Thursday, 1 July 2010

Panda Slippers (#fridayflash)

And then there was that time when we were late for church and Dad said everyone had to get in the car now, and Melody was still doing her hair because she fancied James the organist, but Dad said no, we're going now, and he made Melody get in the car wearing her Sunday best and her fluffy panda slippers. And she shouted at Dad all the way to church, and when we got there Dad told her she could stay in the car if she wanted, but no, she got out and strode into church ahead of us. "I'm sitting on my own," she shouted as she went in the church door, and she did, she walked up the aisle and sat on the front pew so Reverend Crawley could get the full benefit of seeing our father's cruelty. Mum was so embarrassed, but Dad said we all had to go in and act normal, which we tried our best, but then once we sat down Janie started crying because Melody wasn't sat with us, and Mum told her to hush, and then Reverend Crawley stood up at the front and welcomed everyone and said how nice it was that people nowadays feel comfortable coming to church just as they are, panda slippers and all. Mum blushed and Dad grinned, and we all knew that after church he'd get a good telling off. And he did, and that evening when we'd gone to bed there must have been a discussion because after that if Melody was late getting ready for church we'd just leave her behind at home.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Fallen Angels (#fridayflash)

I once heard a story from a homeless man. He was raw with life and seemed believable. He said once a year fallen angels are forced to have their wings clipped or otherwise lose their immortality. Most of those who remember choose the operation on their wings. They all line up outside the surgery, some glugging bottles of whisky, others with prostitutes in tow to comfort them while their wings are cut to stubs. For miles you can hear the screams.

"I thought they could tell me what heaven is like," the homeless man said. "But none of them could remember."

Friday, 11 June 2010

Mark 10:22b ff. (apocryphal)


Ruth wakes to buzzing - her cellphone vibrating on her bedside table.

It's Alfred J. Mackenzie Jr., her most profitable account holder, and the most demanding. He'd warned her he'd do this. She'd hoped he'd been joking. She picks up the phone.

"You woke me." No effort needed to sound pissed.

"Listen, Ruth," he says. "About that money transfer. I've changed my mind. You need to call it off."

Even at 2am, she can't resist a smug grin.

"You told me you'd do this," she says, "and you told me what to say: No."

She cuts the line and switches off her cell.

Immediately the house phone rings. She lets it ring off and listens to him speaking to her answering machine in the hallway.

"Ruth, pick up. I don't need this right now. Listen, I'll give you half the money. That's twenty billion, Ruth. You can keep twenty billion if you call off the transfer. You'll never need to work again..."

She waits to see what he'll say next.

"Look, bitch, just pick up the phone."

She climbs out of bed to cut the power to the phone. He's still talking.

"Ruth if you don't pick up right now I'll call all your clients. I'll make sure you never step foot in a bank again."

She picks up.

"Will you shut up, Mackenzie."

"No, now listen."

"No I'm not going to fucking listen. You listen. I don't know what that guru guy said to you, but ever since you met him you've lost the plot."

"I told you what he said. He said if I wanted to live forever, I should sell everything I owned and give the money to the poor."

"And instead of asking him if he needed a shrink, you actually decided to do it."

"Well, not exactly. I've changed my mind."

"Now you've sold everything and seen all those zeros in your bank account, you've changed your mind?"

"Look, Ruth, the intention was there."

"Right. And if I call it off for you, you meant what you said about the twenty billion?"

"Not exactly. I wanted you to come to the phone."

"And stupid me, I did."

Ruth slams the receiver down and pulls out the socket. She will not do his bidding any more. She will not call it off. She'd planned it all too well. Mackenzie had told her to be creative, and she had.

Tomorrow at 10am Eastern Time the amassed fortune of the illustrious Mackenzie family -- all forty two billion of it in single dollar bills -- would flutter from helicopters over the slums of Brazil and India, the hovels of China and Russia, and the plains of Africa.

She'd make sure it happened, especially now Mackenzie wanted to call it off. She'd give away all his money, every penny, even though he'd changed his mind. Did that mean he'd forfeited the reward of eternal life? She wasn't about to chase up the crazy guru to find out, but she hoped so. She'd tell Mackenzie that he had.

He could rot in hell.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Butterfly (#fridayflash)

Last night I dreamed I was a butterfly. I danced awkward on the breeze to a distant, fragile music, as delicate as my wings. I chased it, knowing it to be my destiny, knowing it could never be caught. When I awoke, I held the dream in my mind, but I could not recall the music. I only knew it had been sung by the voice that sings all things into being.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Breakfast Storm (#fridayflash)

He’d left her sitting legs crossed at the dining table in her pink silk dressing gown, sipping a glass of orange juice, staring at his cold cup of coffee and wondering about the future of their marriage.

Leanne and Damien usually breakfasted together early, before the kids were up, because he had to leave for work by seven. It was an opportunity to spend time together. This morning had been no different, except he’d left earlier than usual, at her demand. They hadn’t argued, although now she wished they had. She’d been baiting him for an argument, she knew that, but instead he’d given her what she said she really wanted: the truth. He’d told his story, and now she understood him. Now she wished she hadn’t asked.

She’d gone upstairs to her bedroom, and was furiously applying her make-up. She told her self she was glad he was gone, glad she’d spoilt his happy mood

“Would you like some toast, love?” he’d asked. He even buttered it for her, and added her favourite, raspberry jam. He’d kissed her on the head as he placed the plate in front of her.

He was happy, so it seemed the right time to ask.

“Can we go on holiday by the sea this year?” she’d said.

He’d looked at her with his azure eyes, with his sad gentle eyes that were always bloodshot because he never slept well, and seeing the hurt, she knew she’d asked the wrong question. If she was honest with herself, she’d known it was the wrong question before she’d asked it. But living by the sea was her dream, and they had the money to do it. Damien had his own business. He could work from almost anywhere. But when she’d asked if they could move by the sea he’d snapped no, he liked the city. She decided then she’d at least try to live her dream for two weeks a year. She’d been pressing for them to holiday by the sea, instead of the Cotswolds. The Cotswolds made the other school mums jealous. But it didn’t have a beach.

Damien shook his head, not like he was saying no, but despairing, like he wanted to say “why did you have to ask again?”

She felt guilty for upsetting him, but she wouldn’t admit it. She folded her arms.

“Why not?” she asked.

“I’d prefer not to. Please don’t ask why.”

This was what she expected. He’d done this before, then started a story of a haunted cottage by the sea. It sounded like a bad dream to her, but he’d never finished the story. He’d mention the cottage, then he couldn’t go on.

She watched him stir his coffee in a swirling pattern, gripping the teaspoon too tight. She waited. Usually she’d nag him to tell her. But this time she waited. Her patience paid off.

“I shouldn’t have let her go,” he said.

Leanne tensed. Under the table, her foot was shaking. This was a new story. There was another woman. He’d never mentioned her before. He was holding his forehead in his hand, rubbing his temples, staring down at the table.

“You told me you were single,” she said. “You never said you were divorced. Is that why you don’t like holidays by the sea? They remind you of her?” Leanne was seething.

“Yes,” he said. “I mean, no. Yes, they remind me, yes, I was single when I met you.” He was nearly crying. “Will you listen Leanne? Will you let me finish?”

Leanne sat silent, her eyes glaring. It meant he could continue.

“She was called Hannah. When we were on holiday, we’d go swimming together in the sea everyday. It was our special thing. We both loved the sea. We’d go every year. We stayed in my favourite cottage, near the village where I grew up. Hannah liked me taking her there.

“One evening on our last holiday we were woken by the thunder. The rain was coming down in torrents. She wanted to go swimming in the storm.

“I said no, it was too late, I wanted to sleep. So she said she’d go on her own. I said no, she mustn’t.

“I should have insisted. I knew the legends, I’d learnt them as a child. There’s wisdom in the old legends. I told Hannah the legend: ‘On the day of the storm, one day a year, the sea spirits come to claim a human life. They come for a sacrifice.’ She laughed. She laughed, so I didn’t insist. Every day since I ask myself: Why didn’t I insist?”

Damien was crying now, but Leanne wouldn’t touch him. Her arms were still folded and she’d crossed her legs. He’d loved another woman. He still loved another woman.

He was too upset to stop. He needed to tell the story.

“She looked like a goddess as she stood on the beach, naked in the rain, her sodden hair blown wild by the violent winds. She looked fierce, ready for battle, ready to slaughter.

“When she dived into the waves, the winds roared with malevolent laughter, and I knew she was gone, I knew she’d never be back. But I didn’t believe my feelings. ‘Stop being so superstitious,’ I told myself.

“I watched at the window. I watched for an hour. Then I called the coastguard. They wouldn’t go out searching in the storm.

“She never returned. They searched for her body, but they never found it.”

“I was single when I met you Leanne. Widowed, single. Not divorced.”

Leanne was crying too now. Damien reached for her hand across the table, but she flinched and pulled away.

“Leanne?” he asked.

“Just go,” she said.

He reached for her hand again. “Leanne, please.”

“Just go.”

He’d left his coffee and his toast and gone upstairs to kiss the kids goodbye before he left.

“Goodbye Leanne,” he said after he’d put on his coat. The car keys jangled in his hand. His eyes were still moist and puffy.

She didn’t reply. She didn’t know how to. She stared at her orange juice, waiting for him to go.

Eventually, he gave up waiting for her to speak. The front door clicked shut. She wasn’t sure if he’d be back. She wasn’t sure if she wanted him back.

She checked the clock. In five minutes the kids would be up. She gulped her orange juice, slammed the empty glass down on the table, and stomped upstairs to put on her make-up.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Mid-life Reality (#fridayflash)

Jason's dream of being famous didn't shatter in an instant.  It crept away slowly through the years of performing in cheap taverns, meat-market nightclubs, and at friends' weddings.  One particular night, not long after Jason's forty-seventh birthday, the final remnants of his dream slunk away as he slept, without fanfare.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Bibliophilia (#fridayflash)

He slams the book down onto his desk and stares out the arched window, clasping a wrinkled hand over his forehead. The hum of cars driving past agitates him, like the wasps that buzz in his garden when he's trying to enjoy a tankard of cool beer. He'll need a beer soon. But first he grabs the book and throws it at the wall. Its pages crumple on impact, and it crashes to the floor.

"Bloody rubbish," he says.

He walks across to his kitchen, and takes a can of beer from the fridge, pouring it into his tankard.  He swears to himself as he sips it.  The beer calms him down.

When he's finished he picks up his wallet and walks out onto the street towards the bookshop.  As always he goes the the secondhand section - a book that's been read must be worth reading - and chooses a title that attracts his attention.  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The girl at the counter never lets him pay full price.

"That's two-fifty," she says.

He hands over a fiver, and tells the shop assistant she must take the full three pounds.  She gives him too much change, and he pretends not to notice.

Back at his flat, he scuttles upstairs, goes to straight to his study and sits at the desk.  He holds the book tight to his chest, feeling its energy.

"This is the one," he tells himself.

He lifts the book to his face, breathing its aroma.

This is the one.

He flicks the pages with his fingertips, listening to their gentle click.

This will be the one.

With trembling hands he places the book on his desk and opens the cover.

As he begins to read, he stops shaking.  The words meet his eyes and hold him, enchanted.