Saturday 31 March 2018

They Say It Gets Better

James Bates

weak tea

The name tag worn by the guy at the guard desk read Dan. His job was to check the ID badges of the employees as they entered the huge office building through the revolving doors from the parking ramp. All day long during his eight hour shift he eye-balled everyone who passed by, checking to see if the photo on the badge matched the person wearing it. He was maybe fifty years old and his hair was buzz cut so close that his scalp shone through. His eyes were steel gray and they never seemed to stop moving. He missed nothing. He had a weightlifter's build and his blue uniform strained against his hardened muscles. His gun belt was thick and black and held a Smith and Wesson that seemed too big for its holster. He also carried mace, pepper spray and hand-cuffs. He looked ready for anything.
            Dan never smiled. He rarely spoke and he seemed like the kind of person you just wanted to avoid at all possible costs. So when tall, thin, haggard looking Jeremy Larson tried to walk past without his badge and Dan stopped him, who knew what was going to happen.
            "Wait a minute, there, buddy," Dan commanded, "What do you think you're doing?"
            Jeremy was a young man, maybe thirty, but looked at least ten years older. He paused, confused, acting like he had no idea where he was, "Wha...wha...what?" he stammered. The question hung on the edge of his lips, barely having eked out.
            "Your ID, pal. Where is it?"
            Jeremy looked down at his shirt pocket where his badge was normally clipped, "Oh, geez. Sorry. I must have forgotten it"
            "You can't go in, then. You know the procedure. Rules are rules."
            Jeremy looked around, visibly distraught. It came to him right then that he had no idea where he was. He took in his surroundings for a moment before finally recognizing their familiarity. Oh, yeah. He was at work. The problem was, he had no idea how he got there. He must have used his car but had no recollection of driving in from where he lived in Long Lake, twenty-two miles to the west. This was not good. The inability to recall his actions suddenly  frightened him. What a mess his life was. His eyes welled up. Tears formed. His briefcase slipped from his hand and thudded to the carpet as he put his head on the counter and started to cry.
            What the hell? Dan was taken aback. Crap. Of all the things he was prepared for, this wasn't one of them. Criminal activity? Sure. A gun wielding nut job? Absolutely. A burned out, broken down man sobbing on his guard desk? No. That just wasn't supposed to happen. This was a highly regarded office building filled with clean and polished white collar workers, for christ's sake. Professional people. Someone losing their composure and breaking down in tears in the middle of the crowd hurrying past the security desk? Well, that just didn't happen.
            Dan took an instant to size up the situation. While he did, the steady stream of well dressed men and women continued to rush by with only a few curious enough to take the time to glance at the scene unfolding. They, like everyone else, though, may have slowed but ultimately kept on walking, embarrassed for the weeping man. It was clear that no matter how concerned people may have been, no one wanted to do anything to help. Later on, Dan would be at a loss to explain why he did what he did. The best answer he could come up with was, "Well, there was just something about the poor guy. He seemed like he needed help and I was there, so I did what I thought was the right thing to do." Whatever the case, what happened was good for Jeremy. Maybe, even, in the long run, for Dan as well.
            Dan jumped into action. He immediately called his boss, "Ed, send someone down to fill in for me. Anyone. Right now."
            Then he hurried to where Jeremy had now sunk the floor. He reached down and helped the broken man to his feet, picked up his briefcase and carefully moved him to a quiet corner off to the side of the flow of human traffic, all the while his eyes never missed a face or a badge passing by. That's where he stayed until a few minutes later when another member of the security team arrived.
            "Take over for me," Dan said when she showed up, "I'm going to take this guy for some coffee."
            She gave him a curt nod, all business, "Got it." Then she took over and began watching badges and faces.
            As they started walking, Dan figured it would be good to give the guy some time to collect himself so he didn't say anything. With each step down the hallway, though, the security guard's gruff demeanor began to change and become more compassionate. He was taking seriously the young man's breakdown and trying to figure out the best way to handle the situation. Would it be best to bide his time before he said anything? At least until he had a handle of the situation? But when would that ever be? The guy was clearly in bad shape. Maybe he should do something now. But what if he did or said the wrong thing? Then what?
            Finally, after a couple of minutes of indecision, he said himself, To hell with it. I'll just do what I think is the best thing to do.
            He put his arm around the young man's shoulder, leaned into him and asked, simply, "Can you tell me what your name is?"
            "Jeremy. Jeremy Stendahl."
            "Nice to meet you Jeremy. My name's Dan." He pointed to his badge. Jeremy looked at it.
            "Yeah, sorry about that. I don't know where mine is. Must have lost it." Tears suddenly welled up in his eyes.
            Dan was quick to offer reassurance, "Hey, hey, man. That's all right. Don't worry about it. The badge us no big deal. We'll get it taken care of." Relief passed across Jeremy's face and the tears disappeared. With the ice broken, they continued walking. Dan asked, "You were in pretty bad shape back there. What was the matter? Can you tell me what's going on?"
            Jeremy was still shaken and finding it hard to speak. But there was something comforting about the muscular security guard walking next to him; something soothing. By the time they'd neared the end of the hall he'd calmed down enough to be able to softly articulate, "Well, this is what it is: my wife passed away a month ago. I thought I was ready to go back to work. I talked to my boss," he arbitrarily pointed up above where they were standing, "I work up on the third floor in the engineering department. Programming. Anyway, my boss Sara Schneider said I could come back if I was ready. I thought I was, but," he shrugged his thin shoulders, "I guess not." He glanced at Dan and cracked a weak, embarrassed smile, resignation written all over his face. Then more tears began forming, "I'm so sorry..."
            All the while Dan walked beside Jeremy he kept his arm around the young man's shoulder. It seemed like the right thing to do; to stay close to the poor guy. All around them people hurried by, only a few giving a passing glance to the odd looking couple slowly making their way down the crowded hallway. As they talked, Dad listened carefully to what Jeremy was saying. At the mention of the loss of his wife, his eyes softened. He slowed his steps and ducked his head close to Jeremy's ear. His voice just above a whisper he said, "Hey, man, I understand. I get it. I really do." He inhaled and then let out a long breath before going on, "I lost my wife ten years ago. It hurt back then. It still hurts now. It's still painful."
            Jeremy stopped walking and wiped his eyes. He turned and said, rather formally, "Oh, man. I didn't know. I'm so sorry for your loss." Of course he wouldn't have known. Dan hadn't told him. He hardly told anybody. The stoic guard acknowledged the comment with a quick nod but said nothing. There wasn't anything to add.
            Jeremy paused for a moment. The last thing he expected was to find that they had something in common. In a way, it was rather comforting. He said, "For me, I just don't know if I can go on, if I can take it anymore." Suddenly, his body went rigid and he clutched his fists. His entire demeanor changed. He became almost frantic. He grabbed Dan by both shoulders and looked him straight in his eyes. "Tell me," he said, his voice pleading, imploring Dan to give him an answer, "Tell me. I've got to know. Does it ever get better? Does the pain every go away?"  
            Dan looked at Jeremy, taking his time with what he wanted to say. He felt an affinity for the young man, he really did. He wanted to give him a sense of hope. To help him and somehow boost his spirits. He wanted to say something that would relieve his pain and take away his anguish. He didn't like seeing the poor guy reduced to such despair. Finally he said, "It does get better, Jeremy. It does. Eventually. "He saw a measure of relief appear in his eyes and was quick to add, "But I won't lie to you. It's hard. Especially those first months, like you're now finding out. But you know what? If you're lucky, you eventually learn to live with it. It does get better with time."
            Jeremy grimaced at Dan's words, "You know, that's what people tell me. But I don't know if I believe them. I loved her so much."
            They started walking again, each lost in their own private thoughts. After a minute or two Dan slowed his pace and turned to Jeremy so they were facing each other again. He put his hand on his shoulder, tightened his grip and said, "You'll find a way, man. You have to." He paused, then added, "For me it helped when I thought about what it was my wife would have wanted me to do. She'd have wanted me to go back to work. You know, get out in the world and keep living. She for sure wouldn't have wanted me to hide out at home, feeling sorry for myself."
            Tears formed again and Jeremy did his best to snuffle them back, "Really?"
            "Yeah. It helped me a lot to think like that. To think about what she'd want me to do."
            They turned together and continued walking. To Dan, Jeremy appeared comforted by his words. By the time they reached the break room, he seemed more in control of himself. Dan found an out of the way table and helped the young man to sit down.
             As he made himself comfortable Jeremy said, "Thanks, Dan. Thanks a lot for talking to me; for taking some time with me. I know I sound like a basket case, but I can't help it." He shrugged his shoulders in resignation. "I don't have a lot of friends. It feels good to get some things off my chest."
            Dan stood by and listened. Even in Jeremy's pain, he had the feeling the young man was going to rally. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually. He was beginning to talk about how he was feeling and that was good. Someday he'd begin to heal. One thing was certain, Jeremy was stronger than he first appeared. In fact, the longer Dan was with him, the more he had the feeling that Jeremy was going not only going to be okay, but he was going to thrive. The guy seemed like a survivor.
            They were both quiet for a minute, thinking. Jeremy broke the silence by adding, "Anyway, thanks, for listening, Dan. I really appreciate talking to you. Thanks for your patience."
            "Don't mention it." Dan pulled out a chair and sat close enough so their voices wouldn't be heard, "It's hard, I know it is. Believe me, you just have to have a little faith that it can work out. Eventually it will."
            Jeremy smiled with a sense of relief, "That's what I needed to hear, because, you know what? It's been hell so far."
            "I know, man. I hear you. Just hang in there. You'll get through it."
            They chatted for a while. Later on, Dan went for some coffee. He also called his boss and told him that he'd be awhile getting back to work, that he had an emergency to deal with. His boss told him not to take too long, and Dan told him he'd get there when he could.
            When he brought the coffee back and sat down, the two continued to talk. It was good to be with the young man. He saw a guy who was starting to come to grips with himself and his situation; this life of his right now and how he was going to have to learn how to cope with the death of his wife. In Dan's mind, he knew It wasn't going to be easy, in fact Jeremy had a long road ahead, but at least it was a start. He was happy for him about that. There was something about the young guy. Dan found himself liking him and he wanted things to get better for him. He could see them talking more in the future.
            Well, maybe.
            The thing was, all the time they were sitting together, and all the talking they did, Dan never let on the truth about the depth of the sadness he still felt for his wife; the numbing emptiness he still lived with everyday. In fact it had been ten years, two months and seventeen days since his beloved Amy had passed away. The pain was still there. The loss still intense. The love not diminished. Sure, he was out in the world. He was working, and doing the things he should be doing. The things Amy would have wanted him to do. The things he told Jeremy he should do. And maybe it would work for him, for the likeable young man. Dan sure hoped so. For himself, though, it all came down to this: for all those years that had passed since Amy's death, he was still waiting. He was still trying to heal. And, despite what he had told Jeremy, the truth of the matter was that for him, it really wasn't getting any better. Not even close. It wasn't getting any better at all.
            His thoughts were interrupted by Jeremy, "Say, Dan, I don't know. I was wondering...It's been good talking to you. Nice, actually. I don't have a lot of friends. No close ones, anyway. Anyhow, I don't know...I was wondering if you'd like to go for coffee sometime? You know, just to hang out or something?"
            Dan dragged his thoughts back to the present. Back to the here and now. Back to Jeremy and the pain he was feeling and now starting to cope with. What was it he had said? Did he actually say, 'Maybe hang out?' Dan smiled to himself. He was not what anyone would remotely call a 'Hanging out' kind of person. But he liked Jeremy. He seemed like an alright guy. An image of Amy flashed in his brain. Was she smiling? Yeah, he thought, maybe she was.
            Hell. It'd been over ten years. Maybe it was time for him to do something to try to move on with his life. Maybe now was the time to try something different. In fact, when you got right down to it, maybe he should pay attention to Amy's smile.
            Why not? What did he have to lose?
            With only the slightest hesitation, Dan smiled and said, "Sure, thing, Jeremy. I'd like to do that. It might be fun."

Friday 30 March 2018


by Janet Bunce 

carrot Juice

There was a series of loud thuds. All the creatures in the forest gathered together. Rabbit shouted ‘Remember what time of year it is’ but the others all looked confused. 
The tortoise shook his head- rabbit always got over excited when there was loud noise. The mice drew themselves closer to the foxes - whatever was happening they needed to feel secure.
Out from the undergrowth they came. Two large Jacks eyeing up one another. Each looked fearless but the fists were out. Punches were exchanged at an alarming pace. Rabbit said “Mad March Hares; Roll on Easter and Bunny time!”

About the author

Janet lives in a quaint market town in North Essex. She works in Financial Services and enjoys writing and wishes that she had more time to write more often! 

Thursday 29 March 2018

The Lady in Red

by Caroline S Kent

black coffee

The rain hammered down hard, bouncing off the tarmac as hit it the ground.
            Sitting in the National Express Mag Lev shelter outside of the main building the British serviceman was protected from the worst of the elements, but he was still damp and feeling miserable. He didn’t feel like talking to his fellow travellers which is why he now sat outside in the open fronted shelter, his kit bag propped up in the corner behind him.
            He was returning from his last posting in Nairobi for six weeks of accumulated leave, and he had looked forward to seeing his girlfriend when just two days before he had received the dreaded “Dear John” email which is why he was now pondering what to do.
            Now with no one to look forward to spending time with and with no parents to visit, for he was an orphan, he had no specific place to go. He had zero intention of visiting the orphanage as he had no good memories of the place. In fact it was the main reason he was a soldier. As soon as he could pass for old enough he had run away to join up to escape the place. He had been underage back then but he was tall and well built; so with falsified papers he had managed to bluff it and join up.
            Nursing a cold cup of bland vending machine coffee he pondered on if he should go back at all, or if he should go somewhere else entirely different and have a good time whoring, or gambling, both perhaps?
            Another National Express Mag Lev pulled up to the other side of the station and was headed somewhere else. Looking at the Mag Lev’s destination board he read that it was bound for Edinburgh. Perhaps Edinburgh wasn’t such a bad idea he wondered.
            As he was considering changing his ticket to Edinburgh instead a bolt of lightning lit up the night sky.
            Well if I ever needed a sign from a God’ he thought. With that he got up and started to stride towards the main station.
            As he approached the stations main terminal he saw her stepping off the National Express Mag Lev. He didn’t know her name or anything about her, but he knew, just knew that it was her, the one he had been looking for all of his life. She turned and looked straight into his eyes as her foot touched the ground.
            Her tawny, gold-flecked eyes glancing towards him told him everything that he needed to know, like a proverbial thunderbolt from the sky mimicking the very real one just a moment before. Her knee length flowing crimson red dress made her stand out even more in this dreary, rain sodden day. She wore no coat or protection from the elements, yet she stood proud and untouched by the cold and rain. Like an Amazonian princess standing proud before her army.
            His feet picked up a pace on their own and in no time at all he was running towards her, but she was still over fifty yards away. She turned away from him and then walked around the corner of the building and out of his sight. He faltered in his steps. He knew, just knew that she was the one for him and that he had seen the same recognition in her eyes. So how could she now turn away from him and walk away?
            He felt fate pull him along as his feet started again all by themselves and he was running again towards her. He turned at the corner of the station and what he saw caused his heart to skip a beat: an empty yard! The large pale red brick-walled yard was just a parking lot for the Mag Levs and he could see no exit. Neither could he see her. She had been out of his sight for just a few seconds. So how had she just disappeared?
            He quickly ran over the last few moments in his mind wondering if he had imagined it all. But no, there was a crushed cup in his right hand, no longer containing any coffee, having spilled out in his fifty yard sprint. He looked all around the empty yard in hope that he had missed a doorway, something, anything, to give a sign where the tall raven haired, tawny-eyed woman had disappeared to. There was: nothing. She was gone, vanished into thin air.
            He turned to walk back when a glint caught the corner of his eye. He spun round, but there was nothing there. Thinking that this was getting stranger by the second he resolved to walk every inch of the yard, check every corner, every brick to see if he could have missed any escape route for the striking beauty that he had chased after.
            A little over ten minutes later he was still none the wiser. As he shivered, realisation dawned on him that it was still raining and that he was now drenched through. Looking at his watch the time was 19:05 and his Mag Lev to Newcastle was due in ten minutes.
            But should he go to Edinburgh instead?

Wednesday 28 March 2018

Remembrance Day

by James Bates

elderflower cordial  

"Allie, come here, a minute. Look at this." The old man said and pointed, "It's a special kind of wild flower called a trillium."
Intrigued, the little girl ran to his side and fell to her knees, face only inches from the white petals.
            "Pretty," she said, and bent closer to smell.
            "There's usually not much of an aroma," the old man said, as he stiffly got down on the ground, joining his granddaughter.
            "But, Grandpa, I can smell it," she said, excitedly, moving over to make room for him, "You smell. It smells good."
            He bent down and took a whiff of the imaginary scent. "Oh, you were right," he said, looking with affection at the little girl, "I can smell it now. It does smell good."
            They were just coming out of a small woodland near the park where they'd been playing on the swings. A moving shadow on the ground caught their attention. The little girl looked up and spied a large bird.
             "Crow," she dutifully recited. The old man grinned with the memory of when he'd taught her to not only identify the bird, but also say its name. Then a sudden movement on the ground to the left captured her attention. She turned quickly and spied a robin hoping nearby on a sunlit patch of grass. "Look at that," she said, pointing excitedly, "Rrrrr...rrrr...Robin." She looked at her grandfather and smiled. It was their little joke about how he'd taught her to identify this particular early spring bird and pronounce its name with r's for both robin and red breast.
            God, the affection he felt toward this little girl; his son's daughter, the youngest of his and his wife's four kids.
            Suddenly, nearby, a dog yipped. Allie stood up quickly and pointed, "Look Grandpa. A doggy."
            He stiffly got to his feet and turned. Coming down the street was a lady in a blue sweat suit walking a small white dog that was straining on its leash. "Stand behind me," he said to Allie, and moved her out of the way, protecting her. As the lady approached, he said politely, "Nice dog you've got there. What kind is it?"
            She gave him an odd look, sizing him up before answering, "It's a Westie."
            He turned to his granddaughter, "Did you hear that? Can you say 'Westie,' honey?"
            Allie didn't answer, only watched, shyly, as the lady and the dog walked by, hurrying a little, it seemed to the old man. He watched until they were out of range and then asked, "Did you like the doggy?"
            "I did, Grandpa, I did. He was so cute," she exclaimed, smiling, "I loved it."
            "Maybe someday your mom and dad can get you a doggy," he said, starting to walk down the street toward his son's home.
            She reached up and took his hand. "Maybe," she said, doubtfully. Then she had a thought and visibly cheered, "But, if they don't, will you get one for me, Grandpa? Please?"
            He smiled to himself before answering. "Well, it's really up to your mom and dad." Then he glanced at her, and, seeing the disappointment in her eyes, quickly added, "But, we'll see, sweetheart. We'll see."
            "Good," she said, smiling. Then she started humming to herself. The old man didn't recognize the tune, but that was alright; it was just good to be together. They walked along for half a block, taking their time, until Allie let go of his hand and pointed, "Look Grandpa, tulips," she called out, "Come with me. Hurry." She ran ahead to the next yard.
            The old man followed behind, his steps slow but steady. In a minute he caught up to her. She was squatting down, studying the bright spring flower. "Two, two, two lips," he said, pointing to his mouth as he approached her.
            She turned and laughed. "No, Grandpa. Tu...lips," she said, emphasizing each of the two syllables. He smiled, remembering how much fun it had been teaching her letters and words throughout her young life. She moved over to a different flower. "Look grandpa, your favorite color. Orange."
            "Yes, it is, honey." Then he paused and rubbed the whiskers on his chin in mock contemplation, "Say, what's your favorite color again?" he asked, pretending he'd forgotten.
            "Purple and pink," she said, standing up and poking at him. "You know that." She giggled and then added, "You're so silly, Grandpa.
            They started walking again, her soft, small hand in his large, callused one. She was five years old, average height, and was way too skinny, even though she ate like a horse at every meal. She was fun loving and had a unique personality all her own. Her mother let her dress however she wanted and, today, she was wearing yellow and red striped tights under a white and black striped short sleeve dress covered with pink hearts. On her feet were purple socks and pink tennis shoes. Her long red hair fell past her shoulders and freckles dotted her checks. When they were together they talked and laughed and she was a true joy in his life.
            The next house up ahead was his son's home. He pointed, "Let's go into your folks' back yard and play."
            "Sure," she agreed and ran off, the old man following as fast as he could, which wasn't saying much. He was eighty-six years old and wasn't getting any younger.
            A few minutes later his son Steve, who was standing at the window and looking into the backyard, called to his wife, "There he is. I see him. There's Dad."
            "Finally," she said, somewhat annoyed, "He's lived with us for ten years. Today of all days he should know we'd be eating by 6:00."
            Steve checked his wristwatch and said, "He still has a few minutes."
            "What's he doing out there anyway?"
            "Looks like he's dancing."
            "Dancing." Steve shook his head grinned to himself. He liked that his father was a bit of an eccentric. It kept things interesting. Most of the time, anyway, but not today. Today different. "Never mind. I'll go get him."
            "Please hurry. I'm putting the food on the table."
            In the dining room were Steve and Emma's other three kids and two young grandchildren. This was the family's Remembrance Day. The day they set aside every year to remember the short life of Alisha Ann Drayton, Steve and Emma's youngest daughter, who, fifteen years ago today, had died at the age of five from acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
            Steve went downstairs and out the back door. "Hey Dad," he called, "Come on in. Dinner's on the table."
            Out in the yard, the old man stopped running around and playing tag with Allie. She was wearing him out and he was getting tired. He wasn't as young as he used to be.
            He turned toward his son, "Alright. Just give me a minute."
            "Sure, Dad," Steve said, walking over. He put his arm affectionately around his father's shoulder, "You doing okay?"
            "Yeah, son, I am." He was quiet for a moment, "I just miss her, you know. I miss being with her. Playing with her. We were close. She was one of the best things that ever happened to me." He paused a moment and then added, "It's not just today, son, but every day. Every day is Remembrance Day. At least it is for me." His eyes suddenly became moist as tears formed.
            Steve sighed and gave his dad a compassionate hug. "Me, too, Dad," he said, "Me, too."
            Then they walked slowly toward the back door. The old man didn't want to go inside just yet, but knew he had to. Emma had dinner ready and he didn't want to be rude. After all, it was generous of his son and wife to have him live with them. More than generous.
            Over his shoulder the old man turned and waved to Allie, standing in the middle of the yard. The wind blew through her hair and the sun caught her freckles just right, making them seem to sparkle. She smiled at her granddad and waved back, locked forever in the old man's memory.
            "I'll see you soon," he said to his granddaughter as he turned and started for the door.
            "What'd you say, Dad?" Steve asked.
            "Nothing," the old man said. "It must have been the wind."
            Then he turned and waved at Allie one more time before finally going inside.

About the author

James lives in Long Lake, Minnesota. He  enjoys gardening, bird watching, reading, writing, walking, bike riding and spending time with his four grandkids. He  has two great sons. He is retired after working for many years as a course developer and training instructor for Honeywell, Inc. He has also worked at a family owned garden center and, more recently, owned and operated a gift shop in Wayzata, Minnesota. He  collects vintage marbles, vintage radios and old pocket knives. He  also makes hand tooled leather goods that sell on line. 


Tuesday 27 March 2018

Family Life

by Robert Ferguson

a bowl of cream

I am grateful that my family life does not include other humans; just John and Francine and me. John and Francine are tabby cats. John is sleek and short-haired, and Francine longer-haired and fluffy, as befits her extreme femininity. John is brushed when he will permit it, which is usually when, through jealousy, he demands a brushing when he sees Francine receiving her daily beauty treatment. But Francine needs and enjoys a good brushing every day, to keep her luxurious fur from becoming tangled in knots. She hates these being combed out and proves it with her sharp teeth, but stays on my lap and continues to purr throughout the process, so her nips are only an expression of her requirement for consideration. We all need consideration, don’t we? That seems to me to be the essential foundation of interpersonal relationships, especially in the family home.

Both John and Francine are rescue cats, who have known hard times. Both adopted me, one after another at a very short interval, three years ago. Each appeared at the back door to my ground-floor flat in a quiet Fulham backstreet, when September was passing into October and the evenings were becoming unseasonably cold and wet. Francine came first (named for my dear mother), mewling gently for an invitation, which of course I was happy to extend, opening the door widely despite the chilly air, and waiting until she had made up her hesitant mind to come in. Eventually she entered, with tiny, delicate steps, a little anxiously, not sure whether to trust this tall, thin human. She penetrated no further than the kitchen that first evening, even after a bowl of water and another of tinned salmon (a share of my own supper, of course) had been put down for her on the floor. I left her there at first, going through to my warm, comfortable drawing room and favourite comfortable armchair, and leaving the intervening doors open in case she should decide to explore further after finishing her supper. But no, on that first evening she was too timid to come beyond the kitchen. Instead, she found a place on the shelf above the stove, which was still giving off some warmth after my evening cooking. Not the softest surface for her, but, well, it is uncivilised to impose one’s will on other people, other than for their own safety, or one’s own, I believe. I left her there, though I came to check on her every now and then.

Parents do this with children, I have observed (I have none of my own, I am relieved to say). They ignore the self-evident fact that the child is quite likely to have different preferences and attitudes from those of the parent. I am convinced that such misplaced impositions are the source of much of the disruption, not to say hurt, which is customarily blamed on children in all-human families. It certainly was in the one in which I grew up. My athletic father was constantly exhorting me to catch or kick or run when all I wanted was to be allowed to sit quietly alone with a book. “You’ll get fat”, he said, but I never did, taking my physical as well as my emotional genes from my gentle, elegant, slim mother. But he needed always to justify his own habits and tendencies by requiring me to share them and “Be a man”, which was never a priority for me. The rows we had! My tantrums and my tears, of which I am ashamed, of course, when I look back on them. But that’s families, it seems, or so everyone else I know seems to say.

But to return to my current family. John’s arrival was quite different from Francine’s. I was distracted from my evening book by an unusual rattling and scraping at the backdoor, went through to the kitchen to discover the cause, and, finding nothing to explain the noises, opened the backdoor a crack to look outside. John was in like a rocket! Not waiting to shake off the rain from his coat, or to look for anything but potential obstructions to his entry, he dashed through the hall to the bedroom and dived under my double bed (I do rather enjoy the luxury of the space it provides me, though of course I sleep in it alone – apart, that is, these days, from Francine and John). From his vantage point under the bed, quite out of reach from any angle, John was naturally quite inextricable; so I left him there, returning to the kitchen to lay down a bowl of water and another of the Sheba supper to which Francine had by now taken a fancy. She, having eaten sufficient for her self-judged need, ignored the whole incident, and my provision for our visitor, and remained calmly in the warm armchair which she had occupied, in the military sense, since the evening after her arrival.

That was indeed formerly my favourite chair, but, well, at that stage, I was not sure whether she was yet to be accounted as a resident or still as an honoured guest. There was no question that there were enough chairs for the two of us and more, had anyone else in the world unusually arrived. I take the view firmly that the imposition of power over someone else is a loathsome thing, especially when done for its own sake, to prove nothing but its existence; but, again, I have observed it often in human households, not only between parents and children, purely on the offered – to me, not apparently relevant - evidence of respective age, but sadly also between husband and wife, and between wife and husband in equally sad situations. “Oh, you haven’t invited them again, have you,” one might say disparagingly of partner as well as of as-yet absent friends; or “Just lay the table, darling. I’ll do the rest, as usual”. Such a relationship, deteriorating badly, is destined for deep unhappiness or the law courts, I always think when I witness those behaviours; or more probably for both.

Summer routines in my present family are slightly different, of course, though only in the evenings and at night, and only when the air is sufficiently warm. Warm in John and Francine’s judgement, that is, of course. Living on the ground floor of our building, we have the privilege of direct access to the back garden. The garden isn’t particularly well-maintained by the landlord. Its peripheral shrubs have run wild, and its somewhat patchy grass is hacked two or three times a year, rather than being mown; and the ancient surrounding brick wall shows signs of crumbling at various points. Nonetheless, there is a pleasant patio immediately outside the kitchen door on which we each have a soft, padded lounger, known and respected as dedicated personal spaces. Well, theirs are dedicated, and John or Francine commonly colonise mine if they can get there first; and I am content to share mine with one or the other (they are sadly still rather possessive and defensive of particular spaces, indoors and out: first come, first served seems to be one of their ruling principles, and challenges are met by rather peremptory glares and hisses).

Formerly, these loungers used to be uncomfortably damp after rain. Now, however, the patio is overhung by a protective roof, cantilevered from the wall of the house. Oh, the fuss involved in arranging for that structure to be erected! Let alone the cost! And the dust and mess spread by the builders who had to traipse through the flat in their muddy boots, coming and going to the street for their materials and tools. John and Francine were quite upset while the job continued, and showed their indignation by withdrawing from the drawing room for a whole three days after the workmen had completed their work. But that’s families, isn’t it? They cost money, now and then, and are liable to be upset by strangers and changes of routine. Also, significant investments are necessary at various points, to ensure a happier future. At least I shall not have to find thousands of pounds a year to support John and Francine at a university. They could contribute very effectively in such an institution, I am more than confident; but there is no sign of such an opportunity becoming available.

So, on suitable summer evenings, we repair to the patio rather than the drawing room, until it becomes too chilly outside, or bedtime calls. Francine joins me in the bedroom as usual, of course; but John often  lingers outside, or, if it is too warm to close all the windows, and having come in perhaps for a brief drink from the tap above the kitchen sink (which has to be very particularly calibrated for this operation), he is liable to disappear into the outer darkness and return at an unknown time of his own. It’s clearly pointless to try to require his return by ten or midnight or whenever. He clearly believes that he is now old enough to decide such things for himself, and will be perfectly all right, anyway. What can I do? He leaves with a dismissive wave of his tail, as if to say, “Whatever”, if he were sufficiently rude as to say such a thing. Of course, he would not dream of doing so!

Well, of course, John and Francine and I have long-since settled into our relationship. Each knows their place and the others’ routines, and respects them. Francine takes over my place in bed each morning, to enjoy the residual warmth, and John goes out when I bring in the milk, to check the security of his territory. Living conveniently close to my place of work, I let him back indoors from the top of the gatepost where he always waits, when I pop home in my mid-morning coffee-break (I never drink the beastly stuff, anyway), which is uncomfortable when the weather is inclement, but, clever though he is, he has not yet mastered the workings of the key and lock on the front door, so what can I do? Francine being still ensconced in my sheets and blankets, he takes his position beneath the big radiator in the drawing room, and there they stay, apparently, until I get home again just before six o’clock. Once they have supped, Francine takes her armchair for the evening and John goes under the bed to wash and tidy himself; and so we all pass each day to our chosen satisfaction, as it should be.

I really cannot understand how chaotic households – of which there seem to be so many, if the television programmes are to believed – can get into the state they seem to do. Ours is always calmness and peace, never disturbed in any way at all.

Monday 26 March 2018

The Art Critic

Allison Symes

Cranberry and Raspberry Tea

The fairy took one look at the concrete monstrosity of a statue put up to represent Tinkerbell and blasted it to smithereens with a quick twitch of her wand. It was bad enough humans didn't really believe in fairy kind anymore but there was no way she would tolerate such a horrible depiction of the noblest of the magical species. So she didn't and considered it the finest piece of critical art analysis ever seen on Earth. It was just a shame she couldn't boast about it.

Very few would believe in her to believe her at all. She wished she could change that and teach humans to respect their betters. She wasn't allowed to grant her own wishes. It would be chaos she was told. She sighed. What it would've been was fun! But then fairies weren’t supposed to indulge in that either, or so she’d been told.

She smiled.  There was a lot the authorities didn’t know despite all their magical capabilities.  If folk were determined to do something, they’d find a way.  It was one of the few things she understood about humanity given they shared the same trait. And now time to clear off and leave people wondering what happened to “their” Tinkerbell.

The fairy vanished.  The very sharp of hearing might have just heard a slight laugh on the breeze as she did so.

About the author 

Allison Symes writes fairytales with bite as flash fiction, novels and short stories. Her flash fiction collection, From Light to Dark and Back Again, was published by Chapeltown Books in 2017. She is a member of the Association of Christian Writers and Society of Authors. She adores P.G.Wodehouse, Jane Austen and Terry Pratchett. Allison’s main website is and she blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today at

Sunday 25 March 2018

Fifty Shades of Dulux

Martin Parker

old-fashioned lemonade

     Let's paint it yellow, I suggested brightly, hoping to end a week's indecision.
     Which yellow? my wife asked.
     A yellowy yellow, I ventured, Cheerful and . . .  well, yellowy.
     Men! she exclaimed, opening the Dulux Colour Guide. Choose one.
     I studied the page of tiny yellow rectangles.
     They all look much the same, I said.
     Dear God! she muttered. So, pick any of them.
     Bamboo Shoot, I said.
     Too brown, she said.
     Yellow Crush?
     Too pink.
     Soft Yellow?
     Too orange.
     Lemon Zest?
     Too yellow!
     But we agreed on yellow, I said.
     Yes, dear.
     When I came home from work the kitchen was green.
     It's green, I said.
     It's a greeny yellow, she said firmly.

     The Duty Psychiatrist agrees my present walls show a hint of Lemon White. The Custody Sergeant has promised me his opinion tomorrow. My wife will be unavailable for comment for some time.

 About the author

Much of Martin's humorous verse has appeared in national magazines such as The Spectator, The Oldie and the Literary Review.  His recent book, I THINK I THOUGHT, is the ideal gift for those ageing friends and relatives who are often difficult to buy for and who have had enough of the habitual socks and pot plants.  Details and extracts can be seen at: