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Last Word

by Bald Man 

Posted: 02 March 2013
Word Count: 1197
Summary: Written for a competition, so give it a good kicking; the judges will if you don't.

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George wanted to make the film for his granddaughter, Annie.
He had seen the in Linda’s face when he told her not to bring Annie to the hospice. He couldn’t bear the thought of her seeing him like this.
George had shrunk physically. The muscles had fallen away from his arms, leaving them pencil thin. And a cloying sweet smell clung to his body; he noticed it more when the nurses changed his position in the bed.
Linda had noticed it too. He saw how she recoiled, but quickly concealed it, when she adjusted his pillows.
He told Linda about film he wanted to make; he knew she had a video camera. She’d been uncertain at first about it, but George had persisted.
‘The counsellor woman here thinks it’s a good idea and I want to say a few words to Annie on film before … And I don’t want her at the funeral either. I want the last thing she sees of me to be on this film, not something sealed up in a wooden box.’
‘All right, I’ll bring it in tomorrow.’
‘Annie’s meant a lot to me. I realise that now. I’ve been lying here thinking about her. Going through your mum’s photo album has helped bring back the memories.’
Linda picked up the album. ‘That’s a nice one of us all.’ Her voice quivered.
George peered at the photo of the four of them. ‘Your mum, God rest her soul, hated having her picture took, but she looks nice there. You and Annie look well sun-burned.’
‘It was a nice holiday, that.’
They sat in silence, beyond words.

George and his step-daughter had found common ground in Annie over the years. It had been difficult for him those first years, living with Linda - someone else’s kid - and he and her hadn’t always hit it off, particularly when she was in her teens.

But he remembered how this had changed when Linda’s marriage fell apart, leaving her a lone parent with an eighteenth month old child to bring up. Annie had grown up around him and Rose, his wife. Her chatter and antics brightened their lives. She was an affectionate child and would often sit on his knee whilst they watched some kid’s programme on the television. George developed a quiet, deep love for the little girl; he had married Rose late in his life and had no children of his own.
When Rose had died four years ago, he continued to keep in touch with Linda and Annie, although their visits had tailed-off in the last two years now his grand-daughter had entered her teens. He hadn’t seen Annie for months - and missed her.
‘How is she?’
‘All right. But you know what teenagers are like, George, up and down.’
‘Moody, eh? She takes after her mum.’
They both laughed.
‘Moody, ain’t the word for it sometimes. Her dad’s been in touch with her recently, when he feels like it, that is - and it’s unsettled her.’
‘She’ll be all right in the long run. You’ll see.’
‘I’d better be getting back. I’ll bring the video recorder in tomorrow.’

George sat with his notepad. He had struggled for hours. The memories had come flooding back, but the words he had searched for often seemed inadequate; not capturing the depth of his feelings, which had swollen and choked him all morning. But he was satisfied now with what he planned to say. Linda had set up the camera earlier in the day in front of his bed. He blew his nose, pulled himself together and called the nurse. She helped him into position and set the film running.
‘Annie, my lovely Annie, when you get to see this I will have died. So I wanted to say a few things to you, about how important you’ve been to me all your life.’


‘Annie, are you listening?’
‘Don’t talk to me like that. It’s your granddad, I told you. He made this film just before he died. He wanted to say a few things to you.’
‘What sort of things? It sounds weird. Do I have to see it?’
Linda felt her temper rising. Annie was sprawled on the sofa, empty crisps packets scattered around.
‘Yes you do. You got let of the hook for the funeral. The least you can do is watch the film. He made it especially for you. He was very fond of you, you know.’
‘I sorry he’s dead and all that, but I hadn’t seen him for ages. And I’m expecting a call from Sara. This ain’t a good time. I’ll watch it later, all right.’
‘No, it’s not all right. There’s never a good time with you, is there? Look, have some respect for your granddad’s last wishes. It only takes ten minutes.’
Annie sighed.

Linda played the film. George was sitting up in bed, facing the camera. He looked exhausted.
Annie, my lovely Annie, when you get to see this I will have died…
Annie’s phone trilled.
‘Sara. Where are you? Did you meet him? What’s he like?’
‘Annie, get off that phone now! Call her back.’
‘It’s important.’
Do you remember that time when you fell off the climbing frame in the park? We rushed you to hospital. It was the longest night of my life…
‘Turn that phone off. For God’s sake, Annie, I don’t know what sort of person you’re turning into, I really don’t.’
I was proud of you that day at school, when you got to play Mary at the Christmas nativity. You were set on getting that part, and you did. You pestered your teacher until she agreed. I can see you now, rocking the baby Jesus…’
‘Why are you on at me all the time? You’re always going on at me. No wonder dad cleared off.’
And there was that time we went to see ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in Leeds. Do you remember? You and I were on the front row and got pulled onto the stage at the end. I was shaking like a jelly, standing there looking a right idiot, but you just took it all in your stride…
‘Don’t you ... don’t you dare say that to me. It’s me, me who’s had to look after you all these years. Your wonderful father, where is he when you’re forever wanting this, that, and the next thing buying for you? Well!’
‘Sara, you still there? She’s having a go again. Can I come round? I’m sick of her.’
‘You’re not going anywhere. And give me that phone. I’m confiscating it.’
‘Leggo! Leggo of it. Give it back. You rotten cow. I hate you!’
‘What did you call me?’
‘ Cow! A miserable, rotten, cow!’
And I’ve always been very proud of you. And I know your mum is too.
‘Where d’you think you’re going?’
‘You can’t stop me.’
‘Get back here – now.’
Annie, my darling girl, you brought a lot of ... of joy into my life, watching you grow up. So I want to thank you for that. I know it will be the last thing I remember in this world.

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Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 10:54 on 03 March 2013  Report this post
This sad story about a death-bed video is bound to engage the reader and I found it thought-provoking, but puzzling. I'm not sure if the end is meant to be deliberately open-ended. More seriously, there doesn't seem to be any development or change in the characters.

The main problem I find is the mis-match between George's memories of his relationship with Annie and the girl's reaction to the video.

The portrait of Annie is made vivid by detail such as the crisp packets,Annie's posture, her refusal to watch the video and her words to her mother.

The incidents are all related from George's point of view and then the switch at the end seems too suddne. Is George's video a vindication, his attempt trying to convince himself that he really did connect with his Annie, although he forbade any visits or attendance at his funeral?

Maybe if the memories were dramatised instead of just related they would be more convincing .

seen the in Linda’s face

Missing word.

But he remembered how this had changed...He hadn’t seen Annie for months - and missed her.

There's too much tell-not-show here, skirting over a long period of time when Linda was growing up. It was his own choice not to see the girl, so his regret comes across as insincere. Why didn't the mother try to persuade him to see the girl? Annie has suffered from an inadequate father , a bitter mother and a grandfather who has has apparently rejected her. The video seems to be an attempt on his part to make amends but it hardly begins to answer the deep emotional damage. Is that the point that's being made.

George had shrunk physically... when she adjusted his pillows.

This description of the smell and appearance of the dying cancer patient seems long. The mention of the counsellor is good, though, because it motivates the video and gives a clear context to the story.

The dialogue at the hospice gives a good sense of the coldness of the relationship between the father and stepfather. The final sentence seems to be putting a further burden on the girl, but it seems that she does not hear it because she has already left.

I wonder if there's a bigger story here that needs to be told.

Hope some of this is helpful. Where there any special instructions for the competition? Good luck with it.


Bald Man at 16:52 on 03 March 2013  Report this post
Thanks for taking the time to read this, Sheila, and for your responses to the story, which I found helpful and constructive.

The point I had in mind was the change in relationships between children, their parents, and grandparents, that adolescence can bring - particularly if there has been a parental disruption in the family. Loving children can turn into indifferent, even hostile, teenagers, and I wanted George's loving memories of his granddaughter to contrast with the present situation. I guess I wanted to make the point too, that he was dying with happy memories of Annie, bringing him comfort at the end, and that he wasn't confronted and disappointed on his deathbed with the changed reality of her life. George is left talking to himself in the final sentence.

I have, however, some latitude with the word limit of this to develop and explain the characters and situation a little more, particularly the loss of contact between George and his granddaughter in the previous two years or so. Thanks again.


Account Closed at 16:57 on 04 March 2013  Report this post
Hi Colin,

a very well written story, as usual, which left me.... i dunno - a bit deflated. I guess it's the People's Friend writer in me that would like just a glimpse of a possibility at the end, that Annie has some compassion.

When he mentions the photo album, i assumed Linda was his wife and it was her mother's album - and then this was distracting when i later realized perhaps Linda was his step-daughter. So i think you need to make this crystal clear, from the start. As Sheila, says, there seems to be no change in the characters.

But he remembered how this had

You don't need this - just cut straight to'but this had changed when Linda's' - it's stronger.

Annie, my lovely Annie, when you get to see this I will have died.

This sounds a bit brutal - do you think he'd really say that, or try and soften it a little for her?

ofF the hook.

where is he when you’re forever wanting this, that, and the next thing buying for you

This sentence didn't make sense to me...?

I take your point, in your reply to Sheila, about the story showing how relationships within families change, but i dunno, he thought such a lot of Annie - would she really have changed so much, that she wouldn't even feel a pinch of guilt at not wanting to see the vid, or wouldn't begrudgingly watch it out of the corner of her eye out of curiosity...?

Like you also say, though, wordcount constraints make things difficult!


Bald Man at 18:48 on 04 March 2013  Report this post
Thanks Petal. Good honest crit, as always from you too, which is much, and genuinely, appreciated by me.

And you're certainly right about straightening out the George - Linda relationship early on; I agree it does feel confusing. I was in 'cynical life mode' when I wrote it, so that's the value of this site and group - to get someone to say, in effect, 'cheer up, you miserable old git'. So I'll try, and thanks again.


Account Closed at 19:00 on 04 March 2013  Report this post
LOL, Colin - well, i'm not saying their isn't a place for misery! Hard to know, sometimes, what judges are looking for.


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