Wednesday 30 June 2021

Meeting at The Luxury Oasis Inn

by Aspen Velez

Red Eye

The sun cooks my skin as I drive down the dusty Arizona road to the luxury Oasis Inn. My AC is working overtime to counteract the 100 plus degree temperature that's baking the tarmac from the front of the car to the horizon. The man on the radio is cutting in and out but it doesn't matter much -- he might as well be saying nonsense. I catch words here and there like, the economy’s going great, unemployment is going down, and homeownership is on the rise.

            “What a crock of shit. What good is a job if you need three of them to pay your bills, what good is a house if it's falling apart? Whose economy is good right now ‘cause it sure as hell isn't mine,” I said.

            My car starts rattling, I move the wallet-sized picture of my son Jasper just in time to see my gas light come on. I have enough time to make it to the Oasis to get the room ready for my meeting.

            After emptying my last dollars to pay for the room the bellhop guides me to my room, 113. The room smells freshly cleaned, the edges of the beds are crisp, even the lights look freshly dusted. The patio has been arranged just as I asked: two wine glasses and an unopened bottle of their finest mid-tier. I place my suitcase on the table and unlock it but leave it closed but ready. I arrange the chairs so they are the easiest to sit in when you walk through the sliding door. The patio has enough sun to allow a variety of plants to grow; the desert rose was Laura's favorite. After pacing back and forth in front of it I pluck the once beautiful flower and fling it over the siding.

            The knock at the door could only be from one person: Leslie.

For just a moment after the knock the ticking of the clock slows, the chirping of the birds almost crawls to a stop, before the repeated knock causes everything to continue as normal.

Opening the door I see Leslie dressed in a professional suit with a clip-on smile. I motion for her to come in, almost forgetting to close the door behind her. I hear every step of her shoes as we walk to the patio.

“So, what did Laura's mom think about what I said?” I said.

“Do you want the good news or bad news first?” she said.

“Am I getting my son back, Leslie?”

“That's kind of complicated; Mrs. Jetson believes that Jasper would be better off with her. Mrs. Jetson did say she’d be open to supervised visitations though.”

The air between us solidifies for a moment as we both sit there. I break the tension with the pop of a bottle as I pour myself a glass.

“Would you like some?” I said.

“You know I can’t drink on the job, but don't let me stop you. I know this must be hard but Mrs. Jetson is very firm on keeping Jasper.  She wanted you to hear it in person”

“Then she should have told me herself. I’m going to keep fighting for my son. She has no right to keep him. I worked three jobs to keep his mother alive for as long as I did not thank her. As soon as Laura passed she swooped in and said I was neglectful and that I’d rather work than be with him.”

“You didn't lose your kid because you worked too much, you lost your kid because you failed your drug test Mr Velez,” she says.

“If I lived in a different state I would have passed it. If she thinks I’m going to give up then I’ll see her in court,” I say as I stand up. “I don't think there's much more to talk about.”

Leslie stands up from her seat. “If anything changes let me know and I can pass the message on to Mrs. Jetson. Otherwise I suppose I’ll see you in court.”

Wordlessly I walk her to the door; this time instead of forgetting to close it behind her I almost close it on her back foot. The weight of my wallet reminds me that I can't afford the paywall that's soon to be looming over me. I lie on the bed and pull out the picture of Jasper; it's almost like a mirror in time. Laura always said that he looks just like me. Rolling over onto my side I see the victory bottle I prematurely bought. 

About the author 

Aspen Velez is an up-and-coming writer from the Greensboro area of NC. Aspen specializes in writing stories that reflect the feelings that many people have but aren't always encouraged to bring to the light of day.

Tuesday 29 June 2021

Into the Warmth


 by Gill James

stewed tea 

The rain was cascading down the windows. The drip from the hole in the roof was becoming more frequent. The wind was howling through the chimney and the fire spluttered. It wasn't all that warm inside. It never was. But it was better than being outside. 

Then someone started knocking urgently on the door.

"Open it!" shouted Freddo.

"Why don't you?" You never knew who might be there after dark around here.

"I can't take my eyes off these pots." As usual he had to get our dinner. Ma and Pa were both late from work again. They must have been finding it difficult getting home in this weather. 

Reluctantly I moved away from the fire and made my way to the front door. As I opened it I was almost swept off my feet. The rain started coming into the house.

It was Viola, the tramp who was our neighbour. What did she want? She was shivering and her hair was plastered to her head.

"Can I come in? They've locked me out."

She looked terrible and I thought I should do something but what was it Ma always said? "Don't you go mixing with that white trash from next door? They ain't got no manners and they'm lazy bitches. You stick to your own folk. Self-respecting, hard-working people of colour."

She was staring at me now, pleading with her eyes.

"What's going on? What's that door open for?" Freddo rushed into the hallway from the kitchen. "Viola? You'd better come on in."

"But Ma says," I started to protest.

"Well, Ma, ain't here, is she? You can't let the poor girl die of hypothermia." He showed her into the lounge.

"You go and get her a towel, now. And I'll make her a hot drink."

"But Ma says they don't work hard and they ain't got no respect."

Freddo slapped me round the head. "Idiot. Her Ma and Pa are stuck getting home just like ours. Which means they're self-respecting enough to work hard.  Ma don't always understand everything right."

I got her the towel and Freddo brought her a hot drink. He even found her some of Ma's clothes to get changed into and suggested she could eat with us.

"You're really kind," she said. When she smiled she was really pretty - for a white girl.  

About the author 

Gill James is published by, amongst others, Tabby Cat Press, The Red Telephone, Butterfly, The Professional and Higher Partnership and Continuum. She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Salford University. She edits CafeLit.She has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative and Critical Writing




Monday 28 June 2021

Crunch Time,


by  Jon Hepworth

bitter lemon


It was all really George's fault, George and the children.

George was responsible because he had insisted that Ann take her car into the garage for servicing and he had refused to pay the extra insurance for a courtesy car. The result was that Ann had to drive George's BMW. It was a beautiful car but far too big and Ann was a small woman and not used to driving it.

The children were responsible because Lavinia insisted that they collect Corinne which made the school run late. Toby decided that he no longer liked smoked salmon sandwiches for his lunch. Ann insisted that today it was smoked salmon or nothing and Toby had sulked.

Ann delivered the three children, late again, to their schools. She was agitated as she drove to the supermarket to do some shopping.

She swirled into the car park, slid neatly into a parking space and was startled to hear a crunch. It took her mind a few seconds to realise that she had been the cause of the noise. She had hit the car parked in the space facing her.

‘Oi - you've 'it my mow-ah!’ said a scruffy young man.

Ann felt sick.

She opened the car door and walked around to the front of the car. The bumper of the BMW showed a few scratches. The damage to the other vehicle, a dark brown banger, was plain to see. The young man stood looking at the damage.

‘Look what you've done!’ continued the young man ‘you've broke the number plate ‘n bashed the bumper, look - see the cracks!’

‘Oh dear! Oh dear!’ was all Ann could say. She was worried about the insurance and the no claims bonus. George would be furious as he had already had one accident this year and a second accident would say goodbye to the sixty percent reduction in the premiums.

‘Oh dear!’ Arm repeated.

‘It'll cost ya - the number plate ’ll be fawti quid and the body repairs at least anuver undred smackers. Give me your reg number and oose your insurance company?’

‘Can't we deal with this ourselves - I really don't want to go through the official channels.’

‘Well you did ‘it my mow-ah - so what’r y' do abaht it?’

Ann rummaged in her handbag and looked in her purse, ‘Would fifty pounds towards the damage and no hard feeling do?’ she offered nervously.

‘Look Lady - the damage is going to set me back at least undred and fawti quid!’

‘Seventy pounds is all the change I have!’

Ann felt dejected, she had been carefully saving up that money from the housekeeping to have a good session at the hairdresser.

‘OK Lady - OK - but I'm doing you a big favour!’ he took the money that Ann offered and walked around to the back of the old banger.

Ann locked the BMW and slowly walked into the supermarket. She did not feel like shopping, she ambled slowly down the aisles putting one or two items into the trolley.

‘Hello Ann - how are you?’ It was Cecily, one of the world's happy people.

‘Hi Cecily!’ said Ann in a dull voice.

‘Everything alright?’ asked Cecily noting that Ann was not happy.

‘Oh fine,’ Ann replied, her voice carried no conviction.

Ann wondered how Cecily could stay so happy; she knew that there were money problems, that her husband was in and out of work, that the banger that they drove was causing them lots of problems.

Ann suddenly stopped her ambling and stood still, holding onto the trolley, a disturbing thought had occurred to her. Cecily drove a dark brown banger. No, she thought, it was a coincidence - it just could not be the same car. Ann's heart began to pound.

Ann collected a few more items and Cecily followed her to the check-out. They both paid for their shopping and walked out into the car park.

‘Nice to have seen you,’ said Ann "Bye!”

‘I think we are going in the same direction as we are parked together,’ said Cecily.  ‘That is if you are driving George' car!’

Ann felt sick for the second time that day. She felt unreal as she walked to the BMW and watched Cecily walk to the car that she had bumped into. Ann watched in disbelief as Cecily opened the boot of the dark brown, old banger.

Ann had lost seventy pounds to some opportunistic scoundrel. She was appalled that she should have been conned so easily. Now she faced a dilemma - should she keep quiet or tell Cecily, dear, sweet, impecunious Cecily, that she had damaged her car.

Ann felt like crying. She had lost all that money and could still lose the insurance no claims bonus. Cecily got into her car and closed the door.

‘Oh Cecily!’ Ann shouted, Cecily wound down the door window as Ann walked over.

‘I'm afraid that I gave your car a bit of a bashing when I was parking the BMW!’

‘Oh! I hope nothing too bad,’ said Cecily as she got out of her car. Ann pointed at the broken number plate and the cracks in the body work.

‘Oh that!’ said Cecily ‘those were done years ago - that's not your fault at all!’


About the author 

I have been writing short stories since joining a Writers Club twenty years ago. I have had one story accepted for inclusion in an anthology and one by Cafe Lit.

Sunday 27 June 2021

Good Guy


 by Aimee Milne

long black


After I left, it was the anger that got me through.  Pulsing, hot anger. I channelled it into running. I ran obsessively.  It was the only way to use up the anger, mantra on repeat.  

I'll show them. I'll show them. I'll show them what I’m made of. 

I had finally left my abuser. I thought about killing myself all the time.  In the first weeks I was medicated and referred for counselling. I lay in the bath a lot, struggling to reconcile who I was now with who I was before. Now, I was a shell. An empty shell in a tepid bath.

I tried to tell people about what he'd done. People minimised it because it made them uncomfortable. They blamed me. They said I was crazy, or jealous that he'd moved on in such a short time.

I guess I was crazy.  I'd suffered through years of emotional and sometimes physical abuse.  'If it was that bad why didn't you leave?' they asked. 

I couldn't explain it back then.  My first counselling sessions were spent blaming myself, my counsellor convincing me that I'd been abused.  ‘It was my fault’, I argued. ‘I stayed. It was my fault, I drank too much. I'm too opinionated, I'm hard to love.’

'He's a good guy, don't muddy his name,' they said. ‘Keep it to yourself, it only makes you look crazy.’

I did, on the whole, keep it to myself. I told people I trusted about the time I had taken a sleeping pill to cope. I woke up, undressed, with him lying next to me. He said, 'I  hope you don't mind, but I helped myself'.

One friend said, 'He's a man, that's probably normal, don't make a big deal about it'.

How could something normal make me feel so sick?  So worthless.

Through counselling, reading and a drastic change of 'friends',  I slowly unravelled the years of gas lighting and manipulation.  It was like coming out of a toxic fog. 

Then the anger kicked in.  Clear and sharp. Unrelenting focus. 

I'll show them. I'll show them. Keeping my mantra alive.

I grew strong, physically and mentally. I took on a three year degree. I ran marathons. I climbed mountains.

It was him, not me.

I used the zero contact rule. I blocked him on all social media. If I knew he would be somewhere, I would avoid that place. I missed out on music gigs and dancing, some of my favourite things.  Small towns aren't easy when you're trying to avoid someone.  I began to like myself. I was happy, successful and enjoying life. Years went by. I met my fiancé, who is a kind and loyal man.

I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. I went out for a dance. I hadn’t danced in so long! I didn't see my abuser until it was too late.  In an awkward moment someone tried to introduce me to him. The anger... it swelled. It filled me up and came out of my mouth. 'You assaulted me' I said in front of everyone. 'You assaulted me, you fucking prick'.  He stared at me with black eyes, no hint of remorse.

People ushered me away. I’d made them uncomfortable. PTSD triggered, in a weak moment (or maybe it was strong), I made a post on social media naming my abuser and his abuse. I deleted it not long after. I know where society's complicit heart lies. It's not with me.

'Keep it to yourself. Don't muddy his name. He's a good guy.'

About the author

Aimee is a nurse living in Gisborne, NZ. She is a multimedia artist, activist and ukelele enthusiast.