Serendipity

(A free flashfic for Easter)

It started in a shared taxi. The rain was bucketing down and they both seized the door handle, each asserting themselves and their right to a ride, to get out of the weather.

No, wait, it started at the concert, when their eyes met across the auditorium, quite by accident.

But it started before that.

*****

James was walking up from the beach, musing on the wonder of rocks and patches of thrift, when he saw the discarded wrapper. He picked it up automatically, intending to find the nearest bin. Green was both his surname and his nature. As he was about to drop it in, muttering about litter louts and the environment, something made him look at it properly. It was the outside paper strip from a foil wrapped chocolate bar; as well as advertising the name of the product, it claimed in loud letters: YOU MAY BE A WINNER. James shrugged, but something, the weather, serendipity, environmental gnomes, made him put it in his pocket and continue homewards. He phoned the number, amused at himself and faintly guilty at the cost; these prize numbers were all about making money through the phone charges. It seemed he had won a ticket to a concert at the huge new arena. A pianist was performing a varied programme and he was free on Saturday evening – as usual. A serious (and unattached), gay environmentalist who didn’t enjoy ‘the scene’ was rarely out at weekends.

Even then, at the last moment he almost didn’t go. The sky was stormy and he had a new DVD to watch. But his sister phoned and told him he ought to get out more, so, although he didn’t think this was quite what she meant, he set off.

The young man at the ticket office appreciated the dark gold curls and the honed physique of the prize winner but didn’t even dare flutter his eyelashes at the aloof expression on the conventionally handsome face. He told James to enjoy himself and watched him head for the stairs, then turned his attention to the next in line.

*****

Iain stared petulantly at the computer screen. He was so tired of trying to conform. His wife had worked out his ‘secret’ so his ‘good’ behaviour counted for nothing, and their acrimonious divorce had left him struggling to make ends meet, so ‘bad’ behaviour was unlikely to occur with any regularity. He surfed the net and ended up on eBay, bidding without much hope for a ticket to see his favourite pianist at a local venue. To his surprise, he won the bid at his lowest, rather than his highest figure, and hurried to pay the seller and wait for the post. Meanwhile, he continued to work at the programming assignment he’d accepted.

On the day of the concert he did grocery shopping in the afternoon and got drenched in one of the sudden downpours that seemed the norm for the month. By the time he’d showered, changed and dried his long black hair, scrunching it back tightly into a pony tail, he thought he might be too late for the concert, but public transport was on his side for once.

He gave a quick glance at the people in the queue, glad he had his ticket already, and didn’t need to wait for fate to be kind, then followed a group of people up to the doors that led to the stands of seating.

*****

During the interval, James looked round, wondering why this particular concert had attracted such a huge audience. It was good, but not, he thought, good enough to merit such a turnout; it wasn’t as if they could all be prize winners. He noticed the rapt expression on the face of the dark haired man directly across the aisle. He must have been looking hard, because their eyes met, in a sort of recognition, although they had never seen each other before. He was sure of that.

*****

Iain was still in a music-induced reverie when he felt eyes on him, and looked up to meet the gaze of a blond stranger. He turned away, flushing slightly and cross with himself at his automatic response. He was free to look, now, but when he did, the other man had turned his head and the moment had gone.

*****

Except that when they left, it was raining.

The entire crowd was trying to find taxis, which are as rare as jewels, especially when the weather makes them desirable.

If they hadn’t, if it hadn’t, and so on. But they had, and it did, all by happy accident. Their hands met and they shared the taxi.

*****

Yesterday.

Yesterday he had been solitary, slightly sad and somewhat serious.

Yesterday the most important thing in his life had been his job as a park ranger.

Yesterday he had been accustomed to living alone, to having to rely on fantasy for fulfilment.

Yesterday he had expected to continue in his self-imposed isolation, withdrawn from the social whirl that had sickened him with its superficial pleasures.

Yesterday his greatest loves had been the red squirrels and the quarrelsome gulls of the coastline he guarded.

Yesterday he had sighed when his sister told him to ‘get a life’.

Yesterday it had rained.

Today, there was Iain, and the sun was shining.

*****

A whirlwind spring and summer were followed by a whirlwind wedding and a hastily organised honeymoon.

The hotel was perfect, golden stone dreaming in the sun, and a room with a view of the mountains, snow-capped as he’d hoped. The place was run by a gay couple who made the atmosphere as comfortable as the rooms. Iain was pleased with their choice and hoped James was too. After freshening up and a few hugs (they’d keep the main course till later), they decided on a walk before dinner and went out to explore the village.

*****

The steep, narrow, stone stairs that stood in for streets started from the hotel’s back courtyard. Strings of onions and garlic hung from wooden balconies and pots of geraniums and chrysanthemums straggled up the smaller steps at each entrance. One doorway boasted a smart rose with striped petals and an air of modernity at odds with its surroundings. Further up a woman was washing her steps, and the rest of the street by default as the water gushed then trickled down the hill. Ian wondered if the rose looked forward to a daily deluge. James thought it was merely being brave and bold in the face of adversity as roses should always be.

There were people about. A couple of builders stood by their open-backed trucks blocking the cobbled main street (mercifully not stepped), chatting and exchanging news with passers-by. Iain was bemused by the strong similarity of all the men he saw. The younger ones, from tradesmen to homeward-bound clerks, were all short, dark-haired and stocky, quite handsome despite a decided lack of sophistication in their manner and clothing. At about sixty they turned inexplicably into replicas of garden gnomes, gnarled and stooped, prone to wearing outlandish caps and scarves. Despite the cloudless sky they all, young and old, carried umbrellas slung across their shoulders or hung from the back of their collars. He felt like a giant and even James, shorter than him by a good few inches, towered over the locals. He felt feckless, too, unencumbered by any protection from the unlikely rain.

The women were shorter still, dark-haired and pretty, calling to each other across the narrow lanes from one balcony to another. The sixties rule seemed to apply to them too. James said he thought the origins of northern European witches might have started here in these mountain villages. A crone whose nose almost met her chin shouted a cheerful greeting to them. James thought his Portuguese good enough to reply with a cheerful ‘bom dia’ but the woman cackled and repeated her ‘boa noite’ just as the church bells rang a dolorous seven, echoed thirty seconds later by a slower church clock, further down the valley.

*****

Iain laughed at James’s mortified blush and pulled him down yet another street stair. Perhaps they could return to the hotel a different way. The small post office was still open but the only postcards on offer were tired views of the last skiing season in the mountain. It was a good job not many of their friends would expect postcards from a honeymoon couple. Their parents were a different matter and they would have to look further afield. A few of the gnomes were gossiping on stone seats around the bandstand that evidently served as a village centre. Faded posters advertised delights that by the pictorial content included grape harvests, new wine and dancing.

The lane narrowed further, taking them between gardens full of glowing flowers and ripening grapes. A dog suggested they were trespassing and was shouted into silence by its owner. A cat watched them pass and merely licked its tail, settling more firmly on the gatepost. They came out at the front of the hotel again, seeing the late summer reds and oranges of the vines on the slopes beneath them and hearing the clink of glasses in the outdoor dining area.

It was, Iain reflected, like a film-set, perhaps for a fairy tale or fantasy, and yet he’d never felt so real, so alive. He turned to his partner and found an answering smile. Yes, he concluded, they’d chosen the perfect place. And the perfect person to share it with.

As they entered the hotel they heard music over the loudspeakers in the dining room. It was piano music and was, Iain realised, ‘their’ piece, the one played just before the interval in which their eyes had met. He looked at James and knew he’d recognised it too. And so they went in to dinner accompanied by the sound that had brought them together in the first place, and brought them here.

Another free flashfic: Le Manoir

Henri was dubious about accepting the invitation in the first place. The Oyster Festival was not something that appealed to him. Oysters didn’t appeal to him at all, except as the source of pearls, which he had always loved. He had been given some pearl cuff links for his eighteenth birthday but rarely had a chance to wear them. Formal attire was not the fashion among his friends.

He came to Le Manoir in the end, not to enjoy the oysters but to luxuriate in the Lutyens house with its strange chimneys, unexpected windows and rooms that were somehow organic rather than constructed. However, he found himself uncomfortable.

When he saw the festival advertised he immediately thought, not of oysters and revelry, but of architecture and beauty. Now, in the middle of it all, he was not so sure.

The other guests were all paired off, not necessarily with the same partner each afternoon or evening but in a definite, decadent sequence of semi-affaires from which Henri felt excluded. Miranda, he knew, would have included him and made numerous advances. Michael, on the other hand, was apparently not interested. Last night Henri tried to work out from the noises of opening and closing doors just who was where and when. He thought Miranda consoled herself with Michael but was not quite sure of the layout of the bedrooms. He hoped he was wrong. Michael deserved better than Miranda even if those deserts did not include Henri.

He found himself retreating from the house, seeking his own consolation in the garden. Gertrude Jekyll designed it around the building, extending the experience into formal outdoor rooms, constrained by immaculate hedges, presenting intriguing views of the structure from outdoors and in turn providing glimpses of flowers and shrubs from those beautiful window alcoves.

Each garden room had a different theme, the planting focussed on a type of flower or a particular colour. Sometimes there were carefully concealed statues or tiny fountains. Sometimes there was topiary or a glorious bed of trailing roses that echoed the ones climbing the man-made walls. The rooms were alive, too, with lazy insects humming and hidden birds making music.

He found a plain wooden bench placed among sweet lavender and facing the morning sun. His book lay unopened on the dark slats as he closed his eyes and drank in the warmth. The quietness, intense despite the natural sounds, soothed him; he tired quickly of the strident voices speaking English and French and other tongues too loud and too fast. He thought at first that it was just by evening that the strain was almost insupportable but this morning at breakfast he wanted to run out of the room, his head swimming with noise, all languages sounding alien and impossible.

Then he was aware of a shadow falling across him and looked up. Michael was standing there, a hesitant but hopeful expression in his grey eyes.

‘May I join you? Or do you want to be alone here?’

Henri gestured to the other half of the seat and moved his book. He felt tongue-tied; it was one thing to fantasise about Michael, another to share the sunshine with him in the privacy of the lavender and the irises. They sat in silence for a few moments then Michael sighed.

‘I love the garden. I thought I would love the house, but…’

‘Moi aussi.’ Henri’s English deserted him. His understanding was suddenly no longer backed by an ability to speak.

‘Out here,’ Michael continued, ‘I feel at peace.’ He glanced at his companion. ‘I think we have a lot in common, you and I.’ Henri nodded. There didn’t seem to be a need to answer. He listened to the bees buzzing in the flower bed and relaxed for the first time that weekend.

‘We should, of course, go back indoors for lunch,’ Michael pointed out with mock severity.

‘Pour les huitres,’ Henri agreed, solemnly, and then they grinned at each other. ‘Mais nous avons une heure et…’

‘And in any case, the oysters can wait,’ said Michael. ‘But this, I think, can not.’ And he twisted sideways, enabling himself to encircle Henri’s shoulders with a confident arm. ‘I’m glad I found your retreat.’ And after that there was no need for words.

Inspired by Le Bois des Moutiers near Dieppe. House by Edwin Lutyens, and gardens by Gertrude Jekyll.

Happy Valentine’s Day 2020

It’s almost Valentine’s Day and I intended to write a story for you. However, the plot bunny grew to stupid proportions and necessitated quite a bit of research so will not be ready for publication for some time. By the time I realised that, it was getting too late to write anything else. So, as I was about to add pdf versions of some of my work to my free fiction page I decided that would have to be my Valentine gift to you this year. People who have been following my posts for some time will be familiar with the works but at least can now download to read at their convenience and on any device. So I’ll post now for the sake of my Australian friends. Click on the free stuff tab and download anything you want to read, re-read or share! Enjoy!

Of ties and lawn mowers: a free fic for Friday.

The grass was covered in frost, slivers of white delicately outlining each blade. He could hear the crunch of steps on the gravel drive and the murmur of voices from the bar. It was early, but nobody would care to play until the sun broke through. Better to remain snug and dry indoors with a stiff drink as medicine against the cold. That created problems.

He’d asked Johnson to step into his office this morning. He’d intended to try a little innuendo, see how the fellow reacted. But if he showed interest, today wouldn’t be any good at all. The club would be full of members, all over the place, dammit. And what was he going to say to the man, after all? He could hardly pretend to give instructions about cutting the greens in this weather. The young groundsman would know quite well there was something up. Trouble was, he should never have taken him on. Should have realised at the interview that the man’s robust physique and black curls would just prey on his mind. Maybe not his mind. Prey on him, anyway.

Should have employed that older applicant with the stooped back and wall eye. Nothing for it, he’d have to leave a message postponing their intended chat. Say he’d had to go out unexpectedly. But then he’d have to go. Look bad if he was seen lurking in the bar with a drink rather than in his office where he’d said he’d be. He sighed and picked up his car keys. Perhaps no message after all. Just leave, and pretend he’d forgotten, later. Such a lot of fuss and deception.

Why did it have to be so difficult? Why couldn’t he just wink at the fellow and buy him a drink, put a hand on his shoulder, or even his thigh? He’d do that like a shot if he was a woman. If Johnson was a woman, rather. And he knew all about modern manners – no harassing the women staff, no harassing the staff altogether. But then how did a chap get to know if there was a possibility of anything? And he was old school, dammit, and wanted to make it all clear from the start. Straight. Well, not straight. Even the language was against him. Johnson crossed the car park in front of the windows and was heading towards the door that led to the offices. The manager fled, precipitately, muttering as he did, and passed the groundsman with his face averted.

*****

Johnson watched Harris get into his car and roar off into the cold morning. Funny, he could have sworn he’d been due to see him in the office. Odd guy. Good-looking. As in really really good looking. But cold rather than hot. Not old, but so old-fashioned and stiff. And never even a word for him as they passed in the doorway. Oh well, there was nothing that could usefully be done outside today. Whatever the manager wanted could wait till he came back and deigned to tell him about it.

Meanwhile, he’d been told he could use the bar as if he was a member. He’d have a look. You never knew, there might be some talent. Unlikely, but worth checking out. Most of the members were middle-aged and dull; probably straight as ramrods, too – like the manager. But it might be fun to drop a hint here and there, raise some of those middle -class eyebrows. Probably more than his job was worth though. So just a drink. Then he’d get on with stripping down, oiling and sharpening the mower. Dammit, he could have done with some entertainment today. He stripped off his heavy work gloves and headed further into the clubhouse.

*****

When Harris got back, he still felt out of sorts. He had driven around aimlessly, stopped at a pub with an odd name he couldn’t remember for a kind of ploughman’s lunch that wasn’t a patch on what they served at the club, and then decided he would have to return after all. There was a lot of office work to do. He sighed as he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. Then he glanced out of the window and felt rewarded, excited even. Johnson was doing things to the mower. Esoteric things like taking it to pieces and putting it together again. Harris had no idea about mowers other than that they were expensive and were needed to cut grass. He did, however, have plenty of ideas about the groundsman.

Whatever he was doing, the task necessitated Johnson bending over the machine, his taut arse, splendid in its denim coating, directly visible to Harris, almost like an invitation. But it couldn’t be. Could it? The man must know the direction of the manager’s office window. But if he was concentrating on his work… Of course, he bloody well ought to be concentrating on his work. That’s why he was employed in the first place.

Except that if that was all that had been required, the older man might have been a better choice. Harris swallowed convulsively.

*****

That was the moment Johnson straightened and looked over his shoulder. He usually dealt with the machine just here, hoping against hope. But not really hoping, just daydreaming. Building castles in the air populated by older guys who were good looking. And he shouldn’t daydream. Not with the functionality of the club machinery at stake. He always wondered whether Harris ever saw him.

He’d obviously seen him today. Was staring at him, a kind of hunger on his face. Surely not? Surely the man was straight? He’d never heard any rumours to the contrary. Still, that meant very little. The man could be bi. Or he could be in denial, even to himself.

Johnson considered. There was every reason to ask to see the manager. The aborted meeting this morning – maybe there was something he should know before he went home. No need to allude to that strange moment when he’d caught Harris looking at him. No need at all. But if there was anything, well, perhaps this was the day to find out.

He finished dealing with the mower, then stood up, his back objecting to the straightening after so long bent over. His hands, cold even in the gloves, welcomed the idea of indoors.

*****

Harris didn’t have a secretary. Didn’t see the need. Karen on reception fielded visitors and members who wanted to see him, answered phone calls and did the odd spot of typing. Pretty girl, if you were that way inclined, which he wasn’t.
Staff mostly knew they could just knock on his door any time. He tried to be accessible. But when the knock came so closely after his glimpse of Johnson bending over the mower, he was almost panic stricken. He hastily adjusted himself and then sat down abruptly behind his desk. Wonderful what a lot a stretch of oak could hide.

‘Come in.’ Did his voice sound normal? He had no idea. And then he gulped as he realised who had just knocked and entered.

‘I just wondered, sir, whether there was anything important. Since you had to cancel our meeting this morning.’ Johnson’s voice was a sexy growl that had Harris half hard again in a second.

*****

Johnson wasn’t sure exactly what to say. The manager was looking nervous, or possibly annoyed. But his question, he thought, was perfectly legitimate. He enjoyed his job, and wanted to make sure there was nothing outstanding to be seen to urgently.
Harris was staring at him, his mouth opening and closing, but without any sound coming out. He was blushing slightly, too, as if caught in some secret activity. As if staring out of the window had been in some way reprehensible. Johnson could soon disabuse him of that notion. But he couldn’t risk open flirtation. He valued the job too much.

The silence continued.

‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ He used his most sultry voice, and hoped against hope that if he was wrong, Harris would just take the words at their straightforward value.

*****

Harris looked helplessly out of the window, hoping for some kind of rescue. The light was fading. It was still early January and the evenings started early. He could barely see the mower now. There was a dull glow across the course, where the street lights were coming on.

Johnson’s query couldn’t be real, could it? Could he, dull-as-dishwater Phil Harris, golf club manager, be arousing interest in this glorious twenty-something who stood in his office?

He cleared his throat.‘I’m sorry about this morning,’ he said. ‘Something came up.’
Well, that was a bit of innuendo he hadn’t intended. But the groundsman didn’t seem concerned. There was a small smile on his face. A knowing look in his eye.

*****

‘I was just servicing the mower,’ Johnson said now. ‘I wondered if anything else needed servicing.’ Then he muttered under his breath, ‘or anyone.’ It was so mumbled that if necessary he could say he’d said, ‘or something,’ and it would be hard for anyone to contradict him.

He waited. He didn’t dare say anything else. It would be so easy if they could only say exactly what they thought without any repercussions. But to begin with, although there could be no overt homophobia in his employment, a golf club was not the most progressive of workplaces, and to add to that, although Harris wasn’t his employer, he was his manager, so things could get awkward quickly.

Harris was moving towards him. That blush was deepening.

‘I was watching you with the mower,’ Harris said.

‘I know.’ Let him make the first move, for goodness’ sake. And yet, maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he was too constrained by his managerial role.

*****

‘I was thinking,’ Harris said, hoping his voice wasn’t betraying his nerves, ‘that I might have a drink in the bar. Would you like to join me?’ There. That couldn’t be too threatening, could it? It wasn’t his custom to drink with staff, but he could, if necessary, justify it as some relaxation while they discussed aspects of Johnson’s work.

‘I’d like that,’ came the reply.

*****

They were staring at each other, neither of them quite daring to speak. Dan Johnson, the young groundsman, and Phil Harris the manager. Who’d have thought it? Mark Leigh, the barman, smiled to himself. He’d have thought it, had thought it the moment Dan had reported for work that first day. They were made for each other in so many ways. Looks – both had them in spades. Shyness, too and old-fashioned manners. Neither of them had ever shown the slightest interest in women, members, members’ wives, members’ daughters, kitchen staff, or Karen on reception. And if a guy wasn’t interested in Karen, then he wasn’t interested in women.

He served them a pint of beer each, and handed out coasters. He’d already cleaned the tables and was enjoying the lull between the daytime crowd and the evening lot. So Mark could watch this pair from his position behind the bar without them realising they were being scrutinised. It would, he thought, be as entertaining as any of the soaps on the telly.

*****

Harris loosened his tie. It was a few years since the club had abandoned its insistence on ties as the appropriate and mandatory wear in the bar. But Harris still felt somehow obliged to wear one. He knew it appealed to the older members, and he didn’t care whether it appealed to the women or not. Somehow, at the moment, the thing felt more like a noose.

‘Nice tie,’ he heard Johnson say. He’d chosen one of his favourites today, thinking of the appointment he’d made (and then broken) in the morning. It was dark grey with a tiny pattern of penguins wielding golf clubs and its fun element contradicted its formality, making him laugh inside.

‘Thank you,’ was all he managed.

Johnson was very slowly moving his hands, circling each wrist in turn. ‘Of course, ties are such useful things,’ he said. ‘Not just decorative.’

Useful? Harris tried to think of a use for a tie. Well, he supposed he could make a makeshift tourniquet if someone had a small wound. Anything else? No, he was stumped. He looked enquiringly at his companion.

‘For tying things up,’ the groundsman said. ‘They can be used to keep a wandering branch in place, or provide a quick mend on a machine. Though I’d never use one as good as yours, of course.’

*****

There didn’t really seem to be anything for either of them to say. Both men sipped their beer in silence.

‘I just wanted…’ Harris began, and Johnson waited for some kind of guillotine to fall. He had no idea whether the manager had wanted to praise or scold him or merely give instructions. It seemed he was about to find out.

‘…to tell you how pleased we are with your work,’ said Harris. The royal we? Hardly. The marital we? But Harris wasn’t married. The managerial we, then. But Johnson would take it, anyway.

He smiled, tentatively. And Harris smiled back.

He thought he’d said some kind of thank you. Then they made some desultory small talk about the grounds, the machines, the weather. If cross examined, Johnson would not have been able to remember what they had talked about. He was drowning in that smile. It lit up the manager’s face and brightened the dull grey evening.

Harris fidgeted with his tie again, and Johnson couldn’t help fidgeting with his fingers as he imagined tying it round the other man’s wrists.

Another smile. Why was it all so difficult? There was supposed to be equality nowadays. And he didn’t imagine teenagers had any problem making suggestions, proffering invitations, and so on. But adult men in the workplace were at a distinct disadvantage. Of course, so were women, and for that matter the men who wanted those same women, but acknowledging that didn’t make his own situation any easier.

‘Your day off’s a Monday, isn’t it?’ Harris knew perfectly well that it was. He made out the rotas for staff time off, and had probably checked in any case.

‘Yes?’ Johnson turned it into a query. Did Harris want to change something, or ask him to work overtime?

‘I wondered.’ Harris stopped.

Time to bite the bullet and offer some encouragement. ‘What did you wonder?’ Johnson spoke softly.

‘Whether you might like to go out for a meal some time. I checked which restaurants around here were open on a Monday.’ Harris was blushing again and looking extremely nervous.

‘I’d love to.’ That had to be clear enough.

‘Next Monday, then?’

‘It’s a date. That is, I’m assuming it’s a date. Is it a date?’ Johnson thought he might be blushing too.

‘Definitely a date.’ The tone was suddenly all efficient manager, confidence returning now that the invitation had been accepted.

‘And you’ll wear that tie?’

‘If you like it so much.’

‘It gives me ideas.’

‘About penguins? Or golf clubs?’

‘About the uses of strips of silk.’ There. That was definite, too.

‘By the way, my name’s Phil. Not at work, of course, but when we go out.’

‘And mine’s Dan.’ Stupid thing to say. Harris, Phil, was his manager; of course he knew his full name.

‘Till Monday then, Dan,’ said Phil.

They looked straight at each other, promise in both sets of eyes. Then Phil retreated to his office, pleading work to be done, things to sign, people to phone. And Dan got up with a thought about working but knew it was so dark and so cold that all he could reasonably be expected to do would be to put the mower away.

‘Leaving?’ The barman grinned.

‘Just need to tidy up.’ Dan knew his voice was gruffer than usual and that he had a stupid smile plastered all over his face.

‘Doing anything special tonight? You look as if you’re looking forward to something.’

‘Not tonight, but it’s Friday already. And I do have a date, but for Monday.’

‘Ah. Well, enjoy your evening anyway. See you tomorrow.’

‘See you.’ Saturdays and Sundays were their busiest days. Too busy to hope for any more unscheduled meetings with the manager. Monday, however…

He put the mower away in the outbuildings in a kind of dream, glanced at the manager’s window and saw Phil putting on his coat, presumably getting ready to go home. Though he’d probably be back later to oversee a Friday night in the club. Monday had to be his day off, too. Very few people played golf on Mondays and Karen could cope with them.

But the tiny penguins with their golf clubs would, he hoped, get the perfect round on Monday. Meanwhile, he could just enjoy the anticipation. He was soon astride his motorbike, bombing down the road to his future.

*****

Phil went home and fed his cat, Mogg, then went back to socialise and supervise in the bar. He had changed his tie for a light blue one with dark blue diagonal stripes. The penguins were now too precious to risk in the booze laden atmosphere of Friday night at the club.

He was smiling broadly. Let people wonder. It was almost Monday.

Knocking at heaven’s door (a ficlet).

The Watchtower lady was very attractive but seemed more concerned with her soul than her body. Anyone’s body. Julia lounged in the doorway in her half-open housecoat watching the play of sunshine on the Watchtower lady’s blonde hair and wondering what lay beneath the prim but pretty beige coat. She tried, too, to get a gleam from the blue eyes but for once her famed charm wasn’t working.

“You see,” the lady was saying earnestly (odd how she was definitely a lady and not a woman or a girl), we believe that human beings are doing their best to ruin God’s world and we are trying so hard to stop them. Aren’t you concerned about the state of the world?”

‘Nowhere near as much as I’m concerned about the state of my arousal,’ thought Julia, but she managed some kind of non-committal reply about how she believed in humanity’s innate goodness and the likelihood of a successful outcome.

“And then,” the beige angel went on, “there’s the worry about getting into heaven.”

Julia considered. Getting inside the beige coat and further might be glorious but probably wasn’t worth the extra hassle. After all, this was Sunday and she’d promised herself a lie-in till the doorbell had dragged her down to this delectable but irritating visitor.

“Don’t your lot believe there are only so many places?” she asked. “What are my chances?”

“Nil, if you don’t even try,” came the glib retort. Like the lottery then. If you didn’t play you couldn’t dream. But Julia could go back to bed and dream of playing.

She heard some kind of query as to whether she was interested in the bible and heard herself saying, “ Not today thank you,” as if it was an encyclopaedia or a new kind of vacuum cleaner rather than the chance of an afterlife. The lady muttered about ‘no interest at all’and flounced in an extremely ladylike fashion down the path.

‘Oh, there’s interest, all right,’ thought Julia, sighing. ‘Just, probably the wrong kind. Although it would lead to heaven, that’s for sure.’

Something to remember

I should have posted this yesterday but real life has been overwhelming this last week. It’s a ficlet I wrote a couple of years ago for a picture prompt but I’ve chosen to go with a view of artificial poppies rather than the original.

Something to remember.

Hamish had worshipped Donald since they were bairns at the local school together. He had never said anything, of course. His friends found it hard enough to express their feelings for lasses. There was no way of articulating his desire for another boy. He had talked to Jock when Jock had started courting Mary, but had got nowhere in his search for words and phrases.

 

Och,” Jock said, “she’s canny enough and she kens I’m not averse. But I wouldnae tell her so out loud. Doesnae do to turn their heads, ye see?” Hamish saw. He’d have loved to have turned Donald’s head, especially in his direction, but there didn’t seem to be a way.

 

They joined the regiment together after Highers. It was that or the fishing boats or university and neither felt cut out for the sea of fish or the sea of knowledge. So they went through basic training and felt proud of their uniform and the history they were taught to see as their own.

 

The wreath-laying ceremony was such an honour. The minister wrote from home to stress how proud the village would be if their boys were to appear on the small screen. Each of them secretly hoped to be the one to carry the wreath of poppies and lay it on the memorial. Hamish could hardly contain his excitement when he was chosen.

 

The wind whipped around their faces and he was glad he’d had the forethought to borrow a hat pin from his gran. He never thought of his kilt, even when he stepped up in front of them all and stood respectfully after he’d laid the wreath. The gust of spiteful air whisked the heavy folds sideways and up. He hoped his face as he turned to walk back to the line was not displaying his embarrassment. He must on no account show anything, give any sign that he knew there had been anything wrong. He must not give a signal that would allow the crowds to laugh or give the journalists a chance to bay at his heels. He knew his sergeant wouldn’t blame him for the display, but he might well blame him if he wasn’t dignified about it.

 

And yet, he thought, as they stood singing about Christian soldiers or those in peril on the sea or whatever… And yet, it could have been worse. He could have been wearing underpants and that would have been something his fellow soldiers would never have allowed him to live down. Sometimes he put a pair on when the cold got too much for him, but on this day of pride he hadn’t dared. He was glad.

 

Donald approached him later, crossing the training square. No-one had said anything and he’d begun to hope there’d be no comments – and no pictures in the papers. But Donald fell into step beside him and grinned and he knew. Donald was not going to let it pass. He shuddered inwardly. All his dreams and shy admiration and now he was a figure of fun to his idol. But Donald was speaking.

 

Ye’ve a fine pair o’ cheeks there, Hamish. I always thought ye might have. And I’ve always wanted to know if I was right. The wind was my friend today, wasnae it?”

 

It wasnae mine!”

 

Nonsense – ye’re the pride of the regiment. And I’m proud to call you my friend. I’d be proud to call you more than that, Hamish. If…” He stopped, blushing the red of the threads in his tartan and started to move away, every motion betraying anxiety and speed, a running away from what he’d said. But Hamish grabbed his arm and whirled him round.

 

Ye’ll no get away that easily, Donald,” he said softly, a steel determination underlying the words. “Ye can call me anything ye like, d’ye see?”

 

And Donald did see, and they walked back to the barracks together, knowing the future could be sweet.

   

The House (a sci fi ficlet)

They came up between the floorboards at first, a little like smoke, or perhaps mist because nobody seemed to suspect fire. Tendrils crept into the various rooms, up the stairs and down into the root cellar.

They made things strange. Not uncomfortable, exactly, or not that anyone could articulate. There was an atmosphere of oddness, of unrightness. A glass that had been polished and put away would reappear on the table, smeared, with a yellowish sediment in the bottom. A bed that had been neatly made would be tumbled and creased, the pillow tossed on the floor. A towel in the bathroom would be wringing wet when nobody had used the basin or shower since the previous day. Everything could be ascribed to poor memory, to human error. But everything added up. Nobody was harmed, but nobody was happy and eventually they left. They sold it, of course, but the next residents, and the ones after that had the same experiences. Ridding the house of humans took a few years but they could afford to wait.

Next, they turned their attention to the small things. The bugs that lived in the cracks, once there were no humans to clean the place, found their cracks filled with unpleasant textures and smells. The mice under the kitchen sink had a nest damp from drips even though the taps were no longer working. The birds that built homes in the roof space had a feeling that predators were constantly overhead. They all left, not at once, but one by one, reluctantly but in the end with relief.

Then the moss on the roof failed to thrive. The lichen that tried to establish itself on the front step found the atmosphere polluted despite the lack of anything within miles that could affect it. The creeper on the back wall rotted.

At last they had the house to themselves. It was a beautiful house, built from aged silvery grey wood with large airy window frames. It was the perfect home and it had taken a while to get it exactly the way they wanted and it had taken a lot of work but at last it was finished, and they settled down. Anyone passing, though very few ever passed, might have heard, soft on the evening air, a sigh of contentment.

(The picture is not mine. It’s a slightly photoshopped version of one I found on Pixabay by Wyosunshine. The information for the photograph said it was free for even commercial use. It’s very similar to the one used for a prompt that inspired this ficlet. Given a lack of wooden houses anywhere near either of my homes, I felt obliged to go looking and make sure there was no copyright violation. One or two of you might have seen the ficlet a while ago on my personal journal.If so, ignore!)

A ficlet for Valentine’s Day

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Travelling together

Ken had only come to Waterstones to get a map. The trip up to Scotland would take him off the beaten track and he had no desire to get lost before he found the castle where his cousin’s wedding was to be held. He had neither the money nor the inclination to install any kind of GPS in his car and those print-outs from the AA usually led via diversions into delays.

So he headed for the map section but couldn’t resist a glance at the sci-fi shelves on his way past. Maybe there would be time to read and relax over the weekend.

A mass of red curls over a slim but muscled body was evidently studying the section in depth. Luscious. And with a shared taste in reading matter.

Ken sighed and continued to ‘Maps’. No time for dalliance if he was to set out today. But how he wished… Then again, he consoled himself, the other man might be a raging homophobe or perhaps just choosing a book for a sci-fi loving sister.

Comparing maps of the glens and realising he hadn’t brought his reading glasses, Ken sighed again, then noticed a slender hand with a dusting of freckles picking up the map he’d just discarded. A polite voice murmured,

“I don’t suppose you’d know which of these would be the best to get me somewhere near Gairloch?”

Ken looked up slowly. Red curls framed enquiring green eyes. The hand that wasn’t holding the map was clutching a copy of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal.

“I don’t,” he told the green eyes, quietly drowning in them as he spoke, “but I’m going there myself. Perhaps we can figure it out together?” He gestured with the map he’d almost decided to buy and indicated the coffee bar across the shopping precinct. It was too much to hope they were both going to the wedding, but at least the detour to Waterstones seemed to have led to a meeting of minds.

It turned out they were indeed both going to the wedding. Alasdair was a distant relative of the bride and despite his Scottish name had never ventured across the border. They agreed to travel together and Ken walked out of the shop with his map purchased but no more longing glances at the fiction books. He rather thought his time in the Highlands would be adequately filled.

(Yes, it’s Edinburgh Castle, but it was the only Scottish photo with a castle I could lay my hands on today)

Last Christmas

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Last Christmas…

I remember it as clearly as yesterday, and you’re lying when you say it all passed in an alcoholic blur because of your new job and celebrating and so on. We were living together so it would have been a bit hard to fool me that much. Most of the time you were sober and a bit morose about having to move, to leave, even though you were pleased with the new status and even more with the new pay package.

I gave you my heart…

…right after the office party, on the way to the station. You were grumbling about having to pretend we weren’t together and I suggested we should stop pretending, let the world know, get married (it’s legal now, after all) and let the office busybodies have their nine days’ wonder, shock and salacious gossip. I said I would come to London with you, find a job somewhere, somehow, so that we could be together. We stopped under one of those huge streetlights on the station approach and you kissed me right there in public. Well, OK, there weren’t many public around and the ones there were were wrapped up in their own thoughts and destinations. But you kissed me without looking over your shoulder and I remember the sleet glistening on your hair under the light, the fiery coldness of your lips and the way my heart sang. Then you held my hand till we had to leave loose and run helter-skelter for the last train, laughing.

Neither of us had had that much to drink. We never did at those office things, too scared, I suppose, of giving ourselves away. So instead I gave my heart away and when we got home we fucked, or rather made love, till almost dawn.

The very next day …

It was Christmas Eve and we went into the village to buy a tree. We thought they might be cheaper, with less than twenty-four hours to go. We found a really nice little tree outside the supermarket, with a huge ‘reduced’ sign on it and we were just going to go in when Anna, that new girl from the typing pool, came past. We hadn’t known she lived in the same suburban village as us; she’d left the party early and of course we normally travelled in by car so we wouldn’t have run across her. She looked surprised then asked if we were together, with one of those smirking, knowing looks that some people seem to find appropriate. I was just saying yes, proud and dizzily happy when you said no, we were just flatmates. I felt the bottom drop out of my world.

We didn’t even decorate the tree and it just stood there all dark and bare till I threw it out on New Year’s Eve, tired of the needles dropping on the carpet, dry and spiked like my thoughts.

You left on the Sunday night and you tossed me your keys without a care in the world.

This year…

I was surprised to see you, pleased for you to hear about the promotion and the return up north, but not impressed that you seemed to think I’d just have been waiting all year, like some kind of doll you can throw into a box and take out again when it suits you. You were never that great a ‘catch’ despite the inflated salary. I could always have found someone else but we were good together or at least I thought we were. You didn’t. obviously.

… someone special.

He’s already asked me privately and he’s arranged this romantic public proposal under the mistletoe at his mum’s house. They know, too, so there won’t be any outcry, just lots of people pleased for us. He’s really dependable, and not bad-looking. I’m going to be happy.

But sometimes, very privately, I just wish it was last Christmas all over again.

 

(I wrote this a few years ago to a prompt from a writing group. I’ve tweaked it slightly to bring it up to date. It’s a kind of homage – and maybe we all wish it could be last year and 2016 could be re-run with edits?)

Feeding Frustration – a very short story

 

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It was really extremely annoying.

He had been studying the new layout all day. Previously, when food had been loaded onto the platform it had been the work of moments to climb the pole and demolish the pile of goodies. Then, for some bizarre reason, they had greased the pole.

It had taken a few days to work out a route. There was a rope strung across the area diagonally. Sometimes it hosted an array of damp cloth and he found it hard to negotiate but usually he could simply skim along, leap to the feeding platform and indulge. He thought they might move the rope so that even a prodigious leap would not take him to the platform, but really, why should they?

He was sure the changes, like the greased pole, and the occasional cloth hangings could not be directed at him. The food was still put out regularly and even though some birds came to peck and play there was always plenty left. He knew he didn’t frighten the birds, much; they knew he was not a predator so it was a case of live and let live.

And now, today, there were new hazards.

The rope was still there. There were no damp cloths. But there were strange translucent plastic shapes with the rope running through them. When he tried to navigate one it skittered and whirled so that he was decanted to the ground. He tried again. Same result. A starling was, he thought, laughing at him.

The platform was full of delicious snacks and besides, he was hungry. He chittered angrily and felt that the snap and click from the stone hole near the feeder was perhaps the last straw. He had a vague idea that the food providers were laughing at him, too, and somehow recording his despair.