Thursday 28 December 2023

Ray is a Good Man by Judith Skilleter, gin and tonic


Ray has lived in his house all his life. He was born there, on a blanket in front of a coal fire. All his childhood was spent there and his long and happy married life was also spent there. He now lives alone. Mae, his wife, died six years ago; she had had a nasty cancer which spread. She was ready to die and Ray was ready for her to die – the cancer had been horrible. It was interesting that when she died, at home, on a recliner chair in front of the fire, a look of peace and tranquillity had spread over her face. The pain had gone. The indignity had gone. Mae was fine wherever she had gone and Ray knew he would be OK living on his own in his caring community for which he also cared.

His house is a mid-terrace Victorian house, built to house the mill and factory employees during the industrial revolution. They has been sturdily built, but over the years things had been added to the back of the house that had initially opened out into a yard or garden area. Therefore the fronts of the houses were more or less the same as they had been all those years ago, opening directly onto the street. But the back has seen the development of a selection of extended kitchens and conservatories and bathrooms. Ray had had a kitchen extension built with a bathroom upstairs but he left room to park his car, a Toyota Yaris, one of the few cars that could manage the turning circle into his yard from the alley that separated his line of houses from the houses on the other side of the alley. The Toyota Yaris was sold, not to be replaced, not long after Mae died. Ray just didn’t enjoy outings without his wife and anyway his arthritis was getting worse and he no longer had the confidence or mobility that had been second nature to him for so long. The Mini Cooper, owned by Mary from number 69, now fills the space vacated by the Yaris. It is possibly a bit too big to manoeuvre into the space as Ray has noticed a few scrapes down the side or perhaps Mary is not too good a driver in confined spaces.  Ray notes that cars are getting bigger but parking spaces are not, especially in supermarket carparks where the occupants of these big SUV’s struggle to get out of their vehicles if cars are parked on both sides.

Ray and Mae did not have children but Ray has many friends. Edwin, the widower at number 40 visits twice a week to play chess – not computer chess, proper chess on inlaid wooden boards and with fancy pieces. Once a week he goes by taxi to a lunch club where they chat and play bingo afterwards where Ray is the caller. The seven year old from number 8 comes for an hour twice a week after school to practice her reading and she gets a reward whether she reads well or not – a packet of Maltesers. Ray refuses to take payment for this time; he is more than happy to give back to the community he loves, his community. Ray is a kind man. He has a regret though; he cannot clear the snow from in front of the houses anymore. It was a task he enjoyed for years but his arthritis has stopped all that.

Ray has no living relatives; both he and his parents were only-children. Mae had a brother, long since dead who had two children, Alison and Gavin. Ray and Mae were very fond of Alison who had stayed with them for a few months when her mum was pregnant with Gavin and had to be hospitalised. Alison had a wonderful time. Ray and Mae were careful to tell her every day that she was loved and that as soon as her mum was well she would be going home. And that was what happened. Alison remembered those happy months and had always kept in close contact with Auntie Mae and Uncle Ray. She lives in Kettering with her family but comes to visit three or four times every year. As for Gavin, he had had a troublesome pregnancy and birth and that set the pattern for the rest of his life – he has been constant trouble. They believed he now lived in Chicago where Ray joked that he was honing his already well – developed gangster skills.

Ray has made his will leaving everything to Alison but Alison is not happy with this. “Uncle Ray” she said “Jim and I do not need your money and we have enough to see our children are OK. But it is the grandchildren that I am worried about. Higher education and getting your own house is so difficult for young people these days that if you have anything to spare I would rather it went to the young people who need it”.

“Of course” said Ray “that is a good plan, a thoughtful plan. And I would like to leave a little something to Gavin also – wherever he is.” Alison smiled and said “You are a good man, Uncle Ray – and I will do my best to see Gavin gets it."

Ray loves puzzles. His mornings are usually spent sitting in the window over-looking the street with the Daily Telegraph Sudoku and cryptic crossword on his knee and coffee and Rington’s Triple Choc biscuits to give him energy – or so he believes. Today is Friday. He loves Fridays because the killer Sudoku in the daily Telegraph is “diabolical, very very difficult.”  

It is December and so often during the day an Amazon van delivers  parcels  all along the street “Where do people get the money to buy all this stuff?” thinks Ray. Usually the parcels are left on the doorsteps next to the pavement if the house owners are out and a picture is then taken by the delivery man showing proof of delivery. This day he saw an Amazon van park opposite to his house and it shortly went onto the next stop with two substantial boxes left on the step. Geoff and Mary were clearly out. Then another car came along. A small Ford he thought.  Someone got out and then got back in very quickly and the car sped off. “What on earth was that for” thinks Ray. And then he noticed. The two parcels left on Geoff and Mary’s step were no longer there. Ray had been an unwitting observer of “doorstep theft,” something he had read about, something that was on the increase with people buying more and more online and then not being in to accept he parcels.

“The buggers” said Ray. He walked carefully to the front door, and looked in the direction that the Ford had gone but of course it was probably miles away by now and had nicked a few more parcels on the way.

Ray was angry – with the thieves for what they had done and with himself for not getting the details on the number plate. “What can I do?” he thought.

Ray, aided by his walking sticks, went down to the corner shop. It was owned and managed by Joe and Fay Atkins. Joe had taken over the shop from his mum and dad years ago and Ray had known the Atkins family all this time. Joe and Fay were very fond of Ray and when he popped in to buy the odd thing that did not come in his weekly supermarket delivery they always had a chat about what was happening in the street and who might need a visit. Ray kept an eye on his neighbours, not in a nosy way, and helped out whenever he could. Then Joe and Fay would put Ray’s purchases in Ray’s lightweight backpack, a gift from Joe and Fay, so that getting his things home while walking with 2 sticks would not be too tricky.

Ray explained the theft and Joe said it was not the first time that things had disappeared from doorsteps. “I have a plan” said Ray” I am prepared to stay in right up to Christmas and I will collect any parcels that are likely to be delivered when people are out. Please put a notice up for me Joe giving my details and saying that it is an attempt to avoid doorstep theft.”

”That’s very kind, Ray” said Joe. “It’s a huge commitment, are you sure?”

“I am very sure. I will not have those buggers ruining people’s Christmases”. “Any way, this street has always been kind to me and my late wife and I have always liked to give a bit back.”

And that was what happened. Until Christmas, Ray’s hallway and his sitting room was filled with parcels and packets which were collected later by their true owners, after proof of identity was given of course. Ray had a wonderful time. He was getting to know better the people he had previously only said “Hello” to and it gave him he had a huge sense of purpose and responsibility. His scheme worked and by popular demand it was extended to January 1. Ray became known as the street’s very own Santa Claus – he loved that and Joe Atkins got him a Santa hat to make his new role official.”

Ray kept seeing the Ford going up and down his street from time to time and the driver must have wondered why the old man at number 68 was getting so many packages. In fact during one delivery Ray gave him a cheery wave as it drove by slowly. Ray had taken the car’s registration number and told the police but they were too busy catching pensioners doing 34mph in a 30mph limit to be bothered with Xmas theft.

Ray is a good man.

About the author 

Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire forty-five years ago and is married with nearly four grandchildren. 

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1 comment:

  1. A very heart warming story and a modern day santa.