Once I Was A Soldier
When Margret Elizabeth Iverson passed suddenly away her husband, Albert, quickly descended into a darkness of sorrow from which he never recovered. The medical diagnosis, as stated on his death certificate sixteen days after his wife had left him, did not recognise grief as the reason for his demise. It identified a weak heart as the primary cause, initially inflicted when he was five years of age and suffered rheumatic fever. The fact that his heart failure happened so soon after Margret's death was said to be nothing but a coincidence. Melissa, their only living child, disagreed with that view. She checked the bathroom cabinet where Albert kept his medication the day after his death.
There was almost half a month's supply of blood-thinning tablets along with his diabetic and sundry medication which she found odd, as it was she who had arranged the collection of his usual twenty-eight-day prescription from the town's chemist; exactly twenty-three days ago. There should only have been five days' supply left, she said silently to herself, before loudly adding, “Daddy,” said with tears wheeling in her eyes, “how could you do this to me?” knowing full well that no answer could come from the private ambulance in which he'd been taken from Iverson Hall and there was no one else who could supply an answer.
* * *
The Iversons had enjoyed their wealthy status since Melissa's great-great-grandfather developed the successful use of a cylindrical wrought iron tunnelling device and then the linings used inside those tunnels that were beginning to criss-cross London, then Europe and North and South America in underground railways systems. It was his money and enterprise that bought the foundries and smelting works which in time had laid the foundation for the Iverson Iron and Steel Company that Albert had managed from 1968 at the age of thirty-nine until his untimely death, at the age of sixty-three. Now it was to be Melissa's responsibility and the one she had emphatically shied away from whenever mentioned by Albert.
* * *
“You remind me of a lonely old man standing over the toilet pan taking a long slow, excruciatingly painful piss over and over again before realising that something in his life is drastically wrong. I'm telling you that I will not become a slave to some smelly, filthy industry like you have done, for the rest of all my life. I have my own life ahead of me and I intend to lead it in the manner I choose. It's not my fault that Mother could not bear you another son to carry the bloody family name on and you can't keep punishing me for Frederick's death. It was a bullet that killed him, not me! His choice to join the army, not mine. I never forced him nor wanted him to leave. He was the only one in this house that I liked!” She took a deep breath before she continued her denunciation of her family's heritage.
“I've sat with you at those board meetings and I've been treated as if I don't exist. Men like them despise women in general and particularly young ones like me. They do not need to see me once a month for an opinion on what's happening in the iron and steel market and quite frankly I find York old, antiquated and boring. In fact, I find the whole of Yorkshire the same! What I know about steel fabrication could be written on the tip of my lipstick. And they know it! They tolerate me because of you, Father. As far as I'm concerned when you're gone I'm selling your majority shareholding and be done with all their pretend smiles and platitudes.”
* * *
In so many ways Melissa mirrored her father and not only in appearance. She shared his height, just under five foot eleven inches and the colour of his hair; black as the freshly mined coal that was carried daily to the factories. His hair, however, was straight, as was her mother's, but it was only in her childhood that she complained about her curls. He was strongly built, being wide-shouldered and slim at the waist, whereas Melissa's build was acutely feminine in every degree. The close-set emerald green eye colouring came from him, as did her stubbornness, her temper and determination to succeed. But her measure of success was not one she shared with him. This defiant disposition was on show as Melissa raged at Albert on the evening of the day of Margret's late October funeral.
“I've had enough of this constant nagging away at me. I will not take on those factories. They go as soon as you go. The same day, the same hour! The more you go on about it the more chance there is of me phoning your broker than calling for an ambulance if you keel over like Mother. Leave it alone, Father, or I swear ……” She had no need to finish her sentence as Albert knew exactly what she would have sworn to do next.
But it was a subject that he couldn't leave alone. For those sixteen days that Albert had Melissa to himself the two of them fought ferociously, especially when Albert appealed to his daughter's benevolent side.
“There are the employees, Melissa. You must consider them before you barter their livelihood away for your own greed. A good many of them have for generations worked for our family since the foundries were first established. There is no other work in most of the areas available to them. If you were to sell our holdings in one go, confidence in our stability would plummet overnight. With the present state of the steel market being what it is that action could be devastating. Think about it another way. Run the business through an advisor. I'll find you one. You have your whole life ahead of you to fulfil your ambitions, after all you're only just out of university. There's ample time. One day you'll no doubt marry and have children. It's common practice now for a wife to add her family name to that of her husband. If you have a son there will be the legacy of more than a hundred of years of Iverson business to inherit, not just mere money. Give a thought to all those people who will be affected by your decision before it's too late.”
Unfortunately, if there was a caring side to his daughter it wasn't to be found on this or any of the other days they had together.
“Why would I be in the least bit interested in people I've never met nor am likely to, Father! Would they care about me? Of course they wouldn't. As for marrying; no thank you. I've seen enough of your own to see that doesn't work. Children! Where did that come from? Any thought of me mothering a snivelling, screaming child to carry on your name can be put right out of your head because that will never happen. No, the factories will close and the sooner the better. Of course, none of this matters whilst you're around and who knows how long…?” She turned from the fireplace where she had stood warming herself, to see that her father had left the room. She gave no thought to his sombre mood nor any to his pleas for humility. Although she knew the meaning of that word, at the age of twenty-three it was not something she possessed.