A215 – TMA02 – Rounds
This is the story I submitted for the second assignment on the Open University A21 Creative Writing course. There will be a revised version of it eventually to improve it in line with the tutor feedback.
Alice clipped the name badge onto her uniform before picking up her keys. First stop today was Granny Jack’s house. She needed advice before visiting Fiona, her childhood friend.
Outside it was a warm, dry spring day. Daffodils bloomed and the hedge had lost its clipped rectangular shape. Alice’s car was parked on the narrow roadway outside her terraced cottage. She opened the boot with her key and checked the contents of her bag before taking it out and locking up behind. She strode off along the road, swinging the bag as she went.
Granny Jack was the oldest living resident of Lower Harwood. She lived alone on the ground floor of a row of cottages. Her vegetable patch was turning green with weeds. Washing hung on the line, the grass under it unkempt.
Alice knocked and then let herself in. She walked down the short corridor, calling ‘Granny, it’s me, Alice!’ as she went. The living room had a fire going in the grate, Alice couldn’t recall visiting when there wasn’t, and on each side of the fireplace was an easy chair. The far corner held the door to the kitchen, where Granny stood wearing her apron and with flour covering her hands.
‘Hello dear, how are you?’ asked Granny.
‘I’m fine Granny, I just came round to say hello.’ Said Alice.
‘On your way to work I see?’ Granny looked pointedly at the bag and uniform.
‘Well, I was just walking by. I need to go see Fiona later on.’ Alice said.
Granny raised an eyebrow. ‘Your friend from school?’
‘Yes, she’s expecting twins, but there are complications. You know the family history don’t you?’
‘Do you have time for some tea?’ asked Granny. ‘The pot’s ready’.
‘I’d love some, please.’
Alice followed Granny into the kitchen, where a large teapot stood on the hob. Granny poured tea for Alice.
‘Thanks, Granny. How are you?’
‘I’m fine, dear’ Granny said. ‘Although the garden needs some looking after.’
‘I noticed. Has Davie not been round recently?’
‘No, dear, he doesn’t want to see Rachel, not after Henry’s twenty-first.’
‘From what I saw then, I thought they’d got on very well’
‘Oh, they did, but that was the problem.’
‘Don’t worry, they’ll see sense, but until they do I haven’t got anyone to do my garden.’
Alice realised that Granny wouldn’t tell her anything until Alice had arranged someone to do Granny’s garden. Leaving Granny’s house she thought about calling on Rachel upstairs, then remembered that Rachel would be at work. Alice closed the gate behind her and went towards the surgery. As she walked she considered who else might help. Turning the corner onto Stuart Street she saw Billy Fleming digging his garden.
‘Hello, Billy, how are you?’ Alice called.
‘Oh, hi!’ Billy replied.
‘You’re doing well with your garden, it looks nice.’
‘Ach, it’s no bad, but I fair enjoy having a go at it. Keeps me out of mischief.’
‘Oh, it’s better than not bad. I think you’re pretty handy as a gardener.’
‘Thanks, I suppose I’d better get on with it then.’
‘Um, could you help my Granny out with her garden?’
‘Is it no Davie that does that?’
‘Not any more.’
‘I’d love tae help, but I need to watch the bairn when the ex-wife’s at work.’
‘If I got a babysitter could you manage it?’
‘Oh aye. Nae problem.’
‘Thanks. I’ll come back and see you later.’ Alice replied, giving Billy a big smile.
The next stop was easy, her friend’s sister Dianne lived across the road from the surgery. She could pop in and get Dianne to baby-sit. Alice carried on, Stuart Street was a short link road, and she soon reached the corner to the main road where the shops were. The surgery lay on a back street just past the churchyard.
Alice stopped outside a semi-detached house surrounded by garden. The drive was empty, but the windows were all open. Alice walked round to where Mrs Dowding was at the side of the house hanging washing out.
‘Hello Alice, what brings you round?’ she asked.
‘Is Dianne around, someone wanted a baby-sitter?’ Alice said.
‘She’s at college, but she’ll be back later. Do you want me to tell her?’
‘Please, Billy Fleming needs his son watched while he cuts Granny’s grass.’
‘I know him. So what’s the deal?’
‘I was going to see what Dianne wanted.’
‘Leave it to me, although can I ask you a favour?’
‘Nothing bad, it’s part of your job. I just wondered if you could talk to her.’
‘Just your usual talk to young women about not getting pregnant.’
‘Has she got a boyfriend?’
‘Not yet, but she’s been mooning over Ed Cairns, luckily he’s too busy studying.’
‘Okay Mrs Dowding, I’ll speak to her.’
Alice messaged Dianne asking when she’d be back from College before spending the morning running the mother and baby clinic in the surgery. The village wasn’t large, and there were few visitors. Shortly before the clinic finished Dianne replied that she was home. Paperwork complete, Alice went over the road to see Dianne.
‘Hi Alice, what can I do for you?’ said Dianne.
‘Didn’t your mum say anything?’ asked Alice.
‘No, she’s out, no idea where.’
‘Oh, not to worry. I wanted to ask if you minded doing some baby-sitting?’
‘Billy Fleming’s little boy. Billy’s going to help Granny Jack with her garden.’
‘I don’t know him, how old is the boy?’
‘Billy’s the Scottish guy on Stuart Street. The boy has just turned four, he’ll be going to school after the summer.’
‘Oh, him. I think my Mum knows him.’
‘While we’re on the subject of your mum, I promised to mention contraception.’
‘Will she never stop! I’ve told her already I’m on the pill, have been since I was 14 just to keep things regular.’
‘Well it’s only natural she’d worry. How are things going with Ed, by the way?’
‘Ed, he’s a funny one, terribly clever, but you could hit him with a clue stick the size of a bus and he wouldn’t notice.’
‘I’m sure he’ll notice eventually.’
‘Ah! You could help. I’ll baby-sit if you get me a date with Ed, and twenty quid to help pay for it a bit.’
‘A date and twenty quid? That’s asking a lot.’
‘What about a date and a tenner then?’
‘I can’t promise a date.’
‘Sure you can, you could use your magic to persuade him.’
‘I should think Ed is pretty resistant if you haven’t managed it.’
‘You can be pretty persuasive when you try.’
‘As can you. I’ll see what I can do.’
Ed was a tougher nut to crack. He was dedicated to studying and was working flat out on getting good results to make sure he’d get the place he wanted at Cambridge.
Alice knew she’d find Ed in the library, he was there all the hours that it was open. It was right on the outskirts of the village, shared with Upper Harwood, and a stiff 15 minute walk from where she was now.
The library was late Victorian. Over the doors the words ‘PUBLIC LIBRARY’ were engraved deeply. Inside the shelves and furniture were oak, dark with age. Ed was in the corner with the computers, although using his own laptop. Strewn around him were textbooks, papers and a stack of coloured index cards, post-its and pens.
Alice sat on the seat next to Ed, avoiding the abandoned rucksack on the floor. ‘Hello Ed, how are you?’ she asked. There was no reply, Ed had his earphones jammed in his ears. Alice waved her hand in front of him to get his attention.
‘Busy.’ he said.
‘Don’t worry, I came to offer you some help.’ Alice said.
‘Leave me to get on with it please.’
‘Actually I’ve been reading some research and apparently we learn better when we do it in shorter bursts.’
‘Really.’ Alice said. ‘In fact taking time out to have fun improves your concentration. The longer you study the less effective you become. I can send you the research papers if you like?’
‘So why seek me out and tell me this?’
‘I know how much you want to get out of here, and I’m a nice person.’
‘Well OK, my motive is less pure, but the research is real. I think you’d enjoy the diversion a lot. Not to mention the boost it would give to your studying power.’
‘Here and now?’
‘If you have it?’
‘Call up the library catalogue and search if you don’t believe me. It’s about the effectiveness of overtime rather than studying, but the results hold true.’
Ed brought the laptop closer and searched. Alice watched as he read the abstract.
‘OK, close enough. What did you have in mind?’ Ed said.
‘You know Dianne Dowding?’
‘Yeah, she dropped out of school last summer?’
‘She’s my friend’s sister.’
‘What about her?’
‘Do you like her?’ Alice asked. Ed blushed and looked around the library. ‘I’ll take that as a yes.’ Ed nodded. ‘Would you like to take her out on a date?’
‘You know, just the two of you, somewhere nice?’
‘Oh, yes, of course.’
‘Excellent! Where do you want to take her?’
‘I’ve no idea. I’ve never taken a girl on a date before, what am I supposed to do? Do I need to pay for everything?’
‘Why don’t you take her to the pictures, I can give you a lift, but you might want to find another way back. Friday night any good?’
‘Great, I need to do some research.’
‘Does Dianne have your number? Do you want hers?’
‘Already got them. Thanks.’ Ed was back on his computer looking up advice on taking teenage girls on dates. Alice quietly slipped away.
Having broken Ed, Alice went back to Granny Jack before visiting Fiona. She needed to know how to keep her friend safe, and Granny Jack knew how. Alice gave the door her distinctive knock, the aroma of fresh baked scones met her as she opened the door. Granny was sitting by the fire, knitting.
‘Back already dear?’ said Granny, ‘Why don’t you sit down.’ she indicated the other chair. The side table next to it featuring a floral china cup and saucer with gently steaming tea, a fruit scone and a small pot of butter.
‘Thank you, Granny.’ Alice said, taking in the tea and scone ready for her.
‘You wanted to ask me about Fiona, didn’t you?’
‘Yes, I’m really worried about her.’
‘And well you might.’
‘Granny, you were there, what happened to her mum?’
‘No, dear, I wasn’t there, that’s what happened to her mum, and her granny too. Saved her Aunt though.’
‘I thought you were the midwife that delivered her?’
‘It was supposed to be me, but someone decided that I had retired and was out of touch. I only found out when it was too late. So yes, I delivered Fiona, but I could have saved her mum if I’d been called earlier.’
‘Gena’s waters broke as she was getting out of bed. Her husband called the surgery and they sent round the midwife.’
‘Who was that?’ Alice asked.
‘No-one you’d know, she was new then and didn’t stay after what happened.’
‘Sorry, carry on please.’
‘Well nothing much happened all morning and the midwife went away, telling Gena to phone immediately if her contractions quickened. Well, things happened very quickly at teatime, too quickly. Gena got very rapid strong contractions, and she had a panic attack. Her husband called the midwife, but the surgery was closed. So he called an ambulance. The neighbours heard the commotion, Gena was screaming like her lungs were on fire. They sent someone to get me.
‘I arrived before the ambulance could, they were in Stuart Street at the time, and I ran. I ran because I’d been there when Gena’s mum had gone and I didn’t want that again. It was already too late when I got there though.’ Granny stared at the fire.
‘You said it was already too late?’ Alice said.
‘Aye. Gena, god bless her, was still panting and pushing, but nothing was happening. It was all uncoordinated, the body was doing the work, but her mind had moved on. There was no sense being made when you spoke to her. She was hot to the touch, and her pulse was racing dangerously. I dare say her blood pressure was high too, but I didn’t stop to take it. I got on with getting the baby out, because I knew that if I didn’t then the baby would go too.’
‘So what could you have done if you had been there earlier?’
‘If I’d been there I could’ve kept her calm, that would’ve helped. But I think that there are other things that might have worked too, not least some of the old remedies.’
‘Care to tell me?’
‘No, dear, I’ll show you. Call me when your friend Fiona is in labour and we’ll deliver her together. It’s time I passed on some tricks, and I’ll not let another Harwood woman die in childbirth.’