Saturday, 17 February 2018

Watered Down


By Kathy Sharp

mineral water  

He had fled to the top of the lighthouse shouting, “I’ll be ready for the flood! I shan’t be caught unawares!”

The lighthouse keeper was furious, seeing as Mr Fazakerly was obstructing the light, and thus posing a danger to shipping. As to persuading him to come down, every approach seemed to have failed, and there he stayed, obstinately clinging to the rail.

Mrs Fazakerly was furious, too. “It’s all the fault of that fortune teller – came to town with that travelling fair – told him water would be the death of him. It’s outrageous, frightening people like that. Ought to be illegal. Convinced himself he’s to be drowned in a flood – and now look at him!” She gazed hopelessly up at the distant figure of her husband at the top of the tower.

The lighthouse keeper tended to agree. How was he supposed to make a proper job of tending to the building – much less keep the light in good order – with a crazed man hurling himself about the place, screeching about impending floods and generally getting in the way? Should he consult his superiors? Demand that Mr Fazakerly be formally removed, as an impediment to lawful lighthouse-keeping? It was the best plan, and a note of complaint was duly written and sent. In the meantime, though, life, and light, must go on, Fazakerly or no Fazakerly.

And so the sober and proper upkeep of the building continued. The lighthouse keeper, a fastidious man by nature, discovered a trail of muddy footprints all the way up the spiral staircase. “Didn’t even stop to wipe his feet, that Fazakerly. Scandalous.” 

It was not to be borne, and though it was late in the day, a mop and bucket were carried to the top, and the laborious cleansing of the many steps begun. But it was growing dark, and the lighthouse keeper stopped to tend the light. Normal service must be maintained, he thought, as far as possible under the circumstances.

But Mr Fazakerly, blinded equally by terror and the startling light, barged past him yelling, “The flood! The flood is coming!”

As the lighthouse keeper said at the inquest: “Pushed past me, your honour – very rude – tripped over my bucket, and went bump, bump, bump, crash, bump all the way down the stairs. Broke his neck somewhere on the way down. Buckled my bucket, too.” 

Mrs Fazakerly, in deep mourning, told her neighbours about the prophetic warning of the fortune teller. “Water would be the death of him, she said, and she was right. But it wasn’t a flood, like he thought, oh dear, no. It was just a bucketful did for Fazakerly.”

About the author 


For full details of all Kathy's books, follow her on her Amazon page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kathy-Sharp/e/B00E5BJ0BK/

Whales and Strange Stars. Lovely historical novel set in the marshlands of 18th century Kent. 
The sense of place is perfectly captured, and the writing just dances off the page. Highly recommended.’ myBook.to/WhalesAndStrangeStars


Friday, 16 February 2018

The Big Issue

by   James McEwan

carrot and coriander soup 


The rain came lashing down, Mary rushed into the doorway where she stopped and turned to shake the water from her umbrella.
‘Excuse me!’ she said to the man blocking the door into the café.
He was a Big Issue seller sheltering from the wet wind, and he grinned at her as he stood in her way. Mary thought he seemed nice enough so she bought a copy from him, and only then he moved aside to let her squeeze past into Harvey’s Café.
Since her husband, Bill, was no longer around this visit was one of her regular treats to have some hot broth before she went on to the Co-op for her shopping.
She found it hard to accepted that Bill had passed away, and occasionally she would imagine him in the kitchen making tea or washing up. She would slowly creep in and, as always, it was only the rain and wind prattling against the window. Often, she would stand by the sink staring out into the garden. Her thoughts would linger about Bill, and envision him out there pulling up the weeds from amongst the kale and turnips.
In the Café, she lifted her soup plate off the tray on to the table then realized she’d forgotten the bread roll, a napkin and a spoon.
‘Oh dear,’ she sighed. She took off her glasses and placed them on the table, then pushed back her grey hair that had come loose. She pinned it back with a Kirby grip.
When Bill was around he would prompt her not to forget this and that, and he would also know where she had left things. ‘Aye’, she chuckled. She often forgot where she put her glasses. Same place as always, he would tell her, on the table in the garden where she had been reading, and it was also Bill who remembered where she had hidden the spare cash for Christmas presents.
‘Poor Bill,’ she whispered on the way to the counter where she fetched a bread roll and a spoon.
Back at the table the Big Issue Seller had sat down. What! The cheek of the man, he was supping at the soup, and seemingly not so nice now. She hadn’t noticed him sneak in behind her, and although he may be hungry had she not already given him some money to help out? Clearly that wasn’t enough, oh no, here he was eating her soup. She dragged a chair out from the table and sat down. She stared at him. He looked back at her, there was not a word of apology, and he just grinned. She didn’t want to make a fuss, but still he was taking advantage. Was he typical of the type she had read about in the newspapers? He was probably one of those asylum seekers or an immigrant after a free hand out.
She tore her bread in half and dipped it, soaking up some soup. So there, she stared at him, two can play this game. The man reacted by giving the plate a slight push towards her and carried on supping. So, he wants to share, now that is very kind of him offering up her soup. She grabbed her spoon and started eating but at the same time kept her eyes on him. He looked back at her not saying a word. Probably because he doesn’t speak any English and he’s embarrassed, as he should be, imagine taking advantage of an old lady.
The carrot soup was hot with spicy coriander, and she began to enjoy this communal spoon for spoon race to finish the dish. She took the last of her bread roll and in one defiant swipe mopped the plate clean. She gave him a smug glare. He smiled, then went to the counter and brought her a coffee. He also shared half of his sugary doughnut with her.
Still he had not spoken and it seemed in their silence that she felt an affinity with his predicament. He had a clean face and appeared pleasant. Perhaps he was trying to get on his feet by selling the Big Issue, and maybe back in his country he has a family who miss him.
He got up from the table, put on his coat and gestured to her with a farewell nod as he walked out.
Mary finished her coffee. Although they had not spoken, she enjoyed the silent company of the Big Issue seller who seemed rather kind. What would Bill have thought about her drinking coffee with a stranger? Of course, it would never have happened if he were here.
She looked around. Where were her glasses? She was sure she had put them on the table and her handbag on the other seat. They were missing along with her umbrella.
‘Oh dear,’ she gasped. How could she be such a simpleton in trusting a stranger and a foreigner at that? The newspapers were right about these people, who come and take advantage of our country’s welfare. He’s probably thrown her empty purse onto the railway track and at this very minute heading to her house with her keys before she can do anything. If only Bill was still around. Her eyes began to water and she held a napkin to her face.
She clenched her fists, tensed her whole body and the soup in her stomach seemed to curdle. She stood up causing her chair to fall over backwards, but it was no use trying to run down the street screaming stop thief. Instead she would get the girl behind the counter to call the police.
She glanced around the café as tears flowed down her face and she stamped her foot.
‘Oh dear,’ she cried then burst out laughing. ‘How could I be so silly?’
Across the café at another table she saw her umbrella leaning against a chair with her handbag, and her glasses were lying next to a plate of Scotch broth, which by now had gone cold.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Warning

by Susan A Eames

whisky sour 


I waited around the corner, just shy of the zebra crossing. I knew his habits well. 
He left the Off-Licence with a bag. Wine? Or perhaps she preferred champagne? I started the car.
He strode towards the crossing. I eased onto the main road, smooth as cream. I knew he wouldn’t notice me. That was the problem. He never noticed me. 
The fact was, despite my efforts, he never saw the real me - never noticed the smart, sassy woman who lived inside this plain-Jane skin: a woman smart enough to know when something was wrong and have the guts to investigate. And despite being side-swiped by his betrayal, a woman still smart and brave enough to make a difficult decision.
He stepped onto the crossing. I accelerated. For a split second our eyes locked - his widened in alarm and realisation. Too late, mate.
Bodies don’t bounce. They thud and crunch and roll away kinda slow. It surprised me. I smelt whisky, not wine – that was a surprise too.

Janice hit the Print button, satisfied with the opening of her new thriller. She placed the draft strategically on her desk, knowing her husband would read it.

About the author:

Susan A. Eames left England over twenty five years ago to explore the world and dive its oceans. She has had travel articles and short fiction published on three continents. After several fascinating years living in Fiji she has relocated to West Cork in Ireland. Susan blogs at: susan-a-eamestravelfictionandphotos.blogspot.ie


Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Crackers

Roger Noons

Champagne

 
‘You’re crackers,’ she said.
    ‘And you’re nuts,’ he told her.
    ‘Trying to persuade me you’re from Brazil. Hah! I bet you don’t even know where it is?’
    ‘I do, it’s …’
    ‘See, told you!’
    ‘It’s in South America and the language is Portuguese.’
    ‘What’s the name of the capital city?’
    ‘Brasilia.’
    ‘Really, I thought it was Rio de Janeiro?’
 
Hazel and Diogo reprise this conversation each year on their wedding anniversary before they toast each other. So far they have got through thirty seven bottles of champagne.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Unidentified Pancake

By Liz Cox

a saucer of milk

 
Fred and Sandra were taking a stroll along the stone edged path which led around the garden. The sun was shining which was a change, as it had been a really soaking wet February. They were fed up with being inside. It wasn’t natural. They sniffed the air twitching their noses to take in the new scents which had appeared, since they were last outside. Sandra tapped the snowdrops to make them dance. Fred heard a rustling in the grass.
‘It’s that grey mouse which lives under the redcurrant bush. It’ll get him this time.’ He slunk to the ground and waited, claws flexing in and out of his striped ginger paw in eager anticipation. Sandra sat preening nonchalantly pretending not to notice.
            ‘You’ll never get him,’ she grinned with glee, washing behind her sooty ear, ‘he’s far too clever for you.’
            ‘If you’d stop purring, maybe I’d get a chance,’ Fred said crossly creeping nearer to the rustling. He pounced, and a flash of grey sped past his nose. Sandra purred louder.
‘Told you.’
Fred narrowed his yellow eyes and pretended not to care. Turning swiftly on his heel, his tail swishing, he sauntered in the direction of the bird table. It was always good for a fun time. He stopped in his tracks.
‘Hey Sandra, what’s that on the floor?’ All animosity forgotten, he turned to his companion who was following behind him pretending to search for voles amongst the rockery stones but in fact was just enjoying the warmth of the winter sunshine. Sandra turned her slanted green eyes towards him and chirruped.
‘Oh Fred, what rubbish have you found now?  - Can you eat it?’
‘Dunno,’ said Fred, poking a pale disc with the tips of his claws. The disc moved as he touched it. ‘Eeew, it’s all soft and squidgy.’ He pawed it again, and it rippled into folds. He sniffed it and backed away in disgust. ‘Doesn’t smell very good.’
Sandra, by now, was intrigued to see what he had found, but feigned indifference. She padded over in his direction. Sniffing the thing, she drew back.
‘Yes! you’re right, doesn’t smell very meaty.’ She stuck her little black nose in the air and ruffled her fur. ‘Must have been left there by the awful small ones.’ The small ones were the bane of her life.
Fred wasn’t finished. He pawed the thing again. It squelched beneath his foot and skidded across the path. He followed it. This had the makings of a good game. Sandra, watching her friend spread-eagled on the dirt, bent down to touch it herself with her elegant claws. She recoiled in horror.
‘Fred, it’s warm.  Do you think it’s alive?’ She purred gleefully. She was thinking that this could be fun. She stroked her silky whiskers with her soft black paw.
Fred gave the thing a little push with his nose. It didn’t move.
 ‘Don’t think so San. Do you think it’s a jelly fish like those on the beach?’
Sandra shuddered. They had only once ventured onto the nearby sands, where they had been attacked by moving water. Their people had become hysterical when they found them; so much fuss. It was not a memory she cared to dwell on. Fred was becoming braver and stamped his foot right in the middle of the disc. It didn’t move.
‘I think I’ve killed it San,’ he mewed with disappointment. As he tried to withdraw his paw, he discovered that his claws were caught in the thing. He couldn’t dislodge it. He flicked his leg; the thing came with it. He tried to walk, the thing came with him.
‘Here San, stand on the other edge.’
‘Not if you call me San, I won’t. I’ve told you about that before.’ Sandra tip-toed towards the thing. She didn’t like getting her paws dirty, unless it was in the innards of a delicious rodent. Up on the bird table above them, there was a cacophony of chirping and shrieking.
‘What’s wrong with them?’ she said, gazing longingly at the flutter of wings above, ‘anyone would think we were going to attack them.’
Fred also gazed upward licking his lips. This damn thing on his foot was distracting him. He tried to shake it loose, but it swung around in the air draping itself over his foot. It began to tear and fell to the ground with a splat, where it was pounced on by Sandra. She picked it up in her mouth and spat it out.
‘That is so awful!,’ she cried trying to dislodge the last piece from her sharp little canines. ‘Perhaps you’re not supposed to eat it.’
‘What else could you do with it?’ Fred ventured, ‘perhaps it’s a nice cushion?’
With that Fred tried to lie on it, moving his back from side to side in ecstasy. He found it was too slippery and fell off. The birds had now raised their voices and were swooping down on the supine cat, as he rolled on the thing. He raised his paws to fend them off catching a brave little sparrow with his claw. The bird let out a terrified shriek, as it disentangled itself and flew off.  Sandra by now was bored and tapped her white tipped tail on the ground.  In the hope of securing one of the diving birds, she swiped the air.
‘This is much more fun Fred.’ She said, ‘leave that thing alone, it’s so boring.’
‘Fred! Sandra! You wicked cats, I put that pancake on the bird table to feed the birds not you two. Get back in the house, you horrors!’
Startled the cats stopped what they were doing, turning in the direction of the Large Person’s voice.
‘Uh huh, it’s Large Person, we better scram,’ said Fred getting up from his grubby pancake blanket which was now covered in thick ginger fur. ‘I don’t think the birds will want to eat it now.’ He grinned. ‘Come on San, let’s go,’ he growled as he slunk off into the privet hedge, followed by Sandra.
‘Don’t call me San.’
 

About the author

Liz is a member of the Bangor Cellar Writing Group and spends her time working at the 'day job' whilst trying to complete her first novel. In the meantime, she writes short stories and poetry while gazing at the view of Snowdonia from her window.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Middleman

by Alyson Faye

lemon tea 

I gorge on the scents and sounds of the market since I am forbidden to eat ‘street food.’ Heat ripples the surrounding air; lengths of sari material drift lazily over our shoulders as we stroll through the narrow alleyways. We are scrutinized; objects of interest.
We must appear a strange trio. Mama in her second best pearls, carrying a parasol; me in my best white linen, both so pale skinned and our dubash* -Hommajee. Taller than Papa, with coffee- coloured skin and a wild moustache. To my seven-year-old eyes he’s the image of a pirate in a picture book I have.
Papa’s posting has uprooted us from the green fields of Farnham, Surrey to this hot, exotic country humming with its own strange rhythms. Papa is away all day, ‘working.’ At dinner he says Grace then reads his papers in silence. Mama has instructed me not to disturb him with my childish questions. So instead I track down ‘Jee’, who is Papa’s “fine fellow” and his “right arm.”
In the bazaar a young girl slips past me. I feel her fingertips stroke my hip then slip into my pocket. She beckons me to follow her deeper into the maze of stalls. However, when I take a step forwards, Jee blocks my path, shaking his head sternly. “No young sir.”
“Why?” I ask. I am not prepared to give up just yet. I am the master here.
Jee is silent. He stands staring at me, his face still. Frowning. I cave in, resenting the small stand off.
“Come on Edward. Don’t dally.” Mama calls. Then I hear her cry out in anger.
“Get away from me! Leave me alone!” She knocks myriad skinny fingers away from her cream linen dress. They leave grubby stains. Her face is contorted, twisted into fleshy folds.
Jee appears at her side in a moment. It is a trick of his. This effortless glide. Smiling, he clears a pathway for us to our destination. The rug emporium. We step from dazzling whiteness into a calming dimness. The owner, bowing all the while, brings us tiny cups, and stools, more suited for dolls. The thought causes me to giggle, fortunately only Jee hears me.
The rug seller offers us trays of candies, glistening ruby reds and honey coated. Oh the luxury of them! Mama shakes her head. I let my hand drop. I am allowed to eat only what Cook provides. I hover, my innards aching with longing.
Jee hands me a freshly baked biscuit behind his back, while he distracts Mama with conversation. Syrupy sweetness explodes on my tongue. Bliss.
The haggling over the rug becomes heated. Mama loves to barter. She makes daily raids on the local markets. It is all she does, except for playing bridge or All Fours and holding dinner parties where the ladies’ dresses remind me of the peacocks strutting around the grounds.
Jee guides Mama towards a larger rug; a woven mosaic of greens and blues. Its colours are those of cool waters. I dream of jumping into the furry tufts and lying face down. The price tag makes me swoon though. Papa is rich I believe, which is “a fortuitous occurrence”, in Mama’s words.
Jee whispers to Mama. They are the same height I observe. How strange. Papa is a tad shorter than Mama. The brim of Mama’s hat brushes Jee’s turbaned head. I gasp at the intimacy. Mama laughs at something Jee says, then she hands over a thick fold of notes to the shop owner who bows.
As we are leaving I glance over my shoulder and I espy Jee pocketing fresh handfuls of rupees. They overflow his fist. The owner is bowing deeply to him just as he had to Mama a few moments earlier. I am confused. Jee works for Papa. He is our servant.
Jee stares at me, then he puts his finger to his lips and shakes his head. Sticky heat sweat breaks out all over my body. I stay close to Mama on the walk home which I know irritates her. She keeps pushing me away a little distance. Jee whistles and hums a tune, but I don’t join in. Jee keeps glancing at me, trying to catch my eye. I ignore him.
Confusion bubbles up, making me queasy. My mouth fills with the syrupy bile of the sweetmeat. Guilt soaks through me. I have disobeyed a direct instruction, aided by Jee. I cannot eat dinner and ask to be excused. Papa does not glance at me when I leave the table.
Later that night when I am sick Mama blames the heat. I say nothing. It is easier with Mama to let her believe what she wishes.
* interpreter

About the author

Alyson writes mainly flash fiction and short stories. Her work has appeared on Tubeflash online,on the premises,Three Drops journal; Raging Aardvark's new anthology 'Twisted Tales' and Alfie Dog. Some of her stories are available as podcasts. Chapeltown is pleased to have published her Flash Fiction Collection Badlands.   

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Shopping

Roger Noons 

champagne

 
I remembered him from a few weeks ago. He bought three different cards - With Love at Christmastime - the insides blank. As I gave him change he glanced at my badge. ‘Happy Christmas, Alison,’ he said.
    This time he came to the counter with tasteful Valentine Cards. ‘Three lucky ladies,’ I said.
    ‘My daughters. One year, when they were teenagers, only two of them received cards. Since then I’ve ensured that all three get at least one card. They’re in their thirties now, married, but I still send them.’
    I smiled. ‘Is that everything?’
    He nodded. ‘Yes, I don’t need … I’m widowed.’
    ‘Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to … I’m on my own as well.’ I offered him the packet but he didn’t take it right away, saying. ‘If I can get a table at The Talbot for Wednesday evening, will you join me for supper?’
    ‘That would be lovely, thank you.’
    ‘I’ll pop in tomorrow,’ he said.
    As he walked towards the door, I called. ‘I’m here between ten and five.’
 
It was five past ten when he came in. I looked up and saw he was shaking his head. ‘No luck I’m afraid, I’m so sorry, if I’d asked you earlier …’
    ‘That’s all right,’ I said, but couldn’t look at his face. When he didn’t move away, as my cheeks began to burn I added. ’There’s a prize-winning fish and chip shop five minutes from where I live.’ When I did summon the courage, he was grinning.
    ’Do you like salt and vinegar on yours?’

About the auhtor 

 
Roger has had more than 100 submissions posted on Cafe Lit. Slimline Tales, comprising 75 of his stories, has just been published by Chapeltown Books.