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Finger in the Dial by Ray Forder-Stent

© Ray Forder-Stent

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PLEASE NOTE: this is just a short story, not the start of a novel.

Oh, I’m so glad we’ve got the phone now. It keeps me in touch. It’s very handy to have it there on the little table by the window. I can use it for emergencies or if I see something strange going on outside.

I like to watch people coming and going in the street. Mind you, the garden’s got so overgrown, I can’t see as much as I used to. It’s even worse at this time of year with those tall Michaelmas daisies. I don’t know why we’ve kept them. I’ve always hated those wishy-washy flowers. Still, the forsythia by the gate is always pretty in the spring. Cheerful with those yellow flowers. Some people call it common, but I don’t care. I like it. I can imagine what it’s going to look like in a few months’ time. Before the holly got so big, I could see right to the corner. So now I have to imagine who’s there when I hear voices. Corners attract people, don’t they? Meeting places, corners. “I’ll meet you on the corner”… “Wait for me on the corner”.

We used to meet on the corner after my shifts at the hospital, didn’t we, George? I would run down the hospital steps and there you’d be, waiting on the corner. You used to love me in my nurse’s uniform and all I wanted to do was change out of it.

I remember you kissed me for the first time when we were standing on a corner. You were frightened to come any nearer to my house because you were scared of Dad for some reason. How shy you were in those days… Yes, corners are funny places if you think about it. Turning places. You have to change direction on corners. Sometimes, once you’ve turned a corner, you can’t go back.

Oh look, George. Mrs Shepherd’s coming out of her front door. I expect she’s going to the shops. She’s got her shopping trolley with her. She goes every Friday morning. Who’s that she’s talking to? I’ve not seen her before. They seem quite friendly. Perhaps it’s the new woman that’s moved in down the road. Can you see them from there, George? I really should have washed these nets. Can’t remember the last time I did it.

I suppose I should phone the hairdresser and cancel my Christmas appointment. Jill was quite insistent that I book ahead because it gets busy. I’ll do it now but I doubt if they’ll answer. When I phoned to try to book my perm, they didn’t answer. It wasn’t a Monday so I know they were open. I held on for a long time and tried again later but they still didn’t answer. Do you remember, George? I had to go down there myself to book it in the end. It did save me making another journey because we’d run out of tea. I got some in the Co-op and then popped in the chemist for some more pills. I think I’ve got enough now. Quite handy, them being next door to one another in the precinct.

I’m quite pleased with this perm, but she did cut it a bit short. She said it was better because it wouldn’t need a trim till after the New Year. I said, ‘Don’t book that one yet. I might have other plans.’

She laughed and said, ‘Why? Are you going to the Maldives, Olive?’ She says daft things like that. Silly girl. No, they’re not answering. I expect they’re busy. I know I’ve got the right number. It’s my birthday and then yours and then the door number, so I always remember it. She gave me one of their fancy cards, but I said there was no need. But she insisted and popped it in my bag as I was paying. Silly girl. She does talk a lot of nonsense. I never say much once I’ve told her what I want. She chatters on but she doesn’t listen when I do speak to her. She talks to the girl next to her more than to me anyway, but I try not to listen and keep my head in the magazine.

Oh, I’ve just noticed there’s still some dog muck on the window from where the kids threw it the other night. That’s the third time they’ve done it now. Are you listening, George? They were out there again last night, shouting about. I don’t know why you don’t go out and say something. I’ll call the police station if they do it again.

I’ll just call Mrs Williams over the road and see if they’ve been bothering her. She should be in. She does cleaning at that office block near the old Methodist church, but she’s normally back by now. You know the one I mean. The church that changed to some other sort of religion. Not sure what it is, but I’ve heard them all singing and clapping in there when I’ve walked past. Sounds more like a party to me. No, she’s not answering either. I’ll try again later.

I love using this phone. Finger in the dial and turn. Whirr, and finger in the dial again and whirr. It’s quite soothing.

Well, I’m glad I cleaned through this morning and wiped all the photos. I want it all to look tidy. I hope I didn’t disturb you, George. The back of that photo of Janie and the children was quite filthy. I wonder if she’ll come this year. I expect the children will be getting excited about Christmas soon. I know it’s early, but I’ve bought a few bits for them already. I found some nice paper in the newsagents and wrapped everything. I’ve put them with the others under the stairs.

Pity they never came to collect them last year. Don’t you go giving the game away, George. I want them to find them themselves. I’ll give them clues and watch them searching. It’ll be fun. I’ve forgotten how old they are now. Can you remember? I expect Lucy’s getting to be quite a little madam. And look at Darren in this photo. He takes after you, George. He’s got the same grin. He looks so proud of his football, bless him. I tried to call Janie last night, but I think I got the wrong number. Nobody answered. It was the same last week when I tried. I know she’d have told us if she’d moved.

Who’s that young man knocking on Mrs Shepherd’s door? I know she’s not in. I told you I saw her going to the shops earlier… Oh, he’s not giving up. He’s knocking again. Now he’s looking through her front window. Can you see from there, George?… No, he’s given up and he’s knocking at Mr and Mrs Gibson’s… She’s answered the door and given him a form and he’s looking through it with her. They’re laughing at something. He’s taken it and put it in his bag… Nice looking lad… Oh no. He’s coming over here. I’m not going to answer. I bet it’s about that census thing. I haven’t filled it in. Didn’t see any point really.

You weren’t any help. “How many people live in this house?” it said. Well, I didn’t want to lie. I was going to put two, but decided I wouldn’t bother to tell them… Golly, why does he have to bang the door so hard? I’m not deaf.

Don’t move, George. He can’t see you from the window if he does try to look. He’ll never get through that tangle out there anyway. It’s a good job we haven’t got the light on. He’ll think we’re out. Oh, I think he’s put something through the letterbox. I’ll go and see.

It says he’ll call again next Friday to collect the census form. That’ll be a waste of time for him, poor lad.

Oh dear. I nearly knocked my glass of water over when I sat down… I was looking at that vase this morning when I wiped round a bit. We’ve had that a long time, haven’t we, George? What is it now? Sixty-four years, isn’t it? Aunt Dora gave it to us. Do you remember? What a funny old stick she was.

That new home help kept saying what a lot of things we have. She breezed in as if she owned the place, didn’t she? ‘I’m Mary O’Brien,’ she says in her broad Irish accent. ‘That was Dusty Springfield’s real name. Did you know that?’ she says all cocky like. Well, I did know that as it happens. I read about it when she died. ‘Oh, you have a lot of stuff, that’s for sure,’ she says and starts looking at the photographs on the mantelpiece. ‘Is that you, Olive?’ she says to me as she lifts our wedding photograph down. ‘Ay, you were a pretty young thing, that’s for sure,’ she says as she flicks a duster over it. I miss Sally. She’d been coming for such a long time… I wonder if she’s had her baby yet. Now I’ve got the phone I should call her and find out.

I tried to call the home help yesterday to say we wouldn’t be here on Saturday, but she must have been out. I nearly got my finger stuck in the dial when I called her. These arthritic fingers are a nuisance. I think I’ll have another sweet. Do you want one, George?… Oh no, they stick to your teeth, don’t they? I like these jellies. It helps all the pills go down easier.

I’m beginning to feel a bit tired now. I’ll just clear the sofa and put these books away. Shall I read you some more facts from these encyclopaedias before I put them back? This old medical book of mine I found with them has been very useful. I’d forgotten I had it. This sofa’s quite comfortable and it’s better sleeping down here with you now.

I’ll just phone Mrs Shepherd again. I haven’t seen her come back yet, but I’ll try anyway… No… she’s not answering.

That Mary O’Brien woman reminded me about this frock when she looked at our wedding photograph. I’m glad I can get into it again. Well… I was a lot bigger in those days, wasn’t I? I remember Dad describing a girl in our village as a buxom wench. I suppose that’s what other people probably called me… Buxom wench! What a funny expression. You don’t hear it these days, do you?… But you didn’t mind, did you, George? More to hold on to, you used to say. Bit different now, aren’t I? Just skin and bone.

I never could bring myself to throw this frock out. I thought about it several times, but just couldn’t do it in the end. I know it’s not that glamorous, but it was after the war, so we couldn’t afford much, could we? Weren’t we lucky with the weather? I was a bit hot in it to be honest. Still, it’s nice and cosy now. I noticed the moths have got into the back a bit, but you can’t see that from there, can you?

These pills are a bit like the ones I used to take for dyspepsia. Still, the water’s helping them go down and the jellies take away the bitterness. I think I’ll just lay down for a bit. I do feel very drowsy.

Oh, George, you’ve got a smear across your face. I must have left it when I wiped the frame and cleaned the glass this morning. There, that’s better. Now you can see me properly when I go to sleep. I’ll bring the phone nearer in case it rings. I don’t want you jumping up to answer it.

I’d completely forgotten we still had it. I hadn’t been down to that old shed for years. The mice had chewed the lead, so I cut it off. The Bakelite cleaned up quite well with a bit of Jif. It almost looks like new now… Like you, George. You look new, sitting there with that soppy grin on your face. Oh, I do feel weary, George. I’m going to sleep now. What’s that? You don’t feel well? Is it your heart again? I can feel it too. I’ll call for an ambulance. Nine… Nine… Oh, my finger’s stuck in the dial. Have you turned the lights off, George? It’s getting very dark in here… I’ll be with you soon, George… George, hold my hand.

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