This is another of my "alphabet" stories. The first one is still here. I'll be posting a series of stories here regularly in the coming weeks and months. This one has been recorded for broadcast on local radio and is in my first collection of stories - "A Short Collection of Small Stories". Enjoy.
Absently, George stirred two spoonfuls of sugar into his solitary mug of coffee on the draining board below the kitchen window. Breadcrumbs lay in a random scatter across the stained grey work surface around the bread bin and the air had a faint tinge of burnt toast mixed with bacon fat. Coming towards the house along the narrow lane, beyond the low beech hedge at the bottom of the garden, he spied a familiar blue car. Damn Lydia for coming to visit just now; why couldn’t she call before she turned up? Everyone else seemed to understand that he needed to be on his own at the moment; why couldn’t she take the hint and stay away, leave him alone?
“Frosty morning, isn’t it, George?”
Greetings with Lydia were always of the stating-the-bleeding-obvious kind. Huffing on the back doorstep as he took in the sharp, clean January air, George attempted to be civil.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you till later, at the meeting in the village hall, Lydia.”
“Just as well I popped round then, isn’t it; the meeting’s been cancelled, so I thought I’d bring you some courgette soup and see if you needed anything.”
“Kind of you, but I’m fine, really.”
“Look, I know it’s none of my business, but -”
“My sentiments exactly, it is none of your business. Now, if you don’t mind, thank you for the soup, but I’m really rather busy.”
“Oh, I see, well if that’s what you want; but George, are you really alright?”
“Peace and quiet, that’s all I want; peace and quiet and to be left alone by busybodies who think they know what’s best for me.”
Quite unexpectedly, Lydia began to weep; copiously and messily, still poised on the doorstep. Reluctantly, George took her gently by the elbow and led her in to sit at the worn old kitchen table. Still sobbing, but quietly now, Lydia tried to explain. That everyone in the village had known and loved Penny; obviously not in the same way as George had, but that they had all missed her terribly these past six months and wanted him to know that. Useless, that’s what they all felt, and many of them had stopped coming to visit because he had made it clear that they were not welcome. Visibly shaken, George stood again to put the kettle on, find some digestive biscuits and gather his thoughts.
“Widower, that’s what I am now; such a horrible word, such a horrible thing to be,” he though, his gaze fixed on the crows gathering in the treetops at the end of the lane.
“Xylophone lessons, that’s what I’m going to take up; there’s a new class starting at the hall next Tuesday evening,” Lydia blew her nose noisily on a square of kitchen towel from the roll that George had thrust in front of her.
“You should come along, it might be fun.”
“Zither, that’s what I used to play, you know; got an old one in the attic, maybe I’ll get it down and see if I can still get a tune out of it” he said as he poured two mugs of tea, the long-lost shadow of a smile nudging at the edge of his mouth.
I have been very fortunate to find a writers' group to join in my new location. They have been very welcoming and I already feel very at home with them all. It's such a pleasure to share writings with others who write, and to hear everyone's contributions at our monthly meetings. It is often only when you read a piece out loud that you find the stumbling blocks - literally tripping over words and so finding out that they are probably not in the best order after all. There is always something to learn, things that can be done better.
As a result of joining the writers' group, I've recently had the great pleasure of being invited to record some of my short stories for the wonderful local radio station - Two Lochs Radio. A couple of these have been broadcast in the half hour programme, Westwords, which is broadcast on the first Wednesday of the month (at 9pm), and then repeated on the first Sunday (at 8pm). There are short stories, poems and longer pieces, all by local writers, delightfully interspersed by little snippets of appropriate music. One of my longer short stories is to be included in the next programme, on Wednesday 4th March (and then again on Sunday 8th March). If you are not in the local area, you can listen online, via the Two Lochs Radio website.
In the meantime, I thought I would share one of the stories which was broadcast for the first time at the start of this month, "Beyond the Begonias". It is also available in print in my first self-published volume of short stories, "A Short Collection of Small Stories". For anyone who is interested, it is one of my "alphabet" stories, where each sentence starts with the consecutive letter of the alphabet (and the story thus consists of 26 sentences). A little leeway is allowed when it comes to the letter "X"!
Beyond the Begonias - short story
After the rain stopped, she started planting again. Blood red begonias in big terracotta pots. Celia’s favourite flowers; she scooped handfuls of compost from the bag beside her, pressed the plants in firmly, watered them carefully. Digging her hands into the warm brown peatiness, she felt something akin to relief. Even breathing had been hard, recently. Forever looking over her shoulder, watching her back, thinking carefully before she spoke.
Gordon had become impossible. Hard to believe that the inert form sitting benignly beyond the French doors had once been a loving husband. Inch by inch, he had tortured them both into a living hell. Just when she had got to the point when she knew she must leave, a different plan emerged in her head. Kneeling on her cushioned weeding mat, a voice within had spoken quite clearly. Laughable though the thought was, Celia turned it over in her mind for several days. Moving through time in a stupor of misery, she nurtured the idea from tiny seed to little seedling. Now it was firmly planted; had taken roots, put out grasping tendrils. Only the timing had to be completely right. Piggishness on Gordon’s behalf had become the norm; she simply could not tolerate it one minute longer. Quelling her doubts, which were numerous, irrational and invalid, she acted quickly.
Right after supper one evening, she summoned him to the rooftop terrace to examine a fictitious missing slate. Shoving him over the tiny balcony had been easier than she had imagined. The body landed close to the new flowerbed, dug that morning by the young gardener she had recently employed. Under the dim sulphur glow of the streetlamps that night, she dragged the corpse into the hole. Violent waves of nausea overcame her and she gave her stomach contents as a parting gift. Where he had gone, no-one would ever know. Exiled to another country, run off with that brassy woman from down the road? Yes, maybe.
Zinnia, that was the name she had been trying to recall; that would be perfect for the new bed, Celia thought with a smile.
In the run up to receiving copies of my new book of short stories, I thought you might like to read the first one free! Here it is; hope you are sitting comfortably. It is one of my "alphabet stories".
Arthur hated going on holiday. Beautiful sandy beaches and cloudless skies did nothing for him. Christine, on the other hand, spent all year looking forward to their fortnight’s break on the coast. Dutifully, Arthur looked out his khaki, knee length shorts and camel-dung coloured sandals. Every year, some mystery ailment would attack Arthur, usually on about day three of the holiday. Fretting over him as he lay under the floral eiderdown on the twin bed nearest the window, Christine would ask if he minded if she popped out for a little stroll on the promenade.
“Go on, you enjoy yourself. Have some fun, my dear, you deserve it. I’ll be fine here; I’ll just have a little snooze and then I’ll be as right as rain. Just give me a little tinkle on my mobile phone when you’re on your way back, so I know to expect you.”
Kenneth was waiting on the corner, a bunch of yellow chrysanthemums only partly hidden behind his back.
“Lovely to see you again, my dear!” he boomed so loudly she feared the whole street would hear.
“Must we carry on like this forever?” she asked, much later, as they drank tea at the little café on the prom.
“Not if you don’t want to, of course not,” Kenneth replied, holding both her hands in his.
“Only the lonely” was playing on the car radio, as Arthur pulled up outside Zena’s little house at the far end of the town. Parking in front of her tiny, neat garden, he sighed with relief at the sight of her smiling face at the open door.
“Quite the man about town, aren’t you?” she laughed, taking in his smart blazer and regimental tie, his neatly pressed trousers and shining shoes.
“Right, this old soldier is ready for some action,” replied Arthur, bounding up the front steps and into her arms.
“Steady on, you’ll end up having a heart attack, Arthur!”
“That would never do, imagine the scandal.”
Under the esplanade, Christine sat alone, staring out to sea. Valerie had given Kenneth an ultimatum; stay or go. Wise woman, Valerie, she had waited until she was dying of cancer to let him know that she had always known. Exactly at the moment when Christine was about to phone Arthur to say she was on her way back to the B&B, she saw a couple, happy and smiling, walk down the sandy shore and into the sea. Yesterday, holidays had seemed wonderful. Zena, her arm in Arthur’s thought she heard a splash at the end of the pier, as they turned back towards the town.
I'm in the process of editing a new book of short stories. After sifting through the pieces I've written over the past couple of years, I realised that I had enough to put a new collection together. It also seemed a wee bit overdue, the first one having been published in 2013. The format will be similar to the first volume - ten short and very short stories, half of which are "alphabet stories". The tales are told by a range of characters and include a walk in the park which turns sinister, a misunderstanding about money and affairs which end badly. I'm looking forward to finishing the editing and making this new volume available to you. If you would like to pre-order a copy, this will be possible very soon.
Last September, I very quickly put together a collection of ten short and very short stories and self-published them via Blurb.com. I had previously used this method for putting books of photos together, but had never tried my hand at a book containing only text. I should know by now that doing something too hastily is not a great idea. But there is a balance between being a perfectionist and getting things done. Sometimes it is necessary just to get on and make things even if they are imperfect. Often we learn more by making mistakes than by doing something exactly right. And to be honest, how often does the latter happen? Not very often, in my experience.
What I am trying to say, in rather a roundabout way, is that there were mistakes in the first edition of my short story book. As someone who has edited scientific journals and biological text books with razor-sharp precision (or so I like to think) in the past, I should be ashamed of myself. But funnily enough, I am not. For once, I just got on and put the book together. Yes, there were a few places where words got chopped in half at the ends of lines. Yes, horror of horrors, the font size changed from one story to the next, at one point (but not within a story, now that would be unforgivable). Yes, there was a slight inconsistency in the use of "'cause" and "'cos". But no-one complained. At least not to me. I don't think the tiny wandering apostrophes spoiled anyone's reading enjoyment - I do hope not.
Since there is still a perfectionist lying dormant, mostly, within me, I have recently edited the book, taking on board the very useful notes and comments from a very helpful friend at my art class. Thank you, May. So, the second edition is now available, either via Blurb, or directly here, from my website, or, coming soon, from Amazon (for Kindle).
And if you spot any errors - please do let me know and I'll keep notes for the third edition.
They say if you want something done, ask a busy person. I say, if I've got lots of things to do, why don't I just go off and do something completely different? That always reminds me of the Monty Python line "And now for something completely different!", but that's a topic for another day.
I am supposed to be getting organised for North East Open Studios - my little cabin opens in 10 days or so, with an exhibition of my watercolour paintings and my daughter's photographs. I have to clear out all my boxes of gubbins, sorry, art materials, give the place a good brush/hoover/clean, and hang said exhibition to its best advantage. Plenty time yet, I think to myself. I have thought this to myself many times in the past, and always end up in a last minute rush. I'm not quite sure why I am sharing this, or what the point was meant to be. Ah yes, procrastinating. But it's not really procrastinating if you do something creative, or worthwhile, or constructive, is it? Does that still count as procrastinating? Maybe.
In my wisdom/procrastinating mode, I decided now was exactly the right time to put together a little collection of short stories. I've been meaning to do this for quite a while - well, since I've had enough stories written that I am happy to share with the world. So I just did it. Yesterday and the day before. Decided which stories I'd include, chose two images (my own photos) for front and back covers, edited the stories, arranged them in what I thought was a good order, made a list of contents and pressed the publish button. Done. Boy does that feel good.