Monday, 16 October 2017

Will Today Be a Good Day?

Helen Combe

camomile tea 

It’s always a struggle first thing in the morning. These stiff, arthritic knees take time to warm up, to loosen, to bend. I’m out of bed now and moving around. The nurses in the home tell me that there are better exercises I could do than those on my old Wii Fit, but I have to take my virtual bike around Wuhu Island each morning, otherwise how will I know if today will be a good day?

I turn on the TV, switch on the Wii and nudge the button on the exercise board with my toe. The screen comes to life, and there I am, my Mii, my virtual self astride my virtual bike on my own, virtual Wuhu Island.
I haven’t changed my Mii for 30 years. It’s still as I was when I was 50. I know because that was when I first cut my hair short and it was still brown then, with a little help.

I step onto the board and she kicks off, heading up the sunlit path with the gravel crunching under the wheels of her bike. I start walking on the spot and she speeds up towards the first flag. She takes it and I turn her to the right to take a short cut between the trees. The birds are calling and the tyres swish as they roll over the grass. I’m heading towards the town and other Miis, generic ones, wave encouragingly as I pass.

Then I see a familiar dark blue shirt. Not all of the Miis are generic. This one is my dad. He’s jogging across my path towards the rising sun and the red suspension bridge. I stop and watch him go. He’s doing what he always loved best. He used to run to work and he ran marathons before his heart condition was diagnosed. He died quietly in his chair of a cardiac arrest thirty years ago. I watch him head for the bridge from where he can run along the shoreline or round to the ancient, ruined city. If there is a heaven, my dad would consider Wuhu Island to be it.

I pedal into the town and head for the square. A little black and white cat is sitting on the corner. I ring the bike’s bell and it turns an eager face and gallops towards me. It has a red collar. This is Ripley, my most devoted and most needy cat. Her definition of happiness was to sprawl across my lap. She would wait for me to come home, then follow me, wailing until I finally sat down. She lived to a good age and died in my arms at the vet’s 10 years ago when old age had reduced her life to an existence and I could bear it no longer. She gallops up, overshoots and then reappears, cantering alongside me, looking up at me as she always did.

We approach the fountain in the middle of the square. I turn the bike towards it, see the flag and ring the bike’s bell. Ripley scampers away, collects the flag on my behalf and thunders back. I now turn and pedal out of the town and up the hill toward the hamlet and the cliffs. I pass between the houses and crest the hill. Ripley collects another flag and I freewheel down to the rock archway. There I see a powder blue shirt. My mum is jogging directly towards me. I stop the bike and hold my breath. Will she change direction or keep coming straight? She jogs right up to me, smiles directly into my face and then trots past.

“Hello, Mum,” I say quietly. I turn my Mii and watch her go. She died 15 years ago. Pneumonia after a fall, but I see her here most days. Not all days, there is a random element to the appearance of the Miis, I may not see her at all or be mortified as I was one day when she jogged past wearing the chicken outfit from the flying game, but that’s another story. So far, it’s been a good day. I start stepping again and my Mii kicks off the ground and continues to pedal. Ripley, who had been waiting expectantly, frolics back into the game. She and I crisscross the meadow, picking up all the remaining flags between us and are now heading for the finish line. It’s inside a small arena which I could approach with aplomb by taking a series of three jumps and ultimately flying into the space, but I know Ripley won’t follow me over the wall, so I go the long way round and enter sedately through the gateway.

There is very little time left and I scan the group of Miis who are assembled to cheer me over the line. I hate it when they are all generics, but it’s okay, I see him. To my left, at the finish line stands my husband. He’s clapping, cupping his hands to his mouth and jumping up and down with excitement. I brake and Ripley goes to stand next to him. I tell him the news. Only the good news. You can’t tell bad news to someone who’s so happy. Finally, I step again on the exercise board, the bike starts up and passes the finish line. My Mii raises both arms in triumph and I pedal, no hands, up the road as Ripley frisks beside me.

My husband died five years ago, a swift and remorseless cancer, leaving me all alone to face old age among strangers. Except here. Here my loved ones are all still young, still fit and I see them most days. Today I saw all four which means that today will be a good day. 

One of the best.

About the author

Helen is a member of the Solihull Writers group and was shortlisted for the To 
Hull & Back humour competition 2016. She is currently blogging her experience of breast cancer on her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/HelenCombeWriter

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Lucky Lucas

Roger Noons


a glass of Amontillado.

 

    My head ached! Not the usual pressure behind the eyes, every nerve ending vibrated pain. My cheeks burned; there was hissing in my ears; my lips itched; mucus dribbled from my sinuses down my nostrils; my teeth hummed and my eyeballs were being pressed, seemingly in a vice. To complete the agony, my neck felt like I was wearing a collar four sizes too small.
    Forty eight hours later, I felt slightly improved. My neck had been released and I had stopped leaking from the nose. The man wearing the unbuttoned white coat had rested his right buttock on the side of the bed.
    ‘You’re a lucky man, Mr. Lucas.’
    Lacking a left hand and having been told that I would never walk again, made me feel grateful that I was not in this consultant’s ‘unlucky’ classification.
    ‘I’ve been blown up doctor!’
    ‘Yes, but your colleague was killed.’
    ‘Perhaps he was the lucky one,’ I murmured.
    ‘Come now Mr. Lucas, you mustn’t think like that. You have a lot to live for.’
    ‘Yeah? How many one-handed classical guitarists do you know?’

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Norman Conquest

 Dawn Knox

cider from Normandy

The cry went up, “Duke William’s dead,” and the Norman onslaught wavered. Soldiers began to break from their ranks and run downhill away from us. 
We were impregnable within our Saxon shield wall, in our militarily superior position at the top of the hill. But as the Normans began to flee, our men gave chase. Ignoring our leaders’ orders they pursued the invaders with swords raised, already tasting victory. Too late they saw the Normans reassured by the appearance of Duke William who urged his men on to slay King Harold’s army. 
The Anglo-Saxon world ceased that day in 1066. 

About the author

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Harry’s Going to Die Anyway

Robin Wrigley 


Campari & Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice

 

The only time I met Ismail he was crouched down against the rough brick and flint church wall at the bus stop at St Mark’s church where I had been cleaning the altar brasses.
     ‘Are you alright?’ My question was rather rhetorical as he certainly looked unwell if not odd crouched down there in this cold weather now threatening to rain or snow.
     ‘Harry’s going to die anyway,’ he muttered fleetingly glancing in my direction and then back at the pavement.
     ‘Who is Harry? And even if he is there is no point in you joining him which you certainly will if you continue sitting down there in this weather young man. Here, let me help you up.’
     He attempted to avoid my help by moving his elbow into his side but I kept a firm hold and he allowed me to bring him up to a standing position. I was quite surprised when seeing him face to face how young he was and that he was an inch or two shorter than me. His face was a light milky-tea brown, with the pubescent, wispy-makings of a beard. His hair was simply black, long and unkempt. If I hadn’t discovered him cooping there on a winter’s afternoon I would have assumed he had just got out of bed having spent the night fully clothed in his current attire.
     ‘What’s your name?’
     ‘Ismail. What do you want with me missus? I wan’t doin’ any harm wuz I? I always get down like that when dis cold wind is blowin. Ain’t no law about that is there?’ He looked so desperate, so helpless, yet so hopeless part of me wanted to shake him while the other half wanted to hug him but I resisted.
     His nose started to run but before I could fish for a tissue from my bag he had wiped it away on the sleeve of his combat jacket that showed signs of previous similar use.
     ‘So, tell me who is this friend Harry and why is he going to die?’
     ‘It’s a long story missus and I ain’t got time to tell you. You can’t help him. Nobody can help him so just forget it. You got any money you can spare me?’
     How many times had my brother told me not to give in these situations. Don’t take out you purse and let them see it. But I did. I took my purse from my bag, opened it – there was a ten and a twenty pound note inside. I hesitated then gave him both.
     ‘There, that’s all I have I’m afraid but it should buy you something hot. Where will you go now you’re on your own?’
     His face almost broke into a smile but not quite. He took the money politely and crumpled the notes into a grubby hand touching his heart all in one movement.
     ‘Fanks missus, don’t you worry about me, somemink will come up, really.’

He turned and shuffled off down St Mark’s Avenue just as the street lights came on. I stood and watched him until his pathetic figure disappeared over the crest of the avenue. I brushed a tear from my cheek unsure if it was from sorrow or the cold December wind that was starting to pick up; turned around and headed for home.
     The following morning I called the local police station and asked if there had been any accidents the previous day. They said a young Asian boy had been fatally wounded in a hit and run accident. He didn’t have any identity papers on him and had no idea if his name was Harry. They were curious as to why I wanted to know as he had a large letter ‘H’ tattooed on the back of his hand.


Monday, 9 October 2017

Waiting

 Jeanne Davies

brandy sour

In a vast alien space filled with dull echoes from a cold polished floor, they are suspended.  Hurting and scared, their erratic pulses and bated breaths echo and ricochet off the walls. 
 
Brittle noises from shiny instruments spike the silence and palpable fear overwhelms those who are not sleeping.  Regular beats of monitors offer little comfort to those who wait in the dimness.
 
Captive in their fragile bodies, they have nowhere else to go, or run to … if only they could.  They wait for daylight, for hope, and for healing of wounds that go much deeper than the surface.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Help


Roger Noons

 

a glass of Pinot Grigio



‘Do you know her, that woman over there?’
    ‘No,’ I said.
    ‘Why is she smiling at you then?’
    ‘Not me, must be someone …’ I turned, but behind me was a grey wall.
    ‘You do, don’t you?’ Allison accused.
    I shook my head and raised the glass to my lips.
    ‘She’s the one who came collecting for Help for Heroes. What did you give her?’

‘Why did you just blow a kiss to that man?’ my husband asked.
    I smiled in the direction of my action. ‘When I was collecting in Pear Tree Drive, he told me he was a pacifist. When I shook the tin, he told me to clear off. Slammed the door in my face. Let him explain things to his wife.’

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Dad's expiration date

Brigita Orel

cocoa


Most children get their dads at birth. Me, not so. I got my dad when I was ten; just two weeks after my birthday, to be exact. That late summer afternoon, I kicked my ball against our apartment block wall and Mrs. Levy from the ground-floor apartment had already threatened me twice with her rolling pin. 
As the ball bounced off the peeling plaster, someone stopped behind my back.
I waited for Mrs. Levy to smack me on the head. When nothing happened, I turned around.
The man’s russet beard and hair flared around his head like a lion’s mane. A duffel bag lay in a heap at his feet.
“Hey kid.”
His voice rustled like when I walked through the dry grass in the school’s backyard.
“Do you know a Mirelle Meier?”
Oh-o! This was not good. You see, I am Max Meier. Meier—get it? Mirelle was my mom. She’d drilled me for years for just such an occasion. When a stranger appeared at our door, he was either a debt collector or a salesman. She couldn’t afford either one, and my task was to send them away or distract them.
Trouble was I’ve seen plenty of them and I couldn’t link the duffel bag or the man’s looks with either job.
“Why?”
“I need to speak to her.”
“Are you a debt collector?”
“What? No.” He smiled the way grown-ups smile when they’re trying to trick you because they think you’d fall for the sweetness.
I didn’t know what to do. He didn’t seem to fit Mum’s description of people to be afraid of, but I didn’t know what else to think of him either.
He stepped closer now, picking up his bag. Stooping down, he peered into my face.
“What’s your name?”
Another of Mom’s instruction was never to tell a stranger any details that might later help them find you. My name was such information, plus, seeing how the man was searching for a Meier there was the tiny problem of my last name.
“I’m not going to hurt you, kid. I’m Paul.”
The hand he extended towards me looked huge. His fingernails were bitten to the quick, just like mine. After some hesitation, I shook it, peering over my shoulder. I wouldn’t want Mom to see; she would worry for no reason. Because although Paul was still a stranger, I decided that he didn’t look very threatening.
“I’m Max,” I said.
Shock flew across Paul’s face like the blackbirds my ball had startled from a bush earlier.
He seemed so tall when he straightened up. “Max Meier?”
Then suddenly, he smiled. “Well, nice meeting you.”
Before I even registered that he knew my full name, he added, “I’m your father.”

I was so thrown I made a step back and almost fell on my ass. Before I recovered, Mum stood in the doorway, staring at Paul. I was afraid she’d be spitting mad, but she just paled, then blushed, then paled again. It was like in a cartoon, I swear! I hadn’t known anything like it was possible in real life.
She sent me inside, and when I protested, she gave me the darkest look. I tried to spy on them through the open window, but all I saw was her grabbing Paul’s elbow and dragging him further down the alley, away from Mrs. Levy’s and my ears. This was the first time Mom tried to hide something from me and it shocked me that it was now when my dad was concerned. I mean—he was my dad.
But the truth was I had no proof. All Mom had ever said about him was that they had broken up when I was six months old and she never saw him again.
I wanted to know what was going on when she came inside—alone—but she only looked at me and then continued on to the kitchen where she banged with pots and pans the entire evening. Despite all that noise, I only got scrambled eggs and a piece of stale bread for dinner. I could handle Mom yelling, but her quiet anger was the worst. So I kept my mouth shut.
For days, I couldn’t get rid of the questions. I had to find out whether Dad would be coming back. When I dug the key out of my pocket, coming home from school, I found the door already unlocked. With Mom’s fears drilled into me, I held my breath and quietly pushed the door open. I was faced with Mom’s stare as she turned on the couch. There were a few seconds when, just like in films, all I could hear was the ticking of the ugly orange wall clock. When Mom smiled, it seemed like a proper smile, one I haven’t seen in ages. Or at least since my last A in Maths. Which was … ages ago.
Dad sat with her on the couch, his hair tamer than last time.  

I was happy Dad was back but I wished I could tell him about the years he had been gone. How hard Mom worked to keep us afloat, as she would say. How I had to practice what to do if people from the social services or the bank showed up. A different role for each man or woman in a business suit. Once, for six weeks, I wrote my homework in my winter jacket by candlelight. Mom pretended we lived in the sixteenth century and I was Shakespeare or something. She thought she made it easier, but I saw her miserable face when she thought I wasn’t looking, and that stupid stinging started behind my eyes.
Every time I mentioned any of this to Dad, instead of listening, he would start another tale about one of his adventures. Like the one about organizing a country-wide treasure hunt that he and his friends advertised in the paper.
“Oh, you should’ve seen it. Pat … Did I tell you about Pat?”
Many times. Pat was his best friend. He loved driving around in his van, shooting the breeze. Big man with a big heart, Dad had said.
“Let me tell you, Pat’s the man. He drew a downright splendid ad for the paper. It was a piece of art,” Paul said.
“So the treasure hunt was a success?”
He looked away. “Well …”
“What?”
“Not many people showed up, to tell the truth. They must have thought we were joking because of the rich reward we offered.”
When I asked how he could afford it, he said it wasn’t about the money, it was about being crafty.
“Paul, crafty doesn’t pay the electricity bill, so you might try leaving this apartment and search for a job, now that you’re back,” Mom said from the stove where she was making mac and cheese for dinner. She sounded annoyed, but she wasn’t really, because she had that soft look on her face I had seen when she watched me receive a chess trophy at school.
“I’m working on it, Elle.”
Another proof that she wasn’t mad at him anymore was that the blanket that had been on the couch the first five days was gone. What had he told her to make her forget the ten years he had been gone?
I was happy he was back, too, honestly, but there was this itch in my chest, I just couldn’t tell what it was about. I had no one to ask for advice because, really, how many people have experience with finding their dads ten years after they were born? So I just waited for it to go away. Should’ve known it wouldn’t be as easy as that.

Dad was such a good storyteller he made me feel like I was right there with him on one of his explorations, seeing the things he saw, feeling the excitement. I wished he had been there when I was little so he could tell me bedtime stories like other parents. He said he couldn’t stay, that he was too young and wouldn’t have been a good father anyhow. I resented that he hadn’t given me the chance to be the judge of that.
Every time I told him how I had missed him when I was four, six or even just a week ago, he quickly changed the subject and we were back to his stories.
“And that one time we went to Mexico … I wanted to fly there, because I’d never flown anywhere, you know, but Pat insisted we take the van. He was right, because we could fill it with heaps of the best turkey sandwiches we bought by the pound in a deli in Hoboken. Ah, the smell that filled the van that day! Well, by the time we reached the border they turned rancid because we didn’t have a cooler with us. But we flushed the sandwiches down with beer, so we were okay. Alcohol is good for that, you know, it disinfects.
“Anyway, you should’ve seen the colors down there. I mean, right past the border, the first village we drove through, it was like a different universe. Like the single story houses and streets were spread out across a rainbow. The red of tomatoes, the ripe gold of tortillas, green trees dotted with juicy oranges and lemons, shiny black hair on pretty girls, ochre soil and dust, everywhere the dust! The air constantly smelled of spices: chili, coriander, cumin, lemon zest were the spices of life because they marked everything you did, everywhere you moved, whatever you ate and drank, you even smelled them in your dreams. And the girls … dios mio, those muchachitas! Too bad we had so little time there. If only we could’ve stayed longer, I think I would’ve loved Mexico.”
“But at least this way you returned to Mom and me,” I pointed out, jealous of all the people and places that had had the chance to see and be with Dad while Mom and I were here alone.
“Yeah, if for nothing else, for this I’m glad I never stayed down south.” He grinned and mussed my hair which I normally hated, but hey, he was my dad and he was home. When I thought about the years to come and how now he could deal with collectors and rude neighbors, I felt, for the first time ever, that I could relax and not have to worry about Mom. I could get used to that.

When Dad couldn’t find a job, he said it was because in the past he had been out of state a lot and that meant that his short-term employments made him look unreliable. The clerk at the job agency told him that his “employment profile lacked an affirmative feel”, whatever that meant.
To make it up to us, he spent an afternoon unloading u-haul trucks to earn some money. He would take us to an amusement park that weekend, he said. At first Mom protested that the money would be better spent on groceries or school stuff, but Dad insisted he had earned it for a weekend family trip. Mom still complained, but I could tell she was excited from the way she was trying to make it look like I needed convincing.
“You’ll love it, won’t you, Max? You’ve never been to an amusement park. It’ll be a fun trip, you’ll see. Best ever.”
 We’d never been on a family trip, the two of us, unless I count the three times last year when we went to see her parents. I suspected she went to ask them for help or money. It ended with a fight and the end of visits with the only set of grandparents I had. So, yes, this family trip was going to be a big thing.
Mom made turkey sandwiches and boiled eggs. I may have grumbled something about popcorn and cotton candy, but she said it was ridiculous to pay so much money for foods that in the end harmed you. Meh, grown-ups!
I turned to Dad to get him on my side. He was lounging on the couch, watching Jeopardy! on our prehistoric TV, murmuring questions and answers to himself.
“Hey, D—”
A knock on the door interrupted me. I looked from Dad to Mom and back. Neither of them seemed to be expecting visitors. I went to open the door.
A tall man with his hair slicked back into a ponytail looked confused when he had to lower his eyes to my level.
“Yes?”
He and the man standing behind him were both dressed in white. Something was wrong with this picture and I suddenly had this heavy feeling of something bad happening.
“We’re looking for Paul Meier,” the ponytail man said. “Is he here?”
I pulled the door closer so that the gap became smaller. “What do you need him for?”
“Is he here? Do you know him?”
For a split second I considered my options. Then I shook my head.
“Are you sure?”
They didn’t look friendly, they were dressed weirdly, they were strangers. Mom’s training kicked in. I opened my mouth to repeat that I knew no one by that name, when Mom and Dad both called out, “Who is it?”
The giant exchanged a glance with his pal. When he pushed the door open, I spotted two police officers further back in the shadows of the one-bulb hallway.
Dad said, “Crap!” and Mom scolded him for his language and then mid sentence switched to, “What’s going on? Who are you?”
“Ma’m, we’re from Ashworth Mental Hospital to get Paul Meier.”
I didn’t like how he emphasized ‘mental’. Then I read the name tag on his white shirt: Patrick.
Pat.
The police officers came closer. One fidgeted with his cap in his hands, the other—older, chunkier—fingered his baton.
I turned to look at my parents, but Dad had already run to the bathroom. Pat, the giant, pushed past me, slamming me into the wall. Mom screamed at him to get out.
The younger officer put a hand on her shoulder but she swatted it off.
The bathroom door shuddered. Pat yelled for Dad to open up and Dad’s voice replied in screeching tones.
“Leave him alone!” Mom said, making a step forward like she wanted to go help Dad, but then she hugged my shoulders and stayed put.
“What do you want with Dad?” I asked the other man in white. I felt the pressure behind my eyes.
“Everything will be all right, boy,” the police officer said, but I wanted real answers.
“You can’t just come here and threaten Dad,” I said.
“We’re not threatening him. He needs to be taken to the hospital. He left against doctor’s orders, son,” the orderly said, looked quickly at Mom, and then went to help Pat.
“What do you mean left the hospital?” Mom said.
Pat yelled, “Don’t do it, Paul! Your kid’s here, man. Don’t do it. Come with us, everything will be fine. Doc’ll give you meds and you’ll get better.”
I couldn’t pretend any more that I was teary because of the bad lighting in the hall. I wanted to scratch the men’s eyes until they teared up too. I wanted to yell at them until I lost my voice or they left us alone, whichever happened first.
The bathroom door gave way under Pat’s shoulder. I could see the way a comic book artist would draw the noise in a bubble: KRAKK!
Mom pulled me towards the kitchen, but I fought her. I couldn’t let them take Dad away; I only just got him back. We were supposed to ride the roller coaster tomorrow, he promised. The sandwiches were ready. Mom had bought an entire six pack of Cokes to take with. She even got the regular ones because I hated Diet Coke.
“Let me go, I want to go with Dad,” I begged.
“Max, shush now.” She hugged me, and I felt her warm tears dripping in my hair.
“We’re going to the park tomorrow,” I yelled, as Pat and the other man dragged Dad past the splintered door and down the checkered hall tiles. “Aren’t we, Dad?”
When he looked at me, I wished he hadn’t. His hair was like an out of control forest fire that blazes everything in its path.
“I’m sorry, Max. I wanted to make it up to you … I wanted you to have a great dad …” He sobbed and he looked so miserable, I sobbed right along with him.
“Dad! Please, leave him be.”
“Sorry, kid,” Pat mumbled, and pulled Dad with him.
“Daaaaad!” My cry was cut in half by a sob I couldn’t hold back. Daa-aad.

So I only had a dad for the three weeks that it took the authorities to track him down here from Virginia. He’d been institutionalized for four years and then one day he vanished. There was no record of him having a family; that was why it took them so long to follow him here.
The school counsellor said getting to know him was better than nothing. But this was the same dilemma my buddy Ernie had obsessed over for two months in second grade: is it better to be blind from birth so you don’t know what you’re missing? Or better to go blind once you’ve already seen the worl? Who could ever make that choice? I mean, really. It’s not even the same as deciding between having a cake and eating it because then you at least have it, one way or another, but this is about losing. Losing either way.
Mom didn’t mention Dad again, but I heard her cry sometimes at night when I couldn’t sleep. I asked her if he’d ever come back, but she developed crazy skills of diversion and denial in the days after Dad had been taken away. She focused on my Maths results instead, which doubled the suckiness factor in those days. Her constant attention at least won me a B plus. To celebrate it, I dished two dollars on a comic I’d been admiring on the shelf at the corner store for months.
I was reading it at the kitchen table, waiting for Mom to get home and make us dinner, when the phone rang.
“Yeah?” I said, imagining Mom’s furious look at my lack of manners.
“Is this the Meier residence? Carla Dyer from social services here.”
Oh-oh.
“Could I speak to Ms. Meier?”
I cleared my throat when my voice trembled. “Ahem, you mean Mirelle Meier?”
“Yes. Who am I speaking to, please?”
“Ms. Meier is a wonderful person, she is.”
“Sir?”
Sweat beads formed on my forehead. My brain must’ve heated up from all the thinking it was doing and even the chilly feeling in the dip of my stomach couldn’t cool it down.
“They moved, you know. I heard she got a great job and Max’s grades improved. Did you know he got an A in Maths?” A small lie, just a small one.
“What do you mean they moved? Who are you?”
“I’m sure they’re doing great and they won’t need your services anymore.”
“I have no record of them moving. I called three weeks ago but the phone was disconnected …”
Mom had been only three days late with the payment but the phone company said that with her record they weren’t taking any chances and they disconnected the line until she paid.
“Oh, that! Yes … well … er … Of course it was disconnected after they left. I only had it connected again once I moved in.”
All of a sudden I realized I stood on the tips of my toes as I tried to sound like a grown man and, I guess, to look as tall as one, too. I laughed nervously, and then slapped my hand over my mouth.
“I’ll have to check our records. I’ll call—”
I put down the receiver, wiping the sweat from my face in my shirt sleeve. I trembled as I sat down. The black and white drawings on the pages in front of me were just a jumble of black lines.
My ruse wouldn’t last long. Next time, they wouldn’t call, they would come knocking on the door. But I got Mom a day or two and together we might come up with a solution.
When her steps sounded in front of the door, I realized that maybe I knew why she forgave Dad so quickly. I had liked the idea of being just a kid and not having to protect Mom. Maybe she, too, was tired of being the only one to deal with my school problems, worrying about bills, and giving me awkward lectures on growing up. Maybe she just wanted a break so much that she let her guard down. I know I did.
We were back to being just the two of us and luckily, she and I, we worked well as a team. I just hoped she wouldn’t find out I had lied about my grade.

About the author 

Brigita Orel has published short stories and poems in numerous literary magazines. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She currently studies creative writing at Swansea University. www.brigitaorel.com



Friday, 6 October 2017

Lina


Roger Noons 

A glass of vinho verde, what else?


I entered the café behind the cathedral just after twelve thirty, only one table was occupied. The young woman behind the counter smiled, gestured to indicate that I could sit wherever I liked, so I walked to the far end of the room and took a seat by the window. I looked out over a small garden containing the busts of several bishops. A boy followed me with a menu.
    Having chosen a dish, I looked towards the door and smiling, the woman came towards me.
    ‘You are English?’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘I study English.’
    ‘At the University?’
    She nodded, raised her pad and pencil poised, asked. ‘What you like?’
    ‘Chick pea and shrimp salad, please.’
    ‘And to drink?’
    ‘A glass of vinho verde.’

‘Did you enjoy?’
    ‘Yes, it was tasty, thank you.’
    ‘Anything more? Ice cream, we have six varieties?’
    ‘No, thank you, perhaps an espresso when I’ve finished my wine?’
    She nodded, collected my plate and walked away.
    More diners had entered while I’d been eating and a second waitress had appeared.  The girl who had served me must have been particularly observant as seconds after I emptied my glass, she appeared with the coffee.
    ‘Not many English drink the green wine,’ she told me.
    ‘I like it and it’s a good lunchtime drink, doesn’t make me sleepy in the afternoon.’
    ‘You have plans, for the afternoon?’
    I shook my head. ‘I’ll stroll back to the hotel, or sit in that garden and read, or perhaps get on with some writing.’
    ‘Are you an author?’
    ‘I try to be,’ I mused, remembering my most recent rejection.
    ‘How exciting,’ she said. ‘I’ve written a short story, in English, would you … will you read it and tell me what you think?’
    ‘Do you have a copy with you?’
    ‘I finish at fifteen … three hours, can I come and sit in the garden?’

That was a week ago and we had spent some time together each day except Sunday, when Lina visited her family. They live in a village, Santa Maria Magdalena in the north west of Madeira, where they have a shop and bar, a mini Mercado, she calls it.
On the following day I went to the café again for lunch, bacon and apple salad on that occasion and again waited in the garden for her to join me.
    ‘I told my mother about you.’
    ‘What did you tell her?’
    ‘That you were an author, famous in England.’
    I laughed. ‘Not true, I’m afraid.’
    ‘I told her you were handsome and loved Madeira, that
    ‘Did you tell her I’m an old man?’
    ‘You’re not old.’
    ‘Old enough to be your … grandfather.’
    ‘That would be nice, for you to be my Avô.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Both mine die, once before I was born. I only see photos.’
    ‘What was their work, your grandfathers?’
    She smirked, leaned towards me. ‘One was a pirate … when ships crashed on the rocks, he rowed out and collected the barrels.’
    ‘Did he only collect wine?’
    She nodded. ‘You not tell?’
    I shook my head. ‘I not tell. And the other one?’
    She looked perplexed.
    ‘What did your other grandfather do for a living?’
    ‘Farmer, he grew sugar. Lots of sugar here until …’ She was distracted by two youths who walked past, pointing and laughing.
    ‘Fellow students?’
    She nodded as one of them shouted in Portuguese.
    ‘What did he say?’
    She shook her head.
    ‘You don’t know?’
    ‘It was not nice.’
    ‘Okay, thank you for protecting me.’

My final visit to the café was the day before I was due to fly home. When I entered there was no sign of Lina. I asked her colleague who said she was unwell, had telephoned. In a way I was relieved. I’d not been looking forward to saying goodbye, always shy regarding how to react. Each time Lina and I had met and parted, we had hugged and kissed cheeks, but I didn’t know how I should behave when it came time to say farewell.

The taxi was late collecting me the following day; so that when I arrived at the airport I was flustered, fearing I might miss the flight. As soon as I’d joined the queue to check in, Lina appeared carrying a small case.
    In response to my look of surprise, she said. ‘You said I should come to England.’
    I shrugged. ‘Fine,’ I said, ‘that’s just fine,’ but I’m not sure my body language conveyed the sentiment.

    

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Memory Trip

Sandy Wilson

black tea 

The train is slowing down through the leafy cutting, the foliage fragmenting the sunlight, a strobe light effect inside the carriage.
You are standing at the crossing gate as my train rumbles slowly over the uneven rails.
The turbulence created by the passing of the carriages ruffles your blond hair, wraps the fabric of your dress around your slender legs. You are pretty, attractive.
You, a stranger, now travel with me, recorded in my memory, for the rest of my journey.
The train slows, stops at the platform. My wife steps forward, kisses me.
'Seen anything interesting?' she asks.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Time

Mandy Percy

a small glass of sweet sherry

'Mummy's home!' she calls to her two little dogs. Walking into the room, her eyes rest on a small oaken box on the windowsill. Within it, snuggled together, are two satin pouches: one pink, the other blue. Alone, her memories fill the sound of silence.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

The Hunted

Wendy Ogilvie

a mug of green tea


There he is. I see him. The mountain foliage cannot conceal his large frame. Holding binoculars to his eyes he searches for his target. Does he know that I’m just ten feet behind him I wonder? — No, he has no idea. He may be a trained killer, but then so am I.

I sit perfectly still, hidden by sub alpine trees and moist liverwort. A small branch brushes my neck as it waves in the breeze; it tickles but I dare not move to scratch as any movement could give me away.

His rancid breath - a mixture of tobacco and strong coffee - has hitchhiked on the breeze and polluted the air to my nostrils. Men like him being paid for murder is sickening. Anger rises within me like bile and clutches the back of my throat. But I need to keep my hatred in check. I need calm, clear thoughts if I am to get the job done.

He shifts position and turns up the collar of his jacket. The breeze is stronger now. I saw his red truck parked at the top of the ravine. I know it’s his, I’ve seen it drive past on his way back from the mountain; heavy with the bodies of innocent victims. He has been sent by Mr Davenport to do the job, but looking at him I can’t think why he was chosen. He must be sixty years old with a ruddy complexion and two days’ worth of whiskers. Not exactly sniper material.

I can hear him snorting. He spits into the bushes and slowly lifts his rifle as he surveys the woodland in search of his target; looking only forward, never behind.

I have an image of what his face will look like when I shoot him. I picture a Krummholz: a tiny tree high in these mountains gnarled and twisted from being sculptured by the wind. I smile. It amuses me to think of what thoughts will be crashing through his mind. Don’t assume I’m not scared, I have a family who relies on me, but for now, I need to concentrate; there’s a sniper on the move.

            Holding his rifle butted against his shoulder, the hunter evacuates the safety of the bushes and carefully moves forward. Each step is exaggerated as he lifts his boots over the thick undergrowth. Slowly I rise from my hiding place. The hunter is in my rifle sight. He is still scouring the woodland before him. How foolish he is.

            Crack! A branch snaps underfoot. The hunter turns sharply. His face resembles that of a deer caught in headlights. How ironic. I smile and pull the trigger. Bang!
 
The bullet penetrates his right shoulder, which he clasps with his left hand as his rifle drops to the ground. He looks at me, his eyes wide.

 “Why are you …? He manages before I raise my aim once again. I step forward. He steps back, quickly checking the ground behind him but not wanting to take his eyes off me. He turns and runs. Just two steps on, he stumbles over some protruding tree roots and struggles to keep upright.

“Please!” he shouts between breaths. “I don’t know what…”

Still holding his wound, he tries to run faster but trips over a log. I can smell gunpowder and fear — his and mine. His face is now purple as he struggles to breathe.  

Bang! I hit his left leg just below his buttocks. Just a flesh wound. I feel a little guilty as his back was turned but I’ll get over it. Adrenaline pumps through my veins like a semi-automatic. The hunter is being hunted.

Slowing my pace enough to reload, I see him. He is thirty feet away, leaning on a tree stump. Time to end this now — I’m not cruel after all.

He looks up to see me moving towards him. “What do you want?” His face is red and contorted. “Please don’t shoot.”

My heart is beating so loudly I hardly hear his pleas for mercy. I don’t think mercy is a word he understands. The hunter pushes himself away from the tree stump still clutching his shoulder and stands squarely before me. Is he daring me to shoot?

Bang! The final shot hits him in the chest. The hunter is knocked back off his feet. I feel a twinge of sadness... killing should never be the answer but sometimes it’s necessary. Still holding my rifle I carefully check his pulse. The hunter is dead. Justice has been served.

I sling my rifle over my shoulder and lay a tarp on the ground. Grabbing the lapels of his blood- soaked jacket, I haul him onto it. He is incredibly heavy, probably 230 pounds, but I’m strong and running on adrenaline. I can feel the cool air catch in my throat as I stop for a second to rest. The rope I attached to the end of the tarp is helpful as I drag my kill through the trees.

By the time I reach the top of the ravine, I have discarded my jacket and grab the hem of my T-shirt to release it from my sweat–soaked body. The breeze has dropped and the early evening sun is filtering through the now steady leaves on the trees.  There it is, his truck, ‘Davenport Venison Meat Co’ is signed in black along the cabin doors.

As I open the truck door, the smell of warm body odour escapes. I move away quickly and look down at my kill. This is going to be hard work.

Heaving the carcass inch by inch into the driver seat, I stop to wipe my brow with his shirtsleeve. There, he’s in. Now it’s time to dispose of the body. I lean across and release the handbrake.

The truck is already parked on a slope and begins to move easily towards the edge of the ravine, picking up speed on its way. Just as the front of the truck tips over the edge, there is a crash, which echoes around the space below. The truck bounces off the ravine wall all the way to the bottom, about 1000 feet.

I stand with my hands on my hips watching with a satisfied smile. The truck is on fire. A job well done I think. As I walk away, I hear the explosion of the fuel tank finishing the job I started.  

On the drive home, there is a rock song on the radio, which I can’t help but sing along to. As I pull into my yard, my youngest son Tommy runs to greet me.

“Hey, Ma, we’ve been playing in the tree house. What’s for dinner I’m starving?”

“We’re having your favourite,” I reply, scooping him up into my arms. “Nut roast with home-made coleslaw and cornbread.”

“I’ll get started, Ma,” says my eldest daughter Suzie, who makes her way back to the house. As she reaches the front porch, Suzie turns and looks me in the eye.

“How was the hunting?” She mouths quietly.

 About the author

Wendy has been a Personal Trainer for twenty years but has always made time for writing. She is currently editing the sequel to her Chick Lit novel Wandering on the Treadmill and completing her first thriller.

In MaryWorld

Dawn Knox

Earl Grey tea (because it goes well with fruitcake)

Mary Wilson dragged a comb through her ginger hair and pulled until the curls surrendered allowing it to reach her shoulders. But when the teeth finally slipped free of the tangles, the hair sprang back to her ears in corkscrew curls. She frowned at her reflection in the mirror. Tight, ginger curls. There was nothing wrong with curly, ginger hair of course. Come the day when she moved to a deserted island and established MaryWorld, curly, ginger hair would be compulsory. It was just unfortunate that at the moment, no one lived in MaryWorld except her. There were lots of facts and truths in MaryWorld that didn’t get much credence elsewhere. Or, as Mary’s mother put it, “You’re a one off, dear. Completely out of step with the rest of the world. Always been a little madam, haven’t you?”
 
And that wasn’t all Mary’s mother had to say about her daughter. Take that morning at breakfast, for example.
 
“If you don’t get a move on and find a husband soon ̶
 
“Yes, I know, Mother, I’ll be left on the shelf ̶
 
“On the shelf? You’ll be lucky to get as far as the shelf. You’ll be packed away in some cupboard somewhere with all the rejected ̶ “ 
 
“Yes, thank you, Mother.” 
 
“Although…” Mrs. Wilson slid a newspaper cutting across the breakfast table, “you might rescue things at the eleventh hour. Speed-dating is the new way to meet a man.”
 
“It’s hardly the eleventh hour, Mother! I’m forty-two.”
 
“Exactly, I rest my case. Forty-two! I was eighteen when I married.”
 
“Yes but you didn’t even like Dad.”
 
“What’s that got to do with the price of fish, eh? At least I wasn’t on the shelf at forty-two.”
 
“Neither am I apparently. I’m in the reject cupboard.”
 
“Don’t be facetious.” Mrs. Wilson tapped the advert… again and again and again.
 
“Oh all right!” Mary snatched the clipping from the staccato beat of the yellow fingernail.
 
And that was how she met Derek Carruthers. Not that she’d liked him at first. She might have given in to her mother over the speed-dating evening but she wasn’t going to miss the last bus home because of it. Derek had been her last partner and he hadn’t made a promising start, remarking that he disliked ginger-haired women. Well, she hadn’t liked the look of him either. He had strands of grey hair combed over his bald head like strings on a strangely shaped musical instrument and a florid complexion that she later discovered was caused by his tie being pushed up to conceal the fact that his shirt collar was open because it was too small. Sartorially elegant, he was not. But that was good because Mother would hate his clothes sense and that might be enough to persuade her that Mary should stop seeing him. And then she’d have breathing space until Mother once again remembered Mary wasn’t married. But she was getting ahead of herself. They’d only been on one date – if you could call it that. She had called it that when telling Mother about it, although it was unlikely that Derek would have seen it as such. While they’d ridden on the last bus back to Basilwade together after the speed-dating event, he’d mentioned that she’d reminded him he needed mouthwash and that the cheapest place to buy some – should she feel the need – and he thoroughly recommended that she did – was Asco’s supermarket. Aware that Mother would be critical if she didn’t have any positive news from the speed-dating, Mary announced at breakfast that she was going on a date and had then spent most of the following morning prowling the aisles of Asco’s in case Derek should appear. She was just about to give up and go home when he rounded the corner, pushing a trolley. 
 
“I’m just buying mouthwash,” she said casually and after that, one thing led to another and they found themselves in the Asco coffee shop. 
 
He’d invited her out for a stroll through Basilwade on Saturday evening and he’d even bought her a bag of chips. Not that she liked chips but she was quite peckish after their walk and it didn’t look like Derek was going to take her to dinner. 
 
She was torn. Derek was definitely not the man of her dreams – there were no men in her dreams, indeed none at all in MaryWorld – but in order to keep Mother off her back, she needed to show she was trying.
“… so if you care to come round on Sunday, for tea, you can meet my mother…”
 
“Whatever for?”
 
“Well, I live with her, so if you come round for tea, you’re bound to bump into her.”
 
“I see. Well yes, all right then. How long will it take? The Grand Prix is on at half past seven and I never miss it.”
 
“If you leave at five, I’m sure you’ll get home in time.”
 
 
Now, how to introduce Derek to her mother? ‘Boyfriend’ was a ridiculous term. Derek had not been a boy for a long time. If ever. ‘Manfriend’ sounded just as silly. She’d overheard her next door neighbour’s teenage daughter at the bus stop the other day talking about her latest, and she’d used a term… now what was it? She must try to remember. It would be good to sound modern but casual. Slightly committed but not too committed. Yes, she definitely had to establish who Derek was before Mother started calling him her intended or fiancé.
 
 
Mary had anticipated that Derek would arrive early, so the table was laid and they were already seated when her mother came into the dining room.
 
“Derek Carruthers,” said Derek standing up and holding out his hand, “and you must be Mrs. Wilson.”
 
“How d’you do, Derek…” She fixed him with a steely stare, “So, you’re the man on benefits.”
 
“I don’t believe so,” said Derek sitting down and taking the large slice of fruitcake that Mary offered him.
“Oh Mother! Derek isn’t on benefits.”
 
“But you said ̶
 
“I said he was my friend with benefits.”
 
Derek choked, spraying Mrs. Wilson with fruitcake crumbs.
 
“Well, what on earth does that mean? Benefits? What sort of benefits?” Mrs. Wilson asked, flicking fruit off the front of her blouse.
 
“Oh, Mother! Honestly, you’re so behind the times.”
 
“That’s as may be,” said Mrs. Wilson. 
 
A piece of cake had gone down the wrong way and Derek was finding it hard to breathe. Mary slapped him hard in the middle of his back and with his airway free at last, he clawed at his collar, gasping for air.
 
“Well, I’m going to take Twinkle for a walk, I think I’ll leave you to it,” said Mrs. Wilson picking a half-chewed currant off her sleeve and dropping it on the plate. Whistling for Twinkle, she rose and left.
 
Leave us to it? You mean?... What, here?” asked Derek, “Now?”
 
“Well, yes. Now’s as good a time as any.” Mary looked at the enormous cake she’d made that morning. Surely he wasn’t going to leave immediately? Mother was enough to intimidate anyone but if he was gone before she got back, it would be obvious the date hadn’t gone well. “Mother will be out for a while. It takes her about twenty minutes to go round the block,” she added, hoping he’d stay at least until she returned.
 
“Twenty minutes! Look, I’m all for saving time and I know I said I wanted to be gone by five o’clock but this has all been a bit of a shock. I’m sure once I get going it won’t take long but I might need a few minutes to summon my… well, to prepare myself… to build myself up, as it were…” 
 
“What for?”
 
“Well… it. You know… the benefits.”
 
Mary didn’t know. The only benefit she required was that Derek remained in her life long enough to stop Mother criticising, and then to give her time to realise that her daughter was better off without him.  
 
“More tea? Cake?” she asked weakly.
 
“Have we got time for tea and cake as well as… it?” 
 
“Well, it’s up to you. How much time have you got to spare?”
 
He checked his watch. “Hmm. I’m not sure. Only eighteen minutes left until your mother gets back. Suppose she returns before we’ve finished?”
 
“Oh don’t worry about her,” said Mary looking at the large slab of cake. They definitely wouldn’t finish that before she got back. “Look, forget Mother. I know she can be critical but ̶
 
Critical? Critical of what? You’re making it sound like she’s going to give us marks out of ten!” Derek mopped his forehead. 
 
“Well, she can be a bit demanding but ̶ “ 
 
“You haven’t got a shot of whisky have you? Or two? I think I need help.”
 
 
“Mornin’.” Mrs. Fanshawe from next door rushed to her doorstep when she saw Mary walking down the garden path with Twinkle. “That was a lot of commotion in your house yesterday afternoon…”
 
“Yes.” Mary sighed, “Men are such strange creatures…”
 
“Oooh, I know. The late Mr. Fanshawe was very peculiar. Who was that man your mum had in a half-nelson? I almost felt sorry for him. Mind you, when she tipped him over the garden gate, he was off like a shot. Never seen anyone so bulky move so fast.”
 
“Yes, he definitely was a fast mover. Very fast indeed,” said Mary through clenched teeth.
 
“What! You mean? No! Don’t tell me he tried it on?”
 
Mary nodded.
 
“With you?” Mrs. Fanshawe asked incredulously.
 
“Yes! With me! I was just passing him another slice of fruitcake when he lunged.”
 
“Oooh I say. The beast! Lunged, you say?”
 
“Yes, lunged! His hands were everywhere. Even places I didn’t know I had. If mother hadn't come back when she did who knows what might have happened? Mind you in a way it's mother’s fault I was in that predicament. She was the one who convinced me to go speed-dating!”
 
“O-oh!” said Mrs. Fanshawe with sympathy “Well, why don't you try online dating? That's the way people meet up nowadays.”
 
“I’m not very confident with computers. I can just about manage to look up the bus timetable but I wouldn’t know how to do online dating.” 
 
Mary looked thoughtful. “Err, You don’t think your Amy could help me, do you? She seems to be an Internet expert, she’s always got that phone inches from her nose.”
 
“Well, I could ask her but I don’t think she knows anything about dating apps.”
 
“Yes, I think she does. I was standing behind her at the bus stop the other day and she was telling her friend about someone she’d met online.”
 
“My Amy? No, I think you’re mistaken. She’s only sixteen. I’d know if she had a boyfriend.”
 
“Well, he wasn’t exactly a boyfriend. She said he was her friend with benefits… Mrs. Fanshawe? Are you all right? You seem rather overwrought…”
Mrs. Fanshawe was stomping up the path to the house. “Ameeee! You get yourself down here right now my girl! You’ve got some explaining to do!”
 
Despite Twinkle trying to drag her out for a walk, Mary crept back into the house. Every time she’d mentioned the phrase ‘friend with benefits’, the world had gone mad. She sat down at the computer and logged on. 
 
Colour drained from her face as she read the definition. So, it was a euphemism for two people who were simply together so they could… Blood rushed back into her face, making her cheeks throb with embarrassment.
 
Come the day when she moved to a deserted island and established MaryWorld, dating would be banned, men would be banned, mothers would be banned and benefits of any description would be banned. And euphemisms would be banned too.


About the author

Dawn’s third book ‘Extraordinary’ will be published by Chapeltown in October 2017. She has stories published in various anthologies, including horror and speculative fiction, as well as romances in women's magazines. Dawn has written a play to commemorate World War One, which has been performed in England, Germany and France. www.dawnknox.com