Local highly commended, ‘My Boy Jonah’, by Adrienne Howell

Ah, then you’ve heard about my boy Jonah? So, what can I tell you about him?

Start at the beginning. Oh, you’re going to be a good neighbour. That’ll make a nice change. Her before you didn’t want to know, wasn’t a bit interested in my Jonah. ‘Got enough of me own to think about.’ That was her. Shut the door on him, she did. Not neighbourly was it? Gone to live near one of her daughters now and I can’t say I’m sorry. Good riddance to bad rubbish! That’s what I say. Now, what would you like to know about my Jonah?

Start at the beginning. That’s a very good place to start. Loved that film, just loved it. Loved the scenery, all them mountains and that famous singer…what’s her name? You know …you know the one…nice teeth, blonde bob…

That’s her! I can see her now. The hills are alive with the sound of music. Loved that song! I can tell you’re a film fan; takes one to know one, Mrs…?

Call you Moira. Right. Well now, Moira, there’s a really nice cinema in town. Pensioner’s show is Thursday afternoons. Cheap ticket, decent cup of tea thrown in and the mini-bus leaves here at a quarter to two, on the dot. No hanging about! Driver won’t wait. His foot is on the pedal and zoom! He’s away from the community lounge dead on a quarter to two, not a minute later. You’ve just about time to gobble down your lunch.

Too true! It is a bit of a rush.

Me neither. Can’t be doing with rushing these days, me legs aren’t up to it. Besides, ruins the film if your stomach’s unsettled. So, what I do is this; on Thursdays, I have me lunch at tea-time. I don’t say nothing but once the chap’s brought it in and gone, I puts it aside and warms it up when I get back. It don’t take long between plates over a pan of boiling water.

Oh, no need to worry. I don’t waste it. I uses it to wash up. Waste not want not! That’s how I were brought up.

My Jonah? No, of course I haven’t forgotten my Jonah. How could I forget my lovely boy? Whatever gave you that idea, Moira? It’s you, Moira; you haven’t said what it is you want to know. Just ask away and I’ll tell you all about him, like I said.

Yes, I only had the one. Jonah were my one and only and his beginning – that’s where you said to start – his beginning was twenty-one years and three…no, hang on a minute … I tell a lie… it’s what…June now?

It is June…oh, well done me! So my Jonah, bless his little cotton socks, he arrived… twenty-one years… and four months ago.

What d’you mean, I’ve made a mistake? Course I haven’t. I should know when my son, my only child, was delivered. Have you had any yourself?

Well then, you should know, you don’t forget, do you? Ever. You think about it every birthday that comes around. And my Jonah weren’t easy. In fact, the doctor said it were touch and go at one time. I were nearer fifty than forty, much, much nearer to tell the truth. In fact, and keep this to yourself, Moira, I celebrated me half-century before I left the hospital carrying baby Jonah in me arms. I’d decided on Jonah Reginald – proper names, real man’s man names – after my dad and his dad. Oh, he were the best present ever.

It were one hell of a shock. Too true! I thought it was the change. Never dreamt, not for one minute. Well, you wouldn’t, would you? Not after years of disappointment. My Reg were in shock for sure. I think that’s what helped him on his way; the responsibility weighed heavy at his age, well, and mine. But I’d kept myself more in trim. Even the doctor saw that. ‘Well done, Ruth,’ he said. ‘You’re a wonder woman.’ I liked that a lot better than what I saw were written on my notes…

Yes, it were summit like that. I knew it weren’t English, anyway. Say it again.

Elderly prim…i…gra…vi…da. And what does that mean when it’s at home?

Elderly! I ask you! Bit insulting that; Mother Nature decided I weren’t too elderly, far from it. It would be true if I were having Jonah now. That would be a laugh! Just think, Moira, I’d be in all the papers and on TV. What were that word again?

Oooh, you’ve got it off pat. Sounds like you were some kind of nurse. Elderly prim-i-gra-vi-da delivered. Yes, at seven and a half pounds! Wonder woman Ruth, that’s what the doctor said.

Jonah’s date of birth? Well, now you’ve asked me. It were in February. I know that ‘cos we reckoned it were on our Whitsun holiday it…you know…it happened. We’d gone up country for the Whit Friday Marches with the band Supporters’ Club.

Reg loved his brass bands. He were always in a good mood after band concerts…always…so…yes…that would make it February.

It were February, like I said, but I just can’t remember dates these days. I’ve got it written down somewhere. I’ll find it when I do me Christmas cards, plenty of time,

Moira, if you’m right about it being June, that is.

Well, yes, if that’s what I said, then I suppose it were his twenty-first, but you said start at the beginning not the end, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m telling you about my Jonah, and he’s my son, my boy, so I’ll tell it my way if it’s all the same to you.

Photographs? Why would you want a photograph of my Jonah?

Well, Reg and I weren’t like most parents, were we? Once Jonah arrived – all seven and a half pounds of him, remember – I were too tired and Reg too shell shocked to be bothering with cameras. So, no, I don’t have photographs of him new-born.

No. None.

Are you hard of hearing, Moira? None! Zilch! Zero! If there were any photos, Reg must have took them when he cleared off. He were the one with the camera.

I never said Reg were dead, the word ‘dead’ never left my lips. He might be now, I suppose, but surely that madam with the blonde hair and big bum would have told me… or my Jonah, wouldn’t she?

Too true, it were another shock. I mean, Reg and I, we’d jogged along happily all those years and then…then it all went Madam Pear-Shaped! I wandered round completely lost for a bit. Called his name. Looked in all the drawers and his wardrobe – everything were gone, everything except what were in the wash. I dried and ironed them things and put them away – all neat and tidy like I always had – just in case. But he never came back. I tried to make sense of it, to come up with some reason. Why, Reg? Why? I kept going over it in me head, must have read the note he left on the kitchen table a hundred times or more. I’ve still got it in the bedroom, in a drawer somewhere. Still can’t make head or tail of it. What did he mean by my nonsense? Weren’t me that were up to nonsense, were it?!

Yeah, you’re right, Moira, got it in one. There are some things we never gets to understand. But, in the end, I come to the conclusion that Reg hadn’t liked playing second fiddle to Jonah. For years, see, he’d been my number one, it were always my Reg this, my Reg that, my Reg first and foremost, and now it were my Jonah. I’ve read it happens. You know, a bit of jealousy crept in because I were all wrapped up in looking after Jonah. But there, like they say, worse things happen at sea, and I had to think of my boy so, shoulders back Ruthie and get on with it.

It were hard on me own. I was bone tired most days and that’s the truth of it, but I managed. Well, you have to, don’t you? And Jonah were such a good little soul. Course, once he started school, it come a bit easier.

Oh, he did well at school, my Jonah. He was bright. Bright as a button! All his teachers said the same. The things he came out with!

What is it with you and photos, Moira? School photographs? I didn’t have the money for them sort of luxuries. Bit nosey for a new neighbour, aren’t you?

Then I’ll describe him for you. I don’t need photos ‘cos I’ve got his picture in me head full time. I reckon I could draw him any day I want. Such a handsome lad, bit like his dad when he and I were courting. My Jonah’s got bright blue eyes and his hair’s all a lovely sand colour that gets darker when it’s wet, just like the real stuff. Sea and sand I used to say. I often wonder if that’s why he loved the seaside so much, why he joined…did I put the idea in his head?

Oh, he could have gone to university, all his teachers said the same, but no, my Jonah wanted a life at sea, he wanted to see the world and I wouldn’t stand in his way. He joined the merchant navy at sixteen and just loved it. Oh, he looked so handsome in his uniform. Sent me postcards from all different places …New York, Amsterdam…Cape something or other…

What? The postcards? No, silly me, I mislaid them when I moved here. I mean I was quite happy where I were but Jonah said down-sizing was sensible, once he’d left home, and the doctor wanted me here because it were sheltered, he said. But it all happened in such a rush I don’t know what I did with half my stuff. Not to worry, they’ll turn up some day when I’m not looking for them.

Course I’m proud. Proud doesn’t cover it. My Jonah, he was doing so well. Top marks. Officer training. He’d have made a captain one day, I just know it. Then…well, like I said, worse things happen at sea. And that’s true. Too true. My boy Jonah were lost overboard in storm conditions…the officers said they’d never known a storm like it, they said the rescue boat were launched… but it was too late…Jonah was swallowed by…

Yes! Fancy you knowing that, Moira. It were a whale!

Adrienne Howell is from Mere in Wiltshire.

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