The Beginning

The Beginning

Adrian was alone. He woke up one morning, huddled in some foliage that he had managed to gather around him to keep out the chilling cold of the night. He had no recollection of the previous day, no knowledge of who he was, or even what he was.

Adrian sat up. He looked at the barren views. No plants, no animals, no nothing. All he could see was the desolate landscape out into the distance; into eternity. He gazed into the early morning sky. The stars were still visible and so was the moon. He looked up, trying to think, trying to understand, but this was to no avail. He couldn’t think and he certainly couldn’t ever understand.

The only break from the emptiness was the little copse where he had spent the night. It consisted of a dozen trees and some long grass. He was hungry, but had no food. He tried gnawing at the tree bark but some hidden instinct soon told him it was not good. So he chewed at the only other available sustenance, the long succulent grass.

After some time his throat was dry. He needed some liquid. There was none. No food and no water.

He went back to his little comfort spot between the trees and curled up into the foliage again. His eyes closed and he began to die.

As he slept, Adrian didn’t dream. He was not capable of dreams, in the same way that he was not capable of thoughts; at least, not the kind of thoughts that we understand. He slept soundly, with death being his only future. This gave him no sorrows. He wasn’t capable of having sorrows either.

As he became weaker and dehydrated his sleep grew deeper, almost comatose. The end was near.

Then, as sweet as an opening of a Beethoven Symphony, as gentle as a light breeze on fallen leaves, he heard something pleasantly entering his consciousness through his deep sleep. It was a light trickling sound. It came from nearby. He opened his eyes, sat up and looked around. Very slowly and steadily he came to his feet. The trickling sound grew louder.

Adrian was very weak but something told him that he must get to the source of this sound. He staggered a few paces and saw a stream of running water. Through the dark barren landscape, flowing towards him, came a long pathway of cool clear rippling water. He instinctively put his hand in. It was very cold. He drank thirstily. It felt good.

Although still quite weak from lack of food, he began to walk in the direction of the flowing water. He had no idea why he must follow the stream. He looked back from some distance at the small clump of trees where he had spent the night. It left no meaning to him. He must follow the water.

As the day came to its’ conclusion and the night sky began to reveal a mass of bright sparkling stars, Adrian began to feel cold again. He realised that the dark seemed to be concurrent with cold. This night he had no trees or foliage to keep him warm. He sat down by a large rock, with only the sound of the stream in his ears and the cold infertile landscape before his eyes. Again he lay, shivering, and began to die.

The next morning, at daybreak, Adrian peered through bleary eyes at the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. Ahead of him, next to the stream, was another group of trees and bushes, similar to the ones from the previous day. One of the trees had small round fruits hanging in little bunches. They were red and very appealing. Adrian took one from the tree and inspected it before popping it into his mouth. He didn’t know why it should go into his mouth. It was instinctive.

As he slowly sucked on the small cherry he enjoyed the tangy taste, and quickly popped in a few more. It was so good that he began to chew vigorously, until a sharp pain surged through his lower jaw. Something had broken off inside his mouth. It was hard and he spat it out quickly, along with the mouthful of cherries.

Now, with a piercing pain in one side of his mouth, he slowly took some more cherries, this time being careful not to bite hard on the stones inside. Those he spat out.

Adrian now felt good. He continued on his journey along the side of the stream. As he walked the days turned gradually into weeks and the routine of always finding an orchard to eat from and to huddle down into against the dark cold nights became his way of life.

But the environment was gradually changing. One day the stream became wider and he saw other creatures moving in the water. On closer inspection he saw that some of them were quite big. He tried to catch them with his bare hands but they were far too difficult to grasp. That night he made a net by weaving the grass together and fastening it to a long stick.

The following morning he went back into the river, with his homemade net. It was easy to catch one of the bigger fish as they were so abundant. He feasted hungrily on the constantly flapping fish.

After his feast he sat looking at his surroundings. He began to marvel at the night sky with its’ billions of stars and the moon, which was always changing shape. The hills in the distance were no longer grey and barren. He saw forests and grassland. He looked with awe as a bird flew by and landed on a nearby tree. Such beauty he had never seen before.

*****

Adrian lived many years in his world of survival and discovery. He travelled thousands of miles through barren wasteland, deserts, forests and huge areas of rich savannah. Always there was a morsel of food, or a drink of water to keep him going. He never questioned it. It was simply his way of life.

Gradually, as time drifted on he began to age. He was no longer jumping out in the morning to wash and feed with vigor and anticipation of the new day. He was crawling out of his hole slowly, with aching limbs and remaining tiredness in his head. He was becoming old.

One day, as he was bathing in the river, he was suddenly confronted with another human being. This was just as had always been the case with his new discoveries; they simply appeared from one second to the next.  Like him, it was naked, but with a different shaped body. They never spoke, but smiled at each other.

That night they huddled together against the cold. They quickly learned that it was warmer together than separate. Adrian gradually started to become younger again. He found that his aches and pains were receding and he could catch fish again as he had years before.

Eventually Adrian and Evelyn learned that they could share their food and chores. Adrian was much more successful at fishing and gathering the heavy foliage for their nest. Evelyn had learned how to cut the fish into little strips and dry in the sunshine. It tasted much better that way.

One day Evelyn became very sick. She had enormous pains in her stomach and screamed each time the pains became bad. Adrian looked at her without emotion. He just watched her in agony as she writhed on the grass. He was helpless.

With one final scream and huge sigh Adrian watched as a screeching little wriggling baby came out from between Evelyn’s legs. Instinctively he took the baby, wiped the skin clean and handed him to his mother. That night there were three of them huddled into the nest.

*****

Yorick246 sat at his computer. His parents had hardly seen him since he was given the latest version of “SCHOEPFUNG”,  a simulated reality software that was all the rage with the kids at the moment.

His father had concern that Yorick was becoming too infatuated with it and not giving enough time to his normal studies. He decided to visit him in his chamber and try to understand what it was about this software that made it so compelling.

He pressed the autoslide button outside Yorick’s chamber and entered.

“Hey Yorick, I’m just checking that you are still alive. You’ve buried yourself in here for the last week. I will need to check your vitamin D levels if you carry on like this. What’s the new package like?”

“Hi Dad. Don’t worry, I am soon finished. This new SimRel package is awesome. Look, I can show you a fast replay of what I have achieved so far.”

YorickC, his father, watched the large screen to see what his intelligent young fifteen year old had been playing with for the last week.

“Son, this is really impressive. You seem to have taken the software to its limit.”

“I know Dad, but to be honest some of it has been hit and miss guesswork. Twice I nearly lost Adrian, because I didn’t plug in sustenance early enough. He very nearly timed out due to lack of water and food. I just managed to plug it in time to keep him going.”

“Well, he certainly looks fine now. I see that he has a little family too.”

“That was the hardest part Dad. I didn’t realise that I had to generate a woman in order to keep the species going. As we don’t have to do that anymore it slipped my mind. I am using the package for primitive creation, which needs to have all the basics put in. Still, it’s interesting to see how mankind used to be. I nearly lost him due to that too. Adrian became old before I could replace him, so I had to do a quick rejuvenation on him to make him young again.”

“Well I think you’ve done a great job Yorick. We should show your Mum. She will be proud.”

“There’s just one thing Dad. I know that my allowance is all used up for this month, but I would really like to develop this a bit further. To do that, I need the add-on package, which will cost another eighty Pay Units. Can I have an advance on next month Dad, please?”

Yorick’s father was quite hesitant. The extra Pay Units were not the problem, but he was a little concerned that his son was becoming too immersed in only one thing. He knew that it was not healthy to obsess about one toy.

“I tell you what Yorick. If you will agree to have a day out with me and Mum, I will let you have the add-on tomorrow, when you can continue with this. Today we can go to the Funcentre  for skiing in the morning and then play Virtual Paintballing in the afternoon. How’s that?”

“Ok Dad”, Yorick said smiling. “Although virtual reality is only interesting to you old fogies these days, I guess I could come with you, as long as you don’t tell any of my friends”

YorickC looked at his son with pride. “Deal”, he said ruffling his hair.

“So what is this new add-on package all about that you want?”

“It’s really exciting. It has a number of enhancements, but the one I want is called Will4. It will allow me to give my creations a free will of their own. That way the whole thing can develop in ways that I haven’t programmed. They will have the ability to do their own things. “

“It all sounds a bit funny to me. It means you lose some level of control over them.”

“That’s exactly the point Dad. I don’t want to be programming every little detail. The whole point of simulated reality I to get as close as you can to reality, not just some simple robots.”

“Ok. I get it now. By the way, what do you call these characters in your program, er reality world?”

“Well, he is called Adrian and his woman is Evelyn. I haven’t named the baby yet.”

“That’s a bit of a mouthful Yorick. Can I suggest a small modification? How about Adam and Eve, it’s simpler, and you could call the baby after your Mum, Cain235.”

“Ok Dad. Adam and Eve it is with little Cain. I can’t wait to see what they do when I give them a free will.”

The Life Of Times

 

The Life Of Times

John Briggs slowly raised the caked, distorted lashes from his heavy eyes as the alarm emitted its’ incessant high-pitched tone, telling him that it was four o’clock and time to drag himself from the warm sheets. He glanced across at Barbara. He would miss her, but not much.

These business trips were slowly wearing him down. He was fifty-six. “Could he really survive another ten years of this until retirement?” he thought to himself as he brought the BMW to life on the front driveway.

Arriving at the airport he continued to develop those unhelpful thoughts about his future retirement and the things with which he would occupy himself, once he had the time. He just needed more time. “Who knows? If he wasn’t so bloody tired all the time maybe even his erections would return.” At this thought a sad smirk flowed across his face. “Maybe if his wife would make some kind of effort his erections might return too. God, what a shit life.”

He hated Heathrow. He always had the crazy feeling that to get anywhere one had to walk four hundred metres, turn left, then another four hundred metres, and so on, four times until he was back where he started, but probably only the other side of a wall. He imagined that the airport designers had gained some sadistic pleasure from such designs, or maybe it was just to keep the punters busy during the long waiting times.

Waiting was the worst part. He bought a Times newspaper to help him to get through the two hour wait for his flight to Hong Kong, where he would travel on to Melbourne. “Damn it”, he muttered to himself as he spilt some of his coffee over the front page, then grinned stupidly as he realised that the stain looked like a small beard on a picture of Ed Milliband’s face. Not resisting the temptation, he took a black ball-point from his jacket pocket and drew a small moustache to finish the job. His spirits heartened as he realised that he still maintained a degree of childishness. This kept him sane during difficult moments.

On hearing the call for boarding over the loudspeaker, he threw the newspaper down onto the seat next to him and made his way to the departure gate. His two-week trip to Australia was to be one of his longer ones. Already, he couldn’t wait to get back home.

*****

Sarah Mountford had decided to return to her native country of South Africa. With heavy heart but also mixed with a burning optimism, she was returning to the nest which had been her family, until seven years ago, when she had emigrated to England with her new husband. He had swept her off her feet.  James had been rich, well connected and loved her as no other ever had, or so she thought.

She had known that he had some difficult business deals and consequently had developed a number of enemies. She had always assumed that this was simply part of the territory of success. Then, one day, James just disappeared. He left the house as usual, in the morning. She heard nothing more.

The police finally, after three years, decided to close the case. It was assumed that he had been murdered due to one of his many business deals going wrong. The worst part for Sarah was the ‘not knowing’. There was no closure. After his disappearance it was found that James had not been as rich as his life indicated. His debts were colossal. There was little left for Sarah to start building her new life.

She imagined that the seven years had been one long tragic film epic at the cinema. Now the film was ended, she would go back to her old life as though nothing had happened.

Sitting down in the waiting lounge, she smiled to herself as she saw the silly face of Ed Milliband. Someone had drawn a moustache, just as she used to do as a child. She picked up the newspaper and began to read. “Just my luck!” she thought to herself, as she realised that it was a copy of the Times. She found it rather boring and figured that politics or business were not the correct recipe for her in this frame of mind. She needed something light that would relieve her sadness.

Then she noticed that there was a special eight page insert covering yesterday’s London Marathon. This was more like it. She took out the insert and tossed the remaining newspaper aside, onto another seat.

In the café, with the large broadsheet spread across the table she looked through the pictures of runners, especially her most admired athlete, Paula Radcliffe. Sarah had once attempted a marathon, but blew up at twenty-two miles. She knew how hard it was to complete such a feat, and had respect for all who did.

There were many pictures of people in fancy dress. She giggled at a picture of big fat man in a nappy, wondering how much time he would have needed to complete the course with so much weight. Then her face turned to stone. She began to shake violently, uncontrolled, without realizing that she was shouting his name over and over again. “James. James. James.”

In the picture, behind the fat, almost naked runner, was a house with balcony. On the balcony she saw the sinister face of her lost husband. James was laughing, but worse, he had his arm firmly round the shoulders of a woman. They appeared to be a couple.

The waitress rushed over to offer assistance. “Madam, are you ok? Can I help you?”

Sarah tried to answer but could find no words. The next thing she woke up in the airport first aid centre.

“Really, I just had a terrible shock. I am fine”, she insisted to the nurse. “I don’t want to go to hospital. I want no fuss.”

She left the airport, heading back into London centre. She could not go back to South Africa with the knowledge that James was still alive.

*****

Cleaning toilets for a living was not Josh Timberlake’s idea of a good life. Dropping out of school at sixteen, he had been bumming around for eight years. Most of these years had been spent around the airport. There was money there. People needed their shoes cleaned, help with luggage. The early years had been spent doing such odd jobs, picking up a few tips here and there. It was surprising how much one could make in a week.

Two years ago he answered an advertisement for cleaner. “At least a regular pay”, he thought at the time. Now he had had enough of cleaning up other peoples waste. He imagined that the smell was slowly permeating through his whole body, slowly turning him into one large living turd.

Today was a good day. No toilets. He had been asked to fill in for a sickness in one of the general airport cleaning staff. He preferred this, as it gave him more contact with people and the stale smell was absent. Looking at his watch he realised that there was only fifteen minutes to go until his coffee break. Just enough time to do the bins before settling down to a half hour doze in the staff room.

“Why the hell can’t people use the bin provided?” he ranted, as he picked up two coffee cups and an old newspaper from the seats. On seeing the mustached face on a copy of the Times of someone who looked like some kind of politician, he slid it into the pocket of his overalls to read during his break. Reading was the best way to help him to drift into a soft catnap.

In the staff room, he poured himself a cup of coffee, with its usual four sugars, and found a quiet seat in the corner. He pulled out his pen and began scribbling beards and moustaches onto more of the faces. He even gave some bowler hats or flat caps. Jean, who was the senior cleaner, walked by and glanced at Josh’s work of art. “Christ Josh, are you never going to grow up?”, she tormented.

Josh was concentrating deeply and didn’t even look up to greet her. His eye had caught an advertisement. He was imagining what it would be like to work in a crematorium. He considered that his chances would be good. No-one wants to work with dead bodies. He would give them a call.

Immediately after his shift was over he went to the telephone box in the departures area. Not knowing exactly how to apply for a job, he just blurted it out when the call was connected.

“Hello. My name is Josh Timberlake. I am enquiring about the advertisement for Crematorium Technician. Is the vacancy still open?”

“Hello Mr Timberlake, I am George Wilson, the Crematorium General Manager. I can tell you that you are the first person to call regarding this vacancy in over a month. It seems that although we have many unemployed people here in London, being out of work seems preferable to working in a crematorium for most people. What is it that particularly interests you in this vacancy?”

The voice at the other end of the phone appeared friendly and welcoming. Josh had a good feeling.

“Well, er, I read that it involves being trained as Crematorium Technician within 6 months of appointment. I think that this could give me a new start in life, as I have no qualifications yet.”

“Oh hell, why did I need to say that?”, Josh reprimanded himself quietly.

“Don’t worry. There are no pre-requisite qualifications for this job, but your position would only become permanent after completing the course as stated. Are you okay with this? If so, I would like to meet you for an interview. Are you available tomorrow?”

Tomorrow was Josh’s day off. This was perfect. “Yes, any time”, he quickly replied.

“Right. Let me see. Can you come to the crematorium at ten o’clock? We can discuss the arrangements and if we are both happy, I can show you around at the same time.”

“Yes. Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“I think that it is I who should be thanking you Josh. See you tomorrow.”

Josh was so excited. This could be his big chance to finally make something of himself.

He decided to hang on to his newspaper as it had the phone number in, just in case there was a problem.

The next day he was up early. He didn’t have a suit, but decided that his best trousers and corduroy jacket would be smart enough. After all, he wasn’t applying to become a big businessman.

At the entrance to the crematorium he took a deep breath, before climbing the steps. At the last minute he realised that the newspaper was still in his jacket pocket. Apart from looking a bit scruffy, he certainly didn’t want his potential new employer to see all of the scribbled faces. It would give a bad impression. So he tossed the newspaper into a nearby wastepaper bin.

Fingers crossed he entered the crematorium.

*****

The gnarled, broken fingernails scratched into the rubbish. It was becoming colder. Summer was over and the nights were approaching those dreaded frosty temperatures. Jocky had been living on the streets of London for many years. At forty-two he looked more like sixty. He had long, matted hair, straggling down his shoulders. His stink trailed him like an invisible bubble of pure stench wherever he went. His belly hung out over the string, which he used as a belt, where an untreated hernia had allowed his guts to spill out, held together only by his flabby skin.

He knew that his days were severely numbered. He would live one more winter at most.

In the bin was a half-eaten ham sandwich. “Hey, it seems to be my lucky day,” he thought to himself.

He put the sandwich in his pocket and also pulled out an old newspaper from the rubbish. He had long experience of the warmth that could be maintained when wrapping oneself in newspapers.

Jocky drifted through London all afternoon, trying to ignore the sneers and stares and, worst of all, the expressions of disgust at his finely developed aroma. He finally settled on a bench for the night in Hyde Park. One had to get in quite early, before the best ones were taken.

In the twilight, just before it became completely dark, he drained a quarter bottle of whisky that he had managed to pinch and ate the day’s findings. His ham sandwich was accompanied by two apples stolen from the vegetable market and a Cornish pasty that someone had accidentally dropped on the floor after taking only the first bite. He dined well that evening.

Wrapping himself in a number of newspapers and cardboard sheets, he settled down for the night. His sleep was the most pleasurable part of his life, where he could allow sweet dreams to drift into his weak body. Only his waking hours were his worst nightmare.

*****

John Briggs woke with the thump of the landing gear on the hard tarmac. He couldn’t wait to get back home after two hard weeks wheeling and dealing in the summer heat of Melbourne.

He was looking forward to eating egg and chips, English breakfast or pizza, after so many exotic business lunches. He wanted to get back to basics.

He glanced at his watch. He would be home by eight o’clock, just in time to have breakfast with his wife before she went off to work. The rest of the day was free for him to relax.

Barbara had been doing some hard thinking while he had been away. She had also realised that it was not going so well between them and had decided to spend the two weeks trying to get back into shape. She had been to the manicurist, been waxed, bought some new clothes and was looking quite gorgeous as John came in through the front door.

“Wow! Barbara! Is this really you?”, he said, startled by the transformation.

“Hello John. This always was me. I have just been a bit too busy and tired these last months. Do you like it?” she asked as she did a twirl.

He wrapped his arms around her thinking, “maybe life is not so bad after all.”

“Tonight I think we must see what we can do about Mr. Wiggly”, she chuckled.

Once Barbara had left for work , despite feeling very tired from the jet lag, he wanted to go out for some fresh air. It was a cold crisp morning with signs of the first frost of the year. After slipping into his jeans and trainers, with an old pullover, he set off for a good brisk walk through London.

During the walk he pondered over his life. Only two weeks earlier he had felt trapped. Trapped by his job and trapped by his complacent wife. He had only a future of slowly growing old, with little to look forward to. How this had changed in such a short time. He thought about how easily our moods can flip-flop from happy to sad and back again. More deeply, he realised that life can so easily go downwards or upwards, depending often on a few uncontrollable circumstances. He felt, at that moment, like one of the luckier ones.

On walking through the park he came across one of the unlucky ones. An old man was lying on a bench, wrapped in all sorts or rubbish. At first John thought that he could have been dead, but saw him stir as he approached nearer. The old man opened his eyes, which met John’s. They were tired eyes, eyes of no hope, no pleasure, and no life.

In a sudden burst of deep empathy John pulled out his wallet and gave the old man a twenty pound note. “Here”, he said. “Make sure that you get yourself a good hot breakfast today.”

As the tramp reached up to take the money, John could not make out whether they were tears in his eyes or just the watery puss leaking out from beneath his lids. He wanted to do more, but knew that this wouldn’t help. The old man was soon to die.

When he turned to walk away a picture caught his eye. On a piece of newspaper, wrapped around the old man’s shoulders was a picture of Ed Milliband staring up at him. The face had a coffee stain, which looked like a beard and someone had drawn a silly moustache on him.

“Nah! It couldn’t be”, John dismissed the thought as quickly as it came into his mind.

 

Epilogue.

Sarah Mountford found her lost husband. He had arranged his disappearance in order to avoid the huge debts that had been amassed, and to escape from his enemies. After informing the London police, he had been arrested, and is now serving twelve years in Wormwood scrubs for fraud and bigamy. Sarah has returned to South Africa as planned, after having the marriage annulled.

Josh Timberlake is now a fully trained Crematorium Technician, soon to be married. His life is on the up and he is working hard towards the next promotion to Crematorium Manager.

Jocky didn’t survive much longer due to a sudden cold spell. He was found only two days after his encounter with John Briggs, with a twenty pound note in his shirt pocket, still wrapped in an old copy of the Times newspaper. Ed Milliband had continued to look up with the same smile on his face.

John Briggs and his wife Barbara found each other again. All it had needed was a little effort from each of them to bring the love back into their lives. They would be happy together.

The Case Of The Missing Envelope

The Case Of The Missing Envelope

Theft

“Oooowa! Okay, I give in. You can have it. Just leave me alone.”

I had always been treated badly by Richard. He would take anything that he wanted from me. He was bigger, stronger and with the ability to hurt people. His anger seemed to know no bounds. Having spent most of my childhood trying to keep out of his way, I was now dreading the upcoming holiday in Spain, where we would be sharing a room for two weeks.

Richard is my step brother. His father walked out on him when he was four years old. Soon after their divorce Mum married Dad and I arrived very soon afterwards. None of us liked Richard. He was always getting into trouble at school and at home. It seemed as though he carried an angry cloud round with him, wherever he went.

Except for odd times when he was in a good mood. This normally happened when Dad was away on a business trip, and it was just the three of us. Mum then also relaxed and had more time for us. I especially remember us falling about laughing while playing tiddlywinks in front of the blazing fire, on those freezing cold evenings in winter. But that was only when Dad was away.

During these moments Richard was more than a step brother. He was also my friend. How he would quickly transform his attitude when Dad came home.

Mum had been saving all year towards our holiday. She had taken the habit of putting some money by each week, just as her parents had done when she was a child. It gave her a feeling of achievement to see the money pot grow until; at last, the holidays were upon us.

We had booked an apartment on the Coast Duarada in Spain. I dreaded being confined in a bedroom with Richard. I would come home with some new bruises for sure. Only two weeks to go.

One morning Mum opened the chest drawer to put another twenty pounds into the envelope, only to find that it had gone. She searched for over an hour; Took all of the clothes out, removed the drawers and checked it all again. The envelope with nearly eight hundred pounds was gone.

Confession

We all sat around the table. Dad was almost purple with anger. Mum was crying.

We all knew that Richard had taken the money. He was the only one who would do such a thing, during one of his moments of tantrum. We were all quiet for a while.

Mum spoke first. “If whoever took the money owns up now, we will say no more about it. Just bring the money here. Put it on the table and leave the room.”

“Oh, let’s just stop all of this nonsense. We all know who it was. This bloody son of yours; Come on! Admit it. We all know it was you. You are nothing but trouble. I don’t know why I ever…..”

He stopped before he said what we also all knew. He hated Richard. He seemed to blame him for his father’s bad ways. I watched Richard and saw him wince at the words “that bloody son of yours.”

Mum tried very hard not to show bias and asked me first.” David, did you take the money? Or do you know anything about where it could be?”

I hesitated. My mind was racing. Maybe if I said that I did it, in order to protect Richard, he would be grateful and be my friend in future. No more bullying. Oh, how I wanted him to be my proper friend and big brother.

My hesitation made them all wonder if I could be the guilty one after all. However, after a minute or so, I shook my head and murmured that I had not taken it or had any idea about it. I looked at Richard with sorrow in my eyes because I couldn’t lie for him. Our eyes met, and I thought for a moment that he had understood.

“Ok David. Can you please go to your room? I want to speak with Richard now.”

As I walked out I turned my head to see Richard looking hopelessly at our parents. There was fear in his eyes. He knew what was coming next.

Mum spoke calmly and softly. “Richard, I ask you the same question. Did you take the money?”

I stopped in the doorway to watch the reaction. No-one noticed that I was still in the room.

“I hate you all. He hates me anyway and is always horrible to me,” he shouted pointing to Dad. “And you Mum, you stopped caring about me the day Pop left. I am just in the way here. I hate you all.”

He burst out of the room, brushing me aside and running up the stairs to his room. Mum was close behind shouting, “It’s not true. It’s not true. I love you.”

We all went into Richard’s room. He was now crying and lying face down on the bed. Mum sat on the bed saying nothing. I stood in the doorway.

After some time Richard turned his head. He looked Mum deeply in the eyes and said, “Yes, I took the money and I am glad I did. I don’t want to go on any stinking holiday anyway. But it’s gone. I gave it all to a tramp in the town centre this morning.

Hell at home.

Richard became the black sheep for sure now. There was no holiday.

We hardly spoke. He would just stay in his room sulking. Dad treated him like a criminal. He had no time for him and certainly made no secret of the fact. It was as though the whole family had now given up on Richard. Even I could see no way for us to be a real family.

One day, at breakfast, Richard was putting some cereal in his bowl when the inner packet slipped out of the cardboard outer, spilling muesli all over the floor.

“Can’t you be more careful? Are you stupid as well as a thief?” Dad shouted with a harsh grimace.

“Darling, please don’t talk like that to our children. It was an accident.” Mum tried to calm things down.

“Our children! Our children! No child of mine would ever act like that I can tell you.”

I watched as Richard cooked inside. He was bursting. I became afraid at what could happen next.

“You are the only bastard in this house,” he fired at Dad.

Dad jumped up, raising his hand as he did so. Mum sprang between him and Richard, but Dad brushed her aside with his other arm, knocking her against the kitchen sink. She winced as her hip caught the cupboard door handle.

Richard jumped up, grabbing the bread knife as he lunged forward, screaming “leave my Mum alone you bastard.”

Dad was quick and managed to get hold of Richards’s knife arm and they fell over on the floor, grasping and gauging at anything they could get at.

Mum screamed for them to stop. I ran to Mums arms and we stood holding each other tightly.

Dad managed to get the upper hand and with a very sharp blow, punched Richard hard into one cheek, which split instantly, pouring blood onto the kitchen floor. The blow seemed to bring everyone back to their senses. Richard was oblivious to the cut on his cheek. The tears were mingling with bright red blood as he just kept repeating. “I hate you all. I hate you all.”

Dad slowly got to his feet, exhausted and with blood smeared across his white business shirt. “Call the police,” he demanded to Mum.

“No Brian. We can’t. He is our, my son.”

“If you don’t, I will,” he retorted. “He pulled a knife on me. Do you want to wait until he kills someone?”

Mum picked up the phone, trembling and slowly called the local police. We were both sent to our rooms until they arrived.

I felt terrible. Despite all the bad treatment and terrible things that Richard had done, I still had some feeling in my stomach that it wasn’t right. Those lovely evenings, when Dad was away, were still in my memory; Evenings when Richard was as nice as anyone can be. I knew that he had a good side.

I crept into his room. The blood was untreated, drying on his cheek. I fetched a wet flannel from the bathroom and went back to him. “Here, let me wipe that for you. Is it bad?”

“Go away. I don’t need you.”

“I only wanted to help Richard. Dad gave you a real beating.”

 

Richard looked up to me with wild anger and hatred in his eyes. “I am getting out of here. I only said that I took that money to save your bacon. Now, you can have them all to yourself, just like you always wanted.”

“But that’s not true Richard. Of course you took the money. How can you do such things to your own family?”

We could hear whisperings downstairs and shortly afterwards a policeman was standing in the doorway of Richard’s bedroom.

“Well, young man. It looks like you have got yourself into a lot of trouble. I am placing you under arrest and taking you down to the station.”

I watched from the bedroom window as Richard, in handcuffs, was led out to the police car.

The neighbours were all agog. Mum was at a loss for words. Her family was breaking up before her eyes.

Punishment

Richard was charged with intent using a dangerous weapon.  The theft of eight hundred pounds was also considered with his case. He admitted guilt to both crimes.

He was sentenced to eight months in a secure training centre, after which time he would be reassessed for suitability to return home or to be placed into care.

We were only allowed to visit twice per month. It was always the same. Richard didn’t want to see us. Dad never came in with us. He seemed to have washed his hands of Richard completely. Mum and I would sit, hardly saying anything. It was a terrible time.

I could see more clearly by each visit how Richard was losing all hope for a future. He believed that the world was against him. He thought that no-one loved him. Mum was torn between me, Dad and Richard, who didn’t make it easy to receive his share of Mum’s affection.

I began to feel very sorry for him. Despite all he had done, he didn’t deserve to be kept in this prison, away from us all.

One time, when we were returning home after such a visit, I said, “when Richard’s time is up can we try to make sure he comes home to us? Mum, please, can we give it a try?”

Dad jumped straight in saying that there was no chance. He doesn’t want that thief back in the house. “He probably still has that money stashed away somewhere, for all we know.”

Mum said nothing, so as not to enrage Dad again. It seemed that Richard’s situation was quite hopeless.

Atonement

Richard’s sentence was due to end next week. Mum had worked quite hard on Dad to get him to agree to accept him back into the family home. Dad wouldn’t budge.

One time he even said, “Susan, it’s me or him. You need to choose whether you want a violent thief in the house, or me. I don’t want him back here disrupting our lives anymore.”

He said this as he left for the airport. He had planned a business trip to Paris for three days. I was looking forward to a few days with just me and Mum.

There was a new film on in town, which she had promised to take me to; Ice Age 3. It was really nice to sit cuddled up to her, eating popcorn. We both laughed at the crazy stunts in the film. At one point I became serious at the thought that this is exactly what Richard had been missing. How would I feel if I had been deprived of this loving closeness? Again, Richard’s situation filled me with sympathy. I pulled Mum closer.

We arrived home in the early evening. “Well, I thought the Mammoth was the funniest,” I giggled as we walked up the driveway. Mum went for her key only to find that the door key had somehow fallen from the key ring. We were locked out of the house.

Mum suggested that we should break the downstairs window, but it would be quite expensive as we had sealed double glazing. She was just about to give it a bash with a brick when I had an idea.

“Hold on Mum. I am small enough to get in the bathroom window. I bet it’s open.”

We walked round to the back of the house and sure enough, it was open enough for me to crawl in.

“But how can you get up there David? It’s too high and the ladders are kept in the shed. Only Dad has the key on the fob with his car keys.”

We went to the shed and one of the windows was not on the latch. By lifting it up I was able to crawl in and open the shed door from the inside. “Hey presto!” I said, smiling as I opened the shed door.

Mum went in to lift the ladders down from the shed wall. As she took it from it’s hooks, she froze and dropped it onto the floor, breaking a pile of small flower pots. “Mum, what’s wrong?” I shrieked.

She slowly reached down onto the workbench and placed her fingers gently onto a brown envelope. “It cannot be,” she spluttered. “How could it….? Only Brian comes in here.”

As she slowly realised that something very terrible had happened, the strength left her legs and she sank to the shed floor.

“But Mum, what’s wrong? Are you ill?”

She was focusing on the corner of the envelope. In faint pencil was written 780. The paper was worn where someone had rubbed out the number each time in order to change it to the new figure.

I had no idea what was going on. “My poor boy. My poor poor boy,” she said.

“No Mum, I am fine,” I replied.

She turned towards me with a loving sad smile. “No David; I don’t mean you. I mean Richard. We have to get him out of there.”

******

Our Dad never did come home. I saw him only once a month for the weekend for a while, but that soon fizzled out. He always seemed unshaven and smelled of stale beer.

Now we are a proper family again. Well, if you can call two boys and a Mum a proper family. Richard has changed. We are now true brothers.

Mum loves us both.

I can’t wait for the next time in front of the fire on a cold winters evening, playing tiddlywinks with my little family.

Saved By The Chain

I am not very sure where to begin. Probably the best point in time would be the growing awareness of my impotence. This is a difficult story to tell, so please forgive me if I labour in some areas which come close to my heart and touch my inner sadness.

Helen was a career girl. She adored her work as head of the languages department at a large nearby comprehensive school. Despite the love of her work and her very ambitious career path, she also wanted to include a family of at least two children. At that time, in nineteen sixty three, I was also growing into my role as a research chemist at the water board. I was working long hours, heavily immerged in the complexities of river water pollution, caused by air quality variations throughout Europe.

When viewed from the outside we were the perfect couple. We appeared as two highly professional people, who could boast a PhD in chemistry and a Masters in French culture. Our house had recently been extended to include a fourth and fifth bedroom, which was to allow our friends to stay overnight during their frequent visits, and also hopefully later, for our children.

However when viewed from the inside we were not quite the happy couple that we appeared to be.

Once we had decided to start our family the downturn came. At first we thought that it was due to overwork or stress. We even considered that maybe we were trying too hard. After a few years of trying in vain we made an appointment with the local doctor. Following many tests it turned out that the problem was all mine. I had two problems in fact. I had a damaged nerve in my groin, probably the result of an accident as a teenager when I fell out of a tree onto a lower branch. This was the cause of the worsening impotency. The second problem was much more shocking to us. I was infertile. We would never have children together naturally.

*****

The following three decades were oriented around our careers. We had discussed on numerous occasions the possibility of using a donor or adopting children. Both options seemed to be a poor second best, so we decided to follow a different path in life. We planned to work hard and build up our financial stability such that we could both retire at fifty, and then live well, travel the world. It seemed like a realistic and exciting plan at the time.

Through those years our relationship was sound, or so we thought. It was a life of work during the day, socializing evenings and weekends. Parties were often taking place at our large home. Still, we were the ‘perfect’ couple to all around us.

But passion failed. We were occupying ourselves with people, parties, work and career, but there was little love. Somehow it had gradually drained away from us, as water flows out of a bath, until all that is left is an empty tub. We were the empty tub.

*****

The emptiness was never spoken, never discussed, but just lingered between us. We even kept to our early retirement plan, both afraid to speak the unmentionable.

During the final few years before my fiftieth birthday I worked, during the week, in Brussels. I was leading a European initiative into environmental pollution. I would be at home in England only for weekends. There was little time to brood over our marriage.

Almost as if it had been planned for us, the project was due to end just three months after my fiftieth birthday. I resigned as planned, hopeful that I could re-build our marriage. All we needed was to have more time together, or so I thought.

I am a year older than Helen, which meant that I retired first. She was to follow me the following year in Autumn.

For some months I had been noticing that my grip was becoming weaker. It was something that I had felt but never fully registered. I had put it down to age and lack of physical training. After beginning my retirement it became much more noticeable and developed further such that my fingers often had pins and needles and seemed to tremble slightly.

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease only six months after beginning my retirement.

*****

Helen changed instantly. She had loved me, I was sure, but that was years ago. Now, with the realisation that she had not only missed out on a family because of my infertility, she was also likely to miss out on a happy retirement by living out her old age with an invalid.

I felt so sorry for her. She was torn between her feelings of responsibility for me and her need for a fuller life. I knew that she had sacrificed so much to be with me. She hadn’t felt the sensation of deep love, the hardness, the excitement of sexual passion for many years. And now, she couldn’t look forward to her old age with a loving husband to travel with. We both knew that I had ten good years left, maybe fifteen if I was one of the lucky ones.

Things happened fast after that. She didn’t retire as we had planned. She didn’t feel safe to do that, but said that she needed her work more than before. I dutifully nodded and accepted that things were not going to be as we had planned.

Then came Brian; the bastard. Helen was in such a vulnerable position. I can’t find it in my heart to blame her or hate her for the affair. Brian was divorced and made every effort to see her on her own.

After she told me about the affair, through tears and guilt, I forgave her instantly. How could I have acted differently? I loved her. She was hurting.

I visited Brian at his home. We had known each other for years. I became so angry that I threatened him, but he just laughed.

“Roger, don’t be ridiculous“, he said. “In your condition you couldn’t knock the skin off a rice pudding. Now go home, there’s a good chap.”

I was so upset that I raised my trembling fist, but we both knew that it was futile. My thin half clenched hand was a joke.

“You can’t blame Helen for wanting a real man,” he said provokingly with a pathetic grin on his face.

I turned in shame and shuffled back to my car. I never felt more alone or useless in my life.

*****

Helen became nervous, irritable and began to treat me like a child. It was as though she saw my illness as something intellectual. She would tell me when to clean, wash up, do the laundry etc. If I opened the wrong bottle of wine with our meal I would be berated for my stupidity. I never had the energy to fight. My medication was playing hell with me.

So I began acting like a child. I watched TV from morning till night. Helen would come in from work and begin the complaining. Gradually she didn’t come in from work. Where she was I never knew.

Then came the bombshell. She wanted out. After dinner one evening she just spurted it out. “Roger, now don’t go getting upset again, but I can’t continue like this. I need a life. I need some fun again. I’m sorry, but I don’t see why I should give up the rest of my life for a…a…well you know.”

Yes, I knew. An invalid. An impotent invalid. An impotent wimp of an invalid.

“But things will be different when you retire. We will have more time together and can travel and see all of those places we have talked about for so many years. All we need is time.”

I could see in her eyes that I was talking in vain.

“No, Roger. I have decided. I am leaving you. We will sell the house and buy two apartments, one for each of us. I need to have a life of my own, but I want you to know that I will always be there for you. As your symptoms worsen I will care for you but not as your wife. I have thought about this for months, and although family and friends will probably hate me for it, I have to do it this way. My mind is made up.”

I began to cry. I was so empty that I couldn’t speak for a moment until somehow I pulled myself together enough to say, “Perhaps it’s for the best. Helen, I still love you, I always have and always will. You need a real man. I know that. You can go, without any malice from me. I understand and am willing to release you from any obligations, but you will not care for me like a nurse. When you go, I want no more to do with you. You lead your life and I will lead mine.”

I said this with such intensity that I saw the fear on her face. She had made this decision and now had to carry it through.

*****

The house went on the market the following week. Nineteen eighty-eight was not the best time to sell. The market was stagnant and we dropped the price three times before anyone even came to look at the place.

After two years we still had not sold it and were living as separate people under one roof. While Helen was still working it was manageable. She was out all day and most evenings. She had boyfriends, she went to parties, and she lived in the fast lane. It was as though she was trying to catch up on all she had missed over the last twenty or thirty years.

My condition worsened. The medication was given in ever increasing doses until the limit was reached. I began having one of the dreaded side effects of hallucination. I would be sitting in my room at home, when faces would come onto the walls and ceilings. They were always unidentifiable faces, but ever there. Where did these faces come from?

During this time I became fully depressed. I had nothing to live for. My condition would only get worse. The woman I loved saw me as a useless invalid. I would live out my days in a two bedroom apartment alone and childless. I considered many times to take my life, but didn’t even have the courage for that.

After two more years two major events happened. Firstly Helen finally retired, and secondly we found a buyer for the house.

After her retirement Helen took pleasure in long lie-ins, walks in the park, much reading. I had expected that she would have been attending even more parties, had more boyfriends, painted the town red, but the opposite happened. It was as though she had become tranquil in herself. She slowly started to appear to me as the woman that I married.

Sometimes I would accompany her on her walks. We began to talk about all sorts of things again. This was one of the first attractions between us when we met as students. We would sit up for hours discussing some current affairs, or some scientific phenomenon. She also taught me rudimentary French during that time.

It was becoming just like old times, except for the physical side.

But the house was sold. We would separate forever within the next few months.

*****

We had found two apartments. One, mine, was a fully modernized, renovated, Victorian two bedroom flat in the centre of town. It would enable me to reach most shops and facilities without too much difficulty. It was on the ground floor, with good access for a wheelchair, which I knew would one day be needed.

Helen found a flat in the country in a surrounding village, which was in dire need of renovation, but which she wanted to take as a personal project. It seemed as though her plan was near to fruition. She should have been pleased.

But to me, something was wrong. Helen never talked about the house sale. She didn’t seem very interested in the new flat or the move. On the other hand, I was quite looking forward to finally making the break and ending the difficulty of seeing her trapped in her marriage to me.

What on Earth was going on? I should be the sad one regarding our separation and she should be looking forward to it. I was totally puzzled by her reaction after so many years of wanting to get out.

One morning we had a phone call from the estate agent. The sale of our house was in jeopardy. A buyer at the lower end of the chain had failed to get the financing and the whole chain was held up. I called the estate agent of our apartments to inform him and he gave me some more bad news. The owner of my apartment had another buyer and therefore would not wait. The owner of Helen’s wanted to increase the price if he agrees to wait for the chain to clear.

I was devastated. We had already invested over two thousand pounds in search fees and other costs, and it now seemed as though we were going back to square one.

When Helen came in from her morning walk I gave her the news. It was apparent that she was not as disappointed as I had expected. In fact she had a slight smile on her face as though she knew something that I didn’t.

This time, I didn’t hold back. I just spurted it out after weeks of wondering what she was up to, without having the nerve to address it.

“Helen, this is terrible news for us you know. We have been trying to sell this house for over four years, have invested thousands of pounds in costs, not to mention all of the time and anguish. And now you are smiling. What the hell is going on?”

Helen looked startled. She looked at me and giggled and almost as quickly burst into tears. At that moment her heart was breaking. She was hurting so much that she couldn’t catch her breath. She couldn’t speak, but choked on her tears. The sudden transformation was stark. It was as though the last decade of pain and upset was pouring out in one hard long breath.

Eventually she sat silent. Her face was raw; her eyes were red and swollen. She looked like a beaten puppy. I didn’t know what to say and as always, just stood there like a fool, waiting for something to happen.

“Roger. I have something to tell you. I have no idea how, but I need to. Since you announced your illness I have been with men, I have met with friends; I even was involved in a number of sexual encounters.” As she said this her lips began to tremble again, but she kept control.

“I have said things and done things that I can never be forgiven for. I only saw my life deteriorating and wanted to get it back at any cost. I am not worthy of you or your love, and yet you stand there with only concern and love for me in your eyes. You are such a good man, and I am nothing.”

“That’s not true Helen. Don’t say that. You had just lost your way. Life dealt us some bad cards and you didn’t know how to handle them. Important is that you are now ba…”

I stopped, not daring to say those words.

“Yes, I’m back, if you will have me. These last few weeks I have come to realise that the things I was chasing are not real. They are temporary worthless pleasures, whereas what I had with you since I retired is so wonderful. I want to have a Golden Retriever and go on long walks with you for as long as you still can. I want to see roses and flowers in the garden. And most of all I want to love you and look after you for as long as I can. Your illness was never the problem. I know that now. It was me. Can you really ever forgive me Roger?”

I placed my arms around her and held her long and close for an eternity, before I whispered, “Thank goodness the house sale didn’t go through. Had we sold four years ago, when we put it on the market, we would never have lived this moment.”

*****

I am now seventy eight years old, going on ninety five. My time is nearly over. The illness has almost run it’s course.

I am sitting in my armchair looking out of the window on this fine sunny afternoon. Helen is snipping at the roses. She also limps with the bad hip that I keep telling her to have operated, but she is stubborn. She will not go into hospital and leave me unless she has to.

In the twenty years since she retired she has been the most wonderful wife to me. There is never a day when she doesn’t smile and tell me she loves me. She is now very contented, as am I.

I still have some sadness at having no children, but most of all for not having been a better husband. However, despite this sadness I will die a happy man in the knowledge that I got my Helen back. She was worth waiting for.

Thank God the sale never went through.

Bad Timing

Bad Timing

“You’ve been reading too many Sci-fi books Bob. Either that or your losing your marbles mate.”

Bob Jordan smiled through his heavy white beard. His deep-set weathered eyes, which gave away the history of his life in the outdoors, were grinning with a glistening sparkle. It was a lively sparkle that gave him instant popularity throughout the village. He thoughtfully replied, “I’m telling you Andy. It’s not just my crazy idea. It’s called relativity. Albert Einstein thought it up years ago, but it’s been proven without doubt since then.”

“Do you seriously expect me to believe that I could sit here get older while you were swanning around the universe getting younger? It just sounds bloody bonkers to me.”

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly say younger. I simply wouldn’t age as quickly as you. The nearer I would get to travelling at the speed of light, the less I would age compared to you. Honest Andy, it’s a fact. It was proven using atomic clocks back in the seventies. They flew planes round and round the world measuring the difference on these super accurate clocks compared to ones that stayed on the ground”

Andy began to go quiet. He had a lot of trust in his old mate of thirty years.

He knew that Bob was much brighter than he was, had known it since childhood. Despite this difference they had formed a tight bond, even to the point that they married on the same day in a double wedding ceremony. Their two wives were also close friends.

As he sipped on his third pint of Old Peculiar, he began to think about the possibility of time travel. He’d had children very late in life and knew that the likelihood of ever seeing his grandchildren grow up was small. That is, of course, if his lazy children ever had any.

Andy drifted into a day dream, pondering how much he would love to slow down his ageing process, such that he could live much longer. As his mind wandered Bob could see that his explanation of relativity had made its mark on Andy. He drove the discussion home with, “You see Andy, time is only relative to the person observing it. I would experience time at exactly the same rate as you do, but wouldn’t age as much as you because I would be travelling so fast.”

Andy heard his voice through the dim mist of his daydream. He promptly snapped back to reality with a very irritated, “Okay. Okay. I believe you. But it’s bloody hard to get my head around it, especially after a few beers.”

Bob was in full swing now and his enthusiasm for the topic pushed him to continue. “If we had the technology to travel at such high….”

“Alright, I get your drift. No need to keep going on. Now it’s your turn to get the beers in so why don’t you just zip over to the bar at the speed of light and fetch them cos I’m getting thirsty?”

They both grinned like cheeky little boys, totally comfortable with each other. This is why they hardly ever missed their Friday evening down the local pub together, while their wives went to yoga class, often followed by a meal or film at the local cinema. Friday had been their ‘free’ evening since before they were married.

When Bob came back with two more pints Andy was ready to taunt him.

“I guess that you’re suddenly so clever because of that new book by Professor Dawkins that you’ve had your head buried in for the last two weeks.”

Bob laughed. “You mean Hawking, not Dawkins. Stephen Hawking. Professor Dawkins is someone else. Anyway how do you know Professor Dawkins?”

“Aw, I dunno. It probably came up in one of the pub quizzes.”

That was then the end of the conversation about relativity. Andy quietly mulled over this ageing concept, while Bob was distracted by a long legged newcomer to the pub.

Soon afterwards they were swallowing the last drop of beer, as last orders were called. Bob, on seeing his pal a little subdued, guessed rightly that Andy was still thinking about his age and own mortality. At fifty five they were both well aware of their shortening lifespan. Mainly as a gesture and to help snap him out of it and cheer him up Bob asked, “Are you having another?” He was standing to go to the bar again as he spoke.

“No thanks, if you don’t mind. To be honest I feel a bit knackered and need to get my head down.”

“No problem. I wanted to try to finish that book tonight anyway. It’s bloody interesting.”

They left the pub and strolled up the road together, both still in deep concentration. Stopping outside Andy’s home to say goodnight, they could see that the girls were not yet home. This didn’t matter as five minutes later Andy was fast asleep on the couch.

*****

Jenny and Emma, after their yoga class, went to see the new film ‘Lincoln’ that they had been promising themselves for a few weeks. On leaving the cinema, while it was such a lovely evening, they decided to sit outside the wine bar and have a couple of glasses before walking back home. Consequently it was extremely late when they finally arrived home.

Jenny came in quietly so as not to wake Andy. She could hear him gently snoring on the couch, so went quietly up the stairs to the bathroom.

After cleaning off her make-up she went straight to bed, expecting Andy to join her as soon as he got up for a pee, which was his usual routine. Despite the violent film, the yoga and wine had relaxed Jenny after a hard week in the shop where she worked, such that she went straight off to sleep.

A few hours later she woke with a start. She looked at the clock to see that it was nearly three in the morning. She tutted as she climbed out of the bed, on seeing that Andy was still not there. Her throat was parched. She thought that her thirst was probably due to the wine and decided to fetch some water from the fridge.

She crept down the stairs, again trying not to wake Andy. As she moved across the lounge towards the kitchen Andy shouted out in his sleep. He immediately woke up, groped for the switch and turned on the light.

“Whatever’s the matter,” asked Jenny, full of concern for her husband.

“Oh, hi. Sorry, did I wake you? I guess I was just dreaming,” replied Andy, rubbing his head vigorously with his hands, trying to wake himself up properly.

Without looking up from the floor, sitting on the edge of the couch, he was trying hard to shake away the horrible dream.

“You know what Jenny. That stupid bugger of a mate of mine was talking non-stop about travelling through space and not getting any older. He went on and on about it so much, I guess I must have dreamt that I was whizzing through space. It was like a dark void and I thought that I would never return to see you and the kids again.”

As he spoke he looked up and saw Jenny, who was smiling at him lovingly, but had momentarily forgotten that she didn’t have her teeth in. She always kept them in the bed-side table in a glass, taking them out after the lights were off. She wanted Andy never to see her without them. Although she was still a very attractive woman of fifty, without her teeth she saw herself as ugly and at least twenty years older.

The look of horror on Andy’s face forced them both to freeze for some seconds, before he screamed, “My God, I wasn’t dreaming.”

He ran out of the front door and down the road towards Bob’s house.

All Jenny could hear, fading with the distance was, “I’ll kill him! I’ll kill him!”

Three Minutes

Three Minutes

The thick mist hung over the grave like a ghostly cloak, waiting to surround the cold, rigid body of Jane Powers. As she was gently lowered into the dank hole, which would be her final resting place, or so we all assumed, her husband once more held back the tears, just as he had for the last five days since Jane died.

Jane had been diagnosed with a brain tumor almost exactly one year before. She was thirty-five, full of life and trying for their first child. At a moment in her life when she believed it could never be better, she soon proved herself to be right. It began with the headaches. Migraine was diagnosed by her doctor until a month later when the pain became so bad that she pleaded with him for stronger pain killers. Once her short term memory began to falter she was quickly assessed and the MRI scan showed a tumour in the temporal lobe, which turned out to be malignant and untreatable.

Peter did all he could to make her last few months as comfortable as possible. There were days when they laughed, days with tears but most of all an unbearable ache in both of their hearts with the knowledge that soon they would be separated forever. They played a sort of game where they would treat each day as though it would represent a year. In the evenings they would discuss that day as though it had been much longer and try to imagine that they were having a full life together. Sometimes it worked but sometimes it didn’t and they cried, holding each other until they slept. Now it was over. No more pretending. They were now separated forever.

*****

The following weeks drifted into months with hardly a murmur. Peter lived in a psychological bubble; where only eating, sleeping and work played a part, except for the long nights awake remembering his lost love. He had been told that the heartache would recede over time. He had been told lies. If anything his loss became more painful as the year slid from winter through into autumn.

It was in late autumn when he lay in bed one night in an extremely depressed state. He had begun drinking heavily to ease the pain, but knew that this would not help him in the long term. He lay thinking about the future. Did he even want a future? Should he simply end it now? It all seemed so pointless without his Jane.

That night became a turning point for him. His own logic and strong personality were telling him to pull himself together. Move on. Be positive. Listen to the birds singing again. Return to his hobbies of running and hiking. He decided to get rid of the car and buy a motor bike, and during the last October week would travel to South Tirol in Northern Italy, hiking on some of his favourite mountain routes. He would shake the tiredness out of his limbs and get going again. She would have wanted that.

*****

Cruising through the Brenner Pass on his way to a hotel in Sterzing, Peter felt the calm throb of the Triumph 650 Bonneville resonating through his spine. He glided easily around the bends, feeling the warm October air in his face. He had made the right decision; this felt good.

Parking the bike in front of the hotel Peter hefted the bags from the back and entered the reception. He stopped abruptly at the counter, realizing in an instant what a fool he has been. The hotel ‘Schwarzer Adler’ was where they had stayed before. They had even taken a holiday in the honeymoon suite for a week after they were married. Peter, on seeing the same receptionist, and anticipating the first question, felt the hot sweat begin to build above his brow. He turned to leave but in the same moment changed his mind. He couldn’t just simply run away from the memories. He would focus on the good ones.

The question came as anticipated. “Hello Mr. Powers, how are you today? Are you travelling alone this time? We had been hoping so much to meet your lovely wife again.”

During the last sentence the receptionist realized that something was dreadfully wrong by the expression on Peter’s face. Her final words tailed off, hardly audible.

Peter choked on the words as he said softly, “my wife died a few months ago. She had a tumour which…..”

“Oh! I am so sorry”, she whispered. “Please forgive my clumsiness. I just wanted to ….”

“Please; it’s all right. You have no need to apologise. I am coming to terms with it slowly.”

After checking in and unloading the bags he decided that he could fit in a good afternoon hike up to the Jaufen Pass. There was a hut at the top where he could soak in the high mountain air and blow the last cobwebs away. The next day would be a big one up the Hochfeiler, where at 3500 metres he could test his stamina again.

The walk was exactly as he remembered the first time with Jane. The sky was blue and the autumn clarity of the air allowed some tremendous views. He climbed strongly, taking each step with vigour and breathing deeply, enjoying the punishment he was giving to his body with the effort of the ascent.  He sat at the pass enjoying a cool Weiss bier and although still burdened by a longing for past times, he considered those events and fond memories with a good heart. Repeatedly he thought that he had made the right decision; this felt good.

The walk back down to his bike was fast. Despite the beer in his stomach he began to trot, stepping between the rocks with nimble alertness, as he had years before.

Prior to leaving for Italy he had still been prone to emotional troughs which would leave him weary and drained. Since setting off on the holiday he had somehow managed to keep this buttoned down, until it drifted into him again like an unwelcome storm though an open window. He was not ready for the sudden onslaught of memories and pictures whizzing through his brain as he tackled the sharp bends on the road back down the valley to Sterzing.

He saw Jane smiling at him from the hotel doorway. He felt her soft caress as they lay together dreaming of their future life and family. He had taken his mind completely away from the road.

As he came round the last bend, banking steeply rather than easing off the throttle, he overran slightly onto the oncoming lane at the same time that a two cyclists were heaving their way up the steep slope, chatting side by side. It was over in a flash. He banked harder to avoid them; the bike dropped; he was off sliding down a track with the Triumph still slowly pumping its powerful tone. Bike and rider collided into a small wooden hut.

At once the two unhurt cyclists ran to help and it was clear that Peter was unconscious. His head was twisted at an angle which could only mean a broken neck. One of them tried to talk to him and provide some rudimentary comfort while the other called the emergency number from a mobile phone.

Within minutes the air mountain rescue helicopter was rushing Peter away to the hospital. He was still alive, but breathing was sporadic and the injury was life threatening.

In the emergency room, with cables and tubes all around him and a host of doctors and nurses Peter stopped breathing. His body shut down. His brain began to die. He became clinically dead.

*****

Jane held his hand and smiled lovingly. He was confused. How could she be so real? His mind must be playing its old tricks again.

“My darling, I have waited. I knew you would come, but not so soon. The time here is so tranquil and bearable that another seventy years would have passed in a moment. I could have waited that long without fear or regret until you arrived. I love you so much and now we are together again”.

While Jane spoke her husband slowly realized that he was also now dead. The tears ran down his smiling face and his happiness at their reunion almost smothered him.

“Are we truly together again?” he said disbelievingly. “Can this really be happening?”

Jane laughed. “It’s true. We are together for always.”

They lay together, holding each other, barely daring to breathe in case the magic would be broken. They didn’t speak any more but just clung together.

Eventually Peter moved to place his arm around her and on seeing his left hand he promptly froze in horror. He could see right through his own hand, and as he stared in disbelief the hand became even fainter. He quickly checked and saw that his whole body was disappearing. He looked at Jane with the awful realisation that she was fading too.

“Oh God! No! Please don’t take her away a second time. Jane, what is happening?”

She continued to smile. She was calm and reassuring. “Don’t worry my love. We will meet again. I am here and will wait for you. Never be sad for me. Go now and enjoy your life.”

“No, please!”

Peter’s words drifted, as he did, into nothingness.

*****

A team of medical professionals surrounded Peter. The scene was chaotic but somehow very controlled. A nurse continued with chest compressions while another connected him to a heart monitor. A young trainee doctor checked his airway under supervision. A senior male nurse connected a drip and the consultant pondered what caused the arrest and if there was something they could treat specifically and immediately.

He reached for a defibrillator and shocked Peter. There was no pulse. He tried again but still no pulse. He looked at the clock. Almost three minutes. One last try.

He raised the charge and asked everyone to stand back. Bumph! The pulse was back. He still had a chance.

A nurse wiped the sweat from the forehead of the consultant. He breathed deeply.

“My colleagues, today I think we should pat ourselves on the back. We have just saved a life.”

A new momentum energised the team. They finished off the remaining details. Peter would live, after being clinically dead for three minutes.  All functions quickly returned to normal and although his dislocated neck would hurt for some months, he should make a full recovery.

*****

Lying in his hospital bed three weeks after the accident Peter had a permanent smile on his face. He had told no-one about the reunion with his wife. They probably wouldn’t believe him. He played her words over and over in his mind.

“…….another seventy years would have passed in a moment”, she had said.

Peter considered this deeply and decided that he could now live his life to the full. She would be there when he was ready. He pondered the idea of visiting her immediately, and giving his life for that. No, he would continue and spend his time as fruitfully as he could, in the knowledge that she was there, watching and waiting.

The three minute reunion had changed him. He was serene in the knowledge that there is more to life than he had originally thought. There is another place. A place where there are no illnesses, no wars, no killing. There is a place where people can just be, once they have lived this life.

He would spend his life trying to make the current place a better one for everyone and would always look forward to the moment when he would be reunited with his love forever.

Lying in that bed he made this a firm promise to himself.

“But not yet”, he said to himself smiling cheekily.

Problem Flitting

Problem Flitting

As usual I was up making the breakfast while Ruth took a shower and prepared for work. Glancing out of the window at the dull glow of the street lamp, it was satisfying to realise that working at home as a writer has at least one great advantage. It was pouring down outside and more felt comfortable to be staying in the warm on such a horrible day as today. Outside was still quite dark, with almost horizontal rain and temperatures only just above freezing.

Normally Ruth takes her bike to work, however today would be the bus for sure. The bus stop is very practically at the end of the street, only a hundred yards from our house, and running every ten minutes makes it very convenient. It also drops her only a few yards from her office building.

During breakfast Ruth was extremely preoccupied with a crucial presentation that she needed to deliver that morning, so I didn’t want to break her concentration and therefore just quietly made her porridge with oranges, the way she likes. I enjoy this new life of looking after her, after so many years where I was the one who disappeared away on business trips on a weekly basis, early in the morning. She always made sure that I was cared for and hadn’t forgotten anything important. Now, in my semi-retired state, working from home, I enjoyed the ability to return the love and care that she has shown for so many years.

As usual I was still in my pyjamas as we sat at the breakfast table quietly enjoying the warm Earl Grey and gently supping the steaming porridge. Suddenly her mobile phone rang.

“Morning John, wow you are up and about early this morning. What’s up?”

I assumed that it was her boss, John Spencer, although it was most unusual to hear from him during out-of-office hours.

“OK, I will be there as quickly as I can,” Ruth ended the call with a slight look of consternation on her face.

“I’m so sorry love, I must dash off. John has stressed the importance of my presentation this morning and wants to have a final go through with me before the customers arrive at ten o’clock. He says to apologise to you but he needs me there right away. There are millions riding on this contract.”

“Ruth, are you sure that you want to go out in this rain? I can drive you, honestly it’s no problem.”

“Thanks, but I must hurry. By the time you have got dressed and the car out of the garage I will be on the bus.”

While she quickly collected her laptop and handbag I went through to our integral garage in my slippers and pyjamas, opened the garage door and was on the drive tapping the horn before she was out of the front door. “Come on,” I said with a cheeky smile that I know that she loves. “I thought that you were in a hurry.”

“But sweetheart, you are in your jimjams. What if…?”

“Aw, come on. It’s only ten minutes’ drive. I am ok. I’ll be back before my tea is cold. No risk, no fun.”

Ruth climbed in saying something about her crazy husband.

As we pulled out of the driveway she said, “Well, you be careful that no one sees you in those pyjamas. You have no pants on and they are so loose I can even see Mr Wiggly from here. Watch he doesn’t get a chill.”

Our eyes connected lustily and we were both smiling. It was a cheeky, but very pleasant moment between us.

“Ha. At my age I don’t think people would take any more notice Ruth. There’s not much to look at these days.”

“I know you’re just fishing for compliments, but hard luck,” she returned grinning from ear to ear.

The rain really was awful. I dropped her outside of her office, where the lights showed that John was already there.

“Well, good luck with the presentation. Text me if all goes well and I will put a nice bottle of sparkly in the fridge for when you come home,” I offered, kissing her full on the lips as she climbed out of the car.

“Thanks sweetie. You are a real darling. I won’t be too late home. Love you.”

She slammed the car door shut, which always drives me mad. Why do women always treat mechanical things as though they are the enemy? I smiled as she dashed to the office doorway to get out of the rain. “God, I love this woman.”

I knew that it would take me slightly longer to get back home as the direction to Ruth’s office was heading out of town and against the general traffic flow in the morning. The route back home is therefore with all the traffic going into town. As expected, it was stop and go most of the way.

As I edged my way around the Roundtree Roundabout my engine stopped. This is one of the main junctions onto the ring road, and is nearly always heavily congested at this time in the morning. I thought that I had just stalled and tried to start it up again. I was halfway around the roundabout and people were already honking at me.

After a couple of tries I knew that the car wouldn’t start. It was like an early premonition. I came to that absolutely clear understanding that it was bound to happen. In six years this car had always been one hundred per cent reliable. On the one day where I take a risk by leaving the house in my pyjamas, without my mobile phone, without even any bloody underpants on…..on this day when it is pissing down of rain, in my slippers. On this day when I am going to feel like the biggest pillock this side of the M5, my car is definitely not going to start. The heavy rain had gotten into the engine somehow.

I tried a few more times but to no avail. By now the traffic was jockeying for position and many angry motorists were blasting on their horn. After what seemed like hours, but in reality was probably less than a minute, someone rapped on the driver’s door. I wound down the window with one hand while holding the flies of my pyjamas closed with the other. “What the hell are you doing?” a guy in a green rain jacket shrieked at me. “Get out and let’s push your car off the road otherwise you will cause chaos.”

“But…..but….I can’t,” I stammered. “I have no clothes on.”

All of my bravado with Ruth from twenty minutes earlier was now gone. I felt totally vulnerable. Of course, I was responsible for my own car and had to do something, but how could I? What a stupid situation.

The guy took one look at me and grinned. “Boy, have you blown it? Do you normally drive around in your pyjamas? This is some kind of fetish that I have never heard of before” He was now laughing and thoroughly enjoying the situation, waiting to see what I would do.

I became angry, more at myself than him. I was not going to shy away and hide, but brave it through. I stepped out of the car and asked him to help me push it off the road. It was difficult with all the traffic and rain. It was still raining as hard as ever.

As we reached the curb we had to give an extra shove to bounce the car over onto the grass verge. I was steering and pushing from the driver’s door while my helper was pushing from the rear. Luckily he was a big strong guy who took most of the weight.

At the moment the car bounced over the curbstone I slipped on the wet grass verge, thereby losing my grip on the car and falling flat on my face in the mud. The momentum of the car, still under full force of my helping “friend”, rolled on across the grass verge and pavement, finally coming to a halt against a lamppost, which was now leaning over like the Tower Of Pisa.

I lay on the grass, feeling the cold wet mud against my soggy little penis. I remember thinking that this would be a good time to die. I had no more dignity. I had no idea what to do. I turned to ask my assistant to ask if he could phone for help, and maybe lend me a blanket or something…anything. He had gone! The traffic was buzzing by with people waving at me, laughing, as they drove past. I stood, dripping wet, covered in mud, still clinging onto the soggy crotch of my pyjamas to protect that one last little bit of self-esteem.

I knew that I had to remove myself from this situation. I couldn’t simply stand there like this, hoping that something would happen to put me out of this misery. I locked the car, left it exactly where is was and headed for home. It was nearly two miles in the freezing rain, but I supposed that walking along was better than staying.

After less than a hundred yards I suddenly realised that I had only one slipper on. My feet had become so cold that I had been walking barefoot, without knowing it. The situation surely couldn’t get any worse. I seemed to be just flitting from one disaster to another.

I wouldn’t go back for my slipper. It would be more humiliation than I could have taken. Instead I broke into a slow jog and decided that I could be home in fifteen minutes if I kept going. It was really hard. Every now and then my penis jumped out of my pyjamas and I had to quickly put it back in. It was also now starting to become light and I was extremely worried about being reported or caught for indecency.

I almost fell against the door of the house when I arrived, so relieved to finally be home. My feet were completely numb with the cold. The bare one was bleeding in a few places. I actually began to laugh, almost hysterically, as I realised that all would be ok and I could be in a hot bath within minutes. I could smell the bath foam already.

As I lifted my key ring to put the right key into the door, I saw that the house key was not there. Somehow it had come free and was lost. I almost broke into tears. I remember thinking that you couldn’t even make this story up. Such a run of bad luck means that surely someone up there is against me. I began to take it personally.

In this condition it was all the same to me whether I smashed a window to get in or not. I was beyond caring. I just wanted to get into a warm safe place. I was just about to push through the door window with my elbow, when I remembered that the bathroom window was usually left open at the back of the house.

I hobbled round the house to confirm my thoughts and sure enough it was wide open. I knew that if I could climb up I would be able to reach through and open the bigger window. Ruth is always complaining that I leave this window open, but I argue that we are in a very safe neighbourhood.

I bravely walked down to the shed, by now oblivious to the rain and thorns underfoot, as most of my body had reached a state of complete numbness. I collected the ladder and placed it against the house. It was easy to climb up and reach in and open the main window. The difficult part was to climb in, which I did head first, sliding my body through bit by bit.

As I was half in my pyjama bottoms caught on the window latch, but to be honest, by this time I didn’t care anymore. I pulled myself in, landing in a messy heap directly into the bath, and remember thinking, “Well, at least I have landed in the right place for once!”

I spent at least an hour basking in the warm water and replaying my nightmare over and over again. I decided to play it down when Ruth came home as it was far too embarrassing to let her know what happened.

Once I was warm and dressed again I called the local police station to explain what had happened. Surprisingly, they were very understanding and although they had initially treated the accident with the lamppost as a hit and run, they would not be pressing any charges. I think that they thought I had had enough for one day.

I also called the local garage to rescue my car. They offered me a courtesy car which could be collected later.

I sat back and grinned to myself that all is well that ends well.

*****

Ruth sent me a text later that afternoon to say that the presentation had been a total success and that she was looking forward to the evening at home with a good meal and nice bottle of wine.

I prepared something special for her and even lit the candles to create a romantic and warm atmosphere.

During the meal we chatted about her presentation. She said that John was so excited about this contract that she thinks she could be in for a hefty bonus this year. She asked me what happened to the car as we had a different one on the drive. I just casually mentioned that I had a small problem with ours and this was a courtesy car from the garage, which we could keep until they repaired it, in a couple of days time.

We had a lovely evening. After the meal I put some soft sensual music on and we cuddled together on the couch. As Ruth lay in my arms she asked me if everything had gone well this morning after I dropped her off. She had a look on her face which told me that she had something else on her mind. I answered as nonchalantly as I could, “Of course darling. It’s like I said this morning; no risk, no fun.”

She looked me straight in the eyes and said determinedly, “Roger, if I ask you just one thing, do you promise to answer me truthfully?”

“Of course,” I said, “what is it?”

“Why are your muddy pyjama bottoms hanging outside from our bathroom window?”

I gulped. My bad day wasn’t over yet.