I tried to stop them. I told them, "It's not what it looks like."
They dragged him out to the front yard. I pulled on their shirts, but they didn't listen, didn't relent. They were always stronger than me, even when I was the one that was a foot taller than them. My mother pulled me away, either to protect me or to let them hurt him. The neighbors drew their curtains closed, deciding to not let this ruckus ruin their Thanksgiving dinner.
He had no chance to explain, not that they would have listened. I had tried my best, but there wasn't enough makeup in the world to hide my black eye. Once he hit the ground, he only emitted grunts with every kick.
When they were done with him, they marched back inside. He stayed curled up for another minute or two before he managed to get up on his feet. Blood had run down his face and began to dry on his chin and clothes. His pants and jacket were torn and covered in grass, dirt, and footsteps. He hobbled to his car, and I anxiously watched as he drove off without me.
He called my parent's house the next day. I didn't hear what my father told him, but he didn't call again. My youngest brother had insisted on driving me home on Sunday, and when I saw the spare apartment key on the small table, I fell into my brother's arms and cried. Sometimes things are exactly what they look like.
“It’s not what it looks like.”
“It’s exactly what it looks like. You’ve deliberately chosen a dress in the same style as mine.”
“Considering the time of year, there was very little choice. Stop being a drama queen.”
“I’m not. I just thought…”
“Oh, forget it. I don’t know why I’m talking to you. Nothing’s going to change.”
“I have to go out. Can you make yourself something to eat or do you want me to do that too?”
“I can manage.”
“You made me go shopping for my dress before the new season fashions arrived, months ago.”
“Are you still harping on? You know what you’re like. You dither. If I’d left it to you, you wouldn’t have a dress…which I paid for.”
“You could have chosen something different, that’s all.”
“My dress is nothing like yours. Yours is white and mine olive green for one thing. They may have the same high collar, but I have ruffles where you have lace round the bodice. I wish you’d cease this senseless whining. I’m going to be late and I can’t stand being late.”
“it’s always about you. What about me?”
“This is all about you. The whole shindig. Don’t you want me to look my best for you?”
“I suppose if I turned up in a potato sack, you’d be happy?”
“No. You’d say I was letting the side down and you’d be right. All I was doing was thinking of you and this is how you repay me?”
“Don’t. I’m sorry. You can wear what you want.”
“Thank you. Now I’m off to meet the caterer and then sorting out a florist.”
“Yes, I’m trying the tasting menu to whittle down your options and then talking about your bouquet.”
“It’s not what it looks like!” he screamed.
She looked down at her leg. Across the thigh of her jeans was a growing bloodstain, soaking in like blotting paper.
“I think it is,” she said. “Such a shame. My friend recommended you and she passed first time; said you were so professional”.
She went on: “I was born with just one leg. You’ve probably guessed that by now. I was never as quick as my friends in games, so I’ve had to adopt different strategies in life. You might think now that I am disabled, but you didn’t know that when we first met”.
“I didn’t feel a thing last week when you so discreetly ran your hand up my leg. You were assuming I was a soft touch. I have never been easy prey”.
“Now, you’ve made me ruin a pair of good jeans, because you tried it on again this week and the evidence is there to see”.
Mike looked ashen as he stared, terrified into her eyes. He’d been nonchalant in the lesson, bragging about his driving talent, full of sexual innuendo and bravado. With the passenger window down, he let his arm swing in the warm summer air. At the traffic lights she seemed focused on the red, when she’d reached down into her bag, produced a knife and in one quick swoop, pinned his other hand onto the thigh of her prosthetic leg, whilst simultaneously winding the passenger window back up as his gaze fixed on the source of pain and surprise. So now he found his left arm jammed out of the window and his right hand fixed to her leg.
Using her phone, she took a photograph of the two of them. “Incriminating evidence wouldn’t you say? I’ll show my friend; your wife.”
“Oooohhh,” the crowd groaned as one.
“What a numpty,” a voice could be heard, shouting over the noise.
“That’s gotta hurt!” laughed another.
The pride was damaged a lot more than any physical pain. I could feel the blood rising in my face, the shame surely evident for the world to see. It had been my one chance to impress her, to make her really proud of me. We’d only been together a short time and I had been waiting for this chance to prove my worth and to get her to love me.
“Make sure you don’t make any mistakes,” she had sagely advised me, or, thinking back, was it more menacing than advice? “We’ve got a chance to win this and to finally rub his face in the dirt.” I mean, I didn’t really want to rub anyone’s nose in the dirt but hey, who was I to argue if it made her happy?
I had been looking forward to the treat she had promised me afterwards, the delectable dinner no doubt, just the two of us without the usual crowd. I normally don’t get a look in with her when the others are around, so perhaps tonight was going to be the night, I had naively thought.
All that disappeared the moment my face hit the floor. The ridiculous thing was that it was the easiest section – maybe I had just been too casual, too relaxed. I’d completed the slalom and hurdled, I don’t know how many obstacles, and this see-saw was normally a doddle, but this time my mind had been elsewhere.
I’d let her down at this one, but there must be another dog show for me to prove my worth soon. I just hope I can do it without falling off!
Emily decided to dye her hair. It had been bothering her throughout the first lockdown. When at last everyone was released, she was grateful to be squeezed in at the hairdresser’s.
Leaning backwards over the sink, her mask making breathing difficult, Emily was terrified to see looming over her, the Perspex visor of her stylist. No mask on underneath, her breath came straight at Emily’s unprotected eyes. Closing them with a shudder, Emily opted for a trim rather than a full cut to get out of there fast, albeit with a new appointment. Then came the call:
“Sorry, but in the light of the new lockdown, we’re cancelling all appointments until the near future.”
Emily sighed with relief yet groaned in anticipation.
Her hair grew exponentially over the weeks. With no one to control it, it seemed to have a mind of its own. Emily edged further and further out of the weekly zoom picture. The decision to dye followed the adverts of silky smoothness. She bought the box and gloved up. It all looked so easy on TV. She applied, massaged and waited. Then rinsed until the water ran clear. Her hair felt soft and manageable.
“What do you think?” she asked her partner who turned away, shoulders shaking.
Emily stared at the monstrosity in the mirror. A complete smorgasbord of grey.
“Now what are you going to do?”
He backed up as she stormed in and grabbed the kitchen scissors lying near the sink where they had cut the fins and tail off a Dover sole.
“What I should have done,” she said, brandishing the scissors near his nose, “was wear my glasses to buy the damn dye in the first place.”
Wisely, he didn’t even nod.
In the weekly zoom call, Emily’s cropped head was centred.
Melanie sits in the safety of a derelict piece of land that borders the south of the town, near the silent and neglected shipyards. The flat white stone upon which she sits is flanked by long grass, argumentative thistles and pretty purple vetch plants. She drinks coffee and eats a sandwich. She is hidden from public view. She sees industrious honey bees looping from plant to plant. To the east, building works are well advanced, scaffolding hiding half-built flats. A van belonging to MacArdle and Son rests lazily against the kerb. Of MacArdle or his son, there is no sign.
Melanie looks up at the sky. Clouds gather, ragged and grey. It looks like it will soon rain. She hears the plaintive cry of a herring gull being harried by several wheeling, scolding jackdaws. Within the housing complex, a workman hammers away at a piece of wood. The sound reverberates across the redundant land.
Occasionally, people pass by; a bald young man with a rucksack; a pretty girl studying her mobile phone with the intensity of a gambler checking the Racing Post. Melanie’s adopted bench is cold and she shifts her position. She watches a JCB grumbling along a path, its amber warning light flashing. A black cab with no fare on board blunders along a side road, narrowly missing a stationary lorry.
For the length of time it takes Melanie to finish her lunch, she quite forgets her duplicity. As it happens, being inconspicuous suits her. She is, for a meagre twenty minutes, entirely at peace. Her reverie is broken by the appearance of a red-faced and panting Tom.
'Sorry, Mel. Old Carnforth kept me in the office over some trifling customer complaint. He's a first-rate berk.'
She looks at him wearily.
'Better late than never.'
“Don’t look now, but I think we’re still being followed?” The pair hurried on into the night, the air still, their breath visible in the cold. “It’s that …. Thing …. Ever since you found it we’ve had nothing but trouble, it’s like it’s cursed or something, just get rid.”
He pulled out the object from his coat pocket; it lit up in the moonlight, a sharp silver beam shone into his face. With a deep sigh and flick of his wrist followed by a deft sideward kick the object disappeared into the undergrowth.
He looked across to her. “Now what are you going to do?”
She grabbed his hand, squeezed it and whispered, “Run, very fast, come on quick.”
Hand-in-hand the couple disappeared into the darkness.
5 Years later
The persistent buzzing emanating from his headphones denoted just one thing…Metal!”
He furtively glanced over his shoulder, satisfied that none of his fellow detectorists had seen his find, he carefully laid his detector on the grass and slipped a gloved hand into the thicket. Gently digging down he felt a hard solid object. He pulled it from the ground and into the sunlight. Smiling, he brushed aside the encrusted soil to reveal a silver coloured case. He estimated it was about four inches square.
As he carefully cleaned away the dirt from the lid he saw that the top was inscribed “vos autem in inferno.”
“Ooo”, he muttered under his breath, I’ll have to Google that when I get home.” He slipped the box into his bag and picked up his detector and hurried away. So intent was he on getting back home to examine his find, he didn’t notice the large jet-black black dog emerge from underneath the hedge and follow silently in his footsteps.
Mavis and Mary had been friends for longer than either of them could remember. They had become so much a part of each other’s lives that to imagine a world without one another was almost impossible to think of. One had always simply been there.
They met whilst working in the local textile factory that employed endless girls fresh from school that were only replaced if they fell pregnant and took on the responsibility of raising the children. This was long before the term ‘stay at home mum’ was coined, it was just the way of things. Between them they had five children, a mix of boys and girls and the friends became unofficial aunties and Godmothers.
Even when the children had grown up and started lives with their own families, Mavis and Mary remained strong friends and, once they retired, and were gifted the dreaded bus pass from the government, they would take the bus into town for a chat over a coffee and a slice of cake at the same cake shop where, more often than not, the same woman would serve them.
Mavis watched as her old friends’ coffin was lowered into the ground. Surrounded by people she had watched grow from crying babes to weeping adults, she wondered what the future held in store for her.
Mavis, by habit, took the bus into town and found herself at the counter of the cake shop, “Now what are you going to do?” the kind woman asked upon hearing the news about Mary’s parting.
Mavis simply smiled and ordered the usual, two coffees and two slices of cake and sat by the window.
It was what Mary would have wanted.
Chief Sedgwick asked someone to bring old Mrs. Dalrymple a glass of water. She’d had the worst time getting up the station’s stairs, leaning on an officer all the way into the interrogation room, where she now sat in a sinfully ugly brown dress, slumped over like a sack of potatoes. The idea of getting that old frightened him.
He spoke loudly, as she seemed hard of hearing. “Let’s start from when you were teaching Nora.”
“Yes, dear.” Her voice was creaky. “I heard what sounded like a firecracker. We left the piano and crawled under pews. To keep little Nora quiet, I told her we were playing a game.”
He nodded. “That was quick thinking. You didn’t see the thief?”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry to be a useless old lady.”
He patted her arm. “Not at all.”
“What happened?” Her eyes widened.
He sighed. “The thief ran in, took the cash box with proceeds from last weekend’s bazaar, shot Reverend Charles through the kneecap, and fled.”
“No! Goodness!” She burst into tears.
He handed her a Kleenex. “You can visit him when he’s out of surgery.”
Her face crumpled. “I made seventeen cherry pies for that bazaar. I pitted every cherry myself.”
He knew how much work went into a pie. “Seventeen? You’re putting me on!”
Her lips trembled. “Would I lie to you?”
He breathed out slowly. “No, Ma’am. Sorry. I was trying for some levity, but I realize this isn’t the time. I’ll bet every last pie was delicious. Do you...need help out to your car?”
She rose slowly to her feet. “Bless you. I think I can manage.”
Two hours later, a Sergeant entered the station. “Chief, we just found the real Mrs. Dalrymple in her underwear, locked in the church basement.”
‘I’ve never seen so much blood.’ Jimmy stood for effect, which, being only five foot seven, failed. He poured his splayed fingers through his thinning hair, the hair he’d described on the dating app as ‘luxurious.’ A little embarrassed, he sat down again; even to Jimmy it was obvious the date wasn’t going well.
‘What were you expecting?’ Miranda grinned. ‘Hadn’t you ever given blood before?’
‘Yes, er, no. I mean, I’d thought about it. Who hasn’t? But I passed out once, in the doctor’s surgery, when the nurse went to give me a jab. And I hit my head on that tray thing, you know, the one on wheels.’
Miranda had kind of lost the thread of the conversation, so thought it wise to nod. ‘Should we, you know, order something? I skipped lunch to make sure I’d be hungry.’
‘I know some big girls have to be careful about what they… Um, I didn’t mean that you’re… Oh, sod it, look I’m sorry. Feel free to just go now, if you want. At least that means you won’t have wasted your whole evening. I’ll pay for the drinks.’
‘No, it’s fine, really.’
‘It’s my fault, I’m not very good at small talk. Chatting up. Chit-chat. When I try to put someone at ease, I make them more nervous. One girl I met on the app asked if I was an MI5 interrogator; she said I put her so on edge she’d confess to anything.’
Miranda stifled a laugh. She’d been terrified – she’d never used a dating app before – and had to will herself through the wine bar’s doors. Now she was surprised to find herself enjoying the company of the desperately anxious, funny Jimmy. ‘Relax,’ she smiled naturally, ‘it takes a nervous wreck to recognise a kindred spirit.’
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