He was only tiny, a couple of weeks old, when they diagnosed his mother with cancer. She’d struggled to recover from the birth and they’d been worried about her so the surgeon was called back. Terminal – such a harsh word. The end was quick and she slipped away. That left little Frank and his siblings vulnerable and alone. What to do? Whose responsibility were they?
The farm had always been such a busy place – not just ‘busy’ as in lots going on, although there was that too – but ‘busy’ in its sense of energy and commitment, and uncomplicated love. The old man had lived there all his life, married his sweetheart and had five robust children, now grown and with lives of their own. He’d worked hard and their childhoods had been rambling and free – something out of an Enid Blyton story; the farm had thrived and prospered over the years. It was a happy place to visit, to live, to work, to be. And this was unusual in times when people talked about the hardships of farming and the pressures of making a decent living from stubborn sheep and stubborn crops.
Now their beloved Suzy had died, and the family was heartbroken, bereft. For some reason, focusing on the speed of her loss rather than on the loss itself helped take the edge off the pain for a short while, delayed the harsh knife-stab of hurt and allowed it to seep slowly into hearts and souls like liquid cruelty. She’d been so cherished. It was so unfair.
A brother and three sisters were motherless now; their father was a feckless wastrel, long gone. The old man looked at them as they slept, their pitiful crying done for the day. He permitted his own silent tears then brushed them away fiercely and impatiently. Their mother had been very special to him, but there were practical decisions to be made, and quickly. The little one, Frank, was clearly struggling; he’d not been strong since the day he’d slipped almost silently into the world, his mother exhausted and failing fast. Tenderly, the old man now stroked his baby head, watched his snuffly sleep for a minute, then went back to earnest family rumblings in the kitchen. Decisions were being made.
“I’ll take them,” said his daughter, quietly. “They can come to me.”
Questions flew – how will you cope? What about your work? Do you know what you’d be taking on? What about Richard?
She smiled. “Of course I know what I’m doing. We’ll make it work between us. I’ve done it before, you know.”
The old man looked at her for a long moment. His tough, farmer’s face softened as he realised that this was the only solution and that she was going to make it easy for all of them. “Thanks, love.” Turning sharply, he left the room, went out into the barn and searched through the straw bales for a wooden crate, yanking one from amongst the tangle of farming implements and machinery. He unhooked an old blanket from a nail – it’d once been a baby blanket in a cot, but had since served many a purpose and its gentle pastel colours were well past recognition now. His glance down at a small hollow in the hay caused him to pause, then sigh. It was what it was. It would be what it would be. Ever the philosophical.
The winter twilight was folding around the farm, turning the low, mauve clouds into gentle bruises. The old man looked up and out across to the distant hills, their dips and peaks so familiar, their rooted oneness so eternal, so safe. He wasn’t usually a sentimental man, but the death of Suzy had hit him hard and he was surprised at himself. Pulling his eyes from the skyline, shaking himself free of the lurking melancholy, he crossed the yard quickly and entered the house. He headed straight for the back room and, bending stiffly to the box in front of the fireplace, placed his strong hands carefully around the sleeping Frank to lift him onto the baby blanket in the crate. The puppy snuffled and shivered in his sleep, but didn’t wake. His three sisters were placed around him and they burrowed into each other, seeking the warmth that their mother wasn’t there to give them, joining as one cuddle of brown and white collie. The old man ran a hand over the soft heat of their bodies then lifted the crate. Enough now; let them go.
In memory of Ffinlo (originally called Frank) 31.3.07 – 7.7.17 RIP, Ffin.