Showing posts with label Booklet 12. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Booklet 12. Show all posts

Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Rock and a Hard Place by Rachel Smith

 Kieran slung his slate-grey school bag over his shoulder and slipped his hand inside, searching for his cigarettes. He started as his questing fingers touched upon something soft and furry. After a quick glance to make sure nobody was watching, he opened his bag wide to investigate and what he saw laced his gut with dread. 

A light pink, fuzzy pencil case festooned with glittering stars and sequins.

“This isn’t my bag,” he muttered. Some girl has my bag… and cigarettes. A forbidden item sure to land him in detention for the remainder of the school year, or worse.

The afternoon bell had not yet rung and there were only a small number of places she could be. If he moved quickly, he might just catch her. Immediately dismissing the playground due to the incessant autumnal downpour battering the common room windows, Kieran strode into the main hallway and turned right, his trainers squeaking on the linoleum floor. Giggling floated out of the girls’ toilets, mingled with the smell of hairspray and sweet, flowery perfume.

The door was slightly ajar, allowing him a sliver of gleaming white tiles and pleated, grey skirts. He stifled a gasp. His bag was there, on the floor surrounded by shiny, black shoes.

Suddenly, a rough, calloused hand gripped his collar from behind and hauled him backwards, slamming him up against the hallway’s reddish-brown bricks.

Mr. Morley, the Headmaster, glowered, looming over Kieron like an executioner’s axe, “And just what do you think you’re doing, lad?!” 

“It’s not what it looks like.”

“Oh?” he released his grip but did not step away, “Enlighten me.”

Kieran panicked, furiously trying to deduce what was worse: spying or cigarettes. And as Mr. Morley dragged him away, he cursed inwardly at the smell of cigarette smoke blending with girls’ laughter.

© Rachel Smith

Losing Streak by Mike Rymarz

 “Go on,” they shouted, almost as one, “Come on, you can do it.” Eight best friends, all at the races for the first time together and having an absolute blast. The idea had been Lisa’s but it hadn’t taken much convincing at all, each one of them leaping at the chance to don their new summer dress of sunshine yellow or baby blue. Matching shawls had been selected and a couple of them had even gone for a hat or fascinator to finish off their ensemble.

They’d travelled down in a minibus together, Sarah being the designated driver much to her chagrin. But then again, as she had ended up hideously drunk on their previous day out this was decided as a fair and just penance.

The drinking had started before they even got on the bus, Jodie having brought along the bottle of tequila and accompanying lemons and salt. This kept them going in between the gossip, jokes and laughter for the first half of their journey, swiftly followed by the white wine, fortunately chased down by a distinctly unhealthy pork pie and pringles combo that kept any sickness at bay during the bus ride. Grand plans had been floated about prawn sandwiches and ham crostini but none of them had actually organised themselves enough to make or even buy them, the clinking bottles in the bag for life evidence of what was to lie ahead. It was going to be a long afternoon…

The eight of them had been friends from university and had been practically inseparable since. Holidays in Ibiza, nights out in Bath terrorising even the toughest rugby players and weekends in remote country cottages chilling out, playing games and, of course, drinking. They weren’t sure if they sent out the wrong vibes or were simply victims of a chauvinistic male driven society that denigrated strong and empowered females, but they all struggled to hold on to boyfriends. That’s probably why they spent so much time together, helping each other in tough periods and partying… a lot!

“Whoop, come on babe, you can do it,” Amy yelled, a delirious look on her face and a croak to her screams.

“We’re with you, hun,” Hannah supported, clapping her hands enthusiastically.

Sarah was a little more circumspect, surveying the scene with a concerned look in her eyes, brushing the blond hair from her forehead. The penultimate race of the day had just started, and Beth was back to her old tricks. Messing about. As she always tended to after a few drinks. She was the one true exhibitionist in the group and would profit from any occasion to make a show of herself, a little encouragement from her friends being all she needed to take the plunge.

It hadn’t taken much cajoling from the group to motivate her. Her black bolero was strewn on the floor twenty feet in front of her group of friends, her dark belt another ten feet in front of that. The rest of her outfit would swiftly follow, and she would streak her way to glory. Her plastic beaker of pinot grigio had been discarded next to her clothes and she was teasing her friends, and no doubt a few sharp-eyed men, with the promise of naked flesh.

The girls were beside themselves with delight, the shrieks and cackles of laughter lost in the surrounding noise of the baying crowd, all concentrated on the unfolding race. No-one else appeared to notice her, not that her friends were doing anything to hide what was happening. The drunken slurs and backing could be faintly heard amongst the cheering throng.

“I can’t believe she’s doing this. Go girl!”

“What is she doing? What a nutter.”

“Oh my God, we’re going to get kicked out. Should we stop her?”

Sarah was quieter than the others, eyes fixed on her friend while simultaneously flicking to the race and the vaulting horses. Her attention was broken by Suzie screaming with delight.

“No way. She’s stripping off. She’s gonna’ do it.”

A murmur could be heard amongst some of the crowd near them, fingers pointed and comments hidden behind shielding hands. A group of stewards were starting to head towards Beth as she removed her robe, leaving just a mis-matched set of underwear on show. The whispers turned to cheers, their friend buoyed on by the support she was receiving from the strangers. She turned back to the fans, theatrically shaking her body to even greater adoration.

The friends were roaring with delight at their friend’s antics; all the friends but Sarah. Seeing her friend duck under the barrier and head behind one of the jumps, bile rose in her throat, and she felt petrified, unable to move or speak.

Her friends’ glee turned to horror as they too saw what was happening, a realisation that their day out was going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

The sickening crunch of one thousand pounds of thoroughbred racehorse connecting with one hundred and twenty pounds of drunk Elizabeth was heard throughout the whole racecourse, a deafening silence immediately falling on the watching hordes. Sobs and shrieks were heard from the seven friends gathered around the green bench, their delight transforming to despair in the blink of an eye.

© Mike Rymarz

The Message on the Banner by Susmita Ramani

 It was the day of the Annual Derby at the newly reopened Folkestone Racecourse, and everyone was keyed-up with excitement. It wasn’t just for the ponies. At the Derby’s end, Folkestone’s Mayor, Jack Sedgwick, would fly his cherry-red airplane overhead, trailing a banner with the name of the town’s most beloved citizen of the year; everyone in town had voted the week before.

The buzz was that it would be one of the Jones septuplets, born and raised in Folkestone, who’d left, but returned to settle down. They were the nicest, prettiest, most accomplished ladies in Kent. All were blonde, but each possessed her own je ne sais quoi.

Alice was an architect, ambitious in her designs, which frequently appeared in magazines. She’d overseen the rebuilding of areas around town, and often pointed to random buildings and said, “That’s one of mine!”

Bethany, a banker, was all business. Because she was as benevolent as she was brilliant, she gave half her income to charity; she still had plenty left to bankroll her own bliss.

Charlotte, a chef, was charismatic and calm. After rising in the culinary ranks like a star, she now owned a wildly successful local cafe and pastry shop, with kitchen staff who did the baking and cooking.

Darcy, a doctor, was dynamic and determined. Whatever a patient’s ailment was, she’d research day and night until she figured out how to help.

Eleanor, an engineer, was encouraging to her coworkers, and energetic in her programming, which flowed from her fingers like 0111010 off a 0110’s back.

Florence was friendly and fearless. Finance was her game; she specialized in foreign investments and futures.

Gracie was as gracious and graceful as her name. A geophysicist, she studied physical aspects of the earth and atmosphere. Though she loved her work, her salary was meagre, and hence she was often stuck wearing hand-me-downs, particularly from Bethany’s polka dot phase. As for Gracie’s sisters, though they’d never have said so, they considered Gracie’s work less important than the rest of theirs, because no one really understood what she did, and she earned little.

But that day, Gracie had a surprise for everyone. Gracious though she generally was, she hadn’t been above playing dirty this once. She’d bought desserts (amusingly enough) from Charlotte’s pastry shop the day before, and brought them to Mayor Sedgwick as a bribe: a gypsy tart, a classic Kentish dessert of shortcrust pastry filled with whipped evaporated milk and muscovado sugar; and a heap of Isle of Wight doughnuts, some filled with currants and tied in a knot, and some filled with apples and shaped like turnovers. She’d set them on his desk and said, “Mayor Sedgwick, this is because you’re a nice guy. Enjoy! See you at the derby.” She felt the message she’d intended to convey had been clear: put my name on your banner. There was a secret secondary message, which was that she was sweet on him...but, as he was a man, she didn’t suppose he would’ve caught that part.

At the derby, the sisters sat together as usual. None of them particularly cared about the races; it was about seeing and being seen. After the winning horses were garlanded and led from the course, they heard the buzz of Mayor Sedgwick’s plane, and there it was, like a red bullet in the sky. They leaped up to see...and the banner read, “ALIEN INVASION, GO HOME.”

Alice, Bethany, and Charlotte laughed; they thought it must be some sort of joke that was both literally and figuratively over their heads. But as they looked around for someone to decode the message, their mirth turned to bewilderment. Perhaps more sensibly, Darcy, Eleanor, and Florence were straight-up stunned. Gracie was transfixed with horror.

They decided to go to their parents’ home, as they could be sure of getting a hot cup of tea there, which was sorely needed now. Their parents put the kettle on.

After Mayor Sedgwick landed his plane, he came around to talk to them.

“Ladies, all is lost.” He sank back on a sofa. “The aliens say they’ll make Folkestone their home base until they can find the ‘expert’ they need for their work in space. If I can’t talk them out of that, I’ll be in so much trouble with the Town Council.”

Bethany gasped. “How awful!”

He shook his head. “No, the really awful part is...they won’t take me with them. It was my childhood dream to be an astronaut. My father pushed me into politics. Their spacecraft is really tricked out, too. It’s got rooms where one can conjure up alternate realities with thought. But they don’t want me...because I’m a useless politician.” He sniffled.

“What sort of expert do they want?” asked Darcy. “Doctor?”

“Engineer?” asked Eleanor.

“Architect?” asked Alice.

He rolled his eyes. “If only. What they want is an expert in planetary minerals and atmospheres...if such a thing even exists.”

Bethany chewed her lip. “Why does that ring a bell?”

“Because that’s what I do,” said Gracie.

Mayor Sedgwick leaped to his feet. “What?”

Gracie smiled. “Let’s go talk to the aliens.”


Mayor Sedgwick and Gracie stood below the aliens’ spaceship, which hovered like an immense, pale bubble over Fordwich Gifts & Merchandise. He raised his hands over his head; she followed suit. A warm beam of light found them, lifted them, and carried them through the air into the spaceship.

They met with the aliens’ king, Vlort, who looked like a pocket dinosaur, but through whose translation device, they communicated easily. Vlort grilled Gracie on geophysics for three hours; Gracie found him surprisingly knowledgeable, and was intrigued. Finally, Vlort pronounced her sufficiently ‘expert.’ They decided that for two years (to be renewed if mutually agreeable), she would go with the aliens into space and help them with their work...provided that Mayor Sedgwick could tag along.

Afterwards, he beamed at her. “How can I ever thank you? And please, call me ‘Jack.’”

She laughed. “Jack...we’ll think of something.”

© Susmita Ramani

Winners by Elaine Peters

 The stands were packed with excited spectators who had entered the lottery to obtain a coveted ticket.

The competitors had gone through a rigorous selection process before their application was accepted.  Then a series of heats before they could become a member of the 10-woman team representing their area.   Once the real event got going there would be no holds barred as they battled other teams, and each other, for the ultimate prize.  Each of them wanted it with a fierce longing churning their insides.  Women watching could only wish they were in on the action.  Some of them were too old to take part and others had not been lucky in the draw this time.  

Preparations were tough.  The women trained hard to get to the peak of fitness.  Outfits were chosen with care.  Each one splashed out on an expensive dress with coordinating shoes and bag.  They lost sleep over the decision to choose a fascinator or a hat.  Could they risk the weather and not take a coat?  It was nonsense really, they knew, because they would never be worn again.  Still, it was fun to dress up, like in the old flat racing days.

The long-awaited day arrived.  The team from Central climbed aboard their minibus eyeing each other as team members and as rivals.  Some recognised they didn’t look as good as someone else.  Others were full of confidence that they were indeed better than all the rest.  Each one knew that whoever won would have to fight like a demon to hang onto the prize for herself.  A united team was one thing, but when it came to the finish it was every woman for herself.

The crowd hushed.  The ten teams were spaced out around the field.  Then the ten players were brought out into the middle to thunderous applause.  They were draped in their colours, ranging from bright neon to subtle skin tones, and paraded past the teams.  Two hundred hungry eyes fixed on them in anticipation, judging which specimen to go for first.  A marshal, wearing a fuchsia uniform with high-heeled boots and hoop earrings, kept them in line.  Now and then her whip lightly touched a leg, just as a reminder.  

Then the whistle blew.  The ten men dropped their cloaks and revealed themselves in tiny matching briefs.  They ran frantically round the ground trying to evade the slavering women.  There was no real hope of escape; their destinies were sealed.

There were clashes as two teams went for the same man until one lot was dispatched with blows from weighted handbags.  Those still standing went after another target.  There was one per team. 

As each victim got captured, he fell under a scrum of determined women until one of them managed to shake off her team-mates and haul him away for herself.  Her outfit was ruined, but she had won her prize.  

She could keep him for a year until the next event and in the meantime, if she got lucky, she could beget a child.  Maybe a man child to grow up and take part in a future ‘Population Enhancement’ event.  She would be so proud. 

© Elaine Peters

Seedcake or Eccles Cake by Graham Crisp

 “So, go on then, how did it go?” Jean Symonds frowned as she watched her companion scoop two rather healthy spoonfuls of sugar into her cup of tea. “I heard there was a bit of excitement, involving a certain Roger Cameron?” 

Martha Mosely sipped the heavily sweetened drink and picked up a sugar-coated Eccles cake that had been perched neatly in the saucer beside her cup. 

She munched on the cake, her eyes fixed on Jean, who waited patiently for a response from her sweet-toothed friend.

Finally, she put the half-eaten cake back down onto the saucer and carefully wiped away the crumbs that were deposited in each corner of her mouth.

“Well, you know in the first place it was Maud’s idea, you know, to get all togged up and have a glamorous day at the races. “

Jean nodded. She took a small sip from her unsweetened cup of coffee.

“So, we both had a quick ring around all the girls. Betty, Elizabeth, Margaret, Jackie and of course, Joyce herself. They’re really all up for it, so Betty books us in and I get the minibus organised. It’s a pity you missed it, Jean, you’d have enjoyed it.”

Jean looked down at her cup and saucer and uneaten seedcake. Her eyes glistened. “I have to pop over to Mum’s on a Wednesday. With the state she’s in, it would be hell for me if I missed a visit.”

Martha, lightly held Jean’s arm. “She’s not getting any better then?” Jean shook her head. “I wouldn’t mind if she was consistent. One minute she’s laughing and joking, then she suddenly goes off on one and calls me all sorts of horrible names.”

Martha squeezed her arm tightly. “Sorry, Jean, that was insensitive of me, we’ll have to fix another one up.”

Jean straightened up and bit aggressively into the seedcake. A small chunk of cake broke away and dropped silently into her cup of coffee. The pair burst out laughing. Jean grinned, “I’m such a pig at times. Look away and I’ll get it out.”

Martha watched as Jean retrieved the offending lump and slipped it into her mouth. “Mmm. That actually tastes rather nice.”

“Anyway, go on with your day at the races. How did Joyce’s dashing Roger find out about it?” 

Martha lightly scratched the side of her nose. “Well, that was me really. I mentioned it to him when I saw him at the bar of the club. I wanted to make it plain to him that it was a girls’ day out and no men were invited. Because you know what he’s like, always trying to muscle in when he’s not wanted.”

“Joyce is mad on him though, isn’t she? You tell by the way she hangs on to his every word and those puppy dog eyes. She’s like a flaming silly teenager when he’s around.” Jean knitted her eyebrows in a deep frown.

Martha let out a short giggle. “She’s lucky to have him, I mean, after that bastard, excuse my language, of a first husband, Roger is a real gentleman. I would, if you know what I mean, if he wasn’t spoken for!” Martha gave Jean a sly wink.

“He’s quite well-off, isn’t he? Made some money in business. No, fair play to Joyce, she deserves some fun.” Jean finished off the remnants of her seedcake and licked her fingers.

Martha drained her cup. “Anyway, I’ll carry on, it's nearly lunchtime and this place will be heaving.” She took a short intake of breath.

“So, we had a lovely meal, the weather was great, you know, really sunny and warm. We all had a little flutter. Margaret won a tenner on the first two races. I think the rest of us were down a bit, but it didn’t matter, it was just a bit of fun.”

“We all lined up outside for the last race. I must say we all looked rather good in our glad rags, a proper bunch of ladies! Then as the final race was just finishing, Joyce gets a text message. We could see her frowning at her phone. She showed it around. It was from Roger. It just said ‘look up into the sky’”

“So, did you?” Jean leaned forward.

“Yes, we all looked up and there was a little aeroplane pulling a great big banner behind it. We were all a bit stunned.”

“What did it say?” 

“Well, would you believe it, it said in great big capital letters - ‘Joyce will you marry me? Roger x.’ You should have seen the look on Joyce’s face. It was a picture. But that’s not all. When the plane doubled back, the banner read on the other side – ‘Well?’”

Jean wiped her eyes, “How lovely. How romantic.” Then she halted. Her eyes narrowed. “What did Joyce say?”

Martha laughed, “She just turned around and whizzed off to the ladies, without saying a word. We all huddled together, speechless. Then Betty says she’s going to find her and off she trots. Anyway, a couple of minutes later, there’s Betty waving at us furiously, grinning all over her face, with Joyce just behind her, giving us the thumbs up.”

So, when’s the wedding?” Jean sighed, her head tilted to one side and her hands cupped her chin.

Martha shrugged. “I’m not sure, but I saw Joyce in that bridal shop on the High Street, just yesterday. So, as the man says, watch this space.”

The pair simultaneously got up and arm in arm, headed for the door.

© Graham Crisp

The Improbable Win for Walsh’s Women by Steve Goodlad

 I love this picture. The context is so much more than the scene it depicts; the day we were all made redundant. You wouldn’t think that, looking at our faces. We might look happy, that’s because we were, but grimly determined to be happy, and that moment is where it all changed, where we stopped pretending, stopped covering up our loss, flipping gloom on its head and taking on our future; all for one and one for all as an equally dashing troupe once said.

Had the story finished that day, as we thought it would, as the day had been planned for, we would each have left York Races for our individual destinations, each of us the centre of the world around whom others revolve and events assemble. A group of worlds in one picture, touching and soon to become mutually oblivious to each other. So much would have been lost, skated over, ignored. We would have looked upon that photograph with reminiscence every now and then, maybe someone would suggest a reunion in a year or ten that would never happen. So much would have been lost to mundane singularity, jobs elsewhere perhaps; stacking shelves in a supermarket or warehouse. Good jobs on our own, but together we were greater than our sum total. 

We were Walsh’s Women. Seamstresses making dowdy catalogue fashion that middle aged women wore to make themselves look like their Grandma. At least that’s how it seemed in the last few years. Somebody must have been ordering the stuff, but the quantities got smaller and the range from dull to dreary in all sizes. None of us were management but Jean was in accounts and on Friday evenings when we always called at The Crown on the way home for a glass of wine, she spilled the beans about the state of affairs and said the writing was on the wall for Walsh’s.

That’s when we first mooted the idea of a day out. Somewhere different, in our glad rags for one last hurrah and then someone mentioned ladies day at York Races and before we knew it, we were booked.

Walsh’s was an institution in our town, a big employer in its day. If you got a job there after school you could say you had a job for life. When we first used to meet up, it was in the canteen at lunchtime where we got a hot meal at subsidised prices. As the number of machines began to dwindle, the canteen got closed, three floors became two, then one and lunchtimes we spent either outside or in the cafĂ© across the street.

Each of us made our own outfit for our last day. We pooled twenty quid each into a float and took turns at each race to choose a winner. We decided that if we broke even by the last race, we’d done well. If we lost it all, then what the hell. None of us had a clue about horse racing or the betting odds. We chose horses on names we fancied, so when Borodin’s Bum won on the first race with a decent stake we were already off to a flyer.

By the last race we were just above the amount we’d started with. We had plundered the kitty for a couple of bottles of prosecco at one point so all in all we’d done well for novices. There was just Irene to choose a horse in the last race and we thought we’d chuck the lot in, but she chose a horse with such long odds it might as well have been a seaside donkey. It was called Juicy Lucy and we nearly didn’t stick around to see it cross the line. 

Jo suggested we all had a photo as the day had gone so enjoyably and we might never be all together again, so she asked a man in a top hat to take a group shot and we all posed and smiled until Irene looked up at the video screen and shouted: “Juicy Lucy is winning”. Mr Top Hat must have carried on taking pictures as we started leaping around cheering on this improbable nag. We screamed at the screen as first one horse then another went past him only for a comeback in the final furlong where he crossed the line in a photo finish. There were tense moments as we awaited the outcome and Jo got her camera back and then it was announced that indeed Juicy Lucy had won.

Now, we could have blown the lot again, it was quite a sum now, but on the train on the way home Jean suggested an idea that eventually changed our fortunes even better. She suggested we use the money as a business starter. We all had redundancy pay-outs to come but we wouldn’t need vast amounts of that if we all clubbed together and be equal share-holders. She knew where we could rent cheap premises. We could buy old machines off Walsh’s liquidation sale, maybe even fabric stock (though we weren’t that desperate) and we could launch our own business.

 It was a germ of an idea that saw each of us develop previously unseen talents. I never thought I could pitch a range of clothing or organise an exhibition of our own, and you can guess who our models were? Jean kept the business solvent (wage less, but solvent) in the first year but we began to be noticed.

That photograph is now framed and hangs in our studio on the wall of fame. We have made bespoke dresses for some famous people for gala nights or film premiers and their pictures surround ours. I have never been back to the races but I do watch on TV sometimes and I smile when a commentator at Ladies Day at Ascot picks out an outfit on some celebrity and coos over a dress made by Juicy Lucy.

© Steve Goodlad

Ladies’ Day by R.T. Hardwick

 The racecourse is packed.  It’s the second of June and Ladies’ Day, the highlight of the racing calendar.  The sun shines warmly down on the massed racegoers.  

The racing is finished for the day.  For the members of the ‘Magnificent Seven,’ as they are dubbed by other, envious, employees of the Garforth Marketing Company, it has been a grand occasion.  Fay wins a hundred pounds on Hornets Beauty in the three ‘o’ clock, Cara thirty when Hyperion drifts in second in the four-thirty and Tina sixteen after the odds-on favourite Salmon Trout finishes third in the same race.  

Gemma drinks a bottle of Bollinger Special Cuvee champagne and removes her shoes.  Anne, emboldened by several glasses of vino blanc, thinks about Jimmy Macintosh from work and decides a direct approach would be best.   

Alison knows her outfit is more glamorous than those of her friends, especially her hat, an extravagant creation containing more flowers than Kew Gardens. 

Eva wins nothing, doesn’t drink, is happily wed, but still finds the day enthralling.  

The extraordinary thing about these thirty-somethings is how similar they are in appearance, if not clothing.  They are all very attractive, blonde, buxom and comely.  They might have easily been clones of each other. The company chose well, for they are all excellent at their jobs.  

Post-racing, six hundred pounds is on offer to the ‘Queen of Style,’ and the selected shortlist of expensively clad young women stands on a podium in the centre of the course.  The Magnificent Seven, four standing on a bench thoughtfully provided by the Race Committee in the centre of the racecourse, and three on the springy turf in front of the bench, wave and cheer excitedly.

  The master of ceremonies for the judging is the chief executive of the racecourse, Major Jeremy Willoughby. He’s fifty, tall, straight-backed and entirely lacking in humour.

The five lady finalists are wheeled on one by one.  The major asks each the same questions.

‘How old are you?’ ‘What are your hobbies?’ (He forgets this is not a beauty contest).  ‘How would you describe your dress?’ ‘What make are your shoes?’  ‘What theme is represented by your hat?’  ‘Can you describe why you chose that style of handbag?’ 

At least the first two questions are easy for the entrants to answer: ‘Mid-twenties, travel and helping old people.’

The panel of judges includes a fashion designer, a lady sculptor and a bricklayer, for the purposes of equality between the classes.  This mismatched trio selects a young woman named Bonnie Delaney.  She wears a strapless, sleeveless, backless white number with black piping and a hat shaped like a huge poppadom.  Perhaps the judges are hungry. 

The Magnificent Seven leap up and down in ecstasy, for Bonnie Delaney is one of their own, an advertising executive with the Garforth Marketing Company.

Even as Bonnie clutches her cheque, signed with a flourish by the Major himself, it is time for the crowds to depart.  They drift away slowly, but the Magnificent Seven have booked a minibus to take them home, so they are obliged to leave as quickly as possible.

‘What a day,’ says Eva, when they are all seated comfortably.

‘Isn’t it exciting about Bonnie?’ says Cara.

‘Of course, the result was rigged,’ remarks Fay.  She adopts an expression of someone ‘in the know,’ lips pursed and perfectly plucked eyebrows raised a fraction.

‘What do you mean?’ asks Tina.

‘You know that the sculptor is her aunt, don’t you, and the bricklayer built her aunt’s garden wall?’ replies Fay.

‘A coincidence, surely?’ asks Anne. ‘I mean, it wouldn’t sway the judges’ decision, would it?’

‘Do you think Bonnie was the best?’ asks Fay, in response. ‘That other girl, with a Marilyn Monroe figure, blonde curls and a primrose mini-dress was streets ahead.’

‘Come to think of it,’ remarks Alison, ‘Bonnie’s dress was pretty ordinary.’

‘That’s nothing,’ says Cara, ‘you don’t have to work next to her.’

In unison, the other six ask what Cara means.

She mouths: ‘B.O.’  She is too genteel to speak the dreaded words.

‘Never,’ cry the girls.

Cara nods.

‘Have you seen Bonnie’s makeup?’ asks Anne. ‘Enough face powder to plaster a decent-sized wall.’

‘Hides a few pimples,’ says Fay, who is liberal with her own maquillage.

‘I think you’re all being perfectly beastly,’ says Eva. ‘She’s one of us, after all.’

‘She’s not one of us,’ replies Fay, ‘She comes from Dewsbury.’

‘I was born in Featherstone,’ says Eva, defiantly.

‘Ah, but you’re different,’ says Cara, ‘you don’t need breeding if you’ve got brains.’

‘And that hat,’ says Anne.

‘What hat?’ asks Cara.

‘Bonnie’s.  There’s not much taste goes into a hat like that.’

‘A giant corn flake,’ remarks Tina.

‘A poppadom, surely?’ says Cara.

All the girls except Eva giggle.

The minibus rolls on and the group fall momentarily silent.

‘Stop the bus.  I’m going to be sick,’ says Gemma.

‘Typical of you,’ says Fay. ‘You always drink too much and show us up.’

The driver stops the vehicle and Gemma crawls out.  They hear various retching noises then Gemma crawls shamefacedly back in.

‘Better out than in,’ observes Alison.

‘And, of course, there was the incident at the Christmas party,’ says Fay.

‘Incident?’ asks Anne.

‘Bonnie in the stationery cupboard with Brian Broome and his blow-tickler.’

‘Enough said, soonest mended,’ says Cara. ‘We girls should stick together.’

‘All I mean to say is, Bonnie shouldn’t have won that contest,’ says Fay.

‘And I suppose you think it should have been you, Fay, with your hundred-pound Raybans, your Santani slip-ons and your Diane Von Furstenberg dress?’  

Tina sounds bitter.  She, too, would like to have been worth a thousand pounds on the hoof.

‘Girls, girls,’ exclaims Alison, ‘Don’t let there be any discord.  What was it Margaret Thatcher said? “Where there is discord, I will bring harmony, where there is tum-ti-tum, I will bring…tum-ti-tum.”’

‘It has been a glorious Ladies’ Day, hasn’t it?’ says Eva, and the girls, as one, agree.

© RT Hardwick

The Winner Takes It All by Liz Breen

 Tara regretted the shoes. She hadn’t worn heels since Mel’s wedding the previous summer and they were flung off as soon as dancing began in the evening. The grass wasn’t holding and the heels were sinking into the soil. It’s those eight extra bloody pounds. 

When Donna suggested a day at the races, Tara’s first thought was that she’d get to wear the fascinator she bought for last summer’s wedding again, get mileage out of it. A day dressed up sipping bubbly appealed, especially with the current state of affairs. 

The whole gang agreed to come, Julie, Meg, Caroline and Zoe. Rare were such occasions these days, getting everyone together. Life took over, problems took over, diaries never synchronised. Today was different, the stars aligned for all six friends to be standing watching horses do what they do best, run like the clappers and win some lucky people a shed load of dosh. 

Tara wasn’t lucky these days, however. Whatever the opposite of luck was, described her well. There was the pyramid of pain as she called it. Problems built on top of more problems. Life was getting her down but today she’d wear her fascinator and be fascinating, funny and flirtatious if needs be. 

Meg was four parts pissed already, insisting on the obese Prosecco magnum to share in the limo she hired to bring them all to the racecourse. 

- I’m going to make so many bad choices today, who’s going  to join me? 

She swayed and shouted as the races began, her fiery side about to erupt any minute. Zoe was playing bodyguard, stopping Meg from getting herself into trouble. Meg insisted on going into the men’s toilet earlier to do a ‘tackle inspection’ and called a woman at the bar ‘a hairy hog’ for pushing in front of her. 

Caroline was quieter than normal, nobody was sure what was up with her until she casually announced that she was seeing a twenty-six year old barista who’d be waiting in bed for her when she returned home. 

- What the hell?

- How long has that been going on?

- Can we meet him?

- You sly foxy fox.

Julie was jealous. Her face gave her away and then she spitefully recounted her cousin going ‘all cougar’ and making a fool of herself with a boy young enough to be her son. He dumped her spectacularly and she’s on antidepressants now and has moved back in with her ex-husband who didn’t notice she’d moved out. 

Donna made a meow sound and everyone laughed. 

- Oh Julie, be happy for Caroline. Just be bloody happy, full stop, you miserable cow. 

Julie said she was right and there’d be tears soon and not to come to her when it all went to shit. 

There was no love lost between Caroline and Julie. They tolerated each other for the sake of the other mutual friends but were best kept at opposite sides of a room. 

Donna and Tara stood next to each other as the races they’d bet on, started up. 

- So, Tara, what’s got into you? You’re a bag of nerves today and not yourself.

- Oh Donna, you don’t want to know. 

- Actually, I do. What’s going on?

- Jamie’s been unfaithful. I found another phone, a pay as you go one--

- A burner phone?

- A what?

- They’re called burner phones as they’re untraceable.

- He’s not a bloody hitman, Donna.

- No, true. How do you know he’s cheated?

- The phone is full of  sexy messages and photos of this woman’s knockers. 

- The dirty dog. I’m so sorry, Tara. 

- That’s the least of it. Why does life get so shit? Just when you think, I can’t take anymore…

- How’s your mum?

- Fading. 

Donna put her arm around Tara and they screamed and shouted as Beluga Billy came in fourth. Another tenner wasted, Donna complained. Tara took deep breaths and necked her Prosecco. 

- What are you going to do about Jamie?

- I’m going to decide today. 

- Can I tell you something? Last summer at that BBQ at yours, Jamie slapped me on the arse in the kitchen. He called me a FILF.


- A friend I’d like to…

- Everyone is telling me now that he was a letch, that he was handsy. I never saw it, I never knew. Maybe I did and just turned a blind eye. 

- I’m here for you. My divorce was horrendous, I won’t lie, but you go through a pain barrier, then there’s sunshine. I’m happy again. I’ve got Tom and all you lovely girls. Chin up.

Tara looked at the other women, Meg was singing something loudly and holding Zoe’s hand. Zoe rolled her eyes at Tara. Caroline kept checking her watch, clearly eager to get home to her new beau. Julie was sipping her drink and laughing at Meg. These were the people who would see her through the tsunami of grief heading her way. 

It was a surreal moment. Time slowed down and Tara looked at the board then, the horses, then heard Donna shouting and asking Tara if that was the horse she went for. Pharaoh’s Delight came in first and Tara had to ask herself if she had placed a bet on this horse in the end after all the procrastination.

- Pharaoh’s Delight was one of yours, wasn’t he?

- Donna, can you hold my arm, I feel a bit wobbly on my legs. 

- Of course. You alright? You’ve gone ever so pale. 

- I put a bet on him, yes. 

- How much? They were great odds. See, things are looking up.

- I went into the bank this morning and withdrew as much as they’d allow me to. He was going to buy her a diamond dusted necklace, he promised in a text. I put it all on.

Tara started to scream and jump up and down. It was a win. Money can’t buy you happiness, she thought, but it can get you a deposit for a nice flat to start over.

© Liz Breen

Shaking a Leg by Susmita Ramani

Shirley and Mabel epitomized old-world San Diego glamour as they rode their electric scooters around their senior home’s extensive, well-flowered grounds, waving the Queen’s wave. They were the brightest stars there -- the prettiest, most vivacious, and most fashionable.

And they were inseparable...except that recently, Shirley seemed sweet on Jack Mayfair. This annoyed Mabel. She felt Shirley and she both should date, of course, as they were silver cougar-foxes in their prime. But she didn’t think much of Jack, who had a fancy high-tech prosthetic leg he was always removing and leaving on a table nearby so he could show it to people and talk about it. Also, the object of Mabel’s own affections, Burt Rothchild III, had up and died the month before.

One Sunday after breakfast, Shirley and Mabel chatted on a bench in the sun.

Suddenly, Mabel screamed and pointed to an unknown man in an electric scooter, who was rolling towards the front gate of the senior home’s grounds; across his lap was a leg. The leg.

“Stop! Thief!” Mabel slowly stood, preparing to move to her scooter.

Shirley shook her head.

But Mabel lowered herself into her scooter and began rolling away at its top speed, four miles per hour.

Shirley sighed, got into her scooter, and followed at its top speed, eight miles an hour.

“You’re going too fast!” gasped Mabel.

“I’ll catch him for you!” Shirley called, rolling past.

She caught up. 

 “Give me that leg!” she shouted.

The man turned, and Shirley was instantly disarmed by his blue eyes and smile.

They talked. His name was Jim. The leg was a copy of Jack’s, which Jack had kindly hooked him up with. He’d be moving into the senior home soon, where he hoped they could continue the charming conversation over lime Jell-O.

© Susmita Ramani

Just a Small Portion for Me by Deb Hollywood

 Siobhan nudged Simon.

    “She’s gone again!  That’s the third time in 10 minutes!”

Simon chewed rapidly, mopped at the corners of his mouth with his crumpled napkin and suppressed a belch before replying.

    “Perhaps she’s calling a taxi?  Wouldn’t blame her!”  

Siobhan prodded the congealed mass of tagliatelle on her plate.  She sighed and set her fork back down on the table.

    “I’m worried about her Simon, she looks …”

Simon elbowed Siobhan’s arm and whispered.

    “Change the subject.  Here she comes.”

    “Becky!”  Siobhan exclaimed “We thought you might have bailed on us.  First Christmas works do, not everyone’s idea of a good night out eh?” 

Becky blinked in reply and sat at her place setting.  Her meal was still there with the knife and fork slightly elevated from the plate’s surface as they balanced on a pile of pasta.  She took a sip of water and gently sluiced it round her teeth.  A silence stretched across the table, broken by Simon.

    “Nice perfume, Becky!”  

Siobhan turned to glare at Simon. 


The question was almost lost to them as he shovelled another spoon of red sauced rigatoni into his mouth.  Still chewing, he spoke.

    “I was just saying, I like Becky’s …”  He paused and stared at both women, registering in that moment, the disparity between their ages of 37 and 17.

    “Oh for God’s sake! I didn’t mean anything by it!”

Siobhan hmp’d and watched Becky’s face and neck redden.  

Becky lifted her right hand casually to her chin and inhaled.  She could smell, almost taste, the acidity beneath the jasmine notes of the restaurant’s deluxe hand wash.  

    “Are you going to finish that?”  

 Becky shook her head and watched as Simon took her untouched garlic bread.  Well done, Becky! said the voice in her head. 

© Deb Hollywood

The House on the Hill by Susan Wicks

 I don’t know how long I stood there, looking out of my window.  I watched each drop of rain sliding down the panes of glass.   Slowly a tiny drop joined another, making it heavier, wiggling its way down and ending its journey by soaking into the rotten, wooden window frame.   

As I hold the little book from Jayne, my mind drifts back 40 years to my childhood, cycling along country lanes.  At speed, Jayne and I freewheeled down to the bottom of the hill.   “You’re going too fast!”   Shouting with excitement, clinging tightly to the handlebars and braking hard as we approached the old wooden gate.  

We flung ourselves off, letting our bikes fall into the bramble hedge and clambered over the gate.  Hidden in the undergrowth, a weathered sign for Hill House.  As we scurried nervously up the track looking back towards the road, by now out of sight, it was silent, except the distant hum of farm machinery.  

The front door of Hill House hung precariously between two cracked, ivy clad pillars balancing like children’s building blocks.  Charming windows with their wrought iron catches, frames rotting, some left hanging open.   We held hands as we climbed up onto what had become the first step, others had since dropped away and were vaguely visible beneath us.  

The winding stairway had splintered and fallen away leaving a place only small creatures would dare to climb.  Sitting at the bottom of the stairs we looked up to the exposed sky. Bowed wooden planks had fallen through exposing the ground beneath us.  Without a word to each other, we stood up and left.  

My mind resets.  The book, a small note falls out.    

“Suzi, this is the journal we found under the floorboards.   It’s time to tell the story, isn’t it?  Jayne” 

© Susan Wicks

Evie by Graham Crisp

 It was probably about three months after her discharge from hospital, that Evie came into Charlotte’s life.

At first Evie was kind, encouraging and said all the right things. She reassured Charlotte that the scars from the terrible burns she had suffered in the fire were diminishing, and Charlotte’s confidence began to shine once again.

Naturally, Charlotte never mentioned Evie to anyone, that wouldn’t be right. With Evie, Charlotte felt blessed, even cherished.

But everything changed immediately after Charlotte’s sixteenth birthday. Charlotte had celebrated the day in the company of a few friends, a mixture of young men and women. It was when the party started to disperse, it suddenly occurred to Charlotte, that Evie had been uncharacteristically absent throughout the conviviality’s.

As Charlotte cleared away the glasses and plates, Evie returned. Her voice was hard and menacing. She told Charlotte that those boys ‘were only after one thing’, and that the girls had ‘sniped about Charlotte’s clothes and makeup behind her back’.

Evie’s torments became relentless. Her previous gentle and supportive chatter had been replaced by cruel threats, insults and vile abuse.

Things got so desperate that one evening after a torrent of unsubstantiated vilifications from Evie, Charlotte found herself locked in the bathroom clutching a full bottle of her mother’s sleeping pills.

Charlotte held her breath as she unscrewed the cap. Evie stilled. Then she spoke in a low menacing whisper.

“Don’t do something I’ll regret.”

Sweating and confused Charlotte put the bottle back and ran to her bedroom.


Charlotte’s lifeless body was found by two rail workmen early on Monday morning. The train driver of the 6.45 Newcastle to London had heard a bang at about 6.55, just as the train gathered speed outside of the station. He immediately reported the incident to central control.

© Graham Crisp

Survival of the Fattest by Annie Wills

 “Are you going to finish that?”

“Of course,” Nora said, with her mouth full. “It’s delicious.”

“Fine, fine,” Edie said.

They continued eating in silence for a few moments. Then Edie said, “You did get a lot today, didn’t you?”

From the other side of the sty, Martha said, “Edie, don’t start this again. You’re such a greedy pig.”

Nora leaned in closer to the trough, took another mouthful and ignored Edie.

Edie said, “Maybe they’re fattening you up for some reason.”

Nora froze. “What do you mean?”

Edie lifted her snout in the air and said breezily, “Oh, gosh, I don’t know. Maybe they thought you were looking a bit thin. Perhaps they were trying to welcome you to the new pen. Or, I don’t know. Could there be any other reason?”

Martha said, “This isn’t funny, Edie. Nora, she’s just teasing - you’ll get used to her. We’re petting zoo pigs, not for eating. Edie, stop scaring poor Nora.”

Edie looked shocked. “Goodness me Martha, I wasn’t suggesting anything of the sort. I just thought it was interesting that Nora had so much slop today. Much, much more than any of the rest of us.”

Nora didn’t speak.

“And what was it that Mr Harman said when he brought it this morning? ‘Nora is coming along nicely, only a few more weeks and she’ll be the perfect size’ or something?”

Nora said, panicked, “I don’t know. I didn’t hear any of that.”

There was silence again. Nora looked at the remaining slop in the trough.

“Edie,” she said eventually. “Edie?”

“What is it?”

“I’m just - not that hungry any more. Edie - do you want the rest of my slop?”

© Annie Wills

Unheard by Elaine Peters

 Adele had been in a dark, silent place, but now she realised she could hear voices.  She was beginning to recognise words and see vague images.  There was a group of people milling around, but no one was paying any attention to her.  Or rather they were, but not to what she was trying to tell them. 

One of them said: ‘I’ve never seen so much blood.’

Her colleague replied: ‘Looks like an abattoir.’  He made a noise that sounded like a chuckle, quickly stifled at a sharp word from a senior colleague.

Adele felt a bit cross at being ignored.  They needed to hear her evidence. 

From her vantage point above she could see the whole room; the huddle of uniforms around the zipped body bag, the clothes thrown on the floor.  Had she really been so untidy? 

It didn’t matter.  Nothing mattered any more.  Adele’s carefree spirit floated away leaving her body and the blood-soaked scene behind.

© Elaine Peters

Rare by Cindy Pereira

Cindy has opted-out of Online Publication

Relax by John Quinn

 ‘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.’

© John Quinn

Playing by Ear by Susmita Ramani

 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.”

© Susmita Ramani

Mavis & Mary by Darren Arthurs

 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.

© Darren Arthurs

Hell in Your Hand by Graham Crisp

 “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.

© Graham Crisp

Peace, Perfect Peace by R.T. Hardwick

 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.'

© RT Hardwick