Friends

31 July 2012

Trouble in the Supermarket


Me, Chad Brown, 25 years of age, third son of a good family, respectable, well dressed, Head of Sales in a multi-national clothing store, should be credited with some intelligence not standing in a dingy cubby hole waiting for a dressing down. However, the fact remained … I had done a really stupid thing.

~oOo~

The checkout girl's badge was obscured by the jacket she’d slipped over her blue striped uniform so I couldn’t read her name. I know it was wrong to lean across the conveyor belt and yank the collar to one side, but I just had to know her name. I could have asked, I guess, but common sense had taken a vacation. She was the most unattractive girl I’d ever seen. Admittedly she had a good figure, and her golden-brown hair was lovely, but her face was blotchy and wrinkled with skin more suited to an old crone, a crooked but pointed nose, and protruding eyes like dark orbs planted there by some unforgiving god. She had no lips to speak of, just red lined slits representing a mouth. The word sour came to mind yet I sensed that her appearance belied her true nature. But there was something about her…  and I acted without thinking.

It wasn’t as if I wanted anything more than to be sociable; with the limited time available at a check-out it was stupid to think otherwise. The aim was to be friendly, the tug on her collar merely a novel but idiotic way of saying ‘Hi’. Looking back I can see how foolish it was to think she would ride the action as a friendly gesture.  Dad always said I had a lot to learn about women but I didn’t imagine touching a girl’s collar was a no-no thing to do.

You’d have thought I was attacking her, the speed with which she pressed the alarm button and the swiftness of security men in coming to her aid. I found myself roughly seized, not by the still running men but by the girl herself. She’d sprinted to my side of the checkout like an angry lion. I heard somewhere that cashiers were no better than automatons but this one would have done well in the 100 metres, once the pistol shot was heard she’d be up and running and swiftly taking the lead.

As I told the security guy, I don’t normally grab strange women, especially one like Bev. Yes, I learned her name from him; in full it was Beverley Lydia Summons. Now, don’t you think that’s an appropriate name considering the circumstances and the charge I inevitably faced? At first I thought the guy was kidding, or that he’d mispronounced. I queried it, suggesting it might be Simmonds, but he curtly replied that he should know since he had access to the names of all employees. It was no skin off my nose so I let it go. I had other things to worry about, like getting the hell out of that cramped cabin with my pride intact.

As it turned out there was no charge to face. The pokerfaced guard said I hadn’t actually touched the girl, only yanked her collar, and as I’d yanked her collar in front of a queue of shoppers and apparently without malice he reckoned my action was more spur of the minute than an intention to cause bodily harm. To be honest I didn’t think security heavies had such profound wisdom. So, I was released with a caution: Don’t ever let me see you do anything like that again being the actual words once the expletives were removed.

Leaving the guard’s room I felt obliged to return to the store to apologise to Bev although I didn’t relish hearing what she would say to me. From the look of her she was bruiser enough to give out a mouthful and my delicate ears weren’t used to hearing an outpouring from an already riled woman. Still, one thing I’m not is a coward. Pocketing my pride I went back to face the jostling crowd.

~~~~~

Bev Summons was no longer at the till where I was served and there was no sign of the goods I’d been about to buy either. Under the circumstances it seemed wiser not to make enquiries but I had been hoping to apologise. It’s not something I relish doing ordinarily but the security guy had impressed upon me that sometimes it pays to admit one’s guilt and to grovel a bit. At the time I considered his remark to be rubbish although it did penetrate my brain, hence the decision to follow through.

I was about to leave the store when I saw her by the sweet counter, crouched down talking to a very young girl, one arm round the child’s waist, the other mopping away her tears. Obviously a child who had lost a parent. I had a mental flashback to when I was a lost child, or thought I was.  Only with me it had been in a cinema. I’d gone to the toilets, feeling all grown up, but then I couldn’t find my dad in the dark. I nearly brought the house down, unlike this youngster who was quietly sobbing on Bev’s overall. Funny how memory is triggered by someone else’s distress.

As I approached Bev looked up at me and smiled.  And, do you know, her face completely changed. She looked, no, not radiant, more sort of gently compassionate. I reached into my pocket for some coins, threw them onto the counter and asked for sweets. Any sort, I said, for the little girl.

The mother was quickly found, of course, and the child sobbed even more when they were reunited. They went off, the youngster still clutching her sweets and making those hiccup noises that come after a tearful session. I turned back to Bev, struck by the transformation. We didn’t speak, she just put a hand on my arm, smiled, and went back to work, leaving me to go home and ponder on how wrong I had been to think of her as sour and unattractive. In those brief few moments I had seen beauty shine from within. It made me feel humble and very ashamed.

Next time I shall speak to her as a civilized man should. I want to know more about her. I want to find out why I can’t get her out of my mind. I want to see her smile again. At me.

30 July 2012

Monday Mirth



oOo

Frank is 85 and he has played golf every day since he retired. Then he tells his wife, ‘I’m giving up golf. My eyesight has got so bad; once I’ve hit the ball I can’t see where it has gone.’

His wife sympathises and suggests: ‘Why don’t you take my brother with you and give it one more try?’

‘That’s no good,’ Frank says with a sigh, ‘your brother is 92. He can’t help.’

‘He may be 92,’ says the wife ‘but his eyesight is perfect.’

So next day Frank heads off to the golf course with his brother-in-law. He tees up, takes a mighty swing, and squints down the fairway. Turning to his brother-in-law, he asks, ‘Did you see the ball?’

‘Of course I did. I have perfect eyesight.’

‘Where did it go?’ asks Frank.

‘Can’t remember.’

~oOo~



A blonde woman had all the windows in her house replaced with new double-insulated energy-efficient windows. Twelve months later, she gets an irate call from the contractor complaining that the work has been done for a year, and despite repeated bills and collection notices, she has yet to make the first payment.

The blonde replies, "Now, don't try to pull a fast one on me. The salesman who sold me those told me that in one year they would pay for themselves."



~oOo~

A few days ago, while I was having some work done at my local garage, a blonde came in and asked for a "seven-hundred-ten".

We all looked at each other and another customer asked, 'What is a seven-hundred- ten?'

She replied, 'You know, the little piece in the middle of the engine, I have lost it and need a new one.'

She replied that she did not know exactly what it was, but this piece had always been there.

The mechanic gave her a piece of paper and a pen and asked her to draw what the piece looked like.

She drew a circle and in the middle of it wrote 710. He then took her over to a car just like hers which had its hood up and asked 'is there a 710 on this car?'.

She pointed and said, 'Of course, its right there.' the mechanic fainted

If you're not sure what a 710 is



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29 July 2012

Sunday Scenes, Venice

Wonderful Venice




Your gondola, Ma'am!


finally, a video


28 July 2012

Inspired or not inspired


One of Bankerchick's recent posts prompted me to look back at some of my old ones, especially those on discontinued blogs. I found a post on this date in July 2009 and decided to air it again.


oOo

I wonder how many would be inspired to read further after reading this Foreword:

A SUMMER CHILL


Life in the rustic village had been predictably routine
since the break-up of Audrey's affair with Brian.

Humdrum even, until the day of the phone call.

At first she merely grumbled when no-one spoke,
but the caller grew more daring.
As the calls became habitual,
coming at precisely the same time each day,
her abhorance gradually dissolved
and she stepped into a nightmare of sensual desire.

oOo

Okay, folks. What do you think? 
Should I or shouldn't I serialise this like I did with Trust Not The Vow? 

A Summer Chill appeared on a blog of it's own but the set-up didn't allow for easy reading. Serialisation of Trust Not The Vow was better so now I'm thinking of doing the same for A Summer Chill. On the dedicated blog it was quite easy to read up to chapter 15 but after that it was a fiddle to reach further chapters. 

A Summer Chill was my first novel.

27 July 2012

Spam

Just lately my comment notification emails have gone into the spam box and the spam into the inbox. Crazy or what? I mean Yahoo knows who my regular contacts are. I think they must be having a few hiccups.

This must be the longest spam email I've ever received and I wish I hadn't received it. I know people can have disposable email addresses so it's probably a waste of time filtering and blocking. The interesting thing about this message is that the final paragraph is a different size and font to the main body which makes me think it was a copy and paste job. I wonder how many recipients there are?

My Dearest,

Good day to you, I have decided to contact you after much thought considering
the fact that we have not meet before, but because of the circumstance oblige me, I decided to contact you due to the urgency of my present situation here in the refugee camp, I am Miss Ajara kones, 23yrs old female and I from Kenya here in Africa; my father was the former Kenyan road Minister. He and Assistant Minister of Home Affairs Lorna Laboso had been on board the Cessna 210, which was headed to Kericho and crashed in a remote area called Kajong'a, in western Kenya. The plane crashed on Tuesday 10th, June, 2008. After the death of my beloved father my wicked step mother along with my uncles team together and sold everything that my late father had and share the money within themselves. Unfortunately to me I fined my father's briefcase and when I opened it I found a document, which my late father use to deposit the sum of Eight Million Five Hundred Thousand United State Dollars ($8.500.000.00) in International Micro De Finance Bank, here in Burkina Faso West Africa with my name as next of skin, right now I am in Ouagadougou Capital of Burkina Faso to withdraw the money so that i can start a better life and also further my education.
 
But on my arrival to the Bank, the Bank foreign Operation Department Director whom I meet in person told me that my father instruction to their bank is that the fund would only be release to me when I am married or present a trustee/partner who will help me and invest the fund overseas after the transfer, and the bank ask me to go and look for a foreign partner, that was why  I decided to contact you, which I believe that you are going to be honest and reliable person that will help me and stand as my trustee/partner, so that I can present you to the Bank for the release and transfer of the inheritance fund into your bank account in your country, and It is my intention to compensate you with 40% of the total fund for your services and help and the balance shall be my capital in your establishment. As soon as I receive your positive response showing your interest i will put things into action, in the light of the above, I shall appreciate an urgent message indicating your ability and willingness to handle this transaction, awaiting your urgent and positive response, Please do keep this only to your self, i beg you not to disclose it to any body till i come over because am afraid of my wicked stepmother, i will send you my picture in my next email, with due respect, i am pleading that you help me, i am giving all this detailed information with every transparency believing that you will have a clear picture of the base of help i need from you.


I hope to hear from you soon, May truth and love be the guiding word in my refuge,  
Best regard

 
Yours Sincerely
Ajara kones

26 July 2012

THE DOGGY TALES, PART 4 (repeat)

GINGER’S DILEMMA

The continual scratching was the cause of Missus going off the rails. She swore Ginger was infested with fleas and did a lot of shouting to prove her disgust to anyone within earshot. Several teacups were broken in the process which struck me as being a bit over the top. Fleas are terrible but they’re only bad for the one who has them. Missus didn’t seem to realise what we had to go through in order to reach an itch. Contortions though, are Ginger’s speciality. With having longer legs he can twist and turn much easier than me. The only trouble is when he finds it he goes at it like pneumatic drill.
 
Much to Ginger’s dismay Missus spent hours washing him with special stuff that was supposed to kill off the mites. It reminded me of the old lady in a past life who treated my ears with Lysol. That was enough to put me off humans for life.

‘Don’t come near me,’ I barked, when we were put out to sleep in the barn. Well, you couldn’t blame me for wanting to keep myself clean. Chicken Fingers would soon bar me from the den if he thought I was lousy.

Chicken Fingers’ den was a wooden shed at the back of the farmhouse. He used to keep wood logs in there until they got a fancy fire for the kitchen which meant wood was no longer needed. It suited me; I never did like all the journeys to gather it in. I didn’t mind sitting in Chicken Fingers’ old car, leaning out the window to catch the breeze, but the old wagon wasn’t the most comfortable of vehicles and there was only room for me in the back when it was loaded with wood. I got splinters in my paws whenever we were on the return journey. Gaffer said it was my own fault for not keeping still. He hasn’t yet learned that a Staff doesn’t like sitting still.

The den was something else. Chicken Fingers did it out with wool rugs and bits of old furniture, a desk and a chair from the attic, an old couch from the front parlour, and a red plastic bed for me that was rescued from a neighbour’s tip. Mind, I was only allowed to use it when Chicken Fingers was in the den, other times it was the barn or the kitchen or the adjoining field, depending on the time of day.

Although Ginger was allowed more time in the kitchen, he wasn’t as well off as me. He had Missus to contend with. Being kissed all the time and embraced by those fat arms wasn’t my idea of heaven. I’m a man’s dog through and through. But if Ginger likes that sort of thing then he’s in the right place.

One fine Sunday, Chicken Fingers and I were outside the den enjoying the sun. He sat astride a wooden chair reading the newspaper while I pretended to sleep by his feet. All was calm, the only sounds coming from the cows and a pesky wasp. I tried snapping at it but wasps being wasps it just kept zoning in without fear of landing between my teeth. I made a silent promise to get it ... one day. It was too nice to get het up over a stupid insect.

Peace was disturbed by a sudden loud yell and a whoosh of feet. The kitchen door was flung open and Ginger shot out … followed by Missus.

‘Come here, you varmint,’ she cried, brandishing Ginger’s lead as she chased after him, her plump legs moving as fast as they were able.

Of course, Ginger had a head start; he was off round the barn, passed the hen run, and into the field. Chicken Fingers and I watched in quiet amazement.

‘Bet she’s found a flea, Butch,’ Gaffer said, resting his arms on the back of the chair and idly swinging his stout legs as if he was on a horse.

A flea? He needn’t come near me then, not until was de-loused.

Gaffer said, ‘If he’s got to be treated I’m glad we’ll be out of the way for a couple of days.

Ears on the alert, I waited, but heard no more.

My luck was in. Sure enough, come Monday I was settled into the front seat of Chicken Fingers’ old Morris and off we went to visit an auction and a market two towns away. I had to stay on lead but that didn’t matter, at least I was seeing something new.

The auction was interesting. Warm and smelly. I’m quite taken with cow smells; it attracts me to them, although they don’t seem to care much for my presence when I go to investigate. Cow pats are a particular attraction, rolling in one gives me a sense of one-upmanship, an ‘I’m better than you’ sort of thing. Chicken Fingers isn’t happy when I go home, as he says, stinking the place out. And Missus won’t have me in the house until I’ve been hosed and scrubbed and hosed again.

Cows at the farm snort when they see me coming, but not the ones in the auction sheds. They’re tame by comparison but I suppose they couldn’t do much with those tethers in place. Even so, I was kept strictly on the lead so I couldn’t test it out. I watched out for cow pats though, just in case Gaffer decided to let me loose.

I never knew cows were sold to other farmers. I suppose I hadn’t lived on a farm long enough to learn the nitty-gritty. There was a lot of shouting and waving of hands and papers but by and large the farmers just stood around watching sellers and buyers at work. While us dogs were stuck there on leads!

Afterwards we went for a walk in some woods. It was awesome. All those trees on which to leave the message that Butch was here. Chicken Fingers warned me to go carefully so as not to scare the woodland animals, he said there might be deer wandering about. Didn’t see any but there were plenty of fluffy rabbits and perky squirrels for me to chase. Two very different creatures, one shoots up trees and the other into holes in the ground. I didn't stand a chance.

The luxury bit of the days out was a stay in a hotel. You never saw such posh furnishings. A huge high bed covered with white sheets and what Gaffer called an eiderdown. Sounded like one of the ducks I’m friendly with on the lake. I was allowed to sleep in Chicken Fingers’ room but was told I couldn’t get on the bed. The green tartan car blanket was brought in for me, which was okay, but it didn’t smell half as nice as the eiderdown.

Back at the farm, Chicken Fingers and I had only been back a couple of minutes when we sensed something was wrong.

‘It’s too quiet,’ Gaffer said.

He was right. There was no barking for a start, and no sign of Ginger.

We got out of the car and ambled towards the kitchen.

‘We’re back,’ Gaffer called as we went through the door.

Silence.

No sign of Missus or Ginger.

Gaffer walked across the tiled floor to the table, picked up a note, read it aloud. ‘Gone to the vets.’

The vet? Why would Missus want to see the vet? Was she ill? The only time Ginger and I went to the vet was for vaccinations. Did Missus need a vaccination?

Chicken Fingers looked worried. He sat in the chair by the hearth so I went over to lean against him. Leaning was my way of showing I loved him, I thought maybe I should try and cheer him up. His hand came down and rested on my head. ‘You’re a good pal, Butch. I wonder what’s happened to Ginger.’

Ginger? Why Ginger? NOT Ginger?

I twisted to look at Gaffer, trying to make out what he was thinking. I lay down and sat up again, moving to attract his attention. I rubbed my head against his ankle, looked up to see if my ploy was working. Chicken Fingers merely grinned and told me I was a great dog. Well, that was something, I suppose.

Then I heard it, the far away sound of Missus’ car coming down the lane. I yapped and bounced around, darting to the door and back again, urging Chicken Fingers to let me out. By that time the car was in the yard. I heard Missus pull the brake, then silence as the engine died.

She climbed out, walked round the car and opened the hatch. I saw Ginger’s head lift then sink, lift again, then sink. Saints preserve us, what was WRONG with him? I didn’t run, I padded quietly to the car. Sniffed. Smelled something strange and unpleasant. Gaffer came across and I heard Missus saying something about an operation. I lifted up, put my front paws on the car and gazed at Ginger. His eyes were open, his body still. No jumping in recognition. He just gazed at me, sleepily.

Chicken Fingers moved me out of the way, took me inside the house. I was told to get on the blanket and stay there! Hmm! Under the circumstances I felt it was best to do as I was told. He went back outside and minutes later came back in with Missus and him carrying Ginger between them. I froze. Was he dying? Oh no, I couldn’t bear it if he was, who would I snuggle up to at night, who would I tease or taunt? Was this the end of our little dog, big dog games?

I needn’t have worried, Ginger was fine. I heard Missus telling Chicken Fingers that Ginger’s itching was because of a deep cut. The continual scratching had opened it so wide it needed stitches. It seems the vet gave him something to make him sleep while he did it. No-one knew how Ginger got such a bad cut and I for one don’t care now that I know he’s not going to die.

That night, as we nestled in the hay in the barn, I snuggled close to Ginger, licked his nose several times, and promised that in future I would protect him from all ills, so long as it didn’t involve fleas.

(to be continued)

24 July 2012

SURPRISE, SURPRISE!



George Powell had just climbed out of the bath when Jack Owen rang. He reeked of Carol's Jasmine soap. His wife had taken the twins shopping and afterwards she would treat them to a meal at a new pizza parlour. She'd been vague about the shopping. George hadn't pressed her or given his customary warning about overspending, didn't want to influence the cost of his fortieth birthday present, if that was what she was up to. She and the kids were going on to her mother’s, something about ma-in-law needing a perm. He’d felt a bit off about it at first, it being his birthday, but then he decided that time alone would be good. It didn’t happen very often and anyway they could make up for it later on. It was one of the reasons he’d had an early bath, he didn’t want the smell of sweat and toil putting her off.
     
The run downstairs left a trail of snowy froth where his feet hit the carpet. He'd wrapped a white bath sheet around him but hadn't stopped to remove any surplus suds. He could smell the beef casserole warming in the oven, smiled because Carol hadn't neglected his welfare; even the fridge was stocked with her latest batch of baking. Much as he loved them George looked forward to some quality time before his noisy family descended to shatter the peace.
     
He barked ‘Hello’ into the phone, hoping to convince the caller that he wasn’t willing to chat, but when he heard Jack’s voice he made an effort to soften his tone.
     
Jack's invitation to accompany him to the Duke's Feathers was not well received. 'Not tonight, mate. I'm just about to sample Carol's stew and while I've got the place to myself I want to get stuck into that new book I bought. Don't get much chance to read when the twins are around.' Picking up a psychedelic pencil with a rubber shaped like a giraffe's head on the end, he doodled on the message pad while he listened to Jack outlining his day with Samantha and Mary-Jane and thought yet again what a fiend Louise was to limit her husband's access days to one a month. He'd be inconsolable if he didn't see Gill and Kenny every day.
     
By the time Jack rang off, George was perfectly dry. Casting his eyes downwards he studied his form. Not a bad figure for an oldie; neither a blemish nor a bulge of excess fat to worry about. The tan of last year's holiday was holding, though he was naturally swarthy. With his hair so wavy and dark he could easily have been mistaken for a man of Eastern birth.
     
Overlooking his nakedness, he went into the kitchen to stuff the towel in the washing machine. The smell in there was mouth-watering. 'Five more minutes,' he said, patting the oven door, 'and you'll be devoured.' He didn’t know that Michael Abbott had arrived at his back door until he went to leave the room and saw him through the window. Uttering a few profanities, he retrieved the towel and secured it around his waist.
     
'Why are you lurking in my garden?' he demanded as he eased open the door.

Mike pushed past his friend. 'Glad to see you're all dressed up, George. Expecting someone special?'
     
Slamming the door to, George turned the key. 'Expecting no-one. Can’t a man have a bath without the whole neighborhood dropping in? Anyway, you shouldn't be here, you should be at home preparing Gloria's tea.'
     
'If she wants tea, she can stop working late.'

George's skin was a mass of goose bumps. 'Do me a favour, Michael, make a drink of tea or something while I get some clothes on.' Clutching the towel to his abdomen he went towards the door, but there he turned. 'Fancy a bit of stew?' he asked.

Straddling a chair, Michael Abbott inwardly feared that his efforts to get George out of the house were about to fail. 'Why, that's what I want to know. Since when has reading taken priority over drinking?'
     
'Jeepers, Mike, can't you take no for an answer?'
     
'There's going to be a disco.'
     
'At the Feathers? Have they gone mad?'
     
'Not much of a thing, shouldn't think, but it'd be a bit of fun. Look at all the ladies you could ogle in Carol’s absence.'
     
'I'd rather have a quiet drink.'
     
'Ah. Does that mean you'll come?'
     
George slammed his book on the table and got to his feet. 'I suppose I won't get a minute's peace if I don't, just don't expect me to jig about like a moron. You can do what you like. I'll just watch.'
     
George's idea of dressing-up was wildly off-course. Mike was horrified when he saw him wearing casual gear, baggy green cords and an overlarge grey Shetland jumper.
     
'Christ, George, you're not exactly dressed for dancing.'
     
'I'm going drinking not dancing.'                                                                                                                            
     
Mike could feel the sweat inside his collar. This conspiracy lark was becoming a real chore. Fifteen minutes ago George had suggested they wait for Carol and the twins. Mike had a devil of a job persuading him otherwise. He indicated that Carol might veto the trip and when George told him that Carol would never do that, Mike resorted to prevarication, hinting at a prearranged assignation. George had chortled for a good minute. And now there was this problem with his dress. George was already unhooking his Barber from the back of the kitchen door.
     
'Dressed like that, my friend will think you're an odd-ball,' Mike said, tongue in cheek.
     
'If Carol doesn't mind the informal look, why should your bit of on the side complain?’
     
'She's very fussy.'
     
'Can't be if she's knocking around with you.'
     
Mike tried pleading and was surprised when it worked. Giving unprintable utterances, George sailed off to change. Three minutes later he emerged looking as spruce as he did on Sundays when he and the family went to church.
     
'Will I do?
     
'Thanks, George.'

~~~~~

The shabby upstairs function room was transformed. Pennants adorned the insipid magnolia painted walls, screaming HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEORGE in noisy colours; yet it was artistically done, Carol having arranged the banners in symmetrical order. It had been easier than expected getting out of the house, under the pretext of taking the twins for a meal. George had been so engrossed in his book had had merely nodded when she said where she was going, as if he was only half listening. Ordinarily she would have badgered him for not paying attention, but his lack of response had suited her today. 
     
Carol finished laying the food on long tables and stood back to admire the arrangement. In the language of the twins, the smell of the food was yummy. Carol had put the cake, baked and iced by Chrissy Brown, on a mount draped with white muslin. Oval platters borrowed from Holly Harris, the road’s newest resident, were flush with five varieties of crust-free sandwiches. Bowls of salad were strategically placed midst quiches, sausage rolls, chicken legs, and miniature pork pies. Eddy Brown, the landlord had seen to the glasses and the drinks. It was the first time she had planned a surprise party and it would probably be the last. She found it exhausting and decidedly nerve-racking.
     
Thinking of Jack's assignment, to escort the unwitting George, Carol crossed her fingers and prayed they wouldn't arrive before eight-thirty. By that time the guests should be installed; all of them had promised to be there no later than eight-fifteen. She expected Jack any minute. He was to deliver the balloons on his way to collect George. She would go through the timing then. There wasn't much more to do. She and the twins were already dressed in their party gear, covered by commodious aprons to keep them clean.
     
Jack crept into the room as if stealth was the prevailing rule, looking to all sides as if expecting George himself to be there. He was overloaded with oblong boxes of assorted balloons, some securely wedged under his arms and the rest carried like laden trays.
     
The twins, Gill and Kenny, tittered in the corner, childishly regarding their pseudo uncle as a bit of a numskull. They had been detailed to wrap cutlery in paper napkins but Kenny was bored with the task. For him, Jack's furtive entrance had provided a welcome break in the tedium of preparation. He wanted the excitement to start. All this groundwork was dreary.
     
Carol questioned Jack about George. 'Can I check what time you'll be bringing him?'
     
'I'm not. He refused to come out. Said he wanted to finish his book -'
     
'I see.' Carol worriedly laboured the words. She had felt so sure George would accept Jack's invitation to join him for a drink she hadn't concocted another method of getting him there without him knowing why.
     
Jack grinned at her panic-stricken expression. 'Don't worry. Mike's dealing with it; he's more persuasive than me. I think he's there now.'
     
Carol ran her fingers through her blonde curls, breathing out in relief. 'Phew. I thought for a minute the plan was ruined.'
     
Gillian had got the knack of wrapping cutlery. She could wrap and roll four complete sets in the time it took Kenny to do one. She enjoyed the task. It made her feel important, as if she was helping to move the plot along. 'I was wondering, Mum. If the lights are out when Dad gets here, how will we see his face.' Gillian was a stickler for having every detail in black and white.
     
'By the corridor light when he opens the door.'
     
'What if Uncle Mike comes in first.'
     
'He won't,' Jack said. 'He'll be a gentleman and usher your Dad in first.' Using a pump, he began to inflate the balloons.
     
Kenny considered that rather more worthwhile than wrapping cutlery. 'Can I do some, Uncle Jack?'
     
'Sure can, Kenny. Just let me get a few ready to string up and then you can take over.'
     
Kenny shrieked, 'Yes,' and executed the salute of power.
     
'I don't consider pumping a few balloons a major achievement, Kenny.'
     
'Aw, Mum. It's got to be better than the sissy job you've had me doing.'
     
Eyebrows raised, Carol looked at Jack. 'His father all over.'

~~~~~

Mike Abbott was barely listening as George lauded the achievements of the Edrington football team, his mind was focused on getting his friend to the pub; that and wondering if Gloria would make it in time for a bit of a jig.
     
He didn’t seem to see much of his wife now their working hours had changed. It was a case of him coming home as she went out which wasn’t conducive to a contented life. If they’d had kids it might have been different. The guys thought he was daft to put up with it. Jack was always telling him to make a stand, not that he could talk much. Look what happened to him. On his own. Two kids he rarely saw. An ex-wife who fleeced him blind. At least Glo was still with him. Just never there when he needed her. He was coming up the same age as George but what a difference in their circumstances. Maybe he should make a stand.
     
'Hey Mike, there's Andy. I hear his wife’s gone astray. Let's go and say hello.’
     
Hearing George’s suggestion dragged Mike back to the present. He had a task on his hands and now his friend wanted to go walkabout.
     
Mike glanced across the road, saw Andy Rowlands sitting on the front step, demoralised and morose. Heaving a sigh he kicked a rolled-up piece of chip paper into the gutter. He didn’t dare look at his watch. He felt pity for the man, knowing as well as anyone what it was like to be left to his own devices by a woman although to be fair to Gloria she was only working. Andy’s wife had gone the whole hog and hopped over to Ireland to keep house for her ageing mother. There was no knowing when she’d be back. Much as he’d like to commiserate he couldn't do it now in case Andy let something slip about tonight. Mike assumed his most persuasive tone. 'We should get on, I think, George. We don't want to miss the start.'
     
'Christopher Columbus! Didn't know there was a bloody deadline for going to a pub. Opening time's when I get there, what happens before then doesn't matter.'
     
A collared-dove cooed to its mate. Mike glanced up in case he was in range of a dropping or two. Glo detested the bigger birds. If she heard them she would cover her head with her bag. Mike wondered if she was home yet. She had been out all day, first having her hair trimmed, then lunch with an old school friend whom Mike had never heard of, and then into work.  It was about time he made a stand.     
     
'Come on,' George said. 'Won't take a minute to say hello.'
     
Afraid of making an issue and raising suspicion, Mike reluctantly followed his friend across the road.

'Jen home yet, Andy?' George asked, rather too heartily under the circumstances.


'Seems like she's gone for good. Not heard a word from her in days.' Although he appeared sober, the fumes on Andy's breath were enough to intoxicate anyone who got too close.
     
'No phone call?' asked Mike.
     
Andy shook his head. 'No bloody telegram either.'
     
George asked if there was anything they could do, and Mike surreptitiously tugged his arm as a reminder that their presence was required elsewhere.
     
'George said, ‘Tell you what, Ray, Mike and I are off to the Feather's. I'll give you a ring later. See if you're all right.'
     
'Yeah, forgot it was the big do. Hope you enjoy it.'
     
Mike cringed. He had known it wasn't wise to stop and talk. Drawing George away, he steered him back across the road and towards the corner.
     
'Andy knows more than me, Mike. Fancy him knowing about a do at the Feathers when he never goes in there.'

~~~~~

The twins sniggered as they clung to Carol, crushing the blue velvet to her legs and impeding her own movements. Sometimes they wailed mischievously that they didn't like the dark, sometimes they issued spook-like moans. The function room had been plunged in darkness when the lookout, landlord Eddy Brown, sighted Mike and George coming across the car park. His cry of 'They're here' had carried up the stairs, sending the occupants of the party-goers into a stew of seething hurly-burly. Gillian and Kenny had flown to Carol's side screeching 'Daddy's here, Daddy's here.' To shut them up, Carol clamped her hands over their mouths and hauled them backwards to a recess near the door from where she intended they would spring out on George before Jack switched on the lights.

~~~~~

There wasn't a sound on the upper storey of the Feathers and with the staircase meanly lit there was a ghostly quality to the place. Influenced by the atmosphere Mike moved stealthily in the shadows, but George stomped noisily up the narrow stairs, complaining about the absence of Eddy Brown and the contrary way he had of running a disco. 'What about tickets, eh?' Surely anyone with an ounce of sense would know there should be tickets. How else can he monitor the crowd.'
     
With George in the lead, the two men climbed the second flight. Mike ignored George's grievances and his uncertainties about an evening out he didn't want in the first place. Half way up, George paused and contemplated the closed doors ahead. 'There’s not even a chink of light. At a rough guess I'd say the place was in darkness. You sure you got the date right?'
     
'I'm beginning to wonder,' Mike said, easing past George. 'Wait here while I investigate.' He started up the stairs. 'Perhaps I got the room wrong. Perhaps it's the one at the back.'
     
George trailed after Mike. 'Can't be. We'd have heard the music on the way in.'
     
Arriving at the door, standing as far back as the cramped space would allow, Mike cupped his ear with his hand in pretence of listening. George, however, was at the end of his tether. Groaning with exasperation he shoved Mike aside and rammed open the heavy door.
     
George blinked as instant illumination penetrated the gloom. 'What the Hanover ….' 
     
Jubilant applause interrupted him, demolishing the lumbering silence. Mike propelled him through the doorway as cries of Surprise and Happy Birthday emanated from the bosom of the crowded room.
     
Carol stepped towards him, holding out a glass of champagne. 'Happy 40th, darling,' she said. The DJ played Happy Birthday and the guests chanted in tune.
     
Wishing he could think up a witty response, George took the glass from his wife, drank deeply until he felt the twins' arms go round his waist. Looking down at Kenny and Gill he saw their excitement, saw how much they were enjoying his astonishment. His heart filled up with tenderness.

~~~~~

In three years, Mikey had not once missed Gloria's homecoming. Until today. The living room was empty and as tidy as when she left that morning. No littering of mugs and not a newspaper in sight. Mikey had clearly been out all day. Gloria let out a sigh. After all her efforts to get off work early, he wasn’t here. For a few moments she contemplated the vacant room, endeavoring to establish a reason for her husband's unexpected absence.
     
Gloria hung her coat in the downstairs closet and kicked off her shoes. What fun it would be to turn the tables and accuse Mikey of always being late. She could tease him about an elicit love affair. Her mother always said shrewdest safeguard for one's transgressions was to attack although Gloria didn’t think there was any reason for either. Even though it wasn't true, Mikey would blush to his auburn-flecked hair roots. Gloria giggled at the thought, but the giggle petered out when a whit of unease threatened to take the triumph away. She couldn’t imagine where he was. 

She trusted her husband implicitly. He would no more go off the rails than take up skydiving. As for her job, she’d given the evening shift a try and now decided it wasn’t for her. She was basically a home bird and it wasn’t as if they needed the extra money. She’d told Jeremy today that she wanted to switch back to mornings. He was a reasonable boss and he’d agreed that she could do the switch next week. It would be so much better to work when Mike worked instead of living life like one of those German weather clocks. The little lady going in as her man was going out. Her grandmother had one once. Gloria used to sit and watch it, mesmerised, waiting for them to change round. Well, she didn’t want her life to go on like that. Maybe now she’d changed her hours things would improve.

Gloria perched on the arm of the chair and peered through the window, nervously drumming her foot against the skirting board. Her wine glass had been empty for a while but she still held it in her hand. Faint household sounds broke the silence: the fridge switching on, the whirr of the electric clock. For once, rather than suffer the eerie stillness, she would have chosen to listen to Mikey's crazy operettas.
     
The road outside was deserted. Not even a car passed by. Where the heck was he? Oh god, what if he’d had an accident. She dismissed the thought on the grounds that someone would have been in touch if he had. He always carried ID. What if he was with another woman? How would she cope with something like that? He might be a bit silly sometimes but she loved him desperately, she’d die if he found another woman.
     
Unable to sit there any longer, Gloria moved away from the window. Tension soared inside her. If she didn't do something she'd pass out with worry. Mikey couldn’t be far away. She had rung Jack and George several times. No reply. Gloria went to the fridge for more wine. Replacing the carton she closed the door and leaned against it, feeling the vibration. Without moving away, she sipped the wine.  In a minute she would ring Mikey’s mom to see if he’d gone there.           

Just as she put her hand on the receiver, the telephone rang.
     
'Glo?'
     
Gloria sank to the bottom step of the stairs, her favourite spot when talking on the phone. 'Oh, Mikey,' she cried.
     
Mike said, 'I thought you were never coming home.' Gloria felt her cheeks flush. 'Guess you forgot about George's party?'
     
Her face was on fire. George's party!
     
'Been home long?' enquired Mike.
     
'Ages.'
     
'Well, get your glad rags on and get over here. You're missing all the fun.'
     
'Where are you?' Gloria's voice was indistinct.
     
'At the Feathers, where'd you think. Don't be too long, my sweet. I'm pining for you.'
     
Gloria remained on the bottom stair for a long time after Michael rang off. Her anxiety quenched, she thought how much she loved that man and what’s more his love for her was once again confirmed.

~~~~~

The high heels and sequined grey dress was perfect. It made her feel sexy. If she played her cards right tonight might be the turning point in her marriage. It wasn’t the ideal outfit for climbing flights of stairs but she felt too relaxed to care. She didn’t think she could blame the wine either. Ever since Mikey rang she’d been on a high, all anxiety so nicely washed away when she heard his voice.
     
She stopped outside the door, arranged her hair over her shoulders. The music sounded a bit wild and she wondered fleetingly if she’d chosen the wrong gear. Then she thought, to hell with it, Mikey liked mad tunes so she’d just have to talk a bit louder. A smile flickered across her face at the thought of stopping him from yapping on the dance floor. One kiss was all it would take, plus a bit of  lingering seduction. Eagerly she pushed open the door .

Michael saw her coming. She looked so beautiful his heartbeats worked overtime. It had been a while since they danced together and he so wanted to feel her in his arms. He pushed through the crowd, his eyes never leaving her face.

George and Carol were locked in an embrace. He looked up as Mike passed, saw the love written on his face, saw who he was heading for. Whispering to Carol he said, ‘Looks like surprises all round. I reckon tonight is going to be one of those happy ever after times for all of us.’