Wednesday 31 March 2021

The Dripping Tap

 by Danielle Linsey

a glass of tap water

I’m awake. Or at least I think I am.

I can hear the drip, drip, drip of the bathroom tap. A slow gentle beat, that should send me to sleep. It doesn’t.

I fling my legs over the side of the bed, the cold bare floor sending shivers through me.

‘Where are you going?’ Jake asks, his eyes still closed.

‘To stop that dripping tap.’

‘What dripping...’

He trails off mid-sentence. The man can sleep through anything.

I creep past the baby’s room, praying I don’t wake her. The girl has supersonic hearing, except it would seem, when it comes to that blasted tap.

With a simple squeeze and a slight tug, the tap is once more silent; bliss returns to my small home.

And then... the banshee wails of my daughter begin, loud enough to wake the whole house, except for her father.

I peep around the bathroom door, into the hallway, just in case. No, no movement.

I plod along to Cassidy’s room, smiling as she lifts her chubby hands up to me, desperate to be lifted.

Instead, I lay her back on the cot mattress, running my hand over her stomach, as I use the other one to turn on her hanging mobile.

Three hours later and she is finally asleep, albeit in my arms, having given up on the idea of not picking her up. I know it was inevitable, but a mother can try.

Jake finally wanders in, looking nice and rested, his shirt undone and his feet bare.

‘Have you seen my socks?’

‘On the clothes horse,’ I whisper back, stifling a yawn.

‘Have you been in here most of the morning?’

I nod, my eyes heavy.

‘You should have let the tap drip,’ he declares, turning towards the stairs.

‘What?’ I question, standing and following him, the sudden jolt waking the sleeping child in my arms.

‘She seems to like the dripping of the tap, it helps her fall asleep.’

‘And when were you going to tell me that?’

‘I thought I had.’

I pass him a now screaming Cassidy, bewildered by the lack of care in his slip of memory, and walk away.

‘Where are you going?’ He calls after me, holding our daughter out towards me.

‘To sleep.’

‘But, I have a 9am meeting?’

‘Then rearrange it, baby whisperer,’ I tell him, closing the bedroom door behind me.


Tuesday 30 March 2021

Peace, Forgiveness and Faith


by Amanda Jones

with warm milk and honey


Grief brought wails of emotion and tears, so many tears. Yet being there, watching Mum die also brought an honourable witnessing. It grasped my very being, wrapping my stomach in knots and claiming my appetite.

Throughout my twenty-six years with Mum I grappled with her almost genius quality. So strong was her faith and belief in forgiveness. Never, did I think I would finally understand.

What happens when you do?

Life becomes easier and expectation gives way to acceptance. Every day becomes a bonus and one of unknown opportunity. For many years I meditated, grew my soul, drenched my childhood depression and anxiety with positivity. It worked.

But, it also created a mask of smiles to confront the world. I learned that my peers, colleagues, friends, family were not interested in truth and honesty. They wanted a cover to be drawn over everything with a pretence of happiness. You cannot reach genuine love and joy like this.

Only by facing issues and accepting wrongs can you move on.

The boxes in my head can open as I please and be slammed shut. They should not be filed away to be forgotten and shelved. They lurk in the background, nibbling at you, pulling you further into darkness. I had to find the strength to open them all, in order to close them at will.

So, what about faith?

Is it God?

People are convinced that God would not make us suffer. But, it is our choices, our experience and how we choose to love which brings peace. God is the light within each one of us and to sit still, bathing in this divinity truly gives and enables us to return the gift. I truly believe that a liberating God allows us freedom and our own choices with this bring our experience.

What happens when you do find peace?

You are there for others and no longer afraid. Kindness and love prevail.

About the author 

 Amanda has been writing since childhood and along with short stories she writes her Missy Dog charity series, poetry, non-fiction and horror. You can find her here:






Monday 29 March 2021

Jean Cast as Grace


by Janet Howson


Jean had turned up early for Colin’s CBT group. Ever since the disastrous evening accompanying her boss to a company banquet in London, she hadn’t slept. She added up the embarrassing points of the whole ghastly experience in her head.

1.       Her dress looked like a charity shop purchase against the stylish, expensive outfits worn by

the other guests.

2.       She was ignored by everyone else on the table.

3.       Dan, her boss, whom she adored and was so pleased had invited her to attend, had spent the whole evening chatting up a beautiful, young employee who apparently worked on another floor of the accountancy firm.

4.       She had drunk too much champagne and wine and ended up having to dash to the toilets.

She knew alcohol didn’t agree with her but she was so self-conscious and nervous that she had just kept on drinking, regardless.

5.       Dan had ordered a taxi for her, very early, and bundled her in to it, obviously annoyed with  her behaviour.

       So all this was going round and round in Jean’s brain as she waited for the rest of the CBT group to arrive.

      She didn’t have to wait long. Colin, the group therapist arrived first. He was wearing his signature outfit of well- worn jeans, a sweatshirt with a logo that meant nothing to Jean and his scruffy trainers.

     “Hi, Jean. You’re nice and early. Sorry I couldn’t get to Midsummer Night’s Dream I had to take the dog to the vet and by the time I got home it wasn’t worth going. How did it go?”

      “Oh, fine. Mine was only a small part but I didn’t flunk my lines. The audience seemed to appreciate our efforts.”

      “I will get to the next one I promise, what is your next production?”

      “You’re excused my next performance. We are doing a Murder Mystery for our director’s golf club that involves a dinner and a prize for the winning table. Golf club members only though. We do one every year.”

       At that moment a few more of the group arrived. Jean’s heart sank as she spotted Deidre, chatting away to a girl she always came with, who was uttering the odd ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ every now and then. Jean hoped Deidre would let some of the other group talk, rather than repeat her tales of woe. Soon the chairs were all filled and Colin opened up the meeting.

      “Hi everyone,” there were several mumbles of ‘Hello’ ‘Okay’ ‘Hi Colin’ and several of the group peeled off their coats and jackets hanging them on the back of their chair. Colin waited until everyone had settled down.

      “At the last meeting, Jean talked about her love of her drama group and how she escaped from her troubles by taking on another persona. I for one was very disappointed that I couldn’t get to see Jean as Hippolita, in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Did anyone manage to get there at such short notice?”

      One hand went up, to Jean’s surprise as she hadn’t expected anyone to turn up. It was the middle aged man in the grey suit who said he belonged to a Gospel Choir at the last meeting. When she was on stage she never looked at the audience but delivered her lines above their heads. It was a trick she had learnt when she first started to perform, it helped concentration and stage fright. So she had no idea who turned up and who didn’t.

         “Oh, good for you, Samuel,” Colin enthused, “I’m glad someone represented the group.”

          “I really enjoyed it. Jean was excellent. I will certainly try and get to the group’s next production.”

        “Samuel, would you like to kick the meeting off by telling us all about your Gospel Choir? You mentioned it helped you with your issues, last week?”

        Samuel, coughed, he obviously found airing his problems and private life in public difficult but took a few deep breaths and began. “I joined the group about six months ago. I didn’t have to audition, which I was relieved about. My neighbour told me about it, she said it was a lot of fun and they wanted new members. I thought I’d give it a go and if I didn’t like it I’d give my excuses and not return. I just kept in the background to start with but after a while I relaxed and sang with more confidence and I was even asked to do a solo. Men are in shorter supply than women so we do get to be chosen more often.” Several of the men in the group responded to this with ‘I must join’ ‘Sounds like my type of group’ and there was general laughter all round.

      Samuel was gaining confidence now, even enjoying it. “I think what the group does for me is get me out of the house and amongst enthusiastic people who love to sing. When I am concentrating on the words of the song I forget about my issues. I just want to belong and be a part of the group as another singer, not someone with problems.”

      Jean could empathise with this. It was exactly the same with the drama group. She would be thinking of her words when rehearsing or in a play, pushing all her depressive thoughts away. She listened to Samuel as he related the songs he had learnt and the concerts they had put on. Jean liked his easy manner. She wanted to know more about him.  She didn’t need to wait much longer as Colin responded to Samuel’s talk.

      “Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Samuel. I am now going to ask you all to do an exercise. Not an aerobic one, in case you were getting worried. I want you to get into pairs and discuss the week you have just had. I want you to talk about what if anything has helped or triggered your problems. We will swap partners after five minutes. Off you go.”

      Jean wasn’t at all confident in doing this exercise. She then remembered how she was able to act on a stage. If she could do that then this should be easy. She chose to tell of her terrible experience at the dinner with Dan. As she was telling the story she could feel the heat rising from her neck to her face, the beads of perspiration on her brow. Somehow though, she knew it was doing her good, being able to share such experiences with a group of people who understood, who too had had embarrassing moments. She listened to tales of relapses, secret drinking and the guilt of lying to loved ones and their thoughts of suicide supressed but lingering in the background. Their self-hatred and low self-esteem, all of which she had experiences herself.

      When it came to her turn to be Samuel’s partner she felt quite weary, worn out by the emotions the discussions had raised in her. They smiled at each other. Jean was surprised how comfortable she felt in his company. She thought he must be in his forties or even early fifties, certainly older than her. She had always been old for her years. Her mother used to say ‘You were born with an old head on your shoulders, Jean.’ She hadn’t really understood what she meant, but as time went on she realised she had somehow skipped her teenage years, never being involved in all the trimmings of adolescence, the parties, the clubs, the music, the fashion. She was seen as a bit old fashioned, a bit quirky. She would have liked to have been like the others but somehow it never happened.

      “Well I’ve been boring everyone with my disastrous dinner party with my boss and I am not sure I can go through it again,” Jean began. “I would prefer to talk about our Drama Group. It is very friendly and welcoming and always on the lookout for new members. I was wondering, with your love of singing and performing whether you would…” she trailed off, feeling she had gone too far, the familiar spread of heat making her blush.

     Samuel interrupted her, “I was going to suggest a very similar thing but with you joining our Choir. We too are always encouraging new recruits. You would love it, as long as you had time with all your drama rehearsals.” He too looked uncomfortable, staring into Jean’s eyes as if trying to find an answer to his question. “I hadn’t thought about it the other way round with me joining your drama group. I have always loved the backstage jobs. I was on light and sound at university, when they put on productions. I never considered auditioning for a part.”

      “The same with me and singing. My mother always said I would sing away to myself when I was in my pram. In was too self-conscious at school to try for the choir and over the years the only singing I do is in the shower.”

     Samuel laughed, “Along with ninety per cent of the population.” He paused and lent closer to Jean. “Here’s the deal. I join your drama group if you join my choir. We will then be seeing each other at least three times a week, if we count these sessions.”

        Jean’s blushing had stopped and she felt completely relaxed and confident in Samuel’s presence. Had she at last met someone who liked her enough to want her in his life? She felt like a teenager in love, excited and with butterflies in her stomach. She knew what her answer would be.

    “That sounds like a great deal to me, Samuel, once we have completed the Murder Mystery Evening with me playing Grace, the next play will be on the way. So you can start coming down and I will be honoured to audition for the choir.”

     “Time up everyone. Can we gather back in a circle to discuss how we felt sharing with other members of the group and what you gained, if anything from them,” Colin announced.

        Through the scraping of chairs and people already exchanging comments, unable to wait for the official time, Jean felt Samuel reach out and squeeze her hand. There was no doubt in her mind what she had gained from the discussions, none at all.

About the author

Janet Howson  was born in Rochdale but moved to the South of England when she was seventeen. She loved writing and reading from an early age and wrote poetry and plays. Shejoined an amateur Drama group when she was eighteen and her love of the theatre began. She trained to be a teacher and her two subjects were English and Drama. She then went on to teach for thirty five years in Comprehensive schools in Redbridge, Havering and Essex. During this time she wrote and directed plays for the pupils and continued to be involved in Amateur Drama both as a performer and a director. Now she is retired, Janet has joined two writing groups and with the help and advice she has received here,  started to write short stories and has had stories published in anthologies and  her first novel, Charitable Thoughts can be found on Amazon Books. She intends to continue writing both novels and stories, adapting some of them into theatre scripts and radio plays.  

Published work:                                 

The Best of CafeLit 8 an anthology published by Chapletown Books 2019

Stories included: Marking Time & Induction Day.

Nativity an anthology published by Bridge House 2019

Story included: Solution.

Charitable Thoughts a novella published by Austin Macauley

Can be found on Amazon Books

It happened in Essex: tall tales from the Basildon Writers’ Group

Can be found on Amazon books

Sunday 28 March 2021

The Secret Garden

 by Andy Houston

single malt 

Sunlight reflects on the surface of the loch in the distance as I walk through the dark trees of the forest. Sticks snap under my heavy boots and I breathe in the scent of decomposing leaves and pine needles. When I arrive at the water's edge, I stop. A range of purple trees are visible on the far side. Beautiful.


  I whistle, and listen for a response. A few seconds later a creature darts through the trees behind me.




  My dog, a cross between a Hungarian Vizsla and a Collie, leaps into the air next to me, then races back into the woods over some bushes.


  I walk on along the path circumnavigating the loch. There’s no wind this morning and it’s not as cold as it has been in recent days.


  I pass the fallen elm. Its long trunk and branches protrude into the water, reflecting on the still surface in perfect symmetry. I step around a mire and head towards the woodland further on. Billie runs ahead.


  A tree with the shape of an eye patterned in the bark, looks down at me as I step onto the bank at the edge of the forest and head into the trees. I like to get off the main path. There’s less marsh ground and the chances of running into anyone is unlikely.


  Here, thousands of fallen leaves have turned the ground into a soft carpet of orange. Through some thorn bushes I find myself in an open area where tree trunks stretch upwards like columns of a cathedral. A little further on and I’m at the secret garden. Dozens of sticks form a fence around the base of a tree and within them is a collection of stones painted in bright colours. One has the image of smiling lips. Another a heart. One says: ‘RIP’.  In the middle is a brown pebble, the size of a hand, with neat, white painted writing: ‘The Secret Garden.


  The first time I came across it was the day of my interview at St. Matthews Church. It lifted my spirits when I saw it. One stone in particular.  ‘Shine,painted in yellow next to an image of the sun. It encouraged me to do just that. The vicars job was offered to me later that day. I’ve been living here three months now and I always start the day walking around the loch. It clears my head, and wears Billie out.


  The day after my interview, I took the stone and placed it on another part of my route by the side of the path. I wanted to pass the message on, and for the person who painted it to know it had been seen.


  Another time I saw a stone with the words:  ‘Be Kind’. Further along my route I came to a marshland and dragged a fallen branch over to make a bridge. I wanted to add to the positive spirit of this rare place that hardly anyone else knew about.


  I found more. As I made my way through a particularly unapproachable part of the woods, many fallen trees lined the ground and had to be climbed over. The bushes were closer together and more difficult to pass. I saw something red and white beyond, resting on the branch of a tree further in but couldn’t work out what it was at first. It looked like it might be a cap or a piece of clothing. I climbed closer and saw an envelope.


  The damp paper was delicate in my hands. I opened it and read:  ‘This special garden is here for all to embrace. Just be careful who you tell about this secret place.


  The words reminded me of Lulu. A girl I shared an intense relationship with at university. She wrote poetry all the time. Some of it like this. Enigmatic, with an ability to touch you. My gut stirred. It couldn't be her surely. She left to live in Ireland. I placed the letter back in the envelope.


  Billie! Come on!


  I didn’t see anything new there for a week or so until one morning I discovered a glove on the ground under a shrub. It was an adults glove. Pink. I picked it up and placed it on a branch in the centre of the open area.


  The next day it was replaced by a note saying: Thank you.


  I haven't seen any sign of life in the secret garden for weeks and wonder if the person has stopped coming.


  I wonder if there’s anything today?


  A stone on the ground with a painted red arrow points up the hill. I press on up the steep bank where the trees are closer together. I push my way through a holly bush, protecting my skin by pushing my shoulder into the branches. There in front of me are more stones. They line both sides of the trees with candles painted on them. And at the end is another envelope sitting on the bough of an oak tree. I open it and read the words:


I don’t know who you are, but I wish you well. You’re  clearly a kind person and it’s good to know there are kind people out there. I am moving from the area tomorrow, but before I go, I want you to know that I appreciated your kindness. I pray that you will find happiness wherever you end up.





About the author 

Andy Houstoun has had a number of short stories published in a range of magazines and is the author of Short Stories of Love & Entanglement. 





Saturday 27 March 2021

The Girl With The Midas Touch


by Nazia Kamali

a mug of hot chocolate

Aaram Bano came to Dehradun after seventeen long years to attend her brother Jamal’s granddaughter’s wedding, hoping to get a chance to meet the extended family after a long time. The house she had spent her childhood in had changed a lot. An additional storey comprising four bedrooms, a long veranda, and several round pillars whose history was unknown to her had come up. The open courtyard where she used to play had turned into a parlour. The colour of the walls had changed and so had the shapes and sizes of several of its residents.

Aaram loved the gathering. She met several old friends and cousins, and together they reminisced about their childhood. She sang and played dholki with the girls and laughed out loud. However, the noise that the younger ones made while dancing to the beats of the latest rock music they played on a full-throated speaker became unbearable after some time. So, giving some trouble to her wobbly knees, she went out of the house in search of a few seconds of peace.

Taking small, steady steps, Aaram walked, observing the changes in the neighbourhood. Buildings, houses, and complexes had come up everywhere, leaving hardly any room for air. New families had shifted to the area. The old landmarks etched so clearly in her memory were nowhere to be found. Most of the previous inhabitants had sold their houses and left. The shops that lined the lanes along which she ran up and down were replaced by modern outlets and convenience stores.

It used to be such a beautiful and spacious locality, she thought.

Aaram Bano hobbled a little further to find the ground where she played with her friends, but it was gone; vanished in the new concrete jungle that had cropped up in the modern times.

Dejected at the loss of her favourite place, she entered the miniscule replica of the playground built around the corner and sat on one of the benches lining its perimeter. There were hardly any trees. Few small swings stood at some distance. At half-past three, the place was almost empty. The late autumn afternoon felt pleasant. Aaram let out an audible breath and peered around.

When she was young, everything looked big and new to her inexperienced eyes. Very few people lived in the neighbourhood. The houses were huge and interspersed. A vast expanse of land was left open after the last one.

Gigantic trees of Mango, Peepal, and Lychee filled the open landscape. A small stream gurgled at its other end.

Women of all ages gathered there for household activities; drying chilies and peppers, making pickles, planning festivities. They would gather in groups and discuss what happened in which household - who was getting married to whom, who disobeyed his parents and ran away from his responsibilities, who spent all the money in vain and who made the most.

Aaram had spent countless hours in that ground. Her happiest memories of childhood were from that place. She and her friends would play all sorts of games – hopscotch, hide and seek, and blind man’s bluff. Sometimes the girls would climb high up on the trees and hide, giggling until someone’s mother roared at them to come down. They had no gadgets, no fancy toys, and no television sets to glue in front of yet; their hearts were content.

The quiet in the place was welcoming. Aaram closed her eyes and rested her back as the brisk breeze transported her back to the time when she was one hell of a runner. No one in the entire neighbourhood could defeat her until Nimra came along - three years her junior and already as tall as her at the age of ten.

That girl broke every rule set upon them by the elders. Her unkempt, long hair, hung loose instead of being tied up in tight plaits like the rest of them. Though she wore salwar kameez and slippers like everyone else, most of the time, her slippers were of different colours or sizes as if she had left home in a hurry and wore anything she found. She rubbed fruits that fell from the trees upon her kameez and ate them without washing. When any older girl scolded her for the deed, she stuck out her tongue in defiance. She feared no one and usually played alone, starting one game after the other spontaneously - now she is climbing the tree, and just a second later, she jumped into the stream, splashing water all around. There was nothing predictable about her except the fact that she was a winner.

Running was the most popular sport with girls their age. They had to run and touch the Peepal tree standing at one end of the ground and then return to the starting point. Chatty as she was, Nimra always started late, being busy talking with a friend; and was often last to touch the tree. However, she never finished second. Every time Aaram smiled inwardly when Nimra reached the tree after her, the girl would beat all others and win. She was swift as an arrow and dashed past her competitors without a moment’s notice.

Aaram began loathing her. There was no minute, no second when she did not hate the girl. Nimra, on the other hand, was oblivious to all that hatred and jealousy. She had no desire to please anyone. An air of nonchalance surrounded her at all times. She never followed the herd of girls; instead, she came and went all around the neighbourhood as she liked. Aaram had often seen her play all by herself in the middle of summer afternoons when the sun shone mightily. She hated Nimra’s guts and yet admired the ease with which she carried herself.

As they grew up from little girls to young teenagers, everything that Nimra touched turned into gold. Every person she met fell in love with her.

Nimra became tall and thin with full lips and big brown eyes that had a language of their own, while Aaram remained short and carried a tadpole belly. There was nothing extraordinary about her looks, and every time she looked at Nimra, she wished for something bad to befall her. Whenever the girl dressed herself up for any occasion, it became impossible for people to tear their eyes away from her. Aaram hated the attention they paid to her.

Wherever there was a gathering in the neighbourhood, her name echoed.

So young and yet so smart.

Does math far beyond her age.

Have you seen the bed sheet she embroidered recently?? So beautiful. Such exquisite design.

I wonder how a girl her age is able to manage such precision.

Aaram's life became an unending competition with a girl who didn't even bother to enter into one with her. She tried doing everything that Nimra was praised for - she studied her elder brother’s book and painted a bunch of flowers on the cushion covers, she imitated her laughter and nonchalance during ceremonies but nothing seemed to work, or maybe it did but to Aaram, it was never as good as her adversary.

She spent hours and hours going over detailed plans to defeat Nimra, dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every‘t’ meticulously - how she would run with all her might in the next race and beat Nimra, or how she would embroider an elaborate and intricate pattern on one of the bed sheets to impress every woman in the neighbourhood. She became obsessed with the idea of excelling, of going far and beyond to claim victory over the girl.

And then came Sarmad.

The local doctor's son, who studied in Delhi, returned one summer after passing out of high school. Aaram saw him from the terrace of her house as he walked with long confident strides on the road outside. It was love at first sight. His glorious aura captivated her, and the entire summer, she could see nothing but Sarmad all around. Every corner she looked, she saw him - standing, sitting, smiling, laughing, talking, eating, and walking. He had captured her senses until one day when the news of his elopement with Nimra reached her ears.

Aaram's insides were set on fire. That girl was bad news since day one. She had stolen everything from her, everything. A blanket of hatred enveloped her as she ran away, hiding tears of dejection.

Soon she married and moved to Saharanpur. Whenever she came to see her parents, Aaram asked after Nimra, and to her dismay, there was always something good going on in her life – Sarmad came back and apologised to his parents who accepted their union after all. He went to a medical school. Their firstborn was a son. They had four children together. Sarmad named his clinic after Nimra.

She would listen to everything and think that all this would have been hers had that girl not come in between. It took Aaram decades to forgo that feeling.


For the past several years, she hadn't thought about Nimra at all. It was only after reaching Dehradun, that she remembered the girl with long unkempt hair and big brown eyes. Upon asking, she was told, that Nimra passed away seven years ago. Sarmad followed soon after. A tinge of hatred showed itself in Aaram's eyes as she imagined them together in the heavens. The girl's Midas touch worked even in death. She rested in the hereafter not alone but with the love of her life.

Now, as she sat on the bench and recalled everything and then she realised that she would never see Nimra again, never hear her voice. The girl did not breathe anymore. She didn’t share the sun and the moon with her any longer....

Despite sun still being there in the sky, the air felt chilly, she rubbed the nape of her neck and then crossed her arms tightly. A feeling of emptiness seemed to be closing in from all sides. A loud gasp escaped her mouth.

Aaram suddenly longed for her rival - to run up to the aging peepal tree and lose to her in the race once again, to see her play those spontaneous games and never bother to include others. She longed for the touch of her warm hands and the smile on her soft baby-like face that never failed to enrich those oval eyes of hers. Aaram wished to see her outdo everyone else by her wit and intelligence one more time.

Tears flowed from her eyes onto her cheek, making their way to her chin and hence the lap as she realised after seventy long years that she had never hated the girl.