The silver coins slowly slid across the calloused skin of his right hand. One by one they hit the oak table, clinking and jingling as they fell. Finally, the last coin settled into place. The room was tense and silent now.
“Slainte!” shouted the coin dropping man in the black cloak to the gathered conspirators, as he got up.
The chair fell to the ground in his wake but he didn’t care. He swiftly exited the dimly lit backroom without looking back. He wasn’t taking their dirty money. Betrayal of the natured the others suggested disgusted even him.
Dora's mum and sister were out using their coupons for tonight's tea. Dora sat at the piano practising again. She just couldn't seem to get the scales right. The sky was threatening rain and it had gone quite dark. She could hear the planes overhead but, being close to Manchester, they had got used to the droning engines.
She heard voices shouting outside and someone running down the back alleyway. The clatter of heels made her turn momentarily. She hovered over the keys before practising the piece that Mrs Danby had given her. Now it was silent. She was gone.
Loaded the car up early morning - no-one about. Waited for midnight. Never imagined Lockdown could end like this.
Reversed out of garage, street deserted. Drove to rear of the park, braked quickly, thud from the boot. Noticed unpleasant smell in car, opened front window, grateful for the cool night air. Checked the road- empty, no witnesses.
Opened the boot carefully. Looked inside-couldn't believe it.
I struggled with the weight, pulled the chest onto the ground.
The silence was shattered by the crashing of empties into the bottle bank- beer, wine, Prosecco, gin - lots of gin.
It was the most excited Maria had ever seen him. In regular meetings, she shuffled in her oversized body so he and his nurse could check that she was not returning to normal. Euthymia was the name for this illness he struggled to maintain: better life through chemistry.
Problems appeared regularly as side effects of his treatments. Today she was incontinent, she told him.
Eyes glittering with interest, he leaned forward, the veil of concern gone. She saw him see her – the experiment on the wheel. She was making his day. “Urinary or faecal?” he asked eagerly.
The writer strived for perfection, attempting to correct all that wasn’t right in life, putting it into words then making it work.
Caring not for what God had done, he became his own maker, shaping pages until all he saw was good.
This existence, vicariously lived through his fictions, satisfied, until he realised his creations could never offer a love that was absolute. A deathbed revelation: truth understood too late.
Then, a gift. One final vision.
A future where all that remained were lines left behind.
And a smiling reader, feeling the heart in his art and loving it forever.
Remington made typewriters. Bullets became words, ideas triggers and stories started revolutions that didn’t end by the turning of the barrel of a gun.
I get a license at a store where the bell sounds like a carriage return. On the subway home, I take it out. Let it lie on my lap. A guy looks at me in the way that if I’d a gun, I’d show him.
I type. Keys tap into feelings, strike paper ripped out as the train stops. Shooting from the hip, I leave him with a piece of my mind. Bullet in the brain.
‘What’s your problem?’ I said, glaring at my neighbour Mr Jenkins.
‘You’re supposed to wear a mask in the shops,’ he replied.
Great, another person believing that masks protected you from COVID-19.
‘Oh, go away.’ I pushed past Mr Jenkins and left the shop.
Days later, COVID-19 symptoms developed. But after ten days of quarantining, I was free.
‘John, how’ve you been?’ Michael, my other neighbour, waved at me.
‘I’m alright. The missus and I caught COVID, but we’re okay now.’
‘I’m glad you’re alright. It’s a shame about Mr Jenkins?’
‘He died two days ago from COVID.’
He had been trapped all day in the mine, sweating and dehydrated. Mary embraced him when he returned to the house. A hug was usually reserved for lost children, but they had none.
A feast awaited Jim. Delicately cut tinned salmon sandwiches and an enormous Victoria sponge.
Next day, he bought Mary a gift. As he passed it to her, the tears streaked her face. A shiny, ornate hat pin. She muttered about him not being able to afford it. It was worth it for his second mother. She had never worn a hat in her life. She would now.
The tiny engine huffs out steam as it ticks around the track. The famous 6201 Princess Elizabeth.
The train set is huge: a scale model of the Carnforth line. Every detail recreated in miniature. Working lights, flocked grass and queuing passengers.
“Watch this,” Jake says, pulling the train up at a signal.
“Nice.” I clip-clop a horse around the paddock opposite the station.
Jake drops in a plastic hay bale.
“Mum’s ill,” I tell him.
The train moves off again.
“She needs an operation. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I’m not stupid,” he says.
“I know, buddy. I know.”
“What’s that man doing?”
Vaclav peered into the gloom. “I know of him. He has a calling. He collects firewood.”
“Where does he live?”
“Three miles hence. By the forest.”
“He lives near a forest, and he’s schlepped three miles to get wood?”
“I believe it is some form of penance, Sire.”
“Bit extreme, don’t you think? Still, it’s horrible out there. Maybe I should help him? ‘King helps lowly peasant’, that sort of stuff?”
“A fine notion. Sire. Shall we take his family provisions?”
“Three miles?” mused the King.
“Snowing. Freezing. Dark. Nah, forget it!”
Adam sat at his window, serving his last day of quarantine.
“Shoot me down, Adam,” chirped a Pigeon. “Drive us to extinction.”
Enraged by the Pigeon's beaky grin, Adam rushed out of his house.
“Cut me down, Adam. Build a new mall,” a rustling voice said loudly. It was the Apple Tree, overwhelming him with fragrance.
“Yes, come on, Adam," taunted the Pigeon.
Adam picked a stone and threw it at the bird. He was held by two men.
“The nasty bird wears no mask and the tree….”
The men looked at each other, “He needs to be confined elsewhere.”
He never got over his mother’s breast. Infancy was the best of time.
School, the worst. He never understood the fuss about qualifications.
At love he was lax, the effort made him wilt.
Father suggested the Army, but the exercise and busy routine was unconscionable.
Effortful words made him laugh or yawn.
He never took a driving test, fearful he might go somewhere, if he passed.
On jury service, he refused to judge, angering the foreman.
Society called him sponger, but he lived without anxiety.
When his heart stopped, he was proved right,
You can’t take anything with you.
“Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco,” he sneered , snapping the butt away. “Not today!”
“Today’s your lucky day, ” said Mickey, eyes not straying from the grey ribbon ahead. “Don’t set fire to the scenery.”
“All around you.”
“Rocks. Grey. No green anywhere. Desolation.”
“And hot! Does this heap have air conditioning?”
“ Chrysler’s finest.”
Sunlight flashed off a surface that wasn’t rock.
“That’ll be Mister L.”
“Out here? I thought – “
“Don’t out-think Mister L. He wanted to meet you before Vegas”
Mickey pulled over. “To talk to you.”
Three cars waited
He was deserted by the sun, forced to sleep at night. He would lay in bed, tossing and turning until the first rays of the sun would fall upon the earth. Sometimes he would wake up in the middle of the night, get out of bed and sit in the corner with his face hiding between his knees. Sometimes he would leave his room and wander alone in the silent streets where shadows would chase him into dark alleys. Sometimes he would just look up at the sky, smile and think that at least the moon hasn't left him yet.
It’s early morning and I am out of bed and busy wondering.
The day ahead. Tuesday. Or is it Wednesday?
I listen for the day’s numbers, (too many,) drink tea, eat toast, shower and dress, buy one thing from the supermarket, count my steps, do some washing, either whites or coloureds. Not both. Peg it out.
I work. I talk to the screen, camera on sometimes, sometimes not. I walk too familiar streets.
I feed the cat. I cook. I eat. I stare into space.
Neither happy nor unhappy, but still, patiently, determinedly, able to wonder, plan and dream.
SHORTLISTED, EDINBURGH FESTIVAL COMPETITION, 2020
‘We’re only different to this by dint of our molecular complexity!’
Remember? With that, you brought your big, nasty fist crashing down on the oak desktop you’d crafted as our wedding gift.
It wasn’t true though, was it? The trees that kept the scattered remains of their ancient family members alive weren’t so simple. They talked and cooperated, had the capacity to heal. They emitted gases to warn of predators.
Can you hear me, lying there in critical condition? The trees hear me when we talk. They remember the things I tell them.
Yes, the trees communicate. And they remember.
You never knew me. No one knew me. I stood in front of a mirror and didn’t even see me. I locked myself between the same four walls and called it a prison when I could’ve just opened the door. When they asked me to open the door…
In my mind, you knew we were two halves, broken and lonely. But you put on a mask, so we were "different." But that mask is starting to look like the same four walls. Did you lock yourself in there too?
Or have you already mastered the dungeon?
“Push! Push! Say hello to your new son.”
“Hello, Melvin. Time for school.”
“Hello, Susie. My name is Melvin. Marry me.”
“Oh, do it to me, Melvin!”
“Oh Melvin, we’re pregnant!”
“Melvin, I’m pregnant.”
“Dammit, I'm pregnant.”
“I need a raise,” Melvin informed his boss.
“I need a job,” Melvin informed the woman at the employment agency.
“Dear Melvin,” Susie’s lawyer's letter began.
“Come here often?” Melvin asked the girl at the bar.
“How much for the whole night?” Melvin asked the woman on the corner.
“Football injury,” Melvin told the stranger in his bed.
“Heart attack,” said the coroner.
He’d lived his life for this day. Carefully putting on the dress uniform with the polished buttons, he thought about all that had led to this. His childhood experiences, losing his way as a teenager and then finding it again. He was coming home.
He marched onto the parade square; his head held high. His father would be so proud – this was all he had ever wanted for his only son. It was a pity that his family would only see this glorious moment on the television.
He thought of them and then pressed the button in his left hand.
He always heard her before he saw her. Click-clack on the stone staircase. A stiletto knife through his skull. He never knew what she really wanted, but something compelled her to come. Click-clack; she was outside his door now.
This was his moment. After this, the same old pattern would just repeat. He had the power to change things; to take a chance, be spontaneous, be…….out. He was the master of his own destiny; not a slave to hers.
Ding ding ding ding.
This was it.
He opened the door.
So much has happened today. Mum got a letter saying we had won a competition for a trip to Barbados. My mum is obsessed with entering stuff. This time it was a general knowledge quiz. She always drags me along, even though I’d rather sit in my bedroom. She was calling to me now. “Lucy, I’m ready!” She came out in a flutter of bags. Just then, I saw a good-looking man emerging from a house across the road. Mum waved at him. I was quite surprised. She said “This is my friend. He’s coming with us.”
Esme receives a text.
‘CONGRATULATIONS! Your Covid-19 test was positive! You must register your death within 28 days. Any claim to have died from Covid-19 after that date will be deemed invalid.’
‘I got a text from Boris,’ says Esme, smiling, as she slides into an induced coma.
Until further notice, the registration of deaths will be completed over the telephone.’ Esme’s daughter phones the number.
‘Were you present at the death?’ They breathe into the silence. Someone taps on a keyboard.
‘I regret to inform you that since the deceased passed 29 days after diagnosis, the computer says ‘No’.’
He settled for coffee from the break room but it was bitter nasty bile plunging his already gray mood into an unfamiliar abysses tingling with uncertainty. A Sweet stench layerd the tiny room like a hidden cloak. The restaurant owner, his head buried in his hands suddenly uncovered them unable to hide.
The detective took a long reluctant sigh but was interrupted...
“I didn’t stab my wife” the owner squealed, like a pig, half scared, half indignant.
“Oh, I don’t believe I told you how your wife died.”
The Detective smiled. Maybe it wasn’t too late to get to Starbucks.
Jane smiled as she went in her front door. She was remembering hearing that new guy at the sports centre say that she was a knockout. She checked herself in the hall mirror and thought, all that training had kept her looking good. She heard a noise as a burglar came careening out of her bedroom. She deflected his knife thrust with her training bag then punched him on the side of his chin, knocking him out cold.
Then she dialled 999, but not before tying him up with the black belt she’d been awarded at karate earlier that evening.