It began with a coffee shop…

(Something I started writing back in 2015 after visiting a coffee shop in a nearby town. I’ve edited it a little, it’s surprising how my style has changed over the last two years. It’s still rather bland and just the opening scene but it’s better out here than gathering dust in a laptop folder…)

‘Excuse me, may I join you?’

That’s how it started.

I sat in the coffee shop, my cappuccino in front of me. Two paperbacks from the library lay on the table in a plastic shopping bag. It was my third visit here. Only 9.30 in the morning, but I liked to avoid the crowds and make certain there was a choice of seats.

Situated next to a small supermarket in a quaint Kentish town, a few shoppers drifted past with a number of middle aged women accompanying their silver-haired mothers. Around me, with their oversized cups of coffee, were a mix of retired single gentlemen and ladies, either seeking the company of the gentle hubbub of the pedestrianised passageway or stopping off for a rest before the walk home.

I usually headed back for my coffee. It seemed an unnecessary expense to buy when I could be home in five minutes and getting the same for free. But I had associated morning coffee in the lounge with my mother. It had been our time, a regular opportunity to meet up and exchange simple conversation. Now I felt the need to get out, to be surrounded by life.

I sipped from my cup. I gazed towards the shops across the paved walkway, imagining like so many others what type of life the people going by had.

Today I looked up, startled. A lady, in her forties, holding a cup in one hand and a handbag in the other, was hovering over the seat opposite me.

‘May I sit here?’

‘Er, right,  yes, of course.’

My eyes flitted around, spotting empty tables and chairs. I wondered why someone would want to sit with me.

The woman tugged the leather chair back, dropped her bag onto the floor and sat down, her cup still held above the table in her hand. Her brunette hair was stylishly cut down to an inch or two below her ears with longer strands hanging either side of her chin. She had one of those wide mouths that somehow made her instantly likeable.

‘I hate sitting by myself, and I’ve spotted you in here a couple of times, so I thought you’d be okay.’

I raised my eyebrows.

‘Er, I suppose I take that as a compliment, ‘being okay’.’

The woman placed her coffee on the table.

‘Sorry, I didn’t mean it to sound, you know, patronising or something. It’s just, it can be awkward being a woman by yourself, especially if you want to sit around for some time. There’s always some man who’ll try and chat or offer to buy you another cup.’

I sat up straighter and self-consciously tidied my bag of books. I looked directly at her for the first time. Her hazel eyes had a sparkle, just like writers would say in a corny romance. But they did. They had life in them. I could quite understand why men would offer to buy her a drink. Or two.

‘I think you’re pretty safe in this quiet little town, most men in here seem retired and maybe a little bit tired.’

I nodded towards a couple of individuals near the window who were certainly scruffy, wearing crumpled beige summer jackets with their white hair sticking out over their ears. I couldn’t imagine a caring partner letting them out like that.

The woman drank from her coffee and replaced the cup on the table. Her lips were coated with a pale shade of orangey lipstick, something I always thought looked glamorous and seductive.

‘Oh, they are the worse, they just talk and talk, it’s terrible getting away from them. Part of me feels sorry for the old so-and-so’s, the other part is itching all over and wanting to run for the door.’

Her lips spread into a wide smile. I shifted my eyes to my own coffee and lifted the cup which in my house would have passed for a soup bowl. I’ve always liked women with those wide lips, just I like do women with cherub lips. Two extremes attract me it seems.

‘You come in here often then?’

In my head I couldn’t help but think what a corny chat-up line that was, but then I wasn’t chatting her up. Was I? No, I’d been enjoying the break from home and the chance to watch people around me. Women coming up and talking like this was a novelty. I felt out of my depth.

The woman adjusted her top, sleeveless blue with white polka dots, and rested her bare arms on the table. Her skin was slightly tanned, not I thought from hours spent soaking up the sun on a beach or by a pool, but probably from just being out and around in the fresh air. Or maybe it betrayed her origin or parentage. Her accent was very English, but that could be misleading.

‘Just in the last few weeks. There are so many coffee shops in this small place, it’s unbelievable. I can’t think how they all survive out of the tourist season.’

I nodded. It was a subject of many conversations among the locals, especially when some picturesque but unprofitable shop closed and was replaced by yet another outlet which placed its tables and chairs outside on narrow pavements and offered free wifi trying to recreate the insular camaraderie of ‘Friends’ or the bustling streets of Paris.

‘Yeah, there have been rather a lot springing up over the last few years.’

I took a drink. It had been sometime since I’d had a longer conversation with a woman, I didn’t quite know what to say. I didn’t want to bore her or drive her away but I wasn’t sure what she wanted; someone to talk with or just another body sitting on the same table to keep away unwanted offers of coffee and company.

A hand popped across the table.

‘I’m Immy, by the way. Short for Imogen.’

Her hand felt warm and soft. I hoped mine didn’t feel too sweaty in return. I noticed how slender her fingers were, longer than mine. The nails were coated with an orange varnish a shade darker than her lipstick.

‘I’m… Jim.’

I stuttered over the word. Everyone in the family knew me as Jamie, all at any work as James. Why did I go for Jim here? And Jim and Immy – it sounded ridiculous. Suppose I’d said Jimmy, she might have thought I was taking the micky.

‘So, you’re an avid reader then, Jim?’

She nodded down towards the two books I’d borrowed from the library earlier. One was inside the bag, the other lay face down on top.

‘I was, not so much now. I actually borrow them to check if the authors have mentioned their agents. I want to contact a few.’

Immy’s mouth dropped open, revealing near perfect teeth.

‘Really? You’re a writer? That’s way exciting!’

I laughed. She had a nice way of making you feel relaxed with her voice and expression.

‘No, not really. I have written a novel, or rather a very long story as I call it. I thought I might as well send it off, you never know.’

‘Wow, that’s amazing. You’ve written a novel, you sit around in coffee shops, with a pile of books in front of you, that seems like a cool life to me!’

As she rocked in her seat her shoe accidentally grazed mine. I moved my foot back, hoping she didn’t notice. It was a long time too since I’d had any physical contact with a woman. Even the slightest innocent touch might cause me to misinterpret the signs. But it was nice moment, I had to admit.

‘Well, not really. I only come in here about once a week, it’s a bit expensive, I live ten minutes away and coffee’s free at home. But it’s fun watching other people, writing can be lonely at times.’

‘Oh, I’m sure, it takes great discipline too, I imagine. But you must feel proud, having written something like that.’

‘Sure, if you’d said a year ago I would write over 100,000 words on one story, I wouldn’t have believed you.’

Immy’s eyes widened.

‘A hundred thousand. God, that’s unbelievable.’

‘Well, most of it, like any book, is sort of padding, you know. You have a basic story and just fill it out in a way.’

Immy took her cup and sipped her cappuccino, flecks of foam sticking to her lips. Her tongue darted up and along, wiping the white away.

I almost turned to see if there was a movie director around somewhere, it was one of the sexiest things I’d ever seen, and it happened right in front of me.

‘What do you do, Immy?’

She looked at her cup, tipping it towards her, the remains of the coffee swirling dangerously close to the edge.

‘Me? Right now not much. I’m taking time out, enjoying life. Regrouping, you could say.’

‘Right.’

Divorce rang through my head, it seemed the obvious explanation. Or a trial separation. Maybe her husband had had an affair. Maybe she had. I couldn’t help but think any man would be mad to cheat on her. I wondered if I should say it out loud, but I didn’t. It might appear too cheesy, or even suggestive.  It was just, one moment I’d been here pleased to be out enjoying the change, the next this was happening. I wasn’t used to such things. I wasn’t used to exploiting these situations. If a woman asked me to help her change a tyre I’d do it, but I wouldn’t follow up and ask her for a drink or a meal like some men would.

I felt it better not to pry into her answer.

‘And you’ve been coming in here much?’

Immy took another gulp of her coffee.

‘A few weeks, once or twice a week, or in another coffee shop. It’s good to watch people. I bet you do that for your writing.’

‘Um, yeah, I suppose I do, although not regularly, as I said earlier. Perhaps I should do it more.’

 

And so on… I wonder where this could go from here?

 

 

 

 

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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…’

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dancing Girl

(something written for my writers’ group’s next meeting, still being edited but here it is as it stands right now)

The girl shimmied across the floor, dress straight and loose, waistline dropped to the hips, calves on view sheaved in silk stocking. Her head turned, shingle bob slow-waving on bare neckline, eyes kohl-rimmed large, bee-stung lips broke open in a smile self-confident and provocative.

Music whispered in the background as if called to cue by her twisting shoulders. My history-flooded mind caught a bar or two and clicked the needle of recognition – ‘Hard To Get Gertie’ by The Dixie Stompers. The girl moved closer, slipping into a Black Bottom routine, arms and legs spinning hazes of freedom.

I leaned back against a window sill, dragging tight a once white net curtain now coated in dust. Except for the dancing girl, the high-ceilinged room was empty. The floorboards lay bare and stripped raw. Along the far wall ripped plaster suggested a waist-high counter once ran and gaping holes above had held racks of hanging spirit bottles, evidence of a past full of alcohol and entertainment. The broad windows against my back rose high, allowing light to flood the unpolished floor where the dancer moved with unabashed fervour.

The music faded, a muted trumpet left with the last forlorn notes. The girl stopped, hands placed on hips, lips open as she dragged in breaths. Her flat chest heaved beneath fringe-covered material, the yellow dancing in the sunlight like the girl had moments before. She looked up, eyelashes curled and fluttered.

‘So, Father Time, you gonna dance with me? Maybe a little Grizzly Bear to get us close?’

‘Not sure I know the moves to that. I thought this building was empty and up for sale?’

‘Oh, you don’t wanna worry about that.’

The girl twitched her head to one side, bobbed hair hanging like a curtain down to a shoulder, eyes staring straight into me.

‘Say, you a forty-niner? I ain’t looking for marriage, I’m a girl who can pay her own way. I ain’t no tomato, that’s for sure.’

I held my hands up and smiled.

‘You’re good, real good, and you dance like a pro.’

‘Come join me then, or you a corn-shredder, stamping over young girls’ feet all night long?

‘Huh, I can dance right, though maybe not the ways you just put out. You live here? I was told it was vacant possession.’

The girl stepped forward in shiny black shoes. My eyes caught the small size of those amazing dancing feet.

‘You staring at my Mary Janes? Only bought them a few days since.’

She stood close, just half a yard away. I made a guess at the perfume floating in the air between us – Guerlain’s Shalimar. A finger hung in front of my face, the nail long, the middle painted deep red, the crescent tip unpolished.

‘You like my moon manicure, honey? We gonna go find us a whangdoodle, dance to some jazz, or you gonna offer me a grubstake, I eat cheap, gotta keep my flat figure, ain’t I?

I chuckled, the girl was killing me, she was beautiful and cute, and her lingo cut me up.

‘I came here to buy the property, or at least to decide if it’s worth putting in an offer on. But if you or others are living here, that’s going to be a problem.’

‘Me? Little me a problem? I ain’t been ever called that before. Say, you’re a bit fluky, ain’t you? You ain’t no finale hopper, are you? I hate those guys, they never buy a girl a drink, never keep their promise to pay the bill. Or you an Airedale, then, a homely guy?’

I moved away from the still dangling finger, tempted though I was to grasp it gentle and join in the flirting banter.

‘So, Miss…? You work as a dancer from here? Or as an actress?’

‘I earn my sugar any way I can, honey, but I ain’t no boob-tickler, so don’t you go getting ideas about you and me being in this room alone. I don’t please my pa’s customers just so he can seal a deal.’

I stood in silence, not sure whether to continue this talk or give up the building as a potential troublesome purchase. Music wafted up faint around the walls again. The girl’s eyes lit up. She moved away, back into the centre of the room.

‘A Charleston! Hot dawg, I love the Charleston, and this song, ‘Hitch Up The Horses’, it’s always playing down the Green Mill here in the Windy City. Perhaps if you won’t dance with me, you’ll buy me an urban set, a gal can’t wear the same dress every week, can she?’

Mascara eyes and drawn in eyebrows held my look, daring me to say no. Then she moved off, a whirling dervish of arms and legs.

I wondered where the backing track was coming from, had the girl left a device on play or was a friend switching it on and off, enjoying my embarrassment of the unexpected confrontation. I wondered if they were squatters, trying to frighten me off the purchase.

I should have left, but the girl and her dancing held me entranced. She really was very good, very authentic. There was a place for her on stage or on TV. I waited until the music melted away and the girl stood, hands on knees, blissful exertion etched on a blushed face.

‘I gotta go now, Miss…? I didn’t catch your name.’

‘Well, brooksy, you ain’t told me yours neither.’

‘I’m Kyle, Kyle Sanders.’

‘Don’t turn into a wurp, Mr Sanders, no-one likes being edisoned. You can call me Rose, if you give me a drive home, my stilts and dogs are aching and I ain’t paying for a dimbox.’

‘Sure, let’s walk, Rose.’

I led the girl down a winding set of stairs with cracked banisters and into the fresh air of a deserted street. She stopped, rubbed her calf, throwing a tired look back at the building.

‘Shucks, ain’t they ever gonna fix the lemon squeezer?

I unlocked my Dodge Durango. Rose climbed in, eyes flicking around the automobile.

‘Well di mi, ain’t this the cat’s pajamas, it’s a regular cake basket. Folks see you driving me around in this, they’re gonna think you a cuddle cootie.’

‘Where’d you live, Rose?’

‘I’m getting to like you, Mr Sanders. Perhaps you’ll buy me a handcuff one day. Maybe?

‘Your home address, Rose?’

‘Oh, you can let me out at Millard Avenue and Ridgeway. You sure are the duck’s quack.’

‘Just before we leave, there’s one thing I’d like to…’

 

Fifteen minutes later I watched Rose disappear down the sidewalk. She looked back before stepping left into a side alley. I wondered about going after her, asking for a phone number, but the moment was gone. If I pursued the building’s purchase I guessed our tracks might cross again.
‘So, you’re interested, Mr Sanders?’

Real estate agent William Diederich clicked his mouse and rubbed a chin less smooth than it had been when I came by early morn.

‘Sure, I might be. But it seemed not to be vacant. A girl, maybe others, were there.’

‘Damn squatters. I’ll get on to the precinct first thing tomorrow, Mr Sanders. Don’t worry, it’ll be empty within twenty-four hours.’

‘I was wondering, do you know anything about the building’s history, say way back in the 1920s or so?’

‘Hell, you need to talk to my pa, his father knew it well when it was a dance hall in the early days, they often talked together about the place in my grandpa’s last couple of years, even went down there a few times.’
Two hours later I was sipping warm Budweisers with eighty-something Walter Diederich. After several long stories reminiscing about the building in its heyday he stopped to take a sip of beer. I brought out my phone.

‘You ever seen this face before?

I thumbed up the photo I’d taken of Rose before we’d driven off. Her heavily made up face, outlined by the black bob, stared out. Was there a glint of mischief there I’d missed before?

Walter’s eyes bulged.

‘Say, are you nuts? Where’d you get that from?’

‘It’s just a girl I met today, at the building we’re talking about, the one you knew back in the day.’

‘Wait there, sonny, just wait there.’

With surprising speed old man Diederich went into a study area off the kitchen. A short while later he returned, flapping a photograph in front of him.

‘You see this, youngster, you just see this.’

He dropped the photograph next to my phone.

Two young women stared out from sepia-tinged paper. A finger stabbed at the girl on the right of the pair.

‘That’s Clara Pohlmeyer, the first serious love of my pa. He told me a hundred stories about him and her, how they’d met at a dance, how they’d planned to marry, set up their own dance hall with a jazz band, but the parents were against any business like that, definitely against any idea of a marriage. Clara was sent off to New York to stay with an aunt. Never came back. Pa never saw her again.’

My finger drifted down to the young woman standing next to Clara.

‘And this?’

‘That’s what made me go get the photograph! That’s Clara’s sister, couple of years younger, killed in the crossfire of a Chicago Mob shootout in ’26. How in the darn world did you get her picture on your phone?’

‘Do you remember the girl’s name, Mr Diederich, her name?’

‘Oh yeah, my pa said you didn’t forget that one once you’d met her. Hell of a dancer by all accounts, had a special dress made of gold tassels, paid for by Capone himself.’

‘Her name, Mr Diederich?’

‘That’s Rose, sir, that’s Rose Pohlmeyer.’

It was the same face staring out from my phone and the photograph.
Back in the car I closed the door. I sat dumbfounded. Had I imagined the meeting in the building this morning? I glanced sideways at where I thought a girl named Rose had sat just hours earlier after having entertained me with her dancing and dialogue.

Three yellow tassels shimmied on the seat in the early evening sunlight.

 

(and here’s a vocabulary list of the ‘Flapper’s’ words)

Father Time – any man over 30 years of age
Grizzly Bear – a popular 20s dance
Forty-Niner – man who is prospecting for a rich wife
Tomato – a young woman shy of brains
Corn-Shredder – young man who dances on a girl’s feet
Mary Janes – closed, low-cut shoe with one or more straps across the instep, popular in 20s
Whangdoodle – jazz-band music
Grubstake – invitation to dinner
Fluky – funny, odd, peculiar; different
Finale Hopper – young man who arrives after everything is paid for
Airedale – a homely man
Sugar – money
Boob-Tickler – girl who entertains father’s out-of-town customers
Urban Set – a new gown
Brooksey – classy dresser
Wurp – Killjoy or drawback
Edisoned – being asked a lot of questions
Stilts – legs
Dogs – feet
Dimbox – a taxicab
Lemon Squeezer – an elevator
Di mi – goodness
Cat’s Pajamas – anything that’s good
Cake Basket – a limousine
Cuddle Cootie – young man who takes a girl for a ride on a bus, gas wagon or automobile
Handcuff – engagement ring
Hot dawg – great!
Duck’s Quack – the best thing ever

Jenny Jelepody

(written a couple of years ago, just a simple little thing)

Jenny Jelepody immersed herself in the gloriously hot bubble bath. Just a week ago she had met the man of her dreams. Tall, dark, handsome, and filthy rich. It had been lust at first sight. Edward Syngeon-Smyth had wined and dined her like a perfect gentleman. He was polite, courteous, well spoken, well educated, divorced and very lonely. It had been a match made in Heaven.

Jenny had played hard to get at first. She had declined his initial offers of a drink or dinner date. Even when a hundred red roses were delivered to her door she still feigned disinterest. But her eyes egged Edward on, a little glint here, a little bat of her extended eyelashes there. He was soon putty, warm, wet, gooey putty, in her hand. One small smile from Jenny sent Edward into raptures and the number of roses doubled. The offer of dinner and the very best theatre tickets were just too much for Jenny to ignore.

And so she had let Edward befriend her. They spent hours together, life stories swopped, the tragic death of Jenny’s husband gushed out over a plate of the very best oysters, the tales of Edward’s yachts and penthouses met with envious gasps. Life seemed perfect for the pair. Two lost souls miraculously thrown together by a chance meeting at a polo match.

Poor Edward was smitten. Anything that Jenny mentioned he would conjure up in a day or sooner. You’ve never owned a diamond necklace, my dear? No problem! You’ve never been to Broadway? Tomorrow, my love! You’ve never even touched a Valentino dress? A whole rack will be yours by the weekend!

Ah, Jenny laid back in the bath. The soft bubbles caressed her skin and the relaxing water massaged her beautiful body. When she met Edward earlier tonight she knew the time was right. When she led him into her new apartment (paid for by Edward, of course) he had looked so happy and so contented. When he’d laid eyes on her enormous, luxurious round bed he had nearly fainted. All his dreams were about to come true.

Jenny stroked her glistening skin with the flannel. It was bright red, and nearly matched the growing crimson of the bubbly water. Such a shame really to spoil a bath in this way, but it was the laziest and most enjoyable way to wash off the blood. Jenny laid back and sighed. No more polo, thank goodness! Once she was dry and dressed she would dispose of the many pieces of Edward now lying in her kitchen and tomorrow begin the search for another Mr Right ready for suitable fleecing and dispatch…

 

Holiday romance

(written recently in response to a Writers Group prompt)

 

Kurt shaded his eyes from the Miami sun, the noise of happy children and swishing waves washing around his ears. A teenager trudged by, feet surfing the shiny sand, ears wrapped with wires, face hypnotized by the tiny screen he clutched. A tinny voice escaped into the air. Kurt raised an eyebrow. Who was that high pitched boy called? Bieber? Yeah, Justin Bieber. Huh, not bad for an old guy.

The kid disappeared among crowds of families and youngsters. Kurt sighed. Guess he’d been no better at that age. A transistor glued to his hand, the Beach Boys’ ‘Surfin’ USA’ driving his parents to distraction as they tried to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Ah, Sunny Isles Beach. In a way it hadn’t changed since he came here with his ma and pa back in ’63. ‘Cept the beachside condos which had sprung up, of course. But the sand and the sea, they were same. And they brought back memories.

Memories of her.

Darlene Geller.

Kurt closed his eyes, felt the warmth of the sun, heard the swish-swash of the waves, and in his head saw long blond hair tied back in a ponytail, a skin smooth and light tanned, eyes blue and alive with life, and a giggle to churn any teenage boy’s stomach.

Darlene Geller.

He’d first seen her by the ice cream truck as he eyed up a Bomb Pop being served to the kid in front. The cherry, lime and blue raspberry had suddenly lost interest to him. Instead he’d stared, mouth open, tongue hanging, at the something actually more deserving of his worship. The girl had been playing hide and seek with her younger brother, and had stepped out from behind the truck inches from Kurt.

‘Hey.’

That’d been his opening line.

‘Hey.’

He remembered going over that word all evening as ma and pa dozed deep at the restaurant table. What a dumb ass thing to say.

‘Hey.’

And bee-stung lips opposite him had replied.

‘Hey yourself.’

What did that mean? He can remember worrying all night about it, tossing and rolling in that bone hard bed in the hotel. Did she mean ‘Go away’, or ‘Hey, let’s talk’, or what?

The man in the ice cream truck had cut in, demanded with his tired, irritable voice what Kurt wanted. By the time Kurt looked back the girl was gone. Forever?

No, he’d seen her again the next day, when he went to hire a bicycle. She was going round and round in circles on a green Schwinn American. He’d handed a dollar bill over to the hire shop assistant, his eyes fixed on the green bike, too shy to stare at the rider.

‘You wanna take a girl’s cycle, sonny?’

The lanky assistant smiled down at Kurt, a matchstick waving lazy from his lips and a knowing look in his glance.

Kurt had grabbed the first bicycle from the rack and hurtled off down the track. As he’d come to the sand he’d determined to go back and speak to the girl. But he’d jammed the brakes on too fast, spun in a sand cloud of panic and had ended up on his butt with the bike across his legs.

‘You never ridden a bicycle before?’

Kurt had looked up. That face, haloed by blond hair, had appeared to float in the blue perfect sky.

‘Heck, course, just, just practising a trick I been working on. Pretty dangerous one too.’

Kurt’s cheeks had matched the red color of his check shirt. He’d tried not to cough with the sand and dust coating his hair and neck.

The girl had adjusted her feet on the pedals.

‘Well, you gonna simply stay there on the ground or you wanna come for a ride? My mom says I can go as far as the pier.’

‘What? Yeah, hey, let me…’

But she was gone, pedalling off along the beach like a Hollywood movie star, t-shirt billowing in the breeze, hair floating like a scarf behind her. Kurt had jumped up, thrown himself onto a saddle twisted and bent and had set off on an adventure to who cared where.

And that’s how it had started.

For the next two weeks they’d done everything together: swum in the sea, buried each other’s brothers in the sand, eaten hot dogs with mustard slow dripping, listed top ten songs and singers, argued over the coolest TV shows, and smoked Luckies behind parked up ice cream trucks late into the evening.

Best of all had been the times just lying on the hot beach, side by side, being fritter fried by the sun for hours on end, talking about their hopes, their dreams, their fears, their secrets. Kurt had felt like he’d found the other half of himself.

Then, like any novel or movie, the end scene had arrived. Cases had been packed, shoes emptied of sand, souvenirs forced into groaning cars, handshakes and backslaps exchanged between grown-ups.

And Darlene had written her address on Kurt’s arm in green biro.

And he’d really meant to copy it into his diary, the little one he kept in secret with poetic scribblings and dark, depressive forebodings of a Cold War exploding hot. He really had meant to.

Kurt had slept solid all the way home to Boston, gone straight to the washroom and, well, you can guess what had happened. Shucks, he’d said to himself later in his bedroom, he thought he could remember the address, he hoped he could, at least part of it. He’d written down the words on an envelope, scribbled a note, his fingers trembling as he inked the letters of ‘Darlene’, and sent it off, promising silently to a God he didn’t believe in he’d go to church every Sunday if only the Lord would help the mailman deliver the letter safe.

 

Kurt stirred. It was time to wake up from his dream of decades past. His stomach rumbled hungry messages. Gee, he realized, he’d been sitting here on the beach for an hour, reliving that holiday, revisiting Darlene Geller.

A body shifted next to him.

‘Come on, Kurt, let’s get back, the grandkids are Skyping us at seven.’

‘Sure, leave the ice box to me, you take the towels, Darlene.’