School’s out

In 1972, Ahmad was training to be a teacher in London where he was nourished by the many galleries and museums. Today, officially retired, Ahmad is a volunteer teacher in Tiaz, once the cultural capital of the Yemen and now on the front-line in the civil war between Saudi-backed government forces and Huthi rebels. From a distance, he stares at ‘his’ bombed out school. 

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Missed

Andrew remembers it as a splendid October day, a Sunday – his father’s day of rest.  The sky is blue. The sun is bright. The air is crisp and still. The world feels clean and sharp. October, his birthday month, is when all is possible with nothing to prevent him from conquering his evolving world. The white lines of the rugby pitch are almost three dimensional against the close-cropped verdant grass, while the stark white rugby posts stand to attention. 

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A Familiar Dog

The dog is large, long-haired, and with deep-set black eyes. He sits on a huge heap of rubble near bombed-out apartments in Grozny, Chechnya. An elderly woman, struggling to carry a large hessian sack, is passing. She sees the dog, sets down the sack, picks up a piece of jagged concrete and hurls it at the beast, shouting, Get away! You brought us this! The dog snarls. The woman looses her footing, falls and hits her head; blood flows from a deep gash in her head. The dog watches her die. She’s still. He climbs down from his vantage point, sniffs the dead woman, lifts his back leg and pisses on her. He walks away into a city razed to the ground by endless Russian bombing.

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Conversely

It’s November 1968. Laurie’s been in his first job as an assistant lecturer in photography at the Art School for nearly three months. All Laurie’s older colleagues, dinosaurs as far as he’s concerned, are set in their ways and he’s yet to be accepted as an equal. They enjoy denigrating his belief that photography can be a force for positive social change. The worst of them is an autocratic Dutchman, Ivo Aalders, who’s publically accused Laurie of being an incompetent commie bastard. It’s become so intimidating that Laurie is fighting to keep his enthusiasm. He dreads the mid-morning gathering of the all-male staff for a brew and chat that normally degenerates into Laurie being made the butt of their so-called humour.

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Comrades

Arthur Holland is eighty-five and lives alone in a large mansion that’s been in his family since 1763. It’s early morning and he’s dressing in front of a full-length cheval mirror. If the Royal Free’s prognosis is right, I’ll not be doing this for much longer, he sighs. At least it’s not lounge suits any more, he thinks, pulling his Guernsey over his head. Those in power thought I was just an eccentric champagne socialist. If they’d really known what I was up to, I would have been done for treason. 

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In Memory of Ghosts

1963 

Bron Roberts is attending her first séance in Mrs Isla Nelson’s house. Isla, a self-styled medium, is known as Madam Tinte. The setting is not as grand as in Blithe Spirit and Madam Tinte is no Madam Arcarti but she is charismatic and has a coterie of devout followers. 

The room is dark except for a small electric spotlight set on a table in front of Madam Tinte, illuminating her face so that it seems to float in space. Madam Tinte welcomes Bron as a new participant and asks, Who are you seeking in the afterlife?

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Word of Mouth

Waiting for his luncheon guest, the Reverend Simon Ivery stands in the kitchen of his grace and favour apartment on the fourth floor of a Georgian house in Cathedral Yard. Suffering from severe osteoporosis, he’s a virtual prisoner in his eyrie because of the many stairs. He’s ceased to play an active role in the Anglican Church, seldom attends services and can’t use his choir stall. Through the kitchen window Simon sees a peregrine falcon launch itself from the eastern tower into its two hundred miles per hour hunting stoop. If only I could fly away, he wishes. 

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Manicured Nails

Selwyn’s been dead for eighteen months and Nancy is depressed and lonely. There’s no light at the tunnel’s end, no view of pastures new, no hope of happiness, just endless sorrow. Throughout the last six of her fifty-six years she nursed her husband, Selwyn. This wasn’t done out of a sense of duty, but from love. Nevertheless, as the years passed she was filled with a sense of futility; he would die no matter what she did and he seemed to take her care for granted. Helping Selwyn live in the moment was not enough.

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Din

It’s dusk. Oswald Sander is happy as he watches the van disappear down the cinder track beside Great Wood. The refugee camp superintendent, or commandant, as he styles himself, is counting a bundle of bank notes from his recent black market transaction. He can’t believe how easy it is to amass considerable amounts of cash from selling the food meant for the refugees he’s employed to protect. He loves his power and basks in the refugees’ fear; falling out with Sander is to go hungry. He laughs at his ability to pay women for sex with money they cannot spend. He sees himself as ‘the lord of all he surveys’, he’d be horrified if he knew the phrase had originated in India.

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Haunted

A snicket leads out of the rear of a cul-de-sac of 1930s semi-detached houses. Robert, aged seventy-five, has lived in number 17 for years. Recently an elderly man has been loitering in the snicket and each time Robert has tried to speak to him he’s vanished. Robert’s not alarmed but intrigued.

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