Saturday 30 September 2023

Saturday Sample: The Prophecy by Gill James, peach and melon nectar


‘It’s quiet, isn’t it?’ said the commander of the Scouting Vessel 2195, Western Sector 3.

‘Well, that’s what you’d expect, isn’t it?’ replied his young trainee, Kyle Thomas. ‘No craft landing. Nor any coming from it,’ remarked Kyle. He looked down at the milky blue planet. They were quite close to it now, and it filled almost half of the screen. It seemed so still, as if it were surrounded by a pool of quietness.

The rest of its solar system was buzzing. Small scouting vessels like their own, and bigger cargo ships were busily going backwards and forwards between the planets. It made navigating this stretch of the Sector 3 rather tricky. He was glad the autopilots were amongst the most sophisticated available.

‘Well, it sure is still a fairly blue planet,’ Nielson continued. ‘Shame, though. It used to be so much prettier than this. It was even bluer. And you could see greens and brown as well, before the poison cloud.’

‘Why do they bother?’ asked Kyle. ‘They have a poison cloud and they’re still living there? They could live anywhere.’

‘I suppose they feel safe enough down there, ‘replied Nielson. ‘What with all their farms and things tucked up nice and safe in those caves of theirs. The rest of us could learn a thing or two, if only they’d let us get a bit closer.’

‘Not much chance, though is there?’ replied Kyle. ‘What with them wanting to keep disease out. They won’t let anybody in.’

‘Yeah, well,’ said the Commander. ‘That’s something else it would be great to learn about. It’s funny how they’ve gone so shy. Considering it all started there in the first place.’

‘When was the last time anyone moved from the planet?’ asked Kyle.

‘2309,’ replied Nielson.

‘Just after the first colonies formed?’ asked Kyle. ‘So, over a millennium ago? It’s mad.’

‘Yep,’ replied Nielson, ‘and they’ve reported being disease-fee for just over two hundred years now. So, it ain’t just that that’s keeping them there. I reckon they’re just using that as an excuse.’

They were beginning to leave the blue planet behind.

‘Right, we’ll go on to manual now,’ said Nielson. ‘I want to see how well you can steer this thing.’

Kyle felt the power surge as the scout switched over.

‘One wide orbit around Terrestra and then out to the end of the solar system,’ said the Commander.

Kyle turned the craft. It wobbled and juddered a little. He fought hard with the controls for a few seconds and then she began to glide gently back over Terrestra.

He began to get the scout under control. He had the measure of her now. She was purring along.

It was then that he noticed it. A flash of green lightening ripped through the soft blue mist that surrounded the quiet planet. A cascade of sparks followed. Kyle opened his mouth to say something.

‘Watch it,’ said Nielson suddenly.

A smaller scout was nudging its way across their flight path.

‘Watch the dataserve,’ said Nielson. ‘You must follow its coordinates.’

Kyle concentrated on the controls again.

Chapter One

Marijam looked up at the skylight. The smoky plastiglass, which covered the ordinary plastic window, was distorting her view of the stars. But it could not dull the brightness of the strange lights, which were shooting across the sky tonight. They were still changing colour. They were even more intense now than when they started an hour ago.

‘Is it working again?’ her mother called up from the other chamber.

Marijam looked at the dataserve screen. Still frozen. She bit her lip and ran her fingers through her hair. She wanted to finish the unit on the causes of sunlight poisoning in the late twenty-third century. That would complete her Part One, the first of her Specialist Study for her High School Graduation Certificate and well before the summer holiday.

‘No!’ she called back.

‘Well give it a rest, now, sweetheart,’ her father called. ‘You really should watch this. It’s the first time the Northern Lights have appeared for centuries.’

Marijam’s mother, Louish Kennedy, came into the room. Dressed from head to toe in a besequined pale blue satin, Louish stood out as usual from the damp greyness of the cave walls. Marijam winced as she saw her. She preferred to blend in with her surroundings. But even Mrs Kennedy couldn’t compete tonight with the light show out there.

‘Do you think’ she said to Marijam, ‘it might mean that the poison cloud’s beginning to lift at last? And it really is something, isn’t it?’

Marijam watched as a sheet of light shot across the sky. Marbled streamers of pinks and golds and greens flowed into one another. Marijam had never seen so many colours in one go. It was so dull down here in the caves. And even when you went up into the tubes and walked across the surface, you looked at everything through grey glass. The colours were so bright tonight that the glass couldn’t dull them.

‘I don’t think it is actually the Northern Lights,’ said Marijam’s father, appearing in the doorway. ‘I’ve seen movie clips of them, and they weren’t this pretty. Even when you saw them direct, and not through plastiglass.’

‘I don’t think you’ll be able to get anything else done tonight,’ said her mother. ‘There are too many problems with the network.’ She shivered. ‘The other support systems will work, won’t they?’ she asked, looking at her husband.

Marijam’s father, Frazier Kennedy, Head of Education, smiled.

‘They’ll be fine,’ he said to Louish, combing his hand through his wiry black hair.

Marijam recognised the gesture. He always did that when he was trying to convince himself rather than the person he was speaking to. He hugged his wife, resting his dark brown cheek against her greyish pale one. Not for the first time Marijam looked at her own arms and wished she had inherited her father’s skin colour instead of her mother’s. The cave-life was just washing white people out.

‘They always give the air top priority,’ Frazier continued, the skin round his eyes beginning to crinkle as his eyes smiled. ‘They’ll keep the seals in place as well.

‘But they’ve got to keep the life support systems going… on the farms and everything,’ Louish continued.

Marijam suddenly noticed how anxious her mother looked. The pupils of her eyes were bigger and her face was a shade whiter than normal.

Frazier shrugged his shoulders lightly and opened his arms, turning his palms upwards, and admitting defeat. ‘The education networks will be the first to go down,’ he said. ‘They’ll keep the lights on in the plantation caves, and yes, they’ll let us carry on breathing. Don’t worry so much.’

A purple light, edged with silver and blue streamed across the sky, catching Marijam’s eye and making her look again through the skylight. She held her breath. Not even the Midsummer Presidential Laser Show could match this.

It wasn’t just the lights, though. There was something about the atmosphere tonight. It was warm, even with the air conditioning, and she had this overwhelming feeling that something tremendous was about to happen.

‘Well, I guess nobody will be studying much tonight,’ said Marijam’s mother. ‘Everyone will be up in the tubes, getting a closer look at the sky.’

‘You should go and meet your friends,’ said Frazier. ‘You’ve just got to enjoy an event like this with people of your own age.’

‘Well, we’re going anyway,’ said Mrs Kennedy.

It probably was a good idea. There seemed to be little hope of completing her project tonight. And goodness knows when anything as exciting as this would happen again. Marijam felt a strange fluttering in her stomach. Her heart was racing.

‘Go on,’ said Louish Kennedy. ‘Put on your best tunic. Go and meet your friends. I’ll bet they’re all out there.’

They left her room. Marijam turned to her wardrobe. It was overflowing. She was the only daughter of the Head of Education. All the Heads of Services – Education, Transport, Agriculture, Life Support, Diastics and all the other services which kept this isolated planet going - were rich and important. Marijam could have anything she wanted apart from fresh air. Her parents had even let her have the room with the skylight. She opened the door. Row upon row of tunics. Black and grey ones. Some were made from expensive wool and cotton. Then there were the ordinary ones out of ripon, the cheap comfortable cloth that everyone wore. And some in blue, red, lilac, in fact every colour you could think of.

How can I possibly choose from all these? she thought. So much for equality.

She always felt guilty that her father’s position allowed her so much. Everyone was supposed to be born with equal chances. She knew, though, that she had it easier than many. That was why she normally preferred to just wear a comfortable dull-coloured ripon tunic.

She really didn’t go out much, even though she was allowed to use the cyber beaches and holoscenes as much as she liked. That was yet another advantage of being the daughter of one of the Heads of Services. There was never a question about the cost. On the whole, though, she preferred the solitude of her room and her dataserve, and the sky above, which she looked at through her skylight. She liked to dream of a time when all the people – even those from the Z Zone - would be able to walk freely on the surface of the planet. Would they ever be able to again? And would it be in her lifetime?

No, that won’t do, she thought to herself as she took down her old grey tunic. Not today. Today’s really special.

Marijam found herself gently touching a purple silk tunic. It was so soft and smooth beneath her fingers. She had not worn it before. It had been a present from her aunt, her mother’s sister.

‘You should get out more and enjoy yourself,’ Aunt Kayla said. She always told Marijam off about spending too much time in front of a dataserve screen, of not going out enough and mixing with other young people.

Well, Aunt, thought Marijam, you would be astounded. Yes, this will do nicely.

She felt the soft fineness of the silk next to her skin. It added to her excitement. She sprayed on some perfume, and even put on a little make up. She looked at herself in the mirror.

Yes, she would do nicely as well. Though for what, she was not quite sure. Another streak of pink light rushed through the sky above. She heard the swish of the vacuum doors closing in the entrance hall below. Her parents were already on their way. Time to get going for her as well.

The crowds making their way through the cave networks were stifling. Marijam had never seen so many people out at once. If you could really call it ‘out’. Even up in the tubes wasn’t really ‘out’. She had often wondered what ‘out’ would really be like. Not even this many people were around for the President’s Laser Show or the Christmas Walks. The queues for the lifts were really long. Marijam asked herself whether it would be better to just make her way to one of the large skylights. But no! Looking up from a tube would be a bit nearer to standing in a field and staring at the night sky.

‘Oh come on, get a move on,’ she heard one man mumble under his breath.

Exactly, she thought.

‘I expect we’ll get there eventually,’ a woman’s voice answered him.

It was amazing how calm people were staying.

Eventually she was at the front of the queue and the lift came. In seconds they were up at the surface, and she was joining the crowds now making their way along the tubes. She desperately wanted to get to somewhere where they didn’t criss-cross over each other so much, so that she could get an uninterrupted view of the sky.

Odd that she had not yet seen anybody she knew. She had to walk almost half a mile before she came to somewhere she could stand and look.

The lights still rushed across the blackness. Occasionally two from different directions would collide and then a shower of golden and lilac stars would sprinkle down towards Terrestra’s surface. But it was not accompanied by the ‘oohs’ and aahs’ heard at the President’s laser display. Everyone stood in absolute silence. This was something really special. The excitement carried on growing inside Marijam’s stomach. She felt as if she were glowing. And it was good watching the lights through the plastiglass tubes. She seemed as if she was nearer to them than when she looked through the sky light. You didn’t have the long tube of rock and stone.

Gradually, though, the brightness of the lights faded, and their path across the sky became slower, less urgent. Suddenly, one last vibrant streak of red seemed to rush at the plastiglass tube where they were standing.

The silence broke. There was a gasp of surprise, perhaps of fear. The light hovered, almost threateningly. Then it vanished suddenly. There was nothing left but a clear night sky. Clearer, Marijam thought, than she had ever seen it before. Was her mother right? Was the poison cloud shifting at last?

The noise that the people now made as they moved towards the lifts compensated for the earlier silence. There was an excited chatter. And all sorts of ideas about what might have caused the lights.

‘I bet it’s somebody from another planet,’ a young boy cried. ‘I bet they’ve got some guards up there that they didn’t tell us about. They’ve been zapped.’

‘It could just be some strange meteorite storm,’ the man with him replied.

‘I wouldn’t have thought they’d be that colourful, though,’ replied another man.

Marijam didn’t want to go back to the apartment. It would be too much of an anticlimax to go back to work. And she was not far from the Laguna, the nectar bar where people from her school level were encouraged to go to meet people of their own generation.

For once, anyway, Marijam felt the need to be amongst people, and drink some of the state-provided nectar with its mild mind-altering chemicals.

The Laguna was buzzing when she arrived. Marijam almost turned straight back. People she wanted, yes, but not this many. But she had to pause a moment to admire the granite walls. The Laguna, at least, was a real cave, unlike most of the man-made ones that inhabitants of Terrestra used as their homes. The ceiling was covered with a huge screen, which showed the picture taken from a camera up on the surface. You could almost believe that you were outside.

Marijam looked up at the sky. No, there was definitely no more sign of the lights. And yes, she was sure the sky did look clearer than normal.

‘Marijam!’ a voice suddenly called. ‘Over here!’

Marijam turned to see who had called her. A girl in a silver tunic and with purple hair was waving frantically at her. A whole group from her school unit were sitting in one of the alcoves. It was Sadie Rojens. They had once worked on a project together, though mainly via the dataserve.

‘So what do you think caused those lights?’ asked Sadie excitedly. ‘We’re just getting one or two ideas here.’

‘What would you like to drink, Marijam?’ said a male voice.

A tall boy who was now standing up next to the table. It was Rainer Elbman.  He looked quite elegant in his deep navy tunic. It looked as if it was made of wool and so must have been expensive.

‘Oh, er … a peach and melon, I think,’ said Marijam blushing slightly.

‘Hands off, he’s mine,’ Sadie hissed in her ear.

The thought had never occurred to Marijam.

‘Well, Marijam, what do you reckon?’ asked another masculine voice. Ponty Davidson. ‘What was all that about?’

Marijam felt herself flush. Ponty made a point of talking to her at every school meet. She always felt so awkward talking to boys, but with Ponty it was worse. He seemed to stifle her. She couldn’t work out what he wanted of her.

‘Do you think it’s the poison cloud going?’ she managed to mumble eventually.

‘Maybe,’ replied Ponty. ‘Or maybe it’s because one of the most delicious girls in our social group has decided to show off her assets at last.’

His pupils were wide open and she could feels his eyes first on her legs, and then on her breasts. He slid an arm around her waist and pulled her towards him, nestling his nose into her hair. ‘Oh, and you smell so gorgeous too,’ he said. ‘Have you any idea, what you’re doing to me?’ he asked.

‘Put her down,’ said one of the other girls. ‘This is much more interesting.’

Marijam managed to wriggle free. She was surprised, though to see something different flash across Ponty’s face. There was something in his eyes. He looked almost as if he was going to cry.

‘Sorry,’ he mumbled. ‘Won’t you go out with me, though? I promise I’ll behave well.’

‘Oh look,’ said Marijam, as another bright flash chased across the sky.  When she turned back, Ponty had disappeared.

‘Well, I guess we’ll know soon enough, what’s been happening,’ said one of the other boys. ‘I bet the scientists are on to it already.’

‘They’ll be putting it up on the news screens soon, then we’ll know,’ said someone else.

Rainer placed her drink down in front of her.

‘Who’s that over there?’ he asked.

Marijam looked over to where he was pointing. It was a boy she had never seen before. His tunic was a little odd. Not really quite the usual shape. He was white but had much darker skin than she had ever seen before and his hair was much lighter than everybody else’s.

I don’t know, thought Marijam, but I wish I did. That odd, exciting feeling was beginning all over again. Her stomach was turning summersaults and her heart was racing. She held her breath until she really needed to breathe again.

Now she understood what Sadie was talking about. She took a sip of her peach and melon nectar.


Friday 29 September 2023

Don’t Need Nothing (Sic) But a Good Time by Angela James, Gin Fizz

Message: Welcome to the MeetMarket!

Sharon’s 21 year old son, Austin, sets up a profile for me on a dating app. My 40 year self is pitched as bubbly and fun. Every uploaded photo so far features cleavage and/or alcohol.  

35 read messages

My profile is a real crowd pleaser. I don’t know how to restrict the age range so I am hearing from men in their 70s all the way down to guys barely in their twenties.  The young ones are brazen, even after I respond that, back in my day, youngsters treated their elders with respect (ok I know that response isn’t exactly discouraging).

60 read messages

I unread message

Looks like the MeetMarket should rename itself the MeetTinyBodega. I cannot believe I just received a message on there from my ex.  His profile touts his commitment to equality (ha!) and his hatred of drama (even bigger ha!). 

1 MeetCuteVideo with Serpico76

I am excited about one of my prospects. Mike (aka Serpico76) is both smart and funny and has that specific Mediterranean look that prompts arguments about whether the person looks more Jewish or Italian.  

80 read messages

20 unread messages

I stupidly give my bank lady enough information to pull up my dating profile. I feign confusion when she frets that my profile does not sound like a lady a man would bring home to his parents.  The last thing I want to explain to this sweet older woman is that I already have parents. My marriage excavated my soul. Casual is good for now.

83 read messages

28 unread messages

I am learning not to open messages that have photo attachments with the first message sent. Some of these guys don’t even have photos of their faces on their profiles but they are sending me shots of their junk.

87 read messages

35 unread messages


I am so sleep-deprived from talking to Mike (Italian! Mystery solved!) for hours every night.

New message from Serpico76: looking forward to finally seeing you this evening!

Mike has such strong arms and his little belly makes a delightful thwacking sound when I pat it.  

91 read messages

40 unread messages

Meeting with my divorce lawyer today. His smooth confident baritone makes me feel like I am a child being carried in burly arms.  When he says I should warn people about how bitter I am, I offer to update my profile byline to: “Bitter? Or an Acquired Taste?” He gives a hearty laugh with his head thrown back.

94 read messages

48 unread messages

I can’t stop obsessing over the fact that I am still being physically faithful, technically anyway, to my ex when he wasn’t even faithful when we together.

97 read messages

58 unread messages

So here we are, decades after the start of the AIDS epidemic and Mike refuses to wear a condom. Apparently, his equipment simply will not work if forced to wear one. I am cursing myself for staying married so long that I am dealing with temperamental middle-aged penises.  I remind him I am not on any other birth control. He climbs onto my back, says, “We’ll just do it this way instead,” and plows ahead with the act Bible scholars think is condemned at Romans 1:26, without even asking.

New Message from Serpico76: I had a great time with you last night. Thank you so much for your hospitality :) Can’t wait to see you again.

Coffee with Sharon this morning. She says Amanda got a call from Public Health that a guy she had slept with has HIV so she needs to be tested. Sharon crinkles her nose, telling me Amanda admitted she barebacked the guy after meeting him online.

Once back at the office, I make an appointment to be tested for every possible STI, telling the receptionist my ex had been a cheater (well he was).  

MeetMarket email: Log Back in and See Who is Waiting to Hear From You!

Mr. Don’t-Mind-Me-I’ll-Just-Help-Myself has been leaving texts and voicemails. I am waiting a couple of weeks to do the tests because of the incubation periods. That is a long time to sit tight and stress.  

MeetMarket email: Come Back! We Miss You!

I pick up the phone today when Mr. Don’t-Mind-If-I-Do! calls. I am stressed and he is in no position to judge me. How is it I end up comforting him about his likelihood of getting any diseases from me?

MeetMarket Email: Free Upgrade Available!

Mr. Roman-Hands-and-Russian-Penis is being surprisingly sweet in his efforts to cheer me up. He is providing a lot of good advice for me regarding a work situation too. 

MeetMarket Email: See Time Limited Offer!

I have my blood etc. taken this morning. Although the doctor says that generally “no news is good news”, she agrees I will get confirmation when the results are back.  

MeetMarket Message: Are You Sure You Want to Delete Your Profile?

I was going to let him stew but Mr. Su-Culo-es-Mi-Culo is delighted to hear about my results. He can now be confident he didn’t get anything from me. I, on the other hand, will need to get tested again in a couple more months. 

Message from phone: Are you sure you want to delete this app?

Mr. Shake-for-me-girl-I-wanna-be-your-backdoor-man tells me with sad eyes that he is getting back together with his wife. Maybe watching me worry about VD scared him straight. He says he is so sorry he does not have more to offer me and he hopes I will be careful because there are so many creeps out there.

 About the author


Angela James is a writer who has intentions to emerge. She resides in a small community in Ontario, Canada with her spouse and many pets. 


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Thursday 28 September 2023

The Last Ripple by Robin Wrigely, black coffee


When Maurice climbed up into the attic the first thing, he noticed was the smell – what on earth was it?

            ‘Have you been cleaning with some weird detergent?’ he yelled over his shoulder hoping that Phyllis could hear him below in the bedroom.

            ‘Christ Maurice. What did I say before you went up there?’

            ‘No, what did you say?’

            ‘Use your bloody eyes, Maurice, can’t you?’

            ‘Oh yes, I can see now you mention it you’ve obviously cleaned Nigel’s rocking horse. It’s come up quite good, hasn’t it?’

            Accepting the conversation had finished he proceeded to look for the particular box of photos he was after. As he dusted off the lid hoping it contained the ones he sought, it now came to him just how long it had been since he was last up here.

            It was Nigel’s untimely death that the attic became the closest place they had as their son’s burial ground. He was scuba diving in the Red Sea in Egypt with a French diving company. In a freak accident he was missed in the headcount at the end of the dive and the boat returned to the port without him. By the time he was actually missed he was posted missing presumed drowned.

            There was a huge cover up between the Egyptian authorities and the Frenchman  who owned and ran the company without the correct registration papers. As far as Maurice was able to ascertain when he visited Cairo a month after the event the Frenchman had left the country and there was no actual evidence that Nigel was even on the dive. The only piece of evidence Maurice had was a phone call from Nigel saying he was in Egypt and planning to go on a diving course in the Red Sea. Try as he might the disappearance of the owner of the company having fled the country, aided, and abetted by the Egyptian authorities stonewalling him and the British embassy being worse than useless Maurice was beside himself with impotent fury.

            He spent three long weeks chasing his tail. He made many phone calls to his wife who simply couldn’t believe her ears. He just knew that failing to find out what had happened would be put it down to his incompetence. The one thing he was quite sure of was he would end up being blamed for not solving the mystery of what really happened.

            He came home cap in hand and didn’t want to talk about it because nobody, and certainly not his wife would believe him. He approached a couple of national newspapers, but his evidence was so scant no-one was prepared to run with the story.

            Recently, the news coverage of the diving capsule seeking to view the wreck of the Titanic and the suspense of the fate of the sub brought it all back to him. How he and Phyllis had scoured any and all news involving Egypt back then. Now he knew why she had been cleaning the rocking horse. Though they both commented on it neither of them acknowledged the fact that the recent news reminded them of that day they realised their son was lost. It was quite obvious to him now, why Phyllis had been up here polishing Nigel’s old rocking horse. But why the hell didn’t she say so? Yet again the silence spun round in Maurice’s mind. Just why could they never talk about it? The number of times he tried to bring it up she was always so quick to shut him up.

            ‘Maurice don’t bring it up. The boy’s lost and we will never see him again. That’s final. Understand, I don’t want to talk about it. I’m going for a walk now.’ That was it. He never tried again. Whenever it was Nigel’s birthday, he noticed that Phyllis went on one of her long walks. The ones that he was never invited on and having offered to join her once, he was turned down the same way he was always refused when he asked her if she wanted to dance at various functions.

            ‘No thank you Maurice, not now,’ she would answer him without even bothering to look in his direction. Not now? he thought in his mind. Not now? Just when in hell would they? The answer came to him without being spoken. Never! That’s when. Bloody never.

He started to look lovingly at all the photos they had collected of their son at the same time reaching in his pocket for his handkerchief even though he knew the tears would never come.

            Neither of them had ever cried. He felt he was never allowed to join his wife in a proper sharing of grief and, opening the page of the main photo album he knew they never would. But, for the first time the tears did come, and he sobbed as quietly as he could.

            ‘You alright up there Maurice?’ Phyllis called into the loft hatch. ‘Yes, I think that stuff you used to clean Nigel’s horse overcame me. Sorry’, He wiped his face and closed the album and put everything back into place and swore he’d never come up here again. It wasn’t just Nigel who had died. The whole bloody family had, and he should have left years ago back when Phyllis went into herself. It was too late though. Not for the first time he wished he could join his son. But it was Friday the night he met his very old friend Brian Reynolds at the British Legion.

            ‘Right, I’m off dear,’ Maurice called from the hallway as he pulled on his car-coat and reached for the keys before letting himself out. He made as if to go by car but changed his mind and walked to his rendezvous with his friend Brian. Once again there was a time before Nigel’s death that he would have given her a kiss before leaving but he saw no point in such devotion anymore.

            Seated in their usual corner of the member’s lounge of the British Legion, Maurice sucked the head off his pint of Guinness and exhaled loudly to the room.

            ‘Ah Brian, Guinness might not make women disappear but by golly it tastes good.’

            Brian replied with a withering smile and said, ‘You really go on about your other half mate. Has she done something to annoy you?’

            ‘Other than breathing no, not particularly.’ Maurice took another swig of the stout and closed his eyes for a moment as though to shut his world out.

            ‘Oh, Come on Mauri, Phyllis isn’t that bad. Let’s face it she’s put up with you all these years.’ With that Maurice’s best friend drained his glass and urged Maurice to follow his example which he did, glaring slightly at Brian. Having purchased a refill of their glasses he put Maurice’s Guinness down in front of him and took a large sip out of his own pint of bitter before taking his seat and grabbing his friend’s knee playfully, but Maurice pushed his hand away rather brusquely.

            ‘You don’t know half of it Brian, you really don’t, or you wouldn’t have said that.’ He took a deep draught of his new pint.

            ‘Sorry mate, you are alright, aren’t you, I mean you and the missus, aren’t you?’

            ‘What d’you mean all right? Do I shag her? Is that what you mean by all right? Because if so, why can’t you say so in plain language Brian why do you have to be so bloody polite? You should have joined the bloody BBC or the fucking church.’

            Shocked at this outburst Brian looked around the bar in the vain hope that nobody was earwigging their conversation. Fortunately, the bar was reasonably quiet and there was only one lady with her husband in the far corner. There were a couple of men standing at the bar who, while probably enjoying Maurice’s outburst, passed the odd remark between each other in hushed tones.

            Brian was stunned into an embarrassing silence as though he had made a random pin prick and hit a main artery. ‘I’m truly sorry Mauri I really am I had no idea I really hadn’t.’

            ‘Oh, don’t worry about it Brian it isn’t your fault it’s mine. I’ve stuck with Phyllis ‘cos I didn’t have the guts to leave when Nigel disappeared.’

            Brian sat back against the bench support in silence for a moment thinking carefully before he next spoke, ‘Nigel’s death? What’s all that got to do with you and Phyllis? It was hardly your fault either, was it?’

            ‘No, it bloody wasn’t. If anyone is to blame it was my son who left this earth without a single clue on where he was. Have you any idea what it was like dragging my arse around bloody Cairo looking for traces of what happened to him? I mean a big fat bastard Egyptian General actually had the bleeding audacity to ask me if I had seen his body.’

            Maurice took a drink from his glass and looked around the room in silence. He was trying to answer the most difficult question he had ever faced. He picked up his Guinness and said to Brian, ‘Drink up Brian we’re going.’ With that he emptied his pint and Brian followed suit without a single question. He knew his friend well or thought he did so and he obeyed in silence.

            Outside it was starting to rain, and they bowed their heads as they buttoned their raincoats.

            ‘D’you mind telling me what’s happening?’ Brian broke the silence wondering what was going on in his friend’s mind. If he was honest with himself, he was quite worried.

            ‘Certainly’, Maurice looked left and right then taking Brian’s arm turned him to the left and started to walk briskly. ‘We’re going to the Coach and Horses for a real drink.’

            ‘Why, whatever for Maurice; neither of us have been in there since we were youngsters?’

            ‘Because Brian I’m never going to drink in the Legion again. Do you know why we’ve been going there after all these years?’

            ‘Well, now you mention it was your idea and I was pleasantly surprised when you called me that night and suggested we meet up there.’

            ‘And you never wondered why I did?’

            ‘I rather thought it was in respect to Nigel’s death.’

            They were now outside the Coach and Horses a rather up market pub that had been recently renovated.  Maurice stepped into the revolving doors and Brian followed him into the lounge bar on the right hand side where they both took off their raincoats and hung them on the wooden hat stand inside the room.

            ‘Find us a seat Brian and I’ll get the drinks.’ He walked to the bar and ordered a pint of best bitter, a pint of Guinness and two double malt whiskies. He made two journeys to Brian’s table and sat opposite him.

            ‘Cheers,’ Maurice said and the pair of them took large draughts from their beer glasses. ‘You’ve been a good friend to me Brian, you really have. You never ever questioned why I asked you to the Legion that night and every week since. You were right, it was about the loss of Nigel but today up in our bloody attic I cried for the first time. Nigel is bloody dead and Phyllis and I have got to learn to accept it because we’ve only been pretending.’




The following morning Phyllis was sitting at their breakfast table in the kitchen when Maurice came down after taking a shower.

            ‘You were late coming home last night, weren’t you?’ Phyllis said quietly not looking in his direction sipping her tea, her forehead furrowed in a frown.

            ‘I suppose I might have been later than usual. Brian and I went on to the Coach and Horses for a special occasion.’

            ‘A special occasion?’ Phyllis put her cup down and looked up at her husband as disapprovingly as she could muster. ‘What special occasion, did he propose to you? You two spend so much time together I often wondered there was something strange about your relationship. There’s a lot of it about in the papers.’

            Maurice stood both his hands gripping the back of his chair with all the strength he could muster and waited until she had finished and was taking another sip of her tea. She turned her stare away from him and looked down towards the corner of the room.

            ‘Are you tempted to cry Phyllis?’

            She put her cup down and glared up at him. ‘Me cry? Don’t be so damned stupid you foolish man. It would take a lot more than the thought of losing you to bring me to tears I might tell you.’ There was a venomous passion in her voice that he had not heard in years when they used to argue about money.

            He stood quietly after that last outburst and let her settle. After what could only be described as an embarrassing silence, he took his hands off the chair back and calmly folded his arms across his chest.

            ‘Well, I did yesterday when I was up in the attic, and I can tell you it did me the world of good. For the first time in however many years it is since Nigel died. Yes, you did hear me say it, Nigel died! That is what I was celebrating last night with my best friend, I could say my only friend because you’ve made it plain enough that you and I ain’t friends. Are we? How would you describe our relationship, Phyllis?’

            She sat motionless her cup back on the table half full still. Her face contorted somewhere in between a smile and grimace. It was quite obvious that she was close to tears. She stood up pushing her chair back with one hand, walked out of the room bent in silence and climbed the stairs. He heard her close the bathroom door and was sure he could hear her sobbing.

            Maurice climbed the stairs gingerly making sure he could hear her crying, tapped the bathroom door, and entered. Phyllis was sitting on the toilet sobbing into her hands.

            ‘Go away please Maurice will you, please? Can’t you see how you’ve upset me?’ She spoke at the floor, but he ignored her plea and walked up to her and gently lifted her by her elbows and once she was upright, they hugged one another warmly.

            ‘I’ve been such a damned fool Maurice. Can you ever forgive me?’ He held her at arm’s length, kissed her on the forehead and said, ‘Course I can, consider it done.’ With that he pulled her towards him, and they stood clung to one another for what seemed like an eternity until he gently separated himself from her and said, ‘have a shower love and get dressed, we’ve got some shopping to do not just you or me, but us.’ He then left her and went downstairs.

            Once there he  poured himself a cup from the pot, added milk and took his usual seat at the table. ‘Let me see. Waitrose first and a nice bottle of Cote du Rhone and soft Camembert; looks like it could be a long weekend.’ He said to the room sitting down and taking his first sip from the cup. ‘I might have just returned to a marriage.’


About the author

Robin short stories have appeared in CafeLit both on line and in print on a regular basis. He has also entered various writing competitions but has yet to get past being short listed. 


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