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Notes Entries 100 Books

16:18, 22 May 2017
Thanks for the feedback Safemouse. I always enjoy hearing from you. Hope you'll be able to enter 'For The Many' :-) Alison

15:20, 15 May 2017
Thanks Safemouse! I appreciate your response, and the balance within it - also that what you like about HoW is not politics (I think you can assume that I am aware of that, and was when I wrote the email too). However, I think there is virtue in using something built for one purpose for another one. I grew up in South Yorkshire during the miners' strike in the '80s, the last Tory government, so personally have a very negative experience of Conservative policies. I am pleased at the way this election is becoming properly competitive in a way the last one never seemed to, the 'Milibean' image getting in the way of anything approaching policy. Having a proper opposition means that the Tories won't be able to get away with as much exploitation as otherwise.
The question of 'evil'/Tories/left-wingers is a fascinating one and deserves its own conversation, and indeed, research project in my opinion. We need a better system to have these conversations on the site. I will see what I can do.

01:32, 3 Apr 2017
Is it really blocked in China? I didn't know that. Interesting.

10:14, 31 Aug 2016
Welcome to David Zetland, this week's guest judge, water economist and author! http://www.aguanomics.com/

21:59, 1 Jan 2016
‘Happy New Year,’ Grace murmured under her breath, the wind whipping the bitterness from her lips and spreading it out amongst the trees.
Reunited in death, her mother lay just three rows from Uncle Bernard now. She taken by the sudden and catastrophic failing of her heart, he more gently by old age. Grace felt exposed by the loss of him.
Uncle Bernard, her protector. He could be nothing but a hero to a little girl who, cowering from a storm, had been discovered by his kindly eyes. Even now his name recalled the scent of mint and tobacco as he had handed her his jacket and raincoat. In the darkness of that moment she had been wrapped in the warmth and flavour of him.
Bernard had not intruded, had not scolded, he had not tried to force or coerce the child she had been to leave her safe haven. He had remained, selflessly giving her the protection that he needed from the lashing weather, accepting his role as sentinel.
From beneath the bench she had watched the interaction of mother and watchman, seen the primal force of maternal fear diminish to sparkling laughter with just a word and a gesture from this man. Bernard had been unaware of his power over them, of how he had utterly changed their lives.
The storm that had thrown them together was not the source of Grace’s fear. It was only that the noise, the bluster, the sudden violence of it reminded her of something else. From the first distant rumble of the key in the door, the rolling promise of anger in his voice, to the tumult of limbs, the crack of pain and the piteous shrieking. Grace had learned to run for shelter at the first sign.
Bernard was the warm front that moved into their lives and calmed the storm. From that first moment, when he had seen Grace and decided she was worth protecting, when he had prioritised her over himself, he made a silent statement; Grace and her mother had value.
When a young Grace had learned the role that St Bernards carry out for mountain rescue she had giggled, calling the man a saint until he had begged her to stop. It had seemed so apt though; he had arrived to find them frozen and exposed, and the friendship he delivered thawed them from the centre as sure as any nip of brandy.
Her mother had explained to her that we are all formed by the generations that precede us. Her father’s upbringing had been uncertain, harsh, and it had made him violent. Bernard regaled them with stories of his mother, the woman who had been a living example of kindness, generosity, and compassion.
Just as he had stayed with her on that stormy day, so he stayed with them through the years. A reassuring presence, asking no questions, expecting nothing, giving much.
There had been no children for Bernard, no wife to bear them. Grace had privately speculated as to why, but the answers now lay in the dirt of Munich. She hoped that his life had been happy, in spite of the absence of these things that so many valued.
Grace stood at the foot of his grave enriched by his estate and by that most valuable of lessons; knowing she was worthy of love and protection. She would not repeat her mother’s mistakes. None of Bernard’s blood flowed in her veins but he had formed her more surely than DNA.
‘Happy New Year,’ Grace murmured under her breath. She had promised Bernard she would find him a corner to sit in while she danced the night away but she could hardly keep that promise with him six feet below.
A breeze enveloped her, warm and gentle, and scented somehow with mint and tobacco. Closing her eyes, Grace accepted the reality that her Sentinel was not yet ready to give up his role. He would watch her dance, wherever he was.

******

Vision blurring and stinging, James fled Dr Laurence's office, his sinking heart seeming to match the descent of the elevator until both reached ground level.

James stumbled outside of the pristine office suite and gazed blankly at the busy street. The building behind that had come to symbolise a concrete cocoon from which he had eventually hoped to emerge free and beautiful, seemed now as vacant and unfriendly as an abandoned cicada shell.

A lingering memory of his mother in her long pink skirt with the bells floated to the surface of James's consciousness. He had always loved that skirt. He knew if she emerged from her bedroom in the morning wearing it, that they would have a smiling day. She would sweep around the room with him in her arms, they would laugh and she would jingle like a kitten chasing a ball. As the years went by both his mother and the pink skirt appeared less and less often in the mornings and he got used to eating breakfasts by himself.

Although James had found himself alone many times in his life, both in his childhood and more recently in his search for someone able to unlock the safe of his subconscious, this time felt somehow different.

In the past, when his carefully balanced card tower world had been demolished, he had been distraught and numb of course, but with an unwaveringly constant buzz of desperation to repair or supersede. His eternal mantra "The next one will be better." had given him a degree of focus. That drive had been the one thing James felt separated him from the depressives these shrinks had insisted on lumping him in with. Each one seeming to conclude that exploring, rather than erasing, his inner thoughts and feelings was akin to unlocking the evil of the world.

Desperation was James's comforting friend, always there to pick him up in his darkest moments and keep him plodding forward in the quest for the proverbial Pandora to release all but Hope from the bone cage that was his skull, had given him purpose.

Immobile on the bustling street, James became aware that the need to replace what had been lost was now mysteriously and inexplicably absent. It suddenly appeared that desire itself had been the thing to grow its wings and ascend from Dr Laurence's pristine prison of tinted windows, leaving James himself, empty below.

The idea of seeking out another professional to help him access himself seemed ludicrous to James now, and he found himself laughing mockingly at the notion which had always been a source of comfort.

In his hand was the prescription Dr Laurence had printed for him. The latest unpronounceable poison designed to cloud and further suppress unfavourable thoughts and emotions.

In an unforeseen frenzy of rage which left as quickly as it came, James frantically tore at the script before opening his hands in submission, allowing the wind to carry the pieces and make beautiful patterns in the air from something so ugly.

His eyes followed the path of one of the tattered pieces of scrap still baring the smudge of Dr Laurence's signature stamp, as it moved along the footpath. Without thought, need or emotion to guide him, James found his feet tracing the rambling path of the tiny piece of paper.

Entirely focused on the trail he was pursuing, James was only vaguely aware of the background noise that was the horn and screeching brakes of a green Suburu, and was entirely surprised to find himself flying through the air, in a slow motion arc, watching the approach of the road below scattered with paper remains.

******

She just loved texting, it made her feel connected, wanted, even loved. Some days it was a challenge, but she didn’t feel as if the day had gone well unless she had had a text from him. She enjoyed the subversiveness, the furtiveness, the sheer naughtiness of a suggestive text.

Sometimes she wondered if it really mattered to him, but she let him off. He was busy, he wasn’t alone, the battery was low, the signal was bad. Life was like that.

All was forgotten when that little ping sounded, how had it happened that it took so little to give her a thrill? It was almost like him touching her. As soon as she saw his name on the screen she wanted to open the text and read it, but got caught mid – expectation. Would it be a ‘look love, I can’t do this anymore’ text? (She had got skilled at dealing with those now). Or maybe a bland ‘really busy, catch you later,’ text, or one of those ‘I’ve been thinking about you all day’ texts (she had had one of those, she knew what that meant). She supposed that this was why she loved the little computer that she held in her hand so much. The possibilities that it offered were so big in her small life.

It wasn’t as if her life was empty she rationalized. There was lots for her to do, lots of projects on the go and her job kept her busy didn’t it? And the garden, that would need a lot of her time soon. She needed to keep on top of things, well, you never knew did you?

She was very strict with herself, well, that was important wasn’t it? No texts before 09.00, give him a chance to get to work, she didn’t want to risk disturbing him at home and no texts at weekends or on Bank Holidays. She knew that it wasn’t fair and he liked to keep her separate.

Some days it was such a struggle to keep the discipline. Evenings were the worst, she often thought of a little snippet she would like to share with him, but she couldn’t, could she?

She thought that it might be good to talk to other people too. She texted friends, of course she did, and they dutifully texted back. She could usually guess the back story. The ‘poor Mary’, ‘she’s alone again you know’. ‘I like to support her as much as I can’, should we invite her round?’, discussions. She didn’t need their pity; she had Paul, hadn’t she? She understood why he limited the contact so much, she knew he didn’t want his wife to find out. Poor love, he was so caught. He didn’t say much but she just knew. Their grabbed coffee, and those special times. She was sure that any day now he would ask her if she would come on that conference with him. Once or twice he had admitted that he thought of her when he was at home. She knew that he would love her if he were free. The birthday card he had given her last year was still standing in her room. She just knew he hadn’t forgotten this year, she knew it was difficult for him.

Every work day she dressed carefully, glad that she had always looked after herself. Of course, she was older than him, but he had said he liked older women.

That little sound broke quickly into her thoughts and she jumped on her phone will the light was still on; ‘Paul, text message’, it was practically all she needed. She considered making a cup of tea before she opened it, she had asked him how his day was going; keep it simple, don’t make demands – she always tried to be quietly in the background, supportive, ready, his for the taking.

Abandoning her attempts to be cool, she tapped in her code and opened the little hope. ‘Good day thanks & you?’ Oh, how lovely, a question, he wanted her to reply. A chance to text him back. She hated it when she had sent 3 or 4 texts in a row, she much preferred it when they took turns.

‘Mine’s fine, busy, but that’s OK. Would you like coffee?’ press send. And wait. She started on the new customer accounts, she liked to keep on top. It wasn’t really time for coffee and a break would put her behind. But she didn’t mind, anything for Paul.

She spent vast stretches of time planning their life together. She knew she would be just what he wanted. She would enjoy cooking and cleaning for him. She knew that women weren’t really like that these days, but he would love it, she felt sure. She wouldn’t ask for much, but would be very grateful for anything she got from him.

She flicked the screen on, no reply yet. She knew he was busy and he’d asked her not to visit his desk, in fact she only saw him at work if he was doing one of his walk abouts. But they did have to be discreet didn’t they?

He’s only kissed her once but she knew he had liked it. That ‘thinking of you’ text that had followed had kept her going for two years now. The following year’s office party had disappointed her, but she knew that they shouldn’t be too obvious.

She had known that she would be on her own at Christmas and was never keen on going out New Year’s Eve, so that didn’t matter at all. Its what happened, it was the price she paid for falling in love. One day he would know the consequences of her love, but for now, she would just wait for the next text.

...to be continued....

21:56, 1 Jan 2016
The story so far....


Legacy Of Learnings

The sounds drift in. The buildings are
remembered.
The life of the city never lets go nor do you
Ever want it to.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

I say this to every hearing mother
I say this to philosophers
I say this to wise men and not
I say this to untraceable ethers: Pass the parcel.

Pass on the design of life
The spirit that rose with you every morning when you stepped out of bed
Pass on the heart that knew how to carry on
Pass on the perceptions gained over dykes of pain.

Split the atoms of things that happen, into two -
One for now and one for times to come
The mind might teeter at the edifice of endurance
But save solemn imprints for those still in the womb.

Pass the parcel of your learnings
Make an easy passage
That 'they' may know without knowing
The unspoken, untrodden, unseen...all that you have been.

And let something remain of your presence here
Something more significant than blood
A secret answer to a secret question
A preciouswakefulness, a dream within a dream.

Pass on the pearls, Spread the light
Leave a trace : Clear voice, clean intent
Fill empty spaces with goodness
A continuous sphere of life, rolled time and time again, but unbent.



******


My name is Lao Tse and I have been invited by my masters in the Democratic Republic of China to write the “Topical Essay” for 2050. I have chosen the title: The Exceptional One

Tolstoy asserted that the times produce the person, and that Napoleon’s appearance was therefore inevitable. When Napoleon was born, European powers were competing for a dominant position and democracy was threatening monarchy. There was tension in Europe. Tolstoy seemed to have a point.

But suppose Napoleon’s mother had not succumbed to Marbeuf’s adulterous advances and her boy had not got to the military college. The chance that someone else as talented as Napoleon in politics, as intuitive in war techniques, as ambitious and intelligent, would have been available is probably small. Napoleon’s replacement in history would have been a lesser general, the conflicts would have followed a different course, and perhaps petered out long before three or four million people were killed. The situation in Europe a hundred years later was similar and led to all out war, but produced no Napoleon The world is seldom tranquil, so if Tolstoy’s assertion is correct we would expect Napoleons to be produced constantly. Fortunately they are not, but we would expect them to appear sometimes, and one did, albeit in a modern version in 2033.

The world had been in an unprecedented state of instability for more than twenty years. The hitherto unimaginable global communication made possible by the so called “Internet” almost abolished security in any field. It allowed any individual or group to spread ideas, information and misinformation around the world without delay, and skilful manipulators to intercept and change private communications. Dependence on the Internet for the control of most of the operations of a community and its defence, provided opportunities to create both social and military chaos in a way not conceivable before.

In politics, democracy in the “Western World” was becoming only a facade because of the globalization of commerce. Any laws made by the elected governments had to suit the “multinational” companies. Refusal to comply with their demands would result in withdrawal of credit and investment, two things believed to be critical to a country’s survival, or at least to the survival of the party in government.

Nationalism had been effectively tabooed by associating it with racism, which in turn had been tabooed by associating it with Naziism. The proclaimed attitude of the Western World at the time prevented people from admitting to the natural (and from the lessons of history, reasonable) human suspicion of other races or nationalities. They accepted instead a dogma of equality and tolerance which forgot the basic principal of survival, and developed a “human rights” philosophy which it took so far that it was unable to eliminate organized crime or terrorism. So people from poor countries were able to invade wealthy nations without firing a shot, simply by calling themselves refugees and invoking equality, tolerance and human rights

World population continued to increase uncontrollably. The consequent overcrowding in the wealthy nations increased social tension and anxiety and created a new poor class. A fundamentalist Muslim movement openly proclaimed its intention to rule the world and kill the “infidels”. They declared an “Islamic State” and took over a large section of Iraq. Millions of supporters migrated to it from neighbouring countries, but a logical response to this from the infidels was never formulated, and the rest of the Muslim community made no official comment.

In spite of all this, no exceptional person appeared to exploit the situation, until 2033 when charismatic Hieronymus Graham founded the “Righteous Economists” movement. Heironymus, affectionately known as Ronny, first came to attention as a “televangelist”, spreading his version of the Gospel around the USA via television and the Internet. Economic dealings he insisted were inseparable from religion, and in whatever form, were justified by it. The more complicated the economic dealings the nearer they were to God, and the various “derivatives” developed by share traders were a good example of this. Those who adjusted their thinking to his new concepts were destined to unlimited wealth by joining his church he claimed.

His influence grew rapidly and The Church of Righteous Economists became wealthy from Ronny’s brilliant money trading, and the tax benefits available to churches. Members were encouraged to lend money to the “church” and received huge dividends. Investors began moving money to the Church of the Righteous Economists from the Stock Exchange, and this gave Ronny manageable control over that already shaky institution. When there was sufficient money under his control he attracted the potentially corrupt and it was not long before he could rely on support from influential people and political organizations. A skilled computer hacker himself, he had connections to a network of talented hackers whom he employed when needed. His band of well paid loyal executives expanded, and his organization became large enough to enlist the help of organized criminal gangs when required. He had enough of his people on the boards of the IMF and the World Bank to influence their decisions.

By 2040 Ronny was ready to install his chosen President. His political and financial connections, and his ability to hack into information that moved around the Internet, ensured his man’s election.

In 2042 Muslim terrorists exploded a nuclear device in Manhattan.

The non-Muslim world went wild. Muslim apologists were murdered in the streets and there were calls for retaliation. Ronny instructed his President to begin by playing cool and suggesting the “Christian” response of turning the other cheek. This had the two desired effects. The bulk of the populace began calling for the removal of the President and only his retreat to a safe place saved him from assassination. This gave time for sufficient hydrogen bombs to be aligned to pattern bomb The Islamic State. The President then appeared on television saying that it was now clear a gentle response had not been effective, since Muslims around the world had openly cheered the hellish act. Retaliation was underway. Two days later the Islamic State ceased to exist.

The world is now experiencing the fallout from all this, and while it has not been as bad as expected, a long period of suffering will be experienced. The world population has been reduced to about two billion and many are expected to die over the following years. The world is unified in shock and everyone is working together towards a new start.



******


Pandora's Box

And, Zeus was proud when he viewed all creation
The strong and the meek, the rivers and trees,
And the woman of clay, her exuberant elation,
As she wandered his world, adorned with leaves

Pandora! Those eyes, like cerulean orbs,
Hair thick as honey which gleamed in the sun
A body so lithe, with decorative daubs
Of olive, peaches, rich cream and plum.

Prometheus shrank from the heavenly prize,
And warned his brother not to take to the girl
But Epimetheus scoffed, dazzled by her eyes
And when he asked for her hand, his world did unfurl

Their marriage was lavish, a courtly affair
With guests from afar, at Epemetheus' behest
They sighed in adoration at the bride's flowing hair,
The tint of her cheeks, and ornate wedding dress

They plied the couple with copious gifts
To establish their lives on a perfect beginning
But the most intriguing of all made Pandora's heart lift
An ornate lacquered box, and a warning 'gainst sinning

She carried it close, held the box night and day
And pondered the wisdom of turning the key
Until her mind strayed, and her fears slipped away
Her patience ran out, and in secrecy she-

Opened the box, seeking jewels, art or gowns,
And stepped back in disgust, discovered her fate
The plagues of hell, fury, pestilence, frowns
Rushed in to the world, and she knew it too late

The evils within were let loose, and they stung
Like a river of misery, powerful and free
Sadness, murder, with poisonous tongue
They promised one more gift for Pandora to see

She opened the box yet again, because what
Could be more horrific than what she had seen?
And, with a flutter of wings, with light white hot
Hope flew from its confines, with a silvery sheen

Praise Zeus for compassion, despite all his tricks
For the final, beautiful shimmer of light
To combat the darkness and offer a fix
Against pestilence, poverty, illness and blight.

Pandora, curious woman of clay
Your questioning mind unleashed hell to the world
And your actions bring misery, even today
You beautiful, shallow, remarkable girl.

But just as a woman withstands many ills
And still rises again, and again from the mire
So Hope kindles light, in the darkness it kills,
And brings strength to the weary, and heat to the fire.



******



And the Consequence will be

But the old Gods are dead
And a new fiction not yet agreed,
For the taste of summer cherries,
The smell of grass after rain,
The feel of a lover's touch.

I pick up this gauntlet
With a warning.
I am half-beast, half-angel;
My mind divided
By incompatible philosophies;
An unreliable witness.

Receive the gift of education, of unbiased reasoning
And the consequence will be tolerance of others.

Endure the burdens life imposes
And the consequence will be acceptance of love when offered.

Conquer your fear of the shark
And the consequence will be that you grasp the pearl.

Learn to remember the best of the past with joy
And the consequence will be coming to terms with loss.

Take pride in your hopes, more than your accomplishments
And the consequence will be making the best of what you are.

Understand that your finest faculty is your imagination
And the consequence will be the creation of your response to the world.

You live in an era of consequences
And the time for pro-crastination, obfuscation and delay is over.

Open your door to let the Old Year out
And the consequence will be the New Year coming in.



******



The old man sat by the glittering Christmas tree, snoring gently in his comfy armchair. His white hair sprouted outwards in untidy tufts, clean but unbrushed. His puffy face and corpulent stature spoke to seasonal over-indulgence, and the way the chair seemed to form around him suggested that he hadn't moved in some time. He wore soft pyjamas and an old but clearly very comfortable robe. His feet were encased in fluffy slippers, and his chin rested on his chest in slumber. In short, he was the very picture of ease.

The family of the house went about their business, paying the old man no mind. Mother bustled in the kitchen, parcelling up the leftovers to freeze for another day. Father watched the sport on TV, cheering on his favourite team. The two children poked and teased one another, bored now the first rush of enthusiasm for their Christmas presents was past. Life was back to normal after the festive excess of the last few days. Soon, another year would begin, and it would be back to the real life of work and school.

Some hours later, when the children were snug in bed, Mother and Father drank a glass of champagne at the appointed time, while the old man slept on in the corner. Finally, Mother gestured at him with a significant glance.

"Don't you think it's time to make the exchange?" she said.

Father sighed. "I suppose so."

He levered himself up out of his chair and approached the old man, somewhat reluctantly.

"Come on, you old duffer," he said, loudly. "Time to go!"

The old man gave a snort and a snuffle as he woke. He looked up at Father, bleary-eyed.

"What's that? Go?" His voice was plaintive. "But I like it here. It's warm and comfortable, and I can do just as I like."

"Your time's over now," Father said, sternly. "We need to make plans for the future."

He grabbed the old man's arm and hauled him up onto his feet. While Mother looked on, half regretful, half eager, Father marched the old man out of the room and up to the front door.

"Don't you like having me here?" the old man protested. "I don't make any demands on you. In fact, I encourage you to enjoy yourselves - eat, drink and be merry. That's my motto."

"True," Father admitted, "but we need to stop indulging ourselves now and start forming better habits again."

He steeled himself and opened the front door, letting in a blast of cold air. On the path outside stood a smiling young woman. She had perfect hair and perfect teeth, and the body displayed by her leggings and leotard was fit and trim.

She beamed at Father, bouncing enthusiastically up the steps to the threshold.

"About time you came to let me in," she said. She threw a disgusted glance at the old man, then turned her attention back to Father. "Ready to get started?"

Father pushed the old man unceremoniously out into the cold night. "Good riddance to you, 2015," he said, then gestured for the young woman to come in. "Welcome to the family, 2016. We've got big plans for you!"



******



I never knew kissing could make a guy so dizzy, so forgetful. I could not feel my feet. I almost never heard my mother calling my name. I had lost track of time. Jane and I would be late and we would get in trouble.

We had to stop kissing sometime. We probably set some kind of record. We both pulled away from each other. Jane looked just as startled, “we will have to do that again, sometime.” When she said it, it sounded like a promise.

“We will have to go,” I felt sad and I was not sure why when my heart was doing somersaults. You could have used my excitement to launch a rocket ship. “Or we will get in big trouble.”

Jane smiled like I never saw her smile before, “and it will be worth it. When can we meet tomorrow?” I liked how that sounded. I sounded like more kissing.”

“How about after school,” I suggested. It felt like a negotiation. It felt like I was ruining my chances.

“How about during classes,” she countered. She must have liked kissing just as much as me. “I can miss a couple of classes and still maintain perfect scores.”

I knew she was smart; however I struggled in every class including gym and study hall. “I am not so lucky.” As much as I liked kissing, I needed all the studying I could do.

“I could tell the principal that I am tutoring you.” Jane made it sound so rational and convincing. I was not so certain. There were doorknobs smarter than me.

I am not totally stupid. I said, “We probably would not get any studying done. All I want to do is kiss you some more.”

We lived near each other, so we naturally went on the same sidewalk, but all I wanted to do was kiss some more. I began to wonder if kissing was addictive.

When we arrived at her house, I waved goodbye like I always did in the past. However, my goodbye felt like an urge to stay together longer. She must have felt the same way. She suggested that we exchange telephone numbers. On the rest of the way home, I repeated her number a dozen more times. Then I dialed her number as soon as I reached home, breathless, hoping to hear her answer the telephone and listen to her voice. Her voice would sound like kisses.



******



An agonising wait while her phone rings: no more than a hundred yards from my house to hers, why doesn't she pick it up ... ?"
"Hello?"
At last! My throat constricts: the roof of my mouth is as dry as the Gobi desert, my tongue is super-glued ...
"I ... had to be sure I remembered the number ..." I manage to croak.
"You sound different."
"Others have said I sound different on the phone" I stammer. "Perhaps it's the distance ..."
"But we live on the same road, less than a hundred yards!"
"It's still a hundred more than I'd like it to be: too far away to kiss you, anyway."
My memory of our walk home from school is still fresh, vivid, alive and indelibly stamped on my lips. Her perfume, the toss of her hair...
"Mmmm, that's nice to hear! But if you'd like another kiss, you know what you have to do."
Speechless, I replace the phone in its cradle. I float out of the door, I waft along the street: breathless I approach Her Door, as I have done a thousand times in my dreams without having the courage to knock. This is different, I tell myself. She invited me - didn't she? Or was it a dare? Or worse, an insincere tease? On the step I hesitate, suddenly overcome by doubt.
Before I can decide whether to knock, ring, or flee the door opens and there She is: no longer in school uniform (I have also had enough clarity of thought to change clothing) and looking a hundred times more beautiful than I've ever seen Her.
"Come in: I have something for you."
My hand reaches automatically for hers, but she half-turns and offers her cheek. I am happy to kiss it instead, my lips caressing her satin-smooth skin.
"My parents will soon be home, Peter, but while we have this moment to ourselves I want to give you this."
The hand I had tried to touch as we stood at the door reappears from behind her back. She opens it, and from her fingers falls ...
A thimble?
"I don't underst...?"
"You silly boy!"
Her voice is not the fragrant songbird memory it has always been, even to the moment she greeted me at the door. It has become the harsh croak of a crow, full of malevolence and cruelty. Terrified I raise my eyes from my shrinking palm to see the Vision, my Dream, has become a hideous nightmare Hag, towering over me. I dare not look down at the thimble in my hand but I can feel it is becoming unbearably hot, searing my flesh. I am unable to open my fist: I can feel the thimble embedding itself. The pain is unbearable.
"You are mine. With this Kiss I claim you. From this day you will be my obedient serf and servant. You will wear this Thimble as you cut sew and repair my clothing until I tire of you and find another to take your place ..."



******



Kneading the Clay

It is one of those mornings when the human male body suffers a surge of hormones bringing an uncharacteristic vigour to parts usually forgotten. Blue sky pours through the window, soaking through the eyes, revitalising deep-brain circuits still humming with dreams as the phone rings.

It is my good woman talking of her wish to start pottery classes. She has a profound desire to get her hands onto some clay and start moulding. Unexpectedly, I think of Angelika, the Polish care assistant who supervises the Alzheimer patients at the day centre where I play piano to entertain.

“I need a good wooden surface, a couple of square feet at least...”

“What about your dining room table?”

“No, it's laminated. It needs to be real wood with living grain.”

“You mean, something organic? Something smooth but porous - like skin?” (Angelika has skin like freshly planed alder.)

“Yes – plastic is a dead surface.”

“Ah, but it was living once.” (As I was alive once, when singing the good old songs with Angelika glancing at me and smiling as she jollied the old folks along with a force of compassionate nature such as you often find at the eastern end of our continent.)

“Wood is more supple and responsive when kneading the clay.”

“Ah yes...kneading the clay...cradling the round, cool orb and then pressing it gently down onto the wood...” (Her breast is fresh clay awaiting the master potter's touch!)

“I think I'll work by the window with a view of the trees.”

“And the sky, the clear sky.” (As clear as her eyes, flooding the optic nerve with a blue that the calmest, deepest sea would not adequately reflect.)

“What would you make from your soft kneadings?”

“It's of no consequence what you make – the meaning is all in the activity, getting yourself re-connected with the earth.”

“Yes, we need that connection. We need it so badly...but there must never be...”

Consequences. Even when a surprisingly blue sky floods a tired male body at hormonal dawn, there must be no consequences.

Angelika's clear psyche overwhelming the senses – a moment of blue more intense than life itself?

Tantric sex transcendent?

But what of the rest of it? Unrelenting guilt and the rest of life rolling by like dark fields past the window of a train through the long night. When the coupling's over, how shall we ever deal with the consequences?

Will the judgement fall heavily upon us for having dared to eat a peach? Or will we be found guilty by Life for remaining innocent of it?

The old dog might have his day.

And then he'd have to pay.

Better stick to clay.



******



[Continuation on from, ‘An agonising wait while her phone rings…’]

Be Careful What You Wish For


All I’d wanted was to kiss her cherry red lips. I was only aged fifteen. How could I possibly have known that the legend of the Succubus was, well, real?

Dad had always warned me that the very pretty girls would steal my heart. I thought he was joking. He’d not mentioned that one might capture me with the promise of a kiss and then throw me into a jar, threatening to enslave me for all eternity.

It had all started when I’d stupidly called her on the phone and walked to her house, after having spent an hour getting changed out of my school uniform and trying to decide which of my band logo tee-shirts was the most appealing. But, clearly she had no appreciation for Motorhead, or anything being louder than anything else. Nor did she have any interest in my gelled hair which I’d fashionably sculpted into a shark fin.

Whilst I sit bored and lonely ruminating in this human-sized pickling jar, I feel as though I have been misguided. Part of me hopes that I can still play around with the shape of my quiff and that she’ll admit her mistake, let me out of this jar and finish the kiss.

I shouldn’t kiss her, I know that, but the spell is too strong. Or is it what my Mum called ‘teenage urges?’ I doubt it’s her issue, it must be mine. Mum must be right. Magic doesn’t really exist. Does it?

Why doesn’t she like me? Why doesn’t she like my music? Maybe I should have shaved the back of my neck? How had I caused her offence? Why does she punish me?

I am tapping my fingers on the glass and making a clinking sound, but there is no one else around to hear my protest. The jar I reside in lays on its side, covered.

I stop tapping. I’ve been here for days, I know that it’s futile. She won’t give me any attention.

***

Several more days have now passed. I vaguely remember my uncle Bill telling me once that if I ignored the girls then they would be more likely to pay me attention. Now take it from me, it’s incredibly hard to ignore someone whose attention you desperately seek. As I try to nap, I constantly have one lid raised a crack. I hope that she’ll think I’m dead and let me out. I’m not sure if there is a limit to my oxygen levels in this jar. Maybe I really will die? Will she let me out then?

I’ve stopped thinking about the kiss. I keep trying to think of how ugly her face became when she performed her ‘magic’ on me. Part of my brain fights me. My memory keeps trying to push out the image of her warts, voluptuous nasal hair and mismatched eyes. The other part of my mind tries to convince me that her haggish image was a trick of the light. Not everyone is perfect. I must have just missed her imperfections with my immature lust.

Dad had always said to work with what you have. I could work with a few warts I tell myself, but I’m not so sure about her attitude.

I feel like I am going nowhere as I press my cheek against the side of the glass.

Without warning I feel that my prison is being pulled backwards. Before I know it I have been tipped upright. I have to open my eyes whilst I stumble with the readjustment.

There she is, her cherry red lips pouting through the glass at me. But wait, what has happened? It seems that I am no taller than her face. The only way to kiss her now would be to nibble on a section of her.

I take a good long look but I can’t see the warts and her facial hair seems to be under control. As long as I study her, she studies me - turning my jar in the air. I try to hold my stomach in and mentally will her to release me.

She smiles and drags her tongue across her teeth in a way that is a little unsettling. God she’s not going to eat me, is she?

Her fingers reach to the jar’s clasp. I hear a clink as the airlock is broken.

“Well, well, well,” she states, peering in at me.

“Destiny! What are you doing?” My voice sounds small and squeaky. I kick myself, thinking I’d got past that stage. How embarrassing.

She reaches in and places a hand around my body and lifts me out. This is the first time a member of the opposite sex has ever touched me. My heart flutters and I am too scared to wriggle about beneath her grip.

“You are mine now, Theo. You don’t seem particularly loud. But, I’m sure you understand that I had to take some precautions,” she said, shaking the empty glass.

I feel a little confused. Hers? Was this her way of saying she wanted a relationship with me? Whilst her actions seem a little obscure, my ego flutters with the knowledge that she’s registered enough interest in me to read my tee-shirt.

“I need your help Theo,” she says.

“How can I help you?” The offer of help has left my mouth before I can stop myself. Why should I help her? I’m a teeny bit mad if I’m honest with myself.

“My trousers need fixing,” she says, pointing at a pair of black skinny jeans laying on the floor.

Before I’ve time to negotiate, I’m being placed into a large cage along with the jeans and set onto Destiny’s night stand.

“If you don’t give me any trouble, then we’ll have a talk about your ‘situation’,” she says, twirling her finger at me.

She leaves almost instantly, and once again, I am left alone.

I suppose she did mention something about fixing some clothes the night I came round to visit. It had been shrieked with other words like ‘slave’, so I just assumed it was all part of her letting off steam. I mean, people say things that they don’t mean when they’re mad, don’t they?

I thought I didn’t know how to sew clothes, but my fingers immediately set to the task with ease.

I've probably got a while to consider the consequences of lust, but still, I feel relieved that we are talking again.

I’m sure she didn’t mean that about me being a slave.

Maybe we can work this out?



******



Delivery
[continuation of last week’s work “The
Unparsimonious Parcel Finds Its/His
Way]


To trace the parcel of which I wrote

a week ago I promised you I’d let

you know the where and when

of me, the parcel floating off southward

bound, accompanied by my appointed one.

Others preferred to say farewell, preoccupied

by mercantile’s--not mercy’s--call. Off I

sailed; the barge required more than a week

to find its pokish way to bid England goodbye

and moan its sultry pace toward Romish death.

My sapping frayed, even dismayed, my nurse,

who sought solace midnight on deck. Parcel arrived!

No return receipt. Act kindly every day: eschew year-end

decrees; resolve not to resolve again. Adieu.



******



Withdrawal

She called every day to cheer me up.
Said I'd become dust
if I didn't step out of the house,
didn't meet people.
I'd become a yak-tail fly whisk -
different, but useful only to drive away flies.
As boring as a whale bone.
As dull as a lesson in syntax.
She went on in quaint humor.

She said she'd make me a palanquin
if that was what it took for me
to go out and mingle,
to leave the cage, the social apoplexy.

A woman needs wiles, her voice carried on,
Needs to be pagan - like a flagon of rum.
Needs to be gracefully rapacious like the rainbow
that wants both ends of the skies.

After I'd put down the receiver,
I concurred silently,
I gazed at the sagebrush plains outside my window.
Realized, that life didn't, couldn't grow back without roots.
Good air and sunshine were just not enough
to go out there and socialize.
I was the consequence of rejections.
My roofs were adrift, the sap in my veins all gone.



******



[a continuation of Withdrawal - My roofs were adrift, the sap in my veins all gone]

She stepped out of the house. Put one foot in front of the other. And started to run.
She felt silly at first. Self-conscious. She could feel every awkward movement of her legs, her hips, her shoulders.
What should she do with her arms? She'd never had to think about that before. Everything else she did in life her arms seemed to follow, seemed to find their own role, their own home. But not with this strange thing. Not with running.
They hung down at first, flapped a bit like a penguin feigning flight, and bashed into her side as they inevitably crashed down again.
All very unfeminine she thought.
But her feet kept going. And within a few minutes, within a few yards, her body found some sort of rhythm. Not exactly Jessica Ennis-Hill. But at least a little less Pinga the penguin!
Her breathing was heavy. She made a mental note to herself. Bring the iPod the next day. At least some music, or story tape, would take her mind off the wheezing.
She was just about to stop. Just about to give in to the stitch and the short breaths, when she saw the milkman rounding the corner.
Her pace picked up. She tried deeper breaths. She forgot the pain in her side for a moment.
"Keep going, you are doing great," said the milkman, getting out of his van to make his latest delivery.
That's when she first discovered the "encouragement effect". Her legs pumped faster, her breaths became deeper, she even started to smile.
She slowed as she climbed the first incline. But she kept on going. She never thought she would.
And as she got to the top of the hill, came the reward which brought an even bigger smile sweeping across her face.
Her first downhill. The Ski Sunday theme tune suddenly came into her brain. Cue almost a laugh. Maybe she'd take a rain check on the iPod, this uncovering long-forgotten things from your brain was fun. Like some random shuffle button attached to your memory.
She let her legs go. Long strides. And took the opportunity to take deep breaths. And really let her arms pump. Swinging them now like some marching soldier on parade, only at a run, rather than a quick-march. She stopped that. She thought she was in danger of getting all penguin-like again. Getting carried away.
Before she knew it, she was at the mile-and-a-half stage. Past the newsagent, the post office, the garage and the primary school, and having enjoyed the downhill dip to the halfway mark.
What happened next was a further lesson in psychology. She never thought she'd learn so much on a short run!
No sooner had she turned at half way, back into the wind as it turned out, than she could hear the words in her head.
"You've got this. You've run 1.5miles already. So you know you can run 1.5miles back."
She wasn't quite sure the logic worked. But it felt so good, who was she to question it?
And despite battling against the breeze, her legs stretched further, her strides lengthened, she straightened her body, and actually found herself thinking the unthinkable. It was the 'e' word. And it was that brain again. This time telling her: "I'm enjoying this."
She quickly dismissed it. Somehow it felt like she was cheating on herself. She'd told herself all her life, and anyone who would listen, that she hated running. Surely she hadn't lived a lie all these years.
She put it to the back of her mind, and concentrated on the road ahead, the task in hand, to finish the run
A short, steep, hill stopped her thinking for a few moments. She needed all her energy for the climb.
God, she hoped she didn't see the neighbours now, all puffing and panting, wheezing and groaning. Red faced, bent body, legs and hips zig-zagging from side to side just to ensure she made it to the top.
Her brain kicked in just when she needed it most, urging her to "keep going" she was "nearly there".
And when she got to the crest of the hill, and felt her limbs going downhill again, she felt like she was entering the Olympic stadium on the final circuit of the stadium to achieve her own personal gold.
"Yes," she shouted out loud. Then quickly looked all around to check no-one heard. They hadn't.
Nothing stood in the way of her success now. She rounded the final bend, into her drive, and touched the front door in celebration.
The shower. The tingling. The sense of achievement was just the icing on the cake.
The consequence was...by the next morning, she wanted to do it all over again. And again
Soon, she was talking to the milkman, to the paper delivery girl, to the dog walkers and other joggers.
She felt she was achieving at something.
Felt she was successful at something in her life.
Felt she had something of which to be proud.
Who cares if it was only a daily three-mile run.
To her it meant everything.
It meant she'd turned her back on years of fear and isolation.
It meant, finally, she was ready to face the world again...


******


Continuation of “It meant, finally, she was able to face the world again...”

Elise got up on what she knew to be day one of the rest of her life and looked at her morning face in the bathroom mirror. She gazed into her eyes, her sea-grey eyes, and saw a steeliness there. It was something which, through the years of fear and isolation, she had stopped seeing. She lifted her hands to her face, smoothed back her hair and kissed the mirror.

“What the hell?”

Behind her Harris was grimacing, scratching his belly through his pyjama jacket. Elise was no longer afraid of him. She brushed past.

"I'm going out for my run," she said. There was no conversation to be had with him. Not yet, at any rate.

Elise pulled on her running gear and started towards the front door.

"Woman, when are you...?" but the end of the man's sentence was lost in the slam of the door.

She was tired of being called 'woman'. He might as well have said 'animal' or 'slave'. Not that anyone knew. In society Harris was everything people expected of him - polite, courteous, apparently a gentleman. As Elise settled into her run she could think about it all clearly. Her breath steady, she was in control. She was doing something for herself, something he could not take from her.

She had known before they married. An instinct told her that the chivalry was on the surface only, but she had wanted to believe in it, so much wanted that. And she had convinced herself. Nearly. For on their wedding day there had been a moment, a moment when the bright light of the day was dulled, tainted, as she saw the way he looked up at Charmaine, her sister. And in that instant she knew the truth, but it was too late, their vows already made.

Elise had pushed that knowledge from her conscious mind. For if she had allowed herself to be aware of what was going on, before, after and, most hideously, on her wedding day, how could she have survived? So she pushed the knowledge deep inside her and turned a key to lock it there. But of course it ate at her. When Harris was late home from work she believed his lies about demanding clients who her had to wine and dine. She absolutely believed them. But with each one, each lie upon a lie, her spirit closed in on itself a little more. She continued to make a home for a man who, in truth, used her merely for that purpose. To make him meals and keep him in clean under and outer wear. Things he would never expect of a mistress. Of Charmaine. Who, of course, was just as much used, if she, poor fool, had only been able to see it.

Elise did the things that were required of her as a wife. She saw Charmaine rarely, and only at family gatherings. They had once been close, and their mother Bernice was bemused as to what had changed. Neither one of them could, of course, speak to their mother about it. They both suspected, although they had no proof, that their father Eli had been unfaithful to her, but since his untimely death he, "the poor, poor man," as Bernice referred to him with a little shake of her stiffly-permed coiffure, had entered sainthood within the family and no ill could be spoken of him.

Friends saw what was happening. Elise's friends. Charmaine's friends. Some of them tried to speak to one or other of them. Charmaine merely laughed, in the breathy way which Harris apparently found appealing, especially between the sheets, but which all her girlfriends knew to be a studied affectation. Charmaine thought her friends were jealous of her having a man who pampered her. They could not get her to see the truth about Harris. Charmaine, just as much as her sister, had bought into a fantasy.

If Charmaine's fantasy was about satin sheets and champagne, Elise's was about security, the security she had craved since she was three years old and her father had left her by the river. No-one else believed this story, and now Eli had to be treated as a saint Elise no longer mentioned it, but it had happened, she knew that it had really happened. He had left her there, knowing that eventually, tired and weak, she would fall into the water and drown. It had been a miracle that a fisherman had come by and found her, shivering and crying, and returned her home to a distraught Bernice. Who had forgotten all about it, this unbearable event.

"How could such a thing have happened to you and me not remember?" he mother had lamented, in earlier times.

But it had happened, as it had happened that Harris had gone into a bedroom with Charmaine on the day we was marrying her sister. Elise had seen them, but she would not admit to herself that it was what it was. Her father had abandoned her; another husband would not be allowed to do so. She believed, she truly believed, Harris' story that he and Charmaine were discussing arrangements for the honeymoon.

"But it was our honeymoon, you and me, not you and her," she would have said to Harris, had she been able to speak of it. But she was not able. She smiled at him. He said nothing. And so it continued. Until she found that she could run. She had wanted to run away from Harris for four years, for all of their married life. She had not known a way to do it. And now she found that it was very simple. One foot in front of the other. Now she ran for three miles each day and things were changing. She had found her steeliness and, with the kiss to the mirror that morning, knew too that she could love herself. She no longer needed his supposed love, the love which was bound up with betrayal.

In consequence, she was free. And as she ran, day by day, she planned her next steps.


******


At What Price?

' They've raised the odds because she's been skipping breakfast.' said Nate.
'Really?'' replied Jack helping himself to a Twiglet from the box.
'Yep, that’s what they say. Gets the bookies apprehensive, apparently,' she said putting a hand on his, squeezing it.
'Come on, Jack' she continued. 'What do you say eh'. She smiled in the way that enticed Jack, a tempting persuasive way. And she knew it did. And she knew that he knew it did. Nate stood up, the kitchen chair moving back from her body, its legs scraping against the wooden flooring. She walked over to him, surveying him, arms crossed, her smile persisting.
'And you realize the consequences if we lose don’t you' he asked.
She stroked his hair, bent and kissed him on his stubbly cheek.
'Of course I do, love' she said quietly, almost whispering. The cars outside, motoring up and down didn't smother her voice. Neither did the small transistor, playing reggae, suffocate her gentle voice.
'And this business about not eating its breakfast' said Jack changing the course of the subject.
'All I know, love is what my horsey friends natter on about' she said, continuing to stroke his head.
'It didn’t stop him winning before, and he's never lost a race, the beautiful, wonderful thing. When he was young, he'd sometimes go without breakfast, but this never stopped him performing. The bookies know little about this because he was an unknown then.'
'I don’t know love, its a big wager' said Jack 'And the consequences of losing'
Nate put a hand to his mouth.
'OK so if we lose, it's a smaller holiday this year. We don’t spend as much next Christmas. Less parties. Is that such a big deal, love?'
Jack went to the cupboard and opened it. He pulled out a bottle of his favourite single malt whiskey- a present each birthday from his niece, Jennifer, and poured two bonus measures in to two crystal goblets.
'This requires a drink' he said sitting down again and handing her one.
'We;re trying to buy a house, and £5000 is a good chunk of a deposit.'
'But is it love' she asked, and sipped her drink.
'My goodness this is lovely' she continued. 'Cant remember if I've had this whisky before.'
'Just once when you had flu last winter.' I gave you a shot' Jack replied.
'Oh.'Well, its yummy' she said smacking her lips, then running her tongue along them, showing her satisfaction. She smiled her seductive way, and jigged her upper body slightly, to the sound of Bob Marley coming from the radio.
'We'll survive. We'll have to make cuts. Thats all', she continued.
' I know' said Jack. 'Yes we both work, we're both young and, your right. We can replace this loss with a few economical strategies. Easy.
'So whats the problem?' she asked
'Its just, oh, I don't know, love, he said and polished off his drink. 'Just the risk element, I suppose.'
'Honey' she said. 'Everything is a risk, but just imagine the consequences of winning.'
Nate emptied her glass and fetched the bottle. The cat jumped on the table. Nate picked it up after serving their drinks.
' I like you Churchill' she said to the cat. 'You're the best cat this side of London, but we want our own tom one day, and youre Mr Castles moggy.' The landlords grey, overweight feline, licked Nates face as if agreeing.

Jack pondered, sipping his drink, swirling the glass, admiring the amber liquid and the way the colour amplified through the fluorescent kitchen lighting. She looked at his wife of two years, the woman he'd loved for much longer than that. The woman who was sweeping her black hair over her shoulders, the way she always had.
'You hungry babe' he asked.
'Depends what for, babe' she replied. Jack smiled, grabbing her hand.
'Lets go get some food at Dunnies, talk this through, okay.'
'And then some hanky pankey when we get back' she said laughing. Then kissed him.
'And when we've placed the bet' she concluded.
'No No.' he said. 'You ain’t that easy, bitch' and he slapped her hard, on the bum. She screamed in delight, and Churchill ran from the kitchen.

'Whats, the nags name' Jack asked.
They were seated at Dunnies, the Italian just a half mile up the road from there place.
Milos, the Ukrainian waiter, served their grilled calamaris and asparagus- a favourite of Nates
The place bustled for a Saturday afternoon, and Milos had no time to stand around and talk with his friends. A fine sheen of perspiration coated his face, and after serving them, he moved his stout body at an alarming pace, surprising the pair of them into exchanging looks of bewilderment.
' Dellroy’s Assassin' replied Jools, after they'd settled in to their appetizers. She nibbled on the asparagus, as Mick forked large mouthful of squid away. He was starving.
''Now that's some name.' he replied.
' Lets hope the beautiful stallion brings us luck,' she said, laughing.
'Steady on lady. I've said nothing yet.'
Jack knew his wife wanted this; With the distress her father had put her through, she deserved some happiness. God, he knew they could both do with the luck. He just hoped that Dellroy’s Assassin would come in for them. He finished his appetizer, Nate leaving most of hers.
'Not hungry, love.' he asked. You've hardly touched it'
'Just thinking Dellroy’s Assassin, love.'
' Me too,' he replied.
'Do you realize' she said. We'll be able to have mad sex all over the house, without Mr Castle walking in through the front door. We can frolic in the kitchen, frolic in the bathroom. Fuck each others brains out in the living room. Just imagine love. We can have a big labrador, a couple of cats. Even a fucking tortoise... We can start a family, Jack.'
Milos cleared their plates, sweat persistent on his brow. He acknowledged them, and excused himself for the hurry in his eastern european knack, quick but efficient.
'I'm sold' said Jack. 'But if we lose, I'm divorcing you.'
Even under the subdued lighting of Dunnies, Jack noticed how striking the green of Nates eye were; the illuminous qualities to them, the colour bolder and brighter like the shallow, tropical waters of the Caribbean. When she looked at him, they pierced him, like small harmless daggers, penetrating with a pleasant persistence.
' No you're not' she said smiling and raising her glass of Chablis ' Cheers'
'No I'm not. Your right. I'm stuck with you love. I'm stuck with you forever.'
'And I'm stuck with you, babe', she replied. 'I'm stuck with you forever too. I'm part of you, as much as you are me. We cant survive without each other.'
Nate sipped her wine, then sobbed .She brought the napkin to her eyes.
'Is everything alright' he asked.
'Nothing could be better, Jack. Nothing. I'm sobbing because I'm so lucky to have you in my life. You are my treasure, and I never want to lose you.'
' Chill, Natalie' he replied, chinking his glass with hers. 'That isn't going to happen.'
A few moments later, Milos brought over their tagliatelle, again with asparagus tips, also bacon,and mushrooms. He ground black pepper from a huge mill over their dish. He also grated generous quantities of parmesan. The way the couple liked it.
' I hit a customer over the head once with this ' said Milos, holding the pepper mill. He laughed.
' Well I wont complain about the food' said Nate, smiling again. 'Did you seriously' she concluded.
'I did. He was very drunk and insulted my wife who used to work with me back then.'
'Good for you, Milos. You didn't kill him I hope.'
'Just concussion and a spell in the hospital. Enjoy your dinner.' Then he was gone.
They ate away, mostly silence, Nate playing with her food more than ingesting any. But, her appetite was still frail, unlike Jacks who again forked giant swirls of pasta dripping with oil into his mouth.
'Whens the race, babe' he asked, resting his food and engaging the wine.
'It's at three, tomorrow, Haydock', she answered.
'So soon. Wow,' he answered.
'We don’t' have to do this love' she said. 'If you said no, then I'd honour that, you know that.'
Milos cleared their plates, several moments later. Nate swayed her body to Tracey Chapman’s, Gimme One Reason, that played softly through the restaurants audio. Jack thought she still moved seductively.
'I want to do this, as much as you, Nate. Any reservations I had were doused back there at home.' he said. 'I'll be working as you know, so I'll leave it to you to tell me the result.
' I'll have some lunch waiting for you when you get home', she replied, squeezing his forearm.
'You'd better place the bet by the way.'
Milos brought over a small plate of Tiremesu, another favourite, always served to them without question. He thanked them, presenting the bill too.
'I've already done it' she said, trying not to smile without much success.
'I am going to divorce you, you know' said Jack. 'I am.' He smirked
Then she really did laugh, so loud that it turned the heads of several patrons, one or two smiling along. It stopped Milos in his tracks, too.
Later they slept. Eventually.

Jack returned from his office the following day, greeted by Churchill, and the aroma of fish stew simmering in the oven. Work had been unproductive, however he didn't want to arrive home till the race was over. Jack was alarmed at how anxious he'd become. There was no sign of Nate.
'Nate' he shouted from the bottom of the stairs, Churchill at his heels. He looked in the living room, then the conservatory. Then he thought he heard a thump upstairs, and knew it'd be her. He also knew she'd probably have showered or was reading- something she often did on Sundays while he was at work. He waited. Patiently.

She appeared minutes later wearing, her Sunday casuals- blue silk gown, red slippers. The expression on her face suggested nothing, thought Jack.
'Well' he asked.
'Well what?' she casually asked, walking towards the fridge
What do you mean well what, love. The race of course'
'It was close, a photo finish' she said. Jack thought he saw a smile develop, but couldn't be certain.
'This is killing me, come on.' he shouted.
We did it babe.' she said finally, removing the bottle of Dom Perignon. We really did it.'
'Holy shit, said Jack jumping up. 'Holy fucking shit.'
They threw their arms round each other, swirling across the kitchen, the cat leaping from table to chair. to exit. Eventually they sat, and she placed the bottle on the table.
'Holy shit is right, but holy you is better. Wonderful you made this happen love. You did. I could have always cancelled the bet, you know that.'
'I know that' he said.
She placed a hand over his mouth.
'There's something else too' she whispered. Rain pelted against the window in the dreary January way, but the whisper, somehow, smothered it.
'Whats that then,' he asked, grabbing the bottle.
' Our hero, Dellroy’s Assassin was put down after the race, which is awful. But, I think of it as being the end of his rein His journey was complete, and his journey had been sensational- just as ours is going to be, babe.'
Jack smiled, hands resting on his chin, still absorbing the good news.
'Theres another thing too' she said. The bottle popped and Jack put it to her mouth. She swallowed the fizz most of it overflowing down her chin.
'Whats that' he asked laughing at her struggle for words, himself now up, dancing wildly.
'I'm pregnant.' she said ' A life for a life, and fifty six grand. They're the consequences, babe.'
Jack stopped in mid flight.


******


The consequence was always unfolding. Things never happened as they should. As he watched the gull glide across the clear blue sky, he had a sense of freedom; of life without constraint.

The assistant's voice still rang in his ears:

"You can practice with me", she had said.

That she had come from Granada was a miracle too far, the first being her stoop to pick the coin he had dropped from the shop floor, the second that he had actually engaged her in Spanish conversation on that rainy day, and the third that she had responded with unexpected Andalucian charm. Would a fifth be in order? Would she call him, or text him as promised?

Life was not a movie, or indeed a short story written by Henry James or EM Forster; the more he searched his inbox for an unknown number, the more absent it was of the promised text. True, in the Edwardian or Victorian worlds, any missive would have been in paper form, pushed through a solid door letterbox, or left at a hotel reception, but the process was the same then as now. Links were either made or not made. Consequences were the outcomes of actions. He had acted. Now all he could do was wait.

Days passed uneventfully; the rains eventually cleared as the storm murdered its way westwards. Her smile and her words remained seared on his memory. Yet the more he tried to make the memory materialise into a new event, the further from likelihood such an event appeared.

He lay still on the beach, listening to the waves and the wind. he could hear voices of young,happy people close to him, a group of European students, he imagined. This area had become a magnet for English language students, bringing with them their usual air of resentment and suppressed rebellion - he had taught many such students thirty years ago, and whilst harboring fond memories for their Latin smiles and one unexpected affair with a mature French accountant, whose Provencal elegance charmed him from the first "Bonjour", he recalled mostly frustrating hours with dull text books, and Parisian teenagers longing for decent food and shops. That part of his life remained seriously past and imperfect.

Within his space of stillness on the beach, he kept listening to the young voices. The common currency of tutored but flawed English was passed around. His eyes remained closed. As he lay there, thinking in part of the past, in part of the present, he could almost remember the smell of Corrine's perfume; her smart coolness, and indeed the way that he had eventually spurned her advances towards lasting significance for eachother. How the young pilfered opportunity, he mused - she had had been smart, wealthy, and generous. Those virtues were in short supply, he realised, as opportunities dwindled in his middle years.

Here, now, he was significantly alone. A solitude like his could become its own fragrance. Others, women particularly, could smell it, the scent of desperation. Too much adrenaline when a new chance appeared; like the moment in the chemist's shop perhaps. A place he had not dared to revisit since their encounter, for fear she might mistake it for stalking.

Their voices emerged from the sound of waves crashing on the shingle, and the rinsing sound of the back - flow.

" He was rather old"
"How old? Very old?
"Oh yes. Fifty. At least. No hair on the head, how does one say in English?"
"Bold"
"Yes..bold. No, not bold..that is something different I am sure"
"Ah..yes..Bald. Bold is for having courage."

They always struggled with those short, Anglo-Saxon words, the French, the Spanish and Italians. He remembered that. Their words occasionally audible across the shingle, gave him a stir. But still he kept his eyes closed. With eyes closed, sounds penetrated further, as though the cognitive power of the unused sense was being absorbed by the remaining one, doubling its capacity.

"He said he was learning Spanish. So perhaps I will text him?"
"An old bald man? No is stupid idea. If he was younger, yes. But he is old already to be your father. He wants more than speaking Spanish, Matilda."
"You think? "
"I know yes. Men always meet for that."
"Yes is true."

He was sitting up now. It was the assistant from the chemist's shop, though now without the designer spectacles, and her hair was down . She was with a French girl that he vaguely recognised from one of the seaside cafes down the prom. They were talking about their meeting in the chemist's. He had been worried that the meeting would have no consequences, but he needn't have. She remembered it as much as he. The consequence was this conversation; a confidence between two young women about an approach to one of them by an inappropriately older man.

"What if he had been George Clooney? He is also so old."
"Yes, but not bold, bald...bald but not bold...I am bold with George Clooney"
"Moi aussi! Such a pity he is married."

And how they laughed. In another world, in another man's shoes, he walked back now across a sandier beach tha this one, at a steadier, slower pace, his heels and soles warmed by the scorched crystals. She put her hand in his as they returned into the shade of the streets where a cool hotel room awaited them, his Panama hat cocked to one side, her lovely hair caressing his shoulder as they moved on.

The fierce wind picked up again. Another storm was on its way.


******


Consequences (A normal day..)
The fierce wind picked up again. Another storm was on its way.
It was years ago when he had been this far from his house on a trip in to the past.

These days it was difficult to walk and he had to force himself step by step from the bed to the dining table where the house service had placed his breakfast of boiled eggs and black coffee. He took a bit of time to settle in the chair and thanked God that Parkinson’s had not crept in to the long list of ailments that troubled his frail body. He glanced out of the window at the bleak sky , let the storm rage outside he had nowhere to go today or for that matter next few days. Was it Mary Ann? or Mariam? who used to say storms uplift moods once they pass by. He looked at the eggs he must eat them even though he was never hungry these days and the drink the coffee to wash down the pills from the dosing box. He remembered the last time he was in the hospital he had eaten the toast and he had choked the nurse had come and scolded him never to eat without drinking something. She had sat for some time, God bless her kind, she was in her 60s, from Turkey or was it Budapest?

The wind had started howling but his mind drifted to the autobahn in West Germany where he had been frightened with cars zipping at 250 kmph, the noise all round one heard on cracking the window open even a wee bit. Klara had to shout at him to shut the window as she couldn’t hear the traffic radio. Klara had settled in Okinawa, she must be close to 90! She was his only sister and the only one who cared or remembered him these days. He could hardly understand what she said or mumbled but she called him once in a while to talk about their father and his small house on the outskirts of Copenhagen.
He was used to the waves splashing his feet as he walked the rocky beaches with memories like pebbles popping up now and then as the waves played with them. Rockland was a close confidante with whom he had shared all his business secrets and God bless him, he had never let him down until his dying day. After the demise of Rockland, he had wound up his business and retired for good. He remembered how Brian tried to convince him to continue the Sticker business himself rather than selling it to him; he had even refused to renovate the shop for a few months. Brian was his younger stepbrother but more than a real one and looked after him in his old age.

They should shut the damn TV! Spewing out nothing but nonsense! Some Caliphate carrying out executions , countries bombing each other, why can’t they have Liz Taylor reading the news? And this cacophony they call music…Summerwine.. so soothing…

Grace shook the old man and reminded him to finish his eggs as she had already finished. Grace was a fine woman now, he had seen her years ago as a toddler, it was another storm another day and had left him drenched in sweet memories. He had found Grace crouching under a bench as the storm winds had raged the coast, she was frightened to the core but would not come to him since her mother had warned her not to talk to strangers, he had sat down on the bench to wait till her mother came back. He was in Skagen, Denmark that summer, he kept sitting on the bench but gave Grace his jacket and raincoat. A short hailstorm later he saw a frightened woman shouting for Grace, he hailed her and showed where Grace was hiding and both burst out laughing, he in his late 60’s and she in her early forties. The generation gap was carried away by the pouring rain as they rushed to the nearby café to warm themselves. He had to be hospitalized by evening that day as he had caught severe cold. Both Grace and Krista, the mother of Grace, visited him daily for a week till he was fit enough to move back to the hotel. The friendship grew under the stormy weather and flourished in to a lifelong bond, enduring distances, and turbulences in their lives. Krista lived in Munich and he in Innsbruck.
Last year Krista had succumbed to a massive heart attack and therefore he thought of visiting Skagen with Grace to immortalize their association.
He was thankful to memories, distorted, incomplete, erroneous, or otherwise, it was all an old foggy like him had to pass the time from one doze to the other.
He told Grace that he will go for the New year Eve dance that night, provided she could find a comfortable corner for him to sit as she danced her way to the dawn of 2016., and he would drown in the storm of memories as they would come pouring down.


******

‘Happy New Year,’ Grace murmured under her breath, the wind whipping the bitterness from her lips and spreading it out amongst the trees.
Reunited in death, her mother lay just three rows from Uncle Bernard now. She taken by the sudden and catastrophic failing of her heart, he more gently by old age. Grace felt exposed by the loss of him.
Uncle Bernard, her protector. He could be nothing but a hero to a little girl who, cowering from a storm, had been discovered by his kindly eyes. Even now his name recalled the scent of mint and tobacco as he had handed her his jacket and raincoat. In the darkness of that moment she had been wrapped in the warmth and flavour of him.
Bernard had not intruded, had not scolded, he had not tried to force or coerce the child she had been to leave her safe haven. He had remained, selflessly giving her the protection that he needed from the lashing weather, accepting his role as sentinel.
From beneath the bench she had watched the interaction of mother and watchman, seen the primal force of maternal fear diminish to sparkling laughter with just a word and a gesture from this man. Bernard had been unaware of his power over them, of how he had utterly changed their lives.
The storm that had thrown them together was not the source of Grace’s fear. It was only that the noise, the bluster, the sudden violence of it reminded her of something else. From the first distant rumble of the key in the door, the rolling promise of anger in his voice, to the tumult of limbs, the crack of pain and the piteous shrieking. Grace had learned to run for shelter at the first sign.
Bernard was the warm front that moved into their lives and calmed the storm. From that first moment, when he had seen Grace and decided she was worth protecting, when he had prioritised her over himself, he made a silent statement; Grace and her mother had value.
When a young Grace had learned the role that St Bernards carry out for mountain rescue she had giggled, calling the man a saint until he had begged her to stop. It had seemed so apt though; he had arrived to find them frozen and exposed, and the friendship he delivered thawed them from the centre as sure as any nip of brandy.
Her mother had explained to her that we are all formed by the generations that precede us. Her father’s upbringing had been uncertain, harsh, and it had made him violent. Bernard regaled them with stories of his mother, the woman who had been a living example of kindness, generosity, and compassion.
Just as he had stayed with her on that stormy day, so he stayed with them through the years. A reassuring presence, asking no questions, expecting nothing, giving much.
There had been no children for Bernard, no wife to bear them. Grace had privately speculated as to why, but the answers now lay in the dirt of Munich. She hoped that his life had been happy, in spite of the absence of these things that so many valued.
Grace stood at the foot of his grave enriched by his estate and by that most valuable of lessons; knowing she was worthy of love and protection. She would not repeat her mother’s mistakes. None of Bernard’s blood flowed in her veins but he had formed her more surely than DNA.
‘Happy New Year,’ Grace murmured under her breath. She had promised Bernard she would find him a corner to sit in while she danced the night away but she co

18:09, 28 Dec 2015
This week's competition is a game of 'Consequences'. You need to read the most recent entry on Ephemera, and write something which responds to or continues it in some way. Ultimately we should have an interesting and varied narrative with poems, dialogue, screen-play, prose and essays making up its whole...

21:06, 17 Jul 2015
Who just phoned me to ask if they can enter twice this week? Best way to do this is to set up another Profile and do it through that...

09:46, 7 Mar 2015
This morning the wind still sallies forth outside in desperate howls; inside I savour the thought of frying mushrooms and wholesome egg.

10:11, 5 Mar 2015
At Robotics and Sensors Opportunities conference today and tweeting throughout from @hourofwrites. Get writing!

11:45, 19 Feb 2015
Racing Hearts Go! winner announced...

10:58, 9 Feb 2015
Valentines Day this week, and we have sports writer Jen Offord judging...so all in all, Racing Hearts Go!

12:04, 5 Feb 2015
Speed Of Light winner to be announced this evening! Watch this space...

12:43, 29 Jan 2015
Cup Of Tea results announced later today....

00:26, 17 Jan 2015
Great entries for Love And Music this week - looking forward to seeing what wins!

01:43, 6 Jan 2015
REMEMBER: Entries on Ephemera can now be shared on social media as they happen, so please do try this out!

23:01, 3 Jan 2015
Happy New Year! 'From The Cold' results out later tonight...

18:16, 27 Dec 2014
Are we all just snow men, slowly melting.....?

15:36, 16 Dec 2014
We spent one February heatwave Valentine's Day in the park, a group of friends drinking vodka. We watched the ducks in the pond. 'I wonder what happens when one of them dies? How do the others feel?' We see them carry on swimming, eating, doing their thing but inside do they all feel different at the loss of their pond-sharer?

Pass Note

00:34, 10 Dec 2014
The rain and hail is battering the windows, like a carwash. Then, suddenly, the lights went out. They came back on. My laptop has 100% but soon we will be in the dark I think...

15:11, 4 Dec 2014
You can't walk through the door - and then stop!

15:12, 21 Nov 2014
The site is now live! New live test competition going up this weekend, then official launch 1st December.

00:52, 17 Nov 2014
Hello! The site is going public this week so no formal competition as live content may get lost in the process, but instead please write short pieces entitled 'A Small Story' in Notes and share them!

12:57, 8 Nov 2014
Hi Magnus! The notes don't connect to anything currently, but are in a state of aided evolution. You mark entries if you have entered the competition. The new title will be released last thing Sunday night / first thing Monday morning and you'll get an email when that happens!
Writing this to test a bit of fixed functionality with editing existing notes...let's see if it saves...

12:46, 8 Nov 2014
Some beautiful and thought-provoking pieces this week in response to 'What Is Treason?'. Don't forget to do your marking! Results on Wednesday. Looking forward to our www debut soon... x

01:05, 14 Dec 2013
It's late. I'm winding down. The fire is burning out.

11:01, 9 Dec 2013
We prioritise and give acclaim to things based on recommendations, even with literature. Publishers are like the appointed gatekeepers of the literary world who allow us to know we are not wasting our time when we read. The only point of reading something no one else has read is in order to know something they don't, or in order to seek to popularise the information therein.

15:50, 20 Nov 2013
And we’re frozen
in the searchlight of
Cold water


My Notes