Category Archives: Fiction
He walked in to the blue signed bookshop. The floor mat a stripped lined blue & green monstrosity from the 1950s, but that was the bizarre introduction to this magical world of words & creativity.
The inside, filled with orange pine shelf after shelf of literary history from all walks of life shone like a forest in the early morning light. The wooden floor reflecting the artificial light creating a cosy yet well lit experience.
Behind the counter sat the owner. Her long brown hair and yellow flower covered green dress betrayed her age. A visage of the psychedelic 60s, her skin & features portrayed an age of less than 30.
She was busy, talking to two friends or would be customers. The pair in equally bright and vivid outfits stood around the book packed counter and chatted to the owner.
He paid no attention to their conversation, although would later imagine it involved the previous wild weekend of wine and drugs. For now his mind was purely on the location of the other 20 or so as yet unknown individuals that Phil had invited to the poetic reading.
There must’ve been 50 pines on that cactus.
He didn’t count.
The lines attached to the blurred drawing were insurmountable in quality and quantity.
The picture absorbed his mind. The indistinguishable background noise was difficult to focus on.
“Mankind needs to plant that tree.”
“Oh, oh, oh, we got animals. And we spent 50 grand.”
The cactus stood still. As did everything on the paper.
He blinked. The picture faded from eye sight as he returned the real world.
The three of them sat round the table. A dull blue shade, made of wood, against the wall. He faced the painting, his companions either side, intently discussing the futility of society.
In the background, Patsy Cline sang of men in courtrooms & the morality of romantic existence.
The world went on. The smoke blew under his nose. The rolled tobacco doing the rounds. That beautiful, burning odour. The heat. The strong odour of charcoal. That intoxicating aroma. People have been hooked for centuries. It’s hardly a surprise.
Life was good.
The sound of the city was deafening.
As cars of various shapes and sizes zoomed past along the narrow road, builders drilled in unison on top of a rejuvenated building. The faint wind blew gently against the white sheets labelled “Bennett’s Builders & Manufacturers” & the blazing sun’s light reflected back, dazzling anyone who dared to stare for too long.
Across the road, he sat. The base of an old fountain his rest, he felt the smooth marble’s chill through his shirt and down his spine.
A sink, probably used by many a late night drunk, hung to the right of his head. In the heat of the day, he didn’t care.
He opened the white carrier bag in front of him & pulled out a puffed up bundle of white paper. Gently unwrapping it, away from his legs afraid of leaks, he found a chibatta, neatly cut in half, resting inside.
The sandwich had been toasted with salad & mayo added later. No tomato at his request, but the cucumber tasted good.
He relaxed & raising a half of the sandwich to his lips, he took a bite. The contents filled his mouth with sensation and as he chewed, he smiled to himself. He looked to his right at the continental cafe, half deserted with orange cover & owner glumly flicking through his paper.
Shortly a coffee would be in order, but for now, he was going to enjoy his sandwich.
She whispered in his ear & looked at him. A tear softly emerged from her eye and dripped onto her cheek.
He looked at her & held her tight.
He had no idea how it’d come to this. He thought about the days & nights together. The variety of meals, the long moonlight strolls along the dimly lit streets of the London river bank. The nights where they’d lay on the bed, intertwined as one, relaxing as the television pictures had flickered in front of their eyes. That amazing day in the French Capital, drinking coffee, walking until their feet didn’t function at all.
It all felt like a dream looking back. A time long gone. He didn’t know what he’d felt then, he didn’t know how he felt now. He just knew he had been happy.
Now, all that time later, he was losing her.
Their time together had been at the avoidance of one truth. Something they’d struggled to forget. One fact that there was no work around from. She was married.
He’d freaked out about it at the time, but when they were together, it faded into memory. He thought to himself on reflection that it would probably be insurmountable, but it was something to forget & savour their time together.
He saw himself as a Humphrey Bogart. A man who cared, but that would always lose her. She would go back to the husband & who knows what would’ve happened next.
His trademark curled smile appeared gradually on his lips & a faint chuckle. He’d been stupid. They both had really. To think that the other man, her husband of many years, to think he wouldn’t find out about their time together. About their bond. About this happiness. He was bound to.
Their escape from reality had been discovered. Their moments of joy unearthed. They’d looked into the abyss & the darkness of life had engulfed them whole.
It would go without saying that her husband would end their communion. That he would threaten her with the worst if she had anything further communication.
The husband wasn’t stupid. He, like the pair of them, was aware of the truth. The simple fact that history never really accepts. The fact that despite our better judgement, it IS possible to love two people at the same time.
She’d been put on the spot & she was only ever going to be able to go one way. Her husband, a decent man really, had been honest. He was hurting, but he loved her. He’d promised to be a better man, to talk more, to put more time into their relationship. To right his wrongs.
By contrast, our hero, our Bogart. He didn’t even know his own emotions. He knew she meant the world to him, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He certainly wasn’t willing to put that “L” word out there. It meant too much to him. It had been thrown around by everyone far too many times. When he wanted to use that word, he wanted to be 100% sure. For her, that could never be enough. There was too much to lose from her old life, too much to risk. The husband was always destined to win.
So here they were. Parting. Was it for the last time? He didn’t believe so. He just suspected it would be a while.
She’d heard him chuckle & looked into his eyes.
He looked back at her & then softly, barely touching the skin, kissed her forehead.
“I don’t believe in goodbye.”
She frowned, looking at him like he was living in a dreamworld. Maybe he still was. For now, he wasn’t ready to lose her forever.
“I know you’ve got to go.” He softly spoke, stroking her hair as the words left his lips.
“This isn’t the end though. We’ll see each other again. One day. You’ll see.”
Her frown softly faded away & a her lips faintly curled, a sad smile gradually began to form.
The smile formed.
“And if not… We’ll always have Paris.”
She kissed him softly & then broke their connection. She’d stolen his line. He’d wanted to say that himself. In that moment though, it didn’t matter.
They sadly looked at each other, then, with a sad forelorn look, she turned around & walked away. He watched her as she went. Then, for the first & last time, a word left his lips.
The heavens opened. Suddenly what had been a soft & gentle trickle became an intense downpour. A constant stream of water, a sprinkler effect, covering the trees & grass with a bombardment of magnificent h2o.
He sat & stared out the window. The rain beat down, hitting everything in his field of view. The array of trees & bushes, the concrete paving stones, the surface of the distant swimming pool. A permanent ripple of bouncing, bubbles forming across the water as liquids collided. An almost dance like state echoing across the green tinted layer. He watched. It was as if nature was performing a miraculous private dance piece for him & him alone. He just wished he understood it.
The rain began to ease off as quickly as it had started.
A squawking in the distance began. The sound of powltry, soaked in dew, struggling to cope with their inept failure to find a suitable cover in the outside world.
For one moment, he felt at ease with this natural life. Like he was at one with his surroundings and the world around him. Sooner he knew, that tranquility would cease. Probably more quickly than he’d have wished. For now though, he sat there & listened to the chickens in the distance.
He looked at her across the table.
“So why did you suggest coffee?”
They’d met an half hour previously at the tube & he’d sensed something was wrong. Walking up to each other to say hello, he’d leant in for a passionate kiss, all he received in response was a half peck on the lips, an accident on her part, aiming for the cheek.
“Ah, here we go.” He’d thought to himself.
They’d left the station & walked into the blistering sunshine. Jeans had seemed a mistake at the time & she struggled too, her red, curled locks, bundled back into a bun, trousers & green blouse resting on her tired & hungover frame.
The coffee shop she’d suggested, it sat on a quiet side street, practically invisible, between two taxi hire firms.
It was a beautiful French cafe, white walled outside & in, filled with a small black panelled kitchen & numerous oak benches & tables. It was a noticeable independent firm & he loved it at first sight.
They’d walked in & been invited to take a seat. Now, medium sized latte in hand, he looked across at her, expecting the worst.
She sat there, awkwardly chewing the edge of the cup, dreading the conversation she was initiating.
“I hate having these conversations, but I needed to talk to you…”
He sighed, actually relieved. His fears confirmed, the blind panic he’d previously been feeling, it drained away. Instead, a submissive acceptance began to set in.
“Sometimes not knowing is worse than hearing the worst,” He thought to himself.
“I had a feeling this was coming.” He said, placing his thin cup back on the saucer.
She looked at him, there was a sadness in her eyes, but he knew it all too well. It was the same sadness felt by most truly kind people. It cannot be hidden. This was a girl who had faced a truth & was not sad for herself, but embracing a different kind of sadness. A guilt for hurting someone she felt didn’t deserve it.
She held the cup up, masking her face, rescinding back into herself.
“I was sat at home the other night.” She continued.
“I was tired & unable to sleep. Going through my mind, I thought of exboyfriends & how I’d kept it going despite knowing something wasn’t right. I just sort of knew that this was something similar.”
She paused & looked at him. He had accepted this fate already & was smiling back at her softly. He knew that this was coming, he felt calm & almost zen like in emotion. He nodded at her to continue.
“I just didn’t want to drag this out & hurt you further down the line.”
He continued to nod, understanding & sympathetic. He knew this conversation was as difficult for her as it was for him. He’d decided to be strong & accepting. After all, life can be like this sometimes.
He looked at her across the table & smiled softly. She lowered the cup, placing it on the table. He knew this was the end of their relationship in this way, but he didn’t expect this to be the last time he saw her. He suddenly grinned at her.
“At least this means I don’t need to be nice to you anymore.”
A faint laugh. A faint smile. He knew how to relax her, he always had. He would just continue to plod through life. He would make her laugh, he would make her smile, he just wouldn’t be able to see her naked anymore. In the grand scheme of life, the former two would always easily outweighed the latter.
The Sun shone brightly in the sky. Blinding to the eye, powerful on the skin, filling him with a glowing warmth.
The park was packed full of sun worshipping Londoners of varying age and lifestyle.
Young students sat in a huddle, joking amongst themselves about the latest reality TV series. A group in all black, stood talking preparing for a gig at the nearby arena. Couples, sunbathing next to each other, he in knee length shorts and flip flops, her in a flowing, yellow summer dress. All types were in the park, all were welcome.
This was the wonderful thing about Britain. The second that the Sun made a fleeting appearance, tools were downed, shops packed with people buying 6 packs of their preferred beverage & the air smelt of burning charcoal as amateur chefs cooked their solitary barbecue of the year.
Ben lay on his back in the dry grass, his eyes closed under the gingerly rested sunglasses, a bottle of overly priced, commercial cider resting in his hand by his side.
He listened to the conversation around him as familiar voices talked amongst themselves, aware of his presence, but leaving him to his own devices.
“You should come do a few hours a week with us. It’ll help you when the time comes for your work to start on your place.”
“Perhaps. Could be fun I guess. What sort of work would it be?”
“Nothing too stressful, a bit of manual labour. Lifting boxes, painting or tiling a few walls. Pretty basic stuff.”
A pause. He focused intently to see if he could hear anything. Voices in the distance laughing. The faint smell of a barbecue from somewhere else in the park. The murmur of people out and about enjoying the weather. All a distance away.
“Yeah okay, might as well give it a go. What do I need to do?”
“Remind me later. My Dad is helping out. He’ll be at the house most days. I’ll give you his number later and you can arrange to meet him.”
“Okay cool… Oh, hel…”
Silence again. A pause. He suddenly felt very alert. Then, a kiss.
He felt the sensation deep on his lips as a soft, intimate peck touched them. A delicate feeling. Done with love, but designed to surprise.
His eyes opened and he opened them just fast enough to see a blurbed head come fast towards him.
A sudden pain throughout his chest as she landed hard on top of him, the brunt of her weight hard on his ribcage. It winded him briefly.
His head landed back on the ground after briefly lurching upwards. It hit the ground hard, a surge through his skull, soothed as he simultaneously felt her lips once again on his. This time, intensely and passionate.
He smiled as time slowed to a crawl, he let go of the bottle in his hand, and pulled his arms in, grabbing her waist as she lay on top of him.
He felt cotton on her waist, the shirt clasping to her skin as he squeezed her tightly.
He kissed her back, and for a brief time, the two became intertwined. Like a symbiotic entity, lying tightly together on the grass. Happy. Content.
They both paused, their lips seperating, their heads pulling apart. He looked into her eyes and a wide grin spread across his face as the pair of them remembered where exactly they were.
She leaned back, sitting astride his legs. He leaned up, using his arms underneath his sides to prop him up.
He looked at her, and then twisted his head to his left, the grin on his face stretching from ear to ear.
The small group of friends sat there, sitting in various positions across the carpet, surrounding a small picnic.
Dean sat in the middle of them, chicken leg in one hand, cider bottle in the other, he looked at Ben and laughed.
There was a brief moment when he didn’t know what to say. It was difficult to explain the joy he felt at this exact time. So he didn’t try. He simply turned back to her.
Her long, flowing hair glistened in the sunshine and with the Sun behind her, framing her silhouette like a renaissance masterpiece, she looked like an angel.
Life was good.
Leaning, he lifted his arms forward and tried to wrap them around her.
Without the support of his arms, his body fell backwards to the ground and she followed him.
Once again, they kissed. Softly this time. Gently reacquainting themselves with each other’s lips.
They stopped and he released her. Reaching for the bottle on his right, he realised that it’d fallen over long ago. It lay there, empty. He didn’t care anymore.
Placing the arm behind his head, he leaned back. She adjusted herself next to him and lay on the grass too, her head resting on the upper torso of his chest.
His left hand lay gently across her and stroked her hair.
He closed his eyes and listened to the group nearby.
“Anyone want one of these chicken legs before this one eats them all?”
He heard Dean laugh, and he felt her head shake softly on his head.
The Sun shone down on him, as he gently dozed off to sleep.
This was a mistake.
Not the walk in itself, the Sun had appeared to be shining when he’d left the house earlier, so a stroll to the store 2 miles away had seemed like a great plan.
No the walk to the store had been great. Headphones in, sun shining into the appropriately perched sun glasses, it all felt like a magical dream.
The error, upon realisation had come upon reaching the store.
Standing in this French boulangerie, shelves filled with packaged foods, baguettes, swimming pool inflatable balls, and much more, he’d looked around for anything he wanted and plumped for a soft drink from a fridge cabinet. Taking a can out and placing it on the till counter, he strolled over to the fridges to survey the wine selections.
Two stood out instantly.
A bottle of Voignier, a beautiful dry white, was an obvious call. More amusingly to him, he’d seen a bottle with a basic, badly drawn in-house label on it. Picking this up, one thought crossed the mind.
“It’ll be a laugh”.
The shop owner had been happy enough to serve, and so here he stood, a bottle in each hand, a soft drink in his pocket. The road stretched out ahead of him.
That was the mistake. Whilst the walk would be great, he wished he’d made do with only one bottle. Two was greedy, two was excessive. There was no need to now have to carry two 750ml bottles home with him.
He sighed and took it as a fact of life. He looked into the distance.
The Sun still shone briefly, and the river to his left trickled along. A black bird flew past and landed in a tree alongside the bank. He began to walk, one bottle in each hand, along the dirt track that resembled a road. The path had been developed through years of tractors, cars and lorries driving along it. Tyre indents laying out a long track along the side of a vast field, setting markers from one location to the next.
He began to walk, feet crunching on the floor, occasionally stepping over an ant, a butterfly and other insects and fauna. Despite the headphones in his ears, distancing him from this world he inhabited, he felt alive right now. Happy, content, relaxed and engulfed by a feeling of well being, he looked at the bottle on his left. Then he looked at the bottle in his right hand. Then he looked at the spralling path, leading into the distance.
“Sod it”, he thought, life could be worse.
He began to walk home.
The aroma poured into his nostrels, overwhelming his senses. Like the dew on grass when the rain stops, the smell was powerful, divine.
He felt powerless and weak, like the world was spinning out of control. Yet he also felt strong, like he was shouting back at the world “I am no mere man, I am a God.”
His arm around her, hand on her arm, remained firmly in place. His head pulled away from her flowing hair, yet the smell retained it’s potency.
Hours later, he’d sit at home, weighing up these moments, shocked by the power, stunned by the million bolts of electricity, hitting his brain in this precise minute. The smell, that heavenly aroma, he knew it would survive much longer.
He looked at her, his glazing eyes looking at her beauty as if for the first time. He knew this moment, this sudden, sharp moment, would change everything for ever. His genesis, his rebirth, he felt more alive now than he had ever been before.
Yet in the back of the mind, a sadness. A realisation. Life doesn’t allow us our eternity. Sooner rather than later, the moment would end. He would have to let her go, and he knew it would destroy him.
He clasped her tight. Willing time to freeze, if just for a moment more. He leaned his head forward, softly kissing her forehead. Another shock, another sensation. The nerves in his lips, going into spasm in eclectic delight.
He looked down into her eyes and saw the same emotion. He hoped she realised, like he, that the end was approaching. He wished he could just freeze time, just once, to capture that face.The deep, deep brown eyes, the longing smile, curling at the edges of the lips.
He pulled her in, one final time, tighter than ever. He thought of that permanent sensation. Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, he let the moment seep away. They parted.
“The beautiful thing about London is not the place, but the beauty of the people themselves.”
Ben leaned back in the old, wooden wicker chair, resting the small of his back in the curved seat, allowing for maximum comfort and considered Dean’s statement.
His friend, a five foot four Yorkshireman with curled blonde hair was always making statements like this. but Ben was used to it by now.
He’d met Dean many years ago at a house party in Islington, London and they’d hit it off straight away. A mutual interest in alcohol aside, the two had bonded over a wide range of interests, not least the fact that on days like this, they could sit in the beer garden of the Duke of Cambridge and eulogise over any old topic that came to mind.
There’s little point denying that often their arguments were weak and often grandiose in their nature, but this was rarely the point. The two of them would share a mutual disregard for logic and they liked it this way.
Today was of no exception to their rule. It was a Bank Holiday and the Sun was shining. The pub had been an obvious destination, so when Ben’d received the predictable text from Dean early in the afternoon, the afternoon was set.
This is why, at 4pm, he sat there in the default beer garden chair, lazing in the sunshine and engaged in yet another unplanned discussion. He looked at his beer. The condensation ran down the side of the thin pint glass and shone in the bright sunshine.
On days like this, life felt good.
“What do you mean mate?”
“Think about it,” Dean began. “Just like a human body, a City is nothing but the sum of it’s parts. London is no different.
From the street cleaner, to the office worker, everyone contributes to this thriving metropolis and adds something of value.
Man, woman, child, we’re all helping to make London, that little bit special.”
Ben looked through the partially opened metal door leading from the beer garden onto the street. Dean, was certainly correct in that London was diverse.
Outside the pub, and across the road, he saw the familiar petrol station that he would frequent for the cash point with the faded green cover, or for the overly priced milk and groceries, often bought late at night on route home after a night out.
The pumps were all in use.
There was the family man in a green cardigan, filling up the range rover whilst his wife sat in the passenger seat, attending to the fighting children on the back seat.
The dreadlocked rastafarian, filling up a battered toyota, looking like he didn’t have a care in the world.
The business woman, looking at her watch impatiently whilst filling the tank of a brand new Mercedes.
London was diverse all right, and the people were integral to it’s dynamic. They added this sense of wonder to a place which glowed in the summertime Sun, but which less than 3 months back had looked gloomy and soul destroying in the mid winter rain.
Ben paused for a second, and found himself constructing a counter arguement.