Sunday 30 September 2018

Night Thoughts

By Kathy Sharp

a glass of porter 

She didn’t often go to bed at night any more. People died in bed, did they not? It felt safer to sit up in the armchair, her walking stick beside her, ready for whatever might happen next. Less of a deathbed and more of a waiting room. Besides, she didn’t need to sleep very much these days. A little doze here and there between the arrivals of the trains. Miss Finlayson liked the trains. They were a regular and timely reminder of life going on in the outside world. Miss Finlayson was sometimes unsure whether her own life was still going on or not. But the sound of a train door slamming indicated that people were travelling about, had things to do. It was comforting, especially in the dark.

She had moved to this flat near the station when she retired, acquired a little dog for company and decorated her walls with dozens of framed photographs. She wasn’t sure how many there were – all the actors she had worked with in a long theatrical career. Household names, every one of them. Or they had been. They were still household names to Dorothy Finlayson – how could they not be? Her flat was full of them. She had known these people so well. You do get to know them, as a dresser. They confide all sorts of things that she’d never repeat. She was not the sort of person to betray confidences in a theatrical memoir, though it had been suggested she do so. The very idea!

Many of them were far from the confident, glamorous people they appeared to be, set forever on her wall in urbane and lovely poses. Not real, of course. That one had terrible skin. Another chain-smoked himself to death from nerves. And not just tobacco, either. Dorothy knew it all. But that was the theatre, wasn’t it – that colourful, exaggerated, pretend world that she had so loved being a part of.

She had spent her working life helping others to conceal their identities, to create new identities for themselves. Actors! What stories she could tell, if there were anyone at all to listen. The framed photographs stared down at her, day after day, with knowing looks. We know the price of a life lived pretending to be someone else. Had she, Miss Finlayson, ever really been that able, competent person she half remembered? Her memories were confused, these days, and she wondered if some of them were actually the storylines of plays she had worked on. Work. It had been wonderful to be working, always working, being an integral part of the theatrical world. Actors come and go, but you, Dorothy, go on forever! Dear Larry – he could always be trusted to say just the right thing. Or had it been dear John? Or was it a line from a play?

There he was on the wall, dear Larry, in glamorous black and white. Under the glass was the spot where his hand had touched the photo as he signed it for her. They used to squabble, you know, the actors, fight to get their pictures on Dorothy’s wall. You were a proper star of stage and screen when your framed image was good enough for Dorothy. And not before. In the early days she carried them with her as she moved from lodging to lodging, and then little flat to little flat. In the end, there were so many that she could no longer manage them all, and the majority were put into storage. She hadn’t realised quite how many there were until her retirement when she had seen them all together at last. The sitting room had been the perfect setting for them. It stood in a sort of turret on the end of the building, and a nearly-circular wall. Very theatrical. Even so, there was scarcely enough room to display the whole collection, as she liked to think of it. 

She heard another train rattle into the station, and stand still with an electrical hum. A pause. A door was slammed shut, and the train slithered off into the night again. People don’t travel so much by train these days, Dorothy thought. It was a comfort to have practical, conversational thoughts like that. The sort of thing you might remark to a friend. Or a colleague. Sometimes she said it aloud to the signed photographs. It was a long time since she had sustained a conversation.

One winter, oh, quite a few years ago now, you know, it had snowed and the pavements were frozen. Treacherous underfoot. Miss Finlayson had stood at the street door, fearful of the consequences of a fall, with the dog on a long lead. Three little girls had passed by. They stopped to fuss over the dog and asked if she would like them to take him for a walk. It was something of a chancy thing to do, but they were very polite and Miss Finlayson had entrusted Jamie to their care. Half an hour later, to her relief, they returned, the dog happy and exercised. She invited them in for tea and gave them cherry cake and a thorough introduction to the actors in the framed photographs. The girls were goggle-eyed. Said, yes, they had heard of some of these people, heard their parents speak of them.

The three little girls came back every day until the weather improved and she could exercise Jamie for herself, and thereafter every year whenever it was icy underfoot. Miss Finlayson had seen them grow into teenagers. But then… the little dog had died and the girls did not come back, and after that Miss Finlayson didn’t get out much at all.

But no matter, there was plenty to think about. All that great stretch of days and nights of her theatrical career. All strung out across the past, with artfully-lit pockets of memory to switch on and off at will.  Lighting was so important, wasn’t it? Poor lighting could ruin a perfectly good production. Dorothy sat all night with the lights out these days, as often as not. There was nothing she needed to look at, really, and all her things were so shabby now; everything that mattered was in her head.

She remembered the war, oh dear me, yes. Such a time. They had needed to be extra inventive with costumes – you couldn’t get hold of the materials, could you? And the theatre was so important for keeping up people’s morale, don’t you know. Conversational thoughts, again, and very pleasant. She remembered the near miss. The bomb had shaken the theatre, and Miss Finlayson with it, to the foundations. She remembered the way everyone had rallied round to help. Wonderful wartime spirit. She chose to forget that her near miss had been someone else’s direct hit. She chose to forget the dust, the screaming, the smell. Her memories did not smell of death and destruction. They smelt of lavender, the lavender they hung among the costumes to keep away the moth. The show must go on. Of course it must.

Sometimes she mused on what it might have been like to have a husband and family, but not often. 

‘You are a plain girl, Dorothy,’ her mother had said firmly, ‘and you should equip yourself with a means of earning a living. It’s unlikely anyone will want to marry you.’

A devastating thing to say to a young girl, you might think, but Dorothy accepted it without fuss and set about finding a place in a dressmaker’s, and that was where she learned her trade. And then the circus came to town – or rather a theatrical troupe – and when they left, Dorothy went with them. From this lowly beginning she worked her way up to the theatres of the West End. It had been a wonderful life and not at all lonely. Miss Finlayson, dresser to the stars. Our dear Dorothy.

But who was Dorothy? Someone she used to know. Someone bright and quick and ready with a smart reply. Someone intelligent and apt and capable. Someone dedicated to her work. An interesting person with many friends and a colourful history. Yes, she thought, I used to know her rather well.
It had been a long time between trains. The depths of the night; the time when memories clustered together in little bunches and wafted away in ones and twos. When this time was over and the early train came through, then she would know she had survived another night. Little edges of dawn catching the photograph frames, drawing streaks of dust and light on the glass. And, at last, dear Larry’s smiling, flawless face, composed and knowing, elegant to the nth degree, would look down on her again.

About the author 

Kathy's Whales and Strange Stars is set in the marshlands of 18th century Kent. 
The sense of place is perfectly captured, and the writing just dances off the page. Highly recommended.’

Saturday 29 September 2018


                                            by Janet Howson

                                          Storm in a Teacup

It’s too hot for me, I like a bit of a breeze.”
“I can’t do anything in this heat.”
“I have to keep indoors whilst it’s as hot as this.”
“I just wish it would rain a bit to clear the air.”
“My lawn has suffered. It is completely yellow.”
“I can’t sit in the sun at my age.”
“I have to cover myself in factor 50 before I put my head out of the door.”
“The sun gives me a headache if I sit in it.”
“The heat exhausts me.”
“I couldn’t live in a hot country.”
“It’s lovely to get inside an air conditioned shop to get away from this heat.”
“I couldn’t believe it. I paid a lot of money to go to the Caribbean for the sunshine to find when I got back home it was hotter here.”
“The Central line is unbearable in this weather.”
“I pity anybody who has to work in this.”
“I just sweat all the time. I have had to have three showers a day.”
“What a miserable day.”
“What’s happened to the beautiful weather?”
“I cannot believe it’s raining in August.”
“It’s gone so cold. “I’m back in my woollies and long sleeved shirts.”
“We hardly had a summer and now we are back to grey and miserable again.”
“I would move abroad tomorrow, somewhere warm, if it wasn’t for the family.”
 “Those black clouds look ominous.”
“Where has the sun gone?”
“It looks like the rain is settled in for the day. No point in going anywhere in this.”
“I cannot stand this cold. I was made for a warmer climate.”
“Good thing I always carry an umbrella with me.”
“This wind cuts into you like a knife.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me if we didn’t see the sun again this year.”
“It is always disappointing weather when the kids break up for the summer holiday.”
“This weather is why we always go abroad for our holidays. You just cannot rely on it here.”
“I always feel depressed when it’s grey and rainy like this.”
“The snow looks pretty for five minutes then it turns into sludge.”
“I’m thinking of getting a sun lamp.”
“I couldn’t sleep last night with that storm going on.”
“I have bought a thicker duvet. I was still cold with our old one.”
“Is it me or are the winters getting harsher?”
“I can’t even feel my fingers I am so cold.”
“I can see my breath in the air and it’s only October.”
“It just makes you want to stay indoors and turn the central heating up.”
 The British obsession with the weather. It introduces our conversations and gives them a reliable subject that everyone can contribute to. It provides a safe comment to be exchanged with strangers you feel obliged to pass the time of day with. It is a known point of dissatisfaction and annoyance to the habitants of this Island. It causes no one any offence as it is only controlled by nature. We all understand it. It needs no qualifications or academic prowess to join in the debate about it. There is a camaraderie in our suffering of it. We are free to join either side: those who love the heat and those who prefer it cooler. It gives us an excuse not to attend an event we didn’t want to go to anyway. It is a free pass to indulgence in hot comfort food, hot toddies and nights in front of the television watching indescribable trivia sharing a box of chocolates.
We include the weather in numerous of our well known sayings:
 It’s raining cats and dogs.
It put the wind up me.
Save it for a rainy day.
A frosty smile.
Run around like a whirlwind.
A flood of tears.
Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.
As pure as the driven snow.
Brass monkey weather.
Cloud nine.
Indian summer.
It came like a bolt from the blue.
It never rains but it pours.
Steal my thunder.
Storm in a tea cup.
Know which way the wind blows.
One swallow doesn’t make a summer.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.
Then there are the songs with weather conditions in their titles:
“It’s Raining Men.” The Weather Girls.
“Here comes the sun.” The Beatles.
“The Flood.” Take That.
“Why does it always rain on me.” Travis.
“Purple Rain.” Prince.
“Candle in the Wind.” Elton John.
“Heatwave.” Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.
“Mr Blue Sky.” ELO        
“Singing in the Rain.” Gene Kelly.
“You are the Sunshine of My Life.” Stevie Wonder.
“Walking on Sunshine.” Katrina and the Waves.
“Here Comes the Rain Again.” Eurythmics.
“Beautiful Day.” U2
“Riders on the Storm.” The Doors.
“Good Day Sunshine.” The Beatles.
“Rain Fell Down.” The Rolling Stones.”
“A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” Bob Dylan
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Judy Garland.
“Set Fire to the Rain.” Adele.
Do we suffer as a country from a deviant form of OCD (Obsessive Climate Disorder)?
It is left to the great bard to finish off with a quote from “Twelfth Night” one of many that include weather references.
A great while ago the world begun
With hey, ho the wind and the
But that’s all one. Our play is
And we’ll strive to please you
every day.

923 words.

Friday 28 September 2018

Clumsy Miss Eleanor

by Celia Jenkins

mug of milky tea

“Oh Eleanor! Why must you always be so butter-fingered?” Ma threw her hands up in the air, making the strings of her floral apron flap around wildly. “Those were the last of my eggs, you know.”
            Eleanor stared down at the sticky mess on the floor, yolk splattered up her clean white socks. She'd been so eager to help, what with Ma being so busy. The basket had just slipped out of her hand.
            “Five eggs, that was.” Ma tutted. “Now I'll have to go borrow off Mrs. Lane, else there won't be enough for the cake.”
            “Sorry, Ma. I'll run get them now, if you like?”
            “There's been quite enough running around from you today!” Ma scoffed, taking off her apron and reaching for her bonnet. “No, I'll go up to Mrs. Lane myself. You clean up that mess there and see if you can go help your Pa instead. I've got enough to do around here as it is with the dance this very evening, and now a delay on the Victoria Sponge. Goodness me!”
            She could still hear her Ma chattering on as she went down the path. Eleanor sighed and began picking up the broken eggshells. If only I could be less clumsy.


Pa was out back with Betsy, their best milker. Poor Betsy was getting on a bit, but since the war had ended there hadn't been extra finances to afford a new herd, so they had to make do. Eleanor could hear her father whistling away on the other side of the barn. It was good to hear him making merry again. She tiptoed over and enjoyed the melodious tune.
            “Can I lend you a hand, Pa?” Eleanor popped her head over the stacks of hay, causing them to wobble precariously. They jolted so sudden that Betsy gave a start. Back she stomped and with one nudge of her hoof, the bucket was upturned.
            “Eleanor!” Pa clutched his hand to his chest. She'd given him a start too. “Look what you've gone and done.”
            Little rivulets of milk cut their way through the straw and disappeared into the ground.
            “Ten minutes work there, draining away.” Pa sighed. “Honestly, Eleanor. You're sixteen now, far too old to be playing games and creeping around like that.”
            She hung her head. “Sorry, Pa. I didn't mean to.”
            He leant down and righted the bucket, dusting off the sides. He looked up at her and sighed a smile.
            “I know that, pet. But you must try and be a bit more... graceful. It's not proper for a lady to be so ham-fisted.” He gave a chortle and chucked her under the chin. “Don't be downhearted, now. Why don't you go see if our Walter needs a hand, eh? You can't cause much trouble for him, I'd say!”
            Eleanor blushed and headed towards the shed. The farm hand – a muscular blonde boy a few years older than herself – had been with them for several months now. Her heart skipped a beat whenever she saw him. I just hope I don't embarrass myself.


Walter was hammering away when Eleanor approached, and she was careful not to creep up on him. She gave a little cough as she stood in the doorway before giving him a smile.
            “Miss Eleanor!” He gave her a cheerful wave, knocking a box of nails off the shelf above. They rained down onto the worktop in a shower of sparkling silver.
            “Gosh darn it!” Walter smiled. “I'm all thumbs today.”
            “I know the feeling.” Eleanor gave him a friendly smile. “Here, let me help you tidy that now.”
            “Alright, but you watch your fingers now Miss Eleanor. Those nails can be mighty sharp.” He said as he held out the box.
            “You can call me Nora,” she said quietly as she dropped a handful of nails into the box.
            “Well now. I'm not sure what your Pa would think of that.” Another dazzling smile, and Eleanor felt a flutter in her stomach.
            “I'm sixteen now,” she said defiantly. “What my friends call me by is quiet my own business, don't you agree?”
            “Indeed.” Walter went quiet as he swept the last few nails into the box with a clatter.
            “So, what were you working on before I came and interrupted you?” Eleanor asked, looking and the shards of wood scattered on the workbench.
            “Oh, I was making a signpost for that barn dance up at Mrs. Lane's place tonight.” He pointed to the hand painted sign with a wonky arrow, shaking his head. “If only I weren't so inept! I've made a right pigs ear of that.”
            “Not at all,” Eleanor smiled. “I think it's right nice.”
            Walter went quiet and looked at his shoes.
            “You're not fixing on going, are you? To the barn dance, I mean.”
            Eleanor felt a blush rising in her cheeks.
            “Well, I suppose I will. But I'm such a clodhopper, I dare-say there's no-one who'd want to dance with me. I'm proper clumsy, you know.”
            “Ah Miss Eleanor. I mean, Nora.” Walter corrected himself. “You can't be any more ungainly than I am. So say you'll go with me, won't you? I'll check with your Pa, if you'd like.”
            He took her hand and squeezed it softly, flashing his white teeth as he smiled at her expectantly. She took her time, enjoying the warm touch pulsing through her fingers.
            “I'll go, of course I'll go, and I'll wear thick socks in case you tread on my feet.” She gave him a wink and leant forward to brush some wood shavings off his shirt. Now it was Walter's turn to turn red.
            Eleanor went back on up to the house like she was walking on clouds. She'd beg her Ma for another chance to help with the cake, on the promise of being more careful this time. But, on the other hand, maybe sometimes, being a bit clumsy isn't such a bad thing after all!


About the author

Celia Jenkins is a freelance writer, specialising in writing for children, light-hearted romance and travel writing. She also moonlights as a café girl, senior caregiver, and language teacher. In her free time (ha!) she likes reading, knitting, cooking and hitting the gym. Her hot beverage of choice is a latte, though she also enjoys chai latte, pu’er, almond cake rooibos (yes, that exists), After Eight honeybush (yep, that too), and a good old fashioned ‘cuppa’.

Thursday 27 September 2018


by  Clyde Liffey

black coffee

Tangled piano chords, conflicting duets and trios, that’s what I hear or pretend to hear, speak plain they said, think plain, I can’t or won’t. Engage, they said, there are business issues, real business issues, there are birds outside, that’s real life, the issues need to be addressed. The birds flutter and squawk, they get things done, they don’t always succeed.
                There’re no windows in the conference room. I shift my attention inside to thoughts no more interesting than what the man in front of me is saying. I of course listened at the start, it’s the same as any performance, a word or phrase suggests other words, he picks one among the many, not my choice, our paths diverge. I look at his eyes. I think he thinks I’m listening, the others may too, amazing what a gesture will do.
                A door opens. Someone – my boss? –  walks in. The door swings or slams shut behind him, one door closes, I can’t go on with the cliché, we’re all or mostly men here. The newcomer sits in the back, the speaker has no more to say, someone else picks up the thread, I gesture vaguely, that’s how I facilitate, some like my light touch.
            If the doors of introspection were cleansed, we would see things as they are – banal.

About the author

Clyde Liffey lives near the water. He tweets, rarely, @ClydeLiffey

Wednesday 26 September 2018


by Richard C Elder 

strong black coffee with plenty of sugar

In the garden of the house opposite mine, there’s something small and bright in the unkempt grass. It’s not moving now, but it was; that’s what drew my attention. Maybe it’s a balled tissue rocking in the breeze. There it is again: small flicks and turns within the forest of shining green blades. Could be a mouse. The woman who lives there, Liz, she’ll want to close her front door. Ah, not a mouse, a bird, a small bird. Its wings blurred but it didn’t fly. 
          Then I see the cat. It’s lying on its back in the garden next door, dozing in the August sun.
          Coffee slops over the rim of my cup when I set it on the window sill and make for the hall. 

Two adult house martins are swooping in turn to the mud pellet nest in the gable of the house, feeding their brood. Earthbound, the chick stumbles through grass and daisies. The martins spot their offspring and scythe through the air above it but never land, fearful of the cat, respectful of its ability to hook even the quickest and slam them to the ground. 
         The cat stirs, opens its eyes and watches the martins fly. Rolling onto its feet it takes a spine-cracking stretch: front legs and claws extended, back bowed. Pulling velvet lips back from needle teeth it opens its jaws wide and yowls. Now it begins a slow, loose-limbed walk down the hot tarmac driveway, shoulder blades popping up and down, its black head swiveling from side to side looking for anything of interest. For the moment the chick is safe, screened by a small shrub.

Running across the road I shout at the cat, ‘Leave it be, go on, leave it, sisssssssssssss!’
Mere inches from the chick the cat drops to its belly in the grass, glaring at me, its white-tipped tail metronoming with irritation. It doesn’t retreat until I’m very close. Hunkered down I focus on the bird. It’s quiet and unmoving, looking at me with black pinhead eyes. The cat waits less than six feet away. I think to lift the chick, take it to safety and nurse it back to health. Then I see the infestation of insects, like armoured spiders, scuttling across the blue-grey plumage covering its head and back. I try to flick them off but they’re attracted to my fingertip, rushing toward it, thirsty for blood. 
This tiny creature fallen to earth is exhausted and beaten, on its way from what should have been to oblivion.
         There’s a length of wood stuck into the soil of a planter near my elbow. It looks like a piece of brush shaft. I pull it from the soil, feel the weight. It’s about eight inches-long. The cat waits, yellow eyes wide and staring. 
         There’s no one else on the street. Grass shifts and rustles in the warm breeze. Dart-shaped shadows streak across the tarmac and the martins cry, powerless and distraught. Their hearts and mine are breaking. Whispering, ‘I’m sorry,’ I raise the stick and strike. The chick convulses and flips over, revealing its snow-white breast. I strike again and it stills, its body deflated and limp. I push it under a vibrant azalea and go home, sick to my stomach.
         The cat creeps forward and sniffs the bird, then lopes away. 

Back in my kitchen, I fill a tumbler with water and down it in one. My hands are trembling. I can’t get the bird’s death throes out of my mind.
          ‘Saw you over the road, Mum, in the lady’s garden.’
          Turning from the sink, I shake my head as my eyes fill with tears. She rushes to me and throws her skinny nine year-old arms around my waist. ‘Mum?’
          ‘I’m okay, love. Really. A little bird died.’
          ‘That horrible cat. I saw it lying in the grass. I hate it.’
          ‘No, Caitlin, it’s a cat. They don’t know any better.’

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Sharpening the Blade

 by James Bates


Last weekend Joyce bought a vintage manual push lawnmower at a garage sale. I used to use one like it as a kid, mowing my parent's small yard in Minneapolis, so today I was fixing it up, on a bit of a nostalgia trip. I was back by the garage taking the wheel off when a movement out near the street caught my eye. I looked up just as my ten year old son Kyle called out, "Hey, Dad. Check this out!"
            I watched as he raced up our gravel driveway on his trek dirt bike, pedaling at break neck speed for all he was worth. I didn't have time to react and get worried before he threw the bike into a long two wheel slide and skidded to a stop less than three feet from me, spewing sand and grit all over the place. He hopped off and grinned, "How about that? Me and Steve have been practicing all morning."
            Two years ago, before I came down with my illness, I'd have admonished him for riding so recklessly. I'd have reminded him that that's how accidents were caused. 'You'd better watch yourself, young man, you could get hurt,' I'd have said, probably even yelled. 'Or even killed.'
            But I didn't say any of those things. At this stage of the game, it was just good to see him having fun. "Nice slide," I said, meaning it, "Looks like you and your buddy spent your time wisely."
            That was another thing. Earlier in the summer, Kyle and Steve had ridden their bikes down to spend the afternoon at the lake our town is named after, Long Lake, located only a half a mile from us. Late in the afternoon, they were swimming from the beach out to the floating raft located about a hundred and fifty feet from shore when a speed boat driven by a drunken twenty year old swung too close to the swimming area, narrowly missing both boys. Fortunately, they hadn't been injured, but it scared them half to death and, consequently, put them off swimming for the foreseeable future. I didn't blame them.
            They're also staying close to home, which I don't mind at all. His three older sisters are all living away on their own and we don't see much of them. My wife and I are both forty-eight years old. She works in town at Swanson's Foods as a cashier. I work for Benson's Electronics in the design department. They're located in Minneapolis, but since my illness I've been able to work at home as much as I need to which has made my life a little easier. Joyce and I'd be empty nesters by now if it hadn't been for a special New Year's Eve celebration trip to Finland eleven years ago to see the Aurora Borealis. It was a memorable occasion for couple of reasons.
            Kyle knelt by my side and took in the scene: me on the ground in front of the garage fooling around with what to most people would look like a useless piece of junk. He asked, looking slightly perplexed, "What are you doing Dad? I thought we already had a lawn mower. You know, the one I use."
                        "We still do, that nice three horsepower Toro. But your mom got this at a yard sale and I thought I'd fix it up." I glance up quickly at my son. He hasn't hit his growth spurt yet and is as skinny as a whip. He has a mop of brown hair that he wears like the Beatles did when they first started out. He's quick to smile, has wide, deep brown, eyes and a long eye lashes. Joyce says that one day he'll be a lady killer. Maybe. Right now, I'm happy with him just the way he is, a fun loving kid who'll be going into sixth grade next fall.
            "Want to help?" I ask.
            He turns serious and says, "Sure."
            "All right. Great. I've already taken the wheel off. Next step is to get the mower off the ground a few inches. You can lift it for me. We'll set the axel on this piece of wood."
            Kyle follows my instructions to the letter. He's a great kid, he really is, and likes to learn new things. He's hardly any trouble at. I'm lucky. His three sisters? Well, let's just say they're pretty free-spirited and leave it at that.
            The four blades are attached to the axel. With it off the ground, the blades can spin freely. "What's next?" he asks.
            I point. "Next we sharpen this bad boy." I open up a jar of sharpening compound and say, making a sly gesture, "This is the fun part." I dab some of the black gunk on my finger and rub it along the edge of one of the curved blades. It has the consistency of peanut butter. I hand Kyle the jar, "Here, you do it, too."
            "O boy," he grins enthusiastically and grabs a glob.
            For the next few minutes we dutifully smear the granular sharpening compound along the blades. When we're done I insert a metal crank onto the end of the axel say, "Okay, use this. Turn the wheel counter clockwise. The blades sharpen themselves again the bottom runner.
            He carefully takes hold of the handle and begins to turn it, "Like this?" We both grimace as the blades make a grating noise, metal on metal.
            "Yep. Keep it up. You're doing great."He grins and cranks the handle faster, "This is fun."
            In a minute the grinding of the metal becomes less and less until the blade assembly begin to spin freely, indicating that it's completely sharpened. I smile back at him. It's great; both sharpening the blades and being with my son. I wouldn't trade times like these for anything.
            Next, I show Kyle how to clean the rest of the mower with light motor oil and WD-40. Finally, we put the wheel back on, use a crescent wrench to tighten it and the job is complete.
            "Good job," I tell him.
            "Now what?"
            "Well, now, if you want, you can take it for a spin."
            Kyle looks at me questioningly, "What do you mean?"
            "You know. Cut the grass."
            "You mean it?"
            "Sure. Try it out. It's different than the power Toro. Safer." I test his biceps and tell him, "Also, it's good for your muscles. Your know, good exercise."
            "You think I can do it?"
            "I do. You already cut the grass with the power mower. Using this one requires skill and precision." I smile at him, half joking, half not. The only thing you need to be is strong enough to push it. I'm pretty sure he is. There's only one way to find out.
            Kyle pretends to crack his knuckles in preparation for getting ready. I dutifully laugh and he grins at me before saying, "Okay. Off I go."
            I watch as he pushes the mower over to the edge of the lawn. He's been cutting the grass for me for two years with the power Toro. It's different with a manual one like this. It takes a minute or two, but soon he gets into his rhythm and he's off to the races. I watch, slightly envious that I can't join him, but that's the way it goes. He's doing a good job and having fun too. It's nice to see. Like I said, he's a good kid.
            While he's cutting the grass, I reach over and pull my wheel chair close. It takes me a minute to get in and situated. When I do, I pick up my tools and wheel them into the garage and put everything away.
            While I'm at it Joyce comes out and greets me with, "I see you've got a helper." She points out to the yard where Kyle has finished with the back.
            He sees us and waves, "Hi, Mom." Joyce waves back. "Dad, should I do the front?"
            I call back, "Yeah, that'd be good."
            He pushes the mower foreword and starts cutting the side strip of grass on the way to the front yard. The blades quietly go "swish, swish, swish" through the grass. It's a peaceful sound. We have a small bungalow home with a small lawn to go with it, and it doesn't take long before he's finished with the side and has moved to the front of the house.
            We both watch for few moments. Then Joyce turns to me and says, "Beverly from the clinic called. She says we should bring him in sometime before school starts. They want to do some more tests: check his blood, his muscle strength and how fatigued he gets. That kind of thing. "
            "He's doing great, today," I tell her, slightly defensive, "Look how good he's cutting the grass." I don't want to spoil the moment with the reality of our life, but my feeble attempt doesn't work. Joyce is on to me in a flash and gives me a stern look. She knows we need to stay on top of things with Kyle's health. I know what she means, even though sometimes it's hard, like today when he seems so normal. "Okay," I respond with a more than a little resignation, "You're right."
            The doctor's are monitoring Kyle for the beginning stages of MS, like I've got. We haven't told him that he might one day get my disease. The doctors say that it could be years before it manifests itself, if ever. We just have to be ready for the day when he, like his dad, might be confined to a wheel chair (and hopefully nothing worse.)
            I look at the lawn and marvel at the fresh scent of mown grass. Those old lawn mowers really did do superb work. "Sweetheart, you want to come up to the front yard with me? It's a pretty day out, and I'd like to watch Kyle for a while."
            My wife smiles and me and rubs my shoulder. I take her hand and kiss it.
            "I'd like nothing better," she says. She bends and kisses me softly on the lips.
            We walk along the edge of the driveway. The gravel is pretty packed so it's not too hard for me and my wheelchair. We make our way to the front yard where we stop in the shade of a big maple tree. We watch as Kyle walks back and forth, back and forth, cutting the grass as if he didn't have a care in the world. It's a pleasant moment for the two of us. Everyone has an opinion about whether or not we should tell him that he might get multiple sclerosis. Joyce and I aren't stupid. We understand that we'll have to talk to him about it someday. Eventually we will. But not today. Maybe not even tomorrow. For now my wife and I want to hold to the present and keep things the way they are for as long as we can. Why not?  He's having a wonderful summer. You're only young once. He's ten years old. The future will be here soon enough.

About the auhtor

Jim is retired and lives in a small town west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In addition to CafeLit, his stories can be found on The Writers'Cafe Magazine and A Million Ways. He also posts them on his blog:

Monday 24 September 2018

A Warrior's Heart

by Rich Rurshell

bitter lemon

I'd just come second place in a boxing match. Tommy "The Animal" Rogan had beaten me by unanimous decision in my challenge for the world heavyweight title. My head ached, my arms ached, my jaw hurt, my nose hurt, my ribs hurt, but I was still on my feet and had stayed that way for the duration of the fight. He'd hit me with some bombs, but I saw it through. I'd hit him with a few of my own, but he wasn't the champ for nothing. He was a tough customer. There was no disputing he had won the fight, but I was the first man he had failed to put on the canvas. There were times in the fight when he had looked at me in surprise, having just landed his best shot seemingly without any effect. I knew how much they had hurt, but I wasn't going to let him know. Tommy was known for belittling his opponents, both before the match and afterwards. He'd been rude to me in the build up to our fight, but he’d had nothing but respect for me after the referee had raised his hand. That felt like a small victory for me in itself.
I made my way back to my dressing room with David, my trainer. He had been in my corner. As we reached the door, David pulled out his phone.
"I'll catch up with you in a moment, Dan,” he said, looking at his phone. He walked off down the corridor as I pushed open the dressing room door and went inside.
Several of the other fighters from David's gym were waiting for me and they greeted me with handshakes, pats on the back, and words of encouragement. John offered me a chair, but I refused it, so he started cutting off my handwraps as I stood talking to my training buddies. Looking back, it was just foolish bravado that made me want to continue to stand. Tommy Rogan couldn't take me off my feet, so no one else would. Before the fight, I had been warming up and training in this room. Now, my trainers and fellow fighters were packing things away, ready to head to the hotel. John finished with the handwraps and I thanked him and washed my hands in the small basin at the back of the room. Once I had dried my hands, I started to do some standing stretches, the beginning of my warm down. The door opened and David walked into the room. He put his fingers to his lips and whistled. The buzz of conversation ceased and everybody turned toward him.
"Alright, everybody. I need to speak to Danny Boy alone, so if you could make your way out of the room please. Thank you." There were murmurs around the room as everybody picked up their things and made their way out. Once it was just the two of us, David closed the door and turned to face me.
"Well?" I asked. David just looked at me, silent. "Dave?"
He had a look that I hadn't seen before. He seemed lost for words. This wasn't about the fight. Something was wrong. Finally, he spoke.
"Your mother called."
"My mother?"
"I'm sorry, Dan. She asked me to get you to call her right away. It's..." He paused.
"What is it, Dave?"
"Your father passed away."
Bang...For a moment, my head swum and I became overly aware of the silence in the room. I had heard what David had said, but it was as if my mind did not yet comprehend what he’d just told me. Like a punch, it's the one you don't see coming that gets you.
"He's dead?" I already knew the answer.
"I'm sorry, Dan."
I suddenly felt sick and my legs turned to jelly. I dropped to my knees.
"Dan?" David knelt beside me and put his hand on my shoulder. "I'm real sorry man. Is there anything I can do?"
"No... Thanks though, Dave,” I replied, but struggled to say his name, the lump in my throat past the point of no return. I started to blubber, tears blinding me. Ashamed, I leant forward, burying my head in my hands. David continued to pat my back.
"Ok, Dan. Get it all out. It's alright, you do what you gotta do."
I sat back upright again, composed myself, and apologised.
"You ain't gotta apologise for nothing, Danny Boy. You fought like a warrior tonight. The fight didn't go your way, but you were a warrior in there. You got a real warrior's heart, Danny Boy, but it's still just a heart. It can be broken just like anyone else's. You're now in dark times, but you'll get through it Dan, I know you will." I took David's hand in both of mine and gave it a squeeze.
"Thanks, Dave,” I managed. David smiled.
"Now, I'm gonna leave you to it. Give you some space. But call me if you need anything, I'll be around." He slapped me on the shoulder and left the dressing room, locking the door behind him.
I thought about calling my mother, but I wasn't ready for that yet. I then thought about her sitting by the phone waiting for me to call and I burst into tears again. I imagined her sitting by the phone in the armchair that she had always sat in. Opposite her, the empty armchair that my father sat in ...used to sit in. I thought about the little table to the left of his chair, which more often than not, had his mug of tea on it. His mug with the little map of Jersey printed on one side, that I had bought him when I was a young boy. He'd always used that mug despite there being plenty of others in the house. I leant forward again and sobbed into my hands. I wondered if the mug was there on the table as I knelt there crying, and whether it was full or empty. I like to think it was empty.
Your father passed away. David's words echoed in my mind.
I'd taken a hundred and seven punches of the three hundred and fifty five thrown by Tommy Rogan, and yet I'd remained on my feet. I'd taken sixty nine power punches across the twelve rounds, and still I was standing when the final bell rang. But just four words had brought me to my knees. The thought of fighting the unbeaten Tommy "The Animal" Rogan had not scared me. His flawless record and knockout ratio would have intimidated many men, but not me. But just thinking about my father's mug with the map of Jersey on it had me sobbing like a child.
It is said that "actions speak louder than words"... well, not today they don't.

Sunday 23 September 2018


by Jenny Palmer

decaffeinated cappuccino

You asked me about my dreams. I keep having this recurring one.  I’ll be back in my old school, about to sit for an exam, when I realise that the subject is one I know absolutely nothing about. It might be Chinese, or computer programming, or bio technology. Or I might be in a classroom and everyone is expecting me to teach one of those subjects. Naturally I panic. When I wake up, it’s a relief but the panicky feeling stays with me.   
I used to have pleasant dreams where I’d be climbing up the Atlas Mountains or rolling down a sand dune in the Sahara Desert or lying on a beach by the Pacific Ocean. I’d be conversing with people in their language and wake up speaking Spanish, as that is the language I know best, having lived in Spanish-speaking countries. I used to look forward to going to sleep at night, wondering what adventures my sleeping self would get up to.
I suppose people in your profession would call them anxiety dreams. I’m not anxious, no more than the next person. I’ve heard there are people so traumatised by the prospect of leaving the EU that they are prone to feelings of anger and despair. They say they feel like lemmings rushing towards the edge of a cliff. I am not one of them. I always look on the bright side.
Sure, the government is making a hash of it. And no one knows really what the outcome will be, no matter what they say, but it’s so much worse in America. Over there, university students are so depressed that they can’t even function. One professor at Yale has taken to teaching course on happiness and it’s the most popular course on campus.   
‘You might not be able to change the world,’ she tells them, ’but you can change your mindset. Take up yoga or meditation or mindfulness. Get absorbed deeply and mindfully in every experience.’  
Sometimes I have the moving-house dream. I’m living in a house with a group of strangers. I need to get out of there, quick. I set off walking in one direction and then I realise I am going the wrong way, so I turn around and go back the other way.  In one of those dreams I came across a building. It was brand new and made of red-brick.
‘That could be a nice place to live,’ I thought, ‘to make a new start.’
The door was open. It looked inviting, so I went in. But it turned out to be a school again and I was the new teacher. It was full of children who looked about seven years old. I was there to teach them creativity. The kids were running around all over the place. It was chaos.  I knew I’d never get them to sit still and listen. It was hopeless.  I went in search of the head.
‘I can’t teach them,’ I said. ‘Anyway, they already know how to be creative at that age. School will only knock it out of them.’
‘Well, in that case, we’ll have to give you the sack,’ the headmistress said, calmly.  
‘I wish you would,’ I said.  ‘Nothing would give me greater pleasure.’
And I walked out, just like that. I can’t tell you how relieved I was. I’d let myself off the hook, you see.  I thank my lucky stars that I don’t have to do battle with a load of riotous kids and coax them into producing something artistic.
‘There is no such word as can’t,’ someone told me once. ‘Everything is possible if you put your mind to it.’
‘I’m not sure about that,’ I wanted to say. ‘It depends on your background, your upbringing and your genes.’  But I didn’t say anything. People don’t like to be contradicted.
I gave up my course.  I was studying International Relations. I wanted to work for the United Nations or in some human rights agency. I wanted to make a difference. But it all started to seem pointless. I couldn’t face going on.  There are worse things than taking time off, like carrying on when you don’t feel up to it. I adopted a motto. It became my mantra.
 ‘You don’t have to do anything in life, if you don’t want to.’ I said to myself.  
  I’d been carrying the world on my shoulders, you see, feeling responsible for everything that happened. If someone died, I’d think it was my fault. If a light bulb fused, I’d think I’d caused it. It was that bad. My mantra reminded me that there are some things we have no control over, like being born, for instance, or dying. 
II’s up to us what we do with our lives, isn’t it?  Naturally there are some things we need to do, like eating and sleeping and keeping a roof over our heads. But apart from that, we can do what we like, so long as it doesn’t infringe on anyone else. We’re not sheep.
It was easy enough to give up doing, far harder to give up thinking. There are some thoughts you can’t blank out of your mind, like seeing people so desperate to flee their own countries that they will pile into makeshift rubber dinghies, float off and risk drowning in the Mediterranean.  Or watching women and children, with no means of escape, being bombed from the air by fighter jets, because they happen to live in a worn-torn country. They stay with you, those images. They haunt you at night. 
As I told you, I’m an optimist by nature. I believe there’s always a solution to every situation, no matter how difficult it is. It’s just a matter of finding it.  I won’t be coming here anymore. I’m ready to face the world again. I’m not sure what I’ll end up doing   I just wish I could stop having these dreams, though.  

About the author

Since she returned to Lancashire, Jenny Palmer has self-published ‘Nowhere better than home’ a childhood memoir about growing up in rural Lancashire in the 1950s and 60s, its sequel ‘Pastures New’ which follows the heady days of the 70s and 80s and a family history called ‘Whipps Watsons and Bulcocks: a Pendle family history 1560-1960.’ More recently, in June 2018, her collection of short stories ‘Keepsake and other stories’ was published by Bridge House and is available on Amazon.