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.

————————————————————————–

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. ‘

————————————————————————–

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.

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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

Suspicions

August 25, 2012

‘Wake up, you bitch’

Kate sat bolt upright in her bed as her bedroom door was thrust open and her flatmate Liz strode into her room. She rubbed her eyes sleepily.

‘What’s going on Liz? I was on a late last night and I’m tired. You know how busy that club gets.’

‘Don’t play the innocent with me. What’s been going on?’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about? Seriously, have you been drinking?’

‘Drinking? Don’t treat me like an idiot. I know you two are up to something, so don’t bother denying it. Here’s your phone back.’ Liz tossed a mobile phone on to the bed.

‘Have you been looking at my phone? Christ that’s low. Seriously? I don’t believe you!’

‘You don’t believe me? Did you think I wouldn’t see you two sneaking off into corners whispering to each other, plotting and when I came into the room; the guilt on your faces. Honest, you must think I was born yesterday not to notice.’

‘Wait a minute.’

‘Don’t you wait a minute me. I saw the texts.’ Liz mimicked sarcastically ‘Do you think she suspects? Let’s get together later to discuss things. You make me sick. I thought I could trust you and all the time you are carrying on with my boyfriend. Slag.’

‘Finished yet? Can you get out of my room, I want to get up and get dressed before I say something we both regret?’

‘You’re shagging him aren’t you? I know you are so don’t bother denying it.’

‘Get out now, just get out, get out, get out!’ Kate launched herself across the room as Liz retreated and slammed the door behind her.

‘This isn’t finished you know. You better tell me the truth.’ Liz shouted through the closed door.

Kate slid down on to the floor, her back to the door and cradled her head in her hands, tears running down her cheeks. ‘How can she think that of me? How can she? I don’t believe this.’

She stumbled to her feet and retrieved her mobile phone from the bed. She typed Paul, Liz knows something is going on. She has lost it. You better get this sorted.

She dropped the phone and began to look for clothes and to pack a bag. Her phone chirped to show a text had arrived What do you mean? What’s happened?

She cupped the phone in her hand, hoping that Liz hadn’t heard the sound and set her phone to silent; she has read my phone and got the wrong end of the stick. I can’t handle this. Gonna go to mum’s for a few days till things calm down, but you better come and set her straight.

Kate looked around the room, wondering when she would see her room again. She took her bag and opened the door ‘Where are you going, Kate? We need to talk.’

‘Nope I need some space away from you and your suspicions. I need time to decide what I’m going to do next.’

‘Where are you going?’

‘My mum’s place. That’ll give us both time to get our heads sorted.’

‘Tell me the truth, Kate. What is going on?’

‘It’s not up to me to tell you. You better talk to Paul.’

‘Get lost then.’

‘I can’t talk to you when you’re like this, Liz. It’s better I go.’

Liz heard Kate’s car start, then reverse from the driveway. She stumbled into the living room and switched on the television to drown out the sudden silence that filled the house. Jeremy Kyle grinned at her ‘Do you suspect your partner has been cheating and want to appear on a future episode?’, she quickly switched the set back off and slumped on to the sofa.

A car drove into the driveway. ‘Kate?’ she glanced out of the window and saw Paul’s blue sports car. He strode up the path and rang the doorbell.

‘Liz. Liz answer the door.’ he paused, ‘Liz I know you can hear me, answer this door.’

‘Get lost creep.’

‘I need to explain things.’

‘Explain? I can work it out for myself.’

‘Open the door I need to show you something.’

‘No chance.’

He opened the letter box, ‘Look I don’t want a scene in the street at least open the door.’

He watched as the door swung open and Liz blocked the way in ‘Say what you have to say then go.’

‘I can’t believe you’re being like this.’

‘Like what? Angry cos my boyfriend has been shagging my best friend. You’ve got a nerve.’

‘Here, I was going to give you this tomorrow.’ he handed her a thick envelope. I don’t suppose I’ll need it now.’

‘What is it?’ Liz opened the envelope and found tickets, money and a hotel brochure. ‘What is this?’

‘We are supposed to be flying to Barbados on Monday. Kate has helped me arrange your surprise. She got your passport, arranged time off with your boss and helped me to get it all booked. She even got me one of your rings.’

‘One of my rings?’

‘Yeah I wanted the size to be right for you. I wanted everything to be right.’

‘A ring? Stop, don’t say anymore. Kate did this for me?’

‘She is your oldest friend. Christ you’ve been flatmates since college. Of course she did.’

‘So you aren’t’

‘No, we aren’t.’

‘Shit I have been a idiot. So all the whispering and plotting has been about this? I have to phone her.’

‘You do, but not right now. She’ll be upset, best give her some time.’

‘I’m sorry, I really thought that you and Kate were at it behind my back.’

‘Kate? You don’t know her very well do you? She loves you Liz.’

‘Can we still go on Monday?’

‘Of course we can.’

‘And bring Kate back special present.’

‘I think you better, you have some serious grovelling to do.’

Next morning Paul sent a text to Kate I have explained everything. Can Liz call you? When Kate replied yes, Liz called her.

‘Kate Paul has explained it all, I am so sorry.’

‘You were so quick to believe the worst of me. After all these years, you still don’t know me at all.’

‘I was wrong. I made a mistake.’

‘I understand that, but I think it’s better if we have some time apart. I have decided I am moving back home. I will give you next month’s rent, but it’s for the best if I move out.’

‘I don’t want you to.’

‘It’s for the best. You need to spend time with Paul, doing the thing couples do.’

‘I don’t want to lose you.’

‘You won’t. Go to Barbados and we can talk when you come home.’

‘I’ll miss you.’

‘No you won’t, you will be scuba diving and drinking margaritas. Go and enjoy yourself.’

‘I love you.’

‘I know. Bugger off now, before I start to cry.’

Liz disconnected the call and slid her phone in to her bag. ‘Will we do some holiday shopping then?’

‘That would be nice, Paul.’

‘I think a sexy bikini is in order; you need to make this up to me.’

‘I thought I did last night!’

‘It was a good start, but’

‘Paul!’ giggled Liz.

‘Come on then, last one to the car is buying coffee.’

The time of his life

August 14, 2012

Geoff Smith was a sprightly sixty five year old. Tall and slim, he still wore a shirt and tie for day wear, long after these had been abandoned for the ubiquitous tee shirts and jeans he saw around him on the high street. His shoes were always impeccably shiny, a source of pride for him as he strode to reach his destination. A place for everything and everything in its place was his motto, so he was perturbed that his watch was not where he expected it to be. He glanced around his bedroom looking for it. His wrist felt naked and his hand light without it. Geoff knew he could always check the time on his mobile phone, but somehow that didn’t seem to do the job for him.

Finally, he saw it slipped between a bottle of aftershave and a box of handkerchiefs. He slipped the watch on and pulled the strap tight, but as he did the strap gave a loud noise and snapped, the watch flapping uselessly from the broken strap.

Damn, he thought, I better go to a jewellers to get a new strap.

The jewellers was just a few streets away and though expensive, the watch had belonged to his father and held lots of memories for him. It deserved a decent strap.

He entered the store, glancing at the trays of Rolexes and Breitlings gleaming brightly in the store’s lighting.

The assistant seemed to glide towards him, her hair pulled back from her face and makeup delicately applied.

‘May I help you sir?’

‘Yes I need a new strap for my watch.’ she glanced at the watch and seemed unimpressed. He felt he needed to explain ‘It was my father’s watch you see. He wore it every day during the war whilst flying in Lancaster raids over Germany. He was a rear gunner and damned lucky to survive the war. Rear gunner was a very risky occupation.’

‘I see. Shall we look at some suitable straps then?’

Soon he selected a plain, black leather strap that he felt would suit the watch. The girl seemed unaware that the omega watch she was holding was very rare, and eagerly sought after by collectors. While a part of him felt he shouldn’t wear the watch for daily wear, he felt comfort in having it with him.

‘May I have the broken strap back when the new one is fitted please?’

The girl shrugged indifferently, then nodded in assent. ‘It will be around fifteen minutes if you would like to wait.’

He sat down in one of the hard backed chairs that faced towards the counter. The girl grimaced and took the watch through to the repair area.

He tented his fingers and waited. After thirty five years in the civil service, he was used to waiting and watching.

The door was suddenly thrust open and two figures wearing stocking masks and brandishing shotguns. The door was closed firmly behind them.

‘Stay where you are grandpa, if you know what’s good for you.’

The assistant rushed into the shop, then stopped staring at the barrels of the gun, pointed at her chest. A bag was rudely thrust towards her.

‘Empty those trays into the bag and be quick about it. Hurry.’

Displays were opened and watches and rings poured into the bag.

‘Empty any notes from the till in there whilst you are at it.’

A man came rushing from the back room. He stopped, then seeing what was happening turned to run away, but the loud report of a shotgun froze him in his tracks. ‘Get back here. Are you the only one through there?’ The man nodded.

‘Kneel here and don’t move a muscle or I will use this.’

Geoff felt he should do something, but as he made to rise one of the figures pushed him roughly into the chair ‘I told you not to move gramps. I don’t want to hurt you, but I will.’

The second figure glanced out of the door ‘That’s enough, we better get out of here.’

As quickly as they came, the two men rushed out of the door, carrying the bag of jewelery with them. Sirens could be heard approaching and he knew the police were on their way.

The girl walked around the counter and sat down on the seat next to him. Her make up was streaked as tears ran down her cheeks. Shaking she put her hands to her face.

‘Are you alright?’ asked Geoff.

She nodded , then just as quickly shook her head ‘I will be fine though. I never expected this when I left home this morning.’

Geoff gently squeezed her hand, ‘No I don’t expect either of us did. At least no one was hurt.’ The girl nodded as armed police swarmed into the shop.

‘They are gone I am afraid. I thought I heard an engine roaring away, probably a motorcycle.’ explained Geoff.

The officer nodded, ‘Radio that out will you. Yes we saw them on CCTV, I doubt if they will get very far. Let’s get you checked out and then we can get some statements, OK?’

Geoff sat back and waited, knowing that the process would take some time, but safe in the knowledge that his father’s watch was safe, in the rear of the shop. Soon he would have it back, with it’s brand new strap.

Candyfloss memories

August 9, 2012

The smell of candy floss, sweet and sticky and sugary a little bit of heaven on a stick that seemed to melt into your mouth as you ate it and got stuck on every available surface never fails to remind me of that day. I remember the fair was in our village, in those days we called them the shows. I was at Primary School and all of the talk in the playground seemed to be about the shows. Kids would ask each other

‘Are you gaun tae the shows tonight?

‘Aye, are you?’

I was determined I was going.

‘Mum can I go to the Shows tonight?’

‘Be quiet your dad is in bed on the night shift. Don’t wake him up.’

Usually that threat was enough to quiet us down, the thought of an angry father, irritated like a bear with a sore tooth, but that day I wanted to go to the Shows and have a go on the Waltzers and have a Candy Floss so I kept on going. Eventually my mother had enough of it.

‘Here, there’s some money. You and your brother can go and give me some peace.’

The shows were being held in a piece of waste ground where they eventually built a Hotel, but that was a few years later. We started to run the quarter of a mile or so from our house and I rmeber shouting

‘I’ll beat you. I’ll be first!’

‘Nae chance, you can’t beat me.’

So we raced, my brother, being a bit taller and older started to pull away. He looked back to taunt me and ran smack bang into a lamppost, hitting the side of his head on it. I started to laugh, I am ashamed to admit, but at the time it seemed funny to see his ear (which was fairly big anyway) turn red and swell.

‘We better go hame.’ He said holding his ear.

‘Nae chance. If you want to go hame fine, but I am going to the shows.’

So we argued and then decided, one ride and a candy floss and we would go home. His ear was still awfully red, but we walked the rest of the way to the Shows, John moaning all the way. A few adults did come over and ask if he was alright, responding to his tear stained face. In the end we had one go on the Dodgems and then bought the Candy Floss. It seemed like heaven. A huge cloud of pink candy on a stick that just melted in my mouth and left a taste on my lips like Angels’ kisses.

I walked home eating the candy floss, by which time my brother’s ear had settled into a pink not dissimilar to the floss I had just eaten.

‘You weren’t away long.’ Said my mother, then looking at my brother ‘What happened to your ear? Have you two been fighting?’

‘No, Mum,’ I blurted out ‘He ran in to a lamppost and banged his ear.’

‘Aye and he widnae come hame we me. He wanted his candy floss.’

My mother glared at me ‘I’ll candy floss ye! You should have come hame wi your brother, look at the state of him. Get tae yer bed. John you should have just come hame anyway and left him’

So I went off to my room, the one I still shared with my brother, fuming thinking I didn’t do anything wrang and I am being punished. I lay on top of my bed, bottom lip trembling in rage, thinking about the trouble I was in, but I could still taste the Candy Floss on my lips and in my mouth and boy was it delicious. I lifted a book off my floor (there were always books wherever I went, usually from the local Library) and started to read and though I knew I was in trouble, right at that moment life seemed very sweet indeed.

No place to run

August 9, 2012

He walked along the street conscious of the people coming towards him, seemingly dominating the pavement. Four abreast, they were chatting and laughing as he approached and he wondered, where am I meant to go? As they got closer he realised that the rushing of buses and cars on the nearby road meant stepping off the pavement wasn’t a safe option. Even in the suburbs the flow of traffic seems endless, ready to swallow the unwary pedestrian who dares to cross it’s path. He paused, then looking at a nearby tree planted by the local council to greenify the road, he stepped quickly behind it and watched as the youths walked past, without casting so much as a glance at him.

He walked past the local shops, the Iron Mongers selling a host of screws, electrical parts and other bric-a-brac and the junk shop, beckoning like an Aladdin’s cave full of guitars with no, drum kits, chairs and geegaws he recalled from his youth. A broken guitar hung from the door, scrawled with the words Help available here for your music GCSEs and Guitar examinations. He snuggled his headphones tighter on to his head and walked faster towards the centre of village where the big supermarkets and upmarket chain stores were advertising cut price food or the latest must have gadget. He felt his heart beat faster as he heard the sound of rapid footsteps ran towards him. Light and fast, though not as heavy as the ones he heard before, the ones he heard when. No he decided, I won’t think about that, I am fine and this is another day. A small, blonde haired boy wearing a red tee shirt and the reddest plimsolls he had ever seen rushed past and stopped pointing in to a shop, Here? Asked the Boy and when his mother sighed no rushed on to the next door to perform the same action.

Is this it, he wondered, six months of staying at home as his neighbours urged him to leave the house and get out again. Six months and the sound of a little boy running on the pavement, or a jet roaring overhead to land at Heathrow Airport or a group of hurrying youths was enough to make him hide behind a tree. Mrs Jones had encouraged him to go for his own newspaper.

‘Come on, Will, today’s the day. Just pop out and get it yourself. I am not feeling so well myself today and you could be a love and get me a tin of peas for the dinner. You can’t stay hiding here forever.’

How could he say no? The strength of her voice and the fullness of her conviction made him decide to try, even though in his head a voice said what if I meet one of the brothers or sisters of those girls or even one of them? How long would they keep them in a Young offenders Institute these days? It all costs money and they have their human rights you know. He past the greasy spoon where he used to sit and eat an all day breakfast and watch the world go by, hurrying past in case one of the workers should wave to him and ask

‘Where have you been, we haven’t see you for a while?’

Was it better or worse that they might know what had happened or would ask him the question making him tell that three teenage girls had pushed him over and taken away his money. I used to be someone, he thought as he picked up a Daily Mail and headed for the tinned vegetables section picking up a family sized tin of processed peas and a loaf of bread for later. Local councillor, husband father, someone people looked up to. But the children grew up and moved away, New York and Edinburgh and Ellen got throat cancer and somehow the Council didn’t seem so important any more.

He saw them standing together, hair scraped back tight into pony tails, heads together talking, glancing at him. He ignored them, but one stepped before him.

‘Gotta fag?’

‘No I don’t smoke.’

‘You could afford to give us some money for some though, couldn’t he Chell?’ A grunt behind him, made him realise that one was behind him.

‘I don’t think.’ the push took him by surprise and before he knew it he was curled on the ground being kicked. He could taste the blood running down his nose and into his mouth.

‘Get his wallet.’

He felt his pockets being rifled as another voice shouted ‘What the hell are you doing to him.’

‘Run.’

Hands gently helped him up. ‘I better call an ambulance.’

‘No just help me get home.’

‘I need to call the Police.’

‘No, just get me home.’

They were caught, of course, plead guilty which at least saved him testifying. He didn’t attend court, he just wanted to go home and forget about it.

He shook his head to clear away the memories, hurrying home, the food smells coming out of the local subway store with it’s wide selection of fillings made him realise how hungry he was and seemed to speed his feet back towards his own street.

He knocked softly on Mrs. Jones door

‘Come in Will’ She cried.

He handed her the tin of peas proudly, ‘Oh dear, processed? Never mind I will pop out and get some garden peas later. I expect I forgot to mention, these processed peas give our Gordon terrible wind. Sit down Will and I will put on the kettle, you must be parched and then you can tell me all about your walk.’

Will sat down at the large kitchen table and sighed in relief as he heard the kettle snap on and the reassuring sounds of cups rattling from a cupboard. Next time I might stop for a cuppa at the café, he thought, it wasn’t too bad, really, though he suspected that he had had enough adventures for one day and maybe some time to come.

A hard landing

August 9, 2012

D.B. Hayes, yawned and sat back deeper in to the first class seat at the front of the 777 Jet flying to London’s Heathrow Airport. The Stewardess was attentive and he had happily posed for a few photos in the galley once the aircraft was in cruise. He guessed that the airline managers would frown, had they known, but he wasn’t going to say anything, was he?

He had glanced at the stewardess as she carried out her safety demo with the same lack of interest as most seasoned travellers and his safety guide stayed firmly stowed in the seat stowage along with the in-flight service guide and the ubiquitous shopping guide selling gadgets he would never use. He had carefully removed his boots whilst sitting down, in case anyone noticed him lose a little height. He was glad the lifts weren’t that obvious, but he preferred his little vanities to remain private. He smiled, relaxed in the knowledge that paying a first class fare, led to first class service and the knowledge that his personal business wasn’t going to be spread across some tabloid rag. His guitar was safely stowed in a wardrobe. A custom made acoustic guitar, hand made for him by a reclusive guitar maker who produced very few instruments. The guitar fitted perfectly into his hands being made to measure exactly for him to exactly fret the notes and chords he used in his songs. The guitar was never far from his sight, even though he had a host of other guitars in his home studio, this one had the heart and blood of a trust artist in its making and he trusted no one else with it.

He had glanced at the in-flight film guide, but decided against watching any of the comedies or gore-fests that were on offer, instead fishing out his battered copy of The Catcher in the Rye. He loved the opening lines, If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you will want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like; a gentle cough caught his attention, he looked away from the book towards the stewardess who leaned from the aisle across to his seat.

‘Sorry to bother you, Sir. Would you like to place your order for you in-flight meal? Here is the menu for this evening.’

He looked at her blonde hair, pulled back tightly into a fashionable bun of some kind, her smile producing dimples on her smooth young cheeks.She probably wasn’t even born when I released my first album, but he could appreciate how pretty she was in spite of the airline uniform that seemed designed to resemble a business suit. Though almost fifty, he kept himself in trim for touring and felt that he was in peak physical condition for his age.

 

‘Can I leave it a bit longer?’ glancing at her name badge ‘Linda, I don’t feel much like choosing food right now.’ He flashed his green eyes at her, the brown flecks seeming to dance as he looked into her eyes. He would have sworn she blushed slightly at his gaze, but it was hard to tell through the make up that seemed to come as part of the cabin crew uniform.

‘Can I get you something else until you are ready to order?’

‘A glass of water would be fine, Linda, Thank you.’ Linda brought the water to him in a shapely glass and padded silently away in her flat cabin shoes.

He went back to reading and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me. He looked away from the book thinking about his parents, his father who had died when he was still young and of whom he had only the faintest recollection. He slid his pocket watch from his pocket and flipped open the case to read, For long devoted service. He snorted in derision, the company had valued him so much that no official representative had attended his funeral, though his mother told him that several of his work colleagues had come to pay their respects, using an annual leave day to attend as the manager refused permission to go on the company’s time, a memory that never failed to cause annoyance to his mother when she recalled it. For years he listened as his mother recalled his father and he decided that he would be independent, ruling his own future. His career was his focus and everything else was put on hold.

Around him passengers settled into sleep and soon only his light was left on in the cabin as he read the adventures of Holden Caufield.

‘Are you sure I can’t get you something to eat?’

He smiled ‘No thank you, Linda, I am fine right now.’

She hesitated, ‘I don’t normally do this, but my Mum is a huge fan of yours. Could I have a photo with you?’

So he had gone into the galley, where he had several photos taken and signed several autographs, before returning to his seat and his book. Her mother; he smiled to himself and shook his head, it used to be the daughters, but now it’s the mothers. Unconsciously he found himself fingering a pendant around his neck that carried his lucky pick that his mother had given to him when he was going for auditions for his first record label. ‘This will give you luck, son’. It must have worked as he was signed that day and used the pick to play on his first album. After that he was so scared he would lose the pick he had it put into a locket and wore it around his neck. Wherever He went, it went too or he didn’t go. He used lots of other picks and threw them out to the audience during gigs, but this one was special and no one else got to touch it.

The flight progressed smoothly, Linda popping over from time to time to check that He had everything He needed. At some point He dozed, slipping gently into sleep The Catcher in the Rye open on His lap. He woke to a gentle change in lighting and Linda spoke to him in a sprightly tone ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I noticed you were asleep so I took your book and marked the place you were reading.’

He smiled in thanks ‘That was kind of you.’

‘I love that story. I studied it at School.’

‘I do too.’ When He started out on his music career he had planned to use Holden Caufield’s name as his stage name in honour of the character, but reclusive Mr. Salinger had said no, much to his disappointment. The Company wanted him to used his own name, Jed Gray, but He wanted a name to separate himself and his private life, from the on-stage alter ego and chose D.B Hayes after Holden’s older brother and Sally Hayes, the girl Holden dates in the novel.

‘Would you like some breakfast, Sir?

‘Call me Jed, Linda, it’s a name I don’t hear too often these days; and yes I would love some please.’

Further down the plane the cabin was full of hustle and bustle as Cabin Crew pushed trolleys around, serving breakfast to sleepy passengers, but behind the curtain in First class all was serene.

Soon the cabin was being cleared in as the Cabin Crew heard a call for twenty-five minutes till landing. The inter phone next to the front door began to ring, Linda answering and then looked sharply towards the rear of the plane. From behind He could hear voices rising and becoming louder with fear.

‘Linda is everything all right? Is something going on back there?’

‘Nothing to worry about I am sure, but let me find out.’ He could hear that the noise was getting louder and He could hear people shouting ‘I can’t breathe’ and louder, commanding voices calling cover your mouth and nose and keep your heads down.’

He knew whatever was going on wasn’t good and the situation seemed to be getting worse. The Captain called across the PA system, ‘Cabin Crew, take your seats for landing.’

It felt like an eternity as the plane descended, trundled along the run way and came to a stop. He could see fire engines waiting for the plane, lights flashing as firemen bustled around watching. This is bad, he thought, as suddenly the Captain was issuing an evacuation order, alarms were sounding and crew members were opening doors from which slides were inflating.

Smoke was billowing up in the cabin as the passengers started to rush towards the doors screaming and panicking to get off. At Her door, Linda beckoning him towards him, escape. He started towards the wardrobe, thinking of rescuing his beloved guitar but as he turned to look down the cabin He saw a small boy suddenly dart down and hide behind a seat. His instinct was telling him to get away while He still could, but He ignored it and went straight towards the boy.

‘Come on, Son’

‘I can’t’

‘Yes you can, I will help you.’

He put his arms around the boy, hoisted him up and headed back towards the door, where Linda was beckoning. The jump on to the slide looked steep and dangerous, but the prospect of staying in smoke and dying on the plane seemed much worse. Holding the boy tight He stepped forward and jumped launching himself down the slide. Rough strips at the bottom caught at his designer jeans, pulling at him and slowing him down, but as He came off the end of the slide He heard a sharp crack and a pain shot through his right ankle. Voices were calling ‘Get away from the plane.’ He limped with pain and a figure ran towards him ‘Let me carry your son.’

‘He isn’t my Son. His parents will be looking for him.’

Behind him the Crew had left the plane after checking that everyone was off. He turned to see Linda hurrying towards him.

‘What’s happened?’

She breathed deeply ‘I think there is a fire in the cargo hold. We better keep moving.’ She saw him limp and the grimaces of pain. ‘Lean on me, we need to keep moving away and get the passengers together.’

The rest of the events were a blur. Soon he was in the back of an ambulance and was waiting for the medics to put his leg into plaster as the walking wounded arounded him were tended to.

He stopped a nurse ‘Did everyone get off the plane OK?’

‘Yes no fatalities; the Crew did a great job getting everyone off.’

He heard a familiar voice coming towards him in the corridor.

‘Where is He?’

Jed groaned ‘Over here Bernie.’ rolling his eyes He whispered ‘My agent.’

‘Jed, what the hell is this? How are you going to tour now?’

‘With a bit of difficulty.’

‘Right I will get on to the promoters and get the tour rescheduled until the leg heals. The publicity from the crash is brilliant anyway. You have had a leap in sales from the back catalogue.’

‘Publicity?’

‘Yeah, you are a regular hero. Saved a boy on the plane. It’s a gold mine.’

‘I didn’t do it for that.’

‘I know, I know’ snapped Bernie ‘But, Jed business is business.’

‘Listen Bernie, all this has made me think. It’s time to slow down a bit. Think about retiring from the business and settle down. I am getting too old for constant touring.’

‘You can’t do that.’

‘I can and will.’

Bernie shook his head ‘Don’t rush into anything you will regret. Take a holiday and then see how you feel.’

‘No, Bernie, this is a wake up call. I need to slow down.’

A nurse approached and coughed. ‘It seems you have another visitor.’ Behind her he could see Linda, waiting in the background.’

‘Linda!’ he called

She smiled, ‘I wanted to see how my Hero is.’

‘Hero? I helped one person, you all helped everyone.’

‘That’s my job, Jed.’

‘I guess so.’

‘Anyway, I have been checked over, jut some grazes, so I wanted to check up on you before I go.’

‘Do you need to?’

‘My Mum will be worrying, though I did call her.’

‘But couldn’t you stay a bit longer?’

‘Of course I can.’

Jed smiled as Linda squeezed his hand. Life is already changing He thought, as they wheeled him into the plaster room He realised that He hadn’t even thought about his beloved guitar that was still on board the plane.

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 the pub. 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.