Saturday 31 July 2021

It’s All a Big Joke


by Pete Pitman

something frothy


“When you think about it, it’s all a bit pointless.” James English was sitting on the side of a large metal bridge, long legs dangling, revealing a pair of pale ankles where his overall bottoms were too short. He was pushing his lank, blond hair away from his blue eyes, as he continued, “Take our job. We start at one end of this bloody bridge, paint its entire length, then we do it all over again. Pointless!”

   “I take your point,” agreed his short, stocky, bald headed workmate, Scott, with a twinkle in his brown eyes. His name was Duncan Scott, but everybody called him by his surname.

   James ignored his joke and said, “Makes you think being up here. Gives you a different perspective on life.”

   “How do you mean?” wondered Scott, who was tipping the crumbs from his lunch-box in to the water sliding by far below.

   “Well, look at all those people scurrying about like ants,” said James, waving a ham sandwich in the direction of the city streets, clearly visible a mile away. “They’re all rushing here and there, doing things that seem terribly important to them. But, from up here, they just look comical and futile.”

   “I keep telling ya, it’s all just one big joke. We’re just innocent fools in a great cosmic joke.” Scott was warming to the subject.

   “How long do you reckon this bridge is?” said James.

   “Three-hundred and twenty-five metres,” interjected the third member of the team, Iris, who was buried in big baggy overalls and woolly hat. These she wore to hide the curves, she’d been so upset to see, when she developed from a lithe tomboy into a voluptuous woman.

   “Thank you, Miss Mann,” said James, as he swallowed the last of his sandwich. “If we say this bridge, all three-hundred-and-twenty metres, is equivalent to the amount of time the universe has been in existence. Then, we say this large section here represents the time our sun and the earth have been around. And that rivet is how long there has been human life on the Earth. Our miserable seventy years, or so, is probably one five-thousandth of that.”

   “Put like that, it does seem pretty meaningless.”

   “I hate to break up your meaningful discussion, but you’ve got a bridge to paint, and I’ve got some timesheets to fill in.” Phil, the foreman, sat separate from the others, on a collapsible chair, well away from the hypnotic waters below. The responsibility of his role kept him grounded. He didn’t get involved with the others’ fanciful ideas and conversations.

   They left the higher plains of metaphysical discussion and returned to their mundane duties.


The following lunchtime, they were all sat as before, but twenty feet further along, eating their sandwiches. Scott turned to James and said, “You don’t believe in fate then, I suppose?”

   “Course not. That’s just as ludicrous as believing in a God. It’s only a case of people thinking they are more important than they actually are. Once you look at the immenseness of the universe and realize how insignificant we are, then it’s obvious everything is due to happenstance. You’re lucky to have been born, you get a short time to make a complete mess of things, and then you’re gone and very soon forgotten. No there is no such thing as fate.”

   “Isn’t the point though, that these things are meant to be immense and incomprehensible? Meaning we can’t possibly comprehend them.”

   “Maybe in the past, but we’ve come a long way since we believed the Earth was the centre of the Universe.”

   “Hmm, that’s true. What about the business of parallel universes, that they’re always on about? You make a decision, and you create an alternative path, or whatever.”

   Before James could answer, Iris interrupted with one of her factual bits, “In sci-fi it’s called the multiverse, but I think it only applies to important decisions.”

   “Well, that’s patent nonsense. You don’t know a decision is important until you look back on it, with hindsight. There are what, fifty-six million people in England alone, all making decisions every day. There’d be billions of multiverses. It’s another case of people trying to make us out to be more important than we are. It’s just pure chance, whether you make a good decision, or not.”

   “Yes, I’m with you there. You could be sat on your sofa and think, I fancy a bar of chocolate,” said Scott, speaking from the heart. “So, off you go to the shop and when you get back, the chimney’s collapsed through the roof and on to the sofa, you were seated on two minutes before. Or, on the way to the shop, some drugged up daft lad drives his car in to you. But, most likely, you return, eat the chocolate and pile on some more calories. Pure chance. You’re right there is no grand design.”

   “Exactly right, my chubby friend,” said James climbing on to one of the bridge’s crossbeams. “I’ll tell you what; as it’s all just a gamble. If I’ve got ham sandwiches again for pack-up tomorrow, I’ll lob myself off this bridge. Another insignificant death.”

   Scott stood up, but didn’t climb up, and said, “I’ll join you, if I get cheese again tomorrow.” He knew full well the last of the cheese had gone on the sandwiches he’d just devoured.

   “If I’ve got Marmite tomorrow again, I’ll do it too,” said Iris, who tended to do as the others did.

  What the others were doing was pulling faces. “You like Marmite, yuk!” they chorused.

  Phil, the foreman, folded away his chair and said, “You’re all nuts. Come on let’s get some work done.


The next day, the sky was a growling grey, the bridge was a freshly painted grey and the estuary it spanned was a thick turgid grey. The scene was still and expectant, as if waiting for something portentous to occur.

   Right on cue, James snapped off the lid of his lunch-box, raised his eyes to the dulled heavens and shouted, “Bloody hell, ham again. That does it, if there were Fates, then I would say they have spoken.” He clambered on to the bridge, yelled, “Geronimo!” and leapt into the still air. A few seconds later, there wasn’t so much a “Splash!” as a “Glup!”

   Scott hesitantly prised open his sandwich box. He lifted the lid, slammed it back down,  lifted it again, hung his head and moaned, “Oh bugger! Cheese, its cheese.” Shuffling forward to the edge of the bridge, he let the weight of his lolloping head precipitate him into the waiting depths.

   Iris, cautiously, undid her Bob the Builder lunch-box, the smell of Marmite rolled across the bridge causing Phil, the foreman, to almost retch and fall off his seat. Following in the large and small footsteps of her workmates, she climbed atop the bridge, lost her balance and plummeted.

   Phil, the foreman, said, “Blimey. It’ll take me months to train up a new team.”


At the funeral tea, the wives and parents were huddled around the sausage rolls. Mrs English said, “I don’t understand it. He loved ham. All he had to do was ask me to do him something else.”

   Mrs Scott said, “I don’t understand it. I fetched that cheese special from the farm shop. He loved cheese.”

   Iris’s mother, Mrs Mann, said, “I don’t understand it. Iris did her own sandwiches.”

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.

Friday 30 July 2021

Happy or Sad Place

 by Karen Lethlean

chai latte

Drawing breaths between gritted teeth, in response to more up ended bins, rubbish strewn wide, Sonya also noticed still wet graffiti daubed on toilet walls and tried to ignore Faberge egg shapes morphed into sharp edged phallic looking shapes as she walked down to the water. And wondered about necessity to appreciate this daubing as art, no matter how she looks, nothing artistic jumps out and bites her.

There, as if an ultimate contrast to her mood, she saw a vision of happiness. A young woman was throwing a stick for a big, handsome dog. He tore back and forth on narrow shores, bounding and leaping with pleasure. As if this tripled any other euphoric canine experience. Be lapping up milk froth at the Café soon. Dog body language said, beach, walk, best day ever!

Rather than harbour thoughts of dog joy, Sonya forced herself away, kept her lips pursed, almost bit her tongue. Conceded she missed owning a dog, unconditional affection, canine happiness vibes and simple dependability. Another thing her ex had removed. She gathered herself inward, instead of speaking, else her anger at yet another vandal attack gets loose on some poor innocent dog walker.

Thin edge of a wedge pushed more positive vibes as Sonya felt water curl around her toes. Warm and welcoming, liquid did not cut, punish or destroy. Instead licked her ankles. Salt in the air caresses her stomach. Ocean rolls, connecting with her belly. She looks at minute details in the sand, tiny undulations and high water marks.

Sonya began to wonder why, this morning, she didn’t take the headland track, walk through to the end. Catch a view back to the mainland. Sight a wallaby half hidden but making sure to look back at her. Pass through heath on bluffs until they suddenly dropped away and she could look down onto the endless curve of a southern beach. An oceanic domain, low coast, vegetation stunted and wind shorn. Blue so voluminous it seem to mount the horizon and nothing but the notion of a shoreline prevented sea from annulling land.

Far to the south, almost beyond view, sat a vertical shimmer of clusters of high rise apartments. In middle distance, still miles away, cleared space like a raw space, soon to be a new development. Sketched with geometrical clear-felling on low undulations previously marking out dunes. Linking them, rising and dipping with land contours but veering neither left nor right, a new bitumen road. A categorical line, smudged in places by sand blows. Occasionally sinking from sight, later in the day dissolving as a heat mirage. But always returning to view. Along it crawled a few isolated cars as small and hard as beetles, glinting, making trip logic decree movement between one newly constructed place and another. No better to wash such negative progress from her mind, by turning her back on such scratching onto pristine island coasts.

Not far away from the woman and her dog, was her neighbour, John. For the umpteenth time, told herself their relationship possessed more dimensions than proximity. Once again, with his tripod set up close to water’s edge. When he noticed Sonya, he waved. A grateful acknowledgement, stronger than earlier visions of hooligan damage. Feet propelled her in his direction. As if repelled by opposite magnets she associated with still dripping graffiti.

‘They’re always changing,’ John said, enamoured by watery weeds. ‘Light, current, wind, way they float and move, fluttering on all sorts of rhythms. I’ve taken dozens of pictures and each one is subtly different. Can’t decide which camera aperture captured image is best.’

Something about his manner, broke through Sonya’s negativity. To her, John brought good vibes; a token photography magazine in her letter box, or tiny, still warm pancakes, delivered on Shrove Tuesday. Little things, a smile, and raised eyebrow of recognition, visible through a crowded meeting hall. John embodied more family member traits than orbiting merely as a neighbour. Indeed, less judgmental, because she could talk more candidly with him, than to her own brothers. 

‘My dad believed we’re made up of invisible currents. He used to say there were ‘thin places’ where we’re closer to unseen worlds.’

‘Name a thin place.’ John asked without looking up from rock puddles and weeds.

‘Island ocean sides. You stand next to seas and you’re in touch with longings and losses.’

‘Longings and losses. Does sort of sum up Island sensations.’

Her mind swung back to a time when no excitement competed with an island arrival. In a loaded-up van, full of siblings arguing about seating arrangement. Soon about to glimpse blue waves in gaps through bush, out a window past her father’s sun spot flecked arm. Heavy wheels, produced new divots on well-worn tracks, which pushed through thick Banksia trees and lower growing melaleuca shrubs.

‘Won’t be long before I can bring my hives down here.’ Her father scanned vegetation more than actions of his offspring. ‘Be a mass of flowers in no time.’ 

All about blooms, seasons, hive sites, according to Dad. Whereas back then Sonya lusted after empty island beach sands, shifting waters, salt spray and next best-ever-special shell discoveries. A twinge of nostalgia for a more pristine coast needled. Too many people, houses and cars pushed in these days. If only she might travel back to, so much easier, childhood days.

‘So much easier now cameras recognise low-light algorithms. I can past water surfaces,’ interrupted John.

‘You’ve crossed another thin place barrier.’ Words released while Sonya maintained her nostalgia. Driving in as kids, many corrugated minutes after they’d left smooth highways, it was possible to note subtle differences. Top sand which faded in two long wheel spaced strips, first grey, edged with wild oats and twigs, turning to paler as dunes dominated. Big trees decreased until low scrub took over. Ought to be clear lines on a map to mark zones. Smells of salt, open water expanses, rushing waves drifted into wound down windows, as deeper breaths were drawn. As the last hill was crested, full views of the beach visible. Blue of water and sky almost melting into each other. There is an energy that washes over the land, brought in by the ocean. Sky is constantly changing canvas of colour, ocean breathes blue and green pigments dreamed of by painters, air like a rare whale sighting, mellowed by sea with random birds floating above on thermals.

 Just as quickly hillocks enclosed again, sometimes they caught sight of swamp reeds in a low depression.

Dad often said, ‘occasionally reeds flower. Each bloom has male and female parts, you know. People call them cat’s tails. But when they fluff up and explode into a mist of flakes, more like tiny flea infestations. Useless to bees, though.’

Words only wafted like those seeds until hidden ocean blues were revealed.

Further away, before the family car vanished down unsealed tracks, closer to highways where tiny shops encouraged those here for surf activities to partake of fresh fish and crisp fried chips. Tantalising glimpses of ocean vistas. Promised rideable waves and cooling swims. Now any distance between buildings, commercial businesses and beach drastically reduced. As if dunes and coastal shrub had been chewed away by some introduced predator.

Other times when everyone sat on a cliff edge eating fish and chips as sun caught fire and sunk into ocean, catching flames on clouds and even smallest waves. Seagulls shrieked, hovering and diving about their heads. Dad threw chips to gulls, Sonya told him to stop.

‘You sound like a fishwife,’ he said. ‘Or someone shouting coffee orders at the local.’

‘I wonder which ones are wives and which ones are husbands.’ She couldn’t resist a rare answer back.

Dad, sure to comment, bee sites so much further away now. He did keep struggling until he sold remaining hives to a man who marketed, via face book and websites, coastal honey (whatever that meant) at grower’s markets.

Sonya recalled island flowers glossed only by rising, or setting suns. No need to take out phones, post on Instagram. And John’s photographic activities weren’t they just a step up from juvenile, takie-photos.

Childhood arrivals meant a laden station wagon being embraced by sand hills, followed by expectations displaced by sheer joy of being near this tumbling blue goddess. Father’s words, ‘everything’s changed.’ As if citing a thin edge, evoked sensations of lust for ownership strong enough to preserve swaths of coast and grieve for environments lost.

John broke through Sonya’s memories touching a cold finger to her wrist. Leaving her wondering, how does he do that?

Sonya looked around and concluded, current arrivals didn’t provide similar sights nor anticipation. Especially when she need only glace to see evidence of constant vandal attacks.

Shading her brow, looking at this view, she took in a narrow beach, captured by rock pools soon to be refilled by incoming tides. Tides, time and rising oceans, along with crowds stolen those remembered wide shores. Recalling how even on the greyest of days water glimmered a most extraordinary blue, as if generating its own light. Possible to follow line of shores, see hills rise around quiet bays, detect summer green grass slowly fade toward winter brown.

Sonya recalled another time perched close to a thin moment. Her sandcastle being eaten away by an edgy little tide. Her father is instructing me to watch horizons for exact moment of sunset. If she is observant enough she’ll see a meteorological phenomenon called The Green Flag. She squint, eyes watering in sparklers of a setting sun.

‘Watch for the splash, the colour of petrol,’ he says.

Now she wondered, how long before local marauders launched projectiles into those ocean edged pools, rubbish tipped from bins, plastic bags, broken surfboards and random shrapnel collected into crevices.

While she was happy to linger, John again interrupted. ‘We best make a move, before we need water boots to make the car park.’

As they walked John’s camera gear clunked.

‘You really have to stop getting so cross about things.’

‘It’s that obvious.’

‘Look on your face, gave things away.’

‘And here was I thinking an encounter with dog and stick brushed clenched jaw and wrinkled brow away.’

‘Not quite. Besides you seldom beach walk when you’re calm and collected.’

‘Again, you’re right. I hope for better therapy, thin edges to take me away, confirm longings, give me ability to ignore losses.’

Rain out over the ocean obliterated a stretch of ragged cliff with squally grey sea beyond dissonance between rock and water. While she looked Sonya craved her tempers breaking like a thunderstorm, just so she could relish a post-tempest freshness. A metallic aroma lifting in wafts of released moisture equal to one-time aggression.

Buff-green swellings indicated elevation and magnitude of land-ocean edges. In one dimension, water appeared to be part of land, while obviously and entirely two separate elements. Yet residing on a thin edge, longed to be one in the same and shake off their separation. As if another dimension existed only in this place, where water and land met.

Sonya hears again her father’s, ‘closer to unseen worlds,’ belief in the fantastic. What if she could vanish on those invisible currents? Or devise a way to make stronger connections with shifting waters and sand to push away her tempers. If so who’d shout at councillors, who’d write to newspapers and ultimately who’d keep powerful developers away.

Gulls, dark-headed and greedy, spun on thermals above cliff edges and then dropped away, like bit parts in some conjuring trick. Seemed to be more birds lately, or maybe they stuck closer to beachside all-you-can-eat rubbish bins. Perhaps envoys from more pristine shores sent to warn, if only tone-deaf humans learnt their idioms.

Heading back towards houses John and Sonya encountered butterflies dancing in a depression between low scrubby sand hills. Moments later, before John could swing his camera into use, these insects were gone. ‘Damn, missed a calendar shot, right there.’ As if the extent of any interaction with scenery reduced to a monthly portal only available free from the local chemist.

Glare from white sand edging an estuary below cliffs made Sonya squint as if walking from a darkened room out to a whitewashed courtyard. Her shoulders stooped, and sweat gathered underneath Sonya’s shirt.  

‘All very beautiful,’ John said, looking again out to sea, ‘in some ways more real than anything I’ve seen.’

‘So how do you preserve this serenity?

‘I try not to think about big things, focus instead on miniscule elements, weeds in a rock pool resembling green hair floating in tiny currents, butterfly wings, a dog chasing a stick.’

‘Yet, look out there, its huge. Makes me feel helpless, as if I can’t possibly fight against so many negatives.’

John reached out, held his hand lightly over her shoulder. Almost touching, for the umpteenth time Sonya noticed yellow flecks in his eyes. ‘What is it you want to change?’

‘I’d be happier, calmer if council members would listen to suggestions, especially about development applications. Be fabulous if policemen they send down here, during summer’s influx did something more pro-active about wilful damage to changing rooms, toilets and beach rubbish bins. But those fly in, fly out authorities don’t care. Be nice if keep-cups were used, and not paper coffee mugs finding their way into the ocean. Shouldn’t be so hard to identify, they keep daubing repeated symbols. You’d think officials track down who is Tap’n Dude?’

‘At least the Council purchased some of my prints to display in public buildings, and ensured an annual arts festival. I feel affirmed, as if I’ve broken through what might be damaged.’

Sonya smiled. ‘You are my best friend John. But I get angry. Wilful destruction of facilities and the environment are issues more than recoverable by pretty pictures and art works.’

‘Maybe we could organize groups of those kids to daub artistic creations, not only along foreshores but within the age care village. Might take a while, but things may change as those kids grow up. Encourage more people to visit your father’s thin place.’

‘Maybe then they’d fall through and vanish into unseen worlds, along with broken shorelines and ugly graffiti.’

‘A tad cruel to wish on another person. Besides I think I’ve worked out who is Tap’n Dude. Got to be Saltant’s boy, Joel.’

‘How’d you figure that out?’

‘Crosswords, it’s another word for leaping, jumping, dancing. Sort of a puzzle, shorten words, sometimes reverse their names, I’ve been watching, guessing, making connection. Plus, other tiny bits of evidence.’

‘Such as…’

‘Spray cans out in their rubbish, same name on the back of his cap.’

‘I know you focus on small things, but I’m not convinced, photos, murals and art work can make a difference.’

‘No matter, Joel will be the first one I approach. What d’you think?’

About to reply, too slow, lips moving but words not ready. John continued. ‘Seems to be a creative force. Possible to be channelled. I’ll ask if he wants to be part of an artistic project, to splash new images and pictures around. Worth a try, I reckon.’

Sonya stamps her foot. Believed John needed to fix a wide-angle lens to that camera of his. Take some images to demonstrate intensity of increased storms. Show less run off and flushing of estuaries and rising tides eating away at the very bedrock. Only then would he be able to appreciate how loss functioned.

No matter how much nostalgia Sonya evoked doors to unseen worlds were creaking closed. Thin places growing scarcer by the minute. 

About the author 

Karen Lethlean is a retired English teacher. With fiction Barbaric Yawp, Ken*Again, Pendulum Papers. She has won a few awards through Australian and UK competitions. Including Best of Times, with Bum Joke. In her other life Karen is a triathlete who has done Hawaii Ironman championships twice.


Thursday 29 July 2021

Lingonberries in the Aude


by Liz Cox

vintage champagne

Marius the chef brought his meat cleaver down onto the scarred chopping board with a thud.

‘Lingonberries! Lingonberries! Who agreed to this? Where the hell do you think I’m going to find lingonberries in the Aude?’ The pot-wash boy cringed by the sink; the sous-chef sidled in the direction of the dining room. The maître d’ raised his eyebrows and stood his ground with his hands clasped behind his tail coat.

            ‘Yes Chef, the lady asked for a lingonberry sauce with her steak.’ He took one nervous step backwards.

Marius stormed out of the kitchen slamming the door behind him. There was sigh of relief. 

Marius was a three Michelin starred chef and wasn’t going to be dictated to by anyone; least of all a customer. What did they know? They ate what he cooked not the other way around. What about his reputation! Out in the balmy evening, he threw himself down on a bench under the grape vine and lit a calming cigarette. The cicadas were chirruping in the kitchen garden, and bats were flitting around the eaves of the sixteenth-century building. As he gazed out over the plain, he could see the citadel of Carcassonne rising in the distance, its floodlights a golden glow in the darkening skies. He took off his chef’s hat and wiped his sweating brow with the tea towel hung from his waist. He really couldn’t believe a customer had come into his restaurant in South-West France and asked for lingonberries which only grew in Scandinavia. What a moron! What an ignoramus!

Zut alors!’ He shouted at the night sky. The cicadas fell silent. He puffed on his Gauloise and fumed.

Andre, the sous-chef, came to find him. No one else in the kitchen brigade dared to risk it, but Andre had the measure of the man – all bark, no bite. But when Marius’ reputation was at stake, he knew his chef was a man possessed. Andre patted his boss on the shoulder.

‘Come on Chef, we’ll think of something,’ he cajoled. ‘Think of the kudos when you bring it off. Your name will be spread far and wide around the Aude. Think of the headlines, the first chef to make lingonberry sauce in the Aude.’ Andre spread his arms wide to indicate the breadth of the upcoming fame. ‘Think of the jealousy of your friends,’ he whispered. He knew he had him with that.

Marius gave his sous-chef a scathing look and without a word strode back through the door into the kitchen stamping out his cigarette on the gravel path.

‘Tell her she’ll have to wait while I conjure up a magnificent lingonberry sauce - in your more tactful words of course,’ he shouted to the maître d’. ‘Offer her champagne and amuse bouche.  The maître d’ scuttled back to the restaurant with a worried look on his face, a bottle of the best vintage Champagne in one hand and a plate of hors d’oeuvres in the other.  Turning to Andre, Marius barked,

‘Get the boy to find me a book about plants. I need to find out what they look like.’   Andre smirked, as he went off to find one of the juniors in the kitchen. He had known it would work. The chef’s arrogance would get the better of him in the end.

While Marius waited for the book to arrive, he peered through the steamed-up, round window in the restaurant door. Who was this person who had challenged his cooking? At thirty-five he was the youngest three-star chef in the area. Black curls were threatening to come loose from under his hat, and he pushed them back with his broad fingers. He glared at the diners in the restaurant. He soon found her, as she was the only one with the vintage champagne. ‘Misers the rest of them!’ he muttered. She wore her fair hair in a chin length bob, and as she perused the rest of the menu through her dark framed glasses, a stray lock fell across her face.  Hmm, not young, but not old either, he mused. She wore a casual shirt open at the neck and an emerald green skirt. Pearl ear drops glowed in the low lighting of the room. She was biting her lips, as she read, as if she couldn’t decide what to choose. But she’d already chosen, hadn’t she? Steak with lingonberry sauce. Marius banged his forehead on the doorjamb and turned back to his work bench.

Just then, the chef-de-partie returned with the book which the pot-wash boy had found lurking amongst the cobwebs in a dusty cupboard.

‘Here Chef,’ he held out the weighty volume. ‘Pierre found it in the old cupboard at the back of the kitchen.’ Marius snatched the book and riffled through the fragile pages at speed.

‘There are no lingonberry pictures in here, not unsurprisingly,’ he stormed, his voice dripping with sarcasm. ‘Doesn’t anyone know what they look like?’ 

‘Excuse me Chef,’ a nervous voice piped up at his left elbow. He looked down from his height of six foot two to find the pot-wash boy wringing his hands in his apron. ‘Excuse me Sir, but my grandmother came from Sweden. I have eaten lingonberries on my visits there.’

‘Why didn’t you say so before, boy, we’re wasting time here.’ The boy shuffled his feet.

‘They’re red, Sir.’ He ventured.

‘Red! Is that all? What do they taste like?’ He flicked the boy’s head with his cloth.

‘They’re sort of sour and sweet; tart if you like. Bit like a blueberry to look at … but red.’ He faltered.

Marius strode over to the window again and peered out. He could see her drumming her fingers on the tablecloth. The Champagne bottle was half empty and the plate of nibbles was gone. He watched as the maître d’ approached the woman. She looked at her watch and said something to the man which caused him to blanche and hurry back towards the kitchen. He pushed open the door, nearly flooring Marius in the meantime.

‘Chef, she’s going to leave if she doesn’t get her steak within fifteen minutes. And what’s worse, she’s going to write a bad review on Trip Advisor. She says you’re an arrogant fool and to stop watching her through the window and get cooking.’ Marius saw her give him a little wave, when he glanced into the room again. Marius shouted at the brigade.

‘Get moving you lazy lot of good-for-nothings, you heard what the lady said.’ A giggle began with the pot-wash boy, gradually moving around the room like a Mexican wave, until it ended with the sous-chef who was doing his best to stifle it, as he was within hitting distance of the boss. 

Chef was standing in the centre of the room scratching his head and casting around for inspiration. Andre went to the fridge and removed a lovely juicy fillet. He cut a generous slice from the whole piece, whilst Marius frowned at his generosity.

‘Got to butter her up Chef,’ he chortled. ‘Better get started on the lingonberry sauce. It won’t take me long to get this ready. With that Andre reached for a pan and melted some butter.

Marius was galvanised into action.  If the steak was ready before the sauce, it would be totally wasted. How to make the sauce? He sautéed some shallots and garlic in another pan with some butter and whilst they were softening, he flung open the fridge door searching for a lingonberry substitute. Would she realise it wasn’t the real thing? She looked Scandinavian with that blonde hair. Red currants, he would use red currants. They were red, and although they didn’t look the same, when they were squashed down, they would look good enough. He couldn’t believe he was doing this; compromising his reputation for a woman. If it had been any other customer, he would have sent them packing with a flea in their ear.

‘Are you nearly ready Chef?’ Andre was enjoying the moment of finding his tricky boss in a situation like this. It almost made it worth the usual screaming and shouting of the apoplectic man to catch him on the back foot. ‘She’s gathering up her belongings.’

Marius could not let this woman leave his restaurant without her steak and faux lingonberry sauce. He sliced and diced and squashed, until he had a deep burgundy sauce in the pan. Andre warmed the plate and garnished it with a flourish. He placed the beautifully caramelised steak in the centre and wiped the dish carefully. Now for the pièce de resistance. 

Marius approached the counter; in his left hand the pan of sauce, in his right the spoon. Lovingly, he spooned the sauce over the meat until it was completely red, and berries trickled down the side. He kissed his fingers in an extravagant gesture and turned around on his heel with the plate firmly resting on his palm.

‘Chef! Look out Chef!’ Andre was just in time to see the wine waiter right in the path of his boss. Too late! Marius lay sprawled across the restaurant floor, and the plate of steak and lingonberry sauce was neatly placed on the lap of the blonde woman. He gazed up into the most beautiful, frosty blue eyes, and smiled.

‘Steak with lingonberry Sauce, madam,’ he declared with a flourish.

The blonde dipped her finger into the mess on her lap and licked it delicately.

‘That is not lingonberry sauce monsieur,’ she declared as she scooped red berries off her white blouse. ‘I knew you would not be able to do it. A Michelin starred chef. I don’t think so.’ With that she stood up and sauntered out of the restaurant leaving a trail of meat, garnish and sticky red sauce across Marius’ bespoke deep pile carpet.

‘Huh! Call yourself a Michelin starred chef,’ she repeated as her parting shot, stepping over the prone Chef where he lay on the floor. ‘Everyone knows you can’t get lingonberries in the Aude. Ignoramus!’  

Andre and the pot-wash boy stood in the kitchen sniggering. Their boss had finally got his comeuppance, beaten by a blonde and a Nordic berry.


About the author

Liz lives on Anglesey, where she spends her time writing and gazing at her garden when procrastinating. She is a writer of short stories,and poetry. She is attempting to be a novelist and her first effort is nearing completion. 

Wednesday 28 July 2021

An Empty Well

 by Ruth C Morgan


An empty well.

The voices were back.

The silence I’d adjusted to was gone.

There was hesitation in the voice as the speaker considered his words, ‘What’s it going to be then?’

I opened my eyes.

Was there someone in the garden outside? Was the sound carried on the breeze blowing through the open window?

A gentle peel of laughter, and a question - ‘You don’t understand?’

I felt my lips move. ‘Going to be?’ I asked.

‘Poor thing, she doesn’t realise,’ said another voice, conversational.

‘Has she forgotten?’ another voice crisp English accent, male.

I shook my head as though the movement would stop the voices.

It wasn’t a dream. My eyes were open. I’d grabbed a nap on the sofa. The library was the quietest place in the house, a retreat, its silence a welcome contrast to the animated world in my mind. Now this space too was filled with an audience, voices, and questions.

More work, more words waited in the pile of editing on my desk. But I had nothing left to give; the well of my imagination was empty. The excitement of a new story still, inspiration spent - the blank page waiting on the desk terrifying. What if the ideas were gone? Forever? I felt tears fill my eyes.

‘That won’t help.’ Male voice, blunt.

I wanted to put my hands over my ears, tell them to stop.

‘Desperate situations require desperate measures,’ the voice stated.

My head was starting to spin. The symphony of sound was too much. I wanted to curl up on the sofa, close my eyes, and when I reopened them, the world would be normal. Warm air would continue to drift in bringing with it the scent of gardenias. The voices would be stilled. There would be peace.

‘Get up!’ the voice sharp, an order not to be disobeyed.

I wanted to fight back, tell them to go, explain that their unending demands were the reason for my exhaustion, that I needed time to refill the well of my imagination.


Slowly I sat up and put my feet on the polished floorboards.

‘A start,’ said the voice, challenging. The authoritarian tones firmly pushed gentler sounds into the background.

‘I can’t do this,’ I whispered. ‘I have nothing left. You’ve taken everything, and you still want more?’

For the first time, there was tenderness in the room. The gentle breeze delivered the fresh scents of the garden in a caress, touching my cheek. Warm fingers stroked my hand; a sturdy arm wrapped itself around my shoulders. ‘You can do this. Look around you, see the evidence with your own eyes.’

The room had changed. It was no longer lined with books, but with people. No longer words, but stories. The hand took mine, and led me to my desk.

‘We will help,’ he said sitting alongside. ‘Without you we are only images, sounds, and vague musings.’

A growing chorus of murmurings rose to a spine tingling crescendo, which peaked, then faded.

‘Are you ready?’ asked the voice.

‘Yes, I am.’ I picked up the pen. 

About the author 

Ruth has written most of her life. She’s had a number of short stories published in a variety of locations and is currently working on a collection of short stories set in regional Australia.