Friday, 18 August 2017

Paper Chain

I'm Charlie, and I am four and a half. The half is important because that's how long I've been going to school. I was scared on my first day, and told my Mom I didn't want to stay but she made me anyway. I remember standing in the hall outside the classroom and it wasn't like my hall at home. It was big and smelled funny. There were no clocks ticking, or coats hanging on the coat tree and Snookie the cat wasn't lying in her bed. I think I might have cried but I'm not sure about that. Anyway, like I said, that was a half ago, and a half is a long long time.

It turned out that school was a great place to go. Teacher is really nice, like another Mom, but she dresses different. We play games and there are loads of other kids, not like at home where it's just me, Mom and Dad. There are rules, but not many, and they make us learn new things but that's ok. I like learning new things, its easy. Before school, I thought all kids were the same but I was wrong about that. First off there are girls, now there're different. They don't like the same things boy's do at all. Some boys are different too. Some are loud, some are not, some push and shove, some play nice and some can be mean, that I don't like.

My best friend is Simon, we do everything together. We sit at the same desk, do our lessons together, play together, and eat our lunch together. Simon is great, the greatest kid in the world, he could be even greater than me.

So today is Monday and I'm very excited because Teacher said she'd have a big surprise for us on Monday. I'm dressed extra quick, eat all my breakfast, pack my lunch box, put on my bag and coat and Mom is still sitting at the kitchen table.

"What's the rush?" she asks, as she pulls on her coat and shoes. I do wish she'd hurry up.

"It's surprise day! Come on, Mom!" I say, taking her by the hand and pull her out the door. I try to make her run, but she's too heavy. She tries to keep up but her legs are too old to go fast. Once I heard her say her legs were killing her, sometimes I worry about that, but not today. Today is surprise day. When I get to the classroom I'm not even the first there. I hang my coat on my hook and go to stand beside Simon. Everyone is crowded around teachers desk where there's something square covered with a cloth.

"What is it?" I whisper.

"I don't know, Teacher wont tell until class starts," he whispered back. We spent the rest of the time before class guessing what might be under the cloth. I thought it might be a cake, I hoped it was a chocolate one with hundreds of thousands all over it. Simon thought it was a time machine because every now and again it started to make a noise. Time machines are cool but I still hoped it was a cake. The bell rang and Teacher made us all sit in our chairs before she took the cloth off the secret. When she did, it wasn't a cake and it wasn't a time machine, it was a million trillion times better. It was two white mice in a cage, one of them was running around on a yellow plastic wheel making a squeaking noise.

"WOW!" said the whole class together, even the girls. We all began rushing forward, but Teacher stopped us. She said we had to be gentle, two at a time she let us up to see them. Once we all had a look, she told us all about them, how to feed them, give them water and to change the straw in the bottom of the cage. All that week we looked after them and by Friday things got even more exciting. Teacher said she had another surprise. She said two responsible students would get to take a mouse each home. Of course my hand went straight up, but so did everyone else's. "Miss, miss, miss, miss," we all chanted, but she wouldn't pick. She said we were going to play a game and the winners would get the mice for the weekend.

Games are great! I'm good at games. She gave out strips of coloured paper and glue and told everyone to make a paper chain as long as their arm. This was easy, we'd done this before. When everyone had their chains made, she held up a basket and said she was going to draw out names for partners. One boy held up his hand and asked, "You mean we might have to play with the girls?"

The teacher only laughed and pulled out the first two names, who went up, and Teacher put their chains together then attached each end to a kids arm. Teacher explained that both would have to work together for the day and not break the chain. The last pair to brake their chain would win. Teacher began drawing teams. At last she pulled out a piece of paper with "Charlie" written in red marker. I jumped up and down with all my fingers crossed. "Simon, Simon, Simon," I chanted in my brain, but it didn't work. The name that came out was "Tom" written in horrible, snot-green, marker. TOM! I didn't want to play anymore, Tom never won anything.

"Come on," said Teacher, waving us up to the front. I walked up, hanging my head and dragging my feet. Tom didn't look like he was excited about this either. As we stood there being chained together, I glanced over at Tom. He was bigger than most of the kids in the class but nearly never gave Teacher the answers she was looking for, but that wasn't why I didn't want to be with him. It was playtime. When he was in the yard he was the loudest of all the boys, running around, pushing and shoving, always wanting to be first on the swings, or the climbing frame, and he even took things out of peoples lunch boxes and ate them. I told Mom once and she said that was stealing which was a bad thing and I should never do it. That's why I didn't want to be with Tom, he was a bad boy. When the chain was made, Tom went to go back to his chair and I went to go back to Simon, already forgetting about the chain. We nearly broke it.

"Dumbo," he whispered when we got untangled. It was only then we realised we had to sit beside each other for the rest of the day. There was no space near Simon so we had to sit at Tom's desk all the way in the back of the room. When we got there he folded his arms on the desk and put his head down. I heard him say, "I really wanted to mind the mouse." He must have been talking to me, there was nobody else at the table.

"So did I," I said and he raised his head a bit.

"We'll never win," he said, and he looked really sad.

"We can try," I said, and pointed at our chain. "Look, it's still together. We have a chance."

"You think," he asked, holding up his hand with the paper chain attached.

"I'll try, if you will," I said. I really wanted to bring home a mouse too. He nodded and went to rub his nose with the back of his hand, stretching the chain tight.

"Careful, you nearly broke it," I said, checking the paper for rips.

"Sorry," he said, and his face went red.


When lessons started, the first thing Teacher wanted us to do was draw a picture of any animals that lived in our houses. I got busy with the crayons and soon had a great drawing of a ginger cat with the word "Snookie" over its head. Tom had his hand covering his paper as he worked. I asked for a look and when he showed it to me it was just a load of blue circles going around and around.

"What's that?"

"It's a spider web," he said, shoving it closer so I could see it better.

"Wow, you have a pet spider?" I was imagining a huge hairy thing like the one I had seen in the pet shop. Tom went red again.

"Not a pet but there's loads in my house," he said, and tried to hide the picture again. I don't know why but I started to feel sorry for Tom. He seemed sad, having no pets was a terrible thing. I decided not to say any more about it because it was upsetting him. One by one, kids began forgetting about their paper chains. As each one ripped, they would say, "Oh no!" and hold their hands up to their heads. Every time that happened, Tom let out a little giggle and said, "Ours is still ok." By the time break arrived, half the kids were out of the game already.

"Lunch," said teacher, clapping her hands. First, Tom and I went to my bag and got out my Spiderman lunchbox, then we went to Tom's bag and got out his silver one. The kids who were knocked out of the game, were running and playing like always and normally Tom would be right in the middle of it. I was about to go out with everyone else when he held me back and said, "We better let them go out first." I nodded, and we waited till the room was empty. I saw Teacher smiling at us, she knew we wanted to win. We decided to go over to the sand box to eat our lunch. We sat on the timber which held the sand back and opened our boxes. I got an apple, a small chocolate biscuit and two banana sandwiches, my favourite.

"What did you get?" I asked.

"Ham sandwich and a chocolate bar," he said, but wouldn't let me see in the box. He just closed the lid.

"Are you not hungry?" I asked.

"I'll eat them later," he said, and bent over to put the tin at his feet. That was when two boys started wrestling in the sand behind us and one went crashing into Tom, knocking him over. There was nothing I could do to stop it. I heard the rip as he hit the ground. He jumped up, but it was too late. He held up his arm and looked at the paper loops dangling from it. I thought he was going to cry but he didn't. His face went very red as the boy who had knocked him ran away. He stood there and looked so mad, I'd never seen a kid look mad like that before. That was when he started shouting and running after all the other kids, pulling apart their paper chains.

Before Teacher could catch him he'd broken every paper chain. Teacher marched him inside and everyone in the yard was shocked at what he'd done. Nobody knew who was going to take home the mice now. My toe hit against Tom's lunch box so I picked it up. The lid was open, I wasn't snooping, but there was nothing inside the box. No ham sandwich, no chocolate bar, only some crumpled tinfoil and crumbs. Tom was telling fib's as well. Why did he do that?


After break, Teacher looked as mad as Tom had looked earlier. He was sitting alone at his table, his head resting on his hands and his ears were very red. Everyone was asking Teacher who was going to take home the mice and pointing at Tom saying it wasn't their fault he broke their chains.

"Sush! Sush!" cried Teacher until everyone stopped talking. "After what happened I don't think its a good idea that anyone gets to take home the mice today."

"What!" everyone shouted, everyone but Tom. Then everyone was saying it was Tom's fault, Tom was naughty, Tom was bold, Tom should be punished, but they should not. Teacher soon had enough and stamped her foot, stopping all the noise. "I've decided to take the mice home myself, and that's the end of it" she said, crossing her arms. There was no changing her mind. I saw lots of kids giving Tom angry looks and I felt sorry for him. They were all pointing at him and said it was all his fault but I knew that someone had broken our chain first. Nobody seemed to think that mattered, but I did. I was still sad when Mom came to collect me and I told her all about the competition and what had happened. She said that Tom shouldn't have done what he did, even if someone else broke our chain, it was naughty. I was thinking about arguing, but sometimes grown ups just don't understand kids.


All weekend I wondered what the school mice were doing in Teachers house. I wished I'd got to bring them home and let them play with Snookie, but Mom said it might not have ended well, whatever that means. Anyway, Monday came and I was back at school and excited to see the school mice again. As classes started I saw Tom sitting all by himself. Everyone was still mad at him and none of the kids would talk to him. It wasn't fair, someone had broken our chain first, that had to count for something?  Lunch time came and I saw Tom take his silver lunch box and go all the way to the corner of the yard and sit on the grass. I didn't think it was right he should be alone so I asked Simon if we should go over but he was still mad at Tom and said he was a meanie. I looked from Tom to Simon and back again. Simon was my best friend in the world but what was happening to Tom wasn't right. Nobody should have to eat lunch by themselves. I stood up and walked to the far side of the yard leaving Simon behind.

"Hi Tom," I said, and sat on the grass beside him.

"Hi," he said and sounded very sad.

"You shouldn't have broken the chains," I said.

"I know, I'm sorry about that but they won't talk to me." All I could do was nod because he was right. I opened my lunch box and saw that today I had an orange, two crackers with cheese and a jam sandwich. I looked over and saw that Tom's lunch box was still closed.

"What did you get?"

"Ham sandwich and a chocolate bar," he said, and this time I knew he was fibbing.

"I got jam, I don't like jam. Will you eat half for me?"

"Really?"

"Yea," I said, and handed him half my sandwich. His eyes grew big and the sandwich vanished in two huge bites. His cheeks puffed out, just like the mice did when they were full of food. It was so funny I laughed out loud and Tom grinned, his mouth still full of mushed up bread and jam. Some of the other kids in the yard looked over to see what we were laughing about but didn't come talk to us. After, I gave him one of my crackers but kept the orange for myself. We played together for the rest of the break and when we went back to class he gave me a huge smile and said, "Thanks for the sandwich, it was the best one ever." I went back to sit beside Simon and he seemed to be mad at me now.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Tom's naughty, you shouldn't be friends with him."

"He's not so naughty really, he's just hungry." I could tell by Simon's face he didn't understand, but then how could he. He never opened his lunch box to find nothing inside.


Sunday, 13 August 2017

Running for Home.

“Be back before eleven!”

“Jesus, Mom, I’m not a kid.”

“Eleven.”


“Alright already,” she said, slamming the door. God, she was such a worrywart, always nagging, always wanting to know where she was going, who she was meeting, what she was doing. Would the woman not get a life for herself and stop living through her? She walked down the drive and around the corner, wondering if he was going to be there. Toby was older by a two years, a senior already while she was still a freshman. When she caught sight of the ten year old dodge idling at the kerb her heart beat a little faster. She skipped along to the car and threw herself into the passenger seat.

"Any trouble getting away?" he asked, checking his mirror and pulling out. He looked good and the car rumbled sexily. The diamond stud he wore in his ear flashed in the dwindling sunlight and his teeth were so white they could be diamond too. She had been bowled over when he approached her in the mall and asked her to a party. She knew him from school of course but he'd never spoken to her before. He was, like, so cool.

"OMG, she's like, unbelievable," she huffed, staring out the window in what she hoped passed for a wistful pout.

"You're here, that's all that matters. Did you tell her you were meeting me?"

"Nope, said I was going to Shanna's, but they're away so if she calls, the phone will ring out. Clever huh?"

"Sure was, babe. Tonight's going to be wild!" he said, throwing his chin to the roof of the car and howling like a wolf. It was primal sound, one which plucked her animalistic strings. They drove into the evening laughing like loons.


They drove right out of Littlerock and onto the interstate. It hadn't dawned on her to ask where the party was, she just assumed it was going to be at someone’s house from school. Could he actually be taking her to a college party? Oh wow, imagine that. She smiled over at him but he kept his eyes on the road. She wondered how she never noticed him looking at her before, she sure spent enough time watching him. It was getting dark as they turned off the turnpike and started climbing up into the mountains. She didn't exactly know this area but she sure knew there were no colleges all the way out here.

"Where is this party?" she asked, looking across at Toby for reassurance. Surely he would see how unsettling this was to her? He grinned as he guided the car through the twisting bends with one hand on the wheel and one resting on the back of her seat. He began stroking her hair and his fingers played down the back of her neck sending tiny electric shocks running down her back. "Not much further, the rest should be there already."

That was something at least. She'd heard stories about these secret gatherings, where everyone would meet at a deserted barn or something, hundreds of people with a DJ and beer and well... everything. A pop-up festival, that must be where he was taking her. He drove on, the road getting narrower and higher with every passing minuet. A thrill ran through her, this was living, exciting friends, exciting adventures, living on the edge. This was what she always knew she was destined for and this was what her mother seemed determined she wouldn't have. The road ended in a small turnaround. They parked and Toby took a tent and a rucksack from the boot. They walked into the gloom with her dancing on his arm, setting out on an adventure of a lifetime. Fallen pine needles crunched underfoot, singing softly as they welcomed her into the darkness. Deeper and deeper they ventured, leaving light and normality behind. She strained her ears for the distant sounds of music or voices but all she got was the whisper of the wind through the branches. Her mind became giddy as she toyed with the notion they were becoming extraordinary, one of the chosen few, those that lived above the world and beyond the pale. Life wasn't for living, it was for devouring, and she was starving.

A clearing appeared before them and light flickered, illuminating the lowest branches of the trees. There was no DJ with pulsing light shows, there were no throngs of joyous kids, all that lay before her were three tatty looking tents and four boys lounging on a log before a fire pit. Toby called out and they grinned when they saw him. One held out a bottle of bourbon to him and he chugged from it greedily. None of them seemed interested in talking to her, it was as if she were invisible. In that moment every exalted feeling inside of her died. A shudder ran up along her body and goose bumps sprang up on her skin.

"Where are the others?" she whispered in Toby's ear.

"What others, this is it," he said, with a dismissive smirk as he dropped his ass on the log and passed the bottle along the line of boys. After a moment he introduced her but to her ear it nearly sounded resentful, as if she were an uninvited guest at a gathering of friends. The others nodded and said hi, one moved over a little so she would have a spot on the log. She sat down and he moved in against her, his jeans pressed against the bare flesh of her leg protruding under the dress she wore. She gathered the fabric in her hand and pulled it as low as it would go, which was not so low at all. They passed her the bottle and she took a hit, the liquor burned her throat.

Night fell fully before Toby had the tent up and she couldn't help noticing he only unpacked one sleeping bag. Where was hers? Or was that meant to be theirs? She was no prude but she hardly knew the guy. Beer and whisky flowed and hours passed. The boy's voices grew harsher and louder, the jokes got filthier. She tried telling them she had enough to drink but they kept insisting she take some, to get the party started they said. She felt alone in this gathering, crushed together on a fallen tree. One of the boys kept touching her, rubbing against her, and all Toby did was grin when it happened. When Toby went for a pee she followed.

"I think we should go," she said, seriously.

"Go where?" he said lasciviously and wrapped his arms around her planting them firmly on the cheeks of her ass.

"Home," she said, pushing him off her.

"Home?" he said, his face turning ugly. "I thought you knew how to party?"

"Of course I do, but this isn't much of a party, is it?" she asked, waving back at the drunken teens spitting into the fire.

"Not yet, but things are going to get much better. You'll love it, they all do," he said, spanking her behind as he walked back to the camp. They all do? What's that meant to mean?  She followed him back to the fireside, watching him guffaw to his mates like a pack of hyenas. She had no choice but to sit back down and hope. As the level of whisky in the bottle diminished, the lust laden looks began to multiply, and not just from Toby. When the guy beside her slipped his hand between her thighs, she knew she'd been a fool to come all the way out here with a bunch of guys she barely knew.
She jumped to her feet, slapping the hand away, and demanded, "Take me home!"

Toby just grinned.

"Fine, I'll make my own way," she said, storming off in the direction she thought the car lay. As she left they boys broke out laughing and cat calling after her.

"Where do you think you're going?" Toby called. She didn't answer and fear made her lengthen her stride. She knew there was danger in those skinny boys, danger she didn't want to see before. That was when she heard them coming. Behind her they crashed through the bushes and howled like animals. She ran for her life but she had no idea where she was headed. Every direction looked the same. All she knew was she had to get away from them.

The path she was following soon vanished and she forced her way through the undergrowth, ignoring the sharp branches as they scraped her naked legs. No matter how hard she ran, they kept gaining ground on her. In desperation she leapt over a thicket and was shocked to find no ground on the other side. She crashed down a slope in a brain rattling roll until she was spit out onto a narrow strip of tarmac. She raised her spinning eyes and was shocked to see a huge truck barrelling toward her. Breaks screamed, smoke rose from the locked up wheels as the huge cab shimmied first left, then right but always bearing down on her. She closed her eyes and knew she would never again open them. She felt nothing crush her or rip into her flesh, or was she already dead? She opened her eyes and stared at her distorted refection on the chrome bumper of the truck. She let out a breath and the image before her fogged up. A pair of boots hit the ground and came running toward her.

"Are you ok miss?" he said, reaching down to help her up.

"Yea," she said shakily but she wasn't one bit sure she was.

"You came out of nowhere, you could have gotten yourself killed," he said, the shock making him a bit sharp. She took a proper look at him and was surprised how young the trucker was, he was little older than Toby. He had kind eyes and she could feel his work hardened skin as he gently held her elbow. She couldn't think, so much had happened, her mind felt drunk, as if she'd downed the whole bottle of whisky not just a few sips. High above them on the slope she heard Toby's voice call her name. It was like being slapped in the face by an invisible hand. She grabbed the trucker by the arm and pleaded. "Mister, could you give me a lift to the next town?" there was a quiver in her voice.

He looked at her and frowned, "You don't live up here?"

"No, Littlerock," she said, and watched him push his baseball cap.

"You're a long way from home."

"I know," she said and felt her throat tighten up as tears threatened to come. She heard bushes rustle as the boys closed in on her. She had to get away from here, this man was her only hope.

"Gosh, I don't know," he said as if she were the dangerous one, but then something changed in his features as he came to a decision. "I guess I can't leave you out here. Hop on." As she opened the passenger door she heard the bushes up on the ridge shake, they were right on top of her. In that second, climbing into a truck with a complete stranger seemed like the safest thing in the world. Air hissed out as he engaged gears and the big rig started to move. As the wheels gathered pace the driver reached out and stroked a white rabbit’s foot which dangled from his sun-visor. Was this man saving her, or had she just made things a whole lot worse. She felt like she should say something.

"Thanks so much for this," she said, but she had one hand resting on the door handle, ready to bail out if necessary. Only a few hours ago she could see nothing but good in the world and now she could see nothing but danger.

"It's alright. How the blazes did you end up all the way up here?"

Something about the young trucker was comforting, and for some unknown reason she spilled out every detail of the story. She told about being invited to the party and sneaking out with Toby and the things that happened. She could see the young man's jaw clenching in anger she described them chasing her through the forest.

"You should have told your Mom where you were going? Do you know how dangerous that was?"

"I guess I do now, but I knew she wouldn't have let me go. She never lets me do anything. She treats me like a kid all the time."

"I guess to her you are, and more important, you’re her kid. She only wants to keep you safe."

"I guess, but she can't keep me locked away forever."

"And what about you’re Dad?"

"Don't have one," she said, looking down at her scuffed and bloodied knees.

"Course you do, everyone has a Dad."

"Well, not me. Mom never talks about him so what kind of a Dad is that?"

"A bad one I guess," he said and she saw the look on his face, it was filled with pain as if the words she'd used hurt him.

"Have you any kids?" she asked, trying to take the spotlight off her. The young trucker changed in a second. It was as if someone turned on a million watt bulb in his soul.

"One, kind of," he said, grinning ear to ear.

"How can you, kind of, have a kid?"

"Well, that's why I'm in such a rush. My girl has gone into labour."

"Oh my GOD! That's amazing," she squealed, and she saw him reach out and touch the rabbit’s foot again.

"It is, it sure is," he said, and sounded flabbergasted by the enormity of it.

"Do you want a boy or a girl?" she asked.

"Oh, I don't care as long as they are healthy. I've never been so scared in my life. I still feel like a kid myself." he said, letting her see a little of his own insecurity.

"You're not married?"

"No, my girl's parents won't stand for it. They won't even let me see her, but I'm not missing this no matter what they say." There was determination in the guy, she could see it. He was little older than she was but this was a man, a real man.

"Your baby is lucky to have you," she said, and she meant it. The young trucker looked over at her and gave her the happiest, saddest, smile she had ever seen. In the reflected glow of the dash she was sure she saw a tear.

They rolled further down the mountain and she realised not one other car passed them. It dawned on her how lucky she had been to fall out on the road in the moment she did. A minute earlier, or later, and she would have been trapped with those animals. She shuddered at the thought of all the things that might have happened. She let out a shuddering sigh as if trying to get rid of the thought and as if reading her mind the young trucker reached out and stroked the rabbit’s foot one more time.

Soon the road levelled out and the trees vanished. In the distance a small cluster of houses appeared and a half dozen street lights lit up the dark.

"You can leave me here," she said, sure the man would want rid of her.

"I'm passing Littlerock, I can drop you home," he said.

"You sure you don't mind?"

"Don't be silly," he said, and drove through the sleepy cluster of buildings as they pushed north. The interstate was empty at this hour of the night and as the miles passed the trucker seemed to lapse into thought. Out of the blue he reached out and stroked his furry charm and she asked, "Why do you do that?"

"What?" he asked, a little confused.

"Rub that?" she said, pointing at the talisman swinging from sun-visor.

"Oh, it's my luck. I rub it for luck or sometimes to remind myself how lucky I already am."

"So why did you touch it that time?"

"I was thinking of my baby and I got scared."

"Oh!"

"Yea, and my girl. It’s a big thing and I'm not there to help. Even if I was, what could I do?"

"Just be there, I guess. Do you best," she said, and wondered where those words came from.

"Ha! That's true. You're a bit of a genius," he said, teasing her.

"A genius who nearly got herself raped or killed by being stupid."

"Well there is that," he said, trying to be funny to take the sting out of the truth.

She could see in this man, what she saw every day in her mother, but wouldn't acknowledge. Like him, her Mom was just doing her best, trying to make sure her baby was safe. She looked back on the way she acted, how spiteful she was, and all the harsh words that she threw. She felt more stupid than ever for making an already difficult job impossible. When she got home, she was going to make all that right, she promised it to herself. She looked over at the young trucker and for some reason she felt safe, safer than she had felt in a long time. It might have been the rocking of the cab, or the shock, or the warm air coming from the vents but she couldn't stop herself drifting into sleep. A second passed or possibly two before she felt a hand on her shoulder.

"You're home," he said, smiling at her. Through her sleepy eyes she thought he looked like a young Johnny Cash. Outside the window was her house with all its lights burning. It was late, must be at least four in the morning.

"How did you know where I live?" she asked, and yawned.

"You told me, then went back to sleep, don't you remember," he said with a grin. She didn't but she must have done it.

"Thanks so much for everything," she said, and pulled back on the handle. Before she got out he leaned over and handed her the little rabbit’s foot.

"What's that for?" she asked.

"Luck, and to remind you of me," he said, as she climbed down from the truck.

As she looked up at him she knew he was someone she'd carry in her heart for the rest of her life. "I'll always remember what you did for me," she said, and closed the door. Air whooshed from the breaks and the tuck glided away from the pavement. She watched it go and felt terribly sad, it was like losing a friend she'd known her whole life even though she only known the trucker a couple of hours.

She began walking up the path when the front door leapt open and her mother came rushing toward her. She braced herself for a telling off, but her mother grabbed her in a huge bear hug. She kept saying, "I was so worried," and crying.

"I'm sorry Mom," she said, and hugged her back. She hadn't felt this close to her mother in years.

"Where have you been? What happened?" she asked looking down at her grazed knees and scraped skin.

"It's a long story, I'll tell you inside but I'm ok. Nothing happened, well nothing too bad." Her mother raised a hand to her mouth and all the colour drained from her skin. Together they went inside and closed the door on a dangerous and spiteful world.

She sat on the couch and started to tell her mother about Toby and how he asked her to the party. Her Mom looked so frightened she reached out and took her hand, forgetting she still held the truckers lucky charm. Her Mom looked down at the little white piece of fluff and seemed shocked.

"Where did you get that?" she asked, taking the key ring and examining it very closely, her eyes growing wide. 

"I was going to tell you, this young trucker came along and kind of rescued me. He dropped me home and gave me..."

"His luck," said her mother, finishing the sentence for her.

"Yes, how did you know that was what he said?" Her mother didn't answer but instead asked, "What did he look like?" and her words trembled.

"Nice, good looking really. He was young only twenty, tall, skinny, jet black hair and a nice smile. I thought he looked like Johnny Cash."

The words were no sooner out than her mother began to sob and rushed off toward her bedroom. She was shocked and chased after her trying to explain that the trucker had been the one to save her, it was Toby and his mates that tried to hurt her. She arrived in the bedroom to find her mother scattering old photos on the bed and searching through them frantically.

"What is it Mom?" she asked, but her mother wouldn't, or couldn't, get an explanation out. Then she found what she was looking for and handed over a black and white photo with trembling fingers. It was the trucker.

"I don't understand," she said. What was her mother doing with this?

"I should have told you, I should have told you years ago," she sobbed.

"Told me what?"

"I was so young, so very young," she cried. "I loved him so much, he was good, a real good boy. Then I found out I was pregnant and my family went crazy. I needed him so much and he just vanished. It was the hardest time in my life."

"You're saying this guy I met was my Dad, that's impossible. He's only a few years older than me," she said, thinking the shock of everything had knocked her mother off kilter, making her see things that weren't there at all.

"No there's more. You see the night I went into labour I was terrified and even though he had abandoned me, I needed him to be with me. I got a nurse to get a message to his family but he still never showed up. He broke my heart. That day, when you were only minutes old I held you in my arms and vowed you'd never need anyone but me. I was going to be mother and father to you, seeing as your real father didn't want to be there."

"And you were, you are, I'm sorry I made things so hard for you, I really am," she said, seeing how much her mother had sacrificed for her, but the story wasn't finished yet.

"It was all a lie," said her mother.

"What was?"

"He never left me, he was driven away, by your grandfather. I only found out years later. My father threatened him, told him he'd move me away to a place he'd never find me, unless he left me alone. I don't know why he did it, but he did. That night, the night you were born, my message got through and he was coming, threats or no threat. He drove across two states like a maniac trying to make it on time but he never made it at all. He wrecked on the interstate, died instantly. I should have told you but you were already six and I had told so many lies I didn't know how to tell the truth. I'm sorry, I should have told you about your Dad, he was a good man, and he always reminded me of Johnny Cash too."

"It couldn't have been him, he's dead," she said, struggling with all she had learned.

Her mom held up the rabbit foot, "This was his, I knew it the moment I saw it. He called it his luck."

"That means..."


"It took him fifteen years but he made it." her Mom said, and wrapped her arms around her. As they hugged she reached out and lifted the rabbit’s foot from the bed and stroked it. Deep in her soul she always had a feeling, it was like she was never really alone and now she knew why. He'd been there, he'd always been there, watching over her and when she needed him most, he appeared, her hero, her Dad.






Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Let There Be Light

I was told a story by a Kerry legend, that I found so funny, I had to share it with you today. The teller of the story is Mike Bunny, Bunny not being his actual name, but that is a whole other tale.

Now Mike is the kind of fella who could tell you if a cow calved anywhere in Kerry, what time it happened, and if it had been a boy or a girl. He was having a cup of tea at the bar while I was telling a wayward tourist that the Blackvally outside Killarney was the last place in Ireland to get electricity and that had been in the 1970's.

"Yea, that's right," piped up Mike, "But did you know that Killarney had Electric Street Light before London?"

"Jesus, never!" I said with a dismissive wave of my hand.

"As true as I'm standing here. Not sure of the year but it was late ninety's, eighteen ninety's that is. Years before most of London had street lights. The Killarney Electric Light Company was right there in the middle of town and it ran from a mill on the river."

"Rubbish," I said but the tourist was hooked.

"Really?" he said in awe.

"Would I tell a lie," asked Bunny as if he were highly offended. The tourist shook his head and gazed on with puppy dog eyes.

"I even know a story about the first house with electric light in the town," he said sipping his tea.

"Go on, you better tell us," I said and admittedly I was a bit hooked myself.

"Well, I was told of this young lad, about seventeen, who got job down the creamery, and it was about the same time. He wandered down from the mountain with every stitch of clothes he owned in a cardboard suitcase no bigger than a woman's hand bag. He secured lodgings with old Annie Guthrie, who happened to have just installed a new electric light in her kitchen. She gave the young lad a hearty meal and fixed him a lunch for his first day of work and was about to retire for the night when she asked the lad, "Are heading up?"

Now he'd never before been in a town as big as Killarney and was still agog at everything. His mind was buzzing with excitement and sleep was the furthest thing from his mind. "I'll stay up a while longer if you don't mind, Missus," he said.

"Not at all, just put out the light before you go," she said and climbed the stairs. A few hours later she was woken by cursing and scraping of furniture in the kitchen. She jumped out of bed and put her housecoat on and rushed down, noting that the kitchen light was still burning brightly. She pushed open the door to find the young creamery worker standing on the table with the red hot light bulb in his hand and a a look of fury on his face.

"What in the devil is going on?" she demanded.

"This house be haunted, I'll not sleep a night under the roof," he said, jumping off the table and regarding the woman with terrified eyes.

"It's not haunted you Amadán!" she snapped.

The boy pointed at the light and with terror in his eyes said, "I've been blowing on that lantern for the last two hours and it wont quench, if that's not witchcraft, I don't know what is!"


With that the boy dashed up the stairs, grabbed his meager belongings and fled the house with Mrs Guthrie's cackles ringing in his ears."

Mike took a sip of his tea and I had to admit there were tears in my eyes from laughing.

"Good story," I said.

"It all true," he said and waved a good by before leaving the pub.

I just had to find out myself and sure enough, the Killarney Electric Light Company was set up and operating with full street lighting before 1892. Don't you live and learn.





Thursday, 29 June 2017

Tragedy

The writers group I attend, although not nearly often enough, picked the word tragedy as a story prompt this week. 

When I saw it I said, "Easy," sure most of my stories have something tragic in them. I started ticking them off in my mind, I could use Five Little Fingers, which was a half poem about a child lost in a terror attack, or I could use Eamon's Monument which told the story of a husband lost at sea, or I could use Christina's Story which was a double tragedy dealing with a young woman who was attacked and the death of the man who came to her aid. Realistically I could have made a case for most of my stories to date and to do that would be pure lazy in my eyes.

I decided to find out what tragedy really was. 

Did you know the word is derived from the Greek word Goat?? Me either. Apparently there is no explanation for the link between goats and sadness, but on considering it, they do have mournful faces.

So what does the word mean? A tragedy is an event causing great suffering, destruction and distress, such as a serious accident, crime or natural catastrophe. Can’t argue with that.

It also means, a play dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the death of the main character. Given that definition a few of my stories are classic tragedies, and not just because of the terrible writing. 

So there we have it, that is tragedy, but what is its essence? That required a little thought so I settled down with a coffee and pondered. 

Recently I had an interesting conversation with a very attuned person about the need for hardship in a life. I must admit, I believe a little bit of strife is good for the soul, it’s the teacher of lessons, it makes us value the good times and it allows us to survive where we thought we should not. I think we're too quick to bemoan the small obstacles life throws in our way and it seems to me the more privileged we are, the greater we complain. In my mind I could hear an expensive top, shrunk in the wash, described as a tragedy, or a missed airplane, or a flat tyre on the motorway. Are we too quick to label our lives catastrophes when the word was meant for so much more?

How can our designer disaster compare with the sinking of the Titanic? 

In what way does a delayed journey put us on par with the millions of solders who never came home? 

Never will a deflated wheel parallel the anguish caused by 9/11 or Hillsborough or The St Stephens Day Tidal Wave.


It’s time to use a new word for our troubles, one more suitable to their scale. You know, the next time I’m tempted to describe something in my life as a tragedy, I think I should pause and ask myself, am I just being a goat?



Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Baby Bird


I came into work the other morning and found this little guy sitting on the floor. I've no idea how he got inside but it was clear he was not in a good way. He was only small, a chick really. He just sat there, on the floor, not moving and not trying to get away. 

I covered him with a table cloth so I could catch him and when I had him cupped in my hands I carried him outside. I was going to put him down on a tree stump near the back door so he could fly away. 

When I uncurled my hands something strange happened, the little bird remained where he was, he didn't try to  fly or anything. He just looked at me with his little dark eyes and sat where he was. He was clearly frightened because his feather's were a little puffed up.

It was amazing having something so delicate and wild sitting in my hand. Gently, I stroked his head and back, with my lightest touch and told him everything was going to be ok. His eyes closed and he lifted his head to receive each stroke as if he enjoyed the contact. It might have been a minute it might have been four as we enjoyed each others company but in the end I knew I had to let him go on his way. 

I stopped stroking him and the most incredible thing happened. The little bird hopped across my palm and nuzzled his head against the tip of my finger. He may have been missing his mom, or he might have enjoyed the contact, whatever the reason, this little guy insisted on more strokes and he continued to close his eyes with each pass over his feathers.

At last I managed to get him to step down on the stump and left him there while other birds called from the trees. He didn't try to fly but stood there looking around. I knew he was roughed up but I hoped he would be able to find his way home. I went in and opened up the pub but the little fella wouldn't leave my mind. 

An hour later I went out the back to check on him and sure enough the top of the stump was empty. I was happy actually, my little friend had found his way home. I had started to walk away when I noticed a tiny fluffy patch on the gravel. I bent down and scooped up the cold body of my friend, a wild spirit who had made me his last contact before leaving this world. I'm not ashamed to say I shed a tear over his body, a innocent and beautiful creature who allowed me into his world before he found a better place in the universe. 

I will never know why that tiny thing hopped across my hand to get a second rub, but it will remain one of my most treasured moments.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Runaway

As he walked toward the bus station his expensive leather shoes went scrape-slap, scrape-slap, against the hard New York pavement. To anybody watching he was just another business man, weary from a hard day at the office. Scrape-slap, the song of feet in no hurry to reach their destination. Each breath escaped his body and exploded into a tiny cloud before being whipped away on the hard city wind. It was cold but at least it hadn't snowed, well not yet.

He took a seat in the glass shelter, a structure that disgraced its name for it provided no shelter at all. His mobile binged with a text from his wife, she was wondering if she should hold dinner for him. He punched in a reply that read, "Got to work late, start without me."

It was a lie, he'd finished early but he needed some space. It wasn't his wife, or kids, that he was trying to escape from, the problem was him. When ever he felt like this he was never running away, he was running toward something. It was an incredibly difficult feeling to explain to anyone, so he'd never tried. It was as if life, his life, were a pair of shoes a half size too small, it just didn't fit him.

His hand slid into his coat pocket and caressed his treasure chest, his most precious possession and his greatest mystery. Like all mystery's it only took perseverance to crack it, that and a little bit of luck.

An old man shuffles into the shelter and takes the space beside him. The new arrival smells faintly of mothballs but he didn't mind. He'd gotten some of his greatest insights from the most unusual sources. One of the most interesting had come from a man just like this one and on a bus of all places. It had happened years ago when he had been newly married. An old war vet had taken a seat beside him and just began talking. As they journeyed they'd talked about the war and how pointless it had been, they talked about government and how one was the same as the other, they talked about job's, music, and in the end they talked of love.

The old man smiled and said, "You see, in the beginning God made men and women."

"You're not going to get all religious on me?" he'd said as a joke.

"Just wait on the story, whippersnapper," said the old warrior, giving him a gentle elbow to the rib.

"Like I said, God built man but he'd made a huge mistake. When it came to giving him a soul he forgotten to leave enough room inside. He had done so much work already it didn't seem right to wipe it all out and start again. So, in his infinite wisdom, he broke the souls in half, giving every human a piece, and that is love. It's what we are all looking for, the one, that special person but what we're really looking for is the other half of our own soul. Now, most people never really find their other half but if you do, there is no mistaking the feeling. When you hold that person it’s like you’re whole, for the very first time."

"And, did you?" he asked the old man. The vet smiled and nodded. "Sure did, for twenty four glorious years."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"Don't be, twenty four is more than most get and don't forget, I'll be seeing her again soon," he said without a hint of sadness and with a backward wave, he got off the bus. 

The memories were warm but his fingers were cold as they removed his treasure chest from the coat pocket. It wasn't made of gold or even silver, the things he valued more than life itself were housed in an old tobacco tin. He opened the lid and flipped over a yellowed paper to reveal a key, a penknife and a ticket stub resting in the bottom of the tin.

First he picked up the key and lovingly turned it over in his fingers. It opened a blue door which lay at the top of four timber steps. A heavy lion-head knocker would land with a solid thunk when it was playfully slammed by boyish hands. He replace the key and touched the penknife, a gift from his father, but one that came with a warning. "You're old enough for this but only if you're responsible, I know you will be." Responsible, a word he'd lived his whole life by.

Then he gazed upon the ticket stub, something so valuable he dared not even touch it for fear he'd wear away the ever fading ink. "Zoo," it said, a stolen day over thirty years ago and what he remembered most was her smile and the way she felt in his arms. The old man had been right, it was like holding a part of himself. They had fitted seamlessly. Thirty years, how the time had flown.

His wandering mind was hauled back to the present by the down-shifting of a heavy diesel engine. He closed the lid on his treasures as the bus pulled up before him. As the crowd boarded, he felt his pulse begin to race, it always did just before he asked his question. Today might be the day he got the answer he longed for. He climbed on and stood before the driver.

"Where too pal?"

"I want too go home."

The driver gave him the same look a thousand before him had given, the look given to a fruitcake when you work with the public every single day.

"Look, Guy, tell me a stop or get off the bus."

Blanketed in defeat he said, "Jersey," and handed over his cash. The driver punched the ticket and took the money. He picked a seat by the window and as the last of the passengers boarded he opened his treasure chest once more. This time he lifted out the yellowed paper and counted all the stops on the map from New York Central too New Jersey. Any one of them could be his home. He knew nothing, not even his name and this scrap of paper was his only clue.

Thirty one years ago a teenager had been found in a back alley with no wallet, no ID and a head injury that left him in a coma for over a month. When he woke, he could remember nothing more than glimpses of his past. The things found on that boy now rested in a rusting tobacco tin, his teenage years in a tiny box.


Since then, he’d ridden this same route, always asking his question in hope that one driver, one day would say, "Sure, I know you kid." He still hoped against hope that it would happen because it was the only way he could find his way home, into her arms. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Devil Appears








My mind's in a mess, so cluttered with worry
Can't handle the stress, reasoning's gone blurry

The strings of my mind, break one by one
Myself I must find, livings no longer fun.

Falling through darkness, no landing in sight
This world is my weakness, my eyes see no light.

Is it angels I hear, or devils in the dark
Tell me what to fear, the flood or the ark.

The tightening noose bite's into my neck,
God, cut me lose, I shouldn't die yet.

No air in my lungs, I'm weakening fast,
My life's just begun, that step was my last.

The Devil appears from deep in his lair,
Now that I'm here, I wish I were there.


The Original Paper - Circa 1988

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Scarlet

Scarlet has been in my life for as long as I've been alive. The early years are hard to remember, those images are faded by time and age. What remains are fleeting snapshots snatched from childhood with the corner of my eye. A ghostly figure built of fairy dust, starlight wishes and hope. I remember raucous laughter while she was chased during tag and I recall an image of whirling limbs as she attacked sun warmed ocean waves. Mostly I remember her shoes. Patent leather and ruby red. Of all the things I remember about her, those shoes are the clearest.

Time is cruel, the way it takes a perfect moment and moves it along. It happens slowly, like the tiny drip destined to reduce an iceberg to the size of an ice cube. Ironically, the passing of time instilled even more sparkle in Scarlet, if such a thing were possible. She was kind and welcoming, familiar and mysterious, she was one of us but yet she was apart. All the girls wanted to be her friend while the boys, well, we didn't know quite what to make of her, but we knew she was special. As her years moved into double digits she was rarely seen without a wine-red coat which had a hood framed by a band of white fur. Homage to her name I guess.

It was during my college years that Scarlet really bulldozed her way into my life. It was a time filled with excitement, adventures and new experiences. She rose like a shooting star to become the queen of all she surveyed as well as queen of my heart. Every dance she attended was more ecstatic for her presence, every conversation she took part in, more memorable. It was like she infected the people around her with exuberance. To say we were friends would be stretching the truth a long way. I was more like a Moon, slowly circling her distant friends while she was the Sun, the great hot centre of all existence and how I wished to crash into that Sun and feel the burning magnificence of her beauty.

I watched her from afar and became more and more enamoured. It was hard not to notice how the steady drip of time gifted her previously slender body with curves designed by a genius. It is said that hunger is the best sauce and for her I was starving. I imagined how it would be to taste her full red lips, a sensation only a dream could do justice and a dream I would never wish to wake from. I fell deeper and deeper in love with her without even realising it. That was until the terrible day arrived. It was the day she turned her gaze on me, terrible in the most magical way. At first I thought I was mistaken, a hallucination of my own making but I was wrong because a few days later, it happened again. 

I am not sure how to describe what happened between us, I guess the best way to put it is that she was my everything, while I was but a distraction. I should have seen it but I was blind, blind to everything but her. What started, started innocently and oh so slowly. A sideways glance, a half formed smile, a nod of recognition, a passing touch and then disastrously we spoke.

Even on those lucid moments when I felt my feet skidding on a dangerous path, I dismissed the notion. How could I not, the ride was so thrilling. She would copy her notes from me after skipping class and repay me with a smile. She would eat half my lunch before parting with a kiss on the cheek. Along with another thousand tiny things I felt blessed to be included in.  What did sting were the nights out at a movie or a club or a pub. These were always crowded affairs and I hated them all for encroaching.

It seemed we were never alone and I would always have to share her attentions with the world. Slowly a cold thought began to prod my mind. Was it real? Was she my one? I wanted to listen but I was in too deep. I kidded myself that I was equal to the challenge and one day it would be right. I had no idea this dream was spiralling into a nightmare.

It was a Saturday and Scarlet wanted to see a rock band in a neighbouring town. I begged my Father and eventually he loaned me his car. I never felt so proud as I did the moment I drew up at the club with a goddess by my side. As the engine died she twisted the rear view mirror toward her so she could apply a fresh coat of lipstick, red of course. Her tongue made lushes sweeps over the gloss and I would have died for a taste. When we walked through the doors of that club the world changed, nothing would be the same again.

The music was thunderous and the room was jammed with people. Scarlet let out a little yelp and dashed into the throng on the dance floor. For the rest of the night I caught glimpses of her as she danced wildly before the band. She would come back to me when she was thirsty but her eyes never tired of sweeping the room. By the end of the night she was amid a crush of new found friends, some girls, mostly men and she bathed in their reverence. When the last encore was played and time had been called she appeared dragging a hesitant girl and two eager men in her wake. 

"I told them they could come back with us. It's alright, isn't it?" It was now she choose to unleash her full power on me and resistance was futile. I nodded my assent and felt something die inside the way it did every time she did this to me. 

The road home was dark and bushes whipped at the passenger door when misjudged a bend. I lifted my foot slightly off the gas and let the car coast through the turn. Scarlet sat half turned in her seat so that she could yammer drunkenly with the strangers in the back. All the words were slurred and spoken far too loudly. I had nearly stopped listening when the guy behind me said, "Hay, is this as fast as she goes, Driving Miss Daisy?"

The comment stung and I felt my ears go hot but I resisted the urge to press down on the accelerator. I was going fast enough.

"YEA! Miss DAISY!" howled Scarlet into my ear and followed it up with a high pitched cackle. They were all laughing now and I looked across at her, my dream, my nightmare. 

Her lips were still as red as they had been at the start of the night but the beauty was gone.  Before my eyes she was transformed into a horror, a witch or a vampire. She was a demon that was sucking the life from me and the realisation snapped something inside my mind. I gripped the wheel tighter and dropped down a gear. The engine revved high and I slammed my foot all the way to the floor. Under the car I felt the tyres shimmy then grip. We shot forward and all four in the car cheered.

The rev counter hit red and slammed her up a gear. Scarlet rocked in giddy abandon banging on the dash while screaming, “Faster." I slid the car into a bend letting the bite of the tyre's draw me round where we should have tipped over. The people in the seat behind me were stunned into silence and the only thing that could be heard was Scarlet's manic laughter above the screaming engine. 

Who's Miss Daisy now’ I thought as I drove the speed even higher. Pleas to stop came from behind me but it was too late. They'd forced me and now they were going to pay the price. I do believe I'd gone a little bit mad and it was only when a solid wall of hedge appeared in the distance that sanity reared its head again. I was going too fast to make the turn and I knew it.


I slammed on the breaks and locked out my arms trying to control the wild animal the car had become. I felt the back slide out and slam into the mound of earth that bordered the road. Time slowed down as the rear wheels rose into the air. I was sure it was going to flip over when it stalled, seeming to float for an age. When it came back down, it came down hard rattling my eyeballs. I blindly fought the wheel and felt another huge jolt followed by a third. Mercifully all movement stopped and I sat there paralyzed by fear. There was no sound, nothing, all I could see before me was a spider web of shattered glass. Slowly I looked to my left and Scarlet had her head thrown back, her mouth agape, pointing at the roof. Why was it so quiet?

Slowly my brain began to leave in new sensations as it came to terms with what had just happened. If I'd not been crazy before I surely was now. When the sound returned it was a gale of laughter that filled my ears, not screams. It was then that I finally accepted that Scarlet was insane, deep down, drag you to hell, crazy.

The years following that night have not been easy. I know Scarlet, my Scarlet, nearly destroyed me. In my bones I know she'd do it again if I gave her the chance, but it’s not easy. She's deep inside me, part of me, always there. These days when I catch a glimpse of her on the street or in others arms, I make myself see her for what she is, a great red dragon waiting to rip me apart. 

Even now, there are times I dream of impaling myself on her razor sharp claws, but resist, just.