Not meaning to nag or anything but ——->
Okay, so that first night was pretty weird. I sat in the café for a while, until the girl behind the counter started looking at me funny. She’d already been over and wiped the table twice and taken my cup and plate ages before.
“Can I get you anything else?”
At one time this was a self published novel. For various reasons I unpublished it. However, tidying up my computer I saw it and decided to give it a little run here.
Wrath of War
Once I had an older brother, before, in the days of peace. Billy had always been effectively ostracised by his fellows, he was thoughtful and studious, they were rough, the sons of miners and farmers and they didn’t understand his gentle nature. When the violence erupted and the young men marched to the recruiting office their voices raised in song, Jerusalem, There’ll Always Be an England and of course God Save the Queen, bouncing from the walls and singing in the rooftops Billy joined the throng and surged with them to a life of uniformity and obedience.
They shipped them out, over the grey surging channel and vomited them onto the foreign beaches to stand or fall, and fall and fall a log jam of bleeding broken bodies, the wounded and the dying littering the sand dunes. He was a survivor they said, for days and days he lived, marched, fought and endured.
At last though it was too much for his gentle nature, and his kindly soul stepped away, out of reality into a place of darkness, a goodnight room where he could dream his dreams and preserve his sanity. When the whistle blew and the call went up he retreated further into his world of knights and dragons, the Lady of the Lake, the Prince of Denmark . When the hordes tore in screaming torrents across the broken landscape my brother Billy watched them leave and blessed their courage but failed to follow. There was no time for understanding in that blood soaked land and so they took him to stand before two men in a room and they weighed his spirit in their unforgiving scales and they found him wanting. They marched him at sunrise into a barrack square they covered his weeping eyes with blackness and they took his life because he had refused to give it.
When the letter came, telling of his cowardice and execution, that was the start of my theological education and that is when I swore that my hand would never lift in anger but I would struggle until the last breath left my body to reclaim his honour and gild his memory with truth.
Once I had an older brother, no coward he, just a gentle soul lost in the wrath of war.
“Ten quid if you do it.”
“Shannon, aw Shannon.”
“Go on, you always say you don’t refuse a dare.”
“But the cellar, at night.”
“Fair enough. I’ll keep the money and I’ll tell everyone you were too chicken to take the dare. It’s fine.”
“Bloody will and I’ll tell Carla.”
“Okay, okay, okay I’ll do it.”
“Right. One hour, at night. No torch, no phone and nothing with luminosity.”
“Luminosity? Did you swaller a dictionary – Ow. So okay, when.”
“Tomorrow, it’s Halloween tomorrow.”
“You’re a cow you know that.”
“No, just a big sister. It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it.”…
It was darker than he expected, he blinked but still couldn’t decide whether his eyes were open or closed. It was cold too, icy damp cold that had him shivering now and it had only been… Well how long had it been? He had counted for a while, after the big door slammed and the noises of the house disappeared and all the light in the world was obliterated. He had counted one elephant, two elephant, three elephant on and on till six hundred and his voice had sounded small and feeble in the silence and he had begun to lose count and his night vision had come in so that the light had moved from midnight to grey with great black shadows looming.
He rubbed his arms and took a tentative step, sliding his feet along the invisible floor. There used to be an old chair, a smelly old chair with ratty arms and wooden legs. It was near the wall in the corner. If he sat in that he could close his eyes and pretend he was somewhere else.
The great dark shape in front of him now was the cupboard, perhaps there was just the small glint from the lock. The darker line, did that mean that the door was open. No, no don’t think of it.
The four legged monster in the middle of the room was the table, heavy and solid. He headed towards it. from there it was but five paces to the chair. He reached out his hand, nearer now. He grabbed at the corner as his feet slid on the slippery puddle. It shouldn’t be wet, there was no wet down here. He slid his trainer back and forth on the mess. Grit rasped under the sole. What? He knelt and touched it, slimy and warm. A glob dripped onto his head. He startled, jumped back, heart pounding.
Holding his breath now and sliding his hand along the edge of the table he was closer to the chair. He could see it, a dark mass crouched in the corner. He would just sit on it, close his eyes and think good, warm thoughts. He turned sideways began to slide his behind onto the seat and his bowels turned to liquid as arms enfolded him. The scream died in his throat as his voice was stolen by terror.
For a while he struggled, just for a while until it became impossible. For a while he breathed until the embrace refused his lungs the space to expand. For a while he lived. For just a little while.
Phew, we’ve just got in. It was a nice trip, longer than planned but it was so lovely by the sea that we drove further along the promenade than we had intended. Of course Sean kept telling me to turn around, insisting I’d gone too far but in the end I was glad I ignored him and I think he was too, though he never said.
We didn’t take the same route as Phil used to, I still find it painful to see the little cafes we used to stop at and the places we watched changing and developing over the years. Phil always pointed out when someone had built a new garage or an extension on their house. Of course Sean doesn’t notice things like that, we haven’t done the trip together often, but it’s nice to have his company.
When Phil died I thought that would be the end of my trips, I never thought I’d have the confidence to go on my own but Sean solved that, thank heavens. I wouldn’t have liked to become one of those women who never go anywhere, of course there are coach trips but I enjoy the car, the little private picnics and I don’t have to go and spend money at gift shops and things, it suits me better.
There was a bit of a fuss on the way back, there were road works and I had to follow a diversion, Sean became quite upset, he doesn’t like it when he’s unsure of where we are. He tries to interfere, I told him, “There are signs look, for me to follow. Don’t you worry just be quiet and it’ll be okay.” On and on he went fussing and fretting, go down there, turn round. Phil wasn’t like that, when I was driving he would just leave it up to me, sometimes he would map read for me but he was calm and sure. That was one of the things I worried about, the thing that stopped me going on my own, I’ve never been any good with maps, no good at all but it’s fine now with my “new man” but yes he does fuss a bit.
We’re getting used to each other, slowly but so far so good and he does get me out and about. Next week we’re going away overnight, up to Scotland. I’m excited about it, going to visit Myrtle and her husband, I haven’t seen her for years. Phil didn’t get on with her so a long stay wouldn’t have worked but I’m sure it’ll be fine now. I don’t need to worry about Sean do I? No I’ll just unplug him and pop him in the glove box, he’ll be fine there in his little nylon case.
Another outing for an old favourite of mine
The trees in the park are glorious. Like a magnificent pavan they unroll as far as these old eyes can see; their ball gown finery, gold and russet and crimson billowing and tumbling in the breeze. The pain is good this morning. It is there prowling like a great bear around the battlements but for now at least the drugs repel it. Soon though the other assaults will begin, first on my physical self, and then on my poor addled brain.
Here she comes now the “care assistant” who in truth needs some assistance to care. Bright and brittle in lavender and body odour. Brace for the first wave of attack.
“Oh Amy, what are you doing sitting here all on your own? Let’s pop you with the others so that you can watch something more interesting. It’s no good you just staring out of the window at nothing all day.”
Staring at nothing, the billow and wisp of cloud, the glorious, glorious trees and the oceanic swells of winter wheat rushing before the wind. “Staring at nothing.” And she will take me and “pop” me before that abomination; the television. She will line me up with the others ogling in aquatic dumbness at the flashing colours. How I hate it, the joyless laughter, the high priestesses with their pregnant pauses and their pregnant bellies and the ignoramus hoi polloi giggling and flirting, leaping into mutual degradation all for their fifteen minutes and a free holiday.
Don’t “pop” me anywhere you lavender suited storm trooper. Leave me in peace with the song of the birds and the glitter of the frost where it lays encrusting spider webs beneath the hedge. Treacherous vocal chords gurgle and splutter. Outraged obscenities transmute into meaningless drivel and so I am duly “popped”. The second invasion approaches, there is nothing in my arsenal with which to repel.
“Hello Amy, it’s Thursday.”
Good God Mrs Wilkins you don’t say, a revelation beyond all expectations.
“My Gerry comes today. He comes every Thursday without fail. He’s such a good boy.”
First of all you overblown dollop he is not your Gerry. He is Gerry who belongs to the world, he has a wife, a life and a reason to be. He can wash himself, shave his flabby fat chops and presumably grope ineffectively at his wife in the dark to produce his disgusting progeny. He is not a good boy, he is an avaricious little man who comes every Thursday in the hope that you will have expired on Wednesday night and the home haven’t had a chance to tell him. He comes so that he can pack up your feeble belongings and once and for all put this whole miserable responsibility behind him.
“It is a shame that you never had any children Amy, they are such a comfort.”
Comfort my arse you silly old fool. A cushion is a comfort. Haemorrhoid cream is a comfort, Gerry is a cretin.
Now, it comes, the deepest torture. Another careless carer, her mind on bus stop gropes with spotty youths and illicit fags in darkened corners, will spoon pap into my gullet. Bang the spoon on my teeth again you moron and I swear I’ll somehow find the wherewithal to bite your hand. Oysters fresh from the sea in the South of France. Tender pasta robed in piquant sauce, bejewelled with fiery peppers and bread still warm from the boulangerie. Drooling peaches and sun-filled melon with a Bacchanalian of sparkling white Bourgogne sipped from crystal goblets as the heat of the day bleaches the hills and diamonds sparkle in the bay. I can’t bear it, not another minute, not another mouthful, jelly and juice and plastic, oh god.
The outsiders approach. The floral tributes, chocolates, pictures of grandchildren. The hugs and kisses, grinning rictus and off set embraces. No don’t come over here, please don’t.
“Hello Amy, how are you today? You’re in the best place there’s a nasty wind out there and you’re lovely and snug.”
A force seven gale off the ocean, lifting my hair, gluing the clothes to my legs and startling tears from my eyes. His hair lifting and flicking as he smiles down at me, the two of us thrown together by the force of nature; external and internal. His arms a harbour, his broad chest my haven, and the warmth of his body welding us together in the blasted sunshine. The sudden silence behind a hedge, and the glory of daytime lovemaking. His tears, my tears, the ghastly separation as he leaves for the airbase, and the violence of waiting for his return. The devastation, the emptiness, and the total loss of reason when he is gone, and then the wretched years of decline becoming this traitorous slug of a body slumped in a dung heap home waiting for release.
He is here, he has come, it is time, thank God it is time.
“Nurse, excuse me nurse, can you come quickly and look at Amy I think there’s something wrong.”
Ah no for the first time in decades something is wonderfully right.
The other day, after returning home from a most enjoyable holiday in France, I had a stab of realisation. My novel will be out in a mere 4 weeks!!! Eek!! My restored sense of inner tranquillity and vague thoughts of ‘Everyone’s on holiday now, you can relax for a while’, were instantly shattered. Cake flavour and hair colour for the launch party are currently being decided on, along with other very important things, such as who to invite.
On a more serious note, I’ve started a rough project plan listing what I should be getting on with, starting with the articles, guest posts and Q&A answers that I need to write (must try really hard not to leave them to the last minute). Then there’s a Twitter chat to prepare for, emails to local bookshops re stocking the paperback, sending the paperback out to journalists and reviewers, etc etc. So…
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The wardrobe door was flung back against the hinges. The sudden flood of light, accompanied by the crash and splinter of old wood ignited the cat. With a gargantuan thrust of his back legs he launched himself, just out, no aiming or thought just out and away. Unfortunately, just at that moment the swarthy gentleman was taking a step forwards the better to search the depths of the cupboard. The cat was leaping upwards, the man was leaning downwards, the two met midway. Rags extended his claws as a result of shock and fear; they hooked into skin, one lodging in the tender flesh just inside a nostril. Not unsurprisingly this caused the human to screech in a most inhuman fashion. This terrified the cat even more and he scrabbled and scrambled upwards, clawing and reaching, rending the soft skin of chin and cheek and forehead.
The bloke staggered backwards, by this time Jenny had grabbed her camera and without anything approaching logical thought she pointed it and clicked the shutter button. The scratched and bleeding ne’er do well now got an eye full of camera flash, he squealed anew and covered his eyes with both hands, effectively blinded.
Jenny grabbed the umbrella and charged forth brandishing it spear-like before her. The crook had tipped on his axis and was now on his way forward again. Due to the difference in height between the two, the pointed end of the gamp connected brutally with the squashy, tender parts that were inadequately protected by the soft, baggy track suit bottoms that were his preferred attire.
He collapsed in an S-shaped, shrieking pile on the bedroom carpet; his hands were clutching the area around the top of his legs which he truly believed were aflame. Jenny leapt over him “Sorry, sorry – I’m so sorry”.
Rags had had just about as much as he could take. He headed like a small ginger rocket for the stairs, the outside and safety. For reasons that were never fully understood the second intruder leapt after the cat, whether he was fleeing from the ear curdling screams of his erstwhile companion or whether he believed the cat to be possessed of unnamed treasure it was difficult to know, but he was off in full pursuit before Jenny had reached the bedroom door.
Unfortunately, or not, depending on your point of view, his feet disavowed his ambition and tied themselves into a knot on the top step. He tumbled in a flurry of flailing limbs and rolling, bouncing body parts from top to bottom of the narrow staircase arriving unconscious and uncaring against the front door.
Jenny fled as fast as her wobbling legs would carry her for the ground floor. She jumped over the hunched and immobile body in the hall, grabbed the cordless phone from the little table and ran to the kitchen where she shot outside. She secured the back door and tore the key from the lock. She ran round to the front of the house where she paused, breathless and slightly hysterical, she dialled 999.
She reported the current circumstances, suggested that it would be very helpful if the local constabulary could send someone other than an apprentice and that perhaps an ambulance would be of some use. The screeching of the various sirens and horns brought out such of the neighbours who were at home, all of whom stared in some bemusement at the batty old cat woman who seemed to be patrolling the front of her house armed with an old umbrella, her hair awry, her clothes askew and her face wearing a rather manic expressions which precluded conversation.
When the dust had finally settled and the nice police lady had provided a steaming cup of tea, Jenny took the time to shed a couple of tears of shock and nerves. Only a couple, just for appearances sake really, because in truth she had found it all terribly thrilling. Not to be repeated, no never that, but still quite out of the ordinary run of things.
The man from the bottom of the stairs was carted away on a stretcher to be given treatment for his concussion and a rather nasty broken wrist. The other chap was escorted to a police car, hobbling in a most peculiar and careful fashion, blood smearing his shocked and ruined countenance.
“Hello, hello madam. Are you alright? Are you sure you don’t need a doctor?” The young policeman was being terribly kind and friendly. Probably felt that he had some sort of stake in the whole thing and Jenny was more than willing to let him bask in a bit of reflected glory.
“Has anyone been to the garage constable?”
“Yes indeed. You are quite the hero. The boxes are very clever devices indeed. On the top they are fitted out to carry bottles of rather nasty Bulgarian wine.”
“Oh, is that all? Wine – well!”
“Ah, but quite a number of them have false bottoms and that’s where it gets most interesting. The bottoms appear to be used to carry bags of very valuable drugs. Oh yes you are quite the hero and no mistake.”
“Drugs, well my word, drugs here in our little road.”
“Unfortunately they are everywhere and hidden away back here probably seemed a good idea. Well, if it hadn’t been for you and that old cat I don’t doubt they could have carried on for pretty well as long as they wanted. Where is he the old fella?”
“Oh, I don’t know. He was dreadfully upset and frightened. I don’t know where he’s gone and I’m so worried about his leg. He could have torn the stitches. Poor old Rags what a rotten time he’s had.”
“Well, I’ll tell the lads to keep an eye out for him anyway.”
“Yes, that would be nice. Thank you.”
“So, what are you going to do with your reward?”
“Oh yes quite a handsome reward coming your way madam. Quite a nice little sum.”
“Well. Goodness. Really? My heavens, who’d have thought it?”…
The next morning Jenny filled the cat bowls. Everyone was going to have a special treat. She didn’t have the reward yet but had been assured that it would be substantial.
“Here we are my lovies, tuna treat and chicken livers in sauce, the little gold tins were scraped into various dishes and she did believe there were more visitors than ever. Word must have got around the local cat population.
A stately ginger figure strode haughtily past the feline hoi polloi. With a very superior glance in their direction Rags made his way through the garden and entered the kitchen via the back door. He sniffed at the small empty porcelain bowl sitting next to his blanket. His ears rotated just once, checking for untoward noises. All was calm, he turned his great gold eyes upwards and stared unblinking at the daft old biddy.
“Oh Rags, how lovely. You are quite famous you know and really rather rich. Would you like something to eat? I have a special tin of Pampered Pussikins, tuna in prawn jelly. Do you think you could eat that? Apparently he could.
Afterwards reclining on the settee, licking at a front paw he took stock of his situation. It had been an interesting few days, he was getting on a bit and this daft old bat wasn’t bad – for a non feline. Maybe he’d stay. Just until something better came up anyway. Jenny poured a cup of tea and plonked down beside him. “Well Rags, that was different wasn’t it?” He listened but none of what she said seemed to relate to food so he tucked his front paws under his chest and drifted off to sleep. Jenny smiled and sipped her drink, life could be so very lovely couldn’t it, and so surprising.