BOBBY SHAFTO Part 1 of 2

Recently I heard about a question on a game show which went: “Who wore silver buckles on his knees?” The answer, which I was proud to know, was: “Bobby Shafto.” The question made me think about the Bobby Shafto ditty which goes as follows:

Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
With silver buckles on his knee;
He’ll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!

The still popular song dates from the early 1700s and is now played as a nursery rhyme. It has several conflicting explanations. I delved into these and offer this story as my interpretation of what might have happened. I give it in two installments.

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Bridget Belasyse[i] lived in Brancepeth Castle[ii]. She sat gazing out of her window while her maid combed and braided her long blond hair. It was a crisp north of England morning. Birds sang, and light mists tinged with pink hung over the verdant surrounding fields. Her window faced east toward Durham City. city with its ancient castle and cathedral hidden from view in the valley of the River Wear valley. To her left was the village of Brancepeth and if she turned right and strained, she could see Whitworth Hall across the rolling countryside.

Bridget knew that the castle had been purchased by her warring grandfather and often wished that she had been born a man so that she could partake in this kind of gallantry and adventure. The closest that she had come to war was in 1745 when she was ten, and the English army led by The Duke of Cumberland raged through the countryside on their way north to Scotland to annihilate ‘The Jacobite Rising’ led by the romantic figure of Bonnie Prince Charlie[iii]. What took Bridget’s imagination was not the ruthless defeat of the rebellion but the romantic story of Flora MacDonald, a Scottish highland lass, who had aided the Bonnie Prince to escape abroad. Bridget knew that in the same situation, she would have done likewise.

It was now spring of 1760, and Bridget had just turned twenty-five, rather too old to still be unmarried, but she was headstrong and insisted that she wouldn’t marry “just anyone’’. She pointed out that her idol of feminine achievement, Flora MacDonald, hadn’t married until she was twenty-eight. She said that there was still plenty of time. Those who knew her agreed that, with her fortune and astonishing good looks, there probably was, plenty of time.

Her hair finished. She donned a bonnet and called for her velvet cloak. She went outside and walked with a resolute stride to St. Brandon’s church. Her ostensive mission was to welcome Thomas Goodfellow Shafto, the new rector. When she entered the church, its cool presence reminded her of her belief in God. She hastily curtsied and took a pew to kneel and pray. Beside the altar she could see two men conversing. Their voices echoed but strain as she did, she could not make out their words. She deduced that the one wearing a cassock must be the new rector and the other? The other, tall blond with a relaxed easy stance – surely that was Bobby, his brother. She knew that Whitfield Hall which she saw from her window was their family home, but she had never met the brothers. They had been raised in London where their father had served as politician and Member of Parliament[iv]. When Bridget began to feel uncomfortable in her strained eaves-dropping stance, she slipped out of the church unannounced. The two at the altar heard her retreating footsteps and smiled as they watched the church door close behind her.

“I hear that’s a feisty one” remarked Thomas.

‘One of the Belasyse from the castle?”

“The Belasyse, – If I’m not mistaken that was Bridget. She is monied – no other children – Her parents are elderly, she will get the entire estate when her parents die!”

“Worth a visit?”

“Yes indeed!”

The following morning Thomas and Bobby paid a visit. For some reason, Bridget blushed when her butler announced their presence. She wasn’t sure whether it was something about their voices in the church, or the easy self-assured way that Bobby had stood in the church which had intrigued her and now made her blush. She was still pink when the two entered her drawing room. She served small cakes and tea, acquired, she explained, through her father’s trading with the East India Company. They exchanged pleasantries. She mentioned that she liked to ride. Bobby was quick to follow up on her comment with an offer to accompany her. For the first time in her life, Bridget was attracted to a man. She heartedly accepted. The attraction appeared to be mutual. The young couple quickly fell into a routine of riding together every morning. They adopted a wooded dell, half way between Brancepeth and Whitworth Hall, as their meeting place. The place was damp and beautiful. That spring the ground was carpeted with blue bells. Their brilliant color spread in wonderous beauty under the trees giving the place an ethereal smell of damp earth and blossom.

Both Bridget’s and Bobby’s parents disapproved of their bludgeoning romance. Bridget’s because they wanted Bridget to marry a titled man of good means, and Bobby’s because they wanted Bobby to parley his good looks and charm into a relationship with an heiress to a fortune larger than Bridget’s. Both sets of parents agreed that a separation was required, but by the time they took action Bridget and Bobby had exchanged troths. Bridget gave Bobby a pair of silver britches or knee buckles and Bobby had sworn eternal love and marriage. Bridget’s mother called on the Shaftos at Whitworth Hall and requested that Bobby leave her daughter alone. She offered introductions to enable him to go to sea and ‘shape up’ as she put it, by engaging in meaningful work.

Bobby was attracted to the idea of getting rich quickly and agreed to join the East India Company and to ship out to India. He and Bridget met under their meeting place trees and exchanged a long farewell during which they repeated their vows of constancy and eternal love. They knew that they faced a long separation for the voyage to India alone, around the Cape, took about a year.

In order to thwart her parent’s attempts to pair her off with other suitors Bridget created a comforting song. She took an older north of England tune (circa 1690) and set her own words to it. Every morning, rain or shine, she opened her window and gazed east while she sang her catchy ditty.

Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
With silver buckles on his knee;
He’ll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!

During the day her parents and servants often heard her singing to the ramparts of the castle. She sang to the woods and dells around Brancepeth until everyone knew her refrain. Soon the servant girls took up the song. Some sang of upcoming nuptials, others of temporary separations. The song gained in popularity as it gradually passed from village to village. No-one changed the essence of the first verse for perhaps they liked the ring of Bonnie Bobby Shafto or maybe preferred anonymity for their loved ones. Some added verses to suit their particular circumstances.

There was this verse dedicated to a tall lover:

Bobby Shafto’s tall and slim,
He’s always dressed so neat and trim,
The ladies they all kick at him,
Bonny Bobby Shafto.

Others with shorter beaus added this verse:

Bobby Shafto’s fat and fair,
Combing down his yellow hair;
He’s my love for evermore,

Bonny Bobby Shafto.

To be continued.

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End notes associated with this part.

[i] Belasyse, pronounced ‘bel- asis’.

[ii] Brancepeth Castle, originally constructed in Norman times, was purchased on April 7th 1701 by Sir Henry Belasyse, Bridget’s grandfather. He used funds accumulated during his military career.

[iii] In 1745 Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of James II of England, landed in Scotland to lead a catholic claim to the throne known as the Jacobite Rising. The rebellion was defeated by William Duke of Cumberland. Bonnie Prince Charlie, as the ‘pretender’ was affectionately called by his followers, escaped with assistance of a local highland lass, Flora McDonald.

[iv] John Shafto Member of Parliament 1729-1742.

[v] Some believe that the Bobby Shafto song relates to a Bobby Shafto who lived in Hollybrook, in County Wicklow Ireland and died in 1737

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BRIDE IN THE BATH

Marie disliked her brother-in-law George Smith. It was a disturbing aversion which she couldn’t understand, for she deemed him to be, like Mary Poppins, “Practically perfect in every way.” Perhaps it was this very perfection, which triggered her dislike, or perhaps, deep down, her dislike was the result of an innate sibling jealousy. When she watched him objectively, she found his good looks and healthy physique pleasing and couldn’t help but wonder how much her sister, Anne, must enjoy her intimacy with such an ideal masculine specimen. 

Before the wedding, she tried to explain her sixth sense reservation to her parents. They suggested that her sense of foreboding was ill-founded. They pointed out his solicitous kindness, and the way that he appeared to adore his wife. She told them that she wondered whether his interest in her sister was triggered by her status as a wealthy woman. They told her not to be jealous. They informed her that her fears were unfounded because George, himself, had suggested an elaborate pre-nuptial agreement.

****

A few days after Anne’s ecstatic telephone call to tell Marie that she was pregnant Anne received a call from George. He was weeping and stammered his appalling news. Anne drowned in her bath. He requested that Marie call their parents as he asserted that he was too distraught to make any further calls. No-one could understand how Anne could have drowned until investigators postulated that she must have accidentally knocked her hair dryer into the water. Her autopsy confirmed that she had died from the combination of heart attack and drowning. This diagnosis had some appeal to Marie’s family as a few years earlier one of Marie and Anne’s school friends had died in a swimming pool accident due to a heart attack and subsequent drowning induced by a short in a faulty under-water pool light.

When Anne’s affairs were wrapped up, it transpired that she and George hadn’t signed their pre-nuptial agreement. Anne’s grieving family decided not to contest the inevitable and did not challenge the transfer of her assets to her unhappy widower. Marie even faced her dislike for George and joined her mother in helping pack up his possessions in support of his proposed relocation to “get away from it all” as he put it by taking up a new position in London. They used a hoard of old newspapers which Marie’s mother had saved for such an occasion.

It is a strange phenomenon that old newspaper stories frequently catch our attention as we use them to wrap-up fragile items. In Marie’s case, it was the photograph of a widowed husband standing outside his house, which caught her attention. He was clean-shaven while George was bearded, but something about the eyes got her attention. She took a pencil and added a beard and moustache rather as she had adorned pictures in her youth. She pointed the picture out to her mother. “George doesn’t have a twin brother, does he?” she asked.

“No dear, don’t you remember he had no family at the wedding.” Her mother reached for her reading glasses to better scrutinize the newspaper photograph. “Didn’t he say that they were all killed in a car wreck when he was a teenager.”

Marie stopped her packing and read the headline “Wife drowned.” This was accompanied by the photograph which caught Anne’s attention and instructions to turn to ‘Drowned’ on page A6. She sat down and read on. The names were different, but the circumstances were remarkably similar. Marie was so disturbed by her find that she contacted the police. They reviewed her evidence and although they agreed that there were similarities, they told her that they didn’t think it  sufficient to open the case for further investigation and certainly didn’t want to change their report of accidental death to murder.

****

George disappeared from their lives. Marie’s grandfather died and left her a fortune. Even though much of the family deemed her slightly insane as a result of her ongoing obsession about her sister’s death no-one contested her inheritance. Now that she didn’t need to work, she spent most of her time searching newspapers and obituaries. Her dedication was rewarded and she found him living in Hollywood under a different name. By now, she was so embroiled in her murder theory that she determined to catch him, and elicit revenge herself. She changed her name, died her hair, lost weight and moved to Los Angeles. Here she mixed with the rich and famous constantly manipulating until she managed to meet him, the George Smith, who married her sister, now going under the name Francis Brown. He invited her on a date, and she found herself attracted to him. Could it be. She wondered, that her original dislike really was a manifestation of jealousy?

****

She accepted his marriage proposal. They had a quiet chambers exchange of vows and purchased an enormous house with a lap pool. Francis told her that he liked to swim in the morning as part of his fitness regime. Before she did what she knew that she had to do Marie picked the lock to his desk and searched his papers. At the very bottom, she found his scrap book containing a jumble of images of not two but three wives all of whom had died in their baths. At this moment, Marie knew him to be a ruthless murderer. She ought to have gone to the police, but she didn’t. Instead, she researched electricity on-line and when she was confident that she knew what she was doing she switched one of the pool lights from a GFI circuit to a regular one. Then she wiggled the light and adjusted the worn wires so that a short would occur. Meanwhile, she managed to avoid marital intimacy by claiming a yeast infection sincerely hoping that the pool light would do its job before she ‘recovered.’

They were married less than a month when she saw her chance, while he changed into his trunks, she turned on the lights. They sparkled seductively in the morning light. She took her coffee and sat in a beach chair next to the pool. She blew him a kiss as he dove in. He came up spluttering clearly in the onset of cardiac arrest. He shouted to her but she smiled, and waved. She shouted “Remember them, remember Anne.” and slowly ambled inside to call 911.

Marie skillfully acted the bereaved wife and waited until he was interred before she ‘found’ his secret journal and alerted the police so that he could be named the ruthless serial killer that he was. She thought it poetic justice that she should inherit his vast assets but after the police dubbed him a murderer, she magnanimously contacted each of the bereaved families and restored to them the equivalent of their daughter’s assets. Then she emigrated to New Zealand to distance herself from the terrible memories which haunted her, and away from her fear that someone might question the strange way in which he had died.

Underground Initiation

The Northern Line has become my line. Every day I board in Earls’ Court, where I live, and ride its cranky elevators deep into the earth. Then I follow the black Northern Line signs and take my train. I stand swaying with the masses of other commuters until the train whirls into Russel Square where I emerge for a brisk, I think cleansing, walk to our office in Bedford Square. Sometimes the crowds throw me back five years to the time when I was a nineteen-year-old student riding this same line. Only then things were very different. On that occasion, it was night. I rode from Earl’s Court where I had been at a late-night get-together to Russel Square the closest station to my student digs on Bedford Way. As I doze off in my wedged upright stance, I relive every moment of that ride………

It is late, there are no standing room only crowds, indeed, my coach is empty except for me and a noisy threesome of young men. I select a seat a reasonable distance away from them and am pleased that they exit at South Kensington. I am now alone rattling through space. He boards at Hyde Park, the next stop. I am surprised when he selects to sit in the seat beside me even though he has the choice of the whole empty coach. I am penned in with a seat in front and this man on my right.

I pretend that he isn’t there. I can feel the warmth of his body as his presence rubs my right shoulder. I smell his body odors, smoke mixed with unwashed human, sweat. He grunts, and I quiver. Green Park passes we are still alone as we run through Piccadilly. His body odor becomes more oppressive. I consider trying to get off. At each station I hope that someone, anyone will board. No-one does, we continue to be alone. He is fidgeting with something in his lap, I turn and see what I have never seen before. I react with a quiver and start shaking; Leicester Square, Covent Gard, Holborn, the stations take an eternity to pass. I stare and try to turn away. I make a futile attempt to ignore what he is doing. As we roll into Russel Square, I stand and say,

“Excuse me, this is my stop.”

“Mine too” he gives a toothy grin.

He lets me pass, my body rubs against his. He touches me with his hands but I wriggle and am free. I run down the platform and vault up the escalator. I think that I can hear him behind me, but I’m not sure. I am too terrified to turn and look as this might slow me down. At the top, I am thankful to see that the ticket booth is still manned. I rush up and whisper,

“Help! A man! He exposed himself to me,” I turn “he’s…….” but he wasn’t – he had disappeared.

The ticket clerk jumps up and opens his door. He invites me inside. He tells me to sit down while he calls his station manager. The manager arrives. He is an elderly, old enough to be my father. He puts a kindly hand on my right shoulder I try to make it erase the memory of the touch during my ride, but it doesn’t. He and another man usher me into a very warm inner office. They offer me tea. It arrives hot and strong. I warm my trembling hands on the surface of the mug. Although I never add sugar, I do so now as the brew is strong. They want me to make a police report. I am calmer now. I let the glow of the tea permeate my body. Once we have got past the easy questions, name, age, residence et cetera we get down to specifics. I am so flustered that I can’t describe him. His smell maybe and his noises but these men are not interested in this information, they want specifics.

“Circumcised or not?”

“I don’t know”

“Did he ejaculate?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well,” they shrug,” describe the size. Describe what you did see.”

I look at their anxious faces, and notice their leaning-in body language. I realize that they are deriving as much pleasure in this debrief as he took in sitting next to me. I stand and thank them. I say that I must go now; maybe another time. Yes, I’ll complete the report tomorrow. I rush out and, with a renewed spate of energy, run home to my apartment. I lock the door.

The incident still haunts, even though I am beyond that fear. I handle things differently. Recently I rode a late tube home and found myself in an empty car with a man wearing an expensive Burberry raincoat. Like the other, he sits next to me. I know the routine, he starts fiddling and opens his coat to reveal his goods. I turn to him and remark, in a bored, matter-of-fact voice of irony,

“Put that thing away. I am not interested.”

He does just that. He gets off at the next station.

WILE E COYOTE

Lucy joined Alex and Alice. The three stood at their front room window watching Mr. Roadrunner, who stood on a short garden wall a few feet from the window. They admired his size and his cinnamon, blackish and white freckled feathers. He flexed his long tail and seemed to look at the three in the window. It was clear that he didn’t see through the glass. Presently, they saw a streak crossing the road and Mrs. Roadrunner joined him.

“They are magnificent,” commented Alice. “How fast they run! Monogamous, mates for life; rather like us.” She turned and looked at her husband. Then she went on, “do you remember the old Wile E Coyote / Roadrunner cartoons? I enjoyed watching those trailers. It’s a pity that they are no longer shown.”

“Beep. Beep.” replied Alex. They turned and gave each other a high five.

Lucy stood motionless between them, still fixated on the pair of birds.

“I heard the coyotes last night,” said Alice. “Their commotion upsets Lucy. I’m glad to see that she is calmer now. I wonder if she knows something we don’t; like what they are communicating. Is it a noise when they make a kill, or are they calling for reinforcements as they hunt?”

“Perhaps they are opening an order from Acme. One of those fateful contraptions that Wile E Coyote ordered to assist him in catching Roadrunner!”

Alice giggled “The roadrunner can go fifteen miles an hour; no wonder Wile never caught him!”

“They are doing quite well here for they have caught everything else- – all the domestic cats and wild rabbits. I think that even the dog population is diminished.”

“Surely, they don’t hunt dogs. They are the same species, aren’t they? However, talking about coyote prey, I’d love it if they could also work on the squirrels.”

By now, the Roadrunners had left; and Lucy wandered away. Alex and Alice went about their various household activities.

That evening the coyote calls were close. Lucy was very agitated and roused Alex and Alice. Again, the three stood at a window. This time it was their backyard window where they could see beyond into the greenbelt where the coyotes called. Alex slid the back door open and stepped outside. The night was balmy, and the cloudless sky twinkled with stars. Alice joined him. Together they stood breathing fragrant night air.

The coyotes called again; this time Lucy responded. She ran out between Alex and Alice’s legs, and made for a hole in the fence. She was gone before they realized what was going on. They wondered what an Australian Sheepdog, like Lucy, would do with a pack of coyotes and suspected that she would return. They were wrong Lucy had heard and responded to The Call of The Wild. She was gone. The next neighborhood newsletter described the coyotes, who were continuing to kill outdoor domestic pets and had morphed into a ferocious pack led by a large alpha who looked strangely like a dog.

THE CAMPING TRIP

This one is under 300 words, and  so I classify it as  flash fiction.

Amanda listened, wide-eyed, to her elder brother’s report about his Boy Scout’s camping trip. He spoke of s’mores, ghost stories, flickering flames, camp-fire cooking, the aroma of wood smoke and the beauty of the stars. His discourse gave Amanda and her younger sister images of a cozy home-from-home, little wonder that Amanda begged her parents to give her a tent for her tenth birthday. 

When the tent arrived, Amanda requested a camping trip. Her parents weren’t excited by the thought of an out-of-town excursion, and hit on the idea of a camping trip in their premises. The weather forecast was good, no rain predicted.

Their father arrived home on the day of their camp to find that his daughters had already managed to erect their tent. They were blissfully playing house with an assortment of dolls and stuffed animals. He and their brother set up an adjacent tent. They cooked hot dogs on a portable BBQ and roasted marshmallows before a chimaera.

When it was time to sleep their mother kissed the children and told them that she was going inside to her very own comfortable bed. She invited anyone who wished to follow her indoors. An hour later, her son joined her. He explained that night sounds of coyotes, and distant traffic was eclipsed by his loud snoring father.

“Two fifths,” said his mother “Three to go.”

At midnight, the girls woke up with a shock for it was raining and wet inside their tent. They gathered up their wet toys and ran into the house.

“Four fifths,’ said their mother, “One to go.”

Before joining the family inside, their father, woken by the kafuffle, ran to the garage to turn off the irrigation system for the girls had pitched their tent on top of a lawn sprinkler.

 

THE THIRD DAUGHTER

Dr. Lawrence Medford was forty-nine when his wife of twenty-five years died. It had taken six months from diagnosis to that fateful day when he stood with their daughters silently watching her simple coffin roll behind the undertaker’s doors leading to a cremation chamber. He showed no emotion, but his two college-age daughters didn’t share his stoicism and openly wept. The red-carpeted funeral home room was cold, and all three shivered even as they considered the heat of a furnace behind the unforgiving doors which had closed on their last link to their wife and mother. One of her dying requests was that they should not have an official memorial service, and so her death passed without fanfare and left them bereft of a sense of closure. Lawrence gathered up the solitary bouquet of flowers, a gorgeous arrangement of white roses, and carried it out to his car. His girls followed. If they hadn’t been so unhappy, they might have enjoyed the sweet aroma of roses as they drove home.

A few days later, their Dad stood on the platform at Durham’s train station, escorting his daughters off to London so that they could pick up their lives as apprentice architect and lawyer. He was pleased, but mildly surprised at their professional successes and even momentarily wondered whether he had been right to steer both away from his calling as a pediatrician. His argument was that medicine needs its practitioners to be fully up-to-date, something, he believed, to be impossible if a woman is also a mother.

After they had gone Dr. Lawrence Medford went home to embrace his loneliness by investing his time in medicine and gardening. He kept his large five bed room home and hired a live-in housekeeper to cook his meals and keep the home running. He was a slender, quiet-spoken, good-looking bachelor and several women, including his housekeeper, tried to capture his attention. He hardly noticed and didn’t respond for he was wrapped in his isolation and in his fond memories of his former life raising his family and communing with his late wife. He wasn’t one to engage in self-pity, although there were times when he questioned the way that his daughters had moved so far away in a semblance of abandonment. He wrote of his loneliness in his private journal but was too self-effacing to open up his feelings to anyone including his daughters.

A year later, this lonely man stood in Durham railway station waiting to meet his new resident, pediatrician-in-training, who was to arrive on the three-o-clock London train. When it swept into the station, he eagerly scanned the descending passengers for his contact, but all he saw was an elderly gentleman and three young women. As was his custom, he showed no emotion while inwardly debating that this didn’t make sense. Here he was waiting to pick up his new pediatrics resident, and the young man didn’t appear to have arrived; this was not a good start. The sun shone on the platform, so he held a hand to shield his eyes, thinking that perhaps the brilliant light had interfered with his vision. A whistle sounded, a flag waved, and the train left the station. Now he saw that the smallest of the three young women was approaching him with her hand outstretched.

“Dr. Lawrence Medford, I presume,” she paused, while she momentarily sensed his momentary hesitation.

“I’m Dr. Aytana Gupta, how-do-you-do.”

He held himself together while his mind whirled. A woman, how could this be? He expected, even welcomed, an Indian with a strong work ethic, good grades and sound references; however, a woman, and so young. His world, already miserably upside down seemed to be heading for another upset. He concealed his concern smiled, and said,

“Welcome Dr Gupta, come this way.”

Fortunately, Dr. Lawrence Medford had an open mind for, within a few weeks, he realized the error of his conception about women in medicine. He had misjudged Aytana. She might be small in stature and look young with her long flowing black hair, but she had a mind of a titan equipped with excellent medical knowledge. Her only problem was her shyness and lack of poise. He worked diligently to build up her self-confidence and helped her adjust into the mores and peculiarities of medical practice in a hospital in the north of England. They spent so much time together, two superb professionals with a common goal, that they developed a mutual attraction. Fortunately, their roles as teacher and student, coupled with his high moral and ethical standards melded their personal relationship into one similar to that between father and daughter.

At the conclusion of her residency, to Aytana’s delight, Dr. Lawrence Medford managed to persuade the Hospital Board to retain her as a full-time associated pediatrician. Before engaging in her new position, she took a long vacation in India. She returned with a husband in tow and laden with gifts, including an antique Indian painting of a tiger hunt as a special gift for her mentor. The gift overwhelmed him. In his entire life no-one including his parents, late wife, and daughters, ever gave him such a treasured gift. His eyes teared and his hands shook as he accepted it with a rare glimpse of his inner feelings..

He had influence with the Hospital Board and found a residency position for Aytana’s husband, Raj, whose medical training was two years behind that of his wife, He observed the young couple as they got to know each-other and to adjust to married life. He stepped in to gently counsel Aytana not to be overly critical or interfering with her husband’s residency. He urged her to let him form his own relationships.

Aytana’s content saw her gradually growing in stature both professionally and physically while she wore her hair shorter and shorter. When she was hospitalized with a bad case of German Measles her most frequent visitor was Al. He came with snowdrops, books, candy, love, and news from the wards. A year later, she was hospitalized again after a difficult delivery which ended with a cesarean. Al quickly realized that Aytana was heading into post-partum depression, he spoke to Raj and suggested that he take his wife out to dinner. This was accomplished with great secrecy. Raj arrived in Aytana’s room with red roses and a coat. She slipped into the coat. He escorted her to the best restaurant in the city where they dined in luxury. Although urged by the restaurant staff to take off her coat Aytana wisely kept it on. The episode with its element of subterfuge and love served to snap Aytana into herself again.

Doctors should never attempt to treat their own families because familiarity clouds perception, and so it was with Aytana and Raj. By the time that their daughter was seven months old they began to suspect that something was wrong. Aytana who shared everything with her mentor mentioned this to Al. A short time later, he invited the young family to afternoon tea. He served it English style in his drawing room. During the course of the occasion he periodically got up to play with the baby offering her various toys, and generally treating her with the empathy with which he served all his patients. When Aytana arrived at work the following morning, she found a carefully written diagnosis accompanied with letters of introduction to the country’s two top specialists who treated children with right-sided hemiplegia. (Hemiplegia is an irreversible one-sided, stroke-like brain injury, generally occurring in the womb or associated with a very difficult delivery. It is manifested by paralysis to one side of the body and can be partially mitigated by therapy, especially if administered at an early age). Aytana then realized that his attention to her daughter had been so that he could evaluate her and make a diagnosis.

When Aytana and Raj bought their first house, they invited Al to dinner. He came laden with the best wine. He admired their new accommodations but himself an avid gardener, looked woefully at their small garden, which was no garden merely a daunting plot rampant with weeds. The following Saturday he arrived with a mechanical digger in the trunk of his car and proceeded to spend the entire day digging up the weeds and preparing the ground. His investment stimulated Aytana and Raj to make another giant step into their assimilation into English culture, thereafter enjoying their garden as much as any English couple.

When Al retired, he urged the Hospital Board to appoint Aytana as his successor. Regrettably, they still espoused to his former belief that medicine is not a good profession for a woman and couldn’t see their pediatrics’ department led by one. She stayed on in her old role as second in command and she and Raj kept in close contact with Al.

A decade later, Al had a massive stroke and died. Dr Aytana Gupta wrote a long four letter of condolence to his daughters citing the many manifestations of his person which she treasured. She concluded with the words:

“Your father was a loving and giving person who asked for nothing. I wish more than anything that we had given him more than nothing.
“We are consumed with grief at this loss and will remember him as mentor, guide, father, grandfather, brother and loving friend – all that we had nothing of once – in this lovely and handsome person.
“We are proud to have known him and to have gained, so undeservedly, the affection of a beautiful and unique person.
“You must know that we shall not forget him.”

When Dr Lawrence Medford’s coffin rolled into the cremation chamber, his daughters stood weeping and watching. They thought about him and their self-imposed distance, and let Aytana’s words flow over their sadness and regrets. Her words described a closeness and love surpassing their relationship with their father, for she was, indeed his third daughter.

Ruby – a short story

Over December I was embroiled with the pleasurable visit of my Honduran missionary doctor daughter and her family. We had three energetic children, 6,4 and 1, daily demonstrating their endless supply of energy. There was no time for blogging, reading or writing. I am now back with a story stemming from my other daughter’s daughter. I hope that I still have some faithful followers and am able to visit some of my favorite blogs again.! 

Today, we had a little ceremony as my husband, grand-daughter Sophie, and I wept and wrapped him in a shroud. We then solemnly buried him under the pecan tree in our back-yard. For you to understand our sadness, I’ll explain by starting at the beginning.

We celebrated my last birthday at a restaurant where my oldest grand-daughter, Sophie, gave me a poem.  On second reading I realized that Sophie’s poem told me that she intended to give me a living thing to keep on my desk. I panicked as I have been through the cat and dog routine and didn’t relish the thought of doing it again. Sophie sensed my panic and assured me that this living thing would be no trouble. My mind jumped to African violets as I have quite a collection. I inquired whether the living thing, to which she referred, would be a bright color and she assured me that it would. I worried no more.

At her next visit I was presented with a Betta fish. He was a brilliant red and came in a small sealed cup which held less than a pint of water. I wondered what I’d do with him. Sophie rescued me. She said that the Betta is a marsh fish which survives in ditches and rice paddies in water with little oxygenation. She waxed technical and told me that Bettas are anabantoids, who can breathe atmospheric air using a unique organ called the labyrinth; as a result a pump and constant aeration is unnecessary. While Sophie talked, I watched my birthday gift fish twirl his almost two inches of bright red body and delicate fins and tail. Yes, I thought, he is rather lovely and will make a decorative addition to my desk. We placed him in the largest of my cut-glass vases which gave him about 48 ounces of water. We added some decorative stones and water weeds from my outside pond. Sophie liked the set-up and commented that a happy Betta will blow bubbles on the surface of the water. I named him Ruby.

According to directions, I fed Ruby twice a day and changed his water on Sundays. He blew bubbles on the surface and grew. I looked him up on line and found that a Betta can grow to five inches and needs a gallon of water per inch of fish. I knew that Ruby needed bigger accommodations, so I moved him into a giant two-gallon mason jar which I previously used for serving iced tea and punch. It had a convenient faucet at the bottom so that I could use it to change the water. Everything was going well. Ruby began to recognize me when I fed him, and his bubble nest grew. He was mesmerizingly attractive when he swam with his fluttering red fins moving back and forth at speed, He was so captivating that I had to agree that Sophie had had a good idea. I would have loved to give him a companion but read that the Betta is very aggressive towards other males. Obviously, a female was out of the question for the last thing I wanted was a tank full of baby Bettas fighting for survival, or worse providing fodder for their father, Ruby. 

Instead, I cared for Ruby, who continued to demonstrate more and more affection for me. Sometimes he poked his head out of the water for a minute or so. He thrived and grew. When he was almost five inches long, I invested in a wide mouthed five-gallon wine-making carboy. By now, he would keep his head out of the water, for as long as I stood beside the tank. I hoped that he wouldn’t grow any more. He became selective over his food. When I fed him little pink betta fish pellets, he would take them in his mouth and then spit them out. Tiny dried blood worms were a different story he twirled in the water with glee and ate them fast. It was during one of these ecstatic feedings that I noticed that Beta’s body seemed to be changing. I best describe the changes by drawing an analogy to those of a tadpole. It seemed to me that daily, as he grew, his beautiful flowing, red side fins filled out and appeared to be morphing into arms, while his tail section became increasingly leg-like. These changes obliged him to adapt his swimming technique from graceful water glide to the square breast stroke of a small frog. He took to clinging to a surface branch of water weed. 

Soon Ruby grew to ten inches which is much larger than any statistic that I could find on line. When Sophie visited me, we discussed our conundrum and decided to move him into an old bath tub which I had in my garage. We set it up with some large stones in the middle. Ruby took to basking on the stones. I sent e-mail pictures to Sophie and we hypothesized that we were witnessing the unique birth of a primordial fish into a land animal. We were right for Ruby developed the ability to flip himself out of the tub and flop around the garage. His land propulsion, improved and he was soon walking.  A month later he was so proficient that he was able to accompany me on my daily constitutional walk. He enjoyed his walks, and looked, and behaved increasingly like a small dog. When neighbors, who I met along the way, inquired about his species. I gave vague muffled replies about strange mixed breeds. I was becoming too fond of him to risk the truth as I didn’t want to lose him to science. Finally, he abandoned the garage tub and took up residence in our den where he liked to sit on my knee or next to my husband on the couch. Thankfully he stopped growing. 

That winter we had torrential rains, which filled the creeks and dry water beds with gurgling clear water. On our walks, Ruby liked to stand on the bank and drink. That’s when the accident happened. He tripped and fell in. The current gently swept his floundering flailing body down-stream for he had clearly forgotten how to swim. By the time that I caught up with him all I could do was pull his inert body out of the water. He had drowned!