Friday 30 November 2018

Agate Hunting

By James Bates

tonic and lime on the rocks

I found my first agate when I was ten on a gravel road in northern Minnesota. A walnut sized stone with rusty red hues enfolding swirls of white crystals, it was like holding a piece of magic. Its genesis was eons ago, formed from volcanic fires in the depths of Lake Superior, and its journey to that rural road was part glaciation, part mystery. It's hard to find one these days. They're special, and their value is in their rarity.
            After my daughter Jenny's funeral, I decided to give it to my eight year old grandson. We were downstairs in my workroom, and I was showing him some of the favorite rocks I'd collected over the years, getting him acclimated. He'd be staying with us for the foreseeable future while his father was recovering in the hospital.
            "This is so beautiful, Grandpa Pete," Evan said, visibly awestruck."I love it." It was nice to see him smile for the first time since the tragic car accident that had killed his mother. I told him a little of its history as he gently caressed the singular stone in his small hands, eyes wide with wonder, his thoughts for a moment taken away to happier times. When I was finished he was quiet. I was, too. What would each of our lives be like now, now that someone we both loved so dearly was no longer with us? My Jenny. Evan's mother. After a minute he looked at me hopefully and asked, "Grandpa Pete? Do you think we can we go searching for more of them sometime? I'd really like to do that."
            His innocence and quiet voice almost broke my heart. We were both suffering and grieving our loss. Even though the chances of finding any were next to zero, was it too much to hope that searching for agates together would help us both to heal? I didn't have to think  hard at all.
            "Absolutely," I said, instantly planning a drive north while picturing him cradling a handful of newly found agates in his cupped palms. "Let's go tomorrow." 

About the author

Jim is retired and lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In addition to CafeLit, his stories have appeared in The Writers' Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways and Paragraph Planet. You can also check out his blog to see more:


Thursday 29 November 2018

Seeing the Light

by Lynn Clement


 Della James tried to open her eyes. It was hard, she was groggy. She heard whirring and clinking in the room. She was afraid. There was a pain in the back of her head; it felt like she had been coshed. She lay still, wondering what she should do. There was a lot of movement around her. One of them touched her arm, but she didn’t move a muscle. She could taste the salt on her top lip. More clinking and whirring. Her heart pounded. She wanted to move her hands, remove the blindfold, and find out what they looked like. One of them touched her again; she felt their hot breath on her face and she recoiled.
Della always thought she was not a racist, but she didn’t approve of her country being overrun with foreigners. It will all end in tears; she’d say when her daughter chided her for objecting to Britain’s immigration policy. You mark my words, they’ll take all our houses and jobs, she used to say. She’d say so in the supermarket and the café and the shop queue if needed. She was polite but always stuck to her guns. There was a time her daughter didn’t talk to her. Della wondered what she would be thinking now. She stiffened as she heard the sound of scissors being tested, opening and closing near her ears. Her mouth was dry, her palms were wet. The blindfold fell away from her head.
In his clipped English accent acquired at Cambridge University, Rakesh Sharma said; ‘Ok Mrs James, open your eyes please, slowly at first.’ Della James did as she was instructed.
‘Can you see the light?’
Della smiled. ‘Yes, I can,’ she said. As she fully opened her cataract-free eyes, she saw his warm brown eyes, framed between a thatch of jet black hair and a surgical mask.
‘You are happy to have come to India for surgery,’ he said.
‘Oh yes I am indeed,’ replied Della James.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

The Model

by Roger Noons

a mug of hot chocolate

An advert in a local news sheet, Model Required by Award Winning Artist, generated a number of phone calls, but after I explained what was required, the hours and fees, only two women came to see me. Amanda was too thin and I suspected anorexic. Zoe, who insisted on stripping off to demonstrate, was perfect. Two days later she appeared at the studio just after nine o’ clock in the morning.
    I had stressed the low pay, as being an exhibition painter with irregular commissions, she would receive little until a painting was sold.
    ‘It’s unimportant,’ she said. ‘Andrew has loads of money.’
    ‘My partner, we live alongside the canal in the city centre. It’s a loft, acres of space.’
    ‘What did he say when you told him … you have told him you’re coming here?’
    She didn’t answer, walking over to look through the window.
    ‘Why have you not told him?’
    She shrugged. ‘How do you want me to pose?’
    I moved so that I was facing her. ‘You should have told him. I’ll not feel comfortable, not be able to work if I’m constantly thinking he’s going to come here and … when he finds out, might he be unpleasant to you?’
    She shook her head. ‘He will not mind, I assure you, I’ve—’
    ‘What if he walks into a gallery and sees you naked on the wall?’
    ‘He won’t.’
    ‘You cannot be sure.’
    ‘He will not see me … he’s blind, he’s never seen me. If you were a sculptor, I wouldn’t have agreed. His fingertips know every inch of me.’

Roger is a regular contributor to Café Lit.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Moving On

by Allison Symes

fruit tea

Learning to let go was hard but if she was going to get anywhere in her new profession, she’d have to learn fast.

Still it served Sandy right.

Nobody had forced her to leave her cosy job in admin. She had been longing for years to be free and feel the wind in her hair again. She'd had enough of just living for the weekends and holidays.

So she walked, much to the surprise of her colleagues and disapproval of her family. Sandy wondered if her usually placid mother would ever stop going on about it.

Now was the moment of truth though.

It was time to let go.

If she was going to teach bungee jumping for a living, she'd best get on with it.


Allison Symes is published by Chapeltown Books, Cafe Lit, and Bridge House Publishing amongst others.  She is a member of the Society of Authors and Association of Christian Writers.  Her website is and she blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today -

Monday 26 November 2018

The Best Things in Life Are Free (or are they?)

By Lynn Clement

iced water

Gable woke with a start. He was at that part of his recurring nightmare where his parents were being battered with a hammer. He was grateful to be awake and avoid the pools of blood. It was banging from next door’s pod that had woken him, whilst he was taking a nap after his long shift at the carbon mine. The noise got louder; Gable wondered what old Soma was doing in there. He had a lot of time on his hands since he was laid off by the mine for being too slow at 35 years old, maybe he was busy doing up his pod. Gable coughed. He eased himself up from his chair to tap on the gauge attached to his wall. He rubbed his hands to get the blood flowing again, he couldn’t afford to show any signs of ill health, or he too would be laid off by the mine.
The hammering in the next pod became steadier until there was a sucking sound and a whoosh followed by voices. Gable strained to hear what they were saying; something about Bill and Jen he thought. He drained what was the last ration of water for the day and held the glass up against the wall, then put his ear to the other end; a trick his mother had taught him when she was listening for traitors to the polisnazers - before they turned on her.
Soma was pleading; ‘please don’t’ but there didn’t seem to be any reply. The lights in Gable’s pod flickered and the familiar hum lessened. Gable’s eyes closed as he realised what was happening.
Next door, two men were standing over Soma watching his death throes. He was clutching his throat and sucking as hard as he could, but his lungs would not inflate. One of the men turned away not wishing to see the blood spill. 
 ‘You’re getting soft in your old age,’ said the other.
 They threw Soma’s body onto their hover-cart, ensuring none of his limbs got caught on their suits and pulled out any plugs. They re-sealed the door on pod number 5064 and painted a red X on it.  
 ‘I always find that bit funny,’ said man number one.   ‘X, do you get it? X- gone, deceased, dead.’
  ‘It’s a cruel way to die,’ stated the man who’d turned away.     
 ‘Yeah, well he should have paid his oxygen bill,’ said number one, with his hooded eyes on his workmate.  
  ‘Yep you’re right,’ said number two, hoping his pal wouldn’t whistle-blow his thoughts to the polisnazers.  
   ‘Let’s get out of here and get drunk,’ he said climbing into the vehicle.
Gable went to his pod screen to watch them float away. He took a deep breath and held it for as long as he could.

Sunday 25 November 2018


by Joseph Isaacs


If you think it’s easy being a fictitious character think again. Sure, we aren’t real. But that’s what hurts the most. We’re sort of like Pinnochio, I want to be a real boy. But I am not.
I can shoot out a dozen bad guys with my AK-47. I can wear sun glasses and slow walk away from an exploding building. I sleep with at least a dozen anatomically impossible women a day (it’s amazing what they can do with special effects these days). And so, what? I don’t feel a thing.
My author tries. She tries to torture me. Make him uncomfortable, make him weep, make his girlfriend, his dog, and his best friend die. Well, thanks a lot! But the truth is, I don’t really feel any of it.
I’m too busy with the next scene, the next sequence. I can never just truly be, you know.
Take today. Today I was in a romance. This voluptuous woman is waiting for me to tear her shirt off. But I’m just not feeling it, you know? She says, “What’s wrong? Is it me? Am I poorly written?”
I say, “No darling. It’s not you. Your beautiful. Your bodice is entirely revealing. Your long blonde hair cascades nicely down your slender shoulders. It’s just. It feels contrived you know?”
She sat down next to me on the railing of the pirate ship and pulled out a pack of Camels and offers me one. She lights us both up and takes a puff.
“You get used to it,” she said. “Do you know how many bodices I’ve had ripped off me? How many throbbing manhoods I’ve had thrust inside me? I feel like a cheap whore. But the truth is, I still feel it. I still get turned on, my heart still breaks, I still fall in love.”
“With me?” I ask, surprised. “You’re falling in love with me?”
“Well, yeah. I mean I was written that way. But its more than that, you know? I mean here we are on this pirate ship in the middle of this fictitious ocean. The stars are out. Yeah, the constellations are all wrong, the north star ought to be north, for Christ’s sake. But this is the only world, we’ll ever know, you know? This is it. Our shot. We don’t get another.”
I exhale through my nose. “You’re pretty smart for a ditsy blonde heroine.”
“Hey, don’t stereotype. You’re pretty sensitive for a muscle-bound idiot who does his own stunts.”
So there we are. Two fictitious characters, not even plausibly constructed or realistic, falling in love in a make-believe pirate ship. But then she gets cut! The script writer tosses the whole fucking scene. I’ll never see her again in all likelihood.
But there is this. I feel it.

Saturday 24 November 2018


by Allison Symes

black coffee

She wasn’t going to let anything like a mere man stop her, despite knowing she was way ahead of her time. And as she knew deep down her daughter would be too.  Nobody but nobody spoke to her like that.

And she still felt this way when she went to her state sanctioned murder on 19th May 1536.

About the author

Allison Symes is published by Chapeltown Books, Cafe Lit, and Bridge House Publishing amongst others.  She is a member of the Society of Authors and Association of Christian Writers.  Her website is and she blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today -

Friday 23 November 2018


By Susan A. Eames 

double shot vodka

'Why do you always argue with me?' Ruthie slumped, plucking at her bandaged throat. 'Why can't you just say, “yes”?' 
'Because I care,' said Timothy.
'I'm fresh out of hospital and fresh out of smokes. And where's my vodka?' She pushed herself straighter in her chair, staring at Timothy with narrowed eyes. 'Did you drink it while I was in hospital?'
'Don't be ridiculous.'
'Please, mate.'
'I'm not going to help you commit suicide, Ruthie.'
'Oh, for god's sake, stop being melodramatic.' Ruthie pouted.
'Don't you get it? You ended up in hospital because of your addictions and now you want to sabotage your recovery.'
'Please, Timmy. You don't understand. I need my babies.'
'Don't ask me to do this.'
'PLEASE.' Ruthie began to tear the bandage at her throat.
'Jesus, Ruthie.' Timothy pulled a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and threw them on the coffee table in front of her. While she scrabbled to light a cigarette he went and snatched the vodka from under the kitchen sink. Wordless, he handed her the bottle.
'Thanks, mate.'
She grabbed a used, grubby glass from the coffee table and sloshed vodka into it.
He stared at her, expressionless. 'Knock yourself out, Ruthie.' 
Timothy left, feeling sick to his stomach.
Ruthie was too busy tipping the vodka down her damaged throat to mark his leaving.'Glorious,' she giggled, hugging the bottle while cigarette smoke curled overhead.

About the author

Susan A. Eames left England over twenty five years ago to explore the world and dive its oceans. She has had travel articles and short fiction published on three continents. After several fascinating years living in Fiji she has relocated to West Cork in Ireland .

Thursday 22 November 2018

On the Edge

by Martin Parker

Green Alexander

 “If you're not the best you're a nobody.”
     It was the sort of remark which comes easily from an Olympic champion; and it had come easily, and frequently, from his mother who had been one.
     It had come to him every day as his 5 a.m. wake-up call. It had urged him through sweat-smelling gyms, followed him on dark early morning runs and accompanied him to teams of doctors, physiotherapists, dieticians, even a sports psychologist, as well as to all the country's major swimming pools. It had become a mealtime mantra and from early in his childhood it had replaced his mother's hugs and goodnight kisses.
     “I hate your mum,” a freckled eight-year-old called Jenny had told him. “She's horrible to you.”
     And seven years of meeting at subsequent competitions had not changed the red-haired girl's opinion.
     “I'm good,” she had said to him at a recent practice session. “I might even manage a medal in the Junior Nationals this year. But I know that's my limit, and so do Mum and Dad. But winning isn't enough for your mum. She needs you to be brilliant. But perhaps not quite as brilliant as she was,” she had added. “ She will push you and push you until you are spending more time upside down in mid-air than playing football, watching telly or being with a girlfriend.”
     She blushed and looked away. It had been quite a speech for a shy fifteen-year-old.
     “Perhaps you could be one of the best ever.” She was under full sail now. “And for a short time I'd be one of the cheering nobodies who came to watch you. But if you noticed me in the crowd as you stood on the edge of the high-board you'd see that I was the one smiling, not you. Unlike you, I'd be there because I was enjoying it. You would be there because of your mother.”
     Now, with his first National Championship there for the taking, he curled his toes over the edge of the ten metre board.
     “If you're not the best you're a nobody.”
     He raised his arms and, for the first time in nine years of competitions, he smiled.
     Small among the audience below Jenny and his mother both knew the inevitable results of such a lapse of concentration.
     Jenny looked forward to them.

About the author

I Think I Thought, by Martin Parker.
102 poems designed as a gentle workout for cheerfully mature laughter lines. Avilable from all good bookshops. See details and extracts at

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Lying Eyes

by Robin Wrigley

pink gin & tonic

It was just past midnight when Geoff finally pulled into the car park at the back of their flat. A mixture of emotions flooded through his over-tired mind. Anger, fear, worry and sheer frustration fought to take priority. He switched off the ignition just as the Eagles were singing ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ on the CD player. He had played the album over and over on the day’s long and tedious journey, partly because it was the only one he had in the car but mainly because the songs suited his frame of mind.
     Like many of his great ideas of late, it ended in failure; a pattern printed in his DNA inherited from his father, Henry. The idea was to get on the first chopper from the rig, miss the ritual piss-up in the ‘Drunken Sailor’ and be home before Dawn got in from work. The pile up and ensuing major traffic jam on the M62 put paid to that.
          A quick glance at the parked cars showed Dawn’s car was not amongst them. He was just reaching for his phone when a car’s headlights lit up the car park; it was his wife’s car; she pulled in at the far end. He sat quietly watching her in his rear-view mirror as she walked somewhat unsteadily towards the flat’s entrance and entered the building.
     Now he knew why she was not picking up any of his calls. Continuing to sit as calmly as he could he ran over in his mind what his options were? He played this mind game on a regular basis ever since he got the job on the rig. Discussing it with his best mate Gary during rest breaks in the energy sapping work, it never got beyond being told it was the nature of the beast working off shore.
     He looked at the flowers he had bought at the service station and decided to leave them, pulled the ignition key out and climbed out of the car, locked it and headed for the flats’ entrance and climbed the stairs to the flat and went inside.
     Dawn was sat at the kitchen table a glass of wine in one hand cigarette in the other.
     ‘You’re late aren’t you?’ Was the only greeting she offered as she took a sip of her drink.
     ‘Not as late as you, though, was I?’ Geoff was struggling to control an anger that had been building every time the numerous calls he made stuck on the motorway went unanswered. ‘Where the hell have you been to this bloody time?’
     ‘Nice to see you also Geoffrey,’ she attempted a small annoying smile. A smile that once he would have climbed the highest mountain for, now triggered a smouldering desire to knock it off her face.
   The song carried on his head. 
     Using all the self-control he could muster he turned around and left the flat and returned to his car, climbed in and drove slowly away.

Entering the small street where he grew up, he felt a surge of nostalgia as he pulled up outside his mum’s terraced house. She and Geoff moved there a month after his father almost killed her twenty-five years ago. Looking at himself in the rear-view mirror he said half choking with tears, ‘You see, I’m not the bastard you were Henry, even though the fear that I would be has haunted me all my miserable life.’
     Checking his key-ring to make sure he still had a key for the house, he picked up the flowers and got out of the car. Opening the front door careful not to make any noise he smiled a smile of regret remembering that she would not hear him anyway. His dad’s last beating had left her deaf as a post.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Leaving Home

by Sylvia Patsalides

last one for the road, brandy)

He stood in the shadows by the open doorway.  She had told him not come today. He didn't know why, but looking into the hall caught sight of an overnight bag. Odd that the door was open, she was pretty hot on security usually.  The alarm was off as well.  What was going on?. He tiptoed upstairs. The bedroom door was open too.  The counterpane on the bed was slightly crinkled and one of the pillows was hollowed where her head had been That was odd too, normally there was a rigorous routine of pillow plumping and smoothing and architectural style eyeballing to make sure all were perfectly aligned. He lay down, wrapped in the remnants of her perfume and feeling his toes flex under the the goose-down, dreaming of those times when they were transported from icy cold to a warmth that belied degrees centigrade. 

For a while now she had been making lists. Not just to log appointments, make sure that she knew her pincodes, renewals and payment dates, but to be able to use them to remind her of those moments that had been special. To capture the times she did not want to fade into obscurity forming the part of the haze that was now everyday living. She had been thinking about their experiences. Which elements would make it into her life top ten?  It wouldn't be the exotic destinations, suites with the infinity pools,  Michelin starred restaurants.  She smiled with a fondness overlaying the sadness now brushed over her face.  The most precious; it would be his grey salted chestnut hair curling into his neck as he inclined his head towards her, the way he put his eternally cold hands against her body till they warmed and they lay together glorying in the glow that came with that sort of closeness.

It was time now. She didn't want him to see her with parchment thin skin, faded, and tired. She was surprised that he had not noticed the ranginess of her body, the slightly defeated angle of her shoulders. Good make up and clothes - she guessed, or maybe just male lack of observation.  Anxiety did bad things to the body. .What to say to him though. How to end it. A dilemma.  Tell the truth, tell a lie, compose a good story that spared the feelings of all parties.  Still not sure.  She had set up a timed email to send. If she changed her mind there were a number of drafts she could choose.  Which one, would surely become clear but she had to be certain that he would not come after her.

But now it was time to activate the plan. Goodness, she had invoked enough disaster recovery exercises in her time. Stress testing. It was for real now.  Move on.  Plan A/Plan B. Hypothetical. This was the reality check.  Now she wasn't quite sure if being the archetypal completer finisher was a good thing.  I's dotting and T crossings. 

She shook her head to clear it, slightly dizzy as she picked up the bag and clicked the door behind her "Don't look back - you are not going that way!" If only she could. go back, turn back the clock with the benefit of hindsight. All the platitudes flooded in.

The plan had been decided for quite a while. Even before the final confirmation.  Her oldest friend Daphne was going with her. They didn't see much of each other now, but as only true friends know that didn't matter and whenever they met it was if they had never been apart. Meeting in airport check in queues, to go away for a weekend to chat and eat and drink, they would link arms and pick up mid sentence about a topic that they were discussing a year or so ago. They instinctively knew how each other was feeling, whether they were fit or fat, whether they preferred lime or lemon or grapefruit with their gin and tonic.  It was simply that ease of friendship, even in a serious scenario. 
She was driving to pick up the paperwork - that would make things easier in general.  She had arranged to leave the car and Joe the mechanic would pick it up, under the guise of taking it for a service and MOT.  In fact it would be stored for the time being. The keys would be at reception desk in an envelope with all the documents and change of keeper completed. There were a few explanatory notes.  

Then it would be to head the airport to meet Daphne,  The tickets had been long since bought and it had been agreed that Daphne would travel back by train, if only to cover her tracks. That sounded like a joke - train and tracks. Once they got to Switzerland, it should all be simple. 

She only had a few things with her, but had included a note to be mailed about the crucial papers in the chocolate box.  How many times had she joked about the beauty of the Edwardian chocolate box - silk and velvet and gold leaf to showcase the confectionery. That was so the way to make a gift special .. borne out by the fact some hundred plus years later it was still in existence, albeit slightly faded but now about to hold another set of secrets. These days chocolate was so everyday, Green & Blacks, Hotel Chocolat, lactose free aka plain, high percentage cocoa, novelty eggs, truffles, shells, belgian, free trade, organic. Bring back the elusive man who delivered Milk Tray  - what had happened to that.  How appropriate that Switzerland was such a choco capital! Trivialities - always useful in a life threatening situation. She smiled. It was time to get on with the final journey.

He woke with a start. it was dark, how long had he slept for? He shook his head to clear the fuzziness. His phone bleeped - an email.

Monday 19 November 2018


by Roger Noons

a glass of Schwarzbier

Ralph tired of entering East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie. Initially his permit filtered most problems but when the Russians took over the administration, the situation became extremely trying. The final straw came in July 1966 when on his return, because he had no receipt for having spent three Ostmarks, he had to undress in front of a Rosa Kleb look-a-like. She smirked as she studied his genitals. He told Heinz Werner later, ‘Even Casanova would have been embarrassed in such circumstances.’ H-W merely smiled.
    Ralph began to use the route which had been set up to get children out. His initial visits to the East had been under the umbrella of his profession - Drainage Engineer, specialising in sewerage systems. When he began to advise the Authorities in Dresden and Magdeburg, he had been welcomed with open arms. It became more complicated when he moved to Berlin. 
    One of his first projects was to overhaul a pumping station which was used to divert sewage over the River Spree. There had been talk in the West of blocking all drainage from the other side, Willy Brandt however, convinced his political colleagues that it would be playing into the hands of the East German public relations machine. The small unit was in Grünberger Strasser, in the south east of the city.
    The border comprising the Spree was relatively unguarded. There was no wall and the watchtowers were two hundred metres apart. It never occurred to anyone that there was a route through the sewers without getting drowned or suffering contamination leading to disease. At the Station, which served a mainly residential district, a pump could be turned off briefly without affecting the flow, particularly in the early hours of a morning. When Ralph wished to cross he would send a coded message, by pigeon. Usually he would choose two thirty or three o’ clock, enter one day and return the next. At that time he would have up to ten minutes to scurry across, dragging behind him a holdall containing treasures to be used as either bribes or rewards.
    The first girl Ralph smuggled out was three years old, the niece of the Pumping Station Manager. An essential stratagem despite there being more deserving and lucrative cases. The rest of the staff was female and it was for them that Ralph filled his pockets with hosiery, costume jewellery and perfumes. The husband of one of the women owned the pigeon loft. Everyone concerned prayed that no-one would be moved or dismissed.
    It was a hot night in August when it had been agreed to go in and out as a single operation. There was no rehearsal and timing would need to be spot on. The child was only two and even her parents  knew nothing of the plan. A significant fee had been promised by the boy’s grandfather which would not only buy items to take in, but bribe the necessary officials in the West. All went well until Ralph’s return. The manhole cover had been lifted and he passed the child up to waiting arms. As he was being helped out, the cast iron lid collapsed smashing his right leg. It took more than two years to complete reconstruction, thus concluding his smuggling career. 
    He still lives in Berlin. In Wilmersdorf, if you see a man who could have been a jockey, walking with a stick, he will tell you his name is Ralf Kindermann. He will tell you nothing more about himself, but smile if for some reason you mention tunnels or subterranean passages. He meets his old boss Heinz Werner Weber three times each week at Finnegan’s Irish Pub in Bergstrasse.

About the author

Roger is a regular contributor to Cafe Lit with 130 of his pieces having been published

Sunday 18 November 2018

A Remedy for My Doctor

by Nanette Tamer 

energy drink


            My dog and I got sick at the same time.  She got well very quickly.  I’m getting there.  Dogs are different, to be sure, and so --- I have learned---are dogs’ doctors.
            I began to notice a difference, beyond the obvious, while sitting with my dog in her doctor’s waiting room.  One whole wall was a cork board covered with notes and cards thanking the veterinarian for curing a pet, accompanied by photos of the animal fully revived, or thanking the veterinarian for helping the parents of the incurable to cope with the loss.
            No such thing in my doctors’ waiting rooms.  On their walls were only standard issue pseudo paintings.  My doctors’ offices had, like most doctors’ offices, a row of diplomas on the wall. 
            Except for one doctor, my surgeon.  His office wall was completely covered with ALL his diplomas: preschool graduation, kindergarten graduation, on through medical school and related accomplishments.  What could possibly motivate him to display a kindergarten diploma?  Surely his patients would assume he had passed kindergarten, if it ever occurred to them to think about it.  Perhaps his young children, young at least in the only family photo on his shelf, thought they belonged on his wall, and he indulged them.  Perhaps he thought it was a funny thing to do and would make his patients aware of his sense of humor which was never otherwise in evidence.
            I began to think that a change was needed.  In my dog’s doctor’s office or examining room a few diplomas would be encouraging.  I would like to know that that my dog’s doctor was truly a doctor and had undergone rigorous training somewhere.  Conversely, I would like to know how many people my doctor had cured or at least eased into the next world. 
            The only information available about doctors for people is on websites for evaluating them.  There I find only complaints about the office staff or, in a few cases, compliments about the doctor’s manner of speaking.  Where were the testimonials from humans they had cured?
            I decided to start a new trend, so while my dog and I were waiting for her check-up, I chose a thank you card for the excellent care given to Ralph who was now happy and healthy, as opposed to a card from the parents of Fifi who wrote a little too specifically about the ailment that had plagued her tail.  I slipped the card into my pocket along with its tack.
            On my next visit to my surgeon, when he turned to his computer to type me up a prescription, I tacked Ralph’s owners’ thank you card to his wall, among his multitudinous diplomas.
            On my subsequent visit, still being unrecovered, the card was still there.  Perhaps it had gone unnoticed, or perhaps the doctor thought the office staff had posted it and they thought the reverse.  Thus encouraged, I added another, heisted for that purpose from my dog’s doctor’s waiting room when I stopped by to pick up her usual anti-flea treatment.  This card was about the remarkable rehabilitation of an animal named Fred, apparently an iguana from his depiction in the accompanying photo which I left tacked to the cork wall with a nearby card so that I could bring along the tack.
            My dog was totally well and needed nothing from her doctor, so I had no more opportunity to purloin another thank you card.  Instead, I had to write one of my own, thanking my doctor for his persistence and patience in trying to determine my diagnosis and a cure.  This one I sent through the mail in my own name.
            During my next appointment, when it was my turn to go into his office, I saw my note tacked up next to Ralph’s and Fred’s under his Eagle Scout certificate.  But not a word did he say about it before or after examining me and prescribing my next set of treatments.  Perhaps he had not seen it if a receptionist or assistant who opened and sorted his mail for him had observed the other two notes and assumed he had made the decision to display them and added it to the others.
            Soon enough, on my next return visit, I saw two notes on display that I had had no hand in.  Still, the collection was skimpy compared to the vet’s.  My convalescence was clearly an opportunity to right an injustice in the world of medicine.  I began construing patient names and vague maladies from which my doctor had rescued them in various ways.  I mailed them sporadically to maintain the illusion that they were from actual patients.
            I was eager to see my doctor’s office wall at my next visit.  There were the cards I had brought or mailed---along with many others joining the collection and beginning to crowd out the diplomas that preceded medical school.
            Some of my friends prodded me to seek a second opinion about my illness from another doctor.  After all, if the thank you cards were any indication, my doctor had not cured nearly as many patients as my dog’s doctor, surely a better basis for selecting a doctor than a Junior High Honor Society induction certificate.  Though as for my dog’s doctor, I have to assume that her cards are bona fide and not written up by her aunt in order to inspire patients’ confidence.  Surely my idea was unique.
            Now I am nearly as well as my dog, and my illness was not in vain. I hope that I might have started a trend.  If other patients join my thank you card method, human patients will have a better means of deciding upon a doctor than the internet complaints about long waits or ugly carpets.  If not, at least I am buoyed by my accomplishment of advertising that my doctor was almost as good of a doctor as my dog’s. 

Saturday 17 November 2018


By Lynn Clement

The thing I most liked about Sherrington Woods was the colour in the fading sun of late autumn. Copper and dun woven together to lay a patterned carpet along our path. The early mornings, when Jack had waved his spiky fingers, crisping the edges of each rustic leaf. Where white webs that were woven overnight, wrapped themselves round our faces, sticky and clinging and complex. It makes me shiver now. But it was the surprise of the hoary headed mushrooms, unexpectedly emerging through the earth in the damp shade of the leaden oak, which reminds me of you. And what was.

‘Hello Jessy, how are you?’ A voice interrupts my thoughts.

‘I’m good David,’ I reply.

‘I’m loving your painting Jessy, it’s really taking shape now.’

‘Yes,’ I say.

David means well, but he doesn’t understand. No one will ever understand.

‘Do you have all the colours that you need?’ He asks.

‘Sure,’ I give.

Red is red, is red; I think - except when it’s scarlet.

I need David to leave me alone now. He usually does, wafting off to go and help some other deserving soul. I have to get this bit right. His eyes dart around the room, he does this all the time. Today there are only four of us, so he shouldn’t be so uptight. Lauren is sick. And that’s the truth. Unfortunately that means he’ll have more time for me.

Yellow and red makes orange, like fire. The story of our relationship really. You mellow yellow and me blood red. Then you turned grey. Fungus like. Sucking the colour out of me.

I bought a cherry red hair dye, just like in that photo you secreted in your bedside drawer. The one with the scarlet lipstick kiss on it.

But you didn’t like it. ‘It’s not you,’ you said. It’s not her, you meant. So I went back to black, and made vermillion lines on my arms instead.

‘Does the pallet knife help with the texture, Jessy?’ David again from across the room.

‘Yes, thank you,’

The broad blade spreads the thick claret colour across the sienna, just like it did that day. Oozing and mingling and pooling on the orange and brown, rusty splashed carpet.

I can see David approaching from the corner of my eye and I know what he’s going to say.

‘Oh, you’ve spoiled your painting, Jessy,’ – just as I’d anticipated, so I lift the knife.

He hits the red button, and they come for me.

I’ll start the painting again, next time I’m allowed out.

Sherrington Woods was so lovely.

Friday 16 November 2018

A Summer Morning in 1976

 Alex Womack

freshly made tea

The young woman in the small bare room was waiting. Out of the window was a bright sky. Another great day. People talked of drought.  She’d been on a late the day before and this was an early start, but she had the weekend off and it was easy enough sitting with this old fellow. 
He’d been in some sort of institution most of his life. He allowed the attendant to wash, shave and brush him; dress him, do his shirt buttons, help with the waistcoat. He’d appear for meals and eat cautiously.  Just enough.  He was thin, likely the weight he’d been when, chivvied by pals, jingoism or patriotism, he joined up.

He inhabited dull routine day after day. Come bedtime, pyjamas buttoned tidily, the night staff tucked him in tightly. Sometimes his thready voice cried out of dreams. They gave him the sedative he was written up for and he’d settle back into a flinching sleep. Like he was now: muttering and wincing slightly.  

His story was that he had no story. Card after card in various hand-writing and inks summed up his life with the repeated word ‘Neurasthenia’.  Now it was ending and she was to sit with him until it was over.  

He was one of the men, a ghost of one, whose nerves were wrecked by war.  She remembered war poems she’d done at school and that book by Vera Brittain.

His soft thin hair gave his head a vagueness. His skin was blue-white, pale and smooth over bone.  His fingers had stopped fretting with the sheet now and the troubled whispers were fainter.

She daydreamed about going to Mike and Gill’s with her boyfriend. Somehow take one of the kittens home on the bike.

Something brought her attention back.  Silence. He’d gone. 

Although he was unknowable, she felt sad for him, his lack of life, his long years of distress.  
He would miss a beautiful summer, another in the decades of lost summers.


Thursday 15 November 2018

A Walk in the Snow

by Michal Reibenbach 

hot chocolate

When I was a young girl my family was poor so that enjoyable outings were virtually non-existent. One winter vacation, after a few days of falling heavily, the snow had finally ceased. I was outside in our front garden endeavoring to build a snowman, when my stepmother Andrea came trudging by, accompanied by the neighbor’s au-pair. 

“We’re on our way up the hill. Do you want to join us?” asked Elka the au-pair, exuberating positive energy. 

Andrea scowled at this suggestion, for she’d wanted Elka’s company all to herself. 

I turned to her hopefully, “Please can I come along, please!?”

“Well I don’t know,” said Andrea, “I hadn’t planned on you joining us.”

 Elka quickly tried to persuade her, “Oh do let her come with us, she won’t be any trouble.” 

 “Well alright,” conceded Andrea, “But you’ll have to go and put your coat and boots on first, and what’s more you mustn’t bother us.” 

I obediently rushed indoors, struggled into my coat and boots then grabbed hold of my gloves and hat; before dashing out again, so that we were soon on our way. Behind our cottage, with only a small field separating it from our place, rose the awe-inspiring Bluebell Hill. It was far too steep to climb vertically, and so there was a path which wound itself snake-like up the hill’s side through an evergreen thicket. It turned sharply up to the left before turning sharply up to the right, and so forth until it reached the hill’s summit about an hour walks distance later. The three of us plodded along through the fresh snow, while on both sides we were enclosed by trees, which were laden down with white glittering snow-crystals. Andrea and Elka ascended the path ahead of me. They clung closely together to help each other along, while all the while chatting animatedly. Occasionally they would laugh and squeal with delight, for they found the snow invigorating; and also the feeling of adventure it evoked! I trudged along about five yards behind them, for I was being careful not to bother them. At the same time, however, I was also thoroughly enjoying myself; and I was thankful that I’d been allowed to join them. Eventually, Andrea and Elka arrived at the end of the path leading to the hill’s summit, and there they stopped short and stared out ahead in stunned silence. I soon caught up with them and curiously peered over in the direction in which they were staring. 

At first, I only saw that on top of the hill there was a woodland of trees that were not evergreens. The trees looked strangely naked without their leaves; snow was sprinkled on their branches and they cast spindly shadows on the snow-covered ground. Then finally I noticed what they were gaping at. Under the trees, two squirrels were chasing each other about, and as they did so they leaped up and down in the snow. Suddenly they scurried up one of the trees and disappeared out of sight. Now that the squirrels had scampered away, the stillness and the quiet all around us felt very profound. The complete absence of other people was strange, and I mulled over as to how the hill had taken on a frost like quality so that it had been so utterly transformed. When “wearing its summer clothes” Bluebell Hill was so green, and grown over by an abundance of wildflowers. While in the spring the undergrowth was covered in bluebells, and the hill was vibrant with people coming and going. Now from where we stood spellbound, it almost felt as if we were on a visit to another planet. 

After a few minutes of us being thus transfixed, Andrea broke the silence, “Weren’t those squirrels most awfully sweet? But now I’m getting very cold,” she said as she rubbed her gloved hands up and down on her arms. 

“I also feel freezing cold, let’s go back,” said Elka. 

Obviously trekking down the hill was much easier than climbing up it, and therefore was even more fun. When Andrea and I eventually arrived back at our cottage and were discarding our wet clothes in the kitchen, she turned to me with sparkling eyes. “That was absolutely wonderful, seeing those adorable squirrels. The climb was strenuous work, but the snow was marvelous, so invigorating!” 

“Yes, it was,” I agreed eagerly, for I reveled in her attention, and was thrilled that she was including me, permitting me into a small niche of her world. 

Once we’d finished spreading out our wet garments over a couple of chair-backs, “Andrea said, “Anna, go off to your room now.” 

I felt saddened by this statement since it made me understand that she was tidying me away so that I wouldn’t clutter up her life. I didn’t blame her for in my precociousness, I realized that she was probably much too young to be burdened with a stepdaughter; in addition, I knew that our life of poverty was hard on her. I went off to my room feeling quite pleased with my day; after all, Elka had stood up for me, and Andrea had been considerate. Above all, I’d enjoyed the walk in the snow, and the sight of the squirrels playing around in it tremendously.

Ultimately, if one doesn’t have very much in one’s life, even a little outing in the snow can be a special event. The memory of that track up Bluebell Hill would remain in my heart and in my memory forever.    

About the autho

The author is a paraplegic as the result of a car accident.
She has two sons and six grandchildren.
She lives in Jerusalem.