Author: PWG Publisher

Kitty Rawlins and the Archangel Spence

Kitty Rawlins and the Archangel Spence (1654)

Yes, well, those were exciting times back then. ‘Course I was a young man with a young man’s sense of invincibility. Only, I wasn’t invincible to the charms of a pretty woman. No, sir, I certainly wasn’t invincible to those.

I remember the day Kitty Rawlins walked into my life. What a looker, she was! Tall and straight as a poplar, with melt-your-heart dark brown eyes the size of saucers and a smile as wide as Canada. Just light you up in a flash.

I was dealin’ with devils at the time, with the torments of drink and empty pockets.

I heard the rustle of her dress first and then her voice: ‘Why’s a man like you sleeping rough in the street?’

Her words flowed over me like honey, as she stretched out a hand and pulled me to my feet. ‘That’s better! You certainly look more dignified standing up.’

I didn’t know if I was being admired or admonished.

I only know I caught the whiff of gardenias as I came up level with her. She had kind of sharp features, all cheekbones and jaw and coils of hair pinned up. Reminded me of a school teacher, but she sure was pretty.

What’s your name?’ she asked me.

Spence,’ I told her.

Well, Spence…,’ she paused, ‘what kind of a name is that, anyway?’

Only one I got,’ I said.

That’s when her face split into this great gash of a smile; and, what with the glitter in her eyes and the shine off her teeth, I thought she was about to have me for her supper.

Never mind,’ she says; ‘Spence it is and we’re going to have a talk about your rehabilitation.’

I’m fine happy with this habitation right here,’ I tell her; ‘I like being out in the open.’

She just laughs and says, ‘Tell you what, Spence, see that cafe over there? We’re going to go in there and I’m going to buy you breakfast fit for a horse.’

Sounded like some infernal hell of the damned, when we walked in, like being smacked in the face by a west coast roller; folks jabbering, waitresses calling, trays banging, knives and forks striking on china, chef’s hollerin’ and a coffee machine building up steam like a locomotive.

Boy, I’m tellin’ you, if that whole buildin’ had taken off across country, wouldn’t have surprised me one bit!

She led me through an arch to a table where it was quieter somewhat and talked all the while I ate. By the time I’d finished my eggs and fried potatoes and bacon and tomatoes and God knows what else, I was totally smitten. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I tell you, if the hog’s puddin’ had gone in my ear ‘stead of my mouth, I wouldn’t have noticed.

So, that’s the deal,’ she ended up; ‘What do you say?’

Yes,’ is what I said, though I’d no idea what the deal were. I’d been too busy watchin’ her mouth dimplin’ at the corners as she spoke and wonderin’ at the way stray strands of her hair went curlin’ round her ears like petals round a bud.

Course, I had no idea what I was lettin’ myself in for. Force of nature that Kitty Rawlins. Certainly was. Force of nature, all right.

Spark came into her eyes, like a hunting dog on the scent, and we were off.

She had me shaved, barbered and bathed and then reclothed, before I’d had time to put the cap back on the ketchup.

You’re a fine looking man under all that degradation,’ she said finally, appraising me out on the sidewalk.

Caught sight of myself in a store window and didn’t know who I was looking at. Person in the reflection got nothing to do with the person inside me, I can tell you that.

Aidycomp’, she called me, whatever that means.

Well, I’d worked fairgrounds, games parks and race courses, too. I get along pretty well with horses. But I’d never been an escort before.

Deal turned out to be I was to accompany Ms Rawlins on her lecture tour. Drove her from town to town, big ones, little ones, didn’t make no matter; took the door at her rallies and made sure she got back safely to her room every night.

There were plenty of folks wanted to do her harm, once she opened up on poverty and deprivation and the need for equality, no matter where you come from or what the colour of your skin was. Said women were the most put upon of all and she wanted laws changed to give them equal rights with men, who were makin’ all the rules.

Never had so many arguments and fist fights before or since. Husbands, businessmen, die-hards, even some starch-faced matrons, all came pilin’ in. Had my nose broken twice and my jaw, ribs kicked in and enough black eyes to spot a leopard!

Why are you being so provocative, Spence?’ she would say, dabbin’ at the cuts on me with some stingin’ ointment of hers. ‘I never knew a man before with your inclination for getting into trouble.’

And I’d get so all-fired riled up at the turn-around injustice of it that I could hardly get my words out. ‘It’s you doin’ all the provokin’!’ I’d explode. ‘I’m just…I’m just lookin’ out for you, all the time. So…so…Goddammit!’

Next thing, she’d be grinnin’ and laughin’ at me with so much evident delight, she took all the hurtin’ and the anger out of me. And then she’d come in close, puttin’ her face up to mine and fixin’ me with those eyes of hers like sinkin’ sand, you could fall right into them. Restin’ the palm of her hand on me, ‘Spence,’ she’d say, soft as if someone had turned the volume down low, ‘You’re my protector, my street angel.’ And she’d lift up on her toes and kiss me so lightly it felt like I’d got feathers on my lips…oh, boy! I’d tremble at the sweetness of her, I can feel it now. ‘You’re my Michael and you’re going to join the Archangels. Archangel Spence.’

I didn’t know if she was foolin’ with me or fallin’ in love with me. But I do know it sort of filled me out…as if everything was right with the world and with me. Gave me a sense of purpose and…I don’t know…of a kind of goodness in myself. Yes, you could say that….yes, indeed.

Anyway, there I were, lookin’ out for her, when one night in the middle of one of her speeches…don’t remember where exactly…some meeting hall up north, maybe…a bunch of guys come burstin’ in, wavin’ clubs, just itchin’ for a fight and yellin’ out against her, callin’ her a ‘commie dyke’ and tellin’ her to ’take her tits back to the kitchen’ and worse. And, in the commotion that followed, a stream of cops come pilin’ in…helmets, riot shields, the lot…break up the meetin’ and cart Kitty Rawlins away, arrestin’ her for disturbin’ the peace.

When I started protestin’ and tryin’ to explain wasn’t none of her fault, one of ‘em slammed me with his truncheon and hauled me out to the van. Turned out he’d broken my collarbone and I ended up at the hospital.

She got 3 years in prison on some technical charge I never really understood, somethin’ about underminin’ the political and economic stability of the state. Didn’t seem to dim her light none; told the judge he was ‘a patriarchal dinosaur’, which earned her an extra month for contempt.

They fined me a whole lotta money and I went back on the road, didn’t want no more part of their world. Wrote to Kitty a few times, once I was someplace long enough to hear back from her. Her replies always came addressed to ‘Archangel Spence ’. But she got moved and I didn’t know where. Besides, by that time, I’d gotten involved with a long distance truck driver, Della Riva; and I was happy enough for a time ridin’ along with her, with her wild hair like a burning bush and legs as sturdy as the tree trunks she was haulin’.

Didn’t last though, no more than any of the others. Somehow, my thoughts always went back to Kitty, like she’d carved her name in my brain. Middle of nowhere, there she’d be, fillin’ my head, just standin’ there, hands on hips, and grinnin’ at me, scent of gardenias in the air.

Then, blow me, one day I’m fixin’ some barn doors…had a small maintenance business at the time…when the farmer’s wife comes over, tells me there’s a phone call.

Would that be the Archangel Spence, by any chance?’ Her voice was deeper, but I’d have recognized the teasin’ note to it anyplace. Damn near fell over with the shock of it.

Kitty Rawlins!’ I exploded. ‘Well, I…I…’

Just as well she cut short my stammerins, as I was pure lost for words, couldn’t get my wits together.

I see you’ve lost none of your eloquence,’ she says. ‘No Matter. The thing is, Spence, I’m running for public office and I need someone I can trust.’

Course, I went. Dropped everythin’. Turned out campaignin’ wasn’t much different to lecturin’, ‘cept she got elected, not arrested. Did a lot of good things, too. Folks’ll say I’m biased, no doubt, ’cause I stayed with her after that, all those years before the cancer got her. Never did marry her though. Wanted to. Proposed to her any number of times, but she’d just wink at me: ‘Archangels can’t get married, Spence, can they?’ And she’d put her arms round me and whirl me around in a dance, till she spun the idea right out of my head…until the next time, anyway.

My Dearest Miranda

My Dearest Miranda (863 words)

My Dearest Miranda,

With the sobriety of morning, I can see my behaviour last night was quite reprehensible.

To have said the things I did was bad enough, but to accompany them with such actions as I remember was so unforgivable that I can barely summon up the courage to ask you to attribute these lapses of decency to the effects of too much wine and to accept my unreserved apologies for such ungentlemanly conduct.

When I said that, but for the size of your nose and the squint in your eye, you were the most Venus-like of women, please believe that I meant no offence, but was imagining in you the line and beauty of Botticelli’s goddess in her scallop shell.

I hope this may cast in a different and more acceptable light my having asked you to stand in the dog’s basket, while relieving you of your dress and loosening your hair.

Furthermore, in the cold light of day, I realize that it would be entirely understandable for you to misconstrue the respect and admiration I have for you as no better than a cover for lewd and lecherous cravings. And let me hasten to add that no insult to your reputation was intended when I handed you that bicycle saddle and suggested you consider it emblematic of the designs I had upon you.

Even as I write, I grow scarlet at the memory of my vulgar jests at the expense of your surname, my own, dear Miss Bakewell. You are not a tart, you never were a tart, nor ever could be; and, in my foolishness, I wish I had concentrated instead upon the excellence of your bread making.

Never have I felt more ashamed of myself, as I contemplate the improprieties I imposed upon you. And I fear an excess of the gift of Bacchus is no excuse for my impertinent dwelling upon the unsavoury associations of your name or of my subsequent and questionable demonstrations of devotion towards you.

You must believe me that, when I planted the rose in your bosom, it was an act of adoration and not as the tawdry means of touching your appurtenances. A still graver misdemeanour, I know, was my attempt to rearrange your corsetry; and I am not surprised you chose to leave the dog basket, at that point.

Which brings me to the matter of my wholly despicable vileness in pursuing you upstairs, while unbuttoning myself. I wished only to give you a signal of the ardour of my regard for you, a tangible token of the passion you arouse in me. Nevertheless, I fully appreciate it was a gross display and I accept full responsibility for your swooning and loss of colour.

Nor could it have seemed to you anything other than the most flagrant breach of your modesty when, upon the merciful return of your composure, you discovered me unclothed and holding you in my embrace. I hurry to assure you that my nakedness was due solely to the considerable heat I experienced upon freeing you from your petticoats so that you might breathe more easily.

I see now how easily this state of affairs may have been misunderstood by you and, upon reflection, I am overwhelmed by your magnanimous generosity in favouring me with your trust and demanding no more of me than a pledge of matrimony, which I believe I may have given you.

Now that the sun has risen, however, and bathed these baleful events in the fulsome calm of its own bright warmth, I have no hesitation in releasing you from an engagement that must be so very distasteful to you; and I will readily bear the heavy disappointment of that circumstance as my just desserts for having treated you so abominably.

Yet, how extraordinary is this! Your messenger has just called to deliver your note; and I am, of course, full of wonder at the alacrity of your posting of the banns proclaiming our forthcoming nuptials. You do me a greater honour than I had anticipated.

Let me say this, however, so that I may behave with rather more propriety today than yesterday and, hopefully, redeem myself in your eyes; I assure you that I have no intention of holding you to your commitment to a life-long bond, founded upon the shallow ground of my inebriation. To do so would be to add injustice to the indignity I have already subjected you to. And I hold you in too high regard to allow you to sacrifice yourself in such a way.

On the contrary, it is clear to me now that the only honourable course of action is for me to leave you in peace and not to inflict my shameful presence upon you ever again. Please do not try to dissuade me from this, as it is the very least I can do by way of recompense.

There is so much more I would wish to say to you; but, I must draw this to a swift conclusion as your father is at the door and my carriage awaits.

Eternally yours,

Freddie

Copyright: Charles Becker, 2017.

Alexis Creek Blues

Alexis Creek Blues (996 words)

My history’s a long one. My family grew up around Alexis Creek by the Chilcotin River in southern British Columbia, two hundred miles north of Vancouver. It flows southeast from its source in the Itchas range of the Coast Mountains to the Fraser River and drains the Chilcotin plateau.

Our neighbours have always been lodgepole pine, trembling aspen and white birch; they like the cold, dry climate. You don’t see a lot of maple; but the coarse gravel soil and good moisture of our homeland have suited us well. And long before the Europeans came, we thrived there, living peacefully with Canada’s First Nations’ Tsilhgot’in people, which means ‘people of the red ochre river’.

We’re known as ‘Big Leaf’, because our leaves are larger than our cousins’, almost 60 centimetres wide, and we grow faster than them, standing tall at 30 meters or so. I was young when I was cut down; but my oldest relatives were there in Alexis Creek before the first British and American traders came, almost 250 years ago.

When the winds blew hard and I and my friends were anxious saplings, the timeless ones would whisper to us of their early days, when the only people they saw were the Tsilhgot’in trading salmon from the coast to Cree people territories in the East. They would calm us with tales of those days of crystal air and pure rainwater, disturbed only by the honking of trumpeter swans and the shaking thunder from the hooves of wild mustang. And I would forget my fears of being torn out by my roots, dreaming instead of the wilderness then, free of loggers and cattle ranchers with their poison machines, making it difficult for us to breathe.

My parents used to talk of the richness of their multitudinous woodland wilderness when they were young: not just the squirrels, woodpeckers and chickadees that they were home to, or the mosses, ferns and liverwort that clung to their bark; but also the mule deer and caribou down from the mountains in the winter, bald eagles and osprey, even black bears and cougars at times. And, in the evenings, the maniacal cry of the loons from the lake made them sway with laughter, as it did me when I first heard it.

But with the coming of the traders two hundred years ago, things started to change. What my grandparents witnessed, and later my parents, was the decimation of the Tsilhgot’in people, as they were struck down by whooping cough, measles and, finally, smallpox. Within fifty years, only a third of the population was left. And then came the Chilcotin War, as the incomers tried to build a road through to the Cariboo gold fields further east and the starving Tsilhgot’in attacked them for food and to retain control of their land.

We trees were not affected directly – not until the loggers came – but it disturbed my parents’ sense of the natural order of things. After hundreds of years, in which they and their ancestors had prospered in the unaltered rhythms of the year, change, and undesirable change, shook up their world; and, suddenly, it was no longer the rare drought or forest fire that they feared, but the damage to their habitat, the dwindling of the animals they shaded and, worst of all, the whine of the chain saw and the crash of the fallen.

I cannot imagine how my parents felt as I smashed through their arms to the ground and watched me being dragged away. The pain of those metal teeth slicing through me, flaying me apart ring by ring, was so intense and savage that I was severed from my roots and the earth that nourished me in a state of numbed horror. Nor was I able to recover, before the whining started again, as I was stripped of my limbs, trimmed top and bottom, then loaded and chained with others of my kind on a lorry and transported hundreds of miles away to a saw mill, where my skin was stripped off and I was sundered into separate lengths, edged, trimmed and imprisoned in heated kilns that sucked all the moisture out of me.

Displaced, dismembered and traumatised, I was dispatched in different parts to different places. Most of me went to an up-market furniture factory in Vancouver; but the heart of me was packaged and sent to the Gibson guitar factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. And there, I am happy to say, the next and most unexpected stage in my life began.

I think it was when I was first introduced to my singing companion, Sitka Spruce, that I felt the sap rising in me again, as I became the sides and back to her top. I say ‘singing’, because with our dear Rosewood fretboard and bridge, once the fittings and strings were added, we became famous for the clarity and projection of our sonorous acoustics.

And very happy we were when we were chosen by Emmylou Harris to go on tour with her and Randy Newman in 1985. Indeed, that was probably one of our best experiences. She treated us well, played us skilfully and under her fingers we sang our hearts out in intimate venues to wildly appreciative audiences. And I can say that, in those days, my chest reverberated with a warmth and pleasure I had not known since the coming of spring after winter, as I stood with my family, feeling those tender shoots of green unfurling along the waving tips of my woody arms.

We stayed in her house for years, until one day a fan from England came on a pilgrimage and she presented us to him as a gift. In our comfortable, plushly lined case, we travelled to a wooded creek in Cornwall, where he cherishes us, taking us to local gigs, playing blues and telling our story. His name’s Alex and I feel I’m home from home.

(Copyright: Charles Becker 2017)

The Curious Case of the Convulsing Chihuahua

The Curious Case of the Convulsing Chihuahua (1450 words)

There was something mysterious happening. When Margaret Nettle got home, she was distraught to find her Chihuahua, Samson, alone in the garden in paroxysms of distress. His very skin seemed to be loose over his bones, as he heaved and trembled; and even his noble head appeared to have shrunk.

Spying him on the lawn through the kitchen patio doors, she dropped her shopping basket on the floor with a shriek and raced out to him.

Samson! Samson! What ever’s the matter?” she cried, as she dashed towards him. “Everything’s going to be all right,” she crooned, scooping him up into her arms, just as one last convulsion, greater than the rest, shuddered through his tiny frame and he threw up all over her cardigan and the blouse beneath.

The stench of the ochre slime was disgusting; and, holding him out at arms’ length with her face turned aside, she carried him into the kitchen. Seizing a pail from under the sink with her free hand, she half-filled it with hot soapy water and dropped him in it.

You stay there!” she commanded, depositing the bucket in the sink, while gingerly removing her cardigan and blouse and even her capacious brassiere and casting them one at a time, between forefinger and thumb, into the drum of the washing machine.

Having refreshed her wardrobe upstairs, she returned to the kitchen, where she rinsed the crestfallen Chihuahua and dried him first with a hand towel and then with her hair dryer.

That’s my Samson!” she exclaimed as his fur fluffed up.

Clutching him to her bosom, she advanced once more into the garden. “Right,” she said, “what on earth have you been eating, that’s what I want to know.”

Starting near the vomit stained patch of grass near the middle the lawn, she walked head down in widening elliptical circles, the garden of her semi-detached house being longer than it was wide. By the time she had reached the borders on either side, she had discovered nothing.

Well, daisies didn’t do it,” she told Samson, kissing his nose and shifting him under her arm.

At which point, looking up for inspiration, she saw her neighbour’s voluptuous black cat, Delilah (her neighbour’s infuriating joke) , sitting on an adjoining fence post observing her, it’s tail circling its paws – and so did Samson!

Squirming from her grasp and tumbling to the ground, he raced across the garden, barking repeatedly; except that due to his elfin proportions and to the alto register of his expletives, it sounded very much more like yapping. In vain, he leapt and leapt again at the fence, his yapping becoming more and more frenzied as the disdainful cat looked briefly down at him.

Oh, for goodness sake, Margaret!” came the exasperated voice of her neighbour, Rita Luckpool, who was planting out her dahlias on the other side of the fence. “Why don’t you take him for a walk? He’s been treating us to that cacophony all morning.”

You’re not a dog lover, are you, Rita?” Margaret retorted; and, as she said it, the truth dawned upon her: Rita had poisoned Samson, while she was out shopping. “Well, I…I mean…you…” she spluttered, rendered momentarily inarticulate by the enormity of her revelation.

Seizing hold of the hyperventilating little dog, she clamped her hand over its face and marched back towards the house, calling over her shoulder, “You’ve gone too far this time, Rita. Mark my words!”

What do you make of that?” Rita asked Delilah, as she straightened up and arched her aching back.

The cat blinked and padded silkily towards her along the top of the fence, a low rumble growing louder as she came.

As far as Margaret was concerned, the vet was a fool. She had always thought so. His ears were too big and stuck out like radar dishes. According to her mother, it was a sure sign of dolthood.

Just something toxic he ate, I expect, Mrs Nettle,” he said, handing her an invoice for £90. “Give him a little water until tomorrow; and then a couple of teaspoons of boiled rice and chicken. No skin or bones mind. And, if he keeps that down, slowly increase the amount over the next few days. You’ll be right as rain, won’t you, um…”

Forgetting the name, he put out his hand with a benign smile to pat the little dog’s head and just managed to whip it away again in time, as Samson machine-gunned a volley of yaps at him and lunged for his fingers.

Quite right, too,” Margaret Nettle assured her diminutive companion, as she strapped him into his booster seat for the drive home. “He’s no idea what you’ve been through, has he?”

By the time she turned into the narrow parking space beside her front path, Margaret had made her mind up; and, having deposited Samson in his favourite armchair with a precautionary towel spread underneath him, she went straight round to confront her neighbour.

Climbing the short run of steps to the front door, she rang the bell and knocked firmly three times. When the door opened, Margaret was momentarily taken aback to find her neighbour dressed in a floral pinny and regarding her with a certain fierceness in her narrowed eyes. In her seventies, she was trim of figure with a full head of dark brown hair pinned back at the temples.

May I have a word, Rita?” Margaret said, recovering her composure.

As long as it’s quick, I’m baking.”

Although used to her neighbour’s brusque manner, Margaret had not anticipated having to deliver her homily on the doorstep.

Very well then, I’ll come straight to the point. I have known for some time, although I do not understand why, that you resent my dear little Samson; but I had never imagined that you would be,” here Margaret paused for breath, her jowls trembling with indignation, “could be, so vindictive as to deliberately poison him.”

As Rita opened her mouth to reply, Margaret put up her hand to stop her. “It’s no use denying it. There can be no other explanation. Mr Chardry, the vet, has diagnosed the cause of Samson’s vomiting as being something he ate.”

Remarkable!” Rita said, with the ghost of a smile; but Margaret, building to her climax, ignored her and sailed on.

Here is his account,” she said, thrusting forward the envelope she was holding. “As you are responsible for this unseemly incident I expect you to settle it without delay and to give me your word there will be no repeat of this…this…,” struggling to find the right words, Margaret drew herself up and almost lost her balance, having to put one foot back on the step below her to regain it, “of this cruel charade. In which case, I will say no more about it.”

I see,” Rita said, making no effort to take the envelope; so that, out of weariness, Margaret was forced to lower her arm, while still holding it. “Excuse me a moment; I’ve left a ring on.” So saying, she disappeared into the shadows of the interior, leaving Margaret glancing furtively up and down the cul-de-sac behind her, feeling both nonplussed and exposed.

Now then,” Rita said, returning, “I have a point or two of my own to make, since you are here.” Margaret, who was unused to being stared down, flicked at an invisible speck on her cerise cardigan and cleared her throat. “Firstly, you have no idea of the Chihuahua brouhaha that ensues from your garden when you go out.” Margaret’s plump face creased in puzzlement. “I mean Samson’s noisy, overexcited yapping,” Rita explained. “I cannot tend my plants, read a book or just sit and enjoy the peace of my own garden, without being constantly subjected to your dog’s infernal racket.”

Well, if you’re going to take that tone, Rita, there’s no more to be said.” Margaret moved back and down a step and then a second and then a third, until she was once again on terra firma and more sure of her footing. “I never expected this from you. I came here in good faith and you behave like a…like a banshee!”

Rita watched her go. “I’m not sure that’s what you mean,” she said softly, as she closed the door, “but it may be truer than you know.”

Back in the kitchen, she found Delilah sitting on the table by the china bowl, her tail curled about her.

Who can resist chocolate cake?” Rita smiled, taking hold of the wooden spoon and beginning to stir the mix.

(Notes:

  1. Banshee – a female spirit whose wailing warns of a death in a house.
  1. Chocolate contains theobromide, an ingredient that is toxic to dogs. All chocolate contains this substance, but baking chocolate contains the highest concentration. Signs of theobromide toxicity include vomiting, diarrhoea, tremors, elevated heart rate and seizure activity.)

Copyright: Charles Becker, 2020.

The Wild Camel

The Wild Camel (1595 words)

Afterwards, I lie on my side enjoying the warmth and solidity of him, my arm across his chest. Through the window behind him, I can see rooftops falling into shadow. The afternoon will soon be over.

You’re my bear,” I whisper; “I don’t want you to go.”

His face is angled away from me, looking out at the sky; and, at first, he doesn’t say anything. I don’t mind. I’d be happy to lie together like this forever, just resting in the warmth and joy of him.

I know you don’t,” he says eventually, rolling his head on the pillow to look at me. “I know that; but I will have to,” he pauses, “in a little while, anyway.”

I know his moods and their expression in his eyes. When he’s feeling playful, the brown irises shimmer with flecks of gold; and when he’s tired or tense they cloud over into muddy pools. Now they’re deepening and softening in a way I haven’t seen before.

What’s up?” I ask, running my fingers over the rough stubble of his jaw. “You look so serious…and sad.”

He reaches up, taking my hand in his, and lowers it against his chest. I can feel the rhythm of his heart under my palm.

It was Miriam brought you,” he says. “Do you remember? All that time ago. Twenty years, maybe.”

I lean up on my elbow. “Twenty-three,” I say. “I was nineteen. And, of course, I remember; I was terrified!”

There was nothing of you.” He frowns. “’Why’s Miriam bringing me this scrawny chicken?’ I was asking myself.”

He pauses, looking through me, lost in his own thoughts; and I lie back, wondering why he’s gone back to the beginning. Something I don’t want to hear is coming, I can feel it. It’s like a shadow has fallen over us. I want to say something…anything…to clear it away, but I can’t think what.

I love you,” I say; and he lets go of my hand and swings out of the bed with his back to me.

I wait, but he doesn’t say anything, just sits on the edge, head dipped, his shoulders curving away from me, slashes of light catching them, burnishing them mahogany above the tapering darkness of his back.

I want you to turn to me. I want you to hold me. I want to feel you against me again and know that you are mine and that you are not going to go off and leave me, disappear. I can’t say these words aloud, but I chant them inside myself like a mantra.

It’s Miriam,” he says, not turning. “I can’t go on like this anymore. It’s not right.”

He’s not making sense. “What do you mean?” I cry. “Miriam’s dead! She’s been dead for years.”

I kneel up and scramble across the bed to him, putting my arms around him and my head against his. He doesn’t move; he lets me hold him. He’s bending forward looking down, his forearms resting on his thighs

There is a life after this one, you know,” he says. “And Miriam is my wife; I made my vows to her.”

His voice, it’s so final, as if there’s nothing more to say; but this is crazy.

You’ve been everything to me,” I say, trying to pull him over. “You are everything to me.” But, I can’t budge him. He may be fifty, but his body is as firm as it ever was and I’m not as strong as I was when he was training me. I give up and link my arms round his chest, pressing the side of my face between his shoulder blades, squeezing him tight and breathing in the familiar scent of him, something between bay leaves and…I don’t know… leather, maybe.

I had nothing, was nothing, when Miriam first took me to the gym. I was a scrawny chicken, you’re right.” I’m babbling, but I’ve got to say something. He can’t go while I’m talking…while I’ve got hold of him…while he’s still naked. “Miriam wouldn’t mind. She was kind…always genuinely kind. She’d want you to be happy. She’d want us to be happy. She wouldn’t care that it was me. She’d rather it was me…someone she knew loved you…respected you…would be good to you.”

I’m crying and rubbing my cheek against the smooth wall of his skin, smearing us both. And, even though I can feel him quivering, he doesn’t say anything. “We’re lovers,” I go on, stretching my hand round between his legs, finding him, holding him. “We belong together.”

Very gently, he lifts my hand away and, disentangling himself, stands up. I watch him walk to the chair and step into his boxers. He turns for his tee, pulls it on and comes back to the bed, bringing the chair with him. I think I’m going to be sick. My stomach is hollow and I can’t seem to catch my breath.

You were quite something,” he says, scooping my bathrobe from the floor and helping me into it, tying the belt for me. “You would have been the IBF Featherweight Champion of the World. You were ahead on every card.” Pulling the chair closer, he lifts his hand and strokes his thumb along my eyebrow, his fingers curling round the side of my face. They’re warm and I close my hand over them. “I’d never seen a gash like that before. I could see the bone. Sanchez butted you as clear as day. She should have been disqualified.” He draws his hand away and shakes his head. “I was so proud of you!” he says, and it sounds like tears are gargling in his throat.

It was all down to you,” I say. I want him to know the truth of that. “You gave me the self-belief. I thought I was…I don’t know…rubbish…worthless. Like I was a loser…and was always going to be a loser. That’s what school had taught me.” I stop. I don’t want to go into all that stuff again. It seems so…so small now, so insignificant…all that name calling…’parrot-beak’…’camel-nose’, just because it was curved and stuck out a bit. I don’t mind my nose at all now. In fact, I like it. I like the strength of it.

I laugh, remembering, and grab his wrist. “’You’re not a parrot,’ you told me, ‘you’re an eagle!’ I didn’t believe you, just thought you were trying to be kind. But you kept on saying it, telling me I was fast, swooping on my prey like an eagle. And you believed in me…believed I could be a boxer…be a fighter…and a good one. You put your faith in me.” I shake his wrist. “You put your faith in me. Don’t take it away now.”

He looks deep into me; but he doesn’t say anything, just draws his hand back. So, I wait. But I’m not comfortable kneeling anymore and I move to the edge, sitting facing him, interlocking our legs, our knees in a row, except mine are lower and paler than his.

The silence is heavy. I can’t bear it. “Don’t do this to us,” I say. “It doesn’t matter about an afterlife. We have to live this one first, don’t we?”

He shakes his head a couple of times and leans into me.

I’m not good with words, you know that. And I don’t understand this myself exactly…but I know it’s true,” he’s looking at me nodding, his eyes pleading with me; “except I don’t know the right way to say it. This isn’t about thinking, it’s how I’m feeling and I can’t stop it. All I know is Miriam is my wife. We were married in the sight of God. My mother was there. And I had no right to…to…” he closes his eyes and his voice trails off.

To what?” I ask him. “No right to what?”

No right to become involved with you.”

Become involved!” I’m scornful. Those aren’t the kind of words he uses. He’s dodging me. “What the hell does that mean?”

He shuffles his chair backwards, extricating himself. I see the confusion in his eyes, as he gets up and turns away, moving for the window. He stands there with his shoulders hunched and his fists half-raised, clenched tight.

I can feel the tension coming off him like he’s going to burst, like he’s going to punch out the glass. And I’m trembling. I want him to break and I’m scared of him breaking.

We are involved,” I say and I’m surprised at the conviction in my own voice, surprised how speaking the truth of what I’m feeling brings a relief from my fears and a strength like I used to feel in the ring, when I only had myself to rely on. I might get beat, but I’d fight with everything in me…I never gave in. “We are involved and we’re never going to be uninvolved. What’s done is done. And you’ve no reason to feel guilty about it…not before Miriam, not before God, not even before your mother! Because we have a right to this…here, right now, in this life. Do you hear me? There’s nothing wrong with our being in love and showing it! And, until one of us dies, I’m claiming you. You’re mine now and that’s the way it’s going to be. So you just better get used to it.”

Later, afterwards, he lies with his arms around me, spooning me, his knees crooked up into the back of mine. “I’m going to be in so much trouble,” he whispers.

(Copyright: Charles Becker, March 2020.)

The Cap, the Mouse and the Flying Swede

The Cap, the Mouse and the Flying Swede (1,075 words)

When Caroline came back from her bedtime bath, she discovered her husband, George, propped up in bed reading a book with his faded, cotton cap on. It was the final straw and two days later she found herself opposite a pinched-face solicitor in a brown tie.

So, to sum up, Mr Shruggs,” she said, realizing her free 30 minutes were almost up, “I want to know if I can sue George for divorce on the grounds of the irretrievable breakdown of our marriage, due to his unreasonable behaviour in refusing to remove his cap in the house or even in the bedroom, as I have told you.”

Yeeeez,” Mr Shruggs said on a prolonged outbreath; “unfortunately, as the law stands, you see, aesthetic abuse,” he smiled thinly, “is not a recognized basis for such a proceeding.”

Later the same day, Caroline was having tea with her friend, Molly. Molly, a patient, middle-aged woman, was cutting out bright red patches of material for the quilt she was making.

What do you think?” she said, holding scarlet floral against turquoise abstract.

The man’s a fool!” Caroline said. “I told him about the boiler suit, as well, and he barely raised an eyebrow.”

You’re right,” Molly nodded, setting down her pinking shears and the scarlet patch, “maybe it is a bit garish.”

Caroline brushed a biscuit crumb from her lap. “I’ve told you before, haven’t I? He won’t take the boiler suit off when he comes in, because of that bloody mouse!”

Mouse?” Molly said. “I did a nursery quilt once with three blind mice. Couldn’t find a farmer’s wife or a knife, but used a milkman and chip pan instead.”

What on earth are you talking about?” Caroline demanded.

Molly beamed at her and started chanting: “They all ran after the milkman, who fried their tails in a chip pan.”

Oh, for goodness sake, Molly,” Caroline broke in, “this is serious!”

Molly shrugged her becardinganed shoulders and went back to her snipping.

The point is,” Caroline continued, “George takes the anaemic, little beast to work in his top pocket and won’t take off the wretched garment when he comes home, because…and it defies belief, it really does…he doesn’t want to disturb ‘dear Pinky’!”

Pink and white are a bit wishy washy, don’t you think?” Molly said, sifting through some remnants and drawing one out to illustrate her point.

Pinky, I ask you!” The teaspoon jumped in Caroline’s saucer, as she thumped her cup down. “Just because of its horrid little eyes. Disturb it, huh! I’ll disturb it all right. Farmer’s wife had the right idea. I’m telling you he thinks more of that mouse than he does of me. Well, I’ve had enough, I’m leaving him. And it’s no use trying to talk me out of it, Molly; my mind’s made up.”

Molly extricated a roll of material from under the sofa and unfurled a length of it across the carpet. “What would you think of a whole quilt in dove grey with cucumber green fronds?”

When Caroline got home, she packed up the mid-grey, baker boy cap she had ordered in herringbone, which George had refused. “Makes me look like a Peaky Blinders’ gunman,” he’d told her. Well, her mother had warned her all those years ago. “N.O.C.D.” she’d said, with a knowing smile. “Not our class, dear.”

Caroline stuck the return label on the package and took it to the post office.

Coming along the path on her way home again, she saw her neighbour polishing his ancient car in his trilby.

Afternoon, Leonard,” she said, drawing level. “Outdoors is the proper place for a hat, if I may say so.”

So’s a bald ‘ead,” he grinned.

She went to move on, but he put up his hand. “Hang on a minute, I’ve got something for ‘ee.” And leaving his cloth on the bonnet, he disappeared into his house.

Dug ’er up this mornin’,” he said, coming back and holding out a mud-spattered, purple and orange swede. “Go well in a stew for George, I reckon.”

We’re having chicken casserole,” she said, taking a plastic carrier from her bag. She shook it and held it open; and, as he dropped the vegetable in, her arms sagged with the weight of it.

Some people confuse swedes with turnips,” she went on; “I did once!” She closed the handles and held the carrier by her side. “But swedes have proper substance, Leonard, and they don’t wear caps in bed!”

As she walked off, Leonard pushed back his hat and scratched his head.

It was almost six o’clock when George came through the back door into the kitchen.

Smells good,” he said, putting his sandwich box on the side by the sink.

He moved forward to greet her with a peck on the cheek, as usual; but she stepped back from the chopping board, knife still in hand.

Right,” she said, “let’s get this straight once and for all. You take that cap off and you go upstairs and change out of that boiler suit. I’m not going to put up with you being dressed in the house like that any longer.”

As she spoke, pink eyes and a twitching, whiskered nose appeared over the rim of his top pocket.

And I won’t have that…that rodent in the house anymore either. I mean it.”

Oh, come on, love, let it be,” George sighed, turning for the door to the hall. “It’s been a long day.”

Don’t you turn your back on me, George Dodd!” She tossed the knife onto the table.”I want an answer and I want it now, or else we go our separate ways.”

George turned round again to face her. “You’re not serious, are you, love?” he said. “I mean, I don’t ‘ave to dress up in me own ‘ome, do I?”

Caroline lifted her chin. “I’ve been to see a solicitor. Aesthetic abuse, he called it.”

George shook his head. “I don’t even know what that means,” he muttered, glancing down at the mouse. Then, looking up at her again, he added: “I know you’re ashamed of me sometimes and that you don’t feel I’m good enough for you; but I am doing my best and I do lov…”

The swede caught him high up on the side of his head, near the temple; and, as he went down, his head bounced on the tiled floor, his cap fell off, the mouse ran away, and Caroline knew it was the end.

Copyright: Charles Becker, 2019.

A Pale Apricot Moon

A Pale Apricot Moon (1286 words)

A pale apricot moon hung in the night sky. Lying in bed, Lenny watched it looking in on him and wondered whether he would be discovered or whether he would get away with it.

The ‘phone rang and he froze, pinned to the mattress, listening to its shrill summons repeating over and over. Finally, he leapt up; and the moon veiled herself in wisps of cloud at the sight of his nudity, at the affront of his rudity.

He held the handset to his ear without speaking.

Lenny?” The voice was low, conspiratorial. “Lenny, is that you?”

Depends,” Lenny muttered.

I heard that. Don’t bugger me about, Lenny!”

He let go the breath he was holding. Ellie was all right.

Whaddya want?”

Your bollocks for one thing. And I’m going to come round and chop ‘em off personally.”

You are?”

I am.”

Personally?”

Yes, personally, in person.”

What even if the moon’s watching?” He turned to the window and gave a wave.

Yeah, gelding by moonlight, it’s an ancient rite…that is, the right of the woman dispossessed to have her pound of cobblers.”

Suppressed laughter exploded through Lenny’s nose and he wiped the fruits of it on the back of his hand, twirling for a tissue and finding only his discarded underpants.

Dispossessed of what?” he said, his voice half-throttled by a second eruption. He applied the pants directly this time and blew into them.

Dispossessed of her trappings. Dispossessed of her essence.”

Dispossessed of her trappings? What does that mean?

It means dispossessed of her wherewithalls.”

Her wherewithalls?” Lenny gurgled, as he collapsed on the duvet, gasping for air against the hoots and whoops bursting out of him, his knees to his chest and his ribs concertinaring in and out, up and down.

Yes, ‘cause I saw you.” Something sharper edged into Ellie’s voice. “And you weren’t going where you said you were.”

Lenny sat up, swivelling his feet to the ground. “Hang on.” He left the phone on the bed, closed the curtain and pulled on a threadbare bathrobe from the back of the door.

Right,” he said, picking it up again, “It’s not what you think.”

Isn’t it? What do you think I think?”

Lenny’s grin was tight and anxious. “Trick question, Ellie. I’m not falling for that one.”

I’ll tell you then, shall I?”

But before she could go any further, there was a loud banging on the door; not a knock with the knuckles, but a pounding with the side of a fist.

Sounds like truth time,” Ellie said and rang off.

Who is it?” Lenny tried to control the tremble in his voice and failed.

Father fucking Christmas! Open the door, Lenny.”

Lenny drew back the bolt and opened it. A large man, smelling of cologne and wearing an expensive, camel-coloured overcoat, blocked out most of the landing behind him.

Ah, here you are, laddie,” he said, striding into the centre of the room and looking around him. His face beamed down from the same height as the moon had done, but it was larger and closer. “Squalid little place you have here.”

I can explain, Douglas.”

I hope you can, laddie.” The man took hold of the only chair in the room, a dark-stained, wheel-back, and shook the clothes off it onto the floor. Placing it where he had been standing, he unbuttoned his coat and sat down. “And it’s Mister Alexander to a little street rat like you, Lenny.” Behind the smile, the eyes narrowed like the voice.

The thing is,” Lenny started, tightening the belt of his robe and wishing he had his clothes on; “I was going to…”

Close the door,” the man interrupted, his smile disappearing. “We’re going to need some privacy.”

Lenny did as he was told and stood with his back to it, his fingers still on the handle.

Come over here,” the man ordered, pointing to the floor in front of him.

Lenny walked towards him, until he was three or four paces away.

The man smiled. “Closer,” he said. Lenny took a step in. “And again. Don’t be shy, laddie.” Lenny shuffled half-a-pace forward. The man stretched out a hand, wrapped his fingers around Lenny’s bicep and squeezed. Further down, the tips of Lenny’s fingers began to tingle. The man pulled him in closer still and let go. “That’s better,” he said.

He stood up and Lenny’s eyes flicked shut, as he sucked in his breath; but the man moved away to the side. He took off his coat and, straightening the duvet, smoothed it out on the bed. With his back still to Lenny, he slipped his suit jacket off, as well, and laid it next to the coat with equal care.

Turning, he rolled each shirt sleeve to just below the elbow and, loosening his tie, undid the top button of his shirt.

Now then,” he said, resuming his seat, “you were about to explain to me how and why a…”

A sharp, double rap on the door cut the man short; and Lenny, crossing himself, sprang away to answer it.

A young woman was standing outside, bouncing on the balls of her sneakers, a restless energy coiled around her like the silver ring through her nose. She was wearing jeans and a zipped, leather bomber jacket, black like her hair, which was razored short at the back and the sides.

We’re busy, Ms McVay,” came the man’s baritone over Lenny’s shoulder. “Can I ask you to call back later?”

No, you can’t!” she said, pushing Lenny aside and advancing into the room, her dark eyes flashing. “If there’s any violence due to this limp dick of a man, Mr Alexander, then I’m the first in line.”

Well, lassie, you’ve a lot more balls than he has,” the man chuckled.

That’s not difficult,” she said; and a blade shot into her hand from her sleeve.

Oh Jesus, Ellie!” Lenny cried from the doorway.

I’m here to geld him myself, you see,” she grinned, ignoring him. “So, you can have what’s left, after I’ve finished with him.”

The man moved fast, springing forward to grab her wrist and sending his chair spinning over behind him; but she was too quick and his hand closed on air. Half-crouching, she circled away from him, her arms curving out in front like a crab, with the knife in one hand balanced by the other, palm down.

All right,” the man said, standing up straight and raising his hands in the air in a mock gesture of surrender. “Cats can give you a nasty scratch, I’ll grant you that.”

He rolled his sleeves down, closed the knot of his tie and shrugged on his jacket, followed by his overcoat.

As the man came for the door, Lenny edged to one side. “And you,” the man said, blocking Lenny’s movement with a stiff arm to the wall, “be at the club tomorrow night.” The steely eyes bored into him, unblinking. “Nine o’clock, laddie, not a minute later. We’ll continue our discussion then.”

I’ll be there,” Lenny said.

The man took his arm away, moved out onto the landing and then turned.

You’ve over-played your hand today, Ms McVay. There will have to be a reckoning, I’m afraid.”

He nodded and was gone. Without moving, they listened to his measured tread dying away down the stairs and then to the sudden rise and fall of the street noise outside.

Lenny let out an extended groan of relief. “Oh, Ellie, you’re a life saver…literally!” Grinning, he spread his arms wide and swayed towards her.

You better get some towels,” she said, pointing the knife directly at him.

Copyright: Charles Becker, 2019.