Returned to sender

I first encountered Nathaniel just after I’d moved in next door to his large stone house in Moffatt. He was shouting in his back garden.

Oi, you up there. Call yourself a fucking god? Here I am, ninety-two years old with my mind as sharp as a tack with fucking limbs that refuse to do what my brain tells them. I go to walk forward but my feet don’t move quickly enough and I end up falling flat on my face. I’m supposed to believe in you but what do I get out of it? Bugger all. So, fuck off!

Well said, I shouted.
Who’s that? 
I’m Dunbar, your new neighbour.
Fancy a dram with me later? he asked.
From that moment we became friends and began an early evening Saturday ritual of putting the world to rights over a bottle of Tamnavulin.

On Thursday 8th of September 2022 Queen Elizabeth II died.

On Saturday September 10th 2022 her death is the only topic of discussion

For Christ’s sake, man, Nathaniel says, The Windsors are Germans, and ersatz Scots, still living in Victoria’s fantasy of a mythic Scotland of kilts, tins of shortbread, stags at fucking bay, whisky, pipers, haggis and soldiers in fancy dress.
Maybe, but she did a good job.
So have our nurses and all the others who got us through Covid. No one will glorify their deaths.
Of course we will, I replied.
You know we won’t.  Listen, the monarchy’s facade is a charade. Strip off their fancy dress and fancy ways and they’re just ordinary people – just rich racists. They describe us as their subjects, whereas we’re citizens whose rights as human beings are inalienable and not a privilege bestowed by Royalty. 

He was about to go on one of his rants so I made an excuse and went home. 

On Saturday September 17th I arrived for our normal Saturday dram. Eventually I found him lying dead under a freezing shower. I couldn’t have felt greater guilt; he was ninety-six and I should have taken more care of him. The doctor said it was natural causes and he could have been dead for days. I couldn’t help but compare the Queen’s Lying in State and Nathaniel’s end.

In a state of shock I went through all the formalities as he had no immediate family. Searching through his address book I found a London postal address of a ‘distant cousin’. 

Following his minimalist cremation I posted his ashes to the London address along with my name and address on the cardboard box.

Weeks pass, then months. The postman returns the box of ashes. There are multiple addresses crossed out and finally, ‘Return to sender’. 

The Queen’s death faded from the news agenda and the world rolled on. I buried Nathaniel in his overgrown garden. He deserved a better death, if there is such a thing. I marked his grave with a wooden cross and a small plaque.  

‘Oi, you up there.‘


I hope you enjoyed this story. Please feel free to pass it on to others who may be interested. You can read my previous 500 word stories on my website www.philcoskerwriter.com under ‘Writing’.>>>More

© Phil Cosker 2022
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.

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The only exhibit in the gallery is a single one-metre square monochrome photograph of an ancient broad-leaved wood. Hollis is not alone. Morning, he says to an elderly woman standing in the far corner of the gallery. He wants to laugh at the way she’s dressed. Just like a bloody useless old hippy, he thinks. All flares, beads and flowers. She ignores him. Bloody rude, he thinks, Just as well she can’t hear what I’m thinking. 

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Diamonds

December 1986

It’s a cold clear afternoon in Keldy Forest where Ben is lighting a wood-burning stove in an A-frame chalet he’s hired for a long weekend away with his newly pregnant wife, Frankie. Ben wants the chalet to be toasty when he returns from Malton railway station with her. Wife and husband are elated about the coming birth of their first child. Suddenly he’s overcome with emotion; choking back his tears, he makes a vow: Frankie, whatever comes to pass I will always love you. He laughs at himself for being so maudlin. 

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One Night

It’s All Hallows’ Eve. The moon is new and the stars are bright on a cold clear night. Trick and Treaters are long asleep in bed. For a bet, Lucien, slightly drunk, is spending the night alone at the end of the pier. He’s not superstitious, but the stories of the haunted pier on this night of nights have left him on edge. He drinks from a whisky flask.

The tide is out and a vast expanse of glistening mud stretches beyond the end of the Victorian pier to the mouth of the estuary. For the first time, Lucien sees that the mud flats are not flat but full of ridges, hummocks and rills running with streaming water into gullies deep in the mud. He’s astounded that the moonlight is so bright and the mud is beautiful.

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The Wheelchair

David, in his early seventies, is finally preparing his mother’s home for sale. It’s a great sadness to him that he never managed to persuade her to move to a smaller property rather than her large Victorian house. She’d been alone in it for fifty years since his father’s death until her own recent death in her nineties. Her loss still feels raw. No matter how hard David tried, she refused to move; there was always a good reason or an excuse that allowed a further postponement. David finds it ironic that he’s now in the same situation; his children are pressing him and their mother to downsize. He wonders if they know that the familiar makes life more comfortable. 

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A Childhood

It’s 2022 and Robbie, aged fifteen, is living with his mother, Paula, in a semi-derelict 1960s council house on a vast estate of public housing to the north of the city. Paula describes living there as ‘like being in the Wild West’ where security guards have to protect bus drivers. One bus shelter carries a homemade poster of a policewoman with a noose round her neck.
It’s early morning. Robbie and Paula sit on white plastic garden chairs in the freezing kitchen, their hands warmed by steaming mugs of black tea. 
You’ll get warm when you get to school, Paula says.

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Poem to Putin

If my tears could make a laurel wreath of peace
For you to wear upon your troubled head
Giving victory to peace instead of war
If my breath could make a gale of love
Blowing doves of peace inside Kremlin’s walls
Defying hate and Lenin’s disgusted grimace
Ending forever your fear of love
If my eyes would let you see the truth 
Freeing Russians from your mendacious misrule
Where you portray genocide as God’s cause
Where in Ukraine you wage your holy war
While at your devil’s table you gorge 
On rape, murder and pillage and smile at the feast
And what will history make of you?
Will your Stalinist madness be excused 
By a malignant melanoma of hate in your head?

No, you shall not escape, even in defeat
You will always be known as evil beyond belief
Not in Hitler’s camps but in a land once at peace 
Now reduced to ruin for your fantasy’s sake
Your war is lost all you’ve won is contempt.

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Andrew Slessor braces himself against the driving wind and snow and presses on in search of shelter. The blizzard roars. His eyelashes freeze. His lungs hurt. He fears he’ll die unless he finds shelter soon. His memory of the OS map is vivid. He reckons he’s near the ruined Crofters’ village where the tragedy unfolded. He stumbles and trips over a low wall of fallen stones. Struggling to his feet in the blizzard, he glimpses the small building that’s his final destination. On arrival, all is as he expected: the door is locked and letters in red paint announce, DANGER KEEP OUT! He takes a key hanging from a nail beside the door. Ignoring the warning, he enters and shuts the door behind him; it immediately blows open in the storm. He forces the door shut against the wind and locks it tight.

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The Headstone

For over fifty years Axel Strummer’s granite headstone remained blank – not even his name was inscribed. This was not an oversight but a result of Axel’s traumatic funeral and internment. For Axel’s son, Proctor, it could have been yesterday when his love for his father was tested to the limit.

A small congregation is assembled for the funeral service in St Mary’s church. Proctor and Rosanna, Axel’s widow, are sitting on chairs near the catafalque on which Axel’s coffin rests. A younger woman sits down at the end of their row.

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