The Wedding Dress.

I’ve never really written poetry, I always seem to need more words to tell a story!

I’m trying to challenge myself and try new things. But I’m still not eating mushrooms……………………..

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 She sat alone, quiet and still.

 The room once empty,

 Her thoughts now fill.

She thought of the laughter

And thought of the tears,

 Thought back to a time,

 Without any fears.

She thought of the boy,

 Who grew to a man,

 She thought of the sun

 And the grass,

 Where they ran.

She thought of the war,

 And the green fields beyond.

 She thought of the blood,

 The pain and the gore,

 She thought of the man

 Who loved her no more.

She thought back to a time,

Before he was slain,

Thought back to a time,

When all was to gain,

She thought of the dress,

still hung by the door.

Her hopes, like her wedding day,

Lost all those years before.

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Flying High

maui-from-mauna-kea

Her eye lids were heavy and beyond her control. A sensation of cold was seeping beneath her skin. A faint scent drifted in the air, of alcohol and sweat and coffee and violets. She tried to battle the mist surrounding her thoughts, tasting the fear but unable to scream. Then came the light, slowly at first. First one eye, then the other. She felt the cold disappearing, felt the warmth of a hand covering hers. “Why do you fly so much, when you know you hate it” said her husband releasing her hand and waving for another G & T.

My 1st attempt at 100 words for FridayFiction

http://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/

You’re in the Army Now!

images (1) “Keep your heads down lads” bellowed the rough looking Sergeant from the corner of the makeshift barn. Beads of sweat dotted her forehead, ebbing downwards stinging at the corner of her eyes as they passed. Sarah wiped her sweated brow with the arm of her fatigues and felt the rapid beat of her heart pounding in her chest. “Yes Sarge” she managed to shout as another volley of shots sailed overhead. This is what she had worked for, the last few months spent preparing for, but it didn’t seem to help. She was out of her depth, gripped by fear. She could almost taste it, rising like bile from the pit of her stomach.  She crouched down, watching the rest of her small detachment slowly snake towards the door. Corporal Steven’s, the oldest and by far the most dangerous of her team was frantically trying to loosen the last round in his rifle. The only visible features on his heavily camouflaged face were his immaculate white teeth, a blazing moon of light against the dark coloured cam cream. “Simon Cowell , eat your heart out” she whispered across the void. Even here there were fleeting moments of humour, the tension seemed to heighten and twist every response. She watched as his hands, usually swift and sharply accurate struggled to undo the clip, his thick set fingers struggling to grip the magazine.  Sarah could hear him swear under his breath as his breathing became more and more frantic.  She quickly felt herself tensing. She knew the signs, she’d seen it before. The group of eighteen had started out full of bravado, eager to learn and desperate for action. Slowly, one by one they’d lost their edge, got caught in the mayhem, been hit and fallen to the side.

In the beginning Sarah had felt sure she would be one of the first to go out. She was shy and not used to the constant shouting, the barrage of abuse. She had managed to hold on longer than many of the others. Gaining strength and confidence she followed the training protocol religiously.  Seeming to find some sort of inner strength, an ability she never knew existed and she felt more alive now than she’d ever done. Looking over at Stevens, Sarah knew he was loosing it. The signs were already there and she felt her panic rising, “You ok” she mouthed across at him. He raised his head quickly and she felt his steely gaze shoot back. That was all it took. All he needed to quickly regain his composure. He managed to change his clip as the door suddenly blew open and another volley of shots rang out.  They both dropped to the floor, frantically rolling out of view and away from the invaders.

Sarah’s heart was racing, she wanted to be sick. Her mouth was parched and her tongue was heavy. She licked her lips trying to get a bit of moisture back into her mouth. She could hear voices outside, voices she didn’t recognise.  She quickly eyeballed Stevens. Had he heard them too? She gripped her gun, the steel of the metal like ice against her clammy hands and slowly rose to a crawl, motioning Stevens to follow. He was usually the one doing the leading but he was now so far out of his comfort zone she was worried for her own safety let alone his. She could see the panic in his eyes, and sensed his mind racing as he quickly wayed up whether to follow her. “Come on, we have to get out of here” she mouthed again; if their cover was blown it was all over.  He quickly nodded and scurried behind her as they made their way to the far left of the building. Sarah frantically eyed the escape route. She checked for noises, steeling furtive glances out of the broken window. Her gun trained in front ready for action. There was no sign of anybody outside and she could just make out the shape of some large hedging 50 metres to the left. She turned to Steven’s and knew he was struggling. Instinct put her hand to his shoulder then raised her eyes to the direction of the bushes. He instantly nodded and sensing what was coming next threw himself to the ground, crawled under the broken planks and made his way out into the open.

They’d done it, they’d made it out. Sarah felt an overwhelming sense of pride and not even Stevens sobbing in the corner of the hall could take away her exhilaration. “Congratulations Sarah” said her company commander as he handed her the shiny tin cup. His booming voice rang out around the room “For a girl you’re a bloody awesome paintballer”. Although his tone was way to patronising Sarah didn’t care, watching her boyfriend still crying in the corner she couldn’t wait to rub his face in it. He said she’d be crap. Said she would hold him back, while she looked for a broken nail or pulled her heel out of the mud. Yet in reality it was her that had got him through and she swore he was never going to forget it, she wouldn’t let him. In fact she was still thinking how he could pay her back, how far could she push it as they walked to the car park. She spotted his Audi and silently raised her eyebrows. This was his baby, she knew he loved her but if it came down to her or the car going under a bus, she was a goner. Then suddenly he threw her the keys and as she climbed into the drivers’ seat she could already feel the balance of power shifting.

Things to do when he’s gone

The car pulled away quickly, narrowly avoiding next door’s stationary Range Rover. Why her loud and garish neighbour, needed a Range Rover was hard to fathom. Especially considering she only left the house once a week for a wash and set and the occasional trip to Sainsburys. Perhaps a throw back from her years as a TA instructor Kate imagined, although she hadn’t actually asked her. Kate suddenly pictured a large framed, buxom 70yr old in her starched kit and equally tight knickers straddling a machine gun ready for action, she laughed out loud. It was just those thoughts that made seeing her own car turning the corner and out of sight that bit easier to handle.  She stood for a few seconds scratching at a small mark on the window. Then realised the mark was actually on the outside and cursed the so called window cleaner, who she couldn’t remember actually seeing except for when he called for his money. No 1 on the things to do list; leave the mark and see when it goes!  Definite candidate for Frost, ahh No 2 for the list; Source Open University Course in Criminology.

Why did it hurt so much?  Seeing his half finished tea left on the table, his empty glass propped hazardously against the corner of the plate. The shouting had stopped. Kate should have felt relief but she could only feel the emptiness. The mounting fear that she was now alone. Did she do the right thing?  Did he feel any pain? (Metaphorically speaking now, honestly). She stood and started to scrape the last remnants of his meal into the bin – was this how it was going to be now? Scraping away the past, the knife noisily scratching at the last few beans stuck to the plate.  No 3 for the list; buy new bin bags.  “I’ll wash up in a minute” she thought,  as she sat down again wondering what to do next.

She was mulling over the earlier events when the piercing shrill of the door bell startled her upright and onto her feet.  Instinctively straightening her hair and adjusting her underwear, she walked towards the door.  No 4 on the list;  never buy thongs again.  She opened the door and forcing a smile she didn’t feel, came face to face, well actually face to chest, with a very small, slightly paunched chap who greeted her with a wink.  Needless to say she was instantly thrown and momentarily speechless,   No 5 on the list; remember to read that article on first impressions. Sensing her unease he broke the silence “£3.75 Mrs”.  What for, Kate thought.  A sandwich, a copy of Big Issue, donation for endangered Pandas? Turns out it was for the windows!

 Sat back down on the settee but still couldn’t settle. The TV was on but even Corrie couldn’t sustain her interest. Picking up a magazine and flicking through the pages she was caught for a few minutes by a new pic of Posh & Becks queuing outside Argos.  She quickly put it back down, and reached for the remote. Why there was never anything you wanted to watch or hadn’t at least seen twice before?  She knew it was only a distraction, stopping her from thinking about what happened. What was he doing now?  How far had he got?  Maybe she’d  do the washing up, she hated looking at it, sat there playing with her, “you know you want me”,  “I’m dirty” “The waters lovely”  OK OK I give in her subconscious screamed, ohh but wait Posh & Becks are in Comet now, “I’ll just read this”. No 6 on the list: check out printing ink at Comet;

The phone rang; first quietly, seemingly harmless then rising to a thunderous drone, calling her to it.  Who would it be, was it him? It was too late for selling, too early for that sloshed friend who’d been dumped outside “The Happy Haddock”.  If it was him, how should she react? Should she stay calm? Act as if she wasn’t bothered, pretending she was in control.  If she didn’t answer it, would he ring back?  She hesitantly picked up the phone. Trying to follow those deep breathing exercises she recently read about “Hello”.  It was him. Alleluia. He was ok and wanted to talk.  “Hi Mum, Dads dropped me at Sams, he’s on his way back, see you in the morning” So that was it, short and sweet, his first sleepover.  The pain started to ease, the emptiness subsided and then a sudden realisation hit, “Damn, I’d better finish the washing up” she knew her hubby would be bringing back a bottle.  Kate’s mind frantically raced as she tried to remember the last time she’d shaved her legs. “You never know” Kate mischievously thought, “I could be on a promise if I play my cards right” after all we do have the house to ourselves!

 P.S.  No 7 on the list;  buy notepad to make a to do list.

Two Men Walking

The last two mourners at the small churchyard walked in silence towards the gates. Paul’s eyes darted quickly to James on his left then just as quickly back to the road ahead. He desperately sought a connection from his companion; he wanted him to shout, to hit out, to say something, anything. But there was nothing. He needed recognition; an acknowledgement, a moment of acceptance, anything at all from the man at his side. Mounting frustration kept Paul’s gaze shifting back to the road in front.

James, the taller of the two, was 6’4 of toned perfection. His hair was blonde, sleeked back against his head. Cut slightly longer at the back it gently skimmed the collar of a long navy overcoat that fell to just above his calf. He wore it opened and the cut of the cloth handsomely bellowed around his lower body. The sharp weave of the heavy fabric turned the colour almost black against the shimmering gold silk lining. Underneath was an equally expensive suit with a hint of dark grey pinstripe that gave a tantalising glimpse of some heavy duty money. The silk handkerchief neatly folded in his pocket seemed somehow over the top but the celebrity mags had always called it his trademark look. In contrast, Paul’s suit screamed cheap, it was 20 yrs old. It smelt of old spice and sweat of alcohol and cigarettes. He instantly wished he hadn’t worn it. His desperate attempt this morning at taming his unwashed hair had been slowly eroded by the incessant rain and he instinctively raised a hand to it, wondering what to do next.
Paul lowered his gaze as they approached the gates and turned to look at James, not knowing what to say. He stood for a minute, facing him, riveted by James’s pallid stare. There was a definite air of unease as one man scanned the other. What now? And then, divine intervention. A black Mercedes, seeming to appear from the shadows, suddenly screeched to a stop at the side of them. The door opened. James climbed in and was gone. They were two strangers who had shared a last goodbye, a fleeting connection of two worlds. Paul reached into his pocket, grabbed some coins and quickly counted. He walked out of the gates wondering if he had enough for the bus fare home, maybe even a pasty from Gregg’s…….

After the funeral, Paul needed to be on his own. He wasn’t part of James’s life, he didn’t feel comfortable around the starlets, models and TV execs he knew would be there, each vying for 5 minutes Press coverage in next week’s chip paper. It just seemed so false, so ridiculous and so totally crap! So a couple of hours later without any real reason why, he found himself alone in James’s apartment. The porter had recognised him and let him in. He re-locked the door and turned, sliding his head back against the wood he gave himself time to get his breathing under control and let his eyes adjust to the emptiness of the titanic open plan space. He hadn’t needed any lights, a huge fish tank, floor to ceiling in height, was the only dividing wall in the open plan unit. It separated the living areas and the bedroom. Neon prisms of light danced in the darkness, bathing the space in enough light to let him wander unhindered. Without conscious direction Paul found himself by the large king size bed at the farthest corner of the unit. It was freshly made, he could see a dozen pillows neatly plumped piled against the headboard. A delicate swathe of emerald green satin sheathed the bed with a flowing lava of textile pooling around the floor. He lay down. He wanted to rest, just for a while. He listened to the darkness, the night wind gently rustling through the tall oak outside the window. He couldn’t get the earlier encounter out of his head.
He couldn’t relax, couldn’t stop the fog from invading his thoughts. He sat up. The dimly lit shadows sailed over the wardrobe that was set back against the un-finished red stone brickwork. He got up and walked towards it. The carved Moroccan doors sang of elegance and wealth. Running his fingers over the delicate mouldings, he shivered. A vivid memory flashed into his head; odd sized wooden planks, nails scattered across the paving stones, two boys and a newly built rabbit hutch. The image vanished as quickly as it came. He shivered again. His hands hesitantly went to the wardrobe doors and opened them. Something caught his eye. Hidden in the far corner conspicuously veiled and out of place amongst the other expensive boxes he pulled out a tattered old shoe box. Sitting back on the bed, he flicked on the small spotlights built into the headboard. He opened the lid, his fingers caressing the old dog-eared photos. Even in the dim light Paul could see the images from memory and he lay back thinking about the past. His brain was churning, as was his stomach, maybe that Gregg’s pasty wasn’t such a good idea.

How different things were just a few weeks before. Trepidation was a feeling he rarely felt, but waiting in the car that Saturday morning, Paul’s heart was racing. His mouth felt like a service station cheese sandwich, dry and begging for a little accompaniment. He’d been dry for 7 weeks, 2 days and looking at his watch, almost 23hrs. Sobriety had helped him pull himself together at work, being a freelance writer had its advantages as long as you actually wrote. His latest pieces had recently been picked up and money had started to slowly placate his over anxious bank manager. Paul had finally agreed to meet up with James. He wasn’t sure why he had, not after so long, but since that first awkward phone call had come out of the blue James had never let up; calling him, texting him, said he really wanted him to look over some plans he’d had drawn up for his new place. Paul felt like a kid again, his stomach was churning, excitement, anticipation, fear, all mingled with that healthy bowl of muesli he’d eaten for breakfast. Although the excitement of James letting him drive the flash new Mercedes E Class had started to disturb his stomach acid, it slowly eased the further they got out of the city.

They had been on the road for a few hours, the low rising concrete replaced by low rising peaks and green mountain meadows. The background hum of the CD player weaved between snippets of insignificant conversation. Then suddenly, without warning the car screeched wildly out of control. The rancid smell of burning rubber quickly hit the back of Paul’s throat. He tried to swerve, pulling at the wheel. Using both hands frantically trying to turn the car away from the large black object coming towards them. They say your life flashes before you. Not once do they say ‘a huge black cow’ but that was what Paul saw as he momentarily lifted his gaze towards the oncoming barrier. Then a never ending haze of green hit the shattering windscreen. Then what felt like minutes rather than seconds as they came to a sudden terrifying stop.

All was silent except the constant hissing of the radiator panel, smoke billowing from the shattered bonnet like a steady rise of steam from a boiling kettle. Paul slowly shifted forward, tentatively lifted his throbbing head and turned to his left. James was slumped over the passenger air bag, his right arm dangling loosely towards the floor of the car. Paul pulled at his seatbelt, the stench of smoke clawing at his throat, seeping into his chest as he started to cough. His left hand gripped the dashboard trying to steady himself. He shouted to James, to wake him, praying he was alive; but nothing, the only sound his own heavy breath and the rasping pressure escaping from the compacted mangle that was left of the engine. He tried to look in the rear view mirror, shattered in pieces and now bent almost vertically. He heard a sudden, short gasp, it startled him forward. The white nylon of the air bag was stained by a heavy stream of blood. He looked at James, his left eyelid was partially open and the brilliant blue now stained a dark ruby red. He cautiously tugged at James’s seat belt, trying to loosen its grip. Leaning forwards he felt a hot piercing pain in his side, he hissed. He put his arm out and slowly eased James back against the Italian leather seat.

As the first orange flicker appeared under the wheel arch Paul realised they needed to get out. He painfully moved his legs from under the steering column and gave two heavy kicks against the door cranking it open. Putting an arm around James, he lifted them clumsily out of the car, cursing loudly as he moved. He moved towards the clearing. Another loud explosion suddenly threw them to the ground. Polished rosewood and Italian leather flew overhead, the door finally landing 50 metres in front. James tried to lift his head, so did Paul. They looked at each other and started to laugh; a tense, nervous, inappropriate laugh. Paul wiped away a trickle of blood seeping down his face. It was then, looking at James laughing so crudely, that Paul realised how much he had missed, how much he loved his little brother. The laughing stopped. James gasped. A strange hollow sound rose from his chest. Paul reached out for him, cradling him tightly. Tears stung his eyes as he feverishly stroked James’s clammy forehead, his face pressed pleadingly against James’s cheek. Willing him to breath, to hang on, to stay with him. He didn’t. James breathed his last breathe in his brother’s arms. Paul was still cradling the motionless body of his brother when they were found some 30 minutes later by the rescue services.

That divine intervention that had carried James away from the churchyard on that miserable wet morning had in fact been just that. It was James’s funeral. There had been no words spoken between them, just like the photos Paul now held in his hands, James had just been an image, walking beside him, saying goodbye ……………..

Flashbacks

It’s about eight thirty on a Monday morning, the fourth Monday in June as it happens. The Birthday of Henry ‘the Fonz’ Winkler and on this day in 1957, the day strawberry Blamange was first introduced into the UK. I’m smoking my second cigarette and feeling like crap, a strange acid type feeling that starts in the second half of your lower bowel and steadily rises until it reaches a crescendo affect at the back of your throat. Last nights party is ebbing into my consciousness, flickers of bad food mixed with equally bad company. I’m awake, hung over, starving and sore, and I don’t know why. I also don’t know why the bile rising from my stomach has a taste of honey, not that cheap squeezy stuff but the clear kind sold in glass bevelled jars with handmade labels saying made by a 60yr old farmer’s wife from Dorset and her two thousand hand reared bees. It was everything the morning after the night before should be.

My apartment is on the third floor of a converted paper mill, four stories high, made of bluestone and brick. It runs parallel to the old canal route and at certain times of day I swear I can hear horses strolling along the tow path. A New York style loft space, so the particulars said, a city must have for anyone young, talented and most definitely overpaid. High roofed, low lighted and wood floored, with ceiling high windows and exposed brick walls. The bedroom is the whole width of the apartment. A blaze of art house white wallpaper swirled with black glossed sunflowers. Swathes of Egyptian cotton voile draping the 8ft high windows, not only filling the room with an amazing amount of light but fantastic for people watching. This morning it’s the power walkers mingled with the school shoes, the brief cases with the shopping trolleys. There’s a child in a red woollen hat, not more than five or six and I’m spellbound as I watch her hop her way past the coffee shop on the corner. Then laugh as her mother, power dressed in a sapphire blue trouser suit tugs at the child’s arm then misses her footing and drops to her knees as if in prayer.

All is calm, except for the orchestra playing in my head. The wind section vying for power against the percussionists, with the symbols winning.  Then it hits me. The sickening realisation I’m not alone. A shapeless mound buried nearby starts to stir. I drop the cigarette into the empty bottle of Chablis on the floor and quickly yank at the duvet. A vision of toned masculinity, tanned to perfection, comes into frighteningly full view. For a second all I can focus on is the large morning glory that seems to be winking at me from across a well honed thigh. “Shit, who the hell is he”? I internally scream, “How much did I bloody drink”? Scrambling to the floor, self-consciously clinging to the duvet, I scramble to the floor, grab the mobile and start dialling.

Another patch of city, another patch of time :          

“Surrounded by an alleyway of tall red brick; weather beaten window frames precariously clung to shattered remnants of glass.  Scattered rubbish littered the cobbled pathway.  At that hour; the damaged street lamps only shed small specks of light along the track. The stench of overflowing bins, both extreme and pungent, hit her nose with a ferocity she had never before experienced. Paranoia crept into the edges of her thoughts, it kept telling her to check again. She didn’t dare, denial was the easier option. She quickened her pace…..

 

   There it was again… the footstep. It chilled her to the bone; there was no mistaking it that time. Quickly turning, a knee jerk reaction, she felt his hot breath skim her cheek. Almost tasting it, rancid, heavy and frighteningly familiar. His face spread into a wide hideous smile that stretched across the expanse. His eyes like pools of evil, flickered with malice in the absence of light. His arms stretched high above his head, held something hidden by the shadows.         “No please…Please no…Please!” she whimpered and lost her footing as she fell back against the red brick.

Then darkness.”

Locking myself in the bathroom, waiting for reinforcements, I see myself in the heavy rectangular mirror standing loose against the wall. I bought it from the Antique market in town. Held every third Sunday except in March when it’s replaced by the stench of three hundred Friesian cows at the farmer’s auction. The chap who sold me the mirror was about 4ft tall and looked at least 105, with small deep set eyes and a faint American accent. He said it once belonged to a tragic Hollywood starlet, embroiled in a passionate and secretive fling with her leading man, and who was I to doubt him? Although the gilded frame was fairly  tarnished and a few age spots had appeared in the bottom left hand corner, it quickly filled my senses with a heady scent of glamour and I’d loved it ever since. Unfortunately it wasn’t always forgiving and as I scan the remnants of last night’s mascara I can’t help but stare at the features facing back at me.  Where have I gone?, I don’t recognise the face staring back, but today maybe that was a good thing, today of all days I really don’t want to be who I was, what happened to Sarah Green? Life, opportunity and money happened to Sarah Green I ponder as I hear Jenny, my ever obliging, hardly ever at home Flat-mate swiftly and forcefully removing last nights night cap into a waiting cab.  “God, what did I do last night” well actually it was more like “who, did I do”?  but at 10am on a Monday morning I wasn’t ready for self analysis, neither was I ready for Work, “Shit” better get in the shower.

 

 Another patch of city, another patch of time :

       She opened her eyes to the bleak light and muted sounds coming from nearby. Every inch of her screamed with torment. Raising a weak arm to her head she instantly felt the large open wound pulsating across her brow. Blurred images were smudged against the insides of her eyelids. Dirt and blood congealed like random ink blots on carbon paper, covered the remnants of her blouse.  Slowly raising herself up against the redbrick she reached for her missing right shoe, the strap torn in two and the heel bent back on itself. She had to get out of there.

            A particularly vivid flashback hurled itself upon her fragile brain, forcing a wave of bile to surge up from her stomach, causing her to heave. The acid stung at her lungs and ravaged her tender torso. She wiped away the vomit as best she could and again forced herself upright. Clawing at the wall for support she felt her way out of the darkness and into the open. Desperately scouring the anonymous faces, her pace quickened into a sprint, her exhausted body straining to hold on.

Then darkness……….

 

Out of the shower I head for the living room. The air is heavy with last nights smoke and the unmistakable smell of cold Chinese food. The oversized sofas are minus cushions, and the limited edition sculpture that usually lives on the pedestal stand in the corner is somehow upside down in the wicker basket. I reach for the coffee Jenny has left on the breakfast bar. My morning elixir, “God” I can’t function without my fix, ‘Arabica coffee beans cultivated by Colombian pheasants’, or so the label said but could just as easily been three middle aged women in hair nets and industrial weillies working on a production line in Glasgow. I’m so damn late this morning I gulp at the coffee and unceremoniously try to manoeuvre my left leg into a pair of tights. Swearing like a fish wife as a small snag rises to a three rung aluminium loft ladder running from my ankle to my thigh.

Putting the coffee back down on the granite I attempt to salvage what’s left of my dignity and reach for another pair of tights. Jenny walks past sliding her hand across the empty pedestal stand as she comes to the breakfast bar. I always think of her as an unfinished painting, her green tinged eyes and beaded lashes hidden by an out of control mop of jet coloured curls, her loose bargain buy sweater hides a perfect figure. I can see her scanning the remains of my latest one nighter, and feel myself tensing. That feeling you get when you’ve just been caught putting a chocolate lime in your mouth at the pick and pix, or when you lie about having no change for a collection tin outside Sainsbury’s. There was silence. I look at Jenny. Jenny looks at me. She’s looking thoughtful as she polishes the counter, sighs, leans down on her elbows and hesitantly asks “Want to talk” .

My heart is racing, my palms are clammy and I don’t think it’s because of last night’s three bottles of wine or half -finished Chinese. “No, I’m fine” I shoot back, then quickly add “but thanks”.  I already know today will be hard. After all, pressures a drug and I was an addict. An addict for fine wine, fine men and chocolate cake it had to be said. So why do I feel so unsure, so frightened? Frightened is new for me, and I don’t like it. I’m always in control, I know exactly what I’m doing and why. Well, maybe not last night but “hey” there’s always an exception. I pick up my car keys, files, phone, “shit, where’s my bloody phone” and race for the door. “Good luck”, shouts Jenny.

Another patch of city, another patch of time :

     Her heavy eye lids lifted to the scent of antiseptic tinged with stale drink and urine. A sense of loathing coursed through her veins. A strange cold sensation was seeping beneath her skin. The more she strained her memory, the less she knew. Exposing herself to self-hatred, yet not knowing if she deserved it. She wasn’t sure where she was, or how she had got there, she remembered the flash of blue and the paramedics that had swathed her in a blanket, but nothing more. The nurse drew back the curtain, the crispness of her clean blue uniform heightened by the florescent lighting that flickered overhead. She caught sight of the police officer sat in the corner, she saw him writing in a small notebook and as he looked up she was sure she caught a look of sympathy wash over his face. She couldn’t shake the voices swirling in her brain, the sound of laughter, a taunting familiar laughter.

Then darkness…………

 

 The Court building, a large grey box, three stories high and well past its prime is in the centre of town, thankfully just a twenty minute car ride from home. From out of nowhere the heavens open, small rivulets of water are already running down the side of the road splashing knee high off the pavement and I don’t have a brolly, buried somewhere amongst the debris on the back seat of the car along with two pairs of trainers, an unopened Brie and Pesto baguette and collection of Starbuck’s cafe latte cups. I climb the steps two at a time, not dignified I know; but I was running late and grateful for that extra twenty miles I’d punished myself with on the treadmill. I caught site of Detective Ryan as I tumble through the doors. As I walk towards the group his expressionless eyes are probing my frame. He says nothing. I’m sure I catch him glancing at my tits as I bend to open my case. I’m muttering “creep”, as I fumble for my papers. I then head straight for my client; she’s sat on the wooden bench opposite.

Louise Jones is small; I’d say an eight, with short waif like hair that seems to emphasis the hollows in her cheeks. She stands with her side to me, bent forward a little, looking down at the floor. She doesn’t move or change position an inch, her breath a delicate whisper. Her mother, bottle dyed and time worn, wearing last year’s Primark collection is stroking her hand. A sort of automatic gesture that instantly seems a bit too contrived, or am I over evaluating? Hazard of the job I suppose. Louise had dressed down; she was wearing a black trouser suit, a pale green blouse and black patent boots.  She looks younger, somehow more vulnerable and I’m glad. Then kick myself for thinking that, after all, what she’s wearing shouldn’t have any bearing on the case. She looks at me and smiles, was that hope I could see in her eyes, it was hope I had in mine. Hope, that she couldn’t tell I was nervous. My mouth was dry and my tongue felt like gravel as I mentally forced myself to smile, a confident Boots No 7 blemished pink glazed smile.

                                                                            

Another patch of city, another patch of time :

    The older couple were physically shaken when they entered the room. Bill Jones tightened his grip around his wife’s waist as he mustered what little self control he had left, he forcibly guided her towards the bed. The police officer sensing their despair quickly stood and after placing a compassionate hand on Bills shoulder, left them alone. Questions and more importantly answers would come later, now was a time for tears, for comfort, not recriminations. She opened her eyes and felt the salt laden tears burn at her face, she felt her body shudder and convulse as she released the fear and pain stabbing at her chest. “Why, why” she mouthed as she sobbed uncontrollably into her mothers arms. Then darkness…………..

 

“Local Man Charged with Date Rape”

A local man has been charged with rape in connection with an incident in Sanford.

Paul Snape, 28, from Alamein Road, Sanford, appeared at Linton Magistrates Court yesterday. The case was committed to Swinfield Crown Court (pictured).

The charge relates to an incident on April 25, 2008.

 

The case has been heavy going. The defence lawyer, 6’3, mid thirties, strikingly handsome and impeccable in both his dress and argument is summing up. One hand rests on the mahogany hand rail in front of the jury the other confidently skims against the waistline of his trousers; a Paul Smith suit, black with a faint silver wisp in the pinstripe. He continually gestures towards his client, as if to emphasis the upstanding character and integrity of the accused, yet I can’t help but remember the time I caught this impeccable lawyer in the back of Judge Brown’s chambers, infragranti with the court registrar. His beautifully starched pinstripe trousers gingerly edged around his knees, it’s a vision that often amuses me, especially considering the court registrar is a bloke called Steve.

I need a bit of light relief; I’m finding it hard to judge the jury’s mood. Number six is a lady mid 60’s, thick rimmed glasses, once a week wash a set brigade, idolises her grandson and can’t remember if she fed the cat this morning. Number eight is heavy set, I’d say late forties with a distinguished silver streak in his hair, plays squash twice a week and shags the bar maid from the golf club while his wife’s at advanced yoga. Plus ten other equally random strangers. The evidence seems clear, Louise had faltered a bit on the stand but surely that wouldn’t count against her.

As I listen to the end of his closing statement, which I have to say is good, too good. His character assassination of Louise has been brutal, a good time girl who drank heavily and flirted her way up the office ladder.   A tease who had a grudge against a colleague and all the while I could see Louise shrinking back against the chair, her character been torn apart in front of twelve nameless strangers, not to mention her parents sat in the gallery beyond. She’s sitting hunched over, as if no one can see her, her hands writhing in her lap. She keeps her eyes down too terrified to face her attacker. His genial smile camouflaging a monster. The defence lawyer finishes and I slowly stand, fastening the buttons on my tightly tailored Zara two piece as I do. I give myself those last few seconds to prepare and then I begin “Members of the Jury” ….

Another patch of city, another patch of time :

    When her boss’s son had been sentenced the other local papers had gone to town. Paul Snape (Senior) was a highly respected Editor and local Councillor, chairman of the Golf club and recently appointed Justice of the Peace. The press had had a field day. Louise had never fully returned to work, although she had tried. Tried to ignore the silences as she entered a room, to ignore the disdain that spread across their faces whenever she walked past. Everything gone in a night, taken away in an instant. Her life had changed beyond recognition, she had moved back home away from the glare of prying eyes. She had slowly regained some sort of acceptance of the past, the mental anguish under lock and key. Occasionally let out in the darkness of her bedroom, the ticking of the alarm clock in time with her heartbeat as she retraces that walk along the cobbled pathway.

Then darkness………..

 

As for me, well it’s about eight thirty on a Monday morning, the fourth Monday in January as it happens. The Birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and on this day in 1953, the day Hugh Heffner gave the world that great litery classic, Playboy. I’m wearing my Marks and Sparks’s pink pj’s, the kind with a hundred anorexic looking sheep thundering over fences. There’s a well worn nicotine patch secreted to my fore arm and I feel great. Moving out of the city had been the best thing I ever did. The house, on the edge of the village is an old weaver’s cottage; lime rendered brickwork with a beautiful garden and a trickling brook. And as I lay looking out of my window, I see the view tinged with early morning frost like thin threads of crystal shimmering in the sunlight or a hundred tiny spiders’ webs sewn together, and I can’t help but smile…..

Back Street Annie

The street was the common end of Bransome Fields, two rows of parallel bricks, broken only by a  line of windows and glistening front steps. The seal of respectability marked solely by the shade of waxed fruit in the window and the depth of the crease in the fall of the drapes behind the heavy sash panes. But on the right hand side, at the end of the row; where the builder had found a spot of land too small for a house yet too big to leave free, there stood a funny little box.  A peculiar shaped cottage, with a red painted door and a heavily blackened door knocker, smaller than the rest yet distinct by its shape and its conspicuous lack of waxed adornments.

She stood at the door, tall and slight.  Her features hidden by a grey woollen scarf draped loosely over her shoulders. If you were quick or particularly perceptive you could just make out the line of her uniform under her grey woollen overcoat, the royal blue hem line just visible as the bitter evening wind lifted the edge of her coat. Ms Partridge noticed, as did Mrs Brown two doors up, on a row where people neither stood at their doors nor gossiped across back fences, yet visitors were never missed.

Cora Darnell’s energy had utterly departed and she found herself floundering those last few steps. Her flesh was cold and bloodless, limbs limp, trembling and her teeth drummed like the burr of the dentist’s drill. Through a long eternity she watched a large grey spider spinning a web against the arch of the door frame, deftly weaving its legs between the thinnest strands of silver. Cora’s thoughts ran under the threads, interlocking flex of darkness tightening their grip. Standing transfixed by the delicate strands of lacework, she thought of her own trap, undeniably, everlasting, contradictory thoughts of despair. James or Tom, James AND Tom “Oh God what have I done” too quick to follow her thoughts, a voice too quick to write down, she saw the spider draw in its prey, death was swift consuming,  terrifying yet consoling. There was no noise. The stillness became insistent; it was deathlike, unyielding, remote, -suffocating her in darkness. Rigid chimes of black echoed in her ears, drowning in a sea of shame; a tearful reproach against a blood red door softly, silently weeping against the twilight coloured embers of the early evening sky. 

                                 

After a second and slightly more determined rap of the knocker, Cora heard the jangle of keys from behind the door and the spasmodic shuddering of a bolt being pulled back. Mrs Penshaw ushered her in with a swift gesture of her hand and a barely recognisable smile. A scraggy sharp faced women of about fifty or so, dressed all in black except for a faintly blotched apron that hung from her hips like a wooden frame.  She gestured Cora towards the kitchen, steamy and overheated it smelt like last night’s tea, cabbage and boiled greens.  The women pointed to a small back room that led off the hallway, just beyond the kitchen. In the room was a wooden table, very like the one her parent’s used for potting plants. There were a couple of chairs, a smaller table with a large jug of water, a basin, some scissors and a stack of towels. The older women told Cora to undress and put her things on the chair, then left.

Cora’s mind was sweeping, an inescapable force – a train hurtling, headlong, sweeping into darkness, terror – awe of the unknown. She tasted the fear – bitter, dry, burning at her throat. The stillness deafening, throbbing chest, rising  – climbing, clawing at her soul. She unbuttoned her coat. Her fingers fumbled with the buttons. Her fingers too big, not solid like liquid. Tom had been fast, eager, skilful, the buttons of her blouse had almost opened themselves, like her they stretched, gave themselves freely, the material slid from her shoulder, the whisper of his breath undressing her, ghost like breath, godly an angel of desire clawing at her senses. His touch made her shiver, intoxicating, burning, she had run into the flames, not slowly, gingerly wary of the outcome. No she had run, run faster than she ever thought possible, engulfed in the white flamed passion that was eating at her flesh.”Oh God, what have I done”

Mrs Penshaw came back in and immediately asked Cora for the money; she took the brown paper envelope, opened it, hastily scanned the contents and slid it swiftly into her apron pocket. Cora wondered how many other envelopes had lined the heavily mottled pocket. She hesitated at the table, her eyes scanned the faded wallpaper where rows of what looked like stalks of wheat made a criss cross pattern across the walls. She became aware of the silence.  A silence only under laid by Mrs Penshaw tinkering with something on a tray across the smallest table.  Upstairs she heard a door open then swiftly shut. Life carried on. She heard a cough, the thick tense crackling of apprehension turned her face towards the older woman. “Take some of this, my dear” her northern drawl tinged by a rasping undertone, a soft voice hardened by toil or was it more, alcohol perhaps?  Cora reached her hand out for the glass, the mixture, a rich port-wine colour, frothed at the top. she drank it quickly, the bitter tinged liquid slid down her throat, warm, smooth and surprisingly pleasant.

Cora thought of the glass decanter at home, delicate patterns of glass that danced against the red blood flowing within.  It was James’s decanter. He was so different to the glass in shape, massy bulbous, so cold, heavy black and metallic, so alien to the beauty of the delicate cut crystal.  He hadn’t always been cold. Where eyes were once vivid blue, softly dropping rain dancing patterns in the fountain. Now consumed by the greyness of death. Grief, terror, longing, intangibles that had their own mass.  Emotional baggage he couldn’t escape. War was hell, but returning home was harder. The bitter sting of liquid slid through her veins, it didn’t wash the guilt only oiled its grip, clasping clawing devouring her.  As the liquid swirled in her stomach she pictured Tom, Gold ripe yellow hair, bare chested, teeth like the bright white rays of the moon. She had wanted to sleep inside his skin, breath his blood and be smothered. She had wanted to taste his spirit, eat from his soul. Sleeping with him had been wrong, she knew that now, but then, the need was too great, the hunger gnawed at her being.  He had found her loneliness and made it his own.

The Stillness had become intense, acute, yet held a grim significance. Every moment of inaction counted, as Cora strained her eyes and ears for any hint of light or sound. Mrs Penshaw had her back to her and she could just make out the silhouette of the older women against the darkness, an oil lamp had been lit in the corner by a bare looking dresser and the fire flickered bright whispers of shadow across the walls. Mrs Penshaw turned and Cora could see a sharp looking instrument in her right hand, it was long and thin, like a straightened coat hanger with its hook still intact at the tip. Cora felt her fingers clasp round the edge of the wooden slab, her grip tightened and she could feel her nails burrowing into the soft wooden grain on the underside of the table. The older woman opened Cora’s legs and gestured for her to raise her knees. There was no oral instruction just a faint movement of her eyes and a gesture of her head. Cora’s legs began to tremble and she could hardly muster the strength to stop them physically rocking herself off the table.  Mrs Penshaw put her hand across Cora’s stomach and swiftly inserted the cold steel between her legs.

Cora felt a minute of absolute unconsciousness, seconds perhaps minutes. The pain like a gush of water from a crack in a dam, a terrifying all consuming pain. Broader, wider, deeper came the darkness. Speeding silently into the void. The room closed in around her like a veil of black being gathered together. “Am I dead”   She could feel an overwhelming terror, a dread so dark no words could describe. Then nothing. Then followed a sound, like the sound of a tolling bell, faint and muffled as though she was hearing through thick swathes of darkness. The noise became louder, more distinct, “Cora, Cora” the faintest whisper became clearer more determined. “Was it Tom”? he had used her name over and over again as they lay in a sea of sun bleached wheat, a carpet of bronze, swimming on a tide of ecstasy she had never known possible.

“It’s done” said Mrs Penshaw as she washed a pair of scissors in the basin of water over near the door.  Cora felt the tears burn at her eyes, she tried to focus, the pain from her stomach was intense, her legs felt like jelly and seemed to belong to someone else. The older woman picked up a string tied bundle that was by her feet and placed it under her arm against her hip. She walked towards the door, turning back towards Cora she gestured at the clothes folded neatly across the chair, and left.  Cora dressed as quickly as was physically possible given the incredible pain that showed no sign of abating, pulling her stockings back on over her trembling legs she kept looking at the clothes folded carefully on the chair. The royal blue hospital uniform of St Agnes the Redeemer silently cursed at her soul. The healer, protector of life had abandoned all conviction and given way to vanity and self protection.  Cora steadied herself against the edge of the makeshift operating table. She gingerly placed one foot then the other into a black leather loafer, hospital issue, comfortable, dependable and thoroughly reliable. Her eyes utterly enthralled by a small gilded frame hanging slightly off centre on the back wall, a hint of delicate summers not long past against the bleakness of the present.

Lucid images of still summer evenings, the grass was golden in the place where the little flowers she studied seemed to be crying heavenwards for her blood. Murmurs of sunlight, speckles of dandelions and deep coloured daisies, murmurs of freedom, of flying like air, of butterflies in summer. She thought of the last time with Tom, the green meadow carpet under her flesh, his touch like fire on sweat fevered skin. Straddled across him, entering her, drawing his blood deep up into her body. Then full she pauses, dreamy, heavy, drowning in fields of green meadows and reluctant goodbyes. The day before James, the day before all hope ceased to be. A man broken by battle, in body and mind. Her instinct said run, to freeze to hide from the burden, but she was a wife, James’s wife.

Cora followed the older woman tentively back through the darkened hall way, the smell of boiled greens still heavy in the air, made her almost wretch as she cradled her stomach, trying to stifle the rising nausea  that seemed to be racing at breakneck speed to the back of her throat. The extent of Mrs Penshaw ‘s farewell was brief and in voice not much above a whisper, said the bleeding should start in a few hours and to go home to bed.  And that was it. The deed was done, her eternal future sealed by a grey haired stranger and a cold piece of steel.

Before Cora even had time to turn her head she heard the door shut swiftly behind her and heard the shuddering of the heavy bolt being pulled back across the inside.  Instinct took over as she wrapped her scarf around her head and tucked it tightly inside her overcoat.  Protection not only from the bitter evening chill but also the prying eyes of the anonymous window shadows. Pulling the collar of the overcoat still closer she lowered her head and walked slowly back along Bransome Fields towards the train station and home.

“Oh, God please forgive me” she couldn’t protect herself from her thoughts, thoughts coming fast. Running backwards, and the thoughts kept coming, like pistol fire, just missing getting nearer, she wanted to turn and run, run from herself. A child, gold yellow hair, barefooted, soft plump legs, colour of an autumn moon. Running to the water, tide rising, swallowed by the spray, washed away to nothing. Only nothingness left now, left to wander amongst the living, blowing through the dusty remnants of duty and honour.

When Flight Lieutenant James Darnell was finally released from the RAF Hospital at Uxbridge, he was no more able to bare his disfigured and mutilated body as he had been eight months earlier.  Who he was, had died with his crew, splattered to the four corners of that well ploughed field at La Longueville, northern France.  He wasn’t living not in any real sense anyway; no movement below the chest, strapped inside a metal chair on wheels, the only remedy able to give any sort of respite to his self loathing was the heady cocktail of alcohol he consumed in copious amounts on a daily basis. His wife Cora, beautiful, timid, sickly naive and duty bound to be the ever present bearer of his drunken rage.

James had thought Cora somewhat different of late, quieter, and distant not quite as attentive as she should be. He would need to sort that out.  It seemed to come about around the same time he heard about the suicide of his old Etonian friend Tom Sharpe, walked into the sea at Brighton, fully clothed, mid afternoon one Friday in October.  Nobody knew why.  He knew Tom had called at the house a few times while he had been overseas but for the life of him he couldn’t work out why Cora had been so affected by the news, after all they hardly knew each other!