Monday, 24 April 2017

Brief History Of ...

Richard Shaw

brandy Alexander  

April 1588. Maurice Kyffin paced up and down his writing study. He brushed his chin thoughtfully with the feather of his favourite quill. 
 
       'I need something,' he said out loud to himself, and then his voice trailed off. 
 
       'In my stories, I need something to denote,' but then he sighed in exasperation, and again he left the sentence unfinished.
 
       'The problem,' he said, addressing the inkwell and vellum on his desk, 'is that there are only so many ways to say ‘his voice trailed off’, or ‘he left the sentence unfinished’ without repeating myself. What I really need is something…'
 

About the author 

Richard Shaw lives in Solihull with his wife, two children, two cats and two goldfish. As a hobby he sells second hand books at www.ricksbookbasement.co.uk
 
 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Workmates

Roger Noons


a mug of builder’s tea


A pale February light crept through the window. At a table in the corner two men played cribbage. The peg board held broken match sticks, like bonsai boles after a hurricane.
    The wife of the white-haired man brought mugs of tea and a plate layered with arrowroot biscuits. Neither player acknowledged her nor uttered thanks. Concentration was paramount and although no fragment of weekly pension was being risked, pride overflowed the kitty of counters. The outcome was as important as any cup final.
    They had played two afternoons each week since they retired from working at adjacent lathes, wearing identical bib and brace overalls, though different-sized steel toe-capped boots. The venue was always Jack’s bungalow as Harry, a widower, lived with his unmarried daughter who treated their dwelling as a prestigious museum. Every surface displayed an exhibit and no speck of dust endured for longer than ten seconds. Harry was embarrassed to invite his friend and Jack was nervous to accept. Maisie, Jack’s wife, was happy. Her husband was contented and Harry, for whom she’d always had a soft spot, received a few hours peace.

That late winter afternoon Maisie took a phone call from Harry’s daughter.
    ‘Maisie, its Dawn, I’m afraid Dad won’t be coming today, he’s had a funny turn. I’m waiting for the doctor to come.’
    ‘Oh dear, sorry to hear that, please let us know what the doctor says, and of course if there’s anything we can do—’
    ‘I’ll ring you as soon as I know something.’

Jack couldn’t settle. As soon as Maisie had told him, he was like a moth with a myriad of lights. He went into his greenhouse but could find no chore that needed his attention. In the shed he picked up a saw, but his hand was shaking so couldn’t risk damaging it or the wood he was working on. Maisie made him a cup of tea, but it sat on the table adjacent to his armchair.
    ‘I wish she’d ring,’ he said to himself, but loud enough for Maisie to hear.
    ‘Sit down, Dawn will let us know as soon as there’s some news.’

The five o’ clock news bulletin had just begun when the telephone rang. Jack snatched it from its cradle. ‘Yes?’
    ‘It’s Dawn, the doctor says it was a stroke and he’s rung for an ambulance—’
    ‘Right, you go with him and I’ll bring the car and come and find you at the hospital.’
    ‘Thank you Jack.’

The reception desk at The Royal was staffed by volunteers. It was twenty minutes before a sympathetic woman was able to locate the patient. She told Jack that his friend was still undergoing assessment. He sat in the cafeteria with a mug of tea. He watched the comings and goings, feeling he was outside looking in, watching a film the title of which he didn’t know.
    Almost two hours had passed when Dawn wearily approached him. He stood up,  seeing from her expression that she was bearing sad news.
    She shook her head and looked away. He held out his arms but she didn’t step into them, so he took her elbow and guided her to a chair and watched as hands covering her face, her body shook. He drew up another chair and sat beside her. He offered a handkerchief from the breast pocket of his blazer and eventually as she noticed his action, she took it, whispering her thanks.

Drizzle dulled the scene as mourners gathered at the Crematorium. Within minutes the chapel had filled. Jack avoided using his tuneless voice during the singing of the hymns, in case it deserted him when his turn came to speak.
    On hearing his name, he stepped forward opening the pages of his prepared text. When he looked down his glistening eyes found no point of focus. He sniffed, raised his head and set his eyes on the wooden cross over the door by which they had entered.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a privilege to talk about Harry Guest, albeit one I hadn’t wished for until many years hence. We joined Jennings and Field on the same day fifty two years ago. Young, full of ourselves, eager to learn our trade and compete for places in the Works football team.  In fact for ten years we spent weekdays at adjoining benches and Saturday afternoons alongside each other in the familiar red and white strip.
He was a quiet man, but when he did speak, it was worth listening. He was generous and modest and what few people know is that he once saved my life. I failed to properly fit a steel rod in the chuck of my lathe and Harry recognising the sound as the job came free pushed me out of the way. He accepted my thanks and a handshake and we never spoke of it again.
 He was a competitor. Since we retired, we played crib twice every week and although no cash was involved, he loved to win. In fact that, as well as his grin when he pegged out, is what I shall miss most. God bless you Harry and thank you for being a good friend.

    As Jack took his seat, Maisie patted his wrist and offered a handkerchief.

It was six weeks later when Dawn called on Maisie and Jack.
    ‘I found these and wondered if you’d like them?’ She handed Jack a black box. When he opened it he found three medals. On the back of one was engraved John Perry. Jack frowned, shaking his head.
    ’Apparently Dad was chosen for the League team and when they presented them at the end of the season, one of them hadn’t been inscribed, so he had your name put on.’
    ’I was never good enough  ...’ Jack could say no more as sobs racked his body.  





Thursday, 6 April 2017

An Easter Story

Robin Wrigley

pink gin and tonic

The Tuesday after Easter Marjorie and Audrey passed pleasantries in the street.
    
    ‘Are your next door’s back from their holiday Audrey?’

     ‘Yes, I’m glad you asked me that.’
   
    ‘Why’s that?’
    
    ‘Well, the afternoon they left, Muffin starts barking his head off. When I went out to see what the noise was about he’s only got the Dawkins bleedin’ rabbit in his mouth!’
    
     ‘What on earth did you do?’
    
     ‘I yelled at him and managed to get the poor thing off of him. Course he was dead and covered with dirt where he’d been dragged round the garden. I cleaned it up as best I could; it was such a dear little thing. Luckily they’d given me a set of house keys so I was able to take him back through to their garden and put him back in his hutch.’
     
       ‘Did they say anything when they came back?’
      
      ‘Well that’s the strangest thing. The next morning she cooed over the back fence. I went out fearing the worst and she is standing there, white as a sheet, like she’s seen a ghost.
      
     She says to me, something really weird has happened.
     
      She says – two days before we went away, Rupert our rabbit died and we buried him in the back garden. 
    
      Oh I am so sorry I says. But then she says, it’s worse than that.
     
     What could be worse I says, trying me best not to colour up, I mean I was near to having a pink fit.
    
     'When we got home Rupert was back in his hutch.’

Derelict

Jeanne Davies

a stiff gin and tonic to cheer everyone up!

Peering through grimy fractured windows, the world outside is distorted and strange. 


Time relentlessly has taken its toll, robbing character and removing status. Nobody values this shell of what had once been; no one cares.


Remote and alone now, where once a family was raised, memories of laughter and fun are hidden deep inside somewhere; not lost … just sleeping.


Visitors are few and far between; unrecognisable strangers from another generation. They’ll go soon, and the safety of isolation returns. 


She sits the time out day by day, in a dilapidated existence until the crumbling stops and nothing remains.



About the author



Jeanne Davies has been published in Bridge House anthologies and other publishers of short stories.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Visit

Ray Bradnock

espresso


Today George decided to be a very good person and stand in for the other very good person who normally looks after his uncle. This is not the usual sort of thing that George would do, but after much thought he finally settled on trying be a good citizen and to put something back into the community, and charity starts at home.

   His uncle, Derek, is a sprightly eighty two years of age, and yet has challenges at home in particular, especially since George’s aunt died a couple of years ago. Derek always described himself a huge bore, especially as he always brought home the bacon. Domesticity was a field he had been happy to steer clear of, and left all matters to do with the household firmly in the purview of his erstwhile life partner.

   George entered the bedroom; he had learned how important it was to find where all the medications were kept in case Derek needed them suddenly. Derek was watching the racing on the telly in the lounge.
  
 'Where do you keep your heart pills?'

   'In the chest, left hand side'  

   'What about your haemorrhoid cream?'

   'Bottom drawer, along with the suppositories'
   
   George paused, wondering if the old rogue was winding him up. He could just imagine him smugly grinning in his direction, as he saw AP McKoy trot up at 4/1 in the 3.50 at Kempton.

   'Is there anything else I need to know about the medications? Where are the really important ones for your blood pressure?'
  
 'On the stand, just under the barometer'

   George looked at the rooster shaped tray next to the bed, and decided he would make no enquiry of Derek whatsoever about condoms. After all he was past eighty! Medical duty done, George headed back into the lounge to see what Derek wanted for tea.


   'What do you normally have at this time?' Derek paused.

   'Normally a small scotch to be truthful, but if you have a better idea I am open to suggestions.' After pondering a while George replied,

   'Where do you keep it......?'
   It was now pushing six o’clock, and both men were very relaxed. George had never before got drunk with an uncle, or an eighty year old, and so considered that he could strike a couple of items off his personal bucket list in one go.

   'You’re a really great bloke you know. Why haven’t we done this before? So many wasted years.' Derek took another sip from his glass and looked George in the eye.

   'That’s the way of the world my boy. Some of the best things are seen when you’re looking back, not forward. We old ‘uns know more than we let on and other people are bothered to look for. We get up to all sorts when people aren’t watching. Do us a favour, go and look in the door of the fridge – it’s where I keep the coke…'


About the author

Ray Bradnock lives in Solihull. When he is not pretending to write poetry, short stories and novels, he tries to help people have an excellent working life by solving their problems. You can find out more at excellence-associates.com excellence-associates.com
He is currently constructing a site for his scribblings on raybradnock.com



Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Burning Tradition

Roger Noons

a cup of strong tea with just a drop of whisky

 ‘Edwin want’s to see you my Roger.’
    ‘Edwin Davies?’
    Rosie nodded and returned to weaving the rope.
    ‘Any idea what for, Rose?’
    The Warden of the Travellers Site shook her head, just once. ‘Course, old Mrs Davies has passed away.’
    ‘His mother?’
    Rosie Watton nodded again. Although she’d held her post for more than five years and I’d visited her on numerous occasions, despite the manner in which she addressed me, I was a Gorgy and hence there was a formality between us; a relationship akin to dentist and patient. 
    ‘I’ll go and see him.’
It was a fortnight later when I again drove along the lane towards the Site. I was held up following a low loader on which there was the tattiest caravan I’d ever seen. It pulled in through the gateway and passed the Warden’s Store. I parked up and went in to see Rosie.
    ‘Who’s just brought in that van?’
    Again the familiar shake of the grey-haired head as Rosie scurried away to put the kettle on the stove. ‘You‘ll have a cup of tea, my Roger?’
    ‘Thanks Rose, but only tea, thank you. I’ve to drive back to the office for a meeting.’ Rosie’s tea was often more Johnnie Walker than Tetley’s.
Having concluded my business with Rose, I walked along to where two men had just released the caravan from it’s ties and were arranging it centrally on the concrete pad which constituted Plot 12. As I watched the low loader was driven away. Edwin Davies appeared from his mobile home on Plot 10.
    ‘All right Boss?’
    ‘Not bad Edwin, yourself?’
    ‘You remember I had a word about …’
    ‘Edwin you said you wanted to carry out the old tradition of burning your mother‘s caravan following her death.’
    ‘Aye and you said okay as long as we did it after your office closed for the day.’
    ‘This is not your mother’s former home.’ His face began it’s beetroot imitation and he shrugged. ‘You told me the tradition was to set fire to the van and its contents to prevent the children falling out of who got what.’
    Hands in his pockets, Edwin concentrated on kicking loose stones, unprepared to look at me and respond.
    Where’s your mother’s van, Edwin?’ I leant towards him so that I heard a muttered ‘sold it.’
    ‘You know you have to give up the plot?’
    He nodded.
    ‘If there’s anything on this site next Monday, I’ll charge you a month’s rent.’
    ‘Don’t worry Boss, it’ll be sorted.’
    I shook my head as I walked away. So much for Romany traditions.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Forgetting

Richard Hough

a cup of strong tea  

George nudged open the lounge door with his foot and carefully entered the sun-drenched room. He crossed to where Vera was sitting and placed the two cups he was carrying onto the occasional table next to her. She smiled at him as she always did.

It was Vera’s smile that George had noticed when her slender form had entered his grocer’s shop forty years ago. Her vivid, red hair framed her beautiful face and her green eyes sparkled as she acknowledged his joke about calling the fire brigade.

Time had worked relentlessly upon her, replacing each red hair with one of grey. The sparkle had faded from her eyes and she no longer appreciated his humour although the smile remained as genuine as ever.

George reminisced about Vera as he reclined in his chair. He couldn’t quite remember when her hair had started to lose its flaming appearance. He wasn’t able to recall when she last laughed at one of his witticisms as she insisted on calling them. One thing of which he was sure was when her eyes stopped glistening. It was soon after those visits to the doctor’s.

Vera had had a couple of panic attacks six years previously because she had become confused by what she was doing or why she had entered a room. The doctor did some tests and after two or three more visits he diagnosed her illness. Vera wept as the prognosis was explained to them.

The feelings of panic had increased in frequency as Vera’s disease worsened. She became more fretful; her personality changed. She wandered the house at night unable to sleep. When Vera had been annoyed with George in the past, she sulked and stayed very quiet. It came as a nasty shock when Vera’s illness made her aggressive and violent. It was then her eyes lost their twinkle.
George couldn’t leave Vera on her own for too long as she became unsteady on her feet even falling a couple of times. On one occasion she banged her head on the side of their television. He winced slightly as he glanced at the scar on the side of her face.

Eventually George was himslef unable to go out unless a neighbour sat with Vera who had now taken to wandering into the street and forgetting where she lived. She no longer recognised danger but this problem soon went away when her legs wouldn’t support her at all. This was about the time she lost the power of speech, cutting George off from everyone except for the occasional chat to the doctor or supermarket cashier. A now placid Vera had become safe to leave for a few minutes at a time because she would only sit in the chair and stare ahead.

When Vera couldn’t use cutlery, George had to feed his beloved wife with puréed food and soup. Eventually, Vera forgot how to use the toilet and George had learned how to change nappies and he had to single-handedly undress, bathe and dress Vera whilst she slumped helplessly in his arms. She smiled at him but it wasn’t really Vera. The glorious, feisty young girl he once knew had long since died.

George recovered from his nightmares, rose from his seat and approached Vera.

‘It’s time for your pill dear!’ he said prising Vera’s smiling lips apart. Holding the cup to her mouth he made sure she swallowed before sliding back into his chair.

Watching Vera enter sleep for the last time, George whispered ‘goodbye my darling’ and sipped at his own drink, forcing himself to swallow.

FIN

A cup of strong tea

Monday, 20 March 2017

The White Cadillac

Robin Wrigley

Drambuie shandy

Eleanor finished her breakfast, rinsed the cup and bowl under the cold faucet and went outside.  Around the back of her small wooden house she pulled the cotton-cover off the Cadillac. Having folded the sheet as best she could, she stowed it under the back of the house and stood admiring the car.
     It had been given to her by the old judge in town when he retired. She had cleaned both his house and his office on Main Street for twenty-three years never missing a single day. It was her retirement present from his employ before he moved interstate. At the time she could not drive; she didn’t even have a driving licence. Her brother had to collect it for her and then spend every spare moment showing her how to control the beast. She passed the test on the second attempt and for the first time, was able to drive the car home, all on her own. She felt like a queen even if there was no crowd to wave to.
     Her biggest regret was that her house was isolated, sitting on the edge of a cotton field where their grandfather had built it, two generations back. It meant there was never anyone to witness her driving home in her own Cadillac. Alone in her own little world she still got a thrill out of standing back and admiring its solid shape once it was dusted down the windows and mirrors polished.
     Every Sunday morning she would either drive to church or simply go out for a drive for the thrill of doing so. She had no kin left after her brother died, no husband or children so she was free to please herself. The white Cadillac was her companion. She went back inside to change.

In the small town of Horaceville, Eddie and Katya were coming up for their first anniversary living in the condominium that Eddie’s parents had provided the deposit for as a wedding present. They had met at a basketball game in Houston. Katya had reluctantly agreed to accompany her brother to the Houston Rockets’ game after his girlfriend stood him up.
     At the end of the second quarter she had excused herself by saying she wanted to use the powder-room. She was bored as she never really understood why people could get so excited by two teams of giraffe-like men chased each other from end to end of a wood-floored rectangle in an attempt drop a large orange ball through a hoop mounted on a board. Each time they managed it the crowd went wild. It all seemed so stupid and the three boys behind them were so loud.
     Coming back from the restrooms and looking around for a refreshment outlet she literally bumped into Eddie who was carry an armful of popcorn and beers. The bump caused beer to splash out of the plastic cups all over his trainers. He was angry at first until he realised how pretty she was as she put her hands to her face in pure shock at having caused the accident.
     “Oh sorry, please I not see you.” Eddie wasn’t sure which he found the most attractive – her appearance or the foreign accent. He was smitten.
     “You don’t worry one little bit. Just stay there while I give this to my friends and I’ll be back.” He shot down the steps to his row spilling even more beer as he went, dumped the refreshments with his friend and rushed back to Katya who against all the advice her brother had given her about not talking to strangers, stood there waiting for the young man. Six months later they were married.

Eddie was so excited about Katya’s pregnancy he got up early on Sunday morning in order to give his parents the news face to face. He knew they would be so excited at the thought of becoming grandparents even though his mother had strongly advised him to delay having a family until they were better prepared. This was too good to be phoned or texted, their usual means of communication these days.
     He decided to take Katya’s Mazda sportscar with the top down and eased it out of the driveway as quietly as possible so as not to wake her; he hoped she was still sound asleep. It was a bright October morning as he turned into East Parkway. If only the weather in East Texas was always like this Eddie thought to himself instead of having to go to work encased in air-conditioning to avoid  the usual heat and humidity.
     Half a mile along the Parkway he came to a red light at the intersection with Juniper Drive. A white Cadillac Seville sat in the outside lane, the driver was an old black lady sat patiently waiting. Eddie figured if he didn’t get by her now he would be following her for the next 3 blocks so he pulled alongside her into the right turn lane. Being Sunday and quiet he could wait until the lights changed without blocking the lane for other cars.
     He looked across at the old lady. He could only see her from the chin upwards as she was so small in the big sedan. She wore a bright green brimmed hat decorated with a large red rose on the right hand side. She must have sensed she was being observed; as Eddie’s looks were unwanted she maintained looking straight ahead.
     It amused Eddie. For the love of God he never understood why black folk always had to bedeck themselves with ridiculous hats? He went on to inspect the car. It was polished and appeared to be in good condition. Probably worth more than her house he mused.
     The light turned to green and Eddie gunned the sports-car into life and with a slight squeal of rubber was able to move into the main lane in front of the Cadillac. The old lady was just selecting ‘drive’ encouraged by the Chevrolet pick-up sitting behind her impatiently beeping.
     Forty minutes later Eddie pulled into the drive way of his parents’ house in Melody Oaks. His father was outside, bent picking up the Sunday newspaper. As Eddie climbed out of the car he was greeted with his Dad’s usual sardonic attitude.
     “What d’you want bothering respectable folk on a Sunday morning? I see you’re still driving that ‘rice burner’. Don’t tell me that cute gal you married seen the light of day and skedaddled back to Russia?”
     “It’s always good to know I’m welcome home pop. No, Katya is fast asleep in bed and her car is a damn sight better than that gas guzzlin’ monster you drive.” His reply had more warmth and genuine humour than that of his father. “Where’s mom?”
     “Not sure, she might have run off to Mexico with the gardener, she’s threatened to often enough. Then again she might be in the kitchen watching some crap on television.” He turned and started for the open garage door, Eddie followed behind. They never shook hands or hugged or anything, it was just the way his father was. It wasn’t helped that this was his father’s second marriage and he was in truth, old enough to be Eddie’s grandfather.
     Inside the house his father made off to his den armed with a cup of coffee and the Sunday newspaper. His mother was indeed in the kitchen nursing a large vacuum, plastic tumbler of iced-tea and glued to an old episode of Dallas she had found on an obscure satellite channel.
     “Who were you talking to Wilbur? She said to her husband’s back as he disappeared through the interior door. Eddie grabbed her from behind and kissed the top of her head. She all but spilled the contents of her iced-tea in her lap.
     “Eddie darling, how lovely to see you, what brings you here this morning? Not bad news I hope?” She swung the swivel easy-chair round to face him and beamed with pleasure at seeing her only child.
     “Far from it Mom, in fact I have some great news. You are going to be a grandmother, Katya’s expecting!” He was so excited to get the news out he couldn’t wait until his father was there.
     The smile instantly dropped from her face which caught Eddie unawares. He knew she had counselled him to wait a while but he was sure she was going to be as thrilled as he was once the pregnancy was in progress.
     “Have you told your father yet?” His mother got up from her chair and walked over to the door his father had just gone through and silently closed it.
     “No, I didn’t get chance. What the hell’s going on mom? You’re really scaring me.”
     “Sit down Eddie this isn’t going to be easy for me.” He did as he was bid and sat on one of the breakfast chairs.
     “There is something I never ever told you or your father for that matter. I am from a mixed race family. My grand mammy was black.” The words hit him like a sledgehammer. In a flash all the racist words he had used in the past came flooding back; everything that had been said around the dinner table when he was growing up.
     “So you’re worried that our baby turns out black, a genetic throwback, is that it?” She merely nodded her head as she burst into tears.
     He heard enough. There was nothing more to say. He jumped up and ran outside, climbed into the Mazda and reversed out into the street as fast as he could. He heard the sound of a car’s horn and looked right just in time to see the white Cadillac coming straight at him.
     The little old lady in the green hat, her mouth wide open forming a scream and her eyes bulging could do nothing to avoid him.
     “You stupid n…” but he never completed the word as the solid body of the Cadillac crashed into the driver’s door of the flimsy sports-car and drove him sideways, twenty feet along the road.

Inspired by Kate Chopin’s short story Désirée’s Baby. 1892-7

Monday, 13 March 2017

My God, It's Vivaldi

Richard Hillesley

double shot espresseo 

Out of the tube roars a train. A clot of blood stains the sky,    drip    drip    dripping. At evening the sky is like a painting by Kandinsky,  staves and shards of glass. Smoke rising from the fire on the next street. 
    At night the ghosts appear. God rides in a carriage down the Mall. The women beneath the streetlamps walk on stilts. Rabelais rides on a monkey's shoulder. 
    I give you the truth - a mixed economy. The moon and sixpence. Bloody Cupid's bloody arrow. The pigeon stone and Bistro droppings. One man spinning on his axis without a rag on, and another man pointing at the sky.
    A woman in high heels tugs at her tights, leans against a lamp post and blows kisses with her eyes. 
    And I see parliament in the glow of floodlamps, stage-lit, and I fall on the steps and howl at the gods. The bells in the tall towers ring. The moon rolls over and then is still.
    After the riot we step between the squares. The clouds are thin and scared, rippling across the sky. The police cars stalk the streets looking for young men to hit. A saxophone rips along an alley. And a woman on her way to the theatre says it is terrible. She knows what she would do.'This isn't Eastern Europe,' she says.    She reaches into a shattered window, and lifts a CD out of the rubble.'My God, it's Vivaldi,'she says, and puts it in her bag.
    'Just a bit of window shopping, eh?'says a roaming punk, and we laugh as the night crashes through the spring in the city.

About the author

Richard is a former editor of LinuxUser magazine, and has written features, poems and short stories for a wide variety of publications, most recently Storgy, Prole and The Angry Manifesto.

 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

A Stone is Just a Stone

Richard Hillesley 

cafe au lait  

 
Gwynfor stood with his back to the sky, a field away from where we were. The wind rose from the valley and bit into his side. His eyes were a dark line under his brow. The gun in his hands glinted in the sunlight. Behind him the house and a stream that fell straight from the clouds.
    We saw him when we came over the hill, legs apart, hair and clothes blown sideways by the wind. He lifted the gun to his shoulder and fired. The sound followed after the smoke, and Rachel fell in the grass, her hand and her skirt rising through the sky as she fell, and I ran towards her, thinking she had been hit. 
     'Why did he do that?' she said. 
       'To scare us',I said. 
He moved in gestures through the wind as he came towards us, his massive face beneath his cap, dark eyes beneath the crevice of his brow. He stopped by the wall to pick something up.
        'Rabbit',he said, and his lips stretched across his mouth in the shape of a smile.

The past repeats itself through the seasons, in the wind and the rain and the rush and chuckle of the streams. Clouds hanging over the mountains, fields obscured by mist, a landscape that is harsh and soft, cold and indifferent. At Bryn Hyfrid, on a corner by his land past the ruins of the quarrymens' cottages, there are the remains of a bronze age hut circle in a field, set at angles. Further to the east there is a line of stones and one at the end of the row, standing on its own and taller than the rest. 
    Not that it mattered, because nobody knew or cared except the walkers and Gwynfor himself, but when we told him we were going to see the circle and the stones, he said 'A stone is just a stone', as if that was all there was to say. 
    And when we were up there among the stones we could see him across the valley herding his sheep from inside his Land Rover, perched on the diagonal tracks between the gate posts and the irregular walls, watching us and whistling to his dogs on the opposite slope. The sheep swarmed in circles. The shadows of clouds left pools of light across the fields. And Gwynfor leant against the door of his Land Rover, his body like a landslip on the Berwyns, looking up at us. 
    I waved to him but he made no response. And when we left the stones he started up the Land Rover. We could hear the noise and bang of the gears as he pushed the vehicle down the tracks. He sat at the wheel, his arm out the window, slapping the door as he passed us, and accelerated loudly as he pulled away, shouting at us inaudibly. And when we passed him a few minutes later, he was back there with his gun and his dogs. 
    When we told them in the village, they laughed and said,'Well, what did you expect?'
    Gwynfor was part of the landscape, a chip off the mountain, at home in the fields. He moved like the seasons, slowly and deliberately, merging into the landscape, a simple farmer, circumscribed by the hills, the drystone walls and the clouds. And we were incomers. What did we expect? He didn't like us and he didn't like the stones. The stones had a mystery and a purpose of their own and belonged in a way that he never could.  He wanted us to leave him alone and the stones to go away.

That evening we saw him in the pub, standing at the bar in his boots and his work clothes. He had the rabbit in a bag in his hand and slapped it on the bar. 
     'Something for the pot',he said to the landlord, and turned to look at us.'Rabbit', he said, throwing a note of dissonance into the air. He was pleased with himself, and wanted us to know it. He had few words but he coughed and scraped and threw us glances just to let us know he was there. And when he left the bar to go to the toilet he came past us and whispered in Rachel's ear,'Shut up, you ',though she had said nothing. She pushed him away, and though she hadn't meant it, he fell to the floor among the coats and chairs, unbalanced by her indignation. I tried to help him to his feet but he wouldn't let me.
    He put one hand on the floor and one on a chair and lifted himself up and shook his head as he walked away to the toilets in the yard, leaving us to deal with the silence and the stares around the room. The only one hurt was me, kicked on the shin by her when I tried to come between them. A few minutes later he came back into the room with another rabbit in his bag and threw it on the table in front of us.'Rabbit',he said and bared his teeth, barely a grin, and left a threat hanging in the air 'You'll see',he said, and left us staring at the rabbit.

One evening not long after, when the sun was sinking through a low wet mist,  stirrings of a storm in the clouds, John Evans saw Gwynfor on the side of the hill, his Land Rover perched at an angle through the wind, stretching a rope between the Land Rover and one of the stones. John said to him,'I wouldn't do that',
   and Gwynfor said,'You don't believe that stuff',though he wasn't sure himself. There were stories about the stones that had been passed down through the generations and left a doubt lingering in the air. 
    'But I do',said John.
     'I don't believe you',said Gwynfor, and tied the rope around the stone and twisted the other end around the tow-bar. The stone seemed to give a fraction, but the rope was old and weak and snapped as he pulled the vehicle forward. 
     John, leaning on his stick, said nothing. And Gwynfor threw his Land Rover down the hill shouting at John above the noise of the engine as he went, harsh words lost in the storm of evening.

After that we went out of our way to watch the stones just to be sure. One day we saw Gwynfor high in the trees over the top field, watching us, a wisp of smoke rising behind him from a fire he had made, his gun in his arms. He lifted it to his shoulder and pointed it in our direction, making as if to shoot. But he didn't. And the stones stood still and silent, streaked with moss and lichen, aching through the mist.
    At times like this it was easy to believe the myths, to feel something in the wind, but we knew that the stones were only stones and the mists were only mists. A line of stones on the side of a hill like pieces in a children's game, a stone dropped here, a stone dropped there, and the ancient field boundaries mapped out like the squares on a children's gaming board, F sharp minors and stunted fifths, walking at angles and leaning on the wind. I would pull my scarf more tightly round my face and stamp my feet hard on the ground just to feel the earth beneath. 

Gwynfor moved the stones early one morning when no-one was about, when the stars were out and the sun was just a shadow of itself, when his breath made shapes in the air and the grass flopped with dew. Two of the stones were pulled from the ground and discarded there. Another he towed across the fields with his tractor and left among the gorseclumps just above his house, to pave his yard. 
    That night we met at John's to do something about it though we didn't know what we could do. The rain had begun to fall, splattering through the leaves and drains, rushing over the pebbles and moss, lifting the river over its banks. We walked over the hill towards the stones, six or seven of us, torches in our hands, stumbling on the rough ground, to put the stones back where they belonged. Two of the stones lay on their side, where Gwynfor had left them. We pushed and pulled by the light of our torches and we were lucky and they fell back into place. 
    The rain had stopped and the moon shone through a gap in the clouds as we went down the hill to Gwynfor's place to move the other stone. But it wouldn't move. The stone was too big and we were too few. And Gwynfor, disturbed by our noise, came out and watched us as we walked away, the last stone still lying there among the clumps of gorse. He had won, or so we thought until two weeks later when Gwynfor came visiting. 

I saw him first from our upstairs window, pale in the gloom of the smoke from the bonfire that Rachel had lit in the garden. His jacket hung from his body limp as washing in the wind, and a confusion of submission and defiance made war with his body and his clothes. He wouldn't come in but something was on his mind. Rachel moved towards him and I followed her. He cocked his head to one side, cap in hand, scratched his scalp, and said,'You did it, didn't you?'
    The stone had been taken the previous night and was nowhere to be seen.
    'It was you that did it, wasn't it?'he said, his voice suddenly thin and cold, like the wind in the winter trees. We hadn't seen the stone since last we saw him and our car couldn't have made it up to his farm. But he didn't believe us, because if it wasn't us it must have been magic.'It must have been you',he said, and left us, his face plumbed of feeling. He walked up the lane and became a shadow on the distant hill. 

We went to Bryn Hyfrid one morning not long after, when spring was flushing out the trees and the heavy streams and the soft sunlight touched the grass on the mountains with warmth, and the stones were all in place, even the one that we had left in the gorse. It had found its way back to its place in the row.
    Gwynfor watched us from the line of trees by the top field, his shotgun cradled in his arms. He walked towards us, his dogs running behind him, and we stood by the stones, and watched him as he came.
    'It was you that did it, wasn't it?'he said, and we told him it wasn't. We really didn't know how it had happened. So he knew it was magic and it left him pale and empty, as if his life had spilled into the stones. His instinct was to lift his gun to his shoulder, and to twist his body around to take aim at the trees and us and the stones.
  And I yelled,'No',at the top of my voice, thinking that he would do something crazy, but he turned slowly, lifted the gun towards the clouds, and fired at the empty sky above us.
 

About the author  

Richard is a former editor of LinuxUser magazine, and has written features, poems and short stories for a wide variety of publications, most recently Storgy, Prole and The Angry Manifesto.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Long Black

Glenn Bresciani

a long black coffee

The cat lover who hates cats, that’s what you’d be thinking if you spent a day with my wife and our pet cat.
The cat meowed incessantly. My wife yelled at it to shut-up.
The cat scratched the furniture. My wife’s rage could boil pasta.
When a fatal illness left us with no other choice but to have our cat put down, how odd is it that my wife should be the one to lament for two weeks straight. So did she hate the cat when it was alive, yet loved it when it was dead? I can’t help but wonder.
Same as with cats, the foster care that we now do also infuriates my wife. So than, does this mean she hates foster children as well? Will she love them when they are gone? Now I’m really confused.
I never did find an answer to this question, but the answer found me when a fifteen year old foster child was placed in our care. Her overuse of eyeliner and black ripped stockings were as Emo as Emo can get. Her name was Lovely and she was delivered to our doorstep by her caseworker, along with all of her belongings stuffed into two swollen trash bags.
This new edition to our family was Lovely by name, lovely by nature. Yet, no matter how delightful and cordial she was, Lovely had my wife exasperated after one week of being in our care.
‘If that girl can’t take her clothes out of a trash bag and put them in her wardrobe,’ fumed my wife, ‘then she can take her trash bags and leave.’
‘Why won’t you use the wardrobe space in your room?’ I casually asked Lovely one night while we watched TV together.
‘Why should I,’ was her reply. ‘I’m only gonna have to move again.’
This poor girl’s apprehension became mine as well; sympathy made sure of that. I wanted her in my care forever.
However, a putrid smell oozed out of Lovely’s bedroom and the flies began to swarm. Damn! Just as I was starting to get attached, it was over.
A quick snoop through the trash bags and my wife’s detective work exposed Lovely’s sweat stained, unwashed clothes plus the real reason why the flies had gathered. It wasn’t the stink of body odour that attracted the swarm. Oh-no. They came for the packed lunches, forgotten and left to rot in Lovely’s school bag. Each bit of food unrecognisable under the layers of fungus and mould.
‘Right, that’s it,’ yelled my wife. ‘I’m getting my camera. I want DOCS to see this filth. They can find some other sucker to care for Lovely.’
An urgent phone call to DOCS had Lovely’s caseworker on our doorstep the very next day. She was both apologetic and disappointed. Obviously she has been down this trash bag road before.
‘This is the same reason why Lovely was removed from the last three foster homes she was in. If you want her removed from your care then I totally understand.’
What? Get rid of Lovely? Desperate measures called for a creative solution.
‘Um . . . why don’t we try a rewards chart,’ I suggested. ‘You know, give Lovely extra pocket money if she keeps her room clean.’
‘That only works on younger children,’ criticized my wife, her subtle way of saying: ‘I’m done with this.’
The caseworker dissolved all her emotions with a squirt of apathy. It was how she coped with giving Lovely endless bad news. She was about to tell Lovely it was time to go, but then my wife contradicted herself by agreeing to keep Lovely in our care, just to see if my idea would stick.
Sure enough, my idea worked. Turns out even a fifteen year old will keep their room clean to score stickers and extra pocket money.
Lovely’s Little Orphan Annie routine only lasted two weeks. The energy and effort required to maintain her blithe persona was too exhausting. So she quit and her true personality was revealed.
Scowls replaced smiles. Abrupt rudeness replaced chit chat. Just like that, Lovely was lovely to us no more.
Five times I had to ask her to do her chores before she would untangle herself from the social net of Facebook and go wipe the dishes.
She got out of doing her homework by throwing a temper tantrum that would put a toddler’s kicking and screaming to shame.
‘I’m not paid to do this,’ fumed my wife. ‘I don’t have to put up with this shit.’
The truth is she didn’t just put up with Lovely’s shit, she also put Lovely’s needs before her own. She even worked an extra hour at her crappy retail job to make up for the extra hour lunch break she had to have so she could attend a meeting with the principle of Lovely’s high school. The topic the principle wanted to discuss was Lovely’s abusive rants at her teachers. He warned my wife that should our foster child persist with her teacher abuse, she will be suspended from school.
Indeed, life was harsh for our angry foster child. Cutting herself with a razor blade was the only way she knew how to cope. When my wife found a blood stained razor blade on Lovely’s bedroom floor, she couldn’t cope at all.
‘Foster care! What the fuck was I thinking,’ raged my wife.
Now, I’m guessing by my wife’s ‘pushed over the edge’ reaction, you’d be thinking that Lovely’s placement with us was about to be terminated.  Well, you’d be wrong. In fact my wife did the opposite by demanding DOCS organise a meeting between us and Lovely’s psychologist so we could get a handle on Lovely’s detrimental behaviour. For almost two years, Lovely has been seeing this psychologist to help better manage her anger.
‘Lovely is a girl with many complex issues,’ explained the psychologist, who is hip, metro and loves his metaphors. ‘All her issues, every single one, stems from the rejection she has received from all the adults responsible for her well-being.
‘Lovely was born to drug addict parents. Now drugs and babies, that’s not a good mix. So when a drug overdose had Lovely’s father rushed to hospital, DOCS swooped in, snatched Lovely away from her mother and placed her into a foster home. Throughout her childhood, Lovely was told repeatedly by DOCS that- by law -she can never live with her parents until she turns eighteen.  And yet, her parents are raising Lovely’s younger brother and sister; and yes they still do drugs. The only difference now is that they’re not overdosing anymore.
‘By the time she hit puberty, Lovely’s feelings were like ants swarming out of their nest after it had been kicked in. The dear old lady who was caring for her at the time was frightened of her foster daughter’s rage. The poor woman couldn’t deal with it so she had Lovely removed from her home.
‘Lovely had lived with that carer for thirteen years.
‘So you see? Rejection is all Lovely has ever known. This is why she rejects every foster home she is placed in before- in her own mind –she herself is rejected. It has become her self-fulfilling prophecy.’
Wow. It all seemed so hopeless. What could we do? How could we help? The psychologist explained:
‘Lovely needs carers who will stay in the boat with her, no matter how many times she rocks that boat and tips it over. It is the only way she will ever build trust again.’
Halfway through the session, the focus of the discussion shifted to my wife- wait! We came here to talk about Lovely. Why are we talking about my wife?
‘Hmm. You have all the symptoms of anxiety disorder,’ the psychologist said with concern. ‘You need to see a psychologist.’
When a psychologist recommends you see a psychologist, you best hurry up and make an appointment to sit on that comfy leather sofa.
The psychologist that my wife chose to visit got straight to the point.
‘Are you doing foster care to help pay off your mortgage?’
‘No,’ my wife replied, shocked by the question.
‘Oh. So you do it because you want to. That’s interesting. Well, working full time and doing foster care is causing your anxiety. There are two ways a person will react to anxiety; fight or flight. And from what you’ve been telling me, you’re definitely a fighter. Now, if you’re serious about reducing your anxiety, I suggest you either quit working full time or quit fostering.’
‘No, I have to do both.’
My wife was right. We couldn’t do one without the other.
‘Okay. Well, I will prescribe to you medication that will take the edge off your anxiety. But more importantly, we need to curb your fighting reflex. To achieve this, I’m going to teach you how to breathe.’
‘Breathe?’
‘Yes breathing. You do it every second of every day. It costs nothing and if you didn’t breathe you would be dead. Buddhist monks have been using breathing techniques for thousands of years. So the next time your anxiety is about to trigger your fight reflex, I want you to stop and breathe. I’ll show you how.’ 
Like Mr Miyagi from Karate Kid, the psychologist trained my wife in the fine art of breathing.
Straight away, my wife’s new found mix of Zen and medication was put to the test.
Lovely’s caseworker quit DOCS for a new position as a safety inspector for Child Care centres. The career change had Lovely convinced that she was being abandoned all over again.
A war of retaliation was declared by Lovely on everyone that mattered to her, pushing them out of her life before someone else abandoned her.
Her first target was her psychologist. She quit seeing him on the grounds that their anger management sessions were pissing her off.
Next, Lovely quit high school to distant herself from her most hated enemies. No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.
For her carers, Lovely used a different tactic. She didn’t push us out of her life, she simply cut us off. It was a cruel manoeuvre, I was beyond devastated. We had opened up our hearts to Lovely and she treated us and our home like a boarding house.
So how did my wife fare with all this? I hear you ask. As promised, the medication did its job. Anxiety wasn’t her immediate reaction. In fact, she didn’t react at all. She just stood still and breathed, again and again until her mind was an expanding emptiness so wide, not even her fight reflex could leap across.
Nevertheless, the final punch in the face to KO Lovely’s placement with us came from- of all people -the government.
At sweet sixteen, Lovely was entitled to Youth Allowance, that fortnightly payment of four hundred dollars to be used as financial support for a student’s education.
Taking full advantage of the free cash splash, Lovely made the leap from uncooperative to all out renegade. She spent all her allowance on re-inventing herself with Gothic fashion, Vintage fashion; blue hair, pink hair; a new piercing for her already pierced face. From out of the shopping bags she was born again and again.
Gothic paraphernalia and Vintage style dresses piled up on Lovely’s bedroom floor. Within a month her room resembled an up ended bin.
On the weekends, Lovely told us that she will be staying the night at her girlfriend’ house, but there was no fooling us. We knew when she walked out that front door, she jumped into the car of some nineteen year old boy who was waiting for her at the end of the street. Some weekdays she didn’t come home at all. The only times she was ever home with us was when all her Youth Allowance was spent.
Amidst the chaos unleashed by cyclone Lovely, my wife remained centred in mind and spirit, the eye of our foster child’s storm.
Suddenly that vast emptiness that expanded to the rhythm of my wife’s controlled breathing was no longer empty. My wife wasn’t floating in nothing; she was swimming in an ocean of liquid care. All that willingness to care, stretching out to the horizon of my wife’s soul, it had been there all along and she never knew. Her anxiety had always ensnared her before she could dive into the oceanic depths of her care.
With her rage now absent and with an abundance of care, my wife did what was right for Lovely- what was right for us all. 
It was time for Lovely to go, my wife had decided, but not until she turned seventeen. A teenager at that age has more access to independent living grants. My wife firmly believed that while Lovely was still only sixteen, she should remain in our home so we could bail her out whenever she got herself into trouble.
For almost half a year Lovely stayed with us, until a month after her seventeenth birthday.
DOCS refused to set up Lovely with independent living. Why should they! Just the thought of handing out an independent living grant to a teenager who can’t clean up after themselves, let alone keep their room clean- was scandalous. A refuge was all Lovely’s new caseworker was going to offer.
Lovely refused the offer, instead choosing to move in with her dad.  A new life in a house where the fridge is always empty, she is side stepping the empty syringes scattered across the floor and the couch was all she had to sleep on.
And that was that. Lovely was gone from our lives.
We tried to change Lovely, believe me we did. We encouraged her to do better at school, to think about her future, be more responsible and all those things.
But in the end we failed to make a difference as Lovely wouldn’t listen to anyone, wouldn’t trust anyone but herself.
However, the pressure of caring for Lovely exerted change on my wife. Forever free of her anxiety trap, having transcended her fighting reflex, my wife is now unlimited. So too is her capacity to care.
With plenty of care to spare, we now have two teens and one tween living with us in our foster home.
Oh, and one pet cat.  

About the author

Glenn is an Australian who is a factory worker by day and a writer by night. He and his partner have been caring for foster children for seven years.  My stories on foster care have been published on the websites Parenting Express and Next Family.

  

Friday, 10 March 2017

A Seven Letter Word

Robin Wrigley

a pink gin

‘You know I’m meeting Angela this morning darling?’ Jane was talking to her husband Harvey while applying lipstick with the aid of the lounge mirror and watching for his reaction from his armchair across the room.

     ‘Are you? Can’t say as I remember, not that it’s a problem.’ He looked up from his paper where he had been tackling his daily crossword with moderate success. His wife said that in his case crossword had a double meaning in that he invariably became irritable with whom-so-ever the compiler was, especially on Thursdays.

     ‘The trouble is you never do remember darling but I should be back by dinner time and I have done all the prep. So we will eat on time if that’s what bothering you.’ She finished applying the lipstick, turned side on to the mirror and smoothed the back of her recently dyed hair and then turned to smile at Harvey who was oblivious to this attempt at remote affection. He was still trying to answer a very simple clue that had appeared before he was sure, but he was damned if he could remember. It really was so frustrating when solutions kept buzzing around in his mind but defied retrieval. He was certain he knew the answer but it continued to elude him, ‘A summer bird in adverse weather conditions’ – seven letters.

     ‘Right I’m off, you’ll be able to find something suitable for a sandwich in the fridge darling; see you later.’ She blew him a kiss that landed in a similar place to the smile earlier as he continued to do battle with the crossword.

     ‘Yep, okay say hello to Angela from me,’ but his words simply hit the inside of the front door as Jane had already closed it behind her and was fishing for the remote control for the garage door in her handbag.

     As the crosswords in Harvey’s life went, this wasn’t too bad and by a quarter to twelve he had finished it all except for two connecting words; one up and one down and if nothing else he knew when he was stumped. He prided himself at not being a quitter but enough was enough and once he left it alone the answer would come to him later in the day. It nearly always did.

     He continued reading the rest of his newspaper and the phone rang. He ignored it knowing it would either be for Jane or some charlatan from the sub-continent wanting him to inadvertently divulge information that might lead to his financial disadvantage while pretending to help him with a non-existent computer virus. Whoever it was they didn’t leave a message on the answering machine so he felt vindicated. 

     Strange really that Jane had managed to get him to ignore phone calls. Back in his working life he wouldn’t dream of ignoring a call even though there were times when he wished he had. His decision was influenced by the fact that so many of his calls to Jane when he was overseas went unanswered and she admitted she was in at the time but thought it was probably a ‘cold caller’.

     There was a period towards the latter part of his working life when overseas trips became more frequent and lasted longer that the unanswered phone calls played on his mind in spite of Jane’s explanation. That and the fact that he sensed they were growing apart and didn’t share the same likes and dislikes anymore. He often felt that they would have had more in common if they had had children but they didn’t and somehow neither of them was able to discuss this fact.

     Many a time he mulled it over in his mind to bring it into a conversation in their early married life; but every time he lacked the courage fearing that it was a taboo subject. He was afraid that she would interpret the lack as her fault when in actual fact it had never been established whose fault it was as they had never sought medical advice. 

     Having finished with the paper and somewhat at a loss as how he should spend the rest of the day he phoned his friend Patrick to see if he fancied a pint and a sandwich. His call went unanswered so he decided to go out anyway. It was definitely preferable to sitting around the house. Moreover he decided to treat himself to the new lunchtime special they were advertising in the hotel in town. At least the prospect of dining alone never bothered him greatly as he had plenty of experience in doing so. The prospect of the visit into town began to please him so he decided to make an effort in his attire by changing his trousers for a smart pair of silver grey corduroys and putting on a tie, something he rarely did in the daytime since retiring.

     The journey into town took a little longer than normal as he indulged himself further by going the pretty way. He parked in the central car park and stopped off on the walk to the hotel and bought a magazine in the newsagents off the square. It was just a current affairs weekly that would compensate for the lack of conversation during his lunch. In the past he would eliminate the silence at meal times alone by reading novels. He was particularly fond of spy stories especially those written by Le Carré.  But since retiring he found he had lost the appetite to tackle anything of length even though he now had plenty of time to do so. He put it down to his reading a daily newspaper, struggling with crosswords, listening to the radio and of course the biggest waster of all time, television. He often wondered to himself where the time disappeared to.

     Entering the hotel he was just about to turn into the dining room when, glancing along the corridor leading into the bar, he saw Patrick engaged in conversation. The person he was talking to was obscured by the narrowness of the corridor so he decided he would at least go and say hello. As he walked further along the corridor the legs and dress of Patrick’s guest came into view just before he announced his arrival.

     An icy chill ran through his body as he recognised who it was and he turned around, quickly walking away he turned into the lobby and headed for the restrooms. He was in a blind panic as he shoved open the swing door failing to see the small yellow sandwich-board warning that the floor was wet. His feet went from under him, his only thought before his head cracked on the porcelain washbasin was the one word across he had not finished. Cuckold.

     At a little after six o’clock Jane entered the house and called out. ‘I’ve left the car in the driveway darling as I might go out early tomorrow.’ There was no answer and just as she noticed how strange it was that Harvey had not put any lights on, she saw the little red light blinking on the answering machine.