Shh! (Extended Story)

by Kate O'Callaghan about a year ago in literature

You've read parts one and two. Now it's time for the rest!

Shh! (Extended Story)

"Percy?" Madeline squawked, her voice echoing through the apartment.

"Yes, dear?" Percy answered back.

"I can't find my shoes!"

"I expect that they have stayed in the place where you put them down."

"Oh, you are of no use, you sod!"

Madeline and Percy were renting an apartment in London. It wasn't ideal and sometimes the choice between food and bills left stomachs empty. As a consequence, the two found themselves growing apart. The strings that held them together were growing thin and worn. Now it seemed the only reason to stay was the lack of ability to move on.

"Found them!"

They had considered a marriage, of course. Madeline's family pushed the idea, but Percy never proposed. He just couldn't find it within himself to tie her down with a depressed ex-military man of 27. He had been forced to leave his military career behind when a rare lung condition had made itself known. Apparently, his gas mask was not completely airtight.

"Let's go, sweetie. Then we can be back to watch the last update of John Glenn."

Now that was something Percy could look forward to. A man in space, orbiting the earth. Percy couldn't imagine anything better; the quiet, the sights, the peace that accompanies the god-like feeling of observing. What he would give to be up there, alone.

"Of course darling."

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"Spare any change?"

"Any change, sir?"

"Help the homeless!"

There was a row of them, fighting for the half-hearted attention of men in navy blue and black suits.

Percy watched their polished watches glint in the sunlight. He didn't beg. He couldn't bring his prideful lungs to breathe a word.

Madeline had been meeting with another man for years. She had kicked Percy out into the cold and brought her new man into the warmth of their apartment. He still felt a little spark of anger flare in his chest when he thought about it. That apartment was his and Madeline's! They had dedicated 10 years to it! All of the backbreaking work and time spent organising finances so the two could live life in relative comfort with nothing to show for it.

Percy was at his lowest point since the tragedy of his youth and what had happened in his hometown.

"Hello, sir."

Percy didn't respond. A woman's face floated into his field of vision. She had brown eyes and hair. A dress of light blue hung close to her olive skin. Laughably plain, embarrassingly normal, and a hint of kindness sprinkled on top. Percy looked into her eyes.

"Well, hi there!" She smiled at his attention. Her American accent was strange but not unwelcome.

"I run a soup kitchen just down the road. You should come along."

Of course, she had wanted to help him. A bitter taste bubbled up into his mouth, coating his tongue. He wanted to tell her to bugger off, to stick her soup kitchen and her stupid charity, but he remained silent.

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That night, Percy lay on cold, corrugated cardboard and cast his thoughts back to William.

He was too young to understand the gravity of the events that night. The Germans had chosen their town as a petri-dish, to test out coastal defences. They could've chosen anywhere else, any other gas. William would be a man now. "More of a man than me anyway," Percy thought.

He fell into a fitful sleep. Dogs barking and men shouting on the street didn't bother him anymore.

It rained that night.

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2 Weeks Later

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Percy was hungry. He had put off admitting it to himself for as long as he could. The pain in his stomach demanded attention and the suited men had refused to throw him so much as a glance.

It was that damned woman! She must have cast some stupid spell on him so he would have to visit her damned soup kitchen!

The torment extended for two more stubborn days before Percy realised his inconvenience had become a health risk. He had fainted on the pavement and woken to see his old, worn coat gone; stolen.

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The soup kitchen was no more than a plastic table balancing large pots of bubbling liquid and three volunteers: a young Indian man, the lady in her blue dress, and a small blonde boy.

His nerves dissolved when the smell of deep, rich food reached him.

Grabbing a polystyrine cup, Percy noticed how dirty his fingernails looked against the white surface. He felt himself flush, the American woman smiling at him from across the table didn't help.

"Hello, sir." The young man with dark skin addressed Percy.

"Chicken or pumpkin?" He gestured to two steel pots that stood up to his shoulders.

Percy gestured to the one on the left; chicken. He was never a big fan of pumpkin.

His cup full of warm soup, he moved onto the next person in line; the American woman, who was serving mashed potatoes in plastic containers.

"Hello, stranger!" She handed him his mash.

"Hullo," Percy mumbled back. Her smile widened before turning to face the next person in line.

"Veg-a-tales?" The young boy offered a large spoonful of carrots and peas. Percy put his plastic container down to his level so his small arm could reach.

A container full of potatoes and vegetables and a cup full of chicken soup, not bad. "And she smiled at you!" Percy's giddy brain raced ahead.

He let his thoughts fly away as his tucked into his first good meal since he was a child.

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Soon enough, Percy was visiting the kitchen every day. He had found out that the young man's name was Arjun, a student of psychology at a nearby university. The American woman was called Barbara and she wore all kinds of bright colours, not just blue.

She was also a single mother to the young blonde boy, who went by Will.

When Percy heard him introduce himself, he had dropped the food and left. He fled to the back of a building and cried for the first time in years.

Nevertheless, he returned to the kitchen the next day.

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1 Year Later

"Hello Percy, beef again, is it?"

"Certainly, Arjun."

"Ooh, Perce! I brought a shaving kit with me today! Would you be my guinea pig?"

"Don't do it, Percy!"

Barbara hit Arjun on the arm.

"I guess, yeah, this fur is a little bothersome." Percy gestured to his substantial beard. It reached to a few inches above his bellybutton.

"Veg-a-tables Percy?"

"Please."

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"Would you look at that! You make quite a handsome man without the face rug!" Barbara pinched his cheek.

"Why thank you!" Percy smiled at her. "I hope the ladies at the car factory agree!"

Percy had organised a job interview as a car upholstery manager. If he succeeded, he would be managing the output of 30 women's sewing, a daunting prospect.

"Believe me, they will!" she pecked him on the cheek, making him blush.

"Well... I had better be on my way then... I should not keep them waiting."

"Good luck Percy!"

"Yes, best of luck Perce!"

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Epilogue

Percy was on his way to the soup kitchen with Barbara. It wasn't the first time he had been there to help run the place since Arjun left the country and Will had moved away to study.

They had married five years after his acceptance at the factory and, after years of trying, they discovered that children were not an option for Percy. His reproductive organs were affected by the gas he inhaled as a child. This didn't stop him from becoming a father to little William, supporting him until he left home.

Percy and Barbara grew into old age together in relative peace.

She never asked him what happened before he was homeless.

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Kate O'Callaghan

An aspiring female writer from the UK, 20
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ThatWriterWoman

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