Inside a car – Week 13 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

I woke up when he drew back the curtains and the bright shaft of sunlight hit my eyes.

He turned to me and grinned.

‘Let’s go to the seaside. It’s gorgeous out there.’

I never need to be told twice.

It took him slightly longer to get ready than me but then he has to take his paraphernalia with him; wet suit, surfboard, shoes, towel, shorts. I travel a lot lighter.

Outside the sun is even stronger and after we are seated, he opens the car window for me, knowing how much I like to feel a breeze in my hair.

We live about half a mile from the beach; he has surfed at better places but on a day like this we don’t want to be driving for hours. I can see how happy he is at the thought of being in the water again, and although I’d rather stay dry, I can appreciate his eagerness to get in the sea on such a lovely day.

It’s still early and there are no other cars in the car park when we arrive. Aware of the fact that the fine for not paying the car park fee is pretty steep, he nips out of the car, buys a ticket and displays it on the dashboard.

I sit tight whilst he unloads his kit; I know better than to get in his way.

Making sure that he has everything he needs, he comes back into the car and sits beside me, ruffling my hair and smiling.

‘I won’t be long. See you soon.’

And he is gone.

The window is open a couple of inches, and at first the fresh breeze that blows through it takes the edge off the sweltering sun but as the sun moves up in the sky and the breeze changes direction I start to feel uncomfortable. I wriggle down in my seat in order to avoid the heat but it doesn’t help.

Looking over my shoulder I see that the back seat is still in the shade. It means moving away from my window but he said he wouldn’t be long. I clamber between the two front seats; it’s a tight fit but eventually I am on the back seat and it is much cooler.

Time for a doze. I was up early this morning after all.

I don’t know how long I was asleep but a knocking on the window wakes me and I sit up with a start. It’s really hot in the car now and the sun has moved again so that I am directly in its glare. The front seats are just as bad and I am so thirsty.

I hear the knocking again and look up to see a woman peering in at me, shading her eyes against the strong sun. I don’t make a sound though because I know he will be back very soon and all will be well.

The woman stops knocking but I hear her talking into her phone. The words are indistinct. I squeeze myself into the tiniest patch of shade left in the very back of the car where he usually keeps his surfing gear.

There is a bag of food and drink there and I sort through it looking for anything to slake my thirst. I know that I shouldn’t be doing this but I’m beginning to feel desperate. He isn’t usually gone this long. Something must be wrong.

The woman comes back and she has some other people with her. I look for his face in the crowd but it isn’t there.

There is a woman in a uniform outside the car now. She taps on the window trying to attract my attention but I sit very still and do as I have been told.

A car draws up beside her.

It is a police car. I know this because he has told me all about them when we are out driving. He always drives more slowly when he sees one of these cars.

I can hear the people talking outside the car again.

The man from the police car moves to the passenger window and I shrink back as he smashes his metal stick into it. The glass goes all over the seat and I hope that I won’t be blamed for the mess.

He opens the passenger door and reaches through to open the rear door. I am torn between fright and the relief that I feel from the rush of air that fills the car.

The woman in the uniform climbs into the back seat and sits down. She is smiling so I think that perhaps I may not be in trouble after all.

‘Come here sweetheart. Come and get some fresh air and a drink.’

I am so hot and thirsty that I do as she says. I climb over the back seat and sit beside her. She strokes my hair and helps me down out of the car.

I don’t make a sound; not even when she slips a collar over my head and attaches a lead.

‘Good girl,’ she says, and I follow her to a shady spot where a bowl of water is waiting for me.

I lap at it and wait anxiously while she refills the bowl from a plastic bottle.

The policeman is looking at the parking ticket. He does not look happy.

‘I’ve checked the temperature out here – 27 degrees – according to this ticket she’s been in the car for nearly three hours. ‘

The woman in uniform shakes her head in disgust. The policeman has already asked the people in the crowd if they know who owns the car, but they all came to the car park after us so they wouldn’t have seen him go off with his surfboard.

Then I see him.

He is limping and a man in red shorts is supporting him and carrying the surfboard.

He tries to break into a run when he sees the crowd around the car but he falls over and the policeman rushes to help pick him up.

‘Is she okay? I didn’t mean to be away so long. I twisted my ankle and had to wait for some help.’

The policeman and the woman in uniform still look very stern.

‘She was very hot and thirsty. Have you any idea how hot it was in the car? You parked it in full sunshine. We had to break your window to get her out. Another half an hour and she would probably have been dead.’

‘I’m so sorry. I only meant to have a quick surf before taking her for a walk along the beach.’

The woman in uniform shakes her head again.

‘You should never leave your dog unattended in a car at all. How would you like it if someone put you in a thick fur coat and locked you in a car with little fresh air and nothing to drink?’

He is sitting on the edge of the driver’s seat now with me in his lap.

I lick his face.

It is salty but not the kind that comes from the sea.

The man in the red shorts has strapped up the twisted ankle and although I can see the pain on his face, my man says that he can manage to drive us home.

The policeman takes his details and says that he might be taken to court for animal cruelty.

The woman in the uniform is looking less stern. She has been watching me as I settle happily against him, my paw on his arm. He is mine and he is tethered and safe.

She strokes my head and I smile my doggy smile.

‘She’s had some water. I think we caught her in time.’ She turns to the policeman and shakes her head but this time she is smiling.

‘Do you live far away?’

‘About ten minutes drive.’  I have never seen my man this unhappy and I lick his cheek again. He buries his face in my hair and holds me very tight.

‘Go on. Go home and get some ice on that foot. RICE! Rest, ice, compression and elevation. I can see a little dog who will be very happy to make sure that you keep off that foot.’

The lady in the uniform is still smiling as we drive away. I am in the back seat because of all the glass where I usually sit.

We drive home slowly and he keeps telling me how sorry he is and how he will never do it again.

I know that he won’t and I am happy.

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Competition – Week 12 of the 52 week short story challenge

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Bitchiness alert! 

But consider this a therapeutic blog – please?

After all – it’s all fiction isn’t it?

I can vaguely remember the day you came for an interview. Our boss Barry showed you round the office as if you were his most prized possession. Unbeknown to us he had met you at a different office and persuaded you to apply for the job.

And to be fair, everyone in the office agreed that you were very young and attractive; with more than a passing resemblance to Cameron Diaz in her Charlie’s Angels incarnation. At the time we thought we were paying you a compliment but we later found that it was a comment guaranteed to wind you up.

Not surprisingly, Barry gave you the job – but you didn’t have much in the way of competition.

Introducing a young, blonde female into an office of largely middle-aged (and in some cases aggressively menopausal) women might well have been Barry’s way of brightening up his surroundings. Whilst we all welcomed you; there were some – and I include myself in this – who wondered if there was a brain inside that regularly coiffed head.

It didn’t take long to find out.

Nope.

Well, there was natural cunning in evidence…

There was also the ability to charm every red-blooded male within a five mile radius – even those senior managers who oozed sleaze as they patted you on the shoulder and leaned just a little too close when looking at your computer screen.

Trying to teach you how to actually do the job wasn’t easy.

It took patience and the ability to overlook the fact that you were very good at evading work.

You had come from a receptionist’s post where the most mentally taxing issue was working out the whereabouts of people in the building and whether they were ‘available’ or not.

I have to admit that your phone voice was okay – except for  the constantly niggling ‘we was waiting for you to call us‘ or ‘you should of called us earlier‘.

Other less critical staff members put it down to your youth and the fact that you came from a ‘rough’ part of the town.

But me…

I gritted my teeth and tried to close my ears. Luckily you spent most of your time working – and I use that word loosely – in the smaller office.

Your dog got run over a couple of weeks before Christmas and Barry, being the big softy that he was, told you not to come into work until you felt better.

Whilst we were all very sympathetic about the dog, but this was the animal that you came into work complaining about how smelly it was and how it barked at you all the time.  We didn’t expect your mourning to last well into the New Year however. No mention of the poor dog on your return but you regaled us with how merrily you had spent the festive season. Your roots had been done, your nails were newly lacquered and you were wearing a beautiful white wool coat that fitted you like a glove and must have cost all your Christmas money.

The only sign of grief was when you went in to see Barry to explain why you had been off work for so long. It took but a few tears and dainty sniffles – he didn’t ask for a doctor’s certificate or ask you to take the time off as annual leave but patted your hand and told the rest of us to be kind to you – you were refreshing your mascara in the toilet at the time.

Some of us who had covered for you over Christmas and New Year were not feeling too sympathetic as you boasted about your ability to twist Barry round your little finger.

Not an ability that I ever acquired.

Despite having known Barry for several years before he became our manager, he still made me take annual leave when later in the year my husband was rushed into hospital with kidney stones and I had two small children to take to school and collect. He didn’t think my circumstances met his criteria for compassionate leave.

I was still rankling from this when you and your long-suffering boyfriend decided to buy a house together.

For months the offices were inundated with pictures of potential houses. I’m all for youth and exuberance but you really overdid it. You spent more time toting your estate agent specs around the offices than you actually did at your desk. Even total strangers coming into reception asking for advice were cajoled into giving it instead.

A sigh of relief went round the office when you finally completed the sale.

A collective groan went round the office when you decided that you needed our advice on everything you bought for the house – from toilet brushes to cutlery to the colour of the paint for the garden shed. There was far more but those of us who showed less enthusiasm were ignored after a while.

Hooray.

Then we moved from our offices to a different building where we were given one big room with a glass partitioned office at the end for Barry.

Needless to say, you picked a desk where you could simper at Barry whenever he caught your eye, but positioned so that he couldn’t see the amount of time you were busy on FaceAche chatting with your friends while your office mates were busy with the extra work you were making.

Some of your colleagues covered for you.

Some of us didn’t.

We were asked to carry out an audit on the work we were doing in order to justify our jobs. We were aided in this by the IT department who ran stats on each of the computers as well as the telephone logs.

After the first week, guess who had accomplished the least?

Half an hour of batting the baby blues, sobbing in a contrived fashion and using every tactic within your limited repertoire, you managed to persuade Barry that you felt intimidated by ‘some’ of the other people in the office – especially those who criticised your grammar and spelling.

Barry arranged for you to attend Access to English classes after work at the local Adult Education Centre. He then took the opportunity to lecture the rest of the office about jealousy and bullying.

We had eight weeks of you telling us about Shakespeare and how we should be reading Romeo and Juliet – like what you were. It was inconceivable to you that any of your colleagues had ever even heard of Shakespeare. Access to English had turned you into a self-confessed culture vulture in only eight weeks. Your own access to English was still limited but at least the spelling improved on your FaceAche posts and the very dodgy emails you circulated.

Those of us with more sense and an awareness of the computer use rules,  deleted the emails without opening them – I really didn’t need to look at pictures of male genitalia  thank you.

The IT crowd picked up one of your dodgiest emails when they were running a security check. You tried to plead ignorance and said that ‘a friend‘ had sent it out on your behalf and you hadn’t even looked at it.

We all got another lecture from Barry on circulating dodgy emails and were warned that a very close eye was being kept on us now.

Then you and your fiancé decided to get married.

It was terrible.

 

If I thought the house buying and fitting out was bad – this was a million times worse.

I could see your screen from where I sat and it was a constant shade of violent pink as you surfed the net for your fairy-tale wedding while the rest of us tried to zone out your wedding wittering.

I didn’t care whether your wedding favours were going to be blush pink, purple or puce. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be finding out first-hand anyway.

 

Even the most doting of colleagues was beginning to get a bit cheesed off with your wedding obsession.

Sales of Black Cohosh from the health food shop increased dramatically and even Barry was seen sneaking a pill or two out of the communal container in moments of deep stress.

(Black Cohosh is very good for menopausal symptoms – allegedly).

The budget for the event of the year climbed and climbed and climbed.

We wondered where all the money was coming from – none of us were paid that much and neither was your fiancé.

When the number of adult bridesmaids requiring designer dresses climbed into double figures, something snapped.

Your husband-to-be called off the wedding on the grounds that it was far too expensive, it wasn’t what he wanted, he was sick of going to wedding fairs and missing his Sunday football, and you just wouldn’t shut up about the (*******) wedding!

You had to have the best – or what you deemed to be better than anyone else’s.

The young man moved back to his mum’s but we were spared the initial fallout because Barry very kindly told you to take time off to recover.

Due to the fact that a couple of your colleagues FaceAche  friends and could see your page, we were all a little surprised that in your grief at being jilted, you had found time to spend some of the wedding money on laser surgery for your eyes as well as several girly nights out and a trip down to that London.

It was noted that your eyes were suitably red and sore when you finally returned and Barry put it down to grief.

We knew different.

Fate took me away from that office shortly afterwards, and into a new office arena where I was better managed, less irritated and far more mellow – for a while.

I heard on the office grapevine that the two of you got back together eventually, and the wedding took place – a much quieter affair because by then you were pregnant and your fiancé had finally put his foot down.

The honey locks reverted back to their natural mousey brown post-wedding; mascara made your lasered eyes water, and you went to work in another office – managed by a hard-nosed female who was wise  to your laziness and unmoved by your sobbing. You eked out your maternity leave as long as you could, and within a few weeks of returning to work had become pregnant with your second child.

This became something of a pattern.

The last I heard you were on your fourth and you weren’t going back to work after this one.

For the record; I never envied you your youth and exuberance. I often asked myself if I would have developed such a deep dislike for you if you hadn’t been so young and attractive. But no, I was never bothered by your external appearance – it was the stuff inside your head that I despised.

It was never a competition even if you thought that it was.

You always reminded me of a poem that I learned at school

For Anne Gregory

by W B Yeats

‘Never shall a young man,
Thrown into despair
By those great honey-coloured
Ramparts at your ear,
Love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.’
‘But I can get a hair-dye
And set such colour there,
Brown, or black, or carrot,
That young men in despair
May love me for myself alone
And not my yellow hair.’
‘I heard an old religious man
But yesternight declare
That he had found a text to prove
That only God, my dear,
Could love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.’

I work from home now and am much more mellow these days.

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Full Moon – Week 11 of the 52 week short story challenge

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‘Hi Mum. It’s only me. I’m home.’

Rosa strained her ears in order to pick up the very faint sound of her mother’s answering call from upstairs. Looking around the kitchen, Rosa acknowledged that from the pristine state of the worktops and lack of washing up,  her mother had been in bed all day again.  She turned the kettle on; it was still full from when she had left for school that morning. Dumping her rucksack on the table, she made two mugs of coffee and picked up the unopened packet of biscuits.

‘Bringing you up some coffee and biscuits Mum.’

The response was less faint as Rosa climbed the stairs. Pushing open the door with her foot, she put on the smile that she always wore when greeting her mother. Her mother. The woman who lay in the bed, covered with blankets and two duvets, not the woman who used to laugh and make cakes for tea. The woman who used to be happy.

The portable TV was tuned into an American channel that played endless game shows. Rosa put the mugs and the biscuits on the bedside table and turned the ear-splitting volume down.

She sat on the edge of the bed and passed one of the mugs to her mother; steadying the pale, listless hands that cupped themselves around the welcoming warmth.

‘Have you been alright today? Did anyone call?’

Rosa’s mother shook her head in answer to both questions.

‘I left you a sandwich and these biscuits in the kitchen. Did you not feel well enough to get down there?’

‘No,’ came the croaking response. ‘I got as far as the bathroom but my legs didn’t feel as if they’d get me downstairs. I wasn’t really hungry anyway.’

Rosa’s smile became more forced. ‘You must try to eat Mum. I’ll go and get those sandwiches shall I?’

‘If you like. How was school?’

‘I’ll tell you in a minute – while you’re eating your sandwiches.’

Running down to the kitchen and fetching the sandwiches only took a couple of minutes and in that time Rosa’s mother had eaten half the packet of biscuits.

‘See!’ said Rosa. ‘You were hungry. Here you are. Corned beef and sliced tomato, just like you used to make us when we went to the seaside.’

They both smiled at the memory of sunny days at the beach and trying to eat sandwiches before the wind covered them with sand. Rosa’s mother took a sandwich and ate it voraciously while Rosa nibbled at a biscuit and sipped her coffee.

‘Mrs Williams is putting me forward for an English literature prize. I also got an A minus for my science homework and a B plus for maths. It’s been a good day today. Its Saturday tomorrow so we can spend the weekend together.’

Her mother’s weak attempt at entusiasm threw their experiences of the day into stark contrast.

‘Would you like me to help you to the bathroom Mum?’ said Rosa as she got to her feet.

‘Get out! Stop nagging me child! Do your homework or something! I can manage! I’m still your mother. Remember that!’

Recognising the danger signs, Rosa picked up her mug and the empty sandwich plate and left the room, stopping only to pick up her diary from under her bed and pull her bedroom door shut.

Putting the diary on the table, Rosa washed up her mug and the plate, leaving them to dry on the  drainer. She heard the heavy footsteps overhead and the slam of the bathroom door. She waited; holding her breath, until the footsteps returned and the creak of the bed confirmed that her mother was safe again.

Opening her diary, Rosa scanned the chart at the front and her fears were confirmed. She turned to the back pages and propped the book open. Her list. Lists made life easier. The woman at the young carers group told her that. She mentally ticked off each item as she worked down the page.

  1. Crockery and cutlery – especially knives.

Very methodically Rosa collected their limited supply of china, and the metal cutlery, putting it into the bag that she kept on the back of the kitchen door. Her mother had turned up the volume on the TV again, so she knew that it was unlikely that she would hear the sound of the back door opening. Moving as quickly and quietly as she could, Rosa undid the padlock on the garden shed, feeling thankful that her mother’s bedroom overlooked the road at the front of the house. She swapped the crockery bag with another one containing a plastic picnic set and took it back into the house for unpacking.

  1. Remove all alcohol.

There wasn’t much left now but Rosa knew all the places where her mother liked to hide the vodka bottles brought in by stupid but well-meaning relatives. They went into another bag and out into the shed.

  1. Photographs and DVDs.

The sight of any photos of their previously happy life were enough to set Rosa’s mother off. DVDs that they had watched together had a similar effect. Bagged up, they went into the shed too. ‘Titanic‘ had been the last film that Rosa’s parents had seen at the cinema; her father had brought the DVD for Rosa before he walked out of the front door without a backward glance.

  1. Unplug the phone

Although most of the local shops were aware of the problem, in desperation Rosa’s mother would do her best to phone up and get alcohol delivered. Either that or she would phone friends and relatives to give them the usual sob story.

  1. Use the cash card to get some food to last over the weekend

Locking the shed and the back door, Rosa loaded up the bag on wheels and crept out of the front door, doing her best not to look up at her mother’s bedroom window. Her neighbour Gladys, was in the corner shop.

‘Stocking up my love?’

Rosa nodded as she loaded the basket with TV dinners and junk food.

‘It’s that time again is it?’ said Gladys.

Again, Rosa nodded mutely as she placed her purchases on the counter. Mrs Sadiq exchanged a sympathetic glance with Gladys as she rang them up and placed them in Rosa’s bag.

‘We’re off to an anniversary party tonight Rosa. We won’t be back till late so don’t worry about the noise.’ Gladys put a comforting hand on Rosa’s thin shoulder. Rosa smiled and did her utmost to quell the tears caused by such brief moments of understanding. She paid for her shopping, and gulped for breath again as Mrs Sadiq slipped a bar of her favourite chocolate into the bag.

‘From me darling, a little treat, but mind that you eat it all yourself now.’

Rosa’s next stop was at the fish and chip shop next door. She knew that the enticing odour was guaranteed to ease her mother’s trouble, and if she bought enough, she could offer her some more over the weekend without having to leave the house.

She came home as quietly as she could and stowed the food away, leaving a package of chips by the stairs for her mother to smell.

  1. Put all money and cards in the shed, lock everything up securely and draw the curtains.

The last on the list. Rosa’s mother wasn’t up to going out even when she was well but the locked doors and drawn curtains deterred unwelcome visitors. Rosa and her mother both knew that when Rosa said she didn’t have any money on her to buy alcohol, she was telling the truth – literally. Rosa had made a point of showing her birth certificate to Mrs Sadiq and the owner of the off licence so that they knew she wasn’t old enough to buy alcohol anyway.

‘Rosa! Rosa! Have you been out? I can smell chips.’

‘Just coming Mum. Do you want fish and mushy peas too?’

‘Of course. Hurry up with it.’

Taking some plastic cutlery and a plate out of the picnic bag, Rosa washed and dried them before putting out her mother’s food. She carried it upstairs. The room was dark now, except for the TV’s blue glow. Her mother’s eyes were barely visible above the edge of the duvet.

‘I need a drink.’ she said menacingly.

Rosa handed her a plastic bottle of diet Coke.

‘Is that all I get? I mean a real drink. You know what I want.’

Shaking her head, Rosa loosened the cap of the bottle and put it on the bedside table, taking the china mug away.

‘There’s no other drink Mum. People know how old I am and won’t sell me any.’

‘You can go to the supermarket. They don’t care how old you are.’

Rosa took a deep breath and crossed her fingers behind her back.

‘Gladys next door – her daughter works there now and she knows how old I am. I have homework to do Mum and your dinner’s getting cold. Call me if you want me.’

Leaving the room quickly before there were any more arguments, Rosa went into her room, grabbed the duvet and a couple of pillows and hurried down the stairs. Taking her dinner into the front room, she snuggled down in front of the TV and readied herself for the onslaught.

Flipping through the channels; she ignored her mother’s favourite game show channel and settled for the one that played old feature films.

An American Werewolf in London.

Rosa grimaced and sent up a silent wish. At least you could tell if someone was a werewolf and you could kill them with a silver bullet. Not all problems were so visible – or so easily solved.

She heard the angry scream, followed by the sound of the plastic plate and empty bottle being thrown at the bedroom door.

‘I WANT A DRINK!’

Turning up the volume, Rosa did her best to concentrate on the film. She looked down at her diary and checked the dates again. Knowing that her mother wouldn’t have the strength to come downstairs until tomorrow afternoon at least, gave her some respite.

She got up and looked out of the window.

Bloody full moon again.

 

 

 

Countdown – Week 10 of the 52 week short story challenge

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‘Twenty – come on – you can do this!’

I was never really sporty at school. I enjoyed hockey but lost interest when they stopped using the bully off. My skills on the tennis court were non-existent; I would still be looking for the ball long after it had gone bouncing across the playground.  It was at netball that I was completely useless however; on the one occasion that I was given the red tabard with ‘GS’ on it I failed miserably to put the ball through the net. The exasperated games teacher sent the other team in to get showered and it still took me another twenty minutes to score. I now know that my problem with hand-eye coordination may have something to do with my ability to use my left hand almost as well as my right.  Due to my extreme short-sightedness, I never learned to swim in school lessons either because I couldn’t see where I was going and wasn’t allowed to wear my specs in the water.  As a consequence of my sporting failures in my final school year I was asked if I would prefer to go into town and attend drama classes at the tech college instead. Freedom!

‘Nineteen – pull your core muscles in.’

I became so enamoured with the tech college that I opted to go there and do my ‘A’ levels instead of attending a nice sixth form college like most of my contemporaries. Wednesday afternoons were earmarked for games-related activities but I found out that I could do ‘A’ level Art instead. So I did. The only other vaguely sporty stuff I indulged in took place at the rugby ground on Saturday afternoons. I went to cheer on my mates, take charge of the oranges  and look after the sponge and water bucket. The high spot of those chilly afternoons was hearing the screams of agony coming from the changing room as the worst player had his nether regions anointed with Deep Heat.  I would cut a few moves at the students’ union disco but then it was very dark and we were all rather uncoordinated due to drink.

‘Eighteen – you are doing really well.’

My time at drama school required a host of talents that I didn’t possess. Exasperated by my inability to put my best foot forward, one of my dance teachers insisted that I wear a bell tied with a red ribbon on my right ballet shoe. Whilst this method stimulated sight and sound reactions, it also caused me huge embarrassment when my classmates giggled. Sufficient to say, I enjoyed the more constructive aspects of stage management and avoided the dancing wherever possible.

‘Seventeen – keep going!’

Once I had accepted that I was not an actress, singer or dancer; and that an enjoyment of stage management, wasn’t preparation for having sex with the director in order to get a job, I changed tack abruptly. A brief dalliance with bar work ended wetly and with much bad feeling, so I moved on to residential social work in children’s homes. This kept me rather busy and I had no need for any other source of sport until the day that my left knee was attacked by a size seven Doc Martin boot wielded by an aggressive young man called ‘Spam’. It put me out of action for several weeks – my recovery was hampered by having to  limp up the four flights of stairs to the maisonette where I lived in with my parents. My GP referred me to a specialist who prescribed ultrasound  – which didn’t work, infrared – which didn’t work either, and as a last resort – circuit training. I got to watch some very attractive  and athletic young men during this last activity but my knee continued to clunk. The specialist sighed and advised me that my knee could ‘go’ tomorrow or it might last out another thirty years. That was thirty-five years ago so I assume I am on borrowed time.

‘Sixteen.’

Moving on a couple of years I was persuaded to accompany two friends to something described as ‘Limbering Class’. Both friends were a good deal thinner than me, and I had the uncharitable thought that I had only been invited to make them look thinner. Limbering classes took place in a loft at the top of an old warehouse that was in the process of being gentrified. The builders hadn’t got beyond the ground floor at that time and the six flights of stairs to the loft were rickety and steep. Not good for an overweight woman with a clunking knee. Imagine my surprise and total delight when I discovered that despite the weight and left/right confusion, I was actually the most limber person in the class – far more bendy than either of my skinny friends. I could get my leg (right OR left) up on the ballet barre. Not only could I touch my toes but I could also put my hands flat on the floor. I became the teacher’s pet because I had the straightest back in the room. My glory was short-lived. I was relying on my friends for a lift to limbering and disappointed at not being bendy enough, they both dropped out after a month.

‘Fifteen – come on!’

My next flirtation with a sporting activity was many years later when I was pregnant with our eldest son and was encouraged to attend Aqua natal classes.  We were all bounteously bumpy ladies and particularly unwieldy when climbing the unsteady metal ladder in and out of the pool.   I am still a non-swimmer with a penchant for swimming pools with steps rather than wobbly ladders.

‘Fourteen.’

We exposed our both our boys to the joys of Tumble Tots.  Our younger son proved more of a handful as he wanted to do everything at once and not in the order that the teacher wanted him to. Luckily he was ready to start at nursery anyway so we took him out before he got ejected. Inspired by the agility of my children, I agreed to sign up at the local gym with a friend. On paper it looked good; ladies only in the daytime, men only in the evening, mixed groups at weekends. It was a small gym, over the top of a couple of shops down at our local precinct and within walking or staggering distance. Suitably attired in leggings and baggy tee-shirts, we signed up and were shown the ropes – and weights. Arriving first thing in the morning was a tad unpleasant as most of the equipment still smelled strongly of man sweat from the night before. After we had been attending happily for a couple of weeks, a group of very thin, very fit, Lycra-clad ladies joined up. They giggled at us. They made audibly rude comments. We complained to the manageress only to find that they were dear friends of hers. We left.

‘Thirteen – stop looking at that man in tights!’

Once both the boys were at school full-time, I went back to work and was lured into joining a ‘ladies only’ gym a short walk away from my office. Despite having to climb two flights of stairs, it was a lovely place. There was no sniggering, no rude comments, they had toning tables that moved all your limbs for you and the whole place smelled of oranges. I found that I could fit a session in during my lunch hour and come back to the office feeling ready to take on the world – or at least my colleagues.

‘Twelve – stay controlled.’

Crisis struck when the gym went bust. Before I could slide into despondency however, the staff at the gym clubbed together and took over. There was a name change but otherwise it remained the same, and to make life even better, our office moved to a building just across the road from the gym. I didn’t lose vast amounts of weight but I was undoubtedly fitter and my knee stopped clunking. It couldn’t last though and it didn’t. The lease was up on the lovely old building and although the gym staff had found new premises, they were outside the town AND up five flights of stairs in an old warehouse.

‘Eleven – one more and you are halfway.’

After a period of inactivity, I joined another gym in town and with the added ‘benefit’ of a pool. The gym was run by a well-known sports company and was next door to one of their stores. It didn’t have the ambiance of my previous gym; the range of equipment was limited, no toning tables and a host of sweaty male equipment-hogs that made it almost impossible to carry out the programme hastily put together for me by a nice, but harassed young instructor. I stuck it out for a couple of months but frustration and the smell drove me away. The company went bust.

‘Ten! Yes!’

After another period of lethargy I spotted a sign saying ‘Motorcise’ when I was getting off the bus to walk to my office.  The notice also stated that this was a gym specifically for older women with mobility issues and consisted of a range of toning tables. I signed up. I was the youngest member and I was in my forties by this time. The sole route to Motorcise was up a flight of stairs – so it didn’t actually cater for ALL women with mobility issues. For many of the members, it was more than a place to exercise; it was a social club where they drank coffee, ate biscuits and cakes, had regular raffles and tombola mornings. It gave them a new lease of life. They were very kind to me and knowing that I was attending in my lunch hour, would always step aside in order to let me use the tables first. It couldn’t last.

‘Nine – right down to the floor.’

It didn’t. Expiration of the lease – again. A light glimmered however. One of the girls who worked there said that she was moving to another gym with a similar set-up – called ‘Gymphobics’. It was still in town , had toning tables and I would forego the joining fee because of her recommendation.  It was a curious place; set in an arch under the railway bridge and sandwiched between an adult bookstore and a tattoo parlour. It was on the ground floor however and smelled of oranges. It was nice for a couple of months. That didn’t last either. The manageress ran off with the takings and I turned up one day to find a ‘closed’ notice on the door.

‘Eight.’

Rescue came in the form of an after-work course in Tai Chi, offered specifically for staff who had diabetes and/or arthritis. The course was run by an NHS physio  – a lovely man who had infinite patience. Half of us attended because we liked the idea of learning Tai Chi and hoped that it would help relieve our physical symptoms as well as making us less stressed. The other half of the class consisted of workers who had long histories of sick leave, and had been told by the Occupational Health department that they HAD to attend. I loved Tai Chi classes and took to it so well that the instructor asked me if I wanted to go on an NHS course to learn to be a teacher. The only proviso was that I had a first aid qualification. My three-year qualification had lapsed so I asked my manager if I could update it – and explained why. He refused. For no particular reason other than he didn’t see the value in losing me for three days or more, and then having to accommodate my taking further Tai Chi classes. Apparently some of my colleagues had complained about me leaving work on time to attend. The last class I went to consisted of me and the instructor. It was lovely but yet again – it didn’t last. For some strange reason my cack-handed and footedness was able to cope with Tai Chi and I still do the odd half an hour in my kitchen when I need to relax.

‘Seven – stop giggling.’

Whilst I was busy mourning the end of my Tai Chi classes, I was offered another post within the company that meant I was no longer working in town. Still angry with my manager I took the leap and left. Not having to wander around town in my lunch hour and having an onsite canteen meant that my waistline was expanding again. I got a call from my Tai Chi teacher asking me if I wanted to join a local gym – with a medical discount that would apply to my husband as well. We visited the gym. It was HUGE. Not only did it have an indoor running track but it also had two swimming pools, a sauna and a hydrotherapy pool. We signed up. There were a few disadvantages; it was a family gym and at certain times of day there were too many screaming toddlers and unattended youths who hogged the equipment and dive bombed each other in the pools – until a brave lifeguard tooted a whistle at them.

‘Six – come on!’

We spent a happy couple of years working out in the upstairs gym and then wallowing in the warm bubbles of the hydrotherapy pool. Then we began to notice the signs that all was not well. Equipment was out-of-order, the changing rooms were grubby, classes were cancelled at short notice. We made enquiries and were told that the parent company had backed out and the staff had clubbed together to take over the gym. This was sounding ominously familiar. We stumbled on for another couple of months and then the local newspaper revealed that the lease on the building had expired and the gym was no more. The building was being taken over by a well-known store. Another gym bit the dust.

‘Five more – well done!’

I managed to find my old Tai Chi teacher and fit in some classes (specifically for pensioners but he made an exception in my case). I learnt the other half of the routine and spent some very mellow Friday afternoons there. Then it was decided that our office would be moving back into the town centre and the leisure centre that had been hosting the Tai Chi classes was being demolished. Shortly before the office move I was involved in an accident at work which resulted in my foot being damaged, nine months of sick leave and an acrimonious parting of the ways between my employer and me. I couldn’t go out alone for fear of falling over and I developed arthritis in my right knee as well due to the pressure put on it whilst my foot was healing.

‘Four!’

I registered as self-employed once I had shed the shackles of office life, and used some of my tax rebate to buy a pair of Nordik Walking Poles – a friend had recommended them as a way of improving my mobility and my confidence. Slightly nervous, I took to accompanying my husband and our dog on night-time walks round the neighbourhood.  I was still relying on an ordinary walking stick to help me get around – except for supermarket trips when a trolley was essential however small the shopping. I had acupuncture to help ease the sciatic pain that kept me awake at night and finally had an MRI scan that confirmed that I had stenosis of the five lumbar discs. The skills of our osteopath – the Phizzard – put me back on my feet when things got bad but a more permanent solution to my mobility issues had to be found.

‘Three – keep going!’

When my ex-employers finally accepted responsibility for the accident and paid the damages claim, my husband and I decided it was time to join a gym again. We had been looking at a branch of a national chain that had opened less than a mile away, was open 24/7, had plenty of equipment, catered for over-16’s only and had excellent security. We applied online, got free three-day passes and went down for a visit. It was SO clean. Air conditioned. Loads of equipment, all on one level, NO STAIRS and the manager assured us that there was no chance of them going bust – fingers crossed.

‘Two – nearly there!’

We went for our induction visit. My instructor and I hit it off immediately. She is now my personal trainer and she makes this knackered body do things that I could never have imagined it would do. In my first month I have lost seven inches. I haven’t had to use my walking stick for weeks and I look forward to going to the gym so much that even a viral infection and sinusitis didn’t stop me.

‘One! You did it!’

Creepy Story – Week 9 of the 52 week short story challenge

nosferatu-1922-max-schreck-as-count-orlok-climbing-the-stairs

Melie looked at me in astonishment.

‘No! You wouldn’t!’

I grinned.

‘Why not? I am young, free and single. It’s 1982 and I can do what I want.’

She shook her head despairingly, a gesture she made quite often when we were discussing my latest fad.

‘You could – anything might happen – it’s dangerous!’

‘What’s so dangerous about it? It’s in the Evening Echo. They have to keep details of their advertisers  – and anyway – he’s given his home telephone number. Melie, I’ve spoken to him. He’s sounds really nice.’

‘Hmm,’ she said, looking very doubtful. ‘He might sound nice but how do you know that he is? He might be very clever and just putting on the niceness to lure you into a sense of false security.’

‘You are SO suspicious.’

‘There are stories in the papers. About girls who get raped and murdered after answering these personal ads. What did his ad say anyway?’

‘Here, I’ll show you.’ I dug the folded page of newsprint out of my weighty tapestry shoulder bag. Smoothing it out on the table top I pointed out the advert, circled in lurid green highlighter pen.

‘Single male GSOH WLTM single female for socialising/romance?’ Melie looked at me as if the words she was reading were in a foreign language. ‘What does all that mean?’

‘You are so seventies Melie! GSOH means ‘good sense of humour’ – which you have to admit I definitely have. WLTM means ‘would like to meet’. They charge by the word when you put an advert in so people use the initial letters instead. It’s like a code.’

‘Yes, but ‘socialising/romance’?’ She pulled a face.

‘Okay, so I’m most definitely not looking for romance but dinner and drinks, cinema, live music. I’m up for all that provided someone else is paying.’

‘You called him?’

‘I did. He has a good sense of humour – well – he laughed at my jokes anyway.’

‘He must have a good sense of humour. You didn’t tell him the one about the pickled…?’

I grinned. ‘I most certainly did. That’s my barometer joke. Not everyone laughs at it, but he did.’

‘That could well mean that he’s a perv though. What does he do for a living – assuming he has a job?’

‘Don’t be sarky Melie.  He fits windows and stuff and drives a company van. I even have the name of the company he works for.’

Melie looked sceptical. ‘He could borrow the van from a mate. It could be a red herring.’

‘He said it was yellow.’

‘What? Oh you idiot! When are you supposed to be meeting him?’

‘Tonight! Tonight!’

‘Where?’

‘Up at The Hop. It’s within walking distance and I can slip out through the beer garden if he turns out to be gross.’

‘Aha! So you have some doubts already then!’

I shrugged, not wanting to give her too much ground. ‘I told you that I was being careful. I even blocked the number before I phoned him. He asked for my contact details but I said that we weren’t on the phone yet and I was phoning from work.’

‘What did you tell him you did for a living?’

Melie was well aware that I wasn’t always truthful about how I earned my crust – especially when meeting a new bloke.

‘I said that I worked in a boutique in town. Don’t look like that Melie. Blokes always get funny when I tell them what I really do.’

‘It isn’t something to be ashamed of you know, social work is a respectable profession.’

‘Yes, but once you admit to being a social worker they either decide that you are a nosey do-gooder and run a mile,  or they start telling you about their disturbed childhood. Life is much simpler when you work in a boutique – and anyway – it isn’t a total lie. I did work in a boutique once.’

‘Three weeks during the summer five years ago. That was the place that went bust after you threw black coffee over the manager’s suit wasn’t it?’

‘He deserved it, and it was his fault it went bust not mine – he was stealing money from the company. It doesn’t matter how long ago I worked there anyway, nothing much changes when you are flogging knock-off clothing.’

‘What time are you meeting him?’

‘Seven-thirty.’

‘I’ll be outside in the beer garden then.’

‘You really don’t have to be so protective of me.’

Melie gave me that look.

‘Yes I do.’

*********

I walked into The Hop just before seven-twenty. In our house, being less than ten minutes early was considered to be bad manners. My Single Male had given me a vague description of himself; slim, short dark hair, glasses, jeans, navy tee-shirt and denim jacket. I was wearing my customary uniform of black; jeans, scoop-necked tee-shirt, and a cheap Chinese satin jacket that I had picked up in a flea market. The weather being a little inclement I also wore a pair of black fingerless gloves and an enormous knitted scarf. I thought I looked the business. Dr Who had a lot to answer for.

There was no sign of anyone remotely resembling My Single Male; a couple of guys playing pool, the usual drunken teacher propping up the bar and some old chaps eking out their pints in a corner.  Looking through the window to the beer garden, I could see a rather chilly Melie huddled in her Army Surplus greatcoat and woolly hat.

Reluctantly I bought myself a barley wine and found a table near the ladies’ toilet – and the door to the beer garden. Three sips later and a denim-jacketed male walked through the doors. He was slim-ish, dark-haired and his glasses broke up a pock-marked and sallow face. I waved in a slightly regal fashion and he walked over to my table. I had obviously been more truthful about my appearance than he had. The dark hair was greasy, as were his jeans, and his tee-shirt did not look as if it had ever been near a washing machine.

I took off my jacket and bag while he was at the bar, placing them so that he would have to sit opposite me rather than on the bench seat next to me. He sauntered back with an overflowing pint of lager and after shooting some glances at my barricade, he opted for the chair I indicated.

He must have been talking from a script when we had held our telephone conversation because he seemed barely able to string two words together now. I chatted – a little manic perhaps – about nothing very specific.

He grabbed my free hand across the table and tried to take my glove off.

‘Stop it!’ I yelped as I pulled my hand back.

‘Sorry.’ He picked up his pint and slurped it noisily. ‘I just wanted to read your palm. It’s my hobby. You can tell a lot about people from reading their palms.’

‘I bet. What other hobbies do you have?’

The question seemed to throw him a bit. I could almost see the cogs whirring under his lank locks. I knocked back my barley wine quickly while he thought.

‘Films. Yeah – foreign films. I’ve got a mate who works on the boats and brings them in. Do you like – you know – art films?’

I knew exactly what kind of foreign films were brought in by mates on boats, and no, I didn’t like them. My smile was fixed as I placed my empty glass on the table.

‘Want another drink?’ he asked.

‘Yes please. Barley wine. I just need to go to the loo.’

I waited till he was at the bar and ordering before I made a dash for the beer garden, dragging my jacket and bag behind me.

‘Melie! Quick! Creep alert!’

Melie and I ran out of the beer garden and down the road as fast as we could. We didn’t stop until we got to the safety of Melie’s house. I was sure that we’d had enough of a head start but we spent a good half an hour peering round the edge of the curtain in case a yellow minivan drew up outside the door.

We bribed Melie’s brother and his mate to go up to The Hop and see if the Creep was still there. It was worth the price of two pints just to know that he wasn’t hanging around for us. I gave that particular pub a miss for several months anyway. I took Melie’s advice and gave the personal ads a miss too.

A couple of months later a young barmaid was raped and murdered when she finished her shift in a town centre pub. No one ever got caught but a friend of a friend said that she had been in the habit of looking at personal ads in the Evening Echo.

There was a photo fit of the bloke she was seen talking to at the bar before she finished work that night.

Slim-ish, dark greasy hair, glasses, denim jacket, tee-shirt and jeans.

Creepy.