Friday Flash Fiction – 707 – Coffee Break

‘Claire, Claire, where are you?’

The back door flew open to reveal my husband dressed in his bright holiday shorts and business shirt and tie.

‘Where did you think I was, I told you we were going to fill up the paddling pool.’

‘Nice to be some…’ said Tom.

‘Come and join us later, surely you’re allowed a break?’

‘Depends how long the conference call goes on for, I just came to tell you we’re out of coffee.’

Covid had a lot to answer for, especially the idea of working from home.

‘Can’t you get it, I can’t leave the little ones with the water. Why don’t you have a cup of tea or a smoothie for now?’

Tom spluttered in disgust.

‘A green broccoli smoothie is not going to get me through that conference call… anyway you know what we always get.’

‘Okay, you stay out here and keep an eye on the hose and the children… and put your phone away.’ I dropped my voice and mouthed  ‘it only takes a minute for a child to  D.. R.. O..W.. N.’ then raised it ‘Oscaar… hose in the paddling pool not on Daddy.’

‘Don’t be long’ pleaded Tom.

‘Do you want the variety box, latte, expresso, americano…?

‘Yes, yes the biggest box they do.’

 I went upstairs, pausing on the landing to look out the window and make sure Tom had not forgotten he was in charge. The hose was now snaking out of control across the lawn. In my so called office I logged in to Coffee Zone, repeat order, multi pack, check delivery times… Yes, coffee would be here in time for his bloody conference call. What did they actually do on conference calls? Probably played X Box like my forty year young brother. I had no idea what Tom actually did at work when he went to the office every day and now he worked from home I was still none the wiser. Whatever he did he had been head hunted a couple of times and with the amount he got paid I didn’t mind spoiling him. My on line upcycling craft business hardly brought in enough to feed the dog and the cat.  

I looked at my watch, twenty minutes to get ready for the coffee. I dashed back into the garden.

‘Tom, where’s the dog?’

‘You only told me to look after the children.’

‘ZEUS, ZEuus…’

 I waved a packet of dog treats and Zeus bounded out of the herbaceous border, he was soon locked in the laundry. The children would be harder to get under control.

‘Ten minutes then indoors.’

‘But we haven’t done paddling yet.’

‘Why don’t you come in and watch Octonauts and have some parsnip crisps while the sun is warming the water. Then you can come back out after the coffee has arrived.’

With the children safely indoors I still had to find the cat, but there was no time to look. Hearing Zeus’ frantic barking I rushed back in and locked the door, the dog always heard it before me. Keeping watch through the patio door I saw a glint over the trees. 10.45am, exactly on time. The Coffee Zone Drone circled, I hoped it’s aim would be better this time. My stomach lurched as, too late, I saw a familiar black and white shape slink across the lawn then freeze as the warning siren started. The drone was higher than usual when its undercarriage opened, the large bright orange box dropped down onto the lawn, narrowly missing the paddling pool. I dashed out, but as I got close my mouth went dry. Sticking out from under the hefty box was a black tail. I knew from previous deliveries the box was too heavy to lift on my own and I was thankful to hear Tom’s voice. I turned to see him holding the cat and laughing.

He’s a quivering wreck, he doesn’t like drones does he?’

My relief was short lived, had we killed the neighbour’s cat?

‘Quick, lift the box.’

I closed my eyes. When I opened them Tom was holding up the squashed body of the shabby toy cat the children had insisted on buying from the charity shop.

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Friday Flash Fiction – Fall

                                                             

There was a word that made Mary shudder; she seemed to hear it everywhere she went. It was a four letter word beginning with F… FALL. In conversations it was usually preceded with phrases such as;

Did you hear Mrs. Burton had a nasty…

Of course she was never the same after her…

He had just got off the bus when…

The Waitrose staff were very good when she had her…

Most infuriating of all was her own daughter’s loud voice as they negotiated National Trust Gardens.

Mind you don’t…

Like death, falls were something that happened to other people, usually The Elderly and Mary did not include herself in that category. Why, she was the same age as The Queen and David Attenborough, Her Majesty wasn’t elderly and Sir David certainly wasn’t. There were other terms and words that Mary avoided; stairlifts, wheelchairs, mobility aids and that condition Mary couldn’t even utter to herself, frequently referred to in advertisements during daytime television.

As Mary briskly walked down the high street, she noticed with distaste that Betty was cheerfully pushing a shiny red three wheeled contraption.

‘My son bought it for me last week, after my fall’ explained Betty proudly.

But however sprightly Mary felt, she found herself being very careful, not wanting to end up like that woman on Tuesday.

There had been a circle of concerned people outside Somerfield’s and a young man with a mobile phone had taken charge. Sprawled in the middle of the pavement was an old lady, her skirt up past her knees in a most undignified manner. Mary had scurried by, making a mental note to always wear slacks when she went out.

At the door to the ‘Cosy Teapot’ she took the two steps up carefully to make a dignified entrance. Her daughter Catherine was already there.

‘I thought we’d sit downstairs mother, you don’t want to have a fall on those rickety stairs.’

Mary ignored that remark.

‘You’re looking very tired this morning Catherine, perhaps it’s the menopause’ she said, as the young waiter came to their table.

‘Well,’ said the younger woman, obviously keen to relate a drama ‘we were fast asleep last night when the phone suddenly rang; I looked at the clock, it was three thirty a.m. my heart was thumping, I thought it must be bad news from Australia or you taken ill.’

‘Why would you think I might be ill?’ Mary interrupted.

Catherine carried on regardless. ‘To my relief it was only Careline; Miss Brown next door had fallen out of bed and couldn’t get up. We had to go round with the spare keys to let the ambulance people in. Next time we’ll take a torch; it took us ages to find the light switches… and Miss Brown, she was wedged on the other side of the bed. When the ambulance men finally came they asked if she was my mother! I’m sure they thought it was our fault her house is such a mess. But they were quite jolly, checked her blood pressure, got her back into bed, filled in lots of forms and declared she was fine. By that time it was five a.m.’

‘That old woman should have gone in a home years ago’ said Mary unsympathetically.

‘She’s younger than you Mother… hmm you could have one of those Careline buttons, just in case.’

‘Certainly not.’ Mary cringed at the idea of neighbours and medics tramping round her bedroom in the middle of the night and changed the subject. ‘Rita had her own drama the other day, when it was so hot; her daughter took her shopping and they were outside Asda when her daughter suddenly fainted. After much kafuffle, they were both sat on chairs inside Asda and the manager came rushing over and patted Rita’s hand, asking if she was alright. She told him indignantly she was fine, it was her daughter. We had a good laugh over that.’

The two women tucked into their cake.

‘…anyway, what have you been doing this week Mum?’

‘The old people’s lunch club started back yesterday and we had a new volunteer. You’ll never believe what she said to me “Here’s a spare seat dear.” I told her in no uncertain terms. “I’m serving not eating.”

She wondered what Catherine found so funny.

That afternoon Mary was pottering in her garden, glad she didn’t require a gardener. Her grandson mowed the lawn, put her hanging baskets up and did some of the heavier jobs; he enjoyed doing it. The garden was one of the many reasons why she refused to be shoe horned into some pokey flat

Mary was a compulsive dead header and was tidying her favourite basket which hung from the shed wall. One dead bloom eluded her, but if she just stretched a little… suddenly her foot slipped off the edge of the path.

She couldn’t believe she was lying on the ground, but was greatly relieved no one had seen. This wasn’t a fall, just a slip and she was sure she could get up; with the help of the wall and the trellis she pulled herself triumphantly to her feet. Not a fall, not a drama, but perhaps it was time she went indoors to have a nice cup of tea and watch Countdown; she could rinse that spot of blood off her hands while the kettle was boiling.

As she moved cautiously up the path to the back door she heard sirens screeching. This used to be such a quiet street she mused, someone must be causing trouble. Loud rustling noises caused her to turn round; a policeman was climbing over her wall, he must be chasing a burglar.

‘Wrong garden’ she tried to call, but he rushed over to her.

‘Are you alright madam?’ he asked, before replying to his radio. ‘PC476, re. report of elderly lady collapsed in garden, I’m dealing, ambulance in attendance.’ He turned to Mary. ‘Lucky for you an old man over the back saw you out of his bedroom window, knew he couldn’t help, so he dialled 999. Now, we’ll get you into the house and open the front door for the paramedics.’

The opening of the front door revealed two men in green and several concerned neighbours. She tried to protest.

‘I’m fine, there’s been a terrible mistake.’

To her horror she heard the ambulance man say to her neighbour ‘Does she often get confused or have falls?’     

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The House of Windsor

We never lived in Windsor, but the town, in the Royal County of Berkshire, was one of our favourite days out when we lived by Heathrow Airport. As the American tourist said ‘Why did they build a royal castle so close to the airport?’ – old joke. Along with many tourists and local families we enjoyed all it has to offer. ‘Long Walks in the Great Park’ – From the Castle gate to the foot of the statue of King George III (The Copper Horse) The Long Walk measures 2.64 miles in length. But the Windsor Great Park extends far beyond what you can see from the castle.

Walking at Windsor Great Park | Windsor Great Parkhttps://www.windsorgreatpark.co.uk/en/activities/walking

Windsor also has a theatre, a swimming pool, good shopping and the River Thames. A foot bridge takes you over the river to Eton where the famous school is spread out as part of the little town. You can also take a peaceful walk along the riverside very different from the bustle on the Windsor side.

You can go by train from Waterloo and arrive at Windsor and Eton Riverside station, or take the little line built for Queen Victoria, a one stop ride from Slough station  ( direct line from Paddington ) which takes you into the heart of the designer shopping centre and exits opposite the castle.

Tourists the weekend after the wedding of Harry and Megan!

Windsor Castle | Windsor Castle Tours and Tickets

Before the terrible castle fire in 1992 more of the castle grounds were free to the public to wander. We used to take our young children for a walk and show Australian visitors around. Under the archway, past the chapel, stroll up the hill. Our two year old once dashed into the guard room and was chased out by the guards. One side of the castle faces the town, but walk downhill to the river and the castle is high above you on a steep bank. When our daughter was a toddler she nearly gave a Japanese tourist a heart attack; he gasped in horror as she raced towards the turreted wall on the steep side of the grounds. She didn’t topple over, it was a safe height. Another time we peered through a gate and saw Princess Diana bring her two little boys out to watch the soldiers parading.

When we moved away from Heathrow we still visited Windsor on mini breaks to see our friends, usually staying at The Windsor Trooper, a great little old pub with bed and breakfast; bedrooms slightly crooked with sloping floors. 

‘In 1917, the name of the royal house was changed from the German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the English Windsor because of anti-German sentiment in the United Kingdom during World War I. There have been four British monarchs of the House of Windsor since then: George V, Edward VIII, George VI, and Elizabeth II.’

Windsor Castle made the perfect setting for the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, especially for the many of us who know Windsor well. The Duke apparently did not want a fuss and got his wish as the long miles of procession and crowd lined streets had to be scaled down to a ceremony within the castle precincts; a dignified walk down the hill with socially distanced military bands lined up with precision on the immaculate green.

The Band of the Grenadier Guards led the funeral procession and family members followed, Princess Anne in a long black coat and the men in morning suits. Following a coffin on foot seems dignified and respectful and it’s always good to see men smartly dressed. The Queen followed in her limousine.

I get nervous when I see The Queen walking unsteadily by herself, especially that day as she stepped out of her car and I wondered why she could not have formed a new bubble. Any other very elderly lady with strapping sons and grandsons would surely have been offered a strong arm to lean on. The Duke was her bubble, but she still has HMS Bubble, the loyal staff who have been on duty three weeks on three weeks off at the castle looking after the royal couple. Dog lovers will be glad to hear that The Queen, despite deciding a while ago not to breed or acquire any more dogs, has done what lots of people have in covid lockdown and acquired two puppies, a corgi and a dorgie, which she enjoys walking.

Inside the chapel were the regulation thirty guests and the emptiness perhaps enhanced the beautiful singing of the choir of four and the playing of the trumpeters. The royal family stuck by all the current funeral rules; we cannot compare their splendidly choregraphed event with bleak funerals at the local crem., livestreamed from one camera, but like other grieving widows The Queen sat by herself. After the service the family all strolled up the hill in the sunshine, ignoring the unnecessary fleet of cars lined up for them, though of course The Queen returned in her limousine. I like to think that once back in the royal apartments they all ripped off their masks and didn’t bother with social distancing!

Whether you watched the funeral avidly live on television and followed the highlights in the news later, or avoided all mention of it, there was more to the Duke of Edinburgh than most of us realised. The blanket comprehensive coverage of his life revealed a refugee from a broken home who saw real active service in the second world war. A life that did become privileged, but how many of us would want their whole life mapped out? Unlike lots of rich people he used his position to make a difference. He highlighted the plight of wildlife long before others were interested and created the Duke of Edinburgh Award to give ordinary teenagers the chance to take on all sorts of challenges. Those from a variety of countries who have spoken about meeting The Duke and how the award changed their lives will remember him and not the many politicians and world leaders who come and go.

Did you watch the funeral? Have you visited Windsor? Have you met any of the royal family?

Sunday Short Story – Quarantine

When Lynne arrived at her bubble friend’s house for their morning coffee she was surprised to find Eleanor in a state of agitation.

Are you okay, the effects of the second jab?’

‘Yes, no… let me get the coffee and I’ll tell you my news.’

Lynne could not imagine what the news could be, not much happened in Covid times and certainly nothing to put her friend in such a state, but there was something different about the house. The usual vase of cut flowers on the hall stand had disappeared and so had the orchid on the window sill. As she followed Eleanor into the kitchen she was puzzled to see the cupboard door handles tied together with stout string.

‘Go and sit down Lynne, I’m just trying to remember where I put the coffee.’

Okay, I brought that jigsaw, I’ll put it on the dining room table.’

There was a strange crackling underfoot as Lynne walked into the dining room and she realised she was walking on plastic sheeting that covered the carpet. Eleanor hadn’t mentioned that she was going to have decorators in. The exquisite mahogany dining table, recently inherited from an aunt, was covered in a heavy duty plastic tablecloth, perhaps her friend was planning to do some messy crafts.

When Lynne moved into the usually elegant front room her confusion increased; it now seemed most likely her friend had been burgled. The fireplace looked bare, gone was the antique urn with its arrangement of dried flowers and the crystal vase Lynne had given her for Christmas was no longer on the windowsill. She glanced around the room and took in a bizarre scene. The glass cabinet had a heavy quilt secured round it and the occasional tables all had wodges of foam taped to their corners. The three piece suite was covered in throws that looked like they had come from Wilkos rather than John Lewis and there was no sign of the embroidered cushions.

Eleanor walked in with two scruffy looking mugs.

‘Sorry about the mugs, they’re the ones Anthony used to keep down at the allotment. I’ve packed all the bone china away. I’m afraid I didn’t have time to make a cake… well I have been baking, but not for us…’

Before any explanation was forthcoming there was the sound of frantic yapping and Eleanor went to open the back door for Covina, the little dog she had acquired from the dachshund rescue centre. The dog rushed into the room to greet Lynne.

‘You’re surely not moving house, Michael hasn’t persuaded you to go over there?’

‘Goodness no, I wouldn’t even go to that dreadful country on holiday; they’re coming back to England, out of the blue, arriving at Heathrow early afternoon. It seems they are allowed to quarantine with relatives, me.’

‘Oh that’s wonderful news, at last you’ll get to see the babies.’

‘Hardly babies, three and four now and if they are like Michael was at that age… my head spins just seeing them on Facetime. So I have taken a few precautions, I don’t want to be responsible for them ending up in A&E. Forty four years old and Michael still has that scar on his forehead from the fireplace at our first house.  I was going to ask, you know you said you would love to have Covina to stay if I ever managed to go on holiday, do you think you could possibly have her now?’

‘Yes of course, though I’m sure the children would be gentle with her.’

‘I’m worried she might bite them; the charity did say she was best suited to a quiet home with an older person. I remember that time with my brother’s dog when Michael was three; it was his fault of course, shoving his hand in the dog’s mouth.’

‘Covina’s hardly a pit bull, but I suppose tiny fingers could be a worry. I shall enjoy having her.’

Eleanor kept looking nervously at the clock, she had the hands free house phone and her mobile by her side.

 ‘Relax you’re all organised, except… perhaps now the charity shops are open again you could get a few toys for them…’ she looked at the expression on Eleanor’s face ‘or maybe order on line.’

As if in answer to that suggestion they heard the door bell being rung frantically.

‘Ah that will be the Amazon parcels; Michael asked me to get some Lego sets for them.’

‘Aren’t they a bit young for Lego, choking hazards?’

‘Oh dear, I hadn’t thought of that.’

Ten minutes later Eleanor had located the scissors she had hidden away and they manged to get the boxes open to reveal several brightly coloured Lego sets.

Eleanor examined the writing and pictures on the boxes.

‘Strange people and vehicles, but it seems only under threes choke, so that’s a relief. But really Lynne I’m getting too old for all this; you wait years to get some grandchildren, then they go abroad and then there’s a world wide pandemic and nobody gets to see their grandchildren…’

Two days later Lynne turned into Eleanor’s road on her way to the post office and was alarmed to see an ambulance outside Eleanor’s house. After all the precautions she wondered what mishap had befallen the precious grandchildren. She wasn’t being nosy, she had to walk that way anyway. As she got closer there was a further shock when she saw Eleanor on a stretcher being wheeled down the front path.

‘Oh Lynne, isn’t this embarrassing, Michael will tell you what happened.’

As her friend was loaded into the ambulance a frazzled looking man emerged from the front door with a wriggling, screeching child in his arms.

‘Nee Nah, Nee Nah, I want to go in the hambliance.’

The man’s voice was muffled through the child’s hair.  ‘Nice to meet you Lynne, I hear you have been a great support, but we’re here now; just as well now this has happened.’

What did happen?’

‘I’m not exactly sure; Mother was tidying up all the mess in the dining room after breakfast and she stood on some Lego and slipped on the plastic sheeting.’

Friday Flash Fiction – Sunrise

She stared out at the open hills, a view that would have made this the perfect holiday cottage, but this was no holiday, it was a living hell that she could never have imagined days ago.

A safe house, safe from who or what? Him, the press, everyone she did not want to see? How could she ever face anyone again? They would know about him and assume she was the ‘woman in her thirties’ arrested and then released.

She was almost glad to have been arrested, penance for the crime of being married to him. She had committed a worse crime, a sin against nature, giving birth to his children, his evil genes in their every cell, her sweet innocent children tainted for ever.

After a night in foster care they had been reunited and all of them bundled off to some remote part of Wales. They were still asleep, it was only 6 am. What would she tell them, they had only just started back to school, happy to get back to normal life. She couldn’t even pretend they were back to home schooling with no internet and all their school things locked in the crime scene. Not that their home was where the crime had taken place.

Surely any happily married wife would assume her husband was innocent, some awful mistake. But the police seemed so chillingly certain. She asked the family liaison officer to tell it to her straight as each bit of new evidence rolled in. Now it occurred to her that this was all part of a plan. She was a prisoner here and they were just waiting for her to break, give up trying to pretend she knew nothing.

Nothing was all she knew. One always imagines the wife must have known something, how could you live with a murderer and not know. If she had any suspicions it was that he was seeing someone else, his odd working hours the perfect cover. She had once been the someone else. His first wife left him, she had never met the woman, but did she leave him for more than adultery? What would she be thinking now, relief or guilt because she had discovered some aberration and got out quick?

No, their life had been normal, he wasn’t one of those super dads like her friends were married to; every weekend off to the park, baby strapped on their manly chests, toddler in one hand and the lead of the labradoodle in the other. But that didn’t make him a murderer.

Suicide, was that the only bearable way out? Or a new life on the other side of the world, new names, children told nothing, children told to never tell anyone anything; but murderer’s blood would still be in their veins. She could kill them, like that Greek tragedy, the worst punishment she could think of for the man she now hated. For the first time in her life she knew what true hatred was, a hatred so strong she could contemplate killing her own children. But she would be punishing herself, them, their grandparents… her mind was rambling now, his parents, thank goodness they weren’t alive to see this day, Covid had turned out to be a blessing for them. Slaughtering his children would not be a punishment for him, had he ever cared about his wife or children, how could a man that took an innocent life have any feelings?

There would be a support group somewhere, she would ask about it, support for wives and children of murderers the only people she could ever talk to.

The family liaison officer appeared carrying two mugs, young, probably her first case.

‘We need to talk while the children are still asleep, there’s more I need to tell…’

Before the young woman could finish her sentence there was the sound of pattering feet, strange on the wooden staircase.

‘Mummy, Mummy, are we on holiday, what are we going to do today, is Daddy going to come soon?’

Friday Flash Fiction 1000 – Us and Them

The little girl stood on tiptoe and peered over the stout cliff top fence at the sparkling blue sea.

‘I wish I could go in the sea Mummy.’

‘It’s much too cold.’

But there are people swimming in the sea.’

‘Beach Bubble people are used to it, you wouldn’t like the horrible salty water going  in your mouth, Sally, the swimming pool is much better for swimming.’

The sun shone in Sally’s eyes, taking her to a dreamland. The sun warmed her face. She loved being up on the cliff top, but now she was tall enough to see over the fence she could not stop asking questions.

‘I wish I could go on the beach, what is sand like, Mummy?’

‘Horrible, you can’t walk on it properly, the wind blows it in your mouth.’

‘Well the Beach Bubble people look like they are having fun playing in the sand.’

‘That’s because they have nowhere else to play. You wouldn’t like to live down there, especially in winter.’

Why don’t we live down there?’

‘Because we’re the Cliff Clan, we live up here and they live down there.’

‘Why can’t we visit them?’

Sally’s mother sighed. ‘How many times have I explained darling, we have to keep separate; them, us, the Forest Folk, T’othersiders, Town Team, City Crowd… You sing that song at school, you should know by now, but there are more bubbles than even I can remember. Besides, we don’t need to visit them, we can meet them all on Zoomtime.’

‘Tell me what it was like when you were six.’

Sally’s mother smiled at her daughter, the child never tired of her stories.

‘Well we couldn’t go to school, no one could come to our house and when we went outside we had to wear a great big hot suit and a very heavy helmet. But we hardly went outside because there was nowhere to go; the shops had all closed down before I was born.’

‘How did you get your food?’

‘Once a week a helicopter flew over our road and dropped a great big crate on a parachute. My Daddy was very important as he was in charge of unpacking the crate and making sure each house got their box of rations. Out the door he would go in his suit with his air tank and mask and yellow gloves, then deliver each box to the doorsteps. So you see how lucky you are.’

‘And I only have to have an injection once a year?’

‘Yes, we had to have a great big needle in our bottom every four months, when the yellow van came round with the scary robodocs to give us our medicheck.’

Sally squealed in horrified delight.

‘How come we have real people doctors, what happened to the robodocs?’

‘I’ll tell you about that when you are older. Now do you know what Daddy and I have planned for your sixth birthday treat tomorrow? We’re all going on the train.’

‘The train, the real goods train with the special carriage on the back?’

‘Yes, we have lucky tickets to ride in the observation saloon.’

‘Where are we going to go?’

‘Wait and see.’

The next morning Sally tripped happily ahead of her parents as they walked to Cliffton Station. She had never been inside the old building, let alone stood on the platform. From the footbridge they often watched the long solar powered train glide silently into the station to deliver supplies for the Cliffton shops.

Standing on the platform, the train looked much bigger and they had to help Sally up the steps into the carriage. They said hello to the other passengers, who all knew it was Sally’s birthday, everyone knew each other in Cliffton and they were happy to let Sally’s family have the best seat facing the viewing window at the end of the carriage. They glided smoothly out of the station looking backwards down the long snaking line. The platform passed by, they went under the bridge, houses disappeared into the distance, then suddenly it went dark. Sally gripped her parents’ hands.

It’s okay,’ said Daddy ‘we’re just going through the tunnel, leaving Cliffton and going into the forest.’

Sally stared as if her eyes would pop out, so many trees and then an open field, people were waving at the train, others were riding horses. The little girl was excited to be going somewhere new at last. The train started to slow down and a platform slid alongside as they stopped. A sign said Forest Halt.

‘Are we getting out here?’

‘No, no, they’re just dropping off supplies for the Forest Folk.’

The train started again and Daddy pointed left at a huge stretch of flat water with colourful boats floating idly.

‘Lakeland, where your Aunty Kate lives.’

Soon the train stopped again at a lovely little building covered in flowers.

‘Can we get out here and visit Aunty Kate?’

‘No darling, but you can tell her on Zoomtime we have seen her station, she’s the station master and plants all these lovely tubs and baskets of flowers.’

All too soon the train gathered speed, the lake was left behind and they went through another tunnel. The scenery began to look familiar; Sally thought she glimpsed a flash of blue sea in the distance, then more and more houses appeared and very soon platforms slid alongside them. Sally felt a catch in her throat and her eyes welled up; even before she saw the sign she realised where they were.

‘Here we are ‘ said Daddy in a jolly voice ‘home again.’

Sally looked up at the yellow and blue sign ‘Welcome to Cliffton-on-Sea’.

Friday Flash Fiction – 460 – Earthrise

Susan switched on her ageing ipad, checked the time, pressed the Facetime link and the familiar face appeared.

‘Hello Mother, how are you, what have you been up to this week?’

His greeting never varied and each week she would rehearse fascinating snippets of news and intelligent comments on world events. But when it came to the moment her mind went blank; there was not a lot to tell and even less that Guy and his family would be interested in.

Three little faces popped in and out of the screen, mostly upside down. Her son adjusted the camera so she could see her three grandsons tackling their new assault course; the latest ploy by their mother to direct some of their cooped up energy. Bouncing off the walls took on a new meaning in their confined home, it was so hard for parents not to be able to take them out.

The assault course was such a success they could not be prised away to come and talk to her; after nearly a year it was only natural that little ones would not be interested, they had their own lives now. It was a marvel that she could see and hear them so easily, across so many miles, but she found herself envying instead of pitying her sister with the daughter from hell. The girl had turned up back home a year ago, with three children from different fathers and no money and had not left until it was too late to leave.

Susan was proud of her son and all he had achieved and admiring of her daughter-in-law who had adapted so well to their strange new life, but the two further years until his posting was up seemed interminable.

Who would have thought when Guy was so young, devouring books about space and science in preference to children’s stories… perhaps it was not such a surprise, but obsession was not enough, he had the brains and ambition to achieve his dreams. Still she could not quite believe that her son was leader of the first Moon colony, IMC, International Moon Colony. Seeing the boys now, totally adapted to zero gravity, screeching with delight as they crawled along the curved ceiling of their living quarters, belied the cold fear she felt that this was a remote risky venture that only grown men should be attempting.

‘Grandma, Grandma, we can see you now.’

The camera panned round to the large porthole, through which she could see the Earth beginning to rise. It was a beautiful sight that she was privileged to see and as her grandsons floated and jostled around the porthole it was some comfort that they knew where they had come from, where they belonged.

Friday Flash Fiction – 555 – Remote Learning

Vivienne put the phone down with relief, she really needed that cup of tea she was about to make when her daughter phoned. She never liked to phone them, they were always so busy she never knew when was a good time.  As chief administrator at a large hospital her son-in-law Jack was now ridiculously busy. If he worked from home Julia found it impossible to keep everything calm and his OCD under control and if he was at the hospital she complained ( usually to Vivienne ) about being left alone to deal with the home schooling. Vivienne couldn’t understand why her daughter had decided to set up her own business from home. Being made redundant from Billings Department Store, early on in the pandemic was surely convenient for looking after the twins, but Julia had been over optimistic in the autumn when children at last went back to school and still optimistic when they started the new term on January 4th… until Boris closed all schools the next day.

Vivienne had been at home with Julia and James when they were young, so there would not have been the same panic all these modern parents had. Not that she would have been much use at home schooling, she couldn’t get James to do his homework let alone a whole curriculum.

Julia was now apparently wishing she had been a teacher or nurse, a key worker so she could have sent Jason and Jacintha to school. Vivienne smiled to herself; Julia had never shown any inclination to be either when she was doing her A levels. Neither profession ran in the family and Vivienne herself had never had any desire to be a nurse or anything medical, or any job that involved other people’s bodies. She had the utmost admiration for nurses, except for that bitch on the ward when she had James and that other one when she had her operation; there was one on every shift probably, but most of them were as wonderful as portrayed on the news and those hospital documentaries.

Julia’s mother-in-law was a nurse and had volunteered  to come out of retirement to do vaccinations. Of course she was much younger than Vivienne, having had Jack at some ridiculously young age. Being busy vaccinating didn’t stop her helping the twins with their home schooling via Facetime and writing them stories. She lived nearby so was missing being a hands on granny. Julia said that was the only good thing to come out of lockdown, they had a break from her, though she never said that to Jack. Jack’s mother, in her forty eight hour day, had also set up a zoom group and Facebook page for lonely grandparents, which had featured on the local news.

Vivienne sighed as she took her empty cup to the kitchen and looked out at the damp, dreary January garden; she felt so useless. Julia and James said she didn’t need to do anything except stay home and not catch Covid, or climb on stools and fall off and break bones. But that bloke volunteering at the food bank on the news looked older than her, how did these people do it? Her thoughts were interrupted by the phone ringing, her surgery were doing vaccinations, could she come in tomorrow? She wasn’t doing anything else, that was for sure, but she was rather miffed, she wasn’t old or vulnerable, why were they calling her? They should be doing the police and shop workers next…

If you want a glimpse into Julia’s life back in May, link in here.

Friday Flash Fiction – Home Schooling | Times and Tides of a Beachwriter (wordpress.com)https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2020/05/22/friday-flash-fiction-home-schooling/

Friday Flash Fiction – Click and Collect

I logged in on my dashboard computer – Friday 15th January 2040. I was getting a new work experience person today. It didn’t matter what day of the week they started, we worked seven days a week and every day was the same, though today was going to be rather different. Their name was Hope, sixteen years old, no idea if they would be a boy, girl or other, I would have to wait and see how or if they self identified. Dressed in biohaz suits it was difficult to tell, so it didn’t much matter. What sort of name was Hope; parents must have been optimistic, must have been optimistic in the first place to have a baby in 2024.

‘Good morning Hope, welcome to the team, what the hell made you want to try this job?’

‘To get away from home, get outside.’

‘They all say that, outside’s not all it’s cracked up to be, every day’s much the same, but I have to tell you we have an NR7 to deal with first today, did they tell you about that in your on line induction?’

‘Nope, don’t think so, wasn’t really listening…’

‘I thought not, well you can back out now, it might not be very nice.’

‘No way, I’d have to go to the back of the jobs queue.’

‘NR7 means No Response for seven days, weekly food parcel still on front path and housebot has set off the alarm – no signs of life detected. We have to go in, it’s almost certain resident is dead, probably of old age.’

‘Whaat…’ came the gruff exclamation through their mask voice box.

‘I’ve seen a few cases. Rich relatives paid or bribed for them to be exempt from the euthanasia programme, unkindest thing they could have done, but I guess years ago they thought this would all be over and Granny would come round for tea again.’

‘Why would you want your Granny to come round, when you could see her on Omegazoom?’

‘So she could play with her grandchildren… oh never mind, let’s get on with this. According to our records all her family predeceased her, otherwise they would have notified us that she was not responding.’

Hope gazed out of the window of my solar powered vehicle as we turned into the ‘Granny’s’ street.

‘I’ve never been down a street before, we live in a tower block, those gardens look so pretty, how do they get them all the same?’

‘Gardenbots, programmed to create the sort of garden the average person wants to look out on. Ah, here we are, Click and Collect food box still out on the front path, regulation two metres from the front door. Only time residents are allowed out; to click on the box, collect it and take it indoors, but obviously you know all that.’

Yes, I always volunteer to go out in the corridor and collect ours.’

‘NR7 is the only time we are allowed to enter a private home, I had to sign out the entry device, let’s hope it works.’

I pointed and pressed the button and it showed entry code overridden. I pushed at the front door, but it didn’t give easily; we soon saw why and I thought my other half had a lot of pot plants. It was like a jungle, not that I have ever seen a jungle. Through the leaves emerged a four foot angular housebot. It was no use asking it what had happened, one of the outdated models that didn’t speak, programmed only for house maintenance, not companionship. It didn’t need to speak, I knew at this very moment it would be signalling back to base, alien human life detected. I quickly tapped my wrist phone to register with base my arrival here.

‘Okay Hope, I’ll go first into each room, starting with the front room.’

Obviously the housebot was programmed to stay out of the little old fashioned sitting room; in the corner was the skeleton of a tree, beneath it a carpet of dead pine needles and under that thick dusty layer could just be discerned some grey shapes that had once been Christmas parcels.

Hope pointed in horror as if this might be the body we were looking for.

‘What is thaat?’

‘It was once a Christmas Tree.’

‘A what?’

‘Before your time, a relic from the last Christmas of 2020.’

I felt a lump in my throat. I remembered that last Christmas. We never did go round to Granny’s to have a  ‘proper Christmas when things are better’ – it seems I was not the only child who didn’t get Granny’s presents that year.

We moved through the kitchen, all neat and tidy; the housebot would have cleared away any clues as to when the resident had last eaten.  Out in a little conservatory was another housebot free area, the plants had run riot and on a table covered in cobwebs, a closer inspection revealed a half built Lego set, like I used to play with. But the smiling faces of the Lego people could not be seen under the thick coat of dust.

‘Wouldn’t she have been a bit old to be playing with Lego?’

‘I imagine that was the last time her grandchildren came round, she left the Lego out ready for them to play with next time, but next time never came.’

But Hope wasn’t listening, they had wrenched open the filthy patio door to gaze in wonder at the back garden and it was a wonderful display of colour to cheer us up. The rich relatives must have paid out an endowment long ago for a personal gardenbot.

Reluctantly I lead the way upstairs, the worst part of our job was still to come. I pushed open the bedroom door and there she was, lying tucked up in bed, the blank Omegazoom screen at an easy to see angle beside her. I wondered when was the last time she had spoken to anyone on the screen.

‘Well Hope, you should get your parents to check in to the home bidding, there will be a house and garden available in a week or so.’

‘Do you think we stand a chance, a real garden I could go out into?’

‘Tell them to get in quick before everyone else hears about it.’

Christmas Real Time Tales – part two – Tier Four

Doris was agog with curiosity. Who were the two big chaps that turned up next door on Christmas morning, just when Doris happened to be looking out of her front window… and that big shaggy dog? Cassie had said a friend from work was coming for Christmas Dinner and might bring his teenage son… Her young neighbour had no need to ring or knock to check Doris was okay as she knew her cousin was staying, but she could ring and thank Cassie for the chocolates…

‘Hello Cassie, did you have a nice Christmas? Thanks so much for the chocolates, Cousin Ruth’s favourites… yes I’m so glad she came, we have had a laugh, just like when she used to come and stay in the holidays when we were children… That’s what my nephew said, makes sense; Ruth’s little flat was perfect till we went into lockdown, she was always out and about, but this year it’s been like a prison… Yes she likes the back bedroom, looking out onto the garden and hearing the blackbirds… No we’re fine thanks, Ruth’s more tech savvy than me and my nephew’s doing our on line shopping … well I do wonder what on earth he thinks we like to eat, but now we’re in Tier 4 it’s so scary and he’s forbidden us to go to the shops.

Yes we did, later in the day when they were awake in Los Angeles. Ruth’s got an eye pad or whatever you call those things you open up, I daren’t touch the thing, but she got us on Facetime, so amazing, mind you it is fifty years since they landed on the moon and we thought we would be living on the moon by now. Thank goodness we’re not, otherwise my son would probably be there instead of the USA… but the children have grown, even since I saw them in the summer.

So what did you have for your dinner… pork…  oh, so he wasn’t a little lad then… did you have enough food, a vegetarian, oh dear, no of course that’s quite common these days, but a bit of a problem if you’re having roast pork. He did like the geckos then…  but the geckos didn’t like them… not surprised they were nervous having two big blokes and a dog clumping round your little front room and bumping into the glass; ‘vibrating vivarium’ ahh, making fun of you poor little reptiles…

Where do they live … Scotland, oh goodness, it’s a wonder Nicola Sturgeon let him out and she probably won’t let him back in… you mean really ran away, what about his mother? …no I suppose you couldn’t really pry, but what an interesting life you lead. What are you doing today?… A bicycle ride, are you allowed, I get so muddled up when we keep changing Tiers, not that Ruth and I are likely to go out on our bikes, perhaps I should get one of those electric ones. You can go out for exercise and meet only one person, I suppose your ‘friend’ will be busy with his son…

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