As is my custom, I am serialising one of my past books here on the blog, and over the next few weeks, stories from my 2020 collection, Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries, Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet. I hope you will enjoy.
Connections – Some are too strong to be broken. Over the years and across dimensions souls reach out to share our lives.
Long Lost Love
Elaine Blackwood sat back in her armchair with Daisy, her cat, purring contentedly with the prospect of a couple of hours spent on her mistress’s lap, while she watched her favourite Saturday evening programmes. It was her birthday and it had been a wonderful day with much love and laughter
Still feeling full from the wonderful roast dinner cooked by her eldest daughter Rose at her home two streets away, Elaine had decided against supper and would make do with a cocoa and a piece of the lovely cake her granddaughters Beth and Lucy had made for her.
She smiled as she anticipated another treat around ten o’clock when her son, working in America would give her a call to say goodnight. Alan had been away for over six months in his firm’s law office in New York and she missed him dreadfully. He was there as interim senior partner whilst they recruited an American for the job and he should be home for Christmas.
She also missed his wife Jenny, but their two children were at university in Southampton and they were very good about keeping in touch, and had stayed with her during the summer break which had been tiring but very entertaining. She was seventy years old and was beginning to slow down a little and she decided it was time to take on more outside interests to keep her firing on all cylinders. She would chat to her oldest son Michael who was a chief executive of a local homeless charity to see if there was something more she could do apart from helping at fundraising events. Wrapped up in her thoughts she realised her favourite hospital soap was about to start and stroking Daisy’s soft fur she settled down to watch.
Twenty minutes later, in the middle of a massive disaster requiring the entire emergency department to go on alert, there was a knock on the door. Irritated at the interruption, Elaine gently lifted a complaining Daisy onto the sofa and headed for the front door.
‘Who is it?’ she called loudly.
‘It’s Tom; sorry to disturb you but could I speak to you for a minute?’
Suddenly Elaine’s heart pounded in her chest
‘Tom who? ’
Elaine fumbled to release the safety chain with suddenly nerveless fingers, pulling the door open a few inches to find an elderly man on the doorstep, wearing a long black coat and holding a cap in his hand.
‘What do you want?’ she whispered breathlessly.
‘I am really sorry to disturb you Elaine and I know it has been a long time, but I will only take up a few minutes of your time.’
The man in front of her was a shadow of the Tom Bennett she had known over 55 years ago, stooped and shrunken in his big overcoat and with clasped hands visibly shaking.
Relenting, she stood back and held the door open, gesturing for him to come in. Hesitantly, he stepped over the threshold and followed her into the sitting room where Daisy sat up and eyed him suspiciously.
Elaine indicated he should sit in an armchair by the fireplace and switched off the television. She resumed her seat and Daisy padded across and jumped from the sofa to her lap, finding herself clasped a little too tightly to Elaine’s chest. Realising her cat’s discomfort, Elaine loosened her arms and gently stroked her back to calm her.
‘What is it you want to talk to be about, surely after all these years there can be nothing to say between us?’ She glared at him from across the room.
‘I wanted to tell you how sorry I am for walking away from you at a time when you needed me to stand by you.’ His lips quivered as he looked to her for a response.
‘Don’t you think this is a little too late to be saying you’re sorry?’ She glared at him. ‘I was fifteen years old and you were eighteen, and when I told you I was pregnant you promised to come with me to my parents and we would tell them together.’
He looked down at his hands resting on his knees and shook his head from side to side.
‘I told my parents and they put me on a ferry to Ireland to stay with my grandparents the next day. They told me they would see your parents and offer to support you and the baby.’ Tears filled his eyes.
‘They said, if I got in touch with you, they would take away the support and they would disown me.’ He paused and took a deep breath. ‘A few months later they telephoned to let me know you had the baby adopted and never wanted to hear from me ever again.’
Elaine placed her hands over her face as she felt the tears welling up at the memories of those terrifying weeks when her world crumbled around her.
‘Your parents never came to see me or my parents, and I didn’t give up the baby for adoption.’
Stunned Tom leant against the back of his chair and closed his eyes. It was clear he was shocked and Elaine’s stance softened as she witnessed his pain.
‘I didn’t ask how you knew how to find me?’ Elaine prompted him.
‘A few weeks ago I saw a photograph of you online when an old school friend of mine passed away and there was an article about his life and good works in the community.’ He smiled gently, and for a moment she glimpsed the handsome boy he had been, older and more experienced and so persuasive.
‘Next to his obituary was a photograph of a big charity event where money was being raised for a new homeless hostel and you were standing with a tall man who was the chief executive of the charity; I recognised you immediately.’
‘So how did you get my name and address?’ Elaine pressed him.
‘I rang the newspaper and said I wanted to make a donation to the charity and could they tell me the name of the lady standing next to the Chief Executive. They told me you were his mother, and once I had your surname, I looked you up in the online telephone directory.’
He suddenly stiffened in his chair and stared at her.
‘Is Michael Blackwood my son?’
Elaine looked across at the photographs on the mantelpiece and smiled as she saw the family photograph with her husband Frank and the three children.
She turned back to Tom and offered him a cup of tea, but he shook his head and thanked her.
‘Please, I have to know, I promise I won’t ask for anything else as I know it’s too late to meet him.’
She cleared her throat and stroked Daisy for a few seconds and was calmed by her soft purring.
‘When you left, I had to tell my parents on my own, and as I predicted they were furious. They didn’t want anybody to know, but my dad rang your father and shouted at him and told him they were to keep you away from me.’ She paused as the memory of that night still managed to affect her after all these years.
‘They sent me to my eldest sister Sandra in Lincoln and I had the baby there with the intention of putting him up for adoption.’ She smiled to herself. ‘I had just turned sixteen and there was no way I could take care of him myself, but once I held him in my arms, I knew I couldn’t let him go.’
Tom leaned forward in his chair.
‘Sandra and her husband Craig had a daughter who was just coming up for a year old, and Sandra was going to stay home with her until she was five before going back to work. She and her husband, who was working at the local bank, had a decent sized house, so they suggested I go out to work, contribute to the household bills and Sandra would look after the baby during the day. It was the perfect arrangement and Michael spent his first two years with his cousin for company and three loving parents.’
Finally Tom relaxed and smiled at Elaine. ‘How did you meet your husband?’
‘When Michael was two year’s old, Craig brought home his friend Peter from work. He was quite a bit older than I was at nearly thirty, but he was kind and funny, and after a few weeks he asked me out. He knew about Michael of course, but said he didn’t mind, and he admired me for keeping him and working hard to support him. A few months later he asked to marry me and offered to adopt Michael and bring him up as his own.’
‘I take it from the photograph you have been looking at, you were happy and he was a wonderful father.’
‘He was an incredible man and I loved him very much.’ She pulled a tissue out of a pocket of her cardigan and wiped her eyes. ‘He only died a year ago and I miss him dreadfully.’
‘I am sorry to hear that Elaine. I married too when I was thirty and we were very happy, although we didn’t have any children sadly; my wife Vanessa died five years ago from cancer.’
The two of them sat for a few moments before Tom broke the silence.
‘Did you tell Michael about me?’
Elaine took a deep breath. ‘When he was old enough to understand we sat him down and explained he was not Peter’s son but he had adopted him when he was two and loved him very much. I explained to him that his natural father had been a boyfriend who had died before we could get married, so I am sorry, but under the circumstances, I felt it was the kindest thing to say. I didn’t want him to spend his teens and adulthood trying to find you and then being disappointed by your behaviour.’
Tom nodded slowly and then smiled across the room.
‘Thank you for telling me the truth and I promise you I won’t try to contact him or disrupt your family in any way.’
‘I wanted to know about the charity, as you were clearly involved in the fund-raising, and I read the biography of Michael on the website.’ He has had a wonderful career in banking and now in the charity sector and I am just proud to know he is my son and he had a wonderful mother and father to guide him.’
He stood up and crossed the room to stand by Elaine’s chair.
‘Thank you for your kindness in letting me share my side of the story and for all you have done for our son. I want you to know as well, I have made a donation to the charity, as I knew if you were involved in its running it must be a worthy cause.’ He smiled. ‘I am even happier now I know Michael is part of it too.’
With less of a stoop and a small spring in his step, Tom turned and went into the hall. Elaine heard the front door open and then close with a solid click. She stayed in her chair stroking Daisy as she thought back over this strange, but somehow comforting encounter with her past.
The following week Elaine dropped into the charity’s offices to talk to Michael about the next fund-raising event, and to see if she might come into the office more often and help with administration, to keep her busy.
She poked her head around the door to his office to see him on the phone and he waved her in and pointed to the chair the other side of the desk.
He mouthed ‘Five minutes’ to her and she settled in to wait for him to finish his conversation.
‘Can you tell me something about him, we always like to do a profile and tribute to those who leave us any amount of money, but this is so generous, we would like to pay our respects.’
‘Yes, oh gosh that is amazing and he sounds like an incredible man and I would have liked to have met him in person.’
‘Thanks Brian I will wait for the paperwork to come through and I will let my mother know, and she can probably fill in some of the details of his early life. Goodbye.’
Michael put his mobile phone down and came around his desk and bent down to give his mother a hug and kiss on her forehead.
‘We have just been notified by a solicitor we have been left over a million pounds in the will of an old man who died recently.’ He clasped his mother’s hands in his. ‘Apparently on the stipulation, you mum, are to be involved in the way it is to be allocated.’
Elaine looked at her son in amazement.
‘The solicitor said his client, a wealthy businessman, died a couple of weeks ago in Melbourne Australia and was buried last Saturday, obviously it will take time for probate, but apparently he had no beneficiaries and wanted to leave his money to a worthwhile cause.’ He paused for a moment.
‘It seems that he grew up around here and had fond memories of the town and the people and he mentioned you by name mum, did you know a Tom Bennett?’
‘I knew someone of that name a very long time ago Michael.’ She paused, thinking back to Tom’s visit.
‘Are you sure he died two weeks ago and was buried on Saturday in Australia?’
‘Absolutely mum, Brian was quite clear and I jotted down the dates on my notepad so I could include in the announcement to the local paper and on our website.’ He kissed his mother on the cheek, heading out of the door to let his staff know the news. Elaine sat with her eyes closed and trying to make sense of the surreal events of the last week.
She knew she had not imagined Tom’s visit on Saturday night, but it meant there was only one explanation, one she would have to keep to herself, if her family was not going to think she was going senile. She considered if she should tell Michael who his real father was, but then thought of the wonderful man who had brought him up and who had been a real dad to him. It would cause her son pain and she couldn’t bear to burden with it at this time in his life.
She closed her eyes and she wept for the young man she had once loved.
‘Thank you Tom wherever you are, rest in peace.’
©Sally Cronin 2020
One of the reviews for Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries
Short story and poetry anthologies are all the rage now, and Sally Cronin’s “Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries” does not disappoint. This eclectic mix takes the reader through a gambit of feelings that revolve around the themes of love, loss, humor, revenge, and life’s second chances.
A few of these tales brought tears to my eyes, such as “Long Lost Love,” which tells the story of Tom and Elaine, a pregnancy, and a visit from beyond the grave. However, the poetry is as exceptional as the short stories. The butterfly cinquain, “Ritual of Mehndi,” shares a glimpse into the traditional wedding custom of painting symbols in henna on the bride’s hands.
This author is known for an empathetic approach to her writing. She writes what she senses, sharing the ups and downs of her characters with love and compassion. A true storyteller, Sally Cronin’s stories will leave you wanting more feel-good moments
My latest book is a collection of poetry and was published on July 2021
Thanks for dropping in today and I hope you have enjoyed the story.. I always love your feedback. Sally.