Saturday, 29 October 2011

The Promise

     I opened my eyes, or at least I thought I did, but if I had thought harder I would have realised they were already open, it was just that I couldn’t see anything. Not that I cared, it was the last thing on my mind. All I could remember were the beautiful memories of the wedding ceremony with Lisa, the most beautiful girl in the world.  
     It had been a magical few days, the best of my life. Azure Jamaican sunsets and sweet scents of sunshine fruits were flavoured with sounds of steel drums and reggae rhythms.  The time when all my hopes and dreams had come true and I had finally married the woman of my dreams, no, not just of my dreams but of my very being, my soul, my life.
     All my life I had been around her, drawn in by her aura. Throughout infant school I had followed her around the playground like a needy puppy, joining enthusiastically in her childish games. Primary school was a world of wonder that we discovered together, the closest of friends, with adventures shared and futures still too distant to be contemplated. Our teen years tried hard to alter our relationship and though teenage culture demanded we sought the fellowship of our peers, we still glanced at each other across crowded dance floors, often walking home together yet saying goodbye at her garden gate before talking into the small hours on the phone.
     She had a boyfriend once, encouraged almost rabidly by her friends and I hated him with a vengeance, yet even when they finished a few days later, I still shied away from asking her out, terrified of rejection, not realising that these were sentiments she also shared.
     But eventually, the inevitable happened and something special developed. I still remember that starlit night, when I paused at her gate a moment too long. That awkward few seconds, that void of silence, crying out to be filled. Waiting for me to scream out as loud as I could,
     ‘Don’t you know how much I Love you? Don’t you know how much I want to take you in my arms and hold you until the stars above burn themselves out?  How I want to spend the rest of eternity alongside you, looking at you, knowing you, loving you?'
     But I didn’t shout out, and neither did she, but what she did do was something else, something completely different, something infinitely better. She tiptoed up and kissed me gently on the lips.
     That was the beginning of my life, the day I was really born, the point at which my existence took on meaning. Since then, I smile at the oft asked question, What is love? The answer is easy, It is lisa. She is the very essence of love and nothing in the universe exists apart from my love for her. I will live for her, die for her for she is now the sole reason I exist in this suffocating yet intoxicating entrancement.
     The wedding had been everything we had dreamed of, and, having decided to wait until our wedding night to consummate the marriage, was a sensory overload of love and tenderness. We found each other at last, physically, mentally and emotionally while the world stood still, waiting for us to see it again. The moonlit walks, the starlit passion. Days filled with laughter and nights filled with wonder. This was it, the very reason I had been put on this earth by whatever entity existed up there.
     That had been weeks ago. Why had it stopped, what had I done so wrong to deserve this. Why did the cruel hand of fate deal such a devastating blow.
     Everything had been perfect that night, the last night of our honeymoon and we had returned early to our chalet on the beach, keen to spend our last night alone before leaving this paradise.
     They shouldn’t have been there, they had no right. My mind had span as it struggled to take in the situation, the shouts of the attackers and the screams of my beloved. The struggle, the noise, the flash of light…….the pain.
     But it was as nothing compared to the pain that followed, the pain of seeing her dragged off by the two men to a lustful fate. The pain of trying to move, to help her, to rescue her from harm, unable to move yet conscious to what they intended What sort of husband was I who could not even protect my wife in the first weeks of our union. The world became dark and the last thing I heard was her voice calling my name, begging me to help.
     How long had I lain there, summoning my will to overcome my bodies limitations. It had taken time but love conquers all, a triumph of mind over matter, love over hate. I knew that at last I would be able to do it. To rise again and seek her out and take her once more in my arms, and this time, no gun on this earth would stop me joining my love.
     Gradually, as my consciousness returned, so did my strength, though how such malnourished muscles could even summon any power whatsoever was beyond me. First the movement of a finger, forcing its way past its neighbour, encouraging its fellows to join it in its task. Then my hand became free and clawed at the surrounding dankness, forcing its way upwards through the cloying blanket of hopelessness. Finally, with a flourish that mirrored the birth of a baby, my hand pushed forth to pierce the cool Caribbean night, breaking free of the shallow grave where I had lain for the last two months.
    'Don’t worry, Lisa,' I said as the soil fell from my empty eye sockets, ‘I’m coming to get you.’

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Mole

     Do you remember that summer? You know, the one where it was so hot you used to run back into the house and stand on tiptoe to reach over the sink to put your mouth directly under the tap. The one when Timmy Jones got knocked over by the ice cream van and we all got to visit him in hospital with our hair gelled down flat and the fat nurse smelled like the soap in the school toilets.
     Well, that’s the one I’m on about. That was the one when I discovered death for the first time. I couldn’t understand it at first and me and Billy Jenkins just stood side by side for ages, looking down at the velvet clad corpse. We probably would have stood there an age more as well until Fatty Thomas barged through to see what we were staring at.
     ‘Worrisit?’ he asked, poking the body with a stick.
     ‘A mouse,’ said I.’
     ‘A mole,’ corrected Billy.
     ‘Wossa mole?’ I asked.
     ‘It’s like a mouse but lives underground eating worms?’ said Billy.
     Billy had always been the clever one, and his mam said one day he was going to be a doctor. His dad even had a car and once, right, in the holidays he took me and Billy to the boating park to have a go on the row boats. It was brill, and me and Billy had a water fight till his dad shouted at us.
     ‘Worms!’ shouted Fatty Thomas, That’s deesgusting.’
     ‘How do you know?’ I asked, the words already out before I had time to think of the consequences.
     ‘Coz they are,’ shouted Fatty Thomas, cuffing  me around the head, and that was that. Fatty Thomas always had the last word in the playground. This was his domain, his territory and he prowled the glass strewn tarmac like a lion protecting his pride. He wasn’t all bad back then, as long as you were willing to be searched for sweets and gave up the swing when he demanded, you were usually fine, but cross him and you were likely to be beaten up. I lost count how many times my mam marched down to his house to have a row with his mam when Fatty had made my nose bleed.
     That was funny when the grown-ups argued, and when they were shouting in the street, me and Fatty would go up to his room and watch them out of the window. My dad never came though, coz it wouldn’t have been fair, Fatty didn’t have a dad, well, he did, sort of. It was just that he lived with the pretty lady at the end of the street who wore the small dresses and the skinny wellies. He wasn’t allowed into Fatty’s house any more, ever since he hit Fatty’s mam for calling the pretty lady a tart.
     Fatty Thomas bent down and picked up the Mole by the tail, dangling it front of us as we all inspected it in minute detail.
     ‘Look at its eyes,’ I whispered, ‘They are shut real tight.’
     ‘That’s coz it’s dead, you nutter,’ said Fatty. A tirade of abuse would surely have followed but for the timely intervention of Billy pointing out the pink paws.
     ‘Look at his hands,’ he said, ‘They are the same as ours.’ As Billy leant forward Fatty Thomas swung the recently deceased mole into his face, and burst into laughter as Billy screamed like a girl. Within seconds Fatty Thomas was chasing Billy Jenkins around the playground laughing at his victim’s terror.
     ‘I’m gonna make you eat worms,’ shouted Fatty Thomas, and chased Billy out of the park. I was horrified, surely not even Fatty Thomas would make anyone eat worms, it was against the law!’ I hurried after them, not quite sure what it was I could do to prevent it, but Billy was my mate after all.
     That had been fifty years ago, and here I was, half a century older, sat on my own swing, in my own back garden, nursing the answer to my nightmares.
     A place of quiet and solitude where the likes of Fatty Thomas were forbidden, A place to recall sunburn summers and snowman winters, looking back to the days of innocence when the threat of being made to eat worms, made a boy’s face freeze in time.
     I wonder what he would have looked like? Would he have grey hair like me, or would he be bald like Fatty Thomas? I would never know, I could only ever recall the Billy Jenkins that I knew back then. The clever seven year old who was going to be a doctor.
     I bet he would have made a great doctor, given the chance, perhaps even specialising in this growth that was consuming my innards.
     ‘No more radiotherapy,’ the doctors had said.
     ‘No more chemotherapy,’ I had decided.
     ‘Make your peace with God,’ the priest would have said, had I been religious.
     I bet Billy Jenkins wouldn’t have given up. I bet he would have cured me, had he grown up to be a doctor.
But he hadn’t grown up. He had slid under that bus almost gracefully, though there was no grace in the way his body was carried up into the wheel arch by the giant tyres. This time it was Fatty Thomas and me that stared at a body, our young minds not quite comprehending the consequences.
     ‘It’s your fault, ‘I said, ‘You were chasing him.’
     ‘No I wasn’t,’ said Fatty.
     ‘You were going to make him eat worms,’ I said, ‘You can go to jail for that.’
     ‘I wasn’t,’ shouted Fatty, and grabbed me by my collar.
     ‘Don’t you tell on me, Spotty four eyes,’ he said, his voice more threatening than I had ever heard it before, ‘Coz if you do, I will say it was you who dunnit,’ and just in case that wasn’t enough threat, he threw in the one thing he knew always worked with me, ‘And I’ll smash your face in as well.’
     I was a coward then, and am a coward still, so the story we told the policeman was one of an innocent game of chase. No mention of moles or worms, just a childhood accident. A tiny white lie that turned into a lifetime’s burden and one that I was reminded of every time I passed Fatty Thomas’s house on the way to the accountancy. Every time one of his brood scratched my car, or smashed my windows, I wished I had been stronger. But for fifty years I had been weak. Fifty years of turning the other cheek and ignoring the taunts of the bully of my youth, gradually replaced with those of his sons.
     But that was about to change. Two months was the prognosis, two months until I saw Billy again. But first there was something I had to do. Something I had promised myself fifty years ago when I had looked down into Billy’s grave, holding my mam’s hand. Something that I had put off till now.
     I peered through the conifer hedge, seeing Fatty Thomas’s four by four skid into his drive and I knew that this was it, and at last, I would actually carry it out.
     This was my time. He couldn’t hurt me anymore and I had nothing more to lose. It was time he paid the price for killing my best friend.
     ‘Don’t worry,’ I said to Billy in my mind, ‘This time, he’s the one who’s gonna get his face smashed in.’
I slid the cartridge into the chamber of the shotgun and snapped the barrel upwards to lock into the stock before marching out of the garden like John Wayne.
     ‘My name is Spotty four-eyes,’ I said out loud, ‘And Nobody makes my friend eat worms.’

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Kissing Game

     Shelley stood at the back of the cruise liner, watching the tired sun curtsey into the azure Aegean sea. The bubbles still clung to the sides of her champagne flute and she sipped sparingly, hardly daring to believe the magic that had enveloped her world in the space of a week. Any minute now she feared waking up to find it was all a dream.
     This sort of thing did not happen in real life, not to ordinary people like her. These were Barbara Cartland days, spiced with Jackie Collins nights, and she was absorbing every skin tingling second of it while it lasted. A hand touched her on the shoulder and that steam train ripple ran up her spine once again.
     ‘Happy, darling?’ asked Jeff, before kissing her gently on the neck. Shelley’s eyes closed as his arms wrapped around her, intoxicated with the thrill of the sensation.
     ‘More than you will ever know,’ she said as he rested his chin on her shoulder to share the view. They both sipped their champagne in silence, one considering the future, the other lost in the past.
     It hadn’t always been as good for Shelley, only a few months ago, she had been in a dark place, a lonely place, empty of emotion, devoid of love. A room where printed words screamed from carefully polished shelves. ‘With condolences,’ they said, ‘Deepest sympathy,’ cried others. Nothing more than mass produced cards without soul, bought by mass produced friends with no imagination.
     They had not known the Stuart she had known, not really. Stuart had been deep, and clever. He had an insight into life that most people didn’t understand. An unending well of warmth and trust that he was willing to share with anyone and everyone. ‘A man of many kisses,’ she had once called him and she could always tell what mood he was in by the touch of his lips. She used to play a game every morning when he kissed her goodbye before going to work. ‘What kiss,’ she had named it, and she would plan her day by the type received.
     Was it the kiss of the tired business man who just wanted to get home and relax with his wife? Or was it the playful linger that promised an evening out at the pub. Her favourite was the fiery kiss that caused her heart to race, knowing that she could look forward to a night of passion from the man of her dreams.
     But on that fateful day six months earlier, Stuart had introduced another kiss, a new one, an unknown one. One that she couldn’t decipher. The sort of kiss that meant ‘I wont be home tonight, for my body will be mangled in a car crash.’ That was against the rules of the game. Those sorts kisses weren't allowed, didn’t he know that?
     The following months were the worst of her life as she wallowed in a world of hurt, sodden pillows and un-drawn curtains her only companions. She had thought that was how her life would be from then on, despair the norm, but she hadn’t counted on Sally, her neighbour and best friend.
     Inch by inch, Sally dragged her from the depths of despair. Hour by hour and day by day Sally tricked her into facing the world again. Coffee mornings with pastry frills were replaced with shopping afternoons and wine bar nights. Friendship became the sponge for her tears and laughter the glue that repaired her broken heart. Stuart was never far from her thoughts but whenever sadness loomed over her like a nightmarish demon, Sally was there to overwhelm it with kindness and optimism.
     ‘It is what he would have wanted,’ was Sally’s mantra, and she was right, Stuart wouldn’t have wanted her to be sad. He would have wanted her to get on with her life.
     ‘There are more Stuarts out there,’ said Sally, ‘Not exactly the same, of course, but with the same values and the same gentle manner. All you have to do, is go out and find him. It’s what he would have wanted.’
Then came the day that would change her life forever, the fateful morning when Sally knocked on the door and waltzed in brandishing a set of tickets like Geisha girl’s fan.
     ‘Here we go,’ said Sally, ‘A fortnight in the Med on the Voyager of the Seas, and before you say anything, I’m not taking no for an answer. It will be magical.’
     Once again she was right. Fourteen cocktailed nights and sun soaked days, taking in the exotic places that only existed in the novels of her bedside table. Rome, Athens, Crete, Troy, they were all there, the haunts of gods and heroes. How could any girl fail to fall in love in such an environment?
     Yet again, Sally was right. There were good men out there, and though it was the last thing on her mind when she boarded the ship, here she was, in the strong embrace of her own god, her own hero. He even wore the same aftershave as Stuart, and, if she closed her eyes, just for a moment, she could almost imagine…But no, she had to remember this was Jeff, not Stuart and though it was sooner than expected, she had to accept that moving on was a part of life. She was allowed to seek the happiness she craved. Life was too short, and anyway, it was what Stuart would have wanted.
     Jeff had been a revelation, A knight in shining armour, riding to her emotional rescue, and the strangest thing was, she had known him all this time and hadn’t even given him a second glance. How on Earth hadn’t she noticed, He was a little taller than Stuart, and better built than Stuart, and his hair was exactly the same as Stuart’s, in fact it could almost be…
     ‘Stop it,’ she said to herself, once again, realising she had to stop comparing them. This was the time to move on. Jeff was here, and Stuart was, well…not. That’s all there was too it.
     The sun whispered its last goodbyes and as Jeff’s strong arms turned her around to kiss her deeply, her mind returned to the kissing game she once shared with Stuart.
     ‘What sort of kiss was this?’ she thought,
     A promise of lust? Definitely.
     A suggestion of love? Hopefully.
     A hint of greed?  Possibly.
     ‘Come on,’ said Jeff, picking up the half empty magnum of champagne, ‘Let’s take this back to the cabin.’
     She smiled at him, wondering again just how lucky she had been. To find someone so quickly after losing her husband was nothing short of miraculous. And she owed it all to Sally. It was she who had bought the extra ticket and made her come along. The cruise had been booked for almost a year, but after Stuart’s death, Sally had phoned the agent constantly until finally they confirmed there had been a cancellation and Sally had snapped up the last place for her friend.
     At first she had been doubtful. It wasn’t as if she couldn’t afford it as Stuart’s substantial insurance had come through and she was now a wealthy woman. She just thought it was a bit too soon, but her friend had been adamant.
     ‘Come on,’ Sally had nagged, ‘It will be wonderful. Me, you and Jeff together on holiday. We will have a great time.’
     And yet again, Sally had been right, she was having a wonderful time. How could she not? Jeff was indeed a wonderful man. Funny, attentive, handsome not to mention a fantastic lover. Sally had been very lucky to have been married to such a man.
     Shelley looked to the horizon once more, and blew a kiss towards the area where several blood stained pillow cases were now sinking slowly to the bottom of the Aegean, their gory contents already attracting the attention of the ever hungry fish.
     ‘Thank you, Sally,’ she whispered, ‘You were right. It’s what he would have wanted.’