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.

FOR MORE SHORT STORIES OF ALL SORTS READ ONE OF MY COLLECTIONS

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/

Christmas Real Time Tales – part 3 – New Year’s Eve 2020

Cassie felt deflated, empty, tired. She tried to summon up the positivity that had kept her going since March, but a new year was not going to bring a new start for anyone. It was no consolation that more of England had joined them in Tier 4, lockdown in all but name. She knew she was lucky to have a job and a home, didn’t have to do home schooling or shop for elderly parents, but the positives she had nurtured this year seemed to be fading away.

Christmas Day had been good, as if her presence had made it easier for Sam and his long lost son to talk, telling her things about their lives that they hadn’t told each other. She had found herself smiling several times; Christmas 2019 spent alone and this Christmas spent with a homeless man and a runaway teenager. Now her little house seemed too quiet, though she had been glad enough of the peace on Christmas night after the two of them and the dog had clumped off on their way.

She would be more than happy to have them as regular visitors, but Christmas had been one day of freedom for Britons; now it was back to having no visitors, no visiting.  Even her regular walks with Sam and his dog had ceased; the new rule was meet only one person outside your household, outside and Sam’s long walks were now with his son. Though James had done well getting the MPJ building as suitable as possible for his clients, it was a roof over their heads, not a home for a father and son. Sam was keeping Lucas out and about as much as possible, desperate to keep him from getting bored or depressed and doing a reverse runaway back to Scotland and the comforts of his step father’s highland estate.

Cassie could no longer visit the MPJ homeless project, even with the careful Covid regime James had set up. He was all too aware, as he never ceased to point out, how vulnerable some of his little group of homeless were, nor did he want any possibility of the project being blamed for an increase in cases in the town.

She was still working from home, management were pleased with her team, but would they all keep their jobs in the long term with the double blow of Covid and Brexit? Work was hard, not at all the easy lounging in pyjamas outsiders might imagine. Supervising her team was difficult; she was propping some of them up, carrying them. The continual ups and downs of what she assumed was normal busy parenthood, doubled in stress with parents worried every time a child coughed or felt a bit hot; Covid tests, waiting for results, keeping children home in isolation, whole classes being sent home because one child had a positive test, schools closed with teachers ill…  

She was jolted out of her glum mood when her mobile buzzed, she was surprised to see it was James calling, wanting to Facetime and get some advice. How long since they had chatted on line? She was never sure if he had been disappointed that their spring on line friendship had not developed into anything more, when they got the chance to meet up for real.  But now she was pathetically grateful for the chance to have a chat on this lonely New Year’s Eve.

March seems so long ago now, but we first met Cassie in a queue for the chemist…

Sunday Short Story 720 – The Queue | Times and Tides of a Beachwriter (wordpress.com)https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2020/03/29/sunday-short-story-720-the-queue/

Friday Flash Fiction – 800 – Hot Meals

Cassie was worried about James; even though their town was still a medium risk area his mental health felt like a high risk area. She bit into the tender flakes of haddock; Friday evening fish and chips was one of her Covid comforts; the pandemic had come down to appreciating the simple things. Five of them, plus Sam’s dog, sat well spaced out in the staff canteen of the MPJ building; few staff had used the canteen since March, but this week it had been well used.  Sam had honed his cooking skills catering for the small group of fellow homeless folk sheltering at MPJ and it had been his idea to provide meals this half term for children entitled to free school meals and at risk of hunger every holiday. James had been reluctant to agree, but the MPJ bosses had seen a further opportunity to be seen as part of the community and not fat cats. James had been reassured that he would not have to meet any real children. He had the perfect excuse to steer clear of the whole operation as he was still frantically busy coordinating who was coming in to work at the offices and who was working from home. There was still an international company to run in the midst of pandemic uncertainty that seemed never ending.

But it was not work stress that was taking its toll on James. Though their homeless project could not be described as wildly successful, he had proved the homeless could be housed in empty or near empty office blocks. But an office block was not home; the man who had lost his home to divorce and lived with his mother during lock down wanted his own comfortable place. Cassie didn’t blame him, she was thankful to be working at home and thankful she had her own house. She had no intention of sharing it, at least not with James. If there had been a spark earlier, when they could only talk on line, she now knew a relationship was not what she wanted; there was a limit to how much she could help him, it was up to him to work out how to move on.  As for Cassie herself, Covid had been a positive experience, discovering new strengths, making new contacts, happy to have James and Sam as friends. Doubts about her actual job, what she really wanted to do with her life, were now put aside as she helped with the homeless. Being Sam’s assistant cook for the children’s meals had made her feel she was really contributing to society, part of the Covid Community.

When they had finished eating and debriefing the week’s project it was time for Sam to walk the dog and for Cassie to cycle home, not quite so pleasant now the clocks had gone back. They stepped outside into a dark, wet and windy evening. She wheeled her bike to the park with Sam and despite the weather they were so busy talking they reached the other side of the park without her mounting her bike. He had important news. While James was now in a bad place Sam was in a far better place. Cassie had no idea what the dark years had been like after his wife left and took their little boy, but he was determined to make the future positive.

‘It’s strange that Covid has made it easier getting in touch. I suppose his mother knows there is no chance of us meeting up, no chance of me getting up to the wilds of Scotland. Well I guess she reasons that if he finds out how little his real father has to offer, he will appreciate his stepfather.’

‘But you have got a lot to offer, sounds like her second husband only knows about deer and salmon fishing, he can’t help with on line science lessons like you can.’

‘Yes I really think my son might be taking after me, he knows enough to understand what an excellent job I had, or should have had. But I’m glad I was up front with him about what happened; I think it appeals to his teenage rebellious streak that he has a father who has to sell the Big Issue and run a dog walking business.’

‘Socialist leanings perhaps, young people can see how Covid has revealed terrible inequalities and it’s not his fault if he’s been given everything and has never had to worry about food or money.’

‘As long as he doesn’t try and do anything stupid like run away. I told him to knuckle down and study now, not use Covid as an excuse, if he wants to get somewhere. The world is going to need scientists more than ever.’

Friday Flash Fiction – 525 – School Holidays

A piercing scream penetrated the calm of James’ office and disturbed his important conference call with New York. Every sound in the neighbourhood wafted through the back bedroom windows, but it was too hot to close them.

‘Everything okay?’ asked the managing director in New York.

‘So sorry, yes, fine…’

For a moment James wondered if he should investigate, he vaguely recalled his mother mentioning they were in charge of the twins today while his sister and brother-in-law went to Ikea and she might have to pop to the corner shop... None of them believed that he was actually working from home, that it was Friday and he had a great deal of real work to do. Strange sounds had emitted from his nephew and niece at regular intervals since their arrival yesterday, either because they were having fun, or more likely they were arguing. There was the possibility that one of them had been impaled on one of his mother’s lethal gardening implements, or perhaps they had accidentally killed their grandmother…

 Eighty per cent of MPJ staff worldwide were working from home, but usually in their smart book lined studies, not from their mother’s back bedroom with sewing machines and ironing boards as a background for Zoom. It was hardly professional to interrupt discussion of the dreadful news from Beirut ( its importance to the shareholders of MPJ, not the suffering of the locals ) and disappear out of sight to lean out the back window and be heard yelling ‘JASON, JACINTHA what the hell are you doing now?

When his sister Julia had said they were going camping for their summer staycation he thought they meant a tent in a remote field, not a camper van parked outside his mother’s house. Julia insisted social distancing would be maintained, while her husband Jack queried whether social distancing was even a thing anymore. They did sleep in the van; James had not had time to look up council regulations and see if this was legal, but there was much toing and froing to the bathroom and the washing machine had been on constantly since their arrival. The twins weren’t that bad, not according to his mother anyway; they were just high spirited, Covid cabin fever and he just wasn’t used to children of that age, whatever age they were… he had forgotten and dare not ask, his family would be shocked at his lack of interest in the precious ones, his mother’s ONLY grandchildren as  she liked to frequently point out.

Another piercing scream rent the air. This time James did a few quick manoeuvres on the keyboard and the screen went blank; New York would either think England had been hit by a nuclear bomb or perhaps that his local wifi had gone down. He rushed over to the window and leaned out to see an arc of water gleaming in the sun. Jason was chasing Jacintha with the garden hose and this time she let out a screech of triumph as she ducked under the washing line and the family’s bedding hanging out to dry took the full brunt of the high powered hose.

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 – 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.

What’s the Point?

Being in lockdown, isolation, shielding, what ever you like to call it, life has been different for all of us, some more than others; suddenly working from home, or not working at all. Even those who already worked from home, were stay at home parents or retired, still went out and about. How many of us are asking ourselves what’s the point of going out to work, what’s the point of ever leaving home at all? Will there be people who join the true agoraphobics and never leave home again?

If you live on a country estate or an outback station in Australia you probably rarely leave home; it’s a very long way to your front gate. If you live in a city centre with all life on your doorstep in normal times, you did not need to go far. But if you are among the millions and millions who live in suburbs, going out and coming home again is the natural order of things. For generations people have been getting on the train to go ‘up to town’ to the office. Cities are full of offices, new towers of offices are still being built, but why?  When I was very young I asked my father what he did at work and he said ‘write letters’. That sounded very boring so I vowed to avoid an office job and I have, apart from a temporary job when I did commute up to Waterloo station for a few months. I’m sure lots of important things go on in offices, but my little temping job involved chasing up orders that were never ready and seemed unlikely to ever get to where they were supposed to and apologising on the phone to the people that were not going to get them.

Whether you are a big or little cog in your company, we now know you can contribute from a lap top on the kitchen table. All those office blocks could be used to house key workers who at present cannot afford to live near their work and also waste hours commuting.

If the world of work has changed what about leisure and shopping? Will shopping have altered so much there will be no point? I haven’t actually been near a shop except the tiny pharmacy attached to our doctors to collect prescriptions. In our new restricted life even that has taken on an allure of adventure. But will shopping be an adventure or an ordeal now?

When our well known chain BHS, British Home Stores, collapsed, one commentator suggested it did not offer a focussed shopping experience, which is probably why I used to go there, I am an unfocussed shopper. The best buys are when you stop for lunch at a garden centre to break a long journey and end up buying a coat, new trainers and colourful kitchen items you didn’t know you needed. We did have a lovely shop in town that sold an array of colourful and very expensive items that made you want to throw out everything in your kitchen and start all over again. I only looked and didn’t actually buy anything, but they had a nice coffee shop upstairs, strewn with unhygienic cushions, where you could relax and check your social media or write. Where do writers go now?

Whether you enjoyed trying on endless clothes and sampling makeup, or browsing in the book shop before going to your knit and knatter group in that trendy LITTLE yarn shop, the shopping future looks bleak. I imagine only focussed shoppers will be allowed in, two at a time, no browsing, one way system, no turning back, straight to what they need and out again, no idling, no coffee and cake. Jumping casually on the bus, laden with bags of shopping, squashed in by people standing in the aisle, listening in to people’s conversations, observing strange people for your next short story? All that real life is gone; six people on board, strictly spaced out, wait for the next bus. You will be glad to get home and maybe never leave again, glad you have mastered on line shopping.

And what of the great tradition of visiting garden centres?  As well as our travel adventures, we did visit our local centre regularly to actually buy plants, browsing through the reduced stands for ‘rescue plants’, wandering round the water features and overpriced gift section. Then there were the very popular two for one dinners on Thursday evening, masses of people, leaving Cyberspouse with his coffee while I made my final choice of plants. Yesterday’s email outlined the latest rules. Every adult must take a trolley so they keep track of numbers and the strange line ‘We prefer one child per adult and trolley’ … what if you haven’t got  a child, do they hand them out along with gloves and gel or might you have to fit your six foot 35year old son in the trolley? I have had plants delivered by the greengrocer and have ordered some on line, but it’s not quite the same…

Are you planning to leave home any time soon? Can you see any point in going shopping?

Friday Flash Fiction – 707 – Bubbles

Vivienne looked out of the bedroom window across the road, glad to see signs of life. The little boy in the corner house was outside again after the welcome rain, playing swing ball on the lawn. Since the family moved in a couple of years ago the house had been transformed, the noise of all the building work had been worth it and with the designer garden it was a welcome outlook in these restricted days. Young Freddy was an only child, she had felt sorry for him, such a quiet little thing, not like her grandson, but he seemed happy with his own company, playing, building tents and searching for wild life amongst the flowers and his father’s strange sculptures. She wondered if a grandparent or lost uncle would be added to their household to create one of these new bubbles, more confusing instructions from Boris. Well she couldn’t join a bubble, not with James living with her, you had to be living on your own; so still no chance of seeing Jason and Jacintha. Julia and Jack lived too far away to pop round with the twins and stand in the front garden. Even if she had been on her own who would they choose to share their bubble; she felt a stab of jealousy, probably one of Jack’s divorced parents, his lonely father or his needy mother. Unless they had both acquired new partners…  Vivienne smiled to herself, she couldn’t be bothered to house train another man, even in the unlikely event of meeting someone. She imagined some dreadful man in his eighties wanting to try out Viagra, or even worse, a chap in his declining years searching for someone to look after him.

Over dinner it turned out James had his own idea about bubbles.

‘What would you think Mother about inviting Cassie to join our bubble?’

‘We haven’t got a bubble.’

‘No, but we could make one. Cassie hasn’t got any family, she’s new in the area, so perhaps she would be glad to visit us?’

Vivienne pictured having someone new to talk to, someone intelligent to chat with, not about geckos, but it sounded as if this on line girlfriend had plenty of other interests, including her new gardening adventures.

‘Or I could visit her.’

She wondered what her son had in mind exactly, how did on line dating work? It was not new, a few of her friends had had some hair raising adventures on line, or rather, when they went off line. James visiting Cassie would obviously give them privacy, surely he didn’t want his mother part of the bubble.

‘What does Cassie think?’

‘I haven’t mentioned it yet?’

‘Has she suggested you meet up in the open, now there are less restrictions?’

‘No, I sometimes think she prefers being on line, she has never exactly said where she lives. I only know it’s within cycling distance of work.’

‘And how would you get there with the ferry still being out of action, surely not on your bicycle?’

‘The boss was talking about a short term car hire. I shall have to go in to the office soon, if only to finish my assessment of who or if anyone can work in the building. Anyway, what about you Mum, you could go out a bit now. ’

‘A walk round the block is going to be my limit for a while yet, where would I go with everywhere closed ?’

‘It’s a pity you gave up driving so long ago.’

‘Because you could have borrowed my car?’

‘No, no of course not, so you would be independent.’

‘I was independent, near the town centre for my bits of shopping, meeting friends at that nice waterside restaurant, popping over on the ferry for a proper shopping day out and of course Suzanna was always happy driving me and Dee out and about on our little outings.’

‘Oh… yes, I’m sorry that must have been such a shock.’

‘…and most of us only finding out on the grapevine, Suzanna’s family didn’t know who all her friends were, not that we could have gone to the funeral. She was the fittest of all of us, the last one we expected to get Covid.’

For some pre-Covid tales, why not dip into one of my collections?

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 – Freddy

They didn’t do clapping and banging saucepans last night, did that mean Covid was going away? Freddy didn’t want Covid to go away, he wanted it to stay forever so he didn’t have to go to school ever again and Mummy and Daddy didn’t have to go to work ever again.

Freddy was good at home schooling; he did all the work his teacher set, he did lots of BBC Bites, he liked those and the extra work his parents set because they didn’t think his teacher gave him hard enough work. Even when Mummy was doing conference calls and Daddy was busy on his lap top, Freddy carried on working, looking up countries in the big atlas or writing a story. If he kept being good at home schooling then he wouldn’t need to go back to school.

At the weekend they had had an important conversation with him.

‘The Prime Minister says your class can go back to school, but we have some bad news… now don’t be too disappointed, but Daddy and I have decided you should not go back yet. We are very proud of you doing so well at home schooling and it might not be safe at school; remember how we measured two metres?’

‘Yes and our desks are closer than that’ said Freddy hopefully.

‘What Mummy means is that some of the children who aren’t as clever as you might forget at playtime and bump into you.’

Freddy knew for sure who would bump into him, purposely and give him Covid. He certainly didn’t want to go back to school if They were going to be there.

‘Are the other children in my class going back?’

‘Some are, perhaps when things settle down you will be able to go back.’

Freddy didn’t want things to settle down. Perhaps They would go back to school and catch Covid and die.

At bedtime he listened to his mother talking on the phone, who was she talking to?

‘Yes I know, it’s a difficult decision, we’re just lucky we can work from home and Freddy has taken to home schooling so well. But it’s not really fair on him, being an only child, he needs to be with other children. Yes, I heard about that, extending the end of term.