FLASH FICTION • POETRY & RHYME
I write when inspiration drives me, so what I write is purely of the moment, rarely planned over time. Except for some longer works on another page.
Some are a consequence of the sheer joy of writing; other times I write as a comment on the machinations of this weird world, were half of us are at peace and half of us at war with each other - whether across countries or just across the road! Then, I hope, I write on the side of justice.
Mostly, what you find here has been written just for enjoyment and not originally intended for wide circulation, but anyone is welcome to browse.
NEW FLASH FICTION (October 2018)
At last, I can run. Mom and Dad insisted on going around the house at Packwood. Musty, stuffy and boring. Full of old furniture and things you mustn’t touch. Or jump on. Or slide down. Now, it’s off to the Wellie Walk. A sprint across the field of sheep – and being told off for chasing them – through the arched gate, down the narrow path: not that I’ve got my wellies, but I can jump puddles and skip along the tree stump stepping stones, where it’s really muddy.
Now, what I need most is a stick. A big one. A long one. There’s always one somewhere. There. That’s it. Thrown half into the bushes. I’ve found longer ones, but this’ll do. It’s a bit mucky, with mossy stuff and that scaly stuff that looks like old chewing gum on pavements. I charge down the path ahead with my lance, ready to win the joust. ‘Mind where you’re going, you little brat!’ That’s from some old biddy who’s now glaring at Mom and Dad. Mind you, I did nearly take her hat off. Get her next time.
OK. So, I have to walk. I hold the stick upright, bearing the Royal Standard, as I march into battle. It strikes an overhead branch and the end breaks off. Mom hears my swearword and tells me off. There’s a rope swing just down here so I put the stick to one side and have a go. And fall off into the muddy patch underneath. Dad laughs. Mom’s face is a pained frown, but she says nothing. Come on stick, let’s go fishing, there’s a pond down here. I drag it behind me, leaving a trail in the dirt, until I find the green slimed water in the stagnant pool. I trace my name with the end of the stick, but it quickly vanishes, so I dip it in deep and pull up a clod of mud and twigs and leaves. I try to throw the load across the pond and there’s a loud crack; more of the stick breaks off. I stroll on with my trusty staff, a wizened old wizard ready to do battle with the elves and bring them to heel with magic spells. I stomp it three times on a big old tree stump and the bottom end breaks off.
Sticking my trusty sword through my belt I start running again, through the gate that’s not there anymore and jump onto the boardwalk. Sword out, I parry the cut and thrust of my opponent. He is hard to beat, but I have his measure and with one mighty swipe his helmeted head goes flying into the trees. Mom and Dad have caught up. ‘Be more careful. People are coming the other way. You’ll decapitate them,’ says Dad. Whatever decapitate means. I run on again and push by a little girl and her parents. She sticks her tongue out at me and I hear her Mom mutter ‘rude boy.’ But it wasn’t me that stuck a tongue out.
I whack the rail of the little bridge to wake up the troll, so I can slice his head off, too. But my sword shatters into three pieces, one spinning off into the ditch, beyond my reach. I pick up the other two and march off at the head of the army, using my drumsticks to beat a threatening tattoo on my big drum, before we do battle. I see another boy coming my way. He hasn’t got a stick. I run ahead, I give him one of mine and we have a dagger fight, until both our Moms stop us.
‘You’ll poke his eye out,’ says his Mom. ‘They’re just boys being boys,’ says my Dad and his Dad gives a chuckle and a nod in agreement. That boy kept the stick, but I still have the other bit. The short bit. So, I raise my baton and conduct the marching band at the carnival, as they blow their big horns and trumpets. I make the trumpet sound, as I march back towards our car, where I’m told to ‘throw that dirty old stick away’. And to take off my muddy jeans, before I get in the back.
I’m wet through to my underpants and I feel the icy cold around my bottom cheeks, as I pull them off, all the while glancing around to make sure nobody’s looking at me. Mom puts an old carrier bag on the back seat and makes me sit on it. It’s cold and wrinkly, but I can make it squeak when I shuffle on it. That annoys Dad, as we drive home.
Back in my bedroom, I write my adventure down, ready for school on Monday. It’s my turn to tell class what I have done at the weekend, together with three others. I hope I’m first. But I’m making it short. “Went to a big house with loads of old stuff and posh gardens. Walked through a wood and made friends with another boy. Had Ice cream for tea when I got home.” I won’t tell them about my stick. Teachers aren’t interested in important things.
The following stories and poems have been selected serendipitously, some bright, some sad, all just expressions of life as I find it.
RECENT FLASH FICTION
Next day, I closed his eyes
‘I can see the sea,’ my granddad said, as I sat beside him. I looked up, quizzically: the nearest coast, a hundred miles away. Was he hallucinating?
‘No, not waves breaking over a sandy beach. The sea that’s our destination.’ He had noticed my puzzlement. ‘We all start life’s journey springing from the deep dark, to trickle away our early years in blissful ignorance. Only as we grow, touched by others, tributaries giving volume to our knowledge, do we realise our destination. And that, at first, seems so far away. But how far?
‘For some, life starts too close to the sea, the flow tortuous and short. Others are lucky and meander slowly, touching many other lives, enjoying the happy confluence that drives two forces together, creates rivulets and back waters that follow their own course, yet still they must make their way to the sea.’
I was beginning to wonder if some derangement was setting in.
‘I’ve seen the black waters, the still waters and the fast flowing, sun spangled races around rocky flats; the shock of rapids and falls and the sobriety of the deeps. But my measure is up, my joyous journey almost fulfilled.
‘Your mother knows, though she is afraid to tell you. But I think you know, as I knew before I was told. I am sadly weakened, or why otherwise would I lie in this bed, with the sun up high, birds in full song and waters rippling just across the field? The sea I see, the sea I hear, tells me my life has reached the shoreline.’
My eyes glazed with tears.
‘Don’t fear, don’t cry. Life is bright. Your journey hardly started. The sea is where we all will meet again. Once more, together, we shall see the sun shine.’
Next day, I closed his eyes.
Comedy Night at the Club
She had one of those horse-like smiles. You know. All top gum and big teeth; yellow-brown stained from forty smokes a day. Her raucous laugh was a deep bellied witch’s cackle ending in a fit of curdled-phlegm coughing that rattled her chest like thimbles on an old washboard. If she came up close, you’d better duck away fast, or be unpleasantly sprayed. And the jokes? So obscene, the diatribe of blue filth was stomach churning – but she held you spellbound. Pale blue eyes peered from beneath impossibly lush false eyelashes, set in a pancake of over-rouged slap, as she strode her manly gait between tables and out on to the dance floor. A bottle blonde poured into a sequinned dress so tight it thrust her boobs right into your face. And beware the man who heckled. It would be him, not his dinner, that was roasted.
The Barber Shop
I couldn’t believe it was still there, after fifty years. The old barber shop, with deep vee doorway still shared with the shop next door. That was a sweet shop, then: now a betting shop; but both still have that forties’ style window, shared with the whole row of preserved buildings. There’s also still litter from the chippy, three doors down, but instead of old newspaper, it’s styrene trays and green-slimed, empty, mushy peas cartons.
From the outside, I can still imagine sitting on the long wooden bench, awaiting my turn; the shrivelled old guy next to me awaiting his weekly cut-throat shave; the lanky lad in his drain pipes and Teddy Boy jacket, awaiting a trim of his swept back, glossy shined hair, sharply styled into a DA; the glass shelves with jars of oily white Brylcream and Gillette razors; that odd pungency of hair oil and cologne that assaulted your nose – and then there was the busy-bee buzz of the electric trimmer and the white-collar gent being offered ‘something for the weekend, sir.’
The sign has changed. “Ted’s Gentleman’s Barber” now “Two Tone’s – unisex beauty stylists”. The interior is remodelled in plush leather, brushed steel and glass. I peer in. No sign of any customers – or clients, as I should say, now. I could do with a trim, so I push open the door and step in warily. A stylist of indeterminate gender and brightly dyed hair greets me. He, or could be she, takes one look at my shaggy grey locks, drops the corners of his-her lips and, with tightened nostrils, looks at me slightly cross eyed. ‘Sorry sir, appointments only.’
The sun shines bright
in the middle of the night
and the moon stays up all day.
The clock strikes one
at half past three
as the chickens
start to bray.
In a time before now,
but well after then,
the flowers pushed their roots
to the sky.
And the kitchen maid
stood for hours on her head
putting beetroot in apple pie.
Large oranges grew
on the crab apple tree
and the river ran back
up the hill.
The tide stayed out
for two days at a time,
the clouds in the sky stood still.
Now the grass grows tall
with a bright hue of blue,
the trees taste of Cheshire cheese.
Houses are built
With their roofs on the ground
and huge aeroplanes
sail the seas.
If all this seems strange
and you don’t think it true
take a new look, yourself, at the day.
By closing your eyes
when looking around
you may see this old world
the same way.
The Schooling Chair
At six in the morning I’d be out collecting eggs with Gran. Then back to the farmhouse kitchen for breakfast – one of the eggs, sometimes, or porridge: always toast.
Later, the old oak table cleared and scrubbed, I’d fetch the schooling chair from beside the fireplace. Gran found it in one of the barns and painted it red, with bright flowers for decoration, on the back and seat. It was time for home schooling. I was too young, yet, for real school.
Gran would teach me a little first, before reading from big old picture books, about far away places. Then, while she did the washing, I’d take one on my knees, propped against the edge of the table, and study pictures of places I’d never see.
The chair’s worn back almost to bare wood, now, book pages curled, but they still take me to a world of dreams.
Colour of Death
What colour is death?
Some would say a sombre, mourning, black,
others a funereal purple, deep with respect;
yet more the bright white glow of happy release
and joyous recollections,
or the rainbow colours of a mirthful wake.
For me, it is the fiery orange of the furnace,
for I have slain many men: women and children, too.
I’ve laid waste their homes and raped their land,
destroyed their every hope
and sent them fleeing to foreign shores.
And I’ve been cheered upon my way,
as I carve great rifts through village and city,
medals and ribbons upon my chest.
I hear the adoration of a hero’s welcome,
yet my heart sears with pain for what is done.
My heart is blackened now, my soul no longer white,
I have completed my mission on this path of life,
with memories that burn my inward eye,
that carve my downward spiralling destiny,
on the back of the beast that is war.
I am the colour of death.
Being a mystery shopper for a clutch of German brothels has its perks. Also its perils. Not that that has anything to do with my sitting in a clinic awaiting STD treatment. Nor is it strictly true that I’m a mystery shopper: my real job is health inspector, with most of my time spent in fast food outlets and hotel kitchens. Which has lead to my present state of rotund obesity. It’s not that I’m supposed to taste the food and I wouldn’t dare touch it in most of the places I go to, but seeing all that food – well, it whets your appetite. Especially when you’re depressed.
So why am I depressed? Oh, there’s a list, but mainly because I live alone. Ever since my last girlfriend left. Fourteen years ago. Oh, I’ve had the odd fling; when I’ve found a girl drunk enough not to worry about my size: my corpulence that is. Hence my clinic visit. Obviously the last one wasn’t too fussy about her previous liaisons, either.
So, I’ve resolved to be a changed person. To look more like my picture on the dating site. Taken when I was eighteen. I’ve changed more than a bit in the last twenty years. I’ve had my wake up call. And a shave this morning. Once today is over, I start out to be a new man. No one will know my past – I’ve cleared everything away. I’ll appear unblemished.
Oh God! The nurse. She’s tonight’s Internet date.
The Clock Ticks
The clock ticks away on the mantelpiece.
But in the womb, I don’t hear the ticks of each second that lead to birth and new life.
Then, through the years every tick beats a second closer to understanding, to maturity, to achievement, living the life I choose: through joy, through heartache, the gains and losses of a life well lived. But still looking for understanding.
Every second is savoured through children, through grandchildren; through colleagues and friends, through city life, through countryside, through nature: the whole panorama of existence.
And still, I don’t understand why.
Every second the clock ticks, I am wiser, but no wiser.
Every second the clock ticks, a second closer to death.
And I reflect on the high points of my life. And the low.
Until the clock stops. For me. But still ticks away on the mantelpiece.
Pleasure out of doors
I get so much pleasure out of doors.
Others may stroll on their way without a second glance,
But I find so much to see
If you only stop,
Take your time
View the placid plains, the undulating mounds,
The intricate details that grace,
The common place and the rare,
From doll’s house minuteness, a small child’s joy,
To solid, hand worn, burnished oaks of cathedral splendour.
I get so much pleasure out of doors.
Upstanding, erect sentinels that defend against the intruder,
Minimalist plate glass and chrome
Inviting you to explore,
Just to browse
Amongst stockpiled wares, kneel in pews,
Wonder at stately ages past,
Find doors to stairways to doors off landings,
Into rooms of play, or study, or simple sleep,
Rooms that whisper secrets of the night, shout pleasures of the day.
I get so much pleasure out of doors.
The craftsmanship of ancient skills has such splendour,
With intricate whorls that delight the eye,
Massive beams that defy time itself,
Standing eon after eon
Amid crumbling walls,
Decoration peeling in golden flakes, coloured dust,
Laquerless patches, dull against the shine,
No longer gracing muralled walls, lending eternity of entry
To banquets, to balls, to log fired heat and shadowed summer light.
Dig in deep
Turn over the spade
Earth over earth
With rich manure laid
Rake it and scrape it
Until level and clean
Sow it with seeds
Cabbage, carrot and bean.
Nurture it, weed it
Protect it from frost
Taking great care
That none may be lost
Fight off the aphids
The birds and the slugs
Raising the produce
To fill many trugs.
Healthy green veg
And colourful roots
Loads of soft fruits
Ripe for the eating
Or cooked up a treat
Grown on your own patch
And ready to eat.
Come summer and winter
You’ll find something there
A basket of goodness
Fresh grown country fayre.
The glow of dawn beckoned, a sliver of sun just crossing the horizon. Looking down, the sea boiled amongst black rocks, knife sharp glints setting the pulse of the coming day.
He moved further forward to peer down into the wind driven waves, the chill of the up draught full in his face. He new his next move, but was distracted by the mew of a black headed gull, slipping past so close he could feel the beat of its wing as it turned seaward.
A quick look up, then around, to see what other eyes might watch. None human: they would barely be awake, snuggled into warm duvets in hotels and cottages along this ever-popular coast. Only the birds seemed to relish this early morn.
Edging further outward, he felt the rapid beat of his heart, the dryness of throat and an inability to utter a sound. The tide thundering on the rocks below was all that met his ears, calling him, cajoling him. What would it be like to feel the air rushing around his body? Would it be a tortuous descent to a life ending pain that would sear through his whole being?
Nerves taught, he launched himself outward in to free fall, then stretched himself wide, the up current filling his wings as he arced away from the thrashing foam in his first, ragged flight. The fledgling flew high, quick to enjoy the exhilaration of freedom; but too slow to evade the peregrine’s strike.
She stares with cold, cornflower blue eyes, in defiance of what I say, intent on teenage daughter rebellion; knowing so much, knowing so little.
Her pubescent younger sister is less certain of life, but fast catching the ways of her older sibling.
Their mother, the necessary breadwinner since the accident, is a workaholic, bordering alcoholic when trying to de-stress, and rarely home. Her demeanour often sour, her idea of a four-course meal is two halves of a sandwich, a Kit-Kat and a skinny latté. So I do the cooking, with aids, from my disc-wheeled chariot. The housework, too, where I can reach.
The youngest, a boy of seven, is unruly, unkempt – and unplanned – with an angelic expression and ferocious temper.
Now, those cornflower blue eyes have whipped away; the door slammed in retreat.
But they are my family. I love them all. I’d be lost without them.