Tuesday 31 October 2017

Bone Collectors

Wendy Ogilvie

espresso with a shot of Sambuca

Dante sighed as he watched his best friend walk away. He knew it was only a matter of time before Leon gave in to Skeleton. He was the leader of the Bone Collectors: a street gang who ran the south side of town. They had tried to persuade Dante to join but his grandma would kill him. Leon didn’t have a grandma or a mother, his guardian was a father who drank and was too handy with his fists. Living in Barron Heights was tough for most kids; the kind of tough that steals your youth and leaves you vulnerable. Dante’s mother and grandma did their best to protect him but he needed to belong, to be part of a family, and that was the pull of the Bones Collectors.
            Dante turned back to go indoors and saw his grandma standing in the doorway. Her brown eyes wide as she watched Leon walking towards the old skate park. She placed one hand on her heart and held a kitchen cloth to her forehead with the other.       
            “Baron Samedi,” she whispered to herself.
            “What’s up Grandma?”
            “Oh my Lord,” she said, panting heavily, “I just seen death on the boy.”
            Dante wrinkled his nose and shrugged his shoulders. “Grandma you trippin’.”
            The old woman pulled her sleeves up her chubby arms and ushered Dante up to the porch and behind the bar-covered front door. Once safely inside she stooped down and grabbed his shoulders tight.
            “You listen to me child; you cannot see Leon anymore you hear me?”
Dante looked into her eyes, they were wild and scary. “But, he’s my friend.”
            “That boy is mixed up with some bad people. Your mamma will have a fit if I tell her what I seen.”
            “But Gran you always say things like this around Halloween. Maybe we should help Leon?”
            “It’s too late child. Leon is being followed by somethin’ evil. You need to keep away.”
             Dante screwed up his face and glanced out the window. He couldn’t see anything following Leon. Grandma wasn’t a fan of Halloween, she was born in Louisiana where they practiced Vodou and didn’t see the need to have a special day to celebrate everything evil.
            “But Mum said she was going to take us trick or treatin’ tomorrow.”
            “Listen to me good. Death was hovering above that boy today and I don’t want you anywhere near him, you promise me now, Dante!”
            Dante stepped back from her as he slowly nodded without taking his eyes off hers. She relaxed and wiped the beads of sweat from her head.
            “Whatever that boy has got himself into, it’s too late for him now.”
It was three hours later when Dante got the call from his mother; she had been working in the local supermarket and heard the sirens. Leon was found dead on the opposite side of the road. He had been shot in the head. A rival gang member had driven past and recognised his white bandana as Bone Collector gang colours. The police had arrested the shooter who had told them it was payback for what the Bone Collectors had done to his little brother last month. One dead boy for another.
            Dante was inconsolable and cried for hours alone in his room. He didn’t want to see or talk to anyone.
            When the phone rang on his side table, he couldn’t see the caller ID through the tears.
            “Dante, help me, they keep grabbing me, help me!”
             Dante stared at his phone, “Leon?”
            “I’m sorry, it’s not my fault. Please find me. It’s so hot I’m burning.”
            “Leon where are you?” Dante said, looking towards the window. The darkness was creeping in like next door’s black cat.
            “I don’t know where I am,” said the voice on the phone “but they keep grabbing me and won’t let me come home.”
            “I’ll get my ma she can help. Tell me where you are!”
            “No she can’t, it’s you Dante, only you. I’m sorry, so sorry.”
Dante shivered and pulled his jacket around his shoulders.
            “Wait, Leon, I’m getting  Ma, she’ll know what to do.”
            “Just you Dante, please find me.”
            “I don’t know where to look.”
            “They’re coming for you Dante, it was my only choice. I’m so sorry.”
              The line went dead.
Dante pulled on his backpack, grabbed the torch from his drawer and crept into the hallway. A few of the neighbours had come in to console  Leon’s father who had been at their house since hearing the news. Dante had never seen him sober before. Granma was against alcohol and was busy in the kitchen making tea for everyone. He slowly unlocked the front door and slipped out.
            Not knowing where to start looking, he gazed around until his eyes landed on the distant lights from the supermarket where Leon had been killed. He had never been there in the dark before; he wasn’t allowed out after 7.00 p.m. It was now past eight.
             Standing in front of the supermarket, Dante looked across the road. He leaned forward peering towards the road and could just make out a half visible black cat sitting between the stripes of the crossing. Slowly, heart pumping, he stepped towards the cat who stood and looked at him before walking in the direction of the skate park. Dante looked towards the park then back at the cat.  He remembered being told in a story at school once that black cats were really the spirit of people who had died.
      Of course! He thought, the cat is has been sent by Leon to help me. The skate park was his favourite place when we were ten and skateboarding was our life.
          Dante followed the cat to the park and through the gates. The park was a large open space surrounded by bushes and tall trees. An autumn mist had descended, and the only light came from an old street lamp off to the right, its weak rays penetrating through leafless trees, casting shadows onto the concrete.  There was a playground near the entrance with one working swing, a seesaw and rusty monkey bars. The skate bowl was surrounded by floodlights but they had been broken long ago.
             Dante was desperate to see his friend Leon. He caught something moving to the right of him and watched as the cat slinked away through a hole in the fence. He wondered if he should follow it but he heard a scratching sound coming from under his feet. He looked down. The scratching stopped. He stood still and tried to hear over the sound of his heart thudding in his ears. The scratching noise started up again and was joined by a burrowing behind him in the grass. Dante jerked his head around to see if there was anything there. The burrowing stopped. He tried to move away but his feet were welded to the ground. Then came the scratching sound again. His body stiffened in response. What’s happening? Why can’t I move?
The sound of quick shallow breaths accompanied the continuous thud of his heart; Dante began to sway his head light, his legs heavy. His eyes darted on the ground around his feet. There is was again; he could feel the burrowing of the earth. The movement rippled nearer to his feet.
            Dante let out a cry as a hand reached through the turf and grabbed his right foot. He screamed again and yanked his foot hard. His trainer slipped off and he ran as fast as he could towards the gate.
            Turning briefly to make sure he wasn’t being followed, he could see a black shadow with a white face emerging from the ground, pushing itself up. In his rush to find Leon, he had not processed his last words to him...’they’re coming for you, Dante.’
            With a renewed energy, he ran across the grass, his sock attaching itself to several twigs making it painful to run. He made his way to the playground and grabbed a section of the monkey bars to steady himself as his body swung around towards the park exit. He could see the gate and the street lamps ahead but now he could feel something above him. He dared not look straight up but swung his hands over his head to bat away whatever was there. His hands didn’t touch anything. Whatever was hovering over him was more like a shadow or chimney smoke. He had to get away.
            His right foot was now bleeding through his sock but there was no time to stop. The gate was just fifteen feet away but as he got nearer, the blackness above him extended its ebony fingers towards his face gently stroking his right cheek. The softness of its touch sent an electric bolt through his entire body.
            “Get off me! Help me, somebody, help me!”
The gate was so close, Dante kept running.
On reaching the gate, he swung it open and as he looked back into the park he could see the white skeletal face of the shadow figure standing — watching.  Dante held his gaze for a second or two before taking a deep breath,  slamming the gate behind him and running towards his house. His throat sore and his breathing heavy – there was no time to scream for help again, he had to get home. He heaved his backpack more securely onto his shoulders, wishing he could throw it off but there wasn’t time. His foot was now bleeding badly and the pain was slowing his pace but he managed to hop the last hundred yards to his front porch.
            Once at his house, Dante briefly looked up before bending forward to catch his breath. The shadow above him had gone.
            “What on earth happened to you boy?” His grandma asked as she walked onto the porch her hands firmly on her hips.
            “I’m sorry Grandma but Leon called me. He said he needed me but there was ....I saw....”
            “What  you talkin’ about child?”
            “Leon said he was sorry but he had to tell them and he didn’t know where he was.”
             Dante’s grandma dropped her shoulders and moved towards him. “What did he tell them; what did you do?”
            “Nothing, it wasn’t me Gran I was trying to stop Leon but ...” Dante’s eyes filled with tears and his body began to shudder as he struggled to get his words out.”
            His grandma took a few steps back from him, put her hands on his arm and looked into his eyes. “Did Leon kill that little boy?”
            Dante looked at the floor and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “He didn’t mean to, they made him do it.”
“Were you there? – Dante! Were you with Leon?”
Dante slowly lifted his head to look at her but she didn’t look back at him; she was staring at something just above his head.

About the author 

Wendy has been a Personal Trainer for twenty years but has always made time for writing; She is currently editing the sequel to her Chick Lit novel 'Wandering on the Treadmill' and completing her first thriller.


Monday 30 October 2017


Roger Noons

 Wine from a chalice.

When it came to sex, Julia opted for self catering. She could point to reasons. A games mistress who watched her undressing; an uncle with wandering hands and a mother who continually preached that going to bed with a man was overrated. What it amounted to was that Julia enjoyed control. Who with, where, when and how. She quickly learned that she became aroused by intimacy, in warmth and comfort.
    She had found distasteful the experiences recounted by her fellow undergraduates. An empty house, an outside lavatory, the back of a Mini, up an entry, and even in a cellar with scurrying rats.
    Her thirty seven years had not passed without incidents with both men and women, but since her ordination, she believed she had made the correct choice.

Thursday 26 October 2017


Roger Noons

a large glass of Chianti

“Oh my God!”
    Edward heard his wife’s voice even though he was in the bathroom using his electric razor.
    “Ed, quickly, come and see this.”
    Assuming the latest terrorist disaster was being relayed on television; he switched off the Philishave and stepped into the bedroom. Frowning, he muttered, “It looks like a Gay Pride demo.”
    “It is,” Vanessa said, “From Rome. But look at that woman there,” she pointed.
    He renewed his expression. “She looks like—”
    “It’s your mother!”
    “Mum?” he stared. “I don’t think so, she’s on a SAGA holiday in Tuscany, up in the mountains—”
    “It’s not that far from Florence to the capital.”
    At the moment that Edward moved closer to the set, the cameraman chose to zoom in on the grey-haired woman, which confirmed that it was Amanda Terry. She was wearing a shimmering, pink tee shirt with LOVE in silver letters across the front. As he watched, his mother winked at the camera, turned and began to kiss a younger female on her right. Ed’s mouth opened as he saw, not a peck on a cheek, but a full on, mouth to mouth smacker.
    “Disgusting,” his wife spluttered. “She ought to be ashamed of—”
    Edward burst out laughing.

Neither of them spoke again until an hour later. Having finished eating, they were sitting with their cups of coffee on the terrace of the Hotel Marina. Each had lit a cigarette, which was permitted mainly because the owner/manager was a Camel aficionado.
    “You will have to speak to her, Ed.”
    “Why? Because God knows who was watching that programme, all our—”
    “Nessa, we are in Majorca. It was Euronews at eight thirty in the morning, that’s seven thirty in the UK. I don’t even know if that programme is shown back home and besides—”
    “Someone we know is bound to have seen it, lots of our acquaintances are on holiday, all over the Continent … and that passionate kiss, in close up.”
    Ed stubbed out his cigarette. “My mother is sixty three years old, she’s a widow. She can do whatever she likes, it’s nothing to do with us … or anyone else for that matter.”
    She put out her cigarette and immediately shook another from the pack. Reaching for the lighter, she added, “But what will people think?”
    “They will think there is a woman who is free of responsibilities and can think and act just as she pleases.”
    “God, what if Jack saw the programme?”
    “He’s with his mates in Paris, waiting to see England play in the semi final. The last thing he’ll be doing at eight thirty in a morning is watching TV.” After glancing at his watch, he added. “I doubt he’ll be awake for another couple of hours yet, so will you please leave it and let‘s enjoy our holiday.”
    Vanessa sulked until just after one o’ clock, when she’d finished her second G & T.


“You have to admit Jack, that you didn’t expect them to get that far?”
    “I know Dad, but when they did … well, you hope that perhaps—”
    “Are you two still talking about football?” Vanessa said, as she walked into the kitchen. Ed winked to his son.
    “Morning Mum, er can I borrow the Mini, please?”
    “I’ll need it this afternoon.”
    “Don’t worry, I’m only going to see Gran, ask her about her holiday. Probably cut the lawn while I’m there.”
    Vanessa stared at her husband. “Your father wants to speak to you about your grandmother,” she announced and strode from the room. Both men’s eyes followed her.
    “What?” Jack looked towards his father.
    “While we were away, we watched a news programme. One of the items featured a Gay Pride March, in Rome. We saw Gran, she—”
    “She did go then! Great!”
    “You knew about it?”
    “Yeah, I got the details for Jenny and her, looked up the train times, arranged an hotel—”
    “Jack, why didn’t you … who’s Jenny?” Ed watched his son’s face flush.
    “Gran’s girlfriend, well partner, I guess.”
    “We … I didn’t know any of this.”
    “Gran thought it best we keep it to ourselves, she knew how Mum would react.” Watching his father shake his head, he added. “Why don’t you come with me? I’ll tip Gran off and you and she can talk while I mow the lawn.”
    “Okay,” Edward said meekly, wondering which of them was the most mature.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

No Milk Today

Lisa Williams 

a glass of milk

He found her although he lives the other side of town, only comes every other day now. Not many people use him, preferring to pick it up when they shop.

The familiar sounds of his approach. A chink of glass bottles followed a hum of the float. A wet cough from decades of Capstans. He noticed what we didn’t. Monday’s milk still there on her well swept step.

Just doing his job he told us later at her hospital bed.

Hadn’t hesitated.

Elbow shoved the door to find her fallen; bruised and dehydrated still holding the note ‘No milk today.’ 

About the author 

Monday 16 October 2017

Will Today Be a Good Day?

Helen Combe

camomile tea 

It’s always a struggle first thing in the morning. These stiff, arthritic knees take time to warm up, to loosen, to bend. I’m out of bed now and moving around. The nurses in the home tell me that there are better exercises I could do than those on my old Wii Fit, but I have to take my virtual bike around Wuhu Island each morning, otherwise how will I know if today will be a good day?

I turn on the TV, switch on the Wii and nudge the button on the exercise board with my toe. The screen comes to life, and there I am, my Mii, my virtual self astride my virtual bike on my own, virtual Wuhu Island.
I haven’t changed my Mii for 30 years. It’s still as I was when I was 50. I know because that was when I first cut my hair short and it was still brown then, with a little help.

I step onto the board and she kicks off, heading up the sunlit path with the gravel crunching under the wheels of her bike. I start walking on the spot and she speeds up towards the first flag. She takes it and I turn her to the right to take a short cut between the trees. The birds are calling and the tyres swish as they roll over the grass. I’m heading towards the town and other Miis, generic ones, wave encouragingly as I pass.

Then I see a familiar dark blue shirt. Not all of the Miis are generic. This one is my dad. He’s jogging across my path towards the rising sun and the red suspension bridge. I stop and watch him go. He’s doing what he always loved best. He used to run to work and he ran marathons before his heart condition was diagnosed. He died quietly in his chair of a cardiac arrest thirty years ago. I watch him head for the bridge from where he can run along the shoreline or round to the ancient, ruined city. If there is a heaven, my dad would consider Wuhu Island to be it.

I pedal into the town and head for the square. A little black and white cat is sitting on the corner. I ring the bike’s bell and it turns an eager face and gallops towards me. It has a red collar. This is Ripley, my most devoted and most needy cat. Her definition of happiness was to sprawl across my lap. She would wait for me to come home, then follow me, wailing until I finally sat down. She lived to a good age and died in my arms at the vet’s 10 years ago when old age had reduced her life to an existence and I could bear it no longer. She gallops up, overshoots and then reappears, cantering alongside me, looking up at me as she always did.

We approach the fountain in the middle of the square. I turn the bike towards it, see the flag and ring the bike’s bell. Ripley scampers away, collects the flag on my behalf and thunders back. I now turn and pedal out of the town and up the hill toward the hamlet and the cliffs. I pass between the houses and crest the hill. Ripley collects another flag and I freewheel down to the rock archway. There I see a powder blue shirt. My mum is jogging directly towards me. I stop the bike and hold my breath. Will she change direction or keep coming straight? She jogs right up to me, smiles directly into my face and then trots past.

“Hello, Mum,” I say quietly. I turn my Mii and watch her go. She died 15 years ago. Pneumonia after a fall, but I see her here most days. Not all days, there is a random element to the appearance of the Miis, I may not see her at all or be mortified as I was one day when she jogged past wearing the chicken outfit from the flying game, but that’s another story. So far, it’s been a good day. I start stepping again and my Mii kicks off the ground and continues to pedal. Ripley, who had been waiting expectantly, frolics back into the game. She and I crisscross the meadow, picking up all the remaining flags between us and are now heading for the finish line. It’s inside a small arena which I could approach with aplomb by taking a series of three jumps and ultimately flying into the space, but I know Ripley won’t follow me over the wall, so I go the long way round and enter sedately through the gateway.

There is very little time left and I scan the group of Miis who are assembled to cheer me over the line. I hate it when they are all generics, but it’s okay, I see him. To my left, at the finish line stands my husband. He’s clapping, cupping his hands to his mouth and jumping up and down with excitement. I brake and Ripley goes to stand next to him. I tell him the news. Only the good news. You can’t tell bad news to someone who’s so happy. Finally, I step again on the exercise board, the bike starts up and passes the finish line. My Mii raises both arms in triumph and I pedal, no hands, up the road as Ripley frisks beside me.

My husband died five years ago, a swift and remorseless cancer, leaving me all alone to face old age among strangers. Except here. Here my loved ones are all still young, still fit and I see them most days. Today I saw all four which means that today will be a good day. 

One of the best.

About the author

Helen is a member of the Solihull Writers group and was shortlisted for the To 
Hull & Back humour competition 2016. She is currently blogging her experience of breast cancer on her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/HelenCombeWriter

Sunday 15 October 2017

Lucky Lucas

Roger Noons

a glass of Amontillado.


    My head ached! Not the usual pressure behind the eyes, every nerve ending vibrated pain. My cheeks burned; there was hissing in my ears; my lips itched; mucus dribbled from my sinuses down my nostrils; my teeth hummed and my eyeballs were being pressed, seemingly in a vice. To complete the agony, my neck felt like I was wearing a collar four sizes too small.
    Forty eight hours later, I felt slightly improved. My neck had been released and I had stopped leaking from the nose. The man wearing the unbuttoned white coat had rested his right buttock on the side of the bed.
    ‘You’re a lucky man, Mr. Lucas.’
    Lacking a left hand and having been told that I would never walk again, made me feel grateful that I was not in this consultant’s ‘unlucky’ classification.
    ‘I’ve been blown up doctor!’
    ‘Yes, but your colleague was killed.’
    ‘Perhaps he was the lucky one,’ I murmured.
    ‘Come now Mr. Lucas, you mustn’t think like that. You have a lot to live for.’
    ‘Yeah? How many one-handed classical guitarists do you know?’

Saturday 14 October 2017

Norman Conquest

 Dawn Knox

cider from Normandy

The cry went up, “Duke William’s dead,” and the Norman onslaught wavered. Soldiers began to break from their ranks and run downhill away from us. 
We were impregnable within our Saxon shield wall, in our militarily superior position at the top of the hill. But as the Normans began to flee, our men gave chase. Ignoring our leaders’ orders they pursued the invaders with swords raised, already tasting victory. Too late they saw the Normans reassured by the appearance of Duke William who urged his men on to slay King Harold’s army. 
The Anglo-Saxon world ceased that day in 1066. 

About the author

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Harry’s Going to Die Anyway

Robin Wrigley 

Campari & Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice


The only time I met Ismail he was crouched down against the rough brick and flint church wall at the bus stop at St Mark’s church where I had been cleaning the altar brasses.
     ‘Are you alright?’ My question was rather rhetorical as he certainly looked unwell if not odd crouched down there in this cold weather now threatening to rain or snow.
     ‘Harry’s going to die anyway,’ he muttered fleetingly glancing in my direction and then back at the pavement.
     ‘Who is Harry? And even if he is there is no point in you joining him which you certainly will if you continue sitting down there in this weather young man. Here, let me help you up.’
     He attempted to avoid my help by moving his elbow into his side but I kept a firm hold and he allowed me to bring him up to a standing position. I was quite surprised when seeing him face to face how young he was and that he was an inch or two shorter than me. His face was a light milky-tea brown, with the pubescent, wispy-makings of a beard. His hair was simply black, long and unkempt. If I hadn’t discovered him cooping there on a winter’s afternoon I would have assumed he had just got out of bed having spent the night fully clothed in his current attire.
     ‘What’s your name?’
     ‘Ismail. What do you want with me missus? I wan’t doin’ any harm wuz I? I always get down like that when dis cold wind is blowin. Ain’t no law about that is there?’ He looked so desperate, so helpless, yet so hopeless part of me wanted to shake him while the other half wanted to hug him but I resisted.
     His nose started to run but before I could fish for a tissue from my bag he had wiped it away on the sleeve of his combat jacket that showed signs of previous similar use.
     ‘So, tell me who is this friend Harry and why is he going to die?’
     ‘It’s a long story missus and I ain’t got time to tell you. You can’t help him. Nobody can help him so just forget it. You got any money you can spare me?’
     How many times had my brother told me not to give in these situations. Don’t take out you purse and let them see it. But I did. I took my purse from my bag, opened it – there was a ten and a twenty pound note inside. I hesitated then gave him both.
     ‘There, that’s all I have I’m afraid but it should buy you something hot. Where will you go now you’re on your own?’
     His face almost broke into a smile but not quite. He took the money politely and crumpled the notes into a grubby hand touching his heart all in one movement.
     ‘Fanks missus, don’t you worry about me, somemink will come up, really.’

He turned and shuffled off down St Mark’s Avenue just as the street lights came on. I stood and watched him until his pathetic figure disappeared over the crest of the avenue. I brushed a tear from my cheek unsure if it was from sorrow or the cold December wind that was starting to pick up; turned around and headed for home.
     The following morning I called the local police station and asked if there had been any accidents the previous day. They said a young Asian boy had been fatally wounded in a hit and run accident. He didn’t have any identity papers on him and had no idea if his name was Harry. They were curious as to why I wanted to know as he had a large letter ‘H’ tattooed on the back of his hand.

Monday 9 October 2017


 Jeanne Davies

brandy sour

In a vast alien space filled with dull echoes from a cold polished floor, they are suspended.  Hurting and scared, their erratic pulses and bated breaths echo and ricochet off the walls. 
Brittle noises from shiny instruments spike the silence and palpable fear overwhelms those who are not sleeping.  Regular beats of monitors offer little comfort to those who wait in the dimness.
Captive in their fragile bodies, they have nowhere else to go, or run to … if only they could.  They wait for daylight, for hope, and for healing of wounds that go much deeper than the surface.

Sunday 8 October 2017


Roger Noons


a glass of Pinot Grigio

‘Do you know her, that woman over there?’
    ‘No,’ I said.
    ‘Why is she smiling at you then?’
    ‘Not me, must be someone …’ I turned, but behind me was a grey wall.
    ‘You do, don’t you?’ Allison accused.
    I shook my head and raised the glass to my lips.
    ‘She’s the one who came collecting for Help for Heroes. What did you give her?’

‘Why did you just blow a kiss to that man?’ my husband asked.
    I smiled in the direction of my action. ‘When I was collecting in Pear Tree Drive, he told me he was a pacifist. When I shook the tin, he told me to clear off. Slammed the door in my face. Let him explain things to his wife.’

Saturday 7 October 2017

Dad's expiration date

Brigita Orel


Most children get their dads at birth. Me, not so. I got my dad when I was ten; just two weeks after my birthday, to be exact. That late summer afternoon, I kicked my ball against our apartment block wall and Mrs. Levy from the ground-floor apartment had already threatened me twice with her rolling pin. 
As the ball bounced off the peeling plaster, someone stopped behind my back.
I waited for Mrs. Levy to smack me on the head. When nothing happened, I turned around.
The man’s russet beard and hair flared around his head like a lion’s mane. A duffel bag lay in a heap at his feet.
“Hey kid.”
His voice rustled like when I walked through the dry grass in the school’s backyard.
“Do you know a Mirelle Meier?”
Oh-o! This was not good. You see, I am Max Meier. Meier—get it? Mirelle was my mom. She’d drilled me for years for just such an occasion. When a stranger appeared at our door, he was either a debt collector or a salesman. She couldn’t afford either one, and my task was to send them away or distract them.
Trouble was I’ve seen plenty of them and I couldn’t link the duffel bag or the man’s looks with either job.
“I need to speak to her.”
“Are you a debt collector?”
“What? No.” He smiled the way grown-ups smile when they’re trying to trick you because they think you’d fall for the sweetness.
I didn’t know what to do. He didn’t seem to fit Mum’s description of people to be afraid of, but I didn’t know what else to think of him either.
He stepped closer now, picking up his bag. Stooping down, he peered into my face.
“What’s your name?”
Another of Mom’s instruction was never to tell a stranger any details that might later help them find you. My name was such information, plus, seeing how the man was searching for a Meier there was the tiny problem of my last name.
“I’m not going to hurt you, kid. I’m Paul.”
The hand he extended towards me looked huge. His fingernails were bitten to the quick, just like mine. After some hesitation, I shook it, peering over my shoulder. I wouldn’t want Mom to see; she would worry for no reason. Because although Paul was still a stranger, I decided that he didn’t look very threatening.
“I’m Max,” I said.
Shock flew across Paul’s face like the blackbirds my ball had startled from a bush earlier.
He seemed so tall when he straightened up. “Max Meier?”
Then suddenly, he smiled. “Well, nice meeting you.”
Before I even registered that he knew my full name, he added, “I’m your father.”

I was so thrown I made a step back and almost fell on my ass. Before I recovered, Mum stood in the doorway, staring at Paul. I was afraid she’d be spitting mad, but she just paled, then blushed, then paled again. It was like in a cartoon, I swear! I hadn’t known anything like it was possible in real life.
She sent me inside, and when I protested, she gave me the darkest look. I tried to spy on them through the open window, but all I saw was her grabbing Paul’s elbow and dragging him further down the alley, away from Mrs. Levy’s and my ears. This was the first time Mom tried to hide something from me and it shocked me that it was now when my dad was concerned. I mean—he was my dad.
But the truth was I had no proof. All Mom had ever said about him was that they had broken up when I was six months old and she never saw him again.
I wanted to know what was going on when she came inside—alone—but she only looked at me and then continued on to the kitchen where she banged with pots and pans the entire evening. Despite all that noise, I only got scrambled eggs and a piece of stale bread for dinner. I could handle Mom yelling, but her quiet anger was the worst. So I kept my mouth shut.
For days, I couldn’t get rid of the questions. I had to find out whether Dad would be coming back. When I dug the key out of my pocket, coming home from school, I found the door already unlocked. With Mom’s fears drilled into me, I held my breath and quietly pushed the door open. I was faced with Mom’s stare as she turned on the couch. There were a few seconds when, just like in films, all I could hear was the ticking of the ugly orange wall clock. When Mom smiled, it seemed like a proper smile, one I haven’t seen in ages. Or at least since my last A in Maths. Which was … ages ago.
Dad sat with her on the couch, his hair tamer than last time.  

I was happy Dad was back but I wished I could tell him about the years he had been gone. How hard Mom worked to keep us afloat, as she would say. How I had to practice what to do if people from the social services or the bank showed up. A different role for each man or woman in a business suit. Once, for six weeks, I wrote my homework in my winter jacket by candlelight. Mom pretended we lived in the sixteenth century and I was Shakespeare or something. She thought she made it easier, but I saw her miserable face when she thought I wasn’t looking, and that stupid stinging started behind my eyes.
Every time I mentioned any of this to Dad, instead of listening, he would start another tale about one of his adventures. Like the one about organizing a country-wide treasure hunt that he and his friends advertised in the paper.
“Oh, you should’ve seen it. Pat … Did I tell you about Pat?”
Many times. Pat was his best friend. He loved driving around in his van, shooting the breeze. Big man with a big heart, Dad had said.
“Let me tell you, Pat’s the man. He drew a downright splendid ad for the paper. It was a piece of art,” Paul said.
“So the treasure hunt was a success?”
He looked away. “Well …”
“Not many people showed up, to tell the truth. They must have thought we were joking because of the rich reward we offered.”
When I asked how he could afford it, he said it wasn’t about the money, it was about being crafty.
“Paul, crafty doesn’t pay the electricity bill, so you might try leaving this apartment and search for a job, now that you’re back,” Mom said from the stove where she was making mac and cheese for dinner. She sounded annoyed, but she wasn’t really, because she had that soft look on her face I had seen when she watched me receive a chess trophy at school.
“I’m working on it, Elle.”
Another proof that she wasn’t mad at him anymore was that the blanket that had been on the couch the first five days was gone. What had he told her to make her forget the ten years he had been gone?
I was happy he was back, too, honestly, but there was this itch in my chest, I just couldn’t tell what it was about. I had no one to ask for advice because, really, how many people have experience with finding their dads ten years after they were born? So I just waited for it to go away. Should’ve known it wouldn’t be as easy as that.

Dad was such a good storyteller he made me feel like I was right there with him on one of his explorations, seeing the things he saw, feeling the excitement. I wished he had been there when I was little so he could tell me bedtime stories like other parents. He said he couldn’t stay, that he was too young and wouldn’t have been a good father anyhow. I resented that he hadn’t given me the chance to be the judge of that.
Every time I told him how I had missed him when I was four, six or even just a week ago, he quickly changed the subject and we were back to his stories.
“And that one time we went to Mexico … I wanted to fly there, because I’d never flown anywhere, you know, but Pat insisted we take the van. He was right, because we could fill it with heaps of the best turkey sandwiches we bought by the pound in a deli in Hoboken. Ah, the smell that filled the van that day! Well, by the time we reached the border they turned rancid because we didn’t have a cooler with us. But we flushed the sandwiches down with beer, so we were okay. Alcohol is good for that, you know, it disinfects.
“Anyway, you should’ve seen the colors down there. I mean, right past the border, the first village we drove through, it was like a different universe. Like the single story houses and streets were spread out across a rainbow. The red of tomatoes, the ripe gold of tortillas, green trees dotted with juicy oranges and lemons, shiny black hair on pretty girls, ochre soil and dust, everywhere the dust! The air constantly smelled of spices: chili, coriander, cumin, lemon zest were the spices of life because they marked everything you did, everywhere you moved, whatever you ate and drank, you even smelled them in your dreams. And the girls … dios mio, those muchachitas! Too bad we had so little time there. If only we could’ve stayed longer, I think I would’ve loved Mexico.”
“But at least this way you returned to Mom and me,” I pointed out, jealous of all the people and places that had had the chance to see and be with Dad while Mom and I were here alone.
“Yeah, if for nothing else, for this I’m glad I never stayed down south.” He grinned and mussed my hair which I normally hated, but hey, he was my dad and he was home. When I thought about the years to come and how now he could deal with collectors and rude neighbors, I felt, for the first time ever, that I could relax and not have to worry about Mom. I could get used to that.

When Dad couldn’t find a job, he said it was because in the past he had been out of state a lot and that meant that his short-term employments made him look unreliable. The clerk at the job agency told him that his “employment profile lacked an affirmative feel”, whatever that meant.
To make it up to us, he spent an afternoon unloading u-haul trucks to earn some money. He would take us to an amusement park that weekend, he said. At first Mom protested that the money would be better spent on groceries or school stuff, but Dad insisted he had earned it for a weekend family trip. Mom still complained, but I could tell she was excited from the way she was trying to make it look like I needed convincing.
“You’ll love it, won’t you, Max? You’ve never been to an amusement park. It’ll be a fun trip, you’ll see. Best ever.”
 We’d never been on a family trip, the two of us, unless I count the three times last year when we went to see her parents. I suspected she went to ask them for help or money. It ended with a fight and the end of visits with the only set of grandparents I had. So, yes, this family trip was going to be a big thing.
Mom made turkey sandwiches and boiled eggs. I may have grumbled something about popcorn and cotton candy, but she said it was ridiculous to pay so much money for foods that in the end harmed you. Meh, grown-ups!
I turned to Dad to get him on my side. He was lounging on the couch, watching Jeopardy! on our prehistoric TV, murmuring questions and answers to himself.
“Hey, D—”
A knock on the door interrupted me. I looked from Dad to Mom and back. Neither of them seemed to be expecting visitors. I went to open the door.
A tall man with his hair slicked back into a ponytail looked confused when he had to lower his eyes to my level.
He and the man standing behind him were both dressed in white. Something was wrong with this picture and I suddenly had this heavy feeling of something bad happening.
“We’re looking for Paul Meier,” the ponytail man said. “Is he here?”
I pulled the door closer so that the gap became smaller. “What do you need him for?”
“Is he here? Do you know him?”
For a split second I considered my options. Then I shook my head.
“Are you sure?”
They didn’t look friendly, they were dressed weirdly, they were strangers. Mom’s training kicked in. I opened my mouth to repeat that I knew no one by that name, when Mom and Dad both called out, “Who is it?”
The giant exchanged a glance with his pal. When he pushed the door open, I spotted two police officers further back in the shadows of the one-bulb hallway.
Dad said, “Crap!” and Mom scolded him for his language and then mid sentence switched to, “What’s going on? Who are you?”
“Ma’m, we’re from Ashworth Mental Hospital to get Paul Meier.”
I didn’t like how he emphasized ‘mental’. Then I read the name tag on his white shirt: Patrick.
The police officers came closer. One fidgeted with his cap in his hands, the other—older, chunkier—fingered his baton.
I turned to look at my parents, but Dad had already run to the bathroom. Pat, the giant, pushed past me, slamming me into the wall. Mom screamed at him to get out.
The younger officer put a hand on her shoulder but she swatted it off.
The bathroom door shuddered. Pat yelled for Dad to open up and Dad’s voice replied in screeching tones.
“Leave him alone!” Mom said, making a step forward like she wanted to go help Dad, but then she hugged my shoulders and stayed put.
“What do you want with Dad?” I asked the other man in white. I felt the pressure behind my eyes.
“Everything will be all right, boy,” the police officer said, but I wanted real answers.
“You can’t just come here and threaten Dad,” I said.
“We’re not threatening him. He needs to be taken to the hospital. He left against doctor’s orders, son,” the orderly said, looked quickly at Mom, and then went to help Pat.
“What do you mean left the hospital?” Mom said.
Pat yelled, “Don’t do it, Paul! Your kid’s here, man. Don’t do it. Come with us, everything will be fine. Doc’ll give you meds and you’ll get better.”
I couldn’t pretend any more that I was teary because of the bad lighting in the hall. I wanted to scratch the men’s eyes until they teared up too. I wanted to yell at them until I lost my voice or they left us alone, whichever happened first.
The bathroom door gave way under Pat’s shoulder. I could see the way a comic book artist would draw the noise in a bubble: KRAKK!
Mom pulled me towards the kitchen, but I fought her. I couldn’t let them take Dad away; I only just got him back. We were supposed to ride the roller coaster tomorrow, he promised. The sandwiches were ready. Mom had bought an entire six pack of Cokes to take with. She even got the regular ones because I hated Diet Coke.
“Let me go, I want to go with Dad,” I begged.
“Max, shush now.” She hugged me, and I felt her warm tears dripping in my hair.
“We’re going to the park tomorrow,” I yelled, as Pat and the other man dragged Dad past the splintered door and down the checkered hall tiles. “Aren’t we, Dad?”
When he looked at me, I wished he hadn’t. His hair was like an out of control forest fire that blazes everything in its path.
“I’m sorry, Max. I wanted to make it up to you … I wanted you to have a great dad …” He sobbed and he looked so miserable, I sobbed right along with him.
“Dad! Please, leave him be.”
“Sorry, kid,” Pat mumbled, and pulled Dad with him.
“Daaaaad!” My cry was cut in half by a sob I couldn’t hold back. Daa-aad.

So I only had a dad for the three weeks that it took the authorities to track him down here from Virginia. He’d been institutionalized for four years and then one day he vanished. There was no record of him having a family; that was why it took them so long to follow him here.
The school counsellor said getting to know him was better than nothing. But this was the same dilemma my buddy Ernie had obsessed over for two months in second grade: is it better to be blind from birth so you don’t know what you’re missing? Or better to go blind once you’ve already seen the worl? Who could ever make that choice? I mean, really. It’s not even the same as deciding between having a cake and eating it because then you at least have it, one way or another, but this is about losing. Losing either way.
Mom didn’t mention Dad again, but I heard her cry sometimes at night when I couldn’t sleep. I asked her if he’d ever come back, but she developed crazy skills of diversion and denial in the days after Dad had been taken away. She focused on my Maths results instead, which doubled the suckiness factor in those days. Her constant attention at least won me a B plus. To celebrate it, I dished two dollars on a comic I’d been admiring on the shelf at the corner store for months.
I was reading it at the kitchen table, waiting for Mom to get home and make us dinner, when the phone rang.
“Yeah?” I said, imagining Mom’s furious look at my lack of manners.
“Is this the Meier residence? Carla Dyer from social services here.”
“Could I speak to Ms. Meier?”
I cleared my throat when my voice trembled. “Ahem, you mean Mirelle Meier?”
“Yes. Who am I speaking to, please?”
“Ms. Meier is a wonderful person, she is.”
Sweat beads formed on my forehead. My brain must’ve heated up from all the thinking it was doing and even the chilly feeling in the dip of my stomach couldn’t cool it down.
“They moved, you know. I heard she got a great job and Max’s grades improved. Did you know he got an A in Maths?” A small lie, just a small one.
“What do you mean they moved? Who are you?”
“I’m sure they’re doing great and they won’t need your services anymore.”
“I have no record of them moving. I called three weeks ago but the phone was disconnected …”
Mom had been only three days late with the payment but the phone company said that with her record they weren’t taking any chances and they disconnected the line until she paid.
“Oh, that! Yes … well … er … Of course it was disconnected after they left. I only had it connected again once I moved in.”
All of a sudden I realized I stood on the tips of my toes as I tried to sound like a grown man and, I guess, to look as tall as one, too. I laughed nervously, and then slapped my hand over my mouth.
“I’ll have to check our records. I’ll call—”
I put down the receiver, wiping the sweat from my face in my shirt sleeve. I trembled as I sat down. The black and white drawings on the pages in front of me were just a jumble of black lines.
My ruse wouldn’t last long. Next time, they wouldn’t call, they would come knocking on the door. But I got Mom a day or two and together we might come up with a solution.
When her steps sounded in front of the door, I realized that maybe I knew why she forgave Dad so quickly. I had liked the idea of being just a kid and not having to protect Mom. Maybe she, too, was tired of being the only one to deal with my school problems, worrying about bills, and giving me awkward lectures on growing up. Maybe she just wanted a break so much that she let her guard down. I know I did.
We were back to being just the two of us and luckily, she and I, we worked well as a team. I just hoped she wouldn’t find out I had lied about my grade.

About the author 

Brigita Orel has published short stories and poems in numerous literary magazines. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She currently studies creative writing at Swansea University. www.brigitaorel.com