The letter from the medical centre was both a relief and a concern in equal measures. The sharp stab-like pains that Kevin Sparks was experiencing periodically in his stomach, abdomen, and arms and even once in the side of his face were definitely real to him. But a series of examinations followed by blood tests, X-Rays and finally a full body MRI couldn’t uncover any medical reason for his suffering.
They had started about two weeks ago. The first resembled a knifelike grip in the centre of his stomach which was swiftly followed by two more in his side and one right in the centre of his chest. The pain lasted for just a few seconds, but it was intense enough to make him double up. At first he dismissed them as cramp or indigestion but they worryingly returned each evening usually starting just after 7 o’clock. The pains then intermittently occurred, at irregular intervals, throughout the evening until they stopped at about nine. His nights were pain free as were his days, it was just in the evenings when the pattern began.
His doctor was sympathetic and thorough, but could find nothing wrong. Neither could the hospital. On one Wednesday evening and when the fifth jab hit his ribs in just one hour; he found himself Googling “psychosomatic”.
Edna stretched out and switched off her tiny radio. Humming the Archers tune softly under her breath she picked up the half-sewn, half-pinned white satin dress that lay at her side. Although late in years and with fingers riddled with painful arthritis, Edna felt she couldn’t say no when her niece, Zoe, asked her to make her wedding dress. An accomplished seamstress in her youth, Edna had never lost her touch, making toys, skirts, jackets and other garments for her extended family. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without receiving a handmade gift from ‘Granny’ Edna.
In pride of place amongst her array of dressmaking tools was a little pin cushion. This well used object had been fashioned from scraps of old cloth and made in the distinctive shape of a man. He wore black trousers, a blue shirt and a bright red waistcoat. His face had been inked in and just a few strands of black wool made up his hair. His body was stuffed with cotton, wool and horsehair. Edna had named him Ronnie. The waistcoat and black hair reminded her of Ronnie O’Sullivan the snooker player and one of her favourites.
“Come on Ronnie,” Edna said out loud holding the pin cushion in her hand, “Let’s get this dress finished, the wedding is next week, and we’ll be in trouble if it’s not done in time.” Edna started to remove the pins from the dress and then one by one jabbed them into little Ronnie for safe keeping. “Sorry Ronnie,” she whispered, “But it’s your job, keeping my pins together”. An unmoved Ronnie stared blankly back at her.
In fairness Kevin Sparks knew very little about his Grandfather Jack. The man had always been a recluse and in his final years at the Grange Nursing Home, he spoke very little of his past. Kevin had visited him a few times, but their encounters became strained once the early pleasantries had been exchanged.
Grandad Jack’s funeral was swift and perfunctory, although he had reached the grand age of 102; he had few friends and a dwindling family. Sitting in the function room of the local British Legion Club where the wake was being held, Kevin found himself accompanied by his Aunt Thelma.
They soon got talking about Grandad Jack and his past life.
“Your Grandad was a very talented Bridge player, you know, he belonged to quite an exclusive club.” Aunt Thelma was in full flow, only pausing to sip tea from a china cup. “He never married, you know, I don’t know why, he did have a bit of a fling,” Thelma’s eyes fluttered upwards when she said ‘fling’.
After a moment’s reflection, Thelma carried on, “It was with another Bridge player, a lady of some means, if you know what I mean”, and Thelma winked at John. “It came to nothing. I was told that Jack called it off suddenly for no apparent reason. I gather the lady was a bit miffed to say the least. Apparently, she left the Bridge club soon after their relationship fell apart.”
“I will always remember him in that awful red waistcoat he wore to his bridge club. It seems like it was yesterday.”
“Anyway,” continued Aunt Thelma, hardly pausing for breath,” I hear you are suffering from the same pains that Grandad Jack had. You know that they never found out what was causing them. They just suddenly started and then stopped about a month later. How long have you had yours?”
Kevin replied, “About two weeks now, hopefully mine will follow the same pattern as Grandad’s. Funny how he never mentioned them to me when I visited him, that’s strange.” Aunt Thelma finished her tea and stood up, “He was a very private man, and he had probably forgotten that ever had them. You must have inherited his insides,” smiled Aunt Thelma.
“It’s all I have inherited,” Kevin said to himself, quietly.
Saying her goodbyes to the last of the remaining throng, Aunt Thelma slipped through the doorway. Kevin sat alone. He thought to himself, “Old Grandad Jack eh, dumping a rich lady, blimey I could be raking in an inheritance if he’d gone through with it. Oh well, he must have had his reasons. Funny about the pains though. Can stuff like that be passed down?”
“Uh oh, look at the time,” Edna was talking to herself, “One last pin out and that’s done, Zoe said she will be here just after four for her final fitting.”
“Oh Aunt Edna, you’re a bloody genius, this dress is perfect, thank you, thank you.” Zoe gingerly hung the newly sewn dress carefully on its hanger and skipped across to her Aunt Edna planting an affectionate wet kiss firmly on her forehead. She sat down next to her Aunt and poured a glass of wine for each of them. Spying Ronnie on Edna’s lap, she asked, “What’s this you’ve got here Aunty?” Zoe picked up a now pin free Ronnie. “Isn’t he cute? What a wonderful pin cushion. Where on earth did you get him?”
Edna explained to her excited niece that she had been given Ronnie by her elder sister Rose. “I’ve had him for a few years now but this is the first time I’ve used it in ages. I’d forgotten all about him.” Zoe brushed Ronnie’s woollen hair with her forefinger. Edna continued with her story, “Rose was given it by her step sister, a weird woman apparently. She lived alone in one of those single mansion flats on the Broadway, a bit of a hermit”.
Edna started gathering her sewing things together, “Rose wasn’t into needlecraft or anything like that, so she had no need for a pin cushion, she just handed him over to me knowing that I would make good use of it,” explained Edna. “And for the past two weeks he has been my helper and companion.” Edna retrieved Ronnie from her niece and squeezed his cloth hand gently.
Zoe pushed herself onto the edge of the settee. “Ooo do tell me more about this mysterious relative, Aunty, you know I like to hear about our dark family secrets,” Zoe fixed her bright eyes onto her Aunt. Edna smiled at her niece and continued. “Well the woman, I think her name was Felicity, led a quiet life, she never married. She played that card game; you know the one with partners ……… Bridge, that’s it. She was damn good to and a bit obsessed with it, or so Rose told me.”
Edna’s forehead wrinkled into a frown. “But there was a bit of tragedy in her life. Evidently she had a torrid affair with a fellow Bridge player. But he shunned her soon after they got engaged. She took it really badly, Rose said that her step-sister vowed bitter revenge on the bloke, but nothing came of it, she just withdrew from life and eventually passed away, only a few months later.”
“Died of a broken heart, how sad,” sighed Zoe, “Gosh I hope that doesn’t happen to me, I’m only six days away from the big day.” Enda nodded reassuringly towards her niece, “That’s not going to happen and you know it, James is a nice man. Anyway, that’s my work done for a while, I’m glad you like the dress, but it’s time to hang up my pins and needles for a bit, me and Ronnie are going to have a wee rest.”
Just as quickly as they had arrived, the pains disappeared. Kevin recalled the last stab; unusually, it occurred at around four in the afternoon last Friday, then nothing.
Perhaps it was psychosomatic after all.
(c) Graham Crisp