This short story is too long for Sacha’s challenge, I know, and I usually don’t have any trouble writing very short pieces. But this one needed a bit longer.
photo ©Martin Bodman
I’d never much cared for what my mother did to the cottage she bought after our dad died. I didn’t like the way she’d stripped down the interior, opened it up and let in the light. Cottages are supposed to be dark and poky, low beams and paint the colour of pub ceilings. I didn’t like the way she’d brought only her favourite bits from the old family house. What about the rest of the stuff? All our memories were in that house. I couldn’t take it, not with our décor. Old, worn-out just wouldn’t fit in. Without Dad, surely she should have hung onto as much as possible. His old chair with the bottom that sagged on the floor, the wardrobe with the broken hinge he was always going to mend, the rubbish he collected because ‘it might come in useful.’
I resented what she’d done, what she’d let go, what she had made of her life after Dad died. Because she did make a life, let it take a new turning. It didn’t seem fair. She did new things, took up painting again, joined a choir, did voluntary work at the wildlife sanctuary. All things Dad would have pooh-poohed. She got rid of the car, Dad’s pride and joy. Said she didn’t need it, went everywhere on foot or took the bus. And she planted that blasted holly tree in the driveway, right in front of the kitchen window. It had just been a big bush when she put it in, but after ten years it was quite a size and it was impossible for us to get the car in when we visited. Dave grumbled every time when he had to leave it on the side of the road. He’d get up every fifteen minutes to check it hadn’t got a scratch.
Dad would never have let her do such a selfish thing. Even if she didn’t need the drive, couldn’t she see how inconvenient it was for the rest of us? Jim might say he quite understood that Mum preferred to look at a holly tree rather than his old car, but that’s because his car is old. Another scratch or dent wouldn’t make any difference.
When she went, we had to decide what to do with the cottage. Jim said he was attached to the place and wouldn’t mind living there. His Sharon liked it and it was convenient for her work. But he didn’t have the money to buy my share, and is never likely to either. We had to sell. There was no choice really.
I’ll give Mum that at least, she made tidying her stuff away easy. Not that there was much left of the ‘clutter’ as she called our memories. Getting rid of the tree blocking the driveway wasn’t an option either, whatever Jim said afterwards. Dave wouldn’t do it so we got a professional in. He got the stump out too. Jim threw a fit when he saw the tree lying on the ground. He bent over it, parted the branches, not caring that the leaves were scratching his arms bloody. When he found the nest, I swear he had tears in his eyes.
“Mum loved watching the birds in this tree,” he said. “She could see them when she was in the kitchen. Her eyes weren’t good enough to see much further than this.”
I looked at the woven tressed twigs, the downy feathers sticking to the inside, Jim wiping his eyes. I imagined Mum washing up, gazing out of the window, that dreamy smile on her face she always had when she was thinking her own thoughts. She would have shaken the tablecloth out of the door and watched the birds come down, stood so still they’d forget she was there.
“In the winter, they liked the berries. That’s why she planted a holly tree.”
But sentiment doesn’t sell houses. We’d never have sold the cottage so quickly with that tree stuck in the way.
Jim hasn’t spoken to me since.