles out of the city. They had moved there after they had both finally retired from the shipyard and the hospital, having lived, to begin with, in the small town-house that had first belonged to Helen’s parents.

When Ross reached the cottage by bicycle, on the Thursday evening after Laura had told him the story of her granny’s bequests, he hugged his step-grandma in greeting.
“How are you, Grandma Helen? You look younger every time I come.”
Helen grinned back at him. “Och, you with your flattery – what are you after this time?”

When she had married Archie, she had been deeply conscious of the special place Jenny had had in the family, and didn’t want to presume to walk into their lives. Archie, on the other hand, had wanted her to be welcome and at ease. As Jenny had always been ‘Granny’ they had settled on ‘Grandma Helen’ which, everyone said, suited her fine.

Over tea and biscuits, Ross explained slowly about how things were between him and Laura (as if I didna ken, thought Archie) and then Laura’s problem. Archie and Helen listened with interest, nodding, smiling, and then sighing as the story unfolded. Finally, Archie confirmed Ross’s thoughts.
“I think what you said to Laura’s about the size of it, laddie. The more details we’ve got, the better. Names, addresses, dates, whatever. If her auntie could write it like a letter, and sign it, that would be good too, I think. It might at least be a lever to put a bit of pressure on the provost’s office. I’ll go up there, if you like. Of course, a lot of the folk I knew in the fire service and such will have retired now, but… you never know…”
Ross finished his tea, had a look at what Archie and Helen had been doing to their little house and garden, and went home.

After work the following night, he called to see Laura before she visited her auntie and uncle, that weekend. On the Sunday afternoon, Uncle Fred would take her to the nearest branch-line station, where she would get the last train home.

She saw Ross only briefly, after both of them finished work, on Monday, but told Ross that her Auntie had listened to what she’d asked her, and would write down all she knew in a letter, then post it to her.
“She even said she’d look through a tin box that was in the attic, for old letters and stuff. She didn’t want to get anything wrong, and spoil any chance there might be.”
“Well… At least we’ll all have made an effort, poppet. We’ll see what Grandpa makes of it.” Ross himself was rather dubious, but hadn’t the heart to say so.

The promised letter came the following Monday. Laura passed it on to Ross that evening, and on the following evening, he made the journey to the cottage once again. The day had been dull and rainy at times, and further rain was likely, so he didn’t stay long at the cottage. After quick drink of orange squash, he started on his return journey, and, indeed, just reached home before the skies opened again.

When Ross got home from work on Thursday, a letter was waiting for him. It was from Archie, and very short.

Dear Ross,
I’ve read the letter and notes that Laura’s Auntie wrote. I’d
like to check a few details. Could you and Laura come to
tea on Saturday? We’d love to see her again, anyway.
All the best, laddie.
Love from Grandma Helen, and me too,

Saturday dawned fine and warm. As Laura now had a bicycle of her own, she and Ross decided to cycle to the cottage together instead of taking the bus. It would give them an appetite for tea, which, Ross said, they would need.
When Helen had given them drinks and biscuits, Archie first took Ross outside. “We’ll talk the serious stuff in a few minutes. I just want to show you something, before I forget.” Leaving Laura and Helen together, Archie led Ross to the small yard that was covered by a lean-to roof, supported on the cottage side by metal brackets, which were badly rusted.
“I was wondering, laddie, do you think you could get some fresh ones made, at your firm?” Ross was sure that he could, and together, they measured the brackets before returning inside.
As they sat down in the living room, Laura seemed a bit upset, Ross thought. O well, if so, she would tell him later.
“Right, then,” Archie began, cheerfully “I think Grandma Helen and Laura have had a wee chat, so that’s something cleared up…?” As both nodded, Archie saw Ross’s puzzled face. “Don’t worry, Laddie, you’ll understand very soon. One more question…”
Archie dipped into his pocket, and placed a small, battered, fibreboard box on the coffee table in front of him, opening it as he did so.
“Is this the one, do you think…?”
Laura and Ross gasped in unison. A beautiful diamond, flanked by two vivid pink sapphires, flashed up at them from a gold ring. Helen held Laura as she slumped backwards. Ross’s face became a puzzled frown.
“But… Grandpa… How did you do this so quickly? What about all the legal checks, and stuff…?”
“Ah, well, you see, I didna have to trouble the City Hall. I just had to go to the garden shed.”
The young couple’s faces made a picture no artist could ever aspire to producing.

Slowly and carefully, Archie explained about the walk he’d taken, that summer, all those years ago. About finding the gas-mask case, and leaving it to Jenny to take it to the police station. And how Jenny had been struck down with her illness before she could make the errand…

In the height of Archie’s concern for Jenny, the gas-mask case had been forgotten. It had lain on the cellar-head shelf until the time when Archie had moved out when he married Helen. She had helped him to clear the house. The contents of the cellar shelves she had put into some old packing-cases, then transferred to the cellar of her own house, intending to go through the stuff with Archie, later. Some memories would still be raw, she had thought. Then, when they moved to the cottage, the same packing-cases were put in the shed. There they remained, undisturbed, until, on Tuesday evening, Archie had opened Kath’s letter and read the words ‘They lived at number fifteen, Trafalgar Terrace…’

Laura took Ross’s hand and led him into the garden. She leant against his chest, sobbing, and gasping for breath.
“I’m sorry.”
Ross held her, gently patting her back as if she were a baby. Finally, he asked her what the matter was.
“My baby sisters. I should have told you. You see, ever since that foggy day when you walked me home, I loved you. But I’d always said to myself that I wouldn’t let any boy make friends with me, just out of pity. So I said nothing. Then, somehow, as we got serious, it got harder. Will you forgive me?”
Ross’s eyes were filling, now.
“My dear precious poppet, there is nothing to forgive.”
Their faces closed on each other.

After a lovely meal, Laura felt better. Ross, of course, now realised that the discussion about the lean-to had been a ploy to leave Laura and Helen alone together. Wise, kind old grandpa. Now, he led Laura outside again. They had offered to help wash up, but Archie and Helen had told them to take time together. Wise again, thought Ross.

They were standing within sight and scent of the buddleia in the cottage garden.
“Laura, my poppet…?”
“Yes, sweetheart…?”
“I’ve a wee box in my pocket. I wondered… whether you wanted to, you know, try something on?”
This was the moment Laura had been longing for. With great difficulty, the steeled herself.

“Ross… Leslie… McGeoch. When it comes to trying anything on, you are the best, all right. On. One. Knee. Now!”

* * *

It was time for two blissfully happy young people to cycle home. But before they left, Archie had one more question. Had had agreed to keep the gas-mask case and the rest of the papers, for the time being, but he showed one very small one to Laura, that had been enclosed with the ring. It carried only the words ‘To E.M.E. From A.R.B. 22 March 1920′.
“Laura, your auntie said that your granddad was Alistair Buchannon, and had been in the RAF, is that right?”
“Yes, I remember being told that much.”
“What was your granny’s maiden name, did you ever hear?”
Laura frowned, screwing up her eyes in thought.
“Yes… Wait a minute… Got it! She was Elizabeth Ellison.”

Part seventeen is now published here!

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