Julie Rosenfield

My journal

Archive for the tag ““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.


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.




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?



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.



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’.




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.




I’m waiting ….



I don’t know what to say.



Does that mean it’s good or …. ?



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 ….



Are you still there?



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!



PS Is there a Mr Rowling?


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.


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.


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



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.


PS Is there a Mrs Honeydew?


Thank you.

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



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



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.



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


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.




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.



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?



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




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



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



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



Yes, indeed. We should…

There is just one thing, though.






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



Really? Why’s that?



Katherine – or rather –  Katie!

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

All yours



Julie H. Rosenfield               24.2.2014



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.







Looking back, it should never have happened.

“I don’t believe it,” said Annie to herself, as she rushed to the bathroom. “All I was doing was looking for the tin opener.”

At the back of the drawer, while preparing dinner, Annie’s fingers had closed, not on her trusty steel tin opener, but on something rather sharper.

The pain from the potato peeler blade made Annie wince. She washed her bleeding finger and applied one of the few remaining plasters from the medicine cabinet. It was too big for the job but would have to do.

Now, thought Annie, there was just enough time to open the can of chickpeas, and add it to the curry with the coconut milk, before he arrived.

Giles. She pictured him now, tall, greying temples, lopsided grin. Dear Giles. She’d been so lucky that he’d asked her out. Everyone in the office fancied him, the new guy in accounts, but unbelievable to Annie, he actually made a beeline for her.

“Excuse me, could you just show me how the photocopier works?” he’d asked her on his first day. Then it was the computer, then the coffee machine ……….And it had all started from there. The other girls in the office giggled knowingly, seeing Annie’s wistful expression. “Annie’s in love,” winked Sandy from the next desk.

Annie blushed, despite herself. “Not at all, I was just being helpful, welcoming, professional,” and she expertly ducked the empty paper cup that Sandy had just lobbied in her direction.

Unfortunately, it hit Mr Henderson, Giles’s boss, who had just happened to be passing through Admin at the time. “What the …….?” he began, as a couple of stray droplets of tea made their mark on the shoulder of his jacket.  “Miss Parker, was that you?” Annie reddened, unwilling to betray her friend and looked away.

Later, Sandy giggled, “Thanks for not splitting on me, Annie.” But why would she? After all, Sandy was a good friend and it was to her that Annie confided some very special news a week later, “Giles has asked me out to dinner,” she breathed excitedly. “But please don’t tell a soul.” Sandy swore herself to secrecy and waited with anticipation to hear all about it.

She didn’t have long to wait. The next morning, Annie fairly glided into the building. “How was it?” whispered Sandy, as they both made their way into the lift. “Dreamy,” sighed Annie, “He is such a lovely guy.”

All that day, Annie could barely settle to do any work. Customers found they were having to repeat their telephone orders two or three times to make themselves understood. “What was that?” asked Annie, “You want 14 blouses in size 8? Or 8 blouses in size 14?”

It was no use. Sandy knew she had to come to the rescue. Give Annie an excuse to go over to Accounts. Stop her pining away and messing all the orders up.

“Annie, do you want to take these invoices over to Accounts? We just need to get Henderson to sign them.”

Annie reached for the file. She thought for a moment, wrote a few lines on a piece of paper, inserted them into another file and off she went.

“Do I look ok?” she breathed to Sandy. Sandy nodded, relieved at a few minutes’ peace, and Annie was on her way.

To Annie’s disappointment, Giles was away from his desk. She waited for a minute but, as he didn’t reappear, she placed the file on his desk.

“Miss Parker,” said Henderson, who had just emerged from his office at that point. “Can I help you?” Annie remembered the purpose of her visit and swiftly placed Sandy’s file in his hands. “This is for you,” she said, flustered, and marched quickly out of the office before he could reply.

Back at his desk, Henderson opened the file. “Dinner tonight? My place? 8.00 pm?” She’d written her address, signed it Annie and had even drawn a little, smiley face.

Henderson smiled to himself. Annie Parker. He’d spotted her around the building for ages but she’d barely seemed to take much notice of him. However, there was the recent paper cup incident and now this invitation… He coughed slightly, adjusted his tie, and ran his right forefinger through his black, greasy hair.

*                             *                               *

Annie stirred the curry thoughtfully. There was just time to finish washing up and make sure the table was ready. With delight, she noticed how the pink hand-made candles made a welcoming glow on the rose-patterned tablecloth. The glasses were shining brightly, and the wine was chilling nicely in the cooler.

Suddenly, she looked down at her hands and noticed that her finger was bleeding. “My plaster?” she wondered, “Where on earth is it?”

A cursory inspection of the bathroom revealed no sign of the offending item. Nor did a more detailed search of the kitchen. She looked in the sink, behind the taps, in the cupboard, everywhere, no sign of it so it must be ………  “In the curry! Oh no!!” she yelled frantically, stirring it with a slotted spoon to see if she could spy it between the mass of vegetables.

And with no time to prepare anything else, what else could she do other than hope that it ended up on her plate and not his?

The doorbell interrupted her frantic thoughts. Smoothing down her green dress, and pausing briefly to  fluff up her chestnut curls in the mirror, she went to open the door.

“Hope I’m not too early,” said a familiar voice, behind a huge bunch of yellow flowers.

She looked up, perturbed to see the sight of Henderson standing on her doorstep.

“I was very surprised to get your invitation,” he continued, walking into the hall, “But very pleased.”

Stunned, she found herself taking Henderson’s coat and showing him into the lounge. “Invitation?” she thought. But how could that be? After all, she put it in the red file and placed it on Giles’ desk.

“Oh no,” she realised to herself, “I must have put the file with the invoices on Giles’s desk and the file with the invitation on……Henderson’s.”

She headed for the wine bottles cooling on the table. Definitely time for a drink for both of them. But how to tell him?

He was just settling on the settee and admiring the landscape paintings on the wall, when the phone rang.

She ran to the hall to answer it. “Annie.” It was Giles. “I just wondered if you were doing anything tonight…”

“Oh Giles, I…….”

“Need me to do anything?” Henderson’s voice cut across from the lounge.

“Annie, why that sounds like Henderson? What on earth is he doing there?”

”Giles, it’s not what you think. I…….”

Too late. He’d put the phone down. Drat and double drat.

Henderson was in the kitchen, bending over the roses and stroking his finger furiously.

“I just thought I’d arrange the flowers for you,” he said apologetically, “But I seem to have pricked my finger on a thorn. I don’t suppose you have a ………”

”Plaster!” said Annie brightly. “Certainly.”

And with that, she plunged her slotted spoon into the curry for one last valiant effort. And true to form, there it was dangling on the end. One soggy plaster.

“And somehow,” Annie giggled to Sandy the next day, “He just seemed to lose his appetite. He was gone before I knew it.”

“And Giles?”

“It was fine. I just rang him back, explained what had happened and he came right round.”

“Not for your curry, I hope,” laughed Sandy.

“No, definitely not. But I still had plenty of wine left, and somehow we both ended up getting plastered.”


“It’s not as if Sheila will ever find out,” thought Tom, as he drove their 4 x 4 gingerly down the muddy track that led out of the farm one day in September. “Every marriage has its secrets. And it’s not as if she ever even asks about the seed-buying trips,” he reassured himself.

Tom remembered overhearing Sheila on the phone to her sister the day after he’d announced his decision to switch from dairy to arable farming.

“But, of course, Tom’s been going to seed for years,” she’d giggled down the phone, only to straighten up suddenly when Tom had entered the room.

But he had been proved right in the long run. Thanks to a huge contract for his organic produce with a large supermarket chain, the farm had managed to turn itself around and was actually running quite nicely now compared to those of some of his former dairy farmer colleagues.

So when old Jack at the pub had asked if he wanted in on a share in a racehorse, he didn’t think twice. “Best not tell the old gal,” he said to Jack, “She’ll only raise some objection or other.”

And so it was agreed, the papers were secretly drawn up and Tom found himself co-owner of Silver Star, a charming grey horse from an excellent lineage. “Don’t let us down,” whispered Tom that first race day, stroking the white blazon of his horse’s nose.

And Silver Star must have listened because a few meetings later, he started living up to his name, coming in second in several races at Newmarket and even first on one glorious occasion. Tom was delighted to find his new investment so lucrative and started thinking of ways of how to spend the money……

Sheila, he knew, would have had the winnings off him straightaway, She was always jabbering on about wanting some fancy new gadget for the kitchen, or flowery curtains for the guest bedroom or some such frivolity.

But Tom had plans for that money. Very different plans indeed …….

Not many people would have had Tom Hastings down as a patron of the arts. There was never really enough time or money for luxuries like classical music, opera and theatre. Especially with working such long hours on the farm all those years.

So it was a great surprise when Tom suddenly announced his desire to be on the committee of the local amateur dramatic society.

“You, Tom, getting involved with am-dram?” Sheila had laughed.

But Tom was insistent. “Be nice to put something back into the community,” he had responded tersely. And that was that.

Of course, it could have had something to do with the announcement of the new honorary patron of the society, the well-known actress Sophie Walsh.

Sophie, whose career, legs and long blonde hair Tom had admired on TV for years, had often appeared in programmes ranging from historical dramas to situation comedies.  Recently she had even been seen appearing as a contestant in the TV show Dancing Shoes where celebrities battled it out to learn a new dance with a professional dance partner and win votes from the television viewers.

And if Sophie hadn’t actually won the contest, it had surely been no fault of Tom’s. Following her progress keenly every week, while Sheila was out at her sculpture class, Tom had racked up an expensive phone bill voting for her.

It was true. Tom couldn’t take his eyes off Sophie when she appeared on the show. He took in every detail:  the way she walked, the way she carried herself, her figure, her long legs and those outfits. Week after week saw her wearing a range of stunning ballgowns in a variety of glorious shades: blazing red, bright fuchsia, burnt orange …..

So no wonder, that as soon as he read the announcement in the evening paper that Sophie, who apparently had grown up in Woodbridge, had accepted the role of patron at the Woodbridge Amateur Dramatic Society (WADS), Tom immediately started looking for ways to become involved.

And it was not too long before a cheque for a sizeable donation was handed in to WADS one morning, followed by an invitation for a certain gentleman farmer to join their committee……

And Sophie had delighted Tom as much at the meetings as she did on the screen. She was charming and friendly and only too happy to answer any questions he had about the TV dance show. Her only regret was that the series had now finished and they hadn’t even let her keep any of the dresses …………..

“Ah,” sympathised Tom at a dress rehearsal of the  WADS’ forthcoming production of “The Boyfriend.” “My favourite one was when you wore that long flowing pink dress with the sequins when you danced the foxtrot. That was breathtaking.”

“Ah, yes,” said Sophie, “It was exquisite. It actually came from a little dress shop in Bury St Edmonds. Very exclusive. It quite broke my heart to give it back.”

Tom paused and mentally totted up his accruing racehorse winnings. Silver Star was having a good season and Bury was only an hour  away. ….

“Fancy a trip to Bury?” Tom said suddenly. “I have some business to attend to over that way and it would be great to have you along for the ride.”

Sophie turned up for the day out looking every inch a star with her cream two-piece suit with matching stilettoes. She couldn’t help but draw admiring glances from the fellow diners at the Angel Hotel where they stopped for a pub lunch.

Afterwards, they headed for the Cornhill shopping area and turned down a tiny, crooked lane into a small boutique called the Stars ‘n’ Bows.

Madame Clara, a tall, slim, auburn-haired woman who managed the shop made a huge fuss of Sophie as soon as the pair walked in. “Ah yes, you wore this dress so beautifully on the show,” she reminisced, fingering the flowing pastel pink dress. You really dazzled the judges that night. I have another dress that’s just come in from the same designer. Let me just get it for you to have a look at”

She returned beaming, carrying a long, glittering, silver satin ballgown. It had long sleeves, a plunging neckline, a decorative fantail and was set off by a sparkling, sapphire rhinestone necklace.

While Sophie gazed lovingly at the dress, Tom took a discreet glance at the price tag, looked at Madame Clara and cleared his throat. “About the dress, it’s quite a sum. I was just wondering …..”

Sophie looked at him wide-eyed.

“I’m sure we could come to some arrangement,” Madame Clara soothed. “In the meantime, perhaps I could show you to the changing room.”

Tom looked enquiringly at Sophie. She lowered her eyes and nodded. Carefully carrying the dress, Tom followed her nervously along the narrow corridor to the back of the shop.

Madame Clara led the way to the small curtained off area and waited expectantly.

“Do you know it really does suit you?” she said, a few minutes later. “The rhinestones really bring out the blue in your eyes. And as for the tiara…..”

Sophie smiled and nodded shyly.

“There’s just one thing,” whispered Madame Clara to Tom at last, “I think it might just look better on you without the gumboots.”


They say that marriage is an institution. Well, what sort of institution doesn’t allow married couples to be together?

‘We’re sorry, Mrs Bowles. We can take Norman but you’re just not ill enough.’
Not ill enough! All those years, they told me to look after myself, eat well, exercise, so I could enjoy a healthy retirement….

But Norman hadn’t been so lucky. The illness ran in his family. Little signs at first, forgetfulness, acting oddly, until ……….

‘Alzheimer’s,’ explained the consultant. ‘Not much we can do. His condition will  deteriorate. Eventually, he may not recognise you ….’
Not recognise me? After 65 years of marriage?

The District Nurse was very kind. ‘Betty, it’s for the best. You can’t look after him. He needs expert care. There’s a very good nursing home, Lonsdales …..’

Norman in a home! Never! What was wrong with the home we’d lovingly put together? The home that had witnessed the joy of children, grandchildren, and our first great-grandchild, Jonathan.

‘We’ve never been apart for a day,’ I cried. ‘I couldn’t put him in a home.’
‘Betty, you’ll be able to visit him any time you want.’

Any time? Lonsdale was two buses away. And not to have Norman with me, to cuddle up to at night, to share the joys and worries of the day….

Nurse Wilson smoothed down her uniform.

‘Betty, we have to think of Norman. You couldn’t cope with him on your own.’

I shivered. Deep down, I knew she was right. These days, I couldn’t leave him alone for a minute. There was the day I’d popped into the kitchen to make some toast. I’d told Norman not to leave the settee. Next thing I knew, he’d disappeared.

I was about to call the police when the doorbell rang.

‘Found him wandering the street in his pyjamas. Said he was looking for the 22 bus,’ said Miss Pringle from across the road.

The 22 bus. That was when we were living in Laburnum Close. Over 30 years ago.

I took him inside and tried to explain. But he couldn’t understand.

‘The 22 bus. The Rialto. Dancing….’

And it wasn’t just a one-off. There was the time he’d put salt in his tea, placed the marmalade in the oven, tried to go to church wearing a tea cosy. But I was sure I could cope, until …

Crash!! I was woken in the middle of the night. Frantically, I put the light on. My husband was nowhere to be seen. I left the bedroom cautiously, and there, lying at the bottom of the stairs, was Norman.

‘Norman, what am I to do with you?’
‘It’s mainly bruising and shock,’ they explained at the hospital. ‘But Mrs Bowles, what he really needs is 24 hour attention.’

I looked into the cost of having nurses in. Prohibitive. It would have eaten up all our savings and our grandchildren’s inheritance.

There really was no alternative. Lonsdale’s.

‘It’s really very pleasant,’ explained Janice from Social Services. ‘We can  show you around any time. They have a bed for Norman. He’ll love it there.’

The next Wednesday found Norman and me being shown round Sheffield’s oldest residential home.

‘And here is the Pavilion,’ breezed the stout Head of Home, Martha Bailey. The residents have all their meals in here. And we have activities too,’ she enthused,

‘Art, bingo, even little concerts.’
And I had to agree, Lonsdale’s did seem a cheerful place. The residents looked well cared for, not like some of those stories you read about in the papers. Even the lunch menu seemed inviting …

‘Apple crumble,’ I noted, ‘Norman loves that.’
We were shown into a small, charming bedroom on the ground floor with a lilac bedspread, matching curtains, even a TV

Almost…. ‘Home from home’, said Mrs Bailey, anticipating my thoughts. ‘Norman will be happy here, you’ll see.’
But happy here, without me?
‘Couldn’t I move in too?’ I urged. ‘After all, I’m in my eighties. My bones do give me gyp sometimes….’

Her face fell. ‘I’m sorry, Mrs Bowles. We just don’t have the resources…..’
‘But you can’t split a married couple up. We’ve been together for 65 years….’
‘You don’t fit the criteria,’ she finished. ‘The truth is … you’re not ill enough.’

But what to do? I looked at Norman, who was grinning and talking to himself. He did look as if he’d be happy here. It would be selfish of me to deprive him of the care he deserved after a lifetime’s hard work.

I squeezed his hand. ‘Norman, I’ll be back to see you soon. They’re nice here, they’ll look after you.’ And I rushed out of the room before he could see my tears.

Weeks passed. I’d visit when I could. But it was difficult and it was so cold waiting at the bus stop.

One day, on the way back from a visit, it was particularly icy. Foolish of me to venture out but it was Norman’s birthday and I wanted to take him a special fruit cake I’d baked the previous afternoon.

On my way out, I recalled how happy Norman had been that afternoon. He’d even called me by my name which wasn’t always the case these days.

But all too soon, it was mid-afternoon. It would be getting dark soon. ‘I’ll be back to see you soon,’ I said, planting a kiss on Norman’s forehead.

I had barely left the home and started crossing the icy road when I felt my left foot slip. I tried to put out my hands out to stop my fall but soon landed on the ground in an ungainly heap.

A car horn sounded.

‘Look out, grandma,’ yelled the driver, stopping just in time.

A young female passer-by dashed into the road. ‘Mrs Bowles. I recognise you from Lonsdale’s. I’m Susie, one of the carers.’
She hauled me up and brought me back into Lonsdale’s.

‘Best call you an ambulance’ she said, ‘Have you checked over.’
’I’ll be alright,’ I assured her, but the pain in my left leg disagreed.
After a three-hour wait in Casualty, my leg was X-rayed and plastered.

‘You’ll be in plaster for several weeks, Mrs Bowles,’ said the young Indian doctor. ‘That was a nasty fall.’
I started to cry and then it all came out. Just why I’d been visiting Lonsdale’s in the first place.

Dr Anwar looked thoughtful. ‘Hmm,’ he said, ‘I may have the answer.’
An hour later, I was sitting in Dr Anwar’s office with Janice from Social Services.
‘But this changes everything. You can’t possibly manage by yourself. Lonsdale’s will have to take you in – at least for now.’

And that’s how I found myself lying on the bed in a little room with a lilac floral bedspread, co-ordinated curtains and my own matching accessory, Norman, beside me.

‘You broke your leg?’ cried Norman, lucid for once.

‘Yes, Norman, I did.’

‘Poor old Betty.’

‘Never mind,’ I said. ‘At least, now we’ll be together. And, after all, better a broken leg, than a broken heart.’

He smiled and offered me a piece of fruit cake. Maybe they were right, perhaps Lonsdale’s could be home from home after all………..

– end –


Saturdays, Sally Shaw sold shoes. Spectacular shoes – scarlet, skyscraper stilettos; silver, satin slippers; sparkling, sequinned sandals ….

Steve Spencer saw Sally selling shoes. Steve sighed.

“Sally’s so special,” said Steve, subsequently. “She’s stylish, sophisticated, sexy …”

“So, say something,” said Steve’s sister, Sarah. “Suggest supper ….”

“So shy,” stammered Steve, shamefaced. “Surely she’d scoff …”

Saturday, seventh September, saw Steve slyly searching Sally’s shop.

“Sir?” said Sally, solicitously.

“Some sensible, synthetic suede shoes,” said Steve. “Size seven”.

Sally selected some suitable shoes.


“Splendid,” said Steve. “Sold!”

Steve started shyly saying something. Sally sat silently.

“Sally…” said Steve. “Supper?”

Sally smiled.

“Something simple. Sunday? Seven?”

Sunday saw Steve serving Sally supper.

“Soup satisfactory?” said Steve.

“So salty,” spluttered Sally, suddenly seizing some soda.

“Spaghetti?” stammered Steve, startled.

“So-so,” said Sally, shoulders shrugging. Steve sighed.


“Strudel!” shrieked Sally. “Smashing! So scrumptious, sweet, succulent ….”

“Success!” shouted Steve.

Slowly, surely, Steve suited Sally. So, Saturdays selling shoes, Sunday suppers…

Several seasons spent similarly…

“Summer soon,” said Steve.

“Suggestions?” said Sally.


“Sevenoaks? Surely somewhere special. Sorrento? Spain?”

Suddenly, Steve said soberly, “Sevenoaks Synagogue. Some Saturday. Shaws, Spencers. Splendid service, soiree….”

“Sweetheart,” sighed Sally, sentimentally.

“Settled,” said Steve.

So summer saw Sally Shaw’s surname shift: Sally Spencer!

Soon – septuplets! Seven small Spencer siblings: Suzy, Sandy, Stanley, Sherry, Sylvia, Shirley, Stuart shout, scream, share stories, swop shoes…

So Spencer Septuplets: Size Seven! Super!


A few years ago, The Writer Magazine* ran a 250 word short story competition with a twist: the story had to contain as many words as possible containing a double letter f – eg coffee. The winner would be the person who had the most words containing the letters ff whilst still sounding sufficiently literary. Despite having the most ff words, I didn’t win. Can’t think why! Still, here’s my entry. Have ffun! : )

“Coffee?” offered Taffy, “Muffins?”

Tiffany affirmed, diffidently.

“Such a kerfuffle, that buffet-car. Scruffy, indifferent staff. Riff-raff!”

“How’s Effie?” Tiffany asked, with effort.

Taffy stiffened.

“Difficult,” he proffered.

“Lovers’ tiff?”

“Up the duff!”

Baffled, Tiffany sniffed her daffodils.

“Ran off with Cliff, that effeminate boffin with the quiff. They should affix that ruffian to the scaffold, afflict him with paraffin and stuff him in a coffin. ”

He puffed on his cigar. “How’s Jeff?”

“Iffy. Nearly snuffed it after sniffing snuff in Cuffley.”

At Effingham, they got off.

He ruffled her coiffeured hair affectionately.

“Back to my gaffe?” he offered. “Waffles?”

“Still stuffed from the buffet!” she effused.

“Decaffeinated coffee? Or a stiff drink?”

Seated on a raffia pouffe in Saffy’s Bar, they quaffed effervescent safflower wine until they were squiffy. Effortlessly, the affair began….

He won a raffle prize: a naff, fluffy giraffe with a buff-coloured ruff and cuffs. She was chuffed. Like puffins, they felt an affinity.

One day, he effectively caught her riffling through his stuff. Such effrontery. He was miffed.

Affronted, he cried stuffily: “You snaffled my muffler!”

“Piffle!” she guffawed offensively, affecting indifference.

Huffing and puffing, he doffed his cap, fastened his duffle coat and was off.

Later, he suffered afflictions. “I’m a duffer! Such a piffling matter.”

In a jiffy, he’d emptied his coffers. Although not affluent, he could afford toffees or…

“Truffles?” he offered, raffishly. “Want to be my wiffey? Honeymoon by the Liffey?”

“You’re daffy, Taffy,” she effervesced, eyes effulgent. And laughed.


*The Writer Magazine – http://www.writermag.com


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 …..”


“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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