Approximately 1000 words. Start with the sentence “Nearly three years since I last visited her… somehow I always knew it would come to this.” and be about Sheffield in some way.
The South of Yorkshire
Nearly three years since I last visited her… somehow I always knew it would come to this.
The letter had come through this morning. London postmark, fancy headed paper. I’d stuffed it silently back into the envelope.
I took a breath, the early evening wind now rippling through the leaves. Sheffield’s centre was slowly illuminating below us, as dusk veiled the sombre steel and stone of the city.
We’d been meeting here for ten years now, on and off. It was a relatively quiet spot, despite the number of people congregating upon the hill.
I gently pushed the hair across her head, brushed the crumbs from her lap, and carefully placed the flowers down next to her bed. I felt her smile upon me, her radiance, her warmth. A Mother’s love.
Sheffield had been my home, my all, for thirty-seven years now, yet I still forced my hands deep into my coat pockets, the mild chill of late September nipping at my bones. The University students were back now, draped in their hoodies, shorts and flip flops, whilst I shivered in my thick North Face jacket and cursed my own stubbornness. “Take some gloves,” my wife had called out to me as I left the house. I hadn’t, of course.
The older residents disagreed, but I always enjoyed the buzz of the students back in town. It made that early morning drive to work a little less lonely, as weary revellers stumbled home wearing yesterday’s clothes, using the dry-stone walls lining the pavements to bounce themselves back to vertical. The local dogs also loved the students, as their Sunday morning walk would always be filled with the promise of discarded chips and kebab meat, strewn along Eccy Road.
My muscles groaned from the walk up here. Bloody hills, bloody temperature. I’d never grown accustomed to any of it. I was turning forty next week, and Mel had booked out the Ranmoor Inn for friends and family to celebrate. Yet I still couldn’t drink a pint of real ale without some sort of chemical reaction occurring in my stomach, leading to the rapid evacuation of all contents previously sealed calmly inside my body.
It had always been the case. I’d never felt like I conformed to the Yorkshire way: that gruff, manly stereotype. At school, whilst other boys were growing hair on their chests like an eagle’s nest on a rocky outcrop, I was still busy picking the fluff out of my belly button. Given the choice, I’d always signed up to chess club rather than cross country, I said “very” instead of “reyt”, and I didn’t own a ferret.
Furthermore, I couldn’t see the point of Yorkshire puddings, a curd tart sounded like Cockney rhyming slang, and I HATED Henderson’s Relish.
There, I said it.
But I’d never left, it had never even crossed my mind. My roots were set deeply in Sheffield, even as my family began to move away. I’d fallen in love here, I’d gotten married here, I’d had my children here. Funny little Yorkshire children, who ordered fishcakes at the local chip shop, listened to old Pulp and Arctic Monkeys tracks on YouTube, and got a proper monk on if it rained and I told them to come inside.
I felt anchored here, I felt safe here. I was from Yorkshire, God’s own country, born and bred.
And yet the letter I’d received this morning said otherwise.
It said, in fact, that I was from the small village of Mickleham in Surrey, many miles from the northern city of Sheffield. I’d Googled Mickleham of course. It looked flat there. It looked warm there. It looked like you could happily drink a vodka, lemonade and lime there, without somebody asking if you were allergic to yeast, or had undergone gender reassignment surgery, or were just a little bit on the pathetic side.
It transpired that I’d been put up for adoption at the age of three, and the Mother I gazed down upon now with affection wasn’t in truth my Mother at all. I had no recollection of the move or the process or the upheaval in my younger life, but clearly something had lingered from that short amount of time. I was a soft, Southern seed that had been uprooted, grown and nurtured up in the hard North.
I looked across at the city again, the distant sound of ringing trams carrying on the air, the striking Peak District a further stone’s throw away. I saw the steep incline behind the train station where Mel and I shared our first kiss. I saw the mirrored lake in the park where I asked her to be my wife. I saw the shadowed shape of the hospital our beautiful children were born in.
In reality, I’d flourished here, guided by the love of parents I’d always presumed I was biologically related to. My adopted parents. My parents.
The Mother I had spent a happy and content childhood with, the Mother I towered over now, was a strong, frizzy, generous woman, who gave me all her heart and expected nothing in return. Why hadn’t she told me? Why hadn’t she explained to me that I didn’t belong?
Why? Because she knew it didn’t matter. Because she knew I overthought things. Because she knew I was a stubborn bastard. Like my wife informs me on a daily basis, “You can always tell a Yorkshire man, but you can’t tell him much.”
I pushed away again at the moss that had fallen like hair across her headstone. I brushed at the dirt that had blown upon her plaque in the ground. I straightened the flowers beside her grave.
I silently promised I wouldn’t leave it so long next time. Three years was a lonely time.
As I exited the cemetery, I dropped the letter from the London agency into the accommodating bin.
I didn’t care.
She was my Mum.
And this was my city.