Monday, 14 June 2021

Burrington Spring Part 4

 

 by Robert Ward 

Earl Grey tea with crumpets- a fourth helping!

Summer in Burrington was a time for festivals. Flags lined the main street in the holiday season as if it were a seaside town, and there were times when Millicent could easily have believed that the sea lay behind the high street, just out of sight. She had to remind herself on occasion that the town lay almost as far from the sea as it was possible to be.

Music festivals, folk and rock and jazz and soul, jostled for space in the summer programme with drama and performance festivals of various kinds. Stalls which ranged from chocolates, fudges and coconut ice to aromatic oils and healing crystals filled the parks and the pavements;  and on 15th August, in celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, patron saint to the town, it played host to an annual street fayre, said to date back to the Middle Ages, but traceable only, like so much else in Burrington, to the second half of the nineteenth century. In the middle of it all, Millicent and Winchcombe, out for a stroll after one of their periodic lunches in the theatre bar, stumbled across a stall manned jointly by the Burrington Circle of Psychic Deliverance and a succession of bright young things, whom Millicent recognised vaguely as students from the theological college, less easily recognised for being minus their cassocks. Prominent among them was their Senior Student, whose eyes flashed in momentary discomfiture as they came face to face over the counter.

‘Well, fancy seeing you here, Father,’ the young man purred, through a sibilant smile. Winchcombe looked at him over his spectacles, as if to say, ‘I could say the same about you.’

‘This is all about inclusion, Father,’ said the other, clearly sensing disapproval. ‘Showing willing. Working with others in a common cause.’

‘He who’s not against us is with us,’ said another, coming from behind: a burly middle-aged man with whiskers. ‘Isn’t that what Jesus says?’

Millicent recognised him from their earlier visit as the man who‘d kept the tea shop, and he recognised her in return. 'It’s Miss Lake, isn’t it?’ Breaking off to look at his watch he added, 'High time we had some lunch. Won't you join us?’ He called to a fellow volunteer behind the desk and asked him to look after things whilst he and his younger friend took the older couple to the tea room just a few yards away.

‘Seems such a shame to me,’ said Winchcombe to the Senior Student, whilst their little party waited for tea and crumpets to arrive. ‘The college misses so many wonderful celebrations outside of term time, during the holidays. The Transfiguration of Our Lord. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. All feasts that bring the unseen world so much closer, wouldn’t you say?'

'Absolutely, Father. And lots of us are local, anyway. The students tend to come from nearby parishes. Places associated with the college community for generations. There's an ethos here which goes on cloning itself, as you might say, year on year.'                                                                                                                                                                                  

'Like many a small town,' said the older man. 'Maybe specially in places like this. Generations of in-breeding. Everyone knows what that leads to.' He levelled a look at the two outsiders. Winchcombe contemplated his tea cup, but Millicent saw an opening which she simply couldn't resist, and seized the moment.

'Funny you should say that,' she launched in, energetically. 'My friend and I were wondering... about  the similarity in looks and mannerisms and ways of  speaking... between so many people  here in Burrington.' Winchcombe looked as though he would happily have got up and left, but Millicent pressed on. 'Fr. Wiesoslavski, for example. With a name like that he really couldn't be a Burrington boy, surely. Yet... when we  first came across him at the guest house earlier in the year, we almost thought - ' she smiled at them all, disarmingly - 'we almost thought the two of you were brothers. And my friend the Canon was quite sure he remembered him from years ago... as  groundsman at  the college. That can't have been right, surely?'

The proprietor of the tea shop stretched out his legs, took a deep breath and leaned back in the little wooden chair, far too small for him. He regarded them for a time from behind his whiskers, the ghost of a smile playing round his lips. 'You want me to tell you? Well... perhaps I will.'

Millicent smiled at him encouragingly.

'Pieter went away from here, many years ago. He was my cousin. Always had a taste  for  the unusual, you might say. Came back a priest. Said he'd taken up with some Eastern types. Religious, like. That's where the name came from. Had something to  do with some community of monks he'd been with out there, and in particular, with one who'd been his mentor. He took the name as a kind of homage.'

'Eastern?'

'Eastern European, to be precise. Into bi-location and levitation and goodness knows what else.' He grinned broadly.  'Not so strange for Burrington. Healing crystals, sacred springs... you name it, we've got it. You saw those stalls back there. Fits in here with no trouble. Hence the need for people like us.' Her gestured towards his companion, known to them hitherto as the leader of the student posse, the senior student.

'I really don't quite follow,' put in Winchcombe, uncomfortably.

The student, Barrett, smiled. 'The Circle for Psychic Deliverance,' he explained, in a slightly self-satisfied manner. 'We join up from different perspectives. Those of us from the college and those from other disciplines. We want to restore the balance. Keep a place at the table. Not let the devil have all the best tunes....'

 

The day drew to a close with tunes of quite a different kind. A brass band took up residence in the bandstand in the centre of Priory Park, and led the singing and the dancing with a rousing rendition of numbers ranging from the Beatles to the Methodist Hymn Book, from Abba to The Merry Widow. All in all, thought Millicent, a fitting end to a day which crowned the summer with extraordinary celebration.  

 

About the author

Robert Ward has been writing short stories for many years but has only recently found an outlet for some of these through CafeLit. His interests include history (particularly that of the medieval religious orders), theology, and travel within Europe and more widely. 

 

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Tom and the Magpies

 by Pete Pitman

 tea and humble pie

Tom sat in the shade, on his patio, engrossed in a magazine.

   “What are you reading, love?” said his wife, placing a mug of tea before him.

   “It’s the Toolstation catalogue, Joan. I’m after some lopping shears with an extendable handle.”

   “What on earth do you want those for?”

   Tom put the catalogue down next to his tea and surveyed the garden. He stuck out his chest. “I’ve instilled some discipline into most of the garden. There’s just the bottom bit where those conifers spill cones and needles everywhere. And that bloody enormous hawthorn behind them, it sheds leaves, prickly twigs and other detritus all the time.”

   Joan pulled a face as Tom remembered the hard work he’d put in last summer. Joan’s spreading arthritis meant she could no longer give the garden the attention it had required. He’d hacked down all the trees and rampant shrubs, filled in her pond and demolished her raised beds that seemed to contain equal amounts of wispy plants, misshapen vegetables and encroaching weeds. Once it was levelled he’d built a large patio of Yorkshire stone. Then, he’d covered most of the rest in sharp sand and laid a lawn of artificial grass. Joan had been upset, but he was sure she appreciated the benefit now.

   The only blot on the new landscape was the mass of debris caused by the conifers and hawthorn belonging to the house behind their bottom fence.

   “You can’t prune those coni--”

   “Why not? I can chop the branches that overhang our fence. That’s legal.”

   “Yes, I know that, Tom. But, there are several greenfinches roosting in there, on our side.”

   “Are there? I didn’t know that.”

   “No, you wouldn’t. You’re too busy enforcing discipline. Or, interfering, as I call it.”

   “The only birds I’ve seen in those trees is a pair of noisy magpies.” He screwed up his nose. “Nasty things magpies. They steal from other birds. They’re so notorious they even named an opera after them.”

   To emphasise his point, a magpie started squawking and rattling.

   Their neighbour came out and stuck his head over the fence. “Hello, Joan. Tom. Lovely day.”

   “It is, Suresh.” said, Joan. “How’s, Maia?”

   “She’s very well, thanks.”

   “It would be lovely if those bloody magpies would shut up,” said Tom.

   “Very misunderstood birds, magpies. Nature has some strange ways.”

   “You’re right, Suresh.” said Joan, giving Tom a hard stare. “It doesn’t pay to interfere with nature.”

 

Next day, Joan was at the shops with Maia, so Tom wandered down the garden to see if he could see the greenfinches. He located them and watched as blurs of green flitted in and out of the conifer branches close to Suresh’s shed. He was mesmerised by the spectacle when something hit him on the shoulder and bounced on to the ground. He looked up as a twig and a cone dropped to the earth beside him.

   He spotted the culprit causing the bombardment and waved his fist. “Bloody magpies!”

   As he spoke, something occurred to him – what if the magpies stole the greenfinches’ eggs?

   Tom marched into the house, rattled up the stairs and released the loft ladder. He clambered up into the loft and re-emerged shortly with two boxes. One was narrow and about three feet long, the other was smaller and nearly square. He took them downstairs and cleaned the contents.

   With a satisfied smile, he returned to the garden with an air rifle and a laser gun. He spent a half-hour alternately firing pellets close to the cavorting magpies and then dazzling them with the infra-red laser beam. He hadn’t had this much fun in ages and when the magpies rose into the air and gave a farewell screech before flying over the distant rooftops he punched the air and cheered.

   He’d just returned the guns to the loft when Joan walked in and dropped her handbag on the table.

   She looked at him and said, “You’ve got that funny look. Have you been interfering somewhere?”

  

The following afternoon, Tom was seated on his patio flicking through the Screwfix catalogue when he heard Joan cry, “Oh dear! Poor little thing!”

   “What’s the matter, Joan?”

   “There’s a dead greenfinch on the lawn. Looks like a cat’s got it.”

   As Tom walked down to join her, Suresh poked his head over the fence. “Did I hear you say there’s a dead greenfinch, Joan?”

   “Yes. Poor little thing.”

   “Yeah, there’s one by my shed too. Must be that ginger tom.”

   “Bloody cats,” said Tom.

   “I keep chasing it off,” said Suresh. “Wait a minute. What’s happened to the magpies?”

   All three of them stared up at the hawthorn.

   “Why?” said Joan.

   “Well, they’re my early warning system. Every time that cat comes around the magpies kick off, making a right racket. Then, I know to come out and chase the cat off.”

   “Oh dear!” said, Tom, staring at his shiny shoes.

   “What have you done, Tom?” said Joan, through half closed eyes. “You’ve been interfering, haven’t you.”

About the author

The author is a retired computer programmer who writes short stories across a number of genres. He’s had a number of stories published in various magazines. He’s currently redrafting his children’s adventure novel from the point-of-view of a pensioner looking back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                 

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Tap Thrice and Enter

 

by Amrita Valan

Bloody Mary

 

She waited in the honeymoon suite for his discreet knock on the door, which meant he had

seen off the last of their guests.

The quiet tap! Tap! Tap! Rose in a crescendo as she opened the door, blushing. The hallway

was empty, as she peered outside, a cold draft tickled her spine. Her groom was standing, or

rather hovering on the window ledge, about to step in. Was he wearing lipstick? Her heart

crumpled like a dead animal as he leapt lightly in, wiping off crimson drool dribbling

down his chin.

“Alone at last!”, white fangs glittering he snarled.

About the author 

Amrita Valan is a writer from India and is passionate about exploring life, both dark and sunny side up. If she didn't write she would have wanted to be sent on secret missions involving travel. She had been published in Spillwords, ImpSpire and Cafe Dissensus among other zines.

Friday, 11 June 2021

A Penchant for Tulips

 

by Caroline Geary

Twinings English Breakfast 

 

Mark awoke to the sound of his cat heaving.  An unearthly gurgle that had him springing from his bed, ready to sling Hugo, his beloved ginger Tom, out the back door. He did not want his floor decorated with feline vomit. He couldn’t face cleaning up cat sick at the best of times, but especially not before he’d had his coffee. After fumbling with the lock of the back door, the still retching Hugo under one arm, he managed to swing it open just in time to deposit Hugo onto the back doorstep, where said cat promptly vomited. 

Ten minutes later Mark sat with Hugo purring away on his lap. He sipped his coffee, his brow furrowed. This being sick had started a few weeks ago. Mark had taken Hugo to the vet twice now, and even though he had spent the best part of a couple of hundred pounds, neither the vet nor Mark was any the wiser as to what was wrong. Mark tried to think of anything he’d done differently in the last few weeks, but only one thing stood out. The arguments with his elderly neighbour Edith. They had never got on. Since he had moved in a year ago she had been a miserable old windbag. She had moaned that his car obscured her drive (it didn’t, and she didn’t drive anyway) She complained his music was too loud (even when it was Crowded House at a very modest volume). She also moaned that the cat did his business in her garden (he didn’t, he did it in the other neighbour’s garden, Mark had seen him) and she moaned when he fed the birds as she claimed the birdseed attracted rats. (she might have a point with that one) 

So could it be. thought Mark, that she might have something to do with this? Could she be poisoning Hugo? He often went missing for hours at a time and could easily be lured into next doors with a saucer of milk or a sniff of tuna. She could put poison out in the garden too he thought. Weren’t slug pellets poisonous to cats?

 

He looked out into the garden. Edith, he noticed, was weeding the flower beds. He eyed her suspiciously; she must have sensed him looking as she lifted her head and glared back. Hugo was nowhere to be seen. As Mark made himself a second cup of coffee a plan began to form. 

The next morning his delivery arrived early. Good old Amazon he thought as he opened the package labelled Paw Tracker 100. He grinned at his genius.

'Hugo! come here boy,' he called, and Hugo arrived obediently as his feet. Removing Hugo’s old collar and replacing it with the Paw tracker, Mark positioned the camera at the front of the collar and  held the button down until the blue light flashed. He was pleased to see the camera had some charge. 

'Off you go boy,' said Mark encouragingly. 'Let’s see just what you get up to these days and just what, or whom, is making you poorly.’

Hugo’s huge amber eyes looked questioningly at Mark before he turned, jumped up on a stool, curled up and went to sleep. Mark sighed. This was not going to be as interesting as he had hoped. He set off to work, noticing Edith’s curtain twitch slightly as he pulled away in his old Golf.

            When Mark arrived home that evening, he scratched Hugo behind the ears.

 'You been there all-day mate?' he asked as the ginger tom was still seated in the same place Mark had left him that morning. Hugo yawned, exposing his little pointy teeth. Mark removed the collar and put the camera on charge cracking open a beer.  Soon after, he was slumped on the sofa in his favourite position, feet up on the footstool and Hugo purring happily on his lap. He swigged some beer and popped the USB stick into his laptop. 'Let’s see where you’ve been today mate,' said Mark stroking Hugo's left ear making it twitch in irritation. 

 

Mark was impressed by the quality of the footage, although black and white it was really easy to make out what was going on, even if it was somewhat disorientating seeing the world from Hugo’s perspective. 

Firstly, the footage showed Hugo jumping from the stool, finishing the food in his bowl, and slipping through the cat flap. Next the footage went very, very still. The  image on the screen showed the back lawn and the footage was moving very, very slowly. Mark had to lean forward and strain his eyes to see what was in the shot. He didn’t see it at first, but then he could identify a small sparrow, hopping around on the lawn. The footage then leapt forward as Hugo pounced towards the bird. And missed.

'Ha old boy! Better, luck next time,’ laughed Mark.

Next Mark could tell Hugo lay in a patch of sun, the image so bright nothing could be made out on the screen, he then washed his paws and tried and failed to catch another bird. Mark was just about to give up on seeing anything of interest when the wall separating his and Edith’s gardens loomed into view. Hugo leapt over the fence the view on screen lurching violently, and up to Edith’s back door. Mark leant forward, interest piqued. 

He’s waiting at the door thought Mark. This clearly meant Hugo had been in Edith’s house before. Mark was about to take a swig of beer as Edith's lower legs appeared behind the frosted glass and the door swung open giving Mark his first-ever glimpse of the hallway. It was as he imagined. Old fashioned but classy. The parquet flooring polished mirror smooth, a patterned rug covering much of the hallway. Mark watched through Hugo’s eyes as the cat padded through to the kitchen 

Mark was suddenly treated to a cat’s eye view of Edith’s sagging tights. 

 The camera had no sound, but he was shocked when he saw Edith’s face loom into view. Her expression was warm and smiling. He realised he had ever seen her smile before. Not once and he certainly hadn’t expected Hugo to be the cause of such genuine delight. After a few blurry movements, the next thing Mark saw was Hugo’s favourite dry biscuits being poured into a bowl and then the biscuits looming into view as the whole screen became a blur. It was clear he was watching Hugo wolf the food down. Mark was puzzled. As far as he could see Edith hadn’t added anything to the cat biscuits, He hadn’t seen anything that might resemble a poison. Weird. It was as though Edith was luring Hugo in as she liked him, and not out of spite at all. 

Next it seemed that Edith was retiring to her front room. Mark watched her slippered feet shuffle along the parquet and it was clear that Hugo was upon her lap as soon as she sat down. He could tell by the head movements that Hugo gave that she was rubbing him behind the ears. If there had have been audio on the recording Mark was certain Hugo would be purring like a pick-up. On the screen Hugo turned himself round and Mark was surprised to see that although Edith was smiling whilst talking to Hugo, a solitary tear had run down her cheek. He was shocked at his response; he felt a pang of remorse at his bad feelings towards her.  There was something desperately painful in seeing an older person cry. Mark drained his beer and continued to watch. On the recording Hugo had seen a bird in the garden thorough Edith’s window and had jumped up onto window sill. As Hugo paraded up and down Mark couldn’t help noticing the framed photos. One was a wedding picture, clearly of Edith in her younger days, her hair rolled up in elegant curls and her husband's arms around her waist. He wondered when she had lost him. Was it recently? he wondered. There was another photo of the husband in a soldier’s uniform. Mark wondered if this dapper looking husband of Edith’s had been killed in the war. He felt a creeping sense of shame as he realised, he never asked her anything about herself. The third and final photo on the windowsill was one of Edith and husband holding a baby. Mark frowned; he didn’t remember Edith ever mentioning a child and he had never seen her have any visitors. He scratched the back of his neck and fidgeted in his seat. He felt decidedly uncomfortable. Wasn’t it common courtesy, your civil duty even, to check in on your neighbours? Especially elderly ones that lived alone?

Back to the screen and Hugo was back in the hallway. He paused next to a vase of tulips. Oh god please don’t knock that over thought Mark, his lips pulled into a grimace as he watched Hugo sniffing the flowers. The folds and curves of the petals were all Mark could see. He found himself looking at a tulip, which soon became a tulip with half a petal, which soon became a tulip with a quarter of a petal. And then realisation hit him. Hugo was eating tulips. Cat’s cannot eat flowers. And definitely not tulips. He didn’t know how he knew it, but he had heard it somewhere and knew that they were poisonous. He wasn’t sure they were deadly, but it was enough to make a cat sick. The penny dropped and he realised Edith hadn’t been poisoning Hugo, she had simply been lonely and Hugo had been some comfort to her in her time of need. 

He shut the laptop lid firmly and sat back in his chair. He sat there for quite some time. Just thinking. 

The next day he was up early, he hit the supermarket and filled his basket with English breakfast tea, a novelty tea towel featuring a print of cats carrying out various cooking activities and some ginger biscuits. When he arrived home he went straight to Edith’s front door and rang the bell, noticing that his mouth felt dry and his hands clammy.

She answered quickly. She scowled at him and just said

'Yes?'

‘Edith,’ he said, holding out a hand. ‘We haven’t been formally introduced or got off to the best start.' He shifted from one foot to the other ‘And I’d like to apologise. Do you mind if I come in?’ Edith eyed him suspiciously, peering over the rim of her glasses. Mark raised the biscuits ‘Peace offering?’ he said.

Soon he was sitting in Edith’s front room waiting for her to bring in the tea.

Edith arrived then, a little hunched over, but steady on her feet. There were two biscuits on the plate, a teapot complete with a knitted tea cosy. a small sugar bowl and a jug of milk. Mark added two cubes to his tea with a splash then merrily dunked his biscuit. Edith's eyes twinkled in amusement. 

‘Like I say,’ Mark began, ‘I’m sorry I haven’t been very neighbourly. I promise to do better.’

‘Apology accepted’ said Edith. They were silent for a while then Edith said. ‘It's nice to have company.’

Mark smiled.

'It is. Do you not get many visitors?'

Edith shook her head, 

'No family?' Asked Mark, giving a cursory glance to the photo frames on the window sill. 

'No,' said Edith. her eyes had followed Mark’s to the pictures. She shook her head ' I lost Charlie before his first birthday. Pneumonia.'

'I’m so sorry,'' said Mark. 'What about your husband?'

'Ernest?' asked Edith,

'Did he die in the war?'' asked Mark.

'Oh he’s not dead,' said Edith.  'He’s in Oak Lodge.'

It took Mark a second to digest what that was.

'The nursing home?' he asked, finishing his biscuit, 'Do you see him often?'

 'I can’t get there,' she said. 'I’d love to but there's no one to take me.'

‘Well I can take you,' said Mark 'It’s no problem, would you like that?'

 Edith's eyes sparkled  'Yes, yes, please, I would like that so much!'

‘We’ll go tomorrow,’ said Mark. ‘We could take him some biscuits.' 

So it was arranged. Mark would pick Edith up at 10 o’ clock the following morning. 

Mark felt much lighter as he walked to the front door.

‘See you tomorrow,' he said. 

‘At 10 o'clock,’ said Edith with a smile.

Mark turned around as he left and with the warmest tone he had, he said.

‘Oh and I think my cat Hugo would like you.  He gets lonely when I'm at work. He's no bother, his name is Hugo if you call him he’ll come in and keep you company.’

‘Oh how lovely, thank you’ said Edith. 

 He smiled as he noticed her cheeks colour a bit. He turned to go, then turned back once more and added.

‘Oh but just make sure he doesn’t nibble any house plants if you have them. He has a penchant for tulips.’

About the author

Caroline is a Creative Writing student who writes quirky fiction and short stories with a twist.