#FF – Project Gutenberg: The Stories

A quick reminder that the prompt set last week was to go and look at the recent additions to Project Gutenberg and use a likely looking title as the prompt for a short story.  As ever, lots to choose from…

Palimpsest

Tom flicked through a box that was filled to bursting point with scraps of paper.  Each piece held a recipe: culled from a magazine, scribbled in haste from a phone conversation, included as part of a letter to his Mother, copied carefully from a borrowed book.  The variety was enormous and the only real order was that the least popular recipes had sunk further and further down.

When it had been announced that there would be travel restrictions, Tom’s mother had decided that she should really go and stay with her elderly parents.  They were not exactly frail, but they would need help, and she would not be able to maintain her usual visiting schedule.  Tom’s eldest brother had gone to university the previous September, and when they closed to face-to-face teaching, he had ended up going to stay with his godfather so that they could work together on the restoration of a derelict camper-van.  That left Tom, his older brother, and their father.  They’d always been pretty good at sharing out the jobs, but it turned out that Tom had a bit of a flair for cookery, and so he’d ended up doing more of the meals, and Father and Jonno did the washing and drying up.

Tom had been trying to catalogue the recipes, doing a little bit at a time whenever he took a break from school-work.  It turned out there were a surprising number of duplicates – some even recurring three or four times in the pile.  He collated the notes that his mother had made, suggesting changes, or adapting to the kitchenware available.  Some of these notes were surprisingly detailed, and Tom saw another expression of his Mother’s character.  He enjoyed the feeling of closeness whenever he cooked following these recipes.

Trying to stretch himself, to go beyond his comfort zone, Tom flipped over the stack and started at the bottom.  He turned over the pieces of paper, quickly organising the recipes into various groups: a pile to bin (subject to his Mother’s final approval), a pile to discuss with Father and Jonno, desserts, mains, and other recipes that he definitely wanted to have a go at.  He picked out one, a hand written recipe on letter paper: he was pretty sure all the ingredients for this were available.  A couple of others he clipped to the list where he was compiling a shopping list.

Tom put the kettle on to boil for a cup of tea.  There had been one or two meals that had verged on outright disaster, and he’d learned that it paid to read through the recipe thoroughly before beginning.  It was as he was pouring boiling water into a mug (his favourite, with a picture of the Tasmanian Devil on it) that the accident happened.  An emergency vehicle raced and some trick of reflection of the blue lights passing-by outside, some jangle of the siren on a neuron, made him flinch and water spilled onto the counter-top.  His first thought was to be thankful that none had gone on him, but that thought cost him a half-second, and that was enough time for the water to hit the paper, and for the paper to start soaking it up.  With a cry of annoyance, he picked the paper up.  Luckily the ink had not been smudged nor had the paper taken up too much water.

The radiators not being on, he put the letter in the airing cupboard to dry and went to get on with homework set for history.  The supply of schoolwork seemed never-ending.

An hour or so later, and his stomach reminded him it was lunchtime.  He went to the airing cupboard and got the letter out – it was perfectly dry now, so he took it with him back to the kitchen, ready for the commencement of preparing the evening meal.  It was as he was getting the bread out to make sandwiches that he noticed that there was now another set of words, pale brown, a hand-writing trickier to read than that of the recipe.  His gaze dropped to the bottom and he tried to decipher the signature.

“Dad!  Who’s Martha O’Reilly?”  he yelled up the stairs.

©David Jesson, 2020


Mother Carey’s Chickens

“Cheers!”

Daphne fidgeted. Her rumbustious family made the local pub feel overly loud and crowded. She’d not planned to meet the locals this way, so had been painfully aware of the raised eyebrows, even the odd harumph, at her family’s loud and boisterous display. They meant well, for they knew this move was a long-held dream finally fulfilled. Still… there’d now be no avoiding the entire village knowing she was of townie stock.

But, unlike the rest of her family, Daphne wasn’t under any illusions about life in the country. She knew what it was like from experience, and had chosen it with eyes wide open. Her best friend at boarding school came from a farming family. Growing up on a dairy farm, she’d been desperate to get away. Daphne had introduced her friend to a very different life in the big city, but in turn, her friend had introduced Daphne to life on the farm – and Daphne loved it. Although they’d all teased her, she did get invited to stay regularly and she’d accepted every single invitation. When her godmother died leaving her enough money to get on the housing ladder, Daphne had shocked a lot of people by choosing a cottage with a little land.

Although she’d wanted to live near her friend’s family farm, the broadband signal was shocking, and she’d still need to earn her living. So, she’d compromised. Her cottage had both good broadband and mobile reception, and she’d earmarked one of the rooms downstairs for her home office.

Bit by bit she got to know people in the village. She’d made a point to shop locally, without making a noise about it, and chatted to local shopkeepers and the pub landlord – asking for and following recommendations of local services.

Now properly settled in, she’d been keen to get her little stockholding up and running. She’d been putting in lots of hard work preparing the ground for planting in the spring, but also wanted to add some livestock. Taking advice, she’d decided to start small. A local farmer promised her a goat after he’d established she knew how to milk properly, and and as soon as she’d cleared up the pond, he’d let her have some ducks. But what she really wanted was chickens – and she’d a particular yen for bantams. Smaller and low slung, Daphne simply adored the way they looked and walked, and there was no doubting that fresh laid eggs simply couldn’t be beat.

Ever since she’d arrived, she’d been told that Mother Carey’s chickens were the best. But… Mother Carey was famed for not warming to incomers, and had yet to respond to a single greeting from Daphne. She’d accept a drink from her in the pub, but had no truck with any attempts at conversation.

Till that one evening that is…

Having been hard at work digging manure into her beds when the goats and ducks arrived, she’d been told to come to the pub when she was finished to settle up. Changed out of her wellies, and having washed her face and hands, Daphne was still decidedly sweaty and grubby when she walked in. Nevertheless, a warm handshake followed, drinks were bought and cash handed over. Her friendly local farmer had been chatting to none other than Mother Carey when Daphne’d arrived. And, as usual, she’d accepted a drink. But this time, when her son came to collect her, she’d called across “how many of my hens d’you want then?” While Daphne stood gaping, she added “and I s’pose you’ll be wanting one of my bantam cocks too? I’ll send my son round with ’em tomorrow.”

As the door swung shut behind the Careys, there was a burst of laughter in the pub. Daphne, still bewildered by the unexpected exchange, asked “what’s so funny?”

“Oooo you’re honoured, you are!” said her friendly local farmer.
“Not just her hens, but her precious son too – you have arrived!” the landlord added with a chuckle.

© Debra Carey, 2020

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