fiction and other writing

Posts tagged ‘short story’

The Woman Who Didn’t Smile

I was sitting in the cafe finishing my coffee, when I noticed a very old man with a beautiful smile, lead in a frail old lady, who was as fragile as a little bird. Her skin was brown and crinkled like screwed up wrapping paper. There was no light in her eyes and her face was dour, but the man smiled at everybody as he wove their way through a jumble of table and chairs. He tried to help her sit down on a padded bench against the wall, and she argued with him that she couldn’t get her feet under the table and that there wasn’t enough space. Gently he removed the table and escorted her around the side of it. When she’d sat down he sat with her, talking softly and calming her. Five minutes later he got up to go to the counter and get their drinks.

‘I won’t be long,’ he said. ‘And you can see where I’m going.’

The queue meandered back towards the door, but the man waved and smiled at her as he stood sideways making sure she was always in view.

Slowly I sipped my cooling coffee and nodded to my companion, who was on her phone. I liked watching people and although the cafe was crowded, nobody seemed to rush us.

The tiny little bird woman tried to engage the man sitting near her in conversation, but he stoically resisted, concentrating on his partner. She tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to something on the floor.

‘You’ve dropped that,’ she said.

It was a dirty serviette, which probably wasn’t his in the first place, but he relented and bent down and picked it up.

‘Thank you so much,’ he said.

A few minutes later the little bird woman became agitated. ‘Where’s he gone? Where’s he gone?’ she repeated parrot like.

One of the waitresses, who was cleaning the tables, stopped and sat by her. ‘Look there he is,’ she said pointing to the counter. ‘He’s waving to you. He’ll be back in a minute. Can you see him?’

The tiny bird woman calmed down again and soon the old man wove his way back through the tables and chairs, carrying a tray with two drinks and a cake. He sat down beside her, helping her with her drink and cake, talking to her in a calm voice. All the time he was smiling at her and anyone else who looked over to the table. But her eyes remained dull and no smile lit her face.

I felt sad for the man that he worked so hard for no response, but there was nothing I could do. My companion offered me another coffee but I was happy just sitting in the warmth of the cafe.

When I looked over to the table again, they had finished their coffee and cake and he was still talking to her gently. Suddenly she looked at him and patted his hand. He closed his eyes as if to treasure the moment and I realised that I’d seen something special.

‘Come on, it’s time to go mum. We need to get your coat on.’ I heard my companion say.

I stood up to get the coat off the back of my chair and caught my face in the mirror behind me. I was shocked that my face held no smile. I was smiling inside but my face, looked vacant, almost cross.

I turned to my companion. I couldn’t remember her name, but she’d call me mum. I patted her arm and said, ‘You’re a good girl. Thanks for bringing me here. I do enjoy it,’ and I saw a smile light up her face; a warm smile, full of love. I hope that somehow she could see I was smiling too.

Never Jealous

You sat in the sunshine. I sat in the shade. We were most unlikely friends. I watched and waited while you danced until dawn, with your many admirers drooling over your every word.

Quietly I read books, studied for exams, collected my degrees, with just one love. You modelled for the daily’s, were interviewed by journalists and appeared in popular shows.
When we spent time together you relaxed and laughed at all the frippery and flattery, the superficial loves and endless calendar of parties.

As my stomach swelled and shrank, the ever slim you, dressed more elegantly, slipped on designer shoes and carefully negotiated the catwalk in five inch heels. Happily I was never jealous.

Sleepless nights and the ever growing school run occupied my days, interspersed with the odd flying stardust visit.

Almost unnoticed I slipped into the world of work again, finding satisfaction in unannounced achievement, while your celebrity image shouted from posters and magazines; each of us in our way contributing to the melee of life.

Today I sit waiting at the hospital for my first grandchild to make her debut, while you battle with crippled feet and wrinkles I cannot see.

We were ever unlikely friends. You live your life in the glare of the sunshine; I live mine in the gentler shade.

The Gracious Smile

I looked like a chocolate caramel in my plain beige dress with delicate embroidery around the neck and sleeves. The dark cocoa jacket had seemed smart in Estelle’s, but now I wished I’d bought something delicate and floaty.

It didn’t matter really; the day wasn’t about me. Amber looked radiant and beautiful. When Mark’s car arrived I noticed a tear in his eye. Of course he’d be feeling proud of her; he wouldn’t be worrying about missing her when she left home. He’d not been here for the last five years.

My stomach did a little flip as I watched them leave together, but luckily there was no time to dwell on it. I needed to get to the church before them. Taking a shuddering breath, I collected my bags and keys, slipped on my low healed patent shoes and headed to the waiting car.

In the next half hour I would have to face ‘that woman’. I practised my gracious smile, having no intention of speaking to her. Amber said she wouldn’t invite her if I’d be upset, but I knew she wanted her there for her dad’s sake.

I bet ‘that woman’ would be wearing something made of silk or lace. Amber often mentioned her beautiful clothes. I was beginning to feel like a brown penguin, if there is such a thing. Not that I’m exactly fat and I don’t waddle, but how do you compete with someone almost twenty years your junior!

The scenery on the drive was just a blur, but once in church it was easy to focus on Amber and her soon to be husband, Charlie. ‘That woman’ had been seated further back and out of my line of sight, although somehow I noticed her white diaphanous dress with pink roses and overlarge hat.

At the reception I’d insisted it would be me sitting next to Charlie. It was my daughter getting married, not ‘that woman’s’ and so she’d been given a place at the grandparents’ table. The food was exquisite and the champagne very passable. As the meal ended the speeches started. I dreaded what Mark would say. I bet he’d get ‘that woman’ in somehow. As he started to speak I felt the vibrancy of his voice and could see small index cards on the table. On them he’d written reminders of whom he should mention and thank. His speech swam over me.

‘…Amber has had a happy childhood, largely due to the generous spirit of her mother. She has had a wonderful role model and today we are delighted to welcome Charlie…’

Quickly I looked up at him and he smiled his special smile; the one that makes you think you’re the only one in the room with him. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. I’m sure Amber was holding her breath, but she needn’t have worried. I wouldn’t spoil her day for anything or anyone. I rustled up my gracious smile and smiled right back. The room relaxed.

It was much later that I noticed ‘that woman’ sitting at her table alone. She was studying her drink with an unwarranted intensity as if it contained a miniature elephant or something equally unlikely. I picked up my glass, pinned on my gracious smile again and went over.

‘I hope you’ve had a pleasant day,’ I said.

‘Oh yes, it’s been lovely. Amber looks so beautiful and happy.’

‘She does, doesn’t she? I think they’ll be happy.’

‘It’s nice of you to come and talk to me. Mark’s off doing his hosting duties.’

It was at that moment I wanted to say, ‘Is that what you call it?’ but something made me stop. We both turned to look at Mark, who was dancing slowly and too closely with one of Amber’s friends. It shocked me that I didn’t feel humiliated as I had in the past, but I recognised the look of hurt in Mark’s new woman’s eyes.

‘I was admiring your beautiful dress,’ I said as I pulled out a chair and sat down. ‘Amber’s always talking about your clothes.’

I glanced back to the dance floor and Amber blew me a kiss.

What goes around

Jimmy paused as he left the Crown Court building. He lit a cigarette and drew heavily on it. He could see Beth standing at the bottom of the steps talking to her solicitor, so he swaggered down the steps right past her and laughed in her face. Her solicitor stepped in front of her to block him from her view, but she had seen him. Fear had flashed in her eyes, just like that night, six months ago, when he’d relieved her of her wages. Fancy getting paid in cash these days. Apparently she didn’t trust bank accounts. ‘I wonder if she does now,’ thought Jimmy. He walked on. He hadn’t a care in the world. Today had been his fifth time in court but there had only been one conviction in the last six years. His solicitor was ace. She always managed to find some weakness in the prosecution witnesses. She’d managed to make Beth seem unreliable and unsure of herself and no jury was going to convict him on that kind of evidence.
The case shouldn’t have been brought to court as far as he was concerned. Basically it was his word against Beth’s. They hadn’t found her money on him. Luckily he’d handed it over to the drug supplier almost as soon as he’d taken it off her. The police had found the knife with his fingerprints on, but as his solicitor pointed out there was no real evidence that he’d used the knife to threaten Beth. She’d got so nervous in the witness box that her evidence had been virtually discounted. Tonight he’d celebrate. In fact he’d go to The Peacock right now and have a pint.

Police Constable Gerald Thomson was disgusted. It seemed that whenever Jimmy Marley came to court he managed to get off. What did the jury think he’d used the knife for? Peeling potatoes? He’d been caught in the middle of town with a long sharp blade. The victim of the mugging was a person of unblemished character and had had the courage to stand up in court and give her evidence. That should have been enough for any jury, but no, not with super lawyer Sheila Clark defending. She didn’t just test the witness’s evidence; she annihilated them, belittled them and humiliated them. What was the point of policing if the criminals didn’t get convicted? Everyone knew that Jimmy was a drug dealer, had no morals and no scruples about being violent. He always picked on innocent people. It just wasn’t right. He would pop round to see the victim, tomorrow. He would make sure that she had access to victim support and he would let her know that the police believed her evidence. Perhaps that was beyond the call of duty, but sometimes it was important to show a bit of support. You never knew if it would pay off later.

Beth was crushed. It’d taken a lot of courage to stand up in court in front of everyone and give her evidence. Jimmy Marley lived near her and he had threatened her on three occasions since that evening when he’d held a knife to her throat and taken her money. Some of her friends had advised her not to proceed with the prosecution, but the police had thought there was a good chance of conviction. As she’d been telling the truth, she’d assumed she would be believed. She certainly hadn’t expected the vicious questioning from the defence counsel. It had been as though she was the criminal. If only she had enough money to get away from this town; to start again somewhere else. Her work at the stables was very poorly paid and just gave her enough money to live on. She hadn’t managed to save anything and was only now getting straight after losing a month’s wages to Jimmy. Life just wasn’t fair.
It was two months later when Beth saw Jimmy again. She was on the top deck of the bus which had broken down by the side of a dilapidated house. As soon she spotted him she slid down in her seat hoping that he wouldn’t see her. It was the evening of October 14 and the church bells chimed eight. She watched as he did a drugs deal with a skinny young man wearing a pale grey sweatshirt. Her heart began to pound and she realised her palms were sweating. What if he looked up? What if he saw her? There was no point in reporting this to the police. She was sure they’d believe her but if it went to court there would be another six months wait and then she wouldn’t be believed. Worse, people would think she had a vendetta against Jimmy. She shrank further into the seat and was relieved when he walked off down the road.
Two days later there was a loud pounding on her door. Police Constable Thomson was standing there with a colleague. There was no friendly smile or greeting.
‘Miss Beth Farthing, I don’t know whether you remember me, but I interviewed you in connection with Jimmy Marley threatening you with a knife.’
‘Yes I do remember you. You were very kind.’
‘Mr Marley has been charged with the burglary at Easthorps’s Bank two days ago, where a guard was seriously injured. A knife was dropped at the scene, with Mr Marley’s fingerprints on it. He however says he was chatting with a friend on October 14, outside Marshlands, the empty house on Charles Street. On that date, at the time of the robbery, the number seventy-one bus had broken down there and the driver thinks that you were on the top deck. This would mean that you might be able to give Mr Marley an alibi and prove his innocence of the burglary.’
Beth watched P.C.Thomson’s dark brown eyes darting round the room, unable to meet her own. She thought quickly. There was no way that she wanted to help Jimmy Marley, but someone may have seen her on the bus.
‘Well I was on the bus and I was on the top deck, but it had been a very long day and when the bus broke down I closed my eyes and had a little nap. Was the bus driver able to confirm Jimmy’s whereabouts?’
P.C. Thomson looked visibly relieved.
‘No,’ he replied. ‘Only someone from the top deck would’ve been able to see into the garden. Thank you for your help. ’
The two officers set off down the stairs. Beth ran after PC Thomson.
‘I don’t understand. How would his knife with his fingerprints on be at the bank if he knew about the bus being broken down?’
‘I expect one of his friends told him about it,’ shrugged the other police officer.
‘I expect the evidence from my case has gone walkabout,’ thought Beth, remembering what P.C. Thomson had said the day after the court appearance: ‘One day that Jimmy Marley would get the justice he deserved’.

What Tomorrow Brings

Elsie curbed her heartbreak. She had two children to feed and was being evicted at the end of the week. The cottage came with her husband’s job and the landlord was claiming he needed it for the new gardener. With a feeling of dread she started packing their few possessions into the wooden crates. The packing wouldn’t take long. She had sold all her husband’s possessions including his beloved mahogany piano. It had been the only decent piece of furniture they possessed.

The baby was crying to be fed, but she had very little milk. She toasted some bread on the fire with a long handled fork and spread it with butter. Tommy, her three-year-old, ate it without complaint. Baby Martha chewed slowly on bread soaked in cow’s milk. It stopped her sobbing. Elsie toasted the crust and ate it without tasting it.

Her brother, James, was taking them in. She knew he didn’t want to. He lived his life immersed in books researching historic papers. How was she going to cope with looking after his house and stopping the children disturbing him she didn’t know! He would hate her living there, she would hate it and they would probably end up hating each other.

On Saturday morning she looked through the small window of her lovely cottage and saw Jacob, her neighbour, draw up with his cart. Soon he had loaded their few possessions and she was sitting with Martha on her lap and Tommy beside her. They had a coarse grey blanket tucked round them to keep the worst of the cold out.

Jacob whistled as they drove along the bumpy roads, as if the world was still a place for hope. As each mile passed she thought of her serious minded brother and his stern disapproving looks. She compared him to her warm-hearted husband, who had filled their lives with music and laughter. She thought of the beautiful countryside they had left behind as rows of houses were rising in front of them.

The door of the large house opened as they pulled up and James came out. They stood awkwardly looking at each other. Not having seen James for years she was gathering up the strength to thank him for letting them come to live with him.

Tommy however ran forwards and touched his uncle’s leg.

‘Father went to heaven. We living with you now!’ He smiled. James’s face crumpled. He stooped and lifted Tommy into his arms.

‘Your mother is coming to help me get my house tidy and I’m going to teach you to read.’ He looked at Elsie with a stiff smile.

Elsie tried to smile but tears welled up inside her. She longed for her cottage.

As they went up the stairs Elsie noticed the mess everywhere. Books and papers covered nearly every surface. She wanted to turn round and run out.

On they climbed to the third floor. Her brother pushed open the first door. There were two small beds and a large oak wardrobe in the room.

‘I thought this could be the children’s bedroom. Through here could be the nursery.’

Elsie peered round the second door. Sunlight was streaming through the window. The wooden floor had some brightly coloured rugs. In the corner was a rocking horse and under the window was a large wooden dolls house. Tommy’s face lit up as he ran into the room and explored everything. He found a box of bricks of all shapes and sizes and tipped them out.

‘And your room’s in here,’ said James.

Elsie realised what a massive effort her brother had made to make them comfortable. There was even a little dressing table with the mirror against the furthest wall. At that moment the blackness that had held her hostage, broke into tiny pieces. She smiled.

Jacob finished unloading the cart.

‘I’m off now Miss Elsie. I wish you happiness in your new position. Afternoon Sir,’ he said and left.

An hour later the little family were eating bread and cheese around the large kitchen table on the ground floor. Tommy was chattering away to James as if they were the best of friends Martha was content sucking a piece of cheese. Elsie waited for a pause in the stream of conversation.

‘Thank you James. I know we will be happy here. I’ve felt very lost these last few weeks. You’ve made us all so welcome.’

‘My dearest sister, I cannot imagine what you’ve been through, but I’ve rattled around in this big house for years. It will be most agreeable to have your company.’

That night as she lay in her bed with moonlight peeping through the gap in the curtains Elsie cried. She wept for the loss of her husband and the emptiness in her heart. She ached for his strong arms to comfort her and for the sound of music to fill her life again. Now that she was safe in her brother’s home she realised that his stern manner had probably been loneliness. At last it was time to grieve and for the process of healing to begin.

The Children of Kindness (Children’s Story)

Esmeralda, a wizened old lady, stamped her foot and screamed.
‘I don’t want to live here. ‘It’s too dark and dingy. Build me a new house.’

Happy and Willing, her daughter and son, heard her order and looked at each other in horror. Over the years she had set them many difficult tasks but this was the hardest.

‘What a lot of work that’ll be,’ said Happy.

‘It’ll take years,’ said Willing, ‘but we must try.’

The next day they set about learning how to build a house. Happy went to the council to get permission for the new house and Willing started drawing up first plans. At the end of the day they told their mother all about what they’d done.

‘I want my new house now, not next year!’ she shouted at them.

Happy and Willing went away feeling sad but soon Happy said, ‘Don’t worry Willing, mother will be over the moon when she sees the new house.’

At this Willing smiled.

‘I’ll put in some extra big windows so she’ll have lots of light,’ he said.

The next day they told Esmeralda all they had achieved.

‘I’ve managed to get a good architect who will draw up the detailed plans,’ said Happy.

‘And I found a builder who’ll do the building,’ said Willing.

‘You’re both so slow and incompetent,’ moaned Esmeralda. ‘Why was I burdened with such dim-witted children?’

And so it went on. Every day Happy and Willing worked hard to sort out their mother’s new house and every evening she said unkind words to them, but in spite of this they carried on until the new house was ready.

‘Come mother,’ said Happy. ‘Your new house is waiting for you. It’s beautiful and has wonderful bright windows.’

‘It’s about time,’ said Esmeralda ‘I’ve waited long enough.’

She stood up and shuffled along the path to her new house. Happy and Willing were very excited. The house looked beautiful. It was bright and spacious and they had decorated it with care. Anyone would be pleased to live there but when Esmeralda saw it she didn’t smile.

‘I’ve waited all this time for this. Is this the new wonder house that you’ve both wittered on about for the last year? Why it’s cold and horrid. I hate it. The windows are so big everyone will be able to look in.’ she said.

Happy looked across at her brother. ‘Was that a tear that glistened on his cheek?’ she thought.

‘Why mother, I know just the thing that will put things right. Just wait here,’ she said.
And with that she linked arms with Willing and guided him out of the beautiful building they had created together.

‘Where are we going? asked Willing.

‘Brother we’ve done everything we can to make our Mother comfortable and content, but nothing has worked. Now it’s time to let her keep her own company for a while.’ Happy pulled an envelope from her bag, ‘We are going to travel the world with these tickets and see all the places we’ve never seen.’

Willing looked at the tickets carefully and then as all the misery they had shouldered for so long, fell away; they both smiled and ran away into the distance.

So, dear reader, if someone does you a kindness, smile and say thank you. Don’t close your heart and allow misery to reign, for the children of kindness may disappear like a raindrop in the sunshine.

The Right Ring

Simon was sitting behind a stack of brown files heaped on his desk. He’d been working for Messrs Grimshaw and Grimshaw for the last five years. They didn’t appreciate him at all and he was given all the boring cases, such as conveyancing and wills, while the old boys creamed off the lucrative work. Idly he picked up Mr Toby Windsor’s file. It had been sitting on his desk for weeks. He blew hard and a layer of dust exploded into the air dancing about in the sunlight. ‘I might as well start processing this,’ he thought and started reading.

It was a particularly sad tale. Mr Windsor had been found at the remote cottage he rented, six months after his death. The bailiffs had been sent to the dilapidated cottage because he’d not answered rent demands. They’d walked in to find the remains of Mr Windsor. A search of the property had revealed a will leaving everything to his son, a Mr Michael Windsor, but as it turned out there was nothing much of value to leave. Toby Windsor hadn’t owned the property or furniture. His clothes were well past their best. It seemed he’d lived past his usefulness and had been left alone in his isolated cottage tomb.

Simon found he was cross that in today’s world so many old people were ignored and he fought against the wave of negative feelings that threatened to engulf him. He stood up and went over to the kettle. ‘Right, let’s be positive,’ he told himself firmly. Toby Windsor had one item that was worth passing on. It was a very fine, thick gold band, wedding ring. ‘So how would he trace the son?’ he thought. He took his coffee back to his desk and opened the laptop. A quick search revealed seventeen Michael Windsors. ‘Oh well,’ he thought, ‘this will take all afternoon.’

At ten past five, he was just dialling the last ‘Michael,’ when he realized he’d actually placed the ring on his finger. It looked good. It felt right. The weight was pleasing and he stroked the smooth surface. He loved the rich yellow glow that reflected the sunlight in his room. His finger hesitated from pressing the next number. ‘This probably wasn’t the right Michael either,’ he thought ‘and even if it was, he hadn’t visited his father in his hour of need. He doesn’t deserve the ring. And we won’t get paid for this work; we’re just doing a favour for the police.’ Simon slipped the gold plated ring his ex girlfriend had given him from his other hand and popped it into the small plastic bag stapled to Toby Windsor’s file. Then he wrote: Unable to trace Michael Windsor. He signed and dated the papers and left it to be archived with the other files he’d dealt with this week.

The Writing Task was to write for half an hour about a lawyer and a ring.

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