Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Strange Habits

Strange Habits

Jenny Palmer

Sweet Coffee

There was a dog guarding the door. It was a mongrel sort of thing. It looked harmless enough. Should she pat it and run the risk of having her hand snapped off? If only it would stand aside and let her in. For in was where she had to get. She must have her early morning coffee. She would be hopeless without it.
            A man suddenly appeared at the door. The dog owner no doubt. He ushered the dog away so that she could get past it.
‘What a wonderful guard dog it makes,’ she said. It was always best to be complimentary with dog owners.  She preferred cats herself. You didn’t have to do much with them, except feed them. And they would sleep on your feet at night. Keep your toes warm.
            She ordered her usual. A cup of coffee, to start with. Then she would see. She might have a slice of toast with marmalade on it. They did that here. They did lots of things here. Marmalade. Marmite. Whatever you wanted all served immaculately with plastic gloves. She didn’t know why they had to be quite so meticulous about it all. It set your mind wandering, made you wonder about all sorts of ghastly diseases.
            There were four tables in the place. Two of them were occupied. One was free. She could have sat on that table but the girl had smiled at her. It would be nice to have a bit of company. The girl was dressed in a woolly tartan coat and was wearing a hat and gloves.
‘Cold weather we’re having,’ she said, by way of an opening gambit. ‘I hope it isn’t going to snow.’ She found she was always cold these days, something to do with not having much flesh on her bones.
Snow isn’t expected,’ the girl said.
She could have sworn it was going to snow. It certainly felt cold enough.
The coffee needed sugar. There was a container full of condiments on the table. Which was salt and which was sugar? It was so easy to get them wrong. In the old days, she’d had perfect vision.  She used to be able to spot the number of a bus from miles away.
The girl handed her a sachet. Fancy putting sugar in a sachet. It meant you got less and she would have to use at least four of them, to make the coffee palatable.  The other two containers were salt and pepper. You had to check everything these days. Double check.
The trouble with this cold weather was it made your nose drip and she’d forgotten her tissues. She would have to use her gloves. It couldn’t be helped. The girl was staring at her now. Which would you prefer – a dripping nose or me using my gloves? she wanted to say. There’s no law against it, as far as I know. But it was no good antagonising people. It only made matters worse.
The girl was on her way to work.  Friday was her favourite day because it was nearly the weekend.  Funny. She could have sworn it was Sunday. When you were retired every day was Sunday. That was the glory of it.
The morning had been a rush. She’d hardly had time to get dressed. In the end she’d gone for the pink hat, to match the grey coat. And lipstick. You couldn’t go out without your lipstick. Some people were colour blind. They mixed orange with pink. She’d chosen a ruby lipstick to go with the pink hat. She’d learnt these fashion tips when she was on the stage.
The lipstick would remind her of Jim. Jim, her heartthrob, her lover, her husband, her deceased husband. She had been wearing ruby lipstick it when they first got together.  She remembered it clear as day.  It had been a Sunday like today. They’d both stayed on after the rehearsal and he’d asked her to go for a drink. He worked backstage. He’d admired her from afar but never had the nerve to ask her before. It had been Sunday too when Jim had proposed in that pub at the back of the Lyceum, the night before her debut. Sunday was her lucky day.
Was it the ruby lips he had fallen for, or her acting talent? She’d never been sure. She’d accepted of course.  At the end of the season they’d got married and that had been it - the beginning of a happy marriage and the end of her acting career. After the children had left home she’d never returned to the stage. She’d lost the knack. And she couldn’t leave him by then. He’d needed round-the-clock care.
They’d had a good life.  It was just a pity that Jim had passed away first, that was all.  She missed him. She had to get out of the house. It was worst in the mornings.
This café was a godsend. It was very good for breakfast. And they didn’t mind how long you stayed there. There was another cafe for afternoon tea. It was further down the High Street. That one was altogether different. You had to be feeling pretty sound for that one. It really made you appreciate your stage training when you went in there. It was lively. You had to put on a good show.
The girl was saying goodbye. Why on earth was she going to work on a Sunday? Some people had strange habits. It was better not to interfere though.
‘Bye. See you next Sunday, dear,’ she called out.

About The Author
Jenny Palmer has self-published two memoirs and a family history book and is currently working on a collection of short stories.

Published 24 August 2016

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Twisted Heart

Twisted Heart

Peter Sandling

Hot Water

I thought I’d lost her at one point through the market but spot her entering the local tube station. I run across the road. I know the trains go north and south so she only has two ways to escape. As I reach the middle of the stairs I see her. The woman who has destroyed my life. I instinctively move my right hand to touch the scald scar on my left cheek. Being drawn in completely by her beauty had negated any caution in me with only regret and anger left to fester. This trauma and evil needs to be exorcised. She needs to be punished. 

I see her brush her long auburn hair back with her hand in a casual playful manner. I try unsuccessfully to blot out the vision of her naked, tanned, slim figure sitting astride my body making me shudder with pleasure. Her cries and gasps of breath as she called out my name in passion still causes lines of perspiration to trickle inside my shirt collar.
            What a fool I’ve been. Manipulated and stripped of everything. It had all been deliberate, pre-planned, cynical. Not only had she taken what was mine but unbeknown to me my sister’s inheritance, using her as she had me. How many others had fallen foul of this degenerate. To think I loved her so much. When I angrily confronted her she responded by throwing boiling water in my face. 

The tube station is full. I slowly work my way towards her. She stands in front of me, her toes protruding over the yellow safety line. I can do this. I have no thought of the future, my life is over. I look at the nape of her slender neck and see the small rose tattoo. One little push and the wait will be over. The train is entering the station, it’s now or never. If I lose her on the train or in the crowd I may never fulfil my revenge. I move my shaking hands instinctively towards the middle of her back. I see the driver at the front of the train as it rushes towards us. Suddenly she turns and I look into those beautiful brown eyes.
            “Hello Lewis, not today,” she says and moves past me. I think about following her but the knife she’s pushed into my stomach causes me to collapse to the floor. I watch her moving through the crowd and hear somebody scream as my vision darkens.

About the Author

Peter is a short story writer and a poet who runs one of the writing groups on Canvey Island and is an active member of another. He likes to try out different styles and recently has been experimenting with different voices.

Published 17 August 2016 

Monday, 8 August 2016

100 Worder: That FridayNight

100 Worder: That FridayNight

Roger Noons

Just plain Orange Juice

A unique cabaret, just after ten o’ clock on that warm summer’s night. All the street came out and the pubs emptied early after a Midland Red bus became wedged beneath the railway bridge, just yards from Cradley Station.
            ‘Novice driver, mustn’t know the route.’
            ‘Careered past my window.’
            ‘Is anybody hurt?’
            ‘The driver’s run away.’
            Sergeant Bills rubbed all his chins, wondering what to do.
            Behind No. 20 Cokeland Place, William Clift, no bus driver, but a chain maker by trade, didn’t even have a licence, was counting out ten shilling notes.
            He enjoyed a wager did Uncle Bill.

About the Author
Roger Noons contributes regularly to the CafeLit site and his stories have been published in the Best of series (all to date) including having one chosen again for the next anthology due for publication in November 2016.

Published August 08 2016

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Elvis's son

Elvis's son

Z.L. Porter

A short, sharp shot of Pepsi Cola

It was Saturday night and I had been working my residency slot at the Rio in Streatham. My act went backwards through the three eras of Elvis, each with a quick costume change, starting with the 1970s, then the 1960s, and then the 1950s. The crowd loved me. Take it from me, my Viva Las Vegas is unsurpassed by any Elvis Tribute Artist you will ever see, anywhere.
            When I went into Love Me Tender I saw desire flash through some of the women’s eyes, saw it in the way their bodies stiffened with surprise and then relaxed. It disconcerted them of course, it always does, but there was lust in the air, moist and fragrant. A hen party was grouped around a table, all tinsel and feathers and headbands with floppy cocks on them. Some of those girls were giggling, some were open-mouthed, and some of them kind of shape-shifted into tender, furry animals before my eyes. When I came off stage (one encore, two standing ovations), I was pretty sure I was going to get lucky.

Riding this invincible, priapic wave, I swept back to my dressing room. My plan was to change into my bespoke 1968 Comeback Special black leather outfit and wait it out for ten minutes before I returned to mingle with the bride-to-be and her friends.

            But he was there, waiting for me: my nemesis. He was sitting in my faux-leather swivel chair, eyes trained like snipers on the mirror waiting for me to come in.
            ‘How did you get in here?’
            ‘Walked straight in.’
            ‘Come to pick a bone.’
            I did not answer. I pulled a hard-backed chair from the corner of the room, deliberately slowly so that the wooden legs scraped against the floorboards. I wheeled him back a couple of paces and sat before the mirror. I did not want to take off my make up and sideburns – they were critical to my chat up routine – so I just lined up the acetone, cold cream and baby wipes on the counter and waited for him to begin.
            ‘There’s only one Dwarf Elvis in London and that’s me,’ he said.
            ‘Let me guess. Business is bad. You’ve got no bookings. And you’re blaming me.’
            ‘It’s your bloody fault!’
            ‘It’s not my fault, Anthony.” I pronounced the ‘th’ of his name just as he liked it, “It’s not my fault that you can’t sing.’
            ‘I can sing!’
            ‘Not like me. Not like the King.’
            ‘It boils down to this. When people book a Dwarf Elvis Tribute Artist, they book you. You’re everywhere. Residency here at the Rio. Monthly slot at the Clapham Grand. Top of the Google search. And you’re not even a dwarf! You’re taking my work.’

            I had a feeling it would come down to this, that I am not, technically, a dwarf. 4”10 is a dwarf in my book, but I am perfectly proportioned (everywhere, baby), and I do not have a genetic condition, so the correct term for me in current medical vogue is ‘very small person’ or ‘little person’. It used to be ‘midget’ but apparently that’s offensive.
            ‘I get booked, Anthony, because I am classy,’ I replied, ‘I am an artist in a small package. I am one of the chosen ones.’
            ‘I am going to sue you for misrepresentation.’
            I did not flinch. I decided to humour him. ‘You’ve done your research.’
            ‘Yes, I have.’
            ‘You know, you should talk to my agent. We discussed it when he signed me. He thinks that ‘Dwarf Elvis’ rolls off the tongue better than any of the alternatives.’ I picked up a can of Elnett and sprayed it into my quiff.
            ‘But it’s not what you are. You’re lying to people.’
            ‘Oh please. You’re lying to people when you tell them you can sing! Anyway, if I change my stage name and you suddenly become the only Dwarf Elvis in town, people will book you thinking it’s me, which sounds to me like misrepresentation.’
            ‘They won’t care.’
            ‘Until you open your bloody mouth! And then maybe I’ll sue you for ruining my reputation. Here’s an idea. Why don’t you call yourself Prick Elvis?’
            ‘Don’t push me, Simon.’ He slid off the swivel chair and started walking towards me.
            ‘Or Cocksucker Elvis?’

            He punched me. It stung a bit but I could take it. I grabbed him by the throat. I lift weights for an hour a day. It wasn’t hard to push him down onto the floor and straddle his chest.
            ‘Now get this straight,’ I said to him, holding his jaw in one hand, ‘I am Dwarf Elvis. You can sue me if you want to, but you’ll lose and you know it. I can afford a shit hot lawyer because I can bloody well sing like the King. I heard his voice, Anthony, his ac-tu-al voice, telling me that I was one of his chosen sons. And he was right. Because did you hear those standing ovations back then? Do you appreciate what you’re up against here? You don’t stand a cat’s chance in hell. Now, why don’t you fuck off home and we’ll pretend this never happened?’
            He scampered away after that, mumbling something about my not hearing the last of it. I’m not worried.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re right, I did not show him any mercy. There are winners and there are losers in this world. And you want me to apologise for being a winner?

About the Author
Z. L. Porter lives in North Yorkshire with her husband, children, and chickens.

Published July 27 2016

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

100 Worder: Glint

100 Worder: Glint

Polly Sinclair

Freshly squeezed orange juice

She stretched out her arm across the bed. A fleck of gold from the lapis lazuli beads still around her wrist caught the light and momentarily dazzled her.
            Shane sighed heavily in his sleep but she had woken early; visions of missed trains and broken heels disturbing her slumber.

The clock blinked to 6:39 and she knew it was only a minute before the alarm would sound. She relished the blanket of peace and tranquillity that enveloped them.
            Today was the day. Everything had been leading here and in just a few hours she would finally know her fate.

About the Author
Polly is a busy lady with lots of jobs, a couple of children and a dog called Jelly! Usually a short story writer, she’s diversifying with really short stories and a novel just to mix it up!

Published July 26 2016

Monday, 25 July 2016

Ruby's Luck

Winner of Canvey Writers first in-house Short Story Competition, 2016.

Editor’s Note: This story was chosen as the winner by a group of writers on Canvey Island who voted on a selection of short stories inspired by the theme: The Gift. We had all kinds of stories using the theme in many different ways, but this was chosen because of its unusual theme and one that whetted a few appetites. Part of the prize was publication on this site. So do enjoy…

Ruby’s Luck

Vicky Jacobson

Bloody Mary

Ruby picked herself up from the gutter where she’d landed and scowled as the battered old doors of the pub swung shut behind her. She’d been caught trying to dip a customer and the landlord had thrown her out. Not that he had anything against a spot of pickpocketing, he was happy enough to take a cut of what she lifted when she worked his premises, but she’d committed the sin of getting caught.
“I can’t be seen to condone robbing the customers, girl – it’s bad for business,” he’d said as he’d manhandled her towards the door.
            Cold rain was falling from the sky now, lashing the cobblestones and running through the filthy gutter as Ruby straightened and wiped her muddy hands on her dress. She had to get out of the rain. She turned towards The Ten Bells further down the street where, hopefully, trade might be a bit better. Barely into November and already the temperature was falling fast; at this rate, there’d be snow on the ground before Christmas. Ruby shivered in the night air and pulled her shawl tighter round her shoulders.
            Pushing open the door to The Bells, Ruby entered the smoky room, grateful for the warmth from the hearth. She looked around to see whether there were any likely punters about and, seeing a face she recognised, made her way across the room towards him.
            “Hi, handsome,” she said, “wanna buy a girl a drink.”
            “Sorry, sweetheart, I’m flat broke – no chink at all,” he replied, shaking his pockets.
             “Not even enough for a tuppenny upright, darling.”
Ruby leaned in close to whisper these words, she had to be careful, the landlord had warned her before about soliciting and she knew he’d throw her out into the cold, rainy night if he caught her.
            “Sorry,” shrugged the man and turned back to his beer.
            Ruby moved away, scanning the crowded room for fresh meat. She spotted a man in a long, dark astrakhan coat on the other side of the room and, even from this distance, she could see he was dressed well. She turned and started to head in his direction but was pulled up short as the landlord caught her by the arm.
            “’Ere, if you’re touting for trade, out you go.”
            “I’ve just come in to get warm and get out of the rain, John,” she replied, pulling her arm free but when she looked back towards the toff in the corner, she saw he’d disappeared and swore softly.

Later that night, Ruby was still walking the streets. In the past, she’d always seemed to have a gift for attracting good luck – which she thought, maybe, was to make up for her beginnings. A foundling, she’d been brought up in an orphanage and put to work at the age of seven. There was never enough to eat and the regular beatings had left her with a scar to one side of her face and a slight limp. Hardly surprising then that she’d taken off as soon as she was old enough. She knew she wasn’t unique; there must have been thousands of kids like her – but, as she’d grown older, she’d begun to notice that, somehow, things always seemed to go in her favour. Life had never been easy but whenever it started to get really desperate, something always turned up. She thought back to the time when, unwell and unable to work, she’d found half-a-crown lying on the pavement – just as her money had run out. The gin hadn’t stopped flowing that night and Ruby chuckled at the memory and thanked her guardian angel for working so hard. Of course, the unexpected windfall didn’t last long, but there’d always – so far at least – been a next time.

The rain was falling steadily now but Ruby’s luck had yet to put in an appearance. She’d been in one pub after another and had walked the streets in between for hours but had found no takers.
Finally though, weaving along Commercial Street, she saw, up ahead, the well-dressed man who had been in The Bells earlier and thought perhaps her luck was kicking in at last. He was standing on the corner outside The Brit and now wore a soft felt hat pulled down over his eyes. She felt a quick flash of hope that, maybe, standing there was her night’s rent and she picked up her pace. Before she could reach him, though, Mary from Miller’s Court rounded the corner of Dorset Street and they’d started chatting.
Mary was young and good-looking with blonde hair; always well-turned out she invariably wore a spotless, white apron. Tonight, on this dreary night, she added a bright splash of colour in a red shawl. Ruby had to admit that, given a choice between the two of them, she knew which she’d choose if she were the cove.
She saw him put a hand on Mary’s shoulder; they laughed and then turned to walk down the street together. Watching her night’s lodging disappear with another judy, Ruby pressed her lips together as a stab of anger shot through her. She knew that Mary, at least, had a room of her own and wouldn’t need to come out again tonight whereas without doss money Ruby, herself, had nowhere to go.
The rain was falling heavily now and Ruby needed to find shelter. It was past two in the morning and she knew there wasn’t much chance of picking up any business now, especially with this weather. The few farthings she’d had in her pocket had been enough for a couple of drinks and the cheap booze would help to keep her warm as she resigned herself to sleeping in a covered passageway she’d used before. She sighed, and wrapping herself up as best she could, settled down for the night in the entrance to one of the many courtyards in the rookery, where at least it was dry.
Tonight, her luck seemed to have deserted her entirely and Ruby was afraid that she might have lost her gift for good.
She slipped into an uneasy, dreamless sleep. Somewhere around four o’clock, she was roused from her slumber by shouting from someplace close by. That wasn’t unusual for Dorset Street though and as it quickly fell silent again, she soon drifted back to sleep. She slept on, fitfully, for another couple of hours; then the night cops found her and turfed her out.

Ten days later, Ruby joined the vast throng outside St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch for the funeral of Mary Jane Kelly – latest victim of The Ripper. People – even those who couldn’t possibly have known her – were openly weeping and men held hats clutched in their hands as the coffin appeared. The whole city had been shocked by the reports of Mary’s death and thousands had turned out to pay their respects to this poor young woman who had met such a tragic end.
Ruby was there, not only because she’d known, and liked, Mary but also because she knew that if Mary hadn’t rounded the corner when she did, the body now lying in that coffin would have been hers.
            Clutching a posy of wild flowers picked from the churchyard, she followed the funeral cortege, along with what appeared to be the rest of the East End. They were headed for St Patrick’s Catholic cemetery on the outskirts of the city, in Leytonstone, where Mary Kelly would be laid to rest.
She stood back from the graveside in the chill afternoon air for a very long time until all the other mourners had left and the grave had been filled in. Finally, when she was completely alone, she stepped forward and placed her small bundle of flowers on the fresh mound of earth marking the grave.
“God bless Mary, rest in peace and thank you,” she whispered.
Ruby was happy that she still had her gift and that it had been protecting her all along. She would always be sorry that, this time, the price of her good fortune had been someone else’s life but she was grateful for the second chance and determined not to waste it, if only for Mary’s sake.
The man in the astrakhan coat had been in the paper after the killing and Ruby thought she probably knew who the Ripper was. Speaking out definitely wasn’t a risk she could afford to take, though – not only was it very doubtful she would be believed, it was also extremely likely to get her killed.
Ruby needed to leave Whitechapel that much was clear. Following the hearse through London, she’d seen the slums, with its dirty hovels and dingy alleys, fall away behind as the streets ahead improved mile by mile.
She knew nothing about Leytonstone but Ruby was an enterprising girl and, eyeing up her surroundings, quickly decided that it would do. Besides, she thought, with a shrewd smile, something was bound to turn up – it usually did.

About the Author

Vicky is a retired legal secretary with two grown-up children. She has always had a desire to write but only really got started when she joined Canvey Writers earlier this year. This story was chosen by the group as the WINNER of their first in-house writing competition in 2016. Vicky’s previous story published on this site, Dialling 999 has been selected for The Best of CafeLit 5 and will be her first publication. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

100 Worder In Deep

100 Worder: In Deep

Michael Hennessy

Still Water

Peter was in deep. Very deep.
            He had dipped his toe into the murky waters of gambling. Now he was way in over his head. The more he chased his losses, the more he lost... his job, wife, house and  his self-respect.

Driving away from the bookie’s one night with his usual heavy heart and light wallet, he saw his way out.
            The river loomed. The car soared. The black water parted.
            As the ringing filled his ears and water filled his lungs, Peter smiled.
            No more crippling debt. No more tears of anguish. Now, everything was gone… including his oxygen.

About the Author
Michael had a successful career as an award-winning, advertising copywriter. Now he spends his time writing short stories, novels for adults and children, scripts for stage and TV, screenplays and the occasional poem. He is widely travelled and his article about beach dogs in Thailand won The Telegraph Travel "Just Back" competition. He has been shortlisted, winner and runner-up in many writing competitions and is currently looking for an agent/publisher/producer. His website is currently under construction.

Published July 6 2016