Monday, 25 January 2021

The Weary Traveler

 

by Sheila Henry

ice water

Recently, I was looking through my treasure box. I hadn’t opened it in years and forgotten about the contents. The first thing I saw was the red and gold doily that aunt Ethel hand knitted and gifted me many years ago. It’s always good to spot something of hers, because I miss her so.

 

Next were handwritten letters from loved ones, some no longer here. I am not sure why I kept them, but they once meant something, perhaps providing comfort when I needed it most.

 

I couldn’t remember storing the gold necklaces I received as gifts from friends on my 40th birthday, but there they were, kept all these years. Gold necklaces are not my preferred style of jewelry. But it was wonderful to have received them at my surprise 40th birthday party.     

Then there was the stop watch, a gift I received from George, the weary stranger from Russia. The watch reminded me of a chance encounter that brought extreme joy. 

 

“My name is George. I am a scientist from Russia,” he told me on our unusual first meeting.

 

It was a beautiful sunny day in September, the sky an azure blue with fluffy white clouds that drew my eyes upwards. It was a little cooler than normal for the time of year. I had some errands to take care of in Edison, the next town over, a place I once lived and still frequented the markets for their exotic fruits.  

 

As I was driving up the main road, I could see a person walking up ahead about half a mile or so away. He was a tall, lean man about 6’ 2” and I guessed he might have been in his late forties or early fifties. He was wearing a long, beige trench coat and was pulling a suitcase behind him. He also carried a bag in his other hand. 

 

As I drove closer, I noticed something about the way he walked. His frame was bent forward, and he walked with a steady but slow gait. I could tell he was more than tired. Somewhere within myself, I was being told to stop and offer this man a ride. 

 

The closer I got I knew I had to make a quick decision. Do I stop for him or not? I started applying the breaks to slow down, all the while questioning my myself about what to do. Suddenly, following my instincts, I made my decision. I drove slowly past the man and came to a complete stop.

 

Rolling down the window of the passenger side, I asked “Sir, would you like a ride to where you’re going?”

 

“Yes, yes, thank you,” he responded with a thick accent. I assumed it could be Russian. Identifying accents and their origin is an art I developed from working in retail. I worked with a diverse clientele. Clients would smile a happy smile, when I guessed where they were from originally.

 

I introduced myself as I put the car in drive. 

 

“Where are you going?” I asked, as he settled in. 

 

He handed me a piece of crumpled paper he took out of his pocket. It had a street address in Edison printed on it. “My name is George. I am a Scientist from Russia,” he spoke in his thick accent. “I came in at JFK airport from Russia and took the train to Edison.” 

 

I kept driving and looking for the street. George told me it was off the main road we were on. However, I got to the end of the town, but there was no such named street as shown on the sheet of paper.

 

“Are you sure the street is off this road?” I asked. “We are now nearing the next town over, and I haven’t seen it.”

 

“Yes, it’s here” 

 

George’s response was a sure indicator he had no idea where he was going. I thought, it’s up to me to find this place. I was fascinated, though, that he traveled this far to an unfamiliar country without having the specifics how to get to his intended destination. 

 

As we were about to leave the town, I told him the street was not in the direction we were headed. I then stopped at a service station and purchased a map. The map showed the street we were searching for was on the opposite side of town, which was about a twenty-five-minute drive away. I had only one option I could think of and that was to bring him to the address. So, off we went. 

 

At some point during the ride, he took out a stop watch from the bag he was holding on his lap, and handed it to me. “This gift is for you,” he said.

 

I initially declined the gift, telling him it was not necessary. However, he insisted I should have it. He showed me many more objects in his bag, items he brought as gifts. I saw bottles of vodka among them. I then accepted the watch, thanked him and placed it in the console. 

 

We arrived at the destination about twenty-five minutes later. I accompanied George to the home. It was in a townhouse development. George rang the doorbell. After a few minutes, he knocked on the door. There was no response. We stood there for a few minutes longer. It appeared no-one was at the home. As we waited, George shared that the people who lived at the home were just his contacts. He did not know them personally, and they were not expecting him. Interesting!

 

I somehow felt responsible for George. I could not leave him to fend for himself. I knocked on the contact’s neighbor’s door, and when a woman answered, I introduced myself and George. I shared George’s story and asked would she put him up until her neighbor returned. She agreed to do so, and took George in. I gave him my phone number and asked that he contact me when he was settled in. I wanted to know how he made out.

 

After we said our goodbyes, I sat in my car to absorb the experience. It was surreal. 

My heart was full that I was able to help this stranger. I wondered had I not stopped for him, how would he have gotten to his destination? I wondered if anyone else would have done the same. I know I was grateful for the opportunity. 

 

On my way back home, I had an overwhelming feeling of joy. A feeling I could not articulate until recently when I came across this great word ‘eudaimonia’ which is described as a more powerful feeling than happiness. I felt it many times before when volunteering or just doing something random for a stranger. The feeling could be described as been lifted off the ground by a surge of energy or a rush of adrenaline. 

 

About a week after meeting George, he called to let me know he had reached his final destination. He was settled in Ithaca, New York. He found employment there.

 

Many years later, as I held the watch in my hand, I thought of that random act of kindness. And I thought of George. I wondered how had he fared living in the U.S.

 

George’s story is a reminder to listen to our inner voice, that quiet voice that reaches out and nudges us to see opportunities to serve others; the “thank you’s” you receive are a blessing like no other. They really are.

About the author  

Sheila’s writing style can best be categorized as Visual Poetry, blending emotion and vision into a poem or story of color. Her poems and short stories are featured at Spillwords Publications, Literary Yard, Sweety Cat Press Anthology, I, The Writer, and Poetica2 series.

 

 

Sunday, 24 January 2021

Finality

 by  Phyllis Souza

luke-warm water 

 — can hear the sounds of compressors from the refrigerated trailers.

   Inside the hospital, legs dangle over the side of a bed. Feet search for warmth and find not a fuzzy throw but a cold tile floor.

   Sickness seeps through skin, a foul fever, a runny nose, and choking on tasteless snot.

   Lips crack, tears burn, head swims.

   No one helps. Only the walls hear the death rattle from lungs gasping for air.

— it wasn't a hoax. 

   Too late. The party is over.

 About the author  

Phyllis Souza lives in Northern California and is retired from a long real estate career. She's taken several on-line writing classes. Her stories have been published in Café Lit, The Raven Perch, Spillwords, Scarlet Leaf Review and Friday Flash Fiction.

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Enquiring Minds

 

by Dawn Knox

vegetable smoothie

 

‘What d’you have to do with it?’ the young boy asked, picking at the thin, brown papery covering.

The older girl nibbled her lower lip, ‘I think you pull all that paper off,’ she said.

‘It’s really difficult, I can’t get it all off.’

‘Try giving it a wash.’

The boy held it under the tap. ‘D’you think that’s clean enough?’

‘It’ll probably do.’

‘Is it ready now?’ he asked.

The girl shrugged.

The boy sank his teeth into it, taking a large bite.

‘It’s revolting!’ he spluttered, spitting out the mouthful and dropping the onion on the floor.

 

About the author 

Dawn’s blog - https://dawnknox.com/

Friday, 22 January 2021

The Wife

 

by P. A. Westgate

a glass of Champagne

 ‘Well, that really could have gone better.’ Alex had said. A typically calm understated comment. Alex is John’s Parliamentary Assistant and calm understatement is his forte. If you can keep your head when all about you, and so on and so forth.  But he was right. Indeed it was difficult to see how it could have gone any more badly.

Truth be told, I hadn’t been looking forward to the reception. It was Alex’s idea of course. Sort of part celebration, part reassuring the masses he’d explained. I don’t think John was that keen. Naturally, I wasn’t consulted. My approval was assumed and simply rolled out as an additional argument. ‘I’m sure that Carol will agree with me on this’ and so on.

The reason for the reception was that John had been given a Ministerial role some months earlier. Quite a senior one, which was surprising as, other than an undistinguished stint as a Junior Minister, he had done nothing of note. It was necessary, Alex had argued, to reassure the local Constituency Party that he’d still be working on constituents’ concerns. Constituents’ concerns being Alex’s own primary concern. So a small drinks reception was proposed. An occasion for John to press the flesh and so forth. Just the party faithful of course. The local Party Chairman and the small army of volunteers who worked so tirelessly come election time.

We had had warning. Even before the papers had arrived, Alex’s press contacts had been in touch. How many times had he been told, had I told him, ‘Don’t put anything in an e-mail that you don’t wish to see on tomorrow’s front page.’ And there it was, in all the Sunday’s.

To be fair, at any other time it might have passed, not exactly unnoticed, but deemed not worthy of promotion above other stories. But a combination of there being no other political news of note and a desire to embarrass a Government already under fire had tipped the balance. The e-mails appeared to show – no not appeared to, they were actually quite unequivocal – to show John pressuring some junior official and being quite blatantly threatening. Surely, the papers declared, this didn’t so much break the Ministerial code as smash it to pieces.

They, the Principle Private Secretaries that is, hand out pre-prepared advice for such situations. A sort of FAQ sheet. John could, for example, talk about ‘a poor choice of words’ or that ‘taken in the right context’ and that ‘it had never been his intention’ and so on.

No one at the reception had been ill-mannered enough to raise it except the journalist - who it transpired had actually been invited, Alex’s idea of course - had planted himself in front of John brandishing the newspapers. ‘Would the Minister care to comment?’

The stand-up row had lasted five minutes before Alex had managed to shut John up and usher the journalist away with the promise of a more in-depth briefing later. The photographer, happily clicking away, hadn’t helped.

 


It was embarrassing not to say a little humiliating. Apparently, there was a briefing paper for this as well. Two, in fact. One for John and one for me. More FAQs. ‘Was I sticking by my husband?’, ‘Had this damaged my trust in him?’, ‘Was I, in fact, considering divorcing him’. All good questions I had to admit. ‘No’, ‘Yes’ and ‘Absolutely’, crossed my mind but the prepared sheet did not offer these answers.

He could have chosen a supermodel or some gorgeous sex symbol, all tits and bum. Someone who looked good straddling a chair perhaps. Someone his colleagues might be envious of behind their hands. But no, instead of a supermodel he chose a supermarket checkout girl. That’s not even a skilled job these days. God knows how he met her. I don’t think he’s ever been in a supermarket. Certainly not since he became an MP. Far too much risk of meeting a constituent, a real person. Strangely for such a public role, some MPs and nearly all Ministers don’t quite know what to do when confronted with real people.

The most important thing, the paper had concluded, was to minimise any embarrassment to the Government and any embarrassment to the Prime Minister. I did point out that this was actually two things and had asked, in a spirit of genuine enquiry, if there was any priority between the two, if push came to shove as it were. This was met with the sort of fixed smile as if I’d asked who had farted.

The press conference, on the steps of our London house, was thankfully brief and, I gather, went much as these things usually do. John made his apology. Lapse of judgement, carried away by the moment, regrets that he’d let the Prime Minister down, the Country down and his dear wife down. I noted the order. I fielded the few questions addressed directly to me and which seemed to be covered quite adequately by the FAQ sheet.

Of course, he will have to resign. In fact, a draft resignation letter had been included in the briefing pack. No one survives a sex scandal, however laughable it may be. This is Britain after all. A pity he wasn’t a Minister in the French Government. Having at least one mistress under your belt, so to speak, seems almost a requirement for office.

As well as his current appointment this has finished his ministerial career for the foreseeable future if not forever. Not because he’d likely be rubbish at the job - after all that’s never been a barrier to advancement and no one gets sacked for making a hash of things -  or even the regrettable jack of judgement with the shop girl. Others similarly embarrassed have simply kept their heads down until someone else’s scandal focuses attention elsewhere. No, it was simply that the PM has more than enough ‘yes men’ available for Cabinet posts.

 

 

The fuss has subsided now. John is yesterday’s news. Life has settled down here, for now at least. John, of course, doesn’t have his ministerial responsibilities any more, but I never thought that was important to him. It was merely a necessary step towards the ultimate prize. I sometimes wonder if he wouldn’t have been a better MP and a better Minister if he’d devoted as much energy to those roles as to his own advancement.

It wasn’t so much that he was having an affair as that he’d taken so little trouble to hide it from me. A single telephone call had told me that he wasn’t where he was supposed to be and let the cat out of the bag as it were. It was as if I was of so little consequence that I didn’t merit even a minimum of decent lying. I suppose I felt what most betrayed wives feel. I was upset, I felt hurt, I wondered if it had been my fault, had I not been a good enough wife and so on. I’d sacrificed my life and career for his and attended countless boring receptions, dinners and events over the years. I’d been a bloody wonderful wife.

Everyone has been very kind, of course. ‘You’ve been so brave’ and ‘John doesn’t deserve you.’ The latter, at least, was certainly true.

I had hoped that the leaked e-mails would have been enough. When the Prime Minister had said that John had not broken any rules and that he had his full support I thought that was it, job done as it were. In the old days this would have meant that John had better draft his resignation letter pretty quickly before someone did it for him. Now, of course, it means exactly what it says and if anything put John in a stronger position. Also, I’d forgotten how short the public’s collective memory is and before too long the affair had been forgotten.

I was therefore forced to reveal, anonymously, to a suitable journalist – actually the one he’d taken to task at the reception and who had almost wet himself with excitement - John’s affair with little Miss Checkout. This, naturally, made me look a little pathetic and an object of pity but it did allow me to tell the local Party Chairman, somewhat tearfully, of all John’s misdeeds and general appalling behaviour towards me. It was quite a performance, if I say so myself, if largely fictitious. But by the end of it the Chairman would have believed John capable of anything and thought what an absolute swine he was.

The Chairman is very keen on family values in public life. I’ve heard that John will not be selected as the Party’s candidate for the next election. When I start divorce proceedings I’m confident that he’ll be asked to resign his seat well ahead of that.

To misquote Alex, it really couldn’t have gone better.

 

About the author

Paul is an enthusiastic but sporadic writer. He lives quietly in his native Essex.