A Tail of a Mouse
Paperback edition of all Prizewinners' works and all Highly Commended works.
Kindle eBook also available.
First Prize: £300
Publication in the 2017 MTP Anthology (print book)
Anthology title based on the winning entry
Publication on the MTP website
Andy Hamilton - A Tale of a Mouse
Second Prize: £150
Publication in the 2017 MTP Anthology (print book)
Publication on the MTP website
Tamara Artvin - The Last Love of the Sea Captain
Third Prize: £50
Publication in the 2017 MTP Anthology (print book)
Publication on the MTP website
Mary Charnley - A Gap Year for Grandma
Trevor Colbourne -Wild Geese
Sandra Kirley - Everything Must Go
Tiffany Williams - Mirella
Emma J Myatt - Your Lifejacket is Under Your Seat
Julia Brilleman - Rubber Dominoes
Pauline Whittle - Doomed
Martin Hone - The Soul as a Shadow and a Reflection
E C Hayles - The Model
Nick Adigu Burke - Many a Silent Wish
Grant Hulbert - Creatures of Myth - The Story of Jared McKay
Paula St. Paul - Hand Across The Water
Sally Wood - Evelyn
Mike Waugh - Prey
Andrea Rose Lyttle - The Ambit
Tim Cove - Homo Erectus
Shayna Marks - It's Not What It Seems
Liam Lennon - Memoirs About a Girl
Fizza Fatima - Fablo's Bar
Hilary Slade - The Life and Times of Lewis Ancer
Aviv Salinas - Counter Revolution
Shelley Crowley - The One Who Wasn't
Tom Nicolson - A Grand Opportunity
David Readings - A Spitfire Called Lola
Lee Wadmore - Happy Crying
Ken Hawes - Look Further than the Cover
Tim Ewins - A Little, Lost
E.L. Spink - Escobar's Last Breakfast
Ron Morton - The Sinkers' Skirmish
FIRST PRIZE: Andy Hamilton - A Tale of a Mouse
“Run for your life,” screamed Olivia. Gus was doing exactly that. Chop! The cleaver stuck in the wooden table top. The wood creaked as the cleaver was forced free, a large gouge now visible. Gus was now on the cold hard floor scrambling for the tiny gap in the corner of the room. Suddenly he heard an almighty clang of metal on stone just behind him and a searing pain wracked his body. He slid along the floor on his back and disappeared through the tiny gap.
The woman picked up the weapon from the corner where Gus had disappeared, knelt down and peered into the darkness of his escape route. “Left something behind have we?” she said mockingly. “Why don’t you come back for it?” she chuckled, a cold menacing chuckle. In her hand she held part of his tail. Cinderella’s eyes narrowed as she thought about the next step in her plan to finish the job she had started.
Olivia knelt beside her twin brother trying to comfort him. Gus was staring silently at a tail that wasn’t quite a tail. “Is it sore?” Olivia asked him. Gus didn’t answer. He was numb and couldn’t feel anything.
“Oh Gus!” his mother came into the room. She tried to remain calm so as not to alarm him further. “We need to get that bandaged,” she said.
She then cleaned the remaining tail and wrapped a tiny piece of cotton cloth around it. She wiped clean a few specks of blood from his brilliant white coat without mentioning it to him.
Gus looked at his mother, his eyes welling slightly. “When will it grow back Mother?” She didn’t answer but told him to go and lie down for a while and stay out of the People kitchen.
He knew that there were good People and bad People and he had just had another encounter with one of the most wicked of People.
Olivia followed Gus to the bedroom. He lay down on the straw bed. He was trying to be tough, but Olivia knew he was wavering.
“That was a lucky escape,” she said.
He looked at his tail and said “Not that lucky”, “will it grow back?”
She shook her head slowly, her brow furrowed. He buried his head in the straw and decided to be an ostrich for now.
Cinderella held the tail high in the light from the window, looking at it closely. Not enough to add to a pie, she thought.
The door opened and in walked Kate and Kim, Cinderella’s stepsisters. “What is that, what have you done?” Kate asked, already knowing the answer.
Cinderella stared at the twin sisters. She was still holding the cleaver. She raised it up to her shoulder like a knife thrower and held it there. “Kate or Kim, which one shall I choose first?” The twins froze. They knew she was capable of carrying out the threat.
Footsteps in the hall told them that Mother, Cinderella’s stepmother, was coming. Cinderella sat the cleaver on the window sill, walked across the room to the fireplace, where she reached down and dabbed her fingers into the soot before smearing it on her face. Lifting the broom leaning against the wall she started to sweep and wiped her brow with the back of her hand as if exhausted.
“Ah, as usual, the only one doing any work is Cinderella” Mother said. Kate and Kim remained quiet. They knew that if they tried to tell Mother the truth, Cinderella would be waiting for them later on. They had previously tried to say what a scheming monster their stepsister was, but Mother had just laughed and scolded them for being lazy.
Olivia’s mother had watched Cinderella many times from the safety of her mouse domain. She knew that one day she would need to sort Cinderella, before Cinderella sorted her and her family. She had already lost her husband to the bad sister and she wasn’t going to let that happen to her children. Olivia’s mother had a plan, an ace card, but it meant Olivia learning of the amazing untapped magical powers she possessed. She worried that such a revelation might be a bit too much, too early for such a young mouse.
Kate and Kim sat down for lunch with Mother and Cinderella. Lunch that day consisted of small round pies with tiny strands of pastry, like whiskers, across the top. Kate and Kim knew what was in those pies and always passed them up for some bread and cheese. Some of the cheese found its way into the hems of their skirts for later distribution to their tiny friends in the corner; if it wasn’t for the kindness of Kate and Kim, Olivia’s family would never survive a winter. The twins had also tried to warn Mother against eating Cinderella’s special meat pies, but she just thought they were jealous of her and dismissed the idea angrily.
“You have received an invitation to The Grand Royal Ball by the Royal Princes Rosco and Craig,” said Mother excitedly.
“All of us, I hope?” said Cinderella. She didn’t mean it. She wanted to get herself a Prince, any Prince, just someone to make her life as rich and easy as possible. Once she was a Princess she could get rid of the Prince and rule the Kingdom. She also had a plan for all those pesky mice; special meat pies for everyone.
Cinderella was beautiful, but only on the surface. Beating below the exterior was a mean heart as dark as the soot from that same fireplace.
They were all going to the Ball. In the corner, Olivia’s mother suddenly had an idea. “I think it’s time,” she said.
The young mouse was wide-eyed listening to her mother as she explained to her that she had special powers passed down from her great-grandmother on the day of her birth. Such powers were a rare gift in the mouse world and often skipped generations. It was never clear who would inherit such powers until that special child was born. Only then did the holder of those powers realise it was time to pass them on.
Olivia had often wondered why many of the things she wished for came true. Once when Cinderella had trapped her father under a blanket, Olivia wished he could escape, and he did. How he managed to appear behind her when she had seen him under that blanket seconds earlier she could never work out. He had just nuzzled her nose and went to lie down. He knew.
Olivia closed her eyes and pictured her father’s face. She smiled but also felt a great sadness. She remembered wishing a wish which had not worked. Her father hadn’t come home that time.
Gus wandered into the mouse kitchen. Olivia and her mother were discussing their plan to deal with Cinderella.
“Don’t be telling Gus about this,” said his mother said quietly.
Olivia looked passed her mother at Gus and smiled. “You caught us!” she said.
Gus looked at them suspiciously. It was his birthday soon and he didn’t want to spoil the surprise. Olivia knew him too well; they were twins after-all. She happily confirmed his suspicions. “You don’t want to know, do you, not with that special day coming up soon?”
“No, don’t tell me anything’ Gus pleaded.
Olivia glanced in the direction of her mother and her eyes widened: they had just had a lucky escape. They both knew that Gus would see the power as a play thing rather than a gift. They had to use it carefully.
“My friends are calling me stumpy,” said Gus.
His mother bit her lip and tried not to smile. “Oh, that isn’t nice, but they will soon find something else to talk about.” “At least it is all healed and you still have most of it to help you run and jump and have fun”.
Each morning when he woke Gus would check to see if the missing tail was a bad dream. Each morning he was disappointed. He couldn’t wait till one of his friends had an accident to take the pressure off him.
Kate heard a knock on the door and opened it to find no one there. On the doorstep, however, was a trunk. She opened the lid and could see dresses neatly wrapped in fine linen. She called to her sister and they carried the dresses into the kitchen.
The dresses were beautifully adorned with bows and gems and were a perfect fit for Cinderella and her stepsisters. Each of them tried their dress on in turn, waltzing back and forth as if they were already at the Ball.
With each dress there was a tiara, encrusted with jewels. Cinderella grabbed the tiara that came with Kate’s dress. “I’m taking this one,” she said. She tried it on but quickly realised it was ill-fitting. She tried forcing it, but immediately felt a burning sensation on her brow. She threw it at her stepsister: “Here, you have it, it’s as ugly as you.” They soon realised each tiara was a perfect fit, but for one person only.
Even the black-hearted Cinderella seemed to enjoy everyone dressing up. She was sure now that she would marry a Prince. After all, she thought, it must have been one of the Princes who sent the dresses.
Olivia’s mother watched quietly from the mouse-hole in the corner of the room. Stage one completed.
It was the night of the Ball and a beautiful horse-driven carriage stopped outside. There were six, snow-white horses, but strangely, no driver or attendant in sight. All the horses had pink eyes and unusually thin hairs on their chins, almost like whiskers.
As the lovely young women climbed in, their dresses flowed magnificently behind them. Kate noticed the lead horse turned its head as if watching them closely. Kate was sure the horse winked at her. She knew it couldn’t have, but it did!
A letter bearing a crest of a noble family and signed by a Princess, Princess Olivia, lay on the seat of the carriage. They didn’t know any Princess Olivia, but thought she must be of the Royal household. The letter proclaimed that on this magical night the carriage would escort them to the Grand Ball and return them home by midnight. Only then would they be able to keep the dresses and tiaras. Only then could they be considered as future Princesses to either Prince.
Cinderella looked at her step sisters sitting opposite. They are so ugly and she was so beautiful, she thought. She hoped the Princes would only have eyes for her and not her plain sisters. She decided then that as soon as she became a Princess she would have them banished from the Kingdom forever. No one can find out about her special meat pies.
Cinderella stared at her sisters in turn. “If you want to wake up tomorrow morning make sure you are in the carriage when you hear the bells strike eleven,” she snarled.
The Ball was a night of dancing and romance. Everyone was enthralled by the beauty that was Cinderella. Her sisters danced and danced, but they knew that Cinderella’s threat was real. They all had to be home by midnight.
Eleven bells tolled and as they walked down the steps towards the carriage Cinderella snatched the tiaras from the heads of both her sisters and threw them down. “Get in the carriage,” she snapped. “These tiaras will bring both Prince Rosco and Prince Craig to me.”
They were home when the bells chimed twelve. Cinderella went to sleep knowing she would soon awake a princess.
Olivia’s mum was back in her mouse home. All the other, one-night-only, ‘horses’ had returned to theirs.
“How did it go” Olivia asked her mum.
“Perfect” she replied.
One week had passed since the tiaras were found on the steps of the Palace. The Kingdom was awash with heralds searching for Cinderella and the third tiara. On the morning of the eighth day the court yard doors burst open. “The third tiara is found,” announced the herald.
Prince Rosco and his brother Craig greeted the news with glee.“Let us find a Princess,” proclaimed Prince Rosco.
Cinderella was home when the Princes arrived. She entered the room carrying the tiara and chaperoned by her stepmother. Olivia and her mother watched quietly from the dark corner. Prince Rosco took the tiara from Cinderella and placed it carefully on her head. It was a perfect fit. She had hoped that it was Prince Rosco who would come for her; he was indeed the most handsome. He was also the eldest and richest and would one day rule the kingdom.
She looked deep into his eyes. Prince Rosco gazed back intensely. All manner of dark deeds then flooded into his mind, and he knew he had been right all along. Olivia’s magic had worked. Cinderella’s eyes, although beautiful, had become a window into her soul. From that day on, anyone who looked closely into those eyes would see the ugliness within.
Turning away from Cinderella, Prince Rosco opened the casket on the table and removed the two sparkling tiaras.“It is not you whom we wish to trace.” “It is the beautiful ladies who left these tiaras behind”. “For those ladies are truly beautiful, both in body and mind”. “These ladies shall be our brides,” announced the Prince.
Kate and Kim had been listening outside the door. They looked at each other in amazement. They were going to be Princesses.
Cinderella was immediately banished from the kingdom but only after her step sisters insisted she be given enough treasure to ensure a comfortable life.
Soon after the grandest of weddings brought the whole Kingdom together as one.
Both Kim and Kate’s mother, along with Olivia, her mother and Gus, were all granted Royal permission to live their lives in the safety of the Palace grounds.
On the first morning after moving into the Palace, Gus awakened to see his mother and his sister smiling at him. He looked at his tail.
And it was a tail: a complete tail.
SECOND PRIZE: Tamara Artvin - The Last Love of the Sea Captain
The alarm clock, hopeless and cheerless, fell silent. Trying to wake me up, my alarm clock carries its cross every single day; every time it comes a little closer to the eternity, immortality and the triumph. In other words, one day it’ll achieve a total state of catharsis because of me. Purification through suffering it is.
During the last few months, this alarm clock was overworking. But I being a real dictator have no mercy. In such cases, you should always be vigilant and strict. In fact, it has a name, it’s called Ringo. And that’s because it always rings.
My clock alarmed that it’s already midnight and then it shut up. I began packing quickly: a bucket of apricots, few matchboxes, books, pens, other more or less interesting small items and my red top-hat which always makes me look like a foolish clown. I saddled my bike and after that the wind.
Half an hour later we reached our favorite place abandoned by the majority of people - a tall and doleful half-constructed building in the middle of some equally abandoned post-soviet country - where, on the tenth floor, my best childhood friend and I were busy with very important stuff during a month.
I took out the things from my bag and arranged everything in a distinct sequence. First of all, I picked up a box covered with a thin layer of a white powder.
‘Flour!’ I cried looking joyfully at my friend.
‘Do not go anywhere
To procure the flour,
Stay always with me.’
‘Wolf,’ I continued listing and pushed forward a wolf toy.
‘The silence is rattling,
The horizon is fading,
And you look like a wolf.’
‘Rotten apricots,’ I said showing him the mentioned objects.
‘From all the berries,
Apricots and cherries,
I like only you.’
‘You forgot the word “rotten”,’ I said smiling, ‘it was nice, though.’
My friend poured out the flour from the box onto my head turning the color of my top-hat from red to almost rose.
‘Satisfied?’ I asked speaking rather from the nonviolent position.
‘Very much,’ he said.
And I said,
‘Sometimes I am high
Up in the sky
You take my breath away.’
‘You look so dazzling
In each and every season
I love you…’
After we finished our improvisations with hokku, we moved to our usual role playing.
‘Today I am a miserable, hungry and yet somewhat talented artist. I came here to sing melancholic songs for you, to recite poems and to reveal my soul to you. What about you?’ I asked.
‘And I am an ugly and ungrateful spectator: broke and already pretty disappointed with my life. I am Gugo, the coolest guy in the neighborhood. Hey, gal, how’s life?’ asked the coolest Gugo.
‘I’m fine, Gugo, thanks. Although I don’t like playing the “Gugo” game at all. Let’s revise our approach towards this matter. Now you represent yourself.
‘No, I am a typical representative of the 50’s working class, or I can be the leader of an African Hadza tribe.’
‘I cannot recite poems in the language of Hadza, although I like the idea of the leader of an African tribe,’ I agreed.
‘It’s bad that you can’t do that,’ he said anxiously, ‘but we can come up with something.’
The leader of Hadza took two books out of my bag and a matchbox, which he used immediately to burn down with a great solemnity those two books.
‘You start reciting,’ ordered the Hadza.
‘No way, you start first.’
The Hadza recited right from the beginning of a passage of the glorious poem:
‘I say farewell with love and tears
to time and sun that sear my heart.
Stay well, I say to humankind.
Evil and good, sons of Adam...’
Hadza and I embraced each other and started jumping around the bonfire, singing in falsetto. In our opinion, the whole population of the African continent was busy with this same thing all day long.
We heard a whistle through the dragon-like metal trash, somewhere down below. Then one more. Hadza and I suddenly froze in the middle of our dancing feast and tried to understand what was the matter. Whistles ceased, and we heard the footsteps instead; after that, we saw to whom those footsteps belong: two fat policemen. Hadza and I intermingled. I tried to separate my arms and legs from Hadza’s. He squeezed my right hand tightly with the intention to escape with me from that place. Running under the moonlight was strange and thrilling. Then, it started to rain. The rain was redundant at that moment. I fell on the wet asphalt. At that instant, my friend stopped being Hadza. He became serious. He jumped into the taxi in a quick whirl and dragged me after him. Instead of following the traffic rules and watching the road, the taxi driver was observing us suspiciously, our laughter, our wet and unpleasant condition.
Next day we were approaching our building with the expectation of the inconveniences to happen. But the police raids were over so far. Most obviously, they thought that a single warning would be sufficient to leave a long-lasting impression on the brats like us. But one single fugitive chase can never stop us.
‘You can’t stop us! Hey!’ I cried out loud.
My friend slipped down on the stairs and hang down on my arm, but we didn’t trundle down the stairs artistically like in movies they always do.
‘Hushhh,’ hissed my friend like a snake and pointed his forefinger in front of my face, next to my nose.
‘No, I must yell out, I must sing and fool around as much as I like.’
My friend closed my mouth with his palm.
Suddenly two hooligans appeared on the roof of the building; and that was us. They expanded their strange activities at once, and one of them, the tallest one, lifted his long hands and between these hands, there was a wide white bedsheet with the small violet flowers on it.
‘What are you doing?’ asked the Petite.
‘I am playing the “boat” game,’ described the Tall.
Petite chose not to interfere with Tall’s serious affairs. Backed away, sipped wine from the bottleneck; became just an ordinary incidental idle spectator.
Then Tall decided to involve Petite in his game. He embraced Petite at the same time trying not to let go the sheet. They wobbled tangling in the conflicting currents that arose from the whims of the wind.
‘Are you a sailor?’ I asked.
‘I am a sea captain,’ he said, ‘and you are the last love of the sea captain. Now he will leave for his longest cruise; he’ll overpass all the oceans known to the mankind…’
‘There is a certain number of oceans known to the mankind, five to be more precise. Thus, your last sentence doesn’t make any sense,’ I said with a meticulous and diehard voice of a school teacher.
‘Okay, okay,’ said the sea captain. ‘Let’s consider five… He’ll cross the oceans, he’ll meet the sunset in the West and in the East, he’ll see how the sun arises from the edges of the Japanese islands. He’ll pause for a moment near the Alaska coast to say hi to the penguins…’
‘The sunset in the West, the sunrise in the East… Don’t you think it is too simple and obvious? Are you the Captain Obvious?’ I was making fun of the Captain Obvious.
‘Well, now I am making the last attempt. It’s the last take. “The Last Love of the Sea Captain”. Here goes!’ and he added with a gentle smile, ‘Will miss let me kiss her hand?’
‘Please,’ I offered my hand to the captain.
But the captain didn’t kiss the girl’s hand. The captain and the young woman danced instead sinking deeply up to the throat into the night. They danced as if they were rather in a ballroom in Versailles castle, although they were actually up above the sixteenth floor of an abandoned unfinished soviet era cinema building. They danced as if this was their last dance or even the last dance scene that had ever been directed for a movie. They danced for quite a long time, or, to be more precise, for an hour and a half and an additional three minutes.
‘I am Marco Polo, and you are the United World from sea to shining sea. I will come to explore you,’ Marco said while splashing playful glances here and there forcing me to blush throughout the dance.
However, I didn’t blush too much. I returned to the role of the teacher, and I said looking at him with my self-possessed appearance.
‘You have several historical problems here, however, in general, you gave some very interesting erotic connotations as well.’
Marco stopped whirling. He was doing some hard thinking, then he said.
‘Will you come tomorrow with me? To the “lodge of the corrupt anti-humanists”. I have to go there again… I just don’t want to go alone… you know...’
The evening ended very ambiguously; it was full of anxiety and incompleteness. Of course, I will go with him to the hospital or the “lodge of the corrupt anti-humanists”, as he calls it.
About a month ago in one of our central clinics the head of the oncology department shook her head and sighed after observing the results of the regular tests.
‘Sarcoma. I don’t see any positive dynamics here but, dear boy, I have seen real miracles during my work experience. Once there was a similar hopeless situation but the person lived for years,’ said the doctor with a great sympathy.
‘How much time do I have? Objectively,’ asked my childhood friend.
‘Well, these things became very widespread, son. For instance, yesterday there was a girl…’
‘I am not interested in that girl. How much?’ chided my friend.
‘Few months. And if it’s a best-case scenario, then half a year,’ answered the doctor with less sympathy this time.
At that moment, I felt like a fish off the water, or like Prince Charles in Diana’s bedroom, or like a cucumber in a fruit salad, unreasonable and inconvenient, and some other adjectives can fit here as well. I tried to become invisible and non-material; I tried to fully forget about my existence or something like that.
‘Let’s go,’ commanded my friend, and we left the hospital.
We were strolling between the faded bushes of the park. My friend gave me an ice-cream as a present, I gave him a smile. We crossed several streets, and we sat on an old couch with a sunburned upholstery: inside our building.
The evening quickly walked into the night. But the night commenced its slow motion. The night is never in a hurry.
‘You will live for a lot many years,’ said my friend without envy, however with a throat full of spite.
‘Yes, I am going to live for many years; I promise you to live on your behalf as well, Mark,’ I said because that was his name, ‘and besides that, the time itself doesn’t matter, as well as the amount of time…’
‘Emma,’ said Mark, as that was my name. He looked at me with a gloom, looked inside me, then his eyes left my inner self and went wandering beyond the horizon in a complete darkness.
The street lights were already switched off, and we had to return home palpating the air.
‘Next time I will be the Prince of Denmark, and you will be Ofelia,’ said Mark and smiled as a hungry predator, fully unfolding the keyboard of his white teeth.
I smiled in reply, and both of us held our breaths strongly as if we were in a vacuum. Happiness is sometimes revealed through the comical details.
‘What a melancholiac you are,’ said the mean cynic person hidden inside me, and I laughed out loudly.
‘Likewise,’ answered the cynic who was hidden inside Mark. However, his was not that mean and was not a cynic at all. He was just trying to pretend one at the moment.
‘So, what will be next?’ I asked.
‘And now we are two fishermen who sit on the Norwegian coast of the North Sea. We are enjoying the pure simplicity of the existence and we do not have any dreams,’ he answered, ‘and we don’t have any knowledge whatsoever,’ he continued, ‘and we do not feel the gravity or anything else.’
We tightened our imaginary fishing gears and caught a couple of imaginary fishes.
Ringo rang, I started to pack because I had to hurry. This is the last summer of the Prince of Denmark and me. We have to hurry: a bottle of water, the guitar, and a watermelon. You are a wizard, and I am the victim of your magic.
THIRD PRIZE: Mary Charnley - A Gap Year for Grandma
Morecambe again. How many years is it now? Tom was just sitting there on the seafront as usual, Daily Mirror over his face, snoring. Yes; Morecombe every year, same old Band B, and if he wears that old tank top one more time I swear I’ll… Yes, I know his mother knitted it for him but she’s been dead for twenty years.
I used to love Morecambe; we went there for our honeymoon. Two nights and I still remember the smell of the sea, and the taste of the fish and chips as we strolled along the seafront in the dark and Tom held my hand, and then back to the creaky old bed and the landlady’s knowing smile when we went down to breakfast. I bring myself back to the present.
‘Shall we go on the big dipper?’ I say, ‘have a bit of a thrill?’
‘What you trying to do Shirl? Bleedin kill yerself? Can’t you see what it says; not suitable for pregnant women and the elderly.’ Well, I’m not pregnant I says, that’s for sure, and if I kill myself at least I won’t have to come to Morecambe any more.
Tom wakes up, pushing the newspaper off his nose. He’s got sunburn on his chest. Funny, I think to myself, how do you get sunburn when it its rains all the time.
‘Got any more of those cheese and pickle, Shirl?’ He asks.
No,’ I tell him, ‘you’ll have to have one of these,’ and I hand him a tortilla wrap. He looks at it as though it’s a dead slug.
‘What d’you call this?’ He says. ‘What’s it with all this foreign muck? You going through the change or something?’ Well he didn’t even notice when I did. Course he’s always been a bit of a stay at home type; you know, footie Saturday afternoons and then a couple of pints in the Oak.
‘What about a hardboiled egg then?’ I say. There’s not a lot of people around today, just a couple of young families, building sandcastles, waiting for the rain. That looks fun, I think to myself. I wish we’d had children. Tom wouldn’t go to the doctor. Too embarrassing, he’d said, ‘them poking around in my privates. I expect he was worried in case it was his fault. ‘Anyway, we’re happy just the two of us aren’t we?’
‘Pass us a Jammy Dodger,’ he says, pouring a cup of stewed tea from the thermos.
‘Ginger nuts,’ I say ‘take it or leave it and don’t look at me like that. You make the picnic next time.’ He’s never done that, cooked or anything. It was always me, and you get a bit fed up with it after a while don’t you, I mean having to think of what to cook every night of your life? I always try to get those offers, you know the Tesco ones, buy one get one free, only half of it goes in the bin.
‘Think of those starving children in Africa,’ I said to Tom.
‘Well if you’re so bothered,’ he said ‘why don’t you stick it in the post.’ I didn’t bother to reply. He always was a selfish bastard, gets worse as he gets older, whereas me, well I’m one of those caring types; you know, can’t pass a charity box without putting something in. I did think maybe when he retired… but here we are, still going to Morecombe every year to the Hacienda B and B (our usual room please) the one with the en-suite in avocado and a knitted crinoline over the spare toilet roll. I said maybe we should try one of those boutique hotels, you know, a bit posh, but then he wants to know what’s wrong with the Hacienda.
‘You won’t get full English like that anywhere else,’ he says, ‘not with those fried potatoes.’ and then I dream of pancakes with maple syrup and fresh tropical fruit on a balcony somewhere and fragrant coffee served in one of those cafetieres like they have in Aunt Molly’s. I was there the other day with my friend Jean. It’s one of those what they call retro cafes, where they pick up odd cups and saucers from a jumble sale and then charge extra for a cup of tea. They even have those little miniature milk bottles on the table. My mum would’ve turned in her grave. Still the cakes are lovely. I always have the carrot. Well I know I shouldn’t but… Jean always has a toasted teacake, no butter. It’s her cholesterol apparently. There’s a sign on the wall, metal, scratched and a little bit rusty. What on earth did they want to put that old thing up there for? They could have given it a clean.
‘Live your life and forget your age,’ it said, and there’s this picture of an old woman dancing on an ironing board and I smiled.’
‘If I did that,’ I said to Jean, ‘I’d fall and fracture my hip.’
‘How do you know?’ She said, ‘bet you’ve never tried it’ And I haven’t, of course I haven’t but it made me think about all the things I hadn’t done and how my time was running out.
Tom’s eating a hard-boiled egg, picking a bit of shell off his lower lip and flicking it on the ground.
‘What’s that you’ve got there?’ he says, trying to snatch it out of my hand.
‘Nothing,’ and I push the brochure back in my bag.
‘Oi, give it here,’ he says.
‘Just lay off will you. It’s none of your bloody business.’ Well I never used to swear until I married Tom. He’s got hold of it now, starts turning the pages.
‘What’s this then?’ he sniggers, his mouth full of ginger nut, spitting a few crumbs on to my new ‘Secret Slimming’ swimsuit. ‘Gap Years for Grandmas.’ He opens it at page twenty one.
‘Where you off to then?’ He says, ‘bungee jumping in New Zealand or something? Don’t be so bloody daft.’
‘I’m thinking’ about it,’ I say, ‘I’m not coming to Morecambe every year until I die.’
‘What’s wrong with Morecambe?’ and he grabs the umbrella from my beach bag. ‘It’s always been all right before.’
‘This is what’s wrong with Morecambe,’ I say, pointing to the umbrella, ‘and there’s too many people.’ Canned music is spilling out from the amusement arcade and I put my hands over my ears.
‘It might be all right for you, but I want to live a little before it’s too late.’ He looks at me, and shoves another ginger nut in his mouth. I never used to mind his manners in the old days.
I remember when he retired, how I’d thought we might get a little camper van, you know, one of those with a settee that pulls out into a double bed, and a little galley kitchen. Time for just the two of us, like it used to be. He wouldn’t hear of it of course.
‘I’m not spending my precious retirement stuck in traffic jams on the M5,’ was all he said, and that was that.
‘You.’ I say, ‘you’ve got no sense of adventure have you? Your idea of an adventure is a Tikka Masala from the that new Indian place down the Willerby Road.’ Used to be ladies’ underwear if I remember rightly. Of course he was a bit iffy about it at first, what with that woman with the red spot on her head. ‘They’ve got as much right to live here as you,’
He picks up a packet of cheese and onion.
‘Don’t you ever want to try anything different?’
‘Like what?’ he says. ‘Barbecue flavour?’
‘No, you daft bugger. I mean an adventure, a proper adventure. You’ve never been further than Blackpool and a daytrip to Boulogne to pick up some booze. That’s about as foreign as you’ll ever get.’
‘An’ I was bloody seasick, what with that foreign food an all. I mean who wants to eat snails? Snails are for stampin’ on as far as I’m concerned.. They can’t even speak English over there. Bloody Johnny foreigners, the lot of ‘em, coming over here takin’ our jobs.’
‘I seem to remember you going over there taking their cheap fags,’ I said. ‘Get the flask out again will you, and stop staring at that fat cow in the bikini.’ He gets worse, I swear he does. Must be another mid-life crisis only he’s a bit too long in the tooth for that. He pours the tea, it’s stone cold by now and I suggest we go and find a little cafe somewhere, but he’s not listening.
‘Cor blimey, look at this:’ he says. ‘Building a gravity feedwater system in Nicaragua? I can see you doin’ that Shirl; all those young blokes an all.’
‘Well at least it’s warm there.’ I say. ‘Better than sitting on some bloody beach in the rain eating a cheese sandwich.’
‘You’ve never even been on an aeroplane.’
‘How do you know?’ I said, ‘I’ve been to Benidorm. I did have a life before I met you, you know.’
‘All right, what about this one then?’ he sneers. ‘Wildlife Warden in south Africa. Get up close with the animals. Blimey, them lions would get a good meal out of you . Don’t be so daft, you’re much too old for this sort of caper. Why don’t you go somewhere where they’ve still got cannibals, save on the funeral expenses?’
I snatch the brochure away from him and get up from my deckchair.
‘I don’t care what you think, I’m going to have an adventure for the first time in my life. I’ll die of boredom if I carry on like this.’
I never did do what I wanted, one of those secondary modern girls, failed my eleven plus and chucked on the dust heap. They don’t do that these days do they, everyone gets a chance? I could have been a nurse, gone out to one of those third world countries, you know, just caring for other people. Of course I always thought it’d be all right when I had kids, but it never happened and so I ended up working for the council and watching the paint dry. I’m retired now, took redundancy when they were cutting staff. Jean says I should go and help out in that old people’s place, you know, library trolley or something, but I don’t fancy that, all that bingo and talcum powder. It’s bad enough looking after Tom, old before his time. Well maybe he’s always been old. I should have known better but you know how it is; you make your bed and you have to lie on it. Funny, Mum was right about Tom, never wanted me to marry him.
‘White socks!’ she said, ‘and he picks his teeth. Even you can do better than that Shirley.’ Well I wish I’d listened to her now. but you don’t do you, not when you’re a teenager?
‘Oi,’ he says. ‘Sit down, you’re not goin’ anywhere, not unless I says so.’
It’s always been the same, just like it was for Mum. Dad ruled the roost. In suppose I just let it happen same as she did. Mind you, he’s always been the faithful sort, not like Jean’s husband, dirty old sod. Yes; there’s always people worse off than you, I suppose, but they don’t have to go to Morecambe every year, do they? I suppose being boring isn’t really a crime.
I sit down, trying not to cry. He hates it when I cry, says it’s a sign of weakness.
‘So where are you goin’ then, Scott of the bleedin’ Antarctic? A Saga Holiday?’
‘A Saga holiday?,’ I say, blowing my nose, ‘All those waterproof sheets?’ No. I really mean it this time and I don’t care about what he thinks. I snatch the brochure off him and pick up my bag. There’s no point in even talking to him. He picks up his newspaper again, puts it over his face.
‘You’re not interested are you? Just want to poke fun. Well I’m going and that’s that and you can come to Morecambe on your own and sit here with your Daily Mirror and your Jammy Dodgers. I’m going to live a little before it’s too late.’
Of course, he didn’t know I’ve been going to the gym twice a week, getting myself fit, I’ve even got a personal trainer. Jules, he’s called and he’s got a body like a Greek god and I wish I was twenty years younger.
‘Got a bit of work to do on that gluteus maximus,’ he said. ‘Spend a lot of time sitting down do you?’ Well I suppose I do, reading and that, trying to improve myself. He showed me the cross trainer, for my biceps and something called the Latissimus Dorsi. Sounds like one of them fancy coffees.
He got me to hold up my arms, tutting a little.
‘Batwings are such a waste of skin,’ he says. ‘The rowing machine should sort that out,’ and he took me over, and sat me down and put my feet in the straps.
‘Where have you decided to go then?’ He asked
‘Well I thought I might go off to Ecuador, work with some street kids, and then maybe a cultural exchange in China.’ I said.
‘Good on you,’ he said, with a big smile, showing those perfect white teeth. Course it’s a shame about the acne, but it’s only on his back, you wouldn’t notice it, not really.
‘Send me a postcard,’ he said.
Tom’s not very happy. He never thought I’d do it, but I said, he can’t stop me and I’ve been saving that redundancy money.
‘Six months?’ He says, ‘bloody Norah. What am I supposed to do whilst you’re away catching up with your lost youth?’
‘I don’t care what you do,’ I say. ‘Do what you always do, read the paper, watch the telly, go down the pub, carry on moaning about everything. You can manage without me for a while.’ No I’ve had enough, and he’s been flirting with that tarty barmaid down at the Oak; Kelly, she’s called. Leather miniskirt and a bum like a rhinoceros. Silly old fool. I asked him about it.
‘Same as you,’ he said, ‘trying to have a bit of excitement before it’s too late.’ Mind you, I didn’t worry about it, well not until he started wanting to tie me to the bed. Anyway, I can’t imagine any woman having an affair with him; she’d die of boredom before he even got her knickers off.
‘Perhaps she’d like to come over here and cook your tea. Find out what it’s really like spending time with an old fart like you. And then when you’ve had your tea you can go down to the allotment, show her your prize marrow and then do a bit of tidying up whilst you’re at it.’
We’re sleeping in separate bedrooms now. I can’t stand him snoring and stinking of booze. Even the fantasies about Lycra and six packs aren’t working any more. He’s down the pub every night now, and he’s bought himself one of those shirts, you know one of those jungle prints. I said to him
’Where you off to then? Hawaii?’
‘What’s it to you?’ he says. I suppose he thinks he’s teaching me a lesson.
I never did get to go, had to cancel my flight and everything, stupid bugger goes
and does his back in the week before I’m due to fly. I’d had all my jabs and everything He. said he couldn’t get out of bed, moaned every time he moved and I had to help him to the bathroom, bring him up cups of tea. Well I couldn’t just go and leave him could I, especially when he said he’d got this funny pain in his chest? Of course, he wouldn’t go to the doctor, not Tom, prefers to grumble than get better. So that’s that then, I think; I knew he’d win in the end, and then I try to feel sympathetic but I can’t. I go out to do some shopping; cheer myself up and maybe have lunch with Jean if she’s free. She’s volunteering now, down at the Oxfam shop, so she gets first pick, She asked me if I liked her trousers; only £2.50 she says. Well, I didn’t like to say and she is my best friend after all.
The Co- op’s got a special offer on this week, two packs of mince for the price of one. Maybe I’ll make him a nice cottage pie, cheer him up a bit.
‘No use crying over spilt milk, Shirley,’ I tell myself. ‘There’s always a next time,’ and I did manage to pick up a lemon cheesecake half price.
Anyway, when I get home, I take him up a cup of tea as usual but he’s not there. I wait for a while, thinking perhaps he’s managing a little walk, and then I start to get worried. Supposing he’s in hospital, had an accident, can’t get up off the pavement what with his bad back, and then I think serves him bloody well right, he should have stayed in bed. I go down to the pub, just in case, wondering if anyone’s seen him.
There’s a new barmaid today. I ask her what’s happened to Kelly.
‘Oh she’s gone,’ she says, ‘just left a couple of hours ago, says she wants an adventure before it’s too late.
I go home wondering should I call the police, and I go upstairs just to make sure he’s not come back, and then I notice something funny. In spite of his bad back, he’s managed to get the big suitcase down from the top of the wardrobe.