Cindy oh Cindy

He had woken up with a fierce headache, breath that breached the Chemical Weapons Convention, and a nasty sense of foreboding. His brain hurt. He knew something was wrong. He knew he would have spent the better part of the previous evening trying to impress the new girl on the till at the local drugstore, and that he would have, probably, likely, definitely, have said something stupid, claimed a non-existing ability, promised something he was now committed to and would never in a month of Sundays be able to deliver. This wasn’t the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.

The phone rang. It was her. “A great evening. Thanks for that. Hope you got home okay. And so you’re going to do that for me? Run the marathon? Raise money for the cancer fund? That’s really sweet of you. I’ll pop the entry forms through your letter box this evening.”

Thirty eight years old and not in his prime. Not that he had ever had  a prime or foresaw himself as having one. “Show me a minicab driver who has a prime, who can flex a muscle, who can even bloody locate a muscle,” he thought to himself. Too much time behind the wheel. Too many kebabs or hamburgers or parcels of fish and chips – snatched meals taken whenever there was a lull in the job. Not exactly healthy. Not exactly regular. Run a marathon? Could never happen.

But she was sweet. Cindy. That’s her name. Newly divorced, new in town, new at the job, new at the till. And she had treated him sweetly. Happy to go out with him, happy to sit and chat in an ordinary bar. Didn’t need to be taken to a swish club so she could spend all his money on overpriced champagne substitutes. Insisted on paying for a couple of the rounds of drinks. She knows what life is really like. She’s got a few miles under the bonnet herself and it’s made her generous, unselfish. He likes her. It seems he likes her a lot. He wants her to like him. He wants her to admire him. And so, a drink or two down the road and his head spinning with what might be, he says yes, yes to supporting the charity, yes to running the marathon, yes to doing it for her. How could he refuse her? Sweet Cindy.

He knew how many miles there are in a marathon. More than his normal minicab trips, more than he could run in a million years. But Cindy, oh Cindy, he wasn’t going to let her down, he wasn’t going to say no. The forms arrived, the forms went off, and he worked on his training strategy, his tactics, his battle plan. He would get the medal, get the respect and get the girl.

He pored over the route of the race, he studied the town map, he marked up all the rat runs, hidden alleyways, and illegal short cuts that he had learnt when he was doing the Knowledge and he reckoned that if he turned up at the start, he could cross the finish line in about four and a half hours with having run only five miles. He knew he could do it. The downside was the five miles, but for Cindy he could do it. And so for the next few weeks before his shift, he walked, then jogged, then cantered, then galloped until he knew that the five miles (and hopefully Cindy) were in the bag.

It all went smoothly. He crossed the line with hundreds of others with a time of just under four and a half hours.

“My best time ever,” he said to the official handing out the medals.

“Respect,” said one of the policemen helping with crowd control.

“Oh, thank you,” said Cindy, kissing him full on the mouth. “Let’s meet up later.”

By the time he had fought the crowds back to his home, washed and shaved and put on his second best casual gear (he would save the best for another time) the list of runners who hadn’t passed through all the check points and were consequently automatically disqualified, had been published and tweeted and retweeted and his name was third on the list.

No medal, no respect, and no girl.

Early morning. The phone rings. It’s her. “You owe me five miles of sponsorship and I like the way you kiss. Can we meet up again tonight?”

How can he refuse her? Sweet Cindy.

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Can it be that time already?

The gentle beeps from the monitor surprised her. As did the almost imperceptible vibrations in the tube leading into her digestive system. Using the controls built into the armrest of her pod she raised herself to a seated position, looked at the clock on the screen opposite. Feeding time! She hadn’t noticed she was hungry, but then again, that’s what the algorithm was there for – to pre-empt its client’s needs – to know when to switch on the food pump, when to extract waste, when to activate the LadyBliss-ClimaxIvator.

Next week is her 300th birthday.

Maybe a text from the Kween?

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They came from outer space

They weren’t what we had expected, we nor anybody else and that includes the Ruskies, the Chinese, and all those weirdo anti-vax conspiracy theory weirdos that seem to have overtaken the social media cosmos. After all, the deep space communications we had been having with them over the decades had suggested a mega-tech, extra-terrestrial race presenting itself with mega-tech style and panache, all reflective gold and platinum, slick, sleek, and aerodynamic, and instead we get what looks like a 1950s kitchen sink with missing plug and no hot water tap. There wasn’t even any radiation, dammit!

Of course we tried to suppress our giggles for as long as we could – it’s rude to laugh at your guests, even those from beyond the leaky borders of our universe – but after a day or so, the guffaws became deafening.

The visitors didn’t mind at all. Why would they? They were just about to slam dunk Earth and weren’t going to let the jeers of a few billion low tech bipeds distract them.

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You Gotta Have Faith

He checked the street sign, glanced down at his map, checked the street sign again. He crossed the road, entered the park. Using his compass he measured out fifty paces in a northerly direction.

A gaggle of school kids waved at him, calling out hellos.

A cyclist called out, “Fancy dress party?”

Our man grunted to himself, “Landlubbers,” and paced out fifty paces eastwards.

He paused, studied the map, threw off his backpack, thrust his spade into the soft turf, hit something hard, metallic.

He smiled.

The parrot on his shoulder ruffled its feathers, called out, “Pieces of Eight.”

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June 2020

It’s been a strange old month. One of the strangest I’ve seen, and I’ve been here since the mid-thirties; nineteenth century, that is.

It started off as May ended – quiet, the square mostly deserted, people keeping clear of each other, some wearing face masks. Another plague, pandemic, whatever it’s called. Stoney-eyed, stoney-eared I may be, but I can still read the newspaper placards, hear the chatter; not a lot of people know that.

It’s probably the same down south. Nelson on his column wouldn’t know, of course – he’s too high up and staring into the distance; me, on the other hand, my eyes are cast affectionately at my people, the good hard-working flat voweled denizens who have benefitted no end from my labours, my enterprises, my risk taking, and whose ancestors honoured me by casting me in my image and positioning me on this noble plinth with its honest and respectful inscription thanking me for the contribution I made to the prosperity of the city. I mean, just check out the east wing of the town hall, the library’s reading room, the hospital for lung disease; who do you reckon funded those? And what about all those people who got jobs in my mills especially when our new factory system shut down all the inefficient cottage industries. Remote working? Really? Pullease!

Yep, I did my bit. I was a good family man, a regular church-goer and a conscientious businessman careful to set my prices according to the market and to keep my costs low.

As now, as then, labour costs were the biggy. Shipping the cotton from the estates was cheap – the stuff just blew in on the wind. The workforce, on the other hand, was a different kettle of fish; supply was always up and down, depending on the diligence of the  agents in Africa, the seaworthiness of the ships, and the prices at the auctions. On top of all that, the cost of housing and feeding the workers was punitive.

And then London, bloody London, pulled the rug from under our feet, said workers had to be free, to be paid. Well, we kicked up a stink, managed to delay things, managed to get compensation, so much a head; government had to borrow heavily for that – only finished paying it off a few years ago. I got my fair share.

Ah, June. Got side-tracked. So quiet at first but then suddenly all changed. While the local citizenry usually all but ignore me, apart from during Freshers’ Week when I am expected to wear a traffic cone on my head, I’m suddenly the centre of attention. People are chucking paint at me, waving their fists, blandishing placards, making speeches. The police did nothing; all they seemed interested in was getting people to wear masks (ironic, I thought) and not stand too close to each other. I would have had something to say about it all, but in the light of all the hostility I thought it better to keep mum.

It’s quietened down a little, but I still get small groups of people visiting, speaking quietly to themselves; I don’t always, catch what they are saying, but it seems serious.

Last night some workers in hi-vis vests cordoned off the square with some crowd control barriers. Now, apart from me it’s empty.

Except for a crane and a digger; I wonder what they’re for.

 

 

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The Routine

As it gets dark, he inspects the heavily lined curtains both downstairs and upstairs, pulls them closed, checks and rechecks. The external window blinds are permanently down helping to seal out the outside. No outside must leak in, no inside must leak out.

When, some eight hours later, he is aroused by his bedside alarm, he delays switching on lights until, flashlight in hand, he has reassured himself there has been no disturbance of the curtains, that no stranger footprints can be seen on the floor, that the locks on his doors are intact and secure.

He washes, meticulously; shaves close, slicks down his hair tight to his skull; dons carefully ironed khaki shirt, epaulettes on the shoulders and and buttoned flaps on both pockets; steps into sharply creased cargo trousers, belt highly polished; so too his boots. He examines himself in the full length mirror. Is eventually satisfied.

He rolls back the living room carpet, unlocks and lifts the trapdoor to reveal the basement stairs. Descends. Slides open the industrial grade bolt on the heavy door; steps through. Places a small bucket of cold porridge within easy reach of the heavily barred cage.

As he makes his journey back up to his living area, he ponders the fact that even after seventeen years he can’t get used to the sub-human sounds and stench of the basement.

Perhaps he never will.

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Lockdown

He’d been in lockdown for five weeks; it was getting to him. The only time out of the house had been to the post box, the only human contact was with the people who delivered the food parcels (baked beans, white bread, breakfast cereals, a four pack of economy toilet paper). He was getting bored. He thought of zooming somebody, but who? The benefits office was closed and he didn’t really know anyone else.

The radio agony aunt said do something positive, like tidy the house. So he collected up six months’ worth of newspapers, chucked them into the recycling bin; shook the tablecloth out into the back yard – plenty for the birds and mice to squabble over. Spent a morning washing milk bottles. Scrubbed the toilet. Repaired the broom, did a bit of sweeping.

Tried the vacuum cleaner on the carpet, but it didn’t work anymore – he should have remembered that from last year. Dumped it in the yard with the broken microwave and an old bicycle frame.

The agony aunt said, why not tidy up your back yard, be proud of your space; if it’s old and doesn’t work, ditch it. He knew that the junk collectors scavenged items left outside so he hauled the vacuum cleaner, the broken microwave, and the old bicycle frame to the front pavement and hoped the lockdown hadn’t upset the system.

It hadn’t.

The radio agony aunt said, have a make-over – if it’s past its best and it’s just clutter, get rid – free up some space. So he carried the old lady downstairs, tipped her into her wheelchair and pushed her out front.

Lucky for her it wasn’t raining.

 

 

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Pile ’em high

Image copyright: Jeff Arnold

The cure, he said, can be found at the end of the rainbow. Ignore that old shepherd’s tale that there’s a crock of gold to be found; that’s a load of sheepshit. Until then, he said, you can stave off the virus by gargling with garlic (or is it gargling with baking powder and wearing garlic round your neck, I can’t remember). And don’t forget that God will provide; don’t let this man-made 5G disease keep you from your seasonal celebrations with family and community; collective prayer works.

As for the vulnerable, bring out your dead.

You’ll pile ’em high.

 

Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ (long may she self-isolate) weekly 100 word challenge found here.

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Murder Most Fowl

Image copyright: Douglas M. MacIlroy

“Let him call his lawyer. He’s already confessed.”

“Sparrow? Was there a witness?”

“Yep. Fly, with his little eye, he saw him die.”

“Any forensics to support our case?”

“Bow and arrow are being dusted for prints. Fish collected blood in his little dish.”

“Need to get this done pronto. There’s gonna be a lot of a-sighing and a-sobbing out there. Feathers’ll be ruffled.”

“Yeah, and Beetle’s making the shroud and Dove’s gonna be chief mourner. Bull’s tolling the bell. All high profile stuff.”

“Good work, Team. Now go get some nest and be on time for tomorrow’s dawn chorus.”

 

Written in response to Raptor Wisoff-Fields’ weekly 100 word challenge found here

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Sunny side up

Image copyright: J Hardy Carroll

It is mistakenly held by the locals that the bodies of missing Rudi Rogers and Fifi Fantasia, bottle-blonde and always generous waitress, would be found if anyone were to smash open the concrete pedestal holding up the 1972 Oldsmobile 442, now relegated to the role of billboard for widow Raisha Rogers’s ever popular roadhouse on the main drag into St Louis.

A landmark for miles around, Raisha keeps the junk bucket in pristine condition, climbing the ladder once a week to wash and polish and buff and shine. She also pops open the boot, examines its contents, smiles to herself.

 

Written in response to Rogers Wisoff-Fields’ weekly 100 word challenge found here: https://rochellewisoff.com/

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RIP Spartacus

Spartacus hadn’t been in Hollywood for all that long when he was spotted in the Gladiator night club by a sharp-eyed talent scout. He protested that he could speak only Latin and a smidgen of Turkish (another beer please; has she got a sister? etc), but the scout said he would arrange for him to have English lessons and help him brush up on his table manners.

His first big break came when he was given the lead in the wide screen sand and sandals production The Man with a Hole in his Chin. The critics and the movie-going public alike thought it the best film of 1968 and Spartacus went on to become famous for his delivery of the line, “I am Kirk Douglas.”

Vale, Spartacus.

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