Squib, and his friends
Tom felt the tears prick at his eyes, and instantly suppressed them. It was his 10th birthday, and ten-year-olds don’t cry ever, certainly not in front of their parents, and definitely not ever in front of their older brothers. It was typical of Jonno that he had handed over the immaculately wrapped gift with a sort of nonchalant carelessness. Once you would have noted him looking to Toph, the eldest, for approval in the manner of the handing over a gift, but recently he had become more self-assured and had begun his own career from out of the shadow of the ever-successful older brother.
The gift was a little larger than a piece of A4 in area, and a little thicker than a decent chocolate bar in depth. The paper was so sharply creased at the corners, so neatly folded, so elegantly and understatedly beribboned, that the parcel was almost a work of art as it was. It almost felt like a crime to unwrap the present inside and Tom knew that as soon as he pulled on the corner of the ribbon that the whole wrapping would fall apart – no tape or glue had been used at all. With all eyes on him, Tom felt a little like Charlie Bucket about to peek and find whether there was a gold ticket or not. With a sudden movement that made everyone else jump he whipped off the ribbon and let the paper fall to the floor. Inside he found a sketch in charcoal, a rare piece allowed to go free from his brother’s portfolio, in a neat, bog-oak frame that Jonno had undoubtedly made himself.
The sketch was from life, and Tom remembered the day well. He hadn’t realised that Jonno had been there. Toph, Captain of the first XI had been of course, together with a cadre of senior boys and PE teachers. Tom had captained his first match, an unimportant one in many respects, but all important in others. An opportunity to shine in front of those who would be choosing who would make the transition to the teams that represented the school – and who would not. For Tom, it had been the proudest day of his life. He had played well, and led well, and had received a coveted thumbs-up from his brother. He had bowled well, fielded superbly (including making an improbable catch) and had scored his first ‘six’. It was this moment that Jonno had captured. The picture, despite being in so basic a medium had captured not only the essence but the dynamism of the moment. The spectators in the stands could be seen to be jumping to their feet to applaud, despite being small because of their distance from the wicket where Tom stood like a colossus.
Jonno had even managed to make the neat block type of the title look elegant. Tom knew that he would never be able to hate his nickname again, because he could never hide this picture away, and it would declare for all time “Squib, and his friends”.
© David Jesson, 2017
Uncle Wiggily’s Fortune
Pete’s wool suit was making him sweat profusely. Pulling out his handkerchief, he was startled when the lady beside him grasped it whilst murmuring “thank you”. Pete turned, but could identify nothing except for the sound of subdued sobbing as her veil was black and impenetrable. Raising his eyebrows at his cousin Frank, also squirming in his good suit, Pete got a shrug in return.
Reverend Potts soon brought the service to a close and the casket withdrew behind the curtain. There was much tie-loosening and mass removing of jackets outside before Pete noticed her again, now standing with Reverend Potts who was holding her gloved hand in both of his. “Who was she?” thought Pete, certain he wasn’t alone in wondering. Just then, the Reverend announced “Everyone, a moment please! Mrs Basson invites you all to partake of some refreshment at the Randolph Hotel.”
At the Randolph, Pete saw that all the cousins were there and some of their wives. Those of the aunts who were still alive were there too, mostly seated on the few available chairs, with their children settling them in and making sure they had what they wanted from the buffet. Pete and Frank were the only two without kin, probably one of the many reasons they’d always been close. But of Mrs Basson – the lady in the veil – there was no sign.
People got to chatting, as they do when family gathers, catching up on news. The lively hum of conversation was interrupted by the sound of someone tinging a glass. On a little stage to the side a be-suited man stepped up to the microphone. “Thank you all for coming here today. Mrs Basson is grateful for your kindness in showing your respects to her ex-husband, Walter Wiggily.” Ex-husband? The room buzzed with the sound of people’s reactions.
“Mrs Basson has invited me here to read you Mr Wiggily’s will.” This news caused a smaller buzz, for Uncle Walter lived quietly and no-expected his will to contain much to write home about. There were no big surprises with personal bequests made to his surviving sisters, and small sums left to their children and grandchildren. The final item was the leaving of his cabin and his land to Pete and Frank. People nodded, this was right, for the boys had taken good care of their great Uncle Walter. Pressing his business card into the boys’ hands, he invited them to his office the following morning.
Once at the lawyer’s office, Pete and Frank were surprised to discover the man they knew as Uncle Wiggily owned way more than just the cabin and its grounds. Seems like he had a whole heap of land, much of it in Florida and all of it beach-front. Apparently that Mrs Basson had advised him during their brief marriage, her being a well-healed property tycoon herself. Turns out their Uncle Wiggily was quite the dark horse.
© Debra Carey, 2017