Tuesday, 5 July 2022

It was a dark and stormy night……by Judith Skilleter, Aperol spritz

 


But the Harker family were safe indoors. Outside it was horrible, the rain and wind were vicious. According to the weather man it was all due to global warming. “I wonder what Donal Trump makes of it” mused dad, Aidy Harker, as he looked out at the wet darkness. The moonlight was making the rain shine as it hit the ground like bullets and then headed off down the hill. “I suppose it is streaming down the hill” mused Aidy “Although rivering down or oceaning down would be a better description.”

It had been a dark and stormy night indoors as well as outdoors. Aidy was not a happy man. His wife Jane had recently had a decent lottery win, not enough to move to the South of France but enough to make significant, and unwelcome as far as Aidy was concerned, changes to their house. They had had words – dark and stormy words.

Her first plan had been shutters - shutters at every window had recently replaced curtains, curtains that had served them well for over twenty years and which had witnessed a lot of his family’s trials and tribulations and adventures. Now they had tasteful dove grey shutters through which Aidy was observing the weather. To Aidy they seemed like parallel prison bars and he hated them.

 His wife Jane’s argument for shutters had been determined, and slowly but surely his resistance had been worn down. Aidy didn’t care that they were the third family in the street to have them and if they did not have them now they would be accused of copying the others and falling behind. He didn’t care that they were the only family to have them fitted to every window, even the bathroom where the window was frosted glass. He just liked curtains. He liked welcoming the day with a couple of swishes of well-loved fabric.

The children were not bothered either way. The twins (Gavin and Paul, aged 12) had their bedroom shutters permanently closed. “I think I’ll start charging them for the electricity they use keeping the lights on all the time” thought Aidy. And as for Alexis, well, she was a very moody teenager these days and he felt safer keeping away from her bedroom. Alexis was particularly moody on this dark and stormy night, in fact she was also dark and stormy because her boyfriend Lee, who was supposed to be in Milton Keynes at a conference had been seen in The Cat and Fiddle pub in town with that cow Harriet Wilson.

And then there is the island, Jane’s second plan. Jane decided that the kitchen table, which had been a wedding present and had served them well throughout their marriage, had to go. It was replaced by an island “more storage space and far less mess “argued Jane. Only the island only had sitting places for two. “But we are family of 5 “argued Aidy knowing all the time that it was not worth the effort. “We can use the dining room, it is never used so now is our opportunity to use the dining table for what it was meant for” replied Jane with total misplaced confidence.

Of course, what happened was that whoever had their meals first bagged the 2 places and the others either stood at the island to eat or dragged in dining chairs which were too short for comfortable eating. It was a disaster.

Jane was currently in their bedroom, ruminating about potential changes and trying to find the best shutter position for the rough outside conditions. Aidy had said “Absolutely no” to her marvellous idea of having an ensuite in their bedroom. “No way are you messing with the only space in this house I can call my own” he had said very firmly. The space Jane wanted to use was currently occupied by his computer and printer and 40 year old Airfix models - it was Aidy’s and it was staying Aidy’s.

“The bathroom is next to our bedroom. Why don’t I just move our bedroom door a metre to the right and then you can have your ensuite with far less fuss” suggested Aidy.

“That is not the point and it is not funny” replied a very cross and frustrated Jane.

Jane then realised she would have to think through plan 4, the loft conversion idea, very carefully. They were doing a conversion over the road at number 64 and the plans looked marvellous.  However, they had a very good reason for their extension plans as a new and unexpected but very welcome pregnancy had taken root in number 64. Jane did not think she could go to those lengths to get a new loft.

The storm continued outside and it continued inside for some time. As for Aidy he vowed never to contribute to a lottery every again.

About the author

Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire 45 years ago and is married with 3 grandchildren 
 
Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee?

Monday, 4 July 2022

Bowled Over by Janet Howson, builders' tea,

 

Thomas Tucker, Robert Brocklehurst, Clive Woolescroft and Nathaniel Potter had known each other for eighty two years. Their mothers had met at a baby clinic during their weigh ins and exchanged information on their own babies development, their husbands and the state of the world in general, which wasn’t very complimentary as it was 1940 and England was at war with Germany.

‘We are all war babies you know’, one of them would say at any given opportunity, ‘rationing, gas masks and bomb shelters for us.’

‘We were six before we got to know our fathers as they were in the forces, all four of ‘em’, another would chip in.

‘You don’t know you’re born,’ a third would add, ‘I was the man of the house as an infant. I had responsibilities from very young.’

‘My mum was working in an ammunition factory and my sister and I were on our own most of the time.’ The fourth would comment, ‘We’d make our mum her tea for when she got home but there was never enough food. She would go without so we could eat.’

Not that anybody asked them about their history but they would tell anyone willing to listen.

Today the four of them were sitting round a table at the bowls club. They all had a pint of bottled ale each and a pile of newspapers lay in the centre of the table. At one time they would have had an open packet of cigarettes in front of them and several packets of crisps, either ready to be eaten or already consumed.

‘I’ve got to give up the fags,’ Nathaniel announced one day. ‘Doctor says they’re killing me. I don’t like them pictures they put on the packet either, blackened lungs don’t exactly encourage you to light up.”

‘Can’t do the cheese and onion crisps anymore,’ Thomas said mournfully one afternoon. ‘My doctor said I’m diabetic, type two, whatever that means. He said I had to take more exercise and eat a healthier diet. I told him I get plenty of exercise walking from the car park to the club house and lifting a heavy pint glass.’

They all obligingly laughed.

Then there was the hearing. ‘What?’  ‘Sorry can’t hear you.’ ‘Speak up.’ ‘Did you say something?’ would take up a great deal of their conversation.  Clive in particular found it difficult to keep up. He now sported hearing aids in both ears and hated it when they whistled or the batteries ran out. ‘They make them short lived so you’ll spend more.’

‘At least you can see further than the end of your nose,’ said Robert, ‘my eyes are getting worse. I can’t get on with my bifocals. Marion says I’ve got to persevere and I’ll get used to them.’

The other three had hummed and nodded at this. They had known Marion since they were teenagers together and she wasn’t  to be ignored. She had been Ladies Bowls Captain for years and only gave up when she had suffered a minor stroke which left her unable to bowl. She had now joined the U 3A and was out every day doing, book clubs, a History Group, Scrabble, a film club and so it went on. ‘She’s never in. I end up getting my own dinner sometimes.’ They had all shaken their heads at that in sympathy.

So here they were, without  their crisps or fags, with dodgy hearing and poor eyesight, but here never the less, enjoying  their  one pleasure in life, a pint and a catch up with friends.

The topic of conversation had drifted on to the club’s new logo. They had amalgamated with another club as their numbers had been dwindling, owing to members being too old to put a bowl up convincingly or had inconveniently died.  Clive was selected for the odd game if the captain couldn’t find anyone else and they all turned up for the roll ups or internal club competitions.

‘What’s wrong with the logo we’ve got now? It’s on all the club shirts, jackets, waterproofs, stationery and the rest.’ 

‘Because, Tommy, the committee have made their decision. I for one voted against the amalgamation at the start. We have been Burntwood Bowling Club for decades. When we joined it was an all men’s club.  It should have stayed like that as well. Something else I voted against.’

‘Don’t let my Marion hear you say that, Nat, she’d have your guts for garters.’

‘It’s true though, Robert. They’re always falling out with each other. Anyway, I think it’s good for a marriage to have separate hobbies.’

‘Yes, where Pauline can’t see how much ale you pour down your neck.’

‘Here speaks the man who refuses to bowl with his wife because they always end up arguing’ Clive added.

The others laugh.

‘Talking of ale, isn’t it your round Nat?’

Nat got up rather tentatively as the arthritis in his hips was playing up. He made his way to the bar where Basil, in a weak moment had agreed to be barman every Tuesday and Wednesday . He was trying to read an old Film Quiz Book but couldn’t concentrate as the four friends spoke so loudly on account of Clive’s deafness.

Nat looked at what Percy was reading. ‘Here’s one for you, Percy, what was Mae West’s first film?’

There was a chorus from the friend’s table ‘Night After Night’.

‘1942’ added Thomas. Clive said nothing as he hadn’t heard the question.

‘I was just about to say that’, said Percy, looking miffed.

‘Four of the same, Percy, and one for yourself.’

Robert got up to help carry the drinks but managed to bump into the edge of a table as his eyes were not what they used to be. Retuning with one of the drinks he managed to do it again so the rest of them said that would have to be his as he had spilt half of it on the floor. Which Robert had to agree was fair.

‘I hear the new club shirts are going to be pricey,’ Clive said.

‘You can’t take it with you, Clive, much as you’d like to, so spend your kids inheritance while you can.’

‘It’s all right for you to say that, Thomas, you’re not playing anymore, I’m the only one able to put a jack up. Social members don’t need a new shirt.’

‘They’re not going to select an 82 year old if they’ve got younger members to choose from.’

‘Not to mention one who can’t hear the skip’s instructions. Remember last season when your skip shouted down put one behind and you thought he said he didn’t mind and you put a blocker in and you lost the end. He never forgave you,’ Robert added, unable to see that Clive was hurt. Nat chose the moment to have a bought of coughing so the subject changed to long waiting queues for hospital appointments and how the country was going down the drain.

Basil joined in as he was getting bored with his quiz book and anyway it was about time the four friends drank up so he could lock up and go home. Beryl had promised him a Shepherd’s Pie with baked beans, his favourite.

‘I’ve been waiting for months for an appointment about my knees. The last thing my doctor told me was he thought I was going to have a replacement knee cap. I reckon I’ll be dead by the time I get an appointment.’

‘Go private, Bas. As I said to Clive, you can’t take it with you.’

The other four all turned to Thomas who was happily draining the last dregs of his ale.

‘You keep telling us that Tommy, but we haven’t forgotten the fact you still have free private insurance from the company you worked with,’ said Nat who was getting his two pence worth in before the coughing restarted. as his hearing aids were whistling.

‘Drink up, gentlemen,  I’ll be locking up in ten minutes.’

‘I never know what the time is. It’s a shame they got rid of that clock on the wall.’

‘Robert, put your glasses on, it’s still where it always was.’

‘What was that?’ This was from Clive who hadn’t heard much of the conversation.

‘A bit like us really. Permanent fixtures’

Basil rang a bell his daughter had found in a charity shop. ‘Time gentlemen please.’

The four friends got up, picked up their coats, car keys and in Nat’s case a Sainsbury’s carrier bag as Pauline had asked him to pick up a carton of milk as she needed it for custard.

‘Same time next week?’ Clive asked.

‘If I live that long,’ Robert said.

‘And there are no earthquakes, volcano eruptions or…’

‘Pandemics.’

The others laugh, except for Clive whose hearing aids were whistling.

About the auhtor 

 Janet Howson taught English and Drama for thirty five years and didn't take up writing until she retired. She has had two novellas published, Charitable Thoughts and 'Dramatic Episodes' as well as having short stories published in anthologies, including Best of CafeLit 8,9 and 10, Nativity and Mulling it Over. 

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee?

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Not Working by Rosemary Johnson, a glass of stiff vodka

We’ve stalled.  Stopped.  Stationary.  We’re in the Mall, in Dad’s Rolls-Royce, with three strangers in the back, and my husband’s just nowhere.  It’s the stuff of nightmares, but this is as real as the sweat smudging my mascara, panda-fashion.

Panic sweeps through my body like waves on the beach, a swirling powerful undertow drawing me down into fumbling inertia.  I’m panting like a steam train.

My hands greasy with sweat, I attempt once again to turn the key in the ignition, but there’s not a sound, not a stutter, from the Roller.  Until yesterday, it had stood in peaceful idleness in the garage since my dear papa’s passing over a year ago.  Whose idea was it to drive it in the Royal Platinum Jubilee Pageant?  Mine.  And at whose invitation were we here?  HMQ.

Tears tickle my cheeks.  What must I look like?  I daren’t look in the driving mirror. 

As a teenager, I had wanted to be famous, but my dad used to tilt his head on one side and say, ‘Just be kind.’

Dad himself was famous in the town where we lived, cruising around in his old Rolls-Royce, visiting someone in hospital, in a care home, or just lonely.  Dad was kind.

I married someone famous.  Tony doesn’t sing much nowadays.  We’re both the wrong side of sixty.  Although Radio 2 occasionally play his records, providing a nice bit of pocket money by way of Performing Rights, we were gobsmacked when we received that stiff envelope with the royal seal on the back.

‘We can't do the Jubilee Pageant in our ten-year-old Fiesta,’ said Tony.

I leaned over his shoulder, my foot tap-tapping on the kitchen floor.  I couldn’t keep still, too exciting.  ‘“Her Majesty has commanded me…”’ I read aloud from the letter which was signed by an ‘Equerry’.  ‘We must go.’  I’d wear a big hat.  I’d seen just the thing in the charity shop. 

‘How long would we be in the procession?’  My husband scrunched up his face in that manner I knew too well.  ‘You know… old man’s complaint.  Remember the poor old DE at the last jubilee?’

‘Just don’t drink anything.  You’ll be fine.  About the motor, I have an idea.’

 

*************

I intended to practise driving Dad’s pride and joy beforehand.  I wrote ‘Roller’ on all the Monday and Wednesday squares in May on our calendar, but things happen, don’t they?  Posts about Ukrainian refugees needing accommodation in our area started appearing on our village Facebook page.  We volunteered, of course, and suddenly our every moment was taken up getting ready our two spare rooms.  When they had departed for university two decades ago, our darling daughters had left most of their stuff in ‘their’ rooms and, when we asked, ‘didn’t have space for it’ where they were living now.  So much clearing up, cleaning and trips to the tip.  Tony and I were exhausted.

Marianna and her two teenage sons, Oleg and Fidor, arrived two days ago. Marianna brought me flowers, and, in her broken English, thanked me for cooking a meal for them that evening, but went on to say that she wished to cook Ukrainian food for her family from now on. Then they trundled upstairs with their heavy bags, she taking the biggest. 

What were we doing inviting these strangers into our house?

My father would have done it, though.  Dad was kind.  Come on, girl.  Tony invited them to join us for the Pageant.  They nodded, although I suspect they didn’t know what he was talking about.

 

*************

 

I toss the floppy hat into the vacant passenger seat.  What’s point in wearing it inside the car?  Tony, I need you.  Now.  Oh yes, I saw the ‘Gents’ sign a few yards back, but, really, Tony.  During a Royal Pageant?

Already, I’m aware of the reptiles of the press turning in our direction, their cameras, with flash attachments as big as iPads, poised.  Tony, come on.

Ukrainian words burble in the back-seat.  They think I can't drive this Roller.  They’re right.  I should never have–

They’re getting out.  Even my refugees are deserting me. 

There’s a bump from behind.  I swivel around.  Marianna, Fidor and Oleg are crouched over the boot?  She’s shouting, a piercing cry to resonate across the steppe.  ‘Poosh.’

The Rolls-Royce edges forwards… a little.  In the haze that’s everything beyond my motor, the pressmen are running towards us, some in long athletic strides, others all arms and legs as if they’re taking part in the school fathers’ race.

‘Poosh… poosh…’ cries Marianna.

‘Poosh… poosh…’ echo her two strapping sons.

With one hand on the steering wheel, I leap out the car and thrust my weight behind the door frame. The Roller’s moving.  Slowly.  I don’t care how.

A line of Jags, Bentleys and other posh cars has built up behind us.  They are going to have to wait.  We’re doing our best.  I dare to turn the ignition key again.  Chug.  Stutter. Yes, Roller, yes.  Again, please.  ‘Marianna, push, push… keep pushing.’ 

On the next attempt, the engine bursts into life.  In reality, the whole ghastly incident lasts only a few minutes.

When our Roller purrs around the Victoria Monument in front of Buckingham Palace, I want to jump out and dance, but I don’t.  Reporters are flocking around me like I’m Paul McCartney or something, rattling off questions like machine-gun fire, and thrusting their furry microphones in my face.  I don’t know why the engine stalled or why it restarted, and so I tell them.  I’m not a mechanic, or even my dad for whom the Roller always ran without hitch. 

Tony doesn’t reappear until afterwards.  (‘“Tony of Tony and the Tremblers pushing a car?  Not good for my professional image”, he says.’)  So, it’s my photo – with Marianna, Oleg and Fidor – and my words which appear in the newspapers next day. 

I wanted to be famous, but not like this.

About the author 

 

Rosemary has had short stories published in The Copperfield Review, Scribble, Mslexia, Fiction on the Web and 101 Words and is seeking a publisher for a novel about the Solidarity period in Poland. She lives with her husband in Essex. WordPress blog: https://rosemaryreaderandwriter.wordpress.com. Twitter: @REJohnsonWriter Instagram: @REJohnsonwriter 

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee?

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Follow-my-Leader by Dawn Bush, coffee,

 Trailing behind you beyond the farm gate, my confidence breathed its last. The beck had burst its banks and the familiar road, normally sandwiched between stream and dry stone wall, was gone. In its place lay a turmoil of angry dun-coloured water.

            “Come on,” you cried, “chicken!”

Your bike soared forward creating deep wings of water as the front wheel cleft the roiling mess. It was beautiful.

I followed, ever the obedient younger sister, but I doubted that my wheels could fashion such perfectly matched arcs. I wanted to be behind myself to see. My front wheel wobbled as I turned my head to look, taking me off course. The bank was here somewhere: disorientated, I could not tell where the road ended and the beck began. The torrent, I knew, was dangerously strong. Suddenly frightened, my eyes clung to you, cycling ahead as if you were immortal. One slip would be all it took to rob me of my brother. A sense of urgency gripped me; an unshakeable certainty that in a moment it would be too late.

“Stop!” I screamed out, “I’m going home, this is stupid!” then I turned my bike abruptly, heedless of freezing water slapping at my calves, and made my way back hugging the wall, the only landmark in that alien sea, with my front wheel.

“Coward!” you taunted, furious.

Maybe so: but today I am alive, unswept by that torrent; and I will never claim it to your face, but because you followed me that day, so are you.

About the author 

 Dawn Bush writes songs, short stories and poems. One day she will write a novel. Until then, she will keep working away on her short and very short stories. 
 
Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee?

Friday, 1 July 2022

Produce by Phyllis Souza, vegetable smoothie

     Maggie holds up a soft cucumber.  ‘Organic! Hmph.’ She glares at the produce worker.

     Rotating the vegetables, the clerk says, ‘On sale. Buy one, get one free.’

     ‘You've got to be kidding. Those cucumbers are old.’ Maggie frowns. ‘I can’t believe this store advertises fresh produce.’

     Maggie inches her shopping cart forward. Beefsteak tomatoes. Overripe. Splits in the skin. ‘What the hell.’ 

     Moving on to the grapes: red ones, fresh off the vine. Maggie glances right, left, and right. She snatches one and pops it into her mouth.

     Lips pucker—nose wrinkles. The grape flies from her month and smacks the face of the clerk.

     ‘Is there a problem?’ the worker wipes the grape doused in saliva.

     ‘This grape tastes like it's fermenting!’ Maggie complains.

     ‘Supply chain issues.’

 

About the Author

 Phyllis Souza, a retired real estate broker, lives in Northern California. She writes short and flash fiction. Her stories have been published in The Raven’s Perch, Cafe’Lit, Spillwords, Scarlet Leaf Review, Mad Swirl, The Drabble and Friday Flash Fiction.

 

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? 

  

Thursday, 30 June 2022

Invisible Women by Jenny Palmer, bitter lemon

 ‘Isn’t it time you started to think about retiring?’ her daughter came out with suddenly on their afternoon stroll.   

‘What do you mean?’ said Sheila. ‘Are you trying to tell me I’m past it?’

‘I didn’t mean it that way,’ insisted Mary. ‘I was just thinking of you. You’ve worked hard all your life. Surely you want to take things a bit easier now that you are approaching sixty.’

‘Well, I’m only fifty-seven and no, as a matter of fact, I don’t,’ Sheila said. ‘And anyway, it’s not as if I can. I won’t be getting my pension for some time. I don’t want to live in poverty.’ 

Younger people didn’t understand about pensions. She’d been the same at her age. She hadn’t started paying into her pension scheme, until well into her thirties, when she’d gone back to work after the children. Now that she was divorced, she wasn’t even sure when she would be getting her pension. They were always changing the rules.

‘Anyway, it’s not just the money that keeps me working.  What would I do all day long? Who would I see?’

‘Me?’ said Mary.

 ‘Quite’ thought Sheila. But some things were better left unsaid.  It had been happening a lot lately, people suggesting she be put out to grass. It had started somewhere around her mid-fifties. There came a point, it seemed, when, if they didn’t pay attention, women often became dispensable in the workplace.

It was especially annoying for someone like Sheila who’d been in the public eye. What

was more irritating was the way people tried to pass off their comments as concern. Now even her own daughter wanted her to stop working. 

All her life she had fought against becoming invisible.

‘Remember, don’t be a wallflower,’ her mother used to say to the teenage Sheila, when she was on her way out to dances.

‘I wish you’d stop harping on about it,’ Sheila would retaliate. ‘Anyone would think you were trying to get me married off or something.’

Her mother had led a life of relative obscurity. She was from that generation of women who had found themselves back into the kitchen, when their menfolk had come home from the war. Sheila had been secretly glad of her mother’s advice. It had stood her in good stead over the years, given her confidence to put herself forward when an opportunity arose.

At school she’d excelled in English and had gone on to take media studies at university, where she’d learnt that if you wanted to get anywhere as a woman in the media, it was no use hanging back.  You had to put yourself forward for every opportunity that came up. She’d jumped at the chance to become a war reporter.   

Embedded with the army, she’d experienced what real danger was. If she’d had any thoughts of staying invisible, the enemy certainly didn’t. She’d been a sitting target. She’d been shot at on several occasions and narrowly escaped death. After that she’d gone on to become a rising star in the media and had been promoted to a top job as a foreign correspondent. In that capacity, she’d interviewed many a significant international figure and had presided over many a ‘cause celebre.’ Of late she’d become known for promoting women in the workplace.

‘I’m not suggesting you sit at home all day long and do nothing,’ her daughter said. ‘There are plenty of pastimes for women of your age.’

‘Like what?’

‘Well, you could take up painting or creative writing. Quilting is very popular these days. It helps build neural networks. And there’s always walking or golf.’

‘It’s not pastimes I need,’ said Sheila. ‘And there’s nothing wrong with my neural networks, as far as I know.’  

‘Or, we were thinking, you could help us out with the children. You know they love you to bits.’

 ‘Before you go on,’ said Sheila, ‘there’s something I need to tell you. I would have told you before, but I wasn’t sure it would come off until today.  I’ve been offered a job as a fundraiser for the Refugee Council. It’s a chance to make a difference. They want me to start as soon as possible.’  

And she resolved to send off her acceptance, just as soon as she got home.  

 

About the author

Jenny Palmer writes short stories, poems, memoir and family history. Her stories are on the Cafelit website. Keepsake and other stories is available on Amazon. She will be signing copies of her latest book Witches, Quakers and Nonconformists at the Pendle Heritage Centre on 15th July, 2022.