The Dancing Angels

August 28, 2012

Megan gazed in wonder as the candles burned brightly, reflecting a golden light that danced upon her cheeks. An angel soared in dance on the warm currents from the candle flames, whilst a second angel was blowing a trumpet and shimmering in the candle glow.

Megan knew she was being naughty. She had pleaded with her mum, Cathy, to buy it. ‘I will be good’ she had promised.

Her mum had sighed ‘If I buy it, you can only light it when mum and dad are with you.’

‘Yes, mummy’ she replied, crossing her fingers behind her back. Her friend Alice had told her that it wasn’t really a lie if you crossed your fingers.

She waited until her mum was busy looking after her brother Ben, or Ben the Brat as Megan liked to call him. She stuck out her tongue in the direction of the nursery, where she could hear her mother soothing Ben, then carefully lifted the box with her very own angels to her bedroom. If her mother had noticed what she had done, she didn’t mention it, so Megan felt safe in her deception.

Her mother might have been more worried had she known about the matches. Megan had found them one day, whilst she was mooching round the house in a sulk. Some nights she would sit next to her window and strike a match, watching as the flame grew and the smoke flew out of her window. The flames danced on the end of the wood and ate the match as they hurried towards her waiting fingers. Megan would hold on to the match as long as she could before blowing it out. Now there were very few matches left in the box.

Her mother had put a sleeping Ben into his cot and called to Megan as she wanted to help her into her nightdress and brush her hair. ‘One hundred strokes of the brush, help me count them.’, Cathy always said as she swept the brush through Megan’s shiny hair. ‘I used to love it when my mother brushed my hair. It was the best times I had with her,Megan. I hope you love it too.’

All too soon her mother announced that she was going for a bath, with a glass of white wine.

‘I need some me time, darling. I deserve it after a hard day at work with you children. You drain mummy. Off to your room and not a peep, I don’t want you to wake up Ben. Thank god he is asleep.’

Alone in her bedroom, Megan carefully placed the candles on to her large wooden dresser. Her bedroom was large and girly with roses on her walls rather than the Disney characters preferred by her friends. The dresser was a family heirloom, heavy and brown with a shiny mirror that Megan would gaze into and wonder what she would look like when she was older. She knelt on the matching stool so that she could reach more easily.

Megan struck a match against the box and watched as the match flared, the sulphur smell catching Megan’s nose for a second. Soon the candles were aflame and the wax slowly began to melt and gutter down the candles. Megan watched, mesmerised as her angel began to dance and the second angel shone with the light gleaming on his trumpet.

At first she didn’t hear the phone begin to ring. She was so enchanted by the flames; she didn’t hear her mum call ‘Megan answer the phone and if it is daddy ask him to wait until I get out of the bath.’ Her father was in Rome for some conference or other and her mum had been unhappy that he wouldn’t take the family with him.

‘Megan!’ her mum had called again, before splashing noisily out of the bath muttering ‘Megan, do you ever listen.’

Megan heard the bathroom door flung nosily open as her mother rushed to answer the phone. Megan whirled towards the door, sure that at any second her mother would walk in to her room and see the candles aflame. Her night dress spun with her and knocked against the candles, catching one of the flames. Megan sprang at the fallen candles, blowing out the flames as the dancing angel spun wildly from the fall.

Megan didn’t feel the heat at first as her night gown began to burn, but as she felt it, she glanced down to see the flames licking their way up her night dress. She screamed ‘Mummy’ as the flames grew higher and more powerful.

Her mother rushed into the room ‘Megan what’s that smell?’ She gasped in horror as she saw the flames engulfing Megan, smoke emerging from her daughter’s hair as it began to singe. Cathy took off her damp house coat and wrapped it around Megan, patting it to smother the flames, whilst stamping out small flames that had sprung up from the carpet. ‘Megan what’ve you done?’

Carefully she carried Megan downstairs and laid her on the sofa whilst she called an ambulance. Cathy realised, she was naked, covered herself with a long coat from the hall stand. Water from her wet hair was dripping down her back as tears ran down her cheeks. Upstairs, Ben began to cry wakened by the noise and strange smells.

Sirens split the night air, as blue lights danced through the windows, whilst in Megan’s bedroom, the angels lay still and forgotten.

Image provided by Creative Writing at

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Waifs and Strays

August 9, 2012

The sound of the doorbell followed by the bang of the front gate and the loud revving of a car engine brought Ellen McDonald out of her light sleep. Lately She found sleep harder to attain, a state not helped by her Husband’s snoring that seemed to echo through the house like a trumpet. Ellen glared at his sleeping form, his deep breathing showing her he was still in a deep sleep.

‘Bill, was that the door bell?’

Bill McDonald muttered an unintelligible reply and turned deeper into the dream in which he was watching Gina Lollobrigida emerging from the rolling surf and striding towards him with her arms wide to hug him tight.

Ellen sighed loudly, slipped out of bed and into her slippers, before going don to the door muttering ‘A fat lot of use you are Bill McDonald. If a burglar attacks me, then you’ll be sorry!’ The fact that burglars seldom ring doorbells, but usually prefer a quieter mode of entry and exit seemed to have escaped her.

Ellen stood at the door, her ear pressed tightly against the wood and listened intently. She thought She heard a small noise as She held her breath, her heart beating loudly in her chest ‘Who’s out there?’ She called but when She heard no reply, turned the large key and pulled the door open; hoping that if any one was standing there the sudden movement of the door would startle them

.

Her imagination had created all sorts of visions when she opened the door, A neighbour in trouble perhaps? The last thing She expected to see was the Moses basket on her step or the note that protruded from the bottom at the feet of a baby swaddled tightly in a blanket.

‘Bill! Bill! Will you get up! Someone has left a baby on our front step!’

Gina was just sliding down the straps of her bathing costume to allow him to admire her voluptuous attributes when Bill found himself being dragged away by the sound of his wife’s voice. Gine smiled sadly and began to pull the straps back up, ‘No don’t go, don’t go’.

‘I have to,’ she replied and then in Ellen’s voice ‘you better GET UP!’

Bill rolled out of bed and stumbled downstairs.

‘What is it Ellen? Has there been a fire? I have work in a couple of hours.’ He rubbed sleep from his tried eyes.

Ellen pursed her lips and thrust a note towards his hands ‘Read this!’

Bill glanced down at the note, ‘Alice you know I can’t see a thing without my glasses. What’s going on?’

Ellen took the note back ‘Listen to this “Mum, Dad no time to contact you. This is Moonchild, my son. I have a last minute chance to go to Ayia Napa with my pals so I am going. I am not dragging a baby with me, so you can look after your grandchild till I come home. Sun and Sand here I come! Jill”. That irresponsible wee bitch has dumped her son on us without a bye your leave!’

Bill glanced at the Moses basket that was still sitting in the doorway ‘Our Jill has had a baby?’ Blinking in confusion he lifted the basket and brought it into the house ‘We best get you inside wee man.’ carrying the basket into the living room where he placed it gingerly onto the floor.

‘I am a Grandpa’ he muttered as a small hand appeared from beneath the blankets and a thumb was pushed firmly into a waiting mouth. ‘I am a Grandpa’ he repeated and sat down heavily on the sofa.

‘What has that stupid, selfish girl done now. We haven’t seen or heard from her in over a year and now this. Ellen sat down next to Bill on the sofa, ‘What’ll we do now?’

Bill smiled and, looking towards the Moses basket. ‘We’ll look after the wee man as best as we can till his Mum comes back to get him.’

‘And if she doesn’t come back?’

‘She will be back. She may be wild and unpredictable, but she’ll be back in a couple of weeks and then we will get this fixed out.’

Ellen snorted ‘That daughter of yours! You always find excuses for her. In the mean time I will be left to cope whilst you swan off to work!’

‘Jill is your daughter too you know. Speaking of work I am up for an early and the wee man is asleep. Let’s try to grab a couple of hours. Somehow I think we will need it.’

‘Well lift him up and we can put the basket on to the bedroom floor. I will tell you one thing, no grandchild of mine is going to be called Moonchild. What kind of name is that! Let’s call him Robert, after my dad.’

‘Aye Bob is a good solid name. Come on then,’ he said picking up the basket ‘else the alarm will be going off before we even get back to bed.’.

————————————————————

Two weeks went past and Bill and Ellen looked after baby Bob as best as they could. Some days Ellen would mutter ‘I will have a few words to say to that madam when she gets back from swanning around on the Med.’ but Bill saw the loving glances that she would give Bob and he knew it wasn’t only the baby who was thriving.

The postcard, arrived with a soft plop on the door mat but it made a huge bang in their lives. Ellen read it in silence, then frowning handed it to Bill to Read

Dear Mum and Dad, Great news I have met someone who has helped me to get a job her for the rest of the season. Cyprus is great and I am having a great time. I will be back when the season is over so you will need to look after my boy for a while longer, Love Jill. P.S. Love to Moonchild!”

Ellen seethed ‘How are we supposed to manage. We are supposed to be finished with all of this baby stuff.’.

‘You know it keeps you young and Bob is no trouble is he?’

Bob gurgled in agreement and both Grandparents gazed at him lovingly.

————————————————————

Sixth months later a rapid knocking on the door preceded a hurried Jill.

‘Just here for Moonchild. Where is he?’

‘Fast asleep. Leave him and have let’s have a cuppa and a chat. Your Mum’s at the bingo with her sister.’

‘I know, She always goes on a Thursday at this time.’

Aye, but She’s not very well these days. It’s the boy that I sometimes think keep her going.’

‘If She isn’t well, all the more reason to take him home with me. Anyway I have a taxi outside and I can’t spend time here chatting. Where is he Dad?’

‘Look I will pay the Taxi, at least wait here and see your Mum. She worries about you.’

‘Sorry, Dad, but he is my Son and he is coming home with me.’

‘Your Mum will be heartbroken.’

Jill was losing patience ‘Dad!’

Bill felt his shoulders slump and pointed to Jill’s old bedroom ‘He’s in your room.’

With a flurry and a kiss on the cheek, Jill and Bob were gone, leaving Bill to explain to Ellen when She came home, what had happened.

————————————————————

Over the next few years a familiar pattern developed, Jill would bring Moonchild to her parents and then pretty much do what she wanted, then return and claim him. Ellen would frown and shake her head ‘Jillian you have to settle down!’ but Jill would just smile and shake her head

‘Not read for that yet, Mum. There’s a big world out there and I want my share.’

The pattern changed just before Bob’s fifth birthday. Jill had met a new man,

‘He’s the one, the real thing.’

The trouble was the new man didn’t want to raise another man’s child.

‘Schools are good here and Moonie needs to settle and get some Schooling.’

‘Only if he stays here full-time, you can come and visit, but the boy stays here.’

‘But Mum, this might give me time for Gary to change his mind.’

‘No He stays here with us and you get some papers drawn up by a lawyer to prove that or it’s no.’

And so it was agreed. The papers were issued and duly signed and Bob was moved back into Jill’s bedroom, which was now Bob’s room.

————————————————————

Bob wasn’t what you would describe as a bad boy; like all children He got into the odd bit of mischief, but nothing Ellen couldn’t deal with. His Teachers thought him as a pleasant, though rather dreamy child who often had to be reminded of the task at hand. Ellen, however, trusted him completely, so that by the age of eight he was allowed to walk to and from School alone.

Now mind you don’t go down by the Canal’ She would remind him every morning and he would agree with her wise words, though he was often tempted to take a peek and see what it was he was meant to stay away from.

Everything would have been fine, if it hadn’t been for another boy in his class, Tommy. For some reason Tommy didn’t like Bob and if Tommy didn’t like him, neither did his friends Asif and Paul. Mostly this took the form, of pushes and name-calling and Bob would do his best to avoid the three boys. A challenge when they were classmates, but somehow, he managed. It all came to the boil when Asif saw Bob talking to Carol, the girl that Tommy adored and called his girlfriend. Asif rushed to tell Tommy what he had seen, Bob chatting Carol up, though what he had actually saw was Carol asking Bob for an eraser.

Right. We will get him after school. I’ll teach him to try to kop off with my girlfriend!’

The School bell rang signalling the end of the day and all the children hopped, skipped ran or walked sedately (if a Teacher was nearby) out of the School gates where someone waited to escort them home.

Bob had seen his three enemies whispering together and watching him as they went from lesson to lesson. Something felt wrong and he made up his mind to avoid meeting them when School was finished. He knew there was no point calling home as his Grandpa would be at work and Grandma Ellen would tell him to face up to the bullies and stand his ground. Fight back against Tommy and his gang, he thought, that’s never going to happen.

When the bell rang Bob hurried to the rear of the School. He had heard of a gap in the fence that the Council were supposed to have mended, but so far hadn’t. The Head Teacher had promised real trouble to any child who loitered near that gap or trying to squeeze through to leave the School grounds. Worse, behind the fence was the forbidden Canal, but though he felt guilty for breaking his promise, that seemed better than walking out to face the bullies outside the School gates.

Outside the gates the gang waited for Bob to appear, laughing and exchanging ideas on how they were going to make him pay. As the crowd thinned to the few remaining stragglers, they rushed into the playground to search for him.

Where is he?’ snarled Tommy, scanning around the playground.

Just then Mrs. Robinson, the Head Teacher appeared from the building. She had spotted the three boys from her Office window and wondered why they had re-entered the school.

What are you boys doing here? Not going home? You know the School policy is for Pupils to leave straight for home unless they are a club member.’ Mrs. Jones loved after School clubs and activities. She would have enrolled the whole School in one or another if She had the authority to do it,

The Boys grimaced and replied in unison ‘Nothing, Miss’.

Mrs. Robinson scowled ‘Then get yourselves off home and don’t dawdle on the way.’ She turned to walk away and whirled back as the boys sighed in relief ‘Get moving then.’

Tommy glanced around ‘Come on boys, we can settle this tomorrow. He won’t find getting away so easy next time.’

————————————————————

Bob hurried along the overgrown towpath that ran adjacent to the Canal. When he was out of sight of School and realised that there was no one following behind, he slowed down to catch his breathe and look around. From his history lessons he remembered that the Forth and Clyde Canal had been constructed to link the two mighty Scottish rivers and had been heavily used until the coming of the railroads. The final nail in its coffin was the decision not to build bridges over it when motorways began their relentless sprawl across the country. Much of its length lay derelict and neglected, regeneration lying far into the future. The water was stagnant, green pond wee growing in the water and trees branches overhung the water creating shaded patterns on its surface.

Bob tried to imagine the boats chugging to and from Glasgow and Edinburgh; a time when big ships could still sail up the Clyde, before silt prevented them, and the Ship Yards still produced mighty ships that sailed around the globe. History fascinated him and he would lose himself in stories of the past.

He was walking along day dreaming when he thought he heard a small noise. He stopped and listened intently and was about to move off, thinking he had imagined it, when he heard the sound again. He moved carefully to the edge of the Canal, worried he lost his footing and fell in, trying to find the source of the noise. Floating in the water was a brown sack, that had got snagged on a low hanging branch at the edge of the Canal. Bob knew he couldn’t reach it, gazing around for something to help him pull it towards him. Underneath one of the trees he found a large branch that he used the hook the branch and drag it in from the water.

The sack was heavy with water that spilled from it as he lifted it to the bank, its contents still and silent. After much effort he opened the bag and out spilled four white puppies. Bob felt tears spring to his eyes as he looked at the small, still bodies. He began to stroke them, one after another, thinking them dead, but as he touched the final puppy he felt a faint fluttering beneath his hand. He lifted the puppy and vigorously rubbed its back, the puppy gave a small gasp and water ran out of its mouth. Bob quickly opened his schoolbag and pulled out the jumper his mother insisted that he wear every day in case he felt cold. He wrapped it around the little dog and looked sadly at the other dead puppies. ‘I need to leave you just now as I can help this wee one, not you. I am sorry. I will come back.’ Covering the puppies with the sack, he lifted up his bag and, carefully carrying the puppy, he hurried home.

As he got nearer home, he found himself slowing down. What will Gran think? He wondered. He sometimes felt she would rather He wasn’t living with them and this was an extra mouth to feed and a four legged one at that. Bob decided there was only one way to handle thing, smuggle the puppy into his bedroom and hide him there. The puppy was showing small signs of recovery; his breathing was deeper and more steady, his coat nearly dry. ‘Good dog,’ he whispered ‘just stay quiet until I get you upstairs.’ He dropped his bag on the floor ‘Just going upstairs to my room, Gran.’ And ran upstairs.

Ellen heard his feet thundering as he ran upstairs ‘I hope you have taken your shoes off, young man.’

Gingerly Bob slipped his feet out of his shoes ‘Yes Gran!’

He put the puppy, which was still asleep, on to his bed. ‘Stay there, I need the toilet, I am bursting.’

Ellen stood in the kitchen mulling over Bob’s behaviour when he came home. He never ran upstairs to his room like that; instead he was always hungry, bursting to know when his dinner was or to impart some piece of arcane knowledge that he had gleaned in his school day. No, She thought, something isn’t right. Ellen walked quietly upstairs, avoiding the creaky step that Bob and Bill always stepped on. She put her ear to the door and listened.

Come on, wake up wee man.’

Ellen, nodded grimly, She knew something was going on. Without knocking She thrust open the door as Bob guiltily jumped away from the small dog curled up on his bed.’

What’s going on here?’ here eyes took in the scene ‘Where did you get that puppy?’

I found him in the canal.’

The Canal! We will talk about that later. Go and get my hot water bottle and put on the kettle, this one needs some heat.’ Bob dashed from the room, so didn’t hear Ellen whisper ‘and his mother.’ She looked at the puppy stretched out on the bed ‘Poor wee thing did someone try to drown you?’. Carefully She scooped the puppy into her arms, ‘I don’t know what we will feed you on. I’ll ask Pat next door, he keeps greyhounds.’

Downstairs She swaddled the puppy in an old towel and placed him onto the hot water bottle. ‘Go next door and ask Pat what a puppy needs for food. I am sure cows’ milk would just kill it.’ Whilst Bob was away She looked at the puppy wondering what to do with him, knowing She couldn’t, or wouldn’t keep him.

Bob hurried back with a baby bottle and a bag, ‘He said we needed Puppy Formula and that we are lucky as He has some left over from when one of his bitches couldn’t produce enough milk for her litter.’ He held everything up for Ellen to view ‘And he says He can get more from the pet shop when he goes down there later. You can pay him when he comes over with it.’

Ellen nodded, wondering how bets to break it to Bob that they couldn’t keep the puppy. She rested her hand on it’s side, a small eye fluttered open, the puppy weakly raised his head and a warm tongue briefly touched the back of her hand, before his head sank back again. Something melted inside Ellen and She resolved that the Puppy was her dog and would be staying.

By the time that Bill came home, the puppy was sitting up and taking notice of his surroundings. Bob and Ellen were already in competition for his affections.

Who is this then?’

The story tumbled out of Bob, with much shaking of adult heads and scowls when they heard the actions of the bullies. Finally Bill nodded ‘I am glad you owned up to going down to the Canal, you know you aren’t allowed there. But I can see why you did it and I am sure this youngster is glad you did. As for these Bullies, I think maybe I should go down to School and see about them.’

No’ chimed Bob and Ellen in unison.

Grandpa you will only make things worse.’

The boy is right, Bill. Besides He has to face these thugs himself. We can’t be there every day.’

Aye but the Teachers are and they should do their job.’

And what about this wee chappie? I don’t suppose we have room for another waif and stray.’ Ellen gave Bill one of her looks over the top of her glasses at which point He knew that the fight was over.

Please let me keep him.’ Pleaded Bob

Ellen?’

I suppose we could, providing a certain boy helps to look after him and still does all his Schoolwork.’

I will, Gran. What will we call him/’ asked Bob, full of excitement.

Bill looked at Ellen, his heart bursting with pride at the kindness of his wife and in unison, Bill and Ellen both said ‘Lucky.’

Aye,’ said Bill ‘It was his lucky day when you found him. Now you best show me where the rest of these puppies are before it get dark. I want to give them a decent burial. I do hate cruelty, especially to poor animals.’

————————————————————

Bob hurried to school, full of news of his puppy. Not having yet acquired the awkward gracelessness that visits and plagues so many teenagers, (that would plague him during his years in secondary school), he happily told the tale to anyone who would listen. One person who seemed to listen attentively to every retelling was Carol.

Tommy looked on, furious at the attention that Tommy was earning.

‘I am gonna have him. He is pan bread.’

‘Tommy, he isn’t worth getting expelled for. I don’t want that on my record, I need it clean to get into university when I am older.’

Tommy snorted ‘Swot! He’s with my girlfriend and rubbing my nose in it. He’s gonna get a kicking.’

Tommy watched and waited. He wanted to make sure that Tommy wouldn’t escape from him again at the end of the day, hoping to get his revenge in the crush of bodies leaving the school gates.

Bob could was aware that Tommy was watching him. Every time he turned around, he saw his frowning face. But Bob had decided he wouldn’t run away, not this time.

When the school bell rang Tommy and his friends were waiting for Bob outside the school gates. Bob pushed past the gang, aiming to ignore them.

‘Where do you think you are gaun?’

‘Home’ he answered simply.

‘No tae I have a wee word.’ replied Tommy with a smirk.

‘Make it bye, bye then.’ laughed Bob as he made to leave.

‘I will gee you bye bye ya cheeky wee arse hole.’Tommy made a grab at Bob who lashed out with his right hand connecting to Tommy’s left cheek with a satisfying smack.

‘You’ve done it now.’ gasped Asif

The boys’ fists and feet were flying as a cordon of children bunched around shouting ‘fight, fight.’ in the manner of all playground squabbles. As Carol pushed her way through she could see that Bob was getting the worst of it.

‘Leave him alone, Tommy.’ she called in to the mass.

‘He deserves a kicking.’

‘You are a bully, I hate you.’ shouted Carol as she reached in to pull Tommy away from Bob. He pushed her off and turned towards her, his fist raised.

‘Want a bit of what he got then?’ he moved menacingly towards Carol.

Suddenly Paul grasped him from behind, pinning his arms to his side. ‘We don’t hit girls.’

‘Whose side are you on.’

‘Not your if you hit girls.’ replied Paul, tightening his grip.

Tommy squirmed, ‘I will hit you in a minute.’

Something glinted in Paul’s eyes ‘Do you think you could try it. Come ahead big man, give it a go.’

He let go fo Tommy, who saw the look in his eyes ‘Another time when I am ready, you will be sorry. Come on Asif, let’s leave these losers.’

Asif shook his head ‘Naw I think I will stay here a bit longer, then I better get home.’

‘You as well! Well I don’t need neither of you.’

‘Teacher’ called someone from the crowd which suddenly began to disperse as quickly as it had formed, leaving only Bob and Carol.

As he moved away Paul called over his shoulder ‘Haw Bob, don’t worry, he will leave you alone in future, I will make sure of it.’

Mr Hargreaves stormed towards them.

‘What’s going on here?’

‘Nothing, sir, I fell.’ Bob knew better than to “grass up” a fellow pupil.

‘Fell?’ Mr Hargreaves snorted.

‘Yes, sir.’

Mr Hargreaves turned to Carol ‘Well what happened?’

‘I think he must have fallen, sir, I didn’t see.’

‘He must have fallen repeatedly to get into that state. I suppose whomever fell with you will tell the same tale. In future can you do your falling away from the school gates. Off home the pair of you.’ with a snort Mr Harbreaves was gone.

Carol helped Bob up ‘You can’t go home like that, your gran will have a canary. You’d best come back to ours and get cleaned up.’

‘Where do you stay then?’

Carol pointed to a green gate across the street ‘Just over there. Maybe I could come to yours and see the puppy late?’

Bob grinned broadly.

————————————————————

Several weeks later a letter arrived, post marked Milton Keynes.

Dear Mum,

As you can see I have moved again and am settled down south to give life down here a chance. Everything is going well. I have a nice new flat, though I do hate all of the roundabouts here

I love the shops. I was rummaging and found Moonie’s birth certificate, so thought you best have it as you might need it in future! Tell him I love him.

Love

Jill

Ellen felt her heart beat faster as she opened up the folded sheet of paper expecting to find under his name Moonchild or some other new age nonsense. Instead she read, Robert William McDonald. Ellen laughed, so Bob really was a Robert after all. She decided to show him later, when he came back from walking Lucky, along with Carol, naturally.

Aftermath

August 9, 2012

Joe tugged the ring pull on the cold can of lager he had fetched from the kitchen before taking a long draw on the cigarette that he placed carefully on to the edge of the ashtray. He glanced around the room, at the floral wallpaper, that his wife had picked with his sister at some cut-price DIY store and his brother-in-law had hung whilst he was on the late shift. He took a long pull from the can, not his first, though it was only six thirty and wondered whether he should have stayed on in the pub rather than letting Bob drop him home. Production on the night shift had stopped at four with a breakdown on the six stand that would take hours to repair. Without the six stand to roll the strip steel into thin sheets, there was no production so a quiet nod and wink and the boys went home.

Home, Joe snorted, it was always possible to get a drink if you knew where to go and when he had jumped into Bob’s car, they both knew a local that would serve a couple of thirsty workers, even at four in the morning.

The beer wasn’t great and there was no talent to ease the eye at that time, but he hadn’t found it difficult to persuade Bob to jump in for a few before heading home to bed. He supposed he could have stayed on in the pub until official opening time, it wouldn’t be the first time he had, but instead he bought a couple of dozen rolls and a newspaper from the van parked outside. He had left a dozen on the passenger seat when he got out of Bob’s car and watched as Bob drove off, weaving occasionally before disappearing from view.

Joe pulled hard on his cigarette, drawing the smoke deep into his lungs and formed the smoke into smoke rings that floated up to the ceiling. The boys always loved smoke rings, but it had been a long time since he had.

The boys, he thought about Jed asleep and unaware whilst Miriam slept in the room next room. Graham, however, was asleep in the cold, dark, earth. Joe took another drink straight from the can, this time. A shapely brunette posed on it’s side, eyes twinkling and though Joe didn’t notice through his splayed fingers.

He had come home from work; no more tired than usual and perhaps he hadn’t closed the gate behind himself properly. Perhaps it was the postman who had left the gate open after himself, though he doubted that.

Miriam was busy with the new baby, Jed as he cried and needed fed so she was distracted and didn’t notice as Graham tugged down the door handle and took his walker outside.

The walker was made from lightly stained wood and red metal and contained a number of wooden blocks with numbers and pictures on them. Graham had loved it from the moment that he saw it and as soon as he was able to walk he was never without it.

If the gate hadn’t been open, things might have been fine. If the driver hadn’t taken a wrong turning and been in a rush that day, things may have turned out differently. Joe would never know, though in his sleep he would hear the screeching of brakes, and the dull thud, followed by a scream. He had jolted from sleep, the taste of stale cigarette smoke lingering in his mouth as he jumped from bed and stumbled, blindly towards the sounds.

Joe glanced from one to another, struggling to take in the scene before him. The driver, his face pale and anguished as he stared out of the window, Miriam screaming in disbelief as she clutched Jed to her chest or the twisted body that lay still on the ground, blood pooling from his nose and mouth.

Joe lurched towards the car, intent on dragging the driver out and pounding him until he woke up and realised it was a nightmare, but it wasn’t a dream. Frank, one of their neighbours had grabbed and held him by the shoulders.

‘Leave it, son. The ambulance and police are on their way. Let them deal with this.’

The day had passed in a daze, but the recriminations that followed lasted much longer. He knew he should have been thankful that he had one, living son, but the thought of Graham’s body, lying alone and broken on the ground wouldn’t leave his mind. He drank more and more, spending more time away from home, coming home only to eat and sleep.

He had found it difficult to talk about to anyone, until he met Maggie. She had smiled when he bought her a drink, even at his cheesy lines and when they drank together and ended up in her home, she listened as he blurted out the full story and held him with no questions asked. What a mess, he groaned, but there was nothing else for it. Maggie, who sat with him, drank with him, listened to him and who was pregnant, by him, needed him. He knew that he would soon need to tell Miriam and face the consequences of his actions. He emptied the last of the can and staggered to bed.

I met a girl

December 31, 2017

I met a girl

I met a girl and liked her oh

A special girl I liked her oh

She made me feel so special so

She soon became my lover oh

And soon the girl I loved her so

A special girl, I loved her oh

So told me yes and wed me oh

Still she was my lover oh

The girl she gave me children oh

A boy, a girl to watch them grow

My girl became a mother oh

But oh she was my lover oh

She came with me to London oh

Left her friends and family oh

Far from home together oh

My wife and one true lover oh

When cancer came a knocking oh

A tumour growing fast or slow

Stayed at my side to love me oh

My strong and faithful lover oh

I met a girl and loved her oh

I’m with her yet my heart aglow

Through thick or thin she’s with me oh

She’ll always be my lover oh

No Dogs, No Gypsies, No Irish

December 29, 2017

I thought of the time the famine came

When hunger drove them frae their hame

To Scotland and England tor work they came

No Dogs, no gypsies, no Irish

Or the lairds that drove them frae their glen

First the sheep then the grouse moved in ye ken

Under that bridge sheltered heilan men

No Teuchter, no Gypsies, no Irish

Should I recall the wandering Jew

Wha fled from whip and pogrom too

Built homes and synagogues, lives anew

No Yids, no Gypsies, no Irish

I thought of the Lithuanian crew

Wha came to build our railways true

Built churches, grottos, families too

No polacks, no Gypsies, no Irish

Or Italians who came with a dream

Of art or shops that sell ice cream

Brought beauty and sweetness to our scene

No tallies, no Gypsies, no Irish

The Jamaicans came, Ugandans too

Adding spice and colour to our motley crew

Brought food, culture and ganja too

No blacks, no Gypsies, no Irish

This island has been formed it seems

By folks who left their homes with dreams

Always the claim of bursting the seams

No immigrants, no Gypsies, no Irish

My grandparents of Scottish and Irish descent

Mother born in London to Scotland was sent

I came to London when work was absent

No immigrants, no Gypsies, no Irish.

They tell us our ancestors out of Africa came

Searching for food, a hearth and a hame

How can we hate those who try for the same

Immigrants, Gypsies or Irish

But what of the child who was lain in a manger

Took to Egypt escaping a terrible danger

Open your hearts to welcome the stranger

In an immigrant child he may lay

My Journey with Cancer

December 29, 2017

It is said that the longest journey begins with a single step. Of course not all journeys are alike. There are journeys of pleasure, a trip to see somewhere new or to meet a friend. A journey of necessity, to do something routine perhaps or see someone you’d rather not be meeting. I want to describe a journey for you, not in detail, in the hope that if you are making the same journey that it helps a little to know others have made the same type of trip. The journey is definitely a journey of necessity, a journey to cancer and back but this time to arrive at hope.

I noticed the pain in my mouth. A stabbing sharp pain at the back and I recall thinking that I had eaten something rough and cut the roof of my mouth. Nothing to worry about, so I left it to heal. A few weeks later It hadn’t improved much so my next step was to try to look, but it’s the back of the mouth and you can’t see much there anyway when looking yourself. Try feeling instead? So that’s what I did and found a small, hard lump that was painful to touch. It must be an abscess, I thought. I was already taking antibiotics for something else,  so I was confident they’d deal with it.

The course of antibiotics came and went, but give it time I thought, it’ll clear. But it didn’t. What next then? A chat with my wife! Something along the lines of, remember I said my mouth was sore? There’s a little lump there, that’s not going away and the wise response, go and see the doctor then!

The GP looked, prodded and referred to the ear, nose and throat department. The start of the tests, X-Ray, CT scan, MRI scan and more prodding. Not an abscess. Time for the specialist surgeon to have a look. Ah, he said having a quick look and prod, it’s a tumour, probably benign. I’ll take out out a week on Thursday!

The operation came and went, the tumour was removed, healing begins.

Then came the summons for a meeting. I felt confident that result would be benign, no further treatment required.

The meeting was happy and relaxed from the outset, so my confidence in the outcome seemed confirmed. I remember the first time the cancer word was used in the meeting I felt a shiver of fear. It’s a word which seems final and once said the pace of the journey speeds up. Time for a second operation. The surgeon described it in great detail, he would remove the section of the small palate with some tissue, take a section of skin from the left arm for the new palate with an artery for its blood supply and take a section of skin from my tummy to rebuild the arm. The artery for the new bit of soft palate would go in via the neck so it could be connected to the blood supply. In theatre for 10 hours or so and hospital for 2-3 weeks.

The stay was actually 12 days for me and I came home to be with my family.

Everything was healing nicely with one exception, the skin graft on the left arm. Much back and forth having dressings changed, before it was finally decided that the graft had failed and was dead. Did that mean a second skin graft? I dreaded a positive response to that question and the reply was no, let’s treat it with honey and see how we get on.

So the treatment with manuka honey began, coating the graft with it to slowly soften and remove it, to see what was underneath. Weeks of patiently redressing and applying the honey until, the new healing skin was revealed as the graft came away. The graft had failed, but had it really. The arm had a scar, certainly, but the skin was pink and new and healing. Was that really a failure?

The cancer journey continued of course. Radiotherapy but no chemotherapy required. 6 weeks of treatment but all the indicators are that the cancer was removed. I am healing again, slowly but surely getting well. I am progressing towards hope. I was very fortunate to have the support, love and prayers of my friends and family. Perhaps the journey would have been shorter if I had spoken about the pain sooner, found the lump faster and made fewer assumptions that I knew what was going on? Sharing led to the right direction, get it checked, it might still be an abscess, but get it looked at just to be sure.

The journey will continue for many years to come as checkups will happen and become less frequent over time. But the pace of the journey is calmer now, giving to body time to heal and adjust to the changes that were made. I do believe that the cancer is gone now and that I am a survivor. But when I look the scars on my arm, I know that this was a success and I have faith that, from what we might see as failure, can come the greatest success of all, new life.

Haikus for Hattie

December 29, 2017

Leaves fall to the ground

Hattie the spaniel runs happily around

Scattering leaves to the sky

Hattie on the floor asleep

Tired from chasing a bouncing ball

Dreaming of fields of green

Christmas Time is Coming

December 29, 2017

Decorations on the high Street

The car parks are all busy

Santa’s waiting in the grotto

Shoppers in an awful tizzy

(Chorus)

Christmas time is coming

Shops full of Christmas cheer

By the time that Christmas is over

Chocolate bunnies will be here

The adverts on the telly

Are showing the latest toys

Gadgets for all of the family

Fun for girls and boys

(Chorus)

Christmas time is coming

Pubs full of Christmas beer

By the time that Christmas is over

Chocolate bunnies will be here

The TV schedule’s busy

All competing for the ratings

The latest costume drama

Or watch some people baking

(Chorus)

Christmas time is coming

Although some doubters sneer

By the time that Christmas is over

Chocolate bunnies will be here

Brown boxes keep arriving

They wear a crooked smile

The driver runs when he hears the dog

He’d run a nervous mile

(Chorus)

Christmas time is coming

Hold the mistletoe and leer

By the time that Christmas is over

Chocolate bunnies will be here

The only thing that’s missing

Is the baby from the crib

Delivered on Christmas morning

With a diaper and a bib

(Chorus)

Christmas time is coming

Let’s share some Christmas cheer

By the time that Christmas is over

Chocolate bunnies will be here

Let’s have a lovely Christmas

With family and friends

Eat too much, play Christmas songs

May the party never end

(Chorus)

Christmas time is coming

Leftovers make Boxing Day fayre

The sales are round the corner

Chocolate bunnies coming here

(Hop, hop)

The Cancer Express

December 29, 2017

All aboard the cancer express

The train is leaving the station

Leave your hat, coat and clothes on the rack

Next stop’s an operation

The surgeon awaits in his cap and his gown

All surfaces gleaming and clean

To cut out the tumour and hope that it’s gone

To recovery, then Home from the scene

Waiting patiently then as meetings are held

The cells are grown in a culture

Unfortunately these cells were not benign

Cancer hovers around like a vulture

Operation number two comes and goes

More removed, rebuilt, reconnected

Then on to the ward for recovery time

Meetings held and the patient inspected

More treatment required to ensure that it’s gone

Radiotherapy at the next station

Feeling sick, sore and tired, but struggling on

Still recovering from the ablation

While the family awaits looking on from outside

Catching up to request information

Then hanging on grimly while we ride inside

Biting tongues or displaying vexation

All aboard the cancer express

Don’t despair is a difficult mission

But we travel together seeking success

Long life, happiness and remission

To a Robin

December 29, 2017

Robin, oh robin why do you stay?

Your mate has left, she’s flown away,

Through wind and rain, frost and snow,

You guard your territory and do not go

To Spain or Portugal your mate has fled

In warmer climes to make her bed

While you are left to do your best

In hope of building next year’s nest

I first saw you searching the ground

But of course Hattie spaniel also found

With a leap she sent you into the trees

Hiding yourself in the branches you freeze

In summer the swallows from Africa fly

Performing dances in the bright blue sky

But as winter approaches they flee away

Oh Robin, oh robin why do you stay?

Here you remain, eating a berry

On Christmas cards you’re painted as merry

But life for a robin seems lonely and hard

Reality now, not what’s shown on a card

The fruit becomes scarcer and harder to eat

The hunters are searching, be quick on your feet

Flash of red in the branches as shelter you seek

The life of a robin is not for the meek

In my mind it is you that live it the best

Returning each night to sleep in our nests

But my heart’s with the swallow off seeking some heat

When the chill in my bones ache my hands and my feet

Robin, dear robin, oh why do we stay

When sunnier climes are not so far away?

But the call of our home seems sweeter and softer

Stay home instead in the warmth of our laughter

So rest my dear Robin as, I will rest too

Some fruit I will bring you to help you get through

The worst of the winter time still lies ahead

But springtime will promise us summer instead

Horses, big, powerful, fast, beautiful, scary creatures with a mind of their own. Some people reading this will agree with all of this description, whilst others will scratch their heads and mumble, “Scary? What does this guy know about horses?” Truthfully not that much but I do have a history and history is where knowledge and experience develop.

Like many Scottish working class children in the the 60s and 70s my sole experience of horses was of a pony variety. Seeing them on the beach at Ayr or at a School fayre (not my own school I have to add) and horses on the TV. Horse racing, Folly foot farm, the Lone Ranger, the High Chapperal and Black Beauty. These four legged creatures were exotic and exciting and beyond my reach. I was a young reader and began to devour the westerns of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour where the villians were obvious and heroes, brave, handsome and would leap aboard a horse with scarcely a thought. Who wouldn’t want as a child to be a cowboy or an indian brave on his trusted steed? The horse rider inside of me ached to leap aboard and gallop into the sunset like my heroes.

The opportunity, when it arose, came as a surprise. I lived in a post war prefabicated house, a prefab as it was always called. Living on a short road where there were only two cars. At the end of the road was a field and beyond this a coal bing and a brick work. I remember the field especially as I would often play there. I remember walking there with a puppy who liked to find old broken bricks from the brick work and carry them around in his mouth. He was unpredictable and prone to violence, I vaguely recall but my dad gave him away in the end as a guard dog to a man who owned a scrap yard. So I wandered the fields without him again.

One day I went to the field to cross over to the brick works. I liked to sneak into the cooling areas where the bricks had been fired and the air was hot and shimmered with the disappating heat. In these days of health and safety and security I am sure these things are unheard of, but then I seemed to wander at will. As long as I was home for meals, and bed noone seemed to mind much. That day when I climbed the fence I saw the horses grazing in the middle of the field. I walked towards them, wondering where they had appeared from, sure that they hadnt been there the previous day. A plan began to emerge in my mind about riding around in the field on the back of one of the horses but the lure of the hot bricks was too strong and a good plan takes time, right?

Days passed and I asked around about the horses. A boy I knew told me that someone had told his dad that the horses belonged to some gypsies who were keeping them there for a while. How long I asked, but no one seemed to know. So I would walk in the field handing the horses grass, which they cautiosly took from my hand, ready at any moment to bolt. A good plan takes time but how long did I have?

The day arrived quite by chance. I’m not sure what made that day any different but the plan was to feed a horse some grass, walk around to it’s side, put two hands on and somehow leap astride. I mean that’s how it’s done in the movies, right? As a plan it might have been flawed from the outset by a few things. At age 7 or 8 I wasn’t the same height as my film heroes, oh and the horse had no idea that the plan included him standing quite still whilst this little upstart tried to leap higher than his own height on to his back. Flawed from the outset! However, the plan swung into action quite smoothly, some grass was accepted with nose and neck pats, then round to the side, two hands stretched up and a few big hops. Failing that let’s grab some mane. Of course I had chosen the leader of the herd, who reacted by stepping aside and back a little to show he didn’t want to be jumped on.

Now any good plan should include a fall back position, what do you do if things go wrong? The fallback plan of try again wasn’t really a plan at all. But once made I followed the plan. Of course the horse had given me fair warning that he didn’t want to play at all so a renewed effort lead to a headbutt and a floored, would be rider. Perhaps that should have been the end of the lesson, but my teacher wanted it to be clear with no misundestanding. He reared majestically over me, perhaps his nostril flairing and eyes wide, or maybe this was an addition that I imagined later. He seemed huge to me as his hooves thundered towards my head. I could only close my eyes and wonder if the explosion I seemed to hear was my head being crushed by those hooves.

I heard shouts, screams, (from me I think) and a neighbour chased the horse away. He had reared again (another warning perhaps?) but the man had been watching events unfold from his window and tried to stop it. “Quick before he comes back”, he shouted in my ear and half lifting, half dragging took me from the field. The man was shaking, I was crying, it was awful.

It took me a long time to understand that the horse himself had been afraid. Afraid and perhaps angry with this creature who tried to dominate him. His reaction might seem excessive but I have no way of knowing what had happened to that horse before and whether my actions triggered a memory. I do know that had he wanted to his hooves would have damaged my skull beyond repair, so his intention was to frighten not to kill. Of course I didn’t know that at the time, I only knew fear. Shortly after the horses were gone from the field, to where I don’t know, but his actions changed me a lot. It was a strange Summer, my friend broke his collar bone when we were playing batman or superman games. The brickworks were declared out of bounds when an elderly man was found dead among the bricks. I remember talking to him and sometimes bringing him sandwiches or fruit. He told me that it was dangerous among the bricks but I thought I knew better. Soon after my grandfather died and we moved to the other end of the village. Houses were built on the field and my life changed in lots of ways.

Horses, big, scary horses. My dreams of riding one seemed to die that day in the field. I could still look at them, feed them from my hand as long as they were firmly on the other side of a high fence. I still thought, they were amazing, beautiful animals, but though I was through with horses, were they through with me?

of their own. Some people reading this will agree with all of this description, whilst others will scratch their heads and mumble, “Scary? What does this guy know about horses?” Truthfully not that much but I do have a history and history is where knowledge and experience develop.

Like many Scottish working class children in the the 60s and 70s my sole experience of horses was of a pony variety. Seeing them on the beach at Ayr or at a School fayre (not my own school I have to add) and horses on the TV. Horse racing, Folly foot farm, the Lone Ranger, the High Chapperal and Black Beauty. These four legged creatures were exotic and exciting and beyond my reach. I was a young reader and began to devour the westerns of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour where the villians were obvious and heroes, brave, handsome and would leap aboard a horse with scarcely a thought. Who wouldn’t want as a child to be a cowboy or an indian brave on his trusted steed? The horse rider inside of me ached to leap aboard and gallop into the sunset like my heroes.

The opportunity, when it arose, came as a surprise. I lived in a post war prefabicated house, a prefab as it was always called. Living on a short road where there were only two cars. At the end of the road was a field and beyond this a coal bing and a brick work. I remember the field especially as I would often play there. I remember walking there with a puppy who liked to find old broken bricks from the brick work and carry them around in his mouth. He was unpredictable and prone to violence, I vaguely recall but my dad gave him away in the end as a guard dog to a man who owned a scrap yard. So I wandered the fields without him again.

One day I went to the field to cross over to the brick works. I liked to sneak into the cooling areas where the bricks had been fired and the air was hot and shimmered with the disappating heat. In these days of health and safety and security I am sure these things are unheard of, but then I seemed to wander at will. As long as I was home for meals, and bed noone seemed to mind much. That day when I climbed the fence I saw the horses grazing in the middle of the field. I walked towards them, wondering where they had appeared from, sure that they hadnt been there the previous day. A plan began to emerge in my mind about riding around in the field on the back of one of the horses but the lure of the hot bricks was too strong and a good plan takes time, right?

Days passed and I asked around about the horses. A boy I knew told me that someone had told his dad that the horses belonged to some gypsies who were keeping them there for a while. How long I asked, but no one seemed to know. So I would walk in the field handing the horses grass, which they cautiosly took from my hand, ready at any moment to bolt. A good plan takes time but how long did I have?

The day arrived quite by chance. I’m not sure what made that day any different but the plan was to feed a horse some grass, walk around to it’s side, put two hands on and somehow leap astride. I mean that’s how it’s done in the movies, right? As a plan it might have been flawed from the outset by a few things. At age 7 or 8 I wasn’t the same height as my film heroes, oh and the horse had no idea that the plan included him standing quite still whilst this little upstart tried to leap higher than his own height on to his back. Flawed from the outset! However, the plan swung into action quite smoothly, some grass was accepted with nose and neck pats, then round to the side, two hands stretched up and a few big hops. Failing that let’s grab some mane. Of course I had chosen the leader of the herd, who reacted by stepping aside and back a little to show he didn’t want to be jumped on.

Now any good plan should include a fall back position, what do you do if things go wrong? The fallback plan of try again wasn’t really a plan at all. But once made I followed the plan. Of course the horse had given me fair warning that he didn’t want to play at all so a renewed effort lead to a headbutt and a floored, would be rider. Perhaps that should have been the end of the lesson, but my teacher wanted it to be clear with no misundestanding. He reared majestically over me, perhaps his nostril flairing and eyes wide, or maybe this was an addition that I imagined later. He seemed huge to me as his hooves thundered towards my head. I could only close my eyes and wonder if the explosion I seemed to hear was my head being crushed by those hooves.

I heard shouts, screams, (from me I think) and a neighbour chased the horse away. He had reared again (another warning perhaps?) but the man had been watching events unfold from his window and tried to stop it. “Quick before he comes back”, he shouted in my ear and half lifting, half dragging took me from the field. The man was shaking, I was crying, it was awful.

It took me a long time to understand that the horse himself had been afraid. Afraid and perhaps angry with this creature who tried to dominate him. His reaction might seem excessive but I have no way of knowing what had happened to that horse before and whether my actions triggered a memory. I do know that had he wanted to his hooves would have damaged my skull beyond repair, so his intention was to frighten not to kill. Of course I didn’t know that at the time, I only knew fear. Shortly after the horses were gone from the field, to where I don’t know, but his actions changed me a lot. It was a strange Summer, my friend broke his collar bone when we were playing batman or superman games. The brickworks were declared out of bounds when an elderly man was found dead among the bricks. I remember talking to him and sometimes bringing him sandwiches or fruit. He told me that it was dangerous among the bricks but I thought I knew better. Soon after my grandfather died and we moved to the other end of the village. Houses were built on the field and my life changed in lots of ways.

Horses, big, scary horses. My dreams of riding one seemed to die that day in the field. I could still look at them, feed them from my hand as long as they were firmly on the other side of a high fence. I still thought, they were amazing, beautiful animals, but though I was through with horses, were they through with me?

The Bench

August 31, 2012

Phil Green strode purposely along the coastal path that lead eventually to Teighnmouth, where he was meeting his friend, Peter, for a drink. The path consisted of sturdy stone paving, making walking easy, especially in his sturdy walking boots. He loved this stretch of the Devon coast, the views were spectacular. He saw the bench in the distance and, as he got closer noticed a neatly piled set of clothes on top of which sat a note, held in place by a small rock. He scanned the sea for a swimmer, but saw only a small object bobbing in the waves.

He lifted the note and began to read ‘I walked to the bench to write this, dad’s bench. Well that should actually be mum’s bench, but it’s hard to think of it as hers.’, He turned to the final page ‘I have a swimsuit on under my dress so that I can wade out as far as I can in the sea and scatter my father’s ashes. I want to spend my last time with him. I don’t feel guilty that I have released him, but I don’t think I can live with the guilt. Please tell my sisters that I am sorry for everything.‘ Phil looked out at the sea, but still couldn’t see a swimmer, or any sign of someone on the beach. He scrambled down the rocks and scanned the area. The lid of an urn was lying on the shore and the urn was on it’s side filling with water, but Linda was nowhere to be seen. With a sense of foreboding he dialled nine nine nine and asked for the coast guard.

He climbed back up the rocks, sitting down on the bench to wait for the authorities to appear. Phil picked up the letter and began to read.

————————————————————————–

I walked to the bench to write this, dad’s bench. Well that should actually be mum’s bench, but it’s hard to think of it as hers. It’s mum’s name that is carved in the back of the bench, Miriam Mountjoy 14 July 1954 – 15th March 1986, beloved wife and mother. I never actually met my mother though I have seen the photos and films made before I was born, she smiles out at them her mane of blonde hair tied back in a simple pony tail.

I am the younger of four sisters, Isobel, Miriam, Frances and me, Linda. There was a reason that I have never met my mother. On the day I was born, she suffered from a catastrophic bleed, a postpartum hemorrhage. The midwives rushed around fighting to save her life, pushing in blood that rushed out as fast as it went in, until the decision was made to call it a day. The fifteenth of March 1986, the day I was born.

I have my mother’s hair, long, blond and thick. I have tried lot’s of ways to arrange it, but it is simplest to put it into a ponytail, the way she did. I have my father’s blue eyes and easy smile. My best features, I think, and the ones that people seem to comment on most often. I am the tallest of the sisters at five foot ten. As I was stretching my father would call me shrimp, while my sisters would would laugh at my gangly legs.

It feels odd, sitting here on a bench carved with my date of birth as well as my mother’s date of death. I look out at the ocean and the blue sky that arches above the sea. My father told me that when they were courting, they come to this stretch of the coast listen to the sound of the waves lapping on the beach and day dreaming about their future. That was why he chose this spot for her bench, so that he could site here and feel close to her. I can never made that connection with her. I have come here to feel close to my father.

When I was small, he would bring all of us here to the bench and sit there and watch while we scrambled down over the rocks, looking for shells and star fish in the small pools that gathered on the surface of the rocks. He told me that sitting on the bench was the closest he came to happiness as he watched his girls growing into young women. Often I would climb back up the rocks and sit at his feet as he gazed out at the sea.

‘Off you go and play with your sisters.’ , he would say, noticing I was sitting at his feet.

‘I want to stay with you, dad.’

But he would shoo me away, before drifting back to his own thoughts. Sometimes, the look he gave me as I turned to go back to my sisters was full of such pain that I wanted to hug it away, but within the pain I could see a feint tinge of accusation. It seemed to say, It was you that took her away from me and I would bolt away from him, scrambling down the rocks to the beach below.

The sea frightened me; wild and untamed, full of such raw power. My sisters would splash in the water and soon learned to swim, whilst I stayed firmly on the shore, watching as they splashed each other or tried to encourage me to join them.

Perhaps that’s why my father bought me my first camera, a Canon S-II. I would take photos of the girls splashing in the surf or rolling on the beach, or ones of my father, sitting erect in his gray suit, his face thin and stretched as he gazed into the distance and dreamed. I began taking photos wherever I went. People in the street, landscapes, buildings at sunset. First I was asked and then paid to take photos of christenings, weddings, bar mitzvahs. Once, even a funeral as one after another the guests posed next to the open coffin, holding the hand or gazing sadly at the face of the dead man within. The local newspaper contacted me and I became their freelance photographer. I bought new, more expensive cameras as my work became more challenging and varied, but the S-II with the words “Made in occupied Japan” etched on it’s base was still my favourite.

My sisters left one after another. Miriam to University in London to study music. Wherever she went, there was always a song on her lips or music from a radio. She would come back in the holidays at first, but slowly she peeled herself away.

Frances was next. She married the son of a local hotelier who had big ideas of his own, working his way into management with one of the big chain hotels. He was offered a lucrative job in Dubai, with a house and perks. Frances went with him.

Isobel was the last of my sisters to leave, moving to Leeds. She worked as a secretary for a local solicitor, her job keeping her late into the night and sometimes demanding she stayed away over night. When his wife found out about the overnight stays, however she kicked up such a stink that Isobel and the solicitor decamped to Leeds to start a new life together.

I stayed with dad and built up my business and reputation. With the sisters gone, I could set up a small dark room in our house and develop my photos there when I wanted, though I often used the one at the rear of my shop, while my friend Christine would look after the desk and take phone calls. There is something satisfying about watching the image emerge from the white of the paper, before plunging it into the stop bath and then the fixer. Digital film has changed the process, but I like to use old fashioned methods and materials when I can.

I was working on a batch of photos, when Christine banged on the door and opened it without waiting for a reply.

‘Christine,’ I hissed ‘you know better than that.’

‘It’s your dad. He’s been rushed to hospital, Linda. It sounds bad.’

I dropped everything and drove faster than I should have to the local hospital. They showed me through to a young doctor, who smiled in sympathy. ‘Early indications seem to point to some kind of stroke,’ he said, working hard at his bedside manner ‘we won’t know the extent of lasting damage yet, but it’s early days.’

When father came home, the damage was to the left side of his face, that drooped slightly and his left arm and leg that seemed weaker than they had before. He underwent the physio sessions and took the medication on time, but he became angry that the walk to the bench had become so tiring. Still he would make the effort to get there and sit, brooding out at the open sea.

It was six months later as he sat there that the big stroke happened. A walker, striding along the path that ran behind the bench had saw the figure slumped on the bench. A drunk he had thought and was tempted to walk on, when something made him turn to the bench and check. Not smelling any alcohol or seeing any empty bottles nearby, he had tried to rouse my father. Failing, he used his mobile phone to call an ambulance, saving my father’s life.

I was in Winchester filming a wedding, when the call came through. I stayed on and completed the filming, knowing that I would get some splendid stills from them for their album. There didn’t seem much point in spoiling the memories of their big day.

The damage soon became apparent. He was totally paralysed, only his eyes able to move. I had him brought home, bringing in another photographer to the business so I could become his carer. The house became full of all the contraptions needed to care for him.

His eyes would follow me around the room, pleading as I moved him in bed or used his lift to get him into a specially adapted chair. I could tell he wanted to join mother. The strain on both of us was beginning to tell.

I spoke to my doctor, who gave me some sedatives. ‘You can’t do it all on your own,’ she said, giving me a leaflet about support for carers ‘you need to continue with your own life. Think of your health and your business.’

I would put my father in a wheelchair and take him down to the bench, parking him next to it. We would sit side by side, gazing out at the sea. His eyes would swivel to me part in accusation, part in a plea to help him. I knew what he wanted, but felt I couldn’t do it.

The rasping breaths from my father’s room woke me up. I struggled awake and went into his room, rolling him over to clear the saliva that was building up in his throat and causing him to gasp. His eyes were pleading, pleading and accusing. I decided to act. I dissolved to of my sedatives in water and slowly gave it to him. When he relaxed, I placed a pillow on his face and put a small pressure in it. I almost let go, before it was over, but the thought of the pleading in those eyes kept my hands in place. His chest rose and fell, the breathing becoming more frenzied until with a shuddering sigh they stopped. I placed the pillow back under his head, making sure there were no feathers on his face and went back to bed.

I slept late and next morning was woken by the sound of the doorbell. The nurse had come to visit my father. ‘You must have had a quiet night. It’s not like you to be still in bed at this time,’ she said as she hustled in the door ‘let’s see this patient. A cup of tea wouldn’t go amiss.’ She hurried off upstairs as I went to the kitchen to put on the kettle.

‘Miss Mountjoy,’ called the nurse from upstairs ‘could you come here a minute?’

I went upstairs with mounting dread. She took hold of my hands ‘I am sorry to tell you that your father has passed away in the night.’

I sobbed aloud and tried to move passed her into the room, ‘No dear, it’s best you don’t’.

The undertakers came and took away his body. I was asked some questions ‘I took my sedatives with a small whisky, I know I shouldn’t have, and went to bed.’

When they asked I replied ‘No I didn’t hear a thing until the doorbell rang this morning.’

The conclusion was swift, death as a result of complications caused by the stroke. I contacted the sisters and arranged for him to be cremated at the local crematorium.

He is with me now, in the urn at my feet, waiting to be scattered. Some of his ashes will go around the base of the bench and some in the sea. My sisters wanted him buried with my mother but it was here he spent so much time with her memory. I am sure I am breaking some bye-law or other, but after what I’ve done that seems trivial.

I have a swimsuit on under my dress so that I can wade out as far as I can in the sea and scatter my father’s ashes. I want to spend my last time with him. I don’t feel guilty that I have released him, but I don’t think I can live with the guilt. Please tell my sisters I am sorry for everything.

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Phil carefully folded the letter and put it back on top of the clothes. He scanned the water, looking for any sign of a body, but there was nothing in sight.

A search was initiated as the coast guard searched the nearby water, but as the light began to dim, the radios of the watchers on the nearby cliffs crackled to life. ‘ The light is going now, let’s call it a day. We can resume the search in the morning, but with some of the undertows round here, the body could be further out at sea. Our best hope is that she is picked up during the night by a trawler. ‘

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Jill Stewart sat comfortably in her first class seat travelling to Euston station. Only a very close inspection would have revealed her stylish bobbed hair to be a wig. Shining in the light that streamed through the train windows, the wig gleamed like a magpie’s wing at rest. One for sorrow, she thought sadly. Her clothing was black too from her black leather jacket, blouse, skin tight trousers and flat pumps. Her make up was pale, her eye shadow and lipstick dark giving her a Goth appearance. A modern style of mourning, she thought, as the houses and trains flashed past. Mourning for Linda Mountjoy perhaps? An almost perfect disguise too, she chuckled.

Linda’s final note had been slightly untrue in a couple of ways. She had written the letter before she had gone to the beach that morning, preparing the plan carefully. She lied about her inability to swim too. Her fear of the water was real, and her sisters would remember this, but during a photo holiday in Cyprus she had learned how to swim. It had been hard work to overcome her fears, but the gentle Cypriot shores and a patient instructor had succeeded.

She had swam to a nearby cove where earlier that morning she had hidden a bag of clothes, a wig, make up and train tickets. Jill was born there, climbing to freedom and the open road.

Once in London she would find a cheap hotel and start looking for a new passport that would help her start her new life. Not all of Linda’s past photo jobs had been strictly legitimate; she taken some passport photos as favours. It was time to call those favours in. Paris to begin with? She wondered. She pulled her trusty Canon S-II towards her and watched as the English countryside rolled by.