Josie & Beryl – Part II

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

This is the rest of that chapter…

Part I


“I don’t suppose it would have been easy for you – ‘specially with a father like yours,” said Beryl, helping herself to the last Rich Tea from the plate. Beryl held back a sneeze, wiping her nose with the back of her hand.

“I will not have her running around like a little slut, shagging every bleedin’ stray dog she can find!” Said Josie. “That’s what dad screamed at mum when I finally managed to suck up the courage to tell him.” By now Josie was jabbing her finger at Beryl across the table, furrowing her brow in simulated consternation, imitating the expression that had been on her father’s face that day. “No way am I having her bring shame on this house [Josie’s index finger now jabbing the table to punctuate each word] by littering it with a pack of fatherless brats!”

Beryl couldn’t help but sympathise as Josie explained how she had tried to talk to Mick. How she had tried to speak to him before telling her father – and how he had been so cold to her, so callous.

“‘Sweetheart, it ain’t my problem,’ he had said to me,” Josie explained. “I was holding on to his arm, tears running down my face, trying desperately to stop him from walking away from me.” Josie rose from her chair and stood over the kitchen sink, her gaze focused on some distant point outside the window. “Two hours I waited for him outside that pub. I knew that he would be there at some point.”

The memories were flooding Josie’s mind now, unlocked by the brandy that Beryl kept adding to her cup. Josie wasn’t sure if the sensations she was feeling were due to her emotional state or the warm alcohol that was now coursing through her veins. “I asked him why he was treating me that way. I said ‘I thought you loved me, I thought we could talk about it, sort something out.’ How pathetic I must have looked,” Josie said, snorting derisively.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Beryl said, moving from her seat to place a comforting hand on Josie’s shoulder. “You were only a kid at the time. A scared little girl who just found out her knight in shining armour had a bad case of rust.”

“‘Sort it out yourself’, he said.” Josie said, ignoring Beryl’s attempt to bring some humour to the moment. Beryl always thought that you could laugh of any situation – no matter how tense or strained it might be. In fact – Josie was surprised that Beryl hadn’t taken the opportunity to tell jokes at the funeral. She could normally be counted on to do so after her third or fourth drink, what with her inability to hold her liquor.

Beryl had taken up her position in front of the oven again – not wishing to wander too far from its comforting warmth. She was certain that she was coming down with pneumonia. “Got any more fags?” She asked, discarding the empty packet that was lying on the table.

“Uh? Um, yeah,” replied Josie. “I’ve got those knock off ones our Terry gets. Hold on a sec.” Josie stooped to search the back of the cupboard beneath the sink. Moving cleaning fluids, cloths and all sorts, out of the way until she came across the lavishly coloured carton of cigarettes she kept stashed from sight.

“I’m not too keen on those – but beggars and choosers and all that,” Beryl said – taking the offered packet. As she lit up another cigarette, Beryl, wafting smoke from here eyes, prompted Josie to get back to her tale. Josie didn’t watch much television, even though she had one of the biggest flippin’ sets that Beryl had ever set eyes on, so it meant that Beryl was missing out on her daytime TV. Josie’s story, therefore, was going to have to be her fix for that morning.

“Huh?” Josie asked.

“I said ‘what made him change his mind then?'” Beryl repeated.

“Oh – well I had gone home, wiping the tears away from my eyes, lost and pretty much bewildered. I told mum first – knowing that I would need her onside.”

“Your dad was pretty fierce if I remember right,” Beryl stated – her cigarette perched between her lips and dancing with each word she spoke.

“I had never been as scared as I was that day. At least, not since the day I got sick as a child and mum thought I was going to die.” Josie turned her back to the sink and rested her weight against it. “The look on his face had been one of pure disgust. I honestly thought that he was going to…” Josie’s voiced trailed of as she raised one hand tentatively to her cheek – recalling the smarting blow her father had dealt her with the back of his hand. “The wedding was arranged quick smart. No matter how much bravado Mick had been able to display when speaking to me, a vulnerable 17-year old girl, and I can see now that I had still been a little girl, he had been unable to muster the tiniest iota of courage when dad took me and went looking for him.

Josie unwittingly rubbed the top of her arm as she recalled her father dragging her round to Mick’s. “You’re going to do right by my little girl, so help!” That was all that her father had said. It was all that needed to be said. Mick had seen the barely restrained fury that had been simmering behind her father’s eyes. He had seen the rage and realized that he had better make a wise decision right there and then.

It had been a registry office affair. Josie’s cousins had been drafted in as bridesmaids. Aunts, uncles and family friends were all in attendance. Josie recalled how she had turned to throw the bouquet and had caught a glimpse of Mick appraising one of the bridesmaids with satisfaction. The ink had not yet been dry on the license and Mick Bannister’s eye had already wandered. The bouquet wasn’t caught by anyone that day It fell…unclaimed to the floor – in much the same way as Josie’s hopes and dreams.

“When I gave birth to our little Mickey, I remember hoping that it would rekindle some of Mick’s feelings for me. Instead his birth only seemed to remind Mick of the trap that he said I’d set for him.” Josie went to work using one fingernail to clean out the dirt that was trapped beneath another. “After Mickey, I gave birth to our Terry. Precious little Terry. As you know, complications with the birth caused the poor mite to limp when he finally started walking.” Josie remembered how Mick had seemed to resent the birth of Terry even more than she had expected him to.

“You see! You’re so rotten inside that you can’t even give birth to a normal kid.” Mick had said one night after returning, drunk, from a night out with whoever it was that had entertained him that evening. He had forced himself upon her that night. She remembered how he had stumbled into the bedroom that night, fumbling with his belt buckle – looking at her with disgust and feral lust in equal measures.

Josie remembered how, no matter how much Mick resented being with her, he had been unable to resist the love that grew inside of him for his firstborn son. “I always thought that Mick had seen in Mickey a chance for him to reclaim his life, you know, by making ‘his Mickey’ the best he could possibly be.”

Beryl could see the pang of sadness this thought brought to Josie’s heart – as she knew that Josie had felt isolated and cut out of their lives. Mick had spent all his time with Mickey, as the bond between father and son had grown stronger. That was something everyone had been able to see.

“That’s what made me really want a girl. I wanted a little girl so bad Beryl – so bad.” The tears were welling up again. The alcohol was adding to Josie’s feeling of melancholy, intensifying her emotions. “I would have been able to share things with her – dress her up in pretty clothes and do her hair.” Josie remembered that she had actually started to encourage her husband to sleep with her more often, flattering him whenever she thought he was susceptible, fixing her hair into the style she had worn when he had first taken a fancy to her.

That was how she managed to conceive the baby girl that she would ultimately lose. Josie had never confided in anyone else the feelings that she had endured at that time, not even Beryl. She had lain in her hospital bed thinking that god had taken the baby to punish her for her selfish desires and the measures she had taken to achieve them.

Josie remembered how long it had taken her to recover from that ordeal. How long it had been before she had fallen pregnant again. That time she had not planned it. She hadn’t even known herself. Mick had been furious. She had just thought that she was late because she was run down and had been working extremely hard. It wasn’t until she had collapsed in excruciating pain that she had realized something was wrong.

“I… I’ll go and get a doctor.” Mick had said. Funny – Josie thought – Mick had actually sounded genuinely concerned that day. She must have looked in a bad way if it had resulted in dragging some semblance of concern out of Mick. It hadn’t lasted long though. No… it lasted right up until he found out the cause of her pain. That was when the Mick she had grown accustomed to had come back to the fore.

That was also the time when Josie recalled giving up on life. Nowadays, Josie was sure, she would have been diagnosed as suffering from a nervous breakdown. Either that, or she would have ended up as a guest on one of those useless talk shows Beryl was always bleating on about. “I Remember spending the night in hospital, having surgery, and the next week in a world of my own,” she said. “The doctors told me that it was highly unlikely that I would ever have another kid – not with going through an ectopic pregnancy and all that.”

Beryl looked at her friend, aware that there was probably a lot more pain going on in Josie’s mind than she was telling her, and thanked god for the small mercies she had received. Beryl didn’t have any children of her own – instead she always saw herself as a kind of surrogate aunt to the boys that Josie had raised. “Your Jimmy must have been a blessing,” she said.

“More like a bloody miracle,” said Josie – exhaling a stream of smoke towards Beryl. “A bloody miracle.”

“He always has been a right sensitive kid, Jimmy has,” Beryl said – adding, “always makes time to come see his aunty Beryl.”

“Yeah – he always makes a fuss on mothers day as well, from the time he was old enough to make me a card himself.” Josie still had that first card. She had kept it pressed into the front of her favourite photo album.

“It was a real shame that he hasn’t found himself a nice wench to settle down with – a damned shame. I can’t begin to imagine why he hasn’t been…” Beryl didn’t finish the sentence – noticing that her hand was searching out for biscuits on an empty plate.

“Come on,” Beryl said, jolting Josie from her reverie. Getting up out of her chair, cigarette attached to her lips as though it had taken root, Beryl pushed the chairs under the table and said, “Get your coat, enough of this hanging around maudlin and drinking. Let’s see if we can get lucky on the bingo.”

Josie cleared the table and made her way into the hall. She stopped at the mirror and noticed the state of her make-up. “Josie Bannister,” she said to her reflection, “what do you look like?” Wiping away the smears with the tips of her fingers, grabbing her coat from the rack, she called out to Beryl who was still in the kitchen. “Come on then, what you doing in there?”

“We can’t go without taking a little something with us,” she said – showing Josie the bottle of brandy she had taken from the cupboard. “I’ve got a couple of them plastic cups you had in the cupboard. We can stick them in me bag – no one is going to notice.”

As she closed the door behind her Josie noticed that the rain had temporarily ceased. “Let’s be off then,” she said – leading Beryl to her car.



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