Tuesday 26 February 2013

The Meeting

The Meeting
Roger Noons
A large gin

‘It was such a surprise, when I met him. He was nothing like I’d expected. Of course that’s often the case. I’d read all his books, articles about him, even heard his voice on the radio. A feature of his publicity was that he always refused to be photographed, so I had no way of knowing anything of his physical nature.’
    ‘It was not that he was the opposite of what I expected, not a case of me imagining tall and him being short or anything like that … for example, I would have put money on the fact that he would be wearing spectacles, and he was not. I hoped he might have a beard, I like a beard on a man, and his writing seemed to call for it. He was not so much clean shaven, as having skin that looked like it had never been introduced to a razor.’
    ‘No, he wasn’t wearing a suit, or a tie. Smart casual, sort of country, that’s how I would describe him. You know, checked shirt, cords, what we used to call Chelsea boots … oh yes, all quality stuff.’
    ‘Smell? No he didn’t smell … Oh, I see what you mean. Yes, there was a scent, a hint of refined musk, a manly aftershave, but not over done. Just nice, tasteful … mature … sophisticated. I’d used my newest perfume, After the Rain, from Aran Aromatics, it cost me twenty-five pounds, but I believed it to be a good investment, after all, it’s not every day that I get to meet …’
    ‘Say? What did he say? Do you know I can hardly remember, it’s all a bit of a haze now. I know one thing … he spoke quietly, I had to lean forward so I could hear. His voice was deeper than I had remembered.’
    ‘Yes, we chatted for quite a while, well I mainly listened. You see there was no-one else waiting, I was staggered, I thought he would be inundated, after all …’
    ‘What? Really? William James next week? So who …’
    ‘James Williams? Who’s he?’
    'Oh my God!'
    ‘Oh my God!’

 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.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Letter to Albertine

Letter to Albertine

Angela South

Bitter Espresso 

December 1946

My darling Albertine,

I know it is some while since I visited or wrote to you at Chartham Hospital and I have no excuse for my tardiness. The doctor in charge of your mental well-being has kept me informed of your progress and I think about you constantly. Indeed when I return to England, I hope to visit you very soon.
Time seems to be racing ahead but whether this is because I am older or busier, the jury is still out. Please be assured I still find much affection for you and think over the many happy memories we shared from our early married life. Do you remember the time when Dad fell in the fish pond? I think he gave the fish quite a scare. Unfortunately there are no fish in the pond now as our house has been empty for some years.
My darling, this is not an easy letter for me to write but it would be most unfair to you if I did not tell you what is happening in my life as soon as possible even if you are unable to understand all its meanings and I am currently unable to tell you in person. Life, as it habitually does. has moved on and I need to explain my current circumstances not just to you but also to organise my thoughts for my own sanity for what a truly mad world this is. I do not even know if I will send this letter but it needs writing.
          I hope you have safely received the French books I managed to acquire and perhaps you are able to comprehend some of it or find someone at the hospital who is able to interpret this for you. I will be sending another parcel very soon. Do you remember the winter evenings when we sat together by the fire and read? My French certainly improved.
          I am sorry you have had to spend so long in the asylum and I had sincerely hoped your condition would improve but the doctor tells me you are still very “noisy”. I am not sure what that means except you are still unwell and need the care the hospital can give and I am unable to.
I thought there would be no more horror in Europe after the turmoil and chaos of the Great War but I was wrong. Would you believe at the grand old age of forty -nine when the Second World War broke out I was deemed too old to fight? Nevertheless, I found a niche for myself working as a civil servant in the War Office so it was essential I left our lovely home temporarily to live in the capital.
London suffered badly during the almost nightly bombing raids. The civilian bombing was very intense and I am sorry to say our precious dog, Whistler, was killed when a bomb hit my Holborn flat in 1943 while I myself only suffered an injured foot, which is still painful. I am pleased to say our home in River remains unaffected but, of course, it is at present an empty shell and not the loving home it once was.
Unfortunately, our family had two sad losses during 1944, which we kept from you at the time in case it made your condition worse. My father died in December at the age of seventy-six but he had a good life and you will recall his frequent visits to us at River and how well we all worked together in the garden with Whistler constantly getting under our feet. Dad felt great affection for you.
Our young nephew, Laurence, was also taken. I remember you were always fond of him when he was a small child and he loved you in return but he was never in the bloom of full health. It’s hard to believe it is over ten years when you took him out for his first picnic but I remember how excited he was and how much he enjoyed it. Pneumonia resulting from his diabetes and epilepsy caused his premature death. He had been unwell for some time and I am glad you were spared the unpleasantness of seeing him so ailing. Not having children myself I cannot begin to imagine the anguish his parents must be suffering although it must be tinged with the relief that his suffering is now over. I went to visit Sid and Rita recently and as there are no more children their tiny bungalow seemed very empty.
Do you remember the pretty little church at the end of the road? Well that is now Laurence’s final resting place and when I went to visit found it tranquil and beautiful. Unfortunately, Sid and Rita have been unable to afford a headstone but we all know Laurence is there so that is all that matters.
I am living and working in the British sector of West Berlin and my beautiful green England seems so very far away. I miss our lovely home we shared in River particularly our joy at tending to our garden. I am afraid, my love, that the garden will be very over-grown by now and need some intensive care.
After the Allies’ success Berlin was divided to help Germany govern itself eventually and to oversee peace in a bid not to repeat the terrible mistakes of 1919. Naturally, I am living and working in the British sector, which is in West Berlin.
As you would expect Germany today is in total crisis and home to a hungry, depressed and demoralised population of mainly women, old men and children. Hitler decreed the Germans must fight to the bitter end and this decree they faithfully carried out even though they only had the most basic of weapons and it was obvious the war had been lost by them months previously.
This ensured that little infrastructure remains in place particularly in Berlin. Barely any buildings are still in their original state and those that are left standing have walls or roofs missing. Domestic pets and the magnificent zoo animals were utilised long ago as food and looting is a way of life as the people are starving. When you are hungry all you can think about is where the next meal might come from.
I thought I had seen it all in the last war but I was not prepared for the conditions I find here. I see this clearly in Berlin daily as I walk to work or carry out visits as part of my duties. Any animal that drops dead in the street is immediately set upon by the people as they try to get their share of the meat and much of their time is spent looking for wood to burn to keep themselves warm.
The smell of the unburied dead lying beneath the rubble lingers in my nostrils. It is the distinctive smell I remember from the Great War and prayed that I would never encounter again. There is some form of transport but it is slow and unpredictable and, of course, Germans have no access to petrol. I am glad you are safe in Kent with kindly people to look after you.
The Russians are in the east of Berlin where their cruelty, indiscriminate raping of women, young and old, and looting of anything belonging to Berliners is rife. I do know they suffered significantly when Germany invaded them in 1941 so there is much anger and resentment in their hearts and minds so the desire for revenge is strong. Who can blame them?
The news of the German treatment of Jews and the liberating of the extermination camps has devastated us all – how can such cruelty exist? We fought so hard for a better world in 1914 – did all those young men die in vain? The news of Hitler’s suicide came with mixed feelings as he has escaped the hangman’s noose and the retribution of a trial. Moreover, I fear for Berlin and the rest of the world in this new peace. The Russians have a stronghold in the east and Stalin, another cruel man to rival Hitler, is likely to tighten this grip even further. Winston warned us all.
My work here is not too arduous so I do have time to write, read or socialise. We have sufficient food but electricity and hot water are very unreliable and although we grumble we consider ourselves to be very lucky.
Now comes the moment when I fear I may hurt your feelings. Not to tell you would be unfair and although I should do it in person this is not possible at present. It was in February of this year that my life changed completely. I was in the Service Personnel Club during a cold, wet evening nursing a pint of beer with my companion and colleague Frank, when I first saw Christa standing at the bar. Although we are not supposed to fraternise with the enemy, young German women are usually welcomed into the club and their presence is a welcome relief from our largely male majority. The atmosphere in the club is always thick with tobacco smoke, the smell of stale beer and unwashed bodies so is not the most comfortable of places.
What I must tell you now and may cause you great sadness is that I fell in love on that day and from that moment onwards I was suddenly transformed into a lovesick school boy.
As I looked over at Christa I could see that she was looking over at us. I was overwhelmed by her warm smile and at Frank’s insistence went over to introduce myself and offer her a drink. How can I describe her or describe how I felt? I will try though. She is twenty-one years old, my height, has dark wavy hair which frames her perfect features, but if I was going to be critical I would say her nose is rather too long and pointed. Her lips are well formed and when she smiles I feel thirty years drop off me. She is very thin from being undernourished and the work she does here.
I could see Frank watching me so I invited her to join us. Did I think about you at the time? Yes, of course I did and I felt remorse but by now you felt so far removed from my life it was as though you were in another universe entirely. Christa and I spent the evening together and this silly boy then asked to see her again and my heart leapt for joy when she accepted.
Our friendship quickly developed over the weeks, despite our thirty-six year age difference. If I keep mentioning the age difference it is because it feels more than a little awkward to me. Christa makes me laugh and I love her youthful exuberance; it allows me to forget how homesick I am. Her cheerful disposition belies what she and her family have been through since Hitler came to power and through all the deprivations of the war years.
In many respects, she reminds me of you in the early years of our marriage. Now, much to my amazement, I find that I am in love – just as I was with you, my dear Albertine, when we first met in France during that very cold, wet miserable winter of 1917. How we tried to keep ourselves warm and dry but rarely succeeding but we managed to laugh together despite the adversity.
Christa and I meet as regularly as our work permit. When you want to spend twenty four hours a day with someone it is not as often as I would like. Sometimes we take walks amid the crumbling ruins of Berlin, or a drink in one of the very few cafes still standing and occasionally we go dancing to the British club although I confess I cannot keep pace with her youth. I met her parents last month and I get on particularly well with her father, who at fifty five is just one year younger than me. After his first wife’s untimely death in 1930 he appears to have quickly married her older sister probably more out of convenience than love but that is an opinion I keep to myself. Christa adores her father but does not seem so loving towards her step-mother.
I have found great happiness and that is something I had not expected to experience again especially at my time of life. I look forward at some time in the future to making her my wife and I know she eventually hopes to have a family. If you are able to understand, please find it in your heart to forgive me for what must seem like treacherous behaviour.
I know what hardship prevailed during the Great War as you watched your home in Lille disintegrate under the constant bombardment from both sides on the Western Front and your sadness at the loss of your two younger brothers at Verdun. Courting was no easy matter for us in 1917 as I always seemed to be on the move but we managed to get to know each other despite the many hardships. I think I was afraid in those days that our love for each other would turn sour, as life on the Western Front was so unpredictable. I must have been very insecure.
I was delighted to bring you home to the relative peace of England and was proud to introduce you to my family. I fear though they found your ‘foreignness’ something of a challenge and were not as considerate as I had hoped. I was so happy the day we married in April 1918 and you looked so beautiful but I was saddened that I had to return so immediately to the Western Front. It must have been even more difficult for you being left behind in England, so far from your home and family.
Your English was at best limited and I fear at the time I did not truly appreciate the difficulties you faced when I left but thought only of myself and getting through the remainder of the war. I feel humbled by my selfishness. I thought we were so very happy when I returned in 1920. When your illness took such a firm and rapid hold I was devastated and helpless. I believe I did everything I could to make you happy and well but I suspect that our inability to have children may have contributed to your rapidly deteriorating mental state. It was a very difficult decision to have you committed to Chartham when I felt I could no longer look after you. You no longer felt like the woman I had married.
I now have the chance of happiness once again and how many men can say that at my age? My world is enchanting when I am with Christa and I intend to bring her to England as soon as possible. She has been through so much in her short life having lost her beloved mother when she was only five years old and then spending the war years in Berlin. She lost two well-loved cousins on the eastern front in 1942 and their bodies have never been recovered. I now feel such an urge to protect her from any more hardship in life.
She is currently one of the so-called ‘trummerfrauen’ or rubble women because she works hard all day cleaning bricks lifted from the rubble that was once a vibrant Berlin but this work is essential for rebuilding the city and the rubble is the only resource available for building. The work is very tough on her hands, which are constantly red and sore, but, with so many men dead or imprisoned, it is left to the women of Berlin to take on this very onerous task.
My dear Albertine, I promise I will not marry her while you still live. I know your religion will not allow me to divorce you and I will respect this. Christa and I do intend to start a family as soon as we are able, as I know she is anxious to do this before I get too old for such things. I do not know what such a wonderful young woman sees in this old man.
I am concerned that as a German citizen Christa may not be well received in England at the present time but I will do my best to protect her from any unpleasantness. She is a lovely girl and deserves to have a long and happy life and I hope to share as many of those years with her as possible.
If you have any perception of the contents of this letter I do hope you will forgive me and understand my need for affection. I will of course continue to support you in every way I can and ensure that you are kept safe. As soon as I have returned to the UK I will visit you. I do hope that on this occasion you are able to recognise me and perhaps find joy in my company once again even for a short time. Do not consider that I no longer find love in my heart for you but wars always bring change and as mere mortals we must change too.

All my love,

Johnnie x

Author Bio

Angela South originates from Dover, Kent. She started her career as a secretary mostly in London. But in 1978 she became lecturer in a further education college teaching Business Studies and IT, at the same time as bringing up a family.

She left teaching in 2008 to work as a PA to the director of a
national charity. She has since worked as a carer in a home for the elderly and is now happily retired although she does do some voluntary work. She now has time to develop her writing hobby and this is the first of what she hopes will be many short story successes.

Wednesday 13 February 2013


Roger Noons
In the absence of hemlock, a large whisky, very, very sour

I should have realised, right at the beginning; but I had fallen in love.
I met Julia whilst on a training course in Exeter. It was early June, warm, sunny and we were often cast together, either as a pair, or in the same team of four. Most of the time, the exercises were conducted in the grounds of the Hall, which the Company had hired to train us in inter-personal skills. We therefore spent many hours during that week, either sitting at picnic benches, or lounging on soft, lush, green grass. 
    The nature of the course meant that we also spent our evenings together, continuing discussions either in the bar, or on the patio outside. For much of the time, the other attendees gave us a wide berth. In five days, I learnt more about Julia: her tastes, likes and dislikes, than I had ever known about any other person, in my twenty-seven years.
    I was surprised when she announced that she was forty-three years old. From her appearance and bubbly enthusiasm, I had guessed around twenty-five. The first night we spent together in bed, she behaved like a woman in her mid-twenties. It was just after one o’ clock on the Thursday morning when she whispered. ‘I love you.’

 As lunchtime neared on the Friday, I became restless, nervous, wondering how I should deal with the business of our parting, how and when, we should meet again. I could not decide what to say. I believed that if I put so much as a lettuce leaf in my mouth, I would be sick. As it happened, I need not have worried.
    ‘Must you return home this afternoon?’ Julia asked.
    ‘No there’s no rush, I can ring Adam, why?’
    ‘I’m going to visit my parents. They live just outside Gloucester; it’s on your way, so why not come with me?’
    ‘If you think it will be alright, not inconvenience them, that would be great.’
    ‘No problem, they are looking forward to meeting you.’
I had not considered that Julia being the age that she was, would have parents in their seventies. Hence it was a shock when I was introduced. Her father, a retired vicar, totally bald, depressed and subdued: reeked of loneliness. Mrs Scott-James was an altogether different proposition. She was tall, stately, overweight, but with her ample flesh suitably encased, no doubt by the most skilful of corsetiéres. Her manner was brusque, formal and even when she merely said, ‘How do you do.?’ there was challenge and accusation in her tone. I immediately realised that Julia and I would be housed in separate rooms, although I had not expected that we would be on different floors.
    In order to inconvenience them as little as possible, bearing in mind the brief notice of my arrival, I suggested that I treat the four of us to supper at the village pub. Herbert’s expression lightened, until Elspeth commented. ‘Providing we can get a table.’
    Julia rang and charmed the licensee and we were given a reservation for eight thirty.
    ‘A little late for us Herbert, we must only have one course,’ was the dragon’s observation.

The atmosphere at the Black Swan resulted in us enjoying a more pleasant evening than I had expected. Herbert had little to contribute to the conversation, but discovered the courage to defy his wife and order a rich, creamy pudding.
    ‘I trust you will be able to sleep after such a dessert Herbert. I think it best that you take appropriate medication before you retire. I would not welcome being disturbed during the early hours.’
    ‘Leave him alone Mum,’ Julia chided, and poured him another glass of wine.
    Mrs. J-S. was about to respond, but perhaps remembering my presence, consoled herself with a look that would have frozen soup, had there been a bowl of it on the table. When the three of us stared at her, Elspeth smiled wanly in her daughter’s direction.
    Julia had previously told me that although Elspeth bullied her father, she was generous towards her. In her mother’s eyes, Julia had already far exceeded expectation, by rising through the company, to become the head of the firm’s legal department. I had to agree that it was an exceptional achievement.

Soon after we returned from the pub, the oldies said good night. We were left alone in the magazine-layout sitting room. Giggling, we lay on the carpet, alongside the marble surround of the over-sized fire grate, rather than risk making an indentation, or leaving a stain on an item of furniture.
That first encounter was thirty-two years ago. Since then, Julia and I married, she suffered a miscarriage, and her parents died. Herbert went first, quietly whilst he was asleep. Elspeth suffered a brain tumour. She went blind and deaf during the final weeks, but retained her power of speech, so that she could purvey her vehemence and continue to criticize, mainly me.
    My wife had changed with the years. She and Elspeth had become more like sisters, and I was the principal recipient of their joint venom. After her mother had been cremated, Julia assumed the sole mantle. I had progressed in the company to the position of Sales Director. We had a fine house, nice cars, lots of money and acquaintances; no family of course, and few friends. It should have been a wonderful life, but it was one of misery. I worked as many hours as I could, stayed away from home and had liaisons, but she always knew – whether by a sixth sense – or because I was lax in covering up. She knew and made me pay, by her words and actions. In time her skills made her mother’s performance seem amateurish.
It was at the party to celebrate my early retirement that Adam proclaimed. ‘Julia has the ability to brighten a room, merely by leaving it.’
    That made me think about the years ahead. Although seventy-five, Julia was fit and healthy. She had her mother’s genes, so I decided that I should be rid of her. I spent days, weeks developing a plan, a plot to engineer her demise. It should have worked perfectly, except for coincidence. At the very moment that she slipped from the cliff path, falling onto the rocks below, an air sea rescue helicopter on another mission passed overhead. Both pilot and navigator swore that they saw my hands upon her back, the split second before she fell.
 I have decided that when my solicitor visits tomorrow, I shall instruct him to enter a plea of guilty.

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.

Thursday 7 February 2013

The Difference Between Us

The Difference Between Us
Laura Wilkinson
How stupid to carry the shoes: guilt overriding common sense. Nestled under my arm the box digs into my ribs, and I wonder how I’ll manage my suitcases. Swollen soles throb; my feet look like trotters, my legs like skittles – I am a mess. Pushing aside an unread book and wash bag I scrabble in my handbag for nicotine gum. I am trying to give up – smoking dulls my complexion, yellows my teeth. Eva doesn’t smoke. The flight number flashes on the screen, the belt groans into action and people surge to claim their luggage, knocking me off my fashionable, unforgiving heels. I hobble forward.
        As I push my trolley through the arrivals lounge I see her. She looks preternaturally beautiful, and my heart sinks then swells with pride in such rapid succession I feel faint. Or is it the heat? She glows like a nymph in a river of sweaty faces. She is daydreaming, not watchful, so I watch her, unobserved, and realise, with dismay, that she’s lost weight.
            ‘Not that she needed to,’ I snipe, penitent immediately. Eva’s been ill; there’s been a traumatic break-up. Correction: she was dumped. But Eva is never dumped; she is the one who grows tired and moves on. Until David. I note that other than weight loss Eva looks in rude health.


The last time I saw my twin was a few hours before my departure. She was getting ready for an evening out and the house shook with excitement. Her date was a local celebrity, an ex-footballer whose career had been cut short, purportedly, by a knee injury. He spotted her at a beauty contest. Eva was not a contestant, much to the relief of the other girls; she worked as a stylist and make-up artist. Our mother described David as ‘a good catch’.
            So all eyes were on Eva the night I left. She wore a turquoise dress, emphasising her green eyes, and her blonde hair had been curled and piled high on her head, accentuating her height and leanness.
            ‘Where are my yellow shoes?’ she bellowed from the landing as I dragged my bags across the hall. ‘I can’t find the bloody things anywhere.’
            From the bedroom our mother cooed, ‘Eva darling, why don’t we look in your wardrobe. I’m sure they’ll be there. We’re not looking hard enough.’
            ‘We’d better be bloody fast about it. The car will be here in a minute.’
            ‘Why don’t you wear the red ones, Eva? They’re gorgeous,’ I offered picking fluff from my jumper and hoping my tone didn’t betray me.
            ‘Because red is tarty, Monica.’
            Outside a horn tooted and Mum emerged from the bedroom, pink faced and flustered, holding a pair of silver courts.
            ‘They’ll have to do.’ Eva snatched the shoes, slipped them on and waltzed down the stairs. We scurried after her as she whirled through the porch door.
            ‘Give me a hug, sweetie. Sorry I can’t come to the airport. You understand. I’ll come and visit when I’m a happily married woman!’
            And with that she was gone.
            Mum touched my shoulder and said, ‘Plenty of time. Study, work, live, love. That order.’

Pushing her way through the crowds she flings her arms around me. I could snap her in two if I squeeze hard enough.
            ‘You look well,’ she says.
            ‘Fat.’ I force myself to laugh. ‘I’ve puffed up like pastry.’
            ‘You look amazing. Come on.’
Driving home Eva talks incessantly. Familiar scenery flashes before my eyes. This is home, where my heart is, I think.
            ‘How does it feel to be back?’ Eva interrupts my thoughts.
            ‘Good. I miss this place.’
            ‘I’d so love to get out of here.’
            ‘Then you should. Why not?’
            She looks at me and I’m worried that we’ll crash. ‘Because I’m not as brave as you. Or as clever. People know me here. And there’s Mum.’
            ‘She’d cope. If you really want something, then go get it. It needn’t be forever.’
‘Sound words, Egg. Perhaps I’ll travel when you’re done.’ The nickname – short for Egg-head – comforts me; she has not used it for years.
I wonder if there’s anything for me here anymore. Anyone. I try to be casual. ‘Have you seen Tony?  He know I’m visiting?’  I hope he’s forgiven me.
            ‘Saw him the other day. He asked after you. “How’s your sis, Eva? Haven’t seen her in an age, must be twelve months.”’ Eva’s impersonation is good. Too good. The cadence is spot on and goose-pimples rise on my arm.
            It’s been thirteen months – I last saw him four weeks before I left.

Tony was the kind of guy everyone liked. Nice-looking, affable, flawed.  Ever so slightly boss-eyed, a bit like Benito Del Toro. I’d been in love with him since high school.  
Eva teased me mercilessly. ‘Monica loves Toneeeeeeeeeeeeeeee,’ she’d say, fake-fainting on the sofa.
But he didn’t go for girls like me. Or so I thought. I figured he liked Eva – most of the guys we knew did.              
One evening, at a bar on the harbour with friends, Tony mooched over. He invited us all to the launch of a new club he was managing, but no one could make it. No one except me. I had nothing on that night, other than studying for my exams; I rarely did.
Eva shrugged, pouted and said, ’You win some, you lose some, huh, Tony?’
            Ignoring her, Tony turned to me and said, ‘It’s you and me, kid. I’ll pick you up at eight.’
            He winked as he walked away. The ‘picking up’ made it feel like a date.
            ‘Monica and Tony Sanchez, eh? Who’d have thought it?’ Eva said. She was laughing, but I didn’t care.
I couldn’t decide what to wear. My black dress was flattering but too frumpy. I needed something to transform the look – statement shoes perhaps – but I didn’t have any. Eva did. Spiky-heeled yellow shoes with outsize bows. They weren’t her favourites, but I knew she would not lend them to me.
As I crept out, a tote held fast under my arm, Eva said, ‘You look nice. Very, err,’ she struggled for a quietly insulting remark, ‘refined.’ A heel jabbed at my ribs as I quickened my pace.
The club was packed and no one could see my feet anyway. But Tony was attentive; we sat on bar stools and talked and talked and talked. We made each other laugh.
Later, as we walked to the taxi rank, Tony took hold of my hand. My palms were sweaty, the soles of my feet ached. The yellow shoes click-clacked.
‘They Eva’s shoes?’
I shrugged and looked at the pavement.
‘She wasn’t worried you’d look better in them?’
            ‘No danger of that,’ I mumbled, twirling strands of hair round a finger.
            ‘She is lovely, that twin of yours.’ He emphasized ‘twin’ and his tone was jocular, but I didn’t understand.
            ‘Non-identical twin.’ I cursed the shoes; they reminded him of Eva. My confidence evaporated.
            Without replying he steered me into a doorway. The wood felt cool against my back. Eyes closed he leant in, kissing my neck and ears. The scent of sandalwood engulfed me; his touch was passionate and tender. He inched towards my face. Images of Eva looming in my mind, my mouth dried up and despite my desire I was unable to return his kiss.  
Ashamed I pushed him off and ran; his confused words couldn’t keep pace, I was fast – even in those heels.
In the taxi I tore off the shoes. I wanted rid of them. My feet were blistered and bleeding, unused to the stringencies of such footwear, and as we crawled along the harbour seafront I hurled them through the open window. The tide was in. I heard a faint splash and imagined them sinking to the sea bed; the ribbons unravelling, soaring like a mermaid’s hair, Eva’s yellow shoes drifting with rusty cans, old trainers and fishermen’s abandoned weights.
            I left a month later. Deferring my university place, I travelled, and forged a life independent of Eva.
Before I left, Tony called a couple of times and though I wanted to, I couldn’t pick up. On my voicemail he asked what he’d done wrong. ‘Call me,’ he said. But I was too embarrassed. I wanted to tell Eva about the shoes, but never found the right time.

As Eva watches me drag my bags from the boot of her car she says, ‘This is going to sound weird, but did you take my yellow shoes with you?’
            My stomach turns over.
            ‘Tony said something.’
            ‘He saw you in them.’
            Memories return. Of how messed up I was. How jealousy convinced me he couldn’t possibly like me, that I was a poor substitute for Eva.  How months later, in a foreign city, I realised the twin reference was meant as a compliment; bitter tears of regret mingling with the wails of car alarms and sirens. I hope he’ll give me a second chance.
‘Where did you see Tony?’ I say.
            ‘In his bar.’
I want to confess, it has weighed on me too long.
            ‘I’m sorry.’ It pours out: my confession. ‘I brought you something. To make up.’ And I pull out the box. A pair of shoes: Manolo Blahnik’s. A month’s salary.
            ‘I would have lent them to you,’ she says.
‘You wouldn’t.’ I smile.
‘You’re right. I wouldn’t. It served me right. Thank you for these. They are truly gorgeous, much lovelier than the others.’
Clutching the shoes Eva grins. ‘I have a confession to make too.’ Python sly smile. ‘You stepped into my shoes...’
I wonder what on earth I have, or had, that Eva covets. And then I know: Tony. I cannot move.
Leaning forward, she grabs my suitcase handle and wheels it to the front door.
‘Come on, slow coach.’
I kick off my shoes and stand still, watching her step into the house, watching the difference between us increase, the slate flagstones on the drive cool against my aching soles.

About the Author
Laura Wilkinson grew up in a Welsh market town and now lives in a never-to-be chic area of Brighton. As well as mothering two ginger boys, she works as an editor for literary consultancy, Cornerstones, and in education. She has published short stories in magazines, digital media and anthologies. Her debut novel, BloodMining, is published by Bridge House Publishing. Her current work-in-progress is a novel set against the backdrop of the 1984/85 miners’ strike. Find out more here: http://laura-wilkinson.co.uk. Or follow her on Twitter: @ScorpioScribble. She loves to hear from readers.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

The Instant Messaging Machine

The Instant Messaging Machine

Trevor Belshaw

Stiff Brandy

'What an interesting device, Sir Oswald. What does it do exactly?'
Albert Parkin straightened his cravat, leant back in the stiff leather chair and took a sip from his brandy glass.
'This,' said Sir Oswald, 'is my latest invention. I call it the /IM machine/. It is capable of sending short messages to recipients anywhere in the world; providing they have one of these devices of course.'
'Doesn't the Telegraph system already do that?' asked Albert.
Sir Oswald nodded. 'Yes, but this little beauty can be set up in a person’s own home or office.' A huge grin spread over his face. 'No waiting for the delivery boy.
'It does look very impressive,' said Mrs Parkin from the back of the machine. Her head appeared through a cloud of steam. 'How does one send an instant message?'
Sir Oswald puffed out his chest and stood proudly in front of the contraption. He opened a small door and threw in a single lump of coal. A fresh burst of steam hissed from a valve at the rear making Mrs Parkin scurry round to the front. She laid a soft hand on Sir Oswald's arm as a small cloud of smoke snaked from a funnel on top.
Let's say,' said Sir Oswald, 'that I wanted to send a message to Mrs Pettigrew, my secretary at Crankshaft and Piston Ltd. All I would have to do is this...'
Sir Oswald pulled a red lever, twisted a dial and pulled on a green handle. He turned to Mrs Parkin with a smile as a panel slid to the side and a typewriter keyboard presented itself.
Sir Oswald fingers danced across the brightly polished keys. As he hit return, the machine emitted a small toot. There was a crunching of cogs, and more steam hissed from the safety valve. To Mrs Parkin's delight a thin strip of tape appeared from a slot in front of her.
At Sir Oswald's invitation, Mrs Parkin pulled the tape from the slot and read aloud.
'Mrs Pettigrew. Please reply to this message immediately.'
Sir Oswald fed the tape into a second slot just above the first, and pressed the return key again.
'Shouldn't take a minute,' he preened. 'We have an identical machine in the office. We're hoping to have thirty of them littered around the county by the end of next year.'
Sir Oswald poured himself another brandy and strolled back to the IM machine.
'It's taking longer than usual,' he said with a frown.
The machine began to vibrate, then shake. Boiling water dripped from the safety valve.
Sir Oswald stood back in alarm. Mrs Parkin leapt behind her husband's chair and peered over the top. 'It's going to blow up!' she cried.
The noise became louder as the contraption began to shudder violently. Hobson, Sir Oswald's butler, placed his hands on the machine in an effort to steady it. He leapt back with a scream of pain as his fingers came into contact with the hot metal.
Suddenly the machine went quiet, then it belched and spat out a sliver of tape.
Sir Oswald picked it up and read aloud.
@SirOswald #FF @newfangledinventions, prizes for first ten to RT
Sir Oswald tore up the tape and threw it into the bin.
'We're working on a spam filter,' he said.

TRACY'S HOT MAIL!  Kindle and Paperback. http://amzn.to/RS3eV8 all other e-readers http://bit.ly/MlqgyW
Children's books are written under the name of Trevor Forest.
All Trevor Forest books are available on the Kindle. http://amzn.to/IYMC6d
The Wishnotist and Magic Molly book three The Yellow Eye, released summer 2012.
The full Magic Molly series is now on Smashwords for all e-readers. http://bit.ly/NWbotX