Nothing to be done

This is a work of fiction. A short story of just over 1000 words.

When Don came home from the war in 1945, the first thing he did was to rush over to Maggie’s house. They soon arranged the wedding. It wouldn’t be a big affair. Just the service, and some sandwiches in the parlour afterwards. But they didn’t care. They had waited long enough, and despite the hard times they would go ahead and get married, as they had always promised each other they would. For Don and Maggie, there could never be anyone else. They had been in love as long as they could remember.

Those first few years living above Don’s grandma had seemed blissful to them. They both had jobs, and saved hard for the future. One night out a week, often to the cinema, was all they needed. When baby William came along, they managed to get moved into a new flat, on the estate close to the river. Maggie enjoyed making this new home their own, and Don worked weekends to get extra money. That summer, they took William to see the Festival of Britain exhibition near Waterloo Station, and they both agreed that life was good.

When William became ill, they both sat by his bedside at the hospital. The four-year old boy was distressed, and the doctors could do little for him. Don would go straight there after work, and it broke his heart to see the sick boy, and his distraught young wife too. The doctor took them into a small room on the morning that William died. Meningitis, he said. They had done all they could. That night, Maggie and Don hugged each other, and cried themselves to sleep.

After that, Maggie decided she didn’t want anymore children. She couldn’t face that hurt again. Don agreed of course, and they gave William’s things away, then put his large framed photo over the mantelpiece. Don bought an old car, and took Maggie away to a caravan holiday on the Kent coast. They liked that a lot, so the year after, they decided to buy their own caravan on the site. Maggie went back to work, and Don no longer had to work weekends. Every Friday, they would load up the car, and make the trip down to their caravan. When they had their two-week summer holiday, they would also spend it there, soon becoming well known, part of the community on the site.

Others started to take the popular package holidays abroad. They returned suntanned, clutching sombreros, and talking of sandy beaches and cheap drinks. But that wasn’t for Maggie and Don. They were content with their caravan, and enjoyed each others company. They could be happy with fish and chips at the seafront, and an evening at the site club. They never wanted much.

The 1970s were the golden years for Maggie and Don. After saving hard for so many years, they had managed to buy the small house in the suburbs a few years earlier. It meant travelling longer to work, but they could come home to the small neat garden, the tomato plants, the rose bushes, and cosy evenings watching TV. Despite problems with industry, strikes, and petrol shortages, they remained unaffected by the changes. Both of their jobs seemed secure, and they were careful with money. Don paid into an extra pension scheme at work, and now they had the garden, they sold the old caravan on the coast.

When Maggie retired, she threw herself into making the house nice, and spent many happy hours pottering around in the garden. Don promised her that when he retired, they would take longer holidays, perhaps get a dog that they could take for walks. When he finally did retire five years later, he came home from work with an attractive carriage clock, and a nice card. Everyone had signed it. They put the clock on the mantelpiece, just to the left of William’s photograph. Then they sat for a while, looking at the photo, and watching the clock.

The holidays never happened. Don woke up one morning with pains in his legs, and found it difficult to walk. The doctor said it was something to do with his spine. He showed them a plastic model of some bones, and told them where Don’s problem was. Nothing to be done, he had said. Don would just have to learn to live with it. Maggie had never learned to drive, and Don could no longer manage it. They sold the car, and she had to get the bus to the shops. Don did his best, but he wasn’t able to help around the house any more, or with the gardening.

Maggie was tired all the time. She seemed to always have a headache, and after a lifetime of being the sweetest woman he had ever met, Don began to notice that she was short-tempered, and often spiteful too. She forgot their wedding anniversary, for the first time ever. And it was their fiftieth too. Their Golden Wedding. Don had struggled to the shop to buy her a card, and sent off for a special bracelet to mark the occasion. But Maggie wouldn’t read the card, and she refused to try on the jewellery. Don wasn’t angry with her, but he felt sad and confused. This wasn’t like Maggie. Not like his Maggie at all.

She had been in the home for almost five years now. Dementia, the doctors had said. Nothing to be done.
Don had to get a woman in to do the cleaning, and he managed on what he could buy from the small shop up the road. His legs had not got any worse, but they hadn’t got better either. Once a week, he got a taxi to go and see her, emerging from the car with a heavy heart, taking a deep breath as he walked inside.

That Sunday, she was in her usual seat by the picture window. Her white hair was unkempt, and her cardigan stained with food. He sat in a nearby chair, and reached his hand over to take hers. She pulled her hand away, staring blankly past his gaze. When she spoke, it sounded strange. They had forgotten to put her teeth in again. “Go away please, I am expecting my husband. I am sure he will be here soon, and he won’t like it if you are touching my hand”.

Don sat looking at her for a while. As he left, he had to pause to wipe away the tears running down his face.

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30 thoughts on “Nothing to be done

  1. A true life tale that happens to too many people as they age. I’ll go down fighting tooth and nail as my grandfather use to say. I’ve always been a planner of sorts and plan on keeping this old brain functioning long past what is normal. I say, “Never say never…” It’s a good thought anyway, even if it does not turn out as planned.. Perhaps, I’ll not mind since I would have forgotten the plan ..

    Great writing my friend.. Take care, Laura

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    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed the story, Laura. Sadly, Dementia strikes many people who were once lively and intelligent. It is sad to see in a family, as it happened to my own grandmother.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  2. It just goes to show you that life is backwards. We work hard and miss out on a lot of the pleasures of living when we are young and middle aged. And when we retire and finally have time to enjoy the fruits of our labor, tragedy strikes in one way or another. Life should be the other way around. It’s not financially possible, of course. We can’t collect Social Security before we engage in a career due a lack of earnings predictability. Perhaps the answer lies in “Benjamin Button.” We get younger as the years go by, so that by retirement age, we are full of vitality and vigor.

    Your story is very sad, but your knack for details brings a high level of realism to the telling. That is where the story shines. However, I think it should have been more developed in the latter half. I do understand that once you go beyond 1,000 words, you run the risk of dissuading readers from embarking on the fictional journey. In the past, you have told a couple of stories in installments. Of course, the story has to have some natural breaking points to accomplish this well. Since this story has at least one breaking point, I think it could have easily been presented as a two-parter (perhaps at 750 words apiece). I understand the advantage of hitting the point (“nothing to be done”) fast and furious, which involves painting lives with a broad brush but concentrating on certain paint strokes (life moments) to bring home the thematic bacon, but I think there was more potential to be mined here. In short, given a bit more development in the second half, this story would have hit a home run. Of course, it was still very much worth reading, and shows that you have a natural gift for storytelling. It is precisely for this reason that I wish you had added a bit more meat to it.

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    1. Thanks as always for your thoughtful comment, David. There was actually much more to this story in the latter half. It involved them drifting apart as a couple, and had scenes set in restaurants where they no longer engaged in conversation, but stared out of the window, with little to say to each other. There was another part dealing with the fact that they had no more children, as Don watched children playing in a local park. This went on to address modern sensibilities about old men in parks, when he was approached by angry parents who wondered why he was there, watching their children.

      Unfortunately, this ran to well over 3000 words, and did not really qualify as a short story. Presenting it in two parts did not seem to be a good idea. I have to draw the line between starting a book, and completing a short story that still works as a tale. I can only hope that it still came across well, and worked as intended.

      Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. Your point is well taken. I’m not sure about the extra scenes you mention, as to whether they would have improved upon the story, but 3,000 words probably was too much alright. I would have at least added another paragraph after the one that began “Maggie was tired all the time.” A bit more was needed there. If the story had run 1,200 to 1,500 words, I think it would have been more solid.

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      1. Much about “life” is sad… Much about “fiction” can be happy 😉 🙂

        That’s just my perspective…. I would have loved it if you would have written something magical about what happened in don and Maggie’s life after the death of william and before their old age…

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        1. I would have liked to have expanded this story in the middle, and before the end too, Reema. Unfortunately, short stories are best kept under 1500 words. After that, they become a serial, or novella. I did write a five-part series here, and a three-part too. I might do something similar in the future
          Best wishes, Pete.

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          1. NO. I don’t want you to elongate it!! the way you wrote about caravan, it was beautiful.. just something more to it.. But there have been really few stories that i have given so much afterthought about..!! You have great story-telling skills.. Keep up great work !! 🙂

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    1. Not so much on a personal or family level, Doug. However, I am aware of a few couples who ended up like this, as well as seeing many examples of similar situations during my time in the London Ambulance Service. As I grow older, I can sense the reality of it much more.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. You did a great job summarizing a life. Reminded me of the intro from the animation “UP”. I doubt you have seen it, but you ought–it has a lot of heart and the opening is a summary of a couple’s lives, a simple life. With only images, you have a whole life. When the predictable happiness, I cried in theater, to my embarrassment. You write fast. It takes me way too long to write fast fiction like you.

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        1. Thanks, Cindy. I haven’t seen ‘UP’. Is that the one about an old man, and a house that floats on balloons? Might watch it when it comes on TV again.

          You are correct, I do write fast. Not sure that it’s something good or bad, just works for me. I get an idea, and I just sit and write it. This story took me around twenty minutes to conceive, thirty minutes to write, and twenty to edit it to how I wanted it to look. Sixty minute fiction!

          Best wishes as always, Pete.

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