Tag Archives: short fiction

Number 59- the only way I’m leaving my home is feet first in a box

Number 59 – The only way I’m leaving my home is feet first in a box.

And even when she says it, the moment the words leave her mouth, she knows that they’re not true.
That this truth belongs to her mother and her mothers life.
Nowadays, almost no one dies in their own home and even if they do, a neat black van will take away the body, probably, although, she has no first hand knowledge of course, probably in a body bag or on a stretcher.

More and more, she finds that her mother is somehow inhabiting her mouth, phrases pop out
“ take your coat off. You wont feel the benefit”
“ a nice cup of tea and scone “
“ I don’t hold with…..”
“ in my day”

They make her feel old, they make her sound old and she isn’t, not really, not truly old.
75, it’s no age at all, not nowadays, not like in her Mother’s Day.

There are women far older than her in the Tuesday Aqua robics class, in fact she is one of the younger ones, well, slightly younger ones.
They all wear sensible one piece swim suits, usually blue or black, with sturdy shoulder straps and modestly cut legs.
She has, once or twice, dared to wear her bright red costume, it makes her feel cheerful, makes her feel a little Baywatch, but her mother’s voice crept up on her last time she wore it
“ mutton dressed as lamb”
“ no better than she should be, that one”
And so, it’s stayed in her underwear drawer and she’s dug out the black one instead.
She does refuse to wear a swim hat, even a frivolous one with pink and green flowers bouncing on top when they run on the spot in the shallow end of the pool.
A swim hat is an admission of old ness and she’s not ready for that, not yet.

Aquarobics is part of the week’s routine.
Monday is community choir
Tuesday aqua robics
Wednesday book group
Thursday is lunch with the girls and Friday, well, Friday is mother day, being a mother day, being a dutiful grandmother day and once a month, she tries to be a dutiful daughter day and visits her own mother, well, her own mother’s grave for a spot of tidying.

And of course, on top of all of this there is the garden, tiny but perfect, her allotment, walking the dog with the 4pm dog walkers and a bit, just a tiny bit of cleaning and grocery shopping.

Other women, the many other widowed women who sing and read and swim and fill their week with busyness, complain about how much they miss cooking and cleaning for husbands, now dead and children, now moved on.
She, on the other hand, cannot get over it the liberation from domestic tyranny, no more standing at the fridge, desperately trying to think of what to cook, no more cleaning and then turning her back and finding the mess creeping back again.
She has discovered ready meals, jacket potatoes, cereal for dinner and toast at any time.
She delights in her Spartan washing up, one bowl, one cup, a plate and one knife and fork and has discovered that a woman who goes out most days makes very little mess and the mess she makes is comforting when she does put her key in the door at the end of a busy day.

The dog, the last dog is very little trouble too.
He is some sort of a terrier, small, brown, fond of toast, they often share a slice in the morning while radio 2 plays something cheerful, sometimes she sings along and he looks quizzical before returning to his crunching on the toast crust.
They walk every day around the park with the 4 o clock dog walkers, the retired teacher, the man who doesn’t say much, the girl with lots of piercing and a boy friend who is on dialysis and needs a new kidney, the other older woman with the four sheep dogs all called after footballers, who wears her team scarf even when it’s not really cold enough.
They talk about the dogs, about other dog walkers, about the youth who sit on the kids swings, saying and doing nothing, but somehow exuding low level menace.
The youth are the reason why they walk together and why the man who doesn’t say much always walks with these women, keeps them safe, keeps an eye on stuff.

75 she thinks, no age at all, even when she occasionally looks in the full length mirror in the bathroom, no age at all.
Still got boobs.
Hair defiantly coloured, currently mystic violet. She knows it annoys her daughter and entertains her granddaughter.
Stomach soft now, a little thickening,but still acceptable, still able to wear a size 14.
No age at all.

Her mother’s voice whispers in her ears as she stands, naked in the bathroom
“ making a fool of yourself “
“ don’t draw attention “
“ act with dignity”

And then she picks up the little brown dog and waltzes into the bedroom stark naked and sings, badly, to whatever tune is playing on the radio.

Her neighbors make her laugh sometimes, especially the young ones, the ones on their first homes, crawling up the property ladder, the ones with plans and lives that start at 6 am and finish after 8 as they collapse onto their sofas.
They ask her questions about the neighbourhood, make statements about the good old days, assume that they know about her life
“ I bet it’s all different here now”
“ I bet you didn’t have to lock your front door when you first moved here”
“ I bet this was a real community back in the day”

Mostly, she just nods and smiles, Even when inside she is raging, on a bad day, or laughing silently, on a good day.

Just how bloody old do they think she is ?

The days they’re talking about are the 1970s.
Miners strikes
3 day week
Power cuts
Rubbish piling in the streets
Grave diggers refusing to dig graves.

Of course they locked the front door and the back door and made sure that all the windows were closed tight.

And she likes the new community, she likes chicken tikka masala, she likes the helpful family at the corner shop who open 7 days a week, she likes the polish man two doors down who popped in last week to tell her his wife was expecting their first son, she likes the 2 boys with the very neat beards and the pale pink front door, she likes the way this street looks and feels now.

75, she thinks, no age at all and she hums, loudly, a little tunelessy to drown out her mother’s nagging voice
“ 76, your father, when he went “
Your grandmother didn’t know what day it was by the time she was 70”
“ at 75, my body just fell apart”
“ I thought I’d live forever and look what happened to me”

No, she says out loud
75, no age at all.

And she wonders if she has time for a Pilates class this week.

Number 81- to boldly go…..


Number 81- to boldly go…

In fairness, Paul’s always liked a challenge, enjoyed a bit of DIY and even if he says so himself, over the years, he’s been able to turn his hand to most things.

He’s managed to fit a new boiler, re-wire complete houses, tile kitchens and bathrooms and slap more emulsion on walls that are perfectly smooth once he’s finished prepping them than he can keep count of.

He’s made 2 perfectly nice houses, sold them on for a decent profit, but somehow, it’s never felt satisfactory, he’s never really felt that he’s made his mark on a house, made it his home.

Or at least, that was true,that was where he was just 3 years ago, Mr Nowhere, living in his nowhere land with nobody….la la la la.

He leans back in his chair, stretches his legs and looks upon his work and smiles.
No more Mr Nobody and you might not like what he’s done with number 81, but you couldn’t call it nowhere land.

The living with nobody, well, it’s a work in progress, in fact, it’s all about to get sorted, he’s totally on it.

And then, and then, here he will be, mR Somebody, living in his somewhere special land with somebody very special indeed.

He lifts up his cup from the cup holder he designed himself and fitted perfectly into the arm of his special chair.

“Tea” he thinks and smiles, enjoys that Friday evening feeling, 2 whole days of peace and quiet and time to get on with some routine maintenance and, he takes a very deep breath here, time to prepare for a very special Saturday night. This may turn out to be the best weekend of his life and let’s be honest, he’s had some cracking weekends over the last few years.

His Q and A session at midlands scicom.
The web based virtual tour that rocked the annual starship and time travellers festival.
His appearance in Grand Designs – the tiny designs and far out ideas show.

Yeah, this weekend has some fierce competition, but and it’s a big but, this one has something extra special going for it.
He’s going to keep his fingers crossed, but he can’t help it, in his deepest soul, he knows it’s all going to be great.

But, he’s not going to let it get to his head, he’s not going to lose his Friday programme. Routine maintenance before he lets his imagination run riot.
He stands up, stretches, pauses for moment to admire the way his uniform trousers hang exactly right, stopping just above the black Chelsea boots, originals and with provenance too, worth every penny and they were pretty much every penny in his savings account when he bought them
He likes to get it right,likes to be authentic, won’t countenance crappy rip offs, cheap copies.
In his head,that’s cheating. If you don’t do it right, why bother doing it all?
It’s worth waiting for the right thing to come along and this weekend is proving that. He’s waited so long for a Saturday night like this one is going to be, it’s going to be worth every effort, all the work he’s put in.

But now,he needs to get on.
The transporter bay still needs some finishing touches, that sound effects CD isn’t quite right, isn’t playing quite true and there’s a few chips of paint off the control panel. It just needs a little touch up.

Two hours later he is satisfied. The new app he downloaded looks fantastic on the screens in the bridge, perfect images of a Klingon war ship, you can almost imagine that the FS Enterprise is engaged in a game of cat and mouse with the Federations most deadly enemy.

He sits back in the captains chair, flicks open his tri-corder and enjoys for the 200th time,,the satisfying bleep and nods over at James T Kirk ( and yes, he does know that it’s not the real James T Kirk, he does know that it’s a life size cardboard figure, bought a great expense on a very vicious ebay auction )
“ star date November 2015, captains log” and he pauses for a moment, before continuing
“ it is mans nature,when he views the stars to feel alone “ he pauses again and nods to himself, he feels as if he channelling all those captains that have gone before him and will come after him
“ man is not by nature solitary, he seeks love, understanding and tomorrow, it is the turn of this captain to boldly go and look for love.
End of log entry”

He sleeps well, not in the bedroom he has lovingly fashioned to be an exact copy of Jean Luc Picards sleeping quarters. That room is set aside for special occasions.
Tonight, he sleeps in the small back bedroom,the room that still looks like a small back bedroom, if you can ignore the packed floor to ceiling shelving, the floor plans covering every inch of the walls and the precious, hard fought for memorabilia that is still waiting to be placed somewhere else in his home.

It all started small,a few shelves of boxed, untouched collectible figures, a poster or two, a dictionary of Klingon and then, almost by chance, he bid on and won a perfect facsimile of Kirks captains chair from the original Tv series and when it arrived, it looked so out of place,so unhappy, that he felt duty bound to give it a proper home and so he started to remodel his sitting room into the bridge of the FS Enterprise.
Of course,he made lots of mistakes early on, his first attempts make him shudder now,but he got better, more careful,more authentic and once he’d done one room,he just kept going.
And it’s changed his life, he is somebody now, he’s been on telly,well loads of times,he’s been on platforms at conventions, given master classes to wannabe builders and he’s the go to guy for anyone who’s anyone in the wonderful world of serious star trek fandom, not Trekkies, never Trekkies.

It’s made actually living in number 81 a little challenging.
The kitchen is now the transporter bay, complete with the correct soundtrack,but he’s not a great cook and he’s managed to squeeze a microwave and a tiny fridge into the back bedroom.
The bathroom is in mid transformation, by the end of the year it will be a perfect Klingon control deck. At the moment it’s still got a sink in, so he’s washing there and he’s sure that something will occur to him when that’s removed too and the outside loo is just fine, really fine.

When he wakes up, he lies on the blow up mattress for a moment and then he remembers and would, if it was possible to leap from a blow up bed, leap out, ready for the day.
Instead, he rolls onto the carpet and grins to himself.
Today is going to be a big day,maybe even the big day.

He needs to make sure that the bedroom,the other bedroom is perfect and pausing only to grab some breakfast, half a bag of Doritos and the leftover chocolate Swiss roll, saved from a late night snack,he is on task.

He pauses when he enters the room, he has had to make some compromises here. The flowers are silk and he finally settled for white lilies, but the bat-leth is perfect, hanging on the chimney breast, its blade shining under the bright halogen lights.
The tri-dimensional chess set is mid game, the moves recreating a game from his favourite episode and a Klingon version of Moby Dick is open on page 45.

He hasn’t really discussed Star Trek with her, he’s kept the surprise of his house close to his chest, wanting to amaze her and anyway, Mary at work, who found the web site and wrote his profile and read all the girl’ profiles, Mary has been very firm about this
“Don’t talk about Star Trek, ask her questions, find out about her, don’t talk about Star Trek”

So he knows a lot about her, Kayleigh, his date. He says the words outloud again,enjoys the feeling of them in his mouth
“his date”
She is 27, works in a pound shop, says she likes it, the maths are easy and when she types this she adds
And he likes that,because he knows it’s a joke, so he types LMAO, so that she knows that he knows that it’s a joke.

They have been taking on line for a little while now and tonight she’s coming here for a drink.
When they arranged it she typed
“Hope you’re not a serial killer”, but she didn’t type LOL, so he wasn’t sure if she was joking or not,so he just typed back
“No, I work in an office in a paint company” although he knew that he had told her that already.

He has two lists to get through today. His list is easy, just lots of little touches to make sure that everything is as perfect as possible.
The second list is from Mary, she wrote it on Thursday and numbered all the things she says he needs to do before 7pm.
He likes lists, even when it’s someone else’s list, so he has a look and makes a start at number 1
“ wash all over and use hot water”.

By 6pm, he is ready, he’s got to number 8 on Mary’s list

“ put biscuits on a plate and don’t use Trekkie mugs”
At 6.30 he puts on his favourite ever episode, the one about The Borg and he watches it to calm himself. He looks over to James T Kirk, James would know what to do, James always knew what to do.

At 6.46 he remembers that he hasn’t finished Mary’s list, number 9
“ don’t forget deodorant “

At 6.53 he is standing at the front door, waiting.

At 6.58 he is standing in the front garden, looking down the street, trying hard not to make eye contact with the group of men standing outside the corner shop. For a terrible moment, he wonders if they, the knot of drinkers, have scared her off.

At 7.09 he logs on, checks her profile, she is offline, he messages her anyway
“ R U on YR way”

He checks her profile again at 7.15, 7.34, 7.56 and 8.12.

At 8.31 he discovers that she has blocked him and deleted him from her homepage.

At 8.42 he piles all the biscuits onto a tray, chooses his Dr Scot mug, makes a milky coffee and sits on his captains chair, dunking wagon wheels into the mug.

At 9.08 he makes a log entry
“ loneliness is what comes with the responsibility of steering this noble vessel, these brave crew members through these distant stars.
Seeking out new lands, new peoples, new challenges”

He dips the last biscuit into the almost empty cup and licks the melting chocolate, careful to make sure that no drips land on his crew member uniform.

Numbers 1 to 98.


Numbers 1 to 98 and a few houses on the next street too.
Continue reading

Number 72- I is a big dog, I is


Number 72- I is a big dog, I is.

Gretchen is trying to look out of the front window, she balances on her back legs, leans her chin on to the book case, but she is still to small, too short. She is reduced to jumping up and down, getting brief, partial glimpses of the garden and the cat that is sitting on the front wall, staring in at her house.
Gretchen is struggling to bark and jump, her flattened face and squashed nose make this challenging and even to her own ears her bark is tiny, yappy, not very impressive at all.
“Yip, yip, yip”.
The cat lifts his head and stares at Gretchen as desperately trying to bounce higher, to get nearer , to look bigger, she overbalances and performs a prefect back summersault, taking a whole shelf of books with her.
The cat doesn’t even blink and returns to his quiet contemplation of the empty street.
And then the crash of books and a vase that had been left,forgotten in the great puppy proofing of 2015, half hidden by books on the middle shelf and has finally succumbed to the curse of the dog.
There is a pause, a chance for Gretchen to adopt her saddest face, ears drooping, sitting on her haunches, head bowed and then….
“ Gretchen “ the voice is loud, followed by the thump of feet on the stairs and then a pause, a taking stock of the damage, pause. Gretchen sits quietly, doesn’t move a muscle, waits with her head held low.
At 9 months old,she has discovered that this is the most effective way to head off disaster.
Look sorry
Look cute
Make the sad noise
And if all else fails, roll onto your back and show off your baby pink belly.
She is about to start this manoeuvre when she is scooped up, squeezed against a shoulder and kissed.
This is a surprise to her, loud bangs, crashes and the smashing of breakables is usually followed by the angry voice and an exile to the crate in the kitchen, but today the girl has seen the smug faced cat on the wall. She holds the dog up to the window and laughs
“ too small” she croons “ too small to even scare of that little cat”.
Gretchen wriggles in frustration, she is not too small, it is the world that is too big, the world that operates at a scale unfriendly to a French bulldog. On the inside she feels huge, a wolf of a dog, the kind of dog that struts across the park, smaller dogs scattering before her.
Gretchens reality at the dog park is something quite different, the walk preparation starts with an outfit being chosen. She has an extensive wardrobe, coats, jumpers, even a darling little tank top and matching skirt and then a lead and collar chosen to match the clothing, a quick squirt of lavender scented dog parfum and then off they head. Gretchen pulls in her eagerness to get there, but remembers her manners and is patient when the girl stops to allow the many admirers to pat and cuddle her.
The park is full of smells, scents that call out to her, that are so vivid, so heavy with information that she hardly knows where to start.
She bounces with excitement as finally the lead is removed and she is set free and with that she is across the park, mouth open in joy.
On the park she doesn’t feel small at all, she feels herself to be all dog, the wolf within let lose as she races from trees to long grass and into the patches of undergrowth where the scents are most delicious.
Here, Gretchen is the perfect size to squeeze under bushes, into the spaces between the benches where foolish picnickers leave the tastiest morsels of sandwiches and can, if she breathes in and nobody’s paying attention, slide underneath the toddler climbing castle and forage for chocolate buttons and dropped crisps.
On the park Gretchen fills the spaces perfectly, rises above the girl’s attempts to make her small, to keep her cute, to negate the dog inside. On the park, Gretchen leads a pack of dogs exploring the skate park, encourages them to turn deaf ears to owners too timid to challenge the hoodies and the emos who have ownership of the skate space and the burnt out bench.
It’s Gretchen who discovers the carrier bag momentarily ignored by the father rescuing his over ambitious five year old from the big kids climbing frame and tears it open, sharp tiny teeth tearing at the wrapped cooked chicken and its Gretchen who gets the lions share, holding her corner even from the sheep dog from across the road.
Finally, Gretchen is recaptured, her lead clipped on and still yapping her excitement, they return home and as they enter the house, she feels herself shrink, diminish, becomes all to aware of her size in a house where everything is too big.
Gretchen tries to look out into the front garden, tries to monitor the cat situation, but without the bookcase to balance on,she is even smaller and can only get brief,momentary glimpses of the wall as she leaps up and down.
There are two cats now, both seem completely unimpressed by the tiny barking dog jumping up and down to see out of the window.

Object 1 – a postcard of the Triangular Lodge – posted second class Sept 2014.

The Triangular Lodge is a folly, designed and constructed between 1593 and 1597 by Sir Thomas Tresham near Rushton, Northamptonshire, England. It is now in the care of English Heritage. The stone used for the construction was alternating bands of dark and light limestone.

Tresham was a Roman Catholic and was imprisoned for a total of fifteen years in the late 16th century for refusing to become a Protestant. On his release in 1593, he designed the Lodge as a protestation of his faith. His belief in the Holy Trinity is represented everywhere in the Lodge by the number three: it has three walls 33 feetlong, each with three triangular windows and surmounted by three gargoyles. The building has three floors, upon a basement, and a triangular chimney. Three Latin texts, each 33 letters long, run around the building on each facade.

It’s on the door mat when they finally get home, almost hidden amongst a bundle of bank statements, gas bills and something slightly  worrying in a brown envelope. An aerial view of the Triangular Lodge in Northamptonshire.

This is one of the sent in absentia cards, her father continuing one of the many rituals and routines of their days trips to places of interest and education. She can almost hear the capital letters in his speech, capital I,capital E, learning and fun, self-improvement, a part of his programme to ensure that she had all the benefits that he had never enjoyed and again she can hear the capital letters, the carefully spoken emphasis, capital B, capital E.

Her father was, as she realised early in life, was the very embodiment of someone who travelled hopefully. Arrival was never really his focus, it was always all about the preparation, the 3 Ps of a successful road trip;

Planning the route and this in the days before Sat Navs and smart phones meant the special green highlighter pen and the AA map book, a line reaching out from their home, the known, the familiar into new spaces, other counties, the here be dragons warning signs. In the days before a road trip she would run her finger along the route,whispering the names of towns and villages, stumbling over unfamiliar collections of consonants and vowels, a litany of travel yet to be made.

Preparing the picnic,a packed lunch, the blue Thermos flask and the careful deliberation to choose a suitable lunch break  spot, not on the main road of course, but not too far from the chosen route to present any danger of becoming mislaid, of loosing their way and the lunch itself, sandwiches, triangles and crustless of course, made the night before and carefully sealed in matching Tupperware containers, slices of homemade cake, hardboiled eggs and from the 1980s onwards, packets of walkers crisps, ready salted for her mother, salt and vinegar for her father and for her, prawn cocktail, chosen less for their flavour but for the luminous pinkness of their packaging.

Purchasing the postcard, she and her father leaning over the display, spinning the wire cages to choose the exact image, the right picture, something to sum up this particular road trip, a memory to take home and place in the road trip shoe box. The date carefully written, at first by her father and later, when her handwriting could be trusted, by her, lightly in pencil and then more definitely in black biro.

Her parents continued their road trips even when she was longer at home to take part, college and then a big city and later a bigger city yet, but every few weeks, a postcard, with comments, not about the actual visit, but the, to him anyway, key elements of  a successful day out, so, the route and traffic, lunch and the choice of postcards at the final destination.

Over the years, her fathers’ comments have become abbreviated, almost coded, 3 bullet points on the back of each National Trust or English Heritage postcard.

Her own children treat these cards as a slightly mysterious joke, reading out the brief messages with rolling eyes, hoots of laughter before they wander off to pressing engagements and hand the newest card over to her so that it can be stuck to the fridge with one of a variety of fridge magnets bought on their own family days out.

Todays’ card is she suspects, incomprehensible to anyone other than herself and she enjoys that moment, smiling as she reads the brief message.

M1 – surprisingly good choice even on a Sunday

Jam tarts – gooseberry jam may have been an error of judgement [ her father has, to everyone’s surprise, turned into an enthusiastic baker when the role of cake maker fell too him]

Sparse selection, this is the best of a poor show.

Your father.


She clears a space on the fridge, removing out of date school letters and pizza menus left there by her optomistic children and chooses a black and white killer whale, bought from the Sea Life centre last half term to harpoon the picture of the Triangular Lodge at the exact centre of the fridge door.


NANOWRIMO novel – Cuttings- DAY 8 – part 2 ( really day 9)

The Next Narrative – The Man Who loved His Job More Than His Wife

The widow dabs at her eyes, sniffs and faces the journalist again.

“It’ s what he would have wanted ” she repeats the platitude ” He lived for his work” and she sees the journalist, young, stumbling shorthand, nod and she wants  to scream, to shake him, to make him hear the raw truth in her words, but instead, she offer a cup of tea, tells him that he can smoke if he wants, he has the look of a smoker, drawn and hungry and they sit on opposite sofas, facing each other…

She sniffs longingly at his cigarette, remembers her own love affair with Sobranie Russian and instead sips her green tea, composes herself and begins

” it’s what I first liked about him, he was ambitious, pushy, even my dad said he was a grafter, good husband material”, she pauses, notices that the young journalist is not writing anything down, she coughs, stares meaningfully at his note-book and is pleased when he starts, stubs out his fag and clicks his biro into action.

She leans back on the sofa and begins the story of the man who loved his job more than his wife.

” we got married quick, we didn’t have to mind you” and here she fixes the young man with a stare, wondering for moment if he has any idea of what she means, she watches day time TV, knows how much the world has changed in a few short years.

” it was sexy, at the beginning, he was so focussed, driven, would come home at night, tell me stories of how he had bested the other salesmen, palmed off dead contracts onto them, hit his sales targets, beaten his sales targets and the money, the money was great”

She waves a hand around the room, the cream Italian leather sofas, the glass tables, gold lamps, real paintings painted by real artists. Thinks about her kitchen, huge cream Aga, granite work surfaces, underfloor heating and the microwave, the only thing she really uses to heat her calorie counted Marks & Spencers’ ready meals.

The journalist is nodding, encouraging her to go on, so she does

” he started getting promotions, bigger and bigger promotions, worked longer and longer hours, but he kept saying he was doing it for me, for us, for the kiddies that would come along, given time”

She closes her eyes for a minute, remembers those dreadful times, calendar watching, seeing each window of possibility lost with every sales conference, every emergency board meeting, every weekend emergency and then she goes on, voice a little flattened

” and then he went independent, said he was going to take the big boys on, beat them at their own game and he did, started making so much money, he didnt know what to do with it”

For a second she is catapulted back to Barbados or Antigua – she can’t remember which now, all those luxury beach holidays finally just blended together, she, alone, in some pool side bar, sipping on a rum based cocktail, while he prowled the resort, looking for a phone line, reliable internet access, conference calling and the smiles of the young black men , always happy to keep a bored housewife company.

“he got famous, well, in the world of sales anyway, started being quoted in the press, invited to dinners, yes ” she pauses at his questioning face

“yes, they were glamorous, lovely food and I always wore the most beautiful frocks, we even got photographed in some of those posh papers”

Best not to share the rows beforehand, the tense silences afterwards, the pulling of tiny bottles of vodka out of her Laboutin evening bag, the accusatory glances and finally the unspoken agreement that her presence was not required, any more.

“he never missed a day, you know, he was famous for it, every day in the office, even Christmas Day, New Years’ day, somehow he got there even when the whole country was under snow. Everybody respected him, he was legendary, a role model”

The journalist nods again, tries to hide his boredom, but she is clearly so lonely, so devastated by grief that it seems rude to walk away and besides there may be some dirt, something to sell to the bigger tabloids, perhaps even his passport to bigger and better things.

She has stopped talking, is obviously lost in memories, he coughs gently, trying to get her back on track

“Do you know when, i knew, really knew that he loved his job more than me””

The young man sits up, this sounds more like it, more of a story, he makes strong eye contact, smiles and waits for her to continue

” I thought he had a mistress, he never came home, had phones I didn’t know about, a forest of “his people” between us, so, one day – New Years’ Eve, when I knew he would be the only person at the office or at least that would be what he would tell me” she grimaces and then goes on

” I dressed up, really sexy, stockings, basque, a little leather whip…”

Now the young man is not making eye contact at all, he is trying very hard not to blush or squirm, but, he has already noticed that she is, for a woman the same age as his mum, actually very fit and he doesn’t want to start imagining her in stockings and suspenders

” I took the Merc, drove to the office, covered the outfit up with a sable coat”

The journalists’ mouth is dry, he takes a sip of luke warm tea

“The car park was empty of course, just his BMW and i took the life to the penthouse, sure that I would find some little floozy, both of them spreadeagled on a desk or worse”

She si speaking quicker and quicker now, in the memory, not really aware of his presence at all, as his pen drops from his fingers

” I walked into his office and there he was, completely alone,staring at a computer screen, jabbing at the keyboard, he didn’t even notice me at first, so I coughed and he looked up, and then I did it”

The young mans’ mouth is hanging open, he desperately hopes that he doesn’t need to stand up any time soon

” I dropped the coat to the floor and I walked towards him and neither of us said a word and I leant across the desk, ran the whip gently across his face and do you know what happened next?”

Suddenly she is looking directly at him, eyes burning with something and he doesn’t trust himself to speak, just shakes his head

” he stretched his arm towards me and picked up the file behind my elbow”

There is a silence as both the woman and the very young man stare at each other

“So, I left him to his love affair and I went to find mine, many,many times”

And then she smiles, very slowly at the journalist and stands up, walks towards him,still smiling.

NANOWRIMO novel – Cuttings- DAY 6

The Girl with glass hands.

Once upon a time, far, far away, in a kingdom across the sea, in a village where nothing ever, ever happened, a girl with glass hands walked down the dusty main street and arrived in the square at the heart of everything.
People stared, although they pretended that they did not.
The glass hands were beautiful, delicate, nails, lines, even the creases where skin should have been were etched on the glass, which was itself tinted with he lightest touch of pink, so that in some lights, the glass seemed to have some warmth, some life within it.

The villagers, unused to any new faces, watched her from behind curtains, watched as she sat in the only cafe in town, watched as she ordered a glass of milk and watched, in horrid fascination as the glass hands lifted the beaker to her mouth and watched as her slim white throat moved as she swallowed the milk.

Without speaking, many of them moved towards their front door, stood, arms folded, not looking at each other, still watching her, sitting, self possessed at the cafe table.

Children pointed, started to speak and were sushed, sometimes gently, sometimes less so.

Everybody waited to see what would happen next.

The girl stood up, stretched the glass hands over her head, stretched, the morning sun, catching on the glass, making her hands shine and sparkle.
Her dress, black, dusty, travel-stained, was at first glance ordinary, even a little shabby, but the women could see that there was something different, something undefinable, something, that even without the extraordinary hands, marked her as different, other.

More than one young man found himself wondering what it would feel like to have those hands, those glass hands, run through his hair, tease shapes on the small of his back and then recollecting themselves, would remind himself of the Hannah or Lise, or Elizabeth with her strong sunburnt, work marked hands and look down at the ground, face averted, in case any of his neighbours could read his thoughts.

The girl called to the cafe owner and all the villagers craned their necks forward, trying desperately to hear the conversation. It went on for a few moments, the cafe owner looked at first hesitant, but then the girl withdrew a full purse and his demeanour changed, suddenly he was smiling, bowing, gesturing for her to follow him as they both moved toward the back of the cafe, out of sight of all the onlookers and towards the stairs which led to the rooms he occasionally rented out to travellers, peddlers and the drifters who sometimes needed a nights’ shelter.

There was a pause, no-body in the village wanted to appear too nosy, too interested in what had just happened.
Women disappeared back indoors, reappeared with baskets, heading for the bakers, conveniently situated next door to the cafe.

Men straightened up, found themselves with a sudden thirst for the strong black coffee served in the cafe or a glass of the cheap, thin red wine he sold and calling something indistinct into the open doors, began to walk towards the cafe.

Within minutes, almost all the villagers had arrived there and then they stood, waiting for Albert, the cafe owner, to reappear from the back of the cafe.
He, red-faced from such unusual morning exertion and still toying with the gold coins nestled in his apron pocket, struggled with the two opposing thoughts battling inside him, his desire to be at the centre of village news, to actually have something worth saying and the new need to keep his profitable, if mysterious, guest.
Avarice or fame by association?

Fame, the desire for fame, even this vicarious fame, wins out.
He sat at his usual table, poured himself a glass of the wine he doesn’t offer the villagers and then he begins
” She comes from the city, is tired of the hustle & bustle, wants to be peaceful” There is a pause, while he tries to find other things to say
“She’s rich, you can tell quality”
There is another pause and everyone waits for more, finally, one of the women, sturdy, mother to a brood, wife to a man who spends more time here at this table than he does around his own scarred kitchen table, speaks
“But the hands, what about the hands?”
There is another pause and then, his head down, voice dropping, the cafe owner is forced to admit
” I didn’t like to ask her, I didn’t know what words to use”

And this response, it seems, becomes everyone’s’ experience.

The girl stays, a bag arrives from the city, containing more dusty black dresses.
If the village women hoped for displays of big city finery, they were sorely disappointed.
She walks in the hills, takes her meals in her room, the cafe owner says she has a bird like appetite and occasionally, sits at a table in the cafe as the summer light dims and sips the good wine out of a green glass goblet that she holds between slim, elegant glass fingers.

And no-body can find the words to ask what has happened to her hands.

The young and in some cases, not so young, men are entranced.They find themselves looking for her as they move the goats & sheep in the hills, as they start the harvest, pick the summer fruits and when they meet her, they are unaccountably shy, tongue-tied and become too aware of their own hands, try to hide them behind their backs while looking at hers and imagining the feel of that cool glass on their skin as the sun beats down on them.

She is always polite, asks after the crops, often remembers their names and smiles a cool, tight smile before walking away.

The women, the mothers, dig deep into memory, rediscover the symbol of the evil eye, make the shape as she passes them. When the girl reaches down and absently stokes a small childs’ head, the mother is quick to grab the child away, making a sign of the cross over their hair as they drag them, protesting, indoors.

But, it is the young women who are most discomfited by her, they see how their future husbands look at her, see the thoughts that chase across their open, uncomplicated faces. They know that she is changing something, unsettling their planned futures, their journeys from this to motherhood to their place at the well, in the bakery shop queue.
They know, when they lie in their young men’s arms, sticky in the summer heat, that their lovers are thinking,not of them, not of their sturdy health, their sunburnt limbs, but of her, her icy paleness, the cool touch of her glass hands and they feel their men slip away from their far more earthbound presence.

And then one day, she is gone.
Nobody sees her leave, not even Albert, despite his fawning attentions, the wine glass washed every time she uses it, the trays of food, carefully, almost lovingly carried to her room.
Even he misses her leaving.
It is as if she has simply vanished, slipped away and if it were not for the final pieces of gold left under the green goblet, the bag packed and taken away, the room left tidy, empty, village gossip might have decided that there was some mystery to her leaving,but there is no mystery.
She has, quite simply, decided to move on.

But in her place, when perhaps it would be hoped that everything now would return to normal, there is an absence, a depth of loss.

Even the village wives feel it, miss the ritual of crossing the road when they saw her coming, of spitting on the path,of the old ritual of warding off the evil eye.
Their lives feel, somehow, less magical now that she has gone.

The men, late at night, when their mouths are dry from drinking cheap rough wine,make cautious eye contact, start sentences they cannot,dare not finish and find that they drink more and feel somehow bereft although they have lost nothing.

The young women expect to celebrate, to rejoice in her leaving, but discover that she has taken something with her.
Their men, the lusty young village lovers have become shy, distracted, no longer able for uncomplicated coupling, the thrust of flesh on flesh.
The young women mourn their losses, wonder how they can refind what is lost.

And then, early, even by village standards, everyone is woken by the most terrible keening and screaming and sobbing.
The sounds bounce off the low cottages, fill the square with a cacophony of noise.
Half dressed, undressed, the villagers run towards whatever is making these terrible noises.
There standing, shaking, is the bakers daughter and her hands have been smashed beyond repair, pushed, although God alone know how, through the wash house mangle.

As the days and weeks go on, she is only the first of many.