Bedtime story ‘The Feel- Good Book’ 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.”