Thursday, February 25, 2010

Little Red Riding Hoodie - #fridayflash

Little Red Riding Hood had gotten lost in the Forrest again. No choice but to ask for directions. She went back to the common room of the Martha Forrest Rest Home and found someone under seventy who was probably staff. No chance they were a visitor.

"Hey!" Little greeted the dead-eyed young woman in the white tunic.

"Awright," she replied. "If you is here on the rob, none of these biddies got nothing."

"Naw!" Little said. "I is looking for me Granny."

The care worker looked at the old women slumped in chairs about the common room. "Dey is all grannies, blood, but I knows you. You pulled Hankle off his moped, yeah?"

Little nodded. "Lil bitch showing me no respect so I did it. He chipped a tooth, right?"

The carer nodded. "For sure." She jerked a thumb at the exit. "Your granny is at her dubya eye meetin'."

"Awright!" Little said. She left the care home and took herself to the hall where the Women's Institute held their gatherings.

As soon as she stepped into the hall an enormous middle-aged woman made a beeline for her. Little recognised her as Nell Danbury, someone her Granny was always droning on about. Mainly complaints. Nell ran the local chapter of the Women's Institute.

"Hello Gina," Nell said. "Here to listen to your grandmother? You'll be wanting to put THAT down."

Reluctantly Little pulled back her red hood. "Listen to Gran, is it?" she asked.

"Yes," Nell said. "She's giving a talk on how they made their own buttons after the war."

Little looked up at the stage and peered closely at the figure behind the trestle table, currently pointing to a slide of what looked like a foil milk bottle top that had been improvised for button work.

"Whoa!" Little said. "Dat is not me Granny, dat is a fecking wolf. Look at his teeth and all. He has proper fangs"

Nell glanced up at Gran and she smiled, shaking her head. "It's her new false teeth, dear. She's still working them in."

"But lookit his face, he is all hairy and that"

Nell frowned. "Sweetie, you'll find out soon enough that after a certain age none of us can afford to neglect the routine maintenance." She rubbed a fingertip over her upper lip and mouthed the word "electrolysis". She winked at Little.

"That is NOT- ow!" Little was startled by someone grabbing her arm. Hard.

"Is this one causing trouble?" The old crone that had Little in her bony grasp was Hettie Booth, Gran's arch-enemy and oldest friend.

"Missus, dis crazy bitch is sayin' dat's me Nan up der, but- ow!"

Hettie gave Little another shake. "That is your Gran up there, and we're all very, very pleased with the changes she's made."

"She's ever so helpful now," Nell added.

"A pleasure to have around," Hettie said. "And if, once in a while, your Granny takes someone out shopping with her, and comes back on her own... it's a price we're prepared to pay."

"Thinning the herd," Nell observed, nodding with a tight smile on her face.

Gran had finished her talk and was coming off the stage towards them. Immediately she caught sight of Little and their eyes locked. Little gritted her teeth.

"I expect you'll be wanting your pocket money, dear," Gran said in a bass rumble. She pulled her purse out, and pressed a crisp five pound note into Little's palm.

Little crunched the note in her hand, then rubbed it. It felt real. She exclaimed, "I love you Granny!" and threw her arms around Big in a hug.

Mmmm, she thought. Furry...

Friday, February 19, 2010


I love Abi but she makes me so mad. She'll lay in the dirt in the corner of the garden, her head tucked under her arm, laying there like she's passed out or dead. I guess I understood why, but it makes me mad.

Just weeks ago we had so much fun. I'd play with her toys, and she'd play with mine. I'm always in charge, because she's such a scaredy cat. A nervous Nellie. She wants to fade away, like trees and such. Not like me. I'm a star. I'm special.

We're the only girls, little girls, so we share a bed, lying in the dark and talking about whatever we think about. We dream about crazy stuff, imagining things we can hardly put into words. We're not supposed to, but who's going to tell?

Abigail cries a lot. I cry sometimes, too, but for real reasons. Abigail cries about imaginary things.

Like her parents.

I told her, if her parents were real they'd be here. They aren't. I should be happy about that, but I feel sad for Abi, even though I'm right. I don't always understand why she is sad.

Daddy said we had to go. He stroked my cheek and smiled at me. I love him so much. He laughed as he pulled me off his leg. I wanted to hug him so tight.

I told Abi we had to go but she went to that corner of the garden and curled up in the shade of the bushes again. I told her we'd leave her behind. She said she wanted to be left behind. I felt sick.

Daddy came. He spoke to me. He spoke softly, but I could see he was angry at Abigail. I told him to wait. I would talk to her.

I crouched by her. I put my hand on her hip, then on her shoulder. She felt so cold, but she moved when I touched her.

"Abi, come with me," I said. "Come with me. It will be good where we go."

She rolled her head against her crooked arm. I heard a noise but it was not words.

I had my arm draped on her. I squeezed my fingers into her shoulder. What more could I do?

Daddy stood in the garden. He said something to me I did not hear. Then he spoke again, louder.

I sighed. My heart was broken. I was as sad as I could be. I clipped the tether onto Abigail's collar and jerked it hard.

"Come, Abigail," I said. I tugged the collar again.

She moaned. Not like a hurt sound, like a sad sound.

I tugged on the collar again, harder this time. Daddy leaned over me. I knew he wanted to help.

Abigail did not want to leave the corner of the garden where she was lying. I shrugged off my daddy's help and readied myself for a final effort to shift Abigail. I regretted telling her that was where we buried her parents. They weren't even buried where I said they where.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Any Good Mother Would - #fridayflash

On Monday she showed her boys how to make pizza from scratch. She taught them how to knead the dough and explained the patience required to let the yeast work its magic. She showed them how to work the pizza with the palms of their hands, and not to roll it out. She explained how to layer the cheese directly on to the sauce and not to crowd the pizza with too many toppings. That night they all went to bed with flour in their hair, dried dough under their finger nails and full bellies.

On Tuesday they made shepherd's pie with shredded lamb in a rich gravy. She showed them how it was easier to pipe the mashed potato after letting the filling cool. She told them the story of how their grandmother claimed she came up with the idea of topping the pie with grated cheddar cheese but never got the recognition that was due to her. That night she had to chase them to bed, her voice hoarse from telling them stories about her mother.

On Wednesday they made chilli from prime ground beef and thick chunks of bacon. She warned them not to use too much chilli powder but they didn't listen. Little David wiped his eye with a hand he should have cleaned first and he wept for an hour straight, though by the end even he was laughing at how silly he looked with his puffy red eye. That night the boys went to bed with their mouths still burning, convinced that next time they should listen to their mother when she tells them how much chilli powder is just enough.

On Thursday she taught them how to order ingredients from the Internet. She told them how to keep the lights off at night so no one would know they were home and ordered them not to answer the door unless they could see it was a delivery person. That night the boys slept in the same bed. Together, alone, in the house.

On Friday she touched down in Tijuana, pleased with herself that she had prepared the little ones so well, as any good mother would.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Shadow of the Noose - #fridayflash

Dawn pinked through grey clouds sending shades creeping along the base of the tall courtyard walls, with the gallows' long shadow serving as a grim sundial. It was almost time.

A light breeze cooled Nathan Hamilton's face through the bars but did not stir the heavy noose that now held his gaze. His eyes traced the curve of the rope looking from heavy knot, around and back again. The unexpected trill of a bird's call startled him back to awareness. His hands slid from the stone lip that barely jutted under the window and he turned back towards the man who was sitting on the rough cot that lay against the opposite wall.

"Are you tired, father?" Hamilton asked, his voice hoarse.

Father Maskie shook his head without looking up. He sat there without further movement, his hands clasped against his chest. After a while he raised his face to look at Hamilton, showing eyes that were reddened and damp.

"Is it morning already?" Father Maskie asked. "I'm sorry, my son, I should have let you rest."

Hamilton gave a derisive snort that turned into a cough. "Plenty of time for rest later," he said.

Father Maskie nodded solemnly. "I'm glad you agreed to talk to me," he said.

"I could hardly refuse you, Father," Hamilton replied. "By all accounts this will be the last execution they ever hold. The Italians have no stomach for a hanging."

"Are you certain you won't join me in a prayer?" Maskie asked. "Or I could take your confession."

Hamilton shook his head. "With all due respect Father, MY father would turn in his grave. He never cared for the Papacy."

"And yet here you are," the priest said.

"Aye," Hamilton nodded. "While my father was in the army back in England, he became acquainted with an Austrian mercenary by the name of Spenzler. He cashed himself out and served under Major Spenzler during various scuffles with the Prussians and the French. When he'd made enough for a stake he sent for mother and the rest of us. He said he chose to put down roots in Italy because there were too many old scores waiting to be settled in Germany."

"Soldiering is a hard life," Father Maskie observed, leaning slightly towards Hamilton.

"All life is hard," Hamilton fired back. "A man must become hard to make his way in life." He wrapped his arms about his body dramatically. "The comforting blanket of religion is neither broad nor deep enough to warm us all, Father."

"Indeed?" Maskie raised his eyebrows. "Perhaps the comfort of religion would have set you upon a path that was..." The priest's words trailed away.

Hamilton's eyes narrowed and his hands bunched into fists.

"Have a caution, Father." Hamilton spoke cooly, though his body trembled. "I know well the black pit wherein my stony heart lies and I have no need of your forgiveness nor your puny judgements neither. Do not presume to ease the guilt I feel for lives ended by my hand. Rather ease the weight of clouds from off the sky."

Father Maskie clenched his eyes shut briefly, then held his open palms towards Hamilton. "Oh sweet Lord pity this foolish man for his conceit. What arrogance he has. He would claim to fly like a bird while yet he falls into sin. Nathan Hamilton, have you no regret? Do you feel no shame?"

"No more!" Hamilton was shouting. "Nor yet again, Father. There is no contrition to be found here." He slapped his hand on his chest.

"Only because you refuse to let what IS there free, my son." Father Maskie's own hands were white-knuckled fists now and they shook alarmingly. "You MUST let me help you." The priest's body was bent almost double, his arms tight against his sides, rigid, his gaze fixed on Hamilton.

Hamilton's chest swelled with the breath to fuel strong words but he was cut short by a loud banging on the cell door. It opened and a guard entered, while another loitered in the corridor outside.

The guard sheepishly pulled his cap from his head, nodding at Father Maskie as he traced the sign of the cross on his chest. His eyes darted towards Hamilton then back to the priest. "It's time, Father. You must leave now."

Father Maskie lurched to his feet, but instead of approaching the door he went to Hamilton and grabbed the other man's arm in both of his hands. "I forgive you," he said, his voice rising. "God will grant you his forgiveness too if you'd only ask him for it. Don't be an arrogant fool. I can save you, my son."

"ME?" Hamilton shouted. He wrenched his arm away from the priest, sending him into an off-balance stagger that was only prevented from becoming a fall by the swift action of the guard, who gathered Father Maskie into his arms. "What about your sins, Father? Who will forgive those?"

Father Maskie strained against the guard's grip. "I am a righteous man, sinner, with clean hands and a pure heart. I perform the Lord's work." He shook his clasped hands in Hamilton's face. The black chains hanging from the manacles about the priest's wrists danced. "I didn't do anything wrong. I'm innocent!"

"That's what they all say," Hamilton sneered. He retrieved his black cloth hood from where it lay crumbled at the end of the prisoner's bed. "The Lord executeth righteousness and judgement for all that are oppressed. Nathan Hamilton executeth the rest."