What shall it be?


Story entered in thecultofme monthly competition.


My memories of my late Father are of a profound man, a man that rarely took his head out of a book but when he did, it was to look at our faces and smile. His words, written in long hand and bound in leather encouraged the tears to stream from our eyes. And while I would have loved to jump rope and skip with him, his love of prose infected us all.

I recall sitting, him, my Mother, Sister and me, in the parlour. The rain beat down on the newly installed glass panes. The dog sat by the fire and turned every now and then, but only to toast the other side. The tea and crumpets sated our physical appetites and content, my Father would ask, “What shall it be?” The question circled our group each week and this time it was my turn to choose.

I loved that week, better than a birthday, better even than Christmas. I’d spend all week staring at the shelves for something that would satisfy my mood. The books ran from room to room; they started in the library, filled the nooks and then the crannies and when there was no room left, they rounded the house and finished – at that point, in the entrance hall. I could stand and stare at them for hours.

There were stories of all sorts, from around the world to just down the road. Some were beautiful, others tormented but all of them told me of a new life, one I could want or avoid, love or loathe. My mind raced to keep-up with my frantic eyes.

The days would pass slowly, more than slow. Like a drift of snow. Then the day would come. We’d be dressed in our Sunday best, leftover from church but now, after all the years of this ritual, they were story dresses more than anything else. Mother wore her pendent; the one Father bought her in Regent Street that time they went for a weekend away. She cried when they left, but when they returned I never saw a smile wider. Father held a handkerchief; always ready to mop-up our weeps and sorrows.

He would look around the room and slowly ask, “Who is it this week?”

He knew the answer, we all did, but he loved the pretence, he took joy in our anguish, but he never left it too long. His eyes would stop on each one of us, stare and then his head would shake, ever-so-slightly and on to the next. The anticipation was almost too much, especially in my earlier years, but as I grew my nerve began to hold that much longer. I didn’t become less excited, I loved it all the more as I could now appreciate it and him.

We’d come back, less and less as we married and had children. But every Christmas, we’d gather, an ever larger audience and wait for the question that would inevitably come.

“What shall it be?”



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