This story won first place in Zeroflash’s monthly flash fiction competition. The theme was 8-bit universes and it got my creative juices flowing. Why not pop over there and have a go at this month’s offering? After you’ve read all about Square Peg of course!
Mrs Peach sat in the doctor’s surgery and squeezed her daughter Peggy’s hand, trying to ignore the stares they were getting. Please don’t let anyone drop the P-bomb, she thought to herself, fingers crossed. A small boy pushed open the door, pulling his mother behind him. Spotting Peggy, he stopped abruptly. Hand outstretched, finger pointing, he uttered the word that Mrs Peach had been dreading.
“Mum, that girl’s all pixelated!”
Two red squares burned in Peggy’s low-res cheeks.
“We don’t use that word, Robert, we say ‘underdefined’,” said the boy’s mum, ushering him away. She turned to Mrs Peach, “Sorry, he doesn’t know any better.”
Yesterday was Peggy’s tenth birthday. The whole class was invited, although only a handful came, a pitfall of being the only underdefined child at a high res school. Mrs Peach had laid on all of Peggy’s favourites: Battenberg cake, Turkish delight, Kola Kubes and cartons of juice. Then Grandma ruined the day, calling Peggy “too jagged for cuddles”. Grandma’s was a different generation, but that was no excuse. Peggy ran outside. Mrs Peach found her hiding in the garage trying to rub off her edges with sandpaper.
Still, things were looking up. Dr Trenneman had had some success with cases like Peggy’s. When the doctor appeared Mrs Peach squeezed her daughter’s angular hand once more and allowed her to be led away.
Ten long minutes later
Dr Trenneman reappeared … Mrs Peach couldn’t believe her eyes … Peggy was fixed! She had curves, individual strands of hair, even teeth! And look! Eyelashes! She hugged, and hugged Peggy’s warm, soft body.
“Thank you! Thank you!” she said. “How did you do it?”
“Oh, it was simple really,” said the doctor, smiling. “I just switched her off, waited five minutes and then switched her back on again.”
Margot rubbed the ice cube into her temple, it was the fifth self-help remedy she’d tried today and it wasn’t working. Her hand was numb with cold, possibly frostbite, but her head still throbbed. She called the doctor.
‘It’s an emergency,’ she said. ‘I think I may have a brain tumour.’ Then she wept, for effect.
She paid the taxi driver with a cold, wet ten pound note and a half-melted ice cube, then crawled into the surgery wearing two pairs of dark glasses and a large-brimmed hat.
The doctor was wearing sandals, in November, which wasn’t a good sign.
‘Try these,’ he said, sliding a small bottle of bright yellow pills across the table.
‘What are they?’ Margot asked.
‘A placebo,’ the doctor said. ‘But they’ll make you feel better.’
‘Not now that you’ve told me, they won’t.’ Margot pushed the bottle back towards the doctor.
‘Dammit! I’m such an idiot.’ The doctor slapped himself on the forehead and put the pills back in his drawer. ‘It’s just- I don’t like prescribing heavy medication. If you can harness the power of your mind, you can overcome anything.’
Margot noticed the string of coloured beads around the doctor’s neck. She wasn’t reassured. She remembered something she’d been told about sales: the first to speak loses. So she folded her arms and waited, glaring, although the effect was tempered somewhat by her dark glasses.
After a short pause the doctor lost the round, ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Try these then.’
This bottle was smaller and contained five round red pills.
Margot eyed them suspiciously, ‘More placebo?’
‘Nope, definitely not, no way. Not these babies, these are the real deal.’
‘I can tell you’re lying.’
‘Dammit!’ the doctor hit himself in the head more forcefully, almost knocking himself off the chair.
‘Listen,’ Margot said. ‘All I want is the magic migraine pills I was prescribed last time, the white ones with the little S in the middle. Is that too much to ask? You are a bloody doctor after all.’
‘I didn’t want to be a doctor, you know-,’
Margot rubbed her temples, ‘Spare me the life story, just give me my pills.’
‘Fine! Take a seat in the waiting room, I’ll bring them out.’
Margot did as she was bid. The music in the waiting room was a hypnotic blend of guitar and Indian chanting, gentle and soothing. She closed her eyes.
‘Here you are,’ the doctor said. ‘Your pills.’
Margot tipped the contents of the bottle into her hand and examined the small white tablets.
‘You wrote this on by hand,’ she said. ‘In biro. Look, this one isn’t even an S, it’s a number eight. What kind of fool do you take me for, you bloody quack?’
‘Dammit!’ said the doctor. ‘I’m trying to show you that there’s another way. But fine, I give up. You can have your chemical hit, and all the associated side effects. I’ll write you a prescription. Wait here.’
Margot waited, enjoying the music and the relaxing atmosphere. It’s nice here, she thought to herself, even if that doctor is a bloody fool. Then it dawned on her – her headache had gone.
So she went home.
12/04/2014 Written in a post-migraine spaced out haze 🙂
It’s Mother’s Day in the UK today so I thought I’d share this little tale I wrote for my mother’s birthday last year.
Little Red Riding Hood (Granny’s Version)
Once upon a time there was a fairytale with a fundamental flaw.
It’s true that Red Riding Hood met a big, bad wolf in the forest, and it’s true that she gave the wolf Granny’s address. It’s also true that Granny was in bed, but she wasn’t ill, she’d just knocked back one too many the night before and was taking it easy, listening to Radio 4 and enjoying the peace and quiet. Everyone knew about Granny’s penchant for strong Martinis.
When the wolf knocked at Granny’s door, she wasn’t fooled for a second. She grinned and sprang into action. It was perfect timing, too, since she’d been looking for a wolf skull to add to her collection. The last time a wolf had tried his luck she’d been a little heavy handed with the hammer, although she’d got a nice pelt out of it. This time she’d be more careful.
Poor Mr Wolf didn’t stand a chance.
So what about the rest of the story? Well, Red Riding Hood still had to be taught a lesson about talking to strangers, didn’t she? And what better way to drum the message home than to scare her witless.
So you see, it wasn’t the wolf that dressed as Granny, but Granny that dressed as the wolf dressed as Granny, if you see what I mean. Not the actual wolf who’d just come knocking at the door, of course – he was still a little fresh – so she fetched the skin she’d prepared earlier and slipped on her caftan over the top of the soft furry pelt.
Red Riding Hood was utterly convinced by Granny’s ruse, and screamed her little red heart out when Granny leapt out of bed dressed as the big bad wolf.
Everything went swimmingly until the woodcutter turned up, unannounced and surplus to requirements. With the woodcutter’s axe about to split her open, quick-thinking Granny whipped off the wolf-pelt and showed him her assets, proving how thoroughly unwolflike she really was.
And in true fairytale fashion, they all lived happily ever after.
Of course, Red chose to recount a slightly different version of events, one that didn’t make her out to be quite such a gullible fool. But we can’t really blame her for that. And the woodcutter? Granny won’t tell, but rumour has it that he stayed for supper.
I’m not well, light sensitive headaches which mean I have to keep my screen time to a minimum. This means I can’t contribute to this week’s Friday Fiction which is killing me, so I thought I’d share this amazing video done by Kent Bonham of one of my earlier Friday Fiction stories instead. It arrived a couple of Sundays ago, in my inbox. There I was, minding my own business, munching at a bit of toast and sipping a nice cup of tea, when up popped a message from Rochelle asking me what I thought of a video Kent had done of one of my stories.
What did I think? I thought it was wonderful, a massive compliment and the best of Sunday surprises.
I hope you agree.
And here’s the original story:
The Dog and The Tree (Translated from the original by EL Appleby)
Tree was mostly happy with his lot, he had plenty of sun and his dear friend, Stream, flowed beneath his roots. If it wasn’t for that damned dog, everything would be perfect.
‘Woof!’  said Dog, as he cocked his leg and pissed all over Tree’s knobbly trunk, ‘Woof-woofy-woof-woof!’ 
Tree had an idea, he whispered it to Stream, ‘Rustley-rustle-rustle?’ 
And Stream replied ‘Whoosh-trickly-whoosh-whoosh-wooshy-wooshy-woo.’ 
The next day, Dog came bounding along and lifted his leg, ‘Woof! Woof-woofy-woof-woof!’
Stream, who’d been holding his breath for a good hour, aimed a burst of icy water at Dog’s privates.
To The Bloke I Fall Over In Front Of
by EL Appleby
The first time I fell over in front of you the ground was icy. I had an excuse. Nevertheless, I had managed the entire journey without incident up to that point, skirting the glassy puddles with ease before going arse-over-tit at the exact moment you stepped out of your van.
As I lay flat on my back on the frozen ground, the early morning light shone like a halo around your head. For a moment, I thought you were Jesus.
I know I flashed my knickers at you, and I’d like to apologise for that. It was washing day. A day later and you would have copped an eyeful of something more lacy. And less grey.
I thought you were going to walk away and leave me sprawled on the pavement like a discarded Friday night kebab. I wish you had. Instead you leaned over and shone your Jesus face at me. I thought I’d been saved until I saw the look on your face. Old, your eyes said. Then your eyebrows and nose joined in, way too old.
I’m not that ancient, Bloke I Fall Over In Front Of, there’s plenty of life left in this old bird.
Your look of relief when I said I was fine was like an arrow through my heart. If you’d met me twenty years ago, you would have insisted on helping me up, you’d probably have asked for my number and I’d probably have given it to you. Of course, twenty years ago you’d have been about two years old, but you see what I’m getting at.
The second time I fell over in front of you was intricately entwined with the first. If the first hadn’t happened, there would have been no need for the second. I have learned, over the course of my many years (though not as many as you clearly assume), that life is one long chain of events. From the moment you are squeezed out of the womb, one thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another…
If I hadn’t been so intent on avoiding you, I wouldn’t have dived into the hedge, and I wouldn’t have fallen into the ditch, cleverly concealed under the knee-high undergrowth. So you see, BIFOIFO, this one’s down to you. Maybe if you’d been nicer to me the first time, I’d have been able to walk past you with my head held high. Maybe you should remember that the next time a young, forty-something lady falls over in front of you.
It was a few days after washing day that time, so I had a fresh supply. I was wearing the white lacy ones that tie up at the sides. I’d woken up feeling a little frisky. Yes, it still happens, even at my grand old age. Of course, by the time you got to see them, they were brown and muddy from the ditchwater, but I can assure you, they were white when I put them on.
You ran over to help me this time, to your credit, with genuine concern on your face. But I wasn’t expecting it, so you can’t really blame me for refusing your help. It was silly of me, in retrospect, to pretend that I’d meant to fall in the ditch, but I was flustered. Regardless, there was really no need to back away like that, shaking your head. It was nothing short of rude.
Perhaps you think I’m too old to make mistakes, to say silly things, to fall into ditches. The problem with youth is that you think you’re going to grow up. You think there’ll come a time when it all makes sense and you won’t fuck up anymore. Well I’m sorry, BIFOIFO, but I’m not sure that time ever comes. I may be a little less reckless than I was at your age, but I’m none the wiser. This world is still as much of a mystery to me as it ever was. The only differences are that I can’t hold my drink anymore, and eating bread gives me wind.
The third time I fell over in front of you, and I really hope it will be the last, was probably the most humiliating. Admittedly, you are quite a handsome young man and you do make me a little unsteady on my feet, but this time I’d decided to walk past you, head held high, as I should have done the last time.
It probably wasn’t wise to hold my head quite so high, whilst walking across the piece of grass affectionately known as Dog Shit Green. So it wasn’t so surprising that I skidded on the biggest Great Dane of a turd, and fell flat on my back. Again.
I can’t believe you actually ran away, though. What is wrong with you? I’m hardly a threat. It’s not like I’m following you around and chucking myself at your feet. Okay, I can see that might be what it looks like, but it’s simply not the case. I’m not some crazed stalker. Which is why I’m writing this letter, to set a few things straight.
I did, of course, have to follow you home to get your address.
Inspired in part by an icy slip on a frozen puddle, and in part by s. asher sund’s fabulous sudden fiction – a new post every day. Pop over to his place -it’s well worth a visit. Have a peek at Dear Eddie Vedder or my absolute all time favourite: New Crayola Color: “Stepmom Cheryl”
Astrid lugged her bag up the steps of St Paul’s, the strap digging further into her shoulder with each step she took. She didn’t know why she’d agreed to this stupid ‘book-off’ with Felicity. She just couldn’t stand the way Felicity waved her e-reader around at work like it was going to revolutionise reading and save the world at the same time. She was determined to prove to Felicity that books should be made of paper and ink not plastic and megabites.
Felicity was standing at the top of the steps, leaning against a column. A slim leather handbag was draped over her shoulder. She laughed when Astrid reached the top.
‘You brought them then?’ she said, adjusting her glasses.
‘Yes, fifteen books, like we agreed,’ Astrid dropped her bag onto the floor and rubbed her shoulder before opening the bag to reveal two rows of paperbacks of assorted sizes.
Felicity slipped her reader out of her bag and waved it at Astrid, ‘Two hundred and thirty-nine books,’ she said, ‘And considerably lighter than your fifteen. I think I win the first test. Your turn.’
Astrid slumped on the floor next to her bag, her shoulder still ached from her short trip from the bus stop, ‘Let’s try a speed test: pick a book and start reading.’ Astrid reached into her bag and grabbed a book.
‘Wait! I’m not ready. Give me a title and count to three.’
‘You might not have the same books.’
Felicity peered into Astrid’s bag, ‘Yep, got them all.’
‘Fine, Douglas Adams, Hitchikers Guide. Ready? One two three, go!’
Astrid plucked the book out of her bag and flicked to the front page. She glanced at Felicity who was still fiddling with the screen on her e-reader. Astrid grinned and started to read:
“The house stood on a slight rise just on the edge of the village-,“
‘Wait! Nearly there, okay, scroll down, select, here it is.’ Felicity stopped and looked at Astrid who was halfway down the first page, ‘Okay, fine. You win that one, but I wasn’t far behind. Me next. Come on.’
Felicity walked off through the entrance to St Paul’s. Astrid sighed, lifted her bag back onto her painful shoulder and hurried after her.
‘It’s so dark in here,’ Astrid said, her voice echoing.
‘Precisely. Now read.’ Felicity switched her e-reader on, her face lit up by the gentle glow of the screen. Not to be outdone, Astrid pulled her book out of her bag, but try as she might, she couldn’t make out more than the odd word or two in the dimly lit entrance.
‘Fine,’ Astrid said, ‘You can have that one. My turn.’ She picked her bag up and walked back out into the sunshine. Once outside she shuffled through her books until she found the one she was looking for. She handed it to Felicity, ‘Read the inscription,’ she said.
Felicity looked at the book, it was Wuthering Heights. She opened it and read:
‘“To my very own Cathy, I will always be your Heathcliff.” Yuck! Really?’
Astrid snatched the book back, ‘We were sixteen. It was romantic. And I was trying to make the point that my books aren’t just books, they’re memories, pieces of history. You don’t get that with your electronic doodah.’
‘What happened to Heathcliff?’
‘He got off with Maria Prendergast at my seventeenth birthday party.’
Felicity laughed, ‘I’ll let you have that one, but only because I feel sorry for your poor cheesy seventeen-year-old self. Now it’s my turn. For this challenge, you have to find a quote in a book that you’d like to remember, highlight it, then close the book, open it and try to find it again.’
Astrid stared at her in horror, ‘Deface my books? What kind of heathen are you?!’
‘I can do it with my e-reader, are you saying you can’t do it with your antiquated printed booky thing?’ Felicity jabbed a manicured finger nail at Wuthering Heights. Astrid pulled the book out of her reach, clutching it tightly to her chest.
‘I could. With post-it notes.’
‘Do you have any post-it notes?’
Astrid shook her head.
‘Fine, then it’s my point. Your turn.’
‘The Clumsy Me Test,’ Astrid announced. ‘Wait here.’ She slipped Wuthering Heights back into her bag, pulled out another book and ran down the steps.
‘The Whaty-what test?’ Felicity called after her.
At the foot of the steps, Astrid watched the passersby for a while then began strolling up the pavement, the book open in front of her, reading as she went.
‘I can read while I’m walking along with my e-reader, too!’ Felicity shouted down from the top of the steps.
Astrid smiled and let the book slip between her fingers. It landed at the feet of a tall man walking in the opposite direction.
‘Oops! Clumsy me!’ Astrid said, ducking down to pick up the book at the exact same time as the tall man reached for it. Their fingers brushed together.
‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo!’ the man said. ‘One of my favourites.’
‘Me too,’ said Astrid. ‘Did you read them all?’
‘Couldn’t put them down.’
Five minutes later, having given her number to her tall dark stranger, Astrid ran back up the steps. Felicity was nowhere to be seen. Astrid’s bag lay where she’d left it, wide open. She bent down to zip it up and noticed Felicity’s e-reader discarded on top of her copy of Atonement. She grinned, then turned and scanned the pavement, finally spotting Felicity a few yards away, a copy of Life of Pi in her hand.
Simon doesn’t do heat, and he doesn’t do hills. He comes from the Marshes in Southern England, where it’s cool and damp and you can see for miles. So how he found himself in the centre of Lisbon, walking up a steep incline in the midday sun, is a mystery to him.
Simon spies a shady spot up ahead where two tall buildings are closing in on each other, squashing the shadows between them. He thinks if he can make it to the shade he’ll be fine. He’s starting to sweat, and mosquitoes are crowding round him like a personal entourage. He doesn’t mind, though, they remind him of home.
As he pauses for breath, Simon notices a girl on the other side of the tram tracks. She smiles at him and calls out, ‘American?’
Simon, who thought his mid-length trousers and navy blue t-shirt made him look quintessentially English, is a little put out. ‘English,’ he says, frowning.
The girl smiles and skips over the tram tracks towards him, her flower print dress fluttering around her knees like a thousand butterflies. Simon tries to return the smile, but it’s more of a grimace as he’s still panting from his short walk.
‘You should have taken the tram,’ the girl says. She sounds almost American, but Simon detects an accent hiding in the elongated vowels. ‘Then you wouldn’t have to puff and huff.’
‘Huff and puff,’ Simon says, in between huffs and puffs.
‘We huff first, then we puff,’ he explains. He holds out his hand, ‘Simon.’
‘Adelina,’ says the girl, but she doesn’t take the sweaty palm Simon offers. ‘Thank you, Simon, I will try to remember to huff first. But you should have taken the tram. I don’t think you will make it to the top.’
‘The tram looked hot and crowded,’ Simon explains. ‘And at the hotel they told me to watch out for pickpockets – especially on Electrico 28. Anyway, I’m fine, I’m fitter than I look. I’ll make it.’
Simon pushes on up the hill, he turns once to see if the girl is following, but she’s just watching him, an amused look on her face. Simon’s legs are pumping like pistons, his heart is bursting out of his chest, and the sweat marks under his arms have joined together, turning his t-shirt almost black. It is only the thought of Adelina’s mocking that keeps him going.
When he reaches the shady part of the route he leans against a dilapidated graffiti-laden wall, the plaster crumbling on contact and falling to the ground in a blizzard of flakes. Adelina laughs and runs effortlessly up the path towards him. It’s as if she’s floating on a breeze, only there is no breeze, just muggy oppressive heat.
‘Half the way there, Simon,’ she says and claps her hands.
Simon looks up and sees that Adelina is right. On two counts. He is only halfway there, and there’s no way he’s going to make it to the top.
‘Maybe I should take the tram after all,’ he says.
‘But the pickpockets!’
‘I’ll take my chances.’
Adelina smiles, ‘I make you a deal. I teach you about pickpockets so you can take your tram, okay?’
‘And in return?’ Simon asks. Adelina doesn’t seem to understand. ‘What do you want from me?’
‘A kiss from a beautiful English boy!’ she claps her hands again and laughs.
Adelina and Simon lean against the wall side by side. ‘See the man there,’ she says. ‘In the green t-shirt, and that one, the tall one behind the fat man with the blue and white striped shirt, and the lady in yellow, do you see them? They are working together. They dress like tourists, but see how they stand back from the crowd? They are looking for a victim. Now watch.’
Simon watches. As the tram trundles up the street, the first man steps forward and drops something on the ground, as he bends down to pick it up his accomplices close in on the man in the striped t-shirt. They move fast. The tram reaches the stop, blocking Simon’s view.
‘Did you see it?’ Adelina asks.
‘I think so, the tall man took the fat man’s wallet, right?’
‘No, you missed it! It was the girl. The green t-shirt is the decoy, but so is the tall man, he pushes to make the victim push back. When he’s busy pushing the tall man, that’s when the girl moves in and takes the money.’
‘So the girl has the wallet, shouldn’t we do something?’
‘Too late, see the man over there,’ Adelina points down the street. Simon can’t see anything except a man in the distance hurrying away. ‘He has the wallet now.’
‘Him? He’s miles away!’
Adelina nods. ‘Now you know all about the pickpockets, I claim my kiss,’ she says.
On a narrow street halfway up one of Lisbon’s famous seven hills, a sweaty English boy and a mysterious Portuguese girl in a flowerprint dress embrace and kiss. They take their time, enjoying the taste of each other’s lips. The girl wraps her arms around the boy’s body and kisses him gently on the neck, then pulls away.
‘Now, go catch your tram, English boy,’ Adelina says, still laughing. ‘And no more huffing and puffing!’
Simon watches her skip up the hill. She slips down a side street and disappears. Simon realises he is grinning. His jaw hurts, but he can’t stop. He feels almost light enough to skip after her, but his legs still ache so he crosses the road and queues for the tram.
He is still grinning when the tram pulls up. He grins at the pickpockets, unnerving them so they step back and leave him alone. He grins at the conductor when he asks for his fare. And he even grins when he reaches in his pocket for some change and discovers that Adelina didn’t just steal his heart. She stole his wallet too.
Written for the Daily Post: A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words Challenge. Click the link for details and maybe give it a go yourself? Mine is exactly 1000 words – it wasn’t obligatory, but I like counting words and it just happened to be pretty much 1000 words worth of story. Hope you enjoyed it 🙂
It was Blind Beryl who taught me how to see. Her full name’s Beryl Cook, like the artist, and she takes her fashion sense from Cook’s pictures: loud, gaudy frocks and even louder make up. Beryl’s had cataracts for years, which might explain her love for bright colours. She can’t see at all now, so I have to see for both of us.
I visit her twice a week to give her place a bit of a clean, but mostly she doesn’t want any cleaning done, she wants to sit and have a cup of tea. The agency charges her twelve quid an hour, but I see less than half of that, so if she wants to pay me to drink tea, I don’t have a problem with that.
This one time, we were sitting in her front room with a cuppa and a plate of custard creams when she asked me to look out of the window.
‘What do you see?’ Beryl said.
‘Nothing much. There’s a boy playing in the yard.’
‘What’s he like, the boy?’ she asked.
‘What do you mean?’
‘What does he look like, does he look like my Albert?’ She fumbled about on the crowded table next to her chair until her fingers rested on a silver photo frame. She held it out to me.
‘He looks a bit like your Albert, only his hair’s longer, it’s flopping about in front of his face. He has to keep pushing it back.’
Beryl wasn’t satisfied, ‘What colour is his hair?’
‘It looks black from here, but when the sun hits it, you can see gold and red, like it’s on fire.’ I was beginning to get what she wanted, ‘His face is round and smooth, with dimples, like those cherubs you get in fancy churches. I reckon he’s about the same age as your Albert was when this was taken, and -,’
Beryl interrupted, ‘He was twelve. He never saw thirteen, poor little mite. Influenza.’ She paused, her sightless eyes staring out into space, ‘Tell me about the yard, is that tree still there? It was a chestnut tree, I think.’
‘There’s a tree, I couldn’t tell you if it was a chestnut, though. It’s huge, it takes up most of the yard. There’s hardly any grass, must be too shady for it to grow. Of course, it’s autumn so there’s no leaves on the tree, plenty on the ground, though.’
‘What’s the boy doing?’
‘He’s playing.’ I pre-empted her next question, ‘I think he’s playing some kind of pretend game, looks like he’s in a world of his own. Maybe he’s being a knight or something. He’s got a branch, he’s using it as a sword and having a sword fight with the tree.’
‘With the tree?’ Beryl chuckled, ‘Maybe he’s playing David and Goliath. Albert used to play that with his Dad.’ She took another sip of her tea. ‘Does he look happy?’
‘Yes, he’s smiling. He looks like he’s enjoying himself.’
‘My Albert used to smell of conkers, do you think this boy smells of conkers?’
‘I don’t know, he looks a bit dirty, there’s patches of grime on his face. He probably smells a bit ripe.’
‘What do you think his name is? I bet it’s Robert. Does he look like a Robert? If I’d had another child I’d have called him Robert, but I only ever had my Albert.’
‘I don’t know if he looks like a Robert, what does a Robert look like?’ I asked. I checked my watch. One advantage of working with Beryl was that I could check the time when I liked without her noticing. ‘I have to go, Beryl, sorry. But I’ll see you Thursday.’
‘You’ll see me, but I won’t see you!’ Beryl cackled at her own joke. ‘I’ll see the boy in the yard, though, thanks to you.’
I popped the tea things back in the kitchen and grabbed my coat. Beryl called me back.
‘Will you ask him his name, when you go? For me?’
I stepped out into the bracing October air, there wasn’t much of a wind, but what there was stung my cheeks all the same. I pulled my coat tighter round me. The boy was still playing his game.
‘Excuse me,’ I said. ‘I hope you don’t mind me asking, would you tell me your name?’
The boy stopped playing and turned, his stick hanging by his side. He looked less cherub-like close up. And I saw that the marks on his face weren’t dirt, they were bruises.
‘Give us a fiver and I’ll tell ya,’ he said.
‘Five pounds? That’s almost an hour’s wages.’
‘Like I care! D’you wanna know or not?’
‘Get lost then, you stupid cow!’ the boy snarled, giving me the finger. He turned and went back to beating the crap out of the tree with his stick, a manic grin on his face. I tucked my bag inside my coat and hurried home.
When I went back to Beryl’s on Thursday, she asked after the boy in the yard.
‘You were right,’ I said. ‘He is called Robert. We had a lovely chat.’
Beryl smiled and held Albert’s photo to her chest.
This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge from the Daily Post was to practice our powers of observation: “Take any person, place, or event, and write three paragraphs describing the subject in great detail.”
Sorry, Daily Post, I’m not very good at doing as I’m told, so I haven’t stuck to the three paragraphs. I’ve written a short story instead, which I hope conveys that the devil really is in the detail.
A curious little tale for the DP Challenge – Starting Over. I wrote this on the train to London this morning which made a dull journey a little less dull, so thanks Daily Post!
That’s The Way To Do It!
The day Fabio fell face-first into the industrial grating machine, at the Parmigiano-Reggiano factory where he had worked since he was sixteen, should have been his last. But six months and 162 operations later, he emerged with a brand new face and a brand new name: Silvio
The name change wasn’t essential, but Silvio saw this as the perfect opportunity to start again, to reinvent himself. He had never been particularly popular as a child. His outsized nose, drooping eyes and pointed chin earned him the nickname Punchinello. As a result, people would take great delight in hitting him with sticks whenever the opportunity arose, or dangling strings of sausages in front of his face.
Being the town joke had other repercussions, too. Silvio (or Fabio as he was then) had never had a girlfriend. He’d never even had a date. His second cousin, Margarita, had accompanied him to the town dance when he was seventeen. But he’d had to pay her a tidy sum as well as all the free Parmigiano she could eat, and she’d dumped him within ten minutes of getting in the door, so she didn’t really count.
Now the fresh-faced Silvio was back in town. He wandered the streets like a ghost, ignored and unrecognised. He drifted past people he had known all his life, and smiled secretly to himself when his own uncle walked by, unaware that his least favourite nephew was within punching distance.
But there was only one person Silvio really wanted to see, and that was Nicoletta. He’d always had a thing for Nicoletta. He’d once plucked up the courage to ask her to the annual dance, but as he approached he saw her flinch, visibly, so turned and walked away. Nobody wanted to date Punchinello.
Now, with his nose grated down to a much more acceptable stump, and his eyes tucked and tightened, things were different.
The bell above the grocery store, where Nicoletta worked, went ding and Silvio’s heart went ping as he saw his childhood fantasy not six feet away. He moved closer. Now only three feet, an arm’s length, stood between them. He watched carefully, ready for the flinch, but none came. Instead, Nicoletta lifted her beautiful brown eyes to his and smiled.
Silvio produced a red rose from behind his back and presented it to his one true love. Within a few months they were married, her dress a little tight around her swelling belly, but beautiful nonetheless.
With the compensation from his accident, Silvio opened a Parma ham shop. He called it Punchinello’s Parma Products, a name which made him grin and chuckle every time he saw it, and made his wife worry about her new husband’s sanity.
Nicoletta and Silvio had several children in quick succession and, although Nicoletta couldn’t understand why her children had such large noses and such pointy chins, they were happy. Silvio invested the last of his compensation in a giant slicing machine and soon Punchinello’s Parma Ham was the talk of the town.
Over the years, as the business went from strength to strength, Silvio found his own strength sapped. All he did was slice ham, all day, every day. Nicoletta was no help, after their twelfth child, she refused to be in the same room as him – just in case. Surely, thought Silvio, as he bent over the slicing machine, there must be more to life than this?
And then he had an idea.
The day Silvio slipped and sliced off his smile with the slicer, at Punchinello’s Parma Products, should have been his last. But six months and 179 operations later, he emerged with a brand new face and a brand new name: Mario.