A Christmas Story – Week 51 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

little-women

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.”

― Louisa May AlcottLittle Women

 

When I came across ‘Little Women’ at the age of seven years old (I was an advanced reader) I found it difficult to understand the situation that Jo and the other March girls found themselves in. We always had presents at Christmas; we weren’t rich but neither were we poor. We weren’t particularly vain – especially not my older brother – and we too had a Mum and a Dad.  The thought of taking breakfast to a poor family confused me. Did we know any poor families? We lived on a council estate but everyone on our street, everyone at school, on our estate. They all seemed quite comfortably off – except perhaps one woman who lived in the flats and got quite cross when my friend and I babysat for her and didn’t eat all of the shop bought scampi and chips she left for us – she was only gone for an hour and in those days young girls often babysat babies for an hour or so.

As for breakfast – would a poor family really appreciate my bowl of Shreddies or  Ricicles? My brother’s Cocopops or the porridge my Mum sometimes made (until the advent of Readybrek – but more of that later).

I was aware of the fact that not only did the March family live in another country, they also lived in a different time. A time when long frocks and white gloves were the accepted mode of dress. A contrast to my own – tee-shirt and shorts in the summer, jumper and cord jeans in the winter. I was only ever dragged into a posh frock on special occasions. Ah, but Jo and I did have something in common – we were both tomboys.

My Christmases as a child were much of a muchness; although a couple of occasions stick in my mind. The year when I still believed in Father Christmas – especially after he brought me a shiny blue scooter. I must have been at school then because my Mum kept the diary entry I wrote for school – complete with a reasonably good drawing of said scooter.

The year when everything went wrong. It started with my Dad having problems with the Christmas tree (not a real one) lights malfunctioning. Whilst he muttered at the lights, twisting each bulb in an effort to find the dead culprit. The rest of us kept quiet as we hung up paper streamers and dusted off the Chinese lanterns that came out of the special box every year. On the day itself things went VERY wrong. My Mum cooked the turkey without removing the giblets; she melted the plastic colander with the Brussels Sprouts, too much brandy was put on the Christmas pudding and it ignited rather too well. Mum cried, Dad shouted, the dog got excited and bit Mum because she was hitting Dad with a rolled up newspaper.

Another memorable Christmas was the one when Dad brought home a bottle of Advocaat and a cocktail mixer. This was a large glass container with a battery-powered whisk in its silver metal lid. We had Snowballs that Christmas – and not the cold and wet ones that you chuck at each other either. After Christmas when Mum and Dad had returned to work and I was left to the not so tender ministrations of my older brother and sister, I decided to utilise the cocktail mixer and make my own Snowball. I hadn’t actually seen what my Dad put in the glass container – so I worked my way through our depleted alcohol stocks and put a bit of everything in. Then I whizzed it. Then I drank it. Then I felt a bit funny – and hungry.

This is where the Readybrek comes in. I wasn’t usually allowed to make my own because of the  kettle (not electric but the whistling type that sits on the hob – our house must have been a health and safety nightmare) but my brother and sister were still asleep. I was too impatient to wait for the kettle to whistle so my Readybrek was rather stodgy but a spoonful of honey helped.

I put the empty bowl in the sink and went back to playing with my new Christmas toys. There was a knock at the door and despite having been told NEVER to answer the door on my own – I did. It was only the milkman. As I bent forward to pick up the milk bottles I was very, very sick  – all over his shoes. His cries of disgust brought my siblings running. My brother cleaned the milkman up and my sister cleaned me up.

My cocktail experiment was discovered and I was banned from the alcohol cupboard. We swore each other to secrecy but the milkman grassed us up. I never liked him. We used to take it in turns to go out to his milk float and pick some nice biscuits for tea. My brother and sister always seemed to come back with chocolate digestives or custard creams but I came back carrying a packet of plain-looking sugary biscuits that I wouldn’t eat. My Mum was puzzled by this and accompanied me to the milk float, standing by as I asked for a packet of nice biscuits. Without a thought the milky picked up a pack of the hated biscuits and handed them to me. I looked at my Mum sadly. She laughed and handed them back.

‘Those are NEECE biscuits. Not nice biscuits. Which ones do you want really?’

I pointed at the milk chocolate digestives. Success.

I wonder what the March family equivalent would have been?

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A Creation Myth – Week 50 of the 52 week short story challenge

Harry sat in the middle of a grassy lawn.  He was surrounded by beautiful flowers and fantastic insects.

He frowned with concentration as he picked out the colours and shapes.

Every object had to be different, and he smiled as he placed them on the grass and watched them come to life.

Other small gods occupied the lawn, each intent on their own marvellous creations.

The Big Benevolent One smiled as he wandered past looking at their labours.

His fingertips touched Harry’s head.

Harry looked up and smiled back.  He was very happy.

“Good job Harry.  You can move on to something bigger now.  Some animals and birds perhaps?”

Flushed with pride at such a compliment, Harry collected more materials and set to work.

He started small; a mouse and then a brightly coloured lizard.

Placed carefully on the grass, the mouse shook his whiskers and scurried off to make a home.

The lizard took his time. He stretched and let the sunshine warm his shimmering skin.

“Time for something bigger now.  I shall call it Dog and it will be my friend.” Harry said to himself and was just putting together the items he needed when he heard an unfamiliar sound.

The Big Benevolent One was standing in the corner of the lawn staring down at Milo; a slightly larger god who had put together some especially clumsy-looking cactus plants.

There was an ominous rumbling.

“You can do better than this Milo.  Look around you. Look at the colours and the shapes. Move on to something beautiful or you’ll have to spend time making rocks.”

Milo frowned. He hated making rocks. It was boring, hot and the other larger gods shouted at him.  They had only a few more days to finish the Earth after all. and everyone was working as hard as they could.

Except Milo, who just wanted to lie under the trees and watch everyone else working.

The Big Benevolent One moved on to admire someone else’s work and Milo sulkily picked up some brown clay.

He rolled it idly between his hands, then on a piece of flat stone until it grew longer and thinner.

He started another, and another until the stone was covered with a number of long thin brown snakes of varying sizes.

Harry glanced over at the snakes; all blind and hungry and dull.

He got to his feet, picked up a handful of pieces left over from the lizard and walked over to Milo who felt that he had done enough and had fallen asleep.

The snakes were given jewel-bright eyes and long forked tongues.  Harry striped their brown skin with green and white, red  and blue for the big ones, and for the last he covered the brown with yellow and white stripes.

Stroking the warm skin as it came to life, Harry smiled.

“You will be a corn snake and your name will be Dave.'”

Hearing the sound of the Big Benevolent One approaching, Harry got up and returned to creating Dog.

Milo woke and looked at the fabulous snakes slithering around happily in front of him.

“Well done Milo!  Take a little break now.  Usually only lazy gods make snakes but you have done well. ” The Big Benevolent One patted Milo’s head but looked across at Harry and winked.

Harry was happy, especially when Dog came to life, wagged his tail and licked Harry’s face.

Milo snored in the sunshine.

corn snake

Justice Being Done – Week 49 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

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‘Is this going to be another one of ‘those’ conversations?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Go on then. What’s the problem?’

‘Justice isn’t being done is it? Politicians, the rich people and big businesses get away with doing bad things – that isn’t justice is it?’

‘Not to us. But then we don’t make the rules and hold the power do we?’

‘Surely there are more of us ordinary people than there are politicians and rich people? Why do they have so much power and we have so little?’

‘Are you sure about that? That we don’t have any power?’

‘Huh, this is another of your trick questions isn’t it.’

‘Maybe.’

‘I hate it when you say that. It means that you are going to turn out right and I’ll be wrong – again.’

‘Maybe.’

‘Stop it! You always make me work so hard when you’re like this.’

‘Just making your brain tick over a bit. There are far too many people sitting around and complaining about how unjust their lives are. Do you really want to be one of them?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Really?’

‘Okay then. What do I do to see that justice is being done?’

‘You make sure that you understand what justice is and what it isn’t. Justice is fair and reasonable; it isn’t about taking revenge, killing or persecuting people because of their race, religion or opinions. It isn’t about getting your own back. Sometimes though, it can be blind.’

‘So the people that say its justice when something bad happens to a horrible person  – they’ve got it wrong have they?’

‘They might be getting it confused with karma – things happening as a consequence of their own actions.’

‘Karma is a bad thing then?’

‘More good than bad really. It has roots in ancient Indian religion – Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism – more isms than you can chuck a stick at really. The important thing to remember is that good acts should have a positive effect – like paying it forward.’

‘I saw that film. It made me cry. I hate films with sad endings.’

‘Everything makes you cry. So karma can be good or bad – in the words of John Lennon; ‘Instant Karma’s gonna get you…’

‘I remember that song as well. That was about bad karma.’

‘It was.’

‘What about that other thing then? That German thing?’

‘Schadenfreude?’

‘Get you!’

‘Is that what you meant?’

‘Yeah. What’s the difference between justice, karma and schaden-thingy?

‘Schadenfreude is more to do with how you feel about the consequences of other peoples’ actions.

‘Do what?’

‘Say you asked me for my last fiver, I refused to give it to you and then we found out that it was a forgery. You would be laughing your socks off at me wouldn’t you?’

‘You bet.’

‘Well that’s schadenfreude.’

‘Isn’t that a bit mean though?’

‘You can’t have good schadenfreude; though when famous people set themselves up as paragons of virtue and then get caught out drink driving, or taking drugs or beating up their partners, I think it’s okay to feel a bit of schadenfreude without feeling too guilty.’

‘That seems like justice to me.’

‘Erm – we-ell.’

‘Go on. You have to admit it.’

‘It can be seen as justice, karma and schadenfreude, I suppose. Justice is supposed to be objective whereas the other two are more subjective – it depends on how you feel about the person its happening too.’

‘This has got too heavy for me. Lend us a fiver?’

 

 

Justice

just behaviour or treatment.

“a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people”

fairness, justness, fair play, fair-mindedness, equity, equitableness, even-handedness, egalitarianism, impartiality, impartialness, lack of bias, objectivityneutrality, disinterestedness, lack of prejudice, open-mindedness, non-partisanship”

Karma (car-ma) is a word meaning the result of a person’s actions as well as the actions themselves. It is a term about the cycle of cause and effect. According to the theory of Karma, what happens to a person, happens because they caused it with their actions.

 

Schadenfreude lit. ‘harm-joy’) is pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. Borrowed from German into English and several other languages, it is a feeling of joy that comes from seeing or hearing about another person’s troubles or failures.

 

Instant Karma

by John Lennon

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead
What in the world you thinking of
Laughing in the face of love
What on earth you tryin’ to do
It’s up to you, yeah you

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna look you right in the face
Better get yourself together darlin’
Join the human race
How in the world you gonna see
Laughin’ at fools like me
Who in the hell d’you think you are
A super star
Well, right you are

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Ev’ryone come on

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you off your feet
Better recognize your brothers
Ev’ryone you meet
Why in the world are we here
Surely not to live in pain and fear
Why on earth are you there
When you’re ev’rywhere
Come and get your share

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Come on and on and on on on
Yeah yeah, alright, uh huh, ah

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
On and on and on on and on

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Strange Small Town – Week 48 of the 52 week short story challenge

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It was a funny little place; lacking the charm of the nearby yachting village or the charismas of the larger and well-know yachting town upstream. As teenagers involved in the sailing scene, we were dismissive of the place. It was ‘touristy’; shops decked out with brightly coloured buckets and spades, inflatable rings and airbeds, rock with a generic county name through the inside and boxes of fudge and toffee bearing pictures of grazing ponies.

It was a place for passing through and rarely stopping. A place inhabited by holidaying grockles and nouveau riche who had bought their holiday homes without realising that the town was quite a way from the sea. Our village, the village where we stayed in the summer, sailed out to the castle and camped in the boat park. Apart from the yacht clubs and the pub, there was nowhere else to spend your money and any other entertainment or supplies good be acquired in the big town – without having to pay over-inflated tourist prices.

I remember one summer in particular. I still have the photographs of us all lounging outside OUR yacht club – there was great rivalry between the two clubs. Hair stiff and bleached from hours sailing, half-worn wet suits (it was easier to leave the bottom half on and wriggle out of the top).  Clutching half pints of rough cider and feasting on freshly made crab sandwiches. Nothing else really mattered that summer.

One of our group had very rich parents who owned a holiday cottage across the road from the pub. We took it in turns to sleep there or in hastily erected two man tents in the boat park once the clubs were closed. We knew that we weren’t supposed to be there but provided the tent was packed away before the morning sailing started, the older members of the club turned a blind eye.

Not that it was peaceful sleeping in the boat park; people ignored the sign ‘Frap your halyards’, and a s a consequence the night was punctuated with the sound of unfrapped halyards tinkling against masts. Hedgehogs and foxes rustled their way round the boats, looking for dropped sandwich crusts and half-empty crisp packets. The sun disturbed our fretful dozing and spurred us on to collapse the tent and stagger across the road to the cottage for coffee and toast.

The summer came to an end – as it always does  – and we departed to our various courses and jobs. That summer could never be repeated anyway. In moving on, we jolly sailors lost touch with each other and other entertainments replaced the joys of sailing.

The village never lost its charm for me; enhanced by discovering that one of my favourite authors had written a trilogy of books loosely based on family life in Little Village and Big Village, with the Island across the sea playing an integral part. I made subsequent visits; with friends, with groups of children I was responsible for, and ultimately with my own husband and family. It became a place of pilgrimage; somewhere to go and lose the troubles or celebrate happiness. There was a stark contrast between the still quiet waters around the harbour and the crashing waves out on the
Spit. Waves that were so ferocious that year in and out, new methods of prevention had to be found to prevent the sea encroaching on the houses nearby.

I found out very early in our relationship that my husband had also sailed from the village – though at a different time from me – and that he loved it as much as I did.

 

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Winding the time clock on, our children became adults and needed less entertaining on holidays, so when the opportunity arose to spend two summer weeks in a cottage in ‘my’ village, we jumped at it. Part of me was worried that the village would have changed, that it would no longer be the magical place I remembered – that we both remembered.

It was like stepping back into a time capsule. The pub was still there – although it had added an extra wing and a conservatory – but the cider was just as good and the sandwiches – made from freshly caught crab – was wonderful. We could see the boat park from our bedroom window; people were still neglecting to frap their halyards, and although we didn’t have the credentials to venture into either of the yacht clubs, we didn’t need to sleep in tents either. I had my favourite author’s books on my Kindle and delighted in spotting thinly disguised landmarks as we walked the dog along the harbour side and around the various beaches.

It was a wonderful fortnight. We caught up with family and friends; the tiny backyard was the ideal venue for a family get together in the sunshine. The dog loved his seaside walks and I achieved a lifelong wish. I had sailed out to the castle on many an occasion – and  came back the same way, but I had never walked the mile and a half along the shingle bank, nor taken a ride on the little ferry boat that tied up at the harbour wall.

The strangest revelation of our holiday was the exploration of Big Village.

It wasn’t full of grockles and holiday shops anymore. Charity shops rubbed shoulders with a wine bar and a delicatessen. The Co-op was stocked with normal food and there was no sign of sticks of rock or boxes of fudge. At the suggestion of friends, we ventured further to the beaches further away from Little Village, and found some beautiful examples of Art Deco architecture along the sea view.

Big Village wasn’t such a bad place.

On our last day we met up with our lovely friends for a long and leisurely brunch in the sunshine at a cafe on the beach. A very happy start to the process of packing everything back into the car and heading North for home.

It was good to go back to Little Village and find it just as beautiful and enchanting as I had found it before. Better to still was to roam around Big Village and find that it wasn’t such a strange small town after all.

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A Magic Spell – Week 47 of the 52 week short story challenge

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I am your one magic spell – and you have one only.

You cannot hurt or kill anyone,

Nor profit financially.

History cannot be undone,

Mankind’s basic physiology must remain unchanged.

Me: So, I can’t get rid of mass murderers or dictators or those who ruin people’s lives?

Spell: Definitely not.

Me: And I can’t change history so I can’t undo the referenDumb.

Spell: The country spoke – apparently.

Me: When you say ‘physiology’? Can you clarify?

Spell: Race, colour, creed, preference, appearance – nothing can change.

Me: I wouldn’t change that anyway but…

Spell: Yes?

Me: Can I change attitudes?

Spell: Perhaps…

Me: Then I can ask for a world where people can live peacefully; where wealth is distributed more evenly, where education is available for all, where we look after the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable and the young?

Spell: You can ask.

Me: You said I had one magic spell. How do I make the spell work?

Spell: Abracadabra doesn’t work, neither does clicking your fingers I’m afraid. You can put those sparkly red shoes away as well.

Me: It was worth a try.

Spell: That’s a part of the spell.

Me: Trying?

Spell: You won’t get anywhere if you don’t try.

Me: It won’t be easy will it?

Spell: Nope.

Me: Persistent.

Spell: Yes.

Me: No matter what?

Spell: No matter what.

Me: On my own?

Spell: Oh no. There are many of you, but you have to find each other and work together.

Me: Are you absolutely sure we can’t get rid of the really nasty people?

Spell: Why stoop to their level?

Me: So nothing unpleasant then?

Spell: Nope.

Me: But we can do it?

Spell: Jez. We. Can.

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Anger – Week 46 of the 52 week short story challenge

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For the purged

‘So,’ he said, ‘What makes you feel angry?’

I looked at him with the kind of face you pull when you really can’t believe that someone has asked you such a silly question.

‘You know better than anyone what makes me feel angry.’

He laughs. ‘I know what I think makes you feel angry but I don’t know if they are the same things. Tell me? I really want to know.’

I shrug and take a deep breath. I hate these word games but we have to play them so I might as well get it over with.

‘Child abuse, adult abuse, domestic violence, abuse of power – particularly when it is well-paid MPs and greedy members of officialdom taking money and services away from those who desperately need them. Let’s face it – abuse makes me angry – in any form.’

He nods calmly, infuriatingly calm in fact.

‘So how does it feel when someone who doesn’t even know you accuses you of ‘abusive behaviour’ then?’

That makes my hackles rise.

‘The alleged ‘abusive behaviour’ was accidental and it was not aimed at any individual, and doesn’t meet any prescribed criteria of abuse anyway.’

I can feel my face getting hot and red.

He nods. Still calm.

‘But somebody felt offended by that behaviour. Somebody felt strongly enough about the abusive behaviour to complain about it, didn’t they?’

‘No. It wasn’t like that and you know it wasn’t. The powers that be were after us because they disagreed with us. They were frightened of the power that we held due to our numbers and so they sought to cut those numbers down – by using underhand – and I think illegal methods.’

He frowns. ‘Illegal? How do you mean?’

‘I never gave anyone permission to go trawling through my social media accounts. I only gave them the details because they said that the information was needed to communicate with me. I don’t think that the person who originally made the form thought that the data would be used in such an underhand way. That kind of Machiavellian process comes from someone with a particularly devious and hateful mind.’

He is still frowning and I can see that I have him on uncomfortable ground. So do I press him or back off? I look over at my lovely friend; the one who supported me when I had to battle against authority before. She gives a very slight shake of her head and I back off. He looks down at his sheaf of papers again.

‘I need to ascertain whether or not you feel any regret over your actions – and whether you would be likely to make this kind of comment again.’

This really makes my blood boil. My friend is desperately trying to catch my eye and calm me down.

‘All I did was retweet something that someone else said – and unfortunately that same person added hash tags on the end of the tweet that I hadn’t even noticed. I subsequently found out that the words in those hash tags were banned from use three weeks later. I regret not noticing those words now but as they were banned after they had been used, I had no control over the action. Would I be likely to make that kind of comment again? No. Nor would I be so foolish as to allow anyone to have access to my social media accounts.’

‘That wasn’t quite what I was asking for.’

‘That is all you are going to get from me. I am the person whose reputation has been defamed, I lost my vote as a consequence of this underhand behaviour and now you expect me to grovel and apologise? Forget it mate!’

It is at this point that my friend puts her hand on my arm and turns to the young man.

‘Please don’t take it personally, we both know that you are trying to sort things out but I don’t think the people who started this realise how much harm has been done – or what a horrible position you are being put in having to go round and sort out issues that are of someone else’s causing.’

Although I am angry, I know that she is right. This earnest young man is not responsible for causing my anger. The people who did that are too frightened to face us because they know what damage they have done. It was intentional. All part of a noxious plan to put the wrong person back in power. I am still seething but I am back to a simmer rather than a boil.

‘I can offer you membership but this incident will stay on file.’

This is not fair but there is a bigger picture here. This ‘staying on file’ is intended to insult me and make me feel so angry that I stand up and walk away – if you don’t want me then I don’t want you. But that is exactly what they want. They failed to get rid of enough of us to win at the first attempt, so now they are trying to alienate us with this additional slight.

I look across at my friend and she nods.

‘Okay. Do what you want. I want to be a member so that I can help to get rid of the people who are attacking the vulnerable people and making them suffer.’

His shoulders slowly sink back down to a normal level and he seems surprised that I have capitulated so easily.

‘It isn’t just about me you see. I have to remember that there is a bigger picture. I really don’t care about what your boss and his deluded friends think of me. My thoughts are my own and will stay that way if there is any chance that they’ll be used against me again. There is one thing though…’

My friend looks worried and so does the young man.

‘Not only do I love the Foo Fighters, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the Stranglers, but Lemmy from Motorhead will always be my hero. So ner.’

It ends in laughter and more than a little relief. I don’t see it as stepping down. There is work to be done and I need my freedom in order to support others.

And then I stepped out of the shower.

 

 

 

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Near Death – Week 45 of the 52 week short story challenge

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‘Hello?’

‘Hello? Can you hear me?’

I’m pressing the button on this pendant I wear around my neck but nothing happens. Usually when I press it I get a crackly voice from the other end telling me that I have come through to the ‘We Care Service’ and what did I want?

I don’t use it often because I have difficulty hearing what the woman is saying and now, when I really need it there is nothing.

Not even the reassuring beep that tells me that although the line is busy, they will get back to me as soon as possible.

Nothing.

I can just see the clock from here. It’s still early; six o’clock and the time when I would usually be up making my first cup of tea. something to set me up for the day as I sit and listen to the news on the radio.

I could watch the news on the television that my granddaughter bought me but I prefer to listen early in the morning. I don’t want the intrusion of strangers in my house yet.

Today I would welcome anyone to my house.

Today even the lad who has been burgling houses in our area would be welcome. I would tell him where to find my money, my wife’s jewellery, my medals even, if he would call 999 as he leaves.

The floor in the hallway is cold. I should have had carpets fitted but my wife was always proud of these tiles. Minton she said they were and she wouldn’t dream of having them covered up with some old carpet.

I could have had the carpets fitted when she died, when there was only me to think of but every time I look at these tiles I think of her.

I see her as the young girl I carried across the threshold of our house; as the mother of our daughter, tired but proud in her hospital bed, and then I see her bringing our baby girl home to the bedroom I had so lovingly painted pink in her honour.

She did us proud our girl; married well and presented us with grandchildren. I had never thought of our daughter as being traditional but she named her children after her mother and me. Keeping the memories going she said. A legacy.

I never thought I would outlive her, and her mother.

When I came home from the war my lungs were useless; poison gas, cheap tobacco and a cough that never really went away. As if to remind, I cough now and the pain from my legs wracks my body.

I used to have people who came in to check on me. Cheerful young women who did my washing and made me meals. Someone to talk to four times a day; not as good as my wife, who never seemed to stop talking but at least they filled a part of the void when she was gone.

Now they are gone too. Cuts in social care.

A brisk young woman came to visit me, and decided that my care package was too large for my needs. I didn’t need all this help as I was obviously self-caring. I didn’t need to go out to lunch clubs; the transport was very expensive and they were closing down the day centres anyway. She gave me this pendant but was at pains to tell me that I would have to buy the new batteries for it.

I have batteries in the fridge but I can’t reach them.

I can’t reach the telephone.

I can’t reach the door.

I can’t go on.

I can’t.

I can’t give up.

Today of all days.

I look at my coat, hanging out of reach on the coat hook.

I can just see the poppy.

I should be getting my breakfast and making myself presentable so that when my granddaughter comes to fetch me for the parade, she will be proud of me and the part that I played.

So tired.

All I want to do is sleep.

To sleep and have the pain go from my legs.

What legs?

I can’t feel them.

I should be able to feel them. To feel the pain that has kept me awake at night for over seventy years. There is no pain. Just cold.

I look at the clock again. Where has the time gone? I don’t remember being asleep but four hours have passed since I last looked.

I want to sleep. It’s time for me to join the people who I love and miss. This is no place for old men like me – we may have been seen as heroes once but now we are just a burden on the state – a burden that the taxpayers can’t afford according to that brisk young woman.

So tired.

‘Grandad?’

The sound of her key in the door pulls me back from the place where pain has gone and there is just a soft glowing light that draws me in.

‘Grandad? Hang on in there. I’m calling an ambulance. Don’t leave me Grandad.’

It isn’t time yet. Her hands are warm as she tucks a blanket around me. Her hands are warm like her mother’s and her grandmother’s, and while I long to feel their touch again this beautiful girl pulls me back to the present.

I open my eyes and focus on her face. She looks tired and worried so I do my best to smile as if I was okay. The poppy on her coat is close to me and I reach out to touch it.

‘Not yet then?’ I ask.

‘Not yet. Not today of all days. Love you Grandad.’

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The Year I was born – Week 44 of the 52 week short story challenge

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This is a short, short story today because my fingers are busy doing NaNoWriMo – my ninth successive year with eight successful contributions behind me.

One of these days I will get around to editing the work and looking for an agent. I promise myself this every year but as 2016 has been so lousy, maybe this is the right time to start off a more productive new year.

I could have just worked my way through the Wiki page but when I looked there were only a few things that jumped out and had any influence on me and my life.

My birth took place on a council estate in my Mum and Dad’s bedroom at approximately 1620 hours and while my older siblings were watching ‘Popeye’ downstairs with my Dad. As a consequence my Dad wanted to have ‘Olive’ as my middle name. My Mum had different ideas and she won.

I had a mop of black hair when I was born and strange slanting eyes – so unlike my siblings that my Mum was convinced I had Down’s Syndrome. She eventually confessed her fears to the visiting midwife who told her to stop being so daft.

Very obligingly, my hair fell out a few days later and I turned into the blonde tot pictured a year later in the picture above.

My eyes turned out to be extremely short-sighted but this wasn’t discovered until I was eight years old. I had been a full-time spectacle wearer up until a year ago when I had cataract surgery on both eyes. My lens replacements mean that I only need specs for close work and my long-sight is on a par with the eagles (not the group).

I was born on the day that Berry Gordy Jnr founded Motown records.

A month later the music died when a plane with Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper (and their pilot Roger Peterson) crashed into a mountain in Iowa.

Fidel Castro became president of Cuba and women in Nepal won the right to vote.

Barbie made her debut in March; I always had Sindy dolls, although I did briefly own a Tressy – ‘her hair grows’  – well it did until my big brother and I investigated the outsize belly button that retracted her hair. Bald and unloved she went in the bin. We were callous children.

Various things happened throughout the summer – Cyprus gained independence and joined the UN – and the first Xerox machine was introduced to an adoring public. We no longer adore copiers and printers – we just shout at them.

The Twilight Zone premiered on telly and Asterix the Gaul was born.

November saw the completion of the first stage of the M1. It took another thirty years to complete it. More pertinent to me in my later life  – the Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by the UN.

I spent ten years working in child protection. Things have not improved over time and now that I am out of the official social care sector I feel sad that my ex-colleagues have so few resources to protect those who so badly need their support.

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Retelling – Week 43 of the 52 week short story challenge

A retelling of the Latest Decalogue by Arthur Hugh Clough – http://www.bartleby.com/71/1423.html

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You should have one Leader, but if you have more

You’ll split the vote with three or four.

Keep no graven Edstone, there to be

Worshipped or paid for fraudulently.

Swear not at all, for each banned curse

Will only make the purging worse.

Beware the conference, if you attend

Your delegate may not be your friend.

Honour the Party, that is, all

From whom Compliance may befall.

You shall not kill, but use your knife

To stab in the front and take a life.

No other Party may ever compete

Your loyalty has to be complete.

Steal from the members, an easy feat

It takes such little skill to cheat.

Accuse who you will and let it lie

Festering in the media whilst Eagles fly.

Covet the prize that others achieve

But keep the best tricks up your sleeve.

Run up a spreadsheet to garner those who

Would ever dare to oppose you.

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Tragedy Ends in Romance – Week 42 of the 52 week short story challenge

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I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar…  Scrub that. I was actually working in a small bakery. The owner – Charles – liked to refer to it as an ‘artisan bakery’. I felt that profits would be up if we sold a few more sausage rolls and pies, instead of sourdough loaves and sweet potato pasties.

Most of our customers were pretty ‘right on’. Men with long revolutionary’s beards and tight red jeans. Women with layers of tie dyed clothes and multiple piercings. Charles had squeezed in a couple of bistro tables and spindly legged chairs in order to upgrade us to a cafe. Fairtrade products were stacked artistically on the counter tops and a shiny cappuccino machine was Charles’ latest toy.

We were rarely busy.

I started there as a Saturday girl while I was still at school. Saturdays were slightly busier because of the weekly market outside. When I started doing my ‘A’ levels I had Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons free so Charles offered me some extra work.

This was partly to give Charles and his partner Aimee some quality time together. Aimee did most of the baking, as well as serving in the shop while Charles indulged in intellectual conversation with one of his many mates who perched precariously on the chairs, bought one cup of soy milk pumpkin latte and stayed until closing time.

Quality time.

Aimee and I got on well. I’m sure that she would have liked to run up some sausage rolls but Charles was adamant that everything in the shop was vegetarian friendly.

We had our secrets, Aimee and I.

On market day we often had disappointed customers who pulled faces at the very thought of sprout and coriander quiche, or Savoy cabbage and marrow ciabatta, before rushing off to the chip shop or Maccy D’s.

Charles refused to admit that, however honourable his principles were, the general public did not agree with him. The cafe was losing what little money was being made on the bakery sales, and there were not that many takers for the hefty loaves that were more suited to being used in dry stone walls than gracing tea tables.

I could see the signs, and was casting around for alternative employment when fate changed the course of my life.

On an even more sluggish than usual Thursday afternoon, I had cleared all the tables bar one, washed up and was in the bakery at the back of the shop when I heard a huge crash.

Aimee was upstairs in the flat having a lie-down. Charles was sitting at one of the tables with his friend Ben.

Well, he had been sitting at the table with Ben.

When I looked through the door into the cafe all I could see was dust and the front of a large van poking through the place where the shop window used to be.

‘Charles? Ben?’

The van’s engine was still running and I could see a man slumped over the wheel. I couldn’t see Ben or Charles.

I couldn’t see any chairs or tables either.

I backed into the bakery and got out my phone.

‘Police, Fire or Ambulance?’ said the operator.

‘All three I think. A van has crashed into the shop front  where I work. There’s a man unconscious and I can’t find my boss – or his friend.’

The operator assured me that help was on the way and that I should stay in the bakery in case the shop front collapsed.

I did as I was told, listening out for any sound that Aimee might have woken up. I had a feeling that she was pregnant – but hadn’t told Charles – and once she went up for a nap it would take more than the shop being destroyed to wake her.

The fire brigade were first on the scene.

I showed them where the rear entrance to the bakery was, and two very large and rather handsome firemen joined me in order to carry out their assessment of the damage. One of them managed to get into the van and turn the engine off. I saw him look at his companion and shake his head.

The man in the van was dead.

There was no sign of Charles and Ben.

My fireman took me upstairs to check on Aimee. She was fast asleep still but we woke her up in case the crash had affected the structure of the flat as well.

We sat in the back of an ambulance; we were both shaking and neither of us was brave enough to ask the other about the whereabouts of Charles.

My fireman came back looking puzzled.

‘We’ve checked. There’s no one in the cafe. A lot of mangled metal and we’ve got the guy out of the van. Are you sure there were two people in there?’

I shrugged. They had certainly been sitting there when I’d cleared the tables and did the washing up  but I hadn’t left the bakery until I heard the crash.

Aimee began to relax a little.

‘Could they have gone somewhere else?’

I shook my head. Charles rarely left the cafe during opening hours unless he was shopping for supplies and he tended to do that on Sundays.

A policeman tapped the fireman on the shoulder.

‘We’ve found them.’

‘In the shop?’ Aimee was trembling again.

‘No. One of your neighbours spotted them. They were in Maccy D’s eating burgers.’

I’m not sure if Aimee would have preferred Charles and Ben to have been squashed under the van. She was so angry.

A shamefaced Charles and a grinning Ben appeared in the doorway of the ambulance.

I got up.

I had the distinct feeling that I wasn’t needed.

The fireman held out his hand to help me down the step.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

‘I think so. I’ve a feeling my job prospects just took a nose dive though. Even if Aimee forgives Charles for his lapse, the shop is pretty well wrecked. Do you know why the van crashed?’

‘Officially no but unofficially the paramedic thinks that the guy had a heart attack and was probably dead before he hit the window. I guess we should be grateful that the cafe was empty and you were safe.’

I could have been mistaken but I had a feeling that my fireman blushed when he said this.

He really was very handsome.

‘Do you actually like all this veggie stuff?’

‘Hate it. Aimee and I often have ham sandwiches when Charles has to nip out to the shops.’

‘Only,’ and he blushed even more, ‘I was wondering if you’d like to go out for a meal – when you feel better of course.’

‘I’m fine. Now I know that Charles and Ben are okay – and that Aimee will finally be able to own up to Charles that she doesn’t like veggie stuff either. It’s a shame about the poor man in the van but it could have been much worse – couldn’t it?’

He nodded and looked at his watch.

‘I finish at six. Are you free tonight?’

My turn to nod.

We didn’t go to Maccy D’s.

Our first date was at the little Italian restaurant far enough away from the cafe so that I didn’t have to look at the boards across the window and the yellow police tape flapping in the wind.

My fireman – now known as Tommy – has become a permanent fixture in my life and I had very little inclination to look for another job.

Aimee and Charles – and the new baby – gave up on the bakery business.

I lost contact with them but I heard that the insurance payout was very generous.

It was a shame about the man in the van though.

 

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