Monday, 24 December 2018

Years of Eclipse by L F Roth

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Sanderson inserts the key. His aim is right, in spite of the dim light. He turns it, expecting the usual barely audible clicking sound as the catch is released, but there is none. Puzzled, he tries the handle. The door opens. Has someone broken in? Don’t panic, he orders himself, as his heart beats faster. One slow step at a time he advances into the hall, leaving the door gaping behind him. “Hello,” he calls. The silence builds. Advancing, he inspects the bedroom, but everything is as it should be: the bed unmade, his pyjamas spread-eagled across the solitary pillow. Getting rid of its companion had been a good move — his back had improved overnight. As his gaze returns to the hall, he hears the toilet flush and stops in his tracks. The bathroom door swings open. A hand appears, followed by the head and shoulders of what proves to be a squat figure dressed in an overall and wearing a heavy tool belt. If he is a burglar, he must be a professional.

“Sorry about that,” says the intruder. “Caught short.”

No professional, evidently, but curiously at home. Sanderson remains uneasy: the face wears no name. Is he an electrician come to fix the light in the stairs? Caught short, he may have rung the nearest bell and, after a brief delay, produced his master key. Sanderson probes him.

“You are …?”

“The plumber. Pete Dexter.”

There is a wrench among his tools.

“Someone phoned in about a dripping tap.”

“They did?” He’d meant to report it, but had he done so? Occasionally, he will write himself a note as a reminder, but notes tend to get lost or else become illegible. His neighbour may have sworn over the dripping late at night when sounds magnify. She wouldn’t rest till she got hold of somebody. “You’ll have to put in a new …” He breaks off. Having intended to test the man, he himself is on trial. He stares into the distance, but the word he is groping for isn’t there. “A whatchamacallit. Like a discus. With a hole.”

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Sunday, 23 December 2018

Very Little Helps by Clare Weze

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Normally, the café is too busy to overhear customers’ conversations, but today is deathly quiet. 
There’s a craft festival in St John Street. His workmates have been sent there to man a pop-up café and most of his regular customers have defected too, so Markus can hear every word the only two punters in the place utter. Every. Sodding. Word. They’re in their sixties – or maybe their seventies, it’s hard to tell – and they’re ladies dressed to lunch, even though it’s late in the day. A talker and a listener. The talker, who’s white, is well curled into the chat, like such types always are, and the listener – a black woman – is taking it like it’s medicine. 

The words roll over him at first, but then something in the monotony of her tone makes him tune in. Just to see what could be that dry. Dry, yet pulsing. Pressing. And Jesus. It’s all about her oil-fired central heating boiler. The listening one can’t steer the conversation. She has a feeble try every so often, but BOILER. BOILER MAN. SERVICE AGREEMENT. BOILER just steamrolls her.

Markus wipes the counter down in rough, zig-zagging sweeps and wonders why the boring one wants an audience when a wall would do. He shoves the cloth onwards to the sink sloppily, thinking of his colleagues, Doog and Mali, who will be well underway by now. They were chosen to run the pop-up café at the festival because they out-hipster him. Jacob, the manager, has left Markus in charge – yet again – because he says he’s solid and dependable. It wasn’t his ambition to be dependable. Jacob says something about dependable Hungarians, but that’s bullshit, because Markus’s British Hungarian mum lost touch with the Hungarian side of the family, so he knows embarrassingly little about Hungary. He just pictures the Danube and all the lights in Budapest, like everyone else.

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Saturday, 22 December 2018

Up in Smoke by Paula R C Readman

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“I’ve always loved this time of year, especially November. As a child it always seemed magical to me,” James Peterson said to the driver of the van he’d hired for the day. 

“Right,” the driver said rolling his eyes with an air of disinterest as he checked his mirrors. Then he glanced over at James, with a nod, he let out a long sigh. “Please could you belt up, Sir.”   
        
“What! Oh sorry, yes, of course,” James snapped the belt together with a satisfying clunk.  

The driver pacified, gave a sharp nod, readjusted his rear view mirror, and then gave a final check to the road behind before joining the early morning traffic.

James leant back in his seat, hoping for a comfortable ride. He didn’t want to think about the task ahead, when he had plenty of other things that needed doing. He stared out of the window, enjoying the sight of people rushing about in the busy cityscape. He knew the first part of the journey would be slow. Too many traffic lights and dawdling cyclists caught up in the morning rush hour, but at least it gave him the chance to enjoy the architecture when under normal circumstances it flashed past. 
As the cityscape faded making way for a more rural setting, he gave a snort, soon losing interest in his surroundings.

In the silence of the van’s cab, he glanced over at the driver who seemed lost in his own thoughts.
James normally used to the busyness of an office was unable to cope with the silence, and felt the need to shatter the peace.

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