#FlashFiction: Project Gutenberg

Indian Summer

Leaning against the rail, Ivy felt a trickle of sweat make its way down her spine. Although the early evening temperature was considerably less than that at midday when they’d docked, she was grateful for the slight breeze from being underway once more. She couldn’t linger long, for it would soon be time to freshen up before dressing for dinner.

Musing with an affectionate smile over the care Jonathan had taken to warn her not to be shocked at the advice contained in that delightful letter from Valerie, Ivy ruefully admitted how much gratitude she felt towards someone she’d not met. Tucked into the same envelope as one of Jonathan’s regular missives, it had expressed how much Valerie was looking forward to meeting Ivy – but the most welcome part of it had been the clothing advice, that on undergarments in particular.

She’d mistakenly believed her wardrobe from that long Indian Summer when she’d met Jonathan would stand her in good stead for the journey. Nevertheless, she’d acted upon Valerie’s advice, and her suffering had been considerably less than that of her fellow travellers as a result. A number of the ladies had been most unwell on the journey, with fainting becoming an almost everyday occurrence. Indeed Alice, the young lady who shared Ivy’s cabin, was suffering horribly with heat rash. She’d been especially distressed at the thought her husband would see her looking so defaced after their long months apart, so Ivy had felt moved to share Valerie’s excellent advice. She was pleased to see Alice had received a package at their last stop, and hoped she’d be sufficiently recovered before reaching their final destination.

Smiling as she strolled along the deck, Ivy recalled that early September day. The weather had been simply glorious, unseasonably warm and sunny. Eleanor had suggested they walk to the river, for while the hostel had a small patch of grass at the back, it was crammed with bodies, each vying for space to enjoy the sun on their bodies. On their return, they’d found him standing by the open front door, chatting to one of the men. Eleanor had given a shriek of delight, before running to hug him. As she made the introductions, Jonathan’s face had broken into a broad, friendly smile. Ivy remembered chiding herself later that evening for behaving like a silly romantic, but couldn’t pretend her heart hadn’t given quite the lurch.

They’d fitted a lot of living into that Indian summer. Jonathan would arrive from his digs early every morning carrying fresh bread rolls from the local bakery. Pouring himself a mug of tea, he’d spread the rolls with thick layers of butter and jam, having arrived laden down with jam from the family estate, much to Eleanor’s glee. After they’d served lunch at the hostel, he’d turn up with a picnic basket and drag them away for a proper break. The basket contained all kinds of little treats his careful questioning had established Ivy liked, not just things he knew would please Eleanor. He’d taken them to pretty riverside pubs, persuaded them to watch a film or two, and always made them laugh. When he’d gone, Ivy realised she didn’t just miss the fun and the laughter, she missed him. After envelopes with matching handwriting arrived for them both, she’d sat with a foolish grin on her face reading that he felt the same way.

Ivy’s family had taken to him right away, but there’d been a fair old to-do with his parents. Through it all, Eleanor had insisted her brother was made of stern stuff – and so it turned out. They’d plans to get married on Jonathan’s next leave home, but in the meantime, Ivy was going to Egypt. He’d found her somewhere suitable to live and lined up a job for her, helping a retired diplomat writing his memoirs. Ivy was looking forward to getting to know Egypt, the Embassy routine, to meet his friends, and to reassure everyone still in doubt that this was the future they both wanted.

© Debra Carey, 2020

 

The Blue Behemoth

Tophe straightened up and wiped his hands on an oily rag.  In these strange times, he’d been lucky to have a project to work on.  He could have easily filled his whole time with this, but he’d tried not to let it become all consuming.  There were still exams to pass, after all.  He’d had tentative plans for the summer hols, volunteering in Africa, but the current situation had put the kibosh on that.  There was still time for that, other summers.  For now, he was working to a deadline.

He’d found the VW campervan completely by accident, several years before.  It had been chocked up in a field, between two villages, quietly mouldering.  Out for a long cycle ride to get some peace and quiet, he would probably have missed it completely if he hadn’t glanced over his shoulder in preparation for overtaking a car pulled in at the side of the road.

The little scene had gone into his brain, and lodged somewhere.  He hadn’t really thought about, not in an active way, but it had clearly stuck, and been reinforced by repeated exposure.  From then on, every time he cycled that route, his eye unconsciously sought out the rusting vehicle.

The plan had come upon him unexpectedly when he was home for Christmas, and he’d talked to his parents about it.

“Oh yes, I know the van you mean.  I’m surprised the council haven’t taken it away.  There are rules about abandoned vehicles” his father had said.

“Do think you could get it back on the road?”  His mother had been more practical.

“Yes.  But I’m not really sure how much it will cost.  It might need a new engine for example.  And given that it’s been a few years, it will definitely need new tyres.”

“I tell you what dear, you go and work out what the worst case will be, and we’ll have a think.”

He’d already spent a little time on the internet, looking at other people’s projects, now he set to work and started thinking about everything that could go wrong, what tools he would need what he might need help with.  It was a more than a little daunting.

What he didn’t know was that whilst he’d been doing all this research, his parents had been doing their own.  They were under no illusions.  This was a big project.  But Tophe had been throwing himself into his studies (not that they would be of much use here), and he was clearly determined in his plans for the future.  Even if the whole thing was completely unfeasible, surely it would be good experience?

In the end, it was Tophe’s godfather who settled the matter.  A high-powered lawyer, he’d been a soldier in the Territorial Army since university.  It was not something that he tended to talk about too much, but he’d just hit 60 and had to retire.  When he’d popped over for a visit between Christmas and the New Year, he’d talked of finding a new project to work on.  It turned out that he was surprisingly knowledgeable about cars and engines and no sooner had the van been mentioned than he was practically dragging Tophe out to the Aston Martin, to go and have a look.

By the same evening, various people had been called and arrangements made.  It was by no means a done deal by the time that Tophe had gone back to halls, but he talked to his godfather and his parents every day.  By the end of January, everything was set.  Tophe headed home straight after his last lecture on the Friday and on the Saturday was there to help get the broken down campervan on the back of pick-up truck, and deposited in a barn-like outbuilding in one corner of his godfather’s land.

What was left of the paintwork was a faded-blue, and his brother Jonno, on a visit, had dubbed it the Blue Behemoth, and the name stuck.

And then there had been the threat of lockdown.  The word ‘unprecedented’ had become stale through over-use, and eventually his university had moved to online teaching and all but told everyone to go home.  It had been decided that he would go and stay with his godfather, allowing him to work on the VW campervan in his spare time, of which there was rather a lot.

Today was the day.  Lockdown was over, and the family he’d been talking to on video were coming over to see what he’d done.  He walked round to the front and turned the key in the ignition.  The engine rumbled to life and he went back round to the engine, watching and listening intently.  Everything seemed to be working perfectly.  The van had been repainted and was now a deep, luxuriant blue, a behemoth revitalised.  He’d worked on the interior, too.  Everything was clean and well appointed.

“Hey, there he is”

“Wow!”

“Amazing!”

There was a babble of excited voices as his parents, Jonno, and his littlest brother Tom were shown in by his godfather, who was saying “Yes, it has turned out rather well, hasn’t it?”.

He turned off the engine, hugged them all, and showed them what he had been up to.  Tom was wide-eyed with wonder; Jonno was trying to play it cool, and very nearly succeeding.

“She really is a Blue Behemoth now” Jonno said.

“Happy birthday, little brother” Tophe said, holding up the keys, with a twinkle in his eye.

Jonno’s jaw dropped.  Tophe showed him how he’d fitted out the back of the vehicle so that it could be filled with art supplies, or used to transport Jonno’s work, and tactfully ignored the tears at the corner of his brother’s eyes.

Later, over a beautiful birthday cake, his godfather had asked him if he’d like to work on another project together.

“I know a chap whose got a classic car rusting away in his garage.  Can’t have moved in 30 years, at least.   What do you think?  It would be a shame to let all this equipment we’ve put together go to waste!”

Tophe wasn’t a social media influencer, yet, but his blog and his YouTube videos had made him a little money on the side, not enough to cover all the costs of rebuilding the van, but these had been taken care of.  He’d planned to use his savings, but his elders had forbidden this, and made the arrangements themselves.  So, he still had some money in the bank.  Africa still beckoned.

© David Jesson, 2020


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Author: debscarey

Tweets @debsdespatches My personal blog is Debs Despatches, where I ramble on a variety of topics, including #ISWG reflections; I write fiction on co-hosted site Fiction Can Be Fun and my Life Coaching business is Caring Coaching. I originally blogged at Bunny and the Bloke - now in mothballs.

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