All quiet on the coffee front

A visit to a neighbouring town found me taking a coffee in Mr Bean’s around 9.30 a.m. and it was remarkably quiet. It was an overcast day with drizzle but then again you thought that might have sent people scurrying into a coffee house for a drink and chat.

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There were a group of older women behind me who had come in in ones and twos so were clearly a ‘ladies who do coffee’ group of some kind. And I only just realised this establishment does two shots of coffee as the default setting, I wondered why I found today’s cup a little strong after several visits elsewhere last week specifically asking for one shot only. With a blood pressure check on Thursday I thought it wise to keep my caffeine intake lower before the pesky nurse bans me from all types of coffee. Can you stand going into a coffee house and asking for a tea?

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Just discovered in one of my laptop folders a little opening scene I wrote after coming into this coffee shop back in 2015. I was going to add it here but I better read it through first in case it sounds too banal and cliched. I’ll put it up tomorrow.

 

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Writer’s break

It’s 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning and a perfect time to write. Yet the sun is shining for once this September so down goes the pen/laptop lid and it’s walking shoes on and a flask of coffee in the backpack and a trek along the wonderful promenade at Hastings. Of course you have to dodge the joggers and dog walkers but  it was a beautiful scene this morning. And there’s not much better that seeing happy dogs running in and out of the sea. Even tempts you to get one yourself…

Perhaps this afternoon when the muscles start to seize up and the feet ache, the laptop lid will be lifted and the fingers start to type. Or maybe I’ll just fall asleep with a good book.

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Dark Alice

(the opening of something I wrote a few years ago, still waiting to be developed or sent to the Recycling Bin in the sky)

 

Alice hit the ground hard.

And knew something was wrong.

This was no rabbit hole. It was stone. Slabs of stone. And dark. So dark.

Alice couldn’t see her purple mittens in front of her eyes. She stared and stared. Slowly, very slowly, pale fingertips came into focus. She sat up, forced herself to her feet, stretched hands out around her. There was nothing to touch.

Time passed without a tick-tock. The darkness seemed lighter now.

A light dark. Alice giggled. A light dark? That was silly.

She bent her knees and felt around on the ground. Her fingers found cold stone and gaps. Paving stones maybe? Alice inched sideways. The stones went on to the right. But to the left her fingers discovered a drop. A gutter. So, a road?

She took a step forwards, keeping the gutter to her left. The darkness definitely seemed less dark. Alice scraped her booted feet on the stone slabs. She didn’t want another fall. To where? Further downwards? Can you fall forever? She giggled again. What would it be like to fall for eternity?

Alice stopped. Kept still. She smoothed her dark purple dress. A dress that fell to her knees. Her favourite dress. Alice fingered her long black hair and let it fall down past her shoulders. She adjusted her hairband. Composed and neat Alice stepped forward again.

“And just where do you think you are going?” a voice boomed in her ear.

Alice spun around, too fast, a dizziness swam inside her head. She nearly fell. Again.

Something even darker than the darkness took up space in front of her. Alice giggled. How can anything be darker than the dark?

“Answer the question, please,” boomed the voice a second time.

Alice begun to make out a spindly shape. She was sure she could discern long arms and longer legs. And probably a body too, which would make sense. Alice giggled. Imagine arms and legs with no body! Too silly.

“My name is Alice. I fell here. Just now.”

“A Faller! I haven’t seen one of those for at least 500 years. My word.”

Alice could now make out a pale face. Long and thin. A nose crooked, and straggly hair sticking out from under a tall tattered hat.

“A Faller? I suppose I must be, since I fell. But this is no rabbit hole.”

“What’s a rabbit?”

Alice sighed. This was hard work. She rested her hands on her hips.

“Is there no light in this place?”

“Of course there is. Once the Switch is switched. In about a short time.”

Alice blew out her cheeks.

“Haven’t you got a torch or something?”

The shape in front of her moved. A light blazed. Alice stepped back and shielded her eyes. As the light dimmed to a comfortable level she gasped.

“Your finger is alight!”

The tall thin gentleman, whom she could now see quite clearly, smiled. And not very pleasantly. He bent down to come face to face with Alice.

“I’m very clever with my fingers. As you may well find out.”

Alice gulped. She thought about running. But where to? Into the darkness?

“Come now, girl Alice. Let’s go to my house for refreshment.”

A long arm shot out. It grasped Alice’s right forearm. A firm tug and she was being dragged along behind the spectral figure. Into the darkness.

Alice was pulled for miles. That’s what it seemed like to her anyway. It was probably just a few hundred yards.

“Here we are. Home. Your new home.”

“I don’t want a new home,” said Alice as she gazed through the gloom at the shambles of a house in front of her. The building had at least three floors. It could be more but the darkness wrapped itself around the top of the house. It was made of wood, old and worn wood. Grubby and peeling. Weeds grew everywhere on the ground. A gate hung from one hinge.

“Well, it’s yours now, so there.”

The gentleman, who was not so gentle and thus Alice decided to call him just ‘the man’ from now on, tugged her past the gate and up cracked wooden steps towards the black front door.

“Hey, let go, sir. I don’t require a new home. And you’re hurting my arm.”

“Be quiet, girl Alice. The hurt won’t hurt for long.” He chuckled, though to Alice it sounded like the chuckling came from deep inside his stomach. The door swung open as the man barged inside. Alice was pulled in behind.

The inside seemed darker than outside. It smelt. Of old age and neglect. And something else. Something not very nice. The man clicked his finger and light blazed from it again. Using the flickering digit he lit two oil lamps on a faded white mantelpiece. Two threadbare armchairs, a low table and an empty bookcase completed the dingy room.

“Enough!” exclaimed Alice as she dug her boot heels into the creaking wooden floorboards. “Let go.”

The man turned his head, lowered it until he was face to face with Alice and smiled. Alice grimaced at the foul air emanating from his narrow lips.

“But, little girl Alice, we’ve only just begun. I haven’t seen a Faller for so, so long. The last one only lasted me 103 years. I’ve been so lonely since then.”

His tongue licked along his lips as his faded grey eyes lit up.

Alice swept her right foot back. And kicked. Hard. The man screamed, released her and clutched his left shin. Alice turned and ran. To the door. Through the door. And out. Into the dark darkness.

And she fell. Again.

 

She came in through the bathroom window

(a short piece written after coming across a Beatles’ song of this title. It apparently appeared on their Abbey Road album)

 

Of that there’s no doubt. The latch swung free, grating in the wind on the paint-flaking frame. Everywhere else had been securely locked. Like it always is. I’d been cooped up in the house for two days. I had to get out. And she saw the chance. To get in, carry out as much damage as she could. And get out before I returned. The timing was immaculate. Uncanny in fact. The first clue had been the bathroom door slightly ajar. I knew I’d shut it earlier. It put me on my guard at once. My hand flew to my pocket. Ready. Ready for any surprise. Any movement. I’d worked my way through the bedrooms. One by one. Cautious. Listening. Looking. Little clues gave away her trail. Something moved here. Something disturbed there. Every door was opened expecting a fright. A collision of minds and bodies. She wasn’t here. Not upstairs. The stairs creaked as I made my way down. No way to make my entrance a surprise. I just had to be prepared. My hand loitered inside my pocket. My fingers gripping tightly. The hallway mat was crooked. I’d missed that on the way in. Or had it happened since I went upstairs? I froze. Listened. Nothing. Perhaps I just missed it. The kitchen door was an inch open. The lock never worked properly. I peeped through the crack between the frame. No shadows gave away any body. I took a breath. Swept the door back in one flurry and stood still. The fridge hummed. Nothing else. The drawers all appeared closed. The cupboard doors shut. Strange. I’d expected some evidence of a search here. What was she looking for? I spun around. Lounge or dining room? I chose the latter. Nothing of concern to her lay in there. It was empty. But was the vase of flowers on the bureau turned forty-five degrees? Had she looked there? But why? The lounge door was wide open. As always. I had no cover. No wooden frame to hide behind. It would have to be all or nothing. Most of the room lay to the right of the doorway. I rushed in. Spun to my right. My hand shot out from my pocket. And there she was. Laid out cool on the sofa. Eyes blinking. In command. As always. She sat up as I approached. And purred as I slipped the cat harness over her long-whiskered head.

 

 

 

Guest post – Real Charlie’s angels

(an offering from ‘Jessica’ who used to write a blog back around 2010-12 and who now concentrates on writing books. “One of my recurring posts was about three young women sharing a house in Dulwich, London. Here’s one of my favourite pieces, based on a true event. Thanks, Jamie, for letting me resurrect it.”)

‘And what about last night…another classic episode in the lives of three simple girls in Dulwich.

About 8pm me and Lucy are sitting in the lounge listening to music while Rosie is upstairs in her bedroom doing…well, it’s never a good idea to ask what Rosie alone does in her room…
Suddenly Rosie comes hurtling down the stairs at full speed.
‘Rats! We’ve got rats!’
At once me and Lucy lifted our feet off the floor. After Rosie had calmed down she claimed she had heard a scraping sound coming from the loft. It took a while but she did at last convince us, so reluctantly we went up and sat in her room for 10 minutes listening. Not a sound. Back down we went, leaving a worried Rosie behind. A few minutes later…down she comes again.
‘Rats” Mice! Something! In the loft!!’
Here we go again…me and Lucy looked at each other and dragged ourselves upstairs again. Nothing. Down we went again…10 minutes later…
‘Rats! Rats! Mice! There is defo something in the loft!’
We had just about had enough of this and only just managed to stop ourselves from locking Rosie in the downstairs loo. But we are nice friends…so we trooped upstairs yet again! We sat on Rosie’s bed and listened. And…
There was a scraping sound!!!!!
Yikes!
We all leapt on the bed together in surprise. We thought about calling one of our neighbours but said, hang on, we’re tough cookies from South London, we can deal with this ourselves!
A few minutes later we are clambering up the ladder into the loft, torches in hand and rolling pins at the ready – well, Rosie couldn’t find one so she grabbed the nearest longish round object from her room…say no more…- and we started to look around the loft.
We stood there by the loft flap in the dusty, box-filled space and scanned everywhere with out torches.
Nothing.
We listened.
Silence.
We were about to suggest going back down when we heard it again – a definite scraping sound.
OMG!!!!
It was a rat or a mouse!!
It had to be!
Lucy nearly fell down the loft stairs, followed by us two. But, we’re brave, tough, no-messing-with-us-girls, aren’t we, so we went back up, went further in and began looking behind boxes.
Suddenly there was the sound again!
As I fell back in shock I knocked over a large packing case.
Bang!
Onto the loft floor…dust everywhere.
And there we stood, in the middle of the loft…just like Charlie’s Angels, back to back, torches shining out, trying to find the rat or mouse. What we would do if we found it was anyone’s guess…
Then the front door bell rang.
We nearly hit the roof joists in surprise!
Now what? Down we went, carefully closing the hatch to stop whatever it was coming down into the house. We opened the door. It was John from next door. He looked a little startled – three girls, covered in dust and cobwebs, shining torches into his face and looking like they just seen a ghost.
‘Er, just wondered if you girls were ok? I heard a tremendous thump from your loft just now. I’ve been up in my loft room scraping the woodchip paper off the wall, hell of a job……….’
Let’s just say John very nearly went home with a torch inserted where torchlight wouldn’t be of much use…

 

 

 

Do You Want To Know A Secret?

(this is a follow-on for ‘The Dancing Girl’ post. That one ended suggesting the girl was a ghost. I then thought, there are so many tales like this I wondered how you could continue the story having come to that type of ending. Here is my attempt. It changes the story from the ‘ghost genre’ to something else and leaves a lot still to be explained. I’m not sure it works, although I quite like the first half of the writing)

Three days later I returned to the property. The keys turned slow in the locks, the doors eased open with reluctant agony. I stopped on the thresholds, breath held, ears peeled like when I used to smoke a Lucky out the bedroom window scared ma might get back early from the store.

‘Rose?’

My word echoed eerie around walls which seemed lent in, listening.

‘Rose?’

Nothing.

‘Anyone here?’

I went up the last few creaking stairs to the room where I’d encountered Rose, her, whoever, whatever, I had the other day.

Just a damned squatter. Maybe, Mr Diederich, maybe.

Real estate agent Diederich had phoned to say he’d sent a junior around to check the place out, no-one was there and no evidence was found of anyone living in the property. He’d asked the local cops to drift past in a black and white, see if any light shone from the dust-washed windows. The owners, a trust fund, were keen to sell, he reckoned they’d take an offer ten percent under the asking price.

Did I want to find Rose? If I didn’t, and never did, would that send the shivers up my spine every time I thought about the building?

My hand wrapped around the well patinated brass doorknob. I hesitated.

‘Rose? You there?’

My heart was thumping. Stupid jerk, I thought. It’s just a vacant house and a young woman playing games.

The door yowled open quiet. It hadn’t the first time I came, but then I’d swung it wide and strode in confident, assessing ceiling cracks and bouncy floorboards.

The room was bare, empty, nada around.

I breathed relief. Or was it disappointment.

Fine, it was a great property, perfect for renovation into five, six large apartments. Money could be made here. I did a circuit of the space, judging dimensions.

But my eyes floated more than once to the center where she’d danced. Was the dust disturbed there? A slow breeze oozed through a cracked window. That could explain an uneven spread. What was I, a PI?

A door stood on the far right, I guessed through to a store for the alcohol back when the place reverberated to saxophones and trumpets and fast paced feet. Off there, two more doors waited, closed. I moved to the nearest.

And stopped.

A voice drifted faint. From the furthest door.

A girl’s voice.

Holy crap.

I froze.

Run? Never come back. Tell Diederich to go stick his property where the Chicago wind probably emanated from? Or..?

I stepped forward. A floorboard acted as an alarm, squeak creaking on downward and upward pressure.

Closer. I caught words. Sung soft, a whisper, words for a lover’s ear.

‘Do you want to know a secret?’

Then silence.

‘Rose?’

I waited. Checked the door back into the large room. Just in case. In case of what? You never know, do you?

‘Hey, that you, big timer?’

A girl’s voice. Her voice.

My legs said get out, my thumping heart ached a beat out.

‘Rose?’

‘You got a crush on me, Mr Sanders? You can’t stay away?’

I hadn’t moved. Which way to go?

The far door opened, no creak, no cry of underused wood.

Rose leaned on the frame. No gold tassels wrapped her body, a blue dress this time, knee-length, dropped waistline, v-shaped neck, two strings of beads hanging flat over the chest, white Mary Jane’s on the smallest feet I’d ever seen. Whoever she was she liked the ‘20s look. And wore it well.

She ran a hand through her dark fringe, brushing hair over a matching blue headband. The look reminded me of someone, a photo I’d seen one wet afternoon in the city library. Ah, yeah, Louise Brooks. Rose had deep red on her bee-stung lips. A black and white photo would have you crying ‘snap’ with Louise.

‘What, what, what are you doing here, Rose?’

She hitched a drawn-in eyebrow, the edge of her mouth lifted. Confidence hung like mist around the girl. I was a nervous wreck.

‘What’s eating you, Mr Sanders? You nervous of little old me? I ain’t nothing but a hopper.’

‘I’m just surprised, to see you here. The building, it’s meant to be vacant, ready to be bought. Diederich said he’d checked it out, no-one was here, you weren’t here.’

My words ricocheted out. Why? Was it the memory of old man Diederich’s photo of Rose and her sister Clara? Or was the girl getting to me, so beautiful, so self-assured?

‘Pah, Diederich, ish kabibble. Joseph never even tried to find Clara, them Diederich’s, they’re all high hats and flat tires.’

Clara. I’d wondered what became of her, meant to google the name, forgot in the rush of work. I looked at Rose, saw that same mischievous stare I’d seen on my phone photograph of her.

‘Clara. What became of your sister?’

As I asked the question I realised the cleverness of my inquiry. Would this actress, this squatter, know the truth, or be able to lie fast? I could check later. For the first time since entering the building I felt a confidence of my own returning.

‘I like you, Mr Sanders, but it’s none of your beeswax, is it? You gotta beware chin music, never know the trouble it might bring. My sister was darb, that’s all you need to know.’

‘And you wouldn’t know, would you, Rose?’

I was headrushing now, breathing deep, sure I had this young woman on the ropes.  My hand shot out.

‘Shake hands, Rose, shake hands.’

Flesh and blood can’t be, can’t be, a ghost. There, I’d it said to myself, the thought idling in my brain’s parking lot, afraid to be burning rubber into my mouth.

Rose’s eyes glinted beneath the heavy mascara, a tooth nicked her lower lip. She reached out, shook soft and warm.

See, she was real, tender to the touch, and no ethereal being haunting an old derelict dance hall.

‘Why, Mr Sanders, now we’re introduced you gonna offer to Middle Aisle me? Gonna buy me a manacle?’

I let go, glanced at my watch, realized I was late for meeting Dwight, my business partner, on the east side.

‘I’m buying the building, Rose, you’ll need to be out in a few weeks.’

‘Take care, Mr Sanders, don’t take any wooden nickels.’

She turned away, headed back into the room. My hand was on the door into the main building when words floated up the short hallway.

‘Do you want to know a secret, Do you promise not to say, whoa oh, oh…’

A mistake. I turned, ran to Rose’s door, pulled it open, saw her back to me as she stood over a bed, a suitcase draped with a yellow tasselled dress. I reached out to grasp her shoulder.

‘It’s ‘promise not to tell’, not ‘say’…’

And stumbled to the bare wooden floor, landing on my knees, a horrible emptiness in the pit of my stomach.

My hand had gone right through Rose’s body.

She looked down at me.

‘He’s here, Mr Sanders. You’ll have to come with me.’

‘Who? What? Rose, I just…’

Everything went black. Then white. Then the room returned into my vision. I was still kneeling, Rose’s fingers holding my wrist.

‘We gotta go, Mr Sanders, in case he gets lucky.’

‘Who? Lucky about what? Hell, Rose, what the…’

I held back on my language. Rose’s face had fear written in capital letters right across it.

‘The fire exit, Mr Sanders, it’s still safe, I’ve used it before.’

Rose pulled me into the hallway, the suitcase in her other hand, bundled us through an end door I’d missed and we clattered down iron stairs which I suspected dated to the original building. It was raining steadily. Strange. It’d been a sunny, clear day earlier and the forecast was dry.

‘This way, Mr Sanders, there’s an empty house two along.’

‘If you’re frightened of someone, Rose, we can take my car, it’s right outside the building.’

‘No, it’s not.’

‘What?’

Rose’s urgent steps and pull on my arm put a period on any further dialogue.

We dived into a porch of a one story house, a For Sale sign leaning lazy to one side.

I slapped my thoughts into order.

‘Enough. Who’re you running from? And why did my hand pass straight through you?’

My eyes were wide, anger and fright mixed like a stirred-crazy cocktail. In front of me was still a 1920s Flapper. It was bizarre.

Rose’s look had returned to the one I saw when she danced into my heart.

‘I’m a long way out of place, Mr Sanders. Many hundreds of years. You ain’t gonna believe that, are you? You might think it all hooey. But remember that blackness? Go back and try and find your car too. And the weather, kinda different, huh?’

‘You’re freaking me out, Rose. And why you singing a Beatles’ song when you tried to scare me with the ‘20s act?’

‘The 60s were kinda darb too. I liked it there.’

‘Are there men in white coats looking for you?’

Rose’s eyes narrowed.

‘I don’t get that reference. Your tone suggests I better not. I’ll get you back.’

Before I could say anything Rose grasped my wrist. Everything went black. Then white. We were back in the building, ground floor, by the rear door.

‘Your Jalopy’s out front. Go.’

My knees wobbled. I reached out, placed a hand against a brick wall warm from the sun.

‘I gotta go, Mr Sanders. If you want, I’ll meet you here tomorrow, around five in the afternoon.’

She pushed open the door. And disappeared. A voice drifted faint through the wood.

‘Do you want to know a secret…’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Round goes the gossip

(written in coffee house, one quick edit at home…)

Round goes the gossip,
north country accents machine gunning in a southern seaside town,
reshaping body shapes for coffee charged window-wishing dress buying,
Christmas decorations crisis early exhorted,
texting daughters rapid reply replayed,
head-nodded knowing,
proud envy sigh-shared;
make up base colours cross-checked,
creamier cream over beiger beige,
promised swift swap of free freebies,
vicious visits to inviting in-laws quick-chatted,
shops right rated by cross counter intercourse,
a sex of dancing words;
roads flash flooded in drenched downpours,
washing unhung as stair rods descended;
faded curtains charity shop listed,
husband’s lazy languidity sigh head-shook,
life’s quirky queries countered in ten minutes
girl-buddied word volley.