Submissions from the March 2021 challenge An error of judgement. I hope you enjoy them. If possible it would be useful if you could read the submissions, provide constructive feedback to the author and make any general comments over on our Facebook page or comment below, please tag the author and title.
Hester Lott – Trust
He was 17 with an ego the size of Buckingham Palace. She was 16 and hers would barely have filled a chicken coop. He had long curly dark hair, rich brown tanned skin, a soft Canadian accent and the exotic look of someone you might bump into in a traveller´s hostel in Katmandu. She was plump and ginger, large-boned and clumsy, and would have looked more at home in the pick-your-own veggies shed on a Devon farm than in the common room of the music school where they met.
He played the piano and wrote songs and poetry, all designed with the purpose of seducing women. She played the flute and wrote stuff, all with the purpose of expressing her innermost angst and developing her ‘creative autonomy’. He was just back from a summer spent in an isolated cottage on the Cote d’Ázur, drinking red wine and eating baguette, warm tomatoes off the vine and brie. She had had a summer job in a day nursery in Chiswick.
When, a year later, he asked her to marry him she asked him why? He said he´d never done it before. They laughed and sealed the deal with a joint. She was 18. She adored him, was flattered by the fact that he liked her, and thought that marriage didn’t really mean anything anyway. It was just a laugh. He liked her, and her big soft white breasts were a novelty for him, who had always had skinny Jewish girlfriends with flat chests back in Montreal.
They married in Brixton registry office just by chance on Valentine´s day. She had bought herself a silver filigree ring from the market and wore a Laura Ashley maxi dress with grey flowers on a white background. A couple of stoned friends turned up to sign the document, but the friend with the camera, Jeremy, forgot to get a film so there were no pictures. The next morning, rolling off the mattress on the floor where they slept, he stood on the ring and squashed it flat. That was February. At Easter he disappeared for a couple of weeks while she was staying with her Mum in Devon. He had been staying with his best friend´s sister. He told her he was so grateful to her that she had given him the confidence to hit on Carla, as he had wanted to for ages and never dared. She hit him and cried. A lot.
They went to Canada where she was introduced to his extended Jewish family. They were not overly enthralled by this ginger, plump goy he had brought back from Europe, especially his mother, who was overtly hostile. The plan was to stay for a year and go back to the UK in time for the new term at Sussex University where he had got a place studying French Literature and Language.
Are you one step ahead of me here?
They moved to Toronto and both got a series of low skilled jobs, her as a cocktail waitress, initially, and then, when she realised what it meant when men shoved dollar bills down her cleavage or waistband, she switched to the restaurant business. They saved money, which for her was no problem as she worked double shifts, mostly, and had no inclination to go out and party at night. And she still adored him and was living life to the full.
Unfortunately, I cannot continue the pattern established so far of alternating he and she passages. That is because I have no idea what he was thinking or how he felt about the state of affairs. I´m sure he was fond of her. She let him spend his free time writing, and she read his poems and encouraged him. She complimented him on his songs and they sometimes played flute and piano together. And he? I think he was probably happy to have an understanding, appreciative partner and was excited about his future, getting lost in the elaborate maze of French existentialist literature, and the exquisite ornamental gardens of French impressionist music. But if she made a fuss or questioned him she was punished by the withdrawal of his love. They returned to the UK in August and he allowed her to use some of the money they had saved to buy herself some clothes. She went to Biba and bought a suit, brown with tiny gold spots, with long, tight cuffs and a row of tiny, fabric covered buttons. Beautiful. And during the year she had lost the plumpness, cut her hair short at Vidal Sassoon, and was transformed. But inside she still had the chicken coop sized ego and a burning terror of losing him. She worked for a temp agency in Brighton doing dreary placements in admin, 9 to 5, in a range of local businesses. His infidelity and the heavy drinking started in earnest. It was cheap drinking in student bars, and very convenient that most of the girls lived in student study bedrooms on campus. He assured her they had never agreed to be exclusive and that he had no intention of being so. He was in paradise in the French department bursting with romantic, intelligent, young Francophile women. A fox in the chicken coop.
The marriage didn´t last very long. She got fed up with doing dull, dead end jobs and being cheated on. She applied to University and he went on his year abroad in Paris, from where he would write her long pretentious letters full of junk philosophy and updates on his latest French girlfriend. ‘I have loved many women, but you are the only one I will always love.’ He wrote to her on blue airmail paper. When he came back from France she was living in London and did not want him back.
Their divorce came through one day by post a couple of years later and she felt a jolt in her stomach, but no tears. Marrying him had simply been an error of judgement.
Colin Lyne – The Train – an error of judgment (of character)
Union Square to Green Point, 11pm. Day six of the holiday and they hadn’t done that combination before. Their niece had insisted on them going to Katz’s Deli. “You haven’t done Manhattan if you haven’t done Katz’s,” she’d said.
The blast of hot air as they rode down the escalator was burnt toast.
The platform was empty, save for three or four solitary figures spaced apart, eyes fixed on their cell phones.
New York is one big film set as everyone knows. The family – man and woman with their 11-year-old son – had already imagined themselves into a Rom Com in Chelsea and a Musical in Radio City.
Tonight was the turn of the Suspense movie. The minutes passed and there was no sign of a train.
Suddenly, a skeletal figure in a baseball cap came out from under the archway behind them. He walked right up to the family, looked them up and down and then stared in the woman’s eyes. A second later, without saying anything he pulled out his phone and headed along the platform.
“Oh, my God!” said the woman.
After another while, a squealing of brakes could be heard, and two lights appeared in the mouth of the tunnel.
“Is it this one?” the woman said.
“I don’t know, but we’d better get on.”
“And if it’s the wrong one?”
“We’ll change further down.”
“Are you sure?”
The carriage doors creaked.
“Come on, let’s get on…” The man said.
Once on the train, they stood in the space immediately inside the doors. The man looked at the subway map above his head.
“Well?” The woman said. “Is it this one?”
“Let me see…” the man said.
The woman looked at the boy and they both shrugged their shoulders.
“Why don’t you ask someone?” the woman said.
The man turned to look around the carriage.
There were only three other passengers.
Standing just a few yards away, clutching a vertical bar with both hands, was a frail old man in a raincoat.
The man wondered why he hadn’t sat down.
Until he saw the other two passengers.
In the middle seat of a row of five was a huge black man. His body was much wider than the seat itself. And he was tall too – his knees were at the same height as his shoulders. He was glowering ahead as if he was waiting for someone to fight with – the other people in the carriage were clearly below his consideration. The boy imagined him suddenly getting up at any minute and unfolding his gigantic frame. That would be the beginning of the Terror movie they hadn’t been in yet.
The only other passenger was further down the carriage on the opposite side. He was a Latino. In a tight-fitting black shirt and black leather trousers, he was sitting with his legs splayed apart. Through sunglasses he was observing his reflection in the window opposite. He had a long gold necklace with a skull pendant and selection of gold and silver rings on his fingers. He was scarier than the black man. In any movie he would be the real baddie. The boy was sure he had a stiletto knife tucked in his trousers.
“Well?” the woman said.
The man looked at the map again.
“You won’t see anything there,” she said.
The man coughed and turned to the old man beside them.
“Excuse me? Greenpoint?”
“Come again!” the old man’s voice was wheezy.
The old man raised his chin as if someone had just made him a complex philosophical proposition.
“Greenpoint,” the man repeated. “We’re not sure which line to take.”
The old man scratched his forehead. “Greenpoint…” he said.
The woman raised her eyes to heaven.
The man breathed out loudly.
The boy looked from one to the other. It was going to be a while before they got back to Greenpoint to have another of cousin Jessie’s brownies.
Suddenly, a voice enveloped the whole carriage as if it was coming from the depths of the earth. It said only one word: “Lexington!”
“Lexington!” the black man repeated. He’d raised one finger and was looking at the family. “You need the H train.” The words growled from his mouth.
“Oh!” said the man. “The H train. Ok!”
Then, a moment later, another voice came from further down the carriage.
The Latino man had taken off his sunglasses and they were hanging from his little finger.
“No, man. It’s Lexington, sure. But then the M train. You know?” Pure New York twang.
The black man looked over at him, thoughtful.
“M train, you say?”
The Latino man nodded several times. “Williamsburg’s the one.”
The black man nodded: “Lexington…then the M train.” He repeated slowly.
The Latino man went on: “Two more stops, then Greenpoint…”
“Oh yeah!!!” the black man slapped one of his enormous knees. His voice louder than ever. “Oh yeah! The M train!! What d’ya think? Shoulda known.”
The Latino man smiled and replaced his sunglasses. “I’m from Prospect…You know.”
“Oh yeah! Prospect!! Hey, you the man!”
The black man turned to the family.
“You hear that?” he said.
“Yes!” The three of them said in unison.
He raised his finger to them again.
“Here’s Lexington now.” It was true – the train was slowing. “Get off here. Take the M train. Two stops past Williamsburg. You got that?”
“Thank you!” the family said.
As the doors opened, the black man turned again to the Latino Man. Before the family stepped off the train, they heard him say:
“Hey. Prospect. Yeah. You the man…”
Ian Hicken – A door ajar
“Do you think we ought to go across and see if everything is OK?” asked Joan. “There are lights on upstairs and his car is on the drive.”
Bill looked up from his crossword. “Best keep out of, it has nothing to do with you and they wouldn’t thank you for interfering, you know what they say about him.”
Joan left her strategically placed gap in the curtain and headed for the hallway. She’d decided to telephone Margaret and Ted to see if they’d heard the screaming and shouting. “Besides, Margaret can hear a pin drop.”
Bill picked up his dictionary and flicked through his battered copy of the Oxford Concise Dictionary. “The last thing we need is to be known as the nosey neighbours, why you just can’t let it drop I don’t know, the next thing you’ll know is when he comes over here and bops one of us on the nose for not minding our own business.”
Margaret shouted back, “it said on Facebook that he’s known as a wife batterer, bloody disgusting that scum like that should work with children. Hello Margaret, have you heard anything from next door? It’s just that Philip and his wife were passing with the dog and heard a tremendous commotion…” Joan listened intently, nodding, humming and ahah-ing. “Well if you get to know what’s going on, give us a call, bye, yes bye.” “Well?” inquired Bill.
Half an hour passed and the back doorbell chimed. Margaret and Frank stood well-wrapped and smiling under the light from a neighbouring street-lamp.
“It’s only us,” said Margaret.
“Come in, come in” beckoned Joan, “I’ll pop the kettle on, go through, Bill’s doing his crossword and there’s nothing on telly, I’ll be through in a minute.”
Margaret and Frank made their way to the lounge, popped their coats on the back of the dining room chairs and sat on the three-seater mint-green sofa.
“Has something happened?” inquired Bill.
Margaret told him a convoluted tale about missed appointments, her re-occurring gout, how and when someone who she once worked with had died and finally, she got to the comings and goings of her next-door neighbours Gary and Sheila.
Margaret shuffled forward on her chair and hardly audible said “Gary, so rumour has it is a wife beater.
“There you go, I knew I was right, it said it on Facebook.” proclaimed Joan as she brought in a tray of tea and a plate of bourbon creams.
Margaret nodded in agreement and continued “well it didn’t actually say he was a wife-beater Joan but someone who used to work with his wife Sheila said that she’d heard all wasn’t well in their relationship and that he could be a real bully at times. The Facebook thing was something he, Gary, wrote about Sheila, I can’t remember what it was now but you could tell from the tone that he wasn’t pleased and that Sheila was in trouble for something or other. The following week, Sheila had a graze on her face and a bruise on her hand.”
“So nothing was actually said then?” responded Bill.
Frank leapt to Margaret’s defence, “well she wouldn’t make it up Bill, not something like that.”
The conversation deepened and as the chimes of Big Ben rang out with News at Ten, Gary had been vilified and permanently branded as a violent, unsociable wife-beater even if he was quite handsome and charming to talk to.
They’re all like that…” muttered Joan as she dunked her biscuit. “It’s the charming handsome ones you have to watch, that’s why I married Bill, I knew I’d be safe.”
They all laughed except Bill who peered over the top of his glasses and smirked.
Two weeks passed and Joan was sat in her sunny chair next to the conservatory window. “Well, I don’t believe it. Bill, have you read this in the Daily Echo? It says that a restraining order against Sheila Fergas of blah blah blah was issued yesterday in court. Gary Fergas 38, had suffered physical violence and mental cruelty for several years from his partner, I thought he was younger than that and had twice been treated in the past for lacerations and broken ribs. In a police statement to the court blah blah blah, anyway the top and bottom of it are that she’s had to leave the marital home and cannot go within 500 meters of him or the house.”
Bill came through to the conservatory holding a tea-towel and a dripping mug. “So it was her after all then?”
“I wonder if Margaret knows?” enquired Joan.
The doorbell rang. “Oh yes,” said Bill.
“I could never understand what he ever saw in her, someone as handsome as him could get someone much better,” said Joan.
Margaret came dashing through to the conservatory clutching her copy of the Daily Echo. “I suppose you’ve both seen it? What a shame, he’s a lovely chap, it just goes to show…”
Dika Guis – An error of judgement
‘I trusted you’, she said. ‘Do you know how hard it is for me to trust anyone? How long it has been since I trusted anyone new. Dear Gods, and you just tossed my trust out the air lock.’ ‘I,…’. ‘No don’t bother, I don’t want to hear your lame excuses. Really, you think there is anything you can say now?’
She paced around the bridge deck, five steps to port and five back to starboard. Again and again. Lewis, the pilot was in his chair, studiously ignoring her, and the object of her derision, Angel, was stood up against the bulkhead, held by the neck by Starin, the chief security officer, aka the muscle of the operation. He also pretended not to be present, staring off into space.
Nobody wanted to be present for this, not even her. She growled. ´What to do with you now. I really should space you, I would and I should, but… But, you are the only one that knows the contact on Gabaze. And they know you. Bloody hell and pears on top. We need that intel!’
Angel again tried to get a word in… ‘Jessa, please, I didn’t…..’ ‘Oh shut your hole, you dipshit’. Her eyes shot daggers at him. If looks could kill, he would have spontaneously combusted right then and there. ‘No, we can’t kill you. But we also can’t trust you. Therefore…. Therefore, I need to think a bit. Starin, throw him in the brig, and make sure there’s a level 3 force field in place. We wouldn’t want him to get any other clever ideas, now would we?’. ‘Yes, ma’am.’, Starin said and unceremoniously dragged Angel off the bridge.
Jessa, sat down in her command chair, closed her eyes and sighed. Why did people always try to take advantage of her? She really didn’t get it. She tried to be nice, to include people, but time and time again they friggin took advantage. And Angel, with his good looks and seductively sweet yet wicked smile. She’d let him get closer than she had let anyone in a while, aside from the crew of course, but they were like family and had been with her since forever.
And he went behind her back and smuggled Terelium on board. Terelium, the most coveted substance in the known universe. But also extremely volatile. And if it were found at a customs check, it would mean an automatic death sentence for everyone on board.
Tiva entered the bridge, and looked at Jessa. ‘So, is he dead?’ Jessa shot daggers at her for good measure. ‘No, of course not, we need him, at least until we conclude our business on Gabaze.’ Tiva nodded, ‘What explanation did he give?’ She leaned her head into her hands, ‘I didn’t give him the chance to explain’, she said. And that would turn out to be a grave error in judgment.
Jean Faugier – An error of judgement?
Michael had thought it would be such an adventure and at the start it undoubtedly was. Selling up and moving to Spain was his idea; he had been aware of Maria’s homesickness for quite a while, it felt sometimes as obvious as a dense fog in the house. It was time, he thought : the university had become a political nightmare with the constant pressure to publish, to finish the PhD and to bring in more research money. The hated Vice- Chancellor kept dangling the sword of Damocles in their faces, making clear the department was doomed unless things improved. Dame Anne was a woman who seemed to find little joy in life but, given a chance to threaten staff with oblivion, she immediately brightened : her normal scowl and dour demeanor almost changed to a smile, almost.
And thus Micheal cashed in his good fortune, he was a certain age, he had some help from medics who affirmed the crumbling nature of his skeleton, and he could take the King’s shilling in the form of a decent redundancy package.
‘Well, we will all miss you, Michael’, Dame Anne had lied as she served him an inch of port into a carefully selected crystal glass, ‘it’s gone six, Michael’, she chortled, ‘the sun is well over the yardarm’. He had no idea what she was talking about but returned a faint smile and thought at least the drinks will be more generous in Spain. They chatted politely for a few minutes and then the VC shifted uneasily in her chair, made to move some papers on the desk and in her perfectly charmless manner let him know that it was time to leave .
They were well used to the boat journey, going over two or sometimes three times a year to provide a dose of home, family and fiesta for Maria. Michael felt entirely happy as the boat gently bobbed along in calm weather and Champagne bubbles (well, Cava actually) broke on his tongue. He thought Maria already looked more Spanish if that were possible. He had always been totally hooked from the day they met in Manchester; looking at her now, he thought he could see some of the sadness leave her as the sun broke through the clouds. She needed that, the grey of Manchester seemed to press heavily on her some days. It was all going to be worth it, he thought. He watched the bundles of figures on the deck and wondered about their stories. He and Maria used to have so much fun watching strangers, imagining the reason for their journey and all sorts of amusing details about their lives; she had not laughed like that for a while. Michael wondered if anyone had worked out that they were only going one way, although at first such a thought had made the move seem more monumental than it was. He could go back to England often, of course he could, it would be expensive now with only his retirement pension but they would manage.
Arrival at the house did not prove to be the smooth finale to their journey that Micheal had hoped for. He had omitted to let the estate agent know their ETA and so they had to hang around for forty minutes waiting for him to arrive with keys. The house had been a real find, well restored with a fine garden and only a couple of hundred yards from the sea. It will be full of light most of the year, thought Michael, and surrounded on all sides by greenery. This was their chance to live a different life, to escape the rat race. They were now the proud owners of an old apple tree orchard : some pruning will be necessary, he thought, something else to look up on U-tube. Maria really wanted to keep chickens and had shown him pictures of rather lovely grey fluffy ones that she hoped to find once they got settled. They had done their bit for the environment in the UK, dutifully building raised vegetable beds in their tiny plot of garden, struggling with the weather; even so, their tomatoes often had more blight than Irish potatoes.
When they had first looked around the house in Spain, the agent had been slightly embarrassed and had apologised for the size of the house and gardens, but then all the adjacent properties appeared to include fairly large tracts of land, and so to them their new home was practically a farm. Yes, thought Michael, we can make a real difference here . Eventually Alberto arrived with the keys in a cloud of dust kicked up by his flashy Alfa Romeo as he sped towards them along the track. ‘Disculpen, disculpen, if only you had let me know, I would have prepared more of a welcome’ he said, trying the different keys to let them in whilst careful to protect his impecable Hugo Boss suit from anything vaguely rural.
Maria and Alberto chatted for a while about the area at a speed that seemed impossible to follow. Micheal really wondered if his evenings spent at the Instituto Cervantes in Manchester would ever pay off, and whether scientists are better or worse than others at languages; he made a mental note to check google hoping for a positive answer.
When Alberto left them with promises to return with some important paper work the following day, Maria went to explore the kitchen while Michael struggled with the wood burning stove, eventually managing to create a bright red core within before throwing in another log or two of sweet smelling wood left by the previous owners. The warmth was welcome : Alberto had warned them that clear nights can also mean cold nights here. Just then Maria came out of the kitchen with two cups of coffee and gestured to him to grab one before she dropped it. They stepped outside and shut the door quickly behind them to retain the heat from the stove. Look, Maria said, have you ever seen stars as close as that ? Michael put an arm around her shoulder and they listened to the waves breaking on the cliffs. Maybe it is all going to be fine. Maybe the stars are with us.