Would I lie? – a short story

Hi I’m Robert.  You can call me Bob.

Before I start, there’s one thing you should know.  I’m a liar.  I can’t help it, it’s compulsive. It’s cool, because once you’re a known liar you can do what you like and nobody believes it.  The only drawback is that, these days, I’m never quite sure whether or not I’m lying either.  Weird as it might seem to you, the truth and lies are as one to me now.  My life certainly seems fantastical when I relate it, but hey, some of it must be true. Mustn’t it?

Well, let’s start with a bit about myself.  I’m tall, taller than average anyway. Six feet three at last measurement, what some people might call lanky.  Long arms and legs, you know the sort.  I was blessed with fair hair that has never faded and blue eyes that have been described as ‘icy’ before now.  I’m not what you might call a ‘mans man’, no football or anything like that, I’m more genteel. I like my tea from china cups, that sort, if you know what I mean.  I have been called ‘theatrical’ which could mean I have a star-like quality.

I live in a small flat, with all my things around me.  It’s nice, in a bohemian way. Flowers grow naturally in the crevices around the windows, they occasionally even creep indoors through the cracks. I don’t discourage them.

My mother lives nearby in an old folks home.  She’s mad. Potty.  Has got worse since she moved in. She claims not to know who I am, but I can see in her eyes she recognises me.  She was always disdainful of me, after all she was a success, an artist whose works sold for thousands, ‘til she went potty.  Mother used to use me as her muse, and there are many paintings of me out there, the recognisable ones are mostly of when I was a child, she leant more to abstract as she got older.

Mother was always alone, I didn’t have a dad.  Well I suppose someone out there must have contributed to my being, but she would never confirm who that was.  I can see a resemblance to a certain actor, but I won’t say his name, I wouldn’t want to cause any embarrassment.  Besides, you’ll know straight away when you see me.  The likeness is striking.

The first girl I kissed threw herself at me.  She was twelve and I was nine. Her name was Barbara something or other, and she had brown curly hair and skin dotted with freckles. She tasted of aniseed, and I’ve never liked it since.  In my teens there were a few more conquests, Jilly M being the most notable. She was a model, though I never saw any of her work, long-limbed and cat-like. She prowled around stalking me for a month or more before I gave in and took her out for dinner.  Never let them think you’re keen.  That’s my advice.

We saw each other regularly for about six months before she disappeared off the scene.  It was ok, I was ready to move on.  I don’t like people getting too close.

Now, in my thirty’s, though I still go on the odd date, I like to stay free. After all, my job keeps me busy.  I procure precious stones for a living, which sounds quite glamourous, though I can assure you, I more often than not end up in god-forsaken places around dusty ill-kempt mining offices, manned by dusty ill-kempt men, where I feel thoroughly out of place. However, it is lucrative, so it’s worth the trouble, and I always have plenty of spare cash handy with which to treat myself to some of life’s little luxuries.

For instance, I recently bought a car.  It’s quite a fancy one.  Attracts looks, if you know what I mean.  I would never take it up to its full speed of course (I am a law abiding citizen), but do like to zoom off down the motorway with the roof down just to explore.  I love the coastline so often end up by the sea.  The window here is quite high up, and I can’t see out, but I’m sure I can hear the swish of waves nearby.

Once I was lucky enough to be invited on to a friend’s yacht for a sail around the Caribbean. It was a big old yacht (he is a multi-millionaire) and each berth was nearly as big as my entire flat.  Oh, I shall never forget it. The sun and champagne, the laughter and swimming in the clear waters around the islands. I came back brown as a berry, and my hair was bleached almost white. I looked fabulous, though I say so myself.

I didn’t see him, or any of the others for that matter, again after that trip.  But it was my choice. He was a bit nouveau riche for my liking really.  I preferred staying at the big old house up near Edinburgh, you know, with the gentry.  Much more my style. We rode every morning.  I loved the horses, the feel of their strength and muscles working, the smell of the leather, the steam coming off their coats after a gallop through the mist hidden heather.  My favourite was called Warrior, he was (is still probably) a magnificent chestnut.  The stable lads brushed him so that his coat shone as though he was carved from polished wood.  He was a full 16’ 3 hands, and it was lucky that I am such an experienced rider, because he could be extremely feisty at times. Never got me off though!

The trouble is it is cold in Scotland, and there are midges. Millions of midges. I was bitten to death nearly, and that old house was so cold.  Rattley windows, drafty doors.  They might have been used to it, but you would have thought they’d have got at least the guest quarters sorted out.  So I’ve not been back.  I like my cosy little flat better.

I wish I was there now. Cooking tea. I liked to cook. Watching the steak sizzling in its juices, or seeing the beans bubble in theirs.  I don’t have much facility for cooking in the flat though, just a small stove.  Not like my mother’s big old range.  She’d always have pies and cakes cooking inside and stews and soups on the hob.

‘Nothing wrong with good English food’ she’d say as she chopped up greens and potatoes that she’d grown with her own hands in the vegetable patch up in the west corner of the garden ‘a growing boy needs a hearty meal!’

Don’t get that these days.  Don’t each much of that mush at all. Seem to be existing on the pills.

I ought to explain.

I was telling my sister about my latest venture.  Did I not mention I had a sister? Oh yes.  A busy body. Two years younger than me and she thinks she knows best. Anyway, she’d turned up at the old folks home to visit mother at the same time as me.  Mother recognised her straight away.

‘I’m off to Botswana on Friday, to one of the diamond mines’ I’d told her.

‘No you’re not Bob’ she said, not even looking at me.

‘Now why do you say that? Do you have to be so cynical?’ I asked her, affronted.

‘Because you wouldn’t know a diamond if you saw one’ she said ‘and besides, not a single word you have ever said has been true.’

Well, I’ve already mentioned I am a liar, so it’s no secret, but she didn’t have to be quite so blunt.

‘Are you having an episode?’ she asked, looking at me a bit peculiarly with a raised eyebrow and patting mum’s hand gently.

Well, that put me in a spin. ‘An episode? What the hell do you mean by that?’

‘Look, fine.  You’re going to Botswana. Fine. Why don’t you go and pack?’

Sarcastic sort she is.

‘I wanted to see mother before I go.  It’s dangerous out there. They’ve told me I’ll need to carry a gun. I might not come back.’

‘You’re ridiculous.  And besides, I don’t think mum would be that bothered.  You know she doesn’t recognise you anyway. A gun?  Really? Good grief, you are getting madder by the day.’

Well I had to prove myself.  Had to. So I pulled the pistol out from my trouser pocket to show her. It was only a small one, for protection, but she screamed like a demon, and ran behind mothers chair.

The orderlies called the police.  The police took my gun and called social services. Social services brought me here. To the ‘hospital’.

It’s not all bad.  Some of the other people have had similar experiences.  One or two have friends in high places, like me, so sooner or later, my situation will improve.  I understand my sister, against my wishes, has cleared out the flat.  She bought me one or two mementos which she said were of my former life, though I don’t remember picking up a pebble and writing ‘agate’ on it. It does look like my handwriting though.  Nor do I remember buying the little plastic pony, or the foot long wooden yacht with the broken mast and holey cotton sails. It has the name ‘wisp o’ the wind’ written on the side.

She tells me she has sold my car.  Got less than a thousand for it, and the money has gone to the care home for repairs (the gun went off…accidently, of course, and mother was only grazed) and to paying off one or two of the outstanding debts I’d accumulated.

Sounds like I might be in here for a while. In the meantime, the nurse, who looks remarkably like Jilly M, is sashaying up the corridor, coming to give me some more sedation no doubt.  Seems like they’re not interested in my protestations in here.

Or maybe, just maybe, none of this is true.

Good night.

Masks

Meg was feeling slightly sick as the little dinghy bobbed about on the swell. There were seven of them all crowded on to the little rubber boat, sleek in their wetsuits, unnaturally pressed up against each other, tanks propped between their knees.

She had got most of her kit on on-shore, 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, with no dispensations for age or gender, she helped carry the dinghy down the pebbled beach from the car park to float it on to the matching grey ocean.

This was her first open water dive. A virgin diver, the lads called her with a nudge and a wink. She was the only woman on this trip, although there were one or two other, younger girls, who came to the weekly meetings at the echoey old Victorian pool back in London. That was where she’d trained and suffered, and very nearly drowned on many occasions, in the months 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 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 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 still she struggled with sometimes. The trick was to grasp the bottom of the mask and lift it up at the same time as blowing through your nose.  Theoretically it should empty any water out of it. But no, usually Meg ended up feeling more like a goldfish peering through a bowlful of water at the world beyond.

Nevertheless, as the weeks passed, she became more confident and was eventually able to take the final hurdle, which was to put all the equipment on at the bottom of the pool. Again, it took several attempts. More often than not she just didn’t have enough air in her lungs to blow the water from the mouthpiece before taking a breath, and resurfaced gasping and spluttering, giving the men good reason to tease her mercilessly when she joined them at the pub after the session.

She had seen the advert for the diving club in the local paper. She had never been sporty or adventurous, but now she was on her own she felt she needed to prove herself, and it would be good to have an unusual distraction that took her away from the daily grind at the surgery, where she had to fix her smile in place to cover her almost constant irritation with both the patients and doctors. The other receptionists seem to cope all right, and she thought she did too until the episode with old Tom Burns, who had always been difficult and abusive, but this time he’d actually slapped her. Sandra, the junior, had been quick to call the police and they took the poor old soul away.

Try as she might, she couldn’t really remember what had happened. She might very well have been sharp with him. She often was prickly since the divorce, and sometimes said things she regretted later.  She suspected, that that was 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 thought her new hobby ‘cool’, and she was hoping that he might even start to join her at the pool every week, even if it was only with the foolish and unrealistic promise of warm waters in exotic locations to come. 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 somehow her texts didn’t seem as urgent as those from his fan club of girls.

Now, though, it was her time. The virgin diver. She sat on the edge of the dinghy pulling on the big black flippers, accepting help with the tank, and tightening the mask, pulling out wisps of hair, knowing that there would be unattractive ridges on her face when she took it off. Someone turned the air on and she put the mouthpiece in and blew out as had become natural now.

She tipped backwards into the uninviting water. Hearing the now familiar mechanical sound of her breathing, she sent an ok signal to her companion and headed off into unknown waters.

Neighbourhood Watch

Today’s writing 101 challenge –  complete the following story from the perspective of a 12 year old boy watching from across the street:

‘The neighbourhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years.’

Ha! Some excitement ‘round this boring hole at last.  Looks like they’ve come for the old bag.  The cops.

Course, dunno if it’s cops.  Might be. Some bloke anyways. Hope it is a cop, perhaps he’ll shoot her. BANG.  Ha! Old bag.  That’ll teach her.

Wish mum hadn’t locked me wheels up.  Can’t go ‘round park without me wheels. Mum’s an ol’ bag too. I should tell the cops ‘bout her.  Taking my stuff away.  So what if I knocked that kid over? He bloody deserved it.  Little git.

Looks like there’s a bit of a bust up o’er there at old Pauley’s.  She’s got ‘er broom out.  Wonder if she’s threatening to clout that bloke with it like she did when me and Jack Sproggett rode us wheels o’er her manky old bit of grass?

It was that ‘orrible year 11 kid, Tommy Murch’s, fault. He bet us we wouldn’t.

‘go on.  Bet yer daren’t….. twinnies’ the git had said, all sarcastic like.  I hated it when anyone called us ‘twinnies’.  We’re not even bloody brothers. Ok, we look a bit alike, Jack being a ging like me.  But I’m bigger. We ‘ad a armwrestle t’other day and I beat ‘im dead good. Weedy little git.

An’ he’s got spots.  A biggun right on ‘is chin.  Watched him squeeze it ‘til it popped and white goo came out all over is ‘ands. I dared ‘im to lick it off, but he wouldn’t. Wuss.

That broom ain’t helping. That bloke’s not moving anywhere.

Oooh… the cops have come, they’ve even got their lights flashing and their woowoos going. Jack’ll be sick he missed this.

Oh boring. The cops are trying to calm the old bag down. No guns or anythin’. Looks like they’re trying to sweet talk her. Perhaps it’s that good cop/bad cop thing. Perhaps one of ’em’ll bash ‘er in a minute.  She could do with a bashing. She’s been a bit weird since the man died.  That was dead good that was.  I saw the coffin and everythin’.  Mum said he’d been ‘laid out’ in the front room.  Me and Jack went over to see if we could see ‘im through the front room window when nobody was about.  Couldn’t see anything through the ruddy net curtains though. Bit of a swizz.

Crikey, a van’s turned up.  Like bleedin’ Picadilly Circus down our road s’afternoon.  Bloody hell…they’re only putting her disgusting ol’ furniture in it. Looks as old as she is. She’s crying like a baby.  Bloody baby. Stupid old bag.

Wonder what’s for tea.

Recovered

The following short story was written as part of the writing 101 challenge.  It is the third part of a trilogy Lost and Found being the first two parts.

The bloke from the gym delivered it.  He was a big grim faced bloke.  One of those who was probably grim faced all the time not just when delivering dead men’s leavings.  He said it was the stuff out of your locker.  That they were sorry for the delay, they hadn’t realised…  Of course, it was my fault.  I forgot to tell them.  Well there was so much to sort out. Insurances, banks, will.

It’s surprising really.  After all, you spent so much time at the gym honing that glistening body to perfection, you’d think it would be one of the first things I thought of.  But anyway, it’s sorted now.  Membership cancelled, bag of locker contents duly returned in three Morrison’s carrier bags.

I didn’t even know you kept stuff there.  I have to say it all smelt a bit rank. In one of the bags was a blue towel, that still felt slightly damp.  It had black mould growing in its folds. Another bag held a pair of your trainers.  Perfectly white still, like you hadn’t run anywhere in them.  They are wrapped in the white vest that accentuated your tan like nothing else did.  Come to think of it, you were always tanned. How come?  Not the sunbeds surely?

The other bag held bits and bobs.  A half empty packet of chewing gum; A sweat stained wrist band; Ten pounds twenty in cash; The photograph of us together on the beach that some poor stranger was commandeered into taking.  We’re both throwing our heads back laughing ‘cos the man’s bald head was sunburnt to a crisp.  It’s not very flattering of either of us, but I’m glad it’s the one you chose to keep in the locker. Happier times.

At the bottom of the bag I found two other photographs. Both of the same blond and curvy woman. The sort of woman you professed to detest.  You hated it if I wore too much make-up or revealing clothes.  You said you liked a woman with some decorum.

In the first photo she’s standing against some bit of gym equipment, possibly a cross-trainer.  Leaning against it, her long legs brown and bare, and trainer clad feet crossed at the ankles.  She’s wearing very short grey shorts, and a shocking pink top.  Her head is tilted back, lengthening her throat. You can just see the blond mane curling down her back. In her left hand she’s holding a bottle of water, while her right arm is draped over the machine in that casual elegance that always eludes me.

The second picture is a close up of her.  I can see her features clearly. No bruises. Fat ruby lips, upturned nose, too far apart eyes.  She’s pouting and looking up at the camera in a ghastly parody of Princess Diana looking innocent.  Innocent this girl is not.  There’s a scrawled telephone number written on the back in some dark pencil, I suspected eyeliner, but can’t be sure.  No name though, so I gave her a name.  Jezebel.

The dust had settled a bit.  Bruises, sores and soul healed, and I was ready for a new challenge.  Seeing those pictures was the catalyst that started me on the keep fit regime, so I joined the gym.

I’d been a couple of times before I bumped into Jezebel.  Literally. I nearly bounced off her enhanced boobs as she turned the corner at precisely the same time as I turned from the opposite direction.  She smiled and said sorry.  I looked her in the eye and asked brusquely

‘Do you know who I am?’

‘Err..no, should I?’ she said in an unmistakably Brummie accent.

What can I say, I was flustered. Perhaps I should have just said I was your partner, see if there was any reaction, but my mind had gone into melt down, stymied by her guileless smile, so I just mumbled something like

‘mm.. well… maybe not.’

She, understandably, looked a bit confused (she looked like the sort who was easily confused anyway to be honest) as I brushed past her and hurriedly went and shut myself in the nearest loo to think it through.

I was angry. Angry at her.  Angry at you.  Angry at myself. Hurt and humiliated.

I’d confront her.  That’s what I’d do. Grab her glossy locks and pull her off whatever she was on and find out what she was up to with you. I’d slap her, punch and kick her just like you did to me. I’d push her over and see her blood run. I thought about how it would make her hair sticky and red.  How those spider lashed blue eyes would roll back in her head.  I could picture it.

She’d look like you did the day I fought back.  A rag doll. Limp and lifeless.

Suddenly I recognised your jealousy reflected in my eyes, green and fizzing with danger.  I appalled myself.

I hadn’t thought this through.  I hadn’t even got any proof of infidelity. Maybe he knew her before he knew me.  Maybe she was a relative, cousin perhaps. And so what if you’d had a fling. You’re nothing but dust and memories and there’s nothing I can do to change the past.

I left the gym and have never been back.  To this day I don’t know who she was.  What she meant to you. If you treated her better than you treated me.  I don’t want to know.  You still had my picture in your locker.  You were still mine when I killed you.

Found

Entering the mausoleum that was once our home I smell you immediately. I’ve only been away for a while and yet your animal scent has grown and blossomed in the rooms like you are still here.

You are not.  I know that.  I saw the coffin wheel away behind the curtains and the smoke curling from the crematorium chimney.  I can feel the hole you have left in the universe.

‘How sad’ they said ‘too young’ and they put their arms around me while I tried to grieve.

It wasn’t easy, the funeral. I wonder if you were watching from wherever you are now. You are not an angel that’s for sure.  It was odd, being there amongst your friends, your family, your colleagues, and knowing that I was the only one who really knew you.  Knowing what I knew.

Your mum, god, how she cried, while I cried regretful tears.

I spent the hour or so while the vicar droned, thinking about the first few months.  That’s why I went back to the beach.  It was wonderful.  You were wonderful.  I was swept off my feet by that smile, that smooth muscular body, that easy charm. Days in the sand and nights in the sheets. No rows. No fights.  Just love.

Well, that didn’t last long did it? How could you be so jealous when you were the beauty. You were the one that turned heads, while I skulked alongside you mousey and timorous. Yet, the green monster lived in your flat hard belly.  A demon that reared it’s head and slipped it’s chains whenever I was late home from work, or went out alone.

Do you remember the first time? That first slap of the cheek? The red weal it left?  The ‘I’m so sorry’s’? The kiss and make up? And I believe you were sorry. Certainly your eyes filled with tears and concern, and you seemed terrified I’d leave.  But of course, I didn’t. Couldn’t. Loved you.

It makes me laugh now when I think of that first red weal. I was aghast and tried to cover it with make-up so I wouldn’t have to make up some story of falling against a door handle like I used to when my first boyfriend left love-bites on my neck.  I didn’t know that that was nothing. Ha! Just a bit of red on the cheek. Childsplay.

I could soon cover up a black-eye and a split lip with the dexterity of a make-up artist working on a sci-fi film. The broken ribs were different.  They didn’t show of course, but I could hardly move after that time you shoved me down the stairs. Still went into work though.  Always did.  Kept smiling.  I still had you after all.

I will never stop regretting what happened that night, but you were so angry.  Been drinking again. I’d just stopped in to Tesco on the way home to get some milk and managed to miss the bus. I couldn’t get on the next one.  I was only three quarters of an hour or so later than usual, but still you started on me. Accusing me of all sorts – meeting up with other men, being a ‘slag’, oh goodness, all the usual stuff and more.  I never got over how you had the body of a god and the mouth of a devil.

So here I am, back at the house.  Sitting on the bottom step of the stairs. The one that split your skin open like a berry when your head hit it.  You didn’t feel that though.  Of course you didn’t.  You were too surprised that I fought back.

You shouldn’t have started on me in the kitchen.  I was tired and wet, it had been a foul night of rain and high winds, and I was looking forward to a cup of tea and a biscuit before I started cooking for you.  I’d bought steak because it was your favourite, and all you could do was question and accuse. Then slap and hit. So I stopped you.  Before the punching and kicking started. The frying pan was still on the hob.  Still greasy from the night before.  You’d been home all day and hadn’t washed up. Typical.  It took a few thwacks with it before you fell.

You weren’t supposed to die.  I never had.  All those beatings and I’d only been out cold once or twice. Yet the first time I fought back, the first time, you had to go and die on me.

Christ I miss you. I miss the making up. I miss your laugh at our favourite TV shows. I miss your out of tune singing in the shower. I miss you beside me when I walk to the park.  Your smile. Your touch. But still there’s your scent.

I go to our bedroom and find your clothes still as you left them. Rummaging I find your favourite sweatshirt and hold it to my face. Its’ the one you wore when we played tennis together that time.  You hooting with laughter at my complete ineptitude. You telling me how you loved me despite my being a clutz.

Laying down on the bed clutching it’s soft fabric to me, it’s empty arms embrace me with the tenderness you lost, I’ve found you again.

Written as part of the writing 101 challenge

The Fall

Thomas needed to pause and take a breath before going in. He was very nearly late, but shouldn’t appear flustered.  It was seeing her name.  It burned his eyes and took his breath away.  Of course it was no surprise, but it had reminded him of her wedding day.

Gloria had gone to him, along with her boyfriend, and begged him to marry them.  Her parents wouldn’t agree to the marriage, and he could see why.  He thought the boy an unprepossessing lump, sitting there on the sofa next to her with his arms covered in celtic tattoos.

Gloria’s Bambi eyes welled up with tears as she explained

‘they just don’t understand.  Mikey is standing by me.  He wants to look after me, and the baby’

She whispered the final words, and shot a glance at the boy, who appeared unmoved.

‘I’ll be eighteen in a months time’ she continued ‘I want to have the wedding then. Mum and dad won’t be able to do anything about it then’ she finished, triumphantly.

Thomas couldn’t believe that this boy was capable of looking after himself, let alone a wife and child, but apparently he had managed to get himself a job as a labourer and, in response to Thomas’s questioning, mumbled that he would be able to afford a small flat on the local estate.

Thomas had known Gloria since she was a baby, and he didn’t like to think of her living amongst the dreary council terraces. Gloria’s well-to-do parents had found their faith when she had arrived seven weeks prematurely, and while she was fighting for her life, they were finding comfort in prayer.  But, as is the way of things, they attended Church every week for a couple of years, then it became just Christmas and Easter services, and eventually dwindled to nothing, but he still bumped into them in town occasionally.

Looking at her, he marvelled at how Gloria had grown from such a scrap of life into such a beauty.  Her golden skin was lit in multi-colour under the stained glass of the study window and she looked the antithesis of Mikey.  She was smartly dressed in grey trousers and loose jumper that just hinted at the curves beneath, and her glossy dark hair was snatched back from her face with a flowered band.

‘Surely she could have found someone more suitable’ he thought.

She would not be deterred though, and some two months later, there she was blinking up at him innocently with her white veiled eyes. The boy standing next to her, shuffling, and fiddling with his carnation.  She was attended by two young bridesmaids, princesses in their bright pink dresses, carrying baskets of rose petals and between them stood a small pageboy, looking sheepish in a football shirt.

‘So common. Must have been his idea’ thought Thomas in an uncharacteristic moment of venom.

He noticed that the sparse congregation were mostly the couples friends, young people dressed up to the nines. The girls uniformly wearing explosive ‘fascinators’ which seemed to be the in thing in headwear that year, and the boys all wearing suits and ties, many, he suspected, for the first time in their lives.   There was an older couple in the second row whom Thomas took to be the boy’s parents, and he spotted Gloria’s parents sitting discreetly at the back both soaking up tears with a tissue. He wondered if she knew they were there.

He managed to smile and say his lines, controlled the urge to flinch when he pronounced them man and wife, watched Mikey kissing her somewhat over zealously, and then paid careful attendance to the signing of the register. But, watching her afterwards, laughing and grinning at the camera amongst the ominous grey stones of the churchyard, the big meringue of a dress only just camouflaging the bump, he feared for her.

After the wedding he saw her occasionally at the shops, where he would watch her from a distance, admiring her ability to look graceful and serene even when she was pushing her screaming child.

Then quite out of the blue, she rang and asked if he would perform the child’s baptism.  He knew that for him to agree to take the service she really should be attending church regularly, nevertheless he jumped at the chance to see her. He offered to give her and the proposed god-parents the necessary short lessons and arranged to visit her home the following Thursday for the first session.

He wasn’t quite sure why he was so excited at the prospect of seeing her again, but he knew that she seemed to stir urges in him that he had long forgotten. It was only after spending some time in front of the mirror, even splashing on some cologne that he had won in a lucky dip, that he set off to visit her in the shabby flat.

Opening the door she smiled warmly, lighting up his world. As he entered the surprisingly tidy living room he noticed Mikey was perched on a chair in the corner. Nodding, he lifted his cup, in a sort of strange ‘cheers’ welcome that Thomas suspected may have come from spending too many hours at the pub.

Thomas really enjoyed those lessons and seeing Gloria regularly brought the kind of familiarity he had only wished for in the past.  She called him ‘Vic’, a shortening of Vicar that made him shiver pleasantly each time she said it.  The company of the young people who were to be the god-parents, and in particular Gloria, was intoxicating to him.  They lived in a different world, one of loud music and easy laughter, one he had never managed to feel part of even when he was younger.  So although the course was generally only three lessons, he used some spurious reasons to suggest having another one or two. Gloria and Mikey both muttered excuses, but he did eventually persuade them.

The day of the baptism, Thomas could barely get through the initial service, his eyes fixed on Gloria as she pacified the baby girl.  He was quietly delighted that her white linen tailored suit outlined her body in a way not entirely appropriate for the church.  Her head was covered by a wide brimmed white hat, with a modest piece of lace drawn over her eyes. He noticed how this pure white outfit accentuated the brown of her eyes, and the scarlet of her painted lips.  Sitting next to that brutish Mikey, she looked delicate as a snow flake.

Yet, Mikey was tender towards her, helping her up the step to the font, smiling his crooked toothed smile down at his young wife and baby.  Thomas noticed too, that Gloria’s mum and dad were both there, obviously reconciled to the fact that this youth was Gloria’s idea of ‘Mr Right’.

‘Happy families’, he thought dryly, whilst an unfamiliar emotion gripped him.

He managed to catch her before they left, and clutching her elbow, drew her into a corner for a private conversation.  She resisted slightly, and glanced at Mikey for approval, giving him a strange knowing smile.

‘How are you these days Gloria’ he said, surprisingly anxious for any hint of unhappiness to prove him right about the boy.

‘Great thanks Vic’ she replied chirpily ‘in fact I’m expecting again.  Can you believe it!  Not got this one out of nappies yet for goodness sake’ she grinned, obviously delighted with the news.

Thomas, on the other hand, squirmed.  A vision of the boy’s grubby hands touching her perfect white form haunted him that night, and for the days following. He began to make special efforts to pass her house, convincing himself he was ‘just keeping an eye on her’.  He watched as she chatted to friends, or hung out her washing.  He saw her in the park pushing the little girl on a swing, and studied her as she paid for her shopping in the supermarket.  To him she seemed the perfect little wife and mother, the perfect woman.

He had never found anyone like that. There had been one or two sweethearts when he was younger, but they were just flings, nothing serious.  It must have been at least thirty years since he had had a lady friend.  The last one, Jennifer, hadn’t liked the sobriety that he insisted went with the job and had flounced off one day declaring him ‘boring’.  Since then he had led a simple solitary life, with only his flock for company.  The old ladies appreciated him, bringing him cakes and the occasional stews in winter, and he had been happy.

Until then.  He didn’t understand the obsession that was taking over his life. Why did just a glimpse of her make his heart pump faster and his palms damp?

‘At my age for goodness sake’, he thought to himself ‘I’m not some teenage boy’.

And then at a fete one day he saw her with him, that Mikey.  They were laughing and smiling together, and when he reached down and kissed her brutally like he did at their wedding, she leaned into him as though he was the only person on earth.  Thomas felt a fibrillation in his chest that made his whole body shudder.

It wasn’t long after that that she rang, and asked to arrange a christening service for the new baby.  Before he had time to think, he had asked her over

‘pop round for a cup of tea and a chat Gloria’

‘oh, can’t you come round here, I’ve got the kids to see to’ she said.

‘well, I’m a bit busy, it would help lots if you could see your way to attending here my dear’

She had sounded a little reluctant but nonetheless agreed to go the following day and Thomas could hardly conceal his delight when she turned up on her own.

‘Sorry can’t stay long, Mikey’s got the kids and he has to go off to work in an hour.  He’s been working so hard bless him. He’s so good’ and Thomas flinched inwardly as he noticed her fondly touching the gold band on her left hand as she said it.

‘Come in, come in, sit yourself’ he said flustering about, pouring tea into his best china cups.  He had bought ginger biscuits, and all the time they were talking business he was thinking how sweet and hot her breath must smell.

After about half an hour she said she should go.  They had agreed a date for the service so Thomas knew he would see her again soon, but as she turned to go through the big old oak door of the vestry her fragrance overwhelmed him. He caught her arm and pulled her in towards him. As she cringed, horrified, his mantle of humility fell away and animal instinct, hidden away for so long, took over. Her struggling fired his passion, and it was with complete and utter abandonment that he pushed her down amongst the gravestones and satiated his overwhelming, soul consuming desire.

It was only when she stopped struggling that he noticed the pool of rich red spreading round her head like a halo. The grey slabs, once witness to her joyful marriage seemed now to lean in crooked sorrow.

The horror of it took his breath away, and dazed, he headed back to the vestry to try and calm himself, where in a vain effort to blot out the image of her lying there, he drank wine straight from the bottle and quickly passed out.

When he came to the next day she had already been found, and the police, happy with his quickly improvised alibi, attributed her murder to an ‘outsider’, no-one in the parish being thought capable of such a thing.

He had never suffered such pain before. Every heartbeat was a knock on hell’s door.  His faith, so strong over the years, was sorely tested, and he prayed for hours every day, trying to gain understanding of his own actions.  He seriously considered going to the police, giving himself up, but how could he abandon the good people of his congregation who relied on him and loved him?  He decided it best that God be his judge when the time came.

And now, there she was, in white again, boxed like a beautiful doll. He embraced the knowledge that his future would be full of penance and that the first of these would be to read the eulogy whilst watching Mikey weep, his two motherless children beside him bewildered by her absence.

Thomas gathered himself, and stepped up to the pulpit.

Written as part of the Writing 101 challenge, write a post based on an overheard conversation using foreshadowing.

Missing you

Eric

I had a daughter once, she had a red coat. Red, just like that yarn that woman’s knitting with. I remember when we bought it. The wife had been doubtful

‘she’s only two. Red is a bit harsh for a two year old don’t you think? They’ve got it in pink. Let’s get the pink’

But I stood my ground. My girl was going to be feisty. Look out world she’s coming to get you! And (and I think the wife would agree in hindsight) it did make her easier to spot when she ran off, which she did, often.

Yes, it makes me cry when I think about her.  You got something to say about it? I miss her.  And the wife.  I’ve got no-one now. I’ve just been left in that place to rot.  Of course, they do wheel me out from time to time ‘to get some fresh air’. I guess they’re obliged to.

Well, not ‘wheel’ me exactly.  I’ve still got use of me pins. Quite sprightly really. Not like some of those old buggers in there.  Sitting in their chairs  all day, dribbling.

It is quite nice to get out in the park, instead of sitting in the sweltering conservatory which they insist is ‘lovely’, and this young woman seems friendly enough, though she does insist on holding my hand to stop me wandering off.  Perhaps they ought to put me in a red sweater.

Julie

What’s he blubbering about now? He used to be so sharp.  ‘ Cut hisself on his own tongue one ‘o these days’ me mam used to say.  Now though, he’s a sentimental old fool.  Cries at anything. Good job I bought the tissues.  He forgets about his nose.  Leaves snot dribbling down his chin all the blooming time, It’s disgusting. Can’t even be trusted to wipe his own bum these days. I’m just glad we found him a place in the home.  They can do the dirty work.

Mam insisted I take him for a stroll

‘hang on to him though, he’ll run off and fall in the duck pond if you’re not careful.’

Run off my foot. He can only just put one foot in front of the other. I don’t think he enjoys ‘strolling’ anyway. It seems a bit of an effort, and he just cries all the time. No point in asking him why, he’ll probably only say ‘sausages’, that’s about all he says these days.  Can’t get his words out since the stroke. What with that and the dementia, he’s pretty well gone.  Doesn’t recognise us.  I don’t know why we bother visiting really, but mam insists.

‘We can’t just leave him there. He’s still your dad somewhere inside.’

It’s alright for her.  She just sits there knitting.  That jumpers going to be way too small for Keiran. Like he’d wear it anyway.  I keep telling her 10 year old boys don’t want knitted jumpers, especially not red ones.

Grace

Nice to see them together holding hands, just like they did when she was little.  She used to skip alongside her dad, and he used to swing her with one hand, lifting her little feet right up off the floor.  You should have heard her laugh!  Him too.  He used to laugh a lot. Now he cries a lot.  Looks like he’s blubbing again now.

I wonder what goes on in his head.  He doesn’t recognise us at all these days, and I don’t recognise him.  He’s certainly not the man I married… goodness, nearly 60 years ago now. He used to be dashing then.  What my mam called ‘suave’.  I think it’s a word she picked up from a novel. Swept me off my feet he did.  Now look at him.  Poor old soul. It’s been better since he’s been in the home. I couldn’t look after him, he kept wandering off down the street muttering to himself and frightening the kids.

I miss him though. Really miss him.  Even as he was at the end.  The day before he was due to go in the home, I looked up from my knitting and he was sitting there holding my ball of red wool in his hands and smiling, a warm smile, not a cheesy grin, but as if he was remembering all the old times with a glint in his eye.  It nearly broke my heart.  I nearly caved in and kept him at home. But it was only for a few minutes, and then he went all vacant again.  Just like that.  There’s nothing behind the eyes now.  Just blank I think. I’ve just got the knitting to keep me occupied now.

Julie keeps telling me not to bother knitting any more jumpers.

‘People don’t wear ‘em these days mam. You can get nicer ones from Primark.’ She’d said.

She’s wrong though.  Primark one’s don’t have memories attached.

Written as part of the writing 101 challenge – three points of view

A mark in the park

Strolling through the big old iron gates, I notice that they haven’t cut the grass lately. It’s usually clipped to within an inch, but today it’s ankle high and swaying slightly in the cool breeze.  As usual, there’s not too many people in the park, though a few are walking through it, using its path as a short-cut between town and houses.

It’s a school day, so the climbing frames, swings and roundabouts are all empty. The council had to rebuild the playground recently because vandals had set fire to it and burnt the lot down. Now it’s protected by security cameras on tall grey posts, looking for all the world like alien eyes.

Looking westwards across the open space I can see an old man throwing a stick for a rangy looking ginger mongrel, who fetches it back and drops it at his masters feet time and time again, tail wagging and tongue lolling waiting for the next time. He runs after it so fast his feet barely touch the ground.

Beyond them is the river. As I approach it I hear the rushing of water over the weir that’s situated just above the bridge.  As children, we used to play ‘pooh sticks’ here, throwing out sticks between the bridge’s ornate balustrade and watching to see whose came through to the other side first.   Now and then fetes are held here, and they have rubber duck races down the river these days.  Today I can see one of the little yellow competitors caught twirling in the current under the weir. I wonder how long he’ll stay there before getting rescued by a child with a fishing net who’s come to catch tadpoles.

The river bank is lined with weeping willows that dip their branches in the water catching weeds, while the park’s lazy water fowl community huddle under them waiting for another stranger to bring them their next meal of stale bread. Fast food for ducks we called it.

On the opposite side of the bridge lies the formal flower gardens.  There are not too many flowers at this time of year though, apart from the odd late rose. It’s always kept neat and tidy, apart from the ornamental pond with its not-working fountain, which always has a collection of rubbish floating in its shallow algae covered water.

I sit on one of the benches alongside the path. Immediately I realise that I have sat directly opposite a couple who are too busy smooching to have noticed me.  I try not to look, but my eyes keep wandering back, just like his hands keep wandering to her thighs.  It takes me back to teenage years. Long summer evenings spent knocking around the park, chatting each other up, and finding out about life and love, and all the grey areas in between.

I quickly decide that I should move. There are plenty of other places to sit, and I don’t want them thinking I’m some sort of pervert, so I decide to make my way over to the bandstand area, which is closer than I’d like to the skate tube, but should be quiet at this time of day.

However, I could hear the screech of the wheels on metal before I rounded the corner and saw that there were several lads there with their gaudy skateboards, clearly bunking off school, and disturbing the peace. Nevertheless, I sat on a nearby seat to watch.

They were pretty good. Their skateboards looked like they were attached to their feet as the swooped down the curves and jumped in the air before landing.  One or two fell and cursed, though they didn’t seem hurt. There was a lot of cursing.  It still embarrasses me to hear those words.  My mother would have a fit.

I sit awhile, before deciding it’s time to leave. On the way back to the gates, I pass the huge old oak, where my initials are still carved in a heart alongside the initials of a boy I can’t remember.  That was long before the skate park, or the playground, and before the lads or those lovers were born. It will be here long after I’m gone too I expect.  I think it’s probably ‘un pc’ as my granddaughter would say, to carve anything into tree trunks, yet still, It’s pleasing to think that one day someone will look at those marks and wonder who ‘S.A.’ was and if she still loves ‘L.C’.

This is a short story written as part of the writing 101 challenge.

Better the Devil you Know

‘He’s impossible!  How am I supposed to do that?’ Connie said, throwing the phone down and nearly knocking her swivel chair over as she plonked herself in it, head in hands.  We all looked up, waiting for the inevitable teary tirade. We’d all had them since our new boss had started.

We had been so excited when we’d heard who was taking over as CE, chattering like baby birds waiting for a worm.

‘Have you seen him, he’s, like, really lush’ said Cerys, she had been the one to collect him from the main entrance for his interview. ‘Fancy suit an’ all.  Looked like a real gentleman.’

‘I heard he was worth a few bob already’

‘Young ‘an all, not all wrinkly an’ creepy like ol’ Dodders’

Our new boss, Aiden Donaghey was tall and tanned with a disarming smile and a soft Irish lilt, and we’d do anything for him at first, despite being told we must always call him ‘Mr Donaghey or Sir’ (unlike old Dodd who would creep up to you on your first day, put his arm round your shoulder and whisper ‘call me Malcom love, don’t want to be all formal here, do we?’) But it soon became clear that he was cold, overbearing and demanding, expecting us to work overtime at a moments notice, and taking on new projects willy nilly without a thought about who was going to do the leg work. He had absolutely no interest in our lives or worries, but just seemed to think of us as his skivvys . He’d reduced each one of us to tears, for one reason or another, within the first month.

‘Hmmph… why does he give me such impossible targets. If only he’d bloody well listen a bit like old Dodd did.’ Connie said gloomily ‘I never thought I’d say it, but I’m missing the old git now.’

‘Ah well, it’s about time you youngsters learned when you’re well off’ said Kathy who never missed an opportunity to remind us that she was the eldest in the office, by several years. It was she who’d eventually sacrificed herself to Dodd’s lustful advances and kept him sweet for the rest of us.

‘Well, I’ve started looking ‘round for somethin’ else. Don’t care what, I’ll do anythin’ to get outta this dump.’ Lauren didn’t doubt her ability to flirt her way through life, though Aiden Donaghey had given this theory a severe knock, having told her that her usual very short skirt and low slung tops were ‘not suitable attire for the office environment’ and no batting of false eyelashes was going to change his mind.

‘Well, I may as well start looking too, looks like I’ll get fired sooner or later anyway. No way I’m going to get this lot done.’ Said Connie waving her ‘to do’ pad with its long list of notes.

‘We’d all be better off out of it. Perhaps Doddy  would give us something at his new place? Or I could go back home…’ At first Cerys had often talked about ‘going back home’ to North Wales.  It had taken a while to settle down to life in the city, but recently she’d started dating and was enjoying being away from the suffocating closeness of the valleys. We all knew that going home would be the last thing she wanted to do.

Karen sat herself on the edge of Cerys desk.

‘Let’s think about this’ she said, always the practical one amongst us. ‘When he first started Dodd was a pain too. It took us a while to find a way to keep him, well, malleable.’ she gave us a one-sided smile and flicked her painted fingernail, making us all chuckle ‘we can sort our Aiden out, I’m sure.’

It was clear she had a plan.

Intrigued, we watched as she went back to her desk and fumbled in the drawer. After a minute or two of rummaging, she held up a small bottle of pills.

‘My happy pills’ she said. ‘We’ll start by keeping him quiet for a bit.’ She went over to where the kettle and cups stood on a spare desk at the end of the office, and dropped a handful of the pills into his ‘I’m the Boss’ mug. ‘I think he might need a cuppa right now, don’t you?’

Written as part of the Writing 101 challenge – contrast and compare using dialogue