WRITTEN BY PIPPA NEWNTON
Ben was Edna’s only companion, so how could this brand new flat be a brand new start without him?
Andrea Thompson, a trim thirty-year old, dressed in a business suit and clutching a briefcase, walked up the overgrown path to the old cottage.
She stopped for a moment and looked about her. The garden had seen better days. Now it was full of weeds; brambles from the hedge had started to take the garden back to nature.
An old Labrador sat on the porch step looking up at her as though to say, I know why you’ve come.
She patted its head and it got up slowly, waiting behind her while she rang the doorbell.
The door was opened by an old lady, whose spritely movements belied her age.
Edna Stirling, dressed in slacks and a sweater that had seen better days, stood aside, “Come in,” she said, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
She let the younger woman in and was about to close the door when she looked down and saw her dog.
“Come on in, my lovely,” she said, “I don’t know why you’ve been sitting out there when there’s a lovely fire in here for you to sit by.”
The dog waddled over, looked at her, and then curled up on the mat in front of the cheerfully warming fire that was burning in the grate.
Edna pulled a pile of old newspapers off the battered old settee.
“Sit down my dear. Would you like a cup of tea?” she asked, looking round for somewhere to dump the papers. Finding it too difficult she turned and threw them gently on the floor behind a chair.
Andrea automatically brushed the surface of the settee with her hand without realising what she was doing, sat up very straight and fiddled with the catch on her briefcase.
“No, thank you, Mrs Stirling, I can’t stay long. I’ve just got something I need to tell you.”
“Call me Edna,” Edna said, pretending she hadn’t noticed Andrea’s action in brushing away the dust, “This is about this new flat you’ve got for me, isn’t it? Are you ready for me to move in?”
Andrea looked uncomfortable, opened her briefcase and took out a paper…
“Yes, but I’ve some bad news for you.”
“Oh, what’s that?” Edna said fearfully.
Andrea held the paper up. “I’ve read the rules very carefully and I’m sorry but you can’t take your dog with you.” She brushed the hair back out of her eyes with a nervous gesture.
She was the sort of person who didn’t like to be the bringer of bad news but she had to stick to the rules.
Edna straightened up, “Then it’s not worth moving. I’m warm and comfortable here.” She looked down at her dog, so relaxed, enjoying the warmth.
“Mrs Stirling, I thought we had agreed, you’ve got to move. You can’t live alone in this tumbledown place.” Andrea looked round and waved her hands at Edna’s few possessions. “We’re moving you into a nice new flat where you will be safe and looked after.”
“It ain’t tumbledown and I’m not moving without Ben.” Edna bent down and caressed her dog’s ears. “He’s a lovely old dog. Ben is my only companion, I couldn’t live without him.”
Edna was still very active, a bit stiff in the joints but still looking after herself and taking exercise every day by walking round the nearby park with Ben and going to the village shop for her groceries. Also, once a week she went to the Women’s Institute meeting in the village hall where she met her friends, exchanged the latest gossip, and took part in a keep fit class.
Andrea looked at the old lady, who stood defiantly in front of the fire.
“I am sorry but the flat we’re putting you in can’t take pets.” Andrea looked at Ben who looked up appealingly at her.
Well, find me one that can. Ben isn’t just a pet, he’s a companion.
“Companion he may be, but you know it’s impossible to find you another flat, and all these new ones are subject to the same rules,” Andrea got up, “Now I must go. We need to move you in as soon as possible, otherwise someone else will be given your place.”
“Well, I’ll think about it,” Edna said, knowing full well she wouldn’t budge without her dog.
Andrea gave a little sigh, tossed her hair out of her eyes again, put the paper back in her briefcase, fastened the clasp and turned to go.
Edna opened the door for her.
Andrea paused, “I’ll do what I can, but I can’t promise anything.” She walked away down the path.
“You do that, Miss, but I’m quite comfortable here,” Edna called after her, then, stepping back inside and closing the door, she looked around at all her familiar things…
In fact she wasn’t as comfortable as she liked to pretend. The roof leaked, the garden was overgrown and was too big for her to look after herself. If she was honest, she would have liked to have moved in with her younger sister in the next village, but there was no accommodation available. Her sister, married with two children, had no room for her in their tiny house.
However, the Council had built sheltered accommodation on the outskirts of Edna’s village and she was on their list for a ground floor flat.
As she walked down the path, Andrea shook her head. Edna’s a lovely lady, she thought as she got to the gate which was falling off its hinges, but she must move to the new flat. What could be done? She spent a moment pulling the gate back in place and latching it.
Andrea knew that the no pets rule was a problem. She spoke to her manager the next day. “You remember we’ve had this problem before – Mrs Johnson wanted to take her parrot, but we couldn’t let her. Now Mrs Stirling wants to take her dog. Pets are the only thing that’s keeping some of them alive. It’s cruel. Can’t we do something about it?”
The manager, Mr Hobbs, a tall wiry man in his last year before retirement, was sympathetic, but his hands were tied by a committee of younger people who didn’t understand the problems of the old, or at least that’s what he thought.
“I’ll talk to the Management Committee about this at their next meeting,” he said, “but I don’t hold out much hope. You know what they’re like.”
He shuffled the papers on his desk and with that Andrea had to be content.
At the next Women’s Institute meeting Edna met her old friend Clara.
“They’re trying to take my dog away from me when I go to the new flat,” she told her.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Clara said, motioning Edna to sit by her, “Why did you give your dog a boy’s name?”
“I surely must have told you before,” Edna said.
“No you didn’t,” Clara said, “Or if you did, I forgot. Tell me again.
The other WI members, sensing a story, gathered round.
Edna loved an audience. “It was towards the end of the war,” she began, looking round at the attentive faces,
“I was a nurse at Guy’s Hospital and on night shift that week. My sweetheart was in the army and had a few days leave so we were able to see each other during
“We were going to Hyde Park to walk among the trees when the siren sounded. It still makes me feel weird when I think about that terrible wailing sound. The wardens sent us down into the shelter before the bombs started dropping.
“The shelter’s an underground car park now, but then it was just a big, empty dark space. People were crammed in… children crying, old people sitting looking dazed, young ones hugging each other in fright.
In the confusion we got separated. I searched and searched but I never found him again…
She paused and tears ran down her cheeks. Clara patted her gently on the arm.
Choking, Edna went on, “I’ve always kept hope in my heart that one day we would meet again, but we never have.”
“But what’s that got to do with your dog?” one of the listeners asked.
Edna looked up, “That’s why I call him Ben, of course, to remind me of my sweetheart of so long ago.”
She turned to Clara, “As you know, I never married, and now they want to take this Ben away from me as well. They can’t do that. I won’t go!”
The group, although looking sympathetic, turned away, as no one knew what to say.
“I’m sure they’ll work something out,” Clara sounded comforting.
Next day Andrea Thompson came to see Edna again.
“I’ve talked to my manager and the best we can do is to put Ben in a dog’s home. There’s one on Cirencester Road near the village. They’ll look after him and you can go and visit him whenever you like.”
“That’s better than nothing,” Edna said, in a resigned voice. “I suppose I’ll have to go, but I’ll be sorry to leave the old place.” She looked around at her possessions, the battered chair by the fire, the old settee with its stuffing showing, and Ben’s basket.
It all happened very quickly after that. Edna was shown round the new flat and was pleased with its built-in cupboards, kitchen stove, dishwasher and washing machine.
Andrea took her to the dog’s home. They were greeted by the owner who immediately put Edna at her ease. “We’ll make sure he will be very happy here and you can visit anytime you want to, Mrs Stirling.”
Edna looked down at Ben. “Well, I’m sorry to leave you but you’ll be fine. I’ll come to see you when I can.” She patted his head and Ben looked up at her sorrowfully, as though he knew she was leaving him behind.
The owner called an assistant to take Ben away to settle in.
“Would you like to see where he will be housed? Charlie will show you.”
“I must go,” Andrea said. “I’ll see you tomorrow to help you move into your flat, and you never know, it’s possible that the management committee will change their mind and let you keep him. They meet this afternoon.”
“Thanks, Miss Thompson. I know you’ve done your best for Ben and me.”
The assistant took the dog lead from Edna to show her where Ben would be kennelled.
“That’s an unusual name for a dog,” he said as they walked, “Now I’ll have two Ben’s in my life.”
They reached the wired in enclosure where Ben was to be kept.
Edna stared at the assistant, looking at him properly for the first time. A memory stirred within her.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but you look just the spitting image of my sweetheart Ben from years ago, but what did you mean – two Bens?” she asked.
As Charlie bent down to open the gate he said, “My Gramp’s name is Ben and he’s always talking about the war, he suffered a terrible head injury, forgot who he was. Took him ages to recover. You two would get on well together. He’s just moved into one of those new flats.”
Edna felt butterflies in her stomach, “That’s where I’m going tomorrow. Maybe I’ll look him up.”
She waved goodbye to her dog and set off with hope in her heart.