Julie Rosenfield

My journal

Archive for the tag ““story””

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

OUT OF THE SHADOWS (STORY)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He put down his book momentarily and our eyes met.

I’m not sure who spoke first.

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

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

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

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

THE END

MONA-LOGUE (STORY)

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

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

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

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

“Over here, Sadie,” I call.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, I haven’t spoken to her since.

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

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

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

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

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

Now, where could she have gone? Sadie!”

LOLLIPOP (STORY)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet a feeling in his stomach urged him on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He got nearer, ready to raise his pole when …

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

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

“Ow, my head,” he thought.

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

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

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

He picked her up  a piggy back and said:

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

And off they went.

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

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

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

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

FIRST AID (STORY)

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.”

THE DRESS (STORY)

“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.”

HOME FROM HOME (STORY)

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 –

SIZE SEVEN (SHORT STORY)

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.

“So?”

“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?”

“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.”

“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!

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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