Leading Lady by Melanie Cavanagh

Last autumn, Community Care launched a creative writing competition online. Here we publish Melanie Cavanagh’s (pictured) winning entry, as voted for by visitors to www.communitycare.co.uk

“Now, here we go”. George pushed open the bedroom door with his hip and carried the tray to the bedside.

“I’ve got you something special today. Your favourite: poached egg on toast. I’ve brought you up some Worcester sauce just in case you want to spice it up a bit.” George gave a gentle chuckle and looked towards Winnie.

Winnie took all her energy to ease herself up in the bed a little and blinked as George let the sun stream through the opening curtains and onto the bed. It was a beautiful summer morning and Winnie momentarily closed her eyes again to bask in the warmth of the rays, flashes of orange dancing through her closed lids. She loved this time of year.

“Thank you, you’re a godsend.”

Winnie attempted a smile. She couldn’t face eating just yet but she did not want to disappoint George.

George circumnavigated the bed and gently lowered himself onto the floral bedspread. He looked anxiously over at Winnie and felt that familiar sense of helplessness. No number of consultants or nurses, with their soothing and sympathetic hushed tones, could help ease the pain or quell the panic that frequently rose up within him at the thought of losing her, his wife of 54 years.

“Do you want the tray now, or do you want to wait a moment?”

“I’ll wait a little, if I may. I’m not feeling quite so chirpy today.”

George leaned in and lightly touched her papery cheek, wanting to feel her as flesh and blood, to reassure himself that she was still a loving, living being. Winnie placed her hand on top of his and held it against her face. This was what it was all about now. They no longer hoped for miracle cures or waited expectantly for the next bout of chemotherapy. They purely embraced everyday moments, seeking solace in their simplicity. His touch on her face was everything.

Sometimes, when George looked over at Winnie, she took his breath away. She was still beautiful, despite the ever-advancing years and the more recent weight loss. Her pancreatic cancer had caused her to become a shadow of her former self, but there were undoubtedly telltale signs of the old Winnie. Each laughter line etched in her face and around her eyes was a reminder of a happy moment together. Despite the crow’s feet, Winnie’s eyes – eyes of sparkling, piercing blue – refused to age and were still full of spirit. George looked lovingly at her and the years fell away.

George was mesmerised. He could not stop staring at Winnie, captivated by her gaze. There was something about her that drew him in and made him forget about his surroundings and the rest of the crowd. She seemed so fresh and pretty, yet somehow the picture of elegance as she stood uncertainly with her sister. She wore just a hint of lipstick and a beautiful full-skirted dress with a matching belt that accentuated her willowy figure.

Lily was livid. It was supposed to be a foursome: Bert and Ida, Lily and George. Lily had been cajoled by her mother into bringing her little sister along, and now here was Winnie, looking all young and innocent in her new homemade frock, created from the McCall’s pattern that Lily herself had saved up to buy.

Winnie dared to sneak a glance at George but quickly looked away again as she caught George’s eye. There had been something in his gaze that had excited, yet confused her. He was extremely good-looking and, at nineteen, his two years’ seniority made him seem so much more mature than the boys Winnie knew.

“Shall we go in, then? Ladies…” Bert gave a mock bow as he ushered them all into the auditorium, trying to break the moment and the obvious tension that hung in the air.

January 24 issueIt was their first trip to the New Victoria Cine-Variety Theatre and they had all been looking forward to their adventure into the middle of London, into such grand surroundings. Winnie’s eyes were wide as she took in the rows upon rows of seats and the plush interior. She squeezed Lily’s elbow in excitement, forgetting the vow she had made to herself to retain her composure at all times so that she didn’t seem too immature to her older sister’s friends.

Lily smiled wryly. It was difficult to remain cross at her sister when Winnie’s enthusiasm was so infectious. She knew that Winnie had longed to come here for months but it had been agreed by their parents that Winnie would only be allowed to travel to Wilton Street in the care of Lily and her friends.

Lily looked at George and considered him for one moment. He was definitely not her type and she didn’t really feel any romantic feelings towards him. Ida had persuaded them all to go out as a foursome a couple of times and now Lily thought about it, she had only really gone along with the plan to keep Ida happy. She much preferred dark, mysterious men like William Holden in Sunset Boulevard. George, on the other hand, was blonde and constantly cheerful, which was undoubtedly sweet but not very sexy. Lily paused and, with an almost imperceptible nod of her head, gestured for Winnie to go past her into the seat next to George.

Winnie’s heart fluttered as she squeezed past her sister. She recognised the sacrifice that Lily had just made for her but could find no appropriate way to express her gratitude. She nervously arranged her bag on her lap as she sank into the seat. She could feel George’s thigh resting against hers and she thought that she was going to burst with nervousness and excitement. She smiled up at him shyly and was grateful that the first picture was just beginning and she could calm her nerves.

George found it difficult to concentrate and realised that the first feature and the Pathé News item had passed by in a blur. Winnie’s presence was so strong that he was unable to think about anything but her. He wanted to show her some sign of affection yet was afraid that she might think him too pushy. He wiped his palms against his trousers and considered his next move. Just at that moment, All About Eve began and the opening image of the award trophy flashed onto the screen. Winnie settled herself into her seat and as she did so, she rested her head on George’s shoulder. George smiled as he felt the warmth of Winnie against him.

“I might try to eat some of that egg, now,” Winnie said as she struggled to get comfortable in the bed.

George reached for the tray and placed it gently on her lap.

“There you go, my love.”

Winnie smiled gratefully and slowly began to pick up her knife and fork.

“I hope you’ve had something yourself. I know what you’re like if I’m not there to keep an eye on you, ” she teased.

“Don’t you worry, I’ve kept up tradition with my Saturday morning fry-up. I make a mean eggs and bacon these days, you know.”

Winnie smiled and shook her head.

“All these years I’ve cooked for you, and all the time you’ve had this culinary talent lurking under the surface. I hope you know you’re going to be doing all the cooking from now on.”

“Well, I might give you the odd hand if you’re lucky,” George joked.

In reality, they both knew that Winnie would never make it back down to the kitchen, but it helped to keep up this banter, to pretend that life was normal every now and again.

“Guess what I saw in the paper when I was eating breakfast,” George suddenly exclaimed.

“Not that stupid footballer’s wife again?” Winnie responded.

“No – well, I’m sure she was in there somewhere – but I spotted something on the TV pages. They’re showing All About Eve this afternoon.”

Winnie paused and returned her fork to her plate.

“That takes me back, that does, to that huge cinema. What’s it called nowadays?”

“It’s a theatre now, isn’t it? I can’t remember its name, Victoria something, but I think they’ve got a musical running there at the moment.”

Winnie sighed. “I loved that film… Bette Davis and Ann Baxter, and wasn’t Marilyn Monroe in it too?”

“You’ve got a good memory. Funnily enough, I don’t remember the film too much. I was too busy thinking about the girl sitting next to me.”

Winnie smiled. “Funny to think about it all now. If Lily hadn’t let me sit next to you then you might have been married to her all these years, not me.”

George laughed. “No, I can’t see that somehow. We’d have spent all day, everyday arguing. No, I think that her and Len are much more suited. Mind you, if I’d have known how troublesome her little sister was then I might not have offered to walk her home that day.”

“If I had my strength back, I’d throw something at you.”

Winnie looked thoughtful for a moment and suddenly felt like that shy seventeen-year-old again.

“If I’m not too tired this afternoon, will you come up and watch it with me?”

George leaned down and gently kissed the top of her head.

“Now, where else would I be?”

Checklist for aspiring writers from novelist and former social worker Alison Taylor

● Write only if you really want to communicate what interests and moves you and never cheat or short change the reader.
● Expose yourself to new experiences, activities, art forms.
● Study form and structure in what you like and admire.
● Learn to think broadly and constructively; look for novelty in the familiar, for new perspectives and hidden connections.
● Keep sketch books; write down ideas, impressions, what you want to remember.
● Analyse people, places and experiences down to the smallest detail; use the material for building blocks.
● Every plot has already been written; the trick lies in finding something new to say.
● Themes encompass everything: for example, in Brief Encounter the plot is simply “man meets woman, they fall in love, they part”; the story is
built from the conflict of themes.
● Stories should evolve from the interplay of characters and events, not the writer’s flow chart.
● Imagine characters as real, fleshed-out people; be ready for unexpected interactions that push the story down new byways.
● Model imaginary towns, villages and buildings on known places.
● Strive for balance and realism; let tension propel the story.
● Work at developing a voice and style true to yourself.
● Strive for economy of words.
● Try to lift your language from the mundane.
● Learn to be your own critic.
● Arm yourself with knowledge of the laws on confidentiality and libel; penalties for even innocent transgression can be draconian.




More from Community Care

Comments are closed.