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The Sloth Diaries The Nigerian Lottery Scam

October 27th, 2008

The Sloth Diaries  The Nigerian Lottery Scam

The terrible traumas of the last few weeks are already becoming a distant memory and have been consigned to the brimming recycle bin of life. The sloth appears to have recovered from his duel with the dentist and seems none the worse for his experience. The intensity of summer is at an end and the days are becoming shorter. The garden is being romanced by vibrant Dhalias, dazzling us with the colours of their Mexican heritage. Burnt orange, Fuschia pinks, Marigold yellows, brilliant scarlet and pure, creamy white. They grow in profusion, crowding the borders and competing aggressively with the purple and pink Michaelmas daisies. The feathery leaves on the Sumach ( Japanese Maple) that grows at the foot of the rockery are turning a delicate yellow gold with the occasional vermillion leaf in between. Even the weather has become conveniently autumnal with the mist rolling down the mountain and spreading its moist mantle over the valley below. But the garden heaves a great sigh of relief and welcomes the the torrential downpours that soak the grateful roots of the old apple trees.

However, the peace and quiet of this sunny Monday morning was shattered by a triumphant yell from the the study. When I went in to investigate this unruly outburst, I was confronted by the rare sight of the Sloth jumping up and down, waving a letter excitedly in the air. (a rather risky activitiy as he suffers from Angina!!!).

'We've won! We've won! Here, look at this!' He held the letter under my nose with trembling hands.

'We've won the bloody Spanish lottery. We're rich!'

I snatched the letter from his shaking hand and scanned a smudgy photocopy informing the Sloth that he'd been entered in the Spanish lottery via the internet and his numbers had come up. It stated that he was the lucky winner of 800,815 euros ( roughly £500, 600 ). To collect his winnings he had been given an email address and several phone numbers to contact someone called Steve Gomez. Poor old Sloth! Anyone with half a brain could see that it had SCAM, written all over it. But he desperately wanted to think it was true, as much as he wants to be rich and famous. He has a certain child like innocence that believes the little old ladies who come to our door and con him out of his cash. He's a sucker for a hard luck story. This is a man who has an unshakeable belief in God and probably believes in Father Christmas too!! Both concepts seem synonymous as we are conditioned from childhood to believe in them. We never actually see them in the flesh though.

'Look!', I say. 'It's just a trick. They've got your name and address from the internet. You're always buying things online''.

Sloth sighed heavily. He doesn't do patience. He began to speak very slowly and loudly as though he was talking to a simpleton or someone who was profoundly deaf.

'It doesn't matter where they got my name from does it? I've obviously won something and I'm going to ring the number and check it right now. OK?'

'Ok! But it's a Spanish number. It'll cost a fortune on a Monday morning. Why don't we wait until after six o'clock?'

His shoulders began to shake. The volcano was rumbling. 'This is irrelevant in the scheme of things. The cost of a couple of phone calls is small beer when it looks like we've won half a million!' Well, there's no answer to that!

There were three phone numbers. He rang the first number but slammed down the receiver after dialling it several times. 'It's giving the unused line signal. I'll try the other one.' This time there was an answer.

'Hola! Buenas dias! Puedo hablar con senor Steve Gomez por favor?' Sloth said breezily.

'Quien?' a female voice crackled down the line.

'Steve Gomez. G- O- M- E- Z ' Sloth spelled the name (using the Spanish alphabet) helpfully. There was a long pause, then, 'No hay Steve Gomez aqui senor.'

The Sloth stiffened and grapsed the receiver firmly as though it was the arm of the Spanish speaker on the other end and tried again.

'Mirar! Tengo una ficha sobre la lotteria............'

'Senor!' the voice interrupted. 'No hay Steve Gomez. No existe'

'What do you mean? 'Doesn't exist' ?' Suddenly English had become the lingua franca, born out of sheer desperation.

'Hello!....Hello!...' Sloth tapped the phone frantically but was rewarded for his trouble with the irritating purr of the dialing tone.

'See! I told you it was just a scam! The man doesn't even exist....'

'Of course he exists! ' exploded the Sloth and pounded up the stairs two at a time to send the non exisitent person an email.

The next morning the Sloth was up bright and early checking his emails. He came into the kitchen excitedly brandishing a sheet of paper.

'I told you it was genuine' he said self righteously. ' Take a look at this'.

I read the email and saw that it was indeed from someone calling himself Steve Gomez and informing the Sloth that he would be ringing from Spain that very morning. His smugness was unbearable as he began humming a tune from his latest Roy Orbison CD and stiring his capuccino noisily.

At eleven am the phone rang and the Sloth went into a frantic pantomime of manic handsignals worthy of a bookie 's tic tac signalling the odds on the racecourse! I took this to mean that I was to answer it as the Sloth hates speaking on the phone. Expecting a conversation in Spanish I began by greeting the caller in what I believed was his native tongue. There was a brief silence from the other end, then 'Er....can you speak English?'

'Yes of course. Sorry! I thought you were Spanish. You have a spanish name so I thought............' I trailed off.

'You have an African accent' I ventured. A loud chuckle exploded in my ear.'Well that's because I was born in South Africa, you see!' Somehow, I couldn't make out the clipped , adenoidal vowels of South Africa in his speech. By now I was bristling with suspicion but to prove my point to the gullible Sloth, I continued.

The deep, dark African voice identified himself as Steve Gomez and asked to speak to the Sloth. I explained that he had a cold and had lost his voice, so I was handling things for him. He seemed completely unfazed and told me cheerfully in a lilting African accent that Sloth had won some money in the Spanish lottery. He needed to know if he wanted to be paid by cheque or have the money transferred into his bank account by electronic transfer. 'Of course we would need your bank details for this operation' he crooned smoothly. I decided to play the shark a little longer and said 'It would be better if you sent a cheuque', I said breezily and gave a false address. 'Steve' seemed very happy with this. So much so that he then dropped the (the terribly predictable) bombshell.

'Well that's good! Now there's only one more thing you must do to guarantee payment of the cheque' he giggled.

'What's that exactly' I said slowly.

'Well!' he paused 'The Spanish bank charges £l,OOO'

'What for?' I said my voice beginning to rise.

'Its the handling fee ma'm'

'A £l,OOO handling fee' I repeated.

I looked over at the Sloth who looked so woeful as he gave me the thumbs down. Dreams of a life of Riley fading into the ether. I quietly put down the receiver and switched on the answerphone.

The right of Rusty Gladdish to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

The Inheritance Powder Part Four

October 19th, 2008

The Inheritance Powder Part Four

Part Four: The Legacy

George's eyes flickered and twitched. He was dreaming. He was walking up a long flight of steps that didn't seem to be leading anywhere. It was dark, except for a tiny pinpoint of light that pricked the blackness at the top of the steps. Then, without warning, a disembodied hand reached out and gripped his arm. He felt something or someone tugging him from behind, trying to pull him backwards down the steps. His mouth opened in a soundless scream. He tried to hold onto the rail but the hand prised his fingers off and he began to fall back into the dark nothingness. Down into the abyss.

George's eyes flew open.
The curtains were closed and the light in the room was dim. He felt dizzy and disoriented. Still hovering in the no man's land between sleeping and waking, he thought for a moment that he had moved onto the next stage of the dream. Outside he could hear the magpies cackling in the trees and the distant hum of the traffic on the main road. An icy breeze rustled the curtains and stroked his sweat streaked face. He rolled over onto his back and stared at the ceiling, mulling over the conversation he'd had with Erica the night before. Perhaps he was being paranoid. It could be a figment of an over active imagination. He passed his hand over his forehead. His head ached. Anyway, what if it was true and Julia really was poisoning him, who would believe him? He had no concrete proof of any kind. It was a preposterous idea but deep down he felt there was something, he just couldn't put his finger on it.

Bravely ignoring the tantalising scent of sausages cooking mingled with the smell of fresh roasted coffee, he tried to focus on recent events. The gripping stomach pains often erupted in the early hours. The onset would be a strange metallic taste in his mouth and the pains would go on in varying degrees of intensity throughout the day, his body wracked by vomiting. By the time evening came he was weak and washed out. It seemed to come on in phases. There were weeks at a time when his body functioned normally. Julia was wonderful. She was always so caring and considerate. Always there with a hot milky drink or a restorative cup of strong coffee, sweetened with honey and crowned with a dollop of clotted cream. Julia's voice broke into his thoughts, calling up the stairs.

'George darling! Breakfast is ready! Shall I bring it up or are you coming down?'

'I’ll come down'

He swung his legs over the bed , went to the window and opened the curtains. The rain had stopped but strong gusts of wind shook the trees roughly and blew the remaining leaves against the glass. He sighed and then putting on his dressing gown he went down to breakfast.

George shuffled into the kitchen. It seemed warmer this morning and filled with aroma of coffee and toast. He took his place at the table near the window that looked out onto the garden. The Guardian newspaper was propped up on the reader and his boiled eggs nestled neatly in their twin cups. A cafetiere of rich Mocha coffee stood near his plate.
Julia leaned forward and poured him some coffee. 'You look better this morning darling. Did you sleep well?'

He gulped down his coffee. 'Yes, I slept much better. I feel much more energetic this morning. As a matter of fact I was thinking of taking up Edgar Frinton's invitation to a round of golf this morning.'

'Well, if you feel up to it' Julia inclined her head towards him,'More coffee darling?'

'Mm! Yes please', mumbled George through a mouthful of toast. 'By the way dear, take care if you have to go down to the cellar for any reason. When I went down there yesterday to replenish the wine rack I noticed the stair rail had come loose. I'll fix it later on today. We can't have you falling down those steps.'
The trilling of the telephone interrupted their breakfast. Julia jumped up from the table. 'It's probably Patti. She said she'd ring me this morning about the arrangements for our shopping trip'.She disappeared into the living room.

George brought his coffee cup up to his lips but did not drink. Better not have that second cup. Bad for the blood pressure and guaranteed to get the old ticker jumping all over the place. Instead, he quietly poured the contents into the plant on the windowsill. He couldn't help noticing that the lovely lotus shaped leaves of the pink cyclamen had started to turn yellow and some of the leaves had made a premature exit onto the compost. Julia had over watered it. She was never very good with plants. Plants needed looking after and nurturing. She was a marvellous planner and organiser but he had to admit her caring side wasn't very well developed. Helena was the gardener. She loved her plants and he often found her sitting reading or sewing among the towering spikes of the blue Delphiniums she loved so much. In fact he had insisted that the garden was left pretty much how it had been when Helena was alive. He owed her that much. Julia wanted to change everything after she'd seen one of those gardening programmes on TV, but he forbade it.

Julia's voice broke into his reverie, 'George, I'm off now. Patti has just arrived. Be a dear and stack the dishwasher would you? Mrs Tudge has gone on holiday to Benidorm and she won't be back for two weeks!' She kissed his cheek briefly, then she was gone. He heard Patti's car churning up the gravel in the drive as they drove off for a rendezvous with Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo.

After he breakfasted and had a leisurely read of the paper, he rose from the table and started to load the dishwasher. Then, without warning his body was caught in an agonising vice. He crashed backwards onto the tiles struggling to breathe. Saliva poured into his mouth but he couldn't swallow. His body jack knifed as a violent seizure gripped him, then darkness and merciful unconsciousness.

* * * * *

After he'd rung the bell several times Edgar rattled the door handle and was surprised when it sprang open. Assuming that the door had been left open for him, he walked into the hall and called out, 'George!' There was no answer. The house seemed strangely still. He walked towards the kitchen. 'It's me George, I.......'
The door to the kitchen was slightly ajar. Edgar pushed the door open and saw George writhing and jerking around on the floor. He rushed forward, 'My God man! What's happened to you?' but George couldn't answer him. His eyes had rolled up into his head and his entire body was convulsed in rigid contractions and thick strings of vomit flowed from his mouth. Edgar snatched up the phone and dialed for an ambulance.

* * * *

The rain began to fall again just as Julia stepped out of Patti's car heavily laden. She put down her designer bags and waved goodbye to Patti as she drove off down the road. The house was in shadow. No welcoming lamps lit up the sightless windows. The rain suddenly came on heavier and she was aware that her feet, so daintily encased in strappy Jimmy Choos, were getting cold. She rummaged in her bag for her key and fumbled it into the lock. George must be in bed sleeping off the effects of her breakfast. She could hardly suppress a smirk as she walked through the house snapping on the lamps as she went. She ran upstairs calling 'George! George darling! I'm back', but there was no answer. She went into their bedroom but it was empty.

She sat at her dressing table in the dark and looked out over the Rododdendron hedge into the street. Glittering raindrops swirled round the streetlights. A brisk, chilly wind blew down the almost deserted street and an empty tin can skittered along in the gutter. It was only seven o' clock in the evening but the grim weather had driven the Saturday night revellers from the streets. George must be having dinner with Edgar she surmised. She had expected to find him at home. She shuddered involuntarily and felt a wave of fatigue wash over her. 'What I need is a drink' she said out loud and went downstairs to the kitchen.
She noticed that the dishwasher was only half loaded and the table was still littered with pots of marmalade, honey and butter smeared tea plates. She sighed, exasperated that George had left her to clear up the breakfast things. She took a clean glass down from the cupboard but noticed that there was only red wine in the rack. She had decided to drink only white wine, it seemed to have less effect on her diabetes. There was bound to be some in the cellar. She switched on the light and cautiously made her way down the steps. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw a movement of a small shadow cross the floor. She shivered! A mouse or worse, a rat! As she grabbed a couple of bottles of Chablis and turned to go back up the steps, she heard the phone ringing. She was halfway up the steps when the light began to fizz and splutter and finally went out leaving her in total darkness except for a slice of light from the open cellar door at the top of the steps. She went up quickly clasping the bottles under one arm and holding the stair rail with the other. She had almost reached the top when her spiky heels slithered on the smooth stone steps. She clutched frantically at the stair rail which immediately came away from the wall. Losing her balance completely, she fell backwards, arms and legs flailing and plunged down into the blackness, striking her head on the corner of the last step. The wine bottles smashed and splintered into a thousand glittering shards. Julia lay there, eyes closed, the lids a heavy purplish blue. Her face was ashen. One leg awkwardly under her body, her arms lacerated by the broken glass. Her blood mixed in with the wine staining the concrete floor.
Upstairs the answer phone had picked up Edgar's message. His voice boomed out into the empty living room.
'Julia! Are you there? Please pick up the phone.........Look, it's Edgar here. George has been taken very ill and he's in Royal Dearing hospital. Seems like he's had some sort of poisoning. They're keeping him in for 48 hours. They won't let him see anyone just yet. They're doing a lot of tests. Er..I'll ring again soon. Bye for now!'
The machine whirred and clicked again and a clear female voice filled the room. 'Hello Julia! It's Patti! I'm afraid I won't be round for coffee tomorrow. Bertie has just rung asking me to go up to London to baby sit for him. Bit of an emergency, so I've got to go and play grandma. What a drag! Anyway, we'll catch up when I get back. By the way, what did George think of your new shoes? See you when I get back sweetie! Bye'
The house sat in dust filled silence with all the lights on. Down in the dark, dank cellar Julia regained consciousness and discovered that she could not move . A creeping paralysis had spread up the left side of her body and her limbs had become heavy and numb. She opened her mouth to call for help but it was as though her jaws were locked and her lips had been sewn shut. Her eyes tried to pierce the gloom. She could see a fuzzy light at the top of the steps, but the effort of trying to maintain consciousness was too much and she slipped back into a comatose state.

* * * *
Bright sunlight streamed into the bedroom where Julia lay propped up on a bank of snowy pillows. George sat quietly watching her pale face for signs of life. He noticed the mouth seemed twisted to one side and spittle flecked her lips. He reached out and touched her hair, now turned completely white. She seemed to sense his nearness and opened her eyes.The bright blue eyes he remembered were dimmed and full of rheum. She tried to speak but only a drooling mumble indistinct from human speech, came out. Her left arm lay useless by her side. The doctor said she'd had a stroke brought on by a blow to the head. Her speech centres had been destroyed and the stroke had left her paralysed down the left side. She gazed at George, mute and helpless. Her eyes pleading and tormented.
George leaned forward and patted her hand. 'You don't have to worry about a thing old girl. We're going to look after you. Everything is going to be all right, isn't it Erica?' He smiled up at the tall, redhaired woman standing with her hand on his shoulder. Julia blinked and two huge tears slid slowly down her withered cheeks.


The right of Rusty Gladdish to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to people living or dead is merely coincidental.

The Inheritance Powder Part Three

October 19th, 2008

The Inheritance Powder Part Three

George and Julia:


After supper George decided he felt well enough to go downstairs. He washed and shaved but kept on his pyjamas and dressing gown. He glanced at his watch. It was 9.30pm. No point in getting dressed now. Odours of the Shepherd's Pie they had had for supper lingered in the hall. He shuffled downstairs and went straight into his study. The floor length , burgundy velvet curtains were pulled back to reveal Art Nouveau leaded windows. Books from floor to ceiling lined the walls and a large, upright Steinway piano stood gleaming in the corner covered with family photographs. On the wall above the piano hung a large oil portrait of a beautiful woman. She gazed down through blue eyes, fringed with long, dark lashes. An all pervasive air of sadness seemed to surround the painting. A thick, deep red, Turkish carpet caressed his slippered feet.

For a moment he sat at his desk and lost in thought, stared out of the front window at the rainsoaked garden. A tall holly tree stood sentinel near the gate and mature rhododendron plants huddled together to form an almost impenetrable screen obscuring the flower beds and the gravel drive. The headlights from passing cars flickered across the window as they swished through the puddles at the roadside, throwing up great sprays of water. In the twenty years they had been in Dearing, he noticed that the traffic had got heavier. A sign of the times. The excellent airport connections and only one hour from London by bus and train made the little redbrick town a very desirable place to be. He flicked on a green, angle poise lamp and directed the light downwards towards the desk, so that he was less visible from the road. With a sigh he slid open the bottom drawer and took out a bottle of Glenmorangie. He poured himself a measure of the amber liquid and sipped it slowly. He could hear the muffled sounds of a TV programme from the living room. It sounded like 'Gardener's World'. Julia would be riveted. It was one of her favourite programmes.
Good old Julia! They had been together for nearly twenty years now. For a long time their relationship had been very physical. Julia was highly sexed. Even now the sight of her erect nipples straining against the fabric of her blouse turned his bowels to water. Some things never die. In the early days they had made love anytime and anywhere. Both trembling with haste and a desire to achieve release and put out the fires of their burning lust. Of course he had the odd fling here and there. Casual, friendly, sexual encounters. He had covered his tracks well. She could never have found out. He smiled involuntarily, delighted with himself and the power of the secret he held. His whole life had been predicated on deception and secrecy in his intimate relationships! He excelled at conspiratorial games and thrived on subterfuge. He thought how shocked Julia would be if she had any inkling of his affair with Erica. He sat back in his chair and allowed his mind to drift down those crowded corridors of memories, so rarely visited.
When Helena died he felt empty, bereft and sick with guilt. His sense of loss was palpable. For the first time in his life he felt alone and abandoned. She was the one who kept him from falling apart. She sensed and soothed his moods. When he sneaked back home in the early hours stinking of another woman's scent, babbling lies and weak excuses, she would reward his shoddy behaviour by cooking him a delicious snack! She gave him her unconditional love but he repaid her loyalty with betrayal and humiliation. She took him back without question over and over. He had always been weak where women were concerned. He seemed to need their constant attention and approbation and was lured to them like a moth to the flame. So many lovers lost in the conflagration. He loved their feminine paraphernalia. The perfume bottles and myriad of mysterious jars and aerosols cluttering up the bathroom cabinet. The coloured hair ornaments and glittering trinkets spread in disarray over the dressing table. Their very female scent set his nostrils twitching like an old dog fox tracking a vixen. He knew he would never leave her. However, he was to be denied that privilege, for Helena lost her long and painful battle with breast cancer and died a quiet and convenient death. A cardinal chapter in his life was closed for ever.

He poured himself another drink and tossed it back quickly, feeling the fiery liquid sear his tonsils, almost making him retch. As he bent down to replace the bottle in the drawer his eye fell on the little key he kept taped to the upper part of the drawer and not immediately visible to the naked eye. It lay winking at him in the bottom of the drawer in full view. The tape must have perished and it had come unstuck, he surmised. He inserted it into the lock of the last drawer, opened it stealthily and took out a photograph. An attractive woman with shining, shoulder length red curls laughed up at him. Her dark brown eyes crinkled up at the corners echoing her wide-lipped smile. He absently caressed the glossy image with his forefinger and allowed his thoughts to drift. It was hard to imagine now how he had managed without Erica in his life. Theirs was a clandestine relationship of snatched kisses and furtive rendezvous. Erica was married. Yet another one of life's little ironies. She was sympathetic and understanding when he got drunk and cried shamelessly for Helena. Julia curtly told him to 'pull himself together'.
He had felt wretched when Julia took down Helena's portrait and replaced it with a portrait of herself that she'd had painted by a local artist. Ever shrewd and cunning, she made a great show of packing it carefully in bubble wrap and putting it in the wardrobe, but days later George discovered it concealed behind an old filing cabinet in a dusty corner of the garage. He had said nothing. Julia pandered to his every whim and she really was a marvellous cook and hostess and much admired by his friends. He needed her. Their affair had begun whilst Helena was still alive. He squirmed inwardly with self loathing as waves of remorse washed over him. He wondered if she had known all along.

George reached for the bottle and poured himself another drink. He stared thoughtfully into the glass. Recently he had sensed a change in Julia. Nothing concrete, nothing he could put his finger on, just little things. He noticed that all his books and papers he kept on their bedside table had been tidied away. Cupboards had been emptied and the garage had been cleared of the packing cases containing his 'collections'
'Really George, those packing cases were taking up so much room. There's hardly any space for the car and anyway, it's just a lot of old junk you've had since the year dot!! It simply had to go!!'
George sighed heavily. There was no point in arguing. She had made up her mind. There were so many memories in those boxes. The whole of his past life lay slumbering in those containers. In fact she seemed to have embarked on an unseasonal spring cleaning session. Only yesterday he noticed there were hardly any of his clothes in the wardrobe. He couldn't find his old cardigan with the leather patches on the elbows.
'Oh that old thing! I put it in the Oxfam box and they came and collected it this morning. It was so dirty and smelt terrible! Besides' her voice dropped, 'You don't need it, you've got lots of others in much better condition.'

'What do you mean? 'you don't need it'. Of course I'll need it. Winter's coming on. You know damn well I feel the cold,' said George crossly.

Julia raised her head and smiled sweetly, ' I simply meant that you'll need a new one darling' she purred, but just for a moment he was caught in the ice blue glare of those unsmiling, cat's points eyes. It was then that he suddenly became aware of how cold and calculating Julia's eyes could be. He wondered why he had never noticed this before.
His thoughts were interrupted by a cacophony of applause and laughter coming from the TV. George stared at the red telephone on his desk for a moment then he snatched up the receiver and keyed in a number. A female voice answered guardedly.
'Hello' murmured George softly. 'It's me, is this a good time to call?'
A rush of exhaled breath. Then, 'Yes, you're in luck! Paul is giving a lecture in Birmingham tonight. Glad you rang though. I was thinking of giving you a sneaky call myself'.'
George smiled. 'This is going have to be a quickie. Julia's watching TV.'
'My God! She'll hear you!' gasped Erica.
George gulped some whisky and gave a liquid chuckle into the receiver. 'Not a chance, she's going deaf. She's got it turned up so loud you could hear it in Hyde Park!'
'How are you feeling today?'
'Lousy! I had a terrible bout of pain this morning. I honestly thought I was going to die!'
'Oh you poor thing!'
George's hand trembled as he poured himself another measure of whisky, the glass clinked against the bottle. He paused. 'You know Erica I think that Julia is trying to poison me'. It came out in a rush. There was a shocked silence at the other end. Then, in an artificially calm voice, 'Oh! Come on George darling! Don't be so dramatic!'
'Look! I've been healthy all my life. Have you ever known me have an illness in the ten years you've worked for me? No', he went on without waiting for her answer. 'Of course you haven't. I've been subjected to a barrage of tests. Some of them very embarrassing I can tell you, and the doctors still haven't come up with anything.'
'But darling! Julia dotes on you. She adores you. She.....'
'She will inherit everything when I die. The house, the money, my pensions!' George hissed fiercely.
'But how....I mean when does she....' stuttered Erica.
George lowered his voice to a whisper.
'I just can't pinpoint when exactly but.....'
Without warning the study door opened and a triangle of light formed on the blue chinese rug. Julia stood quietly in the doorway. 'Im making some Horlicks, can I tempt you ?'
George replaced the receiver carefully and without turning round said, 'No thanks dearest. I think I 'll have an early night. I didn't sleep very well last night.'
Julia turned to go into the kitchen then stopped in the doorway, 'It'll settle your stomach', she persisted.
'Who was that on the phone?'
George stood up and yawned hugely. He gazed at her steadily. 'Ah! It was one of those cold callers trying to sell us double glazing.'
'How odd,' she muttered and bustled into the kitchen and began clattering cups and plates.

The Inheritance Powder Part Two

October 19th, 2008

The Inheritance Powder Part Two

Part Two: Roger and Julia

They were going to be late for dinner with the Huntington-Smythes. Julia rose and walked over to her wardrobe. It was stuffed with dresses and outfits for every conceivable occasion, some with the labels still attached. They had never been worn. Rack after rack of shoes was revealed in another cupboard. Laid out neatly in gleaming rows.
'Imelda Marcos eat your heart out', she murmured out loud.

She finally selected a close fitting black velvet dress with a low neckline and shoes to match. She sat down again at her dressing table and began to rifle impatiently through her drawer until she extracted a velvet choker with a large diamond like stone attached to it. She put it on and then leaned back to admire her reflection. Just a dash of red lipstick and a wave of her mascara wand and she was ready. The telephone began trilling again but this time it was answered by Mrs. Overton, the housekeeper.

‘Mrs Huntley,’ she called ‘ Mr Huntley’s on the phone. He’d like to speak to you’.
She sighed exasperatedly, ‘ Alright, Ill take it up here’.
Julia picked up the receiver of the white telephone on the bedside table.
‘ Roger where the hell are you? You know we’re going to dinner with the Smythes. We’re supposed to be there at eight.’

‘Yes, I know that old girl, no need to panic’ slurred Roger. 'Just been having a few bevvies with Godfrey in the white Heart. You remember Godfrey Palmer? We were at prep school together'.

‘You’re drunk!’ hissed Julia. ‘How predictable!!’
‘Yes, I spose’ I am old thing’ chuckled Roger amiably. ‘Come and get me there’s a good girl. We can drive directly over to the Smythes. Should be a barrel of laughs’, he said dryly, ‘At least I’ve got a head start’.

She snorted. ‘Oh for God’s sake! Just stay where you are and I’ll meet you in about half an hour’
Roger giggled, ‘That’s my girl’. The receiver clattered loudly in her ear then suddenly purred in monotonous silence.

She replaced the receiver and glanced at her watch. It was 7.45. She ran downstairs snatching up her mobile and car keys from the hall table. Outside the air felt stuffy. She got into her little blue Polo, and scattering gravel over the flowerbeds she drove off down the road.

* * * * *

As Julia drove along she glanced at the evening sky. Wisps of dark grey cloud began to form into billowy thunderheads. The air became heavier and torpid. Lightning flickered across the glowering sky.

'That's all I need' she fumed. She pressed her Manolo Blahnik harder on the accelerator and the little car shot forward obligingly. The heavens opened just as she pulled into the car park of the White heart pub. She stopped at the front entrance and peered through the windscreen. Through the curtains of rain she could see Roger weaving around unsteadily in the doorway. She leaned across and opened the passenger door and hissed at him
'Get in the car for goodness sake!'
Roger flopped into the seat like a landed trout.
'Cant do the seat belt up' he muttered.
She sighed and grudgingly helped him with the belt.
'Just look at you' she snapped.’ You look as though you've been dragged through a hedge backwards. You knew we were invited to the Huntington-Smythes', she wailed, her voice ending on a perilously high note.
'Oh bugger the Huntington-Smythes! Terrible snobs! Haven't got a personality between 'em let alone a brain!' snorted Roger. 'Anyway. I've got the mother and father of a headache! Started as soon as I woke up this morning. Like a bloody sledge hammer in my head'

'I'm not surprised' she commented.

'Have you got any aspirins in your bag?'

'You're such a fool Roger!' Julia said, ignoring his request. 'Bertie could put a lot of business your way if you played your cards right. But you never could play cards could you?’ she said grimly. Her knuckles gleamed white as her grip tightened on the steering wheel. She started the car and drove on through the now torrential rain. Thunder reverberated round the hills and crackled in the valleys. Visibility was almost impossible. She strained forward to see through the windscreen. A squally wind came out of nowhere and began to buffet the little car.

Suddenly Julia was aware of some strange,liquid noises filling the interior of the car. They were coming from Roger.

'What on earth's the matter with you now?'
There was no answer.
She looked at him quickly and saw that his face had become contorted and had a grey-blue pallor. He was drooling.

'Oh my God!'

But no human sound came from Roger's quivering, slobbering, open mouth. Only a snoring, chuckling sound. Through the gloom she saw a lay by and pulled over. The road was deserted. The rain bounced noisily on the bonnet of the car. There was no one to help them. She undid her safety belt and turned to Roger. She touched his hand and drew it back sharply, as if it had been burned. It was ice cold and his fingernails were pale lilac. A flash of lightning lit up his face. His lips were blue.

With steady hands, Julia reached for her mobile. She must ring an ambulance. They must have a doctor. They must get Roger to hospital!!! He was very ill. It was a matter of life or death. He could die. He.... Then, her mind suddenly emptied and she became calm. She stared at Roger with a certain curiosity. She had never seen anything die before. Only that useless little dog daddy once bought for her. As she continued to look at him his eyes opened and fixed on her face. He couldn't talk or move, but those watery blue eyes begged and pleaded for help. She didn't speak. Only Roger's supplicating blue eyes sparked the silence. As she continued to watch him tears slipped down his frozen cheeks. His eyes never left her face. Precious minutes ticked by. Roger seemed to be weakening. There were long pauses between the greedy, gobbling gasps for air. His face was now quite blue; the hands pale and immobile lay lifelessly by his side. Julia picked up her mobile and keyed in the numbers.

'Emergency! Which service please?' The calm, flat tones of the operator spoke into her ear.
'Hello! Hello! I need an ambulance. My husband has collapsed. I think he's had a heart attack!!
'Is he breathing?'
'Yes, he's very blue and cold.'
'Can you feel his pulse?'
‘! I don't know! Just a moment. Yes, it's very faint. Oh please come quickly! We're in the lay by on the dual carriage way, just about a mile from the White heart pub in Hillsfroom'.

'Try not to panic. Loosen his clothing. The Paramedics will be with you as soon as they can'

Julia put down her mobile and turned to Roger. He was slumped in his seat. He lay there quietly now. His face seemed twisted to one side. The frantic noises had stopped. She undid his top shirt buttons then put her ear to his chest. No sound or movement came from that stilled heart. She rummaged in her bag for a mirror. She held it to his open mouth. No mist appeared. Then with a shuddering sigh she sat back in her seat in silence and watched the rain pour relentlessly down the windscreen.

The right of Rusty Gladdish to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

The characters and events featured in this story are ficitious and any resemblence to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

The Inheritance Powder

October 19th, 2008

The Inheritance Powder

The Inheritance Powder. A Short Story by Rusty Woodward-Gladdish

'Arsenic has been a popular way of poisoning people since the Middle Ages. The symptoms of arsenic poisoning could be confused with those of many illnesses, and it was also very difficult to detect arsenic after death so it provided a practical way of murdering someone. Indeed, white arsenic became known as 'Inheritance Powder'. (Marjie Bloy. Ph.D., Research Fellow of the National University of Singapore) Wikipedia

Part One: Winter

George and Julia

It was raining again. It ran, coursing like tears down the window pane. George lay awkwardly in his bed facing the window. He lay on his side staring unseeing out at the rain, his long legs drawn up into his stomach. His silver hair was dark with sweat. He moved his head irritably from side to side on the damp pillow. Then, his face contorted into a grimace and his eyes became mere slits as a searing pain shot through his entire body. His back arched as he wrestled with the all consuming agony of it. Then, just as he felt he could not bear another second, it stopped as suddenly as it started. He rolled onto his back, gasping for breath as the throbbing, red wave of pain ebbed from his spare frame.

He lay on his back for a moment staring at the ceiling, his muscles released from their vice-like grip, relaxed. He waited for a moment then he sat up. An icy wind sprang up outside and crept in the open window by stealth, tugging at the chintz curtains. George shivered. He was nursing a full bladder and felt the need to urinate. He swung his legs out of bed and stood up unsteadily. He went to the window and looked out at the garden below. The late afternoon light was fading as winter drew its dark mantle over the neat suburban garden. It was raining steadily and the black denuded trees trembled in the sqally winds. Two dissident crows sat hunched in the branches with their backs to him. He frowned at the sight of these interlopers. It was unusual to see crows. The garden was normally the undisputed domain of three chattering magpies. He closed the window and shuffled to the bathroom.

After he had relieved himself he washed his hands allowing the water to run over his fingers. He leaned his head weakly against the glass of the bathroom mirror. It felt cool against his hot, moist skin. He studied the face reflected there. His hair was almost completely silvery white. Nothing left to suggest the full mane of blue-black hair of his youth. The green eyes that gazed back at him seemed dimmed somehow. Pain had dragged down the outer corners, giving him a permanently sad expression. He noted the deep lines running from nose to mouth. He had just turned sixty but looked older.

These terrible episodes of pain were aging him. He couldn't understand it. He had always been so healthy and strong.
He still played tennis and golf. He scratched his head absently. The doctors had subjected him to a barrage of tests but could find nothing. He turned away from the mirror and made his way back into the bedroom. He sat on the edge of the bed. He could hear his wife Julia clattering about in the kitchen downstairs. The muffled strains of the radio drifted upstairs.

He shuddered again. The room felt cold although he had closed the window. He realised he was thirsty and a little hungry too. His eyes fell on the old walking cane he once used for hiking over the moors. He grasped the cane and gave three resounding knocks on the floor. Julia came running up the stairs. She put her ash blonde head round the door and beamed at him.

'Feeling better darling?' she crooned.

'Well yes, I do as a matter of fact' he murmured.

'Shall I bring you something on a tray darling? What about smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and a pot of Earl Grey? It's your favourite' she purred.

'Yes, that'd be lovely dear, but don't bother bringing it up. I'll come down'

'Are you sure darling? You look very pale'

'Perfectly sure' said George firmly 'By the way, don't you think the house is rather cold tonight?' He noted that she was wearing a heavy sweater and thick tights concealing her shapely legs.

'The central heating's on darling. Perhaps it's because you don't feel well' she said and whisked out of the room.

Downstairs in the kitchen Julia set about making George's supper. She moved about the kitchen with a measured efficiency that belied her sixty two years, humming to herself as she worked. She put a dish of raw beaten eggs into the microwave, four minutes on 'low heat' and then began to cut the smoked salmon into strips. Wonderful things microwaves. Julia never took modern technology for granted. DVD recorders, washing up machines, mobile phones and computers. How on earth did we manage without them? The microwave pinged, signalling the completion of the eggs. She stirred some double cream into the scrambled eggs then began to shape the smoked salmon into rolls. As she waited for the kettle to boil for the tea she cast her mind back to when she and George had first begun their affair. They were both married to other people in those days which gave their affair that exquisite frisson of excitement. Then, as luck would have it, Roger had a massive heart attack as she was driving him home one night. He had been hopelessly drunk as usual. However, her bereavement had been softened by a substantial inheritance. Roger, ever the pragmatist, had been heavily insured and there had been several weeks of retail therapy to help her get over her bereavment. Then poor Helena had succumbed to breast cancer leaving George hysterical with guilt and grief. she had been there to comfort him, naturally. 'She was my rock, my soulmate' he had sobbed, soiling the shoulder of her new Cashmere sweater with his snot.

Their relations had been sexually charged rather than sensual. She had to admit that she was rather highly sexed and somewhat demanding in that department. This suited them both however, although as time went on Julia realised that there were 'others.' Her shrewd blue eyes narrowed to cat's pupils as she remembered the lies, the subterfuge, the silent phone calls and the nights when George failed to come home. Well, they were both in their sixties now. The bloom of those fabulous fifties long faded. She ran her liver spotted hands down her body. She was no longer quite so slim, but her breasts were full and heavy. In her youth she had longed to be tall and statuesque but only reached five feet four. She supposed that they were both past their best. Now George stayed at home writing articles for the university. Now she knew exactly where he was.

Julia poured boiling water into a large brown teapot. She arranged the food on a tray and took it into the dining room. She went to the foot of the stairs to call George. Pausing at the central heating controls she turned the settings down to the minimum. Then she stepped lightly into the dining room humming gaily as she went.

* *
The evening sun began to slip down behind the hills. The air was heavy and oppressive There was no breeze to stir the dusty foliage of the trees. It had, in fact, been an exceptionally hot day and had exceeded record temperatures. The newspapers and TV were full of speculation about the weather. People were dying of the heat in France and Greece. Really quite bizarre. Everything in the garden was wilting except the lavender and Rosemary borders. The purple flowers were smothered in bees and the scent of the Rosemary wafted in through the open conservatory windows. It really did have quite a Mediterranean feel, but they needed another gardener now that Potts had decided to retire. Roger was incapable of doing anything in the garden, having neither the imagination or the committment.
The last rays of the sun lit up the surrounding hills painting them a delicate rose pink and casting long shadows in the meadows. The heat rose up from the scorched earth and wrapped the house in steamy warmth.
Julia sat staring listlessly into her dressing table mirror. Downstairs, a telephone was ringing somewhere in the house but she didn’t seem to hear it. She leaned towards the mirror and her small piercing blue eyes examined her face with studied care. She ran a finger down her rather large nose thoughtfully and then patted her peroxide hair. Beads of sweat bejewelled her upper lip. A bottle of Gordon’s gin and a glass stood on the dressing table. She poured a small amount of the liquor into the glass and sipped it reflectively.

Roger was late. That must have been him ringing just now. He was probably drunk and wanted her to come and pick him up from the White Hart. Roger’s drinking was beginning to intrude on their lives. The pub was becoming a second home. Perhaps the business wasn’t going so well. She couldn’t tell. Roger never discussed the business with her. Not that she cared one iota as long as she had free rein with her credit card. She loved shopping. Drunk with the power of spending. She adored staggering out of the stores, weighted down with numerous bags looped round her fingers, her face flushed with pleasure. Besides, if anything happened to Roger (perish the thought) she inherited everything. He was heavily insured.

Julia had always enjoyed receiving gifts and in the early days Roger had been especially generous and had showered her with expensive presents. She was not personally familiar with the act of giving to please others. It was more in her nature to receive.

When she was a child her father always brought home some little trifle for her delight. She remembered the china doll with golden hair that opened and closed its eyes and cried ‘Mama’ when it was turned over. Then there was the little bracelet, glinting gold, with opals flashing their mystical green fire. Her eyes darkened as she recalled the puppy he had brought home for her and her sister when their mother was in the hospital. It had been a little golden Labrador with huge eyes of velvet brown. She had never been comfortable with animals. They always needed something; feeding or taking for a walk or stroking. Sometimes she had forgotten to feed it. Her father was busy at the hospital with their mother so when the puppy fell into the fishpond one winter’s day and got tangled up in the netting used for catching the falling leaves, Julia could only watch its futile struggles and whimperings as it tried to scramble up out of the icy water. When its useless scrabbling and whining ceased, Julia stared curiously as the small body suddenly released its hold on life and floated out, belly-up, into the middle of the pond. She let out a great sigh and blew on her freezing fingers. Then she turned and ran toward the house scuffling through the dead leaves in her pretty fur lined boots.

She found her sister in the music room practising a song with Miss De Mielle the music teacher. She sat listening politely as her sister’s voice flew round the room like a swallow, dipping and soaring and finally coming to rest, vibrating on the low notes. It was a song full of tenderness and sadness and made Julia think about the puppy whose stiff little body had sunk into the waving tendrils of the underwater plants. She felt her face grow hot momentarily with guilt but then her discomfort quickly receded at the thought of the gifts her father might be bringing that evening. Without waiting for her sister to finish her music lesson she ran up the stairs two at a time to her room.

Reborn A short story by Rusty Gladdish

October 19th, 2008

Reborn   A short story by Rusty Gladdish


This morning, the sun is shining right into my face. I can feel its warmth caressing my cheeks. Its buttery fingers are trying to prise open my eyes. I don't want to open my eyes though. I don't want to hear the birds singing their hearts out. If I open my eyes, I'll see the apple tree smothered in blossom and its branches pressing against the bedroom window. I'll see the cloudless blue sky and I'll hear the children next door laughing as they play games in their garden. Yes! Everything in the world will be normal. But in my heart, there is a dark and empty place. In my mind, nothing will ever be normal again.

I've been getting labour pains. Michelle, that's the Health Visitor, says they're ‘after pains' and are quite common after the baby has been born. It's been six weeks since I gave birth. My stomach is still very tender and a bit swollen but the nurse says that it will go down.
It must be like when they have earthquakes and they have ‘after shocks'. Well, I've had an after shock. I've had the shock of my life.

The social worker is coming tomorrow. She's got a funny name, it sounds like Kowalski. She's got an accent but she
speaks beautiful English. Not like me. She's a lovely person though. She's got those very blue eyes that wrinkle at the corners when she laughs. It must be hard, doing her job. I mean having to talk to people when their baby has died. I bet she goes
home and has a good cry sometimes. I'm always crying these days.
Yesterday, when I was at mum's, I was doing the washing up and I felt this big, painful lump in my chest. It went right up into my throat and suddenly scalding hot tears came into my eyes. The next thing, I was sobbing my heart out. I just couldn't stop. I had a banging headache afterwards but the lump was still there. I can still feel it when I swallow. It really upset mum.

Sometimes Mrs Kowalski tells me about her home and family in Poland. I asked her if she missed them and she said she did sometimes, but her life was here in England now. I've never been abroad. I've never even been on an aeroplane. My mum hasn't either. She always says that if God had meant us to fly he'd have given us wings!

My baby was beautiful, but she was pale and still. They let me hold her for a while and when I kissed her little face, it was as cold as marble. I didn't want to leave her there, she looked so lonely, but they said I had to say goodbye. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Now I'm lonely too and some days I want to be with her.

My mobile phone is buzzing round like an angry bee on the bedside table. I don't want to answer it. The vibrations are making it move around and it keeps chinking against my glass of water. It's annoying me. I'll have to answer it.

‘Oh hello Mum!'
‘Hello Love! Were you asleep?'
‘No, it's OK, you didn't wake me. I was just thinking about getting up anyway'

‘I thought you might like to come over and have some lunch with me later. I could do with the company.'

‘Well I hadn't thought of coming over today. I don't feel very sociable.'

‘Have you been feeling depressed love?'

‘No, not depressed exactly but I do feel a bit down. Mrs Kowalski's coming tomorrow to talk about Chantal. I feel I need to psyche myself up, if you know what I mean. Perhaps I'll pop round this afternoon if I feel up to it ‘

‘You do that love! I'll be looking out for you. Bye for now'

‘Yeah! See you later mum!'

I love the smell of my mum's house. It doesn't smell of chip fat, stale tobacco smoke and sweaty trainers like Gary's house. Gary's mum isn't very house-proud. When I step into the hall I get a wonderful scent of flowers and sometimes of the carrot cake that she likes baking. Gary used to love her home-made cakes. She didn't seem surprised when I told her he'd left me. It was like she expected it somehow. As soon as he found out I was expecting Chantal he was off! You couldn't see him for dust! Mum said some men were like that. They couldn't face up to the responsibility. I didn't blame him. He was only 22.

About six months ago I bumped into him with his new girl friend in Greenways supermarket. She didn't look more than about fifteen. She had dark roots showing through her dirty blonde hair. She didn't speak or smile or anything. She just stared at my lump with her small blue eyes. I was quite big by then. Gary said, ‘you look tired out'
It was true. The baby was very active at night, kicking and jumping around inside me. She often kept me awake. I didn't mind. I was so excited. Often, to pass the time when I couldn't sleep, I'd be planning how I'd dress Chantal, the toys I'd buy and the birthday parties there'd be. I imagined her in her school uniform with her hair in plaits and ribbons. She'd be holding my hand tightly as we walked through the school playground on her first day

Just for a moment I had a glimpse of what could have been, then Gary put his hand on my bump and said ‘Good luck!'
They wandered away into the other aisle, and it's funny, but I haven't seen either of them since.

My mum is sitting at the big, old, pine kitchen table with her nose practically pressed against an old laptop she bought second hand off the internet. She's on the internet 24/7. She lives her life on it. She loves buying and selling things on eBay. If anyone had ever told me my mother would become a whiz on the internet I never would have believed them. I'm hopeless with computers. I can just about send an email. I've no patience with it. If it doesn't do what I want I just get angry, start shouting and want to throw it out of the window. When she sees me, she smiles shyly. She's had some new false teeth and isn't used to them yet. We have a big hug. I can smell the scent she uses that she buys from Marks and Spencer. She smells of roses. I notice she's got a grey streak in her dark hair that she didn't have before. She's got shadows under eyes too. It's not just me that's suffering.

After lunch we sit in the conservatory for a while chatting, then mum says she wants to show me something. ‘I've been decorating your old bedroom, come upstairs and have a look and see what you think.'

My old room has been transformed. The walls have been painted the palest of pink and cream voile curtains flow down to the floor. The curtains are drawn against the late afternoon sun and the room is in semi-darkness. In the middle of the thick beige carpet is a white cot with an animal mobile spinning slowly back and forth. My stomach starts churning and my mouth is dry. I look at mum but she simply puts her fingers to her lips and nods at the cot. I tiptoe to the cot and look at the baby lying cushioned on a white polka dot quilt. She is dressed in a little pink Broderie Anglais dress and fluffy pink bootees to match. Her eyes, fringed with dark lashes, are closed and her tiny hands are raised, palms up, in an attitude of surrender above her head. The material of her dress billows out with the rhythm of her light breathing. After a while, I realise she looks exactly like Chantal. I want desperately for this little one to be my Chantal. I turn away confused. I try to disguise the sob caught in my throat with a cough. ‘Oh! She's so beautiful! Is it really chantal, mum?'
Mum has come up to the cot and puts her arm round me. ‘Yes', she whispers, ‘and she's all yours for ever!

It‘s such a sunny morning that I am taking Chantal for a walk in her new pram today. Lots of people have been stopping to look in the pram and admire her. She looks so sweet, fast asleep in her pink bonnet, her dark eyelashes brushing her velvety cheeks. We go in to the park, I sit down on the bench and with one hand on the pram, I start throwing some bread at the ducks. It‘s funny watching them splashing around; squawking, quacking and
standing on their heads in the water. There aren't many people about. Everybody's at work at this time of day. It's like we
almost have the park to ourselves. It‘s good to feel the warmth of the sun on my shoulders. I am sleeping much better these days. Even Mrs. Kowalski said how well I was looking when she came to see me yesterday. The lump in my chest has gone now. I think that was all the love I have for my baby. It was all wrapped up into a tight ball that was choking me. At night my chest was so tense I couldn't breathe. When mum brought back Chantal, that ball loosened and all the love spilled over from my heart into this little bundle.

I was so lost in thought I didn't notice that it had clouded over and the wind had got up, so we made our way back along the path towards the park gates. Rain started drizzling in the wind and I put my head down to stop my mascara getting wet. I didn't want it smudging round my eyes like a Panda. So I didn't see Gary walking towards me. He was with the small, thin girl with dyed blonde hair. They stopped when they saw me. They were blocking my path. Gary was smiling. ‘Let's see the little ‘un then.' He looked into the pram and then back at me. ‘My word! Is that our Chantal? She's amazin' ain't she?'
I was just going to answer him but I didn't get a chance because the blonde girl suddenly rushed forward and stared hard at the little figure sleeping there. Then, without warning, she reached into the pram and grabbed Chantal. She shook her violently and then, shockingly, threw her down on the floor with all her might.

‘It's a flippin' doll you idiot! It's one them baby dolls what they ‘ad on the telly the uvver night!,' she yelled. ‘Some mad old bag makes ‘em in a microwave in yankee land and ships ‘em over ‘ere.' Gary and I stared at her. Neither of us could speak. ‘It ain't real, yer morons. Yer buys ‘em off the internet!' she screamed. She stared wild eyed at each of us in turn. She walked up to me and put her face close to mine. ‘You're off your ‘ead you are. You wants a bloody Witch Doctor you do! ' she shrieked, showering me with spittle. Then she turned and ran off down the path.

Chantal's head had become separated from her body and one of her arms and a leg lay in the dirt. Her pretty pink dress was covered in grass stains. Gary picked them up carefully, put them in the pram, and covered them up. ‘We can get her mended. We'll just have to take her to the doll's hospital', he said with a grin and started to push the pram. He turned to me, ‘Well, are you coming then?'

The right of Rusty Gladdish to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

The Sloth Diaries Barbarella and Kenton

April 12th, 2008

 The Sloth Diaries  Barbarella and Kenton

Barbarella and Kenton

I get back all sweaty and tired from feeding my friend's cats and walking his dog only to catch the last trills of the telephone as I come down the path. I kick off my shoes in the hall while it sputters into answer phone mode. A high female, child -like voice fills our tiny living room.

'Hello you two! Just a quick call to ask if you’d like to go the beach today. It's such a lovely day, we’ll call in and pick you up in half an hour,' she said breathily. I stare at the phone warily and decide not to interrupt the message. Blast! I know it will be almost impossible to get out of it without offending her. The machine whistles and clicks to signal the end of the message then falls silent, its red eye winking conspiratorially.

She is right though. It’s a fabulous morning. The sun shines on the kitchen windows lighting up the streaks and smears and the thin layer of dust on the bookshelves. Glancing up I can see a skein of cobwebs festooning the ceiling. I don't really feel in the mood for housework. Does anyone?

Don’t get me wrong! Barbarella and Kenton are a lovely couple. They’re so generous and kind and full of fun and have been described by some in the village pub (rather unkindly) as the oldest swingers in town. They make a very handsome couple when out walking together. They are both diminutive, but immaculately dressed. Barbarella in her gold sandals, toenails twinkling with purple pearl nail polish and her long, straight hair dyed a fiery red. However, a lifetime of heavy smoking and soaking up the sun has taken its toll. Tiny lines criss -cross her face, deep creases run from her nose to mouth, so often turned down in repose. The watchful green eyes behind the steel rimmed glasses are rather faded and crow’s feet nestle in the outer corners.
Despite her pint sized appearance Barbarella is a feisty lady and has been known to give rein to some pretty spectacular rages if she believes she's been crossed. (Which is pretty much all of the time!!?) Paranoia strikes deep!

Naturally Kenton is very proud of her and doesn’t seem to notice these tiny imperfections. He is fiercely protective whenever there’s an altercation with anyone who doesn’t quite agree with her opinions. (It’s more than his life’s worth!!) Tradesmen, shopkeepers, villagers and friends alike, and there lies the rub. They just don't seem to have any friends. He's got masochistic tendencies and is brutally tactless and she tends towards Sado- hysterical paranoia, 'Nobody in this village likes me! I've never done anything to them!!' Well! A desire to indulge in cunning game playing and absurd, inappropriate flirting with unsuspecting husbands is no pre-requisite to a lasting friendship with female friends. Loyalty and respect has to be earned. Ah well!

Kenton loves sports clothes. Smart navy polo shirts and matching navy tracksuit bottoms are the order of the day. The whole outfit complimented by snow- white trainers. Although, actually taking part in any kind of sport is against everything that he holds dear. All that pounding the pavements in the pouring rain, and getting home soaked stinking of sweat. Collapsing with fatigue and covered in mud. What does it really achieve except make one feel terribly ill! Besides, Kenton doesn’t have to worry about his figure. He’s slim but not muscular. For a man pushing 60 he reckons he looks pretty good with a full head of thick, coarse black hair, courtesy of Grecian 2000 (well who’s to know?) and a heavy moustache on his upper lip as thick as a stork’s nest. Besides, the ladies like a moustache. He thinks it makes him look romantic and macho. You know what I mean, a bit like Charles Bronson! Or Vlad the impaler! Take your pick!

Poor Kenton! He's such a sensitive soul. Living under the cosh of a controlling wife isn't doing him any favours at all. He once confided to the Sloth over a couple of pints of Guinness that when Barbarella's on the warpath he takes to his bed for days, pleading depression. He threatens do a runner one day. That of course, takes a lot of cojones and the Sloth isn't completely confident he could pull it off!
'Why don't you stand up to her?' asks the puzzled Sloth.
'It’s not that easy. She's got ways of getting back at me. She'll hide all my booze and fags. I used to talk to this bloke in Birmingham on the internet y'know. He's an electric train freak like me. He came with his wife for a visit last summer. We went
to an electric train fayre and we all got on famously. Barbie was charm personified and we
Said that we'd keep in touch by email. Well time went by and I realised I hadn't heard from Billy for a while, in fact there were quite a few cyber friends I hadn't heard from. Barbie said he must be busy. Then the other day Billy appeared on the doorstep. He was on his way back home from a conference in our area so he thought he'd pop over and see us. Very sociable chap is Billy'
Kenton Pauses to take a deep draft of his Guinness, taking care to flick the cream off his moustache.
'Anyway', he continues, 'Billy wanted to show me a new website on the old computer so we went in to my cubbyhole to check it out. Billy's a bit of a whiz on the computer. Not like me! That's why I call him Billy Whiz!! Geddit!!' He then proceeded to laugh uproariously at is own joke. The Sloth nods encouragingly.
'Anyway, after a bit of fiddling it didn't take old Bill to realise that his address was on the 'block sender' list, along with a few other mates of mine.

The Sloth shakes his head in disbelief and sits staring glumly into the depths of his Guinness
'I don't know how you put up with it. What did she say when you tackled her?'

'Not a lot really. Made some excuse about not wanting people to trouble me and make me anxious'
The Sloth gives him an old fashioned look and holds out his hand, 'Gives us your glass mate, it's my round!’


I can hear the sound of the front door slamming shut and a clumping of trainers falling onto the floorboards in the hall. The Sloth is back from his morning Jog. Large dark patches stain the back and under arms of his blue T shirt and strands of gingery hair are plastered over his head. Fine droplets of sweat run down his face, pink with exertion. He grins good- humouredly and bends down to kiss the top of my head. I breathe in his scent. Sloth is such a tactile soul! Part of his charm!

'I'm going for a shower' he mumbles into my hair. Then, over his shoulder as he heads for the bathroom, 'Did you put the sausages on?'

'Er..... No. I was just going to tell you. It looks like we're going out for lunch with Barbarella and Kenton.'

His face darkens. 'Oh God! Can't you ring her back and say we can't make it?'

'No, it's too late. They're on their way round here. Now go and get in that shower!'

‘But I’ve got plans for this afternoon…I…..’he trails off miserably when he sees my face.

A day out with Barbarella and Kenton is often both eventful and exhausting. This morning, the men sit in the back of Kenton's dusty old Ford, circa 1989, like naughty schoolboys, farting nervously and competing to see who can tell the dirtiest jokes! I sit at the front with the driver who sits on two cushions so that her gold sandals will reach the pedals and so that she can see over the top of the steering wheel. After barking orders sharply to the men in the back seat we set off for the great Welsh seaside adventure.

We arrive at the little seaside town of Mumbles. I always used to wonder why it was called such an odd name and speculated it was because of the sound the waves made as they lapped the shore or the echoes round the bay of the foghorns from the fishing trawlers in the winter. Its name is in fact derived from the French word ‘Mamelles’ which means breasts, well, it had to be didn’t it! It refers to the two islets that rise from the sea and are quite visible from the terrace of our favourite restaurant on the hill. In his lifetime, the famous poet, Dylan Thomas, referred to it with much ironic affection. However, I think this piece of local culture has passed Barbarella by and she is frantic to find a shop that sells her favourite lipstick because she’s left her lippy at home!

The whole town has an aura of the 1950s about it. Low key and still relatively un- spoiled. The beaches are empty and the ice cream seller looks rather forlorn. The children have deserted him and have returned to school. No doubt this will come as a relief to Barbarella. Children are a total anathema to her. She could never see the point of them let alone understand why women give birth to them. Such a messy and humiliating business. Then there was the sheer drudgery of bringing them up, not to mention the expense.

She has the privilege of being an only child. Spoiled and petted, attention was lavished on her by adoring parents. She has become addicted to it and as an adult continues to crave it. She certainly doesn't want children vying with her for attention. She wants to be the total focus of everyone she meets. Everything must revolve around her. She is after all, unique!

However, all is well with our princess Barbarella at the moment. She's in a good mood as she swings the big unwieldy car round those tight bends. The sun is shining and everything is under control. Her control! She slips a CD into the player and the voice of Elaine Paige fills the car at an earsplitting volume. Barbarella immediately begins a duet, her pitting her thin voice tunelessly against the strong vibrato of Andrew Lloyd Webber's most illustrious musical star. Never mind that Barabarella is tone deaf and is incapable of carrying a tune in her head. The boys applaud timidly from the back seat anxious to keep our very own diva sweet.

We all heave a sigh of relief when the restaurant heaves into view. It’s perched on top of a hill overlooking the sea. The Sunny terraces are facing the glittering ocean and have wonderful views. Our usual seats on the terrace are available so we seat ourselves under the gaily striped parasols. The Sloth clearly has designs on the bar and probably on the little waitress in the revealing top with her bottle blonde hair falling seductively over one eye, gazing quizzically over at our group. Barbarella is already issuing orders at Kenton who meekly stands to attention.

'I need a drink after all that driving! Go and get me fizzy lemonade Kenton, and don't forget the ice and lemon like you usually do’, she snaps. Kenton sighs, shoulders now sloping dejectedly. 'Right away my precious'
The Sloth puts a supportive arm round Kenton's now drooping shoulders and gently guides him in the direction of the bar for some much needed alcoholic therapy.

Barbarella and I decide we're definitely feeling peckish and each of us chooses a meal from the menu. In spite of her slender child's frame, Barbarella has the appetite of a Brickie on a building site! She chooses several pasta dishes and a large sticky desert to follow for both herself and Kenton.
She leans back in her chair, yawns and stretches luxuriously, sticking out her well padded bosom obviously enhanced with 'chicken fillets'! Kenton, she confides, loves 'breasts’ and she of course is rather deficient in that department. So she enlists the help of one of the latest accessories for the discerning woman and treats herself to some very realistic inserts for her bra!! Now, voila! Instant pneumatic success.

'But you don't have that problem, do you?’ she chirps. I smile enigmatically.

'Mind you, my mother was a big woman like you. She always got so depressed when she couldn't get clothes to fit her'
I bare my teeth in what I hope looks like a grin.
The men come shuffling over to the table each bearing a wobbling tray, heavily laden with bottles of beer, glasses of Guinness and the soft drinks for the 'ladies'.
The men sit down arms akimbo and legs stretched out for any unsuspecting waiters to trip over. I notice that they're are Smirking furtively at each other and divine they're sharing some dirty joke or have been comparing notes about Angelina!!

Barbarella smiles sweetly at the Sloth and keeping her eyes on his face puts her short legs up on the nearby terrace wall and raises her skirts in what she believes to be a seductive manner. She reveals enough cellulite to recoat an orange and varicose veins that stand out like bunches of grapes. The Sloth smiles at her weakly then leans forward in my direction.
'Have you ordered yet?' I ask.

'Well no. I don’t know what you want.'

I'll have the fish'
'Me too'
The Sloth waves the menu vaguely in the air and this is the signal for a tall, gangling boy to come over to our table. He brushes his fair hair out of his eyes and with trembling fingers takes out a little notebook and a stub of pencil.

Yessir! What you like? He blurts.
‘We’d like Haddock and chips please’ said the Sloth gently.
He scribbles own the order and turns to go. Then suddenly Barbarella takes off her enormous sunglasses and calls over to him.
‘I want to change my order. We’ll have the fish too!’
The waiter’s youthful brow becomes as furrowed as a ploughed field.
‘Yes, Madame’ he murmurs.
‘You’re not English are you?’ She drawls
‘No Madame, I from Poland’ He stands proudly to attention when he says this.
The Sloth looks up and asks him, ‘Where is your town in Poland?’
He gives a little bow and says, ‘Krakow sir’
‘It’s a beautiful city’, says the Sloth ’Wonderful architecture’
‘You can go there sir?’ the boy says excitedly.
‘No, but I’ve seen it on TV’
‘You spik Polak sir?’
‘No, but I speak Russian……’
‘I too….’
To the waiter’s delight the Sloth then engages in a little Russian conversation. Although the Sloth has extremely long fingernails (the envy of many of our women friends) and hair to match on occasions, he is possessed of a gift for languages. He can converse with ease in Russian, German, French, Spanish and Welsh too, look you!

Barbarella however, is totally unimpressed with the linguistic abilities of the Sloth and sees them as an unnecessary interruption to her lunch. She begins rattling her knife and fork on the table like a couple of swords.
‘Are we getting any food today?’ she asks pointedly.
‘Very well Madame’ says the waiter and blushing profusely, hurries off to the kitchens.

Barbarella has just reached the punch line of an extremely long winded and confusing joke, when the food arrives. Kenton and the Sloth fall on theirs like a couple of starving wolves. She picks over her food, irritably moving it around with her fork.
‘This isn’t what I ordered’ she growls. ‘And it’s stone cold!’ Her eyes sweep around the terrace like a heat seeking missile trying to winkle out the hapless waiter. Her strident voice rents the air as she yells ‘Waiter!’ Some diners glance up from their plates and gaze curiously in our direction.

The waiter comes to the table and bows. ‘There is something wrong Madame?’
‘Barbarella wastes no time. ‘This isn’t what I ordered’ she pipes.
‘But you ask for the fish Madame’
‘Tell me’ she says, ‘How long have you been in this country?’
The waiter hangs his head unhappily. ‘Three weeks Madame’
‘Three weeks! Don’t they have fish in your country ‘cos this isn’t fish, Oh no! It’s bloody pasta!!! Her voice rises to a high pitched shriek that gets everyone's attention.
Our table is now the focus of the entire restaurant. Kenton stops, his fork loaded with food halfway to his mouth, clearly struck dumb. The Sloth and I keep our heads down, concentrating on our food as if our lives depended on it.
‘I change Madame, no probs!’ The waiter whisks the plate away and rushes back to the kitchens before Barbarella can say another word. A murmur ripples round the terrace from the other diners who sensing a showdown, no longer see any reason to be discreet and have downed their cutlery. They now sit looking over at our table expectantly. They don’t have long to wait.
The waiter returns to the table and with a flourish, places a plate of piping hot food in front of Barbarella. ‘It is good now Madame, yes?’
She bends her head towards the plate and sniffs. ‘This fish is off’
‘Yes, Off, O-F-F off!! Smell it for God’s sake’
The waiter bends down beside her and tries to sniff the food, he jerks back, somehow bringing the plate with him and depositing the hot food neatly into Barbarella’s lap! She gives out a high pitched shriek as the heat burns through her skirt and scalds her thighs. She leaps to her feet.
‘You stupid idiot! Look what you’ve done! This is a designer skirt. It cost me a fortune and now it’s ruined!’
‘Oh dear! I so sorry Madame! Plis! I help you!’ the poor, harassed waiter tries to mop her skirt with his cloth. Kenton rushes to her aid with a paper serviette and begins to dab ineffectually at her skirt. The Sloth meanwhile, is making a superhuman effort to remain in control, although I notice that he’s very pink and his shoulders are shaking in silent mirth. I on the other hand try to be helpful and throw a glass of mineral water onto the affected part. This at least will cool down the burning sensation. However, Barbarella is incandescent with rage.’ Get the manager. Get me the bloody manager now! I want compensation for this’ she mutters menacingly!
The waiter stands by helpless, powerless but philosophical.
The commotion has attracted the attention of the owner of the restaurant, a tall figure, who comes rushing to our table all false smiles and useless offers. He listens patiently to her angry explanation. ‘, and I want him sacked. He’s useless! He brought the wrong food, with the wrong sauce and then he tipped it all over my designer skirt!’ she ranted.
‘Why the hell can’t you employ English waiters?’
The manager gave her his best and most oleaginous smile. ‘This is an Italian restaurant Madame; most of the waiters are Italian. They speak good English, but we do employ a few Polish waiters. They are so much more respectful and reliable than English waiters.’
There is no answer to this. The manager is however, magnanimous and clearly believes the in the old adage, ‘the customer is always right’ ‘Allow me to bring an a la carte menu Madame, and you and your party can choose anything you like with wine. The compliments of the house.’ This seems to pacify Barbarella. This and the sight of the manager taking the poor Polish waiter roughly by the arm for what was obviously going to be a king size bollocking. I expect the poor chap was on the minimum wage too! Life is too cruel sometimes.

The right of Rusty Gladdish to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The Sea of Trees

April 12th, 2008

The Sea of Trees

And judgement and justice
Are what we must face
If our lives have been selfish
And lacking in grace.

A fragment from the epic poem Seasonal Affective Disorder By Simon R. Gladdish

Sheltering below the glacial beauty of the great Mount Fuji is the ancient Aikogahara forest. It is a mystical place full of myth and legend. It is said that because of the magnetic composition of the soil, compasses do not give accurate readings; so many people never find their way out.

Their spirits roam the forest wailing in the winds that blow through the mighty trees. Here in the roaring silence of these archaic woods people come to end their lives. The Aikogahara has become the most famous venue in Japan for committing suicide. The sad and senseless evidence of wasted lives is to be found throughout the woods. Some partly decomposed bodies hang from trees while others are strewn across the forest floors like so many broken, discarded dolls. The Aikogahara council makes regular forays into the forest to collect the bodies, where they are removed and taken to a hut and laid to rest.
Part one: The beginning of the end

It looked like a simple butcher’s knife. She had been slicing the chicken with it only yesterday morning. Then, it had been stained with the blood of the unfortunate bird. She gave a shiver as she remembered that when she washed it under the tap, blood and bits of flesh formed a little red puddle in the white enamel sink. Now, Yoko held that knife firmly. Dark red blood dripped from the point, stippling the leaves of the low growing bushes.

Except for the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves of the tall trees, the forest was silent. The great trees of the Aokigahara forest strained upwards towards the sunlight but their lichen covered roots writhed along the floor like an ocean of snakes. Yoko looked down at her husband. His body, in its white short- sleeved shirt and beige linen chinos slumped awkwardly against a tree. A dark red stain had spread across his stomach. His head had fallen forward. His sad brown eyes with their puzzled expression, were now hidden from view. She looked wildly around her still gripping the knife. The patches of blue sky visible through the trees became grey and a chilly breeze moaned through the wood, making the branches snap and creak. Yoko gazed at the bloodstained knife in her hand as if she was seeing it for the first time. She raised it to her throat and pressed the tip against her neck. Then a cry of despair escaped her lips, slicing into the stillness and ringing like a bell of bad omen round the hushed, quiescent forest. She began to shake uncontrollably and the knife dropped from her fingers.

A fine drizzle filtered through the spring green canopy overhead and began to soak into her thin silk blouse. Tiny spots of blood speckled her hands and arms and her collar. She stood for a moment, her body trembling. The spell was broken when she was suddenly startled by the distant sound of voices in another part of the woods. Without a backward glance at Noburo she turned and plunged forward into the dense shrubs.
Waves of undulating branches met over her head and she disappeared from view.

Part Two: Noburo:

When Noburo opened his eyes the room was so black, that for a moment he felt like a blind man must feel. He was faced with complete nothingness. There was only a suffocating darkness without shape, form or colour. He lay there for a few seconds, eyes wide, staring into the negative space. Then he got out of bed and stood in front of the window. He was at a loss to know why he'd woken. He glanced at the red digits on his bedside clock. It was 5.55am. He could hear Yoko breathing in the room next door through the paper -thin partition. She lay on a futon on the floor submerged in a narcotic slumber, weighted down by a heavy quilt.

He raised the blinds gently and looked up at the sky studded with myriad stars and wondered. He wondered why Yoko didn't sleep with him any more and he wondered why he didn't dream these days. He used to dream vividly every night and be able to recount them in great detail to Yoko the next morning. Nowadays, his sleep was broken and troubled.

It had been a shock when his boss had called him into the office and had given him the news of his early retirement, murmuring something about ‘restructuring’. Outwardly he had been calm and reasonable, refusing to betray the turbulent emotions that churned his guts. That night in the bar, he shared the bad news with his friends. They were sympathetic but some had already been awarded ‘the seat by the window’ (passed over for promotion, but not formally laid off) after a lifetime’s work. It was an ominous sign of the times.

On the train home Noburo sat staring impassively at the floor. After drinking numerous glasses of Sake he still wasn’t drunk. He still wasn’t sufficiently anesthetized to tell Yoko that after forty years service he was no longer employed by the Fujitsu Insurance Company. He felt abandoned and isolated. It was as though he had suddenly lost his parents and left an orphan. It was almost like bereavement. Fujitsu Insurance had been his life and now it was over. Noburo mourned its passing.

He had been with the company since he left university. As an only child, his parents had been delighted. From the tender age of three Noburo’s professional life had been mapped out. He was to become a salary man like his father before him. His parents made sure he went to the best schools that would ensure his entry into a top university. This was a secure and respected position and was guaranteed for life. Once he had joined the Fujitsu insurance firm it immediately became his life. He was an intelligent and astute man and by securing several new contracts every month he showed how invaluable he could be. In return he was methodically trained in all aspects of the different departments. On his way to ‘enlightenment’ and ultimately, a high salary, he made many friends. Young, enthusiastic men like himself. They trod the same path, working, eating and socialising together. They worked late into the night, and by means of release from the day’s drudgery, caroused in the bars downtown into the early hours.

Noburo’s diligence, determination and popularity with his peers came to the attention of his superiors and he was selected for promotion. He was made divisional general manager. The company swallowed him whole and became his ‘family.’ Like all families, the firm continued to make more and more demands on his time until he was working late every night. When he arrived home the apartment was in darkness except for the little night light in the hall and Yoko was in bed asleep. When he left for work early the next morning she had hardly stirred. Their precious weekends were often sacrificed to the golf course where he conducted important business deals. However, unquestioning loyalty to his employers meant that he remained uncritical of their procedures. On the brief occasions he had time to reflect, usually on the last train home, he wondered if by surrendering his will so completely to the company he had sacrificed some part of his relationship with Yoko.

Sometimes he felt as though he was sleepwalking through life. His recent retirement meant that the luxury of life’s certainties were no longer in place. The comfortable predictability of routine had dissolved into days without purpose. Yawning gaps appeared between his daily rituals. Weeks stretched into infinity of euni. His work had been everything to him. He felt somehow diminished. His status as a man, the provider, the head of the household, was being gradually eroded by the removal of his job.
He stood there shrouded in silence, clenching and unclenching his fists, overwhelmed with feelings of impotence.

Sighing heavily he slid open the window. An icy stream of air slipped into the room. Impervious to the wintry blast he gazed out at the neon vista and the stark silhouettes of the trees caught in the sodium glare of the streetlights. His eyes strayed back to the clock. It was 6.05am. The Tokyo express would be speeding towards the city now, packed with salary men, faces ashen with fatigue, leaning against each other for support. Gearing up for another marathon of a day, which would end in the early hours in a sushi bar with sake -soaked colleagues or succumbing to the charms of a young Geisha.

He shivered and turned away from the window. He got dressed quickly and padded into the kitchen.
He opened the fridge and took out a bottle of milk. He sat hunched at the table absently drinking out of the bottle, the fridge door swinging open. The light from inside the fridge cast an eerie glow over his solitary figure. An overwhelming feeling of loneliness suddenly descended upon him from nowhere and settled heavily on his shoulders.
On the fridge door among an assortment of magnets was a photo of a little boy with dark brown eyes creased up in a child’s innocent laughter. Yoko doted upon her little nephew and had photographs of him all over the house. She had been unable to have children. It had been a bitter blow to them both. To ease the pain Yoko had thrown herself into her job. Books had always been important to her. The shelves on the walls of their house were groaning with books. They were her drug, her escape, her refuge and her consolation. So when she was offered a part time job at the local library she took it without hesitation.

As long as she was happy that was all that mattered. He only wanted the best for her. That’s why he had worked so hard for so long. He wanted give her a large house with good quality furniture. Unlike his parent’s modest apartment which was so small and cramped. Once, when he was home for a rare weekend, Yoko held a birthday party. Their usually quiet house vibrated with western music and rang with female laughter. Young women chattered like a flock of magpies and some sang along to the music in their thin high voices. He had felt awkward but secretly proud. So proud that he had been able to provide Yoko with a beautiful house and garden to entertain her friends. Bowing and smiling, he had discreetly withdrawn into the study. It seemed such a long time ago.

Now that he had more time at home Yoko was never there. He had to admit that they had been leading separate lives for many years but that could all change. Now he was at home they could spend more time together. If only he could rekindle the flame that once sparked their love. She was so different to the girl he married all those years ago. She had been so shy and demure and anxious to please him. Now he felt he no longer knew her. At first he thought he it was his imagination when she seemed to be trying to avoid him. What with her job and her numerous classes and meetings she was hardly ever in the house. They almost never ate together anymore or enjoyed each other’s company. Sometimes he arrived at the apartment very late. Yoko was already in bed fast asleep, but he never stayed out all night like some of his colleagues. They often spent the night in an alcoholic haze, cocooned in the coffin- sized containers of the Capsule hotels, having missed the last train home.

They were like strangers sharing the apartment. He felt cast adrift, coasting along on his own. It was too hard. He needed her. He was no good on his own and knew he couldn’t function. Yoko had always organized everything. He sat for a moment, his head in his hands. Then an idea suddenly struck him, lighting up the dark, despairing corners of his mind. They would go on a little holiday together. When they had first married Yoko had wanted to take a holiday at Mt. Fuji. He had booked a room at the hotel for them both but he was suddenly called in to work, an emergency had arisen. He could not refuse. The company took priority over his family commitments. They did not go and Yoko never mentioned Mt Fuji again.

The sound of a door quietly closing broke into his thoughts. He could hear Yoko moving around the apartment. He decided to try and prepare her breakfast as a surprise.

Part Three: Yoko

Yoko stepped gingerly out of the shower onto the rubber mat. She was afraid of slipping on the wet tiles and hurting herself, exactly like her friend Mitsouko. While stepping out of the shower Mitsouko had slipped and fallen, cracking her thin skull like an eggshell on the unyielding, wet tiles. Her body lay undiscovered for three days until her husband Yukio arrived home from his business trip and found her lying, cold and stiff on the bathroom floor in a pool of congealed blood. The smell was indescribable, he had confided to Noburo over a few strong cognacs. Mitsouko's sister-in-law came to clean their apartment but the odour of death still hung about the place. No. She wouldn't like to die like that. Not completely alone and without anyone to even say a prayer at the Shinto shrine for her.

On the occasion of her fiftieth birthday she had suddenly become aware of her own mortality. She felt had reached a great age. Half a century. This should have been the milestone of maturity createed by the wealth of her experience. She had always been slim and agile and full of energy. Noburo said that even now she had the face and body of a much younger woman. But with the onset of age she began to feel that her powers of energy and stamina were fading. She was a like a battery that was running down. She was becoming weaker and losing power. Uncontrollable feelings of anxiety and confusion would suddenly overwhelm her. Dr Noguchi told her that she was showing symptoms of the menopause and gave her some pills to mask the symptoms.
They seemed to help for a while but lately she had felt a slow tension building up inside her. Inexplicable fires of anger raged deep inside her and there were days when she felt as though her entire life was coming undone and hanging in threads just like the medieval tapestry that Noburo had given her for her birthday. Other days she felt confused and isolated.

She stepped up to the full length mirror and studied her naked body. She frowned at the slim figure reflected there. Her breasts were small but full and with prominent rosy nipples now fully erect after her shower. She sighed and began gently kneading her breasts, feeling for the dreaded lumps but thankfully found nothing. She considered herself luckier than her best friend Mariko. One rainy night Mariko had been driving home through the slick, wet streets when suddenly a dog ran out in front of her car. As she skidded and braked hard, she struck her chest on the steering wheel. Some months later she began to feel sharp pains in her breast. After some tests the hospital discovered a large lump in her breast which resulted in a partial mastectomy.
This proved to be a disaster for Mariko. She was a proud and attractive woman with a beautiful body. Her husband loved to show her off to his friends. For him, she was the perfect woman. After the operation she became depressed and refused to go out. Her husband was impatient with her. Then one day he took a mistress. Poor Mariko felt utterly worthless. He came home late one night to find Mariko half-lying on their new cream leather sofa. Her wrists slit open like bloody mouths spewing blood all down their new shiny leather sofa. Yes, she should be grateful she was still intact.

She stood there shivering and dripping water onto the tiles. She put her head on one side to shake the water from her ears, and long her black hair swung away from her face. She could hear Noburo moving around the house. She took a thick, towel and briskly rubbed herself dry, then she folded the towel carefully over the rail. She went towards the bedroom to get dressed but paused as though she had forgotten something. She went back to the bathroom. She checked that she had switched off the shower and refolded the towel with great care over the rail. She gave the towel a last caress, smoothing it with her hands. She held her hands out in front and stared at them curiously as if they didn't belong to her. They trembled slightly. She went to the washbasin and began to wash her hands vigorously under the tap. The water was very hot and was scalding her hands a dark, angry red but she didn't seem to notice. She dried her hands roughly then folded the towel over the rail once more patting it gently. Then she walked into her bedroom and began to get dressed. She could hear Noburo making tea in the kitchen. He moved about the house quietly trying not to disturb her.

Noburo had laid the breakfast table with great care. Gleaming porcelain bowls and sparkling silverware bought on a trip to London nestled on a snowy white damask tablecloth bought while on holiday in Italy. In pride of place stood the large white teapot with the bamboo handle, a present from his parents. Near Yoko's plate he had placed a jar of English marmalade and her elegant Worcester porcelain teacup . She loved all things English, and even kept some loose-leafed Twinnings breakfast tea in a tin with a picture of Buckingham palace on it.

Yoko took her place at the table like a guest at a wedding feast. Noburo poured tea into her little cup. I'thought we could take a holiday together. We could take a trip up Mt Fuji and then there’s the Aikogahara forest. It’s a very ancient wood. There are many beautiful, rare trees. I’ve always wanted to take a look around there.’

Yoko looked up, ‘The Aokigahara Forest? Isn’t that the place where people go to die?’

‘Yes, I’ve heard the stories, but it is an interesting place. I must say I’m very curious. I should like to see if it’s all true!

‘How morbid’, she shuddered

'You're being very negative Yoko', Noburo murmured. 'Mt Fuji is a fabulous place and is a truly wonderful sight in the Spring, especially with all the trees in blossom. Besides, Hashimoto has half shares in a very elegant hotel in the area. Most of the rooms have panoramic views of Fuji san and it's full of Gajin all the year round.'

She scratched absently at the raw, scaly patches on her hands.
'But what about my English classes? Mr Andrew is preparing us for the exam. It's in two weeks time.'

'That's no problem. We could leave on Friday afternoon and return next Saturday. You'd be back in plenty
of time for your exam!'

Yoko gazed out at the terrace now bathed in Spring sunshine. The weeping cherry he'd planted to mark her thirtieth birthday was smothered in pale pink flowers.

She sighed heavily. She threw up one last weak excuse. 'It'll be very crowded, it always is at blossom time.'
'C'mon Yoko', pleaded Noburo. We need a little holiday. We need to spend some time together. Since my retirement I hardly ever see you. You're out every day, all day.'

She lowered her head guiltily over her cereal bowl. Then she raised her eyes level with his.

'Noburo, I have great respect and admiration for you. You've worked so hard to give me everything but our lives have become separated somehow. Now I have my own friends, hobbies and interests. I have my own life!'

What a pretty speech. You use the words 'respect' and 'admiration' but not the word 'love'! Noburo's voice shook with emotion.
He stared at the sink and noticed a tile coming loose from the splash back. If he didn't replace it they would all come loose and fall off. He felt that Yoko had lifted up the edge of the secure marriage they had together and was pushing her finger under the emotional adhesive, working it loose little by little.

He prised his eyes from the tiles and let them wander over the bookshelves laden with hundreds of books from floor to ceiling. His vinyl collection of Western classical music boasted titles such as La Boheme, Aida, Tosca, Bizet's Carmen. He loved opera. Yoko didn't. 'The voices are all mixed up and discordant' she complained once.
He rested his eyes kindly on Yoko again. She was still a very attractive woman. He noticed she seemed thinner, her face was becoming gaunt and pale, yet she was busier and more energetic than ever.
Yoko studied the bottom of her empty teacup. The she gave a little sigh. She didn't want to go into any more protracted explanantions so she said
'Well alright. When I come back from my English class I'll pack some things. As you pointed out, there'll be lots of Gagin to practise my English with'
'That's settled then. I'll ring Hashi to reserve us a room.' He smiled widely at her like a trusting child.

In the distance he could hear the high pitched wine of the Tokyo Express whistling along the tracks way below their house and he echoed the sound by humming an aria from his favourite opera as he began to clear away the breakfast dishes.

To be continued........