A Material Girl

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

utility-room-hero-230816She did not remember when it began.

At first it was not a fear – not as such; but just a nagging sensation that something she had accepted without question for so long, was no longer quite right.  Ella considered this as she loaded the washing machine – was it a sound that first alerted her?  If so, when?  Days ago?  weeks?  Months, maybe?  No, not years.  It couldn’t possibly have been as long as a year…

Perhaps it wasn’t a sound at all. After all, this was a utility room, and no matter how expensively equipped, it was often filled with sound:  hard, practical sound.  So perhaps it was one of those taut strings in her brain slightly vibrating; at so low a tone, at so deep a frequency she couldn’t actually hear it.  Or even the cool basement air, so exquisitely conditioned by the silent machinery of the house.  It was simply – there.

And now it was louder.   Or more vibrant.  Or rarified to such an extent she had difficulty in breathing.  Which was why she always stayed close to the door, ashamed to admit to an instinct to actually run, yet comforted by the firm feel of the latch behind her.  She couldn’t account for it.

Above her head, the games room with its snooker table solidity was empty, now that James no longer played.  It was kept locked.  So the unpleasantness, whatever it was, couldn’t emanate from there.

She emptied her basket of clothing into the washer, reflecting how small her needs were, now her husband had gone.  A single wash each week was well within the capacity of these glorious machines, so, much as she admired them as possessions, they tested her strong sense of practicality; and she really did not like being here, in this windowless room, in this stately old house.

Ella’s reaction to the room was shared.  Angelina, her erstwhile housekeeper, had been equally reluctant to spend time down here.  In fact the woman had refused point-blank to go anywhere near the utility room in the end.

“Is bad place!  Very bad!  I am not surprised if dead people under floor in there!”

Angelina had talents in other directions which removed any question of dismissing her at the time, so Ella had choked back her own hatred of the place and taken the task of loading and discharging the machines upon herself.     But now?  A more modest utility space would suffice, would it not?  And in place of this?   Machine set, she retreated to the door, casting a backward glance over those smooth, tiles, clad walls and shining steel appliances.  A basement swimming pool maybe?  Then at least if Angelina’s suspicions were correct, the digging process would surely find out.   She would suggest this to Maggie when they met this morning.  Maggie would agree, of course.  She always did.

Maggie and Ella had remained fast friends since their childhood years:  same school, same tough, ghetto estate.  Two girls alike in their gritty approach to life, both firm in their intention to raise themselves above their impoverished beginnings, determined to consign the famine of their early years to memory.  Each had known a measure of success:  Maggie’s was a successful business, carefully honed into a franchise that had gone ‘national’ more than a decade since.   And she had married well, too:  Fergus, her husband, ran a flourishing construction business.  Maggie seemed happy with him, something Ella could not quite understand.

It was many years since the pair of lifelong friends had joined hands in a pledge that nothing; least of all love, should distract them from their ambitions.  No man would stand between them and fortune, though men were not without use; far from it.  To marry well was imperative; the fast track to a fortune:  to love, however; that was anathema to their plans.  Affection should never cause them to swerve or falter along their certain road to riches.

“He should be rich, and he should be good-looking, if possible.”  Ella decreed.  “It would help if he was older; much older.”

“So far,”  Maggie commented, “I’ve found those things rarely go hand in hand.”

“Which makes the challenge all the greater!”  Ella said.  “But once you have found him…”

“Never let him go?”

“God, no!  We want the money, not the man.  Money and independence, Mags!  Think of it!”

“Divorce, then?”

Ella reflected for a moment.  “Maybe.  Maybe not.  Are you with me?”

“Hell, yeah!”

A few years would have to pass before Maggie and Ella were at the same party as multi-millionaire James Morgan Maltravers.  Ella set her cap at the fifty-year-old socialite so single-mindedly most who witnessed it agreed the poor man had no hope of escape.  Comments frequently referred to Ella’s ‘claws’, but she was unabashed.  Their marriage adorned the pages of ‘Hello’, helicopters almost drowned out the utterance of their vows.  Maggie, a strangely sad maid of honour, watched as her friend pledged her life to James Maltravers.  Should Ella have noticed?  Should she have seen those first signs that Maggie’s resolve was showing signs of weakening?

The honeymoon was barely over when Ella and Maggie met for coffee.  Maggie’s eyes betrayed her fervour of anticipation:  “So, when’s the divorce?”  It was only half a joke.

Ella bit her lip.   “It isn’t quite that simple.”  She admitted.

“How do you mean?”

“His people made me sign a pre-nup.  If I leave, I get only the contents of my suitcase. “

“Zounds!”  Maggie buried her lip in her coffee cup.  “Wedded bliss, then.  Poor you!”

“For a while, perhaps.”  Ella acknowledged, thoughtfully.  “The pre-nup doesn’t cover death.  I was able to negotiate that, at least.  If he dies, the majority of his estate comes to me.”

“Ella!  You’d murder him?”

“No, no.  Of course not.  Would I?”

“Quite possibly.”

“Well, I wouldn’t.  For a start, his family lawyers are firmly convinced I’m a gold-digger and they will be watching me like hawks.  Nevertheless there are ways…”

Ella found ample compensation in the loveless years that followed.  She had, after all, largely achieved her dream – a mansion in a leafy suburb and a fantasy lifestyle.  Only Maggie, who knew Ella so well, and one other, could discern the substance behind Ella’s mysterious comment; ‘there are ways’.  Although Ella never elaborated further, Maggie watched her friend’s relentless pursuit of her scheme with a mixture of grudging admiration and horror as James Maltravers’ naturally quite retiring nature was subjected to a social maelstrom of parties, a crammed agenda of political projects, and  a frenetic succession of exotic foreign vacations.

The one other was Angelina, whose position as Ella’s housekeeper seemed extremely secure and comfortable.  Angelina was discreet: discreet about her employers’ sexual athletics, even though at times she found it difficult to get out of their way, and reserved in her opinion concerning the growing regimen of prescribed medicines in James’s bathroom cabinet.  Angelina’s special talent was cooking; and her remarkable ability to cram the maximum amount of calories into the least plate-space.

You see, Ella had discovered James’s weakness.  James was addicted to food.  Looking on, she pecked like a bird at her own portions while her husband, kept afloat on a pontoon of alchohol, wolfed his way through trenchers of buttered vegetables, roasted meats and compound sauces.   As a reward, Ella might have expected James’s girth to reflect the richness of his diet, as Angelina’s undoubtedly did.  But no, he remained as slim as a whip while his pallor altered from a healthy pink, through beetroot red, to an ominous grey.

Meanwhile, the good life was there to be lived, so Ella lived it to the full.  She lacked for nothing other than the independence she craved, and the only smeary bit on her rose-tinted window was Maggie.  Somehow her friend had lost enthusiasm for the aims they had shared.  Despite Ella’s urgent warnings, rather than reap the harvest of her success in business, Maggie had chosen to marry Fergus.  They shared a gentle, almost resigned affection Ella could not penetrate, no matter how often she reminded her friend of their original vows to one another.  Maggie’s only response would be a sad smile, which Ella suspected was an expression of pity.

“Look, Mags, you’ve done well, there’s no denying.  You’re wealthy,  even.  But you haven’t got to where we promised to be:  you can’t leave your business, so there are no summers on the Riviera, no homes in the Bahamas.  There’s no yacht in your harbour.  You’ve given up on it, girl!”

Maggie replied with that same smile.   “No, I haven’t.  Give me some time.”

This conversation was raised again in the year of Ella’s twelfth wedding anniversary, when her beloved husband’s overloaded flesh finally surrendered to a massive heart attack which, by the time Ella had found the telephone to summon medical help, had already proved fatal.  Maggie attended the funeral; more in support of her friend than for any other apparent reason, because Ella was being shunned by James’s family, and together they indulged in a little genteel weeping.

“He was such a kind man.”

“He was always so thoughtful.   How is Fergus?”

“Healthy.”

The subject came to prominence just once more, on the first anniversary of the passing of James Maltravers.   Maggie’s mobile fluttered.

“Mags sweetie.  Come over for coffee, yes?   Or maybe something stronger?  It’s a year today, after all!  Kind of a celebration, here, and me rattling round this great mausoleum all by myself.”

“You sound sort of scared?”

“I’ve been in that damn laundry room again.  It seriously spooks me, that place.”

Maggie arrived within the hour, bearing Champagne.  “Where’s Angelina?”  She asked, as soon as she arrived.

“Hell, Mags, where you been?   I had to let her go; oh, ages back.”   Ella dismissed any possibility of conversation on that subject with an airy gesture.  For some reason she felt she should not admit to ‘paying Angelina off’.

“So you’re here on your own now?”

“Isn’t it wonderful?  I’ll get some fresh help, of course; but just for a while an echo or two seems good.”

“Yeah, dust is good.  What was it you said:  ‘rattling around in this mausoleum’?”

“I was depressed.  I’d been loading up the washer downstairs.  I’ve been thinking: maybe it would be better to have a pool down there, how about that?”

“Don’t rush into it.”

“Come on, babe, let’s get canned, yeah?”

Maggie understood it had not been an easy year for Ella:  James’s will had been contested, and yes, there was some unpleasantness, although nothing Ella couldn’t handle.   In the end, she had her inheritance.   She was a multi-millionaire; a status she had always sought.   Yet she seemed almost to prefer the solitude of her widowhood, for no-one with her kind of riches could fail to attract company of one sort or another.  The magnificent proportions of the house, with its endless corridors and extravagant excess of marble would have been intimidating to any lesser woman.   Why did the words ‘as cold as her heart’ pass through Maggie’s head?

The anniversary became an uninhibited morning lubricated by very good champagne, and by the time Maggie had poured out ‘one last drinkie’  Ella was drunk beyond shame.  She proclaimed her intention to go to bed.

“I’ve just got to take out some washing from the ‘chine.  That goddam ticking noise, it’s so loud now.  I hate it!”

“You go ahead, Ell.  I’ll see myself out, yeah?”

So Ella was alone as she snaked her way down the stairs to the utility room in Maltravers House; buoyed up by wine and unsympathetically inclined towards those odd vibrations:  those sounds.   Yet once she was inside – once she had closed the door behind her – they found her again.   Louder now; much, much louder, like the tick of a thousand clocks they found resonance with the champaigne bubbles in her head and turned it:  around, and around, and around.    Stranded somewhere between anger and fear, Ella made a grab for her washing basket, missed, and crashed to the floor.  She was drunk – much drunker than she had thought.  Cursing, she raised herself and attempted to crawl towards the washing machine that waited for her at the centre of the bank of machines.  There seemed to be more and more machines:  washers and driers, pressers and steamers in ranks of cold steel that whirled about her.  What was happening to her head?   Her vision danced, her eyes were blurring.

At the edge of consciousness, Ella fell back onto the floor of the utility room.   Above her, faded and indistinct at first although growing in clarity with every moment, she thought she saw the image of her husband crucified against the ceiling, his body half in decay, his eye sockets empty, his outstretched arms festooned with rotted flesh.   Did she scream?   Was there anyone to hear her, to hear the explosion of noise, the staccato cracking rupture of the beams above her head?  ?  How profound was her terror as the ghost of James Maltravers rushed down upon her, to wrap her in a final, deadly embrace?

Maggie’s attorney laid aside any doubt.   “Your agreement with Mrs. Maltravers stands.   It has not been superseded by any new bequests.”

Maggie knew that it had not.  Ella had always been honest with her.  “I get everything then?”   She recalled the day, all those years ago, when she had sat in this same office with her friend as they pledged that whatever fortunes each should make, they would bequeath to the other.

The attorney nodded.  “All of it.  The Maltraver’s estate with all of its liquid assets, property and land.  Now you have to decide when and how you wish me to initiate your divorce proceedings.”

As she opened the door to the street Maggie breathed deeply.   She had played a game and won!   She had been patient, she had taken her time, watching Ella’s scheming and revelling in the element of chance, the randomness of her own little plot.

The coroner had remarked upon the unusually localised nature of death watch beetle infestation in the Maltravers mansion, but conceded it was not unusual for these pests to make their home in old timbers.  The beams beneath the snooker table in the games room had been eaten through by the creatures, so it was only a matter of time before the 2400lb table plummeted through the floor into the utility room below.   The collapse of the table’s heavy Victorian lighting canopy and its impact like a hammer blow upon the table had triggered the process.   He recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Maggie, of course, knew why the infestation had been so concentrated.  She knew because she had put the beetles there, culture upon culture of them, down the years; and when Ella had described the loudness of ticking sounds she heard on that fateful morning, Maggie knew her moment had come.  While Ella, filled with Maggie’s drugged wine, was descending to the basement,  Maggie was upstairs, letting herself into the games room.   That rotten canopy needed no more than a nudge to bring it crashing down.

And now she had one more appointment to keep.   Angelina would be waiting for her in Starbucks.

Angelina and Maggie had known one another a long time, but their relationship had become much closer in the last year.   Angelina had supplied a copy key to the games room because, after Ella had dismissed her, she was no longer able to assist with Maggie’s sabotage.  Angelina, who knew everything, and who was already handsomely rewarded for her silence, was about to have another major payday.

Maggie ordered coffee, sat down opposite the big woman, and handed her an envelope.   When Angelina opened the envelope to reveal the check inside, her eyes widened.   “This is big, big lot of money!”

Maggie nodded.

“I do not ask for so much…”

Maggie stretched out both her hands and grasped Angelina’s pudgy fingers.  “We’re friends, aren’t we?   This is yours, you’ve earned it; you’re a rich woman now.  Together, Angie, we can go on and make this grow.  We can make much, much more money.”

“You would do that with me?”

“Yes!  Of course, yes!   That’s what friends do – they help each other.   All I ask in return is one little condition; an agreement, if you like.   If I die, Angie, all my money will go to you. Yes; yes it will!  And I would like you to agree to do the same for me…”

 

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dream of the Fat Controller

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

It is the sort of figure that is whispered in awed, reverential tones.  This is money beyond the powers of imagination, a theatre of surreal dreams.

20 billion – no, not dollars, or even euros, but pounds sterling.  And bear in mind a UK billion is 1 million times a million.  Enough to overheat every slot machine in Las Vegas, or keep a zoofull of Pandas for ten years.

What could we do with £20 billion?

Well, we could pay off the National Health Service deficit for the next eight years, perhaps?  Or we might take everybody whose life is going to be made unbearable by the Heathrow third runway project and settle them on nice country estates with a 5 million pound fortune each to help them get by?

Maybe we could finance a nice set of aeroplanes for those aircraft carriers we are building so they don’t have to hang around looking useless for 10 years.  Or, philanthropically, we might build really affordable housing for every young couple struggling to get onto the property ladder; or…

The possibilities are endless.  And rest assured, those who rule us are going to spend that 20 billion.   Breathlessly, I hear you cry – is it me?  Are they really going to give me twe…

Sadly, no.

Yet there is an upside – a glorious, innovative project to stir patriotic pride within us all; the new rail link we call Phase One of HS2!    In 2026 – only 10 years time – 15000 fat businessmen every hour will be able to ride by train from London to Birmingham in just 49 minutes.   That’s a saving of 20 whole minutes on the current 9:01 from Euston, which takes 1 hour and 10 minutes  (get a taxi now and you’ll be just in time to catch it).

And 15000 will, presumably, come back. But will they want to?

That’s a lot of canned people, stuffed into 18 trains doing Japanese Bullet speeds in each direction every hour.  The strength of the argument for this project relies on overcrowding in the present service; but come on, people!  15000 an hour?   For what, eight hours every day?  Do the math, please!   This is Birmingham we’re talking about!

I’ve only been to Birmingham three times in my life, and only under duress.   I can think of no occasion when I actually wanted to go there.  I mean no disrespect to Birmingham, which I’m sure is a fine city, although I cannot see it as the new hub of Great Britain Ltd..  No, Manchester would be a more likely candidate for that crown.

Never fear!   By the middle of the century HS2 will have cut further swathes of rail to Manchester and Leeds, too, and on to Edinburgh and Glasgow, with a stop at Gretna Passport Control, if the Scots will still have us.  No-one seems to have got their head around the costs for that, yet, but rest assured, the measure in human misery will exceed any official figures.

In achieving these targets the lives of thousands will be irreparably changed.  Homes and heritage ripped down, noise and hazard brought to the thresholds of those for whom tranquility and peace have no price.   The aim of this flagship project would seem to be political, and intended to turn the UK into one enormous City State, lucrative, doubtless, but unsustainable.

We British, it seems, have no capability to assemble a structured plan for these precious islands.  Instead we flounder beneath the constant bitching of one pressure group or another, one political agenda or another with no single entity to coordinate anything.  Every five years the government sets off upon a new track, postponing or promoting according to the words it thinks the public want to hear; every county sets a conflicting agenda, and nothing ever really gets done.

All that results is chaos – a long string of white elephants trailing back to the far horizons of history, each with its own tale of inhumanity and sorrow.

Oh, and as a footnote:  this is British Rail we are talking about, so I assume we are going to be asked to finance another ultra-fast bus service to cover the route on Sundays?

 

See the Tree, How Big it’s Grown…

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Honey (Labrador; blonde, too fat) exhibits all the cool intelligence of her breed.   Wide brown eyes, folds of extra flesh that cushion her head as she sleeps, a judgmental poise that speaks of wisdom as old as time.  She surveys her territory from her French windows with an imperious air, where her growl of warning causes the boldest heart to flutter.  She does not merely understand the word ‘cat’, she can spell it; just as she knows three words for ‘walk’.   She is 34 kilos of muscular objectivity.  Any intruder would be entirely justified in vacating her space with all possible expedition – or, if you prefer, running like hell.

“Is the dog all right?”  Our postman asks nervously, as Honey shows him a mouthful of teeth.  He has read the sign at the gate:  ‘Intruders may be gnawed.’

Never have appearances been so deceptive.

Confronted by a stranger male of our species Honey reacts like a garrulous gander; head borne low, eyes wary, throat vibrating with guttural sounds of danger – but just like the gander she utters her threats whilst walking backwards, and if her immediate pack members are present she will hide behind their legs.  In such situations I have sometimes wondered if she were moved to carry out those muttered menaces she would bit my leg rather than that of the intruder – a sort of assault by proxy:  fortunately, however, although she has no love of men she has never been moved to bite.   Ever.

Females evoke suspicion, though hostility is rare.  Children provide amusement, for the most part, as long as they do not tease her.  She is selective in those she likes and those she does not, whether of our species or hers.  She will not tolerate the ritual bottom-sniffing that is expected by other dogs she meets.  She detests small-talk.

She likes:

Investigative walking,

Chasing (birds, cats, anything that will run away)

Tummy rubs

Back scratches

Moisturizing Creams (which she licks, BTW.   Honey doesn’t moisturize, personally).

 

She dislikes:

Wearing a lead that is unfashionable

Wearing a lead at all

Confronting anything (birds, cats) that will NOT run away

Floor tiles (She skids on them and they terrify her).

Postmen.

It is five years since Honey interviewed us in some depth and decided she would agree to be part of our family.  She was a rescue dog;  by which I mean we rescued her former owners from her.  There was no written contract – Honey mapped out the terms of our agreement by her actions, and obedience is not a word that applies to Honey.  She is not entirely disobedient; she will respond if lacking better things to do, generally subject to negotiation.  She will not, for example, abandon a really interesting scent in the cause of ‘coming to heel’, or return indoors on rainy days, at least until she has swum in a minimum of two polluted ditches to load up her claws with mud.   Nor will she consent to visit anywhere resembling a veterinary surgery, allow clandestine attempts to cut claws, or agree to have reeking flanks washed after rolling in a particularly interesting odor.

The areas where response is possible, and therefore our House Rules, have developed and modified over the years of her stay.  There are many, so I will limit myself to a few examples:

‘Bed’ – she will go to bed if commanded.  (‘Bed’ consists of the most comfortable chair or settee in any given room, whether or not it is already occupied).

‘Game’ – this consists of ‘rough-housing’ and allows Honey the opportunity to practice on her Pack Leader the moves (and wounds) she would like to apply to the Postman, if she had the courage.   The throwing of balls or Frisbees as a ‘game’ is not recognised.     She is happy to chase or catch a ball, with the object only of acquiring the ball.  Apart from a certain squeaky rubber item which has become her lifelong companion, all toys are for trade.   If Honey presents either of her pack members with a toy she makes it plain she wants something in return.

‘Treats’.   She can hear the opening of the appropriate cupboard door for one of these (usually a chew) from approximately half a mile away in a gale. ‘ Treats’ are an entitlement, not a bargaining chip.  They are awardable upon set occasions, like the end of a walk, or returning from garden ablutions before bed.

‘Walks’.  Walk times are prompted by the closing music of certain television programs, or when anyone passes within ten feet of her lead, which hangs in the hall.  The route for a walk is determined by Honey, who will pick her desired program for the day.  Attempts to vie with this are subject to refusal.   The whole exercise ceremony is complex, and takes account of such things as clothing worn, weather, and the possibility of a ride in the car.

‘Daily Schedules’.  These must be rigorously observed:  Honey rises at 7:00am, acknowledging the right of the male Pack Leader to have his first coffee of the day in peace.   Bedtime is midnight at the latest, when the dominant female retires.  (Female Pack Leader’s status is constantly questioned, and this issue often results in argument.  If FPL fails to keep to designated bedtime, Honey will tend to retire by herself).

‘Meals’.  Meal times are 7:00am and 5:15pm, with a special exception for Tuesdays when cooked fish is on the menu, which she is happy to eat as soon as possible, often straight from the pan if the cook turns her back.  At the moment food approval ratings are high, but it is incumbent upon the Pack Leader to vary her diet from time to time.   Honey has a special look of disappointment she reserves for a choice that has been badly made, together with the final sanction she may return the dish with interest ten minutes later on the best rug.

In return for our consent to honor these basic conditions she has formed a deep attachment to us; a devotion a little like stalking.   In practical terms this means we must survive the rest of her lifetime without stepping backwards, knowing that to do so will mean falling over Honey.  It also means she feels free to follow her Natural Retrieval Instinct Part One, which consists of bringing back any box or packaging we throw away.  She seems never to have achieved a Pass Grade in Natural Retrieval Instinct Part Two; delivery of the retrieved object in good condition to her owner.  Instead she tears the object, symbolically, a few times, before losing interest.

The fierceness issue; that deep bass voice which could give such an able rendition of ‘Old Man River’ (if she knew the words) has never withstood any logical test.  An early morning outburst occurs as she erupts from the door into the front garden, although there is rarely any threat at that hour.   Thereafter she will sit on guard at the gate, ready to bark a warning at – well, not everybody, as it happens.  Uniforms generally evoke a savage-sounding response, otherwise we can only conclude that her vocal warnings imply a judgement of character.

So here we are, Honey’s pack, five years on.  I won’t pretend they have been easy years:  the words ‘Dog Pound’ have been uttered more than once, and by her reception of him, I judge she has never quite forgiven our son for bringing her to us.  But she has condescended to share some of her time with us, to deliver her verdict upon other dogs she meets and for that, I suppose, we must be grateful.    Otherwise please do not stint in your sympathy:  we are truly worthy of pity.

God of the Rocks

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

35They said of him that he would be watching.   They said he would see the last of them to their graves, and the world itself would spiral down into infinity, before his eyes could rest.  He brought to them the seasons, the sun and the rain, and he taught them dread.

They said he was a god.

They worshipped him.  They beseeched him often, in their times of peril or of pain; sought in vain for his solace, begged fruitlessly before him that he might forgive their sins, because even though they could not explain the meaning of sin, the gift was not theirs to understand.  And although they believed they heard his voice, he never answered.

Enthroned upon his mountain-top among the frozen rocks, his immortal flesh scoured by wind and ice, he was a king, at least, of all he surveyed:  his eyes always open, his ears filled by the knowledge of man, unsleeping, watching the ages pass.  And he learned.

In his time he was accused of many things, at once feared and admired for his indiscretions.   He took the innocence of a king’s beautiful daughter they said; came to her disguised by the night in a cloak of swan-down to give her a son she would raise to be his intermediary with the people – but no-one saw, or had word of the child.  Time brought rumours of many sons, to whom were accorded the powers of minor gods, and daughters too.   He divided his responsibilities among them, his subjects claimed – for childbirth, for death, for fire and fertility – children unseen, with powers never proved.

The people prospered.  Their numbers grew.  They lost their fear of him, spurning the myths of his children and turning their prayers to the mountain less often, yet they committed greater and greater enormities in his name, and still they had no understanding of their wrongs.

He had left the mountain long before the first bold feet ascended to his high watchtower, left no trace of his presence among those merciless rocks; so they allowed themselves to laugh, perhaps a little nervously, at their primitive notions of his existence.  But he was watching, just as before.

There were some who knew his presence still, and many who pretended.   They made proclamations, they wrote laws they said that he had written, and words they said that he had spoken.  Some said he lived within each one of them, others believed him to rule from somewhere beyond the sky.  Few knew the truth; for the truth was that his home was where it had always been; beneath their feet – that he was the ground whereon they walked.

In all the world there were none who suspected, or truly understood his mind; who could fathom his relationship to man.   They sought his guidance when he had none; prayed for his favour when he gave none, but because they had shaped him into a loving and merciful image in their own minds they were sure, despite all evidence, he must be righteous and just.

With time he grew tired of learning about the imperfect mortals that moved about him.  He resented the barbs they plunged ever deeper in his flesh.  And he recognised signs of a transformation in himself, because of all the lessons he had acquired from the human infestation one stood tall – they had taught him emotion.  Their unnatural agriculture used chemicals to burn his skin and their treatment of beasts that truly were his own creation moved him to tears; and where he wept new waters sprang, and where he vented his fury he sent fire into the sky.  Now, at the last, he would prove worthy of their prayers.  Now at last, far too late, they had reason to fear him.

Knowing these creatures could never be true custodians of his world he was not yet moved to their destruction, though his impatience with them grew.  He shrugged his shoulders, sending their dwellings tumbling, more and more.  He charged the air with fire, he turned oceans to ferment, ice to rain.  Yet he did not dispatch them.  They vexed, but they did not infuriate.  Not yet.    Why?   Well, there was yet something in his aged world to gladden his heart.

He had seen her walking by this river before, a girl with pale cheeks and features that were perfection; whose dark blue eyes were filled by the mystery of the waters and whose soul was clear of mortal sin.   She walked with a man, another human, but this did not deter him, for no mortal could withstand his presence.   He had seen her, and he had wanted her.

“I think,”  said Nadia, as she crouched on her heels by the riverbank, reaching to dabble her fingers in the water;  “You should leave the poor fish alone.”

“Do you?”  the young man laughed.  “So you would consign the most popular pastime of all to the dustbin of incorrectness at a stroke, would you?”  He baited his hook.

“No, Ben, but I don’t see the point.  You entice them to bite on those horrible barbed things of yours, terrify them by hauling them from their natural element, then rip their mouths apart before you toss them back in.  Why?”

“Fish can’t feel pain.”  Ben shaped to cast his line.

“Are you sure of that?”

“It’s been proven.”

“Not, I take it, by a fish.”  Nadia sighed.  “Oh, look at the swan, isn’t it beautiful?”

“It’s a bird.”  The young man’s baited hook zipped over Nadia’s head on its way out into the torrent.  “If you don’t like fishing, why did you come?”

“I like the river, and I like you.  Ben, is it me, or is that swan swimming towards us?”

“Maybe it thinks you’ve got some bread for it.  Give it a sandwich.”

“I’m sure you shouldn’t….”   Nadia’s voice faded into silence as she found herself gazing into the eyes of the swan, which were the most thoughtful and visionary eyes she had ever seen.  They were eyes  of knowledge and destiny, bearing a message for her alone.   It was all she could do to remain where she was upon the riverbank, because the bird’s stare was mesmerising her.  It wanted her to join it, to give herself to its embrace.  Reflected in shimmering white upon the water, the noble creature glided ever nearer, dipping its head to nibble at a temptation that skipped by on the current.

“It’s taken my hook.”  The young man shouted.   “The bloody thing’s taken my hook!”

“Oh no!  Do something!” Nadia rushed forward, plunging to her waist into the river to reach for the swan, all her instincts screaming that this bird must be protected; must be rescued.   For a few dread filled seconds the swan’s powerful wings churned the water as it thrashed wildly against the line, then, as suddenly as it had been taken, it was gone.  Running with the current on desperate feet it gained the air.   Graceful yet crippled, its neck crooking as it tried to cough the metal hook free, it ascended,  and all Nadia could do was watch it depart.  She rounded on Ben.  “I could have got to it.  Why didn’t you wait?”

“I cut the line.   I couldn’t hold it, I’d have lost the rod and everything if I’d tried.”

“You let it go.”  Nadia wept bitterly, for she had seen in the space of a second everything the world had missed.  “You condemned it.”

She turned from Ben to walk home alone.  As she walked the world grew cold and a different darkness fell.

#

“Another one?”    Baldai asked.

“The third in this cycle.”  Procator affirmed, as they watched the screen.  “Most regrettable.  It seems this is the critical evolutionary phase.  The statistics for this galaxy are quite damning, I’m afraid.  We’re having some success, but almost entirely with acquatic solutions.  Land-based life forms are simply too fallible.  It’s almost as though the stock is corrupt.”

“That is possible, of course.”  Baldai admitted.  “However, there’s nothing to be done.  Is he recovering?”

“To a point, I suppose.  Avian disguises are particularly difficult to treat, and he had been in a river for three weeks before we could bring him up.  The physical recovery is good, but…”  Procator made a gesture of futility;  “his psychological makeup has completely burned out.  He has expressed a wish to retire to his galaxy of origin and I think that is probably best.”

“And that?”  Baldai waved at the image on their screen of the bereft planet:  “What shall we do with that?”

“Oh, dispose of it.  There’s another eligible candidate closer to this sun-star, if you think we should have another try – but I would be inclined to emphasise the oceans, this time.”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

 

Two Households, Both Alike in Indignity

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Well, I watched it.

Trump, prowling around the stage like a caged lion, large and intimidatory.   Incoherent in his analysis of any specifics, vociferous and boisterously ready to rip and tear whenever another rag strayed into his jaws.

Clinton, unintimidated and disciplined, delivering her party line in practised prose- a consummate political professional who occasionally referred to policy, and cunning in disguising that not one item of policy was hers, but a declaration of her sponsors’ shopping lists, ticked off one by one.  Why, when I look at her face, is her mouth the only thing I see?

Anyway, my thought was (because I’m British and it is not my problem)  who the hell do you vote for?

I do not count myself among those who smugly dismiss Trump as a fool.  That camp has been wrong on so many levels.   I believe that in the face-off with Russia that must inevitably happen Trump has the necessary steel – he’s no JFK, (although his womanizing tendencies might suggest otherwise) but then Putin is no Khrushchev.  He had the common sense to avoid being embroiled in the Syria issue, too, and a great proportion of the art of diplomacy is knowing when to stay out.  I’m also persuaded that he will at least try to resolve America’s issues at home with something more than rhetoric, although that must be dependent upon his support from his fellow Republicans.  His stance on law and order, though, restricted currently to a few sound bites, intrigues me.   How exactly does he intend to resolve the ‘problem with our inner cities, with Chicago; it’s terrible’?   And oh, his stance on the Second Amendment!

Clinton, on the other hand, is a woman who proudly proclaims her record in public service; and that would be okay if her record was spectacularly good, but from an outsider’s standpoint it seems average, possibly even a little self-indulgent.  I tried to pick through Hubby Bill’s testimony (at her inauguration) to her fabulousness; and certainly she has had a very active political life, yet did I discern a long series of ‘she attendeds’ and ‘she worked fors’ without too much emphasis upon the things she actually achieved?   The conclusion I reach is of someone who has had thirty years to become politically tired, who has built up so many associations in the political class she has no hope of extrication, or ambition left for independent decision-making.  That’s probably wise, BTW, because there is evidence her judgement is not always that good.

If Hilary succeeds in becoming President,  I see her uneasily enthroned in the Oval Office, under constant siege by Iran, blackmail by the Sauds, and bullying by Putin, Assad, and Xi Jinping in turns.  Her heels will be riddled with bite-marks from Kim Jung Un and clawed by Rodrigo Duterte – in short, I don’t believe she has the strength to deal with a world of which a strong President is a vital component.

Should Donald find his way to that chair, however, what then?   A whole spectrum of wonderful – some might say frightening – prospects will be unveiled.   His quixotic nature coupled with his blunt terminology is capable of delivering him into a scrape or two, isn’t it?  But I am more perturbed because when I watch him all I see is his latent anger, and that, I am certain, could place half the world in peril.

Two households, then, both alike in indignity; both allegedly dishonest, neither prepared to deliver a cure to the inequalities that are at the root of  America’s ills, and neither really bent upon tackling the gun laws in any meaningful fashion.  I don’t think we should require our leaders to be superhuman – on the contrary, the greater the leader, as history has proved, the greater their foibles.  We only ask for the ability to lead, and to instill faith in we who are compelled to follow.

That is, of course, only my particular view.   If I were an American voter this year, I think I would be inclined to stay at home on polling day.

The Ride

Tags

, , , , , , ,

hospital-image

Above him, strips of light rush past: beneath, the onrush of the gurney wheels, rhythms in counterpoint, treble and bass.  Their song teases his memory –what is it?  He cannot think.   He cannot remember.  ‘It means nothing to me…’

Concerned faces look down upon him as they steer his progress, watching his face, clinical figures in clinical scrubs – clinical concern.  So many times now he has taken this desperate ride, each time with that vague, intangible strand to reach for:  but there is no strand this time – this, he knows, must be the last.

He clasps his hideously bloated abdomen and he knows.   He feels that great alien presence inside him that has grown relentlessly through months of burgeoning agony, consuming him, and he knows.  All the therapies, all the treatments; all done.  His destiny lies at this journey’s end.  ‘It means nothing to me…’

In a momentary remission and before the next wave of pain’s powerful fist clamps down on him, his arms flail wildly.   “Mr. Carmody?”

“I’m here,  Michael.”   The consultant stoops over him, his gentle hand touching,  an oasis of calm in the hot sands of his terror.   “Be of good heart, Michael.  It is soon over now, you know.”

“I know.”

The pain has lost him for a time.  He wonders, ludicrously, if the pace of the gurney was too fast for it?  Could it have been left behind?  Maybe it is somewhere back there, writhing in impotent fury upon the tiled floor, lashing out at all who pass?  But no; it finds him.  It creeps in, uncertain.  It probes.  It seizes.

Oh no! Oh no!  Oh please, please God!   Worse this time – worst this time.  This must, must, must be over, please!   Let me go?  ‘It means nothing to me; nothing to me, nothing…’

“We can manage your pain.”  Carmody had assured him in those first days.  “Things have improved so much, Michael.  You needn’t be afraid.”

He had hope then.  Oh, the hope he had then!  But he was still very afraid.

“We’re going to do everything we can.”

“Is there any possibility…?”

“Well, we have come close to a solution many times…”

The gurney has turned a corner.  Doors opening, closing; floating figures in gowns, new and different lights.   Operating Theatre One.

“Right, people!  Places, everyone!”  His consultant’s authoritative voice.

Pain coming again; a tsunami this time of massive, unstoppable proportions.  The needle he so needs thrusts home, imparting a little numbness, a moment of comparative peace, helping him, finally, to remember:   ‘This means nothing to me….Vienna’.

Carmody’s words murmur in his ear:

“Alright, Michael, this is our time.  Let’s make history together.   Push!”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

.

 

UKIP – RIP?

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

diane-james

The resignation of Diane James from leadership of the UK Independence Party, whilst perhaps not entirely surprising, is unfortunate.   Her reign of only 18 days must be something of a record for a political leader of any party, indicative perhaps of the struggles that seethe beneath the surface of UKIP’s emergent force.

I raise my tiny voice in concern because UKIP is important.  In a political Britain infected by the soporific sluggishness of the European Union it is a vital force for dynamic change – the change is happening, despite the doleful voices of the London Bubble – and the ability of Government to reflect that change at Westminster must keep pace.    The pace will be fast.

Theresa May’s approach to ‘Brexit’  (am I the only one becoming tired of that word?) is refreshingly bullish.  Her refusal to respond to the sententious attitude of Brussels that clearly casts the UK as a naughty schoolchild is gratifying and assures me for the present, at least, that the Article 50 negotiations are in good hands – for now.

jeremy-corbynAt home, though, the auguries are less clear.   Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the opposition has redefined the Labour Party as an extreme left-wing socialist group unlikely to interest the greater part of the UK population.   Corbyn’s cabal is clearly determined to de-select unsympathetic centre-left MPs in favour of a more neo-Marxist trades union dominated parliamentary party, thus undoing what was possibly Tony Blair’s only beneficial contribution to Labour politics.   As a party Labour was unelectable before Blair came, and it is bent upon becoming unelectable once more.

The great majority of the British public do not want a rampantly socialist government.   It never will. Yet a credible opposition is needed, otherwise Theresa May’s Conservatives have carte blanche.   Effectively unopposed within the chamber of government  they can behave pretty much as they want, and the temptation to offer sops to more extreme right-wing factions within their party will be great.  At this moment the only opposition in play is provided by the Scottish Nationalists, a scattering of Irish MPs, and the doughty rear guard of a failed Liberal Party that was so misguidedly digested by coalition in the last Conservative period of office.

Who better, therefore, to occupy this newly created space?   UKIP mobilised the British population behind a cause and brought them out to vote as never before.  It presented a simple message to the voters that found sympathy – it had an ear to the real drift of public opinion and gave them a voice.   That initial dynamism focussed upon one issue and around one man; Nigel Farage.  And therein, maybe, lies the problem.farage

Not the only problem.   The massive task of gaining enough candidates to contest every seat at the last General Election rushed UKIP into assembly of a rag-bag of politically ambitious figures all interested in becoming MPs and glad to sign up for the first opportunity.  The only issue they had in common, however, was ‘Brexit’ and many had different visions of that.  Now that the figurehead of their party has stepped down those differing visions can have free play, and instead of grasping a golden opportunity their executive are squabbling amongst themselves.  Between now and Theresa May’s declared date for the next General election (2020) they have the chance to supplant Labour as the major opposition party.    The Liberals certainly won’t do it, and the Nationalist parties have their own agendas.

The UKIP aims as stated in their orchestrated campaign to take Britain out of Europe spoke to the Labour voter.   A sleeping giant was wakened, addressed in a language it could understand, and provided with the sort of common sense British politics has lacked for generations.  As a result the giant voted, and will vote again, for those same common sense arguments in a manifesto for the future of the Britain we have now.   The only problem is the lack of a Farage to lead them.  (Figurehead needed: please apply)

Believe it or not, I am not a convinced UKIP voter now, although I voted resoundingly for leaving the EU and I’m proud to see my country’s innovative and positive reaction to the referendum result.  I love to see the establishment confounded and I have always believed the European Federalist dream was just that:  a very expensive dream.   I might vote for a future UKIP;  I certainly will not vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s version of Labour.    I think there are many like me.

What do you think?

Oscar Becomes a Hero

A tale that needs to be read: the adventures of one morning in the life of a very Superior Cat!

barsetshirediaries

Facebook surprise me with memories sometimes. This morning they reminded me of a piece I’d written 5 years ago to the day when I was writing about Oscar. He was just 16 at this point. He lived until just past his 18th birthday and died on Oct 1st 2013. During all that time we’d recorded his battles with the other household ‘pets’ introduced by Julia. The three ‘girls’ who were rats and beautiful and the degus who though delightful to look at had less intelligence than a peanut and who made short work of all the wires in the lounge whenever they broke free.

Anyway, here’s the piece Facebook reminded me of.

How easily things change. One light time I’m all but invisible in the village and the next I’m the flavour of the week. Though of course that’s how it should be really.

I was a little bored…

View original post 987 more words

Gloves

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

decline-and-fall-of-the-rroman-empire

I recollect her gloves because they first drew my attention to her.  Placed side by side on her library desk, she arranged them with such neat precision they might have been elements of a ritual, fingers pointing towards me across the centre divide between our respective spaces, in perfect orientation with the upper left-hand corner of her book.  They were black gloves, of course.   She could have countenanced no other colour.

Easily distracted, my eyes wandered further from the dry meat of Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’ to her hands – and I saw how long they were, how sensitive – how the veins within them were no more than a grey trace and how they were suited so, to her porcelain flesh, to the white, neat blouse with its delicate lace trim, to the gentle curve of her shoulders, to her neck’s ennobled grace, to the close- wound curls of her auburn hair.

And then I remember her face: those eyes of startling blue ice, her slightly upturned nose and the prim set of her tiny mouth, so determined yet so ready to drift into a wisp of a smile when she caught my look of wonder – and how I curled with embarrassment as I buried my nose back into my book, only to feel I must make some gesture to excuse my gaucheness.  I raised Gibbons’ weighty tome to the vertical so she could see its title, giving one of those eyes-to-the-ceiling expressions which conveyed (or so I hoped) my boredom with its cumbersome prose.

In return, she exhibited the object of her own studies, Dostoyevsky, with a little twist of her lips that meant the same.   We shared a smile.  I fell in love.

It was so brief, that moment.  Yet in the obligation of study and the hushed discipline of a library it was all we had and enough, for my young mind, to fill my thoughts.  She did not remain long at the mercy of ‘Crime and Punishment’.   Embarrassed that I might be caught staring I heard, rather than saw her rise, slip her chair back almost noiselessly, find perfect balance on precise feet and move away.  Only then did I dare to look up, allowing myself to follow her departure – short clipped steps and liquid glide:  I indulged my fantasies in her retreating figure, and I wished.

At last distance consumed her.  I heard the brief rush of the street as she slipped out through the library doors.  Then I looked down, and saw the glove!  It was twisted, not as neatly posed as when she laid it upon her desk, leading me to imagine she made to pick up both gloves as she departed, but retained just one of the pair.   Racing between panic and hope, I snatched it up and ran for the door in pursuit; past desk and alarmed librarian, down echoing stone steps and back into a world of people of which she could be no more than a tiny part.  A part I would not see, could not find.

I looked.  Oh, yes, I looked.  I searched the street that day, I searched the streets every day.   I returned to the library at the same time every day for a month, every week for a year.  And every day I brought that glove, and every day was the same.  She never returned.

Once I saw her – or so I thought.  Upon my route to lectures in the North Town I had to take the riverside walk, and a little above the weir where the water is at its widest and deepest, there is a single span bridge of iron, a doughty testament to Victorian enterprise.   Was she standing there, by the rail at the centre of the span – and was she looking towards me?  But though I ran, by the time I reached the place there was no sign of her, and I knew I was mistaken, betrayed by my wishful heart.

Years would pass.  I would at last consign that little glove to an upper drawer and every once in a while expose it, and remember.    But after all, I was just nineteen that day in the library.  She of my memory was probably older than I, had a life somewhere:  perhaps a husband and children.  Every now and then I could persuade myself the fleeting engagement of our eyes had meant as much to her as to me, that she was out there somewhere, dreaming as I dreamed.  Of course, it could not be so, yet it was the matter of many a sleepless night.

Here I must explain a little about myself.  I am shy by nature, a savagely introverted soul with a disinclination to trust;  a deficit of character I put down to the knowledge I am an adopted child, with all the internalised uncertainties that brings.  My adoptive family kept this from me until my fifteenth birthday, and it scarcely rocked my world until I mistakenly shared  the information with my then girlfriend, who promptly revised her opinion of me on the basis that she ‘no longer knew who she was going out with’.  Thereafter I was wary of forming relationships.   I am, still.

I think I was twenty-five or twenty-six when I at last decided I must try to trace my original mother and father.  Who had rejected me before I had voice for my defence?  Of course, it would be difficult.  Agencies are careful to protect the details of those who, by choice or circumstance, offer their children for adoption, and it was quickly made plain to me that my success would depend upon the wishes of my natural parents.  Did they wish to meet me?  I signed several forms, made a number of pledges, and waited.

This was in the late summer of my twenty-sixth year.  I had work in another city at the time.  I suppose I was surprised that my request was resolved so quickly, because I had aimed to be back in my home town before word came.  After only three weeks I received a call from the Agency:  could I make an appointment as soon as possible?   I did so, and I will not forget my nervousness as I made the long drive to keep it.

The woman who faced me across her desk was kind, I think.  Her work must have made her so, must it not?    Yet to me she seemed harshly spoken; her words were snapped off at the final consonant and sharp, incisive to my eager ears.

“You cannot always expect a request such as yours to be successful.  I’m afraid in this case…”

“They don’t want to meet me?”

“There is only one traceable parent, your mother.   You cannot make contact with her because she died many years ago.  However we were able to trace her sister, and she has no wish to communicate directly with you.  She wants to make that very clear.”  The woman reached into a drawer by her right knee, producing a large manila envelope, with the words ‘For Kevin’ scrawled upon it in faded biro.   “Kevin was the name your mother gave to you.  Her sister has retained this in her possession ever since your mother’s death, in case you ever wished to make contact.  I advise you to take it home and examine it at your leisure.  We can be of no further help.”

The act of cutting away the seal of my aunt’s envelope took courage.  It contained a letter I shall not share with you, a confession of such sadness and loss it must remain hidden with me forever.   I will tell you, though, of the newspaper clipping, of the article with the photograph at its side, about a bereft young woman who ended her life by leaping from the iron bridge above the weir, and I will tell you that the picture was familiar to me.  It showed the face of the girl who sat facing my desk  in the library all those years before.

The envelope also contained, neatly wrapped, one black glove.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.