Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Short stories - 'Strange Magic' Magic Dust/Dated

Strange Magic

Magic Dust

I love car boot sales, but have often come back empty handed. Just browsing around and meeting people give me enough satisfaction. Of course there have been times when I've spotted a bargain or something unusual to grace my home.
I had also been digging around the family tree for many months now and trying to piece our family together, especially on my late mother's side.

I often admired a grotesquely but strangely beautiful, almost tacky, pale green dinner set my owned as long as I can remember and she told me that it would eventually be passed down to me. She was very vague as to what person from the family originally owned it, only that it was passed down to her late mother and from her mother to my late mother. Apart from being old, it was in reasonably good condition, considering its age, apart from one missing plate. It was lovely just to display it in a cabinet only to come out when it needed dusting. It was a shame it was incomplete, but for something so old, looked very pretty in its own way in the cabinet.

My father was born in Scotland, my mother in North London and we always seemed to be moving house earlier on in my childhood. My mother never seemed settled, almost as if she wanted to run away from something but she seemed to enjoy the upheaval of the moving and she often said she couldn't see the point in staying in one place; both her parents has passed away and was not particularly close to her two sisters or extended family, although I did not know why. We did try to keep in touch with our cousins, but very difficult when on the move! My younger brother and I thought it was one big adventure and have revelled in the fact that we know much about many counties of England. Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Shropshire, Northamptonshire to name a few. We even moved to Glasgow, Scotland for a while, near to where my father was born, but dad had terrible trouble finding work and when he did, he couldn't settle. We finally ended up moving to Hertfordshire where we settled for many happy years until I met my husband and had two gorgeous girls. As they grew up they didn't share my enthusiasm of car boot sales, our family tree or my inheritance of the dinner set! So it seemed I wouldn't have immediate family to pass it down to. 'What's the point of a dinner set with a plate missing?' They often reminded me.

With the birth of the Internet, one of my daughters just happened to find a web page on antiques and accidentley stumbled on a similar dinner set worth approximately £3500 for auction in its entirety, even in bad condition! A rarity, all made by hand and not many around. So she casually asked me to live it in my will to her. Oh it probably wasn't the same set, but did look familiar to my dinner set but didn't think any more about it. For goodness' sake, what were the chances of this?

The family tree was getting more mysterious but trying to piece it together was getting exciting. It took many months to track down members of the family and eventually wrote to three, a great aunt, a second cousin on my dad's side and a cousin who we lost contact with on mum's side when we moved the first time, who passed on my address to other relations and after some time I was completely baffled as to who was who! After some moths of corresponding, with my cousin from my mothers side of the family, one of the letter I received from her was rather strange but almost convincing. I have never believed in witchcraft, but apparently according to he, there was a little bit of hocus pocus, white magic, tarot cards, séances all going on with a late great great great aunt and that she had left all manor of oddities in her will to various nieces and nephews (as she had no children of her own) which included various stones, a crystal ball, magic dust and all other things I had never heard of. Interesting, but never believed in any of it. My parents had never mentioned anything like this before, so maybe my cousin was just being a little over imaginative and after all, this was many generations ago and things like this get misconstrued over many years. My cousin lived in Lowestoft and although not that far away, very unlikely I would take time out to meet her. However, she did make the effort to keep in touch after some weeks gave her my telephone number for the odd chat. She didn't emphasize on what she had mentioned in her letter about witchcraft when we spoke, but she did say, during one conversation, that maybe one day, some unexplainable occurrence might happen and I might well question it and laughed at her comment. Sadly, she died after only fourteen months of making contact again and regretted that I never took the time to go and visit her.

A couple of years later, my husband very unexpectedly lost his job and we all jointly decided that it was time to downsize our home and move to another area where the houses were a lot cheaper, as we could not find anything suitable in our area on our budget. Money was beginning to get tight and had started to dig into our savings. We all had a huge discussion and started to take steps into moving to the one place where we all loved and holidayed on many occasions and begun looking on the Internet for places in Cornwall. It took a few weeks to find somewhere perfect for us and we were thrilled to finally settle in a little cottage just outside the village of Mevagissey. We had gained a little bit of equity from the sale of our old house and managed to get our new cottage more or less how we wanted it. Jobs were scarce, but we all found little part time jobs and things to do, but after a few months, we did wonder if we had made the right decision. It almost got to the point of only being able to afford very cheap meals for dinner and wondered how we were going to cope in the future, but somehow we all pulled together and were thankful that we were living in such a gorgeous part of England - money or not money. However there were times it could be very worrying and stressful. My brother and his children delighted in coming to visit us during the school summer holidays so that was always something to look forward to.

One morning, to cheer myself up, I visited the local car boot sale and browsed around, talking to the locals and still getting used to the slower, more laid back lifestyle and enjoyed browsing at the stalls. One owner of a stall was selling bric a brac and it looked as if one of the plates was being used as an ashtray as there was gray looking dust over it. Something made me look a bit closer though. 'That plate looks a little familiar'........I looked at it more closely and I asked how much it was and she laughed, brushed the gray dust from the plate, wiped it clean, laughed again and just gave it to me! I took it home, with a feeling of excitement and anticipation and telling myself not to be so silly as to even think it would match with what I already had in my dinner set. I mean, how could it have been? How?
Miracle of miracles, it was a match! I stared at it for what seemed like hours and began to wonder if this old relation of mine had somehow sprinkled her magic dust around and it this is what my cousin meant that I would question?

Maybe this is why my late mother never felt close to some members of her family, with all the hocus pocus going on, but now I'll never know.

One of my daughters eventually got the dinner set valued and now we are £23,575 better off.
Copyright Linda Lawrence

15th November 2005

Strange Magic


He had walked into her life so quickly all those years ago but now she wished he would walk out just as quick. Trudie and Kelvin were living in a sad existence of a marriage. They really didn’t like each other any more but neither could move on because of their commitment to their two sons and all the financial arrangements with the house, the mortgage and everyday living. Trudie just wanted Kelvin to walk out of their life, or try to meet someone else, so that she could live her own life. He did not contribute much to the family in the way of a father either and he was so miserable, had no social skills and with each family celebration, he did not want to join in and when he did, Trudie used to cringe with embarrassment with his thoughtless comments to people and he almost always put his foot in it with some useless remark that made people want to move away from him. He simply was not a peoples’ person. In addition, he did not make any effort to help Trudie around the house or anything that needed to be done and in spite of being a motor mechanic, deliberately avoided to keep Trudie's car road worthy adding to her suffering as he knew Trudie relied on the car for some kind of social life and to get her out of the way of him. Even his two sons’ despaired over his very presence in the house and did their level best not to argue with him. He never helped the boys with their homework and left Trudie to entertain them even from when they were tiny. He was very controlling at times - an expert at mind games and had become much worse over the years. He often gave Trudie ‘the silent’ treatment if she wanted to ask or know something, or used to argue and raise his voice when his opinion was not needed and he seemed to enjoy intimidating all of his family.

All Trudie ever wanted was some peace and tranquillity, or some decent adult conversation and a smile would not go amiss. Kelvin had also become a bit of a hypochondriac in the past and enjoyed having symptoms of one virus or another. He never gained attention which annoyed him even more and Trudie often thought what he would be really like if something were really wrong with him, how on earth would anyone cope?

At the beginning of their volatile relationship, she used to love cooking meals and preparing time consuming dishes for him, but as time wore on, he grew very demanding about having dinner on the table at the time he wanted it and eventually made Trudie so bitter, she never bothered with her lovely home-made dishes and stuck to basic, quick meals. Kelvin never seemed bothered what he ate anyway – as long as it was edible. Even the housekeeping money was reduced that left very little for other treats and it seemed all that mattered was food was in the cupboard and fridge. Just another way to control things, Trudie thought.

As the years flew by, the more controlling he got and Trudie spent much of her time walking her cute little mongrel bitch, Bella in the depths of the nearby forest to escape the torture at home. Bella (namely because she was so beautiful) was the little girl Trudie never had and spent ages talking things over with her as if she understood and spent ages pondering over what could be done. She was very much at peace when she took her little dog for a walk and it allowed her time to ponder. Kelvin had made her worry and stressed so much that she panicked if things were not to his satisfaction and as she started preparing the next evening meal and the sandwiches for the following day, she realised in horror, that there was hardly any fresh meat, salad or vegetables neither was there much choice in the fridge. In fact, her boys and their girlfriends had helped themselves to a lot of food shopping she did the previous day leaving almost nothing to prepare for a meal. She had no option, but to open a can of dogs’ meat and as Bella looked at her very confused she added some week old carrots with some garlic salt and dried onions and rolled out some pastry for a pie and her heart pounded as Kelvin took his first mouthful with the potatoes that were used after cutting out the eyes, but he made no sound as the food hardly touched the edge of his mouth and went straight to his gut and as he belched, Trudie smelt the beef and kidney flavoured dogs’ meat that wafted and lingered through the air.

Trudie lay in bed that night giggling like a schoolgirl thinking how easy it was to feed him such rubbish and him not notice, although she thought he might have got up in the night with an upset stomach, but it never happened.

Over the next few days, she sorted out her food cupboards and put different tins and packets that had now gone out of date and she delighted in thinking of the different ‘recipes’ she could prepare.

She tried not to laugh as she prepared his lunches; a smoothie made up of too soft strawberries, bruised bananas and slightly mouldy pear and mushy kiwis, chucked in the odd left over vegetable, then added some yoghurt passing it off as a pro-biotic drink. Sandwiches became a real pleasure as she thought up more and more bizarre ingredients to use. Corn beef that had been left in the back of the fridge for a few days with a little mayonnaise passed its sell-by-date. Cheese that had a little mould scraped off kept from a Christmas hamper with some cranberry sauce to sweeten it up. A little ex lax added to a home-made chocolate cake.

Soon, the friends she confided into over the years contributed out of date food; some coleslaw, lesser than fresh vegetables, soft split tomatoes, unwanted frozen produce from the fridge freezer after a defrost, out of date pork pies, some cooking apples that maggot had got into to sweeten a curry or apple crumble made with old flour infested with flour mites that had been stuck at the back of her food cupboard. She had even started to save some of the housekeeping money away in a savings account each week when she saved on the shopping bill.

As Trudie’s confidence grew, she started adding extra chilli powder to the chilli con carne that was made of minced Turkey that had been left over from a weekend dinner and tried to stifle the laughter as Kelvin coughed and spluttered, but he never twigged that anything was untoward. After all, who would possibly annoy or upset him? The list of recipes were endless and was very satisfying to once again, cook some favourite recipes - well almost, as she added some prawns that had been in the freezer for far too long to a paella and the pork chops with chicken minced up from the previous night for a shepherds’ pie, topped with creamy mashed potato (with days old milk) that hit the taste buds first allowing the day old left over meat to follow and began to feel a lot more satisfied as she now gained some control back. She even added a tiny pinch of salt to his cups of tea and peppered his tobacco.

Laughing hysterically at the thought of her revenge on her unloving husband, she took her beloved Bella for her morning stroll into the forest and feeling so much happier and positive now that the bluebells had grown and looked like a magic carpet of the purest bluest sapphire hue and stopped to admire their beauty with some other different wild flowers and fungi. She noticed the new seasons’ insects and the pretty butterflies in the chilly spring fresh air and everything seemed a lot brighter. On the walk back home she thought about the fungi she saw and thought how Kelvin loved his mushrooms and wondered if it were safe to pick them and add them to a casserole! The urge was irresistible as she picked a dozen or so and laughed wondering how her latest recipe would taste.

The following morning, Kelvin was on such a high! He kept talking excitedly and wildly; laughing, jumping around with such vigour and enthusiasm, Trudie had tried to remember when he last got so excited as she was not used to Kelvin’s’ non stop talking, openness and friendliness. She found it so funny that he was very persistent and try to achieve cartwheels and headstands around the room. Momentarily, Trudie thought of all the happy times at the beginning of their relationship, when they got on so well and felt so blessed when the boys were born, but things begun to change slowly over the course of time to change Kelvin’s’ personality - as if food was the key to all of his controlling.

Kelvin continued to ramble and rant and almost forgot his lunch-box and Trudie almost tripped over herself making sure he took his mushroom pate sandwiches and a flask of tea made with reused tea-leaves  Kelvin was still finding everything hysterically amusing as he left their house in the morning. He didn’t take the car – he walked and carried on walking.

Days later, Trudy read in the local paper that some passers-by were walking in the forest, found a naked man who now remained in hospital unidentified, diagnosed with Hyper-mania  Nobody knew him or where he came from.

From this day, Trudy walked out of his life as quickly as what he walked into hers.

Kelvin still remains in hospital and as a hypochondriac; he often feels ill and constantly asks the nurses if anyone is poisoning his food.

Linda Lawrence

3rd March 2007

Monday, 23 July 2007

Short stories - 'Strange Magic' The Reading/Trolley Man

Strange magic

The Reading

Danny did not understand fortune telling but he was fascinated by the woman next door and her amazing ability to read the tea leaves. She always wore a colourful scarf around her head which always clashed so blatantly with her long cotton skirts. His mum, Anita always let her in for a chat and they used to sit at the tiny round kitchen table in hushed talks over a cup of tea made with tea leaves. She was well known as auntie Maggie to everyone in the neighbourhood.

It was just Danny and his mum with the odd boyfriend and he had a reasonably happy childhood. He grew up to be street wise and got on well with the other children on the estate, even though it was a little rough. He adored his mum; she was always there for Danny. She listened, was kind and had time for him.

One day, when he was thirteen, he was called in the school office and there stood two policemen who offered Danny a ride in their police car, which all sounded very exciting, but he had a terrible feeling of foreboding while sitting in the back as he was gently told that his mum had had a fatal accident.

Over the months there were many rumours about how his mum had died, but once he was placed in a children's home, many miles away from where he knew, he had to get used to his new life and adapt very quickly, as the other kids had no time for new children. He went through his teens very angry and bitter with no answers to how his beloved mother died. It was an incredibly frustrating and a depressing time for him and he thought about taking his own life so he could be with his mother. He loved her so much; he could not imagine the rest of his life without her in it. No other kids would listen to him although thankfully, he received some counselling which helped a little.

When he was sixteen he was offered a tiny one bedroom flat, but he knew he had to go back to his old roots first. He made the 85 mile journey back to the street he was born in and finally found himself knocking at the door of the woman who used to read the tea leaves and after a brief reunion, learnt that many different tenants had moved in and out of his old home. They talked about his mum for hours on end. Maggie got out the old newspaper clippings about what might have happened, but nobody really knew and the case had been left open all these years, but it was suspected that she might have committed suicide. Danny asked Maggie about all the evenings she and mum used to chat over a cup of tea and all the times she used to read mum's tea leaves and Maggie reluctantly told him about the rivalry over two lovers which Maggie was aware of at the time. Anita had so much trouble with an ex boyfriend, Tony, who was highly strung and easily wound up, but he loved Anita deeply. Anita knew she had to move on and found herself a new lover a few months later, but it was hearsay that when Tony had found out about her new lover, that he would kill both of them. When Tony was questioned, he was found innocent. Never was there such a case shrouded in mystery.

Danny asked Maggie if she would read his tea leaves and she laughed nervously saying that she had not read them for ages and had long since been replaced by Tarot cards. Danny was intrigued about a Tarot card reading.

The cards were carefully chosen and slowly laid out in the Celtic Cross position, as Maggie concentrated on the cards and their meanings. It was a little ambiguous, but some of it made a little sense as Maggie explained how the turn up of the Magician, the Pentacles and the Moon represented Danny's past. The uncertainty, the depression and all the unpleasant changes in his life when he was a teenager and the way that Danny had to adapt as he thought about the Children's home and living so far away from all he knew. In the present the Swords and Cups suggesting and urging him to follow his heart and gut instinct and to look to every new window of opportunity. The Queen heeding warning of a middle aged woman and the Pentacles showing good fortune. The letter V being of some significance. The turn up of the High Priestess with his natural ability to learn fast; his flair to absorb new skills and an attribute to listen and observe. The number 7 would denote some meaning in his life and The Lovers with all the difficult decisions that lay ahead. The month of September would be of some influence and Justice for the balance of life and his birth sign of Libra. The pinnacle of all the cards would be the Wheel of Fortune; the slow turning of the wheel of motion in life and the words from Maggie.........'What is good, what is bad, what is neither good nor bad; sooner or later an upward swing of fortune is followed by a fall'. Some wrangles over litigation and some hard earned money coming his way and also some silver!

He was grateful for the reading, but only part of it made some sense, but he was glad to have shared the interest that his mother had and decided from that day, that he would try to leave his past behind, settled into the next nearby town, found a small bedsit and a job. It was a good start, but the money was not that great and he did find himself wondering about the reading and the financial difficulties but quickly brushed it aside as he looked around and thought what he had achieved so far with his guts, hard work and determination and knew he could move on further and do better.

Many months later he found new employment as a courier and the agency was so busy and inundated with work, Danny found himself accepting any overtime with pleasure and enjoyed the freedom of the motorbike around the nearby towns. He managed to start saving, moved out of the bedsit into a bigger studio flat and took on a mortgage. He loved his life the way it was panning out. Two years later, he was offered a partnership in the company and thought his life was complete, until he got to know the new girl who worked in reception. He was so happy, content and in love, although he would never forget about his past and his dear beloved mother.

Danny and Eve fast became an item and he smiled to himself remembering that Maggie had told him the letter V would play a part in his life and wonderful Eve was! They eventually bought a house together at number 17, The Avenue and two years later they both took over the courier company, which flourished and Danny learnt about how to run the company very swiftly.

Danny and Eve enjoyed many exotic holidays abroad and bought flash, expensive cars, but Danny always kept his motorbike to remind him of his humble beginnings.

Life was almost perfect when they married and when their twin boys were born, it was the icing on the cake.

One sunny afternoon, he took a ride on his motorbike into town and felt so proud to come all this way; he thought about his achievements and was so lost in thought, he didn't double check a junction and from nowhere, a car pulled out in front of him and Danny could not remember anything until he woke up in hospital. He had been in a coma for seven weeks and had suffered so many fractures and injuries, it was a miracle he came out of the accident alive. Even had spent many days and long long hours willing him to pull through and get better. She played his favourite music and took tapes of their sons cooing and chatting praying he would pull through until finally that flicker of an eyelid told her, he would be with her again.

The business suffered and Eve had to sack their staff. Their savings started to dwindle fast; there were wrangles over insurance companies. Eve had to sell the house quickly and downsize, the cars sold to new owners. Everything had turned to dust, but the most important thing was Danny was still alive and back with her.

Once out of hospital, Danny started reading about his accident from the local newspapers and discovered that the driver of the Ford fiesta car, Laura Vincent, was arguing at the time with her husband. She was totally to blame and a court case was set for the following month.

In court, as Laura Vincent relayed her story how her husband, the highly strung Tony Vincent had been threatening her and after many weeks, the story went deeper and slowly stated to open up a whole new can of worms, as another old case was opened and anew trial was set; A case full of mystery in which a suicide from nineteen years ago had left Tony Vincent, a prime suspect and an ex boyfriend of Anita Brown. When he found out about her new lover - Margaret Hoskins, had been made a beneficiary from Anita Browns will, his jealousy, disbelief and outrage turned his thoughts to murder. The money should have been left in a trust to her son, Danny, but the money was never mentioned or received by him. The court case was endless, the paperwork, litigation, the struggles went on and on for many months, until finally, through one last shred of evidence was found that proved that Tony Vincent had killed his ex girlfriend. The money that only her trusted friend and lover, Hoskins had known about that was a windfall from the lottery, was also another ex girlfriend of Tony Vincent, but she had since mysteriously disappeared.

The thoughts of the Tarot Card reading came flooding back; the fascination he held for the woman who read the tea leaves next door and the power of the magic she must have used to lure Danny's mother into a lesbian relationship and steal her money that was rightfully his.
When the case finally came to an end seventeen long months alter, on September 27th, Danny and his family received compensation from his accident and in addition, countless newspapers wanted the story and got paid a grand sum for it. Danny finally got the victory and justice he deserved.

Danny and his family would never come to terms with the shock of what really happened when he was a child, nor with his debilitating accident, now he was paralysed from the waist down, but was able to pursue a much better life with the thousands of thousands of pounds he received for his story and his new silver electric wheelchair made life a little bit easier for him.

Copyright Linda Lawrence

28th July 2006


Trolley Man

“I heard it again!” shouted one of my colleagues from the local supermarket. It wasn’t just her that heard the strange eerie clanging sound of the shopping trolleys crashing together. Exasperated that the manager found himself doing the very job he never thought he’d have to do, but the vacancy had been open for so long, it was only him available to do the work. Sometimes, after a collection of stranded trolleys were made nearby to the entrance, there was this odd, distant echo that followed. It might have been the cold, dark, night air that made the trolley noise ricochet somehow in the heavy, damp mist. It might have also just been their imagination blown out of proportion. Anything to liven up the evening! So much noise went on in here anyway, it was nigh on impossible to distinguish any kind of different sounds; children ran and shouted through the supermarket store, people would drop items, wheels would squeak, babies would cry, woman chatted, tills bleeped and the checkout women always made a conscientious effort to chat to all customers, no matter who they were, even if the customer didn’t want to make small talk. Friendliness oozed out of every pore of an assistant which could be extremely exhausting at the end of a late night shift. At busy times, it was constant and all this noise would buzz around a tired assistant’s head; it was also very difficult to unwind before retiring to bed.

“The customers have been most thoughtful tonight” commented our supermarket supervisor, “they must have all taken their baskets back to where they picked them up from, near the entrance – very unusual”. The checkout women were too busy to notice and often on autopilot, keeping the customer satisfied - as always.

A few people bonded and friendships blossomed between the busy shifts, but a majority of employees came and went like two-a-penny and so often that it was difficult to remember their names. They never seemed to stay long enough to establish any kind of acquaintance, but now and again a member of staff would stop for a chat, a bit of banter, someone who felt just as bored as you at times – to liven up the evening! Then there was always this thought that the younger employees would never last, especially for the job of collecting trolleys from the vast car park and beyond, that would often spill over to the nearby train station and around the back of the huge shop where it was almost jet black dark of a night. It was so demanding for someone so young, but one particular employee I got talking to made the best of it and talked to most of the customers, often giving them the whole ‘shopping experience’ long before they started browsing! He would go beyond chatting; he would make them laugh and ever eager to please, he handed out baskets to people, always ready with a smile with those lovely deep blue puppy dog eyes. His vibrant personality and humour won people over easily; the ‘new boy’ made me laugh and the young girls would turn their heads at the sound of at his deep, velvety voice as they looked back at the tall, slim young teenager with his short blonde gelled hair. He had certainly changed the usual mundane evening into something a little ‘more entertaining’! He was eighteen with a maturity of a twenty eight year old.

I really liked him, in spite of our age difference; somehow he was on my level – in fact he was on everyone’s level and was so easy going, and I wondered if his girlfriend appreciated him!
He never told me much about himself as he was often too busy making sure all the trolleys had been collected and he ran the basket run constantly up until the end of his shift. He was indeed, a grafter of a part time supermarket job.

He knew I would always talk to him between serving customers and after playfully throwing bits of screwed up paper at me, he would confide that he really should be working in a more ‘appreciative environment’. Those same eyes looking a little sad and I knew then that perhaps someone with a lesser personality was none too pleased with this happy go lucky lad. I could just imagine some little old lady with her nose in air after all his efforts at cheering her, some pompous old businessman that shouldn’t ‘be seen shopping’ or someone his age insulting him, saying he could do better than just to be a trolley collector. But I never did know why he wore this sad expression. Neither did I know his name as his name badge always looked as if it had seen better days and was very faded.

It was a particularly uneventful night. The booze, pizza, crisps and all the nibbles that were ‘necessary’ had been bought ready for the evening’s entertainment of football and the shop just emptied itself as if right on cue for the evening viewing. After finishing the usual jobs of cleaning the belts, emptying the rubbish bins, put backs and just a general clear up ready for the next day, there was nothing left to do except serve the odd customer. It was getting so boring that I offered to help collect the trolleys outside and joined the young lad walking up and down the car park stealing the odd conversation, a bit of gossip or just generally larking about. It was so cold and difficult to see beyond the first car park as the dark grey freezing fog was so dense, but it still had to be checked for trolleys as the young man made this his last job of the evening as he disappeared into the thick fog and I was ready to go home to a warm house and a hot cup of chocolate, which always helped me to wind down.

My shift was due again the following evening and in the distance I heard some of the evening staff “There’s that sound - it happened again!” I was too busy serving to take much notice. I wondered where the new boy was, but he must have been around as the trolleys had been collected and there wasn’t a basket in sight in front of the tills.

Tired and at the end of my shift, I heard some of the staff talking, “It’s about time this vacancy was filled for a trolley and basket collector.” But what happened to the new boy that’s been here for the past three weeks?” I enquired.

And in unison, my colleagues’ said “What new boy?”

And as the eerie clang of the metal of the trolleys collided together, I realised why I never got to know his name.
Copyright Linda Lawrence

20th October 2007

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Short Story - 'Strange Magic' House Of Dolls

House of Dolls

Ever since the age of two, my daughter Louise always had a bedroom full of cuddly toys and dolls and throughout the years, she had never really grown out of some kind of collection. I've dusted and vacuumed around Pet monsters, my little ponies; Barbies' and all her pink accessories, every imaginable cute stuffed toy and every Christmas or birthday that come along, most presents consisted of a new toy for Louise to cuddle. Unfortunately, there were just too many toys in the end and as Louise got older, we washed and parted with them and gave most of them to the local charity shop.

Even when Louise left home, her passion for dolls or cuddly toys was still apparent. She had already owned a number Furbies who chattered away to one another often scaring me a little when I was left alone with them! Their heads used to turn in my direction as I walked passed them and their dark midnight black piercing eyes seemed to bore into my very soul. I didn't understand how they worked, but reasoned that they must have had some special language of their own or it seemed that way. But since the day she started collecting Blythe dolls there seemed to be many unexplainable occurrences. Nobody knew the origin of these dolls, not even Louise, as most were purchased over the Internet as a private sale and the packages did not contain any forward addresses, they were delivered in dark boxes with large brightly ink addressed and inscribed in old English writing to the buyer. Louise even started to look like a Blythe doll, dyeing her long hair blond, her disconnected fringe and dark heavy make up emphasising her big green saucer eyes. I even thought a times, she wore the same beautiful sultry expression as those dolls.

Louise found a lovely flat in North London and settled down quickly, although I would argue that it was becoming a shrine to her collection of these unusual dolls and after a short time after taking the dolls out of their boxes, strange and unexplainable things begun to happen, subtle at first. With her rent overdue, Louise useless with money and desperate for cash, out of the blue, she received a rebate from an overpayment of council tax, only an overpayment was never made, but the council insisted that she did. It didn't matter how much she checked her bank statements, it made no difference. The council confirmed this error by letter. Nothing unusual you might think, but then really odd things happened, like she thought that she had run out of washing powder, but when she looked again, the box was just over a quarter full. When the fridge badly needed defrosting and she didn't have time to do it, when she got home from work one day, it had been defrosted and come home to find water from the ice over the floor. She found a £20.00 note underneath her DVD player when dusting - again, when she was short of cash and a tin of wholesome Minestrone soup appeared mysteriously in her cupboard when she thought she didn't have any food in her flat.

A few weeks later, without warning, or invitation, one of Louise's 'friends' - a bit of a drama queen, turned up on her doorstep carrying a bottle of red wine. Louise was clearly tired, but her friend was so happy to see her, Louise did her best to make her feel welcome. As Louise went into the kitchen to get a cork screw opener, her friend suddenly got up and decided to leave with no excuse. She just simply changed her mind and gave no valid reason! She remained a little cagey with Louise over a period of weeks and didn't make any further contact after this.

I often stayed overnight and heard those furbies chatting to one another; a nonsensical conversation with monotone voices and eerie laughter. I also heard some excited whispering and giggling near the witching hour and was never sure if it was a crowd walking home nearby or those dolls exchanging secret messages with each other.

One morning I swear those Blythe dolls had changed places with one another and I'm sure they swapped clothes, handbags, shoes and make up. I even thought one had a bit of a smile on her face after cleaning Louise's flat one day while she was at work.

In time, Louise met a new boyfriend, Michael and most people seemed to dislike him except, of course, Louise. her friends and I all had a gut feeling that he would make her unhappy, but she tried to make a go of the relationship, simply because she thought a lot of him. Michael's father was very strict and a control freak from what we could gather and his mother was frightened of him and left Michael's father in the end. This all seemed to rub off on Michael, who turned into a bit of an attention seeker, a bit like his father on the controlling side and manipulative towards Louise, but her easy going nature tolerated his behaviour. It was very difficult to stand by and grit my teeth and her friends and I felt so helpless.

Over the weeks I knew that Michael grew uneasy sleeping over at Louise's flat and kept having to keep looking over his shoulder, although even he could never understand why. Louise didn't understand why he felt this way, as she felt so safe and secure where she lived.

One evening, after a night out from her local pub, Louise and Michael got into an argument about some young man who Michael thought was supposedly talking to Louise and when they got home, Michael threatened to hit her and as she cowered into the corner of the living room, he picked up her favourite Blythe doll, knowing how much she loved her dolls, opened the front door and hurled it down the concrete stairs until she hit the hard cold floor below with a sickening thud. Louise, by now was quite frightened and threatened to call the police if he didn't leave. After more arguing, he finally left and kicked and jumped on the Blythe doll on his way out, as if she were to blame. Louise now clearly traumatised and crying so much, between her stifled sobs, called me to stay over. She was so frightened to go downstairs to pick up her doll in case she was too damaged.

During the time I was driving over, Michael had telephoned Louise to say that he had a slow puncture and would kill the person who caused this. He could do no more than to wait for the rescue service in the freezing cold dense fog as uncannily; the spare tyre in the boot was also flat. As I drove along the road on the way to North London, I expected to see Michael, but the visibility was very poor.

Still feeling very low a few weeks later, it wasn't long before Louise brushed herself down, perked up and went for a drink in the same pub that she and Michael went to on the night of the argument. With some help from her friends had a really nice evening and later that night, bumped into the same young man who Michael thought was taking to her. This time he did chat her up and ended up going out on a number dates..........

As for Michael, well nobody ever saw or heard from him ever again after that night. He is now officially a missing person.

The Blythe doll that was kicked and hurled down the stairs came to no harm at all, other than her dress getting ripped but she looked very pretty in the new Kimono Louise bought her.

Copyright Linda Lawrence
17th November 2005

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Short Story - 'Strange Magic' Piano Man


Piano Man

All the way through her childhood, Amanda remembered her father playing endlessly on his piano. He could play anything from a tune on the radio to a famous classic. In her eyes, he was a musical maestro. She loved him dearly, he was her world. He tried to reach her mother and looking back she realised, she played very well for a person with little knowledge for playing instruments, but her dad knew all the keys and chords and could pick up a song and play it by ear very easily after tweaking a few notes. He always had time for Amanda to teach her simple little tunes to start off with, Frere Jackques to Doh Ray me and in time, she was able to play a little of what he played. She didn't have the fist that he had and preferred him to play to her rather than her struggle to practice, but through his patience and encouragement, Amanda practiced and tried hard to reach her fathers' standards. She know she would never share her fathers' love of classical music and listened more to light rock songs.

When she felt confident enough, Amanda approached her head teacher in junior school and asked if she could play the piano while the other children marched out of the assembly to their classrooms instead of the usual routine of another teacher playing them out, but she didn't realise how nervous she would feel and all the hours of practice that she had put in were for nothing when the classic she wanted to play was played in the wrong key and sounded awful and played it in a chord that she had never learnt and the whole piece sounded so dreadfully out of tune. The other kids thought it was just their friend playing them out and thought it so cool! She wasn't asked to play again and she wouldn't have done anyway, after that disaster!
Many happy years passed and the piano was always being played. After school, over the weekends, during school holidays. Friends would gather round and sing to new pop songs that were learnt on it. Christmas was always full of fun, with dad playing new songs and the family singing. It beat watching television any day!
When Amanda left junior school for secondary school, both her parents knew that she had potential to play piano and she stated to have piano lessons. But those piano lessons were dreadful. her teach wore bright red lipstick that used to seep into cracks on her lips and outwards and looked as if she had sucked on a bright red lollipop which clashed terribly with her clothes. her laugh was a cackle and she was very loud and abrupt. Not only did Amanda take an instant dislike to her, but having played by ear for all those years, she didn't understand crotchets, quavers, sharps, flats or scales. Reading music was alien to her and found it almost impossible to grasp. Not only that, it was clear that her piano teacher had her favourite pupils. Amanda tried hard but it took many weeks before she mastered a piece of music but even then, the timing was wrong. But she never gave up; she wanted her parents to be proud of her.

One Christmas Eve, when she was eleven, Amanda crept down the stairs to find her father sat in the armchair, she had no idea he had been ill, but a few hours later he died. Amanda's world come to an end from that day, she couldn't imagine her life without him in it.
She couldn't bear to have further tuition on the piano and every time she looked at the piano at home, she thought her heart would break and never mend. Her mum didn't want to let go of the piano, but at the same time, found it hard to live with, but over time and many years, it begun to get loved again, with all the great memories it had attached to it. Amanda rarely played on it, just the odd moment as it was never the same. She went through the years just wanting to talk to her dad, to hear his voice, anything.
Years passed and her mum remarried and Amanda had her share of boyfriends until she met and married her partner, Dave. They moved into a tiny flat and had together a beautiful little girl, Clair. The marriage was a waste of time. Amanda admitted she always wanted a husband who was like her dad, not in looks necessarily, but in nature. Dave was exactly the opposite and it was clear, he wasn't bothered about Amanda and Clair and so the marriage just plodded on.

After two years together, they decided to move into a larger house and it was then Amanda approached her mother about having the piano in her new house which her mother agreed to. It still rarely got played, but it was a nice comfort to have in her home. It was also a beautiful piece of furniture in mahogany with intricate details of flowers on three panels above the keyboard. The pedals no longer worked and it was now a little out of key, but considering its age, it was in very good condition. Amanda never encourage Clair to play, but then, Claire was never interested in learning.
After another two years, Amanda heard of a good medium and gave her the benefit of the doubt and invited her over for a reading. The first thing that the medium picked up on was the piano and that the owner was a lovely, kind natured man, who passed away before he should have done, although Amanda remained open minded. It also gave her a tiny glimmer of hope that there was such things as an afterlife. The marriage just plodded along and badly as the relationship was very volatile, but for the sake of Clair, they stayed together and eventually moved into another house a few miles away to make a fresh start, but the marriage had almost completely dissolved soon after the move and one night Amanda and Dave had such a heated argument that she thought the he was going to hit her. Just as the argument reached boiling point, the flap on the front at the bottom of the piano, just fell of its own accord! This had never happened before and Amanda found herself saying that must be her dad and that he hated her husband for all the stress he had put her through.

After many years, Amanda met a new partner, someone with with a kind heart, a placid nature, someone who had patience and kindness and eventually had a wonderful son together who they named Thomas. Although Thomas looked more like his Dad, there were times she saw a glimpse of her father in him. A certain look or smile, an expression or just something in his eyes and Amanda was quite sure that her Dad lived through him in some way and drew much comfort form this. When Thomas was three, he showed great interest in music and when a colourful keyboard was brought for him one Christmas, it was clear he enjoyed playing and listening to simple songs. As time wore on, Thomas started to learn more instruments and he was so gifted because he could play by ear. He enjoyed taking piano lessons for a while and he started to read notes and enjoyed re teaching his mother the minims, crotchets, quavers, scales and staccato. The piano was being played again and Amanda found herself getting so much enjoyment teaching the little that she knew to Thomas and him just finding himself around the keyboard as if it were second nature. He would never share his mothers' love of light rock music preferring something darker and heavier.
Thomas would play to his parents after many nights of practice and listen to new songs that he had heard on the radio stations. He would show off in front of his extended family when they had their get togethers' at Christmas. He played what he knew and he revelled in playing in front of his friends at school during one assembly and his friends thought he was cool.

Eventually Thomas would join a band through his school friends with him on keyboard. His parents were so proud. Even though the band might never be famous, Thomas was famous in their eyes, especially his mothers', who thought she saw her father smiling at her through Thomas sitting at the piano one Christmas Eve at her old home and shed tears of joy.

Copyright Linda Lawrence

17th November 2005

Short stories - 'Strange Magic' The Healer/A Camera Never Lies

Strange Magic

The Healer

Victoria had been plagued by Eczema as long as she could remember. Her parents told her it started to flare up a few weeks after she was born. It dominated her early childhood and some of the children in her primary school used to torment her when it was particularly bad. Anthony Webb, known as Spider, was definitely the worst offender. He was just one mini yob thug who had no feeling or care for anyone but himself. Even his so called friends were frightened of him; this is probably why they stuck by him. On one occasion, he made Victoria cry so hard, the only thing she could mutter through her sniffled sobs was, 'what comes around, turns around', but this only made him laugh harder. 'I'll see you in hell scabby leper VIC-TOR-IA'!

The taunts continued, but Victoria somehow grew used to it and as time wore on, she learnt how to cope with the Eczema and the bulling, she had to, but the more Anthony called her names, the more she itched, burnt and bled. Month after month, year after year, he never stopped his torment. She even had nightmares about him.

It was agony just to bath and cream twice daily and nothing seemed to relieve the itching, the scratching, burning and the bleeding. Her whole life revolved around her uncontrollable skin condition.
When it was time to leave primary school to start secondary school, it was a huge relief, when mercifully, Anthony was placed in what was known as the dunce's class and it was only the odd occasion when they bumped into each other. 'Scabby, leper, VIC-TOR-IA'! He spat in her face when he said it, but by now, she had made some new friends who thought Anthony was just so infantile and pathetic; they were good friends who were so much more mature and treated Victoria with respect. She tried not to let the Eczema get in the way of this new school life and on the onset of puberty, her Eczema slowly begun to improve with just the odd flare up.

Many happy school years passed by and she excelled in her exams and passed nine GCSE's, seven with the highest grade, then attended college to learn a fashion design course. After a couple of years she landed a good job in the city as a fashion designer. Her parents were so very proud of her.

It was only a matter of time before she met Steve, somebody special, on the same overhead train as her every morning and evening and wasn't long before they were an item, often meeting for lunch as they were only one tube stop away from one another. They fell in love and finally found a place to live together. All was well for a year or so, but Steve began go to grow distant and over the next few months he relationship started to turn volatile, but Victoria found herself pregnant and so they both decided to try and make a go of it. After all, a baby would put a different slant onto how they were feeling and she didn't want to bring a child into the world without a father. She finally gave birth to a beautiful little boy, Jake, perfect in every way and thankfully, it looked as if he didn't inherit Victoria's awful skin condition and looked clear of Eczema. Steve was the model father for the first few months, but it was clear when Jake was about seven months old, that Steve and Victoria were not able to agree on anything and their difference of opinion that led to many arguments was tearing them apart and it was decided that for Jake's sake, they should split up. With all the stress, her Eczema started to ding its way to seep once again through the pores of her skin and it wasn't long before she was back to square one with the burning and the bleeding, the vicious, cruel continual circle. Not only Eczema, but a skin wart appeared on her hand and she stared getting the odd mouth ulcer. It became a constant struggle to control the Eczema, but somehow, she coped. She had to. At least least she had the skill of fashion designing that kept some money coming in.
Over a period of time, in desperation, she tried alternative medicine, from Homeopathy to Chinese medicine; she even changed her diet, starting with only brown rice, but it was all a waste of time. It seemed to calm down for a while, but it always crept back. It frightened her when she read a report that steroids were being used in alternative medicines and didn't take them again, as she already used a steroid cream for the worst affected flare ups. She didn't know the root cause of her Eczema, but it nearly always flared up a lot worse when under stress or pressure. She tried everything from primrose oil to hypnotherapy to no avail.
Four years went by and Jake never failed to amaze her with his little milestones, but it was a struggle financially and otherwise. Steve paid hardly any attention to Jake and he had since moved on and had another child. Money for maintenance from he was slow in coming and life for Victoria was never easy even on a personal level.

Jake soon started primary school and within weeks, Victoria was making new friends with some other mums of some of the children who attended and it wasn't long before there were coffee mornings and meetings. As one friendship grew, Victoria grew close to one of the mums' and during a deep conversation, Victoria opened up about her life, her Eczema and all the things she had tried to control it with all the failings. Her new friend Lorraine suggested she tried Spiritual healing, which was something she had never thought about or considered, but Victoria was never too sure about Spiritualists and the unknown. 'What have you got to lose' Lorraine said and the more Victoria thought about it, the more it made sense. 'What the hell, I've tried just about everything and one afternoon of my time would not make any difference'.

Lorraine had told her that some of the healers were in the early stages of 'training' whatever that meant and were in a separate room to those of the Tarot and Palmistry readings.

After one particular bad night, she made up her mind that she would try the healing the following Saturday and on her arrive at a psychic centre, she was pleasantly surprised by the calm and relaxing atmosphere the centre provided. She walked in the room of six healers, joined a short queue and waited for her turn and when her turn finally came, she was led into a soft and comfortable light beige coloured easy chair where the healer told her to relax and to close her eyes and imagine a place she would love to be where it made her feel happy and secure. As he opened up with a prayer of protection, Victoria found herself lost in deep thought and she found herself thinking of all the holidays that she went on with her parents; the rock pools in Cornwall, the caves in Devon, the Shell beach in Dorset, making sandcastles in the sun. As he laid his hands on hers, she felt the most pleasant and intense warmth radiating from her body and begun to feel so much more at ease with herself. The more his hands touched different parts of her body, the more intense the warmth, but not like the burning from the Eczema, this was so different, almost pure. Floating away in the deepest thoughts and warmest feelings; lost in the most secure environment, the healing was slowly coming to an end after thirty minutes of purest bliss. The healer spoke to her softly and gently and then invited her back for the following week and when Victoria had woken up properly, he introduced himself as he wanted to continue the healing on her personally.

My name is Anthony, but please just ask for Spider.........
With terror running through her veins, her eyes wide with fear, she stood up quickly and in an instant recognition, going back to her childhood and remembering the young thug who used to taunt her so very much at school, she ran out of the healing room, leaving behind the piecing screams for the healer who almost immediately developed mouth ulcers, burning stinging, itching, bleeding agonising Eczema. His hands and feet now covered in warts.

The healer had just finished his training, but in the confusion never said that all important, closing protective prayer and it seemed the devil himself somehow transmitted this mercifulness skin condition onto Spider ten fold.

Victoria spent the rest of her life almost Eczema free as if it never existed in the first place.

'What comes around turns around'.

Copyright Linda Lawrence

21st November 2005

Strange Magic

A Camera never lies

Nicole stood in the hall of her house laden with shopping bags from the local supermarket. All done for another week, she thought as she emptied the seemingly endless plastic carrier bags; a months’ supply of dog food for their three lovely three year old golden Labradors, that were all related – two brothers and a sister, a huge box of washing powder – both teenage boys played football as well as her attending every match in every weather condition! Heavy duty and durable bin liners for those ugly tall, grey cumbersome bins, often smelly during the bi-weekly emptying of both recycle and landfill rubbish. The new razor blade, some chillies, bath cleaner, liquid soap, pork chops for stir fry, a replacement kettle, candles for Adams’ birthday next week, a transparent pencil case for Max’s exams in a few weeks time and a warm reminder that Spring was just around the corner.

She was happy – they were happy. Marcos and Nicole had known each other for seventeen years, married for fourteen and a half. They’d had their ups and downs like all couples, but they wanted for nothing. A spacious semi detached in the Sussex suburbia complete with a new extension for Marco’s business in Photography and Nicole, a fully established Child Minder They knew each other inside out and were such good friends as well as lovers. Special dates, anniversary’s, milestone birthdays were celebrated throughout the years and the final exam that Nicole took were passed with flying colours. Her business expanded and soon she was looking after as many as three children during any working week. It was hard work of course; as the children could be as young as a few months to the young pre school children she minded during the school holidays. Amber was a four year old due to start reception, a little spoilt and particular and always unsuitably clothed – too new, too smart as Nicole always had plans from painting with the children, making cakes or playing in the nearby park! Her mother Zoey, a single parent held a high profiled, stressful job in a nearby town who dropped her immaculately dressed child off most mornings and dutifully picked her up in the evenings not quite as immaculately as she’d left her!

Marcos’ business brought in just enough cash and flourished from time to time but then it could be slow. He developed all his photos in the darkroom, which was part of the extension of the house. Nicole seldom got involved for fear of knocking delicate equipment and the boys were banned from entering the darkroom unless invited to see some of their Fathers’ work. He often shut himself away busy with the latest photos and projects. As well as making enough money, he enjoyed his work, which often took him in such beautiful places in Great Britain.

Nicole’s 40th birthday arrived and celebrated with a party and hired a hall. All had a good time and while most of her guests danced there way through some eighties music, Marcos did seem distant; he seemed a little disinterested in any conversation and whereas he would normally be sociable, he didn’t want to mingle much nor eat any luscious food that was displayed and devoured by her friends and family. It did seem odd, but then as spring turned into summer, his behaviour turned even more bizarre when he kept disappearing from the family home at odd times and chanting the most odd comments. It was clear this man was having some kind of breakdown and when it appeared he couldn’t cope, he was encouraged that he left to ‘find himself’ and perhaps a spell living with his parents would help him sort out his thoughts and his now nonsensical feelings.

Family life was shattered beyond belief while Marcos run backwards and forwards with excuses why he should come back home and excuses why he shouldn’t. None made sense and Nicole, now exhausted with trying to help him, cope with her boys as well as coming to terms with her husbands illness; the endless text messages, telephone calls were all fruitless and close family and friends could not understand the reasoning behind why Marcos had changed and the only thing Nicole could do was give him space and try to make sense of what he was saying, but then it started to make sense to her.

Marcos had taken most of his belongings to his parents, although it was impossible to collect everything. Most of his smartest clothes were now devoid from new wardrobe from the bedroom that they had lovingly redecorated from just the year before. A few other personal belongings and most of the equipment needed to keep his profession running. Nicole now wondered around the house, her thoughts going around in circles and as she aimlessly walked into the darkroom, somehow feeling closer to him while she filched through some work Marcos had left behind. The scenic Lake District, a sunset over the sea and Sussex downs, some beautiful horses in the New Forest a photo of him and Zoey a little too close for comfort?

As her thoughts went into overdrive, everything fell into place from the months of unanswered questions, the uncertainties, the changing of minds, the endless excuses of why Marcos should or shouldn’t come home, the lies, the lies, the lies: Zoey was the only reason - the only excuse and all the uncertainties. After much deliberation and talks with her sons, she painfully filed for divorce. Even after Marcos admitted the truth, he was still weak with excuses and after many months and a new summer, he made hints of his unhappiness and regret. She still hurt so deeply, now thinking that she clearly never knew him along with so many other hundreds of negative thoughts. The divorce, still going ahead but Nicole agreed to meet up with him just one more time after a pleading text from Marcos and not really knowing why she agreed, but now that they had both mellowed a little - he might at least be amicable and maybe they could accomplish talks about their sons and perhaps any finances. She felt a little foolish and kept it to herself that her now nearly ex husband had agreed to see her in the matrimonial home and what she didn’t expect was a rush of such strong physical feelings and as they made powerful and passionate love as if they were still in the throws of the first few weeks of crazed love when they met all those years ago.

It was rumoured that Marcos had left the woman he left Nicole for and she was happy to be once again independent. His parents ostracised him for having an affair in the first place and Nicole had had no contact with them since her estrangement with Marcos.

As she put the heavy duty and durable bin liners into those ugly tall, grey cumbersome receptacles that the council were due to collect that morning, the disgusting pungent and deeply unpleasant stench filled into the summer air. The maggots that were crawling around in abundance from some bluebottle fly that had lain their eggs into some rotting meat, along with some left over Curry, Lasagne, vegetable skins and other household rubbish that no bleach nor other cleaning products could disguise the smell and as it lingered in the high summer heat. Nicole knew the bin liners would help during the bi-weekly pick up of landfill rubbish.

As Nicole found herself gaining more strength with every passing day, it became obvious Marcos clearly did not know her at all.

Copyright Linda Lawrence

April 2009