It did not seem to matter what the weather was doing, it could be torrential rain, high winds, bright sunshine or freezing temperatures, you would always find him sitting alone on the same bench at midday every Thursday. The towns small council offices were blessed with such a well-cared public garden, how it was never vandalised was nothing short of miraculous, perhaps the skatepark and various badly lit street corners were the preferred choice for graffiti and trouble. Whatever the reason, the garden was always left alone, except for the weekly visitor that sat in silence on the same bench as the world passed by around him.
He had become part of the furniture, as familiar as the dour furnishings and beige corridors that connected the various offices and meeting rooms. Such familiarity had allowed him the power of invisibility and soon people stopped noticing his presence. If the man was sat on the bench, then it must be Thursday.
He would sit, lost in his own thoughts, until something would jolt him from his silence, causing him to let out a sigh before standing and walking away as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Routine was a funny thing. People initially wondered if the bench was a convenient resting place to stop midway through a journey. More than once, the bench had been investigated, sat upon, tried for size, but there was nothing special about that spot, the man must simply like it.
Then one Thursday, he wasn’t there.
“You don’t see that very often” one of the people commented upon seeing a vacant bench. Whispers travelled through the offices like smoke, where was he? He had not missed a Thursday in years. But soon, he was forgotten again. Soon, people returned to their work.
Marie Waters applied her make-up tastefully and smiled into the mirror.
Her husband, Mark promised he’d be home early from work today – the first time in a long time – so they could spend a quiet evening together.
She had tidied up and dusted, had cooked up a hearty dinner and was now all set. With soft music playing, a glass of wine and a magazine, she sat down to wait for him.
An hour passed and then another, and the sky outside blushed red. She glanced at the clock for the umpteenth time and poured herself another glass.
She needed it. Mark had done this so many times before, had left home each morning with a quick kiss and a promise, to only return late at night, still burying himself in work.
More wine went down and Marie dozed into fleeting, erotic dreams; then the doorbell rang, rudely, loudly and persistently. She started awake, buzzed, excited and beaming. Mark was home!
She ran to the door and opened it; a tall man, smelling deliciously of aftershave stood there with a small delivery box in his hands.
“For Mark Waters,” he said and his deep voice vibrated through her.
She took the package and their hands touched. The next instant, she yanked him into the house and shut the door behind them.
When Mark returned home much later, still intent on completing some office work, he only commented about her smudged make-up and tousled hair. With a guilty blush, she handed him the package.
“Something came for you,” she said. “I can’t believe how that doorbell rang,” and with a touch of remorse added:
“I thought it was you.”
He hardly heard her, she realised. Their bed still smelled deliciously of another man’s aftershave, but now she couldn’t feel guilty anymore.
Two turtles were lying on their backs on a quiet night in a desert starring at the Milky Way.
- Man... I wish I was as fast as that shooting star!
- Man!! we are even faster than rabbits! didnt you hear the story of the bunny and turtle running contest? "The bunny full of herself naps. Wakes up, gets a panic attack realising turtle is winning. So she runs so fast she hits a tree and cuts herself in half. Blood spattered all over the road very horrifyingly.
- you don't see that very often.
- Yea, it sure is pretty bizzare; a bunny taking a nap.
The queen of the playroom drew herself up to her full height, all of two foot six, and glared down at her subjects scattered around the floor.
‘This is a disgrace!’ she shouted, flinging out her arms and sounding uncannily like her mother. ‘Get this room tidied up this minute!’
The dolls lay unresponsive on the carpet, long lashes demurely lowered on tinted plastic cheeks. The one-eyed teddy bear lolled against the toy box, his missing eye gleamed in the shadows where it had rolled over by the radiator. Lego blocks and jigsaw pieces, plastic farm animals and crayons, all lay around as if dropped from a height.
The tyrant queen heaved a big sigh. ‘I suppose I’ll just have to do it myself,’ she declared in dramatic tones. Then she stomped around the room picking up her toys and throwing them into the toy box.
Peeping in from the landing her parents tried hard not to laugh out loud at their little girl.
Her father marvelled as she relentlessly cleared the floor. ‘You don’t see that very often.’
‘Is that what I sound like?’ her mother whispered. ‘Maybe I should go and help.’
‘No, no. Leave her to it, she’s going a great job! What would it take to set her to work in our room, do you think?’ He dodged as his wife gave him a playful punch on the arm then they went downstairs to wait for the little despot to finish her housework.
The Truth of the Matter
Geoff’s overcoat bursts open and flaps like a dowdy sail around his knees. He attempts to gather it in with his free hand, but the wind is too strong and he gives up. Jane and he are now only fifty yards apart.
Across the bay, Jane can see the robotic beam of light from the southern lighthouse, flashing its warning to ships foolish enough to come too close to the black jagged rocks that have caused the demise of so many vessels.
Now the two of them are very close. The sound of Geoff’s footsteps is borne away on the wind; she does not hear his final approach.
He is a tall man, handsome in a careworn way. Under the brim of his fedora, he looks a little distracted, a little vague.
In the distance, a ferry sounds its horn, a mournful clamour on such a sombre day. The wind carries the noise of the horn across the bay and into Jane’s ears. She can see the small knot of people at the quayside, waving their loved ones goodbye.
A fresh eddy of wind lifts up Geoff’s hat, revealing a head of vigorous grey hair. He hastily restores it to his head and draws ever nearer to her. He would do anything to avoid this. He sees that she has a piece of paper in her closed fist and he trembles. It is the note he left for her at lunchtime at the reception area of her employer.
Jane turns to look at him. Her gaze is steady but uncompromising. She speaks evenly, her words tossed by the wind into the atmosphere, yet he hears her as if she has been shouting at him through a megaphone.
‘I thought it was you.’
Geoff nods dumbly.
‘She’s found out, then?’
I love second-hand bookshops, and one’s just opened up around the corner from me. I live in an area full of hipsters and over-priced vegan cafés. It wasn’t like that when I first moved here. It’s changed over the years, and to be honest, I like it. I’m as happy to pay over the odds for a decent flat white as any hipster, and if it means more second-hand bookshops, then bring it on!
Anyway, my friend Mo and I went to the bookshop last weekend. It’s in an absolutely tiny corner building, so with social distancing, they only allow two people in at a time. Mo was still drinking her pricey takeaway coffee.
‘You go in’, she said. ‘I’ll wait and take care of Kerry.’
Sorry, I should have told you – Kerry’s my little Highland terrier – an absolute sweetie, but she suffers from separation anxiety.
‘Oh, she won’t stay with anyone. I’ll take her in with me.’
Two minutes later I was rushing out again. Yes, really, despite everything I said about loving second-hand bookshops.
‘Mo’ I said ‘we need to call the police. There’s a body under the floorboards in there!’
‘What?’ she said. ‘Have you gone crazy?’
‘No. It’s Kerry. She knew straight away. There was a tartan rug on the floor, and Kerry wouldn’t leave it alone. She was pulling at it, chewing it, trying to get underneath it. It was so embarrassing. So I joked with the owner, “Have you got a dead body under there?”
‘What did she say?’
‘She winked at me!’
‘Oh wow! Mo laughed. ‘So she’s got the same sick sense of humour as you.’
‘Oh no, Mo. My Kerry is a very wise dog. She wouldn’t miss something like a dead body. I’m calling the police right now!’
In 2012, I spent a summer in Bonn. Knowing how I loved music, my hostess presented me with a DVD. She said it was the music of a new group of ten instrumentalists and one solo singer, who had become very popular in Germany. They were performing for free on the banks of the Rhine next evening.
I listened to the DVD several times during the day. The voice of the singer was enchanting. Whether it was a romantic song or a humorous ditty or a semi-classical melody, those silver tones echoed in my mind all day.
The next evening, I arrived at the venue where the band was to perform and found a seat in the front bench, which gave me a close view of the musicians. The singer was a young slender thing, with curly shoulder-length hair and a charming face. There was pin drop silence in the crowd whenever she belted out her songs. She noticed me looking up at her, and our eyes met for a moment before she moved away to another part of the stage. But she was back again with her next song and she winked at me with a smile. I could feel the flutter in my chest. I wanted to meet her. Perhaps she’d oblige me with a selfie.
But even before the music ended, she vanished from the scene much to my disappointment.
The next afternoon, I was biting into my burger at McDonalds when someone slipped in beside me.
“Hullo! You were at our performance last night.”
“Good God!” I could have died of shock.
The singer was a boy after all.
“Disappointed?” he asked, as he swung an arm over my shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll want a selfie as a keepsake.”
“He comes in most nights.” I sighed and slurped the Albanian merlot. “Sometimes he looks as if he’s been in a fight.”
“Really? Is he injured?” Charlene ran an idle finger round the rim of her glass.
“He won’t submit to a thorough examination. He runs off the minute I let go of him. I do love him but he’s been getting worse.” I drank some more wine. My mouth puckered with tannin.
Charlene patted my hand. She was used to my moaning about Jasper, so poured herself another glass. Ken would be pleased; it had been a bad buy.
“What does Ken think?” she asked.
“You know Ken. Anything for an easy life. He suggested we lock him in at night. But he’s not the one who is disturbed by Jasper trying to get out.”
“Mimi stays in every night since I got her that heated blanket. Expensive but a godsend. I have trouble getting her out of bed now,” said Charlene.
I shook my head. “Jasper’s never been like Mimi. Be honest, he won’t even stay in the same room as you.”
Charlene nodded. “Mimi will go to anyone, a bit of a slut really. Sometimes I wish she’d be more like Jasper.”
“No, you don’t,” I pushed my glass aside. “You’ve never had to deal with the vomit, the blood…” I shuddered at the memories of other bodily fluids.
“Then get him a litter tray and keep him indoors,” said Charlene, ever the voice of reason.
Where would I put a litter tray? There was no way I could fit one in the downstairs loo. And I couldn’t contemplate it in the kitchen or living room. I had no choice. The heated blanket it was.
Ken wouldn’t be happy. It meant one more case of internet merlot.
All it had taken was one wink, and I had willingly danced into the intriguing world beyond. Everywhere bright lights, magic and mystery; my old world quickly forgotten in the face of this shiny, enchanting one.
A stranger I might have been, and yet everyone had warmly invited me to play my part in the spectacle, as though I had always been there.
And maybe I had.
After all, I have worn many faces since it all began.
It was one particularly normal day, and I was on my way home, taking my steps in a repetitive rhythm of malcontent. Everything was oppressively damp and grey, and my attention was caught by a mesmerising shimmering in the corner of my eye, dancing like a frosted summer breeze.
I turned to follow, and found myself embarking on a spontaneous trail in the gloom; compelled towards these diamonds in the dark.
My mind was taken over, and I didn’t care to take it back, as I journeyed on and became one of their own.
I swallowed the medicine they gave me with pleasure; a sweet nectar which opened my eyes to how sick I truly was.
I came upon a pale tent, and saw lights and lawlessness peeking through, beckoning me on. A presence pushed past me. That was when it happened, and everything became clear.
I accepted her dare, and allowed myself to be carried in, never again to step out.
I gave myself over, body and soul, to the circus. I would leave all behind, and take on my new identity.
What does it matter of the lost memories and missing hours? I have chosen.
You ask me why did I bind myself to it all?
I can think of only one reason I was lost.
‘She winked at me.’
The ageing bikers were gathered around the old moss-covered wooden table in the Beer Garden of ‘The Joiners’. Pints in hand, sun on backs, adored bikes safe in the car park – life felt good!
They met up most weekends in the Summer for a run along the country lanes, enjoying the throb of the engine, the roar of the exhaust, the camaraderie and the adrenaline rush of the body moving as one with machine. Of course, it always finished with a well-deserved pint, possibly pie and chips and a hearty chinwag before returning to their respective abodes and humdrum lives.
The talk was always of bikes; current ones, past ones so missed, and, of course, the ones they desired the most. They spoke passionately and knowledgeably, as if these mechanical beauties were their latest lover.
The woman watched from the other side of the garden. Slowly and deliberately, she stretched out her long shapely legs, ruffled her long wavy locks, and licked her rosebud lips. This scenario was right up her street, and she felt like having a little excitement!
“She winked at me!” whispered Marvin.
“Don’t be daft man, she winked at me” replied Olly.
“Nah! It’s me she fancies!” rumbled Brian.
“Come off it! Who’d look twice at you, let alone wink! The wink was at me, I’m going over!” declared Denis
“No…. I am!”
As the volume increased, and fists started clenching, faces reddened and testosterone soared, the woman rose, smiled wryly to herself and strode quickly to her own trusty Harley Davidson. Securing her precious bottle of “Pandemonium” safely in the saddlebag and fastening her helmet- War sighed with satisfaction- she absolutely loved her job.
It was our third date so I thought we were ready for the roller rink where we could skate side by side and hold hands. It was the smartest decision I ever made. After a wobbly start and one fall on her fanny, Debbie never let go.
Afterwards, we got in line for the photobooth while we waited for Debbie’s mother to pick us up. Inside the darkened booth she ran her hands over her hair and straightened her collar. Debbie looked so cute as she primped herself in the glowing light that I couldn’t stop myself from leaning over and kissing her on the cheek. That’s when the first flash went off. The next three flashes caught us with big, blushing smiles on our faces.
Outside the booth we looked at the four pictures and laughed. Debbie suggested I tear the photo strip in two so we each had two pictures as a souvenir. When we looked at the two torn pieces we realized there was only one picture of the kiss. Boy, did I want that picture. Debbie said she wanted it too. I shoved my hand in my pocket and pulled out two more coins. When I tell the story to our kids I like to say, “She winked at me.” Debbie says I winked at her.
I married Debbie forty-seven years ago. We used the old picture of us kissing as the cover of our wedding invitation. Yesterday, at her service, our kids put together a slideshow of images. All eight black and white photos from the booth were mixed with a lifetime of birthday, vacation and holiday pictures. I smile when I remember the date at the rolling rink and the darkened little room that saw we were in love even before we did
John had already taken the door off its hinges when his wife Janet came into the garage. She sees John using the measuring tape at the bottom of the door. “Don’t forget to make it big enough for Fitzy but not enough for Rex.” John gave her a look that said, “Go away, I got this.” John had not spoken to her since the big fight. It had been another talk about the pets that escalated and got out of hand and left them, if you will, fighting like cats and dogs.
It was John’s dog Rex and Janet’s cat Fitzy. Fitzy would spend his days roaming the property and often would not come in at night when called. “He comes in most nights,” Janet claimed. The fact is that Fitzty often refuses to come in when called and scratches at the door at some point in the middle of the night hoping to be let in. This scratching alerts John’s dog who then barks, thus waking up both John and Janet.
John lined up the electric saw and easily made the three cuts necessary to create the “cat door.” John rehung the door and sat beside his wife. “I’m sorry honey. I shouldn’t have raised my voice like that.” “I’m sorry too,” Janet said. The two held hands and walked down the hallway.
That night Fitzy was left outside intentionally to test the new cat door. Around 3 am the first noises started. The cat and dog had invented a game where they stick their paws through the hole and swat at each other with playful growls. The next night, Rex was kept in an interior room away from the front door. That worked until an opossum came through the cat door and peed all over the kitchen floor
Working as the night cleaner in the last remaining department store in town may not be everyone’s idea of a dream job but Eve liked it. It allowed her time away from her nagging parents and the peace and quiet was quickly becoming addictive. At first it was spooky; quietly moving around the large spaces, vacuuming, polishing, straightening and buffing, but after a week or so, she began to enjoy it. Caitlyn, her cleaning buddy, had recently given up working on Tuesdays, leaving Eve the run of the shop and the once tempting thought of trying on clothes and wearing the taster make up turned into a weekly fashion parade for her. Wearing clothes was one thing, but her application of makeup left a lot to be desired, she was improving but she still resembled one of the shops’ mannequins.
It was while she was heavily made up and standing near a display doll, dressed in that week’s new clothes that she heard men walking up the stairs.
“Jewellery and leather” one said as if requesting bread and milk from the Tesco around the corner.
“I know, I know!” the other replied.
Eve froze. What should she do? She was going to witness a robbery but making her presence known could mean trouble for her. She flung her arm around the nearest mannequin and stood stock still while the men went shopping, each filling a bag with watches, handbags, shoes and jewels, all under the frightened eye of the night cleaner.
“Let’s go!” the first one called, heading to the stairs.
But the second hesitated and stared at Eve, squinting, mouth open.
“Come on!” came the order and the man hurried away, leaving Eve to breathe easier.
“The mannequin”, he began, “She winked at me.”
The bell rings above the bar. The lights are dimmed. Glasses clink as they are stacked together, and chairs begin to scrape under tables. A mutter of discontent from the clientele, as they down their drinks to the last dregs. “Last orders! time to drink up, ladies and gents!”
Slowly, they leave the pub, out into the chilly night air, following the amber glow of streetlamps like moths to candle-flames. All except one. A solitary figure, by the jukebox. A regular, who reads the paper over a drink until the doors are shut. He’s almost become part of the furniture, though nobody knows his name.
The landlord explains with a sigh to his new barman:
“He comes in most nights.”
He sits by the jukebox until the clock chimes eleven, when the landlord clears away his glass and tells him it’s time to go home. He stares silently with dark, night-owl eyes, and without a word rises from his seat. He looks old, but perhaps it’s just a trick of the light. His clothes are plain, grey and dusty. He walks toward the door, without offering a goodbye.
The landlord shivers, watching the figure of this strange pilgrim disappear into the night. Something about him just doesn’t feel right. A missing part to his whole, an absence that cannot be ignored. And yet, he knows nothing about the man. Nobody does.
No moon in this sky tonight. An inky expanse of nothing, stars choked out and blind. The unknowable man looks up into the night, and smiles. He raises both hands upward and begins to soar. A trail of starlight follows his ascent. He finds his place in the firmament; and now, in the once darkened sky, a full moon hangs brightly. The man in the moon has come home.
‘Excuse me, what are you doing with my cat?’ Elspeth was not happy to see Daphne Jones from down the road cuddling the rather rotund Tortoiseshell Benny.
‘What do you mean, your cat? He spends all day with me. I feed him and he sleeps on the back of the sofa by the window. He likes the sun. It’s his favourite spot.’ Daphne held Benny closer.
‘He’s my cat and I feed him. And I pay for his injections and even bought him a collar.’
‘Oh that.’ Daphne was scathing. ‘It was too tight. I took it off.’
‘How dare you. I want it back, and Benny too.’
The two women glared at each other. Elspeth had suspected that Benny had found another billet, but had no idea it was with Daphne Jones so close by.
‘So,’ Daphne challenged: ‘If he’s with me all day when does he live with you?’
‘He comes in most nights.’ Elspeth replied. ‘He has his supper then he sleeps next to the radiator.’
Daphne thought for a minute, then made a suggestion.
‘How about we share him? I’ll feed him one week and you do the next, because he is getting rather fat.’
‘Alright,’ Elspeth agreed. ‘And you can stump up for the next vet’s bill.’
Benny purred contentedly. He could keep his two comfortable homes, but he hadn’t yet twigged there would no longer be two sets of meals.
Suzanne knocked back the tequila and gasped, squeezing her eyes until the burning sensation ebbed.
“Another,” she said, slamming the shot glass down on the sticky bar counter.
“Are you sure?” the bartender asked. A hefty woman of middling years known as Big Pam. She tilted her head to one side, thick hands working a grubby bar towel along the counter, “You don’t look like you’re enjoying it.”
Suzanne frowned. As much as this festering swill hole repulsed her, she wanted to get wasted without anyone she knew interrupting. I was dumped AND fired today; it literally couldn’t be any worse.
“Another,” she said firmly.
Big Pam shrugged, “Alright.”
Suzanne flung it back as soon as it was served, grimacing at the sick warmth in her belly. She shifted on her bar stool as a man sidled up next to her.
“Uh, hello,” a cursory glance told her he wasn’t dangerous but disabled in some way. Half his face hung as if melted like some Halloween mask, the left eyelid sagged and wept.
“Teq-tequila!” he grinned, the movement twisted his face even more and his head spasmed with every syllable. Big Pam served him a beer with a sad smile,
“Here you go, Fred. That’s the last one tonight, ok?”
“Ye-ye-yes! Th-Thank y-you,” Fred said, his head jerking as he shuffled away to a small table in the corner. He sat there alone and proceeded to talk animatedly to himself. Suzanne tried not to stare.
Big Pam sighed, “He comes in most nights.”
“Did something happen to him?”
“Motorbike accident after too many drinks. His helmet saved his life but… well, he’s never been the same since.” She nodded at Suzanne’s empty glass, “Another?”
Suzanne licked her lips, “Um, no thanks.” Maybe my day could be worse.
The morning had started off on the wrong note, having forgotten to switch off the alarm, he had been woken at the ungodly hour of 5.30 on his day off! Then, he was subjected to a kitchen full of smelly rubbish his new rescue dog, Billy, had decided needed releasing from the confines of the waste bin……. How he wished he hadn’t had a take -away curry the night before, or just put the containers straight into the outside bin, as there was also the natural doggy consequence of said dog eating the remains of the curry to clear up too! Whoever said that getting a dog was a good idea would be being told!!!…… but then again, Billy was looking extremely sorry for himself, and hiding in a corner only half wagging his tail.
“Ah well, it ‘s early days Billy”, he said, “Come here, I’ll forgive you, but no more emptying my bins…. You’ve got a home now, and I promise I’ll feed you… so no more foraging for my curries!!!” The wire -haired terrier slunk towards him on all fours, unsure if he was still in trouble, then turned over in an act of submission.
“OK son, here you go…. belly rub to make friends!” The dog almost looked like he was laughing at being tickled then jumped up and gave him a very wet lick on the end of his nose, tail wagging so hard it looked like it might drop off!
“Sorry I shouted Billy” he muttered “What was I supposed to do?”
Taking on a dog looked like it was going to be quite challenging, but, as he gazed into the dog’s liquid eyes, he thought that maybe a dog wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
“Hiya, Pat, how’s tricks? Just my usual please. No tell you what make it a large one. I’ve had a shit day.” Paula Evans pulled up a bar stool and plunged wearily down onto the seat. Pat handed her a glass of wine. “Here you go sweetheart, enjoy!”
Paula took a deep sip and scanned the near empty bar. “Who’s the big fella, there in the corner? What is he? Some sort of geek? Look at all them books.”
Pat looked over Paula’s shoulder. “Well believe it or not, he works on that housing development down Grafton Street. His name is Rob. I think he’s studying for something.”
“He comes in most nights.”
Paula rolled her eyes and shook her head, “No shit Sherlock. Anyway, I’m gonna have a chat. Let’s see what this mystery fella is all about.”
Paula slid off the stool, and glass in hand, she headed straight for where Rob was sat.
“Hiya, mind if I join you?” Paula picked up a glossy pamphlet titled, ‘Criminology and Criminal Profiling.’ She flicked through the pages. “Heavy stuff here mate, what you studying then?”
Rob pulled over a chair and Paula sat down. They both sipped their respective drinks and studied each other. Rob broke the silence, “Criminology.”
Paula let out a low whistle, “Wow, you must have some brains, so like, what are you going to be when you grow up?”
Rob set his glass down and frowned, “Not sure yet, but something like the Probation Service. Maybe.”
He stared directly into Paula’s eyes, “I had a bit of trouble in the past, you know, did a bit of time, a relationship break up and……” Rob hesitated. Paula, leaned forward, “Go on, what else?”
“Well, we had a baby and it died. Suddenly. Sort of screwed us both up. So, I’m gonna sort myself out. This course is just the start.”
“She winked at me.”
Stuart stared at their reflection facing out of Burtons shop window. Haloperidol had done few favours for Brian’s looks. His fingers twitching, tongue rolling, excessive blinking due to Tardive Dyskinesia.
“Don’t be daft, it’s a mannequin,” Stuart plays it down. Brian often sees things.
“That’s me,” says Brian looking now at the male mannequin dressed in a three-piece suit and fedora. In the crook of his arm is the hand of a female dummy in a formal coat with a black cloche hat.
Brian looks at his suspended hand. “That’s as real as my thoughts.”
Stuart looks at their reflections. He’s been worried about Brian lately; the things he sees and hears, only now he doesn’t look fearful. What he relates is not the scary stuff the depot suppresses; he’s smiling. Until recently, a winking mannequin would have triggered shouting at the window, threatening structural violence and being arrested.
The next morning Stuart wakes early and knocks on Brian’s room door to give him his pills. When there is no reply, he enters the empty room. Now he’s worried. Dressing quickly, he sets out on their usual routes that keep them both occupied all day, every day. Through the park, embankment and shopping arcade he goes searching. At Burtons he notices the mannequin. Only the male now, in the nude. They must be changing the window dressing.
By evening, there is no sign. Outside the Café Royal where Stuart is resting, a taxi pulls up. A dapper looking couple step out. He is wearing a three-piece suit and looks for all the world like Brian; a “normal” Brian. She wears a cloche hat and holds the crook of his arm. Stuart stares at them as they pass, mouth agape, when she winks at him.
The doorbell rang. Alice skipped to open it. A couple stood there. “Hello, can we speak to your Mother?”
Her brow furrowed, “Sorry, Mum has had to go out. She’ll be home soon. Please come in.”
The pair smiled. It was such a pleasure to have a positive reaction to their presence.
The lady fished in her copious bag, brought out a couple of pamphlets, and laid them on the side table.
The front door opened. “Alice, I’m home. Where are you?”
“Mum, I’m in the lounge. There are some people to see you.”
Wendy hurried in as she wondered who it was. The strange couple stood up as she entered.
She looked at them, strangers here in the house with her daughter all alone. Who were they?
The man held out his hand, then drew it back. “Good morning. We’re from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thank you for allowing us to enter your delightful home. Could we leave you these pamphlets which explain more about us?”
Wendy starred open-mouthed for a moment, then smiled. “Thank you.” Turning to Alice, she said, “Alice, go up and get ready. We have to go out now.”
As soon as the front door closed, Wendy rounded on her daughter. “What were you thinking about letting strangers into the house when you’re here alone?”
Surprised, Alice wailed. “What was I supposed to do?”
Wendy drew her daughter close and gave her a big hug. “I’m sorry, love, thank goodness they were only JW’s, but you could have let in a deranged murderer or something.”
Wendy’s shoulders bobbed up and down as she sobbed. “I thought you would be pleased. I thought I behaved like a grown-up.”
Bill dropped another log on the bonfire causing a splash of sparks. He sat down on the chair opposite David with the fire’s smoke as a curtain between them. They had not spoken for ten minutes. “I can’t believe I told you that,” David said, almost to himself. Another silent minute passed. Without looking up Bill said “I would have never guessed. I just...” Silence. He peered through the smoke and caught David’s eyes. “It doesn’t seem like something you would do.”
"What was I supposed to do?" David said, "I had no other choice.” He knew that wasn’t true. Bill poked at the embers in the fire, fixated on the wind-pulled flames. “I can’t imagine, Dave. I mean, I never...” His voice trailed off. David cleared his throat. “If I were put in the same situation, I guess I would have to do the same thing all over again. I know I would.” He looked over the fire to Bill for support.
Bill’s voice shook. “It’s OK Dave. I understand.” He really didn’t. “I still respect you.” He actually now feared him. He wished David had never told him. Now he was a part of it. He could never erase it. David, however, felt a weight off his chest. He was glad he told Bill, even though Bill barely knew the half of it.
‘He comes in most nights.’
‘Three times a week, five… how often did David visit your pub, Mr Evans?’
Liz Evans tottered over on high heels, the cliché landlady from every B movie: big hair, lips and tits, all prominently displayed. She clasped, she hoped, seductively a very large G and very small T. ‘I can help you there, inspector.’ She blanked her husband and stood a little too close to the detective. ‘David was a regular. Here at 7 on the dot every night.’ She nodded her Dolly Parton hair towards her husband. ‘He pours a pint of Ruddles and sits it on the bar, ready and waiting.’
The old detective twitched. He might be collecting his inflation-linked pension next year, but he knew it was this he’d miss: proper detective work. Not watching endless bloody CCTV footage or scrolling through a suspect’s inane text messages. No, this was how you solved cases: talking to real people, knowing when to nod, when to probe and when to go for the jugular. ‘Mr Evans, weren’t you even a little surprised when David didn’t appear on time last Wednesday evening? Didn’t you wonder why his pint of Ruddles sat on the bar, unloved and undrunk?’
‘Don’t be daft, inspector,’ the painted bright red lips were smiling, ‘of course he wasn’t surprised.’
The grey-haired policeman raised one eyebrow nonchalantly, a trick it’d taken him most of his 40s to perfect. ‘Mrs Evans?’
‘Call me Liz, inspector, everyone does.’ She carried on smiling directly at the officer. ‘Well, oh useless husband of mine, are you going to tell him, or am I?’
Mr Evans gulped from his glass of dark rum and coke. ‘See, he couldn’t, could he? Not with his body lying cold on the Guinness in the cellar.’
In disgust, Bill Georgeson put down his book, The Angry Mountain by Hammond Innes – a ridiculous pot-boiler in which the protagonist took a mule onto a small aeroplane and disposed of a baddie by having Dobbin kick him in the head.
Bill was at the beach with his dog this morning. The wind was so strong his eyes leaked like a punctured hose. He was looking for the dog’s lead that fell out of his pocket onto the sand two days ago. It wasn’t there. Instead, he saw what looked like a dead fish lying on the tideline. The gulls had had its eyes and most of its face but it was no fish. It had a beak. It was a baby dolphin. Bill had never seen a dolphin before. You wouldn’t expect to, not on that beach.
Bill was never the brightest star in the firmament. Forty years before he retired, he was working as a porter in the local hospital. He was very keen on a studious, bookish nurse. He told me later, in his own breathy style:
‘She winked at me.’
That wink was all Bill needed to make his move.
He knew the nurse was fond of poetry, so he borrowed a book of poems by Rupert Brooke and, on some pretext, went to the bonny nurse's room to read some of the poems to her.
She asked him what the poetry was about.
‘It’s by a chap called Ruptured Brook and it’s red-hot,’ said Bill. ‘There’s references to slaking and everything.’
It turned out that the nurse was very keen on Bill. He staggered home some time later, shirt open, cap awry, face covered in lipstick.
‘What happened to you?’ his brother asked Bill.
‘I think I’ve been slaked,’ he gasped.
Ethel sat in the kitchen, crying. Nero had not come for his breakfast. The house seemed empty despite her niece sitting at the table. Ethel imagined dreadful scenarios, the common denominator, Nero dead. Emma said, “Aunt Ethel, when did you last see Nero?”
“Yesterday when I gave him his breakfast. He was sitting like an emperor on the top step, gazing at the other cats. But the moment he hears me putting his saucer of food down, he comes through the cat flap like a shot. The same in the evenings.”
Emma said, “Does he stay after his evening meal?”
“Oh, no, once he has eaten, he is off again.”
“So he spends his time outside?”
Ethel shook her head. “He comes in most nights.”
“But not last night. Shall I phone the vets for you? We can see if anyone has found a cat. Is he micro-chipped?”
The old lady nodded while wringing her hands.
Emma pulled her phone from her pocket and checked with all the vets. The last call yielded a result.
“Yes, somebody picked up a black cat lying near a skip. A car hit him. Are you the owner?”
Emma walked out of the kitchen, then explained Nero belonged to her elderly aunt. “Is he badly injured?”
“No, he is a lucky black cat but has a broken leg.”
Emma blanched. “Will it be expensive to treat him?”
The veterinary nurse said, “As his owner is elderly, we will treat him at pensioners rates. Do you want us to do that?”
Emma told Ethel what had happened.
The old lady sobbed and said, “Whatever the cost, please make him better.”
From then on, following his evening meal, Ethel locked the cat flap. He had to stay home at night.
She stood at the open window, shaking her fists at anyone passing the gate. Her strident voice screamed. “Get away. There are monsters up there.” A group of walkers passed, laughing and paying no attention to her. They were almost past when a shot rang out. A girl screamed, they scrambled out of range. Sitting on the grassy bank, one girl cried. “Why did she shoot at us?”
Alister said, “I’m phoning the police.”
A young detective drove up. “Hi, who reported a shooting? Is anyone injured?”
Alister said, “I phoned. As we passed that house there,” he pointed to the decrepit farmhouse below them, “an old lady was yelling and shaking her fists at us, then suddenly a shot rang out.”
“Was anyone hurt?” Asked the police officer.
“No, we were going for a walk, but now we want to get the hell out of here.”
“Right, stay here. I’ll see what’s going on.”
As he neared the house, the window was flung open. He saw the muzzle of a gun, then an old lady with tousled grey hair shouted. “Get away. The monsters are coming.”
He called back. “Don’t worry. I’ve got them under control for now. How about you come out, then we can get away from them?”
Still carrying the gun, she opened the door. He reached out. “Let me take the gun.”
Subdued, she handed the weapon over. “That’s good. Now let’s get away from here.”
Back at the police station with her safely tucked away at the hospital, his boss congratulated him.
Shaking his head, he said, “She winked at me.”
His unhelpful boss said. “People suffering delusions do strange things, don’t worry, there’s no significance to it.”