Category: Nostalgia

Trickledown

Ben popped the champagne cork to oooh’s and aaah’s from his selected gathering. His colleague Mark with his wife Julie. His long-time friends Colin and Anya. They had gathered in his kitchen-diner, designed by Ben using 3D Computer Aided Design software which itself cost a tidy sum. The celebration was a long time coming, Ben had been telling his friends that his aunt would leave him everything. She had a huge house in the country, no children, and Ben was the only child of her only sibling.

It turned out that Emily’s long departed husband, Jeremy, had left significant gambling debts. Emily had taken an interest free loan from a friend, and signed over the property as collateral. Being part of a tight-knit village community had worked well for her, they were discreet. It didn’t work so well for Ben. He was surprised to be left with a modest sum, which he’d already spent twice over on the kitchen-diner. He tried to reframe the gathering as a celebration of his dear departed aunt, rather than a celebration of newfound wealth.

It was more than I expected, she was no J K Rowling, that’s for sure. He didn’t explain the J K Rowling reference, it was just money. It was a weak reference and explaining would make it weaker. The champagne tasted warm, on checking the fridge Ben found another bottle in there. Samantha had put another one in just before the guests arrived, to cheer Ben up. He offered to open the cold one, but everyone insisted it was fine and Ben assured Samantha that she had done nothing wrong. Good intentions pave the way to hell, he kept the thought to himself, he was annoyed with Auntie Emily and needed to keep that in check. They all admired the new kitchen-diner and he introduced them to his wifi-enabled steam oven, and then explained the beige composite stone island work-surface with sunken power outlets, they needed six men to carry that in.

They chatted and moved outside for the food, Ben took the lid off his gas barbecue and showed off his chicory smoked honey-glazed suckling pig, marinated for 48 hours. Colin and Anya sheepishly explained that they had turned vegan a month ago. They thought he knew, they were sure they had told everyone about it. It’s a barbecue, you just assumed I knew? Ben kept this thought to himself too. They had some veggie-burgers in the freezer, no need to worry about the use by date, they’re just vegetables. He mumbled to himself in the kitchen, Warm champagne and veggy burgers. Thanks Emily, and thank you Sam. He sensed that his widening circle of anger indicated that the problem was him, not the others. He would think it through later.

He joined the others in the garden and unpacked the burgers. Mark announced that they couldn’t stay long, they didn’t get a baby-sitter. Julie’s mother had stepped in but she wanted to be home in time for a ballroom dancing competition on television. Ben opened the cold champagne, they all agreed it was much better. As Mark and Julie got ready to leave, Colin and Anya decided to join them. Sam helped Ben with the cleaning up and they had their usual exchange about how much cleaner a gas barbeque is than a charcoal one. Ben wanted to say something about the price of gas, but he had lost interest in the whole affair. He sat down deflated.

As the night drew in it started to rain. Samantha went up early, she was tired. Ben sat at his island worktop, with his cold champagne and watched the downpour thrashing the patio. He wondered what it would be like to be outside in the rain, the cold shower beating his naked body. Aunt Emily, what was the point of her? Her whole life amounted to a few thousand pounds which she left to her sister’s only child, who had spent it before he got it. Colin’s a vegetarian, Sam has a headache, why did Mark have to go? Julie could’ve gone, why couldn’t her mum watch the tv at their house? He finished the champagne, poured himself a whiskey, and stared at the rain in the beams of the outside lights. Would there be floods? He thought about the Australian man who had moved to Kentucky and built a replica of Noah’s Ark. Imagine inheriting that. Ben always thought he’d be good at woodwork, he enjoyed it at school but had not tried it since. He did accounts, he helped rich people avoid tax. He wasn’t rich enough himself to avoid tax. He thought about winning the lottery, or that someone else might die and leave him something. He remembered a news story about a rich woman dying and leaving her fortune to her nurse. She was in the marmalade business. How do you even make marmalade? You’d have to grow oranges, and lime, what’s the plural of lime? Not enough sun anyway. He stared at the rain; we could grow rice in this rain. He opened a beer. Rice marmalade, that could be something. People would put a dollop of rice marmalade in their rice pudding instead of jam. Does anyone eat rice pudding anymore? What do people eat for dessert? He couldn’t think straight, the bubbles had gone down too quickly, I looked in the fridge for left over suckling pig there was plenty the haunches were nice I got the recipe from an online video it looked more fun in the video it was in Kentucky too they had made a really funny joke about fried chicken which I was going to tell my friends but I couldn’t remember it maybe we should move to Kentucky or somewhere where it doesn’t rain all the time another whiskey for the road! the white noise of hypnotic hard rain isn’t so bad maybe you could hypnotise someone to stop smoking by having them listen to hard rain but what’s that got to do with Emily was it something to do with marmalade old people like marmalade or was it Noah’s Ark and rain and Emily wasn’t religious the Chinese grow a lot of rice surely rice pudding is made from a different sort of rice because Chinese people don’t eat rice pudding but they do smoke a lot or is that Russians well if the Russians are coming it won’t be long before the Nazis show up they usually do after the second whiskey it must be time for bed. Dear Auntie Emily, sorry about before. Thanks for the money. Sam did warn me to not get carried away and build up false hopes. I was angry at something that never existed, it was all in my head. Say hi to Jeremy and I’ll put a tenner on the 3.15 at Kempton for him. Amen. And Goodnight. Oops. Stairs.

24th November 2022

Baby Bear

I’ve been here since I was eight months old. I can remember mom saying the men on her side of the family lived for twenty six or twenty seven years. The bears here make it to twenty, they say it’s a hard life, hard on the bones with these cold stone floors. I know what that means now. I feel tired all the time, aches and pains everywhere.

When they brought me here what really struck me was the smell, disgusting toilet stench mixed with rotten meat. I got used to it, sometimes I hardly think about it. I have dreams about walking among the pine trees, the sweet air, soft ground, it’s a different world. I wonder if it’s still there.

They say I was captured in the wild but that’s not the whole picture. Sure, we lived in the woods, but we had a place, I had my own bedroom. I played in the yard while Mom and Dad searched for food, other bears would visit. We knew that if we ever had contact with humans we would have to move, all the animals talked about it. When the people start poking around it’s bad news, just get as far away as you can.

One day we got our breakfast ready and went off into the woods to take a dump. When we got back we found this blond girl asleep in mom’s bed. She woke up and panicked. We didn’t hurt her, she ran out of the house. They say that people are just as scared of us as we are of them, or is that spiders? I don’t know, anyway after she went Dad said we all had to leave, get out quick. Mom was all upset and crying, I didn’t know what was going on. It didn’t seem long enough but suddenly a whole bunch of people appeared from nowhere.

We were surrounded, so dad lashed out. That’s the bit they always show on “When Bears Attack”. It’s so unfair, for years this guy sits around minding his own business raising his family and then a bunch of people come around with guns and it’s all our fault. Dad was shot, I think mom was too, I couldn’t tell, there was so much blood. I assume dad died on the spot, mom was sobbing and poking at him. That’s my last memory of my parents, I haven’t seen them since. I’ve been stuck in this prison zoo. People staring at me, I know they’re thinking that’s the one from When Bears Attack, but what did I do? I was a cub. The blond girl should be the one in jail, she caused all the trouble.

They call me Boo-Boo, like the sound a baby makes. I suppose I was a baby when I came in, it’s just embarrassing now. Fozzy ribs me all the time, Betty Boo-Boo, Boo-Boop-Be-Doo happy birthday Mr President, he’s just joking around. It’s a defence mechanism. They caught him raiding bins behind a 7-11 in Beaver Creek, Montana. He was 4 years old, been here 11 years. He says anything’s better than life in Montana, people hide in bushes and shoot at you from miles away, for sport. You don’t stand a chance, out there I would have been dead by now, they did me a favour here. I think he just says that, he misses the open air more than me but he’s afraid of those high-powered rifles. He could make it, he’s lived out there for real and he’s still strong. Stronger than me.

I share this cell and exercise yard with Yogi – dumb name for a bear, but he’s as happy as a clam. He was born in here, it’s all he knows. He loves hearing about salmon fishing and pine forests, poor kid, real life is a fairy story to him. I’ve tried to be more positive like him, but every time I go to sleep I’m walking in the forest with the fresh mountain breeze. Then I wake up on this concrete floor. Fozzy and Yogi do tricks to get extra food from the visitors, mostly swaying their heads and yawning, we’re not supposed to do that. One time Yogi freaked out and had to be sedated when someone gave him the wrong sort of mushrooms. They do it on purpose. A wild bear would’ve known not to eat those. Fozzy should have told him, but he had dropped his guard. You get in the habit of eating whatever people throw. Everything they say sounds the same, we can’t tell what we’re supposed to do and what we’re getting punished for. The voices have the same warbling quality of a turkey. I wonder if turkeys and humans can talk to each other, I had an uncle who said he could talk to racoons, no-one believed him.

I know I’ll die here. I’ll never see our house again. I don’t know if I want to, unless mom’s there. I often wonder why? Why did she come to our house? You don’t do that do you? Just walk into someone’s house and take stuff, we could have had a normal life. Sometimes I wish they’d shot me too on that day, but then I think about mom, she might be alive somewhere. I wish I could just see her once. She would still call me Baby Bear, and not in that stupid embarrassing way.

I heard the guards shot a lion, he attacked them because he just couldn’t take it anymore. I could do that, but I won’t give them the satisfaction. All those people that come to stare, they want me to attack a guard and get shot so they can take pictures. Not me, I’ll just sit here and wait, they won’t take any more from me.


30 September 2021

Souvenirs

See that snowglobe of the Windsor Castle? That was the first one, I don’t know why I said it, it just came out. Jimmy explained his souvenir collection to Olivia. It started with Emma when he was a student. He had told her the snowglobe was exactly like one he had as a child, he had loved it and then it was lost in a house-move. It was all a lie; it just came out before he had time to think about what he was saying. Elaine gave him the snowglobe. That was how it started. Jimmy then showed Olivia a metal coaster with an engraving of a flower on it, part of a set, which he had stolen from Lynn. A picture frame in which Diane had never got round to replacing the awful poster of The Eifel Tower that came with it. She had willingly gifted it to Jimmy. A felt paw-print that was a heat-resistant mat on his dining table used to be Anne’s heat-resistant mat. They were all mundane things, and you would never suspect they meant anything until Jimmy told the stories. And he loved telling the stories.

Olivia was disgusted, why did he have to re-count their sexual preferences? She’d been going out with Jimmy for three months. She thought of all the times she’d been here, not knowing she was sitting amongst the souvenirs of his sex life. She wondered what he would take from her, and what he would say about her. He hadn’t asked for anything so he must have stolen something. He would have done that already, it would be no use waiting until after they broke up, which was now plainly inevitable. What a horrid little man, he just wants sex and a memento, like a serial rapist, it’s not even about me, he never asks anything about me. Jimmy would never stay on any subjects around family, he would not talk about his parents or siblings for long. He never expressed any likes or dislikes. He held back anything that could be part of a meaningful connection. Olivia had noticed none of these shortcomings until he told her about the souvenirs.

It was Tuesday, Jimmy went to The Whitlock pub to meet his friend Liam for happy hour. Where’s the lovely Olivia this evening? Jimmy told him she had gone to her sister’s house and would stay overnight. They sat near the window; fire engines roared by. They’ll be going to the council estate, chip-pan fire probably. Jimmy and Liam had a chuckle. Happy hour was from 6pm until 8, then they had one for the road at normal prices. Jimmy was well over the drink drive limit, he dropped Liam off and headed home. Fear set in as he got nearer, he turned the corner to face the billowing smoke. The fire engines were at his house, spraying water. All the windows were blown, Jimmy felt sick. He approached a policeman and told him it was his house. Once the situation was deemed under control, they took him to the station. The firemen had said it looked like arson as soon as they saw it. An even blaze signifies a liberal use of accelerants, probably petrol. They asked Jimmy about enemies, suspects, motives, and they got nothing. Jimmy said he was popular, everyone liked him, he enjoyed life.

Jimmy went to Liam ‘s house, his wife Mia answered the door. He asked them both to sit down before he would tell his amazing story. Liam served wine, Jimmy recounted the evening and added the police haven’t got a clue, they’re questioning Olivia now. Why would she do it? I’ve been the perfect gentlemen to her, I gave her a key to the front door. Mia agreed, the little Olivia, the vegetarian, could not set fire to Jimmy’s house. It was more likely a burglar from the council estate who set the fire to cover his tracks. Liam said Jimmy would be the new Bobbit, like Wayne Bobbit, whose wife had cut off his penis and tossed it in a field. Jimmy told them it was just an internet myth; it had never happened. Mia backed him up, women don’t do violent things like men do, Olivia’s just like one of us, she couldn’t have done it, the police should be down on the council estate, knocking on doors.

Olivia ‘s interview was a formality, she said she was at her sister’s house at 7pm, the constable confirmed that the alarm was raised at 8:40pm. Both constables looked at the diminutive Olivia in her summer dress. When they offered her a coffee she said, no milk please, I’m vegan. They decided she could not be the arsonist. Olivia nodded at the inspector on her way out, silly sod with his beetroot nose, he want’s to lay off the sauce.

After the interview, Olivia went back to her sister’s house. She recanted her interview. Michelle pointed out that Olivia had come to her house after 9pm, she was unusually late. Olivia exclaimed oh shit! I told them the wrong time; I was supposed to be here at 7 but I was late watching that movie on the telly. Michelle agreed that it was a silly mistake and if the police asked, she would say Olivia was there at 7pm.

26 July 2021



The Marriage Lottery

I awoke on a park bench. There was a wedding party by the fountain, wedding parties usually came here for the picture shoot after the ceremony. I sat up and squinted to get a clear look at the bride.

Azores Lighthouse

I was engaged once, working in an office, free coffee, lottery pool, we had everything. It was a proud moment when I was elected to be in charge of the lottery. Little did I realise the lottery would be my doom. Pride made me do it, I should have left it to Carla from payroll, she had wanted it badly.

Every Saturday afternoon I would duck out during our weekly shopping trip to buy the tickets, 24 tickets between 48 people. Every week, the woman at the till would say ‘here he is, Billy Big Boots, your usual 2 dozen?’ we laughed. The queue built up behind me while she fed in the grids and printed the tickets. It was a ritual I enjoyed.

Then it happened, the big one. We hit the jackpot, only I didn’t see it. I checked the numbers as usual on Saturday night, we had 1 or 2 numbers on each ticket, 2 tickets had 3 numbers each. Then Jim called, he had picked three numbers and Cynthia picked another three. They made up one grid between them and the numbers had come up. I should have had the winning ticket. I didn’t.

I went over the events in my head. I had gathered all the emails and numbers into a spread sheet and taken a printout to the supermarket to fill in the grids. Then I used the same grids for the next 3 years and 7 months. Now I could see that I had put Jims numbers with Martin’s pick and Carla ‘s numbers were on the next line. 3 years and 7 months of joking with the lottery ticket lady. I had the wrong numbers all along. Technically it didn’t matter because the odds were the same for any combination. Carla screamed ‘This was the winning ticket! You bought a losing ticket! How can the odds be the same?!’ I couldn’t go back to work, one by one they came to our house and cursed us both.

My fiancée couldn’t take it. She asked me to leave, that’s what wakes me up, every night, every day. We were going to get married. For richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part. We didn’t even make it to the altar.

I watched as the photographer directed the guests and took the pictures. Eventually they finished up and moved on, happily walking into the life I should have had. I wished them well.

21 May 2018