Bed­time story ‘The Feel- Good Book’ by Is­abelle Broom

The Simple Things - - NEST - A short story by IS­ABELLE BROOM

An­nie be­gan her book in the sum­mer of 1979. In the be­gin­ning, it was just for her grand­chil­dren, a per­fect an­ti­dote to their woes. Bethany fell over end­lessly and scuffed her knees, and while Peter’s self­p­reser­va­tion lev­els were higher, he was sen­si­tive, once cry­ing buck­ets over the ac­ci­den­tal death of a snail. Each time, An­nie would reach for her scrapbook, and within a few pages, there would be chuck­les in place of tears. The ‘feel-good book’, as she named it, never let her down.

Of course, Peter and Bethany had grown up – both had chil­dren of their own now. How could it be that she was old enough to be a great-grand­mother? An­nie could re­mem­ber turn­ing 21 as if it was yes­ter­day. Len would have laughed at the ab­sur­dity of it, too, had he lived long enough. With a small sigh, An­nie gath­ered up the book and set­tled into her easy chair. Easy be­cause it’s the only one I can clam­ber out of these days, she thought.

When Peter and Bethany were young, An­nie had stuck pic­tures of daft-look­ing an­i­mals or car­toon strips in the book, but now she col­lated sto­ries from The New­ton Crow. The lo­cal pa­per was a gold­mine of the ridicu­lous, with ev­ery­thing from near-plead­ing-for-a-date clas­si­fied ads to the story of a tourist who’d got her bot­tom stuck in the hel­ter skel­ter at the vil­lage fair. An­nie snipped them all out and glued them in. A dose of the gig­gles, An­nie rea­soned, could cure hurt and di­vert sad­ness – it even went so far as to ease her lone­li­ness.

An­nie cack­led now as she turned a page and saw the story about the boat named Boaty McBoat­face, then guf­fawed at the tale about an en­ter­pris­ing lo­cal who’d hero­ically plugged a gas leak at the chip­pie us­ing po­ta­toes and a bar of soap. To­day’s pa­per had been dis­ap­point­ing. Tesco was open­ing an­other su­per­store: bor­ing; the lo­cal li­brary was host­ing a bake sale: whoop-de-doo; a dog had worked out how to open a don­key’s sta­ble door, and the two kept go­ing out for walks to­gether: much bet­ter.

An­nie turned the page and froze. The photo was un­mis­tak­ably her. She was laugh­ing in it. And there was one of Len and her in their wed­ding at­tire, and their son, David, and Bethany and Peter.

‘An­nie-lu­jah!’ de­clared the head­line, and un­der­neath: ‘Fam­ily say thank you to a one-in-a-tril­lion woman’.

An­nie gasped, her hands shak­ing as she read on. It was all here – how she had met and fallen in love with Len, how they adopted David and ex­plored the world, and – good Lord – here was a line about the feel-good book, too, and how much joy it had brought them. “To say thanks,” Peter was quoted as say­ing, “we’re throw­ing a party at New­ton Vil­lage Hall, and every­one is in­vited.”

An­nie barely had time to process what was hap­pen­ing be­fore the door­bell chimed, and she promptly dropped the book, scis­sors and glue onto the floor in her haste to get up. “Sur­prise!” cho­rused voices through the frosted glass. An­nie swung the door open. They were all there – her son and his wife, Bethany and her hus­band and daugh­ter, Peter and his two sons.

“Mum?” David stepped for­ward as An­nie burst into tears. “What’s up? Didn’t you see the pa­per?” An­nie could only nod. “We thought you’d like it, Nana,” Bethany said. “We thought you’d be happy.” For a mo­ment, An­nie sim­ply stood and took them all in – her fam­ily, her peo­ple.

And then, quite won­der­fully, she be­gan to laugh.

Writ­ing is some­thing Is­abelle Broom has al­ways done: “When I’m happy, sad, ex­cited, heart­bro­ken or in the midst of fall­ing in love.” Her lat­est novel is called One Thou­sand Stars and You (Pen­guin). Her sim­ple plea­sure is “Sit­ting with my clos­est friends, and chat­ting away about any­thing and ev­ery­thing.”

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