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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Marley Lives

The south-facing elevation of Sonya’s eighteenth century house is festooned with white roses. The garden is the most visible expression of all that she holds dear as custodian of her family’s heritage. Her visiting grandchildren, Nick and Jane, play football on the immaculate lawn, and invariably but accidentally, damage her meticulously ordered herbaceous borders. Bored by Sonya’s endless carping at their lack of respect for her delphiniums, Nick and Jane refuse to visit her. She misses them and has a vivid memory of her daughter, Clair, telling her grandchildren that Granny is mad as a hatter. Sonya’s reached the point where she’s trapped in her own sad history of appearing to love objects more than people. 

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The Escape

This is my 100th 500 word story from the collection 
‘Behind the Plague Door’

It’s early morning. The sky is black. Maritime pine and eucalyptus emerge, ghostlike, from swirling clouds of white smoke which precede the imminent arrival of the fire. A high wind drives the inferno towards a large white walled and red tiled villa. 

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The Jacket

Geoffrey is proud of the home he and his late wife, Isabella, created, for themselves and their daughter, Anita. In the ten months since Isabella’s death he’s kept the three promises he made her: he’s kept a close eye on Anita, eaten three meals a day and kept himself ‘respectable’.

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Untidy Rain

Heavy rain sweeps over the overgrown back garden. Margaret, or Peg, as her husband Oliver calls her, is staring out of the kitchen window of the rambling Victorian house that has been the Cromwell family home for nearly fifty years. Gusting wind bends the silver birch and the black barked laurel hedge shudders in the growing storm. It’s not rain, Peg thinks, it’s the ocean, the cold Atlantic, as squalls of rain, thick as waves, pound the window panes. She imagines white horses breaking on the lawn. The once herbaceous borders, now populated by weeds, drown under the weight of rainwater. The leafless branches of trees wave frantically as if they are the masts of long lost galleons. Are there pirates to be saved, Peg wonders? I’m all at sea, she thinks, lost in memories of her daughter, Ellie.

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