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.

Billy No Mates

Bill is dying of cancer. He’s been through the mill of treatment and despite the best efforts of his GP he won’t enter the hospice and is determined to die in his own bed. He has two carers, one part-time for the day and a full-time night carer, Stefan, a young Russian. Bill likes Stefan, to whom he tells tall stories to fight off his fear of the night and the arrival of the grim reaper. 

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The Bothy

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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Kith and Kin

In 1968, when David is twenty-two, his mother, Bethany, a single parent, dies. Among her effects he finds a letter, ‘To my dearest David.’ Until then, all David knew was that his father, Richard, died before he was born. He had no idea that Reg, his father’s brother, had murdered him. Shock throws David into a rage of an intensity he never thought possible. He finally understands why he hasn’t an extended family and why he and his mother took on the world alone. David has no one to ask why the murder took place. 

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Sugar Loaf Mountain

Andrew, Fay and their five-year-old daughter, Sylvie, are travelling along the A40, when Sylvie looks out of the window, and asks, What’s that funny pointed hill thing?
That’s Sugar Loaf Mountain, Andrew replies.
Is it sugar? Sylvie asks.
Might be, Andrew laughs. 
Fay smiles as she drives. Are you feeling better? she asks Andrew.
Just indigestion. It’ll be those pasties we had for lunch.
Why’s it called Sugar Loaf Mountain? Sylvie asks.
Maybe Daddy can tell you a story about it at bedtime, Fay says.
Will you, Daddy? Will you?

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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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