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.

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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 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 9, 2010

The Scarlet Silk Scarf

Filed under: FridayFlash — jackyfowler @ 7:26 pm
Tags: ,

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.

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