Julie Rosenfield

My journal

Archive for the category “STORIES”

BREAKING ALL THE RULES! (SHORT STORY)

Dear Mr Honeydew

I see from your magazine, ‘The Chaperone’, that you are currently seeking entries for a short story competition on the theme of love.

I attach my short story “Hot Coals” for your consideration.

Yours sincerely

K.L. Rowling

 

Dear Mr Rowling

As you will see from our competition rules, in order to enter our contest, you will need to print out your story in a Word document format and mail it to us with the requisite entry fee. Please remember to enclose an SAE, should you want your story returned.

I regret that e-mail entries are not acceptable.

Yours sincerely

B.D. Honeydew

Editor, ‘The Chaperone’

PS Any relation?

Dear Mr Honeydew

What’s all this with Mr Rowling?  Please call me Katherine.

Of course, my name’s not really K.L. Rowling. I just figured that when I eventually get my novel published, they’ll have to put it on the library shelf next to J.K. Rowling and, if her books are out of stock, people will naturally be drawn to pick my book up instead. Crafty, eh?

Katherine L. Rowling (no relation!)

 

Dear Katherine

Oh yes, I see. Sorry about confusing your gender. These days, you can’t always tell.

About your story, as I say, if you send it by post to ‘The Chaperone’ offices, someone will be sure to read it.

Kind regards

Bernard Honeydew

 

Dear Bernard

May I call you Bernard? We do seem to be on first name terms now.

So “someone” will read my story, will they? My dear Bernard, I don’t want just anyone to read it. Who did you have in mind:  one of your minions or juniors, perhaps?

In that case, I don’t think so. My story is, shall we say, rather of an adult nature? That’s why I’m sending it expressly to you as the Editor.

Katherine

Dear Katherine

Well, in that case, we couldn’t possibly consider your story.

‘The Chaperone’ magazine is meant for those dear readers who hark back to a more gentle era. Not the rather more bold, raunchy, anything goes tales of today.

Bernard

 

Bernard

Yes, I see what you mean. I raced to read your feature in last month’s issue, entitled “50 Shades…”, only to find a photo feature on parasols.

Really, Mr Honeydew, speaking as a red-blooded woman, it hardly raises the temperature, does it?

Katherine

Katherine

I can assure you that there was a wealth of subtle meaning behind that feature. The orange parasol, I feel, was positively twitching.

Less is more.

Bernard

Bernard

Nonetheless, we must agree to disagree.

Now, are you going to read my story or not? Otherwise, I can always submit it to your rival magazine, ‘The Governess’.

Katherine

 

Katherine

Well, in that case, as you insist, and as I do happen to have a little time on my hands this evening, I will take a brief look at it. No promises, mind.

But, in future, I would strongly urge you to submit any future stories in the usual way.

Bernard

Bernard

Well?

I’m waiting ….

Katherine

Katherine

I don’t know what to say.

Bernard

Bernard?

Does that mean it’s good or …. ?

Katherine

Katherine

Let me get straight to the point. Your story, though well-crafted and constructed, and with its excellent use of imagery and dialogue, was really rather ….

Bernard

Bernard?

Are you still there?

Katherine

Katherine

Well, what can I say? That scene with your characters, Tom and Lydia, cavorting in the sauna. Well, I have to say it was, rather, shall we say, steamy?

And that episode in the artist’s studio was, frankly, quite graphic.

My dear Mrs Rowling, readers of ‘The Chaperone’ are only looking for a little romance. More of a gentle saunter than a full-on sauna.

And, frankly, is it even possible or advisable to do such things in a sauna? NB Health and Safety!

Yours

Bernard

PS Is there a Mr Rowling?

Bernard

I assure you that the scene in the sauna is very possible. Why, in my youth, I myself was actually quite the gymnast. A lady never forgets.

In any case, we must think about your circulation.

Katherine

PS, There is a “Mr Rowling” as you call him, but he’s always far too busy working to pay me much attention these days.

Katherine

Nothing wrong with my circulation, I can assure you. I’m not sure about my blood pressure though, after reading your story.

Bernard

Bernard

I was talking about your magazine’s circulation, of course.

By the way, I do like the photo of you in the Editor’s Chair feature. Very handsome.

Katherine

PS Is there a Mrs Honeydew?

Katherine.

Thank you.

I’m glad you like the photo. I’m really rather proud of it myself.

Bernard

Bernard

Yes, but I would lose the white whiskers if I were you. Bit too Father Christmassy, in my opinion.

Katherine

Katherine

I’ll have you know that my wife, the first and only Mrs Honeydew, loves my beard. She says it makes me look very distinguished.

Bernard

Bernard

Good for Mrs Honeydew. I’d say you’d look 10 years younger without your beard. If you were my husband, I’d make you whip it off in no time.

Katherine Growling

Dear Mrs Rowling, Growling, Yowling or whatever you really call yourself

I feel this has really gone far enough and that we should put an end to this correspondence.

Your story is not suitable for publication for this magazine.

The Editor’s Decision is Final.

Bernard D. Honeydew

Bernard

I am attaching a photo of myself in a new, skin-tight, red leotard with my long brown hair falling loosely around my shoulders. 

I do hope you like it.

Yours

Katherine

Katherine

Thank you for your photo. Very charming, indeed.  I see what you mean about being a gymnast. You’ve clearly kept your figure over the years.

I do feel, though, that the judicious addition of a parasol might have been called for, with perhaps an accompanying warning for a man of my age.

Mr Rowling is a very lucky man.

Bernard

Bernard

I have a suggestion.

Why don’t we get together and set up a new magazine of our own?  Something a little more in touch with the present day?

Katherine

Katherine

Well, it’s certainly a thought. You do seem rather gifted.

Bernard

 

Bernard

Ah, does that mean you did like my story, after all?

Katherine

Katherine

Rather. I’m still hot under the collar thinking about it. And as for your photo ..

Bernard

Bernard

Perhaps we should have a meeting to discuss any … matters arising?

Katherine

Katherine

Yes, indeed. We should…

There is just one thing, though.

Bernard

Bernard

Yes?

Katherine

Katherine

When you come upstairs tonight, will you please switch all the lights off and leave the dog downstairs?

Bernard

Bernard

Really? Why’s that?

Katherine

 

Katherine – or rather –  Katie!

I rather think this is one night when we won’t need a chaperone!

All yours

Bernie

THE END

Julie H. Rosenfield               24.2.2014

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SOMETHING DIFFERENT (SHORT STORY)

Ever since she’d been a teenager, it had been the same refrain.

“Why can’t you meet a nice Jewish boy?”

Rachel sighed. “But I don’t want to meet a nice Jewish boy,” she thought to herself. “I want something different. I want a bad boy.”

Her mother was off again. “Mrs Fishman’s daughter’s just got engaged and she’s two years younger than you.”

Rachel shrugged her shoulders, uninterested in the dating successes of her mother’s neighbours’ offspring.

“You could find yourself a nice accountant, or even better, a nice Jewish doctor,” and here, a tear sprang to Rachel’s mother’s soft brown eyes.

“A doctor,  that would be one in the eye for Mrs Goldbaum. Perhaps even a specialist?” Rachel’s mother had to sit down quickly, overcome at the thought.

No, Rachel didn’t want a nice Jewish boy. She wanted something different.

There had been boys at uni, of course. Bad, bad boys. There was Tariq, who took her out on his motorbike; Christopher, the teacher who gave her lines that were totally unconnected to detention, and Ho-Sung, the martial arts fanatic …

“Or a solicitor, maybe. Or a barrister?”

Rachel’s mother was off again. Rachel smiled. Barrister! The closest she’d been to that was that barista, Carlos, she’d met at the student coffee bar. He’d certainly been close to the law a few times but not in the way that Rachel’s mother had ever had in mind.

All too soon, though, uni came to an end. And, unable to find a job in London that would pay to rent more than a shoebox, Rachel had had no choice but to come back home to Leeds, and suffer her parents’ rules.

“But what if I don’t want to meet a nice Jewish boy?” Rachel asked her mother, for the umpteenth time.

“Not want to meet a nice Jewish boy? Rachel, really. You have to marry a Jewish man, so you can bring your children up Jewish. Saul, come and listen to this.”

Rachel’s father, Saul, put down his newspaper, wearily. It had been so nice to have Rachel back home but, all too soon, the arguments had started up again. He reached for his cheque book and a clipping from the Jewish Chronicle newspaper.

“Rachel, do me a favour. Just join this. Here’s the money. Keep me and your mum, happy, eh?”

Rachel read the clipping. A new Jewish dating website called Dates All Ready had just been set up: “Have we got Jews for you!” ran the headline, accompanied by an eye-watering joining fee. “Find the Smoked Salmon for your Bagel,” continued the ad, accompanied by photos of simpering, happy couples.

“But I don’t want smoked salmon,” replied Rachel, “I’m a vegetarian …”

“While you’re living under our roof …,” began Sarah, Rachel’s mother.

Saul looked over at her, pleadingly. Anything to preserve the peace ….

“OK, OK. Thanks, Dad, I’ll give it a try,” Rachel conceded. “I’ll just go up to my room and sign up.

Wearily, she turned on the computer, logged into the Dates All Ready website. Search males: 20-45, she instructed. It was all so predictable.

“Benny: already know him from school. Mummy’s boy. No thanks.”

“Paul: went on a date with him once. What he lacked in personality, he made up for in perspiration. No wonder, he’s still single…”

“Joe: he’s still on the market,” and then,  remembering his rather excessive interest in her clothes at the youth club dance: “Thought he’d be a Josephine, by now.”

There was a knock on the bedroom door. Rachel’s mother popped her head round the door.

“Just brought you a cup of hot chocolate. Seen anyone you fancy yet?”

“Not yet, mum.”

“Oh, he looks nice, what about this one?” said her mum, pointing at a picture of an older guy with a scowling face and greying hair.

“I recognise that one: Bernie Fox,” said Rachel. “But didn’t I hear that he’d got married?”

“Twice,” said her mum, “But, hey, hope springs eternal … Anyway, keep looking. We just want you to be happy….”

“Thanks, Mum, I just need to join up first before I can contact anyone anyway.”

“I’ll leave you to it,” said her mum. “Good luck.”

To humour her parents and to keep the peace, Rachel started filling in her online profile.

She didn’t really want to meet anyone on the website, anyway, so decided not to put too much effort into it. Once she finally found herself a job, and could leave home for good, she wouldn’t have to submit to any of this pressure anymore. For now, she guessed with a sigh, she’d just have to toe the line.

She searched for a photo of herself which didn’t make her look too attractive. She uploaded one particularly unprepossessing one of her with her long, dark hair scraped back and wearing no eyeshadow on her almond eyes. Anything to scare any potential suitors away …

After all, it was not as if she had anything against Judaism itself. She’d grown up in the comforting rituals of her parents’ religion, and looked forward, as much as anyone else, to the songs and candles of Sabbath and Chanucah, the big family meals at Passover, even the hungry, soul-searching of Yom Kippur.

But, she reflected, there was a whole world out there. At uni, she’d joined in just as passionately with the lights of Diwali, given up chocolate for Lent and even had a go at fasting for Ramadan…

Religion, she mused, was like a chocolate box. Some rules were hard, some were soft, but it was nice to be able to pick and choose. Why limit yourself to one religion and just one boy from that religion?

Especially when her interests and hobbies were so diverse. She loved the speed of motorbikes, loved watching wrestling, liked hunky men who were good with their hands: builders, plumbers, construction workers. And she had a particular aversion to accountants.

Dutifully, she filled in all her requirements. If the website were offering her a filling for her bagel, she knew deep down that, like the centre of a bagel, the result would be a big fat zero.

After all, she might find herself a Jewish baker but a Jewish biker, and one who liked martial arts and bricklaying? Fat chance!

Once she’d finished her registration, she lay down on her bed and flicked through the pages of her favourite fashion magazine.

Ten minutes later, there was a ping on her computer.

“Jonathan winked at you,” came the message from the website.

She quickly read his profile. No motorbikes, no kung fu but, predictably, Jonny liked jazz.

Jazz? No, heavy metal was more Rachel’s thing. Dream on.

“David smiled at you,” came another message.

She glanced through his profile. “Hoping to become a partner in my own accountancy firm one day,” it ran.

She yawned and was about to close down the website when – ping –  a message came that Reuben would like to talk to her.

Reuben indeed. No way was she going to indulge in an online chat with another hopeless candidate for her affections. She was, she reminded herself, only doing this for her parents but still….

“Press Yes to accept, press No to reject,” screamed the online message.

“I should just press No,” thought Rachel, savagely. Then, looking at her watch, “If I’m quick enough, I can just nip out to the pub. Anything’s better than being stuck in with this.”

She was about to press No, when she took a quick look at Reuben’s photo. He was dressed in martial arts wear, and had masses of long, black wavy hair…

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt just to have a chat,” Rachel thought, “As long as that is his photo and not downloaded from some kung fu website.”

They chatted long into the night. Reuben told Rachel that he was a black belt in karate, that he owned a motorbike …

“It’s hardly a Harley yet, but hopefully, one day ….”

“Reuben,” Rachel said, cheekily, “You do sound like a bad boy ….”

At breakfast, the next morning, Rachel appeared quite sunny at the table.

“You were up late last night,” said her mother, serving the porridge. “Tapping away at your computer?”

“Yes, I met someone on that dating site Dad asked me to join. He’s asked me to meet up with him….”

“Oh,” said her mother, her bosom swelling with pride. “What’s his name? Is he a doctor?”

“He’s a web designer called Reuben,” said Rachel, and saw her parents exchange knowing looks. “He wants me to go and meet him for a drink tonight, at a pub in town.”

“A pub in town?” spluttered Saul, Rachel’s father. “Can’t he come and pick you up like a decent human being?”

“Dad, you did want me to meet someone from the website…”

“OK, OK, but just be careful, eh? You don’t know this guy ….”

 

Later, in the pub, her heart beating wildly, Rachel looked up as a tall slim man with dark hair, and clad in motorbike gear, made his way over to her.

In the pub, they talked and talked for hours.

“Yes, it’s my third motorbike …. I’ve practised martial arts for years …. I had a go at fitting my own kitchen.”

She told him of her dreams: to leave home, to find a job in fashion, to have her own line of alternative clothing one day.

Looking round her in the pub, she caught sight of Mrs Fishman’s daughter sitting at a corner table with a pale youth, each silently nursing an orange juice.

“Another pint?” asked Reuben, knowingly.

She smiled. The evening was going so well, Reuben, was, quite frankly, gorgeous and seemed to complement her wide range of interests perfectly.

“I’ve really enjoyed this evening. Would you like to meet up again?” asked Reuben, soon after last orders.

“Yes, I would,” said Rachel, with a smile. “You’re like a breath of fresh air…”

“Rachel, there is perhaps one thing I should tell you …,” said Reuben, his expression darkening suddenly

“Oh, no,” thought Rachel, “He seems so perfect. If he tells me, after all this, that he’s married or gay or …”

“I think it’s only fair to tell you that … I’m not actually Jewish. And that my name’s not actually Reuben, it’s Ronan. And I’m a Catholic…”

Not Jewish? But the website ….?

“Yes, I know it was wrong of me. But I do like Jewish girls. I guess I just wanted something different.”

Something different. Rachel laughed to herself, happily making arrangements to see Ronan the following Tuesday. And, after all, as she reasoned to herself, her parents could hardly complain. After all, hadn’t they wanted her to meet someone from the website and hadn’t she done just that? She was just being a dutiful daughter, and, as she rode home, on the back of Ronan’s motorbike, she could swear she saw the corner of Mrs Fishman’s front curtains flicker in the breeze.

 

 

 

 

 

OLD TIES (STORY)

Looking at the map, Sophie could see James wasn’t far from Bath. No, not far at all.

Seated at her polished, chestnut, dining room table, she leaned forward, pressed her chin into her palm, and pondered.

“Just suppose I texted him,” she thought, ” Told him I had to go to a course in Bath for a couple of days and how about meeting up this evening?”

She heard Martin slamming the front door. Last night’s row had been even worse than usual. This morning, he’d hardly been speaking to her except to ask where the car keys were.

Well, then, why shouldn’t she? As soon as she heard Martin’s car rev up, she ran to the computer in the tiny, cramped office at home. She logged into the railway travel information website and there it was. Trains from Paddington to Bath: 1½ hours. Perfect. Even if James couldn’t meet her till, say, eight o’clock, he could easily spend an evening with her, or with any luck, maybe even the whole night?

It didn’t take long at all. She texted him to tell him of her planned arrival and suggested an elegant restaurant to meet in Bath that had been recommended only that week in her favourite women’s magazine. He texted her back immediately. He sounded surprised but said yes straightaway.He sounded keen. She felt a glow of excitement burn her cheek and rushed to pack a small overnight case.

By the time, Martin was at work, having his morning coffee, and studying the vagaries of the stock market, she was quietly settling into her reserved train seat on the 10.35 train from Paddington.

She wondered how he’d look. It had been nearly a year after all. Hopefully, he’d still look the way she remembered him: tall, muscular build, with jet black hair, greying wisely at the temples, and those strong, chiselled features she’d loved so much. It had all been in the e-mail, so unexpected after all these months, just as she’d almost given up hope ………

“I’ve just started a new job in Trowbridge,” he’d written, “I only come back to London to see Tina at weekends…” And then a few facts about the job, surveying property mostly, and then, there it was. “I miss you.”

And that’s all that Sophie had needed. Three tiny words that pierced her heart. OK, so he was still with Tina, but after all, hadn’t he written to her? Hadn’t he said he missed her?

She thought momentarily of Martin. She bet he wouldn’t miss her at all. She’d left him a note saying she’d been offered a last-minute place on a Jane Austen appreciation course in Bath. She knew he loathed literature so was bound not to delve further.

And she’d indicated whereabouts in the freezer he would find his dinner. And that was it. She pictured him sitting in front of the TV, with his microwaved dinner on his knee, and his beer. Well, for once, she wouldn’t be sat there with him, while he hogged the remote control and loudly answered all the questions on the quiz programmes before she’d had time to think.

At 12.00, the train pulled in to Bath Spa station with an elegant screech. There was nothing else to do but check into the small hotel she’d chosen in Marlborough Place. Mrs Simms, a small, round, motherly woman with grey curly hair and bright pink lipstick, showed her to a very charming Regency-style room, with a polished oak double bed and a jade-and-white flowered bedspread.

“We’ve put you in the double,” announced Mrs Simms, kindly. “All the single rooms go so quickly.”

Sophie smiled. A double was fine: more than fine, in fact. Once Mrs Simms had bustled out of the room, she lay on the well-upholstered bed and remembered another double room, not unlike this one. That was at Oxford, with James: their weekend away, a delicious secret.

But not long after that, he met Tina. And there were no more “have-it-away-days,” as he’d cheekily called their secret jaunts. Secret from Martin anyway. After all, until that point, James had been what he loved to call a “free spirit” with no-one to answer to. Of course, Tina had changed all that. Since he met her, Sophie barely heard a word from him. The odd text, the routine Christmas card but nothing really until today’s e-mail. “I miss you too,” she said aloud, addressing the oak wardrobe, fervently and sighed.

The afternoon passed quickly enough. There was so much to see in Bath. The waiters at the Pump Room were very attentive and admiring of the tall, slim, auburn-haired lady in the ivory-coloured suit at the corner table.

“Ah, you’re here to take the waters,” smiled one of the waiters, “We hope you’ll stay and enjoy the concert here this afternoon.”

And what with listening to the Mozart piano concert, and visiting the baths, the afternoon fairly sped. There was even time to do a little shopping. She found a striking, dark-blue tie in one of the smart shops near the Royal Crescent. “James would love that,” she said to herself, fingering the soft silkiness of the fabric, and imagining it against his deep, inviting eyes. A shiver of excitement ran through her stomach.

She returned to the hotel to shower, and dressed for dinner in an emerald satin, close-fitting, mid-length dress.

“You do look a picture”, beamed Mrs Simms, admiringly. “The taxi I’ve ordered for you is on its way.”

And so, here she was with five minutes before the appointed hour of eight at The Clarence Inn. She was shown to a secluded table at the back of the room, where smoky-orange lights diffused the restaurant with a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

The waiter lit a small candle, brought her a glass of her favourite red wine, and she settled down to enjoy the occasion, congratulating herself on her cleverness in arranging this outing and waited.

“It’s so like James to be late,” she thought to herself, smiling, after 15 minutes had passed. “Typical. Any minute now he’ll rush in, all flustered and apologetic, running his hands through his floppy fringe. Maybe he’ll bring flowers…” He knew she liked white lilies, that would be why he was late. Trying to find a florist open at this time, silly goose. And she’d pretend to be offended, but then she’d forgive him, and flirt with him and tease him mercilessly until later back at the hotel when ………

She closed her eyes for a second, recalling their last bout of tender, energetic, passionate lovemaking. The touch of his sensitive fingers on her skin, the taste of his kisses and then … She moaned involuntarily.

A discreet cough made her open her eyes and look up. The waiter was standing there, looking awkward, “Miss Jones, there’s a message for you ………”

She looked at him, noted the concern in his kind eyes and understood.

“He’s not coming, is he?”

“No, I’m very sorry. He says he has to work late ……….”

And, in a flash, she knew. Tina had won.

She looked at her watch. 8.15 pm. There was still time. If she got a taxi back to the hotel now, made the driver wait while she picked up her things and take her back to the station, she could, she calculated, get home well before midnight. She’d have a bit of explaining to do but she could say the second day of the course was cancelled: poor attendance, illness of the tutor, something like that ………..

As she settled herself on the train, she thought “Might as well give Martin the tie.”  James obviously didn’t need it. In fact, it looked like he had enough ties at home with Tina.  Maybe he did miss her but he clearly wasn’t a free spirit after all. But by taking this trip today and seeing the truth for herself, perhaps, Sophie thought with a relief she found surprising, she was now free of an old tie after all. And suddenly, she found she couldn’t wait to be reunited with Martin and all his annoying but comfortingly reliable habits after all.

ONE-OF-A-KIND (STORY)

Even when she was young, Fiona realised that she was always on her own.

“One and a good one,” her mother had always replied, when one of her well-meaning friends had remarked on Fiona’s status as an only child.

At school, the Religious Studies class taught about Noah and how the animals went into the ark two by two.

Then growing up and going to the teen disco, everyone else seemed to pair off so effortlessly whereas Fiona, the shy wallflower, would always arrive and leave alone.

And when she reached her twenties, all her friends all fervently talked about “Finding the One” and looking for their “Other Half”, as if being one really wasn’t enough.

Of course, she hadn’t always been alone. There had been Andrew, she thought with a sigh. That had lasted two years, until suddenly at that training conference where he had met Sarah. And then Fiona had found herself on her own once more.

And then there was Tim but that had lasted even less time. And now, her cousin, Shelley, informed her with a grin, Tim was about to become the father of twins.

Looking at the calendar, and realising that her fortieth birthday was looming, Fiona knew that she had to do something.

“You could try speed dating,” suggested Shelley.

And so she did. The day of the Speed Dating event, she had her long, golden-brown hair styled to curly perfection  and bought a new emerald-coloured  dress to match her green eyes and show off her trim figure.  That evening, at the speed dating event, she sat opposite single guy after single guy in a crowded pub, spoke to them for three minutes each till the bell went and then went home to await her results.

“It’s not a bad score,” said Shelley, looking at the results in the e-mail from the Speed Dating company a couple of days later. “Three guys want to be friends with you.”

“Friends but not dates,” said Fiona and sighed.

Fiona resigned herself to life as a singleton. She watched the twos going into concerts, clubs, theatres…

“Table for two?” the serving staff always asked, on the rare occasions when she ventured to dine out alone.

Fiona had had enough. With her 40th birthday fast approaching, she marched into the local travel agent.

“I’d like to book a holiday please,” she asked the young man at the desk.

“Certainly, madam, for two?”

“Here we go again,” thought Fiona, and answered with as much dignity as she could muster.

“No, for one.”

“There’ll be a single supplement…”

Wasn’t there always? thought Fiona bitterly. It really was a world for two. Why should people always be penalised for being single? It couldn’t be that much more work to clean a room for one person than it was for two.

“Peak season, you see,” went on the travel clerk.

“Yes, yes,” said Fiona. “Can’t be helped.”

“Unless of course, you want to go on a singles holiday ….”

Fiona shuddered. It brought back memories of going to Tenerife one year on what she thought would be a calm, tranquil holiday. It turned out that the hotel was also the venue for Club Lazee, a singles holiday aimed at the 18-25s. She recalled the noise, the late-night clubbers, no peace for two weeks.

She voiced her fears to the travel agent.

“Ah no, they’re not all like that,” and handed over a brochure headed: ‘Holidays for the Young at Heart.’  “For instance, we have a very special holiday for single people going to Turkey. There’ll be lectures about archaeology during the day, trips to Ephesus…”

Fiona remembered reading about one of the seven wonders of the world, Ephesus with its old library of Celsus. Funny because at nearly 40 and still on the bookshelf,  wasn’t she almost an old librarian herself? Although in truth, she was still, just like the brochure said, young at heart.

“I’ll take it,” she said impulsively.

“But we were planning a surprise party for your 40th,” protested her cousin Shelley, on hearing of her plans.

“Well, the surprise is that I won’t be there. I’ll be in Bodrum.”

“But you can’t go on your own?”

“I won’t be on my own. There are 30 other single people booked in.”

“Oh Fiona, you might meet someone. What if you get there and find The One?”

Fiona shrugged. She certainly hadn’t been thinking along those lines. All she wanted to do was to get away and not have to celebrate her big birthday with her friends, who though kind enough in their way, were by now all in couples and really had no idea any more what being single was really like.

In the days approaching her 40th birthday, Fiona found herself about to board the coach from Milas Mugla airport that would transport her to the Bodrum resort where she would start her Turkish holiday adventure.

“Welcome aboard,” said Mala, her guide for the coming fortnight. “I think there’s a seat for you at the back of the bus. We’ve a full coach today.”

Fiona walked down the length of the coach, looking left and right. What had the brochure said? Young at Heart?

“Over here, love, there’s a space, next to me,” an elderly gentleman called Tom patted the empty seat beside him.

She took it gratefully. She soon realised with a sigh, looking round at the other occupants of the coach, that she was going to be the youngest holidaymaker by at least 30 years.

Young at Heart? Oh dear, she realised, young at heart, but perhaps not young in body.

She smiled to herself and determined to make the best of things. At least, she wouldn’t have to wonder if she would meet The One on this holiday. Unless any of her fellow travellers happened to have any eligible and attractive sons back home.

In the end, of course, her mood brightened. After all,  Bodrum was indeed as beautiful as the brochure boasted  with its white houses, bustling Marina, Crusader Castle, turquoise sea …

“So, you’re single too,” said Ethel, one of the grandmothers on the trip said at breakfast the next day. “Make the most of it, love. Plenty of time to have some old guy bossing you around later on.”

Fiona hoped that that wasn’t quite what the future held for her. As an independent woman, being bossed around wasn’t quite what she had in mind, but someday it might be nice to have someone to share things with.

And, as the days went by, it looked like some of the older people around her were starting to pair up: Ethel with Tom, Stan with Mona… Even Mala the guide was with Mustaf the coach driver.

Was life always going to be like this? she wondered, joining in the toast to her birthday as, guided by Mala, the others sang Happy Birthday to her raucously at dinner one evening.

That night, when walking back from the restaurant to her villa, Fiona found herself set apart from the others and, standing by some trees, impulsively looked up into the sky.

And there, in the dark but clear sky, she could see twinkling above her an infinite carpet of jewel-bright stars. Each one shone brightly, independently, twinkling for all it was worth. Each one separate but part of a huge, shining whole. Each one special in its own way, not dependent on its neighbour, not needing to be part of a two.

Was that what was meant by bringing your light into the world?

“That’s what I’ll do,” determined Fiona, as she began life in her forties.  “Shine as brightly as I can, and then, even if I don’t meet anyone and remain single, I can still be a star in my own right.”

And with that, she laughed and ran back to the villa to enjoy the rest of her stay under the Turkish sun, feeling very young at heart and happy indeed.

DISTANT COUSINS (STORY)

Stella couldn’t believe it when the square white envelope with the Norwich postmark arrived on her doormat.

Picking it up and taking it into the kitchen, she sat at the pine table and delicately ran her fingers around it.

She recognised the handwriting immediately: Dorothy’s, of course. The elder of her two cousins, Dorothy’s handwriting was much more robust and upright than that of the gentle, spindly lettering of Dorothy’s younger sister, Jenny.

Pausing to relish the excitement for a moment, Stella’s mind wandered to imagine what sort of possibilities the card inside the envelope might hold. Mentally, she ran through likely invitations to birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, dismissing each in turn. Dorothy’s two sons were still at high school, too young to marry, and Jenny’s only daughter was already married with a young baby.

She reached for her cup of breakfast coffee which had been cooling on the table and then, after taking a sip, went over to her kitchen drawer to retrieve her trusty, silver letter opener.

“Come to Tea”, announced the card. It gave a date, a time, Dorothy’s address, but no reason or dress code.

Tea at three!

Stella couldn’t remember the last time she’d been invited to tea at one of her cousin’s homes.

These days, their paths crossed, as briefly and formally as social convention would allow.  A handshake and a word of condolence, at Bernard’s funeral, a nod at Dorothy’s daughter’s wedding but always followed by a very rapid excuse to move on to talk to the next person, once the briefest and politest enquiries had been made about Stella’s health.

It hadn’t always been so, Stella recalled with a sigh. She remembered childhood teas, games of dressing up, hop-scotch and her particular favourite game Tag when they ran round the cul-de-sac in her cousins’ road, chasing after each other. And childhood birthday parties: Blind Man’s Buff, Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs followed by platters of tiny sandwiches, little cakes, strawberry jelly and vanilla ice cream …

No, it hadn’t always been so, Stella reflected, placing the invitation on the table. She didn’t really know why her mother had quarrelled with Dorothy and Jenny’s mother. All she knew was that the invitations had stopped coming, and what with Stella eventually growing up and moving away to London to marry Bernard, pretty much all contact had ceased, apart from the strictest protocol of family occasions and the annual Christmas card.

Still, thought Stella, although she may have lost all physical contact with her cousins, these days, thanks to the internet, which Bernard had spent many patient hours teaching her to use before his last illness, she could find out, at a distance and quite anonymously, much of what was going on in her cousin’s day-to-day lives.

With Dorothy, of course, it wasn’t difficult. Dorothy had been a local councillor, for many years, and Stella was able to read on the internet reports of her speaking at public meetings about all manner of worthy things from dustbin collections to road safety. She seemed to be a person of great standing in the community of whom great things were predicted.

And Jenny too, though always the quieter one, had a wide range of interests, and her modest successes were often reported in online versions of her town’s local newspaper: first prize for her much-loved sheepdog Bertie, in the local dog show, second prize for her Victoria Sponge in the cake-baking contest… It was amazing just how much you could find out about a person and Stella always devoured each detail eagerly.

Still, Stella thought, reading the brief invitation which by now had etched its words into her heart, this time would be the chance for them to get know each other all over again. Come to Tea! She wondered why they had finally softened toward her, after all these years. But then, looking in the mirror, at her greying hair and increasingly lined face, she sighed. After all, these days none of them was getting any younger. And really, you could never take anyone for granted, she thought sadly, looking at a photo of Bernard on a shelf on her pine dresser

The next few days were spent going round the shops finding the perfect outfit to wear, having her hair done and buying new shoes. She so wanted to look good for the tea party, for her cousins to see that she was actually a nice lady, somebody who they might actually like to get to know. Perhaps they could even come and stay with her. She had a nice spare room, after all, and she could even redecorate it a nice, bright, sunny yellow if they gave her enough notice.

At last, the morning of Saturday 3rd July came. Stella sat on her allocated seat in the train, holding a bunch of pink roses and a bottle of sparkling elderflower cordial. She had thought of champagne – after all, this was sure to be such a celebration – but then remembered that her cousins were tea total after all.

Two hours later, the train arrived at Norwich station. Stella, alighted, clutching the flowers and the bottle tightly against her new powder-blue, pleated dress.

It was only a few minutes later that she arrived at the address on the card and, with her heart pounding loudly, she rang on the doorbell.

The door was swiftly opened by Dorothy, looking a bit older than she had remembered at Bernard’s funeral, but imposing and elegant as ever in her charcoal grey suit and her dark hair tied up in an elegant chignon bun. Stella longed to give her a hug but was stopped by Dorothy’s automatic reaching out and shaking her hand. She put her handbag down in the hall, as Dorothy had indicated, and followed her older cousin through to the dining room, where Jenny, wearing a violet flowery dress, which complemented the purple flower in her long chestnut hair, was already seated at the dining table.

Stella was thrilled to note that places were set just for the three of them. Secretly, she’d been dreading the whole event turning out to be some huge collection of relatives meeting for a forgotten birthday party and her never receiving more than the customary nod and greeting from her cousins.

But this time, as Dorothy motioned her to sit down, and Jenny started to pour the tea, Stella knew that, at last, they could have a heart-to-heart, and that her dearest wish of feeling part of a loving family could once again come true.

Funny to be seated opposite her cousins after all this time, thought Dorothy secretly hugging herself. She had a camera in her bag, longing to capture this important occasion on film but thought she’d wait till after they’d had tea and had got to know each other again.

But where to start? What to say, after all these years?

In the end though, she needn’t have worried. For once, her cousins were really keen to talk to her. Very keen indeed.

“You see, Stella, it’s very simple. I’ve done as much as I can on the council, and now I really want to stand for MP as an independent candidate so I’m not bound to any one party’s policies. They say I’ve a real chance of winning. Of course, such a campaign doesn’t come cheap,” said Dorothy, pointedly.

“And it turns out that no-one else in the family is actually a match for me, and if I can’t get a kidney soon, I may have to go on dialysis …,” said Dorothy sadly.

“And we just wondered whether you might….” they both chimed in unison.

Stella sighed. Suddenly, it was all too clear why they had invited her there. It wasn’t her friendship they wanted or a chance to get to know her at all. Just her cash and one of her organs … And they never even asked about her or how she’d been coping after Bernard at all.

“Just a minute,” she said, “I’ll just go and get my cheque book. I’ve left it in my bag in the hall …”

She went to the hall, picked up her handbag, opened the door as quietly as she could, closed it softly behind her, and then ran as fast as she could all the way to the train station.

After all, she reflected, on the train going back to London, I was always a good runner after all those games of Tag we played as children. And perhaps, she thought to herself, some relatives are best kept at a distance, after all.

THE FAIRY HOLLOW (STORY)

I don’t know why I’d never noticed it before. I must have walked past it a hundred times.

“Head in your clouds, that’s your trouble,” my Aunt Gwen always said to me.

Well, on this particular day, she was right: I was looking up at the clouds. There were some particularly fine, delicate cirrus clouds in the sky that day, almost like angel’s wings. Some people say that clouds are nature’s messages and it would be wrong to ignore a message.

But maybe, it would have been better if I had ignored that particular message, because the next moment ….

Whoosh! I was flying through the air. Some idle passer-by had thoughtlessly left a plank of wood lying in the path and had sent me flying, without any wings to keep me afloat.

My arms darted out to protect my fall. I landed in an undignified heap, and sat down, sorrowfully picking out small stones from my grazed, reddened palms, and feeling relieved, at least, that there was no-one around to witness my embarrassment.

It was then that I spotted it: a gnarled oak tree with a huge hollow. And, inside the hollow, something pink caught my attention.

Having satisfied myself that I was still in one piece, I gingerly stood up. I peered in, and there it was.

“Just a piece of paper,” I thought to myself, “A bit of litter, probably from the same person who left that plank. People these days, honestly.”

I was about to walk away when curiosity got the better of me.

“After all,” I reasoned to myself, “It can’t hurt to have a look. It’s probably just some old leaflet for a local takeaway, in which case I shall take it away and recycle it.”

And, with that noble thought, I reached in and picked it up. But it wasn’t a leaflet at all:  it was a letter. I started to put it back. After all, it might have been personal …

“You’re so nosy, Saffy,” Aunt Gwen always chided me, “Always into everybody’s business …”

But this wasn’t nosiness: I was just curious, and, well, interested.

I looked at the letter. It was written in a child’s handwriting, with multi-coloured letters, and some of the S letters written back to front.

“Dear Fairy,” the letter ran.

I smiled to myself. “I know that you’re there and living in the tree but Mary-Jane says she doesn’t believe in you. She says there are no fairies. Please could you give me a sign to prove you are real.” And she’d signed it, Daisy aged 7, with three kisses.

I looked at the letter again. There was a date at the top: 12th May. The letter had lain there three days, undiscovered and unanswered.

Oh dear, I thought to myself, walking away thoughtfully. A little girl who doesn’t believe in fairies? Well, we couldn’t let that happen, but what to do?

I could hear Aunt Gwen’s voice in my head again: “Don’t be ridiculous,” she’d scold, “She’ll have forgotten all about that silly letter by now. Kids get up to all sorts of stuff. And it’s got nothing to do with you anyway.”

She was right, it hadn’t. But nonetheless….

I walked a bit further along, and then I noticed it, lying on the ground, slightly away from the path. A slim, white feather: probably left there by a local pigeon. But still, couldn’t it just look a bit like …?

“A feather from a fairy’s wing,” I thought to myself, placing the feather gently onto the letter inside the hollow. What better sign than that? That would show Mary-Jane, I thought, grinning to myself.

I had no occasion to visit the wood for the next three days. Gwen had insisted on some serious spring-cleaning and she didn’t tolerate slackers. Every nook and cranny had to be “Spick and span,” she’d insisted shrilly, like a harsher version of Mary Poppins.

When I finally did go out, I made sure my walk took me to the oak tree. And there it was: another letter – this time on yellow paper.

“Dear Fairy, Thank you so much for the feather,” wrote Daisy. “Mary-Jane still doesn’t believe you’re real though. She says the feather is just from some old bird. She even says there isn’t a tooth fairy and that it’s your mummy who puts the money under your pillow. But she only says that to hurt me because she knows I don’t have a mummy anymore ….” And here, there was a wet mark that looked like a tear. It almost obliterated Daisy’s name and robbed the letter of its kisses.

Oh, that Mary-Jane! What a nuisance she was becoming. Well, this time I’d better do something better than a feather. But what could I do? What would a fairy do?

I pondered for a while. A fairy would sit down on a magic toadstool and …

I looked round me and then, to my surprise, spotted a small red and white protuberance in the grass. Surely, it couldn’t be? But yes, it was, I recognised it from a book I’d had once when I’d been out mushroom picking. Red with white dots: it was a fairy toadstool.

This would have to do. Proof, I thought. I laid it down next to the letter, and just hoped Daisy wouldn’t try to eat it. After all, toadstools, though pretty, were very poisonous, the book warned. Oh dear, what had I started?

It rained the next day but on the Saturday, I was able to go out and do some errands for Aunt Gwen. “And make sure you come back with what’s on the list. Last time I sent you to buy bread you came back and said you’d fed it all to the birds because they looked hungry. Honestly, Saffy.”

Well, this time, I had a list of my own. I walked purposefully to the sweet shop and bought some coconut mushrooms, some rainbow drops and some multi-coloured little sweets, decorated with glittering fairy dust.

I did the rest of my shopping, and walked home, clutching Aunt Gwen’s groceries. I’d remembered everything except the sour lemons. Oh well, it’d give me an excuse to go out tomorrow, I thought to myself.

I looked expectantly into the hollow.

“Dear Fairy, Thank you so much for the fairy toadstool. I showed it to Mary-Jane and she didn’t know what to say. You’re magic! Have some tea. Love Daisy xxx.”

And she’d left a little plastic pink tea set out for me. Well, I just couldn’t resist.  After all, I was thirsty from all that shopping. “Hmm, this is good,” I slurped, drinking pretend tea. “Thank you, Daisy,” and then I took the sweets, and filled each cup and plate with a few goodies.

This was working out well. Daisy believed in fairies. Well, a girl needs something to believe in, doesn’t she? After all, I still believed that Jerry was coming back. And it already had been six months …

“I don’t know why you don’t forget that layabout,” Aunt Gwen had scolded me, the last time she saw me sobbing over the end of my first romance. “He’s gone and you’d better get used to it. He wasn’t right for you and I’m sure he’s better off with that Lynette. Such a pretty little thing…”

For that reason, I always kept my pain to myself. Still, at least I now had a new friend, courtesy of the tree hollow, and thinking of that happy little girl made me smile more and more these days.

The following Saturday, when I went to the tree, there was a surprise awaiting me.

It was a white card. “Dear Fairy, Thank you for the lovely sweets. Would you like to come to tea for real? It’s my birthday next Sunday at 3 o’clock. I live at number

4, Brookfield Grove. You can come into the garden if you’re too shy to come into the house. Love Daisy xxx.”

How funny, I thought to myself. But I couldn’t possibly. I mean, how could I? What was she going to say when she saw it was a plump, ungainly, dark-haired, 17 year old woman standing there and not a delicate, little fairy? She’d be disappointed and I’d feel ridiculous.

It was out of the question. I put it out of my mind. Monday went by then Tuesday, Wednesday…

What I’d do, I decided in the end, was to buy her a special present. Then I’d write a polite letter saying that I couldn’t come because of – urgent fairy business. And then I’d leave her a little fairy doll that I’d seen in the toy shop on the high street.

So on the Friday, I bought the fairy doll which looked lovely in a pretty lilac dress with shimmering wings, wrapped it up and walked through the wood.

But it wasn’t the quiet, peaceful walk I was expecting. The sound of a chainsaw penetrated my whole being as the sound of its metallic insistence reverberated through my ears. It couldn’t be – it just couldn’t.

I walked towards the tree in despair.

“Nah, had to come down, this old tree. Been on the cards for ages, just hadn’t got round to it yet,” explained the man from the council, holding his clipboard importantly. “Best stand back love, it’s not safe.”

“Was there anything inside it?” I asked in a rush, thinking that Daisy might have left another message for me.

“Hang on a minute, love, I’ll just check with the foreman,” and went off to confer with a tall, muscular man, wearing a yellow safety helmet and protective eye wear. The foreman shook his head.

“Sorry love,” said the man from the council. “Now, we’d best get on ….”

All of which meant that Daisy would still be expecting me two days later. I had no choice…

On Sunday afternoon, I walked to Daisy’s road and spotted the house straight away. You couldn’t really miss it: fairy lights in the windows, fairy balloons on the gate …

What had Daisy said? If I was shy, I could just come into the garden. Perhaps I could do that: tiptoe into the garden, leave her present there with a little note saying I couldn’t stay and then quietly disappear. She’d see that the tree had been demolished next time she walked past and realise that that was the end of our fairy correspondence.

Yes, that’s what I’d do, I thought. Until …..

Thwack! I tripped over a piece of elastic tied between the trees: Daisy’s skipping elastic, no doubt. This time though, I couldn’t save my fall as I was still clutching Daisy’s present. Smash, crash, clatter…

No chance of getting away with it now ….

I grabbed the large, tanned hand that reached down for me and placed my newly-scratched hand in his.

“And what have we here?” And I gazed up into a mass of brown curly hair, two twinkling blue eyes in a broadly-grinning face.

I looked down shamefaced at my soiled dress. He gazed at the present lying on the floor beside me with its torn wrapping paper.

“I think you’d better come in and clean up,” he said, kindly. “I take it you’re a friend of Daisy’s?”

I nodded dumbly and followed him into a rustic-looking kitchen with its wooden Welsh dresser and brightly-coloured porcelain mugs. “You’ll probably want to clean up before you go into the lounge,” he said, pointing towards a small cloakroom, leading off the kitchen.

Red-faced, I looked in the mirror and then cleaned myself up as best as I could.

“That’s better,” said the young man, as I went back in the kitchen. “My name’s Dan, by the way. I’m Daisy’s uncle. And you are …?”

“Saffy,” I replied, shyly.

“Well, it’s good to meet you, Saffy. Now, ready for the fray?”

I followed him into the lounge. “Daisy’s over there,” he said, pointing to a pretty fair-haired birthday fairy in the room. Not that she noticed me immediately, she was far too busy playing musical chairs with her other fairy friends. Even one bigger child, who kept trying to boss the others round, was dressed in a fairy outfit: “Mary Jane,” whispered Dan knowingly.

It wasn’t long though till she came over. “I’m Daisy,” she said wandering over, “Who are you? One of Uncle Dan’s friends? You’ve come at the right time, I’ve invited a real fairy to join us this afternoon. She should be here any moment now.

I groaned. Oh dear. What to say? I couldn’t let her down but I felt I owed her an explanation.

“I’m sorry, Daisy, I began …. “But I’m actually….”

And then the lights went out and, for a second, I felt something soft and velvety being fastened gently round me. And then, a few minutes later ….

* * *

“How did you know it would fit me ?” I whispered to Dan as he drove me home afterwards.

“I didn’t but the lady in the fancy dress shop assured me that this fairy cloak fits everyone.”

“It’s so pretty,” I said. “So lovely and silvery with its fairy gossamer wings. Did you see Daisy’s face? She was thrilled to see a real fairy in her lounge. And as for Mary-Jane …”

Dan smiled.

“But what if I hadn’t turned up?” I asked.

“I had faith in you. I knew from Daisy that someone was leaving out nice things for her in the woods: someone who cared. And then, when I saw you that day at the tree …”

At the tree? And then I gulped. I guess I just hadn’t recognised him without his safety helmet and goggles.

“And if you hadn’t turned up today,” Dan continued, “Well, I’d have just had to put on the cloak myself. But somehow I don’t think I’d have looked half as pretty in it as you. And, in any case, I knew the kids would be too excited by the little presents in the fairy basket to ask too many questions. Even Mary Jane!”

And then he kissed me lightly on the nose. “How about coming out to dinner with me one night next week, Saffy? After all, even fairies have to eat.”

And that’s how I came to believe at last, like Daisy, that fairies and magic really do exist. But just how was I going to persuade Aunt Gwen? I laughed to myself. Somehow, now that I’d met my own wizard, I was sure our future together would be enchanted enough to tame any dragons along the path.

FELINE INTUITION (STORY)

I stayed up waiting for her that night. Just as well. I knew she’d been crying the moment she walked in.

“Oh Fluffy”, she wept, taking me in her arms. “Rob says you have to go.”

I felt my long black fur being moistened from her tears. Just after I’d licked it clean too. Never mind, Jenny needed me.

“He says he’s allergic to you. He says if he moves in, you’ll have to go and live with Mum.”

My fur bristled. Jenny’s mum was ok but I wasn’t too keen on her partner, Bill. I’d had to stay there sometimes when Jenny went on holiday. Bill had so many rules.

“No cats in the bedroom,” he had shouted firmly one night, when I had been seeking shelter from a thunderstorm.

And as for the food they gave me … I wrinkled my nose at the memory of the cheap cat food they had on offer. No treats there. “Take it or leave it,” offered Bill with a snarl.

Not like the treats Jenny always gave me. And her soft, warm bed. After all, wasn’t I her special furry alarm clock?

“What am I to do?” Jenny wailed. By this time, my fur was getting soaked. I’d better act soon if I didn’t want to be a soggy moggy.

I miaowed pointedly. Jenny understood, she picked me up gently and took me up to her bed. I lay there curled up, listening to Jenny’s sniffles. I don’t think either of us got much sleep that night.

While she stroked me, I pondered the situation. I hadn’t liked Rob the moment Jenny had brought him home. He’d insisted she put me outside as soon as he had arrived. “Cats make me sneeze” he’d said, as she’d unwillingly had to show me to the door.

Allergic indeed. My special cat senses leaped in. Something smelt fishy and it wasn’t my tuna dinner.

But what was to be done? I heard Jenny on the phone to her mum the next day. “I don’t know what to do,” she wailed, “He says it’s either him or the cat. I do love Rob, Mum, but Fluffy’s been with me for seven years. What should I do?”

I had better think of something soon, I thought, if I didn’t want Jenny packing me off to her Mum’s. But what?

I took a trip round the neighbourhood. Mo, a battered old tom cat who lived at the other end of the street, would know what to do. We’d often share a saucer of milk at his house and discuss the ways of the world, and I’d listen enthralled to Mo’s tales of his female feline acquaintances in the neighbourhood.

Later, I came home, sat and pondered what Mo had told me. But what to do about it? I realised I would have to make another visit……..

That night when Jenny came home from work, I wasn’t there. I knew she’d be worried because I never stayed out all night. But after all, I pondered, in an unfamiliar kitchen three streets away, it was for her own good. And mine.

It was time to put the plan into action. I turned round and nipped the sleeping Siamese cat next to me. “Meoowwwwww!” she yelled, right on cue.

The next moment, a blonde, curly-haired little girl came downstairs. She looked at the Siamese, looked at me and then shouted at the top of her voice, “MUM!”

Her cries attracted a slim, fair- haired woman who ran downstairs, came over to the basket and looked at me.

“Oh my goodness,” she exclaimed, “I haven’t seen you before.”

She bent over me and looked at my name tag. “Fluffy.” She read out, then turned it over and saw the phone number engraved on the silver disc. “Well, I’d better give your owners a ring, they’ll be worried about you.”

And so it was that a short while later, Jenny came round to collect me.

“Honestly, I’m sorry for all the trouble,” she apologised. “Fluffy’s not like this normally. He never goes into other people’s houses.” I stifled a grin, if only she knew. It was enough to make a cat laugh.

“My daughter found her,” said the young woman. “She loves cats. Well, we all do. Even my husband. Although he doesn’t like the fur getting on his clothes which is why we have a short-haired cat like Suky.”

“Oh yes,” said Jenny happily, “Fluffy’s hairs do get everywhere. But I don’t mind,” she announced, giving me a big hug.

At that moment, the door opened, and a very familiar, slim, dark-haired man walked in.

“Sarah, I heard voices …” he began, then looked at me, looked at Jenny and ………….

That night, there were extra treats for me. Not just my favourite gourmet salmon supper but a new catnip ball.

“And to think, Fluffy,” said Jenny, pointedly, “That I was so nearly taken in by him. Rob wasn’t allergic to you at all. He just didn’t want your hairs appearing on his clothes when he went home to his wife.”

I purred happily. I’d had a narrow squeak this time but needed to be sure for next time. I decided I’d leave it for a few days and would then disappear overnight again – this time to Mo’s house where I knew Mo’s owner Dave was looking for a new girlfriend. He was a really nice chap who always tickled my tummy and gave me lots of treats. Jenny was sure to like him.

And so I yawned, stretched and congratulated myself on the end to a purr-fect day.

CPL cat

To adopt or support a cat who needs care, please visit Cats Protection  http://www.cats.org.uk/

OUT OF THE SHADOWS (STORY)

The shadow people. You’ve seen them all around you. When you’re on the tube, in the bus, at the airport. All sorts of people, all sizes, shapes and descriptions. People you’ve never met, never spoken to, going about the fabric of their business, as if some big casting director in the sky looking down on them, has seen them and said “Quick, Jill’s coming down the street, best put a few extras in, make it look authentic.”

Well, that day, the world seemed even more full of shadowy figures than ever. The first train was late, and that seemed to delay the second one too, and then, before you knew it…….

“I guess no-one’s going to be on time today,” said a pleasant male voice. I looked up. And standing there was a tall, young, slim, blonde man with deep blue eyes and a cheeky grin. Sure, I’d noticed him on the platform many times before, but I’d never actually spoken to him. I guess he was just like one of those regular TV extras, you see them propping up the bar in the soaps sometimes when you  manage to steal a glimpse away from the main characters. Just part of the scenery. I’ve that read some of them even have a career, just doing that. Imagine.

I put down my paper. “No, I guess, not.” I agreed,“I hope the train comes soon though, I’m frozen.”

He looked at me with a kind smile. “Hang on, I’ll get you a coffee. Don’t want your nose turning blue now, do we?”

And then, before I could stop him, he’d disappeared back into the crowd. Eventually, I spotted him waiting at the back of a very long queue at the small café on the platform.

Ten minutes later, the train arrived and it was packed. Just time for the doors to open quickly, and for just two people to get out and make space for two lucky people to get in ………

But what to do now? Jump quickly into the train and so lessen my chance of an even bigger dressing-down from Mr Hayes on the importance of punctuality, or miss my chance with quite the cutest guy I’d seen in Bumblebridge for a long time?

“Well, are you getting on or not?” shouted a stout man behind me, clad in a Burberry overcoat. “Some of us have work to go to.”

That decided me. I jumped on and so did Mr Burberry, and then despite the protests of the rest of the crowd, the train doors closed.

The last thing I saw through the window before the train departed was the young blonde chap frantically waving at me holding two cups of coffee.

“Drat, and double drat,” I thought as I arrived at Newbury’s Bank.

“Punctuality, Miss Robertshaw,” said  my short, bespectacled boss, Mr Hayes, looking derisorily at his watch. “This is a bank, you know, not a drop-in.”

Pointless trying to explain about late trains, missed coffee cups and the like. There was already a queue building up at the counter.

“Thank goodness, you’re here, Jill,” breathed Polly at the next counter, “Old Hayes was going to have your guts for garters today and no mistake.”

But there wasn’t too much time to brood on the morning’s events, not with all those customers waiting to pay in this, take out that, open this account, close that account, transfer this, change that … on and on till 5.00 pm.

I looked for him on the train going home, of course, and again on the platform the next morning. But nothing. I even let one train go, just in case, but thought I’d best not risk missing any more.  After all, the blonde guy was cute, but I wasn’t about to let Hayes fire me now, not when I needed the money for a new flat I’d seen advertised in the Humbridge Estate Agents’ window. A place of my own was something I dreamed of, somewhere with a bit more space. It was just getting so cramped at home.

“Now, Jill, you know you can stay here as long as you like,” my sister Vivienne had assured me, “It’s just that with the baby coming soon, we will be needing a bit more room.”

And she was right which is why I needed that job at the bank with its special staff mortgage discount just a bit more than I needed a cute guy at the moment.

And, as ever more yellow ducks and blue rabbits started appearing on the nursery room walls, I realised I would need to make my move very soon.

With all the excitement, after a few weeks, I even forgot to look out for the blond guy anymore. He’d obviously melted back into the shadows by now. In any case, I had more important things to think about. I had the chance of a beautiful one-bedroomed ground floor flat, just on the outskirts of town. It would need taking a train from a different station to work as it was on a different line. But that didn’t matter. And with its charming  wooden, country-style fitted kitchen and its delightful little garden, I really didn’t have to think twice.

It must have been on the third day going into work from the new station that I spotted him. He had his nose in a book and was quite oblivious to me. Funny him turning up like that at my new station. I wasn’t going to say anything at first but then ……….

“Due to signalling problems, please expect significant delays on all trains today.”
“Significant delays,” I thought, “Here we go again,” and an image of Hayes’ puce face and quivering moustache came unbidden into my mind.

He put down his book momentarily and our eyes met.

I’m not sure who spoke first.

“Oh, it’s you, the train’s been…….”
”Oh, goodness, look, I’m sorry about the coffee but…”

And then we both laughed. And, in between laughing, I explained about my new flat, and he told me how he’d recently split up with his girlfriend and was back living with his parents in a house which was actually only two streets away.

“Perhaps, we could go out for a drink one evening,” said the young man, whose name turned out to be Steve. “The Lizard Arms has some quite decent pub grub these days and a roaring fire.”

And who could resist an invitation like that? After all, sometimes it was good to come in from the shadows. And after all, who knew what extras the future might have in store for both of us?

THE END

MONA-LOGUE (STORY)

“Oh, and I’ve fallen out with Sadie. Yes, I know I’ve fallen out with her before but this time I mean it.

What has she done? I’ll tell you what she’s done.

It was last Tuesday. No, it couldn’t have been Tuesday. I always have my hair done on a Tuesday.

No, it must have been Wednesday. Just before bingo. Yes, that was it. Well, I was sitting downstairs in the residents’ lounge when Sadie comes in.

“Over here, Sadie,” I call.

“Actually, I’d rather not if you don’t mind, Mona. I’ve got something to discuss with Ethel.

And off she goes and ignores me, and goes over to sit with Ethel and then they went into bingo together. I didn’t think she even liked Ethel that much. But it just goes to show you what a few years in this place will do.

So, anyway, I don’t really like bingo and I don’t go there very often. My eyes aren’t that great these days what with that Dracula degeneration the doctor told me I’ve got. But it was either that or sit on my tod.

But even so, I thought I’d have a go and try and manage the best I could. Well, I was busy crossing off numbers here and there when,all of a sudden, I figured I was one off a full house. I was just waiting for number 88 to come up when the bingo caller shouts out: “OK, folks, I’m looking for two fat ladies.” And Sadie, who unknown to me had just come over, and was looking over my shoulder, suddenly shouts out: “There’s one over here.”

Fat ladies? Well, I was that upset I stormed out. Fat! Admittedly I may have put on a pound or two since coming in here but, honestly, with all that stodge they give you in here, it’s really no wonder.  It’s not as if Sadie’s any Twiggy herself.

Later on, I saw Sadie showing off a new turquoise scarf to the others which I guess must have been one of the bingo prizes. But as soon as I went over, she immediately put it back in her bag.

Anyway, I haven’t spoken to her since.

And today, it’s my birthday. And I haven’t had a card  from her, not a daffodil, nothing.

And when you get to my age, birthdays are so important. I remember last year they all got a cake for me and cards and held a little party. This year: nothing. I bet that’s Sadie’s doing. She’s turned them all against me.

Anyway, I’ve avoided her the whole day, kept in my room, and barely left except for meals. And even then I managed to avoid her by taking my tray to sit with Doris. Not that Doris is that great company, deaf as a newt and that puddled…

What’s that you say? Happy birthday for tomorrow? Tomorrow? But today’s Thursday. Oh hang on, no it can’t be. I get my nails done on a Thursday and ….

Tomorrow? Well, I can’t sit here talking to you on the phone all day.

Now, where could she have gone? Sadie!”

LOLLIPOP (STORY)

“Now, come on Tom, you don’t want to be late on your first day at school, now do you?”

Tom turned onto his side and clutched his pillow, hoping to get back to his wonderful dream about the seaside.

“Now, I’ve made you a lovely breakfast,” continued Iris breezily. “And I’ve pressed your uniform. You’re going to look so smart.”

Tom grunted. There was no way out of this one. At first, he’d hoped there would be.

“Do I really have to?” he’d begged, preferring instead to spend lazy days at home playing with his train set.

“Tom, we’ve been over this time and again. There’ll be plenty of time for your train set when you come home.”

So that had been that. She could be very stubborn when she wanted to could Iris. Once her mind was set, there was no going back.

“OK, OK,” he’d concurred, idly swirling his spoon through his corn flakes.

And so it was that he found himself standing outside St Aloysius school. They’d passed it many times before but until now he’d barely taken notice of it. A tall white granite building, huge round windows and a large blue sign, proudly displaying the emblem St Aloysius School, founded in 1837.

Of course, he’d seen children from that school before. You couldn’t help but notice them really: bright yellow blazers and dark trousers. No wonder the kids were known locally as the bees from the Alley.Well, today, he just hoped he’d be ok and wouldn’t get stung.

He looked down at his uniform. It did feel a bit big for him. Iris had assured him he would grow into it though: not surprising with all those delicious puddings she kept feeding him.

His musings about Iris’s tasty cuisine were sharply interrupted by a young punk guy wearing jeans, a leather jacket and a torn T-shirt with the inscription “Killer Guerillas” and his black PVC-clad, tattooed female companion. “Oy grandad, gonna see us across the road then?”

Tom clutched his lollipop pole to him. He wondered if it would protect him from the likes of the local yobs. Maybe like one of those wonderful James Bond inventions, there could be a secret switch which he could just press and a harpoon would emerge and give the local punks an extra piercing that they hadn’t anticipated.

He was still trying to compose a suitable answer, when he felt a tiny hand touch his finger. He looked down and there was a little girl of about six years old, with long fair hair tied up with pink ribbons.

“Are you our new lollipop man?” she asked adoringly. “My name’s Emma. Will you help me across the road?”

“Why, I’d be glad to,” answered Tom. The punks smirked and walked off, leaving Tom ample time to signal the traffic to stop so he could escort his precious charge to the safety of the other side.

“And I’ll be here when you get back this evening,” Tom promised. He smiled to himself. He thought he was going to like this job after all.

The time went quickly enough. Swarms of bees arrived, he took them across to their hive, back and forth. “A bit like a ferryman,” he thought, “Only,” he corrected himself “With no ferry.”

He was full of his adventures when he arrived back at the cottage for lunch.

“So how was it?” questioned Iris on his return.

“Do you know it was really ok? Some of the kids are little terrors, you can tell that straight away but others are really sweet. In fact, there’s one called Emma. She’s lovely. I’ve promised I’ll be there when she finishes school today.”

Iris sighed. It had been such a strain for them both when Tom had lost the job at the factory. After all those years too. “New technology,” the Human Resources Manager had explained. “It’s taking over all those jobs that had to be done by hand. Just the way things are these days. Sorry and all that but …”

And that was why Iris had been secretly pleased when she’d seen in the local paper the advert for lollipop men and women. The last thing she’d wanted was Tom hanging around the cottage all day. It would be good for him to get out and about and be useful.

After a leisurely afternoon, doing the crossword and polishing his signal boxes, it was time for Tom to return to the school to escort the afternoon traffic.

“What a noise,” Tom thought to himself as the torrent of noisy schoolchildren exploded out of the school. It was all he could do to keep the groups together and get them safely across the road.

Back and forth, back and forth … then suddenly a thought struck him. “I haven’t seen Emma yet. I wonder where the little lass has gone to.”

But the crowd which had filtered to a trickle seemed to have come to a standstill by now. There had been no-one else leaving the school for a good ten minutes. By rights, he should be able to go back now but he couldn’t just leave without Emma. Maybe she’d been taken ill during the afternoon and had had to go home. He should probably leave it but …..

“A promise is a promise,” he thought to himself. He approached the school gates with as much apprehension as anyone going into a new school.

He looked around. The playground was deserted. This was ridiculous: just his imagination. He really should get back, shouldn’t he?

And yet a feeling in his stomach urged him on.

He opened the door, turned right into what he soon realised was the gymnasium. And there, in the corner, was a tiny mite sobbing her heart out.

“Emma,” he cried running over to her. “Whatever is the matter?”

“My mummy hasn’t turned up yet. She was supposed to pick me up. I waited for her. Wherever can she be?”

He looked around. What did he do now? Well, there must still be someone here. The school wasn’t locked, after all. “Leave it with me,” he assured her, “I’ll see what I can find out.”

He burrowed his way through the maze which was the school corridor. Eventually, he found a room marked Secretary. A grey-haired lady sat at the desk, typing away.

“Excuse me, Miss,” he whispered. “I’ve just found one of your pupils, sitting in the gym. Blonde pigtails. Her name’s Emma, says her mother hasn’t turned up to pick her up yet.”

“Emma?” responded the school secretary. “Oh dear, you must mean Emma Williams. I’d better see if I can ring and see what’s happened to her mother. Don’t worry, I’ll sort it out. You’d best be off now, hadn’t you? Only school personnel are allowed on these premises.” she said pointedly.

Tom didn’t know what to do next. He felt bad about leaving Emma but he’d picked up the secretary’s warning loud and clear.

He headed out of the office and turned back towards the gym just in time to find the punk from this morning heading towards the gym.

Shock and rage filled his chest. He couldn’t walk away now, leave that punk to go towards where young Emma was sitting on her own. You read such dreadful things in the papers these days.

Luckily, he still had his lollipop pole with him. James Bond or not, it could surely deliver a hefty blow from behind.

Purposefully, he started running behind that dreadful leather jacket as fast as he could.

He got nearer, ready to raise his pole when …

“Alright, grandad? You following me? Hey, what’s your game?”

There was a fight. Tom wasn’t quite sure what happened but the next thing he knew he’d been pushed firmly down on the floor and his lollipop pole, which had been snapped in two, was lying on the ground beside him.

“Ow, my head,” he thought.

“What are you doing on the floor?” said a little voice. He looked up. There was Emma. “I was just …………” he replied.

“Look, sorry, pal, didn’t realise …. ” said the young man. “I was just a bit worried, you read such awful things ………. Come on Emma, best get you home. Your mum will be worried.”

And she put her hand in the punk’s hand and said “Yes, daddy, so glad you came to get me.”

He picked her up  a piggy back and said:

“See you tomorrow Mr Lollipop Man. Sorry about your Lollipop, no hard feelings eh?”

And off they went.

Back at the cottage, Tom sat in his armchair and rubbed his head.

“Tom, you should get an early night. You look done in. Another early start for you tomorrow,” soothed his wife.

“You’re right”, he sighed. “After all, tomorrow is another schoolday. And those bees can’t just fly across themselves, you know.”

Iris smiled. It looked like things were going to work out after all.

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