And so it continues…..
Two-weekly challenge: week 6
Your character’s husband/wife/partner slips out of the house every night at 2.00 a.m. and doesn’t return until the morning. When confronted about this s/he says only, “It’s better for you not to know….” Use this to write a story.
Congratulations to Jenny who has won this challenge with her story The Resurrectionist.
“What on earth are you doing creeping back into bed for an hour or so at this time of a morning?” he asked angrily as she slipped back once again under the warmth of the duvet to grab an hour or more sleep before setting off to work part-time at the local NHS hospital. “I’ve had my sleep disturbed several times recently around 2 a.m. when I’ve noticed you aren’t here in bed beside me. At first I thought you had gone into the other bedroom because of my snoring but now I realise that’s not the case. What on earth are you doing disappearing like this? Are you having an affair or something? I have always thought that we had a stable, happy marriage and that we were at least still great friends after all these years, even if not passionate young lovers any longer. I need to know from you exactly what is happening between us,” he demanded as he sat bolt up in bed looking directly at her.
“It’s better for you not to know,” she replied, “for you will be furious with me if I tell you.”
“Well we can’t go on like this,” he retorted, “because I’m not putting up with it for a day longer. You’re disturbing my sleep but I am also very suspicious of what you’re really up to. If you are seeing anyone else then we need to talk about it as I insist that you move out and live elsewhere as soon as possible. I am not going to be made a fool of like this any longer.”
“It’s better for you not to know,” she repeated, “because I know what your reaction will be and that’s why I haven’t been able to admit it to you.”
“You tell me right now or you get out of this house today and needn’t return here after work. Find somewhere else to go. I won’t put up with you being so deceitful.”
At this she finally broke down and through her tears and sobs she confessed the truth.
“ I have been popping over to visit my mother at least three times a week during the night for the past few weeks now that she has at last been allowed to have a home dialysis kit for her diabetes since her kidney disease was fairly recently diagnosed. She was informed that home dialysis would be more beneficial for her mental health as she has always been such a lively and active person up until this year. You know that she belonged to several U3A groups and was always out and about, such a sociable friendly person. I know that you find her annoying because she irritates you with her constant chatter and opinionated views and of course in the last few years I have taken to visiting her in her own home much more than inviting her over here. I’ve done that because of your negative attitude towards her. Her quality of life has been knocked for six since needing regular dialysis but when she was informed that she could now self- dialyse at home and therefore have a much better quality of life, she almost jumped at the idea! She has also learnt that she is more likely to live longer than people attending hospital regularly for dialysis. It also offers her the opportunity for more frequent or even longer sessions than would otherwise be possible in a hospital setting. Mum really resented spending a whole morning many times each week traipsing to and from hospital having to sit around whilst machinery took over her life. So she has worked out what for her is the ideal solution. For several years she has needed to get up about 2 o’clock each morning to go to the loo and so she has decided that she will get into the regular habit of starting her dialysis at 2.30 a.m in order that she can then go out every morning just as she used to do to enjoy life outside her home. If she should feel rather tired by an afternoon, she can then have a nap. At present I want to be there with her to make sure she can cope with this regime as it is all very new to her. I also want to offer her some companionship at this lonely time of the night. You know that I don’t sleep well nowadays so I don’t resent being over there and it needn’t affect you. I love my mother dearly and I want her to continue enjoying life in whatever way she wants to and for as long as possible. I can promise you that I won’t continue visiting her at this strange time of night indefinitely but I just want to make sure that she is managing to cope with what is to her, a new lifestyle. She is such a positive person that I know that before long she herself will insist that she is quite capable of managing on her own.”
He was stunned by what he had just heard and felt slightly embarrassed and guilty by what he had been thinking she was up to. But instead of saying anything, he snuggled back down into bed, put his arms around her and kissed her passionately. She cuddled up into the warmth of his warm embrace.
KEEP IT SECRET
I recognised her as soon as she came in. I’d seen that face in the newspapers recently, and on TV. I felt a little uneasy as she sat down next to me and shifted my chair a little. But we’d been told to make new members feel welcome, so I introduced myself,
“Hello, I’m Ian. Aren’t you …?”
“Yes,” she said wearily, “I’m the wife of Ben Brookes. My name’s Carol. ”
“And you’re joining our writing group?”
“If you’ll have me. I used to write before I was married, and I want to start again.”
“Why wouldn’t we have you? You’re very welcome.”
“I’m not welcome in many places. People do their best to avoid me.”
I was a bit nervous about getting too close to the wife of a man like Ben Brookes, but I knew he was safely under lock and key. Anyway, it was clear she needed a friend.
“Fancy a coffee later?” I asked.
“I’m glad it’s not too busy in here,” she said as we settled into our seats in a back corner of Starbucks. “I get stared at everywhere I go these days.”
“You must be worried about your husband,” I said.
“No, I’m relieved to be rid of him.”
She must have seen my surprise.
“I’ve never been happy living with that man,” she said. “Can’t imagine what I ever saw in him.”
“I heard he was a bully. Did he treat you badly?”
“If he was still at large, I wouldn’t be here. He didn’t let me go anywhere alone, or talk to anyone. He wouldn’t let me have a car, or even a computer. Afraid I’d give away his nasty secrets. But now I’m free, for a while at least. I’ve got the keys to his car and I’ve treated myself to some nice new clothes. I’ve also bought a laptop, so I can join your group and write, and perhaps even make some new friends.”
“I’m pleased to hear it,” I told her. “You should get out and meet people. You must have been very lonely, from what I’ve heard. Wasn’t he out most nights?”
“That’s right. He went out at 2.00am every night and didn’t return until the morning. When I asked him where he went, he said “It’s better for you not to know.” Well now the whole world knows. It was clear he was up to no good and I was sure it involved drugs.”
“Why did you stay with him?”
“Oh, I left him once, but he found me and dragged me back. Then I was “punished.” I didn’t enjoy being beaten up, so I never tried to escape again. I just prayed he’d get caught one day and that would put an end to it.”
“And eventually that happened.”
“Yes, one morning, he came rushing home much earlier than usual, with his face bruised black and blue. His shirt was soaked in blood, but it wasn’t his own. He only had some minor cuts to his arms.”
“What did you do?”
“He stripped off and told me to destroy all his clothes, while he had a shower. Then I saw to his wounds. It wasn’t long before the police arrived and told me he’d been involved in a fight, in which a young man had been stabbed to death. They’d come to search the property and they went through everything. They found a small stash of drugs hidden in the spare room, so he was arrested and carted off.”
“So now you’re free to live your own life.”
“Yes, for a little while. He’ll go to jail for possessing drugs. Trouble is they haven’t got enough evidence to put him away for long. And once he’s out, He’ll come after me.”
I went home convinced she was a nice woman, not the type who’d willingly get involved with criminals, and I looked forward to seeing her again. She turned up at our next group meeting driving a huge car, obviously her absent husband’s, and I wondered how he’d react when he was released and came home to find her popping down to the shops in his Mercedes, but she seemed relaxed and more confident than last time. Later in Starbucks, she told me why.
“I found the keys to a lock-up unit he rented on the industrial estate, so I went there, and I’ve told the police what I found,” she told me. “The place was full of drugs, neatly packaged in small portions ready for sale, plus other things, including a pistol and a vicious-looking dagger. Now he’s going to be charged with murder.”
“So on top of everything else, he’s a killer.”
“Perhaps. He was certainly capable of murder. But I can’t be sure he did it. What I didn’t tell the police was the dagger wasn’t on him that night. I saw him strip and I took away all his clothes, so I know he didn’t have it with him. But that’s my secret. They’ve got his dagger and I presented them with his blood-stained shirt, which I’d kept in a plastic bag. They told me he’s bound to be found guilty and he’ll get life. That suits me very well.”
“Well, you’d better get busy on that laptop,” I told her. “You’ve certainly got a story worth telling, but don’t give away your secret.”
“It’s better for you not to know….”
Fiona stared anxiously at the words in front of her. Use this to write a story the instructions stated. That was all very well but she found it impossible to think about a husband who sneaked out at 2.00 in the morning and who did not want his wife to know what he was doing. What did she know about wayward husbands? Her imagination centred around fantasy and she would have been motivated had the miscreant been a wizard; someone like Sauron or Voldemort.
Still desperately thinking about her challenge to write a story, she looked out of her living room window to the small garden at the back of her flat. Unusually, she saw the man from across the hall digging the soil.
“I didn’t know he was into gardening,” she muttered out loud. “Perhaps, he’s growing vegetables. That would be good.” Fiona looked towards her cat, sleeping contentedly in the single armchair, but, as usual, there was no reply. Albus Dumbledore just made himself even more comfortable on the plump cushion.
Her neighbour, Andrew Jones, had only moved into their small complex of apartments three days’ earlier. Fiona, with nothing better to do, had peeped through her blinds at the coming and goings of the removal men to the empty flat. She concluded that he was a single man as no woman would select the singularly masculine furniture, leather chairs, large wooden chests and electrical equipment. There were no paintings or colourful soft furnishings to bring brightness to the browns and greys that dominated the items now being placed inside number 2. She knew the new owner was expected as she had bumped into one of the removal men whilst letting Dumbledore out into the hallway. Typically, he had run into the open door of the opposite flat and, whilst rescuing him, she had been told that Mr. Jones would be arriving shortly to supervise them.
That night he had knocked on her door. “Hello, I’m Andrew Jones. From number 2. I would invite you to look at the new flat, but I’ve been told that you’ve already seen it. I would be grateful if you stopped your cat from entering my premises, as I’m allergic to their fur.” Before she could apologise, Andrew Jones had turned round and disappeared back inside his own space.
“Well I never! How rude,” she had muttered to herself. “He doesn’t look like an Andrew Jones to me, more like a Draco Malfoy.” Draco Malfoy being one of her least favourite “Harry Potter” characters.
Fiona had seen little of her new neighbour who had been quiet but civil when they had encountered each other in the hallway. To see him now digging in the garden seemed out of character.
Later, in the early hours of the morning, Dumbledore woke her by jumping on her bed and pawing at her face. She was about to push him away when she heard the noises. In her befuddled state she recognised that something heavy was being dragged along the hallway. There was the unmistakable sound of the key being turned in the back door and something bounced down the back steps.
Fiona thought about turning over in bed and pulling up the duvet so that it covered her ears but decided that, as a good citizen, she had to see what was happening. Putting on her chenille dressing-gown and sensible slippers, she went to the window overlooking the garden. Instinctively, she did not switch on any lights in her apartment. She really could not envisage what anyone could be doing at this time of the morning, 2.00 in fact, that could not be left until daylight. With caution she created a gap in her curtain and peered through it, pleased that she had remembered to pick up her glasses from her bedside table. Although it was pitch dark outside, there was enough ambient light to see Mr. Jones dragging something wrapped in a black bin bag to the newly dug patch. After half an hour’s further exertion the object was tipped into the hole in the earth. A hole that was far too big for some potatoes. Fiona turned swiftly away from her vantage point and sat down in her chair; she knew sleep would not come to her now. What was she to do?
It was late afternoon the next day and Fiona was worn-out. Her phone call to the Police, outlining what she had seen, sparked so much action. Flat number 2 and the garden had been crowded with people in white suits. A small tent had been erected over the disturbed earth. She watched as her neighbour, Andrew Jones or whatever his real name was, being taken to a police car. All sorts of items were taken out of the flat in plastic bags to an awaiting vehicle. There was even one of the large wooden chests she had seen when her neighbour moved in being taken away. Fiona was exhausted. She had never had so much company and the teapot and kettle were constantly in use as she brewed tea and made coffee for the variety of experts who were in and out of their apartments. Now, most of them had gone and she had made her statement to the “lovely” Detective Inspector who had talked with her.
“Well, Dumbledore,” she said to her cat, “It has been an exciting day. Somebody who doesn’t like cats is a wrong ‘un in my book.”
She looked at the writing prompt in front of her and realised that she now had the perfect story to submit to the competition.
I mustn’t wake any of them; so many children. they’re always hungry, we’re all so cold and hungry.
Outside Joe waiting for me with his wooden shovel, crowbar, sack and rope. Joe is the most experienced He has been doing this for years and a hardened character who doesn’t seem to imagine any possible consequences. I collect my tools from my shed .Quiet. We shuffle along the lane between the rows of houses, laden down .
Its a long cold way to the graveyard but we’re used to the journey. Gradually we meet other members of our gang, the air white with their breath. Jack had some bread he’d picked up from the market floor. We all tore bits off it . I’ve never known November so cold.
We arrive. Carefully now, as the family sometimes are on guard. So far all is well.
The edge of the wooden spade slides easily into the recently turned soil. As the first spade load comes out the second plunges in and jars against the box,
Ned attacks the coffin with the crowbar ,sweating despite the cold air ,Sam pulls the corpse out with the rope , shaking with fear. He’s the youngest and frightened. The punishment is prison, if he’s lucky.
What a job this is. I hate doing it but the money we get from the doctors helps to feed us.
Body in the sack. No time for regrets or guilt, now to put rocks in the coffin
We drag the sack to the middleman, get our money. Home, tired , hungry sick of life and sick of this horrible job. A days work to come,
My wife is awake when I get home . I hope she won’t ask but as usual she wants to know where I’ve been. I tell her “Better not ask.”
Fred, a kindly, fun loving father, and Matilda, a lady with an off the cuff sense of humour, had been happily married for over 30 years, and had raised four lovely children, all of whom had now left home.
Their eldest, Tom, was married to Maria and they were expecting their first child.
Sally had recently become engaged, and her wedding was set for next year.
Mike was a promising young footballer signed to a top Premier League club.
And Emily, a beautiful, cheeky, and likeable, young girl, was about to leave Cambridge University with a ‘First’ in Astronomy.
Life was good for this family. Everybody was happy.
That was until Fred started slipping out of the house at 2am every night, not to return for a number of hours.
It had been no easy decision for him to commit to leaving the house at this unusual hour. He’d lain awake every night for over a week now, debating whether he should or shouldn’t go out, first deciding that he would, then that he wouldn’t, but finally making up his mind that he really had to do it.
As he got out of bed Fred looked across at Matilda sleeping peacefully alongside him. Her face was so sweet and innocent that his heart suddenly welled up with enormous love for her.
Then he quietly got dressed and slipped out of the house. He returned at 5.30am.
Matilda said nothing that morning, and Fred wasn’t even sure if she’d realised that he’d been out, but, the next day he came home to find Matilda waiting for him in her dressing gown.
She demanded an explanation.
Fred’s heart sank. Due to his abnormal behaviour, it was inevitable that this confrontation would have to come sooner rather than later, and Fred really didn’t know what to say.
So he said the first thing that came into his head, “It’s better for you not to know!’
That was a big mistake. Matilda, usually such a placid woman, was on the verge of exploding.
“What do you mean, it’s better if I don’t know!? How dare you! For all these years we’ve had a wonderful marriage with no secrets, and now, suddenly, there’s a secret! Is it lack of sex!?
I know that the only time I touch your crotch these days is when I take your jeans off the washing line, but I honestly didn’t think lack of sex bothered you these days.”
“It doesn’t,” said Fred, “ it really doesn’t!”
“Then why are you going out in the middle of the night?” screamed Matilda.
Fred was silent.
Matilda was staring at him, red faced, angry and hurt, and was about to burst into tears.
But before she could, Fred collapsed into an armchair, his chest convulsed, and he let out a heart wrenching howl, before bursting into tears himself.
This took Matilda somewhat by surprise, and her mood was shocked into an unexpected change, and it shifted from anger, to mixed pity and love, and she braced herself for what might come next.
He hyper-ventilated trying to say something, so Matilda moved over to him and sat on the edge of the chair, putting her arm around him, but saying nothing.
Fred calmed himself.
He began to speak,
“You remember me telling you about the woodland night-time walks I used to take before we met, when I would be excited to see foxes, badgers, owls, and other nocturnal creatures going about their business? I found it calming and peaceful being close to nature, and it always put me in a frame of mind where I could find solutions to my problems. It was wonderful. Those balmy summer nights, when I left home about 2am, then sat quietly in the woods to watch the wildlife. I watched the hedgehogs snuffling in the verges, and moths would be attracted to my torchlight. Some had such wonderful markings, that they were just like night-time butterflies. I wanted to call them ‘Queens of the Night’,
I watched Pippistrelle bats hunt them, then caught a vixen looking at me warily, just as a barn owl hooted in the distance. Happy days! Only to be bettered when I met you, my darling.”
“Yes, I remember,” said Matilda, “but what has that got to do with your behaviour” she asked in an assertive, but impatient, manner.
“I wanted to recapture those days,” said Fred, “to revisit the times which helped me think through my problems. I needed help to figure out what I ought to do about my current predicament.”
“And have you?” said Matilda, with a touch of sarcasm.
“No,” replied Fred. “I haven’t. But now that you have challenged me, I will have to tell you what is wrong, even though I would have preferred to put it off, because I’d persuaded myself that it would be better if you didn’t know.”
There followed a lengthy silence, before Fred said, in an emotionally charged, shaky voice,
“I have cancer, Pancreatic cancer, and my prognosis is that I have about three months to live.”
The doctors were almost right.
Fred lived for eight weeks, and passed away peacefully at home surrounded by his family.
His passing changed the dynamic of everyone’s lives.
Tom’s daughter never knew her paternal grandfather.
Fred would not give Sally away on her wedding day, and he would not see Mike pick up his Premiership, nor his Champions’ League medals.
Emily went on to have a very distinguished career in astronomy, and every time she looked up at the constellation ‘Scorpius’, her father’s birth sign, he would always be smiling back at her.
Matilda took solace in the achievements of her offspring, and her grandchildren would often display one of Fred’s traits or mannerisms, which always brought her a blend of joy and sorrow.
But nothing could ever soothe her aching heart, nor take away her perpetual desolation.
Bob Reader April 2020
“What am I doing here?” Colin asks himself.
Colin was a complex character, academically bright but socially lacking in communicative skills. He had no relatives in Nottingham but was due to start a course in Psychology at Nottingham University in October. He had no money until his grant became available in a months time and had taken to sleeping rough in an old boathouse situated by the lake in Wollaton Park. Until his belongings arrived at his future full time accommodation in a few weeks time he was managing with a rucksack packed with the essentials of life and a sleeping bag.
His family lived in Australia but Marian, a friend of a friend , who lived in Wollaton had promised to keep an eye on him. Marian slipped out of bed; it was 2.00 a.m.; her husband, John, though roused was not concerned because this had become a fairly common event in the last couple of weeks and he knew she had Coco, their chocolate coloured labradoodle, to keep her company on this dry, clear summer’s night. She packed a pork pie and some tasty sandwiches and made a flask of milky coffee. It was only a few minutes walk to a discreet hole in the perimeter fence of the park commonly used by dog walkers and Coco became excited and pulled on the lead, as this was familiar territory. Very soon they were at the boathouse and Colin heard them as they approached, their presence breaking the still night air. For Colin it was a welcome relief both to have company and some much needed food. Marian had been like a mother him, generous in spirit and deed and had been quite a significant factor in him choosing Nottingham University for his further education. Originally he was supposed to be staying in his student accommodation as soon as he had arrived from Australia but the landlord needed the house temporarily for another purpose so, at the last moment, he was homeless and spotted the boathouse on a chance walk in the park and typical of an adolescent teenage student, considered this an opportunity and adventure.
Marian had kept the details of these sojourns from her husband, John, because he was a social worker and whenever he asked questions she said to him “It’s better for you not to know”.
Two Weekly Challenge: Week 7
Three elements: choose a set of three elements and write a story that contains all three of them.
Either: a favourite song, the number seven, a scream in the night.
Or: a goldfish, a babysitter, an unfortunate tattoo.
There are two winners for this challenge: Margaret Smith with her story “The Babysitter” and Helen Stewart’s “The Unfortunate Tattoo”. Congratulations to them both.
“I’ll be up in a minute girls, your drinks are coming.”
Jenny’s voice echoed up the stairs, and slipping into the lounge she hoped she hadn’t disturbed Tom. Babysitting for Amy and Emma was so easy compared to keeping their older brother calm and stable.
The remnants of the game played with the twins would soon be cleared away and Jenny could relax once they settled down. Mischievous though they were, she loved her part time job and it satisfied her dad’s plea,
“Get out there and make some cash Jenny, you can’t expect us to pay for everything.” She supposed her need of money before university must seem endless.
“There’s one problem though dad, I don’t know if babysitting for this family is going to work. I don’t know if I can cope with Tom.”
The boy was strange and unpredictable. Despite Jenny’s attempts she felt she failed to get to understand how he thought or worked. The Simpsons were always so grateful for any leisure space she could give them. Stress lines were obvious on the face of Mrs. Simpson who was unable to work unlike her husband. Loving and caring , the whole family quartet were at odds with their distant, unresponsive oldest child. Tom seemed to rule any decisions or practices in the household. His obsessions and angry tantrums had to be placated to provide the harmony needed for everyone, especially the twins.
No one could say that he was noisy in the home as he rarely spoke or presumably felt the need to do so. Beautiful models appeared which he’d spent hours completing, emphasising his intense focus on specific tasks. But it was music where he excelled and showed love for his guitar. Jenny realised in some ways Tom was easier to handle than the rugby scrums and squabbling of her own brothers. He was a handsome boy, very intelligent, so perhaps you could excuse his eccentricities.
She busied herself placing the dolls and myriad of tiny clothes into the toy box, rescuing the carpet from its debris. Unaware of the silent presence watching. She handled the guitar with care restoring it to the music stand where it belonged. Sure that by moving it in the first instance , she’d stopped any catastrophe happening.
He leapt out, Tom’s face a mask of panic and fury. Guttural sounds escaped making no sense or reason.
“Tom it’s alright, it’s safe now on its stand.” Feeble words that would never penetrate his bubble as he fought for his guitar.
His ferocity and strength sent them reeling onto the sofa. A mass of arms and legs, they held the guitar aloft from harm. Jenny was suddenly aware that the body struggling against her was still and quiet. Wriggling up she pulled her top down where her skin had been uncovered.
Tom was tenderly tracing a small fish newly tattooed on her back. It was beautiful in its design, golden and realistic. All signs of Tom’s outburst vanished, his face rapt in admiration for the goldfish. Jenny recalled his new interest in marine life and exotic fish and breathed a sigh of relief.
The moment was over. A calmness reigned. Tom’s eyes glowed with respect for Jenny. Perhaps a new understanding between them might begin.
“Tom no one knows I’ve had it done. My parents will hate it. You will keep my secret?”
She knew before she’d uttered the words this was someone who understood secrets. Someone who secure in his world had no need to share anything with others.
Listening to a favourite song,
What a wonderful world,
She sat humming along,
A pile of Maths homework,
Lay scattered on the desk.
The number 7, stood out from a page,
7 a lucky number,
7 firm friends, 7 pairs of shoes,
7 times 7.
She woke up from her dream,
Followed by a scream,
An incorrect answer.
An Unfortunate Tattoo.
Was the strange, little man following me or had I just imagined that he was? Probably just the latter as we were the only two members of the public wandering around the small gallery together.
With half an hour to spare, at the end of my working day, I had taken the opportunity to look at the Anthony Friend’s paintings on show and for sale. Not that I could afford them as, since his death, their value had trebled but it was a chance to look at his work “in the flesh”. The paintings were of two women both of whom were naked or semi-naked. One was entitled “Caroline” whilst the other, “The Babysitter”. I was fascinated by the latter. Here was a teenage girl wearing a loose bed sheet and spread, provocatively, across the same padded chair seen in so many of his paintings. He had painted her in his usual flamboyant way. Nevertheless, I felt uncomfortable looking at her nakedness when I reckoned her age to be about fifteen or sixteen at a push. I would never allow a daughter of mine to model for such a known philanderer. In fact, I would never allow a daughter of mine to act as a babysitter for that family.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?”
The voice at my right ear made me jump. I had been so absorbed in the oil painting that I had forgotten the little man dressed all in black.
I muttered that she was, and he responded, “I knew her you know?”
“I lived near her family. She frequently worked as Friend’s babysitter in the early days.”
“Have you kept in touch?”
There was a momentary pause before he responded, “No. I’m afraid she died. She must have been only seventeen at the time.”
I voiced the usual sentiments that one does when someone you do not know is dead. I mentioned that her death was a waste as she was such an attractive girl with her life ahead of her. “What did she die of?”
The man looked at me for the first time. “I apologise for my loose vocabulary. I should have said she was “killed”.”
“Was it a car crash?”
He ignored my question and looked back at the portrait. “Did you notice the tattoo on her leg?”
I looked at where he was pointing. There, on the inner part of her thigh, was a small tattoo of a goldfish. It was delicately executed, and it seemed almost to be swimming.
He continued, “She was in so much trouble from her parents when she came home with that. Friend had done it, of course. He liked to mark his conquests.”
“You didn’t say how she was killed. Was it in a crash?”
Ignoring my question yet again, he said, “Let me show you something,” and he put his hand into his overlarge, black coat. From an interior pocket he drew out a small miniature painting. Holding it, with utmost care, almost like a religious relic, he showed it to me.
I expected to see the portrait of a young man or woman but there was no face looking back at me. The surface was yellow in colour and had the look of an old, vellum manuscript. There, in the centre of the delicate frame, was the most beautiful goldfish looking as if it were swimming. I looked back at the tattoo in the oil painting. The style, the colours, the size were in proportion to the one on the leg of the babysitter.
“So, Friend painted one for you too?”
Putting the miniature back in his pocket he smiled, “Oh no, she gave it up to me, eventually. It’s now worth a small fortune but I can’t really sell it, can I?”
That was when the truth dawned on me. I felt quite faint and the man guided me to the only chair in that room and with the words, “I’ll find you some water,” he walked away. A few minutes later I felt a hand on my shoulder. I was aware of a glass being placed in front of me but the person showing me kindness was not the little man but the gallery owner.
“Where’s the old man in black?” I asked as I took the water from him.
“What old man in black?” he replied. “You’ve been our only visitor.”
Helen (with apologies to Roald Dahl, Lucien Freud and Kate Moss)
GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT
‘Seven little girls sitting in the back seat
Huggin’ and a kissin’ with Fred,’
Being driven home in the late night heat,
Thinking they would like to get to bed.
They’d had a great time enjoying a dance
With Fred who they’d met that night,
Now returning tired to their flat in France,
When Ann suddenly screamed in fright.
‘Stop touching me up,’ she shouted at him
as his hands moved around her frame,
She managed to kick him in the shin,
He immediately stopped in pain.
Seven little girls all thumped him hard
as he ducked and tried to hide,
His reputation now was certainly scarred,
The van doors they opened wide.
The girls jumped out as fast as they could,
Leaving Fred all alone in the van,
They realised now that they never should
Risk canoodling in the back seat with a man!
Larry had trouble locating the lock, which was dancing about on his front door. Eventually, he used one hand to hold it still, jabbed the key in and turned it. He pushed the door open and stumbled inside. All was dark. Carol will have been in bed for ages, he thought. Best not to wake her. She’ll expect a detailed report of the evening’s events. Can’t face that tonight.
The door swung to behind him. He put out a hand to stop it slamming and swore loudly as it trapped his fingers. “Sssh!” He told himself. He crept up the stairs, with his shoes in his hand, and peeped into Tom’s bedroom. The nightlight beside the cot showed the baby was sleeping soundly with a thumb in his mouth.
Larry tiptoed into the main bedroom. As he reached for the light-switch, he heard the deep breathing of contented sleep and decided against it. There was just enough light to make out the shape under the duvet, and the long hair flowing across the pillow, as he crept around the bed in the dark. Larry struggled out of his clothes and dumped them in a heap on the floor. Naked, he slipped into bed and the soft female body shifted, as he cuddled up to it.
“Get away from me,” mumbled a sleepy voice. “Your breath is foul.”
“Sorry sweetheart. Only wanted a goodnight kiss.”
“How many pubs have you been in tonight?” she asked, turning her back to him.
“Quite a few. That’s what you do on stag nights.”
“Had a good time?”
“Fantastic! We got poor old Dave pissed out of his mind,” said Larry.
“I suggested taking him to get a tattoo, so we did. He is now decorated with a magnificent serpent.”
“That was cruel,” she said. “People who see it will know how he was treated by his so-called friends.”
“Don’t worry, no-one but his wife will see it there.”
“And then you came back did you?”
“No, those rotten bastards had me tattooed as well,” said Larry.
“Serves you right.”
“That’s what they said. They held me down and they all watched and laughed while it was done. It’s very embarrassing.”
“No reason to be embarrassed about it.”
“You haven’t seen it.”
“Show me,” She said, fully awake now.
Larry pulled the duvet off and turned his back to her. She switched on the bedside light and turned over to inspect the artwork. On his left buttock, in full colour, a girl wearing nothing but waders, held aloft a fishing rod, and on the right, at the end of her line, was a giant golden fish.
“Oh my, they did you proud!” she said, slapping the goldfish.
“Glad you like it Carol. Did you enjoy your night out with the girls?”
“Oh, I should have told you, Carol rang and asked me to sleep overnight, as she’d been invited to stay with one of her friends. My name’s Lucy. I’m the baby-sitter.”
“Let’s go to the cinema” says Sally to her rather reluctant partner, “I bet Karen would stop with Jack for a while.”
Andy grunted . He wasn’t on best terms with his daughter. Testing of boundaries was becoming a problem for them both. But he did want to go out . There was this tattoo Parlour he wanted to visit. In fact , so much conflict in his mind at the moment. Really he’d rather have gone for a drink with his friend Dan.
‘Look after him? Not again! What’s it worth?”
Putting the bribe into her bag, Karen crossly settled down to watch telly with Jack. Their parents left .
Karen started thinking.
“You know what, Jack- it’s quite early. Let’s go out’’
“Oh no, ,Anyway, you’re not supposed to go out. I’ll tell Mum”
“Tell you what, Jack”said Karen, thinking of the bribe in her bag and the unfairness of being grounded, “There’s the fair”
Jack brightened up.”but we won’t say anything. Right?”
With some sort of agreement they set off. Getting nearer the Fairground they smelt the delicious enticement of the fair. Hot Dogs, onions, candy floss , diesel fumes.
They hadn’t got much money, just the bribe so Karen said they weren’t even to think about the rides.”You might get them to take you later in the week. Not me , of course,”grumbled Karen. She decided they could afford a Hot Dog each and they strolled round the ground, Karen hoping none of her friends would see her.
‘’ Can I try and win a prize?’’ asked Jack and he hooked a ball with a special number underneath out of a maze of water.
“Oh great, I’ve won a Goldfish!’’ “Oh my God “ said his sister “Now how are you going to explain that?”
Clutching his Goldfish in its bag, Jack felt happy; the lights, the music, the
unexpected outing. All good.
Karen was looking with great interest at boy with a large colourful, intricate tattoo on his arm. “One day, I’ll get one of those’’ she told Jack.
‘’Don’t even think about it’’ said her little brother’’ You know what Dad’s like about piercings and tattoos. Why do you think you’ve been grounded?”
“Better start back now and think about the Goldfish”
They talked all the the way home about what to put the Goldfish in, what to call him and how they came to have him in the first place. ‘’I know ,“said Jack”We’re looking after him for Sam next door. His Mum’s allergic’’
And he need bigger home.And a bowl not a bag’’
They were just putting Boris, the newly named Goldfish into a mixing bowl for the night when their parents came home, Dad looking pale and shaky , He staggered upstairs,
‘’What’s wrong?’’ asked Karen
‘’Don’t say anything ,he’s so embarrassed about it. “
Mum sat down for a few minutes , thinking ‘’ OK. I’ll tell you. But you mustn’t say a word. Promise?” We nodded’’ Your Dad was thinking of having a tattoo but in the Parlour he chickened out . I decided I’d have one instead.
It’ll be beautiful one day when it settles down. Any way as soon as the Tattooist started work, the needle and the blood were all too much and he collapsed. The paramedics said he’d just fainted so the Tattooist carried on but as I was so preoccupied with your fainting father I didn’t notice that he’d put Dan instead of Dad”
MY FAVOURITE SONG?
Hi. I’m Fred. I’ve just finished a seven year prison sentence in California.
I was jailed in 1959 for being a persistent fraudster and con man, but I did have some good times before I was caught and incarcerated.
Today is my release day, and I’m determined to put this all behind me and lead the life of a law abiding citizen, if it’s not too boring!
After going through the prison’s discharge procedures, I found myself standing on the edge of the highway thumbing a lift. I didn’t expect any difficulty, because I’d been told that the locals were quite happy to give ex cons a ride into town.
And sure enough, I didn’t have to wait long before I was picked up by a young man in a beat up old car.
After a quick ‘Howdy’ and a brief chat, the driver turned on the radio. “It’s time for my favourite radio show.” he said, “NCRC’s ‘Hits of Yesteryear’. I love it!” And would you believe it? The first song that was played not only reminded me that seven is not my lucky number, but also brought back vivid memories of how I’d come to end up in prison.
It all started when I was masquerading as a millionaire.
I’d hired a 1959 Ford Thunderbird 430, soft top down, and I was being chauffeured through the Californian mountains with seven girls kissin’ and huggin’ me on the back seat.
We were on an afternoon trip to a Pacific coastal village, where I’d booked a late lunch at an ocean-side restaurant.
We arrived at about 3pm. The chauffeur dropped us off, parked the car on the shaded side of the restaurant, lay down on the back seat, and started his afternoon nap.
The girls and I were ushered to an outside table overlooking the bay.
I ordered aperitifs and the hubbub of happy chatter soon got under way.
A fresh seafood platter, with accompaniments, and chilled white wine were brought to the table as soon as we’d finished the giant prawn cocktails we’d been served earlier.
For some reason, we seemed to be the only customers there that day, and that’s how it stayed. The restaurant became our own private place.
After more delicious food, desserts and coffee, the meal came to an end, and we all relaxed with brandy and great conversation.
The chauffeur woke up. He brought the car round to the front, hinting that we should go.
“I just got to slip out back.” I shouted. “Wait for me! Won’t be long!”
My visit was rather longer than anticipated, and when I returned to the table I was astounded to discover that the chauffeur and the girls were gone.
But the restaurant owner was waiting for me!
He was a large Mexican, his white teeth gripping an unlit, half smoked, fat cigar, and he looked like the kind of man you didn’t mess with!
“Where are my friends?” I asked, looking perplexed.
“They drive off very qweekly in thee car.” he said in his mexican accent, a large frown forming on his tanned forehead.
“Your beel.” he said, handing me a piece of paper worth a great deal of money to him.
I looked, and noticed the huge sum he was expecting.
I smiled and remained calm, as a good con man must, and got my cheque book out of my jacket pocket.
A snort emanated from his large mexican nose.
“I’ve got you sussed as a steenking Bolillo!*” he said menacingly. “A Bolillo con man! “ he continued in his heavy accent.
He glared at me.
“CASH ONLY!” he said gruffly.
I tried to stay calm, but I fear that I went as white as a sheet.
I never carried cash, because I could usually use that fact to persuade my victims to take a cheque.
“Somebody’s taken all my cash from my wallet!” I said in desperation, showing him the empty compartments.
“Liar!” shouted the restaurant owner, taking the unlit, half chewed cigar from his mouth. “You pay cash or I call police! Comprendez?”
Yes, I comprendezed all right, but I had no cash, and when he saw the empty wallet, his face just got redder and redder, and his eyes got bigger and bigger.
He grabbed the lapels of my jacket and lifted me off my feet, and brought his grimacing face close to mine.
It was now dark, and I was blinded by one of the café’s powerful lights shining at me from behind this Mexican’s sweaty, smelly, skull.
“Geev me my money!” he demanded once again. Tears ran down my face.
He snarled, then, contemptuously, threw me into a chair.
I screamed like a little girl, and my caterwaul rang through the valleys and the mountains, and a chauffeur and seven girls probably all had a good laugh when they heard it.
The big Mexican rifled through my pockets, watched by his staff, and as there was no money to be found, the police were called, and I was arrested.
To cut a long story short, the authorities gathered a huge trail of evidence against me, proving I’d defrauded the hotel, car hire company, gas stations, a tailor, a shoe shop, and a tobacconist, with my rubber cheques, and now I’d tried it on with this restaurateur.
In court I faced a separate charge for each of my fraudulent transactions, and consequently ended up in jail for seven years.
Yes, seven years I’d served, and here I was in the first moments of my new found freedom, listening to that semi biographical song which had been a huge hit for Paul Young in the USA, just as I entered prison. And its title?…
…Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat!
(*Bolillo – A relatively mild Mexican derogatory term for white people.
It means ‘white bread bun’.)
Bob Reader May 2020