We get on well together, me and Linda.  Always have done.  She often asks for my opinion.

“How do you like these shoes, Dad?” she’ll say. “Do you think they go with this outfit?”

“Mmmm… very smart.”

“No… really? Do they suit me?”

“Well, they’re a practical sort of shoe,” I say, “but very nice all the same.”

Linda sighs.

“Stilettos are bad for your feet, Dad. This sort are better. Do they go with this dress?”

“They go very well considering they’re flat,” I say, “but you look better with a bit of extra height.”

Next day she goes and changes them.  Comes back with two-inch heels.  That’s what I like about Linda – she takes notice.

We only ever had the one child.  What with Mother’s problem and my back that was quite a miracle in itself.

She was like a little princess – golden curls, lovely little dresses.  Chosen twice for Mary in the School Nativity.  People used to say she was a credit to us – and she was.

She had a lovely voice.  In the choir at Grammar School.  Did well in exams.  The English teacher took a real shine to her – invited her home and on one occasion took her to the ballet.  Said she had real potential and seemed quite disappointed when we persuaded her to train as a teacher.

But like Mother and I said: It’s a secure job and well paid – not something to turn your nose up at.

We were glad when she was accepted by the local college.  Much more convenient – just half a mile away on the other side of town.

And it was about that time that Mother’s arthritis started playing up, so if Linda hadn’t been able to come home every night I don’t know what we’d have done.

She missed out on a few of the social events – dances and suchlike – but it didn’t interfere with her college work.  She did very well.  Got ‘A-’ on her final teaching practice and was offered a job almost immediately.

We did have a bit of a disagreement about that, because I’d been stationed near Birmingham during my National Service – Wolverton Barracks - and I knew she wouldn’t like it.  It’s rough around there.  In parts, really rough.

Then this other job came up just around the corner at St. Wilfrid’s C. of E. Primary and in the end she saw sense and applied for that.  She got it, too.  It was a case of ‘local girl makes good’.

People said: You should be very proud of her, Arthur – and I was.

It wasn’t long after that that Mother’s health broke down completely. It really upset her that she couldn’t look after us both in the way that she wanted. She struggled with the housework – all she could manage was a bit of light dusting. Hoovering was an absolute no-no.

I said to Linda: She’s devoted herself to this family, and this is where it’s ended up.  She’s like an invalid.  It’s up to us now.

In fact, she was an invalid.  Apart from the box and the bingo she had no pleasure at all.

Linda was a treasure.  Took her out in the new car.  Ran her down to bingo on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Even came on holiday with us – although she could have gone anywhere.  Some of the teachers at school wanted her to go to Portugal with them, but she knew Mother needed her.

Like I said: I’m afraid Grange-over-Sands is a far cry from the Algarve, Linda.  We all had a good laugh about that.
Mother’s accident was a terrible blow for both of us.  The van driver said she ran out from behind a parked car.

RAN – I ask you.  She could barely walk.

In fact, Linda and I couldn’t think what she was doing there – right in the centre of town at two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon.

Someone said she was making for the Bingo Hall for the afternoon session – they’d seen her there before.
They must have been mistaken.  She needed help to get on a bus.

In the end, we decided she was on her way to Boots.  She must have come to the end of her tablets and gone to get another pack.

That was Mother all over – determined to save us trouble. Unselfish to the end.

It took us months to get over it.

Linda saw to all the funeral arrangements – and the service was lovely, just lovely. There was a large wreath from both of us on the coffin, and everyone else made donations to the hospice. Reverend Jones spoke about what a fine wife and mother she had been, and then Linda had arranged to have a buffet in the function room above the Co-op café.
It went really well – if you can say such a thing about a funeral.

Everyone said: Arthur, you’ve done her proud – given her a good send off. Nobody could have done more.

After the service, I went to pieces, but Linda rallied round and was absolutely wonderful.  As far as the house was concerned, everything was just as before.

Washing done; shirts ironed; meals on the table; perfect.

So it was quite a shock when she first told me about Eric.  He’d been appointed to the Junior Department at St. Wilfrids and had taken a fancy to her. They both liked the same kind of music.

I said to Linda: Linda, you deserve the best.  I’m not going to stand in your way.  Your happiness is my greatest wish.
A week later she brought him round.  A thin little man with gold-rimmed glasses.  Expert at chess, apparently.

When I first put the idea to him, Eric seemed a bit doubtful.  He wasn’t sure about all three of us sharing the same house.

But like I said to him: We wouldn’t be sharing the house, Eric.  Think about it – all these rooms and just me rattling around in them.  And you and Linda paying a small fortune for a tiny flat with barely space to swing a cat.

It doesn’t make sense.  We could divide this place up between us.  Separate quarters – separate lives.  We might not even see each other for days.

In the end, he came round to the idea.

Linda bought a new set of crockery and I helped them to redecorate the front bedroom.  Then it was wedding bells.
We actually ate separately for a month or two.

It didn’t take long for him to start interfering.

He persuaded her to have a new kitchen.  Then a microwave.  Then a midi hi fi – all that racket.  I’d always thought ‘Meat loaf’ was something to eat not something to deafen you.

And I liked those old kitchen units.  Real quality there – not chipboard.

Then there was the garden.  All that talk about protecting the environment.  Eric never lifted a hoe.

Like I said: To you it’s a ‘wild garden’ – to me it’s an embarrassment.  Mother will be turning in her grave.

When they were away one weekend I spent two whole days tidying it up.  Not a word of appreciation – just criticism.
Didn’t I realise that nettles were the breeding ground for the Painted Lady?  Was I aware that the wet patch which I had just drained was the proposed sight of the new bog-garden?

We don’t want a bog in the garden, I said.  We got rid of the bog out there years ago.

I thought there was something funny going on when Eric started coming in late three times a week.

I said to Linda: Linda, nobody has Management Meetings that often – not even deputy heads.  She couldn’t see it.

Turns out he was playing away with the school secretary – divorcee and member of the local Green party.

When Linda faced him up with it, he said they shared a common interest – not a common problem. It was time to choose. Was she going to walk into the future with her intellectual equal or be manipulated by a bitter old man?

All that upset.  I think it was that that brought on my asthma attacks.

He left soon after that.  Got a headship in Liverpool and took his own school secretary with him.

Linda cried for a bit, but then she put in for Special Needs teacher at St. Wilfrid’s and soon got back into the swing.

She has quite a full social life.
Goes to the ballet.  Member of the rambling club.  Wonderful cook and housekeeper.  Like me, she likes the old-fashioned things.

She comes in after school, makes the meal, and then I wash up whilst she prepares her schoolwork or does the ironing.

By half-past eight we’re sitting down to watch the box together.  We like documentaries and Panorama.

Interesting item on the news last night.  All about this father from Iraq who had abducted his children and taken them abroad to live with him.

I said to Linda: I’m not sure if you can kidnap your own daughter, Linda. What do you think?

She was just bringing in our bedtime drink.

“Probably not, Dad,” she said. “Probably not.”

We get on really well together, me and Linda.


© Rod Broome 2012

Another story from Rod Broome - Rebecca's

Other Natterjack stories are here

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