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April 18th, 2014

A Jeffrey’s Short: Aunt Daisy’s legacy

Geoffrey (author)

One of 20 short stories from Geoffrey Crees’ original collection Jeffrey’s Shorts!

Aunt Daisy did not really enjoy the single life. She was not exactly a man-hater, but she had suffered so many disappointing relationships that, in the end, she felt she only wanted her own company.

Oh yes, her church was something of a lifeline but she felt that she could not reach out to others; she thought they shunned her. This was not exactly true, but it was her perception.

Then Jeffrey’s grandmother died of cancer. Jeffrey was seven and he was taken to see her in hospital. It was a life-changing experience as he was very close to his grandma.

‘Hospitals stink,’ he shouted. ‘They smell all funny and people die in them.’

‘No they don’t, Jeffrey, they make people better,’ said his mother.

He was not convinced. ‘Grandma’s dying, isn’t she?’ he blurted out, impervious to his mother’s comforting arm around him. He was aware of death as his beloved Old English Sheepdog had caught himself on barbed wire some weeks earlier and somehow poison had got into the wound. He was an only child and he loved the countryside – especially his pets, although some of them seemed to be dying. But Grandma was different.

Her funeral took place in the local parish church. Jeffrey was not allowed to go. Instead he played in the garden with his cousins while a neighbour kept watch. The tea afterwards was great. Yes, he did miss Grandma, but the food was good.

‘Who’s going to look after Granddad now he’s on his own?’

It was the question of the hour for everyone in the village, and not least for the immediate family. Granddad thought he was quite capable of looking after himself, but he wasn’t really. Aunt Freda, who lived some distance away, contributed in a loud voice, ‘I know the Lord will care for him.’

‘True,’ said Jeffrey’s mum, ‘but who’ll do his washing and cleaning?’

Everyone seemed to have an opinion, the consensus of which was that no one wanted to see Granddad on his own but nobody was willing to take on the role of his housekeeper.

‘I’ll do it,’ said a quiet little voice. ‘I can give up the tenancy of my flat in Guildford and come and live here. I don’t particularly like country life, but I dare say I’ll get used to it.’

So it was agreed. Jeffrey’s father, who was away from home for much of the time and had only come back for his mother’s funeral, said he would arrange everything, including talking his father into being looked after by Daisy, whom he neither liked nor disliked.

Granddad protested for a while, but eventually agreed it was for the best. So the date was set for Daisy to move into Granddad’s cottage, which was sufficiently large for them to have separate accommodation. 

The arrangement worked very well at first. Granddad was a proud man. In his earlier days he had been a valet in a ducal home, and he felt some of the more menial tasks around the home were not really for him. He loved his garden, though, and there was no shortage of fruit and vegetables.

However, when Jeffrey’s father returned from his latest overseas trip he attempted to visit his father but was met at the door by Daisy saying his father was out and that he could not come in. Strange, he thought. Daisy’s attitude certainly seemed to have changed in four months. Jeffrey and his mother had been visiting once or twice every week and Jeffrey loved sitting on Granddad’s knee while Granddad told him stories of the old days, especially of what he called ‘the big house’. Strangely, Aunt Daisy was always somewhere else when they called, perhaps shopping or in the garden. Jeffrey, being a child, did not know what was going on, but he sensed something of an ‘atmosphere’.

Jeffrey’s mother felt increasingly that they were intruding on Daisy’s new empire. It became all the more obvious when Daisy became a vegan (Jeffrey had no idea what that was) and tried to impose her views on Granddad. His reaction was thoughtful but robust. ‘If that’s what she believes that’s all right for her, but I still like my pork chops.’

‘You’d better come for Sunday lunch each week,’ was his daughter-in-law’s response. Daisy had for some time imposed a ‘no cooking’ rule on Sundays, along with no TV or radio, so Granddad’s regime on Sunday became to go to church separately from Daisy and go back to his daughter-in-law’s for lunch.

Each time Jeffrey’s father came home he found considerable changes surrounding his father. On the one hand they were grateful to Daisy for her care – the house was spotless, her financial arrangements were clear and transparent and Daisy herself seemed happy enough in her way. People at church thought she was wonderful – sacrificial even – in caring for Granddad. Others thought his daughter-in-law should have taken on the role, forgetting that she had a part-time job and her own house and garden to care for, let alone Lucky the dog and the two stray cats, Marco and Minerva, they had suddenly acquired.

The situation gradually deteriorated and Granddad’s neighbours became a little suspicious. People at the church became divided over Daisy; one even suspected her of lining her own pockets at Granddad’s expense, though such views were not verbally expressed.

 

Twelve months later, when Jeffrey’s father came home on extended leave (with many a story to relate to his son), things came to a head. Jeffrey’s father went to see Granddad and again was refused entry. Jeffrey’s father was not one to lose his temper easily, but this was outrageous. ‘Where is my Dad?’ he demanded of Daisy.

‘He’s in the bath,’ she replied.

‘Daisy, I don’t think that’s true,’ said Jeffrey’s father, trying hard to suppress his feelings.

‘Are you accusing me of lying?’ she asked. ‘Well, you can’t see him and that’s that.’ With those words she closed the door.

Jeffrey’s father hammered on the door to no avail. He looked in every available window and searched the garden and orchard but could find no sign of his father. He reluctantly retraced his steps home, almost on the verge of tears. When he arrived home, Jeffrey’s mother asked, ‘What’s wrong?’

He quickly answered, ‘Let’s get indoors. Where’s Jeffrey?’

She replied, ‘Playing with friends up the road.’

Later that day Jeffrey could hear raised voices through the bedroom wall. ‘What are we going to do? Where’s my dad? I’m due to go back to India soon, and I haven’t even been allowed to see my own father!’

Jeffrey could not understand what was happening. They were not arguing but they were clearly distressed. He knocked on his parents’ door. ‘Can I help?’ he asked, with all the maturity that his seven and three-quarter years allowed.

‘Sorry, son, this is a grown-ups’ problem,’ said his dad.

Jeffrey thought, I don’t want to be grown up if I have problems like that.

 

As time went on, the situation deteriorated and Jeffrey was puzzled as to why he did not see his granddad whom he loved so much.

Then one day Daisy knocked at Jeffrey’s parents’ door. When his mother opened it Daisy said coldly, ‘I’m sorry to say that your father-in-law has passed away. I’m arranging the funeral.’

‘Have you told my husband?’ asked his mother.

‘No, I’ll leave you to do that,’ with which words Daisy turned on her heel and left. 

The vicar said some appropriate words at the funeral as a tribute to Jeffrey’s granddad but the atmosphere was, to say the least, rather tense, especially when the Rev Gareth Tayler-Smyth said, ‘We must all appreciate the sacrifice that Daisy has made over the past years in looking after her uncle.’

Following the burial in the churchyard the family and friends gathered in the church hall for cups of tea and biscuits (very plain ones), which Daisy made sure everyone knew she was paying for.

Jeffrey’s family tried to keep a safe distance, which was not easy in the small hall, while many others crowded around Daisy, offering her comfort. One large gentleman insisted on quoting Bible verses and praying very audibly for Daisy. For the first time on that sad day Daisy’s and Jeffrey’s eyes met as they said their cool goodbyes[NF1] .

‘Mr Fortescue of Fortescue & Fortescue is coming to the house to read the will, so you might care to come,’ said Daisy icily.

Knowing what was in the will his father had drawn up five years ago, Jeffrey’s father made the excuse that he had to get back to Jeffrey before going back to the office to a job he didn’t much care for but which paid quite well, although his importance was less than he imagined.

As they drove home he said casually to his wife, ‘It’s all very strange. I’m sure Dad’s will was drawn up by Blake & Coldwell, not Fortescue & Fortescue. Never mind, I know he left the house and the bulk of his estate to me, with small legacies to Jeffrey, the church and Daisy.’ With that they arrived home and he spent some time with Jeffrey, answering the curious boy’s questions about the funeral and what happens to us when we die, and thanked the friend who had looked after him. 

A week or so later Jeffrey’s father remarked that Daisy would no doubt soon be wanting to go back to Guildford, and the empty property could be placed on the market for sale, adding that it should fetch a decent sum. Eventually the inaction and silence made Jeffrey’s father ring Blake & Coldwell to fix an appointment.

He arranged to take time off work to see the senior partner, Mr Eustace Blake. Now Mr Blake (nobody, not even his somewhat downtrodden wife, ever called him Eustace) was every inch a solicitor of the old school.

‘I’ve called to see about my late father’s will,’ was Jeffrey’s dad’s opening statement.

‘Just a moment,’ said Mr Blake, ‘and I’ll ask my secretary to retrieve the file.’ It was eventually produced. Mr Blake opened it: it was empty – empty except for a typed note.

 

The last Will and Testament of ……………………. was removed from this file and handed to Mr Armstrong on ……………… as he is intending to replace it with another to be drawn up by and lodged with Fortescue & Fortescue of Granary Chambers.

 

The note had been signed by Jeffrey’s grandfather and countersigned by Eustace Blake. The word ‘shock’ was probably an understatement of how Jeffrey’s father felt at this news. He noted the date of the memo, said a polite goodbye and rang Fortescue & Fortescue, who arranged for him to see their senior partner an hour later.

‘I know this will be hurtful to you,’ Mr Fortescue was a kind soul who hated giving bad news, ‘but your father left everything to your cousin Daisy in gratitude for her care for him over the past two and a half years since your mother died.’ Jeffrey’s father’s dreams of a new conservatory and a private education for his son evaporated like the morning mist.

How could he? How could she? came to mind, followed by, The cunning old vixen, although Daisy was five years younger than Jeffrey’s father.

‘I’ll think about contesting this will,’ was his paltry remark as he left to go home, poorer, he thought, than when his father was alive.

The tension between Jeffrey’s parents increased somewhat over the following weeks. Late at night, Jeffrey would hear words such as ‘contesting the will’ and ‘greedy old bat’, which he didn’t understand, as the only old bat he knew was his father’s cricket bat with which he claimed to have scored many more runs than he ever actually did!

Jeffrey’s father consulted various friends as to what action to take, and even asked the vicar, who suggested they pray about it and said politely that kind Daisy had indeed left her home to look after the old gentleman for two and a half years. Jeffrey’s father snorted, ‘Rev Tayler-Smyth, I am the son who has been done out of his just inheritance. It’s no wonder I don’t come to your church. They’re all a bunch of hypocrites!’

We could do with a few more, was the unspoken thought of Rev Tayler-Smyth as he made his farewell. 

Time moved on. In the end the will was not contested, not least because Jeffrey’s father did not want his name splashed across the press or to have to face Daisy in court. Promotion was in the offing and he did not want to do anything to jeopardise his chances.

Jeffrey grew up, gained a degree in computing and began work in an engineering firm. In due time he met, fell in love with and married Jill, whom he had vaguely known as a boy.

One day they were shocked to hear from his mother that his father was seriously ill. They rushed to the hospital, where it was obvious his beloved Dad was dying. They exchanged a number of father and son pleasantries, and eventually Jeffrey plucked up the courage to say, ‘Dad, I think you and I know what the situation is er… er…’

‘Go on, son,’ replied his dad weakly.

‘Dad, you remember Aunt Daisy?’

‘Can’t forget her, even now. What a hypocrite!’ shouted his father so loudly that all the other patients heard, and the staff nurse rushed to see what was wrong.

‘Dad, don’t waste your breath. I… I just wondered if there is anything I can do so that you can be reconciled?’

His father, exhausted by his outburst, whispered, ‘You could go and try to see her but…’ again raising his voice, ‘… it won’t do any good, and I don’t want you emotionally scarred as I have been.’

With that effort, he slipped back into an unconscious state, from which he never recovered.

Tears flowed down Jeffrey and Jill’s faces. They were tears of sadness at having to say farewell to his beloved father, but more so because his father had never been reconciled to his cousin. Jeffrey’s thoughts strayed somewhat, and he confided in Jill, ‘Perhaps being a computer manager isn’t really what I want to do.’

 

Many, many years later, Jeffrey found himself working in a hostel for homeless young men. It didn’t pay very well but, as a Christian, he felt called to serve this way.

One day, a letter arrived for him with the branding ‘Fortescue & Fortescue’. Whatever can it be? he wondered, as he tore open the envelope.

‘Dear Mr Armstrong,’ it read. ‘Under the terms of the will of the late Daisy Basker, the sum of £10,000 is bequeathed to you.’

In a separate envelope there was a note in Daisy’s handwriting:

 

Dear Jeffrey,

Just to let you know I too have a conscience. I admire the work you are doing amongst the homeless.

Love Daisy (alias ‘stupid old bat’)

 

Jeffrey’s Shorts is published by Instant Apostle and is available online in paperback and electronic formats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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