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.
Winning Streak – The Scratch Card
Elsie Thompson attended the morning service at St. Cuthbert’s and dropped in to the coffee morning in the church Hall to catch up on the gossip in the parish from the last week. She also wanted to share the good news with her friends that she had won twenty pounds on a scratch card the day before, and she had four crisp five pound notes in her purse to prove it.
Mr. Singh, the owner of the corner shop where she always bought her tickets, had beamed at her as he handed over the cash and commented it would not take her far sadly. She laughed and spent one of the fivers on another card, in the hopes another win might get her somewhere with a lot more sunshine than Liverpool. To be honest, even enough for a day out in Southport would be lovely for the both of them, and her husband Frank would enjoy a stroll down Lord Street, and she would treat him to a posh tea at the Prince of Wales hotel.
Elsie paid for five cups of coffee and a biscuit for herself and her four friends with one of the remaining fivers, and they sat in a corner happily sharing their news and plans for the following week. It was money well spent, and an hour later, Elsie walked home to get the roast lunch prepared, looking forward to their son Tom’s monthly visit with his wife Steph and their two boys.
As she crossed the main road, she saw a young lad sitting on the pavement outside a closed charity shop, he was playing the guitar, and at the moment the only audience seemed to be his dog leaning up against his shoulder. Elsie paused in her mental preparation of the roast pork with crackling, roast potatoes, carrots, cauliflower cheese and peas, followed by apple pie and custard. The boy’s face was pinched, and he shivered in the cold breeze that had picked up in the last couple of hours. His music was actually not half bad, and he had a nice voice, which drew her closer to hear more clearly. He smiled in recognition of her attention and the dog stood up and wagged its tail.
Elsie looked into the open guitar case and saw a few coppers were strategically scattered to entice further contributions. She had appreciated her own little bit of luck, and a few shillings wouldn’t be missed. She took her purse out of her handbag, opened it and realised she only had some pennies. Shaking her head she pulled out one of the remaining two five pound notes and tucked it beneath some of the coppers to stop it flying away. She looked up into the boy’s face when he suddenly stopped singing and saw tears running down his face into his dirty scarf.
Ten minutes later Frank Thompson got up from his chair where he had been enjoying his Sunday paper when he heard Elsie’s key in the lock. She bustled through the door followed by a scruffy boy carrying a guitar case and accompanied by a dog wagging its tail enthusiastically.
‘Hi love, just brought a couple of friends home to join us for lunch,’ she paused and turned to the visitors. ‘This is Pete and his dog Meg and they could use a quick wash up before dinner, so could you take them out to the utility room?’
Frank knew after being married to Elsie for thirty-five years, the best course of action was to comply. ‘Welcome lad and follow me, and looks like your Meg could do with a bit of a hose down too.’
A week later as Frank and Elsie enjoyed a cup of tea, they heard urgent knocking on the front door, and along with an excited Meg they rushed to open it. Pete stood on the doorstep in the cast off clothes Tom had left behind years ago, and beamed at them both as Meg greeted him ecstatically.
They all sat around the kitchen table with tea and biscuits, and the lad told them all about his interview the job centre had organised for him tomorrow at the local supermarket.
There were several applicants, but it was a start, and both Frank and Elsie gave him some pointers on how to conduct himself. Elsie also suggested she give his hair a bit of a trim to make a good impression. That night Pete lay in Tom’s bed, with Meg snoring beside him, and thought about the wonderful changes in his life over the last few days.
He had a roof over his head and was putting on weight after eating three square meals a day lovingly prepared by Elsie. Frank sat with him each evening in the front parlour and as they chatted, the boy slowly opened up about his difficult home life and time on the streets.
The hostels didn’t want Meg, and had urged him to take her to a shelter, but he couldn’t give up the one friend who truly loved him, despite the temptation of a warm and safe bed for the night.
The couple said he could stay as long as he and Meg needed to, and if he got the job tomorrow he intended to pay them rent, hoping they might find it in their hearts to let them stay permanently. He thought about the five pound note Elsie had given him a week ago, still crisp and safely tucked into his new jacket pocket. Tomorrow he was going to buy her a gift with it to thank her for changing his life. He fell asleep with his arm around his dog, hopeful and excited for the first time in his life about his future.
The next morning, having been thoroughly inspected by Elsie, and with a few tweaks here and there, Pete arrived at the supermarket in plenty of time for his interview. After a few minutes he was taken back to the warehouse area and asked join five other applicants sat on chairs in the corridor. Pete felt even more nervous as he contemplated his fellow interviewees. He knew the application form he had completed, identified his lack of experience and big gaps between his sporadic employment history, as a result of living on the streets and caring for Meg. He felt his excitement slowly evaporate as he waited his turn. He tried to focus on Elise’s advice as she had served in shops most of her working life. He took a deep breath as finally he was asked to step into the manager’s office.
Twenty minutes later Pete stood in the queue at the checkout desk, holding a small household plant with pretty pink flowers he thought Elsie might like to put on the windowsill in the kitchen. He held the fiver she had given him tightly in his hand so it wouldn’t drop from his shaking fingers.
The interview had been one of the toughest things he had ever experienced. Apart from facing the steely eyed man across the desk from him, he had stumbled over a number of questions as he became more and more nervous. The man had softened just before the end of the interview, as if he wanted to let the lad down gently, and had told him they would be in touch in a few days.
The manager, John Dexter realised he had been tough on the last applicant because he knew how challenging the job could be. Customers were the lifeblood of the business, but whilst they might always think they were in the right, they could also be difficult and sometimes rude. You had to have a bit of backbone to stick with it eight hours a day, five days a week and he could see from the lad’s application form he lacked both experience and confidence. As Pete had been the last of the interviewees, John left his office to do his usual morning store walk through, checking displays, staff uniforms, and gaps in the goods on the shelves. He wanted to check the cashiers first, and although one of his supervisors kept an eye on the queues, opening checkouts as needed, he liked to see first-hand customers were being served promptly.
He spotted the last lad he had interviewed, standing in one of the nearest checkouts behind a small old lady with an invalid trolley. She had just placed her few items on the conveyor belt and he noted her shopping consisted of a few tins of their specially reduced baked beans, a loaf of bread, margarine, a pack of sausages, two packets of biscuits and four tins of their economy cat food. It was likely all the food she would have for the rest of the week until she picked up her pension on Thursday. They did try to steer some of their elderly customers in the direction of their reduced meats and other fresh produce but, even then, many could not afford to buy the items.
He watched as the cashier scanned the items and the old woman put them into the basket of her trolley and waited with her purse open ready to pay. She leant forward to hear the amount and then looked into her purse and shook her head. She reached into her basket and pulled out the sausages and the biscuits and put them back on the counter.
Wondering how he could intervene without causing this elderly customer embarrassment, he watched as the lad held out a fiver and heard him say to the cashier.
‘The lady dropped this on the floor please pass it to her.’
The cashier smiled at him and handed the fiver to the woman who stood with one hand over her mouth in surprise and tears in her eyes. After a moment she smiled at the lad, mouthing a thank you as she placed the biscuits and sausages back in her basket.
Pete backed out of the queue apologizing to the other customers and headed back to the flower display stand, placing the pot back with the others. He walked towards the store exit when he felt a hand on his shoulder and stopped in his tracks wondering what he had done wrong.
‘It was a very generous and kind thing you did back there.’
Pete turned and realised the store manager who had interviewed him was standing behind him.
‘I have been without food too often not to help if I can, and I have been very lucky in the last week myself.’
‘Well, I hope you feel your lucky streak has continued young man.’ John smiled at him.
‘Please be here at seven tomorrow morning at the staff entrance to start your shift and ask for my deputy manager Michelle Jones.’ He left the boy standing frozen to the spot to continue his tour of the store, smiling to himself at the funny way life sometimes worked out for the best.
That evening Frank popped down to the chippie and bought them all cod and chips with a sausage for Meg to celebrate Pete’s new job. As they sat around the kitchen table, Pete looked at these two kind people who had taken him and his dog in without question, and had asked nothing of him in return. He knew they missed their son Tom who had moved out six years ago and lived fifty miles away, only coming once every few weeks for Sunday lunch. They had said Pete and Meg could stay as long as they needed, but he didn’t want to assume on their kindness. He had a burning question he needed to ask.
‘If I pay you rent, would it be possible for us to live with you here permanently?’
Elsie and Frank looked at each other and even Meg stopped eating her dinner and waited. Pete held his breath.
Elsie reached out and took his hand. ‘Of course you can pet, and save your money up for a few weeks, and then perhaps you can help out with the groceries seeing as you get a staff discount.’ She winked at him and Pete let out his breath and tried to keep from shedding more tears. Frank stepped in to give the lad time to compose himself.
‘It will do me good lad to walk Meg a couple of times a day, and we can do some exploring when you have time off up to the Lake District. It is about time I got off my backside and you will be doing me a favour.’
Elsie looked at the two of them and reckoned it had been a very lucky day when she won the money on the scratch card. The fiver she had given the boy had been repaid many times over and just goes to show you don’t need millions to be happy.
©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.