Anti-ageing Pill

Things in Hollywood had gotten decidedly weird. I’d heard from a friend in Mumbai that Bollywood was having the same issues. They’d had to limit making films with – ahem – more mature characters in them, as pretty much every actor and actress had decided to take that miracle pill.

For the last two decades, they’d been taking it as we used to take vitamins. Not me though. I’ve always been fussy what I put in my body – food, drink, medications – and that habit saved me. These days my agent can’t keep up with the calls for me to read for parts – and from directors who wouldn’t have given me the time of day 20 years ago. But when all your character actors have started to display – let’s just call them side effects – you have to really work that Rolladex.

Hollywood was always a place for the young, but now all the older actors have been hiding away, waiting on the unbelievably long waiting lists with the best plastic surgeons. Hell, even the not so good plastic surgeons have lists as long as your arm. Seems even that solution isn’t working reliably. The last director who risked casting his male lead with a guy who’d just had corrective surgery, well … let’s just say he regretted it – and how. Turns out even the best plastic surgeon can only correct one aspect of damage. When that’s corrected, the poison contained in that miracle pill just turns to another bit of the body.

It’s not so bad for a character actor who gets to keep their clothes on, so long as the poison only affects their body. Once it moves to the face … well, it depends what particular version of the side effect you get. The face-melting bloodhound look wasn’t too bad – at least it gave you a couple of years more work, but a shrivelled ear or nose meant you were consigned straight to B pictures in minor roles as the bad guy – until it got too horrific that is. The skin conditions – well, they were beyond even the most talented make-up artist, so those meant straight to retirement no matter how big a star you’d been.

Of course, the ones worst hit were those who’d relied on their looks. Sure, a few of ’em could act – I mean really act – and they survived. But the pretty boys and girls – nope. Ironically, if they’d just gone the normal route of waiting till the signs of ageing (or a life lived hard) started to show and headed for a top plastic surgeon, they’d probably still be working. Quick fixes aren’t always the best way to go. Especially when it seems that the side effects aren’t the same in humans as in the rats they tested it on …

But seeing as I owe it my new found career and the healthy bank account that came with it to that miracle pill, I raise a glass of wheatgrass juice in salute to it every evening.

© Debra Carey, 2018



This month, in place of David’s story, we’re happy to include one written by David’s friend Jeff Farrow. In his day job, Jeff has been in the water industry for…some time, including being the Chief Engineer for the building of the London Ring Water Main.  Jeff and David share an interest in big engineering problems: they’ve spent more time than they would like understanding how and why cast iron breaks.  They also share an interest in the work of Isaac Asimov.  The Good Doctor’s 1957 story ‘Profession’ suddenly came to Jeff’s mind having lain dormant for…a number of years, and, well, read on…

Harry looked up at the giant screen, while still lying full length on the artificial pitch and trying to remember what had just happened. The stadium they had chosen for this final game was notorious for serious injuries, and he was beginning to understand why.

Crowd noise was generally a good guide, and it had been quite loud when the Clash happened, followed by the crowd’s equivalent of a sharp intake of breath and then silence, as they waited for the giant-screen replays – again, usually a good sign – 20,000 spectators all concentrating on their voting tablets.

It had not been a good month so far, leading up to this Quarter’s finals, and he’d only just made the team. But against the odds, he and the team had made it to the overall final, and a good score today, or better still a great score today would get him to where he needed to be. The all-important Quota for this Quarter had been set at ten, but with eight teams involved in the finals and 14 players and substitutes in each team, that made 111 other players, and therefore only a one in eleven average chance of Selection.

The 30 seconds or so after a Clash and before the video coming up on screen, were often the worst. With nothing to focus on during this time, except for the pain in his leg and the ever-present worry about serious injuries. The highest probability of all was always that the players towards the top of the Selection List would be out of the game and fail Selection due to serious injuries, at almost the last minute.

Selection was the most important thing in Harry’s and all of the players’ lives. Since the TV and Betting Companies had moved into ‘New Football’, this was where money and careers were to be made. Back in the past, when VAR had been introduced, the football clubs hadn’t realised what the natural consequences might be. Gamblers, viewers, and spectators had become more interested in the VAR than in the game itself, and although scoring goals and winning matches remained part of the overall betting system, the technical and visual merit of ‘Clashes’ had become far more important.

There were two main elements to a Clash in ‘New Football’. The violence delivered by one player on another – the ‘Hit’ – and the elegance and innovation of the ‘Dive’ of the other player.

These were difficult skills. There were legal and illegal Hits, with a wide range of scores. Dives had to entertain the crowd, but without being obvious.

Harry’s special skill was in being able to instantaneously tailor his Dive to the type of Hit he received and to the nature of the crowd who would be voting. He was considered to be above average in Diving, but sadly Hits still usually generated more points than Dives.

In his final semester at Sports Academy, Harry had made his choice to try to become a professional player. But it was an all or nothing decision; players who didn’t make Selection were on the scrap heap at 20, with the chance of other good careers closed to them. This was what gave Harry sleepless nights. He’d done really well during these past two years, and was now a regular first-choice player in a good team, but that still only placed him in the top 30 of this Quarter’s players, and he desperately wanted to get up into the top 10.

Although ‘New Football’ had now reached quite serious levels of on-pitch violence, there were still red and yellow cards to avoid. Some Hits were still outlawed, and Dives were only allowed after proper contact. If the VAR showed the Dive to be spurious or if the Hit was the wrong type, red or yellow cards could be given with serious consequences for a player’s score.

The referee was coming over to where Harry and Ricardo, his recent ‘opponent’ in the Clash, were lying, or in Ricardo’s case sitting, in the process of getting up. A yellow card now would be disastrous.

Maths was one of Harry’s strong points, and he used it now to take his mind off these thoughts and worries, and also from the rapidly developing pain in his left leg. He’d come into this game with a personal score of 73, which had placed him close to the top of the ‘List’ in his own team, but still only just in the Top 30 when all 112 players in the finals were considered.

One of the first big financial prizes for the Top 10 players after this game, was a place in the Championship Finals for the year, now always called the Olympic Finals. The big professional teams in the ‘New Premiership’ league almost always chose their new players for next season from the Olympics, so points today couldn’t be more important.

The Olympic Finals and the New Football Premiership league matches were played in front of 100,000 people, and were heavily sponsored by big world-wide gambling syndicates. A New Premiership player could make a fortune in a short playing career, and be set up for life.

Winning this game would be worth 5 points to each of his team, while a good Dive could earn up to 15 points and a good Hit up to 20, depending on the audience votes and also on the referee’s judgement.

Harry felt pretty safe for this Dive. The pain in his leg told him that this had been a real, and quite significant Hit with contact that should easily be picked up by VAR. He’d taken the ball right up towards Ricardo, going at top speed and leaving him no real option than to take him down. That was one of the skills needed by a good Diver – to entice the other player into making a seriously hard Hit, but in a way in which you could achieve a really good Dive without being hurt.

On balance, this time that hadn’t necessarily been too wise, as Ricardo was not known for subtlety or care in the Clash. He’d come in high, with both sets of studs horizontal above Harry’s knee level. Harry’s Dive had been as much about trying to keep his legs intact, as about winning points for elegance and style.

The ref was holding up a yellow card, which he waived at Ricardo, who had been above Harry on the List, so that was no bad thing; he would now get no points for this Hit, and also pick up a penalty of minus 5 for the ‘yellow’.

Meanwhile the crowd voting for Harry was being assessed and showing up as 14 on the big screens – so it must have been a pretty good Dive, at least in their eyes. The giant-screen showed the players’ scores in the latest Clash, and also the Top 50 scores. The addition of these points moved Harry above Ricardo, and up to 12th in the List. Ricardo was seriously not happy and the string of threats he made to Harry added a few more worries about how the game might end.

There were 25 minutes left on the clock, and Harry’s team were leading one – nil, although nobody cared about scores these days or who won or lost the game. With a bit of luck he could still make it to the Top 10. He stood up, tested the feeling in his leg, and ran into space calling for ball, hoping to set up another high-scoring Clash, preferably with someone other than Ricardo.

© 2018 Jeff Farrow

#FF Photoprompt

Bahrd stole down the holloway, slipping from one patch of mogshade to another; occasionally he was pierced by hot barbs of shrivelight.  He paused for a moment and tried to tune out the beating of his heart, pricking his ears for the sound of pursuit.  Three days shy of his 100th birthday, the youngest Senior Journeyman of the Edgemakers Guild was on the run.  He looked back down the holloway.


He started again, hurrying down the green-lit path between the trees.  He spotted the tree that was his marker and stepped up his pace, finding the quick rhythm required.  He counted paces.  He leapt. His hands reached out and up.  His fingers found the branch and he pulled himself up.  Many amongst the dwarfkind had the strength to perform the manoeuvre, but few had the requisite height.

Bahrd worked his way back up the path in the direction that he had come from, but now he was up above the holloway looking down through the leaves.  There – he found the gap that would allow him to penetrate into the forest, and worked his way down into the deep-woods.  Even should they pick up the trail, it was unlikely that they would follow him there…


There were those that whispered that he was too young to be a journeyman, no matter that his ‘prentice pieces outshone anything created in the Guild for a generation.  Some said he was flighty.  Some said he was too inquisitive, that he was too impetuous.  There were those that stated bluntly that he would never be a Master.  No one noticed that the Guildmaster, the venerable Fighrd, kept his own counsel.

Still, all this was moot now.  Jealousy, like a corrupting worm, had buried itself in the heart of the guild, and had just now erupted in a vicious prank.  Aimed at one of the senior Masters, designed to make Bahrd look bad, the prank had claimed the life of an apprentice.  The Guild Guards had been dispatched, and for all his cleverness, all his subtlety, Bahrd felt himself being forced into corner.  Yes, he had allies; yes, there were contingencies…but he also had enemies in high places, and whilst he had a fair idea that the events leading up to the tragedy had been enacted by a vindictive journeyman who coveted Bahrd’s title, there was a whiff of conspiracy, a taint of a particular brain, Master Nohrd’s, behind the plot.  Bahrd might have stayed, attempted to prove his case, endured what ever deprivations would come his way.  He might have done these things, if not for the note: “We are coming for you.”  Even this on its own might have been dealt with – had he trusted the Council.  Whilst there were Masters that he liked, trusted, in some cases even respected, none of these feeling extended to the Council.  And so, he fled.

But even his fleeing was not some blind rout.  He was an Edgemaker.  The youngest Senior Journeyman the Guild had ever seen, and if his style saw him clash with the Council and certain Masters from time to time, he still had a card to play, an edge, even now.

He felt, by rights, that it should have been a dark night, storm-tossed, riven by lightening.  Instead, it was a glorious summer’s day. For this, despite the lack of the dramatic, he was glad.  The cliff beneath the dormitory windows was treacherous enough – his first edge, as no one believed that it could be climbed in one direction or the other – but rain-slick hand-holds might well prove fatal.  He would have to use the holloway to complete his escape from the Guild; a calculated risk, as it was unlikely that there would be anyone using it today.


Dwarfkind didn’t like the forests, didn’t trust them. Bahrd was not a typical dwarf.  It was not that he minded the mines and mountain halls – that would have been too strange – but he liked solitude and the deep-woods were mercifully free of the idiots that surrounded him every day.  He’d ranged through the trees in many directions, for as far as you could go and return in a three days and two nights.  It was on one of these jaunts that Bahrd had discovered The Tree.  He called it this, for it seemed unlike any other tree that he had ever come across, and it was clearly the oldest tree for many leagues, perhaps in all the world.  Further, this tree talked.  At times it seemed senile, perhaps due to its immense age, perhaps due to the loss of wood at its core.  Other times it was full of sage advice and gossiped of events far away, although how it come by its knowledge Bahrd had no concept.

On a trip to visit The Tree, years before, Bahrd had even negotiated with this ancient, a strange parley, which had left Bahrd unsure as to who had the best of the deal.   The Tree had agreed to store certain of Bahrd’s treasures and tools against future need, an edge which Bahrd had taken gladly, not realising how he would need to use it.

He arrived at  Dusk: “I have come for my things, honourable tree”.

“Very well.” The voice was the rustle of leaves, the creaking of branches. “But then it is also time for you to fulfil your part of the bargain.”

Bahrd reached in to the hollow.  He had slept in here before now, but he was never quite sure what he would find on any given visit, nor where his things went between times.  What was also strange was that not everything that he had placed here had been returned, but everything that he would need for a long journey had been given to him.  In addition, there was a small package, made from woven bark, lined with leaves.  Nestled in the leaves was some kind of seed, a large one, that was beginning to put out a root and a shoot.

“My time is nearly at an end, and so I must think of the future.  Do not worry for your goods, they will be here when you come again, but you must take this with you when you leave.”

“What must I do?”

“Take it with you.  You will know what must be done, when it must be done.  For now, sleep.  The forest will watch.”


Fighrd sighed.   He did not like, on a personal level, what he had done.  The truth was, however, that he had repaid a favour to an old friend, and put an asset safely out of the way, for a while.  What Bahrd would do in the World was a problem for another day, although he had some thoughts in that regard too.  For now, though, he needed to remove a thorn…  He turned from his contemplation of the forest, stretching away in all directions from the base of the mountain.

“Send for Nohrd.  It is time we discussed certain truths.”

© David Jesson, 2018


“Wow! Just wow!”

”That’s not quite the response I was expecting …”

”No, no, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so banal. But, when you said you had a refuge, I thought … I dunno, some kind of attic, even a summer house, just … not this. This is amazing. This is magical.”

”Thanks. I always feel a bit of a drama queen calling it my refuge. After all, my family are good people, it’s just that boundaries are not their thing. Well, other than a thing to step right over without thought. They’re all such extroverts and I’m … just not.”

”It’s one of the many things I love about you …”

”What is?”

“That you’re not an extrovert. I’d have been too scared to speak to you otherwise.”

”I’m so glad you did. I’ve never had anyone who I could show this place to, as they’d not get it. It feels safe, and magical – but it also inspires me to write. I have this little pop-up tent and a sleeping bag I use when I need to stay away a bit longer. When they see me in the kitchen making up sandwiches and flasks of drinks, they all tease me rotten. I wonder if they realise how close I am to not coming back.”

“Really? You’d just go …?”

“If the folk in my stories were real, yes, I’d go … in a heartbeat.”

© Debra Carey, 2018

The Reaper

“I get a bad rep”

The soulful-eyed man was sat hunched over his drink. He wasn’t getting more than the odd “uh-huh” from the barman but, to be honest, he didn’t really expect anything more in a dive like this. He was casually dressed like most of the bar’s clientele. Despite it being cold out, he always avoided wearing a hoodie, just sticking with a coat and scarf; he had the feeling he wouldn’t enjoy the experience of being recognised when he wasn’t actually working. Something about being on-the-job meant you didn’t get any grief. Sure, some of his clients weren’t too happy to see him, but what were they gonna do about it eh?

Still, it was a lonely old existence. You didn’t get many romantic partners who stuck around once they found out. He’d tried making things up, but recently he’d started just alluding to the fact that it was uber-confidential. The last one had decided he was some sort of spy, and things had been quite exciting for a while as she liked the idea of a spy for a boyfriend. Then she came across his working clothes … and it all changed.

Like I say, it’s a lonely old existince, so tying one on and muttering about how unfair life is to a barman who paid no attention was pretty much the only available outlet.

“Gimme another one would’ya Sam?”

© Debra Carey, 2018

Last night I dreamt I went to Barsoom again

I lay down in my hotel room, far from home and low in spirit.  In place of the usual Gideon’s, to my surprise, was a copy of “A Princess of Mars” – a first edition, no less.  I flipped through the pages in a desultory fashion, at once recalling the the adventures of John Carter and Dejah Thoris and puzzling over the mystery of this volume’s presence in my room.

My eyes started to drift shut, and I placed the book back where I had found it in the bedside drawer.  I found my accustomed sleeping position – and immediately fell asleep.

I woke, almost at once it seemed, but with a groggy-start, as if from a deep sleep. I sat up, shook my head and looked around, trying to find the light switch.  As I continued the rise from the depths of sleep, I realised that it was already light, about as light as on Spring day.

I looked around.  This was most certainly not my bed, not my hotel room.  The ground I was sitting on was cold, and covered with greenish-lichen.  I got to my feet: the lichen crunched underfoot as a turned around, looking at the terrain.  The depression of ground spread out for tens of kilometres in every direction; off in the distance, I could see hills, low and red.

I jumped.  It was not as graceful as I had hoped, but John Carter’s first attempts had warned me of what to expect. Leapt and bounded to the top of rise, covering tens of metres with every stride.  From my vantage, I looked around and saw two clouds of dust closing on each other.  I wished I had binoculars, but had little doubt that two tribes of the fearsome, fearless green warriors of Mars were closing on each other ready for battle and conquest.

Dare I go closer?  No.  I was sure to be seen and captured, if I did not stop a radium bullet fired with malice or by mistake.  I continued to look around, warily returning to view the distant fight from time to time.  I saw a flotilla of airships, perhaps from the fair double city of Helium itself, crest the hills.  Gracefully they floated across the arid desert-bowl.  I stood between the ships and the Green Martians and did not know where to look.

I gazed too long at the airships and, when I turned again, I saw that a part of Green Martians had broken free of the battle and were racing towards me.  I turned and ran, taking long jumping strides.  I was just able to keep my lead, but I was no Fighting Virginian and quickly became winded.  I landed a little too heavily on a rock that shifted underneath me.  It threw me off my stride and I tumbled headlong, striking my head on a rock.


I woke in the middle of falling out of bed, and landed on the floor of my hotel room with a bump, that would have been embarrassing if there had been anyone there to see it.  I landed on my shoulder, but not too heavily.  I sat up and saw the glowing red figures of my travel alarm o’clock.  Surely I could only have been asleep for minute, two at the most.

I got back into bed, and wondered why my ankle hurt, why the bed felt gritty.

© David Jesson, 2018




#FF Prompt: Leaking Glue

“How are you? I’m OK, but I’m leaking glue.”

“You look a bit shattered!  How are you?”

“I’m OK but I’m leaking glue. It’s OK though, it’ll harden off soon and then I can sandpaper it down and retouch the paint and nobody will ever know.

It’s all Pinocchio’s fault, of course.  It usually is.  Don’t be taken in by that oh-so saccharine Disney cartoon.  Pinocchio is not a simple innocent going about in a complex and wicked world.  He is a consummate liar, cheat and fraud.  He manages to kill his only friend, the so-called ‘voice of his conscience’ but happens to put the Blue Fairy under an obligation (just don’t ask, ok?) so all is forgiven and he gets to be human. Call that fair?

Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout.  It’s just that sometimes the emotions just get out of control. Why? Of course, you wouldn’t know.  Pinocchio is my little brother!

Why be surprised?  You don’t think Gepetto managed to carve him without some practice first, do you?  When the old woodcutter handed over the talking log to Gepetto the first thing he did was to cut it in half (despite the screams I might say) and then he tried out his technique on me. But I wasn’t good enough, oh no!  All I was good for was to cast to one side whilst he got on with Pinocchio.  And there I’d be to this day, turned to firewood probably, until the aspiring theatrical passed by, took one look and made me his partner.  I was turned into a ventriloquist’s dummy!

Of course he wasn’t actually a very good ventriloquist, but because I could talk everybody thought it was him!  And so from street performances we got bookings at flea-pit theatres, and then as we became better known, so the venues improved until we were high on the bill in the very best.

Which is when it started to go wrong. Corky, the human part of the act, started getting erratic – he actually wanted to marry his childhood sweetheart, but of course I couldn’t have that.  I started, very gently, to control him like he was controlling me, but he reacted badly and it all fell apart. I might have been able to salvage the situation but my little brother turned up one performance, and I could see that added to his other ignoble characteristics he was insanely jealous of the success I’d made of my – well let’s say career since I didn’t have a ‘life’.

Jealous younger sibling; partner halfway to madness; convenient axe – well you do the maths!  It’s taken me nearly a month to put myself together, and that would have been impossible if Pinocchio hadn’t decided to take me home to Gepetto’s workshop, where, of course, there was a hand pot of glue perpetually on the fire next to the wood-box where I had been cast.  But this is the last!  When this glue sets I shall be whole again and my dear little brother will be – vulnerable.

After all, how could a wooden puppet kill a human?”

Copyright © 2018 Alan F. Jesson
[For ‘Corky’ see Internet Movie Database – film


The night of the dreaded party had – inevitably – come round and Steven was struggling to tie his bow tie. Not for the first time he wondered why on earth he hadn’t found the time to buy a ready tied one. After all, it’d been five years since Amanda … well, since anyone had been here to tie it for him.

Many expletives later, the tie was tied in some approximation of a bow and he was now frantically applying what he understood to be referred to as ‘product’ onto his wayward hair. It had been a source of much amusement to Amanda when no-one, not even her much vaunted London hairdresser had been unable to handle the odd bits which insisted on flicking up in a curl in the most random of locations all over his head. That same hairdresser had insisted ‘product’ was the only possible solution. He’d initially agreed to us it just to please her, he hadn’t minded the wayward curls himself, but since … well, he’d accepted the validity of her argument that he didn’t have to look at his wild hair, whereas other people got no choice in the matter. Also, it was only on those rare occasions when he left the flat on social occasions that he had to bother – the clean environment of the lab meant it was a no-no during the working weekday.

His phone buzzed, announcing the prompt arrival of his Uber cab, so a final washing of hands to remove all that damn ‘product’ allowed Steven to pat his pockets to check for wallet and reading glasses, before heading to his big sister’s big birthday big bash. For the first hour it was pretty much as Steven had feared. He’d been greeted with the warmest of hugs by his sister Susan, before she was dragged off to old friends long not seen. Her husband had made the time for a friendly chat, before he too was dragged off in the same direction.

Susan’s world was very different to his. Her friends were loud, confident and well suited to the world of advertising, marketing and PR. Those he’d met before would always make the time for him, but he never felt entirely relaxed in their company and would excuse himself before long on some vague pretext. And so it was again, he’d been to the gents where he’d attempted – without much success – to tame a stray curl that had escaped the evening’s application of ‘product’. He’d realised such a trip might be necessary when Susan’s boss had been unable to pull her eyes away from the top of his head during their conversation. As Geraldine usually liked to maintain eye contact in the most disconcerting manner, it was a relief to have a reason to excuse himself.

On his way back to the ballroom, he spotted a small group on the balcony – smokers he realised – and wished fleetingly that he smoked, if simply for the relaxed companionship he observed they all seemed to share, even when all were previously strangers.

That was when he bumped into her – quite literally – although what she was doing here was a mystery to him. Surely Susan hadn’t invited her, not after what had happened. Susan was the only person Steven had spoken to about Amanda, the only person he’d told what had really happened, how he truly felt. To everyone else he’d simply said “it’s over” and firmly changed the subject. But there she was and, having bumped into her, he had no choice but to be civil.

“Erm, how are you Amanda?”
“I’m OK, but I’m leaking glue.”

And with that ridiculous statement, he was back. Right back in her thrall once more. As she backed carefully through the door to the ladies, she pleaded with him not to go anywhere whilst promising that she’d be right back. Waiting in the passageway, the memories flooded back. As he’d told Susan, Amanda had been the one to break the mould. Before her, Steven had dated exactly who’d you’d expect. Nice women, with girl-next-door looks, clever enough but with no serious ambitions career-wise. And they’d bored him. None had lasted much longer than a year, but each had made it to that point before manoevouring him to commit, at which point he’d had to admit to both himself and them, the lack of desire to take things further.

Just before he met Amanda, Susan had been quite sharp with him, pointing out that he was being unfair, unkind even, in allowing these ‘gels’ as she called them, to have expectations, when he knew the relationships would go nowhere. She’d even suggested he ‘see someone’ if he needed help to sort out what he really wanted. And that had stung him. A night or two later, when he’d drunk rather too much scotch and gone through the emotions from anger to self-pity, he realised she’d been right. He also came to the startling realisation that the reason he dated the same sort of woman was he never met anyone different in his normal circle. So he’d signed up to a dating site.

After the site algorithms had matched him with clones of his previous relationships, he decided to take a leap into the unknown and contacted a handful of women with whom he barely matched at all. All but one had completely ignored him. That one had been Amanda.

Steven always felt totally out of his comfort zone with her, but in the best of ways. Their first date had been a total disaster on paper. He’d knocked over the bottle of wine – red naturally – into her lap and she’d insisted he bought a bottle of white wine to pour over her dress so that it wouldn’t stain. Thinking she was joking, he’d laughted, only for her to frog march him up to the bar, after which she’d solemnly poured the white wine over the red. She swore it’d worked, but he’d noticed the dress in a dry cleaners bag the first night he’d stayed over. For it had been that kind of relationship. No rules followed. Amanda had laughed at him when he’d looked shocked, before checking that he wasn’t going to be a hypocrite and judge her for it. He wasn’t and he hadn’t. The next two years had been the happiest and most fulfilling of his life.

Then one day, quite out of the blue, he came home to find her packing her bags. There had been tears – a lot of them – and on both sides, before he’d helped carry her things to the kerb. A phone call later and a man in a van had pulled up, hugged her close, then taken her and her things away. That was the last he’d seen of her. The odd person had tried to talk to him, saying they’d seen her, spoken to her, even in a couple of cases had messages for him from her. But he’d cut them all off firmly. He didn’t want to know why she’d chosen to leave him for someone else, it was enough to know that she had.

Until today that is. Today, he wanted to know why – very badly. So he waited.

Eventually she emerged – still sticky.

“I’ve a room here. Do you think we could go there so I can get out of this dress? Please Steven, don’t look at me like that. It seems my son thought it would be a grand joke to put a tube of glue in my pocket, and it’s everywhere. I just need to change so I can talk to you. I owe you an explanation.”
“That you do Amanda, but I’d rather wait in the lobby for you to change.”
“I’ll be as quick as I can Steven, please don’t give up on me. This stuff is … well, sticky and it might take a bit of getting off.”

Steven had decided to give her an hour and just as he was about to give up, she’d appeared, her hair still wet from the shower. After the waiter had delivered two cups of coffee, Steven looked Amanda in the eye.

“So. This explanation. Will it involve telling me about your son?”
“Marcus is only two and a half. I agreed to have him as Tim was dying.”
“Tim …?”
“… was my first love. We broke up before I met you. I’d known him since childhood. We’d grown up together, been friends in school, started dating when we were teenagers, applied to the same universities to be together. But when we started working, the cracks started to show. Tim was a homebody, not ambitious, and me … well, you know neither of those characteristics suits me.”
“That doesn’t explain why you didn’t tell me …. nor why you decided to go.”
“No. It doesn’t, does it. The thing is I’d known Tim was ill from the first. From before we started dating. His Mum – who was more a mother to me than my own – she told me. She made me promise that if we did get together, we’d stay together until he died. And I broke my promise to her when we split. Tim tracked me down because she was dying too. It was her dying wish and … well, I knew I couldn’t deny her, even though I’d denied him. And how could I tell you that no matter how much I loved you, I was going to marry someone else, to have his child?”

Steven had given a sort of shrug – the only response he could come up with.

“One final question – what are you doing here?”
“I contacted Susan a couple of months ago.”
“She invited you?”
“No, she saw me off – several times. She’s still very angry – but I kept coming back until she agreed to hear me. She loves you Steven and she’s always been loyal to you, but when she took a phone call about the arrangements for this party, I decided to take a chance and gatecrash. If we didn’t bump into each other, I told myself I’d accept that fate didn’t mean us to be together. Do you still hate me? Can you ever forgive me?”

Staring into his empty coffee cup, Steven took a deep breath, allowing his racing thoughts to still and his feeling to become crystalise.

“I never hated you Amanda, I just never got past you. I think it’s rather apt that your son chose glue for his prank, because I’ve been stuck in the same place ever since you left. As for forgiveness, I don’t know … but I can better understand what you did. I am glad we had this chance to talk though. I don’t feel stuck any more, and I’m truly grateful for that.”

And with that Steven signalled the waiter to settle his bill, before rising to leave …

“Goodbye Amanda – I wish all the best to you and your son.”

© Debra Carey, 2018

Girl in Blue

I’d searched for her, to no avail. Long weeks, chasing down lead after lead. But now the trail had come to an end.

How well I remembered that blue dress. We’d seen it in the shop window that last time I saw her. She’d jumped up and down so excited when I’d said I’d buy it for her. Our mother had refused to, saying it was an unnecessary frivolity, but I’d made her swear on her bible that she’d not sell it – not till Gertie grew out of it anyway.

My father’d been in the service and my mother who was not really suited for life as a serviceman’s wife, well her already fragile emotions had started to crumble after the Shenandoah crash. He’d survived, most of the crew had. But the crash of the Akron had taken him, had taken most of the crew in fact.

By the time the letter from the US Navy reached me, he’d been dead four months. I headed back home the very next day. But there was a new family living there. Of course the Navy had moved them out – my mother and Gertie – you couldn’t stay in Navy quarters when you weren’t Navy no more.

I went in to town, to the boarding house they’d taken rooms in. The old lady there told me things had been bad. My mother’s mind had become addled. She’d lost her religion and turned to drink. It had gotten them thrown out.

I followed the trail from town to town, the boarding houses going from shabby to plain cheap. I finally found her in a flop house. But Gertie was gone. My mother told me she’d taken to putting on her blue dress and going out – she knew not where. In truth, she probably didn’t care.

Someone had found her down by the rail tracks, and the local church had given her a decent burial and some kindly souls had paid for a headstone. I thought about using some of my savings to change the headstone, but I kind of felt Gertie would like the mystery of it. Instead I spoke to a nice lady at the church to arrange for flowers to be put on her grave regularly – my little sister deserved that.

© Debra Carey, 2018