Next Of Kin

Entry by: writerYNKGHTYLDE

18th September 2015
THE clock ticked. As only the grandfather clock could tick. Loudly, methodically, every second counting down to the next chime.
Jimmy sat at the big oak table in the farmhouse kitchen. He dipped his old fountain pen in the ink and carefully started writing on the large sheet of paper in front of him.
With his yellowing, shrivelled fingers, deeply wrinkled, like the rutted channels by the nearby estuary, diligently, deliberately Jimmy moved his hand across the paper. He marked down numbers in all the boxes next to that day’s date, September 20, 2015. Rainfall, temperature (maximum and minimum), next to the numbers he'd already previously filled out for the whole year – tide times, highs and lows.
He also took the latest chart from his late father’s barograph, lifting the mahogany lid from the instrument delicately as he did so, as he had done every Sunday morning for years, and removed from the brass drum, the curled paper with its jagged line of dark blue ink, slightly smudged, charting the week’s highs and lows of atmosphere, and laid it out on a separate pile. He placed silver paperweights at both ends, both passed down in his father’s will from his ancestors in the cotton mills, to prevent the paper curling.
Jimmy was religious with his weather statistics. Every morning started with the brown Roberts radio blurting out next to his bed.
The Shipping Forecast. Jimmy always got up when it got to Fair Isle.
He flicked off the radio switch, flicked on the bedside lamp, and fumbled for the chain on his late grandfather's silver pocket watch, opened the clasp held it to his ear to check it was still ticking, kissed it, closed it, said a short prayer, and then dragged himself out of bed.
He headed down the steep stairs, turned over the calendar on the dresser to that day's date and said good morning to Billy, his faithful beagle, who, right on cue, dragged himself out of his own bed.
Jimmy opened the kitchen door, his hand turning the old metal key in the lock, letting Billy stagger out onto the stone doorstep.
Jimmy followed Billy outside, stopped and filled his lungs with one deep breath.
He held his breath for a few moments, then let out a deep sigh – exhaling his own ‘smoke’ into the early morning September air, the cold catching in the back of his throat and making him splutter.
His heavy black shoes temporarily made their darkening mark on the glistening, dew-smothered grass, charting his daily path to his battered, wooden weather station over by the stone wall.
There Jimmy held up the tube of water, reached for his small pencil from behind his left ear, made a scribble in his notebook, and took the readings from the thermometers, before closing the box.
Jimmy turned around, looked up to the weather vane on the roof, Old Father Time, he’d had it made for his father by a local blacksmith in honour of his dad’s love of cricket – the lovingly crafted metalwork a replica of the symbol of Lord’s cricket ground.
Today, looking out across the fields, where the morning mist hung heavy, the weather vane hardly moved, just the faintest of creaks audible, as it swung ever so slightly towards the west.
Jimmy turned and called Billy to join him on his way back into the kitchen.
After methodically pouring out Billy’s food, the dry cubes rattling into the silver bowl by the door, Jimmy took his seat at the table and started to complete his weather charts.
A few minutes later, by the time Billy, nose to the floor, scraping his bowl around the tiled floor, finally gave up on finding any more morsels, and wandered slowly over to the kitchen table to sit by his master's feet, Jimmy stood up and placed the completed weather sheet carefully on top of the pile on the table.
As Jimmy looked up he looked at how high the piles of papers had become, now towering over him. The sheer scale was staggering. Mountains of sheets, months, years, decades of weather charts, all meticulously completed. Some piles had become faded brown by the sun. Others were tinged by mould and emitted a musty odour due to the winter damp. All were weathered by time.
Jimmy got out one more piece of paper, another official-looking document, but this time from his late father’s weathered-brown leather briefcase.
“The last will and testament of Jimmy Shuttleworth.”
Jimmy looked down at the “next of kin” section on the form and the aching, gaping blank space next to it.
Then he looked down at Billy and broke his silence.
“Sorry lad, but they won’t let me put your name down on here. Don’t worry, I’ve left it all to the animal charity. They’ll look after you son." And with that he gave Billy a gentle pat.
Jimmy had never married. He’d never had children. No brothers or sisters. No cousins. After centuries this was finally the end of the Shuttleworth family.
Jimmy wasn’t going to wait any longer for the illness to creep over him, to snuff out the last of his life, the last of his line.
Ever since a week earlier the doctors had told him there was nothing more they could do, Jimmy had gone home to die. He wanted to choose his own time.
It had taken him a few days to get his house in order.
Once he knew his beloved Billy would be cared for, he just wanted to see out that final week of weather.
He’d no idea what was waiting for him on the other side, whether raging storm, or tranquil heavens, but he was past anger, past fear. He’d come to accept his fate.
He opened the tub of pills, swigged them all down with a huge glass of whisky – Talisker, his late father’s favourite – put his head on the table and waited for the final reckoning.
Billy snoozed gently at his master’s feet, none the wiser, disturbed briefly only when the grandfather clock’s rhythm changed, it ticked, clicked, whirred, and then started its chime.
Time and tide wait for no man.