Julie Rosenfield

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Archive for the tag ““fiction””

THE CUPID BUSINESS: INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR, JULIE H. ROSENFIELD

Q: So, Julie, what is this new novel of yours, The Cupid Business, about?

Julie: It’s about 400 pages, and 100,000 words!

But, seriously, it’s actually about many things. It’s a romantic, comedy novel, written as a sort of a comic monologue with poetry, puns, advice on dating, and at its heart, what I hope is a darn good love story!

Q: Tell us a little more about your main female character, Kate Parkinson.

Julie: Oh, yes, Kate Parkinson. She’s in a bit of a rough place at the beginning of the novel. As the blurb on the back cover of the book says: “Trapped by her demanding, live-in partner, Paul Edmonds on the one hand, and a difficult job as a PA in an insurance company on the other, 37-year old Kate Parkinson has, seemingly, no way to turn.”

I guess a lot of people can feel stuck these days, particularly on the romantic front. However, when it comes to finding love, there is far more choice on the dating scene than ever before. In my day, all we could do is sit and wait by the phone to see if there was going to be another date.

These days, there are so many more opportunities to find love: speed dating, internet dating, matchmaking agencies. And there are so many ways to get in touch: Facebook, texting, instant messaging etc. No wonder, Kate, who suddenly finds herself coming out of a long-term relationship, finds herself overwhelmed at all the options.

Q: So, would it be fair to say that, as well as being a novel, The Cupid Business is actually a bit of a dating manual?

Julie: Well, I guess you could say that. Although I hadn’t intended it to be as such, it was only after I’d read it through for the umpteenth time, that I realised that there is actually a lot of good advice in there for single people looking for love.

Q: Kate’s long-term partner, Paul Edmonds, is a bit of a horror, isn’t he? Is he based on anyone you know?

Julie (laughing): No, thankfully, not at all. All my characters are purely fictional, thank goodness! Can you imagine?

Q: And what about Mark, the romantic lead?

Julie: Alas, he’s pure fiction too. Although I’m sure there are some handsome, single thoracic surgeons out there somewhere!

Q: So where did you get your inspiration to write something like The Cupid Business?

Julie: Well, to paraphrase the famous quote, I guess it was 1 per cent inspiration, and 99 per cent perspiration.

So, in that case, you could say that writing The Cupid Business has been a mixture of love, sweat and tears!

Q: That’s an interesting point. Let’s go through that. Love?

Julie: I wanted to write a novel for the love of writing. I’ve always been a bit of a scribbler but so far it’s been restricted to my blog: short stories, poetry, life writing, articles etc. 

My last publication was in 2002 when I edited a book called Vegan Stories for the Vegan Society.

I’ve tried to write a novel many times in the past but usually I’ve got stuck at chapter three, page three. This time, thankfully, I was able to keep going!

I don’t have a plan when I write. I just get some crazy thought in my head first thing in the morning and try and capture it before it disappears.

For The Cupid Business, it was just a question of turning up at my computer every day and waiting to  see if the characters turned up and if they had anything to say. Thankfully, they did.

For some reason, I thought a love story would be the easiest kind of novel to write. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Q: Why is that? Is it because of some of the novel’s more racy moments?

Julie: Yes, that was really tough. Personally, I favour the “less is more” approach. When it comes to writing racy scenes, I have to confess I’m less 50 Shades of Grey, more 50 shades of Pink!

One of my proof-readers advised me that the novel was too saucy, another said it wasn’t saucy enough! Hopefully, I’ve redressed that balance now.

Personally, I’d say it was more cheeky than saucy, with a lot of humour thrown in, and allowance for the liberal use of the reader’s imagination.

Q: And, carrying on from your earlier comment, you said the novel involved a lot of sweat?

Julie: Well, yes, it did take 8 years in all to write. Not continuously, of course. I did manage to squeeze in study for an Open University arts degree and a part-time job in that time too.

I imagine most people think the life of a romantic novelist is sitting in a flimsy pink dressing gown, eating chocolates, drinking champagne and dictating words of wisdom to a trusty secretary.

It’s all true apart from the chocolates, champagne and the secretary. A lot of it though was written at my computer while in my dressing gown, so I may, one day, call my autobiography, “Productive in Pyjamas!”

Actually, the hardest part was not so much the writing and the editing, but getting to grips with how to self-publish on Amazon and Kindle. That has been a major learning curve!

Q: Yes, why did you decide to go down the self-publishing route? Didn’t you try sending it out to a publisher first?

Julie: Oh yes, that’s where the tears come in (laughs). I kept on sending it off to publishers and agents and it just kept coming right back at me with a “Thanks, but no thanks” printed rejection slip.

Sometimes, I swear it was on a rubber band, and used to come back to me before I’d even sent it out.

Q: That must have been hard.

Julie: Yes, it was a bit off-putting, especially in the early days. I guess that’s why I kept putting it back on the shelf.

But, thank goodness, for encouragement from friends, and for Amazon and Kindle, which have made self-publishing an affordable reality! Nothing beats the thrill of seeing your own work in print!

Q: So, Julie, after The Cupid Business, what’s next?

Julie: I already have some ideas in the pipeline: a book of short stories, a second novel, and perhaps a book of puns. Hopefully, the next book won’t take 8 years to write!

Q: Thanks for talking to us today and good luck with The Cupid Business.

Julie: Thank you!

 

The Cupid Business, a romantic comedy novel by Julie H. Rosenfield.

Published on Amazon and Kindle on Valentine’s Day: 14.02.2014.
ISBN-13: 978-1493589661 ISBN-10: 149358966

The Cupid Business on Amazon

P1090620

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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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

IMMIGRANTS (STORY)

I’d only gone in there to wash my smalls.

To be honest, I hadn’t even been in a laundrette for years. I’d always had Zanussi and the appliance of science to take care of all that for me.

But here, on a rare visit home, I had no choice but to wash my dirty laundry in public.

I rummaged in my pockets for coins, sat on the wooden bench, opened the newspaper and waited ……

“I don’t suppose you’ve got some spare 20ps,” came a voice beside me. “I can give you a quid.”

I sighed and rummaged again in my pocket. “Here,” I said handing them over to the middle-aged man in the shabby raincoat.

“Ta,” he said. “That machine isn’t working. I’ve had to take all my washing out and start again.”

I smiled wearily and went back to my newspaper. A bit of celebrity gossip had caught my eye and I wasn’t really interested in getting into any sort of conversation.

“In the olden days, machines like this would never break down. They built them to last. Of course,” and here he lowered his voice, “I blame it on ………. The immigrants.”

I folded my newspaper and sighed, bracing myself for what lay ahead.

“Nowadays …………. Trouble with this country ………. They come over here ………  tax payers’ money ……… ….. some of them don’t even speak English ……..”

I sighed. I’d been through it all only a few days ago in the taxi from the station.

“Where are you going, love? Oh yes, very nice. Here from London, you say? For a few days. Oh well, you’ll find this place a bit different from when you grew up. Things change, you know.”

The traffic snarled, the streets gave way to colourful pavement stalls, exotic fruits, sari shops.

It didn’t take long to get from “Traffic’s rough today” to “I blame it on the immigrants.”

By the time I got to the pub that night to meet my friends Linda and Kevin I was feeling quite jaded.

“Pub’s busy tonight. Could hardly get a round in,” said Kevin fighting his way back to our table. That’s the trouble with this country. The weather, the beer, the …..”

“Oh don’t mind him,” said Linda, “He’s just had a tough day, today. Do stop moaning, Kevin,” she said and winked at me.

“Anyway, let’s tell Helen, our news. Helen, we’re thinking of moving to Spain.”

Here was a surprise. I’d always thought Linda and Kevin were so settled in their little terraced house in  Leeds.

“What brought this on?” I said.

“It’s this country,” started Kevin. “It’s just not the same as it was. The litter, the pollution, unemployment, the government, the…..” and there it was again, the same lowering of the voice, “immigrants.”

This time I could stand it no longer. “These immigrants as you say, many of them are fleeing persecution, many of them start their own businesses here, create employment, pay tax, do dirty jobs that you wouldn’t want to do……”

“Steady on Helen, old girl.” Said Kevin. “Don’t know what’s got in to you today.”

Linda mouthed at me to stop but somehow I couldn’t. I was tired of the constant innuendo, it was everywhere in laundrettes, taxis, bus stops. Tired, tired, tired. What was wrong with tolerance, respect, compassion?

“And besides, if you go to Spain, you’ll be immigrants too….”

“No, we won’t,” insisted Kevin.

“Trashing someone else’s country, I doubt you’ve any plans to learn their language, respect their culture, integrate into their community.”

I don’t know where it all came from but, suddenly, I just couldn’t stop.

Kevin looked hurt and Linda looked uncomfortable. Oh dear, had I gone too far? I’d buttoned my mouth with all those strangers but now here amongst old and dear friends …

“We wouldn’t be immigrants,” continued Kevin patiently. “We’d be …. Ex-patriots!”

Suddenly I longed for home and my Zanussi more than ever before.

The next day, over a cup of tea, I had a chat with Linda in her small kitchen. She showed me the brochures on Spain. I had to admit it did look nice. And really I could understand the appeal of the sunshine, the sea, the swimming pools, the villas ….

“Of course, the only problem really is Kevin’s aunty Joan. She’s all on her own and she’s getting on a bit now. Normally, we pop in every now and then, do a bit of shopping for here. Make sure she’s ok. But if we go to Spain……..”

Here she sighed and quickly turned the page in the brochure.

“And, of course, Helen, you’d be able to come over and spend your holidays with us,” she urged.

I brightened for the first time since my trip back home. It did sound very tempting.

I wished Linda well, returned home and started dreaming of sangria ……….

A few weeks later, I was just taking my washing out of the dryer when the phone rang.

It was Linda. “Bad news, I’m afraid. Aunty Joan’s been mugged.”

I sat down, shocked. “What happened?”

“She was walking down the street, some young thug on a bike grabbed her handbag, knocked her to the ground.”

“Is she ok?”

“She’s very badly bruised and shaken. She’ll be ok but …..”

“Yes?”

“Kevin and I think we’d better put our plans on hold for now. She’s just a bit too fragile to be left. So maybe don’t get yourself a new bikini just yet.”

Kevin came on the phone.

“Oh Kevin, I’m so sorry.What about the guy? I don’t suppose they caught him.”

“Er, yes, they did actually, there was a guy in a turban who gave chase and grabbed him.”

“Guy in a turban?”

“Yes, nice guy. Not been in the country long and …”

“And the guy they caught?”

“Local lad, doing drugs, the police think.”

“Still nice of the guy in the turban to give chase though. He could have been stabbed or anything.”

“Yes,” agreed Kevin.

“Ah well,” I sighed, “I guess that’s the trouble with immigrants ………”

A Boy Like Billy (Short Story)

I was so sure they’d send a girl. I could have coped with a girl. She didn’t have to be pretty, just kind, gentle, warm-hearted. Someone to buy dresses for, bake cakes with, keep me company on long, winter evenings. A girl would have been wonderful. But not this….

‘Now, Billy, this is Mrs Dawson. You’ll be living with her for a while. Just while your mother’s in hospital.’

I looked pointedly at the vicar. Surely he could read it in my face.’No boys, vicar, remember?’

Either my telepathic message failed or he was deliberately ignoring it.

‘I’ll pop by in a day or two, Billy, see how you’re settling in.’

And with that, he touched his tweed cap and was off.

I stood looking at the boy. A gawky, thin lad, with sandy hair and acne-marked skin.  Must have been about 10 or 12. It was so hard to tell these days. I took in the ripped t-shirt, faded jeans and worn-out trainers and noted his sullen expression.

Then, remembering my manners, I summoned up my courage.

‘I suppose you’d better come in … Billy.’

He didn’t hear me the first time. I wondered if he was hard of hearing when I noticed the earplugs.

I mouthed deliberately and slowly, ‘Come in-side, Billy.’

He opened his mouth then, finally, a look of comprehension dawned. He removed the ear- plugs.

‘What was that? Just listening to The Grunge on my IPOD. Top band, wanna listen?’
IPOD? Grunge? It was a whole new language and one which, at my time of life, I wasn’t sure if I was willing to learn.

It had all seemed so straightforward at the time. There was a family, the vicar had explained at the Ladies’ Guild meeting. No father, the mother was due to go into hospital and there were four children looking for temporary accommodation: three girls, one boy. Rather than handing them over to social services, the mother wondered if people in her old village might help out.

‘Now who’s got a spare bedroom? Louise?’

And he’d looked straight at me. How could I say no? Reverend Watson knew I’d been after that part-time job of church housekeeper for ages, ever since old Mrs Holloway retired. But I wasn’t the only one. Mrs Lever had her eye on it too, and she’d worked as a housekeeper before.

No, if I wanted to keep on the right side of the vicar, I would have to look keen and committed.

‘OK,’ I said, ‘I’ll take one, but it must be a girl!’

I couldn’t have taken on a boy. It had been hard enough looking after John and he’d been my husband. And I’d grown up in practically an all-female family, with my father being away at sea. And we’d never had children ourselves. John and I couldn’t ……..

So how come, I thought, snapping myself back from my reverie and ushering my new protégé into the lounge, I was now faced with looking after a boy? Reverend Watson would have some explaining to do, I determined.

‘You on the net?’ asked Billy, looking round my humble sitting-room.

‘Net?’ There was that unfamiliar jargon again.

‘Internet, you know. Computer?’

‘I’ve got a television,’ I offered faintly, pointing towards the box in the corner of the room.

He took in my green settee, polished teak table, faithful TV and settled his gaze on the goldfish tank by the door.

‘Fish,’ he stated, wrinkling up his nose.

The battle had begun.

I showed him upstairs.

‘This is your room,’ I said, ushering him into a small room on the left-hand side.

He stared at the pink bedspread, pink curtains, and the carnations I’d bought that morning.

‘This is a girl’s room,’ he sniffed.

It was beginning to be a very long evening. This needed sorting out. It couldn’t wait until tomorrow.

‘You must be hungry,’ I said, at last. ‘I’ve got some supper for you but perhaps you’d like to freshen up first. The bathroom’s over there,’ I pointed at the adjacent room. ‘Have a shower. Or a bath,’ I encouraged. He looked like he needed both badly. ‘There are clean towels in there.’

‘Pink ones, I suppose?’ he grunted as I rushed out of the room.

I waited till I heard running water, closed the lounge door, and hurriedly picked up the receiver.

Luckily, the vicar answered straight away.

‘It’s Louise,’ I breathed. ‘Look, it’s about the boy.’

‘Billy?’ the vicar answered, concerned. ‘Is he ok?’

‘I’m sorry, vicar, but I wanted a girl, I did tell you. Not a boy, and not,’ I said, pointedly, ‘a boy like Billy.’

There was a pause. It would be fine, I told myself, the vicar would realise his mistake and sort it all out. With any luck, he might manage it this evening, I thought hopefully.

‘I know what you said, Louise. My difficulty is that Mrs Lever has agreed to take all three girls. I thought it best to keep them together. But if you really don’t want Billy, I could probably place him somewhere else….’

‘No, vicar, don’t worry, it’ll be fine….’

Mrs Lever was taking three girls, I fumed as I got off the phone. She’d do anything to curry favour with the vicar and get that job. Well, I’d show her…

‘Billy, supper’s ready,’ I said, as he came into the lounge.

Considering he’d just had a shower, he didn’t look any cleaner. Still, there was no time to lose.

As he started eating his salmon, strawberries and pink-iced cake, I started forming my plan……..

‘Billy,’ I said, at last, ‘Tell me about your sisters…..’

Billy pondered to himself, taken aback at my sudden interest.

‘My sisters?’ he responded. ‘Well, there’s Amy, Charlotte and Samantha. What do you want to know?’

‘I just wondered, do they have any likes, dislikes or.…,’ I asked, meaningfully,  ‘any annoying little habits. ……?’

He paused. ‘Of course, they do, they’re girls. But why do you want to know?’

I explained my dilemma. About the job and about Mrs Lever. After all, what did I have to lose?

At first, he seemed unsure whether to play along.

‘I know where you can get access to the internet,’ I said, remembering the computers in the local library. ‘So, what can you tell me?’

As it happened, he was prepared to reveal quite a lot. How Amy had hyperactive episodes after eating anything with sugar in it, how Charlotte loved little creatures, particularly spiders and mice, and how Samantha ………

‘Really?’ I asked, in astonishment. ‘Isn’t that unusual for a girl?’

‘I promise you,’ was Billy’s response. I gulped.

Somehow I was starting to think that having girls around might not be so easy after all.

‘I was just thinking,’ I said on the phone to Mrs Lever after Billy had gone to bed. ‘Why don’t we have a little party for the Grahame children? We could invite the vicar and ….’
‘Wonderful idea,’ enthused Mrs Lever, ‘We’ll have it here. Saturday afternoon. You leave it to me.’

I knew she’d fall for it. Over breakfast, the next day, I explained my plan to Billy. He brightened up at the thought of a party.

‘What can we take to make the girls feel at home? I think we need to go shopping ……’

I left him at the library, getting to grips with the computer in the reference section, and made my way round the village.

‘So good of you to take Billy on,’ encouraged the vicar, seeing me coming out of the Post Office. ‘I was told he could be a handful. And so kind of Mrs Lever to hold this party for them all. Such a treasure ….’

There was no time to lose. The pet shop owner was most helpful.

‘Mice or spiders? Certainly Mrs Dawson, we could even throw in a lizard…..’

And the baker was just as obliging.

‘A cake with icing and sugared almonds? No problem at all.’

So that just left Samantha………

‘Billy,’ I said, as I collected him from the library. ‘I’m taking out you this afternoon. Burger bar, cinema, anything you like……’

Billy perked up, ‘There’s a new film I’ve been dying to see, ‘Revenge of the Lost Zombie Terminators III’. Fine, perfect, whatever………

A few days later, the day of the party dawned. Somehow, with all the excitement, the time with Billy was passing quite agreeably. One evening, I’d even found a box of John’s old toy soldiers.  I wasn’t sure if he’d like them at first, but after a while, ‘Take that, bang, bang,’ I heard coming from Billy’s room. I guess boys don’t change that much.

‘Billy, love,’ I called to him, ‘Best get ready, Mrs Lever’s party will be starting soon, and we need to do those errands on the way.’

‘Louise,’ Mrs Lever effused on our arrival, kissing me on the cheek. ‘So glad you could make it. And Billy too. Do go in. The vicar’s already here.’

‘Girls, come down,’ she called, ‘The guests have arrived.’

Three teenage girls came running down the stairs. I took in their nose piercings, respectively dyed green, red and yellow hair, black lipstick, black tops and shiny black jeans. Not a pretty pink dress in sight. Ah well…..

They made a big fuss of their little brother. He blushed with embarrassment but seemed secretly pleased.

‘Oh vicar, it’s all going so well,’ Mrs Lever remarked loudly to Reverend Watson. ‘The girls are such a treat, no problem at all.’

‘I’m delighted,’ said the vicar, ‘and so will their mother be. Quite a thing taking on three teenage girls. I can see you’ve been managing beautifully.’

There was no time to lose.

‘Billy and I have brought presents for the girls….’

‘Presents, how kind’, said Mrs Lever, ‘Hand them to me and I’ll make sure they get them later.’

Oh no, she wasn’t pulling that one. This was my moment.

‘I’m sure they’d like them now,’ I insisted, looking at the vicar for confirmation.

‘So thoughtful,’ said the reverend. ‘Honestly, the ladies in this village are kindness itself.’

‘Now Amy, this is for you,’ I said, calling over the shortest girl. She took the baker’s box and looked inside.

‘My favourite,’ she shouted, and ran off with it to the kitchen.

‘And, Charlotte, this is for you,’ I said, giving the white box with the holes in it to the middle girl. I winked at Billy. ‘Maybe take it up to your bedroom’ and off she ran.

And that just left Samantha…………

‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ said the vicar, once we were back in my cottage having tea. ‘Amy running round like that, screaming at the top of her voice. Goodness if Mrs Lever can’t control a girl of 13 …….’

I murmured sympathetically. Billy giggled.

‘And as for those big rats running around the kitchen… Filthy! Doesn’t she know how to keep a house clean? Goodness, what would she be like looking after a vicarage?’ Billy and I exchanged knowing looks.

And as for Samantha…. Well, perhaps, the less said the better. It wasn’t just the sight of her pointing the aerosol can at Mrs Dawson’s living room walls, it was the words she’d painted on there. Words that Reverend Watson hadn’t heard since he was an army chaplain.

‘Well, Mrs Dawson, that settles it. After today, I’ve seen everything. When it comes to that little job,’ and here he tapped his nose and winked, ‘It’s yours.’

I was delighted.

‘I hope you don’t mind, Louise,” whispered the vicar when Billy had gone to the kitchen to fetch more cake, “But Billy’s mother won’t be out of hospital for a little while. I know you wanted a girl but I hope you won’t mind looking after him for a bit longer.”

‘Not at all,’ I reassured him, “Looking after a boy is fine with me. Especially,’ I beamed at him on his return, ‘A boy like Billy.’

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