FIRE FIGHTING

Working on Fleet Street always had a nice ring to it. At parties people would ask for which newspaper I write, and then they would laugh, and then I would laugh. All of us finding some hilarity in the concept of me working on Fleet Street. I did it deliberately, though. No one needs to know my real occupation, what should be my real occupation, which has been stolen from me. Changing jobs, leaving the fire station for a less stressful position at Anchor & Philips Property Developments was a welcome change. Now I was a paper pusher, a call handler and a fire fighter on the sixth floor of an unremarkable office block rebuilt after it was bombed in the Second World War. Thank goodness it was bombed by a German and not a “Jap”. My grandparents had a hard time enough during the war, often relying on the kindness of Russian Jewish immigrants in the East End to get by every day.

Today, things are different. Ms Kirschner the receptionist gives me a brief smile as she does to everyone who walks through the door. The site supervisor often calls out, ‘Hey, Mr Tamigochi, it’s a bit nippy!’ It’s always a bit nippy according to Malcolm. A shame he wasn’t here this morning. Neither was Ms Kirschner on the front desk. Things didn’t feel right without her curt acknowledgment and Malcolm singing the wrong lyrics to pop songs out of tune. I felt that something was amiss. My fireman’s instincts told me there was a bigger story at play. I pressed the button between the two lifts, but it did not light up at my touch. I jabbed it harder, and then again several times. The cold metal remained dull. Where is everyone?

Footsteps hard and fast ran down the stone staircase to the left of the lifts. I went to greet the worker and ask them what was going on. I stood aside as a young woman in 1940s clothing ran past me. She held a baby close to herself. She called ‘Help me!’ to no one in particular. I watched her push her way out of the revolving door and dash off across the narrow road. I stood back, wondering where the television cameras were and why I hadn’t got the memo. Buildings around here are always being used for television programmes. It’s to be expected really.

But there were no cameras, no sound booms, no clapper boards, no runners, no directors’ chairs, nothing that one would associate with a film or television set.

‘Hello?’

No response. My voice merely echoed around the hallway and back at me.

‘Hello?’

My footsteps echoed almost as loudly as my voice had when I decided to cross the hallway and exit via the revolving door. The sky outside had darkened – probably some cloud or astrological event I hadn’t heard about, but I saw the young woman sitting on the edge of the pavement, her eyes wild, rocking her baby.

‘Can I help you?’ I looked around as I asked her, hoping some passer-by would witness the exchange and my good intentions. Everyone is so suspicious and quick to point the finger these days. No one was around, which was not so strange when at the “boring end” of a street. I stepped forward tentatively. ‘Can I help?’

She stared at me fiercely through dark eyes and curls. It was then I saw the blood dripping from the infant and the red, sodden mess on the woman’s clothing.

‘Bugger orf, bleedin Jap!’

This had to be a set up, with TV cameras hidden somewhere in the street around us. But jokes are usually funny. A distraught young woman, racism and a haemorrhaging baby are not funny. I approached her again.

‘Can I help? I’m trained in paediatric first aid.’ She looked at me as though she did not understand, so I explained, ‘I’m trained in medicine for children.’

I could see she did not trust me, but her concern for the child outweighed whatever problem she had with me. I knelt down and she let me look at the baby. It was his left leg that was bleeding. I ripped open his old-fashioned clothes to expose the break in the skin where a fragment of roof tile was lodged. I pulled off my tie and wrapped it around the top of the infant’s leg, pulling and knotting it firmly.

‘To stop the blood flow,’ I explained to the woman. I noticed the sky above was now black – as black as night – and I had no idea why. Yet the infant’s blood continued to shed itself down the woman’s dress and onto the darkened pavement, however not one cry came from the baby’s mouth. He just kicked his legs as the woman panicked. She saw that my medicine for children was not working, weeping openly through the hand that wiped her eyes and nose. She built like a volcano, finally erupting with a loud wail.

I looked around. No one was there. Surely someone had heard her? Why was no one coming to help? I spun around this way and that, at a loss as to why no one was coming to help while the woman’s screaming grated louder and louder until the baby shattered into pieces on the broken kerb, the blood no longer flowing.

 

My writing group were given a prompt, the hardest we’ve had.  This is the first half of my response.

 

 

 

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ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

No one dares speak its name.  It’s the elephant in the room, everyone tiptoeing around.

Social Media is silent in the din.  It’s the fear.  No one dares  put their head above the parapet to face the firing squad.

Lying in the pale profile bed I tried to open my blackened eyes.  I needed to feed myself.  The nurses won’t help.  They have kids.

I was stupid, irresponsible.  I knew better.  I’d named the root of all social evils – the root of homelessness, criminality and a lack of self-love; lazy parenting.

 

This is one of the 100 Words or Less challenges.  A topic that has come up quite a bit recently in my retraining to work in schools.

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THE IDEAL HOME EXHIBITION

 

We’d seen it several years before on an afternoon walk. I’d been working all morning, guiding people to their tents and campsite amenities. We were staying in a large tent within a tent – double protection from the elements and design flaws. Just meters from the Welsh border, in an England only spoken of in enclosed circles, I felt at peace, surrounded by nature, far from “civilisation”.

Four years had come and gone, moving from site to site, festival to festival, country to country, when another global financial crash meant no upper working class nor middle class persisted to exist. We were all dirt poor now, apart from those protected at The Top. It was raining, a cold January afternoon. Two weeks beforehand, the pickled delivery driver for the pizza shop below us had given us the shop’s wifi access code in exchange for a crate of cheap beer. This afternoon was the perfect time to log on and watch a film on one of the many sites featuring newly-released films.

As the kettle boiled and Kendrick watched it, waiting with one tea bag and two large mugs, the internet connected me to the last page I had looked at; unusual homes in idyllic locations. I saw that the snake flats in Rio were still way out of our price range. Out of boredom and masochism, rather than interest, I scrolled down the page.

And it was there.

It needed repairs, it needed attention and tender loving care, but it was there – the large wooden yurt that stood firmly on the line that separated the Welsh from the English. We clicked “Interested” and the following day we pulled out the stuffing of the old settee, littering the dusty carpet with wads of raw cash, musty and faded. But still legal tender.

Over five weeks we gutted, varnished and furnished the yurt to our eccentric tastes with more than a hint of a traditional homestead. It was one chilly March evening, reading by the woodstove that I looked up from my book and noticed the flames seemed to be pulled a little to the left. At first, I thought I was imagining it, as people often do imagine the faces of loved ones and dancing figures in the golden shifting shapes before them. Kendrick eyed me from over his newspaper as I crawled to the left of the stove. There was a chill at my cheek and my hair flicked past my eye. I was sure we had sealed all the holes in the wooden panels of the wall. There was no reason why any wind should get through. I was determined to find the hole and plug it, to do a proper repair the next day, but the cold air changed direction. It seemed to curl around the woodstove chimney itself. With my hand raised to shoulder level, and Kendrick’s questioning eyes on me, I followed the source of the cold air to the join of the wall panels behind the chimney.

‘Honey, you sealed these panels right?’

‘Just after you told me to, darling,’ Kendrick replied.

‘Then why is this panel rotted to buggary?’

‘Take your medication, darling,’ Kendrick said, flicking his newspaper. ‘There was an army of spiders climbing the walls last time you didn’t take your tablets.’

‘Come and see for yourself,’ I insisted.

‘You can see enough for the both of us,’ Kendrick said. ‘Probably enough for the entire county.’

The cold air sucked at the purple hem of my dress. It wasn’t just pulling the flames, it was pulling me!

I couldn’t let this go. I pushed at the rotten panel.

‘What are you doing?’ Kendrick asked.

‘I … don’t… know!’ I gasped as I put all my energies into my actions. He was behind me now, taking hold of my hands.

‘Stop it! What are you doing?!’

‘I have to!’ I wriggled free and gave the panel a final push, sending the splintering wood flying, across and open expanse that was not our garden. It was daytime, yet looking back, our windows showed that it was night.

This was the beginning of our new adventures. We found a heavy metal door to fit between the standing panels, and we advertised in only the most enclosed of circles. Our new career as tour operators into another world had begun and it had all started with a walk, hand in hand, into the wilderness.

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THE ODD COUPLE

Everybody said how perfect they were for each other.  Brought up as she had been, she had never questioned this, although she wanted to, daily.

He had a good job in the City, and she upcycled furniture she found at house clearances.  He travelled to work by train from their home in Sussex, while she played Radio 4 as she sanded down tacky varnishes in the garden shed.  He wolfed down pre-packed sandwiches at his desk, while she pulled up carrots and potatoes from the bottom of the garden and prepared their evening meal.  He slept on a crowded evening train while she sold her handiwork over the internet.  He came home, dishevelled and exhausted  while she laid the table.  They went to bed together.  He fell asleep and she lay awake until the early hours of the following morning.

As he turned in fitful sleep, his mind processing the day’s data on the ever-blinking iridescent computer screen, she saw in her mind’s eye his pride when he had showed her the coffee table, the rocking chair and the children’s toy box he had made in the first few months they were dating.  She thought back to her degree in Business Management and her year on work placement, selling artisan furniture in Brighton.

That was how they had met – at a mutual friend’s exhibition.  She had done most of the promotional work and arranged the venue, close to the town centre, in a bistro with extra space upstairs.  It was their mutual friend who had joked they were perfect for each other.

This is the beginning of a short story I hope to publish in a women’s magazine or other such outlet. 

 

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THE PHONE CALL

 

It was the phone call to end everything.

‘Hello? Who is this?’

The voice from the other end of the phoneline was raspy. Definately a fake raspiness in an attempt to sound older. He croaked, ‘I know who you are.’

I’d heard of this nightly caller from the other staff. As a result, I had been looking forward to my night shifts. I cheerfully responded, ‘Great! I know who I am, too! Finally, I’ve met a kindred spirit!’

There was a brief pause before the laboured voice said, ‘I know what you did.’

‘Ooo! Get you!’ I think I covered up my panic well.

‘I know everything about you.’

I hit my stride again. ‘I’d be surprised if you’re continent.’

I heard his real voice. ‘You what? Content?’

‘Continent,’ I corrected the young whipper snapper patiently. ‘I’d be surprised if you were continent because I let out a little wee when I think about the things I’ve done. Mountain climbing in Yosemite. Paragliding in Derbyshire. Stuff like that. You know what I mean?

The young whipper snapper was clearly on the back foot because his riposte was, ‘Your mother’s a ho.’

I smiled to myself and said into the receiver, ‘My mother’s a gardening implement?’

I heard a click as the young whipper snapper put down the receiver. I replaced my receiver on the cradle and opened the shift log book. I wrote a brief message;

“I have outwitted the nuisance caller. We can all now look forward to many a tedious night shift.”

Damn.

 

Inspired by a real situation.  One of my colleagues made the nuisance caller hang up.

 

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JOB HUNTING

 

There I stood, staring down a dirt path. I had another three hours before work began and I had to keep mobile. A lot of workers rode bicycles to avoid detection, but I prefer to be on foot, dressed like a wino, my work things in a locker in the staffroom. Dressed like this, no one would suspect I even have a job.

Fifty years ago, before all the systems crashed and reality TV gave way to reality with all its murderous ideals, working nights in a care home for adults with dementia was a job you only did if you couldn’t get anything else. Now, the night carer’s job is one of the most sought after jobs.

The reason why goes back to when it all fell apart in 2019. Rising population, terrorism, the rise of the Right, privatisation, the collapse of the welfare state – it all blew up. It was jokingly suggested by an “edgy” comedian that no one had heard of before that people fight for jobs. A TV reality show was quick to take up the idea as politicians and pundits bickered. Just as with the old Chinese water torture, it’s not the drip of water on your head that drives you insane. It’s the constant drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip over a period of time – days, weeks, months. It’s the constant drip drip drip that drives a person insane.

Rumour has it a conglomerate – who happens to own the TV station and reality show – had paid the comedian to come out with this hilarious joke. The Right seized upon it, saying how lazy immigrants were, how they always claim racism is the reason they don’t have a job, but when they do have a job they’re never grateful and constantly make false accusations of racism so that the indigenous workers get the sack and the immigrants move into the newly vacant job roles. It was only two days between the comedian making his joke for the nation to hear and the Right suggesting the indigenous Brits – of whatever colour and religion – fight the immigrants at their workplaces and beat them until they leave. “Coming from the hellholes they come from, it’s the only language they understand.”

And all hell ensued. Women attacked women, men attacked men, bosses attacked cleaners. At first, there were only a handful of incidents. Then more the next day. By the third day, thousands of immigrants were a “no show” at work. By the end of the week, immigrants were “heading home”, contacting relatives back in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, India and Syria to see if they had room to spare, booking the first flight they could get on. So that was the start of the concept of Fight For Your Right To Work. Drip drip drip.

 

This is the beginning a piece I wrote after the prompt of the concept of “job hunting” being literal. 

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BEAUTIFUL

It was the only time I really felt beautiful.

The silver flowers spoke to me as I sat among them, illuminated by  the large, low moon.  I remember the whispers of the wooden boy who lives in the tree.  I remember what he told me that day.  I followed his instructions.

I dragged my body down to the river bank, taking off the blanket but leaving on my nightdress.  I rolled until the splash of freezing water enveloped my nightdress and pulled down on my hair.

As I floated, the bracken water swelled warm.  With just my face above the water, I accepted the blessings.  Mouth after mouth touched my lips, giving the sweetest kisses, taking breath from their little lungs and filling me with life.

My eyes opened as translucent wings fluttered above my head, little hands stroking my hair.  The hands moved underneath me, and I was transported from water to river bank to my home.  Even the chair with its large, awkward wheels, was cleaned and left by the bed.

I don’t know if I will ever see them again, the ones who make me feel so special, but I will remember them every time I see the river, or the moon, or  my reflection.

 

This piece was inspired by a picture of a woman submerged except for her face. 

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