With this short story by Tiffany H. White, we continue our new series of original fiction or poetry by writers who either published their first book at 40 or after, or who have yet to publish a book. Writers interested in submitting work should see our guidelines.
It’s 1963: Diana is six, an orphan and too clever for her own good. She’s been living with Aunt Pearl for almost a year. – Pearl isn’t a real aunt, more of a second cousin, but she’s kin and therefore morally obliged. The extra twenty shillings a week family allowance helps. Pearl has a husband called Harold, a daughter called Ginger and a grumpy Pekinese.
One evening Harold summons Diana to his study. His rotund belly protrudes as he clasps his hands behind him, puffs out his chest and leers down at the bewildered child.
“I have a lovely surprise. my dear. We’re your family now.” His piggy little eyes betray the avuncular smile.
“You will call me Daddy.” Diana doesn’t think that she will.
“And your aunt is Mummy.” Diana doesn’t think that she is.“
Stop blubbing.” Harold’s face is pink and shiny and too close. “Kiss Daddy goodnight.” Diana sniffles and dutifully kisses the hot bristly cheek.
It’s 1968: Diana is eleven, an orphan, and knows more than she should. She’s going to grammar school next term, a preposterous idea according to Pearl.
“Too clever by half that one.” sniffs Pearl “Clever is as clever does, you mark my words.” She slams the pudding bowl down with a fine spray of tapioca. No one likes tapioca, which is why she serves it so often. Pearl stirs in a blood clot of strawberry jam and ladles out dessert for Harold. Harold grunts, maybe in thanks or maybe not. After serving herself, Pearl passes the tapioca pudding to Ginger and Ginger leaves Diana a pool of pinkish grey sludge that looks like liquid flesh.
They slurp, not listening as Pearl discusses her favourite subject:
“What does she need with grammar school anyway? Doesn’t know her place, that one. It’ll end in tears, of course, she’ll go all – you know – kiki. Like that Trelawney woman; you know the one. Yes, you do. Spinster. Wears glasses. On the council. No, there’s no more pudding – little miss clever-clogs polished it off quick as you like. There’s a nice bit of stilton. Diana – fetch the cheeseboard for Daddy. And don’t forget the Branston, mind.”
Evidently Pearl is a skilled telepath: Harold hadn’t grunted a single grunt. Perhaps he’s dead. Diana fetches the cheeseboard and Harold carves off a lump as Pearl continues in much the same vein.
“None for me, thank you Harold. Yes, her. The Trelawney woman. Lives with her ‘cousin’ and we all know what that means.” The girls don’t but they’re willing to learn. “Works at the chemist – No not her – the ‘cousin.’ Blonde. Not natural. Dyed.” Harold grunts and Pearl indignantly responds, “I have no idea: I don’t listen to tittle-tattle. Grammar school. Ridiculous. And there’s uniform and that’s not cheap. Clever is as clever does, you just wait and see.”
Diana isn’t sure what clever does, but it doesn’t sound good. As she scrapes the residue of slimy hatefulness into her mouth Ginger treats her to a sneaky sly vicious nail pinch and Diana chokes, spurting tapioca out of her nose.
More shame for Diana. More fodder for Pearl.“
“Oh, you are disgusting little beast! Not fit to live with pigs!” says Pearl. Ginger giggles and Harold snuffles something akin to laughter. Diana doesn’t think much of people, but she often thinks about pigs and how nice they are once they’re dead.
After washing up, the girls say their prayers and go to bed, leaving Harold and Pearl trapped with the muttering shadows on the monochrome tv.
The next day is Saturday and Saturdays don’t change. Pearl goes to town; Ginger goes to ballet and Diana tries not to think about tapioca as Harold grunts and snorts with fatherly love.
Born in 1963, Swansea artist Tiffany H White began writing short fiction in April 2020. Her work has been appeared online, in print and audio, including in The Short Humour Site and Soliloquies Anthology 24, among others. Her story “Working Title” was a winner in the 2020 Hysteria 7 Flash Fiction competition and appears in the prize anthology.