Wednesday 30 January 2013

The Colleague Who Came To Stay


The Colleague Who Came To Stay
Linda Casper
Caribou Coffee – bittersweet cocoa and cedar finish

It was already the third night and I was at breaking point. She was a colleague rather than a friend whose home was a fair distance from work and prone to flooding. Hearing her complain about that morning’s difficult journey in treacherous conditions, I offered a bed for the night should the weather show no improvement.
      How a bed for the night had become half board, laundry, entertainment and free bar with no check-out date in sight, I wasn’t quite sure.  All I know is that I cooked her food, which could have been tastier with this herb or that spice, I did her laundry, which didn’t look as though an iron had been near it and I cleaned her room but missed a cobweb in the corner.  I even included her in my family and social life only to hear how my best friend looked like mutton dressed as lamb and I how I was treated like a doormat by my family. The cheek of it!
     I was constantly checking the weather forecast, placating my family over her extended use of our one bathroom and assuring my friends that my guest would soon be gone.  I wasn’t looking for gratitude or reimbursement. Many guests have stayed at my home over the years and genuinely seemed to enjoy the experience and none had got on my nerves like this one.  The looks she gave if I forgot a condiment on the dining table or ran out of milk or biscuits.  Every word she uttered was like a knife in my gut; I was exhausted.
      On the fourth morning my husband issued an ultimatum; someone had to go and it had to be today. Summoning up my courage and not used to duplicity but knowing it was the only way to get my life back, I entered her office with the intention of telling her about my mother-in-law’s imminent visit.
‘I was just about to e-mail you,’ she said. ‘I won’t be staying at yours tonight, Alison from Accounts has offered me a room and she has two bathrooms,’ she added smugly.
‘That’s great,’ I replied eagerly and I was just about to add ‘you’re welcome any time’, as you would; but I didn’t.

Author Bio
Linda Casper hails from Yorkshire and, after a long career as a high school teacher, she has recently begun to write and has had many short stories, poems and travel articles published.  Linda has a keen interest in gardening and is a judge for Yorkshire in Bloom.
Check out her website here: http://thirdageblogger.blogspot.co.uk



Monday 28 January 2013

Heavenly Bodies


Heavenly Bodies

Patsy Collins

A beaker of orange juice and a milky way


The sun sank low, finally slipping below the horizon. After him came the moon.

As she rose, she looked down on their children. Beautiful combinations of his bright warm light and her cool silent serenity, gazed back. They watched her from every pool and lake, each sea and ocean. Even tinkling streams carried a myriad of their tiny offspring.

She felt wistful that their father was unlikely to ever fully see them. There would be no better chance than tomorrow’s eclipse. For a moment he embraced her, smiling happily at the bright glimmers of smiles on their now darkened faces.


Author Bio
Patsy Collins is a successful short story writer and novelist. You can buy her latest book here:
Two of her stories have been selected for the Best of CafeLit 2012 out soon.

Friday 25 January 2013

Leonora


Leonora
Roger Noons
a gin and tonic, lemon and lots of ice

 You stood there in your room with Leonora and you both thought about that night you had shared, silent for a few seconds. Then you looked at each other.
    'I’ll send you a change of address card,' she said softly.

After he had turned the page, Alex took a sip from his glass of wine. On page 76, he registered a graffito below the typescript, but dismissed it, as he wanted to finish the story.

    'Don’t forget,' you said, but you knew she would.
    Then she stepped forward, took your head in her hands and kissed you hard, with a small clash of teeth and her tongue was in your mouth, squirming, flickering. But before you could grab her she was gone, backing out of the room, with a wicked smile on her face, and Benjy was honking the horn of the Golf in the street below. You heard her heels rapping on the stairs.
You went and sat at your desk, trying to stay calm, thinking about Leonora and the way she had kissed you. You knew it would be something you would never forget, that it would become one of those events that shaped and defined you as a person, a key link in the chain mail of memories woven through your life. As you looked out of the window you noticed that a slanting ray of the morning sun had squeezed between two houses and touched the higher branches of the lime tree at the bottom of the garden, turning it’s dusty, tired summer leaves into shimmering coins of lemon-green, making the tree seem young again, and making you think of spring.

Alex sighed and closed his eyes to better review what he had read. He believed it to be a sad tale, but with a final ray of hope, for the unrequited student. A smile appeared on his face and again he raised his glass. As he replaced it on the side table, his gaze fell to the penciled note in the space below the typeface.

My name is Leonora and I’m lonely.
07770 7631292

He shook his head. He had heard of prostitutes putting cards in telephone boxes, but he had never before encountered this method of advertising. He opened the draw in the table, but found that although there were pads, pencils and a biro, there was no eraser. He finished his wine and after placing the empty glass in the kitchen, he went upstairs. He put the library book on his desk in the spare bedroom. He would remove the offending message the next day.
*
When he switched on the light and checked, he found it was ten minutes to four. He must have been dreaming. He recalled trying to ring a telephone number, but each time, after he had entered the area code, the actual number eluded him. He remembered the hand written note in the book. What if it wasn’t the advert of a tart, after all it was an anthology of short stories by well known and reputable writers. After taking the decision to ring the number the following morning, he found he could close his eyes and settle in sleep.
*
 Having finished his breakfast and washed up, he sat at his desk and picked up the handset. He was about to dial the number when he had second thoughts. Before he called, he should work out what he would say, assuming someone answered. He opened the book at page 76 and reread the message. He still had doubts. Well if it is a working lady he would put down the phone. She wouldn’t know who he was and where he had called from, unless she had number recognition.
             'Don’t be a fool,' he said out loud. 'If she’s a pro, just tell her, no thank you.' He picked up the phone and pressed the appropriate numbers on the keypad.
 It rang eight times and he was just about to switch off, when a breathless voice said. 'Hello?'
             'Is that Leonora?'
             'Yes …’
             'I saw your note in the book of short stories …'
             'Oh you’re a Daniel Bailey fan?'
             'Er, yes.' When he could think of nothing further to say about the story, he added. 'It said you were lonely, the message in the book.'
              'Yes, I am.'
             'You don’t sound like a young lady who should be lonely; surely you have relatives, friends …?'
   'No, not really, I’m all alone.'
   'Anyway, you shouldn’t write in library books,' he added, in an attempt to lighten the tone.
   'I know, I’m a librarian.'
   Her reply came over with such sadness that Alex asked. 'What would you like to do about your loneliness?' He heard her sigh.
   'Have you read a lot of Daniel Bailey’s work?'
   'Everything he’s written.'
    Would you like to meet him?'
    'I certainly would, do you know him?'
   'I’ll be in the lounge bar at the Royal Oak Hotel at seven pm this evening, please come.' Then she rang off.
*
Alex arrived ten minutes early. He was always early for appointments, a trait he had inherited from his father. He went to the toilet and washed his hands. He was more nervous than he had anticipated and the action used up a few minutes, so that when he walked into the lounge bar, it was two minutes before seven. He saw her sitting alone at a table in a corner. She was slim with short dark hair and little or no makeup. Her complexion suggested she was unused to the outdoors. He guessed she would be about thirty years old. She had an open book in her hands but she was gazing into space.
    'Leonora?' When she smiled, he added. 'I’m Alex,' and he offered his hand which she held briefly. 'What will you have to drink?'
    'A tonic water please, I’m driving.'
    When he returned with their drinks he sat opposite her. They each smiled, waiting for the other to begin. Then they both spoke at once, so to avoid all the ‘after you,’ Alex said. 'Do you work in a public library?'
    'No, at the university. I also do four lectures each week on archives and cataloguing systems.'
    'Do you find it rewarding?'
    'The lectures are repetitive, the same facts, just different faces. What do you do?'
    'I retired early, two years ago. I pass the time looking after my house, the garden and I do some writing, poetry mainly.' He took a sip of his drink.
    'Do you live alone?'
    'Yes, I never married and before you wonder, I’m not GAY.'
    'It wouldn’t matter if you were.'
    'Sorry, it’s just that conventionally, a man of fifty-six who has never been married is automatically assumed to be GAY. I suppose I have a bit of a complex about it. My sister says I’m too defensive.'
                'Does she organize you, your sister?'
    'Flora, no. I only see her on high days and holidays.'
     'Is there any particular reason why you never married?'
     He pondered; he was unused to such direct questioning. 'I suppose I never met the right woman at the right time. I‘m now rather set in my ways and I don‘t think I would want to vary my lifestyle to accommodate someone else.'
              'Anyway, you said you would like to meet Daniel,' Leonora became business like.
 'Drink up and I’ll take you to him.'
*
On the car park, Alex was surprised when she led him to a one year old, sporty BMW. She opened the front passenger door and waited until he got in, before she closed it. She drove quickly and skilfully into the city centre and turned away from the lights of the West Gate Shopping Mall, into a gated courtyard. She eased the car up to a metal gate and after pressing a button in the central console, the door rose and she drove into the garage. Two minutes later, by way of a lift that raised his stomach more quickly than his feet, they stood by a large window which offered a panoramic view of the entire city centre; even to the floodlights at the football stadium almost three miles away.
             'Would you like another drink?' Leonora asked and he shook his head. 'I’ll fetch Daniel, please make yourself at home.'
Alex had studied the views from the window and was halfway through checking the books on the shelves in the large, but minimally furnished room, when the door opened and Daniel entered.

             'Alex, I am very pleased to meet you and honoured that you have read all my published work. Please come and sit over here and tell me what it is that appeals to you about my writing.'
    Alex sat, but remained silent as he stared at his host. He couldn’t decide if he was an identical twin of Leonora’s, or whether in fact it was her, dressed as a man.
    Daniel smiled. 'Yes, we are one and the same. I am not a transvestite, a cross dresser or homosexual, but I do enjoy, if that is the right word, two distinct personalities. If and when you feel comfortable, I would welcome an answer to my question.'
*
Following that evening, the two men met again on three occasions. Alex and Leonora met up many more times and she regularly visited his house and helped him maintain his garden. Alex’s poetry improved in leaps and bounds and Daniel introduced him to his agent and later his publisher. Alex’s poems began to be published and he won two literary prizes. The older man had never enjoyed such happiness and contentment.
*

 Two years after first meeting Daniel, Alex was reading the Times Literary Supplement one day, when he saw the headline: BAILEY SURPASSES HIMSELF


 Daniel Bailey’s new novel will win many prizes. It is the story of a couple who meet when the young woman writes a lonely hearts message in a library book and an older man responds. The story details their falling in love and courtship, until they marry. It is typical Bailey, beautifully written and navigates the reader through the gamut of emotions. It will make you laugh and cry and when you have finished it, you will forever remember the experience.
  Just when I thought Bailey had become blocked and his best work was behind him, he hits us with the best thing he has ever written. You must read it.
Damien Jacobsen

 Alex put down the newspaper and removed his spectacles, so that he could wipe his eyes. Leonora entered the room and asked him if he was alright
                 'I’ve never been better,' he replied.

   
Author Bio
Having spent the best part of thirty-five years writing reports on such subjects as ‘Provision of Caravan Sites for Travellers’ and ’Aspects of Pest Control in the Urban Environment’, Roger Noons began even more creative writing in 2006, when he completed a screenplay for a friend who is an amateur film maker. After the film was made, he wrote further scripts and having become addicted, began to pen short stories and poems. He occasionally produces memoirs and other non-fiction. He has begun to perform his poems, and has just published ’An A to Z by RLN’, an anthology of 26 short stories. He intends by the end of the year to have followed that up with a novella.
He is a member of two Writers Groups and tries his hardest to write something every day. As well as CafeLit, he has had credits in West Midlands newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, Paragraph Planet, Raw Edge and a number of Anthologies.

Roger is a regular contributor to the CafeLit site and a couple of his stories have been selected for the Best of CafeLit 2012.


Monday 14 January 2013

Cold Calling


Cold Calling

Paula R C Readman

Merlot – served chilled



Dear Diary – Monday: I’m sorry I don’t have much to report, but it’s been one of those days.  Apart from this stinking cold, which is getting me down, not a lot has happened.  However, I did have a phone call today, which wasn’t PPI telling me I could have as much as three thousand pounds waiting for me if I would just press five. Wow, if only life was that easy, I would be pressing five every day. Anyway, the call was from Val – yes, Val Rider, she of the red sports car and handsome brother, Tim.  I know I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t even know she had my number.  She wanted to know if I was free at the weekend as she’s having a bit of a do, and would I like to go?  Of course, I said yes.  Well, if it means I’ll get Tim on his own so he can get to know the real me then of course, I’d want to go.  Now just to shake off this cold, can’t have him seeing me with red eyes and snotty nose.


Dear Diary – Thursday: Two days have flown by since I last spoke to you.  You’ll never guess what I’ve been up to since shaking off my cold?  Ms Rider, yes, I know, I’ve been calling her Val, but yesterday she insisted I continued to address her as such, and she doesn’t want me to mention our little chat to anyone, but still I’m sure it’s all right telling you.  I mean to say I tell you everything. I know, Dear Diary, I thought it was a little odd too; I didn’t think she knew I existed.  I mean to say, I’ve seen her swanning around at work when she’s been in helping her father out, but it isn’t as if we were on first name terms. 
      Anyway, the reason for her getting in touch was that she needed my help.  Can you believe that? She needed my help!  She apologised for it being at such short notice, but after being let down, she’d needed someone to ring round for Halloween decorations for her brother’s surprise birthday party.  Anyway, the upshot is, she invited me to stay at her place for the whole of the weekend, reassuring me it’ll be fun.  Of course, I’ll be taking you too!  Fab!


Dear Diary – Friday Evening: The weekend at last.  Wow, what a place!  It looks like something out of a Gothic novel, all dark and brooding, an ideal place to hold a Halloween Masked Ball.  I can’t wait to see what the decorations I ordered look like in the ballroom.  Val said I was such a great help, at such short notice too, that I’ll be making a grand entrance as the guest of honour on the night of the ball. 
      A bit odd, but Val requested I left my car in the woods, about a mile from the house, insisting that nothing must spoil the surprise we have so carefully planned.  Entering the house, she brought me straight up to this room at the top.  She thought it was the perfect room for me as I can see across the moon lit gardens to the woods at the back, while from the front I can watch everyone else’s arrival down the sweeping drive.  She’s thought of everything, the suite of rooms is self-contained so I can cater for myself until tomorrow.  
      On the bed, spread out is a dress for me, but it doesn’t match my personality, as it will leave me in déshabillé.  However, I forgive her, as she doesn’t know me at all. Without being rude, I didn’t let on that I’ve brought my own.  I mean to say I’m glad I have; such a flimsy piece of material may suit some women, but not me.  It would hardly cover where it touches.  Dear Diary, you know how much I like to be inconspicuous.
      Anyway, I wanted something extra special for Tim to see me in for the first time; something memorable.  So I brought a little Victorian Gothic number with a tight-fitting black corset, long flowing blood-red velvet skirt with black lace petticoats and all important black veil and long black gloves. 
      I asked Val where my mask was, but she smiled and said, ‘With a face like yours Evelina, you shouldn’t hide it away.’
      I wasn’t quite sure whether she was laughing at me, or not, but still I tried not to allow my emotions to get the better of me and spoil my lovely weekend.    
     One must always be positive about oneself.  My outfit showed off my finer points, even if I say so myself, which is my height and slim waist.  I’ve found that men are quite shocked to find I’m much stronger than I look which I must say I’ve put to good use and used to my advantage. 


Dear Diary – Saturday: Treachery, yes, you heard right!  So that’s why she was being nice to me, and I thought she liked me.  I know, Dear Diary, I’ve told you before about never trusting people at face value.  Yes, I know you’re right.  I did question it at the time, her calling me at home, telling me not to tell anyone.  It all makes sense now, knowing she’d worked in her father’s office over the summer, which meant she’d accessed his employees’ personal records. 
      So what happened I hear you ask?  Well, I shall tell you.  She’d catered well enough for me, but didn’t know I can’t drink milk so I went to see if I could find her to ask if I could have Soya instead. 
      Early this morning, while the dimly lit house still slumbered, I sneaked downstairs.  I don’t like the word ‘sneak’, but that’s what I did.  Finding myself standing in the half shadows on a large landing, there were doors either side of me, but I didn’t know which one would take me downstairs.  I froze when I heard voices coming from one of the rooms.  Stepping closer, I recognised Val’s voice.  Her laughter echoed around the room and out onto the corridor.  She was telling her friends how she’d stashed another pathetic creature in the attic like Bertha Rochester.  How she detested these miserable wretches who mooned over her brother.  How he looked forward to her birthday treats every year, but this time she’d excelled herself.  Laughing, she said she’d a real treat for them all when the guest of honour took to the dance floor in the most hideous dress.  I held my breath to stop myself from rushing in and grabbing her by her thin scrawny throat. 
      Turning away from the raucous laughter, I decided there and then to leave, but if I did,
then other girls would suffer the same fate as others before me.  No one had seen me arrive, or knew who I was, so I would play along and the endgame would be mine.


Dear Diary – Saturday Evening: Halloween night, let the party begin.  Val has been up to see me dressed in her carefully selected dress.  Telling me, how lovely I looked. In the small mirror, which hung on the wall, I couldn’t see anything, but the bottom of my legs and black ankle boots.  Without knowing what I looked like, I smiled and thanked her while she spewed out her lying flattery. 
      ‘How beautiful you look my dear.  You’ll be the belle of the ball putting the rest of us to shame when you take centre stage.  Now remember at midnight when you hear the clock chiming twelve follow the sound through the open doors down to the ballroom.’  Smiling, she reached out to touch my glossy black hair.  ‘You do understand, don’t you?’
      I nodded and smiled my best smile.  Oh, I understood fully.
      As she went to leave, she turned back with her supercilious smile, ‘My brother will adore you.  You’ll be his best birthday present ever.’
     Once she’d gone.  I tore off the dress, changed and headed downstairs.  Passing the bedrooms the sound of the music and laugher grew louder as I went.  I caught up with her just as she turned down the final flight of stairs.  Hanging back, I waited until she went in.  I turned to go when someone grabbed my arm, pulling me into another room away from the ball.
    ‘You should already be with the others?’ he whispered watching the stairs over my shoulder, ‘The silly bitch will be here soon.’  
      Sickened by the excitement I saw in his handsome face, I reached into my pocket.
      Laughing, he said, ‘My sister is brilliant at finding the most grotesque women.  We’ll have such a laugh.  Lift your veil, my fair beauty the ball hasn’t yet started.  Let me taste the sweetness of your lips, we’ve got time to kill.’ 
       Shaking my head, I said, ‘No, we haven’t, you’re already dead.’   
      Puzzlement flickered in his blue eyes as I drove my slim knife into his cold, black heart. As he dropped to the floor, I kissed his forehead and whispered, ‘Happy Birthday, Tim,’ as I wiped the blade of my knife across his cheek. 
     Moving quickly, I left the same way as I had arrived, unseen.  Many times before under different circumstances, but always ending the same way I’ve left other men.   

Dear Diary – Monday morning: Today the police came, as I knew they would.  I acted all shocked, and said I knew nothing about any Halloween party at Rider’s Manor House.  They said that some of my work colleagues were there over the weekend. 
      ‘Only the beautiful people get to go to such places,’ I laughed, touching the bright red birthmark on the left side my face.
     They asked me whether I could prove I was at home over the weekend.  I thought for a moment, it was normal for me to be unseen by anyone until work on Monday, but then I remembered.  I’d pressed five and Payment Protection Insurance was my alibi.  I smiled and said, “I’m sure the nice gentlemen called George on the phone could verify that I was at home.’
   

About the Author
Paula Readman lives in Essex. So far, she has been fairly successful writing short stories and recently had her short story Rat Trap published in the Bridge House Publishing Crime collection Crime After Crime, read an extract here: http://harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/yourebooked/2013/01/read-an-extract-of-rat-trap-by-paula-r-c-readman/
Paula hopes 2013 will be her year for finding an agent for her dark fantasy crime novels.
Find out more about her writing: http://darkfantasy13writer.blogspot.co.uk


Monday 7 January 2013

Flat White


Flat White

Alison Peden

Lemonade – no bubbles

Him: We first met during our second term at University – through a friend-of-a-friend kind of thing – but only became an actual couple a few months after we had graduated. She got a job in the town where I was living; we met for a drink and our relationship developed slowly from there. I wouldn’t have picked her out of a catalogue, but she was certainly pleasant enough on the eye. She had long, dark hair that she tossed about as she talked, using it to emphasise important points. I liked that. She would have looked better with a few less pounds on her. In fact, I did mention that in passing once.  Big mistake. She went ballistic, ranting on and on about the pressure on women to conform to impossible masculine ideal of female beauty. We had a heated discussion about society’s expectations of women, which I seem to remember ended in some pretty passionate sex. I enjoyed that part of her; her strong personality and her feminist ideals.
We were both at the foothills of our careers, so were knocked sideways when we discovered a few months into our relationship that she was pregnant. After much discussion, we decided to go ahead; that was when I asked her to marry me. We agreed that both of us would continue to work and that we would find a way of sharing the childcare.
The news that we were going to have twins made that idea less practical. So, we decided that for the time being she would take on the traditional female role of looking after the children, on the understanding that she would resume her career once they started at school. Then, my career would take more of a back seat.

After the boys arrived, we felt blessed and enjoyed a happy family life. My fondest memories are of our annual seaside holidays to Cornwall: long, sun-filled mornings on the beach building sandcastles with the boys and splashing together in the water; afternoons, all four together devouring cream teas in the village. I worked hard during the week but most weekends were crammed with fun: entertaining family and friends, trips to the zoo, kicking a ball around the park.  Good old-fashioned family times.

By the time the boys started school, my career was well-established; I was several rungs on a ladder and I didn’t intend to step off until I reached the top. My hours were long and I frequently had to bring work home with me. I had a succession of promotions and was earning a lot of money by anybody’s standards. When the subject of her returning to work arose, we agreed it was better for everyone if we carried on as we had been doing. The discussion was a little heated and she was a tad emotional, but that is how she is; eventually, she saw reason and accepted that it was the best thing for us as a family.

Life passed by quickly. As my star ascended, there were often corporate events at the weekends that I had to attend if I wanted to get on. Anyway, the boys were getting older and more interested in spending time with their friends or on Facebook. She wasn’t too happy about it at first, but after a few arguments she seemed to accept the logic.
***

Her: I met him through a friend when we were at University. He seemed okay: funny, a bit arrogant and self-assured, but then again no different really from most of the other men I knew. We socialised in a group from time to time. It wasn’t until I moved to his home town for my first job after graduation that we started spending time together, just the two of us. Old friends at first. He wasn’t my usual type, but then again maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing considering the poor choices I had made in the past. He was fairly good looking, in a boy-next-door kind of way, but it was his attitude to life that convinced me that there might be a future in the relationship. He appeared to respect my views and he seemed to value me as a person. He said that he liked me as I was, didn’t try to change me, and seemed content to listen to my requests and to negotiate elements of our relationship. We were both happy with how things were going between us, even if they could get a little heated at times.

The relationship was moving in a positive direction when I fell pregnant. The timing wasn’t great – only a few months into my new job and before we had even moved in together – but we decided to commit to each other and we worked out a plan that suited us both.
The first five years were hectic; twin boys were a challenge, to say the least, but I loved our time together as a family. It was so different from my own childhood in which women were the only caregivers, and children were expected to be seen and not heard.
I’m not sure when I first noticed the subtle differences between us, when I no longer felt that I was being heard, and at what point my need sand aspirations simply faded away in the face of the greater good of the family’s financial security and future wellbeing. Family times – all four of us together, having fun or just being – were increasingly sacrificed at the altar of his career and independent social life that seemed to go hand-in-hand with the drive for success. 

All of a sudden, the boys had become much more independent, spending less and less time with me and instead doing whatever testosterone-fuelled teenage boys do. I mourned a little as they moved away emotionally, sure, but I tried to be positive and looked at it as the ideal time to dust off the cobwebs of motherhood and revisit the me that had long been buried under the needs of my husband and children. This proved more difficult than I’d ever imagined. I felt ill-equipped to handle the new technological age, and my self-confidence fell to an all-time low.
***

Them: It was their wedding anniversary and they had decided to go for a meal to celebrate all those years spent together. The restaurant was dimly lit and the sounds of jazz hummed gently in the background. The food was delicious and the surroundings were relaxed and pleasant, romantic even.  But the relationship between them was strikingly incongruent with the ambience; eye-contact was fleeting, and the conversation was stilted in a way better- suited to an awkward first date than to a celebration of fourteen years of marriage.
She looked at him long and hard whilst he spoke to the waiter. She didn’t recognise him anymore. Gone were his boyish good looks; the warm feelings he had once stirred in her had long since evaporated into the ether.
He glanced up and caught her staring at him; she immediately averted her gaze. It had been a long time since he had properly looked at her, really looked; but he took the opportunity to absorb and to compare her to the woman he had married. There were subtle changes that he hadn’t noticed before: the greying of her hair and the lines around her eyes. But more than the physical changes of advancing age, he was struck by the defeated slump of her shoulders as she stared blankly into her half empty glass of wine. She looked up.
‘You’ve changed’, she said.
‘I was just thinking the same about you’, he replied.

Author Bio
Alison Peden is a writer of short stories. She lives in Manchester with her husband, her teenage daughter, and one of her two adult daughters. 



Tuesday 1 January 2013

Weekend at Badger's Lodge


Susan Jones
Weekend at Badger's Lodge
Brandy and Ginger with Whisky Chocolates


"How did the speed dating go?" Poppy stamped price tickets on boxes of chocolates, stacking them neatly on the shelf marked 'special offers' waiting for Janey's reply.
"Mmm, not a total disaster nor life changing either – there was someone I might be seeing again though."
"Janey Dobson, sly minx – might see again?"
Wide eyed now with hands on hips Poppy didn’t seem ready to let the subject of Janey's date drop. "Was he mean and moody? The Daniel Craig type?"
"No," Janey laughed. “You watch too many films, he was just, you know …."
Polly gave a satisfied smile.
"See, I told you it was worth a try, it's not as if you're a spring chicken any more, I worry about you, on your own all the time. I'd love to see you finding a nice man."
Janey turned as the tinkling of the shop bell broke the conversation leaving her sighing with relief.
Karen Dixon struggled with her buggy and shopping bags, letting the door bang behind her.
"Hey Karen, how's things with you?"
Often customers popped into 'Sweet Things' for a chat and a bit of a moan. Janey and Poppy were always there to listen and give sound advice. Mr Lacenby left them in charge. He trusted them both, and he always stressed upon them how important it was that they found time to talk to regulars and new customers alike. Karen heaved a weary sigh, and plonked herself onto the nearby stool that was kept for just that purpose. She seemed glad of a respite most likely from trekking round the shops by the look of all her bags.
"I'm really missing our Jack,” she said.  ”We're counting off the days on our wall chart, putting coloured stars to show when he comes home. It's supposed to be for the kids, I'm helping them of course. They miss him as well. It's hard on your own. Not that I'm on my own, I've got Jack, he writes all the time."
"Aww, it's lovely, you keeping in touch, are you allowed to Facebook him and text, stuff like that?"  Poppy said.
"No, not really, we write though."
Janey frowned, she wished Poppy wouldn't bombard Karen with so many questions. Why couldn't she listen, just for once, that would be an impossible ask. Poppy continued chatting. "And that choir you've been singing with, it's brilliant, hey, he won't half be proud when he hears you've made the charts."
"Yeah, hope so. Anyway how are things with you two?"
"Well, Janey has some news on the romantic front haven't you dearie?" Polly folded her arms with a smug grin, clearly bursting to tell Karen. Janey knew she couldn't keep the secret for long, not that there was a secret, but she would have liked to keep the news to herself, at least until she knew if it was going anywhere.
"Been speed dating, down at the legion, turned out better than she thought. Go on." She was nodding, not giving Janey an inch to change the subject.
Janey spoke gingerly. "Yes, it was okay. I'm seeing Forester again."
"Forester? That name sounds familiar; didn't you have a boyfriend in the last year at school with that name? You don't mean Forester Baxter do you? His mum delivers meals on wheels." Janey felt herself blushing; she'd been practically pushed into the speed dating by Poppy's constant nagging: as if being thirty-something and not attached was a cardinal sin!
"Think I did go out with him, you're right," muttered Janey.
Karen rocked the buggy backwards and forwards, hushing the grizzling twins.
"Oh, that's lovely. You and he still single, shows something then." She stood back quietly. Poppy repeated dreamily, "Ahh yeah, shows something."
Janey picked up a box of whiskey liquors desperate to change the subject.
"You two, what are you like? It's just a couple of old friends meeting up for a drink. Think he'd like a box of these? I know he drinks whiskey, or he used to." Poppy and Karen were smiling and nodding knowingly at each other.
"He's suggested an Easter weekend break, only one night. We're both tied up with family commitments over the Christmas and New Year, it'd be a change." Janey picked up a duster, and carried on with her work.
"Well -- hellooo; weekend break – as in sleep-over-night?" Poppy was blinking, those long eyelashes, neck extended like an interested giraffe who had just spotted a lush green bamboo. The sight had Janey giggling.
"I know, me, weekend break, do you think I should?"
"I would! Where did he suggest?"
"Stratford, Warwick, the Cotswolds maybe, I'm thinking it over, I need to let him know by the weekend."
"I'd jump at the chance of a weekend alone with my Jack," Karen sighed. “Well, I'll be off, thanks for the chat ladies, don't know what I'd do without you two to have a chin wag with. Give us a box of jelly babies Poppy." She nodded to where little Lydia and Lyndon's favourite sweets stood tidily on the shelf. No, better make it two boxes, they'll only squabble otherwise.

After Karen had gone, Poppy made two cups of earl grey tea. As they relaxed into the afternoon break, she gave Janey a gentle nudge.
"Hey, I'm pleased for you, honestly I am. Time you found someone."
"Thanks. I'll keep you informed."
"You'd better. Hey, and don't forget who's idea the speed dating was. If there's going to be any wedding bells, I'm first up for chiefy."
"What!" Janey couldn't believe the ideas Poppy came up with at times.
"Y'know, chief bridesmaid, that'll be me."

***

Janey took a deep breath as she entered the lounge of Badger's Lodge in the middle of the Warwickshire town. They'd spoken on the phone, exchanged texts and now she was meeting up with him again. It was her idea to have a taxi. She wanted to arrive separately. It somehow wouldn't have felt right sitting next to him in his car, she was after all, an independent woman. This was a huge deal, meeting someone wasn't something she did. She felt better arriving alone, then it gave them chance to get to know each other better. Heart thumping, she spotted him first, sitting at a low table, brushing a stray hair off his jacket. He looked quite relaxed. So handsome, she hoped he approved of her swirling knee length black velvet skirt, lacy tights with aubergine fluffy low cut top. It had been so long since she'd bothered to dress with a man in mind. If she was utterly truthful, he was the only man she wanted to dress decent for. Meeting him at the speed dating was a dream. He glanced at his watch; looking slightly irritated. He'd been moody, one of the reasons their short-lived romance had broken down. Now they were both single Taking a deep breath, she strode confidently towards him, the man she was going to spend the night with.
"There you are." As he looked up, she noticed how his lake-blue eyes lit up, lingering on her face, taking in every detail, from the colour of her lipstick to the swept up hair, then to her over-exposed cleavage. Suddenly she began to shake with fright, or could it be excitement?

Over the meal of shrimps in sauce, followed by peppered steak and salad, Forester and Janey chatted over old times, deciding to tell each other what had annoyed them about each other the first time round. It seemed the disagreements that drove them apart, had in some absurd way cemented their love.
"I haven't met anyone since you that would have a decent conversation with me," Forester confessed.
"Well, I'm glad about that." Janey cocked her head to one side. "Remember how we used to flick our desserts at each other?" She took a spoonful of trifle, aiming the spoon towards him laughing. Then she lowered it to her plate. When he smiled, the crinkles at the corner of his eyes, more pronounced than she remembered only made her love him more. He was holding a spoon of trifle, aiming it towards her chest, then he put it back. "We have grown up since then, haven't we?"

Janey and Forester took their brandy and ginger drinks over to the log fire where they watched it burning down to an ember. Chatting, reminiscing, sometimes just gazing at each other, Janey felt more relaxed than she had done for a long time. Now the moment was right. She reached into her handbag.
"Do you like these?" She held up the box of milk chocolates with the Irish whiskey centres, smiling demurely.
"They look good, nice for afters."
"How about we squash them over each other, then lick them off?" she whispered devilishly. It was precisely around five minutes later that they made their way into the lavish double bedroom of the Lodge.
Slowly, Janey undressed, feeling tense, yet enjoying every moment of this special time. Maybe Forester would think she'd gone too far with the chocolate game, or would he enjoy it, take it for a bit of fun, nothing more? For once in her boring life, she was living for the moment. As if they were teenagers again. Breaking up the chocolates, then pouring liquid centres over each other, rolling and frolicking like a couple of teenagers. They hadn't been as daring as this back then. Covered in whisky chocolate, licking, kissing, rolling in a heap of absolute crazy fun she had the time of her life.

Next morning, she woke wondering if Forester had enjoyed the night as much as she had. Turning to face him, his eyes told her all she needed to know. Locked in love, time stood still. Both knowing that this was only the beginning. So much loving to catch up on. Forester was first to jump out of bed.
"I'll switch the shower on." Then they saw the aftermath of their passion. Sheets smeared with chocolate – not a little bit that could be wiped off with a flannel, no, a really big bit that would never go unnoticed.
"Oh no;" Janey slid under the duvet, covering her head. "What are we going to do?"

The car was loaded up, sheets bundled in an ungainly heap up the corner of the room. Before he drove off Forester spoke briskly.
"There's something I have to do." She sat low down in her seat, in his car this time, he'd insisted on dropping her home. She waited for his return. "It's okay, I explained we had fun with a box of chocolates." Janey gaped in disbelief.
"You told them?" Forester gripped her knee laughing. "They thought it was funny: I explained we're back together after fifteen years. Don't worry. It's only chocolate and whiskey, they've likely seen worse." Janey sighed. That's one little detail she wouldn't be telling Poppy when she got back to work.

Bio
Susan is working on her first novel Hats off to Love which made it  to the shortlist of the 
Romantic Novelist's Association new talent competition 2012.  Her short stories can be found
on Alfie dog and also on Amazon - Growing up in the 70's where you can read 'High School Blues.' Articles have been published in The Great War magazine, Best of British, Bella, Take a 
Break and My Weekly.  Letters on embarrassing moments have appeared twice in
'That's Life.'
Visit the author’s website here:
And her Blogs:

The Best of 2012


The Best of Cafelit 2012

Each year the editor selects her favourite stories from the ones published between October 15th the year before to October 14th and these are published in a paperback collection that will be available from Amazon and usual online retailers. The idea is that the stories will showcase the best of both traditional and experimental fiction that is distinctly 'CafeLit.'
We are delighted to announce that the selection for 2012 as the stories appear are as follows:

Geoff Speckles The Doctor’s Wind
Kathleen Jones Jazz Café
Patsy Collins Small Ones Are More Juicy
Maureen Vincent-Northam Frozen in Time
Roger Noons We all Believe in Father Christmas
Julie-Ann Corrigan A Sweet Tooth at Christmas – a Slice of Paradise
Trevor Belshaw Desperate Measures
Lindsay Bamfield She is Leaving Me
Marie Fullerton Writer’s Block
Gail Aldwin The Shallows
Trevor Belshaw The Visit
Marie Fullerton The Dawning
Melissa Kay Diamond, Mine
Rose Kelland Good Luck, Bad Luck Cat
Charlie Britten Visions
Dorothy Davies Blood on the Rose
Roger Noons Victor
Jessica Cooke Eternity
Dorothy Davies Will you walk with me a way?
Rai Jayne Vincent – A Fairy Tale
Jackie Morrissey These Foolish Things
Sarah Bakewell Chubby Little Cheeks

Julie-Ann Corrigan An Illicit Romance
Philip Mallinson Boiling Point

More information on how to buy the book will be available here. The book will be released early in 2013