Saturday, 16 February 2019

Dangerous Words

by Allison Symes 

bitter coffee

The biography of my long dead great-aunt whom I cared for, it was over a decade in the end, was a revelation, a bloody one at that.  No wonder she didn't want this coming out during her lifetime and I'm heartily wishing I hadn't been sent this book.  Someone wanted me to have it but who and why?  And why send it now?

Frankly, I'm not sure what I want to do with this.  The logical thing would be to burn the wretched book but how many copies were produced?  How could I find out without revealing what I know? And whoever sent this is expecting some reaction I guess.  There's nothing to stop them sending me other copies either.  Have they gone to the police?  Well let them... I've done nothing wrong except be a beneficiary to a sick old lady whose family abandoned her.  Except I now know why they dumped her.  Has one of them finally decided I ought to know? Or are they going to try to take my inheritance from me?

What did I find out?  That my great-aunt knew quite a bit about biology as it turns out and where exactly to stick the knife. She wasn't always crippled with arthritis!   Said knife ended up right in the backs of anyone to whom she was a beneficiary.  Collected quite a sum in the end - well over £500 K.  People have been killed for less than that.  What I can't figure is how she got away with it.  All I know is I'm keeping that money and I am getting out of here now.

About the author 

Allison Symes is published by Chapeltown Books, Cafe Lit, and Bridge House Publishing amongst others.  She is a member of the Society of Authors and Association of Christian Writers.  Her website is www.allisonsymescollectedworks.wordpress.com and she blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today - http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/author/allison-symes/

Friday, 15 February 2019

The Mesabi Miner

by James Bates

black coffee


The huge iron ore freighter was thirty miles out when Jerry Jorgenson saw it appear on the horizon, barely visible, a tiny spec. He pulled down his seed company cap to shade his eyes, and used his binoculars to watch as the ship slowly made its way toward where he was standing, close to the shipping canal between Lake Superior and the Port of Duluth. They say that death and taxes were what you could always count on. Well, to that you could add the Mesabi Miner, thought Jerry, as he watched the huge vessel's slow but steady progress. The freighter had been carrying iron ore back and forth across all of five of the great lakes for seventy-three years, Jerry's entire life. It was as dependable as the day was long, was how he looked at it.          
            It took nearly two hours for the ship to make the journey, and as it approached the entrance to the canal it began slowing down, making ready to leave the lake. By now Jerry was surrounded by a boisterous crowd of men, women and children from all walks of life. Everyone was excited and the festive atmosphere blended in perfectly with the bright sun and warm sand and raucous seagulls. The huge vessel was so close he could almost reach out and touch it's riveted steel immensity: one-thousand feet long, one-hundred feet wide and over fifty feet deep. It was fully laden with nearly eighty-thousand tons of iron ore, and it gave him a thrill beyond words to be standing so close to it.
            The wheel house was seventy-five feet above the water. Unexpectedly, a figure appeared at the small window, leaned out and saluted good naturedly to those gathered below. It was the captain. The crowd called out and waved back excitedly. Not Jerry. He wasn't what you'd call a demonstrative person by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, he watched closely as the captain doffed his cap, expecting to see a grizzled and weathered seaman. But that's not what he got. He did a double take, and then had to raise his binoculars to make sure his eyes weren't deceiving him. They weren't. It wasn't a man who was doffing a cap and commanding his beloved freighter. It was a woman. And, even more remarkable, she wasn't even very old. He was stunned beyond belief. What was going on? Was this a sick joke of some kind? What had happened to manly tradition and the stoically competent seafarers who were supposed to be safely guiding the huge iron ore freighters across the always treacherous Great Lakes? More to the point, what was this woman doing on what he always thought of as his ship?
            Jerry could not accept what he was seeing. It made him almost physically ill. Then as if to add insult to injury, the captain (That woman!) shook her head and set free long tresses of blond Scandinavian hair that shown in the sun like the finest imported satin. Her tanned face broke into a big smile as she gave the jovial crowd an impish wink and waved enthusiastically to them.
            Jerry was aghast. She's going to smash that ship, that's what she's going to do, he thought to himself. I'll bet my pension check from the steel workers union that she's going to sink the Mesabi Miner to the bottom of the canal. Then they'll be sorry. Everybody knows that only men have the knowledge and skill necessary to make it through that narrow passageway and into the port beyond. He folded his arms tightly across his chest in a huff, as if challenging her to fail. Then he watched and waited, expecting the worst.
            If the young captain could sense Jerry's skepticism, she didn't let on. Undaunted, she turned seriously to the task at hand and, like thread through a needle's eye, she cool handedly guided Jerry's beloved iron ore freighter through the narrow canal into the safe harbor beyond, completing the Mesabi Miner's journey by tooting it's horn three times. The crowd erupted as one and began wildly cheering. Not Jerry. He turned away in disgust, the roar in his ears almost too much to bear.
            He took two fast steps, and in his haste to get away almost knocked over a young girl about ten years old wearing a Minnesota Twins baseball hat. As he sidestepped her it occurred to him that his own granddaughter was about the same age. She was a delight to be around and was already an accomplished hockey player. It dawned on him that her mom, Jerry's daughter, was about the same as the ship's captain. She not only was a wonderful mother, but also a highly respected veterinarian. Damn. It was a pain in the ass to do so, but he had to admit that the world he used to know was changing. Sometimes too fast for him, but it was.
             He quickly apologized to the young girl who smiled and said cheerfully, "That's okay, mister."
            He took a few steps and then stopped and thought to himself, Hell, that lady captain actually did do a good job steering the freighter through the shipping canal, way better than I could have anyway. His shoulders slumped ever so slightly as the realization hit him. Yeah, she really was pretty good.
            He straightened up tall, having made what was for him a momentous decision. He turned and gave the departing vessel as snappy salute. Then he begrudgingly joined in with the crowd and began applauding.

About the author

Jim lives in a small town three hours south of the shores of beautiful Lake Superior. As much as he loves to go there, he doesn't get there nearly as often as he'd like. More of his stories can be found at: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com

Thursday, 14 February 2019

On Both Sides

by Amanda Jones

a simmering hot chocolate with marshmallows


He watched her. He admired every part of her. The kink in her arms bent at the elbow to form an embrace with air. The pout of her lips with concentration. The gleam in her eyes, alive with the music. The erect back and supporting shoulder. The spread of her legs surrounding the body. Her young, supple fingers glided smoothly over the strings and the contact between flesh and gut or wire-bound nylon was extremely satisfying. He loved her with desire and hated her talent which prevented him from touching her now.

She was unaware of the face flickering with emotion beside her. She fascinated him with her tempting movements stroking the strings but was playing in innocence. She did not mean to fill him with lust and envy. She wasn’t aware of him as she caressed her harp.

It came from Wales. She lived in Swansea and had bought her instrument as a comfort. She had played a harp when she was younger, but it had been destroyed with fire when her parents divorced. Her father had burned with it. She knew her mother had set the fire up but so, so slyly that it was never arson. She rarely saw her now.
Music released her. She was able to escape from the stress presented at the office and problems displayed by Anna. Anna, how she loved her. She was four now and would soon be starting school, Anna.

Nick helped her, but she didn’t love him. He wasn’t the father of Anna. Chris had left her pregnant, he couldn’t face up to the responsibilities. She had to. Then Nick had come along. Nick had always helped her and loved her but she had never loved him. He insisted on visiting her daily although he despised her music. She wasn’t going to stop playing for him. Circumstances had stopped her before but not this time.

She earned enough money from working at the office and her house was beautiful with a colourful arrangement of flowers blooming in spring and summer. She had been working at the office for five years now. She had left school, done a brief typing course and now spent her life staring at a monitor. She always had headaches after work. Paracetamol was her only comfort apart from Anna and her harp.

Nick bought her things. She didn’t really want them but he insisted. She kept telling herself that she’d have to say goodbye to him but he was so persistent, persuasive and wouldn’t let her go. It would hurt him if she told him to go and she wasn’t totally insensitive to him. Besides, she liked him to kiss her.

He wanted to kiss her now but she was playing that bloody harp. Always producing such splendid sounds from the thing but ignoring him. He knew she didn’t love him but you could cultivate it, couldn’t you? Surely he’d be rewarded one day, she did like him to kiss her. That was a positive sign, wasn’t it?

So sweet. So crisp and flowing. If only everything was. She delighted in her music, it kept her alive and even Anna wanted to play. He thought, not two of them. It’s bad enough with one, even though he liked it secretly.

They were happy though. Nick often stayed and was a perfect father figure for Anna. How long could it go on without love on both sides? She’d love him soon, surely? But she seemed incapable of love since Chris left her four years ago. Maybe she didn’t trust him. She didn’t.

About the author
Amanda has ongoing work in horror, poetry, short stories and non-fiction. Author of the Missy Dog series for good causes, her book ‘Missy and the Whitts’ is the first, about her dog Missy who dreams about real history. The second book ‘Missy and the Old Fossils’ is being published online.
 

Her Go Fund Me campaign supports good causes through my Missy Dog Books.

Her books are available from the links below through Missy’s Matters and through Kindle.

Missy’s Matters is my Conscious Crafties Shop full of creative, handmade goodies with many donating to good causes. https://www.consciouscrafties.com/crafties/missys-matters/


Virus-free. www.avg.com

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Do You Believe in Magic?

by James Bates 

creme brulee latte

 Carrie and I were out to dinner, sharing a meal at our favorite restaurant, George and the Dragon. We'd been dating for over a year and were thoroughly enjoying each other's company, so much better than our previous relationships. We were young, in our late twenties, and both had good jobs: I was a software engineer for a medium size electronics company and Carrie worked in the art department for a graphic arts design firm. We'd met at a stargazing class the winter before and had hit it off immediately (under the glow of the Aurora Borealis, I might add.) Now, after all these months, we'd grown very close and felt like we had something special between us.
            It was Saturday, February thirteenth, and our date had been a chance to celebrate the end of a rather hectic work week for each of us. Earlier in the evening we'd gone to the Guthrie Theater to see Glensheen, a captivating play set in the nineteen twenties about the life of a young servant girl at the Glensheen Mansion, located just north of Duluth on the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior, a place we visited every chance we got. We'd decided to top off the evening with a late night dinner at George's, and it had been as scrumptious as usual. We were enjoying a shared dessert of crème brulee when out of nowhere the magician appeared, and he changed our lives forever.
            He introduced himself as Theodore and asked, very politely, if we minded if he entertained us with, as he put it, "Some special magic."
            Carrie, being artistic and left brained, immediately said, "Sure. Sounds like fun."
            Me? Well, I'm analytical from the word go and didn't believe one bit in magic, special or otherwise, but played along since Carrie seemed so enthusiastic.
            "Great," Theodore said, smiling as he handed me my watch, saying, "I believe this is yours."
            My first thought was, Hey! How'd he do that? But I didn't spend much time dwelling on it, because I was immediately hooked.
            Theodore regaled us for maybe twenty minutes. He didn't do your normal sleight of hand card tricks or anything like that. He was way more subtle, and I think that's what not only impressed both Carrie and me, but also drew us into his world. He took a silver coin, made it disappear and then reappear under my water glass. He pointed to my shirt pocket and asked if he could borrow the spoon that was sticking out of it. Once he said, "Excuse me. Is this yours?" as he reached down to the floor and picked up Carrie's thin, gold chain necklace and gave it to her, much to her delight. And then a few minutes later, did it again. He was marvelously entertaining.
            But it was his last bit of magic that really blew our minds and it's stayed with us all these years. I hesitate to even call it a trick - it was so much more.
            He was getting ready to leave, after handing Carrie her necklace for a third time, when he paused and asked, "Excuse me, but you two seem so happy. May I ask how long you've been together?"
            "Just over a year," Carrie said, giving me a questioning look, like, what's going on?
            "Why do you want to know?" I asked, keeping my voice pleasant. With someone else I might have felt he was prying but not with him. He was just so engaging, and a nice guy to boot.
            "I was just wondering. I get the feeling that tonight's a big night for you two. Is that right?" he asked, in all seriousness.
            We both smiled a little at him.
            "Well, not much more so than any other night," I said.
            "Just a normal date," Carrie added. "Why?"
            "Oh, nothing," Theodore said, looking perplexed. Then he lifted an unused napkin, "It's just that I thought this might be yours."
            He picked up an object from underneath and set it between us on the table. It was a ring. A thin, gold band with tiny agates encased around it that sparkled in the romantic restaurant lamplight. It was beautiful, and, I swear, looked exactly like one we'd seen on a trip we'd taken up to Lake Superior that last summer. We'd come across it in an agate shop in Two Harbors and remarked on its beauty, both of us thinking at the time (but not saying it out loud) what a perfect wedding band it'd make someday for Carrie.
            Theodore let the ring lay on the table and then stepped back. I looked at Carrie. It had been such a wonderful evening, like all of our times together were. We were not only happy together but good for each other. The best part of my life was being with her. In that moment, something came over me, a tidal wave of love and emotion that was overwhelming, and, with it, the certainty that she and I were meant to be together for the rest of our lives.
            I picked up the ring and said, "Carrie, I love you more than life itself. Will you do me the honor of marrying me?"
            I'll never forget what she did. She leaned over the table, kissed me and said, "I thought you'd never ask."
            Then I slipped the ring on her finger (it fit perfectly) and we giggled like school kids, looking into each other's eyes, knowing without a doubt that we'd made the right decision.
            After a few minutes, it dawned on me that it was Theodore who had prompted this unexpected event. I wanted to thank him, however, when I turned to do so, guess what? He was gone.
            Later, when we went to pay out bill, I asked the manager about the magician. He shocked us by saying, "There was never a magician here. Never was, never will be. Don't need the hassle."
            Well, that was curious. But we didn't dwell on whether the manager thought Theodore was at the restaurant that night or not. For us he had been, and that's what was important. On our way out the door I glanced at my watch. It was now the early hours of Sunday, February fourteenth.
Carrie and I have been married over thirteen years now and have two wonderful children. We celebrate our engagement at George and the Dragon every year on Valentine's Day, where we enjoy a romantic meal, share a crème brulee for dessert, and talk about how lucky we are that we are together. And you know what? Every time we go there it never fails to take us back to that remarkable night so long ago, when we made a lifelong commitment to each other, and I went from being a skeptic to a believer in the mystery and power of magic.

About the author

 Jim is a romantic at heart and truly believes in the power of magic.

 

           

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Food Demonstrator

by Kim Martins

cognac

Swiss Emmental. Provolone. Monterey Jack. I’ll need to learn the names of the fancy cheeses, and know the semi-hard ones and the extra-sharp cheddars. But I’ll certainly need to avoid the blue vein - smells like boiled cabbage or unwashed socks.

Here comes that prissy woman. I can’t make a mistake and offer her soft brie on a salty cracker, when she looks like a Gruyère lover. I bet she likes a rich, slightly nutty cheese. She probably has fondue parties on Saturday nights, and knows Gruyère is the perfect earthy cheese for swirling crusty French bread or an asparagus spear.

I should pick up the platter and step into the aisle. Last minute check; yes, that’s the Gruyère, although the fluorescent lights in this supermarket really wash out its lovely pale honey colour.

“Would you like a sample of our Gruyère?” I say as she passes by me, her fruity fragrance lingering in the aisle.

“No.” Short and curt.

Ah, well. I’m sure old Mrs. Taylor will snap up any free samples I offer. She’s not so picky, and she particularly likes the aged Gouda.

I glance down at my ID - Food Sample Demonstrator - making sure the plastic tag is sitting straight and not hidden by the lapel of my tight-fitting fuchsia jacket. Wandering back to the cheeses, I count
each sample, and then shift from one tired leg to the other. It’s not easy standing around for hours, handing out food samples.

My mind wanders back to when I first saw him in aisle sixteen, right between the confectionery and laundry detergents. Black hair slightly silvered at the temples, and I couldn’t help but notice his shopping trolley was stuffed with canned beans, beer and cat food.

I imagine him to be a Roquefort man: decadent and intense. King of the Blues. Might have to reconsider my dislike of blue vein I think as I pick up a mirrored-compact, fluff my bleached hair, and make sure that my lipstick isn’t smudged (customers love a broad, bright smile, so I’m wearing my favourite Honolulu Pink shade. It matches my jacket oh-so-perfectly).

There’s that irritating bakery guy just down the aisle, setting up his food station. He’d better not have those tiny jam doughnuts that people swarm around. After getting a sample or two, customers walk by the cheese station licking sugared fingers, ignoring the shaved Stilton and creamy Camembert.

No time to worry about it though, because here comes Mr. Roquefort.

“Could I try some ricotta, please?” he asks. A gentle smile, voice low and throaty.

“Ricotta?” I stutter. How bland!

How to tell ricotta from the cottage cheese, though? They both look like grainy lumps.

I offer him the platter, hoping he’ll know the difference, when an annoying kid darts underneath. The platter falls to the floor and breaks. Porcelain shards and cheese samples splatter everywhere.

Bakery guy looks over. There’s a smirk on his face.  “Hey, Irene,” he sniggers. “Still dreaming of that promotion? You’d best get back to aisle two, and serve those tiny cocktail sausages you’ve been serving to customers for years.”

About the author

Kim Martins lives in New Zealand. Her poetry and flash fiction has been published in The Copperfield Review, Furtive Dalliance, Barren Magazine, Plum Tree Tavern, The Drabble, Flash
Frontier, Flash Flood Journal & “a fine line’. A keen photographer, inspiration comes from photos and observations while walking. With a BA (Hons) in History, her stories and poetry often have historical themes.

Monday, 11 February 2019

February Evenings

by Roger Noons


 Magno Spanish brandy



The sun had warmed the land before it sank behind the mountain, but now there was chill in the air. I was grateful for the warmth of Sandy’s Bar, welcomed by Dave. Leonard Cohen growling in the background.
     The barman always had a faint smile, whatever the time, irrespective of the weather. ‘Usual?’ he said.
    ‘No, I’ll have large black, one sugar, please.’
    ‘No Magno, I’m afraid.’
    ‘Fundador will do, or Veterano,’ I told him. ‘Still quiet?’ 
    ‘How I like it.’ After serving me, he selected a goblet from the counter. Holding it gently by its stem, he began to polish.
    A man of few words, Dave, which meant you had to graft for a conversation. Two minutes later he changed the CD. Still Cohen, with remixed tracks. I was content to listen, sip my cognac and slurp my Nescafé.
    The door opened, cold air flew along the counter. I shivered.
    ‘Hola.’ A woman’s voice behind me. ‘Has he been in?’
    As I stared at her reflection above the bottles, Dave shook his head. Her lips formed a silent expletive. I took another sip.
    ‘Barry’s opened Grumpy’s tonight. You might try there.’
    ‘Thanks,’ she muttered and the door was opened again. Another blast of Santa Eulalia’s ozone flooded the room.    
    After Dave set the refilled glass on the counter alongside my right hand, he explained. ‘Two nights a week she locks Jock in their casa, goes off to play bridge. If he can’t find any booze, he breaks glass and climbs out through a door or window. She gets home and finding him missing, tours the town.’
    I shook my head.
    ‘She’ll settle his bar bill, load him up and take him home.’
    ‘What about other nights?’
    ‘When she’s there she serves his drinks, knows how much he’s had, puts him to bed at ten.’
    I shrugged.
    ‘Barry used to clean for them, might still do.’
    ‘Barry?’
    ‘A retired hoofer. Gets by tending bar and cleaning house.’
    ‘Does he wear a pinny?’ I grinned.
    ‘Not when he’s behind the bar.’ Dave didn’t smile. ‘Jock’s like a lot of them here. They work all hours God sends in the UK, get to sixty and retire. Move to Ibiza with no hobbies, no friends and having drunk little all their life, spend their waking hours catching up. Livers give out in three to four years.’
    I shook my head and emptied my glass.
    ‘Another?’
    ‘No thanks, not after what you’ve just said. I’ll perhaps see you tomorrow.’
    As the door closed behind me, I heard the volume of the music increase.

About the author


Roger is a regular contributor to  CaféLit and The Best of volumes.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Chips

by Jude Alderman 

PG Tips 

Chloe was upstairs in her play tent. She was in a Really Big Sulk.

Huddled up with her knees under her chin, her pink kangaroo and fluffy dog wedged tightly up against her, she was certain she was never ever going to come out of there again. Waves of shame and rage rose up in her, a big cloud of confusion and resentment. It wasn't her fault. There was no way she was going to apologise to Charlie. So what if Daddy was cross with her? She hated him and she hated Charlie and she hated having to be there at all, and one day she would be eighteen and then she could run away as fast as she could and look for her real family. She didn't care how rough things got because she didn't have to live there forever, just put up with it, and all she had to do was just try harder not to care and not to hurt inside. Not hurt, not feel, not anything.

The day had got off to a bad start. Jen had chosen Chloe''s school clothes for her and laid them out neatly on the bed. Chloe had looked at them, thought for a very short, but intense moment, then said, "Why can't I wear my new skirt?"

"This one isn't dirty, so it doesn't need to go in the wash yet," replied Jen. This was met with a kind of snort as Chloe folded her arms and sat down hard on the bed.

"I don't expect you'll ever let me wear that skirt," she shouted, "it's a waste of a skirt, that's what it is!"

Jen felt weary. Jen felt annoyed about how important this seemed to be to Chloe. And most of all, Jen felt - yet again - that she could get nothing right in Chloe's eyes.

"Well I won't wear this skirt and I won't get dressed and I won't go to school!" yelled a furious Chloe, turning pink. "If I have to wear this skirt I'll make sure I rip it.," yelled a little boiled face with tears stinging its eyes…

"Yes, she's like a lobster", thought Jen, "covered in spiny, spiky bits and very red when heated.."

"Okay," she replied, "you'd better just stay there then, I can't make you get dressed. But I'm not giving you the new skirt, because this is the one I want you to wear today."

Chloe picked up the skirt and threw it at Jen's back as she was leaving the room.


It had taken an hour and a half to walk home from school that afternoon. Chloe had been the last one out, long after all the other parents and children had drifted away. Jen had waited in the emptying playground, trying hard to be patient. A row of trees stood opposite her, bare and proud as they faced the winter winds. "That's how I feel," thought Jen, "stripped bare by this child…"

Chloe dawdled out of the door trailing her chaos of bag, books, coat and cardigan.

"Let's sort all this out first," said Jen. "Put your cardigan on, you can't walk home dressed like that.."

Chloe let go of everything, let it all drop to the playground floor as if it was a great relief to do so. Then she folded her arms, stamped her foot and said defiantly: "I don't want to wear my cardigan, it's not cold."

"Yes it is, Chloe, it's very cold, it's the middle of December," said Jen, as kindly as she could.

"Well I'm not cold," retorted Chloe.

"You will be soon, poppet, put this on now."
Chloe did, but she was cross about it and scowled and sulked and frowned. She wouldn't help Jen put the books away in the back-pack. She wouldn't carry the back-pack. When they set off across the fields Chloe dawdled as much as she could so as not to have to walk alongside Jen. Then Jen made a Really Big Mistake. She said , "Come on, Chloe, hurry up!"
Chloe's response to this was to stop dead in her tracks. She sidled up to a tree alongside the path and began picking bark off its trunk.

Jen was losing patience. She walked the twenty or so yards back to where Chloe was and grabbed her by the hand. "Come on, I want to get home so I can cook supper for you and Charlie."

Chloe pulled her hand back, pulled her arm back, pulled her whole body back. 

And stopped.

She didn't move.

She stared ahead of her, a tight nasty look on her face.

She wouldn't look at Jen.

And she certainly wasn't going home.

As far as Chloe was concerned, Charlie had started it. He always did. He was a bully and he was selfish and he told lies. He always had to knock against her as he passed by; she always responded with a loud screech of "Charleeeeee!" Whenever he looked at her, she thought - no, she really believed - he was making a horrid face.

When Charlie arrived home from school that day, he took up all the space in the kitchen. He talked excitedly about how two of his friends had been caught smoking in the locker room that lunch-time. This developed into a self-righteous monologue about how he hated smoking and was never going to smoke cigarettes. Jen felt caged as Charlie fired bullet after bullet of chat at her, demanding engagement with him. Chloe tried desperately to get some attention for herself, while she made everyone an extremely milky cup of tea and burnt her fingers taking toast out of the electric toaster. She wanted to be noticed and to be heard and to be told she had done something good that day (she'd been given a sticker by her teacher for neat handwriting ) but Charlie wasn't leaving any gaps.

Under these circumstances, Chloe felt justified in trying to sabotage Charlie. She said, "I smelt smoke on your clothes when you came in."

This brought a furious denial from Charlie, who then launched an attack on their birth mother. Sharon had apparently smoked 'hundreds' of cigarettes every day and her clothes really did - so Charlie said - stink.

"That's not true Charleeeee! Mummy-Sharon never smoked!"

"Yes she did," Charlie hurled back, "you don't know, you were too little."

"I don’t like you saying things like that about Mummy," said Chloe, and she stuck her fingers in her ears and began a sing-song "Blah-blah-blah. Blah-blah blah I can't hear you!" she yelled over the top of everyone. "Blah-blah-BLAH!"

Jen didn't see what happened next. Later on, Chloe said that Charlie had pinched her. Whatever he'd done, he didn't deserve to get a cup of lukewarm tea poured over his head, and he certainly didn't expect it. While he sat there stunned, pale brown liquid dripping down his nose and onto his homework diary, Chloe ran screaming from the kitchen and thundered upstairs, a loud slam following her as she hurtled into her bedroom and the security of her playtent.

Chloe could hear the muffled sounds of the house as she nestled into a soft womb of teddy bears. Charlie had gone into his room and had his radio on at full volume - his version of having his fingers in his ears. Chloe could hear her parents' voices, but they were talking too quietly for her to make out their words. Mummy-Jen and Daddy were talking in Daddy's workshop - which they always did when they didn't want her or Charlie to hear what they said. This was usually a bad sign and could only mean one thing: they were talking about her. Chloe felt sure that they didn't love her, and she knew that she didn't love them. It was horrible in this house. And… all the feelings of the day rushed in on her, a stampede of black bitterness, and she knew what to do. She would run away - that would show them.
Chloe poked her head out from the tortoiseshell of her tent. Everyone seemed busy elsewhere - they weren't going to notice her. She slipped down the stairs, along the dark hallway and stood by the front door. Jen came out of Dad's workshop, into the hallway, on her way back to the kitchen.

"Are you alright, sweetie?" she asked gently.

Chloe turned away and put her face to the wall - the door frame appeared to be terribly interesting. She didn't answer.

"Supper soon," said Jen, and went on by.

After Jen had gone, Chloe very, very quietly opened the front door a chink. She slithered through and stood outside in the porch.

Jen came back into the hall. She saw Chloe through the glass of the door. Chloe saw her and instantly pulled back out of view.

Best give her time, thought Jen, she'll come back in when she's calmed down.

Chloe didn't come back in. She stayed there, not quite in the house, not quite in the street. She didn't know what to do next.

Jen went back into the kitchen to start cooking supper. She didn't know what to do next either.

What an amazing tirade came out of Chloe when Jen took her forcibly by the arm and dragged her back inside, after half an hour of failed attempts at persuading her to come and eat her supper.

"I hate sausages and I hate chocolate and I hate ice-cream and I’m never going to eat them again. You all hate me and I don't want to be in this family and I’m going to run away," she screamed. There were tears of fury in the corners of her eyes.

For a moment there was silence, Jen and Chloe standing face to face in the gloom of the long hallway. Jen knew that any attempts at reassurance would be pushed away. 

"Okay," she said, "I can't stop you.. " She wanted to stall for time. "There's one thing though. I'm worried about you. I'm worried about where you will sleep tonight when it gets dark. Have you got a plan for where you will sleep?"

No, Chloe hadn't thought about this; she shook her head.

"Well, have you got any ideas?" asked Jen.

"I know, I could phone Lucy's Mum and see if I could sleep at her house!" Chloe suggested.

"Okay, give her a ring then," replied Jen.

Chloe ran and grabbed the telephone. She didn't know the number so Jen helped her to find it on the list on the kitchen wall, and Chloe pushed the buttons. There was nobody at home.
"Why don't you try again in a little while?" said Jen, and she wrote Lucy's telephone number and address down on a piece of paper, then tucked them into Chloe's pocket, "as a back-up," she said.

"I'm worried about you, Chloe," said Jen. I'm worried that you'll be cold out there. Have you got something else you can put on to wear?"

Chloe ran back into the hallway. She grabbed her big winter coat, her scarf and her pink woolly hat, the one with 'Angel' embroidered on it in silver thread. Now she was ready to go. Jen didn't think so.

"That's good," she said, "now you'll be nice and warm. But I'm worried about you. You'll need something to eat - shall I make you a sandwich?"

No, Chloe definitely did not want a sandwich.

"But you'll be so hungry," said Jen. "I know what, I'll give you some money for chips."

"Chips?" queried a surprised Chloe. "CHIPS??" Excitement began to burrow its way to the surface through all her fog of distress.

"Yes, you'd better get yourself some chips from the chip shop, " said Jen, purse in hand. And to Chloe's astonishment, Jen pressed into her hand a hard, round, one pound coin.

"I can get some chips?" Chloe asked again. "By myself?"

"Yes," replied Jen, "but there's still something I'm worried about because I want you to be safe. How will you cross that busy road to get to the chip shop?"

Chloe was quick to figure this out. She was visibly quivering with delight at the idea of going to the chip shop by herself.

"I'll go to the zebra crossing!" she asserted.

" Are you sure you'll be safe?" asked Jen. "Would you like me to walk down the road to the crossing and see you get across safely?"

Chloe nodded an energetic 'yes' and added, "But I can go to the shop by myself? I can go and get chips by myself?"

Jen said yes, absolutely, she just wanted to make sure Chloe was safe. She took her coat from the hook and the two of them slipped out of the front door. Jen was careful as they walked down to the main road, she was very careful - keeping just enough distance between them, as she had when trying to befriend a feral cat. Chloe became more and more excited about the chips, and her anger and moodiness began to evaporate into the December dusk.

When they reached the crossing, Chloe said, "Will you wait for me?"

'Of course, said Jen, "shall I wait opposite the chip shop so that you can see me?" 

Chloe nodded, and when Jen said 'okay' she ran across the zebra crossing. She skipped back along the pavement opposite to where the chip shop was, then disappeared inside.
Jen stood on her side of the road, in the soft rain and gloom. After a few minutes a little girl of seven years old waved to her from the chip shop window; a little girl with blond hair in lopsided bunches that she had tied herself, and a pink woolly hat that didn't quite sit comfortably over them. Jen just stood there in the streetlight, in the cold, watching her adopted child - no, her daughter - 'running away from home'.

And then Chloe was running back to the zebra crossing with a great big grin on her face
and they weren't just Chloe's chips anymore; they were everybody's chips. 

"I know what," she chattered, "I can take the chips home and share them with Charlie. He really likes chips! I can share them with Charlie and with you and with Daddy, we can have them for our supper. Can we have them with our sausages?"

"Of course we can," said Jen, relieved and smiling inside.

"Can I eat one now?"

And with a large brown paper bag in one hand, and a hot potato chip in the other, Chloe ran on ahead to the house where they lived, and disappeared inside.