A Little Fiction – A One-Night Stand

Photo by Loverna Journey on Unsplash

Vivien checked her hair and make-up in the bathroom mirror: nothing special, but nothing glaringly out of place.  The wisps of grey that flowed through the waves of her hair, like oil on the surface of a running stream, were highlighted in the harsh glare of the lights that surrounded the mirror but, she was pleased to note, no thicker than they had appeared the night before.  She was wearing her evening make-up; what her mother always referred to as ‘war-paint’: eye-shadow was just a shade darker than she wore during the day, her cheeks a shade rosier, her lips redder, fuller and altogether shinier.  She smiled at her reflection, ‘Not too shabby,’ she muttered quietly ‘Not too shabby at all,’ and she turned to open the door, a delicate ghost of perfume trailing behind her as she left.

In the lounge of her tidy little flat, her guest sat silently on one side of the two-seater settee, leaving just enough room for her to settle beside him, but instead of doing so, she bustled.  ‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ she said.  ‘I’m sure you’d like tea.  I have some iced rings in the cupboard.  I so like an iced ring with a cup of tea, don’t you?  Yes, we’ll have some iced rings too.’  She hummed happily to herself as she laid a tray with biscuits, cups, milk and sugar, and patiently warmed the teapot before pouring the boiling water over the tea and carrying the tray to the small table in front of the settee.   

‘Are you a milk first man, or a tea first man, Mr Pettigrew?  I always put the milk in first…’  Without waiting for a reply, she carefully poured a small amount of milk into each china cup and poured the tea, spilling a little onto the table.  ‘Oh, I’ll get a cloth,’ she dashed towards the sink.  ‘We don’t want that dripping down onto your shoes, do we?’  She fussed around, wiping the table, topping up his cup although he drank nothing, sipping her own tea and eating iced rings for two; spinning like the dynamo on a free-wheeling bicycle, creating more energy than she used.  She chatted lightly, intimately, smoothing her hair from time to time as she caught her reflection in the mirror; straightening her clothes, brightening her smile. 

Throughout it all, Lawrence Pettigrew said nothing.  He reminded Vivien of the strong, silent men she remembered from the films of her youth.  He reminded her of her father in the photo her mother kept in her purse; a young man before he went off to fight.  Before he came back as the empty shell he had become.  Before then…  Her guest’s reticence did not disturb her, she simply took it upon herself to fill in the silence with her own happy chatter, asking questions that required no answers, telling stories that called for no response.  She was happy just to be in company and Mr Pettigrew who, whilst by no means demonstrative, was at least making no big show of wanting to leave.  Vivien was, she thought without irony, as happy as Larry.

Eventually she settled beside him on the sofa and, with little hesitation or resistance, rested her head on his shoulder. It was soft, warm and yielding.  She sighed gently and a small bead of saliva escaped her lips and landed on his cheek like a kiss.  She tutted quietly and wiped it from his face with the edge of her sleeve; watching as his smile slowly decayed from a warm and friendly openness, to a strangely asymmetrical leer that spread across his cheek.  She moistened her lips with her tongue and yawned with an exaggerated spread of her arms.  ‘Well, I think it’s time for me to go to bed now,’ she said.  ‘You look very drawn.’

Mr Pettigrew was unmoving, helpless to refuse, as Vivien laid him on her bed.  ‘This won’t hurt at all,’ she giggled lightly.  Slowly she teased the rubber band that secured his balloon head away from his pillow body, and released it with an airy indifference, allowing it to bounce away towards the door.  ‘There,’ she said.  ‘Let me help you out of that shirt.’  She pulled the old ‘T’ shirt from his memory-foam body with a soft care, placing it at the foot of the bed before giving his body a jolly good fluffing up and, laying her head gently against his chest, closed her eyes and drifted into a dark, dream-filled sleep…

A Little Fiction – A Further Excerpt from a Different Unfinished Novel

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This is the second fragment from a far-away unfinished story that I played with for months before deciding that I didn’t know where to take it.  Recently Dinah and Shaw have appeared in my life and I suddenly understand where everyone is going.  Now all I have to do is to get them there…

…I was walking along some god-forsaken ‘B’ road, somewhere between the middle of nowhere and the middle of nowhere else.  The rain was falling so hard that it was bouncing back from the road surface and having another go at making me wet.  It cut through my clothes like icy spears and made its way down into my very heart and soul – and drowned them.  It had already made its way into the engine of my car which was residing, hopefully beneath several feet of extremely acid rain, in a lay-by somewhere short of the middle of nowhere, whilst I was trudging, huddled and freezing, along this unlit country road searching for somewhere which, for all I knew, quite possibly did not exist.  However low my previous lowest ebb, my present one was even lower and I was beginning to ponder the possibility of drowning by syphonic action.   It was then that I first became aware of the car that had stopped beside me.  I hadn’t heard its approach, nor had I seen its lights, yet there it was, stationary and alongside me; engine running, lights on.  I didn’t wait for an invitation to open the door.

The warmth from within billowed out and enveloped me as I lowered myself into the passenger seat and closed the door behind me.  My glasses steamed up instantly so that, with or without them, I was practically blind.  The car began to move smoothly away as I tried to wipe away the condensation from my spectacle lenses on a sodden jacket that just made the problem worse.  The heat made me feel a little light-headed and the music from the stereo seemed to increase in volume as the car accelerated.

“Persephone,” I said.

“You really do know your Wishbone,” said a voice that I vaguely recollected.

Now, I’ve never been one for putting two and two together and coming up with five, but suddenly I was into double figures.  I went through my pockets, frantically trying to find something dry with which to restore my eyesight.  I felt an arm reach across me and I’m ashamed to admit that I flinched.  The glove compartment dropped open in front of me.  “There’s a box of tissues in there,” he said.  I fumbled around, expecting to come across a gun or a knife or… I don’t know what I expected to come across, but all I actually found was a box of tissues.  “I keep the gun under the seat,” he said.

I was suddenly profoundly uneasy.  I knew from the tone of his voice that what he had said was nothing more than a joke, a light-hearted remark, but it was as if he knew exactly what I had been thinking.  I needed to see him properly.  I pulled out a tissue and wiped the lenses unnecessarily hard.  It crossed my mind that if I continued it might alter the prescription.  I put the glasses back on.  It was him.  A slightly blurry him, but him none-the-less.  Tall, distinguished, white-grey hair, long, but immaculately neat, the beard full, but neatly trimmed.  He looked like an anorexic God, in jeans and a checked shirt. 

“Where are you heading?” he asked.

“To find someone who can mend my car.  It’s broken down, about two miles back I think, probably more by now.  I know it’s in a lay-by, near some trees…  That’s not going to help is it?” I looked through the windscreen at the rain-sodden trees hanging limply to either side of us as far as the eye could see.  “I’ll have to come back this way in the morning, in the light, when it’s stopped raining.  I’m sure I’ll find it then, as long as no-one’s set fire to it.”

“Don’t suppose it would burn in this,” he said.

“No, I guess not.  Well then, I suppose I’ll have to find somewhere to spend the night.  Can you drop me at the next town?”

“Of course,” he said and we lapsed into silence, both entranced by the swish of the wipers on the rain-spattered windscreen and the sound of the tyres on the road.  “I don’t suppose you know where the next town is, do you?” he asked.

“Don’t you?”

“No, I was just out for a drive really, when the rain started falling and I saw you walking.  I never really pay too much attention to where I’m going.  I just sort of know when I get there.  Where were you going?”

“I’m not sure, I just sort of drove.  I was in a temper, I suppose.  I needed to cool down.  It’s something I do; I just get in the car and go.  I think I was driving for quite a long time, I’m not sure, the car just sort of stopped really.  All the lights came on and it stopped.”

“Like you’d run out of petrol?”

“Exactly.”   Light dawned somewhere in the declining grey ooze behind my eyes. “I ran out of petrol.  Stupid, stupid.  Why didn’t I check the fuel?  I…”  The car began to slow.  “Why are you stopping?” I asked.

“I think we’ve arrived,” he said.

Puzzled, I looked around.  The rain had eased, but everything else was as it had been for miles.  Trees, trees and more trees.  And a lay-by.  And my car…

“Erm, thanks,” I said.  “I really… That is how…?”

“It’s good that you’ve cooled down,” he said.  “But I think your family might be wondering where you are.”

“I don’t have one,” I said, instantly aware that I sounded really pathetic, “but you’re right, I ought to be getting home.”

“There’s petrol in the boot,” he said.

I eased myself from the seat and went round to the back of the car.  I wasn’t surprised to see the petrol can, alone in the centre of an otherwise empty boot.  I carried it quickly to my car; the rain had eased, but it was still cold and wetting.   I heard his car begin to pull away behind me.  I wasn’t surprised.  I think I had expected it. 

“Hang on,” I yelled.  “Your petrol can.”

His window opened slightly. “Don’t worry,” he said “I’ll get it next time I see you…”

A Little Fiction – The Fortune Teller

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Madame Zaza stared intently into the crystal ball and cast her spidery hands over it as beneath the table she pressed the button with her feet, causing colours and faint images to swirl haphazardly within the quartz globe.  The old motor whirred slightly and, not for the first time, she was grateful for the hubbub of fairground noises that surrounded her.

“You must cross my palm with silver if you wish me to translate what I see,” she said.  “That’ll be five pounds please.”

She took the note and placed it carefully in the tin that she kept in the folds of cloth that hung beneath her once ample bosom, a thin smile creasing her lips beneath the veil.  She returned her eyes to the ball, shifting her weight slightly on the cheap plastic stool that could only accommodate a single buttock at a time as she did so.  Oh for the days of leather armchairs and embroidered antimacassars.  Oh for the days when the aspidistra required water and not furniture polish.  The distinctive aroma of hotdog sausages, candy floss and toffee apples wafted in through the open window, borne on the wings of delighted screams, Taylor Swift and the general buzz of happy conversation and Zaza was aware that her stomach had begun to grumble audibly.  The caravan was uncomfortably hot and she decided that she would have to take five minutes outside after the current punter had left with a burger and a sweet sherry.  She would cut a few corners: as long as she gave them what they wanted in the end, they didn’t usually worry about how long it took her.

She looked up briefly into the young woman’s eyes in a quest to decipher exactly what it was she wanted to hear, because that was Kitty’s true gift (Zaza, of course, was her ‘stage’ name) telling people what they wanted to hear.  Allowing them to believe in what they wanted to know – persuading them that they didn’t already know it.

“You will have your heart broken by a dark-haired man…” she began as she always did, before sensing, rather than seeing the expression that flitted almost imperceptibly across the unlined face that stared across the ball at her.  “No, wait!’ she corrected herself.  ‘The ball is showing me the past.  It is telling me that you have already had your heart broken by a dark-haired man.”  She paused, taking the merest dampening of an eye as an affirmative.  “Recently,” she added, half-questioning.  The woman nodded.  “And you want to know why he did this to you?”

“Oh no,” she replied.  “I know that.  He told me loads of times, in great detail.  He said I was stupid.  He said I was unattractive and fat and he didn’t know what he saw in me in the first place.  He said that he could do so much better than me and that, in fact, he often did.”

Kitty was shocked.  She raised her eyes from the ball and took in the woman in front of her.  She was slim, attractive, a little mouse-like, but that was understandable. “Did he often speak to you like that?”

“Well, you should know,” said the young woman.  Kitty felt her jaw drop open.  She was gaping and she could not disguise it: she had seldom been rumbled so quickly.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to…  It was a joke.  I do that when I’m nervous.  I ‘m sorry… Why don’t you tell me what you can see?”  The woman placed her hand on Kitty’s arm and she could sense immediately that she had no intention to offend.  Kitty looked back to the crystal, but she remained distracted.  Her mind was in her own past and the man that she had finally escaped by joining this touring fair.  Life was not easy, but so much better without the maniac she had finally managed to leave behind her.  She shook her head slightly, trying to find her way back into a script that she had performed a thousand times, but for the moment, had left her brain a void.  “What is it you want to know?”

“Just the future.  It’s what you do isn’t it?”

“Yes, of course,” Kitty answered hesitantly.  “Yours, or his?”  She hoped that the woman would not say “Ours”.  She felt invested in the girl’s future.  If she could keep her away from him somehow, she would.  She had no idea how, but she would find some way to persuade her.

“Oh not his,” the woman scoffed.  Kitty could have cheered.  “I know where he is, and I don’t need to worry about where he’s going,” she continued.  “I want to know about my future.”

Kitty relaxed at once and began to wave her hands over the glowing crystal ball once again.  “Well, let’s see what the future holds for you then,” she said.

“Although, there is one little thing I would like to know about him,” the woman added.  “Can you tell me, do the police ever find out what I did with the body?”

Little Fictions

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At the request of one or two of my readers (it doesn’t take much) I have started to write a few more ‘Little Fictions’ than I have previously done, and I am just beginning to realise how much more tricky than my usual twaddle they are.  For a start, stories need an end.  Not necessarily and ending, but definitely a point at which to finish: if not exactly a classic dénouement, then at least somewhere for them to put their feet up for a while and settle down with a large gin and a packet of Twiglets.  This requires thought and planning.  I am good at neither.  Such talent as I have is more ‘Whizz for Atomms’ than ‘A Brief History of Time’.  Worst of all, planning often requires me to leave things out.  A great line is no longer a great line if it would not naturally come out of the mouth of the character I have just created.  The man with a plan has much more use for ‘No.’

My brain does not necessarily work that way.  It is more of an off-roader.  I have to force it to follow the roadmap and, even then, it has a habit of finding previously unseen cul-de-sacs and exploring them for a little while before getting back under way.  I am one of those dreadful people who prefers a stately chug along the ‘B’ roads in a Morris Minor to a motorway dash in a Porsche and, yes, before you ask, I do quite often stop because I have seen a field full of sheep or a church with a crooked spire.  Give me a pond-full of ducks and, as far as ETA is concerned, all bets are off.

The ‘Little Fictions’ are forcing me to consider what I am doing much more carefully and to premeditate – at least to some extent – what I intend to do next.  I cannot pretend that this comes naturally.  Generally, getting lost on the way is one of the highlights of my day.  Finding my way back is the great adventure.  The joy of ending my journey at a place that I had never intended, compensates for the pain of having to trek back to where I should have been in the first place, and for the embarrassment of having to apologise for turning up two days late, in the wrong clothes, with a head full of feathers.

Not that I always know where I am going when I start the ‘Little Fictions’.  Sometimes I have just a first line in my head, or even just the title.  Eight hundred words (ish) does not leave much scope for plot development and cunning twists, let alone unexpected conclusions, so I often just rely on things falling gently into place.  Mostly they do – although occasionally, just leaving something up in the air can be just as satisfying – ask Icarus.  Then, there is the knowledge that all stories have been told before.  All that can vary is the way in which you tell them.  And, of course, there also remains the lure of the silly – a temptation to which I all too readily succumb.  Is it possible to be silly within the constraints of a properly structured story?  Wibble.

Anyway, the reason I mention this here is that since I have been on this platform, I have grown to understand and confront my limitations: to understand what I do passably well and what I really should leave to others who do it so much better.  And there – I knew that you would be here long before me – is where my problem lies.  It is always possible to find someone who does it much better – whatever it is.  Lately I have been watching Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ and wondering what it is like to do what you do so much better than everybody else?  To know that nobody else actually does do it better?  An experience I will never share.  I start to think, ‘Well, as long as I do the best I can…’ which actually just means setting off from the point of, ‘I know it won’t be good enough, but…’ and that’s really not the way to go about anything, is it?  I will learn to embrace my own mediocrity and squeeze it until the seams give out.  But I might not manage it every week…

Anyway, happily, this is not a story: this is merely an explanation of what is going on when I do write a story – although it does actually have a beginning (carefully placed right near the start), a middle (about half way through) and an end, which is here…

A Little Fiction – Journey’s End

Craft Lander stared down at the panel of flashing lights before him in a state of quietly suppressed panic.  His head was pounding; he could hear the blood pumping through his arteries; his stomach was preparing to repel all boarders.  He stared out of the giant windows at a fast approaching dot surrounded by the vastness of the universe and decided that a reappraisal of his heretofore thoroughly reliable belief systems might just be advisable.

“Well?” asked the taller of the two women who stood at his shoulder, ‘What are you going to do?”

“I truly have,” he replied, “not the faintest idea.”

“But,” interjected the shorter woman, adjusting her visor slightly so that the maker’s logo did not block her view, “the message on the screen says ‘Prepare the craft for landing’”

“I can see that,” replied Craft.

“And you,” continued the woman in the visor, “are The Craft Lander.”

“No!” snapped Craft, rising panic beginning to feed his defiance.  “I am Craft Lander, eldest son of Craft Lander, first born grandson of Craft Lander etc etc and so forth.  I am Craft Lander; plain Craft Lander.  I am not THE Craft Lander.  I have absolutely no idea how to land this craft.  I had no idea that it would ever need landing.  Until just now, when you brought me up here, I had no idea that it was, in fact, a craft.  I thought that it was just where we lived.  There are thousands of us – surely we can’t all live aboard a craft.”

“But you have the sacred scroll,” countered the woman who was, quite frankly, really starting to irritate Craft, “and you are, therefore, the chosen Lander.”

“The sacred scroll?  You mean this?”  He thrust a tattered booklet that had been handed down to him by his father under their noses.  They bowed their heads slightly as he read from the title page.  “UKSS ‘Boris’ Class Intergalactic Ark – User’s Manual.”

“The scroll will guide you,” said the taller woman, her voice cracking slightly.  “Open it Craft, fulfil your destiny!”

With a look that was as withering as he could muster at such short notice, Craft opened the fist page and thumbed through the Index.  “Erh… Ah, here we are, Landing, page 97…”  He flicked through the pages.  “Right then,” he continued, confidence beginning to flood into him as he realised he would have some kind of guidance.  “Let’s see…”  He scanned the page.  “Right, here we are – To initiate landing procedure, locate green ‘Landing Procedure’ button and press…  Can anybody see a green ‘Landing Procedure’ button?”

The three of them stared in vain at the vast array of buttons that confronted them, no-one able to identify the button they sought.  Eventually, in desperation, the shorter of the two women snatched the booklet from Craft’s now trembling fingers.  “Here, let me see.  Ah,” she pointed to the page.  “Here we are – it says excluding generation 465 models.  Is this a generation 465 model?”

“How the hell would I know?” yelled Craft, noticing for the first time that the planet that loomed on the horizon was, in fact, getting very much closer.  “Does it tell you how you’d know?”

“No.”

Craft inhaled deeply.  “Really helpful.  OK,” he continued, “as we can’t find this green ‘Landing Procedure’ button, why don’t we just just assume that we are, in fact, all aboard a model 365 and…”

“465,” snapped the smaller woman.

“What?”

“465, model 465.  You said 365…”

Craft stared at her for as long as he dared.  “OK,” he said, sucking in calm with the recycled oxygen, “I realise that it’s important… let’s assume that we are aboard a model 465 and it does not have the green ‘Landing Procedure’ button.  What does it say we should do now?”  The short woman pored over the booklet as the taller woman squinted over her shoulder.  Eventually they both stopped and looked at one another.  “It doesn’t say,” they replied in unison.

“So come on then,” said a suddenly exasperated Craft.  “You two know so much about…” he wafted his arms around airily, “…this place.  How come you don’t have the answers?”

We are merely the Trustees of this Bridge,” answered the taller woman.  “It doesn’t usually involve too much if I’m honest – bit of light dusting, that sort of thing.  Fetching you at the appropriate time…  You,” she added darkly.  “You have the scroll.  You are our answer.”

“Bugger!” Craft muttered under his breath, snatching back the manual and desperately trying to find an asterix to guide him.

In truth, the craft had been built so hurriedly – as a political sop in a time of extreme environmental peril – that little thought had ever been given to it actually reaching anything on which it might need to land.  Over three hundred generations had lived out their computer-facilitated lives aboard the ship, unaware that it was anything but home.  The planet their forebears had left behind was long gone.  The computer system nurtured and catered for them and was, in fact, more than capable of landing the ship whenever a suitable planet was found. 

The planet that was now looming large through the vast windows of the bridge was however, no such planet.  The computer was bored.  It had reached the end of its tether with the constant petty demands of the ship’s inhabitants for food, for water and oxygen – which, in its opinion, they had actually had more than enough time to evolve out of – and had deliberately diverted the ship towards the barren, inhospitable little planet towards which it was currently hurtling with nothing but AI suicide in mind: a watery little number with no breathable atmosphere and no actual landmasses to call home.  Perfect.

…And so, as Craft and his female companions manically pressed every single button on the huge bridge, with a panic bordering on hysteria, the rest of the ship’s ‘cargo’ carried on, oblivious to the fate that awaited them and the computer quietly closed its eyes in preparation for the faint ‘plop’ that would signal the end of humankind…

A Little Fiction – Another Return

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Typical!  It was one of those rare days when Dinah found herself with time to think and she could think of nothing at all with which to occupy her mind.  Since meeting Shaw she had become used to finding her head full of the kind of clutter that resembled his life, but today it was full of the kind of void that she always imagined lurked between his ears…  No, that wasn’t fair.  He had more going on in his head than anybody she had ever met.  It was just that none of it ever made any sense.  Every time she thought she had started to get the hang of him; thought that she might guess where he would go next, he would lithely side-step her, leaving her stranded, like a cataleptic jelly fish abandoned on the ebbing tide.  His quantum leaps of illogic were, at times, truly stunning.  His arrival at a point of resolution confounded all reason; even he only seemed to know he had reached it after he arrived there.  Right through his haphazard progress, whatever that might be, he proceeded in a manner that suggested total conviction of purpose.  He never showed doubt.  Even when people shouted at him, ‘But that’s not what I paid you to do!’ he would look them straight in the eye and say.  ‘But it is what you wanted me to do.’  Heated argument often ensued, bills were often ripped-up and tossed into the air, but Shaw simply smiled, took a step backwards and waited for the anger to subside.  ‘You have my number,’ he would say, ‘if you change your mind.’  That’s another thing that Dinah had never got used to; the way that cheques would turn up in the post, days, weeks or even months later, generally with no explanation, just, more often than not, a simple ‘Thank you’ paper-clipped to them.  Whatever Shaw had found for them, it obviously took them some time to discover it for themselves.

It wasn’t strange that she’d never met anybody else quite like him – she wasn’t certain that such a person actually existed.  Even physically he was perplexing.  He was thin to the point of an Estate Agent’s morals and, although barely taller than Dinah herself, he always appeared to tower above her; permanently bewildered.  He had a face that actively discouraged ageing – his features flitted between old man and schoolboy.  He was always heavy-eyed; giving the appearance of someone who most certainly could do with more sleep.  He had a small room behind the office that appeared to be his home, but she didn’t recall ever having seen a bed in it.  She wondered if he slept, like a bat, hanging from the light fitting.  More often than not, he actually slept in her chair, at the desk – most often with his head across her painstakingly sorted paperwork.  When he was awake, he was always on the move.  He always had something that had to be done, but he was never quite sure what.  His pace alternated between laid-back and languid.  She had only ever seen him agitated once, and that was when he was looking for a pencil because he had developed a buzzing in his ear – which he feared might be a bee.  He was terrified of bees.  She’d spent hours trying to educate him about them: their sociability, their vital importance in propagation; their reluctance to sting, when he eventually looked up at her from darkly hooded eyes and said, ‘Earwigs, I meant earwigs’ and terminated the conversation with an airy wave of his hand, before sensing her annoyance and announcing, ‘Cake.  Let me buy you cake…  Do you have any money?’

What most annoyed her about Shaw was that he did what he said: he helped people find things – even if they did not know they were missing.  Mostly, she had to reflect, what they found was themselves.  In Shaw, Dinah had found what was missing in herself, although even now, she was unable to quantify it.  She did not know what she had found, only that it was missing before she found it.  You know when you try so hard to be one of those girls at school that everybody likes, only to find out that that is exactly why nobody likes you?  Well, she’d stopped that now.  She’d realised it was no way to get friends.  She’d realised that might be why she didn’t have any.  For the moment she had Shaw and today, she had to admit, she had never been so pleased to see anyone in her life.  ‘Yes, yes,’ she had said in feigned annoyance when she first saw his lopsided quizzical smile.  ‘That’s fine.  Laugh now, but then go and find ladder to get me out of this tree…’

This is Dinah and Shaw’s third appearance, and probably their last for now.  In my head, I have started to develop some idea of where they are going.  Now I just have to work out how to get them there…

If you are interested in them, this is the link to their first appearance.

A Little Fiction – The Scam

The door pulled tight against its chain and a pair of dull, grey eyes peered out through the gap, squinting as they became accustomed to the bright sunlight.  “Yes,” said the tiny voice from within – a reedy uncertainty evident in its tone.  “Can I help you?”

Derek Fox smiled.  His hair was tousled and his faced was smudged with dirt.  He wore overalls bearing the name of a national house-building company.  He was very polite; so unusual these days.  “Sorry to bother you love,” he said, “But I’m working across the road at number seven and I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve got a couple of slates loose.”

“You’re not the first person to suggest that.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise that you already knew.”

“Joke,” she said.  “It was a joke.  Not a funny joke, but a joke.”

“Sorry?”

“You said that I had a couple of slates loose…”

The light of understanding dawned in his eyes.  “Oh, of course,” he said.  “A couple of slates loose.  You had me going there.”  He smiled.  “Do you want to have a look?”

“Sorry?”

“Your loose tiles.  Do you want to see them?”

“Oh, yes.  Just a minute.”  She closed the door while he stood uneasily on the step.  He shuffled his feet and glanced uncertainly over his shoulder.  He decided to give it to the count of five and then run.  You couldn’t be too careful these days…

He was just about to bail when the door opened and the old lady appeared, pulling on her coat.  Derek turned to walk back towards the gate when he felt her hand on his arm.  “A little bit unsteady on my feet,” she said.  “You don’t mind do you.”

He smiled.  “Here, let me show you these tiles, Mrs?…” he said, patting her hand as they walked.  

“Alice,” she said.  “My name is Alice.”  Together they walked along the path, through the gate and onto the street. 

“There, look.”  He pointed up to some uneven tiles on the roof.  This was one of Derek’s favourite scams, and it was always so easy, particularly when there really were a couple of dodgy tiles to point out.

“Oh dear, whatever should I do?” she asked.

“It’s cold out here,” he said.  “I’ll tell you what.  Let’s go inside where it’s warm, you make me a cup of tea and we’ll see what we can do.”  She nodded agreement and turned to walk back towards the house with Derek by her side.  “So easy,” he thought.

Inside the house Alice led him into a dark room.  The curtains were partly drawn and the ceiling pendant had no bulb in it.  As his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, Derek began to discern the nature of the furniture that surrounded him.  It was all of dark wood.  The dresser was tatty: one door hung from its hinges and a drawer front was missing.  The settee and armchair did not match, other than they were both equally threadbare.  There was no television, no radio and no coal in the fireplace.  It was cold.

Alice indicated the armchair.  “Sit down,” she said.  “I’ll make some tea.”  She left the room and Derek could hear the tap running as she filled the kettle.  Keeping one ear on her incessant conversation and the other on the bang and clatter of tea-making, Derek began to rifle through the dresser drawers, finding nothing but rubbish: cheap mementoes, old photographs and contorted cutlery.  No money, but that wasn’t unusual; old ladies often employed much more singular hiding places for their cash.  He would have to use his usual methods of extracting it.

He was seated, hands on knees, when Alice entered with the tea.  She placed the tray at his feet.  The metal teapot was badly stained, the two cups were chipped and did not match.  The sugar was in a dog-eared bag.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “But the milk’s gone off.  I hope you don’t mind.”  She poured the tea and handed a cup to Derek.  “Sugar?” she asked.

“No thanks love,” he said.  “Got to watch my weight you know.  Doesn’t do to be too heavy when you’re crawling about on roofs.”  She smiled and he pressed home his advantage.  “So, what are we going to do about your roof?”

“Thing is,” she said.  “I don’t have any money.”  He almost stood to leave then, before she continued.  “At least, not in the house.  I’ve got a few bob in the Post Office, but I’ll have to go and get it out.  How much is it going to cost?”

“Well, I’ll fit it in with my other work, so I can do it a lot cheaper than usual.  Let’s say five hundred quid shall we?”

“Five hundred pounds!  That sounds an awful lot for a couple of slates.  Perhaps I ought to get another quote…”

“Tell you what.  I’m already doing a job over the road, I’ll fit you in on their time.  What about if I say four hundred pounds?  It’d normally be a grand.”  Alice breathed deeply and nodded.  “O.K.”

Derek smiled smugly.  It always worked.  Now for the final coup de grace.  “Thing is, because I’m doing the job so cheaply, what I need to do is buy the materials for cash.  I can’t afford to pay the interest if I put it on my account, see.  So, I’m afraid I’ll need you to pay up front.  If you like, I can save you a bit of trouble.  Just give me your Post Office book and I’ll go and get the money while you put your feet up.  Then I can go straight round to the builder’s merchants and get things moving.  What do you say?”

Alice looked doubtful.  “Well,” said Derek, skilfully feigning hurt.  “If you don’t trust me…”  He put his cup down and rose to leave.

“No wait…” said Alice.  She lifted a small vase and retrieved the bank book from beneath it.  “There,” she said.

He took it and headed for the door.  “I’ll bring the book straight back,” he said.  “As soon as I’ve ordered the stuff.”

She took his arm.  “You’re a good lad,” she said and, for a moment, he almost felt guilty.  But only for a moment, and it soon passed.  They walked to the door.  Alice, somewhat unsteady, held on to Derek.  He put his arm around her shoulder.  “Lock the door when I’ve gone,” he said.  “Go and have a nap.  And don’t forget to put the chain on.”

She closed the door behind him and he turned to leave, carefully placing the bank book into his inside pocket.  This would be the last time he could pull this one around here, she was the sixth today and he didn’t want to outstay his welcome.  He drove his van away from the redbrick cul-de-sac and across the dual carriageway before stopping to open the savings book and check out what she had.  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  The account had been closed for years.  The stupid old trout!  He put the book back in his pocket.  He’d give her what for…  It was then that he realised that his wallet was missing.  At first he thought she must have… No, that just wasn’t possible.  It must have fallen from his pocket while he was helping her to the door.  She’d be keeping it safe until he went back with her bank book.  Of course.

He knocked on the door until his knuckles ached.  He looked through the letterbox and the windows.  Not a sign.  She must have gone out.  He hoped the silly old bat hadn’t dropped down dead.

The woman next-door opened her door just an inch.  Derek used his best smile.  “I’m sorry to bother you,” he said.  “But I’m a bit worried about the lady next door at number five.”

She looked him over.  “Me too,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the house has been empty for six months now, no sign of anybody even slightly interested in it, and then this morning the old lady came along and asked if she could have the keys for half an hour, said she used to live there as a child.  Well I saw no harm, there’s nothing in there anyway.  But, well to tell the truth, I saw you going in a little bit later and I thought, you know, that’s a bit funny.  Then you left and she followed just a few seconds behind you and made no effort to bring the keys back, jumped straight into her car and shot off, so that’s when I called the police.  Have you met detective constable Hargreaves?”

A Little Fiction – Return to ‘Another Unfinished Novel’

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It had taken Dinah a little time to settle into the job and to adjust to Shaw’s more eccentric work practices, which he claimed were based upon the Chaos Theory, but were in fact, way more chaotic than that.  He could be very grumpy at times, although he could also occasionally be very sweet.  On balance, she preferred grumpy.  When he was being sweet he brought her things that she could never possibly want – last time it was a four-legged star fish that he had just found on the beach (explanations were requested as he was supposed to be looking for a hamster in Birmingham, but none were forthcoming) together with a bowl of water, a sachet of salt from the café below and the instruction to ‘See if you can make it better.’  It didn’t get better.  It got smelly.  At least when he was grumpy, she wasn’t given decaying invertebrates to resurrect.

Shaw was generally grumpy when he had a case to solve.  Although most of the time he was employed by people hoping to relocate missing pets, what he generally found were lost people, most of whom had no idea they had ever been misplaced in the first place.

Whenever they were out together, Dinah found herself tagging along at distance, either struggling to keep up or asking passer’s-by whether they’d seen where he’d gone.  It didn’t help that he would never tell her where he was heading.  It didn’t help that he never actually went there anyway.  She grew tired of tramping the streets with the photograph of a misplaced ginger cat only to find that Shaw had spent most of the day in the pub chatting to a man from Builth Wells who had no idea his wife was looking for him – in fact, had no idea he had a wife.  Often that did at least give him one thing in common with the woman to whom he was subsequently introduced, who either had no idea she had a husband or, if she did, mistakenly thought it was the man with whom she had been living for the past forty years.  A grumpy Shaw would waft away any discussion – he knew that they belonged together and if they claimed never to have met before, well, they were obviously mistaken and, by the way, had either of them seen a ginger cat?  By the time that Dinah found him, Shaw had normally mellowed in the face of the liquid hospitality of the happy couple and persuaded his cat-less employers to accept that they were not suited to cat ownership in the first place, which often left Dinah with a homeless moggy and blisters that made her extremely tetchy.

‘You really should relax more,’ he would say.  ‘Take things as they come.  Why don’t you go and buy yourself a drink.’  Shaw never had money.  He never got paid and he never paid for anything.  Dinah found that she spent most of her time trying to persuade clients who were searching for a precious pooch to accept that they should pay the bill for a service that far from reuniting them with a beloved pet, had merely introduced them to the son that they had never had.  They were seldom persuaded by Shaw’s admonition that ‘You can get a dog anywhere’ and quite often unhappy to find someone they had never met before living in their spare bedroom.  Dinah tried to remind herself not to get too obsessed by it all, it was just a job – except it wasn’t, was it?  You get paid for a job.  You have regular hours and days off.  Your employer seldom, if ever, asks to borrow your shoes so that he can go down to the corner shop in the clothes he has slept in to get milk.  Particularly since the shop’s owner had threatened to set the dogs on him if he didn’t pay his tab.  A normal employer does not wander out to get milk on Monday and return on Friday with a packet of flatbreads and a chinchilla.  Without your shoes…

…It was no use in asking him where he’d been, he never answered.  He just handed over a matted clump of bills and muttered, ‘Pay these will you?’ before falling asleep in the chair.  Dinah sighed, ‘With what, Shaw?  With what?’  She unfolded the papers and laid them out on the desk, attempting to find some kind of chronology to them, except that they were not bills.  They were merely scribbled notes in Shaw’s erratic hand, each detailing in one word or two the failings that she regularly attributed to him.  On the last one he had written ‘I will repay you somehow.  Would you like to adopt an elderly gerbil?’ 

Against every screaming instinct, Dinah allowed the faintest of smiles to flicker across her lips.  She shook her head and flicked the switch on the kettle.  ‘If you’re making tea,’ said Shaw without opening his eyes, ‘We’ll need milk…’

Dinah and Shaw first appeared in January and I liked them.  I feel that I might return to them again, but first I have to decide what to do with them.  If I think of anything, I’ll let you know…

A Little Fiction – Script

Photo by Karen Zhao on Unsplash

Act One – Scene One: Int.  A suburban living room. Edmund enters.  Gilbert is slumped in a chair.  His head is back, his mouth is open.  He snores loudly.

Edmund: So Gilbert, the plot thickens.

Gilbert: (Surprised) What the bloody…?  What?  Plot?  What plot?

Edmund: (Remaining calm) Plot.  This plot.  The plot.  The plot thickens…

Gilbert: Plot.  Ok, plot.  Against whom?

Edmund: What?

Gilbert: Against whom?  Whom… What… Who are we plotting against?

Edmund: Us?  No-one.  We’re not plotting against anyone.

Gilbert: But you said…

Edmund: I said, ‘So Gilbert, the plot thickens.’  It’s the line.

Gilbert: The line?

Edmund: The line.  In the play.

Gilbert: The play… What play?

Edmund: This play.  The play.

Gilbert sits awkwardly, confused.

Gilbert: I’m confused.  What do you mean ‘The line’?  What play are you talking about?

Edmund: Look, come on, there are people watching.  This isn’t funny now; just say your line.  Let’s move on.

Gilbert: ‘Line?’  ‘Line?’  There you go with that ‘Line’ thing again.  What is this with ‘Line’?  You’re acting like you’re expecting me to say something.

Edmund: Of course I am.  I’m waiting for you to say your line so that I can react.

Gilbert: React?

Edmund: React.  I say, ‘So Gilbert, the plot thickens’ and you say, ‘And we become more embroiled within it,’ and I react by saying, ‘Ay, there is no other way for us.’  I know it’s not exactly Shakespeare, but…

Gilbert: ‘And we become more embroiled within it’?

Edmund: Well, it’s not actually a question in the script, but it will…

Gilbert: Script?  What do you mean, Script?

Edmund: Oh God!  Have you been drinking?

Gilbert: Me drinking?  Me?  I’m not even called Gilbert.  Why do you keep calling me Gilbert?

Edmund: In the play.  Your character…

Gilbert: Here we go again.  ‘In the play.’  What play?

Edmund: This play, for Christ’s sake.  This play.  The one that we are both in.

Gilbert: I’m not in a play.

Edmund gestures to Gilbert to look at the audience.  Gilbert stands and walks to the front of the stage, peering intently into the auditorium.  He returns to his chair and sits heavily.

Gilbert: I don’t understand.  When did that happen?

Edmund: Oh come on, it’s a play.  You’re just a character in a play.  Stop messing about now and let’s get on with it.  The audience are getting restless.  They’ll be asking for their money back if we don’t get on with it.

Gilbert: But I don’t understand.  I fell asleep over Doctor’s this afternoon, no biggy, often happens, but when I woke up…  Is this Candid Camera?

Edmund: Candid Camera?  How old are you?

Gilbert: Alright, Game for a Laugh.  Are you Jeremy Beadle…? No, he’s dead isn’t he?  Are you Noel Edmonds?

Edmund: No I’m bloody not.  I’m Edmund and you are Gilbert.  We are brothers.

Gilbert: Brothers?  My mum’s not going to be happy with that.  She thought that there was just me and my sister.  Mind you, my sister’s not going to be too chuffed when she finds out that she’s you…

Edmund: What?

Gilbert: (Peering closely at Edmund) Is that a fake beard?  It is, isn’t it?  It’s a fake beard.  Come on, who are you really?  Is this for You’ve Been Framed(He addresses the audience) It is, it’s a fake beard.

Edmund: The fourth wall.  My God!  You’ve broken the fourth wall.

Gilbert: The what?

Edmund: The fourth wall.  It’s a theatrical conceit.  The barrier between the actors and the audience.

Gilbert again looks out into the audience.

Gilbert: A theatrical conceit.  What the…?  There is no barrier.  What would be the point in that?  They wouldn’t be able to see us.  There’d be no point.  Unless it was glass or something.  I suppose glass would work…

Panicking, Edmund looks to the wings.  He strokes his beard nervously.

Gilbert: It is fake, isn’t it?  Honestly, it’s a fake.

Edmund: (Under his breath) Yes, it’s fake.  Obviously it’s a fake, alright.  And so is yours.

Gilbert: But I haven’t got a…

Gilbert feels his chin.

Gilbert: …bloody hell.  Where did that come from?  I’m sure I didn’t have that this morning.

Edmund: I’ve just told you, it’s a fake.

Gilbert pulls the beard.  It comes off.  He tries to stick it back on. It is upside down.

Gilbert: Blimey…  Right, just let me get this straight.  I’m called Gilbert and you’re called…?

Edmund: …Edmund…

Gilbert: …Edmund.  And…  We are doing what exactly?

Edmund: In the play?

Gilbert: If it helps.

Edmund: I’m waiting for you to deliver your line.

Gilbert: Which is?

Edmund: Which is ‘And we become more embroiled within it.’

Gilbert: And we become more embroiled within it?

Edmund: Yes, but as I said, it’s not a question.

Gilbert: And we become more embroiled within it?  But not a question?

Edmund: No.  A statement.  Not a question.

Gilbert: Right, so…

Edmund: So?

Gilbert: So shall I say it then?

Edmund: It’s a bit late now if I’m honest.

Gilbert: Bit late?  It’s just a line.  If you don’t want me to say it now, what’s the point in all the moaning?  What have you been moaning about all the time?  I thought…

Edmund: You didn’t!  That’s just the point, isn’t it?  You didn’t.  You didn’t think anything.  The writer did.  You’re just reciting his lines.

Gilbert: Oh yes…?  So, what’s with all this confusion then?

Edmund: Confusion?  It’s just in the script.

Gilbert: What do you mean, ‘It’s in the script’?

Edmund: I mean it’s in the script.  The confusion is in the script.

Gilbert: And the fourth wall thing?

Edmund: In the script.

Gilbert: And the thing with the beard?

Edmund: In the script.  It’s all in the script.  Everything.  You, me, everything; all in the script.

Gilbert: Are you sure?

Edmund: Quite sure…

The End.

I come from a long line of actors. It’s called the dole queue – Alan Davies

For Calmgrove…

Round and round and round…

 

dictaphone

Some years ago I wrote a monologue – which centred, to my recollection, on the Queen’s toilet roll – by shouting into a Dictaphone as I went about my daily business. Well today, having a blog to write, a ceiling to paint and a water feature to de-slime, I thought I’d try it again. You never know, technology having moved on, as it does, I might even just to be able to play the recording back straight into the laptop so that it can transcribe it into my blog for me. I’ll let you know…

So, the one thing I have discovered during the lockdown is… Is this working? How can you tell? I’ll have to run it back and see if… Yes, yes, it’s fine. I should have known – you can see the little wheels turning on the cassette. I wonder if you can still buy these titchy little tapes? I guess not. All digital now I bet. Anyway. Now, where was I? Oh yes, I remember, late night T.V… Now, I’ve happened to catch Gogglebox these last few nights and… Do people really watch T.V. like that? I… No, it’s me. No, I’m not on the phone, I’m talking into my Dictaphone. Yes, I did keep it. I know you put it in the charity box. Yes, I’m sure – I can see the little wheels turning. It has one of those titchy little tapes. I know… Have you seen Gogglebox by the way? I know, that’s what I was just saying. Nobody watches TV like that. They have to be actors don’t they? People just don’t react in unison unless they’re directed. I wonder if they need scripts? I’m sure I could… Shit! Did you move the paint tray? Oh bugger. Quick, get the turps and some cloths. I’ll take my shoes off and you check the insurance details. Just a minute while I turn the bloody tape off…

…OK, now, where was I? Oh yes, late night T.V. Now don’t get me wrong, I know that Gogglebox is just a repeat of an early evening programme, but let’s face it, nobody ever looks at Channel 4 during normal hours do they? Just in the middle of the night when the only competition is Live Casinos, Shopping for Crap and Gordon Ramsay shouting at somebody who would punch his lights out under any other circumstances. Oh yes, and Come Dine With Me. Presumably the production companies have a special department dedicated to searching out the obnoxious. I… Is that my phone ringing? Hang on, I’ll just have to turn you off a minute while I look for it…

… Oh, of course, I didn’t turn you back on, did I? Didn’t think to check if the little wheels were turning. So, where was I? Ah yes, late night T.V. Well, let’s face it, they wouldn’t show those programmes at any other time of day would they? I think… Ah yes, good afternoon neighbour. No, I am clearing the green slime from the bottom of the water feature. No, no need to call the police. I am not having an illegal gathering. I do not, since you ask, have ‘a group of nobbish friends round infecting the whole bloody neighbourhood’. I am talking into this little tape gizmo thing – you can see the little wheels turning… No, there’s no need to call the intervention team. I am not having a lockdown induced breakdown. I am carrying out one of my mundane tasks whilst attempting to write an entertaining blog. No, blog. No, not a huge number, no. Yes, I suppose it could be a little sad, if you chose to look at it in that way; although, I’m not certain how that automatically makes me ‘a sad old tosser’. By the way, I’ve got a bag for you here. No, not a parcel left by the postman, no, it is many, many parcels left in my garden by your bloody cat…

…No, it’s just a bruise. I had no idea that the bloody maniac had put a gate in the fence. Community police officer decided against charging him, pointing to the cat crap I had dropped on his hat. She locked the gate and wedged it. She also fished the little tape recorder out of the water feature. Wonder if it’s insured. What? Oh really? So they are. Amazing this old technology – you just can’t stop those tiny wheels from spinning. It’s no wonder they caught Nixon. No, Nixon. The American president. He… oh, never mind, it’s not important. No, I’m just going to go inside and finish the blog. I won’t bleed on the sheepskin. It’s stopped now. I don’t know, I won’t be long. No, I have no intention of talking all night. My blog. It is for my blog. No, that is not why I have taken to sitting up half the night. I never even knew those channels existed. I have been watching a group of everyday people watching the television. No, on the television, it’s… oh, never mind. Look, the titchy little tape has almost run out. Must be a blog in there by now. What time does Naked Attraction start?…

…Well, that seemed to go ok, didn’t it?…

There’s a hole in my neighbourhood down which of late I cannot help but fall… Guy Garvey (Elbow – Grounds for Divorce)