Wednesday 26 October 2011

Vincent – A Fairytale

Rai Jayne
Caffe Mocha made with off milk.

Once upon a time, not too long ago on the top floor of a decaying tower block of flats in the murkiest corner of Manchester lived a shy and awkward girl named Vincent. Vincent would often stand at her window wishing she was outside somewhere far away. She didn’t like Manchester and Manchester didn’t like her. When she looked out of the window, as she often did, all she saw were gray buildings, rain clouds and pollution. Vincent didn’t like going outside but she didn’t much like staying in her damp little flat either and quite soon Vincent began to feel alone. She surrounded herself with plants but they always died after a couple of days no matter how well she took care of them. She began to think she was cursed.
One particularly murky and frosty morning in November, Vincent discovered a green-gray fuzz on her cheese and bread and the milk smelled sour. Vincent sat cross-legged on the floor staring into the fridge; its low hum soothed her. She knew she would have to venture outside and buy groceries and this thought filled her with despair. Eventually the light inside the fridge went out and she slammed the door closed in disgust. After wrapping a thick scarf around her neck, and half of her face, she began the decent down the urine-soaked concrete stairwell.
The supermarket was hell. Tall people rushed past her, most of them bumping into her in the process, they all had somewhere to be, someone to see. Vincent didn’t. She walked as slowly as she could up and down each aisle and taking her time to view each product in depth.
Danish Blue Cheese. A full flavoured blue cheese suitable for any occasion. 341 calories per 100g. Suitable for vegetarians. Use within 7 days of opening.
What occasion wouldn’t a cheese be suitable for? Regardless, Vincent dropped it into the basket feeling pleased with herself, she figured blue cheese was best as she probably wouldn’t notice when it had gone off. She collected the rest of her groceries, including a basil plant (easier to look after than other house plants), and headed out of the store.
Back in the tower block Vincent rid the fridge of its diseased contents and placed the new items inside. She smiled. The fridge was empty except for a block of blue cheese, a crusty loaf and a pint of milk. The basil plant! Vincent had forgotten about him, she spun around but he was already dead. She hadn’t the heart to put him in the bin so she gave Basil some water and he sat on the sill looking miserable. She hadn’t the heart...that seemed to be story of Vincent’s life, no hearts. She sat cross-legged on the floor of the living room (it was almost bare except for an old mattress and blanket), an empty glass bottle clutched in her hand, she knew she was going to need it. All at once the tears overflowed from her eyelids, cascading down her cheeks and into the bottle. The world seemed to be crying with her, outside the sky threw its tears against the windows, inside water trickled down the walls.
Vincent pushed a cork into the tear-filled bottle and placed it on the shelf; she stuck a label on the side, ‘VODKA.’  No hearts, the story of her life. Vincent had never received a heart from anyone, no parents or lovers or even friends; she did have a cat once but it jumped out of the window...and died. Vincent knows it committed suicide just to escape her. There was a beautiful little girl who lived down the road in a beautiful little cottage and men, women and every living creature would lay their hearts down for her. Countless men were often seen around Manchester with gaping holes in their chests, or deep red scars from tearing out their hearts. The beautiful girl, whose name was Rose, accepted the hearts of course, but she didn’t care for them. They were usually tossed aside and never thought of again. What people didn’t realised was that Rose, behind her peachy exterior, had a drink problem and spent her days guzzling vodka. This vodka she got from Vincent who would trade a bottle for a heart. Rose was only too eager to give away her hearts in exchange for the burn of Vincent’s tears.
Vincent had built up a small collection of hearts by now and she truly adored each one. She took care to polish them and hold them to her chest to feel the warmth they emanated. She would hold them to her ears and hear the beat and the whispered statements of love.  As much as she loved her hearts she longed for one of her own. She needed someone to tear his heart out and give it to her and then she would be happy, she was sure.
Vincent leaned out of her window, sucking in the bitterly cold air. She loved winter, it helped to stay frozen inside and not feel anything. Her tatty dreadlocks fell down either side of her face liked thick strands of rope. She closed her eyes.
   ‘Vincent!’ She was shocked from her daydream. ‘Vincent!’ A handsome young man was standing below her window, she recognised him from the supermarket.
   ‘What do you want?’ Vincent called back. Her voice was raspy and hoarse and she realised this was the first time she had spoken out loud for a very long time.
   ‘I love you,’ came the reply. ‘I see you every time you go shopping, you buy bread and cheese.’
   ‘But that doesn’t mean you love me. Everyone buys bread and cheese.’
   ‘But you’re special,’ he insisted. ‘Look.’ He tore open his shirt to reveal a bloody, gaping wound in his chest and then he held his heart high above his head. ‘Here is my heart. Take it. Let me climb the ropes to your tower.’
   ‘Just...up...stairs,’ Vincent was struggling to form words. A tear twinkled onto her cheek and froze instantly.
The Boy burst into the room leaving blood-stained footprints behind him. He joined Vincent at the window, breathless he held out his heart.
   ‘For you,’ he said. Vincent looked at the heart, not wanting to touch it.
   ‘It’s not beating,’ she stated.
   ‘That’s because it only beats for you,’ his voice was gentle and sincere. ‘Take it.’ Vincent stared at the heart, it looked ugly. It was bloody and messy and...and...
   ‘No!’ The scream hurt her throat but she didn’t care. ‘No, I don’t want it.’ The Boy’s face crumpled and before he could speak again Vincent pushed him with all of her might and he tumbled from the window, landing in the thorn bush below.
Vincent headed into the kitchen and tore open the crusty loaf, smothered it with blue cheese and took a bite. The sourness of the cheese calmed her. She looked over at Basil. He was standing proud, a vibrant green.

Bio - Rai Jayne is a freelance writer, blogger and zinester. She is in her final year of an English and Creative Writing degree at Salford University. She has co-written, self-published and starred in Hospitality. She plays bass for all-girl punk band Pink Hearse. She hopes to one day change the world with a biro, a pritstick, and a typewriter.

Picture by: © Stuart Taylor |

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Foolish Things

Jackie Morrissey
Double Espresso with a shot of brandy

Once I realised that he was going to propose, the only thing left to do was to vomit.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, his proposal didn’t make me puke – not directly anyway – but I’d been holding it back for a while, hoping it would settle.  I suppose I just gave myself permission to let go, right then. It worked. All thought of romantic proposals in the moonlight by the Seine – bridges of Paris and all that – vanished.  Mind you, I’ve never really understood the romance attached to Parisian bridges. The only thing I’ve ever met under one was a foul-smelling clochard, clutching a bottle and muttering French obscenities, or something.  And as for the food… I blame the escargot.  I always said I’d try anything, but that trickle of garlicky green stuff oozing from the snail shell was a step too far. Gross. OK, I’m a philistine.  I like my meat fully dead, too, no blood, so there’s no hope for me here.
              Anyway, adding my wine-tinged contribution to the gutter didn’t do any harm, but it effectively removed the romance. Mission accomplished.  Cleaning myself up with a tissue, I asked, wanly, in a performance based on La Dame aux Camelias (see? I’m not a complete savage), to be taken back to the hotel.  Patrick, ever polite, escorted me with conscientious concern.  God, he made me feel terrible.  I probably wasn’t good enough for him, it’s true. If only he had been a bit less of a bloody boy scout, it would all have been much easier.  But he was a nice guy, really, just a bit naive and earnest, and those aren’t necessarily faults, although they are annoying.

 I should explain a bit more.  Patrick, (never Pat or Paddy), and I had been going out for a while.  Nearly four months, a record for me.  We met when I was pissed off my head at a party, so he can’t say he wasn’t warned. It was his nice, gentlemanly quality that got to me that night – I’m a sucker for being looked after when I’m drunk; anybody who doesn’t swear at me develops a golden halo-glow.   Patrick laughed at my jokes, propped me up on my stupid party heels, and got me safely home that night. He stayed, of course.  I’d screw any nice kind man when I’m that far gone, but I can’t remember much about it – too drunk. He was still there next morning though, sweetly making me a cup of tea for my hangover.  ‘Christ,’ I thought, ‘this one is OK’.  
Now, ‘OK’ might not seem too enthusiastic, but my record isn’t good. My last fellow drank more than I did, and could be an aggressive little bollix when he’d had a few.  Not at me, of course – well, not physically.  We had a few loud fights all right, when he called me all sorts of slags and whores and bitches, but I can give that sort of thing back with spades, it doesn’t bother me.  I got rid of him in the end because he began to seem like some sort of old, smelly, stray dog that I couldn’t remember why I was feeding. He never wanted to go home. The sex wasn’t up to much either. He was too drunk mostly, and even sober, he didn’t have much idea.
Pretty much of the ‘brace yourself Brigid’ variety.  Eventually, after a loud drunken row, I dumped his accumulated stuff into a plastic bag and left it outside his door, along with a note telling him to go fuck himself ( yeah…good luck with that). Then I deleted him from my life, my phone and Facebook.

I attract losers. 
My friends say I have a bad attitude to men, but all I can say is that the ones I end up with have a bloody terrible attitude to me. That’s why Patrick seemed such a novelty.  He was clean, presentable, considerate and working. I spent the first few days trying to figure out what was wrong, but he seemed the real deal. A bit dull, I suppose, but that was a novelty in itself – a man who turned up on time, not drunk, and waited for me.  He could even cook.  The sex was OK too, if a bit predictable.  He’d read the right manual, and twiddled all the bits in turn, systematically.  It worked, mostly, although he was not a man to leave a proven system for anything new.  Hints were wasted on him, as were outright demands.  Slapping his hand on a non-prescribed spot, shrieking ‘oh yes! Yes! Yes!’ never seemed to get more than a puzzled  look, before he went back to the blueprint.  I suppose after all, I expected too much – he was an accountant in the making.  
But I am being a bitch.
At least he knew that foreplay meant more than  three cans of lager and a shoulder of  vodka. 
I felt I ought to stick with this one, like a sort of rehab. (Did I tell you about the one who wanted to lick my toes? I didn’t mind, but that was pretty much it.  The rest of me was superfluous to requirements, which didn’t do much for my ego).  Anyway, I won’t bore you with a list of my exes, except to say that they were all, in their individual ways, complete wastes of space.

Patrick.  Ah, Patrick.  Not a loser, in most terms. He liked figures, and wanted nothing more than to complete all of his exams and become a fully fledged accountant. (My mind boggles, but then, I’m innumerate, and dropped out of college after first year.  University College Dublin. English and Philosophy. I work in a bar at the moment, but with those subjects, that was pretty much where I was headed anyway.  I have plans, though).   He lived at home, which seemed a bit loserish at twenty-four, but his ma doted on him, the house was plush, and I suppose I could see the attraction. At least he got to keep his money for better things than rent – me for instance. He was generous enough – always willing to pay for a nice meal out or a fare. The trip to Paris was just the sort of thing he’d do – ‘Look, I’ve bought these cheap Ryanair tickets, it’s all booked, you have to come.’ 
            Like I’d turn down a free holiday. 
That was my mistake, though.  
So there I was, that Saturday night, in my Parisian hotel bed with my back to Patrick and my eyes tight shut. Lying uncomfortably on the bed I’d made for myself – the moralists would love it.  I’d misjudged everything.  I should have said no.  He was beginning to bore me anyway, so what made me think a weekend would work out?  On the other hand, I had no reason to suspect that he was planning a proposal.  He never gave me any hint.  He knew my lifestyle. What made him think I would be interested? Bloody male ego.  
I had actually decided about a week before the holiday that I would dump him.  We were having decent-but-dull sex in the afternoon in my place when it dawned on me – his textbook sex just mirrored his approach to me in general.    I was a woman. Women like meals out, and flowers, and cups of tea in bed…  He was good with theoretical women, but he’d never really shown much interest in me, if you know what I mean –  like, who I was, my story, all the crap people usually want to know in the early days of a relationship. Maybe it was the only child thing. He liked having a girlfriend, I was it.  What more was necessary to know?  I knew all about his only-child heavenly home, his dad (deceased), his squeaky-clean, perfect mum, his good career prospects.  Me? He flinched from the more interesting bits, patted my hand sympathetically for the sad bits before changing the subject, and gave no general indication of actually remembering anything I told him, afterwards. 
  All too familiar, I thought.  This guy was as much a lost dog as the last one, just a cleaner, better-bred version.  I felt sure somebody would take him in. 
Not me though. 
  I’m more the ‘mongrel with character’ type, really, even if they do sometimes turn out to be a bit aggressive, or have odd habits.
  I know what you’re thinking.  I shouldn’t have gone to Paris.  Yes, yes, but it was one last trip.  He’s already bought the tickets.  I did like the guy, really, I wished him nothing but well. I was planning to let him down gently, over a period of about a month.  That seemed the kindest way.   One last fun weekend didn’t seem too much of a problem.
What a weekend.
 It was hard work, I’ll tell you.
 I realised my mistake on the Friday evening.  The conversation was just drifting a certain way, you know?  I hoped I was wrong, but when he bought the rose with added cheap perfume from the gypsy in the restaurant, I knew I was in trouble. From then on, it was a battle of wits. Or my wits against his witlessness, more precisely. 
            Christ, the stress of that. 
Do I look like I’m ready to become a suburban housewife?  I’m twenty-three.  Jesus!  Ok, he’s only twenty-four, but age is relative, and he was born middle-aged, so twenty four years on makes him a pretty dull old fart by any standards.   
 I was beginning to really hate him by Saturday.

The mental effort of trying to keep all conversation away from romance was giving me a migraine. I found that a bit of gratuitous swearing worked – he hated swearing.  A dirty joke or two also froze him up. Once, in desperation, I deliberately flipped off a supercilious and watchful French shopkeeper, just to change the subject. 
Patrick didn’t see that of course, but he experienced the full blast of an irate, Parisian Anglophobe letting rip. Quite an experience.  His curses followed us down the street, as he stood in the shop doorway, gesticulating Frenchly.
 With somebody else, it might have been funny.  Not with Patrick.  He was so shaken by the experience that we went back to the hotel to recover. 
Saturday night was the night of the almost proposal and the puking.  That got me through to the last day.  Flight home, six pm.   We walked through the park at Les Halles, listened to a busker singing some old fashioned jazz tunes, and took photos peering through the giant hand sculpture outside the Church of St Eustache.  I began to relax and enjoy it.  The singer was like Ella Fitzgerald, and I’d always liked the song:

A cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces
 An airline ticket to romantic places
 And still my heart has wings
 These foolish things remind me

He got me when I wasn’t expecting it. 
 ‘Marry me,’ he said. 
I just stood, trying to think of an answer that wouldn’t be too cruel, but also wouldn’t give him hope.   My inner ‘bitter bitch’ was in full flight, bewailing the fact that he’d ruined the trip, we had an afternoon to fill in yet…   The ‘nice’ voice, the one I try to present to the public, was quickly rehearsing the options: ‘I need time to think…’, ‘ You caught me unawares… ;‘ It’s too soon…’
Patrick filled the silence: 
'I know you don’t see yourself as a married woman, but I know you’ll settle down when we are married.  You already drink less than you used to and your lifestyle is much better.  I know it would work…’
 Too much.  ‘Bitter bitch’ exploded from her cave, her hag-mutter becoming an outraged shriek.
  ‘When’ we are married? I’ll ‘settle down’? Don’t I get to say yes or no about that?     Well, listen up, I think I’m fine the way I am, and a lot of people like me like that.  What gave you the idea…?’
I stopped, afraid of what else I might say.
‘You’re my girlfriend,’ he said, wounded.  ‘I love you. You have to marry me.’  
Looking at his earnest face, I wanted to slap him, but also felt horribly guilty.   ‘Good girl’ reasserted herself.
 ‘Look, it’s just a bit unexpected, I need time to think.’
 ‘But you will marry me?’
 ‘I didn’t say that, I said I want time to think about it.’
He looked annoyed.
 ‘I don’t see what there is to think about.’
 ‘Well I do.’ I said.  ‘I’m not sure I want to get married to anybody. I don’t know what made you think I did…’
 His silence made me feel terrible, like a mother who slaps a toddler without apparent reason.  After a minute, I touched his arm.
 ‘I really do like you, you know that, but really, we’ve only gone out together for a few weeks, we’re both young …’
 The silence continued.
 ‘I feel terrible for upsetting you.  I’m sorry, I’m really, really sorry…’
His hands were deep in his pockets.
 ‘I told everybody,’ he said.  ‘I told everybody at work that I was going to propose.’
 By now I felt so guilty I would have done anything to make him feel better, short of marrying him.  At the same time, I felt pretty pissed off at being guilt-tripped like that.  Why should he be so sure of himself that he could tell everybody, without ever thinking that I might refuse?  I ignored my evil inner voice, however, and reached out my hands towards him.
‘Please. Let’s just walk around the park and not talk about it now. We have all day before the flight.’
 I was hoping some hard-headed, practical bit of his brain would see that this was the way to go.  I was wrong.
 ‘Fuck you.’ he said.  ‘You’re just a drunken slut.  I can do better.  Just piss off and make your own way home.’
 And with that, he marched off, leaving my consoling hands flapping in the breeze.
  I should have known better than to trust that fake ‘nice girl’ daemon. The ‘bitter bitch’ was always more me, really.
 Well, I sat for a while in the pallid spring sunshine, then went and got my stuff from the hotel.  He’d gone ahead of me.  The bill was paid, but he had taken my plane ticket.  
 The perfect gentleman.
It might have been an accident.
That airline makes its fortune on emergency tickets.  I think mine cost more than the whole weekend, accommodation and all. I looked out for him on the plane, but he must have transferred to an earlier flight.
I met him again, about a year later, at a party.  He was with a cat-faced law student, who looked me up and down and made smirking eye contact with him, as if sharing a joke.  I guessed he had told her about me.  We were polite. I wondered how long it would be before they moved to the suburbs to breed little legal calculators.
Later that night, when he’d had a few drinks, he followed me into the kitchen, and said  he remembered how good we used to be together.   His face had what a drunk considers a meaningful look, but the rest of the world knows is a leer.  He suggested that we should meet up again, for old time’s sake.   I deduced that bitch-face wasn’t sleeping with him, so scratch that suburban idyll.  Not such a perfect gentleman after all.   I thought for sure now that he hadn’t forgotten that airline ticket in Paris. 
I wasn’t remotely tempted to pick up where we left off.  I remembered that Saturday night in Paris, and all I could think of was some old saying about a dog…  ‘As the dog returns to its vomit, so the fool…’ Whatever.  I can’t remember the whole thing. 
Old Dog’s Vomit.  Bitch-face can have him.
Not me.  I’m not foolish.  I learn from experience.
I kept cracking up when I thought of it.  I tried to explain the joke to a guy I fancied, but I was pretty drunk, and he was stoned, so I don’t think he got it.  He came home with me anyway though, but that’s a completely different story.

Jackie Morrissey lives in Dublin and works in adult education. She has had work published on Irish Radio, and in a variety of journals. In 2004, she won the Molly Keane Memorial Short Story Award.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

The Doctor's Wind

By Geoff Steckles
Cinnamon & Almond Hot Chocolate
A strong wind had sprung up off the sea. The tide was still out, but white plumes were blowing off the waves in foamy confusion, lining the water’s edge like meringue. In Jamaica he thought, they’d call it the Doctors Wind, blowing directly from the sea fresh and clean with that faint salty taste. But this was South Devon, so it wasn’t called anything except maybe a nuisance. He thought the Jamaicans had it just about right.
The wind eddied and blew dry sand down from the dunes, which moved across the beach like a fine mist, sand blasting his legs with a sharp bite like a faint electric shock. It kept him company and continued to eddy around his bare feet, playing with his toes as he walked towards Sand Point, still over four miles away. The air felt exhilarating and facing the sea, his eyes streamed and his skin felt like it had been sucked through a vacuum cleaner. He gave quiet thanks that the beach remained deserted.
He rested, the sun helping to evaporate his memories. He dreamed of the wind and ships at sea.
Surprise shook him when a land yacht went flying by, making a mockery of his tranquil day, a huge blood red sail at full stretch.
Unexpectedly, instead of sailing off into the distance, the yacht made a huge gentle turn and started back towards him, the sails and small boom, swinging into the wind as it changed direction. A huge almost perfect circle appeared in the virgin sand as it pulled around and started to lose speed. He half expected the occupant to throw out some kind of anchor but the machine slowed seemingly of its own accord. He saw that cleverly, the sails were being used in the wind to slow the machine and the yacht stopped effortlessly by his side. The red sail flapped noisily, suddenly redundant. A tiny skull and crossbones flag tied to the mast fluttered wildly in the breeze, which seemed to match the scene perfectly.
She sat regally in the single seat, her hair, the colour of straw, blew wildly around her face although she didn’t seem to notice. She was deeply tanned, with wide blue eyes and wonderful teeth and she wore small diamond studs in her ears which caught the sun as her head moved; each ear seemed to wink at him in the strong light that he found distracting somehow. She wore an old fashioned man’s white shirt, one of those with a detachable collar, except there was no collar attached. Her sleeves were rolled up to the elbows and the shirt tail hung loose. Surprisingly the shirt, unbuttoned almost to her waist still covered her breasts but she made no move to button the shirt now that she had an audience.
She looked directly at him, smiling and asked if he flew like a crow, what would be the quickest way to Sand Point. He remembered silently raising his arm in the general direction, suddenly unable to speak and feeling particularly stupid because of it. She asked how far in a voice so soft, he had to strain to catch it in the strong wind. He leaned closer almost without thinking and was surprised that even on this wild day, he could smell her body, like lavender and the sea mixed together and immediately wondered if sunlight could smell, would it be like this?. Finding his voice at last he managed to croak ' About four miles from here'. She smiled again and thanked him and made to move off, then hesitated looking directly at him once more, and asked if he would like a ride. He nodded, silent again and she invited him in.
He knew that as a single seater, space would be limited and felt a gratitude to God, which he hadn’t felt in a while. He managed to squeeze in by her side and had the satisfaction of having to sit almost sideways facing her with no room to sit any other way. A small space forward allowed him to stretch out, and being over six feet tall, he could at least move his legs. But his knees touched her legs as he wriggled into a more comfortable position and he hoped that she understood that this intimacy for the moment at least remained accidental. She released the brake and moved off swiftly, giving no indication that she’d even noticed that he’d squeezed in next to her. Her face set in concentration and her eyes moved to the sail as long slender fingers pulled at the rigging and a strong arm grasped the tiller.
The low tide had left the sand hard and flat and his eyes closed against the glare. There was almost no sense of movement, no jolting as they accelerated. The large red sail filled quickly and he felt power grab the machine like a giant lung inflating. A sensation of flying over the ground at speed like some great bird of prey that had just seen lunch awed him. He thought that life should always be as exciting as this; otherwise it became just a bunch of days and he prayed that it continued for the rest of today at least.
A great roaring filled his ears, which made talking difficult, but he couldn’t resist the inevitable question. ‘How fast are we moving?’ he yelled into her ear. She placed her face next to his and he heard the words ‘about sixty’ faintly in the roar. He suddenly had an almost irresistible urge to rub his nose gently on her cheek. So close yet so far he thought, but instead he just nodded whilst she was busy being captain again. He relaxed resigned to his fate and perhaps another moment.
They tore across the sand like two lovers escaping from a vengeful father, until she spotted a group of Gulls on the beach ahead of them and he felt the yacht gently turn in their direction. They took flight well before the vessel reached them and he could hear their calls and mews above the roar as they scattered effortlessly like rag dolls in a blizzard of wings. Two birds remained stubbornly, gliding above the mast keeping up with the yacht and he wondered if they thought there were fish on board. Looking up at them it seemed like they were standing still, wings outstretched, floating above like two guardian angels.
Both birds disappeared suddenly when without warning, she veered again, this time into the shallows and a huge spray flew into the air and blew across them both. In seconds they were soaked and his breath left his body with the shock of the cold water. She threw back her head and laughed out loud. He suddenly forgot the cold and joined in and soon they were both caught up in the wind and the spray and given a choice this felt right and he suddenly didn’t want to be anywhere else.
He tried to speak again but the wind caught his throat and he nearly choked. Deciding to keep his mouth closed seemed like a good idea so he just relaxed and enjoyed the sensation. His eyes streamed once again and the sail towering above them sang as the gale played with the rigging. She suddenly yelled at him to lean in to her and he didn’t need telling twice as she turned the yacht once again in a full circle. So sharp was the turn however that they were suddenly partially off the ground and in danger of going over and he leaned away from her body trying to prevent them from capsizing, one hand on the hull and the other gripping her arm like a vice. Did he scream, he couldn’t remember but she yelled something and laughed and when he next opened his eyes they were back on course and she seemed serene, as though nothing had happened. Her face calm and relaxed and he noticed freckles across her nose, which he hadn’t seen before.
All too soon Sand Point came into view and he knew they could go no further. He saw his house on the point and the yacht slowed, the sails deflating suddenly. They pulled into the end of the beach nearest the road and stopped. The silence deafening, his face felt as though it had been in a mould and set.
She didn’t look at him but simply sat letting the sun warm her face. Salt had begun to crystallise on her cheek and it made her tan seem the colour of age like old newspaper dipped in time. He felt unsure, afraid somehow and reached across to touch her face, to reassure himself. But before he could, she turned to him and smiled and he immediately knew it all. She had allowed him to see it again from the beginning. He didn’t know why. She was the same and that was all that mattered.
That was the start of it, their life. He remembered everything now, their love, their life together. She was not afraid of gentleness, although passion made her unkind sometimes. He never minded any of it though and thought it a good thing and revelled in her company. He never dominated her, preferring the journey instead. He was never afraid of her, only of losing her. They lived and loved and the land yacht became their centre, their escape. The beach below the house, their playground. Like two wild children their summer never ended. But three years after they met their summer did end and she died as excitingly as she had lived, in the land yacht. Out alone one day the wind had capsized the machine at speed and she had been flung onto the sand, her neck broken. The beautiful red sail covered her body like a shroud.
There had been a shadow deep in his soul that had threatened to destroy him and he knew that her beauty and his loss were one and he could not help himself. He forgot to remember to forget and he walked aimlessly up and down the beach, not knowing why, afraid to ask, aimless and lost.
'Thank you' she said.
'What for' he whispered,
‘For remembering me, for loving me'
’That was easy'
‘It’s been hard for you I know' her voice was in his head.
‘Not any more'
She moved her hand towards his face and he felt a whisper, a sigh that released him suddenly. He slept then.
He woke on the beach in front of the house, not knowing how he’d got there. The sand virgin again, blown clean by the Doctor’s Wind, his shadow, his grief lifted. But at his feet was a child’s sandcastle with a tiny skull and crossbones flag stuck in the top. He smiled and remembered.
I'm an amateur creative writer who just enjoys trying to tell a story.
I live in Somerset and love everything about the sea.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Great Expectations

Alan Cadman

Dark Chocolate Surprise

From a young age Tommy knew where his future lay. He wanted to be a musician; not just any old musician, but Tommy Baddams . . . the rock star.
                With his black, shoulder length, curly hair and trade mark wrap-around shades, at least he always looked the part. He loaded the last of the guitars into the converted campervan and slammed the back doors shut. The dream he chased, with a passion, had not worked out as he expected it to.               
                ‘Do you know what your ex missus is up to these days, Tommy?’ asked Robbie Green, the lead guitarist and singer of the band.
                Tommy rubbed his chin. ‘The last I heard, she was dating a bank manager.’
                ‘It makes a massive change then,’ Robbie said, ‘from being married to a roadie for three middle-aged rockers.’
                Tommy laughed, patted his pockets and searched for the keys to the van, as they prepared to set off for their next gig.
                Ben Jones checked through his collection of drumsticks, before joining in the conversation. ‘How’s your young lad?’ 
                Tommy scratched his head. ‘I haven’t seen him for about eight years. He must be twenty-two now.’
                He clambered into the driving seat and looked over his shoulder towards Scott. ‘Before you ask, your bass is safely packed away in its flight case.’
                Scott yawned and settled down in the back. ‘Where are we playing tonight?’
                ‘Some club at the back end of Wolverhampton, looks like a tricky place to find, the club I mean not the city. I’m glad I’ve got a sat-nav these days.’
                ‘Who’s the support?’
                ‘Whoever the agent wants it to be.’ Tommy pulled a face. ‘We’re not big enough to choose these days, are we?’ He checked his dashboard gadget. ‘It’s about a hundred and fifty miles north from here. Let’s hit the road.’       
                ‘Your ex comes from that neck of the woods, doesn’t she?’ asked Robbie, who sat in the front seat beside him. Tommy nodded, but without any enthusiasm.
                ‘Are you going to pay her a visit then? You know, talk about all the good times you had together?’ Robbie ducked. He expected a verbal lashing and covered his ears with his hands.            Tommy had other things on his mind. Even at the age of fifty, he still thought he had a chance to make his debut in the jobbing band. He knew he could do better than just being a roadie. ‘I’m still convinced,’ he said to Robbie, ‘It would work as a four piece.’
                Robbie rolled his eyes. ‘We’re a power trio and always will be.’ He laughed and nudged Tommy in the ribs, which caused the van to swerve a little. ‘Go and look it up on Google if you’ve forgotten what it means, old man.’       
                ‘Come on, let me play rhythm guitar and sing backing vocals. I know the set-list inside out. After all, it’s me that tapes it to the stage every time there’s a booking.’
                Robbie looked out of the window; housing estates and out of town shopping centres soon evolved into open farmland. ‘You’ve been harping on about this for years. You’re already brilliant at what you do.’ He tried to reason with Tommy. ‘You’re invaluable to us. Apart from other things, you load and unload the van, drive us everywhere, set everything up on stage, and,’ Robbie flashed a cheeky grin, ‘before we knew the error of our wicked ways, you were our main supplier of, booze, coke and condoms.’
                ‘The sound check went well, didn’t it?’ Tommy shouted to Robbie, who jumped off the stage.
                ‘Yeah, it did,’ he answered, over his shoulder. ‘Did you notice that curry house outside?’ He glanced at his watch. ‘We’ve got some time to kill. See you over there.’
                Tommy nodded, picked up a light blue Fender from its stand and twisted it around in his hands. He could never work out why Robbie chose one of those over a standard Gibson Les Paul; his own favourite.
                The bar area, of the club, was getting crowded with early arrivals, who were hanging around in groups, chatting about the night’s forthcoming entertainment. After checking the tuning of Robbie’s guitar, Tommy always played the riff, as a kind of ritual, from the classic Deep Purple song, Smoke on the Water.
                A barrage of loud feedback screeched, as he held the guitar too close to one of the monitors and hit a wrong note. ‘I ’ope you’re only the roadie and not the lead guitarist,’ a wag shouted from the bar, ‘or I’ll ’ave me money back.’
                Tommy screwed up his eyes. The ripples of exaggerated laughter grew louder. Maybe it was time for that curry, after all.
                Tommy got back in the club, ahead of the rest, and decided to order a pint, before watching the support act. He called over to a teenager, who sported purple and black hair, ‘Do you know anything about the first band on tonight?’
                She sniffed and rubbed her nose. ‘Local outfit from Wolverhampton called Great Expectations. They’ve got a cult following round here you know.’
                ‘Well, well, well, if it isn’t old Tommy Baddams.’ Tommy recognised the voice straight away and turned round to find his ex-wife confronting him.
                ‘Jill. What are you doing here? And less of the old if you don’t mind.’
                She looked him up and down. ‘Don’t even think, for one moment, I’m here to see your bunch of has-beens. They’re well past their sell by date.’
                Tommy ignored the jibe. Even dressed in her casual clothes, he still thought she appeared a touch too conservative to be at a rock music gig. He wondered if she had brought the bank manager along with her. ‘Are you on your own?’
                ‘No. I’m with my son.’
                ‘Young Tommy? Don’t you mean our . . .’
                Jill didn’t answer. An awkward silence followed for a few seconds.
                Tommy fiddled with his curly black hair, which always needed a little help from something in a bottle, and struggled to find the right words. ‘How is . . . you know . . . how is young Tommy?’
                ‘He’s doing fine. It’s a pity you didn’t stick around to find out yourself though, instead of chasing your silly rock star dream. You never were good enough to make it as a musician, were you?’         
                Tommy kept quiet, as he looked down at the beer-stained floor.
                ‘Your biggest claim to fame,’ she continued, ‘was being mistaken for that guitarist in Guns ’n’ Roses, in the 1990s, by two screaming girls. What a let-down it must have been when you turned round.’ Jill laughed out loud and carried on, ‘I don’t know why you keep hanging around with those losers, fetching and carrying for them.’
                He knew what she referred to; she didn’t need to spell it out. One album and four singles in the 1980s, that didn’t even make the top fifty, amounted to the height of the band’s career, before the record company dropped them.
                Tommy spread his hands. ‘Look how many punters are here already, this place must hold around seven hundred. Including the walk-up, it’s got a chance of selling out tonight. Not bad for three losers, is it?’
                ‘Don’t kid yourself Tommy, open your eyes. Most of them weren’t even born when you were hoping for that elusive hit album. It’s Great Expectations they’ve come to see. Haven’t you met them backstage?’
                ‘No I haven’t, went for a vindaloo instead.’
                With nothing left to say, Tommy made his way to watch the opening set. He glanced around him and remembered what Jill said about the fans. They must be some sort of Goth outfit, this young band, he thought, noticing the morbid make-up on the faces of both sexes. He looked in another direction, and that creep, over there, is like someone straight out of a Dickens novel. He did spot a few long haired ‘throwbacks’ from the 1980s, drinking brown ale out of a bottle, which cheered him up a little.
                ‘Excuse me, love. Excuse me please,’ he asked, pushing his way through the crowd to the front of the stage. ‘Can I just nip in here, mate? Excuse me,’ he repeated, then announced, for more authority, ‘Road crew! Mind your backs please.’
                Jill stood four paces away from him. ‘You were quick,’ he shouted, over the pre-recorded build-up music, which grew louder and louder. They must be good for you to rush to the front. Where’s . . .’
                ‘Where’s my son, do you mean? He’s in the band. You’ll see him in a few seconds.’
                Tommy lifted his shades slowly. He forced a smile, which didn’t reach his eyes. Still surprised, he made his way to the wings and gestured, in an act of compassion, for Jill to join him. She shook her head, as the main lights began to dim.
                The band’s roadie, who Tommy thought looked at least fourteen, held a torch above his head and flashed it towards the sound engineer at the back. Great Expectations were about to take to the stage. Hands started clapping and feet were stamping, harder and harder. There were a few calls for Tommy Baddams, but they weren’t directed at the original Tommy Baddams.
                The drummer sauntered on first and sat behind his kit. More of the band came on, with the same laid back attitude, and took up their positions. Tommy’s estranged son ran across the boards and strapped on his Les Paul. He had his father’s long black curly hair, and blue eyes, but a much more androgynous expression peered out from under his top hat.  
                As the opening guitar riff rang out of the speakers, note perfect, a single tear dripped down the face of the middle-aged man in the wings. He then wept freely and felt pangs of pride mingled with envy. Young Tommy Baddams grinned and acknowledged the shouts and whistles that emanated from the front of the stage.

* * *

Fifty Word Biography

I have been writing short stories for about four years. My published work has mainly been rewarded with complimentary issues from magazines. My first and only cheque, so far, arrived on Christmas Eve 2009. Before this, I was editor of a civic society newsletter for seven years.

Thursday 13 October 2011

A Soar Life

A Soar Life
Rich Styles
Chilled water

He would count the twelve steps leading down to our bench often – aloud and without purpose. He would take my hand and gently guide us through crunched leaves and spots of sunshine; away from unfavourable youths and long since littered gum. At the final step he would pretend to trip to make me laugh. I’d try to hold the corners of my mouth shut each time he did so – though never with much success.
I always sat on the left, for the right had an obscene word scrawled in spray paint or marker or something. I told him it made no difference: the graffiti was dry; there was no danger of it marking my coat. But he’d insist. He carried the bread too, as if the stale loaf would somehow weigh me down, be a burden in my hands.
Lily and George (after our own two babies, who – as they often remark – are now far too old to be labelled as such) would swim over from the dense overgrowth on the opposing bank, through the darkness beneath the bridge on Mill Lane towards the smell of yesterday’s uneaten wholemeal. He placed the bread straight into their beaks, stating that he didn’t have much faith for the purity of the thick green river. A soft whistle would escape his lips as he fed them, the same nameless tune he would sing as we cared for our garden, or gently hum into my neck after sex.
I often try to turn the clock back by the river. I go back to our favourite time; a river not filled with cigarette butts or takeaway wrappings, but busy with the endless flow of barge and boat. A time when he and I would walk the cobbled lane through Castle Yard to work, teasing one another with stories of St Mary de Castro’s many lovers, or the tiny priest who had the good fortune of his own custom-made entrance at the back of the church.
We’d bickered playfully about maintaining our weekend ritual of walking to our bench that Sunday. He had argued that the wind was high; a storm was on the horizon. I countered with the presentation of waterproof jackets, his golfing umbrella and a toothy smile – the latter resulting, as always, in his surrender.
The rain began to fall as we descended twelve familiar steps and was thundering by the time we stepped off the final riser. The droplets hammered into the river causing the Soar to spray upward, passers-by started running for cover underneath the old bus-stop on Western Boulevard, the passing cars forced to a crawl. I finally admitted defeat when I saw the seat of our bench already immersed.
Turning to leave, my left hand searched for his right only to find nothing but air. I twisted back to find him still staring at our saturated bench, his head lolled forward, his hand grasping his left arm, embracing himself. He drew a deep breath and then he began to fall.
I was unable to hear the howling wind; the rain seemed to slow down – the droplets looking like diamonds, feeling like bricks. A shopping bag fell to the ground. The thin loaf escaped from the plastic and rolled into the river, the ripples spreading out into the water, like passengers fleeing a sinking ship.
I don’t bring the bread anymore. Lily and George don’t come for it without him. I like to think they know I would find the memory of them eating painful on reflection. Maybe they don’t trust the old lady without the familiar whistle. Or perhaps they’ve just forgotten the man who would bring their breakfast on a Sunday morning. I envy those hungry little ducks – sometimes I wish I could sit on our bench by the river and forget him. If only for a short while.

Rich Styles has recently completed a degree at De Montfort University, and soon starts another at Warwick. These academic pursuits help him to write short-stories and avoid living with his mother. His Dinner Date Preparation website has now helped over two hundred lucky gentlemen.