Friends

22 June 2019

DARE TO BE SCARED



DARE TO BE SCARED


The room was cold. The fire, now no more than dying embers, made the fireplace look like a cavernous hole surrounded by a black marble mantelpiece. The unfinished drapes hung at the window awaiting final measurement. In the swelling silence Ellie Peterson was thankful that she couldn’t see outside.
An hour ago the sound of footsteps had unnerved her. Petrified she had waited for the door to open but nothing happened and the footsteps died away. Now, except for the creaking stair, the house was eerily quiet. She sat on the hard wooden settle, her body taut against the high back, feeling the terror in her spine. Dare she move? Would the spirits know of her presence if she did?
            She wanted to believe the occupants had returned but they knew she was there so they surely would have called out. Her mind switched. Maybe it had been a burglar. If it was he was being terribly quiet. There were no other noises to indicate that drawers were being searched or cupboards ransacked.
            The New Year’s Eve party seemed so long ago. The usual gang had turned up at Lacey’s Wine Bar with one extra, a boy called Ram who told stories about ghosts. While they drank in abundance someone mentioned the big house on the hill, saying it was haunted.
            Ellie was taken aback for that house was where she would soon be working. The owner had commissioned her to replace the drapes in the dining room while the family was away in Tobago. In a mildly drunken state, she had scoffed at the suggestion of the place being haunted, saying it was all nonsense and bragging that she wasn’t in the least scared of ghosts. She didn’t mention that as a child she was scared to walk past the turreted property in case the ghost came out to get her.

It was Tom who dared her to spend the night there. Ellie had laughed and joked that she wouldn’t mind spending several nights there. And so she was dared so to do.
            She had telephoned Jacqueline McCleary the next day, asking for permission to stay until her work was completed. It would be so much better, she’d said, if she could devote all her time to the task and not have the inconvenience of travelling to and fro. Mrs McCleary was delighted, saying it would be useful to have someone in attendance during her absence. She would make up a bed in the west wing.
            Ellie remembered trembling with the excitement of spending nights alone in a supposedly haunted house. Now she trembled with fear in the icy room.

The musty smelling room was lit by a dim lamp on the antique bureau, out of reach from where she sat.  She couldn’t remember putting it on but she did recall switching on the central chandelier before lighting the fire, then switching it off because the light was too harsh. Although she didn’t doubt her action she looked up, seeing only flickering firelight reflected in the clear glass. But the fire was dead and she half wondered if she was, too. 
            She twisted round to check the door, wondering if she had the courage to go into the huge, cold hall that led to the west wing. She decided against it. It would be better to stay where she was, maybe close her eyes and try to sleep. The hard settle didn’t encourage sleep but she was too afraid to move to the comfort of an easy chair.  Folding her legs beneath her, she eased the tartan blanket over her arms and prayed for daylight to come, wishing she’d ignored Tom’s stupid dare.

Outside the wind howled and rain lashed against the glass. The chandelier shook and the new drapes swayed in the half light. In a room in the west wing a shadowy figure rose from a winged armchair. Her skirts floated behind her as she noiselessly glided through a heavy wooden door that led to an imposing staircase. At the top she paused and listened as the first musical notes filtered through the air.
            Ellie stirred, shifted her position on the settle. In the distance she heard faint music. It took her straight back to her childhood, when she’d been so afraid. Straining to listen she became aware of an indistinct soprano voice intoning the words of The Londonderry Air.

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

Ellie shivered as the eerie singing grew louder, swallowed to suppress a ripening scream. Somewhere in the back of her mind was the thought that spirits didn’t like screams and anyway, wasn’t she a grown up, sensible person who wasn’t afraid of ghosts? Hadn’t she said so repeatedly before… before coming here?

The crash completely unnerved her. It sounded like something smashing against the far door. Hardly daring to breathe, Ellie pulled the blanket round her shoulders and slid from the settle, grabbing the wooden arm to keep from falling. Against her better judgement she felt she had to investigate? Fearfully, she tiptoed across the polished floor and eased the door open.

On the floor was the oil painting that had been hanging in the hall, to the right of the door. Its heavy gold frame was broken, the glass lay in smithereens, but the picture seemed unmarked. Inches away lay the picture hook complete with fixtures, the screw ends coated with plaster. Ellie stooped to examine the painting, a naval officer. His stiff posture and stern expression was a little forbidding as he sat on a long wooden bench. The name at the foot of the painting indicated that this was Daniel McCleary, presumably a family ancestor Behind him, one hand on his shoulder, stood an attractive lady dressed in grey. Ellie stretched out an arm to touch her solemn face. The eyes seemed moist as if tears were falling. So sad, she thought, as she made to wipe them away. Ellie shook herself, reprimanding her foolish imagination.
            Unsure about how to cope with the picture at that late hour and reluctant to delve further into the mysteries of the house she returned to the room where she had briefly slept. In the morning she would clear up the mess. Sitting again on the settle she let her mind drift back to the picture, remembering the story of the young diva being killed, stabbed by her lover. So much for respectability, she thought.

Light was beginning to penetrate the room, making the shadows seem less creepy. Soon she would hear the dawn chorus; only then would she be able to relax. Ellie thought about the picture. Knowing she would have to explain to Mrs McCleary filled her with trepidation. 
            As more light seeped in Ellie found the courage to move about. Throwing aside the blanket she went to draw the curtains. She had to admit they looked good; the burgundy velvet went really well in the room. Since taking the commission she had worked hard, sewing well into the night on some occasions. Now all she had to do was measure and complete the hems. She would start early, after a drink and maybe some cereal. The need to move on with the work and leave the house couldn’t be ignored. But first she must clear up the mess in the hall. 

Ellie stretched and yawned and tried to suppress a sudden desire to sleep, a long sleep in her own bed, in her own apartment. A cup of tea would revive her, she thought as she moved towards the door, reminding herself to tread carefully to avoid the broken glass.
            Somewhere in the distance she heard a tinkling laugh that seemed to echo through her head, a young voice. Braver now the gloom had dispersed, Ellie flung open the door, stepped into the hall, prepared to see an expanse of broken glass on the floor. But there was not one sliver to be seen. Looking up, she saw the picture on the wall. Intact. Except that the man now had streaks of blood on his face and at his side the young lady smiled.

Completely disregarding the waiting drapes Ellie Peterson fled to the sanctuary of the outside world.

19 June 2019

PARENT - JOB DESCRIPTION


POSITION :
Mum, Mommy, Ma
Dad, Daddy, Pa,

JOB DESCRIPTION :

Long term, team players needed, for challenging, permanent work in an often chaotic environment.
Candidates must possess excellent communication and organisational skills and be willing to work variable hours, which will include evenings and weekends and frequent 24 hour shifts on call.
Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in far away cities!
Travel expenses not reimbursed.
Extensive taxi duties also required.

RESPONSIBILITIES :

The rest of your life.
Must be willing to be hated, at least temporarily, until someone needs £100.00 or more.
Must be willing to bite tongue repeatedly.
Also, must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule and be able to go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat in case, this time, the screams from the backyard are not someone just crying wolf.
Must be willing to face stimulating technical challenges, such as small gadget repair, mysteriously sluggish toilets and stuck zippers.
Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production of multiple homework projects.
Must have ability to plan and organize social gatherings for clients of all ages and mental outlooks.
Must be a willing to be indispensable one minute, an embarrassment the next.
Must handle assembly and product safety testing of a half million cheap, plastic toys, and battery operated devices.
Must always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.
Must assume final, complete accountability for the quality of the end product.

POSSIBILITY FOR ADVANCEMENT & PROMOTION :

None.
Your job is to remain in the same position for years, without complaining, constantly retraining and updating your skills so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you.

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE :

None required unfortunately.
On-the-job training offered on a continually exhausting basis.

WAGES AND COMPENSATION :

Get this! You pay them!
Offering frequent raises and bonuses.
A balloon payment is due when they turn 18 because of the assumption that passing exams will help them become financially independent.
When you die, you give them whatever is left.
The oddest thing about this reverse-salary scheme is that you actually enjoy it and wish you could only do more.

BENEFITS :

While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no tuition reimbursement and no paid holidays, this job supplies limitless opportunities for personal growth, unconditional love and free hugs and kisses for life if you play your cards right.

This is for all the PARENTS I know (and anyone thinking of applying for the job) in appreciation for everything they do on a daily basis, letting them know they are appreciated for the fabulous job they do.

15 June 2019

HOLIDAY ROMANCES DON'T WORK

(with apologies to those who have read this before xx)


I couldn't explain why I was glad to be home because I didn't understand it myself, but as I lugged the case from the taxi, too impatient to avail myself of the bearded, tic-eyed driver's help, I got this tremendous feeling of relief. Safe at last, that's what struck me as I fumbled in the flight bag for the front door key. You'd think, after such a brilliant holiday, I'd be sorry to leave. All that heavenly sun, and there was I turning my face to the rain and drinking in cool air as if I'd been starved of it. And enjoying it. Me, Sun-worshipper Class One.

That was a week ago, and I am only now able to think about Giovanni subjectively. Guiltily, as if I'd deceived him. Holiday romances, I told myself, and had been telling myself since the day we met, were to be avoided at all costs. His proposal, sincerely and solemnly delivered, given his inebriated condition that last night, came as a complete shock. Not for one second did I imagine he thought anything of me other than someone to have a good time with. And we'd certainly done that. Had a good time, I mean. From the word go we'd done everything together. Well, almost. I drew the line at sex, even though we both desired it. The idea of getting pregnant hadn't appealed, you see, and how was I to know if Giovanni's suave, romantic approach was genuine. He might have been the sleeping-around type; he might have been stricken with AIDS.

But, that last night, Wow! We'd been sunbathing by the pool all day, apart from a couple of hours when we'd lunched in the hotel: salmon roulade and fancy salad, Positano style. On the night, Giovanni suggested we go down to Marine Grande for a drink at Geranno's. We sat at a table not far from the water's edge. You could hear the water lapping gently around moored fishing boats. We kissed, him stretching his lean, long body across the table, jolting the carafe of wine in his haste to meet my lips; me keeping a beady eye on the azure-blue vessel as it tottered unsteadily on its base. Rather that than ruin the skirt he'd bought me. Organza. Soft orange and cream. It looked terrific with the lace top and I didn't want even a dribble of wine on it, let alone a deluge. It was okay, though, the carafe steadied itself. Breathe again, Deborah. Naturally, Giovanni didn't notice. He was too busy licking the lipstick off my upper lip. I swore he was calculating the hairs that I try so desperately to disguise.

There was a bit of cloud round the top of Vesuvius that night, a sure indication that the next day would be fine. There was a bit of cloud round my brain, too, but I didn't realise that until later. I told Giovanni I couldn't wait for it to get dark so we could look at the stars and maybe see the lucciola, or fire-fly as it's known in England, and he said, in that gorgeous velvety accent that caressed my heart and sent it leaping to the skies, Molto bello. I wasn't sure if he meant it was the idea of watching stars he found beautiful, or me, but, given that he was holding my hand and riveting his inky eyes to mine, I took the credit for the remark.

It was then he proposed. I thought I'd misheard and was trying to work out what he had said, when he repeated it. Marry me. His voice was clotted with desire. He urged me not to catch the plane the next morning, saying I could leave the hotel and stay with him in his apartment. I don't know what he expected me to live on, unless it was love, and we all know love doesn't go far in the shopping stakes. You're probably thinking I'm a mercenary bitch, turning romance into realism before the poor guy could draw breath. And I guess you're right, looking back.

The yellow currency-converter is still in my pocket, a constant reminder of foreign shores.

I did warm to him that night. Not a temperature change. Real desire. I'd been keen on him from the start, flattered that a man with such magnetic Latin looks and magnificently proportioned, sun-bronzed body, had selected me to dance attendance on. But the feeling that was churning my insides that final night was dangerous and I pushed his hand away. Just in time by the look on his face. He was eaten up with passion. Eaten. Smouldering, he was. His libido had really got going. He shuffled uncomfortably on the slatted chair. It reminded me of the day we went to Amalfi, both of us wearing navy shorts and white cotton T-shirts, and he got stung on that part of the leg that joins the buttock. He had trouble sitting for a whole day after that; couldn't even drive his little black Fiat in comfort.

I forced myself to look him squarely in the eyes. I was disappointed to note that the amorous look was fading, as if he knew he was getting the brush-off, but I told myself it was for the best. Holiday romances do not work. Christine and Mark's didn't; Lucy and Ken's didn't. Both couples married; both got divorced within the year. I couldn't risk that happening to me.

Giovanni, I went, as steadily as I could, given that my voice was quivering something deplorable. Giovanni, I went again, adopting a pretentious tone, like my mother did when she was laying down the law. I can't marry you. It would be impossible. We'd have no life together, both of us out of work.

I mean, it would be idiotic giving up a well-paid secretarial post with the Council to become unemployed in Sorrento. I didn't say that to him, though. I didn't even think I should have mentioned work at all, since it wasn't the real reason for turning him down. It was an excuse, that's all. You know, a desperate search for a way of alleviating pressure, as well as lessening the blow. Giovanni whispered. Capiri. He didn't put non in front of it so I gathered he was saying he understood. That was a relief. His expression came close to being comical, his pouting mouth more like that of a disappointed schoolkid than a thwarted almost-lover. It eased things for me, I can tell you. Made me think he wasn't quite as genuine as I'd taken him for, and I felt as if I'd been released from shackles, which wasn't fair, I suppose, considering he'd cossetted me for three whole weeks.

Did I mention that? Did I say he took me to Capri on the Cuma Ferry on the second day and a tour of Vesuvius on the third? I could've done without that. I found it extremely alarming and a big, big worry. What if it erupted while we were up there. It didn't, of course, but he did. He grabbed me round the waist and whirled me to him so he could munch my mouth. Thoroughly. A trifle vigorous, I thought, for a first kiss, but at least it knocked the worry away. All I was aware of was responsive breasts and galloping groins.

We walked a lot in the countryside and lazed by the hotel pool (where someone suggested he must be a gigolo because he wasn't staying there and he was ever so slightly younger than me). The list of things we did was endless. We dined out, sailed to Positano with the Marine Club, swam in the Bay, clambered the rocks below the hotel, sunbathed, and kissed beneath the stars. I'm finding it very difficult to discuss this. The gut is reeling with the pain of it. Suffice to say, I rejected Giovanni Rossi's overture and flew home the next day.


Deranged fool. I've regretted it for a week, especially now, ambling through Gracechurch Centre which for some reason has hired a brass band to harry the hurrying customers. Maybe if he'd said it earlier I would have given the proposal some thought. I am that frustrated, I could kick myself. Evenings lately are interminable. From the moment I leave the office they stretch into eternity. Silent and lonely and cold. I miss his arms, his lips, the happy laugh pirouetting from his luscious mouth. Nights are the worst. Sleepless, as though sleep has been abolished. Tired as a dormouse, I lie in bed studying wallpaper. If I've counted the petals on the roses once, I've counted them a million times. Twelve. Well, there's more, but the centres are tightly closed so I have to discount those. I wait impatiently for the sandman. He bypasses me every time.

The reflection in Beatties window is ghastly. I don't reckon on looking good at the best of times, but that's awful. Straight up and straight back down figure, bowed shoulders bearing the weight of guilt and self-reproach. The band breaks into a Gracie Fields number: The Biggest Aspidistra in the World. Fluke, or what? I wonder if she had similar qualms when Boris paid suit. Or the other two, before she married them. Married three times, according to one of the tour guides on Capri. Me, I turned down the first decent chap I'd ever landed.

I yawn; the reflection yawns back. Beyond, there is a display of suntan products, with a picture of a tree-lined boulevard leading to a beach. Quaint, but nothing like Sorrento. In fact, walking round the Centre is not nearly so interesting as promenading the Corsa Italia, stopping at every window to admire the shoes and suits. Baldan, Ferragamo, and Armani. God, I do miss it.

Pulling a face at the image in the window doesn't help the mood. In fact, it makes it worse. Depression is closing in like the door of a tomb. Would death be as painful? I move on, giving a last minute tweak to the collar of my mac. Sighing. Wishing I'd had the sense to bring an umbrella. The Sorrento umbrella, blue and yellow, bought that day it rained, when we swooped into the doorway of the Coin store, blind to everything except the need to shelter, colliding with a basketful of gamps. The sales staff pounced like ravenous locusts, intimidating in their determination to make a sale. We gave in. We bought an umbrella. Wise choice, considering the pelting rain. See how easy it is to remember, how hard it is to forget? Everything I see, or hear, or do, reminds me so forcefully of that place. And him.

I see Maples' window-display has changed. That pine table is similar to the one Giovanni has. Did I mention his apartment? It was above the shops in Piazza Tasso. Enormous rooms with high ceilings. And so cool. The windows were huge, with small balconies. You could lean right out and not be feared of falling. The horses were stationed below, harnessed to carriages, waiting to take sightseers on guided tours. I couldn't bear the sight of those dumb animals hanging around in all that heat. I wanted to yell to their owners to let them loose. It wouldn't have done any good; they wouldn't have understood me.

I purchased a souvenir or two to bring home, and I bought Giovanni half-a-dozen of the plates he'd admired. Bright green with bright blue squiggles round the rim. Sounds awfully garish, but they were actually quite nice. It seemed a bit like reimbursing him for all he'd spent on me and I rued it like crazy the minute I handed them over. But I needn't have worried; he was overjoyed. Mother always said I was a mitherer of the first order. She was right.

His mother liked the plates. She reckoned he should chuck his old ones forthwith. She was a nice lady, obviously affluent, and as beautiful an Italian Signora as I ever saw. It was manifestly clear, then, why Giovanni had spent money like it grew on hedges. He was well-to-do. He was no more a gigolo than the King of Spain. It didn't change my mind though. I still believed holiday romances didn't work.

I hadn't noticed the bus was in. Breaking into a gallop, I go down the steps and across the road. The currency-converter slaps against my thigh with every step. I aim for the end of the rapidly reducing queue, tagging on behind a frail woman who can only shuffle to the bus. The breathing space is welcome; the panting stentorian. The woman turns to stare. You're too young to be wheezing like a bronchitic crone, she goes. I nod my agreement, wondering how on earth I trekked up Vesuvius, breathing steady. The woman thanks me for helping her up the two deep steps and I wonder how she would have managed on her own. It's okay, I go. When I'm her age, I hope I'll have a partner in tow.


Home again, sipping lukewarm coffee, finishing the books I brought from work: columns of figures that needed totalling, which the boss wanted urgently and which I didn't get round to on Friday. I wonder: should I write? A letter of thanks? I've deliberately not done it before, needing space to air my emotions, to purge my mind of tangled emotive webs. I remind myself that holiday romances don't work, and feel better for the prod.

The coffee's well past its best, so I chuck it down the sink and make some fresh. I see the rain has stopped. There's a peep of sunshine somewhere in the sky, it's glistening on the empty milk bottle on the sill. The grass outside is as near to emerald as it'll ever be considering its weedy state. And extremely long. And long it'll have to stay now the mower's broke. There's something to be said for procuring a partner. Man for hire: will mow, and cook, and wash-up. Making love a speciality. Hah!

Shades of Giovanni.

Tears? This is ridiculous. Why on earth am I crying? Hadn't I been a great lemon about making love. If I hadn't been such a wet lettuce, I'd know how good he was. Is. And pregnant, probably. Alone. I collapse at the table, coffee forgotten. The silent tears run their course, dripping unimpeded down my nose. The make-up will be ruined, but what the hell. There's no-one to complain about the eyesore. Only me. It's the first time I've ever felt lonely. I'm devil-may-care normally and a bit of a gad-about, yet I'm content with my own company; relishing the break, likely, after hectic nights out, dancing. I'm charged with an image of Giovanni and me, dancing so close we could've been glued at the hip. Man, does that make me go gaga. And even more weepy.

This is no good. Three in the morning and still I haven't slept. The phone's ringing in the hall, but I'm not going to answer it. It'll be a wrong number, I expect. Wongs Takeaway. That's the most recurrent wrong number, though why anyone wants spicy food at this hour is beyond me. I couldn't understand Giovanni treating himself to chicken curry at half-past two, after dropping me at the hotel. He told me when I removed the tinfoil tray from the car. Sheepishly, and no wonder. We'd only finished a turbot supper an hour earlier, and you know how filling turbot is.

There, the phone's stopped its ruthless racket. If I'd had enough gumption, I'd have switched on the answering machine. Let it tell everyone they've got the wrong number. That's a laugh. Wouldn't the opening announcement disturb me as much as the unrelenting peals? Of course, I could use ear plugs.

Four hours, I've been tossing. Four hours of frustration, interspersed with melancholy. I wonder: if I shove my feet to the cool side of the bed and straighten this rumpled sheet, will I sleep? I don't know who I'm trying to kid. There's no chance I'll drop off just because the toes have cooled. No way. Therefore, a pair of earplugs is the answer.

Discontented mind, that's my problem. And not because I can't find the cotton wool. It's the business with Giovanni I can't sort. It's now approaching four o'clock and I'm reclining in a sudsy bath. Imperial Leather Mild. I concluded that I might as well have a soak as lie in bed sweating. The phone starts again. I remember too late about the answering machine. Fortunately, the noise promptly stops and I relax back in the water.

I'm soaping the bits beyond the suntan when I'm suddenly hit by a major realization. I am in love. There's a warm glow coursing through me. Giovanni's face appears like magic, framed in the porthole that serves as a window, as if he's been spirited there by a mischievous genie to hear the revelation. Caprice. Enlightenment kills the misconceived logic about holiday affairs. Excitedly, I toss the soap on its dish. I am suddenly unafraid. Debs, I say, you're a real nitwit. So what if Lucy and Chris made a mess of their lives. They obviously chose the wrong men. It doesn't mean Giovanni's wrong for me.

Moving like a whirlwind, I shoot out of the bath. I'm so lively, you wouldn't believe I'd had no sleep. There's foam on the floor, and the towelling robe. Leave it, Debs, I say. Get on that blower and ring your man.

The phone rings just as I reach it. I'm not one to blaspheme, but right this minute I could curse the caller to infernal regions. Angrily, I snatch up the receiver. Now look here, I go, all set to recommend what the caller should do with his Chinese chow-mein.

Come sta, Deborah? goes Giovanni.

How am I? HOW AM I? I am floating to the top of this wonderful world, and it's quite likely that by the time I come down I'll have great difficulty speaking. My heart sings. Joyfully. Three words. No, four. I love you, Giovanni.



09 June 2019

HAVING ANOTHER MOAN


She only comes to cut my hair but in the process she tries to boss me about. Latest was her opinion on my leg wound.

On her last visit the wound was healing nicely. The four-inch scab had reduced to an inch – not bad from my original estimate. Thing is, she reckoned I should see the doctor on the basis that she believed my leg was infected. Was it heck! I would know if it was. I tried pointing out that the latest wound was on top of an old wound. When I say old, I mean OLD, like when I was eighteen years of age.

I had a very nasty accident then, after my dress caught fire and I ended up in hospital for three months having skin grafts all over my backside and part of an arm where I tried to brush the flames away. The grafting skin was taken from my legs, cut into stamp size pieces and placed on the wound on my backside. Clever stuff, because from there the pieces spread across the flesh until they grew to love each other and covered the whole area. They called it knitting, but it wasn’t the sort of knitting I was used to. To this day, I can still see where the skin was taken from on my legs and this is what the hairdresser could see.

Would she be told? No, instead she insisted that the latest wound was infected because of the reddish stripes.

Why won’t people listen?

After writing the above I got to thinking about the way people talk to each other. It’s only when I reached old age that I realised many people treat oldies as if they’re senile. They start explaining what they mean when we understand perfectly well, particularly those of us who are not deaf. Sometimes I feel like screaming ‘I DO understand. I am NOT stupid’. Perhaps I should say it? Perhaps people younger than me don’t realise that old age doesn’t always mean a complete abandonment of faculties. Oh well, I’ve had my moan, I shall just carry on carrying on!!