The south-facing elevation of Sonya’s eighteenth century house is festooned with white roses. The garden is the most visible expression of all that she holds dear as custodian of her family’s heritage. Her visiting grandchildren, Nick and Jane, play football on the immaculate lawn, and invariably but accidentally, damage her meticulously ordered herbaceous borders. Bored by Sonya’s endless carping at their lack of respect for her delphiniums, Nick and Jane refuse to visit her. She misses them and has a vivid memory of her daughter, Clair, telling her grandchildren that Granny is mad as a hatter. Sonya’s reached the point where she’s trapped in her own sad history of appearing to love objects more than people.
In an upstairs room, darkened by heavy velvet drapes, Sonya dusts the shrine she created for her dead father, Marley. Unlike many such places of devotion there are no crosses, images of saints, or other such icons. Instead, there are stacks of sealed cardboard boxes; she’s no idea what’s inside them. Sitting in an armchair she sighs, Oh, father. It’s all gone wrong. I’ve kept your boxes safe but no one cares what’s in them. They’ll skip the lot when I’m gone. Is this what you really wanted? Her vision swims from a migraine.
She hears her father calling her name as an urgent scratching comes from a nearby box. She screams in terror as Marley, the size of a minute circus ringmaster in top hat and tails, bursts from the box brandishing a bullwhip. A saxophone playing ‘Bring on the clowns’ is immediately drowned out by a circus band discordantly massacring ‘I did it my way’. Cardboard boxes burst open. Toy-like clowns and tumblers fill the room with joyous shouting. Goal posts appear out of another box and she sees herself, dressed in shorts and shirt, juggling footballs as vast Disney-like delphiniums laugh hysterically. A full-size Marley cracks his whip. Terrified, Sonya runs from the shrine, convinced she’s mad.
In the kitchen Sonya telephones her daughter, Clair, but gets her son-in-law, Rod, instead. He’s frosty, but eventually agrees that he, Clair, Nick and Jane will come on Sunday so she can apologise.
Sonya, her hands twisted together, is standing on the doorstep under the roses. She is pleased with what she has done to the garden. On the lawn, two plastic goalposts are set each end of a small football pitch. Jellies, sandwiches and cakes are laid out on a table.
She looks at her watch; they’re late. She waits. No one comes. Twilight falls. Weeping, she dumps the food in the dustbin. She doesn’t telephone her daughter to ask why they haven’t come. She knows she’s being punished for her mistakes.
In the shrine, she lights a firelighter under one of the boxes. Within moments she’s engulfed in smoke and struggling for breath as the inferno grows. Deaf to the sound of fire engines, she asks, Is this what you wanted, father?
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© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.