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Thursday, 25 March 2010

Beware Geeks Bearing Gifts... #fridayflash

'The paramedics found it strange that before they had even arrived on the scene someone had left a bunch of flowers next to the tragic accident...'

It had been a tiring week and Laura wasn’t looking forward to the drive home. Whilst consultancy work was well rewarded, she was fed up with living out of a suitcase and could barely remember when she’d last spent seven days in her own bed.

At 5pm on Friday Laura shook hands with the finance director and thanked him and his staff for their hospitality, a false expression of gratitude given the icy reception that she had received over the past five days from all but one employee, a lanky IT technician who had taken it upon himself to interrupt her every two minutes asking if she wanted yet another cup of weak, unpleasant tea. It was pouring with rain and the winter sky was already black so she ran to her car, coat over head. She threw her bags into the boot and was just about to climb in when she realised that she had left her scarf inside. She was tempted to leave it, every minute she delayed setting off adding another minute to the time until she would be back in her flat with the bottle of chardonnay that had been chilling all week in anticipation of her return. The scarf however had been a gift from her mother and would no doubt be expected to be paraded in front of her at their next meeting, so reluctantly she ran back inside, leaving the engine running in an effort to shift some of the ice glazing the windscreen.

Within two minutes Laura was back in the car and the ice had cleared sufficiently for her to set off. Eyes heavy from too much work and not enough sleep, Laura cranked up the radio in an attempt to keep herself alert. As the DJ played an eighties classic she started to sing along, head bobbing in time to the music. She would never sing in front of an audience, the thought of karaoke mortifying, but nothing could beat belting out a cheesy song safe in the knowledge that no one could hear.

As her route snaked into the country, Laura turned her headlights to full beam. In such treacherous conditions she hated this kind of road; windy, unlit and full of potholes.
Fortunately she only had a couple of miles to go before the motorway that would carry her all the way home. The rain seemed to be getting even stronger, and Laura turned the radio up further in an effort to drown out its hammering rhythm.

Coming around a bend at considerably more than the speed limit Laura was suddenly faced with a red traffic light on a crossroads immediately in front of her. Slamming on the brakes she managed more by luck than judgement to screech to a halt parallel to the light, the lack of traffic that she subsequently noted in every direction making her wish that she hadn’t bothered.

There was a loud thud from the back of the car which she assumed was her suitcase in the boot careering forward. This assumption was however quickly proved wrong as she heard an expletive come from behind her seat, and felt a hand grab at her knee. Screaming, Laura looked up into her rear view mirror to see a shadowy figure peering at her. Her first instinct was to get out and run, however it had been at least a mile since she had last passed a house and other road users seemed to be few and far between, so she decided that running away from a would-be murderer was not the wisest idea. On the passenger seat was her handbag; a huge leather contraption which held not just keys, wallet and phone but also a spare shoes, a litre of water and a fat novel. Recalling how her boyfriend had always said how she would do herself damage lugging around that vast weight all day, she decided the best course of action was to test its to potential to do damage to someone else. Laura grabbed the bag and swung it with all her strength at the unwelcome passenger, hitting him squarely in the nose, which started bleeding all over her upholstery.

“Ouch!” squealed the would-be murderer in a frankly unfrightening manner. As he looked up, blood continuing to spill everywhere, Laura suddenly recognised him and felt her feeling of terror give way to immense anger.

“You? What the hell are you doing in my car? I could have crashed and killed us both!”

The IT guy looked somewhat pathetic as he tried to stem the flow of blood with his sleeve.

“I’m so sorry, I never meant for this to happen! I followed you out as I wanted to give you my number – and these”

He bent down and pulled out from underneath Laura’s seat the most bedraggled bunch of flowers that she had ever seen.

“It was raining so hard that when I saw you run inside I thought I’d sit in the car until you got back – to protect the flowers, you see. Then when I saw you coming back I got nervous, and for some stupid reason decided to hide. I hoped you’d go to the boot or something so that I would get a chance to sneak out without you noticing, but that never happened. I was planning on making my getaway as soon as you stopped; I never meant to scare you, I promise!”

With fury in her eyes Laura swung the bag at him again.

“You weirdo, I wouldn’t have wanted your flowers before and I certainly don’t want them now. Get out, now! Before I call the police...”

As the IT guy clambered out the car Laura pushed her foot to the floor, desperate to get to somewhere well lit and where she could compose herself. As tears flooded her eyes she saw nothing other than the road ahead, the road that would lead her to civilisation and away from the creep who had scared her half to death. By the time headlights illuminated her face and the bellowing horn filled her ears however it was too late – he may have scared her half to death, but it was the ten tonne articulated vehicle speeding towards her would take her all the way.

Sunday, 21 March 2010


I didn't get the chance to write a Fridayflash short story last week but have just put the finishing touches to next week's contribution - watch out for the dreadful pun in the title!

In the meantime, here's a somewhat daft poem that I wrote for the most recent Leeds Writers Group meeting. The brief was to write a piece with a theme of Resurrection / Second Life. I think that this poem probably works best read out loud - imagine the narrator as a world weary woman of a certain age entering a new chapter in her life....


“It’s been a while”, she said, and sighed
“Since I walked down the aisle, a virgin bride
Full of hopes, and dreams, and wishes
Far more exotic than ironing and washing the dishes;
Darning his socks and cooking his tea
The original goddess of domesticity.
Dreams of adventure quickly faded with three mouths to feed
And yet, I was happy, he gave me all I could need
I felt like I’d found my vocation in life
I was born to be a mother, born to be a wife
He would always protect me, of that I had no fear
Until that day - that fateful day! - when he gave me gonorrhoea...

I’d been blind within my romantic bubble
Ignored the signs that the man was trouble
Those late nights at work, those anonymous calls
I never questioned his life beyond our four walls
My friends asked with disbelief ‘Did you not suspect a thing?
When he’d ‘accidentally’ leave the house without his wedding ring?
When he started dressing smartly, when he bought a new cologne
When you found a blonde hair in the wash you knew was not your own?’
In the bedroom there were no clues, I saw no changes in his habits
Although after several decades of marriage we weren’t at it like rabbits
The end, when it came, was swift as could be,
Infidelity I may have forgiven, but not that STD...

I climbed into the attic and retrieved from a case
That once loved confection of satin and lace
Ripped apart each and every yellowing thread
A sacrificial ritual for that marriage now dead
Oh, if I could turn the clock back twenty odd years
I could save that virgin bride a tsunami of tears
Yet I would not choose to have lived without this pain
For the greatest benefit of death is the chance to be born again
Yes, my husband’s blatant disregard for protection
Has led to this red-blooded woman’s resurrection
Out of the darkness shines a fierce burning light
And thanks to him, if I’m lucky, I’ll be on fire tonight....

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Mother's Day #fridayflash

Although this story stands alone, it could be the start of a far longer tale - let me know what you think and if you'd be interested in reading more......

Mother's Day

“I wish you weren’t my mother. I hate you.”

Laura rolled her eyes at her screaming daughter, refusing to bite, refusing to let the teenager gain the upper hand. Hours spent perusing parenting forums had taught her not to take this kind of behaviour personally, the thirteen year old who respected and appreciated their parents being a very rare species indeed.

“I wish you’d never had me. Or I’d been adopted at birth!”

It wasn’t a big surprise to Laura that Bethany had failed to get her a gift for Mother’s day. Any acknowledgement of gratitude would have been nice, but the relationship between them had been even more strained than usual of late and Laura had to be content with the fact that she was getting to spend some time with her today, even if it was more an expletive laden war of words than an affectionate bonding session.

As a child Bethany had sported a halo of blonde curls, although as she grew these gave way to a darker complexion which Laura attributed to her absent father. As they walked hand in hand people
had often commented how much the infant looked like her mother, Laura swelling with maternal pride at the beautiful daughter that she had once thought she would never have. After an acrimonious divorce Laura had flitted between relationships, the deep scars inflicted by her marriage causing her to run a mile as soon as the idea of love or commitment entered the head of either party. Hitting forty she was struck by the realisation that her body clock was winding down, the window of fertile opportunity closing fast. She stopped taking the pill and set about a mission to bed as many eligible men as possible. She couldn’t care less if they were good father material as she intended to raise her child alone; as long as the prospective donor was reasonably attractive and capable of holding conversation she had no further qualms. In spite of this lack of discretion the mission went on for five fruitless years and Laura had pretty much given up hope when, at long last, along came Bethany.
Beautiful baby Bethany. Mummy’s little miracle.

“Another slice of cheesecake, sweetheart?”

“No, what do you think I am, a pig? You trying to fatten me up, make me fat and ugly like you?”

“Now, Bee. That’s not a nice thing to say, is it? No matter how much you wish otherwise, I’m your Mum, and nothing can change that.”

“It doesn’t mean that I have to like you though, fat old bitch. I must have done something wrong in a past life to end up with such an old cow for a Mum.”

Laura rose abruptly, deciding to forego the wisdom of et al and give her daughter a piece of her mind.

“How dare you speak to me like that, after all I do for you? Get to your room now. I will not be spoken to like that. NOW.”

Without a further word Bethany left the room, slamming the door behind her.

Laura cleared the table before settling down in her armchair with a cup of tea and the Sunday paper. As the quality time with her daughter that she had hoped for clearly wasn’t going to happen she would have to make do with some quality time with herself. She flicked past the usual sensationalist articles about footballers’ indiscretions and philandering politicians, the same old stories as last week just with different faces. A ‘heart-warming’ spread showing the beaming faces of families who had triumphed against adversity put a grimace on her face; did the publishers not realise that by devoting column inches to these paragons of virtue they would serve to make ordinary Mums struggling with ordinary issues feel even more inadequate than usual? Laura turned the page with disdain.

On the next page there was a picture of a couple, ordinary looking people stood in front of a tired council house. They were nothing special to look at, but their sad faces were known by the nation, had been for well over a decade now along with the photo of a dribbling baby that they clasped tightly in every shot.

As today was Mothers Day, a new image had been released to the press using the latest technology to show what Lisa Davies would look like today. The silent majority were convinced that Lisa had been dead over a decade now and questioned whether it was really right for the tabloids to keep covering the story in this way, milking the tragedy for all it was worth and giving the sad faced parents false hope in the process. Laura had certainly had enough of the story; was there anything at all in this rag resembling actual news?

Hearing footsteps coming down the stairs Laura folded the newspaper and tossed it on to the open fire at her side. She regularly asked herself why she bothered wasting her money on such trash when it always ended going up the chimney, but it was a matter of habit and the morning stroll to the newsagents a welcome excuse for a bit of fresh air.


The door creaked open and Bethany sheepishly entered.

“I thought I’d told you to stay in your room;” Laura said in what she intended to be a stern manner, but which was rendered ineffective by the smile that darted across her face the instant that she saw the envelope clasped in her daughter’s hand.

“I’m sorry about earlier Mum, I didn’t mean it. Happy Mother’s Day”.

Laura opened the envelope and was greeted by a card showing a cartoon bear holding a bunch of flowers underneath a banner reading ‘World’s Best Mum’.

“Come here, sweetie.” Bethany sat on the arm of the chair and Laura her pulled into a tight hug. “Thanks, it’s really lovely."

Bethany squirmed, embarrassed by the outpouring of emotion.

“That’s ok Mum, it’s nothing.” She wriggled free of the embrace and slid off the chair. “Is it ok if I head back to my room now? I’m going to get on with my homework.”

“Of course, Bee. You do that.”

As Bethany left the room Laura wiped a tear away from her cheek. She’d never believed it until she became a parent herself, but she knew now that it was true that no matter how petulant their behaviour and venomous their words, a mother’s love for her child is unwavering. Although it was inevitable that they would not always see eye to eye, she could say without any doubt that she loved Bethany just as much today as the day that she was born. The day that she was born - and the day that she snatched her from the hospital.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Tobias Flutterbutt's Muse #fridayflash

Something a little different, an edited version of a story written for Leeds Writers Group...

Tobias Flutterbutt’s Muse

My name is Tobias Flutterbutt, descendent of the Yorkshire Flutterbutts and no relation, I hasten to add, of those Lancastrian scallywags that cast shame on what is otherwise a good and honourable name. I am an amanuensis by trade, scribe and confidant to the illustrious Eleanor DeMontfort. On the morning of which I speak Milady was resplendent in pearls and divine velveteen gown in anticipation of the arrival of an old friend, the famously reclusive Duke of Winfordshire. I have never been one for gossip, however if rumour is to be believed, Milady and the Duke were once more than just friends. The fondness with which she spoke of sharing her formative years with the one she affectionately named ‘Dukie’ did little to scotch the rumours, and she implied on several occasions that if not for their disapproving parents they would no doubt have lived as husband and wife.

I was busy opening Milady’s letters when she called to me; ‘Tobias, dearest, come along’.

With my usual expeditiousness I scurried to her side, where I was disheartened to see an unbecoming frown on Milady’s face.

‘We have a terrible situation. Dukie is due within the hour and I have run out of rouge. My usual winsome glow is, I confess, aided by a wonderful product I have shipped over from Paris, however given the lack of time could you please hurry to the Apothecary to pick up something to protect the dear Duke from my unsightly pallor?’

As a loyal employee I agreed immediately to attend to Milady’s demands. I personally was very keen for her to engage in an ‘affaire de coeur’; although not one for gossip I heard the Duke inhabits a palatial countryside property which would be a definite improvement on the ramshackle house that I currently call ‘mon maison’.
I was strolling towards the village to purchase the rouge when I first saw her. As a small community it is always an occasion when outsiders enter our fold, and dressed most peculiarly in gentleman’s breeches and hunting jacket that in spite of their masculine appearance somehow made her look only more pulchritudinous, she was certainly not local. As I dashed past I tried to avoid eye contact with the intriguing stranger; I had Milady’s demands to attend to and no time for idle conversation. When I reached the Apothecary however I could not help but turn to take one last glance at her, a vision of delight standing nonchalantly with a thin cigarette between full lips.

The Apothecary was bustling with ladies collecting assorted potions and lotions intended to gift them with eternal youth. If I were not such an honourable man then I would tell you that for many it is far too late to escape the savage hands of time - a trowel or a paperbag may be the only way to mask their true age. As I waited to collect Milady’s blush, my mind could not help but wander back to the stranger I had just encounted; although we had not exchanged a word she had ignited a veritable mardi gras in my heart. As I left the shop I decided that much as my duty to Milady was important, I could not deny myself the opportunity to acquaint myself with the mysterious outsider – I longed to be the cigarette between her lips, and pictured myself as Apollo and she as my muse, the inspiration who would allow me to fulfil my true poetic vocation.

I moved with haste back to where I had seen her but alas she was gone, the only indication of her ever having been there a discarded cigarette, a souvenir which I still carry to this day. I must have passed hours stalking the village for her as the sun had been low in the east when I started my search and was now journeying west. To be truthful I had completed forgotten the original purpose of my trip in spite of having clasped the dainty pot for the duration. Eventually I had to concede defeat and return, tail between legs, to Milady. Although she was a romantic soul herself I did not know how she would react to my disloyalty; she had been desperate to make the best impression on the Duke and I had failed in my duty to help. As I entered the house however I breathed a sigh of relief as I heard joyous laughter coming from the dining room; it sounded as if all were going well in spite of the lack of maquillage.

Although not one to pry, I was eager to finally catch sight of the man who sent Milady’s heart a-flutter, so trying not to interrupt the revelry, I peered around the door. My silent intention however was not fulfilled as the unexpected vision before me provoked me to drop the pot of powder, smashing it and sending a cloud of magenta all over the room. Sat next to Milady and with a hand affectionately stroking her thigh was the ‘Duke’ and I suddenly discovered why he was so notoriously reclusive – Dukie was not a Duke at all, but a Duchess!

‘Hello Tobias’ said Milady calmly. ‘Whatever took so long? Anyhow, meet my darling Dukie.’

In that instant I saw that she who had been my muse for all of two hours had been serving the same purpose to Lady Eleanor since childhood. Rouge or no rouge, I could see that ‘Dukie’ was clearly besotted with Milady from the way that her facial expression perfectly mirrored my own. The very next day Milady and Dukie set off together on a voyage to a Greek island – Lisbos, I think they call it -where, they informed me, no one would bat an eyelid at a lady in breeches. Lady Eleanor left me in charge of the house whilst they are away, though whether they will ever return I do not know.

Why, you may ask, as a man who despises gossip, have I chosen to publish this article to the world? I write, dear reader, not to titillate but to immortalise the memory of my muse. There is no stronger emotion than unrequited love and no greater inspiration than emotion, and I believe that the mark she made on my heart will keep me in poetry for the rest of my days.