Free

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Free
Flash Fiction

            I am as free as my father was free. He was free to walk on his walker, as far as he could go down the street. Free to walk in the wind and the rain. Free to sit on his neighbor’s wall when his legs and back got tired. Free to sit there, although it was raining, until he had recovered his strength and energy. Free to get soaked so badly that he caught a cold. And the cold was free to turn into bronchitis and the bronchitis was free to turn into pneumonia and the pneumonia was free to perform its assassin’s work as it tried to kill him. But my father was still free and strong enough to call the doctor and the doctor was free enough to call at the house and visit my father and write him a prescription for an anti-biotic that would free his body from the pneumonia that was free to leave when its time was up and it felt ready to go. Pneumonia, the old man’s friend, they used to call it, sitting there, in my father’s lungs, muttering away to him, day after day, louder at night, and my father slowly getting stronger and the pneumonia growing weaker until one day it left and freed my father from his immediate ills. Then my father was free to get up or to stay in bed. Being a free man, he chose to stay in bed all day and to listen to the radio and to read a book and when he got bored with reading he just lay there and counted the lines on the wall “one, two, three…” and “one hundred and seventy five” he told me one day when I was free to visit him, “though I have lost count once or twice and have had to start again from the very beginning. And the sun gets up at 7:03, and strikes the third line at 7:53 … and goes around the wall 33 lines a minute; and leaves that third line from the right at a 3:15 …” And there he stayed, day after day. But he was free. And sometimes the home help came and sometimes she didn’t, for she too was as free as the birds in the garden. And sometimes she remembered to buy him some food and sometimes she didn’t. And she was free to come and go, free to remember or forget. And my father was free to mumble or complain or grumble, though he rarely did. And he was free to eat, so long as there was food in the house. But I went there I often saw that the cupboard was bare and my father had neither milk, nor eggs, nor bread nor cereal, nor tea nor butter. And all those people, those acquaintances, those friends, they too were as free as the sea-gulls in the sky. But to find the time to set my father free from the hunger and thirst he seemed predestined to freely suffer, they were never free enough for that, not even at Christmas.
Neither was I.

Doing This for Mom

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Doing This For Mom

“I have to go pee,” Cindy got off the long-distance bus when it pulled into the lay-by on the way to Heathrow Airport airport, broke away from her mother and her grandfather, and ran to the washroom.

“What’s up with her, Tiggy?”

“I don’t know, dad. She just wants to go pee, I guess.”

“You shouldn’t let her go in there alone. Go in with her. Go on. But wait, look what I’ve got for you,” he pulled a wad of fifty pound bills out of his pocket, licked his thumb, and slowly counted them. “Eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Here: one thousand pound. Cash.”

“That’s wonderful dad. You’re very generous, but I can’t take our money. Put it back in your pocket.”

“I know things aren’t going that well for you, now you’re on your own. Take the money.” He waved the cash at Tiggy, but she pushed his hand away.

“No dad. I can’t take your money. You need it more than we do. We’ll survive.”

“Not on your own, you won’t. Not without help. Here, take it.”

“Listen, dad: I’ve seen how you are living. Hand to mouth. Why don’t you sell the car? You know you can’t drive anymore. You’ll save on the insurance. Sell now, while it’s still working. Throw in a thousand pound sterling and you can have taxis galore for the next couple of years. You can shop when you want. You won’t have to rely on unreliable friends …” Tiggy watched a tear squeeze out of her father’s left eye and slide down his cheek. “Don’t cry, dad. You know I’m right.”

“I’m not crying,” he wiped his cheek with the back of his hand. “Some dust blew into my eye. Look, there’s Cindy. Take the money for Cindy. Please. And tell her to sit beside me on the bus.”

“I’ll ask her if she wants to sit beside you,” Tiggy hesitated. “But I won’t tell her. You can’t buy her affection with money, dad. It takes more than cash to rebuild a broken family. I thought you knew that.”

“Hold this,” Tiggy’s dad thrust the money at her. “I’ve got to go to the washroom. I don’t want to go in there carrying this,” leaning heavily on his stick, he limped towards Cindy as she emerged from the rest area, but she skipped quickly away and out of his reach

“Cindy,” Tiggy grasped her daughter’s arm. “When we get back on the bus, will you sit by your grandfather?”

“No,” Cindy’s face was grey, set in stone. Her nose was a hawk’s beak, fierce in her rejection.

“Why not?” Tiggy asked.

“Grampy doesn’t love me, he hates me,” Cindy ground her teeth. “He never wants me back in the house again. He told me so. That day he banged on my bedroom door. He hates me. And I hate him too,” Cindy’s chest heaved and her breath came faster. “He was always trying to open the bathroom door when I was in the shower, and he peeped at me through the keyhole …” Cindy gulped. “He was always rattling the bedroom door and trying to get in.”

“But Cindy, why did you never tell me about this?”

“I was frightened. He threatened to beat me. Then he said he’d give me money if I was good. Is that the money?” Cindy looked down at the dollars in Tiggys’ hand. “I don’t want it.  Give it back to him. Or throw it away.”

Tiggy strode towards her father hen he returned. “It’s blood money,” she said. “Cindy’s told me everything. You’re just laundering your soul.”

The driver tooted his horn and the passengers returned to the bus. Cindy got on first and took her seat by the window. Tiggy followed her and sat beside her. Tiggy’s father, hesitated, hauled himself in, then slumped by the window in the seat on the other side of the aisle. They all gazed out of their respective windows as the bus pulled away.

About half an hour later, Tiggy needed the washroom. She picked up her purse and headed to the back of the bus. As soon as she left, her father got up and lurched into the seat next to Cindy.

“Cindy,” he tapped her on the shoulder.

“Leave me alone,” she stared out of the widow.

“Cindy, you must listen to me. Cindy, your mother’s ill. She needs an operation.”

Cindy sat, a silent stone. Then: “An operation? How do you know?

“She told me.”

“She didn’t tell me.”

“She thought you were too young to know. Families don’t tell everything, you know. Look, take this money. Not for you, for her. Keep it a secret. Give it to her when you’re on the plane. It’ll help pay the fees. Take it now. While she’s gone. I won’t offer again.”

“You hurt me, grandpa.”

“You hurt me too.”

“You were always watching me.”

“I wanted to see you. I’ve only seen you twice in ten years. What did you expect me to do.”

“Be nice.”

“I did my best.”

“It wasn’t very good.”

“It’s the medicine. I get moods.”

“Is that what will happen to mom?”

“It might. But money for the operation will put everything right. Here,” he put the money in Cindy’s lap. “Sorry.”

“You should have said so before.”

“Can we be friends?”

“No. Now go.”

“Look after your mom,” The old man struggled to his feet and stumbled back to his seat.

When Tiggy returned from the washroom, she looked for her daughter and saw her on the other side of the aisle, next to her grandfather. They were both sitting upright, very stiff, not touching, staring straight ahead into the distance. Tears shone in Cindy’s eyes and a wad of bright new fifty-pound notes bills stuck out of the pocket of her jeans. Tiggy saw her daughter’s jaws clench and un-clench but she didn’t  hear the half-swallowed, mumbled words.

“I’m only doing this for mom.”

Commentary: An old story revived and revised. Let me know if you like it.

Okay

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Okay

So, I felt sorry for the squirrel, I admit that. But I didn’t bring him into the house. Nor did I open the door and let him in. Honest. Maybe it was the cat. She’s been watching him all day. Yes, that’s it. It was the cat. She saw him out there in the cold, felt sorry for him, slipped open the screen door and let him in. I could believe that. But no, I don’t know how those nutshells got there. Of course it wasn’t me. You know I’m allergic to nuts and no, that wasn’t me sneezing. It must have been the cat. Or the squirrel. Have you looked for him? I bet she’s round here somewhere. Why are you always blaming me for everything?

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Evidence? I don’t call that evidence? What are you accusing me of anyway? And no, I didn’t leave that tiny crust of bread in the nut pile. Must have been the squirrel. You know I like bread. Squirrels don’t like bread. I bet she left it there. Or the cat. What do you mean: it couldn’t have been the cat? How do you know she didn’t jump up on the counter and eat all those nuts? You’re just guessing and you want me to look bad. She does jump up on things, I’ve seen her do it. She’s always good when you’re around.  She’s not so good when I’m here on my own. That’s why I call her Vomit. I know she doesn’t throw up on your chair, but she throws up on mine. I bet she organized all this, just so I would get the blame.

What do you mean, you’ve left it up to the jury? What jury? You’re no taking me to court for this. Are you? Seriously? I can’t believe you’d find a jury willing to convict me on the suspicion that it might have been me, not on the sort of circumstantial evidence you’re presenting in those photos. And no, I’m not doing lie-detectors or DNA. The jury’s out there now? I don’t believe you. You can’t bring a jury home, to this house, to convict me of the crime of eating your pistachios. Can you? What do you mean: look out of the window? Oh no! You can’t be serious.

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Sleepless in Island View

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Sleepless in Island View

I thought nothing could be worse than my current financial situation, until I saw the government shut down in the States and realized how little some very special people earned per month. It’s hard to believe that a hard-hearted government deprived them of even that basic amount for five weeks. I still can’t understand the callous remarks and harsh words of the billionaires who determined that scenario of horror and scandal. “I can’t see why they are using food banks.” “For those on furlough, it’s just one big vacation with pay at the end of it.” “They don’t have to worry, they’ll get their money back.”

My own financial situation is very different. I am on a fixed retirement income that is much, much less than what I used to earn, but sufficient to keep me alive and well. No, I cannot afford Caribbean Cruises. Nor can I have long term winter stays in sunny climes, Mexico or Arizona, or some sultry-sunny palm-tree graced island set among golden sands in a ring of sapphire sea. Summer vacations are out and I haven’t taken a plane for five years or a summer vacation for four. More, as the stock exchange wobbles, my savings decrease. As my savings grow less, the price of food rises higher and our heating bills soar. As the cost of living rises higher, I have more difficulty making my income stretch to the end of each month. Inflation doesn’t help: prices go up, but my income stays the same or steadily diminishes. There is no way, short of winning the lottery, that I can replenish it. And yet still I am blessed, for I have reasonable health, food on the table, and enough (according to my financial adviser) to survive for a little while yet.

Sometimes I wake at night and cannot get back to sleep. Shadows visit me and bad dreams stretch just out of reach of my fingers. So many things might go wrong. So much is out of my control. So many people, friends, relations, colleagues, acquaintances are hurting in so many ways. I work with friends who are suffering with cancer. I stand by friends who are going through the pangs of divorce and separation. I witness the suffering of the survivor in long term marriages when one of the partners fails. These things gnaw away at the central roots of my being. What if …? I say and the shadows gather closer, chattering like sparrows and cawing like rooks and ravens.

Fear: so easy to sow, so hard to put the seeds back into the bag, especially when they have rooted.

I am lucky. I sleep with two Teddy Bears. One, the small one, bears the name of Ted. The other is called Hairy Fred. Ted is an old battered bear. He traveled with me when I used to travel and is a well-bred voyager. Hairy Fred is a more recent acquisition. A lady made him from an old fur coat and yes, he is very hairy. Ted wears a flashlight in his one ear and a clothes peg in the other. Don’t ask: don’t tell. When the night grows dark and a waning gibbous moon sweeps stars from the sky, these two teddies bring warmth and comfort. Beside my bed, Paddington Bear stands on guard. He can stay there. I am not having him in bed with his yellow Wellingtons and his Duffle coat. Besides which he is a rather hard teddy and not a soft one. Blueberry, Rose, and Pierre Bear sit on the cabinet. waiting their turn. When it gets cold and the north wind howls like a wanton wolf, one of them will get the invite and then we’ll have the perfect Three Bear or Four Bear or Five Bear Night. Until then, I may continue sleepless, in Island View.

Even tho it was Xmas

 

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Even though it was Christmas

I am as free as my father was free. He was free to walk on his walker, as far as he could go down the street. Free to walk in the wind and the rain. Free to sit on his neighbor’s wall when his legs and back got tired. Free to sit there, although it was raining, until he had recovered his strength and energy. Free to get soaked so badly that he caught a cold. And the cold was free to turn into bronchitis and the bronchitis was free to turn into pneumonia and the pneumonia was free to perform its assassin’s work as it tried to kill him. But my father was still free and strong enough to call the doctor and the doctor was free enough to call at the house and visit my father and write him a prescription for a free anti-biotic that would free his body from the pneumonia that was free to leave when it’s time was up and it felt ready to go. Pneumonia, the old man’s friend, they used to call it, sitting there, in my father’s lungs, muttering away to him, day after day, louder at night, and my father slowly getting stronger and the pneumonia growing weaker until one day it felt free to leave and freed my father from his immediate ills. Then my father was free to get up or to stay in bed. Being a free man, he chose to stay in bed all day and to listen to the radio and to read a book and when he got bored with reading he just lay there and counted the dots on the wall “one, two, three…” and “seventy five thousand, one hundred and forty three,” he told me one day when I was free to visit him, “though I have lost count once or twice and have had to start again from the very beginning. And the sun gets up at seven-oh-three, and strikes the third dot at seven fifty-three … and goes round the wall thirty-three dots to the minute; and leaves that third dot from the right at a quarter past three …” And there he stayed, day after day. But he was free. And sometimes the home help came and sometimes she didn’t, for she too was as free as the birds in the garden. And sometimes she remembered to buy him some food and sometimes she didn’t. And she was free to come and go, free to remember or forget. And my father was free to mumble or complain or grumble, though he rarely did. And he was free to eat, so long as there was food in the house. But when I went there to visit him I often saw that the cupboard was bare and my father had neither milk, nor eggs, nor bread nor cereal, nor tea nor butter. And all those people, those acquaintances, those friends, they too were as free as the sea-gulls in the sky. But to find the time to set my father free from the hunger and thirst he seemed predestined to freely suffer, they were never free enough for that.

Neither was I. Even though it was Christmas.

Even though it was Christmas
Voice Recording

 

 

This story is dedicated to all who spend time alone this Christmas, be they street people, homeless, or merely forgotten and neglected. Please consider sharing this story. And if you know someone who is alone at this time of the year, please phone them or visit them.

 

Cricket

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Cricket

            Street cricket. Played on ancient, cracked tarmac. The wicket: three sticks whitewashed on to the high stone wall of the cul-de-sac where my grandmother lived. It backed onto the wall that cut us off from the railway yards that led into High Street Station. That wall was the boundary, as were the neighbor’s front yards. Six and out if you hooked the cricket ball and hit it behind the wicket and over the railway wall. And you had to retrieve that ball. Lost ball stopped play and play stopped until you went across the bombed buildings at square leg, for a right-handed batsman, climbed the railway wall at its lowest spot, looked down at the rail yards forty feet below, and shouted until someone emerged from a workman’s hut to find the ball and threw it back.

            No worker … no ball … no game. Then you had to run out of your street, down the main road, up the hill for two streets, beg permission at the locked railyard iron gates: “Please, mister, can I get my ball?” Then run all the way back to where the waiting cricketers hung over your own street wall, by those bombed buildings, shouting and cheering. Search for the ball among shiny rails, shunting rails, rusty rails, dandelions, thistles, and nettles. Avoid the occasional shunting engine, with the driver leaning out of the cab and screaming warnings as the steam hisses out from the engine, brakes squeal, and wheels slowly clack on crossing tracks. Find the ball. Try unsuccessfully to throw it back over the wall. Try again. No good. Wall too high. Carry ball back to iron gates. Thank gateman politely so you can come back next time. Return ball to game. Game continues, rain or shine. Unless it’s real rain. The pissing down type. If so, run for nearest house and shelter by fire in kitchen.

            Other rules. Six and out over the railway wall. Two runs and fetch the ball yourself if you hit it into the bomb buildings at square leg, next to that railway wall. No fielders there. Too many loose bricks and too much scattered debris. Fragile walls still wobble or crumble warning you of cellars that might open up. Low walls that might collapse. You score four and out if you hit the ball into neighbor’s front yard. Some neighbors are nice and don’t mind. But watch out for the old witch whose fenced off garden is guarded by a gate.  If you hit her window, even with a tennis ball, she’ll be out quick as a flash, and steal your ball or stick a knitting needle in it, old spoil-sport. Otherwise, it’s single batsmen. You run your runs and walk back from singles. One hand one bounce, and tip and run once you’ve scored twenty. Much more difficult to stay in and everyone gets a chance to bat. One hand off the wall if you don’t clear it for a six and out. Dog stops play if your fox terrier gets the ball and runs around in circles, chasing its tail, with the ball getting soggy in his mouth. Damned dog. Damn difficult to catch. Lost ball stops match if dog runs back into the house and gives the ball you stole in secret back to your gran who was saving it for tennis.

            Cricket, in those days, was civilization. It had survived the bombing raids that missed the railway yards and bombed the bomb buildings. It had survived the machine-gun fire from the fighter-bombers that had strafed the street leaving bullet-holes, still unrepaired, in walls and shattering now-mended windows. It gave us a sense of rule and law, for the rules were strict and nobody broke them and stealing runs, touch and go, in tip and run was a skill and never a crime.

            Cricket: a small, bright window on the back-street where I lived, a window filled with happiness and light, even when it’s over the wall and six and out, or the dog runs away with the tennis ball, or the ball vanishes down a mysterious rabbit-hole in the bomb buildings and slides down to someone’s ruined cellar.

            Game’s over. The real Test Match is on, England versus Australia, though we live in Wales. The one primitive, tiny black-and-white tv screen in the street lights up with flickering figures and we sit around on the floor watching real men playing the real game on a sunny field in another world, the world, the world of black and white that many of us, us backstreet children from a ruined neighborhood, will never be allowed to know or see.

Show Don’t Tell

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A barber shop quartet, four of them, singing in unison, spring birds at a feeder, early morning sparrows at a jug of milk, abandoned by the milkman on the doorstep.

Except they were none of that. How could they be? They were four brothers, torn apart at birth. They never knew each other, never sang together, never embraced each other, never held each other in their arms. How could they have done so? The first one was stillborn. The second one survived for a while, but struggled to live, succumbed, and drifted away. The third one lived, marked for life by the scars on his forehead where they dragged him from the womb. The fourth one stopped struggling in the seventh month, but the mother carried him to term, even though she knew he was dead.

She carried them, blessed them, gave them all names, and buried three of them. They were her babies and she never got over their loss. Oh, she survived physically, but mentally she was destroyed.

The priests wanted to know what sins she had committed for God to be so angry with her that He destroyed the fruit of her womb. She had no answer. Some refused to bless her. Others ignored her completely. A few used her sorrows to drag the survivor into the tangled web of the church. “He has been spared. He will be one of us,” they said, and rejoiced at the potential strengthening of their celibate ranks.

Three of her children were ever before her. But the fourth lodged like an albatross on her shoulders and hung like a crucifix round her neck. She could never see him clearly. How could she? He was rarely before her eyes, never in the range of her sight. She tried to mold him like putty, but like water or sand, he slipped through her fingers.

Her husband hated him. Was he the father? It’s a wise man knows his father, or his son. Yet they looked alike. But no, they never thought alike, or walked alike. Nor moved in the same circles.

The father, a gambler, had borrowed a large sum of money and placed it with a bookie, betting that this third son would never live and that his death would make his father’s fortune, if the child was indeed a product of the seed his father deposited in his wife’s child bank.

The father lost his bet. The son lived. The father hated him every day of his life.  A rich man he would have been, if … if only … and the scars of that lost bet raged ragged on his face as the father cursed the doctor who had pulled his  son, if he was his son, alive and struggling from the womb.

If he was his son … a strong man, magnificently muscled , it was not his fault, never his fault, it was the fault of that worthless woman, the woman who had carried his seed, if it was his seed, the woman who carried his other three sons, and never brought them alive into this world …

The ostrich sees danger, and buries his head in the sand. The son sees danger and learns to run. The wife sees danger and  learns to suffer, to be beaten, to be abused, to be the victim because yes, she is filled with guilt, and how could it be otherwise, when the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak, so weak that it cannot give birth and eventually takes to the black holes of victimization, of alcoholism, and eventually of oblivion.

And the son learned to hide, to make himself invisible, never to be there, never to accept responsibility, never to sit at the desk when the buck was about to stop anywhere nearby, never to be blamed … never to turn down the solace to be found in the darkest depths of those same bottles that finally destroyed the woman he loved, who was also his mother.

Instructor’s Comments:

Rewrite.
Next time, show don’t tell.
Minimally acceptable.

D