Wednesday 21 August 2013

And now for something serious...a taster.

My last post was tongue in cheek but here is a taste of my more serious short fiction. 

Chocolate in Summer

Seated at the grand piano, Margot became the woman she might have been rather than the one she was. Gone was the carping woman craving her headache pills; in her place was a maestro.

‘Oh how wonderful. You’ll have some help,’ people cooed when I muttered through clenched teeth that my mother-in-law was coming to stay. How they thought it was helpful to be driving over a hundred and fifty miles to the airport, with a two-month old breast-feeding baby in tow, I couldn’t imagine.
   She spent the entire six weeks moaning. The bedroom was too hot, too cold, the baby cried, my cooking was terrible, I didn’t iron Patrick’s shirts properly.
   ‘She’s asking for Gentleman’s Relish,’ I said to Patrick. ‘What the hell is that? I’ve never heard of it.’
   ‘Oh yes, she used to love it on toast,’ he said, frowning over our bank statement. ‘She used to put a little jar of it in my school tuck box every term. I’d sell it to one of the older boys because I hated it, and bought sweets from the tuck shop with the money. She never packed sweets. You can probably get it at Fortnums.’
   ‘Are you insane? Do you really expect me to high-tail it to London to get a jar of something for her bloody toast?’
   But make the journey I did, for Margot must be appeased, although nothing would ever make me good enough for her son.

‘Have you put Toby’s name down for Patrick’s prep school yet?’ she asked one Sunday lunchtime while I was clearing the table.
   ‘Margot, he’s barely three months old,’ I said. ‘Rather premature, don’t you think?’
   ‘These good schools are subscribed years in advance,’ she said curtly.
   ‘Besides which,’ I said, ‘I do not intend for my son to be sent away to school, even if we could afford it, which we can’t.’
   ‘Patrick, surely you can’t want your son educated in a state school?’
   ‘I rather think I do, Mother,’ he replied. ‘I have no wish to put Toby through what I endured.’
   I didn’t hear the end of that conversation because Toby began to wail, much to my relief.  I hurried off to placate my son who would not be sent away at the tender age of eight when, I hoped, he would still be wanting a story, a teddy snuggled into his bed and a goodnight kiss.

Each year, two months of summer were utter misery. As he grew older, even Toby began to dread the visit from Grandma: her headaches that demanded his utter silence; the outings that were curtailed because she felt unwell; the meals that must be just so.
   ‘Give me a hand,’ Patrick yelled down the stairs one Saturday before the impending visit. ‘I need you to hold the ladder. It’s wobbling.’ I switched off the iron, glad to have respite from squirting steam over the curtains from the spare room, Margot’s room, and plodded up the stairs, pushing my damp hair behind my ears.
   I held the ladder while Patrick inexpertly painted the room in his mother’s favourite colour.
   ‘She’ll like this,’ he said as he rolled the paint on. ‘She found the greens too bright.’ He was being tactful; ‘nauseous’ was the word she’d used. My carefully chosen two-tone green room disappeared under a coat of magnolia-meets-mushroom. The curtains would look quite wrong now but at least they would be dust and crease-free.
   A month later, I heaved Margot’s luggage up to the room. She was already lying on the bed in the delicate pose of a dying martyr.
   ‘Pull the curtains,’ she ordered. ‘There’s too much sun. Where are my pills, I think a headache is coming on.’
   ‘Do you like the new colour?’ I asked as I slid the curtains closed, banishing the few rays of sun to have graced our summer that year.
   ‘It’ll do.’
   ‘I’ve made your favourite cake so pop down for tea when you’re ready.’
   ‘I couldn’t possibly eat cake. My digestion. Some cucumber sandwiches, I think.’
   ‘I’m afraid I don’t have any cucumber. How about tomato?’
   ‘Tomato? With my delicate stomach? Good gracious girl, you should know this by now. Just run out and fetch a cucumber. It’s hardly too much to ask.’

It was when we visited my new neighbour who had invited us for coffee, that the ground shifted. Standing in their airy living room was a grand piano. Enormous, shiny and proud, it took up most of the space. Margot drifted towards it and trailed her fingers on the keys.
   ‘Do try it, if you’d like to,’ trilled the neighbour.
   To my astonishment, Margot seated herself on the padded stool and began to play. Music rippled from beneath her fingers as effortlessly as breeze on water.

   That was the day I first saw her smile.

If you would like the read the whole story it is published in The Greenacre Writers Anthology Vol 2 available from Greenacre Writers

or for just 39p  from Alfie Dog Fiction

Wednesday 7 August 2013

The Continuing Saga of Lit Ward 10.

Since the spectacular success of  Dr Read’s literary medicine - helped by the odd glass of G&T - on Lit Ward 10, his Specialist Registrar, Dr. de Licious and Staff Nurse Gorgeous had volunteered to take on the extra duty of selecting suitable medication but now the new Chief Exec had insisted he be on the selection panel.

‘Now what evidence base do you have for this book stuff?’ he asked.

Dr Read handed him a print out of Lit Ward 10 outcomes.

‘With the government trying to close libraries and the NHS, we must do all we can to fight these disastrous decisions,’ Dr Read explained. ‘This is the only dedicated adult Literary Ward in the country and so far we’ve excellent outcomes.’

‘Yes, there has been some success I’ll admit, but evidence based practice is the pillar of clinical governance...’ mumbled the Chief Exec. He hadn’t read a novel since he was at school. He vaguely recalled something called 1984. Or was in 1984 that he last read a book? He couldn’t quite remember.

The Reader Organisation and InterAct Reading Service both have anecdotal evidence of literature helping recovery from illness,’ added Dr de Licious. 'As well of course as Read Well for children.' He couldn't miss them out although he knew Dr Read had been a bit upset to find that name had already been taken.

After reading about  Friern Barnet Community Library in leafy North London, reclaimed from closure by the community and reopened with 10,000 donated books, Dr Read’s appeal for books had been similarly overwhelmed with good books, but careful selections had to be made.

‘Can’t have this,’ yelled the Chief Exec holding up a copy of Bring Up the Bodies. 'Gives quite the wrong idea. Or this.’ He pointed to a copy of Death Bed by Leigh Russell, one of Dr de Licious’s favourite thriller writers.

I Googled titles with ‘health’ in them’ said the Chief Exec’s assistant, ‘and I came up with How I Scaled the North Face of the Megapurna with a Perfectly Healthy Finger But Everything Else Sprained, Broken or Bitten Off By a Pack of Mad Yaks, but it doesn’t seem to be on Amazon. I did look.’

‘That’s because it’s a fictional book,’ explained Dr de Licious slowly (he’d noted the assistant seemed to be having some kind of processing problems), while rolling his eyes at Nurse Gorgeous.

‘Exactly, That’s what Dr Read wants, isn’t it? Fictional books.’ The Chief Exec looked cross while his assistant continued to look his normal gormless self.

‘What Dr De Licious means, is that that title is a made-up book in a book,’ said Nurse Gorgeous. ‘It’s in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now that’s a good one for Lit Ward 10.’

‘But you said we’re having only fiction here, no travel books,’ complained the Chief Exec, who been annoyed that they’d rejected his old copy of Guide to the Most Boring Places Where You Can Park a Caravan in England. Since his promotion to Chief Exec, he’d got rid of the caravan as he didn't think it fit his new image. ‘And we shouldn’t encourage hitch-hikers, they’re scroungers, the lot of them.’

‘Here’s a safe bet, Pride and Prejudice.’ Nurse Gorgeous held up one of her favourites.

‘Out of the question,’ barked the Chief Exec. ‘Haven’t you done your mandatory training in Equality and Diversity? No prejudice is allowed on these premises whatsoever.’  He snatched the book and binned it. ‘My wife says there’s a book named after her, Emma. So I think we should have that.’

‘We do have that one. It’s a very good choice.’ Nurse Gorgeous didn’t add that Jane Austen had come up with the name some 200 years ago.

‘Excellent,’ said the Chief Exec, oblivious to the fact that it was by the same author of the book he had just tossed away. ‘So what others have names in them?’

Doctor Zhivago,’ suggested Dr de Licious with a slight smile.

‘But what’s he got to do with this project? He works in orthopaedics.’

‘That’s Dr Santiago.’

‘So why bring up this other chap then? We don’t have time to waste…Is there a book called Clarissa. That’s my mother’s name?’

‘Yes, there is, but I’m not sure we should include it,’ said Dr Read.

‘Why not?

‘Unless you are happy to have bed blockers.’

The Chief Exec shuddered. Bed-blockers were the bĂȘte noire of all chief executives and bed managers. ‘What’s it got to do with bed blockers?’ Really, literary types were a pain in the neck, going off at tangents all the time.

‘It’d take even the speediest reader a while to complete as the later editions are over a million words,’ said Dr Read. ‘Better for our community patients. Although I wouldn’t consider it for anyone with heart problems or any form of muscular weakness.’

The Chief Exec couldn’t see what that had to do with anything. ‘I think all our books should have names in the titles. My name’s Adrian. Is there a book called Adrian?’

‘There’s a whole series of Adrian Mole books,’ said Dr de Licious.

‘Excellent!’ said the Chief Exec. ‘I’m sure the hero is a worthy person. I see him as a hard working, leader of people, someone who has a vision of how things should be in the 21st century. Someone like me. Is he at all like me?’

‘Two peas in a pod,’ sighed Dr Read. 'Two peas in a pod.'