Walking Rough

Roberta and Wink, short for Periwinkle, are inseparable – woman and dog as one. Both are strays: the woman fled domesticity easily; the dog fled brutality. Roberta named the dog Periwinkle, even though it’s not blue but jet-black, because word and flower remind her of innocence and childhood. The dog answers to Wink and that’s good enough for him as he walks without a lead as close to Roberta’s legs as he can manage without causing his friend to trip and fall.

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Emory

Emory stands in a clearing surrounded by an ominous opaque white cloud. There is nothing to see between him and it. He looks behind him and it’s an identical view. He stands very still, frightened to move. Looking down he’s standing on the cloud. He stamps his foot; it’s solid. Looking left and right he finds it impossible to tell distance. He shivers in the oppressive, endless whiteness.

Concentrating hard, Emory stares at the dense white cloud. It bursts apart and a small plump blonde puppy runs towards him and jumps into his open arms. The dog licks Emory’s face, as Emory tries to evade the dog’s huge rough pink tongue.

Within moments the puppy is full-grown and the size of a pony. Emory struggles to hold such an enormous creature in his arms but somehow manages to set it down. Seeing its disorderly blonde furry head he says, I seem to know you.

You should, you’re my cabinet secretary.

Why are you a dog? 

I can be anything I like. Shall we find pastures new, green hills, pretty gals, foaming pints, and all that? No need to be afraid. I’m loveable and mischievous so hold on tight. Hop up. Emory climbs onto the dog’s back. Teneat aures meas, the dog barks.

The cloud parts and they enter a broad-leaf wood where sunlight flickers through the canopy, warming the path on which they walk. This better? the dog barks.

Yes, Emory, replies. Can I get down?

No, I’m taking you for a ride. 

I want to get off.

Not yet, old son.

They canter into a sunlit clearing strewn with dead bodies.

What’s this you’ve brought me to? Emory asks. It’s horrific.

It’s unfortunate, I agree. It could have been worse though; these are mostly old folks and already past it. Bad advice.

Whose bad advice?

The dog leaps forward, its huge paws trampling and scattering the bodies as it gallops out of the clearing.

Stop! Emory shouts. I want to step down. Now!

The dog disappears. 

Emory is back inside the dense white cloud. It’s hard to breathe. Men and women push ventilators. Hancock polishes an enormous NHS badge. Hundreds carry coffins. I’m sorry, Emory shouts. Children silently weep carrying begging bowls. Williamson wanders past whispering to a tarantula. Emory shouts, I’m not to blame. Shapps shouts, Toot toot. Suddenly a choir sings, All things bright and beautiful. Jenrick scatters fifty-pound notes. Sirens scream. Gove sits on a toadstool stroking a self-portrait endlessly crooning, my Precious. A chant goes up – Black Lives Matter. Cops watch white thugs hurl rocks at peaceful protestors. Another chant starts, Grenfell! Grenfell! Stop it! Stop it! Emory shouts. Patel screams incomprehensible abuse at a woman carrying a Remember Windrush placard. Cummings, laughing, intones, Out of chaos comes a new disorder. Emory shouts, I want to step down.

Emory awakens as a hand shakes his shoulder and a kindly voice says, You were shouting in your sleep, Sir Emory. The PM and cabinet are waiting. 


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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.


Cats

For Victoria and Grace it is about who has the coolest car, the grandest house, the most fashionable interior designer, the most expensive bespoke kitchen (with under floor heating), over-the-top dinner parties and fine wines, ostentatious jewellery, servile domestic help, the number of holidays a year, and, of course shoes and, especially, handbags.

The two women’s friendship mitigates their endless competition; it’s not malicious but intense; catty, some say.

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Resting Place

Edward, a resting actor, has hoped for better things than his last role playing Buttons in the Christmas Show the end of Cromer Pier. He’s penniless and wonders if he’ll ever work again. ‘Gathering’ in front of his bathroom mirror, he intones, Age cannot wither her, Nor custom … Oh, shit! I can’t face Universal Credit. Every day, in his dingy rented flat, he searches opportunities in The Stage and on-line. 

His phone pings. There’s a message from his mother, alerting him to an advertisement in ‘The Lady’ – Ornamental Garden Hermit required. The accompanying photographs of the landscaped estate and mansion are beautiful. He applies and, to his astonishment, is offered an interview. 

The estate’s owner, Estaban Stanislaus, is an American, perfectly exemplifying the Zuckerberg robotic look, with monk-like tonsure and machine-like emotionless speech. 

Okay, Eddie. Let’s just reprise your role. You’ll be dressed as a Druid – costume supplied. I‘ll supply your food and booze just as if you’re in a hotel and my people’ll collect your laundry. You get five thousand US a month. Webcams will display your hermitude on the Internet but there are no microphones. 

It’s a non-speaking role? 

Correct. 

Why do you want an ornamental garden hermit?

When you’ve bought everything you ever thought of, what then? They really did have one here in the eighteenth century; it’s the cherry on the cake of pointless conspicuous consumption, awesome. I may walk down with friends but mostly we’ll watch on-line. 

The Grotto has two parts. The original, public facing grotto, has been meticulously renovated. The new private rear is commodious. The movement sensitive webcams only operate at the front. 

At the barred entrance gate Edward asks, Is this the only way in and out?

Always locked, except when you take deliveries. You’ll be safe. 

Why do I need to be safe?

In the sticks anything can happen.

Do I get a key?

No. If you got fed up and ran off I’d look stupid.

What do I do? Edward asks.

Act Druid. 

What happens if I’m ill?

There’s an emergency button in your bedroom.

Can I use my mobile?

There’s no signal in the grotto.

Is there TV?

For sure. You up for it?

Edward watches Covid-19 unfold on the TV. I’m lucky to be shielded, he thinks. Great food. Superb wines. No furlough for me. Money in the bank. I made it!

Estaban doesn’t visit and Edward wonders how his performance is being received. 

After eleven weeks his food order isn’t delivered. There’s no response to the emergency button. At the gate he repeatedly screams, Help! 

Five days later, kneeling at the gate, he begs, Help. Let me out! Please.

Slumped in an armchair in the lounge, watching the news, he sips water from a glass. 

‘The cause of death of the eccentric millionaire Estaban Stanislaus has been established as Covid-19.’

At the gate he finally tries the handle. It opens. I thought it was locked, idiot, he whispers. Too weak to move, he collapses. 


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.
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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.


The Plague

It’s 2020 and Covid-19 is in full spate. The UK is under lockdown. Government policy is to prevent the spread of the disease, reduce the death rate and preserve the NHS. It’s a shambles.

Chris and Jack are in their early seventies.
Chris answers his phone. Hello. Who’s that?
I’m Jack. I was asked to give you a call. I’m an NHS volunteer.
I don’t do cold calls. Who asked you to call?
Your GP. She said you had a problem.
What’s her name? Chris asks.
Doctor Summer.
That’s her.
What’s the problem? Jack asks.
I’ve got the plague. 
Okay …. And you’re self-isolating because of that?
That’s it.
Why are you calling it the plague?
That’s what it is.
Why plague?
It’s killing people all over the world – it’s a paramedic.
You mean pandemic.
That’s it, a pandemic – plague. 
Coronavirus? Jack asks.
One Christmas, I was fourteen, I sold Corona pop from a lorry; the bottles were in wooden crates. I loved it, and now it’s a fucking plague.
It’s not a plague. They stopped in the middle ages.
What about tombola?
Jack stifles a laugh. Ebola?
That’s the fella; if that wasn’t a plague what was it?
A viral disease. Are you ill?
Of course I’m ill. 
I was told you needed help  – come on, what help do you need?
You sound, irritated, stressed. What’s up? Chris asks.
Silence.
What is it?
She died. I’m only doing this to talk, Jack sobs.
Don’t do that. You’ll have me at it in a minute … you’re alone?
Stifling his sobs, Jack replies, Yes. No, I have her moggies.
Do they talk to you? 
They purr back.
What are their names?
Sonny and Cher.
Chris sings, ‘cause you got me, And baby I got you. Babe, I got you babe. 
Stop! Please. Why are you singing?
Because you’re lonely, just like me.
I’m okay now, Jack says. Sorry. What help do you need?
I’m afraid.
Tell me why?
I don’t want to die on my own.
How do you know you’re dying?
I’ve been told. Chris sings, Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, Oh, I believe in yesterday. 
Can’t go back, though, can we?
Why were you crying? Chris asks.
I loved her.
I’m sorry, mate.
No, no, no … Why do you call it the plague?
I liked selling Corona, I don’t want a bloody virus killing my memory. 
Yeah, I get that. You sing.
I’m crap.
Want to try a duet?
Yeah, why not? What shall we sing?
Sweet, sweet the memories …
Perfect. You start I’ll follow.

They sing. Take one fresh and tender kiss, Add one stolen night of bliss, One girl; One boy; some grief; some joy; Memories are made of this.

They are lost in laughter.

Sing again tomorrow? Same time, same place? Chris asks.
You betcha – you choose tomorrow.
I’m glad you called, Jack.
Me too. Jack laughs. Fuck the plague!

They sing. Sweet, sweet, the memories …


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
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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.


Empathy

Victor Beautule is known as the ‘coming man’ on his way to the top. He isn’t from a humble background nor has he the studied insouciance of the English aristocracy. He’s a man from the middle, the lower middle, and bitter about the elites he perceives above him. His contempt for the lower orders is unbounded. 

When Vanessa, one of his many girlfriends, whose heart he knowingly broke, accuses him of being emotionally illiterate, unable to put himself in the place of ‘the other’, and having the compassion of a stone gnome he takes this as a challenge. When he receives a personal email promoting a very expensive two-day residential course ‘Empathy for Success’ he sees a way of meeting that challenge and quickly enrols.

Once inside Wandelsham Hall, he discovers, with delight, that it’s even more exclusive than he had hoped: there are only four participants. The therapist, Melvyn, will lead the participants who are Rupert, Nigel, Victor and Natasha – no surnames are shared. Natasha looks vaguely familiar to Victor, but she’s not pretty enough for him to remember who she is, even though she reeks of entitlement. 

There are two sessions a day, structured around role plays based on counselling scenarios: each participant will be, in turn, ‘the sufferer’, the counsellor and observer. 

On Saturday, Victor first plays the role of ‘sufferer’. He’s pleased with his performance but worries he’s revealed too much of himself. Natasha plays the role of counsellor; her condescension, verging on boredom, irritates him, but he bites his tongue. Later, as an observer he thinks he’s done a fine job. Natasha, the other observer, tells him his observations are trite.

On Saturday evening he dines alone. There is no sign of the others; he’s perplexed, Perhaps they couldn’t afford full board? I can, so that’s fine.

During the last session on the Sunday he is counsellor and Natasha ‘sufferer’. Her portrayal of a betrayed utterly bereft wife is superb and, alarmingly, touches a nerve, reminding Victor of how women have reacted to his behaviour toward them. Natasha screams, Help me! Victor shouts, For fuck’s sake, woman, pull yourself together, you pathetic spoilt upper class cow! I don’t blame him for shagging someone else. 

Natasha holds up her hand. Hush. Hush. It’s role-play, Victor. You’ve forgotten that and also forgotten who I am, haven’t you? I’m the wife of the minister, your boss, and, as it happens, Vanessa’s sister. 

The penny drops. Who are you people? 

Vanessa’s brother, Rupert says.

Her other brother, Nigel adds.

I’m their uncle, Melvyn says.

That’s why you weren’t at dinner? 

Natasha smiles. Yes, this is our family home. We were in our own quarters, while you were feeding your face. Vanessa’s right, you’re an utterly self-centred prick and I think I can fairly say that your career is fucked. I’ll see to that. You can go now.

I hate you privileged bastards!

That’s to be expected. Gladly you’ll never be one of us. Goodbye.


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.


 

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.

 


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.


 

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.