I always caught the bus into town Saturday mornings. The bus shelter is a long walk from the village in the middle of nowhere, apart from the old church tower watching over everyone. It's a bit lonely sometimes. One Saturday a car stopped. He was about 40 and he had his son sitting beside him in the car. I thought "well there's no harm in this" so I said thanks and hopped in the back. He said he lived in the next village. He was called Bob, pleasant, but not my type. The boy was very quiet and pale. A few Saturdays later, he was on his own. "Wayne's not well today, hop in." So, I did, in the front seat so as not to offend him. " I thought we'd go a scenic way today" he said. Then he started getting familiar. The scenic way didn't go into town at all. We ended up in these woods. I thought "Hello." As soon as he tried it on, I was ready. I'd always kept the handle on my metal comb filed to a point. Well, a girl's got to defend herself. I buried my coat and had a brandy in a nearby pub. Then I carried on as normal. Home before the afternoon papers came out. Divorced dad found dead in woods, they said. Don't know why he'd been allowed access with his history. Dad drives me into town now. He says you can't be too careful these days.
The Spaces in Between
‘Come here. Do not tread on the lines’ A chalked message just for her written on the stone slab. She knew immediately who had left it. Imogen pushed the chalk into a little heap which the wind whispered up into the arms of his apple tree. She picked up her shopping bags and let herself in. Jazz looked over from the windowsill, globe eyed and imperious enquiring after his breakfast, lunch and dinner. ‘Did you see him, cat? She enquired as she fished into the bags knowing that the tuna would be right at the bottom. She cut a jagged edge round the tin, folded back the top and put it on the floor. The cat did not move and stared her down. ‘OK, OK!‘ She got out the bowl with the faded willow pattern on it, tipped in the fish and mashed it up. Jazz launched himself down the wall landing with a wallop on the stone floor – not on the lines. Folding his paws under he started eating. ‘Half of that was for me you know – why don’t you catch your own like ordinary cats do. Jazz did not even look up. Sitting down heavily on the stool she took her scarf off and pulled it inside the sleeve of her jacket. She wiggled her shoes off. They need heeling again. Pulling her face sideways she grimaced in the mirror. She could no longer not think about the message on the doorstep.
When Georgina Sampson woke from a night of mysterious, foresty dreams she found she had been turned into a small, furry animal. She was curled up in a warm ball, her feet tucked under her nose and whiskers. There was a slight itch behind her ear and, without thinking, she scratched it with one of her back legs. Strange having four legs instead of the normal two arms and two legs of a girl. She stretched her new body and tumbled out of her bedding. She was in a large cage. Beyond the metal bars she saw her own kitchen – quiet in the early morning sun. “This must be a dream,” she thought. “I’ve been overdoing it with the GCSE revision.” It wasn’t a dream. Her mother come into the kitchen to fill the kettle for morning tea. “Mum! Mum!” she called but no words came out. Just a very quiet squeak, not even a squeak. More of a high-pitched sigh. But her mother looked around and came over to the cage. She put her little finger through the bars and stroked Georgie’s nose. “I’ll give you your breakfast in a minute.” Then she pulled the laundry out of the washing machine and went out of the back door, leaving it open a little bit. The garden air came in with more scents than she could ever have imagined. It was mostly grass but there was dew drying and trees shaking dust off their leaves and pollen in flowerheads. Even the bees had a body odour. One solitary smell seemed less pleasant. She didn’t recognise it, but then she saw next-door’s cat sliding through the gap in the fence. He slipped into the kitchen, without mum noticing, and sprang onto the shelf beside her cage. He stared. And drooled. His mouth worked as if he was imagining chewing her head off. Georgina had to run. She had to get away. She saw the wheel on the side of the cage. She got into it and, slowly at first, then faster and faster - she ran.
She was eight when she first realised that she was different. She could recall clearly her mother’s distraught cries. “Be careful, don’t move, I’ll get the ladder.” She perched atop an eight-foot wall. While her mother was away, she raised her arms and swooped down, landing on the grass below with a perfect ten. No harm done.
She honed her skills over the next few years with tentative flights around the bedroom. But country walks were best, running off into the woods to the dismay of her parents. But with a bird’s eye view from the tree tops, she felt safe. At home.
University brought freedom. She pursued an interest in ornithology and rock climbing. A country girl at heart.
Now came the big challenge. She could hear the waves crashing on the rocks below. She tested the wind blowing gently on her face and imagined plunging like a gannet to the shimmering sea below. With a smile she raised her arms.
The muzzle of a gun barrel has an unusual taste. This one I have now is a .38 calibre Colt. The gun famed for winning the west. A reassuring click as the hammer is drawn back; the mechanism for rotating the chambers can be clearly seen. Samuel Colt clearly knew what he was about when he invented this beauty. As I look down the barrel, I marvel at the rifle that makes the bullet spin. “Grey, grey rain tumbles down my window pane.” I turn the radio off to better concentrate. I can taste light, machine oil, from when the weapon was last cleaned, but still, it has an air of spent cordite; like the smell of firework that has gone off. Last time we met, someone brought in a Tommy gun, the type gangsters favoured back in the twenties. This was difficult for us to taste as it was a bit heavy. Of course, my Samuel Colt pre-dated that. We once had an early flint-lock, but we soon realised it was only a repo. One of our members though, brought in an 1850 Smith and Wesson original. Someone else boasted that they could get a matched pair of Purdies; I wonder if they both taste the same? Of course, we wipe the muzzles before passing on to the next person to taste. It is unfortunate that I cannot get ammunition for my weapon, although I have been told that shells are available on the web. I must clean this gun now before taking it to the monthly meet with the others. You could join if you wanted.
There is a Beauty in Death
The leaf turned over in the breeze. The skeletal remains held together by the merest wisp of what? You wouldn’t call it skin or paper. There probably was a word for it. Something that didn’t sound like the delicate fragility laying before her. Next to it a starling had died against her window. She had not known how beautiful one was. As it lay on the ledge, neck broken, not bloodied and still, she studied the gloriousness of its wings. In life it was a chattering, hungry, greedy intruder at her bird table. In death she had time to see the beautiful colours and wonderful arrangement of feathers. Her cat, when she died looked beautiful. Mitzi had been suffering a growing number of seizures. Her little face was troubled and worried as she paced before her next fit. When she could take no more, they had made that final ride to the vets. As she got out of the box, she started to pace the table. She held her firmly and gently as the needle was inserted in the freshly shaved leg. As she died, her face relaxed. The pain left her. The worried lines were replaced by a beautifully smooth peacefulness. A nurse and doctor came in. She pulled a curtain around the bed and said to the doctor, “It doesn’t matter how many times you see it, there is beauty in death.”
Our dad always wound the clock. No-one else was allowed to touch it. Every night we would hear him open the cabinet, wind the clock and close it again with a click. It wasn’t anything special. It wasn’t even an heirloom. “There must be something in that cabinet that he doesn’t want us to see,” I said to my sister. And I was right. No-one talked about anything in those days. No-one questioned why my granny always wore black and never smiled. No-one questioned why Grannies on our island never had husbands. No-one questioned why there was no war memorial in the town square.
On the day my father died, I decided to wind the clock. Folded tightly, squashed inside the cabinet like an unwelcome memory, was a newspaper cutting. It was New Year’s Eve 1918. War-torn bodies and minds slept or sang aboard the ship bringing them home. Families on the island lit fires, put out food, washed clothes and waited for the young men to return. The trial was short: the officers no longer there to explain why they steered the ship into a rock. Dad was the boy who clung to the mast all night and survived. Some things can only be borne through silence. Glancing at the cutting in a frame on my wall, I set off to unveil the block of stone bearing the names of the 200 men who never came home. But only the clock truly remembers.
Moving On Here he comes. “Get a move on, Old Timer…” their usual approach, the decent rozzers anyway. This one’s a delusional mid-twenties wet behind the ears. I find it best to play along, so I mumble, “Can’t tek a breath these days wi’out you lot jumping in. …Here we go… “Doing the job we get paid for sir…Take that bundle of rags with you.” “You mean my comfy bed, ah need summat to doss down on…t’int Savoy on’t streets you know.” He can’t wait for me to shuffle off. Urgent voices are coming from his bleeping gizmo. “Isn’t that just typical, you should be back there sorting out that stabbing and leave folk like me to their own boring existence, we’re not hurting anybody like them druggies.” He’s anxious for me to push off so he can join in the action up the road. “The Sally Army hostel is at the end of the precinct. Request some soap.” I laugh, he thinks he’s funny. “You don’t have a couple of bob to spare?” I say, coughing my way past him. He heads towards the hullabaloo and I grab my bundled gear. As screeching sirens fade into the distance, I tramp the wet pavement down to the hostel. Into the dustbin I drop the plastic bag I’ve been clinging on to during my ousting. Then I melt into the motley line of hungry homeless, in a queue for sausage and beans.
No Trolley Dolly
He yelled as the trolley bumped and jarred him awake. Letting out a high scream he silenced the people around who stared, whether sympathetically or not, who could tell. It was no easy feat to get him on that trolley in the first place needing much cajoling and bribing to achieve it. Now it was undone. Struggling to exit the trolley he was adamant he was not going to comply. Short of strapping him in or conjuring up some cot sides it was game over. It will soon be over. There is nothing to be afraid of then you can go home. Just get back down and soon you will be able to have a nice sleep. He yelled and stretched out, rigid, causing the trolley to tip over. Nonplussed the man stood helplessly as the toddler fell out along with potatoes and other products that went rolling over the floor.
"You've got the biggest piece of cake." She had. It had been planned. But instead of smiling sweetly muttering, "Sorry dear" and exchanging plates, she picked up her spoon, cocked her little finger and dug in. It was the same with chips. He always expected, and always got the fattest, crispiest chips, while she had to be quite content with the small scrappy ones, just to avoid either an evening of sulking, or a full-blown argument. And that was just food - the list was endless and what's more it had gone on for far too long. She was getting rather tired of hearing, "Well does it really matter?" or "I'm afraid that is the way it is, the breadwinner gets the lion's share." But when he said, "You have too much testosterone for a woman," she knew that the decision had to be made.