Friends

30 December 2011

Silver Lining

I just had to capture this scene for today’s post.

It is said that every cloud has a silver lining so

here’s one to see the year out

Wishing all my friends a peaceful and happy New Year

29 December 2011

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT


I sit alone, breathing in the silence of early morning. Outside the dawn is beginning to break. From where I sit, huddled against the cold, I can just make out the awakening light through the trees. Soon there will be bird noises. The tiny creatures will need to fluff their feathers to keep warm. They’re lucky it didn’t snow in the night although it would make a nice scene for me to look at.

All my nights are spent in this chair because a recurring dream dictates that I do not go to bed. Did I say recurring? The word should be used loosely because each one has a difference.

Have you ever had a nightmare, one so scary you dare not shut your eyes again? Did you experienced the cold sweat of relief when you realised it was just a dream? That’s how it used to be with me but now… now there is no reprieve. I am doomed to spend my days and nights in fear.

It started a year ago, after the office dinner-dance. I had been dancing with the handsomest man in the party, presumed to be an invited guest from another branch of the firm. Yes, I fancied him. And why not? We were free agents. Newly freed, both divorced from our partners, both childless and living alone.

His name was Nick. Friends laughingly referred to him as Old Nick because he was older than most of us by about twenty years. With his dark looks, age didn’t matter.

That evening I fell for the smouldering eyes and the way he held his head to one side when he spoke. You may think there was nothing remarkable about that, but you can’t see what I did. The gesture seemed inviting and I was determined to find out to what I was being invited.

I wore black that night, a strappy, slinky number that suggested more than it showed. I know he liked it by the way he fingered the straps as we danced. I’d only ever danced inches away from a partner but with Nick I was held close to his body, the way I’ve seen in films. We moved in unison, swaying, his body moulded to mine. I didn’t know I was that lithe, to be honest.

It was like that all the way through the evening. I had the greatest time and as the night wore on I began to think about what might happen at the end. Would he want to take me home? Would I invite him in? Of course, I would. He’d got me rearing to go and I was determined to see it through.

You can imagine my frustration when he left me after the last waltz. ‘Catch you later,’ was all he said before disappearing through the double doors to face the moonlit night alone.

~~~

It’s a man thing, I realised, as I lay in bed and went over the evening events. Even so, ‘catch you later’ was very off-putting. A girl didn’t know whether he meant it or if it was merely an opt-out. Later on that night I was to find out.

Nick came to me as I slept. In a dreamy state I welcomed him in my arms. It was him, yet he looked different, older. The handsome face was, well, odd. If I told you it was distorted you’d think, yeah, that’s how dreams are. I tried to recall how he looked at the dance but those striking features eluded me. Now all I could see was pockmarked skin and bloodshot eyes.

Although his suggestion that we go on a train journey was met with surprise, I agreed. How we got there is a mystery but, yeah, that’s how dreams are. We were comfortably seated in a compartment, the only two people there, when he suddenly got to his feet, dragging me up as well. The next thing I remember was being hustled along the corridor. I dropped my bag and began to fret about losing the valuables, credit card and cash, but Nick wouldn’t stop. Instead he dragged me further along until we reached the door. The train was rocking with speed as he pushed it open and tried to throw me out.

I woke up screaming. My face and throat were wet with sweat. The duvet was on the floor, pillows strewn on top. It took a long time to regain my calm and grasp that it was only a dream.

Normally I forget dreams the minute I wake, but this one lingered. It haunted me through the tea and toast, it bothered me while I dressed, and worried me even more when I was ready to go and couldn’t find my bag. Had I left it at the hotel? Still somewhat taken aback by Nick’s sudden disappearance I’d walked home, trying to analyse the whole thing. There was no need for money and my house key was hidden under the pot in the garden. I never took it with me when I went dancing.

~~~

The first thing I did when I arrived at the office was to ring the hotel. No, Madam, no lost property was handed in. I went round the staff, asking questions. No, Maria, they said, they hadn’t seen anything lying around. Perhaps you didn’t take it to the dance, suggested my closest working companion. I was pretty sure I did.

So I reported the loss to the hotel, the office administrator, and the police.

It bothered me that I should lose a bag in a dream and then find it really was lost.

After doing the important things like notifying the bank, I settled down to work. In fact I worked extra hard in the hope that the awful day would end quickly.

~~~

There wasn’t much of interest on television but I carried on watching until my eyes began to blur. A hot shower and an early night would be good, I thought, and then bed.

I climbed in, hugged the comforting duvet to me, tugged the pillow into position, then went straight to sleep. For once my overactive thoughts left me in peace.

~~~

He came again that night, his presence announced by repeatedly uttering my name. Ma-reee-ya, Ma-reee-ya. It made me shiver. He was dressed in black with a white silk scarf knotted at the neck. Facial growth covered his chin, dark whiskers that made him look older than his years. His distorted features were now quite grotesque, sunken cheeks, a lopsided nose, swollen lips, one eye open, the other closed. He was friendlier than before, although his grip on my hand was vice-like as he invited me to accompany him for a walk.

Because the evening was on the cool side, I slipped a shawl round my shoulders. A gift from a friend, beige coloured, embroidered with peacocks and my initials MD in the middle. We took the path that led to the lake, pausing now and again to kiss, and for me to suffer the rising nausea each time he pressed his lips against mine. I had no choice but to surrender since his hold on me was like steel. I remember it so well. I also remember his hysterical laughter as he pushed me into the lake.

Struggling to keep my head above the murky water, I screeched and screeched that I couldn’t swim.

Then I woke, still shaking with fear, horrified to feel so drenched. My rose patterned nightdress was soaked with perspiration, the duvet wrapped so tight I sweated with the heat.

And so it goes on. Every night he tries to kill me, each attempt different to the last. His face is skeletal now and the more gruesome he gets the worse the torture. The fear is so great I am afraid to sleep lest he should succeed.

~~~

The man called Nick, whom I met at the dance, rang me not so long back. He apologised for leaving me so hurriedly and suggested we meet up for a night out. I turned him down. I could no longer be sure if he and my ‘dream’ man were one and the same.

The psychiatrist had lots of explanations about my state of mind, none of which I understood. I mean, I was normal before all this started. Wasn’t I? Anyway, the psychiatrist reckons that dreams are figments of imagination. You know, I would believe that if it wasn’t for the fact that my handbag was found beside a railway line some 90 miles from where I live. I suppose someone, somewhere, is wearing my lovely shawl since it is nowhere in the house and I am not careless enough to mislay things without knowing.

So I sit here breathing in the silence of early morning. Outside the dawn settles in. From where I sit, huddled against the cold, I can see sunlight filtering through the trees. Soon there will be bird calls. They are lucky it didn’t snow in the night. It doesn’t matter to me; I’m too tired to go out these days. Since sleep is something to dread I sit here, alone with my thoughts, and wonder how much longer I must exist in this dream, doing nothing else but link figments of imagination until they resemble life as it was.

If I could differentiate between fantasy and reality things would be different. Maybe I should turn the tables, take the lead, form a plan; a successful one. My best friend thinks I am incapable of rational thought; she may be right but it would be good to try and prove her wrong.

Elusive thoughts often flutter through my head, ideas on how to bring an end to this mental incarceration. Perhaps I should have not have turned Nick down after all. Maybe a daytime rendezvous would help me see things more clearly. What’s that old adage? Do unto others as they do unto you? Ah yes, now we’re talking!

It’s quite light outside now. The birds are fighting each other for food. A woodpigeon lands on a slender bough in the cherry tree, seesaws until the branch settles to a stop A feral cat lurks behind the hydrangea; watching, waiting; food for a week. I too am watching … and waiting. A chance is all I need, I think, as I turn to gaze at the phone. ‘Hello, Nick,’ I’ll say. ‘How’re you doing?’

28 December 2011

Christmas Cracker Novelty

Crackers. There are good ones and not so good ones. Pay your money and you get a good one. In the more expensive ones the jokes are funnier, the paper hats are slightly better, and the novelties are worth having. At Moor Hall they buy the best, one of the reasons why the Christmas lunch is more expensive. They provide the festive hats separately so it's a toss-up whether to wear the the paper version that comes with the cracker or one of the ultra shiny witches hat or a colourful fez.

But I digress... back to the crackers. Most years I get things like a miniature packet of screwdrivers, a set of dice, or an up-market key ring, I've even had magnets, writing pads, and a working compass. This year though, the novelty was a mystery. Totally. We asked around but nobody knew what it was, nor had they seen anything like it before.

This is it. Can you guess what it is?

You will notice that there is a black cap at one end. This led us to believe that it was removable. That's great, except that we couldn't remove it. It twirled like a cap would but neither hubs nor I could pull it off. In between mouthfuls of dinner I tried to fathom it out. Inside the transparent tube were little things like this, although I didn't know that until later.

Ah, I thought, when I was back home and trying again, pins for pin boards.
They fitted neatly together inside the tube but I couldn't think what else to do with them.
There followed an in-depth examination which had my mind reeling.

I went to bed and left hubs still pondering.
Next morning I found the result of his ponders.
Scroll down to see the finished product.
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So much for my pins for pin boards idea. Yes, it's a pencil. Well, several pencils really, all clipped together to make a whole. When one wears out, replace it with another one. Simple!
Now tell me honestly, have you come across one of these before?

27 December 2011

Christmas Day pics

I made a slideshow of Christmas Day scenes. Please excuse the spelling mistakes in it, unfortunately it is too late to correct them.


Then on Boxing Day I found another gift. It was a parcel received from Oz before Christmas and hidden away from my prying fingers. I had put it on a footstool that lives under my work table, unseen and away from temptation. Ooops! It remained unseen until Boxing Day but as my stepdaughter said 'it made an extra surprise'. How true. These are the four books that she knew I wanted.

Tomorrow I will show the novelty that was inside my Christmas cracker. It's the most unusual novelty I've ever seen. Can you wait a day?

26 December 2011

Trust Not The Vow ... Chapter 10

It was a lovely wedding, mused Rachel on the eve of her first wedding anniversary. Before her on the bed was the wedding dress, taken from its box of white tissue and laid out, the long sleeves crossed in a deathbed pose as if it was herself she had placed there. She slid her fingers along the folds, then touched the petals of the cream silk rose, a last minute addition to hide a flawed seam at the waist.

Looking back, it seemed to her that the flaw was an omen, a sign that the future would be anything but normal. It was loneliness that drove her to inspect the dress; she had forgotten that the mere sight of it would be like reliving the momentous occasion when she made a vow to love, honour and obey. She snorted as she recalled those words, knowing how unbalanced the undertaking was.

Rex's tail flicked into action when he saw her kick off her slippers, wrongly anticipating that she was going out. Ignoring him, Rachel slid her feet into the high heeled shoes and checked her appearance in the wardrobe mirror, lifting her skirt to show her knees. After a year-long diet, her legs had slimmed down and were not at all bad to look at. Some kind of reward for all that fasting would have been nice, but even when he was home Gary refused to look, and he couldn't see her legs or anything else when he was absent all the time.

‘What did I do wrong, Rexie?’ she cried as she subsided on the bed. The dog kept his muzzle on the ground and gazed at her with doleful eyes, his tail wagging continuously. She lay back, sighed, thinking if he could talk he would be a better companion than Gary had ever been. Or ever would be by the looks of it.

Her attention was drawn to the deep white box on the uppermost shelf in the wardrobe. The box that housed the album. Suddenly, she jumped up to fetch it. Standing on tiptoe, she yanked the box, staggering with the momentum of its fall. The album had been packed away six months after the wedding, when the white leather-bound cover got scuffed; not by relatives or friends, but by her wretched self when she felt in danger of forgetting what Gary looked like.

What was the point of keeping it around as a permanent reminder of her dreadful mistake. Or his.

The album fell open at the picture of the wedding group, female members wearing time-honoured suits and obligatory carnations, men dressed in grey with white shirts. Her mother, in a picture hat, feathery frills adorning her neck, beaming at the photographer in a way that suggested it was her wedding, rather than that of her only child. And her father: happy, but in a different manner. He wore a proud expression and stood erect like a man aiming to touch the clouds with his head.

Curtis stood next to Gary's widowed mother, a protective hand on her arm. Rachel studied Alma Ellison's face for the millionth time, seeing the resemblance to Gary, regretting anew that the opportunity to get acquainted was plucked away by her untimely death, three weeks after the wedding. Heartbreak, the doctor diagnosed in his wisdom.

Rachel would never know for whom she was heartbroken. Was it for her husband, Reg, who died the year before, or Gary? Was she familiar with her son's problems? Did she guess that he would not consummate his marriage? Would she have castigated him if she did?

As matron of honour, Cynthia was as elegant as when she herself was a bride. She smiled disarmingly at the camera. Rachel remembered that Cynthia had just urged Gary to look as if he was enjoying himself. That's how he came to be smiling, passing himself off as happy, when all the time he must have been hating every minute of the proceedings. Rachel had been ecstatic the whole day, little realising she had just committed herself to a lacklustre alliance with a man as peculiar now as he was then.

Eric, as friend and ex-boss, assessed Gary as homosexual. Cynthia rated him as bizarre. Cynthia's judgment was true and fair, but Rachel could not accept Eric's view, for deep down she knew that Gary loved her. Surely that wouldn't be possible if his inclinations were for men. He proved his love with every letter he wrote, from whichever town he happened to be in. Why, then, couldn't he put into practice the wonderful things he wrote? When petitioned, Gary implored her to be patient, saying it would all come right in the end.

Over the months she tried supplicating, and wooing, even bribing Gary to seduce her. On occasions she got him drunk in the hope that he wouldn't grasp what he, or she, was doing. To no avail! Then one Sunday evening, when he was gaga through drinking concoctions of wine and spirits, she had stripped him and coaxed him into an acquiescing position on the floor. She hovered above him on all fours, dropping her naked breasts to his face, gleefully assuming her plan was working when he puckered his lips to suck her nipple.

But she was mistaken. Gary hadn't wanted the nipple, he had puckered up to cry like a baby. She had flung herself off him pretty damned quick, utterly disgusted. Then she hit him. Socked him straight on the jaw with her fist. He didn't feel a thing, though the blow was hard enough to bruise her knuckles. He lay as she left him, head on one side, hands covering his penis, weeping like a child.

Recalling how violently sick she had been afterwards, Rachel screamed at the top of her voice, ‘Bastard.’

Rex opened a cautious eye.

Exasperated with the entire sad mess, she thrust the shoes from her feet and threw them onto the bed.

Rex scampered to take refuge behind the dressing table.

She dragged the dress off the bed, stuffed it roughly in its box, fighting an impulse to throw the lot in the refuse-bin. Then she crashed out of the bedroom as if the devil himself was at her heels.

Rex followed at a more leisurely pace, uncertain about this current mood.

In the living room, some guy on the radio raucously crucified a love song. Rachel hastily switched him off; in her present mood, songs of love didn’t go down at all well.

REACHING for her bag, Rachel moved into the hall to collect her coat, unable to bear the thought of spending another morose evening with only Rex for company. She sat heavily on the stool near the cloakroom and drew on her brown snow boots.

Rex hurtled jubilantly towards the door, catching the edge of the phone table in his eagerness to go out. His tail swept the table top like a feather duster. An ornament plunged to the floor … Gary's favourite statuette of a rearing stallion. Rex cringed when Rachel screeched with dismay. Solemnly, she took in the horse's plight. So many times she had asked Gary to move it to a safer spot, but he insisted he liked it where it was. So be it, she thought. Amen!

It was like the last straw. ‘I'll leave him,’ she muttered as she slammed the door to; but deep in her heart she knew she wouldn't, no matter what she had to endure. At the gate, she stopped to survey the rented house with the ivy covered crannies that had endeared it to them a year ago. If she deserted the dwelling would suffer, for Gary had no regard for nurturing possessions, inanimate or otherwise.

The abrasive wind numbed Rachel's fingers and she fished in her pockets for her sheepskin gloves. She hadn't bargained for snow and questioned the advisability of travelling far. Rex pulled on the lead. ‘Wait,’ she ordered, wondering if the weather was too bad to visit her parents. There would be drifts near the fields but if she stuck to the roads she should get there all right. Deciding to take a chance, she set off in the direction of her old home.

THE kitchen was warm and welcoming, with a lingering aroma of pot-roast.

‘Take your coat off and come to the fire,’ said Toby. By the state of the hearth, he had obviously been there some time himself, proof coming in the form of a heap of papers, a brandy bottle and glass, and several sticky rings on the tiles.

‘Where's Mum?’ Rachel asked as she unwound her scarf.

‘She's away with that friend of hers.’ Toby shook the cushions on the second fireside chair. ‘Where's Gary?’

‘Away with that friend of his.’

They both laughed at the absurdity of their two situations.

Rachel sat by the fire to warm her hands and knees. Rex gave a shudder of delight and lay at her feet. Her father took a glass from the dresser and wiped it with a tea-towel.

Frown lines scored his forehead, but he seemed cheerful enough. Rachel wondered if he had finally accepted Amy's new social activities. Encouraged by her new friend, Amy now attended mystical meetings and had become engrossed in the occult. Her life, she claimed, had been transformed. By all accounts, so had Toby's. Rachel asked, ‘Are they at a séance again?’

‘I didn't bother to ask.’ Toby poured a generous measure of brandy, handed it to her. ‘She's welcome to trek out on a winter's night to hear some lifeless soul sending messages. I've no truck with that sort of thing.’ He leaned back in his chair and drank deeply. ‘Tell me your news. Where's Gary?’

Rachel sipped her drink and kept her eyes averted, afraid she would cry when her father scolded, as she knew he would. ‘I don't know,’ she mumbled.

‘Don't know? What the stinking hell sort of man is he, eh? Can't he think about anything else besides sodding work. It's about time he grew up and took his responsibilities seriously. He should be paying you some attention not his sodding cronies.’

Rachel flinched as Toby's fist whacked the arm of his chair and wished she had chosen her words more carefully. Not for anything did she want her father's wrath to fall on Gary. Condemning him was her prerogative. ‘It's all right, Dad. He's gone on a job for the firm. Terry's gone to help with the unloading.’ She bit her inner lip and forced herself to align her eyes with his.

Disbelievingly, Toby scrutinised her face. ‘You sure, my girl? If he's deliberately staying away, I'll swing for him.’

Rex raised his head. Rachel stroked him with a reassuring hand. ‘Honestly, Dad., everything's fine.’ Her father would perceive by her tumbling words that she had lied, but she dare not let him lure her into uttering more serious accusations. If he ever learned of the non-consummation, he would, as he so often said, swing for him.

In a bid to change the subject, she began to chatter. She spoke of the factory and Cynthia's new house and the ongoing friendship with her old boss.

‘You still see him?’

‘He regularly comes by the office.’

‘I'd have thought he'd be glad to give the place a miss.’

‘He likes to maintain contact. He buys me lunch sometimes.’ And helped enormously when the need to discuss difficulties was critical. Rachel believed she would not have lasted the year if Eric Hudspith had not been around to give her strength; however, that was a fact she must necessarily keep concealed.

Endeavouring to disguise her sadness, Rachel asked if her father had eaten. Once more, Rex lifted his head, the tip of his tail showing signs of excitement.

‘Not yet. Your mother had the last of the pot-roast. I felt like waiting a bit. See, Rachel, I must have known you'd turn up.’

‘I'll cook you something.’

In the refrigerator she found bacon wrapped in greaseproof, sausages and eggs. ‘How about a mixed grill?’

‘Smashing. You'll have some, won't you?’

‘Yes, Dad.’

NEXT morning, as she nibbled her toast, Rachel reflected on the visit to her father. It had been like old times eating with him in the kitchen, reminiscent of her early teens when her mother worked long hours at the hospital. That was before Toby was employed in more remote areas and Mum waved the whip to make her work harder.

Not a happy time, she thought as she buttered a second slice and spread on a forbidden dollop of marmalade. How strange it was that certain experiences remained perpetually in one's memory while others passed through without making a dent.

Would her anxieties ultimately fade, or would they haunt her for the rest of her days?

She fondled the dog's ear for a moment, then almost wearily piled the crocks on a Melamine tray and carried them to the sink. ‘Come on, old boy, I'll pour you some tea. Now, where's your bowl?’

Listening to her question, Rex tilted his head, then, with his tail wagging wildly, he shoved his paw between the cupboard and the cooker and dragged out a plastic dish.

Despite a feeling of wretchedness, Rachel giggled. ‘You're a clever clogs,’ she said. The dog panted at her, then lay on his back with his legs in the air, waiting for a tickle. Rachel rubbed his belly until he growled with happiness. ‘There, you are,’ she laughed. ‘And if you wouldn't mind showing Gary how it's done I'd be forever in your debt.’

The ringing telephone ended the frolic. Counting on it being a call from Gary, she raced to answer it, sending the stool flying in her haste. Breathlessly, she snatched up the receiver.

It was Eric Hudspith. ‘Good morning, dear girl. I hoped to catch you before you left for work.’

Wholly deflated, Rachel sank on a chair. ‘I was just going.’

‘I will be engaged all morning, you see, so I couldn't ring later. I thought a nice lunch might dissolve your cares and there's a new steak bar I'm anxious to try. Would Gary mind if you joined me, my dear?’

His ability to sense her gloom and propose welcoming invitations amazed her, he even knew what her response would be. ‘Your timing is incredible, Eric,’ she said.

He chuckled down the line, a satisfied chuckle, taking it for granted she would agree to accompany him. ‘One o'clock, then. At the corner. I look forward to it.’

So shall I, she thought, replacing the handset, thankful for the opportunity to unburden her soul.

(to be continued)

24 December 2011

Anniversary Meal

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. Ours started early because our wedding anniversary was two days before Christmas Day.

This year my Guy and I celebrated with lunch at the New Hall, though why it's called 'New' is a mystery when it was actually built in the 13th Century. Regular bloggers will know that it is one of my favourite eating places.
After parking the car we walked across the moat

and were shown into the dining room overlooking the garden. I think of it as the conservatory. It's not such a delightful room as the Bridge Room but it's very much okay. I like the contemporary look of the solid wood tables. Since it was Christmas there was a Christmas tree and crackers on the tables, an upmarket variety with decent contents.

We hadn't been sitting down long before the rains came. I was thankful that I could only see it by looking through the window. No matter what the weather is like the examples of topiary that you can see through the leaded window are a joy to see in real life.

After studying the menu my Guy decided to start with soup and I chose the smoked chicken gnocchi. Goodness only knows why this picture is sideways on ... it was taken straight and was straight on the computer but Blogger decides otherwise lately. It was delicious ... Blogger couldn't change that.

Next for me was the fish pie

served with hand cut chips and spinach

The pie was a mixture of different kinds of fish, including salmon. Very tasty. I particularly liked the way the potato was piped on top.

Hubs had rib-eye steak which he said was delicious.

Then for afters, I had the orange pannacotta

and himself chose the sticky toffee pudding

A final touch was cappuccino served New House style

Perhaps I shouldn't have shown a foodie blog right on top of Christmas, when you must all be feeling full of food. Soon I will show the content of my Christmas cracker. That should help the digestion! Have your thinking caps on ready because it's one of those 'what is it' objects.

A VIEW OF CHRISTMAS


The scene beyond the rustic garden gate was like a Christmas card. Outside the ivy laden cottage a robin was perched in a holly bush. A recent snowfall covered the thatched roof like oddly shaped clumps of cotton wool. Leaded light windows reflected the orange flames from the fire. Beneath those windows, a wooden wheelbarrow filled with logs.  The bare beech tree looked strangely out of place, dull brown when everything else was highly coloured. The cottage door, as red as the holly berries, was adorned by a festive wreath. The door was ajar and inside could be seen a Swedish Pine of mammoth proportions ablaze with twinkling lights. And the aroma that emanated from within was of turkey, slowly roasting.
   
In the snow-packed lane, an elderly itinerant peered over the boundary hedge, white unkempt hair wafting skywards in the biting wind. With ice-cold fingers he smoothed it over his crown then pulled his shabby grey coat closer to his chest. The motions were entirely mechanical for he was truly not  conscious of the cold. He had no need of fires or Christmas fare, for his soul was warmed through with love for the Lord God, who kept him safe and whose birthday today they shared. 

23 December 2011

In His Ignorance


IN HIS IGNORANCE
Written by Valerie Daggatt for the Christmas Carol Service held in Birmingham Cathedral in the year 2000

The sun shone on the frozen town, but it yielded no warmth to the boy whose occupation was to construct a cave. Diligently, in the quiet churchyard, he chiseled impacted snow with his boot, squatting occasionally to scoop chippings with his bare hands. He could hear the choristers singing: Oh Come All Ye Faithful. His favourite. Humming as he worked, he felt strangely ashamed that he did not know the words, but then he had never been encouraged to learn religious songs.

The Boy in his ignorance did not understand

Tiring of the pointless exercise, the boy adjusted his baseball cap. Hungry and cold, he shoved his numb hands into his pockets and considered going home, but the idea was discounted as quickly as it occurred. His Dad would be on the Internet and he hated to be disturbed when he was surfing. It was all he thought of, except when Sky Sport was on the telly. Christmas meant nothing to him; there were too many mysteries for his liking.

The Boy, in his ignorance, did not understand

Nor did he understand his mother, who sang so joyfully before she discovered drugs, and who believed the Millennium would be her salvation.

The boy, in his ignorance, did not understand.

A new carol began: We Three Kings of Orient Are. Leaning against the edifice, the boy banged his heel and bounced his head in rhythm. Suddenly, a shadow fell before him and he stiffened, fearful lest he was doing wrong.

The man whose shadow the boy had seen, a bearded man in a grey robe, came to stand in front of him. 'I am the Custodian,' he said in a gentle voice. 'Would you like to see our Christmas tableau?'
    
The boy remembered his father deriding the church's endeavours to recreate the nativity. This was the modern age, how could they reproduce what never existed?

The boy, in his ignorance, did not understand.

Feeling the first stirrings of inquisitiveness, a yearning suddenly to see inside, the boy took the stranger's hand and allowed himself to be led away.

Festooned with berry-laden holly, the church was alive with Christmas atmosphere. There was a sweet smelling pine tree, shining with baubles and a silver cross, but it was the nativity display that caught the boy's attention. Viewed by hushed, reverent children, each one pointing to a thing of note, it was as wondrous as fairyland. The wide-eyed boy crept nearer, wanting to touch the blue-eyed baby in the straw-filled stall.

Without warning, from the depths of the church there came great crashes of reverberating chords, followed by a more peaceful air.

And the congregation sang: Once in Royal David's City.

The boy, in his ignorance, did not understand the passion he felt or the coursing tears as he joined in, humming when the lyrics eluded him. Unwittingly, he stepped back, not wanting to disturb the sleeping babe, and when the carol ended he turned and fled and did not halt until he reached the outside.

The Custodian advanced towards him, smiling, gliding almost through fresh snow. Not wanting to show his tears, the boy made off. It wasn't proper to cry, his Dad said.
    
'Peace be with you, the man called.
    
'Thanks,' hurled back the boy, and he sprinted away leaving a trail of footprints in his wake.
   
As he sped along, he reflected on the pleasant experience. He could hardly wait to tell his Dad.
   
Peace be with you, the man had said, and the boy, in his wisdom, understood.


22 December 2011

Christmas Tomorrow

Christmas tomorrow.
Mother said,
lie down and sleep,
My sleepy head.

Look, here comes Santa
Happy and merry
Not surprising
After mince pie and sherry.

Christmas stocking
Hanging askew
Now filled with love
And something new

Oranges? Apples?
What a surprise!
You should see the horror
In the little kid’s eyes

Where’s the Nintendo
You promised before
I can’t train my brain
With an apple core!

NB. This little ditty scribbled in league with the latest craze,
the NINTENDO TRAIN YOUR BRAIN game

21 December 2011

19 December 2011

Trust Not The Vow ... Chapter 9


Rachel was confused when she slid her hand over the edge of the bed and received neither a wet lick nor a muzzle in her palm. At once perturbed that something dire had happened to Rex, she focused on the location of his bed, but saw instead an unfamiliar tallboy. She realised her mistake. This was not her room. It was Cynthia's room, and today was her wedding day.

Growing accustomed to the dimness, she looked around, taking in the ancient double wardrobe at the side of a walk-in cupboard. Stripped to the bare wood, it had been painted lemon and stencilled, larkspur up the sides and passion-flowers creeping up the front. It was very pretty and exceptionally well done, considering Cynthia always professed to be no good at art.

An original marble washstand served as a dressing-table. It was situated between two casement windows, in front of a huge spherical wall mirror. Two garments, one ivory and one peach, hung in polythene bags on the exterior of the wardrobe, entirely shrouding the mirrored door through which Cynthia would behold her unmarried appearance for the last time.

Pink and green curtains wafted slightly at one window, permitting periodic splodges of wintery sunlight to linger on the ceiling. Rachel felt an instant's disquiet. In Cynthia's highly nervous state, fine weather was crucial; a downpour would be intolerable.

Cynthia was still asleep, huddled below the covers and gently snoring, oblivious to the world and her forthcoming destiny. The digital timepiece revealed that it was seven o'clock, far too early to disturb the bride-to-be. Rachel had stayed overnight so that she would be on hand to assist with the dressing, but that was hours hence. There was a lot to get through before then. Below stairs, a vacuum cleaner droned, the last chance Cynthia's mother had to tidy round before the detonation of events.

Rachel eased herself from the warm bed, shivered when the cool air struck her bare skin. Satisfied that Cynthia's form was well covered, she pulled on her lilac polyester robe and left the room.

~~~~~

‘You'll sit down and do as you’re told,’ instructed Mrs Mates. ‘You'll be no use to Cynthie if you're starving hungry.’

Rachel was happy to obey since there was a stiffness in her neck that warranted attention. She sat down and worked her head from side to side.

‘Were you lying by the window, duck?’

Rachel nodded, then wished she hadn't, having forgotten that Mrs Mates knew all the remedies for aches and pains. Before she could say ‘Don't touch’ her neck and shoulders were being manipulated until the problem spot was detected. Without a word of warning, Mrs Mates yanked Rachel's head to one side, bringing scalding tears to her eyes. But the ruthless treatment worked, she could move again without pain. Marvellous!

Cynthia's mother turned the browning sausages in a giant-sized pan and broke an egg alongside.

‘Can I pour the tea?’ Rachel asked.

‘Yes, providing you do it sitting down. You must relax, duck, while you can. The day will be tiring enough.’

What a pleasant, homely soul Mrs Mates was. Amy Skinner was quite the opposite. She would expect to be waited on by anyone willing to do it. Not demand it, not any more, but if she sat here and Cynthia arrived in her bridal gown offering tea, she would thank her kindly and settle back to watch her pour.

Because Mrs Mates seemed to be undertaking rather a lot on this memorable day, and because her conscience was pricking, Rachel collected two big plates from the rack above the cooker and positioned them on the counter. ‘I presume you're eating too,’ she said, raising her eyebrows in enquiry.

Three succulent sausages and an over-easy egg connected with the first plate. Rachel's mouth was overrun by juices. ‘Gosh, Mrs Mates, that looks delicious.’

Adding two slices of fried bread, Mrs Mates said, ‘Eat up, duck. It'll be a lengthy stretch before you get anything else.’

‘I couldn't.’

‘You've got to, 'cause I'm buttering you up for the cadge.’

Rachel discharged a dollop of tomato ketchup on top of the crisp bread. ‘What do you want me to do?’

‘Church flowers. My sister and niece want help arranging all those blooms. I told Cynthie not to overdo it, but she took no notice. Church'll be overrun with greenfly, I wouldn't wonder.’ Mrs Mates produced a clipboard on which were listed all the jobs that had to be done. ‘Now then, someone'll have to let Simon in. He's due at eleven. I'll be trying to do something with me phizog about then. Oh, yes, and a woman from Needhams is coming to do Cynthie's make-up.’

Rachel sliced into the second sausage and slipped a large portion in her mouth. ‘It'll be like having a full make-over,’ she said.

‘If you like, duck, but you'd say it easier with your mouth empty.’

Embarrassed, Rachel masticated and swallowed the sausage before offering to do whatever Mrs Mates requested.

‘Bless you, my duck. It's all a bit hectic for me to cope with.’

As Mrs Mates proceeded to fry her own egg, Rachel caught the glint of tears. ‘Hey, Cynth's Mum,’ she said soothingly, ‘Don't you go making your eyes red. Not before church, anyway.’

~~~~~


Rachel ran upstairs to check on Cynthia, opening the door gently. Two bleary eyes regarded her. ‘There's no need to creep around,’ Cynthia grunted.

‘Happy wedding day,’ cried Rachel.

‘Don't look so damned happy.’

‘Why? What's the matter?’

‘I feel sick.’ Cynthia raised herself on her elbows. ‘I can't go through with it.’

Rachel was alarmed in case she meant it. All that preparation, for nothing? ‘Don't be daft,’ she said firmly. ‘You're simply suffering pre-wedding stress.’ A tug at the blankets revealed Cynthia's splendid figure, scantily attired in briefs and a filmy top. ‘Come on. Your Mum's cooking breakfast.’

Cynthia rescued the bedclothes. ‘I couldn't eat a thing.’

‘Well, I'll leave you to it. I'm off to help at the church.

‘Great. You can tell the Priest the wedding's off.’

Grinning, Rachel mercilessly heaved aside the bedclothes. ‘Tell him yourself when you get there. Now come on, your Mum's been up all hours slogging. The least you can do is go down and say hello.’

‘Gerroff!’

BY the time Rachel returned from church, where she had begged the Lord to ensure that her friend recovered her sanity, Cynthia was luxuriating in the bath. She was cutting it so fine that Rachel feared the wedding really was off, until Mrs Mates assured her that Cynthia was now in excellent fettle and raring to go. Thank you, Lord.

Simon's arrival was imminent. He was the limp-handed stylist Cynthia swore was the only individual who could tame her hair into a decent style. Rachel's straight bob was already washed, but it would need damping and blow-drying properly before Simon could insert the peach coloured roses. And then it would be the turn of the make-up artist. A complete waste of money in Rachel's view, since Cynthia could achieve professional results even when peering in the crazed cloakroom mirror. But this was her special day and when Rachel's special day came she would, money permitting, do the same.

Simon brushed and stroked Rachel's hair until it shone. ‘Attractive lights, you've got, dearie,’ he said, combing it off her forehead and fingering the strands, demonstrating his approval with frequent purrs. ‘My partner has lights like yours. Beautiful hair, but short. I'm forever telling him to grow it. He won't, though. Marcus is a dear, but ever so obstinate.’ He stuffed a number of hairpins between his teeth and began to entwine the
roses. ‘Yours would look ever so fetching a fraction longer.’

Fascinated, Rachel observed the transformation. Her bone structure appeared to be changing and her rarely seen ears looked dainty beneath trails of wisps. Gary would love it, she was sure. ‘I may grow it for my own wedding,’ she said.

‘Getting spliced? That's grand, sweetie. Come and see Simon nearer the date and we'll discuss a style.’

‘Would you really do it for me?’

‘Sweetie, it would be my pleasure. I seldom get the chance to handle rich hair like yours.’

Rich! It was the first Rachel knew about rich.

While Simon teased and sprayed and coaxed her hair, Rachel scrutinised her image, seeing the coppery sheen as if for the first time, noting the way it shimmered in the glow of theatrical bulbs surrounding the looking-glass. Every hair glistened like gossamer. And every blemish shows, she thought, touching a reddening spot on her chin and resolving to have a quick word with the woman from Needhams.

Following the hair-dos and cosmetic artistry, Rachel assisted Cynthia to dress, a laborious task with her weeping mother hovering and interfering. For some reason best known to herself Mrs Mates was most anxious that all thirty-two pearl buttons at the back of the bodice should be double-checked to make certain they were securely fastened. Rachel sniggered inwardly as she stood, veil in hand, waiting for her to finish the ultimate inspection. At the day's conclusion, Curtis would likely rip the dress apart in his haste to get at Cynthia's flesh.

Mrs Mates dealt with the final button then spoke warningly to her daughter. ‘Now, Cynthie,’ she said, ‘Don't you forget to tell Curtis to be extra careful when he helps you out of this frock. You don't want his clumsy fingers ripping it to shreds.’

Rachel twisted aside to suppress a rising giggle.

‘You all right, duck?’ Mrs Mates asked in a concerned voice.

Rachel nodded and took a swig from Cynthia's bottle of Evian.

Sarcastically counselling her to drink as much of her precious water as she liked, Cynthia went on to imitate her mother. ‘You positive you're all right, duck?’ she asked, conveying by a twinkle in her eye that she understood exactly what Rachel had foreseen.

Rachel unfolded the veil, preparing it for when Simon returned. During the ritual of dressing he had been closeted in the kitchen with coffee and slices of angel cake, awaiting the call to commence fixing the pearl encrusted head-dress.

Mrs Mates went to summon him.

‘I'm glad you resisted the urge to utter one of your facetious remarks,’ Cynthia commented.

‘Your Mum would have belted me if I had.’

‘True. Anyway, what were you thinking?’

‘I had an impression of Curtis, delirious and probably drunk, in a hurry to penetrate your person, wrenching the dress asunder and filling the bed with a cascade of buttons.’

‘Likewise! Funny how the fancy for sex relaxes one. I feel absolutely great now. In fact, the sooner I get operational the better.’

‘Yoo-hoo, can I come in?’

Cynthia saluted Simon and hastened to sit at the washstand.

‘Ready for Simon are you, dearie,’ he remarked, swamping her with a spotless pastel-blue cape.

‘More than ready, Simon.’ Cynthia reached for her perfume and dabbed Heaven Scent on her wrists. ‘Do what you will with me.’

‘I'm not your type, sweetie,’ he answered, expertly flicking his comb and swiftly affixing pearls and rosebuds and silk ribbons.

‘It looks superb,’ acknowledged Cynthia as Simon monitored his handiwork in the mirror. She caught his eye, flirting outrageously. ‘Would you take me on, Simon?’

‘You want someone a whit more butch.’ Simon made a couple more adjustments, then lightly rested his hands on Cynthia's shoulders and winked at her reflection. ‘If you encounter a spare one at this wedding of yours, give him my card, there's a love. I could use a change.’

~~~~~

Cynthia was as radiant as a summer sun as she posed by the white Bentley, standing a little ahead of her father. The photographer had swept her skirt imposingly behind her, thus creating a refined but haughty stance. It was difficult to believe the tenseness she had suffered, the tantrums and repeated assertions that the wedding was off.

When it’s my turn, I hope I look as gorgeous, prayed Rachel from inside the porch. She had followed the Priest's example of sheltering from the raw wind and was now rubbing her arms, hoping the goose-pimples would quickly disappear. Fortunately Cynthia's gown had full sleeves, otherwise she, too, would be trembling like a jelly. Still, the photographs would be sunny. Only the guests would know how cold it was.

Progress up the aisle seemed eternal to Rachel, who had one eye glued to Cynthia's train - constantly worrying about the havoc it would cause if she stepped on it - and the other eye on the guests, smiling and nodding to those she knew.

Eric Hudspith was with Mildred. She was austerely dressed in a black tweed coat with a real fur collar buttoned to the throat. Eric twirled his trilby and gave a surreptitious wink.

The column moved slowly on, giving time to admire the diminutive bunches of cyclamen affixed to the pews. There was insufficient scent to conquer the musty smell, but the colours compensated.

Geoff Simmonds, the bay foreman, was there with his latest woman friend. They were with several of the office girls, all wearing suits and hats and waving enthusiastically as the procession passed.

And there was Amy, in the pew in front, wearing her new Brussels lace blouse under a plain velvet suit the colour of crushed strawberries. The wide-brimmed cream hat she'd spent hours trimming with strawberry tulle, looked fabulous. A lace handkerchief was in her right hand, held high, ready to mop the tears, as weep she would. Rachel took a moment to speculate how much the ensemble had cost, fleetingly wondering how Amy had found the cash, but then Toby came into view, beaming like a piccaninny eating melon. He looked great in a navy suit and rather flamboyant waistcoat; as Rachel passed, he stuffed out his chest like a peacock, as if to say, Here girl, look at me; don't I look the works.

At the altar, the ceremony commenced.

Dearly beloved ....

Holding Cynthia's bouquet, Rachel studied Gary's manly rear. She allowed her eyes to rove slowly downwards to where his torso narrowed, conjuring up a picture of firm, lean buttocks for which she would soon have fondling rights. He looked terrific in
tails. She wanted him to wear them at their wedding, and she would be swathed in antique cream silk.

Wilt thou, Curtis Anthony Ledbetter ....

The smell of out-of-season roses drifted upwards. Too strong!

Rachel lowered her head to inhale the scent, convinced the florist had added additional perfume.

Wilt thou love her ....

Gold and cream flowers would go admirably with antique cream silk. It all depended on the season.

I will!

If it was a winter wedding she would wear cream leather gloves, if she could find any in the shops. Rachel made a mental note to visit Needhams when next in town. She wouldn't want gloves in summer, but her nails would need concentrated treatment. Maybe she should book an appointment with a manicurist.

I, Cynthia Rosemary ....

Rachel transferred her weight to the other foot. Already her toes were pinching. The shoes Cynthia had chosen for her were not as comfortable as they looked. When she got married, her feet would be clad in stylish courts, fabricated from the softest
cream leather.

With this ring ....

A broad band, one that would not wear thin like Amy's, which was in danger of splitting.

Those who God has joined together ....

Amen!

~~~~~

Gary proved to be a marvellous best man and was indispensable at the reception. He was a great favourite with the females. Giggling girls listened attentively to his yarns and the older generation smiled affectionately, fussing over him like a long-lost son. In the evening, he waltzed with grannies and was bagged by teenagers for the rock and roll. Not to be outdone, Amy commandeered him for quicksteps and an occasional jive.

Rachel jealously considered he spent far too much time dancing with her mother, though she couldn't complain that he was wholly inattentive. Whenever they were together, he proudly raised her hand to show off her sapphire cluster to all who demonstrated an interest in their engagement. Amy preened when this happened and quickly attached herself to her future son-in-law, possessively clutching his arm as though afraid he might escape, and bragging about how clever her daughter was to capture such a charming young man.

Nearing the end of the evening, Rachel reluctantly accepted her boss's invitation to join the throng on the floor, though it was anybody's guess what the dance was. Eric was decidedly squiffy. He danced like an amorous bear, putting his hands on the base of her spine and pulling her to him without a care as to who might be paying heed. His steps didn't match either the music or her own movements and his feet landed on the hem of her dress so often she was scared the material would rip.

The long-haired burly drummer in a sleeveless vest was apparently determined to thump a hole in his drum. The noise was deafening, but the tempo had slowed and Eric now swayed with his cheek touching hers, hips jutting in order to wiggle them to the beat. Her skin crawled with distaste and she hankered to be back at the bar, where Gary was talking to Amy, and Toby was engrossed in conversation with Eric's wife.

The drummer terminated his solo performance and the rhythm unexpectedly speeded up. Eric abandoned his impassioned pose and broke into a dance that could only be described as a gallop. Rachel hung on for dear life when he spun her round to avoid a jiving couple, and collided with Cynthia and Curtis. Thankfully, at that point, Eric stopped to have a word with Curtis, who was almost hidden by the bunched folds of his wife's skirt.

‘Your Mum's enjoying herself,’ said Cynthia breathlessly, stealing a minute to recover from the collision.

‘She always does,’ Rachel retorted, grudging eyes wandering across the room. Her parents were advancing to the dance floor, and Gary was impatiently tapping his foot against a table leg, indicating his dislike at being abandoned. She tugged Eric's arm. ‘I'd better get back,’ she said, thinking she could just walk away, but Eric's arm again encircled her waist. ‘Right, dear girl. I'll whirl you to the corner.’

~~~~~

Having refused lifts from various couples, Gary and Rachel strolled home. It was a night for lovers. Stars twinkling in the black sky motivated Rachel to pause and search for the brightest, and to track the plough, shivering until Gary drew her towards him to share his coat. She snuggled inside, pushing her arms round his waist, acutely aware of the protuberance inside his pants. Shutting her eyes, she angled her head to seek his lips; her innards fluttered, and passion surged her loins. And with his mouth on hers and his penis swelling against her thigh, she cursed the layers of garb which prevented him from gaining access. She moaned, ‘Oh Gary, I do want you.’

‘Not now,’ he mumbled, nibbling her ear, then he cupped her face and peered into her eyes. ‘There's time enough when we're wed.’

‘Oh, Gary. I can't wait that long.’

Taking her hand, Gary gazed at her ring. For one hideous moment, Rachel thought he was intending to remove it.

‘Then we'll have to make it sooner. Could you wait five weeks, until Christmas?’

Rachel's reply rose from her belly and travelled at high speed to emerge into the night air as an impassioned whoop. ‘Yes! Oh, yes.’

(to be continued)