Silly Saturday – Covid Community Caring Characters – Interview no. 2

Yes busy all day and a long day at that, we stretch ourselves to breaking point, but we know people won’t survive without us.

Why do I do this job? No day’s the same, never time to get bored, sometimes the load is very heavy, other times light.

We used to chat, but now we have to keep our distance. The good side of that is we can work quicker, we need to work quicker.

No I haven’t, I pride myself in never making mistakes, make sure I have read the instructions properly. We can’t afford to make mistakes, this is people’s lives we are dealing with.

I do ring the bell, I know some aren’t bothering now we don’t have to get a signature. It’s heart breaking knowing people want to talk, desperate to see another human being, they call out, trying to thank us, pitiful, but I’m already on my way to the next person.

No I don’t feel exploited and I certainly don’t want do-gooders boycotting the company. I need to earn money and I like being out on the road, by myself, out of the house.

Yes I have, four, the wife deals with all the home schooling, another reason I enjoy my work.

Vital? Of course, where would you all be without your Amazon deliveries?

Friday Flash Fiction – Geckos

Cassie sat admiring the vivarium, glad she had chosen the largest most elegant home for her two geckos. It was an anniversary of sorts, a year since they had arrived to complete her new home. They made a soothing break from the computer screen, from work, from the whole Covid business, living their simple lives unaware of the pandemic. Four months since life had changed for everyone, some more than others. Cassie really had little to complain about, life was changing in little ways for her. Doris next door’s family were back in the country, about to come out of quarantine. Cassie had ordered a much larger supermarket delivery for her yesterday, now she would relax and let Doris’ son take some responsibility, not that Doris was any trouble. Cassie was glad of someone to chat to outside of work.

Work, Zoom, MPJ, company policies, James’ plan… she stretched her back, rotated her shoulders… now the school holidays were underway tensions were high. She did not envy James’ task organising ‘the new norm’; some to continue working at home, others to alternate weeks, some to come in just one day a week. The trouble was, no one was sure which of the options they would be doing or when it would start.

Despite promising each other they would not talk about work, when James at last persuaded her to come for the ferry ride and lunch at the waterside pub, they had and what else was there to talk about? She didn’t want to hear any more about his mother or sister and certainly not about his ex wife, but she had enjoyed the outing, well the twenty minute ferry ride at least. Seeing those cruise liners moored up, going nowhere, James claimed to have inside knowledge of the cruise industry, but made her laugh. ‘Who would want to go on holiday in a floating petri dish, even in peacetime they always have that norovirus going round. Pay all that money to see nothing but your cabin and not be able to eat.’ When they discussed what type of holidays they enjoyed they both agreed Cassie’s sounded much more fun. James’ ex would only stay in decent hotels that did not allow children, decent seemed to mean hotels they could not afford.

After lunch James had walked her round to his mother’s house for a little socially distanced chat in her lovely garden. Cassie liked Vivienne, as she suspected, the woman looked younger and was livelier than one would believe when James was talking about her. They stuck to gardening topics, Cassie determined to keep the conversation light, however curious his mother might be about their relationship.

And still Cassie had her little castle all to herself, had not told James where she lived, implied there was some dark reason in her past, rather than not wanting to risk letting another boring chap get his feet under her table. But life was not bad at the moment. This afternoon she would go for a walk with Sam, accompanying him on his dog walking business. It had become a regular feature of their lives, good for her mental health as much as it was for Sam’s. The aim of MPJ’s helping the homeless project, now called Moving On, was to keep people like Sam feeling connected. Cassie was the first to admit he was the easiest of the group to have a connection with and they worked as a team. She had somehow found herself in charge of the project, James had thought her insane to allow herself to be put upon and she certainly would have been out of her depth without Sam’s support and help. But it worked both ways; he was managing to stay on at the hotel, paying his own way, with the grant quietly passed on by MPJ.

She hadn’t exactly told James about Sam and the time she spent with him, after all they were just a couple of friends in their forties enjoying a walk in the park, a walk and a chat about all sorts of things, he was probably the cleverest man she had ever met. How he came to be homeless was a mystery and none of her business, nor did it seem to matter. Everything was different in 2020.

Enjoy pre Covid short stories.

A second anthology from the author of ‘Dark and Milk,’ including recent prize winning short stories. As you would expect, some tales are light, others very dark and you will not know which are which until it is too late! Visit places you may or may not find on a map, discover the Hambourne Chronicles and meet people who may not be what they seem.

Friday Flash Fiction – 1000 – Walking The Dog

Sam spotted her locking up her bike, hoping she was coming to the meeting, wondering if she would remember him. Two of his team had dropped out already, he didn’t imagine they had anywhere better to be on a Friday afternoon, but that’s the way it was; some homeless people didn’t like being organised and they didn’t like talking. He couldn’t remember her name, despite making such an impression on him. Katie, no, perhaps the earnest facilitator would say her name. He whistled to Sheba who helpfully rounded up his new charge, a snappy terrier mix the elderly owner claimed was a Jack Russell. He would have to keep her on a tight lead at the meeting.

Cassie removed her cycle helmet, took her shoulder bag out of the panier, stretched her back, stepped onto the path and nearly tripped over a little dog.

‘Sorry.’ Why was she apologising to a dog?

‘Bella, come here…’ a man’s voice called.

Bella! Maybe she was pretty as a puppy. Cassie regained her balance and carried along the path, wondering how today’s meeting would be. One of the others from work couldn’t come, he was actually back in the office so had a good excuse. All the more reason for Cassie to feel she should attend, even though James had suggested a trip over on the ferry and lunch outside a waterside pub.

She was aware of someone behind her, in these days of pandemic it wasn’t just women in dark lonely places who were nervous of strangers, anyone who took the virus seriously did not want people breathing near them. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a man on the grass, giving her plenty of space on the path.

‘I’m so sorry, the dog, not mine, exercising her for an old lady. You don’t recognise me, do you?’

When a shaggy dog bounded up she realised who it was.

‘Sam, oh sorry, haircut and wrong dog.’

‘No wonder you’re confused, you are going to the meeting again?’

‘Yes, yes, I’m a bit worried as one of my team can’t come and it was my company that started this in the first place.’

He laughed. ‘Two of my team are missing, not as if they had anything better to do, hope we don’t get told off.’

‘She is a bit serious isn’t she.’

Cassie smiled to herself. Sam brushed up well with his neat haircut and she found herself glad he was going to be there. Perhaps a reflection on her lack of a social life, no that was a condescending thought, Sam was as worthy of sharing her afternoon as James and probably more interesting.

‘You must like dogs a lot Sam.’

‘I like Sheba, not too enamoured with this one, but the lady who is fostering Sheba while I’m in the hotel suggested I get into dog walking, might be an earner.’

‘Oh yes, it was big business where I was in London, some walkers even had their own doggy mini buses.’

He looked crestfallen.

‘Oh I’m sure most dog walkers just have strong leads and a good supply of those plastic bags… hmm rather you than me.’

‘That is a downside, but I’ve seen worse in my life.’

‘Of course, I mean er…’

He smiled in a way that suggested he was worried about embarrassing her, rather than the other way round. ‘Hey, what was pre Covid stays pre Covid, new haircut, new man. That’s what I liked about the group, not dwelling, just looking for solutions, looking to the future.’

‘Will you still sell the Big Issue?’

‘Yes, I just started again, over the water is my pitch, small town, but no other sellers around. Trouble is, people haven’t really started coming out much, I need more strings to my bow.’

‘People going back to work – lonely dogs, people isolating – bored dogs, yes I’m sure there will be customers out there.’

That’s what Sam liked about Carol, no that wasn’t her name, anyway she was easy to talk to and positive. She was pretty in a quirky sort of way, not that she could ever be more than a friend, what clever career woman would want to go out with a homeless chap. Besides, she was probably married, children, teenagers even, hard to say how old she was, his age, younger… Still, it was good to have a nice sensible adult to talk to, though he would not mention the fact that he was likely to have to leave the hotel next week with no idea where to go. It was unlikely that well intentioned meetings could come up with solutions quickly.

They were all greeted by name by the earnest facilitator who seemed relieved that anyone had turned up again. Cassie, of course, why hadn’t he remembered that was her name. He smiled at Cassie across the six foot gap between their folding chairs, but was jolted out of his relaxed state by a familiar grating voice. Lindy, one of the other homeless staying at the hotel, Lindy who loved talking, Lindy who he tried to avoid.

She did not wait to be introduced but launched straight into her spiel.

‘So can your company, PMJ…’

‘MPJ’ Cassie tried to interrupt.

‘…JPM really help? I’ve been here before, talk, talk, talk then you all go back to your comfortable homes.’

Sam felt his stomach clench, mortified for Cassie, most people weren’t given life on a plate, what did Lindy know about Cassie and her colleague. He managed to catch her eye and wink, did she smile back or was she just cringing. For a moment he closed his eyes, imagining going over, clasping her hand and taking her away… but Lindy was still talking.

‘… and then there’s poor old Sam, gotta leave the hotel next week, can’t chuck me out yet, cos I’m a woman…’

Sam kept his eyes closed, could he ever really move forward?

Friday Flash Fiction – Open Space

Cassie was feeling more positive than she had for a while as she saw James approaching on his bicycle for their rendezvous at the austere offices of their employer MPJ. It was not because the pubs were opening tomorrow, something to be avoided, or because she believed the pandemic was over, it was not; but her mind was open to new possibilities.

‘How was the ferry James?’

‘Great, it’s so windy out there on the water this morning, I love it like that, blowing the virus away; only a few of us on the boat anyway.’ He laughed. ‘Less than a week of the ferry back on duty and they have taken away my hire car.’

Cassie couldn’t help feeling a little pleased that once again they were safely separated by the water and a limited ferry timetable. Their several meetings at the offices had been good, making life seem a little more normal, but would it be awkward now she had declined to join his bubble? Would he try and change her mind after she admitted on Facetime last night that Doris next door did not want Cassie to create a bubble for her. Doris’ son and family were now 85% sure they would be over from the USA for their delayed annual holiday and Doris was hoping they would quarantine with her, be her bubble.

James keyed them in at the side door, ushering Cassie in first and keeping a safe distance. At the desk the lone security chap looked glad to see them.

‘How many in today?’ asked James.

‘Three, no sign of the boss yet.’

They walked up the stairs; even if they had wanted to use the lift James had put several bands of yellow tape across the lift doors. The corridor was silent and Cassie stifled a giggle.

‘Why are we whispering.’

‘Strange isn’t it, I didn’t realise how noisy this place was when it was full. Coffee first? That machine must be the only thing still working at MPJ.’

It was still a bit awkward – just standing there a few feet apart. He was smiling at her.

‘I like this, having a proper chat, I know it’s not every girl’s… wom… lady’s idea of a date. That’s what I like about you Cassie, up for anything. I love the way you aren’t worried about what you wear and don’t fuss about makeup and stuff.’

Cassie wondered how to take his remarks, she couldn’t imagine him doing very well on the dating scene, but obviously she wouldn’t either.

‘Has anything new been decided about work? The parents in my group are going round the bend. The children are going back to school next week, but it’s only for two days a week, then in two weeks it will be the holidays.’

‘So what do parents usually do in the holidays?’

‘Don’t ask me, what does you sister do with her two?

‘They are too far away for my mother to help out, they take some time off for the family holiday, that’s up in the air this year… the rest of the time, holiday clubs I think.’

‘All grandparents can’t be isolating, they can’t all be old and have health issues.’

‘The younger grandparents probably have jobs, or did have. Anyway, the boss still thinks we’re all doing a wonderful job working from home and wants as few coming back here as possible till we’re absolutely sure it’s safe.’

‘You can’t blame him after losing his daughter and that girl in my department, but it’s never going to be a hundred per cent safe in any work place, safe anywhere for sure.’

‘He’s changed a lot,’ said James ‘those who have known him a long time say he’s changed completely. Now we not only have to treat all the staff as family, we have to look after the homeless as well.’

‘I know, I got the email, I volunteered.’

‘I didn’t volunteer, it’s been dumped on me, have to work out the logistics of using this nearly empty building to make sure nobody in this city goes back on the streets.’

‘Isn’t that the future of offices, that’s what everyone is saying, but what do the homeless want? That’s what I’m going to find out at this ‘People in the Park’ thing this afternoon.’

‘Oh that, don’t you go taking in strangers Cassie.’

‘Is that likely, I’m afraid I’m not that much of a do-gooder, my home is my castle.’

‘Don’t I know it’ said James.

Cassie smiled to herself as she cycled to the park. Poor James, she was still managing to avoid telling him where she lived, but would she feel home owner guilt as she met up with these homeless people?

Luckily some overly sincere volunteer was facilitating the little gathering in the park, a couple of other MPJ people and five men and women and a dog. Cassie didn’t think of herself as good with people, but this little straggle of folk must be feeling even more nervous. She found herself drawn to the chap with the shaggy dog, Sam he introduced himself. The others were happy to let him do the talking, he was engaging and had good ideas. He needed a haircut, but so did everybody till the barbers reopened tomorrow; Sam didn’t match the homeless stereotype. Staying in a hotel obviously helped and perhaps he was recently homeless without ‘complex issues’. The more he talked the more fascinated Cassie was, how could such a chap have ended up with nothing in the world except a rescued dog? But what he said was true, how would putting these people in an empty office building help if they didn’t have jobs to regain their self respect. Where would the jobs come from in a post Covid recession.

When they broke up from their carefully distanced circle, agreeing to meet next week, Cassie felt she was at least part of something new and positive, even if she couldn’t see how it would work out. She felt a cold nose on her hand.

‘Sorry Miss, Sheba doesn’t understand social distancing.’

‘Oh er, call me Cassie please Sam, I like dogs, or at least I’ve never had one… I have got a pair of geckos.’

‘Really, how about that, I used to have some strange pets when I was a kid.’

Sam’s route around the park, with Sheba glad to be on the move, was the same path back to where Cassie had locked her bike. He walked parallel with her, keeping to the edge of the path, a safe distance, but smiling and chatting. Yes, Cassie felt she was part of something new and positive.

Friday Flash Fiction – 800 – Home Working

Friday again; each week Cassie was more relieved when Friday evening arrived. She had James to thank for ensuring she drew a line under the working week. He insisted they Facetime early and put the week behind them, they were not being paid to work at weekends, it was already too easy to catch up with work in the evenings. She opened a new bottle of wine, a glass to share with James and a glass later to enjoy with dinner as she watched Gardener’s World. Is that what her life had come to? Doris had got her on to gardening programmes, but it was to relax and enjoy the calm that she tuned in, away from Covid news and work. If a few gardening tips penetrated her brain, that was a bonus.

Working from home suited Cassie, but motivating and organising her little team was another matter. James said she should not be carrying the others, but it was easier to do extra herself than worrying. No one had sent their children back to school, even the few who could were too worried, or could see no point in sending one child back and still have to look after the others. Having seen, or more often heard, children of various sizes bouncing off the walls during Zoom sessions she thought it a miracle anyone got any work done. And then there were those who had found themselves being full time carers for elderly parents.

But that was only a part of Cassie’s low feeling this evening. She had spent so long planning and executing a move to own a proper house, have a change of interests, slip out of Giles’ life; she had done all that very successfully, but now what? The promotion had been a means to an end and now she realised it could have been a mistake. Being in lockdown made people think too much; normal rushing to and from work, out and about socialising stopped people pondering the big questions like ‘What are we all here for anyway?’

Cassie’s aunt had brought her up to be independent and secure; with no family to fall back on and the fact that ‘you can’t depend on a man to look after you’ Cassie had always sought out secure jobs, not that any job was secure in the 21st century. Now she wondered if she should have thrown caution to the wind and gone travelling properly or taken up breeding llamas. Was it too late to try something completely different?

‘James, cheers… oh some pink stuff I got from the One Stop down the road. Any news, have you been in to work yet.’

‘The good news is I got the hire car for a month and I went in yesterday, the bad news is we are no further forward. We can’t even take all the people who don’t have to worry about kids or parents. Coming in on different days, sitting three desks apart, it’s no improvement on what we have already. The boss thinks we are all doing a grand job working from home, but he’s hardly in the zone, it’s only six weeks since his daughter died and his second in command is pretty useless.’

‘That’s so sad… and the other girl, no wonder morale is low in the company and everyone is nervous of coming back to work. They were both younger than us… me and in good health. I don’t know how people can crowd down to the beach or go on protests when they know people are still catching it and dying.’

‘Cassie, Cassie, let’s get off that subject, I wanted to ask you something.’  

Of course, it filtered through to her brain that he now had access to transport; the ferry was still out of action, but it wouldn’t take long to drive the hire car the long way round and over the bridge. Was he going to ask where she lived, were postcodes something modern young women kept a secret? She had not dated since Giles, what were the rules?  No, she was jumping the gun, he was just going to suggest she cycle down to MPJ when he was assessing the building, stand two metres apart by the coffee machine…

 She tuned back in to what he was saying

‘…and Mother would love to have you round for dinner and of course I could come and see you properly, so what do you think, would you consider being in our Bubble?’

‘Bubble!…?’

The only bubble that made sense to Cassie was the one she had created around herself and her home and she wasn’t sure she wanted anyone to burst it, or was that just what she needed to raise her spirits?

For some pre-Covid tales dip into one of my collections.

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Sunday Short Story 720 – The Queue

The ringing startled Cassie, nobody ever called her on the landline, few people called her mobile either. She was tempted to ignore it, but the sound penetrated the calm of her little house.
‘Hello Dear, it’s Doris.’
Cassie was slow to react.
‘Doris next door.’
‘Oh, of course…’
In a rare moment of neighbourliness, when Cassie moved in a year ago, she had given the old lady next door her number, just in case…
‘You said to call if there was an emergency.’
Had she really said that? Cassie pictured Doris lying on the floor with a broken hip. That would be the end of her pleasant Day One working from home.
‘Yes, yes of course, what happened?’
‘Nothing yet, but I can’t get out to collect my prescriptions. Boris said I had to stay indoors with my lungs.’
‘Well we all do…’
‘Yes, but you’re not vulnerable dear, you could cycle down to the chemist.’
Relief that she would not have to apply first aid lifted Cassie’s spirits, she brightened her voice to what she hoped was a caring tone.
‘Of course, I’m going out anyway for my one permitted exercise of the day.’

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Self isolation was what Cassie practised most of the time, why she had moved to that quiet road, but neither did she want to be stuck indoors all the time. As she turned her bike into the high street, what looked like a new Antony Gormley art installation filled the pavement outside several shops. Suddenly every figure moved two paces, perhaps it was a flash mob; she waited for them to break into song and dance. She wheeled her bike a few inches towards a woman now rooted firmly to the spot. The woman backed away a few inches.
‘Excuse me, what’s going on?’
‘Queue for the chemist, one out, one in.’
‘Oh god, how long have you been here?’
‘Thirty minutes, you’d better get to the end of the queue.’
Cassie padlocked her bike and took up position outside the closed card and gift shop. The woman six feet in front of her turned and smiled. Cassie groaned inwardly, not one of those who liked to chat…
‘Nice day for it, I was here yesterday, but I don’t mind standing out in the sunshine; it’s for my dad, didn’t have all his meds yesterday. He’s got OCD, or is it COPD and diabetes, you wouldn’t believe how many different tablets he takes… he had a funny turn yesterday and I was worried it was the Coronavirus, but he didn’t have a temperature, at least I don’t think he did, we couldn’t find a thermometer…’
‘Oh well it must be…’
Cassie glanced up ahead, four more shops before she was even near the chemist. She glanced behind and noted three more people hovering. One chap looked vaguely familiar.
‘Is this the queue for…
‘The chemist.’
‘Ahh, not how I planned to spend my first day working from home.’
‘Me neither, it’s not for me, the old lady next door.’

‘Same here, shoot me if I ever end up collecting a bag of medicines every week.’
Cassie laughed, someone with the same sense of humour. ‘Let’s hope we have nice neighbours if we get like that.’
‘Well the old lady isn’t exactly a neighbour, it’s my mother, I live with her.’
Oh no, a chap in his forties who still lived with his mother, not what she needed. Well standing two yards away from a bloke hardly rated as being chatted up, though even at that distance she had noted his piercing blue eyes. She realised he was still talking.
‘I know, sounds a bit sad, you get divorced and instead of freedom your sister expects you to take your turn at responsibility, it didn’t help getting transferred here… speaking of which, I’m sure you look familiar, you don’t work for MPJ as well do you?’
She could say no, but then if she bumped into him at work… if they ever went back to work, how long was this virus thing going to last, would her job even survive. He was still talking.
‘So we can hardly go out for a drink with everything closed, but it might get lonely working at home, perhaps we could link up on line.’
‘Okay, I’m Cassie…

Getting Out

One Saturday morning at 7am I got up and looked out of the bedroom window to see our next door neighbours standing across the road in their dressing gowns. I then noticed a fire engine standing outside their house. We had slept through the fire and the arrival of the fire brigade. A fire in their loft had prompted the hasty exit of three generations.

I sent Cyberspouse down in his dressing gown to bring them into our house, while I put some clothes and the kettle on. Over the next couple  of hours, other branches of the family, who luckily lived close, arrived and we chatted more to all of them than we had since we lived there.

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Fortunately ‘getting out of the house’ for most of us, most of the time is less dramatic, usually accompanied by cries of ‘Are you ready yet?’ I wonder why it’s so hard to get out of the house in time. I always end up rushing. If you were told you had five minutes to leave the house, leave the house forever because of imminent war or natural disaster, would you be ready, could you decide what to take? It takes me longer than that to get ready to go to the shops.

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It is a wonder that anybody ever gets to work or school. Here is a handy list of items you need before you set off from home; delete those not currently applicable.

Door keys, car keys, keys for bike lock, watch, ID for work, bus pass /season ticket, lunch box, homework /briefcase, bottle of water, reusable coffee cup, mobile phone, phone charger, tablet – electronic, tablets – medicinal, inhaler, reading glasses, sun glasses, shopping list, shopping bags,  book/kindle to read on the bus /in the canteen, coat, umbrella, PE kit/gym kit, dog, children, baby. If you are a writer add pens and note book.

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If you are a citizen of the the USA and believe in the right to bear arms you may have even more to remember. When Team G were coming back from Las Vegas for their visit I asked them to bring some magazines – think craft, gardening, cooking, lifestyle, culture – What I got was ‘Guns & Ammo’, I turned the first page to see this handy advertisement..

You say it to yourself every time you leave the house ‘Phone. Keys. Watch. Wallet. SCCY.’ You’re not fully dressed unless you’re carrying concealed.

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I would be even slower getting out of the house if I had to remember my firearm.

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Perhaps this one would fit in my handbag.

But even if you’re sure you have everything and your easy to conceal gun is loaded, it’s not easy to leave the house. Did you put the bin out for the dustmen, are all the doors locked, lights, gas turned off, toilets flushed, dog in, cat out, goldfish fed, plants watered. Interior doors closed in case fire rips through the house, burglar alarm set. We don’t have a burglar alarm, but I’m sure that would add more minutes and stress to getting out the door.

And as you finally close the front door and turn round to look at your home you realise there’s a window wide open upstairs. There’s  a big black cloud looming and you haven’t got your umbrella, but that’s okay, because as you re-enter the house you realise the baby is still in the high chair, so the cat must be in the pram.

Friday Flash Fiction – Waterloo

I got off the train wearily, borne along the platform with the other commuters. It was only Wednesday but I was fed up already, who wouldn’t be, having to go to work on a sunny July day.

How had this happened to me, fourth generation of my family on the train to Waterloo every morning to a job I loathed. Was that what it had been like for Dad, Granddad, uncles and aunties, or did they just accept it as their position in life? Twenty three and still living at home so I could save up, save up for what?

I was working for a company everybody except me thought was exciting; Bright Designs was going places, but I wasn’t.

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I stopped on the busy concourse and stood still for the first time ever; I usually dashed straight for the escalator to the underground. Around me everyone was rushing, I thought of Tim my old school friend, in Thailand teaching English, travelling cheaply and posting beautiful pictures on Facebook. Voices intruded into my Land of Smiles fantasy and my eyes focussed on a couple at the barrier to platform 13.

You just don’t get it, do you Josh? A train to the seaside is not my idea of a surprise holiday, even if we were staying together.

I stared at Josh, smart looking bloke, but sounded like he was as successful as me with women.

I don’t understand Lizzie, I thought you wanted to get away for a few days and talk.

It’s too late for that.

Lizzie disappeared into throngs of commuters oblivious to her little drama, out of sight before Josh had even turned his head. He tore off his back pack and threw it on the ground and then, as if he could feel my curious stare, he looked up at me.

‘Hey mate, care to swap lives. Looks like you could do with a trip to the seaside, train leaves in ten minutes.’

He proffered his train ticket.

‘You wouldn’t want my dreary life Josh.’

‘So neither of us have anything to lose, go on, hand me your man bag and take my rucksack.’

 

What on earth possessed me? I slung the back pack on my shoulder and put the ticket in the slot at the barrier. Josh had already gone, taking my wallet, paperback and ID pass for Bright Designs with him. I patted my pocket, my phone was the only thing I still had of me.

Settling into a window seat I almost laughed out loud, runaway train. Nobody except Josh knew where I was going; I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t care.

As the train moved off I looked at the ticket, Bournemouth. Then I casually dipped into the rucksack as if I knew what was in it; a wallet with notes as well as several debit cards and a thick envelope, signed for delivery. I had no compunction about opening it, Josh wanted me to have his life. Afterwards I realised what an idiot I had been, it could have contained drugs or might even have exploded.

But all it contained were two sets of keys, detailed computer print out maps, a set of directions and two pictures, a row of beach huts and a smart white apartment block. What was Lizzie missing? My initial thoughts had been – arrive at seaside, get ice cream, go for a paddle. But now I was going to have a holiday.

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Just when we would have been having coffee at work I was standing on the cliff top. The sea and sky were unbelievably blue, the air balmy, this was a dream. I followed the instructions for the beach hut and descended a steep path with cliff on either side framing a view of sparkling sea with land on the horizon.

Ten minutes later I was in the little wooden hut divesting the rest of my work life and putting on swimming shorts out of the collection of beach gear handily provided. With the warm sand between my toes I was a child again. I plunged into the sea, not as cold as I was expecting. My freedom was complete as I struck out through the gentle waves then turned to look back at the cliffs, I was out of my depth and out of my life. I whooped like a teenager, how I wished everyone at work could see me; perhaps not. This was a holiday that would not be posted on Facebook.

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Friday Flash Fiction – The Curse of the Cheap Lipstick

I was ready for my interview; arrived early, driven past company headquarters, found somewhere to park, checked my make up in the rear vision mirror, delved into handbag for lipstick – gone? I rummaged then tipped out all the contents on the passenger seat, no lipstick.

There were no decent shops nearby, only ‘CostaLittel’ and I would not dream of going in there. I recalled overhearing a conversation in the beauty department of ‘Dearmans’, my local department store.

Fancy paying that much for a lipstick when you can get them for £1.99 in CostaLittel.

The woman speaking and her friend looked as if all their makeup and clothes came from Costalittel.

But this was an emergency. I slipped in to Costalittel, picked up a bottle of milk and a packet of fake digestive biscuits, holding them aloft so everyone would assume the office tea club had sent me out and sneaked a look at shelves full of unfamiliar boxes and bottles. There they were; rows of plastic, silver cylinders, three colours to choose from.

‘Would you like a carrier bag?’ said the young man on the till, changing my twenty pound note without batting an eye lid, or sparing me a glance.

‘No thank you, urgent supplies for the office.’

I slipped the lipstick in my pocket and just before I got to the door saw a large bin, donations for the food bank, I dropped the milk and biscuits in.

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Through the revolving doors, signed in at the desk, into the elegant ladies, marble everywhere with free standing elegant bowls and gold taps. In the fancy frame mirror I applied the lipstick, which co-ordinated remarkably with my blouse, but set my lips tingling. I prayed I would not have an allergic reaction before the interview was finished.

In the swish lift I checked the long panel of buttons, looking for the fifteenth floor, hearing heavy breathing I turned to see a huge stomach squeeze through the doors just as they were closing. I was pressed into the corner, my eyes level with the sign that said ‘maximum of 12 persons’.

My lips tingled again. ‘He must account for eleven people’ I smiled to myself.

‘I beg your pardon,’ said the fat man ‘did you say something?’

first floor, lifestyle health suite said a disembodied female voice.

‘Bet they wouldn’t even let chummy here through the door’ I thought. My lips tingled again, but fat man was blocking the mirror on the lift wall, so I couldn’t check if my lips were swelling.

He cleared his throat loudly and glared at me, I pretended to examine the names of the companies and relevant floors.

‘Which floor did you want?’ he barked.

‘Fifteenth, I’ve pressed the button, Buchannon and Tate – if the poor lift makes it that far with his weight’ I added to myself.

The man’s face flushed, from the puce colour it already was, to purple. That’s when I wondered if my lips were speaking my thoughts out loud… no ridiculous. ‘Please let him get out soon.’

‘I’m also going to the fifteenth floor’ he rasped.

Fourth floor…fifth floor… sixth floor

The female voice continued unperturbed, as the doors opened people stepped back to wait for the next lift, until one brave older lady squeezed in.

‘Good morning Mr. Buchannon’ said the very smartly dressed woman.

He grunted and my heart sank.

‘I hope I get Mr. Tate on the interview panel’ I prayed. My lips tingled and I knew I had spoken the words out loud.

‘It’s Mrs Tate actually’ said the woman tersely.

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