The girl next door

Maxie Forster is a binman who carries out ashes from the coal fires of North Shields the holes in his leather soled boots are letting in water from the rain and he cannot afford to go and take the boots to the cobbler shop in Billy Mill. He tries repairing them with some old lino and cuts the shape out with a stanley knife and glues them with some evo stick then places cardboard in the insides. Looking over the road on his round he spots a family being evicted by the bailiffs - the wagon is loaded with furniture and the woman and her five children stand in the rain as the barrow with everything she owns is pushed down the street.


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When Shirley returned home the house had been cleaned and there was nothing to do. All the washing had been done and the shopping was in and the rent had been paid.

She smiled knowing that her daughter would take care of her father when she would be no longer around. Shirley hoped that her husband would find someone else to look after him she didn’t want him to be on his own. Shirley looked at the pile of medication that she was to take in order to keep her alive. She filled up the compartments of the pill box that she had been given so she knew in what order they should be taken each day. Then she sat and began to do the hardest thing that she’d ever done. She wrote the list of things she had to do to take care of her funeral. She rang the insurance company she was with to tell them of her situation. Then she rang Turnbull’s funeral parlour. Shirley chose her coffin contacted her local vicar who said that he would call in to see her. She told him to call when her husband would be at work. Then she wrote two letters one to her daughter and one to her husband.

She rang Sarah who came around and she told her the news.

Her friend was in bits to begin with until Shirley asked her to carry out her wishes.

Then Sarah took control of the situation. She told her to get her coat on so they could go to the bingo whilst she was still able. Sarah ordered a taxi to take them and although they never won anything that afternoon they had fun together. Sarah was like a breath of fresh air; she never mentioned the C word and every time her head seemed as if it was going down Sarah was there to cheer her up. Sarah came every morning as Maxie was going to work and stayed until either Catherine or Maxie returned.’

Sarah asked the doctor who called in every morning to take a photo of her and her friend together as they had kept photos since they were at school together right through their teens when they had gone to the local church dances. During the holidays spent at Blackpool they would go into the photo booths and mess about with sticks of rock or ice cream with “Kiss me quick” hats on. Then when they had got married there was also the photo’s of their children at their christenings and at the Chirton and Percy Main Club when their husbands had taken them out to see a group or comedian. Sarah brought them all up one afternoon and they had a good laugh remembering all the things that they had done as they looked back at their lives together.

After a month of being at home Shirley’s weight began to plummet and she had lost two stones. Her cheeks were sunken now and she felt the strength leaving her body.

They had one last visit to the Crown Bingo together just before the Christmas of 1989. The cramps in Shirley’s stomach got worse but she never complained. They actually won that afternoon which cheered Shirley up no end. The prize money had gone up considerably now and it was Shirley who won two hundred pounds which she shared with Sarah. After that Shirley could no longer get out and it was Sarah who cooked her lunch time meals for her when she became bed ridden.’

By then Maxie and Catherine knew she was dying and they couldn’t bear to watch her slowly fading before their eyes. Each day he prayed to God that he would end her suffering. It was on Christmas Eve that the doctor called in and told them that she hadn’t long left to live. Shirley Forster died on Christmas morning with all of her friends around her. It was ironic that she was leaving the world on the birth date of Jesus Christ.


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