Emily

I went into service in a country house in Yorkshire when I was fourteen. I could read and write, and my employers, the Bellinghams, unusually, allowed me to use my limited time off to extend my education in their library. It was no Catherine Cookson novel: I worked hard and rose to become their housekeeper; learning along the way that it was best to do your job without fuss and, somehow, to be invisible.

The Bellinghams fell on hard times and they had to let me go; it almost broke my heart. Having no family of my own, I had nowhere else to be; they let me stay in one of the cottages on their estate until it was sold. Despite my excellent references it took months to find new employment with everything being done through the Royal Mail.

Finally, Arthur Broad, a widower and master gardener, employed me as his housekeeper. I was anxious as I moved into his large house as his only servant:a widower and a spinster, whatever next? Tongues wagged in the village – I didn’t care; I needed the job. We became the best of friends – I learnt how to garden and he learnt to be tidy – a miracle. He always kept a diary of his crops and a notebook for his poetry and encouraged me in these new habits. I was no longer invisible.

When he died he left me the house and his wealth. I was both sad and grateful but I also thought there must be some mistake and feared that I would once again be homeless. I was needlessly frugal; I determined to make the money I inherited last all my days. Anyway, I was too old for another job. I grew my own fruit and veg and had meat and fish once a week. I made do and mended my clothes until they looked wretched but I wasn’t going to buy new clothes at my age. My only luxuries were my television and a cream sherry on a Friday night.I lived alone for many years until my arthritis was too painful and I was no longer able to care for myself and reluctantly moved into this care home.

I should have married, had children, but, alas, it never happened. No one visits me, ever. The staff are kind, they know my name, but they don’t know me, and they never will. Despite my arthritis, I still try and write my poems, and for that I thank Arthur.

Once again invisible
I lack the nurture of company
Bereft in my high backed chair
Amidst the piped music of care
I’m quietly avoiding
The embarrassment
Of being visible
I embrace myself
For lack of others’ arms
I wait at idle leisure
For what they call passing
As if it were a game of football
Or an exam to take
To rise victorious
My own arthritic hands
Raised in Pyrrhic victory
Sitting in the waiting room
Invisible at my ending.

 


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© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

Valdemar

It’s early November 1956. I’m ten, and with my mum, Galina, in the kitchen of our small flat in Hull. We’re listening to the news at six o’clock on the BBC’s Home Service. Dad isn’t here; he’s still in Budapest. We’re refugees.

On the radio a man says, Two hundred thousand Russian troops are crushing the Hungarian Revolution in Budapest.

I asked, we’re Hungarian, aren’t we? 

Mum says nothing; she is standing in front of the radio, listening intently. I am sitting at the table, transfixed. The Porklot, my favourite, is going cold on my plate and I’m thinking that’s real gunfire, not like in the cinema.

The man on the radio says, I’m here beneath the walls of Budapest. At dawn today, Soviet forces, with a thousand tanks, attacked Budapest with the aim of toppling the legal, democratic, anti-Soviet government led by Mr Imre Nagy who has said, I quote, Our troops are fighting. The government is in place. I am making this fact known to our people and the whole world. Mr Nagy is pleading for help from the west.

Can I go and help Mr Nagy? 

No, Valdemar, you can’t and, sadly, no one else will either. 

Why aren’t we with dad helping, mum?

Your father thought we might be harmed.

Why?

Eat now, little one, mum says, ruffling my hair. 

It’s 1964 and I’m writing an essay for my A-level history course. I write that Imre Nagy was executed by hanging after a secret trial on June 16th 1958. I never could ask Dad why; he never came to Hull. I used to ask mum why, but all she would say was, he sends us money. I never saw him again after we left.

It’s 2006 and I’m sixty. I hadn’t been able to explain why, but that radio broadcast in 1956 had always haunted me. I’m looking on line and I discover the truth of Nagy’s execution; it wasn’t ‘the drop’. A photograph shows Nagy hung by his neck, his feet not quite able to support his weight, being strangled on an angled board observed by Soviet and Hungarian stooges. I’m so angry; injustice is dreadful – being murdered like that is barbaric!

On screen, I enlarge the photograph to get a better look at the murderers. I can’t believe my eyes. If only mum was alive – but could she, would she, tell me the truth anyway? I rummage round the old photo albums on the shelves in my study and pull out the one of Mum, Dad and me in 1955. I find the photo I’m looking for – the one of my dad holding my hand. There’s no mistaking his face, his eyes. I want to scream. There’s no one who can tell me the truth. God help me. One of the men murdering Nagy is my dad. 

He was called Valdemar, just like me. I don’t want to share my name with a murderer.

The Stretcher

Adrian, a sprightly, short, sixty year old, is a stickler about his appearance; he thinks of himself as dapper favouring open-necked pastel coloured sea island cotton shirts, Paisley patterned cravats, double-breasted, shiny buttoned blazers, cavalry twill trousers and brown suede shoes that he calls brothel creepers. His coiffure is of particular concern to him; his hair is thick, curly white and in need of constant care – his wife thinks he looks like a senile golden retriever; she is not fond of him, or he of her. He was once a potter and is now the Principal of the School of Art. 

His daily timetable is meticulously kept. He enters his office at precisely 10.00 am and makes himself a cafetiere of coffee that he drinks black with a teaspoon of Fortnum and Mason’s multi coloured granulated sugar. Thereafter he deals with correspondence from the local authority and meets his deputy, Richard Whiteheath, for mutual bullshit and ego polishing. At 12.00 he walks across the road to the Manhattan Bar where he quaffs his first G&T of the day.

But, today, after three handsome G&Ts, there’s no more time to dally with the barmaid, the delightful big bosomed Brenda, as he blows her a kiss and sets forth for the hairdressing salon on the top floor of Binns for his bi-weekly haircut.

In the office in the basement of the School of Art the telephone rings. Sam, the caretaker, answers the phone, Yes, oh … has he? … Again? …Okay, give us ten mins and we’ll be right over. 

His assistant, young Jack, laughs, Again?

Sam sighs, Again. You, lad, pop up to the staff room and let ‘em know, will you?

Ten minutes later, those staff who aren’t still in the pub, are assembled on the top floor, in the conservatory where plants are grown and stored for students to draw. Five male staff stand on the wooden shelves, amidst the plants, to get a better view through the windows of the adjacent empty plot of land that acts as a temporary car park. 

There they are! Ray shouts.

Sam, Jack and Adrian wait at the Pelican crossing, although Adrian is unaware of this delay – he is asleep on the stretcher that Sam and Jack carry.

Slowly they weave their way through the parked cars to raucous cheering of the staff in the conservatory.

Minutes later Adrian is laid on the chaise longue in his office where he will slumber until wakened by Sam and told to drive home. 

The wood and canvas stretcher stands in the corner of Sam’s subterranean office – ready for future us.

In the staff room, Alan, a new member of staff, expresses his surprise at what he’s just seen.

Just think of it as performance art, Ray comforts.

It’s no way to run an art school, Alan objects.

He doesn’t, Ray replies, We do.

The Funeral

Buonconvento is a beautiful mediaeval small town in Tuscany. Its name means happy, lucky, place. There is a bridge over the river Arbia; this is where the Arbia and Ombrone converge. On the northern side of the bridge there is a bus stop where a woman patiently waits in the warm sunlight; she is happy. Shopping bags surround her feet and she carries a large bunch of dark blue lilies.

Two British tourists join her at the bus stop; to their delight she speaks excellent English. They introduce each other – she is Maria, they are Rich and Polly.

You look happy, Polly says. 

Maria smiles. The sun is in the sky. The clouds float on the breeze. The rivers flow clear and are full of fishes. The cypress trees stand as erect sentinels over Tuscany. The air is soft. There is peace. I am happy.

You have a lot of shopping, Polly says. What’s in the bags?

Pane Toscano; I make my own, but here they have one that is even better than mine. Garlic, my crop failed this year, I don’t know why, so I buy to roast with red peppers from my cantina. Little Carciofi, done Roman style. Early lemons for a Crostata al Limone – with crema! The little new rhubarb for Panna Cotta al Rabarbaro con Rabarbaro Tostato – superb! But tonight we will eat Cavolo Nero and my own home grown dried white beans dressed with olio di Rosmarino – of my own making – washed down with the local Brunello.

Food makes you happy? Rich asks.

Of course, I am a woman of this land. But not just food …. There is also the final reckoning …. You have forgotten what day this is?

We’re on holiday and have lost track of time.

It’s April 17th .

Rich and Polly are perplexed.

Today they bury the Thatcher.

Thatcher’s funeral! Rich roars.

How could we forget that? Polly asks.

Polly takes Maria’s lilies and sets them down on the bags. Rich takes Maria and Polly by the arm and starts to sing, Ding dong! The witch is dead. As they sing they spin like Dervishes in a trance. Ding dong! The witch is dead. Spinning. Dizzy with delight. As Polly and Rich repeat the lines Maria joins in their singing. Passing cars toot their horns as the celebration continues by the side of the road. They stop, breathless.

Why did you hate Thatcher? Polly asks. She didn’t wreak her wrath on the Italian people.

Maria takes a breath. The rich may steal from the rich, but, when they steal the milk from the children, it is too far. Sono del diavolo, del male, Vanno all’inferno! Do you understand me?

I get the meaning, Polly says.

Enough is enough. La morte e la migliore! Death is best.

Their celebration is suddenly sad in this happy, lucky, place.


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

 

No longer shielded from Covid 19

I was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer on January 25th this year and have been self-isolating since the start of the pandemic. 

I had one session of chemotherapy before we halted that treatment because of the risk of having a wrecked immune system in the face of Covid19.

Since then I’ve been having oral treatment organised through the excellent Nottingham University City Hospital’s Oncology Department.

Last Friday May 29th I received two letters: one from my GP’s surgery and one from the hospital. They both said the same thing. I was now being defined as in need of shielding and accompanied with a full list of instructions and a link to the web site.

It is now Monday June 1st and I’m no longer ‘shielded’. 

I’m very happy not to be so classified. 

BUT. 

This trivial bureaucratic idiocy is emblematic of the total incompetence and mendaciousness of this terrible government led by Dominic Cummings and his deputy, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

I am desperate to be ‘shielded’ from the both of them and their government.

© Phil Cosker 01.06.2020

God

Simon is lonely, but how could he have a companion living, as he does, on the street. He uses a metal dog’s bowl for donations because he likes the sound coins make when they fall. There have been no coin sounds, so far, today; the bowl is empty. 

It’s a winter’s morning as he sits in his wheelchair in the shelter of the Stonebow arches holding a hand made sign – ‘For God’s sake’. The leafleting Jehovah Witnesses, who share the same space, ignore him – they know who God wants – and it isn’t him. They feel no need to share their vacuum-flasked tea with someone like him: in their terms a worldly failure, and, as such, deserving to be cold, hungry and a beggar. 

He is known. He’s done no harm – just an eyesore. He’s been on the street for nearly two years, sleeping rough in an NHS wheelchair. He can’t walk because of his swollen ulcerated legs; the bandages could do with being changed and the ulcers dressed. He wears a woolly hat and all the clothes he owns to keep warm. At lunchtime, a friendly PSCO brings him a hot coffee and a cheese sandwich and tells him, apologetically, that he’ll have to move on. He counts the money in his bowl; not even enough for some chips and a small bottle of vodka to keep out the cold.

By ten o’clock he’s back under the shelter of the arches, parked out of sight in a dark doorway. The High Street is noisy with young men and women out on the town. At eleven a group of five drunks arrive under the arches and one of them starts to piss. Simon, from his wheelchair, protests. 

Look what we got here, the pissing man shouts, a fucking cripple. Within seconds their laughter intensifies as the men dump Simon out of his chair and give him a good kicking. One of them gets into the chair and another pushes it as they race off into the night cheering. He crawls to the roadside – it takes him twenty-three minutes.

Two hours later he’s in A&E in another wheelchair; he’s grateful for the warmth of the welcome given to one of their regulars. It’s almost like the old days before he fell from grace, when he was respectable, had a job and a house. He’s always known that he, like everyone else, is but a hair’s breadth from the fall. But somehow he never imagined he could go this far down.

Simon sees blue flashing lights through the window and two police officers enter. 

Excuse me, Simon says, as they walk past him. Are you looking for my chair? Some lads nicked it.

They laugh. Call 101. 

I was attacked. They stole it. It’s an NHS chair.

They walk on. He hears them, their words going back and forth. 

Serves him right. 

Fucking asking for it. 

Lazy bastard, should get a fucking job. 

Who does he think he is? God?


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

A lucky escape – a true story

An article by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper (Tuesday 26th May 2020) shocked me. To be more accurate the photograph on the cover of ‘The Long Read’ shocked me. It’s of a man, Paul Alexander, who “When he was six contracted polio and was paralysed for life. He is now 74, and one of the few people in the world still using an iron lung.”

I will be 74 in October and I also contracted Poliomyelitis in 1952 when, just like Paul, I was also 6. When I saw the photograph and read the headline I thought, Jesus, that could easily be me. Surprisingly, for the very first time I completely understood how terrified my, long dead, parents must have been. My legs were paralysed but I recovered their use. I suddenly remembered Mum and Dad talking abut me ending up in an iron lung and I had no idea what they were talking about. I suspect I was imagining something a knight on horseback wore to battle. 

Strangely, when I was fully recovered we never ever talked about my polio – I wish we had.

This fine article is not only about Paul but the polio pandemic that happened in the USA in 1952 locating him in the midst of our current Covid19 pandemic. But it isn’t that comparison that got to me but the fact that I had such a lucky escape. I’m not in good health; I’m being treated for advanced prostate cancer. And though this is far from good it’s such a long way from being in an iron lung for the last 68 years. 

Lucky isn’t the word for it!

There is a link to the guardian story HERE>>>

 

Cabin Fever

Since 2008, when his property was repossessed in the midst of the subprime market crash, Bob has lived totally off-grid in a cabin in Oregon, east of Oakridge between the Willamette Highway and Hills Creek Lake. He is glad to be out of the America he has come to detest. How, in the land of the free and the brave, is abortion legal? How come blacks are so uppity? Why is buggery legal? Why wasn’t he, a civilised white man, allowed to live in comfort? How come Hispanics take all the jobs? Who allowed inter-racial marriage? And after what the Muslims did on 9/11 why are they still walking our streets? He has an answer. All these American disasters came because the USA had a President who wasn’t God’s agent. America must be redeemed.

Bob avoids contact with people and uses the seclusion of the forest to protect him from discovery. Every few months he walks into Oakridge to purchase essential supplies with his remaining cash; otherwise, he lives off what he can kill or forage. 

He isn’t lonely; after a decade of isolation his God, bible, beliefs and evolving obsession with the colour orange keep him company. He knows some people believe orange is the colour of joy and creativity. Others think orange promotes a sense of general ‘wellness’ and emotional energy. Yet others believe it may even heal a broken heart. But it is in the bible that he finds the truth that orange is the colour of fire, of wrath, of ambition and determination. He believes that orange represents the power and presence of God and to dream of forging a weapon with fire represents purification and perfection. He knows that if he has such a dream it will be an omen for the arrival of God’s agent and that he must act. He longs for such a dream. Instead, at night, in his head he hears Satan’s laughter at America’s gullibility. It makes him angry. His gun is always loaded; he is ready to fight Satan’s emissaries.

One morning he awakens from a deep sleep. He’s drenched with sweat. It has happened; he has dreamt the dream. He must leave his isolation to witness the arrival, of God’s agent, and that time is now.

Bob walks to Oakridge and sees a poster; the photograph is enough – it’s tangible proof. He hitches a ride to Eugene. At the rally at the Lane Events Convention Center people carry placards ‘Make America Great Again’ – this pleases him. 

Outside the Center police unsuccessfully try to keep supporters and their opponents apart. Fighting breaks out. 

Bob repeatedly chants, God’s Agent Orange! 

A man, next to Bob, punches him in the head. Dumb fuck – we used that to kill Charlie in ‘Nam. Fucking fascist Trump! 

Bob shouts. Agent Orange! 

Dumb fuck! Fuck Trump! 

Bob shoots the man stone dead, screaming, Agent Orange!

A single bullet from FBI agent Maloney brings Bob’s dream to an end. 

Trump doesn’t notice. 


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

Bottle of Drink

At the age of eighty-five Doria Winchester (her maiden name) is spritely. She doesn’t own a car, uses public transport, shoe leather and shank’s pony. She lives alone, having dispatched two husbands to a ‘better place’ – though in the case of the first husband, she still hopes, sixty-four years after his death, that he’ll continue ‘burning in hell with a red hot poker up his hairy arsehole’. She tends to shout when in conversation; she’s deaf. Her hair is not permed but black and close cropped. She doesn’t use cheques or credit cards but deals entirely in cash from the village post office. She thinks of herself as ‘weather-proof’, but allows she has begun to feel the cold in the winter. She has a large collection of original vinyl albums of musicals. Her favourite is ‘The Sound of Music’ that she plays, as the mood takes her, at any time of the day or night at full volume on an enormous 1950s Grundig Radiogram. 

This has not found favour with her new neighbours, Mr & Mrs Gob Shite (as she calls them) who hate Julie Andrews and who had thought that moving to a quiet country lane would be idyllic.

It’s 10.49 on a Monday morning. PCSO Popinova sits on the sofa opposite the Grundig nursing a mug of tea. Open-mouthed, she watches Doria pour a hefty dose of brandy into her mug of tea. 

Isn’t a bit early for that, Doria? PCSO Popinova asks.

If you don’t mind, I’m Ms Winchester, she replies, stirring her tea with her spectacles. 

Why are you doing that?

To mix the brandy in.

With your glasses, Doria?

I like a bottle of drink. Is it any of your business? 

It’s not normal.

A police state, is it?

No, Mrs Winchester, I’m just thinking about your welfare and being friendly.

It’s MS MS MS Winchester. No, you’re not. You’re here because the Gob Shites have complained about the sound of music. That’s quite funny – the sound of MY music. You don’t get it, do you? … No sense of humour. 

What are gob shites? Your neighbours are going to court to stop you playing the Sound of Music. You’re in trouble, Ms Winchester.

Good girl, you got there in the end. Doria pours more brandy into her mug. A gob shite is a shite who speaks shite from their gob.

That’s disgusting.

Ain’t that the truth? So … if I play South Pacific, Oklahoma or Oliver, I’m fine? Doria laughs.

No, Ms Winchester. Playing music loud in the middle of the night is out. They’ve had enough.

And what makes you think I haven’t?

What do you mean?

Doria goes to the telephone answer machine and presses play.

A man shouts. You fuckin’ wogs are all the same. Black cow! We’ll fuckin’ drive you niggers out.

Doria presses stop. I have two hours worth of this shite, officer.

That’s evidence of racism.

Yes, from racist Gob Shites. Please tell them I’ll see them in court.


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.