Starting Tomorrow.

So I’ve planned my new regime, starting tomorrow...

This is how it will go:

Set alarm for 7am.

Alarm goes off but I’ve been awake since 6:30am because I’m so excited about my new regime.

I stretch, go downstairs, say a cheery hello to the cat that kept me up all night. Make myself a healthy smoothie from all the healthy fruit stuff I buy.

Drink said smoothie, stretch again; because it’s good for me.

I get changed into fashionable Lycra that I’ve seen people wearing, cost me a few quid, but hey, I’m one of them now.

Leave the house, full of energy, ready to get fit. Say hi to a couple of neighbours with the same idea as me. “Can’t stop,” I shout cheerily, with a wave of my hand, and I run...

This is how it went:

Alarm went off at 7am, and I cursed it for the three times I snoozed it, before turning it off.

Eventually staggered downstairs, fed the bloody cat that kept me up all night, put the kettle on.

Smoked a cigarette and contemplated life. Realised we were out of milk, went back to bed.

I’ll start tomorrow...

Pillar to Post.

I can’t tell you where my first pillar was, nor my subsequent post. Or even my next pillar, or post. Well, I would if I could talk but I can’t, I’m a cat. And my mum’s writing this for me. I think she’s my Last Post...

So, going on Mums memory (sketchy to say the least) I was given to a lovely family that lived next door to her about eight years ago. I used to occasionally pop into Mum’s kitchen when the back door was open but I never stayed long. I was a nervous girl by then; didn’t want to upset anyone for fear of being rejected.

But Mum always had a smile and a kind word for me... Ok, ok, it was the ham what did it! Well come on, I’m a cat for gods sake!!

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah... so the lovely family I was living with moved, but to a flat (whatever that is) Surely flat sounds as though it would’ve been better, what with my old legs by that time, but no, apparently it was best I stayed put.

Fortunately, my previous Mum warned my current Mum that I was a bit nervous. “Don’t crowd her, she’s not a lap cat...”

You get my drift? I nodded acknowledgement at these words but inside I was also screaming; “Yeah but ham right? I still get ham!”

And so I moved in, sad at the loss of yet another family but excited at the prospect of ham.

And then I saw it - The Child. You should insert the Jaws movie theme here because, believe me, it was a terrifying moment!

I mean, you’ve seen kids around cute animals right? (And I am pretty cute btw)

The Child would not leave me alone!

I began to wonder what fresh hell I had entered.

But then...

Ah I don’t know how it happened, perhaps I got soft in my old age. But yeah ok, I’ll admit it, I might have encouraged The Child. I guess sleeping on her pillow was the start... Yeah yeah, I should have steered clear but, damn, something about The Child got me, you know?

Then the chicken... Sod the ham, Mum cooks the most amazing chicken! (Been asked to add that I wasn’t paid in chicken to say that)

And yeah, maybe I do scream a bit during the night and wake everyone up.

Maybe I do dribble everywhere.

Maybe I have fallen a little bit in love with The Child’s home tutor.

But I am old, I am cat, and you know what? I am happy; on a pillow, at The Last Post.

Matilda x

P.S. And I am loved.

(Mum told me to say that, on the promise of chicken...)

“Tilda!”

Oops, gotta go...

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

April’s a Fool.

Last night, at midnight, March swapped shifts with April.

“Here you go, April.” March said. “Do your thing.”

April was angry. “You’ve stolen my ‘thing’! You did the showers; that’s my job. April showers! The clue is in the title!”

March chuckled and April stepped towards it, but December stepped in.

“You took my snow glory too!”

“Here! Here!” January cried out.

“That wasn’t actually my fault…” March began to explain, but June piped up. “You stole some of my sunshine too!”

“Ah jeez,” March sighed, “look, guys, I’m leaving now, ok? The rest is up to you. You all have a good year now. See you next time.”

April stepped forward again. “Just a minute…”

March was confused. “What?”

April smiled smugly. “Well, now I have the support of the other months, we could choose to expel you next year.”

March sighed. “What am I, Russia?! I was never a significant month, April. But, go ahead, do your worst. I’ve had my time in the limelight this year. That’s good enough for me.”

April narrowed its eyes and March smirked.

“Well, what else do you have? All of you?” March looked around the months, a winning smile on its face. “I’ve given everything this year!”

As March walked away, a swagger in its step, April stamped its feet.

Hmmm, April began to consider, what can I bring differently to the next 30 days?

“Don’t you dare even think about it!” screamed July and August in unison.

“Ok, ok,” April held its hands up in defense. “I’ll stick with what I know.”

As May slept, June, July and August relaxed. February was still exhausted from 2016; that long old shift to be repeated in 2020. September hadn’t even stirred. November was busy chasing October, and December just reveled in the fact it was the best month anyway.

And April felt like the fool.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Words We Didn’t Say – A Series of Short Stories.

 His heart missed a beat when he saw the caller ID.

Finally!

“I’m coming back,” she whispered, and he could hear her nervousness; her uncertainty of his response to her words.

“It’s been…” he mentally began to calculate just how long.

“A year.” She answered for him.

“Too long,” he sighed.

“I’m…”

“When…”

They both giggled as their words clashed simultaneously.

“When do you arrive?” He asked.

“I land around noon tomorrow.”

“Heathrow?”

“Yes.”

“So…”

“So, I could be with you by two…”

His sudden intake of breath made her pause.

“I just…” he struggled to find the words. “It’s been a year, Darcy. You left without a word, and now…”

“Now is now,” her words caught in her throat and silence hung between them.

His head began to hurt, his heart was racing. Could he do this? Should he do this? She, Darcy, damn near broke him a year ago.

“Say something, Abe.” Her softly spoken words interrupted his thoughts and he ran a hand through his hair.

“I’ll see you at 2pm tomorrow.”

He ended the call and shook his head in despair. Perhaps to see her one last time wouldn’t hurt, he told himself. You know, to get some ‘closure’.

With a wry smile, he cursed himself. Who was he kidding? That bloody woman had his heart; she always had and always would.

But she didn’t know that - not now and not then.

And as her plane crashed down somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, never would she…

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He looked at his father, the man that for so long had been his hero. He was weak, vulnerable; his face covered with a breathing mask, his body puckered with holes that were plugged by tubes.

“Jesus, Dad,” he put his head in his hands.

He tried to remember the good times, and there were so many.

“You were, sorry, are, my hero, Dad. Don’t leave me now.”

He imagined if his dad could hear him, he’d laugh, call him a prick and tell him to ‘man up’.

But his dad couldn’t hear him, because his dad was dying.

Why hadn’t he said this to him when he could hear him? What, about their relationship, was the unspoken agreement that boys don’t cry and men don’t do affection?

Because, here he was, his father bound for the after-life, and he felt like a little boy again.

A little boy that loves his dad, but never said it.

 

 

Animals will dance...
(Inspired by and dedicated to my daughter)

Mia lay, tossing and turning; one minute hot, the next cold. She wondered if Muffin, the rabbit, was doing the same. That thought only kept her even more awake.

Then; the rats! What about the rats? Peaches and Nutmeg. What if, they too, can’t sleep?

Mia thought about waking her mum, just so they could check, but Mum wouldn't be happy about that. No, sleep, just sleep.

Then Matilda, the cat, jumped on the bed, wailing and crazy calling.

“Tilda, shush!” Mia smiled as her mum shouted out to their strange adopted elderly cat.

“Here, Tilda,” Mia patted the empty space on the bed beside her and Matilda dutifully curled up next to her, purring gently.

Mia sighed into Matilda’s ear; “I don’t think I shall ever sleep tonight, Matilda.” She whispered as she cuddled the old cat close.

“But of course you will, my dear.” Matilda purred.

Mia sat up with a start.

“What the…?”

Surely the cat didn’t just speak to me?

“Tilda?” Mia looked at the old grey fur ball that was looking up at her.

“Yes, dear?” Matilda purred, her eyes wide, whiskers twitching.

“Did you…” Mia paused, “did you just talk?”

Matilda purred and stretched her long grey legs and pointy white toes out lazily.

She yawned, her big mouth wide, making Mia swipe away the cat food breath.

“How come you can talk?” Mia asked, once she’d recovered from cat mouth.

“Because, my dear Mia,” Matilda stretched again and blinked twice at Mia, “we all talk.”

Mia was wide-eyed now, “What, like, all animals talk?”

Matilda giggled lightly, “Yes, of course, silly.”

Mia was astounded.

“Want me to show you?” Matilda suggested and, dumbfounded, Mia nodded.

“Well, purr, you’ll have to help me get Muffin and the rats out…”

Again Mia nodded, as Matilda bounded off the bed, pausing at the bedroom door to wait for her.

“Purr, come on then…”

Mia crept downstairs, with Matilda in her wake, and into the utility room.

Before she could utter one word, Matilda spoke.

“Muffin, I’ve Mia with me.”

Mia stared into the hutch of her beloved rabbit.

“Well, about time you actually listened to me!” Muffin retorted as her nose twitched.

“No way!” Mia peered into Muffins cage. “You can speak?”

Muffin rolled her bulbous rabbit eyes. “I’ve always been able to speak, you just never listened!”

The dwarf rabbit stamped her back foot defiantly and turned her back on her best friend momentarily.

“Eeh. Eeh. Don’t forget us!” The squeaky voice from above Muffin made Mia look up. “It’s me, Peaches.”

Mia stood open-mouthed as her little gerbil spoke to her.

“Am I dreaming?” Mia asked aloud.

“Eek, hee hee, no,” It was Nutmeg, the other gerbil, peering through the bars of her cage at Mia.

Mia stood still, Matilda gazed up at her with a slightly bored smile, Muffin was still clearly cross with her, and the rats (gerbils) were pretty much indifferent.

“I’m just dreaming.” Mia muttered sleepily.

“Ah, knew she wouldn’t believe it!” Muffin stamped another foot and hopped upstairs. The rats gazed, still smiling, from behind the bars.

Matilda sighed. With a long, fixed gaze at Mia, she let her head roll back and she howled…

“Tilda stop!” Mia hated when the cat wailed so.

Matilda delicately edged a little further toward Mia. “Now, do you believe? I mean, what next? We dance for you?” The old grey cat chuckled softly to herself but stopped swiftly when she saw Mia’s face.

“No, Mia. We are animals. We don’t dance!”

Mia was beaming. “Yes, yes, dance!”

Matilda groaned and put her paws over her eyes.

“Please! Please!” Mia was bouncing on the bed now…

“Mia!” The light flicked, too bright, and Mia opened her eyes to Mum’s voice. “What on Earth are you doing?”

Mia looked at Matilda, who lay curled beside her, purring softly. “I’m watching the animals dance, Mum!”

“Silly!” Mum said as she kissed Mia’s face. “You’ll be telling me they talk next…”

As Mum left the room, Matilda looked to Mia. “We’ll dance tomorrow…” She purred.




Stupid Cupid.

“Well, your arrow was way off the mark there, wasn’t it?
In fact, you practically fell over the oche when you threw that one.
And still no bullseye.”

Here she goes... he thought, but deep down inside, he knew she was right.
His aim had been well off for far too long.
Perhaps it was the red rose revolution, the charging of dinner at three times the price for this one day. Perhaps, just perhaps...

“Romance is dead.” She voiced his thoughts.

He shook his head, refusing to accept this. After all, if it were true, he was one redundant boy with a bow and arrow.

“I am the god of love, of desire!”

His protests fell on deaf ears as she looked at him, the scorn on her face, his arrow in her hand, as she spoke.

“And I am the cynic that says love or romance doesn’t happen one day every year.”
He gave a resigned nod, he had to agree.

She continued. “Love is all encompassing and ever lasting. Yet respectful, not controlling.”

He sighed with relief as she passed his arrow back to him.

“And love is also...” She turned away from him and paused.

She looked back at him and their eyes locked. The tears that welled like dark pools in her eyes said it all. He was expecting her final words.
“...loss.”

As she walked away, he decided he was done too.

Stupid Cupid.



How we do Christmas...


I sit, strumming the guitar. My daughter and I have planned yet another Christmas show. It will be given to my parents and it’s called “The Sound of Christmas”.

We’ve rehearsed it over and over, yet I still can’t work those damn guitar chords.

(Well come on, I’m no Christopher Plummer with Edelweiss!)

But still, I sit and I pluck that guitar, because eventually that one bloody chord will come to me and we will get it right. And if I don’t, who cares? Not I.

Because my daughter laughs at every chord I can’t play and every note I can’t sing, and every time we laugh together, I’m just reminded, it’s how we do Christmas...



Should Have Swiped Left...

Far too late, she realised.
He walked into the bar, looking nothing like his profile picture. Fail number one, she thought.
“H h h hey...” he stuttered, as her heart sunk.
He ran a shaky hand over his shiny bald head.
Fail number two, she thought.
“De de do you want a drink?” he said.
It’s a fricking bar, I’m not here for pizza! she thought.
“Wine would be nice,” she said.
He walked to the bar and she looked around her.
What the hell am I doing? she thought.
He placed a glass of white wine in front of her.
She didn’t drink white wine, though she should have specified, she supposed.
“So, Melissa...” He began.
“It’s Marissa.” She replied.
“Ah yes,” he took a rather dirty looking handkerchief from his rather old fashioned trousers and wiped his rather sweaty face.
Fail number three, she thought.
Three strikes and out.
With great relief she left the bar.
Should have swiped left, she thought. ;-)


Down in the Valley.

Of course, the sullen faces from the few seats that were occupied did nothing to lift her mood.
Where had that spirit gone that she had once so enjoyed being a part of?
Looking into the eyes of those around her, seeing that same despair that she felt, her heart sank even lower.
Halfheartedly, she stood to applaud the team onto the pitch.
Gone, however, was that thrill; the excitement of a potential win. In its place, just a dull pang at the ninety minutes ahead of her.
Even the first goal didn't incite the usual euphoria, she just felt numb inside.
The expected equaliser only added to her misery and she looked up to the sky in prayer. But then, she supposed, if there was a God, he was probably a Man United fan anyway...
Rolling her eyes, she sat and clock watched until the inevitable loss at the end.
Then, standing with the rest of the loyal but disappointed supporters, she shuffled out of the Valley, vowing never to return.

Well, not until the next match anyway...    ;-)


The Big Sleep - An Extract from "Midnight Musings".

She tossed and she turned, her eyelids were heavy, she was so tired. Yet sleep, it seemed, was not a welcome visitor.
She picked up her phone; may as well write. But words, it seemed, weren’t welcome either.
What to do? What to do?
She lay back down, thoughts spinning around her head; too many thoughts. Fragmented, disjointed, ‘not making any sense’, kind of thoughts.
Close your eyes, breathe deep, sleep will come.
But as the dark hours ticked over to the after midnight, it didn’t.
She watched the sun say a swift hello and goodbye to the moon as they swapped shifts and she sighed.
Sleep would have to wait, for morning was beckoning.
 

MAGPIES.                                          

One for Sorrow.

She looked at him, for the last time.
God she loved him.
His kiss warmed her cheeks, her mouth, her eyes; her eyes were closed. She had gone. She opened her eyes and knew.
"No."

Two for Joy.

He looked at her, for the last time.
God he wanted her.
"Stay with me. Please stay with me."
He whispered this as he kissed her face, her neck, and moved lower...
Her eyes were closed.
She was his.
Until she said no.

Three for a Girl.

She knew it was wrong. What to do?
She was in an impossible situation. Push him away?
Yes.

Four for a Boy.

She pushed him away. He didn't know why. Yes he did know actually. Because she loved him and he couldn't give her that love back. That's why.

Five for Silver.

And so they parted. It was the hardest thing she'd ever done and her heart ached every day. Yet it was the right thing. Or, at least, that's what she would forever keep telling herself.

Six for Gold.

He guessed he'd put that one down to experience. Plenty more out there after all.
Although, would there be another quite the same?

Seven for a Secret, Never to be Told.

The Magpie is considered an unlucky bird, if you see one without its mate.
Yet, so the nursery rhyme tells us, as a pair, Magpies predict a glittering future.
Maybe we are just the same.
Perhaps we are all Magpies, looking for that forever partner...

      


The Lesser Woman.


She didn't want him, she hadn't for years. His insufferable controlling nature, his OCD, the irritating tune he hummed when preoccupied had put pay to that.

She was intrigued as to who would want him though...

A whiter shade of pale, with a huge long nose and a mouth wider than the Cumberland Gap is who. Marie Louise is, quite simply, plain.

No wonder he still vied for the attention of her, his wife; irrefutably denied to him of course. "I still love you." He said as he hugged her from behind and tried to kiss her.

"I don't care," she said. "Leave me alone."

Because she didn't want him, but she knew she could still have him. If she wanted to. 

The lesser woman would always wonder though, and never truly know...

                                       

The Friend.

I lay beside her on the sofa and notice her tears are still there.

I try to ask her what's wrong, but once again she ignores my question. Just blinks at me.

I implore her to tell me, knowing as always that she won't. She just looks at me wistfully, wilfully...

Later, after dinner, which I'm glad she has not forgotten, I sit beside her and gaze.

"Stop staring!" She admonishes me.

Rude! I think to myself; I only care. 

I walk away, and I do hear her mutter of apology. 

Too late though, I'm cross!

"Love you," she murmurs later as she pats me on the way up to bed. Like I'm a flipping dog or something! 

"You too," I reply. 

She doesn't hear me though. So I figure I'll wait an hour or so, then climb beside her in bed. 

And later I do, and finally she smiles and sleeps, as I give comfort with a purr in her ear and my whiskers stroking her face.

Be My Valentine.

"Whassup?" She slumped beside him by the tree.

"Like, everything..." He didn't even look at her. She nudged him hard in the ribs and he groaned tiredly.

"Leave me alone, I'm giving up."

She threw her head back and laughed out loud.

"You'll never give up!"

"So I thought," he mumbled irritatedly, "but my aim is well and truly off."

"Idiot!" She retorted.

He looked at her.

"Seriously, there's no point..."

She looked at his wide eyes and earnest face.

"Really?"

He nodded solemnly at her and she looked away, suddenly glum as him.

"So you've given up, on today of all days?"

He shrugged and flicked his bow distractedly.

"Ok," she stood up and looked down at him, wiping the back of her jeans.

He looked up, she was walking away.

"Wait!" Suddenly he didn't want her to go.

She stopped and looked over her shoulder.

"What?"

He held up his bow and aimed his arrow.

She smiled knowingly.

"Shoot me, Cupid."

So he did.


Always there.

"It's just me," I whisper as I slip in beside him. "Just me." He stirs and I luxuriate in the warmth of the bed.

She sits up quickly.

"She's back!" He opens sleepy eyes and looks at his wife.

"She's dead, Wendy, stop this."

"I can feel her!" Wendy protests. She always does this, no matter how many times he tries to reassure her.

I quite like that.

"Go to sleep, please."  He mumbles this sleepily as Wendy lays back down beside him.

She doesn't see the smile on his face as he looks at me laying on his other side.

I kiss him and his smile widens. 

Then I leave them in peace, for now...

AFTER:

I flinch as I hear him scream. "Where the fuck are you?!"

I say nothing, picturing him, his hands running through his hair in frustration. I want to say something, something that might help, comfort him. But I just can't.

I turn and smile at the attractive man in the bar...

Later, I'm home. He's in bed. I peek at his face. He's been crying. I want to cry too.

"I'm sorry." I whisper this as I place a gentle kiss on his forehead.

He stirs, a smile forms on his lips, he's peaceful. Proper sleep will come to him now.

But tomorrow he will wake.

Angry, frustrated and shouting my name. 

Please stop, I will him. I'm not coming back!

He wakes, he dresses. His grey face matches his suit, his black tie his mood.

"I'm sorry," I repeat but he doesn't seem to hear me. It's rare that he does these days. No wonder I flit as I do.

I get into the car with him, he ignores me so I stare out of the window.

I've decided I'm going to leave him today. I have to. It's time.

A while later, after many tears and a little laughter, the curtain closes.

I watch him cry, I smile, and then I say goodbye, as I'm laid to rest.


BEFORE: 

"I'm ok!" She laughed his kiss off her cheek. "Go!"

She kissed her daughter and husband goodbye. Shutting the door behind her, the wide smile swiftly left her face. 

Later, the doctor confirmed what she knew.

"Why are you here alone?" He asked with concern.

"Ah, just, you know!" She smiled at him, her heart sinking..

"You haven't told anyone, have you?"

"I've..."

She tried to think of the words but none came.

Guiltily she shook her head.

"You're dying, you need to tell your family."

Nodding wordlessly, she stood up.

The consultant grabbed her arm, "you can't do this alone."

The calmness left her and the angry mist descended as she looked at him.

"What, doctor? Die? I will die alone. Surely you of all people know that."

With a humble nod he let her go.

She felt bad, stopped as she walked away, 

"Thanks doc," she winked over her shoulder at him for what it turned out was to be the last time.


Observations From The Little Café.

She came back!

Well it's been a while, but I have further developments to tell. The girl, remember, the pretty one, with the huge smile? She came back!

Her smile wasn't as wide as previously, but it was there all the same.

I felt dreadful, pretending to look at my phone as I surreptitiously eavesdropped on her  conversation with Melinda.

"Where you been?" I heard Melinda ask as she made the two lattes.

"Haha," the pretty girl chuckled softly. "Here, there and everywhere."

I smiled to myself as Melinda rolled her eyes.

"You're a mystery," she tut-tutted at the girl who giggled gamely.

"And that's how I shall remain," she grabbed her coffees, "thanks Melinda, bye."

Weirdly, she also nodded at me as, once again, she left.

Observations From The Little Café.

Story two - The single father.

He only ever came in on a Saturday, but he was regular as clockwork. Each week, at two o'clock on the dot, he'd arrive, his little boy in tow.
They'd sit down, the little boy chattering away as his father listened distractedly while ordering their lunch.
Melinda would ask the boy how school was. "Good," was his standard response and his father would smile proudly at him and then at Melinda.
They'd talk about their plans for that evening and for the Sunday. The boy often choosing movie night and the park.
Now and then, the father would take a call on his phone or scroll through it, checking his email maybe and the boy would sit patiently, waiting for his father to finish, waiting for his full attention again.
One such Saturday, in they came, right on time. This time however, the father seemed cross and the little boy was quieter than usual.
I studied them, wondering at their lack of usual chatter as they sat in silence.
I'm sure Melinda had noticed too. As she took their order, she asked the boy how school had been and he simply shrugged.
I watched Melinda glance at the father questioningly but he just smiled wearily and shook his head.
When the phone began to ring, the little boy stared wide-eyed as his father answered the call.
"Yes, yes." I heard him say as he ran his hand through his hair anxiously. "I'll have him back by tonight. I wouldn't want you to miss your flight!" I didn't miss his terse, angry tone with whoever was on the end of the phone and neither did the boy.
It was at that moment the little boy turned to me. I quickly put my head down, I didn't want to appear intrusive after all. But I hadn't missed the tears in those big brown eyes and, it seems, neither had the father.
Switching off the phone, he took the boys hands in his and sighed.
"It's only for a year," he tried to assure the child but the boy began to sob quietly, his little shoulders shuddering with the weight of the world.
"But I'll miss you, Dad," the boy managed to say through his tears. "I don't want to go to Australia."
That was the last Saturday I saw them together. Occasionally the father still came in, sitting at the table alone, nursing a coffee, never bothering with lunch. He'd stare at the empty space opposite him awhile and then he'd leave, his coffee untouched, the void in his life plain for all to see.


Observations From The Little Café.

Story one - The girl.

Almost every day for two years she came in. Always with a bright smile on her face, greeting Melinda, the café owner, with a cheery "good morning."
Always she'd order two lattes to go and she'd stand chatting to Melinda whilst she waited, occasionally looking at her phone and replying to some text or tweet. Who knows?
I don't think she ever saw me studying her. To be honest, I don't think she was ever aware of any of the admiring  glances she'd get from the male (and sometimes female) customers. Often builders, stopping in for a bacon sandwich and a coffee before they started their working day, would gaze at her.I'd watch them pause mid-sentence as she breezed through the door and I'd smile to myself.
"Thanks," she'd say to Melinda as she paid for her coffees. "See you tomorrow!" And off she'd go. To where, I don't know.
Then one day she came in and there was something different in her demeanour. Where once was that cheerful grin that lit her face, this time, a small smile that didn't quite meet her eyes.
Instead of striding across the cafe to the counter, she scurried in, her head down, shoulders slumped.
She didn't really speak to Melinda that day, but then Melinda was busy with other customers so I can't be sure if this was deliberate.
I watched her pay for her coffees and waited for the usual, "see you tomorrow." But it didn't come. As she got to the door, I noticed she struggled to open it, her hands being full with the coffees. However, every day she had done this and by now, she had mastered how to open the door; one cup tucked against her chest, one in her right hand. Her left hand, holding car keys, flinging open the door with ease.
So why the struggle today?
I leapt up and grabbed the door for her.
She flicked her head round and her eyes, large and sad, locked briefly with mine as she muttered a shy thanks.
And then she was gone and I never saw her again after that day.
I often look out for her, hoping she'll return with that big smile on her face once again, but it's been a while now. I don't know what happened to her and I don't suppose I ever will.



Never Forget

Prologue

She tried to scream, to shout for help; but the breath left her chest as soon as his hands tightened further around her neck.

Her eyes opened wide; she had two words left to say… "Remember me."

Then the air left her lungs and her eyes closed.

He walked slowly away from her body, a body he had once adored, poured his life into.

Literally! He chuckled softly to himself.

The usual humid air, he wiped the heat from his brow as he turned to look into the face of his own killer, who hooted loudly and pushed him towards the fence.

"Noo!" he screamed his last words; as the full body of the African elephant crashed herself into him and his ribs pierced his own belly.

Blood oozed from his stomach, and then his mouth.

With lingering eyes, the elephant watched him and Evan knew this was his punishment.

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

Elise Chapman gasped as she stepped out of the aircraft; the heat gripped her chest as little rivulets of sweat formed on her body.

What have I agreed to?

She wearily trundled down the steps attached to the plane, blinking in the bright Kenyan sunshine.

"Miss Chapman?"

Elise turned, still un-used to hearing her maiden name, even after almost a year.

"Yes?"

"Madam," the tall, handsome black man tipped his hat and held his hand out. Shaking it, Elise smiled.

"So I’m to take you to the sanctuary in Nairobi, ok?"

Elise nodded, "Yes, and Guy will meet me there?"

The black guy nodded and gestured for her to follow him.

"I think it’s amazing the work that you people do. I’m Alfruj, by the way."

"Pleasure to meet you, Alfruj." Elise swiftly followed him, grateful at least that she hadn’t checked any luggage in. All she had, all she needed in fact, was her camera, her notes and some clean shorts and t-shirts.

Alfruj stood by the car as she threw her rucksack in the back and Elise couldn’t help but breathe in his scent; a combination of sweat and citron.

"Good to go?" Alfruj seemed keen to get his job over and Elise nodded politely as she got into the passenger seat.

He slid into the driver’s seat, his long, lean legs stretching out in front of him.

Flipping his sunglasses from his forehead to cover his eyes, he grinned at her; "Ready?"

Elise gulped and nodded her affirmation.

What this man was doing to her body was incredible. For two years she’d been a barren, incapable of feeling, person. Now, here she was, turned on by a complete fucking stranger!

Elise sighed and allowed those wonderful feelings to wash over her.

It’s ok. She thought with a smile. I’m allowed to think it. Even do it, if I wish!

"Feeling good, huh?" Alfruj spoke into her thoughts and Elise found herself blushing.

"Huh?"

"Kenyan sunshine; can’t beat it. Must be better than England, right?"

"Oh! Yes! Yes of course." Elise allowed a small smile at her foolishness and chuckled softly to herself.

Alfruj glanced at her with another cheeky grin.

"What did you think I meant?"

Elise froze. What was he asking, suggesting even? Was he flirting? She hadn’t done flirting for fifteen years! How did this work?

Before she could even reply, Alfruj slapped her knee with a laugh.

"Relax! I’m just teasing you."

Elise laughed and sighed, though whether from relief or disappointment, she wasn’t sure.

She smiled back politely anyway and they hit the highway.

Tired from her flight, Elise closed her eyes willing the sleep to come, instead, her mind raced with thoughts, with memories…

****

"Happy anniversary, darling." Martin had bent to kiss her forehead and she’d smiled up at him from the bed.

"Ten years." She had chuckled softly. "Where did that go?"

"Time flies when you’re having fun." He’d laughed too as he fiddled with his tie.

"So, I’ll meet you from the office? And we’ll get a cab to the restaurant, yes?" She’d smiled up at him, excited at the thought of their anniversary dinner.

He’d smiled back at her; "wouldn’t miss it for the world."

She’d stretched lazily, kicking her long, bare legs out from under the covers; "Sure you have to rush off?"

He’d chuckled; "Sorry darling, work calls. Later though…"

She smiled and blew him a kiss as he left the room.

Mmm…a rare but lazy day off work. What should she do with herself?

Her ringing mobile interrupted that thought and she grabbed it up quickly from her bedside table.

"Morning!" Natalie, her best friend since school, chirped in her ear.

"Hey." She replied, putting her left leg in the air to inspect her toenail polish.

"Not interrupting anything, am I?" Elise could almost hear her friend’s cheeky wink through the phone.

"Haha, no, he’s just gone to work." She giggled.

"Ah, good. Happy anni!"

Elise smiled. There had been almost two hundred people at their wedding, yet it seemed only their parents, and her bridesmaids, remembered the date.

"Thanks gorgeous; you good?"

"Yeah, all fine here."

Natalie had sighed before replying, but Elise hadn’t missed it.

"Are you sure?"

"Yep, yep. Honestly, I’m fine."

Later of course, Elise had understood her friend’s dissatisfaction. Well, not so much understood, but she knew from where it had come…

The restaurant had been amazing; low light and wonderful service.

Her steak had been cooked to perfection and her Malbec, the perfect accompaniment.

"Cheers baby." She’d clinked her glass against her husbands and smiled happily at him.

His phone suddenly vibrated on the table.

"Cheers darling." He smiled at her.

"Not going to check that?" She nodded toward his phone and he shrugged nonchalantly;

"It can wait."

She smiled, glad that he wasn’t going to let work interrupt their dinner.

Later, as they waited for dessert, he went to the gents and she leaned back in her chair, relaxing with her glass of wine.

As she considered how lucky they were, ten years married and still happy, his phone buzzed again and she worried there was a problem.

She quickly picked it up; knowing his passcode, she tapped it in and read his text message.

Oh! How strange? That was her initial thought at seeing a text from Natalie to Martin.

Then she read on;

‘I fucking hope you’re enjoying your night with your wife, you piece of shit! Text me later. x.’

Elise had been stunned. Just what the fuck was that about?

Checking that Martin wasn’t on his way back; she quickly replied.

‘Sorry?’

The reply came swiftly back, telling Elise everything she needed to know.

‘I meant text me when you’re able to, so that we can discuss when you’re next going to come and get some proper loving. Don’t worry I know it’s difficult right now. Love you. X.’

Elise’ hand shook as she quickly put the phone back on the table and watched him reappear from the toilets.

"No dessert yet?" He asked, as he took his seat, and Elise shook her head, willing herself not to cry.

"Ah well…" He peered at her from across the table. "Maybe we should skip dessert?"

She tried to smile but her mind was racing, trying to decipher all that she had recently read.

"I want to go home." She swallowed back the bile that was threatening in her throat.

"Mmm, me too baby. I’ll get the bill." He took her hand and she sharply pulled it away from him.

"You ok?" Concern etched his forehead.

"No. No Martin, I’m not ok." She’d stood up and left the restaurant. That was the last time she had seen him; or Natalie…


****

 

"Hey sleepy head, we’re here!" Alfruj woke her from her dreams and she yawned and stretched.

"Cool," she mumbled, and looked at him.

"You ok?" He enquired, and she smiled. Oh the times she’d heard that.

"I’m good," she replied with false enthusiasm. "Let’s go check those elephants!"

 

 

 

 

Growing Old With Grace - The End.

Grace opened her eyes, a smirk on her face as she looked at the woman in front of her.
"Not lost me yet then bitch, eh?"
Feeling the hand on her arm, she shrugged it off and screamed;"get her off me!"
For a moment, clarity set in, and her eyes met those of her daughter.
She saw the tears spilling from eyes of the child she had birthed. She suddenly remembered the little girl she had taken to school, the small hand in hers, the clinging hug and her nervousness as she had walked her to the gate...
"Please mum...I..."
Grace suddenly gasped and her hand flew to her mouth.
"Oh, darling!"
"Mum?"
"I'm so sorry, darling."
Grace watched as her daughter visibly relaxed before her eyes, her shoulders releasing the shaking sobs that had been desperate to rack her body.
She held out her hand to her Alex, her beautiful little Alex.
"Darling...I..."
"It's ok, mum. It's ok."
Grace watched the smile on her daughters face.
This, she knew, would be her last memory. Slowly, she put out her shaky hand and tilted the chin of the child she knew she would never see, nor remember again.
"Beautiful girl, I do love you," she whispered, as knowing tears ran down her lined cheeks.
"I love you too, mum."
Grace sighed with a smile as she nodded, and said goodbye to the world as she knew it.


Growing Old With Grace - part three.

Grace smiled as Peter placed her tea beside the bed.
"Thank you, darling. Won't you join me?" She patted the space beside her with a suggestive wink and stretched her bare leg out from underneath the covers.
"Ahem, now, now, Ms Grace!"
Grace put her hand to her mouth in horror as she watched the retreating back of Robert, her new carer.
What had she been thinking? Of course Peter wasn't here anymore! And she was, yes, she was a seventy year old woman now.
Goodness, where did that time go?
With a trembling hand she picked up the photograph from her bedside table, now as faded as her memories, it seemed.
Peter smiled back at her, their children by his side. It was from their last ever family holiday. Before Christopher went off to university and Alexandra, well, before she just flew the nest without so much as a backward glance.
Grace sighed, she knew she was being unfair. After all, it was Alex that was here for her now, albeit reluctantly she thought at times.
Grace stroked a finger over the face of her dead husband and smiled sadly.
"We did ok, didn't we, you and I?"
She allowed a lone tear to slither down her cheek and placed the photograph back on the table, back in the past, where so often lately, she preferred to live.


Growing old with Grace - part two.


Alexandra sighed impatiently; "Do get a move on mother!"
"Yes dear." Grace replied, her heart sinking at the look on her daughter's face. It was a look of shame. Alexandra was embarrassed at the way her mother shuffled along.
Trying to ignore the pain in her back and legs, Grace quickened her pace to catch up with her youngest child.
"It's a shame Peter couldn't be here," she tried to make conversation, to ease the tension that had, as it so often did lately, crept between her and her daughter.
"Peter?" Alexandra snorted with derision and Grace shook her head quickly.
"Sorry, sorry, I mean erm..." Oh Lord, what was his name?
"You mean Christopher? Your son!" Alexandra almost spat the words at her mother who flushed as she nodded.
"Yes of course. I do know my own son's name, thank you dear."
Alexandra sighed as she guided Grace to a table in the busy cafeteria.
"Here, sit down mum, I'll get us some tea." Grace knew the gentle pat on her shoulder was Alexandra's way of an apology.
Intended, Grace was sure, to be comforting but instead she found it patronising and instinctively wanted to shrug her daughter's hand away.
"Ok dear." She simply said.
As they sat drinking their tea in silence, Grace glanced over at the table beside them where two young women were laughing and cooing over their toddlers.
She smiled at them as they caught her gaze and they smiled back.
"It's a shame Christopher couldn't be here." Grace muttered.
"Yes, you said, mum!" Frustrated, Alexandra slammed her cup back on the saucer and Grace winced as the hot tea slopped out and onto her hand.
"Mum, I'm sorry!" Alexandra jumped up, wiping her mothers hand with the paper serviette and Grace noticed the women next to them looking over with interest.
"It's fine. Please don't fuss, dear." Grace pulled her hand away, placing it in her lap.
Alexandra sat down again and sighed; "Christopher couldn't make it, he's too busy with work." She rolled her eyes at her mother who smiled back affectionately whilst her heart raced.
Work? What did her son even do for a living? How old was he? And how old was she?
Tiredly, Grace muttered; "Ah well, it's no big deal. There'll be other times."
As she picked up her teacup, Grace was surprised to see Alexandra staring at her open mouthed.
"What?" What had she said now, she thought with a sinking heart.
"Mum," Alexandra leant forward, looking at her mother with tears in her eyes; "You do know it's your 70th birthday today, don't you?"
Grace heard the roaring in her ears, like a train racing towards her. Her eyes lost focus and her daughters face swam before her.
Seventy? She was seventy. Today.
With shaking hands, she placed her cup back on the table and looked up as Alexandra reached her hand across and placed it on top of hers.
"Mum, it's ok," Grace watched her daughter fight back the sob in her throat. "We can get help, it'll be ok."
Grace snatched her hand back.
"Don't be ridiculous dear! I'm perfectly fine."


Growing old with Grace.

Grace opened one eye and knew it was morning, or at least, if the sunlight gleaming through the gap in the ‘not quite’ drawn curtains was anything to go by, daytime.
This was a good start.
She smiled and reached her hand out, to feel only a cold empty space beside her.
“Peter?” Where was Peter? She tried to sit up but her quick movement made her dizzy and she closed her eyes and held her head in her hands.
Breathe, she told herself as she blinked and then opened her eyes again.
“Ah,” she felt better; Peter must be making her a cup of tea, before he went off to the office for the day.
Grace settled back into the pillows and rubbed her still sleepy eyes. She’d have to get up soon though, she thought. The kids needed breakfast and to be off on their way to school.
Still, she decided, five more minutes wouldn’t hurt.
An hour later, the sound of the telephone woke her. Good Lord! Who’s calling at this hour? She thought crossly.
She sat up, swung her legs over the side of the bed and found her slippers right beside it. Slippers? She wondered. Is it Winter still?
She hurried to the telephone worrying at who should be calling now.
“I’m leaving now, I’ll be with you in twenty minutes, ok?”
Grace froze. Oh! Oh dear!
“Yes, erm…” she replied hesitantly.
“Mum! You do remember, we’re going to the Natural History Museum today, right?”
Mum? This voice had said mum?
“Yes dear.” Grace replied. “Do you have your packed lunch?”
“Oh for God’s sake, mother!” Grace winced at the angry tone. “We’re going for lunch there, remember?”
“Yes dear, of course.” Grace replied.
Replacing the hand set, she stood for a moment. Where was Peter?
Opening her bedroom door, she noticed her hands were looking a bit dry, woah! Very dry. And what were those horrible brown spots on the back of them?
She held her hands up now and examined them. Goodness! They were gnarled, wrinkly even!
“Peter?” She called quietly, not wanting to wake the children so early.
“Peter, where are you?”
As she stood at the top of the stairs, she had a sudden memory recall. It hit her stomach like a cold bucket of water.
Peter wasn’t here anymore, nor the children, of course.
Grace gulped, sighed and looked heavenwards; “I’m sorry my darling. I didn’t forget.”
She held her hand to her heart as if by doing so would prove her point.
“I didn’t forget, Peter,” she repeated, “I just, I…”
She faltered at her words.
“I just didn’t remember.”
With a sigh she went down the stairs to make her own tea before she got ready for the day with the angry, frustrated person who had been on the telephone. The one that claimed to be her daughter…


Halloween

Nathaniel took the flute of champagne from Paige and sighed happily as she sat herself down between his legs on the sofa.
"Happy Halloween baby," she didn't turn as she spoke but Nathaniel could hear the smile in her voice.
He sipped his champagne and with his free hand stroked the long black hair that cascaded down her back.
"Almost a year since the day we met," he murmured as she turned her head to flash her huge dark eyes at him.
"Bonfire night..." she whispered as she gently kissed his lips and he felt himself melt like he always did, always had, since that amazing night almost a year ago.
It had all happened so quickly really. There she was standing by the bonfire and he had been instantly captivated by her.
He didn't know who she had been there with, even to this day he hadn't met any of her friends and she claimed she had no family.
She had gone home with Nathaniel that night and never left. He didn't mind of course, in fact, he couldn't believe his luck that she wanted to be with him.
Yet, there was something that niggled away at him. She was such a free spirit, often disappearing for hours on end without a word of explanation.
When she was home she had no interest in meeting his friends. She just wanted him exclusively to herself and over time his friends had given up asking him out with them.
Nathaniel sighed now and pulled her to him, kissing the top of her head and breathing in the scent of her shampoo.
"Let's watch a movie tonight?"
Paige suddenly stiffened.
"I'm sorry baby, I can't tonight. I have to meet some friends."
Nathaniel's heart sank and he felt irritated.
"What friends?"
Paige stood up and placed her champagne glass on the coffee table.
"Just some friends ok? It's something we do every year on this night."
Nathaniel could sense her annoyance at his question and it irked him even more. Why was she so mysterious?
"Well I'll drive you then," he stood up quickly, "it's cold out and..."
"Nate please!" Her black eyes flashed angrily at him momentarily before her face softened again.
She stroked his arm, "It's fine, I'll get the bus."
"Fine!" Nathaniel slumped back down on the sofa and picked up the remote control.
He could feel her gaze on him but he refused to look at her and after a few moments she sighed and left the room.
Nathaniel idly flicked through the TV channels as he listened to Paige getting ready to go out.
Nothing bloody on! He grumbled inwardly as he scrolled through the TV listings.
Suddenly his finger stopped on a channel. He clicked the select button and sat forward to listen to the narrator of the documentary;
"...and with Pagan rituals that still continue to this day, Halloween or All Hallows' Eve still sees a secret gathering of witches and..."
"Laters baby." Nathaniel jumped as Paige strode into the room, wrapping her scarf tightly around her neck.
He was suddenly stunned as he managed a cursory nod at her.
No, surely not. He shook his head as he heard Paige let herself out. Absurd! He chuckled to himself, but still, something had registered in his brain.
He quickly stood up and grabbed his keys from the mantelpiece. He had to know for sure.
As he stepped out into the cold night, he regretted not having brought his coat but it was too late now.
He peered up the street where he saw Paige walking quickly towards the main road to get her bus, wrapping her arms around her against the chill.
He quietly opened his car door and got in, wondering what the hell he was doing.
You've finally lost it mate, he thought wryly as he started the engine.
As he drove to the end of the street, he saw Paige crossing the road, so he pulled up and turned the engine off.
From here he could see the bus stop and Paige. As he studied her standing alone, with little clouds of cold air emerging from her mouth, he was again struck by her beauty. She jumped up and down trying to warm up, every now and again glancing at her
wrist watch and looking up the street for her bus.
Finally it came and Nathaniel started the engine as he prepared to follow.
As he drove, Nathaniel began to feel even more ridiculous. What did he actually expect to catch her doing?
Maybe there was a simple explanation for all this and Christ if she found out he had followed her, that would be it for sure.
Paige had told him from the start; "Do not question me, just trust me." He was hardly exercising that trust now was he?
As he pulled in at a fourth bus stop and waited, he finally saw Paige alight the bus.
Shit! He needed to park up and follow her on foot. He manouevered between two illegally parked cars and figured he'd risk a fine too.
He didn't take his eyes off Paige's retreating form as she turned into a side street and once parked, he got out and quietly shut the door.
At the top of the quiet leafy road that Paige had just gone down, Nathaniel stopped. Damn! Where was she?
He scanned the street, thinking perhaps she had entered one of the tall victorian houses that lined it and then he saw it.
Set back a little from the road, a small grassy area in front of it and an old, battered and fading sign - All Saints Church.
Keep calm Nate, he thought to himself as all manner of irrational thoughts flooded his brain. But, Paige had never mentioned religion to him, so why would she...
"Can I help you?" The gruff voice behind him made Nathaniel gasp and he turned to look at the suspicious face of a man out walking his dog.
"Erm, I'm err, here for the church service?" Nathaniel finally managed to blurt out as he indicated the church.
The man narrowed his eyes at Nathaniel.
"Church service?" he chuckled wryly, "that church hasn't been used in years mate."
Nathaniels eyes widened. "Are you sure? But I..."
"Look." The man gestured up at the church. "It's missing half a roof, I'd say I'm pretty sure, wouldn't you?"
Nathaniel gazed up at the church, suddenly seeing just how decrepit it was. Well, Paige couldn't have gone in there after all then.
"I see. Well thanks," Nathaniel mumbled, "must have the wrong church."
The man smiled and with a polite nod was on his way.
Oh well, thought Nathaniel, short of knocking on the door of every house in this street, he wasn't going to find Paige tonight.
He'd go home and wait for her. Maybe he could talk to her then. Explain that her odd disappearing acts confused and hurt him.
As he turned on his heel, a flicker of light from behind a cracked window of the church caught his eye.
What the?
Someone was in there!
Checking to see there was nobody around, he stole across the patch of grass towards the church door and listened, his heart thumping in his chest. At first he heard nothing but as he strained his ears, he could just about make out the sounds of someone crying.
He gently pushed open the splintered wooden door, willing it not to creak. Wishful thinking! The church door gave a tired heavy groan and Nathaniel cursed as he stepped inside.
There, sitting amongst the broken up pews and discarded litter, a single lit candle in her hands, was Paige.
She gazed at him with wide eyes that spilled tears. "Nate?"
"Baby, I'm sorry, I had to know..." He began to explain, sure that she would be furious with him, but she shook her head sadly, her bottom lip quivering as she wept.
"It's ok," she whispered.
"What is this?" Nathaniel looked around him at the clutter before kneeling down beside her and wiping the tears from her smooth cheeks.
"This was my family church, years ago," Paige explained."Before they all died." She began to rock back and forth as her sobs continued and Nathaniel gathered her in his arms.
"Oh baby, I'm so sorry."
Paige shook him off, wanting to continue; "A car crash, wiped my whole family out. I come here every year on the anniversary, just to light a candle and remember them."
Nathaniel felt suddenly awful for ever doubting her. His poor beautiful abandoned Paige, God, would she ever forgive him for this?
"Come on," he kissed her cheek, tasting the salt from her tears, "let's go home."
Paige shook her head. "You go," she said sadly. "I need a little longer."
Realising he was about to protest, she put her hand up to him, "please Nate?"
Nathaniel nodded. It was the least he could do.
"You're ok?"

Paige nodded.

"I'll see you at home?"

Again she nodded and Nathaniel felt a rush of relief as he stood up and left the church.
As he walked back to his car, he felt like kicking himself. What an idiot! Thinking she was some sort of witch or something, ha, and all this time she was just a little lost soul. He'd make it up to her, he thought to himself as he drove himself home.
Above the church of All Saints, the full moon glowered amidst the fast moving dark clouds.
Paige stood at the head of the alter and picked up the hastily discarded black cloak. With her arms raised above her head she spoke;
"You can come out again now."
As the shadowy figures, also dressed in black robes began to emerge from the dark recesses of the church, she called out to them;
"Let the ritual of All Hallows' begin!"
And as Nathaniel let himself into his flat, he was oblivious to the cackles that rang out in the skies overhead.




Willow Lane


Melanie stood in front of number four Willow Lane, her childhood home.
Despite the new windows and the paved over front garden it didn't look much different twenty-five years on.
Twenty-five years, she thought sadly. Where had that time gone?

Melanie came here every year on this date. The current owners didn't mind or if they did they didn't say so.

She pushed open the little gate that once slightly rusty was now a glossy black and walked slowly up the front path.
She let herself in through the side door, as she always did. Every year.
Stepping into the kitchen that was now much larger than that of her childhood memories, she looked around her. An extension had doubled its size and where once there was barely room for the little four-seater table that her mum and brother would eat at, now there was a large kitchen island and a huge American style refrigerator that still left room for an oversized sofa.

Melanie sighed and closed her eyes, allowing the memories to wash over her;
Mum standing at the sink, peeling carrots whilst she and her brother Joe chattered on about their day at school. Each trying to out-do each other as to who had had the most exciting day.
"Pack it in you two," Mum would sigh with exasperation and Melanie and Joe would smirk at each other, poking their tongues out at her behind her back and at each other.

Now, Melanie pulled herself up on to the work surface beside the sink, remembering how she'd sit here and chat to her mum as she washed up. She chuckled as she looked at the dishwasher that fit neatly inside the kitchen units, thinking how much mum
would have loved one of them back then.

She glanced up as she heard a key in the front door and peered into the hallway to see Mrs. Levi arriving home.
With her mobile phone tucked between her chin and shoulder, she heaved two large grocery bags in and kicked the door shut behind her.
"Well just make sure you're home for your tea, six o'clock, no later!"
Mrs. Levi tut-tutted as she waddled up the hallway and into the kitchen, rolling her eyes in Melanie's direction.
Melanie said nothing as she watched her put the groceries away. She was lost in thought, back there again. Twenty-five years ago, today;
It was one of the few days when she and Joe actually had got back in time for tea. If only they had been their usual tardy selves, maybe...
But mum was making chips that night, a guarantee they'd be home on time from playing out with their friends.
Melanie had been sitting at the little table practising for the spelling test she had the following day whilst Joe was in the front room watching TV.
"Keep an eye on that chip pan Mel, I need to put the washing away."
Melanie had grunted back at her mum and continued her studying, writing down the words she needed to learn over and over.
"Damn!" As the nib snapped on her pencil, Melanie had thrown it across the room in temper before heading upstairs for a pencil sharpener.
From then it had all happened so quickly. And it was all her fault. She shuddered at the memory.

"Back again Melanie?" Mrs. Levi spoke quietly, not even turning from the oven hob where she was now stirring gravy.
Melanie smiled sadly and slipped herself off the work surface. "For the last time," she whispered.
She left out of the side door and went back into the front garden where she stood for a final time.
That was when she saw him.

Just like her, he came every year on this day. He never looked at her, they never spoke.
He would just stand on the street gazing up at the house, lost in his own memories.
Today though, he held a newspaper under his arm.

Melanie walked down the path and out of the little gate for the last time and stopped beside him.
As she gently kissed his cheek, she whispered, "thank you."
He didn't turn nor acknowledge her in any way but she noticed his shoulders visibly relax as he wiped a tear from his eye.
He placed the folded newspaper on the wall of the front garden and stood for a moment, his hands together in prayer, his head bowed in respect.
The slight wind fluttered the pages of the newspaper so that it opened on the page of the short article:
LOCAL FIREFIGHTER RETIRES TWENTY FIVE YEARS AFTER TRAGIC HOUSE FIRE, read the headline.
"Twenty five years ago, heroic firefighter Mike Turner saved the lives of Coleen Kent and her eleven year old son Joe after a fire at their home in Willow Lane. Sadly, Mike and his crew couldn't get to nine year old Melanie who perished in the tragic accident. Thoughts today are with her and her family..."

Mike sighed, picked up his newspaper and walked away down Willow Lane.

Melanie smiled as she watched him go, today was his last visit too.

It was time to move on.

Father-Christmas

 

Little Bobby gazed out of his bedroom window, the twinkling from the fairy lights adorning the houses opposite flashed in his eyes.
He knew he should be in bed asleep by now. If his mummy came up and found him sitting here at the window, she'd be cross.

He yawned and rubbed his eyes. He was tired. He didn't want to sleep though, he wanted to wait up for him.
Mummy had told him that if he went straight to sleep, he would come and Bobby's presents would be there when he woke in the morning.

He was too excited to sleep though, he wanted to see him for himself!
He'd waited all year, he just couldn't wait till morning. So he'd planned to stay up, just to at least see him arrive.
He squeezed himself, sighing happily as excitement flooded his little body.

A little later his eyelids began to droop and he forced them wide open, searching the street outside for signs of him.
Still nothing.

He glanced anxiously across at his little bedside clock. 11:43 it said.
He couldn't quite tell the time yet but he knew that meant it was nearly midnight.
Surely he had to come soon? Christmas Eve, mummy had said. He would come on Christmas Eve.

The ringing of the telephone downstairs startled Bobby and he stole quietly but quickly out of his bedroom to sit on the top of the stairs.

"But you promised!" He heard his mummy hiss into the telephone.

Bobby looked down at the floor with a disappointed sigh and with a heavy heart and the threat of tears pricking his eyes, he trudged wearily back to his bedroom and slumped on his bed.
As outside in the street, he heard party revellers singing about Santa Claus coming to town, a tear slipped slowly down Bobby's face.
He could care less about Santa, it was his dad that he wanted.

A Fair Affair

 

Molly gazed at Matt from her place on the sofa.

Though his eyes focused on the TV, she knew his thoughts were elsewhere. Just lately

they were always elsewhere. He'd been so distracted.

She knew what he was thinking about, of course she did. It was the reason he had been

coming in later and later from work each evening.

The same reason he'd disappear off for hours at the weekend, without explanation.

Louisa was her name, the woman that she knew now filled his thoughts. She'd even

met her and she couldn't deny her beauty.

With her long wavy dark hair and deep brown eyes, Louisa was stunning.

Molly, however, with her short auburn locks and eyes a faded mix of green and amber

knew she could never be classed as beautiful.

Though Matt, even after fifteen years together, still often called her his 'pretty one'.

This made her smile now. She knew he loved her, he had always loved her.

Surely he wouldn't leave her?

Matt suddenly yawned loudly and stretching out his legs, he flicked off the TV.

"Come on you," he said softly as he got up from the armchair. "Time for bed."

She followed him up the stairs, her mind still on Louisa, her heart heavy with sadness

as he went into his office and picked up the telephone. No doubt to call her.

She lay in bed, listening to his deep voice whispering goodnight and tears stung her

eyes.

When eventually he slipped into bed beside her a few minutes later, she instantly

relaxed as she breathed in his familiar scent.

"Good night, my pretty one." He murmured, as he kissed her nose gently.

Molly sighed.

No, he'd never leave her. He still loved her.

She closed her eyes and curled up happily.

Then with whiskers twitching, she fell asleep, purring contentedly.




                                                    

Bonfire Night

 

Nathaniel hated fireworks.

He’d never understood the fuss. He just couldn’t understand why people got so excited

over them, and as dazzling as the colours could be, he loathed the noise they made.

In his opinion, fireworks were like children, they should be seen and not heard.

Yet for some reason, here he was, standing in a muddy field on a dark chilly November

night with his head pounding from the screams and shouts of children wielding lethal

sparklers.

“Here you go mate, get that down you, might finally put a smile on your face!”

Gareth chuckled as he handed him a plastic bottle of beer and Nathaniel scowled at his

friend as he took it.

“Cheer up Nate!” Gareth slapped his back just as he took a swig of beer and he

spluttered and coughed as he almost choked on it.

“It’s good for you to get out...” Gareth continued, oblivious to Nathaniel’s distress.

“You can’t mope around over Lissie forever.”

Nathaniel, finally regaining his composure, raised his eyes skywards and blew his

cheeks out.

“I know, I know…” He muttered distractedly as his eyes scanned the crowds, looking

for…well what? Who?

Lissie wouldn’t be here, he knew that. She was long gone now. Her new exciting life in

Chicago had begun, without him.

She’d asked him to go with her, had begged him even, but he’d refused. His life was

here in London.

Yet it seemed it wasn’t much of a life without her now anyway.

As he drank some more beer, he looked over at the carousel.

Children were squealing as they rode the ugly plastic horses, their parents waving to

them from the side each time they came back round.

Then he saw her.

She stood alone by the carousel and she was smiling shyly at him.

His eyes locked with hers and he gasped inwardly, his heart almost missing a beat.

She was beautiful. Who was she?

He managed to tear his eyes away for a second to nudge Gareth.

“Who’s that?”

Gareth downed the rest of his beer and looked at him.

“Who?”

Nathaniel pointed to the carousel, “that woman over…oh!”

She was gone.

“Who?” Gareth repeated, his eyes searching the dark night.

“She’s gone…it doesn’t matter.” Nathaniel’s heart sank as Gareth smirked at him.

“Spotted your next victim?” He winked as he gestured to the bottle in Nathaniel’s

hand. “Drink up mate, it’s your round.”

Nathaniel sighed as he took the empty bottle from his friend and headed towards the

beer tent.

Later, as the crowd began to gather for the fireworks display, Nathaniel decided to

head home.

He’d had enough, he hadn’t been keen on coming when Gareth had invited him, now

he was here, he was even less so.

Gareth, fed up with Nathaniel’s dark mood, had already abandoned him for more

cheery friends.

Nathaniel thought he should at least find him to say goodbye but as he weaved through

the crowds, dodging the over excited children with sticky candy floss and yes, those

damn sparklers, he changed his mind.

He had to get the hell out of here. Now. Before the blasted fireworks started!

He walked with a determined stride, past the carousel and past the beer tent, until he

reached the huge blazing bonfire where he stopped briefly to warm his hands.

Christ it was cold tonight! Why would anyone choose to be out in this?! He longed to

get home and warm. He pulled his coat tighter around his neck, jumping up and down

to warm up as he looked around for an exit.

And there she stood, her hair swept across one shoulder, her cheeks flushed from the

cold.

She gazed at him from across the bonfire, the flames dancing in her eyes, a small smile

curving her lips as all around them people oohed and aahed and above them, the

fireworks popped and fizzed.

Nathaniel loved fireworks.

 

Green Grass

 

She wandered through the crowded bar.

Focus! One step after the other. Christ, she knew she’d had too much to drink.

“ ‘ello gorgeous….” She smiled sweetly, hoping the polite un-interest showed in her

face, even if her steps faltered slightly…

Just up the stairs and you’re there…She thought to herself as up those stairs she

walked.

A polite ‘excuse me’ should have brought space, instead, he looked up at her, his

young vibrant eyes were caught by the light and they twinkled into hers.

“Should I really excuse you?” As he asked the question, he moved closer, his beautiful

young face bearing into hers.

When he stepped towards her, she took a step backwards and he smiled shyly and

stopped.

His eyes showed promise, danger, everything that at her age she knew to be wrong.

She should know better, yet she couldn’t tear her eyes away.

Gulping back a breath she replied with shaking lips.

“Yes, please do excuse me.” As she went to pass him, he took her hand and pulled her

close to him.

“Who are you?” He whispered.

And whilst desperate for his touch, she found herself pulling back.

She shook her head sadly. “I don’t know.” She replied.

“Let me show you?” His eyes said everything, she knew what he wanted.

“No.” She murmured this.

He looked deep into her eyes and, it felt, her soul, but still she knew what she must do.

She let go of the young man’s hand and headed back down the stairs to the hand of an

elder, her husband, he who had always been and would always be there, for her.

“You ok?” He asked as she picked up her glass of wine with a shaky hand.

“I’m fine.” She smiled at him. “Really. I’m fine.”

They toasted their wine glasses and drank.

As the velvet liquid swam down her throat, she looked up.

He was staring at her.

She looked into the eyes of her husband. The father of her child, the man she had

married. The man she still loved.

“Let’s go home.” She smiled.