Tag Archives: historical

Pocket money, December 1972

Tom stands on tiptoe

his forearms resting on the counter.

He slides one sweaty palm aside to reveal

the full moon of a ten pence piece

against a black Formica sky.

On the shelves in front of him

constellations of sweets twinkle invitingly:

gobstoppers as big as Jupiter,

liquorice Catherine wheels that suck in light like a black hole,

sherbet fountains shaped like rockets,

a swarm of asteroids masquerading as chocolate raisins,

and coconut mushrooms, modelled on life forms

that float in the syrupy seas of planet Zyx.

‘The usual?’ asks Mr. Bradshaw

pushing his Joe 90 glasses up his nose.

Tom nods.

With a magician’s flourish Mr. Bradshaw produces a bulging paper bag

twirled over at the corners

and palms the coin.

Tom mumbles his thanks and scuffs out,

the door shutting with a clunk

and a clang of the bell.

Outside Tom opens the bag and peeps inside:

a packet of space dust

and two dozen flying saucers.

Tom pops a pink flying saucer in his mouth

and lets it dissolve on his tongue.

A quarter of a million miles above his head

two men get ready to leave the Moon.

 

© Helen Lewis 2011

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Family heirloom

[Click here to listen to an audio recording of this story. (Read by me, and not a professional voice artist, unfortunately!)]

*

My grandmother’s house was just as I remembered it. The crunch of gravel on the front path, the lion’s head knocker, the smell of beeswax, and the umbrella stand in the corner of the hall.

When I was a child the umbrella stand fascinated me. It had an off-white circular base; ivory, Oma explained – like the piano keys. The umbrella bin was shaped like an umbrella itself; inverted and partially opened. Its spines were ivory too, and stretched between, forming the fabric of the umbrella, was a beige-coloured translucent material that reminded me of the hide on my bongo drums.

Whenever Heike and I stayed with Oma the umbrella stand was our touchstone. One of us would stand next to it, close our eyes and count to a hundred while the other hid. It was our hiding place for the sweets we smuggled in for midnight feasts. As teenagers it was where we stashed our make-up.

It didn’t take long to clear the house. I got the umbrella stand and the contents of Oma’s bureau. Sorting through her papers the next day, one handwritten letter caught my eye.

June 14th 1943

Sehr geehrte Fräulein Schwartz,

Please accept my deepest sympathies. Your late father’s patronage of our work has helped to make this country great. Your own generous donation from your father’s estate will allow us to continue our research for many years to come. Please accept this small token of my appreciation: an umbrella stand, fashioned entirely from waste materials.

Yours,

Joseph Mengele

 

(C) Helen Lewis 2010


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