Posted in Short Story

Moments In Time – a short story

Alex felt the heat from the scorching midday sun beating down on the back of her head. It was a dizzying hot summer’s day and the flashbacks flickered through her mind just as she took a small step forward.

First came the school playground. A place where lifelong friendships are forged and where moments shape a person into what they later become. There stood a 7-year-old boy and a slightly older girl. The boy stood quite still, wearing little round glasses with brown plastic frames. He lifted his hand and shielded his pretty blue eyes from the sun. He was a skinny specimen in grey shorts with elasticated waist, a crisp white shirt and knee-high socks.

Alex observed her childish self; she was somewhat taller and thicker set than the boy, her curly red hair forced back into a bunch with a bright blue bobble. She was wearing her blue gingham summer uniform and she carried a purple skipping rope, which dangled down from her right hand.

‘Move’ she said forcefully, standing directly in front of the boy. She stood firmly, hands on hips, her pretty face contorted with contempt. The boy stood still, rooted to the spot. Alex relished the feeling of power she had over him especially since everyone else teased her for being freckly and ginger. She was taking back control. This was the first time she had picked on him; it felt good for those few seconds. ‘Are you deaf as well as stupid’ she said meanly, poking him in the chest with the plastic end of the skipping rope.

‘You could go around me’ he answered bravely, standing up straight, growing just a fraction in height and confidence. ‘The playground is big enough for everyone’.

Alex’s face reddened and screwed up with anger. She took a step forward and leaned in towards him spitting in his face as she spoke ‘Give me your lunch money stupid. You look like a monkey with your messy hair and your sticky out ears. Do it now or you’ll be sorry.’

The boy thought for a moment and chewed his lip. He fiddled with the shiny coins in his pocket and with a considered look on his face he finally held them out in his sweaty hand. He breathed deeply to stop the tears that threatened to fall from the corners of his eyes. As Alex went to snatch her spoils he curled his fingers back around the money, silently put it back in his pocket, turned and walked away.

Without hesitation Alex flung her rope out and whipped the back of his legs quickly with a sharp thwack, the cheap nylon leaving red welts on the backs of his knees. ‘That’ll teach him’ she thought as she waited for his response. The boy didn’t falter, he kept walking and he didn’t look back. She was momentarily puzzled. Why hadn’t he cried? Why hadn’t he challenged her? He had turned the other cheek. This was bravery.

Another memory quickly replaced the first. It was a cold and crisp autumn day. Alex’s dad was pushing the rusty red bike through piles of red and brown leaves on the pavement outside no. 47. The stabilisers had finally been taken off. ‘If you believe in yourself you can do it’ he called encouragingly, his hand cupped by the side of his mouth, as she began wobbling down the street on two wheels for the very first time. Dressed in warm clothes and wearing elbow pads and helmet Alex started pedalling, unsteady steering giving way to confidence. ‘Yes!’ Her dad shouted ‘Yes! I knew you could do it’.

As the bike gathered pace down the gentle hill Alex noticed the familiar face of a boy wearing glasses watching her. At about the same time, she realised that the brakes were failing and as her concentration lapsed both bike and rider clattered in a heap on the pavement. Alex stood up and brushed the leaves from her woolly jumper. She was embarrassed having fallen but she waved at her dad from the bottom of the hill and grinned despite the bruised knees and grazed knuckles. She looked around for the boy. He was standing beside his own garden-gate half way up the hill, craning his neck to see if she was ok. They exchanged shy smiles as the boy gave her the thumbs up to congratulate her bike-riding success. With an extraordinary feeling of self-belief never previously experienced, Alex ran back up the hill with the bike. This was confidence.

The fleeting memory of confidence dissipated as the desperate and unnerving whining sound of an animal in pain flooded through Alex’s troubled mind. Like a tidal wave it swept the optimistic feeling of the previous memory crashing to one side.

Barnaby lay on his side, wrapped up in a thick red jumper. He shivered, his eyes opening now and then as a tiny whimper escaped his mouth. The elderly black Labrador foamed gently at the mouth while the boy and the girl sat cross-legged on the floor, side by side and tempted him with water, squeezing a sponge between his lips one last time. Barnaby was the boy’s dog and he was leaving. He had been poorly for weeks and nobody could bear to see him hurting any more.

The lady in the green veterinary nurses uniform picked up his weary body and gently carried him to the table. Family and friends crowded round, each one holding a paw,  stroking their friend Barnaby’s grey chin or his velvet ears. Salty tears rolled silently down the faces of his people as Barnaby slipped gently away from one world, and unseen by the family, bounded into the next released from pain and suffering. Twelve year old, red headed Alex reached out for her best friend’s hand and squeezed it gently as his tears trickled down behind his glasses. Through the dream-like haze, Alex felt the prickle of new tears forming at the memory shared by two childhood friends. This was loss.

Another quick flash and she was looking through the picture window of a small cottage. The man before her was big and strong, much changed from his awkward younger self. He was tall, manly and wearing a smart suit. The woman matched him in height, her demeanour displaying a gentleness brought on by maturity. Her thick red curls were pulled back from her face with a headband of blue flowers. She wore a pretty white cotton dress and no shoes. A ceiling fan above them gently circled, cooling the oppressive summer night.

The familiar scene was a memory from a life filled with remarkable moments. As the sultry tones of At Last by Etta James filled the room, the man took off his glasses to reveal his pretty blue eyes and pulled his love towards him, his lips gently brushing hers. Their eyes locked as they moved slowly back and forth in time to the music. He took her hand in his as they edged towards the door and he tenderly touched her cheek. Electricity filled the air as a storm brewed outside. She smiled at him, an unmistakable look of adoration and longing. He led her into the bedroom and gently closed the door as thunder grumbled and lightning struck. This was love.

One memory merged into the next as the sound of thunder intensified. Suddenly trapped in a harsh memory of war that had played over and over in her mind a thousand times Alex remembered a baking hot day in the desert. The air was dusty and dry, so dry it caught in her throat. The muffled sound of gunfire and exploding grenades in the distance was replaced suddenly by an almighty intense flash of orange and a deafening boom. The full force of the explosion threw a dirt-covered truck carrying military personnel upside down. Panic ensued. Sound became muted, barely audible.

The medic with the thick red hair ran to the aid of the soldiers in the truck. Others ran the other way, their arms gesturing her to safety. Alex was alone as she reached the silently smouldering truck and frantically searched, hands desperately clawing at the wreckage for signs of life. Initially there was none. And then she found him. Once so big and strong, he now lay there broken and bleeding, barely breathing. She gathered every ounce of strength she could muster and pulled him to safety, dragging him away from the wreckage like a doll. The truck exploded and the man’s glasses fell from his pocket and onto the dirt. With one final explosion shrapnel flew through the air and life ebbed away. This was death.

The flashbacks stopped as Alex gulped air into her lungs frantically, her heart beating wildly against her rib cage and her eyes flew open. The pavement rushed up towards her face, her red curls flying out behind her.

In the last moments of her life he was there. The awkward scrawny boy, her best friend, her lover, the broken man in uniform. He had reached out to her from beyond life to remind her of an extraordinary existence of shared moments. They had grown together, the awkward little boy and the feisty red head. Alex had loved him more than life itself and life had tortured her with his loss.

In that split second as the pavement at the foot of the tallest building in the city greeted Corporal Alexandra Stone, she remembered love, she remembered bravery, she remembered all that she had learned with him and from him. She knew he had made her a better person and as her life drew to a close she wished she could have taken one step back instead of forward. This was regret.

 

 

Posted in Ice Hockey

People and hockey – the perfect combination!

My love affair with ice hockey began in the 1980s and it was Christine’s fault. Christine and I both worked on a motor trade newspaper in Sutton. She supported Streatham Redskins and quickly welcomed me into the fold at Streatham High Road as a new fan. Before long I was travelling to Scotland and the North East on double-header weekends with Christine and her best friend Jan. We watched hockey, we ate chip butties, we laughed until our sides ached and we drank far too much. We had the best times.

Continue reading “People and hockey – the perfect combination!”

Posted in Short Story

View From The Apple Tree (a short story)

Most days, especially on balmy August afternoons, Eliza would skip down to the end of the garden and carefully climb the steps into the makeshift tree house in the gnarly old apple tree. She rather liked her own company and the weatherworn wooden hideaway was a place of calm, somewhere to dream, to watch the birds, the butterflies and peer at the tiny insects on the crooked branches of a tree long since tired of bearing fruit. She’d snuggle up on the cushions there, tuck her legs up under her, and simply stare out beyond the garden at the acres of gently sloping fields.

Scented white jasmine with it’s abundant fragrance would invade her nostrils stimulating vivid memories of warm summer days, playing games in the garden, the occasional barbecue, sitting on Mama’s lap while she read a book or just relaxing in the sunshine. Sometimes Eliza  would close her eyes, let the sun warm her face and allow her mind to go blank. The occasional buzz of a bee gorging on the pollen from the bright blue ceanothus did nothing to divert her attention. She felt at one with nature and at peace.

At around five each evening whenever Eliza was sitting in her treasured tree house or playing in the garden and before her beloved Papa Rufus arrived home her vibrant but delicate Mama, Valentina would appear with a glass of lemonade and call her in for tea, her warm, gentle tones filtering down the garden accompanied by a tiny tinkling bell. The garden was vast, the bell helped.

On Tuesday everything changed. Early in the afternoon, sometime after lunch and certainly well before tea, Eliza’s daydreams were abruptly interrupted by raised voices. She looked away from the acres of fields that bordered a small area of uneven shrub land at the end of the garden and shifted her gaze towards the house next door.

Horatio and Louisa lived next door, he a celebrated painter and sculptor and she, apparently quite the talent in interior design. A sizeable Victorian glasshouse backed on to the manicured garden and was Horatio’s haven, easels, palettes and tubes of paint everywhere, clay pots and unusual metal sculptures dotted around the stone tiled floor. The glass twinkled as sunlight bounced through the panels creating shadows from the many exotic plants of varying type, colour, shape and size. Eliza craned her neck from her lofty position and could just about see the gangly figure of Horatio as he paced the room, deftly avoiding his easels and his precious art works as he gesticulated animatedly. The familiar sound of Mama’s voice rose higher as agitation filled the air.

“Just tell her Horatio. It’s time. I honestly can’t do this for a moment longer” Valentina shouted, exasperation in her voice. “I need you, you understand me in a way Rufus never has. Please my darling, we can be together, our future is just a whisper away, let’s be brave, let’s do it,” she begged.

“No! Don’t you dare do this Valentina” Horatio thundered, rolling his eyes skywards as he turned away from his lover, arms flailing. “We have discussed this so many times. What we have now is enough. It can never be more”.

Valentina clutched at the diamond pendant around her neck slightly too hard and it fell away onto the floor as the dainty clasp broke and she continued “When Rufus gave this to me for our anniversary I was almost physically sick. I can’t bear it. I wear it only because I feel I must. I don’t want to be with him. It’s you Horatio. Don’t you get it? It has always been you”.

“Nothing you say will change how I feel Valentina” replied an exasperated Horatio, shaking his head from side to side. “I just don’t feel it the way you do, I still adore Louisa, no matter how tempestuous our relationship and now it’s time for us to stop. We’re done. This pressure. It’s just too much.” He reached out and put his hands on her shoulders.

Valentina erupted as she pushed his arms away. “Then I shall tell them both and I will do it tonight.” She turned swiftly heading towards the door as Horatio rushed to intercept her.

Eliza lost sight of Valentina for just a split second as the sound of shattering glass reverberated through the air. Jumping to her feet and looking down between the branches of the tree Eliza caught a glimpse of her Mama lying on the floor in the corner of the glasshouse. She was very still. The dark figure of Horatio knelt over her, head momentarily bowed. As silence filled the air a thick, sticky scarlet substance silently oozed down the channel where the floor tiles met the remaining glass. Valentina remained motionless and the red liquid fanned out around her like ink on blotting paper as Eliza looked on.

Rooted to the spot in utter shock, Eliza’s eyes widened as Horatio began to dash about in panic and having mopped and cleaned frantically, ran to the foot of the garden, took his shovel from the shed and hurriedly dug a deep hole in the small patch of grassland between his garden and the fields beyond. “Shit. Shit. Shit” he repeated as he bundled Valentina into his wheelbarrow, trundled quickly to the end of the garden and carelessly tipped her small, lifeless body into the hole. As he pushed the cool dirt over the body of his former lover he wept softly glancing up to the back of each house occasionally, muttering and pausing only to wipe his fevered brow with the back of his hand. Eliza had moved silently to the back of the tree house lest Horatio should see her watching, her heart racing, her breathing shallow.

Finally, with the newly dug grave filled and the almost forgotten diamond pendant hastily pushed as far down into the dirt as he could reach, the artist ventured back into his garden and lit a small fire to dispose of his blood soaked checkered shirt and the towels he had used to clean up.

Eliza sat for a long time unable to make sense of what she had seen and when grey clouds clustered overhead and the flames of the bonfire were little more than embers she climbed tentatively down the ladder and ran back noiselessly to the house. She managed a small drink of water to moisten her dry scratchy throat and sat dumbstruck, silently waiting for her Papa’s return.

“Hello my beautiful girl” said Rufus closing the front door behind him and striding in. He called out to Valentina several times before rushing up the stairs and calling back down distractedly to Eliza “Where’s your Mama got to then my darling, did she say where she was going?” He moved from one room to the next quickly checking but Valentina was nowhere to be seen.

Time passed and his worry grew. Eliza stood behind the half opened door and peeped through the gap as her Papa opened a brand new bottle of single malt and poured himself a double, completely lost in his own thoughts. There had been no message from Valentina and she would never have left eight year old Eliza alone for more than a few minutes. As the hours passed with no sign of his wife, his concern for her safety increased and Rufus dialled the police. With nothing missing from the house and Valentina absent for a relatively short time it was too early to jump to conclusions they had said. So Rufus did what Rufus always did and poured a second large measure of whisky, and then several more as he paced the house. Eventually he stumbled upstairs to bed and fell quickly, fully clothed into a deep alcohol induced sleep. The house remained silent, unlocked and Eliza had been completely forgotten.

Eliza slept fitfully, waking often with a start as the details of the previous afternoon came rushing into her mind. A new day dawned, the sun peeked through the curtains and Eliza got up. Without hesitation and desperate to be close to her Mama she quietly picked her way down the stairs, out of the open boot room door, and down the path to the bottom of the garden. The familiar scent of jasmine once more filled her senses as new, distressing images crowded her brain.

A skinny little thing, she was able to duck through a gap in the fence, finding herself standing on a patchy grass area alongside the freshly turned dirt that covered her beloved Mama’s hastily hidden body. Haphazardly disguised with some garden clippings and old slate roof tiles, the upturned wheelbarrow had been strategically placed to shield the grave from view.

Eliza was almost certain she could smell her Mama’s perfume in the gentle morning breeze and as disturbing flashbacks suddenly cascaded through her mind she flung herself onto the mound of dirt and began to claw at the earth, pushing it away as fast as she could in a furious attempt to reveal Valentina’s whereabouts.

Back up at the house, Rufus pulled back the heavy curtains and squinted through the window as daylight filled the room. He rubbed his eyes and then shielded them from the sun as he stared distractedly out towards the end of the garden, his mind entirely occupied with his wife’s disappearance.

As his eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight something caught his eye just beyond the garden fence. It was not just a very grubby looking Eliza, the pretty little white cat he so adored, but something sparkling in the dirt beside her. Something that twinkled like a diamond.