Saturday 29 February 2020

Golden Hair

by Gill James

pink cava

They liked her golden hair, the men who worked in the market. Their own girls were dark with matching brown eyes.  Her eyes were blue like the sea and her hair was like the sun-blessed corn of the north.
They would take a fist full of shellfish or slice another strip of steak after her parents had settled the bill. 
“Para ella,” they would say.
She understood neither what they said nor why they gave her parents more. 

About the author 

See Gill's latest short story collection Other Ways of Being: 

Friday 28 February 2020


by Anne Forrest

You never tire of talking about your Gypsy blood. So proud. As if it were Royal. You’re nearly ninety yet look as if you've seen only seventy-five summers; you put this down to life in the open air, natural food from the hedgerows; a care-free life roaming and overseeing your own destination. A good man; you always said Grampy was a good man. You said you were painted by a famous artist sitting on your caravan steps in a red skirt with a pipe in your mouth – when you were about eighteen, you said. You said Grampy was a ‘high Romany’, not a common one.  You loved your life and wouldn’t change it for all the tea in China, you said.
            When I call, you spread a chenille cloth on the table, get out willow basket and display your velvet and lace and pegs to show how you earned your living. You demonstrate how you wound crepe paper flowers around a wire thread; bunched the heather with ribbon. You always say your white, netty curtains were knitted by spiders, and I always pretend to believe you. You read tea-leaves at the bottom of my cup ignoring the delicate images in the bowl; choosing your words carefully.
            I love it when I can persuade you to bring out the lamp, choking and spitting under the fluted rim, cross that it’s been disturbed. After all this time. You present it as if it were the Crown Jewels.
When it acquiesces, the wick settles, glows; resigning its gypsy-blood blaze to light up your council-flat walls.

About the author:

Anne Forrest lives in the Conwy Valley, she is studying for a Masters at Chester University ‘Writing and Publishing Fiction’ 2019-2020, after gaining a First Class Hons at Bangor Uni: MArts in ‘English Literature with Creative Writing’. Her common-folk biography, My Whole World, Penmaenmawr (in 2nd print) was published by Old Bakehouse Publications, Abertillery, in 2000. Her Gothic novel, Lilies if the Valley made the strong longlist in the Cinnamon Press Debut Novel Award 2019. She wrote a series of ‘Timothy Crumble’ stories, set in the NT’s Bodnant Garden ‘to educate and entertain children’.
Visit her website at

Thursday 27 February 2020

French for Cheese

by Dawn Knox

a glass of Beaujolais 

 Previously, the Three Wise Monkeys were tricked into signing an unfavourable contract by wily showbiz manager, Mr Krapowski. Their only choice was to split up and go into hiding. Eddie decided to search for the source of the Custard River but he didn’t bargain on Miss Havisham following him...

Eddie made it to the jetty at Cakehall just as his wings gave out. He’d forgotten how hard it was to row through custard, and to make matters worse, Miss Havisham was restless. She’d been complaining she was hungry since they’d left Spudwell, and it appeared she became very tetchy when her blood sugar dropped.
The smell from the nearby cheese mine was simply too hard to resist and Eddie thought it might be a good idea to stock up with fresh cheese, and then decide whether to continue on his quest for the source of the Custard River. He also needed to escape from Miss Havisham, but not until she’d bought lunch. She owed him that, after moaning all morning. He had, after all, paid for the hire of the boat, and now had no money left.
Miss Havisham barged her way to the front of the queue in the cheese shop, “Two large lumps of cheese, my good man. And be quick about it!” she said to the young, female vole behind the counter.
“Which type would you like, ma’am? We have Cakehall Supreme, Cakehall Bluevein, Cakehall ̶
“Yes!” Miss Havisham banged her tiny fist on the counter, “And don’t dilly-dally. I haven’t got all day.” She waved a handful of bank notes, “And don’t stint on the biscuits, young man!”
“Don’t what on the biscuits?”
“Stint! Stint! What’s the matter with you, laddie?”
“Why don’t you go outside and find us somewhere to sit, Miss Havisham, and I’ll bring the cheese,” Eddie cut in, smiling apologetically at everyone in the shop. He steered the mouse away from the counter and gave her a slight nudge towards the exit.
“And biscuits!” called Miss Havisham as she fell through the door.
“You should’ve stinting-well told your stinting friend you don’t have to push a stinting automatic door,” said the young, female vole with a toss of her head.

Miss Havisham wiped her mouth with the back of her paw, “…best cheese I’ve ever had,” she announced, and burped.
Eddie nodded.
“So, if it’s yours, why aren’t you making the most of it?” Miss Havisham asked.
“Making the most of what?” Eddie asked looking down at the cheese rind and biscuit crumbs left on his lap.
“That cheese shop.”  
“But it doesn’t belong to me.”
“You told me it did!”
Eddie thought for a moment.
“Oh, no, I think you misunderstood. It’s not mine, it is a mine. A cheese mine.”
“Exactly. And if I may say so, I don’t like your choice of staff. Damn rude, if you ask me. But I think I can help you. I’m looking for a business venture. I was going to put my fortune into Krapowski’s hotel but there was something a bit dodgy about it. So, I’ve changed my mind. Anyway, I like you, young chicken, and I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to back you in a new business venture.”
“You are?” Eddie’s beak fell open.
“Indeed I am.”
“But doing what?”
“Whatever it is you do with your cheese,” said Miss Havisham gnawing on the rind.
Eddie was about to admit to not doing a great deal with the stuff, other than eat it, when he had second thoughts. He was broke. And Miss Havisham seemed to have plenty of money. There was just one problem – he didn’t own the cheese shop or mine.
Perhaps he could talk her round to something different? As well as managing a rock band, he’d always dreamed of owning his own fashion designer label. Perhaps she’d invest in a fashion business?
“Fashion?” she peered at him with her tiny head tilted to one side, “Well, it’s radical. But it could work… Yes, why not!” She held out her paw and shook his wing. “I’ve got a few contacts, so leave the factory to me. Here,” she said pulling a wad of money out of her handbag, “this should get you started.”
He was so used to life knocking him down, that now, as Fate held out its paw with a gift, Eddie automatically flinched.
“You drive a hard bargain,” said Miss Havisham, pulling more money out of her handbag, “is this enough?”
Eddie gulped and took the money.
“So, what are you proposing to call this company of ours?” she asked.
“Um,” said Eddie, whose brain hadn’t quite caught up.
“How about Say Cheese?” she suggested.
“Well, if you’re going to make clothes out of cheese, it should be reflected in the name, don’t you think?”
“Yes, young chicken. Now stop repeating ‘cheese’ and say something sensible. It’s getting tedious. You may be a fashion guru but you don’t appear to have much business sense. Luckily for you, I’m very astute and can spot a business opportunity. So, you get on with making the cheese cloth and designing your new range and I’ll provide the machinery.”
Eddie’s brain finally came up to speed. He was being offered an amazing chance to realise his dream. The only problem was that his clothes would be made of cheese. Unless…
“Perhaps, Miss Havisham, we ought to use ordinary cloth first. Just until we get established. Cheese can come later.”
“Nonsense! Lots of people make clothes out of fabric. No, I’m certain cheese is definitely the way to go.”
“It is?”
She nodded. “Definitely.”
Eddie sighed. It was cheese or nothing.
“So, what are we going to call this new enterprise?” she asked.
“How about a French-sounding name? Something like From—"
“Yes! From Cow to You!” Miss Havisham beamed.
“No, I was thinking of Fromage—"
“What’s that then?”
“It’s French for ‘cheese’.”
Miss Havisham’s eyes lit up and she held her paws together, “Yes, I love it! A new company is born and the name is perfect – French for Cheese.”
“But I meant—"
“It’s settled,” said Miss Havisham, “Now, I wonder what size needles one would need for knitting yoghurt?”

“All rise,” bleated the court sheep.
Everyone in the packed courthouse rose as a portly owl in judge’s robes and wig entered and settled himself at the bench.
“Eddie the Bald Eagle Chicken, you are charged with wilfully exposing the public to clothes made out of cheese, thereby risking an outbreak of cheese mites, and also of inflicting aggravated cheese odours. How do you plead?” bleated the court sheep.
“Not guilty!” Eddie said glaring at Miss Havisham, who was seated next to her lawyer, “and what’s more, I object, your owlship!”
“Indeed!” said the judge, looking down his beak at Eddie, “And what is it exactly that you are objecting to?”
“I object to being here and if I have to be here, I object to the jury. It’s full of mice.”
“Yes, it certainly is,” said the judge, eyeing the jury.  He wiped away the string of saliva that was hanging from his beak, “I’m sure they will be most delicious…er…dextrous. Yes, that’s it, dextrous…and tasty…I mean…trusty. Yes, that’s it, dextrous…and trusty. Won’t you?” he asked fixing the twelve mice with his beady stare.
“Free Miss Havisham!” one of the jury-mice shouted with his fist in the air.
“Miss Havisham is not on trial, young fellow-me-lad,” said the judge, “it’s the chicken you’re here to condemn.”
Eddie’s lawyer grabbed Eddie’s beak and pushed him back into his seat.
“Let us proceed,” said the judge.
Miss Havisham’s lawyer stood, tucked her claws in the lapels of her gown and began. “Ladies and gentleman, my client Miss Havisham has been swindled by this excuse for a chicken—"
“I’m not an excuse for a chicken! I am a chick ̶  No, I’m not even a chicken, I’m an eagle—"
Eddie’s lawyer grabbed his beak again and deftly twisted an elastic band over it.
“As I was saying, my client, Miss Havisham, has been swindled out of a large sum of money and in return, she has contracted Caseous acaridosis, more commonly known as Cheese Nodules, this is a serious illness, and her life is now under threat. I would like to call my first witness.”
One of the jury-mice stood up.
“You can’t have a witness who’s also a jury member,” objected Eddie’s lawyer.
“Then I shall call my second witness.”
Another of the jury-mice stood up.
Eddie’s lawyer objected again.
“Do you have any witnesses who are not also members of the jury?” the judge asked.
“No, your honour.”
“Then let us hear the defence.”
Eddie’s lawyer got to her feet, glanced at Eddie’s beak to check the stability of the elastic band and with claws tucked inside her gown, she began.  “Firstly, my client did not claim to own the Cakehall Cheese Mine and shop. Miss Havisham offered her money freely. Secondly, my client kept his side of the bargain, spinning cheese into fabric and making clothes from the cheesecloth. It is not his fault that Miss Havisham’s cheese outfit attracted Acarid caseosis, better known as the common cheese mite. Neither is it his fault that she is allergic to the said cheese mite. But I would like to point out that Cheese Nodules can hardly be classed as a serious illness, m’lud.”
“I see,” the judge said, shifting his gaze to the prosecution, “I believe you claimed that your client’s life is under threat. Would you care to explain how this disease is affecting her?”
“Oh, no m’lud, it’s not the cheese mite that’s threatening her life, they’re the least of her worries. And she’s undergoing treatment for Cheese Nodules. No, it’s the mice that concern her. And then, of course, the cats.”
“Would you care to explain please?”
“Well, your honour, if worn for long enough, the cheese clothes leave the wearer’s skin impregnated with the odour of cheese. Miss Havisham found that wherever she goes, she’s followed by hordes of mice. And as we all know, where there are hordes of mice, there are teams of hungry cats. My client now can’t set foot outside the door for fear of being eaten.”
“Shame!” shouted the head jury-mouse.
“In fact, it is this very group of mice,” Miss Havisham’s lawyer waved her paw at the jury, “who have been following my client around and attracting cats. Everywhere she goes, they follow.”
“But Miss H is the Chosen One!” shouted the head jury-mouse, “She has the Smell. We must follow her until the end of our days.” He looked uncertainly at the judge, who was staring at him, trance-like, dribbling. “Your honour?...”
The judge blinked, “Err, yes…silence in court!” He banged his gavel, “We will adjourn for one hour.”  

“We find the defendant guilty!” said the head jury-mouse, “Guilty, guilty, guilty!”
Eleven, tiny murine heads nodded emphatically at the pronouncement.
Eddie emitted a loud, strangled squawk and the elastic band shot off the end of his beak, “I object, your owlness!”
“Sit down, Mr Bald Eagle Chicken. The jury have given their verdict and I now sentence you to a fine of two thousand ducats and an apology to the plaintiff.
Miss Havisham leapt to her feet, “I object! I deserve more compensation than two thousand ducats!”
“Madam, the two thousand ducats are payable to me, for wasting court time. The apology is intended for you!”
“This is outrageous!” said Miss Havisham, waving her tiny fist.
“Go, Miss H!” shouted the head jury-mouse.
“You…” said the judge, pointing at the head jury-mouse with his gavel, “can shut up. And you, Mr Bald Eagle Chicken, follow me to my chambers, you will pay your fine and write your apology there.”

“Your owlness, if I might have a word. You see, I have a slight cashflow problem and two thousand ducats are slightly beyond my means…” Eddie said, his wingtips pressed together in supplication.
“But that sum won’t be beyond your means, young chicken, once I have purchased French for Cheese from you, for the exact price of two thousand ducats.”
“But it’s worth far more than that…” Eddie tailed off when the judge glared at him, “on the other hand, that seems a reasonable offer.”
“And one which you will find difficult to better,” said the judge, drawing his wallet out of his robes and opening it to display a large number of notes. He counted out two thousand ducats and placed them in front of Eddie, before picking them up and putting them back in his wallet. “There, now your fine is paid and once we sign the contracts, I will pay Miss Havisham a small sum and then take ownership of French for Cheese.”  
“Fair enough. But I’ve got one question, your owlness. Why do you want the company? It certainly didn’t bring me much luck.”  
“I have a whim to wear cheese clothes.”
“But your owlness, you heard the evidence, they make you smell of cheese and then mice follow you around…”
“Exactly…” said the judge, saliva beginning to dribble from his beak.

Links to previous stories in The Macaroon Chronicles series

The Macaroon Chronicles Prologue and the Three Wise Monkeys

About the author 

Dawn’s latest book is ’The Basilwade Chronicles’ published by Chapeltown Books and she enjoys writing in different genres and has had romances, speculative fiction, sci-fi, humorous and women’s fiction published in magazines, anthologies and books. She’s also had two plays about World War One performed internationally. You can follow her here on , Facebook here DawnKnoxWriter or on Twitter here


Wednesday 26 February 2020

Important News in Kenya

by  Susan E Willis

Earl Grey tea

I’m waking to the light streaming through the windows in our small but delightful room at The Treetops Hotel. I stretch my legs and glance over at Philip’s broad shoulder. My husband is wonderful, and I love him more and more each day we spend together. He grunts slightly in his sleep and I wonder if he is dreaming. Is he remembering the elephants that we watched at the watering hole last night?
It was such a long journey here to Kenya. A little over 4,000 miles but already we are loving the adventure together. Just us two without the children. It’s been a while since we spent any quality time together and when papa asked us to undertake his royal tour we willingly accepted.
I sit up slowly propping the soft pillows behind me. Papa’s health has been a concern to all of us lately. But he insisted upon seeing us off at the airport which was so like him to put his family first.
I think of the untroubled and restful day ahead with our plans to fish for trout in the stream and lunch at a nearby hotel. It will give us both time to relax after the arduous journey. There’s a soft knock on the door and I swing my legs out of bed just as Philip stirs awake. Breakfast arrives and the day begins. 
We’ve returned to the hotel this afternoon. To escape the heat of the sun I’ve retired to our room to write some letters while Philip is strolling in the gardens. I sit in front of my dressing table and rub face cream onto my pink forehead. I’ve never had a happy relationship with hot sun and I always try to wear a hat: as opposed to Philip who instantly looks healthy and tanned. However, as most of our free time is spent up in Scotland, I don’t usually have this problem. I think of the breezy drizzle in the Scottish Highlands and smiling, I begin to write my first letter, ‘Dearest, Papa…’
Just as I end the letter with, ‘Your loving daughter, Elizabeth,’ there is a commotion out in the gardens. I look up to see activity at the boundary fences.
My private secretary, Martin Charteris, is striding across the grass towards Philip. I can tell even at this distance that his usual calm exterior is ruffled to say the least. Philip is shaking his head at him. I push the chair back from the desk and hurry to the window.
My husband is hanging his head to his chest. I watch him ram both his hands into the pockets of his knee-length shorts. Something is wrong and it’s serious because Philip can’t look Martin in the eye. I scarper towards the balcony doors and hurry outside into the blazing sunshine.
My first thought is of the children. I feel my stomach lurch at the thought of anything happening to Charles or Anne. The heels of my white stiletto shoes sink into the grass as I almost run towards them both. Perspiration is forming on my forehead and the cotton dress I’m wearing sticks to my back.
As I near them, Martin takes a few steps backwards away from us with his head bowed. I look at Philip whose eyes are filled with tears.
‘What?’ I cry. ‘What’s happened?’
He takes my hands in his. ‘I’m so sorry, Cabbage, but your papa died this morning.’  

Tuesday 25 February 2020

Bog Girl

by Margaret Drummond


Sometimes, in the coldness of my bed I imagine how it was for her at the very end. I draw my legs up to my stomach and curl my arms tight against my body, my fists clenched. I have fought, I have squirmed and turned, but now I yield to the searing pain of the knife. I twist and contort my head and neck to try and copy her as she was when they found her, to mould my features into that mask of fear, mirror the terror in her eyes as the knife slices into my chest. Feeling the sticky warmth of the seeping wound, I strain to open my mouth and emit the screams of pain and betrayal that had echoed in the reeds as they killed her. I finger the imaginary noose around my neck, feel the coarse flaxen fibres and struggle for breath just as she did as the noose grew tighter about her throat.  In the cool night I float down to the river bed, smell the brackish water, breathe it into my lungs and finally welcome the stillness of surrender.

 I lie caressed by the thick, brown water, lapped by waves, as above the icy wind whips along the river bank, rippling the reed beds.  I sleep in velvet mud as seasons come and go. In winter I gaze up at the steely sky through the frosty lace window. Under the ice the eel writhes past, the fish nose at my rags. Silently I stare at the shadow of the heron pacing the ice. As the thaw comes I feel the silver stab of his beak, as a frantic, flailing fish leaves the water. Between the sheets in my bed I imagine the soft mud enveloping me in a shroud of brown velvet. The layers settle as I sleep, still twisted and tormented but silent and still.

I dream about her sometimes as she might have been. The old families here have a certain look. You see it when the children from the local primary school come to visit, that same flaxen hair, the red raw faces.  The same faces from the old photographs that hang in our foyer. I imagine she would have been like them, like me, really, because I too was born and bred on the fen. Sometimes as I see the young girls cycling to school, bent low over the handlebars, I see myself and her at seventeen, pedalling hard to make headway against the wind to finally arrive somewhere warm and sultry, where there is only a soft breeze.

Of course, like many, I did leave once, for a short while, but nowadays I prefer not to think about that time away. I set off to make my fame and fortune like my sea-faring ancestors had done. There is a statue of our most famous son in the town square. He looks out beyond the fen to the sea, telescope in hand awaiting the ships back from the east. Not all the men returned. Some drowned, some starved, some succumbed to strange foreign maladies and then there were those who were seduced by the ways of the east, lured into the opium dens and the brothels, intoxicated by the perfumed opulence of the Spice Islands and bewitched by the dark-eyed beauty of the women. They chose to stay away, perhaps as I should have done in the big city when I too was captivated by the chocolate eyes of a stranger.

Nowadays, after every foray to some foreign city, I return and bring her safely home, like my ancestors brought the shrivelled seeds and pods that would make their fortunes. We tick off the items on our clipboards as we gently unpack her. At each venue we lovingly drape the cloth they found with her over the void in her torso. We dim the lights and draw the curtains to shield her from the daylight. We try to look after her. 

When the bog girl`s left foot was unceremoniously sliced off by the peat-cutter`s spade after two thousand years in the fen, she was subjected to further humiliation. The villagers removed some of her bones and teeth. They pillaged her grave and removed burial artifacts. Perhaps those broken yellow bones are now lying in a drawer nearby, an ancient fen trophy. Nowadays we are more respectful. We like to preserve her dignity. Her cloth is fragile now, but we like to think it was perhaps her own, maybe woven for her by her own mother with love. I would like to think that someone once loved my bog girl when she was alive. I know it is not always true, and of course I have no experience in these matters, but I would like to think that a mother always loves her child.

The authorities once engaged a forensic artist to reconstruct the face of our little bog girl. He arrived with his case of instruments, took measurements and painstakingly made a clay model of her face. As he worked we would ask him why he had given her high cheek bones or a low forehead. Patiently he would explain about the measurements and the DNA and how the computer had tracked the genetic traits of the various local Germanic tribes, using data from living inhabitants of the region. The clay head was reddish brown, like the bog girl`s tan leather body, the eyes lifeless hollows.  One day, with a flourish he revealed the bog girl as she may have been, recast in plastic, with strawberry blond hair and blue eyes and freckled fair skin like mine. It was all so real, the bluish shadow under the eye, the slight furrow of the brow, the curl of the lip.

He draped a piece of sacking about her shoulders, and left her hair loose and wild as it might have been from the buffeting wind of the fen. I saw her bent over the cooking pot, grinding the corn, scrapping an animal skin as in our display. The bog girl began to follow me. I saw her face every day in the town, in the young girl who served me in the bakery, in the mirror at the hairdressers I saw her sandy head bent over mine, curling her top lip in deep concentration, snipping and shaping my fading tresses into the short, neat style, she feels appropriate for a woman like me.

We do not know why our little bog girl had to die but we like to speculate. We are almost certain that this was a ritual killing, perhaps to appease an angry god or to ensure a good harvest. We know that she had a curved spine, we can tell this from her bones, and I sometimes wonder if this was why my poor little bog girl was singled out. Because she was different? I like to show the schoolchildren around when they visit. When I tell them these terrible things I see how some of them bristle with righteous indignation at the injustice. It lifts my heart to think that the young still have such pure ideals, as I once had. I would like to think that she believed her death would achieve something worthwhile, but the contorted features and the howling hole of her mouth reproach me. I can never justify her death, any death.

 In those years away in the big city researching, imagining all kinds of scenarios for the murder I finally came up with another theory. It was one that pleased me.  I would lie awake at night in my room at the university breathing in the scents of patchouli and joss sticks, my pale skin gleaming in the moonlight next to the sleek, dark body beside me and imagine life as it could have been.  It was a theory I liked because it gave her some form of dignity.

Perhaps she had to die because she had violated some code, transgressed some boundary which offended the others in her tribe. Maybe she had defiantly refused to marry some waxy skinned, flaxen farmer, because she really was in love with a dark-eyed stranger from another land. As I shop, carefully considering each  peach and  mango  as the weekend stretches before me, I  sometimes hear the shrill tones of a truculent teenager remonstrating with her mother over some trifle and I hear the voice of my little bog girl.  I remember how it was for me, how I knew, at seventeen that I wanted to go somewhere, where the wind was not sharp and salty, but warm and gentle, full of spicy promise. A place where something else was possible .When I hear the reply of the mother and strain to see her, I hear my own mother`s terse and tired voice and remember that terrible time when I had to decide. I lurk in the shadows, compelled to watch and listen to the altercation, replaying in my head those dreadful scenes so long ago, between a mother and a daughter.

In the afternoons in the summer, I like to leave my office at the museum and walk amongst the living. Sundays are the best. Families come to visit on Sunday afternoons.  Alone, I sit in the museum restaurant, sipping coffee, imagining how it would be to see her now. I see her as a baby, deliciously plump and dimpled, as a skinny wiry child, as a blushing awkward teenager, tetchy and prickly. I see and hear her everywhere. And afterwards I return to the exhibition and see my little bog girl in her glass case like Snow White. Although the museum is cleaned every night I sometimes like to wipe over her case and pat it protectively, like a mother stroking the head of her sleeping child.

Now, at night I am always alone, and that is when I think of her most.  I hear the old wooden house, my family home, creaking like an old lady settling down for the night. I still choose to sleep in the room I had as a girl, although the posters have now been replaced by suitable prints. I still have the faded photos of those heady days of summers in the city, but they are locked away, along with the painful letters of denial and betrayal. I have never quite got round to reorganising my mother`s room.  I have always meant to redecorate, but even now, her spirit still sleeps there. “You must do as you want with it,” she used to say….but I have grown accustomed to the whiteness of the walls. It suits the house and the fen and now it suits me. Once I fought it, but now I have come to realise that my mother had been right, right about all of it.

Lying in my bed at night, I sometimes think of the time when they unearthed my girl from that place, so wet and dark. I curl up tight on my side like the bog girl when they found her, my arms crossed over the gaping aching hole in my torso.  I recall how I felt for my mother`s hand as I lay on the cool crisp hospital sheets, remember the roughness of her fingertips as she stroked the tears from my cheek and softly murmured words of empty consolation. “All for the best, my love, all for the best….”

I wonder if my little bog girl, had been alone as they took her to her death. Had her mother been there to console her, had they held her, back and smothered her screams as they took her daughter away?  I would like to think that a mother, any mother, would not allow her child to die, but I have learned now that this is not true and in the darkness I open my mouth wide, wide like the bog girl,  in the silence of the fen I howl.  

About the author 

Margaret Drummond is a retired teacher and translator from London.  You can find some of her work on CafeLit and she  also writes for European blogs about aspects of life in Central and Eastern Europe. She is especially interested in how nations and cultures merge and evolve.

Monday 24 February 2020

Cromwell Road

by Lena Green

vanilla ice-cream with a chocolate flake 

‘I love to look out at the sea', she said watching the traffic on the Cromwell Road. ‘Why, it’s so refreshing – breath in Molly dear – taste the saltiness of the air.’

‘But Grandma, we're in London. There’s no sea here.’

‘Silly girl,’ Grandma gently rebuked. ‘You tell me there’s no sea here – just look at the seagulls. Seagulls everywhere! … and look, there’s the pier. Come on, let’s walk down to it.’

With a gentle smile Molly complied. And so, arm in arm, Grandma leading the way with the tap-tap of her stick, they walked past the shops, crossing at the lights to avoid the traffic, chatting inconsequentially.

Until … ‘Look, Milly dear.  The pier, we’ve reached it. Let’s go and get an ice-cream from that handsome Italian man at the kiosk at the end.’

Again, Milly made no protest, rather she pulled her grandmother closer and said nothing, for nothing was all that was needed.

But then, ‘Oh! Milly dear! The wind. It’s always so blowy here on the pier. Help me with my hat or I shall be completely blown away.’

Respectfully Milly attended to her hat, fitting it more snugly around her ears, until Grandma satisfied, they walked on. One step at a time – bowing against the illusory wind.

But then Grandma suddenly stopped.

‘Milly dear! He’s gone! The ice-cream man. He's been here for years and now he’s gone!’

‘Don’t worry Grandma. I know a place where we can get an ice-cream. And with that she gently turned her grandmother back round to the direction from whence they had just come.

‘It’s all changed,’ mumbled Grandma. ‘It’s all changed. I don’t understand it … he’s been here for years... and now …

Milly let her talk. The occasional, ‘yes’ or ‘I know’ seemed to suffice, until back in the High Street they arrived at a café. 

Milly found a table, outside, in the sunshine. Grandma sat, took off her hat, straightened her hair, rummaged for a hankie while Milly bought two ice-creams: vanilla, both with a chocolate flake.

Contented Grandma ate. While her girlish tongue made swirls and chased the never-ending drips so she said nothing. And Milly, relishing Grandma’s tranquil moment, savoured her’s too.

Then, ‘I love it here on the pier,’ said Grandma. ‘Don’t you too Milly?’

‘Oh, I do Grandma,’ said Milly, her voice almost lost by the roar of the traffic as it made its perpetual way, oblivious to all, along the Cromwell Road, to who knows where.

Sunday 23 February 2020


 by Lena Green

bitter lemon

So, can you tell me how it all started: how you came to feel exiled from yourself, as you say.

Well, it was back last summer. I read an advert in the paper. It said something like: are you fed up with having to hold your phone?  Do you long to have your hands free again? If so, ring a certain number for more details. You’ll never regret this step, it said. 

So I did - I rang the number, and they explained that instead of having the chip inside your phone, you could have it implanted in your brain instead. That way you could control your phone or laptop or whatever, simply by thought. That way you didn’t have to go through all the palaver of the apps and typing in because you could simply direct your thought to wherever, and the answer to whatever you wanted would appear in your mind straight away. It would be the new ‘hands free’; you could leave your phone at home – because the chip would always be with you, implanted in your brain. Easy! It said! Who could refuse?

Were you sceptical at all?

Well... er ... unbelievably, at the time: no. I had started getting this numb thumb, repetitive strain injury the doctor called it, so … well, it seemed like a good idea.

So, I phoned.  I asked a few questions and they explained that his was the new way to go. I would be at the cutting edge of technology –all my friends would be envious. Chips were getting smaller; implanting was getting easier … why get left behind? So, to cut a long story short: I went ahead. 

The procedure itself only took a half day, although I did take the afternoon off from work because I had a bit of a headache. But after that it was fine.

You didn’t have regrets then – once it was in?

No, it was fine. I emailed my friends – simply by ‘thought’, with no problems at all. The system worked. I was glad I had caught on to the idea.  I managed to keep in daily contact with my parents, so they liked it!  And if I wanted to google something, I knew the answer straight away. It was almost as though I knew everything.

So, I thought I would test it out by going to the pub quiz. I didn’t really need to be in a team of four, but to make it look good I asked a few friends to come along with me. Sure enough, every question I knew the answer. In fact, the only question we got wrong was the one Rob insisted he was right and I was wrong. We walked away with the prize, and thought we would go back the following week.

And did you?

Well, no!  The landlord asked us not too! 

So all went well. 

Yes, sort of.  It certainly saved a lot of time at work. But then after a while, things started to boring.   And then worse still, I began losing friends.  People didn’t want to be with me because they said I knew too much.  They said I was no fun to be with, so they stopped including me.  And me? Well, I just switched off.

And then I thought blow them! I will go out and find new friends.  But then as soon as I met someone, I immediately knew everything about them. You see, as I was talking to them so I had immediate access to Facebook and LinkedIn and everything else.  I had nothing to learn from them, I just knew everything!   So you see, I can’t just ‘chat’ any more. Life now has no surprises: life has no excitement: there’s nothing unknown: no challenge.

That sounds sad.

Yes, it is. The result of all this is that I find myself alone and friendless. I’ve become the know-all! They joke behind my back, and well, life has simply become hell.

In a moment of desperation, I contacted the firm and asked if I could have the chip removed. Answer: an emphatic ‘no’.They said I had signed the agreement for a six-year trial and that was that. It was only later that I found out that they were selling the results of my brain activity to some foreign data base company …  and that made me even more distressed!

So, you see: the result is that I have lost myself. I’ve driven myself into exile.

I’m completely at odds with who I was. I have no personality. I have no friends. I am simply a chip – a chip that knows and can do everything, yet a chip that can be out-flanked by some data company since they control my every thought.  

I’m lost to a world beyond myself, because by freeing my hands, I have freed my identity.  I am a nothing. I am completely lost.

Saturday 22 February 2020

Episode 4 Jean

by Janet Howson 

Costa Coffee

Jean closed her eyes and let the rather monotonous tones of Deidre wash over her. She must have been talking for about ten minutes now and her story was always the same. It wasn’t that Jean didn’t sympathise with her. The account of her abusive husband, four children she couldn’t control and her constant money troubles with no income but benefits coming in to the household. She had heard it all before. In fact since she had been attending the support group, which would be six weeks now, she had heard Deirdre’s tirade every session.

The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions had been suggested by her doctor on her last appointment to collect her prescription for the drugs she needed to keep herself away from that ‘black hole’. That feeling of complete desperation. The ultimate goal of wanting to end it all. They helped. In fact, she knew she relied upon them and didn’t want to take the doctor’s suggestion that she cut them down. Instead she had agreed to come to the group therapy sessions on a Tuesday evening at seven thirty in a rather cold and dingy church hall. Up to now she had not contributed, just listened. She had learnt about the problems of literally all the members of the group, except for a middle-aged man in a city suit who like her sat quietly and listened. He fascinated, Jean, it was obvious he felt out of place and didn’t want to be there. 

“So, Jean, would you like to tell us all about how you are feeling today and how the week has gone for you?”

Jean opened her eyes and was aware everyone was looking at her, the counselor, Colin, was smiling at her encouragingly. He was a wiry, enthusiastic man in his thirties, Jean guessed, with thick curly hair, rather unkempt and always dressed in jeans a T-shirt and trainers that had seen better days. 

“Oh, I erm…” she didn’t know what to say.

“In your own time, we are not going anywhere. We would just like to share and perhaps be of help to you. Could you try and tell us when your problems started and how you feel when you are in a black hole and how you cope with it?”

Jean cleared her throat and took a deep breath, “Well, I first started having panic attacks at university. I put it down to having to adapt to a new area, new people and the stress of the academic work. At school I had always been the top of the pile but then I realised there were people far more intelligent than I was and I just didn’t seem able to keep up. By the second year I was lagging behind. I never socialised, just sat in my room trying to work but somehow I couldn’t. My first attack was in a lecture. I will never forget the embarrassment. I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe.” Jean stopped, the emotions of that day revisiting her. There were murmurs and nods of reciprocal understanding from the group.

“You are doing fine, Jean. Carry on when you are ready,” Colin smiled at her encouragingly, rocking back on two legs of his chair to the point where Jean thought he would topple over.

“After that I couldn’t go into lectures and became more and more isolated and further behind with my work. I was called into the principal’s office and it was suggested I took a year off and apply again for a place. I never went back. I got a job in an insurance company near to my home and I am still there. The attacks have continued though and my doctor put me on Citalopram and Pregabalin. They help a great deal. I don’t know how I would cope without them. I just can’t stand that awful feeling of desperation and hopelessness. She wants me to cut down the dosage, but I don’t feel I can at the moment.” She stopped to blow her nose amazed she was talking so much. 

“Is there anything else that helps you besides the pills?” It was the man in the city suit, who up to now had remained silent.

“Oh, belonging to my amateur drama group. I am playing Hippolyta in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream, the dress rehearsal is tomorrow.”

“Oh let us know when it’s on and we can come and see you,” Deidre piped up and several others voiced their agreement.

“Not much notice I’m afraid. It is on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week. Two performances on Saturday, matinee and evening. I’ve got some flyers in my bag, I can hand them out at the end of the session.”

“How does it help you to be in the group, Jean?” Colin asked.

“I lose myself in the part and forget my problems. It is like being someone else. It’s hard to explain.”

“I think I understand.” This came from the man in the suit. “I belong to a Gospel choir and I get completely absorbed in the music and for those two hours I feel content with myself.” He smiled at Jean.

“I think we are going to have to call it a day. Next week perhaps you would like to talk about your choir, Samuel and its therapeutic effect. The caretaker will be round in five minutes to lock the doors. See you all next week. Don’t forget to collect a flyer from Jean if you can make her play.”

Samuel, what a lovely name, thought Jean as she gathered her belongings together and handed out a few flyers. 

The next day at work, Jean felt very tired. She had gone home after the therapy session and gone over her lines again. The time had flown by and she hadn’t gone to bed before midnight. She knew she had various accounts and invoices to sort out and Dan, her boss wanted them back to him by lunch time. She sipped at the Costa coffee she had brought in with her and pushed sheets of paper about. She could see Dan through the full length glass partitions of his office. She had liked him since the day of her interview for the job. He was so sophisticated and immaculately dressed. Since then her admiration for him had grown to the point of infatuation. She would fantasise about them going to the opera or theatre together, sitting holding hands, discussing the performance in the interval whilst they sipped their gin and tonics. Then, having a coffee in her flat before parting for the evening. It was all a daydream. She was shy in front of him and she always felt clumsy and inadequate. Her mother had always said beauty was in the eye of the beholder. She was still waiting for her beholder. 

“How’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ going, Jean?” Daphne was the only person in the office that spoke to her. The others were all a lot younger and although she was only thirty-two, she felt she had nothing in common with them.

“Oh, not too badly. I am still a bit wobbly with my lines but hopefully after the dress rehearsal tonight I should be okay with them. Are you coming to see it?

“Shakespeare’s not really my thing, Jean. I liked the Alan Ayckbourne you did in the summer. That was funny. Think I’ll give this one a miss though.”

“No problem.” Jean hid her disappointment. She could normally rely on Daphne to support her. She found it hard to sell tickets. She had very few friends. There was always of course her mum and dad. Her brother and sister were always too busy with their family to come and watch their baby sister perform. They still called her that. There was a big age gap and Jean had been born very prematurely and she was a lot smaller than them and didn’t resemble them in any way. They were both good looking and had married in their twenties and had their children young. She had always felt the runt of the litter.

“So what part are you playing, Jean?” a shrill voice boomed across the office floor, “I expect your Bottom, aint you?” The other girls in the office laughed.

“Do you have to have a face like a backside for that?” One of the young male clerks chipped in.

Jean blushed. She never knew how to cope with office banter. It was all alien to her.  “No, she’s Hippolyta, a queen, so just leave it out you lot unless you’ve got something useful to contribute. You could always learn a bit and go and see the play. A bit of Shakespeare’ll do you good. You might learn something, rather than stare at your phones all day.” Jean could have kissed Daphne for standing up for her.

“Rather stick pins in my eyes,” the young clerk replied, leaving the office, defeated. The girls returned to their work having lost interest in the conversation.

“Take no notice, love. They’re only jealous, they couldn’t stand on a stage to save their lives. Oh by the way, Dan wants to talk to you about something? You’ve not been up to no good with the accounts have you?” She laughed.

“If I had I would be in the Caribbean somewhere not stuck in an office. I’d better see what he wants. I’ll finish this coffee after I come back.” Jean picked up her notebook and feeling a bit apprehensive, approached Dan’s office. Once she could see him she felt the usual flutter in her stomach that she always felt when she was with him. Grow up she told herself you are acting like a teenager in love. She knocked tentatively on the door.

 “Come in, Jean.”

“You wanted to see me, Mr Dennison?”

“I do indeed, and please call me Dan. I think we’ve known each other long enough to do away with the formalities. Now, I have a particular favour to ask of you. It is very short notice but I would be eternally grateful if you could help me out of a tight spot. I am attending a charity dinner and I had forgotten all about it until I glanced in my diary this morning. I have two tickets and don’t want to go on my own. I wondered if you would do me the honour of accompanying me? It promises to be a good evening with entertainment and a four course dinner. We would have a taxi there and back. What do you think?”

What did she think? She was absolutely thrilled. This was the dream of her life. She was speechless. She pulled herself together.

“I would love to go, Mr De.. Dan. When is it?” 

“Well, that is why it is such a big ask, it is tonight.”
Jean swallowed hard, what bad luck, it was the crucial dress rehearsal. Shirley would never forgive her. It was vital to have everyone there. She couldn’t let her down. She looked at Dan, he was leaning towards her, willing her to say yes. She might never get an opportunity like this again. He might assume she didn’t like him and never repeat the invitation. Pushing the image of Shirley’s disappointed face to the back of her mind she gave Dan her answer.

“No problem at all. What time will I have to be ready for?”

Links to previous episodes 

About the author

Janet taught for 35 years in Comprehensive schools teaching English and Drama. She wrote scripts for the students to perform. After she retired she found a folder of poetry she had written as a child and this spurred her to join a Writer’s group. She has had short stories published in Best of CaféLit and Nativity. She is waiting for her first novel to be published which she hopes will be soon.