They said I was mad - by Jim McGrath
They said I was mad.
That I would never be able to fly from Dover to the coast of France holding onto a bunch of balloons.
Well they were right.
But if you're reading this you too may be mad.
Because I'm writing from the grave.
And everyone knows you can't communicate with the dead.
So don't judge me.
Clowning - by Karen Aldred
He always played the clown. Skipping around with that daft oversized smile on his face. Never taking anything seriously. He has that look, as if he should be wearing a wig and a big red plastic nose and carrying a handful of multi-coloured balloons in one hand. She perceived him today the way she always had: larger than life. She watched as he smiled and joked with the guests at his mother’s funeral. Putting everyone at ease.
Of course it was this eternal, uncompromising jollity that had drawn her to him in the first place. It was an antidote to her own pessimistic nature. It fired her up. Helped her live beyond the confines of her lack of hope and belief. Gave her a periscope to see a world beyond her own sombre downtrodden existence. And she was his ‘straight man’. He needed her to support his act. People thought them a strange couple, and they were right she supposed. But somehow they worked.
Or they had. But something had broken between them recently. She wasn’t sure what had gone wrong but it was around the time she got the job in the bank. It was the first full time job she had had since leaving school. The recession had narrowed everyone’s options at that time and she had a sick mother and two younger siblings to look after. But then her siblings were grown and her mother was recovered.
It was Sid. It was he who brought her out of her shell, made her see that life was for living. And so she had taken his inspiration, woven it into a job application for Barclay’s Bank and taken the plunge.
It was her first interview and she got the job. She was over the moon. When she told Sid he had lifted her into the air and spun her around kissing her full on the lips. They celebrated with triple bacon burgers, onion rings and a bottle of rose wine.
Each morning she painted on her face and went to work. She found that she was good at her job, quick with figures, hard working. She was soon promoted. Sid was proud or so he said, but his job at the bakery was long and hard. He started early and went to bed early too. They saw less of each other.
She made some new friends. A little wilder than the crowd she had known at school. She and Sid were invited out to parties. But he got tired early.
“You go love!” he would say, “enjoy yourself, you deserve it.”
He had meant it. He wanted only the best for her. She would come home exhausted and happy, kick off her heels and snuggle into the sleeping warmth of him, in their bed.
So when did things change? She outgrew him she supposed. The crowd she hung out with were sophisticated young professionals. They talked of travel and politics and art. These were things she couldn’t discuss with Sid. Even when he was awake enough.
She paid up her half of the rent and moved out. Got herself a little flat in the city when she was promoted to the main branch. She had cocktail parties and went to the ballet. She had a sting of sophisticated boyfriends went on skiing holidays and safaris. Life was sweet.
When she became area manager she bought herself a penthouse apartment. She had a rooftop apartment and 500 square feet of luxury to share with her Persian cat. She had made it!
But what do you do next when you have made it. She was bored of the parties and the late nights, skiing didn’t interest her much anymore. Life was good. Life was sweet, but it just wasn’t all that much fun anymore.
When she heard about Sid’s mother dying she had been compelled to go and give her condolences. She had been fond of the old lady whose eyes twinkled mischievously with the same childish joy as Sid's. She did not allow herself to think that it would be nice to see Sid again.
And Sid, well he was still Sid. A little grey around the temples but still her Sid. He greeted her enthusiastically kissing her on both cheeks and slapping her on the back as if this was a Christmas party not a funeral. But she saw the secret sadness behind his smile.
After the service she sought him out. She wanted to comfort him. But more than that she wanted to know him again, reconnect. She found him in the churchyard. He was standing a few feet away from her with her back to him. She approached slowly. But she was beaten to it by a young girl, mousy looking, shy, approaching him from the side. The girl took his hand, kissed it gently and held his sobbing frame as he wept. As his sobs subsided she saw them share a tender kiss. She backed away slowly.
Back in her penthouse she stroked her cat pensively and leafed carelessly through next year’s skiing brochures.
Called Up - by Harriet Newman
Only nineteen but his papers have come,
Off to the war with no time for goodbyes.
“Be back for Christmas,” Jack calls to his mum,
His truck left at home, a sight for sore eyes.
But weeping and praying can’t bring him back,
He’s missing, not dead, she will wait for him.
He will come home, her pride, her boy, her Jack;
But months turn to years and hope’s flame burns dim.
Decades have passed and his mother has too,
And nature reclaims what can’t be replaced.
Cradled by branches Jack’s truck once so new,
Rusts in its loving pine-scented embrace.
It's All About Art - by Hugh Ashton
– Waal, Jed, ya sure gone and done it this time. How in tarnation did y’all manage that?
– It weren’t that easy, Lee. Took a load of trying before I got it right.
- But why in heck’s name did y’all take the third-best pickup truck and stick it in them there trees?
- Art, Lee, it’s all about Art.
- I don’t get you, not no ways, boy.
- Them city folk, they gonna come right to this here town of Dogpatch, and they going to stand right there and gonna pay money to have their picture took with that truck in a tree.
Covid-278 - by Cathy Dobbs
“It was like one of those dreams where you are flying,” he said. “I was walking back from the shop
when I realised my heels weren’t touching the pavement. No one came to help, they just
maintained their two metres distance.”
Through her protective visor Jenny looked at the straps that covered every inch of the frail old
man, keeping him pinned to the bed. “I’m one of the lucky ones though,” he added. “Not like
those four youngsters and that car – instant death for them.”
Jenny nodded as she left his cubicle. That was patient 8,350 ticked off her list.