Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Uncle Mildred meets . . . Mrs Ethel Smidgen.

In an ongoing series, Uncle Mildred meets the various characters and ne'er-do-wells inhabiting the pages of UNCLE MILDRED AND OTHER STORIES - a collection of short stories in aid of cancer charities in the US and the UK.

Today, Uncle Mildred meets dear Ethel Smidgen - from 'Chained', the fourth story in the UNCLE MILDRED AND OTHER STORIES collection.

 'Tea, dear?'

Ethel Smidgen. Eighty years old if she's a day.  Tiny woman.  And she looks so broken, so beaten.  Come her time, a bag of sawdust and a tub of Copydex is all it'd take.  And a couple of tins of Humbrol paint.  Grey and green are her tones.  If sadness were a colour, just a medium sized tin of it would do the whole lot.

'Yes, please, Mrs Smidgen.'

She moves like all her bones are broken inside.  Teetering and a-tottering round her tiny kitchen.  Smashed by life.

'I've got you some biscuits as well, dear.  Rich tea and some Custard Creams.'

She places the plate of biscuits and my saucered cup of tea in front of me, and sits down opposite.  She sighs and looks past me, as if looking back in time, wishing all the people she'd ever known - her friends, her family, her daughter - were still living, breathing human beings.  But they're not, Ethel Smidgen.  Nor will they ever be so.

'I'm sorry, dear.  I didn't ask if you wanted sugar.  Would you like sugar?'

She's half up already, though it obviously pains her to do so given the pain that's flashed across her eyes.

'No thank you, Mrs Smidgen.'

She sits back down with equal pain.

'Ethel, dear.  Call me, Ethel.'

What a nice old girl.  Too broken and beaten for this world, I'd say.

'Tom'll be home soon.  He's just gone to fetch some milk.'

Tom.  Her Tom.  Old Tom.  I would have liked to have known you, sir. 

That, I would . . .

First Paragraph:
Ethel Smidgen sat at the kitchen table, stirring her tea, thinking of her Tom. Dead ten years to the day. Old Tom. Drownded in a gin vat at the Gibson's Gin factory on Splutter Street. They'd fished him out with
long brooms, his friends, his co-workers, his comrades in perdition, and carried him abroad their sloping shoulders, and laid him upon the factory floor. Ethel held her position on the bottling line whilst others deserted their posts, desperate to see what all the fracas was about.

CHAINED is the story of Ethel Smidgen and her last day on the bottling line.  A long time ago, I worked in a gin factory.  For a day.  It's all I could handle.  Never have I experienced such a communal destruction of the human spirit.  One of the jobs I saw involved four women sitting beside a conveyor belt attached to the bottle cap machine - the bottling line.  The machine screwed the bottle tops on and spewed the bottles onto the bottling line.  It was the job of these women to ensure the tops were screwed on properly by twisting the top of each bottle in the opposite direction to which the machine had screwed it.  That scene of human destruction haunted me for years.  CHAINED was born in its embers.

CHAINED was originally published in the always excellent YELLOW MAMA on 14th February 2010

NEXT WEEK: Uncle Mildred meets . . . Tommy Fuller, from the story TWENTY-ONE MARGOLYES STREET. 


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Thank you for your support.

Warmest regards,


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