Short Stories

The following short story was one of the first I wrote as part of my course.  It was inspired by my Aunt's fear of swimming and the fact that she had just started swimming lessons.  


I sit on the narrow bench and wrap my arms around me.   I feel my stomach churn as I stare at the steel grey locker in front of me.  There is an acid taste in my mouth. “Please don’t let me be sick,” I think to myself.  I can hear the steady ticking of a clock and the thumping of my heart.  As I stand up I catch sight of my reflection.  My eyes look enormous and dark against my pale face.  My legs wobble and I lean against the locker, pressing my forehead against the cool solid surface.  The cold is calming.  I close my eyes willing the memories from 30 years ago to dispel.  But they won’t go away. 

I am ten years old.  It is the summer holidays and the days seem to stretch forever.  We are at the river, a favourite spot and one we know well.  We have just eaten egg and cress sandwiches, washed down with bitter-sweet lemonade.  Our parents are stretched out on tartan picnic rugs laughing and chatting under the canopy of a gnarled tree, probably an oak.   My best friend Cathy and I are keen to be away and in the water.  I run over the grassy bank as Cathy chases me.  My long brown hair streams out behind me.  We arrive at the water panting.   My brother and his friends are already there.  They are splashing about and the air is full with the sound of their laughter. 
Turning away I go in search of my own piece of river.  I know exactly where to head for; a shallow area nestled into the bank, almost like a private beach.  I wade out into the depths.  As I leave the warm shallows, I shiver.  The rocks feel slimy underfoot and the smell is reminiscent of our garden pond.  Cathy bounds in, not minding the slime.  I head back to my beach.  I glance at the water below me.  An iridescent dragonfly hovers above the surface.  The sunlight makes dappled patches on the water like huge frog spawn.  I stay still and am delighted to see tiny silver fish darting around my feet.  They brush gently against my skin like the tip of a feather.   I wriggle my toes, enjoying the glutinous feel of the muddy silt and watch as the fish shoot away.  The sun is warm on my back. 
I hear a shout and look up to see Cathy waving at me.  She is balancing on a smooth shiny rock, which protrudes like an island from the inky depths in the middle of the river.   Cathy’s puny arms are stretched above her as she bows her head and prepares to dive.  I open my mouth to shout a warning, but too late, she is gone.  The water ripples out in concentric circles from the point where her body hit the surface.  Suddenly it erupts as her familiar mop of blonde hair breaks through.  She lets out a spluttered “Whoop” and beckons for me to come and join her.  I shake my head. 
I watch in admiration as Cathy gets ready to dive again, only this time she slips from the rock before her arms are ready and tumbles into the water at an odd angle.  I wait.  I stare at the surface, willing her to reappear.  There is no laughter.  I scream her name.  
Then, Dad is there, plunging into the water, his huge arms and legs thrashing about, his wet clothes clinging to his body.  I feel worried that Mum will be cross that he is in the river with his clothes on.  A second later Cathy’s Dad is beside him, his face twisted and contorted.  Then, Mum is by my side pulling me from the water and wrapping me in a towel.  I push against her warmth trying to see, but she holds me steady and everything is a blur as I am enveloped by Mum’s familiar bulk and smell.       
They said that Cathy had hit her head on the rock.  I never forgot the shattered look on her parent’s faces.   I couldn’t bear to go near water again.    

A locker bangs shut, bringing me back to the present.  I open my eyes and see a grey haired lady dressed in a fuschia pink swimming costume coming towards me.  
‘Are you part of the swimming group too?’ She asks and before I can answer she takes my hand saying, ‘Come along it’s my first time too.’ 

We walk side by side and she tells me that her name is Mavis and that she has decided to start swimming lessons at the age of 70.  Before I know it, we’re through the bulky swing doors and into the fluorescent glare.  The smell of chlorine pierces my nose.   I try not to notice the big expanse of water.   
‘You’ll be fine,’ Mavis says winking at me.  And I know she is right, this is the only way to be free.    



NB:  The following contains some mild swearing

‘I hear Frank’s taking his missus off to the Caribbean for Christmas.’   
‘You shouldn’t listen to gossip.’
Bob stared at his reflection; his grime-free face still surprised him.  He looked up and caught Vera’s gaze in the mirror as she watched from the doorway.  Her face, once full of laughter lines, was now creased by years of disappointment.  He suspected that marrying him was probably one of her biggest regrets.
‘Don’t know why you’re bothering to shave.  I see you haven’t fixed that dripping tap yet.  Anyway, it’s not gossip it’s a fact.  Oh how I’d love to get away from this dump……’  Vera’s voice trailed off and Bob could imagine her dreaming of exotic climes.  “Well wouldn’t we all?” he thought, but he was fighting for his way of life, for the community.  It was alright for Frank.  He was young and arrogant.  What did his generation know or care about communities and ethics?  No he just wanted to make a quick buck out of other peoples’ misfortunes.  It was people like Frank who were trying to break this strike.  Vera’s voice interrupted his brooding. 
‘Paul popped into the shop yesterday.  He’s being drafted over here to help police the picket lines.  They’re expecting trouble.’
Bob rubbed his eyes.  He knew this day would come. 
‘How was he?’
‘Oh he was fine.  He’s worried about you though and this bloody strike.  Anyway, I’d better get going.’  
He could hear her plodding heavily down the stairs.
‘Dinner will be ready at 6.30, yesterday’s leftover stew,’ she yelled.  The front door slammed and the house was silent.
Bob made his way to the kitchen and put the kettle on the gas ring.  He felt worn down by the weight of the struggle.  The strike was in its eighth month.  The gas ring let out a defeated hiss.  He had no spare change to feed the meter.  Sighing, he shrugged on his donkey jacket. The smell of bonfires lingered within its folds.  He stopped in his small front yard and looked back at his terraced house.  It was much like all the other grey houses that hemmed it in, nothing extraordinary, but it was their home.  He had worked hard for it.  This was the third month they had missed the mortgage payments and he wasn’t sure how much longer the bank would be sympathetic.    Luckily the little Vera earned from her job at the bakers helped, otherwise they would be surviving on a diet of potatoes and scrabbling for bits of free coal to burn like some of the other poor buggers in their street. 
Bob trudged up the hill pulling his black woollen hat further down over his head.  The sky was a dreary grey smudge above the horizon.   Bob heard the crowd before he saw them, a steady hum like bees in blossom, growing louder and louder as he neared the colliery.  His normal space was occupied by strangers with angry faces.  He had stood in the same spot for the last few months.  Normally the days passed in a haze of boredom.  The remit was simple, to stop vehicles leaving or entering the colliery.  Today the area was a swollen mass of bodies. Bob stamped his feet.  Someone had lit an oil drum and was feeding it odd bits of wood and Bob watched transfixed as the flames caught hold, licking at the edges of the timber.  He dabbed at his streaming eyes as he moved through the smoke toward the burning braziers and their welcome warmth. 
Bob looked up to see Ken, the strike coordinator, by his side.
 ‘The crowd seems different today,’ Bob said. 
‘It’s them flying pickets they’ve bussed in….’ Ken was interrupted by a loud jeering and the chanting of “scab” over and over again.  
A mini bus was wending its way through the crowds toward the colliery gates.  There were thuds as men hammered their fists on the windows and hurled missiles. Haltingly, the vehicle inched through the crowds.  The gates closed behind the minibus and for a moment a hush descended.  The miners knew that the next piece of action would be the minibus coming out of the colliery with the men who had just finished their shift.  Fists were raised at the ready as the vehicle surged forward through the gates.  It was surrounded by a ring of policemen.  Bricks, stones and any other rubbish that was to hand, rained down on the bus.  Through one of the windows Bob was sure he had seen Frank.  He would recognise that cocky smirk anywhere.  Again the minibus meandered slowly through the crowd. 
The policemen, with a look of grim determination, held their stance, their riot shields at the ready.  The miners met their gaze with equal conviction.   The battle lines were drawn.  One miner had donned a policeman’s helmet. “Goodness knows where he’d got it from,” thought Bob as the joker went up and eyeballed the policeman stood in front of him.  It seemed to Bob that the crowd held its’ collective breath. Then, someone threw a stone. It flew through the air in a great arc making contact with a policeman’s face.  He went down and the spell was broken.  The crowd surged as one.   Policemen, their truncheons lashing out, tried to push the crowd back.   Bob struggled to remain upright.  Then he saw him.  For a second, father and son locked eyes.  The years fell away and Bob could feel Paul’s small hand pressed in his, the little boy’s face filled with wonder, as they waited to see Forest play for the first time.  A shove brought Bob back to the present and suddenly he was being swept along by a wave of bodies.  There was another sound, the braying of horses.  The mounted police joined the foray.  At one point the flank of a horse grazed Bob’s arm.  The beast was huge and Bob feared he would be trampled by the animal’s hooves.  He lost his foothold and began to fall when he felt a hand on his arm. 
‘You alright?’  Ken said steadying him as he dragged him to one side.
The mood had changed so quickly. Around them, men limped or clutched bloodied heads.  Policemen were hauling miners to waiting vans. In the distance a camera crew was recording the events for tonight’s news bulletin.  Bob scanned the crowd, but it was difficult to pick out Paul from amongst the other policemen.  He hated to think about his lad being involved in this mess.  Would things ever be the same between them?   
‘How ‘bout calling it a day eh?’  Bob met Ken’s gaze.  He was sure Ken had seen Paul.  As if he had read his mind, Ken added. ‘Your lad’s just doing his job.’
‘Yeah well I wish I could do mine.’
‘Don’t be too hard on him eh.  He’s working class like the rest of us,’ Ken said.
‘Don’t want to talk about it.’
‘How ‘bout I buy you a pint eh?’ Ken said.
‘Sounds good,’ Bob said.  ‘I’ve had enough for one day.’   
The streets were deserted, with many of the shop fronts boarded up.  Bob and Ken made their way to the Bull, which they knew would be quiet as it was located well away from the action.       
As they pushed open the door they heard Geoff the landlord saying, ‘we don’t serve scabs in here.’ 
‘That’s how it is is it?  I’ll take my money elsewhere then.’  Frank looking flushed and stony faced swaggered towards them.     
Bob held the door open and couldn’t resist a sneer in Frank’s direction.
‘Another hard day at the pickets?’  Frank laughed as he passed them.
‘What did you say?’  Bob roared.
But Frank had disappeared through the door. 
Bob went after him and, as he rounded the corner into an alleyway, he caught him, yanking him by the collar of his jacket.  
‘What did you say?’ Bob yelled turning him around.
‘You heard.  Now get your hands off me.’ Frank said.
‘You should be ashamed of yourself.’  Ken said joining them.
‘Why’s that then eh?  We weren’t balloted so I’ve got a right to work.’ Frank said defiantly.
‘You’re a scab.’ Bob said.  ‘Your dad would be turning in his grave if he could see you now.’ 
‘Yeah well me and the missus will be off out of it this Christmas with all the overtime I’m earning.’  Frank laughed, then, thrusting his face close to Bob’s he hissed, ‘at least I’m not a copper.’
Bob swung his right fist at Frank, the full force of his body behind the blow as it smashed into his face.  Frank fell to the ground, sliding across the cobbles.         
            ‘Not so big now are yer.’  Bob said kicking Frank in the stomach.
Frank groaned.
‘Get up.’  Bob yelled.
‘C’mon, leave him, he’s not worth it,’ Ken said.
‘He’s a scab.  He needs to be taught a lesson.’
‘You’ve taught him one he won’t forget in a hurry. Now c’mon before someone sees us.’  Ken said, placing his hand firmly on Bob’s arm.  ‘Let’s go.’
Reluctantly Bob let himself be dragged away.

They made their way back to The Bull where Geoff had a pint of Best waiting for them. 
‘On the house,’ he said waving away Ken’s attempt to pay.
They sat at their usual table and mused how things had changed.   
‘I’ve known Frank all me life.  I watched him grow up.  We used to be friends me and his father, before black lung finished him,’ Bob sighed. 
‘This bloody strike has turned neighbour against neighbour.’
‘We need to stick together if we’re to win.  It’s not just our jobs, but our way of life we’re fighting for.  Bloody Maggie Thatcher,’ Bob said.
‘Yeah, what does she know eh?  Bet she’s never wondered where her next meal’s coming from,’ Ken sighed.
Mining was the only life Bob knew.  It had been the same for his father before him.   He had been glad when Paul had chosen a career in the police force. Mining was hard.    Paul, their only child, had been Vera’s one bright hope.  She had been so proud of him.  They both had.  Then the strike had happened and now they were on different sides. 
His thoughts were interrupted by Ken. ‘We’ll win yer know.  The same as we did in the 70’s.’
‘Hmm.  It feels different this time.  How much longer before the Torries back down?’ Bob asked.  ‘Someone was saying the other day the union’s running low on funds.’
‘You don’t want to take any notice of propaganda,’ Ken said. 
‘I don’t remember all this violence in the 70’s.  I can’t stomach it.’
‘Yer could have fooled me,’ laughed Ken.
‘Do you think we should go back and check he’s OK like?’ Bob whispered.
‘What?  Oh Frank you mean?’
‘Now you’re just being soft. You wanted to kill him a few minutes ago.  Nah he’ll be fine.’ Ken said nudging him. ‘Another pint?’ 
‘Nah I best be getting back to the missus.  See yer tomorrow.’

Guilt had set in as Bob had known it would.  What on earth was he doing beating up a man just because he chose to work?  These were hard times and Frank made his blood boil, with all his bravado.   Still, he supposed part of it was the arrogance of youth and he should have known better than allow himself to be riled.  He rubbed his aching knuckles.  He was getting too old for this lark.  Vera would laugh at him if she found out he had been in a brawl; a laugh full of scorn.  He was in no hurry to go home to face Vera or their cold cheerless living room. 
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said to himself as he made his way to the alleyway where they had left Frank.  He did not know what he would do if he was still lying there.  The cobbles were shiny with dew and his frosty breath enveloped him as he made his way to the alleyway.  He pulled the collar of his jacket up around his ears and entered the gap between the houses, the moon lighting his way.  The silence was broken by the crunch of his boots on the clinker strewn surface.   He was relieved to see the spot where they had left Frank was deserted.   Frank couldn’t have been that badly injured after all.  He turned to walk away, smiling as he thought of Ken’s reaction – he would call him a daft bugger for sure.   It was then that his foot struck something soft.  Tripping, he fell to the ground.  He crawled along the rough surface, groping through the darkness.  His hand touched something warm and sticky.  Squatting, he fumbled in his pocket for the torch he always carried.  The light wavered in his shaking hand. 
Frank lay before him, his right hand outstretched as if he had been caught mid-crawl.  The right side of his handsome face was now a grotesque pulpy mess.  Surely he hadn’t hit him that hard?  It was then he realised his feet were standing in a pool of Frank’s blood, which was trickling from his head.  Frank stared up at him, his glassy eye unseeing.  By the side of his head lay a hammer, its cool steel glinting, almost winking at him, under the flickering torch-light.  Bob gagged and the torch cluttered to the ground.  He turned and, rising up, sped away, his boots slipping over the wet cobbles as he ran down the street.  
With shaking hands he unlocked his front door.  He could hear Coronation Street blaring out from the T.V.  Well at least he wouldn’t have to face Vera yet.  Nothing came between her and Corrie. 
‘What time d’yer call this then?  S’pose you’ve been to the pub?  Tell me how I’m meant to find the money to feed us eh, if you’re spending what little we’ve got down that bloody pub?  And take those filthy boots off before you go traipsing up them stairs.’ Vera’s voice vibrated in the hallway as he ran to the bathroom. 
He held his hands under the taps and watched as the running water turned pink.  He splashed his face.  The coldness stung, bringing everything into sharp focus.  He turned the tap off and straightened.  He stared at his reflection. His grey grizzled hair stood on end and his dark eyes looked huge in his pale face.  He’d managed to smear blood over his jacket where he had groped for the torch. 
‘Don’t drain that hot water tank, it’s washing day tomorrow.’  Vera yelled.  ‘D’yer hear me?’  He heard her frustrated sigh before the T.V. began blaring out once again.
He steadied himself against the basin, it’s dripping tap matching the rapid beating of his heart.  A blue-grey was spreading over the knuckles on his right hand like a stain.   The fight had been fair and square.  He would never do anything as underhand as to use a hammer.  He tore off his jacket.   It was then he realised he had left his torch behind. 

2,518 words


Reading Notes

I began by asking “whose story is it?”  I saw this as being Bob’s story and chose to write it from his narrative point of view.  I wanted to introduce an element of conflict in addition to the striking/non-striking miners’ story. I did this by using the father/son striker/policeman as a conflicting contrast and to give the story depth.   I found many examples, while doing my research, of relationships put under strain or broken down completely due to the miners’ strike. I paid attention to the dialogue, (my tutor had previously commented on a previous short story of mine (Silent Witness first version) that my dialogue was unrealistic), I was keen to get this one right.  In order to make my dialogue realistic I used grammatical errors and repeated speech patterns. I purposely chose to leave the ending open, remembering that a story does not have to resolve every aspect of the plot.  I wanted to leave the reader wondering how Bob’s predicament was going to be resolved.  


SHORT STORY  3 - 2,200 words

The following is another piece I wrote for one of my early Open University assignments.  I remember at the time that one of the tutor's comments was I had written too much back-story.  I see where she is coming from now.


The television is on, but I’m not really taking any notice.  I’m relishing some time to myself.  Suddenly something catches my eye and I look up to see my parents’ image flickering across the screen.  I fumble with the remote and the room is filled with my Mum’s strained voice. 
‘It’s been 30 years since Martin left home.  He was 15 years old at the time.  We haven’t heard anything since.  The last 30 years have been a nightmare and we can’t move on until we know what has happened to him.’  Her voice falters.  My Dad pats her arm and looks directly at the camera.  His eyes bore into mine.  
‘We just want closure,’ he whispers.
The words stab me in the chest.  They are clutching a photo of me, aged 15.  I’m wearing tight corduroy trousers and a V-necked jumper.  My hair is wild and wavy and my eyes look sad.  Dad seems to have shrunk and his curly hair has all gone.  Physically Mum looks the same apart from her hair, which is now a muted grey.
They disappear, to be replaced by the smiling breakfast T.V. presenters.  I put my mug down on the coffee table, but my hand shakes and the hot liquid spills over the side, burning my fingers.  I stagger to my feet, and go to look for a cloth to mop up the mess.  “It’s a good job Dan has already left for work,” I think.
The dishwasher is whirring when I enter the kitchen.  I clutch the side of the chrome sink and try to calm the erratic beating of my heart.  I stand still, eyes closed, breathing deeply.  After a few minutes I grab a cloth and go back into the lounge.  The room is still full of the laughter and chatter of the T.V. presenters.  I flick the remote and the apartment falls silent.  My eyes move around the room taking in the huge L-shaped leather sofa.  One wall is dominated by the flat screen television, which is now in sleep mode.  On the opposite wall is a framed photo of Dan, his Mum and me, taken at his 40th Birthday party two years ago.   Dan’s Mum stands in the middle with an arm lovingly wrapped around each of us.  Her eyes sparkle with vitality and it is hard to believe she is no longer with us.  A hi-fi system and two giant Bose speakers stand at opposite corners of the room.  Idly I flick through our record collection.  I place a 7 inch vinyl on the state of the art turntable.  I stand up and walk over to the window.

As David Bowie’s voice fills the lounge, I’m a lonely 15 years old again, staring out of my bedroom window, watching the other boys kicking a football around on a patch of concrete and wondering why I feel different.

The view I have today is a far cry from the one I grew up with.  From up here you can see the sinuous curves of the river with the O2 centre and the Gherkin in the distance.  It is a view that I love, but today, as I watch the raindrops sliding down the glass, it brings me no comfort. 
As I mop up the coffee my hand brushes against the velvet heads of the roses standing in the vase.  Loose petals float down onto the surface.  Some of the petals merge with the spilt coffee and change from pink to brown.  I wipe the table and dispose of the cloth.  I start to make myself some toast, but then realise I’m no longer hungry.
I’m like a caged animal as I pace through the apartment, my footsteps echoing on the laminated flooring.  It is a hollow sound and reflects how I feel. 

Going into the bathroom I run the cold tap and splash water onto my face.  I stare at my reflection.  I have grown more confident.  My hazel eyes are alive and happy.  I no longer resemble the awkward 15 year old in the photo.

Memories of my old life come flooding back.  I had been brought up in a small Victorian terrace house.  It was one of a row of five and, as they were owned by the council, they all had matching green doors.  There was a small strip of earth at the front of the house, bounded by a low grey concrete wall, too small to be called a front garden.  A strong smell of urine lurked whenever you walked up the short path to the front door, courtesy of the punters leaving the pub on the corner late at night.  We were on the bus route and the house shook constantly with the roar of traffic thundering by.  The net curtains at the windows were grey with the fumes from the cars.  My Dad was a big burly builder.  He was amicable enough, but was loud and coarse and, when he had too much to drink, would lose his temper.  My Mum was a gentle creature who loved us both deeply.  Money was scarce. 
At the weekends, Dad liked to play rugby.  He was keen for me to take an interest in the sport, but being tall and thin I didn’t have the right physique.  I did try it once, just to keep him happy.  I ended up in the A&E department of the local hospital.  Dad never asked me again.  Drawing and music were my passions.  They still are.   
Dad caught me sketching once.
‘What’ve you got there son?’ he said.
‘Oh it’s nothing.’ I said hiding my pad, knowing he wouldn’t appreciate my artistic style.  It was too late.  Dad held out his hand.  It was the first time I had ever shown him any of my artwork.  I watched him scrunch up his eyes as he studied the page.  He turned it this way and that.  I looked on, hoping he would be impressed.  Instead, he shook his head and, with a look of bewilderment, handed it back to me.
I liked to shut myself away in my bedroom and listen to my music as I sketched.  I had no siblings and no friends.  It was the end of 1979 and the music scene was being influenced by the New Romantic movement.  I loved their music and the way they looked with their made-up faces.  I was infatuated with Steve Strange and, when I was sure my parents were out of the house I would help myself to Mum’s make-up bag and try and imitate his look.
I had a fairly traditional working class upbringing.  Mum would insist that we sat at the dining table for all our meals.  I seemed to recall that Dad had a fried egg for breakfast every morning.  He would flick through the newspaper as he ate, moaning about the fact we had a woman Prime Minister.  It must have been the Sun as, I remember, one morning he waved page 3 at me. 
‘What do you think of her?  Not bad eh.’  He said winking at me across the breakfast table. 
‘Oh leave the lad alone.’ My Mum had said.  I think Mum knew that I was different.
I spent more and more time on my own.  I began to despise school and started to skip lessons.  There was one particular boy, Aubrey Dean, who made my life hell.  He was a good foot taller than me.  I had gone to school that last day as I hadn’t wanted to miss my art lesson.  As I walked home I was aware that Aubrey and his entourage were following me.
I was determined not to run, so I just kept walking, quickly.  Suddenly, my breath left me as the collar of my shirt was yanked back, nearly choking me. 

‘You’re a pansy, aren’t you?’ Aubrey had jibed before he had drawn back his fist and hit me in the face.  The force of his punch sent me sprawling on the ground.  When I was sure they were gone I picked myself up and headed for home. 
It was a Wednesday so I knew Mum would be at the laundrette and I wouldn’t have to explain my bruised face just yet.
It was in that moment that I decided.  I couldn’t face explaining yet another black eye to my parents and putting up with Dad’s comments that I needed to fight back and not be such a weakling.  I found the old biscuit tin of money that Mum kept in the kitchen for paying bills.  With shaking hands I emptied the contents out onto the white laminated worktop.  I quickly sifted through the change, about £10.  Then I spotted the £20 note folded at the bottom.  I remember my cheeks burning with shame as I scooped Mum’s money into my jacket pocket.  I went up the stairs to my bedroom and looked around the room for the last time.  It held no joy for me apart from my beloved record collection.  I picked out a few 7 inch records.  I stuffed a couple of singles by my favourite artists, Visage and Spandau Ballet, inside my holdall.  I wasn’t sure what I would do with them without a record player, but I couldn’t leave them behind.  I grabbed my artist pad and a jumper.  A poster of David Bowie with kohl rimmed eyes stared back at me from the wall.  I slung my small holdall over my shoulder and headed for the railway station.  As I sat in the smoky carriage of the train, I felt free. 
The first few years in London had been hard and I had been forced to do some horrible things.  There were times when I was tempted to go back to my parents.  I remember one Christmas I rang them, just to hear Mum’s voice.  I stood in the phone box breathing in the stale cigarette smell and picturing the phone ringing in the magnolia painted hallway.
‘Hello.  Hello. Who’s there?  Look I know there is someone there.  Martin is that you?’  Tears had streamed down my cheeks as, without a word, I had replaced the receiver. 
Then one day I got a lucky break and things started to change.  Of course I had meant to contact my parents, just to let them know I was OK, but in the end I buried them, along with the horrors of my first years in London.  I invented a new life for myself.

Now here I am, 30 years later.  I have a good career, a smart apartment and a loving partner. 
I’m still pacing the floor.  I can’t rid myself of the picture of Dad’s eyes staring at me from the screen.  He had looked like he was begging to be put out of his misery.  I would write to them that’s what I would do.  I go to my study and sit down at my oak desk.  On the wall in square frames, are the two 7 inch vinyl records I had taken with me 30 years ago.  They are the only link to my past that I have kept.  I take some note paper from the desk drawer.  I chew on the end of the pen, a bad habit of mine, as I think about what to write.  I love the life I have now.  Dan thinks my parents are dead.  That is the story I told everyone.  How could I un-tell it?  What would people think of me?  What would Dan say?  He missed his own Mum terribly, he just wouldn’t understand why I would tell such a horrible lie.  He often said that he felt I was the only person who knew what he had gone through when he lost his Mum.  I would be exposed as a fraud.  As for my parents, they were better off without me.
Then I remembered how old and frail Mum and Dad had looked on the T.V and how they had clutched the photo of me as if it was their most treasured possession.  All they wanted was closure.  Surely I owed them that much? 
My pen moves across the paper as I write and tell them about my life.  I tell them about my job as a graphic designer.  I describe the smart apartment where I live.  I even tell them about Dan and how happy we are together.  When I write these words I smile as I remember what a mixed up teenager I had been.  The words flow from my pen.  I picture my parent’s happy relieved faces when they read my letter. 
I carefully fold the crisp white paper into three and insert it into an envelope.  I scribble their address on the front in my spidery handwriting and search in my wallet for a first class stamp.  I stare at the envelope, turning it over and over in my hands.  I open the drawer of my desk and gently place the envelope on the top of a pile of similar envelopes.  I lock the drawer, pick up my keys and close the door.  My old life would remain buried it was better that way.

2,202 words

Reading Notes

The idea for the story came from a news item I had seen about two elderly parents appealing for information about their son who had disappeared 30 years ago.  I asked the question “what if their son was watching their appeal?”  I was happy writing the story in the first person as I felt to write it in third person would have detached the reader too much from the character of Martin.  I hope I managed to convey that, although a horrible lie to tell, Martin is a nice person.  I asked myself “What does Martin achieve in the course of the story?”  The answer is that Martin realises he is happy with who he is today without his parents approval.


The following is a short story I have written recently.  I set out with the aim of making the reader to first feel dislike for the narrator, but then to feel sorry for her.  I'm not sure it's worked.  At the moment it has two endings and I'm still trying to decide which ending I prefer.  It's a bit gloomy!  

‘They placed you in my arms.  I felt nothing.’
The heavily pregnant girl shifts in her seat and looks away, but not before I see the hurt in her eyes, but I’ve got to be cruel to be kind so I carry on, reminding myself that she has been okay without me for the last eighteen years.   
‘Your Dad married me because I was pregnant.  If I had had my own way I would have terminated, but your Dad talked me round to the idea of keeping you and as he’s a decent fellow he insisted we get married.  It was a small ceremony in Poole registry office.  A few drinks at a local pub afterwards.  My parents came to the ceremony.  They sat, there saying nothing, their anger simmering away, like a pot on a stove.  I never heard from them again.’
I take a cigarette out of the packet lying on the table.   
‘Want one?’
She shakes her head and her glossy brown hair swishes before falling back in waves around her face.
‘I don’t s’pose you have a light?’
She slides a lighter across the Formica table.  I notice her fingers.  They are long and delicate, the nails buffed and polished.  There is no wedding band.  I glance down at my own fingers, nails bitten down to the quick.  I look up.  She is watching me with those emerald eyes, her father’s eyes.  I realise she is waiting for me to continue.  I flick the lighter and ignite the cigarette inhaling deeply, enjoying the hit of nicotine.  I blow the smoke up into the air and continue.
‘I tried to adapt, but I was only 17.  I had my whole life ahead of me and then, wham, you came along.  Your Dad found us a tiny flat.  It was above a fish and chip shop and all day long the stench of fat and vinegar mingled with the smell of ammonia from your nappies.  I was stuck in that dump unable to go anywhere.  We had left my hometown you see, so I knew no one.  We had moved for your Dad’s work.  He had said the new job had more prospects.  He always had big ideas your Dad, can you imagine a poky flat above a chip shop and he was happy?’ 
I laugh as I say this, but she doesn’t smile.  I carry on.   
‘He tried to do his best, but he didn’t understand what I was going through.  It was okay for him.  He got to escape every day to work.  His life hadn’t changed.  Then, one day I’d had enough.  For once you were sleeping peacefully in your cot.  I knew your Dad would be home soon.  It was five o’clock and he was always home by six for his tea.  I took off.  “She’ll be okay,” I thought.
The feeling of freedom as I stepped outside. I can remember it now.  It was all new to me you see.  It was as I was passing a boarded up pub that I heard music.  The door was open and I followed the sound down a corridor to a room with a dance floor.  The room was shaking with the beat from Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” and couples were gyrating to the music.  That’s when I realised there was more to life.’
I flick the ash from my cigarette into an old polystyrene cup and watch it dissolve into the residue of tepid tea.    
‘Of course I knew your Dad wouldn’t be happy, but it wasn’t as if I’d been unfaithful or anything.  When I got back later that evening he was waiting for me.  Two red spots on his cheeks, a sign he was angry, which he didn’t get very often.  In fact the only other time I had seen him so angry was when I had said I wanted to end the pregnancy.  He ranted at me for leaving you on your own, but you were okay.  I knew you would be, mother’s intuition I guess.’  I laugh, but again she remains silent.
‘A seed had been sown that day.  It wasn’t long before I met someone.  He made me feel special, alive and young again.  He was like a drug and I was the addict.  He didn’t know about you, but he did know I was married.  You were 18 months when I left.  I packed a small suitcase.  Stroked your cheek, telling you to be a good girl and then I walked out. “She’ll be okay,” was the thought that kept my feet moving, every step taking me away from you and that crummy flat. Your life would have been terrible with me.  I never forgot you though.  Each year I remembered your birthday; of course I did, every year without fail I thought “she’ll be okay.” 
She starts to cry, small hiccup sounds.  I look around at the other people in the bus station cafĂ©.  It’s not the nicest of places to be having such a discussion.  I put out my arm to touch her hand, but then think better of it.    
‘Look don’t cry.  It’s not good to upset yourself in your condition.  Your Dad brought you up ok didn’t he?  You see I knew he would.  He only had eyes for you.’
I watch her hand crumple the tissue she is holding into a ball.  I throw the remains of my cigarette into the polystyrene cup, it hisses as it hits the milky liquid.     
‘Gosh is that the time?’ I say looking at my watch.  ‘My bus will be along soon.’    
The chair scrapes along the floor as I stand up.  I see her hesitate, but before she can say anything I walk out of her life for the second time.  In the doorway I turn back.  She is still sitting there.  I feel a sudden urge to go to her, to wrap my arms around her.  Then I remind myself that “she’ll be okay.” 

1,000  words


‘Mum,’ I turn back.  The word sounds alien on her lips.
‘I won’t be okay.  I’ve nowhere to go.  He’s thrown me out,’
It’s then I see the hastily packed rucksack under the table.   Is this my second chance?


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