The Electric Frying Pan

angel_esp3-large


(500 words)

‘Connect’ 10.05 service from Welwyn to Kings Cross pulled up at New Barnet station. I stood at the open door. It was February 2007, drizzling and cold. Where was Danny?!
Suddenly a small stout figure appeared from nowhere, bundling along the platform. Seeing me, he threw himself through the door, his plump face grinning widely. “Almost missed it!”
“Where’s your jacket?” I noticed spots of rain on his grey shirt.
“I didn’t have time to get it.” Typical Danny, always late for school or his guitar lessons!
“Aren’t you cold?”
“No,” he said, shivering. Then, “Dad gave me some money.” He brandished a couple of tenners.
“You’ll need it where we’re going!”
Half an hour later we passed through the hallowed doors of Harrods, England’s premier department store. There, for a month, was Born to Rock, an exhibition of electric guitars. We wandered past hundreds of instruments of every size and shape imaginable. Here, a handcrafted black guitar, sculpted into the shape of an alien. On sale at a cool eight and a half grand. There, a shabby, dented Stratocaster, nearly all the paint worn off, a survivor of countless gigs by the Irish blues legend, Rory Gallagher.
Guitars owned by members of the Who, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin rubbed shoulders with modern instruments given hand-painted custom finishes – a hummingbird sipping at iridescent flowers, a lizard with a long outstretched blue tongue, a naked woman with huge breasts. “Don’t look Danny!” I said covering his eyes with my hands. We laughed.
Beyond the guitars lay an art exhibition by the Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood; pencil drawings, multi-media prints, oils. “Is that an original?” I asked an attendant, admiring an impressive portrait of Bob Marley.
She smiled. “No, some of the drawings are original but the rest are limited edition prints. You can take photos if you want…”
I busied myself taking pictures of everything, snapping lifelike images of Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury amongst landscapes and still-lifes. Ronnie was no slouch when it came to art!
We returned to the guitar exhibition, now thinking it odd to see all those instruments displayed like dusty museum pieces, instead of in the hands of some outrageous ‘rocker,’ pounding out ear-splitting riffs.
Most of them weren’t protected. When the security guards weren’t looking you could reach out and strum the strings. Finally we reached a glass case in a special enclosed area. A guard hovered nearby.
“What’s this?” asked Danny.
I consulted an article in the catalogue. “It’s the Electric Frying Pan. A prototype electrified Hawaiian guitar designed by Georges Beauchamp in 1931. The world’s first ever electric guitar!”
The fingerboard was in bad condition with missing and rusty frets, and the large silver pickup over the small round body was corroded.
“What d’you mean the first?” asked Danny, wide-eyed.
“The first. The one before the second! The one that started everything.” I waved towards the maze of guitars beyond.

We stood, silently, gazing in awe…



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Moonlit Gravestones

graveyard night

(550 words)

Any evening you’ll find me walking round my village, a brisk half hour’s walk. It’s much later tonight, gone eleven. I got waylaid sorting out books in my library, sifting through collections of Daphne Du Maurer and Victor Canning first editions. I pass occasional houses, farms and cottages. Is anyone awake? Alive even?! The sporadic street light casts its orange glow but windows are dark, silent, secretive.
The moon is bright. The full silver disk shines down, belittling my torch so that I replace it in my jacket pocket. Few stars are visible but a bright yellow ‘star’ shines just under the moon. Jupiter or Saturn? I realise I don’t really care. I approach the church along a little lane, overhung by trees, that loops off the main village road. To my left is a gate in the hedge. I stand there and gaze out over the moonlit gravestones. Sides facing away from the bright moon are in deep shadow, emphasising how most stones are tilted over. After hundreds of years of imperceptible toppling, some gravestones lean at 45 degrees.
I pass through the gate. Ahead of me are several gigantic yew trees. Pitch black, they remind me of rooks (or ‘castles’) in chess, almost square with small ‘turrets’ on top. I hear geese honking in the distance, then silence, air still as a quiet pond.
I look behind me, to neat rows of more modern gravestones. They resemble card, not stone, two-dimensional in the unearthly light. Suddenly right by me, a bird flies out of a bare tree, squawking loudly. I jump.
“Hello Stan.” A voice comes from my side, soft, recognisable – it’s Gary from the village.
I look around. “Hello stranger, you’re out late!”
“It’s peaceful. No-one’s about, not even ghosts!” he laughs. Then, “my brother’s buried here.” He gestures to his right.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” I say. “When did he die?”
“Exactly five years ago today. His motorbike went under a truck.”
“That’s awful, I hadn’t heard…”
“It’s still hard Stan, but at least I can visit him…”
“Yes, my dad’s here too,” I say.
I gaze around the churchyard, so very different by moonlight. So many gravestones I’d never noticed before. There’s even one under my feet. In the half-light, tall, round-headed gravestones look exactly like the heads and shoulders of half-buried giants. I glance round and notice Gary has gone.
I pass the church and leave the graveyard to continue my walk. A little further on is the village pub. Lights burn brightly still. “B & B’ers” drinking and talking late, no doubt. On impulse I go in. Sure enough, I don’t recognise the small gathering, but there’s Bill, the landlord and at the bar, Gary.
“Hi Gaz, you must be thirsty!” I say, seeing his glass almost empty.
He laughs. “What?”
“Well, you drank that quickly!”
“What are you on about?” he says.
“You came back from the church quickly.”
“I’ve not been to the church. I’ve been in here.”
“He has,” says Bill.
“You were telling me about your brother.”
“My brother’s dead and buried, over there in the graveyard.”
“I just saw you…”
Gary puts down his beer, hand shaking. “Jez was my twin. We were identical twins.”

“I could never tell them apart,” says Bill…



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Why is the Moon Hollow?

eclipse3
(600 words)
“Bible stories, that’s all they are!” I said.
“Mr. Newby said the moon was created on the fourth day, along with the Sun!” Mr. Newby being my seven year old son, Ivan’s, Religious Education teacher.
“Well, not everything in the Bible is completely true,” I said gently, laying a hand on his shoulder. “Some of it’s an … interpretation.”
“What’s intep…, inteperetation?” His big blue eyes looked up at me earnestly.
I suddenly wondered what it meant myself. “Well, it’s a way of saying things in … a different way,” I ventured.
“Well, Mr. Newby said it’s all true!” He turned back to his Playstation and I resisted the urge to punch a cushion, picturing Mr. Newby’s face.
“Have you ever thought about the Moon, I mean like where it came from?” said Sonja. I was head of the collections department, she was my sexy secretary, although I had to keep my fantasies to myself, for now at least..
“What, don’t you start, I had my son banging on about it this morning, courtesy of his bloody RE teacher!”
“Well Paul’s reading a book that says it’s an alien spaceship!” Paul being the boyfriend, a young ambitionless man of loutish appearance. Heaven knows what she saw in him.
“Oh, really.”
“Uh-huh. She rested her face on her hands, red-painted nails pressing into her smooth cheeks, and looked up at me with doe-eyes.
I turned away, busying myself with aimless paper shuffling. “Well, what’s the evidence then?”
“Well he says it’s a trillion to one odds that a planet would have just one satellite that’d be the exact apparent size of its sun.”
“Could be a coincidence?”
“Ha, or it could be a sign to us humans, when we grew to a certain stage in our development, that it must have been placed there artificially.”
“Seems like a lot of trouble to go to.”
“Paul says it’s a stepping stone.”
“What?”
“A stepping stone to other planets. How would we get to Mars, for example if we couldn’t practice by going to the Moon.”
Hmm. She had a point. Or rather Paul did. Or rather whoever wrote the goddamn book did!
When I got home that evening Ivan was on the Playstation. “What are you playing?” I asked.
“Moon invaders.”
“I might have guessed. Where’s mum?”
“Taking a dump.”
“Don’t be rude!”
He didn’t look up, his fingers and thumbs whirring to the sound of explosions. “Servicebot 9 perishes! Servicebot 9 perishes!”

Leaving him to invade the Moon, I took a torch and went out into the night, down through the garden to our summerhouse by a small pond. Rippling on the surface was a bright, circular, silver-white, glowing object, right in the centre. I sat on a bench and lit a cigarette. Looking up, I watched as the fragrant smoke drifted across the moon, my face bathed in its liquid silver. I wondered, like millions doubtless before me, where had it really come from and would we ever know?



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Lost Memories

wind in the willows

(600 words)
“The Bible?”
“No.”
“Grimm’s Fairy Tales?”
“No”
“I give up, it could be anything.”
Natalie and I were back in the Black Swan. She’d been upset after the death of her boss in a bizarre accident and I figured she might need someone to talk to. I was drinking Vicar’s Venom and she was on chardonnay. Anyway, we’d somehow got onto the subject of our earliest possessions. She’d said hers was an envelope with her first haircut in it. Locks of blonde hair, silky soft to the touch and unfaded since clipped from her head nearly 40 years ago.
“But not a hair on your head perishes,” I’d said, paraphrasing the Bible. I’d told her mine was a book, so she’d guessed in that direction.
“OK, as far as I know, my earliest possession is a copy of Wind in the Willows, inscribed by my Dad ‘Christmas 1966’. I was three!”
“What? Could you read then?!” Her wide emerald eyes opened wider still.
I was tempted to exaggerate but decided from the point of our future relationship to tell the truth. I thought of Mark Twain’s advice, ‘if you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.’
“Actually, I don’t think so, probably my mum read it to me.”
“Where is it?
“Oh, it’s in a storage unit in Lincoln.”
The previous week I’d gone there, looking for a dartboard. Piles of boxes, up to the high ceiling, stood ominously in the gloom, leaving just small channels between them. Then garish fluorescent tubes had flickered on, dispelling any mystery, except in the deepest alcoves formed by bookcases and an inverted bed.
The dartboard was easy to find, then I’d felt an inexplicable hankering to find the box that had all my childhood books in it. I decanted twenty boxes outside the unit until I’d exposed a box that said simply, ‘Books 1’. I’d actually found my breath coming quickly and my hands quivering as I slit the tape fastening it. Then my heart stopped. Inside the box were a set of scales, a rolling pin and some crockery, wrapped in tissue. I remembered now, that when preparing to move, my aged mother had come to help and I’d caught her throwing out our childhood Monopoly set.
“What are you doing?”
“You don’t need it any more, why on Earth do you need so many collections – books, magazines, toys, bottles!”
“We used to play with that when we were little kids!”
She brushed greasy white hair off a wrinkled face. “You’re fifty five for goodness sake. Grow up!”
Again I looked in the box. Surely, surely she hadn’t thrown out possibly my most treasured possession, even with her deteriorating mental state. I remembered the dust wrapper, a lovely painting by E. H. Shepherd – Ratty and Mole sitting in a boat by the riverbank. Fruitlessly, I’d looked through some other boxes before I’d had to leave. Irate, I’d phoned her on my return. She “couldn’t remember,” or so she said.
 –
“Stan, Stan, are you OK?” Natalie woke me from my reverie.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m OK. I’ll get some more drinks, same again?”
She nodded, looking concerned.
I headed to the bar, thinking of that hardback book, covered in dark-green waxed cotton, and felt a yearning to feel the smooth paper wrapper again, to look inside at my dad’s inscription, written before I could even read. I turned into an alcove and wiped my eyes, then had a sudden thought. Maybe the book was just in another box I hadn’t searched? Brightening up, I realised I didn’t want to “grow up”…



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Heartless Desires

robot sex
(600 words)
“June, could you iron this shirt for me please darling?” called Jim, holding up a pale lemon-coloured shirt with white stripes.
His wife appeared with a sheaf of papers in one hand. “No, I’m busy, can’t you get your ‘floozy’ to do it? It’s her job isn’t it?”
“Yes, but she’s at work, doing overtime.”
“Why?”
“I’m not sure, she’s getting £5 an hour so she only has to do twenty two hours to pay for her rental for the week.”
“Twenty two hours?”
“Yes, don’t forget she gets to keep 10% – thanks to the government caving in to that damned Humanoid Rights Act!”
“Look, you know I’m not happy with Melissa. I understand that since my accident, well you have … urges, but it doesn’t seem right.”
“The technology’s available so why shouldn’t I use it?”
“Well, you could consider my feelings for a start!”
“Well, don’t think about her if it makes you unhappy.”
“That’s a bit bloody difficult when she’s wandering around the house! Anyway, why do you need a shirt ironed? It’s Sunday”
“Oh, Old Man Warburton just called an emergency meeting. The yellowmen aren’t happy.”
“Well YOU iron the goddamn shirt then!”
“OK, OK. Where’s the ironing board?”
June shrugged. “How should I know?”
Just then they heard the sound of the front door opening and a beautiful young woman with oriental features and long black hair came into the room.
Jim spoke. “Oh, thank goodness you’re back. Can you iron this shirt please Melissa?”
“Yes, Jim, but I have something to tell you.”
“Look, I’m in a hurry. What?”
“Well, we don’t have emotions, we don’t really understand what they are, except they make humans act … funny. But there’s a boy at the office, another…humanoid. Well, he, Willie he’s called, and I, well we…understand… each other. I can’t describe it to you, a human, but we want to be together.”
“Good God, are you serious? No, a thousand times no! D’you think I’ve been paying £100 a week just to let you run off with another goddamn ‘robot’? Where would you go anyway? Disneyland?”
“No, Thailand. We’ve booked flights for tonight. The climate will be good for our … mechanisms, and Willie knows a restaurant owner who will employ us as waiters. And we get to keep ALL our wages.”
Was there a trace of a smile or did he imagine it? “So how will you pay for the flights? With shirt buttons?!”
“We’ve both been saving our ten percents.”
Pfft, look Melissa, I’m sorry but I’m calling the company, they’ll put a stop to this nonsense right now.”
She reached out a slender, perfectly manicured hand for the shirt. “Sorry Jim, I’ve okayed it with them. They’re sending you a replacement…”
“How did the meeting go,” asked June, the following morning.
“Oh, Warburton’s paying off 90% of the yellowmen, replacing them with robots.”
The doorbell sounded. June went to answer.
In marched someone of indeterminate sex, large and dumpy-looking. The voice was medium-pitched with an odd, grating quality. “Hello, my name is Kim and I am the replacement for Melissa.”
Jim looked aghast. “Good God, I was expecting another combined service and pleasure model!”
“Sorry sir, all available robots have been seconded by the Warburton corporation. However, I am sure I can learn to give you pleasure, if you would instruct me.”
Jesus Christ! No, no, that’s OK, look, I know a nice little office you can work in. £5 an hour and I’ll even let you keep 15%! How would an 80 hour week suit you?…”



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If Two Witches Were Watching.. (400 word version)

real-witch-picture


(400 words)

Aspects of the cottage were unusual to say the least. A large white, winged-devil gargoyle hung to the left of a handwritten sign – Haunted Cottage. Julie and I exchanged glances.
“Welcome, you found the place then!” A short woman in her sixties with a mop of long, incongruously-black hair answered the door. “I’m Mary. Come in.”
Julie and I had answered an advertisement for a saddle, for my stepdaughter’s first horse. We passed through a tack room into a large conservatory.
“Please sit. I’ll make some tea.”
“Oh, no, that’s fine, we can’t stay long.” Julie smiled and toyed with her blonde hair.
“Oh, I insist,” replied Mary. Before we could say anything she’d disappeared.
Julie and I looked around. A large ‘Green Man’ planter hung high on the one solid wall and peach-coloured cushions graced cane furniture.
Soon Mary was back. “The tea won’t be long. Now I must tell you, I have two witches.”
“Sorry?”
“Two witches, in spirit. They live here. They get up to all kinds of tricks!”
“Oh.” Julie tried to keep a straight face.
I was far less skeptical. “Like what?”
“Oh, they stole my slippers and put them in an old coat. Come, I’ll show you!”
She led us into the cottage, a network of small immaculate rooms, full of antique furniture and effects. Stuffed foxes glowered from glass cages and witches, from small dolls to waist-high figures, were everywhere.
Back in the conservatory, having seen the coat and slippers, and having succeeded in getting Mary’s mind back on the purpose of our visit long enough to purchase the saddle, I finished my tea. “Well, thanks Mary, it sounds like it’s never a dull moment around here!”
She sat up suddenly. “Did you hear that? Thunder. There’s going to be a storm.”
“Oh well, we’d best be going.” I felt in my pocket for the car key but it was empty. “Hang on, where’s my car key?”
There was a flash of lightning and rain rattled on the windows. I ran to the car with my jacket over my head. “It’s OK, I left it in the ignition!” I shouted.
That lady was crazy,” said Julie, snuggling up to me in bed. Her skin was warm and comforting.

“Yeah, maybe, but when we were first sitting down I seem to remember the car key was pressing against my leg…”



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Taylor Maid

sex-robot-10-19-15-1

(600 words)

“Imitated by many, matched by none!” Professor Norman King exclaimed, proudly gesturing to an image of a young woman on a screen behind him. “Bonita!“.
There was a round of applause and knowing smiles were exchanged amongst the audience.
The professor stood at a lectern. He was tall, slim, tanned and had neat grey hair. He wore silver-rimmed glasses. To his right a sheet covered a figure, about five feet high.
“Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, what you’ve all been waiting for. Incidentally, we decided against Bonita mark 2.”
Polite laughter.
“So please meet… Fleur!” He pulled the sheet back and there was a gasp of astonishment. There stood a beautiful young woman of about 25 in a sleek red dress. She smiled and the professor passed her a microphone.
”Hello Ladies and Gentleman.” She spoke with a soft musical voice. “It is lovely to meet you. I am pleased to be the new flagship ‘companion’ of NJK Robotics Inc. I have been equipped with the very latest in artificial intelligence, hundreds of nano-servos for realistic motion and facial expression, and a new and unique, er, ‘internal manipulation’ device.” She laughed a mellifluous laugh.
There was a huge round of applause, then the professor continued with technical information – lifting ability, charging times and options such as skin and hair colour, breast size etc. Finally, he discussed typical jobs the robot could do – washing up, cleaning, ironing and, of course, the ‘pleasure’ functions.
“Now, before I take questions, the all important one. How much does she cost? Well the fantastic news is that the price simply consists of a negotiable deposit and a rental starting from just £100 a week – terms and conditions apply – and she is fully upgradeable, included in the rental. A catalogue is available with full specifications, but now, are there any further questions?”
“What are the main differences between Bonita and Fleur?” asked a scientific correspondent type, wearing huge black-framed glasses below a halo of wild blond hair.
“Well, primarily improved skin quality, movement and intelligence. She has improved learning capabilities too and some test models have learnt to drive and, indeed, passed the driving test on their first attempt!”
An excited murmur went around the hall.
“Can she be employed in a salaried capacity by a third party?” asked the same journalist.
“Yes, we are negotiating with the department of employment. She’ll have to be registered for tax and national – humanoid – insurance, then she’ll be eligible to undertake suitable paid employment on your behalf. You’d be entitled to keep 90% of all income, the remainder will go into an account for her personal use.”
“Blimey!” exclaimed a huge man in a patterned smock and leggings so wide they looked like pillars.
The audience laughed.
A middle-aged lady asked shyly, “is there going to be a male version?”
The professor smiled. “Yes, the first prototype is being tested as we speak. We hope to release ‘Kenny’ within six months.”
The woman spoke again. “Will he be customisable, er, down there.” She blushed furiously.
“Yes, I think you’ll find Kenny an, um, impressive companion, the professor said to general laughter. Several other women hurriedly raised their hands but the professor gestured for them to wait. “I wonder, could I just get a feel for how many might be interested in a Fleur or a Kenny? Please raise your hands.”
About three quarters of the audience did so.
“Ah, I should just add that we are also working on ‘Taylor’, a model with both male AND female, er, ‘characteristics’.”
Discretely, the remaining hands crept up…



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Falling for the Boss

skyscraper windows
(500 words)

“He imitated someone called Gary Hoy, we found out afterwards. Have you heard of him?” Natalie is speaking about her boss, Simon King and what I’d understood to be his latest ‘exploit.’ She seems edgy.
“No I haven’t. What happened?” I say, intrigued. Natalie had texted me, asking to meet. So here we are, alone, in the snug at the Black Swan. There’s just Natalie and me in the cosy little bar although I can see over the counter to the lounge bar where there’s a handful of other customers. I notice the swept-back dyed grey-blond hair of Brad, the ageing pop star and pub bore, currently holding forth, and am pleased to be out of range. Behind Natalie is a ‘shop’ that consists of shelves laden with cans of soup, packets of biscuits, jars of coffee and the like. The landlord’s optimistic idea for extra income.
Rod Stewart is playing over the speakers – The First Cut is the Deepest – and I sip my pint of Viper’s Nest, admiring Natalie’s shapely figure, wistfully remembering happier times together. Her blonde hair is in a pony tail and she’s not wearing make up. That’s ominous.
“Well, Simon liked to show off. He had the flashiest car, went on the most luxurious holidays and so forth.”
“Yeah, so I understand.” Natalie and I had once been an ‘item’ and I’d met him, a partner in a major accountancy firm, on a couple of occasions. He was handsome, tanned, witty (so others thought) and I’d taken an instant dislike to him.
“He trained as an architect, before going into accountancy, and thought he knew it all.”
“That figures,” I say.
“So the other day we were in the Chronos building – in dockland. D’you know it?”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“There was a big ‘do’ to celebrate a big order for King’s. It was worth a load of money. Anyway, Simon got into a discussion with Roger, that’s an architect friend of his, about the strength of glass. It got a bit heated. He was saying he thought it should be stronger in skyscrapers and Roger was saying that was rubbish. Then, Roger showed us this trick of running and throwing himself at the window. He just bounced off! It was amazing.” She dabs an eye. “Sorry.”
I admire her wide, green, glistening eyes and try to remember when things started to go wrong between us.
“Anyway, Simon, not wanting to be outdone I suppose, said he’d have a go. We were all watching and cheering. So he ran and threw himself at the window, and, oh God, the window frame just gave way!”
“What! Was he hurt?”
She nods and her eyes are full of tears. “Yes, there was just a big empty space and Simon fell through it.”
“Good God! What floor was it?”
She reaches out to hold my hand. Hers feels cold and clammy. She squeezes mine hard.

“We were in the Waterfall suite, on the twenty-fourth floor…”



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Blind Panic

blackness


(600 words)

Eyes open but unseeing, I blinked furiously. Blackness. What was the time? Had I overslept? I touched an eyeball, it felt sensitive, normal, as it did when putting contact lenses in. Then panic rose up from the pit of my stomach. “Louise, Louise, I can’t see!” I almost screamed. Silence. I shouted again to my wife, sleeping in the next room due to a bad back. Where was she? I got out of bed and felt my way along the wall to the door. It felt like a mile. Outside the bedroom I crashed into an occasional table I’d forgotten about in my panic, hearing a vase of flowers smash onto the wooden tiles. Fuck!
I found her bedroom doorknob and turned it. Inside, I could smell soap and the odour of makeup. I couldn’t see anything, just a graphite-like blackness. I stepped gingerly across the room and felt my leg knock into an empty bed. Realisation hit me like a brick. She’d had to drive to a nearby town for a 9 a.m. dental appointment. I fell onto the bed, and lay there, tears of self-pity running down my cheeks.
Presently I felt the panic begin to subside a little. OK, I need to phone the doctors. I fumbled for the phone on the bedside table. I felt the keypad. Why were there so many blasted keys?! I couldn’t remember which one got a line. Frantically I started pressing them, almost at random. Nothing! Wait a minute. Calm down! I felt around for the charger cradle and replaced the phone in it, hearing a beep as the phone reset. Good!
I took it again. I remembered the button I wanted was somewhere near the top. I pressed the top one on the left. Nothing. I put it back in the charger, heard the beep. Then the second one down. Ditto. I repeated the process, pressing the third one down, then Oh Joy! I heard the dialling tone. I’d have to phone 999. I couldn’t access the phonebook memory without sight. I pressed what I thought was the 9 three times.
“You have dialled an incorrect number, please try again.”
Shit!
Several attempts later I threw the phone across the room. Fucking Hell!
Several minutes later, having calmed down, I crawled across the floor, retrieved it, and replaced it in the charger. Suddenly it rang!
“Important! This is a recorded announcement. Please listen carefully. If any member of your household has impairment of sight, this may be a consequence of a defect in yesterday’s holographic enhancement update for Microsoft Windows. Do not panic! It is hoped this is only temporary. Emergency services will be calling with medical assistance for all those affected. Stay right where you are. Important! This is a recorded…”
‘Impairment!’, ‘It is hoped’! Jesus Christ! Stay right where I am, what the bloody hell did they expect me to do, crawl down the street?!
I recalled the previous evening. Louise and I had sat at my computer to watch the world cup. Although equally impressed by the fantastic visual, that looked as if the players were running around on the table, she’d gone to bed early. Had she suffered a late reaction, perhaps had an accident after leaving the house? I wondered if I’d ever see her again, then laughed bitterly at the irony.
England had reached the quarter finals for the first time in God knows how long. With the whole country watching, we’d beaten France on penalties, to general amazement.

Then the penny dropped. I realised the promised ‘medical assistance’ might just be some time…



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Scene in a Lincolnshire Churchyard

 

WP_20170307_15_09_30_Pro
(500 words)

Eyes, beady all-seeing eyes, watched from above as I stood at my father’s graveside. I turned my binoculars to watch the bird circling high above an adjacent field. It was russet with white patches at the end of each elegant, outstretched wing, a span of at least five feet I adjudged. Although too distant I knew there to be bold pupils within pale eyes, and flared nostrils in a hooked yellow bill. A majestic red kite. Now he (I imagined a male) was gliding effortlessly in a circle – looking for prey, whilst doubtless keeping a wary eye on me.
I looked back down at the green grass, dotted with yellow and orange crocuses, feeling the first warm sun of the year on my cheeks. Seven years ago, in this exact spot, I’d taken a handful of earth from a proffered container and dropped it into the deep, deep hole, hearing it rain onto my father’s coffin. I imagined the scene. To my left and right had been a row of relatives, very few of whom I recognised. Now strangers, I knew some of their names from distant childhood. White flakes of snow had swirled as we’d stood, listening to Cheryl, the vicar, intoning the service. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Did she say that? I couldn’t remember.
I gazed up at the red kite again, still circling. He rode on the air, became part of the air, his feathers discerning its currents with unimaginable sensitivity. Now, cruising with ease, he enjoyed the unaccustomed warmth of the sun.
From a tiny helpless fledgling he’d grown, his mother’s life dominated by her offspring’s constant cacophonous demand. Finally, her work over, he’d flown the nest and managed to forage on his own, firstly on carrion and worms, then as he’d grown, able to catch mice and voles, to taste warm blood and to feel the pleasure of the kill.
It was early February, quiet and peaceful in the graveyard, a haven at one corner of our village. Nearby stood two adjacent graves of lightning victims, struck in different years. Further afield lay ancient gravestones, haphazardly situated, now toppled at strange angles.
I regarded my father’s gravestone and silently cursed my sister. She’d taken control in selecting the stone, as was her wont, eschewing marble and gilding in favour of ‘tasteful’ local stone. As a consequence, a dull grey-brown stone stood, stained and with lettering now barely readable, though considerably newer than its smart, legible neighbours.
I tried to imagine my father as a young man, happy and ambitious, before he became pessimistic, bad-tempered and eventually deaf, finally dying after years of dementia.
Yesterday, my mother, with whom I’d been staying for two years had put her house on the market under my sister’s instruction. I wondered how much longer I’d be able to visit this tranquil churchyard.
I looked up through my binoculars once more. The kite had moved across the field but there it still was, circling, circling…



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