31 October 2010



The Prose

November is perhaps the most moving month of the year, steeped in tradition and teeming with expectancy. Why yearn for sunnier climes or a terracotta tan when November's seasonal pulchritude comes free of charge. Broad avenues, awash with colour and piled high with copper jewels: red-gold gems, cascading from majestic trees, making way for fresh creations of embryonic buds.

Natural beauty contrasts sharply with more morbid attractions. Searing bonfires concoct a vivid tableau. Orange flames triumphantly lick the feet of man-made guys, egged on by a jubilant audience gobbling sausages and baked potatoes. Historical, traditional, and macabre, as are the fireworks: pretty explosives noisily winging, gloriously beguiling.

Scarlet poppies adorning our attire signify remembrance for the soldiers who fought for liberation … the war dead, who gave us optimism. Yields of mistletoe and holly and sometimes early snow prompt thoughts of Christmas celebrations, of nativity, and gatherings of families and friends.

Thus, November is a month of diverse elements: breathtaking, poignant, and sad. But it is never dull and those who claim that it is should examine its true potential, and wrest a soupçon of comfort from the depths of the sombre monotony that exists solely within their hearts.

This is November. Enjoy.

November was the month, many years ago, when I was seriously burnt, and had the misfortune to be in hospital when victims of bonfire and firework ‘accidents’ were admitted. I felt obliged to write the following poem, at the same time incorporating other monstrous November scenes.

The Poem
Broad avenues awash with colour,
Red gold gems tumbling to the ground;
Evolution preparing fresh creation,
Embryonic buds already sound.

Beyond the mists stem glowing vistas.
Nature sighs in resignation,
No challenger for graphic scenes
Of morbid fascination.

Poppies, red and unembellished,
Symbols of commemoration
To men in bloody trenches; soldiers
Sacrificing lives to give us liberation.

Carousals of darting, searing fire,
Triumphant flames of orange hue,
Incited by beholders’ hearty cheers
To kiss the feet of guys, and maybe you.

Motley fireworks, spectacular and loud,
Spiralling in the darkening night,
Gripping young ones, riveting them to pain.
Inevitably their shocking plight.

Advance through crumbly autumn leaves
Amidst displays of deciduous attraction,
But heed the groans as flames descend
And human euphoria condones the action.

27 October 2010

Fifty Years of Matrimony

Flour-covered hands suspended their activities in the mixing bowl as she paused to gaze dreamily out of the kitchen window. Her concentration was lax, normal attentiveness to the job in hand completely awry. All morning her mind had centered on the reason for the forthcoming celebration rather than the preparation.

A grey squirrel darted up the path to the front lawn, then scampered up the chestnut tree causing two blackbirds to squawk their alarm. Watching this action, Joyce felt her own unease, a stranger suddenly in her own kitchen, as if she had been spirited there from a bygone age. The lounge clock struck eleven; each chime was like a signal that the finishing post was in sight. Was she really on the final strait of the fifty year race?

Abandoning her baking, she wiped her hands on a blue and white towel and dropped onto a chair, uttering a huge, disbelieving sigh. Somewhat pensively she allowed herself to review the years, wondering at the swiftness of their passing, pondering on the perceptions she began with, the skirmishes, the adventures, and the myriad of achievements. It was a Saturday in September when she gamboled happily into marriage. Who would believe that fifty years could travel so rapidly into distant time?

Picking up a forgotten mug of coffee, cold now but welcome nevertheless, Joyce sipped the brown liquid. Grimacing at its bitterness she rested the mug on her knee, tracing the design of vines round the rim as she allowed herself to reminisce. Oh, the yarns she could spin, anecdotes both humorous and sad. How much she had learned. What advice she could give about life. So valuable; so precious. Unwittingly, she hummed the Wedding March, familiar still notwithstanding that matrimony was currently, incredibly, less popular with the modern generation. Don't know what they're missing, she murmured, rising to put the mug to soak.

In a more accepting frame of mind, less concerned now by the speed of things, she leaned against the sink and looked out at the garden: geraniums like a crimson sea, marigolds as bright as the sun, dahlias like orange orbs, a colour scheme as diverse as matrimonial occupation, and as satisfying.

The squirrel had been joined by another, somersaulting, racing, chasing, no time for contemplation. Like the fifty years just gone. Shadowy images besieged her: her family, her children and their children, her husband guiding her from the altar where they made their vows.

Wilt thou take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?

Thrills whisked her insides as she remembered that glorious day.

I will, she had promised. I will.

18 October 2010

Surprising Revelation

The day was bright and sunny when Grandma Charlotte told me about her infidelity. She was dressed in a lavender tweed skirt and very feminine pink mohair jumper. She dressed well, kept her small frame neat and tidy, never letting age dictate her attire. As she spoke she continuously stroked the deep grey wave that curved from front to back of her small head.

We were seated on this same iron bench overlooking the lake, a place we frequented as often as we could. Swans glided past, babies in tow and followed by a single female mallard. Gran said she thought it must be ladies day and giggled at her observation. Gran giggled a lot, especially when she was nervous. At first I thought she was imagining things but her tale was too realistic to be dreamed up.

It happened when Grandfather Tom was at war. It was a long war and she’d been lonely without him. Not that she admitted it to anyone. I suppose she missed her Mom and Dad and all of her seven siblings. I know what it’s like to miss parents; mine were killed when I was just a kid. I’d lived with Gran and Grandfather ever since. They looked after me, putting up with the tantrums and guiding me through the difficult teens. I loved them both dearly.

Gran met the man in an electrical repair shop. She’d gone to collect a radio that was having new valves put in. She had to explain about valves and I still don’t properly understand how they worked. Gran had been leaning across the counter trying to see if the radio was amongst the ‘readies’ on the back shelf, when suddenly his face appeared before her. She couldn’t see the rest of him. Apparently he was picking up dropped coins. Gran went quite girlish when she described him as a blonde bit of all right. Her eyes literally twinkled as she smiled, not a wide grin, just the hint of a smile. I always think of Gran now when I see the picture of Mona Lisa.

His name was Des, short for Desmond. Gran showed me a photograph and I must say her description was right. He had loose blonde curls and huge laughing eyes, wide open, as if he had been surprised by something the photographer said. His chin was deeply dimpled and I silently wondered if he lived up to the saying that people with deep dimples make good lovers.

Des and my Gran became firm friends. He would see her weekends and she would call in the shop in the week when she finished work at the munitions factory. Des couldn’t go to war on account of his deformed leg. You had to be fully formed to fight for your country.

Gran went starry eyed again when she told me about their first kiss. They were out walking, holding hands, telling each other stories about their past, when Des suddenly asked Gran if he could kiss her. I laughed when she said that, I never had a man ask for a kiss, the men I knew jumped in without asking. Anyway, Gran said yes and they never looked back. In fact, they looked forward most of the time, if you know what I mean.

‘Sylvie,’ she said, ‘I’d have done anything for that man. He treated me like I was something precious. Never handled me rough, always considerate. We were like man and wife except we didn’t live together. Her voice was silky, as if the mention of love had smoothed the words before she uttered them. I thought I knew my grandmother so well. Why had I not realised there was something … someone else in her life?

I dared to ask if they slept together.

‘Oh yes, we slept together but we didn’t stay together. I loved that man with all my heart. I loved his kindness, and his attitude to life, but neither of us wanted a scandal that would hurt our folk.’

‘But … what about Granddad Tom?’

Gran was silent for a while, searching for the right thing to say. Unseeing eyes followed a feeding robin, bravely pecking at a crust before an approaching magpie could seize it.

Scrunching her handkerchief in the palm of her hand, she told me, ‘I loved your Granddad in a different way. He was a good man, he didn’t deserve me, and I didn’t deserve him. I was impetuous when I married him; I didn’t really know what love was. I admired Tom and respected him, but my heart was with Des.

‘Did Granddad know about Des.’

Gran looked down, silently studying her hands. Along the path a youngster toppled, and cried. His mother shushed, promising to make it better. Gran gazed at them, while I wondered what she was thinking.

Stirred from her reverie, she put her arm through mine as if seeking solace in my presence. She spoke in a whisper, answered my question. ‘It would have killed him. No, he never knew. Des and I parted company when Tom came home from the war.’

Tears formed in her rheumy eyes. Sadness washed over her as she leaned into me. ‘I had to do my duty to Tom, raise his children, and be a respectable married woman, one he could be proud of. He’d fought a war thinking I was waiting for him, I couldn’t let him down.

Speaking softly, I posed the question, ‘What happened to Des?’

‘He stayed where he was, looked after his widowed mother. It was too painful to spend time in each other’s company. We’d see each other out and about, we had to be content with that.’

‘And when Granddad Tom died?’

Gran straightened her skirt, adjusted her cardigan sleeves, and gazed up at the sky. I sensed her mood lighten as I waited for her to speak. ‘He asked me for a kiss,’ she said. A hesitant smile played on her lips. ‘He came to check that I was coping on my own and …’ Gran turned to look at me, her happiness beginning to shine through. ‘It was as though we’d never been apart. He was there for me; even apart, he was always there for me.’

‘Where is he now?’

‘After his mother died he stayed on in the house. He’s old now; it’s too late to change. At least he thinks so.’

Gran delved into her bag, withdrew a crumpled packet of toffees and offered me the bag. Putting her free hand on my knee she told me she had plans. As I unwrapped the sweet I wondered what plans an elderly lady could have.

‘I want him to move in with me.’

You can imagine my shock.

‘Don’t dismiss the idea out of hand,’ urged Gran. ‘We both did our duty. We hurt no-one. Now it’s time we had some real happiness. Together.’

I suppose she had a point. If they loved each other as much as she claimed, it must have been a wrench to give him up when Granddad Tom came home. But Granddad was no longer with us, where was the harm in making it easy for two people who needed each other.

‘The neighbours will talk,’ I warned.

That really stirred Gran. ‘Let them. I don’t care. I’ve waited too long to worry about neighbours.’

Des and Gran spent the rest of their days together and it was difficult to tell which one was the happiest. As the neighbours will tell you, they bubbled with joyfulness and love. As for me, well, there were moments when I hankered for Granddad’s company but I had a feeling that he knew and was content with the way things were. There were only happy vibes in their house. As I watched Gran and Des together I thanked God for giving them the opportunity of ultimate contentment.

Now I have a funeral to prepare, making sure Gran’s plans are carried out as she wanted. Des isn’t capable of dealing with it. Since Gran died he’s been like a lost soul. I told him the other day that she wanted a happy funeral, no dirges, and no tears. He perked up when I mentioned hymns, told me he’d like to hear everyone sing’ You are the sunshine of my life’. I couldn’t believe what he was asking. Gran herself had put that one at the top of her list.

She often said she’d make the hundred and get the telegram from the Queen but she didn’t get there. Nevertheless we’re doing a cake with candles in celebration of a longstanding love affair. Their wish!

You are the sunshine of my life
That’s why I’ll always be around
You are the apple of my eye
Forever you’ll stay in my heart

I feel like this is the beginning
Though I’ve loved you for a million years
And if I thought our love was ending
I’d find myself drowning in my own tears

You are the sunshine of my life
That’s why I’ll always stay around
You are the apple of my eye
Forever you’ll stay in my heart

You must have known that I was lonely
Because you came to my rescue
And I know that this must be heaven
How could so much love be inside of you?

You are the sunshine of my life, yeah
That’s why I’ll always stay around
You are the apple of my eye
Forever you’ll stay in my heart.

10 October 2010


March is such a sluggish month. Dregs of winter impede the appearance of spring and postpones the awakening of hope. But this year Angela Wilson’s mood was nowhere near maudlin, which probably had something to do with Bridie.

Though the living room fire was blazing, the room was reluctant to shake off the winter chill. It was actually designed as a bedroom, even though it was on street level, but they soon changed that. Bradley and Angela were of the opinion that chambers designated for the sexually inclined were definitely better located on an upper floor. With the over-large window directly opposite the homes of eager and impressionable youth Angela’s stomach rolled over at the idea of transforming their young neighbours into voyeurs.

Of the three bedrooms in the house Angela and Brad’s was the most modern. Lots of cane and pine and a water bed that even now Angela was not at ease with. She had been certain the episodes of frenzied limb-racking would create a puncture, but those days were few and far between.

Brad worked away on a regular basis, sometimes abroad but mostly in the UK. He was Sales Director of a furnishing company that specialised in beds of all kinds. His selling record was so good he’d been promoted soon after the firm opened the Brighton branch. Promotion meant frequent travel, sometimes for weeks at a time.

Bridie spent many hours in the Wilson household, sometimes babysitting, sometimes calling round for lunch. Being an excellent and enthusiastic cook she often undertook to cook them a meal before going back to her own apartment. When Brad was away she stayed over, sharing Angela’s free time and Angela’s bed. Other rooms were occupied by kids reluctant to shift and in this they were backed up by their mother who wanted security and normality for her children.

Brad suggested that Bridie stayed, arguing that since her car was unreliable and him not around to drive her home it made more sense. Angela agreed to air the idea but privately contended that Bridie was perfectly capable of using the bus.

It was amazing how circumstances could change one’s mind.

The first time Bridie stayed, although by then Angela had got to know and like her guest, she felt nervous about sharing her bed. But the hour was late and they’d both had too much to drink for Bridie even to consider driving home.

Bridie was more relaxed about it, rushing into the bedroom exclaiming enthusiastically over the décor and furnishings. Angela hushed her, reminding her by placing two hands against her cheek that the children were asleep. Bridie immediately put her forefinger to her lips and crept towards the bed upon which, to Angela’s horror, she began to bounce. Angela’s heart seemed to leap into her mouth, so fearful was she that unstoppable water would gush out and flood the room. The occurrence actually served to dismiss Angela’s embarrassment at undressing in front of Bridie … her alarmed shriek produced so much laughter that the two fell onto the bed in a state of total paroxysm.

In her alone moments Angela remembered that night, she would relive it, seeing again the way Bridie writhed ecstatically when she climbed on the bed. She had a nice body, lissom and free, unlike her own somewhat stilted form.

Bridie’s influence on the family was considerable. Seven year old Denny doted on her. Sarah Louise followed her everywhere, practically walking on her heels. Brad reckoned she was suffering from a touch of hero-worship though Angela thought nine years of age was a bit young for that. Even Tiny, the mongrel, obeyed when Bridie O’Shea issued an instruction.

There could be no argument about her attractiveness. Bridie had an expressive face with skin smooth as silk and laughing green eyes peering through a Titian fringe; long, straight hair, stylishly cut to frame her face with wispy strands flying loose around the ears. Small ears but powerful hearing. She was vibrant and exciting. She would enthuse over things that others overlooked, a bit dramatic at times, yet endearingly so. At the start of their acquaintance Angela mistrusted all that zeal, believing it to be put on in order to establish some sort of familiarity, but the more she got to know her the more Bridie proved to be a naturally zealous, harmless soul.

It was Brad who introduced Bridie to the family. They met at a weekend seminar in a Brighton hotel. On discovering how close to him she lived he invited her home to dinner. Angela remembered being furious that he’d done it without consultation, thus she was determined to dislike her.

When Bridie arrived Angela took one look at her tall, slender figure, the dove grey designer suit worn over a scarlet blouse, five inch heels that looked as if they were glued to her feet, and felt an immediate bête-noire. All evening she was powerless to control the sarcasm, frequently alluding to the seminar, making childish innuendoes about the sleeping arrangements and suggesting that seaside hotels were rife with off-leash husbands. It was a surprise that Bridie didn’t walk out. What Angela didn’t know was that Bridie was a nice person. She knew Angela was resentful, yet she stuck around.

Angela got over it. In fact, as days turned into months, Bridie only had to crook a finger for her to rush to her side.


It took a lot for Brad to admit he was wrong.

From the first moment he saw Bridie he was besotted. He wanted her, needed her near him. The longing to touch her kept him awake nights. He would lie at Angela’s side, curled away from her, and allow visions of Bridie to enter his mind, imagining her in Angela’s place, her small but perfectly shaped breasts pressed against him. What did she think of him? Did she know how his heart beats quickened whenever he saw her?

The knowledge that she shared his bed with Angela did nothing to ease the ache in his loins. If anything it made him want Bridie more. He wanted to see for himself how they behaved together. Were they lovers? Was that why Angela’s manner had softened? Or why she no longer seemed to mind when he went away?

Angela had long since ceased to matter in his eyes. She had changed over the years, become more like her wretched mother, always nagging and making out she had headaches at bedtime. Funny she didn’t have them during the day. He knew that at forty-nine he was no longer the greatest specimen of manhood, the flabbiness around his belly confirmed that, but he did still have urges that needed satisfying. In real terms his wife was no longer fun to be with and their rowdy kids drove him crazy.

Bridget O’Shea had been like a breath of fresh air and still was but lately he thought she gave Angela more of her time. He’d hoped, by the special way she kissed him whenever they met, that Bridie fancied him. It wasn’t just the kiss, it was the whole body language, the way her fingers caressed his neck when he bent to kiss her cheek, the way she twisted her head to redirect his lips, the pressure of her body against his, and the brief gyration of hips. Not even Angela kissed him like that.

Brad thought back to the evening Angela visited her mother. Bridie popped in unexpectedly, professing that she didn’t know Angela would be out. She’d dropped her coat on a vacant chair and flopped down on the three-seater couch, caressing the cushion next to her as an indication that he should sit beside her. He did, but not until he’d poured two large glasses of Pinot Noir.

They’d talked about their respective jobs, her hand on his knee all the time, one finger gently scratching his jeans as it inched higher and higher up his thigh. The jolts inside him were too powerful to ignore. He totally lost control, seizing her body, crushing her to him until she gasped for breath. He kissed her delicious lips. When their tongues met it was like heaven had opened its door. If Angela hadn’t arrived home at that very minute they might well have ended up on the water bed.

Yes, he thought she was falling in love with him … until the day his appointment at the Brighton branch was cancelled at the last minute and he arrived home without warning. Bridie wasn’t feeling well so Angela had invited her to stay the night rather than go home to a lonely apartment. He’d ended up sharing young Denny’s bed, unable to sleep because his thoughts were in the next room.

He rose early, thinking he would grab the bathroom before anyone was about, but Bridie was there before him. He saw her go in, heard the bolt hit home, the first fall of shower water. He imagined her stripping off the borrowed dressing gown, imagined her naked under the spray, soaping and swilling, and wished he was in there with her. All he could do was wait.

But he had a rude awakening when she emerged, back in Angela’s gown, a towel wrapped round her beautiful hair, smelling of Imperial Leather. It was only a minor brush there outside the bathroom, when his towel caught the gown and pulled it to one side, when he gazed in fascination at the sight of her shapely white thigh, so the unexpected harsh rebuke and the venom in her voice was like a punch in the gut. Only then did he realise he was mistaken.


Angela watched Brad through the dressing table mirror, trying to gauge his thoughts as he lay reading in bed. The book was called Trio, which she thought was very appropriate. They had retired early. The children were staying with grandparents for two days, no doubt being cosseted and spoiled. She picked up the framed photograph that had graced the dressing table for years, gazed at the two of them on holiday in Ibiza. Slim and happy. At what point did he acquire a paunch? When did she stop noticing?

As she smeared night cream over her face and neck she thought about the occurrence downstairs when she attempted to sit on his lap. The idea was to try and regain something of their youth in the hope that it might shake off the powerful feeling that they were drifting apart. The idea was a mistake. He’d jumped like a scalded cat when her leg touched his, almost knocking her over in the rush to get away from her. These days neither of them knew how to converse when they were on their own, let alone make-up to each other.

She had to face it, as their marriage wore on Brad had become uninteresting. She wouldn’t have thought it twelve years ago, when they doted on each other’s words, when each was inspired by the other, when they couldn’t bear to be apart. As she replaced the lid on the pot of cream, she gazed again at her reflection, wondering when it all changed and if, maybe, they were at a turning point in their marriage? At least when Bridie was there she kept them going as a threesome. Angela hoped she wouldn’t stay away too often; life without her frequent visits would be … she stopped to think what it would be like and came to the conclusion that the word she was looking for was dull. That was when it dawned on her that she really did miss her. She knew the path she’d stepped on was pebbly but she didn’t know how to stop the joyfulness that Bridie’s presence created.

A week later, when Bridie was out with a friend and Brad was working away, Angela tried to sort out the mess in her mind. No longer were her feelings for Brad clear. Although she thought she still loved him her feelings for Bridie were growing stronger. Without her the days would be intolerable. Hell, the idea was not to be dwelt on. If she was no longer here she would miss her companionship, her tolerance when the kids played up, her gentleness, her nearness when she stayed over, shared her bed. Oh how she longed to touch her wonderful body at those times. With a deep sigh she moved into the kitchen to start preparing supper.


Brad’s boss, Charlie Williams, sat at the head of the conference table and talked about necessary changes to the team’s way of working. If he’d been challenged the meeting might have some life in it but there was no opposition and very few questions. They were only half way through and already Brad’s mind was wandering.

The scene at home, outside the bathroom, still worried him. He was still disconcerted over the effect Bridie’s thigh had on him and the malevolence in her voice when she brushed him aside. Surely he hadn’t been totally mistaken about her. She’d seemed so eager to get acquainted when they met that first time, in the Brighton hotel, when they’d bumped into each other on the staircase, laughed at each other’s embarrassment. Hadn’t she looked him right in the eye and silently spoken her interest? Hadn’t his stomach lurched at the touch of her hand at dinner, the first time he asked her to join him. Wasn’t there a mutual longing when they said goodnight, neither of them really wanting the evening to end. And what about the other times he’d been away, when she turned up unexpectedly at his hotel. Was it purely coincidental that her work programme coincided with his? She never stayed at his hotel but they always dined together before she drove home. Brad took a sip of water and remembered the toasts they made. Everlasting friendship, she’d said, her eyes gazing dreamily into his. What was a man to think when he was treated to her dazzling smile as she leaned provocatively towards him?

Squaring the spotless blotter in front of him, lining up his pens equidistant to the water glass, Brad thought about Angela and the recent change in her. She seemed to dote on Bridie. Bridie could do nothing wrong. Bridie knew this, Bridie said that. Bridie, who had invaded his home and his heart.

Noticing the way Brad fingered his pens and the occasional window gaze, Charlie Williams sarcastically pointed out that Brad’s presence really was required so perhaps he should keep his mind on his work. With an effort, Brad sat up straight and endeavoured to concentrate on proceedings.


Angela glanced at the china wall clock before stacking utensils in the dishwasher. It was nine o’clock. Bridie would be here soon and Angela wanted everything neat and tidy for when she arrived. It was quite late but she thought after a boozy evening Bridie would be glad of a bite to eat. Hurriedly she went into the lounge to draw the bronze coloured window drapes. The ambience was good with perfumed candles dotted around, the simulated log fire glowing in the dimmed light, and the smell of the freshly baked scones spilling into the room. She was thankful she’d resisted the temptation to eat earlier, by herself. Denny and Sarah Louise had been allowed to watch a comedy show before going up to bed. It was Angela’s hope that they were tired enough to fall straight to sleep. She wanted Bridie to herself.

Satisfied that everything was in order, Angela went to the bedroom and changed out of her casual everyday dress. Her clothes were laid out on the bed, the new black lace underwear, black pants and low cut cream top, chosen with care in an attempt to brighten up her dreary life. Bridie was such a fashion conscious woman, she thought it was about time she made a bit more of herself. She did so want to create an impression, to eliminate those work-weary feelings that frequently enveloped her.

After slipping her bare feet into black satin mules she admired herself in the cheval mirror, making the merest adjustment to her cleavage before adding a dab of Estēe Lauder’s Sensuous. A smile spread across her face at the thought of Bridie’s reaction to the new image.

Downstairs, she stretched out on the couch, a glass of Muscat on the coffee table at her side. She intended to watch television until Bridie arrived, any minute now. An hour later she woke to find that she still wasn’t home.

It was almost midnight when she heard the key in the door and voices in the hall. She went to investigate.

Bridie wasn’t quite as drunk as her male companion.

Angela stared in disbelief at her friend and the overweight fair haired man she was passionately embracing in HER hall. She quaked with anger. How dare she bring him here without so much as a by your leave? When Bridie opened her eyes and winked Angela’s rage boiled over. ‘Get OUT,’ she screamed as she tried to pull them apart.

‘Oh don’t be such a prude,’ Bridie retorted, scathingly. ‘Jealousy will get you nowhere.’

‘Jealous?’ screeched Angela. ‘What the hell are you talking about? You come in here dragging in some drunk off the streets and expect me to accept it?’

‘He’s NOT someone off the streets. This is Colin. As a matter of fact we just got engaged. I thought you should meet the man I’m going to marry.’

It was news to Angela. Not once had Bridie mentioned Colin, or indeed anyone else in her private life. She always seemed so … alone. She had become an inherent part of the Wilson family, they knew everything about her, or so they thought. Momentarily, Angela wondered if Brad knew but somehow doubted it.

Moving away from the couple, Angela ran into the lounge, slamming the door behind her. She sank into the settee. The candles had melted down, the Muscat was still on the coffee table. She picked up the glass, drank in two long gulps, then leaned back and cried until she heard the click of the front door as it closed behind Bridget O‘Shea.

It took several months of soul searching before Brad and Angela got over the loss of their mutual friend. Both realised what fools they’d been though neither admitted it to the other.


In his opinion Brad had been duped into thinking Bridie was falling for him. Only now did he realise she was a natural flirt. He was ashamed that he’d been taken in by her, his pride was hurt and he didn’t know how to cope with the humiliation. His saving grace was that Angela knew nothing about the activities that took place when he was away from home albeit that, apart from one session of ardent kissing, he and Bridie were merely friends sharing the occasional dinner.


Angela was mortified when she realised how envious she had been. Her jealousy bordered on possessiveness but she refused to admit that her feelings for Bridie O’Shea had moved to another level. She had been infatuated, that’s all. Just because she shared her bed with her didn’t mean anything other than two friends sleeping together, each one hugging the side of the bed so that they wouldn’t make contact. Angela pushed away those past longings to caress. From now on she would concentrate on Brad. Maybe if she stopped niggling over little things they would get on better. She knew she neglected him. She was hyper-critical, took no interest in his work and even accused him of having no interest in his family.

Suddenly guilt-ridden, she resolved to change. She couldn’t be described as a good wife but if she worked hard maybe they could get back on the old footing. This new resolve made her feel suddenly eager to put the relationship back on even keel. She reckoned she owed a great deal to Colin Wetherby for unwittingly saving the day, and her marriage.

Brad and Angela declined the invitation to the wedding.

04 October 2010

Blonde Mountain

Bowie Greene watched the small smooth-skinned creature slither behind the rock formation like a furtive whisper. Despite the arid conditions, the area was strikingly fertile. Low-lying gorse edged the rough mountain paths, rising almost to touch the self-seeded wild flowers spilling from crevices. Still hunkered after checking his boot laces, Bowie surveyed the cloud-free July sky, a fusion of blues streaked with the white vapour trails of military jets. Like an abstract painting. He sniffed the air and inhaled the minty freshness of his surroundings before springing to his feet. Hitching his rifle he plodded on, determined to overcome his fear.

The stony path zigzagged upwards for a hundred yards before changing its gradient. Running his hand around his neck to wipe away a gathering of sweat, Bowie braced himself for the ascent. He’d done this trek a thousand times. Knew every undulation, boulder, blade of grass. Long ago, when youth and health went hand in hand, he’d even done it blindfolded for a bet. But in all these years he’d never made it to the top. No climber ever had. It was known locally as a mountain because of the climbing involved, incredibly steep in parts. From the ground the apex looked as if someone had given it a blonde wig. No-one had yet discovered what was up there to give it that appearance.

Gripping an arching slab, Bowie swung his body to a higher level. The rock was more angular, jutting cruelly towards his shin. His breathing quickened as he tried to dispel a straight-jacket sense of unease. He had reached the spot where once he’d taken ill. The fear of what can happen on Blonde Mountain still haunted him. Remembering Bernadette’s taunt, he pressed on. Driving his boots hard into the ground, he mustered every ounce of willpower and forced himself to pass the man-sized column of rock known to regular climbers as Ugly. The precise site of the heart attack.

It was a Wednesday when it happened, Bernadette’s birthday. He was hurrying. On that occasion he’d been content just to climb, leaving behind his ambition. He reasoned that he could do it and take the commissioned photographs in plenty of time … and would have if the weather had stayed calm.

He remembered shrugging off the discomfort in his arm, concentrating his mind on his wife. She had been fraught for weeks over the shop; it was only fair to give her more of his time. He and Jamie had planned to take her out to dinner. Going up Blonde Mountain had been a mistake given the circumstances, but he wasn’t to know that at the time. When the pain worsened he had stopped near Dixon’s Dike to swallow a couple of painkillers and then advanced towards Ugly.

The final blow came shortly afterwards, half way to Ugly, wedged in a crevice where he’d paused to adjust his thinking. Should he go back or carry on? How much more would Bernadette take of his wild craving to reach the summit? The kick came right at that point. Knocked him sideways. He’d fallen 200 yards, crashing against the rock face, bouncing, until he landed on a ledge. And blacked out.

The rescue team found him. Surgeons saved his leg and treated his heart condition. They said he was a lucky man. Bowie knew he was, he was grateful, yet still the zenith of Blonde Mountain claimed his attention. Like most climbers he wouldn’t rest until he achieved his goal. So many times he had almost made it; so many times he’d failed.
Bernadette was furious over his insane desire to try again, her criticism wordy and threatening. She spoke of divorce if he didn’t start to see sense. You’re too old, she said. It’s time you packed it in. She was generous, criticising him instead of using selfish reasons. Bowie knew she had plenty of those, fear being the main one, loneliness another.

Bowie feared losing Bernadette but pigheadedness overruled all emotion. Now he wondered what had possessed him to come up here. To escape his wife’s accusations or to prove her wrong? Ever since the outburst a week ago, when she fiercely charged him with having no spunk, his morale had been crushed. The only remedy had been to climb, to prove that he was still good at it. Bernadette thought the deal with the magazine was the main incentive but to Bowie the second photographic commission was merely an excuse. He would climb into the clouds to achieve personal fulfillment.

The route now was straightforward. Bowie had reached a plateau that enabled him to rest. He leaned against rock and looked out. He could see the village, a simple speck on a map of green fields. Unstrapping his back pack he removed the rifle and maneuvered the pack so that he could reach the camera and binoculars. As he did so he felt tingling in his stomach. Nerves! Suddenly alert, he twisted on his heel, aiming the rifle as he spun round. He stared at the rock. Nothing there, yet he could have sworn he heard stealthy shuffling.

Unexpectedly nervous, sensing something was close by, he tightened his grip on the gun. Shivered, yet there was sweat on his face. Slowly, he turned. Saw the dog. It was like no dog Bowie had ever seen. Huge head, long body, stumpy tail. Unusual colouring; an indeterminate shade that reminded Bowie of wallpaper paste. Round his neck was a black band of dark fur that resembled a collar. Even as Bowie watched the creature disappeared, seeming to slither rather than run round the rock formation. Bowie lowered the rifle, wondering if this was the fabled animal climbers talked about. It was always referred to in local pubs as the Blonde dog. Some said it was the keeper of the mountain. Bowie had laughed at the idiocy of such a theory. However, if what he witnessed was not a familiar four-legged breed of domesticated pet then the whole episode must have been a mirage. A hallucination!
After taking a batch of photographs, Bowie repacked the equipment, adjusted the climbing ropes, and moved on. An unexpected gloominess had settled upon him, a cloud formation that he didn’t like obliterated the sun. He once told Jamie that when clouds came the rock face lost its friendliness. His son had laughed, unable to understand that rock could be friendly. He moved slowly, hesitantly, remembering the weather change he’d experienced before. That almost fatal day! Ahead he saw something glide round a rock. An impression rather than a sighting but he knew it was the creature he had seen before. Probably didn’t like the wind that was getting up.

When it came the rain was like a deluge, stinging Bowie’s face, the sharpness causing him to close his eyes. He struggled to adjust his helmet, pull the side flaps over his years, returned the goggles to his eyes. He hated both. It killed the freedom of a climb but he recognized the merit in taking safety precautions. He wasn’t a fair weather climber. It would take the hand of God to stop him climbing in a storm.

The dog reappeared and stayed in front of him. His coat was like a beacon in the growing murk. Bowie made no attempt to catch him up. The short distance between them was somehow comforting as if the dog was measuring the route in stages. At the end of this section Bowie would climb again. The thought made him feel exhilarated. At one point the animal paused, turned his head to look at Bowie, and snarled. A deep rumbling sound that echoed against the rock.

‘It’s okay, Blonde,’ said Bowie, thinking it was up to him to soothe the dog’s trepidation. The dog trotted forward. Bowie wondered why he had called him Blonde since he wasn’t convinced that climbers’ tales had any foundation. The dog seemed stronger somehow, his carriage more assured. Dominant! It struck Bowie that the dog thought he’d taken over.

The weather worsened. Rain sliced through the air, the wind driving it full force. Bowie was unsure of his footing. His boots slid instead of holding him firm and his hands were icy cold. There were better gloves in his pack but he had no time to get them out. The dog, though still ahead, stood perfectly still as if on guard.

‘What shall I do, Blonde,’ asked Bowie, moving tentatively along the narrow ledge towards the dog. He wasn’t quite prepared to fight his way down.

The dog lay down in Bowie’s path, preventing another move forward. He looked at Bowie with unflinching eyes that were like small fires. Daring him to move! Bits of rock shifted beneath Bowie’s boots, tumbled off the ledge into the whirling space that an hour ago had been so tranquil. Behind the dog a boulder became dislodged and hurtled towards home base. It was as well he’d stopped at that point. Bowie began to feel scared, hoping his heart would hold out if conditions deteriorated even more.

The dog eased himself onto all fours, growled twice, inclining his great head as if indicating that Bowie should follow.

Bowie did. He inched after the animal, exercising caution as he circumnavigated a rocky projection. His feet felt heavy. He could barely feel his hands. He longed for a cigarette and remembered what it was that made him pack up. It was a Wednesday, Bernadette’s birthday.

Rounding the projection, he suddenly stopped. In front of him was the huge mouth of a cave. The dog sat at one side of the entrance like a guard dog. Ignoring the attacking rain, Bowie stood openmouthed and stared. In all the years he’d climbed the mountain he had never before seen a cave. The dog walked in a little way, stopped, looked at Bowie as if urging him to follow.

It was a typical cave, small and dry, enough room for Bowie to lie down if required. Initials and messages were scratched on the grimy walls. Bowie squatted on the floor and shrugged off his pack. A message near where he laid the gun was ‘next time will bring medal for the damn dog.’ Bowie looked at the animal for inspiration about why he needed a medal. The animal’s long body filled the width of the entrance as he lay there looking out at the teeming rain, head on one side, an ear raised like he was listening for something. Bowie called him, tried to make friends. The dog resisted all sound, stayed still as a statue, listening and looking out.

The noise of the rock fall was colossal, vibrations so fierce Bowie thought the whole mountain was collapsing. He dug his heels into the ground, tensed his body against the cave wall, too scared to think about anything except how the hell he was going to survive. He prayed like he’d never prayed before, wishing he’d heeded Bernadette’s advice. He didn’t know if he’d even see her again. The tears were hot in his eyes, sobs rose, bursting wretchedly from him, adding weight to alarm. If only he’d stayed home where he belonged.

The dog nudged his head under Bowie’s arm. Seeking comfort? Oh my god, thought Bowie, the dog needs saving as well. Moving his head up to Bowie’s face, the animal licked his cheek. Bowie threw his arms around his neck and hugged him hard. ‘It’s okay, buddy,’ he whispered. ‘I’ll save you.’

They sat there, man and dog, waiting for conditions to steady. The rain was abating and Bowie could have sworn he saw a flash of light on the rock. He was afraid to look outside, afraid at what he might see. Blonde began to fidget, rose leisurely and went to the entrance. Looked out, turned back and barked at Bowie. As he crawled to join him, Bowie could have sworn there was a smile on his face.

Looking out, seeing the blue sky Bowie would never have guessed he’d been caught in such a violent storm. Still on his knees he moved further out, saw the damage done to his beloved mountain. His elation quickly disappeared when he saw that the whole of the route he had taken had gone. Not a ledge was left to walk on. ‘What do I do now, Buddy?’

The dog wagged his short tail, moved to join Bowie outside. He barked once and trotted off to the right. Came back, looked at Bowie, barked again, and trotted off. To the right.

Realising he should follow, Bowie went back for his pack and rifle, then stepped out to join the waiting dog. They were on a well worn trail with just enough width for a single person to walk, hitherto unseen by Bowie who thought he knew everything about the mountain. He followed the dog. The downhill walk was easy, patches of soaked grass already steaming in the sun. Occasionally the animal turned to check that Bowie was still there. Bowie kept checking the way they’d come, seeing the split in the mountain where the rocks had come loose, knowing that he could have been killed. Silently he thanked the Lord for giving him another chance of life.

As he trudged behind Blonde, Bowie remembered the etchings on the wall of the cave, and the one that read: next time will bring medal for the damn dog. The damn dog that had saved Bowie’s life and probably the lives of many others. He wondered how he’d never heard of the animal’s lifesaving activities before. And what was that he’d said: that only the hand of God would stop him climbing in a storm.

‘Hey, Buddy,’ ‘he called. ‘You’re not God are you?

But the animal had vanished, seemingly into thin air.