Short Stories Compilation

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A compilation of Flash Fiction stories about life, relationships, personalities, disappointments, achievements and situations.

Submitted: August 10, 2017

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Submitted: August 10, 2017

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1. WEB OF LIES...

Ava was the youngest of four daughters, a surprise but welcome addition to the Davies family who lived in an already cramped, terraced fishing cottage in a picturesque Cornish fishing village.

They lived a simple life; in winter, Ava’s father Brin scraped a living as a fisherman and, during summer months, earned additional income as a surfing coach to the holiday-makers who flocked there. Her mother Sally, worked as a dinner lady at the local primary school. 

Ava was a popular girl with an infectious zest for life. Blessed with huge dark, soulful eyes, creamy skin and wild glossy, chocolate coloured curls, she seduced everyone she met. Even at a tender age, her dark eyes reflected an awareness beyond her years and shone with sharp intelligence. Her dynamic personality attracted an army of loyal friends who hung on her every word… and that was the problem with Ava; she was a convincing, compulsive liar with a fertile imagination.

Brin and Sally were immensely proud of Ava’s drive and ambition. However, her tendency to exaggerate and tell tales concerned them.

Ava blossomed into a stunning teenager. Boys in her class were in awe of her and the girls tried to emulate her style and panache, boosting her already substantial self-esteem.

With three good ‘A’ level grades under her belt, she secured a place at university to pursue a career in journalism.

Against her parent’s wishes, she moved into a bed-sit with three equally independent students.

“I’m eighteen years of age and I’ve had enough of this god-forsaken-hole,” she had argued. “I want a career with prospects. You know I love you, but I’m sorry, this lifestyle is not for me. There’s a world of opportunity out there, and I intend to grasp it.”

With reluctance her parents admitted defeat and, with heavy hearts, helped their feisty, ambitious daughter move into what would become her home for the next three years. 

*****************

Ava joined the queue in the cafeteria, hunched over her phone as she waited. “Excuse me, I just need a napkin.”

She looked up into a pair of the most sensuous blue eyes she had ever seen. “Sure, allow me,” she said, passing a napkin to their owner who, she now noticed, also had a mop of unruly blonde curls.

Their eyes lingered. “Hi, I’m Phin.”

“Oh hi, I’m Ava.”

“Want to join me? I’m over there,” he said, pointing to a nearby table.

A tingle of excitement shot through her. “Yeah, right. Be with you in a mo.”

She dropped onto an adjacent chair and, as his deep blue eyes scanned her face, an involuntary surge of raw passion engulfed her.  

“Okay, so let’s get to know each other. Let me guess, your parents are well-off, live in a big house and ‘daddy’ spoils you rotten. Am I right?”

Ava did not want to lose face, and heard herself reeling off a pack of lies. “Yeah, dad is a successful lawyer and mum the head-mistress of our local primary school. Because of a possible conflict of interest, me and my three sisters all went to private school.

“I knew it. What are you studying here?”

“I actually turned down a modelling contract to train for a professional career in journalism. My ambition is to become the editor of a glossy magazine such as Vogue, working in central London. I don’t intend to live off my parents’ success.”

Phin’s blue eyes widened. “Wow, I’m impressed. I can understand why you were offered a modelling contract, you’re a real looker, but I also admire your ambition.”

“Thanks. So what are you studying?”

“Politics… seemed a good idea at the time. Not sure what I want to do when I leave uni. My Dad’s a porter in a hospital, a job he actually seems to love, and Mum works in a shoe shop. His blue eyes danced with humour; “at least we get a good deal on shoes.”

He continued. “I bet your old man drives a Merc; mine knocks about in an old Nissan Micra, which is just as well, seeing he has a habit of reversing into walls and lamp-posts.”

Ava laughed, and a warm glow cursed through her. She found his grounded, self-effacing attitude refreshing and was smitten by his bohemian good looks.

Phin consulted his watch. “Have to go, fancy a drink later?”

They exchanged phone numbers.

*************

Phin and Ava were cuddled up watching TV in her room at the bedsit. “Can’t believe the end of term has come round so quick. Am I going to meet your parents over the Christmas break,” he asked, kissing the top of her head. “By the way, have I told you I love the smell of your hair?”

Ava’s heart leapt; she was in a serious dilemma. She bitterly regretted lying to Phin, but could not face the awful prospect of losing him by revealing the truth. “Oh, I’ll probably only go back for Christmas day, they’re flying off to Goa on Boxing Day to celebrate the new-year with friends. I think we should each spend Christmas day with our own parents, then maybe I could get to meet your parents instead?”

“I’ll call you. It might be a bit cramped with all the relatives who descend on them every year.”

**************

Ava kissed Phin, clinging to him with tear filled eyes. “I love you,” she said.

“And I love you. Look, it’s only for a few days. I’ll call you.”

On the train home, Ava knew she would have to level with Phin. A sense of shame consumed her, and the thought of losing the love of her life filled her with dread. Could their relationship survive her lies?

On the way home, Phin decided to tell Ava the truth about his filthy rich family and their pretentious, boastful lifestyle, which he loathed. He had deliberately misled her but she had loved him for the humble person from a modest background that she believed him to be.

 

2. DUPLICITY...

In the pretty, leafy village of Hackman’s Gate, Simon waited for the bus that would take him to his job as a Caretaker’s Assistant at a comprehensive school, a job he had undertaken for the last ten years. Eternally enthusiastic, Simon loved his work. He was a loyal and committed individual and ‘right hand man’ to Bob Mason, the school’s resident Caretaker. Bob had originally taken Simon on and, over the years, the two had developed a close working relationship. Bob looked out for Simon, felt protective of him and, in return, whatever he asked him to do, Simon would jump to it with unwavering fervour and his trademark smile.

“Morning Simon, how are you today.” The bus driver asked cheerily.

Simon dug deep into his pockets and handed over his bus-fare. “Yes, good,” he said, as he took the ticket then sat down in the same seat he had occupied every working day for the last ten years.

“Right young man. We’ve got to get the hall ready today for tonight’s performance of the school play,” Bob explained, as Simon took off his coat. “Mr Hedley also needs the school to look super clean and tidy, so this afternoon, I want you to pick up every scrap of litter from the school corridors and outside in the grounds.”

Simon smiled up at his boss, his grey eyes shining with admiration and awe. “Yes, Boss.”

It took some time for the two of them to arrange the chairs in the huge hall. Simon hummed contentedly as he fetched and carried the stacked chairs, for Bob to arrange in neat rows. They finished just as the buzzer blared through the school signalling the start of lunch time, the corridors soon heaving with pupils headed for the canteen.

“Oy Alice, pick up that crisp packet you’ve just thrown on the floor,” Bob ordered. “Simon’s got better things to do than litter pick after you lot all the time.”

Alice turned round with a swish of her long blond hair, her blue eyes filled with hate, her face defiant. “You talking to me Mr. Caretaker, who the hell do you think you are?” Her gang of followers giggled appreciatively.

“I’m telling you to pick up the crisp packet, or there’ll be consequences.” Bob insisted, his rugged features, tight and hard. 

Staring daggers at him, Alice picked up the discarded packet, and stomped off, her followers trailing after her. “Oh, there’ll be consequences alright,” Alice vowed to herself.

----------------------------

Armed with his litter picker and bin bag, Simon was happily carrying out the task he had been given, when he was distracted by someone calling his name.

“Simon, come over here, I’ve got something for you,” Alice called.

He dropped his litter picker and made his way down the grassy bank towards her. She ran her fingers seductively through her silky blonde hair, her blouse unbuttoned to reveal an ample cleavage. She reached into her bag and pulled out a bag of sweets. “Do you want one, they’re scrummy.”

“Yes please,” he said, advancing towards her but, just as he was about to reach inside the bag, she pulled it sharply away.

“You have to kiss me first,” she said, pouting.

“Go on Simon, you’re not going to turn down an offer like that are you,” Ellie encouraged.

Simon beamed, his innocence about to be violated. As he walked up to her, something stirred within him, as he kissed her luscious lips. 

“Did you get that Ellie?”

Ellie smirked at the image on her phone. “Here, look for yourself, perfect.”

“Wh, what about my sweet.” Simon was confused, tears pooled in his grey eyes, his lip jutted.

“Oh dear, they’ve all gone.” Alice laughed, an evil taunt.

Simon lowered his eyes and walked away, wounded and bewildered. He picked up his litter picker, grateful for the distraction.

--------------------------

Simon sat with Bob at his side while Mr. Hedley, the Headmaster, explained the gravity and possible consequences of his inappropriate behaviour.

Bob was furious, he knew full well Simon was set up by Alice, but his desperate pleas fall on stony ground.

“I cannot make allowances. As a member of staff he crossed the line, so the disciplinary procedure must be followed to the letter.”

“But he doesn’t understand, for heaven’s sake the lad has Downs Syndrome, this is all just so, inappropriate and unnecessary. Simon, just tell Mr Hedley again what Alice said and did to you.”

“She had sweets, and then said they’d all gone.”

“But what about the kiss,” Bob pressed.

“She told me to kiss her.”

“You know Simon as well as I do, he will always do what he’s told to without question, that’s the way he is. It was not a pre-meditated act of any kind, he was hoodwinked by that scheming girl who just wanted to get back at me.”

“Bob, I hear what you’re saying, but this is a school and Alice is fifteen. This is a serious allegation and we have to follow procedures.”

Bob placed his arms around Simon’s small shoulders, and let the tears flow unchecked.

Simon was suspended pending an investigation into an allegation of gross misconduct. With great sadness his parents decided to remove him from the school.

Simon’s happy disposition, and infectious enthusiasm remained undaunted. Seated at the kitchen table in the cosy cottage, he turned the pages of one of his many, dog- eared tractor magazines. He gleefully pointed to a shiny, red one, oohing over its impressive wheels.  He called over to his mother. This is magnastic!

 

3. GUILTY PLEASURE...

Annie returned home from work to the sight of her husband David, slumped in a chair fast asleep with his head lolled to one side. Not for the first time of late, unsettling thoughts flashed through her mind. Since taking early retirement, David had lost his joie de vivre, not because he missed work, quite the reverse. He had gratefully retreated into a sort of semi hibernation, visiting the library once a week to fetch the books he would lose himself in after reading the newspaper, completing the Sudoku puzzle and watching daytime TV. Later in the afternoon, he would succumb to a regular afternoon nap.

This was his time, he had argued, to do exactly as he wished without the constraints of working life, and he had indulged himself in his new sedentary lifestyle with abandon. In Annie’s opinion, he had simply become bone idle.

I am living with a changed man, someone I no longer recognise and who, (although she tried to dismiss the thought), she disliked.

She noticed he was wearing the same pair of jeans and sweater he had worn all week, how his unwashed greying hair had grown overly long and scruffy, in stark contrast to the smart businessman he had once been. Every suggestion she had made to enrich his retirement with new interests, had been met with complacent deferral.

Each morning, Annie would leave him in bed to take Ruby, their Labrador, for her morning walk before setting off for work. She had initially felt grief for the husband she had lost, but was now in the throes of bitter resentment.

“Come on Ruby, time for your walk.” Annie reached for the lead, as Ruby danced round her feet whimpering.

The sight of other dog owners walking their pets in the park before work lifted her spirits, gave her a sense of being part of a bustling community.

“Morning Annie,” Karl said, his boisterous Husky dropping a ball at his feet.

“Morning Karl, missed you yesterday.”

“Had an early flight to Belgium for a meeting with one of my clients. Kate, my dog sitter, walked Hunter for me.”

They fall into step. “You certainly live a jet setting life, you’re always flying off somewhere. Would you miss it?”

He stopped and turned to face her. “It’s not glamorous, if that’s what you think, just part of my job. I’ve got used to it, but would I miss it? I suppose there’ll come a time when I won’t want the hassle, but not yet. Why do you ask?”

Annie did not want to betray David, their marriage had been rock solid, one of mutual love and respect, a partnership she had cherished. But could she still be a loving wife to a husband who had changed beyond recognition?

“It’s just that since David retired, he’s a changed man and I’m finding it difficult to accept. He’s lost his zest for life and has become a bit of a recluse,” she blurted.

“Maybe it’s because he’s depressed. It’s a life-changing event, you need to give him time.”

“He doesn’t seem depressed. Says it’s his time to do what he wants. But I miss the man he used to be.” Her eyes pool. “Sorry, didn’t mean to burden you with my problems, but as much as I hate to say it, maybe the age difference is beginning to show.”

“Look Annie, I have to go or I’ll be late, but if you need someone to talk to, I’m always here for you.”

“Thanks, Karl, I appreciate it.” They swap phone numbers.

---------------------------------

After confessing her feelings to Karl, Annie immediately regretted it. How could she? She wasn’t wired to be disloyal. David was her husband, a good man, generous and kind, they had a lovely home and she had formed a close bond with his two sons from a previous marriage. Knowing his first wife had left him for someone else, how could she even contemplate destroying his life again. For better or worse she had vowed, and resolved to soldier on.

However, she began to look forward to her morning walks more and more, Karl brought a spark to her otherwise lack lustre life. In stark contrast to David, he had a hunger for life, a driving ambition. His dark eyes shone with intelligence and enthusiasm. He spoke with devotion and pride of his two young boys and Sarah, his partner. Annie tried to suppress a fleeting stab of envy. 

---------------------------------

“I like your hair, you’ve changed it, suits you.” Annie blushed under Karl’s scrutiny.

“I can’t believe you’re blushing. You don’t realise how attractive you are. That colour really compliments your stunning green eyes.”

“Attractive? I’ve never felt so dowdy in my whole life.”

“Annie, don’t let David influence how you feel about yourself. If I wasn’t in a committed relationship, I would be beating a path to your door,” he laughed.

For the rest of the day, Annie had a spring in her step, a tingle deep inside her.

Although she found him exciting and alluring, she knew their friendship could never become more than platonic. He had a partner and two young boys, and she respected that.

---------------------------------

“I’ll be taking my annual overnight spa break next week,” Annie told David.

“Has it really been a year since you last went?” He asked, without looking up from his sudoko puzzle.

“I’ll be away next week on business,” Karl told Sarah.

“Just make sure you get Kate to walk Hunter,” she said, wiping chocolate off Ben’s face.

---------------------------------

Karl and Annie register their arrival at Springs Spa under assumed names. Once in the privacy of their room, bursting with desire they tear off their clothes and give in to their primal, insatiable need for each other.

The next morning, before they leave, they reserve the same room for the following year, their annual guilty pleasure in their otherwise monogamous lives.

 

4. OBSESSION...

Nyria gazed down in wonderment at the tiny face of her new born son.  She was exhausted from a long and painful labour, but at the same time euphoric. Nothing in her entire life had come close to the powerful rush of love she felt, for this tiny human being.

Nyria, and her husband David, had always longed for a child but, after years of trying, they eventually concluded that nature had denied them their wish. When, at forty two years old, she discovered she was pregnant, they were both stunned and overjoyed.

“We will do everything in our power to make sure he has a better start in life than we had,” David said, his eyes wet with tears at the little miracle they had produced. “He will want for nothing, even if we have to go without.” 

They call him Adam.

********************

To his parent’s delight, Adam proved to be a gifted child. As a baby, he exceeded the standard age related milestones in record time. From an early age he had an enquiring mind, asking endless questions and, by three years of age, could write his name and count fluently.

Her need to protect Adam, to shield him from the perils of life, became her mission and when her maternity leave ended, she decided to give up work to prepare him for school herself.

“I think Adam needs to socialise with other children, pre-school would be good for him,” David had argued.

“I know what’s best for my son and I’ve made my mind up,” she said, hugging Adam to her.

David walked away. He admired her, she was such a devoted and good mother but, for the first time since Adam’s birth, her desperate need to cosset and protect their son troubled him. 

During his first few weeks at school, she became increasingly anxious. At play times she would peek through the fence to check on him, and when she picked him up in the afternoon, sought constant reassurance from his teacher.

Every time she sang his praises, Nyria would glow with a sense of vicarious achievement. Her efforts and hard work had paid off, her son was destined to be a high flyer.

 Throughout his years at primary school, she scrutinised every aspect of his schooling with a fervent passion. Her son deserved the best, and her life was consumed with fastidious attempts to ensure standards were maintained.

**************************  

Adam was a shy boy, socially awkward and highly sensitive. To his fellow pupils, he became the object of derision for his over-zealous mother and, the more she interfered, the worse it became. Taunts of ‘mummy’s boy’ left him feeling isolated and different.

Academically gifted, he excelled and every day after school, Nyria made him sit down at the table to do his homework, before poring over the work he had done during the day.

“What’s this Adam,” she said one day with a frown. “You only got eighteen out of twenty in your maths test. That’s not like you.”

Adam recognised that familiar look of disappointment, those piercing dark eyes boring into him. “I was still top of the class,” he replied, dropping his eyes to the table to avoid her scrutiny.

She ruffled his dark curls. “What would you like for tea? I’ll make whatever you want.”

She walked over to the sink to fill the kettle. “Adam, I’m only looking out for you. You have a wonderful future ahead of you, so you must not let your standards slip.”

“I know Mum.”

Adam always relaxed when his Dad came home from work. He knew his Mum loved him, she told him often enough, but his Dad loved him in a different, less demanding way. 

******************

As Nyria whooped for joy at his long list of GCSE ‘A’ grades, Adam went up to his room to play on his games console, a pass-time he had retreated into with steadfast dedication, a hobby that provided escapism, interaction and acceptance.

“Yes, he’s done really well,” David agreed. “But he’s spending far too much time in his room on those games, it’s not healthy.”

“Would you rather he wandered the streets like those teenagers who gather on the corner, smoking and drinking alcohol,” Nyria argued.

David sighed. He had given up challenging her views on parenthood many years before.

*******************

Adam qualified for a place at one of the most sought after Colleges to study for his ‘A’ levels. It provided a welcome change to school as the timetable allowed for regular free study sessions.

With her beloved son now at college, Nyria decided to return to work. She told everyone who was patient enough to listen, how her high flying son was destined for a place at Oxford or Cambridge.

Without the constant pressure of his controlling mother, Adam found his mind wandered. He spent every spare moment he had on-line, feeding his addiction to games. Unknown to his parents, he regularly stayed up until the early hours, convincing himself he could get the grades he needed by means of last minute cramming sessions.

With his sharp intelligence dulled by exhaustion, Adam struggled to finish his exam papers.

“How did they go today buddy,” Dad had asked.

“Oh, fine, no problem,” he lied.

“You’re looking extremely tired, must be all that revision you’re doing,” Mum had observed, fuelling his anxiety, relieved only by his obsession.

With shaking hands, Adam opened the envelope and instantly vomited on the floor. He stumbled through the door, full of self-hatred for his monumental failure. How could he tell her he had failed her? He was shaking uncontrollably, suddenly aware of his solitary existence. All the other students were busy congratulating or consoling each other. The closest he came to having friends, were on-line gaming partners.

When Nyria came home from work that day, she found the lifeless body of her precious boy, hanging by a make-shift noose. Sobbing, she picked up the hand-written note which said, “Sorry Mum, I failed you.”

 

5. OUT OF CONTROL...

Mary had her nose pressed against the window of her small bedroom staring longingly at the scene in the cul-de-sac below. Two of her friends were playing hopscotch, while a group of others were skipping, the thick rope bouncing off the tarmac as they each waited their turn, prompted by the rhyme being chanted. Barbara looked up and waved, but she knew Mary wouldn’t be joining them today.

Mary dreaded Sundays, the day when she was denied her freedom, but knew from bitter experience not to question it. When she had once plucked up the courage to ask her mother why, she was told with steely conviction that it was the ‘Lord’s’ day, and playing out in the street was not allowed. When Mary had dared to suggest that surely the Lord wouldn’t mind if she played out, she had felt the sharp impact of her mother’s palm across her cheek. “Never take the Lord’s name in vain young lady,” her mother had admonished. “Sunday is sacred, a day for worship not play.”

So Mary stared down in envy at the freedom her friends enjoyed, and dreamed of one day living a life free from the entrenched discipline imposed on her by her parents every Sunday.

“Come on Mary we’re going to be late for the meeting,” her mother shouted up the stairs.

Mary groaned, she knew only too well the structure of the day ahead. Morning service began at eleven o’clock, then after lunch she attended Sunday school with her older sister Margaret, together with her cousins John and Denise. Whether or not they attended was not up for negotiation, they had to go and that was that. After tea, at six fifteen sharp, they all returned for evening service.

In her eight year old mind, Mary had justified her disloyal thoughts. Although she was not that keen on school, at least all her friends had to go too, and afterwards she got to play out in the cul-de-sac with them. Also, if she timed it right, she looked forward to a pillion ride on the back of her dad’s motorbike from the bottom of the street to the top. But Sunday was the day she found herself coerced into a ritual she tolerated, but with brooding, silent resentment.

“Why don’t you do as you’re told and just accept it,” Margaret had advised from the door-way.

Mary slid her feet into her shoes. “But I don’t want to go to the meeting, I’d rather stay here and play with my friends.”

“Shh, if Mum and Dad hear you, you’ll get into trouble. When are you going to get it through your thick head, you can’t play out on Sunday, it’s different for us.”

***********

“I’m sorry Mary, but you cannot join the Girl Guides, me and your father absolutely forbid it. I don’t want to hear another word, is that clear?” Her mother’s dark eyes, blazing with anger, bored into her, her mouth set in a tight hard line

“But why? All my friends have joined, why is it so bad?”

“Because it is based on a conflicting religion, it is against our beliefs and is not allowed.”

Disappointment hit Mary like a sledge-hammer, with her eyes brimming with tears she turned and fled upstairs, throwing herself onto her bed. Over the years, she had learned it was no use trying to reason with her parents on religious issues, it was non-negotiable.

**********

“Mary, finish your lunch or you’ll be late for Sunday school.” Her father got up from the table and took his plate over to the kitchen sink. “We have to leave in ten minutes.”

“Dad, I’m fifteen years old. I really don’t want to go to Sunday school and you can’t make me.” Mary jumped up from the table, raced up the stairs and locked herself in the bathroom. She stood trembling at the sound of his advancing footsteps.

“Open the door now,” he ordered. She could hear his fists as they slammed into the wooden door.

“Mary, don’t be silly,” her mother cajoled. “Come on love, just do as your father says and open the door.”

Mary was cornered, as she slid the bolt across, her father bounced in, slapped her hard across her cheek, grabbed her arm and frog marched her down the stairs and out into the car. “You will do as we say. While you’re still at school, you will also go to Sunday school. You’re still a child, and will do as we say. We have a duty to raise you in the way of the Lord. Mary, it’s for your own good and one day you will thank me and your mum for it.”

*********

Seven days after Mary’s twenty first birthday, she married Peter and left home, without the blessing of her family. Her parents had been disappointed and distraught at her decision, not only to marry outside of the faith, but to break from the religion that had shaped their family culture for decades. It was a decision Mary had agonised over, knowing it would divide the family. Over the years she had asked herself why, unlike her sister, she felt so alienated from it. There were times when she even envied her parent’s unyielding faith, but knew she could no longer tolerate such a joyless, controlling tradition of rule-bound discipline, that had impacted so adversely on her life.

Her decision came at an enormous personal cost, she had gone against the bedrock upon which her family had been built. Her ‘liberation’ left her with a legacy of low self-esteem, seeking acceptance and approval in everything she did, a need to prove to herself she was a worthy human being.

 

6. REVELATIONS

We had been putting it off just couldn’t face it. Our childhood home that held so many wonderful, happy memories had been sold. We were still grieving the loss of our adored Mum, when Dad had unexpectedly died of a heart attack.

We finally surrendered to the inevitable heart wrenching job of clearing out the house that had once been our home. Even the familiar smell still lingered, not in a negative way but a comforting aroma that transported me back to a different time and phase in my life, and which now provoked a great wave of nostalgia.

With great reluctance, me and my older sister Ann, had spent the morning bagging up our parent’s clothes ready to take to the local Charity Shop. We then went through the painful process of deciding which remnants of their lives could be thrown into a skip, and which pieces we wanted to save for posterity.

“I need a coffee,” Ann said, pausing to mull over old family photos, including those of our grand-parents and other family members now long gone.

“Gosh, I remember Mum showing me this year’s ago.” She is staring hard at an old sepia photograph, creased and shabby with age. “It’s the only photo of our Great Grand-parents, the little girl is Grandma Grace.” She reached over and passed it to me.

In the photograph my toddler Grandmother is staring into the camera with wide innocent eyes from the comfort of her mother’s lap. A stiff, austere looking man stood behind her, one hand resting possessively on his wife’s shoulder, but there was something about his dark eyes that grabbed my interest. That intense stare, was it arrogance or self-defence? “He looks as if he’s got a big chip on his shoulder.”

Ann takes another look. “He must have died not long after this was taken. According to Mum, Grandma had no memory of her father and Great Grandma refused to talk about him. All she knew was that before his death he had been a devout Baptist Minister.”

“Maybe he was ill and knew he was about to die.”

“You might be right, but we will never know.”

We are disturbed from our reverie by the arrival of the house clearance van. Burly workers piled out, paused at the heaving skip then rifled through its contents like scavengers. I noticed Ann gnawing at her thumb nail, her eyes wet with tears as she watched them load items of furniture, no longer needed or wanted, into the truck.

I turn to her. “This is heart-breaking, and there’s still the loft to clear out. I’ve had enough, let’s call it a day.”

“You’re right Kaye, I can’t take any more, its messing with my head.”

-----------------------------
I mount the loft ladder and shine the torch into the roof space, which is crammed with clutter. “Ann, this is heaving with stuff. We’re going to need some help.”

I phone James, my strapping son who had returned home after finishing his final year at University. “Get yourself out of bed, we need your help to clear out the loft. I’ll pick you up in twenty minutes.

He grunts, “Whar?”

“Just get dressed now.”

By lunch time, we had emptied most of the accumulated junk going back years, among which were old hats, a variety of moth eaten rugs and curtains, stored ornaments that went out of fashion, discarded toys, an old pushchair as well as boxes and boxes of dusty books. My eyes were suddenly drawn to a large wooden box. Curious, I tried to open the lid, but it was locked.

“James, come over here, see if you can open this.”

He leaped to his feet and, in the space of a second the lid had been wrenched open and the contents strewn over the floor. As I rifled through the assortment of papers and letters going back years, an envelope addressed to Grace Bennett, marked Private and Confidential, caught my attention.

I lifted a folded letter from its ancient receptacle and carefully opened the brittle, deeply creased sheet of paper.

“Hey Ann, there’s a private letter here addressed to Grandma Grace.”

“I’m intrigued, read it out.”

--------------------------

My darling Grace,

In accordance with my instruction, you have been handed this letter by the executor of my will.

I have a confession to make. I lied to you about your father because it was too painful to tell you the truth. But you see Grace, your father lived a double life, and the revelation of his shocking confession left me humiliated and utterly devastated.

I am ashamed to have to tell you that he succumbed to the charms of a member of his congregation, and entered into a clandestine relationship that he went to great lengths to conceal. He disregarded not only his wedding vows to me, but the principles and discipline of his faith.

It was just before your second birthday that he revealed the sinful, sordid details of his secret life. I am so ashamed, I can hardly bring myself to write it down, but you deserve to know the truth.

I could have coped if he had left me for another woman, but the vile truth is that he left me for a man.

I told you he had died, and to me he had. In actual fact he and his (well words fail me), emigrated to America to start a new life together.

So now you know, I can now rest in peace.

Your loving mother.

---------------------------------------

Ann has paled. “Gosh! How times have changed, I actually feel real pity for him. It’s obvious he tried to suppress his sexuality by marrying Great Grandma and attempted, for a time, to live a life of pretence. You said he looked like a man with a chip on his shoulder, and you were right. I hope he went on to live a new and fulfilled life."

“James has gone quiet. “You Okay Jim.”

“Mum, Auntie Ann, maybe this is the right time to tell you … I’m gay.”

 

7. THE ACTION…

I’m feeling particularly proud today, you see I’ve had a make-over, one which must have cost an absolute fortune. I’m looking fabulous in my new silky outfit, with posh matching accessories; I just wish they’d keep their mangy mutt off me, he’s a nightmare constantly scratching, sniffing and licking. I tell you, they have no respect for anything and I should know, I’ve been with them since they first moved in. I’ve seen some action I can tell you, enough to make your hair curl unless, of course, your hair is already curly, in that case, I suppose the reverse would apply. But anyway, I digress.

I have to admit, they are making an effort but I wonder how long it will take before they revert to type. They have a filthy habit of abandoning knickers and socks over the floor, so it won’t be long before the new carpet is once again turned into an Aladdin’s Cave for the mangy mutt, who thinks he’s living the dream. They really are a disgrace.

I’m not one to gossip, but I know by now you must be dying for me to dish the dirt. Well, I’m also not one to disappoint.

It all started twenty years ago when we all moved in together. I remember them trying me out for size in the shop, giggling like smutty school kids. I was well embarrassed, but at least they gave me a home, and that’s when ‘the action’ first began.

There was me, settling in nicely minding my own business, when suddenly they decide to use me as a trampoline, or that’s what it felt like.  Gosh, I thought we would all crash through the floorboards into the lounge below, and the noise they made; well, it sounded like a sty full of pigs on drugs. After a final, hysterical squeal, it was all over... until the next time.

I kinda got resigned to it. It would happen most nights at around the same time though I did notice the grunts and squeals reduced significantly in decibels and sometimes, when she said she had a headache, I took the opportunity to have an early night myself.

It was peculiar because gradually ‘the action’ grew less frequent, until it stopped altogether. It was then they took up a new habit of reading with their backs turned to one another.

Now, this is the funny thing. Sometimes, while she was cooking dinner, he would take a shower, and afterwards would sit on me to talk to someone on his mobile. It was all hushed whispering, and the conversation always ended with ‘me too’. It wasn’t long after the phone calls began that ‘it’ happened.

Are you sitting comfortably?...

One sunny afternoon, just as I was enjoying the warm sunshine on my covers through the window, he came bursting in with another woman. They were clawing at each other like animals, ripping off their clothes before hurling themselves on me. I remembered ‘the action’ from years ago, but this was something else. She was screaming ‘yes, yes, yes’ at the top of her voice, and he… well a rampant rabbit had nothing on him, I honestly feared the house foundations might not be strong enough to withhold such ferocious activity.

Just as it reached a crescendo, the door opened and she stood there, hands on hips, eyes blazing her face purple and contorted with rage.

 “I knew it. You must think I’m stupid, well you under-estimated me,” she spat. “Get that whore out of my house this minute.”

I thought they looked quite pathetic, trying to cover their naked bodies with a sheet as they fumbled to get dressed.

For a time he moved out and it was just me, her and the mutt. I used to hear her sobbing and watched her drink a lot of amber liquid that made her sleepy.

 He started phoning her, begging her. Telling her it was all a big mistake that he loved her and could she please forgive him.

In the end she relented and that’s when they decided to revamp the house. Funnily enough that’s when ‘the action’ started again.

 

8. TURNING POINT…

 My phone bursts into life. It is the call I had been expecting, the same call that on three previous occasions had left me devastated. I hesitate, listening to the shrill tone as it echoes around the kitchen, making my head spin with anticipation. Please let it be good news this time.

 

“Hi, Lizzy Walker,” I say, trying my best to sound upbeat and positive.

“Oh, I see. Thanks for letting me know. Bye.”

I stare at the phone in my hand, fighting the urge to throw it to the floor, and stamp on it as, once again, disappointment and emptiness engulfs me. I stagger into the lounge, collapse into an armchair, curl myself into a tight ball and let the rivers of tears flow.

 

Ten minutes later I phone Todd to give him the news. “Look Liz, we'll talk later. We can't keep putting ourselves through this, it’s taking over our lives.”

 

I heave myself out of the armchair and into the kitchen, then reach for a bottle of red wine, pouring myself a generous measure. Our dreams of having a child has once again been shattered.  How much more can I take?

 

----------------

“Liz, let's draw a line,” Todd says, later that evening. “I'm fed up of the clinic raising our hopes, telling us to try again. It's a business that exploits vulnerable, desperate people and I've had enough of our hopes being dashed time and time again. It's a roller-coaster of emotions and I think it's time to draw a line. We've talked about adoption before, let's start the process. There are children out there who need a home, a loving family, lets refocus our minds. What do you say?”

 

I have already resigned myself to another attempt. “Maybe just one last go?” I beg.

 

“No Liz, let’s take a different road, one that will take us to our destination,” he says, determination blazing in his steel blue eyes, and etched on his tight, hard face.

 

He pulls me into his arms. “It's time to let go, move on.”

A voice inside me tells me he's right, that the time has come to take a different direction.

 

Without a word, I stand up and head for the kitchen, returning with the bottle of wine I opened earlier, and two glasses. “Let's raise a toast to children in need of a loving home.”

He reaches for the laptop. “Let's make a start right now.”

--------------------------

 Six months later, after going through a rigorous and invasive procedure, involving background checks, references and group sessions, we are finally in an interview room, seated in front of the Adoption Panel who have met to decide our fate. We dart nervous glances at each other, my heart hammering and my mouth parched.

“I am pleased to tell you your application to adopt a child has been successful,” the Chairperson of the panel announces. “Julia Hughes, your Social Worker,  will now begin the matching process of infants and children who enter the system, in need of a stable and loving home.”

 

I grab Todd's hand. “Thank you so much.” Tears stream down my face.

 

Todd stands up. We shake hands with the panel members, who are now smiling, and wishing us well, their former formality dropped.

-----------------

I am at work, in the middle of a management meeting when an email pings into my cellphone. Its from Julia ...

Hi Liz,

Good news, there is a six month old baby girl currently in foster care, who I would like you both to meet. I need to see you and Todd asap, to go through the process.

Regards,

 Julia

 

“Liz, are you Okay? You look as if you've seen a ghost,” Dan, my manager asks.

 “Sorry Dan. Can you accept my apologies, I've got some serious personal issues to deal with. An involuntary grin takes over across my face.”

Dan has supported me throughout the process and catches on. “No problem, I'll run through your report and bring you up to speed later.”

----------------------

“Hi, please come in. I'm Katy and this is my husband Will, nice to meet you.”

 As we shake hands, my inside turns somersaults. I glance up at Todd who gives me a wink.

She's in here, waiting to meet you,” Katy says. We follow her along the long hall and into a comfortable room off. But the only sight I see is the baby girl, sitting propped up by cushions on a blanket in the middle of the room, surrounded by soft toys.

She looks up at us and smiles, a smile that lights up her face, and brings a sparkle to her big dark eyes. Her hair, already a tangle of dark curls, frames her round face, her cheeks like ripe apples.

From the bag I am holding, I take out the pink Teddy we bought for her on the way. She reaches out her plump little arms, taking it from me then holding it against her cheek.

 We take her for a walk in her pram, which Todd insists on pushing.

In the park, people tell us what a beautiful little girl we have, and how much she resembles her Daddy. I look up at Todd, who is relishing the moment, the moment our lives changed.

Over the next three days, we become a constant presence in her life, taking her out, feeding and changing her, putting her to bed and on the fourth day we take her home. Katy and Will wave us off, their eyes filled with unshed tears.

 As my daughter reaches out her plump little arms for me, I pick her up and smother her with kisses. We call her Crystal. Although I haven't given birth to her, I could not possibly love her any more than if I had, and I know Todd is equally besotted. That primal need has been fulfilled, we are complete.

 

 

9. SHOCK DISCOVERY…

“Wow,” Jake exclaims, looking round with appreciative wide eyes. “This is really cool.”

He races over to the huge bay window with its wonderful sea view. Fishing boats bob on the sparkling water, water skiers slice around the bay, families stroll along the jetty beyond which, others are enjoying the delights of the beach in the bright sunshine

“When will Nathan and Sam be here?”

“They’ll be here shortly. Just be patient.”

“Can we go crabbing off the jetty,” Ben asks, walking in with a bucket and a crabbing line.

I hear Tim shout from the hallway. “There’ll be plenty of time for that matey, just give us chance to empty the car and settle in. Why don’t you do something useful and take Monty out into the garden, he must be dying for a wee.”

“I’ll take him Dad,” Jake offers, for once in his life, trying to be helpful. “Come on boy.”

I am in the kitchen filling the fridge with the chilled food we brought with us, when the boys whiz through the back door and into the garden with Monty at their heels. “Jake,” I shout, waving Monty’s lead. “Make sure you keep him on this, we don’t want to risk him escaping.”

I pause to admire the mosaic tiled patio area equipped with ornate wrought iron table and chairs, random potted plants, its high walls on either side, a riot of colour with cerise climbing roses, white, frothy clematis and fragrant honeysuckle. A set of steps lead up from the patio, towards the garden, which in turn rises in several tiers up the steep hillside.

When I have stored everything away, I wander out, mounting set after set of steps until I reach a sheltered sun terrace near the top. I stand breathless, taking in the stunning panoramic views across the estuary and the rolling hills beyond.

I drop down into one of the sun-loungers, taking a moment to close my eyes and bask in the warmth of the sun on my face. When I open my eyes, Monty is lying beside me, his big black face beaming up at me. I stroke the top of his handsome Labrador head and breathe in the pure, fresh air. It doesn’t get any better than this.

The boys race towards me in a state of acute excitement. “Mum, this is fantastic, it’s like being on top of the world,” Jake tells me.

“Just watch what you’re doing with all these steps. I know you Jake, you’re so accident prone.”

“We found a hidden garden,” Ben says, his dark eyes furtive.

“Ben, I told you not to say anything, it was meant to be our secret.”

“Where?” I demand.

“Up there.” He points to the bushes and trees above the sun terrace. We went to see why Monty was barking, and found it.”

“Oh, there you are,” Tim gasps. “It’s a bit of a climb, but just look at the …“

“Tim, it’s wonderful, but I don’t think the boys should be allowed up here on their own, particularly when Nathan and Sam arrive, it’s so steep and dangerous.”

He looks unconvinced. “Bex, it’s a boy’s paradise, you can’t wrap them up in cotton wool.”

“Dad, we found a hidden garden,” Ben persists.

“Did you now. Come on matey, let’s take a look.”

They all race up the steps, Monty bounding after them, so I follow. The steps lead on to a large plateaued grassy wilderness, the perimeter defined by a dense coppice. Tim follows the boys while I hold on to Monty. I watch in amazement as they seem to disappear into the thicket.

Monty starts to strain at the lead whimpering, eager to round up his fragmented ‘pack’. He leads me to a cleverly disguised gap in the thick brush, through which is a cultivated area, with a proliferation of tall leafy plants. Ben races towards me. “Dad says the plants are called Triffids.”

“It’s a forest of them,” Jake adds.

Tim looks kind of stunned. “We need to report this to the Police,” he whispers. “Can you smell them?”

“Smell?” I stand, sniffing the air like a hound on a scent and pick up on a very subtle, unfamiliar aroma.

Tim explains. “I recognised the smell from previous raids I’ve been involved with. They’re Marijuana plants, accessed from the back by a well-worn dirt track cut through the hillside.”

“But … surely not … not here,” I stutter in disbelief.

“It’s ironic, I’ve come here for a break from policing only to walk headlong into this.”

“We could pretend we haven’t seen it,” I suggest.

“Bex, I’m a Police Officer, it’s my duty. This property could well be the hub of an illegal business that the owners are involved in either through ignorance or intention.”

We reload the car with all the stuff we have just spent time and effort unloading, report our findings to the local police then book in at a bed and breakfast guest house, along with our friends.

The discovery makes headline news. “Police pounce on a concealed, marijuana plantation, discovered in the hillside garden of an idyllic holiday villa. Investigations are on-going.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


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