Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Butterflies

by James Bates

sweetened iced tea


Oh, how they danced this morning on the summer breeze, drifting through the garden, keeping me company while I worked under the bright, hot sun. Janie loved butterflies, even talked to them, their own special language, and she would have loved today, surrounded by their gentle ballet, their colorful beauty. I know for certain they would have had a lot to talk about.
            Before Janie died we'd often sit together amongst the zinnias and daisies and dahlias in the front yard, butterflies fluttering all around us, and watch them while we talked about this and that; the gentle musings of a couple married over fifty years. We'd sip sweetened ice tea and Janie would often dip her finger into the glass and hold it out next to her for a brave flutter-by (her endearing name for the braver ones) to join us. One often did, clinging to her finger, feeding, while we both watched in awe.
            Today, I stop my gardening and take a moment to stand, stooped, as they surround me, these butterflies carrying with them myriad memories of the past; memories with Janie that are quietly returning on the summer breeze like the brightly colored swallowtails, painted ladies and monarchs, flitting from flower to flower; so many memories of times spent with my darling wife, here in our garden, she and I, in this magical moment in time, coming together again.

About the author

 Jim is an avid gardener and can often be found in his garden talking to butterflies even though it might seem like he's talking to himself.

Monday, 21 January 2019

The Window


by Lynn Clement

a glass of claret


Staring out of the window, I see tears streaming down the reflection. It can’t be me; I know how to hide my pain. One drop crawls towards another and they clasp at each other, forming a rivulet. It pools, and then falls off the edge of the sill.

  The storm is as fierce as forecasted, and yet it has such a pretty name – Fleur. She’s certainly battered her own name sake. Some early spring daffodils are bowing their heads away from the wind like shy maids, as if they have something to hide. The tall bearded trees are shaking with anger and the logs in the wood pile are sodden. They should have had a better shelter. The axe is off its stand and has been thrown to the floor, it will need sharpening now. Grey fists have formed in the sky. It looks as if they are trying to outdo each other. A fork of light splits them, and just for a moment they halt their battle, and then resume their sparring to thunderous applause.

  I pull my cardigan tighter round my chest. My sticky fingers touch the back of my neck. I think someone has just walked over my grave, and I know why.
  Moving away from the window I look at the boxes. I hadn’t kept to the rules very well. There are too many memories poking up over the rims. They’re probably too heavy to lift, but I haven’t got the energy to do it again.
  
The letters are on the mantelpiece, the one for my daughter Caroline on top, the other one hidden behind it. They can have that, it will be useful. I don’t need to read it again.

  The car will be here soon, even in this storm I’m sure they’ll hurry. I take up my position by the window to watch them arrive. The rain is almost horizontal now and has sheared one of the heads off the daffodils. Storm Fleur’s pent up anger seems vengeful.

  A pair of big, yellow eyes head up the driveway. They don’t screech to a halt like they do in the movies and no flashing blue light; I feel slightly disappointed. Two men in long rain coats step out of the car and try to shield themselves from the storm, but Fleur is taking no prisoners today.
My hands have dried now, making my fingers feel crusty, so I rub them together, and tiny claret coloured flakes flutter to the carpet. I slip the latch, let them in, and stare at their sopping wet shoes. They look at my red feet.

‘He’s in there,’ I say helpfully.

  They tread on my gooey and now rust coloured Axminster with their wet shoes. Observing the packing boxes, one of them retches into his handkerchief.

‘Not many men carry a handkerchief nowadays,’ I say.

  They look at me open mouthed.

‘What happened here love?’ one of them asks

‘Read the letter,’ I reply.

About the author

Lynn is a regular author for CafeLit. She enjoys writing flash fiction and poetry and has won some local competitions in Hampshire.







Sunday, 20 January 2019

Black Socks on the Clothes Lline

by Roxy Thomas 

chai tea 

He walked very slowly down the back alley delaying the journey home and the inevitable questions he could not answer. Paul never took this way, he always used the front street, and always in a hurry, never at such a leisurely pace. Maybe he would finally learn something about the neighborhood he had called home for so long but never got to enjoy, as he rushed madly from the downtown skyscraper, to the crowded bus, to the quick walk past all the manicured lawns to his brick bungalow, like all the other suburban bungalows. Now he finally had a chance to see the hidden lives of his neighbors, most he had never met, nor admittedly wanted to meet. He left the socializing to his wife Doreen, and she kept him updated on all the comings and goings, whether he cared or not.

He sighed as he passed the Smith’s garage and remembered the story Doreen had told him of the couple’s recent vacation to Bermuda. He noticed with interest the colorful beach towels hanging on their clothesline. It was odd to see blue and white nautical towels flapping against the red and yellow autumn leaves left on the tress and crunching beneath his feet as he trudged even slower. Doreen was always pleading with him to take time off for a vacation, but he always felt that the timing was never right. He repeatedly told her he was the only person at work with the full knowledge of the latest project and never felt comfortable being away for more than a few days at a time. How silly he was to have sacrificed so much and shown such loyalty, what did it get him in return, and how was he going to tell Doreen?

He cringed when he thought of the condescending way he had spoken to her when she asked him for the first time why he couldn’t get away for longer so they could spend a few extra days in the mountains, the only place they ever went. Her face had crumpled when he told her that she did not understand how business worked, and if he was ever going to get the sought-after promotion, they had to sacrifice for the sake of his career. Over time she stopped asking about taking more exotic vacations and hadn’t even complained when a strategy planning day forced him to cancel last year’s annual Thanksgiving trip to Jasper.

Paul walked passed the unpainted fence of the Henderson’s and slowed even more as he recalled what Doreen had told him about their situation when he had complained about the state of disrepair and how it was bringing down property values. She told him how Mr. Henderson had left his wife for another woman and how hard it was for Mrs. Henderson her to keep up the yard now that their kids had moved out. He remembered Doreen’s not so subtle comment about losing a man to a mistress evoked sympathy, but losing a man to a job did not. At the time he felt anger, but now he felt shame at not recognizing what she meant.

He stopped to switch his shoulder strap to the other side, as the heavy papers and books were cutting into his neck. Packing up one’s desk on short notice took less time than he thought and he had accumulated very few personal possessions to bring home. Most of the knowledge he was leaving was electronic and he was only bringing home a few files, some reference books and a honeymoon picture of Doreen and himself in front of Niagara Falls, their only real trip. Her colorful pink dress shone in the sun and was almost as bright as her eyes.

Paul walked past the immaculate backyard of the Van De Kamp’s, and noticed the assortment of bright patterned socks hanging on the clothes line, next to the colorful button down golf shirts, flapping in the still warm breeze. Somehow the cheerfulness of the socks darkened rather than brightened his mood and he was not sure why. But a memory of Doreen sobbing when she found the bright blue striped pair she bought him for his birthday in the donate bag twisted his insides. She had been so happy when he opened the package and excited for him to try them on, but he had only scoffed and said they were too flashy. She tried once more to get him to wear them one weekend when she finally convinced him to take her to a movie after their usual Saturday lunch at their favorite Chinese restaurant. He refused and told her his black socks were perfectly fine for work and for weekends and to quit wasting money. She was sulky as they ate their usual combination plate of rice, pineapple chicken balls and sweet and sour ribs, so predictable that the waiter just brought them the same order each time. He recalled her sadness was drowned out somehow by the cheerful yellow sweater she wore. Doreen used to pride herself on her bright wardrobe, almost as an antithesis to his corporate attire, but lately she too had taken to sensible grey sweaters.

His pace slowed even more as he drew close to their back gate, dreading having to tell her that all the years of sacrifice had not paid off, all the years of loyalty to the company had not been returned when he received his lay-off notice. He could not help but regret all those missed vacations. As their back yard came in to sight, Paul noticed the well painted fence and mowed lawn, but was struck by what was on their clothesline, dozens of back socks, button down white dress shirts, and grey trousers. What he would not give to see one of Doreen’s bright floral dresses flapping in the breeze.

About the author 

Roxy is an aspiring writer by evening and a psychiatric nurse and safety specialist by day. She lives with her husband, two cats and a dog on 20 acres in Alberta near a national park where the bison roam. She has published a personal essay in her city newspaper and non-fiction pieces on the topic of mental health in a small town weekly. I am building my presence on her Website/Blog and on Twitter , Facebook and Goodreads .


Saturday, 19 January 2019

Beige Goes with Everything Except Life



by Holly Ann Shaw

a glass of bubbly

Mary hated budget meetings, not because they were as dull as standing in a grocery checkout line, but because they wasted her time. She was always under budget, no outstanding invoices, and nothing to contribute. It was hard to stay engaged. She put her chin in her hand. That’s when she noticed it. A hair. Not a soft hair, but one that felt like stubble. For the next twenty minutes, she ran her finger over it. Again, and again. She no longer heard words. When the meeting ended, she ran to the bathroom. There it was. The hair that anyone could see. How had she missed it?

Up until then, it had been a normal workday. Read emails. Check. Return calls. Check. It was an unremarkable day, like any other day in the past twenty-five years. She had always been an anchor—solid, steady and constant. People counted on her. She knew a lot. In the office, she was the one people went to with questions. At church, people shared their problems with her because she knew things there too. She was a problem solver. Mary believed in efficiency. A full day of tasks and meetings—even Saturdays—were good days. Every moment accounted for. All Conversations were had a purpose—pleasant, but with a point. She liked that about herself. 

For the rest of the day, she couldn’t concentrate. Instead of answering phone calls, she fingered that damned hair. Rather than read emails, she spent the afternoon trying to pull it out with her fingers. She tried, but it she couldn’t quite grab it. After work, she bought her first pair of tweezers and a magnifying mirror so that she could find any other lurking hairs. 

At home, before grabbing the mail or taking off her shoes, she was in the bathroom. It only took a second to pull it out. She stared at the black hair in her hand and sighed. How long it had been there? Why had no one told her; didn’t she have anyone in her life that would point something like that out? Was it possible there was no one who would tell her the truth, even if it was ugly? No one came to mind.

She finally rinsed the small hair down the drain. Walking into the closet to change, she stopped. Other than the beige walls, there was only black. For years, she only bought black clothes. It was efficient. Grab a top and a bottom—didn’t matter which one because they would all work together. Even casual clothes were black tops with jeans. But tonight, for the first time, it occurred to her black was the absence of light. 

She walked through her small apartment and saw it as if for the first time. Living room, bedroom, kitchen—there were only shades of gray and beige. Everything had a place—in one of the basket cubbies or drawer organizers or underbed bins. Everything matched because beige and gray go with beige and gray.  Her quest for efficiency had drained all the color out of her life.
She sat on the couch and cried. 

Mary thought epiphanies were rare; a thing for mystics. Maybe she’d had them before but she couldn’t remember any. She struggled to breath. The chin hair had to mean something besides getting older; it meant that everything is in motion whether she liked it or not. She looked at her life and saw an emptiness, a blandness; it was devoid of color, people or anything that resembled a personality. She decided it was time to move.

The changes were small. She bought a pair of green jeans, almost panicking when she gave the saleswoman her credit card. It took more than a week before she could wear them. But, when she put them on, she felt younger. So, she moved on to patterns—wild flowers or bold chevrons. With each purchase, her panic decreased. Mary started to mix patterns—sometimes matching, sometimes not.  
She started to talk to people. "Good morning" became "What did you do last night?” As with the green jeans, she felt anxiety but a little younger, a little less heavy. She talked about books and movies. She learned she had more talk about than just work; she had insights and opinions. People started inviting her out to lunch. 

The dreams started shortly after that. They were full-color, high-definition dreams; dreams that didn’t include budget meetings or black clothes. They were dreams in which she had friends or a lover. They were dreams that were all her own. 

That last night in her apartment, she dreamed of the ocean. Walking along a rocky beach, she heard laughter and quiet talk; waves crashing and someone telling her truths. She felt a hand in hers and a warmth from inside, and a cold ocean wind against her cheeks. Waking up in her bed was a disappointment. She thought about going to work, of spreadsheets and project updates, of meetings where people became enraged over mistakes that cost neither lives nor money. Once again, she cried; tears for all the wasted days. Those days where efficiency and the illusionary self-importance trumped everything—people, dreams, colors. She exchanged her days for security, for status and control. But, what she had really done was let the life drain from her life. 

Mary realized that epiphanies weren’t rare; noticing them, acting on them was. They could fly by you or you could grab them and hold on. 

Today was a remarkable day, a day unlike any in her forty-nine year life. A day that had been coming since she first felt that little stubble on her chin. A little, black piece of honesty that turned into possibilities. 

Call work and tell them to box up her stuff. Check. Pack some clothes in her new, blue bag with giant green and orange flowers. Check. She closed the apartment door, got in the car and drove West to something new.

About the author

Holly Ann Shaw’s short story, Intenerate, recently appeared in ‘Soft Cartel’ and her story, The Rust Barn, was published in the 2018 Fall edition of ‘The Raw Art Review.’”
 
 

Friday, 18 January 2019

A Freak Wave,




by Jo Dearden

 

hot tea

 


 A cold, bleak January day. Rain relentlessly beating at the windows.  George ate his breakfast in silence. He wondered how he was going to get through another day alone. His wife, Mary had died unexpectedly just before Christmas. She had slipped at the top of the cellar steps, cracking her head on the quarry tiled floor below. George had found her. He knew she was dead as soon as he saw the congealed blood around her head on the cellar floor. She was lying awkwardly with her right leg twisted underneath her. He wasn’t sure how long she had lain there as he had gone out for the morning to do a few errands.
The paramedics had been sympathetic. No-one blamed him. It was just one of those things – a freak accident.
‘Do you have any children’, one of them asked? George nodded. ‘I have a son in Australia and a daughter in London, but they are very busy with their own lives these days’.
They had both helped with the funeral arrangements. Mark had flown back for the necessary time but had scurried back to the warmer climes of Sydney as soon as he could. George had never really got on with his wife.  There had been a disagreement, but it was hard to remember now. 
The telephone rang, breaking the gloomy silence. ‘Hello Dad. How are you doing’. It was his daughter, Liz.
‘I’m ok’, he lied. ‘Just doing the same old things you know’. Liz prattled on about her four-year-old twins, Tom and Felix.  He wanted to tell her how lonely and miserable he was but couldn’t quite bring himself to do so.
‘Ok Dad, glad you’re all right. I’ll ring again next week.’  The phone went dead. George placed the receiver back on its cradle and sighed. He knew it was early days, but would he ever feel happy again?
He decided to go for a walk in-spite of the rain. After a while he found himself beside the sea shore. Huge waves crashed onto the beach. How cold would the water be?  It wouldn’t take long. He went down to the water’s edge. He looked down at his feet, momentarily transfixed by the flecks of foam that had spattered his shoes. He didn’t notice the huge wave heading towards him. As he looked up, it was too late. The wave crashed over him, propelling him forwards into the angry grey water. He had never felt such icy coldness. As another wave washed over him, he had a sudden urge to survive but the undertow was too strong, and he felt himself being pulled out by the tide. He started to lose consciousness as the freezing water overwhelmed him.
A pair of arms seemed to grab him from nowhere. The next thing he knew he was lying in a sodden heap on the beach. ‘You ok mate’, he heard a voice above him. ‘Lucky for you, I was out with my dog.’ ‘Where do you live? Let me take you home before you freeze to death’.
Back home, having had a hot shower, George sat down with a steaming mug of hot tea. As his life had momentarily flashed before him, he had decided that if he lived, he would try to move on. Mary wasn’t coming back. He knew that now. He folded his newspaper and looked out of the window at the rain.

About the author


Jo Dearden trained as a journalist with the Oxford Mail and Times.  She did a degree in English Literature with creative writing as a mature student. She co-edited her local village newsletter for about ten years. She also worked for a number of years for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. She is currently a member of a creative writing group, which is stimulating her writing again. Jo lives in Suffolk.
 



Thursday, 17 January 2019

Lovey-Dovey

by James Bates 

ice cold milk

I always liked that photo her father took of Belinda and me. Her parents ran Rothschild's Ice Cream Emporium and they thought having a lovey-dovey couple sharing a couple of their cones would make for good advertising. I was all on board. Belinda and I had been dating for a few weeks, and I was head over heels in love. I'd have done anything to get close to her. Plus, you know, I wanted to make a good impression.
            "Kevin, you stand here," her father pointed, getting scene set-up. " Belinda, get right up next to him."
            We eagerly followed his instructions, having a hard time keeping our hands off each other. All went well until, besotted as I was by the beguiling Belinda, I forgot myself and starting eating my ice cream. It was only a matter of minutes before the flatulence kicked in. See, a few years ago I found out I was lactose intolerant and no longer able to digest dairy products, more to the point, ice cream. It's not a fatal affliction, but let me tell you, the after-effects are not pleasant, if you get my meaning. If you don't, I'll just say this: Ice cream made me a little gassy. Well, super-gassy, to be honest.
            I cleared that room out pretty fast. Belinda was a trouper and stayed by my side, but eventually even she had to leave. The photo shoot was put on hold until the next day.
             These days Belinda and I are happily married. We have three lovely children all able to digest dairy. That's a good thing. Having one gas bag in the family is enough, because you know what? Rothschild's ice cream is awfully good, and I can't help myself. I have a bowl every day.

About the author
Short Bio:

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In addition to CafeLit, his stories have appeared in The Writers' Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways and Paragraph Planet. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com

 


Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

by Lynn Clement

lemon juice

 

‘Where’s mum?’ asked Ray Boswell.

‘In the bathroom,’ replied his eldest.

‘Right, we’re going,’ determined Ray. He slammed the door to make his point.

In their newly refurbished bathroom Samantha was washing her hands.

A sticky note was on the kitchen cupboard door above the kettle, where Ray knew Samantha would see it.  Don’t forget your doctor’s appointment!  When she saw it she lifted the note from the door and walked to the bin. Hitting the pedal she dropped the note in, and then wiped her feet on the mat just inside the kitchen door. She went to the sink. The teeth of the nail brush snarled at her as she picked it up and began scrubbing at the tips of her fingers. The red water swirled down the plug hole.
The clock chimed ten. She should have set off by now, if she were to be on time. Samantha finished applying the plasters and put her gloves on. Lifting her raincoat from the stand she carefully manoeuvred her arms into the sleeves, leaving the buttons undone in spite of the biting cold that would hit her outside. The belt hung loose and banged on her leg as she walked.

Samantha crossed the road, avoiding the urine soaked bus stop and quickened her pace. A film of sweat formed on her top lip and she felt sick. Fishing in her pocket she brought out today’s freshly laundered handkerchief, and dabbed at her skin. She felt the familiar burning sensation in her throat and tried to swallow it down, but vomited on the pavement nevertheless. She moved away swiftly. She had to make this appointment. Ray was at the end of his tether with her. She needed help.
Samantha pushed open the wooden door, looking immediately for the ladies.

‘Welcome,’ said a deep voice.

She went in.

‘How can I help you,’ he said.

‘Forgive me father, for I have sinned,’ said Samantha.

About the author



Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The Old Tramp

by Roger Noons

a mug of cocoa.

My mother always told me to keep away from the old tramp. He lived in a disused old building that had been neglected by The Test, an area where chain was stretched until it broke. When a link broke, the crack would be heard for miles around. Locals knew that tests were carried out on Tuesdays and Fridays. On two sides of the land were fields separating the factory from Four Ways Church.
    Aged seven, I tended to follow my mother’s instructions, unless being so engrossed in an activity, I forgot. Opposite our house was an unmade private road leading to St Luke’s cemetery. It was a large, irregularly shaped area with many gravestones. It was my playground, as it kept me away from any main roads. Albeit, in 1950, there were few vehicles travelling along Cradley Heath’s highways. It also offered countless nature study opportunities. 
    It was on a late July morning as I was meandering between graves, looking for butterflies, that I met the tramp. I emerged from below an elderberry tree to find him sitting on a blue brick gravestone.
    ‘How do, lad,’ he said. He may have smiled, but there were so many whiskers on his face, I couldn’t see.
    ‘Hello,’ I said quietly, as I began to back away.
    ‘No need to run off, I’ll not bite you. You might like to see this, bet you ain’t seen one  close up.’ He reached out and I could see in his hands the black feathers of a bird. It’s orange beak was open and it’s glistening eye was looking at me. ‘Found it, didn’t I, resting on this grave. One wing broken, it can’t fly.
    I sniffed. ‘You going to let it go?’
    He shook his head. ‘It’ll be caught and killed by a fox or one o’ them up there.’ 
    I followed his gaze and saw circling high in the sky, two round-winged, short-tailed brown birds. When I looked back, he had turned away from me. I heard a crack, much quieter than the Test. He moved away from me. ‘It deserves a grave,’ he said over his shoulder.
    When he reached an earth mound headed by a simple wooden cross, he got down on his knees. I edged closer and watched as he scooped earth towards him until he had a hollow. He placed the bird onto the soil and pushed the loam back.
    ‘Come,’ he called, ‘we’ll say a prayer.’
    It seemed an odd thing, but I felt sorry for the bird and moved to kneel down along side him.
    ‘Goodbye little bird,’ he said and looked at me.
    ‘Jesus, please take care of this blackbird,’ was all I could think to say. I stood up but the tramp remained on his knees.
    ‘I’m Tom,’ he said, offering a large, rough, soil-covered hand.
    ‘John William Rogers,’ I announced, as he took my hand in the gentlest of shakes.
    His head went back and he began to laugh, which frightened me and I turned and began to run.
    ‘You’re a good lad,’ he called after me.
I didn’t tell my mother about meeting Tom and when I lay in bed that night, I hoped I would meet him again.

About the author

Roger regularly contributes to Café Lit. A number of his flash fiction pieces were included in Slimline Tales which were bottled by Chapeltown Books.