fiction and other writing

Posts tagged ‘short story’

Winter Spirit

Her first thought, when she awoke from the long sleep, was for her son. He was in danger. He was nearly eighteen and due to inherit his trust fund. Shirley knew she must get to him quickly and warn him. She looked around her. Snow lay on the ground, three inches deep, but she wasn’t cold. There was an old man kicking a ball against the side of a gravestone. Perhaps he looked a little bored, but he glanced her way and nodded. He seemed affable enough and the fear from the strangeness of her surroundings ebbed. The light from the moon cast a silvery glow, which made everyone seem ethereal. She laughed silently to herself.

Most people were heading for the lych gate, so she followed the increasing crowd, leaving the man pounding his ball against the solid marble headstone.

She wandered down the hill, away from the church and through the village, past the shops and the school, to the quiet lane where she lived. It was chocolate box pretty, with the white covered houses and trees. The large Georgian house that had once been her home, had lights blaring and seemed to be calling her onwards.

As she drew closer she could see the light came from downstairs, which suggested that Gerald was still up. She automatically went to the front door but of course it was shut. What could she do? He wasn’t going to answer the door to her. Creeping quietly up to the window she peeped inside. There he was sitting, asleep in the armchair, with his mouth open and his legs splayed. On the nearby table was a tumbler of the whisky he loved so much. It seemed as though nothing had changed, but how was she going to get in? She looked down at her clothes. The pale blue silk pyjamas were what she’d been wearing the last time she saw him, not her best dress that they’d placed on her for the long sleep. So could living spirits walk through glass, she wondered? Now was the time to find out. She drew herself up to her full height, gathered her courage and walked straight through the window. She’d expected to feel some resistance, or some sensation of substance, but there was none. Her mood lifted a little but she knew she must reach her son. An image of the old man from the graveyard, kicking the ball – with the timing of a grandfather clock, flashed through her mind.

She made her way upstairs and found her son, Robert, fast asleep on his bed. The room was its usual mess – a sort of organised chaos. His guitar was carefully propped up by a chair and there were clothes spilling over from the laundry basket. The only difference she could see, was there was a picture of herself, stuck to the wall with blue-tac. Shirley watched him as he slept and all the love she felt for him surged through her. Death didn’t kill love, she thought. That was good to know. Suddenly his eyes sprang open and he sat up with a start.

With the quickness of youth, which she envied, he spoke.

‘Mum, I’ve so missed you. Is it you? How did you get here?’

‘Oh I’ve missed you too my darling Robert, but I have a feeling that we haven’t much time. I’ve come to warn you. I think you’re in danger. I don’t know exactly how he did it, but your stepfather poisoned me. I thought he loved me, but he just wanted our money. On your birthday you will inherit some money from me and he’ll want it, if he hasn’t already spent it. You must leave.’

‘What old Gerald, I’m sure I can handle him, although now you mention it, he’s getting me to sign some papers tomorrow. He said it’s so the trust fund can be transferred to me.’

‘Robert you must leave now. If you don’t sign, we don’t know what might happen.’

Robert looked thoughtful.

‘I wondered why we weren’t using a solicitor.’

He threw his legs out of bed and stood up towering over Shirley. ‘I wish I could hug you,’ he said, ‘but you’re looking a bit translucent.’

‘You know I would give you a bear hug if I could, but we mustn’t waste time. Please pack a bag and go to your Aunt Cathy. She’ll look after you. Will you do that for me?’

Robert looked a bit exasperated, but he picked up a back pack and started loading clothes, both clean and dirty into it.

‘I’ll go to Dad’s. I’m seeing a lot more of him these days. He’s really sorry, well, about… you. And he’s made it clear that he wants to be in my life and be there for me. I’ll be safe there.’

Shirley thought about his dad. There was still a little part of her that loved him, even after he’d gone off with the glamorous Gloria, from the finance department. She looked a little less glamorous nowadays, with two children under three, Shirley thought, surprised she could still feel bitchy about her. She liked the fact that even in death, she was still herself. Yes Robert would be safe there. His dad would look out for him.

‘Good idea. I’d say send him my love, but he’d think you were mad.’ She smiled and Robert gave her his lop-sided grin. ‘Now we must be quiet going out or we’ll wake Gerald.’

‘No need to worry about that. He’s drinking really heavily these days. He never wakes up until about four in the morning. I hear him banging up the stairs to go to bed.’

Robert put the bag on his back, adjusted it, picked up his precious guitar and they started down the stairs. As they were going past the living room, where loud snores were emanating, Robert whispered, ‘What poison did he use to kill you?’

‘He used my heart pills. He must’ve ground them up and put them in that curry we had the night I died. I can’t think of any other way. I’m not absolutely sure how, but it was definitely my pills.’

Robert placed his guitar and bag by the front door and quietly made his way back to the living room. Gerald’s computer was on and he was logged into Facebook. Robert looked over to her smiled, typed a short message on the laptop and pressed send. The rasping snores continued uninterrupted from the armchair. Shirley quietly studied Gerald and noticed that he’d put on a lot of weight. He really did look out for the count. She’d thought he was her knight in shining armour, picking her up from the depths of despair after Roberts dad had left her for a younger woman. He’d been so kind and attentive, but she realized now he’d had his own agenda and ambitions. The clues had all been there. He liked the best whisky, expensive cars, dining out and spent money at a rate far beyond his earnings. There was no point in dwelling on her lack of insight.

When Robert went to leave, she said, ‘Be safe my lovely son. Have a wonderful life and know that you are loved so much.’

‘Are you staying here, mum? Why would you want to stay.’

‘I think I should say good-bye to Gerald. Don’t you?’ she gave Robert a cheeky laugh.

‘Yes,’ he grinned. ‘I may just take a gander through the window. At least he can’t hurt you any more.’

The closing of the front door awakened Gerald. He looked around him and took another swig of whisky. Shirley drifted around the room and hovered within his sight until he noticed her. She’d have rather been dressed up, than in her pyjamas, but it didn’t matter now. She wasn’t trying to seduce him.

‘What the devil!’ he said.

‘Good evening, Gerald, I guess you weren’t expecting a visit from me.’

‘How did you get in?’

‘Through the window. It was actually quite easy. Are you missing me Gerald? Shall I come and visit you every night?’

‘You always were a troublesome bitch. This is my house now. You don’t own anything, any more now do you? And dear lofty Robert is going to sign over control of his money to me tomorrow, which is a good thing. I won’t have to get rid of him. He doesn’t cost too much. He’s normally off playing his bloody guitar with some band or other. Now why don’t you go back where you belong. Get out of here,’ he said grabbing the arm of the chair and trying to stand up.

‘Now that’s not very friendly. You promised to love me, but I guess that was all a lie. I’m such a bad judge of people. You just wanted my money. What a shame you didn’t ask. I’d probably have given it to you.’

‘Yes, you really are so stupid, but I’d still have been saddled with you and I wanted a fresh start; a chance to meet someone young and fit. Besides I didn’t want to be grateful to you for the rest of my life. Thank you for the meal, darling. Thank you for the car,’ he mimicked.

Thud, thud thud, Shirley heard. It was the sound of the old man kicking his football. She knew her time in the house was running out.

A siren could be heard getting louder, and closer, outside. It broke the total silence that only snow brings. Gerald rubbed his forehead as if he couldn’t make sense of what was going on.

‘Oh dear, have you got a headache? Too much whisky? Not enough home cooking?’ asked Shirley in an ultra sympathetic voice. ‘How tiresome for you.’

‘Just get lost,’ Gerald muttered.

There was a loud pounding on the front door.

‘I think that must be for you,’ said Shirley. ‘It could be the police. You see it would seem that you sent a message out on Facebook to all of our friends, saying how you administered poison to your wife, so that you could get your hands on her money. Confession is so good for the soul, don’t you think, Gerald. I’m so glad you owned up. I suspect the police will send somebody round to the back door as well, so I think you need to let them in.’

At that moment the door flew open and Gerald found himself surrounded by police. At the same time Shirley found that a force was pulling her back towards the graveyard, but she didn’t mind. Her son was safe and her husband would at last pay for snatching her precious years with her son. The sound of the wind swished by her, but it wasn’t icy, as it should have been.

‘I miss you,’ Robert shouted as she was was pulled backwards through the air, right by where he stood. She managed to blow him a kiss.

She landed unceremoniously on the white ground near her headstone. The old man was still kicking the ball in a regular beat against his large marble stone.

‘I took the liberty of bringing you back so you wouldn’t be late,’ he called over to her. ‘You have to be back asleep before first light, or you’ll be stuck here until someone rescues you. Believe me that’s not a good thing.’

‘I didn’t know there was a time limit, but I sort of felt there would be. Thank you for looking out for me.’

‘No worries. I’m guessing you managed to say good-bye to your loved ones and sort out any outstanding affairs.’

‘Yes. I think I did,’ she smiled.

‘You’re the lucky one then. You’ll be on your way to eternal life and freedom.’

‘What about you?’

‘I stayed out too long and I have to stay here until nature knows I’m sorry for disregarding the rules and until someone rescues me.’

Knowing that she had no idea how to help this stranger, she said, ‘Oh you poor man,’ as she reached out to put an arm round him. Surprisingly her arm didn’t go through him and she could feel his sadness. All the years of his loneliness flitted through her mind and then the world wobbled and the two spirits flew to the stars in an instant.

There was no sign that anyone had been in the churchyard, except an old ball that moved occasionally with the wind.

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.

Two Can Play

CakeHow can a man of fifty-five still be excited by birthdays? The tension has been rising for about three weeks. What would he get for his birthday? Was it going to be a surprise or would I like some ideas?

Believe me I have ideas!

I smash the margarine onto the sugar with feeling and batter it until it loses its shape. I chuck in the flour and eggs and whiz them with my two month old birthday present; a high quality food churner or whatever it’s called. After thirty five years my other half has apparently not cottoned on to the fact that I hate cooking.

The pure creamy mixture is ready. Now, what flavour to impress him with, for have I mentioned, I mean to impress. A slurp of vanilla essence, a tinge of coffee granules, perhaps a bit of seasoning, I think, as I grind pepper and garlic into the large mixing bowl. I add three spoonfuls of curry powder and some almond flavouring and carefully place my little treasure in the oven. The aroma is rather powerful so I open the back door.

I decorate my handiwork with thick sweet icing and a zest of lemon and in true traditional style I cram 56 birthday candles onto the, what now is a crowded, surface.

“I’m home munchkins. Where’s the pressie?” his voice rings in a happy tone.

“I’ve baked you a special treat. When you’ve had a cuppa and a taste, then you get your present.” I smile a little smile.

He cuts a huge slice to match his growing waist line.

“What a taste!” With a smack of his lips he says with relish, “I could eat it all. That’s the best I’ve ever tasted. What a wife!”

I watch unbelieving as he licks his fingers and presses them to his plate. I watch him savour every last crumb. He still doesn’t know how I hate cooking. Then I remember his present and smile. I reach behind the sofa and bring out his present. His bulgy little eyes light up with greed and he rips off the paper of the carefully wrapped parcel, to reveal Delia’s “How to Cook” books one and two.

The Future Calls

I lifted the flap of the tent, ducking my head and blinking my eyes in the dim light. The enclosure was draped with rich coloured materials and threads of spangled glass and crystals. The lady sitting before me shivered but did not look up. She sat statue still and her silken garments, with their highly embroidered patterns flowed generously to the floor. As I stood there awkwardly, the world outside seemed to retreat and a silence enfolded us.

After a few moments the lady said, “I’m Catrina. We don’t have long,” waving her hand for me to be seated. “There’s much trouble ahead.” Her intense blue eyes looked directly at me. They were full of deep concern.

She continued, “I see a dark road with much danger lying before you, but do not despair. Within you there’s the ability to see the way. You must trust your instincts and remember always that, if you feel danger then that’s because there’s danger to feel.”

My heart went cold. I hadn’t expected such a look into the future when I’d entered the fortune-teller’s tent. I’d expected to be told that I’d meet a tall dark stranger. I thought their unwritten code of conduct didn’t permit bad news. I realized that I was cradling my head in my hands and when I looked up Catrina was gone.

I realized I hadn’t paid so I delved into my bag and placed ten fifty pence pieces in a row on the desk. I’d won them earlier on a side stall with a throw a hoop game. As the last coin touched the table so the noise from the fair started filtering into my mind.

Outside the ground was spongy; so many feet had trodden over the earth. There were children screaming with excitement on the rides and families having a go at winning the prizes on the stalls. Floaty pink clouds of candyfloss were walking about attached by tall sticks to happy children and the sky was punctuated with coloured balloons and streamers. The fair was crowded with happy people enjoying a not so cheap night out, but my joy at being there had diminished and I decided to go home.

Tonight I’d been going out to dinner with Mark to celebrate that we’d been dating for one year.

“Sorry Terri, I can’t do dinner tonight. I have to meet some clients.” Mark said as he came out of the bathroom.

“Are you serious? It’s our anniversary. Surely you could’ve seen them tomorrow.”

“We’ve been through all this before. While I’m still building the business up, it has to come first,” Mark tugged on his shirt as he was speaking. “Anyway I’ll make it up to you at the weekend.”

“But why on earth didn’t you tell me last night? Then I could at least have done something else.” I could hear that unattractive whine in my voice.

“Well I forgot.”

“Now I’m left on my own on our anniversary. Thanks a lot,” I continued.

“O.K. well if you want the truth, I knew you’d go off on one and I didn’t want to ruin the evening. We had a lovely time didn’t we?” He smiled at me with that winning smile.

I knew I’d been wrong footed but by this time Mark was going out of his front door and making his way to the garage. “Don’t forget to lock up when you leave,” he shouted. Minutes later I heard his BMW roar down the road.

On my drive to work I’d seen the fair. I decided I’d go there tonight. My Gran used to take me when I was a child. She passed away about three months ago, so tonight I’d go to the fair and remember her. The one place she would never take me was the fortune-teller’s tent.

“That’s strictly for adults,” she said. “You have to be old enough to know that everything they tell you could apply to anyone. It’s ok for a bit of fun as long as you don’t take it seriously.”

Naturally the one thing I promised myself to do when I was older was go to the fortune-teller’s tent. Now I wished I hadn’t bothered. I decided to head off to my home and watch a DVD when I realized that my laptop was round at Mark’s place. So I went there first.

The house was in darkness as I inserted the key into the front door. We had keys for each other’s homes because we spent most of our time together. We’d been ticking along quite happily going out a couple of times a week and then a few months ago Mark started being more serious. Naturally I’d been pleased. He’s so dynamic and exciting and when he smiles his eyes light up his face and you feel that all is well. His house was a large three-bedroom semi. My place was a tiny little flat at the top of a big old house. It was what I called cosy and Mark called pokey, but it was home.

As I entered his house I switched the light on in the lounge and picked up my laptop. The room seemed warm, which surprised me, as no one was home. It was then I noticed two wine glasses on the coffee table. I knew I’d washed up yesterday. Obviously I was mistaken. I was about to pick up the glasses to wash, when I heard a noise from upstairs. Hugging the laptop to my chest I crept towards the bottom of the stairs.

You must trust your instincts and remember always that if you feel danger then there’s danger to feel.

Is this what the fortune-teller was warning me about? Strangely I felt frightened but not in danger. Quietly I crept upstairs and paused on the landing outside the bedroom I’d slept in the night before.

I heard some giggling and then I heard Mark’s distinctive voice, “…here have another drop of champagne.”

There is much trouble ahead. The fortune-teller had been so right. My whole life had just shattered.

I turned and crept downstairs still hugging my laptop. Like a robot, I turned out the light and put the key back in the door to close it as quietly as I could. I made my escape as efficiently as a thief and it was only when I was in my car and driving away that the tears started to fall.

I found myself driving out to the country. There was nothing about. The roads were empty and it started raining. That suited my frame of mind. I travelled along narrower and narrower roads, without any idea of where I was going. My mind whizzed round all the times spent with Mark and the future that I thought we’d spend together. Everything changed with the sound of that giggle.

Suddenly I realized that I was travelling far too fast. I was coming up to a blind bend and there were warning signs at the side of the road. The image of ten fifty pence pieces flashed before my eyes. I slammed on my brakes so hard that the car jerked violently to a halt. Luckily nothing was following. I sat there for a few moments gathering my thoughts and gradually realized that there was an amber glow ahead, intermittently flashing.

I stuck on my hazards and walked round the corner. There in front of me was a mangled car embedded in the side of a tree. The couple in the car had missed the turning into the narrow entrance to a farm and hit the tree. The rain was now pouring down as I rushed over to the car. I pulled out my mobile. I managed to give the emergency services the name of the farm, which was signposted clearly. The occupants of the car were both still alive but unconscious and I decided to leave them where they were. It seemed to me that the car was unlikely to explode with so much rain pouring down.

What felt like hours passed, standing in the pouring rain and in pitch-blackness except for the amber glow, which lit up the scene one minute and quickly hid it the next. I didn’t try to switch off the indicator. There was complete silence except the sound of my squelching feet as I moved from one side of the car to the other checking the pulses of the two injured youngsters. I should’ve felt alone and scared but I knew I could have easily joined this tangled mess of metal. If I hadn’t stopped, there would have been no hope for any of us. Eventually sirens blasted through the night accompanied by blue flashing lights and a policeman shouted at me to stand back. Soon the couple was taken to hospital.

The following day I went to the hospital to see how they were getting on. I was looking through the window in the ward where the girl lay and her mother was sitting by her bed. If I hadn’t known better I would have sworn that the mother was Catrina. She glanced my way and our eyes met. They were intense blue eyes and it seemed a flash of recognition passed between us. Obviously it was just a coincidence.

Mark was very surprised when I told him that I wouldn’t be seeing him anymore or investing my Gran’s money in his business. I never did explain why. Let him work it out. At least it will dent his ego.

Now I sit in my little newly bought cottage and think over the events on that night, it occurs to me how Catrina’s words rang true. Within you there is the ability to see the way. Sometimes as I curl up on the sofa I shudder at the thought of what my life might have been like if I hadn’t gone to the fair? I don’t dwell on it for long though. Thanks to Catrina, the future calls.

This is one of my older stories (which I wasn’t too happy with) but I’ve re-editted. Does it work now? Let me know.

Tag Cloud