Half Term – NaPoWriMo

Half Term

Behind our house
there is a swing over the river
A lath of wood on plaited string
above the turgid green
in which we plunged.

We’d stand together and push
in looping arcs
until the moment came to launch
ourselves in space,
hand in hand, knowing

that soon, we’d be gasping,
bursting through the blackness,
emerging
giggling, shiny-eyed,
mud streaked faces spittled.

That day
I surfaced, trod water,
waited for you.
Trod water
until my cries frightened

nesting birds from trees,
brought parents running.
Staring at the empty swing
moving gently
like the tug and pull of the tide.

How I Help Writers & Guest Post Guidelines

How I Help Writers & Guest Post Guidelines.

Grounded

Grounded

I’ve always been able to fly. Well, when I was very young, it was more of a hover. It embarrassed my father, in fact, to this day, my left shoulder is slightly lower than my right from where he pushed me down, but couldn’t keep me grounded. My mother was pleased for me, she thought it would be an advantage as I got older, but she still made me wear dumb dresses which reached the ground and covered my feet when I hovered.

I thought everyone could fly. That it was a natural progression after crawling and walking and it was only as I grew up that it started to create problems.

To weigh me down, Pa made me shoes as big as tennis racquets, on raised soles filled with sand. Ma sewed rocks into the hem of my clothes. As a result I neither walked nor hovered properly, but glided along with a peculiar stop/start effect as the ballast shifted around. It wasn’t too much of a problem until I hit school age, or so I’m told.

By the time I got to round seven years old, Pa couldn’t take the worry any longer. Most kids were kept in line with threats of the ‘bogey-man’; I took to looking over my shoulder and under my bed for government agents or scientists from the Space Agency. Pa said if they got wind of me I’d be stolen away to study, like a frog in first-grade biology class. If we hadn’t lived on the edge of the town, with an empty lot on each side, it would have been much harder to hide my strange gift from folks, but, as it was, we kept ourselves pretty much to ourselves. Ma said that was enough to raise suspicion in itself; in our neighbourhood, families, unless they had something real bad to hide, were much more sociable than we ever were. Ma and Pa were scared if I hung around much longer, word would get out and it wouldn’t be long before trouble came a-calling.

Anyway, it was decided about then that I was to go and stay with Seth and Marnie, Pa’s sister and her husband, who lived a straight four days hard driving from us near a town called Clovis. Ma argued against it apparently, but not very convincingly, and within a week I was gone. Folks might think it odd, but that’s exactly how it was. Faced with the ‘problem’ child that Ma and Pa had, I wager they’d have done the exact same thing.

Ma promised she’d write regular as she could, but couldn’t say for sure when she’d come to take me back home, until then I was to be patient and remember they were only doing what they thought best for me. Of course, I don’t suppose it was easy for them to let me go, or for me to up and leave, but I can’t rightly remember. Anyhow, that’s the way it was. I can’t remember much about this time at all, but now and again if Marnie’s in a good mood an’ all, she’ll tell me a little bit about back then.

I’d only met Marnie once or twice and Seth was a stranger to me. I don’t think they disliked me, it was more that they were unused to children, but for a long time I was unhappy. My parents had never been very demonstrative but had shown they cared in little ways. My aunt and uncle were more subtle, but after a few months they thawed towards me. I forgave them quite quickly, even then I could understand how difficult it must have been to be landed with a flying seven year old.

Life changed considerably. Seth and Marnie scraped a living out of twenty or thirty acres of unresponsive soil in the sticks and, apart from going into town a few times a year, had only each other and an assortment of working animals for company.
I no longer went to school and the school board didn’t chase me. I never questioned why, but presumed no one knew I had moved in.

I followed Seth around and tried to help. He merely hiked his pants higher, grunted, and set off at such a pace that, if I wanted to keep up with him, I had no option but to fly. Nothing was ever said, it was just taken for granted that if any of the dumb stock managed to get themselves stuck in awkward, out of reach spots, I was the one who’d bring them to safety. Now and then he would say thank you.

Marnie didn’t want me in the house holding her back. She said I just got in the way and ‘that for someone so light on your feet, how come you keep falling over them?’ When we tried baking she said I was too ‘heavy handed for pastry’. I think the real reason was she saw little point in teaching me how to run a home; she doubted I would ever marry. She made sure Seth showed me how to rear and slaughter animals. Left to myself, I may never eat cake again, but I sure as heck wouldn’t starve.

The summer I turned 14, was the summer Red and Cody came. I missed all the fun; I’d flown over the fields to the forest, and then beyond, to the lake. I’d spent all afternoon lazing in the sun and skinny dipping. I was on my way back, fooling with a flock of blackbirds, when I heard the two quick shots fired from Seth’s gun. It was the signal he used to warn me if there were any strangers around. I flew home very low, just above the tree line and landed, in a clearing, near the edge of the wood. I was excited; we’d never had anyone visit in the eight years I’d been there, and ran through the fields, without stopping, until I arrived home, sweaty and breathless. I wasn’t there to see their camper-van pull on to our land, but when Cody later described how Marnie, ever suspicious, had welcomed them with Seth’s old shot-gun, I was sorry I’d missed it.

I was about to introduce myself to the visitors but Marnie yanked me unceremoniously indoors.

‘Don’t you go charging at them like a bull in a china shop, Sissy, they don’t need to know everything about us straight off. Here, take this and go and sluice yourself down in the yard, then we’ll eat. Think on girl, people will talk in any case so we don’t need to fill their mouths for them!’ She waved her pinafore at me and shooed me out of the kitchen.

Seth eventually took Cody on for the rest of the summer- we needed extra hands then, to ensure we ate in winter- and Red would help out where ever she could. He got them parked up in the shade behind the old barn and left them to settle in. Marnie rustled up a sandwich and a jug of cool iced tea, which they had in the VW. After that, it was understood they would eat with us, not in the house, but under the shady tree in the front of it.

I filled a pail of clear and icy water and washed the grime from my face and neck. I was about to swill my arms when I felt somebody watching me.

A woman was standing a few yards away, smoking a cigarette. Scarlet nails slashed the air as she lifted it to her mouth. I was entranced. As she exhaled, she threw back her head, then turned, and sauntered lazily around the corner of the house, her long, auburn curls jiggling in perfect rhythm with her unruly behind. I wasn’t the only one fascinated by her. Seth, half hidden in the barn’s shaded doorway, suddenly drew deeper back into the shadows as he became aware of Marnie watching him, as he stared after Red.

I never noticed anything until it hit me how tense it got when Marnie had to share space with Red. She no longer ate with us, merely laid the heaped platters of food on the table, and silently went back indoors. I couldn’t see her in the shaded interior of the kitchen, but I felt her keen blue eyes on us as we ate the food she’d prepared. Cody was a good farm hand and around him, Seth became almost garrulous. In fact, the more Marnie withdrew, the more Seth came out of himself. We were a happy group, falling silent only when Marnie re-emerged to bring a pitcher of beer and brusquely decline any offer of Red’s help with the dishes.

I took to spending every moment I could with Red. She dazzled me. I discovered she’d married at 15, pregnant, the year she won her local beauty pageant. A further two pregnancies followed as quickly as her attraction to her husband waned. One day, she was out shopping alone, a rare treat, and completely out of the blue, she hitched a lift at the truck stop on a rig making for Texas. Walked away from her babies. Just like that.

‘So take a lesson, kid,’ she said ‘build some memories before you settle for what’s waiting for you. That pretty gold band on your finger just keeps on getting tighter and tighter the longer you wear it, until you just plain can’t breathe!’

‘Is Cody the trucker you got a ride with?’ I asked.

‘Hell no!’ she laughed. ‘I was sick as hell of him after 72 hours. Cody, I met just when I needed him. He’s the one who christened me Red; kind of suits me wouldn’t you say, better than Betty-Jo ever did!’

Before I could learn anything more Seth came looking for her.

‘Need you to help, Red; Cody’s busy. He’s trying to squeeze a few more miles out of the pick-up. Darn thing’s hissing and a spitting like a fox in a trap,’ he said to her.

She linked arms with him and laughed up into his face. ‘Happy to oblige, boss.’

I expected Seth to push her away, but he laughed right back down at her as they crossed the yard. Nothing made any sort of sense anymore.

I was hurt when I tried to talk to Marnie and she turned on me.

‘Red too busy?’ was all she said, but it was enough to pull me up short It made me realise just how much I’d excluded her since the VW had pulled on to our land and I determined to make things better between us. That night, after yet another supper which Marnie didn’t eat with us, I waited until Red and Cody returned to their camper van.

‘Guess I’ll hit the sack,’ Seth said, yawning. He reached out and ruffled my hair.

‘Yeah, me too. Goodnight, Seth.’ I followed him into the house.

Once inside my room, I leant against the back of my door and heard the click of the latch as Seth entered his bedroom, and then heard the unexpected second click as Marnie left it. I waited until I heard the soft rattle of the screen door closing and then quietly followed Marnie. I heard the slight creak of metal against wood before I saw her, in the swing chair Seth had rigged up for us, at the far side of the stoop.

She had her eyes closed and was humming softly to herself whilst her fingers idly toyed with the corner of the sun faded quilt which lay loosely across her shoulders. I sat at her feet with my back against the wooden railings and was surprised when she spoke.

‘Your ma made this,’ she said. ‘Every square worked with love…Dreams in every stitch…’

I loved it when she spoke of Ma and Pa. The letters they’d promised to write came so rarely now; Marnie said it was surely because every time Ma thought about picking up a pen and writing, it reminded her how much she missed me and that I was one lucky child to be loved so much, by so many people. To tell the truth, the only thing that made my parents real for me was when Marnie told me about them; what Pa was like as a boy and then how happy he’d been when he began courting Ma, and how he near burst with pride when he discovered I was on the way.

Her voice trailed away and I held my breath willing her to continue. She was quiet for a long time and I thought she had fallen asleep. I stood, slowly easing my cramped bones, and as I tip-toed past her, to go back to bed, she reached out and gently touched my arm.

‘Stay awhile, child.’

I sat once more, at her feet.

‘Your ma made this,’ she repeated, fingering the patchwork quilt, ‘five years before you were born. She worked it a full four months and then parcelled it up and sent it. It lay in the post office in town for three weeks before we got word that a parcel had arrived for us, and I made Seth fire up the old Buick and go straight down, into town, to fetch it, told him I’d not move from the stoop until the dust devils blowing behind the car told of his return.
‘It was for the crib of the child I was carrying. I had the names already chosen, Sonny for a boy, Lainey for a girl.’

I must have gasped, or made some sort of noise, but somehow I couldn’t say the words I needed to, to find out why, if she’d been pregnant, I hadn’t seen hide or hair of a cousin, either Sonny or Lainey. Before I could even attempt a question, she spoke again.

‘I fell, over there by the big tree, flat on my back, my belly near splitting in half like a ripe melon, and screaming and hollering fit to deafen folk half a county away. Still wasn’t near loud enough to bring Seth running though; he was mending a fence in the far field and between his hammering and banging and having his transistor radio on at full blast, he never realised anything was wrong until he near fell over me when he came looking for his dinner and had to deliver a dead child instead.
‘That was my one and only baby, I somehow never managed to catch on again. Near broke Seth’s heart.’

She seemed to have run out of words and, for the life of me, I could think of nothing useful to say. I clumsily got up and joined her on the swing chair.

‘Marnie,’ I started, but she put her fingers over my lips to still me.

‘I’ve heard you jawing with Red, seen the way you hang on to her every word. Why do you think she’s so fine, Sissy? A woman who can’t find happiness unless some man is chasing and lusting after her; a mother who’d walk out on her babies without a second thought? Just how long is she going to be satisfied with Cody; will she just up and go and ruin another life?’

‘But Cody loves her Marnie, she won’t leave him.’

I, who knew nothing about love, least not grown up love, defended both Red and Cody.

‘Some women, Sissy, will never have enough with the love of just one man and, sure as God made little green apples, Red is one of them. You can moon around after her all you like, child, but mark my words, she doesn’t care for you, she don’t care ‘bout anyone except herself.’

I wanted to talk some more to Marnie, to show her that I still loved her and that there had to be room in my heart for others besides her and Seth, but as usual I couldn’t find the words. Marnie looked at me sadly and before I could think of any darn words that would make things good between us again, she stroked my cheek, almost regretfully, rose and went indoors.

For the first time since I’d met Red I wanted to fly. I wanted to take off into the indigo velvet night and chase the gossamer clouds dancing across the glowing silver moon, but I craved the release from confusion that sleep would allow too.

I went inside quietly and was surprised to see Marnie asleep on the couch beneath the window. I stood a moment, watching the play of shadow on her face, and wondered how long she’d been leaving her marriage bed as soon as Seth entered it.

The next morning every thing seemed better, as it does when you’re 15. Breakfast had been eaten, and the crockery, unusually, still lay on the table. Neither Seth nor Marnie were to be seen.

I spread a fresh baked roll with butter and generously helped myself to some of Marnie’s special spiced plum jam. The coffee on the stove was cold so I drank a glass of milk, cool from the ice-box. As I finished, I saw Seth crossing the yard towards the tractor and shouted to him through the window.

‘Where is everyone?’

He appeared as miserable as Marnie. If they were both unhappy, why they didn’t just sort it out and get things could back to how they were, I couldn’t begin to imagine.

‘Marnie’s taken the truck and gone into town, some damm fool errand to run.’

In all the years I’d been there, I’d never known her to set foot off the farm without Seth.

‘Oh, well.’ I thought. ‘No Marnie, no chores.’ and watched as Seth gunned up the tractor, got off it and shouted for Cody to ‘hurry the hell up’. As Cody turned out of the yard, heading for a hard days toil in the top field, Seth headed off to the barn and I headed off looking for diversion, its right what folks say – the devil does make work for idle hands.

Ignoring the messy breakfast table, I went to my room and rooted around under my bed until I found the magazine Red had gifted me. I stroked the smooth shiny cover with its colourful headlines screaming ‘How to keep your man from straying; are you a Real Woman?’ above ‘Fashion and make-up tips, hot from Hollywood’, and a picture of a good looking guy, arm around an impossibly beautiful dark haired girl with gleaming, unlikely white teeth. Restlessly, I went and looked in the full length mirror in Marnie’s room.

I took my pony tail out of the rubber band that had held the last batch of post we’d collected, and pushed my bangs out of my eyes. Hair fell around my face in dirty blonde feathers and strong clear blue eyes despaired of the mud-splat of freckles over the bridge of my nose. I looked at my tan legs poking out curiously from the bottom of my overalls, and the worn uppers of my sneakers. I quite liked the T-shirt, an old one of Marnie’s with a cute sweetheart neckline, but could see it was getting too tight across my chest which had embarrassingly sprouted since last summer. Well, I couldn’t do much about the fashion bit, but maybe Red had some makeup she didn’t use?

Excited, I ran on to the stoop, then across the yard and stopped. Marnie had gone into town; Cody was up in the top field, but I couldn’t see or hear anyone else.

I thought Seth would possibly be working in the barn and expecting Red to be in the camper, I headed in that direction. She wasn’t, so I sat in the yard a while, letting dry crumbly soil slip through my fingers and kicking pebbles, until I remembered how much I’d wanted to fly last night. I couldn’t leave the immediate area without telling Seth, he needed to know when I was flying so he could look out for me, but I reckoned it would be safe enough if I didn’t go too far afield. I decided to fly no higher than the buildings around me. The old tractor engine would warn me of Cody’s return, dust on the top road of any unannounced visitors, so the only one I had to be wary of was Red. The risk, to be honest, only made it more enticing.

I stood, feet together and eyes closed and raised my arms from my sides. I rose slowly and steadily and with every inch the pure clean joy I always felt at flying, rose in me. Exhilarated, I opened my eyes and levelled out, taking a long, lazy swoop around the yard, laughing as my toes tickled the tiles on the roof top as I soared over it. Suddenly I realised that I could see Cody in the far distance and, worried that he would also see me, swooped low and flew the entire length of the stoop along the front of the house instead. Round and round I flew, twisting and turning, dipping and diving, my body fluid on the warm summer currents. Around the tree, across the yard and then, extending my flight path, through the huge open ended barn. I relished the air flowing over and around me, warm out side, cooler in the shade of the barn and then the warmth again as I emerged and the soft whispering rushing sound I made as I cut through the air as easily as a hot knife through butter.

I heard the low murmurings before I registered them and where they came from. More than anything else I was intrigued. I didn’t immediately recognise the voices, his, unusually soft and tender, hers, languid and yielding. I came to rest at the foot of the wooden ladder resting against the upper hay loft. I decided against climbing it and instead, assumed the stance from which I knew I could rise noiselessly. Posing, like the crucifix nailed above Seth and Marnie’s bed, I silently rose, higher and higher, until I was level with the hay loft, but I still was unable to see properly; two large bales had been moved to the very edge of the loft to ensure privacy. Holding my breath I continued to rise inch by inch, the concentration needed to control the speed of my ascent making my muscles tremble with effort.

In the hay bale love-nest, lay Seth, my taciturn, dispassionate naked uncle, sated by pleasures possibly only previously imagined, whilst Red, propped on one elbow and as seemingly satisfied as only a cat that’s swallowed a stolen quart of cream can be, leant over him and left slimy silver slug-spit trails of saliva in his chest-hair as her sharply pointed tongue tantalised. She was nude – strangely, I became aware for the first time of the emotional difference of two words which mean precisely the same thing – and I was unreasonably angry to see that she wasn’t ‘Red’ at all; her pubic hair was a washed out brown. And then I saw, they had taken Marnie’s quilt to lie on; the one ma had made for the baby that was never born, from the swing chair on the stoop.

I suppose the day drew to a close as usual; Marnie would have returned from whatever errand she was on, a day in the fields would have stoked up Cody’s usual ravenous appetite, Seth would have made small talk about the next day’s work, Marnie would have cooked the food for supper, but eaten it alone, and Red, Red would have been Red. But I’m only guessing.

From the barn, I went straight to my room and stayed hidden under my quilt every time any one came near.

‘Go away! I’m sick.’ And I was. Sick at heart.

Cody was packing his van when I got up the next morning. Marnie was nearby, poking at a bonfire with a long soot blackened metal pole.

‘Are they leaving?’ I asked.

‘She’s long gone,’ she answered without raising her eyes.

Cody came over to us.

‘Guess I’ll be hitting the road,’ he said. ‘Can’t tell you how sick I am at the way things panned out…’He didn’t wait for a reply before turning on his heel and walking away. I watched as he drove the VW off our land and onto the dirt track that eventually joined the highway. I watched until the dust-devils disappeared completely from sight.

Marnie was still poking the fire, raking stuff into the middle constantly just like she made omelettes in the big black skillet, as though she was afraid something may escape. A piece of cloth, freshly yellow as a corn fed egg, shone briefly before being hungrily eaten by flames.

‘Isn’t that Seth’s Sunday shirt?’ I asked, shocked.

‘Sure is.’

‘Doesn’t he want it any more?’

‘Don’t rightly know what he’s wanted for a while now.’

I looked at Marnie. She had shrunken somehow and closed in around herself and my heart ached for her, but once again I failed to find the words I needed.

‘Sissy, come here.’

She held on to the pole with one hand and held the other out toward me. As I reached her she put her arm around my shoulders and hugged me.

‘Seth’s gone, child…left with her during the night. Took the rainy day money as well; twenty years of scrimping and scratting, gone…goddam them to hell!’

We stood in silence for a long time until the fire burnt down completely and nothing was left of it except a blackened buckle, I suppose from Seth’s Sunday trousers and, incongruously, the bottom set of a pair of false teeth.

‘Yep, Seth’s Sunday teeth,’ she said and started crying which set me off.

We went back into the house and Marnie got her Mother’s silver tea-pot, and the china cups she’d won in a raffle many years ago, down from the dresser. We drank hot sweet tea until the pot grew cold and she excused herself. She went into her bedroom and stayed there for three full days.

I’ve only tried flying once since I found Seth and Red in the hay loft, and found I couldn’t. Don’t rightly know why I couldn’t, but there again, never rightly knew why I could. I just think the pain, heavy like rock in my heart, weighed me down more than Pa and his sand filled shoes ever could.

Copyright Eileen Brown

OK, so he’s a raspberry…

but he’s my raspberry and I’d gladly fight to the death to defend him from the casual denigration he faces most days.
54 years old, 6’2″, 14 stone, self-employed builder of 20 years. Employer of men. Hard worker. Moderate drinker and smoker. Hobbies: fishing, live music, quizzing, sailing; he owned two boats. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of music and literature, but was also an outdoors type, full of energy and the joy of living. In the fashion of an English ‘gentleman’ he insisted on walking on the outside of the pavement to protect me from any passing ne’er-do-wells or rapscallions. Quaint, but sometimes irritating to a feisty woman. I never dreamed that I would miss it.
And then, on 23rd September 2011, on an ordinary evening in the local pub, on our ordinary walk home, mid-sentence, ‘I feel crap…’, he fell flat on his face. I pulled him in to a sitting position and, because his speech was unaffected and his face was exactly the same, not drooping as the ads on the TV demonstrated, we concluded that his drink had somehow been spiked. Only one thing, he couldn’t walk. At all.
To cut a long story short we eventually got home; after 4 1/2 hours. He thought he would sleep it off and be fine for work the next day. He wasn’t.
It was actually a cerebral stroke and he has since been confined to a wheelchair. He considers himself lucky, because he still has a pulse. Sometimes, God forgive me, his relentless cheerfulness and optimism gets me down. However, the facts bear him out – we were told by the consultants that 65% of victims die on the spot and of the surviving 35%, tragically, 20% are ‘locked-in’.
So, why does he have to be treated as though he’s a side-show in the circus by total strangers that we meet in our everyday life. So why, when we arrived at A & E, was the first thing they did, was breathalyse him? Why does he have to be told, ‘F**k off, crip!’ if he asks youths to excuse him so he can pass them on a street. Why do people ask me how he is, looking straight over the top of his chair and when he’s told them they come straight back to me with, ‘No, we mean really.’
I got so sick of it. True, we’d only been together 10 months before his stroke, but why did people think I would dump him? I wasn’t brave, as they kept telling me, he was the brave one. How did he know I wasn’t standing by him out of pity? After 12 weeks in hospital, he moved in with me and last year we married. No big deal. If you love the boy before the stroke, you love him afterwards :D I can’t pretend it’s been plain sailing; I’m a writer who hasn’t been writing, but…I’m back!

Radio Script -WPLongform. Learning Curves.

Working on 30 mins. I think, with 5 scenes, I’m about half way through.

LEARNING CURVES

FX FADE IN TRACK: “JUST THE WAY YOU ARE”/BILLY JOEL.

FX Scene 1 – Int. Day – MITCH’S LIVING ROOM
MUSIC FADES OUT UNDER DIALOGUE AS PHRASE, “DON’T GO CHANGING JUST TO PLEASE ME, I LOVE YOU JUST THE WAY YOU ARE.” IS REACHED.

CARL I went to bed… slept as usual…

MITCH Yes?

CARL Woke up-

MITCH (INTERRUPTING) Came as a shock, did it?

CARL Just shut up and listen!

MITCH Well get on with it!

CARL Can’t. You got any booze?

MITCH At nine O’clock in the morning?

CARL A strong one… better get one yourself.

MITCH Coming up… Are you going to tell me or what? Just don’t go all girly on me.

FX DRINK BEING POURED.

MITCH Here, one hair-of-the–dog. What..? What have I done now?

CARL Girly? Did you say girly?

MITCH Hey, calm down Carl! Only thought you were getting a bit too near your feminine side… Come on, mate; what is it?

CARL When I woke up this morning…

MITCH Yeah?

CARL This morning when I woke up…

MITCH Oh, for God’s sake!

CARL I was a woman.

MITCH You were a… WHAT?!

CARL A woman.
MITCH Oh.

CARL Oh?! Oh?! All you can say is ‘Oh’?! Cheers mate.

MITCH You mean… you’ve gone gay?

CARL You can’t go gay! You go training or clubbing or drinking, not gay. I’ve gone FEMALE! I’m a bird, a tart; I’m a woman, for God’s sake. I’ve got boobs!

MITCH Well, to be fair, you always have had…

CARL WHAT?

MITCH ‘Moobs’ then, man-boobs, you must have heard the lads after football? Steve swears blind you’ve got bigger tits than his missus… Ow!

FX SCUFFLING SOUNDS AND GRUNTS ETC. AS CARL LUNGES AT MITCH.

MITCH Argh…! Settle down…! You need more drink.

FX MITCH LEAVES ROOM. BOTTLES BEING UNSCREWED. FRIDGE DOOR OPENS AND CLOSES. ICE CUBES DROPPED INTO DRINK. CHINK OF METAL AGAINST GLASS AS LIQUID IS STIRRED.

MITCH I’ve made a jug. All the leftovers from Christmas with a bit of lemonade.

FX DRINK POURED. ICE CUBES CHINK

CARL Cheers.

MITCH Carl…? If you’re female now… do you fancy blokes?

CARL NO! I don’t, pervert; I fancy women!

MITCH Well, doesn’t that make you a les-

CARL (INTERRUPING) That’s it. I should have known…I’ve had enough. I’m off.

MITCH Sorry, I’m not laughing… Well, I am, but what would you do?

CARL I’d try to help. At least you could try to-

MITCH (INTERRUPTING)I spent all last night trying to bloody help!

CARL What?

MITCH I even dumped the bird I was with to un-weld you from some dodgy slapper. I poured you into a cab – and paid for it – got you into your pit safely and then had to walk all the way home by myself.

CARL Sorry mate.

MITCH Then I’m woken, at the first crack of sparrows, by you telling me you’ve gone female?

CARL God. What am I going to do?

MITCH Sit down Carl; tell me how you knew… Don’t look at me like that… I’m sorry…

CARL How I knew?! Just look at me. How do you think I knew?

MITCH Talking to you is like playing pass-the-parcel with a hand-grenade! Start at the beginning. I promise I’ll try not to-

CARL (INTERRUPTING)Laugh and you’re dead!

MITCH Just give me a minute then, ok? Be right back.

FX A DOOR OPENS AND CLOSES. MUFFLED HYSTERICAL LAUGHTER. DOOR RE-OPENS AND MITCH RETURNS

MITCH Right, I’m all yours.

Scene 2 – Ext. Day – BEACH
FX WIND GUSTING. WAVES WASHING OVER SHINGLE. GULLS SCREAMING. OCCASIONAL SHOUTS FROM EXCITED CHILDREN.

MITCH What was wrong with telling me at mine? It’s bloody arctic out here!

CARL I needed to get out, besides, it’s not that cold.

MITCH Oh, yes it is!

CARL Why are you laughing…? What are you looking-

MITCH (INTERRUPTING) You. Nipples like chapel hat-pegs; told you it was cold!

CARL Oh shit! I can’t walk around with these… AND LOOK AT MY FACE WHEN YOU TALK TO ME!

MITCH They’ve grown; even since this morning! Look, we’ll call off at Boots and get you something to strap them down with. (CHUCKLING) Do Gossard do crepe bandages?

CARL What?

MITCH Nothing… Did you honestly not feel anything during the night? All that stretching. Didn’t it hurt?

CARL I was beyond feeling, remember?

MITCH So it was only when you went for a pee, first thing?

CARL Yeah. I reached down and there it was. Gone.

MITCH What did you do?

CARL I sat down, stupid, I still needed to pee.

MITCH No. What did you do then?

CARL What did you expect me to do? Look under the bed for it? See if I’d left it on the dresser with my keys and wallet?

MITCH (MUSING) My mum tried for years to get us to sit down. She said…

CARL (INTERRUPTING) ‘Snot helping, Mitch!

MITCH Course not, sorry…Did you find it harder to get dressed this morning?

CARL What?

MITCH Deciding what to wear? Whether your bum looked big?

FX MITCH LAUGHING AS CARL CHASES HIM. RUNNING ON SHINGLE.

CARL I’m warning you, Mitch!

MITCH Last one to the car is a big girl’s blouse!

FX Scene 3 – Int. Day – IN MITCH’S CAR
THE CAR IS PARKED WITH THE ENGINE RUNNING. OTHER VEHICLES PASSING OCCASIONALLY. FADE IN TRACK: “BLACK MAGIC WOMAN”/FLEETWOOD MAC SEGUE INTO…

MITCH BRRR! Soon have it warmed through.

CARL Tell me more about last night. What was she like, that girl I was with when we left the club? Why did you drag me away?

MITCH She was with someone. If I hadn’t dragged you away you’d have been filled in by her bloke! No, she was nice actually.., not like the one I dumped when I came to sort you out!

CARL Did I cock things up for you?

MITCH Could say that! One minute I’m onto a promise, she’s all over me like a…

CARL (INTERRUPTING) Rash?

MITCH Nah, more like a steamroller! God, she went mental when I peeled her off and ran over to you! Didn’t like being left!

CARL Was it bad?

MITCH Yeah, she followed me screaming and cursing! I think she was trying to thump me, but the bouncers grabbed her and held her back.

CARL Cursing? What did she say?

MITCH Actually, you helped me out; I used you as a shield to get past her-

CARL (INTERRUPTING) What did she say?

MITCH Oh, how did I think it felt? Being picked up and dropped? Telling me I’d soon find out? Usual libber crap!

CARL You’d soon find out? Mitch, that’s not libber crap?

MITCH Whatever. What a witch! A panic-pull, but better than nothing at the end of the night. Until you take off the beer-goggles, that is.

CARL Witch…? That’s it. Don’t you see? That must be it! She was a witch!

MITCH Hang on, mate, ok, granted she was no oil painting, but-

CARL (INTERRUPTING) She was a witch! It’s the only explanation! I’ve been cursed, hexed, whatever. But why? Why me?

FX THE FOLLOWING LINE IS SPOKEN TOGETHER.

CARL OH MY GOD!
MITCH OH MY GOD!

CARL It was-

MITCH (INTERRUPTING) meant for me!

CARL Think, come on, Mitch. Think! What exactly did she say?

MITCH Well…The last thing I clearly remember is that she said she’d see me next week and I could tell her how it’d been-

CARL (INTERRUPTING) Had been?

MITCH Yeah, when I was dragging you out backwards-

CARL (INTERRUPTING) But she definitely said had been?

MITCH Yeah, as far as I can remember, but…that means-

CARL (INTERRUPTING) I have to walk around all week carrying your bloody curse!

MITCH Well…Look on the bright side, mate! At least with your moobs you were halfway there! Ouch! What are you doing? Get off!

FX SOUND OF SCUFFLE.

MITCH That’s enough, pack it in or we won’t make the shops!

FX INCREASED ENGINE NOISE AND INDICATOR CLICKING AS MITCH WAITS TO JOIN TRAFFIC.

FX Scene 4 Ext. DAY – STREET
BUSY WITH SHOPPERS AND TRAFFIC. SNATCHES OF CONVERSATION FROM PASSERS-BY. STRAINS OF MUSIC AND LAUGHTER AS PUBS ARE PASSED.

MITCH Shove your hands in your pockets and slouch. Lean forward a bit so you just look like a fat git…WHAT? I’m only trying to help.

CARL Shut up. Let’s get this over with, I’m going to the chemist for-

MITCH (INTERRUPTING) WHAT? Don’t grab me like that! You’re hurting me-

CARL (INTERRUPTING) Look! Over there!

MITCH What…? What am I looking at? Stop pulling at me.

CARL Over there! Lewis’ window!

MITCH Oh, I see. The blue satin with the bow or the sparkly black mini? I think the blue will set your eyes- [off nicely.]

CARL (INTERRUPTING) No, no! The girl with the long black hair. Is that her, Mitch? The one you were with last night?

MITCH Let go of my arm and I’ll tell you… Yeah, I think I-

CARL (INTERRUPTING) Come on then. What are you waiting for?

MITCH Carl! Wait…Careful…Look out…

FX BRAKING CARS, HORNS, CURSING DRIVERS

GIRL What the hell do you think you’re doing?! Get your hands off me!

CARL Hang on a minute, please? Were you in ‘Legends’ last night? Please, you’ve got to help me!

FX FOOTSTEPS AS MITCH ARRIVES

MITCH Carl! Listen to me. I’m wrong. I thought it was her, but she’s not the one-

GIRL (INTERRUPTING) You made that apparent! Last night when you went to buy me a drink and didn’t come back? Tosser!
MITCH I got waylaid, ok? Sorry, but-

GIRL (INTERRUPTING) Waylaid? You didn’t get WAYlaid; you went off to GET laid! What’s wrong with you lot; talking to us too challenging?

CARL Look I’ll sort him out, don’t worry…Come on, Mitch!

FX MITCH AND CARL’S FOOTSTEPS ARE HEARD HURRYING AWAY FROM THE SCENE. IN THE BACKGROUND THE GIRL IS HEARD SHOUTING.

GIRL Dick-heads!

FX Scene 5 – Evening – Int. MITCH’S HOUSE
TV SHOW “TOP GEAR” IS HEARD UNDER DIALOGUE THROUGHOUT.

CARL If I stand with my arms in the air and swivel, can you wrap them around me; tightly enough to squash my…err, chest?

MITCH Think so. Get your shirt off.

CARL (RELUCTANTLY) Yeah… In a minute… Beer first?

FX FRIDGE OPENING AND CLOSING AND CANS BEING OPENED.

MITCH Oh, cheers… and for bailing me out earlier, by the way.

CARL Did you just leave her sitting? That girl, I mean?

MITCH Course I did! I was getting nowhere fast and, hey! So many women, so little time… What..? Don’t go all soft on me.
CARL Can see why she was pissed off.

MITCH What is this? Female solidarity? A few days ago you’d have done exactly the same, only quicker. What is it the lads say about you and a frog – if you could stop it hopping?

FX VERY SHORT PAUSE DURING WHICH, TOP GEAR’S HOST, JEREMY CLARKSON, IS HEARD SCREAMING ENTHUSIASTICALLY ABOUT CARS

CARL Do you really want to watch this?

MITCH (SARCASTICALLY) Ooooh no! Let’s watch Trinny and Susanna!! Better still, ‘10 years Younger’ is on the other side… Shut up!

CARL ‘Spose we’d better try the bandages?

MITCH Yeah… Get ‘em out for the lads then!

FX Scene 6 – Ext. LATER SAME EVENING – KITCHEN
FOOD BEING DISHED UP AND PLATES BEING PUT ON THE TABLE.

MITCH Smells good. I’m starving, all that sea air! C’mon Carl? You’ve got to eat!

FX SOUND OF PLATE BEING PUSHED AWAY.

CARL Not hungry.

MITCH You’ve hardly touched it. What’s wrong…Ha, apart from the obvious, that is?

CARL Dunno. Just feel a bit queer.

FX CHAIR SCRAPING WHEN PUSHED BACK FROM TABLE.

MITCH Steady! I never said a word!

CARL Oh God! What am I going to do? I can’t go into work like this.
MITCH Ring in sick; tell them you’ve got a bug or something.

CARL Will you ring up for me? I feel crap. Stomach’s killing me.

MITCH Ache? Or pains?

CARL Spasms. Not felt anything like this before…
MITCH Oh, Carl mate! You haven’t got the curse, have you?

CARL Course I’ve got a curse! I don’t usually have 42” pecs and a craving for Babycham!

MITCH No, not A curse, THE curse…

FX CUTLERY DROPPING ON PLATE AND GASPS OF HORROR.

FX THE FOLLOWING TWO LINES ARE SPOKEN TOGETHER

MITCH OH, MY GOD!!!!
CARL OH, MY GOD!!!!

MITCH I’ll go and ring work for you.

FX DOOR OPENING AND MUMBLED TELEPHONE CALL BEING MADE. “CARL ROBERTS WON’T BE IN TO WORK NEXT WEEK, HE’S NOT HIMSELF…”

CARL (GROANING)Ooooh!

MITCH All done.

CARL Ooh…argh…cheers.

MITCH Wish I could have all week off as well.

CARL I’d swap. This is agony.

MITCH I’ll get you a hot water bottle.

CARL I’m not bloody cold, I’ve got cramps!

MITCH I know… My mum always had a hot-bot when she had the…

CARL All right, all right! Just get the bloody thing!

FX ELECTRIC KETTLE BOILS AND CLICKS OFF. WATER POURING. RUBBER STOPPER SQUEAKS.

MITCH Oh yes! The hot-bot was my early warning system for her monthly bout of Tourette’s! (ENTERING LOUNGE) There you are, cuddle that.

Pay Day NaPoWriMO

Black eye

Pay Day

In the bed
in the locked room
he calls spare – she calls safe

she trembles as his feet
thump up the stairs
breathes deeply

prays he’ll give up
knows he won’t.
Defeated

she unlocks the door
goes down and tries
Is that you? I was asleep.

Fucking bitch, he screams,
Lying cow! His fist connects.
Her face cools

on York stone flags.
Granma’s dinner plates
fly around the room.

Later, collecting porcelain pieces,
she knows
tomorrow

he won’t remember. She wakes
to the smell of frying bacon
the sound of his whistling.

©theeditoffice2013

Great Rules of Writing

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

~William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing”

Getting Over Summer

bertie

bertie (Photo credit: miner)

Yet another unfinished novel! About half done as usual, but …still, one day! I’d be grateful for any constructive critique though…? 

 

Getting Over Summer.

‘…I used to have a life. And a lover. I am on my own now. Still.
If, when I was born, a good fairy had shown me a chart of the life I would live, then given me the choice of whether I wanted to follow it or not, what would I have done? Maybe, if no other choice were available, even seeing the horrors spread out in front of me, I would still have chosen to live me. I don’t think my good fairy would have offered me alternatives, the life of someone else born at the same moment as me, whose own fairy gifted more favourable life plans. No, I think it would have been my life or a return to the nothingness I came from. At this moment, that seems preferable.’

She snapped her journal shut and decided that recording her innermost thoughts didn’t make her feel better, as the advice columns in the magazines at the hairdressers suggested, it actually made her feel a whole lot worse. She put it on the kitchen table next to the letter, the letter which had lain undisturbed since she had opened it four days ago. Katie gave it uneasy glances as she crept past to weigh the natural bran she mixed with cottage cheese for her packed lunch. Finally, aware that ignoring it would not make it somehow disappear, she resolved to take it to work with her and ask Leo what he thought.
She smiled as she thought of her boss and how he had frightened her witless when she started working for him almost twenty years ago. Now she practically ran Parkins Pet Supplies for him. He had long since lost interest in the company, and on the rare occasions he was in the office more than two days running, he sat quietly in his room doodling and dreaming of the pictures he longed to paint. Kate had worried about him since she’d realised, with surprise that he could only be ten years older than her at the most. She’d tried persuading him to go out and enjoy himself. In a ‘tweed jacket’ way, he was very attractive and she knew at least three divorcees who would love to give him a run for his money.
She’d once introduced him to her best friend Rhia and still regretted it. He’d been taken aback by her vivacity and business suits. She hadn’t seen Leo as a person, only as someone who must have lots of county friends who’d come clamouring to book her company’s expertise, once she had demonstrated just how ‘haute’ her ‘cuisine’ was. Rhia had suggested a dinner date, he’d stammered but accepted, and she said she would ring when she had a ‘window’. Leo waited in vain for her call. It put Katie in an awful position.
She noticed she was running late and hastily put a dish of water outside the back door for Bertie, her elderly cross bred dogwho was nowhere to be seen as usual. It was a secret source of embarrassment to Katie that almost every litter of unwanted puppies born in the village bore an uncanny resemblance to Bertie. She comforted herself with the thought that when a puppy actually appeared on her doorstep requesting a DNA test, she would whip Bertie to the vets so quickly his paws wouldn’t touch the ground. Until then it seemed heartless to tinker with his tackle and besides, at his age, it was probably only a last-ditch attempt to impress the pampered dogs that arrived in German cars to weekend at their owners’ country retreats.
She rammed the letter into her bag and, after locking her door, headed towards her ancient Citroen, praying that today she wouldn’t have to suffer a display of its Gallic contrariness. It didn’t surprise her that the car refused to start and, after kicking the driver’s door shut, she grabbed her bicycle.
“Cochon!” she snarled at the car as she passed it. She was sure the rusting CV5, gangly on its narrow tyres, sneered as she pedalled furiously up the lane.
At least the weather was on her side. A dew-kissed spring morning glistened around her and the sun, full and golden as a corn fed-egg, promised a beautiful day. It was difficult to stay in a bad mood and she laughed softly as she surprised a trio of baby rabbits on the verge of the quiet lane. Too young to be frightened, they merely sat and looked at her looking at them as she cycled past, her floral, bought-at-Oxfam, Laura Ashley billowing behind her as she approached the main road.
She heard a sharp ‘beep, beep’, the horn of a work-worn Bedford van coming over the crest of the hill and realised she was in luck.
‘Lift, ma’am?’ the driver asked, as he pulled alongside her.
‘Oh, Kev, I’m glad to see you! The car wouldn’t start and, typically, today is the only day this week I have to be at work on time. I’ve got a nine fifteen appointment,’ Katie explained as she helped him load her bike into the back of his van. ‘The poor man is travelling miles to demonstrate a rabbit sexing device, so I can’t be late.’ She pushed empty cement sacks and several stained and dusty tools to the floor, making enough room to sit comfortably.
‘Your old banger lets you down so often, I’m thinking of investing in a chauffeur’s uniform.’
‘That would be great. A peaked cap for a ‘nearly-white’ van man!’ Kate laughed at the idea and, ignoring the clattering of her bike and building equipment rolling around in the back of the van, settled back to enjoy the ride.
She had known Kevin all her life. He had moved out of the village but his parents still lived next door to her. His business didn’t leave him a lot of spare time, but when he was able to visit his mum and dad, he usually popped round and he and Katie would sit outside in her sheltered garden and sip white wine and talk quietly, until late in the evening.
She loved Kev’s mum and dad. They had become family to her since her own parents died, and she often wondered why she didn’t fancy Kevin. Well, not since she’d grown up anyway. Apart from their names sounding ridiculous together (a fact she’d discovered after spending most of her third year at school scribbling them on her exercise books, entwined in an arrow-pierced heart) she supposed that it was because they just knew each other too well

Chapter 2

Rhia lay in bed smoking her first cigarette of the day and thought again about the expensive wrap dress she had been admiring for a fortnight. She’d actually got as far as trying it on, and admired the way it clung to her body. She loved the daring neckline, the way the cross over bodice accentuated her curves, the tantalising glimpse of thigh as she slowly walked around the mirror-lined cubicle. And then the sales assistant had ruined it.
‘Does that feel alright?’ she enquired, ‘Would you like to try the next size up?’
Rhia had suddenly seen herself through the assistant’s eyes and noticed, for the first time, the bulges above her waist where the wrap dress fastened. There were rolls of fat on her back above and below her bra strap and, dear God, she appeared to be trying to force four unruly bosoms into a bra designed to take only two. She’d fled the shop, ignoring the perplexed gaze of the assistant who was bearing down on her, almost hidden behind an armful of dresses, some of which looked big enough to accommodate Billy Smart’s Circus, as well as a pair of performing poodles.
A stray drop of last night’s rain squelched through the Venetian blind behind her and splattered onto her cigarette, almost extinguishing it. She stretched to douse it in the upturned lid of a porcelain trinket box.
She rose and walked slowly into her bathroom, thinking about her date last night with Ewan. She turned on the tap and slowly dripped bath oil into the hot running water. As the perfumed steam misted around her, she realised she’d used the same oil last night in preparation for her evening out. With little effect. She tossed the nearly full bottle of oil into the waste bin under the sink.
She’d been optimistic about Ewan, even though he’d made her uneasy on their first date. He’d taken her to a Burns Night celebration and spent most of the evening waving around his skeean do, as if he were the only man present who had one. It unnerved her that it nestled casually in the top of his knee-high sock and that it didn’t even require a sheath. She wished she hadn’t ignored her instincts in February; she could have saved herself the months of misgivings which culminated in his telling her last night that she wasn’t his type! What was wrong with her? Would she ever be anybody’s type?
She lay back in the tub and admitted to herself that there had been a long list of ‘Ewans’ over the past few years. Something had to change!
As she got out of the bath, she determined to think no more about the past and to concentrate on the future. She would ring Katie and see if she had any ideas. Towelling herself vigorously, she tried hard not to look in the full-length mirror.
‘Oh hell!’ she muttered, as it cleared in random patches and allowed her fleeting glimpses of a dimpled rear she would rather not see. In fact, all she could see was a future of speed dating and slimming clubs.

Rhia opened her wardrobe door and surveyed her sharply cut suits, and behind them, the rail of floating gossamer dresses she never wore. She put on a black trouser suit and a low-cut cream top, and glumly checked her appearance. She knew she should buy pantalets to shape her hips, bum and tum. With a sigh she gathered bag, phone and keys, locked the door behind her as she left for the office.
As she passed the reception desk at the entrance to her apartment building, the janitor handed her an envelope.
‘It arrived early this morning; I was just about to bring it up to you.’
‘Thank you, Andy. Isn’t it a lovely day?’ she smiled over her shoulder as she waited for the lift to take her to the basement where her car was parked. Idly, she looked at the letter. Her mail usually went to the office and so, intrigued, she opened it.

Dear Rhiannon,
How are you? I know you’ll be surprised to hear from me, but I’m writing to you in the hope that you will be interested in attending a school re-union I have been asked to organise. Won’t it be exciting to meet up again after all this time?
I got your address from Alice Brent; apparently her brother installed your spa bath. You’d also done a ‘thing’ for his in-laws, their Ruby Wedding, or something. Who’d have thought you would end up a professional cook, although you always did like food as I recall. No offence!
I’ve enclosed a full list of people I’ve yet to track down and as you will see, Katherine Jackson is on it. Are you still in touch with her and if so, will you pass on the details? Thank you so much.
Look forward to seeing you,

Isobel Harvey-Brown (nee Harrison)

A hundred well-scrubbed schoolgirl faces flashed through Rhia’s head, until she placed Isobel. Of course! Isobel, who always insisted on being known as Isobel, never Izzy, or Belle, and who always insisted on calling everyone else by their full name, however much they detested it.
‘How many years is it since someone called me Rhiannon?’ mused Rhia, already dialling Katie’s number on her mobile.
Katie barely had time to say, ‘Parkins Pet…’ before Rhia interrupted her.
‘You’ll never guess what. I’ve had a letter!’
‘You’ve had a letter?’ murmured Kate.
‘From Isobel Harrison. Well, she’s double-barrelled now but I didn’t expect anything less. It’s a school reunion Kate! Katie?’
‘I’m sorry, Rhia, I’ve got to go. I’ll speak to you later.’
Katie hung up abruptly, leaving her puzzled friend staring at her mobile phone.

Although Rhia had anticipated a long girlie chat with Katie about Isobel Harvey-Brown’s letter, she didn’t have much time to ponder on it as her working day unfolded.
Her senior waitress, Emma, had called in to help get ready for the evening’s booking and had slipped while carrying a stack of china platters to the van, injuring her wrist.
‘But it’s so sore!’ she blubbered, as Rhia impatiently bound it in a crepe bandage.
‘If you had been concentrating on what you were doing, instead of straining to see who was ringing your mobile, it would never have happened,’ she’d snapped. Now, driving Emma to hospital, Rhia admitted it did indeed look nasty. It had swollen up to twice its size and the bruising made it look as if Emma was wearing a camouflaged glove. Perhaps an X-ray was a good idea, though she hadn’t a clue how she was going to catch up on everything she had to do today. Better not to think about the dinner party for twelve she was catering for tonight. Who could she pull in to cover for Emma at such short notice? Perhaps Henry, her chef, would know of someone.
Oh hell! She had promised Henry that she would be at their kitchens, on the industrial unit on the outskirts of town by ten at the latest, to approve his menus, and it was almost eleven o’clock. He would be furious. He’d threaten to walk out or sulk or, even worse, he would drink all afternoon. Moreover, he wouldn’t even try to find a stand-in for Emma. No, he would gloat at seeing Rhia following his orders whilst wearing the ill-fitting polyester uniform she insisted all her staff wore and sweating over steaming dinner plates, up to her armpits in dirty dish water and scraping slops into the bin! It didn’t bear thinking about, her expensively polished image ruined. Bloody chefs!
Rhia, doing at least ten miles above the speed limit, hit a speed bump.
‘Slow down, Rhia. It’s excruciating when you throw me around,’ Emma cried ‘I feel like a broken biscuit rattling around in a carrier bag.’
‘Stop whining, it’s probably not even broken. I’ve got so much to do today and this is not helping.’
‘Oh, please forgive me for being in agony,’ huffed Emma. Chastened, Rhia slowed down a little. Then, with fresh panic, another thought assailed her.
‘Did you remember to post that cheque to the insurance company last month?’
‘I hate you, Rhia! How can you think about employer’s liability at a time like this?’
‘I didn’t mean it like that!’ Rhia protested. But she did.

Chapter 3

Katie replaced the receiver after abruptly terminating Rhia’s call. She stared dubiously at the implement on her desk. The sales rep. had demonstrated it several times, albeit not on a rabbit, but despite printed instruction sheets, Katie was still unsure how to use it. She also had reservations about whether her customers would find it as invaluable as the sales rep. had argued. She pushed the sexing device to one side as she heard footsteps in the passageway.
‘What on earth has happened? You’re as white as a ghost, Katie.’ Leo stood in the doorway looking at her with concern.
‘Oh, it’s just Rhia.’ she said. She wanted to confide in him, not about Rhia’s stupid letter but about the one she’d been trying to come to terms with for over four days. But didn’t know how to. ‘She’s had a letter. Some school reunion or something.’
She looked up at him, blinking away unshed tears as she searched for something that would deflect his attention away from her.
‘What do you make of this?’ She held the sexing device toward him. He took it and examined it curiously.
‘Well, I’d say it was a very large pair of sugar tongs.’
She giggled. She knew Leo was still wondering what had upset her so much, but she also knew he would wait to see if she wanted to confide in him. ‘No, you’re not even warm. I’m going for lunch now and if you haven’t guessed by the time I get back, you’re making the tea this afternoon!’

She walked across the busy main road to the Memorial Gardens and sat in her usual spot, upon the flattened gravestone of Gladys Nuttall, to eat her packed lunch. The inscription on the stone -She died with a sigh but didn’t say goodbye- failed to lift Katie’s mood as it usually did and, to make matters worse, the four teaspoons of bran, mixed with cottage cheese that morning, had expanded like the polystyrene stuff from the DIY store she had once used to fill the cracks in her bedroom ceiling.
She put her lunch box to one side and idly watched people entering and leaving the pub on the other side of the street. Groups of youngish women, probably office staff from County Hall since the garden was on the wrong side of town for the factory women, mingled with groups of men as they went up the steps into the pub. Laughing, so carefree. A few latecomers shouted to attract the attention of four young girls sitting on a bench under the pub’s bay window, drinking cooling shandies or lagers and lime. Almost immediately, the girls leapt up to be hugged or kissed or teased affectionately before they made their way inside. Katie wondered at their easy friendship; the casual closeness and careless intimacy. She envied them, and wondered how they found it all so uncomplicated.
The tinkle of glasses, the distant hum of a lawn mower, happy laughter and the low murmur of conversation. The buzz of sun-sodden bees which fed from flowers near her head all conspired to make her feel unexpectedly sad. Silent tears slid down her face as she shook her head to clear it. She unfolded the crumpled letter from her bag.

Dear Katie,
I hope you don’t mind me contacting you in this way but my daughter has, for several years now, been expressing a strong desire to meet you, or at least establish contact in some way that’s acceptable to you both. If you feel able to speak to me, please ring me on the above number any time during the day, but please don’t leave any messages on the machine. If you don’t want to speak, I hope you will at least be able to answer this letter.
Yours,

Sarah Jane Lomax

She put the letter and envelope back into her bag and, as she rose, startled a thrush on the headstone next to her.
‘It didn’t even see me.’ Her smile faded as she looked down at her flowered dress.
‘No wonder’ she thought ruefully ‘I look like a well-kept grave!’
She thought maybe it was a sign from above that she should treat herself to some new clothes, but not from the charity shops she usually went to. She would go shopping properly; not in the designer boutiques Rhia frequented, but surely she could manage ‘Dorothy Perkins’?
Picking up her belongings, she hurried from the Memorial Gardens back to the office to bury herself under piles of outstanding paperwork in a vain attempt to switch off the problems swimming around in her head. She would remain at her desk until five o’clock then leave half an hour early. Finally at home, as a solitary evening stretched endlessly before her, she would wonder why she bothered.

Chapter 4

Henry had been a pig all day and despite having lavish praise heaped on his menu, Rhia hadn’t managed to placate him. She suspected she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She knew Henry was gloating at her dilemma and couldn’t wait for her to don her nasty, itchy polyester two-piece and dance to his tune. She was also aware that he would be leaving as soon as the final crème brulee hit the table. Never mind any offers of assistance, clearing up and transporting everything back to base, or even driving the waitresses home. She’d be on her own and even worse, she’d be shiny with sweat, her hair like an oil slick. She’d have water-reddened hands and her waterproof mascara was sure to smudge and run until she looked like she slept in it after a vodka-laden night on the town. She could already feel the static from her two-piece building up and sending little electric shocks to people she brushed against, and she hadn’t even got it on yet.
She unpacked the cool bags and hampers from the back of the van, praying that the wine had arrived and been dealt with, and that the florist had been. Struggling up the flight of steps to the elegant Victorian front door, she was almost floored by a tall blonde girl struggling down the same steps carrying several large plastic containers and an improbably large salon hairdryer.
‘God help you if you’re going in there. It’s a mad house!’ the girl muttered by way of greeting.
As Lizzie stared after her, the door opened.
‘You’re cutting it a bit fine, Ms. Peters,’ Mrs. Gordon’s voice sliced the air like a whip, ‘and I think your chef is drunk!’ she concluded icily.
Lizzie decided that the best way of dealing with this was to treat it as a joke.
‘Ha, ha,’ she giggled feebly ‘I’m not late at all Mrs. Gordon. Loads of time! You go in to the drawing room and relax before you dress, and I’ll pop along with a dry sherry for you as soon as I’ve got the stuff into the kitchen. .Perhaps a few canapés?’
Mrs. Gordon thawed and made for the drawing room, much to Rhia’s relief, as she rushed in to the kitchen laden with Tupperware containers,
‘Henry,’ she hissed ‘where the bloody hell are you?’
She found her chef snoring softly, slumped against a cold frame at the entrance to the kitchen garden. It seemed as though he had knelt to snip some fresh chives, or perhaps some basil, then collapsed where he was, suddenly overcome with heat or tiredness. Well, that’s how she would explain it to Mrs. Gordon who, at that moment, was not where Rhia had fondly imagined her, reclining on a sofa waiting to gorge on caviar-heaped blinis, but was instead anxiously twitching at the drawing room drapes.
‘A touch too much sun!’ Rhia shouted to her cheerfully, pulling Henry to his feet.
‘Get up, Henry! God, I hate you! How could you do this to me?’
‘Gerroffme. Wanna sleep. Leave me alone!’
‘You are not going to sleep; you are going straight to a cold tap where I swear I will drown you if you don’t pull yourself together. Come on!’
She pulled and pushed him towards the back door and into the utility area next to the kitchen, turned on the cold tap over the Belfast sink, and ruthlessly shoved his head under the icy jet of water. His shouts of protest were cut short as the cold water hit the back of his neck and head and shocked him into silence. When Rhia heard him begin to whimper, she turned off the tap and glowered at him as she handed him a towel.
‘In the kitchen and cooking in two minutes or you’re dead meat, Henry!’
As Rhia unpacked the starters, individual seared tuna and dilled melon filo parcels, ready to put in the oven, Henry sheepishly came up behind her to take the tray of filet mignon.
‘Can you do that without messing it up?’ she enquired testily.
Henry was shaking badly but seemed willing, if not able, to make amends. She tried very hard to concentrate on what she was doing and not to notice the stainless steel Sabbatiers flailing dangerously around the immediate vicinity. It reminded her of a Cossack, sabre dancing.
She was glad of the distraction when her waitresses arrived, pleased to see them until she noticed Sara’s appearance.
‘Dear God, how many times? Get that nail varnish off and tie your hair back. Don’t take all night either, the first course is going out in forty minutes and you’ve got the aperitifs and appetizers to serve yet. On second thoughts, let Hayley do that, I don’t want ‘eau de varnish remover’ tainting the canapés. As soon as you’re ready, go and help Charlotte with the dining room; and for heavens sake keep out of Mrs. Gordon’s way. Keep an eye on the time and be back in here ten minutes before the guests sit down. Now, move it!’
‘Henry? How are we doing on the fillet?’
‘Don’t panic; everything’s OK. Shouldn’t you be changing?’
Rhia snapped her head around but Henry was bending and putting trays in the oven, his face turned away from her. She was sure she could see his shoulders shaking, but felt only relief that he appeared to be considerably more sober and in control. Taking her waitress uniform, she headed for the utility room where she changed out of her ‘whites’.
She would never admit it to Henry, but she got a real buzz out of being in the kitchen. She knew that she was as good a chef as anyone she had ever employed, but she hated the drudgery of the prep. work and clearing up, even more. No, her role was definitely ‘front of house’, the polished, professional face of cordon bleu catering. She ran the office, got the clients, did the buying and banked the cheques. If not actually on hand during the dinner parties, she was always accessible -often no more than five minutes away at the nearest wine bar. All in all, she was very satisfied with her business and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Apart from not working at all, that is. She had a recurrent fantasy of moving from one five star hotel to another, her every whim pandered to by nubile young men with oil-polished torsos, who found her totally irresistible. She wondered why, even in her wildest flights of fantasy, she never quite managed to reach the stage where she was choosing a Stella McCartney wedding dress.
The polyester outfit was every bit as bad as she feared, and she scrutinised Henry to catch even the ghost of a grin on his face. The girls returned to the kitchen and assured her everything was perfect in the dining room, that all twelve guests had arrived and Mrs. Gordon was happy for dinner to be announced at eight thirty.
Rhia asked the girls to wash the few dishes used in the preparation of the first course and then left Henry in charge and slipped into the garden for a cigarette. She drew on it deeply, relishing the few moment’s cool peace and quiet before she had to return to work.
It was so long since she had been involved in the practical side of a dinner party that she was surprised how quickly the evening charged towards its climax. Mrs. Gordon wafted into the kitchen, relaxed by copious amounts of pink gin, and effusively praised Rhia and the girls. She edged cautiously around Henry to hand little envelopes containing a small gratuity to Hayley, Sara and Charlotte.
‘Absolutely tremendous! Cyril, that’s Cyril Harpendon, of Harpendon, Harpendon, Harpendon and Sons, was so impressed he’s asked for your number! He was upset he may have offended you, but you must admit your outfit doesn’t exactly suggest you’re the boss!” she trilled. “He was so apologetic when he realised his little mistake. Oh, he did laugh!’
Rhia fought the angry blush she felt creeping across her cheeks and bit her lip to stop herself giving the stinging reply she knew was totally justified, but which would probably lose her business. She’d felt murderous when Cyril Harpendon of Harpendon, Harpendon and bloody Harpendon had spoken to her as though she was a servant, and that was before he’d clutched her buttock and made a double-edged remark about ‘sparks’ between them and was it ‘desire or cheap polyester fabrics?’
‘My pleasure.’ she murmured, her face frozen in a polite smile. She was pleased when, as he made a move to leave for the evening, Henry frightened Mrs. Gordon away. Rhia was grateful to see that most of the clearing away had been done and that Henry had arranged a taxi to take the girls home. He must be feeling contrite.

The chatter of young sparrows nesting in the eaves above her bedroom window woke Katie. It was still very early but she anticipated enjoying her breakfast in the garden, with the sun dappling through the silver birch tree on to her table.
She kicked her legs out of bed, disturbing Bertie, and giggled as she followed him downstairs. After a disdainful sniff he stood, head slung low, staring at the back door.
‘Hang on a minute Bertie.’ she told him ‘Wait until I’ve locked the gate. You are staying at home today, not carousing around the neighbourhood. I’ve hardly seen you all week.’
As Katie emptied and refilled her kettle with filtered water from the fridge, she watched as Bertie, secured in the garden, gazed wistfully at the garden gate denying him entrance to carnal doggy heaven and then peed wearily against the birch tree. He flopped in a disgusted heap near the garden table where the sun was especially warm.
Smiling, she gathered her breakfast tray and joined Bertie in the sunshine. She loved the solitude of her garden. She only had neighbours on one side, Kev’s parents, but the high Victorian brick wall meant she was never disturbed unless she wanted to be.
It would be possible to sunbathe topless, as Rhia had pointed out when they were both about fifteen.
‘What if Kevin can see us?’ Kate asked fearfully
‘Now that would make it worthwhile!’ she had giggled.

NaPoWriMo Tiny Things (Remind Me)

English: Magnifying glass renderered with unre...

Rainbow fish sugar cookie.

Rainbow fish sugar cookie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tiny Things

I remember
when I got a miniscule splinter,
you tweezed it, made it go away.
How you sat me on a rug outside,
made fragile necklaces from daisies,
pierced the stems to make them link,
placed the chains gently round my neck.
When my butter-fingers tore them
I watched you comb the lawn
seeking magic four-leafed clovers
for me to make a secret wish.

And, when I was six,
how you sat at night sewing sequins,
like rainbow fish scales, on a dress,
you made from one of yours.

Now, watching you reach
for the magnifying glass

I still remember

 

©theeditoffice2013

 

 

My favourite motivators (part 1)

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov (Photo credit: blue_paper_cranium)

I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top. ~English Professor (Name Unknown), Ohio University

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~E.L. Doctorow

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ~Ray Bradbury

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard

What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers. ~Logan Pearsall Smith, “All Trivia,” Afterthoughts, 1931

I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter. ~James Michener

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible. ~Vladimir Nabakov

Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Ink and paper are sometimes passionate lovers, oftentimes brother and sister, and occasionally A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960
The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer
I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. ~James Michener
The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it. ~Jules Renard, “Diary,” February 1895

A prose writer gets tired of writing prose, and wants to be a poet. So he begins every line with a capital letter, and keeps on writing prose. ~Samuel McChord Crothers, “Every Man’s Natural Desire to Be Somebody Else,” The Dame School of Experience, 1920

Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind. ~Catherine Drinker Bowen, Atlantic, December 1957

A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. ~Charles Peguy

The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. ~Anaïs Nin

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~Sylvia Plath
I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all. ~Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977

If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. ~Toni Morrison

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium. ~Norbet Platt

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. ~Vita Sackville-West

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say. ~Sharon O’Brien

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say. ~Mark Twain

Don’t be too harsh to these poems until they’re typed. I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty: at least, if the things are bad then, they appear to be bad with conviction. ~Dylan Thomas, letter to Vernon Watkins, March 1938

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov

Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space. ~Orson Scott Card

A metaphor is like a simile. ~Author Unknown

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. ~Author Unknown

A writer is someone who can make a riddle out of an answer. ~Karl Kraus

When once the itch of literature comes over a man, nothing can cure it but the scratching of a pen. But if you have not a pen, I suppose you must scratch any way you can. ~Samuel Lover, Handy Andy, 1842

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster. ~Isaac Asimov

I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork. ~Peter De Vries

Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make. ~Truman Capote, McCall’s, November 1967

A writer and nothing else: a man alone in a room with the English language, trying to get human feelings right. ~John K. Hutchens, New York Herald Tribune, 10 September 1961

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. ~Hannah Arendt

It seems to me that the problem with diaries, and the reason that most of them are so boring, is that every day we vacillate between examining our hangnails and speculating on cosmic order. ~Ann Beattie, Picturing Will, 1989

For me, a page of good prose is where one hears the rain [and] the noise of battle. ~John Cheever

No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous. ~Henry Brooks Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, 1907

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler

Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable. ~Francis Bacon

The expression “to write something down” suggests a descent of thought to the fingers whose movements immediately falsify it. ~William Gass, “Habitations of the Word,” Kenyon Review, October 1984

Be obscure clearly. ~E.B. White

Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher. ~Flannery O’Connor

Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum. ~Graycie Harmon

It seems to me that those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page. ~Joan Baez

When a man is in doubt about this or that in his writing, it will often guide him if he asks himself how it will tell a hundred years hence. ~Samuel Butler

Ink on paper is as beautiful to me as flowers on the mountains; God composes, why shouldn’t we? ~Audra Foveo-Alba

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