Category Archives: Long

Preparation – Part 4

[This is the final part of Preparation a 4 part story. You may want to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 before you continue.]

As the taxi pulled away from the bistro I thought about how I sometimes can really surprise myself. I used to think about how I was too eager to please others. It used to worry me. Over time I realised that pleasing others pleased me, and that in many ways that’s all there was to life.

Today I realised, finally, that all encounters, all conversations, are a two way street. You wouldn’t drink neat gin, you wouldn’t drink neat tonic but together they make something beautiful. They come together to create something better than either of them can be by themselves. I wanted to be nice to Brian, I suddenly realised, not because it wouldn’t help me but because it would. That’s what we’re all doing.

It’s only a problem when you stop taking part yourself. When it stops making you feel better to take part in the exchange – that’s the only time it’s a problem God! Stop thinking! And you think this sounds like crazy over-analysis? You should hear my brain in an hour.

I’m in this taxi, it’s going to my house. My house with my family in it. My family who are there for Christmas. Who are there to enjoy themselves.

.
.
.
.
.

And I’m bringing Brian to have dinner with me. How’s that for making myself feel happy?

Preparation – Part 3

[This is part 3 of Preparation a 4 part story. You may want to read Part 1 and Part 2 before you continue.]

The question, “how many women?” I’d asked was hanging over the proceedings like a bad stink. Brian had frozen, he’d been freed for a second into saying something that he clearly truly felt. Something actually fucking interesting. Sorry about my language – but that’s what I feel. My contemporaries act as though it’s proper decorum to pretend you died about five years ago.

“Sorry Brian, I didn’t mean that question the way that you’re thinking that I did.”
“What does that mean?”
“I just meant…” I pause, I’m trying to decide how to phrase it. “I just meant, huh.”
“I’m sorry if I offended you.”
“Oh no, God no… I just was just thinking that I wanted to pause the date, because… While I realise I’m on a date and I’m therefore supposed to disapprove of you going out with others, I’m old enough and wise enough to realise that you must be, and that I’m not the only one. I’m not moronic. There are a lot more single women of my age than men. But what you were saying just made me feel like one of the blokes down the pub for a second. I imagined all of the twittery women I know who are so totally clueless. And for a second I just wanted to laugh at them with you. That’s all.”
“Well that’s okay then.”

Brian, I could tell, was looking at me differently. I wonder what that meant. And then suddenly I didn’t know what to do. Could I go on eating, or did I need to talk? I knew I was really waiting for him to talk again but I didn’t know where to look or what to do while I was waiting. I decided to plump for a overly large glug of my wine so I could keep looking him in the eye. He looked flustered, I was flustered too I could feel the tops of my ears starting to go red. And then I decided to help him.

“You know what Bri, lets order us up some more wine – I’ll get a taxi home.”

“Good,” he smiled that smile again. And he actually exhaled. It was so sweet. I wanted to hug him right there and then.

I smiled back at him and suddenly we were a team. We were on the same side against the rest, whoever they might be.

[The final part concludes next Friday]

Preparation – Part 2

[This is part 2 of Preparation a 4 part story. You may want to read Part 1 before you continue.]

I pull into the last car parking space and turn the engine off. The radio stops talking at me and suddenly everything is peaceful. Or at least everything outside my head. I try to collect my thoughts but it’s hard to focus. This was a stupid week to have a date. All of the time I’m thinking of all of the things I should be getting ready for Christmas. Simon was right, I do need to spend more time thinking about myself for a change, but I’m just not sure that this week was the best week to do it.

I tilt the rear view mirror towards me and take a look at my make up. I think about re-applying but out loud I say “it’ll have to do.” He’s picked the nice little bistro that opened recently. It’s a good choice to go somewhere new, there is less baggage – less chance that I had a previous date here. I walk in and can already tell that I’m going to like this place. There is a certain feel when you walk in, a certain light that feels warm and welcoming. I can see Brian over at a corner table. He looks up at me and smiles and I instantly remember why I’m here. That smile is a big part of it. He looks at me like he actually wants to see me. I’ve started to be able to tell the difference between that look and the one my children give me, the one where they want something from me.

As I get close to the table Brian stands to greet me. A single peck on the cheek, a slight waft of his aftershave. I give my coat to the waitress and sit. I can look at him now properly and I do. Then after a second I realise I’m almost staring and so I look down for the menu.

“Drink?” he asks.

“Yes, but I’m driving so it’ll just be the one.”

“You look lovely today.”

I’m never sure exactly what a comment like this is supposed to mean. I haven’t got time now – I’ll over-analyze it later.

“Thank you. And you’ve had your hair cut.”

“Not since you last saw me – I don’t think.”

“Ah, it must be the candlelight. You look very smart.”

“Thank you. Now how about that drink?”

I look at Brian. What do I think about him? How can I judge? He’s not quite the man I imagine when I close my eyes. But on the other hand I’m not sure that man exists. In fact I know that man doesn’t exist.

The man I see when I close my eyes is my dead husband without the inconvenient bits. Not just that he’s dead, actually him dying was one of the most self-improving things he could have done. God that sounds harsh, I don’t mean that the way you think I do. All I mean is that when he was alive I always had this lovely perfect vision of him, the feeling, the idea of him was perfect. And I have that again now. But then, when he was alive, he’d go and open his mouth or do something that would be so… so… disappointing that actually now he’s gone it’s a bit easier to preserve his perfection. The only problem for poor Brian is that now he has to live up to a completely impossible version of Bob. It seems weird because I know, and you know I know because I just wrote it, that Bob wasn’t actually like that in real life. But this is being written in the cold light of day (well I’m in bed, it’s warm and it’s night-time but that’s neither here nor there). But when I’m meeting with Brian it’s not about cold-light-of-day decisions. Somehow I’m measuring him against dead Bob and that’s not really fair. He’s all right, he’s lovely, but…

No. He’s fine. That sounds terrible. I want to say… He’s what I want, he’s what I need. That’s true actually. I need somebody who isn’t part of my family. I need somebody like that because I want to be thought of as special. I want to know that they are interested in me. I wonder how really rich people cope. I know that the only people who want me for something other than pure desire are my family who want me to provide. But if you were loaded you’d have to worry that any man would be after you just for your money. Brian’s richer than me though so I don’t have to worry about that. Why am I even thinking about it? I do find myself just whittering on sometimes.

We’ve been eating in silence. Brian decides to break it.

“So,” he asks, “what have you been thinking about?”

“You,” I say.

“What have you got to think about me?”

“Well, I’ve been evaluating you. Sort of deciding.”

“I hope…” he pauses, “I hope you don’t decide to decide too early. I’ve got a lot of interesting things to try… to show you if you’d be interested.”

“Don’t worry Brian. I was… I was just having some difficulty. I mean, I’m not used to this kind of thing.”

“What kind of thing?”

“Well a date?”

“Good!”

“Good?”

“Sorry,” says Brain smirking, “it’s just that… God this is going to sound stupid. But I’ve been out with some women recen…. In the past… and none of them… not a one… has realised that they’ve been on a date. They think they are on some kind of bridge meeting. They compliment me on the choice of food, on the choice of wine, but some of them even bring a friend. They have no idea. At least you know that you’re on a date.”

“How many women?”

Preparation – Part 1

Last night I dreamt of mandarins again. I know I’m worrying about the meal. Why do I put myself through it? Twenty people for Christmas lunch. I used to think it was for the kids so they would grow up seeing their family. And lately I’ve convinced myself that I’m doing it for Bob. He always used to love Christmas. I wonder how many times I’ll have to say it before I can forget him making the kids put all of the presents back under the tree because they were being too noisy.

No, I might as well admit that I do it for me. We never had fun at Christmas when I was a girl and I suppose I’m making up for it. Sometimes I do wonder when this fun is supposed to happen. I mean before you’ve served up, you’re cooking like crazy. During the meal you’re worrying about pudding. During pudding you’re trying to stop Malcolm setting fire to the napkins or Uncle Paul from getting too carried away with the brandy butter. And afterwards there’s the washing up.

Paul isn’t my uncle he’s my brother. I wonder when I started calling him that as though it was his name or his title? I guess it was around the time I started talking to the kids more than I spoke to adults. Just when I thought I was about clear, I now seem to spend quite a bit of my time in the company of the grandchildren.

I do know the part of Christmas I love most. It’s not watching the kids unwrap the presents. There is too often disappointment in some of their faces. I knew we were spoiling them when they were little but I didn’t see what harm it would do. Now I know they expected bigger and better presents every year, so now probably anything less than the
keys to an actual rocket ship is a bit of a let down. So no it isn’t that. It’s sneaking about the night before helping Santa fill the stockings. See there I go again, I’ve clearly been spending too much time with the grandchildren.

Now. It’s time to get out of bed. I’ve got a busy day today. I’m having lunch with a man. God, that sounds more exciting than it probably will be.

I had Simon on the phone last night giving me dating tips. As if he knows anything about it. He’s never even had a girlfriend. Well I suppose he still dates even though he thinks he can’t tell me about it. Right, must get up.

[Tune in next Friday for part 2]

Nina – Part 1

The pan has been hot for four hours straight now. Nina lifts the lid and stirs again. Making sure it’s a deep, important stir. All of the bottom of the pan is scraped, every molecule of curry moved. It’s an key moment and when she steps back she exhales realising she hasn’t been breathing while she was doing it. The women around her laugh.

“I can’t believe how seriously you’re taking this,” Meera says.

“She’s doing what she needs to. It’s okay.” Her mother is the comforting voice.

“Well you know my opinion of him, I wouldn’t bother,” Parminder pipes up, “waste of time if you ask me.”

“Look,” her mother continued, “if Nina wants it to work, I want it work, and so should everyone who loves her.”

Nina, wanted it to work, but she wanted all of her friends to be behind it, even her mother. Especially her mother. And it was exactly comments like that that made her feel that her mother was acting on blind hope rather than any preference for Anil. Maybe she just wanted her out of the house? As if to confirm it, her mother added…

“And with Nina out of the house, I’ll be able to turn her bedroom into a home gym.”

“Indira! Really,” Meera calls out, “you can’t be getting ahead of yourself.”

“There’s no chance with this one anyway,” Parminder confirms, “so I wouldn’t get too excited.”

“Listen you lot,” Nina finally getting her breathing under control decides to stand up for herself, “once he tries this he’ll be putty in my hands.”

Parminder gives a look and says, “Putty is the last thing you want in your hand girl, you want something all together more firm.”

“Like a cucumber,” says Meera.

“Girls,” says Indira, “you have to respect your elders. Listen carefully, I’ll have no talk of putty or cucumbers in this kitchen. What you talk about in your kitchens is up to you.”

“Yes Mrs. Puri”, both Meera and Parminder say together.

Nina looks at her mother with an extra ounce of respect. She knows, Nina remembers, how to run a tight ship. And then Nina’s mother adds something, “Anyway there’s no chance he’s flaccid after this dinner, it’s my mother’s special recipe.”

[Tune in next Friday for dinner.]

The Voice of God – Part 4

[This is Part 4 of 4 in the 4 part short story The Voice of God. If you’re interested then you may want to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 first.]

“How,” cried out Frank, “how can I help you?”

“You have to wake up,” replied God.

Frank considered this for a moment. He was pretty sure he wasn’t asleep. He decided to pinch himself. It hurt. He looked back up at God, hoping that something there would help him to understand what he had meant. While Frank was looking up, Jerome got quite close and suddenly one of those bursts of flame from Jerome’s nose had got a bit too close to Frank. The bottom of his habit was on fire.

Frank dropped to the floor and rolled around trying to put the fire out. Finally, after much rolling, it was out. Quite a bit of his habit was burned, as was a fair chunk of the hair on his right leg. He was now certain he was quite, quite awake. He called out to God, “what do you want me to do?”

But God was distracted, Jerome was trying very hard to set fire to God’s beard. But what didn’t seem to occur to Jerome was that God’s beard was made out of clouds so all he was doing was causing it to rain on the cloisters.

God, for a second, thought he had caught Jerome in between his hands, but Jerome squeezed through and shot straight up God’s nostril. God opened his mouth in shock and Jerome came flying out screaming, “Who’s the voice of God now”?

God, who had looked shocked moments before, suddenly looked cross and fed up all at the same time. His hand moved forward, he placed it underneath where Jerome was doing cartwheels, and he said, “Stop Jerome”. Jerome fell down into God’s hand – dead. God lowered his hand and very carefully placed Jerome down on the floor of the courtyard. He then turned to Frank.

Frank looked up into God’s eyes. Seeing God at rest for the first time, he realised that God was truly beautiful.

“What did you mean,” Frank said, “when you said you wanted me to wake up. I’m not asleep.”

“No, you’re not. You’re having a stroke.”

And with that God disappeared. The same moment, some of the oblates broke down the door and ran out to rescue Father Frank who was writhing on the floor.

The Voice of God – Part 3

[This is Part 3 of 4 in the 4 part short story The Voice of God. If you’re interested then you may want to read Part 1 and Part 2 first.]

As the rats wriggled through the gaps into the monastery buildings proper Frank couldn’t help but laugh. It wasn’t that he didn’t think this situation was difficult and unusual, it wasn’t that at all, he was laughing despite himself. He was laughing at the reactions from the oblates. Each time a rat got close to one of them you’d see him jump out of his skin.

“You are enjoying that aren’t you”, said the voice inside Frank’s head.

Frank turned to look at the dragon.

“No,” lied Frank.
“Don’t lie, boy.”
“I’m not a boy any more. I’m seventy years old.”
“You’re a boy compared to my experience.”
“I’m not enjoying any of this.”
“Why is there a smile on your face?” The dragon asked.
“Because God has arrived.”

This, thought Frank, was more like it. Clouds had streamed across the sky and combined together, out of the center of the cloud a giant face with a beard emerged. A hand was reaching down towards Jerome. But the dragon had seen it and had started flying with evasive maneuvers. Now each time God’s hand came close, Jerome would breath fire out of his nostrils causing God’s hand to pull back.

“Frank”, Gods voice rang out, “You’ll have to help me.”

[Tune in next Friday for Part 4]

The Voice of God – Part 2

[This is Part 2 of 4 in the 4 part short story The Voice of God. If you’re interested then you may want to read Part 1 first.]

A thought had been nagging at Frank for the last hour that this probably wasn’t God. It was, after all a giant red dragon, and was therefore likely to be the devil. But weirdly this didn’t disappoint Frank as much as you’d imagine, Frank was just pretty happy knowing that such a thing were possible. And if such things were possible, reasoned Frank, God would probably be along in a minute or two to sort everything out.

Frank had been thinking that God was going to pop in for almost an hour now and he hadn’t shown up, and it was starting to get really cold. Frank decided to stand up and speak.

“Hello?”
The response came back inside his head, “Yes?”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Jerome, don’t you remember me Frank?”
Suddenly Frank remembered. Jerome was a toy dragon he had had as a boy. Jerome had been a little stuffed toy dragon but this dragon hardly looked stuffed, this dragon looked like the real thing. He was also around the size of a double decker bus.
“I remember but…”
“Don’t worry about why for now Frank. We’re about to get some visitors.” Jerome looked down at Frank and added, “I’d stand on that bench if I were you”.

Frank quickly stood up and clambered on to the bench. He could here some kind of noise growing, a noise like water flowing really quickly. And then he saw them, coming out of the drains. Millions of black, vicious, fat rats tearing over the courtyard floor. Within seconds the whole courtyard was covered with them clambering over each other. Frank looked over to Jerome who was gently beating his wings and floating above it all.

The voice of God – Part 1

The cloisters were becoming cold now as the light began to fade. Frank’s breath was visible as he sat on the bench thinking. He was absentmindedly fiddling with his rosary which was making a clicking noise each time the different parts clacked together. Frank was nervous. In fact he was cold and nervous. He’d never been convinced of a cassock in winter and sitting out in the cold like this was… Well mainly it was making him need to go to the toilet.

He looked back over his shoulder and he could see all of the other priests standing inside at the windows looking out at him. They looked warm in there. In fact Frank could see that the windows were misting up. A few of them were giving Frank encouraging signals, the odd thumbs up, a little wave. But most of them looked worried too. In fact they mainly looked worried and a bit excited.

Frank had always hoped to hear the voice of God. He’d kind of always expected it to appear at some point in his life. When he’d first heard about God as a boy something had clicked in his universe. The world made sense when it had happened and from then on he’d always known he had been called. But he had always hoped for something a little bit more direct. He’d actually always wanted something a bit more concrete. By the time he went to seminary school he’d started to think that perhaps he would have to prove himself worthy. That he’d have to dedicate himself to God before God would show himself. That, Frank realised, was faith.

At seminary Frank discovered that the way the church dealt with the lack of a speaking God was to teach the young priests that the warm feeling of comfort that had drawn them into the church was the voice of God. That God’s influence was more a feeling than a walk-on part. At that stage Frank’s hope that God would personally talk to him took a hit, but he was still young and he had hope. Over the years that hope had faded. Frank had been teaching seminary for thirty years now and had dispensed the same message. And yet the hope had never quite gone away.

And tonight God had spoken to Frank. God’s voice, sounding exactly as he’d imagined it would had boomed across his brain at dinner. It had told him to stand up and leave the table. And it had told him to walk out of the main building and into the cloisters. It asked him to take the key from the inside side of the door and lock the door from the outside. And then it asked Frank to walk to each of the doors around the cloisters and do the same. And when he had done that God asked Frank to sit down. To sit down where he was sitting now. And wait. To wait for God to reveal himself.

About twenty minutes ago God had arrived. And while Frank had always expected to hear God he’d never expected to see him. And he certainly hadn’t expected him to be a twenty foot long red dragon.

Sarah – Part 3

[This is Part 3 of 4 in the 4 part short story Sarah. If you’re interested then you may want to read Part 1 and Part 2 first.]

Sarah had never walked this way down the hill before. She’d always meant to but once she’d got to the top of the hill she’d always stopped there. It was always as though a piece of elastic was tying her to home. But while it was strange, Sarah was quietly relieved. She hadn’t wanted to walk into a pub with this guy and find a bunch of her friends there instantly judging him. She wasn’t ready to share him yet.

They walked down the hill in near silence. Sarah could hear a bird twittering. Sarah always imagined when she heard this particular kind of bird that it was making cat calls at her. Like there was a group of builder birds who said things like, “oh yes we’ll build your nest extension and bird bath for you obviously, but that birch twig finish you’re after Mrs Robin… It’ll cost ya extra”. She imagined that these builder birds whistled at her but she thought it might sound a little mad and so she didn’t mention it to Steven.

The ground started to level out and soon they were walking on a country lane. There was a distinct smell of tilled earth mixed with the unmistakable pong of manure. Luckily this passed after a second. Steven paused for a moment and took in an artificially deep breath and said, “Ah, I love the smells of the countryside. Now if I’m not mistaken the pub must be just around this corner”.

Steven picked up his pace and Sarah followed. There, as promised, was the pub. It was an old stone building with flowers in hanging baskets. The only thing missing, Sarah thought, was a beer garden. Steven walked up to the door, opened it and stepped inside – holding the door open behind him. Sarah walked in behind him. She hadn’t been sure about the idea of going to the pub the whole time she’d been walking down the hill. Sarah couldn’t quite see how going to the pub seemed very adventurer-ish. As she was actually crossing the threshold she suddenly wondered what kind of drink he would have.

Sarah walked past Steven and into the pub. It had a cold stone floor which made the room feel very refreshing after the heat of the sunshine and the walk down the hill. She walked forward towards the bar and couldn’t help but notice that bartender only had one arm. Steven was right behind her, he walked closer to the bartender and said, “a pint of Guinness and a packet of peanuts please Pete”.

Pete looked over at Sarah, “what’ll it be for you missy?”

He didn’t wait for her, he’d already started moving over towards the Guinness pump. There was a “clack” on every alternate step – clearly Pete only had one leg as well. Sarah realised she was staring at him a little bit, and she looked round to Steven. Steven looked at her and smiled.

“Interested in old Pete eh? You’re right to be, he’s an interesting fellow Pete.”

“Urgh,” said Pete.

“You’re being too modest Pete. Pete used to be an adventurer too. Sadly he got a little bit too friendly with a crocodile. Now he serves drinks for a living.”

“And peanuts,” says Pete.

“What,” asked Steven, “would you like? I’d recommend the Guinness.”

“I don’t really like Guinness I’m afraid.”

“Ah, well then you better try something else. I never have so I can’t really recommend anything.”

“Can I have a whiskey?”

“Urgh”

Pete walked towards the side of the bar and found a stool. He carried it back and started to climb on it and then, after steadying himself, reached up and plucked a bottle of whiskey off of the top shelf. He took out two glasses. Poured a large measure into both and then put the bottle back and kicked the stool out of the way. He picked up both of the glasses and thrust one towards Sarah. And then, looking at the other glass he said, “well I may as well toast a lassie who likes whiskey. Cheers.”

Steven managed to rescue his stout from the wrong side of the bar where it had been settling and they all toasted Sarah – even though Sarah seemed a tad confused by the whole thing. Pete took the end of the toast as a signal to shuffle off again and Steven tipped his head in the direction of a table in the corner of the room.

As they walked towards the table Sarah realised that it wasn’t quite a corner. The room wasn’t quite square and the table was in a little corridor. As they sat at the table Sarah found she was facing away from the main pub, she was looking down the corridor at a closed door.

“So,” said Steven.

“So,” said Sarah.

“Yes?”

“Yes. I…”

“What? Go on…”

“I,” said Sarah, “I was going to say, I was going to say the whole way down the hill that going to the pub didn’t feel like going on an adventure. But now I’m not so sure. I hadn’t expected Pete for a start.”

“No, not many people expect Pete.”

“And to an extent it’s an adventure for me simply because I’ve never been on this side of the hill, and here I am with a strange man, but for you it isn’t really an adventure is it? You’ve been on this side of the hill before, you’ve been to this pub before, drunk that Guinness.”

“Well not this particular pint of Guinness no, but would you be trying to claim with all of that that you aren’t a strange girl?”

“I’m not strange? I’m perfectly normal.”

“Ha.”

“I am. I’m boring.”

“I don’t believe that. You might be bored but you’re not boring.”

“Can’t you be both?”
“People can, but not you. Your mind is too inquisitive.”

As he had been speaking Sarah had been noticing that a light behind the door was getting brighter and brighter. She was about to say something but then Steven said, “How many people do you think imagine birds are wolf-whistling at them?”
“What?” Sarah said, the light was getting brighter, but she couldn’t ignore what Steven had just said. “How could you know that?”

“I can’t tell you that for a moment. But it’s true isn’t it.”

“Yes.”

“Things like that make you interesting. You never tell anyone about it because you fear what people might think of you. What you don’t realise is that admitting to the interesting things about you might make people more interested in you rather than less.”

Sarah could hardly ignore the door now. Bright white light was shining all around it and through the keyhole. Rays were dancing on the ceiling and floor, patterns on the walls and the light switch were so bright they were difficult to look at. She looked back at Steven.

“Ignore the door.”

“But?”
“Just for a moment.”

“But!”

“Admit that you are interesting and you don’t need something to happen to you to prove it.”

“Steven.”

“Ignore the door.”

Sarah looked straight at Steven. His blue eyes really were amazingly bright, even in the relative darkness compared to what she had just been looking at. What had she been looking at? She faltered for a second wanting to look back at the door. But she could see in Steven’s eyes a pleading for her not to look.

“Okay,” she said, “I admit it. I am more interesting than I normally admit.”

“Good then,” said Steven, “now you are ready to decide. Do you want to go through the door?”

[Check back next Friday for the final part of the story.]