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In the Spirit of Maggie Figgs

by NMott 

Posted: 29 September 2008
Word Count: 688
Summary: I wrote this for a short story comp. but it didn't fit, so I'm just parking it here for the time being.

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The sweet fruity smell of the spirit of figs wafted through the room as the old man carefully measured out a spoonful and held it to the woman's mouth. The bloodless lips barely parted on one side to allow the sticky liquid to slip between them.

"Swallow" said the old man, not unkindly, more in the tone of something that is said at every such occasion, followed by "There, all better now". The lips twitched in one corner with the pale remnants of a smile.

"Shall I read us something from the paper?" said the man, again not looking at the woman's face for any sort of validation, but reaching for the local Gazette as he said it, the folded newspaper lying crisp and new on the chair beside the bed, and so missing the eyes opening a little wider, the muscles of the neck contracting momentarily to give an impression of a nod.

"We'll start with the obituaries then, shall we? - you always like the obituaries. I suppose you'll be wanting to know if you're in it," with the ease of almost fifty years of familiarity, the old man gave both sides of the conversation as he shook the paper open, and folded it at the right page. "Says here old Mrs Cooper died last week. Loved by husband Harold and children Susan and Rachel - no flowers by request. Well that doesn't surprise us, that family were a right tight fisted bunch."

His lips moved slightly as he continued down each column, stopping occasionally to read out other names he recognised.

"I see Betty's in here, finally. Took her long enough. Jim reckons it was because she couldn't decide between burial and cremation, so in the end she told the family to surprise her."

He chuckled to himself, then added an extra chuckle for her. Then he stopped reading and frowned. He read the words through twice before his mouth dropped open as realisation finally dawned and he looked across at his wife. Her expression remained as impassive as ever, the left side mirroring the paralysed mask of the right. His gaze returned to the newspaper and read the piece aloud.

"Margaret Figgs, Aged 21 and a bit
-A bit more than that, you old devil-

Would like it known that she has not passed away peacefully - or any other way for that matter; all appendages accounted for.

And if anyone has a loving memory - or any other memory - of her, could they please pop round and share it before dementia sets in and they forget it.

As for the arrangements for her wake - yes, she is awake, and if she's not you can give her a little shake.

Flowers Original Strong Ale, or a nice Rose, may be brought to the house. All donations of bottles of spirits gratefully received.

Service will be provided by the loving husband, Reginald, and their children, Jennifer and Isabell.

All welcome."

The old man stopped reading and stared long and hard at his wife. "So who's responsible for this, then? It was our Issy wasn't it?"

There was a slight shake of the head.

"Ok, then it must have been our Jenny - although I always thought that girl had a sensible head on her shoulders"

Again there was a slight shake of the head.

"But if those two didn't help you, how on earth did you manage it?"

A thin arm slipped out from under the covers, revealing a mobile phone clutched in the palm of the hand. The old woman held it up to her face, while a thumb laboriously pushed the buttons, after a few moments her hand flopped down to her side. Her husband was about to take the phone when his pocket bleeped. Taking out his own mobile he read the brief message.

txtd x

He pressed ‘reply' and texted back.


Well, after almost fifty years of marriage, what more was there to say? Quite a lot, actually, but for now it would have to wait, because down in the darkened hallway the doorbell had just rung.

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Comments by other Members

penpusher at 09:15 on 06 April 2010  Report this post
I thought it was about time I read something of yours and I'm amazed to see that you appear to have had no response to this. A bit unfair after all the effort you put into reading ours.

This is a lovely story that really makes you think. I have known one person with dementia,and your description captures the early stages of the condition perfectly.

Whenever I was with her I remember wondering if she was actually more aware of what was going on than we realised but was just unable to communicate.

Definitely food for thought.

NMott at 10:17 on 09 April 2010  Report this post
Thanks for commenting, Gail.

- NaomiM

MariaH at 21:32 on 20 April 2010  Report this post
Thanks for your kind and very, very helpful comments re The Gnome Who Went for a Walk (children's section). I've been catching up with some of your own work.

I did like this, the way it was written, and the tongue-in-cheek "obituary". I loved the sweet ending of texted x and X. I didn't quite understand the siginifcance of the doorbell ringing at the end tho. Was that her family?

NMott at 19:49 on 26 April 2010  Report this post
Thanks for commenting, Maria.
The doorbell was just the first people - friends, relations - to arrive in response to her piece in the newspaper.

MariaH at 16:21 on 03 May 2010  Report this post
Thanks for clearing that up, Naomi. Sorry I'm only just replying! This site is very confusing at times and it's not easy to figure out when new posts are made so I only just noticed your message.

Cornelia at 15:31 on 27 April 2014  Report this post
A very touching story, Naomi that combined  grit, pognancy and humour. The 'hook' is good because it makes the reader want to know more about the couple.  I found the first sentence too long, though and wonder if you could lose an adjective and the smell wafting through the room -it only needs to rise to the old man's nostrils as they are alone.

The husband reading the newspaper   demonstrates his care for his wife,  as well as his own stoicism -he retains his sense of humour. The fact that she has texted the newspaper entry herself is excellent - a triumph of will over extreme adversity, as it were. To me it showed that although the stroke had paralysed her , the woman retained her own sense of humour as well as considerable  ingenuity.

although I always thought that girl had a sensible head on her shoulders"

 seemed a bit stilted, although otherwise the speech was realistic.

I hope you find a good home for it soon.


NMott at 18:32 on 27 April 2014  Report this post
Many thanks for reading and commenting, Cornelia. :)

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