Mind The Gap: The Clumsy Me Test

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The Clumsy Me Test

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.

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‘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.

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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.

The book tumbled through Felicity’s fingers.

‘Oops, clumsy me!’ she said.

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Written for the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind The Gap – Books versus E-readers. I think I’ve proved that books win. Hands down. Every time. 😉

The Girl Who Floats Up Hills

Couple Embracing

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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.

‘Excuse me?’

‘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.

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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 🙂

The Devil’s In The Detail (DP Challenge)

 

The Devil’s In The Detail

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?’

‘Never mind.’

‘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.

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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.

That’s The Way To Do It! (DP Challenge: Starting Over)

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!

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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.

The End.