Paperback 80 pages
127mm x 205mm x 7mm
Yes, they had had it all set out.
First child, tick; second child two years and three months later, tick; the numbers added up, tradition must have its way. Third child to enter the world four years and five months after the first and finally, the fourth was, according to the family system, destined to arrive on their doorstep seven years and two months from the eldest.
That was the plan.
Life though likes to throw curve balls and left hand corners.
Planning doesn’t matter a jot to circumstance. And yet, those that roll into the bends, reach out at full stretch, and catch the ball, springing forth again into adventure and life, find new avenues and opportunities to embrace. But John Bedford, man of tradition, shackled to the ‘done thing,’ was fixed to a static compass, unable to navigate a way forward for himself.
Instead, he did what he did best, work as shift supervisor in the local factory. Daily routines and procedures were comforting. He was a stickler and made sure company policies were adhered to.
He didn’t particularly enjoy training workers in his section, but health and safety, the rules, “are there for a reason,” he’d tell his men, oblivious to the roll of their eyes as he trotted out hackneyed phrases, as if each one was a fresh snippet of learned wisdom for their ears.
Unsurprisingly, he was not a popular man. He rarely gave his workers a proper rest and was commonly known as ‘Bad Sleep Bedford.’ Whispers of dissent followed him like a bloodhound across the shop floor. Groans would have, if it were possible, drowned out the noise of the factory’s numerous lathes.
He would focus with forensic detail on assignments for new production lines, the timing and duration of breaks, when and how long each worker could have on holiday and, most important of all, staff absenteeism.
Despite numerous complaints from his section, the factory manager was on John Bedford’s side. Self-interest was the presiding role player in his character. John’s section achieved high production rates; in fact by far the highest over the years. So it would have been remiss of the manager, he lied to himself, to interfere. Yes, John knew best. The manager’s conscience was forgotten, or more aptly, was shoved down deep, so far it had lost its way back. Each month, targets were surpassed. Such progress towards a larger annual bonus than previous years broadened his smile and dissolved any qualms, he might have had, in the night.
What of John and Maggie Bedford’s son Ben?
Outcast, almost from the beginning, bereft of his father’s physical and emotional warmth, he might have died soon after his mother. Everyone with a heart knows that lack of love can end a child’s life prematurely.
His father had a heart, and it did beat strongly for Ben. Yet because he harboured dark feelings of loss and passive anger towards his son following the death of his beloved, the father had sought other ways to love, vicariously.
He engaged a succession of au pairs. All of which gave notice earlier than originally intended, unable to bear the burden of home life conditioned by a factory production line mentality.
So Death played a further part in Ben’s life, finding ways to come to his aid. Well, what else could he do? The mother’s life couldn’t be saved. He knew that. But he also knew that death, and that was his role, despite the
Another Digit, Another Day
‘… A long time ago
As the gift of life shone
A little boy cried when he was born,
But his father wailed for his wife was gone...’
Bristol Royal Infirmary has seen many lives come and go; many have taken their first breath of life, sucking into their tiny lungs vast quantities of air reflected in the echoes of their cries. But on this day, the baby boy’s earth shattering call, “I am the beauty of life created,” was drowned, utterly overwhelmed, in volume and power by the lone grief stricken wail of a father as he held his baby boy in his arms. This was his first born. Joy was transformed into tragedy. Life mirrored by the blood flows of death.
The doctors and the nurses all turned as one towards him, their hearts reached out, eyes welled. The father’s eyes bloodshot, reddened with grief and exhaustion stared, willing her to live. But, wishes, hopes and dreams sometimes are just that and no more. His wife looked as if someone had pulled a plug out of her. She lay there, just lay there, pale, still and lifeless. Blood was everywhere. Dark globular pools congealed silently on the floor.
Many others’ lives have ended here and today and at 04.53 hours, another digit was added to the statistics.
In the years that followed, the father withdrew into himself, ever deeper, lost in a world frozen to one singular moment. Move on, let the past breathe its last, these are the ways of the healthy and spring minded people of today. But then, of a generation born of yesteryear, the father clung to the canker that infected his heart and mind. He let fear of death become the master of his life.
Suffice to say, the baby boy became his only child, although not planned that way.
No, he and his wife Maggie had wanted four.
One at the beginning, one at the end and two in the middle, they would follow tradition. Fall in behind the legacy of copious fertility handed down by his father and his father’s father and as far as they could work out, from time immemorial.
‘You tell the story of how it all began,’ said Death to Hope, hoping she’d say “Yes.”
‘No, this time you, you read better dead.’
Death picked up the book and turned the first page as a cold wind of memories darkened his countenance…
It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Ben to have given up. He had lost his mother at birth and although his father loved him, he was distant. His grandmother was just mean and selfish. Too much of her and Ben might have given up, but that’s when Hope played her part. That's when Ben’s dream began.
sadness or relief unleashed, brought unforeseen opportunities for some. He hoped that Ben might somehow benefit. He couldn’t be sure, for death is, as those that die and those who live on know, an experiment. So, Death adjusted time a little. He brought forward a diary date. It was the least he could do. Maybe Hope would do the rest. Well, it was over to her now.
And so it was that following the funeral of Ben’s paternal grandfather, his grandmother came to live with them both.
She became Ben’s keeper.
She did all the right things. She kept the house running just the way John liked it. She was familiar with the routine, having indoctrinated John long ago into the Bedford family system.
She maintained a degree of love and affection for Ben. Yet in the circle of love, as in life, there are three hundred and sixty degrees. Each day Ben subsisted on meagre double digits of love. Therein was the risk, as both Death and Hope could see.
WELL KNOWN ETHEREAL AXIOM
Despite the original plan and it was perfect, we have His word for it, mistakes somehow happen. No being has worked out how yet, but everyone has their suspicions.
Heart and Soul Rickets or HSR as it is officially referred to, is the second mistake. An anonymous cloud-line post suggested an alternative meaning, His Second Rendition. Everywhere has a joker. Up here, it’s no different.
As with the first mistake, HSR went viral across the universe. It is probably the most ubiquitous mistake of the human creation, more so than number seventeen in ethereal fact.
Lack of love disables. The deep soul of well-being drained of love and affection often darkens visions of how humans see and feel about themselves and others.
Of course, numerous alterations have been introduced to adapt the plan, but, like all other incremental changes, unintended consequences seeped in. And now there is a growing call for another Big Bang. Clean sweep. Start afresh.
Death and Hope are not in this camp. Instead, they provide Him with the support He needs when the General Assembly gathers each milieu. The recent one was a close vote however. In nine-hundred and eighty-six years, the outcome might be different. God knows, or so Hope, hopes.
Could Ben catch HSR? Well, not all things are certain. Death and Hope both feared the consequence for Ben and for others along his path if he did. And so Hope did, eventually, play her part. But only when the time was right, for in her world, there are times to act, and times to wait.
So she waited.
It was a mere breath into the future.
For Ben it was seven years.
The dreams feel like those that are hard to leave behind, that one just wants to sink back into as they are full of joy, lightness and visual appeal.
Copyright 2017 Philip A Oldfield - Author of cross genre psychological thrillers and romantic comedies, all with strong female protagonists
Exeter, Devon, England. All rights reserved.