Another one that had its origins in a prompt from my face-to-face creative writing group. The prompt was ‘Luck’
It was a sort of private joke I had with my mother that neither of us believed in luck. Before she took up with my father she had earned her living as a fortune teller in a booth on Clacton Pier. Everyone who had their fortune told got a lucky stone to take away with them. She used to say that what made the beach at Clacton-on-Sea sandy instead of pebbly was all the lucky stones she collected there every morning on the way to her booth.
That was in the old days of course. That kind of British seaside culture went into steep decline when the cheap foreign holidays started up in the 1960s and 70s. It was more or less finished even before she went into the fortune-telling business. She was lucky to meet my father at the time that she did. She would never have called it luck of course. And it probably wasn’t.
Dad adored my mum from the first moment that he saw her. He was in Clacton with a few of his army friends. It was the summer of 1963. They were one of the last groups of young men finishing their National Service, and the outing to Clacton was a sort of last fling before they broke up and went their separate ways. Mum often talked about the day they met. He came into her little booth a bit the worse for drink and told her she was ‘bloody beautiful’. I think every woman in the world likes to be told that she’s beautiful, whether she admits it or not. But it wasn’t flattery in this case. My dad believed it.
He gave her his hand to read the lines and she said that he had one of the luckiest hands she had ever seen. For the whole of his life everything he touched would turn to gold. He would make good in the world, he would never want for anything, everyone he met would want to be his friend, he would have a beautiful wife and two wonderful sons, no woman would be able to refuse him anything.
That was her killer move of course. He held on to her hand and wouldn’t let it go. ‘You’re a woman,’ he said to her, a little bit slurred by the booze. She agreed that she was. ‘So you can’t refuse me anything?’ She could hardly get out of that one either. You can probably guess the rest.
Dad kept the lucky stone. He put it in the Toby jug on the mantelpiece over the gas fire in the sitting room and every time something big happened in his life he would remind my mum about her prophesies.
‘I asked my supervisor at the factory for a raise today. She’s a woman so she couldn’t refuse. Sorted it out for me straight away she did.’ ‘Of course it’s going to be a boy. We’re going to have two wonderful sons, aren’t we?’ ‘I decided to become self employed. Gave my in notice today. I can’t fail at anything, can I?’
I watched this all through my childhood. I never knew how serious Dad was about the palm reading and the lucky stone. Mum was perfectly clear that she didn’t take it seriously for a second, it had only ever been a bit of fun to her, but I could never be sure about Dad. Maybe he wasn’t sure about it himself. I don’t know.
The business did do well. The mid 1970s were boom years for the South East and Dad had spotted a gap in the market – low calorie salad-based lunches for all the young female office workers in the new service businesses opening up around Clacton. He delivered them right to their office car parks and sold them from the back of a big white van. Mum helped him chop up the ingredients every weekday morning. Their weekends were their own.
Life was good. We moved out of the Council flat we had been living in to a large cottage with a garden and a sea view a couple of miles outside the town, and Mum employed a maid three days a week to keep it clean and tidy. The Toby jug with the lucky stone was still on the mantelpiece in the sitting room but there was no gas fire now, the cottage had the very latest thing – central heating!
Everything seemed perfect until Mum got pregnant with her second child, quite a long time after the first one, which was of course me. She didn’t feel right from the very beginning, and after a lot of visits to the doctor and eventually the hospital in London she came home one day after a particularly long visit looking very weak and had obviously been crying. Dad and she whispered to one another but I could hear most of it. Mum had lost her baby. I was never going to have a little brother. We never spoke about it again.
The next day though, Dad had a bad accident in the van, and by the sound of it it was his own fault. He had come out of a side street on to the Wellesley Road without looking and been rammed from the side by a cement lorry. The van was a write-off and with it quite probably the business. Hardly a word was spoken between any of us in the cottage that evening.
The next day, when I came home from school, before I opened the front door I heard a big row going on between Dad and the cleaning lady. He was shouting at her, wanting to know what she had done with the stone in the Toby jug on the mantelpiece.