Tag Archives: short story

Number 98- there ain’t a lock that can keep me out.


Number 98- There ain’t a lock that can keep me out”

That’s the 10th he thinks, he’s made it into double figures.
It is, he supposes some sort of achievement, perhaps this house could be on TV, next to Britains most haunted,Britians most noisy neighbours,Britains celebrity cribs. This house, number 98, Britains most burgled, although the has to admit, he’s not really sure if it is actually the most burgled, it just feels like that, but, then again it would, to him, it’s his house and yesterday , his house had been broken into for the 10th time.

He’s got the routine down pat now, no insurance company to call anymore, they stopped covering him after break in number 6, the locksmith on speed dial and a courtesy call to the local cop shop. He likes to keep them Informed, doesn’t want them to think that he thinks that the police are useless, although of course, that’s exactly what he thinks, but he knows how despondent the local beat officer gets, how powerless the nice woman from crime prevention feels, so he makes sure to ring them, tell them that this time he is sure that they will catch the bad guys, restore his property, make everything ok.

He sweeps up the smashed glass from the kitchen door, wraps the glass up carefully in newspaper before he places it in the bin and takes a first glance around, takes stock of what’s gone this time.

The ten pound note he habitually leaves in the centre of the table has gone, of course. It’s the idea of the crime prevention officer, it’s meant to satisfy the casual thief, stop them pulling out every drawer and cupboard and sometimes it works, but not this time.

Today’s burglar has opened every drawer in the sideboard , dumped the contents onto the carpet, pulled the sofa cushions off, looking for something more exciting than the TV remote for a TV that doesn’t live here anymore , a half eaten packet of chocolate toffees and a dog brush.
But, he has found the iPod and rejected it, ground his heel onto it and left the remains,smashed, bent and unusuable , the sad detritus of a robbery hardly worth the effort of climbing over the garden wall and breaking glass so that he could get into the kitchen.

Henry used to get angry, used to rant about the scum that used his house as some sort of walk in freebie shop. He used to be scared, invested in bigger and stronger locks, even bought a dog, considered a burglar alarm and then he stopped being able to afford insurance, stopped being able to replace the stereos, the TVs, the lap tops and the microwaves.

At first he missed the things that had filled his home, missed the familiar TV programmes, missed listening to the news as he made his coffee, buttered his morning toast, missed his little dance moves when he ran the Hoover around and then he missed the hoover when it went too.
He struggled to fill the time, worried about missing out on stuff, wondered if there were great world events happening out there that he no longer easily access.

And then something happened, gradually he found that he no longer found himself pacing around the small, neat sitting room, not sure of how to navigate the time between eating, washing up and bed time.

He started to potter around the small back yard, not gardening exactly, but planting a few bulbs, a couple of climbers and then he bought a bird feeder and watched in amazement when even in the middle of this city, birds found his offerings of peanuts and sunflower seeds. He began to recognise regular visitors, the robin who took on all comers, regardless of size, the homing pigeon, hopelessly lost, gone feral, but still a cut above the truly wild street pigeons and still tame enough to sit on the garden fence when Henry came outside to replenish the feeders and seed holders and water saucers.

Henry is not a bird watcher, he has no interest in going anywhere else to look at birds, he can only just name the most common urban birds and even then he suspects that he gets it wrong sometimes.
He is he decides, a bird feeder, a jovial mine host. He makes sure that the dishes are regularly topped up, he offers a selection of tasty snacks and is vigilant, removes stale seeds, chases off any of the local cats who show too great an interest in whats going on.

He has acquired an ancient battery powered radio, but forgets to replace the batteries often enough, so the speech has slowed down, become sub audible. Generally now, he doesn’t bother to turn it on.

And there is the library. It surprises him that he is a member and of course, he could buy books, he has never had any reading matter taken even by the most inept of his burglars, 1 to 10, but,he likes the temporary nature of borrowing books and the routine of his Wednesday evening visit, late night opening, to the local library.

He has become braver in his choices in the last year. He’s stepped out of the shallows of detective fiction and Terry Pratchett , paddled into science fiction and is now wading,a little anxiously, hoping that he’s not going out of his depth, into books that have won proper competitions and even been talked about on the news and he knows this because burglar number 9 went a bit freestyle and attempted to break into his car as well, but clearly disgusted or simply depressed by the absence of CD player or in car entertainment centre, had only the most half hearted go at digging out the car radio and its this that Henry uses to get a news fix on the way to work and on occasions, if the programme is especially riveting, will continue to sit in parked neatly in front of his house until it ends.

He sighs as he throws away the battered iPad, the gift of a colleague who wanted to make it better for him. He has actually stopped listening to it sometime ago, found the headphones irritating and had meant to return it to his workmate, but burglar number 10 has put paid to that.

He casts an experienced eye over the back door, the robber has made a hash of the actual lock, which is impressive given that the key was actually still in the lock on the inside of the door.
The door will still open and close, but unless he gets the lock mechanism fixed, he won’t be able to lock it again.

He pauses then,actually pauses and straightens up from his angled inspection of the damaged door.

He opens the door, he closes the door, he opens the door, he closes the door and then he reaches across the work surface and picks up the back door key.
He can’t quite bring himself to make an heroic gesture, the bird table is full of evening feeders and he doesn’t want to alarm them by throwing the key into the tangle of shrubs.
So, he tosses it into the cupboard under the sink and then walks quickly, purposefully to the coat hooks by the front door, reaches into the bowl where he habitually drops his car keys, wallet and lose change.

The front door key is there, as it should be, he picks it up,feels its familiar weight in his palm and then opens the front door and puts the key neatly under the door mat.

Later, returning from the library, The Life of Pi and Atonement in his bag for life. He opens the front door by simply turning the handle and feels a little frisson of freedom.


Horses are not the only signifiers of difference – part 2


 

All morning as she stares at the computer screen in front of her she is vaguely aware of the usual background chatter, like a radio playing In another room, she can, if she concentrates pick out individual words, even whole sentences, but, she can just let it drift over her, a comforting and familiar chorus of low level annoyance, hunger and a moment or two of anxiety.
The pony has, as usual, been pushed away for the better grazing by the bigger horses.
Alice is worried about something strange, unfamiliar in the hedge.
Oliver wants to know that she will be there soon to bring them back into their stables.

Talking to animal or having animals talk to you, is not, she muses, when she takes 5 minutes to walk away from her desk, all its cracked up to be.

The messages the horses send her range from the dull, at least if you’re human – The grass here is better than the grass over there, To the mysterious , odd almost impossible to translate thought pictures about some equine deity and clouds and the smell of earth and then sometimes the downright horrific, the pony she passed on the road, screaming out its pain and fear from a cancer that nobody had diagnosed.

Her own horses, she can generally cope with. She works hard to keep them safe, secure, spends some time every day sending them messages of reassurance and maintenance and mostly, they manage to keep their voices quiet, try not to bring on the headaches that leave her pale, shaking and unable to meet the eyes of her colleagues and neighbours.

Local pets, the ones she knows live nearby, the ones she passes on her way to the corner shop recognise her, see her as something useful to them, a translation service they utilise when other forms of communication with their own humans have failed them.
“ tell them I don’t like chicken cat food”
“ The collar they bought me is too tight”
“ I get lonely when you go out all day”

These massages are easy to deal with, there are simple ways to pass these on without drawing attention to herself, but there are others which cause more difficulty to her and which sometimes she decides that she can’t hear, doesn’t understand and then she feels disloyal, dishonest. She feels as though she has let them down, those eyes, of cats, dogs, rabbits, budgies and above all, horses, expecting her to sort it out, make it better.

“ Every bone in my body aches now…let me go “
“ when you are not here, your new boyfriend locks me in the garden for hours and forgets to feed me”
“ you love the baby more than me, I hate the baby, I scratch the baby whenever your back is turned “
“ I don’t like you, but you feed me, I prefer the lady in the next house but one “
“ I didn’t mean to kill the hamster, it was an accident”
“ when you ride me, you are too heavy, you hurt my back, please stop”

She has become adept at passing on information to the humans, the other humans in ways that keep her safe.
She is not mad, knows that all of this is not usual,not normal and not something that she should be drawing any attention to, any time soon.

So, instead, she offers up tentative suggestions, wonders out loud if an owner has ever considered a change of feed, if they could use a dog collar that doesn’t fit her dogs.
Some times she takes direct action, scooping up a cat used a football and stealing it away to rehome it far away away from the man who wants to punch his boss but instead kicks his cat across a room.

Her neighbours feel a distance in her and so keep their own distance. She leaves so early in the morning, arrives home after dark, clothes mud spattered and humming with the aroma of horse and dog, that almost nobody ever really notices her and if they do meet she is polite, pats their dog, asks after their cat. They do notice that she never remembers to ask after husbands, wives, children, but after all, they rationalise, if they think about her at all. She has no parter, no family, no life that they can see, poor soul and then their phones ring or a child calls out or the east Enders starts and they forget their train of thought and they only think about her again when they notice how well their tabby kitten looks since they took her advice and changed his brand of cat food.

At night,when she lies in bed, the weight of sleeping dogs a comfortable pressure against her knees, she can, is she chooses to reach out and touch the minds of all the local pets.

The spaniel next door but one, Lord of the sofa now his family have gone upstairs to bed, he stretches full length, yawns, farts and falls asleep.

The grey cat who has discovered a nest of mice and is lying in the flower bed, belly flat against the damp earth, waiting patiently for the first one to poke its nose into the night air before he pounces.

The chickens at number 7, roosting in an unruly bundle of feathers, mad, blank chicken eyes closed as they doze and plot where to hide tomorrow’s newly laid eggs.

She lies quietly, almost asleep herself, closing her mind to the other stories, the ones she does not want to hear, not tonight , not any night.

She lies quietly, so close to sleep herself and tries to forget the face of the man at work, the man who sits two cubicles away from her , the man who explained today, how he is training his pitt bull to hate black people, and as he talked she could hear, a roaring bark of dismay and incomprehension from his dog who wants to love everyone and be loved.

She lies quietly and just before she drifts into sleep, decided that she will change jobs soon, move on to somewhere else, somewhere new.

At 4.45 the alarm jolts her awake again.


Number 51- horses are not the only signifiers of difference – part 1


 

Number 51 – Horses are not the only signifiers of difference.

Some days, when the alarm jolts her awake at 4:45, her first reaction is one of shock,a disbelief that sleep is over for another 18 hours.

From long experience, she knows that the only way forward is speed and decisiveness. It is much, much worse if she waits or God forbid, allows herself to hit the snooze button.

A deep breath and then kick the duvet back, dislodge the dogs and out of bed into the unheated bedroom.

She puts her jeans straight on, on top of her pyjama bottoms, no loss of precious body heat and then hooded top, baggy jumper and jacket.
Her gloves and hat are downstairs next to the car keys.

The dogs have already raced downstairs to wait at the kitchen door quivering with excitement as they stand there, ready for breakfast.

She checks her watch, 4.53 and puts the kettle on, makes a cuppa and drinks it standing at the back door assessing the weather before she collects up the dogs and leaving her cup half full drags them around the block.

She rarely sees anyone else, it is too early for anyone to yet be on their way to work and fate too late for even the most hardcore party animals.

The dogs know how these morning walks go and are business like,keep their sniffing and snuffling to a minimum and 10 minutes later they are back home.

She grabs work bag, packed lunch, her work clothes on hangers and her after work stuff and by 5.20 she is in the car, glad that there was no frost last night and so no window scrapping and rubbing to freeze her hands even before she has started.

She reckons that she could do this drive in her sleep and probably has done, only coming properly awake when a car pulls out unexpectedly.

At this time of the year,the whole drive is in darkness, only the world service in the radio to break the silence all around her. Over the years she has listened to hours of the world service and has absorbed all manner of strange facts. She tries to keep them to herself, but occasional one pops out, usually followed by a silence from her work colleagues and a metaphorical step backwards from them, another layer of distance.

The stables are completely dark, she uses her phone as a pitiful torch to unlock the chain around the gate and even before she parks she can hear them greeting her or at least greeting the arrival of breakfast and morning.

The horses are all looking over their stable doors.
Alice whinnies whickers, an oddly small noise from such a large animal.
Oliver starts to kick the door, panicking that today will be the day that he is left hungry and alone and the pony, the pony simply stares as he does every morning as if her arrival is simply an unexpected surprise.

She has the morning routine down pat, feed, put on rugs suitable for the weather and then the trudge to the field, hideous in wet weather when the mud threatens to suck the boots from her feet.
She once found herself wondering how long she would lie her undiscovered if she did actually fall and drown in mud that comes above her knees.
The answer was frightening and that thought,along with a whole mental box of thoughts to be ignored, has been put to one side, pushed down into her own figurative mud and left to drown there.

The stable work is reassuringly routine, she sets herself little competitions, like to shave time off her personal records and on the best days, where nothing goes wrong, she has a precious 10 minutes before she needs to head off to work and then she stands looking out towards the field and as night turns into early morning, she watches the horses become visible and smokes a single cigarette.

She needs to get the time of her arrival at work exactly right, too early and the night security man will have to let her in and will see her in all her hay, mud and straw covered glory, too late though and there is a danger of bumping into early bird colleagues before she has sneaked into the workplace gym showers and transformed into her daytime self.

Her cubicle is anonymous,no photos of family, partners, smiling faces on holiday beaches. She doesn’t have any of those and over the years she has learnt that photos of the horses,of events they have done, even a rosette or two simply set her even further apart. So, she has compromised on a photo of the dogs and a mug with a thelwell pony cartoon.

She has worked in offices ever since she left school, happy enough with the routine, the regular start and finish times, the 60 minute lunch break and the work that she leaves at the door even before she reaches the door.
She is told that she lacks ambition, but works hard, is rarely off and is happy to allow her co workers to have holidays to fit around families, Christmas and school terms. So, she stays here for the moment.
There will come a time, there always comes a time when she needs to leave and then she will gone with as little fuss as she arrived and within weeks,sometimes days, nobody there will quite be able to remember her name properly. She may leave the mug behind but she will carefully remove the dogs photograph.

TO BE CONTINUED


NANOWRIMO 2014 -day 8 – a Hewlett Packard laptop


…continued.

 

The half term holiday drifts on, she has a raft of genuine tasks to get through, marking, tweaking schemes of work, researching the artists the children will be studying when they return.

She is busy, truly busy, there is no time to sit at the kitchen table, open the manual and set the lap top and besides she needs some time to herself, some time to relax, some time to recharge her batteries.

 

But, by Thursday morning, with the return to work looming, it’s funny she thinks, Wednesday feels like lots of holiday left, but somehow a few more hours, that movement into Thursday seems to signal that school is just around the corner and she knows that she has run out of jobs, having been reduced to tidying and colour coding the airing cupboard last night, when the holiday still stretched ahead of her, so, she takes a deep breath and puts the kettle on.

 

Then of course she realises that instant coffee will simply not do and she may, for may read, most definitely will, need a formidable quantity of Marlboro Red, preferably soft pack.

 

She grabs her coat, performs the usual keys, bag, purse ritual and heads off to the parade of shops at the top of her street. Walking down the road, made suicidally  slippery by huge piles of soggy un- tidied leaves, she remembers Murphy, the invisible dog, her constant companion age 5 to 8 and her right hand curves naturally, rightly around his blue leather lead. She wonders if she is now old enough, sensible enough for a real dog and while Murphy sniffs at a lamppost, she makes a decision.

If she masters the bloody machine still crouched on the kitchen table, then, she will get a dog, nothing too large, too boisterous, a terrier maybe. Murphy’s’ breed was always somewhat mysterious, if pushed, she would describe him as a brown dog and open her arms to indicate his size.

She can see herself walking a medium-sized brown dog, the sort of dog whose tail wags, who lollops along, mouth open in an engaging smile and she cannot help but smile at the image, the almost dog is already making her happy.

 

Decent coffee, 40 cigarettes and an emergency packet of penguins later, her feeling of resolve is still strong, all she needed she realises was proper motivation, it’s easy she decides, get the laptop working, take it back to work, look for a dog.

 

This feeling of positivity lasts beyond the first cup of coffee and the first delicious cigarette. She unearths the instruction manual and the plug thingy and even manage to find the on button. It’s going well, the machine makes a happy noise, all she has to do is configure the settings and install the word processing package which is on a disc sellotaped to the manual and then it all begins to fall apart.

The machine is black, the buttons are black, the various holes and slots are also black, she can see nothing which seems to look like the place you might put a CD.

But, In her mind’s eye, she can still see the little brown dog and clinging like a survivor to the wreckage of the good ship positive thinking, so, she refills the kettle, lights another cigarette, somehow just not as delicious as the previous one and decides instead to configure the settings.

 

7 minutes later, her head is on the table, a badly extinguished cigarette still smoking in the saucer and she is in despair. The screen has gone from a pleasing Mediterranean blue to a frightening black blankness having clicked and buzzed and told her that there had been an error.

When she tries to turn the machine off, by pulling the plug from the wall, there is another strange noise, almost a sigh and then all the little flashing lights go out.

 

She leaves the lap top on the table until Saturday, hoping, almost praying that it will, as her car has done on many occasions, simply mend itself with no input from anybody else.

 

Nothing, no lights, no happy noise, no pretty blue screen, even the strange sigh/gasp noise has gone, this is a very dead machine and it’s only now with just over 24 hours to go that she understands the enormity of what has happened.

 

She prowls around the flat, trying to come up with a solution, something that will believable, not make her look like an idiot, but will also ensure that she is never, ever asked to take any type of expensive machine home again and then, like a bolt from heaven, she knows exactly what to do and she smiles and pops the kettle back on.

 

As is only right and proper, it is of course, pouring with rain on Monday, all holidays should end in floods and weather disaster. It allows her to take a taxi with no shame and to jolt her into a touch of low-level guilt about her currently dead car, parked or perhaps abandoned on her parents drive, again.

 

She struggles Into school, laden with marking and of course the box and nestling inside the lap top.

She takes a deep breath and then adjusts her face into an appropriate expression and knocks on the Head Teachers’ office door and begins to speak at the same time as she enters the room.

” I don’t know what to say….I’m so embarrassed, it was a terrible accident…..he didn’t really mean it…”

She allows her voice to trail off and the head bowed, tears at the corners of her eyes, shoulders shaking with emotion, she explains how her dog, Murphy, enthusiastically greeting her, somehow jumped up and managed to knock a whole pot of coffee over the shiny new lap top.

 

Her remorse and shame is so obvious that the Headteacher struggles to be annoyed, cannot produce her usual withering sarcastic comment and is reduced to patting this new young colleague on the back and offering non school issue tissues. The subject of IT is never brought up again and by the time that all teachers play confidently with PCs and laptops, she has long left education and can continue her Luddite existence.

 

She lifts the coffee mug to her mouth and is genuinely shocked when she tastes stone cold coffee. Somehow, she has lost half an hour, wasted a cup of good french coffee and even left her chocolate biscuit uneaten on the plate.

Absently, she picks it up and feel a wet nose pushing against her knee, the dog, the current dog, sensing an opportunity is reminding that he is still here, still happy to help with the consumption of unwanted Jaffa cakes.

 

She jumps to her feet, there are things to be done and she must remind her daughter to buy cat food. She could text, email or even message her on Facebook, but instead she finds the pack of neon post-its and scrawls a note and then she places the uneaten Jaffa cake on top of the post – it stuck to the centre of the table.

 

In her experience, a post-it and chocolate are the most reliable way of getting messages across to other people.


NANOWRIMO – Day 6 – A silver hewlett packard laptop computer


Every time she sees another silver laptop, she has a moment, a memory, a snapshot of that day and that laptop.

So that fact of her daughters’ laptop, sliver, decorated with Hello Kitty stickers and abandoned in the middle of the big pine table has pushed her, unwillingly, metaphorically kicking and screaming to a time and place she tries hard to normally push far, far away.

September 1992 and for the 17th year in a row, she is entering another term, another school gate, another bout of education.

But today, she is on her own, it’s very early, just gone 7.30 am, although she can see cars already parked in the staff car park, other people must be even earlier than she is. Just for a second she remembers the circle of girls at her primary school, swearing that teachers never go home and just live in cupboards in the evening, perhaps it actually is true after all.

She hafts the over full rucksack back onto her shoulder, looks down at her completely inoffensive outfit, knee-length black skirt, grey long-sleeved t-shirt, A damping down bra and hair straightened into some sort of conformity. At least her shoes make her smile, yes, low heeled, black, sensible, but with mad cat faces scored into the leather and tiny pink leather kitten tongues decorating the toes .. She has chosen these shoes with great care, has spent several hours trying on and then discarding possibilities. These shoes, she believes, make a statement, yes I look like all the other teachers, but look more carefully, see, I’m cool and with it and hopefully they will not cause any unwanted attention from her new colleagues.

She has been to the school over the holidays for training and to set up her classroom, her first classroom. She has sourced enough teaching materials to provide for lessons well into the next century, planned the first 3 weeks of lessons in minute by minute detail, she is ready.

The first day passed in a whirl of names she instantly forgets, A tour of all the administration of the school, where she finds herself standing and nodding alongside a photocopier so large that it looks as if it would be more comfortable in a science fiction film. She is given passwords and sign ins and keys and more and more pieces of paper, which she clutches to her chest, until, finally, she is allowed to creep back to her classroom where she hides in over whelmed hysteria and all of this without any actual teaching. She tries to dry swallow a paracetamol and vows to bring water tomorrow to help with what she is beginning to feel might be a daily task.

Second day, face to face contact with students and actually, it’s not as bad as it could have been. The school is pleasant, in a pleasant neighbourhood, with pleasant grounds and mostly pleasant, well-behaved students.

By the end of the week, she has mainly stopped getting lost, has worked out what chairs are available to new staff in the teacher’s lounge and has even managed a breezy good morning to her early morning colleagues, although she cannot shake the thought that perhaps after all they do actually live here as she can see no evidence that they have actually quit the school since yesterday.

The leviathan that is a school sucks her up, the days and weeks move towards the next holidays, she has a little more energy, has even managed to go for a drink with friends and not panic about an evenings missed marking.

On balance, she is pleased, none of the students seems to hate her, her colleagues have mostly learnt her name and she begins to relax just a little bit.

And then comes the announcement in the final staff meeting before half term.

There will be a pilot IT programme after the holidays, a number of staff will be issued with lap tops and expected to trial these in their work and then make a presentation at the next staff training day.

The headmistress smiles directly at her

” as our youngest staff member, we are relying in you to help us embrace this new technology, we are sure that you will be a beacon of competence ” and then she hands her a large bulky box and smiles again.

There is a pause while she tries to arrange her face into a suitable expression, some combination of blase knowledge and reined in excitement rather than the rabbit in the headlights look that any form of technology stamps onto her.

She clutches the box to her chest, holding tightly to its cardboard edges as if this very grip can somehow save her from an inevetiable drowning in ignorance.

All day, older colleagues, who have not as yet even bothered to really speak to her, find reasons to just pop into her classroom. There, they carefully approach the box, some of the braver touch it carefully with a single finger, before backing away. All are breezily confident on her behalf, wishing her a productive half term with the computer, sure that she will have lots to share with them in a weeks time.

She actually feels physically sick, wonders if it is too latte to throw herself on the mercy of the head and confess that she is terrified of all technology and has only the most sketchy knowledge of computers, but, the heads’, in fact all of their belief in her is so seductive, so unusual that she cannot bear to let them down and with a plastered on positive smile, she phones a taxi to get the bulky box home.

To be continued…….


NANOWRIMO novel – Cuttings- DAY 5


She slept more soundly than she has done for weeks.
At home her sleep is disturbed, the cats have become used to her nocturnal prowling, have joined her as she makes another cup of tea, twining around her legs, hopeful for a scattering of cat treats in their neat little pink bowls.
On far too many mornings, she has watched the sun come up and then bone tired, dragged herself out of bed and headed, eyes gritty, head pounding, to another day at work.
But here, in a nest of duvets, cushions off the other sofa, the one that no-one ever sits on, she has slept well, woken refreshed.

She had planned to take herself upstairs, to sleep in her bedroom, the single bed unchanged, her 6th form books still on the small wooden bookcase, but sleep had over-taken her and now she lies for a moment, luxuriating in the warmth, the weight of bedding enveloping her.

She stretches, misses the cat presence, reminds herself that she must ring her neighbour today, check on their well-being, offer more thanks, a definite day of return and then she remembers the story, scribbled quickly into the notebook, the little clipping still paperclipped to the page, a strange prompt for a modern fairy tale.

Babies, she has never written about babies before, has never really thought about the care of small children and is surprised that somehow a baby has forced itself into the notebook.

Her own childlessness was not planned, in her 20s, still in love with her profession, determined to make a difference, to connect with the classes, she was, she reasoned, far too busy, too selfish to make any kind of mother and as she drifted into her 30s and friends, colleagues, neighbours fell into relationships, pregnancies, parenthood, somehow, she got left behind.

Of course there were boyfriends, lovers, significant others, even one or two that earned the title – my partner, but there was never any real sense of permanence, any sense that this relationship, this melding of bones, of bodies would, could, result in a baby, a family.

Her parents never asked although her mother always kept her up to date with the news of old school friends, other people’s’ daughters, but with a light touch and then before her mother could completely give up hope of grandparent status, she was gone and the 40s arrived and the lovers became thinner on the ground and her father stopped asking after especially favoured ex-boyfriends, the ones who played sport, knew about cars, didn’t work in teaching.

Her childlessness, her sporadic singleness has, she realises, become a comfort to her. The lie, that she likes her own company, is too selfish to share her life, has become a sort of truth.

But, this morning, without all the scaffolding that holds her life together, huddled under someone elses’ duvet, she wonders, just for a moment, what her life would have been like, if one of the Jakes or Richards or Steves could have become important enough, could have made a baby.
experimentally, she crooks her arm, imagines holding a baby, imagines the scrunched face looking up at her and feels…..nothing.

It is time to get up, time to start on the side board, time to put the kettle on.

Mug of tea in hand, she dresses downstairs, knows that really she should have a shower, wash her hair but rationalizes that she will only get grubby later.
She looks at her own body as she pulls on yesterdays’ jeans.
generally, she is pleased with what she sees, legs gym toned, stomach flat enough, there are benefits from childlessness, this is only one of them. Her skin still has the hint of a tan from a week in Turkey at half term, her breasts are neat, nothing to attract attention, but sufficient to justify her addiction to expensive underwear.
It is a body which embodies [ and she smiles at the unintentional internal wordplay] neatness, function. Never one to inspire either passion or loathing, it has, she reflect, served her well enough, she can see no reason why it will not continue it quiet effectiveness.

And with that thought, she stand stretches, consider tidying the sitting room, putting the bedding away, plumping the cushions, even the ones on the sofa that no-one sits on, but then she shrugs, there is no-one to complain, no-one to raise an eyebrow. She can feel herself slipping back into teenage mode, a comforting clutter of possessions around her, cups, plates, books and this time no parent to sigh at her. She leaves her mug balanced on the arm of the sofa and wanders, barefoot into the dining room to sort the sorting there.

The bookcase does not take long, her parents, inveterate library users did not acquire books over their lifetimes, there are at best 200 books, some that she recognises as Christmas, birthday gifts from her, still looking unread, unhandled.
Most will go straight to a charity shop she decides and piles them neatly onto the dining table. Some of the pristine hardback she will take home, try to shoehorn them into her own over-stuffed shelves, find time to read them in the next holiday.

The sideboard is more of a challenge, it has become, over the years, a sort of home office, important papers sit next to canteens of cutlery, rarely used wine glasses, place mats, a small box of glass christmas tree decorations.
She pauses for a moment and lifts out some of the baubles, she remembers these so clearly from childhood, the tear drops of red and green glass, the glitter filled special baubles that only her mother would hang on the tree. These, she decides, will come home with her, will decorate her tree this year, although she can see that many of them will not fit with her usual spartan clear glass and white lights arrangements.
She shrugs, this year, good taste can be left at the door, this year the theme will be retro, multi coloured, even a little tacky.

She puts the box next to the tethering pile of books and considers the piles of papers, bank statements, gas bills going back 20 plus years. She knows that much of this will be rubbish, fit only for the bin liners that she has, unaccountably, forgotten to bring with her and is relieved that this absence of attention means that she cannot, with a good conscience, start that task now.
Instead, she starts to move the glasses, the flat leather boxes containing the good cutlery onto the table. She remembers these from special occasions, the rare times her parents entertained, Christmas and birthday meals. This green box, she knows, contains cake knives and forks, a special knife for cutting special cakes, she wonders, just for a moment, where the 3 layered cake stand is and then opens the box, looks down on the ivory handles nesting in the faded green velvet and is not surprised, not really, to find another clipping, carefully placed beneath the first fork.

“Step Father cut off my hands with a razor – maimed chid receives £5,000”

There is nothing else, no story, no date, no clue as to why her father and she suddenly wonders if all of this is her fathers’ doing or if these pieces of paper have been her mothers’ handwork, left, lost, perhaps not even noticed by her father in the years when he lived here alone.

The headline is so odd, so disturbing that she has to stop, sits at the table, reading and re-reading the few words and then she stands, walks back into the sitting room and fully dressed, but suddenly cold, crawls back under the duvet and picks up her notebook and begins to write.

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.

……..
She stops writing, the image of the girl, the glass hands is so grotesque, so horrible that it brings her up short.
She didn’t know that such images even existed in her. This is not her writing, she has no idea what gothic fairy tale she is channeling, did not expect that the old headline would cause this story to surface.
She takes a deep breath, rubs her hand over her face, notes, even in the middle of this possession, that she has forgotten to moisturise.

And then, she grips her pen more firmly, she will write this story, see where the narrative takes her.
She will allow her fathers’ or is it her mothers’ gift to guide her.


Samuel P Whiskers Esq & the racehorses


Something very different, as set by the students in our school creative writing group- a 300 word story for children.
I am not optimistic about this challenge.

On the outside, Samuel P Whiskers Esq is small & ginger & hairy and really a bit scruffy, but when Samuel runs across the grass with the other little ponies, he feels tall and fast and splendid, because on the inside, Samuel remembers the day when he beat all the racehorses.

And this is how it happened, Samuels was out, and as usual, Big Ruby horse was turning round & snorting, telling him to keep up, not get left behind, His owner was kicking him on, encouraging him
“go faster Sam” and he wanted to say
“I only have little legs and I’m going as fast as I can”, but of course he couldn’t and he did his best to trot along to keep up with the big horse in front.

Then, at the bottom of the big hill, they met the racehorses, all brown and shiny and long leged and Sam felt very small and ginger and shabby.
“Let’s race” said the woman on the biggest and shiniest and brownest race horse and they were off!

Sam went as fast as he could, but within a few seconds all the big horses were far far in front and then something amazing happened, the big shiny horses began to slow down, even Big Ruby, who always got everywhere faster than him.
He felt his legs go faster and faster and then, he was passing them, leaving them standing’ His ears twitched with delight and then he was at the top of the hill, first, the winner.

His heart beat fast, partly with delight and partly because he was a very little pony and he had run as fast as he could.
His owner threw her arms around his neck and hugged him.

So, now the ponies run in the field and Sam is last or second to last, he doesnt care, because he knows that on the inside he is aster than a race horse and could beat all the ponies, any time he wanted to.

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