Stormy Sea

Water, water, everywhere

The idea for this story began when we tried to encourage a bee to leave the studio where we hold our regular writing group meetings. It was very reluctant but we managed it and then came up with the idea of using letters of the alphabet as the inspiration for our stories. B for bee, C for sea, etc, so I used the opportunity to write a dark story about being trapped and yearning for something you can’t have.

The Sea

A sad woman stares unseeingly out of a window onto a vista of grey. The sky and sea are formed from the same colour and blend into one another. A fishing boat looks like it is flying and gulls seem to float on the water.

The winter’s afternoon is turning imperceptibly to dusk as Shona waits for her husband to return from his latest fishing trip. Her heart yearns for him to have been swallowed by the inky depths, air in his lungs replaced by icy water; a sacrificial offering to the sea and his pale, lifeless body washed up on a lonely shore. However, her head knows that if Douglas drowns, she will be trapped forever, unable to return to the sea.

Shona realises that she should be using the time she is on her own in the cottage to search for that which has been stolen from her but is overwhelmed by listlessness. She has looked everywhere in and around the small dwelling so now suspects that he has hidden it elsewhere, probably buried deep in the earth to rot and moulder.

She has been a good, obedient wife to this man she doesn’t love, who tricked her into remaining with him on this desolate island. She is thankful that no children were born of their marriage as it would have broken her heart to have left them behind. She knows the island women gossip about her dark looks and stare when she goes into the village but doesn’t care. She has nothing in common with them and their dull lives.

The light has quickly fled the sky so Shona turns from her ghostlike reflection in the darkened window and makes her way by firelight towards the mantelpiece. Once there she lights a candle and is about to head towards her rocking chair when something catches her eye; a deeper shadow cast from the flickering light. She holds the candle closer and realises that a sliver of wood stands proud on the wall next to the chimney breast. She prises the piece loose and tucked into the nook is a small silver key. Picking it up, she places it on her palm and muses over her discovery.

She is sure that this key will unlock the hiding place of her property and is filled with a sudden sense of urgency. Her mind is racing but she forces herself to calm down and think clearly. Shona knows the cottage and its environs well, having lived there for over five years, so she is almost certain she hasn’t overlooked anywhere. Almost.

Shona lights a storm lantern, throws a cloak around her shoulders and goes outside into the cold, still night. Moving methodically, she works her way around the cottage looking for anything out of the ordinary. Just as she is about to start her third circuit, Shona notices that one of the timbers near the ground looks thicker than the others and reaches down to investigate. Placing the lantern on the ground, she pulls at the plank until it shifts and reveals a keyhole. She clenches her teeth at the realisation that Douglas had hidden it right under her nose. He must have been laughing at her behind her back all these years.

She holds her breath as she turns the key and only when she hears the click does she start breathing again. A small door opens to reveal a gap containing what looks like a fur coat. Her eyes fill with tears as she grasps the sealskin and runs her fingers through the thick fur.

Although Shona becomes human on land, she is in fact a selkie and her true form is that of a seal. Douglas was captivated by her when they first met and she liked the attention from such a handsome man. However, his desire to own her made him behave cruelly and one night he plied her with mead then stole her skin and hid it away. Without her sealskin, she would never be able to return to her former life and she had no choice but to marry her captor.

She gathers the skin in her arms, walks purposefully to the shore then gently places it on the sand. Removing her clothes, she lies down and wraps the skin around her. Within moments she has transformed into a beautiful seal, sleek and with dark, liquid eyes. Shona hitches herself into the surf, relishing the cold saltiness washing over her fur, then dives into the dark water without a backward glance.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Bad Hair Day

The temple thronged with women waiting patiently in the stifling heat. Some were crying silently but most waited with a stoic expression etched on their faces.

Keshika tried not to caress her beautiful, waist-length hair and instead gazed at her perfect daughter playing with a feather on the floor of the temple. Akuti was her miracle, born eight years after her marriage, when she had given up hope of ever having a child. Her husband loved her but she knew that he yearned for children and the thought of not being able to provide him with a baby almost broke her heart.

Keshika and Akuti had travelled for two days to reach the temple at Tirumala in the hills of Andhra Pradesh so that Keshika could make a sacrifice to Lord Venkateswara who had answered her prayers. They had travelled by train from their small village, enduring cramped conditions with many other pilgrims, being lulled to sleep by the rocking motion of the carriage and trying to work out who smelt worse, an old woman or her goat. It was only Keshika’s second time on a train and Akuti’s first trip and they were lucky enough to get a seat near the window so were able to glimpse the countryside change and grow more verdant as the train crawled up into the hills.

They disembarked at Tirupati and then walked the remaining sixteen miles to the temple. There was a festival atmosphere as they walked along with many other women and the closer they got to their destination, the more excited everyone became. Akuti walked a good part of the way, with Keshika carrying her when she grew tired and unable to pick up her feet. When they finally saw the temple, its towers of white marble and gold took their breath away.

The queue moved inexorably forward and as Keshika approached the front, she could hear a scraping noise. As she reached the head of the queue she watched as an older woman walked away from the barbers, blinking and rubbing her bald head.

As Keshika took her seat, she glanced down at a basket filled with long, dark hair. Akuti started to whimper so she pulled her onto her lap as the man behind her used a cut-throat razor to expertly shave her long tresses, each clump of hair landing in the basket. The ordeal took only minutes and Keshika walked away feeling uplifted and convinced now that her debt was paid.

Candy Wilde sashayed into the Knightsbridge salon on her sky high Louboutin heels, red soles flashing as she walked and her mountainous breast implants reaching the receptionist’s desk well before she did.

“May I help you?” enquired the imperious receptionist as she looked Candy up and down with evident distaste.

Used to this kind of treatment in upmarket establishments, Candy knew how to deal with uppity types so simply demanded in her flat, estuarine accent, “If I want to talk to a monkey, I’ll go to the zoo. Now go and get me the organ grinder.”

The receptionist’s look went from a sneer to outrage. She opened her mouth to fire off a suitable retort, thought better of it then swung her waterfall of brunette hair over a shoulder and stalked off to find Xander Long.

Candy inspected her nail extensions, thinking that one of the Swarovski crystals had fallen off the fuchsia pink lacquer. It was still there but she would make an appointment to have them touched up anyway as it was almost two weeks since they’d been done. She also made a mental note to book more botox injections as she was sure she’d almost had a facial expression the previous day.

Xander Long, owner of the most prestigious hairdressing salon in London, dealt with only A-list clients personally so was reluctant to see the woman Lara, his receptionist, described as a “life sized Barbie”. Knowing Candy’s type well, he knew if Lara tried to fob her off, she would just make a scene and scare off his celebrity clients.

Xander’s first thought on seeing the woman was “You’ve been Tangoed” followed by a craving for watermelon. Candy was a startling shade of orange and would have been average height if not for the vertiginous heels she wore. Her hair was exactly the same colour as Barbie’s but cut surprisingly short.

“Mr Long, you’ve got to help me,” Candy begged before Xander had even had a chance to open his mouth.

“My stupid bitch of a hairdresser found out I was sleeping with her boyfriend and did this to me,” gesticulating at her head. “I’ve got a photo shoot for Nuts tomorrow and I can’t go looking like this. Everyone says you have the best hair extensions in London. Can you fit me in?” She looked up beseechingly with large blue eyes and fluttered her false eyelashes at him, which must have taken some effort considering the weight of them.

“I’ll see what I can do,” replied Xander, gesturing to Lara to pass him the appointment diary. He wasn’t going to turn down three grand for a full head of hair extensions, not when he had the astronomical rent to pay on the salon and a fondness for the old Bolivian Marching Powder.

“You’re lucky. We’ve had a cancellation and Jorge will be able to see you.”

Jorge’s deft hands glued Keshika’s crowning glory, now dyed blonde, onto Candy’s hair. When he had finished she exclaimed, “You’re a lifesaver!” After she’d paid on her platinum card, Candy hailed a taxi to take her to the opening of a new club where she planned to shag a footballer then sell her story to one of the tabloids.

Curiouser and curiouser

All the inspiration for my stories comes from the writing group that I attend and we had the interesting idea to use the title The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time but replacing the word “dog” with whatever we wanted. This led to a variety of stories with some that rhymed (cod, frog and bog) and some that didn’t (twins, spider and old woman).

Some of you might be noticing a supernatural theme to most of my stories and this is because that’s what I read in my formative years and continue to read. Although the main character isn’t me, there are some semi-autobiographical elements in this story.

The Curious Incident of the Bog in the Night-time

A young woman drives, tapping the beat of the music out on the steering wheel and singing along. She shakes her head vigorously in time to the music and her blonde ponytail whips around, flicking each cheek in turn. It is a sultry, late summer’s day so the windows are wound down and the sun roof is open. There is a haze in the sky which she knows means it will get hotter still before the day is out. She has seen few other vehicles around and the main highlight of the journey so far was overtaking a tractor a few miles back.

Ariadne is the woman’s name. She is named after the daughter of the Cretan King Minos who was instrumental in the Minotaur’s downfall by giving Theseus a sword and a ball of thread so he could find his way out of the labyrinth. Her unusual moniker comes from her father, a well-respected expert on Ancient Greece. It could have been worse; she could have been lumbered with Persephone.

As a child, instead of fairy stories, she was lulled to sleep by myths with their fantastic tales of heroes, trials, monsters and power struggles between the gods and man. The names of the Greek gods are as familiar to her as the firemen in Trumpton, another childhood favourite.

She would lie on her back in the garden and imagine that the fluffy cumulus clouds floating above her formed the shape of the nine-headed Hydra and Medusa, with snakes for hair, instead of more benign creatures. As she grew older she realised that being told bedtime stories about Prometheus, whose punishment for creating man from clay and pinching fire from the gods was to have his liver eaten by an eagle, only for it to grow back and be pecked out again the following day, for all eternity, probably wasn’t that normal.

The song Ariadne is enjoying finishes and the tape automatically starts to play the second side. She’s so pleased she chose that option on her new car stereo as it’s such a pain to have to eject the tape and turn it over.

Now singing along to Ride on Time, Ariadne realises she’s close to her destination and glances at the map on the passenger seat. After a couple more miles, she slows down a little so as not to miss the turning, she reaches the track and steers the VW Golf onto the rutted surface.

A few hundred yards down the track, she pulls into a lay-by and turns the engine off. Ariadne gathers her equipment from the back seat, puts her baseball cap on, yanking her ponytail through the hole at the back, and starts walking. Relishing the opportunity to stretch her legs after the long car journey, she takes long strides while singing the chorus from Ride on Time. To her ears she sounds pitch perfect; to anyone else’s it could be mistaken for a high-pitched keening noise of an animal in distress. Ariadne wears a long sleeved cotton shirt and trousers despite the heat, to protect her pale skin from the fierce sun. Eventually she stops and looks out over the bog.

Studying for her MSc in Botany, Ariadne is researching sundews for her dissertation. They have long fascinated her as they look so delicate but are in fact carnivorous; they ensnare insects with sticky, sweet secretions and then slowly digest them.

Picking her way across the marshy ground, Ariadne curses her wellies for making her feet sweat. Reaching the area she’d earmarked last time she was here, she rummages in her backpack and pulls out her quadrat, the one metre square which she will use to calculate how many sundews are in the bog.

Working methodically and making careful notes, Ariadne doesn’t notice the sun moving across the sky and the light start to change. It is only when standing up to stretch that she realises she now has a giant’s shadow. Keen to find her way back to the main road before nightfall, she starts to gather her belongings together when she notices a blue glow out of the corner of her eye. Turning to look, she finds herself staring at a will-o’-the-wisp.

Ariadne knows that it is only marsh gas, not a hinkypunk or the lantern of a malevolent goblin intent on making her lose her way, but she is taken aback by its ethereal beauty. The blue ball hovers above the marsh, its light pulsing slowly. She takes a step towards it and it moves away the same distance, she repeats her move and again it retreats. She takes a step back and it advances towards her. Ariadne starts to get a strange feeling that it is sentient. While puzzling this over, she becomes aware of a low humming sound. The noise surrounds her and, to her surprise, she can feel it in the core of her, like the bass at a really loud gig.

The will-o’-the-wisp starts to drift across the bog and she feels a tug which she attempts to resist at first but when it starts to feel uncomfortable, Ariadne has no choice but to follow. Waves of elation wash over her, convincing her that she will find something wonderful if she just follows the ball. The sun gradually sets as Ariadne continues to trek through the bog.

Several days later, the farmer who owns the land adjoining the bog finds Ariadne’s car. She left the windows and sun-roof open and it has rained so the seats are soaked through. Worried that if it is found the freaks and weirdos will trample his crops again in their search for the unexplained; he fetches his tractor and tows her car next to all the others in a dilapidated barn, away from the other farm buildings, where no-one will ever find them.

Be My Valentine?

I thought I’d put a story up for Valentine’s Day which is the opposite of how most people would like a first date to go. I really enjoyed writing this and although most of it is from my imagination, I did draw on experience for some of it…

Bad Date

Fran rushed into the restaurant, cheeks flushed from the cold night air, worried about making a bad first impression. She hated being late and normally arrived early for everything but a burst water main had meant her bus had taken a circuitous detour, bouncing its way through parts of the city she didn’t even recognise.

As she glanced around the Italian restaurant, she quickly realised that, despite it being 7.39pm, her date had not yet arrived. Her heart sank when it became apparent that this was not a friendly trattoria full of warmth and laughter but a sepia-tinged place which still thought that the height of sophistication was using raffia covered chianti bottles as candle holders. The restaurant was cluttered and badly lit, the only other diners an ancient couple who looked as if they’d been there since 1975.

Fran became even more dispirited when a bored teenage girl eventually emerged from the kitchen, scuffed her way across the alarmingly patterned carpet and mumbled something in her general direction.  Fran replied, “Erm, table for two, please, booked in the name of Peacock”, which hopefully answered both of the likely questions. The girl simply stared at her, turned on her heel and shuffled towards a table which could just be made out in the gloom at the back of the restaurant, close to the toilets. “Er, excuse me?” The girl stopped and slowly turned around. “Could I have a table in this part of the restaurant? Maybe over there?” Fran pointed to a table in the middle of the room, between the bar and the steamed-up window. The girl blinked then, after a long wait, gestured vaguely towards the table before making her way back to the kitchen like one of the undead.

After shrugging off her coat, Fran immediately felt exposed. In a moment of uncharacteristic recklessness, she had chosen to wear a low-cut, wraparound top which revealed more of her cleavage than she was comfortable with. She had bought it for last year’s office Christmas do but had put on a few pounds since. Well, more like half a stone, if she was honest, and the figure-hugging fabric was struggling to maintain her modesty. She made some adjustments, then crossed her arms across her chest defensively while debating whether or not to put her scarf back on. The phrase, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it” floated into her head as she hunched over the menu and nibbled on a breadstick.

Fran checked her watch. 7.50pm. Ian was twenty minutes late. She decided she would wait another fifteen minutes before she left. She wasn’t desperate but as this was her first date through the Match Made in Heaven dating website, she wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Fran sipped her white wine, which the waitress had finally delivered with much tutting and sighing, and flicked through the disappointing menu. She had looked at it for so long, she felt it could be her specialist subject on Mastermind. At 8.03pm, she had put on her coat and was just leaving £5 for the overpriced drink when the door burst open and a man with greying hair rushed in with a small child in tow.

“Fran!” he gasped. Without waiting for her reply, Ian started to apologise, “So sorry I’m late but my ex-wife dumped Drew on me at the last minute and I couldn’t find a babysitter at such short notice.” “Oh,” was all Fran could manage. There’d been no mention of ex-wives or children in their online chats so she had assumed he was youngish, free and single like her.

“Wait a second. Your son is called Drew?” Fran queried. “Yes, it’s actually Andrew but he prefers the shortened version,” replied Ian, putting his arm around the boy’s shoulders. “So his name is Drew Peacock?” “Yes, I think it has a nice ring to it,” beamed Ian, proudly.

Ian bustled around, grabbing a chair for his son, calling for service (good luck with that, she thought), while she removed her coat for the second time that evening and sat down. Ian eyes almost popped out on stalks when he noticed her cleavage and Drew turned to his father and asked in a clear, piping voice, “Daddy, why is that lady showing off her boobies?” Ian tried to laugh it off but Fran was mortified and blushed a deep scarlet while trying to hide behind her menu.

The zombie waitress returned but was transformed. She smiled at Ian and even ruffled Drew’s hair, before returning with their drinks order within a couple of minutes. “It’s nice in here, isn’t it? I only live round the corner so pop in quite a lot.”

Fran lowered the menu and stared open-mouthed at him. She had endured forty minutes on a bus with no heating, driven by a maniac who thought he was in the Paris to Dakar rally and Ian only lived a few minute’s walk away.

The waitress came to take their order and Ian pursed his lips pretending to choose and then said, “Who am I kidding? The usual please, Bronwyn, and my lady friend here will have the same. Oh, and a small margherita pizza for the boy.” Fran was gobsmacked. She didn’t realise that men still existed who thought that women couldn’t order for themselves. “Excuse me,” she spoke directly to Bronwyn, “I’ll have the garlic mushrooms and the carbonara, please.” Ian looked puzzled, “But that’s what I’m having.”

“So you work at the university, then?” Ian asked as he chased a mushroom around his plate. “Yes. I’ve been there about six years now and they’re quite a nice bunch. I sort out the student accommodation, liaise with landlords, that sort of thing.” God, she was even boring herself. “But it’s not as interesting as being a landscape gardener. Tell me about the time you designed a garden for the Chelsea Flower Show.” “Chelsea Flower Show?” Ian asked with a confused look on his face. “Yes, the garden you built with those prisoners that won a silver medal. You mentioned it in your online profile.” “Oh yes, that,” replied Ian as he squirmed in his chair.” Fran suddenly had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, “What do you mean, “Oh yes, that”?” “Er, well I might not have been completely honest about some things online. Obviously I’m divorced and have a kid,” gesturing to Drew who was carefully colouring a dinosaur in blue crayon, “and … I’m not a landscape gardener.” Fran narrowed her eyes, “What do you do then?” “I’m a parks maintenance operative for the Council,” he replied sheepishly. “I mow the grass, do a bit of weeding, sweep up the leaves, you know. I didn’t think that sounded glamorous enough so decided to sex it up a bit.”

“What else did you lie about?” demanded Fran. “Well, my hobbies aren’t rock climbing and caving but I do like to go walking in the Dales at weekends. I’ve started taking the boy whenever I can to get him interested in wildlife and the great outdoors,” Ian smiled down at his son. “Also, I’m not a member of Mensa but I am in a quiz team at my local. And, I’m a bit older than I said and used a photo from about five years ago. Well, you get the drift,” Ian finished lamely. “I suppose that means you’re going to leave now,” he said dejectedly. “It usually does.”

Fran assessed him with a critical eye. Ian wasn’t as young as he’d pretended to be but he was lean from leading an active lifestyle and hadn’t developed a paunch like some men did at his age. He had a silver fox look going for him and she’d always preferred older men. He was a bit rough around the edges but she was sure she could knock him into shape. Above all, he clearly loved his son, despite giving him such an unfortunate name. Anyway, she wasn’t sure she could have coped in a relationship with someone who went rock climbing when she didn’t have a head for heights but walking at the weekends sounded manageable and it might help shift a few pounds too. Hadn’t she also been a bit economical with the truth? She’d never actually finished her degree and had put one of her interests as the theatre when she’d only ever been to see Paul O’Grady play Widow Twanky in panto.

Her decision made, she called out, “Bronwyn, another white wine please.”

Challenge

This story was a challenge as my writing group picked five words* and decided to fit them all into each of our stories. I enjoyed writing this one as I particularly liked writing in a stream of consciousness style and not worrying about grammar too much.

What I did on my Holidays

Me and Mummy and Daddy and Freddy went to stay with Granny and Gramps for our summer holiday. We waited in a line for a long time then drove the car onto a ferry which is a big boat which takes people and cars and lorries to the Isle of Wight. There were special buses called coaches full of people older than Granny and Gramps. Mum says this is because oh ay peas like to go to the Isle of Wight for their holidays. I don’t know what an oh ay pea is but I think you must have grey hair and walk a bit wobbily to be one.

Granny and Gramps live in a flat house called a bungalow. Me and Freddy sleep in bunk beds in the study which is a room with a computer in it and Mummy and Daddy sleep in the guest bedroom. I got the top bunk so I can be up higher than Freddy, even though I’m the littlest. I like going on holiday to the Isle of Wight because it is very sunny and Granny and Gramps have a beach hut so we can play at the seaside all day until it almost gets dark. There is a dog called Digby who digs holes in the sand so when the sea comes in, people walking along can’t see the holes and fall into them. He is a really smiley dog and thinks this is very funny.

One day we made a picnic as we were going somewhere special. I watched Granny chop up cabbage and onion and carrot and then mix them all together with a lovely creamy sauce called mayonnaise to make coleslaw. Cabbage doesn’t taste very nice but mixed up with the mayonnaise, it tasted good. I helped make sandwiches with cheese in them and we had sausage rolls and crisps and lemonade made with real lemons not the fizzy bottles from the supermarket.

We went to a place called Alverstone Mead which is squishy ground called marshes with planks of wood so you can walk without getting your feet wet. There is a big shed called a hide but you have to be very quiet so you don’t scare the birds away and I saw a robin and a pink bird called a chaffinch and a moorhen and some ducks.

I was standing right next to the little window when we heard a noise like someone small running very fast on the roof and then a fluffy red squirrel jumped down! There was a piece of wood with food on it and the squirrel picked up a peanut and started nibbling. He had tufty ears and sharp claws and his tail curled over his head. I was very close to him but Daddy whispered as long as I was quiet he wouldn’t be scared. Granny had given me and Freddy some hazelnuts, which are red squirrels very favourite, and we both held one out. The squirrel sniffed Freddy’s fingers but took the hazelnut from me and I could feel his whiskers and soft nose. Then he ran away super quick and Mummy said he was going to bury it in a safe place for later.

We waited for a long time but the squirrel didn’t come back and our tummies were starting to get hungry so we went to a field with buttercups for the picnic. The field next door had lines in it and I asked Gramps what they were and he said they were tramlines made by a tractor going through the barley. I like barley as it has tufty bits on top like red squirrel ears. We had two blankets and we put all the food out on them and ate until we were full and then me and Freddy played It until it was time to go home.

The five words were: holiday, squirrel, cabbage, tramlines and picnic.

Scary Dialogue

I’d been writing for a while before I realised that I’d been avoiding dialogue and that was because it scared me. I suggested an exercise at my creative writing group that was all dialogue so I couldn’t escape it and I actually enjoyed it. I now find dialogue a lot less daunting but still don’t use it as often as I should.

The Telephone Call

“Hi Dad, it’s Neil.”

“Hello son, I’ll get your Mum.”

“Wait a sec, can’t we …”

Too late as I hear the thud of the receiver on the telephone table and there’s a pause as he shuffles from the hall into the sitting room to fetch Mum. I fiddle with the phone cord then notice my palms are sweating so wipe them dry on my jeans.

“Neil, darling, how are you?”

“Fine, Mum, I need to speak to…”

“Did you hear about Mildred next door? You know Sparky, her Jack Russell? Remember he bit you when you were twelve? Well, he’s taken to sleeping at the bottom of the stairs and she tripped over him in the middle of the night. She broke her leg and is hobbling around on crutches. Bad break by all accounts and she’s complaining terribly of the pain.”

“No I hadn’t heard. Mum, I need to tell you…”

“What about Joan and Norman’s daughter Chloe getting into university? Durham they said. That’s up near you isn’t it?”

“Not really. I’m in Manchester about 100 miles away.”

“Silly me! I never was any good at geography, especially nowhere “oop north”. What a shame you’re not closer to each other. You always got on so well as children. Chloe has just split up with her boyfriend, you know. Of course, a pretty girl like that will get snapped up again in no time. She’s always had a lot of admirers. When are you coming home again?”

“Not until Christmas, I told you that last time we spoke.”

“Such a pity. She’ll probably have found another boyfriend by then.”

“Mum, there’s something …”

“I’m sure it was Durham or was it York? I always get the two mixed up because of the Vikings. Is York closer to you?”

“Yes, Mum, but I have something important to tell you.”

“What’s that, dear?”

Now’s my moment so I take a deep breath.

“You know how much you love those Doris Day and Rock Hudson films and were really sad when he died?”

“Yes dear, but what’s …”

“Well, you know how surprised you were when you found out he was gay but that didn’t stop you enjoying his films?”

“I couldn’t believe it! What a waste of a handsome man.”

“Well, the reason Chloe and I never got together is because I’m gay too.”

There’s a pause and a muffled thump which I hope is Mum sitting down on the stairs.

“You’re gay?”

“Yes, Mum.”

“Like Rock Hudson?”

“Yes, Mum.”

“How long have you been, you know…?”

“I think I’ve always known.”

She whispers, “Did you used to dress up in my clothes?”

“Mum, I’m gay not a drag queen!”

“I don’t know! This is all a big shock to me.”

“Sorry Mum. But no, I didn’t dress up in your clothes or wear your makeup.”

“I need some time to get used to this, Neil, but I’m glad you told me. Why did you decide to tell me now?”

“Well, I’ve met someone. It’s early days but I think it could be serious so I don’t want to pretend to be something I’m not anymore.”

“I need a cup of tea so I’ll pass you over to your Dad. Bye, love.”

I wasn’t expecting this and am frozen like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

“Hello son. Your Mum says you want to tell me something?”

“She didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

I take a deep breath. “Dad, I’m gay.”

“Well, I knew that. Your Mum may not notice what goes on under her own nose, but I do. This friend of yours, will you be bringing him home for Christmas?”

Aunt Velma

Aunt Velma. She never married.
Aunt Velma. She never married.

I am a member of The Random Scribblers creative writing group and we use a variety of source material to inspire us and last year we chose this picture with the rather sad inscription written on the back, “Aunt Velma. She never married.”

I researched Bucksport, Maine and found it had an odd history as well as being the inspiration for the town of Collinsport in the cult American TV show, Dark Shadows (later remade into a film starring Johnny Depp).

Having read a lot of books by American writers and watched far too many American films, I felt I could write a story set in Maine, circa 1840.

Charlie

My name is Velma Prouty and Bucksport, Maine is where I’ve lived all my life and, God willing, I’ll be laid to rest here too.  My granddaddy, Jed Prouty, ran the first tavern in town, which grew like Topsy to become the biggest hotel this side of Bangor.   I visited Bangor once when I was young but didn’t take to the busyness of folks dashing to and fro and so many horses you risked your life just crossing the street!

Ma and Pa died of influenza when I was but six years old and my brother, Zeke, only four, so Granny Sarah raised us, Granddaddy Jed having passed away when I was a tiny baby. I was the first girl born into the family for as long as anyone could remember and the strong features that made our men handsome didn’t sit so well on me. I could use a mirror well enough to know I was a homely child, my dark, frizzy hair setting me apart from the other girls with their blonde ringlets. I learned to look after myself at an early age and was winning fights against boys who threw stones and insults in equal measure by the time I was in third grade.

Granny Sarah ran the hotel with my Pa’s two brothers and their wives. The hours were long and you never had a moment to yourself but it provided us with a decent living. Zeke and I were expected to help out once we’d finished our schoolwork and we especially liked waiting on guests in the dining room where you could earn yourself a good tip if you were polite and smiled a lot.

When I left school, I simply worked more in the hotel as it never occurred to me that I’d do anything else. Every day was different with folk coming and going, rooms to clean and drunks to see safely out the door. We had our regulars, travelling salesmen and such like, and we let two rooms on a permanent basis to a brother and sister getting on in years who liked their linen changed daily and meals cooked for them and were willing to pay for the privilege. I was happy enough with my lot but I’d sometimes shed a tear when I dwelt too long on the fact that I would never wed or have a family of my own.

The years slipped by until, in the summer of my twenty fourth year, the circus came to town. There was a great hubbub as a travelling show had never visited Bucksport before and that first night the big top opened, it seemed like the whole town was there. Zeke was beside himself about seeing the show but I can’t say he had to twist my arm to get me to go with him. We bought corn dogs and salted popcorn and took our seats near the front. First off were the clowns, followed by a pretty girl doing all kinds of acrobatics on a white horse, galloping round and round, then the lion tamer who put his head right in a lion’s mouth!

A hush came over the big top and Charlie walked slowly into the ring, placing each foot carefully onto the sawdust. He was the most magnificent sight I’d ever beheld and made the huge tent seem very small indeed.  After the capering and excitement of the previous acts, his was a calm presence, and he performed so elegantly that I fell in love with him then and there.

When the routine finished and Charlie took his bow, I realised I’d been holding my breath. I cheered so loudly that other folks looked at me askance but they could go hang; all I cared about was meeting Charlie.

I made my way out of the tent, not giving one jot that I was missing the trapeze artists in their sparkly outfits, and hurried to find Charlie. There he was! I was too excited to be nervous and simply walked up to him and stroked his beautiful face. His eyes were the deepest chocolate brown and when his trunk reached up and touched my face so tenderly, my heart almost burst with love.