Martha started visiting Old Mrs Blythe when her husband gave up his milk round. Old Mrs Blythe had always been “old”, or so it seemed to Martha. When Patrick had taken over the milk round ten years earlier he had described her as “old”, even then. Mrs Blythe had looked plaintively at Patrick when he told her his decision and asked: “But where will I get my milk bottles now?” So Martha had gone round to see if the old woman needed help with her shopping.
“Oh, I’m alright dear. Young James from the butchers delivers my meat and poultry, young Steven brings my groceries, and the little bits and pieces I can get as and when…it’s just I’ve always thought milk from glass bottles tastes better than the milk from cartons or plastic bottles. But you are welcome to stop and have a cup of tea with me, and maybe a slice of cake?”
That was what it was! That warm comforting smell of baking that had accosted Martha on entry to the house; not the fusty old person’s smell that she had expected. Martha had inwardly slapped her own wrists when she remembered what she had thought when Patrick had said, “Mrs Blythe’s house reminds me of my visits to my Grandma.”
Martha’s visits started five years ago. Twice a month she would sit with Mrs Blythe drinking tea, eating cake and talking about this and that, everything and nothing. In the odd silences they would listen to the clock on the mantle piece which kept pace with all that was going on around it. It had been her grandmother’s clock. Both she and her sister had wanted it, but her sister always seemed to get what she wanted, until she got married.
Her sister’s husband had called it a “monstrosity”! “The tick is too loud!” he had said. “Make sure you remember to close the door to the hall when you come up! … For goodness sake, even with the door closed I can still hear it!” He would insist on not closing the bedroom door because, “The air needs to circulate!” In the end Mrs Blythe’s sister had brought it over to Mrs Blythe and it had remained with her ever since, moved houses and aged with her, forever gracing her mantle piece. Mrs Blythe had smiled: “Although it was my grandmother’s, it reminds me of my grandfather. He would stand by it as he lit his pipe, then he would tell us tall tales, adventures that would last through many chimes!
When Old Mrs Blythe died, Martha was not really sad, that is to say, not excessively sad. She knew that she would miss their times together, and the warmth with which she had always been welcomed. But for the passed three years Mrs Blythe had been saying:
“I’m tired. It’s time I went. I miss my husband…The visits from the children and grandchildren have ebbed away…The boys were always too busy to visit their mother, and their children never got into the habit. Now they have children too!… I get the odd call but it only seems to be when they want something, and most of the things they want have long gone… I’d have liked to have spent more time with their young ones… The youngest did come three Summers ago. He was doing a project at school. I felt very old when he started talking about ‘the olden days’. I hadn’t really felt old till then. You know, a failing eyesight is a kindness to old age. I would look in the mirror and see the young me, not a wrinkle in sight! My new glasses gave me a real shock, I can tell you!… Still, I mustn’t grumble, I’ve been very lucky with my friends!” Mrs Blythe had smiled at Martha when she said this. “Is there anything you want, dear?”
Martha had been taken aback. She had never visited with the thought of being given anything, except cups of tea and slices of cake! But really, even without these, it was always such a pleasure to go. “I don’t know. I -” Martha had looked around the room with it’s withering wallpaper, chipped china, and fading photographs on the walls. “I suppose a keepsake that reminds me of you would be nice - not that I will ever forget you!” she had added with a smile, knowing that this was true.
Old Mrs Blythe’s family looked Martha up and down at the reading of the Will. They had barely noticed her at the funeral; they had been so taken aback by how many people had gone! There was “young James” with his family. Martha had smiled to herself. “Young James” must have been at least 65 and “young Steven” not far behind! The Mother’s Union had insisted on putting on a ‘tea’, much to the family’s dismay; they had wanted to get away quickly. But Old Mrs Blythe had been a stalwart of the Mother’s Union in her day, and the ladies (and gentleman) from the Flower Guild had dressed the Church specially. That was the other thing the family had frowned over, they had wanted “just the crematorium”, but too many voices were saying that would not do for Old Mrs Blythe.
Martha had smiled. Faded faces from the past had not forgotten, indeed, she realised that many friends must have popped in now and again for a cup of tea and a slice of cake…
Mrs Blythe would have been proud of the cakes that graced the tables that afternoon. Of course, all wanted to say something over tea about the friend that had gone; much to the family‘s dismay! However, one by one the family began to regret that they hadn’t got to know their mother, grandmother, great grandmother better.
Martha was not left a fortune, much to the family’s relief; just the old clock from the mantle piece, much to the family’s dismay!
Competition Entry 2015
© Despina Hadjioannou 2015
© 2016 Yeadon Writers
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