Arcana

Destiny Jones watched the rain against the window and cradled her coffee mug in both hands. Like many naturally thin people, she had low blood pressure. And like many people with low blood pressure, she felt the cold. And on a cold November day, a single gas bottle heater cuts through the cold like a cheese knife through concrete.

The radio announced the composer of the week was Edgard Varese. “Varese said that in ‘Arcana’,” the announcer said, “you may finally find my thought.” The radio began what sounded like an orchestra in pain, and she sighed and retuned it. After avoiding the cricket commentary, which appeared to be talking about seagulls and a yelling DJ exclaiming about the merits of a particularly obscure dance record, the door opened just as she found a more soothing station. Sighing, she put the radio back down, called up a fake smile, and turned around.

Continue reading “Arcana”

Behind The Scenes: Poppy And Zara

This is the “Behind The Scenes” post for the story “Poppy And Zara. Please read the original story first if you want to avoid spoilers.

This story flowed. It’s nice when that happens, and it doesn’t happen all that often. I started with it, and every sentence seemed right, it seemed to be making the story flow in a way that I liked. I had a few set scenes in my head – getting turned round on the motorway, for example – and I wanted to get those in, stations along the road. I also wanted to show the main character getting more and more hardened to reality, less willing to help, more accepting that there’s really nothing that he can do.

Continue reading “Behind The Scenes: Poppy And Zara”

Poppy And Zara

The alarm went off at six, an hour or so earlier than usual. I looked, bleary-eyed, round my little hotel room before working out exactly where I was.

The conference! Ugh. Another three days of dreary “keynote” speeches, dull technical presentations and question and answer panels with all the personality of a wet cabbage. And I was tired. Shouldn’t have spent so long watching movies last night, but I started flipping through the channels and I’ve always been a sucker for “Thelma and Louise”.

I moved and the phone lit up: it would still be in “do not disturb” mode until eight, but the notifications for text messages were still showing. I scrolled through them.

3:12am: Poppy is sick. Going to call out of hours doctor. Will let you know. xxx Zar

Continue reading “Poppy And Zara”

Behind The Scenes: Just The Ticket

This is the “Behind The Scenes” post for “Just The Ticket“. Please read the original story first if you want to avoid spoilers…

This one started as a nice idea, a little twist, a gimmick. I thought it would be quite easy to write. But it wasn’t. It was actually really quite hard,and I’m not sure I like the result very much. The reason I say that is that there really isn’t enough “stuff” that he does to make his life a bit more interesting. I just didn’t have time to come up with it. My fault for leaving everything to the last minute – again.

I notice I’ve written a lot of people who are unhappy with their jobs and want to quit. While you might think that’s me and my day job, it’s really not: if I were to be writing about my own experience, I’d be writing about someone totally different – most of these I’m basing on news reports and imagination.

Continue reading “Behind The Scenes: Just The Ticket”

Just The Ticket

I bought a lottery ticket Sunday morning. I haven’t done that in years, not since the lottery started probably. Just on a whim really, because it was a roll over – fifty-two million. Don’t win if you don’t play, do you? So I picked six numbers, off the top of my head. Seven and Nine, because of Star Trek (sad, I know). Then fourteen, because that’s my birthday. Thirty-three, my age. Then forty-four (house number where I used to live – I live at number thirty-three now so I had to use the old one), and finally number forty-seven because… well, why not? I didn’t have any numbers in that column yet – that’s as much thought as I gave it. I grabbed a pint of milk, the paper and a pack of bacon, paid for the lot and went home.

Sundays for me these days are pretty much sitting around, reading the paper. Maybe a movie later if there’s a good one on. There’s really nothing else to do in this town, these days.

I keep thinking about moving out, just quitting the job and getting gone, but it’s not possible. Too much debt, too many bills. The mortgage alone is seven hundred. One pay cheque gone and I’m in trouble. Big, big trouble.

Monday was a boring day. The same old, same old. There’s an old joke, and I think it might have originated with Monty Python, about accountancy being the most boring job in the world. Well, trust me, it isn’t. You should try being a “quality coordinator”. In essence, my job involves sitting in an office, reading automated reports and entering figures into a spreadsheet. That’s about it. Then these spreadsheets go off to middle managers who don’t read them unless I highlight in the accompanying email that things are down by five percent or more, year-on-year. And then I usually get a nastygram asking why they weren’t warned sooner. The stock answer being, of course, that they haven’t read a thing from me for six months. I almost relish that as the most exciting part of the job, if I’m honest.

Tuesday wasn’t more exciting. Cathy from whatever department she’s in (I’ve no idea which, I only ever meet her in the kitchen) broke the Disney mug her kids gave her when trying to make coffee. I’m still not sure that wasn’t on purpose.

Tuesday evening it picked up. Quite a bit. I made a point of watching the lottery show, you see.

I’ll lay it on you. You already know what’s coming here, so I’m not going to draw out the agony for you. I’m not going to say that I waited with baited breath as each number came out. I basically thought “that’s a tenner… that’s fifty… that’s – how much is that… oh, six.” I didn’t jump up and down. I didn’t get excited. I just said to myself “that’s nice”.

It didn’t really hit me until the Wednesday morning. I had six numbers. Six numbers. On the lottery. Fifty-two million, if nobody else won it. I put the radio on in the kitchen while eating, but there was nothing on the news. How many years has it been running? So many they don’t bother making it a headline when someone wins it any more, if truth be told. It’s only when they win over a hundred million or the person has won it twice or something that it makes the news.

I walked to work feeling good. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I’d already decided I wasn’t going to tell anyone. I’d also decided that this was going to be my last day at this job, one way or another. But how? I’d read about someone whose resignation letter was essentially having a poop on the boss’s desk, but that’s not me. Besides, it would get the police involved, and I don’t want that. That also ruled out stealing, punching someone, tipping water over the boss or my computer, or any sort of damage. No, I was going to have to get creative somehow.

I walked up the road, past the big factory with the elephant mural on the wall, and up to our office. Got myself buzzed in and went up to the third floor.

I basically sat there all morning, doing as little work as possible and trying to think of what to do to get myself fired. About half past eleven, my boss walked past me, on the way to his cozy corner office and his old school tie flapped out of his jacket. And a thought hit me. It took a moment’s preparation.

“Excuse me,” I said, standing up.

He turned round and walked a little bit back to me. As usual, I had to get up and walk to him.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I was just admiring your tie,” I said, and grabbed it in my hand. The other hand came up and I quickly stapled a piece of paper to it.

I quit, it said.

I smiled, turned and walked back to my desk and sat down to shut down the computer.

“What the hell is this?” he screamed. “What have you done to my tie? My school tie! I had it when I went to Eton! I’ll have your job for this -”

He looked over at me, but by that time I was putting on my coat. I grinned, broadly, and left the building.

There wasn’t silence behind me. A couple of people were clapping, but that stopped fairly quickly. I expect that icy death stare he specialised in had something to do with it.

Fifty-two million, I remember thinking. It made me feel warm inside, happy, contented even. For the first time in years, things were going well.

I stopped off at the corner shop. I bought an outrageously expensive bottle of champagne, some nice wine, smoked salmon – luxury things.

“Having a party?” Dan asked.

“Just splashing out a bit.”

“Birthday treat?”

“No, just felt like it.”

“Nice,” he said. “Be nice to win that sixty four million at the weekend, could live like this every day.”

“Sixty four million?” I asked. “On Saturday?”

“Yeah,” the junior Mr Singh replied, turning round from stacking shelves. “Nobody won it yesterday, innit?”

“Nobody won?”

“Nah.”

“But…” I opened my wallet and passed over the ticket.

Dan looked at it for a few moments before passing it back.

“That must be so gutting,” he said.

“Not really,” I said. “I don’t get it. What do you mean?”

“Seriously?” he raised an eyebrow.

I was starting to sweat now. Dan pointed at the bottom of the ticket.

One draw. Saturday the 16th…

Apparently, although I don’t remember it, I fainted.

 

The post “Just The Ticket” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.

Behind The Scenes: Last Drawer On The Right

This is the “Behind The Scenes” post for Last Drawer On The Right. Please read the original story first if you want to avoid spoilers…

This one I wrote in a different manner to the others. Normally I have no idea what I’m going to write, and then lock myself away in the office Saturday afternoon and sweat until something magically appears in the word processor. This time I started on the Friday night and wrote it in a very vivid state – I could see the characters in front of me, see the piano and the piano stool, envisage the house.

Continue reading “Behind The Scenes: Last Drawer On The Right”

Last Drawer On The Right

I sat down on the old cracked leather sofa, thinking.

This house is mine, now. After all this time. I came here as a kid, played here, spent my first Christmas gurgling and laughing on the very floor I’m staring at. When I was eight I ate too many Easter eggs and had to spend a Sunday afternoon prostrate on the dining room floor.

And now both my grandparents are gone, and the house is mine. Completely mine. Paid for, no debt, no mortgage. Just… mine.

“It’s generous of them,” my mother said. “Isn’t it?”

She always got on well with her parents, but they never liked my dad. I’ve never really understood why people allow things to divide them from their own family like that. I think that was a big part of my parents’ divorce, in the end. Dad re-married a Thai woman and spends half his time over there now. I keep wondering if I’ll find out in twenty years that I’ve got a brother or sister I’ve never met, but I’ll let that bother me when it happens.

I’m nearly thirty. Not married, no kids. No rush in my generation. Seems my grandparents worked faster, and my parents did too. I found that out from the box of papers my grandmum kept hidden at the back of the wardrobe. It’s all there – birth certificates, marriage certificates, even the 1954 ration book she had when she was nine. I know the age, because she wrote on it: “Cecily Harper, form 3B, age 9”.

I looked around, thinking. How am I going to do this? How am I going to clear the house out? There’s the picture of their wedding day for a start – do I keep that? I don’t really want it, because I don’t want to hang onto the past, but it feels wrong to just throw it away, as well. But then should I give it to a historical society, or to the local museum, and just let it gather dust in their archives?

What about grandpa’s beloved books, as well? Yeah, charity shops will take them, but they were all good editions, something he took so much care to put together.

And then grandmum, there’s her stuff too. The collection of porcelain figurines that are all twee and ghastly and I’d happily go and smash if she hadn’t loved them. If she hadn’t spent every Sunday dusting them lovingly and arranged them in just that perfect order. Even last month, in hospital, hooked up to chemo, she asked my mum to come and dust them. The nurses said she was fretting until mum came back, worrying she would break one.

There’s one thing I won’t keep though, and that’s grandpa’s piano. I remember him bashing out tunes on it – bar room favourites from the forties, mainly – to keep me amused when I was four or five. He could play, though. Proper stuff like Bach, Schumann, Beethoven. But I can’t even play “Chopsticks”.

He hadn’t played for a year or so before he died. He just stopped. Would mutter something if you asked, or change the subject, walk off, say something sarcastic or do just do anything else he could think of to try and avoid playing. I never understood that at the time, but it became clear later that it was the start of the dementia. It came fast, took him over and in a few short months he was gone.

“Well,” I said, turning to look at the piano. “I’m afraid you’re not going to be needed here much longer, but I’m going to try and find you a nice new home.”

You know how it is when you’re alone. You pretend you’re conducting an orchestra, or maybe you’re the great (air) guitarist. Perhaps you’re the world’s greatest singer who uses a hairbrush for a microphone; it doesn’t matter. Anything to relieve the monotony, or in my case, the grief. I walked over to that piano like I was about to play to a packed concert hall. I stood up straight, head back in my best haughty manner, and brushed my imaginary frock coat (even if it did have a picture of Tom and Jerry on it) and sat down at the piano.

Of all things, I always loved that piano stool. Black painted wood, with some of the paint peeling off, that embroidered top (slightly ragged in places with years of wear) and the seat that lifted up to show that collection of sonatas, airs and “selections from” that seemed so wonderful when I was five. Maybe I’d keep it, use it as the seat for my home office.

I didn’t actually play anything. Nothing to spoil the illusion. But it made me wonder – was any of that stash of sheet music still there? I stood up again and opened the lid.

On top was a book of “Selections from Schumann”, and the cover of a sheet of music from Ravel peeked out from underneath. They weren’t lying flat though – something was underneath them. More than one, actually. At least one of them was fairly big – about the right size and shape for a glasses case. Perhaps he had special glasses for reading music? I lifted them up and looked.

It wasn’t a glasses case. It was a tape recorder. The small kind they made in the 90s, that took really small tapes. They lasted maybe fifteen minutes or something each side – I remembered that my boss used to use one years ago, and then she’d give the tapes to her secretary and get them typed up. I always thought she was lazy but it turned out she had been keen on horses as a kid and had her hand stepped on just one too many times. When I asked once, she just shrugged and said “it happens.” That’s what you do, I suppose, if that happens to you. You just go on.

There was a tape already loaded in the machine, so I switched it on, but nothing happened. I turned it over and popped open the battery cover , but there were no batteries in it. I put it on top of the piano lid and took a look at the other bulge. It was a pair of batteries, still in a sealed pack. The date on the back said they were still usable – but only just. I opened them and popped them in the back of the machine. I turned it on.

“Robert,” said a familiar voice. “If you’re listening to this, and I hope it’s you, this is your grandpa.”

I stopped the tape and staggered backwards. I had to sit down. I sat back down on the sofa, wound it back a little, and continued.

“ – this is your grandpa,” the voice said. “I’m leaving this because I don’t really know any other way to communicate that’s safe. She won’t let me out of the house now. She’s got a plan of some sort. I don’t know quite what she’s got in mind but there’s no doubt she’s brewing something.”

I clicked off the tape. So this was it. Late stage dementia grandpa, thinking that the world was plotting against him. And she tried so hard not to have to put him in a home.

I sighed. Maybe a cup of tea would help.

I went into the kitchen, taking the tape recorder with me. I boiled their kettle, as I’d done so many times, and took my mug out of the cupboard. Well, it wasn’t the only one any more, but it was the one they’d called “Robert’s Mug”. It had a minion on it, because I’d introduced them to “Despicable Me”, back when grandpa was well enough to appreciate it.

I decided to listen a bit more. Maybe it would help. It could make things a lot worse. But I had to know. Click.

“Right now you’re probably standing at the piano, staring at this tape recorder, wondering why exactly I’ve chosen to do this. Well, Robert, you see, the thing is that she’s poisoning me.”

Poison. This was getting better.

“Let’s go out to the kitchen,” he said on the tape.

“Let’s not,” I whispered to myself.

“Six pills a day, you know.” he wittered on. “ I’m turning right into the hall. Now I’m opening the kitchen door. And now I’m in the kitchen.”

You’ve caught up, then, I thought, not relishing the excruciating inch-by-inch commentary.

“Now let’s open the door into the garage.”

I heard the sounds of the door opening and him shuffling down the step into the garage. I opened the door myself and walked there.

“So I’m in the garage,” he said.

The smell of old oil and the semi-dark of the garage was a little unsettling after the sunlit kitchen. I flicked the light on and heard a cracking noise behind me as the kettle finished boiling and turned itself off.

“Not very exciting, is it?” he said, sardonically. “Well let’s see if we can rustle up a little more interest.”

On the tape I heard him walking around and tried to follow where he was going.

“Not under that bugger,” he murmered, sarcastically, noisily moving something out of the way. “Now why are we keeping that – in case the lizard people invade?”

Come on, I thought. What are you doing, you silly old man?

“I’m eighty-one, you know,” he said on the tape, as though reading my thoughts. “Now stop moaning, Robert, because I know you bloody were.”

I almost turned the tape off then and there. It was too much to bear. This must have been one of the good days. Narky old grandpa back for a last hurrah, indulging his weird side again. The idea that grandmum was trying to kill him was a stretch though.

More rattles on the tape, a squeak like the tape being turned on and off, and then he was back, with something changed in his voice.

“Here it is,” he said. “Take a look in the tool cabinet – you were never really interested in that, you know, so it’s the big white thing with all the little drawers in the front.”

Yeah, I thought. I know, you sarcastic git.

“Now, third row down, last drawer on the right.”

On the tape, I heard what sounded like the front door and the recording stopped with a swishing noise. I turned it off.

I stood there for a few moments, looking at the tool cabinet. I reached forward,and opened the drawer.

Inside was a bottle of pills. I didn’t recognise the brand name. I slipped them in my pocket and went back to the kitchen. I poured water on a tea bag, added milk and sugar and let it brew for a moment before removing the bag. I sat on the kitchen stool, drinking my tea, staring into space, thinking.

I missed them both. My sarcastic old grandpa, who somehow knew exactly when to dial it back and when to use it to make you laugh and my sweet old gran who never had a bad word to say about anybody and yet managed to put her foot in it half the time.

By the time the my tea was finished, the sun was setting, and I had more questions than answers.

The old phone in the hall still used a dialler rather than the modern buttons. It wasn’t connected, but that didn’t matter much. I had my mobile. I dialled a friend of mine.

“Kev speaking?”

“Hi Kev, Robert.”

“Hi mate. Listen, sorry to hear about your grandmother, but -”

“It’s all good, man,” I said. “Listen, do you know anyone who could answer some questions about some pills I found?”

“Pills?” he asked, somewhat suspicious. “What sort of pills?”

“They’re ones that my grandpa was prescribed,” I replied. “I think they were for him, anyway. I’ve just never heard of them and I wondered what they were for is all.”

“Oh OK,” he replied, audibly more relaxed. “You could always give my ex a ring, she used to work in a pharmacy.”

“Which one’s that?”

“Lucy,” he said, and gave me the number.

“Thank mate, I owe you one.”

“And I expect payment in full,” he said. “In beer.”

“It shall be thus,” I replied, and hung up.

I dialled the number he gave me, and after a few moments a woman answered.

“Hello, Lucy?” I asked.

“Hello, yes, who’s this?” she asked.

“Hi, I’m Robert,” I explained. “Kev gave me your number because I wanted to ask someone who knows about pills about some that my grandpa was taking.”

She paused for a moment or two.

“Go on then,” she said.

I read out the label. “Is that usually prescribed for dementia?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she laughed. “Usually it’s heart, although it’s got some nasty side effects. Be more likely to give you dementia than cure it, I’d have thought.”

“Six pills a day?”

“30 milligrams?” she almost shrieked. “You’d be a vegetable in a few weeks for sure.”

“I see.”

“What were the symptoms?”

“Forgetful,” I said. “Shuffled around a bit. But other than that he was much the same as ever. Sarcastic. Obsessed with order. My grandmum could never throw anything away, she even kept her ration book from the 50s. And she had to hide it from him.”

“That’s not the usual way it happens,” she said. “If they’ve got Alzheimer’s, then sarcasm goes out the window, it’s one of the first things. They start hoarding, stealing, craving odd things. They like routine.”

“Thanks.” I both meant it and didn’t, at the same time.

I sat back down on that old green leather sofa again.

She’d murdered him. My grandmum. She knew she had cancer, so she killed him.

I turned and looked at the piano.

“You better be able to handle a beginner,” I said. “Because you and I, kid, we are going to make some noise.”

 

The post “Last Drawer On The Right” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.

Behind The Scenes: Harold Green Is Dead

This is the “Behind The Scenes” post for Harold Green Is Dead. Please read the original story first if you want to avoid spoilers…

This was an odd one. I started feeling unwell on Thursday afternoon – some kind of stomach problem (I’m prone to them) – and this continued right through the weekend and into this week (in fact, I’m still fighting it this Thursday evening, a week later). Anyhow, I somehow made myself plough through it while flying on painkillers. (From a pain management point of view, that was a mistake, but let’s gloss over that.)

Continue reading “Behind The Scenes: Harold Green Is Dead”

Harold Green Is Dead

Evelyn opened the office door, and walked over to the desk.

What Evelyn intended to say on opening the office door was a simple few words: “Here’s your tea, Mr Green – will there be anything else?”

But Harold Green was dead. That was for sure. The bullet hole in his forehead was a bit of a giveaway. And if that wasn’t enough, the blood splatter on the far wall surely had to be.

Out of habit, she placed the tea on the desk, and then walked out of the door, back to her desk. She sat down, in front of the typewriter, and began to think.

How could someone have come in the front door, shot the man in the head, walked out again, and she hadn’t heard?

Continue reading “Harold Green Is Dead”

Behind The Scenes: The Enemy Within

This is the “Behind The Scenes” post for the story “The Enemy Within. Please read the original story first if you want to avoid spoilers…

First off, an apology for the lateness of this post. It was supposed to be ready Wednesday, but Wednesday got consumed by “other things” (read, real life). Then Thursday got consumed by chronic stomach pains, an emergency doctor, and generally nothing other than pain management for the next two days. So right now it’s Saturday morning. Here goes…

This one started OK. Despite what you might think the name of the protagonist was always intended to be Carter something – like Carter Pewterschmidt in Family Guy, although I didn’t think about that until some time after I’d written it.

Continue reading “Behind The Scenes: The Enemy Within”