If one door slams…

 

I gripped the letter with such force it split down the middle. The paper fluttered autumnally to the ground. I was as discarded as the carpet of leaves outside.

Watching the raindrops roll down the glass I allowed the heavens to do my crying for me. I was too angry to acknowledge the sadness pulsing behind my eyes. The years felt brittle as yesterday. When did I start pinning my dreams on Richard? I had always been fiercely independent. My Father had predicted that I would be an old maid if I kept it up. Men wanted to feel needed. Nothing good could come from an independent woman. And I thought I could cheat destiny even if I had to contort myself to avoid it.

Richard hypnotised me with his azure eyes and his toothpaste commercial smile. He was everything I had avoided for years. Popular, beautiful and irreverent, he radiated confidence and had a following reminiscent of a messiah. I prided myself a loner, following anyone or anything except a story, was not a possibility.

The night we met I was sipping a cocktail surrounded by the journalists of the newspaper I served but immersed in my own thoughts. My colleagues had learnt to give me a wide berth. The war had made it starkly evident that all was not equal and I was still bristling from the meeting with Doug.

“Too dangerous!” Douglas, our editor had bellowed, his handlebar moustache trembling with indignation. “God, woman, look around. Men are getting blown to bits and you want to join them? Bring me the fashion piece I asked you for days ago. Women will never make war correspondent on my paper.” And he dismissed me with a flick of his wrist.

I was peevish with disappointment and observed this man in uniform strut like a pigeon. My face must have been as dark as my thoughts because he broke from his adoring disciples and marched over to me.

“Hello beautiful lady, why so serious?” His face crinkled into a lopsided smile. I struggled to maintain my scowl. “Point out the rascal and I will sort him out.” He said smacking his fist into his palm.

His gaze never wavered that night. It was a light shining onto my face. I felt seen for the first time. We spent stolen moments from his military engagements intertwined like vines. I resented his easy comings and goings. I felt rooted, earth bound by him. No man had ever entered my soul as he did. I was trapped as surely as a gazelle in the jaws of a lion.

Years of screaming sirens and distant explosions muffled the waiting, nights of passion amongst the bleeding and the pain. I never realised how much I waited. How could I put my life on hold for something so prosaic?

“Colette, God sake, woman where are you? Dreaming into space. That’s why women would make God awful soldiers.” I had been miles away dreaming of languishing in Richard’s arms. I resolved to put him from my mind until his jaunty rat-a-tat on my door but he remained on the periphery of my thoughts always.

Now he has put me outside his life. The letter informing me of his impending marriage was sour with memories of his kisses. I turned back to the window. The rain had stopped and a shaft of sunlight lit up my desk. I shifted my chair and sought the heat on my face.

I read once ‘It is better to have loved and lost than to never to have loved at all.’ One day I may feel that way but for now I needed to erase the smell of him. I closed my eyes and breathed slowly as if breathing in the rays of the sun.

“Colette!” I opened my eyes with a start. “You still want to be a war correspondent?” Douglas’s protuberant eyes bored into me.

“Ye…Yes.” I stammered.

“Stupidest idea ever but the board want a woman on the front. Woman’s perspective my arse…! Apologies, Colette but you want the job, it’s yours.”

Abruptly the gloom of moments before was bleached by sunlight. This was my destiny. The one I had always longed for. One door closed as another opened. The invitation was to step through this open door.

I didn’t hesitate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stiff upper lip…

 

Then let me bravely leap into the shadows alone I thought looking out of the window. An oak tree was tapping on the glass, its bough heavy with acorns. Dr Ashbury was still staring sympathetically at me, his pen half-mast between the desk and his ear as if he was unsure what to do next. He had delivered a severe blow and I was not reacting as he was expecting.

It is a matter of honour that I process bad news in the sanctity of my own home. Public displays of emotion are vulgar and I hardly know this man sitting across from me. I can still feel his cool fingers palpating my breast. Nobody has touched me there since Dennis and he’s been gone for eleven years, six months and three days already. And now Dr Ashbury with his clipped moustache and lanky limbs has had the honour. I am not about to bestow any further on the man.

“Thank you.” I said standing and held out my hand to shake his. He scrambled up from his chair almost stumbling over his legs to cradle my hand with both of his. I gave him a tight smile although I was desperate to leave this place.

Johnson was leaning against the side of the Bentley and he leapt away when he saw me, his cap wedged under his armpit. His balding head glistened in the midday sun. He opened the car door with a bow. I was too tired to be irritated. Dennis had tried for years to get the staff to stop this antiquated behaviour. Tears pricked at the corners of my eyes and I blinked them away. Johnson drove smoothly, intermittently sneaking a look at me in the rear view mirror. I kept my face neutral sitting upright with my hands in my lap.

Mrs Melville was waiting at the door as I stepped from the car. She took my coat.

“I took the liberty of arranging tea in the drawing room, Ma’am. It’s nice this time of year. The sun does shine so prettily…”

“Thank you but I am not hungry. Please ensure I am not disturbed. I have a headache.” Mrs Melville has a habit of rambling on and whereas I indulge her often today was not one of those days.

“Oh dear can I get you an aspirin Ma’am?” She wrung her hands like a vaudeville actor.

“You may, thank you.” I said walking up the stairs holding the bannisters tightly. My legs felt shaky. I dropped my handbag on the writing desk and waited, feeling light headed. I hoped she would not be long with the aspirin. I did not know whether I could keep standing. She entered with Daisy carrying a tray.

“I’ve taken the liberty of….” Mrs Melville began.

“Yes, Yes!” My voice was sharp and her eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry I have the most dreadful headache. Thank you Mrs Melville, and Daisy, thank you.” I said. Mrs Melville nodded not quite forgiving me. Daisy smiled, curtsied and they closed the door with a click.

I poured milk into a cup and picked up the teapot. My wrist buckled and scalding tea splashed over my hand. I dropped the teapot onto the tray with a whimper. Tears that I had controlled throughout the day seemed to burst from me and I sobbed like a child.

I cried because I have breast cancer and because Dennis who had sworn to love and protect me forever was not here to fulfil his promise. I mourned the loss of his strong arms and the smell of his pipe and the scratchiness of his chin. We were supposed to grow old together instead he has stayed forever in his prime while I grow older and frailer. Alone.

I cried the tears that for eleven years, six months and three days I had been unable to shed.

Second chances

 

There wasn’t much going on, but there was a sense of expectancy today as Maggie McCloud padded to the front door in her slippers. Foster her sleek black cat was meowing piteously on the other side. She opened the door. Foster gazed at her for a second, juddered his tail in greeting and strode into the house.

“Good Morning Foster have you been out all night then?” Said Maggie filling his bowl with cat food from the tin on the sideboard. She turned on the kettle. It was still early and the sky, framed by her kitchen window, was flushed.

Maggie made it a rule not to rise before six. She did not want to become like Mrs Gillis next door who wore her carpets thin pacing the floors all hours of the day and night. Time is a strange one, to be sure, she thought with a smile. When she had the children living at home there were never enough hours in the day. Now she struggled to fill them. She was not one for the telly. David, her husband of forty–two years had loved the football and the game shows.

“Come now love, leave the cleaning and sit here next to me. Lets watch ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ together.” He would say and pat the worn sofa. She’d sit for a few seconds but it was torture doing nothing. Maggie wished now she had sat, held his hand and watched the programmes he had loved so much. There are no second chances in life she brooded, pouring hot water over the teabag. She shook her head and scolded herself. She was one of the lucky ones. She had enjoyed forty-two years with David. She still had two beautiful children and three adorable grandchildren who visited her on the last Sunday of every month.

She took her tea out into the garden and welcomed the sun’s salute to the start of the day. The garden called out for her attention and before long she was happily weeding with Foster weaving in and out of the flowerbeds.

Her doorbell chimed and she looked down at her wristwatch. Goodness me, she thought, it is almost lunchtime and I haven’t even thought about breakfast. I wonder who that could be? Visitors were rare these days. She shook the soil from her clothes, removed her gloves and walked back inside. The doorbell chimed again.

“I’m coming!” She called hurrying to open the door.

“Maggie?” A craggy face with a shock of white hair said.

“Yes…may I help you?” She peered up at him. He looked vaguely familiar but she could not place him.

“It’s Donny…er…Donald Masters.” He said shuffling. He looked embarrassed that she had not recognised him.

“Oh my word, Donny!” She flushed now. He had been her boyfriend before she met David. How had he found her? “Come in, come in.” She said standing back for him.

He walked inside the house and stood stiffly in the hallway.

“I’m sorry, I should have called. I have moved into the area and someone mentioned that you lived here. I should have called.” He said again.

“I’m happy to see you. My goodness, Donny it’s been years.” Maggie said. His face was lined but his blue eyes were unmistakable.

“Forty –six years this September.” He said and smiled.

“You remember?” Maggie smiled up at him.

“How could I forget? It was my greatest regret letting you go. You still look exactly the same Maggie.”

“Oh now that’s not true.” Maggie said and laughed. She blushed and turned to switch on the kettle. She made tea and brought out the biscuits she reserved for family visits. She felt an unusual fluttering of excitement. You never could be sure what life had in store for you from one moment to the next.

What if…?

There was something about the way the light fell across the room that reminded me of her. Sixty years have passed since I saw her last but my body lifts as though in greeting. Genevieve, my sister was my muse. She danced when I walked stolid as suet. She floated through her inadequate allotment of years and left me gasping for more.

“Tea, Ma’am?” The waiter said navigating the imaginary pebbles in his mouth. I nodded, resentful of his intrusion.

He bowed and left but she had already fled. Tears filled my eyes although I know I have mourned more than was good for me. When would I stop missing her? Time has done nothing to fill the hole that she left although I have lived an expansive life. As she predicted I would without her.

I squeezed my eyes shut and when I opened them she stood once more in front of me. A shaft of sunlight touched her flaxen hair tenderly and a grin flickered in her green eyes. The years and my aching joints have vanished and we are scampering up the wooden stairs and squealing like piglets. Gina weaves away from my grasping fingers.

“Girls! Decorum at all times! Genevieve, Madeleine stop that noise and come downstairs this instant.” Miss Claudine’s voice is a sharp bark. Gina flicks her head and disappears. I am frozen to the banister.

That was the first of three private schools we were asked to leave and not for running on the stairs to be fair to those institutions.

Father was in name only. His involvement with us was brief and brutal. If we were to continue to disrupt his work we would be placed in a reformatory. We had one last chance at becoming ladies. It was our choice. His moustache, stiff with wax, trembled but his blue eyes were cold.

He never forgave us for killing our mother.

It wasn’t murder but bad judgment. Although whose fault it was is debatable. We came together, Gina and me. It proved too much for her. We had one sepia photograph of our delicate mother, which we pored over to commit her into our memories forever. It was the only possession we fought over. Almost translucent from our yearning, it also pricked at our guilt and made us fractious with each other.

The new school was even further from Father than before. I decided that perhaps the way into his heart was to become a lady. Genevieve struggled to conform. Her body juddered with the effort of sitting still. I shook my head at her attempts to lure me into mischief. I placed my finger on my lips to silence her inappropriate outbursts.

“Maddy, I can’t do this. I should never have come.” Gina said tears flowing down her cheeks. I refused to walk arm in arm with her anymore. I made other friends and spoke in modulated tones. I flushed when they pointed fingers at my sister’s solitary wanderings in the manicured gardens but said nothing in her defence.

She crept into my bed at night and we slept in each other’s arms. When alone together we held our mother’s photograph and each other. One night about three weeks into the term Gina turned to me. The moonlight shone on her hair forming a silver halo around her head. She smelt of peppermint and sunshine.

“Maddy,” She said. “It is time for me to leave. I’ve always muscled in where I shouldn’t be. Even in the womb. I don’t belong here but you do. You will live a bigger life when I’m gone”

“Don’t be silly.” I said. “Maybe it was me who muscled in? One way or another we were destined to be together. We will both have a big life, you’ll see. Go to sleep.” Then I turned onto my side away from her and fell asleep.

It was dark outside when I awoke and the moon was gone. So was Gina. I leant over and touched her bed. It was empty. ‘It’s time for me to leave’, her words echoed in my mind and I felt my way to the door. I was struggling to breathe and a painful band was tightening around my ribs.

The hallway light illuminated the staircase and I pattered downstairs. The front door was gently drumming against the doorstopper keeping it open. I walked outside.

A cool summer breeze lifted the edge of my nightdress. I heard a faint sound above me and looked up. Gina was on the roof standing close to the edge. It took me a few moments to realise her chilling intention.

“Gina no!” I screamed as she flew in slow motion, the white nightdress buffeting like wings behind her.

The waiter placed the bone china cup and saucer down in front of me and I stared down at the amber liquid and wiped my eyes.

Nolavia’s Shadow Chapter Thirteen

 

I stood at a clearing in a forest overlooking a dilapidated log cabin on stilts. A strange humming started up as though angry bees surrounded me but I could see none.

“You remembered.” Said my father. I swung around to face him. He looked tired and thinner but my heart leapt momentarily in recognition. He did not come closer so I remained where I was too.

“What is the humming sound?” I said.

“It throws off the frequency so nobody can eavesdrop or teleport to this location. I had to wait until you got here but you were quick, thank you.” I nodded and followed him inside. It was surprisingly comfortable. A fire burned in the grate and he had candles flickering all about. The aroma of lamb curry wafted from a pot in the kitchen. There was no stove, which is often the case in magical homes.

“Smells delicious.” I said. “I haven’t had a good curry in years.”

“Let’s hope it’s good. It’s your mother’s recipe.” He said sitting in a comfortable looking armchair and gesturing for me to sit in the other. I did. He crossed one lanky leg over the other and cleared his throat. “Esereht you must wonder why I’ve been so silent for so many years?”

“Fifty. It’s been fifty years Dad but you really left years before that.” He looked away briefly, shook his head and turned back to me. His brown eyes looked steadily into mine.

“Fifty years. I am sorry Esereht but it was for your safety that I stayed out of your life.”

“My safety?” I spluttered.

“Yes the people who killed your mother were intent on killing you too.” He said clasping his hands tightly around his knees.

“That’s ridiculous! Anaira killed my mother. I saw her do it and she knows exactly where I am!” I said as though spitting sparks.

“It was not Anaira who killed your mother although we let her take the blame. It was safer that way. The people who assassinated your mother are infinitely more dangerous and powerful. We had to make it seem like you had limited magic and were no threat to their ends. I pretended to be an academic hopelessly ill equipped to be a father let alone capable of overthrowing them. I left for the Mainland when your magic started to surface properly. I didn’t want the spotlight to focus on you and I was still under surveillance. If they thought you had your mother’s power they would have murdered you too.” I listened dumb-founded. Everything I had believed my whole life was a lie.

“You stayed away to protect me?” I said my voice breaking.

“Oh darling there would have been nothing else that would have kept me away.” He stood and took an uncertain step towards me.

“I thought you didn’t like me.” I said tears starting to slip down my cheeks. He knelt in front of me and took my hands in his. I threw my arms around him and wept wetly into his neck.

When I was sufficiently back in control we ate bowls of lamb curry, which was even more scrumptious than the aroma. I placed the empty bowl down on the coffee table and picked up my glass of red wine. I sipped slowly allowing the subtle flavours of blackcurrant and dark chocolate to coat the inside of my mouth.

“Is Mundanim one of these people?” I said. My father nodded gravely.

“Mundanim has long been part of the organisation. He has guessed at your power. Many of us have been trying to muddy the waters but I fear he has seen through our attempts. If you had not contacted me I would have initiated contact. I had to be sure he did not intercept our communications though. Ruatnac told me of your conversation so I was prepared.” My father flicked his wrist and the curry bowls disappeared to be replaced by an extravagant dessert of Pavlova and a medley of raspberries, blueberries and passion fruit.

I groaned and patted my full stomach. This was the most I’d eaten in weeks. I tasted the meringue and cream. It was delicious and I had a few more mouthfuls before I put down my spoon.

“Enough no more. I think I shall pop. Are these people responsible for the recent discord under the sea?” I said. He nodded putting his bowl down and wiping cream from his mouth with his handkerchief.

“They want war and discord. It keeps their coffers overflowing. The more distrust between peoples and creatures the more their power is cemented. Nolavia is just a small Island. It has strategic importance but their power spans the Universe not just Earth. That is why I left you there. Esereht the scope of their evil is beyond your imaginings. They have permeated my nightmares long before your mother died. I tried to protect her but we both knew our purpose here on Earth was to mitigate them. We could not stop in spite of the sacrifices. I could not bear the thought that it would include you so I left.” We sat in silence watching the flames in the fireplace. I felt such turmoil of emotions. On the one hand I was happier than I had been in years but on the other I felt about to enter a battle of immense proportions.

 

Drop me a line 13! Free falling into Fiction.

 

 

The languid warm weather here in the Tankwa Karoo called out for this story courtesy of Ruth who sent me this line.

 

There wasn’t much going on, but there was a sense of expectancy today as Maggie McCloud padded to the front door in her slippers. Foster her sleek black cat was meowing piteously on the other side. She opened the door. Foster gazed at her for a second, juddered his tail in greeting and strode into the house.

“Good Morning Foster have you been out all night then?” Said Maggie filling his bowl with cat food from the tin on the sideboard. She turned on the kettle. It was still early and the sky, framed by her kitchen window, was flushed.

Maggie made it a rule not to rise before six. She did not want to become like Mrs Gillis next door who wore her carpets thin pacing the floors all hours of the day and night. Time is a strange one, to be sure, she thought with a smile. When she had the children living at home there were never enough hours in the day. Now she struggled to fill them. She was not one for the telly. David, her husband of forty–two years had loved the football and the game shows.

“Come now love, leave the cleaning and sit here next to me. Lets watch‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ together.” He would say and pat the worn sofa. She’d sit for a few seconds but it was torture doing nothing.

Maggie wished now she had sat, held his hand and watched the programmes he had loved so much. There are no second chances in life she brooded, pouring hot water over the teabag. She shook her head and scolded herself. She was one of the lucky ones. She had enjoyed forty-two years with David and had two beautiful children and three adorable grandchildren who still visited her on the last Sunday of every month.

She took her tea out into the garden and welcomed the sun’s salute to the start of the day. The garden called out for her attention and before long she was happily weeding with Foster weaving in and out of the flowerbeds.

Her doorbell chimed and she looked down at her wristwatch. Goodness me, she thought, it is almost lunchtime and I haven’t even thought about breakfast. I wonder who that could be? Visitors were rare these days. She shook the soil from her clothes, removed her gloves and walked back inside. The doorbell chimed again.

“I’m coming!” She called hurrying to open the door.

“Maggie?” A craggy face with a shock of white hair said.

“Yes…may I help you?” She peered up at him. He looked vaguely familiar but she could not place him.

“It’s Donny…er…Donald Masters.” He said shuffling. He looked embarrassed that she had not recognised him.

“Oh my word, Donny!” She flushed now. He had been her boyfriend before she met David. How had he found her? “Come in, come in.” She said standing back for him.

He walked inside the house and stood stiffly in the hallway.

“I’m sorry, I should have called. I have moved into the area and someone mentioned that you lived here. I should have called.” He said again.

“I’m happy to see you. My goodness, Donny it’s been years.” Maggie said. His face was lined but his blue eyes were unmistakable.

“Forty –six years this September.” He said and smiled.

“You remember?” Maggie smiled up at him.

“How could I forget? It was my greatest regret letting you go. You still look exactly the same Maggie.”

“Oh now that’s not true.” Maggie said and laughed. She turned away flushing and switched on the kettle. She made tea and brought out the biscuits she reserved for family visits. She felt an odd fluttering of excitement. You never could be sure what life had in store for you from one moment to the next.