Learning to Breath – a short story

Meg was feeling slightly sick as the little dinghy bobbed about on the swell. She and six others were all crowded on to the little rubber boat, tanks between their knees, pressed up against each other, sleek in their wetsuits.

She had got most of her kit on on-shore, struggling into her skin-tight wetsuit, heaving the heavy weight belt on with fingers numb from the cold Atlantic breeze, and strapping the big bladed knife to her thigh in case of trouble. Then, pleased to be feeling like ‘one of the boys’, she’d helped carry the rubber dinghy from the car park, down the pebbled beach, to where they launched it on to the choppy grey ocean.

This was her first ever open water dive. A virgin diver, the lads called her. She was the only woman on the trip, although there were one or two others who came to the weekly meetings at the echoey old Victorian pool back in London. That was where she’d trained and suffered, and where she’d very nearly drowned on many occasions in the five months or so since she’d joined the club.

She remembered the first lesson, when she was told she would have to swim 10 lengths with the weight belt on before they’d even consider teaching her anything else. Grim determination got her there, her arms pulling the water out of the way and legs kicking frantically, just managing to keep her slight frame afloat. It had taken four attempts, but she finally succeeded and progressed on to the next stage.

Clearing your mask.

Doesn’t sound very difficult she had thought at the time, but it proved to be another stumbling block, that, in truth, she still struggled with a bit. The trick, they told her, was to grasp the bottom of the mask and lift it up at the same time as blowing through your nose. Theoretically that should empty any accumulated water from it. But usually Meg ended up with her eyes stinging and feeling more like a goldfish peering through its bowl at the world beyond.

Nevertheless, as the weeks passed, she became more confident and was eventually able to attempt the final hurdle, which was to put all the equipment on at the bottom of the pool. Again, it took several attempts. Just diving down there was difficult enough, and then to position the weights across her legs before gasping at the air was well, challenging. On several occasions she just didn’t have enough air left in her lungs to blow the water from the mouthpiece before taking a breath, and resurfaced gasping and floundering. In the pub afterwards, the men would tease her mercilessly, but she’d stuck at it, and eventually built up the strength to get through it.

She had seen the advert for the diving club in the local paper. She’d tried one or two other types of clubs in the past, even the WI, but found, as the ‘new girl’ the small talk and false camaraderie made her feel like a fish out of water so she hadn’t stayed for long. She had never even dreamt about doing such a potentially dangerous thing before, but now she was alone, she felt that she needed something, a distraction, just to feel alive – to do something extraordinary to get away from the daily grind of surviving. Sod the danger.

Working as a receptionist at the surgery she’d always felt like piggy in the middle, with both the patients and the Doctors harassing her. She tried to be professional, really she did, but recently she’d found herself not only making uncharacteristic silly mistakes, but snapping at patients and colleagues alike, and to make things worse, she’d been called in for ‘a chat’ with Di, the Practice Manager who had even suggested she might benefit from medication. Bloody cheek!

Although she was slowly coming to terms with being on her own, the split had left her feeling bewildered, lost, hurt and angry. She knew very well that she’d been prickly and often said things she regretted later. She suspected, that that was probably why Dan had decided to leave her and go and live with his dad instead. A 15 year old boy only has so much understanding to give his mum.

Anyway, he had been very interested in her new hobby, and she was hoping that he might even start to join her at the pool every week. At least it would be regular contact. Not like now, when he often seemed too busy to even talk to her on the phone. She’d tried texting too, but her texts were clearly not so urgent as the saucy ones from his fan club of girls.

Now, though, now was her time. The virgin diver. She sat on the edge of the dinghy confidently adjusting the straps of the tank, pulling on the big black flippers, and tightening the mask that she knew would leave those unattractive ridges on her face when she took it off. Someone turned on her air supply and she put the mouthpiece in and immediately blew out, as had become natural now.

She tipped backwards over the edge of the dinghy, and briefly glimpsed her flippers against the sky before sinking. The shock of the cold water made her entire body contract as though the pressure on the outside had purged everything inside. She heard the comforting, and now familiar, mechanical sound of her breathing, and smiled to herself, before sending a quick ok signal to her companion. Then feeling strong and free she headed off into unknown waters.


There is no weather at all outside.  The trees vein into the skin of the pallid sky in stillness. The birds are quiet, having their mid-day rest.  While the tune of unseen cars from a distant road filters through the glass of the shut tight window.

Inside it’s warm, though bleak from packing up.  The light squares on the flowery walls are the ghosts of crated memories.  The vase no longer lives on the shelf, and the porcelain couple kiss elsewhere.  The rooms in this old house are now decorated with buff coloured boxes, all labelled and tagged, and sealed tight with brown tape.  They’ll be gone tomorrow. Along with the squidgy sofa, the coffee table, and the paisley patterned armchair and its worn out cushions. The pots and pans from the kitchen too, though the contents from the fridge have been discarded already.  The breakfast table and it’s wonky leg is going in the skip.

Upstairs the curtains have been taken down and the beds stripped. The naked mattress in the master bedroom, stained and fleshy with age, should probably be thrown out, but who can afford a new bed? Empty hangers rattle in the fitted wardrobes and the mirror reflects the emptiness.  Dust rises from the bedside lamp as it is boxed alongside the alarm clock. The ballerina sleeps in the jewellery box, protecting the paste necklaces and plated earrings. Underwear from the chest of drawers is stuffed into an old suitcase.

In the bathroom the medicine cabinet is emptied.  The contents fill two carrier bags. The still damp bath towel is hung over the radiator. The mould spotted shower curtain is removed and thrown away.

The other bedroom is empty but for echoes of the past. Some dusty children’s toys lie discarded in a corner, with a child’s blackboard bearing the legend ‘I luv granma’ in chalky scrawl.  Some old bedding and a fur covered hot water bottle are the only other contents, all of which, along with the narrow bed, is going in the skip.

Nothing more to do.  So the house is locked up tight for the night.

Back home, mum is waiting.

‘How did you get on?’

‘ok, it’s all done now. I’m getting a cup of tea, do you want one?’

‘Yes please dear. What about my things? You’re not throwing anything out are you?’

‘Nothing important.’

‘How do you know what’s important? It’s all important.’

‘Only the kids things in the spare room, and a few ornaments.’

‘I’ve kept those toys for years, the kids love them.  And you’re not to throw my ornaments. Not any of them, they’re my past.’

‘Yes mum, the kids loved them, but they’re all in their twenties and thirties now, and you wouldn’t want their children to play with that dusty old crap would you?’

‘It can be dusted.’

‘yes, but it’s still old crap’

‘Don’t use that language to me.’

The conversation descends into the usual bickering.

She’s got cantankerous as she’s got older, and I’ve got less patient.

In the morning, back at the house, the sun shines through the grubby windows revealing the dust particles dancing in the air.  The removal men come and make short work of clearing the house.  I’m ashamed of how the carpet looks once the furniture has been removed, but there’s nothing to do about it now.

While they are working I go out and stand in the tiny garden. It’s always bleak at this time of year, but still evident is the love and hard work that my mother has poured into it over the years. I wonder who’ll be appreciating her roses come summer.

Back at my house, I wrap and coddle mum in her big old winter coat and bundle her in the car.  It’s only a ten minute drive.

‘Nearer than before’ I tell her.  It doesn’t help.

The woman at the home greets us with a cheery smile, and helps me manoeuvre mum into the lift and up to her ‘apartment’.  Her old furniture and the boxes are already there, piled higgledy piggledy in the middle of the room.  Mum cries.

The woman suggests she takes mum downstairs to the day room while I sort her stuff out. Mum objects weakly, but the woman declines to hear, and wheels her away down the corridor.

The apartment is tiny.  Fitting the furniture is a life size jigsaw puzzle, but once I’ve heaved it about,  emptied the boxes, put up the curtains (I’ve brought way too many, I’ll need to ditch some), made the bed, and distributed the pictures around the room, it looks quite homely.

I find mum in the residents lounge, cup of coffee in one hand and biscuit in the other.  She’s chatting to the blue permed lady beside her.

‘Pam says there’s a quiz every Tuesday and Thursday’ mum says, dropping biscuit crumbs from her lips.

‘Lovely’ I say.

‘and the food is apparently very nice, roasts on Sundays too.’

‘Great’ I say

‘She says to keep on the right side of Sadie, she’s the cook you know, and she’ll give you extra puddings’

‘Sounds perfect.’ I say

Eventually, I take her back to her rooms. She’s upbeat, which I am terrifically relieved about.

‘Ta Da!’ I say as I wheel her in.

‘What did you bring that old armchair for? It looks tatty.’

‘I know, you told me not to throw anything though.’

‘Oh good grief, you brought that ghastly vase, I’ve always hated that.’

‘No you haven’t’

‘Oh and that dreadful picture that Uncle Paul painted, I can’t believe you’ve put that up.’

‘you’ve always had it up in the front room.’

‘I know but I don’t want other people to see it. Suppose I invite people in for tea? What would they think of me with that thing on my wall?’

‘I can take it down.’

‘Oh just leave it for now, let’s have a cuppa.’

And so my mum’s new life began, as it has been and always will be, with bickering and a cuppa.







A bit of Christmas flash fiction

img_0791I was lucky enough to receive this exciting looking box for Christmas.  As you know, I love to write but, like most others, often have days when my mind can’t come up with anything worth writing.  Nonetheless, looking through some of the ‘tools’ in my ‘toolbox’ I admit I was a bit sniffy.  Their are sticks with random sentences, wheels with different protagonists, settings, obstacles etc, and ‘sixth sense cards’ which just seemed to have random ideas on.  In fact, my daughters and I had an hilarious half-hour trying to string these together into some sort of story.  It was rubbish of course, but fun.

However, once the Christmas festivities were over, and I was in a bit of a slump, I looked properly at the ‘instructions’.  Basically I should pick out three or four cards put them face down, turn over the first one and write about it for three minutes using the timer supplied, then the next and so on.  Not unlike some of the exercises we did on my creative writing course so ok, I’ll give it a go, I thought.

The cards I picked were:

I was dressed in a completely inappropriate shade of pink

Sticky raspberry yogurt

Yoga girls toenails

the sound of a garden hose

I honestly followed the rules, and amazingly I was quite pleased with the result.  So pleased in fact, I’m sharing it with you here.  Enjoy!

No Lady

I was dressed in a completely inappropriate shade of pink.  For my age that is.  Fifty year old women shouldn’t wear pink, or so my father used to say.  He’d know of course.  Women’s fashion was his thing.  He’d been a hairdresser in the 60’s, and met Mary Quant, or so he said.  She let him help design some of her collections, so he said.  He had an eye for fashion that’s for sure, especially the skimpy sort.

Apparently, some of his clientele was sure he was gay because of his good looks and nice manners, at least that what he said. Though it was probably because of his delicate fastidiousness in all things, which may have been appealing in the fancy salon, but drove us all mad at home.

I remember the day I spilt sticky raspberry yogurt on the carpet in the living room.  He was livid. Pinker than the yogurt with rage.  Made me scrub at it for ages until any hint of spillage had been eradicated completely.  I was only six. I had sore hands when I finished and dad wouldn’t let mum put any cream on them or anything. I think she was sorry for that.  I think she was sorry for a lot of things.  Including marrying my dad.

She was a model in a department store.  Modelling the clothes for other, richer, people to buy. She was pretty in a fairly conventional way but had to work to keep the slim figure that Twiggy was promoting around that time.  Dad even cut her hair the same as Twiggy’s.  He really liked that boyish look.

She used to practice yoga. It was the only time she seemed at peace.  Sitting cross-legged on her mat on the bedroom floor, quiet, closed eyes.  Once I painted all her toenails bright red while she was busy meditating and she didn’t even seem to notice.

My brother and I must have been a handful for her, but she never really complained, just meditated and smoked her funny cigarettes to ‘keep her calm’.  Dad would’ve been furious if he’d have caught her smoking, and we were sworn to secrecy.  No dirty ashtrays in our house, no dirty anything. Except dad.

Once I remember my brother and I messing about in the garden after it had been raining.  It’s fair to say that we got a bit carried away and were making mud pies and throwing them at each other, and at everything else in the garden too. It ended up like the Somme.  When dad found us, he turned the hose on full blast and made us stand naked under its powerful spray for a full ten minutes.  We were frozen stiff by the end of it.  The sound of a garden hose still makes me shiver.

Anyway, I digress. Yes, I’m wearing an outrageous long and tight flamingo frock, complete with feathers and sequins.  I’m wearing a wig of shoulder length silky blonde hair, and I’ve made sure my make-up is impeccable.  My entire torso is squeezed into spanx, giving me the curves my mother would have had if it weren’t for dad denying her chocolate and pies for years. Despite dads opinion, I look fabulous, even though I do say so myself.

I’m neat, and clean. Dad would be proud.

Or maybe not.

I’m not sure that he thought the way he treated me (us, my brother suffered just as I did), that he’d turn me into a full blown queer old drag queen.  Shame he didn’t see it, I would’ve enjoyed that.

I squish my stub under my stiletto, hitch up my boobs, and head out to face the rowdy crowd in the grubby nightclub. Easy money.




It seemed like a good idea…

Written in response to the Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner challenge week#2 – 2016

public-domain-images-free-stock-photos-aureliejouan-lights-1000x666 (1)

It seemed like a good idea at the time, after all it was only another one of my brother’s ‘dares’.  He never believed I’d take them on, never believed in me, but oh did I love proving him wrong!

He watched as I climbed over the railing.  We were only one floor up but it still felt pretty high.  I clung on to the bannister and leaned out over the vast hall below. The floor shone from it’s morning polish, and the flowers in the huge vase in front of the portrait of my great-grandfather were fresh.  I could smell them even from my vantage point.

‘Go on then’ he urged, smugly waiting to taunt me.

So I leapt.

Falling forward as planned I grabbed the glistening chandelier. It’s crystal drops shuddered and tinkled as it took my weight.  Pleasingly, I heard my brother gasp.

But then I realised my predicament.  I hung there like a chimp, not knowing what to do. I couldn’t let go and I was too light to make the thing swing.

My arm ached but I managed to cling on until one of the butlers passed by. Not in a position to scold, he fetched a ladder to rescue me.

My mother was not amused.

A Sadie Frost Day

Writing 101, Day 11 – If we were having coffee right now...

Ok, I’m cheating with this one, because, well for a start, I don’t drink coffee. We’d have to be in an alternate universe, and I thought I might be able to write something jolly around that, but thinking about it made me get all heavy with gloom.  I couldn’t help but start that in my alternate universe there wouldn’t be atrocities…

So instead I’m treating you to a short story I wrote years ago as part of the creative writing course I took with the Open University.  Reading it back, it has it’s flaws, and I was limited by word count, so it’s not perfect, but a bit of fun, and well, it starts in a coffee shop….

A Sadie Frost Day

He had asked her to meet him at the coffee bar. It was unusual and she was wondering why the hell they couldn’t just meet at home? She had been at work when she got the text:

‘Need to meet urgently. Come to Starbucks NOW’

She had texted back

‘Am at wrk, will hv to be lunch’ and just received the one word response ‘NOW’

Her curiosity aroused, she had made an excuse about a doctor’s appointment and trotted across town as fast as she could.

She didn’t see him straight away. He was sitting in a corner with a paper held awkwardly, and rather conspicuously, to hide his face. She grabbed the top and pulled it down

‘What’re you playin’ at Bobby, I was busy.’ she said testily

‘sshh, keep it down. Sorry. Look it was, is, kind of an emergency’ To her surprise she saw he was trembling. He looked unusually shifty.

Celia dropped her bag down on a vacant seat, and sat down opposite him. Today he was wearing a long black wig, and pumpkin orange lipstick. His homage to Lucy Liu extended to an over-tight, over-skimpy black dress, complemented by staggeringly high, red, size 12 sling-backs. His masculine, muscular legs were wrapped in shiny flesh coloured tights, like chicken in cling film.

‘What is it now?’ she said, not without some concern

‘Its mum. I’ve, err, lost her.’ Seeing the instant change in Celia’s demeanor he bristled ‘look I’m sorry, but you know how she is. Oh god’ he wiped his hand across his face and she noticed the swatch of make-up it left on his palm.

‘Just because you are a drag queen, does not mean you have to be a drama queen too’ Celia was used to his histrionics, and used the term drag queen just to rile him. He had first turned his attention to dressing up in his early teens, when Celia was still too young to understand what was going on. Since then she had never known what he was going to look like from one day to the next. His ‘look’ was always based on some celebrity or other though.

She left Bobby ostentatiously dabbing at his eyes with a lace handkerchief while she went and got them both a ‘skinny latte’. Sitting back down she started to interrogate him as if he were a child: where had they been? Why were they out at all? How could he lose her?

Slowly Bobby began to recount the events of the morning

‘Mum was up before me this morning. It was one of her good days. She’d put lippy on and everything. She put on that fancy frock, you know, the one with the big red poppies’ Celia cringed. That dress was strapless, short and sequinned, and the most inappropriate piece of attire she could think of for a woman in her sixties.

‘She came and got me up – pulled the covers right off me she did. She was so full of it this morning Cee, so cheery. Anyhow, she’d made me some pancakes. Pancakes! Can you imagine? They were horrible. Horrible. All rubbery and chewy. But she stood over me while I ate them. Then… she told me what to wear – Lucy Lui! Huh! This is much more of a Sadie Frost day. She wouldn’t have it though ‘Lucy Lui’ she insisted. She did.’ Bobby paused and blew on his coffee sending a little breath of foam scooting off the top.

‘Love it when it does that’ he grinned showing the lipstick on his teeth for the first time. He wasn’t an artist when it came to applying make-up Celia observed.

‘An-nee-hoo..’ Bobby’s favourite expression was that one elongated, ill-pronounced word.

Pursing his lips and sticking his little finger out, he theatrically sipped at his coffee

‘So. We caught the bus. Can you imagine it? What the old ladies thought of the two of us, mum all dolled up, and me Lucy Lui on a Sadie Frost day’ he shook his head and sucked his teeth emitting a soft whistle.

‘She wanted to go to the park. Go to the swings like we used to when I was little, she said. Potty. She’s potty Cee, no mistake.’

‘Yes. I know’ Celia had finished her coffee and had begun staring out of the window to see if she could spot the poppified dress amongst the crowds. ‘I think you should get to the point where you lost her’ she said with an edge of irritation.

‘It was in the park, Cee. I only took my eyes off her for a minute or two.’ He was now staring doggedly into his cup as if the words were written there ‘There we these lads. Wolf-whistled me they did.’ He tittered to himself. Celia occasionally wondered if he only dressed up like that for attention rather than because of some innate urge, but the thought evaporated as quickly as it had come. No-one could keep up that pretence uninterrupted for fifteen years.

‘Well, they were very flattering. And one of them Cee, he would have been just right for you. A real looker he was’ Bobby was always trying to set Celia up with odd bods he had met, though he never showed interest in either women or men, and never had done as far as Celia could remember. She suspected he survived quite happily on narcissism.

‘We ought to go to the park. See if we can see her. She should be easy enough to spot in that dress’ she said, scraping the chair against the floor as she stood.

Bobby caught her arm and for the first time looked straight at her, his brown eyes framed by false eyelashes giving them the appearance of two crazed chrysanthemums.

‘I was glad’ he confessed soberly ‘I was glad to get rid of her. She was driving me mad, all that pottiness’ and he fluttered his polished nails around his temple.

‘You left her’ it was a statement rather than a question.

He could snivel all he wanted, she didn’t mind if he was miserable for a change. She had been the long-suffering sole breadwinner in the household for as long as she could remember. Neither she nor Bobby had known their respective fathers. They were long gone and followed by a succession of ‘uncles’ over the years. It was amazing that there weren’t more siblings to look after.

Their mother was bi-polar, the disease once known as manic-depressive. Her moods swung from over-jocular and inappropriate to the deepest self-destructive gloom. As well having a chameleon brother, Celia had had the far more disturbing experience of growing up not knowing how her mother would behave. In the past six months alone she had been hospitalized with slit-wrists and arrested twice for indecency.

Bobby coped by escaping into his own preternatural world. His eccentricities were not appreciated by prospective employers and he had never had a paying job. One day he would be Frieda Kahlo, with a thick black line joining his eyebrows in the middle, sombrely announcing

‘My art is my life’ and the next he would be Blondie, belting out ‘Sundae Girl’ in his baritone voice at the local karoke bar. It was fair to say that Bobby had a mercurial nature.

Celia sighed. She realised how tired she was of picking up the pieces of their chaotic lives.  The office was some respite from the madness, but she felt alone there. How could she tell her colleagues about her mother, or Bobby? How could she take anyone home? She needed to escape.

‘Bobby, get a grip’ she said opening the door ‘I’m going back to work. Mum can find her own way home and you can……well, see you later’

On the way back, she stopped in the Estate Agents and by half past three that afternoon she had rented a tiny studio flat.

By five, there was a splash of unseasonal poppies spread out on the grass in the park.

It turned out that Bobby, in a fit of pique, had pushed his manic mother off of the little bridge that spanned the lake in the park. Far from wolf-whistling, the lads at the park gate had ridiculed him and been more interested in his flighty, flirty mother. The mother had, of course, been delighted with the attention and joined in enthusiastically with the derision. Being upstaged by a pensioner in a mini skirt had seriously irked him, and not given to arguing, Bobby had just seized his chance for revenge.

In court, dressed as Marlene Dietrich, he said he hadn’t meant for her to drown. He just thought a dunking would ‘bring her down a peg.’ He was out of sorts because ‘it wasn’t a Lucy Liu day’.

Bobby became a celebrity in his own right – ‘Transvestite Matricide’ with his picture alongside it, was splashed all over the papers.

He couldn’t wear a dress where he was going though.

Five day challenge, Day Four – The Red

Day four of my five day challenge courtesy of Scillagrace!  Another bit of flash fiction, this time inspired by this photograph of Mount Arenal which was puffing odd bits of smoke out when we visited a few years ago. Nevertheless, it did seem quite benevolent when we were clambering over it’s rocky foothills and bathing in the glorious hot springs. I can only hope that there is plenty of warning for everyone should it ever decide to erupt with any force ever again.

Costa Rica 179

The Red

When the child woke, he looked up at his mother smiling above him and simply said

‘it’s coming.’

‘What is coming child?’ the mother asked.  She wasn’t surprised. The soothsayer had welcomed the child as an omen, and had told her that he would have powers even as he had taken his first breath. Now, at four years old, he was precocious and serious, with a permanent frown.  He didn’t play, but was often to be found sitting with his back against the mud walls of his home just observing the world through his dark eyes.

‘Tell the others’ he said in his curiously unchildlike voice ‘tell the others they need to leave. It’s coming’

‘You need to tell me more child’ said the mother as she washed him.

‘Mother, be warned. It is coming. It is coming soon.  The Red is coming.’ And the child gripped his mother’s hand and looked at her so earnestly she thought her heart would break.

‘Red? What Red? Explain child’

‘The Red, from the mountain’ and he pointed towards the volcano that had towered over theirs and many other villages for time immemorial.  It was the volcano who’s quiet breath and rumbling snores had only ever been heard by ancestors.  It had stood silent, still and benevolent while rich flora and fauna crept further and further up it’s sides.  Some of the young men had even dared to climb to it’s broken peak and peer into it’s secret stomach, but even they had not reported any danger, just a craggy, dusty interior.

The mother did not know what her boy meant.  She had never heard of an eruption, nor seen it’s effect.  She had not been schooled and had never left the safety of the remote village.

Her husband occasionally went as far as the town, but even he did not understand what the child had meant by ‘the Red’.   So they took him to the soothsayer, where he repeated his prophecy.

The soothsayer, as was her habit, was sitting on the large rock that guarded the entrance to her hut. She puffed on her long carved pipe before declaring that the whole village should take note, and flee as the child had urged.

‘But why?’ asked the mother ‘What is the Red that he speaks of.’  And the soothsayer explained how the volcano would one day spew forth it’s innards, spilling rivers of blood red molten rocks on to the village.

‘No one in their path will live to breath another day’ she said.

Word spread quickly, and since the soothsayer’s word had never been questioned, all the villagers packed up their worldly goods and walked away from the small settlement they knew and loved. Not a tear was shed, as they believed life was more precious than any belongings, but they did turn and bid farewell to the volcano with sadness.

They walked for two days before the child and the soothsayer, having been consulted, declared the new site for the village.  From it, they could still see the volcano in the distance, quietly brooding over it’s surrounds.  The child watched it knowingly.

After a week, the new village was complete.  To mark the occasion the villagers held a party.  It was a rare event.  All the men got dressed up in the feathered headdresses passed down from their fathers, and the women all wore elaborate beaded necklaces.  The darkness descended as the happy group danced and sang around the huge fire which burned between their new homes.  They feasted on meat and fruits, and drank purple juice that made their heads swim merrily.  The boy still watched.

‘The Red is coming’ he muttered to himself, not without a frisson of excitement.

There was no time in that place. No clocks. No beginnings nor ends. But at some point as the revelries of the evening were beginning to slow and the huge fire was turning to embers, a firework display began.

The first boom rocked the very soil they sat on, and they watched in wonder as that gentle volcano put on a show, shooting red stars into the air, and spilling glowing streamers down it’s sides as if in celebration with them.

‘It’s the Red’ the child said.

Five day challenge, Day 2 – Twirling

Day 2 of my five day challenge courtesy of Scillagrace.  A short story this time. I’m afraid it’s another one that’s emerged from my dark imagination – sorry mum!  To be honest, I’ve no idea where this came from, I’ve never taken drugs or even smoked.  I did a bit of research to check for accuracy, but if I’ve misunderstood any of the details please forgive me.



Once again, I’ve arrived home to find my one and only child in a drug induced sleep.  I know its drug induced, the empty syringe is on the coffee table, next to the brown stained coffee cup with its dregs of dark, almost black brew.  The tv is on, some reality programme or other, prattling away in the corner.  Giggling to itself while my daughter shoots up.

I found out about her habit about seven months ago.  One of her friends had practically carried her home to tell me that Jade had ‘taken something’.  I took her in and sat by her side all night afraid she might go deeper and not return from that unnatural sleep.  But she did, and in the morning I made her drink the strong coffee she is now so fond of, and we had ‘a talk’.

‘Have you gone completely mad? You’ll kill yourself taking this stuff.’

‘Oh for goodness sake mum, it’s only the odd tablet, it’s not like I’m a druggy or anything.’

She said she was sorry, she wouldn’t do it again.  She said the words loudly and clearly, but she didn’t mean them.  The following week, I found a plastic packet of coloured pills in her room.

I’d never taken drugs.  Never smoked, had always been afraid of the consequences.  But Jade hadn’t seemed to have had consequences.  After that morning, she was bright as a button.  And chirpy.  So chirpy and happy it made me almost glad that she’d taken something.  Recently she had been miserable and difficult.   But apparently now she had met a boy.

‘He’s gorgeous mum, really cool.’ Cool was her favourite word, she used it to describe anything she’d taken a fancy to from a new dress, to chocolate ice cream, and apparently, good looks.

When he turned up at the door, I couldn’t quite see the attraction though.  OK, he had a nice head of dyed blond hair, but he was scrawny and his eyes were dull, and when he politely shook my hand, his skin felt damp and cold.

‘lo missus Payne’ he drawled, bearing his less than white, less than even teeth.

It’s fair to say I took a dislike to him.  The thought of him and my little Jade in any sort of embrace made me feel nauseous.  But nonetheless I drew him into the house, and welcomed him as Jade’s friend, like all good mothers would.

It was him, that Darren, that had introduced my baby to his dirty, smoky world.

It was a couple of days after that first meeting that on opening our front door, I was whisked back in time to my uni days. The pungent smell of what my mother always referred to as ‘wacky backy’, was thick in the house.  The two of them were sitting wrapped around each other on the sofa ostensibly watching Pointless.  Darren held a still smoking spliff between his first finger and thumb and acknowledged me with an almost imperceptible wave of it.

‘hi mum’ Jade slurred and gurned a sloppy grin towards me.

‘For god’s sake, what do you think you’re doing’ I’d had a hard old day at the office, and didn’t have the energy to ask in anything other than a resigned voice.

‘blimey missus Payne, you’se lookin’ right frazzled, you should have a pull’ and he thrust the damp papered roll-up towards me.

For some reason my eyes started welling with tears.  Recently work had been getting me down. There was what HR referred to as a ‘personality clash’ between me and the new manager, and I had been working all the hours god sends to try to meet her ridiculously over-optimistic deadlines.

And all the while, I’d been worrying about Jade.  The arguments with her had escalated and she wasn’t eating properly. I knew she hadn’t been turning up at school.  Her GCSE’s were fast approaching and she needed to get herself clean and sorted out.  Anything I said was ineffectual and usually only led to the slamming of doors and that sickly smell.

I felt alone and lonely.

And here she was, out of it again, with this boy, Darren, offering me a way, albeit brief, of escaping from the black tunnel of my life.

I took it from him, and took a deep drag like I’d seen them do.  I coughed and spluttered, felt like I was going to choke.

Then I laughed.  A big full throttle laugh.  Darren and Jade were sitting up, grinning at me, while I laughed, and laughed.  All the tension, all the hate and misery, was released with that laugh.

Another drag, and a warm glow came over me, the sort I hadn’t felt in years.  I plonked myself down on the armchair and just sat.  Sat and watched them wrapped together. His hand was propping up his heavy head and squishing his face in a babylike way.  A swatch of hair had fallen over his left eye and I had the urge to get up and gently move it away.  Suddenly I wanted to kiss him, this boy, this boyfriend of my daughter’s.   I imagined a dry, soft, lingering lip kiss.  My addled mind started playing erotic games.

Jade had nodded off.  Her thick black mascara was smudged over her face from her tears of laughter.  Her dyed black hair looked matted and dry and nothing like the ‘ginger biscuit’ curls I remember her having as a child.

She was a pretty baby.  Not beautiful, pretty.  Quite petite, scrawny even, but with huge green eyes, which a nurse once told me she needed to ‘grow into’.  And as she got older and her face grew more character, I began to understand what that nurse had meant.  Before all this, before the drugs, she had been what might have been termed ‘interesting’ to look at.  She still had those green eyes, but her full lips and wide nose balanced them out.  At five foot five, she looked heavier than she should for her weight, but not really fat, more ‘big boned’.

It was her father’s build.  He was a huge man. Shiny smooth skin, black as a moonless night, and big hands that held me in their clutch for just a few short nights.  I’d lost him before I even knew I was pregnant.  I’ve been on my own ever since.

I’ve not really needed anyone.  I had a good job that fitted around school ok, and Jade and I were always a bit of a two-man team.  She was always able to bolster me up whenever I might feel in need of solace.  I had one or two ‘friends’ but nothing that came to much.  I was always too busy, too involved in Jade and her life.

Now, here I was, taking a full leap into her life.  Her seedy downtrodden life, that I have so spurned and railed against.

I was still staring at them when the boy turned and winked at me.  It was a full-on ‘I know what you’re thinking’ wink that jolted me out of the smokey stupor I had fallen into.

‘tea?’ my legs wobbled slightly as I stood up.

‘ta! Oi, Jay, want tea?’ he shook her shoulder ‘she’ll ‘ave coffee’

In the kitchen, I ran cold water on my wrists, a trick my mother had taught me for when I wanted to freshen up quickly.

‘on your pulse, it cools the blood then, see’ she said holding my nine year old arms under the garden tap.  It had been a hot day and I’d fainted.  Out cold.  She’d not been worried, she’d said

‘runs in the family does swooning.  Your nan used to do it all the time.  And me, on the tube.  So embarrassing.  Mind you, gets you a seat’ and she tittered to herself all unconcerned.  The water had worked and I’d felt fine in no time, and ever since I had headed for a tap, wrists bared, whenever I was feeling hot, or overcome for any reason.

I dried myself on a grubby tea towel and filled the kettle.  I felt quite good.  Relaxed.  My stomach gave a gurgle to remind me I hadn’t eaten. Thinking it must be time for dinner, I noticed the clock and was stupefied to find out it was past 10:30.  Where had the evening gone?  Had I slept? Did the other’s realise the time?

Jade was sitting up, pulling her hair back into a loose bun when I took the tea into the living room.

‘Mum, I can’t believe you actually took a pull!  After all that nagging and yelling.  Bet you feel better now’

I ignored her smug remark

‘Do you know its half past ten?  Do you want something to eat?

‘We’re all right.  We’re off now.  Going to Spangles, could do with a bit of a boogie’ she said wiggling her hips towards Darren, and grinning.

Minutes later they were gone and I was sitting down alone to a flimsy, hastily defrosted, pizza.  I nodded off in front of the tv, before deciding to go to bed at around midnight.  Jade wasn’t back, and I didn’t really expect her any time soon.  She often didn’t get home until the early hours after she’d been to the local nightclub.  Spangles shut at two, so I wasn’t quite sure where she went to afterwards, but I guessed it was somewhere pretty unsavoury, and I worried about her.  She always said she was with friends.  That they were all ‘lovely’ and ‘you’d like them’.  But I knew that in her drugged state she couldn’t discriminate between depravity and normality.

I lay awake for some time, tossing and turning, thinking dark thoughts.  At around 3:00 I got up and got a tumbler of water and sat in bed sipping and looking at the clock.  I don’t know why exactly, but for some reason I felt the need to go into her room, touch her things, feel the presence of my little girl.

Her room was next door to mine, and I didn’t turn the hall light on.  I knew the way to her bedside instinctively, from all those years of soothing her ever present night terrors.  I sat on the side of her bed, just as if she was there, and switched the bed side light on.

The room smelt strongly of incense, and there was a streak of ash from a recently burnt stick on the bedside table.  Her room was still girly though, and there were still her old much loved toys on the shelf.  Her Barbie dressed in her airhostess outfit, but with crayon-pinked wayward hair, and Gurgle her toy frog that used to go everywhere with her, both looking down disapprovingly from the shelf.

I was crying.  I needed to hold someone.  I was so alone and needed someone, anyone.  I reached up for Gurgle.  The soft bright green toy was grubby and the bow around his neck skewed, but I hugged him close to smell the residue of childhood on him.

But he wasn’t as soft as I was expecting.  As I hugged him I felt his tummy had a hard patch.  I put him under the light and could see that there was a gap in his stitching.  I stuck my finger in and sure enough could feel a small package inside.  I hardly needed to bother to withdraw it I could tell from the feel that it was more pills.  Tipping them into my hand I could see there were about 10 of them, all different colours and sizes with letters imprinted on them.

I sat staring at them.  They felt heavy in my hand, as if they were making a permanent mark. I guess I wasn’t entirely surprised, or even shocked.  Sighing, I poured them back into the little plastic bag, but doing so managed to drop one on the floor.  I picked it up.  It was baby blue and had ‘SKY’ imprinted on it.  It looked nothing more than a sweet, but despite knowing exactly what it was, I popped it into my mouth.  If she could escape to ecstasy then so could I.

I gently placed Gurgle back in his usual position, turned off the light and went back to my own room.  It seemed bigger than usual, and I twirled around to experience the space.  The air itself seemed golden and I held my hands out to catch it.  I longed to touch it, feel its constituents.  I knew I was smiling, the spinning turned into swaying and I found myself humming.  The sound I produced was wonderful.  It filled my body, echoing through my very veins.  I could see the walls of the room pulsing in time to my rhythm.  I was enchanted by this new feeling, calm and peaceful in this lyrical world.

At some point I must have lay down as I woke late the next morning lying across the bed, holding the duvet haphazardly across me.  I felt good.  No headachy hangover like I do when I overindulge in wine, no nausea as when I comfort eat a whole tub of ice cream.

That was a while ago.  I have stolen from Jade ever since.  She steals my money, I steal her drugs.  I don’t think she is even aware some go missing.  Or that I sometimes leave extra money in my purse especially for her to steal.  It won’t be going on much longer though, the money won’t be there.  I lost my job today.

My work has suffered apparently.  I have been in a bit late a few times, and had a few days off here and there I guess but is that really any reason to turn on me? That pig of a woman actually accused me of ‘letting myself go’?

‘It’s a matter of personal hygiene’ she’s said sniffily ‘Please understand, it’s just that we’re worried about you’  Frankly, I couldn’t even be bothered to respond, so she just carried on ‘Worried about your health, your so…so unkempt these days’ Then she smiled, that tight, thin-lipped, condescending smile of hers.

Well, they could stuff their job. Frankly, I don’t care about their bourgeois opinions.  They can keep their small dark corner of the world.

So I come in and find Jade on the sofa.  She is unkempt and unwashed.  The flat is unkempt and uncleaned.  I no longer care.  I go to my room and twirl.

Death in Delhi – Five day challenge.. day one

I’ve been invited by the lovely Scillagrace (visit her super blog here) to take part in a five day challenge.  To complete the challenge I have to post a photo with an accompanying story every day for…yes, you’ve guessed it, five days!  So here goes on Day One with a bit of flash fiction….

Death in Delhi


It was cooler under the shade of the Ashok tree that wept close to the newly carved tomb but still Nirmala didn’t want to be there, but her mother had insisted.

‘He was your husband. It is your duty to grieve’ she said dragging the protesting woman by the wrist.

She had barely known him when they were married.  He was at least thirty years older than her. He’d agreed to ‘have’ her when his second wife had died in childbirth. It didn’t matter to him about the deep purple birthmark that disfigured her left cheek which her mother had said would prevent interest by any other suitor. She could look after the child, even if she was only a child herself.

She’d been married to him for nearly twenty years, and in her care the child had become a young man.  Like his father, the boy had treated Nirmala as a slave, and she thanked her gods when he eventually left the family hovel.

Her ‘husband’ had got fatter and more unpleasant by the day, but she served him as best she could. She never had a child herself since the marriage was never consummated.  From the start he had made it clear, that he didn’t need that from her, he had money enough to buy himself ‘proper’ women if and when he needed, and for that, she had been mightily relieved.

Just like she was when she found his overstuffed body cold in his bed.

However, widows were considered bad luck and ended up living on the outskirts of society where no man would venture and her mother had made it clear she wouldn’t take her back into the household

‘I’ve enough mouths to feed’ she’d said without a shred of compassion for her distraught daughter.

Now, standing over his grave in the stinking heat of a Delhi afternoon, her mother watching critically from her seat under the tree, she realised that she was nothing, her miserable and empty life was now meaningless.  So she didn’t hesitate when she withdrew the small knife that she’d hidden in the folds of her sari, plunging it deep into her stomach with a force she didn’t know she possessed. She felt her soul flutter before her body collapsed over the sun warmed stone tomb, her blood staining it forever.

Give it Time – a short story

They are just telling us the weather news (sunny but cold) when I switch off the radio. Just gone 9:00.  It’s my time of day.  I grab my little brown dog, Scooter, who is already waiting in the hall staring doggedly up at his lead that’s resting on top of the papers, willing me to pick it up and hook it onto his collar.

Routine you see. Dogs like routine.  Like to know what’s expected of them.  So he sits quietly while I put on my coat and gloves, fumble with my keys till the door swings open with a rush of cold air.

‘Come!’  I don’t even have to look down,I can feel that he’s there obediently by my side.  He doesn’t pull these days.  Used to.  Like a savage.  We’d picked him up, me and Tom, from the local rehoming centre.  They said he was untrainable.  But we trained him.  I can still here Tommy’s voice

‘Need to be firm with this little bugger’ he’d said, barking instructions ‘Come ‘ere yer bugger’

And scooter would yelp and run off before Tom could get him by the scruff again.

Anyway, Tommy’s been gone for three years now, and me and Scoot get on just fine.

It’s not long before Scoot stops for a poop.  I’ve got the bags in my pocket to pick it up if necessary, but checking round I can see there’s no-one looking, so I leave the steaming pile on the grass verge.  It’ll go.  Given time, crap disappears. Given time.

I turn into Ash Grove.  This fancy little street is just off the main road through the village.  You don’t see anyone about at this time of day down here it’s quiet as a ghost village.  Mums and dads all at work, brats at boarding school, or nursery.  Tommy and me, we never had kids, didn’t see the point. We wanted to work.  Workers that’s what we were.  Earning our crust not adding to the over population of the planet.  These people that live down here, they breed then go off and leave the kids with other people, what’s that about?

There’s a path into the woods off of the grove, and reaching it, I let Scoot off the lead for his run.  Loves to run does that dog.  Hence the name, he wasn’t called that when we got him, he was ‘Charlie’, it didn’t take him long to learn his new name though, not with Tommy’s training regime.

Anyhow, it’s clouded over and I can feel spits and spots of rain (those weather people never get it right do they?) so I call Scoot back and we turn for home.

‘Mrs Fletcher! Mrs Fletcher! Meg..!’  Much as I try to, I can’t ignore Sue Reagan’s call.  I brace myself

‘Ah, hello Mrs Reagan.’  She married an American and rumours abound that he’s related to the ex-president, but neither he nor Sue has ever done anything to either confirm or deny it. She loves it, I think. It allows her to look down on lesser mortals like me.

She’s approaching me at a trot, not quite running, but enough to make her look hurried and urgent.

‘So glad I caught you dear’

Dear. I’ve only ever used that word sarcastically, more often than not to inefficient shop assistants.

‘Been meaning to have a chat’

Oh god, what now.

‘As you know..’

I don’t.

‘we’ve decided to enter the ‘best kept village’ competition again this year’

Who decided? I didn’t.  I smile, tightlipped, and nod.

‘but you see’

She’s looking past me, looking down at her hands, looking anywhere but at me.

‘Well dear, you see..’

‘Oh, get on with it, you’re going to mention my garden again aren’t you?’

Hooray! She blushes! I have actually managed to embarrass this pushy old tart.  She’s on all the committees: WI, Village Hall, and I think she’s even secretary for the bowls club.

‘Well, yes, I think you’d agree, it really could do with a trim and tidy, and the other gardens are so..erm.. different.’

‘Mine’s a wild garden, with wildlife. I like it.’

End of.  Now go away.

‘Lovely.’ She pauses, whilst looking at me pleadingly to give her some leeway.  I don’t.

‘It’s just the front.  The bit that you see from the pavement.  Just a tidy.  We’ve got volunteers that could do the work for you.’

She’s looking at me with lost kitten eyes.  Eyes rimmed with spidery blackened lashes. Her coral coloured lips are pursed making them look like they’ve been pulled tight by an invisible string keeping them firmly closed so that no offence slips out.

‘Just the front’

‘oh yes, just a trim and tidy of those old bushes. That Choysia would be lovely with a bit of a prune you know.’

I really don’t want my garden to look like those council park lookalikies along our road.  Those with the orderly rows of pinks and pansies, roses that are not allowed to ramble, and clipped hedges.  I like the wildness of mine, but to be honest, it is a little out of control.

‘Ok.  Just the front.  When?’

I see her hefty bosom rise with relief.

‘I’ll have to let you know dear, when the volunteers are free, most likely at the weekend, if that’s alright with you.’

I just raise an eyebrow and tilt my head in response and push past her spongey pink-wrapped body which is spanning the whole pavement.

Back home I put the kettle on and gaze out through the grimy back window as I wait for it to boil.

There used to be a garden out there when we first moved.  We had plans me and Tommy, it was going to be our little haven with a swing seat and a pond, and a shady spot to sit in with a glass of wine and a good book.  Of course, we never did anything to it at all, and pretty soon it was all overgrown and full of Scoots poop.  Scoot used to like running about out there then.  He can’t now really, but he does go and curl up on the old sofa out there from time to time.  Think that’s where he picked up the fleas.

The sofa was one of the first things to go out there.  The neighbours didn’t understand, but I didn’t need it indoors, it’s not like I get visitors or anything, and it was taking up so much room in here. Now the garden is just like a room, albeit a wet one.  I do tend to put things outside.  It’s so difficult to get rid of anything. I don’t drive, so can’t shove things in the boot like Mr Willis does, and the council charges a fortune to take things.  So they just go outside.  The TV that I never watched; the old table that used to belong to Tommy’s mum; the hoover that went kaput when I tried using it in the kitchen once; not to mention the bags of Tommy’s clothes.  What do you do with clothes when someone dies like that?  Of course, there’s other stuff too, enough so you can’t really see the weeds anymore.  The busy bodies can think what they like, but they’re not going out there to ‘trim and tidy’.  They’re not coming through the house.

The kettle whistles and I search out a not too grubby mug.  I don’t have any unused teabags, so squeeze out the one I used this morning, and reuse.  It’s all the business now, this recycling you know

My old chair has seen better days, so I recently had the brainwave of putting some of the newspapers under the seat to pad it out a bit.  It really works, and I sit down, like a queen on her throne.  Scoot appears from out of one of his ‘tunnels’ and jumps on my lap for a cuddle.  He’s made the tunnels himself, burrowing his way through books and papers.  He is a very intelligent dog.

I know it’s a mess in here.  I do.  I even know it’s not quite, what others might call ‘normal’ to live like this.  But here I am, surrounded by words, history.  Printed matter is history in the making you know.  That’s what I told Tommy the first time he tackled me about keeping all my books and papers.  They were only in the front room then too.  Just a couple of piles of neatly bound newspapers, and two or three bookshelves.

‘Printed matter is history in the making Tommy.  These could be worth a fortune in a few years.’

His response was typically eloquent.

‘Stupid cow.’

‘No Tommy, you shouldn’t smoke in here, not with the papers, why don’t you go in the garden.  Get some air’

His response was the same as it had always been when he’d used up his usual vocabulary.  He spat at me.  Disgusting.  Right in my face.  Every time.  I don’t know where all that spittle came from.  Mind you, it was better than his fist.

We hadn’t been married all that long before it started.  He’d had a row with someone (I never did find out who), came barging indoors, all red he was.  Even his neck was red, and taut, the veins sticking out like tangled strings.

‘Tea’ll be about 10 minutes’ I’d said.  That was all

‘Tea’ll be about 10 minutes’ I remember it perfectly, like a snap-shot, a bit of video. He didn’t respond apart from the punch.  A punch full on the jaw. I keeled over, wooden spoon still in my hand from stirring the stew. ‘Course, that went all over the place too, so he didn’t get his tea in ten minutes did he?  Fool.

I knew he was one for fighting.  I’d met him in a bar. He had long brown hair tied back in a ponytail, and was wearing a blue vest and jeans.  I was on my own and so was he, and we just started chatting, as you do, and before we knew it, he was warming me up with his big tough body.  We’d meet up in bars, and so often he’d end up in a fight. He’d always win too.  It was exciting.  Not when I was bailing him out the next day especially, but exciting to be his girlfriend.  To hear that intake of breath as we walked in.  Yes, that was exciting.

Thinking of it is making me thirsty.  The tea is not enough, and it’s gone eleven, so time to visit the local inn.

Steph is behind the bar today. She’s wearing a frumpy lavender roll necked sweater, and her hair, neat as ever, in a red-brown bob.  Not barmaid material at all.

I swear she averts her eyes when I come in even though I come here every day.  All that business she gets out of me, you’d think she’d be a little more polite.  Eventually though, she turns

‘Hello Mrs Fletcher.  Usual?’ She could at least try and smile.  I nod and she brings me a gin.  I can’t afford doubles these days.

She doesn’t stop and talk, just turns back and tries to look busy polishing already clean glasses.  There are only two other people in the dark little bar.  Both old men with pints, I see them here often but haven’t been introduced. They are playing dominos and don’t look up.

‘Hello there Meg!’  Steph’s husband, Mark booms at me with his big barkeep voice ‘can I get yer another? On the house?’

‘That would be lovely, thanks’ What does he want, I wonder?  He fills up my glass with more gin than tonic.

‘Been meaning to have a chat, Meg’ Didn’t the Reagan tart say that this morning?

‘Oh yes, what can I do for you Mark. Do we need to go somewhere private?’  I grin, and nod over to Steph in what I think is a conspiratorial way.  Mark looks alarmed

‘No, no, just a chat’ and he tries to pass the moment off with a smile, but I know he was flustered.  Perhaps he does hold a candle for me.  It’s about time someone did, and frankly I wouldn’t say no.  I’d be a bit less uptight than Steph that’s for sure.

‘You see, we were wondering..’

‘who was?’

‘Steph and I, we were wondering..’

‘yes’ I’m interrupting him for mischief.  I can feel discomfort oozing from him.

‘Well, I won’t beat around the bush’

‘go on’

‘We were wondering..’

‘you’re repeating yourself, I’ll be needing another drink before you’ve finished the sentence at this rate’

‘It’s about your, um hygiene Meg.  We’re worried that you’re not looking after yourself properly.’ He tried.  He tried really hard.  He tried really hard to make it sound caring and kind, but I knew it was an accusation.

‘Why would you think that?’ his heavy framed glasses gave me a target to glue my stare at.

‘Well…well..’ and he leant in towards me ‘there’s a little bit of a whiff about you.  Please, please don’t take offence Meg.  We’re just worried about you. Your clothes’

I was wearing my old wax jacket, they always whiff they do, pick up animal smells somehow, and my dress.  My one and only dress.  It has a pretty pattern of pink and purple flowers scattered over its fitted top and full skirt.  Tommy used to say I looked like Marilyn Monroe in this dress.  Of course, I dare not wash it. It would definitely fall apart if I washed it. And, granted, it doesn’t really go with the wellies, but one has to be practical.

‘You see, we’ve had one or two complaints’ he continued ‘the other customers are a little, erm..bothered.’

‘what d’ya mean ‘bothered’?’ He’s lowering his eyes, but I’m not.

‘Meg, you need to clean yerself up. When did you last wash your hair?’

‘You shouldn’t wash your hair too often, you lose all the oils.’ I’d read that in one of my papers.

‘But Meg love, you do need to wash it sometimes.  Perhaps give it a brush through too occasionally.’

‘Brush pulls it out.’  It had.  In big clumps last time I tried.  I used to have lovely hair.  I dyed it blonde, nearly white, for years.  It had a natural wave and I wore it just sweeping my shoulders, so that I could toss it, and flick it out of my eyes theatrically.  It’s gone back to its natural mousey grey now, and it’s quite thin. Leaving it unbrushed seems to make it look thicker, unwashed gives it a greasy shine.  Anyway, I can’t be bothered with a beauty regime these days.  Can’t even get to the mirror to look in it if I wanted to.  You see, its upstairs, in the bathroom.  I don’t go up there these days.  I prefer to use the old toilet in the lean-to just outside the back door.   The smells dissipate quicker.

‘Listen Meg.’ I could tell Mark was going to get going on a lecture.

‘Gotta go.  Thanks for the drink’ and I practically ran out, slamming the door behind me.

I get home around lunchtime and Scoot looks up at me expectantly.  I don’t have much food in the house so we share a chunk of stale bread, picking the pieces of mould off as we go. I do still have some gin though, so fill the tea mug with it and take it back to the chair and relax.

Though I doze through the afternoon, I have a little niggle in my mind that’s gnawing away at my comfort.  I’ve never really considered what other people think of me.  Never really cared. Well, not for a long time. Tommy was the last person I cared about, and that didn’t really work out well in the end.

I’d got this very same dress on that afternoon. He’d come home full of drink and anger, grabbed me by the hair and marched me upstairs.  I didn’t feel like it at all, but there was no telling him.  He was pulling at me, at my clothes, and I was wriggling and protesting.  His teeth had gone rotten over the years and that, combined with the alcohol made his breath vile.  I really didn’t want to this time.

So I bit him.  Hard.  On his fat cheek.

Oh, I knew I’d get a slap, and sure enough he knocked me backwards with one swipe of his huge hand. Fortunately I landed right by a Dostoyevsky.  Crime and Punishment is a weighty novel in more ways than one, and on this occasion, as I swung it with both hands, its heft knocked Tommy clean off his feet.  He reeled backwards and landed plumb in the bath, bashing his head on the taps on the way.  I wasn’t sorry.

I’ve not been upstairs since. Anyway, the stairway is blocked with newspapers and books. As far as I know he’s still in the bath where I left him.  Certainly the stench that followed in the weeks after the incident has gone. I told you, crap disappears.  Given time.

I decide I’ll wash tomorrow.

Disconnected – a short story

Beep Beep

The dark is full of noise

She remembers seeing him at Sunday School.  He’d been small for a seven year old, smaller than her, and he’d always sat alone at the side of the room, solemnly perusing the proceedings through his round, thick lensed, spectacles. She had always been too busily enthralled in the harsh teachings of heaven and hell to ever acknowledge him, even though, or perhaps because, her mum cleaned for his.

The Watsons had only lived down the road from her, but their house couldn’t be more different. Her and her mum lived in a tiny terraced cottage whose only front window edged the pavement. It was all her mum could afford when Dad had gone. But the Watson’s house had a drive, a front garden, and even a porch. As a child she had thought of him as the rich, boring, swotty boy, and didn’t really notice when he was sent off to boarding school when he reached eleven.

Beep Beep

She had seen him now and again during the holidays. He usually had his head down and earphones tight on his head.  He had dressed eccentrically, usually jacket, baggy wool trousers, shirt and bow tie, and the girls used to titter about it.

‘A bow tie, for goodness sake, who the hell does he think he is?’

‘Not exactly a looker is he?’

‘eewww…fancy kissing ‘im…’

‘bit looney’

and they’d all laugh cruelly.

Beep Beep

She remembers asking her mother about him.

‘What’s he like, the Watson kid?’

‘Nice boy. Very polite. Bit of an odd bod perhaps, but very bright. He’s on the county cricket team you know.’

‘Really?’ He plays sport? But he’s blind as a bat, isn’t he?’

‘Well, he wears contacts these days I think. And don’t be wicked, he can’t help his eyesight.’

When they were both eighteen the Watson’s had thrown a party.  Her mother had made her go.

Beep Beep

‘I don’t know who else will be going, I don’t want to be stood there all on my own.’ She’d said ‘come on, you might enjoy it.  It’s a garden party. You never know, they might have champagne!’

So they’d gone along together, her mum in her best cocktail dress, and her in a new outfit bought especially for the occasion from Dorothy Perkins. It struck her how odd it was to remember such minor details. Her mum had treated her, but insisted on having some say on what she bought, so she’d ended up with a light blue trouser suit and white blouse that would ‘do for interviews later on’.

He was there, at the gate, meeting and greeting. It had been the first time she had seen him smile.

‘Hi, Roslyn.  Gosh, you look lovely today’ he’d said. She remembered being surprised that he even knew her name.

‘Thank you Josh’ she’d said trying to accept the compliment gracefully ‘you look, erm interesting!’ She knew he wouldn’t mind, he was after all, wearing a harlequin costume.  She’d had a second of panic wondering if mum had forgotten to tell her it was fancy dress.

‘Oh don’t worry, no-one else is dressed up’ he’d said, reading her thoughts ‘I just like to cause consternation to the old folk, mum won’t speak to me!’ and he’d winked at her, conspiratorially. She remembered the slight frisson that that fleeting moment of collusion had given her.

He led her and her mum across the lawn to where the food and drinks were laid out, told them to ‘dig in’ and left them to go and mingle with the rest of the guests.

‘Did you know he’s going to the same uni as you’ her mum had announced as she picked out a plump sausage roll. Was there any champagne?

‘Really? What’s he doing?’

‘Medicine. His mum won’t stop telling everyone how he’s going to be a doctor’ her mother said, rolling her eyes. ‘Perhaps you could get together there.  Be nice if you married a doctor!’

‘Oh for goodness sake mum. I’m not going to marry him. You can forget that right now.’

Beep Beep

In fact, she had bumped into him in the first month or so of her new independent life. In Macdonalds. She had a face full of Big Mac when he sat down opposite her.

‘Do you mind?  There are no other tables and it was nice to see a friendly face.’ He’d said, putting his tray down carefully.

‘No, no, course not. Good to see you.’ She hadn’t been sure if it was good or not. He was still wearing the bow tie, had a severe short back and sides, and to be honest, wasn’t looking like the coolest dude in town to be seen with. Still, they had chatted for a bit, he told her how tough he was finding his course, while she complained about her digs and the flatmates she’d be thrown in with.

Eventually though, he’d left with a throw away ‘see ya’, and they’d only ever bumped into each other a few times after that, usually when one or the other was running to a lecture.

Beep Beep

Her mother had kept her updated about his progress.

‘Josh passed his finals, he’s a proper doctor now!’

She remembered how inadequate that had made her feel. She had spent her uni years enjoying life, and only scraped through her course.  She’d ended up working in an office, finding a boyfriend there whom she eventually married, and producing three children with him. It disconcerted her that she couldn’t remember any details, not even the children’s names. As though all those years were meaningless.

Beep Beep.

She hadn’t seen Josh since.

Now though, through her still, glassy eyes she recognised him instantly amongst the many others wearing scrubs. He looked concerned.  She wondered if he recognised her, and wanted to say ‘hey Josh, it’s me’ but couldn’t.  Couldn’t speak, couldn’t move. It struck her that they knew each other without knowing each other at all.

Beep Beep

She tried looking from another angle, and found she was easily able to float above her prostrate body.  Looking down from above, as she was, she could see the nurses blotting the blood from her twisted face, and the tubes attached to her.  She could sense the tension emanating from the doctors.  Josh, older, greyer, but still wearing his bow tie, barked instructions at the others.

There was no emotion or feeling. She could see them working, talking. She could see the machines attached to her and noticed with interest that the one which had been beeping out it’s mechanical tune whilst tracing her fluctuating heartbeat on a screen, now showed a constant line.

The last sound she heard was Josh’s voice flatly pronouncing

‘Time of death, eleven forty eight.’