What do you do when all your children have left home, your husband has indigestion and won’t eat the gorgeous food you cook for him? TELEGRAN is the story of Rosalita, and her brilliant solution to this problem.
I read a short piece in the paper about Spanish grandmothers … but I can’t tell you what they did or I’ll give the story away. Nevertheless, ideas for stories are everywhere!
Two things changed the life of Rosalita Ingres Brown: Federico, her son number four – her baby – went to university and William, her husband, refused the magnificent dish of paella she set before him.
‘Sorry, Rosalita,’ muttered William. ‘Not very hungry I’m afraid.’
‘You had a big lunch?’ demanded Rosalita, serving spoon in hand, ready to swoop.
‘No. A sandwich,’ said William. Then seeing Rosalita’s raised eyebrows he added guardedly, ‘Been getting some indigestion lately.’
Putting down the spoon, she placed both hands firmly on the table, ‘Go to the doctor.’
‘For a little thing like indigestion? Of course, not. But you might make me something simple. Steamed fish perhaps, or a poached egg. Like my mother…’
‘I could,’ interrupted Rosalita, her dark eyes flashing, ‘but I won’t. Not till you’ve consulted the doctor. Maybe he give you something, and you’ll eat – like a man.’
They faced each other, Rosalita, her abundant black hair alive with anger, William, his austere barrister’s face cool in confrontation.
William rose to his full height of six feet, his lean body untouched by twenty- eight years of Rosalita’s wonderful cooking, and declared, ‘I shall eat at my mother’s.’
‘Fool,’ shouted Rosalita. ‘Why can’t you once in your life go to the doctor? But you know better, I suppose. So, go. Go back to your mama and she can cook all that moosh…’
‘Mush,’ corrected William automatically. He nodded to Rosalita and walked out of the kitchen as though he’d won a difficult case in court.
Rosalita collapsed on the white kitchen chair, and burst into tears. The paella with its sun- filled aroma of thyme and paprika, was forgotten as she wept.
Raul is in Madrid, she thought. Alfonso is working in London, Carlos is in Argentina, doing research, and my baby, Federico, has gone off to university, this very day. Who will I cook for? My hands will be empty. Empty. She raised her hands, letting them fall on the table with a thump. That idiot, William, doesn’t he understand how I feel now they’ve all gone? Why did I marry him? I should have returned to Madrid when I was so unhappy, au pair, in that stingy family in Chester. I cried to William, next door, and he saved me, my knight in shining armour. And I loved him. But look at him now. A broomstick.
She drew herself up, and said to nobody in particular, ‘Let him go to his mother’s, as usual. See if I care.’
For a week, she cleaned every cupboard and attacked every window, polishing the parquet till it shone. William ate at his mother’s. They met at breakfast, saying little; they retired to separate beds at night. Rosalita began to feel thin.
One morning, over black coffee and a chocolate digestive, Rosalita glanced at the previous day’s paper left open on page four. Words in Spanish caught her attention; Teles Memes, it said. Her eyes widened. Tele Grannies? She read with little sighs of approval. Teles Memes. Women who cooked for others once their families had left home – and they even earned a little money…
Published in life, death …the whole damn thing ISBN978-0-94675-53-1 2011
A collection of short stories, still available for purchase!
As I said in the welcome page, you will find here extracts and complete versions of some of my short stories.
When I was a student, I used to stay with my aunt in her two-roomed tenement flat opposite Euston Station; I was travelling to France, taking the boat train, Newhaven-Dieppe and on to Paris. Vi’s Bananas, set in one of those flats, is the complete story of Vi, a forces’ sweetheart, and how bananas changed her life.
My friend Vi was always singing. You could hear her through the walls between our flats, and people nodded and smiled as they reeled their washing out across the area. And she was always laughing. When the old women put their heads together, whispering and pointing at her as she passed, she’d say, “I’ll shock ‘em, nosey parkers.”
So she’d toss her head and her combs would glitter as she walked, swaying her hips, and tiptapping her high-heeled shoes across the cobbles. The women would watch until she’d disappeared through the archway of our buildings. I knew she was going to sing to soldiers in the pubs around Euston Station but they thought she was a tart.
Then I got the bananas. Bananas, the first we’d seen after the war! I was so excited, I ran up the steps, along the walkway, and banged on Vi’s front door.
“Vi,” I shouted, “Vi, you wouldn’t believe what I got. Bananas. From a barrow down the Euston Road, just outside the ABC. You’ll have to be quick…”
She didn’t answer, so I pressed my ear against her door, and what did I hear but her sobbing! Sobbing as though her heart would break. What could I do? I stood there, clutching them bananas, thinking I’d better give her a moment to get over it, whatever it was.
I went back to our flat next door – number ten, Farhope Buildings, she was number twelve – and wrapped the bananas in a tea towel and put them in a bowl on the sideboard. I switched on Workers Playtime, made myself a cup of tea and waited. But like I said, our walls are thin as tissue paper, and I could hear her still.
At last, she stopped. I thought, now’s my chance, I’ll take her a banana, that should cheer her. Popped it in my pinny pocket, and knocked on at her door. After some moments, she opened up and glowered at me.
“What you want?”
“Thought you might like a banana?”
“Where’d you get them?”
“Off a barrow. Down the Euston Road, outside….”
She crumpled like a paper bag. She fell back onto a chair, dropped her face in her hands and began to rock.
“Vi, whatever’s the matter? You know you can tell me.”
But she just kept on rocking; every so often she’d moan and shake her head. I went in, made her a cup of tea and plonked myself in her easy chair- because this time I wasn’t leaving her. I waited in silence until she’d quietened down.
“I can’t tell you,” she said, at last.
“Why? Is it so terrible?”
I asked myself if someone had died, or gone to prison, or been put away. I touched her hand. “Thought we was friends, Vi. You can tell me anything.”
This got through. She shifted a bit in the chair and looked at me sideways. “Promise you won’t tell nobody. If you do… I’ll… I’ll kill myself.’
She’d kill herself? What on earth was she going to say? What had she done?
“Vi. This’ll never pass my lips,” I insisted. “Cross my heart.”
“It’s this letter, see,” she said, reaching for a letter lying open on the table. Her hand was shaking. “Never thought I’d hear again.”
“About my Jack.”
Vi had never told me anything about family, and I didn’t like to ask. Her mantelpiece was full of photos of her in tights, and stage make-up, and glittery clothes, her arms around some bloke in evening dress.
“Your Jack?” I could barely say the words.
“Yes. No-one knows.” She was staring at me fiercely. “And no-one is going to know, right?”
You can read the rest of the story in Muse IV ISBN(1-905476-00-0) 2011
Vi’s Bananas has recently been rewritten as a short play for two characters.