Friday, 31 August 2012

123: Coralicious

Life under the sea is much the same as life on land, except for the air, I guess.  And fire.  We don’t have fire.  Nor electricity, that wouldn’t be safe.  So other than air, fire and electricity, life under the sea is much the same as life on land.

We have jobs and mortgages and politicians who you wouldn’t trust as far as you could propel them.  We have families and roads and most of us have pets, although most people choose a fish.  We read and dance and have dreams just like you do.  And we have adventures.  One day we’ll invent something so we can come up and see you on land instead of just holding our gills and diving into the air for a glance landward.

My dream of adventure just came true.  I was exploring the great coral lands off the shore of Penzance.  It is miles from home, almost five miles, but adventurers should be brave and prepared to risk everything in search of that new discovery.  And I think I finally found it.

I swam over foot after foot of white coral, the sort you land dwellers expect to be in exotic locations where holidays cost as much as your car.  Then there was delicate yellow then pale green fading to grey and lastly a muddy brown probably close to a horrible outlet pipe.  Just beyond that was an outcrop perhaps the size of one of your buses.  It was blue.  Then green.  Then blue and green together.  The colours changed as I watched, pulsing before my eyes, colour swirling and splodging at random, never the same pattern or shade twice.

My grandmother told me about such a place when I was small, reading from story books as I drifted off to sleep in my crib.  It was mythical, much like the “Atlantis” we suggested to your people.  Nobody really believed but in the darkest part of the night, we hoped that maybe it would be true.

Explorers would normally plant a flag somewhere like this but I had none with me.  The most I’d hoped for was to discover some treasure, probably old junk discarded by your people but invaluable for us to build our towns.  I snapped as many photos as my camera would take, then called in my find to the Coralogical Society.

“Will you call it after me?” I asked.

“That’s usual,” he said.  “What’s your name?”

“Ishus,” I replied.

Maybe I should have spelled it out to him, but it's close enough.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

122: Heart Breaker

My darling daughter

It’s your birthday and that means another year that you have been in my life.  Funny, it’s only been 2 years but I can’t really recall life before then.  Not a life with such meaning and such reward as you bring me.  Not a life with such beauty.  Your smile does light up a room and take away my breath and all those other clichéd things from songs.  They’re still true though and I want everyone I meet, ever, to know it.

That first day you smiled up at me I thought I would burst with joy.  Smiles make your nose crinkle and your eyes twinkle and you sparkle like a firework.   That first day you grabbed my finger and held tight, I wanted to grab you back and hold on forever.  Each new milestone brings me more happiness than I even knew I could feel.  First words, first steps, first day at school, each a new triumph for you and each a catch of breath for me.  My job is to love you and treasure you and help you grow into the world.  How can I want to see you reach your full potential yet want to hold you close to me always, keep you safe from the world?

Your gift to me is more wondrous than anything I can ever give you.  When you are sad it makes my soul cry.  I would give anything to stop you from ever feeling any hurt.  I will never let you down and I will always be on your team.  I would give my life for you to be happy always.

Each year on this day I will remember the day we first met.  I’ll replay everything that happened on that day, from grabbing my bag for the hospital to holding your tiny fist deep in the night when we were finally alone.  I loved not having to share you with anyone, just for a while.  I took a breath of you, smelling your scent and your new baby smell was the most perfect smell ever made. 

Forever isn’t long enough for me to love you.  I love you baby girl.  I always have and I always will.

Your mother xxx

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

121: Out All Night

Ceri rolled over again, tugging the covers up round her chin.  Rex did this every so often and she hated it.  She hadn’t noticed he’d even left.  Only her calling his name which rattled round the empty flat let her know.  His dinner was half eaten in the kitchen with chunks of meat dropped on the floor.  He must have been in a hurry, she thought.

During the evening she had looked out of the window hourly and close to midnight even walked out into the dark looking for him trotting happily back down the road.  Rex never had any idea of what she went through when he was out.  Or maybe he did and didn’t care.  Next morning he would snuggle her, loving her and winding his way back into her heart. 

Often she could settle him down to an evening on the couch, cuddled up and immersed in rubbish telly.  He mostly fell asleep on her, snoring so loud she once had to turn the volume up.  Rolling him off his back helped but he usually went right off to sleep again.

The time 02:45 glared red at her in the dark.  Outside the sound of footsteps on fallen leaves caught Ceri’s attention, then movement at the front door told her Rex was home.  She flung back the bedcovers and headed out of the bedroom to greet him.  He was in the kitchen.

“What time do you call this?” she said.  “I didn’t even know you’d gone.”

Rex glanced at her then went back to eating his dinner.  He ate every last morsel, including the bits he’d knocked out of the bowl earlier.  He stretched first backwards, then forwards.  Then he plopped his bottom on the kitchen floor, stuck his back leg straight up in the air and began cleaning himself.

“Tomorrow I’m sealing up the cat flap and booking you in to the vet,” said Ceri.  Rex slunk towards her, twining himself round her ankles, purring loudly.  “I mean it this time.”

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

120: Sunshine

We painted the window to see what it would do to the sunshine.  It was white paint, gloss I think.  Cherry got it for 95p in the charity shop for homeless one-legged dogs.  They threw in a paintbrush for free because it was matted worse than one of them dogs.

One edge of the lid was rusted and I had to use Grandad’s screwdriver to prise it off.  There were little brown flakes settled on the surface of the paint.  Cherry got a bit of stick from the garden and stirred to make them disappear but they were still there.

We didn’t have a ladder so we had to reach up as high as we could to paint the top of the window.  Cherry said she’s 1.5 inches taller than me so she did the highest bits but she left lots of gaps.  The clumps in the bristles made it harder too.  The glass was too shiny and the paint streaked all over the surface.   I grabbed the brush and balanced on the window sill.

I wished we’d taken the curtains down because they got stuck on the painty glass.  The window had a pretty weavy pattern on it but the curtain looked spoilt.  I decided to leave the pattern and work on the rest of the window.  Brushing side to side was much easier than up and down.  My arm got very tired but I used the other hand to hold it up and I finished.

White is supposed to make stuff lighter but the room was much darker now.  Even the spaces between the strokes and the gaps Cherry had missed didn’t let in much light.  We could see a patch of blue sky and a cloud like a lion and even the sun, but our room was like dusk.  I turned the light on.  It was still dingy.

I tried to pick bits of rust off the paint but they stuck behind my fingernails, glued there by the paint.  I drew a smiley face in the white and so did Cherry.

Monday, 27 August 2012

119: Red Carpet

Silas bought the carpet precisely because he knew it wasn’t to everyone’s tastes.  It was too gaudy for a movie premiere, too tomatoey for a hotel lobby, too cheap lipstick for a ballroom.  Plus it was £3 per square metre, very good for tufted wool.

He measured up the lounge and the hallway and was delighted to find those would cost him under £100.  So he measured up the dining room and the bedrooms and the bathroom.  He could re-carpet the whole house for a couple of hundred quid.

Silas placed his order at the shop, buying enough to carpet his entire house twice over.  He had half cut into the correct sizes for his rooms.  The remainder he left in a long roll for storage in his garage.

He didn’t take up the offer of free fitting nor did he want the delivery men to take his old carpets away.  He could manage those, thank you.  He would relish the chance to do a bit of DIY himself.

Anyway, he didn’t want anyone asking awkward questions about what those dark patches staining the floorboards were as they ripped up the old Wilton.  This red would be exactly the right shade that splatter would never show. 

Sunday, 26 August 2012

118: Frost

My dinner wasn’t in the dog, it was on the dog.  He’d apparently retrieved the sausage and the bacon easily, but when I arrived home there were still most of the beans caked into his fur.  Jasper is very wriggly but even he can’t snaffle bean juice from between his own shoulder blades, for goodness sake.

I couldn’t find any white or yolk on the dog but the sticky yellow splodge on the plate left in my spot at the dinner table led me to think there was at least one sunny-side up, if not two.  That sparked the first twinge of anger I had.  Soft eggs are my favourite bit of a fry up.

In the kitchen, my four-pack of Guinness stood warming on the hob.  And several bottles of bottle-aged ales had been shaken so the sediment floated angrily around inside the glass.  Then they had been laid down on their sides.  On their SIDES.

It wasn’t even as if I hadn’t thought about ringing home.  I got the beep-beep-beep of an engaged tone around 6.30 and then it was my turn and after me Joel was up and his was a really close round.  I knew if I rang when I remembered at 9.50 Veronica would be cool towards me, cold even.

I took a warm Guinness into the lounge and flopped on the sofa.  Late night TV can be decent viewing, you just have to find the right channels.  I searched for the remote, finding it after ten minutes stuffed as far as a small arm could reach under the bottom of the sofa.  I don’t have a small arm.  Not as small as Veronica’s anyway.

I pointed the remote at the TV and clicked, but nothing happened.  I tried again.  And again.  Surprising, they never work if they have the batteries removed.  How did that happen, I wonder.  Back in the kitchen and searching drawers, it seemed that every single battery we owned had disappeared.  No, that’s not quite true.  Every single battery of the size the remote control took had disappeared.  Please don’t have fed those to Jasper as well.  He’ll be bunged up for days.

I decided I should probably sleep on the sofa.  My head hurt too much to face the wrath of Veronica after the night I’d had.  She’d taken the blanket upstairs and I noticed my big coat wasn’t hung under the stairs like usual.

Still, the night would surely be less chilly than if I tried sleeping in our bed.


Saturday, 25 August 2012

117: Silver Clash

Most people would guess at pension day being the worst but they'd be mistaken. Try B&Q. On a Wednesday. 10% Diamond Card discount day. It's the extra 5 years in the blokes that does it. They can't get state pension until 65 but a Diamond Card? He only has to be 60. “Enough,” as they say, “said.”

Lots have taken an early retirement but you do get some who still work and it's usually those that feel they have something to prove. They bring the rush rush of the office with them, the deadlines and the stress and quite often, the managerial attitude. Last week one called Martin 'you boy' and he'll be 37 in October. And demanding? Cut it to this length, fold it like so, do you have a different colour/size/gauge/setting?

Summer months are often the worst, when the weather is heating up and the man is on his annual fortnight's holiday. Last year's shorts don't fit after a winter holed up on the couch, but that doesn't stop him. He'll team it with a polo shirt, collar flipped up to show how cool he is. Then he'll march round the outdoor area of the shop choosing plants and decking and trelliswork, barking orders at the staff and arranging next day delivery so he can crack on with the garden. He doesn't have all day, you know, he's a busy man.

So, what would you think is the absolute worst, the thing guaranteed to make the silver fur fly? Picture this. Diamond Card day, a town near the sea and a sale on in the barbeque department. There is a beast the size of an oil drum, 20% off the original price of £269.95, only 1 left in stock. The Diamond Card discount brings the price under £200. In the blue corner, the guy who has invited his whole family round to watch the Olympics all weekend. He's already filled the freezer with steak and premium burgers. In the red corner, the man who has spent thousands landscaping his garden and then invited all his neighbours round to it show off.

Well Martin certainly learned some words he'd never heard before, that day. The dignity of age? This pair had never heard of such a thing and both were determined not to back down. Then the wives joined in and of course, neither wanted to lose face in front of the ladies. A bit of pushing and shoving was stamped on by security, who refused to be drawn into adjudicating on greatest need. There was some chest puffing and muscle flexing, after a fashion. Then they hit on who could hold on the longest.

With only 3 hours until closing, Martin worried they might want to be locked in overnight and he would get a caution from head office. 75 minutes later the cracks started to show. Both began jiggling, just a little. Knees were bent and trousers rearranged. Curse those prostates, always misbehaving. Each man was sizing up the other, wondering if he would outlast him. They were doing so well until Martin dropped that watering can he'd been using on the hanging baskets. He'd really only just started so it was pretty much full.

They both rushed off keeping pace with each other, no doubt aiming to reconvene once they were comfortable. But a youthful 50-something saw the kerfuffle and noticed the prize. He wheeled it to the checkout, paid cash and had packed it into his boot before the first drop had been shed in anger.

Friday, 24 August 2012

116: Night Flight

Although you can't tell for sure, she does know it's almost time. She knows you're here, feels your hot, strong hand holding hers and gently stroking the creped skin. When you were young she held your little hand with the same devotion and the prayer that if she could just hold on long enough, nothing bad would ever happen to you. The same prayer you have now.

Your presence gives her strength for the journey and she is not afraid. True, she doesn't want to go but she knows she must. She knows she will see those who have travelled on ahead of her and that one day, you will join her there too. Her mind is calm and she is happy, but she will miss you. Her only regret is missing you.

If she could speak now she would tell you how perfect her life became when you joined it. How she looked into your crib as you slept, brushing sweat-stuck hair back from your forehead. How she kissed each tiny fingernail and toenail in turn. How she wanted to wake you and tell you that entire the world was just for you. How letting you out into the world was the most immaculate pain a woman can feel.

Her wish is you will know when the time is right and you will not stop her. She trusts there will be no pain and she will not be alone. She feels your love and will take it with her.

Know one thing. You made her proud every single day.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

115: Faintest Whisper

At first I wasn't sure it was even there. The words tickled my ears and I couldn't make them out. I thought it might be the breath of a butterfly or the sneeze of a hummingbird. Then I picked out the occasional fragment of a word, maybe an -ee sound. Soon I was hearing a buzz more often, then much of the time, then always. Once I'd heard it properly, it was always the same, deep and forceful.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

114: Shall We Dance

She reminded me of Deborah Kerr when she said 'Shall we dance?' She was a better dancer than Miss Kerr, though and an even better looker. I was always so proud when she took my arm and we whirled round the dance floor. I had the proverbial two left feet but she was the kind of girl who made you want to be a better man, and that extended to dancing somehow.

We'd been stepping out a while before she let me kiss her. I'm glad really, although try telling the twenty year old me that waiting showed she was more of a lady than he ever deserved. I think she liked it deep down. If a boy didn't try to steal a kiss then a girl didn't feel pretty as her friends. I didn't dare tell her she was prettier than all of her friends put together, for fear she'd find someone more suited to her.

I still look at her now and marvel that she chose me. I had no money, few prospects and all I could offer was a promise I'd do my best by her for always. I worked hard to provide for our family and she carried the most perfect babies I've ever seen. Our boy died as an infant and she was the one who held me as I cried, the one who whispered it would all be OK. I never knew how and when she grieved but she bore the pain for us both.

Kitty, our daughter, was a miniature version of her mother. She toddled into my heart and never left. Her mother never resented our closeness but encouraged our bond, knowing I'd lost my son so my daughter was even more special. But then, she must have been just as precious to her mother for the same reason.

Now neither of us can dance any more and some days I can barely walk. Those days she blows on her hands then rubs my knees to soothe the aches. She fetches me hot water bottles and tucks me up under a tartan blanket in the best spot for watching tv. She brings me tea and chicken soup and exchanges my library books for me.

Tomorrow, knees willing, I will bring her breakfast in bed, watch her wake up and hold her hand as she sips her tea.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

113: Happy Endings

The shelves of the shop were covered in row after row of pastel coloured boxes, each about the size of a shoe box. None of the shelves were marked and the boxes didn't appear to have labels on. Still, Mrs Wheatlake knew the contents of each box and exactly what to prescribe for any of her customers.

Not anyone could become a customer of Mrs Wheatlake, though. Nobody knew the address of the shop and nobody knew how to contact her. It was said she'd find you, if she thought you needed her services. There might be a card dropped through your letterbox or she might approach you in the street, laying a hand on your arm and smiling up at you. Then she would take you to her little shop and help you.

Caitlin had woken one day to find a yellow chrysanthemum plant on her doorstep, with an invitation to Mrs Wheatlake's shop tucked between the leaves.

Caitlin pushed open the door of the shop and as she entered a bell tinkle announcing her arrival. Mrs Wheatlake smiled from behind a mahogany serving counter. “Come in, my dear,” she said. “Let me help you with your problems.”

Two cups of earl grey later, Caitlin had told the story of her rotten luck with men. How she had met a man and fallen in love, only for him to marry another girl because she had family money. How a holiday romance in Greece had led her to being used as a ticket to a new life, then dumped. How she didn't dare trust a man again and how that made her lonely and sad for the future.

My shop is very special,” said Mrs Wheatlake. “These boxes all contain happy endings. There is something here for everyone, but some people can't quite find their happy ending so I help out. Go ahead, look around and choose one. Only one of these happy endings will be the right one for you so choose carefully.”

Caitlin looked round at the boxes. She touched one then another with her fingertips before choosing a peach box and removed it from the shelf. Inside was a woman in a business suit, sat at a desk in a large office. “A successful career woman, respected for her opinions and sought for her experience,” said Mrs Wheatlake.

The next box she opened was lilac. Inside were three children in matching Gap clothing, a woman with keys to a Range Rover, a coiffured show dog and an au pair. “The trappings of a marriage to a high flying businessman,” said Mrs Wheatlake.

Inside the cream box was a large pile of money. The blue box contained an elderly couple, surrounded by photographs of smiling children and their busy parents.

How do I know which one to pick?” asked Caitlin. “Any one could be my happy ending.”

I have one special happy ending for you,” said Mrs Wheatlake. “Try that lemon box high up on the shelf near the window.”

Caitlin reached up for the box and took it down. It felt warm in her hands and the yellow glowed just slightly. She opened the lid and looked inside.
It's me,” she said. “Just me.”

Yes, my dear,” said Mrs Wheatlake. “You are the answer to your happy ending. Only you can decide and you know what to do in your heart.” She gestured at the shelves of her shop. “This may all be magic, but you must look inside to make yourself happy.

Monday, 20 August 2012

112: Wing It

“Are you really sure I’m the man for the job?”
“You’re perfect for the job.  My first choice every time.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“Oh yes.  I need a wingman I can trust and I trust you completely.”
“So run it by me again Guy, what I have to do?”
“Selina will be at the bar tonight with her friend Jo.  I’ve been hitting on her for, like, ages, and I’m nearly in there.  One more push and she’ll succumb to my charms.  But she hates to leave Jo on her own, so I need you to sweet-talk Jo.”
“But I’m crap at that.  If I knew how to talk to girls I’d have my own girlfriend.”
“Come on buddy.  Just this one time.  You never know, it could be love for you too.”
“So it’s love for you then?  Or just lust?  You just want to shag her don’t you?”
“Look, you might get a shag too.  So I just want a bit of fun.  Hey, they’re here.  Those 2 girls, blond, black dresses.  Let them get settled and you wander over, start chatting to Jo.”
“Which one is Jo then?”
“Well obviously she is the slightly… less attractive one of the pair.  That’s kind of how this works.  I’ll do the same for you one day.  What do you say?”

“Evening ladies, I’m Mark.  I couldn’t help but notice you both looking so lovely.  Could I get you both a drink?”
“Hi Mark.  Why not?  We’re both on voddie and cokes please.  Aren’t we Jo?”
“Yeah, same as always.  It’s always the same.”
“Be right back.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you here.  He’s cute but not my type.  But see his friend over there?  He’s much more like it.”
“You do know this is a setup don’t you?”
“Of course.  I’ve seen him in here before, he usually has a wingman.  That’s one of the better ones if I’m honest.”
“So what?  I have to get off with him so you can have his mate?  Jesus, Selina.  I thought it would be just us.”
“It’ll be fun.  And cheap.  Look, here they both come.   Try not to notice the other one.”

“Look, I’m sorry…”
“Me too.  They deserve each other.  I think I’ll call it a night.  See if the silly cow even notices.”
“Ha, fat chance.  Shall I walk you?  Home, or the taxi or whatever.  I feel a bit guilty and it’s not as if Guy needs me anymore.”
“Thanks, that would be nice.  But let’s not tell them we’ve gone.”
“Want to get something to eat on the way?  If you like, I mean.”
“Go on then.  Buffalo wings maybe?”

Sunday, 19 August 2012

111: Midnight Affair

'Meet me at midnight' the note had said. 'You know where.'

Jake didn't know where for sure, but he had an idea. There had been notes before this one, all calling for a meeting, giving a time and a place each time. Intrigued, he had gone along each time. But so far, nobody had ever turned up.

Like the others, this note was handwritten but in blue ink not black biro. The nib size had swapped between thin and medium, which left smeary globs of ink on the page, but the other notes were all in black. The paper was different too. This was the first on thick paper, cream with a watermark, but Jake couldn't make it out. The other notes were on flimsy paper, scraps almost, some even ripped from pads or books like a school exercise book.

Jake wondered if the upmarket note might this time mean he would actually meet someone and not stay hanging round until he got bored of searching the deserted streets and went home to bed.

At 11.30 he slipped on a warm jacket and hooked a lead onto his dog's collar. The spaniel immediately started slithering about on her belly, wagging her tail and making little 'yip' noises. “Just taking the dog round the block, love. Don't wait up,” he called to his wife. He hurried through the front door of number 126, closing it behind him before her could hear her reply. If she even replied, he thought.

He took the route he had on the other evenings the last few weeks. He headed to the end of the road, zigzagged through the side streets around the old glove factory and took a right turn towards the canal. The dog was happy to be out for an extra walk, sniffing bushes and street signs. Jake checked his watch and slowed long enough to let her explore in the undergrowth, before tugging her lead and walking towards The Spot. The shelters opposite the locks, notorious for drug taking and smelling of urine. So why not the place for a midnight liaison?

Jake was a good ten minutes early so he settled into the shadows to wait, and watch for his visitor to arrive.

At number 126, the bell went three times – bip, bip, biiiiip. Jake's wife opened the door to Trevor from number 133 opposite.

I saw him go.”

Yes, he took the dog out. He'll be gone for a while.”

Doesn't he suspect something? I mean, he won't head off into the night hopefully for ever.”

True. I'm stepping it up a bit.”

How so?” said Trevor, following Jake's wife up the stairs.

She led him into the bedroom. “Making the notes a bit more serious looking. I thought some lipstick or perfume on the next one.” She smiled. “Come on, I reckon we've got about an hour.”

Saturday, 18 August 2012

110: Happy Hour

Dennis is unhappy. Maybe not quite unhappy, but he is not, you know, happy. His mouth does not have turny up ends. His lips go straight across, thin but not stretched, and show just the tips of his teeth when he is talking. His eyes do not have twinkles in, even though they are alert and follow that girl as she walks to the table and sits down. There are no creased bits in the skin round his eyes. His nose is just normal and does not hint at happiness or unhappiness. It's just a nose and not the cute sort with a button or that crinkles up.

Dennis has been thinking about this for a long time. He decided this would be a way to be happy. Happy for sixty minutes at least. And maybe it would overshoot into an hour and a half. And if he came here often maybe it would become a habit and he could be happy all day.

Happy hour starts in five minutes so Dennis has arrived early to find a comfortable spot not to miss the action. He has no idea what will happen and he is nervous. What if it hurts? What if there are too many people for all the happy to go round. What if he can't be happy, even here?

It is time. No bell rings. No people speak out or perform. There is no special music or sign of any sort that the happiness is about to begin. Dennis sits quietly, not sure what is supposed to happen, wondering if perhaps it is just a little late tonight. Dennis think perhaps it just comes on somehow, with nothing to see. Perhaps it is just because it is his first time.

So he sits and he waits for the happy to start.

Friday, 17 August 2012

109: Fairy Dust

She blew something into the air, just as you walked into the bar. Silvery spangles and gossamer trails covered your face and hair, gathering in the corners of your eyes like shiny sleep. You heard her giggle tinkling above the shouting of the Friday night crowds.

Sorry,” she said and retrieved a large shiny flake from the end of your nose. “It was meant for her.” She pointed towards a dismembered shadow. “She's lost her body and the twinkles will bind them together again.”

What will it do me?” you said.

She said, “Bind you, too. Not sure with what.”

And so you joined her table, her night, her life.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

108: Build Me a Pyramid

Do you love me, she said. So I asked what would she have me do to prove it to her, what would it take?

Bring me a flower,” she said. “I will bring one as beautiful as you,” I said. So I trekked through the rainforest of Sumatra to find a rafflesia flower. I waited for months for it to flower, then watched as the ox-blood petals unfurled as large as a bar table. I tried to collect the flower, to bring it home to her but the smell was foul, flies circling around it and me, and into my face. I photographed it and painted its portrait and drew it in chalks and sculpted it in mud I found on the mountainside. I brought them home to her but none showed how beautiful she is to me, nor were any as real as she.

Sing for me,” she said. “I will sing you the sweetest lullaby,” I said. Untrained, my voice was weak and reedy, incapable of singing a song as lovely as she deserved. So I listened to the birds to learn their secrets. I learned to warble my throat and chirp at the stars. I could cheep and twitter, running the scales in one sliding, breathy note. But I couldn't sing the words in my heart if I sang like a bird. And I could barely manage a tune to accompany my pretty words. Neither one alone felt adequate and I could never perform both at once.

Make us a home,” she said. “I will make you a home to last for eternity,” I said. I hewed stone chunks and dragged them to a clearing which overlooked a view of the sunset. I employed helpers to heft them upwards, narrow channels and corridors inside to navigate to the centre. I hollowed out the centre as a living chamber at the heart of the structure. We could crawl inside and sleep safe and dry, then crawl out to see our new days. The pinnacle reached above the treetops and tottered in the wind. “I built you a pyramid,” I said.

She told me, “I don't want your rafflesia art or your peeping tunes or your stone hut near the forest. Bring me a daisy you pick from the roadside on a busy day, so I know I am always on your mind. Sing me a silly earworm song, one you can't remember all the words to. One that will make me dance and forget everyone around me but you. Build me a pyramid, but one in your heart. A pyramid where we are both safe from the storms of the world and can feel all the joys around us too. That's how I know you love me.”

We join hands and imagine our way into our double heart-pyramid and live there, together, for eternity.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

107: Eyes Wide Open

You know what you were getting into with him. You knew he had a wife and a child, at least one child and probably an assortment of others each unaware of the others' existence. You knew he was the type, didn't you?

You walked into the restaurant knowing he had left her at home, probably making some flimsy excuse about working late or maybe a mate's birthday. You slid into the seat opposite, you ordered from the menu in mangled French and you ate the meal bought for you not for her. You knew it was where he always comes except with his wife, didn't you?

You went back to your place, his suggestion of course. You couldn't go to his, no question. Not that he honestly told you why, yours is closer. Really? Yours has no awkward questions in and nothing to make him slip up. You thought it would be easier for getting home after. No need for him to hand over £20 for a taxi in the early morning hours. Although you knew there would be no early morning hours, didn't you?

You weren't surprised when things starts a regular pattern, always meeting at yours, never meeting his mates, not spending much time together except for sex. You spent Christmas alone, not even a phone call. You waited so long on your birthday that it was too late to go anywhere decent. You got birthday sex, but it was rushed and you didn't like it much. Your present was nice but you knew his secretary bought it, didn't you?

You always take him back. He knows your weaknesses and he plays on them. You always believe he will leave her when the kids are big enough, when she gets a proper job, when he's under less stress at work. You always hope he'll do it this time.

You always know he won't though, don't you?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

106: Guilty Pleasures

Slapping the snooze button on a workday, just one more time than usual. Feeling the plastic ridge beneath your finger, knowing that is nine minutes more for you and nine minutes less for the boss. Nine minutes you would spend in a traffic jam anyway, so really you are saving the atmosphere from nine minutes of carbon monoxide.

Spending your lunch hour on a sunny park bench, reading a trashy novel whilst eating a mozzarella and pesto superior-style roll. Taking time to finish your chapter, maybe even start another if the hook is good enough, whilst your lunch digests. Slipping into a newsagent for a full-fat coke for the walk back to the office. Then going back to type the minutes your boss thought you should do in preference to eating.

Mixing a mid-afternoon latte using the office milk, heating it for 90 seconds in the microwave until it just starts to froth up the mug. Adding a half-spoon of coarse brown sugar, from a little crimped sachet someone brought back from a posh restaurant. But letting it lie on top of the foam, not stirring it in, so it crunches on your teeth when you scoop it off with a teaspoon.

Heading home via the local library and browsing the shelves for new authors. Hunting for your favourite old authors amongst the many books, hoping for a latest release or a volume you didn't know they had even written. Smelling the musty pages with brown mottling, flipping the thick pages they don't make like they used to. Searching for the library name stamp and finding it on page 35, just like always. Running your finger under the bubbled protective sleeve, releasing the seal between plastic and cover then rubbing it flat with as few air pockets as you can.

Turning all the lights out and dancing to your favourite music, even if it isn't the kind you can dance to. Dancing until your hair sweats and you are out of breath.

Monday, 13 August 2012

105: Soak Up The Sun

Here, on the last days of the earth, we huddle together for warmth and companionship and in attempt to forget about the inevitable.

Mankind had the chance to make a difference and for so long it looked as if we would step up to the challenge. We recycled and we started to appreciate the scarcity of our planet's natural resources.

Then politics became too cynical and argued against science to say man is doing no more harm now than ever. The markets determined what should be and fairness and right were abandoned for profit and individual gain. The one became more important than the many.

He who had the means of production ruled the world, squandering opportunities that we did not know would never come again. Anti-pollution laws were relaxed in favour of increased profits, quick turnover and maximized margins.

We protested too gently and much, much too late. But it wasn't the ozone layer developing a hole or using all the oil under the seas that finally sealed our fate. It was the smoke and the dust and the chemicals and the toxins accumulating in our atmosphere that did it.

Ironically, if the ozone layer had a larger hole, enough of the build up could have escaped into space. Instead the various particles combined in ways our chemists had yet to envisage, creating a thick, impermeable cloud covering the sky over the whole of the world. The more rubbish we chug into the atmosphere the more impermeable it gets.

And it is soaking up the sun, so we are gradually entering another ice age and freezing a slow death.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

104: White Cap

In Victorian times, this beautiful manor house was the home of wealthy stockbroker Horace L Chesterfield and his family. Chesterfield made his money during the railway fever that gripped the country and settled his family in rural Hampshire whilst he continued to work in London.

The first Mrs Chesterfield, Lucinda, bore him six children, five girls Charlotte, Emily, Catherine, Poppy and Elizabeth, and one boy, Charles. Unusually for the time, all six children survived infancy and grew up strong in the country air. Lucinda carried another child, another boy, but both mother and son died during a long and painful labour. The boy was named Lucas and laid out in the nursery wearing a white cotton cap that had been his father's as a baby.

Chesterfield retreated to his London house and left the children in the care of a governess, a Miss Weston, and the housekeeper Mrs Parker. Abandoned by both a mother and a father in such a short time, young Charles became clingy and refused to be parted from Charlotte and Miss Weston.

Some months later Chesterfield returned to the manor accompanied by the second Mrs Chesterfield, Annabel the sister of a business acquaintance. The children were introduced to their new mother and all seemed well for a while. Then Chesterfield returned to London leaving his young wife alone with his family and things began to turn sour.

Annabel knew nothing of children and try as she might, her interests lay in dresses and balls rather than lessons and another woman's babies. Miss Weston despised her, having harboured hopes that she would be the one to comfort Chesterfield and give him more children later. Charlotte and the girls were still grieving for their mother and didn't take well to having a new one delivered by their father. Charles became sickly and screeched loudly whenever left alone with Annabel.

Then Annabel began to complain of seeing things, of her things being moved. Noises followed her down the hallways. Shadows came from nowhere, she said. The worst was a little white cap, left in her bedroom every night. It had streaks of blood inside and the initials HLC embroidered inside. She blamed the children, the maids, even her husband. All claimed no knowledge of these things haunting her and nobody else saw anything.

She took to her bed and refused to come downstairs. Chesterfield came back from London to talk her out of it, but she would not be moved. He began to talk of moving her back to London to recuperate and perhaps taking the whole family too. All the while the white cap still appeared in her room every day. On the day they were due to leave for London, her maid went to wake her, to find Annabel dead in bed, choked to death by something forced into her throat. When it was pulled out, too late to save her, it was the little white cap still streaked with blood.

The police investigated but found no evidence against anyone. Eventually, the house was shut up and the family moved but it was never discovered whether Annabel was murdered or if she killed herself.

Some mornings there is still a small white cap found in her bedroom and very occasionally, a gurgling choking sound comes from Annabel's bedchamber.”

Saturday, 11 August 2012

103: Beige Babe

Dina started snapping at family parties and even at seven she had the knack of finding anyone who didn't want to be photographed. There had been the brown cords of Grandpa sneaking into the shed to hide. And Aunty Bev popping an extra donut into her mouth, eyes wide as Dina clicked the button. Her favourite had been finding their large wolfhound slinking off his bed whilst a fluffy black kitten snuggled into the padded cushion and fell asleep. That picture graced the wall of the Jones' family lounge for years afterwards.

Over the years Dina took many photos, the subjects often showing her fads and phases. There were flowers and bushes, almost all shades of pink, especially the neon rose in the garden. There were animals, nothing slimy though, just fluff and feather and fur. There was a surprising number of cars and trucks and a run of concrete structures without explanation. Then followed the inevitable clothes and boys.

At fourteen Dina chose photography for an exam subject despite her father cautioning it would never get her anywhere and why didn't she take a language. Her A* partly mollified him and he didn't object to her selection of the same subject for A level. Certificates and awards started to appear even before her A* for A level too. Then she set out to show maybe it could get her somewhere.

Dina didn't surprise anyone by getting an apprentice photographer job, nor by the fact she continued to snap in her spare time. She even sold a few pictures to newspapers and magazines, including one of a boyband singer leaving a hotel with a blond girl who wasn't his girlfriend. That paid for her first car.

Nobody saw the sports thing coming though. Nobody even really knew how it had started. The Jones family didn't even watch football on tv. But Dina started attending local race meets and then national athletics competitions and eventually she landed a job taking sports photos for a large group of newspapers.

Watching his daughter crouched over her camera and long lens worth as much as that first car she bought at the London Olympics, papa Jones was as proud as any competitor's parents. His beige babe, he called her, a nod to the obligatory uniform worn by the press photographers.

Sat in the Wembley crowd at the womens' football final, he nudged his neighbour. “That's my girl down there,” he said. “She got there and I'm so glad I was wrong.”

Friday, 10 August 2012

102: Silver Bullet

My husband John was the first. He told me he worked away sometimes. One week per month he worked out of head office. The time away sometimes started mid-week, but he said it was about contacts overseas, so I never really questioned it even when I didn't hear a word from John during those days.

I was unpacking his bag one time and found some of his clothes in rags. Frightened for him, I asked what had happened. He fobbed me off with an excuse about a drunken night out and a prank that got out of hand. Next time he was due to go away, he invited me to tag along.

Come on, let's ask your mother to have the kids. I could treat you to a few nights out, maybe a special meal. It'll be like when we first met.” He curled my hair round his finger. “We might even think about working on a new family member whilst we're away.”

So I left the children at my parents' house and tagged along with him, my best frocks packed for a week of luxury. We booked into a country hotel. He said he had something special to show me.

We strolled hand-in-hand around the grounds as the shadows grew long and the dusk came on. I felt closer to him than I ever had. As it finally fell dark, we arrived at a shingle beach accessible only by the small path we had walked. This must be it, I thought, as clouds moved from the moon and it's full light shone on the water. But I was wrong.

John's hand grew hot and changed as I held it. He was twitchy and made croaks in his throat. I was scared as he continued to croak and twitch, then fell to the floor. As he writhed, his croaks turned to moans and yowls. His body grew hairs and his nails grew into claws. His jaw stretched and formed a muzzled. I wanted to look away but the sight of my husband morphing into an animal before me stopped me.

When he was a full werewolf, he stopped moving. His face snarled at me and he growled. Then he pounced. He bit me and, well you know what that means.

So for a long time we both went away every month, hiding out in caves and remote barns until the phase passed and we could join our family again. I think my parents enjoyed it and the children certainly enjoyed their time away. It was all going so well.

Then James hit 12 and it started to go wrong.

John talked about how we could bring him with us, and Jenny. We could be a proper family all the time. No secrets and no worrying about babysitters. He said James was a perfect age and Jenny was a bit young but she would grow up with her heritage. Just a small nip for them both he said. It'd hardly hurt and then we'd be together forever.

I think it was the forever that did it. As a parent you always want better for your children than you had for yourself. There are some good bits to this life of ours, but it's more a curse than a blessing. I couldn't see my children facing this forever. I won't let him turn my James and Jenny. And I can't risk one day I might think it's a good idea too.

So this time I've packed 2 silver bullets.  

Thursday, 9 August 2012

101: Sweet Sixteen

Sixteen years. It hardly seemed possible that Jade had been born sixteen years ago today. Miranda had been there all that time, from her birth to the little party she had planned for that afternoon.

Jade had been one of three and they had been the first births Miranda had looked after by herself. She had always had one of the others to help and advise her but this time, she was on her own. Bessie, Jade's mother, had been part of the family for three years and knew Miranda but would she trust her with the babies?

Jade was the first to be born and Miranda fell in love with her instantly. The tiny body squirmed and she waved her legs about, still wet from delivery. Miranda scooped her up and dried her in a soft towel, before helping deliver the next two babies. She dried them all and the sight of three snuggly bodies nuzzling Bessie for a feed brought a tear to her eye.

Eye opening usually takes ten days and she marvelled as Jade's eyes slowly peeked out from under their lids. Another couple of weeks saw them start weaning and Bessie started to litter train the babies. A month later they were ready for new homes but Miranda decided Jade was special and she wanted to keep her. They became firm friends. Well as much as a Persian chooses to have firm friends.

Over the years Miranda and Jade helped each other through life. Miranda sat up nights with Jade and her own litters of kittens, even helping break the sac when a kitten came out sac-intact. She nursed her through bugs and even apologized for making Jade wear that collar after she had been spayed. In turn, Jade kept a watchful eye on Miranda's own baby Jessie, when she arrived. When her marriage broke down, Jade climbed unbidden onto Miranda's lap, curling into a ball and her rhythmic sleepy breathing calming Miranda.

And now she was sixteen. How many cat years Miranda wondered. Googling, she reckoned as many as 80, a real old lady. They would have only a few more years together at most but Jade was in good health and Miranda watched carefully for aches or creaks that might need a vet's attention.

Miranda had boiled some chicken and rice and mixed them for Jade's tea. Just for once, she hand fed her, passing chunks of meat and grains of rice one by one to her cat. Jessie bought her a sparkly new collar and gave her coat a special brush.

Then Jade curled up in Miranda's lap and fell asleep, the cat's warm rhythmic breathing lulling her into a nap of her own.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

100: Clear

Our friends envied how much in love we were, how devoted and attentive to the littlest things. You held my hand, stroked my cheek, even in company. When people stopped me in the street to say sorry, it was apparent.

You lavished me with gifts, each chosen with precise care and so perfect for me. My favourite chocolates, music I adored and an easel so I could take up painting. When those flowers came for me by mistake, it was plain.

As you were promoted and we moved to a new life in another city, you made sure I felt safe and secure. We met at lunch and you stole quick mobile calls when you could sneak away. When you worked late so many nights, it was obvious.

We shared special times often. Remember that break in Paris just because we had been together eleven months? And the champagne you bought me for finishing Ulysses? When you forgot my birthday, you confirmed it for me.

You became absent even when you were there and wouldn’t talk. I felt lonely at home, more so when you were with me. When you wouldn't catch my eye, you made it unambiguous.

We made such plans, entwining our futures together even following silly family traditions from both sides. We would call our son Wilf, just like your grandfather. When she wore your mother's ring, things were unmistakable.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

99: Your Majesty

Dear Your Royal Highness
     You may not have heard of me but my name is Danny and I am a film director. You might have heard of my work – Slumdog Millionaire was very popular. Anyway, I digress. I'm going to be directing the opening ceremony for the Olympics and wondered if you might like to be part of things? I know you will be there to do the officiating bit but could I entice you to play a bigger role, I wonder.
     I have a few ideas and if you'd been interested maybe we could discuss them. And you might have some ideas of your own perhaps and I'm always encouraging my people to develop their own role.
Yours Danny Boyle

Dear Mr Boyle
     One has considered your letter and one is intrigued. What do you have in mind? Not that one is committing to anything at this stage.
Elizabeth R

Dear Queen Elizabeth
     That is fabulous news. Here are my initial thoughts. I'd value your thoughts
  1. My theme will be Britain through the ages, so how about portraying Queen Victoria?
  2. A modern view of the monarchy – yourself and Philip walking the corgis in Hyde Park, Charles and Camilla strolling behind feeding ducks, Wills and Kate playing kiss chase in and between you all.
  3. Or could you see yourself as Boadicea?
     None of these would be a speaking part and wouldn't require much acting.
Yours Danny B

Dear Danny
  1. One doesn't wear all black. It does so drain one's complexion.
  2. No. Not sharing a stage with that woman.
  3. Not really. It's all that standing up in chariots puts one off.
     One does have a suggestion. It was Philip, really. Could it be an action scene? Then it could be recorded in advance and the corgis could take part. In the palace would be good too. And one is used to public speaking so a few words would be acceptable.

     PS Could there be an dashing spy in it? Don't tell Philip it was my idea, just pretend you really can't do it any other way. There could be some silverware in it for you, but no promises.
     PPS And jumping out of a helicopter.  Normally it's only the boys in the family get to do that and it looks such fun.

Dear Liz
     Got a fabulous idea that ties together everything you suggest – and what excellent suggestions they are too – with the spectacle and ceremony the Olympics deserves.
     Now, have you heard of 007......

Monday, 6 August 2012

98: Posh Trash

Jemmy couldn't read street name signs but he knew what kind of area he was in just by the rubbish. Posh places had posh bins. Even how much of it was in the bins and on the floor told him what sort of people lived there.

The big houses up on the hill had the best stuff but it was hard to get to it. Usually the bins were in a store or the gates were locked so he couldn't even get close to the house to see where they were. The night before collection day was a good bet though. The stuff they threw out would feed Jemmy all week if he had somewhere safe to keep it. He usually found a couple of bags and filled them up with food he thought would keep a couple of days.

Those bins had the shiniest containers and the leftovers were often wrapped into little silver foil Christmas presents, not chucked in and left to moulder on the bottom of the bin. Jemmy enjoyed visiting the big houses. He made his way up the hill every evening, not just Thursdays, just in case someone had the days muddled up.

Once he got some stout black boots from up there too. That winter his feet were drier than he could remember them being and he didn't need Tesco bags for stuffing up holes like normal. After that he thought he could try salvaging behind shops on the High Street. Mostly they kept their rubbish in steel containers too tall for Jemmy to get into, but sometimes he was lucky. He found a rusty hammer which was no use to him but he swapped it for a woolly scarf with Northern Tom.

Northern Tom let slip that he'd found it in a bag outside a charity shop, left by some good citizen who didn't realize there wouldn't be any of it left for the shop to sell by morning. After that Jemmy tried to remember to get there at least once a week, just to see what there might be. Usually he was unlucky and the good stuff had gone or the step was empty so he didn't know if it was worth waiting or calling it a night. Rumbling stomach was more likely to keep him awake than not having a new scarf.

After one unusually good night's picking, Jemmy huddled down in a doorway in the blanket he'd just found, belly full of leftover pate and dried falafel. He carefully folded the crunchiest edges back into their silver foil and tossed it into the gutter. Jemmy wondered if anyone was desperate enough to scavenge his leftovers.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

97: Delicious Dark

The sky looks like velvet strewn with tiny glittering diamonds. He knows that's clichéd but isn't that how things become a cliché he thinks? Because they are so accurate? He tries to think of other things the night sky looks like as he waits. A dark pond, rippling slightly in the evening wind, reflecting the sky. No, that's the same thing. Perhaps a deep hole in the ground littered with wiggling maggots. He smiles, but it's more like a grimace.

He's been here every night this week, and some last week, always standing in the same place. He waits at the line of trees around the edge of the park, and watches. From there he can see the whole park and the street and the school, but what he watches most is the row of houses. Four pairs of semis back directly onto the edge of the park. Some of them have gates that lead directly onto the park, and he wonders if the council knows.

House number 5 has a gappy gate, paint flaking from the planks of wood that remain and a rusty hinge. That's how he found out about the way onto the park in the first place. He was sat on the floor of the bandstand, watching between the pillars. Nobody could see him, he knew, from experimenting with bricks piled where he sat and checking out all round the park. He liked to watch with no-one seeing.

So the gate to number 5 squeaked open one night and out came her little dog. Horrible little yappy thing, pee'd all over the flowers and took a dump at the edge of the trees. He hated all the dog crap in the park and she didn't clean up after it, just hurried it back through the gate and into the house. She didn't latch it properly or it worked loose, because it squeaked and clattered for ages afterwards. In the end he just left.

He brought a little bottle of oil he lifted from the local DIY store and when she was out, he oiled the hinges. That dog yipped and boiled at him from inside the house, but nobody came to see what it wanted. That same night he watched from the bandstand and when she let the dog out, the gate moved noiselessly. That's when he got the idea. No noise coming out. No noise going in.

Once the dog had done it's night crap, the woman took about twenty minutes to go upstairs, another 30 before she turned out her light. It had been the same every night and tonight was following the same pattern.

He thought some more about what the sky looked like, took up the steak with ground up pills in, then slipped inside the gate and towards the house.