THE HERITAGE TRAIN

12 Dec

 

This was something Jonas Smyth had been looking forward to since forever. He was going for what he guessed would be an all-too short trip on a heritage railway.

 

The carriages were the sort he’d travelled on as a boy with his parents and sister, the kind with corridors that opened on compartments for about eight people and with posters to seaside resorts to gaze at with an excited pair of eyes because that was exactly where he was going. To the seaside. For his once in a year holiday on golden sands. When, he seemed to recall, it never rained and ice-creams were sold on every corner and nobody mentioned bad teeth when you ate your candy floss.

 

Where the air was filled with the appetising aroma of frying fish and chips.

 

Where everything had been practically perfect, especially the ride on a steam train to get there.

 

Now he was what the grandkids called “well-old” and he was having a treat all on hos own. He was going for a dozen or so miles on a heritage railway in a carriage he remembered and pulled by a steam engine that still filled his heart with wonder when he thought about it.

 

Those days had been great, but there had been one journey he’d always wanted to forget. And that one journey was seared on his memory as if it had happened only yesterday. Yesterday and sixty-five years ago. The journey that had stolen his sister from him.

 

Jonas looked out of the window. The train had still to leave the station and men and women, foolish enough to be bordering on missing it, were still half-running towards the open doors.

 

The engine whistled, and then, at the back of the train, the guard whistled as a sort of plaintive echo, doors were slammed, the last dribs and drabs of passengers found their seats.

 

And then the door to his compartment opened and a family edged silently in, bringing with them a strange old-fashioned sweet fragrance. A boy, a girl, a father, a mother. Possibly. Sometimes, these days, families weren’t what they’d once been and there was no certainty that there hadn’t been falling out and swapping and changing after the children were born, and different fathers or mothers or both appearing on the scene. Family life wasn’t what it used to be. Which, he supposed, was sometimes a good thing. But this little group looked family enough.

 

And they did look sort of familiar. Like he might have seen them before. Somewhere.

 

They sat in their seats, the man and his son sitting opposite the woman and her daughter. Was the man the girl’s father or the woman the boy’s mother? Or had there been some interweaving of two discrete groups?

 

We’re off, dad!” said the boy.

 

That sorted one part of the puzzle, then.

 

And there was something eerily familiar about the whole little scene. Man, boy, we’re off, dad…

 

The engine gave a mighty series of thumps as the train moved forwards. He remembered the thumps from the past, when he’d been no older than the boy sitting next to the man who was certainly his father because he was dad.

 

It’s scary, mummy,” whispered the girl.

 

It might have been his own sister saying that, back in the old times when they’d been going for their annual holiday to the seaside. He was sure it might have been. He was sure he remembered it’s scary, mummy, from a long time ago as the holiday train had eased into movement. And she’d had every right to be scared, hadn’t she? Poor Jane…

 

Your brother’s not scared,” said the mother, smiling at her daughter.

 

So that solved the problem. They were a family. Somehow it was comforting to know that. The girl had a brother and he wasn’t scared.

 

Of course he wasn’t! He was a boy, a creature that scorned fear, a creature who was never scared of anything or anyone, except Mr Johnson at school and his cane.

 

I was a boy once, he thought, a boy just like that one. Why, I even wore the same sort of clothes … those shorts do look a bit old fashioned come to think of it. And the girl’s dress, it’s pretty like a lot of modern clothes aren’t. My sister Jane wore dresses like that…

 

Jonas is never scared of anything,” sniffed the girl.

 

What a coincidence! His name was Jonas, and so was that small boy’s! How old might he be? Eight or nine, enjoying the same sort of ride as he’d enjoyed all those years ago, in the post-war years when it had been a financial struggle but his parents had managed it. And it’s not as if Jonas has ever been a particularly common name…

 

It’s because I’m a boy, Jane,” said the lad seriously.

 

Jonas and Jane! Now that was more than a coincidence, surely? I’d better ask them…

 

Excuse me,” he said as the train gained speed, “I couldn’t help overhearing … are those your names, Jonas and Jane?”

 

He might not have said anything or made a sound! The boy sat next to the man and gazed at the picture on the wall above the head of his mother opposite. The man smiled at him and ruffled his already tousled hair. The woman open a bag and took out a bag of potato crisps.

 

Anyone want a crisp?” she asked.

 

Put the salt in first,” suggested the man.

 

Of course I will, Tony,” smiled the woman, “we want them to taste good, don’t we?”

 

Inside the bag of crisps she found a little screwed up bag, a blue bag, one like bags of crisps used to have, a bag of salt. And Jonas had known she would find it there because he remembered, long years ago, going on holiday in a train not unlike this one.

 

It had been a horrible journey.

 

It had been the train ride he’d never forgotten. The one that was forever in his head, that still replayed itself in nightmares. And he had plenty of those, still. All these years later.

 

No!” he shouted, “No, no, no!”

 

Can I have the first crisp?” asked Jane.

 

No, No, No!” His voice was hoarse, but nobody took a blind bit of notice of him. It was as if he wasn’t there. It was as if they couldn’t hear him.

 

If Jonas doesn’t mind,” said the mother.

 

Go on, greedy guts, you have it,” grinned the boy.

 

And with a crunchy crispy crack the girl bit into the crisp.

 

Spit it out!” he shouted, “For Christ’s sake spit it out!”

 

Can you hear something?” asked the mother, “a sort of whisper?”

 

I thought I could,” replied the father, “a sort of cry, but from miles and miles away.

 

It’s horrible, this crisp,” said Jane. “And I heard it too, sort of warning.”

 

And she spat the crisp out. Because it tasted all wrong. Because she’d heard a whisper in the air.

 

Like all those years ago she hadn’t…

 

Go on, eat the whole lot!” grinned the boy. Grinned Jonas. He remembered it. With dreadful guilt as she had, to tease him and deny him because that’s what brothers and sisters did to each other.

 

Yuk!” declared the girl, “there’s something wrong with them. They don’t taste like crisps at all.”

 

I’ll take them back to the shop, then,” muttered the mother, “to that new self-service shop. I knew no good would come from self-service in shops. Anything could happen. Bad people could even tamper with food.

 

Why, someone might even die!”

 

Like Jane had, sixty-five years ago, thought Jonas.

 

The train clattered and clicked on, it rattled over points, it felt better than any train had ever felt before.

 

But when he looked up, to thank the family for hearing him, maybe, or wish them well, they were no longer there. The seats were bare.

 

The only clue that they’d ever been there was a half-chewed crisp on the floor and an odd old-fashioned smell he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

 

© Peter Rogerson 27.11.17

 

 

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A LIFE IN THE PARK

9 Dec
Malcolm Drury sat on the bench seat in the park and watched the water trickling by in a stream that had been there all his life even though the bench seat hadn’t. He sighed, contentedly. He’d always liked it here.
 Malcolm Drury sat on the bench seat in the park and watched the water trickling by in a stream that had been there all his life even though the bench seat hadn’t. He sighed, contentedly. He’d always liked it here.

But now he was feeling tired.

As far as he was concerned there was no good reason for him feeling like he did. He’d had a good night’s sleep, hadn’t he, with only one trip to the toilet for a wee? But tired he was feeling, and he sighed.

The stream, like life, trickled along.

He didn’t see where the boys came from but suddenly, as if he’d blinked (though he couldn’t remember blinking) they were there at the edge of his vision, two lads that were so familiar it shocked him.

“They remind me…” he sighed to himself. And they did, but not of his own two sons, men nearing middle age now, but never quite as familiar as these two.

“Pardon?” That was a woman who’d come to sit next to him when he’d been busy looking at the stream and almost basking at the way it giggled and gurgled on its way along.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, staring at the ground in front of his feet, “it was the boys…”

“Boys?” she asked.

“Over there, in the grey school shorts, exactly like I used to wear when I was knee-high to a grasshopper myself. They remind me…”

“Of days gone by? Of the good old days? Of when you knew what was what and everything was in order?” she asked.

He nodded. “That’s it in a nutshell,” he murmured.

“Well, I’ll leave you to your pondering,” she said quietly, “I’m going to look at the stream and maybe even dip my toes in if nobody’s looking…”

He was going to reply that he remembered his mum doing that, way back, in the forties, the nineteen-forties, but didn’t. It might sound daft, as if he was likening the woman who had been sitting next to him with a woman who’d been long dead, bless her. But mum had been. Long, long dead, and it still broke his heart.

He glanced at the woman’s back as she walked off, towards the stream. That skirt, brown, severe, familiar … surely… no!

“Wanna play footie, mister?” asked the boy. The one with the grey school shorts and the socks that never stayed up properly.

Like his had never stayed up.

He smiled at him. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly, “I’m a bit old for that.”

“You’re never too old, mister, for fun,” the boy told him. And he was right! Of course he was right. But you could be too old for kicking a football around, even a modern plastic one, though the one the boy had look heavy and leathery and wet.

“What’s your name?” he asked, “what do you want me to call you?”

“I’m Malcolm, though you can call me Malc,” grinned the boy.

I know you, he thought, a boy called Malcolm…

“I’m Malcolm too,” he confided in the boy, “fancy that, you and me having the same name, only you’re very young and I’m very old…”

“It’s not so strange really,” murmured the boy, still grinning, “there are millions of boys and a lot less than millions of names. Here’s my friend Ricky. He’s playing footie with me, and then we might catch tiddlers in the stream and save them in a jam jar before we put them back”

“I used to do that,” sighed Malcolm senior, “I used to catch loads of tiddlers in the stream and feed with with stuff they never wanted to eat and then, before I went home, put them back in the stream. And, you know, I did it with a good friend too, a friend also called Ricky.”

“That’s spooky!” exclaimed the boy.

“The war hadn’t been over long, and there weren’t many things for us to play with back then,” sighed the old man. “I suppose you might call it a boring time, but we didn’t mind. There were tiddlers to catch. Sticklebacks.

“There are lots of things to do these days,” explained the boy, “nothing’s ever boring! And, you know, I even play hopscotch with the girls down the street if I can’t think of anything else to do. But whittling’s what I love. Whittling wood with my penknife, making things.”

“Hopscotch? Whittling? I remember…” sighed the man.

“Then there’s the library,” enthused the boy, and he laughed quietly for a moment. “The woman who works there and stamps our books, she likes me all right! She says I’m a right little book worm!”

“Audrey…” whispered the older Malcolm, “I remember Audrey… she stamped my hand once, when I asked her, and told me not to let on it was her! I loved the Famous Five and the Secret Seven… though the girls’ books by Enid Blyton were a bit soppy.”

“Hey! They’re what I read!” shouted Ricky, who’d joined them. “But not the girls’ ones,” he added in case he was misunderstood.

“So, you see, these days there’s plenty to do,” explained the boy Malc. “Loads and loads of really good things, all the time. There’s conkers and fag cards and marbles, glassies and them made of pottery that break. You know what I do, mister? When mum sends me to bed I snuggle under the blankets and take my torch with me, and read my library books until my eyes don’t want to read any more or the torch batteries are dim, and then I go to sleep. Next day, secretly, I shove my torch batteries in the oven along with mum’s baking, and that puts them right for another day or two.”

“I did that,” sighed the old man. “Batteries in the oven…”

“I feel sorry for the kids who lived before the war,” went on the boy.

“The war? What war?” asked the man.

“The war against the Germans, against Hitler. Don’t you know anything, mister?” grinned Ricky.

“I remember that, but I was only a boy, younger than you two,” sighed Malcolm the Elder. “Days were dark back then, and the nights were darker! There wasn’t much on the television but once a week, on Saturday mornings, we went to the pictures if we had enough pennies. That was good, that was!”

“We do that too!” laughed Malcolm the Younger, “but it’s mostly cowboys and Indians and bang-bang, they’re dead!”

“It was in my time too,” murmured the elder Malcolm, frowning. “Well, boys, it’s been really grand talking to you but is that lady over there, the one with her feet in the stream and the brown skirt calling you?”

The boys looked.

“Coming, mummy,” shouted Malcolm, and “coming mummy,” shouted Malcolm.

Old Malcolm struggled to rise to his feet, but suddenly they seemed to have turned to lead. Suddenly nothing would move and slowly, like evening fading to night, the light of the sun shining on the world and illuminating the park dimmed and went out, and a sudden, eerie silence replaced the giggling trickling of the stream

And at the same time the two boys were gone, and the paddling woman, and every shadow from yesterday.

And that was that.

© Peter Rogerson 26.11.17

A TROUBLED NURSE

6 Dec

Haven’t you finished in there yet?” called Monica from outside the bathroom door. “I need a wee myself,” she added, meaningfully.

Just a moment. I’ve got to fill this little plastic bottle so that I can take it with me to the doctor’s for my check up,” he replied, “but it isn’t easy being as small as it is.”

You’re better equipped to do it than me or any other woman is,” she told him. “I have to use a funnel!”

Maybe, but that don’t make it any easier for me, but I’ve done it. Just.”

About time too! Hurry up! You’ve got to be there in less than half an hour, and I’m coming with you so that we can do a bit of shopping afterwards.”

The bathroom door opened and he came out, grinning at her and holding his sample bottle for her to see.

Urgh! It’s dripping! Be careful!” she admonished him as she swept past him and shut the door.

He was off for his annual check-up for which he’d already donated a couple of tubes of blood last week, and now he was going to be looked at, weighed, have his blood pressure monitored and have the secrets implied by his corpuscles explained to him.

Nurse Gemma Thompson was a buxom woman in her thirties with a contagiously happy personality, the sort of woman he felt he could quite happily explain details of his life to, so he did.

I’m really happily married,” he said when asked about his personal life, “and my wife’s waiting out in the waiting room for me. We’re off shopping as soon as you’ve done your best.”

You did bring a water sample with you?” she prompted him, and he produced his little plastic bottle.

It’s wrapped in some cling-film in case it leaked,” he explained, and she placed it carefully next to the sink where she unscrewed the top and slipped a thin length of card in..

It’s good stuff,” she told him, examining the tester that had turned to the right colour to make her happy.

Self-processed whiskey,” he told her, “pure as sunlight, sweet as … I dunno.”

I hope you don’t get through too much of the stuff,” she said, “it’s another question I have to ask though I don’t take much notice of what men say because they mostly lie. But I have to note what they say though the honest answer would probably involve doubling or even trebling it!”

Then I’ll be exactly truthful,” he said, and was. “You see, I like a drop, but not too much,” he explained.

I wish my father could be as frugal,” she told him, “but he isn’t, I’m afraid. He likes what he calls his wee dram a little bit too much some times!”

She finished the appointment by praising him for the condition of his liver and with his mind soothed by her description of his healthy insides as encoded in his blood, he left.

When he was gone she picked up the little plastic bottle and screwed the cap back on it before slipping it into her handbag where it clattered against one or two others. Then she looked at her watch and switched her computer terminal off.

Noon. She smiled at her own reflection in the mirror. “Lunch time,” she told herself, “Better hurry.”

And hurry she did.

She lived a mere ten minutes from the surgery. What seemed to be like the middle of a thriving Midlands town soon gave way to a green and pleasant countryside as she walked down a narrow road towards the isolated Dingle Cottage where she lived with her father.

He didn’t get out much these days though he was younger than many of the patients who had their appointments for an annual check-up having passed the age of retirement. But her father had his weaknesses. She knew all about them and was determined to help him sort himself out while he still had time.

And she had her theories, theories that had evolved from her own deep thought and deeper convictions. Maybe they weren’t based on scientific research or even country knowledge but they made sense to her. Other attempted interventions hadn’t worked but she was damned sure this would. It had to, or she would no longer have a father, and despite his obvious frailties she knew she’d miss him when he was gone.

She opened the front door of Dingle Cottage and stepped into the relative cool and dark of its cosy interior.

I’m home, dad,” she called out.

He was somewhere in the front room. She heard the clatter of something falling, and the sound of breaking glass.

Are you all right?” she called.

Yesh, I’m here…”

His voice was slurred, like she’d known it would be.

Bloody whiskey,” she muttered under her breath.

I’ve got a special treat for you,” she told him as she made her way past shards of broken glass where his tumbler lay shattered on the polished wooden floor.

It fell. Yesh, it fell,” he complained, indicating the damage with a wide sweep of his arms and almost falling off his chair in the process.

I’ve got lunch for you. Five minutes in the microwave,” she said.

Don’ wan’ any lunch. But if you’ve got a wee dram…?”

You know it isn’t good for you, dad,”

It don’ matter. Wha’ve I got to live for anyway, at my age an’ with a good woman in her grave…?”

Mother’s not dead, dad, and you know it. She’s living in Dorking with a conjuror and doing really well.”

Well, she could’ve been doin’ really well living’ here, Gemma. She din’ ‘ave to go to Dorking!”

It was your drinking, dad. You know it was, never sober, so you can’t blame your state on mum not being here.”

I can’ help it. I need a wee dram now. Not ‘ad one since I don’ know when.”

I do. Not since I opened the front door and came in. You really are too bad! But guess what. I’ve got a special drop for you, a very special drop. Here, let me get you a fresh glass seeing as you’ve broken the one you had.”

Ish it good stuff, Gemma?”

It should be. Reconstituted whiskey. Not anywhere near as harmful to the body.”

She disappeared into the kitchen and slipped a meal in the microwave for herself. Then she reached for a fresh tumbler and carefully poured the contents of Lionel’s urine sample bottle into it. It looked just right. The colour and beauty of pure Scotch whiskey.

You’ll like this, dad,” she called, and walked nimbly through into the front room bearing the tumble.

This might even do you good,” she purred as she handed it to him.

He took it and held it up so that he could see the light from outside the cottage window shining through the pale amber liquid, clearer than Scotch mist.

Looks okay,” he acknowledged, and then he slowly and carefully took one sip.

Funny stuff this,” he muttered, swirling it round his mouth, “don’t taste o’ whiskey at all…”

It’s reconstituted,” Gemma told him.

It ain’t,” he ground out, a look of horror on his face, and then he dashed the tumbler onto the ground.

It’sh pish!” he shouted, his face twisted in anger, “it’s pure and poisonous pish!”

Nurse Gemma Thompson returned to the kitchen when the microwave pinged, a small smile hovering about the corners of her mouth.

Well, I thought it might be good,” she called to him, “You know, the real McCoy. I thought you might really like it. After all, an old man who came for his check-up today had!”

© Peter Rogerson 25.11.17

A DECENT MAN

4 Dec

It looks like rain,” suggested Monica as she prepared to pop into town for provisions.

Maybe, but I don’t mind,” replied Lionel, “I’m not so keen on shopping and there isn’t much to fetch. You pop to the Supermarket and I’ll take a walk round the site and find out what’s what and where’s where.”

Monica was the wife, Lionel was the husband and the site was where they had parked their mobile home, intending to stay for a fortnight, they being both retired from the pressures of work and out to enjoy themselves.

But what if it rains?” asked Monica, “because it surely looks like it.”

Then I’ll get wet or find a pub,” he grinned back at her. “I’ll be all right! A few drops of rain isn’t the end of the world.”

Just remember that chest of yours,” she sniffed, and Lionel nodded.

Of course I will. If it rains I’ll find shelter. Now I’ll be off for a walk and you be careful.” he replied, leaving the vehicle and waving her off.

Monica had been right about the rain. He hadn’t walked above a hundred yards when it started, belting down from a sky that had suddenly decided to be grey, overcast and with a fresh wind of its own.

Sod it,” he muttered.

The rain seemed to have the devil in it as it ripped into him as close to horizontally as any rain he’d known in a longish life of observing rain.

In seconds he was wet.

And there was no shelter anywhere near him. There was a scattering of other motor homes, that was true, and a handful of caravans, it being still early in the season and nothing quite at its peak yet.

She was right,” he mumbled to himself, “but then, she’s always right. I hope she remembers the beans and sausages.”

She would, he knew that much. She had a memory he envied. His was very much a weak affair, easily recalling unimportant trivia and rarely mindful of important stuff, like tins of beans and sausages.

You’re getting wet,” called a voice. A pleasant voice, female, not young and not old, and a head poked out of a caravan door, fortunately in the lea of the rain.

Don’t I know it,” he called back, shaking himself so that rainwater tumbled from his clothing and onto the ground.

You’d better come and shelter then,” giggled the voice.

He thought about that. Wet as he was, he didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, and least of all a stranger. And he knew how uncomfortable it can be in a caravan with water splashing everywhere off wet bodies.

I’m too wet,” he replied, honestly.

Come on, silly! You’ll be safe here, and I’ve got my daughter who can chaperone you!”

Me,” came a second voice, another woman, younger but not so young you’d think they were mother and child if it hadn’t been mentioned.

I’d better not,” he said ruefully.

Come on, or you’ll drown!” That was the daughter, in her twenties he supposed, and laughing at him.

We saw your motorhome being driven off, I guess by your good lady,” put in the older woman, “so you can shelter here until she comes back. She is returning, I suppose? She’s not lost patience with an old timer who’s happy getting soaked by an early summer storm, is she? And gone for good? That would be sad…”

Monica. She’s gone to the supermarket,” he explained.

Then you’re a silly boy not going with her,” chastised the mother.

She nags me like that all the time,” laughed the daughter, “now come on in or I’ll come and fetch you…”

The rain was worse if anything, so he cast any caution he felt to the winds and slopped towards the women and their caravan.

It was warm and dry in there.

I bet you could fancy a coffee,” suggested the mother. “I’m Jane, but the way, and this is Terry. Short for Theresa, but she won’t be called that and if you try it she’ll probably batter you.”

He reached the caravan and climbed in.

It was warm in there, and snug, the air smelled of a floral air-freshioner and the mother, Jane, was grinning broadly. She might have been anywhere in her fifties and had the kind of face a man might automatically like looking at. Meanwhile, the daughter, Terry, possibly in her twenties, was attending to a kettle.

You’d better take that soaking shirt off,” sniffed Jane, “we’ve got a dryer that works off the mains supply that we’re plugged into. It’ll be dry in a tick.”

And your trousers,” giggled Terry, “take your trousers off. We can’t have wet trousers on our nice new upholstery.”

I’ll give you a towel, here you are, it’s not the world’s biggest towel but this is a caravan and space is important.”

It certainly wasn’t the world’s biggest towel, but it did to dry his hair.

He didn’t want to remove his trousers. Two women and a man of his age … it wouldn’t be the right thing to do at all.

Trousers?” prompted Terry. He could tell, by the laughter lines already being etched onto her face, that she was the mischievous sort.

You’ll embarrass the poor man,” warned Jane, “I know men. They spend most of their lives dreaming of bumping into naked women, but the merest suggestion that they remove their trousers sends them into a spiral of despair.”

Then they’re silly,” decided Terry. “My ex was silly,” she added thoughtfully, “but he was the other way round, always wanting to provide me with a chance to snigger at his bare bottom as well as his other collection of absurd bits and pieces!”

It’s just,” stammered Lionel, “it’s decency. It’s a matter of what’s decent in mixed company.”

I suppose catching pneumonia is decent,” murmured Jane, “or any of the nasty side-effects of a good soaking!”

Who decides what’s decent and what isn’t?” asked Terry. “There must have been a time when our truly distant ancestors went about naked all the time, day in and day out … was that indecent?”

Lionel was lost for words. Had his ancestors dared to go about like that? And what had they done it? What had motivated them not to wear clothing when it makes sense for any number of reasons. Warmth, fashion, decency, they all sprang to his mind. He had always been a very moral man and decency was foremost in his mind.

I don’t think they did…” he mumbled, “at least mine didn’t. I know what the young folks these days get up to, but back when we knew right from wrong everyone wore clothes. They must have. I always do.”

Please yourself,” smiled Jane, “but I’m prepared to bet that Terry’s right and that for more than half of the story of our species, from a simple hominid on the African plains to now, our forefathers had no idea what clothing meant, and when they did pull something on them, for warmth, maybe, they didn’t have modesty or decency in mind, just comfort, and the garment that warmed them would have been a smelly old animal pelt.”

He was out of his depth. He’d never given much thought to beginnings. He’d never had the time.

I’d better go,” he stammered, “can I have my shirt back?”

But it’s still soaking!” laughed Terry, “Let’s at least get that into the dryer … and the rain hasn’t eased much either.”

Monica’s due back,” he mumbled, telling himself that next time his darling wife predicted rain he’d better take more notice of her. “Thanks for the shelter, but….”

He pulled the wet shirt on. It felt cold and sticky and horrible. But he was going to keep his trousers on. That was important, honourable and, yes, decent.

He almost ran out of their caravan.

Monica was longer than he’d expected. Apparently she’d bumped into an old friend, of all coincidences seeing they were miles from home, and they’d had coffee and a bun.

Did you get out of the rain all right?” she asked, “I said it would come, oh ye of little faith…”

I sheltered in a caravan for a few minutes,” he told her, “but the women there, two of them, they wanted to dry my trousers. Of all the things!”

Why, were they wet?”

He nodded. “They’re getting dry now,” he assured her.

You should have had them dried, silly,” she laughed, “You didn’t forget your undies, did you? They would have given you quite enough protection from peeping eyes!”

I forgot. They said people used to go around naked!”

Who did?”

The ladies in the caravan.”

Well, I suppose they did. Once upon a time,” decided Monica.

Oh.”

Why?”

I don’t know. It just didn’t seem quite …”

Quite what?”

Decent, I suppose,” mumbled Lionel, and suddenly, out of the blue, he sneezed.

© Peter Rogerson 23.11.17

2 Dec

THE LITTLE YELLOW PILLS

You’re a receptionist, aren’t you?”

Maureen had seen his type before. Arrogant, confident but very very needing. So she nodded and replied, “yes, of course I am, but I can’t issue prescriptions. Only the doctor can do that and as you can see I’m not one of those.”

But I had some. A packet of them, only last week.”

She consulted the screen of her computer and nodded. “Yes, I see that, and according to the pharmacy they were issued on the 11th. Let’s see, that was Thursday of last week. A month’s supply. So you’ve still got most of them left and you can’t have any more.”

She peered closely at the screen and shook her head. “Have you any idea how much that packet of tablets costs?” she asked.

I flushed them down the loo,” he confessed, “they weren’t doing me any good at all. They’re for people who hear voices when there’s nobody around, loonies you know, and I’m not one of those. So, yes, I flushed them down the loo.”

So if they weren’t doing you any good why get rid of them?” The question tripped out like so many did. Automatically, like she’d asked it so many times before that she was fed up with the answer. It wasn’t the case, though. Some of the patients fascinated her, and this was one of that lot. And she knew that if she assumed a kind of disinterested interest you got further with them.

I’m under pressure at work,” he replied confidentially. “And they won’t give me any more at the pharmacy because I had them last week, but it wasn’t last week that I needed them it’s now.”

He looked desperate in a way that bordered on the fanatical and she knew what to do.

I’ll see if the doctor’s got a few moments to see you,” she said, conspiratorially, doing him a huge favour.

Then: “look, he’s here now! It might be your lucky day!”

I killed my wife.” There it was, out in the open. He felt better when it was out in the open, when he had nothing to squash with all the other nothings into his brain until his head ached. He’d lose his job, such an important job, but being open with what he’d done was best. Surely it was.

You what?” She was alarmed. “Doctor!” she called imperiously.

The patient liked this doctor. He was the sort of man who understood the pressures, the grind, the huge nonsenses of life. How days can be so toxic all you want to do is reach out and end them all. Each and every one, starting with Tuesday, which was today. Is. Which is today.

He said he killed his wife, doctor,” hissed the receptionist. “He just said it. Shall I call the police? Shall I dial 999 and see what he’s done?”

The doctor smiled at her. “Leave it to me,” he said in that warm, confidential tone of his, “I’ll have a nice long chat with him now and we’ll see what’s going on in the world.”

But his wife…”

Leave it to me. Come on, Alfred, let’s have a few words in the quiet, where there’s nobody around to eavesdrop. There’s nothing worse than nosey parkers sticking their great big olfactory organs in, is there?”

I did it. I killed her, the inquisitive cow, I killed my wife!”

So you say, Alfred, so you say.”

I flushed them away.”

You did? That’s interesting. You flushed what away … come in, sit down, take a deep breath. Now, Alfred, what did you flush away?”

The yellow ones.”

The yellow ones? What yellow ones?”

Tablets. The yellow ones that stop me from hearing voices in my head, but I don’t. There aren’t any voices in my head, just thoughts, deep and lovely thoughts, and they’re not voices, are they? Everyone has thoughts but not everyone has little yellow pills, do they?”

You did? Flushed the away? All of them.”

They had to go, doctor, they made me kill my wife Audrey. The knife was there, you see, the blade, the wicked sharp blade, and it … you’ll think I’m mad, but I’m not, it sort of beckoned at me, and she’d been so rotten to me, ordering me about, telling me I should take my pills for my own good, so I picked up the knife and flushed them down the toilet. All of them, little yellow dancing pills in the foaming water. I had to flush three times because one of them just didn’t want to go. It was as if it wasn’t meant to, but I soon sorted it with a third flush.”

And the knife?” You said you picked up the knife? What was it? A nice shiny kitchen knife?”

He nodded.

And what did you so with the nice shiny knife, Alfred? You picked it up, you say?

And she was there, glowering at me. You know what I mean by glowering? Her little eyes, they are little, you know, little and mean, were trying to see into my head and I won’t let anyone see into that! They might see the hidden things, the nasty little secrets that I tuck away when nobody’s looking, the dirty things. Yes, the dirty things. And her eyes were trying to see them, to sort through my nasty little secrets and blame me for being me! Those little eyes, those penetrating little eyes…”

And the knife, Alfred?”

Yes, the shiny knife, the blade, the sharp thing … I leapt on her, doctor, I leapt on her with all my might and slashed and stabbed until I couldn’t slash and stab any more, and the shiny blade went deep into her time and time again until she couldn’t look at me any more and tell me not to be such a silly boy like she did, don’t be a silly boy, Alfy, she’d say, “there’s no call for you to get such silly ideas, so take one of your pills, the yellow one, the one that stops you hearing voices...but I don’t hear voices, doctor, I’m not a loony like she thinks … thought I was.”

And then you came down here to see me?”

After I flushed away the nasty yellow pills. Then I knew something that I’d forgotten. I needed those pills! They kept me … what’s the word?”

Balanced, Alfred. And they always will and, would you believe it, look out of the window, who’s that coming with such a purposeful walk as if she were in a real hurry?”

Audrey. It’s Audrey. In a hurry like she always is…”

Maybe she’d come for you, Alfred? Maybe she’s come to take you home for dinner. It must be getting on for dinner time.”

But I need the pills, doctor, the little yellow ones, the ones for voices in my head, the voices I never hear but might one day.”

I’ve got some here, Alfred, in my drawer, your little yellow pills that dance their way down to the loo when you flush them away. I’ll have to sort them, though, they’ve got mixed with lots of different pills, all different colours. Look, a bit like a tube of rainbow pieces, orange and red and green and brown…”

I need the yellow ones, doctor, they stop the voices from coming into my head.”

The door opened quietly after the gentlest of knocks, and the receptionist put her head round it.

It’s his wife, doctor, it’s Audrey,” she said, winking.

Here you are, Alfred, and no flushing these down the toilet or you won’t get any more. They’re really very expensive, you know.”

I killed her, doctor,” he whispered, “with the shiny knife. Audrey’s my mistress.”

When he was gone, holding his wife’s hand very, very firmly and talking to her in that confidential, animated way of his, the receptionist shook her head.

He’s a loony,” she muttered, “I was worried for you, doctor, when you closed your door with him inside here with you.”

Be careful how you diagnose people like him, Anna, He may look like a loony to you, but he’s easily cured. A handful of nice yellow Smarties and he’s back to normal for another month. He’ll be back at school tomorrow, taking assembly as if nothing has happened, and nobody will guess the trouble he thought he was in today and that the only thing in the big wide world that balances his mind is chocolate!”

© Peter Rogerson 22.11.17

THE WITNESS

28 Nov
I’m standing here now with a sack over my head, blinding my eyes as the noose is adjusted round my neck. They don’t like you to see the instrument of your death. They don’t like you to see the truth, but then, truth has precious little to do with this.

I’m thinking these thoughts. The same ones that have rolled round and round my head since the affair started.

I’m thinking I’m not alone. Hundreds, maybe thousands, have stood on this spot before me with the man of God reading meaningless nonsense from his prayer book and everyone sombre, and like me they have known their own innocence. Crowds of them, proclaimed guilty but innocent as new born babes. Like me.

You can’t take a life in London whilst celebrating victory in Nottingham. Can you? I mean, with witnesses by the score?

I’ll be falling soon, down to the cell beneath whilst the noose tightens on my neck. And the hangman, he won’t care, he can’t afford to care. Why, if he knew what he was doing he would know what he was. A killer. A cold-blooded murderer, because there’s no way on this planet I could have done it.

And the truth is there’s no way on this planet I would have done it, either.

I’ll be jerking to a shattering stillness. That’s what I’ll be doing, and the Priest will look my way and tell himself that his God’s will has been done. The condemned man is dead, and serve him right.

I was celebrating a beautiful victory in Nottingham, and that’s hours from London even by the fastest stage. That’s what I was doing, in front of hundreds. The polling booths were all closed, the votes had all been counted, and I had won! Unexpectedly, the people had turned out in their droves and decided that now, at last, there was a man who spoke their language and understood their needs. The champagne, not the expensive stuff but decent cava anyway, flowed, and the cheers were growing hoarse.

And the constable stood at the back and eyed the crowds, grim because he wanted to be at home with his lovely wife, in bed and telling her the same things that he told her every night because he meant every syllable of them, but instead he had to be here, watching the count, listening to the result, imagining the curves of her precious body next to where he should be.

The clock is ticking. I can’t hear it, but I know that it is.

The man in London was killed in dockland on the darkest of nights and in the darkest of places, in murky shadows surrounded by whores but penniless.

“It was him!” screeched his wife, pointing at a poster on the wall.

My poster. My face, silently explaining my reasons to be a candidate in the election. My image looked out at the dead man, the expression on my photographed face anticipating a hoped-for victory.

“It was him!” she screeched again, lashing out at my monochrome face. “I’d swear before God it was him! I saw him, din’t I?”

“But he’s miles away,” soothed a sergeant, all starched uniform and shiny boots, “in Nottingham, being elected.”

“It’s him!” howled the woman, grief tearing her face into shreds of tears. “I saw him! I swear it, I saw him…”

I suppose they had to ask me. They could have asked her why she was there with all the whores, watching her husband being stabbed, but instead they asked me.

“Where were you on the evening of the ninth?” asked the Inspector, whiskey and cologne and a hangover.

I told him.

“Have you any witnesses?” he murmured.

“Hundreds.”

“They don’t count! You were on a stage up high and they were down below in the shadows. You need proper witnesses, folks who could see properly. You might have put a look-alike on that stage while you sneaked down to the smoke with your blade. You might have given him the words to say and gome off yourself, maybe taken the stage to London.

“You might have killed the poor sod. We’ve a witness who knows it was you. His ever-loving wife, left with the kids to bring up on her own while you were knifing her man!”

“I was celebrating a great victory in Nottingham!”

“I say as you were in London. And I’m arresting you for the murder of Mickie Fellen, and I know what’ll happen to you, mister politician, you’ll swing for it!”

And the irrational sod of it is, that’s the way it’s turning out.

“Why did you do it?” wept my lovely curvaceous wife, “why did you kill the man?”

“But I didn’t,” I shouted, suddenly desperate. “You were there with me! You saw me on the stage! You cheered with everyone else! I even winked at you, and you winked back!”

“I thought it was you standing high on that platform, up high, shadowed, but… there was a witness, the policeman said, and policemen know these things…”

“But you were a witness, you and everyone else at the count! You all saw me!”

“They’re going to re-run the election and you’ll not be on the ballot sheet,” she told me, “but they’re sure we’ll lose because of you. Nobody’ll vote for a party that harbours a killer!”

“But you saw me!” I almost screamed. “It can’t have been me! You of all souls must know that.”

“There was a witness,” she said, weakly, and went forlornly back home. To my home, and I’m not there, I’m here, weeping inside.

It was a shock when the jury said GUILTY because I knew I wasn’t. It was a shock when I was clamped in handcuffs and pushed roughly back to the cell. My brain is numb. I didn’t do it, that’s the message that runs round and round my head like one of those fancy new steam engines.

And I’m here, waiting for the clock to tick to the appointed time, standing with a sack on my head and a noose round my neck.

And I never hurt anyone.

I never killed anyone.

But they’re still going to ha……

© Peter Rogerson 21.11.17

THE CASE OF THE LAST TWIN

26 Nov
This is the last of a batch of Sherlock stories I’ve written recently.  There have been 56 in all and i hope they have been enjoyed.
“It’s been a good few years,” said Annabelle to her husband, Sherlock Holmes. “I genuinely believe I’m a really lucky woman, maybe even the luckiest ever, with a man like you by my side.”

“What man wouldn’t choose you above everything?” asked Holmes with no sense of pretended gallantry but a great deal of obvious honesty. “And to think I once believed that our kind of happiness would never be for me,” he added.

“You’re too sweet,” she smiled, and then: “so we come to what might well be your final case,” she said, nervously. He looked at her, surprised. He’d pursued very few cases during the years he’d spent with Annabelle, largely because he decided that along with all working men he should retire. A man of my age, he told himself, can’t go gallivanting around the country like he did in his youth, not for ever

Of course he couldn’t!

“So what is this final case?” he asked.

“One that demands you’re brave,” she whispered, “one that demands you show no sign of weakness and don’t flinch, because what I’m going to tell you is inevitable. I saw Doctor Watson this morning.”

“You did? He rang me and told me he was back from Rome at last, but asked me not to call on him yet. I assume he’s out and about and reacquainting himself with friends and colleagues in the medical world. He must have quite a lot to tell them after spending so long in the research institute.”

“He was wounded in the Afghan war,” reminded Annabelle. “It’s that old injury that has been causing him trouble lately. A piece of shrapnel, long buried inside him, has stirred in its sleep. At least, that’s how he put it.”

“Poor fellow. What’s he going to do about it?” asked Holmes.

“There’s only one thing he can do. Which is what brings us to a final case for you.”

“Which is?” Holmes was frowning, fearful of what his beloved Annabelle was going to tell him.

“He’s dying, Sherlock. He knows it for sure, and is perfectly content about it. He knows that the one sure thing at the moment we’re all born is that sooner or later we all die. There’s no way he would think any other way … you know what a practical man he is! But he wants you and him to share one last case.”

“Oh dear,” frowned Holmes. “Would he know what case that is?”

“Oh yes. His sister…”

“I wasn’t aware that he had a sister,” murmured Sherlock. “A brother, yes, he told me about a brother once, but never a sister.”

“He hasn’t, but he had one. Once. She died years ago, as a child.”

“That’s why she wouldn’t have entered any conversation, then,” said Holmes. “But why should she now? Let me see: Watson is seventy something and any sister of his must have been born around that long ago, give or take a decade! So how can someone buried in the last century have anything to do with a case today?”

“She was born as long ago as was Doctor Watson,” smiled Annabelle. “She was his twin sister. But whereas he made it and lived a fruitful life, she withered and fell from the branch, so to speak.”

“I see,” murmured Holmes.

“And he wants to be buried with her,” said Annabelle. “He wants you and him to reform as a duo fighting for the rights of mankind, and investigate something that happened above seventy years ago. He wants you to research her brief life, locate her final resting place and make what arrangements you can for the twins to spend eternity together in stark contrast to how they’ve spent their lives.”

“I think I’d better see him,” sighed Holmes.

“I’ll come with you. He’s expecting you, but let me warn you. He’s changed over the few years he spent working in Italy. Those years haven’t been too kind to him I’m afraid. And he’s in pain for much of the time. But he is determined that what he likes to call a last case will help him on his way out of this world. As you know, he has no religious faith. The wars that took half a century to kill him stole that from him way back when he was a doctor on a battlefield. No, his faith is in the present and the past, and that sister of his was the very first part of his past.”

“Did she have a name?” asked Sherlock, curiously.

“Jane. She was called Jane,” said Annabelle.

And so it was that husband and Wife, Sherlock and Annabelle, made their way to the old home of John Watson. Although he’d spent several years working abroad, he had kept his house on afraid that should he return with no home he’d end up in Baker Street again, with Holmes. Much as he respected the elderly detective he knew he’d left those years firmly behind him. They had been both fun and dangerous, and his recording of them had earned him both respect and an additional income, but those days must be kept in the past.

“Well, Holmes, you find me reduced,” he coughed. “I trust your lovely lady wife told you what’s afoot?”

“I never knew about Jane,” replied Holmes. “But then, why should I?”

“She sacrificed her life so that I could have mine,” Watson told him, “and now we must find her. It will be my last case. I don’t expect to last the month.”

“But surely…” Sherlock said, trying to find the words to tell a lie about life ending and death arriving.

“I’m a doctor, Holmes. I know what’s going on. I could go any time, but would be shocked if I was still alive four weeks from today!”

“Then we must be at work!” ejaculated Holmes, “but where do we look first?”

“We go to Rugby,” said Watson, “and I would go alone but ill health prevents me. I need help, Sherlock, for I lack a great deal of the strength I had in my rugby playing days.”

“You were young then,” sighed Holmes, “a Rugby lad playing rugby! There’s something poetic about it.”

“It’s not like you … you … you to understand the poetic, Holmes,” spluttered Watson, coughing red into a white handkerchief.

“But are you well enough for any kind of journey?” asked Holmes, “why not take a rest, have a drop of the Italian wine you so raved about in your letters to me and trust me to see that your wishes are fulfilled? And you can have no doubt about it. I will move Heaven and Earth if you predecease me, and make sure you become reunited with Jane.”

“I have your word on that?” coughed the doctor. “You will do all you can along those lines?”

“You know me, Watson,” replied Sherlock Holmes firmly, “I am now and always have been a man of my word.”

“And I’m behind him to push him along,” confirmed Annabelle.

“Then so be it … I don’t feel well, to tell the truth, I feel … I need to sit down. Forgive me, Holmes…”

And those were the last words to be spoken by the good Doctor John Watson as a sliver of shrapnel after so many years moved remorselessly towards his heart and, in a moment, the merest of moments, stopped it from its toil.

oo0oo

A few days later Holmes and his lovely Annabelle stood by a simple grave in a largely disused cemetery outside the small Midlands town of Rugby and cast a handful of soil onto the shining wooden coffin that had just been lowered into it. There was a weathered stone, simple and cheap, by it, proclaiming that this was the last and only resting place of Jane Watson who had been taken by her Lord before the world had a chance to soil the innocence of her heart.

It would be replaced, soon enough, with the simple announcement that her twin had joined her.

Sherlock Holmes took Annabelle by one hand and gazed into her face.

“Well, that’s about that,” he murmured. “He was a good man, the very best and I’ll always be sorry that he’s gone. Sod it, I’ll miss him! But that has always been the way of things, I’m afraid.”

“It has,” agreed Annabelle, meaningfully.

© Peter Rogerson 03.10.17