Jacky Fowler's Stuff

September 16, 2010

Gothic Ghost Story I

Filed under: FridayFlash — jackyfowler @ 10:53 am
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I was at the hearth in the library, banking up the fire; quiet as a mouse, anxious to remain unnoticed.

“No – by all that’s Holy, I want that boot-jack now! You girl – Nan – go down to the cellars and find it. Now!” the General bellowed.

I flinched as he shouted my name and reluctantly stood up. I gazed at the stone-faced butler in entreaty, hoping against hope he would save me by sending someone else. But there was no reprieve – the General had given his orders and must be obeyed…

Coming from a home that was humble, but bright and cheerful, I had been daunted when I was first engaged as an under-housemaid at gloomy Merchiston Mains. Cramped corridors and cold, stone staircases snaked their way around the melancholic interior and most of its oak-panelling had darkened almost to blackness over two hundred years. I had grown accustomed to the perpetual twilight and sinister shadows in the house over the last few months, but without knowing quite why I should be afraid, I shrank from descending into its dank cellars.  

I had only been down into their clammy, cheerless maw once, and in the company of the housekeeper. Even that no-nonsense martinet had glanced nervously over her shoulder more than once. Our errand swiftly despatched, we had hurried back to the light and warmth of the kitchen. Nothing had been said; nevertheless we both knew the other had been fearful down in the cellars. But of what, I didn’t know…

Still, there was no escape from the dreaded task now before me. Taking a lantern from the kitchen I descended the precipitous cellar stairway.

“It’s just dark and a bit damp, that’s all – don’t be silly,” I chided myself. But each step I took got slower and slower and the light from the lantern wavered over the cold stones as my hands shook a little.

At last I arrived at the door at the foot of the stairs and bit by bit pushed it open into the murky cellar.

Having placed the light on a packing-case, I was groping about among the boxes within its limited circle of illumination when, much to my astonishment, I remarked the flame of the candle turn blue and flare much brighter. I barely had time to take in this strange phenomenon when I felt an icy cold steal upon me. I shivered and clasped my arms around me, both for warmth and comfort.

Clang!

I flinched at the sound emanating from a far-off corner of the cellar. Its reverberations were deafening, causing me put my hands to my ears to try, in vain, to shut it out.

I peered in the direction of the noise. It had sounded like a heavy metal object clattering to the stone flags. How? There was no one in the cellar but me and not even a breath of wind was coming down from the kitchen.

My eyes widened in disbelief. I could clearly see two eyes – two obliquely set, lurid, light-coloured eyes, staring at me with the glint of the devil in them. Sick with terror, I screamed – or tried to. No sound emerged from my frozen vocal chords.

I stood stock-still; my limbs would not obey my urgent need to turn and run. My throat was parched, my tongue tied, my mind numb.

A flicker of sanity returned. It must be an animal, yes that was it, an animal trapped in the cellar somehow. It was a relief to have found an explanation, and slowly I exhaled, unaware until then that I had been holding my breath.

The clanging noise was repeated and a shadowy form began slowly to crawl towards me.

It was no animal, of that I was made terribly aware. A man’s form slowly coalesced before me. The candle flared even brighter and I realised I could still perceive packing cases through the crouching figure – it could not be a real man!

“Dear God, dear God, dear God.” I couldn’t even manage a prayer. I just hoped God would hear me and understand I needed his help – now!

Malevolence glittered in the eyes and the shape gradually stood up, revealing itself to be tall and thin – almost skeletal.

I struggled to avert my gaze from those inhuman eyes. The apparition’s lips moved furiously without emitting any sound, as if endeavouring to speak, but it could not.

“Don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me,” I managed to whisper.

The eyes narrowed and there was no answer.

My fingers closed convulsively on the folds of my apron, but still I was pinned to the spot.

The phantasm took a step towards me. I tried once more to divert my gaze, but could not – an irresistible attraction held me mesmerised by the approaching horror. It came closer … and closer.

“Dear God, girl. How much longer will you be about your task?”

Never had the stentorian tones of the General been so welcome. And as the clatter of his boots descending the stairs filled the cellar I observed my tormentor take a step backwards. The spectre held out one hand and pointed at me, a grim warning in its evil eyes as it dissolved and disappeared.

“Where the devil is my boot-jack?” barked the General as he saw me standing amongst the packing cases.

I gasped, and the darkness embraced me…

 “I knew she had sensed it when we went down there a few weeks ago,” the housekeeper’s voice whispered as I woke. “We should have warned her.”

“Nonsense,” the butler’s stern voice rebuked. “It’s never harmed anyone, and why frighten her?”

“Well, she’s been well and truly frightened now. And perhaps it just hasn’t had the chance to harm anyone yet?”

I remembered the pointing finger, and I was sure it would take its chance when it came.

August 19, 2010

Piece by Piece

Filed under: FridayFlash — jackyfowler @ 2:50 pm
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I always thought that going through your husband’s pockets must mean you already had your suspicions about what he was really doing on all those evenings when he was ‘working late at the office, darling.’ I knew I could trust you – even though those evenings were getting more and more frequent. So I wasn’t checking the pockets of your jacket for any other reason than to make sure they were empty before I took it to the cleaners. I was putting it away when I noticed the mark on the sleeve. I couldn’t let you look anything other than immaculate, so I decided to slot a visit to the dry cleaners into my round of errands that morning. There was nothing. Until I got to the inside pocket and found a lacy hanky. Of course, I thought you’d taken one of mine by mistake, but when I pulled it out to put it in the wash, I saw the initial “S” in the corner. My name is Joanne.

***

 “Sorry, I’m a bit late love, meeting went on and on – as usual. But it was important, so I couldn’t just leave. Hope dinner’s not spoiled.”

I was amazed at how calm I felt, I even managed not to flinch at the peck on my cheek.

“Nothing to spoil, my darling. I haven’t made dinner tonight.”

Oh, it was worth sitting there, resisting the insistent urge to carry on as normal, just to see the look on your face. A freshly-cooked, home-made dinner was always ready for you whenever you got home – it was something on which I prided myself.

I drew out the lacy hanky and pushed it at you, my fingers shaking only a little.

“What? …. It’s not one of mine.”

“And it’s not one of mine either. But it was in your jacket pocket.”

“Then …. someone must have lent it to me when I couldn’t find mine – or something. And I just forgot to give it back.” It was said in such a strained tone that I knew you couldn’t possibly expect me to believe you.

“Yes, that’s what I thought must have happened …… until I started looking elsewhere. And then I found other things in your pockets, your desk drawers – the credit card bills, the receipts. I can’t remember the last time you bought me a dozen red roses, or took me out to dinner at the best restaurant in town, or bought me an outfit from that expensive little boutique I love. And I most certainly didn’t get diamond earrings for my last birthday.”

“Oh.”

“You know, I don’t think ‘oh’ quite covers it – do you Gary?” My hands curled like claws in my lap, the nails cutting into the skin of my palms – keep your temper Joanne, it’s important to keep your temper.

“I suppose I knew you’d find out sooner or later. I did try to tell you, but I knew how badly you’d take it. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell you straight out.”

“Aah, so it was a little treasure hunt was it? You leaving bigger and bigger clues, and me stupidly trusting you and not seeing them – until now. Who is she?”

“Sarah – she works for me.”

“Then you’ll have to fire her.”

What? I can’t do that.”

“Oh yes you can. It’s over Gary – I’ve found out and that’s the end of it.”

“No. No it’s not.”

Your voice was so calm and so certain that for the first time I was frightened as well as angry. Keep going Joanne, he has to see reason in the end.

“Look, I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t matter. Of course it does, I trusted you absolutely – ‘forsaking all others’ we promised.”

“No, Joanne, I don’t …..”

I couldn’t bear to hear you say it, so I rushed in.

 “Think of how happy we’ve been together, just you and me – you’re my best friend, my lover, my husband – you’re everything to me – my whole world Gary. You have to see that the only thing to do is end it with her. It’s the only way.”

The pleading in my voice sickened me, why couldn’t you just see what was so obvious? Pull yourself together Joanne – don’t grovel, you’re not the one in the wrong here, you’re not the one who’s been having some sleazy little affair. The anger hit me again, wave after wave of it, so in firmer tones, I laid it on the line for you.

“I love you, but I can’t share you. Forget about her and I’m prepared to forgive you. We can just get on with our lives – pretend it never happened.”

“But it has happened Joanne. I’ve been unhappy for a long time – you never seemed to see that. You ignored me whenever I tried to talk to you about it – changed the subject, started talking about new cushions or curtains or …” You shook your head.  

“Sarah saw that I was having a bad time, and she listened to me, tried to help. We’ve been seeing each other for over a year now. We’re in love, and I’m really, really sorry, Joanne, but I’m leaving you. I’m moving in with Sarah – we’ve decided we want to be together properly.”

Standing there, tears in your eyes, and such a desperate expression on your face, I had to believe you meant it, and my world shattered with your next words.

“I know it’s a lot to take in, but I might as well get it all out now – I want a divorce Joanne.”

 ***

Well, now you’re gone. I’m lying here in the bed we shared for fourteen years and what am I left with?  The scent of you on my pillow, the memory of your last kiss goodnight to take into my dreams. But you won’t be coming back, Gary, that’s quite clear. So I have to let you go – out of my life forever. I don’t think I can manage that – not all at once, so I’ll have to let you go piece by piece.

***

Of course, I panicked when your boss ‘phoned a few days later to find out where you were.

“He’s at a conference in Birmingham until the end of the week. He went with a colleague, Susan – no, Sarah, that’s it, Sarah. But you must know that, surely?”

“Oh,  that explains … You know Joanne, I’m afraid I may have some bad news for you … I think I’d better come round and see you.”

I screamed. “He’s dead! You’re telling me Gary’s dead, aren’t you?”

“No, no, Joanne. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to imply … That’s not it. He’s not dead, I promise, he’s not dead. Just hang up and I’ll be there as soon as possible.”

 ***

That’s when it all started. The police getting involved. Because I had to report you missing, and your boss reported Sarah missing too. There was no conference in Birmingham. There was money missing from the firm, quite a lot of money, taken over the last year or so. It would never have happened while I was working for you, darling.

They checked her flat and found she’d packed several bags, much more than was needed for that non-existent sales conference.

Eventually, they found your car in the long-stay car park at the Eurostar terminal, which tied in with the fact that I’d been unable to find your passport when they’d asked me to check what you’d taken with you. I think they’ve even involved Interpol, and there have been reported sightings of the two of you, but nothing concrete.

 ***

Everyone’s been so kind. Our – my – neighbour, Maureen has come round to check how I’m getting on almost every day.

“It’s criminal what he’s done to you, Joanne. Leaving you for some little tart at work when you’ve done so much for him. And to take that money from his work, that’s … well, words fail me. Letting you down like that. You know, most women today are too busy with their own career to look after their husbands properly, but you spoilt him. That’s what it was, you spoilt him.”

I just smile and tell her it was what I wanted to do.

“But what are you going to do now, you’ve only got a little part time job, that won’t keep this house going, will it?”

“That was just me ‘keeping my hand in’, I don’t really need to work Maureen, don’t worry about that.”

“Well, that’s good then,” the tone almost belying the words. “I’m so glad you’re coping. You’re a star Joanne, you really are, I thought you’d be a quivering wreck after all you’ve been though.”

“I’m just taking it one day at a time, that’s all I can deal with at the moment.”

 ***

 

 But it’s hard, so hard – even harder than I thought. I have to remember that this is what you chose – you wanted to leave me  – and you left me no choice but to say goodbye. There’s no point in holding onto all the things that once made up our life together, that’s all over now – there’s no going back. So, your car’s gone from the garage, all your clothes from the wardrobe, your spare razor and aftershave from the bathroom. The monogrammed gold cufflinks I bought you for our tenth wedding anniversary, they’ve gone too. And, like a miser hoarding her treasures, I’m letting the memories go in a skinflint fashion – one by one. Tomorrow I’m going to be really strong and look through all the photographs in our wedding album before I destroy them.

 ***

So here I am at last, I’ve let you go from my life piece by piece and I’m holding the very last little bit of you I have left – here on the bridge where we first met.  Slowly, oh so slowly, I open my hand and let go of the box that holds your hand – your wedding ring still on your finger – and watch it sink to the bottom of the river. Goodbye, my darling, goodbye.

July 30, 2010

The Youth of Today

Filed under: FridayFlash — jackyfowler @ 9:09 am
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Well, I thought as he stepped into the carriage, what a dreadful young thug. Typical of the ‘youth of today’. He scowled as he wrestled to keep the door from snapping back on him.

He was fairly tall and quite well built, so why was he wearing clothes at least two sizes too big for him? It just accentuated his slouch.

His hair had been smothered in gel and teased into spiky little peaks. No doubt he thought it was a cutting edge style that made him look really ‘cool’, but to me it looked like nothing so much as a greasy, half-balding hedgehog peering out from under one of those hideous hoodie things. This one was a particularly unflattering shade of battleship grey. It certainly did nothing for a complexion already struggling with a crop of spots that he quite obviously hadn’t managed to leave well alone.

His trousers were something else again. So baggy and low slung that they seemed likely to slide down to his ankles at any moment – they had no visible means of support. Even so, when he turned to close the door I could see that they looked better from the front than the back. Why on earth would you want to look like your backside was that big and droopy? I clenched my buttocks automatically; there was no way my gluteus maximi would to let me down like that.

He walked down the aisle of the carriage, the uneven swaying of the train making him lurch from side to side and grab onto the backs of seats as he slowly approached where I sat. I almost felt sorry for him as the carriage rocked sharply and he staggered into one of the huge, old fashioned seat-backs – that must have hurt.

His feet twinkled as he approached, each step causing a flash of red light to be emitted by his tacky trainers – rather like a mobile disco. No doubt it punctuated the tinny racket I could now hear coming from the headphones of the ubiquitous iPod slung around his neck.

Even this close, I couldn’t tell just how old he might be – late teens probably, or early twenties perhaps? I’m afraid that these days even doctors look rather young to me, let alone policemen.

Abruptly, he lunged down to where I had my new handbag tucked in by my feet. I shrank back in my seat, taken completely by surprise, and suddenly apprehensive in the extreme. My breathing quickened, but time slowed and came to a stop as I relived the memory yet again.

The mall had been as busy as usual, thronged with families out browsing and doing their weekly shopping. I’d been searching for a brown, A-line skirt; unsuccessfully so far. I’d just spotted what I was pretty sure was exactly what I’d been looking for in a shop window. I was making my way towards it when a hard shove in the back sent me reeling towards the vast expanse of plate glass. Instinctively, I put my hands out in a futile bid to save myself from crashing through the glass, but before I hit the window, a yank on the bag over my shoulder pulled me back and I spun round. Someone had saved me. Thank God.

Another yank, and I focused on the man with his hands on my bag. Not my saviour, but my assailant. Somehow, my bag was still over my arm, so he punched me – a glancing blow to the side of my head.

 “Let go” he snarled. I was so shocked, that’s just what I did. Immediately, he melted away into the crowd, leaving me standing there, shaking, sobbing, and surrounded by people who seemed not to have noticed anything amiss.

The police found the bag quite quickly, with its contents shaken out around it. Even my purse was there, but minus the money and credit cards in it, of course.

Could I give them a description of the thief? I tried, truly I did. Well, first of all, it was definitely a man – I think. And he had on a hooded top and baggy trousers, in a dark colour, but black or navy I couldn’t say. Maybe even maroon. How tall? About as tall as me, maybe a bit taller. Young? Oh yes, judging by those clothes, but I couldn’t say just how young. So, had I seen his face? Indeed I had, but it was suffused with – what? Anger, contempt, desperation? Perhaps a mixture of all three? But it had all been so quick and shocking that I simply couldn’t be sure what his face would look like without that expression. I had to face up to it, I wasn’t a very good witness.

In fact, the only thing I could be sure of now was the aftermath of the incident – the shaken confidence, the fear that it might happen again, and the anger that this young man had felt it was worth turning my life upside down for the sake of the measly twenty pounds or so I’d been carrying – surely he’d know the credit cards would be cancelled immediately? And I hadn’t even been able to use the bag again; it was too immediate a reminder of the incident.

“’S this yours?”

The voice brought me swiftly back to the present. I stared blankly, still caught in the web of memory.

“’S this yours?” he asked again, patiently proffering the book I had so carelessly let fall as he had opened the door to the carriage. It was a thriller with a rather lurid cover that had almost put me off buying it. I’d been running late and picked it up in a moment of panic buying at the station; knowing how long my journey would be, I’d decided it would be better than nothing. As the journey progressed and the scenery palled, I’d started the book and almost against my will, had found it quite absorbing – far better than the cover had led me to believe.

“Oh, yes. Erm, thank you” I replied feebly, still somewhat flustered, and took it from him.

“S’okay. Wun’t want you to lose it ‘fore you finish it,” he said, smiling shyly at me. “I fort it was pretty wicked” he continued, “I really liked it – hope you do too.” He bobbed his head at me, plugged the headphones back in his ears and moved on down the carriage.

Well, I thought, as I settled back into my seat with my book once again, what a nice young man. And now that I came to think of it, perhaps I should go back to that shop and have a really good look at that skirt, after all.

July 26, 2010

Creation

Filed under: Short Stories — jackyfowler @ 11:20 am
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The following is a piece I did for a writing assignment – ‘what if you had unlimited powers to create anything’. I may have bitten off more than I can chew with the theme – especially for an agnostic.

I always believe that this time it’s going to be different, this time is the right time. I plan so carefully – God is in the detail.

Even with my resources, it is a huge drain. Creating something out of nothing.

In the beginning, I speak the word. Exhaling it softly, watching it weave its wonder. It has the power to call anything and everything into existence. It is the same word every time – in the beginning. It is the channel for the power – my power, our power.

It has started, and I continue to call this world into being, speaking the words that define it. “Let there be light.” Brilliant, shining, scintillating, sparkling, blinding light. Day. And its equal and opposite – the deep, dark velvet of night.

 Next, the shadowy, formless mass that will become the earth. It sucks in the brightness of the light, dimming its radiance. A neat division into the sky and the earth and, once more, the light illuminates the darkness.

The waters eddy, gathering into seas, leaving dry ground – land. Highlands and lowlands. Mountains and valleys. Marshes and deserts. Plenty of space for the earth to bring forth grass, plants, and fruit-bearing trees.

Which means the next command has to create the means to mark the days, seasons and years all this lush vegetation needs to thrive. So the sun, the moon and the stars appear in the heavens, to govern night and day and rule the hours, the minutes, the seconds of life.

Into this vast, empty setting I generate myriad creatures to inhabit the seas and every type of winged bird to soar in the skies, beasts and reptiles and insects to permeate the diversity of the earth’s environments.

And finally – mankind. This where I pause, but it has to be done. Perhaps this time?

I take stock of what I have created, and it is perfect. Beautiful beyond belief in its clarity and freshness. A paradise, an idyll – all for mankind. A miraculous kitchen garden from which he can eat his fill. And for pure enjoyment – the flowers I’ve sown. White lilies, lemon verbena, the small-seeded, scarlet poppy amongst which the bees buzz with a contented hum. The warmth of the sunshine to caress his shoulders. To shade him there are pine trees, lime trees and elms. Pears and blackthorn fruit for him. He can enjoy the scent of the first rose of summer and the tart tang of the earliest apples of the autumn harvest. There are hyacinths to brighten his winter.

How could mankind be unhappy in this idyllic garden – a vision of natural bounty? A serene palate of aquamarine, ruby and beryl, full of verdant contrasts. Nature at its most generous and life-giving. Birds dart overhead, cleaving the cerulean blue of the skies, then flutter and perch in the multitude of trees. Gentle breezes ripple the grasses of the meadows. Sweet-scented oleander and tender, evergreen myrtle exhale their perfume under the smiling heavens. The brooks in which he can cool his feet bubble merrily on their meandering way through the valleys.

What more could I give these human beings? They have the Garden of Eden, abundant food, satisfaction in tending the garden and the naming of all the fish, birds and animals over which I have given them dominion. And most important of all – love. Love of each other, love of the world I have created for them. What more could they possibly want?

Power, the power of the word. The power to think and do – to invent and create. They continue to develop their capacity for creativity, just as I know they will. Beyond Eden they learn to harness animals to share the labour of their lives, and make music to lighten their leisure, and they bend the metals of the earth into new shapes and uses. In many ways I am a proud father, watching as they take faltering steps forward.

But they cannot remain as innocent infants. They grow, and multiply and flourish. But they lose their capacity to share happily the freely-given bounty they enjoy. They take my God-given capacity for creation and they use it to create ugliness, sin, malice, iniquity. At times they revolt me. My most precious creation, and they are intent on destroying each other and anything that gets in the way of this, their ultimate aspiration – annihilation.

I cannot resist trying to help them. They are so precious to me. I send them signs and wonders. They ‘ooh and aah’ and forget. I send them charismatic leaders to show them the right path. They follow for a while and then stray. I send them omens. All they have to do is look and listen. They do not learn.

Of course, I know what happens. Always. Every time. The seeds of the ending are sown in the beginning, when I give them free will. It is the triumph of hope over experience. But I cannot deny them the chance to achieve wisdom and grace.  

Ah well, perhaps next time. Perhaps, a new beginning

July 15, 2010

The Visitor

Filed under: FridayFlash — jackyfowler @ 9:40 pm
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This is the second story I’ve got for #fridayflash. Hope you enjoy it.

To all intents and purposes she was asleep. Slumped slightly sideways in the winged armchair, her head drooped forwards and her hands lay slack in her lap. I’d be willing to swear I hadn’t made a sound, but suddenly she was bolt upright, her hands grasping the armrests and her eyes wide and fixed squarely on me.

Swiftly, she stood; one hand smoothing imaginary creases from her dark navy skirt and the other reaching up to be sure that no stray hair had dared to displace itself from her careful coiffure. She smiled and proffered her hand to be shaken.

“Marion Sinclair,” she said “proprietor and manageress of Greenbrae.”

Her grasp was cool, but firm.

“I’m afraid you caught me napping – literally. It’s that time of the afternoon unfortunately – a mixture of lunch and lethargy. I don’t usually give in to it, but today…” Her voice trailed off and a tiny frown appeared between her eyebrows. She gave a slight shake of her head and continued brightly, “Are you visiting someone?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

Her eyes assessed me rapidly, taking in my nondescript ‘office’ suit, plain white blouse and slightly scuffed shoes. My face was scrubbed clean, bare of make-up, a flush to my cheeks thanks to the warmth of the room. I felt that only my hair, tightly pulled back into a neat French pleat, met with her approval.

My assessment of her was far more favourable. A well-preserved woman in her late fifties, she was managing to look as if it were possible that she was still only in her late forties. She was immaculately turned out, from the tips of her shocking pink nails and blonde-highlighted hair to her kitten-heeled shoes with the flirty bow.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you before.” The tone was still overtly friendly, but I sensed a certain wariness.

“No, we’ve never met, but I’m a regular visitor here – have been for years.”

“Oh. Well, I suppose I’ve been so busy with the refurbishment these last few months since I took over …”

“Yes, I’ve been very impressed with what you’ve achieved. It’s so much brighter and more cheerful.”

She glanced around the large lounge, a smile of real pleasure on her face.

“Thank you. It’s very nice to know that all the hard work we’ve put in is appreciated. I really don’t see why a retirement home should be dismal and depressing – do you?”

“No, not at all, but it isn’t easy to achieve, I know.”

“True, but all our residents have the time now to sit back and enjoy their surroundings, so we should make them as pleasant as possible.” It did sound as if she meant what she said, rather than it just being part of her ‘sales patter’.

I looked around the room. Many of the chairs were occupied, but whether the occupants were ‘enjoying their surroundings’ was a moot point. Most of them seemed to be sound asleep and a soft snuffling sound filled the air. Still, I was pretty sure that those of them in a position to notice would much prefer the bright new décor to the old, dark, flocked wallpaper that had preceded it.

“So, who did you say you’d come to visit?”

My gaze snapped back to her. “I didn’t say. And I’m not so much here to visit someone, more – to collect them.”

The tiny frown reappeared. “Oh, I wasn’t aware that anyone was going out on a little visit.”

“Well, it’s not just a visit. They’re leaving permanently.”

The frown became deeper. “That’s most unusual, our residents are all so happy with us, I’m sure no one would choose to leave us. And I’m quite sure one of my staff would have let me know if someone was moving out.”

“Ah, let’s just say they haven’t chosen to leave of their own accord.”

“Oh, I see,” the tone of relief was just perceptible now she’d found a much more palatable explanation, “family moving elsewhere then?”

“No, that wasn’t quite what I meant. I’m afraid I was trying to break it to you gently.”

Understanding dawned. “Oh, of course. I’m afraid it’s not an unusual occurrence in a retirement home. Some of our residents are very elderly indeed, and many of them aren’t in the best of health. You’ll be a relative of dear Yvonne’s then.”

She stepped forward and clasped one of my hands in both of hers. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Oh, no, it’s not Yvonne I’m here for.”

Her puzzlement was obvious. “But I could have sworn I’d just closed my eyes for a minute or two, and everyone was fine after their lunch. Surely someone would have woken me if anyone else had …”

She rallied. “I’m so sorry. This is a very difficult situation – for both of us. Do please accept my apologies, but I don’t know the name of your relative here.”

“No need to apologise. It’s not a relative I’ve come for.”

My hand was released summarily.

“You’re from the funeral director’s then? I do wish you’d said so at the outset.”

“No, I’m not from the funeral director’s either. I did tell you that I was trying to break it to you gently.”

“Well, I’m afraid you’ll need to be a lot less gentle then, because I still don’t have a clue who or what you’re here for.” The pleasant tone was becoming taut.

“Okay. I’m going to have to spell it out for you I’m afraid. Mine’s not an easy job you understand. Some people catch on pretty quickly; others simply don’t want to know. I think I’ve just taken you by surprise. Please take a deep breath. Then turn around and look at the chair behind you.”

The gasp was loud and despairing and the tears followed swiftly. “But, that’s …………”

Finally, the penny had dropped.

“Time to go, Marion.”

July 14, 2010

The Passion of the Dance

Filed under: Short Stories — jackyfowler @ 12:35 pm
Tags: , ,

 

 “Oh, she couldn’t have.”

“Oh yes, she could. And she did.”

“But what did Andy say to her?”

“I don’t think he had a breath left in his body to say anything to anybody. He was ashen though – white as a sheet.”

“No wonder. Had she been drinking?”

“Well, to be fair to her, I honestly wouldn’t have said so.”

“What made her do it then? It’s so unlike her – she’s usually so ….. well, so quiet.”

“I know, but one minute she was sitting right beside me and the next she was – well …. I was shocked! …. talk about attention seeking!”

“I still can’t believe it. Surely she must have known it would set everyone agog?”

“Not so that you’d notice. She came right back to the table and sat down looking like butter wouldn’t melt. It was everyone else left gaping like a bowl of goldfish.”

With a click, the speed of the treadmills increased and the conversation between the two women ceased as they saved their breath for running.

The subject of their conversation was hidden from them in the huge cage-like structure of the chest press. Elaine had heard Jean and Linda come into the gym, and steeled herself. She’d known there’d be gossip and she’d known she’d have to face it sometime, but not quite so soon. That they hadn’t seen her before getting onto the treadmills had been an unexpected reprieve, but it wouldn’t be very long before they moved on to a different piece of equipment and pass too close to miss seeing her. What would she say? What could she do?

****** 

Coming to the gym regularly was a turning point for Elaine. Feeling fat and forty wasn’t something she’d enjoyed and although Andy hadn’t said anything, she felt he’d been disappointed by her descent into dumpy drabness. They’d drifted apart. As Andy worked long hours on his way up the management ladder of his company, Elaine concentrated more and more on the kids and their home. But she loved him and missed the closeness they’d shared. She wanted to put the spark back into their marriage, so she gritted her teeth, cut down on the calories and put herself through a pretty tough workout several times a week.

After six months she braved a shopping trip and had been amazed at the pretty new clothes she was able to buy to flatter the trim figure she’d regained. But Andy had just been promoted and, struggling with a demanding new job, he hardly seemed to notice any of her new outfits. A slightly puzzled “you look nice dear” had greeted her new hair colour, but that was it.

Elaine was thoroughly frustrated. I might just as well give up. What’s the point of all that hard work if he doesn’t even notice that I’ve gone down two whole dress sizes? Okay, I feel a lot better about how I look.

She smiled a little to herself. Better than I have for years as a matter of fact. The smile faded, to be replaced with a slight frown. That’s it – I’ve come this far, so I’m not giving up now. I just need to figure out what to do to get him to really see me again.

The idea came to her one Saturday night a few weeks later. They were watching Strictly Ballroom on television. As usual, Andy was thoroughly involved in the programme.

He sprang from his chair and reverse turned his way around the room. “I can’t believe she could get such a simple step so badly wrong! Look!” He continued to effortlessly ease around the furniture with his arms holding an imaginary partner. “Good grief, it’s so easy even you could manage it better than her!”

Elaine’s face crumpled, but Andy was already engrossed in the comments of the judges, oblivious to her distress. It was an old wound, rarely re-opened these days. Andy was a talented, stylish dancer, he’d even been a junior champion in his teens, but Elaine had two left feet. In the early days he’d tried to teach her to relax and enjoy a simple waltz, but still she’d felt like he was dragging a sack of potatoes around the dance floor.

Elaine had never felt comfortable or confident enough to improve and eventually, Andy had given up trying. Then she’d had to watch from the sidelines as he enjoyed himself partnering other women, or, when he’d seen how much that could upset her, feel the frustration pouring out of him as they’d watched other couples dance. 

Alright, if that’s what it takes to make you notice me again, then that’s just what I’ll do. If that celebrity carthorse can learn to dance, then I must be able to!

******

So why had she picked such a difficult dance? Elaine asked herself that question so many times over the next few weeks. Finding a teacher had been her first task and it had been much easier said than done. Trawling through the telephone directory she’d spoken to half a dozen or more teachers before she reached Enrique.

“It doesn’t matter if you have three left feet, with me, you will dance el tango maravillosamente.” He sounded so emphatic that she believed him. “So, two-thirty on Wednesday, and bring your high heels.”

Enrique’s dance studio was in the city centre, at the top of an office block. As she stepped out of the lift, Elaine could hear the sultry beat of the tango music pulsing through the air. She pushed the door open slowly, peered timidly around it, and there was Enrique.  

He wasn’t quite what she’d been expecting. He definitely had the Latin looks to go with his name – olive skin, dark hair slicked back, a wiry build.

Elaine was filled with dismay. He must be sixty-something if he’s a day. Would he really be able to dance the tango with the energy it required? Then he looked at her, and his dark, penetrating gaze somehow made her pull herself up to her full height. Taking a deep breath, she walked forward, her high heels tapping out a determined rhythm as she crossed the beautiful wooden dance floor.

It had been a battle of wills right from the start.  Somehow it had seemed almost indecent that a perfect stranger was holding her in such an intimate fashion.

Enrique would pull Elaine firmly against his chest. “No, no, you must trust me. In tango, you must dance heart to heart with your partner.” When she grew stiff, unable to relax, Enrique would scold. “No, no – I am in control. I lead, you follow.”

With aching feet and a pounding head, Elaine left her first lesson exhausted. She had to grit her teeth and force herself to go back. The second lesson hadn’t been any easier and nor had the third, or the fourth for that matter.

Elaine steeled herself to tell Enrique that she wouldn’t be coming back next week. I’ve tried, but enough is enough.

When Elaine shared her frustration, and decision to stop lessons,  Enrique had simply raised his eyebrows and nodded slowly. “Okay, but one last dance, before you leave? To say goodbye.”  

Delighted to have been let off so lightly, Elaine agreed and the music began once again.

“Just look into my eyes – keep looking – don’t think of the steps, they don’t matter anymore if you’re not coming back. Just follow my lead.”

As she kept her eyes firmly on Enrique’s, Elaine did exactly as he had asked and just followed his movements. Concentrating on Enrique’s velvety brown eyes, she could suddenly feel the music oozing up through her feet and she no longer felt uncomfortable.

“See, following is easy. Enjoy it and let your feminine side take over.”

By the time the music ended, Elaine was out of breath, but exhilarated. Okay, so it wasn’t perfect, but for the first time she’d danced, really danced.

“So, two-thirty next Wednesday, don’t forget your high heels.”

******

A few weeks later she was thrilled, but apprehensive, when Andy came home with the invitation to the company’s annual dinner dance. It was the opportunity she’d been waiting for, all she had to do now was summon up her courage and grasp the chance wholeheartedly.

Elaine shifted in her seat. Stop fidgeting, Not long to go now.

The dinner had seemed endless. She hardly tasted anything she ate and had to stop herself reaching for her wine glass again and again, as the knot in her stomach got tighter and tighter.

The two other couples at the table with Elaine and Andy watched the dance floor, fascinated. Linda nodded toward the throng of couples who waltzed in time to the tempo of the music.

“They’re a fantastic band, don’t you think?”

“Mmmn” Elaine replied distractedly, trying to keep Andy in sight as he worked his way back towards the table from the bar.

The floor cleared at the end of the waltz.

The bandleader turned toward the audience. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, by very special request, something a little more energetic – the tango.”

Elaine tore off the shrug she’d kept so carefully over the rather low cut dress she was wearing. Before she could lose her nerve, she grabbed Andy by the hand and pulled him onto the dance floor. He was so surprised he just stood there and she’d had to take his hands and strike the opening pose of the dance.

He stared at her, bewildered, but when the music struck up he swiftly came to life and pulled her close – heart to heart. Keeping her eyes locked on his, Elaine abandoned herself to the music and Andy’s lead. At first he was cautious, keeping to simple steps, but Elaine followed his every move with ease, her body swaying and swirling in time with his.

A question in his eyes, he pulled her even closer and then swung and dipped her so low that her hair brushed the ground before he drew her smoothly up again. Elaine didn’t miss a beat and wound her left leg around his right hip, the lacy skirt of her dress sliding up to show a glimpse of her toned and tanned thigh. Then they were off again, circling the dance floor, lost in the music, the dance and each other. Elaine was tingling with excitement; her body so attuned to Andy’s that she responded by instinct, surrendering to his lead and dancing steps she hadn’t even known existed as the passion of the dance wove its seductive, magical spell.

When the music came to an end with a final flourish, they stood there, flushed and exhilarated. Only then did they realise that they were the only couple on the dance floor, which was ringed with just about every other guest, clapping and cheering.

Quickly Elaine turned and walked back to their table, sat down, took her glass of wine in a shaking hand and smiled vaguely at Linda. Linda simply stared back at her, her mouth open.

Very shortly afterwards, they’d driven home in silence, but Elaine could feel Andy’s darting glances through the dark. When they got home, Elaine bent down to undo the high-heeled strappy gold sandals she was wearing, but Andy took her hand and stopped her. He pulled her into the kitchen, pushed aside the table and put his arms around her. She leaned into his body and he danced her around the kitchen several times.

Andy’s eyes sparkeled with enthusiasm as he smiled. “You can dance. You really can dance.” Elaine felt the film of tears in her eyes – she couldn’t remember the last time he’d looked so happy.

“I can” she said softly, smiling back at him. Then, taking his hand once again, she led him out of the kitchen and upstairs.

****** 

Elaine shook herself, and put up her hands to cool her flushed face. She’d been so engrossed in her memories she hadn’t noticed the time moving on, but now she could hear Linda and Jean chatting again as the treadmills slowed to allow them to cool down. Time to face the music – again.

 Somehow though, much as she was dreading having to face the two women, she just couldn’t seem to stop smiling. She got up, straightened her shoulders and stepped off the exercise machine, walking round to the treadmills.  Her smile broadened as she saw the looks of chagrin on Jean and Linda’s faces.

 “Good morning” she said cheerfully.

Linda appeared flustered. “Oh, we didn’t see you there.”

“I know, but don’t worry; I don’t really take any notice of gossip – even if it’s about me. Oh, and, by the way, there was only one person’s attention I was seeking last night.” Her smile became a grin. “And I very, very definitely got it!”

July 11, 2010

Letters Home

Filed under: Short Stories — jackyfowler @ 12:41 pm
Tags: ,

On 11 November 1918 the Armistice was signed between the Allied and German armies, ending the First World War – a global war that lasted four years, extinguishing millions of lives. This is a story I wrote to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Armistice.

She was in the garden. “Pottering” Johnnie called it; “putting things to rights” she would have said. The latch on the gate clicked and she looked up to see the postie coming towards her, a single letter in his hand. She rose, rather more slowly than she would have liked these days, but smoothing down the apron she wore to protect her skirt, she managed a smile.

“Good morning, Mrs Gordon. I’ve something for you from France. I hope it’s good news!”

It was as much as she could do not to snatch the letter from him, but she managed to hold out her hand quite steadily and wait until he passed it over.

“Thank you, Archie” she said, turning to go back into the house, the letter clutched close to her. The usual chit chat was beyond her.

Once inside, she stood and stared at the envelope for a while, unable to open it just yet.

“Don’t be silly” she said aloud, went to the desk in the corner of the room and picked up the letter opener. Quickly slitting open the envelope, she took out the wafer thin paper inside and started reading.

Dearest Ma

Well, here I am at last, writing to you from the Front for the first time. We’re in a reserve trench just now, but will be moving forward soon I think.

Tell Da we left our kilts behind a few miles. Our dress now is trousers cut short above the knees and I’ve a steel helmet (which is a great life saver against shrapnel we’re told). That is one thing I do not like – shells – their noise and the whining through the air. They can’t whistle a decent tune for toffee!

I got your last letter and paper. A paper here is very much appreciated – “luxuries” like hard to come by here. We get cigarettes and tobacco sent out to us (as well as a drink of rum every night) so you see we don’t do so badly (the thick socks were a blessing though, ta very much).

Give my love to Da and the brothers and sisters. I often picture you all gathered for dinner of a Sunday – keep my place warm. Chin up Ma, and you’ll see me probably sooner than you think.

Well you will have to wait until I come home for more news, these letters are censored you know and I don’t want to say anything that I should not.

Your loving son,

Johnnie

A huge sigh escaped her and she realised she’d almost been holding her breath as she read. Shaking her head to clear away the emotions that had engulfed her, she read the letter over again, relieved beyond words. He was safe – for now.

****** 

He was in his workshop, but the tools of his trade were all neatly lined up and unused this morning, as he took the letter out of his pocket and looked intently at it.

He was pretty sure he had the contents almost by heart, but read it through one more time.

Dear Da

I do not really know how to start this letter, as the circumstances are not that different from those under which I’ve written before. I will not post it yet but will leave it in my pocket. If anything happens to me someone will perhaps post it for me – or if I get back safe I’ll post it myself. You see, we are going over the top again this evening and only the Good Lord God in Heaven knows who will come out of it alive.  

I do not want you to think that I am depressed or fearful – on the contrary, I am very cheerful. But out here, in odd moments the realisation does come to me of how close death is to us all. 

I say this to you because I know you understand, from your own experience as a soldier, the possibility of the like happening to myself. I feel very glad that I can look the fact in the face without fear or misgiving – thanks to your example. Much as I hope to live through it all for the sake of you and Ma and the boys in particular, I am quite prepared to give my life as so many have done before me – if I have to. All I can do is put myself in God’s hands for him to decide, and I know you and dearest Ma will be praying for me.

It seems years and years since I tried to get myself drowned in the burn, now I’m awash in a sea of mud. Isn’t life strange?  

Your loving son

Johnnie

PS As you see, I am still alive and well, and as usual enjoying life out here to the full.

The tears collected in the corners of his eyes and ran slowly down the deep creases in his face, creases that had deepened with worry over the last ten months. But through the tears was a smile – he was proud, damned proud, of his son. And he was safe – for now.

 ******

Mary Gordon put her feet up on the bed and sighed long and loud. She was pretty used to the long hard hours of nursing she had to put in by now, but it was still blissful to untie her shoes, take them off and wriggle her toes in freedom after a lengthy shift.

She reached for the letter on her bedside table. It had come just before her shift started and she’d been unable to put it from her mind ever since, even though her duties should have taken all her attention.

Dear Mary

Now barring accidents you will know all about what’s happening. I know you will have a big surprise when you get this letter – I hope it reaches you without mishap (and it will mean a pal is back in Blighty – one way or another). If anybody in authority was to see it I’d be for it!

I can’t write any of this stuff to Ma or even to Da, but I know you’re dealing with the consequences of the actions out here each and every day, so you’ll likely know what is really going on.

Of course you’ll have guessed by now where I’ve been for the last few weeks? Yes, it was the Ypres salient. Oh it was a lovely ‘baptism of fire’ that first night. We had to dig ourselves in and early the next morning Fritz started strafing like crazy.

For the first time out here I was afraid – almost frightened to death. It was strange, I’ve been in the front line before, but this was different – Ypres is truly hell on earth. One of my Section took shell shock when a big ‘un dropped a couple of yards off the parapet and then the instinct of the soldier Da always told me about came to me and I was as cool as ice and steady as a rock. There were twelve men with me when we went in, I came out with three others. Mary, it was awful.

Perhaps you would like to know something of the spirit of the men still out here now. Well the truth is (and I’d be shot if anyone important got his hands on this letter) every man Jack is fed up almost past bearing, and not a single one has an ounce of what you’d call patriotism left in him. No one cares tuppence whether Germany has Alsace, Belgium, France or even the Moon for that matter. All we want now is to get done with it and go home. There, that’s the honest truth, and any man who has been out within the last few months will tell you the same thing.

I have lost pretty much all the keenness I had too, it is just the thought of you all back home, knowing you love and trust me to do my share of the job that will keep you safe and free. That is all that keeps me going and enables me to ‘stick it’.

God bless you Mary for what you’re doing for all those who come back broken and suffering – I hope if my time comes then I’ll have as good a nurse as I know you are.

But don’t worry sister dear, I’ll take good care and I shall carry on to the end be it bitter or sweet, with Ma and Da and you and the others I love and who love me as my inspiration.

Your loving brother

Johnnie

Mary sighed. Of course, she’d heard about the kind of horrors Johnnie had been undergoing, but it was different, nursing the strangers who came onto her ward, even knowing that they were probably someone else’s brother. Still, he was safe – for now.

******

Sister Jennie Murray sat in the small pool of light cast by the carefully shaded lamp on her desk. Otherwise the ward was dark, and reasonably quiet, most of the men having settled down to sleep for the night. The odd moan came from some of the beds, but there was nothing out of the ordinary.

Reaching up to relieve the pressure of her heavy, starched white headdress, Jennie sighed. She’d like nothing more than to put her head down on the desk and go to sleep herself. But that wasn’t possible, and she’d need to do another round of the ward to check on some of the worst cases soon. Still she’d probably just have time to carry out another of her many duties. So she picked up the pen and started to write.

No 4 Casualty Clearing Station

France

Dear Mr & Mrs Gordon

Your son Pte J Gordon of 1 Seaforth Highlanders was admitted to this Hospital on the 11th of this month suffering from a shell wound in the thigh. He has been rather ill since admission on account of the injury to the bone. Today he is slightly better and we believe him to be over the worst. He has been a splendid patient and very anxious to get on too and we shall do everything we can to help.

If he continues to improve in this way, he will shortly be sent home.

Yrs truly

J Murray

(Sister Hut 3)

There, it was done. Jennie was used to writing so many of these letters now, but she still felt a thrill of happiness each time she was able to send home good news rather than bad to the families waiting so anxiously to hear of their loved ones.

She picked up the lamp and carried it carefully over to where Johnnie Gordon lay. He was sleeping, a lock of dark, unruly hair flopping over his face, covering some of the lines on his forehead – so deep for one so young. But he was safe – for now.

******

Good Lord, but he was tired. The session he’d just endured in the orthopaedic rehabilitation room had been painful, but rewarding. He still couldn’t walk without leaning heavily on his stick, and his left leg still dragged, but he could walk. When he’d first reached the hospital in Edinburgh he’d had little or no hope of being able to set one foot in front of the other ever again. Days and nights of rattling along on one train after another, then the ship, then more trains, left him exhausted and he’d wanted nothing more than to sleep.

Sitting at the desk in the day room, he pulled paper and pen towards him and began to write.

Dearest Ma and Da

It was wonderful to see you on Sunday, I wasn’t expecting a visit from you at all, so it was a great surprise and it did me a power of good.

I’m still working my way through your seedcake Ma, despite having had to share it with several of the other lads in my ward – Will said it was the best cake he’d ever tasted Ma, and I’d say he’s not wrong.

I’ve just come back from rehabilitation – they’re real slave drivers and keep me hard at it for hours on end, until I’m fairly ready to scream at them. But I know it’s doing me good and each day I can go a little farther. And you’ll never guess what the bigwig surgeon said today when he saw me – he says it may be a long slow haul, but he thinks I’ll be able to walk without a stick eventually. Not in a few weeks, but perhaps a few months if I stick at it. How’s that for good news, eh?

It’s been good to be able to get out into the sunshine for a while today, I’d almost forgotten what a Scottish summer’s day can be like. I sat on a bench in the garden with Davie (you remember the lad in the bed next to mine? Missing an arm poor fellow, but he’s as cheerful as anything all the time now he knows he’ll be going home in the next week or so).

Anyway, it will soon be time for dinner, so I’d better get this into the post.

My love to all of you and hoping to see you again soon.

Your loving son

Johnnie

He put down the pen and sat back in the chair. Rubbing his left thigh, he stretched the leg, trying to ease the cramping pain that throbbed through it. He’d thought he was going to lose it that first night in the casualty clearing station, but the surgeon had fought hard and he’d woken up to find the leg still there. It still hurt like hell most of the time, but it was worth it – it told him he was still alive. But it was bad enough to mean that he wouldn’t have to go back to face the same horrors anytime soon. He was safe – for now.

 ******

The knocking on the front door was loud. Grace was a little put out by the disruption. Her eldest granddaughter was on her lap as she tried to untangle the knots in her hair as gently as possible.

“Up you get Jessie, please, I’ll have to get the door before I finish this.”

Opening the door, she saw the postie standing there, a brown envelope in his hand.

“I thought you’d want this straightaway,” he said, “it’s from the hospital. It’s likely notice of Johnnie’s comin’ hame.”

Grace took the letter and smiled her thanks. Having shut the door, she tore open the envelope, eager to find out for sure the news they’d been expecting almost daily – her boy was coming home at last.

1st Scottish General Hospital

Edinburgh

Dear Mr and Mrs Gordon

I regret very much having to tell you that your son, who has been here for several months now, died at 4am on the 19th of this month as a result of influenza. He fought very hard to get better and you may be sure we did all in our power to help him. I feel very, very sorry for you all, in your sad trouble. But you know that your son fought bravely for his country – what better could a Mother and Father wish! His belongings will be sent along soon. With my sincere sympathy.

Yours truly

Lucy MacKenzie

(Sister Ward 4)

She sank to her knees there in the hall, the letter clutched to her chest with shaking fingers, tears streaming down her face, her body racked with heart-wrenching sobs. Johnnie was safe – forever.

July 10, 2010

An Inconvenient Wife

Filed under: Short Stories — jackyfowler @ 12:17 pm
Tags: ,

 This is a story I wrote for a ‘crime fiction’ competition within my writers’ group – it was joint winner.

“Right Mr Nunn, can we just get this straight? For the record. The last time you saw your wife was five days ago?”

“Yes.” James Nunn leaned back in his chair and folded his arms as Inspector Colin Travis leaned forward across the table.

“Five days, and it’s only just occurred to you to report her missing? Why is that?”

“Because I thought she was just sulking.”

“Sulking?” The inspector’s eyebrows rose.

“We’re not on the best of terms right now. I thought she’d gone to stay with friends for a few days without telling me. It’s not unusual.”

“Without taking her car?”

James shrugged his shoulders. “She could have got them to pick her up. Or taken a taxi to the station.”

“True. But how likely is she to have left without her purse … with all her credit cards in it?”

“I didn’t know she’d left her purse.”

“Or that she hadn’t packed a case, or taken any of her belongings with her?”

“Look, I’ve told your colleague already – we’re in the middle of getting a divorce. I don’t really keep tabs on what Louise does any more.”

Inspector Travis leaned further forward. “So why are you here now then, Mr Nunn?”

“Her sister got worried, she hadn’t heard from Louise for a week. Couldn’t get her on her mobile. So she came up to the house.” The tone was flat, almost bored and James let his gaze roam around what little there was to see in the pigeon-grey painted interview room.

A fleeting expression of annoyance passed over Inspector Travis’ face. “Yes, we’ve contacted Mrs Duffy. What was your response to her concern?”

“If you’ve spoken to Carol, then you’ll already know, won’t you?” Patience was thinly stretched in his tone.

Travis leaned back. “I’d still like to hear it from you, Mr Nunn.”

“Fine,” James sighed. “If that’s what you want.” He leaned forward, and recited pretty much word for word what Inspector Travis could see on the statement in front of him.

“I told Carol I hadn’t seen Louise since Saturday night. She asked if I’d heard from her since then. I said ‘no’. We’d gone into Louise’s study, but there was no note or anything there. So Carol called her mobile again, and that’s when we heard the ‘phone ringing. It was in a drawer.” The tone became more animated. “That was unusual, she usually has it glued to her hand.”

“So, that was when you started to wonder what had happened to her?”

Another shrug. “Not really, I just thought she’d misplaced it.”

“So you weren’t worried then?”

“No, why should I be?” James glanced down at the polystyrene cup that had held what he’d been told was coffee. He’d taken one sip from it and then pushed it away. Time hadn’t made it any more appealing, and he pursed his lips in distaste before looking back up at the inspector.

“But Mrs Nunn’s sister was worried?”

“Carol’s like that. I told her she was making a mountain out of a molehill, but she was adamant that Louise would have been in touch, even without her mobile.”

“And Mrs Duffy then went up to her sister’s room?”

“Yes.” Another shrug. “She insisted.”

“Did you not want Mrs Duffy to go up to your wife’s bedroom?”

“I didn’t mind her going up there. I just didn’t see the point.”

“I take it you don’t share a bedroom with Mrs Nunn anymore?”

“No. We agreed to share the house until the divorce is final, but that’s as far as it goes. We don’t share a bedroom and we don’t really share anything else anymore.”

“But she’s still your wife Mr Nunn. Surely you started to worry when Mrs Duffy told you she’d found her sister’s purse and that all her clothes still seemed to be in her closet?”

“Louise has so many clothes I don’t see how Carol could tell if there’s anything missing or not quite frankly.”

“So you’re still not worried about your wife. And yet you’re here to report her missing? A bit of a contradiction surely?”

“I’m here because Carol ‘phoned just about everyone she could think of and none of them has seen Louise since Saturday. Well, none of them will say they have.”

“Why would they not say if they’d seen her – put everyone’s mind at rest?”

“Because Louise can be a right bitch when she wants. She probably just wants to make life difficult for me.”

“And why would she want to do that?”

“I’ve already told you – we’re in the middle of a divorce; it isn’t easy. Louise isn’t an ‘easy’ woman.” Nunn scrutinised the well-manicured fingers of his right hand, before adjusting the signet ring on his little finger slightly. He looked up at the inspector again and said “No, definitely not an easy woman to live with at all.”

“So you’d had a row then? Is that why she’d want to ‘make life difficult for you’?”

“No. I don’t think we did more than pass in the hall on Saturday. Louise doesn’t need a reason to be difficult, Inspector, it’s just the way she is.”

“Well, Mr Nunn. You may not be worried about your wife, but we are. You have a large estate – what if she went for a walk and got into  difficulties?”

James’ mouth twitched in amusement, and he shook his head. “Louise? Go for a walk anywhere there are no shops? No. No way.”

“Even so, we’ll need to come up to the house, search it and the estate to start with. Standard procedure.”

James shrugged yet again. “If you feel it’s necessary Inspector.”

 ******

Colin Travis was shrugging himself into his jacket ready to head off home when he heard the footsteps coming towards him across the incident room floor. He looked up and sighed faintly. Damn. DCI Lyle. Probably no chance of even a late supper then, and he’d promised Julie faithfully he’d be back earlier than usual tonight. It was probably going to result in a ‘sleeping in the spare bed’ kind of row when he finally got back. This case was taking its toll.

Travis ran a hand over his hair, switched off the light in his office and went out to greet his boss with what he hoped was a welcoming smile. “Good evening, sir.”

“Evening Colin. Sorry it’s so late – thought I might even have missed you. I really need an up-date on the Louise Nunn case ASAP. You’re positive you’ve got enough to give the CPS?”

Travis nodded, and gave in to the inevitable with a gesture towards a couple of chairs that gave a good view of the cluster of clear panels on which the case evidence had been pieced together.

“Oh yes sir. It’s been a frustrating investigation, but we’ve got a pretty clear picture now of what happened.”

Lyle grimaced. “I wish it had been as clear before you dug that dirty great hole in the overtime budget searching for her.”

His face broke into a grin. “Bloody hell, Colin, I thought the ACC was going to have a heart attack when he saw what it cost. Nearly choked on his jasmine tea when he saw you’d even gone through the pig shit. It was almost worth the bollocking I got for authorising it. I told him you knew what you were doing.” His eyebrows rose, posing the unspoken question.

“Thanks for taking the flak sir. You knew we had to be sure. It’s a big estate, we went over every inch of it – there was a possibility she was there to be found. It would have made the job a lot easier to have a body – even traces of a body. Not easy, proving she’s dead without that. And that her husband murdered her.”

“The jury’s going to have to be given a hell of a lot of circumstantial evidence to believe it, Colin. And the CPS are going to be even more of a bugger to convince.”

Travis straightened in his chair and stared at the photo of the smiling man that was pinned to the case wall. “James Nunn’s a cool customer, I’ll give him that.  But he’s always been the major suspect in the case. Something about him right from the start.”

“Well, it’s not exactly unusual for it to be the victim’s ‘nearest and dearest’ is it? But it’s going to take more than statistics, Colin. I know most of it, but pretend I’m the CPS – convince me it was Nunn.”

“Okay. We’ve no body. But we also have absolutely no sightings of Louise Nunn after Saturday, 28th September. Not even the usual volume of crank calls. Credit cards, passport, mobile ‘phone – all in the house. No record of any duplicates. Yes, people do just take off for a new life, but look at her,” he gestured at the photo of the blonde woman at the centre of the case. “She’s distinctly high maintenance, there’s no way she’d take off without so much as a change of clothing, let alone no money.” Travis turned his gaze on DCI Lyle. “On the contrary. She was planning to start a new life, yes, but she was determined to sort her old one out first. Chiefly by taking her husband to the cleaners.”

Lyle gave a wry smile. “I can sympathise with him there then. But is that enough of a motive?”

Travis grinned. “No disrespect sir, but I doubt you had quite as much to lose as Nunn. Louise’s divorce lawyer is more than confident that her client was going to walk away with four million plus. Half of everything he’s got. And she wanted it as a lump sum, so he’d have had to sell either the business or the estate to raise the cash. He was between a rock and a hard place – without the business he couldn’t afford the upkeep on the house and estate and the only thing I’ve seen him get passionate about is Redmayne Hall.”

“Okay, I’ll give you a decent motive. What else?”

“Not least is the fact that he left it five days to report her missing. And he only came forward then because his sister-in-law pressurised him – told him she’d do it, if he didn’t.”

Travis reached for a file on the desk and flipped through it as he spoke. “The usual checks brought up a report on a call out to a “domestic”. Seemed quiet by the time our lot got out there. There were no marks on her, so no evidence he’d been violent – she said that was because … ‘he shook me by the shoulders until I thought my head would fall off’. Said she didn’t want to make a formal complaint though, so it just went ‘on file’.”

Even with that, at first we questioned him as a ‘significant witness’ rather than a suspect. He was pretty consistent in his story, but then we found out he’d lied about not having a row with Louise on the day she was last seen.

“Of course, he tried to make out it was just a regular ‘spat’, but that was the day she told him she was taking half, and that she knew about his latest affair. With his secretary … sorry, personal assistant.”

“Ah,” DCI Lyle’s tone said it all. “Sounds a little bit like history repeating itself.”

“Exactly. We took another look at the death of Nunn’s first wife, Helen, of course. But there’s nothing to prove it wasn’t just a tragic accident – combination of filthy weather, pitch black night, muddy back-road to the estate. There were obvious skid marks – trying to avoid an animal was the accepted explanation. Her car veered off and ended up smashed into a tree. She was dead before the ambulance got there.”

“Hmm.” Lyle’s chin disappeared into his chest. “Interesting, but …”

“There’s more. She left him her own money and there was a hefty life insurance payout too. He needed it – badly – he’d made a total balls-up of his company. Grandfather made enough out of it to buy the estate. Father kept it ticking over. But James doesn’t seem to have a head for business, and the bank was just about to pull the plug on him.”

Lyle jumped in, unable to resist. “Very convenient. And a year or so later, the business was going from strength to strength, thanks to the injection of fresh capital and Louise Lawrence, as she was then, joining the company as Sales Manager.”

“Gossip was rife about them for months, before and after she started working for him. They weren’t particularly discreet.”

“And then he married her,” said Lyle, with the air of one producing a trump card. “Must have seemed like a good idea at the time, eh? And now?” The DCI smiled back at James’s photo. “To lose one wife may be regarded as a misfortune, Mr Nunn, but to lose two looks like … murder.” He pushed himself to his feet. “How about a drink, Colin? Then you can tell me about the diary.”

 ******

The courtroom was packed and it was becoming uncomfortably stuffy as the day wore on.

The Crown Prosecutor heaved himself to his feet again, straightening his wig a touch as he did so. He glanced at the sheaf of papers in his hand and looked straight at the man in the witness box.

“Well now, Inspector Travis. Please tell the court about Mrs Nunn’s diary. First of all, where did you find it?”

“Well, a search of the house brought to light several computer memory sticks – they contained Mrs Nunn’s diary.”

“And you found these memory sticks where?”

“They were inside a smallish Harvey Nichols bag, which had then been placed inside one of the handbags in Mrs Nunn’s dressing room.

“So you would say they had been hidden then? Well hidden?”

“Yes, it took quite some time to go through all Mrs Nunn’s belongings. It was an extremely thorough and painstaking search.”

“And this diary led you to consider Mr Nunn’s murder of his wife as the most likely explanation for her disappearance?”

“Yes.”

“Tell the court why that was please.”

“There were entries detailing a series of confrontations with her husband – about work, the house, children. Mrs Nunn had tried several procedures, but was unable to have children and wanted to adopt. Mr Nunn didn’t, he wanted a child of his own to inherit the estate. The marriage seems to have been rather volatile for some time. Many of the recent entries, since she filed for divorce, dealt with the rows they were having about the settlement she wanted. Rows which became increasingly violent.”

“Entries such as: ‘All hell broke loose when I told him I’d had enough and wanted a divorce. I don’t know why, he must be as sick of me as I am of him. He pushed me to the ground and I was screaming my head off, but we were alone in the house. I’ve never been so frightened … I want to get away from him – for good.’ That kind of thing, Inspector?”

“Yes. And that was backed up by e-mails to friends, complaining that the defendant was threatening and violent towards her.”

“Mrs Nunn even reported this violence to the police. Again, I quote: “I can’t believe I thought reporting him to the police would work. My word against his, no evidence of violence, so charges wouldn’t stick. I’m stymied, he’s not going to leave any obvious marks on me – for crying out loud, we work together and he knows I wouldn’t say I’d “walked into a door” to cover up for him, not if it got to that level. But he was shaken – he didn’t think I’d actually make the call. Maybe it will make him think twice next time. God, my head hurts, I really thought I was going to pass out. Feel sick.‘ Can you verify this incident Inspector?”

“We were called out, yes, but I’m afraid we can’t do anything unless the victim is prepared to press charges.”

“Yes, of course. And on the Saturday she was last seen? There’s a diary entry for that day which reads: ‘The last row was bad enough. It left me shaken, very frightened. What’s he going to be like when I tell him I want half? Determined to get it over and done with this weekend. After all, what can he do now that I know about his plans with Karen?’ Do you know what those plans were, Inspector?”

“Mrs Nunn had confided in her sister that she had proof that the defendant was having an affair with his personal assistant, Karen McRae. She thought he’d go along with her demands for an increase in her settlement so that they could hurry the divorce through and he could marry Miss McRae.”

“Why the need for haste, Inspector?”

“Because Miss McRae was pregnant.”

There was a Mexican wave of murmurs along the spectators’ gallery. The judge glared up at its occupants and silence fell. “You may continue, Inspector.”

“Thank you, sir. Unfortunately, Miss McRae suffered a miscarriage a few weeks after Mrs Nunn’s disappearance.”

****** 

“I didn’t do it Karen. I didn’t kill her.” James Nunn thrust his hands across the formica table between them and grabbed her fingers. “I can’t understand what I’m doing here. I’m innocent.”

“I know you are, darling.” The voice was soothing, reassuring. “I believe you didn’t kill Louise.”

“Then why didn’t they believe me?”

“Because they don’t know you, James. Not the real you – that lawyer made you sound like some kind of Bluebeard. Blithely killing off one wife after another. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.” Karen’s tone was indignant.

James drew back his hands and slammed a fist down on the table. “But the jury did. And the judge – he made that perfectly clear in his summing up. ‘Most unusually, Mrs Nunn has been able to give evidence from beyond the grave.’ Pompous old sod.” James put his head in his hands. “All that stuff she wrote. How could they not see how exaggerated it was? … I didn’t do half the things she claimed. And anyway, she drove me to it – the bitch. I’m glad she’s dead.”

Karen’s eyes flicked to the prison officer standing with his back stiff against the door and then back to James. “Shush, darling. I know it’s awful, but you have to think about what might happen next.”

 “Psychiatric reports. I’m clearly not insane so they’ll probably send me to prison for life,” he put his head in his hands and groaned.

“No, don’t give up, darling, please don’t give up. There must be something we can do. I’ll speak to your lawyer again – he must be able to come up with some reason to appeal, almost everyone who goes to prison for murder these days seems to appeal, don’t they? Even when it’s obvious they did it. Like Rosemary Thingy and that horrid caretaker who killed those little girls.”

James raised his head and stared at her.

“I know, I know.” Karen closed her eyes and sighed. “I’m babbling and I’m saying completely the wrong thing. I’m sorry, but I just can’t think straight. I just meant that there must be a way to make them look at the case again.” Karen stretched her hands out and after a few seconds James took them in his.

Karen smiled uncertainly. “I don’t know if this will help. I’ve been waiting for the right time to tell you, but it’s never seemed to be ‘the right time’, so I’m just going to come out with it now.” She took a deep breath and said in a rush, “I’m pregnant again.”

 ******

“Come on in. Do sit down. I’ll just move this … and then you can put the tray down on the coffee table please Tina … thank you, that’s fine. Jamie’s fast asleep and his baby monitor is on, so you can get off home now, thanks. See you in the morning.”

“Right you are Mrs Nunn. Goodnight.”

A faint click confirmed that the door was shut and Karen turned back to her guest.

“Hello. Long time no see.” She smiled. “Coffee?”

“Please. Just a spot of milk, no sugar, thanks.”

Karen smiled again. “I remember. There you go.”

The late evening sun faded in through the huge windows, the glow adding lustre to the slightly faded grandeur of the room. Carefully placed lamps added soft pools of light around the room, burnishing the well-polished mahogany on which they stood.

“I thought you’d have redecorated by now.”

“No time I’m afraid. Toddler. James’s appeal. The business to oversee.” Karen sighed. “It’s on the list, but nowhere near the top yet.”

“Well, I suppose belated congratulations are in order. The third Mrs James Nunn. Lucky number three?”

“Oh I think so, don’t you?” Karen grinned and stood up, arms open wide.

“Come here and give me a hug. You’re an absolute genius Louise. Every last little step in the plan worked out exactly the way you said it would.”

The two women embraced. Karen disengaged first and held Louise at arms’ length, scrutinising the delicate features of her face. “I love your new look. It’s truly amazing, if I didn’t know it was you … Even your own mother wouldn’t recognise you.”

“The best plastic surgeon in the business – admittedly the black market side of the business, but still ‘the best’. The hair’s a bit high-maintenance. But then, it always was when I was a ‘natural’ blonde.” Louise smiled, taking her seat in the huge chintz-covered armchair again. She took her time about crossing her tanned, still-shapely legs and smoothing down her pencil skirt.

“And Rio’s been fun, I’ve had a ball out there. All my hard work was done once I got out of the country. Just a matter of keeping an eye on developments via the internet, resisting the urge to get in touch in any way, and waiting for the right time to come back. How’s it been for you?”

 “Well, I can’t say there weren’t a few hairy moments along the way. I thought they weren’t going to find your diary for a start. And then one of the ‘sightings’ of you at Manchester airport sounded just a bit too possible for comfort. But handling James was a doddle. He couldn’t resist the bait of the baby.” Karen stopped as sadness etched her face. “The miscarriage was tough.”

She straightened her shoulders and smiled wryly. “But in a way it even helped. By the time I knew I was pregnant again, James was officially a widower, given that he’d been convicted of your murder. So we got leave to marry in prison before Jamie was born, and that made him James’s legitimate heir.”

She took a sip of her coffee and sank back in her chair, adjusting the cushion at her side before she continued brightly. e must be ableHe”So I have all the benefits of being Mrs Nunn, but with James safely behind bars for a very, very long time. So unfortunate that they couldn’t find grounds for an appeal against the verdict, and his legal team still aren’t very optimistic about the chances of getting him a reduced sentence.” Her voice softened. “I almost feel sorry for him.”

“Don’t.” Louise’s tone was uncompromising. “He deserved it. The only thing he’s ever really cared about is this place. And he killed Helen to keep it. He was clever enough to get away with it and he’d have found a way to get rid of me too – he was never going to give me what I deserved. Setting him up for my murder was the only way to have it all.”

“And do you really think it’s possible to ‘have it all’?”

“Why not? It’ll take some ingenious accounting, but I’m good at that. A half share in everything is what we agreed. ‘The best’ costs and Rio’s not a cheap place to live the high life – the money I siphoned off before I disappeared is going to run out sooner rather than later. I’ve waited as long as I can, it’s time to top it up.”

Karen shifted in her seat, reaching under a cushion. When she brought up her hand it held a small gun.

“There’s just one problem with that Louise. I want Jamie to have it all. I didn’t realise I’d feel that way, but I do. I want him to have Redmayne and everything that goes with it. And no one’s going to look for a woman who’s already dead.”

The frozen expression of disbelief on Louise’s face disappeared as the bullet did it’s work and she slumped in the chair. Karen listened carefully, but there was nothing from the baby monitor – Jamie had slept through the noise of the shot.

Karen stood up, shaking slightly. “I’m sorry Louise. Truly I am. But Redmayne only has room for one inconvenient wife at a time.”

July 9, 2010

The Scarlet Silk Scarf

Filed under: FridayFlash — jackyfowler @ 7:26 pm
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This is my first attempt at #fridayflash:

Warm Riviera sunlight streamed through the open French doors, and the filmy voile curtains only just rippled in the slightest of breezes.

“Oh, damn it. God damn it to hell.” The accent was still recognisably American.

At the ornate bureau in a corner of the high-ceilinged room sat a woman, surrounded by unruly piles of paper. A pen scratched haltingly, and Izzy’s face contorted with the effort of writing.

She glanced once again at the page topping the nearest pile, simply inscribed “Ma Vie”. Her mouth pursed in a moue of discontent. A life so packed with incident surely shouldn’t be so hard to write about? But some things were almost too painful to recall. Things she had tried so hard to bury in the deepest, darkest recesses of memory.

“Enough!” The anguished outburst rent the silence.

The woman flung herself from chair to sofa, curled into a tight ball and sighed. One hand clutched a crumpled handkerchief and the other plucked relentlessly at the tassels on the cushion under her head.

The loud click-clack of high heels on parquet heralded the visitor’s approach, so Izzy had time to sit up, smooth back her hair and paste a smile of welcome to her face before the tap at the door swiftly preceded its opening and an anxious face peered round it.

“Darling Mary,” she said, as she rose with the matchless grace of which she was still capable and glided forward.

“How lovely to see you.” She held out her arms, Mary came close, and there was the faint ‘mwah, mwah’ of air kisses as Izzy proffered each of her carefully rouged and powdered cheeks in languorous succession.

Sinking back onto the sofa, Izzy waved her handkerchief vaguely in Mary’s direction. “Sit down, do.”

“How are you today?” asked Mary Desti as she perched on the edge of a high backed chair. Her tone was light, but concerned.

The shrug said it all. “I’m fine, just finding it a little difficult to ‘summon the muse’”.

“Well I thought you might need a little cheering up, so I’ve brought you something. I saw it this morning, thought instantly of you and I just couldn’t resist it.” Mary brought out a shallow, ribbon-tied box from behind her back and held it out.

Seeing the name embossed in gold on the box, Izzy smiled and grasped it eagerly. Placing it on the sofa beside her she tugged impatiently at the ribbon and then tossed the lid on the floor. She paused for a moment and smiled over at Mary.

“You’re such a dear. I must admit I was feeling a little down – thinking of Sergei and the children, you know. But now I’m simply agog to see what this is.”

Lifting the tissue paper, Izzy gasped as she took in the bright and beautiful iridescent hues of the scarlet silk scarf folded layer upon layer within the box.

“It is so ‘you’, isn’t it?” queried Mary earnestly.

Izzy plucked the scarf from the box and wound it around and around her neck and shoulders before dancing across to Mary and kissing her firmly on the cheek.

“Darling, it’s just about the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in months – I adore it. Thank you so much. It’s perfect – I shall wear it tonight.” Izzy smiled naughtily “My handsome young Benoît has a new car, and he’s promised me an unforgettable ride.”

******

The mid-September evening was still warm and light as Izzy, Mary and a small group of friends ambled lazily along the Promenade d’Anglais.

Izzy had dressed carefully for the occasion, the slight thickening of the waist hidden by the flowing dress, the painted scarlet silk scarf draped around her shoulders covered her upper arms and her face was as artfully painted as the scarf. She had been in sparkling form at dinner.

They chattered like starlings as they walked and brief bursts of laughter floated out over the railings and dissipated onto the beach before being swept out to sea with the outgoing tide.

“Ah, here he is,” cried Izzy, as a smart silver blue open topped sports car pulled up slowly at the kerb. “Benoît Falchetto everyone,” she announced. “Isn’t he just divine?” she added, soto voce.

The young man in the car stood up and bowed to the cluster of people on the boulevarde. “Bon soir.”

Izzy swept the red scarf firmly around her neck and body and struck a pose. “Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire.”

She smiled and stepped forward, stopping to whisper in Mary’s ear “Forget glory my dear – je vais à l’amour.”

She caressed the sleek side of the Amilcar before seating herself beside Benoît. Izzy smiled her thanks as the low door was swung shut with a satisfactory click. Her red scarf floated behind her. It fluttered bravely, a crimson streak across the sky, before dropping lazily over the side of the car. Izzy waved regally as they set off, and the car picked up speed.

Suddenly the scarf snaked into the spokes of the rear wheel, caught and wrapped round and round and round the axle. Izzy’s head jerked back viciously and she was dragged bodily over the side of the car. A strangulated scream emanated from her as she hit the cobblestones with terrific force.

Benoît turned to look at the passenger seat. Shock registered on his face as he realised Izzy was no longer beside him. It took several sickening seconds for the car to screech to a halt and Izzy was dragged forcefully behind it, her body jolting and jerking erratically.

The sound of screaming filled the air as Mary ran towards her friend.

“Isadora! Isadora!” she cried. Throwing herself on her knees, Mary reached out, but then drew back her hands and put them to her mouth in an attitude of prayer. “Oh my God.”

Izzy’s crumpled body lay lifeless on the road, her final pose that of an unwanted doll dropped by careless hands. The scarlet silk scarf lay like a gaping wound between her body and the car.

Medical aid was summoned, but it was stated that Isadora Duncan had been strangled and killed instantly.

Me and my writing

Filed under: Short Stories — jackyfowler @ 3:18 pm
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I was recently asked to write ’10 Interesting Things About Me As A Writer’. Yes, well, here goes:

I have always told tales. My sisters would say that I told tales on them as well as to them. I find that hard to believe. When we were very young we all shared a bedroom – two small beds, a cot and two chests of drawers – it was crowded. My mum taught me to read before I went to school and with the finely honed sense of responsibility being the eldest child engenders, I first told my little sisters simple bedtime stories I’d read. Given that Dick and Jane didn’t do much other than play with Spot the dog and his red ball, I started to make up stories that involved three sisters or their ‘able to do anything’ alter egos (ooh, shivery shades of the Brontë sisters – yeah, right). Every night, my little sisters fell asleep as I told my latest tale. They’re still my harshest critics.

My reading continued apace – my poor mother had to join three libraries to keep me satisfied – and fuelled both my knowledge and flights of fancy. Promoted to my own bedroom, I continued to tell myself stories before falling asleep each night. My mother says I’ve been an insomniac since birth, so the stories took on something of an ‘epic’ quality. Sisters didn’t feature in these stories at all, but an imaginary twin brother did. As did lots of ‘Cowboys and Indians’ (in those pre-PC days that’s what we were allowed to call Native Americans without so much as a frisson of embarrassment).

At Junior School I was lucky enough to have more than one teacher who encouraged me to write down the words I heard so strongly in my head. Recalling my thrilling tale of aristocratic escape from dastardly French Revolutionaries in particular is still easy forty years (oh dear, yes it really is forty years) later. Unfortunately, once I got to Dudley Girls’ High School it was all about writing analysis of set texts and creative writing was a strictly ‘in your own time’ activity, and other interests (for which read ‘boys from the adjoining Grammar School’) often took priority.

As I worked my way up the retail marketing corporate ladder, I wrote screeds as part of my various jobs. I remember at some party or other in my 20s someone whingeing about having to write a 10,000 word thesis within the next three months and thinking ‘eh, what’s your problem? I write far more than that every week.’ Sadly, the vast majority of my output was factual marketing matters although a lot of creativity (for which read ‘lies’) went into the public relations stuff. This factual output has left an indelible mark on my writing. To ensure that our 226 branch managers did exactly what they were supposed to do (the triumph of hope over experience) it was necessary to dot all the’ i’s and cross all the ‘t’s. It’s a very hard habit to break now that I’m concentrating on fiction, but I read intelligent fiction, which allows me to do part of the work, and that’s the kind of reader I aspire to write for too.

Ah, but then there’s the facts in the fiction. Learning to take liberties with history is new to me too. It’s a lesson that has to be learned though, along with so many others – such as leaving a blank and finding out a detail later if you really need it.

I still cannot write poetry – not even doggerel. However, this does not worry me too much.

I like to read fiction with distinctive voices (Hilary Mantel and Kate Atkinson are among many favourites) – and I want one of my own. Now I can write for my own pleasure (although there are many times that pleasure is the last word I’d use to describe the process) I’m in the very early stages of developing my own ‘voice’.

I have a novel in the planning stages, and have written a few short stories with which I’m not completely unhappy. I’m still only a little way down the road to publication, but I definitely want to commit to going all the way down that difficult road. Reading has always been a source of pleasure to me and I want my stories to be read and enjoyed.

I think I forgot to mention that I’m no good at maths, so I’ve no idea if that’s ten facts, or more, or less. What I do know is that the word count on Word says ‘enough’.

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