Friday 31 May 2019

Mr Macaroon

May 31 is Macaroon Day.

by James Bates

Coconut Milk

"Sorry to have to tell you this," Doctor Jensen said, not looking all that sorry, "But you've got celiac sprue."
            Celiac what? It sounded serious. "Am I going to die?" I asked, cutting to the chase along with starting to perspire. Heavily. Man, I was only forty-four years old. Way too young...
            "No, you're not going to die, Frank, and before you let your imagination run away with you, let me explain: You've got an intolerance to gluten."
            Never heard of it. "What's that?" I asked wiping away the sweat that was now running into my eyes.
            "What it means is you can't eat anything made out of wheat. You've got to stop right now. If you don't, yes, you could die. It could kill you." He looked at me hard. "Am I making myself clear? No bread, no pasta or Doritos or cookies, none of that stuff. Only non-gluten foods like carrots, lettuce and raisins or things made with gluten free flour." He peered at me above his wire-rimmed glasses. "Understand?"
            I was picturing myself snacking on carrots and raisins instead of a bag of chips while watching Monday night football. For the rest of my life. The prospect was not pleasant. "Not even occasionally?"
            "What about 'It could kill you' didn't you understand?" he stared at me.
            Oh, yeah. Right. "Got it," I said, not really getting it at all. Nor happy about it, either, for that matter.
            When I told my wife, Jenny, she looked me up and down and said, "Snacking on carrots and raisins? It might do you good, you know, Frank. You could stand to lose of few pounds."
            So much for a sympathetic ear.
            But she was right, I had kind of let myself go over the last few years, well five or six to be exact, every since the twins were born. But I'm not going to use Carrie and Kylie as an excuse. They were the light of my life. This was all on me.
            Dr. Jensen told me that I could investigate gluten free alternatives to wheat and I did. To say the results were mixed was putting it mildly. Jenny and I shared the cooking duties so I was comfortable in the kitchen. I began to make cookies and bread and pasta with gluten free flower, all to limited success: the bread was dry, the cookies tasteless and the pasta was so sticky, it was impossible to chew.  
            I admit that things looked bleak until the last day in May came around. It was a bright and sunny Saturday, we'd just planted some pots of geraniums, and Jenny and the twins suggested we go to lunch at a favorite restaurant. We made ourselves comfortable and I had my (now) usual salad with a side of rice crackers and hummus. Sound bland? Well, yeah, but by then a few months had passed since my visit to Doctor Jensen and I was getting used to it. The girls wanted ice cream for dessert (which I can eat, by the way,) so were ordered.
            While we were waiting my daughters handed me a small box. They giggled with excitement.
             "It's for you, Daddy," Carrie said.
             "Yes, Daddy, for doing so well on your new diet," Kylie added.
            I looked at Jenny. She just grinned and nodded toward the girls. It was their idea, she mouthed. I have to say, my kids are pretty sweet. "Why, thank you girls," I said, smiling at them, intrigued. What was going on? I opened the box. Inside there were four round objects, flattened on one side. They were white with toasted edges and shaped like large golf balls. I looked at Carrie and Kylie and then at Jenny, the question on my face obvious. What was I looking at?
            "They're macaroons," Jenny said, smiling. "Made from coconut. They're gluten free, if you must know. The girls found them at a bakery and thought you'd like them."
            I had no idea. Coconut cookies? I'd been a chocolate chip man all my life, but the girls were looking at me with heightened expectation. I took one out and held it up for all to see.
            "Looks good," I said. The girls watched expectantly. "I think I'll have a bite."
            Carrie and Kylie giggled excitedly. "Yea, Daddy!"
            I bit in and the flavor exploded in my mouth. A sweet vanilla mixed with soft, chewy coconut, it tasted fantastic, maybe even more so since my girls gave them to me. I took another bite and then reached over hugged Carrie and Kylie. "Thank you, kids. This is the best gift ever."
            I shared the rest of the macaroons with my family along with the ice cream. Everyone loved them. They were gone in about a minute.
            That was years ago. I'm still gluten free and have learned to make great meals using gluten free flour and recipes. I even make macaroons. But you know what? Those macaroons the girls gave me? They're still the best I've ever tasted, and not necessary just because they were gluten free, but because my girls gave them to me. We stop at that bakery on a pretty regular basis to stock up. My whole family loves them. In fact, my kids have a nickname for me now. The call me Mr. Macaroon. I love it.

About the author  

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed, Paragraph Planet and Mused - The BellaOnline Literary Review. You can also check out his blog to see more: And, yes, he loves macaroons.

Thursday 30 May 2019

Taking Flight

       by Wendie Lovell

a glass of sake with a green tea cookie

  “Con’nichiwa.” The Japanese lady at the entrance to Kanazawa Castle welcomes me with a smile and shows me where to leave my shoes. I thank her with a bow and a ‘manatee’ or see you later.
  I wonder around the impressive castle looking out at Kanazawa city and hear the nightingale sing in beautiful Kenrokuen Gardens below. Sunlight streams through the small slit openings of the windows. A sense of freedom lifts my spirit, not for the first time on this trip to Japan.
  Never again will I allow myself to be downtrodden, the life sucked from me. I breathe in the fresh air as I watch the birds and butterflies in the garden, free to roam. My spirit slowly returning after years of captivity.
  I make my way back to the entrance. The same lady is there. I sit down beside her desk to put my shoes back on and notice that she’s folding a piece of paper. My thoughts return to the piece of paper I left neatly folded on the kitchen table before I came to Japan.
  The lady finishes folding her paper and holds out a tiny paper bird in the palm of her hand.
  “Hold it like this and pull.” She shows me how to make the wings go up and down.

   “For me?” I ask with delight.

   “Yes, now fly!” She tells me.

   “Arigato!” I thank her, smile and bow again.
  Yes, I will fly.

About the author

Wendie had a short story published in CafeLit earlier this year. This second story was inspired by a recent trip to Japan.

Wednesday 29 May 2019

Junior Prom

by Phyllis Souza

elderflower cordial 


"Mom!"  Bernadette yelled, slamming the front door behind her. "I'm home."
"I'm in the living room."
"You're not watching that soap opera again, are you?'
"Addictive, sort of like coffee. How was school?"
"Fine. The junior prom is two weeks away, and I don't have a date. You know Mrs. Barbera, don't you?"  Bernadette dumping her school bag on the floor entered the living room.
"Yes, she belongs to the Alter Society at church, but what does she have to do with the prom?" Martha got up from the sofa, walked over, and turned off the television.
"I want to go with her son, Ernest. I thought maybe you could talk to her."
"You want me to arrange a date?" Martha frowned wrinkling her forehead.
"Not exactly. Well, maybe."
"Aren’t boys supposed to ask girls?"
"That's old-fashioned, Mom. Girls ask boys. Besides, if you ask, I wouldn't be asking; you would.”
"Well, I don't think that's a good idea."
"Please, Mom," Bernadette pleaded with clasped hands. "I'll do dishes for a week." She brushed strands of hair away from her face. "Ernest is nice; he's smart, too. Not like his goofy brother Donald, always cracking jokes."
Martha rubbed the back of her neck. "You said you'd do dishes for a week... make it a month?"
"Yes, yes, I'll do dishes for a month."
“What if her son says no?"
Bernadette laughed,  "I won't be doing dishes."
“Okay, I'll call Mrs. Barbera. Only because I love you, and I don’t want you to miss out."
Bernadette rushed to her mother and hugged her. "Thanks, Mom. Thank you." 
Marking each day by crossing it off a calendar, Bernadette's excitement grew as the date for the prom became nearer.

Four o'clock
After checking her schedule, Bernadette said,  "Only a few hours to go, Mom. I've got to take a shower, set my hair in rollers, and put that awful dryer bonnet on my head. Then file and paint my fingernails. That'll take over an hour."
"Stop, panicking, honey. While your hair's drying I could paint your nails."
"Would you?"
" Bright Hussy Red or Pale Pink?" Martha laughed.
 "Pale Pink, to match my dress, of course."
Bernadette sat at the kitchen table with a plastic hood encasing her head.  While hot air flowed over her rollers, she splayed her fingers on an oilcloth. "My first date. Can you remember yours, Mom?"
"My sisters and I weren't allowed to date." Martha drew the nailbrush over the lip of a tiny pot to scrape off the excess polish. "The boys had to come to our house to visit. My parents were old fashioned. Overprotective.  But sons, they were allowed to run wild."
"You never dated?" Bernadette lowered her brows.
"I went to dances under the strict supervision of my mother. She, along with the other mothers, would sit on a long bench against the wall and watch us Rumba on the dance floor."
"That was the 1930s. It's the '50s now. Things are different." Bernadette responded.
"Aren't you lucky."  Martha held Bernadette's hand. "You have long, slender fingers, just like mine."  She laughed--the same laugh as her child.
Martha finished polishing Bernadette's last nail.

Five o'clock
Bernadette sat patiently while her mother piled her hair on top of her head. Martha poked bobby pins into the tight, little curls, making sure every hair stayed in place and sprayed them with Aqua Net.
"Now, look at me.” She cupped Bernadette's face in her hands. "My goodness, you look like a young woman.  Go get some make-up, and I’ll fix your face."
Dashing to the bathroom, Bernadette grabbed a bottle of foundation, a tube of lipstick, and some rouge off the bathroom counter, returning to the kitchen, sat in her chair.
Martha gently lifted Bernadette's chin. "Close your eyes, while I make you even more beautiful."
She covered the freckles on Bernadette’s nose with thick creamy liquid, applied rouge to her cheeks, and painted her lips pink. Then stood back to survey her work, "Hmm... I think it’s time to put on your dress."
Bernadette jumped from the chair and scampered toward her bedroom.

Six o'clock
While Bernadette stared at her reflection in the full-length mirror, she felt like every fairytale princess that ever was.  "I love this dress." She touched her chin and slid her fingers down her neck to the snug bodice. Swirling around, she enjoyed the feel of the full, pink chiffon skirt, and the crinolines under it brushing against her ankles.
Martha held out a wide satin ribbon. Stand still for a minute, baby. " She belted Bernadette’s waist and tied a big bow in the back.
"Do you think Ernest will like my dress?"
"He will, but only because you're wearing it.

Seven o'clock
“I think I just heard a car drive up,” Martha said. 
Bernadette's heart leaped. Bubbling with excitement, she ran through the living room to the entry hall. She paused, took a deep breath, and opened the door.
"Oh." Bernadette stared at the boy standing under the porch light.  He wore a plain, dark suit with a boutonniere on the lapel, and clutched a clear, plastic flower box containing an orchid wrist corsage.
"Ernest couldn't make it and sent me in his place." Donald smiled.
 Bernadette noticed the space between his front teeth.
Her bubbling excitement fizzled into disappointment.
"This is for you." He gave her the flower.
She took the corsage. Forcing a smile, she said, "Come in. Wait here in the entry. I need to get my mother to tie this on me."
Bernadette walked toward the kitchen.

Seven o'clock and eleven minutes
"What's wrong, honey? Your face is pale." Martha put her glass of water on the counter.
"Do you know who's waiting for me in the entry hall? Donald, that's who. I can't believe it." She threw the corsage box on the table. "I'm going to die." Tears welled in her eyes.
"Don't cry, Bernadette. You'll mess up your make-up. There must be a good reason. What did Donald say?"
"He said, ‘Surprise!’" Bernie stomped her foot. "I'm not going."
"You're not hurting that boy. You're going, and you'll be gracious. Do you understand?"
"But- "
"But nothing. Go and try to have a good time. Besides, I've seen Donald around town, he's rather cute."
“He’s not.  He’s a dork.”
“Well, if you ask me, Ernest’s the dork, sending his brother and not saying a word about it. You deserve better. Give Donald a chance. Please, do it for me.”
"Okay, but I'm not going to have a good time."
“Good girl. Let me put on your lovely corsage on your wrist.”

To Bernadette's surprise, Donald could Swing Dance and Lindy Hop. They won first prize for the best dancers.

It was a wonderful night at the Junior Prom.

Tuesday 28 May 2019

Missing Connections

by Gill James 


She had to stop the noise. She pressed one button. Then another. The screaming wouldn’t stop. The man looked irritated.
“You must put in the magic number Frau Johnson. Can you remember your magic number?”
Could she?
Yes. Her birthday. 1006, she typed carefully. The howling stopped.
She offered him the note. 
Buy ten stamps. Take the wrongly delivered letter back. Feed the animals.
“He takes care of you, doesn’t he?”
She smiled.         

 About the author

Monday 27 May 2019

The Piano Teacher

by Mari Philips 

lukewarm tea

You could smell the place from the top of the lane as the odour of cats and boiled cabbage seeped into nostrils without permission. A terraced house set back from the path with two worn steps.  The front door was always open and drew curious eyes into a long dingy hallway. The faltering notes of ill practiced pupils hung in the air with the motes of dust.
“Do come in” he said, “would you like some tea?”
The smile on his stubbled face revealed clenched black teeth and gaps. His grey trousers, flecked with unspecified stains, were held up by grubby braces which poked out from under his straining pullover.
The music room was from another era. Threadbare reddish covers covered heavy chairs and table and the piano pushed against peeling flock wallpaper; its stool dented and scuffed from years of dangling shoes.
We only visited once and chose a different piano teacher.

Sunday 26 May 2019

Watching and Waiting

by David GOWER

gin and tonic with some ice

It was a good choice of spot. Close to the footpath but with enough long grass and tall weeds to provide a suitable space to watch and wait. It was always best to take time doing these things. Never to let excitement and anticipation overcome the need for stealth and success. 

The camouflage jacket and hat would keep him warm and hidden from view whilst he waited. How many times he had looked for the right spot, never able to find somewhere quite right. Now after days of wandering the country pathways he had found the place. A good view of the pathway in both directions and the field ahead as far as the tree line. Even the wary eyes of those looking for a predator would be unlikely to see him. In the country but close to the car park. Failing to prepare was preparing to fail, the words of his teacher came back to him but today he was prepared. There would be not failure but success.

In his imagination the whole thing had been easy. The pictures in magazines and on the internet were so clear. His felt the cold metal with his hand. Everything was still ready and close for when the moment came. A gentle breeze wafted towards him across the open field and he watched in hope as the sun dipped towards the horizon. The time would be soon now. This anticipation went some way to dispel the growing discomfort of staying near motionless. Vigilance would be the watchword.

A lone female had appeared from the woods. Two more followed close behind. No sign of a male anywhere. Perhaps the first female would come close enough without the others noticing in time. The first female appeared relaxed moving through the grass in the meadow towards his chosen spot. The voice in his head congratulated him on his planning. Fingers tensed on the cold metal, there would be only a few seconds before the time came for action.

From his left came a shrill woman’s voice and at the same time there was the noise of a body blundering through the long grass towards him. Everything would be ruined. His presence discovered, his planning to waste and accusations made needing to be explained away.  What to do?

There seemed to be three options and none was good. The focus of his plans had been warned, the woman and her free roaming dog could discover him in a moment.

Option 1 Stay hidden and hope the dog would pass by and ignore him. Hope that the owner would not wade through the long grass and scream as she stepped on him.

Option 2 Stand up and try to reassure her that he meant no harm.
A man camouflaged at dusk by a footpath means no harm to a woman walking her dog? Not a headline he had ever seen.

Option 3 Run as best he could carrying his equipment to the car without explaining himself. How could he run with all the stuff he had brought?

The second option was the least unpleasant. He stood up saying “Don’t be afraid. I was hoping to picture the deer.”

She stopped in her tracks, the dog bounded up – it was a big dog – and knocked him over so that he fell onto the hard aluminium camera case.

Was he was doomed never to get that picture and submit it to the club wildlife photo competition? Random events had conspired against him.

Woman, dog, man and camera gear eventually sorted themselves. They both walked back to the car park. They chatted and the fear that had overwhelmed woman and man minutes earlier turned into laughter. 

The pub just opposite the car park looked inviting. Thatched roof, smoke curling from the chimney as dusk approached and a feeling that an apology was not enough resulted in him inviting her for a drink. Offer accepted and the trio woman, dog and bruised wildlife photographer order a drink and sat down.

It was a soppy, slobbery, friendly dog which heard commands but had a mind of its own when out for a walk.

Perhaps another photograph in a different category might be less traumatic? Pets and their owners came to mind as another round was ordered.

Saturday 25 May 2019


by Anne-Marie Swift

a cup of jasmine tea

The plane is full, the way planes always seem to be full nowadays, people crowding and jostling to get on, scrabbling to squash bags into overhead lockers. 
Danny sits in seat 10C – his regular business travel seat. Today, however, he is wearing orange shorts, blue flip flops and a fake Armani t-shirt. Seats A and B are empty in spite of the full plane. 

Danny is heading home.

On the way out, his plan had seemed so very clear, so very straightforward. He was fuelled by anger and a sense of being absolutely in the right. He knew, without a doubt, that what he was doing was the right thing, it was what anyone in his situation would do. 

On the way out, he travelled in his business suit. Wearing the linen suit, he was strong and in control, and if the leather shoes with the long, pointed toes did hurt a little, they also said “money” in clear loud tones and money, Danny knows, means power. 

The plane took off and Danny looked at the crossword in his newspaper instead and though the black and white squares seemed to be moving and blurring into each other, he did start to feel calmer and relaxed, just as he had felt when he first sat down.  

For the rest of the twelve hours Danny tried, and failed to watch a movie on the four-inch screen in front of him. He took his laptop out of his briefcase and tried, and failed, to concentrate on a complex quote he was putting together for a customer. He’d taken leave from his job, but it if you wanted to get on, Danny knew, you’d better be there, be available the whole time. 

Keep working, keep pushing forwards, keep phoning the customers, keep the deals coming, keep the money coming in. This was Danny’s philosophy and though Sunisa had left him, taking the children with her, so his home and his soul were both empty, it was what he clung to. 

An airline meal arrived: yellow sauce concealing a piece of chicken; chewy formerly-frozen bread roll, a dizzyingly sweet pudding. Danny took a mouthful of everything, just enough to keep his energy levels up. He noted that the guy next to him had eaten everything on the tray and washed it down with a Coke. Danny tried, and was surprised to succeed, in obtaining an additional helping of wine, which enabled him to sleep soundly for a couple of hours. 

He was woken by the gentle sobbing of the guy next to him, who was looking at a photo album and crying softly. He could see the photo of a Thai girl – or was a boy really? – and he could guess the whole sad story and he just didn’t want to know. He had his own stuff.  So, he closed his eyes again and the guy stopped crying and drifted off to sleep, his head lolling amiably onto Danny’s shoulder and Danny had to fight the urge to give the guy a strong hard push, enough to hurt. And of course, there would be a greasy mark on Danny’s expensive-looking light linen jacket and his neck was still hurting where the laptop had crashed onto his head. 

But then they had landed and everyone was rushing for the overhead lockers and the stewardess was pleading, “Please don’t stand until the plane has come to a final standstill” and Danny felt wired and hot and ready for action and he didn’t care anymore about the fat sad loser, who never would find the girl or boy he was looking for, he was just ready to go and do what he needed to do. 

Now, on the way back, the doors closing, stewardesses performing the emergency ritual, screens dropping down, air already stale, Danny still can’t work out what went wrong. 

In Bangkok he got off the plane, pushing his way out through the Business Class, one of the first through passport control, his papers in order of course, they always were, then racing to the taxi rank. He was travelling hand luggage only, as always. Danny laughed at the guys he worked with who needed to check luggage in. What a waste of time. Though it was true, he spent hours at the weekends decanting toiletries from big bottles to smaller. He hadn’t known how long it took until Sunisa went and he had to do it all himself. There were a lot of things he hadn’t known until she left him. 

“Blimey” he said to one of the blokes he worked with “I had no idea how bloody complicated the house is. Can’t work the washing machine to save my life and I had to drive round the block with the top down and my shirts on the back seat to get them dry in time for work”. 

They laughed at him and his boss said, “You’d better get online, get a new wife” and they laughed again. Nobody asked where she’d gone, what had happened to the kids. Sunisa was gone and that was that. 

She hadn’t left a note, but then again, she didn’t need to. She’d talked enough about taking the kids to Thailand, letting them meet their Thai family, letting them learn to speak some Thai, and what Danny had done each time she mentioned it was basically to agree. Yes, he said, yes it would be a great idea and they could all go for a year or so, and he could probably work out of the office in Bangkok, what difference did it make where you were working from nowadays? Yes, he always said, yes, but don’t go on about it, I’ve had a hell of a week and there’s this big deal coming up and after we’ve done the deal I’ll have some time to think about it. 

Once she’d gone, he realised he didn’t have a clear idea of where, but it hadn’t been too difficult to find out, just a few quid bunged to a secretary in the Bangkok office. It wasn’t rocket science He knew now where the kids were, what times they went to school, what classes they were in. He probably knew more than he had when the kids lived at home.

The taxi stopped outside the school. There was Thai pop music on the taxi radio.  They waited. The driver turned the engine off so there was no more air conditioning. Danny and the driver both smoked. Danny sat and sweated into his business summer clothes. He didn’t want to look like some dickhead tourist in shorts and flip-flops. He wanted the kids to see him as he saw himself: strong and powerful, the kind of guy who made things happen. He’d had to take the jacket off when the fat bastard had sweated all over it but he was still in shirt and trousers and even if his feet felt as though they were being boiled alive, he knew the shoes spoke loud and clear.
At 4:30 the school day ended. Children pouring out of school doors, a sense of slight chaos, but everyone knowing where they were going. Not so different from the end of the school day at home though Danny had rarely been around to pick them up and even when he was supposed to, he’d often ended up sending one of the secretaries or occasionally even a colleague. He watched the stream of kids. Would he even recognise his own two?

He did, of course he did. Suddenly there they were, coming together in the playground.  His stomach lurched, as if he’d been punched. He hadn’t imagined this, this sudden feeling of what he could only describe as love. 

His kids were slightly taller, slightly paler than the others. They looked happy and relaxed, they were talking to their classmates. How could that be? How had they learnt Thai? How long had they been gone? Danny realised that nine months had gone by since Sunisa had decamped.  

Both boys had grown, both were slimmer. They smiled with their friends; there was a little game of football. His younger son, a little pudgy and slow before, dribbled the ball easily around another, larger boy. There was laughter. 

This was the moment that Danny was supposed to step out of the taxi, grab his children, bundle them into the taxi, and tell the driver to head to the airport. This was the moment his children would thank him for the rest of their lives. This was the moment that he would be re-united with them and live happily ever after with his two children. The kids would be pleased to be home, they must hate it in Thailand, hot and smelly and they don’t speak the language even if their mother does.

And the bitch that was his ex-wife could stay and stew on her own in Thailand. She could see how she liked waking up to a house empty of kids, how she liked looking at unplayed-with toys, how she liked not telling bedtime stories, and not being expected to know everything about everything.  She could be happy with her Thai family. Danny would be with the kids and everything would be fine at last. 

Danny looked at the children, his children, looked at their happiness, their young gentle faces, and saw how it would really play out. He closed the taxi door. 

‘Hotel, mate’ he said. 

Seat 10C, two empty seats between him and the window, he tried to work out what had gone wrong and why he was flying home alone.

Friday 24 May 2019

Rear View Mirror

by Paula R C Readman 

Ting with a Sting (a St. Kitts drink from the West Indies. Rum & grapefruit soda.)

The journey I am on might not have happened, if it had not been for a couple of coincidences. Firstly, Alex’s phone lay as dead as a dodo in the kitchen charging.  The second came after I had shown Alex’s work colleagues into the living room for their monthly meeting and carrying in a tray of refreshments. As soon as everyone had their drinks, Alex dismissed me from the room.
I hastened back to the kitchen to catch up on household chores. By chance, I was standing at the kitchen sink filling a jug ready to water some tomato seedlings I had potted on, when I saw the light on the kitchen phone flash red, alerting me to an incoming call. I snatched it up before it had time to ring. Alex hated any interruptions once the meeting had begun so I had disconnected the landline in the living room as a precaution.
“Hello yes,” I whispered.
“Good morning. This is a courtesy call from the garage.Your car is now ready to be collected,” said a pleasant, but authoritative voice.
Suddenly, the opportunity I had been waiting for arrived. I glanced towards the closed living room door, fearing Alex could hear the relief racing through my body.
“If it’s possible you could collect it now? We’ve a backlog of cars waiting to be collected?”
A burst of laughter echoed into the kitchen, making the skin on my arms crawl. I froze with apprehension. Now the drinks are flowing nicely maybe I have enough time. Alex would be entertaining for quite a while. As the voices softened, returning to a light easy chatter they seemed almost alien to me in their gentleness.
“Hello, are you still there?” the voice demanded in my ear.
“Yes,” I said firmly, my decision made. “I’ll come now.” 
After hanging up, I crept slowly upstairs. My thoughts raced as I wiped the back of my hand across my cheek in an effort to stop the tears. With no time to rationalise my situation, I needed to remain focused on the moment. It broke my heart the thought of running away from the only home I have known.
The sudden death of my parents meant I had to work hard to pay off the mortgage to make it my own. Yet, the pain I had endured at their loss was more bearable than the physical abuse I was suffering now that had finally broken me.
The only option left open to me was to skulk away like a beaten dog. With my heart thumping as I pulled my hidden overnight bag down from the top of the wardrobe and swung it onto the bed.
As I did so, I caught sight of the framed photo on the dresser next to the mirror. Taken only seven years ago, it depicted us standing on a golden beach, dressed in our wedding finery and locked in an eternal embrace, smiling into the lens, our eyes bright with love and happiness.
Stunned I was unable to recognise the person reflected in the mirror.The harsh dark lines under my brown eyes, the tightness across my brow and my sunken cheeks set my nerves on edge.  In my head I heard the echoes of Alex’s jarring, unforgiving voice.
“You’ve no backbone. God only knows, what I saw in you, Harper.”

Seven years ago, everything had been so perfect, so beautiful. Alex’s gentleness had been a sweet joy, but where had it all gone?
I rubbed the small dark circles of unfathomable pain that scarred the back of my hands and ran up my arms. They serve as a reminder of why I was leaving. I checked the holdall again to make sure I had everything I needed.
Another burst of laughter echoed up the stairs. I shot out onto the balcony and tossed the bag into a shrub below. Back in the bedroom, I inhaled deeply, mentally searching for a friend, someone I could speak to, maybe put me up for a few days, but there was no one.
As a couple, we shared everything apart from the pain. I am certain that my so-called friends would not understand the situation I found myself in as much as it is unbelievable to me. I have no doubt that they would find it hilarious. Oh, how they would laugh and mock me. “Harper, where’s your backbone?”
With the utmost care, I went back into the kitchen. Slipping into the garage, I collected the rest of my secret stash before retrieving the bag from garden. At the bottom of the garden, hidden by trellising, I climbed over the locked gate and dropped into the alley that led to the main road to collect the car.

Once I had settled the garage bill, I filled the car with petrol. On checking the rear view mirror, I moved out into the busy morning traffic. As I accelerated, my mind screamed at me. What the hell are you doing! You have nowhere to go!
 All I possessed was now was an old car and a bag. At the next roundabout, I decided to head for home. Panic gripped me. Could I get back in without Alex knowing? Would there be a scene?
I gripped the steering wheel,focusing on the oncoming traffic waiting for a break in the flow.  I caught sight of the dark cigarette burns marking my arms and hands.  A small voice of reason crept into my skull.
“There’s no one to save your sanity but you, Harper!”

Eight years seemed like a lifetime ago, when Alex first walked into my life. My mates couldn’t believe how lucky I was, and neither could I
I wasn’t anyone special. Yeah, I had a good job, drove a decent car, owned a nice house, but I’m not what some would call, ‘flashy’. Part of my upbringing, I guess. My parents were simple, hard-working folk from the West Indies. Mother always said ‘Love is more important than material things.’
As I was an only child, my parents were able to overindulge me, but not once did either of them raise a hand to me. I was not perfect, what child is. With both of them working long hours at a local hospital, home life was a little fraught at times when they came in tired. Tempers a little frayed, especially mother’s after constantly being positive, polite and happy. The only punishment they saw fit to bestow on me was sending me to my room without a television.
I can’t begin to explain to anyone what Alex has done to me. How loving someone soon turned into a weapon of self-destruction. How every uttered word she said carried a double-edged sword straight into my heart.

I glanced into the rear view mirror ready to pull out to overtake, and caught sight of the scar above my left eye. Suddenly, I’m back in the moment when a plate caught me on the side of my face. It was the first time Alex showed me there was a dark side to her. 
I stood frozen to the spot as blood trickled down my face a second before the pain kicked in. I’m not sure what horrified me most; the amount of blood or the fear of losing my eye, but what cut me the deepest was the coldness of her words.
“I saw that look of betrayal in your dark eyes. Don’t ever let me see it again,” she said slamming the kitchen door as she went back to her guests leaving me to clear up the mess. I heard her laughter as she explained my clumsiness.
Not one for making a scene, I didn’t protest my innocence, but sat alone in the kitchen feeling confused, holding a bloodied napkin to my face, staring one eyed at the remains of the meal as I questioned my behaviour. Had I chatted too long with Maureen, smiled or laughed too much. What else could I have done? The woman was seated opposite me. Should I have ignored her when she spoke to me?

On one occasion, I had been peacefully asleep after coming off a long night shift. The next moment I was wide-awake in agony and covered in blood.  Alex stood over me holding her red stiletto shoe, looking pleased with herself.
“What’s wrong with you, Alex?” I had asked holding the sheet to the side of my face, knowing she had split open the recently healed wound. For a fleeting moment, I wondered how I was going to explain away my clumsiness to my work colleagues. 
“Get your lazy ass off the bed,” she snarled her ice-blue eyes no more than nigrescent slits. “If you think you can laze around all day while I’m working, you’re darn crazy. I’m expecting a clean house and my dinner on the table when I get home. It’s good that you get a taste of the crap us women have to deal with daily.”
That was just the start of it. What could I do? It’s not as if I could talk to my work colleagues about it.
“You what? What sort of man are you? God, if she was my wife I would hit her back.”
Hit her back? And what would that make me?
Night after night,I asked myself why?  Why had she felt the need to abuse our loving relationship? What had I done?

Now I’m on the road to nowhere,leaving Alex and my old life behind. For the first time in a long time, I had made a decision for myself. Though, I’m devastated at the thought of breaking all the promises I made.
It seems like a lifetime ago when I asked Alex to marry me.What a fool she must have taken me for, but I truly believed I could give her the security she seemed to crave. After listening to her sad tales of a broken childhood, unfaithful lovers and the abuse she suffered, all I wanted to do was give her a loving home, and when the time came, our children too. Now I’m not so sure what happened to the promises we made on our wedding day.
I tried to understand it from her point of view.  It had hit me hard been made redundant, to lose the only thing that kept some sanity in my life. As a fire fighter, I was there to help others in their moment of need.  Then along came the Government’s cutbacks to destroy the only thing that kept me sane.
I know for sure if Alex had lost her job, I would’ve supported her through the free fall when self-doubt robs you of your confidence.

I accelerated wanting more distance between my pain and a new future.  I began to focus on what I wanted from life. I still love Alex, but what’s the point of staying when I’m no longer the person she said ‘I do’ to all those years ago.
Humiliation wears you down. The difficulty I have is why others do not see the pain I 'm carrying.
I was constantly checking myself as Alex questions everything. She scrutinised dates, times and facts, adding to my misery. At first, I blamed myself for everything, even the loss of my job, and the fact I was unable to find another. After years of long night shifts, I wanted time out to pursue other avenues. It wasn’t as if we couldn’t afford it.
“What do you need another job for when you have a perfectly good one here?”
I stared open mouthed, nervous about questioning her logic.
Her eyes narrowed as her lips thinned. “Well, Harper isn’t it what you men expect of us women, to stay at home and be subservient to you.”
“Never!” I said, believing us to be like my parents. Their marriage had been like a partnership, working together to create harmony in the home.
“You thought I was going to be like your mother!”she spat the words out. “Don’t make me laugh. Me staying at home doing menial jobs like domestic chores.” She leant forward, her face taut with rage. “Why, Harper, should I keep a dog and bark myself. After all you told me you would look after me. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“But I…” I trailed off, knowing if I questioned her logic, I would suffer more. The side of my face ached as the tension in the back of my head grew. I lowered my eyes.
“Good,” she said extending her hand, her fingertips seeming to burn my arm. I felt myself flinch and step back, but she still caught the side of my face with her other hand.
“You’re such a wimp, Harper. You should man up. Now haven’t you got something you should be doing?”
Oh, I so wanted to hit back, but I knew the moment I did my world would cave in. I would be the one the police took away.
It seemed such an insane situation when I believed in equality for all to find myself with no one to turn to for help.The soundtrack in my head constantly reminds me ‘there must be fifty ways to leave your lover, but all I needed was just one desperate bid for freedom.

Tired, hungry, and homeless, I stood a little fearful before a blue-chipped door. I hoped for compassion or at least someone who understood what I had been through without judgment.
Months ago, I’d been given a password by a small organisation I’d discovered online. But until now the opportunity hadn’t arose for me to be able to use it. Was it still valid?
How crazy it all seemed for a man of my stature to be broken like a beaten dog shaking before a door. My hand trembled as I reached for the bell.Anything could happen to me now, and no one would be any the wiser. 
Somewhere deep within the building a bell echoed. On realising, I was still pressing the doorbell I stepped back.

The door opened.  A young woman with a bright smiling face greeted me with a happy, “Hello, how can I help you?”
Fear welled up in me as I heard myself apologising. I muttered, “Looking Glass?”
The smile dropped from the young woman’s face. She stepped forward and peered up and down the street. With a hurried gesture, she said, “Come in,”
I stepped into a narrow corridor.
“Harper Newman?”
“Hello. We’ve been expecting you. I’m Nicky.”
My legs slid beneath me. Seated on the floor with my back against the wall, I sobbed uncontrollably. A hand touched my shoulder and I involuntarily pulled away.
“It’s all right you’re among friends,” she said. The door opened behind her and a tall lean black man entered the hall.
“Harper, this is Markus, he’ll show you to your room. When you’re ready, we’ll talk.”
Markus helped me to my feet. Within his eyes, I saw the same lines of pain that mirrored my own. With a nod, he acknowledged what I had been through and that he understood how I was feeling. At last, I had escaped not only my abuser, but also the fear that I was alone.