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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The Drain Man

1910 Swansea.

Roddy, head bowed and breathing hard, stands between the shafts of the milk cart he’s just pulled up the steep hill to the top of Cambridge Street; he’s caught in a sudden pool of early morning light glistening on the tarmac, damp from overnight rain. Seagulls whirl, screeching with laughter. The milkman climbs down from his seat and sets the bottles gently on the front step of Ivanhoe. Hearing a scream from the upstairs window he thinks, That’ll be Maggie’s new baby.

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Snapping

It was 1967 and I was a young man on Hessle Road in Hull taking photographs. I wanted to be a photographer as great as Bert Hardy or Tony Ray-Jones. I was at ease as I moved amongst the crowds of Saturday shoppers. I wasn’t hiding what I was doing and revelling in the alchemy of being seen and unseen, taken for granted, and as uninteresting as a road sign. 

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Pinky

As I approach my sixtieth birthday it’s time to commit to paper the extraordinary events I experienced in 1960 when I was ten. I find it hard not to think it was all make-believe; even my own wife and grown-up children think it was a coping mechanism in the face of trauma.

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Out of Time

Steph is visiting her partner, Adam, who’s in an induced coma in an Intensive Treatment Unit. She stands at the foot of Adam’s bed, staring at the array of apparatus that’s keeping him alive. She had expected silence but the room is filled with the incessant bleeping of the many life-support machines and monitors surrounding the beds. 

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Pain

Sleep is not always David’s fail-safe escape; dreams are impossible to predict.

On an overcast afternoon, David stands dithering at an opening in a very long hedge of dense blackthorn. Uncertainly, he passes through the opening. A swirling quarrel of sparrows is deafening as they flit and skirmish in and out of the prickly hedges that dwarf him. Seeing paths running east and west, he wonders which way to go. He turns right and meets a dead end. Retracing his steps, he goes past the opening and, as this path splits into two, he hopes he’s in a maze. I like mazes, he thinks. With no sun to guide him, he loses any sense of direction and can see no landmarks above the high hedges as he searches for the centre of the maze.

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Ex Pat

Isaac Pearlman often thinks about his friend Patrick O’Connell. Both aged fifteen, they were unlikely school friends; Patrick stood at over six foot while Isaac was small for his age. Patrick took no prisoners; anyone showing disrespect for his Irish ancestry was given an opportunity to apologise; failure to do so was severely punished. Isaac was bullied until Patrick stepped in – his ability to split the lid of a wooden school desk with a single head butt intimidated even the most foolhardy of bullies. Most of all, Isaac remembers basking in the light of Patrick’s smile, something that saw him through the darkness as his black dog bayed. 

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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.