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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SURPRISE BIRTHDAY

I wiped the sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand as I walked into the church hall. The lights went on. I ran. I ran until my lungs ached and threw me forward into a coughing fit. My jacket caught momentarily against the rough brick as I slid down to the ground. In an alleyway, breathless, shocked and upset, this could be my life in 2004. They had wanted to do something good, something nice for me. I could see that. They didn’t know.

15th August isn’t my birthday. My new friends have been so good to me. They don’t even know my real name. I’ve been Mark Bentley since 2006 and who I was before died a long time ago. He is lost.

Who I used to be was a supervisor in a bank. I was about to embark on the bank’s management training scheme. I had a fiancé – a natural blonde with a great taste in clothes, I had a town house – with a reasonable mortgage – in the newest estate built by the river, I had two N-reg cars and a good group of friends. I had to leave all that behind to stay alive.

I had been given an option, but as events unfolded, it became clear that I would have to go into the witness protection scheme.

At first, I hadn’t seen a problem with becoming Mark Bentley. OK, I had to lose Emma-Jane, but that was no big deal, really. She was becoming a bit clingy and whingey and I wanted rid. Mark Bentley was born in the shadowy brown bedroom of a safe house in Yorkshire, complete with passport and National Insurance number. I felt relieved and excited at starting a new life. No one told me what the reality would be.

The reality is a maisonette on a tough council estate. The reality is joblessness. I have a new name and a new National Insurance number. The problem is Mark Bentley has never had a job, and he didn’t go to school. I’ve worked hard all my life, but Mark Bentley hasn’t. Mark Bentley relies on handouts from the church while he goes to night school.

The church people poke their noses into my business, but my backstory is robust and well-rehearsed. So how did they find out that 21st July is my real birthday?

 

For a course exercise I was given the situation that someone has a surprise birthday.  Of course I had to make it one of someone living under the shadows!

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STAR

Elle est une <<star>>.  C’etait son probleme. Ca salope s’a peint grossement avec le macriage, elle a porte les vetements riches, elle s’a etabli une figure d’authorite.  Il faut necessaire qu’elle mourir.

Elle s’ete marie quatre fois.  Quatre fois.  Croyez a propos de ca.  Son nom ete change chaque deux annees.  Elle etait un <<size zero>>, tout de son cartes d’auto-cue etaient eppelle phonetiquement, elle a quitte l’ecole avec deux C, deux D et une F.  Maintenant, regardez-la!  Aux ecrans, aux publicites, innonde par l’argent qui est jete a la par les companies mondiales.  Toute de ma vie, je luttais pour ameliorer le monde, et maintenant, toutes des filles et femmes regardent a la.  Et elle les garde stupide, paraisse, infantile.  Il etait evident qui devrait se passer.

J’ai eu paye une fille d’une banlieu.  J’ai su qu’elle avait un gun, et les rumeurs dire qu’elle l’a utilise.  Une meutreur, sans un dejeuner au prison, elle est parfait.  Avec un peu du fric elle a voyage en Ghana, chez sa famille, loins de la police francaise.  On m’a dit qu’elle s’est marie – son mari c’est un chef d’un gang violent qui fourni le plupart de Ghana avec les drogues illegals.  Je sais que sa vie s’a ameliore!

Ici, en France, il y avait une grande funeraille pour la <<Star>>.  Tout le monde pleurent.  A la mort elle est plus celebre!  Cette disgrace aux femmes!  Donc, j’ecris aux journaux, ecryant les verities terribles et sale de cette <<Star>>.

After struggling with spoken French in a dream, I decided I had to write a flash piece in French.  As soon as I started, I wondered what the ENFER had happened to my French!  So this piece is in the passe simple, not the passe historique as stories are normally written.  I need to go and read some French and get my French brain working again.  So this story is the first rough draft that I wrote on a shift while my client slept.  I will improve it!!!

 

 

 

 

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