I was born on New Year’s Day, 1900. Exactly when midnight struck. I know this to be true: Father divided his attention equally between my birth and the clock. Mother insisted I was born a minute after, however she had admitted that her mind was otherwise too occupied to be completely sure.
Growing up was nice enough. We didn’t have that much, but we lived happily regardless. I went to school and didn’t have to sell matchsticks on the street unlike many others I knew. At home, Mother taught me how to cook and clean, even though I had classes about them.
“They are not as good as my techniques, dear. Pay close attention and you will see the differences!” she said, waving her dusting cloth around wiping the air clean. But, and I’m being very honest here, as much as I cherished my time with Mother, it was Father with whom I shared the best memories with. He would let me play in his office, even when it was past my bedtime. He talked to me about his favourite author, Charles Dickens, a lot.
“I never knew the man, and never will. But his stories? They will live forever as long as at least one person remembers them,” he said as I sat on his lap. I listened intently whenever Father discussed this author, despite disliking Charles Dickens at the time (I preferred stories of fantasy and magic rather than realism).
I can still picture Father’s smiling eyes and how he kissed my forehead through his moustache.
Now, let me tell you one of my most precious memories: when I met a girl my age, who had moved in next door with her family of thirteen (and growing).
“Have you heard?” she yelled from her bedroom window as I was reading outside.
“Well, my hearing is above adequate, so I suppose I have heard plenty of things,” I replied.
“The Titanic! She sank! Let me tell you, I will never even step on a boat in my life!” she exclaimed – though she wasn’t as loud as her mother, who berated her for being so unladylike as to yell at strangers on the street. The girl replied that soon I will no longer be a stranger, so she could yell out of her window at me whenever she wanted. She then ran outside and introduced herself as Florence.
Just as Florence and I began to gain attention from the local boys, war began. My dear Father to go and fight – it was his duty to his beloved country. I said goodbye to him, but if I had known what happened afterwards, I would have hugged him and reminded him how much he meant to me. Because when he came back, he was merely shrapnel of exploded shells on the battlefield. He stopped talking and would stare at something nobody else could see. He stopped reading Charlies Dickens.
The boys I liked also went to war – only to never return. However, there was one lad who refused to go. We all hounded him, called him weak. We gave him white feathers until his body was found hanging in his room. Florence called him a coward; I agreed until I saw what war did to Father and my admirers. I understood his refusal too late. His name was Harry.
War eventually ended. I got a job as a bookseller to help Mother since Father never got out of bed. One day, a man visited the shop and asked what books I’d recommend. I told him anything by Charles Dickens and why I became to love the books so much. The next day, the man returned to ask the same question, only for me to give the same answer. We did this every day until he asked me on a date. He said how I became to love the stories of Charles Dickens showed what kind of person I was and he fell for me. His name was Mortimer and, in 1919, we married.
Florence met an older gentleman. I never learnt his name before he vanished and left Florence pregnant. She wanted to keep it, but she had to give it away, no matter how hard she tried to fight for it.
“I and Mortimer will adopt your child,” I told her as we had tea in my kitchen, “You are always welcome to visit him.” She wouldn’t stop hugging me. My shoulder became warm and damp with her tears. Florence picked the name John.
The 1920s and 30s were good to us. After John’s arrival came my other children. Elizabeth and Harry. Florence visited us regularly and, in gratitude, bought us a radio. Florence and I spent evenings together listening to it. Other times, we all danced to the new jazz music – dear Mortimer tripped over Elizabeth when he attempted the Charleston!
Then, war came once again. Mortimer, John and Harry were to fight. I said goodbye and hugged them tightly, but Florence begged John to stay. But John had no choice. All three of our children left us for France.
German bombs devastated our home into ash. Luckily Florence welcomed us into hers. Florence, Elizabeth and I supported one another until war ended.
Mortimer and Harry came back.
Florence yelled it was my fault. I should have tried to stop him from going. She spat in my face and kicked us out. That next week, she disappeared.
We found a home, but we were still lost. The present was a plague of war flashbacks, Mortimer and Harry screaming in foetal positions. Florence was still missing. I would look at the radio and cry.
However, with the arrival of the 60s came new music, clothing and ideas. More women wore trousers, colour become bolder and civil rights movements gave me insights into other people’s realities I hadn’t thought twice about. Now in my sixties, I no longer wanted to be an old hag who despised the present and longed for the ‘good old times’. I was to enjoy the new trends, as I once did before.
In the 60s, I fell in love with Pink Floyd – Mortimer preferred the Rolling Stones. We both experimented with platform boots in the 70s, falling into one another, laughing out tears. I played video games with my great-grandchildren in the 80s. Strangers said I was an embarrassment, but only because I beat them at Pacman. When my arthritis crippled my hands, I could no longer play, but watching my family play and have fun was just entertaining.
During all this, I searched for Florence. After over 50 years of persistence, in 1998, I found her in a care home. She slumped in her chair, bitter at the world, but she was still my Florence. We talked about John. She cried as she apologised for what she did to me, to my family, to our friendship. I told her I forgave her decades ago. When I left, she yelled out of the window that she had stepped onto a pedalo once and that it was the only boat she ever stepped on, but it was enough for her. I yelled back congratulations for conquering her fear.
The following night, she passed away in her sleep.
And so, during these last thirteen minutes of 1999, I have told you my life story. I don’t have long. But before I reunite with my parents and darling Mortimer again; before I apologise to the first Harry; before I dance to the radio with Florence again, I await my birthday card from the Queen and see what the 21st century has to offer.
Happy New Year to you all.
And that is my first short story on my blog! I have said that I wanted to upload more of my writing and I wanted to start with this one. I wrote an earlier version for Wonderfully Bookish’s Short Story Challenge (where you can read mine as well as other writers’ work here. I’ve made a few changes and, though it’s not perfect just yet, I’m happy with this version.
I am open to constructive criticism and look forward to see what you think.
Thank you for reading!