Friday, 2 December 2016

A Time for Giving

Roger Noons

a glass of mulled wine

Josh clambered onto the front passenger seat of the Clio.
    ‘Seat belt,’ his mother directed and once she heard the click, she drove away from the school’s pick up area.
    ‘That man by the school gate looked like Father Christmas,’ he said.
    ‘He didn’t have on a red suit or carry a sack.’
    ‘No, but he had a bushy white beard and he gave me a present.’
    ‘You shouldn’t accept gifts from someone you don’t know.’
    ‘Well you did, I saw you put it in your coat pocket. You smiled at the man and he didn’t even have a beard.’

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Wishing for Santa


Alan Cadman

 

A glass of sherry


I still cling to precious memories of that magical time when I was a little girl. On Christmas Eve, just before bedtime, my parents would remind me to leave Santa Claus a glass of sherry and a mince pie by the fireplace.
            One year I wrote to him and asked for a doll; the one with long blonde tresses that I’d set my heart on for months. I thought he’d forget, but of course it was in my room when I blinked my eyes open the following day.
            My mother and father passed away a few years ago; I’m now forty years of age. I still have that toy, which I simply named Dolly. She maybe threadbare, hair thinning, but I’m clutching her close to my chest at the moment. My bedside clock is displaying 1.30 December 25. 
            The front door slams against its frame. I tremble under the duvet; touch my bruised face. He stumbles upstairs singing the first line of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, over and over again. I kiss Dolly on her head.
            The bedroom door crashes wide open. I wish it was Santa standing in front of me instead of my husband. I wait, knife in hand. Whatever happens next, I’m certain only one of us will see the break of dawn this Christmas morning.

* * *

About the author: 

Alan has been writing short stories for ten years. In 2011 he made the short list for one story and a prize winner for flash fiction. He also won first prize, of £100, in a poetry competition in 2013. The three accolades were awarded by the best-selling UK magazine for writers. His work has been read out on Internet radio and published in hard copy magazines and e-zines.


Saturday, 26 November 2016

Brown: a short love story

Lisa Williams 

a cup of tea




We met online. It probably doesn't need saying but I'm old fashioned I suppose.

It was good. Time to get to know each other. All the common ground we shared. Conversation buzzed when we did speak.

Our first meet was over breakfast. There was relief that the transition from avi pic to actual faces was ok. No shocks. From either of us.

But then.

As our Full English came and simultaneously we made a sandwich with the bacon. Our hands brushed as we reached for the sauce bottle.

He grabbed the red.

And I realised we had no future together.

About the author

Lisa Williams. 
Domestic Slattern. Avid reader. Writes a bit. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

Plant Food

Lesley Hawkins 

Herbal tea 


Once, on holiday in St Tropez while wandering the back streets we came across a square planted at intervals with mature London plane trees.  More than a century old, with trunks which look like the varicosed legs of old women.
        The majority of them had empty spaces inside and I entertained the child who accompanied me with stories of very bad French men who were imprisoned within.  In actuality these trees had been wounded over the years and all those wounds had let in disease, and that’s why most of the trees were partially or entirely hollow.
        We talked about what heinous crimes the men had committed and how they must have felt trapped inside, fitting perfectly, not able to move a muscle. Held in stasis, listening to the comings and goings of humanity,  the startling tring of bells on dusty old black ‘sit up and begs ‘, the chugging spittle of mopeds, and the gallic, old man grumblings and dink and thud of jack and ball. Locals playing Petanque under the planes in the Place des Lices, little knowing the secret they kept.
        Named after jousting grounds where fair damsels waved their scraps of cotton and lace and sighed over the beefcake of yore,  this square in Saint-Tropez on a bright sunny day was lovely we said, but was holding a dark secret with its dozens of trees hiding their black human hearts.
We believed there were prisoners.
Twenty years has passed.  The child has a child of her own and they have a life of their own.
        I have always loved trees. I hug them openly and am not ashamed. I hugged one near where my grandmothers ashes were sprinkled. Their circumferences were roughly the same and it felt like I was hugging her.
        Now away from St Tropez  and by myself,  I am regarding another plane tree standing among  thousands  of its peers lining the Canal du Midi. Nearly 200 years old, in its middle youth Platanus was solid and tight. Fit, thrusting and hittable.  Now it has a disease caused by fungus brought to Europe by US soldiers in World War II. It is dying.
        I can’t hear it speak. It has no voice, but I imagine it grimacing and shrinking over time, as slowly and surely Saprophytes with an unrelenting, collective hunger eat away at it’s insides.
        I feel rather than see the dead heartwood annihilated by fungi and insects and tiny ‘isms and ‘eriums.  Outer bark growing blackish, inconspicuous, long narrow cankers.    
A living death. 
A lot less solid now, among those trees, in drill lines, along the banks.  Almost dead where it stands.  
But it does still stand.
Just.
I really fucking know how it feels!
        Amazingly, with it’s innards gone the buds still open, the leaves still flourish and lend heavily to the canopy, but is it just me or does the foliage hang lower now?  Is it less luxuriant?  Does it seem dusty and is it a greyer green this year?  Does it look like it needs a bloody good meal and someone to love it?
It makes me sad if all these things are true.
        A famous man on the television said there was something to be done about that. He said that nutrients created by the rotting of dead beasts boost the sunlight and rain combination, tripling it's potency and momentarily this uplifts me.
        I too feel dusty and grey this year – I too have a condition that is ravenous, insulting and murderous and eats away at my wellbeing.  So much so that I am weary, and close to yielding. 
        I have a dream, so real it calls to my heart when I’m awake and stays, thrumming on the edge of my consciousness reminding me it was there.   In this dream I have died but I am flying, fast, beside my own human trunk, transported to some otherwise inaccessible spot deep in a rain forest  'and with a rope they dangled her, head first, dead weight,  precariously and then…'
I am dying and I am oh so alone.
        When a space is confined within a tube of living bark it creates a hollow. In some cases a vertical and actual pokey hole. Somewhere, there is my tree. It will be the perfect fit. It has been waiting for me and so it just seems sensible and romantic that when I die,  I am dropped to rot in humidity within its comfortable hollow.

BIOG:
Lesley Hawkins has written bits and bobs over the years and attended various creative writing courses/groups since 2010. She has most recently written a play about Kendal Mint Cake which was performed in Kendal Yarns festival of New Writers in June/July 2016.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Mouthful


Jenny Palmer 

a cold cappuccino

           
 She was waiting for him in the café. She had chosen her place to sit, with him opposite facing the wall and her in full view of the street. She had ordered her lunch, a salad followed by a yoghurt and strawberry desert. There was no point starving yourself at a time like this. You needed every bit of nourishment you could get. Her heart was pounding. Her head was spinning.  She wasn’t exactly looking forward to the encounter. 

Crumbs was, as its name suggested, not a particularly high-class place. She would not have chosen it herself. The tables were covered in wood-grained Formica and there were stools instead of chairs. They served food on the go. When she had rung him, he’d said he was on his way out but she had managed to pin him down to a working lunch.

As he walked in, an image flashed across her mind of him in a coffin. That was where she would like to put him right now. He seemed to be taking an awfully long time to order his food. Delaying tactics. She noticed he had chosen a sandwich.  She couldn’t immediately determine the filling. 

The stools were of the tall variety. She waited for him to clamber up onto his. It was a difficult thing to do gracefully. She had installed herself on hers before he came. It was important to keep your poise at a time like this. She waited for him to speak.

‘So, what can I do for you?’ he said. His tone was formal, business-like, as if he hardly knew her. She had been working for him for years.  She was part of the furniture. 

‘As I said on the phone’ she began, ‘I’m very disappointed in the number of hours you have given me this year. It represents a substantial drop in my income.’ 

She could see he was having trouble remembering how much work he had doled out and to whom. There were so many part-time employees on his staff and all of them wanting work. It was a hell of a job, trying to keep everybody happy. He likened it to a giant jigsaw puzzle. There were only a certain number of pieces. How did you choose? Not everybody could be accommodated.  

 ‘There is always the possibility of work coming up in the future,’ he said. ‘You haven’t been ruled out altogether.’

‘I can’t live on possibilities’ she said. ‘They don’t pay the rent.’ 

‘I’m sure you appreciate the difficulties we are in. We really are under severe constraints these days’ he said.

This is my bread and butter. I was relying on the work. All you are offering me is crumbs’ she blurted out.

She cast a look around. The choice of cafe had been entirely appropriate. She worried now that she might have blown it. She wasn’t exactly in a bargaining position. Bosses always had the upper hand, particularly these days when everyone was scrabbling for hours. They could afford to keep you dangling for months, just on the off-chance. 

‘Remind me again what I offered you,’ he said, shifting his position.
  
‘I was down for the same number of hours as last year,’ she said ‘plus some extra.’  
‘Why is it you people always talk about hours?’ he said. ‘To me, that shows a lack of commitment.’  

‘We talk about hours,’ she replied, ‘because hours are what we get, now that there are no proper contracts anymore.’ 

‘I see,’ he said. ‘Actually, I haven’t been able to tell anyone yet but there has been a change of policy. I was going to break the news at the staff meeting but since you brought it up. The truth is the department is moving out of Humanities and we are going to have to make some cuts.  

‘There is nothing in my work record to suggest’, she said, seizing the opportunity, ‘that I have been anything other than a conscientious, committed employee. I am efficient, punctual, enthusiastic, qualified and experienced.’

‘Yes, yes. That may well be true,' he said. ‘I don’t dispute it. It’s just that there are so many of you now to consider. I can’t keep everyone happy. It’s just not possible.’

 ‘I was under the illusion,’ she said, ‘that my work was appreciated here’.
 ‘Indeed, it is.’  

 ‘It doesn’t seem so,’ she continued. ‘When you promised me the work earlier in the year, I took you at your word,’ she said, going for the jugular. 

He was part of the old boys’ network. They prided themselves on honouring their agreements, didn’t they?  

He looked wounded. He had probably underestimated her, assuming she was the quiet type, who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. He was no doubt regretting having agreed to meet her in the café, wishing he had kept it on a more professional footing, in the safety of his office.

She had the momentum. It was now or never. 

‘If you can’t give me the work,’ she said, ‘I may have to look elsewhere. After working in such a prestigious establishment as this, I’m sure there are plenty of other places who would be only too willing to take me on.’ 

‘There’s no need to be hasty,’ he said.  ‘We need people with your drive and ambition. I’m confident we can find you something.’

‘I wish I could share your confidence,’ she said.  

He took a bite out of his sandwich. He couldn’t have spoken, even if he had wanted to. He had got a mouthful. 

About the author 

Jenny Palmer writes poems, short stories and local history. After her return to Lancashire in 2008 she has self-published three books: 'Nowhere better than home' in 2012, 'Whipps, Watsons and Bulcocks, a 'Pendle family history' in 2014 and 'Pastures New' in 2016.

 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Walk a Mile

 Patsy Collins 

a big mug of wishful thinking

Walk a mile in someone's shoes before you truly know them. That's what 'they' say. Maybe they're right; I wouldn't know.

I'd like to wear ballet pumps. Stand on the points of my toes, even if it gave me calluses. Or don flippers to swim in warm pools, or cold, dangerous seas. Skis sound fun, rushing downhill so fast my eyes wouldn't focus on the whitescape flashing by. Maybe I'd break my leg. I wouldn't mind the cast, not if it came after trying the skis. I'd put on trainers and run, Army boots and march, or struggle upstream in waders if I could.

Look at my shoes. Pretty, lots of colours. If you want to know me, put them on. Don't walk a mile. Or even a step. I can't you see. To know me, sit in my shoes and think where you'll walk when you've taken them off.

About the autor

Patsy is a novelist, short story writer and co-author of From Story Idea to Reader – an accesible guide to writing fiction. getBook.at/FSITR

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Treasure Hunt

Alyson Faye

Dark Mozart


Our little gang of scavengers always take a vote before we head out. We're democratic that way. 
That January day, the waste ground behind the newly built skyscraper won. It was Billy who found the doll, lying in the frosty tipped grass. Weak sunshine gleamed on her glassy eyes. 
Shoving it at me, Billy rubbed his hands on his denims, 'Yuk, it's slimy. Here Jem. You have it.' 
None of us had toys, so this was real treasure. Grabbing the doll’s tiny hand, I instantly recognized it. From the many ‘Missing’ posters pinned up. The lost girl was cuddling it.

About the author

Alyson writes mainly flash fiction and short stories. Her work has appeared on Tubeflash online,on the premises,Three Drops journal; Raging Aardvark's new anthology 'Twisted Tales' and Alfie Dog. Some of her stories are available as podcasts.