Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Day 24: The Tramp by Anne Wilson


This year is called nineteen hundred and fifty, and two things have happened; I was seven and, as well, I had my photograph taken at school. Mummy bought four, one for our mantelpiece, one for Nana and Grampy, one for Grandma and Grandad, and a spare one.
There’s a gap in my front teeth, I’ve got things Mummy says are freckles; what are they? Why are they there? I don’t like my hair plaited. For special occasions, Mummy makes loops with my plaits and ties them behind my ears with ribbons. I hate that, it feels silly.
Daddy said I looked very grown up but I don’t want to look grown up because it’s nearly Christmas and grown-ups don’t get very many presents off Father Christmas. If I look very grown up I might not get any. I’m trying not to look grown up because I think he can see me because Mummy says he always knows if I’ve been good. How does he know?
Christmas is nearly here and I feel really worried that Father Christmas might not come.
On a Saturday I go with Mummy, to the market for the Big Shop. We go every week, but one week I had to stay with Nana because Mummy had some secret shopping to do but I don’t know why she wouldn’t take me because I wouldn’t tell anyone.
On the way to market Mummy always gives a whole packet of cigarettes to a funny-looking man called The Tramp. Sometimes he’s called The Tramp and sometimes Mummy calls him The Poor Soul when Daddy asks if she gave him the cigarettes. Cigarettes and matches are very dangerous and I’m not allowed to touch them, but I know where they are; they’re on the mantelpiece behind the clock.
The cigarettes make The Tramp smile and nod his head; he always nods his head a lot but I don’t know what he says because of his beard. I can’t remember seeing him smoking but I think it would be too difficult with his crutch because he has to keep it under his arm all the time. Sometimes when he talks, he coughs, then he has to get his handkerchief out of his pocket and that’s all a bit difficult.
The Tramp stands on a step, in a very high doorway in front of a very big, heavy door at the back of where the Co-Op Savings Bank is. He looks funny, dressed in old grey clothes, with his big, bushy beard and he has a crutch with lots of material wrapped round it like bandages. You’d think the bandages would be on him, not the crutch. They always look as if they need washing. I don’t know if you iron bandages.
He wears a row of medals pinned to his jacket, which makes him look dressed up but his clothes are dirty. I think he must spill his dinner a bit, down his jacket, and if he’s dressed up, why doesn’t he wear his best shoes instead of his slippers? He’s got a big scarf as well and some raggy gloves with no fingers on the ends. I think he smells funny and his beard needs combing; it’s going a bit yellow but I don’t know why. I never say anything to him, but I think he smiles at me a bit.

About the author:
Anne grew up on the west coast of Britain, also living on the Balearic island of Mallorca. She was employed to deliver the Government initiative of Additional Literacy Support in schools while gaining a BA in linguistics and creative writing. Her short fiction appears in a number of anthologies and her first novel Here Be Dragons: A Tale of Mortals, Myths and Mystery is available in print and e-format.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Day 23: The Patient by Glynis Scrivens


Death knocked on the door.
The nurse didn’t notice him. She was busy inspecting the feeding tube and oxygen mask of her patient. These hours were crucial.
Lying on the bed, eyes closed, Sheila was only too well aware of his presence. She’d met him once before, years ago, during a very difficult labour. She knew he’d wait stubbornly, but she could be stubborn as well. She hoped that would be enough. It would be cruel for Death to take her now, just as she’d become a grandmother. And she knew James would never manage on his own.
She was intermittently aware of the warm pressure of James’s hand. If only she could signal to him that she was still here, fighting on, in her fragile frame.
She knew she looked fragile. She’d seen herself just a few moments ago, before Death knocked. It’d been like a waking dream, floating above her body. How pale her face had looked. And she was shocked to see how many machines seemed to be linked up to her body, keeping it from Death’s clutches. No wonder James looked so worried.
“I’m going to be fine, darling,” she wanted to say. But she knew that was far from the truth.
She’d heard the private conversation between the doctor and the nurse, out of James’s hearing. It hadn’t been very hard to read between the lines.
“It’s touch and go,” he’d said. “We’ll have to see if she responds to these new antibiotics.”
   The nurse nodded. “Visiting hours are over. What should I say to her husband?”
   “Just let him stay here. It might give her extra strength. They seem a very devoted couple.” He’d paused. “And if she doesn’t respond, it’ll all be very quick. We may not be able to reach him in time.”
   Something in Sheila’s soul had relaxed at those words, sobering as they were. She needed James here. And if she must go with Death, she’d want him here to say goodbye.
   The strange thing was, she didn’t even know what had gone wrong in her body. She’d been in the kitchen, getting out the ingredients for pastry. She wanted to bake an apple pie to take over to her daughter that afternoon. It’d happened in a moment. A wave of dread and nausea as she fell to the floor. She had no recollection of the ambulance arriving or of being brought here to the intensive care unit. She’d evidently had an operation. In her more lucid moments she was aware of an acute pain in her side, and she’d seen the dressings earlier.
   And she was aware, perhaps more so than ever before, of how deeply she loved James. They’d been married for nearly forty years now. It’d been love at first sight, that day he’d come to the optometrist’s and she’d helped him choose a pair of frames.
 She wanted to share this special memory with him. And to ask him what had happened to her. It was hard being unable to communicate at such an important time.

About the author:
Glynis Scrivens writes short stories, and has been published in Australia, UK, Ireland, South Africa, US and Scandinavia.  She writes for Writers' Forum (UK). She has had articles in Pets, Steam Railway, Ireland's Own, The New Writer and Writing magazine. Her work has appeared in seven anthologies. She lives in Brisbane with her family and a menagerie of hens, ducks, dogs, lorikeets, and a cat called Myrtle.

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Monday, 22 December 2014

Day 22: The Green of His Eyes by Sarah Bakewell


Her right foot started tapping like it always did when she was nervous. She peered out of the steamy bus window and took in the late autumn evening, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. The sun had almost fully retreated behind the tall buildings, leaving the sky a hazy violet with an inky darkness slowly bleeding through the air. There were fewer street lights now. By the time the bus reached her stop, the sky had turned a deep navy blue.
Alex set off along the pavement, her shadow dragging itself reluctantly behind her. Her heartbeat quickened with every step. Keep going, she told herself. You have to do this for her; you have to make her proud.
She stopped in front of the boarded-up working men’s club. This was it – the place she’d approached countless times in the last few weeks, trying to find out if the rumours were true. Trying to catch a glimpse of him - to make sure. Trying. The night air shuddered through her lungs. Wishing she’d told someone where she was going, she strutted round to the side door of the abandoned building. She remembered to ruffle her hair in the direction of the CCTV camera she already knew was there.
Raising her head and cocking it to one side, she lifted a fist, swallowed, and, for the first time, she knocked. Footsteps. She transferred her weight across to her right leg and placed her trembling hand on her hip, attempting to look confident, mirroring the movements of a girl she’d seen enter the club last week. With a creak, the door pulled into the building to reveal a slice of the dusty, dimly-lit room. Whoever opened it stayed behind the door. They didn’t say a word. She stepped into the building, jumping not at the thud of the door closing, but at the clunk of the heavy bolt thudding home.
“Through there,” a deep voice growled from behind her. She went to stride forwards, but her feet only managed a small, slow shuffle. The doorman grew impatient and pressed his large palm into the small of her back, pushing her through large, open double doors, and into what would have once been a meeting room. The furniture had been pushed to the sides and covered in large white cloths. The doorman gave her a final small shove and left quietly, thankfully leaving the doors open.  A group of men stood under one of the bare light bulbs, apparently deep in hushed discussion.
It was him – Alex recognised him instantly. He looked exactly as he did when she was six, aside from a few added wrinkles and strands of grey in his hair. Alex remembered very little of her childhood, but she recalled with absolute clarity the weeks leading up to when she last saw him, ten years ago.

“When’s Daddy coming home?” It was the second evening he’d not been there. He’d often worked late, so her dad missing her bedtime the night before wasn’t unusual. He usually left very early for work too, so his empty seat at the breakfast table the following morning hadn’t concerned her. This time was longer. It was different. Her mum was different. When she asked, her mum just pulled her into a lavender-scented hug and pressed her lips on her daughter’s head.
    “He’s… been taken from us.”
    “Has he gone on another work holiday?”
    She looked sadly at her daughter. “No, sweetheart.”
    “But he’s coming back soon, right?”
    There were never any explanations or answers. Instead, her mum packed a bag of Alex’s clothes and Alex spent a week with her grandparents while her mum ‘dealt with some things’ at home. She didn’t ask much; she got a week off school, who was she to complain? Her grandparents kept her entertained with walking their dogs and letting her help bake cakes; she often forgot why she was there. When her mum brought her home a week later, Alex realised all of her dad’s stuff had gone. She asked why and where her daddy was again, but her mum didn’t answer. She simply hugged her daughter.
There seemed to be an increasing number of visitors, none of whom were ever invited in. They’d got a doorbell a few weeks before; her mum had always said that knocks were often unheard and it gave the postman an excuse to steal their parcels. She let Alex pick the tune she liked best and they’d installed a doorbell that could be heard everywhere in their house – their neighbours frequently complained that they could hear it too. They stopped complaining after her dad had gone, which Alex found odd considering how much it was ringing now. Her mum would go to the door, shutting Alex in the front room with her after-school cartoons, and would come back a few minutes later by herself. Alex never saw who was coming round; her mum had taken to not opening the curtains. Sometimes when her mum came back, she’d be clutching flowers and what looked like unopened birthday cards.
“Who was at the door, Mummy? Was it Daddy? Has he come back?”
“No, sweetheart… It was nobody.”

About the author:
Sarah Bakewell works in publishing by day but writes dark short fiction by night.
Her work has previously been published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Chapeltown, and Dying Matters, with stories appearing in ‘Best of CafĂ©Lit 2012’ and ‘Darker Times Anthology: Volume Two’. Although currently situated in London with her fiancĂ© Andy, she will always be a Northerner at heart. 

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