UNDER THE SODS OF EARTH

14 Jan

UNDER THE SODS OF EARTH

Little Me photo image0-17-1.jpg

It wasn’t until Tommy Jollop was in his seventh decade and feeling stranger than strange that it crossed his mind he might have missed out on some things in life.

He’d lived a fairly ordinary life if working every hour he could work and scrimping and saving in order to amass a fortune is ordinary, and if it is he’d succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Tommy Jollop was a wealthy man by most standards, and when he entered that dreaded seventh decade he discovered to his horror that some of the lads he’d shared his school days with were no more. Ricky went first, as far as he could tell, and Ricky had been a good friend of his way back when people had friends. Not that there had been anything extraordinary about their friendship – Tommy hadn’t done extraordinary even back then. But they’d filled their hours with a kind of innocent play that he naturally couldn’t really remember now that he was seventy going on seventy-one.

And a handful of years back Ricky had died.

Something had seemed to pluck at Tommy’s heart when he read that in the local paper. Cancer, it had said, after a long battle. The notice had given him pause for thought and he’d even contemplated erecting a small memorial for his old friend, only it would cost and he didn’t like things that cost.

And there had been other friends besides Ricky, hadn’t there? Not that he was much good at remembering names. Dave sprung to mind, though, a good lad who’d come after Ricky. They’d been on the cusp of their teens when he’d known Dave, and back in those days there had been one event over all others that had marked the progress a lad might make through life.

It was trousers.

For a dozen years they were short, annoyingly cut above the knees so that when they got wet and cold in winter they rubbed against the thigh and made it sore and chapped. But when a lad reached his teens he was breeched, which meant he had his first pair of long trousers, and that was a momentous occasion. In their hearts the lads erected mental flags and bunting of celebration and knobbly knees were suddenly a thing of the past. He and Dave had been provided with long trousers together, or that’s how he remembered it.

They had been shown they were growing up, and doing it together.

Yet a year or so back Dave had died, suddenly, his sister had said in a letter to Tommy. They’d not kept in touch, but out of the blue she had written because, she explained in her neat and well-written letter, she thought he’d like to know. He’d written back, a typed (or printed on his printer, rather) letter, briefly thanking her and offering her his sympathies.

In her reply – yes, she had replied – she told him that Dave had spoken well and fondly of him all his life, even during that last brief illness, yet had regretted that the only shadow on their friendship was the time Tommy had sacked him for being an agitator back in the eighties. All he’d wanted, she said in that beautiful hand of hers, was a quality of life commensurate with the hours and effort he put into his work, and he’d got the sack for it.

Tommy didn’t know he’d sacked him, but there had been times back then when it had seemed that all his hard work was going to dissolve into nothing because of the unions. He’d already built his business up into a thriving provider of wealth, and he hadn’t wanted to see it collapse into nothing because of agitators. So he’d ordered they be sacked, and hadn’t actually realised who they were. He certainly hadn’t known that Dave was one of them. But it was all in the past, nothing could be done and anyway the man was dead and buried. Forget it, he thought, and move on.

It was after he replied in fairly strong terms to that second letter, exonerating himself from any blame in Dave’s demise, that he turned his mind to his own future. He wasn’t going to die yet, he knew that, his time was no where up. He had the business to attend to, the banks to satisfy, the shareholders to reward, and he had to be alive in order to do that.

He suppose he might have married and got an heir, but a man can’t do everything with his life, can he? If he’d take time out finding a woman then he might have taken his eye off the important things in life and things might have started going wrong in that department – and the whole idea of that happening was as distasteful as eating excrement. So there had been no little woman in his life – and a consequence of that was there was no heir.

But his bank accounts were overflowing with goodness. Life was what life ought to be: blessed.

Then, one night, he met Ricky and Dave, out of the blue, unexpectedly – and they hadn’t changed one jot. Ricky was still in those short pants he’d always worn, the kind that wouldn’t hold a crease however hard his mother tried, and he even had the same stains on his shirt. Tommy thought how they hadn’t noticed the stains back then, though he must have to remember they were still there all these years later. And Dave – he was wearing that new pair of long trousers he’d been so proud of, not the same quality as Tommy’s own, but smart enough.

And they were both smiling at him.

“You know,” grinned Ricky, “we’ve been waiting for you… Dave and I … we had some good times, didn’t we? We played some fine games? Do you remember..?”

Tommy shook his head. It was a nuisance, but he couldn’t. So much had happened since then, so many pounds had been piled up in his bank accounts, so much value added to the shares … how could a man be expected to remember childish games?

“I remember when you cheated at cigarette cards,” laughed Ricky, wagging a small finger at him.

“And I remember when you cheated at marbles,” put in Dave. “I didn’t like to tell you because you were so keen on winning … back then you were never happy unless you won everyone else’s marbles as well as your own…”

“And cigarette cards,” grinned Ricky. “You had to have them all…”

“But now you’re dead I don’t suppose it matters,” sighed Dave.

Ricky shook his head. “There are no games in the afterlife,” he murmured. “No cards, no marbles, no money…”

“Just friendship and love,” smiled Dave, “Friendship and hours with the ones we love… it’s good to meet you, Tommy, but I’ll be off now, my wife’s here, and my parents, loads of people for me to share eternity with.”

“Same here,” added Ricky, “So many good friends … so many people I love … I’ll probably see you around, Tommy…”

And they had both wandered off, Ricky in his short pants and Dave in those slightly scruffy trousers of his.

And in a different place, in another vision, the vicar tossed a handful of soil into a hole in the ground and the sod of it was he felt it as if it thumped him in the guts as it landed, and then the blackness of his dream stretched out for ever, though occasionally he heard a shadow of joyous laughter in the distant air, a wisp of something he’d never properly understood.

© Peter Rogerson 14.01.15

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3 Responses to “UNDER THE SODS OF EARTH”

  1. itsmayurremember January 14, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    Wonderful!
    Loved the end.

  2. georgiakevin April 6, 2015 at 1:57 am #

    Yet another outstanding easy to read powerful post! Wow your work really is worth reading!

  3. Peter Rogerson April 6, 2015 at 11:18 am #

    I’m lost for words, Gorgiakevin. You’re too kind.

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