Too Much Blue

During my career in social housing, the work I loved best was helping the homeless.  Sadly, domestic violence was all too often the cause.  And Christmas was a bad time to be on the street with nowhere to go…

 

TOO MUCH BLUE

Paul Beech

 

Her unborn kicks as weary she rests on a frozen bench in a bleak northern town.

Seven hours have passed since she fled his fists with naught but the babe in her womb, the clothes on her back and a small knotted bundle.  Seven hours of bus after bus, caring not where she went, only to pile up the miles behind her.  He mustn’t find her.  Must never find her.

The darkening clouds have a purple tinge, a sure sign of snow.  Strangers hurry by; crows croak in a foreign tongue.  Across the road, outside the Town Hall, garishly lit with coloured lights, stands a Christmas tree.

A headscarf bobs before her.  A withered hand points to a door.  A modest side-door with a department sign outside.   Her unborn kicks.  Then stiffly she rises, bundle in hand.

Too much blue, she thinks, crossing.  Too much blue.

O for a splash of gold…

 

~~

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2013

[Previously posted on Linkedin and the author’s own blog, Grandy’s Landing.]

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The Brave

 

 

I shall be wearing a poppy with pride today, and observing the two minute silence on the stroke of eleven, for it is Remembrance Day in the UK, when those brave men and women who sacrificed their lives for us in the First and Second World Wars, and later conflicts, are remembered.

 

THE BRAVE

 

Paul Beech

 

Extracts from the diary of an Old Soldier, long since deceased:

 

Tuesday 16.vii.18, Netley Hospital

 

So many times have I followed the bayonet, Gerry bullets singing in my ears, the thunder-rush of shells bursting orange in mud & guts, yet nary a scratch sustained. Oh, the irony of it, that a micro-organism should have caused my languishing here, in the company of one whose injury – as confided to me, & contrary to the official findings – was not so much accidental as self-inflicted, a contemptible “Blighty Wound.”

Aye, but I am guilty too, despite my citation and Military Medal: guilty of surviving good pals on the line. So when, this morning, with a broken piece of cup, the wretch did hack at his wrists, it was with some rage I stopped him.

“Nay, laddie, that is not the way,” I bellowed. “Give o’ ye best & be a man, damn you!”

The nurse came bustling at my summons, so pure of countenance and gentle her brogue that I thrilled as my pals in Picardy will no more. Her name is Bridget & between us, surely, we have an understanding of sorts…

Tuesday 30.v.44, Larkin Lodge

 

So long has it been, I am almost beyond hope. Oh Rosslyn, dearest daughter, with your lovely face pure as your late Irish mother’s, your gentle voice musical too.  Seven weeks – aye: seven weeks, three days, six hours, thirty-two minutes.  The rain came pelting earlier; now each passing second is marked by the slow drip of the gutter.

I press your knitting to my face, your every loving stitch a wonder. They wanted you away, didn’t they?  France again, of course, to work with the Marquis by moonlight, with stealth & purpose, a fortune in francs on your head no doubt, that volume of poetry your constant companion & talisman.

It is time – time to summon my courage & open the package that arrived this morning by some mysterious means. I fumble, the brown paper rips…& nay, I am not mistaken: it’s the Rimbaud.

“Elle a été trahie en Picardie,” runs the anonymous note enclosed. She was betrayed in Picardy.

Mrs B brings watercress sandwiches on a tray & tucks a napkin under my chin.

Oh Rosslyn…

 

***

 

The Old Soldier received official word exactly one week later, on Tuesday 6th June 1944 – D-Day.

 

-oOo-

© Copyright Paul Beech 2012

‘Returning’, a flash fiction story by Maureen Weldon

 

RETURNING

 

I walk the busy road, stop at an old wrought iron gate, it squeaks and is open.

Oh how I love these trees, this stony path.

Being early Summer bees are singing and the sweet smell of honeysuckle delights me.

I approach the house. Rose-tinted creeper hides old orange bricks. Bright fuchsias slouch on either side of a green wooden hall-door.

“Blacky, is this you? My darling little Blacky-cat. Can you really remember me?”

I hear a whistling, a sound so familiar. My Dad is approaching from the back of the house.  (Will I hide)?

From the kitchen a lovely soft contralto voice hums.

“Mary, is supper nearly ready?” “No Harry, it will take at least another half an hour.”

I am not sure whether to use the old key I have kept so safely all these last ten years?

 

Maureen Weldon

 

[First published on “Rivertrain”, Morelle Smith’s blog, Summer 2014.]

‘Languishing’, a flash fiction story by Maureen Weldon

LANGUISHING

Maureen Weldon

“Just think of it, darling; it seems like yesterday, yet it was ten years ago.”

“What was, my dear?”

“Oh, pass me a gin-and-it.  Our Wedding Day.”

“So sorry, my dear, how could I have forgotten?”

“Well, Percy – And it was Christmas Eve, and all those delightful little carol singers.”

“Details, my dear.”

“Of course.  Light me a cheroot please.”

“Would you ever forget the panic when the spice-beef almost failed to arrive from Dublin?”

“No, Percy, I haven’t forgotten, but it did arrive.”

“It was a perfect day, my dear.”

“Ah, isn’t memory a grand thing.”

~~

Granny Red

Granny Red 

Paul Beech

 

Another one sails up in a skirl of buggy wheels.  ‘Hiya, hiya,’ to the mums.  ‘Hiya,’ to Tom.

Big soft Tom is popular with the mums, unlike the grizzled geezer with a bald crown.  He’d chance a greeting himself – course he would – if only they’d meet his eye.  It makes him feel an oddity…no, invisible.

Perched on the weathervane, a rook calls over the schoolyard, its raucous cry tripping into something nearly speech, something nearly the jabber of the clustered mums.

As the bell rings for home time (or park time, as it is for most of the kids), he becomes aware of a woman at his side.  She’s about his own age, pretty in her day, now blond-on-grey, a granny in a red coat.  Her smile is timorous, his grin almost foolish.  Their granddaughters are best friends.  And here they come now with their bags and lunchboxes, his little goblin and her little princess, all in a rush to be scooped up and twirled around.

Week after week, at the village park, Goblin and Princess scream delightedly as he propels them into orbit in the basket-swing.  He has a bad back, so it’s a relief when they join their mates racing this way and that, like starlings.  It’s now that Geezer and Granny Red enjoy a good chat.

Back in the sixties they danced in the same clubs, maybe even danced together, who knows?  They share a passion for local history and a passion for books.  And when the winter comes, bringing snow, bringing fieldfares into gardens, they discover a common interest in birds.  Often they have a laugh – oh yes, they have their private jokes!

The seasons have changed and changed again since their last time together.  Princess is at a new school now; Goblin has other good friends.  Occasionally he’ll glimpse red and spin…his almost foolish grin dying slowly.  A rook calls over the park as shadows gather and one by one the mums depart in a skirl of buggy wheels.  ‘Seeya, seeya… Seeya later, Tom.’

Geezer and Goblin will stop until dusk.  They’re having the time of their lives.

–oOo—

Copyright © Paul Beech 2011

(Previously published on the author’s blog, Grandy’s Landing.)

Zafia

ZAFIA

 

Paul Beech

 

She was sitting across the table, her back to the rain-spattered window, newspaper raised.  Two or three unfortunates, who’d entered the reference library seeking shelter, sat either side of her but in a different world.  It was a thin, Polish language newspaper, Dziennik Polski.   I had no clear view of her face but her dimpled cheek and auburn hair brought a single name to mind – Zafia.

But how could this be?

 

Never have I known eyes so expressive, a smile so radiant, a voice so gently teasing.  Zafia was our waitress at the Cornish hotel where my wife and I spent a week in the autumn.

One morning, the egg with my Traditional English Breakfast was over-done, bullet hard, just the way I like it.  I’d beamed my preference to her telepathically, I said.  Zafia’s hand flew to her mouth, her look of astonishment so complete it was comic.  Her colour rose as she failed to suppress a laugh.  I laughed too and all at the table joined in.  The dig in my ribs hurt.  “Act your age,” hissed Daphne, my wife.  “You’re old enough to be her dad!”

 

Cornwall, so rugged, colourful and poetic, was like nowhere we’d been before, and we loved it.

Zafia made our every meal special.  Maybe we made her every service special too.  We were amongst her last guests as she counted down the days to her own departure, her return to Kraków, her family, a new job in the media and her beloved myślinska sausages.  She confided to me that she always ate these sliced on rye bread.

I felt bereft on the coach home.  Still do really, though I try to hide it from Daphne.  I picture Zafia in Kraków, wandering beside the Vistula River or through the Old Town.  Does she ever think back to that dining room with green cloths on white covering the tables, a wall-length window presenting an often misty view of the bay below?  Does she remember Table 22 and the way our eyes would sometimes meet?

 

Two of the beery-smelling men at her library table had fallen to telling lewd jokes, perhaps assuming she wouldn’t understand.  The third dozed over Debrett’s People of Today.   But the rain had ceased its drumming now and the mucky-minded ones hauled up their mate to drag him away.

“Zafia,” I said at last, but there was no response.

I tried again: “Zafia.”  And this time the newspaper came down.

“My name is Wanda,” she said.

Wanda?  Her lipstick was startlingly red.  Otherwise she was so like Zafia, she had to be a sister.  Her eyes fizzed in amusement at my confusion.

“You are from Kraków?”

“Gdanśk,” she said.  Then, pointedly, with a little jerk towards the leaded pane behind her: “The sun, it shines…”

Her Dziennik Polski firmly back in place, I read the headline without comprehension before following the unfortunates out of the library and down the steaming street.

 

-oOo-

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2014

Originally posted on the author’s blog, Grandy’s Landing