Granny Shannon’s House

This story was rejected (in record time) by the journal that I wrote it for. Although the characters really came alive for me, I haven’t had all positive feedback from my chief support network. One criticism is that it’s a bit slow-moving. I do wonder whether the premise is also slightly faulty. Anyway, it’s 2800 words so if anybody reads it all AND comments, I will be more than honoured. 😊

I’m the last. The only one left.

“Clean up and sell,” the lawyer had recommended as he handed me the house key with “Estate of Eleanor Shannon” printed neatly on the plastic tag. I gave him the Shannon glare and he retreated like a crab into his paper hole, offering no more advice.

The drive from London is slow and tedious. By evening, I am tired of the cramped hedges and the smell of old pizza in the hire car.

When I arrive, Granny’s house smells musty and all the soft furniture is covered in sheets. That must’ve been Granny’s lovely neighbour. She found Granny after the heart attack and had done everything I wasn’t in England to do.

After a dinner of baked beans, I set myself up on Granny’s high bed with its massive dark headboard and faded, rose-pattern cover. Sleep is slow to come. Images of Granny dance in my brain. The last time I saw her was nearly a year ago. We’d gone on a little trip together to mark the first anniversary of Mum’s death. Granny was eighty six but wouldn’t let me carry a bag for her and scoffed at me using the maps on my phone. “Child, what’s wrong with a paper map? You’ll ruin your eyes on that tiny thing.”

Granny had refused to accept technology’s accompaniment into the twenty first century. Our communication over the years had been expensive international phone calls. “Oh Susie, it’s you! Child, you’re missing spring. I was thinking of you the other day as I worked in the veggie garden. Remember that May we planted peas together with your Mum? I got such a fine crop that year.”

I chuckle a little, remembering the last time the three of us had been together on that chaotic train trip through Germany. Granny had insisted on having the top bunk in the tiny cabin she shared with Mum. The two of them had nearly come to blows over it but, predictably, Granny had won. It became a nightly joke to watch Granny’s stiff haunches ascend the tight little ladder, and to discuss her best strategy should she need the loo during the swaying night.

And so, like a train window’s lulling view, visions of my lost family shunt me gradually into sleep.

The next morning I get straight to work after a quick breakfast. I start with Granny’s silver which is displayed in a glass-fronted cabinet in the dining room. I see my face upside-down in a soup ladle, rumpled as a storm cloud. I sort through goblets, ladles, jugs, serving platters and a pretty collection of teaspoons from all over the United Kingdom. Soon I have a box loaded with unwanted items to take to a charity shop.

In the corner of the living room is Granny’s antique roll-top desk – her pride and joy. She told me she’d found it at a tiny antique shop in Scotland. “Only twenty pounds!” she’d crowed. “Susie, life is all about finding the treasures you love at the price you’re willing to pay!”

The desk is solid oak and the two cupboard doors are inlaid with white cherry blossoms. The handles are carved as honeyeaters, exquisitely poised. After two days of going through books and clothes, and so much rubbish I mentally label Granny a hoarder, I uncover a tiny brass key beside her bed, coded with a matching honeyeater.

I save it for last.

I want time to sit in her chair (also oak), to remember autumn mornings from my childhood: the smell of stewing apples, Granny drinking coffee, and the white snake from her cigarette tremulous in the sun. There she is, coffee mug steaming beside her, grey hair in a loose plait down her back, her purple dressing gown tied with a gold cord. In this way she would write letters, her fountain pen going “scritch, scritch, scritch” and muttering odd lines like “the pansies have spilled over” or “gosh, the ink is just not running today” or “Susie’s here tinkering in the button box”. I never once asked who she was writing to. Shannon women don’t invite questions. As Granny reached for her notepaper she would invariably pin me with her sharp eyes and say in her steely Shannon way: “My letters are my little pigeons but little girls don’t flutter the dovecotes, do they?”

I did often spend hours threading buttons from Granny’s button box while she wrote her letters. I made her several necklaces over the years. Yesterday I found them all, all except one. I remember it as a favourite, aiming to a be a choker in purple and black. I was about eleven and I remember measuring the string around Granny’s soft, wrinkled neck, her skin brown from years of gardening, with an almost heart-shaped mole just to the left of her spine. I had to move her plait aside as I slid the piece of blue string underneath. I remember asking, “Granny, did Grandpa ever give you a necklace?”

“I’m sure he did, child. Now, why don’t you let me finish this for you? I have the perfect thing in my sewing box.” And off she went to find a clasp. In the end it felt like a proper piece of jewellery. I was so proud of it and it seems strange to me now that she lost it.

I slip the desk key into its lock and roll the door up, loving the rumble, loving the smell of Granny’s smoke and paper and order and Granny’s ink. Her coffee cup is still there, unwashed, a painted scene of Portsmouth on its side, a threatening sky.

I check each compartment. Among the usual desk paraphernalia and odd photos of Mum and me, I find a picture of a beautiful woman. She’s wearing a smart tweed skirt – about knee length, a satiny collared blouse with a v-necked cashmere sweater, buff stockings and court shoes. She’s sitting on a wall in front of a town-house. Her smile is self conscious. She has sumptuous, dark hair which is swept elegantly away from her face so that I want to see the back. I turn the photo over. There is nothing written on the other side.

I put the photo carefully in my pile of stuff to keep and turn my attention to a stack of unsorted bills, each with “paid” scrawled in blue ink and one gas bill with “Robbery!” underlined three times. And then, in the drawer, I discover stacks and stacks of letters, each on creamy paper folded in thirds and tied into bundles with black elastic. I decide to start reading them over lunch.

I choose one of Granny’s silver teaspoons to eat my avocado half. The little picture on the spoon is of the Tower of London. Sitting at Granny’s desk I select a letter from a pile right at the front of the drawer. It’s just over three years old.

Dear Eleanor,

I have caught cold. I’m confined to bed for now.

I so loved your last letter. I have it here as I write. I really wish you’d come to London and visit me. We could walk beside the Thames and eat ice-creams and be rude to the gulls. Please come. Phone with your arrival time. I don’t have energy to write more now.

Yours, with such love,


I stare at the name. Betty. Who on earth is Betty?

I move on to the next letter. It’s a couple of months older.

Dearest Eleanor,

Our time together flew, as always. I hope you like the teaspoon I’ve enclosed. I bought it for you in Lydd and then, in the rush at the train station, I forgot to give it to you…”

I stop reading, my mind racing with the information about the teaspoon. I jump out of Granny’s chair, go to the glass-fronted cabinet and hunt through the collection. It doesn’t take me long to find the one from Lydd. The picture shows the great hull of a ship propped high and dry on a huge expanse of shingle. I get out my phone and put Lydd into my search engine. It’s in Kent and I soon find that there’s a shingle beach nearby called Dungeness. The boat hull features on the internet too. I look at all the other teaspoons. There are at least thirty of them. I start to wonder more deeply about their story.

I return to Granny’s desk, alive with a new sense of intrigue. Eagerly poring over the various bundles, I choose one with more faded paper, and check the date. Sure enough it’s ten years ago. Granny was writing to this woman for at least a decade and yet I never even heard her name!

I read the top letter.

Dearest Eleanor,

I’m so glad you had such a lovely time with your darling girls. I wish you could give them my love.

My mind is completely full of our planned excursion to Wales. It will be such a trip down memory lane. Last time we were in Wales, it was near the time that little Susie was expected. We squeezed it in a month before her due date so you wouldn’t get caught out.

That was a wonderful week. I still have the scarf I bought at Llangrannog – such a tight, sweet little spot with its pastel houses and that smile of a beach. One evening we ate in that tiny cafe as the sun set and you sang me that song by Gordon Lightfoot – the one about the shipwreck. I remember it so clearly – your sweet voice, the beautiful lilting tune, the way the colour of the sunset made your cheeks glow. Your eyes were so tender. Every time I miss you, I think of that night.”

“Bloody hell!” I croak – the first time I’ve spoken since I arrived. Overwhelmed, I put the letter down and leave it on the desk. Grabbing my coat and the house keys, I head outside to the fields behind the house where I know there’s a little stream.

I climb a stile over a low stone wall and beat through long grass across towards a gate diagonally opposite. I surprise a small group of sheep who stamp nervously and head single-file back the way I’ve come. I stomp through the gate and slam it shut. The old catch clangs a protest.

The noise brings me to a stop and I take some deep breaths, wishing there was somebody I could call. I take out my phone and stare at my mother’s number, tears filling my eyes. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d left a message, knowing she’d never hear it.

I march on, still holding the phone. Beyond the gate, the land drops through trees and boulders to the singing stream. I find a boulder in the sun and sit, watching the water and trammelled stones. A little mustard coloured bird with a red face is busy in a nearby gorse thicket. It keeps up a running commentary of whistles, chatters and squeaks. I try to remember what Granny would’ve said it was. A goldfinch, perhaps?

“Are you telling me Granny’s secrets?” I ask it. “Did she tell you? Did she have anybody to talk to? Oh, poor Granny!”

The bird flies off, alarmed by my rantings. The stream blusters on and a cloud moves across the sun. I keep talking, addressing the ground at my feet now. “She couldn’t even bloody be herself! It’s completely insane! The Granny I knew was a disguise.”

The Granny I knew would have known that bird. She was a keen gardener and, apart from her little orchard and significant vegetable garden, she often told me about how the plants she chose would attract birds and bees. With all her gardening and stewing of fruits, Granny gave off a convincing impression of a happy, settled housewife. But now… now what?

I turn back to my phone and, with blurred eyes, press the little green phone symbol. I hear my mother’s voice: “I can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave a message.” After the tone, my lip wobbles and my throat is completely obstructed. If Mum could ever get the message, she would only hear a few pitiful sniffs.

I move onto the grass and lie back, shielding my eyes with my elbow. In the prism-quilted darkness, I find myself remembering what a friend had told me about Alan Turing – a World War II code-breaker who was essential to the allies gaining an upper hand in Europe. But after the war he was prosecuted for homosexual acts. His shame and the side effects of chemical castration eventually drove him to suicide. He was the same generation as Granny.

My gut churns as I imagine how ostracising it would be to have an essential part of myself denied or shamed in that way. In a modern school yard it would be called bullying and would be treated harshly. But when Granny was young, society and the law imposed a brutal suppression.

I suddenly remember what Granny had said about the desk: “finding the treasures you love at the price you’re willing to pay”. I remove my arm from my face, wincing at the bright sky.

“Oh Granny,” I whisper. “Were you happy? Were you ever able to be happy?”

Perhaps for women, I comfort myself, public intimacy was less obviously strange than for men. Maybe she and Betty were able to have wonderful holidays together without arousing much suspicion.

I begin to wonder if Granny loved her husband in any way and how she felt on her wedding day. And then it strikes me how little I know about my grandfather. I wish I could remember him. I can’t even remember seeing any photos of him. I realise, with astonishment, that I never wondered at this lack. I am appalled. The Shannon glare stopped me asking questions, damming my curiosity before it could even trickle.

I suddenly see Granny’s secret as a thick fog that consumed us all. We lived in the present and looked to the future. And my mother, brought up in Granny’s deliberate smoke shield, must have assumed it was normal. I knew but little of my own father. They had never married. Mum had told me his name but had discouraged seeking him out… not with words but with evasions and that invariable Shannon glare.

In this swirl of ponderings, I fall asleep and dream of my father. He is paddling in the stream and he grins at me and says “Susie, you goose, have you been fluttering in the dovecote?” I am angry and yell back “It’s about bloody time, don’t you think?!” He only laughs and I see his arms windmill and the great jewelled arc of stream-water heading my way.

I wake up, tense with cold. It’s evening. The sky is deep lilac and there are frogs burping in the stream. Somewhere nearby an owl calls. I sit up, rubbing each of my limbs vigorously.

I find myself humming and I realise it’s the song that Betty mentioned in her letter. Somehow it has come to me in my sleep. Granny and I used to sing it together when we were peeling apples. I try to fill in the blanks as I clamber stiffly to my feet and head through the field.

“The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from dardle daa di dum dum di da
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a deedle dum daa di dum dee da”1

I ponder the story of the song – the great freighter of 17 years service, broken in half by the savage storm on Lake Superior in 1975. All 29 crew died.

Granny’s life was not a shipwreck. Of that I feel positive. She had lots of good things happening. It is clear, from the few letters I read, that she loved Mum and me. It is also clear that Betty knew and understood this commitment. And, indeed, Betty and Granny seemed to have a beautiful relationship, even if it was a secret.

I stop before the stile and pick handfuls of wild flowers in the gloom. A stomp alerts me to the sheep, huddled about 20 metres off. The dim mass of them moves almost imperceptibly and I think I can almost feel their warmth, and hear the reassuring shush of their breathing. I murmur to them softly “Night, friends. Thanks for saving me some flowers.”

I plan to put the flowers in a vase. In fact, I am making a list of plans, none of which include leaving Granny’s house any time soon. Tomorrow I will ring my workplace and negotiate significant leave. And tomorrow, I will go through those crates from the attic that I had set aside for the dump and check every single piece of paper for any clues. Any clues at all.

1“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” Gordon Lightfoot 1976

22 thoughts on “Granny Shannon’s House

      1. I thought you could have retained the charm of the story but used fewer words, yes. I must admit, though, I never found WP to be a good place to elicit serious crit – I found it more of a polite round of applause than an in-depth analysis.
        I knew a guy on here – I think he walked in the end – who used to get very frustrated that the most he ever got from his few readers was a “nice”. He seriously couldn’t understand why he didn’t have thousands of followers clamouring to read him.
        As a rule of thumb, this is just me on my work, but if I give one of my pieces what I consider to be a pretty severe pruning, I find I get about a 20% reduction on the word count before I feel that the story has lost quality..

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I figure we get to this threshold where we start reading through it and need to start adding words back in! That’s what happens to me, anyhow 🤣
        I tell you another thing I found… I found a writing partner very useful just in pointing out flaws before I published stuff. But finding a compatible writing partner is generally acknowledged to be a nightmare.
        You might want to look at a site called I signed up but the first person I met was rude to me so I ditched it. But I could imagine it may be useful.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. LOL. I do that to poems – take so many words out I have to start putting them back in. But I haven’t got there with prose yet. Just thinking up a plot is an achievement for me. Finding compatible writing partners is definitely a challenge. At Uni, constructive criticism was part of the course (from fellow students as well as teaching staff). I recently reconnected with a girl from my year and course at Uni. I feel very safe to make suggestions with her and know that she will do the same. As long as it’s in the spirit of helping, not of being rude (as you say) it should work.


  1. I like Mr. Bump’s suggestion of a writing partner. When I was writing short fiction in my twenties (and racking up rejection slips), I had no one to share it with prior to submitting it to publishers. I think this sort of stunted my growth as a fiction writer back then. I also had a creative writing course in college, and we had peer critiques of our pieces (and the teacher gave her two cents’ worth when needed). It was difficult to discover that what made sense to me sometimes didn’t resonate with anyone else, and I had to explain what I was trying to say. It was awkward. I have a few old stories that move slowly in the early stages, but my reasoning was that I was “setting the scene.” I never really liked the oft-preached notion of beginning a short story in the middle, with no set-up. Set-up is more appropriate for novels, I kept reading my writing resource books, but to me, a story loses its richness if it feels rushed. I suppose it explains my pile of rejection slips and my eventually giving up on writing prose. Writing is such a personal experience, and as writers we want to share it with readers so they’ll feel it just like we do . But don’t tell that to an editor who has a habit of giving a story a one-paragraph or even a one-sentence chance to make an impact. It’s a sad truth about the publishing business. I loved this story of yours. Its pacing was ideal for its subject matter. It’s just difficult to find a place for certain kinds of stories. Stephen King always said to “edit ruthlessly.” But then it feels like we’re strangling our own creation. At any rate, this is a wonderful story. You truly have a gift. Don’t let these rejections get you down. You’ll always have my support. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mike, sorry it has taken me so long to reply to this generous and thoughtful response to my story. I’ve been pushing myself so hard to write write write and have had quite a lot happening personally as well. Honestly, I was totally overwhelmed by how many people bothered to read this story! I genuinely thought people might be put off by its length. And not only have people read it but they’ve commented so fully! It has been amazing! I think a short story must have an arc all of its own that I haven’t fully grasped yet. I am so used to the detail I’m allowed in my poetry. To always push and push with plot plot plot is very foreign to me. Even to think up a plot is pretty hard work. I read a published short story by a guy who is judging one of the competitions I’ve entered. It started quite slow and bland, had a very exciting and unexpected middle and then finished slow and bland again. It was well written but I really didn’t understand the shape. I’m taking a rest from short stories at the moment and participating in NAPOWRIMO. That’s been hard work too. Congratulations on your publications in Masticadores! Your poetry is beautiful.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love literary writing, which is sometimes “verbose” but it’s always subjective on what makes a piece fall into “purple prose” or if it’s needed for the story. I loved this line thought, “I see my face upside-down in a soup ladle, rumpled as a storm cloud.” I’d say go through and keep your favorite lines that move the story forward and cut anything that doesn’t. “Kill your darlings” they always preached in the MFA program I attended. It’s soo hard though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Tricia! I remember that phrase, “kill your darlings”. It’s so hard, when it’s a darling, to pick whether it’s a good one or in the wrong place.
      Sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your comment. I’ve been pushing myself so hard to write write write and have had quite a lot happening personally as well. Honestly, I was totally overwhelmed by how many people bothered to read this story! I genuinely thought people might be put off by its length. And not only have people read it but they’ve commented so fully! It has been amazing!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand completely, life is a roller coaster at times, but I do enjoy reading here and try to comment when I feel I have something to say, I do enjoy reading and writing longer works when I have the time, but all too often it’s just a twitter poem I manage! 😆

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I liked much of your story but thought it could be edited to build the tension between the granny Susie knew and the woman revealed in the letters.
    Lots of incidental descriptions are good. I liked the bit about the spoons and the details of the cabinet where the letters were.
    I wrote a few short stories when I was doing my Masters in Creative Writing but found it a difficult form to master. I think you have a good grasp of the form but, as Mr. Bump said, the writing style is a little verbose.
    Editing is such a difficult process. I found when I wrote my novel that I had to throw out everything that didn’t drive the story forward.
    A local writing group or a writing partner could be a good idea. When I was doing my Masters a small group of us set a private online writing group through WordPress. It was a closed group so outsiders couldn’t see our work. We would post story ideas and short stories and other group members would offer critiques. It worked quite well for a while though finding that fine line between having people say everything was ‘nice’ or being overly critical was difficult.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Suzanne. This is really good feedback and so appreciated. It’s interesting that even in your novel you felt so much need to strip back any “extras”. Going from poetry which can be entirely descriptive, to this very plot driven prose is quite a culture shock. I had wondered if I should try a novel but sounds like my verbosity wouldn’t be a natural fit there either.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, the novel is the place for verbosity. I write sparingly. I wish I could use more words 🙂 What I was getting at in editing is pushing the story forward – cutting out the extraneous detail that doesn’t really add to the story and slows the reader down. I found that 30% to 40% of my first draft went off on dead ends and tangents that didn’t add to the story. When I cut them out and concentrated on the essence of the story I wanted to tell I found the writing was stronger.
        It’s interesting that you mention novel writing. When I began reading your story I was reminded of the atmospheric English novels that I used to love reading when I was younger. I was almost going to say I thought the story would make of a good working synopsis for a novel but thought you’d probably groan at the thought of writing an entire a novel. Now you’ve mentioned it – I’d say go for it. Either with this story or with some other story that really captures your imagination. There are many ‘how to’ guides out there that offer pointers and countless online writing support groups for first time novelists.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Suzanne. Life off the screen is very dominating ATM so I probably won’t try and write a novel just now. But, but, but I do want to. And I’m very interested in the idea of online support groups. I’ll have to look into that. How long does it take to feel justified in spending time writing? I look at my “not now, but soon” excuse and know that it’s dangerous. There’s already been 25 years of that.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Novel writing is utterly demanding. I wrote my novel during all the lockdowns we had here. I don’t think I would have done it otherwise. A friend said they would like to a read a sequel. They’ll be waiting a good long while! I find writing works best for me if I approach it as if it’s just something I do now and then. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This was an interesting read, Worms. I have a few suggestions if you don’t mind me sharing them. Obviously, feel free to ignore them. I hope they don’t offend you, they’re meant to be helpful.

    Some descriptions felt unnecessary and I would take some out, or rather shave them down to the most striking adjectives/metaphors.

    I felt there was a lot of repetition of the word Granny and I wonder if there was another way you could refer to her. It was just something I noticed happened too much.

    I would amp up the intrigue so we are privy to the realisations forming In Susie’s mind but it dawns on us all of a sudden, you know? So there’s more of Granny’s big reveal. Because the secret we uncover was actually quite surprising but very gently revealed.

    But aside form that, it’s a lovely write 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Sunra! Sorry it has taken me so long to reply to this generous and thoughtful response to my story. I’ve been pushing myself so hard to write write write and have had quite a lot happening personally as well. Honestly, I was totally overwhelmed by how many people bothered to read this story! I genuinely thought people might be put off by its length. And not only have people read it but they’ve commented so fully! It has been amazing!

      I like your suggestions but I haven’t figured out if I know how to carry them out. I probably need to totally rewrite it and … for the moment, I can’t face that. I have already rewritten it 3 times. LOL. Well, not completely but it’s had 3 very significant make-overs. At the moment I’m trying to participate in NAPWRIMO and it’s taking up ALL my creative head space (which has been a little reduced the last week or so). I will always appreciate genuinely thoughtful feedback such as yours. Don’t worry about offending me. When it comes to my writing… I like to know what people think would help it. I think feedback is all about intent. If the intent is to offend, no doubt it will. But if it is intended to help and nurture the writing, then there’s nothing to be offended about. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love your attitude, Worms! I also take the same view and absolutely always welcome constructive feedback. Pruning is all part of the process of cultivating good stuff!

        I must admit I found it hilarious that you had to do so many rewrites 😀 Totally understand the feeling!

        I have a few suggestions (I always do for other people’s work but can never quite apply the same advice to my own, ha ha!)

        When I’m not sure what to do with a piece, I just shelve it for a while. Then come back to it some weeks or months later with fresh eyes and I find that I know exactly what to do with it.

        With what I said about the creating more intrigue, maybe you could reveal Granny’s secret quite suddenly with a very intimate letter or photo so some such thing. Lead the reader elsewhere then shock them with this revelation.

        Also, about the repetition of the word granny, you could just use variations instead: gran, grandma, nan, nanna.

        One idea I think could work – though some writers might not like it – is to ask a good writer friend to chop and edit the story for you just to see how it then reads. It might not be how you like it but it makes for a fascinating experiment. It helps add a new perspective if nothing else and is good to keep for reference. Just a thought.


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