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 (April 2018)
Now She Can Hear The Sea
I hold the lock of baby hair in my fingers; so soft, so fair. I remember cutting it and twisting it into the small, oval locket on its Spiga chain, which now sits next to the tiny spiral seashell, found on Ilfracombe beach. She held that next to her doll’s ear, when we got back home. ‘Now she can hear the sea,’ she said.
The blackbird’s feather, the Victorian penny, the white stone with sparkly inclusions, from another beach, and the ticket from her first train trip.
The pressed wildflower, the charm bracelet: photo booth images, on her own and with her best friend Beth: they are all there.
The Lourdes’ medal on its blue ribbon. We went there full of hope and she returned so much stronger, more at peace, but not cured.
And lastly the memories. They are mine.
Tearfully, I place all these things back into the scratched and faded sweet tin, from a Christmas past: her treasure box from happier days, now gone.
The following stories and poems have been selected serendipitously, some bright, some sad, all just expressions of life as I find it.
‘Get your buckets fella’s. It nearly time for the off!’ Charlie was rallying his friends at the Brigway allotments. It was a five-minute walk to Murdoch Crescent – well, nearer ten for Old Percy, but he’d set off early. He wasn’t missing out, like last year. Might as well have left his bucket behind, that time.
Today was going to be a good one; the longest Carnival Procession the town had seen any year since before the war. Rationing had finished and everyone was beginning to build a few surpluses: mostly to be hoarded, just in case. Just in case of what, no one was really sure, but it did mean that the more generous folk had a few bottles and cans to spare for the food stalls. There would be more baked cakes and rhubarb tarts than a year ago and Gypsy Jo (really Meg Robinson, spinster of the parish) would be making happier predictions in her fortune-tellers’ tent.
Murdoch Crescent was the perfect assembly point for the Carnival Procession. Only a quarter of a mile out of the town centre and arching around the main road, it was long enough to accommodate twenty-eight floats in two rows. one on either side of the street. Not that there had ever been that many, but this year there were fourteen horse drawn carts, including a coach and four, eight motor wagons and three small handcarts. And with the town band, guides, scouts and two dancing troupes mixed in, it would make a magnificent sight. Bright colours, loud music, vibrant streamers and rainbows of balloons; floats themed from town history to the huge spaceship, perched precariously on the back of a brewery lorry, all with children prancing around them. Pride of all, the flower drenched float of the Carnival Queen.
Old Percy turned into the street, his allotment friends having just caught up with him. The whole bucket and shovel brigade gazed in awe. It was not the extent or vibrancy of the assembly that excited them: it was the twenty-one horses that, in pairs or singly, snorted and shuffled impatiently in front of their carts and wagons. Seven of them had already dumped a steamy pile of manure and the allotment lads knew that as soon as the procession moved off, half the others would perform their business. That glorious bounty would crown their day.
Charlie and his team lined up at the very end of the procession and waited. As it set off, they pounced on every revealed mound of gardener’s delight, shovels and bucket handles rattling their percussive tune as the stalwart guardians of local horticulture matched pace to the marching band – except Old Percy, of course, who fell steadily behind. By the time the cavalcade reached the town centre, every bucket was filled and Charlie and the gang traipsed back to the allotments, even Old Percy having a bounce in his step at the prospect of a bountiful year of well nourished vegetables and flowers.
There’s a skull and crossbones on the side of the dark green bottle, the word POISON in large letters that can be read from far behind the stalls. I twist off the cap and throw it to the floor.
Uttering my last declaiming words, I dramatically take a swig and turn to face my audience, a look of anguish upon my face as I drop to the stage, curled up in agony. I do not hear their rapturous applause. I’ve had enough of life. This time, the cyanide is real.
Everything is green up here in the old oak tree. Including me, in my green football shirt, a big white 7 on the back, and bright green ASICS trainers. It’s a green world, even the emerging acorns glow green, weeks before they fall and ripen to shiny brown capsules of new life. Well, life for the few the squirrels don’t scoff or don’t get crushed underfoot, on the paving below.
As I look down at the street from this sturdy bough that overhangs from our front lawn – yes, that’s green, too, though more moss and daisies, now, than grass – I watch every passer by. They rarely look up. Except Charlie. He’s my best mate: he’ll spot me as he turns the corner, then sprint down and climb up beside me. Well he did. We’d watch old Mrs Ridgway struggling along trailing her battered shopping trolley. We’d see Mr Quinton nipping around to Mary Smith’s, when her husband was at work. Fred Quinton was out of work, but we used to joke that he was always on the job! Then there were the Tattersall’s: eight of them, four boys, two girls and strict parents. Always spick and span on the way down to the park: always scolded for falling in the mud, on the way back.
Charlie and I spent half our school holidays on this bough. I miss him. He was a few months younger than me. I’m twelve and a half. It was his eleventh birthday when it happened. Before the party. And everyone had to stay home. It’s up here I remember him. I saw it. From this bough. Racing his new skateboard around the corner, he swerved to avoid Mrs Ridgway’s trolley, skidded over the kerb and rolled into the roadway. The bus driver had no chance. He was crushed as surely as an autumn acorn under a heavy boot; a bright light extinguished, a life expended, never to grow old like this tree.
Except, he’ll stay within me, on this bough, as I look down. And he’ll stay with the acorn I planted: now just two inches of sapling oak in a plastic pot.
The last act
Harsh beachside sunlight had faded the poster. “Summer Season Finale” it declared. “Shakespeare on the Beach: Macbeth. 8.30 pm. East Beach. Tonight.” It had been the same for many years. Brindleycombe Players put on three beach performances, a comedy, a drama and a musical, three nights apiece, during the season and a grand finale for one night only – always Macbeth: a tradition in which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth had to be acted by different townspeople each year. ‘The same Macbeth, but never the same Macbeths’ was their motto.
I was no lover of Shakespeare: I always found it a bit of a challenge. But then, I relished a challenge, trying to understand the substance of mediaeval lines that may have flowed easily then, but seemed tortuous to my ear.
So, I made my down way to East Beach, sheltered by its marram grass flecked sand dunes that provided a natural auditorium, while strong currents in the sea behind kept distracting swimmers away towards West Beach. The evening was perfect: dark storm clouds gathered on the distant horizon and slanting sunlight flashed oranges and reds of gore across rugged rocks, creating a brooding ambience, while rain was not forecast before the performance ended.
I looked around, feeling that buzz of anticipation whenever drama is to be unfolded before absorbing ears and eyes. Then, a light tap on my shoulder heralded a young policeman, asking if I was OK. He said he’d noticed me pacing the sands, a long while, muttering: thought I looked a little pale. I said I was just there for the play.
‘Sorry, sir, that finished last year,’ he said, slowly shaking his head. ‘Terrible tragedy, it was, too. Though I don’t mean the Macbeth, sir; one of the best performances ever, I’m told, but halfway through the last act a freak wave broke across the shore, sending cast and audience scattering, before it swept the lead role into the sea.’ I thanked him for telling me and assured him that I was fine. Then as he turned and walked away, I strode down the beach, back into the sea that had claimed me.
The Seventh Sin of Septimus Smith
It was their 49th birthday and Sebastian Smith and his twin brother, Septimus, had decided to invite their friends down to their local pub to celebrate the start of their 50th year. As soon as Sebastian set foot through the door, he was filled with an inner gloom. He’d been too slothful to contact his own friends, or even make any of the other arrangements, and he envied the jovial gathering of the Septimus entourage.
Nevertheless, Sebastian strode in with a cheery wave, as proud as if he had organised it all, opened up the buffet for everyone, piled his own plate high to overflowing, picked up two large glasses of wine and went to sit in a corner, next to Septimus’s wife. After his seventh glass, to her and Septimus’s dual embarrassment, he started to paw her, fondling her breasts with one hand, which she pushed away, and then running his other hand slyly up her skirt; and when prised away by his brother, he started to shout abuse, saying he should have all the gifts the guests had brought, Septimus had everything else, it was his turn to have it all and he was going to take it.
That was when rage hit Septimus so hard that he flew at his brother, flailing and kicking, taking a stranglehold on his neck, calling him every foul name under the sun, for being a lazy good for nothing who brought shame on the family. Only the grace of God and a stout barman prevented him breaking the fifth Commandment, as the battered and bruised pair of twins – for Sebastian gave as good as he got – were ejected into the gutter, where they sat and stared bemusedly at each other for several minutes, before bursting into uncontrollable, hysterical, brotherly laughter.
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.
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.