Tuesday 21 September 2010

A Fond Farewell (Espresso)

I love you, Cindy.
I’ve loved from the first day I saw you. Not the day we met; I’d seen you before that, many times.
I first saw you in the town. You were sitting with friends laughing about some TV show you had all seen. You had tears running down your face; it must have been a funny show.
I don’t know what it was that first grabbed my attention, your hair maybe; short and dark, cut high, showing off your beautiful neck to perfection. Maybe it was the sound of your voice, or that soft, almost musical laugh. It’s hard to remember after all these years. I do remember you turning to speak to your friend though, that’s when I saw your face for the first time. Brown eyes, deep enough to drown in, a perfect nose and soft, rose petal lips. I caught my breath and lost my heart in an instant.
I saw you many times over the next few weeks, I made sure I did. You didn’t see me though; I made sure of that too. I always had a newspaper or a book to hide behind, I even bought reading glasses and a hat, so I could get as close to you as I could without you being aware. I got a job in the bar where you used to go. I went everywhere with you, protected by a crowd of students, a face in the crowd, but one you never picked out. That was a long summer, Cindy; I got to know a lot about you by the end of it.
Before I even got to speak to you I had a good idea of your musical tastes, your fashion sense and your politics. I knew where you lived where you shopped and even how long your male visitors stayed after a night out. In another life I could have been a spy.
We finally did meet the day you lost your bag in the college library. I found it under my chair, remember that? You were so grateful that nothing was missing. You had your bus pass and the keys to your apartment in that bag, so it could have been quite serious.
I never told you, Cindy, but I hid it there, I was so desperate to speak to you. It wasn’t just infatuation; it was much more than that. I was already in love, I was your slave, I would have done anything to make you mine. I offered my soul to the devil in exchange for your heart and he obliged. It was a good job the offer was of enough value to him, I had nothing else.
Remember those early days? I couldn't keep away; I once slept in the passage outside your door because you had mentioned that some kids had been causing trouble in the flats. That was a cold night. I had to be at work the next morning, so I left at 7 am. I don’t think I’d do that again, Cindy, much as I love you. My neck ached for days afterwards. I caught a cold too.
How far did your flatmates go in trying to put you off me, Cindy? I know that Janie and Cynth didn’t think I was your type. They made that pretty obvious whenever I came round. They used to lie sometimes when I rang and tell me you were busy when you weren’t. They were always trying to get you to go out with them if they knew we had a date. Thankfully you saw through them and would have none of it. You knew we were soul mates.
Your mother didn't like me much either did she? Still doesn't. I don't know what I did to make her hate me so much. Did she ever tell you? I tried my best with her. I was polite and respectful in the extreme; I even used to stand up when she came into the room. None of it was enough to sway her opinion though.
It’s such a shame I never got to meet your dad. I think we'd have got on just fine; he might even have put in a good word with your mother for me.
He liked a beer, just as I do. Maybe if I’d have gone out with him now and then, he might not have drunk quite so much. My heart bled for you when he died, Cindy, your mother was very bitter about it all. But maybe she was the cause of his problem in the first place.
My mother loved you, Cindy, though you never took to her did you? Yes I know she was a little protective, but I am her only son and a mother has to look after her young. If she seemed overly critical it was only because she wanted the best for me; us.
Where did it go wrong, Cindy? Was it my job? I know there were long hours, I know I was away a lot but I made good money. It meant you could stay home and write your stories; they were good stories, Cindy. Those editors shouldn't have been in their jobs, even I can tell a good yarn when I read one and they were good. I wanted to publish them for you, would have if I could.
I’ve spent many an unhappy hour trying to work out where and why we began to drift apart, but I’m no closer to an answer. We were good together in the old days, we didn't need anyone else. We talked for hours, fixed the world, laid out our plans and our dreams, even our fantasies. I was shocked by some of yours, Cindy; though it looks like you were determined to fulfil a lot of them.
Why so many men, Cindy? I knew a good while back I wasn't enough for you, so I got out of the way when I could. My mother never understood why I needed to stay over as often as I did, or why I didn’t bring you round with me. She told me that I was a fool to let you out on your own all the time. You were never home when she rang and my lame excuses got lamer as time went on.
She called you a whore; I told her she was wrong. I said you had needs that I couldn't help you with; she said you should go on the street with those needs, at least you'd have bought some money in to help.
I didn’t agree with my mother all the time, Cindy.
Maybe it would all have been different if we had managed to have kids. My mother was desperate to be a Grandmother. I think even your mother may have mellowed had we produced a grandchild for her. It wasn’t to be though, something to do with your ovaries. They all knew it was nothing to do with my body, but your mother blamed me anyway.
I’d give anything to make love to you one last time, Cindy; but that’s not possible now, you being dead and all. I’d have loved to have taken you to our wood by the river one last time. It’s autumn again, I could have laid you down in the fallen leaves; it was my favourite place, our special place. Did you ever take anyone else there, Cindy? I hope not, that wouldn’t have been right.
I’ll have let you lie alone for a while, Cindy; I’ve got a cramp in my arm now. Maybe that’s a good thing as I won’t feel the hypodermic when I use it. I’ll take the same amount I gave to you; it worked pretty quickly. You seemed to be having trouble finding a vein; I guess that’s what happens when you do it as often as you did.
I never begrudged you the money for the drugs, Cindy; I knew that you needed them to get by. I didn’t like the people you had to mix with to get the stuff though. Some of them should have been in jail.
I was robbed more than once buying it for you myself. You weren’t happy when I came back empty handed, but when I did, that guy Rodrigo always came through. You seemed very close to him; he didn’t smile much did he? Did you know he ran prostitutes? I only found out the other day; it was in the papers, they arrested him for it.
It’s getting dark now, Cindy, I guess it’s almost time to say goodbye. I’ve left a note for my mother, but not for yours. I have nothing to say to her. What could I say? I’ve never done anything right in her eyes and I don’t expect her to approve of this either.
I’ll say a prayer for you, Cindy and one for me. I think God will understand why I did it. I’ll put in a word for you when I get to heaven. I’m sure they’ll let you off with a warning or something. You were never a bad person; you might even get to see your Dad. I doubt your mother will ever be allowed in though. There are limits, even in heaven.
I’m going to use a new hypodermic when I have mine, Cindy, It’s wrong to share needles.
Goodbye for now.
I love you, Cindy.
Tracy's Hot Mail, the paperback, coming soon from BigBadMedia http://www.bigbadmedia.com

Tracy's Hot Mail, the new eBook from T A Belshaw
read a sample or download from Ma2Books. http://ma2books.webplus.net/tracyshotmail.html

Thursday 16 September 2010

Goodbye Melissa (Espresso)

By Trevor Belshaw
Harris sat hunched over the table, his damp grey hair sticking to his forehead. It was hot in the room; it had been a hot summer.
A single tear meandered down his cheek, he wiped it away with the back of his hand, winced, then cursed his injured knee as he forced himself out of the chair and made his painful way across the timbered floor, to the fridge.
Gritting his teeth he pulled out a cold beer and rolled the bottle up his bare arm to test the temperature. Satisfied, he removed the cap and wandered through the open door to the veranda. He sipped slowly at the beer, deep in thought. He was aroused by the sound of a car driving across gravel; a voice came from the darkness.
‘Is there one of those things going spare?’
‘Drinking and driving? and you a police officer; what sort of example is that Steve?’
Harris went back to the fridge, pulled out a beer and handed it to the uniformed officer.
Steve drank half in one pull, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
‘So, is the deed done?’
‘Yes, it’s done, I killed her, no going back this time.’
‘She had it coming.’
‘I know, Steve, but it was hard to let go.’
The policeman patted Harris on the shoulder, finished his beer and walked through to the kitchen to get another. He picked up two, flipped the tops and walked back to the veranda, placed a bottle at his friend’s feet and sat on the top step.
‘I have to ask this, how did you do it?’
‘I gave her a heroin overdose, her drug of choice. She died with a smile; I think she was ready for the release.’
The officer, sat quietly for a while, then shook his head.
‘Hell of a way for a young girl to die, how old was she? Twenty-two, Twenty-three?’
‘Twenty-three, though she looked forty in the end.’
‘That’s what happens when you get mixed up with drugs.’
Harris placed the empty bottle at his feet and picked up the refill.
‘Where did you put the body? I have to know.’
Harris was reluctant.
‘Come on man, I know everything else, what’s the point in holding back now?’
Harris sighed.
‘She’s in the woods, not far from the cabin...’
Steve walked over to his friend and squatted in front of the distraught man.
‘You did the right thing. It was over; there was no future for her. It’s time to move on.’
Harris nodded.
‘I know, I know. It’s just so... so final.’
The cop stood, thought about more beer but decided against it.
‘Better get this over with.’
Harris walked back to his desk, picked up two large manila envelopes from the table and handed them reluctantly to the policeman.
‘It’s all there, my dastardly confession, every detail, typed double spaced, two copies; signed.’
Steve smiled.
'Thanks for the spare copy, I'm really looking forward to reading it. I’ll make sure the other one gets to the post office first thing tomorrow. Secure post to the publisher. Have you decided on a new character for the next book yet?’
Harris nodded.
‘The next book will be about a cop, a cop who is out to destroy the filth that corrupts the innocent.’
Harris waited until he heard the car drive off. Then he fired up the computer. Within five minutes he was deep into the second paragraph. He hit the keys hard as he typed, this one was for Melissa.
Tracy's Hot Mail, the paperback, coming soon from BigBadMedia http://www.bigbadmedia.com

Tracy's Hot Mail, the new eBook from T A Belshaw
read a sample or download from Ma2Books. http://ma2books.webplus.net/tracyshotmail.html

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Father Ghost (Black Americano)

By Emma Lee
I looked at the letter, stupefied. Milan, who’d met me on the way home from work, must’ve picked up my reaction. He came behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist.
‘It was in the post. It’s not a bomb,’ his words caressed my throat.
‘It’s mum’s writing,’ I splutter.
‘But she died on Saturday...’ He pulls me closer. ‘She must’ve posted it on Friday, before...’
I reach for it and stop. ‘Later,’ I mutter.
I remember the phone call from my mother’s neighbour, her voice hurried, panicky. At first all she could say was my name, ‘Katia,’ over and over. Mum hadn’t collected her post. The police had broken in. Accidental overdose: no suicide note has been found but there was an empty bottle of painkillers. No mention of her other medication so she probably got rid of the packaging and transferred the pills to the painkiller bottle. She’d wanted a tidy ending: no lingering into old age and ill health for her. She’d have hated the thought of being a burden. But that was how she saw it. Not how I saw it. She wasn’t easy but she wasn’t a burden.
‘Does your father know?’ he asks with the casualness of someone brought up in a two parent family.
I shook my head. ‘She called him Ghost. No one knows who he was.’ In my class only five children had two parents. We were all the first to be born after the war. At sixteen, I’d left to find work. My mother’s work as seamstress was held in high regard but regard and low pay, often in kind, doesn’t put enough food on the table. It was selfish asking her to continue to struggle just to keep me in education. I didn’t send money: she wouldn’t accept it. But I did send gifts, a sweater, a pair of shoes, a new coat and insisted on paying the heating bills. She felt the cold.
Milan shuffles off to warm up the stew I made yesterday. Usually I tease him about it: he’s a city boy whose mother did everything for him. My mother taught me to cook as soon as I could stand. Play dough and dumplings to start with, then more simple stuff and eventually I found myself doing all the cooking. I didn’t mind, I enjoyed it. My mother wanted me to be independent, ‘in case anything happens, Katia.’ I knew if anything happened to her, we were on our own.
‘It’s not the same without your dumplings,’ he mock complains.
I join him at our table, a small counter wedged against the wall in a tiny kitchen. It’s a tiny apartment but affordable on my wages. Milan wants us to find somewhere a bit bigger, using our combined wages. I tell him he has to learn how to clean and iron first. I’m not his mother.
‘Working tomorrow?’ he asks.
‘Depends how I feel. I’d like to go but don’t want to cry in front of everyone.’
He nods.
He can’t tell I’m lying. I’ve already decided I won’t go. I’ve been allowed a couple of days’ leave.
After eating, he kisses me goodbye.

The bus drops me in the middle of the village. As I approach mum’s house, I feel uneasy. There’s nothing to suggest there was a death here, at least not an unnatural death. I look at the house. Squat, two storeys that still looks as if the neighbouring houses are somehow holding it up. Window frames and door well-maintained. Mum always did paint the woodwork regularly. But something’s out of place.
It’s not until I open the door, lock it closed behind me and see sunlight catching dust motes that I realise the curtains are drawn. Mum never drew the curtains, always did her sewing in gloomy, dim artificial light. I’d tell her she’d strain her eyes but she’d laugh and joke that she’d never live long enough for that to be a problem.
I lay my handbag and key down on the small shelf in the hall, the sounds muffled by an embroidered runner. I run my finger over a satin-stitched petal. Then dart upstairs. My room was on the left. I open the door. The room’s bare. I draw the curtains which are thin enough to let in plenty of light. I drop to the floor.
This is where my bed was. Opposite there used to be a wardrobe with a small table next to it. The table used to have a small tablecloth with embroidered cats on. The room’s been repainted, but the nail that mum hung my first sampler on is still there. It was agony, so many unpickings and re-stitchings and a blood stain from pin-prick I thought would never come out. Then mum washed it and stretched it into a frame and I cried again: it had all been worth it. She’d sold the furniture but I didn’t believe she would have sold the sampler so it must still be here somewhere.
I go into her room. First thing I do is straighten the bedclothes, then half-close the curtains. It doesn’t look right with the light flooding in. I open her wardrobe. Maybe half a dozen dresses hang over two pairs of shoes and the holdall I’m looking for. I can smell the mothballs I can’t see stuck on the shelf, hidden behind a pile of sweaters. None of them will fit me. I put the holdall on the bed and look in.
There it is. She probably sold the frame, but the sampler’s carefully wrapped in a patchworked bedcover and rolled into the holdall. I wrap it up again and return it. Then I pick up the small tablecloth from her bedside table and fold that into the holdall. I leave her bed. I never could get on with it. The mattress over-stuffed and too soft, suffocating layers of blankets but mum complained of being cold at night. Cold, tired and careworn. If I woke at night I could sometimes catch the sound of her sobs. But she’d push me away if I went to her. Her little ray of sunshine shouldn’t know about such things. It would ruin me she said.
I go back downstairs, still carrying the holdall. She’d put her sewing machine under its cover as she always did. There were piles of cloth around the room, which I didn’t disturb. Her customers could collect them when I felt ready to deal with it. The sewing machine’s safe enough where it is, but I tease out the tablecloth from under it. How she never got the tablecloth caught amongst the sewing I’d never know.
It’s the kitchen that finishes me. I sink onto the cushioned wooden bench behind the table, ball up the tablecloth into a pillow and let the tears finally come.
This is where we lived. Where we ate, where I did my homework, where she told me fairy stories. Where I’d embroider or finish buttonholes by hand, freeing her up to start the next job on the machine.
On the rare occasions she’d managed to find some plum brandy and drunk one too many, she’d let things slip. She mumbled about me kicking her into being. She’d come back here after the war, numbed, walking dead. But she was pregnant. She disbelieved at first but I kicked and fidgeted and kicked. She’d pretend I was a changeling. I was so light and blonde where she was swarthy. I was an easy baby, apparently, full of gurgles and giggles and grew into an easy child. That must have been the brandy talking.
I never found out my father’s name. He was always spoken of as Ghost. I had her surname. She never wore a wedding ring. I’d assumed she’d sold it. But now I suspect I she never had one.
I splash cold water over my face. I’m tempted to make a pot of tea, but already I need to think about getting back. I fold up the tablecloth and manage to squash in a couple of the cushions as well. The table looks bare and I’m amazed as its transformation from something welcoming and homely to something solid, hard and unforgiving.
The holdall’s bulky but light. I stuffed some sandwiches in my handbag before coming but I’ll eat them on the bus. I pick up the key and hesitate before unlocking the door again. The house belongs to neither of us now. After the funeral, I’ll clear it and sell it.
I still don’t feel ready to put the key in the lock. I listen.
The silence in the house is so loud it almost echoes. I don’t know why I think it, but the silence seems to suggest my father was never here.
I finally unlock the door. Firmly I lock it after me and walk to the bus stop without looking back.

Walking back to my apartment I notice a man on the other side of the street. He’s wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. He’s also blond and blue-eyed like me, but that’s not why I notice him.
It’s his nose. It’s upturned slightly at the end, just like mine. He raises his hand to his eyes to shield from the sun as he checks before crossing the street. His wedding band glints.
Back in my apartment I pick up my mum’s letter.
I hold it over the sink and set it alight, only dropping it as it threatens to burn my fingers. At least her death won’t be recorded as suicide. It won’t be recorded as murder, either, although it should be. But that assumes you can be murdered by a ghost.

Emma blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com and has had short stories published in magazines and anthologies including "Gentle Footprints" (Bridgehouse Publishing) and "Extended Play" (Elastic Press). Her novel "Bitter Fame" was published last year and she has a full-length poetry collection, "Yellow Torchlight and the Blues" from Original Plus.