Thursday, 21 September 2023

A Nice Day for a Funeral, by JD Clapp, whisky

 On a crisp and sunny October afternoon, the Carpenters stood by a freshly dug grave. Emily Jane Carpenter rested in the simple wood casket her father Colton had made two days prior.


The widow Bridger, their neighbor who believed in the Pentecost, agreed to pray over the grave. “Jesus,” she said, “Please take this lost soul into your everlasting embrace. She was sinner like us all. But she got on them pills Satan brung to our holler. And she was sick and tormented by his evil demons.”


After the praying, each of them threw a handful of dirt onto the casket. Only Emily’s ma, Tracy, cried. No one made a eulogy.


Alone at the grave, Colton used the back of his shovel to pat the loose dirt down around the apple tree sapling he planted to mark it.


“It was a nice day for a funeral…goodbye baby girl. Rest in peace,” Colton said aloud.


Then he lit a joint and headed back to the little farmhouse for supper.


About the author 

JD Clapp is based in San Diego, CA. His story, One Last Drop, was a finalist in the 2023 Hemingway Shorts Literary Journal, Short Story Competition. His stories have been published in numerous outlets. Twitter @jdclappwrties; 


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The Strange Case of the Missing Bikes by David Rudd, black coffee

 They’d dealt with mysterious events before, but none so close to home. This had happened not just in the village, but in their clubhouse.

     ‘We know it was locked,’ said Daniel.

     ‘That’s the strange thing,’ piped up Diana. ‘The door was locked with the key still under the flowerpot.’

     ‘So,’ Barney chipped in, ‘it sounds like an inside job.’

     ‘Of course it was inside,’ said Diana. ‘It was in our garden shed!’ She ignored the older ones’ laughter.

     At ten-years-old, the twins were the youngest. Clara, whose father owned the butcher’s, was the oldest at twelve. In between was Barney, Clara’s cousin, who stayed during the holidays, which is when their adventures occurred. And, of course, there was Rusty, the Bassett hound, who, in human reckoning, was forty-two but, in dog years, was a sprightly six. Together, they were The Five Fixers.

     It was a bit crowded in Clara’s treehouse, but it was private. No grown-ups around. The Fixers had been forbidden entry to their clubhouse until the police had inspected it, although they’d already been in there that morning to get their bikes, which is when they discovered they’d gone.

     ‘Brand new they were, too,’ said Diana. ‘Birthday presents from Mummy and Daddy.’

     ‘And that was all they took?’ enquired Clara.  ‘Definitely sounds an inside- … I mean, a job done by someone who knew where the key was.’

     ‘It’s strange,’ put in Daniel, ‘that Uncle Leo was so upset.’

     ‘He was, wasn’t he?’ reflected Diana, ‘And yet he didn’t want Daddy to contact the police.’

     ‘Even though Chief Superintendent Craven is a friend and neighbour,’ said Clara.

     ‘So, what’s Uncle Daniel’s job?’ asked Barney.

     ‘Not sure,’ said Diana. ‘He travels a lot.’

     ‘I think I heard Daddy say,’ interjected Daniel, ‘he works for MFI.’


Uncle Leo was in the garden, smoking. He’d had an exhausting morning. Last night was bad enough, socialising with his sister and their socially clambering friends. His boredom threshold had been severely tested, so he’d drunk far more than he’d intended. Then he’d been woken this morning by the twins shouting.

     Going in search of caffeine, he’d found Judy, the ‘help’, preparing breakfast. She’d insisted he sit down while she brewed some coffee. He was impressed. He usually got instant.

     ‘You’re a wonder, Judy. They don’t deserve you,’ he said.

     It was a heartfelt remark. She cooked, cleaned, washed, and did maintenance work, yet remained largely invisible. She’d make a good intelligence officer, though Leo.

     ‘Why are the twins shouting?’ he’d asked.

     ‘It’s their bikes,’ Judy had replied. ‘They say they’ve been stolen. I think they’ve just left them somewhere. Wouldn’t be the first time!’ While she talked, Judy had deftly transferred glistening stacks of bacon, sausage, mushrooms and tomatoes to some chafing dishes. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me, Mr Peters, I must get on.’

     Leo had taken the hint and wandered outside with his coffee. He’d repeatedly asked Judy to call him ‘Leo’, but she always reverted to ‘Mr Peters’. And who was he to disturb Little Baddercombe’s medieval sense of social order?

     In the garden he encountered the twins sitting in one of the apple trees. Rusty was running around below, looking for a way up.

     The twins clambered down to tell Leo about their missing bikes. They insisted he saw the scene of the crime. Once inside, Leo detected an all-too-familiar odour.

     ‘They were right here, Uncle Leo,’ Diana exclaimed.

     ‘Mysterious,’ Leo replied, lighting another cigarette to conceal the pong.

     ‘And we’re meant to be having our Fixers meeting in here,’ added Diana.

     As discreetly as he could, Leo ushered them out of the cramped space, expressing a keen interest in the Fixers’ adventures.

     Daniel scampered ahead, leaping into Leo’s open-top MG. ‘Can we have a ride, Uncle Leo?’ he begged, making revving noises as he gripped the steering wheel.

     ‘Later,’ said Leo.

     ‘Awww!’ complained Daniel, inquisitively fingering the controls.

   Once the twins were called for breakfast, Leo went back to the shed and uncovered the crystal meth. It was in a plastic bag that had got punctured, whether by accident or design, Leo didn’t know. It stank of cat pee. He swept up the spillage, leaving the door ajar, and hid the bag under his passenger seat.

     Back at breakfast, the talk focused on the missing bikes. Their father agreed to contact their neighbour, Chief Superintendent Craven. Then the family dispersed: the children to meet their friends; Leo’s brother-in-law to his chambers; and Leo’s sister, Mandy, to a fund-raising meeting.  

     Leo agreed to liaise with the police, despite Mandy’s assurance that Judy would be there. Leo made himself comfortable in the garden, reminding himself that this was meant to be a holiday.

     Some twenty-minutes later, he heard voices: ‘Those bleedin’ kids give us more work than any crook. But Craven’ll have none of it.’

     ‘Middle-class cronyism,’ said the other, before Leo appeared. They were about to apologise when they saw his smile. He escorted them to the ‘crime scene’, nervously wafting his cigarette, just in case.

   Once Leo established his credentials — name-dropping MI5 — PCs Matthews and Summers were only too happy to let him make some enquiries. They provided him with the names and addresses of known, local bad lads, including, on Leo’s request, drug dealers.

     Having enjoyed a chat and a coffee, the PCs were keen to depart before the children returned. They promised to liaise later.


Leo visited the addresses they’d provided, quite enjoying his holiday now. Better than hobnobbing with his sister’s G & T set!

     At his fourth call, Leo struck lucky. When one of the Langley brothers opened the door of their caravan at a nearby park, Leo dropped the bag of meth into a receptive pair of hands. ‘Thought I’d return this.’ 

     ‘How the bleedin’-?’ began Mick, the bigger brother.

     ‘Shut it, kid!’ Jim had yelled.

     Leo pushed his way in, waving his Drug Squad card (one of many) before their eyes. Jim was on the far side of the van, tinkering with some children’s bikes.

     ‘Now lads,’ Leo had said. ‘We can make this simple or difficult. I’ll swap you this stash,’ he pointed to the bag, ‘for those bikes.’

     ‘You mean, you ain’t gonna shop us?’ Mick had queried.

     ‘It’s your lucky day.’

     ‘And where does Craven come into this?’ asked Jim.

     ‘Craven knows nothing about it,’ Leo replied.

     ‘You’re not with Craven?’ Jim asked.

     ‘I’m on holiday, visiting my nephew and niece — Members of the Five Fixers Gang — whose bikes you’ve nicked.’

     ‘Five Flamin’ Fixers!’ Mick exploded. ‘We did time thanks to those little pricks!’

     ‘Shut it!’ hissed his brother.

     ‘So,’ began Leo, ‘is that why you nicked their bikes and planted this stash in their shed?’

     Their shed?’ Jim had looked perplexed. ‘You mean Craven’s shed.’

     Leo laughed. ‘Craven lives next door.’

     Jim started slapping his brother. ‘Dickhead!’

     Leo was still perplexed. ‘But why plant dope in Craven’s shed? Suicidal, isn’t it?’

     After a lengthy chat, it emerged that Craven had been taking backhanders for dealer protection. However, he’d been getting greedy, so the syndicate threatened to shop him. The dope was a warning. The Langley brothers had been the delivery boys. The bikes were simply a surprise perk they couldn’t resist.

     Leo, though, suggested a more fruitful way of dealing with Craven, which quite appealed.

     As for the bikes, despite the Langleys wanting to trash them, it was agreed they’d deposit them at the Old Quarry. Leo followed the brothers, to make sure he knew where the bikes were.

     ‘One more thing,’ Leo asked. ‘How did you know where the shed key was?’

     ‘Lucky guess,’ Jim said.


Back at his brother-in-law’s, Leo found his nephew, niece, and the dog awaiting him. ‘You promised us a ride, Uncle Leo.’

     Leo forced a smile and took them for a drive.

     ‘Look at Rusty,’ Daniel shouted, watching the wind fill Rusty’s jowls and levitate his ears, ‘he’s being swept by the wind, Uncle.’

     ‘Windswept!’ corrected Diana.

     Having reached a long stretch of country road, Leo thought he’d impress them by putting his foot down.

     ‘Oooh!’ shrieked Diana, ‘You’ve broken the speed limit!’

     ‘Chief Superintendent Craven would arrest you!’ added Daniel.

     ‘Little pricks!’ The Langleys’ words echoed in Leo’s head.

     When some clouds started to gather, Leo stopped to put up the hood. But that seemed to make Rusty slobber and snuffle. He became increasingly agitated.

     ‘Car sick?’ Leo asked.

     ‘Not usually,’ said the children, but Leo drove at a more sedate pace with the window flaps wide.


When they got back, the twins went to find the other Fixers. They were in Clara’s treehouse. The twins went up, leaving Rusty down below, given his peculiar behaviour.

     ‘Anything to report?’ Barney asked.

     ‘Yes,’ said Daniel. ‘Uncle Leo was out in his car early this morning. It came back with muddy tyres.’ Daniel passed across a piece of paper with ‘18,308’ written on it. ‘This is his milometer reading before our ride.’

     ‘That’s very good,’ said Barney, ‘but not much use unless we know what the figure was before he went out this morning.’

     ‘But we do,’ beamed Daniel. ‘I sat in his car before breakfast. It then said 18,300 miles exactly.’

      ‘Brilliant!’ said Clara. ‘So, he’d driven eight miles, which means that it was somewhere no more than four miles away.’ She circled a four-mile radius with her compasses on a tattered OS map.

     ‘The mud on his tyres was an orangey colour,’ added Daniel.

     Clara immediately poked a finger within the pencilled circle. ‘The Old Quarry,’ she announced.

     ‘Great work, twins,’ said Barney.

     Their conversation was halted by Rusty’s barking. ‘I’d forgotten about him!’ said Diana.

     The dog was running around the base of the tree, shaking his head, and sneezing.

     ‘I think he needs another drink,’ said Diana. They fetched him a fresh bowl of water, his third since the car ride.

     After drinking, he looked up at the twins, seeming to say, ‘No more sports cars, thank you!’


The Fixers didn’t reconvene until the following day, having regained possession of the garden shed. As customary, they started their meeting with their favourite refreshments — ginger beer and fruitcake — an idea borrowed from their fictional counterparts.

     Then Diana noticed a piece of paper wedged between two door panels. She pulled it free and read it: ‘Yor biks are in a shed at the Old Quarry.’     

     ‘The place where Uncle Leo’s car was, with the mud!’ exclaimed Diana.

     ‘Although,’ said Clara, ‘his tyres weren’t muddy first thing, were they?’ She looked at Daniel, but he couldn’t remember. ‘So, Uncle Leo couldn’t have taken the bikes.’

     ‘They wouldn’t fit in that car, anyway,’ added Diana.

     ‘Perhaps he had an accomplice,’ suggested Daniel.

      ‘Someone who can’t spell very well,’ said Clara.

     ‘Or someone who wants us to think that,’ said Barney. ‘I mean, ‘yor’ and ‘biks’ are misspelled, but ‘Quarry’ – a more difficult word – is correct.’

     ‘Let’s go to the Quarry!’ said Diana, a gleam in her eye.

     ‘Yes,’ said Barney. ‘Another adventure for the Five Fixers!’

     They were interrupted by Chief Superintendent Craven knocking at the shed door. He looked unusually serious. They told him about their stolen bikes but were reluctant to share all their intelligence at this stage. However, they had no compunction about pointing the finger at Uncle Leo.

     ‘He made Rusty car-sick,’ said Diana.

     ‘He doesn’t like dogs at all,’ said Daniel.

     ‘And he broke the speed limit in his car,’ said Diana.

     ‘Very interesting,’ responded Craven. ‘What does your uncle do, anyway?’

     ‘He works for MFI,’ the twins declared.


Laden with one of Judy’s picnics, the Fixers set off for the quarry, the two older ones wheeling their bikes.

     To their delight, the bikes were there, as the message had said. Before the twins could touch their machines, however, Barney pulled out his detection kit and ordered everyone to stand clear. He inspected each cycle with his magnifying glass, looking in vain for prints.

     ‘They’re clean,’ he announced.

     ‘Apart from this mud,’ Daniel pointed out.

     Outside, they followed the snaking tyre treads, along with three sets of footprints, which led to some larger tyre tracks, from two different vehicles.

     Once again, Barney deployed his magnifying glass. ‘I think this tread pattern is from Uncle Leo’s MG.’

     ‘It doesn’t make sense,’ said Clara. ‘Why move bikes from one shed to another?’  

     ‘And send the owners a note,’ added Diana.

     They discussed this over their picnic, then enjoyed a leisurely ride home. Rusty appreciated taking turns in the baskets of the girls’ cycles.

     At home, there was no sign of Leo’s MG. They’d wanted to examine its tyre treads. They also wanted to monitor his reaction when he saw their bikes. But he didn’t reappear all day.

     Clara, deciding that ‘The Strange Case of the Missing Bikes’ was almost solved, spent the evening writing up their adventure. It was their eighth, she noted, gazing at the neat row of exercise books on her bookshelf.


Leo was also working hard at resolving things, only returning to his sister’s early the following morning. As he parked his car, he was relishing the thought of Judy’s cooked breakfast, with lashings of black coffee. He greeted her before going upstairs to freshen up.

     What he didn’t know was that the Fixers had also been busy. In his absence, the twins had searched his room and discovered, in his bin, some sheets of paper from the pad on which he’d made the note about the missing bikes, one sheet of which bore the imprint of that anonymous note.

     Before breakfast, the twins had run round to let Clara and Barney know. Barney had used a special powder to make the hidden message stand out. Although it was legible without this, they were impressed at his forensic skills — apart from Rusty, that is, who started sneezing again. He wasn’t enjoying this adventure.

     Rusty and the twins then ran home for breakfast, having assured Clara that they’d inform Chief Inspector Craven about their Uncle’s guilt.


      ‘Where’s your uncle?’ asked Barney when they met after breakfast.

     ‘Upstairs,’ the twins answered.

     ‘Did you let Chief Superintendent Craven know?’ asked Clara.

     ‘He wasn’t at home,’ said Diana.

     ‘Well, we mustn’t let your uncle escape,’ Barney emphasised.

     ‘He won’t,’ Daniel piped up. ‘We let his tyres down.’

     ‘The ones with the same tread pattern!’ added Diana.

     The twins led the others to Leo’s car, which was standing forlornly in the gravel.

     ‘Well done twins!’ said Barney.

     As if keen to contribute, Rusty cocked a leg against one of the MG’s wheels. They giggled.

     ‘And Rusty!’ added Clara.

     Suddenly, they spotted Uncle Leo. He was peering into the shed. Barney launched himself at the man, shouldering Leo inside and slamming the door. Fortunately, the key was still in the lock. Barney secured it.

     ‘We’d better phone the police,’ said Clara. ‘Perhaps Chief Superintendent Craven is at the station.’

     They went into the kitchen, surprised to see their mother there.

     ‘Having a busy morning?’ she asked. ‘Have you seen Uncle Leo, by the way? I heard his car.’


     Barney, alert to Leo’s banging, turned up the radio. ‘Sorry,’ he apologised to the twins’ mother. ‘Just wanted to hear the, er, music.’

     Before anything else was said, another car arrived, quickly followed by a rap at the door. Chief Superintendent Craven, thought the children.

     They ran to greet him, but two other men stood there. One was PC Matthews, who’d called about the stolen bikes. The other was a plain clothes man. ‘Inspector Hanson,’ as he introduced himself, shaking hands with each of them, even accepting Rusty’s paw.

     ‘Is Mr Leo Peters in?’

     ‘He’s somewhere around…,’ began the twin’s mother, only to have the twins interrupt.

     ‘He’s locked in the shed,’ they beamed.

     ‘What?’ She turned to Barney. ‘Will you turn that radio down?’

     But Judy, returning, pre-empted him. The banging became more audible.

     ‘He’s ready for handcuffing!’ announced the twins.

     The inspector followed the Fixers to the shed, where Barney unlocked the door and stood to one side, though remaining vigilant. They were all hoping Uncle Leo would attempt to make a getaway in his car. However, the wind was taken out of their sails.

     ‘Good morning, gents,’ said Leo. ‘I’d invite you in, but it’s a bit cramped!’

     ‘What’s all this about?’ asked Hanson, as they gathered in the back garden, Judy having supplied some home-made lemonade.

     The story emerged, albeit slightly edited. The children listened in surprise as Uncle Leo explained how he’d traced the bike thieves and made them write a confession.

     The Fixers were dumbfounded. Not what they’d expected. Where was Chief Superintendent Craven, they wanted to know.

     ‘Busy,’ said the Inspector, ‘helping us follow some leads.’


The children were dispirited the rest of the day. Clara, the Fixers’ chronicler, was particularly downhearted, especially when she came to write the conclusion to their adventure. For she’d already detailed Uncle Leo’s suspicious character: his dislike of dogs, upsetting Rusty, his disregard for speed limits, his heavy smoking, his lack of a wife, etc.

     And what they’d subsequently learned only seemed to confirm the Fixers’ suspicions: that tell-tale note, the quarry mud on his tyres, staying out all night before breaking into their clubhouse.

     He just had to be guilty, Clara decided, ending her story in the traditional manner, with Chief Super Craven praising The Fixers (‘And that includes you, Rusty!’).


Leo, back in the city, was also busy writing, and also having difficulties. It was a brief report about his ‘unofficial’ involvement in a drug-smuggling racket in Little Baddercombe and surrounding villages. Central to it were details of Craven’s backhanders — which, this time, had involved some marked notes.

     Leo was also aware that his report would probably never see the light of day, let alone The Little Baddercombe Courier. If anyone was at risk, he feared it might be the Langley brothers.

     Leo sighed. “Give me the honest and open world of national espionage any day!’ he muttered.


About the author

Dr David Rudd is an emeritus professor who, after 40 years, turned from academic prose to creative writing and found fulfilment. Recent stories have appeared in 'Aphelion', 'Bandit Fiction', 'The Blotter', 'Corner Bar Magazine', 'Dribble Drabble Review', 'Jerry Jazz Musician', and 'Literally Stories'. 


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Tuesday, 19 September 2023

The Bluebird by Lydia Pearson, a black coffee with sugar, a bit dark and bitter but with some sweetness and light to it

 It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon in April, and a bluebird had just landed at my feet.

“Blooming birds,” Mum muttered.

She was always on about the birds, these days. She used to love them. Had all of the bird-watching books, binoculars, you name it. That’s why I’d began taking her to the back every Saturday afternoon. It took her away from that dismal care home, at least, the one we’d all felt so guilty for putting her in. The ghost of the 1960s lurked there, all faded yellow wallpaper and beige chairs. One side of the home overlooked the garden, which was fairly small considering the size of the property, which contained thirty residents. The other side overlooked a grotty Tesco car park, next to which was a dilapidated playground. More children were made there than the amount that played there, generally speaking. Wonderful place for her to spend her last months, naturally.

And it was months, as I’d had to repeatedly remind myself. It was what the doctors had said to us, the last time she’d been admitted to hospital. I’d glanced at her, in that shabby old hospital gown, the one with that morning’s porridge stains splattered all over it, and thought, ‘Oh, Mum, I’m sorry.’

And I was. I really, truly was.

“I thought you used to like birds, Mum!” I replied, as chirpily as I could. She squinted then, confusion written all over the many lines that covered her face, like a map of her life story exposed for everybody to read.

“No, I never liked them. Vermin, the lot of them, I’m telling you.”

“Well, perhaps some of the pigeons are,” I conceded with a shrug, and continued to push her wheelchair around the lake, so she could get a better view.

“I used to play the piano,” Mum said, brightening up.

“No, Mum, that was our Bernie, remember?” I reminded her. “Your older brother. He played when you were a baby, during the War?”

She frowned at that. “Who’s Bernie? I don’t remember a chap called Bernie. Is that one of your friends, Jeanie?” Jeanie was my sister’s name, but I let that one slide. I decided to let the comment about Bernie slide, too. It had been three years since he’d passed on, and Mum had been absolutely devastated. She’d only go and get herself in a state if she’d remembered.

It was always the remembering that seemed to be the worst thing of all for her.

I let out a sigh. “Never mind, Mum. Shall we go and have a look at the flowers?”

She nodded. “I used to grow flowers in my garden, you know.”

That much, at least, was true. She’d accumulated several prizes across the years for her rhododendrons, her hydrangeas, her precious white roses and her gorgeous marigolds. Our old garden had been her pride and joy, but it was little more than a charred graveyard now. The fire had done a lot of damage to it, alongside our house, and a part of our next-door-neighbour’s front yard, too.

It was a good job Mum didn’t remember that, at least.

“I know, Mum,” I said. “They were so very beautiful.” I showed her the flowers, pointing out to them, but she began to fidget.

“Where are they?” she asked, whipping her head around frantically.

“Where are what?”

“The flowers, you silly girl! Where are the flowers!?”

What did she mean? “The flowers are right here.”

“No, my flowers! Where did they go?!” My mother looked to be on the verge of tears, worrying her hair as her eyes glossed over. “They’re gone, Laura!” Finally, she’d recalled my name correctly. For once.


A horrified expression bloomed across her face, as though some terrible thought had just struck her. Her cerulean eyes widened.

“Fire…there was a dreadful fire, wasn’t there. Lost, oh, all lost,” she began to weep, tears streaking down her face like a river. “The garden, gone. House, gone. You and your sisters, living in London and Manchester in flats, couldn’t even look after me. Parents dead. Brother dead. Husband, left twenty years ago. Hardly any friends to speak of, that are alive at least. And now I’m all alone...”

That was a low blow. We’d both moved for work purposes, and she’d been fully supportive at the time. Still, I couldn’t get upset with her. It wasn’t her fault that the dementia had made her this way, after all. It was worsening by the day, too, but more rapidly than we’d anticipated, apparently.

“You’re not all alone, Mum.  I come and see you every Saturday afternoon,” I began to blabber, “and Jeanie comes up from London once a month for a week. Remember?”

We were past the flowerbeds now, her wheelchair parked next to a bench outside of a small white café that was located towards the entrance of the park. I sat and watched as her expression morphed from one of sorrow to one of confusion and panic.

Oh, no. Please, not here. Not now. No, no, no-

“Who are you?” she demanded, glaring at me suspiciously. “Are you a police officer?” She’d been embroiled in the Second Wave of Feminism when she was in her mid-twenties, and she’d had her fair share of…moments, with the police. Needless to say, she didn’t like or trust them. I stood in front of her, so I was facing her, hoping she’d recognise my appearance.

“No, I’m your daughter, Laura,” I told her, in the calm voice that I knew her carers, nurses and doctors preferred for us to speak to her with.

“How old are you? My twin daughters are forty-three. Are you? If not, then you’re not my daughter,” she accused.

We’d been forty-three for the past five years, apparently. Pick your battles, I reminded myself, taking a deep breath.

“Yes, I’m forty-three,” I lied.

A spark of recognition lit up her eyes, “Jeanie?” she asked. I’d understand if we were identical twins, but we weren’t. Jeanie favoured our father, with her chestnut brown hair, whereas mine was the same shade of copper my mother’s had been up until almost twenty years ago now.

“No, not Jeanie, Laura.” I disliked the exasperation in my voice. “Come on, Mum. It’s getting late, and you’re clearly tired. I’ll take you back to the care home.”


“No, Mum, the care home, where your carers are. Sandra and Mary. It’s written down in one of your notebooks.”

“I didn’t realise I had any notebooks, dear.” She paused as I pushed her wheelchair through the park gates. “Who are you, again?”


She didn’t make it for much longer, I’m afraid. Looking back on it, I remember the day of my mother’s funeral so very clearly. I stood holding hands with my twin sister, as they lifted the coffin into her grave. I found that time, that history was repeating itself.

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon in April, and a bluebird had just landed at my feet.


About the author 

Lydia, nineteen, has just completed a Gap Year, working, volunteering and writing. She's an undergraduate studying English Literature and Creative Writing (Placement Year) at Lancaster University. She's had work published in BMH, Queer Yoga North's Freedom booklet and Masque and Spectacle. She aspires to be an English tutor and writer. 


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Monday, 18 September 2023

Platinum by Jim Bates, lemonade

I had been doing research on an article I was writing when I came across a story in one of those online blogs that were so popular in the first part of the twenty-first century. This one was written in 2022. The blogger’s name is Jared. I think it’s his first posting. It certainly is his last. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

Hi. My name’s Jared. I’m addicted to my credit card - my treasured platinum one. Or was. I don’t know, maybe I still am. Addicted, I mean. Anyway, the point is I’m trying to break my habit. My counselor suggested I share my story so I thought I’d give it a try.

I’ll never forget how it all started. My wife Brittany and I had just returned home from a long weekend up north on Lake Superior. It had been nice to get away, but we were already bemoaning the amount of money we’d spent for two nights at the swanky hotel, The Inn On The Lake, not to mention the four-star meals we’d eaten and the souvenirs we’d purchased. Plus, I’d secretly bought Brit a Lake Superior agate pendant for her birthday the following month. My credit card was maxed out.

We were sorting through the mail when Brit took one look at the envelope addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins and screamed. “Yea! I’ll bet this is it!”

            I dropped the stack of bills I was dutifully sifting through and hurried to her side. “Is it…?” I peered eagerly over her shoulder. “Is it what I think it is?”

            Brit ripped open the envelope, her big blue eyes wide with excitement. She pulled out the letter and quickly scanned it. “It is!” she grinned, nodding at me. An excited sheen of perspiration appeared on her forehead. “Look.” She held up a sheet of paper. “It’s an application.”

            “Oh. My. God,” I said. A grin exploded on my face from ear to ear. “I can’t believe it.” I’m not a demonstrative man by nature, but I couldn’t help myself. I started dancing around the room waving the letter above my head. “Yahoo!!”

            Brit grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me so I was facing her. “Believe it, honey-bun.” She leaped into my arms and wrapped her long legs around my waist. “We’ve finally made it.”

            “Our own platinum credit cards!” I gushed.

            “One for each of us!” she added. Her eyes were sparkling with unbridled excitement. “I’m so happy!”

I began kissing her passionately. She returned my kisses just as enthusiastically if not even more so. Wow! So this is what it’s like to be among the financial elites! Access to all the money we want and a rockin’ sex life to boot. Wow and WOW! Who said dreams don’t come true? Ours just had. Big time! No more gold cards for us. No sirree. It was platinum all the way, baby. One for each of us. Could life get any better? No way.

            We wasted zero time. We filled out the application online and sent it in. We were approved immediately. It was so easy!

Within six months our lives had changed dramatically. Gone was the tiny two-thousand-square-foot condo in the high-rise in downtown Minneapolis overlooking the Mississippi River. In its place was a steel and glass, two-story, five thousand square foot mansion in a gated community in Lakeview, a suburb south of Minneapolis.

We each purchased his and her Teslas – red for Brit and platinum (of course) for me.

Then there were the new clothes to reflect our new status and new ‘accessories’ (as Brit called them) for our new home: a cook, a maid, and a gardener. To top it all off we hired a butler for when we entertained, which was a lot. After all, if you can’t flaunt it what’s the point?

            No doubt about it, life was good. We were young, both being twenty-eight. We had good jobs: I worked at a prestigious law firm that specialized in personal injury and was on the fast track to becoming a partner in a few years. Brit was a buyer for a chic department store. She had such an eye for fashion and what would be trendy not just three months in the future, but six months or even a year out, that she was paid a handsome salary. There was talk of her becoming part owner. So, yeah, life was good.

            Having that platinum card made it even better. Why pay cash when you could charge? And charge we did.

And there the blog had ended. I’d read it, taking notes as I went along. The article I was writing was for the online magazine Pandemonium. The editor had asked me to come up with something on spending habits now in 2070 and comparing them to how it was back in Jared’s time, nearly fifty years ago.

It was an interesting assignment because it was on a subject I’d never really thought about. Nowadays, of course, we are all given a stipend to live on. There are no rich people anymore like there were back in Jared’s time. Or poor people, either, for that matter but, that’s a story for another time. Nowadays, of course, all of us live on the same income.

            So, I wrote my article, being careful not to ruffle any feathers of the powers that be, and gave it to my editor. Then I went home to my wife Jackie.

            “How’d it go?” she asked when I walked into our living space, a one-bedroom apartment in the Citi Center complex. She meant the story.

            “Fine,” I told her. Shakira already read it. She told me that she liked it. It’ll run a few months from now in the August edition.

            “That’s good.” Jackie mused my hair. Then she turned and stepped to the kitchen on the other side of the room. You hardly noticed her limp.

            We sat down for a meal of what we called Muck, a mixture of soy paste and vitamins. It’s pretty tasteless, but, you know, healthy. We ate in silence, not talking much. When we were done, I cleared the table and washed the dishes. I made us some herbal tea and joined Jackie at the table. I set the cups down with a soy cookie for each of us.

Jackie had been scanning her phone. She looked up when I set down the tea. “Thanks,” she said and took a tiny sip. “You know, I’ve been thinking about that story you wrote.”

            “Oh, yeah? What?” I asked. I was looking through my phone. Nothing interesting was going on. I sighed. Watching programs on our phones was our only form of entertainment. In the last few years, the air outside had turned too polluted for us to go for a walk. Plus, there was talk of another pandemic surfacing its ugly head, so going outside was risky. But we’d been forced to be inside most of our entire marriage and were used to it.

            “I wonder what ever happened to Jared.”

            “Really?” I set down my phone and turned to her.

Jackie was thirty-five, the same age as me. We’d been married for fifteen years to take advantage of the extra money we received for a “marriage stipend” to encourage monogamy. We had no children. Again, our choice. We were given extra money not to have kids. You know, overpopulation, lack of food. That kind of thing.

            “Yeah, really,” Jackie said, reaching across the table and taking my hand. “I’m curious.”

            I smiled. Jackie had always been curious. It was one of the things I liked about her. She was a research scientist, looking into ways to produce new food. The way we thought about it, and just about every other sane person you talked to, anything would be an improvement on Muck.

            “Well, in that case, you’re in for a surprise.”


“I happen to know exactly what happened to him.”


            “Yeah.” I took a sip of tea. “I interviewed him for the article.”
            “No kidding?”

“Yeah. I tracked him down.”

Jackie sipped her tea. “Cool. How’d that go?”

            “Good.” I smiled. “He was quite talkative. I think he was lonely.”


            “Yeah. He’s still here in Minnesota. Apparently, he never left. He’s living up north in Duluth in a retirement home.”

            “Still alive. Hm,” she mused. “Imagine that.” She took a bite of her cookie. “How old is he?”

            “Nearly eighty.”

            She chewed slowly, thinking, I’m sure, about her own situation. The doctors had given her less than two years to live. “What’d you talk about?”

            “I read you that blog entry of his, right?”

            “Yeah. It was interesting.”

            “Well, I asked him whatever happened to him and his wife.”

“His wife, Brit?”


            “So what happened?”

            “Guess,” I said, joking with her. It was nice to chat like this. We didn’t do it much anymore.

            Jackie grinned, reached across the table, and slugged me in the arm. “Mark! Tell me.”

            “Okay, okay,” I said, rubbing my arm and pretending she’d hurt me. She didn’t. She didn’t have much strength anymore. “I’ll tell you.”

            I took another sip of tea and said, “It was a sad story, but I suppose one all too common back then. They bought lots of stuff, accumulated lots of possession, and bought and bought and kept getting further and further into debt. Creditors started sending them notices which they ignored. Then their bank wouldn’t honor their card.”

            “They each had one, right? Platinum?”

            “Right.” I sighed and sipped my tea. “They were able to get more cards and it just got out of hand. Their spending, I mean.”

            Jackie nodded. “Sounds like it.” But I could see she was drifting and having a tough time focusing.

            I hurried along. “So, to put it in a nutshell, they lost everything and had to go through what they called bankruptcy. Their credit was shot, their reputations were ruined. It affected their work and their relationship. They lost their jobs and got divorced.”

            At the word “divorce” Jackie lifted her eyes to mine. “They got divorced?”

            “Yeah. It was pretty bad.”

            “So, what eventually happened?”

            Jackie was getting tired, I could tell. Time to wrap it up. “I guess Brit married some clothes buyer she met in New York City.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Jared lost touch with her.”

            “What happened to him?”

            I smiled. “Well, that’s kind of interesting.”

            “How so?” Jackie leaned forward on the table. She’d perked up. It was good to see her so engaged.

            “He became a teacher.”


            “Yeah. He told me that during the time they were going through bankruptcy he’d gone into counseling and tried to turn his life around. He’d always been interested in science, so he became a science teacher.”

            Jackie nodded thoughtfully. “Cool. Good for him. Did he enjoy it?”

            “Yes. Very much. He said that one of the first things he did was to learn about platinum.”

            Jackie laughed. “Seriously? That’s ironic.”

            “Yeah. He found out about how rare it was. Still is, of course.” She nodded pensively but didn’t say anything. “He learned how it was used in catalytic convertors back then because they were impervious to corrosion.” More nodding from Jackie. “How, because of its rarity, it was associated with prestige; like in the record industry back then how one-million albums sold was considered platinum and how it was considered prestigious to own a platinum credit card.”

Jackie looked at me. “Even though it was made of plastic.”

            I nodded. “Exactly. Like the one that got him and his wife into so much trouble.” I was silent for a moment. Then I said, “They used it in watches and things like that because it was so durable.”

            “But rare,” Jackie said.

            “Yeah. Rare.”

            We were both quiet then, thinking. Jackie’s illness was rare, too. The doctors couldn’t do anything for her. Our decision was to live our lives together the best way we knew how. There was talk of using valves made of platinum as part of her treatment. However, the doctors cautioned us that such thinking could be dangerous. “We’re still many years away,” one of them had said.

            Jackie took my hand and squeezed it. “So, Jared ended up doing okay?”

            “Yeah, he did. He taught science at the high school in Agate Bay up north of Duluth. He taught biology, chemistry, and physics. I guess he liked chemistry the best.”

            Jackie nodded. “That’s good to hear.”

            Chemistry was what Jackie had been trained in when she was in school. She had an aptitude for it, hence her ability as a research scientist. But I could see she was getting tired. “Do you want to lie down?” I asked.

            She smiled at me. “Sure. That’d be nice.”

            I folded out the couch and made our bed. We stretched out on top of the covers. I put my arm around her and she lay her head on my chest. After a few minutes, I could feel her breathing slow down. Outside, through our one window, the light faded from the sky. Next to me, I could feel Jackie’s heart beating. The doctors had said that her heart valves were wearing out. Platinum valves were thought to be a possible solution, but they were still many years in the future from being made viable. Plus, how’d we pay for them? We didn’t have all that much money, and, you know, credit cards like the one that got Jared and his wife into so much trouble years ago were things of the past.

            As if she could read my mind, Jackie stirred and said, “You know, Mark, I was wondering.”

            It was nice to be talking. I’m glad she still wanted to. “About what, sweetheart?”

            “Do you think it would be possible for me to meet Jared?”

            “I suppose so. Why?”

            “He sounds kind of intriguing,” she said. “He went through a lot and made something of his life. It’d be interesting to talk to him.” She was silent for a few moments and then said. “Plus, you know, he likes science. Like me.”

            I grinned and held her tight. “Sure,” I said. “I’m sure he’d love to talk to you. As I understand it, he doesn’t have many friends up there. I’ll send him a message. We can set up a video chat. Would you like that?”

            “Yeah, I would.” Jackie nestled closer and kissed my cheek. “I’d like that a lot.”

            We fell asleep.

            The next day I arranged for a video chat with Jared. It went well. Jackie and he got along great, so much so that they now chat on a weekly basis. The staff at the nursing home tell me they haven’t seen him doing so well in years.

            Jackie’s doctors say the same thing.

            Me? I’m holding out hope that they’ll be able to find a cure for Jackie with those platinum valves. Do I find it ironic that Jared’s problem with a platinum credit card led to him becoming part of the article I wrote that eventually resulted in him and Jackie becoming friends? Yes, I do. Do I care? Not at all. All I care about is Jackie’s happiness. Whether or not platinum plays a role in our future, only time will tell. Until then, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it does. Like Jared told me once, “Those platinum cards ruined my life. And they were just plastic. It’d be wonderful if real platinum could be used to help Jackie.”

            He couldn’t have said it any better.

About the author 

Jim lives in a small town in Minnesota. He loves to write! His stories and poems have appeared in nearly 500 online and print publications. To learn more and to see all of his work, check out his blog at:


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