Monday, 15 August 2022

The Light by Tony Domaille, tea from a caddy.

 Lilly wasn’t just lighting George’s cigarette she was lighting his heart. He almost forgot to breathe as the flame from the Zippo reflected in her eyes and orange light danced on her face.

‘Thanks,’ he said.

Lilly smiled, deftly took the cigarette from his lips and put it to her own.

George’s heart quickened as her bright red lipstick transferred to the pure white of the cigarette. Then she blew a perfect smoke ring and passed the cigarette back to him.

As the smoke swirled through the dim light, George thought Lilly was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. Most girls looked plain in the olive green of their Auxiliary Territorial Services uniform, but not Lilly. The tunic accentuated her curves, and George wondered if the tight fit was by accident or design.  She wore her cap just a couple of degrees off straight, and her blond waves framed a face that George thought could launch more ships than Helen.

‘Can’t you find anything else to stare at?’ she said, smiling.

‘Sorry,’ said George. ‘It’s just that…’

Lilly sat down and crossed her legs, making George’s stomach do another flip.

‘It’s just what?’ she said.

George took a deep breath. She was so far out of his league he didn’t feel he had anything to lose by telling her. They would be in the bunker until the all-clear sounded, so what was the worst that could happen? She’d give him the brush off? He was used to that, but he’d still be with her until the night’s bombs stopped dropping.

‘I think you’re really beautiful,’ he said, disappointed by the catch in his voice, and waiting for the knockback.

‘Why thank you, kind Sir,’ Lilly feigned coyness and then surprised him by saying, ‘You’re not so bad yourself.’

Had she really said that? He knew he was no Adonis, but his mum always said he had a winning smile. Though her nickname for him was ‘teapot’ because he was short and stout. He knew Lilly hadn’t likened him to Errol Flynn or called him handsome, but it was a nice thing to say. He found himself smoothing down his hair and wishing he hadn’t skipped a shave that morning.

He opened his mouth to speak, but the whistle of a bomb dropping close by came and they waited for the explosion. Then the bunker seemed to rock as dust and dirt fell from the ceiling, making them cough.

‘Are you okay?’ George asked.

Lilly nodded, dusting off her cap.

He supposed she wished she were in a large bunker, or in the Underground with lots of people. Everyone was used to air raids, but George reckoned that it was easier if you were with your mates or your loved ones. When the sirens had started, he had been walking down the street on his own and was stunned when this beautiful girl had suddenly grabbed his hand and steered him from street to garden to bunker. It was just the two of them.

‘My name’s George.’

‘Lilly.’ She softly shook his hand.

George asked who the bunker belonged to and Lilly told him that it was her aunt’s. She was in hospital and Lilly had been coming to check on her aunt’s mail when the sirens sounded.

‘Lucky for me,’ said George.

‘And me,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t like to be down here on my own, and you seem nice enough.’

George frantically searched his head for words to return the compliment without sounding as if he was pushing his luck. Then another explosion made him flinch.

‘That sounded close,’ he said.

Lilly nodded. ‘I’m wondering if auntie’s house will be standing after this.’

‘Good job, she’s in hospital…’ George began to flounder. ‘I mean, it’s not good she’s in hospital…what I mean is…’

Lilly gave a little laugh. ‘I know what you’re trying to say.’ She hesitated and then said, ‘Would you hold my hand?’

George froze for a moment. The most beautiful girl he had ever seen wanted to hold his hand.

‘Please?’ she said.

George sat down beside her and took her hand. As the bombs dropped and the bunker rocked, they talked and talked. George couldn’t remember when he let go of her hand and put his arm around her, but he knew that meant it had to have been right.

When the all-clear sounded, they had been in the bunker for just a couple of hours, but he felt he had known Lilly all his life. More than that, he wanted to know her for the rest of his life and felt sad as they climbed out into the smoke-filled air above, knowing they would go their separate ways.

Above ground, little was left of the street they had left just a hours before. Houses lay in rubble and little fires still burned. But Lilly’s aunt’s house still stood.

‘Thank you for looking after me,’ said Lilly.

George took a cigarette from his packet. ‘Thank you for taking me into your aunt’s shelter, Look, I don’t suppose you’d like to see me again sometime.’

Lilly smiled, as she opened the Zippo and gave him a light. ‘Then you suppose wrong,’ she said, before kissing him lightly on the cheek.

*

They married in October 1945. Post war life followed, with the world changing immeasurably along the way. But George insisted that there was one thing he would never allow to change. If he wanted a cigarette, and if Lilly was there when he wanted one, he wanted her to light it for him.  For a long time, Lilly just sighed in mock protest and then lit his cigarettes with the Zippo lighter that she kept with her all the time.  But as the years turned into decades, and attitudes changed, Lilly eventually began to rail against his habit.

‘You really ought to give up smoking,’ she told him, time and again, but he always had the same answer.

            ‘I don’t drink, I don’t gamble, and I don’t chase other women. Do you know why?’

            ‘You’ve told me often enough.’

George nodded. ‘Because I get my kicks when you light that flame. It takes me back to the moment I met you, and I’m going to enjoy that moment as many times as I can.’

            ‘You may not have many moments left, if you don’t give them up,’ said Lilly.

            ‘But I’ll die having remembered twenty times a day for as long as I lived.’

            Everyone was smoking until the nineteen-nineties, so it wasn’t George and Lilly’s kids that implored him to give it up; it was the grandchildren. He wobbled in his resolve under pressure from four-year-old Emily, who told him in graphic, if confused, detail of the damage he was doing to his lungs. He inwardly groaned at six-year-old Ben’s complaints. The kids became even more vociferous in their campaign as they got older, but George remained steadfast. The only concession he made was to leave lighting up until they’d gone home. Then the minute they were gone, out would come his cigarettes and Lilly would tut for the millionth time. But when Lilly opened the lighter, thumbed the wheel, and the flame sprang, George never tired of seeing it reflected in her eyes, just as he had done that day in the bunker.

            So, it didn’t matter what the doctors said. As George and Lilly got older, and maladies became numerous, giving up smoking was always on their list of advice, but George didn’t listen.

            ‘You do realise the harm it does?’

            ‘Yes, doctor.’

            ‘Then why do you do it?’

            ‘Because it takes me back.’

            ‘You need to look forward.’

            ‘Why?’ said George. ‘Lilly and I are together today. Why would I want to look at a time when we might not be?’

*

They all said he’d die before his time. That smoking would be his undoing. As it was, Lilly passed away gently in her sleep one Sunday night and George woke to find the light in his life was gone.

            On the day of her funeral, when everyone had gone and George was alone, he sat down to light a cigarette. He knew he must have lit his own at times but couldn’t remember when Lilly hadn’t done it for him. He sighed and flicked the wheel of the Zippo, but the spark didn’t turn to a flame. He tried again, but nothing happened. George kept flicking, but it wouldn’t light, and the flame being gone seemed like a cruel coincidence.

‘Why today of all days?’ he whispered, but then, in the same moment, he realised he didn’t really want a cigarette. What was the point if Lilly couldn’t light it for him? George nodded to himself and knew it was time to give up. He closed his eyes. Then he ran and re-ran that day in the bunker over and again in his head, until he fell into his last sleep.

 

About the author  

Tony writes primarily for the stage, but has had stories published in a number of anthologies as well as People’s Friend, Your Cat Magazine and Café Lit. His award-winning plays are published by Lazy Bee Scripts and Pint Size Plays and have been performed across the world.’ You can follow him here - https://www.facebook.com/tonydomaillewriting/

               

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.) and getting the next book out.

Sunday, 14 August 2022

An Exercise in American Pragmatism by Ara Brancamp, four shots of espresso iced with a splash of cream

 One envelope said If you say YES and the other said If you say NO. Both had arrived in the pile of junk mail that morning, neither with any context. There was no question printed anywhere. There was no label or address on either envelope. I had thrown them both out twice, only to retrieve them from the recycling in vain curiosity. Were they a sales gimmick? A clever invitation to some exotic party? None of my friends were that interesting. Maybe a serial killer used the envelopes to choose his victims. Would Yes mean Yes, please kill me, or would refusing him with a No send him off? How could the sender be sure I wouldn’t open both envelopes? Why hadn’t I opened both envelopes? It was a ridiculous situation. They were envelopes. It wasn’t as though one contained a bomb and the other a genie. What if anthrax had been on the rise again? I googled recent anthrax letters and saw a page full of “2001” articles, felt embarrassed, then googled envelope serial killers. Why would a serial killer pick me though? There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about me. I ruled out murder, secret society and terrorism. Could there be any other harm in opening one or both? I still didn’t know the question. I wasn’t keen to say yes to anything that wasn’t a sure bet. But what if I was saying no to the chance for a Caribbean getaway, or for my mortgage to be paid off? That kind of thing didn’t happen though. It was something everyone dreamed about while they stayed in debt until they died and never saw any of the oceans. Were the Caribbean islands in the Atlantic or did they have their own sea? I never paid much attention in geography. I knew I’d never need it. Had the postwoman delivered the envelopes, or were they put there before the mail arrived, or after? I decided to wait until she came the next day to ask her. But what if she didn’t tell the truth? How could I be sure she wouldn’t lie or that she wasn’t the serial killer? We always assume it’s a man, but it could be a woman. I googled female serial killers. Wow, they really did exist. I was hoping we’d been exempt from that. Crime of passion felt more feminine. What would the postwoman have against me? I had never been one to tip around the holidays. But it was Fall, so the holidays had been almost a year ago. It wasn’t that I didn’t think they deserved something extra. But then you get into the politics of it all. How do you tip the trash people? You can’t just leave an envelope on the can. It seemed fairer to forget the tipping altogether. So, it could have been the trash guys. Damnit, Cynthia, yes or no?

 

About the author

Ara lives in the Ozarks with her blue heeler, Simone. She holds an MFA in writing from Lindenwood University and is currently deep in the middle woods of her first novel. 

 

 Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.) and getting the next book out.

Saturday, 13 August 2022

Vne – the velocity that should never be exceeded in normal flight by Dave Sinclair, Affogato

  

I met Jim in 1964.  That was the year that the UK gliding championships was at Dunstable, and since it was just two weeks after we got married, that was where we spent our honeymoon.  It was an abrupt transition from blushing bride to dutiful wife and glider crew – neither of which I felt adequately prepared for, but since I felt that married life must inevitably bring its changes and challenges I would simply wait and see what each new day brought.  We duly arrived on the Friday at Dunstable Gliding Club in a Morris Minor, towing Jim’s Skylark behind in a large wooden trailer, and spent the evening unpacking a tent, sleeping bags, cooking stoves and a week’s worth of bacon and eggs.

 

The next morning, I helped Jim pull the glider out of the trailer and attach the wings and tail plane.  While Jim then went off to the competition briefing to find out what the task of the day was, I lay on the grass by the glider, trying to ease the throb in my back and thinking that despite its fragile appearance, the wood and fabric of the glider weighed a lot more than I had expected.  Looking up at the early morning puffs of white cumulus in the sky above, it was a puzzle to me how something as ephemeral and apparently made of cotton wool could also generate the thermal lift that sustained the gliders in their flight over the countryside.

 

‘Come on, let’s get her out to the launch point – there’s no time to lose,’ Jim said.  ’They’ve set an out and return to Bristol.  That’s over a hundred and twenty miles – so the sooner I start the better.’

 

We pushed the glider onto the runway and Jim climbed in.  A helper attached the winch cable, and a few seconds later the glider rapidly disappeared down the runway and into the air.  I went back to the tent to fetch my paperback and to find a quiet part of the airfield where I could lie in the sun and escape into a more romantic world.

 

It was four in the afternoon when the airfield tannoy made the announcement I had been hoping not to hear:

 

‘Glider 496 has landed out.’

That meant Jim was in a farmer’s field somewhere.  He had suggested that this might occasionally happen to a glider, especially in a competition.

 

‘You could never be sure,’ he had said, ‘especially in an English summer, that the soaring conditions would be as good as the forecast predicted. After all, that’s why it’s a competition.  It’s a test of your skill as a pilot to make the best of the weather.’

 

As I walked over to the competition office I wondered if Jim was really as skilled as he thought he was.  I was beginning to learn that perhaps Jim’s greatest skill was not in his actions but more in his imagination.

 

In the office, they gave me a copy of the message that Jim had phoned in:

Landed out 2 miles north of Chipping Norbury, grid reference SP310271.  Meet at Royal Oak pub in village.

 

‘Well, it’s all part of the adventure of marriage,’ I told myself as I drove the Morris Minor round to where we had left the trailer and hitched it up.  I’m not sure I sounded very convincing though.

 

Chipping Norbury turned out to be village very much in the traditional English style, complete with thatched cottages made of Cotswold stone the colour of honey and fudge.  I half expected Miss Marple to be sitting watching the cricket on the village green – and for a fleeting moment the image of a body lying under glider popped into my mind – maybe I was feeling a bit lightheaded as I had not had anything to eat since the bacon and eggs at breakfast.  It was nearly 8pm by the time I parked the car and trailer outside the Royal Oak.  I was beginning to feel quite tired – it had been long drive, particularly with the trailer on the back of the car.   But I perked up when I saw a sign that said ‘Best Bed and Breakfast in Gloucestershire’ by the pub doors. Inside I found Jim in the snug, playing bar billiards with a couple of the locals.

 

‘Ah, well done, lass – you made it then!’ he said as he saw me stumble through the door.  ’Come on, let’s go and derig the glider – it’s going to be dark soon.’  Before I could reply he had started bustling me out of the snug, calling over his shoulder to his new billiard friends, ‘Thanks for the beer and the game, lads – keep the table warm for me’.

 

‘Are we coming back then?’ I asked as we got into the car.  ’That seemed rather a nice place to stay the night – it looked like they might have a nice comfy four poster, and I’ve hardly eaten all day.’

 

‘I’m afraid not, love.  Mind you they did have an excellent home made steak and ale pie, but I expect it’s all gone now,’ he said. ‘Anyway, we’ve got to get back to Dunstable tonight, so I can be ready for tomorrow’s task.’

 

‘But it will be well past midnight before we get back to the airfield, surely?’ I protested.

 

‘Well, we’ve got plenty of bacon and eggs.  And I want to get back and see how well I’ve scored.  I’m sure there must have been lots of other pilots landing out – it was really hard work today.  I hope I haven’t lost any points on the leaders,’ he replied.

 

I thought about this in silence while we spent the next hour getting the Morris Minor and the trailer up a long, rutted farmers track and down to the bottom of a mown hay field, where Jim had managed to land the Skylark.

 

‘Right,’ said Jim, manoeuvring the trailer in front of the glider.  ’You go and open the trailer doors while I unhitch the trailer from the car.  Then we can start by taking the tail plane off and then the wings.  I’ve already disconnected the controls so there’s hardly anything to it.’

 

I did as I was told and went to the back of the trailer and opened the doors.  It was quite a surprise, to say the least, to find that there already was a glider in the trailer.  I looked across at Jim’s glider and then back at the trailer, and then it dawned on me that the number on the tail fin of Jim’s glider was 496.  The numbers stencilled on the back doors of the trailer were 469.  I had brought the wrong trailer.

 

‘Jim,’ I said, ‘You are not going to believe this….’.

 

A year later Jim had swopped his vintage glider for a modern Cessna with an engine.  Happily, I had swopped Jim for a different significant other too.

 

About the author 

 Dave Sinclair is a retired engineer who now writes poetry and short stories for fun. He also starts novels, but no-one, not even himself, knows if he will ever finish. He is studying for a Creative Writing MA at Manchester Metropolitan University. 

 

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.) and getting the next book out.

Friday, 12 August 2022

Blue by Phillip Temples, coffee, black

 

The lobsterman was hauling up his pots off George’s Bank when, to his astonishment, he discovered one of them contained a blue lobster. He knew the odds of catching a blue were one in a million. To his dismay, this lobster was not a keeper. It was a juvenile and the length of its carapace was barely two inches. It was well under the legal size. 

What a shame, thought the lobsterman. Had it been an adult, some city slicker couple would have paid an exorbitant price to own it as a novelty. They’d keep it in their seawater aquarium and show it off to all their high society friends at parties. More’n likely, after a few months they would have tired of its beauty. Then they would board their fancy yacht with their animal-rights friends and release it back into the ocean to great fanfare.

The man studied the lobster for a moment. Then he took out his smartphone and snapped pictures of the trophy before bending over the side and gently releasing it back into the ocean depths. 

Next time, he thought.

As the juvenile lobster settled within a few feet of the bottom, it was spotted by a hungry dogfish. The fish didn’t care that its next meal was under 3.25 inches. Or that it was blue.

About the author 

 

Phillip Temples is still trying to make sense of it all. Writing and photography seem to help. He can be followed at https://temples.com or @PhilTemples on Twitter.

 

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee?  Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of  book etc.) and getting the next book out.