WINCHESTER RANTS. A FACEBOOK GROUP CONCERNED WITH LOCAL ISSUES.
A photograph is posted on the group page. It shows the back view of a woman who is leaning over a bank of flowers. She holds a large shopping bag in one hand. The other hand is reaching forward to pick daffodils. Her face cannot be seen.
LucyS.437: “Taking the P***! What kind of Moron picks all the flowers planted on the corner of the Alresford Rd?”
KingCanute: “Selfish. Those daffodils are council property. Where are the Police?”
Bikeman: “Photo taken with a go-pro? Could be enhanced.”
LibertyandJoy: “Get a life! Can’t believe the petty comments here. BTW, when are the traffic works on Jewry Street going to be completed?”
KingCanute: “No LibertyandJoy. You are wrong. THIS IS ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOUR AND MUST NOT BE TOLERATED.”
Justine is coming here tomorrow. It is a ‘scheduled visit’ to see if I’m managing. It’s hard with Derrick gone, but I’m getting there. I’ve put some beautiful daffodils, lovely sunny yellow ones, in a vase on the shelf, next to the photo of Nan. The money for the electrics is ready on the pre-paid key, and I’ve paid the rent up to the end of the month.
I’ve only had one splurge this week. A metal wall hanging that says, Live, Laugh, Love. I’ve put it over the sofa, next to the “Dream Big” picture of an elephant. I have put away the cushion saying SEXY that Derrick gave me. I was worried the police might want it as evidence, so I shoved it behind some big cartons in the kitchen cupboard.
Justine has only recently become my social worker. She is about thirty I think, and has a nice briefcase but quite a frowny face. She will help me with my independence. When I left the children’s home last year, I should have had a social worker then, but when I met Derrick, he said that I didn’t need one – he would help me out.
Other care leavers went straight into flats with their boyfriends. The Council said that I needed support, but not too much. They showed me the flat. I said it was great, because it’s on the ground floor. I’ve got my own front door. It’s one large bright room for everything. There’s a grey carpet and a patch of lino for the kitchen. Oh, and a tiny shower room too. On my level there’s two other doors, opening off the hall way. One opens out onto the yard. The other is for the shared laundry room which has a drier too. The first thing I bought was a door mat that says Home Sweet Home. Then the men in the flats upstairs started using the meter cupboard by the back door to leave little parcels in, and it got noisy. Soon after that I met Derrick.
I met Derrick in the graveyard. He is 40 years old and very smart. I’d never seen a cravat before I met him. He has a blonde moustache and always carries mints to keep his breath fresh. I was replacing one of the windmills on Nan’s grave. It had broken when the strong autumn wind blew it right over. I’d also got her an angel holding a heart with ‘Forever’ written on it.
Derrick was there for his dad. A plain marble stone marked the place with the name ‘REGINALD JOHN PRIORS’ on it.
“Simple and to the point.” Derrick had said, placing a small round stone on one corner. I had felt completely lost for words. He accompanied me to the gates of the cemetery and touched the brim of his hat. Later, when I got to know him better, I asked him about his hat. It’s called a trilby. My nan used to say that wearing a hat is the sign of a gentleman.
The next week after that I bumped into Derrick at the end of my road. I had two bags of shopping with me. I’d been to Iceland for my frozen bits and I had some fresh milk. He looked around my room carefully, saying that it had, “A delightful atmosphere.” He liked the mug I chose for him to have his tea in. It was the teddy bear one saying ‘Best Friend’.
“It’s an omen.” He said. I didn’t know what he was on about – how could it have anything to do with a horror film? I unwrapped his mini swiss roll for him. Then we went to the cemetery.
I told Nan that I had a new friend and the wind chime made a tinkling noise, so I knew that she approved.
Derrick asked me questions about my life. I don’t often talk about the time when, after Nan died, I was fostered by my aunt. She couldn’t cope with looking after me and getting me out to school every day, so I went into the children’s home when I was fourteen. Derrick had been to boarding school so other people had brought him up too. He said that I was a shining example of the welfare state in action. Almost if the Council was my family! I felt sorry for him, being a six-year-old boy and sleeping in a dormitory with seven others. At least I had a warm place in my nan’s bed until she passed on when I was thirteen.
The council told me that I should go on a course. Derrick helped me a lot with my homework for this. It’s called ‘Assisted Living’. I learned how to log on to a computer, then he helped me to fill in forms. I got a new proper bank account with a cash card. Derrick said I had to change the pin number to something memorable.
“Just think of some numbers you will never forget.”
I nodded and racked my brain. “My shoe size and Christmas day?” I suggested.
Derrick said, “Try a bit harder. What date is seared in your memory?”
That was easy, “The 15th of April, the day when Nan died. 1504.”
“Very good.” He said, and wrote it in his diary, in case I ever needed reminding.
The goal I had was to become more independent and to find a job. One of the leaflets that they gave me when I left the Children’s home said that’s what I had to do. Justine says that she can help me with that too. It won’t be the same as with Derrick. He’d give me a kiss when I’d finished writing a paragraph. I’d sit on his lap and he would put the calculator onto his phone and I’d find the numbers for my maths work. He helped me to write my statement on the application form for my voluntary work at the Aged Friends charity shop. I learned the words ‘resilient’ and ‘resourceful’ that day.
I’ve been at The Aged Friends for a month or so, but last week they got worried. Things went downhill. Maureen is the supervisor. Normally I work with the steamer machine out the back, but that day we were sorting through lingerie together. It’s surprising what people donate. I mentioned that Derrick liked me to wear lace undies that he would buy for me, and that the red ones had shown up much better in the films that we made. Maureen didn’t say anything, but later, over tea ( I had the sunflower mug – jolly yellow) she asked me Derrick’s surname. I said ‘Priors’ and Maureen shook her head.
On the Friday I was steaming a dress for the Spring window display. Maureen came in and asked me to stop so we could have a chat to a nice lady. We sat down in the back room, amongst the boxes and bags. Maureen told me that the lady was a Police officer. She asked me loads of questions about Derrick.
At 4.30 when the shop closed Derrick wasn’t waiting for me. Later that evening the same Police woman came to my flat, and with her Justine who was going to be my new social worker. It wasn’t a long visit. I showed them both around my place, then in the bathroom I noticed that Derrick’s toothbrush was gone, and also his slippers weren’t in the hall.
The Police woman explained to me that Derrick wasn’t supposed to have relationships, and that he’d been told not to make films. She told me in a very serious voice that Derrick’s real surname was not Priors but ‘Wilson’. Then she asked me how old he said he was.
I said “Forty”. Justine frowned and tapped her notes with her pen.
“Fifty-Three.” Then she traced the words on the page with her pen, and stopped. “He has a criminal record and has been in prison for five years. He only was released in August last year.”
Derrick had told me that one day he might have to leave in a rush, but I didn’t tell them that. So that’s why I picked the flowers – they are bright and pretty and I’m looking after them. Shawn from upstairs said that I could be in trouble with the police, it’s stealing. He said that he wouldn’t tell, but is coming down to visit me later, after Justine’s visit. He wears fancy trainers and you can see all the way through his ear lobes. He’s 21 years old, and has a tattoo on his arm.
I look around the room. It’s completely ready for Justine. The daffodils, in their yellow bonnets are peering in all directions. I walk over to the shelf and Nan’s picture. It’s like she’s talking to me, in the gentle way she had. “Shelley.” She says, “Thank you my darling, the flowers are lovely. You can tell Justine what happened with Derrick. You don’t need to look after Shawn’s parcels, or have anything to do with those other men upstairs. Go with the social worker and talk to the lovely Police lady.” I nod back at Nan and the flowers. Then I go to get the SEXY cushion out of the kitchen cupboard and I wait for Justine.
©Miriam Coley. Winchester. March 2020
I have always enjoyed stories; listening to others’ and telling my own. My family, especially my Welsh grandmother and her sisters were prolific story tellers and prone to exaggeration in their tales. This early love led to a voracious appetite for reading and watching plays, especially at the Bristol Old Vic theatre, when I was growing up.
I studied English and Drama at the University of Birmingham, then trained to teach at the University of London Institute of Education. I have worked in a range of settings, including Comprehensive schools in London and Birmingham and am now teaching adults at a College in Winchester. Working part time has enabled me to work on my writing too, studying at the University of Winchester, gaining an MA in Creative and Critical Writing.
I enjoy writing in many different genres. I have recently completed editing my novel called Close to the Edge (90400 words) which is literary fiction with a crime theme. I am in the process of looking for an agent for this. In November 2018 I had a short story published online on a website called ‘Away from the Western Front’ ( https://awayfromthewesternfront.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Compiled-entries-over-18.pdf) , then in February 2019 my short play, Coffee and Cakeswas performed at The Nuffield Theatre Southampton in an Experiment evening. I also directed this. Since September 2019 I have freed up more time for my own writing, and have enjoyed the editing process too much. My future writing plans are to develop my play into a one act drama, and to write the sequel to Close to the Edge.
This short story, Daffodils, was written in answer to a number of letters in The Hampshire Chronicle that featured a story of someone picking daffodils.