Another short.

The Black Banana in a Wasteful World – A comment on modern society

I went into town yesterday on the train. There was a black banana between the tracks. There was some orange peel and a couple of coffee cups and some paper and a whole banana.

It was still in the skin and had the stalk on. It was unopened and completely black.

In the sweating sunshine in some far distant land, up in the highest tops of a tall, tall tree a vast machete draws a gleaming arc through the exotic light greened in the shade of umbrella leaves. Slashing through the great stalk the blade ruins the embrace of the bunch and the tree.

Plummeting to earth it is scooped with its fellows to the back of a truck. A brightly painted devil of a truck with sides resplendent in ochre and scarlet and vermillion. driven by a smiling Rasta with laughing eyes and a singing heart. Through pitted potholed byways to the port where sagging hammocks of green crescents swing under the brilliant sky and dip to the gloom of the ship’s hold swinging and surging on the ocean swell.

Many, many sea miles carry ripening fruit in the pungent darkness with dying spiders full of unspent poisons until landfall in Portsmouth or Southampton or maybe even Liverpool. Crane monsters creak and screech into the grey of the northern sky feeding endless ribbons of mighty behemoth trucks. Metal monsters pound through driving rain on screaming motorways to deliver the harvest to the money magnet outlets where the hands of shoppers snatch up the hands of fruit carting them carelessly to ticky tacky housing where they rest, “Separate from the other fruit mother.”

Plastic banana case, leather satchel, canvas sack who knows. The singing Rasta rests with his back against the bark, the great leaves shelter and gloom the plantation floor and the mighty machete slashes on and there between the tracks in the dirty northern rain a black banana rots into the gravel.

The black banana makes me want to cry.

also on Shortbreadstories.

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Sky Clad

This silly piece is also on Shortbreadstories

Sky Clad

“Call to order – case number five hundred and thirty three.”

“Good morning, please state your name.”

“Aye lad, it’s a grand mornin’. Ernest ‘igginthorpe yur wurship.”

“I’m not a Judge Mr Higginthorpe. Please address me as sir.”

“Aye lad, right y’ are.”

“Mr Blunt, could you ask your client not to address the bench as ‘Lad.’”

“Sorry sir.”

“Now then Mr Higginthorpe do you understand the charge against you.”

“Aye lad I do.”

“Mr Higginthorpe do you think you could see your way to addressing me as sir. Could we agree on that.”

“Aye, aye lad – sir it is.”

“Your current address if you would.”

“Thirty one Church Cottages.”

“That would be the retirement community I believe?”

“Aye, them ticky tacky boxes up where Altorpe’s Mill used to stand. Barely room to swing a cat.”

“Yes, well that’s as it may be and is not the issue before us today. You are here to answer a charge of public indecency and lewd behaviour. How do you plead?”

“Well I don’t know lad, I mean really, were it really lewd. If yon lass ‘andn’t appened by in her silly little car there’d a been no ‘arm done now would there.”

“By yon lass I assume you are referring to Police Constable Braithwaite.”

“Aye, oh so’s she’s a Braithwaite is she. Reckon I knew her granny she were another as couldn’t mind ‘er own business an’ all. Pokin’ ‘er beak in where it didn’t concern ‘er. Known for it she were.”

“Mr Higginthorpe please keep your comments to yourself and simply answer the questions put to you.”

“Aye, right ho lad. As you were.”

“Now, the charge reads that you were seen by Constable Braithwaite in the High Cliff reservoir in a state of undress, cavorting with another person. It may be best if you simply tell me exactly what happened?”

““Aye lad. It were a luvly day and me and our Marian went up t’reservoir . We’ve been goin’ there nigh on fifty year now an’ it’s about t’only place as is unspoiled being as not so many folks go up there with it bein’ a bit of an ‘ike.

“Anyroad, our Marian sez to me, ‘Eh our Ernest we’ve bin cummin’ ‘ere some years now.’

“We ave I sez.”

‘Ernest sez she, ain’t it queer ‘ow you never feel any older inside. I mean ya look in t’looking glass and there’s all them wrinkles and sags and then you come somewhere like this and you could be sixteen agen.’

“Aye lass that’s true.”“

“an’ that were it lad, she starts unfastenin’ ‘er frock and grinnin’ at me and so on and I thought, well there’s a bit of a stiff breeze but why not.”“

“So, it was your wife who instigated the nakedness?”

“Well, I don’t know about no instigrat… whatever you sed but it were our Marian who took ‘er stuff off first and then I did, just to keep ‘er ‘appy as it were.”

“So, you then proceeded to swim naked in the reservoir.”

“Well, it were more splashin’ about than swimmin’ never been much of a swimmer ‘asn’t Marian but eh lad it were just a bit of fun.”

“Mr Higginthorpe it seems to me that your behaviour was indeed lewd and indecent.”

“Well, I dun’t know about that lad. When ya get to our age, knocking on an’ mindin’ trams you have little enough in life and I don’t reckon there were owt indecent – it were nobbut a bit a skinny dippin.”

“Is your wife, erm Mrs Marion Higginthorpe not in court today?”

“No lad, she’s not. She’s up in t’churchyard.”

“Oh, we were not informed. Please accept my condolences, I didn’t realize your wife had passed on.”

“Passed on? Oh I see. No, she’s not brown bread, bless yer ‘eart. No, she’s found a spot up behind that big marble mausoleum, proper little sun trap she sez and she’s up there getting her bit’s brown.”

“Mr Higginthorpe am I to understand that your wife is presently sunbathing naked in the churchyard rather than attending her summons in court. Is she not aware of the difficulties she is calling down upon herself?”

“Oh, don’t be upset lad. She’s not daft our Marian. No, she’ll be fine. She’s wearing factor fifteen and nipple cream, if you’ll excuse me your worship sir. No, she’ll be fine.”

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Vespers

I wrote this a while ago and again it is on Shortbreadstories but I thought I’d give it an airing on here.

THIS STORY IS QUITE DARK, IT CONTAINS VIOLENCE AND SOME RELIGIOUS REFERENCES.

VESPERS

The old church drowsed in the late afternoon sunshine. A couple of magpies pecked and quarreled amongst the memorial stones and, should one have been looking at just the right second, a little grey squirrel recalled a moment of endeavour at the end of the summer and rejoiced in the rediscovery of a sumptuous morsel.

Mrs North stretched a hand forward and turned the great iron ring. The door pushed inwards on smooth hinges.

Every evening, summer and winter she opened the church, lit the candles, straightened and tidied. This was her space, her little dominion, hers and Father Sutton’s. The priest had been here for many years and, as he stumbled towards his dotage, more and more of the daily duties fell to Mrs North.  She took them willingly, some said too willingly. There had been talk in the village about her hold over the Father. Offers from the Women’s Institute to decorate for the “special” services, Easter Sunday or the beginning of Lent had been summarily rebuffed. There was of course a little troupe of other workers but generally it was Mrs North and Mrs North alone who decided colour schemes, dictated themes and really treated St Percival’s as her own little kingdom. Father Sutton relied on her totally it seemed, she had him in thrall.  Barely a day went by when she wasn’t seen scurrying towards the rectory, woollen hat low over her eyes and plastic shopper swinging from her arm.

Of course there was the shared history.  It was natural that they would be close after that terrible ordeal but still, so very tight together all this time. It was odd surely.

Everyone expected that the day would come when Reverend Sutton would retire.  After years of tireless service and devotion he was due his rest by now. It was expected that he would go to his sister’s neat and orderly bungalow in Bridlington. The issue had never been discussed but on quiet Sunday afternoons, over a small schooner of pale cream sherry Dolores would mull about the approaching end of her lonely days and the pleasure of having a gentleman to cook for again. What then of Mrs North?

Reverend Sutton for his part tried not to think beyond the next evensong.  His greatest desire was to cut off any and all memory of those things in the past that haunted him.  Horrors that poked and prodded at his conscience during prayers, blessings and communions and denied him rest in the darkness of many a long night.

He had led a quiet life, apart from that one fall from grace, that one cataclysmic sin. He had ever been studious and cerebral as befitting his calling.  Giving always giving. Now, as he reviewed the path that he had trod he felt such an overwhelming regret that it threatened to consume him. Regret had robbed his eyes of their youthful sparkle and the stoop of his shoulders was caused not by a deterioration of bone quality but by a deep and everlasting guilt.

So, Tuesday the sixteenth day of April.  Magpies reaching agreement and the little squirrel nibbling happily on his find thought to witness nothing more in the quiet chapel than a few fallen leaves from the previous Sunday’s floral display.

The rose gold of the falling sun filtered through the stained glass, splattering the dancing dust motes with rainbows and gently stroking the old pews with a warm glow. There was something though, another layer to the perfumes and scents today. A note in contrast to the usual gentle air. As the door swung closed behind her Mrs North’s heart pattered, her breath caught in her throat and fear, conjured from nothing more than a premonition clutched at her gut. She had held her secrets close for so very long and yet had known the day could come when she would have to face the demons. Hope had sprung eternal, now though, was it to be now? The very air was threatening on this warm spring evening.

A dark figure with head bowed was seated in the front pew. Mrs North lightened her footsteps not wishing to disturb anyone’s devotions and so crept forward heading for the door to the vestry and storeroom. As she leaned against the old wood her motion was stopped by the sound of a cough and a quiet murmur.  The sound was a shard into her heart for she knew that her fears were justified, it was time.

“Ma North. It is you isn’t it?”

The old woman turned slowly. “Who is that? Who’s there?”

“Aw come on, you know who it is. Where is he?”

“Who, who do you mean?”

“Enough you old bag. The blessed father, where is he? Don’t pretend you don’t know. I suppose you thought you’d got away with it didn’t you? The pair of you, setting me up and thinking you could just carry on. Did you think I was away for good, well wrong, wrong, wrong, old Mother North. So wrong.”

The small shape unwound now and took two steps across the ancient flagstones.

The face had hardly changed, older of course and harder but that was only to be expected. The eyes were the same. The cold blue eyes that had stared down at her from the dock all those years ago.

“I don’t know what you mean Terrance, it is Terrance isn’t it?”

The head under its grey hooded covering wagged from side to side and the voice uplifted to a high-pitched squeak, mocked her feeble warble.

“It is Terrance isn’t it? You know bloody well you old bat.”

Mrs North gasped and clutched at her blouse. Beneath the pale blue silk her heart pounded, her lungs filled with fear leaving her gasping for air.

It had been so long ago, more than ten years. Ten years to tend the church and have Father Sutton to herself, all to herself, secure in her power. She had been able to conjure it up though anytime, the sounds, the sight of it, the horror of discovery and then the long, long hours ensconced with the priest as they plotted and schemed and now it was tumbling around her ears.

She put out a hand, “Terrance, it was for the best, surely you see that. He had his reputation, his work, the ministry. You, really what did you have.  Nothing, no job, no family nothing.  Only Peter, and you know he was so very panicked and Father didn’t mean it to happen, he was afraid and it was an accident. Just a dreadful accident.”

“So, I didn’t matter, is that it, is that what you’re saying. I just didn’t matter? I didn’t and Peter didn’t and after you’d framed me and thrown me onto the scrap heap did he give you absolution, did he? Who forgave him, the priest, who forgave him for abusing and killing my brother and framing me, eh. I had nothing, I meant nothing and so it was alright for me to take the blame.”

“No, no but, well.” She shrugged her slight shoulders.

“Well I’ve got something now.” With this his hand shot forward, a shard of light, the glint of steel and then the pain, the unbelievable scourge of pain and then nothing.

Terrance, lowered the body to the floor, wiped the blade across her tweed skirt and with pure venom spat onto the still warm corpse.

“There you old bag, now you’ve got nothing. No secrets with the priest, no power over him. I wonder what they will think of you when you get where you’re going you hag. Will you tell them the truth or will you still hide it in the name of what’s best. Well wait, just wait because you won’t be alone. You can go together to weave your lies and spin your tales.”

With a last look at the fallen woman the slight figure slid back into the pew.  He bowed his head in a parody of worship and waited for the priest. As he sat in the silence of the holy space he murmured into his folded hands.

“I’ve done it Peter, I’ve killed the old bat for you and now I’ll wait, I’ll wait and I’ll get him for you and then when that’s done I’ll come and join you. Not long now, he’ll be here in a few minutes. It’s nearly time for Vespers”

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Revisiting an old post

While I decide what to do about Pauline – e-book, pdf file for free reading, round file!! I thought I would republish one of my older stories. This is also on Shortbreadstories but it has been there for a long time and I just thought it could do with an airing.  It’s rather dark and grim.

Memories are made of this

Charlie locked his bedroom door.  There was no need, Mum was down stairs watching her television and she never came in without knocking.  He had managed to train her in that at last.  Anyway, turning the key and dropping it into his pocket was all part of the experience, part of the build up.

He drew the faded rose-covered curtains and flicked the switch on his bedside light.  Ready now he opened the big old wardrobe and recovered the white cardboard shoebox from the top shelf.  Carefully placing it on the candlewick bedspread he knelt on the floor beside his bed, he held what was almost a position of prayer; he lifted the lid. 

There they were, his memories, the little mementoes.  He felt the tingle of excitement start way down in his toes.  It was pure physical pleasure, better than masturbating over the magazines he kept in the other box, better than anything.  A delicious sense of anticipation almost overwhelmed him.  He only allowed himself to look at his souvenirs once a week.  Discipline was his watchword.  He could take them out every day if he wanted to, he could leave them around his room to gaze at whenever he wished but no, he had to be strict about it, ration his exposure to the treasures, keep them special.  Pulling on the thin surgical gloves he closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath, again all part of the ritual. 

After carefully removing the tissue from the top of the box he reached in for the thin pink scarf.  It was pale and flimsy, tiny little rosebuds around the edge and a silky fringe on the ends that slid through his fingers.  He lifted it and floated it across his face, over his eyes, across his lips, delicious.  It still held a faint perfume, Anais Anais he thought, though it was fading now.  He knew that he could keep the scent stronger if he wrapped this scarf in a plastic bag but he hated that idea that would make it look like something he had bought, something new with no history.  No, he would sacrifice the perfume in order to be able to plunge his hand into the soft silk on top of his box. 

Darling Melanie, she was so sweet, the beautiful golden hair, her shining blue eyes and smooth pale skin.  She was his dream girl she really was.  Reverently he laid aside the scarf and reached into the cardboard again his hand closing around soft leather.  He lifted out a small purse, brown with a zip around it.  He tutted as he looked at the mark on the front.  It was such a shame that there was that nasty dark blob spoiling the front of the purse, he so wished it wasn’t there.  Sighing he remembered the other things, the handkerchief with a lace edge and the key ring with a fluffy toy on it, they had all been spoilt, stained and sticky and they’d had to go, what a waste. 

Next he took out the bracelet. Gold links and a tiny heart-shaped charm, he wished that he had bought this.  If he had been looking for a present for his girl this is the sort of thing that he would buy.  For sure Melanie was worth it, he wondered again who had bought it for her.  A tiny feeling of disappointment crept in, he hadn’t bought this, he hadn’t bought the scarf which was losing its perfume and he hadn’t bought the purse which was now stained and really quite spoilt.  Tears sprung to his eyes, it was happening again, the pleasure was tainted, he had so looked forward to this but it was feeling wrong and his head started to throb with tension.  His fists clenched and he had to grind his teeth together to stop himself crying out in anger.   

He dipped into his treasure trove again.  A ribbon this time, blue with a frilled edge but starting to fade he noticed.  This had been in the box a long time now, how long he mused.  Must be about ten years.  Charlotte, dark hair, shining brown eyes and delicious full lips.  There was only the ribbon to remind him of Charlotte and now it was fading, he felt a deep sadness. 

With an angry jerk of his arm he thrust aside the box, flying across the bed it thwacked onto the floor under the window.  Charlie abruptly stood up.  Sweat stood out on his forehead, a pulse throbbed on his temple.  Holding out his hands in front of him he saw that they trembled and shook like those of an old man with palsy.  He was so angry, why did this keep happening.  Okay after Charlotte he had accepted that there had to be Melanie but now look even Melanie had let him down, that nasty bloodstain on her purse and the diminishing perfume. 

“Well, you know what this means don’t you” he railed at the empty silence of his room.  “You realize don’t you, this is your fault.  All your fault stupid, stupid, stupid.”  He shook his head in disappointment, now he would have to do it all again.  With a sigh he went back to the wardrobe.  He stood on the little stool so that he could reach to the very back of the topmost shelf and drew out the metal box.  He threw it onto the bed.  No ritual this time, he was so angry.  He didn’t want to do this.  This wasn’t his choice but it was unavoidable.  Opening the box he took out a small parcel and unwrapped the towel to gaze down on the butcher’s knife.  He tutted when he noticed the blood staining the bottom of the blade.  Well, he would have to give that a polish.  It was time now, tonight, it would have to be tonight.  He was going out as soon as it was dark to make another memory. 

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A daft bit of poetry

The case of the fight in the big top in Cullompton on Rye

 Sparkely Sue from Balwhinnnie

worked at the Circus of Light.

She mucked out the camels each morning ,

and danced on the highwire at night.

She was gorgeous in flashing suspenders,

In diamantes and sequins so gay,

At six forty five every evening,

and the pensioners, cheap matinée.

Now, Walter the big top erector,

Had a secret inside of his head,

He fancied the pants of our Suzie,

and wanted to take her to bed.

He tried to entice her with flowers.

To woo her with chocolates and cake,

but Sue was determinedly single,

and regarded our Walt as a Rake.

No, no she would cry with emotion,

whenever he leered at her bum.

I shall never allow your advances

and what’s more I’ve told your old mum.

But the truth is a little more sordid

than Suzie’s high-flying ideals.

She had lusts of her own towards Nigel

who worked in a tank with the Seals.

She admired his manly demeanor,

and his pectorals, ‘specially when wet.

She wanted to be his beloved

but hadn’t quite managed it yet.

The case reached a nasty conclusion

one night in Cullompton-on- Rye

When Walter found out about Nigel

and gave him a thump in the eye.

Nigel came back with a dropkick

that took out a couple of teeth.

One on the top in the middle,

and another one just underneath.

They rolled in the muck and the debris,

and across the sawdusted floor,

in front of the lion enclosure

where Samson let out a roar.

A constable had to be sent for

to manage the terrible scene,

and they both had to go in the morning,

to tell what the trouble had been.

And now they are both in the choky

existing on water and bread,

and Suzie is living in Stockport

where she’s married a butcher called Fred.

He provides her with brisket and bacon

and sometimes a nice bit of ham,

but whenever she thinks of the circus

she knows that her life is a sham.

She would love to go back to the high wire

to the camels and Nigel and lights,

If only mankind’s basest instincts

didn’t always lead them into fights.

So whenever you visit the circus

and it sweeps you away with delight.

Remember performers are humans

And the magic is only at night.

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Pauline – Chapter 51 – The Return

“Are you sure about this Pauline.”  The concern in Pete’s eyes made her heart contract with affection.

“I am.  It’s fine.”

The Dales were glorious in early autumn.  A great sweep of sky brushed the horizon and high in the blue was the dark pinprick of a Merlin or maybe even the precious Falcon.  It was magical and it was still home.

The agent in France had assured her that all was in order and the work on her holiday homes could begin in her absence and “Madam must not worry but must get well soon from her accident.”  It had been too complicated to explain and so a vague story of a fall had sufficed.

“Go over the top will you Pete.”

“That’ll take us past the place where the accident happened.”

“Yes, that’s the point.  I want to lay the ghost.  It’s just a road and a ditch.”

“You astound me, you really do.  You are so sensible and grounded.  You’re tough as well.  The doctors said at least ten days in hospital and it’s barely a week.”

“Well, it’s true what they say, though it’s a cliché and all.  The things that didn’t kill me – well I don’t know that they made me stronger but they certainly made me realise that I can cope with stuff.”

“Bloody hell you certainly can.  Does he know you’re coming today?”

“George.  Yes, I called him to confirm yesterday.”

“Are you still sure you don’t want me to come in with you.  If he was to hurt you after all you’ve been through…”  Pete lifted a hand from the wheel and reached to squeeze hers where it lay in her lap.

“Oh he won’t.  One thing that has never been surer is that.  He will never hurt me again.”

They drove in silence for a while.  Though she had insisted on her release from the hospital Pauline still felt fragile.  The pain of careless movement would cause her to draw in a sharp breath.

“Afterwards, will you call me?”

“I will.  Don’t worry.  I’m okay now and I have to do this.  Everything that went wrong, it all happened because I wasn’t doing this right.”

“Oh, that’s just mumbo jumbo.  It would have happened no matter what.  You did what you had to do and the rest of it was out of your hands.”

“I believe, it was because what I was doing was wrong. I shouldn’t have been sneaking away like that. ”

“I’m worried about you.” She smiled at his words.

“That’s nice Pete but you know, I think that all the bad things that could happen to me have happened now eh.”

“God, I hope so.  Listen I’ve got my phone.  Any problems, any hint of a problem, call me and I’ll be there.”

“I know, I know you will.”  She pointed now out of the window to the place just ahead of them.  He slowed the car.

“Look there’s the ditch, the corner.  See I told you, it’s just a road and a bend.”

She smiled at him but, inside her heart leaped and her stomach coiled.  Here was the start of it all.  She made a sudden decision. “Stop, stop here.  I’ll get out.  I’ll walk from here.”

“Here.  No, you can’t.  Bloody hell Pauline how much do you want to put yourself through.”

“I’ll walk from here Pete.”

“You amaze me you really do.”

“Oh go on.  You with what you do, but thank you it’s nice to hear.

“Kiss me.” He drew into the side of the country road, bare yards from the scene of the accident.  A dark stain still bore witness to the sacrificed sheep.  He turned off the engine.  He leaned and drew her into his arms and kissed her deep and long then drew back to gaze into her eyes.

“You truly do amaze me.”  The only response she could give was a smile, for her heart was full and emotion choked her throat.

“I know we can’t be together Pete.  Not really.  Not in the normal way, but we can make it work can’t we.”

“I believe that you can make anything work, if you have decided to.  Call me.”

“I will.”  She stepped from the car and blew a kiss through the window as he drove past.  She strode on in the reverse direction to that she had come only short weeks before.

The garden was already a little overgrown and the windows needed cleaning.  She sighed looking around at the early neglect.  How sad it all was, how very sad.

She would not ring the bell.  George was not going to open the door to her standing on the step like a naughty child.  She had her key and as the door swung inwards he was standing in the hall.  It amused her that he was dressed formally, his shirt roughly ironed but his silk tie knotted precisely.  The sight of him painted a smile on her lips despite all that had happened.

“Hello Pauline.”

“George.”

“Come in.  I was in the lounge.  I’ve made tea.”  As she passed through the hall she glanced into the messy kitchen.  The thought of the work that would be needed to restore it to its former pristine state lowered her mood and she sighed.

George had already thrown himself onto the settee and he turned as she stepped through the door.

“I’m glad you’re back.  I was worried and then the call from the hospital upset me.  They wouldn’t tell me much, just that you had been involved in an incident.”

“No, I asked them not to tell you too much.  I just wanted to come back myself without too much fuss.”

“Yes, of course you did.  I’m glad, glad that you’re here.  Look – I know we’ve got some issues Pauline.  Things to work out.  I’m willing to give it a go, I owe you that at least.  I’ll even go to counselling, if that’s what you want.  I can’t promise to change completely but yes, we should both make an effort.

“It’ll be good to get back to normal.  Now you’re back we can settle down again.”

She gazed at her husband.  Looked at his dark hair shining in the afternoon light, his figure still trim and his good looks barely touched by the years.  Her heart saw the young man she had married, the dashing groom standing beside the flower-decked altar.

Her eyes were drawn to his hands, resting now on his lap. When they met she had loved his hands. Manly hands, strong and sure.  Hands that had held hers and slipped the ring onto her finger.

She remembered them curled into fists flying at her in fury or slapping at her in anger and she leaned towards him and wrapped her arms around the grey cushion curled on the sofa.

She gathered up the sleepy feline and without a backward glance she walked from the room.  Pausing in the hall to stow Samson in his carrier, she strode on and out and into the sunshine.

Carefully she climbed into her car.  She’d done it.  She’d left George. Honestly and openly with her head high and back stiffened with resolve.

She’d taken the cat.

 

The End

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Chapter 50 – Awakening

Pete was calling to her in the darkness.  Pauline needed to go to him, to help him.  She had to find him and make him whole again.

The pain in head and stomach held her back.  Though her heart tried to drive her forward her body was broken.  She had to move.  Something held her down.  Strong arms restricted movement.  He was calling and if she didn’t find him he would die.

She didn’t want him to die.

She didn’t want to die.

“Pauline, Pauline lie still.  It’s okay, you’re okay.  Just try to relax.  We need to take care of you.”

Now the light came, floating before her eyes, swooping and receding.  “I hurt.”

“You’re alright Pauline.  We’re going to take care of you.  Just relax.”

The small, sharp pain in her arm became a soothing caress, sweeping through the discomfort and befuddling her mind.  Nothing mattered now.  She could drift away and it would all be over and she could find Pete.

“Pete?” She felt her lips move and the sound was close.  Had she spoken?

“It’s okay Pauline.  I’m here with you.  It’s all fine.  We’re okay.”

Against the weight of medication she forced open her eye lids and his face floated above hers.  He smiled at her.  She had found him.

Now she let the darkness sweep her away…

Even before she opened her eyes the sounds, smells and sensations told her where she was.  She had been in hospital before.

Her throat was dry.  There was a dull ache at the back of her eyes so she stayed in the dark for a while longer.  The whirl of dreams and confusion cleared slowly and nibbles of memory flicked in and out of her consciousness.  Then it was time, she knew she must open her eyes and face reality.

He was sitting in a chair beside her bed.  Though he had a magazine in his hand, his eyes flicked often towards where she was lying.  Finally they made contact and he gave her a smile.

“Hi there.”

“Pete.”  The sound was little more than a croak. He leaned towards her and took the plastic beaker from the bedside table.  He helped her to drink.

“I thought you were dead.  I thought he shot you.”

“I know, you made that clear when we were trying to help you.  You were pretty upset.”

“What happened?  Why am I here?”

“Okay second question first I think.  You hurt your stomach.  You ruptured your spleen.  It looked as though you fell on the chair leg.  They don’t think you need to have an operation but it’s going to be sore for a while.”

“I tried to knock it over, the chair.  I tried to make a noise.  Did you hear?”

“I did but I already knew that something was wrong.  That brings us to the first question I suppose.  I saw the bench and the plants.”

“Oh of course, I forgot about them.  I broke the pot.  I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, that’s what gave the game away.  If it hadn’t been for that I would have walked straight in and, well I guess we might not be having this conversation now.”

“Is he?…”

“He’s dead.  He can’t hurt you anymore.”

“Oh Pete, your lovely home.  I’m so sorry.”  Now the tears began and he pulled a tissue from the box on her locker.  “It’s all spoiled for you now.  Your peaceful place.  It’s all my fault.”

She was sobbing and he pressed the buzzer to call for a nurse.  They had said that he mustn’t upset her and he was helpless in the face of her distress.

“Don’t be silly.  It’s not your fault, what on earth do you mean?”

“If you hadn’t taken me there.  It’s all my fault.  Everything.”

He moved closer and reached down.  He took her hand.  “No, how can you say that, it’s ridiculous.”

“But if I hadn’t interfered, right at the start.  Back in the Dales, if I hadn’t gone into the ditch and got involved.”

“No, no.  You couldn’t help it.  What else could you have done?  Don’t be silly Pauline.”

A young nurse slid quietly into the room.  “Hi there Pauline, I’m Carol.  You need to try and keep calm.  Doctor Miller will be along later and he won’t be very happy with me if he finds you all upset.

“I’m going to give you something to help you to calm down.  Is that okay.”

She didn’t wait for an answer but added drugs to the infusion; checked the monitor readings and then offered a fleeting smile towards Pete, “You can have five more minutes and then I think Pauline should have a rest, okay?”

He nodded.  “It’s all fine Pauline.  We’ve sorted it all.  The jobs over.  It wasn’t quite as successful as we had hoped but we saved some women from hell.  We can probably put some really bad guys behind bars and – hey – I’m still here.”

She felt herself begin to drift. “Will you come back?”

“Yes, of course.  Someone will need to talk to you about what happened anyway.  Nothing to worry about but just to keep things in order.  I’ll see you in the morning. Sleep now.”  His lips brushed her forehead as she fell into a deep warm pit.

She was safe, he was safe.  All was well.

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Pauline – Chapter 49 – The Gun

She heard a car.  The low rumble grew and was joined by the spit of gravel under tyres.  Next there was the the whisper of grass as Pete drove to the hiding place among shrubs at the rear of the house.

The thug, sitting behind her tensed and chair legs scraped across the floor.  Pauline’s heart pounded, the pulse in her ears was near to pain.  She shook her head back and forth and stamped her bound feet up and down.  Anything that she could think of to make a row, to warn him.  She was rewarded for the effort by a hard blow against the side of her head that sent her senses reeling again.  The iron taste of warm blood and the liquid gathering in her throat told of more damage to the delicate lining of her mouth.  Still she rocked back and forth, the wooden chair rattling in the quiet.

Would he hear?  If he did would he understand and even then what could he do?  He mustn’t come through the door.  Now at last she had a glimpse of her attacker.  The dark figure stepped forward.  He was dressed in black with a hooded top.  The fabric was pulled forward and down so that there was no way to see his face from where she was.  Dark leather gloves covered his hands. As he moved forward he kicked out at her.  It was an aside, almost nonchalant.  “Quiet bitch.”  His voice was lowered now to a hiss.

Tears blinded her.  She couldn’t let this happen.  The monster waiting to blast Pete out of existence was calm, his hands steady as he raised the gun and aimed at the door.  Again she rattled the chair.  Now she tried to stand, shuffling forward and then pushing herself up using the strength in her thigh muscles.  As she slid from the seat and straightened her legs he turned to her, lowering his hands and giving her a glimpse of the lethal weapon held before him.  The bottom of his face was hidden behind a scarf or deep collar, all that was visible were his eyes peering at her.

He raised the gun again and pointed it directly at her face.  Her bladder failed her now as buzzing filled her ears.  She thought that she would faint and in truth would welcome the oblivion but footfalls on the flagstones held her in the moment.

Desperate squeals from deep in her throat were of no use as a warning.  She let her legs collapse dropping herself back down to the chair intent on knocking it to the floor.  Her only thought now was to make as much noise as possible in her weak and hobbled state.  Misjudging the distance between herself and the seat she toppled backwards and in the event accomplished her aim by accident.  As the chair tipped she tumbled on to it and landed hard on the upended legs which poked agonisingly into her stomach.  The pain was indescribable but the noise was satisfying.

Now the gunman swung his weapon down and she twisted her head to look into the evil of his eyes and believed that the moment of her death was upon her.

The rattle of the door handle had him swinging back, caught between the need for revenge and the execution of his plan. Pauline took the momentary diversion to roll from the broken frame of the chair, and try and tuck herself under the table. She drew up her legs intent on making herself as small as possible, and protecting the most vulnerable areas of her body. She was sobbing and choking in a world of fear and hurt.

The intruder swung his head around and glared one more time before straightening.  “I’ll save you for later bitch and you’ll regret what you just did.”

Now he turned back to the door, took a step, another and raised the gun.

Pauline screwed her eyes shut, it was over.  There was nothing she could do.  Pete would open the door of his haven and be shot before he even registered that there was a problem.  She couldn’t bear it.

The click of the door lock filled the quiet of the summer afternoon.  A pale dagger of sunlight speared across the grey flags.  Dust motes disturbed by the sudden breeze danced and twinkled merrily and then the air was riven by the shock of the gunshot echoing through the old house and sending screaming birds spiralling into the cloud freckled sky.

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Pauline – Chapter 48 – No Way to Die

The bliss of sun and birdsong was, in an instant, a nightmare.  There was pain in her cheeks and the world spun and tipped as the bench tumbled backwards. She was restricted, held, choking.  Her head shook desperately from side to side.

She had to get it off.  Whatever had her, she had to shake it loose.

In seconds the true horror hit her.  She was gripped from behind.  A hand across her face, over her mouth, squeezing the flesh and skin of her cheeks tightly, sparking water to her eyes.  She flailed with her arms, kicked out with her legs but he pulled her sideways and backwards, away from the upended seat.  She kicked over a pot of geraniums.  Still he had her.  She writhed and bucked and tried to scream.  He had her and was dragging her back into the house.

“Don’t go out.” Pete had said.  He was going to be so angry.  She was crying, snot running from her nose.

“Shit.  That’s gross.”  She was thrown to the floor.  Her chin hit the hard flagstones and stars whirled in a world of grey and when her vision cleared she saw blood, spattered across the grey paving.  She turned her head but he was sitting on her now.  The weight of him would surely break her spine.  She was trapped and terrified.  The scream that issued from her throat came from a distance, unreal.

She was hair dragged upwards and then a hand swiped across her mouth.  Panic took her to yet another level of desperation.  She couldn’t breathe now, he had taped her lips.  He leaned down close to her ear.  As he did the weight of him eased a little but still she couldn’t draw breath into her lungs.

“Quiet now.  Breathe through your nose.  Breathe through your nose.  Slowly.”  It was almost gentle, a whisper in her ear.  She could feel the disturbance of air on her neck.  “That’s better, slowly, in through your nose.  You’ll be okay if you do that.  Worst thing you can do is panic.  You panic and you’ll likely choke.”

She dragged tiny breaths in through her nostrils, little snorts.

He dragged her hands backwards and she felt the tape wrapped around her wrists.  She squealed anew, consumed by anger, frustration and fear.

“Quiet.  Lie still.  He rolled away and there was a grunt as he pushed to his feet beside her.

Grabbing her legs he taped her ankles and then pulled her upright.  A chair scraped across the floor and with a painful grip on her shoulders he pushed her onto the seat.

“Right.  We are going to wait here.  We are going to be quiet.  We are not going to have any trouble.  Do you understand me?”  Again the searing pain as her head was pulled backwards.  “I said do you understand me?”  She tried to nod but he still held her hair.

“You are going to sit still in that chair.  I am going to be right here and we are just going to wait.”  She tried now to turn her head and the blow from his fist brought back the swirl of dizziness. “Don’t, don’t even think about it.”

Long moments of silence followed and, though it was still uncomfortable, she gained control of her breathing.  It was like the cave all over again.  He was dead though, the man in the cave.  Pete had told her he was gone, tossed in the sea.  So, she had escaped that horror to find herself yet again tied and gagged and beaten.  It was all too much.

She had taken all she could.  She wanted to just drift away.  She was finished.  It seemed that there was to be no way out of this drama and it was all too hard.  The sobbing made breathing impossible again.  Tears tickled her cheeks and as phlegm gathered in her throat she felt the panic returning.  Like a dog she shook her head and was rewarded with another drag on her hair.

“Quiet.  For God’s sake, bitch, be quiet.  You’re not doing yourself any favours here and you causing us trouble is just going to make things worse.”  Now keep still.  He moved behind and his feet slapped on the kitchen flags.  Another chair dragged to where she was, just behind her and facing the door.

She remembered a poem, something from long ago.  Something about a highwayman and a woman watching and waiting with no way of warning her lover but to die.

Pete had surely been her lover but for him she couldn’t even find a way to die.

 

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Pauline – Chapter 47 – Solitude

He had gone.  “Don’t worry, you’re safe here.  Don’t go out though.  It’s best if you stay in for now.”

With the final word of warning ringing in her ears she had stood by the window and watched as he drove back down the little lane.

Before he left he had offered to pick up some essentials while he was out.  “I’ll be a couple of hours but on the way back I can go to town.”   It had been a strange conversation and the memory brought a grin to her face.  He stood before her indicating with a sweep of his hand down the length of her body.  “What erm, size are you.  You know for underwear and, well I don’t really know what you’d buy.”

“I take size twelve knickers, anything will do, not a thong though.”

“Knickers right.” He lowered his eyes to hide the laughter but she saw his shoulders quake and rescued him with a giggle.

“Don’t worry about a bra, I can manage if you don’t mind me washing it through tonight.”

“Shall I look for a T- shirt?”

“Oh would you.  Yes, please.  A T-shirt and something to sleep in would be great.  The knickers, and perhaps some conditioner.  My hair feels like straw after the beach.”

“You look fine to me.” He had grinned widely at her then and held out a hand.  She walked to him and leaned into his hug.  While her face was buried in his chest he had spoken quietly. “Are you okay with what happened?  I mean, you know, you don’t regret it?”

“No, no I don’t.  It was lovely.  I like you a lot Pete.”  She lifted her eyes and a glimpse of something in his expression had stopped her there.  She knew.  Deep down she knew that there was no future for them. He knew it too didn’t he? – Well didn’t he.

There wasn’t was there?

After he had gone she cleaned the kitchen counters and tidied the breakfast things away.  Another cup of coffee was just a way to pass the time and in the end half of it was poured down the drain.

For a while she sat and looked through the magazines she found on the coffee table in the living room.  They didn’treveal anything about him.  They were out of date news magazines and one or two that looked as though they might have been picked up in airports.  There was nothing in them to hold her interest.

The book cases were well stocked and she pulled down a novel.  She curled on the sofa and tried to lose herself in the story but even that couldn’t hold her attention.  She was on edge and fidgety.

The sun teased her through the narrow window, birds called and white puffs floated across the clean blue sky.  It was too nice a day to be inside.

She walked back into the kitchen and stood at the open door. There was no-one around.  Cows in a distant field lowed now and again.  The lazy smoke from a fire somewhere to the north smudged the horizon .  She stepped into the small patch of back garden.  Sparrows and Dunnocks hopped around the base of a hawthorn hedge.  Tufty grass covered most of the space with just one small apple tree in the corner.  A couple of pots held geraniums.  Marie from the farm had obviously kept an eye on the bright little plants which flanked a wooden bench.  It tempted her, the old wood worn to comfort.

Two steps from the house, that wasn’t out was it, surely.  She crossed the narrow flagstones and lowered herself to the seat.  The sun warmed her face and painted bright colours on the back of her closed lids as she gave herself to the peace.  There was time enough for worry and maybe even regret later.  At this moment she would just be…

Her shoulders slumped as drowsiness fell like a silk curtain and her mind began to drift.  She should pull back, get up and move around but the harmony had her, the air and the music of the earth was carrying her away and it was just too hard to come back.  Maybe just another few minutes and then she would force herself awake.

She didn’t hear the car, or the footsteps in the meadow.  She didn’t feel the shadow cool her skin and when the terror hit her it came from out of a place of gentle peace and was all the more brutal for that.

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