The Parting Gift

This is a Raising Pagan Voices Project Submission

Eddie hears the sirens as he reaches the estate, his bag large over his shoulder.  He sighs. ‘What is it today?’  In a few more paces, a few more bills in brown envelopes delivered, Eddie smells the acrid scent from a car on fire, black smoke racing to escape this wretched estate.  Fire fighters are at full stretch trying to bring the burning car under control while dodging flying bricks, hurled by out of control youngsters.  Paramedics focus on the man on the ground, blood pouring from his nose, his face covered in cuts where he’s hit the windscreen.  Eddie watches a little lad, no more than nine, staring intently at the scene in front of him.  ‘Is he going to die, mister?’

‘Not if I have anything to do with it,’ answers the paramedic kneeling on the pavement.

Eddie hates this estate, walking round the loveless housing, the towering flats that watch everything he does.  Every day he delivers bills that go unpaid, advertising junk left to fester, court summonses that are ignored – no excitement here when the postie arrives.  And then Eddie goes home to his flat where he watches re-runs of Jeremy Kyle to shut out the day.

Eddie slinks past the debris to get to Tyndall Heights, twenty floors of rabbit hutch flats, inhabitants staying in them just as securely as in a cage.  Eddie waits for the lift, wrinkling his nose in readiness for the smell he knows will hit him as the doors open.  He gets out at the third floor, delivers a brown official envelope to the young family at number 306 and then heads back to the lift. He has a letter for 84 year old Edna, a favourite of his, who most days waits at her door to say hello as he goes past. Some days Eddie takes a little something with him, a bag of sweets to share, a doughnut, a Greggs sausage roll.  She’s on the top floor, up in the sky.

‘Thank god the lift is working today.’ Eddie looks for Edna’s red cheeked smiley face but she’s not there. As Eddie walks towards her flat at the end of the corridor, he notices that the door to the roof is open.  ‘That’s not right.’  Eddie opens the door wider and looks up the steps leading to the flat roof.  ‘Hello,’ he calls. ‘Anyone up there?’  He hears a sound. ‘Up here Eddie.’  ‘I’m coming, ’ says Eddie, cautiously making his way up the concrete steps.  He peers round the final barrier to the grey smoke-filled sky.  ‘Edna,’ he says. ‘what are you doing up here?’

Edna is standing right by the railings, the flimsy protection to stop careless people falling over the edge.  No real deterrent to the desperate.  Her hands clasp the pitted metal rail.

‘You’re not thinking of doing anything silly, now, are you Edna?’

‘Not silly.’ Edna’s reedy voice betrays her frailty. ‘I have nothing left to live for Eddie.  I’m all on my own.  I go days without seeing a single soul, apart from you.’

‘There’s places you can go Edna.  Day centres.  Bingo at the church.’

‘I can’t go out Eddie.  Look at this place.’  She turns to watch the thick smoke curling round the rails.  ‘I can’t live like this anymore.  It’s not living.  It’s just existing.  It’s hell – before I’ve even left this earth.’

Edna takes a step closer to the rails.  Eddie speaks quickly. ‘Edna, there must be someone.’ 

‘That’s just it, Eddie.  There really isn’t.  They’re all on the other side now.’  Edna looks at Eddie, smiling through misted eyes.

‘Thanks for your kindness, Eddie.  I want you to have this. Look after my bag Eddie.  Do as you see fit with whatever’s in there.’  Eddie is appalled at what she is about to do, how calm and resigned she is.  ‘Perhaps if I go to get the bag, I can grab her, stop her from going over.’  He starts to move towards her.

’No you don’t,’ chuckles Edna, and she throws the bag toward Eddie with a strength she shouldn’t possess.  It hits Eddie in the chest, stopping him just long enough for Edna to lower herself over the lower railing, squeeze her tiny body through the gap.

Eddie runs to the edge, watches her skirt billowing in the wind, her thin arms flailing, white hair a halo buffeting round her head.  A wild scream flies up to him, cut dead as she hits the ground.

Eddie watches horrified, then with a start runs back to the door, to get her, to… what?  She’s gone.  Nothing anyone can do for Edna, not now.  ‘Oh Edna’ he thinks ‘I hope you find them.’ He picks up the battered bag, shoving it in his mail sack.

Sirens wail, ambulance on the way, and police.  And the crowd.  Men and women out of work with nothing to do, kids looking for excitement.  Eddie goes down to Edna, tells the sad story of the last minutes of her life.  He tells the police everything.  Almost.  He doesn’t tell them about the bag.  Edna had given it to him.  He wants to keep it, at least for now.  A parting gift from a lonely old lady to the one friendly face in her life.  He’s there again, the little lad asking the ambulance crew ‘Is she going to die?’

Eddie is very late finishing his round, after making a statement to the police.  At last, he makes a cup of tea and slumps on the couch in front of the TV.  The battered bag is on the seat next to him.

A faded wedding photo is at the top of the bag, the last thing Edna put in there.  Eddie takes it out and lays it carefully to one side.  Then her purse with a handful of change, the bus pass she never used, a rainhat, still folded up tight.  Then a small notepad, corners turned up, frequently used.  Eddie looks inside.  Spidery writing covers page after page, numbers, strange names, dates.  Aintree, Chester, Doncaster; phone numbers and names.  Eddie chuckles.  Edna liked a flutter on the horses.  And it looks like she had some success; there’s a list of winners with the odds and a tally of what she’s won.  Eddie gets to the last page.  Speedy Belle, Saturday 23rd, 2.30 at Exeter 100/1.  ‘That’s tomorrow,’ thinks Eddie.  ‘I might have a flutter in memory of Edna.’

Eddie takes out a bag of Werther’s Originals, comes to a blue and white striped carrier bag in the bottom.  He tugs out the heavy bag. ‘What the?’ Eddie pulls out a bundle of £20 notes, counts them.  £1000.  And another.  And another.  £6300.  ‘Edna, you daft old bugger.  Why didn’t you spend it on yourself?  Get some fun out of it?’

Eddie goes to bed a happy man.  Sad for Edna but what a windfall for him.  He’s glad he didn’t tell the police about the bag.

Eddie gets up early.  He makes a decision.  £6300 would be nice to spend but it wouldn’t last long and things would be the same all over again.  But £630,000 is life changing.  He has a one in a lifetime chance.  Eddie walks down to the bookies, in the row of shops where the kids hang round outside and litter blows in circles where the wind gets cornered.

Eddie waits anxiously in the crowded shop, waiting for the race to start, eyes not moving from the large screen.  The rumour has spread about the amount he has put on.  More people filter into the room, the temperature rising with the tension.  ‘And they’re off.’  Eddie can’t bear it, shuts his eyes, listening to the excited voice of the announcer, his heart pounding frantically in his chest.  ‘And the winner is Speedy Belle, a total outsider.  What a shocker.’

‘Thanks Edna,’ says Eddie, the smile on his face fading as he clutches his chest, pain rifling down his arm, cold sweat gathering on his brow.  Eddie drops to the floor.

The paramedics arrive quickly.  They don’t lose any time – they know this estate like the back of their hands.  They start work, checking Eddie’s vital signs.  The little kid looks on with large open eyes.  ‘Is he going to die, mister?’

Portland Jones