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These pages are a collection of stories from the Writer's Group at Box Hill U3A.

A Nice Bit of Stick

Joe's walking stick was listening very intently to what the doctor was saying. The prognosis wasn't good. He'd remembered when Joe's wife Mary had been relegated to a wheelchair. He'd had a good relationship with Mary's walking stick, happily sharing the brass stand with each other over the years, going shopping and enjoying the outings that the happy couple had indulged in. Then his life changed.
"You won't be needing the stick now." said Joe. "We'll drop it off at the opportunity shop. I'm sure someone will be happy to have it."
"You're right," she said sadly. How different her life would be now. It was different for Joe's stick too. He wasn't needed as much either, as when Joe took Mary out, he had her wheelchair for support.
That was two years ago. Joe had looked after her and tended to her every need. When she suffered the slight stroke, it became hard for him, but in spite of his family's insistence he refused to put her in a home. Every day became harder but a year later Mary suffered an aneurysm. For her, death had been mercifully quick. Joe was devastated as they'd been childhood sweethearts.
As time went on he found himself talking to the walking stick.
"It's just you and me now," he said one day. Little did he know how happy the stick was that his life had returned to normal.
This particular morning the walking stick noticed that the doctor had his bad news face on. Over the years he'd acquired a collection of different faces to suit the kind of news he had for his patients. He was an old style doctor, slightly eccentric, and much loved by his patients. A dying breed in these days of greed and expediency. Joe was in trouble. "I'm sorry, " he said. "it's bad news. The back will not improve. Of course you could have the operation, but it's possible you could end up in a wheelchair like Mary."
Joe knew this to be true. He still had her wheelchair. He looked the doctor straight in the eye, and said, "you know what happened to Mary, so you'll understand that I won't be going there."
The doctor agreed, gave him a prescription for pain - killers and said he'd see him in a few weeks.
He left the surgery and made his way home. The first thing he did was ring a well known charity and offer the wheelchair to them. This was good news for walking stick. It was good to be needed. Mary's stick had told him what a terrible feeling it was not to be useful any more. He'd assured her that somewhere there would be a good home for her. He hoped it had made her feel better.
Joe had hung onto the chair for sentimental reasons after Mary died, but now it depressed him and he knew it would have to go. He felt better now. He'd made the first move. It was time to get on with his life. Next thing he did was ring his sister- in-law Joan and told her the news.
"Jack'll be pleased," she said. "He thought you were getting maudlin, and said you should have got rid of it straight away. Maybe now you'll be ready to go through Mary's things. We both realize that there will be some stuff you'll want to keep. We all hang on to memories, but there are plenty of people that are in need and Mary had some beautiful clothes. If you like we'll come round and help you sort everything out."
"That'll be good. Give me a buzz and let me know when you're free and we'll get it done."
When Joan told Jack the news he was pleased, and said. "Next thing we'll do is get him out and about again. There's a Christmas party organized at the Senior Cits next week. That'll be the shot. Get him back into circulation again."
"Couldn't be better," said Joan. "We can pick him up to save him driving."
Joe wasn't sure he was ready for this but made a special effort to look nice and after taking his old walking stick out of the stand, waited by the front door till they arrived. He fondled the stick and said, " We're starting a new life now. From now on it's just you and me."
He'd got used to talking to it after Mary had died, and couldn't see anything wrong with that. He would have been staggered if it had answered back. That was not possible. Sticks could listen and converse with each other but talking to humans was strictly forbidden.
The walking stick of course had other ideas. Things were moving along nicely. Who knows what the future holds he thought. Joe heard the car pull up, locked the door and went out.
"I hope you don't mind sharing the back seat," said Jack "This is Elaine. She lives three doors up from us and has only just moved in and doesn't know anyone yet. We thought it would be a great chance for her to meet people."
When they arrived Joe, like the gentleman he was, helped Elaine out of the car."
"Could you get my stick, it's on the seat." She said. Joe's stick had already introduced itself to Elaine's.
When they entered the hall, Joan said, "my goodness someone's been busy."
The large room was hung with beautiful Christmas decorations. Tables had been set up in rows and were decorated with bright Christmas cloths. Imitation poinsettas jostled for places with bowls of nuts, potato chips and jugs of soft drink. Everyone had been given a place and Jack soon found the seat allocations. Old friends that Joe had lost touch with, greeted him with enthusiasm. Jack had been busy spreading the word. I could get used to all this Joe thought. They sat down and he said. "Give me your stick Elaine I'll hang it next to mine on the back of my chair."
As he put them together on the chair, he must have forgotten where he was as he said, "there you are old friend. Someone to keep you company again."
Jack stared at him in embarrassed amazement. Fortunately most people were still finding their seats and didn't hear. Elaine looked at him with a sparkle in her eye and said.
"How wonderful. I talk to mine too." Looking at Jack she said, "You'll only need to worry if they start answering back."
Jack began to wonder if he'd done the right thing, getting these two together. One clown in the family was bad enough but the thought that it might progress to two wasn't to be contemplated.
Soon the food was being served. Roast turkey, pork and all the trimmings. The hall was buzzing with chatter and everyone tucked in with gusto. Some of the people on their table were strangers. The Rotary volunteers had consulted the Senior Citizens committee and both had thought it a good idea to mix people up so that strangers could get to know one another. After the sweets, crackers were pulled and laughter ensued as the silly jokes were read out. Everyone wore a paper hat and joined in the fun.
A small children's choir had been organized and all were encouraged to join in the carols. Then came the inevitable speech by the chairman of the group. He hoped they were all having a good time and thanked the wonderful contribution of the local Rotary for putting on such a fine meal. He had one more surprise. Santa would be arriving soon with a gift for everyone. A hush fell over the room as everyone looked to the door and suddenly to the accompaniment of Jingle Bells, the rotund jolly man in red came into the room with a gigantic sack on his back.
"Gets better and better," said Jack's stick. "Have you seen the looks that mine keeps giving yours. I haven't seen him like this for a long while."
"You've got an evil mind," said Elaine's
"Who knows what the future may bring. It might be the start of a beautiful friendship for all of us."
He even described the beautiful brass umbrella stand that he'd led his lonely life in. He had dreams of being able to share the empty space with her.
Soon the volunteers were moving around with Santa, helping to distribute the gifts. The local Body Shop had graciously donated a small gift of soap or shower gel for everyone there. When they opened their presents Joe found he had been given the shower gel and looked a bit dismayed. Elaine came to his rescue and said she'd change with him as she had soap. He was quite surprised when she said, "shower gel is nice to use when you've got someone else to shower with. Don't you agree?"
Joe was almost tongue-tied as he tried to reply. Stammering he said, " I've never tried that before." And wondering if there might be a lucky fellow that joined her in the shower said. " I thought you said your husband had gone to God."
"That's one of the things that I miss since he died. We used to shower together all the time. It's particularly wise now, as we are all trying to conserve water. Well that's my story and I'm sticking to it."
By this time the two walking sticks were in hysterics. They could see lots of good times ahead for both of them.
Soon it was time to leave. Joe and Elaine grabbed their sticks and made their way to the door with Joan and Jack.
"Well I must say that was a great party." Said Joan. "We'll have to get together more often now."
"Thank you so much for taking me," said Elaine, and turning to Joe winked and whispered, "I'll hold on to the shower gel. You never know when I might find someone to share it with."
After they'd dropped Elaine off Joe went in and joined them for a nightcap.
"What was all that stuff Elaine was talking about?" said Jack
"Nothing much." Joe replied laughing. After all there are some things that you just have to keep to yourself. Unless of course it's sweet scented shower gel.

Pam Carpenter.