Category Archives: flash

In the Pink

in the pink

You hate the smell of the place. The sickly stench of cheap air freshener, rather than neutralising the compacted odour of aged bodies, urine-soaked furnishings, and stale cooking, highlights it. You loathe sight of the magnolia walls, the  poorly reproduced generic prints of countryside scenes, the institutional, mint-green, dralon seats. You pity your grandfather’s baggy frame, his wrinkled incapacity, his silent distance. When he doesn’t recognise your voice, it makes you want to cry.

You wonder why he smiles so freely, at the walls, and towards the fluttering, fading curtains.

You think his restless flitting eyes are nigh on blind, but he sees sights to which you are not privy.

He sits at a dinner table, relishing shepherd’s pie with home grown potatoes and carrots. The sun’s rays fall onto a dark green mantlepiece on which sit several crinolined ladies, fashioned in porcelain. Monochrome photos of two young heroes who have yet to die for Britain, shoulder their rifles, proud uncles eager to do their bit. A third photo shows  a shy couple, frowning as the camera clicks. The man wears baggy corduroys and a tweed cap. In his hand he holds a shepherds crook. The woman cradles a baby wrapped in a woollen shawl.

The three white plates are scraped clean, knives and forks placed neatly together, glasses emptied of water. His father sighs contentedly, leans back in his chair, and tamps down tobacco in the bowl of his pipe.

His mother sends him out to play, safe in the knowledge that this rural farm is far from the danger of bomb attacks. He skips down gritty lanes, grabbing at plumes of meadowsweet, stripping off the sweet, creamy blooms, flinging them in the air, watching them fall like confetti. Grinning to himself he thinks how much better life is for a child than a man. He wants to stay forever in this perfect time – never to grow up, never to have the responsibilities of a job and family. He wants his days to be a constant round of  romping in the fields, soaking in the summer sun, returning home when his stomach tells him it is dinner time, enjoying board games with his parents in the evening, or helping his tin soldiers to defeat Hitler’s armies, and bring everlasting peace.

His eyelids sink, and you think he’s asleep, but his head slants just so, and an expression of ecstasy floods his face.

He hears a recording of Vera Lynn’s voice, drifting through a cottage window.

“There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,”

but you are too far in his future to hear the music. All you hear is the traffic roaring along the busy road outside. You reach for his wizened hand. His smile widens.

You can’t understand what reason he could possibly have to smile. Living in this place, you’d think he would want to die. You don’t realise that in his mind, he is in the pink, having the time of his life.

“Tomorrow, just you wait and see.
There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after.
Tomorrow, when the world is free,”

The ghost of a squeeze makes your hand tingle. His old bones feel so tiny, so fragile.

His lips lips part. His voice is no more than a whisper:

“Mummy.”

A chill goes through you, and lodges in your heart.

“Grandad,” you say, your voice urgent, “Grandad Jimmy!”

He can’t hear you, your voice is too far away.

Vera Lynn has such a beautiful voice. He knows – has always known – that she sings her song just for him.

“The shepherd will tend his sheep.
The valley will bloom again.
And Jimmy will go to sleep
In his own little room again.
There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.”

With horror, you notice your hand is tightly gripping his, crushing his fingers together. You think you’re hurting him. You let go, and his hand flops. He sinks sideways, the beatific smile frozen on his face.

Outside, the light has a pink hue. A blue bird flies past, swooping and soaring, up, up high into the sky. You watch until it is out of sight.

blue-bird

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The Daily Post #Pink

©Jane Paterson Basil

Dinnertime

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Showered and fragranced, she slips into well-chosen clothes; clothes with the perfect mix of sexy and casual, as if it’s only by chance that she looks that way. She smoothes down her hair and applies the right amount of make-up – not too much; she doesn’t want her look to appear contrived. She checks in the mirror, and sees the reflection of a naturally alluring woman with a lovely figure. Her disguise is perfect. She leaves the house, and walks slowly down the road, with the merest suggestion of a wiggle, a carefully designed expression of uncretainty on her face.

She catches the eye of every man she passes. They look interested, but always, something startles them, and they recoil in horror, before making a wide berth – sometimes even crossing the road to avoid walking past her. She’s getting hungry; it’s been days since she’s managed to lure anybody back to her lair.

Presently, clouds cover the sun. Shadows fade. She spots a meaty giant of a man walking her way. He sees her lost-little-girl look, and pauses to ask her if she is OK. She gives him her well-worn story about only having moved into the area the previous day, and not being able to remember her way home; it always works. He asks for her address, and offers to walk her there.

Her sensitive nose picks out aftershave, lemon soap, coffee, fresh bread, ham, the ingredients of coleslaw, an encouraging tang of lust, and knows she’ll have no trouble. Beneath those ugly scents is the delicious perfume of blood type A, rhesus positive; her favorite flavour.

She sighs in anticipation of her feast.

Written for Michelle’s Photo-Fiction Challenge

©Jane Paterson Basil

Nicotene kiss

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So long ago… an image of clear, cascading water… green leaves and virginal blossom… a happy couple with fresh faces… those tempting words, “Cool, fresh Consulate, cool as a mountain stream.”

The advertisement beckoned temptingly from magazines, forever whispering in my ear, suggesting that I, too, could find myself scrambling up mountains, sharing jokes and smiles with a male soul-mate, if only I smoked menthol cigarettes…

And you, the truth behind those pretty lies, your handsome face half-hidden by the shadow of night-time trees in a city park, smoke from your cigarette curling upwards, forming a half-frame which drew me ever back to your sensuous lips. How could I resist the offer of one of your narrow, nicotene-filled tubes, so stylishly flicked from the interior of the pack? My foolish heart lurched at the intimacy of your lighter igniting the end of my cigarette…

Those times I spent with you, in the corner of a cloudy nightclub, drinking doubles, while I smoked like a grown-up, never once smudging my make-up, feeling, oh, so sophisticated… I was young, and in love… We never climbed mountains, meeting only at night, under those city lights sometimes sneaking into the park, to make the only kind of love I had ever known. Afterwards you would want a drink… a cigarette… soon, so did I…

I lie here, in the slippered silence of this hospice, listening to my rasping breath, feeling the alien growth take over my lungs… I press a button on the gadget in my hand, and feel the swift relief of morphine haze. If only you were here with me, but I’m on my way to you…

I wish we could share one last nicotene kiss…

Written for Michelle’s Photo-Fiction Challenge.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Foul Frederick

When they cut the dead men down from the gallows they carry them to Newgate cemetary, and throw them into a pit where the tangled limbs of unnamed, unclaimed and unwanted convicts rot and stink in one mass grave.

On hallows eve each spirit disencumbers his crumbling bones from those of his neighbours, to walk alone, as, following his nature, he haunts, punishing those mortals who cannot forget him, or visiting those for whom he aches. Some malicious ghosts with a taste for tradition shamble in rattling chains, making a cacophoninous clank which grabs at the entrails of all unfortunate folk who hear, leaving them quaking in fear. Others, with theatrical flair, can be seen only through the corner of the eye; they disappear at the turn of the head. These phantom tricksters rustle papers in the corner of the room. They requisition the wind, which swings windows wide open. They slam doors shut. They sigh and moan while an eerie chill fills the firelit cheer.

Many of the victims of the hangman’s noose are innocent of the crime for which they were convicted and killed. Lost in endless misery they drift, desperate for deliverance from their dragging affliction. They appear in dreams, to be half-remembered when we awake in the deep of the night. Their stories slip and slide in our minds as we try to hold tight to them. In the morning they are an insubstantial smoky wisp which drifts, thins in the atmosphere, then disappears.

Foul Frederick steps on fetid limbs as they reach for the lip of the grave, kicking them back in, to land, bone on bone, with a clatter on the weakest, who wait their turn. With every kind of weapon, with fists and teeth and squeezing hands he murdered friends and foes and strangers, showing no favoritism, and less sympathy. He needs no sweet lips to smile at him, no kiss to warm his breath. He lived for the thrill of bringing screaming death to those who crossed his path. The people of London celebrated on the day that he was hanged.

The dread demon ghoul could have been a teacher in a ghostly school for all the tricks he knows. But he tutors nobody. His skills are for him alone. See him roam the darkened roads, grabbing the throats of foolish folk and desperate souls who walk the Newgate streets at night, lost and cold or reeling drunk, all of them fodder for his hungry hands. But this is no more than an hors d’oeurve. He hunts the pockets of the slumped body for a knife, and when he finds it, he is in his element.

Dawn finds Foul Frederick daubed in damp scarlet rags, beneath the soil, contentedly rotting away until next year’s joyous party, while the blood of last night’s losers soaks into the bones of innocent and guilty victims of Newgate Gaol.

On November 1st every year, screams and weeping echo through the streets of Newgate, strangled and slashed bodies are removed, blood is washed from the streets, and the hunt for the Halloween killer is renewed.

The Daily Post #Eerie

©Jane Paterson Basil

The ferris wheel

 

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They say that some nights, if you stand downwind, you can hear the screams of those children who never went home from the fair.

It happened way back in the ‘forties. The first time, it seemed like a tragic mishap; the second, a terrible coincidence.

All the same, word got around, and kids were too frightened to ride on that ferris wheel. The proprietor swore that all the bolts were tightened, but people were still scared. Teenagers woud dare each other to try it, and the bravest of them paid their money and climbed on board, alighting safely at the end of the ride.

After a while confidence picked up, and a couple of ten-year olds went on it. The car broke away and crashed to the ground, like the other times. One boy was killed instantly; the other died later from his injuries, bringing the number of fatalities to eight.

A journalist had been following the story, digging up dirt. Turned out the ferris wheel guy had lost a son. This lad had foolishly climbed the big wheel, to the top. He lost his footing and fell, breaking his neck.

The journalist reckoned the father was reeking his vengence on innocent children. He alerted the police. An enquiry began. The day the police went to the fair to arrest the man, he scaled the wheel, and leapt to his death.

They say that some nights, if you creep closer to the sound of screaming children, and look up at that rusting car, right at the top, you may see a misty man sitting in it, hugging a wispy young boy close, expressions of love and joy written across both of their faces.

Written for Michelle’s Photo fiction #59

©Jane Paterson Basil

Living by numbers

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She lived her life by numbers, expecting good luck on days which were multiples of six, weeks which were multiples of four, months which were multiples of two. The best luck of all arrived on days which involved all three factors, so Sunday April 24th – falling on the twenty-fourth day of the month, the 26th week, and the fourth month of the year, should have been a very auspicious day – the first of only three this year, counting Friday, 1st January as the first day of the first week of the year. She had woken up that morning to find her dog, Loopy, dead on the kitchen floor. The post mortem found that he had suffered a massive heart attack. He’d been sixteen (four squared) years old, his sight had been going, he was diabetic, he had athritic legs, and some kind of digestive problem which often resulted in her having to scrub and disinfect carpets, so dispite her grief, she looked upon his death in a positive light; he had died suddenly and relatively peacefully at a point where his life had been becoming a chore. Furthermore, he had saved her having to make the decision to have him put to sleep. All in all, it had been a good end for her old companion.

The second super-lucky day was Saturday, 18th June. A lorry lost control coming out of the junction opposite the front of her house, and ploughed through her wall, grinding to a halt with its wheels in the centre of her living room. Her bedroom was above, and her bed was pushed across the room, while the ceiling collapsed on top of it. It was 6am, and she would normally have been in bed at that time, but a bout of indigestion had made her unable to sleep, so she was in the kitchen pouring milk of magnesia into a cup. She considered herself extremely lucky to be alive.

The council moved her into another house, and she was just getting settled when the
third especially lucky day arrived, on Friday, 12th August, which happened to be her 50th birthday. She wanted to take stock of her life, as this was her half-centenary, so for the first time ever, she looked through her diaries. She had begun keeping a record on her tenth birthday, which was the day she had begun her system of numerification. The only entries she had made had been on her lucky days, both minor and major, but she skipped the minor ones (written in gree) and only read the major ones (written in purple).

The first entry told her that on Tuesday, 24th April 1976 she had ridden a horse for the first time, but had fallen off and broken her leg. She had spun it into a happy result – the nureses were very kind to her at the hospital – but her leg had become infected, and had never healed properly.

On Thursday 8th March she’d still been in hospital. There was a brief mention of the news that her father had left her mother, but a long description of the gifts he brought to make his daughter feel better about it.

Already she was beginning to see a pattern. She read about fall-outs with friends, the death of her cousin, her sister and her mother, several attacks by a group of three bullies who had made her life miserable over an eighteen-month period, a car crash, two burglaries, ambitions crushed by failed exams… the list went on and on in this vein, and yet she had put a different spin on every entry, so determined was she to believe in her lucky dates. She pictured herself, a poor, lost child who had taken up he needle and darned fantasies over her hollow life; whose only consolation had been her faithful Loopy, and now even he was dead.

She remembered how he laid his head on her lap when she was feeling low, how pleased he was to see her when she returned from her cleaning job, or from shopping.

She lived her life by numbers, always planning to end it on a lucky day, a tidy day, a day with round numbers, She was a round, tidy, fifty today. It was a very lucky day. She had fifty pretty little pills and she was going home to Loopy…

Written for The Daily Post Prompt #Fifty

©Jane Paterson Basil

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Heart

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The very day they moved in together, Suzie suspected it may have been a terrible mistake.

She rationalised: perhaps Steve’s rage was no more than a reaction to the stresses of the day, and later, while he offered no apology, no residue of his anger remained.

However, by the end of the week Suzie had seen that all the claims Steve had made about his political leanings were lies, and he despised her compassion, her ethics and her honest ways. He had played on her trust simply in order to win her affection.

Within the month his jealous acusations and inexplicable tantrums made her twitch when she was in his proximity, and in narrow spaces she backed out of his reach, but he didn’t notice.

Before the year was out, she was pregnant, and Steve stepped up the pace, inventing ever more games to belittle and shame her, carefully aiming his slights, always out of the sight of family and friends who continued to think well of him, so no-one believed her complaints.

By the time the baby was born, two phrases had become commonplace: “It was a misunderstanding” and “You’re over-reacting,” but they both knew that it wasn’t and she wasn’t.

Steve had erased all of Suzie’s faith in herself and replaced it with a cringing terror of change, and a belief that she was a pathetic thing, incapable of anything useful, ugly and unappealing.

She remembered the start of their romance – it had felt so real, had been so all-absorbing, and she could not empty out the vessel that had contained such passion. Gradually, as the warmth dripped out, it was replaced with something akin to hatred, but hatred felt wrong, following on from what preceded it. Suzie denied the emotion, telling herself she still loved him.

And from that chemical mix of misunderstanding, obsession was born. She needed to make Steve love her again – she had to – everything depended on it.

She changed the style of her hair, wore make-up for the first time since they had met. She could special meals and showed more affection. He said she looked like a doll, like a whore, told her to stop pawing him, to cease trying to poison him.

At his request, she redecorated the house, built shelves, custom-fitted a new kitchen, then turned to the garden, digging and planting, all to no avail. after doing nothing to help, he said she demasculated him. At this point she realised he was sick in some indefinable way. He didn’t love her but he required her presence as a verbal punch bag.

The more she tried, the better his games became, and she shrank until her edges dried and crinkled, and she could feel herself receding, leaving nothing but that need, that hateful need to make him love her, and she always failed.

Suzie knew she should leave, but she felt too weak. She believed Steve when he said she couldn’t bring up their child without him.

Enter the singer, with her grasping need to steal men to make her feel successful. There was history here: many years before, Suzie had possessed something of which the Singer was not worthy, and the singer detested her for it. Steve, too, had known singer for many years, and they played out a cruel game of mutual adoration whenever Suzie was present.

Suzie knew it was merely a form of attack on her, but she could take no more, and suddenly she came face to face with her true feelings for Steve.

She knew she would not rest until she had his heart on a string. It was what he deserved, and this time she would win the game. She knew just what to do.

The next morning, when the police broke in, having been alerted by concerned neighbours, they found Suzie and Steve’s one-year old daughter standing in her cot, screaming at the top of her lungs.

Music was blaring from the master bedroom. The police entered cautiously, to find Suzie sitting on the bed, gently smiling as she sang along to Galagher and Lyle’s “I wear my heart on my sleeve.” Her left arm was raised, and a bloody pendulum hung from a stained string, tied at her scarlet wrist. With her right hand she rythmically pushed it, and watched it swing. On the floor were several bloody tools, including a carving knife and three saws of different sizes. Beside her on the bed lay the fresh remains of a man, staring vacantly at nothing, with a gaping hole hacked into his chest.

Suzie stopped singing. Her eyes roamed the walls, the floor, the windows, as if for the first time taking in the sight of blood everywhere, but she was not perturbed.

She leaned towards the closest of four policemen who stood just inside the door, momentarily shocked into stillness, and in a confidential tone she whispered “I usually make an effort to look nice for Steve, but there’s no need any more, because I’ve finally captured his heart.”

Between the smears of dried blood which clung to her face, she blushed prettily.

Written in response to The Daily Post Prompt #Obsessed

©Jane Paterson Basil

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