Thursday, 17 August 2017

Martin's Flags



 Gill James 

strong black coffee

“I got Martin to tidy out my cupboard,” said Steph. “Jane would never have coped.”  Both women watched the gaggle of Ofsted inspectors troop along the corridor.
“Well, she’d have coped better than any of them I should think,” muttered Ann. “Those who can’t, teach, and those who can’t teach, inspect. Do they move around in packs like that because they’re scared? I just hope he behaves if they come in next lesson.”
“Well, you know where I am if you need me.”
Ann moved towards her classroom. No sign of any suits or heels. Thank God. Just Year 9, bottom set.  All twelve of them.  Ah well. Would she get them to remember any French today?
She’d just got them answering her “Où habites-tu?” with “J’habite….” followed by the name of the country whose flags she held up when in walked the rodent-faced modern languages inspector. He nodded curtly and sat down right next to Martin.
Ann’s mouth went dry. Today Martin was wearing his Combined Cadet Force uniform. That usually gave him permission to bully other kids.
They started on colours.  “Quelles sont les couleurs du drapeau de la France?”
To her amazement Martin’s hand shot up. 
“Oui, Martin?”
“Bleu, rouge et blanc. »
« D’accord. »
The lesson continued. Martin kept  volunteering information. ”Le drapeau de l’Espagne est rouge et jaune. »  He certainly knew all of his colours and country names and it soon became clear that he knew more about flags than she did.
The Ofsted inspector hardly looked up from his notebook. Martin kept staring at him. Ann hoped he wouldn’t say anything rude. 
The lesson ended. The inspector nodded again and left the room. Martin came up to her desk. “That bloke who was sitting next to me didn’t join in the lesson. He was doing his homework all the time.”
“No Martin, he was making notes about how well you were doing.”
“Naw. He’s a loser. He don’t know nothing about flags. Miss, for my homework, can I print some out and put the names on in French? You can put them up in the classroom.”
Had she heard Martin correctly?  “That would be lovely, Martin. Thank you.”

Steph came up to her at break. “You’ve got a glowing report from the inspector. The whole lesson conducted in French, more or less, and bottom set Year 9 enthused.”
“Don’t know how I managed that.”  Something made her look out of the window.
A group of younger students had gathered round the big oak tree at the edge of the field. Martin was swinging from a branch of a tree. Was he shouting abuse at them? That would be his normal style.
After he'd been so good. She rushed out ready to remonstrate. As she got nearer, though, she realised that he was singing the colours of the rainbow in French. The younger students were enthralled. He grinned. "Did I impress that inspector bloke, miss?"   
        

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Bus Stop

Robin Wrigley

pink gin and tonic

The moment Sharon turned the corner from the tube station her heart all but stopped. Standing at the bus stop no more than fifty yards away was her husband Robert and he was not alone. Stepping back around the street corner she leaned against the sandstone wall of the bank, close to fainting.
     She closed her eyes, took several deep breaths and tried to arrange her thoughts into some sensible order, willing herself not to cry. With grim determination she managed this and opened her eyes.
     Her first thought was one of complete incredulity; the man she had been married to for twenty-five years and listened to, pontificating about how he would never ever catch a London bus  for some snobbish, stupid reason, was round the corner about to do just that with an attractive woman half his age.
     By the time she had composed herself sufficiently to confront the pair the bus stop was empty and the bus was disappearing down the street. ‘The bastard. The lying, conniving creep,’ she muttered under her breath. ‘Just you wait my darling; talk your way out of this if you can.’

He was home on time a little after seven, announcing his arrival from the hall that he was going to change before dinner; just as he always did.
     ‘Something smells good,’ he said as he entered the kitchen, kissed the back of her neck and headed for the wine glasses.
     ‘Red or white darling?’
     ‘Please yourself – it’s not important,' she replied noticeably curt.
     ‘Something wrong? You sound a bit out of sorts. What have I done this time? ‘He turned to regard her while pouring two glasses of red wine.
     ‘All in good time Robert, all in good time,’ she replied testing the potatoes with a fork.
     This last remark was very unsettling and Robert almost spilt the wine he was pouring.
     ‘Go and sit at the table this will be ready in a jiffy and then we can have a nice little chat, you and me. A nice little chat.’ She steeled herself to keep calm.
     Robert carried the two glasses of wine through to the dining room and sat down. Experience had taught him over the years that there was no point in trying to carry on a conversation in the kitchen when Sharon was like this. He would be lying if he wasn’t concerned, but there was no point in pursuing this until she was good and ready.
     She came into the room carrying the two plates of dinner carefully placing Robert’s in front of him before sitting down with her own. Once she was fully seated and after taking a sip of her wine, she looked directly at her husband.
     ‘So how was your day Robert?’ She took another sip of wine and sensed his obvious discomfort; at charged moments like this the roles were normally reversed and invariably about credit card expenditures.
     He averted his gaze and began to eat pausing after the first mouthful he said. ‘Not much really, same old crap same as a normal Tuesday. Why d’you ask?’
     ‘Go anywhere at lunchtime?’
     ‘Only to the corner pub for a sandwich with Will.’ His discomfort moved up several notches up and it showed.
     ‘So you didn’t go on one of those horrible red buses that you’ve been telling everybody you’d never ride on then?’
     ‘No,’ but his voice faltered and he again avoided looking at her by concentrating on his meal.
     ‘You’re a damned liar Robert. I saw you getting on a bus with some tart around midday and don’t you try and deny it.’ She had stood up and placed both hands on the end of the table glaring at him.
     At the utterance of the last remark he also jumped to his feet. 'Be careful what you say and who you label Sharon. You are moving into deep waters. You might not like the answers to your extremely offensive line of questioning.’ He took another, deeper drink from his glass and moved to the kitchen for the bottle.
     ‘So who was this tart who has managed to get you onto a bus, something for some utterly stupid reason you said you would never, ever do. So many times I could have screamed then and I still could.’ She held her glass out for a refill and with a slightly shaking hand he obliged.
     ‘That tart is my daughter.’
     Sharon fell back in her chair spilling half of the wine on to the tablecloth creating a series of red splodges all around the tablecloth in front of her plate.
     ‘What did you say?’
     ‘You heard right, she is my daughter; it was her thirtieth birthday so I took her for lunch.’
     It was as though Sharon had been hit between the eyes with a hammer. They had spent a fortune on getting the pair of them checked out in order to start a family. She proved to be eminently fertile but his results always turned up negative.
     ‘But you’re sterile; you cannot produce children. All the reports said that.’ Sharon’s control now failed and she started to cry. How could this be?
     ‘She was conceived when I was a sixth former at grammar school; her mother was a taxi driver I met in a coffee bar. She simply fancied me and one thing led to another.’ He explained it as though he had simply helped an old lady to cross the street. The man who had denied her motherhood.
     ‘So how come we couldn’t have children? The clinic all said that I was perfectly capable. Yet your tests came back negative didn’t they? She looked at him closely; this was unbelievable.   
      I had a vasectomy after I graduated. I never wanted kids. Don’t like them.’ He sat back down in an attempt to carry on eating. 
       He never saw the plate coming for his head.


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Hallelujah

Roger Noons


two martinis with lemonade.

 

Avril was leaning towards the mirror, touching up her lipstick. She heard rustling followed by the flush and a click. The cubicle door opened and Mavis emerged. ‘Hi,’ she said stepping alongside and turning on the tap. ‘All set?’
    After checking her gurning reflection, she turned to her fellow soprano. ‘Think so, you?’
    ’Mmm ... Mind you I’ve had a look at the score for the chorus. Not sure I’ll make those high notes in this top.’
    Head on one side, Avril studied the garment. ‘Suits you, but perhaps it’s more for attracting than singing. You could pop out. Not sure Greg would mind though. He always likes you in the middle on the front row.’
    Mavis sighed. ‘I doubt you’ve much chance either, in that skirt.’
    They laughed in unison.
    ‘What say we go to the pub instead?’
    ‘I’ll vote for that,’ Avril giggled.
    After leaving the Ladies, they linked arms and walked away, leaving the rehearsal to those more appropriately dressed

Monday, 24 July 2017

The Bench



David Deanshaw 

barley wine

A tear was trickling down his cheek.  He had clasped his hands and then wound then together tightly. I didn’t really want to disturb him, but I needed to rest my weary arthritic knees. I looked over towards him seeking to share his bench. He looked over to me reading my thoughts and he nodded, but did not move. He had been listening to a gentle chorus of birds hidden with the trees.  

‘Peaceful,’ I said.

‘Yes she loved it here.’

I hesitated realising I had interrupted a tender moment.

‘How long ago? I asked.

‘Today, last year,’ he croaked.

‘I don’t want to disturb you.’ 

‘Not a problem, perhaps you’d stay and listen for a while?’

‘Tell me about her.’

‘She was the kindest, gentlest woman you could ever wish to meet. She organised me from the day we got engaged. She kept house, did the budgets and the cooking.’

‘But you helped? By providing the funds?’

‘Yes that’s what we men were for in those days. Then she bore the children.’

How many?’
'Just two, one of each.’

‘But you helped?’

‘Yes of course. But whenever they fell or got bruised or scratched it was her warmth that mended them.  She used to say, “There you are, mummy mended it.” They’d recover as if by magic. I taught them to read then listened as they read to me.  I did sums with them – fractions they always found difficult, but not decimals later.’ He raised his head and looked into the distance. ‘Now they’ve both gone away.’

'Far?’

‘Australia and New Zealand.’

‘Do they come back to visit?

‘Only for the funeral,’ his voice croaked again, ‘they stayed for three weeks to help me sort things out, then left’

‘Do you want to be with them?'

‘Difficult, I’d have to be sponsored at my age. Besides, she’s still here with me, not out there.’
Trying to hide a frown of not quite understanding, I asked, ‘but do they want you to go?’

‘No I don’t think so. They only think of the future, not the past.’

At that moment, he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. There engraved on the bench were the words, ’in loving memory of Amy.’ She had been sitting on his shoulder the whole time,
‘What else do you do with your time?’

‘Not much I don’t know what to do without her.’

‘You were obviously very much in love.’

‘I loved her more every day.’

‘Can I make a suggestion?’

 ‘Please do,’

‘A friend of mine decided some years ago that he knew nothing of his parent’s family or any of his antecedents, so he decided to write a book about himself for his children and their children. He did it all the way from junior school to retirement.’

‘Oh I couldn’t do that.’

‘If I said that the most touching part of the book for me, when I read it, was the story of how he met the woman he would spend the rest of his life with.  Right from first meeting, to falling in love and realising that they were soul mates.  It was a love story that brought a tear to my eyes.  What would you say to that?

‘It sounds a nice story.’

‘All your readers will learn just how much he loved her.  He tells me it was a joy to write.  Did your grandchildren ever meet Amy?’

‘No they stayed with the other grandparents for the funeral.’

‘Then why not write something for their sake. I am sure you have pictures too?' 

He nodded. ‘Do you know I think that I quite like that idea? We got a computer some years ago to stay in touch by email.  My son recently introduced me to Skype.  He calls me every Saturday morning at ten in the morning, so it must be the same out there only at night. Thank you for talking to me. Shall we stay in touch?'



Sunday, 23 July 2017

Tronie

Roger Noons

a small glass of Bols gin.

‘Jan?’
    ‘Mmm?’
    ‘Can we speak?’
    ‘I’m rather busy, is it important?’
    ‘It surely is. The girl’s just come back from the market.’ When he didn’t take his gaze from the canvas, she added. ‘With nothing. No food, nothing to drink, not even yesterday’s vegetables. Our credit’s run out Jan, the traders want guilders.’
    ‘Can’t your mother—’
    ‘I’m tired of running to Mama to get us out of trouble.’ The sob was evident in Catharina’s voice. ‘Why can’t you sell one of your paintings? It’s supposed to be the Golden Age, why won’t you send some to the Gallery? You belong to The Guild, I thought that was set up to market your works?’
    ‘My paintings are worth more than people wish to pay. I will wait until I can get a realistic price.’
    ‘And in the meantime we starve. All of us.’ She sighed. ‘I think we have to let Griet go, she gets thinner by the day. It’s not fair on her, we cannot afford a servant.’
    ‘She’s going to sit for me. I think I can make a good tronie which will sell. I’d like you to dress her up.’
    ‘Can’t you do that in your spare time? I’ve heard the brewery by the river is closing. It’s going to be used to make porcelain. The talk around the streets is that it will put Delft on the map. They’ll be looking for people to paint local scenes. You could do that.’
    The look he gave paused her, but having summoned up courage, she continued. ‘You could paint for the weavers, which would be regular work.’
    ‘Catharina, I’m an artist. Dress the girl up, I’ll start tomorrow. And see if you can find an item of jewellery to brighten up her face. It’s rather plain.’

‘Tronie’ is 16-17th Century Dutch for ‘face.’ Used in The Golden Age it referred to a ‘stock character in costume.’
   

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Lisa

Roger Noons

 

a glass of Chianti

‘Are you going out?’
   ‘Yes, a boy came with a message. He wants me at the studio.’
    ‘He! You talk of him as if he’s God,’ Francesco spat. ‘I thought you said he was being thrown out for not paying the rent?’
    ‘He gave the landlord a painting.’
    ‘Hah, I doubt it’ll ever be worth anything.’
    ‘He’s a great artist,’ Lisa said. ‘Well respected, he has pupils. Sculptors as well as painters.’
    Her husband stared for some time. ‘Do you only sit for him? You don’t lie down as well?’
    ‘Don’t be disgusting. He’s not like that.’
    ‘All men are like that, unless they’re queer,’ he mumbled.
    ‘He says that in time, my portrait will be revered. It will hang in an important Gallery and people will travel from all over the world to look at it.’
    ‘You what?’ he laughed. ‘What’s he on? I’ll have a bottle of what he drinks.’
    She stood up, fastened the buttons on her jacket and picked up her bonnet.
    ‘And when will you be back?’ Francesco growled.
    She shrugged. ‘Once the sun passes over the skylight, I suppose about five.’
    ‘Who’s going to get my dinner?’
    ‘Ask one of your whores, I gather you have a choice … perhaps that long haired one, Gina is it?’
    He sat open-mouthed as she left, slamming the door behind her. She smiled as she walked along the passage into the Florentine sunshine.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Plea


 Roger Noons

a glass of the sweetest ambrosia


Maria,

I checked last week, it was still there glowing in the sunlight. A man told me that in September the balustrade will be repainted. It suffers from the affects of the easterly wind and salt from the sea. He assured me that our padlock will remain, be protected while the work is carried out.

Might we find someone to save us, rescue our love?  To reignite the flames that soared into the sky on that June evening when, happily, we threw the keys far into the ocean. When we deemed our hearts should intertwine and beat as one.

Toni.