Below is an excerpt from "The Bench", one of the short stories in Hobson's Choice.
“Cor, I need to rest me old bones a mo’. Mind if we stop ‘ere just for a quick break?” Lily, the self-appointed leader of the ‘three friends’ urged the aforementioned old bones to make one last supreme effort to get as far as the park bench.
Lily, Daisy and Emily - the ‘E’s - had a combined age of well over 200 and they were always keen to impart their acquired wisdom to anyone who gave the pretence of listening. They ‘hung out’ together (as Emily, the most modern-thinking one of them was apt to say), in a home for the elderly (but not quite insane, Lily joked) and would escape at every opportunity.
Daisy was the quiet planner who normally came up with the ideas for how to spend the day. Today it was a trip into town, a wander around the boating lake, and then back to the ‘Old Folk’s Home’ for tea.
It was getting on in the afternoon now and darkness was not far off. Although there were three of them, privately they all feared the dark – the time of muggers, bag-snatchers, and worse. Tea-time at the Home was boringly predictable but at least - and more importantly these days - it was safe.
“I remember when this was just fields,” Lily said, suddenly.
“No you don’t,” corrected Daisy, “You come from up North. You weren’t here when they made all this.”
“Lil’ might not have been but I was,” offered Emily attempting to keep the peace. “They wanted to put houses here but some big-wig put the boot in. I can’t remember who it was but they had his name put on all the benches in his honour.”
Emily turned to inspect the bench they were sitting on. “Yes, here it is, an inscription ‘in memoriam’ – there you go,” she pointed at a small, time-darkened brass plate screwed to the back of the seat.
“Never noticed that before,” exclaimed Lily, “Funny, innit, you live here all your life and you don’t see something like that. Oh well,” she sat down again and turned back to the other two ladies. “Who’s up for bingo, tonight?”
From some way off, the two boys whom Pat had earlier sent packing, spotted the old ladies. One boy was in an empty shopping trolley which the other was pushing. They suddenly veered across to the bench, clearly looking for mischief. The three ladies bunched up together defensively.
“Wanna one-way trip to the cemetery, grannies?” the boy in the trolley demanded.
“Give us yer purses and we’ll take yer there,” the other boy shouted mockingly. In a show of bravado, he shoved his mate in the trolley towards the lake.
“Eh, what you doin’?” He jumped out just before the trolley splashed into the muddy water, scaring the ducks and swans into a burst of protest.
The boys started scrapping with each other and the three elderly ladies tacitly decided that now was a good time to be moving on. There was no point in tempting fate; modern youths had no respect and most of them were drug-crazed and carried knives – they had seen it on the telly and read about it in the papers.
Just as the boys were about to take off after the three women, they glimpsed the young policeman striding towards them. They certainly had no wish to enter into discussions with him. Apart from having made his acquaintance on prior occasions, the last thing they needed was him checking up on them and finding out that they had been skiving off school all day.
Abandoning the trolley, they legged it off in the direction of a little corner shop that was happy to sell them both individual cigarettes and cans of beer, and cider from a multi-pack, as long as they had the necessary cash and no-one was looking.
The policeman sighed at the sight of the trolley in the lake. He was just about to go off duty and had no desire to spend his own time locating the relevant supermarket manager, less still be seen pushing the trolley through the streets. If an amateur photographer should catch him doing that, copies of the picture would be pasted on the police station wall for years to come along with, no doubt, a whole variety of suitably ‘witty’ captions.
As he pondered, Les arrived from the opposite direction carrying his usual polythene bags which were chinking loudly with the ‘medicinal anti-freeze’ that got him through the colder parts of the night.
“Wha’s up?” he asked, “By the way, you seen my satchel?”
“No, sorry, Les. In answer to your other question, look: some little toe-rag has pushed this trolley into the lake.”
“Don’t you worry about that; Les’ll take care of it.”
The tramp smiled, pushed the policeman aside and extracted the trolley from several inches of cold and sticky mud. He suddenly bent forward towards the reeds and exclaimed, “’Ere, I’ve found me satchel! Them soddin’ kids must have had fun with it.” Les was so pleased with himself that he nearly fell over backwards in his excitement.
He then searched around in the gathering dark for the scattered contents of the bag, the policeman shining his powerful torch in front of him to help. They scoured the reed bed, with Les occasionally stopping to pick up a piece of paper which he inspected at length.
“Think I’ve got most of it,” Les announced finally, “It’s nuffin to anyone else but it’s precious to me – photos of me family, and some important letters from them.”
“We were very lucky, Les. If the park inspector had seen it first, he would have chucked it all. Anyway, what you going to do with the trolley? I can’t let you leave it here.”
“Nar, course not, I got me a mate who works at the supermarket. Gives me a fiver for every one I takes back.”
Without saying another word, he shoved his bags and satchel into the trolley and set off towards the supermarket, whistling tunelessly through the gaps in his teeth. Just time to catch them before closing and, with any luck, the fiver might get turned into a bottle of cognac or malt whisky which had ‘fallen off a rickety shelf’. That would be nice. Something a bit special to warm himself with as he settled down on his lucky bench.
If you would like to add this collection of short stories to your library, I have provided an Amazon link below.