Archive for July, 2011

At first, she thought it was cute, being serenaded as they walked to the restaurant or art gallery.

“Girl with the big blue eyes, we’re going to see an exhibition about the French Renaissance painter Monet.”

I didn’t really bother her that he couldn’t rhyme for shit.

It did a little.

But he was handsome, made her laugh and could make a mean beef lasagne.

She realised that he had a problem straight after they had had sex for the first time.

“I’m glad we just got to have sex. It was the very, very, very, very best.” he strummed, moments after rolling off of her. She hid her head under the pillow in embarrassment as he tried to think of a word that rhymed with foreskin.

Nothing rhymed with foreskin.

It quickly became apparent that John was a little too connected to his little red ukulele. Rather than being the quirky, care-free muso she had first suspected on the station platform, it was clear, that after four dates, there were three people in this relationship.

Six week’s later and Jane was beginning to despise the ukulele. It was the third-wheel in what was promising to be quite a promising relationship; a red spot on their otherwise blemish-free affair of witty conversation, good-ish sex and knee-shakingly good beef lasagne.

“I’m always waiting. It’s incredibly frustrating,” she complained to her friend, slapping her hand over her dirty rhyming couplet mouth immediately after she had said it.

She eased the instrument from his sleeping embrace as soon as she got home. Softly opening the kitchen door, she padded into the garden, placing the ukulele into the metal bin the council had never quite got around to collecting in the early 90s.

As the fire crackled, she could swear she heard it play the first four bars of ‘when I’m cleaning windows’.

In the morning, John was beside himself. She held him, told him it was a robbery, and that they could buy him a new one.

After five peaceful years, on the night before their wedding, she kept her promise.

Words: 329

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It’s always the shoes. Other men in my line of business say it’s the photographs or the stacks of letters and postcards. One chap I spoke to said it was the telephone, it always rang as he went about his work. I’ve never met anyone else who had this happen, certainly it’s never happened to me. Neighbours drop by from time to time of course, that’s only natural. Sometimes I let them in for one last look but I never let them take anything. Not even the shoes, though heaven knows why they would want them. They do though, some of them. Shoes and suits.

All shoes make me feel this way, even those bought years ago by a child hoping their father or mother would again walk in the park and chase the grandchildren. The new shoes, those never worn and still packed with tissue like discarded handkerchiefs, even those affect me. You’d think I’d find them pristine, shop-happy but no, those too evade the light and crouch in wardrobes waiting for their master to return.

When I open a front door, unsealing it to begin my work, I hold my breath. I’m not superstitious, how could I be? I know the owner is dead and I’m only here to empty the house. But I also know there will be shoes slumped somewhere in a corner. I can’t bear their sadness. I deal with the watchful eyes of family photographs or memories of foreign holidays written onto plates on the kitchen wall but shoes, I escape the broken leather of shoes.

I’m thinking of retiring soon though. Families are selling on eBay these days. They can get more for their parents’ lives there. As we move further away from the great wars even the diaries and collections are becoming rarer. It’s hard making a living this way. Besides, my feet hurt from climbing into the lofts where childhoods are stored.

Words: 330

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The men weren’t at all prepared for the bird strike. They hadn’t seen the signs, though enough warnings and ultimatums had been issued across the city in the preceding months. It was a Wednesday morning when all the women got up and instantaneously thought: That’s it, I’ve had enough. There were mothers of boys, wives of husbands, mistresses of lovers, sisters of brothers, daughters, aunties, nieces, friends.

All the women of all the men just stopped what they’d done for years and downed tools.

Straight away, crockery and cutlery starts to wallow unwashed. Very soon piles of grubby linen and laundry build up. Everywhere layers of dust and dirt begin settling. But it’s the refusal to engage in personal relations that drives desperation into the men’s hearts.

Every time the men try to reach out and express affection or desire, the women move to a safe distance. Don’t fly too fast or too low, the hastily prepared guidance said. You don’t want to threaten them with sudden movements.

When the women get together, however, it’s altogether different. There are hoots and titters and chatter, a great amount of excited noise. And the colours are amazing: the women now dress for themselves, not for the men. But as the women become so bright and vibrant, the men’s attraction and misery only doubles.

The men are going spare and some are prepared to try anything. The town teams with men walking strangely, holding hats and briefcases and coats and umbrellas in odd, unnatural positions. They ache with the need to touch the women, and not just physically – emotionally too. As the women maintain a steady silence, the men lose all perspective, deprived of female thoughts and dreams.

The men call an emergency meeting. A plan is needed, but they lack imagination. They ask the women what’s to be done. Be wise: beware birds, say the women. And the men know what the women mean and are full of respect and admiration.

Words: 330

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All I want to say is that no-one listened to my side of the story. See, when I was seven I accidentally set the house on fire playing with matches behind the couch. Really, though, isn’t that more my mum’s fault? What kid isn’t intrigued by the quick, flashing spurt of a lighting match? That intense, yellow flame, flickering so brightly and slowly catching onto the plump, purple threads of that old couch? Building and spreading, leaping up, orange and crackling and hot.

Really, my mum shoulda nipped in the bud right then. And I guess she might have done, if the smoke hadn’t got her.

Nothing else happened after that. Well, nothing big. Sure someone burned grandad’s apple trees and the rabbit hutch got covered in petrol and went up in flames with this really big wumph. But that coulda been anyone. And I took Bunny out first.

Course grandad got pretty mad about his trees and stuff so they sent me away to school for a bit to “sort my head out”. Man, did you know some boarding schools have these Bunsen Burners and whole classrooms full off little gas taps to fuel them up? Dangerous huh? Anything could happen. If you think about it.

So I ended up back with granny and grandad and they sure weren’t pleased to see me, especially granny, crying and all. They were so upset they didn’t even think to check what I’d bought on the way home. If they’d been more focussed, they wouldn’t have just headed off to bed without even thinking about me and my head full of all that lovely heat and fire and noise. Tell you what though, that night those flames musta been thirty feet tall.

So, yeah, I had a tough time growing up and, I’m human, I still miss granny. But it’s cool. I’m totally over everything now. I’m just a regular guy saying hi to my new neighbours, hoping we’ll all be friends.

Words: 330

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She said it to herself often enough, more than once most days. It usually occurred to her later that she may have been hasty, stupid even.

Walking home from the shops, Emily slid her bag from her shoulder and ferreted about in it for the pear she’d just bought. She bit into it and slurped loudly, all in one less-than-neat movement. It was too juicy really; she should be leaning over her kitchen sink to eat this, or at least wearing a bib. What a mess.

Emily stood in the middle of the empty road with sticky fingers and a foolish feeling. She looked up, checking who’d seen her make an idiot of herself this time. Something caught her eye though. Doors are usually unremarkable in rows of terraced houses; but this one had a set of keys in the lock and there was no-one around.

“It’s probably just someone being forgetful, there was that time I left my keys in the car door overnight…” she thought, rolling her eyes and shaking her head remembering her stupidity. This isn’t the safest part of town at the best of times without an open invitation dangling from the lock.

She couldn’t just leave them there, could she? Did that make any sense whatsoever? After knocking hard three times – waiting a decent amount of time between each – she pushed the keys through the letter box, hearing them land on the carpet.

It was helpful, considerate and community minded. Emily nodded, affirming her belief that she’d done the right thing. She even daydreamed about being thanked for popping a gracious explanatory note through the letterbox. “Though I’m not entirely sure how they’d get in and read it” she puzzled, slightly guiltily, as she walked away.

Hours later Emily realised that she could have taken the keys out, brought them home and left her contact details on an apologetic note on the door.

She closed her eyes and tutted, “Rats”.

Words: 330

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“It’s the most perfect shade of blue, isn’t it?”

Maureen didn’t think so but she knew better than to offer an opinion. When Edmund started in on one of his observations nothing could interrupt or contradict him. Mountains would move before Edmund Jenkins admitted he was wrong.

“This must be the most celebrated view in all the world. It must be. The only reason Wordsworth never wrote about it was because it humbled even him.”

More likely, Maureen thought, was that the view just wasn’t worth writing about. It was barely worth stopping for and yet, year after year, Edmund did just that, unscrewing the thermos and leaning against his stick for a good hour or more whilst he talked. And talked. Year after year he talked about daffodils and imagination or some other Lakeland theme he’d unearthed from a National Trust leaflet.

Not that Maureen knew more about this place. She was a city girl at heart and didn’t much care for the hills or the weather this time of year always brought with it, but she had accompanied her husband regardless, visiting gravesides and churches and garden centres and listening, always listening.

There were many things Maureen might have said to her husband but on the subject of the grey sky, the tumbledown fence or the car park she kept her peace just as she had in the forty years of standing in the same spot listening to the same talk on the perfection of Nature.

If only they had walked to one of the many places with a bench. That at least would have eased the pains in her legs. But those places had been claimed for other couples, all of them dead.

Two years on, Maureen Jenkins continued to visit that same spot and look across that same view. Her crumbling hip was glad of the bench she had paid for with its single name and long awaited sense of peace

Words 324

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It began with a mystery and ended with a murder.

The murder, based in Grasmere, took place in a whodunnit whose form was a rather alternative interpretation of the life and times of a William Wordsworth whose promising writing career is cut short by his murder at the hands of a more able, though less appreciated Dorothy who, we are led to believe, fell into a jealous fit after young William ended their incestuous affair in favour of a planned marriage to Annette Vallon (a beautiful but unbelievably innocent foil to the lusty wiles of the poet’s, bisexual, sister). Featuring facts which the author only half-remembered and details he had demonstrably misunderstood concerning the themes of the real world Wordsworth, the novel dragged in, amongst others, an Inspector Shelley whose own literary aspirations prevent him from seeing the truth about the monster Dorothy had become. It was both turgid and flaccid which, whilst certainly a remarkable achievement, was nothing compared to that of the title, “Murder Of The English Language”, which had the critics nodding in agreement.

The mystery, however, had begun years before. He had always wanted to know, long before the world denounced him and despite being encouraged to take extra Gym rather than English, why he wanted to write.

He’d never enjoyed the study of English. Never appreciated, or so he’d been told, the art of the novel or the beauty of a sentence. Yet this man, this man who would be denounced from Amazon to Twitter, continued to want to write.

In sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, sub-plot after motif, the author who would murder Wordsworth would, as he held his children and laughed about his journey into literary history, discover that he couldn’t care less about grammar, or whether his book was read or burnt. The act of writing was enough.

And in finally solving this mystery, the author reached for his notebook and began to give Shakespeare a right good kicking.

Words: 328

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