Happy Birthday Old Bill
‘…………so, I jumped into the river, splosh, and swam to the other side, checking over me shoulder as I goes. Big sod was right there so I dug deep, thrashing the water to a froth, reached the bank, pulled meself out, and ran for the car, sopping wet I was. Car key still worked, thank gawd, jumped in a sped off just as the big galoot reached the road. Dodged round him and raced back into town. Bloody nightmare Mr Jackson.’
Sergeant Jackson had listened patiently to Billy’s tale, nodding, occasionally frowning for emphasis.
‘So, Billy. The reason you were wet through and driving more than 60 miles an hour in a built-up area was because a mysterious stranger had pursued you across fields, through a river, and onto the B2099 where you miraculously escaped his villainous intent’.
‘On my life’ said Billy, wide-eyed.
‘And the reason your blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit was………?’
‘Well, as I said, I was proper shaken up by the whole thing sergeant, and I had that bottle of whisky in the glove compartment I’d bought for my old dad’s birthday coming up…….’
‘In four months, Billy?’. Billy senior was no stranger to the constabulary either.
‘Yeah, so I has a few snifters to set me straight. Can’t blame a man after what I’d been through’ Billy reasoned.
‘Ah, blame. Glad you mentioned that. You see, we have Lord Lowther’s gamekeeper here, and he blames you for being on his river earlier today poaching his salmon. Recognised you from before and has photos this time, taken before he challenged you, and you absconded. I’ve seen those photos Billy, so I’ll ask again, do you really expect me to believe your story?’
“Would I lie to you?” smiled Billy.
The Cuckoo in the Nest
“Where’s Carl?” Stella hadn’t noticed his absence immediately. The six of them were cramped in their one room, though she’d tried to make it cosy with soft furnishings.
She looked at the children, their eyes huge in their faces, their mouths agape. They jostled each other, nobody willing to speak.
“Billy…” squeaked a small voice that was immediately hushed.
Stella looked at Billy with stony eyes. It was hard to love this huge son of hers, so unfamiliar, crowding out the space for his finer boned siblings. She tried to be a good mother but she had to dash out to find food for them all. They were a growing family and needed sustenance. Terry was on night shift and barely made it back with anything to show for his efforts. It was down to her to feed them all and there was no way she could take four of them out on her own.
Billy stared back at her, daring her to say anything. Stella looked away first and bustled about portioning out the little she had brought. She tried to be fair but knew Billy would swipe the majority out of the little ones’ mouths.
She tried again. “Where’s Carl? Tell me the truth.”
“He fell off the ledge,” whispered Anna. “We were playing and Billy…” she gulped and carried on, “Billy tripped him.”
“It was an accident,” said Billy.
Stella rushed to the ledge and peered over. Carl’s broken body lay on the flagstones below. She keened. She was about to rush to him when Billy’s voice stopped her.
“I’m hungry again. You need to fetch me more food.”
Stella didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to leave Anna and Rob.
“It will never happen again, I promise.”
Stella flew as fast as she could.
Working on the Hospice at Home team is always a rollercoaster. One day, you see your patient, and the next, they have gone or deteriorated significantly. That’s why there are night team members and daily visits. Nights you stay with the patient all night to allow the family members to get some sleep. Day visits revolve around washing patients twice daily and changing their bedding. Usually, while they are in bed, you cannot be squeamish, and nothing should faze you. Like when I went to see Ernie.
He lived in a strange place, a shed in the corner of a wrecker’s yard where he sold motorcycle spares. The main door led into a room with a quarry tiled floor and a table covered with spare parts. Off to the right were two tiny rooms. One had a toilet and basin and constituted a bathroom. The other, a few cupboards and a gas ring, was the kitchen.
In the other room, once the living room was the hospital bed crammed into a corner.
I called as I pushed open the door and gazed at a nightmare. Lying on the floor in inches of urine mixed with blood was Ernie. His catheter had come out leaking urine from him plus the already full bag. He must have slipped and hit his head. I phoned my boss. “I need help here.”
“I’ve never seen so much blood.”
The paramedics only arrived after I had got him into bed. Put a pressure bandage on his head and cleaned the floor. They whisked him off to the hospital.
He wanted to die at home. Once all the leakages had been fixed, he came back. He died a few days later as he wanted, looking out at the busy bird feeder.
He was the black sheep of the family. But she dearly loved this youngest son of hers. The other boys were law-abiding, hardworking lads, but Andy was the opposite. He had even spent time in jail but now newly released. Andy promised her he was a new man. He wanted to get a job and go straight. While in prison, he had learned about gardening, market gardening. If only he could get a job in one, he could avoid his old cronies. The only problem was there was no call for the produce from a market garden here in this economically deprived area.
He went off to the pub, and when walking home, a couple of thugs attacked and badly beat him up. They left him lying in a ditch, and it was quite by chance an elderly man walking his dog came upon him. An ambulance was called, and they whisked him to A&E. After setting his leg in plaster and his arm in a sling, he was sent to the ward.
Poor Shirley was distraught when he hadn’t come home and phoned his brothers.
“Mum, he’s in hospital rather badly beaten up.”
The next day she was by his bed. “What happened, Andy? I know the police have been to see you. I don’t want any silly stories from you.”
“Mum, I don’t know what happened. It was dark, and they attacked me from behind.”
“Do you expect me to believe that? They were your old friends, weren’t they?”
“I don’t know who did this.”
She looked at him, her eyebrows creasing her forehead, head tipped on the side.
He said, “Would I lie to you?”
On discharge, she told him. “I’ve got you a job as a gardener at the Grange.”
Tim sat in the porch staring vacantly into the night. It was cool, and the sky above was an expanse of stars, yet he observed nothing of the beauty. He only remembered how years ago, he had met his wife, Lucy at a blood donation camp; his turn had come and he lay down on the bed. He had felt a thrill of joy when he was attended to by this pretty, young nurse with a white lab coat, latex gloves and a smile that spanned her cheeks.
“Tim O’Brien?” she had asked and when he nodded, proceeded with the task of drawing blood as part of the procedure. It filled into a soft bag beside him and looked anything but red.
“My blood is black,” he joked. “You sure its okay if I still donate?”
“Your blood is not black,” she smiled wisely. “It only looks like that.”
“Probably because I am just a common A Positive,” he grunted. “What’s your type?”
“It’s O Negative.”
“You’re kidding!” Tim gasped. “Really?”
“I’m not,” Lucy replied. “Would I lie to you?”
“That’s a rare blood type,” he remarked.
“I’m rare,” she quipped.
They were married a year later. Then came children – three boys and a girl and life had been good. It was only going to get better – or so Tim had thought.
Last week, it all fell apart when some drunk driver raced down the street, lost control of his car and rammed into her as she strolled home with their dog. But what shattered all his dreams was, even as she lay bleeding on her gurney as she was rushed into emergency, they couldn’t get enough blood or find a donor whose type matched hers.
“You’re rare,” he whispered, crying and Lucy smiled and passed away.
A Midnight Moon
The bright moon shone through the windows. I looked to my right. Jeremy sat in the driver’s seat, focused on the road. They were icy with yesterday’s rain, the cars vulnerable to skids. My mom asked me to take him to the airport, but something felt wrong. Jeremy’s face was pale and yellow, unlike ever before; his head never turned to my direction, which was very weird. As I looked at him, a small tattoo on his arm caught my attention. His cuffed-up sleeves revealed an eye; which wasn’t very surprising, Jeremy loved weird things. But the postman who came this morning, a friend, wore the same symbol on his arm. I wanted to talk to him but couldn’t grab his attention. I looked at it once again, and said, “Jeremy, what is that?” I waited for a few seconds- no response. I looked up at him, and his eyes were no longer open. His eyes turned black. I gave out a loud scream. But what came forth was much worse. I caught a glimpse of the road; a one-way lane, but I could faintly see a car’s headlights driving towards us. I immediately threw Jeremy off the wheel taking control. I tried to turn the wheels into the ditches, but it wouldn’t move. The car kept getting closer and closer; but I couldn’t steer off the lane. Tears were streaming down my face. I took one last look at my friend; and before I could face the road, my car toppled over. There were no others; just us. Or me rather.
I remember being wheeled out into the hospital. The doctors remarking, “I’ve never seen so much blood.” and “At least she’s alive, the other boy died.” The dozes of anesthesia kept me dizzy. My body felt completely stuck. I knew Jeremy didn’t make it. I looked up at the doctor; I couldn’t believe it. His eyes turned the same color as Jeremy’s, before this happened. Just before I took a last gasp of air, I thought to myself, “If they were zombies- were they trying to kill me?”
Truth and Lies
“Would I lie to you?”
The Colgate smile had slipped around the priests neck thought Tom. There was a hole in the wall where the bookcase had been and Father Murphy was beckoning him through like the Trapdoor Spider, he had watched in the wooden dunny.
On the ship, the children shuffled like packs of cards, thrown around in new combinations over the half-empty decks, between the rails, canteen and cabins, for six weeks. This was the solution to Toms persistent truanting and his Mother’s wayward parenting; a roundup of similar tragic kids from overspill towns, shipping them to Tasmania. There is nowhere to run away to on a ship, and who knew where they were going? Was it a holiday or home? Is there a return ticket? Is it worth learning the other kids names?
As land came into sight, Tom had asked another; “Do you know the way back to England?” The conversation developed as the nerves tingled. “Can I stick with you?” “God it’s hot here”
Thanks to the experience of the company his Mother used to keep, Tom can sense that beneath the skin of conventional behaviour lies the true stuff of men, even priests. His internal radar, suddenly on high alert. Father Murphy casually standing in the gap, one hand already wiping his brow of expectant perspiration, the other unconsciously, furtively hovering around his belt buckle.
Lies depend on the truth you begin with. What is wrongness when everything is wrong? Nothing he has seen so far in this country has any legitimacy. Christian Brothers “caring” for you with stale bread and beatings. There is nowhere to hide because all the best places are being used by them to bury their dirty little secrets.
“Well?” The priests eyebrows lift.
Tom stepped through the gap.
‘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.’
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.
There are two truths in life. Men will lie, and women will find out. She was told this by her mum, who had been told it by her mum before her. And yet they all made the same mistake. He was obviously no different.
“Did you really think you’d get away with it? Did you think I wouldn’t find out?” She was livid, not because he had been seeing another woman behind her back, but because he had lied to her.
“I swear, I’ve not done anything. Come on love, please.” His pitiful attempts at squirming out of it had no effect on her whatsoever.
“I don’t know what to believe anymore. Forget the seven-year itch, this is more like the five-year itch, isn’t it? Hey, don’t look away from me. I don’t want much. You won’t entertain getting a pet, we never go away anywhere and now you’re carrying on with that…woman.” The last month of frustration was flooding out, her emotions betraying her fragile state. “You’ve just been so distracted recently.”
“Would I lie to you?” he pleaded, evidently annoyed he had been found out. He reached into his pocket to retrieve his phone.
“Oh what, are you going to show me some photos of her now? Just what I want,” she huffed, folding her arms in defiance.
“I do want to show you a photo,” he replied, “and her name is Cindy, although I’m sure we can change that.”
“Cindy! Oh my God, is she like fifteen and like, so cool?” she mocked, “and…wait a minute, what do you mean change her name?” Pausing, she was presented with a photo of a beautiful kitten and wondered if just maybe she was wrong, and her husband had actually been telling the truth…
Ben lied like he was born with a silver tongue. He came up with such daring lies, and he told them with the straightest of faces, and the most brilliant sparkle in his eye.
You could never tell when he was lying. Last week, when he got home late he told Mama, “I came as fast as I could. Those older boys were chasing me cause I beat them in the races at recess! But I had to go the long way to throw ‘em off.”
I could confirm that he did outrace them at recess. We could see he was disheveled and panting. Jade would know if he was running past her house, but she never saw anything amiss.
But Mama was smart, too, and didn’t care. “Well, if you were being chased, you shoulda come home faster then.” That was the end of that conversation.
His lies always had some truth to them, so we almost never found out. Except that one time.
We’d been goofing off in old Mr. Murphy’s backyard, where the weeds grew up to my shoulders. I loved hiding in there, and Ben would try climbing the fence. He called me over to boost him up. I wasn’t strong enough. He fell on me, hard, and I couldn’t move.
Later, the doctor said my elbow was busted. Ben told Mama how we’d been playing, how he’d climbed the fence by himself, and didn’t look where he was, and fell on me. It was true, but not true.
That’s when he said it.
“It will never happen again, I promise.”
And I never found out if it was the falling or the lying that he meant.
I listened to the dial tone and hung up. If I dialled the right number I’m free of the Victoria Estate, this closed in, run down suburb-within-a-city. And the endless taunts, the tittle tattle – and Tara and Saskia – the school bullies.
Saskia was notorious. When she homed in on me or another target, her eyes turned into glassy marbles like a cat about to pounce on its tiny prey. Then, Jekyll-and-Hyde like, she’d whisper in your ear. ‘It will never happen again, I promise’.
We all avoided her – even Tara couldn’t take it in the end - she changed schools in our final year. Technically, Saskia wasn’t a resident of the Estate, but a hanger-on from the more up market apartments off Grosvenor Gardens. Somehow, she got dragged down to us lot. Kicked out of her preppy school and overlooked by her jet-set parents. I never forgot her. Years later, I wondered how she’d turned out. School bullies. Nothing on social media, I drew a complete blank. Maybe she’d changed her name? Who knows.
That pillarbox red telephone booth did save me, though, from the Victoria Estate.
It was a sunny day in March and the end of an interminable, gloomy winter. I picked up the receiver, as I did most days, especially bad ones. I listened desparatly for a voice through the inevitable crackle and whirring, and Captain Quasar spoke at last...
I penned my autograph and handed the book back to the little girl, her eyes agog with delight. ‘Thank you so much! I've read every one. Captain Quasar is my favourite, she’s so brave!’
When I’m alone, I wonder how Saskia might have turned out if she, too, had superpowers.
I looked directly at the girl. ‘Yes, that’s what counts. Being brave and staying true to yourself’.
Buckets of Blood
Tom said, a little lamely:
'I’ve never seen so much blood.'
‘That’s no use,’ cried the director. ‘You sound as if you’re reading from an instruction manual for kitchen appliances. Put your heart and soul into it. The emphasis is on never.’
‘Alright, then. I’ve never seen so much blood.’
‘That’s a bit better,’ said the director. New to this acting lark, aren’t you?’
‘I didn’t want to be in the play at all. I was happy prompting from the wings, but when Henry cracked his shin, I had no option.’
‘Can we please get on?’ came a voice from the floor. ‘I might get spelks in my backside or something.’
‘In a minute, Emily,’ said the director. ‘Tom’s being difficult.’
‘No, I’m not,’ said Tom, ‘I’m doing my best.’
‘What is all this red stuff anyway?’ asked Emily. ‘It stinks.’
‘It’s cochineal,’ said the director.
‘cosha-what?’ asked Emily.
‘Cochineal. It’s a dye made from the mucus of an insect,’ said the director.
Emily sprang up in horror.
‘You expect me to play in a scene covered in insect snot? Why couldn’t we have used ketchup?’
‘We don’t have any,’ said Tom. ‘The last went on his hot dog.’ He pointed at the director.
‘I’m going off to change clothes. I won’t stay a minute longer covered in beetle juice.’
With that, Emily stormed off the stage.
‘We’d better get someone else to play the corpse,’ said Tom.
‘Who?’ said the director. ‘She’s the only woman in the cast.’
‘It’s a rotten play anyway,’ said Tom.
‘I wholeheartedly agree,’ said the director.
‘Why don’t we do An Inspector Calls instead?’ said Tom. ‘There’s no blood in that.’
‘And Emily can be Mrs Birling,’ said the director.
Emily insisted on playing the Inspector, in drag.
‘Actors,’ moaned the director.
Troy’s New Job
A greying man dressed in a pristine white coat, held out a welcoming hand. “Ah, you must be the new person, Troy, isn’t it? I’m John Davidson we spoke briefly on the ‘phone. Anyway welcome to the unit, I’m sure you’ll fit in well here.”
Troy shook the man’s hand warmly. “Thank you, I’m really looking forward to getting started, I’ve wanted a job like this for ages, I’m sure I will find it fascinating.”
John Davidson waved his arm across the room. “Oh, yes, once you’re fully trained, you’ll find our work very engrossing. Now let me introduce you to Moira she’ll be your guide and mentor.”
He pointed a finger over Troy’s left shoulder.
Troy turned to face Moira. She was dressed in an identical white coat, with her hair covered by a blue plastic bouffant cap. She gave him a cordial greeting, “Come on Troy, let’s get you fitted out and then I’ll give you the guided tour.”
She led Troy over to a door marked ‘Clothing Store’ and eyed him carefully up and down. She reached in and handed a familiar white coat to him. He slipped it on, Moira nodded in approval. “A great fit, you now really look the part, so let’s get going.”
The pair walked away. Moira took the lead with Troy following in her wake.
About an hour later they returned. John Davidson looked up from his bench. “So, there you are, well young man, how did you get on?”
Troy stared back. His eyes wide and his face pale.
“I’ve never seen so much blood.”
John Davidson shook his head and frowned. He glanced across to Moira. She was grinning broadly.
Moira laughed, “Well, what did you expect? I mean this is a haematology laboratory. That’s what we deal with, blood!”
Playing by Ear
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.”
Memories of La Paz, Bolivia
I awoke with two missing front teeth. Looking into the police mirror, I exclaimed, “I’ve never seen so much blood.” My tux was and white shirt was the color of a red rose. That I had just woken up from a night out of town was a sort of wild. Me, I was wondering what happened. The police car door was open. So I got out and wandered down to the riot police dogs’ area. I was in a sort of panic. I was in a third world country and missing two front teeth, and I hoped the blood was all mine. I doubted I had hurt anyone. At this time the police realized I had walked away from the car to the riot dogs. I had backed myself up to the cage and was trying to figure out if they were the ones responsible for my present state. I backed up to the largest cage and when three police officer came to get me. I could not speak the local language and basically stated I trusted the dogs more than them and opened the cage. Teh police ran for their lives. Me? I picked the small pony of the dog up and threw it at them. The dog turned around, looked at me with enormous eyes at what I had just done, and then I thought of Bully Wikle and Rocky squirrel program. So I stuffed my arm down its throat. The dog’s eyes grew even bigger. Coming to my senses. I thought to myself, “This will never happen again, I promise.” I pulled my arm out of the dog’s mouth, picked it up and put it back in the cage. Explaining this to my boss the next day, “And that is my story, would I lie to you?"
Ben Chalmers had only just arrived in the city. Having transferred from South Gloucester, he was hoping to swap the petty crimes for something more substantial. It took just three days before he found himself standing at a murder scene surrounded by people dressed in pale blue coveralls taking measurements, swabs and photographs of a dead body.
DCI Noohan, an experienced, seen-there-done-that detective breathed in through her gritted teeth and sought out a member of the blue coverall team leaving Chalmers to assess the body on his own, “don’t touch anything!” she said as a parting warning.
The body, who until just recently would have been a living, breathing person with thoughts, fears and dreams was laying on his back staring up at the ceiling light above. Awkward and peaceful at the same time. Judging by the red stain on his shirt, he was killed by a gunshot wound, either that or he had an unlucky exchange with a sauce-heavy pizza.
“I’ve never seen so much blood” Chalmers said to nobody, but his words made one or two faces turn.
“Good instincts” one of the coveralls said as they approached, “we think there was a second victim”.
“Where are they?” Noohan added looking about the room for another body or signs of one being dragged away.
The CSI shrugged, causing the DCI to frown, “maybe we should let these guys finish, we’ll only be in the way. Come on, I’ll treat you to the worst coffee in the city” she said and headed off towards the exit.
Chalmers took one last look at the body and wrote the words, ‘two victims’ in his notebook.
“Looks like you got what you wanted” Noohan said and offered him a sardonic smile and a polystyrene cup of undrinkable liquid.
In Danama, Prime Minister Doolay stood alone at the podium to address the crowd after a humiliating defeat at the polls. As usual, he was suave and smartly dressed. He always looked in control. Now he spoke earnestly. “Don’t believe these numbers. By the morning, all will change.”
His followers cheered and danced a jig on the spot, waving flags. They shouted. “Doolay for President,” like a mantra. They believed if they carried on shouting long enough, it would come true.
He said, “It’s not what it looks like.”
More cheering from the crowd. He continued. “Those numbers will change by morning.”
They continued shouting and dancing until he put his hands up for silence.
A hush fell. Then they noticed the men dressed all in black, from balaclavas to boots toting AK47’s. They had silently surrounded the area. Their guns trained not on anyone trying to enter the arena but on the crowd itself. He heard hushed whispers from a few in the crowd as they experienced a frisson of fear. “Who are these people? What are they doing?”
The prime minister ignored them and spoke again. “How many of you voted in this election?”
They swivelled their heads towards the podium, forgetting the gunmen. They raised their hands and shouted their mantra again.
The silence was deafening as Doolay stepped from the podium, walking round the tangled mass of dead and dying bodies. To his henchmen, he said, “Cover them and make the announcement I have won a landslide victory.”
© Felicity Edwards
Only the camera never lies
A bulky blue anorak framing an orange scarf topped with a brown hat and glasses, Paul stood at the bus stop like he had been clumsily assembled by someone who didn’t like him very much. He had been there for a while, sometimes sitting, occasionally reading his Guardian. Just another fat 24-year-old Londoner whose pace of life was dictated by public transport. His frequent looks in the direction the bus was expected hid his true intent – observing the client’s husband as he sat twenty feet away.
His mum had convinced his shifty stepdad to give Paul a job at the small private detective agency he managed. In the four weeks he had been working for him, this was the third married man he had followed and so far, he had established that the guy had two kids, liked his coffee from Costa, stayed no more than the required number of hours at his boring office job, and habitually picked his nose. Also, his girlfriend lived in a ground floor bedsit in Islington, but he hadn’t told anyone that.
Paul sometimes wished he had gotten into computers, or invested in Bitcoin, or robbed a bank, or anything that would not require him to follow and record the movements of these reliably duplicitous dullards.
As the bus arrived, an old woman who reached the door first was knocked over by a Mongol horde of teenagers disembarking.
“That’s gotta hurt!” murmured Paul, amused as he went to her aid, but she was up and onto the bus before he got there so, waiting for his mark to board, nasally excavating as ever, he followed, redrafting in his mind the note he would deliver to the fornicating old fecker’s work address tomorrow, along with some of the compelling photos he had taken in Islington.
© John Petrie
Change of Office
They sat around discussing their prospects.
Lottie Chang looked worried. “Well, guys, we have little choice. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were rising stars. Now we’re rapidly declining. There isn’t much work. We have to close our doors or restructure.”
Another of the partners, Laurie Anderson, frowned and spoke thoughtfully. “There must be a way.” He fingered his trim goatee beard. A habit when he was thinking. “How about closing the office and working from home?”
Archie Ncube sitting with his chair tipped back on two legs, said, “That’s gotta hurt!”
Lottie shook her head. “Not necessarily. I’ve got a spare room. It can be an office. Laurie, your apartment could fit a desk. Archie, you’re the only one with a house and garden. Could we put an office there? You can get decent insulated wooden ones with heating, electricity and broadband. What do you think?”
Laurie looked relieved. “Lottie, that’s a great idea. What about it, Archie?”
Archie had inherited the house from his grandparents. He thought a moment, then said, “I’ll have to check with Obe, but I’m sure she’d be happy. That way, she could still do our secretarial work without travelling. She could carry on even after she has the baby.”
The other two looked startled. “You never told us Obe was expecting!”
“I couldn’t. I only learned about it today.”
“Well, that’s another reason to change. Do you think clients could come here when we need face-to-face meetings?”
Lottie looked relieved. “At least all our hard work won’t be wasted. I only hope Obe agrees.”
Obe opened the door. Her braided, beaded hair clicking. “What do you want of me now?”
Lottie laughed. “Our multi-racial company needs a new roost. Could we build a nest in your garden?”
© Felicity Edwards
The Reds And The Blues
The bank’s management team gathered at the fun-park for a day of team building. The day was hot and sultry, and the grass was dry and yellow all around the Paintball arena.
The group, geared up in helmets and padded ‘uniforms’ divided themselves into two teams, Red and Blue, each choosing their captain who had to guard their ‘headquarters’ as per the rules of the game. The rest, arming themselves with their guns, loaded up with paintballs took their positions around little forts, gunny sacks and trenches. The game began with a stint of gruella warfare, but pretty soon the shooting commenced.
Alan, one of the ‘soldiers’ from the Blue Team nudged his partner, Glen in the trench.
“If I can sneak up to those gunny sacks there,” he suggested, pointing with his nose where sweat bubbles glistened behind his helmet vizor, “I can get those Reds behind that wall. Cover me.”
With that he took off, crouching low as Glen with a yowl let fly his paintballs erratically. He got two of the Red Team in the process and whooped in exultation, ripping off his helmet and jumping up and down in the trench like a little boy.
Someone from the red team saw his chance and opened fire as well and Glen, in his jubilant jumping failed to realise that he had become a vulnerable target.
“Get under cover Glen,” Alan and other ‘Blues’ yelled from their various positions, but it was too late. A barrage of paintballs whizzed toward Glen, one which caught him in the left eye and splattered like a rotten tomato.
Alan shook his head, exclaiming to himself:
“That’s gotta hurt!”
Glen, having been ‘killed’ left the ground in disgust. Thankfully he didn’t lose his eye, but he did spend a week in hospital.
© Cindy Pereira
Highs and Lows
“Oooohhh,” the crowd groaned as one.
“What a numpty,” a voice could be heard, shouting over the noise.
“That’s gotta hurt!” laughed another.
The pride was damaged a lot more than any physical pain. I could feel the blood rising in my face, the shame surely evident for the world to see. It had been my one chance to impress her, to make her really proud of me. We’d only been together a short time and I had been waiting for this chance to prove my worth and to get her to love me.
“Make sure you don’t make any mistakes,” she had sagely advised me, or, thinking back, was it more menacing than advice? “We’ve got a chance to win this and to finally rub his face in the dirt.” I mean, I didn’t really want to rub anyone’s nose in the dirt but hey, who was I to argue if it made her happy?
I had been looking forward to the treat she had promised me afterwards, the delectable dinner no doubt, just the two of us without the usual crowd. I normally don’t get a look in with her when the others are around, so perhaps tonight was going to be the night, I had naively thought.
All that disappeared the moment my face hit the floor. The ridiculous thing was that it was the easiest section – maybe I had just been too casual, too relaxed. I’d completed the slalom and hurdled I don’t know how many obstacles, and this see-saw was normally a doddle, but this time my mind had been elsewhere.
I’d let her down at this one, but there must be another dog show for me to prove my worth at soon. I just hope I can do it without falling off!
© Mike Rymarz
“It’s not what it looks like.”
“It’s exactly what it looks like. You’ve deliberately chosen a dress in the same style as mine.”
“Considering the time of year, there was very little choice. Stop being a drama queen.”
“I’m not. I just thought…”
“Oh, forget it. I don’t know why I’m talking to you. Nothing’s going to change.”
“I have to go out. Can you make yourself something to eat or do you want me to do that too?”
“I can manage.”
“You made me go shopping for my dress before the new season fashions arrived, months ago.”
“Are you still harping on? You know what you’re like. You dither. If I’d left it to you, you wouldn’t have a dress…which I paid for.”
“You could have chosen something different, that’s all.”
“My dress is nothing like yours. Yours is white and mine olive green for one thing. They may have the same high collar, but I have ruffles where you have lace round the bodice. I wish you’d cease this senseless whining. I’m going to be late and I can’t stand being late.”
“it’s always about you. What about me?”
“This is all about you. The whole shindig. Don’t you want me to look my best for you?”
“I suppose if I turned up in a potato sack, you’d be happy?”
“No. You’d say I was letting the side down and you’d be right. All I was doing was thinking of you and this is how you repay me?”
“Don’t. I’m sorry. You can wear what you want.”
“Thank you. Now I’m off to meet the caterer and then sorting out a florist.”
“Yes, I’m trying the tasting menu to whittle down your options and then talking about your bouquet.”
© Liz Berg
The Driving Lesson
“It’s not what it looks like” he screamed.
She looked down at her leg. Across the thigh of her jeans was a growing bloodstain, soaking in like blotting paper.
“I think it is” she said. “Such a shame. My friend recommended you and she passed first time; said you were so professional”.
She went on: “I was born with just one leg. You’ve probably guessed that by now. I was never as quick as my friends in games, so I’ve had to adopt different strategies in life. You might think now that I am disabled, but you didn’t know that when we first met”.
“I didn’t feel a thing last week when you so discreetly ran your hand up my leg. You were assuming I was a soft touch. I have never been easy prey”.
“Now, you’ve made me ruin a pair of good jeans, because you tried it on again this week and the evidence is there to see”.
Mike looked ashen as he stared, terrified into her eyes. He’d been nonchalant in the lesson, bragging about his driving talent, full of sexual innuendo and bravado. With the passenger window down, he let his arm swing in the warm summer air. At the traffic lights she seemed focused on the red, when she’d reached down into her bag, produced a knife and in one quick swoop, pinned his other hand onto the thigh of her prosthetic leg, whilst simultaneously winding the passenger window back up as his gaze fixed on the source of pain and surprise. So now he found his left arm jammed out of the window and his right hand fixed to her leg.
Using her phone, she took a photograph of the two of them. “Incriminating evidence wouldn’t you say? I’ll show my friend; your wife.”
© Steve Goodlad