Josie & Beryl…

Posted: February 14, 2011 in Short Stories
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Josie & Beryl

This was a work in progress; the first part of a chapter of an attempt on writing a novel for charity, in collaboration with Helena Slater & Debby Fraser..

Beryl stood on the doorstep, shook the excess water from her umbrella, and directed a curse towards the sky. The falling rain appeared to be very wet today – wet and extremely cold. “Thank god it was dry yesterday.” She uttered to no one but herself. Reaching out a gloved hand Beryl pressed the doorbell button.
The chime interrupted Josie just as she filled the kettle. Placing it on the side, she made her way to the front door. As she passed through the hallway she checked her appearance in a mirror. With everything in place, hair, makeup, she proceeded to open the door.

“Bloody hell Beryl! You look like a drowned cat” Josie said. ”Get yourself inside and put the bleedin’ kettle on, I’ll take care of your coat.” Josie took Beryl’s coat from her and, taking care not to get her rings caught in its threadbare fibbers, hung it on the rack in the hallway.

As she made her way to the kitchen Josie double-checked her appearance. She paused just long enough to note there was no mistaking time had left its mark etched into her features, no denying the evidence of its passage at all.

Upon entering the kitchen Josie noticed Beryl shiver. “I’ll stick the oven on and get some heat in the place,” she said – not wanting Beryl to come down with a cold. Josie usually left the central heating off during the day, preferring to use the oven to keep warm instead – an old habit that just wouldn’t die.

“Good – because it’s so cold in here I can feel icicles forming on me nipples,” said Beryl.

Beryl was Josie’s oldest and dearest friend. Beryl had never felt the need to stand on ceremony or put on airs and felt in no way self-conscious of the fact that she was not as ‘well off’ as her more finely dressed friend. “I have to say Josie, your boys sure did you proud with that funeral yesterday. Everything in its place and not one hitch along the way.”

“Yes they did, didn’t they?” Josie replied, whilst positioning two chairs in front of the open oven door. As she reached over Beryl’s shoulder, to retrieve two cups from the cupboard, Josie paused and added, “Not that the miserable git deserved it.”

“No. I don’t suppose he did really,” Beryl replied somewhat pensively. “However,” she continued with gusto, flicking the switch on the electric kettle, “it was a nice ceremony all the same.” Beryl had always enjoyed a good funeral: the gathering of old friends and relatives being an ideal opportunity to pick up some new and juicy gossip – not that Beryl would ever admit she engaged in such pursuits. No, Beryl would always maintain it was ‘only right that everyone got a good send off.’

Josie always insisted on a proper cup of tea, none of that rubbish messing around with tea bags. Satisfied that all was as it should be, Beryl placed the pot in the centre of the kitchen table.

“Did you see your Mickey? Oh – didn’t he just look so damned handsome standing there in all his finery? No wonder none of his ladies can ever say no to him,” said Beryl, with a mischievous wink thrown in for good measure.

“Our Mickey always has been one for the ladies,” Josie replied, as she opened a packet of Rich Tea biscuits onto a plate, “gets that from his father.”

“Too right – that and his looks. Some days I forget just how much he resembles your Mick when he was his age. Then there are those days when I look at him and – bang it’s 1970 all over again,” Beryl stated – as she unceremoniously shovelled an entire Rich Tea into her mouth. As she chased a clump of biscuit down the side of her chin Beryl looked up and noticed the distant look on Josie’s face. “Jose?” What is it? Have I said something I shouldn’t?”

“1970.” Josie said, reaching out to her handbag so that she could retrieve her packet of cigarettes. “That was the year…” she lit the end of the cigarette and inhaled deeply, “that was the year I lost my Lynn.”

“Oh god, oh god Josie I can’t believe I forgot.” Beryl was slightly distraught. Usually she was none-too-fussed to discover that she had put her foot in it, in fact it happened on such a regular occurrence that Beryl barely took any notice of people’s reactions when she did. This time however, she was mortified that she could have wrenched up such a painful memory for her dearest friend.

“It’s alright,” Josie responded – an errant tear appearing at the corner of her eye. As she blinked the tear escaped and made its lonely way down towards her chin, its path marked by a dark line of mascara. “There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t stop to think of her at least once,” Josie said. “I suppose I’ve managed to find a way to come to terms with it over the years.” Josie rubbed her legs as the heat from the fire started to bring out the colour in them.

Beryl took that moment to search out the bottle of brandy that she knew Josie kept behind the flour bin. “Stick a drop of this in there,” she said – adding a nip of brandy to Josie’s cup. “I suppose you have to find a way to get over something like that.”

“Oh, I’ll never get over it Beryl. Not as long as I live.” Her gaze became a little more distant as she pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “Yesterday was particularly hard.”

“I guess it was,” replied Beryl, “putting your old man to rest would be hard on anyone.” Beryl helped herself to one of Josie’s cigarettes as she added a healthy measure of brandy to her own cup.

“Him?” Josie questioned. “You think I could give a damn about burying that worthless sack of shit?” Josie’s nostrils flared with anger, an anger that seemed to draw up fresh tears of hurt and pain. “I sat there. I sat there looking at all the beautiful flowers, the expensive casket, all of the guests offering their condolences. I saw them all looking at me, the grieving widow, and saying things like, ‘poor Josie, the pain must be unbearable.’ Well it was unbearable Beryl.

The pain was suffocating the life out of me. But it wasn’t because of him, not really, it was because of my Lynn.”

Beryl reached across the gap between them and touched Josie on the hand. “You really hated him – didn’t you?” Beryl said – slowly withdrawing her hand and adjusting her skirt to expose a little more of her leg to the heat. “He hurt you really badly didn’t he?”

“For all he did to me Beryl – I hope that the bastard burns in hell.”
“I suppose if anyone deserved that he probably deserved it more than most,” Beryl agreed. Beryl felt a pang of guilt as she recalled the fact that she had been with Mick at least once whilst he was married to Josie. It hadn’t been anything serious, nothing at all really, just a grope and a cuddle one night after drinking a little too much. It had never developed into anything more than that, nothing like the countless affairs Beryl knew Mick had enjoyed whilst Josie had been working hard to raise his kids.

“You’re sweet,” Josie said – taking the expression on Beryl’s face as a sign of sympathy. “It’s just so hard to accept that the boys gave him a brilliant send off, yet he let the hospital cremate our baby without a second thought for a proper funeral.” Josie topped up both of their cups with fresh tea, adding another measure of brandy at the same time. “Did I ever tell you what he said to me that night – the night that I lay there in that hospital bed after giving birth to my stillborn baby?”

“No. I don’t think you ever did.”

“Well – the doctor had just left the room. They had stuck me back on the maternity ward you see, with all those screaming babies. They were explaining all of the different ways that you could lose a baby,” she drew in a lung-full from her cigarette, the tip a precarious mound of ash, “as if any of it was going to make a difference.”

“It must have been awful for you.”

“I couldn’t hear anything other than those wailing babies, then he comes up and says ‘it’s all taken care of.’ What’s taken care of? I said.” Josie swiped at her tears, smearing her carefully applied make-up. “He had only gone and agreed to let the hospital take care of the funeral. They cremated her there and then, just like yesterday’s rubbish.”

”Oh Josie,” Beryl said, touching the tips of her fingers to her mouth.

”It gets better,” Josie said through a cloud of blue smoke, bitterness hanging on every word, ”he did it because he said it would save him having to fork out for it.” The tears now forming in Josie’s eyes burned, as they blurred her vision of the present with that of the past.

Josie had always felt that a part of her soul had been taken from her that day – as surely as the unformed foetus had been removed from her womb. Oh how Josie would love to have had the chance to be able to choose a casket for her darling baby.

She had always remembered that day for two reasons. First, and foremost, it was the day that she suffered her first miscarriage. Second, it was the day that Josie realized that she hated Mick Bannister. She hated him with a passion equal to the love that she had felt for him when they were first married.

It was amazing to Josie that fate could be so cruel. She had starting seeing Mick
Bannister when she was no more than seventeen years old. She had been a somewhat precocious seventeen-year old; a girl, who by her own admission, could have had just about any lad that she fancied. Josie by no means considered herself to have been a tart, but she would freely admit to anyone who bothered to take an interest that she had been, ‘popular.’

Mick Bannister had been dashing. He had been everything that other boys of his age had not. His good looks had been enough to melt the hearts of every girl within a hundred mile radius. His strong shoulders and powerful arms had looked as though they could sweep her up off her feet.

”I still remember all the spots that he used to take me to.” Josie said, flicking the ash column into the saucer that she had moved between Beryl and herself.

“Mick always knew where to take a girl for an exciting night out on the town,” Beryl agreed – dipping a biscuit into her cup.

“I remember how I would sneak out of the house in my most glamorous dress; make up applied in all the right places and quantities; a generous splash of perfume behind each knee. I would meet Mick and we would go out and enjoy ourselves as though we hadn’t had a care in the world.”

An appreciative smile played across Beryl’s face as she became interested in Josie’s tale.

“I recall this one night that turned into a passionate encounter up against a brick wall,” Josie said – Beryl’s eyes positively gleaming at the prospect of hearing more. “I can still remember where that wall is to this day,” she said – remembering how Mick had taken her and supported her slight weight on his hips as he entered her. “I had to keep the grazes on my back out of mother’s sight for days,” she said – lighting another cigarette with the stub of her first. ”Days that I spent with a satisfied smile spread across my face I might add.” An inner warmth filled Josie momentarily, as she recalled how satisfied she had felt that day – how happy she had been that day.

One detail that Beryl was already aware of was the fact that Mick had been Josie’s first. Although many believed otherwise, Beryl knew that Josie had lost her virginity to Mick Bannister that night – and her heart.

“That smile had lasted less than a fortnight,” Josie said, remembering her terror when she had realized that she had been late. “I had never been late before in my entire life. The thought of being pregnant froze the blood in my veins.” Telling her mother had been out of the question. She had truly believed that allowing her father to find out would have resulted in him beating the unborn child out of her.


  1. Danny marks says:

    Nice work mr warmington! Could do with a talented writer like u a TiPHUB

    • Thanks for the comment :). Three of us at work started on this years ago (for charity at work) and just never ever finished it. Beryl didn’t even exist until I figured I needed someone to bring Josie into the story – haha. Sometimes I wish I had the time, energy and blah, blah to go back and finish what we started.

  2. Rachycakes says:

    Your gift for dialogue is startling, Mark. Need to read part 2 now as a matter of some considerable urgency!

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