Tiddlers of Life – a short story

The old lady had been dying for years. Each time that she took to her bed her doctor, a personal friend of the family, called her son to apprise him of the event. The doctor always went to some length to explain that there was no physical reason for her malaise. In response to the news her dutiful son would immediately drop everything and pay a visit. When he arrived the old lady would insist on a morbid discussion about funerals and wills. Then, after a few weeks in her sick-bed, she would pronounce herself cured and arise to her daily routine. On the occasion of this story she had been bedridden for several months, and had been there so long that her doctor, her son, and those who knew her, had begun to believe that this time was more serious and that perhaps she was on her death-bed. Her doctor told her son that if something didn’t change the downward spiral he expected that she would soon die.

The old lady lived in a small cottage in Wisborough Green on the east side of the village green immediately across the road from the village pond. The cottage also had a good view of the stone village stone church standing behind the pond. The Wisborough Green village green is located in the center of the old village and is large. It includes cricket and soccer fields and is where that the residents hold their annual May Day festivities. On three sides the green is looped by a road with houses on the opposing side overlooking the green. On the fourth side there is a group of houses which appear to be on the green. Most village ponds are located in the main green but at Wisborough Green the pond occupies a truncated portion to the east. The old lady’s cottage was among the cluster of buildings located in the east end portion of the green.

The old lady liked to gaze out of her bedroom window across the road to the pond and beyond to the church with its surrounding graveyard and, as she gazed, she would day-dream about her funeral and where she would be buried. She liked to imagine her funeral procession, the flowers, the hymns and the eulogy. Best of all she liked to think of all her village friends weeping in the pews as they reminisced on her life. She knew that it would be a wonderful full funeral and felt proud to be part of the festivities.

To the old lady the village pond was of little interest, but to children it was a magical place with an allure of excitement. This was especially true for the two visiting granddaughters of one of the other residents of the village. Every year, when they visited, they made sure that they were allocated one treasured day to catch small fish or “tiddlers”. The day before they went out they gathered the necessary equipment. Each girl’s most important tackle was an old jam jar and some string. The string was tied around the neck of each jar so that it could be easily hauled out of the water should a luckless tiddler happen to swim inside. The only other equipment needed was a bucket into which the captured tiddlers were to be placed and some bait. The bait was not absolutely necessary but, over the years, the girls had found that pieces of chicken skin generally acted as a good lure to entice tiddlers into the jars, and to, thereby, enhance their success.

At about eleven in the morning the girls had their gear ready and put on their rubber boots. The eldest was almost twelve and the younger ten. As they left they were horrified when their mother informed them that they were to take their four-year old brother with them. They both protested but their mother was adamant that their brother would enjoy fishing and that if he didn’t go, neither would they. She also gave them strict instructions that they were to make sure that he did not fall in and that he be keep out of danger in the form of traffic on the village roads. So it was that a threesome set out walking together down the almost-deserted village road to the pond. They covered the short distance fast and quickly found a good spot, on the banks of the pond. From their vantage point they could see through the greenish pond water to the black mud at the bottom and, best of all, they could see many black and silver tiddlers darting to and fro in the water. As their excited children’s voices rose up they interrupted the old lady’s contemplation of the church and she brought her gaze to the foreground to watch the fishing activities with some interest.

It immediately became obvious to the girls that their brother was a problem. He kept on trying to get into the water. They realized that keeping him out of the water was going to be a full-time job and would greatly distract from their tiddler catching mission. Somehow, by telepathy, they decided to frighten him into submission.

The eldest told him, “Be careful, don’t go too close. A green slimy monster lives in the bottom of the pond. You do not want him to disturb him or he will get you. He eats small boys.”

The younger added, “Yes, and his hair is pond weeds and he rises up with a wail. You must not disturb him. Sometimes small boys, just like you, have disappeared. People say that it is because they put their toes in the water.”

“It is an awful way to die. No-one wants to be dragged into the murky depths of the mud in this pond. You die in the mud and they would never even find the body.”

The boy’s interest was stimulated. He liked slugs and snails and thought how wonderful it would be to see a green slimy monster. All at once his options seemed obvious and so he stood behind his oldest sister and, as she leaned over to haul up a tiddler laden jam jar, he gave her a shove. She let out a piercing scream and flailed her arms and legs out so that she landed in the water with a wholesome plop.

The noise and commotion disrupted the serenity of the village. Immediately every bird within earshot, including the ducks on the pond, became airborne each of them shrieking in their own way as they rose into the air. The bird’s shrill alarm alerted the village dogs who added their yelps to the general uproar. The village cronies in the pub immediately ejected from the public bar and walked up the street, some with their pints still in their hands, to investigate what was going on.

The dying old lady took an immediate lease of new life and got out of bed. Within seconds she was downstairs and standing at her garden gate watching the wet girl climb out of the muddy waters. She was the first adult on the scene and might have been tempted to retreat back to bed had she not been greeted by the pub cronies. They shouted her name as they arrived to see the miracle of her resurrection.

The children were oblivious to the disturbance which they had caused and gathered up their tiddler tackle and began their walk back to their grandparent’s house. The wet eldest girl was a pitiful sight with weeds hanging from her wet clothing and mud covering the lower portion of her body. The little boy mused that, perhaps, she was the alleged pond monster. As they walked back the occupants of the houses overlooking the green came out to watch. Their interest gave the scene a parade-like stance.

When the children were close to their home their grandmother came rushing out with a towel. Word had somehow traveled much more quickly than the children and she already knew what had happened. She greeted them, not with an admonition about the mishap in the pond but with the affirmation that, today, they had worked a miracle in the form of bringing an old lady back to life.

6 thoughts on “Tiddlers of Life – a short story

  1. I’ve experienced a similar lady in my neighbourhood. She was “sick” for 20 years – visiting the family doctor at least once a month. The doctor confided in her family that there was nothing ailing her other than her great craving for attention. By the time she died, she had drained that family’s sympathies and patience. Sad.

    Nice little story – the children worked a miracle.

    • I agree, I think that we have all known one or more such persons. It is a sad reflection on their lives that that their only way to satisfaction, in the form of attention, is by creating a drama. Blogging is much better! Cheerio, Jane

  2. You’ve created a whole lovely little world here, Jane. It would make a great art film. In some ways it reminds me of the movie “Waking Ned Divine”. Symbol lovers can have a field day with this story! But it is still very visual, very located in the physical senses. What happened to the pail of tiddlers at the end? I only ask because my brothers and I, as children, did a similar kind of fishing, and when we wanted to keep the little fish as pets, we were told to throw them back because they were too small to eat…we were glad to save their lives then…..anyway, I found this a very enjoyable read.

    • You are so kind and I thank you. I suspect that the tiddlers ended up in grandma’s pond! You are right they were too small to eat and nobody would ever consider flushing them!

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