Submissions from the April Freestyle 2021 challenge: 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 if you comment below, please tag the author and title.
- Jeni Martinez – Beginner’s Mind
Published here: https://upanddowndog.com/beginners-mind/
2. Rebecca Johnson – Porst Motem
“The what, pardon?” Meg enquired, in her best professional voice. The girl on the phone sounded shell-shocked and innocent, not knowing the right words.
“The porst motem. I’m still waiting for the porst motem.”
“You mean… er, the post mortem?”
“Yes madam, of course. And do you know which package you’d like?”
“For the furneral?”
“Yes, which… er, funeral package would you like?”
“I can’t afford much.”
“Well, we do offer the basic package, which includes dressing the body, hearse, flowers, and fifty printed copies of the order of service.” Not that fifty people would be allowed to attend, Meg didn’t add, what with the virus.
“That’s fine.” The girl’s voice was trembling.
“I’ll just take your details then, madam, and we can confirm the date as soon as you know.”
Meg’s heart went out to the girl, who was in her early forties and had always lived with her mother – just the two of them, ensconced in their cosy world of car boot sales, TV dinners and garden gnomes. The gnomes were famous, at least locally: of all sizes, colours and demeanours, they crowded the garden and over-spilled indoors, lining the windows like sentinels. The mother had outlived two husbands and clung to her little girl like an enormous, overbearing barnacle, never allowing her to grow up and build her own life. The girl had managed to get engaged once, decades ago now, but the boy had fled when he realised he was marrying her mother as well. It was a small town and people gossiped; they weren’t given to kindness or compassion. Single for bloody years that girl! She ain’t getting no younger. If it weren’t for her mother… All those bloody gnomes! Enough to frighten any man off!
The worst gossip Meg had heard of late was that the girl had killed her mother. She worked as a cleaner in an old people’s home; and now there was a virus going round and one day, apparently, unknowingly – or so everyone assumed – she’d carried the virus home with her. Her mother, who was approaching eighty, overweight and sofa-bound with bad knees, had died overnight, coughing up blood in her terrified daughter’s arms.
Now, on top of arranging a funeral, the girl would have to pack up and leave their home because with the mother deceased the council needed to reallocate the house, which was prioritised for the elderly and disabled. A forty-something child on minimum wage wasn’t eligible for a bungalow with a garden. She’d most likely be allocated a flat in the Sydenham or Hamp Estate, surrounded by drug dealers, drug users, and other assorted criminals and layabouts. The only saving grace was the lengthy waiting list – plus the recent delays on all administrative procedures due to the virus – which could buy her a few more months in the home she’d lived in most of her life. A year if she was lucky.
Meg thought about the girl all week. Porst motem, she’d said. Furneral. She was barely literate. Meg could hardly imagine how lost at sea she must feel, alone in a world that coldly drew back in judgement, whose bewilderingly fast-changing rules and procedures she was barely equipped to understand. Who could help her now?
Once the post mortem was complete, the girl came to the funeral parlour to see her mother and give Meg the photographs and chosen songs and prayers for the Order of Service. She was pale and her hands shook and she didn’t say much. Meg wanted to hug her, but there was a virus about, so instead she greeted her as warmly as she could. When the girl emerged half an hour later from the room where her mother’s embalmed body lay, still pale, still shaking, Meg called her over to the desk, where she’d already printed off a draft copy.
“What do you think?” she asked the girl. “I thought the gnomes were a nice touch”. Meg had done a garden gnome border on the front cover of the Order of Service, and she’d added a tiny garden gnome image at the bottom of every page.
The girl glanced down at the paper, and then stared up at Meg. Her eyes were shining. She looked down again, leafed through the pages.
“It’s perfect,” she whispered after a moment. “She’ll love it….”
Her voice broke and a single tear dropped from her cheek. And then, buoyed by this unexpected kindness, the bereaved girl raised her head from the inexorable landscape of loss and cruel gossip, the unfathomable world she found herself in, and looked into Meg’s eyes,
“Thank you so much,” she said, and her face lit up with a smile.
3.Colin Lyne – The First Supper – Reflections on the latest addition to the Imperial Gallery
It’s an image we all know so well and one that is central to our civilization. The Son of God at the centre of the table, gazing up to a blue sky. He’s holding the bloody heart that is about to be divided into nine parts for the First Supper. The other eight figures – four on either side – have bowed heads.
In this special year, perhaps we should all remind ourselves of the details of the story. Those details that are so often taken for granted – to the point that they are in danger of losing their essential meaning.
We all remember how the adversary was apprehended and then led in a cage through the streets. It is said that he kept remarkably calm – though, of course, he was aware of the fate that lay before him. The crowds jeered and cast stones as he was carried towards the Holy Mount. He looked straight ahead the whole time, indifferent to the tumult around him.
The Son of God awaited, serene and majestic as ever. The Eight Patriarchs were standing behind Him. The cage was set down on the Mount. Was the cage really made of gold? Modern historians tend to believe it was probably just wood. One of the guards dug his spear into the adversary’s side and ordered him out. Ignoring the bleeding wound, the adversary stepped onto the sandy esplanade. The crowd suddenly fell silent as if a dangerous animal had been released.
The Son of God descended from his throne and approached the adversary. He then sat cross-legged on the sand opposite him. He waved to the adversary to sit likewise. The body of the Son of God would have looked as lithe and muscular as it has been portrayed down the years. What would the adversary have thought when he realized that the Son of God did not perspire liquid gold, as his subjects at that time believed? He was one of a handful of people who would ever have been allowed so close. And possibly the only one who had ever dared to look Him in the eye. That, of course, meant immediate death, which in his case, was guaranteed anyway.
“This is over,” the Son of God said, raising his right hand towards the blazing sun. “My Father did not wish for your armies to win the war. Now our boats are making their way to your land. Our conquest will follow. If you recognize My Father as the only true God, your death will be quicker.”
The adversary refused to bow his head. “There is only one god,” he said, making the primitive Christian sign of the cross. “You may take me now.”
The sacrifice was that afforded to a heretic at the time. Afterwards the heart was taken to the table.
That momentous First Dinner, when the Son of God and the Patriarchs shared the heart of the adversary, was the defining moment that engendered the supremacy of our civilization.
The body of the adversary was burned.
The armies of the country that had been known as Spain had occupied the Province of Lima for fifteen years. They had been annihilated in the Final Battle and the lands of the Province of Europe became part of our glorious Empire. Atahualpa, the Son of God, became the first Emperor. Without Him, Lima would not be what it is today, in 2272. On this, the 700th anniversary, we can all say we are proud to live in the capital of the Empire, the most prosperous and vibrant city the world has ever known.
4. Hester Lott – A promise.
She had promised, promised on her mother´s grave that she would never do it again, but the temptation was so great. So overwhelming.
She stands still in the dim light seeping from behind the closed curtains, looking at her father. He is asleep, propped up on pillows in the bed, his jaw hanging open and breathing loudly. Not exactly a snore, but more a grunting sound from the back of the throat. His blue and white striped pyjamas are open at the neck, revealing a white, curly thatch of hair.
She puts the mug of tea down on the bedside table, pushing the bottles of pills out of the way with her free hand. She walks over to the window and opens the curtains, letting in a pale, watery early morning January light. Her father grunts and rolls over, away from the window, and resumes his noisy breathing.
‘Dad….. Dad!’ She sits down on the edge of the bed. ‘Time to wake up.’
She speaks softly, with tenderness, as if she doesn´t really want to disturb his sleep.
‘What? Why? What´s wrong?’ He rolls himself towards her and tries to hoist himself up, but she leans over and pulls the pillow further up the bed and lets him sink back onto it with a sigh.
‘I´ve brought you your tea. The doctor´s coming in half an hour and you need to be ready. Do you want me to put on the Today Show?’
‘Why is he coming? I´m feeling fine. I don´t need anything. Put the radio on for me and then give him a call. I really don´t want to be poked and pulled about again today!’
‘I know Dad. But he hasn´t been for ages and he needs to check that you’re ok.’
The bedroom has not really changed since her mother died, almost three years ago now. There is a large walnut veneer chest of drawers with framed family photos and some old glass bottles and jars containing the dessicated remains of her mother´s face creams and perfume. On each side of the bed there is a bedside lamp with pink tasselled lampshades, and a small transistor radio on her father´s side. She switches on the radio and hands her father his tea.
‘If he does come, I´m not letting him in here. I´ll have to get up and come downstairs.’
‘But don´t be silly Dad. You know you can´t really manage the stairs any more. It´s so much easier if he just pops in here…’
‘You know why he can´t come in here. You know perfectly well, you more than anyone…. Just phone him and tell him not to come!’
‘Now Dad, be reasonable. There is no danger at all in him coming in here. He’s not about to start rummaging in the wardrobe. He will simply take your temperature and your blood pressure and ask you a few questions, and leave. ‘ The soothing voices on the radio continue talking about fishing quotas. ‘Now, you need to go to the loo, Dad.’
The bulk of the money had been stored in the bottom drawer of the chest of drawers, and the rest in a suitcase under the bed. The jewels and other small artefacts had been in a cardboard box in the bottom of the heavy walnut wardrobe. She discovered the box of jewellery after her mother had died, and he had been incandescent with rage when she confronted him with her discovery.
‘But where do they come from? Did Mum know about this? Are there any more hidden away? Why didn´t you sell them when we needed the money?’
‘It´s absolutely nothing to do with you, and I will thank you to keep your nose out of it and keep your mouth shut. Of course there isn´t any more! It’s just a few trinkets I bought for your mother and there is no way I’m ever going to sell them. And don´t mention a word about this to anyone… anyone at all! Do you promise? Do you promise on your mother´s grave?’
She had promised. She had had no choice. But, of course, she had searched his room when he was taken into hospital a few months later after suffering a mild stroke. And there was all that money. Thousands of pounds, in mixed denominations and piled up unbound in the drawer and filling the small leather suitcase under the bed. She had sat on the floor and stared at it all, and she had laughed until the tears poured down her cheeks. And then she began to sob and shake. They had had all that money all that time, all the time she had had to pay them rent for her little room in the house, had to scrimp and watch every penny when she did the shopping as her mother would always check the receipt when she got back from Sainsbury´s and get angry at any perceived extravagance. They always checked her own bank account as well, just to make sure she was not concealing any expenditure from them.
She settles her father back in bed and combs his hair back off his forehead as he continues to grouch about the doctor.
The one thing he had not made her promise was not to take any of the money herself. He did not have the strength or balance to get himself downstairs, nor to search under the bed or in the wardrobe, so he believed that all his hoard was intact. Of course, she could not let him go downstairs, not until he was carried down feet first, as he would surely die of shock to see the transformation of the rest of the house. There is the enormous wall mounted curved screen tv, the luxurious Persian carpet, the Italian design sofa and armchairs, the thick velvet curtains keeping out all prying eyes. And, of course, her car on the carport at the side of the house. Only the doctor was allowed to see any of that……
5. Gisela Gibbon – A Minor Note
The train showed mercy. Empty table seats were rare on this line, it was a relief to find such an unexpected sanctuary just for myself. Maybe it was the sign of an egotistical old man, but I found the enforced closeness to other passengers tiring and disturbing. The sunlit corner by the window looked inviting, I could sit back, enjoy the warmth and breathe in the silence undisturbed.
My coffee, my cold pipe and my book on the table I settled down to be driven into the movie outside. The sun still burnt through the window, her gold never failing to stir my sense of gratitude. It was all there, the airy sky, the rippling water of the river we raced by, the fresh green, the birds in flight, mocking my motionless age. My late wife used to say that angels could fly because they took themselves lightly, the birds certainly seemed carefree enough. The hills at the horizon stubbornly made their presence known, intruding on the flat countryside before me. Like the big drum in a palm court orchestra, the sort of bass presence that travels through your feet, as if to cement the music.
The train had stopped, I hadn’t even noticed it slowing down. It was a little station, with none of the hustle and bustle of the city. I felt fairly safe; surely no passenger would choose to sit next to an octogenarian smelling of pipe tobacco. The thought of forced conversations with strangers who never really spoke my language wasn’t an attractive one.
The peace didn’t last. They breezed in, clad in enviable youth, the sun still in their hair, with no regard at all to my rightful solitude. They couldn’t have been older than fifteen, or maybe sixteen, two girls, their demure grey uniforms relieved by bright, modern jackets. One of them threw her bag carelessly on the floor intruding into the corridor and sat down at the table opposite. It was the other girl, though, settling down across from me, who attracted my attention. I stared at her stunning features. She had huge dark eyes, a finely chiselled face and the most exquisite lips set in an easy, natural smile. Glad to hide behind my lined and weathered face I simply nodded, speechless, as she said hello. There was such obvious depth and happiness in her expression, grace, and the beauty of inner kindness. She was beautiful. For the second time that day I thought of angels. I picked up my pipe, unthinking, and, as if to chastise me, the girl to my left raised her eyebrows and rolled her eyes, smirking at her friend who I was glad to notice didn’t join in the mockery. Her perfume was strong, almost loud, and fleetingly reawakened memories of smokey bars and dancing amongst lust and laughter.
The angel smiled at me apologetically, whether for her friend’s somewhat ruthless behaviour or for reading my mind I wasn’t sure. I blushed anyway, something which to my great annoyance hadn’t improved with age. It was only when my gaze escaped to the empty seat next to her, that I noticed the violin case, small and unobtrusive. Like her lips, I thought, full of mystery.
It was impossible to concentrate on the scenery outside. I am not a musician, but it was fascinating to learn, in between their laughs and giggles, about a coming school concert.
I had read about their school, in fact, I remembered an article about its orchestra. Highly acclaimed, they were even to perform abroad.
It would be lovely to see her play, lost within her music. How different their natures were. Yes, they both had that typical giggle of young girls that would look grotesque on more mature women. They were both equally as nervous about the concert as they were of seeing their parents and the young men in the audience. And I knew that both of them would talk about me later, about the strange old man who kept staring at one of them. The difference lay in their hearts, in the way they looked at me every now and then. The girl next to me only dared the odd cautious glance, proceeded by smirks and suppressed laughter. Somewhat sly and underhand, as if I didn’t notice. Her friend, however, seemed unperturbed by my behaviour. The warm glow in her eyes never once faltered, not afraid to look at me fully, caring and perhaps a little curious about my fascination with her.
I prayed silently I would be forgiven. It seemed indecent, I knew, but the thought of ridicule was easier to bear than to take my eyes off her. Old age had changed my sense of pride, what the world thought of me would in the end be of little consequence. As yet I hadn’t spoken a word, it wasn’t necessary. My silence would be, as often before, forgiven as the idiosyncrasy of an old man.
As if on cue they both got up abruptly, collecting their snacks on the table. The bag on the floor had been stepped on and showed fresh dusty shoe prints. The train ground to a halt far too quickly, in a small station that would be the last before my stop. Outside grey clouds had muffled the sun, befitting for my own, sudden sadness. I dared to look at the girl once more, before she would disappear out through the door into a journey of her own. She turned round, I thought to reward me with a cheerful good-bye, and looked at me uncertainly. ‘Would you like a ticket for our next concert?’ She asked. She smiled at my stunned silence, searched in her coat pocket and handed me a folded yellow piece of paper.
She was gone.
I looked at my present, a fresh warm tear searching its way down my cheek. Maybe I would go, just to see her once more, even though I will never hear her music. I am deaf.
6. Ian Hicken – Best
When I was young I had two older aunts, my Dad’s sisters, Ethel and Violet. They were about 25 years older than Dad. They were born at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and despite a similar upbringing, they led very different lives. Ethel was showy, cold and frosty but underneath, at the drop of a hat, she became emotional and it didn’t take much to break through her shell. She was married to Levi, a big, stout and jolly man who had his own Butcher’s Shop and looked every bit the part. In contrast, Aunt Violet was gentle, warm and loving, a strong woman married to John, a diminutive and strong man whose life was farming. Together they owned a small farm that always reminded me of Orwell’s Animal Farm. It was how I imagined the farm to look from reading the book. We used to visit them regularly when I was a lad and I used to spend many a day around the farm, helping out where I could. I have some strong memories of both sets of Aunts and Uncles but for very different reasons. They did, however, have something in common in so much that they had an obsession with keeping things for best.
I suppose it was a generational thing, evolving from times of austerity when people didn’t have many possessions or money to buy new things thereby saving things for special days and occasions. Aunt Violet fell into that camp and would only use the front room or parlour as she called it, at Birthdays, Christmas and special Sundays. Aunt Ethel was much the same but she had also developed and extended the mindset into making new goods last as long as possible before subjecting them to the spoiling and soiling that comes with everyday use.
Aunt Ethel lived in a modest stone-built Victorian inner terrace house that was insignificant from the outside and situated on a fairly busy road. There was a small front garden, paved and without decoration apart from a four-bottle milk crate on the top step next to the door. Passing through a small entrance hall, you would enter a mid-sized lounge area that led through to a kitchen diner. The lounge was dominated by a mahogany display cabinet that was filled with a floral bone china tea set that had only been used a couple of times since it was bought for them as a wedding gift back in 1927. There were crystal vases, cut glass wine glasses and etched sundae glasses, none of which had seen the light of day since the birth of her son Keith who was now 35.
My lasting memory of visiting Ethel and Levi was the plastic that adorned the settee, the armchairs and the dining chairs. For as long as I can remember when you sat at Ethel’s, you rustled. The sound and feel of the original protective plastic were forever memorable. The two-seater settee had two satin-covered embroidered cushions perched on the top, next to the winged, side headrests, these cushions were precariously placed. Low and behold if you knocked them from their perch. Ethel would sprint forth, move you to one side with a firm hand and place them back in their allocated position whilst continuing her account of Mrs Hargreaves bile duct problems and upcoming operation.
I remember never being able to properly relax at Ethel’s. I cannot remember a time when her everyday furniture was not covered in protective plastic. I also remember, some years later, Uncle Levi getting his first car and having the seats covered in plastic. Ethel used to sit in the back in her mink coat that made an appearance for the inaugural ride and Sundays. The smell of warm plastic, freesia perfume, heavily applied makeup and mothballs from the fur coat greeted us every time they pulled up outside our house. I remember trying my best to avoid the sloppy kisses and overwhelming scents as Aunt Ethel grabbed me and pulled me close. Levi would push a threepenny bit into my palm and tell me not to spend it all at once and to save it for a rainy day.
Aunt Violet’s parlour was a place of fascination to me. A room where we weren’t allowed unless it was a special occasion. The heavy wooden door would be firmly shut and there was no chance of sneaking in as it creaked when opened and rarely used.
You could never predict what occasion merited the use of the parlour. Sometimes for birthdays and Sundays, we would amass around the large farmhouse table in front of the kitchen range and share tea and cakes. On other birthdays and holidays, we would be instructed to go through to the parlour where Uncle John was tending a freshly lit fire in the large cast iron and granite fireplace. The parlour always felt a tad cool and damp, especially in the corners of the room. If you had the misfortune to be sat in one of the two upright and downright uncomfortable carved chairs that sat either side of the door at the back of the room then you never warmed. The room was sparsely furnished and had a dark green velvet chaise longue and two substantial armchairs in brown tufted chenille, a polished wooden floor and a pegged rug placed in front of the fire. Several black and white photographs hung on chains suspended from the picture rail. They were mainly past photographs of the farm and an especially prized photo of Major, Uncle John’s favourite workhorse that had passed some years ago. There was a silver-plated tray on a small sideboard that contained two cutglass decanters filled with sherry, dry and sweet, and six neatly arranged small sherry glasses. The only time they were used was after lunch on Christmas day and if there had been a wedding or birth in the family. A round mahogany table with a large aspidistra plant in a fancy pot obscured most of the parlour window. Other than that, it was a plain and sober room.
My Mum’s family also had a sense of keeping things for best, especially clothes, crockery and cutlery. Sunday best outfits, best china for Sunday tea and the best cutlery for Christmas day and special gatherings. As a consequence, both my Mum and Dad inherited some ‘keeping it for best’ traits such as clothing, which was sensible given we were typical boys and always coming home with ripped clothes and scuffed shoes. There were a few items of crockery and glassware that were only brought out on celebratory days but apart from that, the sense of not using something diminished as time went on and as the family become more affluent.
Nowadays, I have a completely different outlook on life from that of past generations. I do not consciously keep anything for best, I use things as I see fit and I wear clothes as and when. I think it is because I have more disposable income than my antecedents had, I try not to double up on things to use fewer resources and reuse where possible.
I also believe that life is short, and I want every day to be the best day and special days are spent with people, not things. Good food, great company and creating great memories will always rank above the best crockery and plastic-wrapped seating. I often think about those memories of saving things for best, they are tinged with sadness that despite their hard work and frugal mindsets Aunt Ethel and Aunt Violet rarely got to enjoy the fruits of their labour but when they did, there was an edge of wariness, just in case those best items were damaged or dropped, after all it was only for best.
7. Manfred Steinig – RUNNING SCARED
For more than a year the Coronavirus has been making our lives less carefree and less spontaneous. Apart from life’s normal worries, the constant question: What am I NOT allowed to do today? became a nagging companion. How far, and how long am I allowed to walk my dog? Where does the 1 km radius from my home end? Where exactly is the border of my district (concejo) and, for that matter, of my province? There were hefty fines for jaywalking into forbidden territory.
When the ‘first wave’ of Corona had passed my wife and I had the idea to climb the Pico de Arbas in the south of Asturias. When Google told us that we had arrived at the starting point of the trail we decided not to park next to the road but rather on a vast parking area we could see just a couple of hundred yards away. It was still early in the day, so we didn’t give it a thought that ours was the only car parked there. We started right away uphill and had been walking for ten minutes when there was an unexpected noise. It didn’t come from the valley but rather from above. A yellow chopper was heading towards us, then doing two or three loops around us before flying away.
We had not called 112 on our mobiles nor had we fired a tracer rocket to signal that we were in distress. How strange, we thought, to go on a mission on a clear day with only two walkers around. We abstained from waving at the pilot not wanting to cause any wrong interpretation.
I usually carry binoculars on trips. I didn’t manage to focus them on the chopper but I did direct them at the valley and had a good view of our car and also the building next to it with a sign that read Albergue de Leitariegos, Provincia de León. I kind of choked up. ‘You know what’ I stammered, ‘we are walking in León and aren’t supposed to.’ ‘Can’t be’, my wife replied. ‘Arbas is in Asturias. We checked that on Google Earth, didn’t we.’ ‘The mountain maybe, but our car is parked in León.’ I passed the binoculars to her. ‘Gosh, I can’t remember seeing any welcome sign entering another province. What can we do now? and answering her own question ‘It’s too late now anyway.
Of the two of us, I am the worrier. ‘The pilot certainly took photos of us. But, then, how can he tell where we’re from? They don’t have face recognition in Spain, do they? This isn’t China after all.’ – True, but I’m afraid he photographed our car, too.’ – So what, it’s not the only red Dacia around.’ – ‘True again, but feed the plate number into the database of ‘trafico’ and they’ll know the colour of your underpants.’ – Damn it, if the fine is meant as a deterrent it’ll be stiff.’
There is nothing like a walk in the Asturian mountains to lift your mood and see the bright side of life. Unfortunately, the lousy feeling of having been spotted as transgressors did not dissolve into thin air like the morning mist. Almost a month later our lovely post woman delivered a registered letter from ‘trafico’. ‘Trafico be hanged’ I said defiantly. LG in spite of it. It was a 100 € fine for speeding on the A8, totally unrelated to our Arbas experience. We breathed a sigh of relief and laughed. That same day we transferred 50 € online, taking advantage of the 50% discount for early payers. So Spain is a bargain after all.
8. Jeremy Peter Plumptre – The brave couple
“Let’s do it”
“No, it’s too dangerous, crossing the frontier…we’ll get caught.”
“Not if we’re careful.” he said ” I know a way that can’t be seen from the road.”
“I don’t like it, ” She said,” the patrols are everywhere, even near your secret path.”
“We’ll be OK,” he said ” trust me. “
Finally, she acquiesced, and they set off.
They took off up the hill which fell away to a cliff down to the seashore. Then they moved down the other side, safe in their boundary. But as they moved down through the woods they knew they were getting near the frontier
“They might be anyone watching us out here,” she said.” We can be seen from the road, where they have the police patrols.” “Nah,” he said,”we’re virtually invisible.”
Still he was nervous crossing the river. It was deep, and they had to throw big rocks to make stepping stones. The river was the boundary. Once crossed, they knew they were on illegal territory. Danger. They got across, wetting their shoes.
They moved quickly along the beach, aware that they could be seen from the cliff top.All was quiet and up to now OK.
It was time to move up to the road: the most dangerous part. In the distance they saw a blue flashing light, a police patrol. Still unseen from the police car they hid behind a hedge. The car flashed by.
They continued to walk gingerly along the road. Then they saw it. The posh fish restaurant, on the forbidden side of the boundary. They arrived and sat down. The waiter came up smiling, and 30 minutes later……..
“Happy gold anniversary, dear,” Said Jorge, helping her to half a lobster.
Linda smiled, thinking back 50 years. She looked around at the wide forecourt, with all the tables outside the restaurant. No customers could go inside, It was peaceful. Big cars occupied the parking area. The smell of prawns on the grill mingled with the smell of ladies’ expensive perfumes
Two children, 4 or 5, she thought, were riding their little toy trucks, pushing up the forecourt, then freewheeling down the slope to the bottom where there was a main road. A bit dangerous, Linda thought, remembered fondly her own son’s little toy fire engine 45 years ago. Mercifully some things didn’t change.
Suddenly she jerked up straight, watched as the kids careered towards the busy road. She yelled to the grandparents talking animatedly and not watching the tots.
There was screaming and shouting “Saul,Javier!”. The kids braked just before the road and turned to look at the grandpa, running towards them.
The grandparents blamed each other for letting the kids loose on such a dangerous hill. Linda saw the kids taken to a much safer garden round the side of the building. Much safer but very boring compared to the slope in front of the restaurant. The kids yelled for a bit then quietened down.
Linda with Jorge decided to sit near this garden, under a tree out of sight of the playing toddlers. The grandparents left their charges again, this time in the care of the sullen 13-year-old brother, Adrian, thinking they were perfectly safe, enclosed.
They were safe, but the young teenager wasn’t.
As Linda was taking a photo of Jorge to remember the day., a van roared up along the dirt track that led to the back of the garden. Two men and a woman jumped out, grabbed the boy kicking and screaming and piled him into the van.It roared off..
“Dios mio!” Gasped Linda and clutched onto Jorge´s arm.
The old couple hobbled round to the front and shouted out to the grandparents:
“¡,SECUESTRARON AL CHAVAL !”.
Screaming and shrieking, everyone ran to the garden to check.
People ran round shouting madly,” Phone the police!” Linda looked at her mobile..
With a shaking forefinger she dabbed the app “Fotos” ,opening onto a picture of a smiling Jorge, two children behind, and behind them there was a van which had ANDRÉS CARPINTERO painted on the side.
“Old Andrés, it’s his van.” Said Linda.
“He’s not a kidnapper!” Jorge stared at her.
“Someone took his van, come on let’s go!” Said Jorge.” Let’s see if we can find it.”
The waiter got his car round and the four grandparents took off at high speed towards Luanco, where Andrés lived.
The distance from Andromero, where the restaurant is, to Luanco is about 7 minutes.At the speed the waiter was going it was more like 3. They raced along the coastal road connecting the two towns. They arrived at the carpenter’s house. There was the van, with a police car next to it. Andrés was protesting loudly.
“The van has been here all the time during my lunch hour..about 3 hours.”
The policeman: ” Why is the engine hot then ,sir?”
The old man shook his head in disbelief, “No se” (Don’t know).
Someone had taken it while Andrés was inside. Linda remembered the three dark looking figures jumping out and grabbing the boy at the restaurant.
Linda caught the policeman’s arm.
“Señor, they must have dumped the kid off somewhere between here and the restaurant. There’s nowhere to hide them on the main road, but I think I know
This time Linda and Jorge sat in the back of the police car. They drove out of the town, blue lights flashing. Linda directed them through a holiday housing estate down to where there was a muddy river estuary, with the skeletons of old boats abandoned in the creek.
A boat house, not used, the slipway covered in weeds.
The police approached the boathouse cautiously, guns drawn.
Jorge and Linda always remembered how the police hammered on the door. How the woman and the man tried to escape out of the window. Later the kidnapper confessed that they never meant any harm to Adrian, but they desperately needed money to pay some “Narcos”, or they would be killed.
“It was quite an exciting Golden Wedding anniversary,” Jorge was often heard to comment.
9. Sue Gibson – Leaving
It was a damp miserable day and as she packed her belongings into the tired old suitcase, she thought of all the years she had spent there, alone during the day, fearing the onset of dusk and Henry’s return. Never mind, there would be happier times for certain after she was away from this place and far away from him! Jolted from her thoughts, she checked her watch, crikey, three o’clock already, only a couple of hours before he would be home. Get a move on Mary, she told herself, he’ll be here throwing his weight around before you know it. She glanced in the mirror the bruises were obvious beneath the makeup.
Packing finished, she looked around the room and felt a sudden lurch of fear and dread. She shook her head as the taxi beeped its horn, she locked the door behind her and pushed the key through the letterbox. No going back now, she was so close to the freedom she had dreamed of for so long. “Where to love?” said the cheery taxi driver as she climbed into the back seat. Anywhere away from here she thought as the car pulled away. “The railway station please” and off they went.
At last, her new life was within her grasp, as they pulled into the station, a moment of blind panic overwhelmed her, was she doing the right thing? What if he found her? “No Mary, stop it” she said to herself under her breath. Coffee is what I need as she entered the café. She sipped the aromatic cappuccino and watched the people milling around outside. Gazing out of the window, she wondered if any of them were running away and feeling as she did. She was dragged swiftly back to reality when she saw a face she knew only too well, her sister-in-law dragging her toddler son bawling behind her. “Oh, my God” she uttered as she gently moved from view. Luckily, Sharon was preoccupied and disappeared into the station. I must be more careful, that was a lucky escape. Sharon would tell, she just knew she would be straight on the phone to Henry.
Coffee finished, she headed to the ticket office, “Brighton, one way please” she tried her best to appear calm as the ticket was issued. “Platform three Madam” said the man in the kiosk, “You’ll have to be quick; it leaves in ten minutes.” She ran dragging all she owned behind her in the tattered old case. The train was quite empty, she headed for a seat near the window and to her dismay, there was Sharon waiting on the platform looking straight at her. As the train pulled slowly away, she could hear Sharon’s voice above the noise of the engine, “Mary, Mary where are you off? Stop, get off, Henry will kill you when I tell him”.
“Too late” thought Mary, free at last as Sharon became a small dot on a railway station platform and Henry, well he, like the bruises would fade too …. Eventually.