Short Stories

You may find this story un-bearable...

Mrs Brown and the men-o-paws


By  Helen Ducal.

Inside doctor’s surgery at 7.30 a.m.  Only the Doctor and Mrs. Brown are present.  They are both seated.  The blind is down on the window.  The street lights are still on.

Dr:  “Well Mrs. Brown how can I help you?”

Mrs B:  “Oh Doctor.” She dabs a handkerchief to each eye, “It so difficult to talk about.”

Dr: “Of course but that’s why we’re here at 7.30 a.m. isn’t it? I can assure you that this conversation will go no further than this room.”

Mrs B: “Okay, well you know how much my children mean to me and I wouldn’t anything bad to happen to them.”

Doctor, looks slightly alarmed, “Go on Mrs. Brown.”

Mrs B: “it’s just that I don’t know how to deal with it.”

Doctor, looks slightly more alarmed, “With what exactly? “ He glances up at the clock. 7.35 a.m.

Mrs B: “OK I will just come out with it, it’s Paddington.”

Doctor looks puzzled ,”Paddington?”

Mrs B: “Yes he’s becomes such a strong influence over the children’s lives, he is with them morning noon and night.”

Dr: “And why is that a problem exactly?”

Mrs B: “Well, even Mr. Brown seems to take more notice of him than me.”

Dr: “OK,” he says slowly as if learning a new language,” But let’s go back to the point where you said you were worried about the children.  What made you say that?”

Mrs B sighs and dabs her eyes once more and then raises them to the ceiling.”Do you know that he never takes off that damn hat, even in bed!”

Dr: “OK”

Mrs B: “And those boots, does he clean them?  No I do.”

Doctor looks slightly relieved,” Carry on.”  He says nodding.

Mrs B: “Thank you. And marmalade sandwiches, well I don’t know I’ve lost count, my wrist aches from opening the jars.”  Mrs B starts to whimper dabbing her eyes once more.

The Doctor opens his mouth to speak but she beats him to it.

Mrs B: “It’s ever since the latest film came out on video he’s become unbearable.”

Dr: “Really” says the Doctor trying not to laugh as he realises her pun,” So Mrs. Brown let me see, the strain of having a celebrity in the house is causing you a lot of extra work?”

Mrs B: “Oh no… well er… yes I suppose.  But Mr. Brown explained all about that when we got married.  Your life from now on is not your own, he said. You will be expected to cook, clean, shop, wash, iron and probably do most of the gardening as well.”  She smiles at the Doctor.

Doctor nods, “Sounds reasonable.”

Mrs B: “But that’s not all,”  Mrs B starts to weep into a very limp handkerchief. The Doctor reaches across the table and hands her a box of tissues.  She takes one and continues.  “But he never said anything about sharing erm… our bed!  There I’ve said it.”

The doctor looks at Mrs B in complete bewilderment.

Dr: “Pardon?”

Mrs B: “Yes it’s been going on for weeks.  Mr. B has insisted that at the weekend when the children have a lie-in, that Paddington has his marmalade sandwiches in bed with us.”

Dr: “Oh I see.” he says looking relieved.

Mrs: “ Do you… Do you?  I hoped you would but what can I do about it?”

The Doctor taps his pen on the desk and looking at his watch. 7.45 a.m.

Dr: “Well is he getting marmalade on the sheets?”  He asks hopefully.

Mrs B: “Oh no, it’s much worse than that.”

Dr: “Really… how exactly?”

Mrs B looks around the room as if some invisible person had joined them.

Mrs B: “ Well,” she gulps as she tries to stifle a sob,” Well he always…”

Dr: “Um, which he your husband or Paddington?”

Mrs B: “Paddington.” She says quietly glancing at the door.

Dr: “Continue please Mrs Brown. Look I don’t want to rush you but the staff will be arriving soon and…”

Mrs B : “Oh yes of course Doctor. I am sorry.  Oh dear how can I say this?  As I say it’s P… Paddington.  He sits up in between us, in bed, and whilst he’s eating his marmalade sandwiches with his left hand , he erm…” She stops to dab her eyes once more and takes a deep breath, well, his right hand is underneath the covers.”  She stops and burst into tears.

Dr: “I see.”  He reaches for his prescription pad.

Mrs B: “Ah but you don’t… you don’t.”

Doctor looks very surprised “I don’t?”

Mrs. B: “No well it’s just that Mr. Brown has never been very attentive; he is always so tired.  He works so hard you know and he does need his pint for relaxation, I realise that and sometimes a few pints you know, then he loses interest.”

Dr: “So you’re saying that you liked having Paddington in bed with you even if he does keep his hat on?”

Mrs B: “Well yes but he does take off his boots.” She says cheerfully.

Dr: “So what do you want me to do and how exactly could this harm your children?”

Mrs B: “Doctor really, I would have thought it was obvious.”

It is now Mrs. B’s turn to look anxiously at the clock 7.50 a.m.  “Should I leave Mr. Brown or carry on as we are, hoping the children never find out, they think the world of him.”

Doctor looks confused. “Their father?”

Mrs B:  “No silly, Paddington.  I’m just not sure they’re old enough to understand.”

Dr: “Quite”

Mrs B: “So what do you think?”

Dr:  “Mrs. Brown, have you considered the menopause?”

Mrs B: “ No Doctor. What’s it like?”

Dr: “Well it’s something that women go through at a certain age.”

Mrs B nods; apparently deep in thought. “So it’s a kind of choice is it?”

Dr. “A choice Mrs. Brown?”

Mrs. B: “Well it sounded like it. Men or paws you said.”

Doctor writing quickly, tears off the top sheet of his prescription pad and hands it to Mrs B smiling.

Dr: “No need to choose Mrs. Brown, just carry on as you are, your husband will never notice.”

Swinging round in his chair he buzzes through to reception as he closes the door behind her.

Dr: “Oh morning Gladys bring me coffee would you strong, black, two sugars, thanks.”

Mrs B’s head  re-appears as the door opens slightly.  “Just one more thing Doctor. She lifts a jar of marmalade out of her handbag. “Could you possibly open this for me it’s my arthritis you know, makes it very difficult these days.”

Dr. sighs.”Be happy to Mrs. Brown.”

She leaves as Gladys comes in with the coffee.

Gladys: “ Early start?”

Dr: “ Yes “ he says staring into space and then, “ Gladys have Mrs. Brown transferred to the locum’s list would  you. Right away.”

Gladys:  “Will do.”


A mouse in the vinaigrette.  (Title chapter from anthology)

By Helen Ducal

Schloop..plop. Schloop…plop.

You think by the time you reach forty you must have heard pretty much every household sound. Cisterns fizzing and filling, bacon sizzling, refrigerators humming, clocks tick, ticking, like a heart beat in the home. But, schloop…plop? Nope, my auditory repertoire was not registering and believe me, my ears work well; handy in my line of work.

It was my first assignment and the lady turned out to be the wonderfully warm grandmotherly type. It was a rambling eight bedroom house, acres of garden and my first Aga. And that was where I stood stirring the porridge in an original Le Creuset saucepan, my wooden spoon performing a figure of eight just the way we had been taught at school, when I heard this weird sound.

My first Aga. It still elicits a fond sigh as the memory pops into my head. If you have ever done toast on a hotplate you will have used what I can only describe as one of those hinged double tennis racket contraptions that hold the bread in place on the heat. I was flipping my first piece of toast and stirring porridge at the same time. Multi tasking at 8am in a strange kitchen. I had heard that you can leave porridge overnight to cook in the bottom oven but I didn’t want to risk encrusted oats, a washing up nightmare on my first morning.

Ignoring the ongoing sound I happily placed a bowl of porridge, toast, now released from its criss-cross cage, crusts cut off, cut into triangles and placed in a silver toast rack on a tray that was courtesy of the diary of an English country woman, which in turn was almost obliterated by a linen tray cloth, hand embroidered, silver cruet ( at all times) cut glass honey pot with yellow and black china lid, containing lime marmalade and the marmalade spoon, the one with the lip near the top of the handle. A white porcelain shell shaped dish for the butter curls. Butter was kept in the larder for easier curling.  A small white jug, embossed with minute pink flowers for the milk and a silver sugar bowl containing light muscuvado sugar. A dessert spoon for the porridge, a small knife for the toast, a teaspoon for the…aah, coffee. So that’s what I could hear.  The coffee had been perking away behind me for some time. It was the sort that you plugged in, put cold water in the bottom and coffee granules in the top filter, bit like one of those science experiments you did at school when you watched to see which way the liquid would go and what would be the end result. Now which was the right coffee cup to use for breakfast?? Mrs B had gone over all these details last night but now I was blowed if I could remember.

Tip #1. If you think you may forget. Lay the breakfast tray/table the night before while it is still fresh in your mind.

And lastly, often most importantly, the starched linen napkin complete with correct silver napkin ring. Using the deceased husband’s napkin ring is not recommended especially on the first day. You will often find personal items such as shaving brush, gardening shoes, dog leads in the house even though husbands and pets are long departed. So, never assume…always check before offering to take the dog for a walk etc.

I once grabbed the wrong ( i.e. deceased husband’s ) dressing gown to put round the shoulders of a lady in the middle of the night. She had woken up having an angina attack which brings to mind the fine line between helping and hindrance. She said nothing at the time but was very forgiving once she thought about it.

A sudden vision of my new charge sitting up in bed, arms folded, hands in armpits, pin curl clips still nestling either side of her temples and a pained expression on her face as she stares wilfully at the bedroom door, almost catapulted me out of the door. Not a good idea when carrying a tray. So I did a final check. Agh! Butter knife…small rounded end, dinky cream coloured handle ( don’t ask, probably extinct now).

All present and correct.

I needn’t have worried. If Mrs B had been wide awake, she feigned rousing herself, brilliantly. In fact over the next two weeks I was to discover an attitude to life, a philosophy even, that stays with me even today. I was truly lucky to have her as my guinea pig!

To get from the kitchen to the main bedroom would seem an easy task but with three doors leading from the kitchen…perhaps I should design a clip on Sat Nav ( to your apron, naturally)  so you can find your way round your new ‘home’!

Across the hall to the stairs of course is simple but once on the landing you have five doors one way and ten the other. Now if you have been paying attention you will be thinking, she said eight bedrooms. True. But some bedrooms have two doors and then there are three bathrooms, store cupboards, laundry rooms, winter wardrobes. As a rule of thumb, if there are back stairs, the ladies’ bedroom won’t be in that direction.

For some reason I had anticipated this problem and left my bedroom door open which was next to Mrs B’s and saved fumbling with creaky doornobs. Ta dah!

She told me to have my breakfast, take my time and come back for the tray when I was ready. She had nothing urgent to do today…she said. I was soon to discover that her short term memory was her one failing. We soon got a system going whereby she called me to write in her diary if anyone phoned. She made a joke out of a rotten situation. “My social secretary will have a word with you. My diary is so full you understand.” She had many friends and they all did.

As I opened the door to the cellar I realised that the door next to it, was the way into the kitchen I had come down the backstairs and therefore can be forgiven for getting mislaid, I won’t say lost, far too dramatic.

I sat at the old oak kitchen table with my porridge eating it with any old spoon but definitely muscovado sugar, a lady of taste, both of us! I looked up at the old wood and glass rectangular box above the door that had the name of the main rooms in the house. The push button bell in the drawing room still worked I was later to find out. The name would sway and tinkle, summoning staff to the designated room.

I started to wonder how long this la lady and her family had lived in this wonderful house. It had a very welcoming, homely feel to it.

I poured myself a cup of coffee; was going to have a mug and then thought, no it’s more in keeping with my surroundings.

I had switched off the coffee percolator before I had taken the tray upstairs. The coffee was still hot and silent. But there it was again, that peculiar sound. I’d left the porridge pan on the side of the Aga and was about to fill it with hot water ready for washing when I came eyeball to eyeball with my first of many encounters with mice. Only this one seemed to have strayed right out of a cartoon. The Aga was built into a recess that no doubt once housed an open fireplace and sensibly worktops had been arranged on either side. Somehow I hadn’t noticed at the far left hand corner there was a jam jar with homemade vinaigrette in it. However this particular one had extra flavour, in the shape of a mouse. A real live mouse that was trying desperately to extricate itself from this greasy concoction. He ( I have to assume it was male!) could manage to get his head, sleeked down, 1950’s style, above the rim of the jar, whiskers twitching frantically but he was obviously exhausted and couldn’t pull himself up any further, hence the schloop, coming up and the plop when he sank back down. Now, along with most people’s views, mice are not my favourite creatures but can you imagine how absurdly tragic this situation was! I guessed it would take a while to deal with so I decided on going to retrieve Mrs B’s tray before starting on my rescue mission.

The lady in question was just getting out of bed when I entered her room. She told me that she would be doing her toilette, getting her clothes out for the day and then she would do her yoga exercises. Mrs B was 92 years old. So when she asked me if everything was ok and had I found everything I needed in the kitchen, I expect she thought that my expression, somewhere between Eric Morecombe singing Bring me Sunshine and someone knowing they have a lottery ticket with the winning numbers on it…somewhere.. was due to her explaining that she needed the cushions from the chair to help her with her shoulder stands.

She asked me to come back in half an hour to ‘supervise’ her bath. “I know what to do but my children fear I may forget and drown.” This was typical of her gentle wit and we soon fell into a comfortable liaison. I told her towards the end of my stay about Brylcreme Jerry and she roared with laughter but I couldn’t imagine, on my first morning saying” Yes, everything is fine but do you usually have a mouse in your vinaigrette?”

I loaded the dishwasher, pans and all and set about releasing my slippery friend.

It was a mild spring day so it seemed like a plan to take the jar outside, lay it on its side and let the mouse and vinaigrette run out. I laid it on the edge of the grass pointing into a flower bed. I thought the path would become slippery and dangerous. For humans not the mouse! I decided the poor thing must be terrified so rather than give the jam jar bottom a whack I just left it to slither out. Five minutes past and I was worried that if Mrs B called me I wouldn’t hear. “C’mon, you daft bugger, out you come.” I was leaning over the flower bed concentrating on Jerry’s bid for freedom and didn’t hear someone approaching from the back of the shed.

The agency had mentioned a gardener but you never take it all in at first.

“Jeez!” I jumped as a deep male Gloucester voice said” This should help.”

The gardener, who bizarrely was called Gerry was brandishing a hammer.” No” I yelled. Suffocated by oil and vinegar and then to be showered by fragments of broken glass. I didn’t think so. Somewhere between being scared of mice and feeling sorry for Jerry (always bad idea to name them) I had become Mouse Savers International.

“Okay” he shrugged and wandered back down the garden. I quickly went in doors to get…what…for heavens sake? Seeing as Jerry was trying to launch himself from his glass womb I suddenly thought, ah, tongs…a forceps delivery. I was about to grab the cooking tongs, I could always put them in the dishwasher afterwards when I spotted an old pair of wooden washing tongs hanging up by the larder door. Perfect, much gentler. My thirty minutes was nearly up so I dashed outside. The jam jar was still intact but it was facing the opposite direction and was empty. I had wondered if I should take some washing up liquid to cut through some of the grease but decided Jerry would probably not be up for the idea. As it was, he was nowhere to be seen.

I’ll never know what happened to my slippery friend and the schloop plop sound is one that I haven’t heard from that day to this, I’m glad to say.

Talking of sounds. A word of warning. If you’re at all nosey and I don’t mean going through cupboards, just things that are in plain view as they say on all the best TV cop dramas, beware of a wonderfully carved inlaid wooden box on the landing at 11pm. Remember you are not auditioning for the Antiques Road Show or Cash in the Attic. Curious though you may be, have you any idea just how loud a musical box can sound at that time of night?!


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