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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Annie's Answer
by Tom Leddy

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'Paddy! Come in!'

Annie Murphy was delighted by her son's unexpected visit.

'Where's your stick, Ma?' he asked.

'Oh, stop fussing!' she told him. 'I've got the kettle on. D'you want a hot scone? Come into the kitchen.'

Paddy did as he was told but continued to scold her, 'Do you want another spell in hospital? A fall could be very serious.’

'Rubbish! Go and wash your hands.'

Paddy looked at his hands, started to protest, then went obediently to the kitchen sink unconsciously scratching his nose.

'What's bothering you?' asked Annie.

Disconcerted, Paddy muttered, 'Nothing.'

'Now come on, Paddy,' said Annie firmly, 'When you scratch your nose I know there's something the matter. I'm your ma remember.'

'I've brought this for you to look at, Ma,' he said handing her a Treetops Retirement Home brochure. 'Vinnie's mother has moved in there.'

Annie was appalled. 'And him with that big house.'

Paddy was quick to defend his brother-in-law. 'She loves it. She has her own room.' Sinking his teeth into a scone, he added, 'Yours were always the best, Ma.'

Annie acknowledged the compliment by asking, 'D'you want another?' before adding 'I'd hate to be bossed around in one of those places.'

'Oh, don't talk daft, Ma!' Paddy retorted. 'No thanks, I haven't time for another. John Pearson is expecting me at three-thirty. Promise me you'll look at that brochure.'

Annie realised what he had in mind but Paddy’s well-being concerned her more. John Pearson was the manager of the bank financing Paddy’s new business premises. 'You're not increasing your overdraft, are you?' she asked.

'That's a joke,' answered Paddy. 'He wants me to reduce it. Says I should sell this place.'

'Typical!' Annie declared. ‘I remember how he treated his own mother. I've a good mind to come with you!'

'No, Ma! Don't worry. This is your home as long as you want it. I really must go.' Dropping the brochure on the table he made for the front door.

'Go into a home indeed!' Annie muttered as she returned to the kitchen. 'I'd rather be dead!' She poured herself a fresh cup of tea and picked up the brochure. A photograph caught her eye. Retrieving her spectacles from the big pocket in the front of her "pinny", Annie peered at it more closely. 'It is him! Tommy Edwards!' she exclaimed. 'It's all of fifty years.'

As she washed the dishes Annie smiled to herself as, seventeen again, she flirted with Tommy. 'It'd be nice to see him,' she murmured. 'I know! I can visit Vinnie's mother, Molly Ormerod, even though it means suffering her grand manner.'

Two days later Annie felt like a teenager on her first date as she headed for Treetops.

Mrs Ormerod was taken by surprise. 'Mrs Murphy! What brings you here?'

'Paddy told me about your move. I think he'd like me to do the same.'

Molly Ormerod was taken aback. 'Oh, does he? It's very expensive you know. A very superior class of people live here. Much to my liking but...'

Annie interrupted, 'I met Mr Caldwell in the lift, the caretaker at Kate's old school. He seems happy here. D'you know him?'

'No,' retorted Molly becoming flustered. 'I... I think a few residents are paid for by the local authority.' Annie had made her point. Molly hurried on. 'I'd ask you in but I'm meeting others for afternoon tea,' she said, then added half-heartedly, 'Would you like to join us?'

'If they're all like you, no thanks,' thought Annie but, hoping to meet Tommy, she accepted.

None of Mrs Ormerod's friends assumed her airs and graces and Annie felt so at ease that it seemed quite natural to enquire later about Tommy Edwards.

'You know all the men here, Rose,' said Molly Ormerod addressing the vivacious blond next to Annie. Everyone laughed including Rose.

'The only Tommy I know is Tom Lloyd and his wife makes sure that I only say "Hello" to him! What makes you think Tommy Edwards is here?'

Annie produced the brochure and pointed to the man she thought she recognised.

'That's Gerry Sullivan!' exclaimed Rose. 'He was here about a year ago then went to live with his daughter, but I hear that he's coming back.'

Annie found it hard to conceal her disappointment and shortly stood up to leave.

'Did I hear Molly say that you might move in here?' asked Rose.

'Possibly,' answered Annie.

'Well, do visit,' urged Rose. 'It'll help you to make up your mind. Come next Thursday. There’s a social evening. You might meet Tommy’s double!

Annie found herself blushing. 'I'd like to come, Tommy or no Tommy!'

On learning that his mother might enter a retirement home, Paddy’s overdraft facility was extended by three months but the extension lapsed without Annie reaching a decision, despite frequent visits to Treetops.

‘Repay the loan or bankruptcy proceedings will be initiated,’ Paddy was told.

Still undecided how to tell his mother, Paddy knocked at her door on his next weekly visit. Annie opened it immediately. 'You're late,' she told him.

'Late for what?' he asked.

'You're coming to Treetops with me.'

'I am?' Paddy responded feeling a surge of hope.

'Come on, Paddy,' Annie urged, ‘Help me into the car.'

Paddy followed Annie towards the lounge in Treetops. 'It's very quiet,' he commented.

'Here. Put this carnation in your buttonhole,' Annie told him, while opening the lounge door to be greeted by an organ playing "Here Comes the Bride".

Paddy took a step back. 'What the...? Ma? What's going on?'

A distinguished looking man with laughing eyes and silver grey hair stepped forward. 'Didn't she tell you?' he asked, ‘Your mother has agreed to marry me. We hope you're willing to "give her away".'

Paddy, too flabbergasted for words, looked at Annie.

'I know what I'm doing, Paddy,' she whispered. 'We're going to live here. Now take my arm and help me to walk up the "aisle" without my stick.'

Annie had found her "Tommy Edwards" alias Gerry Sullivan!

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