Saturday, 30 June 2012

46 - Street Life (3)

Each week Edna needs to be helped from the car to the wheelchair in which she sits out the hours at the day centre. The carer doesn’t strap up her feet, and so they drag along the ground because she has long elegant but fortunately unfeeling legs.
Placed to one side in the large sitting room, she is unresponsive until the music and movement therapist comes and sets up her mp3 player. The down-lighters in the ceiling catch her eye just as the music begins, and mentally she looks herself over, stretches tall, and counts herself in.
She smiles, because it has been drummed into her (“Smile girls, smile! I must have all my girls smiling.”), and joins number 5 high-kicking her way across to the centre-stage turntable. Edna is once more a Tiller Girl and tonight is Sunday Night at The London Palladium.

45 - Curtains

Pink, Paisley-patterned and pencil-pleated; they were the home-made curtains of my childhood at 44 St Peter's Street, and they kept out the sun as it intruded on my innocent sleep. Soon they were lined by ma, so that the light was kept in and the Luftwaffe couldn’t find their way to the docks and the railway sidings.
A dreadful old thick blue-serge curtain from the ‘glory ’ole’ was put up in the Anderson Shelter to protect me in my modesty. Then ‘uncle’ Jim began his visits, and the turncoat curtain protected him instead.
After we were bombed out of number 44, the wardens covered ma’s shattered body with the torn fragments of one of the biscuit-brown parlour drapes. I gathered all my worldly possessions in the other to run from the growing gossip.
A green and grey striped rubberized linen curtain stopped the whole ward watching the sister as she prodded and probed me in my pain. The same grey and green curtain stopped me seeing where they took my baby.
I call her Betty. I don’t even know if my baby was a girl or a boy, but she has to have a name. What sort of a mother would let her baby go into the world without even a name? What do you take me for!
I wonder what colour her curtains are? Does she ruche them? Has she got her fella to put up a pelmet for her? I hope they keep her warm and safe.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

44 - Thanksgiving 1929

“Abigail, liebchen, don’t mess mommy around now. We got two days to sort our Thanksgiving shopping, and now papa is a executive we gotta make an impression. You ain’t gonna see the parade if you don’t toe the line, missy!”
“Momma: I don’t want to go down that street by daddy’s store. I don’t like to see all those sad people.”
“Now you stop right away! I told you there ain’t no people like you said.”
“There are, mommy; they rain down on the sidewalk and on the automobiles.”
“Child, stop that talk I said. There are no people fallin’ out of the sky. ’Himmel: you got such dreaming of bad dreams in you I’m outa my mind.”
Greta grabs her daughter and drags her round the block towards Macy’s.
“Tribune!” calls the vendor. “Stock crashes. Billions lost”
Greta screams as a sack of tomatoes explodes on the avenue in front of her. A sack with arms and legs awry.
“Mommy; it’s started,” sobs Abigail.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

43 - The Cooler

When I woke up this morning, I was not feeling blue; quite the opposite in fact, for I found it was true that I'm at my best early: that's when I am on fire ... I'm real hot! At least that's what I think but my wife she says definitely not - no good woman. Yes, I think I'm on fire but she puts out the flames that I got. She may be right. Oh you are, are you? Yes'm I'll put out the trash ... Okay, okay - anyone here know a cheap divorce lawyer? Yes, honey: cheap like me. So what're you doin' listenin' to my songs anyway, if you don' like 'em? Is that right? Well look ...

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

42 - Street Life (2)

Meg sighs, retrieving the invitation from the floor. “BBQ Friday: Dress to Impress,” it orders. Sadly, her acned legs have defeated the Ladyshave and mum Eve has run out of Immac.
“I bet that cow Sylvie’s on the counter at Boots. No way am I going to let her have a laugh.”
Meg rummages further through the bathroom cabinet and then lights upon the wax candles on the side of the bath …

Monday, 25 June 2012

41 - At the Well

From just below the rim of the well, to the deepest part of it, things lurk. You know … things. From time to time, Simon peeps over the edge to try and catch sight of them. He's doing so now.
There is a scurry of – of what? Of feet; claws; the clinging underbelly that slugs and snails have, but not puppy dogs’ tails? Simon peers; squints; focuses.
On better days, better for the enjoyment of the thingummy-watchets than for Simon’s , he’ll get caught up in a game of playing with the echo, and be puzzled at the odd reflections. Sometimes, utter silence is all that comes back from the well.
“Heheheheh-lowww; heh-lolololololow!”
The – what should we call them, other than things? – the oh, thingys, seem to share an enjoyment of his struggles. There is something like glee in their demeanour as they contemplate his … the thing nearest the edge backs away a little in fear of its name … his whatchamacallit, the thing trembling a little now … the ... humiliation: yes, Simon says 'humiliation'.
There is a soft ‘bing’ as ‘humiliation’ rises to the surface and bursts somewhere inside Simon’s head.
“That’s the word: gotcha, you little beggar,” and Simon turns back to his laptop.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

40 - Discontent

‘Christ, this is boring.’ For the last two days, Gail had been cursing the bright spark who’d applied for the grant that brought them to a dowdy community centre on the outskirts of Swindon. As a production assistant, she’d been conned into recording the auditions. So far, they’d been uniformly bad.
Then Ben walked in, announced his name to camera, and strutted across to the panel. As he turned the seat in front of them round, his phone went. Gail looked at the ceiling, and the panel met each other’s gazes with irritation. But before the director could turn on his best irony to advise him that his phone would be better turned off, Ben looked at them all with a broad grin and a nod to the display.
“Now is the winter of our discontent …”
Gail choked back a laugh; that corny audition piece. The panel barely stifled a collective yawn.
“… made glorious summer by this sun of York; and all the clouds that lour’d upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”
Yet his victorious wreath bound their brows, and he flipped the phone to show them some grim-visage hoodie. He was self-assured enough to get up and stroll around, miming lewd shadow-play in the light from Gail’s camcorder. Gail nearly wet herself as he bent to whisper in old tweed-knickers’ ear about hating idle pleasures; did she imagine it, or did he really waggle his tongue at her?
“We’ll let you know” said the director, after Ben’s thoughts had dived down to his soul.
Ben caught Gail’s eye as he left the room, as if to ask her ‘secretly … alone?'
'Balls of brass,' she thought: 'should go far in the theatre.'

Saturday, 23 June 2012

39 - Old Fashioned

The bulkheads of the ferry are what passes for mahogany, though probably stained pine, and the surfaces are mostly formica. The brass-furnished doors to the toilets start six pre-metric inches above the deck, for disabled access isn’t an agenda item at the steam packet company’s board meetings.
Inside the toilets, which most of the crew cling to calling ‘the heads’, Daniel faces the wood-framed mirror and shaves his chin of its adolescent fluff. The ship lurches; the razor takes 1/32nd of skin away with it.
When Daniel re-joins the family to start the descent to the vehicle deck and the waiting coach, he is clean-shaven. He chin is spotted with blood-stained flecks of Izal toilet paper, but he is clean shaven. One has standards.

Friday, 22 June 2012

38 - Chicken Run

Fi munched on her toast as she drove the Landy up the track. It was 5.30 and her girls would need letting out.
The night before, Ben had called her out of the farmhouse to see the light travelling north to south over the valley, but she hadn’t made it in time. She’d suggested it was another bloody lantern let go by some townie on the brow of the old fort, and railed against further vet’s bills if another cow got wire in her gullet.
‘Irresponsible gits’ she thought as she pulled up beside the ark. All looked okay along the fence-line; no tell-tale signs of foxy getting in. The silo was three-quarters’ full, and the wind turbine turned freely, keeping the power on.
Opening the outer doors, she saw the neatly stacked egg-boxes by the picker armature. All system lights were running, and the background hum confirmed the machinery was okay.
Except …
‘Imagination, girl,’ she thought. Only …
‘Why aren’t they making any noise?’
Opening the inner door, Fi became the focus of two thousand hens’ eyes. All of them looking, and none of them moving with their usual curiosity. It was as if …
‘You're losing it; get a grip.’
The door slid silently shut behind her, and two thousand hens’ eyes blinked as one.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

37 - Payback

Zaz’s probation officer Pete got Zaz himself to ring Phyllis’s doorbell, seeing it as Zaz ‘taking ownership’ for his actions. There was no immediate reply.
“She's out,” said Zaz, but Pete impressed the need for patience; not one of Zaz’s stronger qualities, Pete thought. Zaz reached for the bell once more, just as it opened a chain’s length.
“I don’t want to buy anything!” said Phyllis.
Pete nodded to Zaz.
“We’re not sellin’ anything Mrs: I’m Zaz. Social Services wanted me to come and apologize.”
“You! You’re the little bastard who’s been making all that racket, then.”
“We weren’t making any noise …”
“Zaz is here to say sorry Mrs Wardle and to hear about how you feel about what he did. I’m Pete Jepsom; may we come in?”
“Alright, but I can’t make you any tea with my arthritis, and my home help isn’t due until tonight.”
In the front room, Phyllis shifted a ginger tomcat from an antimacassared chair, and nodded toward the sofa for her guests. There was an awkward silence and meaningful gestures from Pete that eventually sunk into Zaz’s consciousness.
“We were only skating. We didn’t mean no harm.”
“I didn’t see any skates.”
“Skate boarding. I was grinding, and your wall’s gnarly.”
“I haven’t a clue what you’re on about young man.”
“What Zaz was saying was that he was sliding his skateboard along your wall because it’s really good practice.”
Pete raised an eyebrow as Zaz broke the awkward silence that followed.
“So you lived here long, Mrs?”
“I was born here: 1929. When I was your age I was evacuated to Minehead to avoid the bombing. My mother was having a baby, so our Libby stayed with her and I was loaded on a train at Temple Meads and sent off.”
“I’ve been to Minehead. Maggie got some vouchers in The Sun and we went to Butlins.”
“I didn’t go on holiday, you know. I was sent to live with some strangers who didn’t feed me and I ended up with rickets and the Red Cross told my mother who came and took me home. Only when we got home nothing was the same. Dad was killed by a bomb in the yards while shunting coal trains, and mum’s baby was still-born. You know why the wall looks like it does? The railings were all taken away ‘for the war effort’, which likely meant Bert Harris got his pockets lined at our expense, and nothing was the same in this house afterwards.”
“I haven’t got a mum. Maggie does her best, but she’s not my real mum: she left me at Frenchay just after I was born.”
“Oh you poor chap.”
“You being funny with me?”
“No, no; but here am I going on about a silly wall and its missing railings, and you with no mum and all.”
“Maggie’s okay.”
“Tell you what; maybe you could help me make Mr Jepsom here a cup of tea. My hands aren’t very good at holding teaspoons and such.”
“Okay, Mrs.”
“Call me Phyllis, dear.”
Pete ticked a couple of boxes on his check-sheet and wondered why every day couldn’t be like this.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

36 - Spiritual Direction

I don’t intend this to be a ghost story but some things just run their own course, as maybe this will too. I always meant to spend my spare time putting down something of the feel of this place; the spiritual discoveries that had begun in these flimsy walls. Yet as I sit here writing, that all seems so much past history.
Here in my canvas chair I look up from the card table that has served so well as an altar but is presently my desk. It is a late summer evening and, far across the Severn, house lights break through the mist lying over the river. It is a silent scene, but a fleeting glimpse of the silhouette of an owl and its small prey show it to be a living landscape.
And then she is there, that anxious soul that drives me from contemplating spirituality to pondering the spirit world. She cups her hands to see into my sanctuary, her face up against the window not two feet from where I sit, yet she does not see. What is she looking for, and what would she do if she found it?
She’s gone again, quickly, as she often is. She just turned and moved hurriedly off, as if not finding what she was looking for was more painful than finding it.
A newspaper sits discarded on the other chair and some columnist declares that ‘of course few real ghosts have any purpose’. I wonder. You see, my recent visitor seems quite purposeful indeed. That I fail to understand makes her no less purposeful, or purposive. She is very real, and so too her anxiety seems to be.
Here over many years I have had visitors rather more substantial than she. They have come to me to unburden themselves. No, not all: some have come to me because having a spiritual director was, like having a personal trainer, something of use in times of otherwise arid conversation. Most, however, have come with their bleeding hearts in the hope that I might stem the bleeding. And some, a very few, have realized that healing has little to do with patching a wound and everything to do with accepting things as they are.
A yearning, a deep hunger, brought so many to me before: perhaps she has such a yearning that has survived the grave? She came to me first some little time ago: I’m so vague about time. Time, after all, can have such little meaning in a place like this. I’ve sat alone in this summer house for hours that have passed like minutes, and in the company of some who’ve made minutes pass like hours. No, not all: some have brought a Christ-like serenity with them that has reminded me why I listen.
Some, a very few, have sat here with me in the silence: two pairs of hungry eyes looking across the valley, beyond the trees and the tops of the rugby posts, to some far off vision of Jerusalem. How much we’ve shared in utter silence and how wonderfully God has spoken to us at such times of what was, what is, and what will be.
Was she one of them? Her face seems familiar, as if I’ve known her so long and then been away from her just enough to forget. Did I know her name? How did we spend our time together? Was she then as anguished as now she is when she comes to glance in at my haven? Will those slightly reddened eyes, just holding back the tears, glow brightly when she finds the object of her search?
So many have sat here next to me, perhaps with an open Bible on their lap, or perhaps a letter hanging from their fingers, but with eyes such as hers. My own fear lay in the listening. Wiser counsel than mine wrote once: “you know what your God-given gifts are, because they frighten you”. I have never grown to understand why people would unburden to me so readily, and how readily I could reply or hold on to my thoughts as best fit the circumstances. Fear has kept me grounded in my Christian purpose; service.
She doesn’t frighten me. Once she came in the afternoon. She didn’t see me then – she never does. She stood in front of the summer house, her back to my seat, and stared longingly across the valley. She seemed to catch the scent of the lavender. She stooped to take it in the better, then turned, startled by something. She looked as if she might have been caught out in her reverie: as if, lost in wondrous daydreams, she’d suddenly realized she was being watched. If she’d only reached and touched the glass, I could have matched my fingertips against hers, we were that close. Were we so close?
Where I sit has served many as a confessional, and I confess I have not readily listened to all that came. Among the deeply spiritual have been the few with many miles to travel before ‘shallow’ is a fitting term. Perhaps you think me cynical, yet I have seen the shallow run deep in a moment. That lurch backwards as if some unseen being has smashed a fist into them, as an understanding hits them, is a very real thing and a wonder to witness.
Self-doubt and arrogance; hurt and spite; sexuality and androgyny all present themselves in one burdened soul. Each visitor brings his or her heady mix of what society has told them they are, yet they come bereft of a notion of what God is calling them, and what God is calling them to be. Still the eyes, perhaps clouded with tears, perhaps closed in anger, stare out across the chasm before them.
Silence is the great communication: perhaps she understands that. Her anxiety is not for voicing; there’s no need when those eyes scream it aloud. Yet to whom do they scream? Who will listen and answer and restore hope?
I finish with a prayer, and in that prayer hope to encapsulate all that has passed between us, my visitors and me. They may respond: it scarcely matters. We have a shared vision, we three: my visitor, me, and a very palpable God. Our journey is like the view over the low garden wall so in need of attention, across an often misty valley to that far-away glorious horizon, and each in our own way has covered that journey in our conversation and dreams. How we have scaled that wall to run or roll happily down the grassy hill. What ingenuity we have shown in crossing that strong and mighty river. How wonderful it is now to stand atop the hills and declare ourselves to Him who made them.
Once she came and lay flowers at the door. She made no attempt to enter – surely, if she could carry flowers, she could turn that little handle and enter this quiet place? For she did carry flowers: I could pick them up and smell them and see every petal, every leaf vein. Had I a mirror, no doubt I could have seen the pollen sticking to my incredulous nose. Why didn’t she walk in and unburden herself as so many others have done?
There is no pattern to those that come here for spiritual direction, no ‘type’. They come in their own ways fashioned in God’s likeness, such frailty, such humanity. The vastness of their situation looms about them, their smallness accentuated. She has that same frail, human existence, my sad-eyed visitor. She stoops under untold burdens, but the chains hold them fast to her. How will they be loosened, and her worries fall away?
I lay the posy on the table, restored to its former use as altar, yet in need of a sacrifice. He who shed his blood once, for many, is here. The banquet is ready.
She returns, sad as ever, but not alone. He is with her, in human form but Him nonetheless. He too is troubled, glancing in. He seeks strength from within as well as from within his prayer book. I can hear the words before he utters them: I feel them.
“Our Father in Heaven”, the Father who even now is standing on the distant horizon, beckoning. “Hallowed be your name”, we say together, for how can I resist this call of union? “Your Kingdom come” and I see beyond them now that slope, that pure and silvery ribbon between here and that blessed place…
“Amen”, they say, and her tears come at last. He kisses his plain white stole, and then leans towards her. “I think Mark’s at peace, now, if it was him. Let’s light a candle inside, and clear away his notebook and that old paper. Then perhaps you and I could sit a while as he and I used to when I came here for guidance?”
She sees the posy on the notebook and, amid the tears, smiles once more and in they step.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

35 - Writers' Block

Derek pulled Jasper and Katie to the front.
“No good skulking back there. You need to be noticed.”
The ‘Fs’ done, he turned to the ‘Gs’. Whiling away the time, he stumbled upon the notion that adjacent surnames, or a surname with first-name use and a first-name with surname connotations might be the genesis of a new author’s name. So he began to let his imagination create more writers: Graham Greene, done already; Henry Irving too; Ivor James, perhaps too Welsh; Joyce King, a bit too bodice-ripping; Koestler Lawrence altogether too cerebral for his own good. And so on to the ‘Ms’.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake.”
Careless browsers, Derek endured. He could even forgive the short-sighted for rather more erroneous replacement of books in the Large Print section than they were actually guilty of; but as for wholesale misplaced surnames. Sighing, muttering, Derek took Alexander in his arms and moved him from ‘Mc’ to his rightful if overpopulated position among the rest of the ‘Smiths’.

Monday, 18 June 2012

34 - Mum

"Anything I can do?"
"Lay the table."
"Done. Anything I can do in here, like peel some spuds?"
"No: everything's under control."
"Some washing up, then."
"I don't need any help."
"Okay, okay! I only asked."
Clare stares at the hob and wonders why her mum couldn't have bequeathed her something useful like her Hotpot recipe instead of a short fuse. She sighs.
"How about opening the wine, and sitting with me while I finish the cooking?"

Sunday, 17 June 2012

33 - Bedtime Story

Once upon a bedtime there was a small person living in a big house. When mummy wanted him to be fast asleep, he was often slow awake. And when he was slow awake, he listened …
… and sometimes …
… he heard things …
…. and some of the things small person heard puzzled him.
“John, put the cat out!” he heard his mummy call.
Why did daddy have to put Benji out? Did something need protecting from Benji?
Or … did Benji need protecting from … something?
Small person pulled the sheets up over his head, and fell asleep.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

32 - Leaving the Nest

“S’mae? Er … hel-lo.”
“I’m not deaf.”
“Oh … hi … mmm … er, are you going to come out and let us see you, then?”
“Only, we thought you might be getting a bit peckish, cariad.”
“I’m not, and my name’s not Carrie anything; it’s Rita.”
“Rita, now; lovely. You sure you’re not hungry? We got some hare for supper, like, and I’m sure it’ll stretch three ways.”
“Hare? Gross!”
“Well, there’s some lamb, perhaps. Yes, I’m sure Megan can rustle up a bit o’ lamb, couldn’t you dear? She says yes, only it’ll take a little longer see, because well of course we weren’t expecting you.”
“Didn’t want to come here in the first place anyway.”
“Well, I can see someone ruffled your feathers alright.”
“Two days I’ve been in this.”
“Well then, all the more reason to come and say hello, isn’t it; stretch your wings a little.”
“Where the hell am I?”
“Glyn Ceiriog. Er. That’s Wales. We’re just west of …”
“I know were Wales is, I’m not stupid. I just didn’t book it like a holiday or something, did I? I wasn’t expecting it either; I want to go home.”
“Ah, well … erm … the thing is, only I don’t think they ever take anyone back home. This is your home now. My own mam came from Missenden way: had me shortly after she arrived, and two more broods after that. Come out and have a little fly around your new place a bit; I’m sure you’ll fit in just fine. There, that's lovely."

Friday, 15 June 2012

31 - Street Life

John on his frame is overtaken by Jennifer, dragging her son Sam to school. Sam hears Maria, putting flower-pots on the pavement outside her shop, tut at Brian impatiently beeping his car horn in his rush to get Edna to the day centre. Edna alone glances above street level and sees Meg’s head resting against her window, but not the unused razor blade on the sill or the abandoned letter on the floor.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

30 - Gestalt Shift

“Got any holidays planned?”
Dennis paused, drew breath, then: “No, not really.” Inevitably: “You?”
“Somewhere warm; somewhere not chosen by my husband.”
He thought a while, and though the meeting she was driving him to ought to have been his focus, she’d caught his interest by hinting at some unforgivable error on her husband’s part. She needed no bidding.
“Last time, he booked us into a cottage in the middle of nowhere in Ireland. He spent all day fishing, and me reading.”
Dennis narrowed his eyes.
“Was the weather bad?”
“It was blue sky horizon to horizon every day. I guess if it had been rainy he might’ve got fed up and we’d have abandoned it for somewhere better.”
Perhaps the cottage had been a bit basic?
“It was a lovely place, big and warm and airy. The kitchen was on the large side, and over-stocked if you ask me, but we ate out most evenings so that didn’t matter much.”
“What were the people like?”
“Oh they were really friendly. They’d bend over backwards to help.”
“So … what exactly was wrong with the holiday?”
“It was at least 20 miles to the shops, and no big stores like you might get in a city.”
Shifting his briefing pack, Dennis found a scrap of paper.
“Whereabouts did you say this was?”

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

29 - Stage Management

“You’ve got to tell him.”
“You’re insane; no way am I going to tell him.”
“Tell him what?”
“Jim thinks I should tell the baritone about … well, you saw his performance.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It was obvious from where we were standing.”
“Stood out a mile!”
“Give over.”
“What am I missing?”
“He was enjoying himself a little too much. He was, well, proud of his performance. Oh for heaven’s sake, do I need to spell it out?”
“What Frank’s trying to say is that given Marco’s, er, persuasion, then having his character get stripped to his underpants in Act 2 and roughed up by some of the butcher members of the chorus wasn’t a bright move.”
“But this production has transferred from the Met: it’s how the story has been set, and that character has to be humiliated.”
“Well the only humiliation is going to be among the audience. This is the opera parents use to introduce their kids to the art, and they’re all going to end up trying to explain what that nice man has hidden in his pants.”
 “I agree with Jim, Frank; you’ve gotta tell him.”
 “Oh, thanks a bunch!”

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

28 - Birdsong

Do you think I don’t know how you watch me through your window, breathlessly holding your binoculars to your eyes? I know I’m only a distraction; titillation for you as I bathe; raise my children; make them. But tell me, voyeur, do you even know my name without looking me up in your contemptible little book; and if you do, do you use it as you boast of me to your friends? Do you even remember my colour, my size?
You assure everyone that you feed me on the finest money can buy; provide me with the most comfortable of homes. Yet what passes your understanding is that my own food was finer before you poisoned and pulled the flowers from your tidy, disinfected garden; my home was safest hidden in the hedgerow you uprooted for your larch-lap fence. My bathing, watcher, was fresher and oh so much more sensuous in the stream you culverted beneath your greenhouse on top of which your predatory tom sits in lounging readiness like its owner, as I queue behind the finches and siskin.
Did he make you a present of my husband, as he did my cousin? I bet he sat as self-satisfied as you do, licking his paws with congratulatory fervour to remove the stains of his character.

Monday, 11 June 2012

27 - Box

Why must they shape me, conform me to their thin, tepid idea of beauty? Upon my wild asymmetry they drape their drab cloak of geometry and fancy; even the name they call me by encloses and entraps.
Once I was free and, like all the Earthgivers’ creation, beautiful in my own self: a home and a shelter and a sign of Its glory. Now in my utility I mediate between herb and grass, and pantomime ape the forms of creatures they fear to meet in their gardens.
In clipped tones I sing only of lonely orderliness, where before I lullayed birds to sleep in my arms. And I die a little more at each approach of the clipper.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

26 - Town Hall Chair

The chair talks, perhaps disjointedly, often candidly, of achievements, loss, guilt, and guilty pleasures as the craftsman sitting an inviting shoulder away demonstrates his skills.
“May I?” the chair begs.
“I'm not sure if I've picked this idea up from someone else,” the chair admits coyly “or if I invented it myself. What do you think?”
“My wife fell out of bed and I asked a neighbour to help get back her back in but she said we couldn't, she’d broken her hip, so call for an ambulance, and now she's in a care home. Dementia.”
“I put my dog into kennels to be able to get here this weekend. Silly how you miss them, isn't it?”
“Of course I've plenty of room in the house for hobbies: no-one needs the visitors’ room nowadays.”
The chair offers tips, opines disappointingly on the craftsman’s competence, yet always seeks an audience; a listening ear. How many more stories will the chair choose to tell before the craftsman packs for home?

Friday, 8 June 2012

25 - Energy

Time slows perceptibly, measurably. Julie’s right eyelid is closing just ahead of the left as her head rocks forward in a sneeze. Dick’s pencil bounces lazily off his top dentures in the freeze-frame waggle between his teeth, the sound a dull ‘tap … tap …’ Paul seems to be drawing gently on a longbow, instead of the nylon rod with which he is removing a sample from the inspection hole in the reactor casing. Marta’s mascaraed eyes begin to balloon as milliseconds ahead of the others she perceives what is wrong.
There is in this aching drawn-out world something awry, something missing, something snuffed out of consciousness. It has been there all the time thus far and their ears have grown weary of listening, but now its absence is dawning in four arresting hearts; four adrenalin floodgates are about to be opened in a dash for cover.
The steady background tick of the failsafe radiation monitor has stopped.

24 - Once upon a time ...

Practice perfect, they slipped off the car seats and out of their costumes before grasping hands and running, laughing, dripping the years they away crossed the low dunes to the breaking Aegean surf of their youth. Shedding wrinkles with inhibition, they plunged rolling through the rollers and his now strong arms wrapped easily around the trim girlish waist as their eyes met and blinked and loved.
“Hello, my queen” he murmured.
The close-protection officer, frowning, looked away.
“Nurse: I think he’s waking up.”

Thursday, 7 June 2012

23 - When Sally Met Harry

Harry's handmade shoes felt light upon his feet, close-fitting but with breathing space for comfort. Sharply pressed trousers and jacket with zippered inner pocket to protect his wallet, credit cards, and smart phone, sent out signals of reasonable wealth. Closely shaved, he showed all the signs of the very best of male grooming products, closed eyes betraying to-die-for eyelashes that had some women almost fainting upon meeting him.

Sally did faint when she met him, his eyes still closed. The phone contract and credit card debts adding a certain weight to his position, his suit hanging lopsidedly as if from the burden, and his handmade shoes unable quite to touch the earth beneath his swaying, hanging, body.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

22 - Jubilee

After his enforced stay at a hostel, Josh is back on the streets again looking for change. "Spare some money, sir?" he asks, but the punter carries on. On a noticeboard in the hostel was a poster telling him that it was World Environment Day, but the celebrations this weekend have been more earthly and nationalistic. The council street cleaners are about, cleaning up after the merry-making, and they keep moving him on. Into their bins go bunting, flags, Union Jack hats, and red white and blue rain capes, mostly carrying the legend ‘Made in China’. Another passer-by passes by, avoiding Josh's stare and his plea. All Josh wants is some change.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

21 - Matching Ties

So I look like a waiter: I've had worse jobs. I just cannot match ties to shirts; even the fact that I want to match a tie to a shirt condemns me. I pick a nice striped tie in shades of purple and I want to wear it on a green candy-striped shirt. It doesn't work, so I try a plainer tie. When that doesn't work, I try a different shirt. When all else fails I try to shop in a store where a trained person has already matched some clothes on mannequins, only to find that they haven't got my collar size.

It just leads to rage, impotence, frustration that I cannot do such a simple thing as co-ordinate the things I wear. Can you imagine how much worse I feel as a writer unable to use metaphor?

Monday, 4 June 2012

20 - Promises

Good friend that you are, I see the pity, the ‘I told you’ look, in your eyes. But his promise meant more than any contract, and I freely endowed him my body, my worldly goods, my health; yes, even my health. When others wouldn’t help him, I signed away my sense for the sight of that smile, the feel of that touch, the dream. And we shared such laughter, such fun, such a child as needed us both and now has neither.
I don’t even have his name to betray: it is mine the bailiffs seek out; mine the social services condemn. He is safe in my memories and you will not carry him off like you did our son.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

19 - The Elephant in the Room

"The family were good about it."

"Not your Harry: he commented."

"Oh, that's just him."

"'Awful smell,' he said. 'Why do you put up with it?'"

"He's one to talk; you can smell his beery breath streets away."

"'Not enough room to sit properly, either,' he said. Talks rubbish does your 'Arry, but he wasn't wrong there, was he?"

"I don't care what they say, she's not going back to that zoo."

Saturday, 2 June 2012

18 - Authority Figure

“I think you should drop ‘The Phone’.
“I’m just not sure where it’s going as a story; I think readers will be confused.”
“Yes I can see there’s conflict there, but I’m left thinking: ‘So what?’ A guest asks to use the house phone; the waiter checks with the manager; the manager refuses; the waiter lets the guest use it anyway; the manager balls him out. Yes, there’s conflict, I just don’t see that it’s worth telling.”
“So what, that the waiter is putting the guest first? The manager is thinking of cost, precedent, whatever, and I can see many readers agreeing with him and not the waiter.”
“Okay, it’s autobiographical, but why should we be interested in a minor incident from a time when so much else must have been going on in your life? I mean, we get no sense that this story is happening in Snowdonia: where’s the sense of place? There must be so much more you could tell, of innocence lost or something.”
How is it that this is about innocence lost?”
“But that’s a different story. The way you’ve written it, your older self’s less challenging relationship to authority isn’t explored at all. There’s no hint of regret or admiration for the younger ‘you’. Don’t you see how it’s all wrong?”

Friday, 1 June 2012

17 - Fame

Oh good grief not that photograph again. That bloody chair caused me such grief with Peter who knew Jacobsen who’d designed it, and he called me all sorts of names, well beyond the fringe dear. I was the odd-jobs-man in the place, fixing the stages on the bottom two floors, and with Morley renting the studio floor I picked up his odd jobs as well. Some legal types, about as legal as Ronnie and Reggie if you ask me, were up from the film company and said he couldn’t use the chair because we’d get sued, what with Profumo blowing up around her, so one of them calls me over to cut a hole in a twenty-three guinea chair for heavens sake.

Of course these were the same hoods who insisted she stripped for the shoot, telling her it was in her contract, and she did it poor cow. Jacobsen was really sweet about it and insisted we all leave them in peace, me dripping sawdust all over the place in my hurry to get away from Tweedledum and Tweedledee. He told me afterwards that only eleven shots came out on one roll, and being in enough trouble I wasn’t about to mention the sawdust I'd got on his camera.

Not very happy memories, that photograph. Not at all. Didn't even get to keep the damned chair!