Inspired by photo’s, people in the street, situations and thoughts, here are a few short stories I’ve written along the way.
As tempting as it was to stay on the crisp white linen sheets, letting holiday air dry her post-shower skin, Lou knew she had to steel herself. After a day of uncertainty, decisions lurching from one option to another, she had finally reached a conclusion. “Get up and get dressed,” she scolded herself, groaning as she reluctantly moved off the bed. This holiday had never been about lounging by the pool and topping up her non-existent tan, this was a chance to stop the past taking any more of her present – or worse, her future. Today, twelve years on, she would go back to ‘their’ spot, but this time remember all the lovely stuff that happened, appreciate it for what it was – a beautiful holiday romance – and then, just as her best friend Caroline had suggested, she would gently destroy his letters. That, right there, would be closure.
She dug out her favourite maxi – its lemon yellow sang against her flame-red hair making her feel bold and confident… even if she wasn’t feeling bold and confident. She kicked the case back into the wardrobe. “I’ll unpack tomorrow,” she lied to herself.
With hair up and away from her face, she ran a bronzing brush across her cheeks, ignoring a tiny dance of butterflies in her stomach. She had made her choice; this time she would stick to it. Her feelings for Ben had stayed too long. They’d taken over. Applying a stroke of mascara and a flick of lip balm, she walked into a spray of perfume with a glance in the mirror. Picking up her bag she checked its contents: purse, keys, book, phone, souvenir gift-shop lighter and most importantly, the letters. She flip-flopped out of the room into the fresh hotel atrium, its lush-green palm trees towering up to the roof, the space offering a delicious – if brief – respite from July’s early evening heat.
Lou took the uneven, cobbled steps from her hotel in the hillside, down to the concrete jetty that swept round the edge of the bay. Despite all the time that had passed – time when she had undoubtedly changed – she was comforted by the familiarity of this place. Across a transparent sea, she recognised the beach bar where they first met: Raffles. Cheap, mostly English, loud. Back then it was a karaoke-machine-and-Sunday-Roast-menu away from a cliché but they loved it. Tree-covered hills stretched out behind it; Cala Llonga, the quieter side of Ibiza.
Approaching town, Lou felt a pang of envy as couples walked hand in hand, pausing to check out menus, others sat at street tables, sharing jokes over drinks you only ever order when on holiday: large glasses, cocktail umbrellas, cheap vodka. Across from the bars, a family played on an adventure park. Not something she remembered from the last time; too young to care about such things back then. A small girl and slightly older boy were running around, goading their parents to chase them. Lou looked on as they were caught, scooped up with kisses, then rewarded with the ultimate prize of a family cuddle. She swallowed a sigh. She was alone.
She picked out a restaurant, avoiding the one she’d waited at – just as they’d agreed – twelve months after they first met. That night she’d gazed between clock and beach front, whilst a waiter took pity, keeping her glass full during the evening’s painful expectation… she wasn’t going to replicate that. She ordered a glass of red and a steak. Medium rare. The waiter effortlessly introduced his banter and flirtation, “Tell me you’re not alone tonight, a beautiful woman like you?” Lou wasn’t up for joining in but laughed in any case. She was nothing if not British polite.
Surrounded by fairy lights, candles and romance, she ate her meal, head in a book to avoid further conversation. Her first, second and third glass of wine fueled the courage she needed and eventually, bill paid, she wandered through a vaguely familiar side-street. She passed a pool, a place they went with a group of friends one evening. She still had the photo capturing that memory. Lou, sat with her knees between his legs, him holding her hands and looking into her eyes as if nobody else were there. Nobody had ever made her feel the way Ben did: special, important, beautiful.
She carried on over the street and on to the beach, slipping her shoes off, taking them in her hand. She weaved through parasols, the long grassy type that rustled with a new breeze signalling the end of the day. Cool sand slipped through her toes as she walked towards the shoreline. The sun dropped behind the hills, leaving the beach with an orange-pink glow. The ripple of a mirrored-wave pushed the ocean to lap on the sand. Soft, bubbling water reached her toes and she picked up her dress to wander along the water’s edge, stopping every now and then to take in the moment. She could be right back there. The night before she left. The smells: a heady mix of coconut oil, San Miguel on his breath, Balearic sea air all wrapped up in the musk of his aftershave. Davidoff Coolwater. Intoxicating, even now.
Five days after they first met, they’d sat entwined on this beach; Lou resting against Ben’s chest, his arms and legs wrapped around her, the strongest she’d ever been close to. She’d traced her finger across his thigh, tanned with a hint of pink from a day spent showing off by the pool. He pulled her closer in to him, gently brushing his lips against her neck, breathing in the smell of her hair, sharing the weight of their sadness as they gazed out to sea. She could feel that he wanted her, but he never asked that of her, not even on their last night, making her fall for him even harder.
A deep breath brought her back to now and she reached in to her bag, pulling out the letters and lighter. She paused, wondering if to read them again. His thoughts, his feelings, paper he’d once touched. She had never understood how such small things could affect her so completely, so physically. The palms of her hands tingled, her heart seemed to swell. She knew she didn’t need to read the letters, she would always remember them anyway. And she’d made her decision. If she no longer had them, Lou could remember their beauty, not the sadness she felt each time she read his words of love. Words that wouldn’t stand up against his sudden and total desertion. Just as Ben taught her how special she could feel, he also taught her about rejection.
Letters in one hand, she flicked the lighter, letting the spark ignite. The flame danced as she brought the corner of the papers towards it, stopping before they caught. “If I never feel love like that again…” What? What if she never feel love like that again? A vapour trail across the now pink to blue sky, left a fading reminder of a journey made. The letters took on the flame, the flame spread across the paper and as white turned to yellow then to black, Lou dropped their remains in to the sea. In that second, life stood still, as did she, a weight lifting from her heart as tears touched her eyes.
Time passed. The evening grew fully dark and a slice of moonlight rippled across the gentle sea. Lou drew her legs to her chest. “Time to move on girl.” She stood to make her way back.
And there he was. Familiar eyes on the face of a much older man. Standing before her with an equal look of disbelief.
She couldn’t speak. Couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t believe that this was happening. The times she had imagined this scene. A chance meeting. An instant recognition. In her fantasy, she’d had plenty to say. But now?
Ben stepped towards her, studying her face, trying to see if the girl he once knew was still there. He took her hand in his. She shivered, her body tingling with his touch. “I’m sorry I’m late,” he said, trying for a joke. “I…” His words ran dry. Lou shook her head, no longer able to hold back her tears, heart racing, she was dizzy with the situation. “I’m so sorry.”
He ran his hand against her cheek as if checking she were really there. “Eleven years I’ve been coming here,” he said, “Each year hoping that you might come back, so I could explain why I missed the first time, why we lost touch. I can’t…”
He shook his head, one hand rubbing the back of his neck, the other not letting go of hers. And in that moment, Lou realised that her past was about to collide with her future in a way she never thought possible….
We were blessed.
‘How do I look?’ I give him the best twirl I can give, for a girl whose hips have all but given up.
‘Like a film star,’ he says ‘just like you always did.’
I turn the wheels of my chair back around to the mirror taking rouge to the apples of my cheek as he continued. ‘Greta Garbo’s double you are…’ he always did say the nicest things ‘…in fact, better than Garbo – she’s a Plain Jane compared to you’ He’d said this often over our sixty years, to start with I’d protest, but eventually I had learnt to let it go. Full up on love I turn to him, moving closer to display my skirt, ‘It’s your favourite Geoff, do you remember?’ I smooth it down letting crimson crinoline pleats fall heavy over my knees. ‘My favourite colour, your favourite dress; the perfect combination.’ He smiles. His face is older now, but his eyes never changed. The eyes of the boy I fell in love with, so many years ago.
I place my left foot down on the parquet and slowly push myself across to the bedside table. ‘Do you remember this necklace Geoff?’ I lift it over the china hand that sits by my lamp possessively clutching my most precious things. ‘I never did lose the magpie in me, keen for anything shiny, doubly so if it sparkled as well.’ I hold the amethyst pendent up to the light, its plating long gone the metal beneath it now green, but still the sunlight flashes through the deep purple stone.
‘It was the afternoon of my 18th birthday. Forever young, our lives had barely begun. We sat together on a park bench, hands together between us; the remains of our picnic in the basket below. Filled with nerves, I remember you passed me a box wrapped in newspaper, tied with a wide, pink bow. Time slowed as I pulled that bow apart, the newspaper falling away to reveal a small, cream, rectangular box. By then, I was the nervous one. My fingers struggled to open your gift. Three weeks we had been courting, do you remember? You took over, slowly opening the box for me, your eyes never strayed from mine. On top of the plush velvet bed, lay the most beautiful necklace I’d ever seen; the first piece of jewellery I ever owned. I treasured it always.’
‘You were worth every penny I saved for that gift, I knew then that we would be together forever.’
He’d said that often too.
My eye is drawn to the second piece of jewellery he ever bought me. The beautiful white gold ring, set with a small square diamond now sitting alongside a thin silver wedding band on fingers I barely recognise. ‘Do you remember that little jewellers in the arcade, the one down by the sea front. For years I had looked in that window; eyes devouring the treasures. I never imagined that one day I’d meet a man who’d buy something from there, let alone a ring with which to propose. The day you gave it to me, my goodness, how we walked. It felt like a journey to the end of the world. Do you remember that chap, the one giving me the eye? You said nothing, you simply took me in your arms kissing me firmly on the lips; in public too. Nineteen and kissing in the street, we weren’t even engaged to be wed,’ I smiled ‘not for another few minutes at least.’ I edge past him and back toward the window. The warmth of the summer sun takes the chill from my cheeks as I close my eyes and drift back.
‘We stood together on the beach, the sea gently lapping at our feet, looking straight out to the horizon, no words. Shale stuck between my toes but I didn’t care. You had your arm across my shoulder, its weight a comfort to me then, and always. I could sense you had something to say even before you knelt down, my hand in yours.’
‘Constance Elizabeth Steele. Would you do me the very great honour of becoming my wife?’
‘Those words fair took my breath away, as the sea did take yours when the wave crashed over you, toppling you to the ground.’
‘Your face; eyes wide, smiling through the bubbles of sea as it rushed back, how could I ever say no?’
With the memories came the sadness.
‘And then you had to go away. You told me it was a holiday at the request of Hitler. It seemed an age until we could be together again. Every day I wore my brooch with your picture. Your handsome face nestled amongst the flowers, resting always by my heart. The stolen afternoon we married was precious though, wasn’t it!? And the night in the bed and breakfast run by the little old lady we loved. And then again next morning, you were gone. It wasn’t the best start to a marriage but I remember, it was more than many.’
‘And what a marriage we’ve had.’
‘Yes. What a marriage we’ve had.’
‘Constance’ Matron’s voice cuts through my thoughts, breaking the spell. ‘It’s time.’
Lifting the frame to my face I gave him one last kiss. ‘Geoffrey William Norton, thank you – for our life, for our children, for your love.’
I look back at his photo, into the smiling eyes of a man without whom I wasn’t sure I could survive.
‘We were blessed.’
For Novelicious Pinterest Prompt (April 2014):
Rachel ran down the hill, breathless and fearful; her voice instantly absorbed by rolling waves and driving off shore winds. Familiar, soft ground pushed her balance with each step; holes hidden by over grown grass among the dunes. The first time he went, it took hours to find him. A search party scoured the town, fields and cliff tops; coming here last – to the place he’d play as a child – just as dusk fell. The fact Rachel knew where he’d be now, brought little consolation. This was the first place she always looked and he never let her down. The last constant in their lives, he never let her down.
Before reaching the look-out, she slowed and then stopped, taking a moment to recharge her strength for the routine. Looking out to sea, she watched the battle between wind and tide. Incoming waves bouncing back from the rocks, meeting more waves rolling away, crashing and breaking mid-cove; a fight that neither could win but both would try. Rachel ignored the metaphor.
“Peter?” Slowly, because otherwise he wouldn’t respond. “Peter.” She reached out, slipping her hand into his, closing it tight for them both. If he knew she was there, he didn’t say. “Hey, we should go home. It’s cold.” She knew he wouldn’t feel it. “It’s late.” She knew he wouldn’t care.
“When’s she coming back?”
Rachel’s heart broke, as it always did when he asked.
“Why doesn’t she come back?”
Rachel moved her free hand to his arm, pulling him gently away from the pain he was inflicting on them both. She was glad that he no longer fought this part, that he allowed her to guide him home.
“I need her.”
Rachel sighed, “I know you do Peter.”
“Why did she go?”
It didn’t matter what she said now, he wouldn’t understand. He wouldn’t remember and he couldn’t help it. For five years together they fought this. For two years now, Rachel fights it alone, the repetition of their day as comforting as it is challenging.
“I didn’t go Peter.”
He looks at her, searching for a familiarity he cannot see. His face is barely different to the young man she met twenty years ago. “Why did she go?” He asks again, and as they walk slowly back home, Rachel tells him all the things that no longer remind him, of the love they once shared.
Perhaps now was the time to admit, she couldn’t do this alone anymore.
For Novelicious Pinterest Prompt (Sept 2013):
Lisa sat on the faded floral fabric of a tiny double bed, in an even smaller double room. Were she not so full of nerves she might complain, the website suggested cosy but this? This was essentially a cupboard. On the grand scheme of things faded chintz and a too small bed were really not all that important. Neither was the draft coming through the nets at the window, though as she shivered in the early autumn evening, she did wonder if there was a line to be drawn somewhere. Her feet, barely touching the floor where she sat, subconsciously twitched to a silent rhythm. Downstairs, in five minutes, her entire life could change – in theory for the better, but would it? Could she really meet someone whose simple presence in her life would change its direction altogether; give her purpose, give her a sense of who she is? Will this person be the missing link to who she is and how she came to be?
She slid off the bed, and looked in the mirror, one final check. As she peered at her face – pulling and lifting it to where it used to be – she wondered if there would be a resemblance, a link, something that would connect them clearly. She wondered if she might recognise her, over and above the carnation button hole they’d both agreed to wear. She pulled her hair back from her face, pinning it at the nape of her neck. She took out her blusher, dusting it across her cheekbones. She added lip gloss, then immediately cleaned it off. Too much. She took a deep breath, steeling herself. In three minutes, she would meet her mother for the first time in thirty six years. She reached down to her stomach, stroking her own child inside. As if on cue, it flipped in her belly, the sensation momentarily distracting her emotions with a reminder that all was well. This time. So far.
She picked out a few sheets of complimentary tissues to stuff in her handbag, just in case. With her heart placed firmly in mouth and expectations rocketing through the roof, Lisa left the relative sanctuary of her room. This was it. Her past, present and future was about to change forever.