Friday 31 December 2021

Christmas Dip


by Niall Crowley


Kilbrittain mass, Coolmain dip, and a full Irish, that’s Christmas morning. Always had been, and, it appears, would always have to be. She sits stolid in the car, watching the big swim from above. The path is deemed treacherous at her age, the weather too chill. Neighbours wave and shout good wishes. None stop to chat.

A spread of dappled sand and green weed. Pasty bodies hop from one foot to the other, stretched along the lip of the sea. Disembodied voices, bursts of laughter, and an array of Santa hats. Some have taken to the water, her two among them.

Swimmers come in types, to her mind. There’s the showboat. All splash, hurtling into freezing tides, surfacing with howls of faux pain. That’s Mary, her eldest. Pure bluster, successful but alone. There’s the dawdler. Unsure, hunched over and waist deep, hands patting at the ripples. Pat, her second. Still with his childhood sweetheart, no ambition beyond clerical ranks.

Their visits are sporadic, but Christmas is obligatory. The loss was intense when they moved away, too early. Loneliness assailed, and she had curled up tight into its embrace. She knows that nastiness seeping out as she watches them, sadness turns to anger whenever they arrive. Maybe it’s just to protect. There’s the flailer, too. Arms akimbo, beating at the water, all movement and no momentum. That would be her if she still swam. Trapped and angry, a volatile mix for Christmas.

About the author 

Niall Crowley writes and works on equality and human rights, based in Ireland. His fiction has been published by The Galway Review, Spillwords, and The Writers Club. He was shortlisted for the From the Well short story competition, of Cork County Council Library and Arts Service in 2021.

Thursday 30 December 2021

The Crispin Chronicles 25 The Eternal Flame



by Dawn Knox

chili vodka

Previously: The wedding festivities continue but now, Nina is waiting for the Eternal Flame to be lit by an archer with a flaming arrow…



The Eternal Flame


To Crispin’s embarrassment, Nina took every opportunity to praise him for his organisation of the wedding, and even worse, Queenie and Granny were now following suit after the recovery of the dentures. It seemed every time he turned around, Granny was there with the Wooden Robin tucked under her arm, grinning maniacally at him displaying her unnervingly mobile teeth. Their alarming range of movements meant they appeared to be permanently falling out and Crispin’s eyes were drawn to them, to see what sort of manoeuvre they would perform next. He managed to give her the slip during the hog roast, even though it meant he was trapped next to Lulu at the table. Lulu had swapped her name card with that of Wendy so she could sit next to the Best Elf, and Wendy didn’t complain because it meant she was sitting next to Sylvester.

Crispin checked his watch and thought longingly of the rucksack he’d hidden in the wardrobe that morning. Had it merely been that morning? It seemed like days ago. But at least so far, the wedding had gone well. In fact, it had gone better than well. The meal had been delicious and very soon, it would be time for Crispin to announce the speeches.

Nina signalled that it was indeed time and Crispin stood up and tapped his wine glass with a spoon until the hubbub died. “I’d like to call upon the bridegroom to—”

One of the Fairies stood up and started to sing a plaintive little song and Crispin was about to tap the wine glass again when two others stood up and started singing. Suddenly, two more rose, joined in with the song and then began to jive. The tempo picked up and another group of Fairies stood up and joined in.

With relief, Crispin realised the flash mob had started performing and with even more relief, he saw that the Fairies were fully dressed. A few seats along, Nina had her sausage-pack hands clasped together in delight and from time to time she pointed out something to Doggett, Queenie or Granny. Her eyes were shining and Crispin was genuinely pleased she was enjoying her day. Everyone was now clapping in time to the music as the Fairies performed their finale and then melted away back to their seats. The audience cheered and whistled and Crispin mentally ticked ‘Flash Dance’ off his list. It was too early to congratulate himself just yet but Crispin was very pleased with how the day was going. Not only had he hit all his targets so far but he’d also hit a few he hadn’t even aimed at. Ticking off the flash mob item reminded him that Nina had requested an Eternal Flame and he wondered whether, at this late hour, something could be arranged. Of course, no one would be able to shoot a flaming arrow because no one in the Garden had an arrow to set fire to—much less a bow to shoot it from. But he might be able to set up a bonfire. He’d noticed Big Po had put some dead wood in the incinerator a few days ago and he was sure that it would burn quite merrily for a while. It wouldn’t be eternal but that was probably a good thing anyway. Who wanted smoke drifting over the Garden from now to eternity?

Crispin found Sylvester and asked if he could put some paper in the incinerator so that it would catch fire easily and then he had a word with Doggett, who would definitely be able to provide a spark.

“Speech! Speech!” the guests chanted and Crispin obliged with a short piece he’d agonised over for several evenings. Doggett set fire to his speech and had to ad-lib but he managed to thank all the guests and to flatter Nina, Queenie and Granny, so everyone was happy. After several toasts and the cutting of Mrs Bartrum’s wonderfully colourful cake, it was time for the Maypole dancing. With arms crossed over her chest to show she meant business, Queenie hovered near the dancers, turning away any Fairies who asked to join in. Granny looked equally determined that the innocent country dancing around the Maypole was not going to be sullied by any flighty Fairy folk, despite not being able to cross her arms because the Wooden Robin was tucked under one arm and in her other hand, she held an enormous plastic bag full of pink stuff. Her loose-fitting dentures now fit snugly inside her mouth, glued in place with some of Wendy’s candyfloss, whose adhesive strength could be favourably compared to that of super-strength glue. Luckily for Crispin, Lulu had eaten quite a lot of the candyfloss before anyone had noticed its bonding qualities and she’d been quiet for some time while she worried the pink goo in her mouth with her tongue and tried to dislodge it. Crispin took the opportunity to slip away from her and to rest his eardrums and his arm, which she kept grabbing.

And then before Crispin knew it, the first part of the special day was over and everyone was heading home to put on their costumes for the masked ball.


“Tights?” said Sylvester, aghast, “I’m not wearing tights!”

“Fine,” said Crispin wearily. He’d been dreading this moment since the costumes had arrived a few days ago. “Well, you’ll just have to go bare-legged then.”

“I’ll have trousers on… won’t I?”

“Breeches,” said Crispin “and they finish at your knees. So, it’s up to you if you wear the tights or not.”

“Huh!” Sylvester grabbed the box containing the costume, stomped to his bedroom and opened the door.

“Ugh!” he said, “I’d forgotten about the Doves.” He slammed the door and made for the bathroom. The bathroom door slammed.

Crispin went into his bedroom. He wasn’t happy about wearing the costume either but the thought that soon, he could wear exactly what he liked soothed him. He checked the rucksack in the wardrobe and added a few more pairs of socks and pants, Bella’s feather and a small framed photograph of Sylvester.

Despite his earlier misgivings about the costume, Crispin was quite impressed with his reflection in the hall mirror. He looked every inch the eighteenth-century Elf.

“Aargh!” shouted Sylvester from the bathroom. Something hit the wall and there was the tinkle of glass, “Whoops.”

“What are you doing in there?” shouted Crispin.

“These tights are too small.”

“Well, they’re the same size as mine and they fit. Come out so I can see.”

A scowling Sylvester emerged from the bathroom. He had the lace-ruffled shirt and long coat on, as well as the breeches and from his hands, dangled what looked like two long, deflated balloons.

“They definitely don’t fit.”

Crispin looked at his legs, “You realise the tights go on first and then the breeches go on top, don’t you?”

“Huh!” Sylvester slammed the bathroom door again. A lot of grunting and grumbling followed before he emerged fully dressed with his tights under his breeches.

“I look ridiculous!”

“Put this on,” Crispin said, handing him an elaborate purple and gold mask “and no one will know it’s you.”

Crispin helped tie the mask’s ribbons at the back of Sylvester’s head and then fitted his own mask. As they put on their full-length cloaks in the hall, Crispin noticed Sylvester turning this way and that, admiring his reflection in the mirror and he had to admit that Sylvester looked very dashing.

“Will everyone be wearing eighteenth-century clothes like us?” Sylvester asked.

“I think so although I expect Jubbly will do something a bit different because… well, because he’s Jubbly. Why d’you ask?”

“I was trying to imagine what everyone will look like.”

“Anyone in particular? Such as the Fairies?”

“Don’t be so stupid!” said Sylvester crossly.

“Then why are you blushing?”

“Well, because… because you’ve made me dress up in this ridiculous costume, that’s why. Anyway, how d’you know I’m blushing? I’ve got a mask on.”

“There’s steam coming out of your ears.” Crispin checked his watch, “Right, I think it’s time to go. Nina won’t be happy if we’re late for the group photographs.”

“We’re going to be photographed dressed like this?” Sylvester asked, aghast.

“No one will know it’s you, behind that mask.”

“No, but they might think you’re me and that would be awful.”



It was taking much longer than normal to get to the clearing where the Maypole had been erected.

“Sylvester, you’re going to put your fingers through those tights if you don’t stop pulling them up. Leave them alone. They’re fine.”

“They don’t feel fine. They keep going wrinkly round my ankles. Now I know how the Wooden Robin feels when his socks keep slipping down.” Sylvester stopped again and pulled the tights up. “I wonder what the Wooden Robin’s costume is like…” and at the thought of him wearing tights, both Elves began to laugh. They were both still chuckling when they arrived at the clearing.

Spanners was busy trying to organise the guests ready to take some group shots. The elaborate costumes were clearly giving him a headache, with the large wigs, masks and headdresses adorned with feathers, obstructing people at the rear. Jubbly in particular was proving quite a problem. The skirt of his eighteenth-century dress was draped over a frame that protruded on either side of him as if he had enormous hips. A gigantic plume rose above his huge, pink wig, blocking everyone behind him.

Spanners suggested he sit on the ground so he was less of an obstruction.

“Not in this dress!” Jubbly said emphatically, “Nor in these shoes.” He poked a foot out below the voluminous folds of his skirt, showing a shoe with such a platform sole; it was hard to imagine how he could walk in them. Spanners nodded sympathetically. It was obvious that anyone wearing shoes such as that and who was then stupid enough to sit on the ground, would need some sort of lifting device to raise them again.

“I could get a few of the chaps to help you up. It’s just that you’re blocking out so many people…”

“Blocking out people?” Sylvester whispered to Crispin, “He’s eclipsing the sun.”

“Shh!” said Crispin sternly.

Finally, Spanners managed some sort of arrangement and by moving people around, he was fairly confident he’d managed to capture everyone’s photo. He announced he’d finished and that the guests could make their way to the Gazebo for the masked ball.

Doggett stepped forward and holding up his hands for silence, he asked everyone to wait where they were because he had a little surprise for Nina, who squealed with delight. There was a lot of whispering and conjecture as he and Crispin left the group and disappeared into the woods, towards the Shed of No Return.


Boggy couldn’t believe his eyes. This Garden was the craziest place he’d ever visited. Ahead of him in a large clearing was a group of people dressed in clothes, the likes of which he’d never seen before. If only he could find the two eco-warriors he’d seen on the tandem, he’d have had more courage, but he was fairly certain they’d been campaigning because he’d stumbled across the Sunken Garden and it was obvious a meeting had taken place. Why else would all the chairs have been set out like that? And he was fairly certain the eco-warriors had been warning people about the threat of carbon footprints because they’d obviously been giving out his leaflets. He’d found them stuck to the ground in a long line. Proof positive that the eco-warriors had wanted the message to remain there for all to see. It was regrettable that many of the leaflets were face down but many more were the right way up, displaying the carbon footprint warnings.

However, there was no sign of his comrades, so he’d have to draw on his inner strength and carry on the campaign on his own. It wasn’t often you found a ready-made audience, even if they were a bunch of weirdos, and Boggy would kick himself if he missed this opportunity to spread the word.

A few seconds later, Boggy was kicking himself for stepping out of the cover of the undergrowth into full view of the strangely-dressed people.

It had all started in such a promising fashion when the large, masked female dressed in white had squealed with delight and declared how wonderful it was to see him. Boggy had never had such a warm reception and he cleared his throat, ready to address the crowd. The white female held up her hands for silence and as everyone turned to him expectantly, someone shouted “Hey, it’s the highway robber!”

With most faces hidden behind masks, Boggy couldn’t tell who’d spoken, but judging by the number of heads that turned to the right, he was fairly sure he’d pinpointed the speaker. It was a flamboyantly dressed lady, with impossibly wide hips who spoke in a very deep, husky Mexican accent. He also had the strangest feeling of déjà vu, as if he’d heard the voice before. She minced determinedly towards him, and if he hadn’t known better, Boggy would have thought she was brandishing her fan as if it were a weapon. He was wondering whether he ought to take evasive action when the lady’s progress was impeded by some obstacle on the ground and she swallow-dived into the grass. There was a lot of confusion as people raced forwards to try to raise her to her feet. Two burly Gnomes tried to get their hands under her shoulders to hoist her up but the side extensions on her skirt were hampering their attempts. The lady, whose voice had deepened considerably, was obviously quite distressed and issued orders from her prostrate position. “Ow! Watch it, you’re treading on my wig,” she yelled, pulling a pink ringlet from under one of her would-be rescuer’s boots. “Stop interfering with my panniers,” she shouted, and everyone jumped backwards with their hands in the air as if to prove their innocence.

“I never touched ‘im. If anyone groped ‘im, it wasn’t me,” said one of the burly Gnomes. The other burly Gnome added “It’s hard to know where any of his bits are under all that flouncy stuff,” poking the skirt’s side extensions.

“I told you not to touch the panniers, you’ll dent them,” shrieked the lady gruffly.

“Oh!” said the first burly Gnome with obvious relief, ‘You said “panniers’, I thought you said… Oh, never mind…” His cheeks reddened.

“What’s a pannier?” a shrill voice asked.

“This.” The burly Gnome pointed a large finger at the skirt’s side extensions.

“I told you to leave the panniers alone,” screeched the lady.

Finally, she was helped to her feet, by which time, Boggy was totally confused and had been completely forgotten, except by the lady in white.

“So, where’s it going to be?” she asked Boggy.


“The Eternal Flame, of course.”

“Umm…” What on earth was she talking about? But she looked so eager, Boggy didn’t feel he could let her down. “Umm…” he said again and then he had it. It must be a clue, like in a crossword. The “Eternal Flame” could only be one thing—the sun. Or could it? He crossed his fingers and hoped it was. “Umm… Over there?” he suggested uncertainly, pointing at the reddening sun which was beginning to sink behind the treetops.

It appeared he was right because the lady in white clasped her rather large hands to her very large bosom and looked rapturously at him.

“Wonderful!” she said and then shouting for everyone’s attention, she pointed out where they needed to look.

How lovely, thought Boggy for people to be so appreciative of the sunset. As soon as the spectacle was over, Boggy would inform them all about the dangers of carbon footprints and people such as these who were obviously in tune with nature, would listen and join his cause. He felt a special camaraderie with these people, even if their dress sense was rather dubious.

He suddenly became aware that his eyes were on the sunset while everyone else’s eyes were on him.

“Well?” said the lady in white, tapping her foot, “Could you do it now, please, we’ve got a ball to attend.”


“Come on, don’t be shy,” she said, “now, do you need a match?”

“A match?”

“Yes, for the arrow.”


“Yes. Look, you may have all night but we’ve got to get going and Doggett and Crispin are waiting.”

“Doggett and Crispin?”

“If you repeat anything else that I say, I may be forced to take action. And trust me, it will hurt. Now, if you aren’t going to shoot a flaming arrow, pass the bow over, so someone else can. Do I have any volunteers?” she shouted to the crowd.

There suddenly seemed to be quite a lot more distance between her and the others. Boggy wished that there was much more space between him and the lady in white, but she had a firm grip on his shoulder.


As the sun disappeared behind the trees, the lady in white’s patience ran out.

“Take an arrow out of that quiver, put it in the bow and shoot. Got it? Good. Because if you don’t, I may be forced to snap that bow in two and make you eat it.”

There was no mistaking the determination in her voice.

The bow was slung over his body, more to keep his jacket done up, because the buttons had come off than anything else but he took it off and with shaking hands withdrew an arrow from his quiver.

“Even I know an arrow goes in the other way round,” she said scathingly, “and doesn’t it need to be alight? And don’t say ‘Umm’.”

“Err, I don’t think so.”

“Will it light up automatically when the arrow hits it?”

“Yes,” said Boggy. He had no idea what was going on but he knew if he didn’t fire an arrow… well, he didn’t want to think about it and it seemed sensible to agree with anything the lady said.

Aiming towards the sunset, he let an arrow fly. It twanged into a tree trunk at the edge of the clearing.

“Just getting my sights,” he squeaked when he realised that the lady in white wasn’t satisfied.

With trembling fingers, he removed the remaining arrow from the quiver, placed it in the bow, drew back the string, aimed high and closed his eyes.

“Oooh!” said the crowd and Boggy opened his eyes in time to see the arrow soar over the treetops.

There was a pause and someone whispered “I think he’s missed…” Then suddenly, there was a terrific whoosh from behind. Everyone swung around and there, in the opposite direction, near the Shed of No Return, was a blazing fire.

The crowd cheered and several of those close enough patted Boggy on the back and demanded to know how he’d done it.

At the first opportunity, Boggy crept away. He’d worry about the danger of carbon footprints tomorrow. Right now, he longed to be anywhere but this Garden. He packed his shopping trolley and set off. As far as he was concerned, carbon feet could stamp their footprints over every one of the crazy inhabitants of this crazy place and he wouldn’t be bothered.


“This is brilliant,” said Doggett gleefully, “We haven’t got an archer with a flaming arrow but I know Nina’s going to love it.”

It had taken them longer to get to the incinerator near the Shed of No Return than expected because their progress had been hampered by the costumes. One of the buckles had fallen off Crispin’s boot and he’d had to backtrack to find it, then Doggett announced his breeches were chafing his legs and finished the rest of the journey walking with bandy legs.

The incinerator was piled high with wood and bits of screwed up paper, as Sylvester had promised. There was also the smell of petrol, which wasn’t too surprising as he’d told Crispin he’d put a drop of Big Po’s lawnmower petrol on the fire because some of the wood was wet and he was afraid it wouldn’t light.

“A drop? You’re sure it was no more than a drop?” Crispin had queried.

“Oh, yes,” Sylvester had replied although it had worried Crispin that he wouldn’t make eye contact.

Just in case Sylvester’s idea of a ‘drop’ differed significantly from his, Crispin found a dry stick and holding it close to Doggett, he managed to light it with a random spark, then tossed it into the incinerator. This turned out to be a sensible precaution because as he’d suspected, Sylvester’s idea of a ‘drop of petrol’ turned out to be appreciably more than one would normally add to a bonfire. The fumes emanating from the incinerator ignited while the stick was still mid-air and the explosion blew Doggett and Crispin backwards into the bushes.

“Nina’s going to love it!” said Doggett excitedly, not having realised how much danger he’d been in when he’d wandered close to the incinerator earlier.

“Let’s go,” said Crispin who couldn’t imagine the trouble he’d be in with Nina if he returned her new husband in anything less than pristine condition. He brushed the leaves and twigs out of Doggett’s wig.

By the time the bridegroom and his Best Elf had returned to the clearing, the fire in the incinerator was roaring furiously. Everyone was cheering and Nina thanked them for arranging such a wonderful surprise.

“Oh, Crispin, you’re so clever! Where did you find that funny, little archer? He fired an arrow that way,” she said pointing towards the sunset “and he lit up the fire over there,” she pointed in the opposite direction, at the inferno near the Shed of No Return, “It was so clever and he made it look like he didn’t know what he was doing but—”

Before Nina could finish, there was another explosion from the incinerator and a ball of fire shot into the sky. It hung there glowing for a second or two before disintegrating in a blaze of colourful stars.

“Ooh! Aah!” gasped the crowd.

Crispin grabbed Sylvester by the lacy ruff. “Not so fast! I thought you only put a drop of petrol in the incinerator.”

“I did!”

“Well, it nearly blew Doggett and me out of the Garden. And what did you put in there that’s going up like fireworks?”

“No idea,” said Sylvester sheepishly, “nothing to do with me.”

“Ooh! Aah!” roared the crowd as another fusillade of stars lit up the darkening sky.


About the author 

Dawn’s two previous books in the ‘Chronicles Chronicles’ series are ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’ and ‘The Macaroon Chronicles’ both published by Chapeltown Publishing.

You can follow her here on
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Amazon Author:


The Crispin Chronicles

Links to the previous chapters:

Chapter 1 – Her Ladyship’s Garden -

Chapter 2 – The Letter from OFSGAR -

Chapter 3 -The Sweet Smell of Success -

Chapter 4 – A Visit from Peggy the Pram -


Chapter 5 – Nightly Disturbances -


Chapter 6 – Just Desserts -


Chapter 7 – A Little Girl at Large -


Chapter 8 – The Halloween Party -


Chapter 9 – A Glimmer of an Idea -


Chapter 10 – Doggett Sees the Light -


Chapter 11 – Doggett’s Blues –


Chapter 12 – A Genie out of the Bottle -


Chapter 13 – The Christmas Beast -


Chapter 14 – Bellarella -


Chapter 15 – The Stag Omen -


Chapter 16 – The Wedding Carriage -


Chapter 17 – A Wild Stag Night -


Chapter 18 – Wedding Preparations -


Chapter 19 – Even More Wedding Preparations -


Chapter 20 – One More Sleep -


Chapter 21 – The Wedding Dawn -


Chapter 22 – The Wedding Ceremony –


Chapter 23 – Married at Last –


Chapter 24 – The Vengeful Butterfly -

Wednesday 29 December 2021

Fatman and Bobin


by Clive Gresswell

tonic water

Holy-Furr Fatman said to Bobin. you mean we can’t go out if there’s any villains needing capture because of the pandemic. Then Fatman said it again. Just for effect and emphasis. You know like he and Bobin did with their speech bubbles like THWACK and BAM and so on and so forth and etc. Fatman decided he had to give Bobin a bit of encouragement man to eerr boy. “Well, there’s still lots of good things we can do indoors in The Fatcave,” he told his enthusiastic young side-kick. But his pep-talk was only half-hearted because he didn’t really believe it. Lots of the other comic superheroes were feeling pretty fed-up and sick too. Most were concerned that the Supervillains would ignore Government medical advice to stay indoors because of the pandemic. It was just asking for trouble to ban superheroes from the comic book streets when crooks such as The Poker, The Didler and even Dr Orange would just walk round grabbing whatever they wanted from the supermarkets, shops, chemists and restaurants. Holy Wow!, thought Fatman, it didn’t bear thinking about, but he didn’t say it aloud this time. Surely if they wore some sort of PPE under their super-costumes they could still help avert total riots and lawlessness. They could keep their distance and not touch members of the public and that would be fine thought the crusader. Bobin reminded him that his cape would need disinfecting when they got back to the Fat Cave at Clay Manor as there would be Covid all over it. Fatman shrugged and stuck his tongue out in a completely immature way then giggled. Bobin had noticed he’d been doing a lot of out of character things like this lately and he wondered once again, and not for the first time, if his guardian was fully Okay in the head. “Sure I am, don’t worry so much son. Lighten up. Live a bit dangerously,” Bobin heard Fatman say in his ear.

Bobin asked what they would they do if the villains started to rampage through Wratham or any other towns? “Would we go or would we stay now,” he said.

Fatman gasped. Either they or the villains might be carrying the virus anyway and it gave him a headache thinking about it all. Hopefully not with a fever or a cough. “I don’t know what to do for the best, which isn’t like me at all,” said Fatman who had suddenly changed stealthily into his Sam Wayne clothes. All of the other superheroes on seeing Sam in his plain clothes in a television charity special  shrugged and changed back to their own closely guarded secret identities too. Thick Rayson was thinking: “When it comes down to it they’re all a bunch of cowards now. No more heroes anymore.”

He started to write these words to a tune going round in his head for ‘Fatman The Musical’ which had been commissioned by some arts’ channel or other. Bobin was just getting into writing a new end in which there really were no more heroes.

About the author 

Clive enjoys writing metafictions and absurdist stories. He lives in Luton, UK, and is also a well-published poet. His latest poetry books are with erbacce-press. He has an MA and a BA in Creative Writing.

Tuesday 28 December 2021

Uncle Max’s Gift


              by Nadja Maril 


What color blue was it?  Oriental Azure. An exotic name.  The paint she’d chosen for the walls matched the carpet perfectly. A professional decorator couldn’t have done any better.

‘Brilliant,’ her husband Marc said. ‘Well done.’

The inspiration had been the Gouda pottery inherited from Uncle Max.

‘I had the time,  now that the children are gone,’ she said. ‘ The house needed an update.’

Uncle Max.  How many years since he died?  ‘Let me tell you about this pottery.’ Bethany remembered his voice and the stories he’d tell her each time she  reached out to touch the bowl on the coffee table. The bright colors had been irresistible. She’d been nine and he let her hold the bowl in her lap.

‘It was made years ago, he said, ‘in Holland, in the same town where they make Gouda cheese. At factories where all the workers wore wooden shoes.’

‘Wooden shoes?’ she’d said. ‘You’re making this up.’

‘No, it’s true,’ he’d said. ‘They used to wear wooden shoes in Holland because they were cheap and easy to make.’

That was Uncle Max, always telling stories.  And when he knew he didn’t have long to live he’d said, ‘I want you to have those pieces of Gouda pottery you always liked so you can remember those stories I used to tell you.  Maybe you’ll tell them to someone else. ‘

She thought of his vivid blue eyes that crinkled at the edges when he laughed and a lump began to form in her throat. Even now, years later she still missed him.   She looked at the vibrant green pottery decorated with yellow, blue and red. An artist comfortable with rough edges had imprecisely executed the bright designs.  The decoration made no attempt to be fine and elegant. It was the way she liked to dress—in bright colors, bohemian, youthful.

   She gathered the stack of junk mail accumulated during the week, before leaving for work. Among the items for recycling was another membership invitation from AARP. She had no intention of retiring.

‘Meow,’ Cassandra, her tabby rubbed up against the bottom of the pottery shelf.

‘Careful. Careful,’ Bethany said. ‘You might break something.’ And then she remembered a piece was already broken.

You couldn’t see it. She’d hidden the defect, the way she’d placed it on the shelf. One of the Gouda pottery vases had a crack in it.

During the delivery of the new carpet, one of the workers had banged into the cupboard. Bad luck. Stupid.

Now one of the large matching vases was damaged. A one inch chip merged into a seven inch crack that ran vertically towards the base.  But when she positioned the vase back on the freshly painted shelf, with the good side facing outwards, it looked perfect.

But she knew. Some days when she thought about the damaged vase. It made her feel sad. It was as if she’d let Uncle Max down even though he’d say, ‘it’s an object. You are the one who is important.’ She considered getting rid of it, even throwing it in the trash, but that would be admitting it was broken.

On her way out the door, she quickly glanced at herself in the mirror. By some trick of the light, her strawberry blonde hair today looked gray. And the dress she’d thought flattering made her look fat.

There was that meeting today with her boss. Maybe she should change her dress. No, she didn’t want to be late.  She looked fine, just feeling a little self-conscious.

*     *     *

‘Roses again?’ She said to Cindy, the young redhead, sitting behind the front desk.  ‘Another admirer?

Bethany wrote her name and arrival time on the login sheet.

Cindy blushed. ‘Can you meet with Mr. Ambersley after lunch?’

‘I thought our meeting was this morning, but sure okay. ‘Did he want me to print out my projections?’

Cindy shrugged. ‘Don’t know,’ she said.

Bethany looked around to see who was at their desks. Donna, a member of her projects team, smiled at her and held out a box of donuts.

‘No thank you,’ Bethany said.

At her own computer while opening emails, her mind shifted from thoughts of new home improvement projects to organizing a baby shower for Ralph, another staff member, who’d recently adopted an infant. Lunch was eaten at her desk, yogurt and an apple. She gathered her files for the meeting.

‘Bethany,’ Mr. Ambersley got up from his desk. He was wearing one of those European fitted shirts, preferred by the younger set  and his thick dark hair was closely cropped. A new style? He shook her hand with a weak, damp grip that caused her to immediately release her hold, wishing she had somewhere to wipe away his sweat.  She glanced at her own hands—when had they gotten so wrinkled?

They both sat down. Instead of meeting her gaze, Mr. Ambersley stared at a stack of papers on his desk and cleared his throat. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said.

‘Sorry about what?’ she asked.

‘There’s going to be some changes. We’ll be eliminating your position. Reorganizing.’

The room started to blur as she struggled to comprehend the words he’d just spoken.

‘We’re combining departments. Not that your work isn’t good, but we’ll be saving money and…’

Her throat started to constrict.  She grasped for an idea.  Something to say. But if she was even able to emit a sound what was there to say?

She’d completely misread the signs.  Living in some kind of fantasy world. How could she be so stupid?  Last week he’d asked her for an update on her budget. He’d asked specific questions about expenses.  She could feel her heart pound. Her head throbbed. Her ears buzzed. She’d been a fool.

‘Now I want you to know,’ he was telling her, ‘that none of this is your fault. It’s just inevitable for a business to survive, we’ve got to streamline expenses. I’ll be happy to give you whatever you need for a reference. You’ve been working here nine years and we’ll be providing a severance package, nine weeks full salary.’

She thought about the staff members she’d trained. ‘Are you laying off Ralph and Donna too?’

‘They’ll be part of the re-organized team,’ he said.

The apple and yogurt she’d eaten earlier started to heat up inside her gut. Her limbs felt numb.

‘You can stop by on Monday to pick up your things at the front desk,’ her boss said. ‘We’ll have everything boxed up for you. It’s easier this way.’

‘I’m sure it is,’ she replied in a low voice, ‘for you.’ She gritted her teeth and turned away, biting down hard on her tongue. She might need the young fart’s recommendation. As much as she wanted to tell him what she was feeling, her mouth needed to stay shut.

Bethany looked at no one as she walked back to get her purse and coat.  Everyone must know by now she’d lost her job. They’d  be staring at her.  Before someone was called to escort her out, she walked down to the elevator one floor below. She called her husband from the car. 

 ‘I’ll leave right now,’ he said, ‘I’ll come help you pack your things.’

‘No you don’t understand. They wanted me out of the building—immediately. They’ll pack me up. It’s the corporate way,’ she said.

‘The jerks,’ he said. ‘I’ll be home soon and I’ll take you to dinner.’

‘I don’t think I’ve much of an appetite, but maybe some alcohol will do.’

The wine made it easy for Bethany to fall asleep, but one hour later she was awake. Stretched out under the soft quilt, she could hear her husband’s heavy breathing.  Companies didn’t like to hire older people. Experience and loyalty had little value.  Face it, she was now a ‘has been.’

Then she remembered their plans for Saturday night. Tomorrow. They had VIP tickets for the hospital fundraiser. She’d arranged the Tech Solutions sponsorship. The hospital’s development people would expect her to be there, and why shouldn’t she attend? Maybe she’d score a lead for a new job.

The next morning she reached for her telephone and made a call to the beauty parlor. ‘Do you have any openings for a shampoo and style?’ she asked.

She stopped at the café up the street, to grab a Café Americano. Waiting for her order, she studied the other patrons. They were smiling and chatting. But what was really going on inside their heads? Had anyone else just lost his or her job?

Her hands trembled as she pulled out her card to pay the bill. She felt the server staring at her. Reluctantly she reached in her pocket for loose change and added a dollar tip. The server was young. Bethany could be her mother.                                                                                     

*    *   *

As soon as she stepped inside her house, she paused to admire her reflection in the mirror. She was glad she’d let the stylist talk her into perking up her hair color with a rinse and trimming off a few inches. She looked at least ten years younger. Sometimes it was good to try something new.

‘Wow,’ Marc said, walking out from the kitchen to greet her.

‘I’m a little over the hill, don’t you think?’

He ran his hand over the top of his salt and pepper hair and grinned. ‘In my eyes you’re always beautiful. A classic.’ He looked around the foyer and gestured to the pottery display. ‘Now, what’s the name of that pottery again?’

She looked at her display of Gouda, the small bowls and pitcher flanked at each end by a matching stately vase. She thought of her uncle and his apartment with its oriental carpets, Russian Easter eggs and Native American weaving. ‘Gouda,’ she said, ‘like the cheese. Made in Holland.’

‘I know you’re upset about the job and everything, but you’ll be all right.’ He wrapped his arms around her. ‘You’ll find something better. I know you will,’ he said. ‘Either that or we can do more traveling.’

Bethany remembered the ruined vase. Should she tell him?

And then he said, ‘Would you like me to fix you something for lunch? I could scramble you a couple of eggs.’

‘Sounds good,’ she said. ‘I’ll be there in a minute.’

As soon as Bethany heard the kitchen door close, she picked up the damaged vase. The colors were still bright and the shape pleasing. She turned the vase around so the crack was visible, and placed it back on the shelf.

About the author

Nadja Maril is a former magazine editor and journalist living in Annapolis, Maryland, USA. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine and her short stories and essays have been published in a number of small literary magazines and anthologies including: Change Seven, Lunch Ticket, Thin Air and Defunkt Magazine.  

Twitter handle SNMaril, Facebook