This is the section where you will find the creations of the deepest recesses of my walnut-sized brain! Short Stories, mostly with a twist of humour, often black, or at least a dingy grey!
You'll also find them in the archives at the side where you will also find the comments. I couldn't find a way to transport those over here successfully.
The wind howled and whistled down the chimney and under the doors of the dilapidated cottage.
Philomena Geraghty shivered in front of the coal fire she’d built, wishing she’d had gas-fires put in like her nephew was always urging her to do. But it was so expensive, at least it seemed so to her, the quotes he’d got for her and those, he’d said, were from a friend too.
He was so thoughtful, her Mark. Always thinking of her and the ways in which he could improve her comfort, although she didn’t know what she would do with a jacuzzi and had told him so. He’d said it would be good for her bad back and was a snip at £300.00.
Philomena sighed. He’d be around later to see her, she’d ask him then if his friend could still get those gas-fires cheap. She had to say, things were much dearer than when she was a girl.
She remembered this coal fire being put in when the old blacklead range was removed. To be honest, she had preferred the range. It was always warm and cosy and her mother kept it `banked up’, which she had tried to do innumerable times with this miserable coal-fire, without much success.
She got up and made herself a cup of tea in the kitchen. She had a new hob and oven, which Mark had insisted she bought for herself. He’d noticed a smell of gas escaping from her old oven and nagged her until she let his friend bring the new hob and oven. She’d also had to buy some new kitchen units to fit the oven and hob into. The extra matching units didn’t cost much more and Mark said it would be better to have a proper job done - much more hygienic.
She filled her new white jug kettle and settled it back on its base. She was thinking how different it was to her old kettle, which she’d boiled up on the old stove.
When Mark arrived, he was doubtful if his friend could still get the fires as cheap as they’d been, but used the mobile phone he’d convinced her he needed so she could always contact him in the event of an emergency, to ring his friend about them.
It turned out they would be £100 more than the originals but were a much better fire and would be installed that evening. What’s more, his friend would bring a couple of fire-surrounds too. Cheap, naturally.
That evening, when the fires and surrounds were installed, she sat in front of one enjoying the warmth. She’d spent a lot of money on the cottage recently, although she still had enough of a nest egg to live on for the rest of her life. And now she was warm too.
The bathroom and kitchen were both done, the new gas-fires installed in all the rooms, although she’d considered putting them in the bedrooms an extravagance, Mark had pointed out that she had to keep her bedroom aired otherwise she’d catch pneumonia and at her age “we don’t want that do we?”.
She thought how lucky she was that Mark looked after her. She thought perhaps she should change her will.
Leaving him this draughty old cottage and leaving the rest of her estate to the cat’s home was something she had decided on when he was a child because he’d seemed such a money-minded boy then. She’d made him aware of the fact that he’d get no cash from an early age and it had seemed to work. To a degree.
He still came to see her every day and was careful of and concerned for her health and wellbeing. Only last night he’d suggested new windows and doors to make the old cottage less draughty and she thought she would do them because, apparently, they were more secure too, having special locks on them and they were made of plastic, so she wouldn’t have to pay anyone to paint them anymore.
Yes, she would have them done. Mark’s friend said they’d be fitted in a day and the money saved in heating and maintenance would offset their considerable expense. _______________
Two weeks later the windows arrived, but unfortunately too late for Philomena, who had fallen down the stairs one evening just after Mark had left the cottage, to lie unconscious o the lobby floor until the next day when he couldn’t raise a response on her phone.
She died on her way to hospital murmuring something about a will but whatever it was would have to remain undone forever.
Two months later, Mark rubbed his hands in glee as he walked down the path to his new home. The windows would be installed today.
Oh, but he was such a crafty fellow! He had always known the old girl would leave him the cottage, but no money with which to resurrect it from dereliction and so had embarked upon a programme of improvements whilst she was still alive. He didn’t really begrudge the kitties the remainder - he didn’t think there’d be much left! And good old Alfie, getting all the stuff dirt cheap and providing extortionately inflated billheads.
If he’d paid the gas board to install the fires it would have cost nearly as much as the receipt Alfie had provided for Auntie Phil!
The windows were in by teatime and the new upvc front door looked really good. Not only that, but it was instantly warmer, the howling gale from under the door having been stopped and the draughts from the elderly windows now having been eliminated.
He was very pleased with himself. The window fitters had done a very tidy job and he wouldn’t even have to re-decorate yet.
He ate his tea in the now warm kitchen and then settled down on his sofa in front of the new gas fire and new television with a large glass of Auntie Phil’s vintage brandy. Not that Auntie Phil liked brandy - she didn’t actually drink, but he had told her it was ‘medicinal’ and she should keep it in for emergencies. It would appear she’d never had one as the bottle was unopened.
He chuckled with self-satisfaction. It was warm and comfortable sitting inhis cottage, on his sofa, drinking hisbrandy. He was feeling distinctly drowsy and thought he’d have a little nap, sleep off the good food and drink that Auntie had kindly provided. He could do whatever he wanted to do now. He could come and go as he pleased, not like the bedsit.
It was three days later they found him. Carbon monoxide poisoning. Due to his death following hard on the heels of his Aunt’s the authorities mounted a detailed investigation into the cause of death. In the course of the investigation, the cottage was checked over.
“Bloody stupid people. Fancy letting just anyone fit gas fires,” Detective Inspector Bob Walls said to his colleague, ”and the fires are faulty too. No doubt some villain sold them to the old duck, probably at an exorbitant price, and fitted them incorrectly too. Shame her nephew didn’t notice. I believe he was devoted to his Aunt and she left him this place.
D.I. Walls ran his finger over the seal of one of the new windows.
“It might not even have been fatal had the nephew not installed these new draughtproof windows. No ventilation see? The receipts we found were fakes, so we don’t even know who supplied and fitted the gas-fires.”
“So there’s no-one else in the frame then, Guv?” O’Rourke asked.
“A beneficiary you mean?” Walls sniggered, “ Not unless you count forty-odd moggies at the cat’s home. That’s where it reverts to on the nephew’s demise!”
Children’s laughter rang out across the school playground, mingling with the shouts of the boys playing football and the raised voices of juvenile dispute. The children milled around and eventually made their way out of the school gates, jostling and pushing.
Carl waited patiently, looking for the fair head of the child he was waiting for.
He’d been waiting here each play and home time for weeks, trying to psyche himself up for what he knew he had to do. He knew it was wrong but still, he had to do it, couldn’t not do it.
Still no sign of the little girl with the golden hair. Carl bit his nails. What if she wasn’t in school today? He’d have to come back tomorrow if that was the case. One more day wouldn’t make any difference to him.
Carl made his way home to the squalid bedsit he rented. Well, he wouldn’t be here for long. He wasn’t anywhere for long and as soon as he got her, he’d be on the move again, preferably somewhere far away.
The black and white portable t.v he’d picked up in a junk shop had quite a good picture and he had no difficulty at all in recognising himself on the news magazine programme that was on. He didn’t look like that now, however. A bottle of hair-dye, a razor and a pair of glasses seeing to that. He looked years older with his pate shaved and the glasses on, his remaining hair dyed grey.
He hoped his trip to the school the next afternoon would produce a more satisfactory result than today’s He didn’t know how long it would be safe to be around here.
Carl switched off the t.v. and stretched out on the grubby bed. He might as well read one of his collection of special books. There was nothing on t.v. and it was better he stayed away from the pub - it would be dangerous for him to risk drinking even a little too much in his present frame of mind – he might do something rash. He knew where she lived, he had followed her home once and it wasn’t that far away from this place.
He exhausted his supply of reading material and fell asleep on top of the covers until the cold, grey light of dawn intruded between his eyelids.
He rose and drank coffee and ate some toast. He couldn’t face anything more substantial before a snatch. He would eat later, after he’d done what he had to do.
He dwelt on what he was going to do today and felt a strange but familiar mix of excitement and nerves. He felt almost sick. He was always very nervous beforehand but this time it was worse than usual.
He thought maybe it was time for him to give it up. It did seem to be starting to get to him a little too much, the looking over his shoulder all the time, the nervous tic at the sight of a police uniform. But he knew also, how good it would feel once he had the girl. Nothing could erase or beat that elation, but nothing.
She wouldn’t be too much trouble to bundle into the car, she was quite a small girl for her age and he was quite confident there would be no problem on that score, provided he could find a nice quiet spot with no witnesses. Of course, once she was in his car, he’d be home and dry.
He spent the day making preparations, packing his few things into his holdall. He’d leave the t.v. for the next tenant, it might draw attention if he was spotted carrying it and he planned the route to his next stop.
He’d have to be careful to clean the flat thoroughly – including the t.v – and to remove all traces of the girl from the car afterwards, otherwise a police spot-check could cause him serious problems.
The girl came out of school a little late today, which suited his purposes as there were fewer people around.
He saw her take leave of her friend, who went off in the opposite direction, and heard the call their goodbyes.
“’night Jane,” he’d heard her call to her friend.
“See you tomorrow Tess,” the dark girl had called back.
Carl smiled. He liked the name Tess. His gran’s name was Therese, but his granddad had always shortened it to Tess.
Following her in the car was easy, although he’d get rid of that at the first opportunity too, just in case it was seen. He was sick of driving bangers, but you couldn’t afford to dump a good car.
He saw his opportunity ahead. There was a pillar-box on a deserted part of the road, so he parked up, leaving the engine running and the passenger door open. He intended standing by the post-box with some envelopes in his hand, so he’d look like he was posting letters and when she walked by, he’d grab her, put the pad of chloroform over her face and bundle her in. It would take seconds. He’d done similar enough times now to have it off to a fine art.
It went exactly to plan, except he thought he’d been spotted by an old woman looking out of her window but she wouldn’t have seen much even had she been looking, so smoothly it went.
It took about two and a half hours to reach their destination. Time for the final and, to him, best part of it. He stopped the car in a clearing in a wood and got out. He got out and went to the passenger side where he opened the door and lifted out the still sleeping form of the child. He carried her deeper into the wood where there was another car waiting. a woman stood anxiously smoking a cigarette. As soon as she saw them she stubbed out the cigarette and hurried towards them.
“You got her!” Excitement sparkled in her eyes, “I didn’t think you’d do it!”
“It took a while, but yes, as you see, I got her. I just hope your husband never finds either of us. I think he’ll be quite peeved when he finds his daughter gone!” Carl looked at the sleeping child, taking in the bruised legs and a fading yellow mark on the girl’s forehead. “He’s still hitting her then.”
“Not any more,” Tess’s mother took her daughter into her arms and kissed her tenderly on the bruised forehead, “ No, not any more.”
“Where will you go?” Carl asked.
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ve got it all planned out. We’ve got tickets on a ferry to Ireland in an hour. He’ll not find us. What about you?”
“I think I just completed my last case of abduction. I can’t do it forever and my face is getting known now too. I was on telly last night! Not much good for a so-called private detective!” They both laughed nervously.
“We’d better go. We’ll miss the ferry.”
“She’s a beautiful child. I hope you find peace in Ireland.”
“Thank you again Carl. You’ve been a good friend to us. If you ever come to Ireland, come and see us.”
Carl looked at her with longing. “How will I find you Cathy? You don’t know where you’re going yourself.”
She shifted the child’s weight on to her other shoulder and said slowly, “You could always come with us.”
Carl grinned a slow grin. “I’ve always had a soft spot for the Irish.....
Ray was fed up. His girlfriend had packed him in, his best mate was away on holiday with his own bird and his mum had taken up with a door-to-door salesman from Gobowen.
Not that he had anything against door-to-door salesmen, or Gobowen for that matter, but his mum used to cook and clean for him, and she didn’t now.
He sat in his armchair in front of the T.V with an open can of beans and sausage and a spoon .
Well, he liked cold beans. And it saved on the washing up.
The game-show on the telly was even more inane than he remembered.
He didn’t usually watch T.V - he’d usually had more interesting things to do with his ex than watch T.V. - and he hadn’t seen this show for years. Now her remembered why. It was awful. Except for those “Lolly Dollies”, those gorgeous girls who posed and pirouetted throughout the show, handing bundles of fake cash around. He had the sound turned off.Their legs were just as long and their outfits just as skimpy without it.
“Wouldn’t mind an evening in with that one!” Ray lusted to himself. Being on his own didn’t suit his constitution at all. He wondered how priests managed.
Then his thoughts wandered to the new lass who’d started at his factory the week before.
Ray hadn’t managed to speak to her yet, partly because until two days ago he’d been half of a pair and Patsy would have killed him stone dead, and partly because the opportunity hadn’t yet arisen. He resolved to create an opportunity the next day.
As it turned out, he was out of luck.
“You’re jokin’ mate!” Tommy Stiffin laughed out loud, “you and young Shelly? No chance mate! She’s right partic’lar.”
“Just because she blew you out doesn’t make her particular, Tommy. It just means she isn’t into bestiality. She probably prefers someone who can trace their family tree back to the apes, instead of forward to them.”
“Aye, well, you can laugh, Raymond mate, but she’s way out of your league.”
“She’s not been out with any of the lads off the shopfloor,” young Martin piped up, “an’ rumour has it that she even blew out the M.D. hisself!”
“Well that puts the top-hat on it!” Tommy shrugged. “If Mr.All Teeth and Tan can’t get into her knickers, then you’ve no chance Raymond lad. Tenner says so.”
At that, Ray’s ears pricked up. Next to a pretty girl, he couldn’t resist a bet.
“You are on Tom. Tenner says I’ll have her knickers off by the end of the month.”
“...the end of the month...?” “...well, it was you who said she had class!” Ray grinned. ______________________
A fortnight later and Ray was rubbing his hands with glee. He’d managed to talk to her two days after the bet was placed but hadn’t wanted to frighten her off by rushing things and so had gone very easy with her.
He’d given her the `broken-hearted and off women’ routine and she’d swallowed it hook, line and sinker. What’s more she’d opened up to him to a surprising extent.
He should have guessed it by her appearance really. Tall, red-gold hair, huge hazel eyes and endless, shapely legs. She’d told him she was interested in modelling. She’d done quite a bit of it by the sounds of it, but truth to tell, he hadn’t really listened to her droning on.
Her body was superb, but what a voice! She had the most boring monotone he’d ever heard, but that was okay. You didn’t listen to the wind in the chimney when you had your poker in the hearth!
“Well Raymond,” a big hand smacked him on the shoulder. “You won that tenner yet? Time is running by, you know.”
“Very soon Tom lad,” Ray’s tone was confident, “very soon indeed! She’s taking me with her on a modelling session and it sounds very promising!” Ray winked and smiled a mischievous smile.
“Cor!” Young Martin was impressed. “I’ve read about them modelling sessions in the Sunday Star an’ they can get quite steamy! Gaggin’ for it, them model girls!”
Suddenly noticing the way both older men were looking at him, Martin put his tongue away, stopped drooling and continued, “or so I’ve read , anyway.”
Tommy shook his head, “I have to hand it to you Raymond, I never thought you’d get even this far with yon lass. But you still haven’t won the bet.”
Ray had arranged to meet Shelly outside the hall where the modelling session was booked. No point in travelling halfway across town to pick her up.
When he got to the address, he was surprised to find a modest community centre type hall. But he supposed they rented out rooms to anyone for a fee and this seemed to borne out by a swarm of young bumble-bees in tap shoes who nearly had him off his feet on their way into a dress rehearsal.
He waited outside for ten minutes and was about to give up and leave when a bus pulled up at the stop and disgorged the object of his lust. At least, he thought it was Shelly.
She was wearing old jeans and a sloppy-joe jumper, complete with paint splashes, a pair of wire-rimmed glasses and not a scrap of make-up. Her hair was pulled back into a scrunch and she was carrying a huge vanity case.
Ah well, he supposed she had all her stuff in the case, but he didn’t see any clothes or costumes and the bag wasn’t big enough for those.
His mind lit up! Perhaps it was nude modelling! Yes, he’d read all about that! The girls wore their loosest, sloppiest clothes so not to leave unwanted marks on their delicate skin. His grin was as wide as a sunrise!
“Oh hullo Ray,” Shelly’s monotone belied her smile. She seemed glad to see him. I’m sorry I’m a bit late, a bus was off, so I missed my connection.”
“That’s okay. Better late than never.”
“That’s what I like about you Ray, you’re so easy-going. There’s no pressure from you. Honest, some of the blokes I meet have only one thing on their mind. It’s nice just to relax and be myself for a change.”
They made their way to a small room down one of the passages and Ray was taken aback when there were about eight or nine other people there too.
“Come on Ray,” urged Shelly, “grab that table close to the front. You might even want to join in you know. A lot of people don’t know they’re artistic until they try.”
Ray was beginning to wonder what kind of orgy he’d let himself in for . “Oh no. I don’t think...”
“Go on! I’d bet you’d be really good. You’ve such sensitive fingers, I bet you’d get the best out of the models.”
Shelly heaved her case up on to the table and started emptying the contents.
Brushes, palettes of colour, small boxes of shredded paper poking out of them.
I can see you’ve nothing with you so you can borrow anything of mine you need and you can always buy stuff from Bryan very cheaply...”
By this time Ray was totally confused.
“I modelled this last week and Bryan said it was very good for an amateur. Ray was looking down on a small, half-painted metal figure of a dragon being assailed by even smaller man-like creatures.
“I haven’t quite got the hang of the Orcs yet, but Bryan says my modelling has great potential.”
Ray knew just how the dragon felt.
To Warm the Fishermen
The salt wind sent the clouds scudding across the sky in a joyful dance that belied the greyness of the March morning, the seagull’s cries adding to the impression of a lively highland fling or a manic ceilidh, their whoops and calls seeming to encourage the fluffy cumulus in their journey to goodness knew where.
Every now and again the sun would attempt to peep our between the layers of mist and for a few moments it’s rays would be a welcome warmth upon the fishermen in the harbour and the schoolchildren in the playground for their morning break.
All of this was, of course, completely lost on Beth, who had parted from her lover the month before. She did not notice the clouds, or the gull’s cry. The sun was wasting his efforts upon her, she would never be warm again, she thought.
Rob had been so loved. Was still loved. It was not something which could be switched off like a light that was no longer required. And he had loved her. He had. She had known that for a certainty.
What she could not understand was why it all had to change. She was still the same person, she had not changed, so why? For the millionth time she asked herself why, not knowing how to cut the question from her brain.
As she sat on her capstan on the harbour wall, she looked out to sea, watching the subtle changes of hue but not really seeing. Seeing only his face, the sea-grey of his eyes in the water and the hue of his hair in the dark sand in front of the rock-pools. Everything reminded her of him.
Well, now she was going to have to try and forget him, although for the life of her, she didn’t know how to. She couldn’t even begin to imagine her life without him, such an integral part was he.
The tears welled up in her eyes again. She was mildly surprised - she thought she’d wept all her allotted personal brine. Her misery was absolute and terrible.
All her memories of her life with Rob now played over again in her mind, like some faulty video. Not all of her memories were ecstatically happy - nobody’s were – but the majority she could honestly say were the best times of her life.
The times they went to the mainland, perhaps to a bowling alley, the time Rob had been fooling around and got his finger stuck in the bowling-ball and fell full stretch along the lane, the ball still firmly attached to his finger! Her smile was involuntary.
She remembered frequent trips into the surrounding countryside to watch the birds through binoculars from a hide. She personally didn’t know a plover from a wagtail but treasured these times because she was with Rob and he loved to regale her with the differing character of each species.
There were sad times too. When Rob’s grandmother had died, it was Beth who had comforted and supported him through his grief, she who had visited the grave with flowers every Sunday. She had thought it had brought them closer.
“How wrong could a person be?” she thought.
They had holidayed together, walked together, swum together, made love. The list was endless, to the point where Beth no longer knew where she finished and he began. There had been no seams.
There were now. He had become distant and restless very gradually, so she had difficulty in pinpointing where it had begun. There was nothing to latch onto, just a niggling change in attitude, something she could neither describe or define. An almost imperceptible detachment.
Then one day, he just left. He just said he was sorry, left the village, the island to go, she knew not where or why or for how long.
And here she was, just over a month later, and still no more resigned to his leaving than the day he left. She could not imagine a time when she would be. He had been - was - the love of her life and now he was gone.
She had considered ending it all one dark, desperate hour before dawn, but she was not of a theatrical temperament and even in the depths of her despair, still had some thought for her parents.
A few drops of rain were trying to fall, without much success, but Beth was unaware. So engrossed in her thoughts she was that she didn’t notice the ginger tom from the post-office stalk off in a huff when she did not respond to his insistent miaowing and rubbing against her legs which usually brought him affection and ear-rubs if not food.
The white horses were becoming wilder out on the surf, a sure sign that a storm was imminent, the gulls giving their agreement by disappearing somewhere one by one to shelter.
Soon Beth was alone, still sitting on her capstan on the sea wall, appearing to watch the sea whilst actually seeing nothing but her memories.
The sun finally gave up the ghost and went home, leaving centre stage to the rising wind and growing squall, whipping and spraying, blowing and pounding the little boats in the harbour about like corks.
The sky glowered darkly behind the purplish clouds as if to match Beth’s mood and her duffle-coat was starting to lose the fight with the, by now, heavy rain.
Beth still did not notice.
So immersed in her misery was Beth that when the hand came upon her shoulder, she very nearly ended up in the harbour and when she realised it was Rob’s hand she was not sure whether to finish the job off and take them both in.
Her hesitation took the moment and she allowed him to take her by the hand and lead her away from the now raging waves.
He led her to her home and her mother, taking in her condition instantly, marched her upstairs to be dried and changed.
Much later, in the cosy front room of her mother’s cottage, steaming mug of hot chocolate in hand, they talked.
The firelight was warm and friendly, glinting off her grandmother’s brasses, the coals occasionally hissing and sending a spark into the waiting arms of the fireguard.
As a child, she had loved to look into the heart of the fire, seeing pictures therein. She could remain engrossed for hours, her grandmother bringing her out of her reverie to set the table or go on an errand. So it was now.
She looked into the coals as Rob talked, tried to explain why he had done what he had. She had listened to how he had become stifled, suffocated, very gradually and, like her he had no description for the feeling, just an increasing certainty that he had to get away, right away.
He was sorry that he could give her no explanation at the time but he didn’t have one himself to give. It was only in retrospect, in his self-imposed banishment that it gradually came to him what had caused his need to be apart from her. They had both been born and brought up in the confines of this small village on the island , had gone to the same village school and neither of them had ever left the island except for the odd holiday and once Rob had had to stay as a patient in the hospital on the mainland when his appendix wound became infected.
They had been ‘going out’ since they knew not when as, like everything else, the transition from friend to more had been virtually seamless; they had been as good as married practically all their lives. And it had got to the point where the next step was marriage proper and he had realised that they had never really been apart.
He had become confused and had had to get away from the island, from the village, from Beth.
He had thought and pondered and been thoroughly miserable. He loved her, he had never doubted that for a moment, but was that enough? Or was it the right kind of love? Or was it just habit? He had to go away to find out. He had found out. He could not live without her. A month had been too long. Could she understand and forgive him? He’d had to be sure for her sake as much as his.
Beth watched the fire-pictures with a peaceful detachment. She heard Rob’s words. She understood now what he had felt and why he had gone and she would gratefully sink into his arms as she knew he would reach for her soon.
But forgive? She did not know. Yes she did. She would forgive this man anything, she had always known that, but not yet. Not yet.
She knew what she must do. And when she came back, they would start again. She looked away from the fire and out of the window to see the storm was abating and a timid sun was once again trying to wrestle his way between the clouds. To warm the fishermen.
Lost and Found
Winnie sighed at the thought of her regular walk to the post-office to pick up her giro. It was quite a step, but with God’s good help, she’d get there yet again.
Winnie was only fifty-eight and as fit as most middle-aged women but for the last few months she’d been suffering from a harmless but painful condition in the heel of her left foot, which made it very difficult for her to walk any distance.
A spur, the doctor had called it and gave her some cream that did nothing at all to relieve the pain. She’d go to the chiropodist next week, perhaps he’d be able to fix it.
As she walked along the road, she let her mind wander as she disregarded the pain in her foot. She’d just read the morning paper. By! The world was getting to be a wicked place!
Jesus had His work cut out with the people these days. She made a mental note to add to her prayer list the muggers of the elderly woman she’d just read about, because they needed help. Bad people who did these things needed prayers as much as the victims, because only Jesus God could help them. She knew that.
She got to the post-office and picked up her Giro. She looked around her, wary about who was watching her pick up her paltry few pounds. You couldn’t be too careful these days and she’d already decided what her plan of action would be, should she ever be unfortunate to attract the attention of a mugger.
Winnie was prepared.
In the end she’d decided money wasn’t important enough to get hurt over. Not these days. Not since she’d discovered Jesus God. Once upon a time, money was the be all and end all of everything to her and she had spent most of her time and considerable talents pursuing it.
She shook her head as she remembered how clever she had thought herself in those days. She had been very good at her job and had thought that that was enough. But that was before she had been saved. Now anything left at the end of the week went into the church collection.
She left the post-office and as she made her way down the road, she noticed a young man walking a little way behind her. It made her uneasy. As quickly as her foot allowed, she crossed over the road and sure enough, he followed her.
A car passed slowly and stopped a little way ahead. She looked to see if there was anyone around, but there was no-one.
It was all over in seconds. The young man ran past her, knocking her off balance. She grabbed at him to save herself and there was a brief struggle before she fell, heavily, to the ground. He’d got her bag and jumped into the waiting car before she could even look up. Then they were gone.
She picked herself up, thankful she wasn’t seriously hurt, just a bit bruised and made her way home.
Back in her flat, she made herself a cup of tea and sat down to consider what had happened. The police would catch no-one - she didn’t even get a good look at him.
Winnie wondered what the young man would think when he opened her nearly empty bag. She never carried anything of any real value in her bag, it was more out of habit and something to do with her hands that she carried it.
Taking her purse and other items out of the deep inside pocket of her coat, she wished she could be a fly on the wall wherever the muggers were.
She would love to see them go through her bag to find nothing more interesting than a packet of tissues, a bag of mint imperials and a well-thumbed bible. And the note. Yes, she had been prepared. Just in case it ever happened to her, she had written a note to her would-be muggers and kept it, always, in her bag.
She sorted through the other items on the table and opened a black leather wallet. Nearly two hundred pounds in cash, driver’s license, membership to some gym or other. Silly boy! Fancy taking I.D on a job! Obviously not a professional thief like she had once been then! Still, the money would go to a good cause, the old lady who’d been mugged and others like her.
Winnie’s church had taken up her suggestion and started a fund for them. And they would pray for the muggers, like her friends had prayed for her when she was the best `dipper’ in the county. Nothing like a poacher turned gamekeeper for results!
She patted her old `lifting’ coat with the deep inside pockets and smiled.
Alan was hoping that Claire was going to be out of her bad mood by the time he got home from work. She had been in a towering rage that morning and he just wasn’t in the mood for any more histrionics.
It wasn’t like it was his fault the holiday firm had gone bust – he’d been looking forward to the Maldives as much as she had, if not more so, but he’d gone ahead and booked it with a cheaper firm, against Claire’s wishes
Alan’s dark-blue BMW weaved in and out of the rush-hour traffic, the rain running down it’s sleek paintwork, the wipers’ steady rhythm sweeping a clear arc through the torrent on the windscreen.
This road got worse every night, Alan thought testily as a motorcycle cut him up on the inside, and the drivers got worse by the hour.
He had enough on his plate with the new systems at work without worrying about Claire’s tantrums. How Evans got to be Area Director was a mystery - the man who had to take off his socks and shoes to count to twenty! And the nerve of the man, telling him to make sure the last batch of memos were copied, circulated, signed and returned! Like he was the office junior or something! Well he’d have a thing or two to ‘input’ at the next ‘data assimilation meet’...what in the name?....that stupid cow...she’s on the wrong side of the road...! He had the impression of a young blonde woman and a screaming child and then it went dark.
When Alan came to, the woman had gone, although her Fiesta was resting in a hedge and she appeared to have left her shopping in the car.
He groaned as he climbed out of the wreckage of his car and saw the extent of the damage. Boy, was he glad it was a company car! This would cost a good few thousand to put right and the woman’s insurance would have to pay - he’d make sure of that! What did she think she was at, on the wrong side of the road?
The traffic hadn’t even slowed, although some curious souls were having a good look as they passed. Charming! Not a soul had stopped to see if he was alright. You could be raped and murdered on the streets of this city and people would step over you, tutting about you being in their way!
The woman’s registration plate was an easy one to remember, so he didn’t bother writing it down. He just hoped she was insured. He didn’t like the way she’d scarpered so quickly, like she didn’t want to be traced. Perhaps she just wanted to get her child to safety.
He wasn’t on a bus-route to his house, so he started to walk home. If a taxi passed, he’d flag it down but the walk wasn’t that far and would, hopefully, clear his head of the strange, far-away feeling, which he supposed was shock.
Alan saw the lights of their semi with a feeling of relief although, truth to tell, he didn’t feel too bad. Considering the state of his car, he thought he’d got off lightly.
Perhaps Claire would take pity on him and not give him a hard time about the holiday, but she was a spoilt and sometimes harsh young woman.
Her usual follow-up to a morning screaming-match was to totally ignore him. The last time, she’d kept it up for three days, which he considered a blessing, given the alternative ear-bashing. She could whinge for England, could Claire!
He saw a police-car pull away from the house and he turned into the pathway to find the door still open. She must have seen him enter the cul-de-sac.
Alan supposed the police had been round because of the accident although he wished they’d given him a lift!
Claire was in the comfortable sitting-room in one of the armchairs and when she didn’t look up on his entrance, he knew she was still miffed.
“Claire darling,” he went towards her with his arms outstretched, but she turned away, wrapping her arms about herself in a protective gesture.
“Look Claire, I know you’re upset about the holiday and I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you. You were absolutely right and I was wrong. I’ll book us a holiday, I promise, anywhere you like, with any firm you like. Okay sweetheart?”
Claire’s answer to this was to get up and pour a large Vodka Martini. Alan had a sinking feeling. This was going to be harder than he expected. She didn’t usually drink midweek. He tried a different tack.
“I saw the police leave, so I presume you know all about my being involved in a road accident. I’m okay, but the car’s damaged. Stupid woman was on the wrong side of the road.”
He watched as his wife finished her drink and poured another. Then she sat back down, put her head in her hands and wept like her heart would break.
“Oh Alan,” she cried, “I’m so sorry!”
Alan was by her in three strides. “Claire! Oh don’t worry! I’m okay, really I am and the accident was the other driver’s fault so her insurance will pay for the damage. I might even get compensation or something. Might pay for another holiday!”
Alan was about to put his arms about his wife, when he was aware of someone else having entered the room. It was the woman and child from the other car.
“What are you doing here? How did you know where I lived?” Alan scowled.
“I just had to tell you how sorry I am about the accident, “ said the woman. “I couldn’t rest until I had, you see?”
Alan lowered his hackles, “Well, as you can see, my wife’s very upset and my car’s a wreck, but luckily enough, I appear to be relatively unharmed,” and then he quickly added, “although I believe the effects of whiplash often don’t manifest themselves until several days later...”
“...relatively unharmed?” the woman wore a puzzled expression which gave way to a look of mingled misery and pity. “Oh! Don’t you realise? We weren’t unharmed in the accident. We died!”
Alan was taken aback by this statement and wasn’t quite sure what to say to her. Obviously she’d sustained some sort of head injury and was having delusions.
“Look,” he said, “we’ve all had a bit of a shock tonight, but if you are dead, then how come I’m having a conversation with you?”
“I didn’t say I had died, I said we had died. You and us.” She looked away as if listening for something and turned back to Alan. “We have to go now. I just wanted to say sorry.”
Alan was on his way to the door to show them out when their image took on a glow, started to fade and then was gone.
“Claire! What do you make of that!” Alan was fighting a wave of hysteria. “Claire! Claire?”
Claire picked up a framed photograph of Alan and kissed it, hugging it to her.
“Oh Alan! I’m so sorry we argued,” she sobbed, “I’d give anything for you to be here now, I wouldn’t shout at you or give you the silent treatment ever again!”
Alan stretched his hand to her face and as he touched his wife for the last time, he also began to fade away into the ether.
About five years after I wrote this story, a film called 'Sixth Sense' was released.Typical.
Storm In A Casket
Grey clouds and rain were very appropriate for such an occasion. Winds howled and quite spoiled Sophia’s very expensive outfit.
Sheets of driving rain and rumbling threats of thunder only seemed to highlight Hugh’s feelings. He was not a happy bunny. He stood at the graveside watching the proceedings but deep in thought.
Sophia, the widow. She suited the role, he thought. Elegant and suitably distressed. Of the witnesses here present, only he knew what a good actress she was.
She was no more distressed than the priest. Probably less so - the priest at least seemed like a genuine and decent sort. Also, the clergyman was not in line for inheriting a fortune.
She was a wicked woman, Sophia, but he wasn’t in a position to tell anyone here what he had found out.
Hugh had found out all about Sophia’s plans but, tragically, too late to prevent this funeral.
Sophia’s marriage had been a stormy one, both the bride and groom being of a volatile nature but, like everyone else, Hugh had believed it to be basically sound. How wrong could you be?
About five years into the marriage, Sophia had had an affair. Her husband didn’t find out until much later but it was the beginning of the end for him all the same.
As with many affairs, Sophia had fully intended to have her cake and eat it. Being married to a wealthy businessman suited her wallet, but the novelty of his, somewhat preremptory, lovemaking soon wore off and Bernard, their chauffeur, had furnished the missing elements admirably. However, she had not bargained for falling for her amorous young swain and he with her.
Hugh shook his head sadly at the thought of the deception she had wrought.
It had been so convincing, the devoted wife bit, that everyone who knew the Armstrongs were almost envious of their relationship, fiery though it sometimes was.
Sophia was a beautiful and cultured woman, she could have had the pick of most of their male friends and acquaintances. They were all in love with her. Certainly he had been in love with her himself. If only he had known then what sort of woman she really was.
He was still not sure when they had decided to rid themselves of the inconvenient Mr. Armstrong, but he suspected, in retrospect, it had been about nine or ten months before.
Sophia had had the idea of poisoning her husband but was such an inept cook that he had refused to eat the dish she had specially prepared for him, their cook having been given the night off. It had tasted vile and so he had eaten only enough, of god only knew what, to give him a bad stomach for a few days afterwards..
Then she had arranged a tripwire at the top of the stairs, removing it swiftly as he lay unconscious at the bottom.
Unfortunately for her, he had survived this assault but much to her relief, had been able to remember nothing of this incident afterwards.
His car was the next target. Bernard was an expert on the workings of them and arranged for a vital bit of the steering to snap on the next journey down the winding road of the mountain on which they lived.
As events turned out, her husband was not at the wheel at the time. Bernard had been a whiz with motors but otherwise was not a bright boy. He simply forgot. Until he tried to take a bend halfway down the mountain, then he remembered. Briefly.
After that, it had become a point of principle with Sophia. Her husband must die. She had to avenge her lost love.
Hugh studied the faces of the mourners at the grave. Sophia, all sniffs and lace handkerchief, sympathetically supported on one elbow by Sharpe, erstwhile junior partner at Armstrongs. It hadn’t taken that obsequious toad long to start sniffing around the rich widow.
Carole Smathers, the company secretary looked genuinely upset, pale and drawn in her black suit. He’d never noticed before what an attractive girl she really was and , apparently, she was loyal too.
Graeme Batchelor, the deceased’s personal assistant looked grim and Hugh caught a malevolent glance toward Sharpe. It would appear that Hugh wasn’t the only one to distrust the junior partner.
There had been a full Catholic Mass at the church and it had been interesting to see who had attended and their individual reactions to the bereavement. No-one had noticed Hugh slip away, like a shadow, halfway through the service.
The will reading would be after the internment and he had an important job to do before returning in time for the burial.
He had completed his task, got back in time and had watched the graveside rites with mixed feelings but at least he had been able to right a few wrongs. It was just a shame he had not been able to turn back the clock and saved a life.
Yes, the stormy weather had expressed Hugh’s feelings, but he was feeling better now, more at peace.
The spiritual medium he had consulted had gone to the solicitor’s office and left explicit instructions with the stunned solicitor, John Betts, who against his logical nature, couldn’t doubt the irrefutable proof of Hugh’s evidence. John had been his lifelong friend and trusted legal advisor, no-one knew him better.
The will had been duly changed and provable information was left for the police, and anyone else who may be interested, regarding the cause of death.
There were going to be a few open mouths at John Betts’ office in about twenty minutes time. He allowed himself a wry smile. It was just a pity he wouldn’t be there to see them, he’d have liked that. As it was, his freedom was starting to be somewhat stifled by the pine casket in which he watched his body being lowered into the cold, wet, earth.
And at the last words of the priest, he, Hugh Bartholemew Armstrong felt his spirit melt into the ether.
The air was pregnant with the promise of thunder and Jessie wished the weather would indeed break. She looked through the open French windows at the lush garden and then at the burgeoning threat in the eastern sky.
The humidity of the day was beginning to get to her in no uncertain way, even her silk robe, which she had donned in an attempt to find comfort, felt oppressive against her sensitised, pregnant body.
Jessie switched off the electric fan. It wasn’t doing anything useful, only circulating the warm air and the humming noise it made was irritating her.
Even the normally placid, even-tempered David was affected by this unbearable heat. They’d had words over something totally stupid and unnecessary and he’d stomped off down to the pub in a sulk.
She lay down on the bed, the cool, white cotton sheets warming up at the touch of her burning flesh.
“Oh, how I wish I could get comfortable,” she moaned to herself as she shifted position yet again. She listened to the rumble overhead. “It’s getting closer,” she said to the room. Then there was a peal of thunder and a crack of lightning. “That was close!” Her heartbeat was racing
After a while, she got up and made for the bathroom. A cool bath. Perhaps that would do the trick.
David would be back soon, he only ever had a pint or, at most, two. She was sorry they’d argued and she would make it up to him when he came in. He was such a sweetie usually and she knew she’d been unreasonable and that’s why they’d argued. She felt a pang of guilt and hoped he would return soon.
She didn’t like being in the flat on her own. She knew she was being silly and would have to get used to it sooner or later, but she just didn’t like being alone there.
David had laughed when she had mentioned it to him. “Darling, you are a silly girl!” He had hugged her close, kissing the top of her head, like she was about seven years of age. “We’re so lucky to have got this place. How many other couples in our position manage to bag a garden flat in such a beautiful house?”
And, of course, he was right. If you liked shabby Victorian and she did not, but it would do for now. When she got back to work after the baby was born, they would save up for something shiny and modern, all chrome, wood and leather.
The bath soothed her. She’d added some lavender oil to help her relax and she was feeling a little better. David would give her a massage with the lavender oil when he came back - he had magic in his fingers - and the backache she’d had all day would be history.
It was David who had suggested the lavender oil and he was right, it was very relaxing and took away her aches and pains. He had even planted a couple of lavender shrubs in the garden so they could put the flowers into her pillow to help her sleep.
Carefully, she raised herself out of the bath which was slippery with oil. She didn’t bother with a bathrobe or a towel, just padded into the bedroom where a slight movement of air billowed the muslin curtains.
“At last!” Jessie breathed, “A little breeze.”
She lay on top of the sheets and slept, in a lavender scented haze.
She wasn’t sure what time David returned, the bedroom clock having been consigned to a drawer when the ticking was driving Jessie nuts, but she was glad he had. Her backache had come back worse than ever despite his gentle lavender oil massage and it quickly became apparent that she was in labour.
There had been no time to call an ambulance and their little girl had been introduced to this world on a peal of summer thunder.
“The weather’s finally broken,” Jessie murmured as a light breeze moved the muslins. Then, cradling her tiny daughter in her arms, she drifted off to sleep to the sound of the rain.
“Darling,” Jessie awoke from a delightful sleep in which she dreamed of David and the baby and herself happy in summer meadows, to find her mother sitting on the edge of the bed. “Jessica, are you alright?” There was a worried concern in her voice.
Jessie smiled at her mother’s worried expression. David must have called her. “Yes Mum, I’m fine. Meet your new granddaughter. I don’t know what we’ll call her yet, David was so sure we’d have a boy, we only had a boy’s name ready.”
Her mother put a hand to her brow. “We’ll have to get you to hospital Jess, make sure everything has come away.”
“Oh Mum, do we have to? I’m sure everything’s okay. I feel marvellous, not ill at all. I think David must have been a midwife in a previous life! It was amazing! He knew exactly what to do - stopped me from panicking I can tell you!” Jessie smiled at the memory. The pain had got quite bad, she thought, but now, as she looked at her baby girl, she could hardly remember it.
“Is Dad with you?” Jessie asked.
Her mum shook her head, “no Jess, he’s gone on an errand, but he won’t be long.”
Was Jessie imagining it or were there tears in her mother’s eyes? Sentimental old thing! She smiled again. “Don’t worry Mum, we’re going to be fine, David, baby and me. I know we’ve caused you worry, with the baby and all, but we’ll be okay, I promise.”
Now the tears were coursing down her mother’s face. Jess wriggled into a more upright position.
Mum? What’s the matter? It’s not Dad is it? He is okay isn’t he?” Jessie could feel the hysteria rising in her voice. Her mother never cried. Not even when her own mother had died.
“Jess, I’m sorry. There’s no other way of saying this. David has been killed in an accident. He’s dead Jess.”
Jessie felt a lump of ice form in her belly. “No Mum, you’re mistaken. I don’t know how long I’ve slept, but David wouldn’t have gone out and left me alone after having the baby. He knows I’m frightened on my own.”
“I’m sorry Jess, but he is. That’s where your Dad has been, identifying the body. David was killed by a tree at the end of this very street, it was struck by lightning. He never got to the pub Jess.”
“Then who called you about me, about the baby? Jess couldn’t see for the tears and the baby was starting to grow restive.
“No-one sweetheart. I just came over to tell you about David. I didn’t know about the baby until I came into this room. I don’t know who delivered your baby Jess, but David wasn’t alive at the time you gave birth.”
But Jess knew the truth.
In the distance the thunder rumbled and the bedroom was scented with lavender.
Out of a group of sixty, only fifteen of them returned. The fifteen sat in silent groups around the perimeter of the room, each looking warily at the other.
A few of them had gravitated into small uneasy groups of two’s and three’s, but the atmosphere was tense.
At least three of them were totally unrecognisable to their former friends and allies, so changed were they and it had taken the bravest of them over two hours to even approach people they did recognise.
As the hours went by, a low murmur developed in the room as some of the group recovered enough to recount tales of misery and horror.
There were some success stories but not many and not enough to lift the depressive pall that lingered over the gathering.
As one of those relative success stories, Stella was feeling buoyant enough to move amongst the sad collection of people in the room, and some of the angst-ridden tales pulled at her heart-strings.
So saddened was she by these disastrous accounts, she played down her own good news so as not to cause undue suffering to these people, people she had known and - in some cases - loved, before they had, reluctantly, gone their separate ways.
She looked around her. John Brooker. He had been such a strong, handsome healthy guy before. Now he looked all washed-up, a broken man.
Stella listened and watched. A veteran at the game, Stella knew that was the best way of assessing a situation and knowing when to get out while the going was good. It had saved her several times.
Obviously this was something that Donna Morris hadn’t learnt. She was a wreck, her face was mutilated and her body - well, the sight of her poor body caused Stella to wince on her behalf.
Peter Kramer - he had been a bull of a man, but now... Stella could have wept for him.
She didn’t know how long she could stand this, it was much harder than last time, so hard. But she couldn’t just go, just leave these people, could she?
And then she saw him. The face she’d been scanning the room for! He was here and he looked the same!
“Oh God!” Her breath caught in her throat as she moved towards him..
Would he still want to speak to her after all they’d been through? After what she’d found out about him?
Jeff Grant and she had made a pact to be here, had promised each other they would survive, that they WOULD succeed and that they would be here for each other tonight.
Well, here they were.
Suddenly, she saw his eyes settle on her, saw the uncertain smile of recognition and then they were in each other’s arms.
“Oh Jeff! You’re really here!”
“Stella! You’re okay! Thank God!”
“Did you see...?”
He nodded, “yes, I saw Donna.” He shook his head as if to deny the reality., “such a tragedy. She was so beautiful.”
“Yes. But then so many of them here...Well, what can you say...?” Stella’s voice held a note of emotion.
“It’s so sad Stella,” Jeff agreed, “But I don’t suppose everyone can age as well as you and I have, and it is thirty years since we all graduated. I don’t think I’ll come to another re-union though - it’s too depressing! All these old people!”
“Now, now Jeff, just because we have a better cosmetic surgeon than Donna...””
“My God! Did you see the face-lift? She looks permanently surprised! And one boob bigger than the other too!” “Your hair implant has taken well though. You’d never guess! Well, I only know because your brother told me when he was doing my eyes.”
“For a plastic surgeon, my brother has a big mouth!” Jeff looked around the room, “but he’d do some good business here... I think we should mingle. Coming?”
They crossed the room to the Anniversary Waltz.
The Matchstick Cathedral
“Can’t you stop that? At least for a few minutes while we have our meal?” Susan Pierce’s exasperation was obvious to anyone with half a brain-cell and yet for months, her very intelligent husband had been unaware of it.
“Five minutes more should do it...yes, just got to ease this piece in here...Oh bugger!!”
Susan’s husband David had been making this model out of matchsticks for nearly twelve months and he had very nearly completed it, but the last stages were proving difficult and to say it was becoming an obsession with him would not get you into any trouble with the misdescriptions people.
“David! Now!” Susan dropped his plate on to the table harder than strictly necessary but managed to restrain herself from braining him with it.
“Oh, now look what you made me do! The weather-vane’s crooked!”
“Matches your brain then!” Susan snapped. “Other people have lives, you know? They go out and have fun with their friends. Some even go on foreign holidays.”
“I took you to Bridlington last year...”
“...year before actually...and that’s hardly what you’d call a foreign holiday...” “...it’s in Yorkshire...” David didn’t look up from his model.
Susan just threw him a very dark look.
“NOW!” He got up and seated himself at the dining-table.
“What’s this?” “What’s it look like?” “I hate lasagne.” “Hard luck. We like it.” “I hate lasagne.” “I hate that model.”
Susan and the two children ate their meal in silence.
“I’ll make myself some beans on toast then.”
“I’ll make myself egg on toast then.”
“No eggs.” Susan helped herself to more salad and passed the focaccia to the two children. “Cheese on toast! I know there’s cheese!”
“No bread. And that’s your repertoire exhausted too.”
“Right then!” David stood up. “I’m off to the chippy!”
“Got a plentiful supply of Rennies then?”
“Oh bugger off!!” __________________________ Half way down the road David realised he hadn’t brought his wallet. Even if he had been tempted to risk three days worth of heartburn, he had no money.
Finding himself in Primrose Lane, he took a second left into his mother’s road.
“The face is familiar, but I can’t just get the name...” Mary Pierce’s eighty one years hadn’t dulled her wits.
“Okay, okay...” David held his hands up in submission, “any sharper and you’d cut yourself Mum.”
“Is there a particular reason for this visit, or did you just run out of matchsticks?”
“Are you going to carry on like this - shall I just go?”
“Please yourself, lad. I’ve just about got used to your absence - I probably won’t notice. Don’t slam the door on your way out though, that pane you promised to fix ELEVEN MONTHS AGO is about to fall out. I’ve stuck some blu-tack on it.”
David paused. Eleven months? No, it wasn’t that long ago...
“Eleven months.” Mary could always read her son’s mind. “Remember? After the funeral?”
Hell’s bells! She was right! How could he have been so...so...
“Insensitive, David. That’s what you’ve become.”
Mary was well aware she was being hard on her son but, she considered, he deserved it. “I’ll put the kettle on. D’you want something to eat?” How did she do that? David sat in his late father’s chair. “If you’re making something, but don’t go to any trouble.”
If he needed any further evidence that his mother was a witch, then it appeared, on a tray, with a cup of tea, in the form of two, mouth-watering egg-butties. And there were even two Rennies on the side!
“Thanks Mum. No-one makes these like you do.”
“No-one creeps like you do. What’s your problem?”
David knew it was useless to try and hide anything from this old witch so he told her about the state of affairs at home.
“I don’t blame the lass!” Mary was brusque. “If it were me, you wouldn’t get into the bedroom either.”
David looked distinctly sheepish.
“Oh, like that is it? So how long have you been in the spare room?” “A fortnight.”
“David! That’s ridiculous! And all this over a stupid matchstick model?”
“It’s not quite that simple Mum...”
“Yes it is. You go home and you put it in the bin. You show her you love her! You TELL her you love her! How can anything be more important than the relationship you have with the woman you love, and more importantly, who loves you...?”
“...IT WAS DAD’S!” David jumped up from the chair. Mary looked at him in puzzlement. “David, what do you mean? Your Dad couldn’t see well enough for such things. - you know he had glaucoma...”
“Yes, Mum, I do know that, I used to read the paper to him from cover to cover - remember? The sports pages were his favourite and the gee gees. I also used to shave him and, if you remember, see to a lot of his personal hygiene.”
Well, if you didn’t want to do it, you should have said...” Mary began, hurt at the inference. “I’d have managed somehow...”
“...and hacked his nose off? And the news would have been olds by the time you got through the newspaper! In any case, who said I didn’t want to do it?” David walked over to the window. The garden was not looking it’s best. He’d have to come and sort it.
“I loved Dad and I would have happily done anything for him, but it’s not the same as doing it yourself, is it? Dad hated it. He hated being so dependant and he said to me two days before he died, ‘ Davey lad, you know what I’d have loved to have done before I popped me clogs? Make on of them matchstick models. A cathedral. I couldn’t do them even when I could see! Too damn clumsy!’ and he’d chuckled.”
“So the model’s for your Dad?”
“So why didn’t you tell Susan? She’d have understood then.”
“I don’t know Mum. I don’t even know if I knew it was for him until I just said it.”
Mary put her arms as far around her big handsome son as far as they would go and hugged him.
“You big softie!” He bent down so she could reach to kiss him. “Go home to Susan, lad, and tell her what you just told me. Your Dad loved Susan - so do I for that matter, she’s a good lass and deserves better than she’s had just lately.”
“How do you do it Mum?"
“Do what, lad?”
“Always know the exact right thing to do. You seem to almost read my mind sometimes.”
Oh, just mother’s intuition, lad, nothing more.”
Mary waved him off and when the Rover had turned out of her close, she went to the telephone and dialled.
“Susan? He’s just left. Yes. Egg butties! Just finish the model with him and you’ll be okay, I promise! No, I’ll let him tell you all about it, he needs to. Oh, and Susan? Let him back in the bedroom, love?”
'Til Death Us Do Part
The vacuum cleaner roared into life, jolting Diane from her deep immersion into the book she was trying to read.
“That bloody machine!” she spat through gritted teeth. “If it’s not that, it’s the electric drill!”
She tried to get back into the storyline of the novel, but it wasn’t easy. What with the badly-written tripe she was reading in the hope it would get better and in the absolute certainty that it couldn’t get any worse, and the constant interruptions from her husband’s efforts, assisted by what must surely be the noisiest machines known to man, to tidy the house.
Not that she was unappreciative of him or his efforts, but his timing was immaculate.
The beginning stains of the theme to Coronation Street just would not be recognisable without the wine of their elderly Hoover Junior and her lie-in on a Sunday morning, incomplete without the ear-splitting screech of the hammer-drill.
It was, of course, entirely of her own making, for she had never, well, hardly ever, complained. As her friends commented, and she agreed wholeheartedly, at least he DID help out. Many a man wouldn’t bother.
She turned another page of the diabolical book to the realisation that she had scanned six pages and not read a word. The book dropped into the wastepaper basket in a gesture of disgust.
She listened for tell-tale sounds. “What’s he up to now?” she wondered to herself. Clanking and clinking of crocks told her that the dishwasher was being stacked. Bless him. Another job for her not to do...
Diane reached for another chocolate and braced herself for the clank-dunk-whoosh! That was the dishwasher’s signature tune and right on cue, radio five. Terence always listened to radio five when he was immersed in his housework.
“Just going to fix that curtain-rail,” Terence popped his head ‘round the door. “There’s a good film on Two in a minute, why don’t you watch it? You’ll enjoy it, got that Alan Rickman that you like in it and it’s a weepie. I won’t be more than ten minutes fixing this rail.” Terence made his way over to the window, switching on the television as he passed. Next he fetched a dining-chair on which to stand whilst he fixed the swinging rail.
Twenty minutes later, all possibility of following the story-line demolished as the drill screamed and hammered followed by the electric screwdriver, which did something unmentionable to the television screen and then back to old faithful. The vacuum cleaner. Terence always cleaned up after himself. “You not enjoying that then?” Terence asked as she flicked from channel to channel when he’d finished.
“Couldn’t get into it somehow, “ she answered absently. She got up and went to the cupboard where the ironing-board was kept. She may as well do something useful. She hated ironing but with a mind-numbing video and a large scotch she could just about face it.
The video running, the ironing impedimenta set up, the scotch at her elbow, Diane was sweeping through the shirts, skirts, blouses and hankies at a rate of knots. She’d managed three shirts, two pairs of jeans, two blouses, a dress, half-a dozen hankies and was on the linen tablecloth and well into her stride when Terence popped his head ‘round the door again.
“Just taking the dog out. You don’t mind running us to the park, do you?” Terence smiled his cling-peach smile.
“No, not at all,” which is hard to say when you have your teeth firmly clamped around your tongue. “I’ll just get my keys.”
Driving back from the park, Diane thought about how ungrateful she was. He cooked - well, sort of - he cleaned, he mended things, was a wonderful father, husband and lover and he walked the dog. What was she complaining about?
The noise. That’s what. Everything was made a meal of. Very noisily. For a quiet man, he made an awful lot of noise. After a day off work with Terence, she was ready to go back to work for a rest. Next to him, the three kids were catatonic!
She began to work out what she could do to improve the situation but nothing was forthcoming. She couldn’t bring herself to complain because he was both pig-headed and very sensitive. She would hurt his feelings and he would refuse to lift another finger for the rest of his life. No, that wouldn’t do.
She’d already tried joining him and pitching in and they ended up very close to either the divorce or the coroner’s court, she still couldn’t be sure which. Besides, she wasn’t a very physical woman, being only five foot tall and less than seven stones. She supposed that was why he did so much for her.
When she got back in the house, the chocolate box being empty, she decided to go and have long soak and having lost the ironing impetus, to read a book in peace.
Diane had no sooner stood up to head for the bathroom, when she heard the bathroom door close and the radio burst into life, closely followed by the shower being run.
It was obvious that one of the boys was in. It was a wonder they didn’t all have webbed fingers and toes, the length of time they spent immersed in water. And the boys were rapidly becoming worse than Louise, who was quite bad enough!
Diane knocked at the bathroom door, “don’t be too long in there, I was just about to run a bath.” Mumbled reply which, being an optimist, she took to be assent.
Sitting at the dining-table in the morning-room, she picked up some sewing, which had been begging for attention for weeks now and turned on the television.
It was one of those Agony-Aunt type shows that the Americans do so badly that you just have to watch, in disbelief that anyone could stand up in front of millions of viewers and confess to all sorts of peccadilloes.
The woman that was on, was complaining that her husband ignored her apart from when they were actually making love. She was saying he took his golf-clubs to more places than he did her.
Aunt Audra’s remedy was so simple, it was fiendish. Every time the woman’s husband made a move toward the golf-clubs, she was to seduce him.
Like a light-bulb the answer to her own problems flashed on in he mind. “That’s what I’LL do!”
In the next few weeks, Terence thought his wife had had a brainstorm of some kind, but he wasn’t complaining! All wives should have such a brainstorm. It should be mandatory! His cling-peach smile was wider than ever.
The smile was still intact when they buried him a few months later.
His widow was suitably and genuinely devastated at this turn of events, although it did comfort her to know he died extremely happy.
The funeral was held on a miserable March Monday, the rain lashed down and everyone was glad to get back to the marital home for refreshments. It was a quiet affair, both of them being from small families and it ended early, leaving just a few curled-up sandwiches to be finished off by the dog.
Diane was glad the children were grown up. They had been upset enough but at least she didn’t have any little ones to explain things to.
By half past seven, she decided she’d had enough for one day and settled on the couch to watch television.
She flicked the remote to I.T.V just in time for the disembodied voice of the presenter to announce the imminent start of Coronation Street.
“Oh good,” she thought, “ chewing-gum for the eyeballs.”
She snuggled herself into the sofa, cuddling a scatter cushion and waited for the signature tune to begin. The familiar cornet-notes drifted to her ears and then were accompanied by another familiar sound. The high whining noise of an elderly Hoover Junior....
After A Fashion
Lorraine shivered as a cold draught found passage down the neck of her fashionable designer top. Her mother nagged her continually to wear more `serviceable’ clothing - dowdy was what she really meant! And Lorraine was anything but dowdy.
She flicked a strand of honey-blonde hair out of her left eye, even though she had taken hours to put it there and ensure it would return there each time she flicked it.
“Clip that bit of fringe from out of your eyes,” her mother had admonished, “you’ll damage your eyesight.” But Lorraine had just shot her a look of pity.
How was it possible that HER mother, could be so...so...lacking in a sense of fashion? It would be like Naomi Campbell’s mother wearing clothes from Damart!
Lorraine loved her mother very much but avoided her in the street and kept dates of PTA meetings secret from her, so she wouldn’t be seen by anyone from school. It wasn’t even that she was ugly. In fact, Lorraine conceded, she could see she got her looks from her mum. But today had been the last straw . Mum had followed her down their garden path, calling after her “Lainey! You’ll break your neck in those shoes! There’s no support in them and they’re much too high!”Lorraine had thought she’d die from embarrassment, but fortunately there was no one in the street to witness her shame.
She had to do something about her mum that much was clear, but what?Lorraine’s best friend Shaunna was waiting for her at the coffee bar.
“Lainey!” Shaunna waved, accidentally smiling broadly for a second or two before she remembered how deeply uncool it was to bare your teeth in anything excepting a snarl.
“Hi Shaun,” Lorraine pouted coolly.
“You’re a bit, like, late, Lainey. Problems with the wrinkly?” Shaunna now adopted the supercool drawl of youth.
Lorraine rolled her eyes heavenward in a practised gesture. “She’s SO uncool Shaun,” and she recounted to her friend the whole `shoe thing’ as it would become known.
“...down the path? You mean, like, out of the HOUSE?” Shaunna was incredulous.
“Honey, you have to DO something before your street-cred is, like, no more. What if you’d been, like, SEEN with her?” Shaunna’s eyes were wide with horror.Lorraine knew her friend was right and they spent most of the afternoon discussing the problem as they browsed around the shops.
Four hours and a good few pounds lighter in the purse, Lorraine felt much better.They still hadn’t thought of a reasonable solution to her dilemma with her mother, Shaunna’s suggestion of slipping her some LSD notwithstanding, but she had bought a really cute top, a fashion magazine and a nail polish to die for.
They stopped at another coffee bar and idly flicked through the magazine cooing over the outfits, ogling the male models and pulling the female models to pieces, going back now and then to suggestions for the `mum problem’.
Then it was there. Staring them in the face. ‘A Make Over Your Mum’ competition.
Lorraine snatched the magazine from her friend and looked more closely (she needed glasses really, but wouldn’t wear them).
“Listen to this Shaun! ‘Make Over Your Mum. Three prizes to be won by lucky readers.' ’ Third prize is a makeover worth £250.00 in the hometown store of your choice and a selection of Gala Girl cosmetics,” Lorraine screwed her eyes up to focus better.
“Second prize is £500.00 in a choice of towns and the make-up. The first prize is....Oh! Listen to this!...£1,000 worth of makeover in London Design House of Mario LuRicci! That’s not all! There’s a film Premiere and three nights in a top hotel! And that’s for TWO!” Lorraine was so excited, she jumped up out of her seat and forgot to be cool. “I could meet Mario LuRicci himself Shaun! He could spot my potential! This could be my lucky break, I could be a model!"
“You have to, like, win the comp first Hon,” Shaunna drawled, secretly as jealous as hell, but pleased it came over as professional ‘cool’.
“So, let’s win it!” Nothing much was going to have the power to deflect Lorraine from her purpose now.
Two acrylic nail-biting months later, a letter arrived. Lorraine was on the phone to Shaunna in seconds.
“We won! We won first prize! I told you that photo would get the sympathy vote. That grey Crimplene dress! Yeukk! And that cardi!! Oh Shaunna! Soon I’ll be able to walk down the street with her! Isn’t it wonderful?” Lorraine was ecstatic.
“Of course, there won’t be much they’ll want to do with me. I could have stepped out of their own fashion house magazine. But it will be nice not to have to pay out for a change. It’s a shame you didn’t win anything for your mum,” Lorraine allowed herself to purr, “but at least you can console yourself with the thought that she wasn’t grotty enough!”
One month later they were in London. A limousine met them at Euston Station and carried them, in grand style, to the hotel to settle in hand have `brunch’.Lorraine thought she had died and gone to heaven. Three days had flown by in a flurry of activity and shopping. And boy, did she shop! The prize money was well enjoyed and Lorraine decked herself out in all the lovely designer clothes she could squeeze out of £800.00, which, actually, wasn’t very much. She’d given her mum £200.00 on the grounds that it was her mum who ‘was going to have the make-over, so she wouldn’t need much more than that…’!
Shaunna was getting more and more fed up with the regular up-dates and ‘inside angles’ of the world of fashion of which Lorraine now thought herself an icon and an expert. It was ‘Mario’ this and ‘Mario’ that. But Shaunna was realistic enough to realise that she’d be just as bad, if not worse, if it were she who had won the competition and so she took it with good grace.
On the day of the final unveiling, Mario was on his best behaviour and was charming to both mother and daughter, although he did eye Angie with a peculiar expression.
Both women were led away and pampered in the beauty salon and then were taken through to the fashion house where they were blindfolded to keep up the suspense, and dressed from top to bottom.
Their chaperone for the day, Ros Kenning, came through to them whilst the finishing touches were being made and brought them some news. There was going to be some television coverage and did Lorraine and Angie mind co-operating?
Lorraine was beside herself! Of course they didn’t mind! This was her hour of triumph, just wait ‘til the girls at home saw them! Soon the time came for the unveiling and Lorraine couldn’t stand the suspense. She just couldn’t wait to see what miracle Mario had performed on her dowdy mother.
Would it be Heroin chic or Haute Couture?
There was a countdown to the unmasking and when it came to it, Lorraine couldn’t focus at first. After being blindfolded the T.V. lighting was very bright at first, but when she could, she looked expectantly at her mother.
Lorraine’s smile froze on her face. This had to be a sick joke. They hadn’t done her mum! Then she looked again and could see some small differences, but the general impression was not much altered.
Mario came out, beaming from ear to ear, “Ah! My leetle guinea-pigs are ready – no? Iss wonderful, wonderful! Bellissima! Little one,” Mario bent close to Lorraine’s ear and whispered, “iss good to smile, show teeth – yes? Iss passe to be so cool now, you don’ need to scowl so anymore!” and he went off beaming beatifically at everyone.
Now she came to look around her, his entourage were all wearing big beaming smiles and various versions of her mother’s wardrobe - the old one!Mario approached the front area where the T.V cameras were and Ros Kenning did a short, informal interview with Mario about his new `Mama Mia’ collection.
“Inspired by my own Mama,” Mario explained, “hence the collection title - ‘Mama Mia’...”
Up until this point, Lorraine hadn’t given a thought about her own transformation and there’d been no opportunity to sneak a look because of the blindfolds, but now they were unveiling the mirrors for mother and daughter and the last thing Lorraine remembered before losing consciousness was grey crimplene......
A Bit Of Peace & Quiet
“...all I want is a bit of peace and quiet! Is that really too much to ask?” Martha Goodlass was in full flow. “I don’t know! You work your fingers to the bone, slave over a hot stove, do the best you can, and what thanks do you get? None! That’s what........!”
Alfred wasn’t quite sure what had set her off this time, but a surreptitious glance at his watch told him he’d another half an hour of this to endure.
Alfred had got quite good at appearing to take in every word his garrulous wife uttered when, in reality, he was hundreds of miles away. Almost literally. A retired airline worker Alfred, over the years, had studied the flight-paths of most of the private and commercial airlines and, indeed, had visited most of the destinations on the map in the course of his work. He’d been the freight and cargo line mostly and had delivered parcels, letters, crates and even coffins, complete with occupant, to the four corners of the earth and when Martha `went off on one’, he’d just imagine himself back to those places. Amsterdam, Prague, St.Petersberg, New York... he’d seen them all and each of them held their own particular magic for him.
He’d enjoyed all of it, even the little provincial places with nothing more than a bit of tarmac and a wooden hut. Maybe those places especially. They were so laid-back and lacking in the oppressive red-tape that could make a freight-runner’s life a misery.
He remembered one little place with a smile. A tropical paradise it had been. Think of the back of beyond. Well this was its more remote sister.
Tulipang was a delightful south sea island which boasted nothing more complicated than an ancient taxi-cab and, in the postmaster’s hut, a television set that the villagers, all nineteen of them, crowded around on Christmas Day to hear their Queen’s Speech and other important transmissions. Alfred often visited Tulipang in his thoughts. It was one of his favourite escapes, due to there having been a native girl who had taken quite a shine to him thirty years ago. He still sent her packages; quite unbeknownst to Martha of course, things that he knew would please her and their son... “...And another thing!...” “Alfred’s watch told him fifteen minutes more... Back to Tulipang and a smiling, plump Neiwei. He would have loved to have stayed on the island with Neiwei and their son but at the time, he had felt such pity for Martha. Of course HE knew who was barren but she didn’t and at the time, she was still the girl he’d fallen in love with. Almost.
He couldn’t bring himself to leave her when she was at such low ebb.
Then as the years went on, the airline routes changed and it got harder and harder to visit Neiwei. Then he’d had to retire on health grounds and hadn’t seen her for three or four years. He had grandchildren now and wanted so much to see them.... He was stunned by the force of the blow Martha aimed at him. “...I knew you weren’t listening! You think you fool me when you sit there pretending to listen to me! You’re useless! A wimp! I’ve wasted my life on you!” Each insult was punctuated by a blow to the head or shoulders from the frying-pan she was wielding and Alfred threw his arms over his head to protect it. “...and you couldn’t even give me a child! The lowest slut in the world can get a man to give her a child, but not me! Mine fires blanks!.....” Thunkkkk! Alfred wasn’t quite sure what happened next but as he tried to dodge the frying-pan, the little side table toppled over and the next thing he knew was Martha was prone on the floor, her head resting on the marble hearth. He bent down, frantically feeling for her pulse. There was none. There was no blood either, save for a small trickle running from her nose. Alfred knew what he must do.
“Alfled-san! You came!” Neiwei smiled her plump smile, “You no go back?” “No Neiwei, I no go back. Ever. Did my boxes arrive?” “Boxes arrive!” she beamed up at him like a small round spaniel, “Many boxes!” The only thing about the island Alfred wasn’t keen on was the voracious crocodiles that were indigenous to one part of it. But he thought they would enjoy Martha. She would finally get her bit of peace and quiet.
The Village The sun beat down warmly on to the dusty road, the lazy, soporific atmosphere enhanced by the humming of bees foraging amongst the clover and broom for nectar. A grasshopper threw up little dustpuffs in his attempt to reach the safety of the grassy bank, away from the sharp beak of a hungry starling who wanted him for her dinner. On the village pond, two ducks and their hatchlings were cooling themselves in the clear water, mother duck's instructions to her babies clear through the quiet afternoon. `The Old Smithy' hadn't been one for about two hundred years, but that didn't stop the present owners using the name for the inn and public house it had become since. Even the old anvil remained, used mainly as a footrest, standing as it did in the fire grate in `The Old Anvil' bar. All in all, it was a quaint village of great charm, the sort of village used for greetings-cards or postcards. The view of it's magnificent via-ducted railway bridge over the valley, was probably one of the best known views in England, although not many people could have said exactly where it was. Most people overshot Summerseat, aiming rather for the larger towns of Frome and Dutton. For this, the indigenous population of one hundred and thirty two souls (plus ducks, cows and assorted dogs and horses) were eternally grateful. For over four hundred years, Summerseat had, metaphorically speaking, kept its head down and by doing so, kept out of the notice of the world and its ills. Even the weather seemed different in Summerseat, Winters being cold and snowy, made cosy with real fires and mulled wine, Springs being mild and wet, filling the world with crocus and daffodils, lambs and chickens, Autumns being amber and gold woodland walks, redolent of woodsmoke and winemaking. But it was the summers that were the most amazing in Summerseat, almost as one imagined that God ordained them to be. Golden, hot, permeated with the scent of the sun upon the good brown earth and silver rivers, full of the insect life that created more life, the humming of honeybees upon buddleia and hollyhock, foxglove and clover. Full of the tinkling sound of crystal waters over smooth stones on the riverbed punctuated by the splash of a kingfisher after a silver dart of a fish. They didn't encourage strangers in Summerseat. Occasionally an `outer' or family of them would come. They didn't stay long. They found life difficult away from civilization with its shops, clubs, gyms and businesses. Most villagers were more or less self-sufficient, bartering what they had too much of for what they needed, selling any excess at the market in Dutton, doing jobs for one another to be paid in kind. They rubbed along well enough without the twentieth century and didn’t even boast a supermarket, although Geoffrey and Jane Dunnett at the pub kept a small supply of `luxury' goods. The only shop was a kind of general store cum Post-Office, run, if indeed `run' is the correct word, by Arthur and Vera Tetlow. Vera was a splendiferous cook and her bakery items were sought after, even in a `do-it-yourself- village like this one. Arthur's market-garden was legendary and he kept the village supplied with herbs for both cooking and home-medicine. Indeed, he was something of an herbalist, making decoctions and unguents for villagers and animals alike. Occasionally, they were asked to mail a letter or parcel and once a week they doled out the pensions and cashed giros, after which the Post Office went to sleep again until the next week. All in all, Summerseat was peaceful, tranquil, picturesque and mind-crushingly boring. ______________ "We can't have missed the turning, surely?" Angie Morris scrutinised the page in the roadmap with a magnifying glass. "It's got to be around here somewhere, but I'm blowed If I can find it," Angie's husband Jim felt like he had spent all day driving up and down this stretch of country road, "mind you, two years is a long time. I suppose the landmarks can change in that time." "Well if we can't find it and we've been there, the removals men'll have some fun!" Angie laughed. "It'll be okay. I'll fax them a detailed map once we're there, provided the phone company haven't screwed up." "It's so remote," Angie considered. " `Summerseat'. It sounds as idyllic as it looks. Or should I say `looked'. It's a long while since we've been. Anything could have happened since Aunt Clarisse died. There could be a nightclub in the square or they could have turned the pond into a jacuzzi by now!" Jim grinned at the mental picture of Aunt Clarisse in the village pond enjoying a communal jacuzzi with Fred Dover the drover, Fred still wearing his dirty smock and straw hat. "Here it is! We must have passed that twice!" Angie sat up, golden curls bobbing. "How did we miss that?" Jim shrugged. "Map fatigue I suppose. I'm glad the kids aren't with us. They'd've been at it hammer and tong by now." "Don't even want to think about it!" Angie threw up her hands in mock-horror and shook her head. The approach to Summerseat was by an obscure winding lane, which to the uninitiated, looked like a farm track. It looked like a farm track to the initiated too and felt even more like one with the pits and furrows that threw a vehicle all over the place, jolting the suspension of any car and any passenger mad enough to ride down it. The greenery was thick and uncompromising and Jim fervently hoped they would meet nothing coming the other way, for there was nowhere to pass. The hedgerow was lushly green and alive with wildlife. All along the foot of it summer wildflowers and bulbs fell over each other to grow for the sun. Pink campion and herb Robert vyed for space with borage and digitalis, whilst the scented greenish flowers of wild clematis scrambled over the thorny thickets. "Can't be far now Ange." Jim had noticed the pallor of his wife's complexion. Her silence added to the impression of suppressed projectile vomiting. This road surface would be enough to make an old mariner seasick! The greenery started to thin out a little and the track widened a little, not much but enough to make Jim relax a little. "You'd think someone would make that a bit easier. No wonder the village doesn't get many visitors." Angie was silent, which spoke volumes to her concerned husband, who was stating to feel queasy himself. Just when Angie could take no more, the village came into sight. Not gradually, cottage by cottage. Instantly. Now you see it, now you don't, but the reverse. "Wow!" Jim exclaimed. "It hasn't changed at all! In fact I'd swear it's identical in every detail to when I was a nipper and stayed with Aunt Clarisse. It's quite breathtaking." Angie raised her eyebrows, used to her husband's enthusiasms - and his exaggerations. "I'm sure it can't be IDENTICAL, after all this time Jim, but you're right, it hasn't changed much from when we were last here." Privately Angie was suitably impressed. It was such a pretty place to bring up the kids, away from the aggression and bullying of that horrible school they'd been at and the peace would do Jim good too. Aunt Clarisse had passed away over two years previously, but she had died intestate, and although Jim had been her closest relative in all senses of the word, his claim on her estate had been contested and it had all become a long, drawn out bore. The final decision, in Jim's favour, could not have come at a better time. They had had a bad few years one way and another. Angie's ex-husband Carl had re-surfaced and was giving her several different kinds of grief, the kids were having increasingly difficult times at the school they were in; She and Jim had tried to have them moved to another school, but there had been no room and Angie wasn't convinced it would have been much better anyway and to cap it all, Jim had been made redundant from his job. Over the months, the bills had piled up and Jim's small redundancy award had dwindled. They were on the verge of repossession when the news came. "Good old Aunt Clarisse," Jim had heaved a huge sigh of relief as he stood in the hallway with the letter from the solicitor in his hand, "They've found a will! She did leave one after all!" They had just packed belongings they considered to be essential, left the rest in the house that now belonged to the building society and left.Jim was having private thoughts of his own. Perhaps in a serene and quiet place like this, Angie could learn to relax and drop her defences. Perhaps she could conceive a child of his here. He loved her two like they were his own, but one of their own would be nice too. Aunt Clarisse's cottage, was on the other side of the village. It was one of the original cottages that were built before there was a village. As they approached the stone built dwelling, Jim felt an almost imperceptible pressure on his cheek, like that of papery lips brushing a kiss onto a child's face. "Thanks Aunt Clarisse," he said to himself.
Marion and Rhona and Bill Marion was puzzled. How did these things happen? She went over it again in her head. Marion meets hunk, hunk likes Marion, hunk meets Marion’s friend Rhona and Marion’s ex-friend Rhona goes off with hunk. This was the third time something similar had happened and to tell the truth Marion was getting, just a little, annoyed about. Not that she introduced ANYBODY to Rhona anymore. She now barely spoke to her and, anyhow, had run out of boyfriends to introduce. It was not as if she had any difficulty in attracting nice men - she could and did. No, Marion was attractive, sweet-natured, friendly and self-effacing - everyone liked her; it was the keeping of friends, both male and female that was the problem. Once they met Rhona, they seemed to find her far more exciting and bubbly and lively than the gentle Marion. The problem was that Rhona wouldn’t take the hint and find herself somewhere else to live and Marion was not forceful enough to make her go. She’d found Rhona at the Jobcentre where she was an Employment Officer and had done her usual trick and adopted the lame duck which Rhona appeared to be. Rhona had been made redundant from her last job, but because she hadn’t been there long, wasn’t entitled to anything worth talking about in the way of redundancy pay. The result was that she had fallen behind with the rent on her flat and been chucked out. Marion listened to her plight and felt sorry for her. Rhona’s parents were both dead and she was an only child. There was no other family she could turn to and would have to take her cat to the R.S.P.C.A if she didn’t find somewhere to live immediately. Being the girl she was, Marion did the only thing possible and took Rhona home with her, along with Jake the cat. Rhona and Marion got on like a house on fire, which is to say Marion provided the fuel and Rhona burnt it off. But it was fun too, while it lasted. Rhona was a complete hedonist, living for the moment and enjoying whatever came her way, which was a big departure for the more cautious Marion, who saved and planned and thought things out before acting. Rhona appeared actually to have forgotten that the arrangement was supposed to be temporary and Marion didn’t like to say anything - it would have looked like she was asking her to leave and she couldn’t do that to her again. And it wasn’t as if she didn’t enjoy the parties that Rhona organised - and shepaid for - she did enjoy them, but she wanted her life back. It was at the end of October when Marion met Bill and as usual, she added him to her collection. Bill was handsome in a rakish kind of way and was only too grateful to Marion when she let him have the spare room. He promised it was only temporary, that he’d look for a place of his own as soon as he was settled in his new job, which should start at the beginning of November. Needless to say, two weeks before Christmas, Marion still had her two unemployed and unwanted houseguests who were between them planning the most wonderful Christmas parties - not to mention New Year! What a wonderful time they’d all have. Marion carried on paying the bills and working at the Jobcentre whilst she watched helplessly as Rhona worked her magic on Bill. Rhona was surprised but not unhappy when Marion told her she would be away for Christmas. “Bit of a wet rag anyway,” she told Jake, “but at least she’s left our prezzies under the tree.” What she didn’t tell Jake was that it would also leave Bill unattended for the entire holiday. Then Christmas Eve came and Bill and Rhona were at their sparkling best.. “Shame Marion couldn’t be here,” Bill said to Rhona as they stuck up paper chains and tinsel. “Yes,” smiled Rhona sweetly, thinking nothing of the kind. The gas-fire burnt brightly and reflected off the glass baubles on the Christmas tree. “Phone’s on the blink,” said Bill, irritated, “dead as a dodo.” “Probably the snow. You’ll have to go up to the pub and use theirs,” suggested Rhona, who was curled up in front of the gas-fire watching Christmas TV., with Jake in a ball on her lap. “Whilst you’re at it, you could phone the shop about the goodies for the week. They’re cutting it a bit fine on the delivery. Said they’d have it here for four O’clock at the latest.” As she said this, all the lights went out. “Oh, what now?!” Bill exclaimed.“Don’t worry, it’s only the fuse. It happens all the time There’s a circuit-breaker or something that’s a bit sensitive. The tumble-drier must have tripped it. I’ll light some candles - they’re a nicer light for a party anyway.” Bill twitched the curtain. “I really don’t fancy going out in that, y’know. It’s getting quite deep.” “You won’t be long,” Rhona purred with meaning, “and you’ll soon warm up when you get back.” Bill shot her a glance as he shrugged on his coat. “I suppose you’re right. See if you can’t fix that circuit-whatsit while I’m out and we’ll start getting ready for the party. Bill let himself out and Rhona shivered as she felt an icy blast from the door as it closed. She’d had a bath and was sitting in her robe with a towel around her hair.. She’d fix the fuse and then go and blow-dry her frizzy mop to some semblance of order. How she’d hate Bill to see her au-naturelle! After many minutes of ministrations with the blow-drier and styling-wax, her hair was second-to-no-one, but Mother Nature had been no friend to Rhona when she had given her rusted wire-wool for hair. She’d have to iron her clothes when they came out of the drier too, but that wouldn’t take long. The food, when it arrived, was as instant as you could get; they just had to throw it onto plates and serve it. The booze could go on the sideboard and they could all help themselves. She went to the meter cupboard and flicked the circuit-breaker. Nothing. She tried again. Many times. Nothing. “Oh bugger! A real blown fuse!” Rhona’s bottom lip stuck out like a cellar step. And she’d chipped a nail on the damn fuse! Oh well, she’d just have to wait until Bill got back. Fuses was a bloke thing. She checked the drier. Still sopping wet! Well, it wasn’t just the lighting circuit then. Bugger, bugger, bugger! An hour later the front door banged, bringing another icy blast. “Thank goodness you’re back!” Rhona stood up, a smile of relief about to settle onto her face froze. “What’s the matter?” “The phone’s been cut off,” said Bill frowning. “But why?” Rhona looked uncomprehending. “The bill’s not been paid so service had been discontinued.” He shook the crusting of snow from the shoulders of his coat and removed it.. “But we need it! Didn’t you tell them that? Demand they put it back on...?” Rhona was beginning to raise her voice and a note of petulance had crept into it. “...of course I bloody did! But they want nearly £200.00 to re-connect it and I don’t know about you, but I’M not paying it!” Bill put his coat on a hanger and hooked it onto the picture-rail over the radiator to dry out. “...£200.00...?” Rhona was nearly speechless, but not quite. “What about the food?” “Oh that was there, waiting to be picked up,” Bill was grim, “and the booze.” Rhona couldn’t speak. She just shook her head. “They wanted £356.97 before they’d give it to me,” Bill dropped to the chair nearest to the fire, pulling off his sodden shoes and socks. “Haven’t you fixed that circuit thingy yet?” “I couldn’t. I think the fuse has blown altogether and I thought you could fix it.” Rhona put on the voice she kept especially for men. “Who? Me?” Bill was unaffected. “I’m not mucking about with electricity! The candles will have to do until someone clever arrives.” “But you have to!” Rhona cried “My hair’s not done and all my clothes are in the drier!” “I can’t help that,” Bill retorted, “you’ll have to dry them off in front of the fire or something.” They sat in the candle-light staring into the flames of the gas-fire, Rhona frantically trying to brush her hair straight and wind it around her head as her granny did when she was a child to try and straighten it. Then she dug out some old trousers and a shirt from the ironing basket and put them on. By ten-thirty they realised no-one was coming. “Did you post the invites?” Bill looked at his watch. “Who? Me? No, I didn’t post them. Didn’t you?” “Obviously not. Letters is a girl thing. I thought you or Marion would do that.” “Well, it seems fairly obvious that no-one did. And why are letters a `girl thing’ ?” “I don’t know. Just is. I suppose writing letters is a bit sissy, that’s all.” “No it isn’t.” “Look, I’m not up for an argument.” After a few minutes Rhona said in a small voice, “shall we open our prezzies?” “Okay,” Bill agreed, “there might be food in there. “ Bill hadn’t eaten for about six hours and couldn’t face the prospect of not eating for an indefinite period. “Ooooh good! Choccies!” Rhona ripped off the wrappings, “thanks Bill!” “You’re welcome. I don’t suppose you bought me any booze?” He ripped off the paper and opened a box containing a bottle of - cologne! “I suppose I might get desperate.” Now for Marion’s prezzies,” Rhona picked one up. “You know, I’ll be glad when she gets back and sorts this lot out. You can depend on Marion.” “Yes, you’re right. Dependable girl, Marion.” They opened their presents together. Rhona’s box contained the phone bill, the electricity bill and the council tax. Bill’s contained the gas-bill, the supermarket bill and the bill from the winestore, along with a repair bill for the bedroom ceiling through which he’d put his foot whilst in the loft. Also in the box, wrapped in red tissue paper, was a rent book, in both of their names.
Island In The Sun
The hot sun burned down upon her golden thighs, mingling with the droplets of seawater and oil in a profusion of glitter.
Her long blonde hair, protected from the fierce rays of the sun by a stylish straw Sombrero, was coiled up into a heavy chignon at the nape of her long, slender neck and her beautiful grey eyes were hidden behind the latest Ray-Bans.
The sound of the waves crashing onto the shore was mesmeric and it was only with effort that she managed to draw on the straw of her Pina Colada.
She was in a dilemma. She had a very difficult decision to make; a decision that could affect all that was precious to her. Sighing in frustration, she realised she was no closer to making her choice now than she was two hours ago when she first lay down on this lounger.
She went over it in her mind once again. Jeremy was from England and an aristocrat no less! Practically related to royalty! But Sandro. Oh! What a man! Spanish-Mexican, lean, dark and very handsome and with a body to die for. And both of them besotted with her. Little ol’ Sammy-Jo Beaumarie from Charleston.
She clicked a two-inch long talon against perfect white teeth in a thoughtful gesture and resumed her line of thought. The question was, did she want to be a Lady or a millionairess? What a terrible decision to have to make!
It would be easier if Jeremy was more handsome or Sandro less so, or Jeremy less handsome and Sandro with some breeding would have swung it for her. As it was she found herself totting up points on a scale of one to ten yet again and still no nearer to a decision.
Sir Jeremy Cholmondeley-fforbes was slim and pale, with dark hair and what Sammy-Jo thought of as `English’ blue eyes, which only seemed to lose their frostiness when in the throes of passion, such as last night. At such times, they took on a smouldering quality, which she found fascinating and infinitely more sexy than she would have thought possible.
Jeremy was a moody man, but she found his brooding looks intriguing and saw herself as Lady Samantha with no trouble at all!
And then there was Sandro. Ah! Such passion! Not as tall as she would have liked but nonetheless, a perfect specimen of manhood. His dark, swarthy skin was sun kissed and supple and his black hair, like a raven’s wing, had a blue cast which she thought sensational. His brown eyes burned like coals whenever he looked at her and passion was never very far from his thoughts when she was around.
Sandro was also a successful film actor and was worth millions due to his shrewd investments and knowledge of the film industry and he had already bought her a red Ferrari. However, he originated from a background of poverty and his manners were not all they could be. She found some of his behaviour distinctly embarrassing, but she was sure she could gently mould him in that respect.
So what to do, she asked herself for the thousandth time, clicking her long fingers for the boy to come and refresh her glass. It was lunchtime and she was a little peckish.
“Another. And bring me fresh fruit,” she ordered, “and don’t be all day about it.”
The boy took the order and went off to find what she ordered. Her order was back within minutes and silently placed upon the table beside her elbow.
She picked at a little fruit and sipped her drink and then tightened her gold waist-chain by two links. She was determined it would be ten by the time she left this place. There was her tennis lesson this afternoon, but the golden tan was just as important, her thong a testament to this, being the tiniest scrap of red material on a little Lycra shoestring.
Lazily, she gazed down her perfect body, past the twin peaks of perfection that were her breasts, nipples erect in the faint breeze off the lagoon. Her ribcage was a taut expanse of superlative skin rolling down to the flat tundra of her golden abdomen, the perfection broken only by the golden waist-chain, now twenty-two and a half inches long, and the small ellipse of her navel. The scrap of red Lycra was the only thing between her and the sun and her long legs stretched, well-muscled, down to well-formed, slender feet.
Whichever of the men she chose, she considered, he would be getting a bargain.
It occurred to her how very thirsty she’d become and as she stretched out a golden arm to pick up the fresh drink, she became aware of a terrible noise, a banging and thumping accompanied by a harsh voice shouting. This was disturbing her and bringing her out of her reverie and she would, in no uncertain way, be complaining of this to the management, she thought testily. Jeremy would bring the weight of his title down on the imbeciles who allowed such an intrusion!
This disruption continued and she thought she heard her name called.
“Samantha!” the voice called, “Good grief girl, wake up!”
Samantha opened her eyes slowly, blinded by the sun.
“You’ll be burned to a crisp, you silly girl!” Her mother switched off the sun-bed. “You fell asleep again. I told you to take the alarm clock after last time, although what you want to bother with that contraption for, I’ll never know. If God in his wisdom had intended you to be brown, he’d have birthed you in Barbados instead of Bolton!”
Samantha heaved her thirteen stone bulk off the sun-bed and looked in the mirror at the patchy red marks which she knew already would peel.
Her mother continued, “Red-heads ain’t supposed to be brown. Even if you didn’t burn, it still wouldn’t look right. Anyway, get dressed and come down chuck, your tea’s ready. It’s your favourite. Tripe and chips.”
SCENE: SCHOOL PLAYGROUND. THREE GIRLS LEAN AGAINST THE WALL AND DISCUSS THE IMPORTANT THINGS IN LIFE....
CHARMIAN ...well, if you ask me, I think Ronan was the best, that’s why his solo career is still alive and kicking, not like that Shane or Mikey... BRITNEY ...oh Charm, how can you say that? I personally thought Stephen was was sweet and he was so honest about...you know...being gay. That must have been so hard. I do think it’s so important not to be fake...
BERNIE ...you’ve got a cheek Agnes Fisher! Your tan’s off a sun-bed, your nails out of a tube and I wouldn’t like to think where your boobs are originally from! Even your name’s been changed!
CHARMIAN Don’t be too hard on her. If your name was Aggie, wouldn't youchange it?
NARRATOR: BERNIE AND BRITNEY PULL TONGUES AT EACH OTHER.
CHARMIAN Besides, my tan’s from a sunbed too. Just ‘cos you’re a ‘ging’ and go all freckly and suffer from prickly heat; you’re simply jealous.
BERNIE I am not jealous. I just don’t want to wrinkle my face to an old prune before I’m thirty, that’s all.
CHARMIAN AND BRITNEY ROLL THEIR EYES AND SAY TOGETHER: OoooH!
BERNIE Just you wait and see if I’m right. (Beat) Either of you going out tonight?
BRITNEY Well, I’m not, that’s for sure. I’m totally skint and my Dad’s got no money I can scav.
BERNIE I thought your Dad was loaded? Got a good car and all that?
BRITNEY Normally he is but he’s got a new job and he’s being dead tight until he’s well in there. CHARMIAN What happened to his old job?
BRITNEY Made redundant a couple of weeks ago...
BERNIE ...and found another job straightaway?
BRITNEY Actually, no. He got offered this job before he left the other one...
CHARMIAN ...wow, that must have been Kismet...!
BRITNEY ...no, Cammel Lairds. Me dad can’t cook.
BERNIE Well, I for one am going out on the razz tonight.
CHARMIAN I thought you had no decent clobber? You’ve been whingeing all week about it. Anyone got any chewie?
BERNIE Here y’are... I haven’t. But me sister’s just bought this `to die for’ pair of jeans and top. I’ll nick them after she’s gone out. She’ll be that rat-arsed when she comes in, she won’t notice.
CHARMIAN Where you going? I might geg in with you if it’s anything wicked.
BERNIE (dolefully) Well, I’m stuck in this place late tonight - detention class – but if you fancy going somewhere afterwards.... but not too late, I’ve got loads of homework tonight including the totally meffy maths. BRITNEY Oh Bern! You’ve always hated maths I know, but you’ve just got to persevere. I’ll come over and give you a hand if you like.
BERNIE Thanks Brit, you’re really kind, but it’s not really your subject, is it? BRITNEY No, it’s not, but I’m better at it than you are! I can add up to twenty without removing my shoes....
NARRATOR: THERE IS A PAUSE WHILST THE TWO GIRLS GLARE AT EACH OTHER.
BERNIE Either of you two got a fag on you?
CHARMIAN Bernie! You’ve already had a warning!
BERNIE Two. Why do you think I got detention tonight?
BRITNEY Haven’t you heard, Bernie? Smoking gives you wrinkles. And it turns your skin yellow, not to mention making your mouth smell like an old ashtray...
BERNIE ...and you’re going the right way for a smack in yours Ags....!
CHARMIAN Will you two pack it in? You’re acting like a couple of two year olds.
NARRATOR: CHARMIAN BLOWS A HUGE BUBBLE WITH HER CHEWING GUM. IT BURSTS. SHE REPEATS THIS EXERCISE THEN TWIRLS IT ROUND HER INDEX FINGER.
CHARMIAN Well I think smoking’s dead sexy. I know it’s bad for you, and all that, but it’s just so sophisticated. That new French teacher smokes. You can smell it on his jacket. Galoises I think they’re called. I saw them in his pocket. I think he’s a dish. (giggles) A French dish.
BERNIE Yeah, he reminds me of a French dish too. Snails!
CHARMIAN Oh Bernie. Don’t you think he’s handsome?
BERNIE Do camels knit?
BRITNEY He’s okay, but I think Mr. (geography) Kelly is fitter.
BERNIE Not as fit as Mr. (P.E.) Kelly! The bum on him!
BRITNEY Yeah, but that’s not what you’d be looking at if you were snogging him. I think you’d have trouble finding his gob, with a conk like his!
BERNIE At least his wig wouldn’t fall off!
BRITNEY Geography doesn’t wear a syrup!
BERNIE Does too! Russell Dervenish from 5a caught it on his waterproof on the field trip to the Lakes last year. Pulled it clean off. Took off on a gust of wind like an airborne bird’s nest!
NARRATOR: THE THREE GIRLS GIGGLE AND CLUTCH AT EACH OTHER FOR SUPPORT AS THEY VISUALISE THE VAIN AND POMPOUS GEOGRAPHY TEACHER CHASING AFTER HIS TOUPEE DOWN A WET AND WINDSWEPT MOUNTAIN. THE BELL RINGS TO SIGNAL END OF BREAK-TIME AND THE GIRLS STRAIGHTEN THEMSELVES UP AND PREPARE TO GO BACK INTO CLASS.
CHARMIAN Oh well, back to the grindstone!
BERNIE I SO hate maths.
BRITNEY Yeah, I know Bern, Like I hate English and Charm hates Science, but we chose to be teachers! Come on, the kids’ll be running amok!
To Those Who Wait
Agatha was alone in the world now. The tears had stopped making their tracks down her papery cheeks some time ago and she couldn’t remember how long she’d been sat in this chair.
She’d get up in a minute and make a cup of tea and she really should re-light that fire, but coal was so expensive these days. At least Tiddles used to keep her lap warm with his thick, fluffy coat of fur.
She had no tears left now, no feelings to speak of either. She had been so upset when she had found him, stiff and cold in his basket. Old age the vet had said and charged her a fiver for his opinion. Well, she supposed he charged a lot more than that normally.
Her Albert had died in the war, that was the Great War, in 1915. Left her alone to bring up their son, Harry, which she did to the best of her ability. Harry had been a wonderful son, caring and kind. She had cried when her Harry had joined up in 1939 and gone to war.
“If I don’t Ma,” Harry had said to her, “then me Da would have died for nothing. He fought to make the world a better place and I’m going for the same reason. Don’t worry old girl, Jerry won’t get me so easily!” And he had come back, briefly, but not the lad he had been.
Shell-shocked, he was, but was soon sent back to the front. She remembered his smile. It was so like his father’s. Both of them handsome men, with wide shoulders and bright blue eyes. No, he was never the same after. The smile was still there, but the twinkle was gone. He had died only two years into peacetime.She often fancied she saw him in some young man on the bus, or in the post-office queue. And in this house too. She often imagined him walking in through the door, smiling his father’s smile, his blue eyes twinkling again.
She really ought to light that fire, it would be getting dark soon. But she really wasn’t all that cold and she’d be better keeping the coal until she was. She would make that tea soon, that would keep her going.
Her memory wasn’t what it once was and that flippin’ clock was no help. It had stopped, again, so she didn’t even know what time it was.
She thought she saw a shadow in the corner of the room and looked harder. “Blinkin’ eyesight’s goin’ now,” she grumbled to herself. She blinked a couple of times and when she opened her eyes again, he was there.
“Oh, Harry! Is it you then lad? Come to visit your old Ma again?” she smiled.
“Yes Ma, it’s me,” he twinkled just for her. “Me Da’s waitin’. Are you comin?”
She noticed a dark shadow moving at his heels, difficult to see in the lengthening shadows. The flash of green eyes and the loud purr identified the shadow as Tiddles.
“Yes lad, I’m comin’,” and she eased herself out of the armchair, bracing herself for the shooting pain in her hip which usually accompanied any such manoeuvre.
She was faintly surprised when it didn’t come and her eyesight seemed to be improving too, or the light was. Her Albert was there! And still as handsome as ever! She smiled as she walked towards the open arms of her two men.
It was two days later when they found her.
“Hypothermia by the looks of it.” Dr. Thomas put his stethoscope away and closed up his bag.
“She was very upset about losing her cat,” Helen told him. “I think she just lost the will to live. She looks so peaceful doctor, she’s even smiling,” the neighbour looked around her. In the five years I’ve lived next door, I’ve never known her have so much as a visitor, save myself. What did she have to smile about?”
“I –i-it came upon th-e-e midnight clear, that glorious so-o-ong of old...” There was something not quite right with St.Mary’s choir, it had been since Emilia Sattersthwaite joined it and it wouldn’t be right ‘til she went again.
Unfortunately the day before Christmas Eve was not an auspicious time to do anything about it - spectres of Ebineezer Scrooge waited in the ether to show themselves at the first suggestion of bad will to any man.
In any case, the Reverend Simkin would not have a bad word said about the mad old haddock, purely because she helped nurse his old mother on her deathbed.
That and the fact that the old duffer was tone deaf. He’d have to be! No-one with any kind of music in their soul could fail to feel, never mind hear, the duff notes the old woman produced in the name of music.
“...That was lovely, ladies. You must pat yourselves on the back and then come back to the vestry for mince-pies and sherry.” This they did. The reverend had quite a following amongst the ladies of the congregation and not only the in blue-rinse brigade.
The Reverend Alan Simkin was a gentle man with a true vocation. He loved God and his fellow man and put them all before his own needs and wants. His wife held a position only immediately ahead of him, for which she was grateful, for she was a spiritual woman too.
“How did the choir practise go, my dear?” Aileen Simkin was rolling out yet another batch of pastry for yet another batch of mince-pies, for yet another lot of parish hampers. These they would distribute amongst the needy the following morning.
Fortunately, Chisleton was a fairly prosperous hamlet. They had the odd old age pensioner with no family and several families without work, but on the whole, they managed to look after their own.
“Like the curate’s egg,” Simkin replied, “good in parts.” “Emilia not in good voice then?” “Sorry? Can you speak up?” “Take them out Alan.”“What? Oh!”
Simkin’s fingers went to his ears and removed the ear-plugs his wife had thoughtfully provided.
“Completely forgot about them. Quite comfortable once you get used to them.”
“I must try them in bed,” Aileen smiled as she cut tops for the pies.
“Your snoring’s what for!”
“I don’t!” he looked pained, as only those who genuinely aren’t aware of something can.
“Alan, you do,” now the beaten egg and into the hot oven, “I’m not complaining, just observing. Or should I say listening?”
Simkin shot her a ‘well, I don’t care’ look.
Aileen went back to her original enquiry. “Emilia not in good voice tonight?”
“On the contrary. I’ve seldom heard ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ traumatised so well. She’s becoming quite expert at the old torture. Even through earplugs!”
“Oh, like that then?” Aileen stifled a snigger. “What are you going to do about her?”
“What can I do about her? She’s a lovely old lady and if she could carry a tune in a bucket, we wouldn’t have a care in the world. Besides, you know she has nothing left, besides our little church and it’s functions. She even looks forward to your cooking!”
Aileen threw him a withering look. “But she totally ruins the choir. It used to be such a fine choir. Something to be proud of.
“It still is. Music comes from the heart.”
“Yes,” replied his practical wife, “but it’s heard with the ears! Emilia’s voice is capable of subsonic frequencies! Aren’t you worried about the great bell? If she cracks it, you can’t have another one!”
“Very funny. Well, what do yousuggest my darling? Decapitation? A little strangulation perhaps? Some poison in your lovely tarts?” Simkin smiled sweetly at his wife. “Darling, there is nothing we can do without hurting her feelings and I won’t do that. The choir is all very good and well, but people have to come first. Unless you think the poison won’t be detected?”
“You’re right of course and I am thinking of people. It matters not to me how the choir sounds - I’m tone-deaf – but I suspect it might to the other choristers, y’know, the ones that come to all the practices, come hail, rain, snow or high water?” Simkin folded his paper with a theatrical flourish and announced, “I’m going for a shower. Please call me when dinner’s ready.” ______
Simkin followed his wife to Emilia’s garden gate in a daze.
“Alan, don’t be too sad. She was very old you know,” Aileen tried to comfort him. “She’ll be with Our Lord now, and free from that awful arthritis.
Simkin still had the hamper in his hands. Mrs.Turnbull, one of the parish ladies took it from him.
“I’ll carry on delivering these Mrs.Simkin,” she put a comforting hand on Simkin’s arm, “I’ll come over later.”
“I never knew you could die from arthritis,” he said simply, “and Dr.Thompson thinks that’s why her voice was so awful too.”
“She’s in no pain now Alan. Be glad for that.”
“I know. Well, at least the other choristers can have their choir back now,” he added, without humour.
The midnight service was always very well attended. Simkin only wished a half of them would continue to attend the rest of the year, then they would realise that wonderful though Christmas was, Easter was far more important.
Everyone was in good spirits and listened to his intentionally lively sermon with apparent interest.
A couple of the younger adults appeared to be fortified with another kind of spirit, but he turned a blind eye to that.
Then was the bit they all came for. The carols.
Mr.Preston, the organist, worked himself up into a crescendo for ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ and the little ones did a special arrangement of ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘Little Jesu Sweetly Sleeps’ tucked into the Nativity play that was always Aileen’s responsibility.
When the play had finished and the lumps in their throats had all subsided a little, the choir had their opportunity to lead the congregation in the carols they had been practising.
‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ had a beautiful descant arranged by Mrs.Turnbull and sung by Mrs.Lightbody who, at fifteen stone, was no such thing but had a wonderfully powerful voice that soared into the rafters.
By the time they got through ‘Silent Night’ and ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves.
When they got halfway through ‘It Came Upon the Midnight Clear’ Simkin noticed the choir looking a bit restive. By the second verse of ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, it was unmistakeable. Impossible, but unmistakeable.
“…frosty wi-ind made mo-oa-nn…”
Only one person could select to many incorrect, painful notes and fit them into such a short sentence.
Emilia Sattersthwaite was with them, if not in body…......
“...ooh, yes, he’s just a big softie really. I suppose he looks ferocious just because he’s big and black but he’s a pussycat really. Aren’t you darling?”
The little old lady didn’t need to bend down to fondle the huge Rottweiller’s muzzle. It wagged what was left of it’s truncated tail and immediately rolled onto it’s back, inviting a tummy tickle. “See what I mean?”
“Mummy, Mummy! Can I stroke him?” The postmistress’ daughter ran out from behind the counter and was upon the enormous beast before her mother could voice her reservations.
“Oh, he’s lovely! Can we have one?” The child cuddled and fondled the dog and he responded by licking her all over as she squealed and giggled.
“Well, he’s certainly a nice natured fellow Mrs.Sweeting,” the child’s mother conceded, “I always thought of Rottweillers as being fierce guard dogs.”
“Oh, a lot of them are, Mrs. Jennings,” the old lady agreed, “in fact I know of one that can only be approached by his owner, he’s so vicious, but I think this one was a dud! He hasn’t got a good ‘ferouche’ in him! I just love him to bits because he is so gentle. And I know he’d never harm a little one, he adores children.”
Mrs.Jennings was thoughtful. “Mmm. We have been thinking about getting a dog, what with these recent burglaries and all. But I was afraid a guard dog might not be a good idea with the kids.”
“Oh, I’m a firm believer that dogs and kids go together like bread and butter,” Letitia Sweeting had always had a dog of one sort or another, “and, as you say, these burglaries are worrying. We’ve never had anything like that in Thornton before. You must take care, you know? Post-offices are often targeted. I saw it on the news.”
“You’re right. I think we’ll start looking for a dog right away. Do you know anyone with dogs like yours?”
"Of course! I can give the kennels that bred Samson a ring, if you like. See what they’ve got. Sometimes they have an ex-show dog that’s past it’s prime for the ring, or one like him,” she pointed to the lolling lump of Rottweiller rolling all over the floor with Susie Jennings, “you know, not the right temperament or with a fault of some sort that would exclude it from the show-ring or breeding. They’re trained up and usually a bit cheaper than show-quality. He was a lot cheaper because they like Rottweillers to have at least a little dignity...” Samson was presently wearing a pair of doll’s knickers on his head, a pair of sunglasses and a huge smile,“...if you see what I mean!”
Mrs.Jennings chuckled, “I think I do! I would be grateful for any advice or help you can give me. Mind you,” she looked again at Samson, “I don’t know how much use that one would be in a robbery!”
“Oh, he’d probably show the villains where I stash my jewels!” Letitia laughed. “I’ll go and call the kennels for you now. See you later.”
“Don’t forget your pension!” Sarah held up the envelope containing the book and the money. “I’ve put it in an envelope for you. Mind you don’t lose it. Four months is a long time to save only to lose it!”
“Oh, I won’t have it long enough to lose it! I’ve a big bill to pay in town tomorrow.”
“You should have a bank account you know, it’s far safer than carrying cash around with you and your bills can be paid direct from your account these days.”
“I know, I know! But I don’t like banks, never have and I’m too old to change now. If there ever had been one in Thornton, I might have thought about it, but town’s the nearest. I’ll pop back later about the dog.”
“No, I’ll come and see you after I close up, save you coming back.”
“Very well, I’ll bake some scones and we’ll have tea. Do bring Susie along, Samson seems to have taken quite a liking to her!”
As he listened to this illuminating conversation, Willie Banks pretended to browse the magazine rack.
So! Amazing what you overheard in shops and pubs! They’d decided not to do any more jobs in Thornton, but this was too tempting to pass up.
The elderly widow had been an obvious target when they’d come to this village, but Mikey had told them about this enormous ferocious dog he’d seen when
he’d reccied the old woman’s bungalow, so they’d decided to keep to easier pickings, which were thick on the ground in this crime-free semi-rural village. But that dog was a complete jessie!
He couldn’t blame Mikey though, oh dear no! If he’d not witnessed that child rolling all over the floor with the brute, he’d never have even contemplated meeting it close up! Four months pension! No bank account! Didn’t look hard up! Wait ‘til he told the lads!
“...I’m tellin’ yer, it’s vicious!” Mikey shouted, “an’ if yer think I’m goin’ ter offer it my ar....”
“...an I’m tellin’ yer, it’s a wuss! I tole yer about the kid, an’ the ole woman! If you don’t want ter meet ‘im, you can stand look-out. Okay? Me an’ Ronnie’ll do the job,”
Mikey was mollified by this suggestion. “Okay, but I won’t ‘ave nothin’ ter do with that devil-dog.”
“Yer won’t I tell yer! Y’know, I’m beginning ter think yer as much of a jessie as that dog!” Willie grinned and he and Ronnie had a good laugh at Mikey’s expense.
That night, the three men cautiously parked their van in a gate-space in the lane that ran down the side of the widow’s property.
“You sure it won’t be seen ‘ere?” Mikey, ever the pessimist had voiced several reservations already.
“Will you quit it already!” Willie, already nervous, was losing his patience. Him and Ronnie were going to have to think about ditching this little whiner. Mikey was starting to make them nervous with his negative outlook and a nervous burglar was a caught burglar.
“Mikey, you’re gonna put a hex on us all with yer bad vibes man. Either say somethin’ positive or, better still, keep yer grid shut!”
“Well, I was only sayin...”
“...well, only don’t!”
Willie and Ronnie climbed out of the van, leaving Mikey to stand look out and getaway driver, if required.
Ronnie was a big man, but despite his bulk, he was very light on his feet and moved silently across the tidy lawn. Willie, short and slight of frame, was a mere shadow.
Ronnie checked the windows. As far as he could see there was no alarm and the new upvc double-glazed window on the ground-floor was no problem to them. A little trick with a pocket gas-torch and a screwdriver, learned in jail, did the trick.
“Either we’re gettin’ good at this, or that dog isn’t much of a burglar alarm,” Ronnie grinned.
“I tole yer,” Willie whispered, “’e’s ‘opeless.”
Once inside the bungalow, it didn’t take the men long to get their bearings. The layout was pretty much standard.
They did their usual job efficiently and silently, sifting through all the old lady’s belongings but finding nothing of any interest or value.
“There’s nothin’ ‘ere!” hissed Ronnie, annoyed he’d found nothing. “I thought you said she was minted?”
“I’m positive she is - she’s got at least four month’s pension for a start an’ she mentioned jewels as well! An’ look at ‘er stuff! It’s all good stuff! She must ‘ave the readies stashed in ‘er bedroom, under the mattress or somethin’!”
“So, we’ll just ‘ave ter go an’ ask ‘er then, won’t we?” Ronnie had an unpleasant gleam in his eye that worried Willie.
Willie was a thief, but he’d never been violent. Ronnie, on the other hand, had been banged up for five years for extortion with menaces and g.b.h.
The men entered the bedroom and started to look through he cupboards and drawers.
“Who’s that? Who’s in here?” Letitia had woken up. The reading light went on, illuminating the room with a rosy glow. Samson was still asleep on the bed next to Letitia.
“Where’s the money?” growled Ronnie. “Tell me old woman. I’m not known for me patience.”
“I haven’t any,” Letitia’s voice wavered in fear. “I’m only a pensioner. Leave me alone or I’ll set my dog on you!”
The men looked at each other and laughed.
“What, that thing?” Willie pointed at Samson. “I don’t think so Ma!”
“ Now don’t you try an’ be clever with us! I know y’ took yer pension - four month’s worth – out today, an’ I know you got jewels. I don’t care if I ‘ave to ‘urt yer darlin’, in fact,” Ronnie grinned a very unpleasant grin, “ I might even enjoy it, but as I say, I’m an impatient man, an’ I want ter get outta this crummy place now!”
Letitia jumped, stiff with fear, but stayed stubbornly silent.
“If yer don’t tell us missus, I’ll kill yer dog.” Ronnie cast his unsavoury glance at the sleeping Rottweiller.
He chose his threat well, Letitia wasn’t going to let harm befall her faithful, if sleepy, companion.
“I...I don’t keep any of it in here. It’s in the utility room. Hidden in the dog’s bed.”
The two men looked at Samson, who was still fast asleep, on his back with his paws in the air. He must have been dreaming about chasing rabbits, because his paws were waving about in the air like he was riding a bike.
“Some guard dog!” Willie made a disparaging noise and Ronnie laughed.
“Outta bed, you. Yer can come with us. Don’t bother making a grab for the phone – we cut the wires.”
She led them to the utility-room. “In there.”
She opened the door and they eagerly pushed her aside and made for the dog’s bed at the other side of the room, where Willie and Ronnie could quite clearly see, exposed by a rumpled blanket, jewellery glinting in the light from the passage.
What they didn’t see, however, until Letitia closed the door behind them, was Samson’s big brother, Lucifer, whose basket was behind the door.
“What a shame I can’t let Lucifer roam the house,” said Letitia to herself beneath the screams and snarls and tearing of flesh, “but the poor, mad beast is far too vicious and destructive. He might savage someone again.”
She smiled as she firmly locked the door.
It was snowing when Lea looked out of her window, huge, soft flakes floating down like large, white feathers onto the plump, rounded duvet of the garden. A beautiful sight, in most people’s eyes, she reflected.
To Lea it wasn’t beautiful. It was cold and heartless like the snow that had taken Jamie away from her.
Her eyes were dry, she had no tears left; the crying she had done could have floated a flotilla of ships but now there were none left.
Her wedding-dress was hanging up on the picture-rail where it had lived since it was delivered. Lea couldn’t touch it and her mother and sister didn’t know if they were doing right or wrong at any given point, so there it remained.
Lea looked at her framed picture of Jamie, all dressed up in the salopettes in which he practically lived.
They were bright yellow, supposedly a `safe’ colour because it was so highly visible in the snow - oh! how Jamie loved the snow! And Austria was full of the stuff. Well, she’d never go there again, not even to visit the place it happened.
She couldn’t understand how people made pilgrimages to places where loved ones had died, it seemed to her to be, well, irrelevant. Their souls, if they had them, were well-departed from those places by the time the relatives got there, although she realised that some people believed in restless spirits being anchored to a particular place they had been attached to in life or at the moment of their deaths.
Lea stood up and looked around the room. She’d had this room since her family had moved there when she was three and she loved it. It had shared all of her secrets, her woes and her triumphs. And it was to have been her wedding bower.
Her parents had decided to buy a bungalow on the coast when they retired so Jamie and Lea had immediately asked if they could buy Stoney Acres, a proposition which pleased the entire family, as they could still come back for visits.
They hadn’t reckoned on their first visit being in such tragic circumstances.
The wedding had been booked for March 22nd - a Spring wedding had always been Lea’s dream - but St.Chad’s church had suffered a break-in and had been vandalised to such an extent that it was rendered unusable, at least for some weeks after the proposed date.
So, they had discussed it, and decided that St.Chad’s was where they wanted their wedding to be and so they had plumped for an early honeymoon, rather than lose the deposit - and the best snow - so they re-booked the church for two weeks after their return from Austria, provided it was finished by then.
They had had four wonderful, matchless days. Ski-ing, drinking, making love and just talking and planning the fantastic future and children they would have.
On the fifth day, the accident happened and Lea didn’t want to think about that anymore. She’d thought and thought about the events of that horrific day over and over again, but it didn’t make it any easier and it didn’t bring her and Jamie back together again.
She left the room and wandered about the house like she had since she’d got back. It was so familiar, so well-loved, but it didn’t take away the sense of loss she felt about Jamie. Nothing would. Not ever.
Her mother’s door was ajar and so, soundlessly, she entered. Her mother had been devastated at the news of the accident and Lea didn’t want to upset her anymore, but she felt she had to speak to her, try to console her in some way.
Margaret, her mother, was sitting at her dressing-table, going through the motions of brushing her hair and putting on a little make-up. The lines between nose and mouth had deepened over the last few weeks and her eyes held a sadness that had to be experienced to be understood.
Lea approached her mother and was about to place a hand on her shoulder when a soft, familiar voice called her name.
“Lea.” It was Jamie’s voice! She’d know it anywhere! “Lea!”
Lea turned, and framed in the doorway, was her love, her life, her Jamie.
“Jamie!” she cried, ”Oh, Jamie! I thought I’d never see you again!” and she was in his arms. It was minutes before she could speak and her eyes were shining with tears again.
“Oh, Jamie! I love you so much. I couldn’t stand the thought of never seeing you again.”
“Nor I you, my darling! But now, we never need part again. I knew I’d find you here.”
For the first time, she noticed what he was wearing. Yellow salopettes. She stared uncomprehending.
“Mum, look, Jamie’s here! He’s alright...” Lea moved to put her hand on her mother’s shoulder and Jamie caught it in a firm, but gentle, grip.
“No Lea, don’t do it,” Jamie’s voice was sad. “Look in the mirror.”
Lea looked and saw her mother, her gentle, beautiful mother, tears rolling down her cheeks. There was no-one else in the room.
“Come on Lea, we’ve found each other, that’s what counts now. You won’t help her by doing that. You’ll give her hope where there is none and that would be too cruel. She’ll never get used to losing us in that avalanche but it will get less painful as long as we don’t interfere.”
As he put his arm around her, another figure appeared in the mirror.
“Come on Mum,” Kerry, Lea’s sister put her hand through Lea’s and onto her mother’s shoulder, “the cars are here and everyone’s waiting to leave for St.Chad’s.”
Margaret dabbed her eyes and said to her younger daughter, “It’s alright Kerry. Somehow I feel a lot better now, as if Lea is now at rest. I know it sound’s daft, but , but I feel like I’ve felt her wandering about this house since it happened, but just now, there was a change, like a kind of peace.” She stood up to leave.
“Well,” suggested Kerry in a voice full of emotion, “perhaps she’s been looking for something, and now she’s found it.”
Lea looked at Jamie and now noticed that she too was wearing a ski-suit.
“Come on Lea,” Jamie put his arm around her shoulders, “they’re waiting for us.”
Safe and Sound
The garden was past its best now, seed-heads waiting to distribute their wealth at the breath of a breeze. In the raised border, the Montbretia had been early this year, the leaves now yellowing, even though it was only the first week of September. Something in the wind made me sneeze and I shouted out as a wave of pain shot through my body from my damaged back. “OUCH, OW, OWww!!!” I gingerly placed a hand at each of the back and front of a spot just to the left of my spine at hip level in a protective, supportive gesture.
Between ten and fourteen months the doctor had said. Well, here I was nearly three years later and still in pain. So much for the theory that “whiplash” was a temporary or even psychosomatic condition!
I felt another sneeze coming on and braced myself. The erstwhile master of the silent sneeze, I now had to give myself up to them in a very open and loud way, as this was the least painful to my tortured back.
"AAH - HAghhhh!” The agony ricocheted out from the site of damage and made me catch my breath.
Once the pain had subsided, I reached for my asthma inhaler as I was, by now, wheezing
"There must be an allergen about somewhere,” I thought, and right enough, tiny particles were floating in a small cloud from a seed-head in the border.
A few minutes later, I became aware of another discomfort somewhere below my waistband.
The previous evening we had eaten out and because of my irritable bowl syndrome, I’d been very careful with my choice of foods, but there must have been some hidden dairy or wheat produce in the ingredients of our meal.
A subtle discomfort began to build up deep in the pit of my stomach and I realised, I didn’t want to chance sneezing again until after I’d been to the bathroom!
I rose from my chair, wincing at my back pain and tried to hurry indoors to the loo, aware that the pain in my back prevented me from moving too hurriedly.
As I turned and stepped towards the house, I yelped with pain as I felt a sharp, burning sensation under the instep of my bare foot.
I had trodden on a late wasp which had been basking in the warm rays of the September sun. I didn’t know which pain was worse, but I was in no doubt which one was the most urgent and hopped the rest of the way to the bathroom, stubbing my `good’ foot painfully on the door-jamb in my eagerness to use the facilities.
Some time later I emerged from the bathroom exhausted and about three pounds lighter.
The pain in my foot was no better and because of my back trouble, I couldn’t reach to examine it, so I had stuck it in the bidet with ice cold water.
I couldn’t now even think of either walking or driving to work with my foot the way it was and decided I would have to ring in sick
Hobbling along the hall to the telephone, I bumped the hall stand, sending brollies, hats and walking-sticks to the floor.
I could get down to the floor to pick them up but it was both an uncomfortable and a laborious procedure, still, I couldn’t leave them there on the floor where Madge might trip over them on her way in through the front door. Bending to the floor on one arthritic knee, I wheezed with the effort of picking up the detritus and was quite pleased at myself for managing it. Until I stood up and saw stars, moons and other celestial objects.
It was a shame I hadn’t seen the overhang of the long-case clock on the wall.
I sat on the stairs, rubbing my head and picked up the telephone. I dialled the number of the factory where I work and spoke to the Personnel Officer.
“.....very well Mr. Dutton.”
Did I imagine it or was there a snigger in that girl’s voice? “I suggest you have your wife drive you to casualty with that foot, the sting might still be in it and could become infected. Mind you, I don’t suppose I need to tell YOU that, what with you being the Health and Safety Officer!”