What Cilla did next

A short story inspired by August’s Visual Verse photo prompt.

August-2019-VV

When Cilla saw the ad, she recognised the cottage she and Jason had invented. It was exactly what they had talked about owning one day, when his divorce came through. They would lie in bed, in her bed, and talk, dream, pretend. The asking price was far more than she thought they’d be able to afford, but on a whim, she phoned up about it. The estate agent told her it was probably sold, the couple who were interested wanted just one last look before they agreed on the price, but if she liked, he would squeeze her in that afternoon before they arrived. You never know, he’d said, hedging his bets.

It was perfect, old red brick with roses round the door, stone flagged floors, mature cottage garden. The visit was rushed; she was shuffled out of the kitchen door as the couple arrived ahead of time, striding in a proprietorial sort of way up to the front door, happy, smiling, enchanted. He picked a rose and handed it to his wife. She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. They didn’t see her, but Cilla saw them, and the fabricated yarn of divorce unravelled into a shoddy tissue of lies.

That was two weeks before the holiday—he had told his wife it was a business trip—a week in the Greek islands. She kept the image of his wife in her head though it made her sob in hopeless fury. She saw his gallant gesture repeating over and over, their smiling faces. It wasn’t going to be enough to confront him with his lies. She wanted to make him feel as much pain as she did.

 

Jason took her hand and showed her the island, as if he owned it. Praised the scenery, the locals, the wine. There was magic in the islands, he said. He said a lot of other things too. She talked about the house they would buy after the divorce, described the brick cottage in detail, the roses round the door, the stone flags in the kitchen and smiled to herself as he shuffled and his gaze drifted uneasily. He had wanted to eat out that first evening. She insisted on cooking at the rented apartment. Just a simple meal, she’d said, stuff from the market and a bottle of wine.

He didn’t guess, she was sure of that. He lacked the imagination, but he was worried. She smiled a lot, more than usual. She was aware of it, the euphoria going to her head more than the wine. She wanted to laugh. Afterwards, she insisted they go down to the sea. It was evening, almost dark. He probably thought it was the uneven path making him stumble, low branches making him bend almost to the ground. By the time he was running on all fours, he had no idea who he was anymore. She picked up a stick and whopped him on the back end, laughing as he squealed and trotted off in terror into the wine dark sea.

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Simple pleasures

I wasn’t going to take up this dverse challenge because I really couldn’t imagine any situation where anyone would say: you will love again the stranger who was yourself. I’m not even 100% sure I understand what it means.

Anyway, I did it, a 144 word flash fiction from the Eric Morecambe school of literature—all of Derek Walcott’s words are there, just not necessarily in the same order.

 

I never wanted to see you again. Love given and tossed away will have that effect. I used to think I knew you inside out, but you became a stranger, to me as well as to yourself. I never knew who was pulling the strings—you or some deity having fun with us.

It’s been weeks. I’ve stopped counting the days. Your face still shines out of every man’s I meet, his features morphing into yours. Even though I’ve changed jobs, changed address, I still dread bumping into you. But a message from Brenda in my inbox made me smile.

She said you’d been into work with a big bouquet.  When she told you I’d left, your face crumpled, your whole body sagged—like cancelling a kid’s Christmas. You turned in silence, head bowed, abandoning the flowers at reception.

I hope they were expensive.

 

 

 

#writephoto: Last journey

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

Screen Shot 2019-08-01 at 22.23.57.png

They said just follow the road, it goes straight there. Take no notice of the mist, don’t follow the shadows, don’t listen to the voices. They didn’t say how long it would take, nor what would happen if I left the path, but I had little choice. I walked.

How long I have been walking, I can’t say, the trees all look the same, their shadows never move, as if the unseen sun is fixed in the sky. Time never changes there, they said. The light is always twilight between dark and dawn, between dusk and dark.

I keep walking. Perhaps this is all there is, an eternity of walking, following the road bordered by trees into the misty distance. I should be tired, but my feet keep up a steady rhythm, one two one two one two and the mist still obscures the end of the road.

I walk and pay no heed to the voices that drift through the leaves. There is no anger in the voices, no aggression, just curiosity. I imagine they are the voices of birds, and once that would have been a fancy. Now, it is a possibility.

Just keep walking, they said. Who were they? I try to look back, but my feet won’t slow, my head turn. I forget a little more with each step. Keep walking.

Where? Who? The voices ask, but I cannot answer. Can I not? The mist is thinning. I see blue ahead. The sea perhaps or the sky, and the sun shines gold. Who? Wings brush my face. I hear their fluttering.

I am a woman who has left her name behind, on her way to the other side of life, or is it death?

The bird laughs. The mist has cleared. Between the trees deer flit and jays rattle.

You can speak, the bird voice says. That means you have arrived.

Above my head green boughs bend, and beyond, white clouds drift. From the blue ahead springs a cool breeze and I hear the sound of water. The voices mingle with song, fluting and whistling, and among the bird voices, I hear others. I run, and my feet have wings.

Welcome home.

 

 

 

Solace

I love the prompt, but it’s late and I’m tired so I shall probably come back and have another go at this tomorrow. Here’s a first attempt anyway, for the dverse prosery prompt.

 

It started at school, the taunts, the pokes in the back, the sly foot stuck out when I walked to my desk, the books tipped on the floor. All I ever wanted was to be like everyone else, to have a shiny new bike, the same way of speaking, a house with neat curtains and begonias in gaudy ranks in the garden. Instead I had a clatter of brothers and sisters, an old house with no curtains on the windows, apple trees and rabbit hutches in the garden.

I used to dream of being Prime Minister, or a super hero, or fighting poachers on a nature reserve in Kenya. I dreamt that people finally stopped laughing, prodding and poking and looked at me in awe. But the world is dark and unkind, and dreams never come true.

Then I dreamt I was the moon.

#writephoto: Ambush

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt. Another bit inspired by the WIP I’m afraid.

Screen Shot 2019-07-04 at 17.15.07

The leader, sergeant or whatever of the Welsh bowmen peers through the leaves at the sky then looks at Art. He yawns theatrically.

“When did you say this army was passing by here? This week, was it?”

“He’ll be here.”

The yawn becomes a stretch. “It’s just that if I sit here much longer I’ll be so old I’ll have forgotten how to string a bow.” The breatnach grins insolently.

“If you’re not ready when they come I’ll wrap that bowstring round your scraggy Welsh neck and you won’t have to worry about getting old.”

The bowman spits on the ground and calls out to one of the other surly bastards. They both laugh. Art can’t make out many of the words of their speech but he guesses it is a joke at his expense. He can’t help glancing at the sky in his turn. The sun is getting low. Any lower and it will be lost among the trees, and the Northman will be making camp for the night. This is the only road through this part of the mountains, and this is the only bridge over the Urrin. The Northmen will have to cross in single file. It is the perfect place for an ambush. He grinds his teeth. So where are they?

“I’d say your man has gone a different way,” the breatnach drawls.

“Why would he do that? To take in the scenery?”

“Been here before, has he? Knows the country well? Trusts the locals to put him on the best road? He could be wandering anywhere between here and the coast.”

The worst of it is, Art knows the bandy little péist could be right. Well, if he is, he won’t be wearing that mocking grin for much longer. If there’s no assassination to be done, Art has no need of a band of idle, insolent Welsh mercenaries who would likely murder them all in their sleep should they find out they’re not going to be paid with their freedom after all.

“Get your men together. We’re moving.”

The sergeant opens his mouth so make some clever remark. Connla, Art’s cousin closes it with his fist.

“Just do what you’re told, sheep-fucker.”

The bowman rubs his mouth with the back of his hand and glowers. The Welshmen, six of them, assemble with a bad grace. They are terrible horsemen and hate the idea of riding again. Cairbre brings over their horses but stops when Art catches his eye and puts his hand slowly on the hilt of his sword. The Welsh are gathering up their affairs, grumbling, hanging back. Connla too has got the message and moves to the far side of the group.

“Get on with you, or we’ll still be here at nightfall.”

One of them straightens up, his mouth open with a retort, and Connla slashes his throat open. Art and Cairbre draw their weapons and in less than a minute it is over. Art steps over a body and peers out across the mountains.

You’ll not spoil for keeping, Richard de Clare. Then you’ll learn how we deal with usurpers.

Mythos

This piece was inspired by a twitter prompt, mythos, and it also fits, in a roundabout sort of way, the Daily Inkling prompt about the most resilient person I can think of, who always bounces back and seems only the stronger for the challenge.

Pinturicchio,_Return_of_Odysseus

Penelope looks over her shoulder nervously. Guards lean against earth walls, napping in the summer heat. Mosquitoes whine, cicadas throb with the beat of the sun.

The woman in the painted chair says, “He maybe won’t come back. How long is it now? The war finished years ago. He’s in no rush to get home, that’s for sure.”

Penelope’s fingers tremble slightly as she guides the threads, her foot keeping the rhythm automatically. “This is his home.”

“And look at it! Full of lecherous, grasping slobs, and your son—”

“Leave Telemachus out of it. He did what he could.”

The other woman gives her a withering look. “Which wasn’t much, was it? And now he’s gone too.”

The trembling gets worse. The other woman notices. She leans over with a brusque movement and tangles her fingers among the threads. She wrenches and the work falls apart.

“There. Keep going at that rate and you’ll have the wretched shroud finished in no time. And a promise is a promise.”

Penelope sighs, lets her hands drop to her lap. “He promised,” she says quietly.

The other woman sighs in her turn. “They always do. But they take it as their right to break promises when they are only made to a woman.”

“If I was a man, they’d listen to me. I would be able to banish this mob.”

“If you’d been a man, dear, they wouldn’t be here in the first place.” The woman pats her knee. “We can do nothing about it. They won’t let us do anything because they say we are too simple, childlike, no brains. We need protecting.”

“But Odysseus will still blame me for being pursued by them.”

“Of course he will, even if he has spent the last twenty years whoring his way around the Aegean. There’s no justice in it. They keep everything from us, education, knowledge, the right to choose for ourselves who we marry, if we marry. But our day will come; don’t worry. We’re not half-wits, or half-human. We have more sense, even without education, that any of our ruling princelings you care to name.” The woman grins broadly. “Remember, it was me ate the apple, not Adam.”