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Coming of Age Friendship Inspirational

May Golightly rented her suite of attic rooms to Charlie for over twenty years. He was an ideal lodger, smart and courteous, and always paid his rent in cash. It was a convenient arrangement because his presence afforded her both peace of mind and financial security during her retirement. She’d never interfered in his affairs until one morning a letter appeared on her doormat. May recognised Charlie’s cursive script and opened it to discover a brief note, saying he’d gone away. Charlie asked her to secure his few valuables and box up his clothes for charity. He apologised for any inconvenience in advance and signed it, your ‘darling’ Charlie.

#

She’d never considered the condition of Charlie’s room or interfered in his lifestyle until after the sudden departure. It turns out that Charlie Fairbrass was a bit of a hoarder. His habit of collecting newspaper articles and filing away interesting stories had started as a young lad. Every morning, after his father left for work, he’d rescue his father’s discarded newspapers. Scissors at the ready, he combed the dailies for articles about unusual people in far-flung lands. He’d salvage the best stories for future reference and add them to the ever-expanding collection. 

Young Charlie soon noticed there was a clique of writers rotating on a circuit of exotic locations. “What a life,” he said to himself. “I want to do that too.” 

He mentioned the idea to his mother, and she saw every reason to promote Charlie’s aspiration. He would be her precious little foreign correspondent. They discussed the notion further and formulated a plan. He’d start off on local papers and work his way through the broad sheets. His mother convinced him he was destined for the jet set and he’d visit every continent before he was thirty. That dream was foremost in Charlie’s mind when he began his education at the local Grammar School. 

#

Mister Trimble, a former pugilist, governed Charlie’s school with iron fists and a short temper. He was a disciplinarian who prided himself on producing high achievers in the class and on the field. If he couldn’t beat an education into their heads, he’d kick them round the football pitch instead. The competitive environment didn’t suit all the lads who studied there, and Charlie was a shy boy who struggled to overcome a speech defect. 

When his parents separated at the start of his second year, he lost heart and retreated into his own private world. Besieged on all sides, by the start of the fourth year, he communicated with a voice reduced to a slurred whisper. How could he interview people if he was too embarrassed to speak to them? What use was a reporter who couldn’t ask questions? Charlie was beaten down before he started. There’d be time later, he convinced himself; big dreams don’t go away forever.

#

By the age of sixteen, Charlie had completed his schooling and his exam results were less than monumental. Having buried Charlie’s interests and cremated any ambition, his teachers agreed he showed little academic ability and no sporting prowess.

‘Quiet and thoughtful,’ wrote Mister Trimble in his final report. ‘Charles is a modest lad who should neither be under valued nor over estimated.’ 

Nobody had pretended Charles was a genius; except his mother for whom he could do nothing wrong. So when the headmaster described Charlie as, ‘a shining example of ingenuity triumphing over intellect,’ her jaw was agape. Reeling from Mister Trimble’s upper cut, her eyes welled up as she processed the wounding remark. Could he be referring to that silly incident when the bomb disposal squad was called to the school’s chemistry lab? Surely that was all forgotten about? Charlie was never reprimanded, because there was no proof. 

Crestfallen by the faint praise, Mister Trimble’s summary uplifted her mood. 

‘Charles is not without spirit, and will no doubt go far.’

‘The further away, the better,’ said Charlie, filing the report for posterity.

He was glad to put his school days behind him and looked forward to engaging with the university of life. Unperturbed by Mister Trimble’s words, he wrote enough enthusiastic job applications to warrant at least one positive response. 

#

Gerard’s, the local auction house, accepted Charlie as an assistant in their showrooms. Before long, old Mister Gerard spotted the dapper lad going about his business. He observed the Charlie taking charge of his stock and noted the speed with which he stored and retrieved items from the warehouse. He had to admit, he was impressed. Within twelve months, he promoted Charlie to auction room assistant.

The elderly proprietor had big hopes for Charlie. He imagined he’d make a fine auctioneer; but alas, it wasn’t to be. Despite being smart and unflappable under pressure, his powers of speech often deserted him. The lisp proved to be a major issue that affected his confidence and hindered progress beyond the silent assistant’s job. However, in this role, Charlie demonstrated his thespian talents and entertained the crowds of punters bidding for dusty bargains and misplaced treasures. Charlie was the handsome clotheshorse who revealed all the lots with a theatrical flourish, like a magician’s apprentice pulling countless white rabbits from a bottomless top hat. 

Charlie still dreamed of foreign adventures and was convinced of his place in the sun.

#

May Golightly was a night cleaner at Gerard’s when Charlie first arrived at the company. She encountered him organising the items to be auctioned prior to the big day. He’d stay late into the night cleaning and lining up the lots, before their introduction for sale. The two night owls often shared restorative cups of tea and a cheery smile at midnight. He had a good sense of humour and made her giggle with his witty one-liners and pithy insights. 

“You’re a funny onion,” she’d say, tweaking his nose. “You don’t half make me larf.” 

“You know me,” he’d say, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “Service with a smile.”

 “You’re a darling,” she’d say, laughing. “I’ll give you that, Charlie Fairbrass.”

#

Charlie became an orphan at twenty when his mother passed away from self-neglect and a broken heart. Old Mister Gerard continued to support Charlie and welcomed him as a new member of his extended family. Charlie had become accustomed to the shenanigans of the auction world and its eccentric denizens. He’d learned to abide with the broad church of people he encountered; shrewd connoisseurs and wily antique dealers, shadowy handlers of stolen silverware and crooks who delivered goods to order. They were all one big surrogate family and more than just friends, colleagues or acquaintances. It was in everyone’s best interest to tolerate each other. One never knew when the entire empire would come under scrutiny and all were culpable in some way, shape or form.

#

May’s husband had long passed away when she met Charlie at Gerard’s. She was desperate for extra housekeeping money, and Charlie was looking for a room. May offered him ‘room with half board and his milk,’ and for two decades they never looked back. She often wondered if Charlie would ever meet a nice girl and move out, but he mentioned no one special. May got used to spotting letters addressed to him on her doormat. Often she detected a whiff of expensive scent on the envelopes, but he never invited guests up to his eerie. May assumed Charlie was single, and he’d stay forever. It’s easy to take things for granted. 

#

Charlie’s formidable organisational skills and keen eye for detail offered other possibilities in this unscrupulous world. He understood his limitations only too well, and after elocution lessons failed to cure his speech impediment, he cultivated a decorous drawl instead. Charlie’s confidence grew as he mastered his unfamiliar vocal delivery, and people noticed him for the first time.

“He’s a bit of a character,” they’d say. “Where’s he been hidin’ then?”

Soon enough, Charlie worked in every post available in the company, from photographer and catalogue compiler to warehouse manager and accountant. However, the post he excelled at was ‘Head of Purchases and Appraisals.’ He’d found his hidden talent and a special gift. He could spot an unpolished gem a mile away and calculate its latent value instinctively. 

At last, Charlie had attained a position of supreme trust that required discretion and maturity. Gerard’s clients saw him as an expert in his field who projected a quiet sense of authority. To succeed in a world of rogues and reprobates, all he had to do was act in good faith.

#

“What am I supposed to do with this lot?” May muttered, hovering in the doorway of Charlie’s vacant reception room. A single tungsten bulb suspended from a decorative plaster rose illuminated the clutter below. “It’s a flaming fire hazard,” she swore, scanning the attic room for health and safety issues. May spread the curtains and opened up the window to counteract a lively musk. The sofa and armchair were buried under his collection of newspaper cuttings and exhibited the signs of rodent infestation. Amongst the papers piled up around the room, May noticed a stack of obituaries dating back to their first encounter two decades ago.

“Bleedin’ weird is what he is,” she cursed, rolling up her sleeves. “Leaving obits of dead people lying about ain’t natural.” 

Blaming herself for being naïve, she removed two bin liners of Charlie’s cuttings and returned from downstairs with a cardboard box for his clothes.

By comparison, Charlie’s bedroom was neat and businesslike, and reflected on the man she’d known and trusted. Nothing had changed. It was a throwback to the popular furniture styles of the late 1960s. The bed with its wooden headboard still faced the matching wardrobe and the dressing table with its three vanity mirrors was opposite the bathroom door. 

Her husband’s oak writing desk lived under the sloping skylight and was home to his old reading lamp, with the articulating arm. A Miller’s Antique Guide lay on the worn leather top surface, along with a notebook and pencil. There was also a magnifying glass and a pocket catalogue of international gold and silver hallmarks. 

A thick electrical cable snaked its way across the carpet and under the bathroom door. May peeped inside. “What’s he been playin’ at?” She gasped. “This’ll never do!”

Charlie had covered the Victorian claw-footed bathtub with a thick metal plate. Resting on top was a peculiar container made from heavy cast-iron. It was about the size of a litre-capacity mixing bowl. Its charred black innards suggest intense heat had been employed to melt something. When May unplugged device from the mains and tried to lift it, she’s surprised by its weight. The scorch marks on the protective metal surface below are further evidence of ferocious heat. 

May inspected inside the crucible and detected a loose cluster of shiny metallic spheres. They’re like ball bearings but the size of pin heads. The cheeky little orbs bear all the characteristics of a precious yellowish metal and twinkle mischievously in the dark ashes and volcanic debris. 

May returned to the bedroom and opened the oak closet’s double doors. Charlie’s clothes are smart and hard wearing. He has eight pressed white shirts on cheap dry-cleaner style metal hangers and four neck ties. Next to them on the clothes rail are three suits: one for work in durable wool, a sombre gabardine three-piece for a funeral, and a third in light summer linen. On the right, there’s a smart charcoal grey Macintosh and a plain black scarf hanging next to a couple of shelves. One shelf bears a wooden box with an inlaid design. Inside are letters signed from his mother, a school report and a birth certificate; things he’d miss, she imagines. On the second shelf is a stack of monogrammed handkerchiefs, embroidered with ‘C.F.’ and two pairs of matching cuff links.

May hauls in the cardboard box and makes a start on Charlie’s clothes. She folds the shirts and pads down the suits to check for belongings and discovers a wallet. It’s empty except for a photograph of a beach hut. On the back are a few words, ‘Missing you, Charlie. Much love. X.’ 

Inside another suit, she finds a local newspaper cutting. There’s a woman’s picture and a one-line obituary. ‘Mrs Cynthia Fairbrass, née Gerard, is greatly missed and leaves a loving son called Charles.’ 

In the raincoat’s outside pocket, May discovers an order of service from twenty years ago. The photograph looks like Charlie, however it’s dedicated to Mister Steven Fairbrass. The church address is a hundred miles from London to the east in Kent.

May feels inside the coat and finds an envelope. It’s sealed with parcel tape. 

She recognises Charlie’s handwriting. 

It’s marked, ‘For the attention of May Golightly.’ 

It contains Charlie’s simple request. 

‘Please take these items to James Buchanan, Purveyor of Rare Stones, The Hove Road, Brighton. Tell Jimmy you know me. He’s expecting you and offers a fair price. Jimmy owes me big. Insist on cash. Please pay it into your account. Your darling Charlie.'

At the bottom of the envelope are a dozen multi-facetted stones. They sparkle in the evening light as she rolls them into the palm of her trembling hand. Even without a magnifying glass, she can detect the work of experienced craftsmen. 

May drops the diamonds into their paper wrapper and leaves the bedroom, catching herself in the dressing table’s mirror as she places the package in her apron’s front pocket. Shaking her head, she gathers up all Charlie’s valuables and returns to her quarters. It’s late in the day to travel from Waterloo to Brighton, but she’ll risk it. She’d do anything for Charlie, after all. 

#

It takes May four weeks to finish cleaning and overhauling Charlie’s rooms. During that month, her mousetraps have done their worst and she no longer has a problem in the attic. Gerard’s men removed the strange cast-iron crucible, and now she’s considering a new bathroom, courtesy of her former tenant’s generous gift.

The charity shop owner thanked May for donating Charlie’s old clothes and enquired about her empty lodgings. May declined to offer her rooms again and doubted if she could stand all the excitement. 

On returning home, May opened her front door and found a postcard on her doormat. There’s a picture of a perfect beach; white sands and clear blue water. On the reverse, there’s a Caribbean postage stamp and a brief message that speaks volumes. 

‘Dear May,

Thank you for everything. 

Take care of yourself, love. 

Your darling Charlie X.’

The End

April 01, 2022 21:02

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22 comments

K. Antonio
01:07 Apr 02, 2022

Aww this was cute. This line: "‘Quiet and thoughtful,’ wrote Mister Trimble in his final report. ‘Charles is a modest lad who should neither be under valued nor over estimated.’" - Struck me in the gut. Charlie resonated a bit with me. My grandfather has OCD and suffers with hoarding. Strangely enough, because I have OCD, my compulsion is the direct opposite (maybe out of fear) and tends to involve minimalism. Regardless, I think you built a well-developed character and I enjoyed reading about his journey.

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Howard Halsall
11:29 Apr 02, 2022

Hello K, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. It’s interesting to hear about your experience with OCD and the impact on both your life and your grandfather’s too. You mentioned your tendency towards minimalism and you said it was ‘out of fear’. I’m curious about it’s nature and how the fear manifest’s itself. It sounds as though you have an intriguing compulsion. Maybe you could explore that in your writing? I’m pleased you enjoyed this tale and I look forward to reading your latest submission. Take care HH

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Graham Kinross
10:07 Apr 17, 2022

Charlie sounds like my dad a bit. My parents moved house years ago and he had loads of garden sheds full of all sorts of tools that he all thought were useful. My mum is the opposite and it stressed her out thinking about having to get rid of them all. She won when they moved to a little island where it was harder for him to get his hands on stuff like that. I really like that it seems that Charlie went for his adventure in the end. Was his crucible for melting down stolen metal items?

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Howard Halsall
09:20 Apr 18, 2022

Hello Graham, I’m pleased you enjoyed my story about Charlie and his life’s adventures. I like your anecdote about your parents moving to an island. I reckon you could work that into a thought provoking and intriguing tale. Have you thought about writing it? HH

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Graham Kinross
10:07 Apr 18, 2022

If I get a prompt that works for it I might. What are you working on now?

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Howard Halsall
21:45 Apr 18, 2022

You know what? I reckon you have a great idea there, Graham. You could do worse than write it anyway. You never know what might happen… I’m trying to knit a little yarn around the second prompt but I guess I’ll be chasing the deadline as usual :)

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Graham Kinross
22:09 Apr 18, 2022

I’m lucky in some ways. I’m across the world from seeing my family and most of my friends which is sad but I talk to them on the phone and I have a lot of free time to write. I’m looking forward to going home more now that covid seems to be calming down. Having a new one means that won’t be possible immediately though. I hope you’ve been getting to see your family.

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Howard Halsall
22:57 Apr 18, 2022

Yes, I’ve had a chance to see my family and I’ve been lucky not to have suffered from the virus’ effects, although they’ve all had it and recovered, fortunately. I keep wondering if and/or when I’ll catch it; so I have my fingers & toes crossed, my mask to hand and keep my head down. I’m not normally anti-social, however avoiding Covid has afforded me time to get some writing done…

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L.M. Lydon
03:22 Apr 08, 2022

I enjoyed how you traveled through Charlie's life- it was a winding, complex journey. At the beginning, I felt quite sorry for him ("Having buried Charlie’s interests and cremated any ambition, his teachers agreed he showed little academic ability and no sporting prowess" was a particularly spectacular line, as others have noted). But by the end, he has built a rather strange but fulfilling (highly shady) niche for himself. The detailed description of the detritus of his life left in his rooms evidences hidden depths, beyond just the gems.

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Howard Halsall
04:08 Apr 08, 2022

Hello L.M. Thank you for reading my twisting tale and sharing your thoughts. I’m pleased you enjoyed the story and trust its themes linger a while. The prompt offered an intriguing challenge that lent itself to a broad interpretation and I can only hope I’ve come up with a satisfying result. Take care HH

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Craig Westmore
01:44 Apr 06, 2022

Howard, this was a nice, detailed sketch of Charlie's life. But it felt sequential and not cause and effect to pull the story forward. I would use the common thread of what Charlie wants to link each part of his life. Does he still want to be a foreign correspondent and all his actions drive toward that? Or is he driven by Mr. Trimble's comments and he's out to prove he can be a success?

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Howard Halsall
02:05 Apr 06, 2022

Hello Craig, Thank you for reading my story and leaving your thoughtful remarks. To respond to your comments; Charlie’s life was a compromise from the off. His high expectations were chiselled away by circumstances to the point where he eventually achieved a diluted version of his goal. On the surface, one could say he failed to match his aspirations, however he’s grown during the process, achieved some peace of mind and graduated with honours in the university of life. Sometimes that’s as much as one can hope for in this world. HH

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Lavonne H.
20:18 Apr 03, 2022

Howard, I had to stop and reread and think about Charlie's life at different points. Sometimes I was sad (his parents' divorce, mother's death and that school! The part of the sentence that began "[h}aving buried Charlie’s interests and cremated any ambition" send a shiver of intense dislike for the teachers! So, er, how many jewels did he abscond with anyways???! Love your characters and story within the donation box. Yours in writing, Lavonne

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Howard Halsall
21:39 Apr 03, 2022

Hello Lavonne, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I’m pleased you enjoyed it and hope it lingers in your mind for a while. How many jewels went missing, you ask? Well, I’d say he’s was undisturbed and quietly getting away with it for quite some time; a long term heist in weekly instalments; so too many to calculate is my best guess. Maybe that’s to be revealed in the longer version… Take care HH

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Michał Przywara
15:32 Apr 02, 2022

This was a nice story. There's lots of things going on here -- dreams, failures, perseverence, growing up; many themes -- and the way it's presented, this kind of retrospective package, is a neat idea. We don't actually meet Charlie so much as hear about him. I like the character names, and there's a lot of great lines. One that stood out was "Having buried Charlie’s interests and cremated any ambition": striking!

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Howard Halsall
00:09 Apr 03, 2022

Hello Michal, Thank you for reading my latest tale. I’m pleased you found it entertaining and intriguing too. My idea was to reveal the protagonist by what he left behind and so the charity box was a conduit for his life’s story. Hopefully I covered enough of Charlie’s character forming moments to bring him to life. I’m not sure if you spotted the mother’s maiden name? But I think its addition spins everything in a new circle and explains Charlie’s progress through the auction company’s hierarchy. I wasn’t sure if it explained matters or is ...

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Michał Przywara
16:35 Apr 03, 2022

I did notice the maiden name, yeah. It was enough to give me pause, since it was a familiar name, but I had to scroll up to remember where I saw it previously. But I'll admit, the significance of it is lost on me. I mean, that there's a family relation between Charlie and Gerard's is clear, but it also seems like Charlie climbed the ladder based on his own merits, so I didn't really get a sense of nepotism or perhaps something more sinister like blackmail.

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Howard Halsall
21:28 Apr 03, 2022

Hello Michal, Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter. In retrospect, I think you’re correct, maybe the reference is too little and too late, thus rendering it a distraction. Take care HH

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Zelda C. Thorne
15:12 Apr 02, 2022

I'm impressed how you manage to get so much detail of his life into a short story! The sadness and frustration I felt at the beginning made me very pleased with the ending.

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Howard Halsall
23:49 Apr 02, 2022

Hello Rachel, Thank you for reading my new story. I’m glad you enjoyed it and the ending held a few surprises. Everything comes to those that wait is the thought here… Take care HH

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Zelda C. Thorne
09:12 Apr 03, 2022

If you have time to read my latest post 'Diamond Dust', I'd like to know what you think. Thank you. Oh and feel free to be direct with any critique since I want to improve.

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