Thursday 10 November 2022

Summoned by the Gong by Jane Spirit, hot rum and milk

Colonel Williams, now retired, shifted a little uneasily in his chair. It had been carefully positioned to catch any potential light and warmth from the window of the dark panelled first floor sitting room in which he mostly spent his days. He was comfortable enough in its padded embrace, but wary of the bodily stiffness that would inevitably creep up on him whilst he carefully inspected his newspaper before refolding it and placing it on the carved teak occasional table at his side. He knew that it would take him some time to get his circulation going when he next stood up in readiness to walk down the stairs in pain, but with dignity. The anticipation of this discomfort made him tetchier than he might otherwise have been, that and hunger he had felt gnawing away at him ever since he had woken from his nap. This made him glance frequently at the clock on the mantelpiece as he waited for its 12 o’clock joining of hands and the sound of the gong from the hallway beneath him.

He did not need Mrs Marjoram to sound the gong of course. There was no longer any noise in the house to cut through or a household to summon for lunch, but the Colonel still perceived a value in continuing with the rituals he had been accustomed to. If truth be told, the sound of the gong and the sense of order it represented to him, gave shape to his day and comfort to his aching bones. The gong had been with the family in India. At great cost and by somewhat complex arrangements, Mary had arranged for it to be shipped home and installed on top of the side table in their rather pokey villa hallway. In her honour he had continued with its use for the midday meal, which was served to him in the dining room. Mrs Marjoram would bring in the three courses in turn and then retire between each to allow him to enjoy his soup, his chop or haddock and a simple desert these days of fruit or occasionally treacle pudding and custard. Thinking about it now he found himself salivating as the hands of the clock marched inevitably closer together to point north on the clock face. He began to shift himself a little, listening in readiness for the resounding, warm note coming from below. Simply hearing it would cheer him and then this afternoon his son Reggie was coming to visit him, and they would have tea together in his little library downstairs as they always did. He had then two things to look forward to today, though he knew of course that Reggie was only calling on him to ask for some more cash to fend off his creditors for a little longer.

In the kitchen below, Mrs Marjoram sat at the large pine table from where she could see the stove and so keep a necessary eye on the vegetables gently simmering in readiness for the Colonel’s lunch. She sat comfortably, one arm resting on the table as she read again the letter that she had received from her son Charlie that morning. Since first reading it after breakfast she had managed somehow to keep up with her morning routine, although it had been a little after the half hour when she had taken the Colonel his morning coffee and ginger biscuit. It was a slight tardiness that of course he had remarked upon and for which she had even found herself mumbling an apology. Now, somehow, she had reheated the soup, baked the cutlet, peeled the potatoes and carrots, chopped some parsley and prepared the custard to go with the tinned peaches he tolerated these days. She was agitated though. It was difficult to take in what Charlie was telling her, that all his endeavours had been rewarded, that he had already accrued a tidy sum from the business he and his old chum Tom had started. He would be calling on her this afternoon to discuss with her the house and garden he planned to buy for her nearby and the income he would be providing her with so that she need never work again.

She was on her feet now, steaming the vegetables and placing them in the oven to keep warm whilst she prepared the first tray with its plate of cut bread and small tureen for the soup alongside the Colonel’s bowl and spoon. The accustomed movements were swiftly accomplished and only the unaccustomed slight smile on her face suggested her dawning realisation of what the letter meant for her.  She would no longer have to endure the Colonel’s constant scrutiny or the clock’s tyranny. She rehearsed in her mind the litany of her daily chores: the eight o’clock breakfast and twelve o’clock lunch, before the five o’clock tea and eight o’clock supper, then the hot rum and milk for the ten o’clock bedtime toddy. In between came all the cleaning, shopping, laundering, as well as endless pandering to his little whims and fancies about the objects in his room; moving a marble bust towards him, tweaking a book on a bookshelf. It was the sheer monotony of her days that she had found so irksome and the prospect of breaking free of the Colonel’s mould that filled her with secret joy.

She glanced up to see that the upright hands of the large kitchen clock had now parted again and that she was nearly ten minutes past the lunch hour. Hurriedly she re-tucked her hair into her cap, straightened her pinafore and went into the hall. Even then she took her time and picked up the striker calmly, suddenly conscious of not needing ever to rush again. She struck the gong more gently than usual as a result. The Colonel, who had fallen asleep and was dreaming that he was once more comfortably ensconced in the officer’s club house, woke gently to the comforting sound, but also to the familiar disappointment of finding himself no longer young, or dashing or of service.

About the author 

Jane Spirit lives in Suffolk U.K. She has written academic articles and books from time to time and is now enjoying writing fiction. 


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