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Money is tight

What can You afford?

Short Stories by George Donald

The Rosebush

Lillian sat stiffly in the straight-backed high chair, staring out of the panoramic window against the bright sun and into the front garden. She shifted uncomfortably on the seat to ease the ache in her hip, knowing that she shouldn't postpone making a doctor's appointment for very much longer, yet dreading the undoubted diagnosis. An operation. Not that she feared a spell in hospital, not in the least. After all, hadn't she spent over twenty-five years tending to the sick, lame and lazy, as Ian used to joke, when she was a staff midwife?
She glanced at Ian's garden. Funny that, she thought to herself with a quiet smile. He's been dead these eight years and I still refer to it as Ian's garden. She stared at the rosebush, overgrown now and seeing for the first time the weeds that had sprung uninvited, curling round the thick boughs that grew from the once lovingly tended earth. The lawn had since lost its billiard table neatness and the small hedgerow surrounding it was badly in need of a short back and sides, as her husband would call it. It was too much for her to tend, particularly with her painful hip and more than once she had considered hiring someone, at least to keep it tidy. Her first tentative phone calls to numbers she had obtained from Yellow Pages had caused her to baulk at the prices. Both her and Ian's small pension was sufficient to keep body and soul together and the odd luxury, but certainly didn't run to paying the extraordinary costs of a gardener.

Of course, she knew that the children would help her, if she asked them. But Lillian's pride prevented her from ever confessing her hardship. Besides, young Ian was facing redundancy any day now and needed every penny he had. And as for Gayle; well, nothing on this earth, she grimly decided, would ever persuade her to admit to her snobbish daughter that things were getting on top of Lillian. Not that she didn't love her, but since marrying into Harold's well-to-do family, Gayle was now moving in the more affluent circle of her husband's family and friends and even taken to denying her own roots, her council house background and in doing so, unwittingly shamed her mother and father. No, Lillian's face flushed at the very thought, she would never seek any help from Gayle and in that she was grimly determined. She recalled the last time Gayle had called into the modest three bedroomed semi-detached house, bringing with her the two children who whined constantly during the hour of the visit. Not that the children were to blame, Lillian mentally excused them as any grandmother would, but their lack of manners did upset her and the cheek they gave their mother. Clearly, Gayle's decision to carry on working after the birth's and the use of a succession of nannies and childminder's had, in Lillian's opinion, denied her daughter the opportunity to nurture and enjoy Melanie and little Jake while they were young. The bond between a mother and her children begins at birth, Lillian had been religiously taught at the college of midwifery.
Her own experience of raising her children had been so different. Ian had insisted she remain at home and raise young Ian and Gayle during their primary school years, while he laboured every hour God sent, taking every opportunity to work the long overtime hours that paid for the short holiday break's or the new suite or the washing machine. And for what, she asked herself now, with a trace of bitter regret; to be alone now and without her dear husband?
It wasn't long after he retired when the first attack struck, then a few short months later, when tending his beloved roses, the massive trauma to his heart that took her from him.

Lillian dabbed at her eyes with the crisp white handkerchief. It had all been for nothing, all those hours away from home, working to improve his familys living conditions, all those years of hard labour and for what? She sighed once more and her eyes rested on the two, framed portraits neatly arranged on the wooden shelf that served as a mantelpiece over the old, brick fireplace. Young Ian and his wife Ann, both smiling as they stood with their son, a solemn faced ten year old Tom; a seated Gayle and her husband Harold, their expressions haughty and aloof and a bored Melanie and petulant Jake, who lounged on either side of their affluent parents.
The acrimony between her son and daughter began, like many family disagreements, over the children and had stared in Lillian's back garden last summer at the time when young Ian's factory announced the first redundancies. Her son had been tense, the worry about their future clearly etched on his wife's face.

The garden party Lillian arranged was meant to cheer everyone up, an attempt to lighten what was in reality a deeply worrying time for Ian and Ann. It hadn't helped that Gayle and her husband arrived in the brand new and very luxurious Range Rover that Harold insisted on displaying to Ian, highlighting all the additional mod cons the large vehicle featured and that had cost so much further expense. She grimaced when recalling the taut atmosphere as they all sat drinking tea at the small folding table. Lillian recalled flinching at Gayle's thoughtless boast to Ann about the Caribbean holiday that was booked for that summer. To her credit, she recalled, Ann had simply smiled and listened tolerantly to her sister-in-law. It was later, much later that Lillian came to realise that Gayle had, in her own subtle manner, been taunting her sister-in-law.
It was Lillian who first heard her granddaughter's shrill voice teasing Tom, her sneers that his parents couldn't afford a…...what was it that she called it? Yes, that they couldn't afford a DVD player, one of the newfangled recording things for the television. She had tried to jovially intervene, make light of their childish argument then change the subject but Melanie, just as her mother was when Gayle had been her age, had gone on and on and on. It wasn't long after that the parent's had become embroiled. Lillian shuddered at the unkind things said in the verbal quarrel between Ian and his sister. Harold, stomped huffily off and ushered Melanie and Jake to the new car while Ann, pulling at Ian's arm had finally separated her husband and sister-in-law.

Since that time, Lillian's children had not spoke with each other. Admittedly, she had received visits from them both; Gayle and her two and usually Ann and Tom would call by, while Ian sought a new job. But never did both families visit together. Not since that day.
It pained her to admit to it, but when Gayle called round with her children, after an hour of listening to her shouting and hissing at the sulking Melanie and the uncontrollable Jake, even Lillian's nerves were frayed and she was guiltily pleased when their visit ended. It wasn't really the children's fault, she would reason, but their upbringing that was to blame. She remembered one incident after Jake had carelessly broken a much-loved ornament her husband had bought for her, many years previously. She'd tried graciously to explain to Gayle that perhaps it had just been an accident. Her daughter's offhand response that suggested when the children were visiting she remove her things to a safe place, had finally brought Lillian to an extraordinary anger.
"Well," she had snapped back, "if you teach your children to listen to you and not touch when you tell them, perhaps I won't have to put my things away!"
Gayles cold reply upset rather than angered her. "It's not as if it was valuable," she had snootily answered, "I mean, it's only some old cheap piece of pottery."
"Your father bought me that. It's not the value that means anything to me, it's the sentimental memory that I attach to it. It was your dads love for me that caused him to buy it."
But she was wasting her breath. Gayle called for her children to get their coats on and left in an ill-tempered mood. Almost two months passed before she had visited again and on that occasion, alone.

The clock was showing midday when the small, familiar car turned in the cul-de-sac and stopped outside the gate. The bright sun shining against the old car window's prevented Lillian from seeing whom the driver or passenger was. Her curiosity aroused, she continued to watch as the passenger door opened and her eyes widened with delight when her grandson Tom emerged, seeing his face light up in a brilliant smile as he turned and waved towards her. Even with the window closed, she heard him cry out, "Gran!" as he run towards the front door. Lillian pushed to her feet with renewed vigour, but the ache in her hip reminded her to take it a bit easier. Her pleasure at the visit was immediately tinged with anxiety as still watching, she saw Ann exit the drivers door, her pale face wearing a sad smile of greeting. The lounge door burst open and the youngster literally flew into the room before falling into her arms. All pain in her hip now forgotten, she laughingly ruffled his hair, hugging him to her as her eyes swept across the top of his head when her daughter-in-law entered.
"Hello, Lillian," Ann said, her lower lip trembling.
She glanced down at her grandson. "How would you like to do your old Granny a favour?" she asked him. "Think you could play in the front garden and keep an eye open for the ice-cream van while I have a wee chat with your Mum?"
Tom snatched a suspicious glance at his mother, knowing he was being dismissed so the adults could talk and then wearily nodded his head. Turning, he trudged slowly to the door, his reluctance to leave Ann plainly evident.
Ann shrugged off her jacket and sank down into the opposite armchair; the brightly floral patterned material now fading and worn thin through years of usage. She exhaled slowly then stared sadly at her mother-in-law. "I'm not sure if you've read today's newspaper's but it's begun. Ian's redundancy came through," she softly began, "along with this weeks mortgage demand and a letter from the building society informing us that they are aware of his job loss and reminding us of our commitment to continue the monthly payments."
Lillian could see how upset she was, but decided to let her carry on.
"His boss has suggested there might be an opening for him, a manager's job in the new factory, but that's in the Far East and would mean at the minimum, a fifteen month contract."
A sob escaped her, her hands twisting and turning at the handkerchief she held. "He'd have to go alone, though. There... there would be no accommodation for Tom or me. We'd need to find somewhere back here, somewhere close to Tom's school."
Lillian limped towards her, sitting awkwardly on the arm of the chair and wrapping her arms about Ann's shoulders as she wept. "There, there now," she tried to comfort her, but words failed her.
"The money they're offering would certainly see us all right for the near future," Ann continued, "and if Ian does well out there, there is a good chance he might be employed back in Scotland when his contract is finished. Probably Aberdeen though."
In between her sobs, she told Lillian the contract promised visits home every three months and, shaking her head in almost disbelief as she sobbed, the opportunity of a holiday for Tom and her with Ian, while he was working abroad.
"As if the promise of a holiday is going to sort things out," she sobbed.
Ann took a few moments to compose herself while Lillian thought it wise to listen and say nothing.
"But right now," she quietly said, "with us about to lose our home, it just doesn't seem as if anything is going right, especially now that we'll have to find somewhere for Tom and I to live while Ian's away."

Lillian gently stroked Ann's soft, fair hair, remembering another time when her daughter Gayle had been small and before such loving intimacy with her mother had embarrassed her. Remembering also that Ann, an only child, had no family of her own to call upon for help. Her gaze fell on the window. Outside, she saw the small lad kneeling by the rosebush. Curiously she watched him, wondering what he was up to. He fell backwards and she startled, seeing something grasped in his small fist. Even at this distance she could see it was a knot of weeds he had tugged from the earth. Tom leaned forward and began to pull again at the strangling weeds from under the bough of the bush.
That's when she made her decision.

Tenderly she took Ann's chin in her hand and turned her head towards the window, pointing towards Tom.
"I'd been thinking of getting someone in to try and keep some order in the front garden. I can't manage," she deliberately sighed, "what with my old hip playing me up. Besides," she waved a hand in the air, "this three bedroomed house is getting just too much for just me to cope with." She swallowed hard, hoping she sounded convincing. "Do you think that while Ian's away, you and Tom might consider moving in with me? Not that I'd want to put you under any pressure," she raised her hands defensively, "but with me here daily and on my own, it would do me good to have company. And Tom wouldn't have to move school either. You could even think about a wee job, if you like. After all, he wouldn't be coming home to an empty house with me being at home."
Ann stared at her wide-eyed. "I hadn't…...hadn't thought. I mean …you wouldn't mind?"
"Mind?" Lillian smiled, glancing again at her grandson as he gamely wrestled with the weeds, seeing in her mind her a smiling Ian waving at her with aproval.
"No Ann, I wouldn't mind. In fact," her face lit up with a broad smile, "I couldn't be happier."