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.

Wednesday 29 June 2022

A Day When History Resumed by Gene Goldfarb, Enlgish Breakfast Tea


It was after two o'clock that afternoon. We were taking our French test in Mr. Boffman's class. We took one every week. Some student aide from the principal's office came in and quietly  handed Mr. Boffman a note. Boffman read it silently, then said in a very low voice that this was indeed serious.          


He then told everyone to stop, even if they hadn’t finished, and pass their test papers up to the front of their row. We were used to this procedure, but something was different. There was a hush. Then an announcement came on the classroom speaker.


It was the principal, "I must inform you all that the President has been shot. All students are directed return to their home rooms and will then be discharged for the day." Boffman told us to stand and file out in an orderly fashion. He always had an extremely witty and sarcastic put-down when students said anything in class that could be interpreted as a boast or groundless claim. This time there were no witty, or sarcastic joke from Boffman. It was eerie, almost like "leave, and be quick about it."


I remember filing into the hallway and feeling the crush of students like two currents in a tumultuous ocean heading in opposite directions, each on the right side. There was a low roar, and one loud student yelling as if he'd been disturbed from of his slumber, "The President's been shot, the President's been shot. You'd think he was the fuckin' king."


I thought that remark was gross. But as reluctant I was to admit it, I thought there was a kernel of truth nestled in the loudmouth's gutsy cynicism. Though it felt scary like great buildings falling all around you. I wondered what was going on and who was in charge now. I had always thought that history, like World War II, had happened before I was born, and nothing more would probably occur for a long time, perhaps the rest of my life. But something both incredible and important had just happened. And this took the cake. You wanted to make sure your feet remained steady under you.


We all got out of school pretty quickly that day. I had got on the subway and headed down to Midtown Manhattan where I had an after-school job as a messenger. I figured there would still be messages to be delivered and some money to be earned. But everyone who had a radio had it on. It was reported the President was dead, and a new one had been sworn in. Gee, that was fast.


When I got to my job in the diamond district, everything was strangely astir.  Businesses were closing early and people were already leaving work and heading home. I sensed there was only one topic that concerned people that afternoon. As I walked into the messenger service, there was business still being done but at a quickly slowing pace.


We had a lot of ad agencies who we did business with, picking up and delivering their messages to other business offices. One came in from BBD&O, and our dispatcher George gave it to me for a pick up and to be delivered to photographic studio. These studios were really cool. They had models who were out of this world. I had been to them a number of times.


But Mr. Todd, the owner of my employer was an on-premises hands-on boss. He said, "No, George. Give the assignment to Ernie. Send Benny home for the day. I don't need him this afternoon."


"But Mr. Todd. Benny'll get the job done. Then he can head home without having to come back to the office," George protested.


"Nah. Just send the kid home."


"Okay. But at least pay him for the day. He came in and is going to miss a day's pay."


"You're right, George," Mr. Todd admitted, already irritated. "Pay him for his time here, no more."


"Okay, Mr. Todd."


My face soured. I couldn't help it, but didn't say a word. And George, looking over at me, seemed to notice.


He was a pretty good dispatcher, a wonderful human being, but mostly he knew when to keep his mouth shut. And in front of Mr. Todd, that's what was the safe thing to do.


A phone call came in to Mr. Todd, and he was tied up after that. I had to go the men's room.

When I got back, Mr. Todd was gone. George called me over and despite Mr. Todd's instruction he gave me a delivery to do for a package that was already in the office.


"Here you can deliver this up near Riverside drive. It's from a big movie studio and goes to this composer. If Todd questions me on it, I can tell him no one else was willing to do it because they wanted to get home quickly on account of the assassination, and they wanted to watch the news."


"But George, he may find out when he comes in Monday."


"Don't worry, Benny. He won't remember anything. Today and the weekend will be a blur of history with the assassination and everything. I'll see you get paid for an afternoon, half hour short of a day's pay. Like I said don't worry."


George was a gem. And truly, he was advancing his employer's interests, even though Mr. Todd took a kind of sadistic pleasure in shortchanging his employees.


I took the package and the subway up to the nineties on the west side. And then walked over to Riverside Drive. The composer lived up on the tenth floor, and I was excited to see him in person. I was familiar with several of his soundtracks and loved them for their bold sweep. The elevator had that old building smell. I sensed my anticipation rising as I came to his door in this large apartment building.


When I rang his bell, there was no answer for a while.


"Oh crap," I thought.


Finally, an old woman opened the door after inquiring who it was.


She apologized, "I'm sorry. I was listening to the news. Terrible, you know."


"Yes, I know."


She took the package, explained to me that her son was away, and told me to wait. She came back to the door and tipped me a whole dollar. I was surprised by her generosity.


As I left the building began heading home, it had started to rain with intermittent big fat drops. I stared at the pavement and it was getting polka-dotted with rain. I wondered how long before the spots would join up and become one even sheet of dark gleaming sidewalk. Sure enough it was

happening before my eyes. It felt like heaven was crying.


I wondered when was the last assassination in American politics. I happened to know that someone was trying to shoot FDR and instead killed Mayor Cermak of Chicago. That indeed was a long time ago. But long-forgotten history had a way of reminding you it was still there.


Then the feeling, more than a thought, came over me, "Maybe he was the fuckin' king." 

About the author

Gene Goldfarb now lives in New York City, writes short fiction, essays and poetry, loves reading, international cuisine, movies of all kind, and travel. His prose has appeared in Adelaide, Black Fox, Bull & Cross, CafeLit, Open Door, Short Story Town, and elsewhere.

Tuesday 28 June 2022

Eleanor and Tomas by Gill James, breakfast tea

The sun was shining brightly when Eleanor woke up. Was she late? She'd better get a move on. Adrian would need his breakfast and then she'd have to get Mikey and Sandra off to school. Why was it so light already? It wasn't summer was it? And what was it with those thin curtains. When had she changed those? What had happened to the thick velvet ones?

She turned over. Oh, yes of course. What was she thinking? Adrian had passed away two years ago. And Mikey and Sandra were now grown up and had children of their own. They were coming to see her next Saturday. It would be her birthday.

She didn't like this single bed, though. She never knew which side to get out of and whichever one she chose it was the wrong one. She was always frightened as well at night that she was going to fall out of it. It was a pity they wouldn't let her have a double bed.

"What would you want that for?" the young woman from the office had asked. "You're not thinking of taking a lover, are you? At your age?"

Why not at her age? "No, but I like to spread myself out a bit."

The young woman had shaken her head. "Well, I'm sorry. There isn't really enough space here."

No there wasn't. Oh, it was a pleasant enough little apartment and they looked after her well. But it was a bit cramped.

"Good morning, Eleanor," chirped Tomas.

Ah good. He was wearing his red bobble hat today. He reminded her of Mikey when he did that.

"You going to boss me about again today?"

Tomas bowed slightly. "I'm here to look after you Eleanor. You know that."           

"I suppose I'd better have a shower and get dressed. You can avert your eyes, young man."

"I wouldn't dream of watching you undress or shower, Eleanor. But you don't have to do that. Remember, the ladies will come later this morning and help you. You can have your breakfast though. It is all laid out in the kitchen. Wait for me and I'll help you with the cup-kettle." Tomas disappeared from the wall.

Eleanor pulled on her dressing gown and made her way into the kitchen. She remembered now; they wouldn't let her have a shower and get dressed on her own since she'd had that nasty fall a month ago. Her leg still hurt when she walked.  

Tomas was already on the wall when she got into the kitchen. The table was laid for breakfast.

"You need to put some water or orange juice in your glass," said Tomas. "The orange juice is in the fridge. You can get the milk out while you're in there."

She found the orange juice and the milk.

"Press the button on the cup-kettle."

She did as he'd asked. The little machine started spluttering and hissing.   

"I'll tell you when it's safe to take the cup and start drinking,” said Tomas.

Goodness, they really made a baby out of her. 

"Don't forget to take your blood pressure pill, Eleanor."

Eleanor shook her head. "You don't half nag, Tomas. Well then. Are you going to tell me what's going on in the world?"

Tomas disappeared from the wall and the morning TV show started playing. Goodness, was there no end to this: petrol shortages, supermarket shelves empty, that virus kicking off again and now a war.  A war? Or was it a new virus? "Blooming heck, Tomas. It's all gone a bit mad hasn't it?"

Tomas appeared at the corner of the picture.

"But you'll be safe, Eleanor. We'll make sure of that."                     

Eleanor watched a couple of more cheerful items on the television while she finished her breakfast and then went to wash up.

Suddenly Tomas was there again, full size, on the wall.

"You don't have to do that. You can put the dishes in the sink if you like. And you can put the milk and the orange juice back in the fridge."

"I suppose after the girls have been I'd better get out to the shops to get something for lunch."

"You don't have to shop for lunch, Eleanor. Remember; they'll bring you a hot meal."

Oh yes that was right, they did.  And they were very nice meals too. Though she did miss cooking. And it was especially nice on a Sunday when those who weren't taken out would eat in the big dining room downstairs. She'd done that once or twice when the children had been away on holiday. It had been very companionable

"Well, what am I going to do with myself all day?"

"You can sit in your armchair and watch TV or you can read your book."

Eleanor nodded. She made her way into her lounge area and sat down in her armchair. She bit her lip and frowned.

"What's the matter?" asked Tomas. "You look worried."

How did he manage to do that? Skip from one wall to another in less time than it took her to walk from room to room. "I'm wondering whether they're still going to come on Saturday."

"Would you like me to check?"

"Yes please. That would set my mind at rest."

Tomas disappeared from the wall, which whirred and creaked a little. She always felt a bit anxious when that happened.

Then Mikey's face appeared. Little Anna-Louise was at his side.

"Hi, Mum," said Mikey. "Tomas contacted us and said you were a bit worried about Saturday. We'll all be there, Mum. You just make sure you get your best dress on."

Anna-Louise was jumping up and down excitedly. "We've made a lovely surprise for you, Grandma. We can't wait to show you."

"Oh. Thank you, dear. That will be nice."

They were good kids. All of them. Mikey, Sandra, Tomas, Anna-Louise, - what was the other one called? And Sandra's two? Oh dear.     


"There you are, Eleanor.  All done. That's better isn't it?"

"Yes, thank you, dear."

She really had no recollection of what had happened since breakfast. She only had a hazy memory as well of actually getting into the shower. That might not have even been today.

Now. It was the girl with long black hair today. She could never remember her name. The plain one with the greying hair, that was Jean. She could remember her because she was there every day.

"We have plans for this afternoon, Eleanor, if you're up for it," said Jean.


"Well, it's such a nice day," said the other one, "we thought we'd take you all out for a little walk in the park. What do you think about that?"

"Oh, I don't know. Will Tomas be able to come?" She always felt better if Tomas was around.

Jean laughed. "Did you hear that Tomas? She wants you to come to the park with us."

Tomas, who had not been there a few seconds ago, laughed. "If only. But you know, Eleanor, I can't leave the apartment."

"But what will you do while I'm not here?"

"It's only like when you're asleep. My background programmes will carry on running and looking for updates. They also use the down time to add more data."

Eleanor shook her head. "I haven't a clue what you're on about Tomas."

"It doesn't matter. You go out with these nice young women. The fresh air will do you good. Wrap up warm, mind."

There he was again. Nagging.

Perhaps it would be all right. They were nice enough, the other people who lived here. She'd found that out at some of the Sunday lunches. But just how mobile were they?        


Well, Jean and Tomas and the other one had been right. It was rather nice in the park. The air and the sun were warm. The leaves were going all sorts of glorious colours. Could she taste the sea as well? Salt air? How far were they from the sea? Where were they exactly? She wasn't sure. She used to live by the sea, didn't she, with Adrian, Mikey and Sandra?

"Come on then, Eleanor; fancy a stroll round the duck pond? I've got a bit of bread for them." Raymond, wasn't it? He was quite dapper. He held out his arm to her. She took it. He had a bit of a stiff walk but that went with her limp, didn't it? They suited one another, didn't they? Could he become her lover? That would show that snooty young woman from the office. Still, there really wasn't room for a double bed in her apartment.

"Cheeky beggars, ain't they?" A couple of Canada geese had come right up to Raymond and one of them was trying to take the bread out of his hand. "No, you don't. You'll have to go and run after it the same as the others." He lobbed his last piece of bread into the pond.

Then there was a great flurry of wings as the sweetest little Westie Eleanor had ever seen ran towards them. He was even sweeter than their Archie they'd had when the children were still at junior school.

"Hello," she said bending down to pet the little dog.

A young boy and, she supposed, his mum came rushing after the dog.

"Come here, Suzie," cried the boy. "Don't disturb the lady and gentleman."

Oh, so it was a little girl dog. "It's quite all right. We're used to dogs, aren't we, Adrian?" No, not Adrian. Raymond. He gave her a funny look.

"Come on Jack. Put her back on her lead. You shouldn't have left her off."

"Come here you." Jack clipped the lead on to Suzie's collar.

Eleanor sighed. "I wish we could have dogs."

Jean had wandered over by then. "Well, we were thinking of getting a cat to share amongst the residents." She smiled at Jack's mum. "But why don't you bring your dog along for a visit now and then?"

Jack jumped up and down and clapped his hands. "Yes!"

"That would be lovely," said Eleanor.

The other one was beginning to herd them back towards the gate. Jean carried on talking to the woman and her boy while little Suzie kept making attempts to chase the ducks and geese. Eleanor supposed Jean was telling them how to get to the apartments.         


"So, Eleanor, has today been a good day?"

He asked her that every night at about this time. He wasn't wearing his red bobble hat this time. Perhaps it was near his bed-time as well.

"Oh yes it has. I've got a new boyfriend. And a new little boy - John, Jeff? I can't remember his name. He's got a little dog called Suzie. He's going to come and visit."

"So who's the boyfriend, Eleanor?" Tomas was frowning and had his arms folded across his chest. He looked a bit annoyed. Was he jealous?

"Oh, I'm only joking. I only mean Raymond from downstairs. We went for a walk around the lake together."

"The lake?"

"Well, the duck pond."

"That sounds nice. Now, Eleanor, finish your cocoa and get into bed."

"You won't watch me getting undressed will you?"

"You're ready for bed, Eleanor. The ladies got you ready. Don't you remember?"

Eleanor chuckled. "So they did. You'll look after me, won't you?"

"Of course I will, Eleanor. All night long."        

Monday 27 June 2022

Jubilee by Allison Symes, cup of tea

Dorothy’s signature Victoria sponge looked luscious. The family loved it. Such a shame they went to New Zealand. She understood about the opportunities for her son and daughter-in-law.  Zoom calls were welcome but you couldn’t hug someone. The grandchildren were growing up fast without her.

Still Dorothy would mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee come what may with a decent slice and a cup of tea or several.

Just a pity I’ve nobody to share it with since Bill died. Had no chance to get to know the neighbours. Bill’s dementia came on so fast. It was good of David to offer to come home but there wasn’t anything he could do. I guess the sponge will do me for a few days but I won’t have any until tomorrow, the first Jubilee day. At least I will have something nice to look forward to.

Dorothy blinked back tears. She wasn’t having that. Bill wouldn’t have wanted it.

The letter box slammed.

Dorothy winced. She wished the postman wasn’t so hard on that door. She fetched the post but only found a local leaflet.

Hmm… there’s to be a community celebration tomorrow, Dorothy read. All welcome. Donations of cakes, biscuits, sandwiches and savouries welcome. Please list ingredients used. Goodies to be dropped off by 10 am at the Village Hall. A shared lunch to be held at 1.30 after the fly past which will be shown on big screens. Please be at the Hall for about 12.30 for a chance to chat.

Dorothy smiled. Now she knew where the cake would go. She could raise a glass or a cup of tea to Her Majesty with neighbours after all.

Now if she could only find her cake box…




‘Mum, where on earth have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you for ages. I thought something had happened.’

Dorothy smiled at her flushed son. ‘I’ve just been at the village Jubilee celebrations.’

‘That’s nice, Mum, but you didn’t have time to socialise what with Dad and all. You don’t know anyone.’

‘I do now, David. I do now.’

About the author

Allison Symes, who loves quirky fiction, is published by Chapeltown Books, CafeLit, and Bridge House Publishing. Website: Books: Her flash fiction collections, From Light to Dark and Back Again and Tripping The Flash Fantastic, are available in Kindle and paperback. Her Youtube channel, with videos, is at

Sunday 26 June 2022

There Was a Message in the Bottle All Along by Elizabeth Leland, gin

             Daisy and I go out for air before bedtime. On a pavement bench I sit and pat my skirt. She jumps up. I tell her – my fond habitual comment – that she’s the best Jack Russell in the world.

       Above us the quarter moon curves round its own haze. The streetlights don’t quite block all the stars.

       ‘Vincent Van Gogh,’ my mother used to say, ‘cut his ear off.’ She poured clear London Dry and raised her glass. ‘Cheers. Ears.’ Or she announced, ‘Time for a military march. Chop chop!’ and strode, with a sway, round the living room.

       Daisy’s growl is quiet. A handsome Collie approaches, his shoulders and ears taut with interest. Daisy, less than half his size, takes agin him.

       A gin. My mother: a comedy drunk facing down her audience even when it was only me. She had no escape from my father until he decided to leave us, and then no choice but life with me, a silent, critical daughter.

       I let Daisy jump off my lap. On her lead she jogs along and turns us towards home. I try never to make her stay where she doesn’t want to be.


About the author

 Elizabeth Leyland writes long and short fiction and lives in the UK. She has been published by CafeLit and Fairfield Scribes.