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.

Home but not a house

I never thought much about it when I was growing up, it was just where we lived, but when I told my husband that we lived over a motorbike showroom that was squashed between an off licence and a salvation army hall, with a bus stop right in front of our front door, he swore there must be a story in there somewhere.

Now I come to think of it, there probably is, but I’m not going to explore that now.  I’ll just tell you the facts. It was an old building in Tooting, South London, probably a warehouse at one time. Certainly, our first floor living room was of warehouse proportions, and a devil to keep warm, especially with the three tall drafty sash windows that lined the front wall.  We used to stuff newspapers in the gaps between the panes to stop them rattling in the wind. We had no central heating, and relied heavily on a two bar electric fire at the end where the sofa and tiny TV stood, and a terrifyingly temperamental paraffin heater at the other end beside the slightly out of tune piano that my sister used to endlessly practice ‘The Elizabethan Serenade’ on.

Next to the living room was the kitchen/diner, always steamy, with a kettle on the boil, and the oven alight to warm the room.  The old radio would be humming ‘sing something simple’ or ‘The Goon show’ while we sat at the table for our tea.

The bedrooms were on the second floor.  My sister and I shared a long narrow room with another newspaper-stuffed sash window at the far end.  The room was decorated with willow pattern wallpaper, and we used to entertain each other making up stories about the little Japanese people that were crossing the ornate blue bridges.  When she got married and left home I was allowed to choose the décor and went for a vivid plain orange paper, which I loved, but it had no stories to tell.

When I was very young we didn’t have a bathroom, and on Friday nights mum took as into town to the public baths where my sister and I shared a soak. Eventually though, my dad did a bit of home bodging and put in a bathroom and indoor toilet – luxury!  Like most of his projects, I don’t think it was ever quite finished off, but he did paint the walls using a feather duster dipped in different coloured paints to give a rainbow effect. This was long before fancy paint techniques were discussed on the TV.  In fact, it was long before any DIY shows were on the TV!

Our home was dusty and drafty. There were lots of stairs and a spider filled basement, which had been used as an air-raid shelter during the war, and which I didn’t dare go in, not only because of the spiders, but also because of the scary stories my sister used to tell me about witches and bogey men that lived down there.  I was so frightened of it that I always sidled quickly past its wooden door to get out into the small walled garden.  I seem to have a vague memory of a corrugated iron Anderson shelter out there at one time, but I guess that must have been taken down when I was very young.

Sometimes, but not always, our garden had flowers, once I had a much beloved guinea pig who lived out there, but over-ridingly, there was the huge white pigeon loft which took up pretty much half of the space. When Dad got into pigeon racing, everything else went.  The apple tree in the middle of the grass.  The flower beds.  The guinea pig.  My swing-in-the-door.  Instead, the pigeons became his, and by default, our focus. Trying not to knock the jelly off the window sill where it had been left to set, while we leant precariously out of the kitchen window to see if they were on their way back after a race, or standing outside rattling tins of food to entice them to come down to have their racing rings removed and be ‘clocked back’ became our standard occupations on Saturday afternoons.

Dad’s craze’s and eccentricities were a central part of my growing up, and many of them formed the memories I have of my childhood home. Often when I think back to those times I think of the many Christmas’s when he insisted on decorating the front room with an elaborate spider’s web of crepe paper strips. I have no idea where he got his ideas from, but I have never seen the like since.  I remember being mortified at the time and really just wanting tinsel and paper chains like all the other kids had.  Now, the memory of the ‘ta da!’ moment when we all stood round with our fingers crossed while he cut the strings that temporarily held the strips of paper up, to reveal that they were in fact self-supporting, is a warm memory of home I will never forget.

Written as part of the writing 101 challenge – write about your childhood home with sentence length in mind.

Pass the Pins

My dad used to go to the pub a lot. I think it would be fair to say he liked a drink. As a child, I didn’t necessarily know where he was going, if I asked he’d only say he was going to ‘meet a man about a dog’.  I have no idea where that saying came from, all I know is that I spent many hours excitedly anticipating the arrival of a new puppy that never came.

On Sundays, he used to go to the pub while my mum and nan cooked a huge roast dinner.  We’d always have to wait for him to come back before we ate, but nevertheless we were always pleased that he went because the fish stall used to park outside the pub on Sunday’s, and dad would always come back weighed down with bags of shellfish for us to have for tea.

After the obligatory Sunday afternoon watching a weepy on TV from the floor while Dad snored on the sofa, I’d go and help mum and nan prepare the salad.  No fancy salad bowls brimming with multi-coloured mixed leaves and chopped vegetables for us. Oh no…our salad’s constituted:

a pile of lettuce leaves in a bowl

a pile of tomatoes in a bowl

Some very thin slices of cucumber in a bowl

Some cress in a bowl

Some full length sticks of celery standing up in a glass (how posh)

And a bottle of salad cream

These bowls would be distributed about our gingham-cloth covered table leaving space in the middle for the stars of the show, the shellfish.

Oh how I loved the messiness of the shellfish tea.  Getting pink prawn husks and eggs stuck to our fingers, shelling the scampi (fresh ones the like of which I’ve not seen since), using dressmaking pins to lift the grey ‘lids’ off the winkles and wheedle the curled fleshy bit out, and the peculiar yellow cockles, that looked like the result of a violent sneeze, yet with a shake of salt and splash of vinegar tasted like the finest gourmet food.

I loved to see my fastidious old nan digging in and getting just as mucky as the rest of us, even licking the fishy juice from her fingers like I did.  .

Afterwards, the bin would be full of the smelly shells, and mum would have to take the table-cloth out to the back garden and give it a vigorous shake to get rid of the stuck on bits of prawn antenna and legs, and winkle lids.

There was always salad left over, and more often than not the next day, all I’d find in my lunchbox was a cucumber, lettuce and tomato sandwich, with a stick of celery nestling alongside it.

Those days are long gone, and it seems that, these days, we have become over-sensitised to eating anything that looks a bit strange, or having to do anything as weird as wheedling out a winkle to get our food.  But I remember those family teas as a bonding time. It was the one time of the week, when we sat down and ate together, little was said, and we all got on.

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

A stroke of the hand

I guess I was busy trying to look elegant lying on the sunbed at an awkward angle so as to keep my limbs in the shade, as I don’t remember seeing him approach.  Or maybe my husband had hissed to me

‘keep your head down, hawker approaching…’ and I’d shut my eyes, pretending to be asleep behind my sunglasses.

Either way, initially, I felt his shadow rather than saw him, so jumped when he touched my hand.

We were chilling on the private beach of a swanky hotel, feeling posher and much, much, more glamourous than we actually are.  We knew he must be a regular, because the security guard had let him on to the hotel’s patch of white sand where the fancy thatched sun shades stood in a uniform row.

‘Hello!’ he grinned, revealing his sparse, though pearly white, teeth. ‘Where you come from?’

Propping myself up I could see he was one of the locals.  A blue check dhoti was coiled around his hips, exposing his skinny knock-kneed legs.  On his top half he wore what had once been a smart short-sleeved white shirt with a grey business like stripe.

He took my pale small hand in his rough dark one and shook it vigorously, but then, strangely didn’t let go, just held it loosely in his, stroking it from time to time with his other hand, while he addressed my husband, asking him about England, and how long we were staying in India, our names, and that sort of thing.

During our holiday, Ali became a regular visitor to our sunbeds. He was a fisherman, who went out in his tiny boat early in the morning, and joined what seemed like a thousand others for night fishing.  We could see the lights of their boats bobbing on the waves, looking like stars that had fallen from the sky. It wasn’t lost on us that they were out making a hard earned living, and catching their next meals, while we ate enormous and elaborate dishes in the fancy restaurant.

P1020027During the day, Ali wandered the shore talking to tourists, and occasionally throwing a line out from the rocks to catch the odd fish. He showed us how to dig in the sand to find crabs, no bigger than the nail on my little finger, to use as bait. Amazed us with the dexterity of his big fingers tying the poor things on to the fishing line, and amazed us more by catching a fish within a couple of minutes of slinging the line out. He was chuffed at our reaction and was more than happy to pose proudly for a photograph.

He had surprisingly good English, but his sentences tended to be shaped in a back to front yoda-like way.

‘go on a trip, you want to?

Yes, he was of course, trying to make a few rupees out of us, which we didn’t mind at all, it was understandable.  To the locals (and probably other guests) we must have pots of money to be able to stay in such a place. They didn’t know that we’d saved for a couple of years for our special treat, and were still on a very tight budget. Nonetheless, we were certainly better off than Ali, so we booked the trip through him knowing he’d get a cut of the, what in hindsight, must’ve been meagre profits.  He assured us we wouldn’t be disappointed, and we truly weren’t.  We were treated like royalty and had a wonderful time.

Each time we bumped in to Ali he held my hand and stroked it. I found it a little disconcerting at the time, yet I can still feel his gentleness, and the warmth of character that his touch conveyed.  Though he asked us to bring some old clothes for him and his family ‘next time’ I doubt we’ll return again soon, but thinking back to our couple of weeks in the sun, I’ll always think of that cheery chap, who brightened our days with his smile.

The letter – writing 101 challenge

Today’s writing 101 challenge was for a bit of brief fiction based around finding a letter.  Here is my attempt.  Hope it makes some sort of sense:-

It lay there, half submersed in a puddle. Dropped in shock from a shaky hand perhaps?

‘further investigation…  An appointment has been booked….. please bring….’

The time and date is in the coming week. An urgent thing then.

Whoever this was addressed to will need it, but the water has seeped across the page blurring words and making the letters weep inky tears.

Lost #1

Standing on this sun-soaked beach without you,
sea splashes mix with salty tears
that the gentle wind brushes from my cheek
My toes curl into the soft white sand
as they did whenever you caressed me.

Is it a mistake to return so soon,
whence the last strands of happiness lie?
I blight this place which you once graced,
laying lithe and golden on its shore,
out dazzling the sun with your luster.

Laughter from unknowing revellers offends me
and I fix my gaze to past horizons,
where my passion knew no end,
before this shroud of misery enveloped me,
In an echo of your pall.

Crisp white sheets filled with fragrant breezes
glide the distant yachts to quiet harbours
Safe from storms they’ll rest peacefully, like you.
Whilst I remain, marooned in turmoil.
At sea.
At loss.
Alone.

This poem was written in response to today’s challenge.cropped-class-seal_seal-class-of-september-20141