This, declared great grandmother Thelma at her husband’s burial, this family is now matriarchal. I am now the person at the top; not grandfather. He did a grand job holding this family together, and now it’s my turn.
I didn’t at all like the way he favoured some over others. From now on we shall all be equal. None of this privileged nonsense of boys over girls when it comes to handouts. Yes, I know there is some Chinese blood crept into the tree, but they are children of grandchildren, and therefore they don’t count. I can’t be responsible for everyone in the human race. After all, we’re all descended from Eve – and Adam.
To help out those in the family less fortunate I would ask those families well-off, and let’s face it that’s most of you, to make a generous donation to the memorial fund for Dennis. You would have seen a box for donations at the church door. Or you can mail it.
I reiterate, this is now a matriarchal family, and…
Come along now Thelma, said Nurse Sherry. Nurse Sherry was in charge at the retirement home just across from the cemetery. Thelma was forever dashing out when there was a burial, standing on the artificial grass mound, and making her regular speech. In fact, some mourners grew to be a little disappointed if Thelma failed to turn up. She cast a certain insobriety to a sometimes over-sombre occasion.
Carol disliked Christmas immensely. It wasn’t because of people teasing her about her name, it was because everyone seemed to get Christmas presents and she didn’t get anything. All the other kids at school got presents, like Judith who got a doll when she already had one, and Marlene got a kitten.
It wasn’t because they were Jewish or anything either. Nor were they Christians. Her parents didn’t give her anything for Christmas but they seemed to go from one office Christmas party to another, and they even had a party at home with all sorts of decorations and lights and a tree.
On Christmas morning, no one pretended to come down the chimney, even though Carol left a peanut brownie that she had pinched from the cookie jar in the kitchen. But it was still there in the morning, and her parents slept in until eleven o’clock. To fill in the time waiting for them to get out of bed, Carol watched television on her own. And when they got up they never even said “Merry Christmas”.
“That’s because your parents are very busy,” said Marlene’s mother, Mrs. Brocklehurst. Carol spent quite a bit of time at the Brocklehurst’s house. Carol was dropped off there by her mother whenever she was having guests for an afternoon tea or dinner or something.
Anyway, that was years ago. These days Carol’s parents are in a retirement home. Carol’s mother is bed-ridden and her father is in a wheelchair. Carol never visits them. It’s not that she’s mean or anything; it’s just that it never occurred to her.
How am I to know? (Excuse me a minute while I get my reading glasses; these days I can hardly read a thing without having to squint). The bottle of pills says on the label “Do not take this if you are pregnant”. How am I meant to know if I just got pregnant or not?
Doctors these days seem to proscribe medicine willy-nilly. This prescription is from the doctor attached to the Retirement Village. The pills are for my arthritis. The doctor doesn’t seem to care. He never asks if I’m trying to get pregnant or not. Goodness knows my husband and I have been trying for a few years; without much success I might add. But you never know. These pill things that I’m not meant to take if I’m pregnant could do their dirty work just at the very time I am at last going to have a baby.
The baby certainly won’t be named after the doctor by way of gratitude I can assure you. I would change my doctor here and now to someone more sympathetic, but every doctor’s visit costs money and I’ve just paid the earth to the regular Retirement Village doctor. I can ill afford to go see another.
I’ve been so inspired by that 66 year old Italian grandmother who had a baby. An inspiration! If she can do it, so can I. It keeps me going. But I hope these pills I’ve been given don’t stop any possibility. We try frequently, my husband and me, at the Retirement Village. We’ve been here for two years now.
No! No! We’re not residents at the Retirement Village. We work here. What on earth made you think otherwise?
Ernst had no real life savings but through care and a little nous he could get by comfortably enough on the weekly pension. His rent was reasonable, although it ate up the larger part of his pension. He could buy groceries, and by careful planning could even get a little something extra on a special occasion. He could pay for his electricity, provided he was careful; for example he always took a cold shower to save on hot water. He had a cell phone which cost him simply a few dollars because he never used it but kept it in case of emergency.
His house had a wood burner, but since he lived near a pine plantation the forest owners were happy enough for him to forage. In fact over the summer he built up quite a collection of firewood in his woodshed. As well as that, Ernst loved to garden, so the house was usually bright with a vase of fresh flowers, to say nothing of the soups and vegetables he could freeze for when the growing season was over.
All in all, Ernst survived reasonably well on the pension.
And then he had a stroke. He made a fairly remarkable recovery, but was limited. No more could he take a cold shower. He couldn’t collect and chop the firewood. It was cold. Nothing that year had been frozen from the garden. He couldn’t afford the few dollars for his phone. The electricity bill grew too big to pay. Then he couldn’t afford the rent. He was evicted but it cost too much to move his belongings. Besides, he had nowhere to go. He tried to sell a few things but with little luck.
Ernst was homeless.
As Mrs. Angela Govind-Higginson, who used to know Ernst and his late wife many years ago, observed, “Mercifully, he’s now dead.”
Errol was excited. Well, not so much excited as pleased. He had worked as an academic all his life, in the field of electromagnetic radiation, so getting excited was little over the top. His birthday was next Tuesday, and the following Monday, exactly at midnight, he should get his first pension payment. His wife, Siobhan, was a little older and had been getting the pension for more than a year.
As had been done for Siobhan, the first pension pay out (it was a little rule the two of them had) was to be spent on oneself! Errol knew exactly what he was going to get with his pension money: books!
In the weeks leading up to his birthday he scoured the internet. In the end he had ordered twenty-six books, and paid for them including postage. He suggested to Siobhan that she collect the mail through the coming days and store the books in a hidden pile. Then on his birthday all the books would be there! What a way to start the pension! What a feast of present opening!
The books arrived in dribs and drabs. Siobhan collected the mail and stored the books in a closet. The morrow saw his birthday! Except, not even a barrage of canon fire could have woken him.
You see that back door? It’s got a hole in it for a cat door. That was for Old Nanny Higginbotham’s cat. As you can see, she doesn’t live there anymore – Old Nanny Higginbotham – she moved out when the house half burned down and was bulldozed except for the kitchen and backdoor. I have no idea why they didn’t finish the job.
The cat’s dead, one suspects.
No one can remember when and why they started calling her Old Nanny Higginbotham. It began maybe fifty years ago when she was neither old nor a grandmother. She must be well into her eighties now. She called her cat Mopsie.
Mopsie was a tabby cat. It seems like it was always part of Old Nanny Higginbotham’s life although cats don’t live that long; fifteen years or so if you’re lucky. That cat was the only friend the old lady had. She seemed to have no family. Neighbours regarded her as cold and aloof. She wasn’t born for friendship that’s for sure; unless you’re thinking of her Mopsie. Mopsie certainly was her life.
The old lady milked a few goats. That might be why she was called Nanny. Even in her eighties she was out there milking her little herd. The goats were taken away after the fire, and Old Nanny Higginbotham was put into a retirement village. She didn’t want to leave her goats and farm of course, but the government welfare agency insisted. The retirement village wouldn’t let her bring the cat.
One afternoon (it was quite against the retirement village’s rules and regulations) Old Nanny Higginbotham took a taxi to her old bulldozed house. She called over and over: “Here kitty kitty kitty! Here pussy cat! Mopsie! Mopsie!” There was no answer. She put some cat food next to where the cat door had been. “Here kitty kitty kitty! Mopsie! Mopsie!”
Hours later, when it was dark, they found her still sitting on the backdoor step. Crying.
The world famous violinist had retired. After years of intense concert after concert, László Jovanović had found a nice cottage near the beach (for walks) and close enough to shops (for convenience). He could play his beloved violin all day (or not) without the pressure of concert preparation.
It’s not that he couldn’t afford a great big mansion by the sea, but he didn’t need it. The little cottage was cosy and much to his liking. And, did I say? it had a rose garden.
Every morning he would get out his second most precious violin and play. (His Stradivarius was safely locked in a bank vault somewhere). It was easy to believe that in the past people would pay heaps of money to hear him play. It was as if the ever-surging sea and his music melded into one. All was good with the universe. Well, it was as if all melded into one until the neighbours complained.
“What’s with the screeching cat next door scratching away? If he must learn an instrument why can’t he play a proper one like a guitar or a banjo? Or even a ukulele?”
László Jovanović never played the violin again. His rose garden was a picture.
Roberta couldn’t but help feel pleased. She had been promoted. In fact, in the average-sized town art gallery she could not have been promoted higher. To put it bluntly: Roberta was at the top; at the pinnacle. She was in charge.
She was only thirty-two. If headway was to be made in her professional career, she would have to move to a larger town with a larger art gallery. She did just that, selling the house and upping and moving. Of course, she had to take a cut in pay because she had to start down at the bottom again. But rung by rung she could move so much higher. There were so many promotions ahead!
These days Roberta is one year off retirement and is still near the bottom. Whenever a job vacancy came up, an ambitious teeny-bopper city-slicker with a university degree would apply. After retirement, Roberta has no idea how she’ll pay off the rest of her mortgage.
Cade had had a successful career as an historian. After he graduated he landed a wonderful job as a lecturer at a prestigious university. Over the years he had worked his way up to become a professor and head of the History Department.
And now he had retired. Oh! the accolades! There’s so much in life I have always wanted to do, said Professor Cade in his departing speech. So much that’s undone. How busy and fruitful retirement is destined to be.
Cade made a list of things he was going to do in his first year of retirement. There were so many masterpieces, for example, that he hadn’t read. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island was a case in point! There were dozens of literary classics that he’d never had time for. And now he would. He would read, read, read.
And then there was the music of Johann Sebastian Bach’s four composing sons. I want to become a Bach expert, he declared, with the music of Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Phillip Emmanuel, Johann Christoph Friedrich, and Johann Christian.
And Art. He would study famous paintings and one day, hopefully, travel to see the originals.
These days, of course, all this could be done on the computer. He wanted to start almost immediately. But first he’d just finish downloading a couple of computer games.