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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#writephoto: Sleep

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

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Who knew who built the dolmen or why? Even in his time, it had been older than any race of men, a place haunted by the old ones. In his time, they had left offerings there on the eve of the longest night, to entice the sun to return and lit a fire in the sun’s image out of reverence. The sun always did return, and the year always turned. Though the days grew colder and bitter, they were longer and full of the promise of spring.

In his time, he made sure the traditions were respected. He was chief and sorcerer, smith and poet, hunter and healer. He knew the power of the natural world, and one half of his being was in the supernatural world. He had asked to be placed in this window on the world when he died, with the comfort of stone overhead to shield him from the rain, and the lush green grass draped all around like a cloak of the finest wool. From his window, he could look across the valley to the hill where his foster mother Tailtu lay beneath her cairn, and watch the games held in her honour each year, the leaping flames of the fire at nightfall.

For thousands of years he had watched the flames, each time wondering if it would be the last. Surely men’s memories would fail and the times would change. He had seen the flames dies after the last invasion, only to be revived when the invader was finally driven out. He had seen the stillness that fell when the games were outlawed, and he had seen the excitement of their revival when the wheel turned again.

In his bed of dark earth, beneath the stone warmed by the sun and the stories whispered by the fairy folk, Lugh lies and watches. From beneath her cairn, Tailtu still watches over him, and the ages old love of mother and son flows between the hill and the dolmen, filling the valley with green peace.

Three Line Tales: Assignment

For Sonya’s Three Line Tales photo prompt.

photo by Les Anderson via Unsplash

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Spring morning, not too hot yet for the shade thrown by the awnings along the street to be more welcoming than the warm sunshine—I wait for her to leave her rendez-vous.

She dresses up nice for him, I think, and wonder if she’ll hail a taxi or walk the short distance to the apartment on boulevard Haussmann where her husband, my client, will be tapping his desktop with impatient fingers.

She walks; I follow, visualising the dark mouth of the side street behind the glamour of the boulevard that will swallow her up, where a bullet will burrow its way behind her ear.

#Three Line Tales: Second thoughts

For Sonya’s Three Line Tales writing prompt.

photo by Philippe Mignot via Unsplash

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Dawn on the quay; he’d seen it so many times before as he trudged, head bent to the cobbles, on his way to work, but this morning he seemed to see it for the first time.

They were already there, waiting up ahead for him, but he slowed his steps, watching the play of the first rays of light on the rippling water, making the damp stone glitter.

They were leaving, it was decided, so there was no going back, but suddenly he felt a catch in his throat, his vision blurred, and he wondered, if the others had been late, would he not have turned around and walked back home through the early morning splendour?

#flash fiction: The face in the photo

A piece of flash fiction for the Daily Inkling prompt Broken Memories.

 

I kept that picture after I destroyed all the rest as a reminder that there was a time when we were truly happy. You are looking at the camera and there is a light in your eyes that I remember from when we first met, that died long before the end. You are sitting at a café table, the sun is shining, the place is crowded with happy, smiling faces. It was the time we went to Provence, not the Côte, a village close to Arles. There was a fête of some kind, I forget now what exactly. Looking at your face, the sun on your bare arms, the open neck of your shirt, I can smell pine and pastis, hear cicadas and the clink of glasses.

That was the last time we went away together, the last time I remember sunshine. You and I were all that mattered in the world. We needed no one else. I keep the photo to remind me that you were different once. Whatever happened, perhaps just the spark dying, as simple as that, you were not necessarily to blame. I hated you at first because you were the one who left, but looking back on it, it was probably as much my fault as yours. I had my memories of the good times, and when you married, I was over it enough to wish you all the best.

She wasn’t the kind I would have expected you to choose, too expressive, extrovert, too southern. There was a photo of the wedding in the local paper. It had been a lavish affair. Not your thing, I’d have thought, but the bride insisted, I guess. Even in the photo she isn’t still, tossing back her head with laughter, the image slightly blurred. I cut it out, kept it with the other. I take it out now and compare your face in the two pictures though it hurts to see that your smile can be so wide for someone else.

I look at the two images of you, one with a background of the slightly blurred faces of unknowns in a Provençal village, the other grainy newsprint. I compare again, look closer, and a woman looks at me from a table on the café terrace, and suddenly the face is not so blurry that I don’t recognise the laughing woman on your arm in the wedding photo.

#writephoto: Epilogue

This is for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt. Another part of the story, a sort of epilogue. I really must get on with writing it and stop paddling around the edges!

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The house is a fine one, fitting for the rich demesne it represents. William le Maréchal built the original manor house, a single storey affair, as was the style in those days. Despite having gained the hand of Richard de Clare’s daughter Isabel in marriage, he was not granted the title of Earl of Pembroke. The title went to Richard’s grandsons; the old King Henry had seen to that. Out of the friendship he bore Richard de Clare, he had protected his lands and his daughter from the vultures. And le Maréchal’s sons would be the last of his line; Evienne would see to that.

William refused to live in the castle of Pembroke as long as he was deprived of the title that went with it. He built the manor house on the banks of the river Wye where he could look upon the imposing walls of the castle and admire his possession. On his death, one after the other, his five sons held the title Earl of Pembroke. All died violent or unexplained deaths. All died childless. His five daughters though had a wealth of children, all daughters. Evienne’s laughter could be heard ringing through the woods of the river bank at each new birth.

Two hundred years after William’s death, the house has been improved and enlarged. It belongs to the descendants of Isabel’s eldest daughter now, as do all the Pembroke lands. In a room overlooking the kitchen garden, a child plays with a puppy. The puppy is a gazehound, pure black except for her neat white feet. Her name is Whitefoot. The child’s name is Aline and her hair is the colour of red gold. She has finished her Latin and Greek lessons and in a little while her mathematics tutor will arrive.

In this house, the daughters are taught the same arts and sciences as the sons. The daughters marry men who respect and value them, and for the most part they are accomplished and fulfilled. It is part of the bargain, her mother told her once. Many, many years ago, one of their ancestors was eaten by a serpent because he wanted to marry his daughter to a man who was as ignorant as a pig in a sty. The serpent vowed to come back and eat up any lord of the manor who treated his daughters with less respect than his sons. Or some such tale, she’d said with a smile.

“And if you are shown respect, you must be worthy of it,” she had added.

It had always seemed a fair request to Aline, which is what she tells her eldest brother Amaury when he says it is unwomanly to want to know as much as a man.

“Stick to embroidery and strumming your lute. No man will make an offer for a woman who gets above herself.”

“And what does it mean to be manly then, brother?” she asks him. “To know Latin and Greek, to study Euclid, trigonometry and astronomy?”

Amaury is a brute, there’s no getting away from it; to inherit his father’s title is all that matters to him. He is a dullard and both Milo and Geoffrey are quicker and more advanced than he is. He frowns and his voice is low and menacing.

“Knowledge is a man’s prerogative. But a man who cannot rely on his own strength and skill at arms is no man at all.”

“So a man must be fearless, is that it? And wield a sword well?” He nods, his eyes narrowed, looking for a trap. “And you would dare to wade into the river and summon up the Guivre?”

“I’m not a fool!” he scoffs.

“So, you wouldn’t dare. I would though. Does that make me as fearless as a man?”

“It makes you a fool.”

“And you a coward.”

Amaury’s face pales with the insult. Milo looks up from his book and glances at Geoffrey. “We’ll come and watch.”

 

There is a bend in the river where a pool has formed, overhung with willows and thick with sedge. Aline knows the place well, how the water in the pool is always still as a mirror even on a windy day, where the clouds float and other things that she does not see in the sky. She hitches her kirtle up to her knees and fastens it with her belt. She leaves her shoes on the bank and wades into the cold water in her stockings.

“Take care,” Geoffrey says.

“We’ll come if you need help,” Milo says.

Amaury plunges into the water and grabs Aline by the arm. “Get out of here,” he snarls. “I’ll not have a girl make a mockery of me.”

Aline turns back to the bank, and a grin, quickly stifled, flashes across Milo’s face. They watch as Amaury, twelve years of manhood, wades into the pool, his drawn sword held clear of the water. He shouts, some senseless words of summoning that serve only to give voice to his fear. He stops, ceases his splashing and shouting, listens. He lowers his eyes, searching beneath the still surface of the water and screams. A child’s scream of terror.

Milo and Geoffrey start, their toes dipped in the water of the shallows, unsure. Aline watches the water, not her brother and his flailing limbs as he scrambles to the bank. She sees a graceful pale shadow slide like a wraith or a swan beneath the mirror. She listens and hears the bright tinkle of a woman’s laughter.

There is no Guivre except in the minds of the ignorant and fearful. The Guivre has gone, released into the past by a good man who kept his word. Grow strong and wise and deserving of trust. And Remember.

She turns to Geoffrey who has reached for her hand, her eyes full of white samite and her ears of long dead laughter.

“What was it?” he whispers.

“A mother,” she replies as tears bud in the corner of her eyes.

#Three line tales: Remembrance

For Sonya’s Three Line Tales photo prompt. What a picture!

photo via Unsplash

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Grandma Burke and Aunty Peg stare into their muddy memories, stirring up reproach and blame, while Cathy turns away and sobs, unable to cope with their notion of remembrance.

The old ones refuse to look at her or offer any words of comfort, and it’s Mam who cuts the cake, her face hard and judgmental too—as if she wouldn’t have prevented it had it been possible!

Mam digs in the knife, Grandma Burke turns her face away, and Cathy trembles uncontrollably—this would have been his ninth birthday.