Story a Day for a Week in May…6

Ed

Goodness! I’m nearly there!

It’s time for story No.6 in my Story a Day for a Week in May stint.

Yesterday, my story introduced you to Jayne, the main protagonist in ‘Flying Free’, the novel I am preparing for publication next…when I’m not getting sidetracked by writing short stories, writing my blog, networking and doing all the necessary things to build a platform to launch it from. 

Today, I thought I’d take you back to another of my WIP, working title ‘Have You Seen My Daughter?’, and another character who has a part to play in it. You already met Mirabelle a couple of days ago when she bought her pint of milk..or, rather didn’t! Remember? Mirabelle set out to buy milk and a fresh cream eclair, got sidetracked and went home without them.

Now I’d like to introduce you to Kay who didn’t set out to buy milk…

***

Emotional Freedom Technique for Beginners

By

Christine Campbell

 

Kay consulted her Edinburgh A-Z. Yes, this was the street, Broughton Street, not somewhere she’d been before, though she’d often enough been in the area. With the John Lewis store only a few hundred yards away and the Playhouse Theatre not much more, she’d probably parked here sometime without noting the name on the corner.

She walked down, counting out the numbers on the grey stone tenement buildings till she found the one she needed. Yes, this was it.

Her heart started racing. She tried to remember what she’d learned from a book she’d bought a few weeks ago. Aware she was on the verge of another breakdown, knowing she needed help but reluctant to go to the doctor again, she sought out the book she’d heard of on the radio: ‘Emotional Freedom Technique’. It taught her the calming benefits of tapping on acupressure points in conjunction with affirmative statements. It seemed to help.

   So, deep breaths; start tapping. She looked around. Various people sauntered or swept up and down the street, making it too busy, too public for the full EFT routine. Huddling against the wall away from close scrutiny, she closed her eyes for the sake of concentration and settled for surreptitious tapping, without speaking out loud the accompanying affirmations. The side of her hand; ‘Even though my heart is pounding, I accept and respect myself’, she whispered mentally. Her temples: ‘Even though.’ Between her brows: ‘I accept,’ Under her nose: ‘and respect,’ The dip between lip and chin: ‘myself.’

“Excuse me!” The man stood back, his key in hand, waiting to enter the stair.

“Oh! Sorry. I was, I was just…”

“Did you want in the stair?” He held the door open for her.

“Yes! Er, no. That is…”

“Suit yourself!” And he was gone, the heavy door swinging shut behind him.

Mentally kicking herself, she leant against the wall to ‘take a minute’ to let the pounding stop. Even in her distress, she could imagine how stupid she looked. Standing there like an idiot, tapping all over the place. The self-help book didn’t mention how to cope with public humiliation when in the throes of the routine. If it wasn’t that the damn therapy seemed to help, nothing could’ve induced her to make such a spectacle of herself.

There was a shop not far from the entrance to the flats. She dodged inside to collect her thoughts. It was a butcher shop. Kay was vegetarian. Bile rose to her throat at the smell of raw meat and she turned to leave, but her escape was cut off by someone else’s entrance into the shop, necessitating she move forward. Side-stepping, she came against a cool cabinet. Milk! She’d buy a pint of milk: buy escape, buy time. There were rows of cartons with writing of various colours in the refrigerated cabinet. After straightening each row, Kay selected the green-labelled, semi-skimmed milk, not because it’s what she wanted, but there was an extra carton in that row causing a lop-sided display.

When her purchase was complete and she left the shop and approached the door to the stair again. ‘I can do this! I can do this!’ Taking a deep breath, she scanned the intercom panel. Milligan, third floor, Flat no 3F2. Kay’s gloved hand shook as she reached for the buzzer: her whole body shook. Perhaps she was going to faint again. She took another deep breath and tightened her grey, belted coat closer round her thin frame. No, it was just the exertion of walking from the Centre car park and then trying to execute an intensely private routine in an eminently public setting. Idiot! That, and the abattoir scent of the butcher shop making her stomach churn, and the trembling that overtook her whenever she thought of the predicament she was in.

She could see herself: a shivering, shaking, frightened mouse, clutching a carton of milk to her chest. Everything about her was mousey: hair, clothes, pointy face, the ability to make herself disappear into the woodwork: the only drop of colour, the writing on the milk carton. When did the trap spring on her? How long had she trembled in its grip?

Willing herself to be calm, she tucked her neatly bobbed, mousey-brown hair behind her ear and buzzed.

Detective Inspector Burns had told her she’d need to keep buzzing up. ‘Mirabelle never answers first time,’ he’d said.

Mirabelle. Mirabelle Milligan. Quaint name. Kay smiled, imagining a sweet, old Miss Marple-type lady: twin-set and pearls, tweed skirt and brogues: running a Missing Person Bureau as a hobby. Probably didn’t answer at first because she couldn’t hear the buzzer. Kay kept her finger on longer this time.

“Step away from the buzzer!” the disconnected voice boomed through the intercom.

Kay jumped. “Sorry,” she said, her mouth up close, but carefully not touching, the dull metal grille. “I thought, perhaps you hadn’t…”

There was an angry buzz as the dark green, heavy wooden door was unlocked for her.

Yesterday’s gourmet delights had left their stale odours hanging in the still atmosphere of the stair and Kay wrinkled her nose in distaste. Curry had never been a favourite of hers.

At least the stair was clean, brightly painted and well-lit; though Kay declined the offer of support from the well-worn wooden banister, and climbed the stairs drawing her coat close to ensure it didn’t brush the walls.  ‘Even though…’ she mentally tapped all the acupressure points. Did it count if you only imagined the tap?

By the time she reached the third floor landing, she was calmer and she’d grown accustomed to the cloying smell. She tried out a deep breath before knocking the flat door. The deep breath made her dizzy. The bright red door swung open under her hand. She steadied herself and pushed it further in accord with someone’s shouted, “Just come in! It’s open!”

It was not Kay’s way to walk into someone’s home without being properly escorted, but she expected it to be office premises, so that moved the rules a little, and she found she could overlook the informality. Checking her low-heeled, mid-brown court shoes were clean, she stepped across the threshold.

But it wasn’t an office. The hallway was cheerfully decorated with every door a different colour and bright poppy wallpaper on the walls, the kind Kay might have expected in Miss Marple’s kitchen, and there were pictures on every wall. Pictures of children and families, all white teeth and happy hugs. Grandchildren, she guessed. Miss Marple’s children and grandchildren? But so many?

Then it dawned on her: these would be families reunited. Families Miss Marple—she must stop calling her that—families Mirabelle Milligan had reunited. She tried to guess who had gone missing in this one? The teenager possibly? She looked suitably shame-faced. And this one? The old lady? And who would Mirabelle Milligan be?

The same cheerful, round face appeared in some, in fact, in most, of the groups: a large, smiling, olive-brown face with deep, avocado-green eyes and unkempt, curly brown hair.

“Well? Are you coming in, or what?”

Kay turned, stepping back, catching her elbow on the edge of the still open door. “Sorry!” she said, rubbing the sore bit. “The photographs caught my eye.” She stooped to lift the unopened mail the door had pushed into a bundle at her feet. “I didn’t…” Her hand dropped to her side, still holding the letters. Twin-set and pearls, this was not! “Sorry!” She tried to control the break in her voice. “I was looking for Miss Marp… ehm… Ms Milligan.”

“Yes?”

Kay realised she was addressing the owner of the round, brown face with the bright, twinkling eyes; a colourful, commanding woman, against whom Kay felt very small, though she had the advantage of height. She doubted she’d ever be the mouse who roared at this lioness.

Mirabelle held out a plump, dimpled hand, be-ringed on every demanding finger. “Thank you,” she said with a nod towards her post.

“Oh! Yes! The letters!” Kay handed them over.

Mirabelle smiled briefly and wandered into what looked like an office of sorts.

There was a desk. Buried beneath piles of papers and empty coffee mugs, somewhere, the outline of a desk or a table was apparent. And there were at least two chairs, though it was hard to be sure because there were so many boxes and bundles of this and that and toilet rolls. Heaps of toilet rolls. Kay stared at the various pastel packets.

 Mirabelle stared straight at her. “You look as though there’s a bad smell under your nose, m’dear.” She added the letters to the general chaos and extended the same sparkling, silvered hand. “Mirabelle Milligan. Welcome to the Caribbean Carnival!” Instead of shaking it, she took Kay’s hand and twirled her round and under their arms, her body swaying to an internal rhythm. “There ain’t nuthin’ can be that bad you need such a l-o-n-g face.”

“Oh! I thought…” Kay was thrown by the unexpectedness of Mirabelle’s voice. Rather than the gentle, kindly, Miss Marple purr, here was a broad, strong, Edinburgh accent temporarily overlaid with a playful hint of the West Indies.  She held out the carton of milk.

Mirabelle took it without raising an eyebrow at the unexpected gift.

“I thought you… you…” Kay took a deep breath, tidied her tidy hair, clasped her still-gloved hands tightly together and fought for control of her voice. “DI Burns…” She coughed. “I expected, assumed you were a private detective or something.”

Mirabelle clicked her tongue, inclined her head and winked. “Or something,” she said. “It’s the ‘or something.’”

 

Story a Day for a Week in May…5

sunset storm brewing

 

Best Served Warm

By

Christine Campbell

 

It took three days for this particular pot of trouble to brew.

Mother always liked her tea left to brew for three minutes. “Just how I like it!” she’d say, and Jayne would glow with the approval.

But mother was sick. She’d been in bed for a week, hardly eating, hardly sleeping. She looked gaunt and haunted, black swellings under red eyes. She’d lost the baby. Three months into her pregnancy, she’d thought she was safe and had told Jayne. But she wasn’t safe. He hadn’t wanted another child.

“What can I bring you, Mum? What could you eat?”

Mother closed her eyes and turned away.

“Could I make you a warm drink? Hot milk and honey?”

A smile and a tired nod.

Jayne pulled on her boots, ransacked pockets and bags till she found enough loose change to buy a jar of honey. She had checked and knew there was a little milk in the fridge. “Back in a mo’,” she called through as she sped out the door.

Her steps faltered as she neared the corner shop, remembering past errands. ‘Please let it not be him! Please let it not be him!’ her heart pleaded. She had looked up in the dictionary some words she’d heard said about him by her older schoolmates. Words like ‘leer’ and ‘lechery’, ‘lust’ and ‘lascivious’: all ‘l’ words, all pertinent. He gave her the creeps.

But mother needed nourishment. She was fading away before her eyes.

With a last deep breath, Jayne pushed the shop door open. Her heart sank.

“Aha! And what can I give you today?” He came round the counter.

Jayne stepped away, her eyes searching frantically for the honey pots, before the ‘b’ reached her. “Honey!” She slammed it on the counter and counted out the exact money as indicated on the jar’s ticket.

“Not so fast! Not so fast,” he said, stepping between her and the door. “Don’t you want your change? The honey is on special offer…to special people.” He stepped in closer. “Here!” He fumbled in his trousers and took some money from his pocket. “Still warm.” His tongue was moist and pinkish-grey as he licked his leering lips. He tried to put the money in her jeans pocket.

Squirming away, Jayne grabbed it from his hand, dodged round him and made for the door, his hand on her bottom propelling her flight. With disgust, she pocketed the warm money. Oh! That she could afford the luxury of tossing it back at him! But Father had been on the booze for too many days already: there would be no money for Jayne and Mother this week.

Mother still hadn’t stopped bleeding. At first, she’d been able to hide it from Jayne, but when the packet of towels ran out and there was no money for more, she’d resorted to getting Jayne to tear up an old, threadbare sheet into strips. Under Mother’s instruction, she’d folded it into thick pads. Mother was bleeding so heavily. Jayne was becoming concerned about how often the sodden pads needed changing. It broke her heart to see the sadness on Mother’s face each time she staggered back from the bathroom, holding on to the furniture for support, her legs shaking, her body thinner and more bent each day.

Jayne wanted to call the doctor, but Mother warned her not to, “He wouldn’t like it,” she said. “Your dad, he wouldn’t like it.” And she turned her face into the pillow.

The next day, Jayne tried to tempt Mother with a little soup. She’d made it after she came in from school. A stock cube, a carrot and a potato: it’s all she could find. Mother tried a little but after a spoonful or two, she pushed the bowl away. “Anything?” she asked her mother. “Is there anything at all you feel you could manage? Hot milk and honey? A nice warm cup of tea?”

Mother smiled and patted her hand. “Tomorrow,” she said. “I’ll try tomorrow.”

“It’s Saturday tomorrow,” Jayne said. “I’ll be able to look after you better when there’s no school. Perhaps I could help you get a bit of a wash. Perhaps you’ll feel better for a bit of a wash.”

Jayne rose early on Saturday. She knew there was little chance of Father rolling in today. He’d probably be sleeping Friday night off at Billy’s flat. It was close enough to the pub that they could both fall into it without needing a taxi. Just a lean on one another, a stumble or two and they’d be there.

True to her word, she filled a basin with warm water and helped Mother have a wash. With long, tender strokes, she brushed the tangles from her hair after helping her put on a clean nightie. “There!” she said. “Doesn’t that feel better?”

“Yes, pet, it does. It really does. But I need to sleep now.” She lay back on the pillow, her eyes closed, though tears escaped from beneath her lashes. “Perhaps, when I wake, another cup of tea? You do make a lovely cup of tea. Three minutes: just as I like it.”

Jayne waited till her mother’s breathing deepened into sleep, then she searched everywhere she could think of for enough money to buy a pint of milk. She’d used the last of what had been in the fridge in a cup of hot milk and honey she’d tempted Mother to last night.

It was not enough. She was ten pence short. No matter how many times she counted it out on the table, she was ten pence short. Another search yielded no stragglers, no odd pennies down the side of the chair, none in the tin on the shelf, none in Mother’s bag or Father’s pockets.

With steely determination, Jayne walked to the shop. She would bring milk for Mother’s drink. Come what may, she would get the milk.

With sinking heart, she saw him watch her walk through the shop door.

She took a small carton of milk from the big fridge and walked to the counter. “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice as steady and strong as she could muster. “I don’t have all the money. Please, can I bring it tomorrow when my father gets home?”

He leered. It’s the only word that fitted. He leered at her. “And what guarantee can you give me of that?” he asked, his eyes upon her body, moving over it, settling on her ten-year old chest, heaving in panic and dismay. He put his hand over hers on the carton of milk. “What else can you give me?”

Afterwards, she ran home, tears of humiliation and disgust mixed with jubilation. She had the milk for Mother’s drink. That’s all that mattered.

While the kettle boiled, she went to the bathroom and scrubbed the smell of his hot breath off her as best she could. She bore her trophy, almost proudly, into Mother.

“Here you go,” she said. “Just as you like it, brewed for three minutes and nice and milky.” She laid the little tray on the table beside the bed while she helped Mother sit up. “Here, let me pull that pillow up for you.”

“What’s this?” Mother put her fingers to the mark on Jayne’s neck.

“Nothing!” Jayne drew back quickly, her hand flying to cover the mark.

“And this?”

Jayne tried to hide the tear in her tee-shirt.

Mother looked at the cup of tea. “Where did you get the milk?”

When Jayne didn’t answer, she asked her again.

“Where did you get the milk?” She swung her feet out of the bed. “Fetch me my coat!” she said, pushing her feet into her slippers.

“It’s okay, Mum! It’s okay! I’ll take the ten pence tomorrow.”

But mother wasn’t listening. She picked up the cup of tea and lurched from the room. Jayne followed her down the stairs and watched as Mother put the cup on the table and, pausing only to pick up the opened carton of milk, stumbled out the back door. “Come, child,” she said.

They walked, ran, staggered and stumbled to the shop on the corner.

Mother pushed the door open with all the strength a mother can muster in her child’s defence. It hit the shelves behind it with a fierce clatter.

“Hey! What’s going on!” he roared, coming through from the back shop. “Mind those magazines! They don’t come cheap you know!”

Without saying a word, Mother opened the mouth of the carton and poured the milk out on the floor of the shop, letting the empty carton drop into the spreading puddle.

Placing her hands on her hips, she stood and stared him down until he closed his mouth and lowered his eyes.

Back home, she poured the still warm tea into the sink. “It cost too much,” was all she said to Jayne’s anguished cry as the tea gurgled down the plughole.

 

Story a Day for a Week in May…3

My story today, for Day 3 of A Story a Day for a Week in May, features Sarah, the main character of one of my published novels, ‘Family Matters’ and, once again, the pint of milk is incidental. Funny how that happens: the prompt prompts the writing without becoming the subject of the piece.

***

Book Cover cropped

*** 

Turning Tables

by

Christine Campbell 

 

He was standing at the corner of Princes Street and Hanover, leaning against the wall, holding out a copy of ‘The Big Issue’, the rest of his bundle lying at his feet.

Alan Hoddle, drug addict and spectre of her dreams. How often she had imagined herself following him, questioning him. ‘Who is your supplier?’ ‘Did you know my son?’ ‘Did you show him where to get drugs?’ ‘Are you the one I can hate, the one I can blame?’

Rationally, she knew the odds were against him knowing David, having anything to do with him or his habit, but irrationally, he had become the focus of her feverish desperation to find someone to blame, someone to punish. He was the only link she had to the twilight side of addiction. All the others she met at Omega House, were seeking the daylight. Alan dwelt in darkness.

Looking around, she selected a shop across the street from which she could watch him unobserved: see who he talked to; if anyone gave him anything other than the price of the magazine; when he moved off, in which direction he went.

She pretended to study the magazines in the rack by the window, until the shopkeeper started hovering nervously nearby. So she bought one: about motorsports, the one that came first to her hand. She lingered by the counter.

“Anything else?” the woman asked.

Sarah looked at her, incomprehension causing her to stare. “Sorry?”

“Do you want something else?”

“No, thank you, or, yes. Yes! I’ll have…” She glance around the shop quickly, fearing distraction from her vigil. “A pint of milk! Yes, a pint of milk, please.”

“Do you want a bag for that?” The shopkeeper nodded towards the magazine and the milk.

“Thank you! Yes! Thank you.” Sarah took the bag, threw some money on the counter, enough she hoped to cover the cost of the milk, and hurried to the door.

He’d moved.

As far as she could tell, he had hardly sold any copies from his bundle, no-one had spent more than a moment in his company and no-one had given anything into his hand other than the coins he dropped casually into his pocket. Her eyes stung from their unblinking vigil, her body ached with tension.

As he moved off, so she sprang into action, and was out of the shop too fast. He was crossing the street, coming up, past the doorway she lingered in, her face turned at the last moment to study the colourful posters in the window beside her, her breath held painfully against the instinct to cry out.

He walked past, his steps unhurried, his head down, shoulders hunched. She slid into step behind him, feigning a casual saunter, her head up, watchful, looking around as though the street were new to her.

When he turned the corner, so did she. When he crossed the road, she did too.

He stopped at a bus stop. She froze. What should she do? Could she boldly walk up to the stop too? Stand beside him? Wait for the bus? What if he recognised her? What if he spoke?

She hesitated, stepping backwards into the shadow of the Building Society entrance. Several others joined the queue before the bus came and she was able to sidle on behind him, unnoticed, at the last moment.

He went upstairs: she was about to follow, hesitated, torn between the fear of recognition and the need for close observation. What if he met someone on the bus? If she stayed downstairs she might miss the all-important moment, the secret hand-over of some little package, the exchange of money for goods other than ‘The Big Issue’. But, if she followed him upstairs, he might see her, recognise her, sense she was following him. She didn’t dare to climb the stairs: would have to take the risk of missing the moment. She sat facing them, watchful for his descent, waiting for the moment of disembarkation.

Not knowing her destination, and not hearing his mumbled exchange with the driver, she had no idea what fare to request, had paid as much as she thought likely and prayed that it would fit her journey. Now she sat trembling. What exactly was she doing? What did she hope to gain? And at what cost? This was all so crazy.

Surely everyone could see her agitation? Yet no-one paid her any heed. Couldn’t they see the sweat that ran from her hairline, down the side of her face, the bridge of her nose, from her upper lip? She was so cold: cold with fear, chilled despite the warmth of the evening and the crowded bus.

The bus swung round corners and lurched across junctions, chugging up hills and coasting along straight roads. Minutes felt like hours and Sarah felt the numbing of time standing still. Every time the bus approached a stop, she readied herself for the sudden leap she must make if he disembarked here. Every time it started onwards again she sat back thankfully, glad of the procrastination, afraid of the daring of her impulsive plan.

Eventually, there he was, coming down the stairs. She recognised his boots, ‘Doc Martins’, old and scuffed, as dirty and neglected as the rest of his apparel, his old jeans and army-surplus coat, his unkempt, shoulder-length hair. He stood, leaning against the handrail, staring at nothing in particular. Casually, he mumbled something to the driver who grumbled his reply, bringing the bus to a halt without looking at the man who addressed him.

Sarah stood to follow him, then realised with horror that this wasn’t a bus stop. The driver had stopped opposite a junction to oblige his regular passenger. If she also got off here, it would be obvious she was following him: he couldn’t help but notice her. If she stayed on, she might miss where he went. Sickened, she hesitated too long to make the choice. It was made for her when the bus lurched forward again and travelled a further hundred yards or so down the road before stopping again at the bus stop and at the request of an older lady, carrying two heavy bags of shopping.

“Thanks Erchie. Greta all right?”

“Aye, hen. Tam?”

“Aye.”

“See ye then.”

“Aye.”

Come on, come on! Get off the bus. Get out of the way. I need to see where he’s headed.

Knowing she should be offering to help, rather than desiring to harass, Sarah tried to contain her impatience as the woman grunted and groaned her way off the platform of the bus. At last, Sarah was able to get around her and run back towards the junction across the road.

She saw him immediately. He had had to wait for a gap in the traffic before he could safely cross and he was only just reaching the junction now. If she could get across herself, she could catch up, keeping a little distance between them.

“Terrible place this tae cross.” The woman had hobbled her way to the same point before there was another opportunity to cross the road. “Should be a pelican here,” she puffed, breathless from the exertion of hauling her burden this far. “Ye cin wait long enough tae get over, ken. Mind, it gies me a wee breather,” she coughed, putting her bags down at her feet while she caught her breath.

All of Sarah’s instincts cried out for her to offer to carry the woman’s bags. But she couldn’t. If she took the time to help her, she would miss him. He was already turning the corner ahead. She mustn’t lose him. She just mustn’t!

Rudely, she ignored the woman’s panting comments. If she stopped to answer them, she knew she would feel obliged to offer the assistance so obviously needed. Heedless of the oncoming traffic, she headed across the road.

“Watch yersel’, hen!” the woman cried after her.

“Beeeeeep!” a car horn sounded.

But she was safely across, hurrying towards the corner, praying that the commotion would not cause him to turn round.

This part of Edinburgh was new territory for Sarah. The bus displayed a sign for Wester Hailles, but the bus had not reached its terminus. The streets here were all named things like Ladyburn Road, LadyburnGardens or Park or Grove, so she supposed the area was called Ladyburn, but she had never been here before, not having any need to come, not having any friend or acquaintance living here.

Her first impression was borne in upon her without conscious thought: grey, concrete buildings, littered stairwells in shadowy tall blocks of flats, some highrise, some three or four storey. Blank windows watched her as she stole along, close to the walls, keeping as many paces behind him as she dared.

When he turned a corner, so did she. When he crossed the road, she did too.

Intent on following him, on keeping out of his sight should he turn round, she kept a wary eye for nearby shelter, paying scant attention to the path they took, forgetting that she would need to be able to find her way home at the end of this exercise. Her mind had not foreseen an end to the exercise.

A bicycle whizzed past close to her, startling her, so that she jumped against the wall grazing her hand. Another bike followed, missing her only because she hadn’t moved. Neither rider so much as looked back to note her safety.

Shaken, she took a long breath, her eyes scanning the road ahead frantically.

He was still up ahead, exchanging curses with the uncaring cyclists, though he had fared better than she. He walked on, shouting after them, shaking his fist.

She put the side of her hand to her mouth to soothe it, staying where she was until she felt sure he would not look behind him: until it seemed safe to recommence the stalking of her prey.

He led her deeper into the scheme, the flats becoming shabbier and darker, with less signs of life. Windows boarded up, doors barricaded and padlocked, graffiti decorating them. Here and there limp curtains dressed the windows that had not been boarded: sometimes only one or two in a property. Surely a frightening place to live: the underbelly of the city.

Some children ran, screaming, across her path. Instinctively, she checked her watch. After seven o’clock, nearer half past. Surely time children so young were being called to bed?

They doubled back, their language that of the shipyard rather than the nursery playground, their manners non-existent as they jostled past her on the pavement. She shook her head in sadness, watching them as they scrabbled on the ground, fighting out some junior gang-land battle.

He was gone!

Her attention was diverted for a moment and he was gone!

Furious with herself for permitting the distraction, she rushed forward to where she remembered seeing him last.

But which way now?

She could go forward, round the next corner, across the next street. But he might not have. He could have entered any one of the gaping entrances around her. She stood at a cul-de-sac, a sort of dilapidated play area surrounded by flats, each one the same as the next, each one the possible lair of her fox.

Suddenly, she felt very vulnerable. She was in his territory. Without realising it, the table could be turning, she could become the hunted instead of the hunter.

She cowered in by the wall, her heart hammering, blood pounding in her head, not sure whether to seek him further or cut her losses. Still feeling exposed, she crept furtively along the wall and dodged into the first entrance to give herself cover, time to regroup, time to think.

“Aagh!” A scream was strangled in her throat.

The first she realised that he was there was when he grabbed her and pulled her into the darker recesses of the close, his voice hissing in her ears, his words fierce and dirty.

He demanded to know who she was and why she was following him, but there were so many expletives that she could barely understand his questions. He was holding her so tightly she couldn’t get breath to answer him anyway.

Then he recognised her. “You’re from Omega House,” was the gist of it. “Mike’s bird’s mother. Ah ken you.” His grip slackened a little. “So what d’ye want? Why’re you followin’ me?” he asked again, no more politely, with no fewer expletives.

She was still unable to speak. Her throat was constricted partly from the pressure exerted by his arm about her neck, partly by the fear that disabled her.

“Ach, yer as bad as yer wimp o’ a son,” he said, releasing her with a push that sent her reeling into the wall, a pipe burying itself cruelly in her shoulder. Before she could catch her breath, he was upon her. “Got nae mair’n he deserved. Should’ve kept his nose out o’ where it didnae belang.” He spat on the ground at her feet. “An’, here’s your warning tae dae the same!”

He punched her hard in the stomach, then knocked her sideways with the vicious application of his knee to her side. She fell, wracked with pain and losing consciousness from the blow he administered to the back of her head.  He spat again, but not at her feet. 

The last she remembered was the pool of milk seeping out from under her where she’d landed on the bag that held it.

***

If you’d like to read what happens to Sarah, what she uncovers and how it impacts on her life, here is the link for the book, ‘Family Matters’:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_14?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=family+matters+by+christine+campbell&sprefix=Family+Matters%2Cstripbooks%2C225

 

Story a Day for a Week in May…2

image

Okay! So it’s bullocks cooling off in the pond in the field over our hedge, not cows, and so they’re only distantly related to a pint of milk. But, then, so is my story for Day 2 of  ‘A Story a Day for a Week in May’ only distantly related to buying said pint of milk.

In today’s effort for ‘A Story a Day for a Week in May’, we meet Sandra again, Hugh’s long-suffering wife in yesterday’s story. She’s supposed to be buying that pint of milk, but it isn’t working out too well, as you’ll see.

***

Dogs and Cats and Cupboard Clatter

Early morning sun filtered into the waiting room through the newly cleaned vertical blinds, showing it to be empty apart from some floating dust motes and a wet mop which was just out of Sandra’s reach.

She’d forgotten it in her haste to get into the cupboard herself. ‘I mean, is he early? Or am I late?’ she muttered. Five more minutes, just five, that’s all she’d needed! Or ten. To be realistic, probably ten!

At least he’d gone, for the moment.

She opened the cupboard door a crack and blindly groped for the handle of the stray cleaning tool. When her disembodied hand failed to locate it, her head followed like the slow emergence of her childhood tortoise. The mop was stubbornly out of reach.

She pushed the door open a little more and hastily looked around. Seeing nobody there, she reached further out of the cupboard, was just about to snatch the mop when Doctor Watson popped back out of his consulting room.

Head and mopless hand retracted swiftly into their protective shell.

Doctor Watson, a dapper little man, white shirt neatly pressed, dark suit immaculate as usual, walked with a flat-footed roll, studying the papers in his hand, his manner that of a preoccupied penguin. Used to cutting his corners fine, his way was barred by the mop.

A wider sweep round that particular corner would have missed it, but Doctor Watson was proud of his economy of movement: the straight path, the direct route, these were his choices. So, he encountered the mop.

He stared at it. It stood its ground. When it refused to step aside, he lifted it and with a loud ‘Tut!’ he opened the cupboard door and plonked the offending implement inside and onto Sandra’s feet.

Thankfully all of this was accomplished without any inspection of the interior of the cupboard, where Sandra stood flat against the wall hoping to be mistaken for the hoover.

When the wet mop draped itself round her ankles, she decided against exclaiming loudly because, basically, she didn’t want her boss to realise she was there.

When Sandra applied for the extra job as cleaner, he had been aghast. ‘Not fitting, Mrs Gilmour. Not fitting at all,’ he’d tutted. ‘How would it look if one of our patients were to realise that you, the receptionist, were also the cleaner? It would undermine your position here at the desk,’ he’d stated.

There was no arguing with him: he’d decided.

‘No! We’ll go through the Agency as usual, Mrs Gilmour. Perhaps you’d put that in motion, would you?’

But she needed the extra work, so, although she had gone through the Agency, she had made it clear to them she had a cleaner already, but would like payment and conditions etc. to be arranged through them. That way, The Penguin need never know how she had accommodated both of their wishes.

Now here she was, trapped in the cleaning cupboard, the door firmly closed, no handle on the inside.

Her ear to the door, she listened as his footsteps receded along the corridor to the records office. If things went to plan, he would stay there for ten minutes, more if the first surgery was heavily booked: files to look out, records to study.

The next person in the main door should be the post boy: a potential rescuer.

Sandra waited, breath held and released as softly as possible, her face flat against the smooth, painted surface of the door, listening for footsteps.

On hearing them, she knocked softly on the cupboard door; not loud enough to attract attention from the records office, loud enough, she hoped, to be heard by the post boy, if it was indeed his scuffle.

She heard the lad stop in his tracks. She imagined his head cocked like a spaniel’s, listening. She knocked again. There was the sound of a little startled jump, followed by a rush to the desk and it took little imagination to see him practically throw his bundle down before turning tail and bounding out of the building.

Hearing his retreat, Sandra sighed. She should have guessed he’d be too timid to investigate anything so mysterious. He blushed if anyone so much as said ‘Thank you!’ for the mail: practically wet himself with excitement when given a smile. She always felt like patting his head, ‘Good boy!’ and offering him some chocolate buttons.

Time passes slowly when you’re cramped into a small cleaning cupboard, surrounded by all the necessary tools of the cleaner’s trade: when the gentle aroma of spray polish mixed with the stronger smells of toilet cleaner and bleach threaten to overpower you: when there is insufficient light to check your watch but you know instinctively that you are going to be late for your ‘proper’ job, and you haven’t bought the milk yet for everyone’s cuppa at breaktime.

The Bulldog should be next. Yes, here he comes, barking out his orders for the day, only no-one is there, at the desk, to heed him. She should be there, smiling sweetly, saying ‘Yes, sir. No, sir. Three bags full, sir!’

“Where is the woman?” he barked in his best British Bulldog Voice.

Sandra pulled a face behind the cupboard door.

At last, Pussy-Cat arrived. Dear, sweet Colleen, not quite a Sex-Kitten but a very Cuddly Tabby: single, thirty-something, curly blonde hair piled on top of a round, permanently flushed face; tight skirt, clingy top.

“Where’s Mrs G?” Bulldog demanded.

“Sorry, Doctor Drummond. Must be indisposed, or possibly out fetching the milk for elevenses. Can I help you?”

Dear Colleen. Sweet, sweet Pussy-Cat. Always ready to soothe and stroke the troubled brow.

“Ermph! Yes, I suppose you’ll do.” Doctor Drummond, second partner in the Health Centre practice, growled and grumbled through his list of requirements for the day.

By the time he had finished and moved off to his room, Sandra had broken out in a bit of a sweat, brought on as much by the realisation that her chances of getting out of her predicament undiscovered were diminishing with every passing second, as by the fact that her oxygen supply was also diminishing—with every passing second.

She could just see the merest slither of light under the tight-fitting door, none at all round the edges. She would have admired the excellence of the craftsmanship if she had thought of it, or of anything much at all. In fact she was beginning to feel decidedly sleepy…

Colleen was alerted to Sandra’s plight by the noise emanating from the cleaning cupboard. The noise of brooms and mops falling over, buckets being kicked, plastic bottles of cleaning products crashing against the closed door, a strange moaning as she approached to open it.

“What on earth are you doing in there?” she asked as Sandra tumbled out at her feet.

“Dying,” Sandra croaked.

“You can do that later.” Colleen looked around the, as yet, empty waiting room. “Quick! Get up before anyone sees you,” she said, helping her to do so while deftly closing the door on the devastation left in the cupboard. “Can you get to the loo?”

Sandra nodded. “Think so.”

“I’ll meet you there in a minute. Just as soon as Fiona gets in. Meantime, you get cleaned up a bit,” she indicted the baggy, old jogging bottoms and t-shirt Sandra wore for her cleaning jobs. “And see if you can do something with your hair!” This she added with a distasteful look at the strange muddy-brown, pony-tail arrangement atop her friend’s sweat-soaked head.

“They’re not dirty, actually,” Sandra said, in defence of her favourite trousers.

“Just go,” hissed the Pussy-Cat.

By the time Colleen sidled into the staff ladies’ room, Sandra had indeed ‘cleaned herself up’ and looked more like the neat, tidy receptionist expected by the doctors she worked for: brown hair brushed and styled to lie demurely on her shoulders, eye make-up applied discretely, crisp blouse and tailored skirt.

“That’s better!” Colleen purred. “More like yourself. Now, in three sentences, no big words, can you please explain what on earth you were doing in the cleaning cupboard dressed like a disreputable teenager on the run?”

“Three sentences? Right. One,” Sandra ticked it off on her finger. “I am, in fact, the phantom early-morning office cleaner. Two, I slept in this morning because I worked late last night cleaning another two offices. And three, The Penguin arrived before I had time to clear away and get changed. Oh! And he inadvertently locked me in the cupboard. But that’s four, so probably too much information?”

“What on earth are you doing all these jobs for?”

“Money?”

“But why?”

“Because I need it?”

“But all these jobs?”

“Just two, actually. Office cleaning and,” she looked at her watch, “the one I’m about to lose because I should’ve been at the desk forty-five minutes ago.”

“I covered for you. Told The Peng… Doctor Watson you were sick. They probably all think you’re pregnant.”

“Great! Thanks!”

“Well, what did you want me to say? That I found you skulking in a cupboard dressed like a tramp on a bad day?”

“What is it you’ve got against my leggings?”

“Is that what they were? I thought they were Hugh’s pyjama trousers. The ones he threw out because they were too old and had lost their elastic.”

“Okay! So they’ve kneed a bit.”

“And really! Ninja Turtle t-shirts are so passé!”

“Okay, okay. So I don’t always look my best while I’m cleaning.”

“Which brings us back to the point,” Colleen remarked. “Why the extra jobs?”

“Oh, Hugh’s out of work again,” Sandra sat down on one of the toilet seats. “We’re absolutely desperate. We’d kind of run up a few debts, thinking he’d make great commission.”

“Spending money before it was earned?”

“Got a new flat, new furniture to go with the new image of the new job.”

“Only the new job fell through?”

“You get the picture.”

“So how many jobs is he doing now?”

“I told you, he lost his job.”

“And he’s out cleaning too?”

“Of course not. Don’t be silly.”

Colleen shook her head and fluffed up her tail. “Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander. Equal opportunity and all that.”

“Try telling that to Hugh,” Sandra muttered, remembering the row they’d had when she’d suggested he joined her in office cleaning. Well, as close as you ever got to a row with Hugh.

‘CV. Not sure it would look good. Desperate, sort of,’ he winced.

‘But we are desperate!’ she’d said. But she knew what he meant. Office cleaning didn’t sound quite the next step on the ladder to success.

“Anyway, how long d’you think they allow for vomiting break?” she asked Colleen.

“Yeah, you’re right. We’d best be getting back to work. Conversation to be continued at coffee time.”

Sandra’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, heck! I forgot the milk! I was going to nip out for it after getting cleaned up.”

“Well, you’d best do it quickly now. If asked again, I’ll tell them you’ve nipped out for a pregnancy test!”

 

Follow cicampbellblog on WordPress.com
%d bloggers like this: