Sunday, June 10, 2018

Emma Harrington and the time Blip

The note was on the table when Emma Harrington arrived home from school.
See you at the weekend.
Keep an eye on your brother.
Another lost week.
That summed up Emma’s life. Lost weeks.
Mrs Gwyneth Cluster, from the next farm appeared at the door.
‘Hello Emma. You’re home early.’
‘You noticed.’
‘No need to be like that. You know your parents. Or you should by now.’
Mrs Cluster went to the stove.
‘You need a cup of tea love.’
‘No Gwyneth. I don’t need a cup of tea. What I need is a life!’
Gwyneth ignored the comment. She was used to Emma’s behaviour. She’d experienced it for the past ten years and had learned to take it in her stride. Sometimes, though, her stride was not big enough; especially now that Emma was approaching adulthood. When Emma was younger it was easy to give her a hug, take her for walks and read to her before she went to sleep. She could also manage Tim a lot better back then too.
But those days were long gone.
Children matured a lot earlier these days, she thought. It was such a pity. She thought of her twins and how they never wanted to be adults, except on the odd occasion when things didn’t go their way. That was thirty years ago and both her children were now married with children of their own.
She sighed and poured the boiling water onto the teabags waiting in their mugs.
‘Whatever happened to real tea? – or coffee come to that- These days it’s all bags and powder.’
Emma took a mug.
‘Thanks,’ she said, ‘you don’t have to try and engage me in conversation, you know. It doesn’t make me feel any better.’
Gwyneth raised her hands.
‘Right then. Well, I’ll just take my tea into the sunroom. Call me if you need anything.’
Emma sat at the kitchen table and played with the teabag.
The sound of singing suddenly reminded her that she had a brother.
Tim Harrington flew through the door and rushed up to Emma. He threw his arms around her.
‘I solved three puzzles,’ he said, ‘I’m really good aren’t I Em?’
'Yes Tim you're very good.'
Tim beamed and whooped. He always beamed and whooped. Most kids Emma knew mixed their emotions a little. A smile, a laugh and sometimes a beam. But not her brother. He just seemed to specialize in beaming and whooping. He was moderately autistic according to his teachers, but sometimes Emma wondered if there wasn’t something else wrong with him.
If she was around he was in her face a lot. If she wasn’t he’d spend his time in front of the TV mimicking the action on screen, talking to the characters or speaking the words with the characters.
Often he would just wander around talking to himself and making gestures with his hands. Sometimes after one of these sessions he’d rush up to Emma and say something like  “An apple fell on Tristan Newton’s head didn’t it?”
Emma would explain that Newton was sitting under a tree, watching an apple fall and as a result discovered gravity.
Tim’s response was always the same.
‘The apple didn’t kill him did it Em?’
He was fascinated by how things worked. Anything mechanical, like old clocks and watches, could hold his interest for hours. He loved car engines; any engines.
Tim was only twelve and when her parents were away, which was most of the time, it was up to her and - when she was around - Gwyneth to keep an eye on him.
Tim could be very annoying. He was being very annoying now. He started fiddling with the teabag in Emma’s mug.
She pushed him.
‘Leave it Tim.’
‘It’s fun.’
‘No Tim. It is not fun. It’s annoying.’
‘Tim stop!
‘But it’s fun.’
‘No Tim. It’s not. Go away.’
Tim ran to the cupboard where the teabags were kept. Emma got up and went after him.
‘Tim! No!’
Tim shrugged Emma away and opened the cupboard. Emma shoved her hand forward and slammed it shut.
Tim pulled it open again.
Emma pushed it harder this time. It slammed against his left hand.
‘Ow! That hurt! You hurt me Em.’
He cradled his left hand.
‘It hurts Emma. You hurt me.’
‘Tim, I’m sorry.’
‘Go away! You hurt me!’
Emma reached for him but he pulled away and ran outside.
Emma ran after him but when she reached the door he’d vanished.
Gwyneth came into the kitchen.
‘What was all that about?’
She looked around.
‘And where’s Tim?’
‘He ran off.’
‘He was annoying me. He wouldn’t listen to me and I slammed the cupboard door on his hand. It was an accident Gwyneth, I swear!’
‘We’d better find him then hadn’t we?’
They went outside and searched the usual places where Tim liked to hide but with no success.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Gwyneth, ‘he’s probably curled up somewhere watching us. He’ll come back when he’s hungry. He usually does.’
But he didn’t.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Francis raised her eyes from the sink and glanced out of the kitchen window. She noticed that the statue had shifted and made a mental note to straighten it when she took George his cuppa.
She dried her hands on a tea-towel and went to hang it behind the back door, like she always did.
A crunching, sound made her look down. She had inadvertently trodden in the gritty substance and now there were ugly grey patches over what was, a minute ago, a newly mopped floor.
         ‘Oh my goodness,’ she muttered, ‘how did that get there?’
It had been a tad difficult since Francis had found out about George’s activities in the shed. He’d been more than a little sloppy lately. It had started slowly to begin with and fortunately nobody had noticed so Francis had ignored it. But it was now getting worse by the week and Francis was afraid that she might have to have George sectioned. She loved him dearly and the last thing she wanted was for him to be taken away from her. He wouldn’t cope and neither would she, for that matter. But she just wasn’t sure how much longer she could cover for him.
A knock at the front door snapped her attention back to the present. She opened the door to a limited amount of daylight and a very large amount of burly policeman.
‘Mrs Davison?’
‘Last time I checked. Why?’
‘I’m Inspector Makelin. Mind if I come in?’
‘If you can get through the door.’
Francis flattened herself against a wall and breathed in.
The policeman squeezed himself through the door and straightened up.
         ‘Sorry about the door. My husband has been in renovation mode of late. I think he’s influenced by all those ‘makeover’ programs on TV.’
Inspector Makelin glanced back at the door.
‘Perhaps he should have removed the old door jamb before putting in the new one.’
Francis sighed.
Lately he had been doing some weird things, which Francis put down to a vagueness associated with old age. He was, after all approaching eighty, even though, from a distance, he could scrape through at around the sixty seven mark. George found his moments of forgetfulness amusing. Francis, on the other hand, simply found it frustrating.
         In some of his moments of “forgetfulness”  George had made some minor repairs around the house -  usually without the input or consent of his wife.
Like the time he changed the locks on all the doors, while Francis had been out and she returned to find her husband had gone to visit his younger brother down south for a few days. It was fortunate, on that occasion, that Francis was on sleepover terms with her sister, who lived close by.
There was also the time he decided to put in a doggy door but forgot to cut out the hole first.
But this shed business. This was something else. She really needed to keep a close eye on the latest episodes of carelessness involving the shed.
Francis glanced at the door and dispensing with the sigh smiled at the Inspector.
‘I’d better get him to fix that in case we get a giant popping by.’
She walked down the hallway towards the kitchen. Makelin followed.
         ‘So Inspector, what can I do for you? And can I just ask why, if you’re an Inspector, you’re wearing a uniform?’
         ‘Glad you asked that Mrs D,’ he paused, ‘don’t mind if I call you Mrs D do you?’
Francis did but she let it pass. In her opinion anyone who had to resort to abreviating a person’s surname on first meeting was either very, very busy, or had difficulty with words of more than one syllable.
‘That’s fine,’ she said.
‘Well I’m wearing a uniform so that I can get the feel for what it’s like to be your average “plod” or beat walker - as opposed to streetwalker,’ he chuckled at his own joke.
‘I see,’ but she didn’t, ‘and you’re here because…?’
‘I’m here because a man was seen entering this house in a rather unusual manner…’
‘Oh yes, and what manner would that be inspector? Don’t people normally enter through some sort of door?’
‘Indeed they do Mrs D. Indeed they do. However, in this case the man in question was neither in an upright position, nor walking through the door.  He was, in fact, dragged, in a supine position across your threshold. Also the person who reported this to us indicated that the body in question appeared to be naked.’
‘Well I must say inspector I would certainly notice if someone dragged a naked body through my front door. One does tend to notice these things you know.’
Inspector Makelin exuded an air of pomposity and it crackled. Francis suspected that he was basically a very nice man beneath the crackle and she also suspected that at some stage during his childhood – he had the distinct ring of “single” child about him – or during his years on the beat as a “plod” something had happened to put a very large dent in his self esteem.
In Francis’ experience, pompous people were usually insecure, timid souls who had never received enough breast milk. She had been a nurse and a midwife for a few years after she left school and felt that she was in a position to know a few things about the variety of dysfunctional people that crossed her path on a fairly regular basis.
Francis prided herself on her people skills. She’d picked most of them up during her years in the police force and also from her reading of Agatha Christie. These skills came in handy during the “solve a murder” parties (SAMPs) that her sister held once a month. Her sister, like Francis, was a great fan of Agatha Christie.
‘Mrs D…?’
Francis shook her head.
‘Sorry. I got a bit side tracked there for a minute.’
‘Well I would appreciate your staying on the main track.’
‘Yes. Yes of course. Now, you say someone saw somebody drag a naked body through my front door?’
‘That is correct and what I need to know is who that body belonged to, where it is now, why it was brought here and by whom.’
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about Inspector but I can assure that I will help you in any way I can.’
‘That’s what I like to hear Mrs D.’
Makelin looked thoughtfully at Francis and tapped his lips with his fingers.
 ‘You know Mrs D I feel that I know you but I’m not sure of the context.  Bit like having an itch that you can’t quite reach.’
Francis laughed. If she’d been given a dollar every time someone in the community said that over the years, she’d be a millionaire by now.
‘I used to be on the local force if that reaches the itch.’
‘Davison! Francis Davison.You’re FD!’
‘That was one of the names I went by. I won’t tell you the others.’
Makelin clasped his hands in a sense of satisfied surprise.
‘Mrs D did you know that you’re rather famous’?
‘No. Isn’t fame what, mini and minor celebrities have?’
‘You are too modest Mrs D. You are a legend from here to the end of the country.’
‘I am?’
This actually came as no surprise to Francis. Of course she’d heard all the buzz and the hype. It had been difficult to avoid at the time, but when it came down to it she had simply done her job. She’d worked her way up from walking the beat to heading the local murder squad. Nothing unusual in that. A lot of women these days followed that path.
‘I’ve only been in this area for six months,’ said Makelin, ‘but the first thing they told me was that I had some very big shoes to fill. Must say I had no idea they were yours.’
‘As I retired well over twenty years ago I can’t quite see why it’s taken this long to fill any of my footwear inspector…’
‘Please, call me Bill.’
‘I’d rather not, if you don’t mind and further to “filling my shoes” well, I’d no idea they were so large. All I ever did was my job.’
‘Oh No Mrs D. You did far more than that. You are just being modest. Like I said, your actions are legend.’
‘Well if they are they’ve vanished somewhere in the mists of time. As you can see I’m in Miss Marple territory, agewise. So why don’t you enlighten me.’
‘The hostage situation in 1984. You saved all those children at that primary school.’
‘Just doing my job.’
‘You walked in. No gun. Nothing. And you saved a class of ten year olds from certain death.’
‘You would have done the same.’
‘Weren’t you afraid Mrs D?’
‘You walked into a classroom where a man was threatening to blow up the whole school…’
Francis cut him off.
‘Inspector, any officer would have done what I did. Anyway, like I said earlier that’s all ancient history. I’ve been working as a potter for years now and I would rather be remembered for my creative efforts than my police work.’
Makelin shook his head.
‘Right. So, back to the problem of the naked body and your door then. As a neighbour reported it I do have to investigate it. You do understand that yes?’
‘Of course you do.’
‘Do you mind if I start upstairs?’
‘Be my guest.’
Francis went into the kitchen and made herself a cup of tea. Half an hour later Makelin joined her.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘everything seems shipshape up there. Nothing amiss that I can see.’
‘Good. Fancy a cuppa?’ said Francis.
Makelin walked over to the sink and glanced out of the window.
‘What’s that building?’
‘George’s man cave.’
‘George? Your husband?’
‘What does he do in his,’ he paused, ‘what did you call it?’
‘It’s what he calls it,’ said Francis, ‘doesn’t look much like a cave though does it?’
‘What does he do in it?’
‘He fires my pots. He used to be the local undertaker until the business went elsewhere about fifteen years ago.’
Francis laughed.
‘He’s not one for golf so he thought he’d become a potter like me. Turned out to be hopeless but he’s pretty good at firing up the furnace for the kiln and as the kiln is down in his shed ...’
A sound made Makelin turn round. A man in a wheelchair was looking up at him.
‘Who are you then?’
‘Inspector Bill Makelin. You must be George.’
‘Unless someone re-named me without telling me, yes I’m George. I’m Fran’s husband.’
George noticed the inspector eying the wheelchair.
‘Ah. I see you’ve noticed the wheelchair. Very observant of you inspector. But then that’s what you do don’t you? Observe. So what, may I ask, are you currently observing in our house?’
Francis went over to George bent down and whispered something to him.
‘A body here, in our house?’ he said.
‘I’m just following a line of enquiry sir,’ said Makelin. He was getting annoyed and frustration was brewing.
‘I’d like to have a look in your shed if you don’t mind.’
‘Oh there’s nothing to observe in there,’ said George, ‘just a few odds and ends. Pots and things like that.’
Makelin shook his head.
‘I still have to check it out George.’
He turned to Francis.
‘Mrs D it really would be so much easier if you just let me have a peek in the shed. Only take a sec and then I’ll be on my way.’
 ‘Actually George has got some pots firing for me at the moment. It’s far too hot to risk going in there just yet.’
Fran glanced at George and winked.
‘But,’ continued Francis, ‘you are most welcome to chance getting severely burned now or you could pop back later and you can search all you like.’
Makelin put his cup on the table and looked directly at Francis.
‘I’ll come back later but I might have to bring a search warrant with me. You do you understand that don’t you Mrs D?’
‘Oh yes Inspector we both understand perfectly,’ said Francis calmly.
‘Now off you go and get your warrant.’
Francis and George watched from the front window as the police car drove off down the street.
‘I told you to get another wheelchair,’ said Francis.
‘I know but I just never got around to it. Too much to do in the shed. You know how it is dear.’
The phone rang.
‘Yes,’ said Francis, ‘we can organise that for you.’
She looked at the clock.
‘It’s one o’clock now. Why don’t you make it around half-past.’
She hung up and punched in a new set of numbers.
‘Reg? Hello. Can you do a pick up ASAP? Mrs Cooper, round at 76.’
Francis listened as Reg said something.
‘Yes. Don’t worry Reg. I’ll make sure the wheelchair’s there this time. See you later. Bye.’
She hung up and turned to her husband.
‘Reg will be here in half and hour. When did Makelin say he’d be back?’
‘He didn’t’ said George, ‘but I should imagine it’ll be sooner rather than later.’
‘Right. Now get out of that chair and take it around to number 76 Gordon Street as quick as you can. Reg needs it.’
‘What a pity. I was starting to get used to it.’
‘We’re in this mess because you didn’t return that chair in the first place George. You need to be more careful. Now hurry up. I’ve got a phone call to make.’
Francis picked up the phone again.
‘Hello Peter dear. Is my favourite nephew the duty sergeant today? Good now listen I want you to do something for me…’
A few minutes later the phone rang again.
Francis smiled as she answered.
‘Inspector Makelin. What a surprise.’
‘Oh really. Where did you say?’
‘That’s quite a long way away isn’t it?
‘Effective immediately?  Oh well I do hope you’ll be happy in your new posting Inspector. Bye.’
Francis hung up.
At one thirty sharp a van pulled up outside the Davison house. George hopped out of the passenger side and headed down the side passage towards his shed. He straightened the statue that Reg had bumped into last week and went around to the back of the shed.
Recently fired pots of various sizes were stacked neatly against the back wall. George pulled out two from the stack and held them up.
‘I think she’d prefer the red glaze,’ he said and placed the other pot back on the stack.
Reg, meanwhile, opened the back doors of the van and lowered the ramp. He pushed the wheelchair with its duffle-coated passenger down the ramp and towards the front door of the house.
Francis opened the door and smiled.
 ‘Come in Reg. George should be ready for you by the time you’ve had a cuppa.’

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Have finally organised my first kid's book to appear on Amazon. Had the help and expertise of my very helpful publisher, Jenny Mosher and her talented and super capable off-sider Ally. Thanks to you both.
Some thoughts on the book.
If fictional characters could be familiars then the ghost character Jack would be mine.
I can't choose Grey Dog because he is my heroine's familiar, even though she doesn't know it yet.
A couple of people have asked me if some elements in the story are autobiographical...I wasn't aware of that during the writing  but I guess they could be. I do remember being a rebel at school and I did create a fantasy world underneath the kitchen table.
I have always loved reading and writing fantasy stories involving  other worlds possibly as an escape from this one!
As far as writing goes...well it's a bit like my life really highs and lows - a bit like a seismograph!
I've always had difficulty with the middle bits of my novels. Beginnings and ends no problem but the middles?????
Then in February this year I came up with a solution, without realizing it. I found out what I'd done when I finished writing and started proof reading. I found that I had created a character who could fill in the middles for me, bridge any gaps, put in the missing bits, solve any problems and logically complete the story. Hence the title....The Story Fixer.
Here's her poem. Oh and just a note here.. when you get to the line "sometimes she's quite impudent"
1. I only use the term "impudent" it because it rhymes with student and
2. You need to pronounce it as im-piyoo-dent. That's it Enjoy. I'm off to walk the dogs!

Cassandra Knight

Is not quite like

Your average year five student

School doesn't work

And nor does she

Sometimes she's quite impudent.

But she can fix a story well

And what's more to her credit.

The pieces fit so well in place

I hardly need to to edit.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The soldier swears. The dry, soul-less land is nothing like he remembers from textbook images.
How long had it been now?
Eight months.
It felt like eight years.

Private Jonas Smith Junior had traveled a lifetime since he’d made the decision.
God! It hadn’t even been his decision.
It had been made for him by his father, Jonas Smith Senior, a military man who, desk bound through inclination and arrangement, had made a successful career of making life threatening decisions on behalf of youngsters who saw only the celluloid side of life in the military; the sanitized tele-images of death and glory.
The younger Jonas Smith had nodded at his father’s suggestion and by conversation’s end had owned the decision without quite understanding how or why.
‘You’ve made the right decision son! University can wait. I mean we can’t have our hard won democracy flushed down the toilet by bastards who’d sooner wipe their arses on our values than take them on board!’
His mother had smiled as a million military wives had smiled before her, while deep down, where no smile can reach, her mother-soul had wept.

So here the soldier stands, in the prickly sweat- induced discomfort of his battle fatigues.
His body, not quite fully grown, is hidden and weighed down by the armadillo-like shell from which hang a soldier’s accessories.
Under his helmet his scalp itches; further down the heat nibbles at his crotch beneath synthetic underwear designed for lengthy wearing in desert war zones.
Sweat beads in a palm that nine months ago had held nothing more threatening than a football.
Jonas Smith junior took two steps forward and disturbed the flies. His mind registered the smell immediately; it took his guts a little longer to respond.

The village, a wasteland now, had been a bristling life-hub two days ago. Now it was a festering fly-blown carcass. Two children were watching the soldier. Their matted hair and blood-brown clothes offering temporary platforms upon which armies of flies landed before bouncing off and swarming to other, more fixed platforms, which offered less resistance.
Two days ago Latifah and Tawfiq had played the games that children played.
Two days ago they had been safe.
All that was gone now. 
There was no safety anymore.
The missiles had seen to that…

Their father and mother had known; known that at any time their lives might change through no choice or decision of theirs.
So, two nights ago, when the change came, they’d woken Latifah and her brother and sent them to check on the old goats, which were tethered some distance from the village.
And afterwards, when the children returned to the village, the walls of their childhoods, like the walls of their village, were irrevocably breached by the images that confronted them.

*    *    *    *
One simple command, flick of a switch or push of a button and a world empties itself of sanity, disgorging order and reason and leaving only chaos in its wake.
Jonas Smith junior’s father had told him once that it is difficult - almost impossible in fact - to impose a new order out of chaos.
“That’s why we have to lead the way son. That’s why we have to take control.”
Right now Jonas was wondering just who the fuck was in control.
One thing was for sure. It wasn’t him.
And where was the fucking back up? It should have been here hours ago. Just what was he supposed to do? He was only a private for God’s sake!

*    *    *    *
The children watch as the soldier raises a hand to his mouth and sinks to his knees.
A rib cage shatters beneath his rifle butt - one more indignity in a multitude of indignities.
The soldier’s bile spills out as he pushes himself away from charred remains.
Tawfiq cries out and starts to run towards the soldier. Tears stream down his cheeks. Putting a finger to her lips Latifah pulls him back.
Her hair is matted; her dress torn and dirty. Her eyes are puffy from crying and she is afraid. She pulls her brother close, as if the closeness might protect them both – shield them from the presence of all this death and destruction.
She takes something from a pocket of her dress, and hands it to her brother.
The soldier looks up, aware of someone watching him, and grabs his rifle. He stands. His eyes lock on to the two small figures a short distance away. He wipes his mouth with his sleeve.
Still eye-locked on the children the soldier walks towards them.

The children step back.
The soldier stops.
The index finger of a sweat-drenched hand taps staccatically against the trigger.
A voice whispers from somewhere under his helmet. Easy Jonas. Easy …

The children watch the soldier wipe sweat from his brow. Their eyes follow his hands as he lowers his gun.
One hand clasps it body-tight; the other reaches out. The weapon is a barrier between soldier and children, yet a link which connects all three of them to this place and what has happened here.
A smile cracks the soldier’s face but it is so uncertain that it doesn’t reach the children. Instead it hangs in space, unclaimed.
Tawfiq’s eyes are on the soldier’s rifle. His sister notices and places a hand on her brother’s arm. She squeezes gently.
Tawfiq glances up at Latifah questioningly and he clings tightly to his sister’s arm.
Jonas calls out.
‘Hi, I’m Jonas.’
The children take another step backwards.
‘Don’t be afraid. I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m American see.’
Jonas points to the flag on his jacket sleeve.
Latifah scrunches her face and spits on the ground.
Her brother copies her.
‘Hey whad’ya do that for? I’m here to help you guys dammit!’
‘Americans do not help us. Americans kill us,’ Latifah stammers.
The fear in her eyes is slowly being edged out by something else.
The children ignore his proffered hand so Jonas lets it drop.
‘Hey you speak pretty good English,’ he says trying to quell his feeling of discomfort.
‘This your brother?’
Latifah nods.
‘I’ve got a big sister back home; she’s always looking out for me too.’
Tawfiq is still looking at the gun. Jonas notices and holds it up.
‘You like it huh? State of the art this is. Fifty rounds in ten seconds. Pretty effective killing mach…’
Realisation hits.
 ‘Oh shit. Look I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…’
Jonas shoves the gun behind his back.
‘There see. No gun. Just me.’
He squats down. He is at the children’s level now. He sits back on his heels, places the gun on the ground and reaches out.
Both hands this time.
Latifah stands behind her brother.
Slowly they walk towards the soldier.
Latifah wipes her face on her sleeve and gently squeezes her brother’s shoulders. Tawfiq reaches out and places an object into one of Jonas’ hands.
Jonas looks at the object in disbelief.
Fear sparks in his brain.
His body numbs.
This was not what he had expected. Not what he’d expected at all.

Four weeks later and Christmas dinner is well under way in the Smith household.
Jonas Smith senior clangs his fork against his wine glass almost breaking it in the process. Jonas Smith Senior is a tad tipsy. But this is Christmas so nobody really minds.
‘Jush gotta say s’good to have you back home where you belong son. It is jush soo good to…’
‘Dad, sit down please.’
‘You showed ‘em din ya son? By god you showed the bastards.’
‘Yeah Dad I showed ‘em.’
‘Yeah, we can all sh-leep safer now ‘cos you showed em right?’
‘Right Dad.’
Yeah he’d shown them. Or had he?

The voices around the table fade as a particular image fills his mind yet again, just as it had every night since he’d returned home.
The image is always the same.
Two frightened kids walk up to him. They stand looking at him. He can’t read their eyes. He wants to say something to them – but he can’t. He sees the girl’s hands, scratched and encrusted with dried blood, resting on her brother’s shoulders.
Then the boy, his lips curled in a strange disconnected smile, reaches out and places the grenade into the palm of his right hand…
And the question that follows is always the same.
Was it ignorance or intention that had saved his life that day?


Monday, August 13, 2012


If the gap between where you are now, and where you would like to be tomorrow, is too wide, fill it with people you know can help you.
Albert Peebles - a character in my current book.

Friday, August 10, 2012


The mist and rain of the late autumn afternoon swirled in and out of the grave stones as a solitary figure walked towards the mound of a lately filled grave. She placed a single red rose on top of the dirt, then left the way she had come.
Another figures, its face hidden by a wide brimmed black hat, watched from some distance away.
At the local hospital, a nurse went about her duties as usual.

Maggie returned home, from the funeral, to find the door to her cottage open. She went inside, removed her wet coat and, after hanging it up, opened the door to her study. Someone was sitting in her special chair-the one she sat in on cold winter evenings as she watched the dancing flames play back other winter evenings from another time.
The chair swung round. The left side of the face that greeted her sagged. Strands of limp black hair had been hurriedly arranged in an attempt to conceal the disfigurement. It was, Maggie thought, a useless attempt at concealment. The brown eyes, the left one of which drooped, were heavy lidded. A wide brimmed black hat, weighed down with moisture, clung to the woman’s head, like beached seaweed. The woman’s left arm dangled over the side of the chair.
Maggie recognized her immediately.
Carole Overton’s head moved stiffly as she spoke.
‘Maggie how nice to see you. Awful circumstances though, yes? I assume it was you who dropped the rose onto Colin’s coffin. And I have to ask myself why you would do that.  But I think we both know the answer don’t we?’
Maggie shook her head, ‘I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.’
But she did. She had hoped her secret would remain undiscovered, but life, she realized now, rarely offered guarantees.
Carol used her right hand to lift and place her useless left hand on her lap and then reached for something behind her.
And placed it on her lap.
Maggie gasped.
‘A lovely thing, in its way, isn’t it?’ said Carol, ‘I’ve heard that sawn off shotguns are all the rage now and yours is a beauty.’
The twin barrels of the gun were lying across on her left arm. Although she couldn’t use the fingers of her left hand she could use her forearm to perform simple lifting tasks.
Maggie watched, in disbelief, as Carole “broke” the gun.
‘Loaded too,’ Carole said. ‘ Expecting unwanted visitors are we?’
‘Carole give me the gun!’ said Maggie. She made a grab for it, but Carole pulled it away. Maggie heard the cracking sound as the twin barrels of the shotgun flicked into place against the stock.
‘Sorry, not ready to hand it over yet. Now, don’t you want to know why I’m here?’
‘No. I just want you to leave.’
‘Oh do you? Well you don’t get off that easily,’ said Carole, ‘now step back while I stand up. ‘
She pointed the gun at Maggie’s chest.
‘Step back now!’ 
‘Be careful,’ said Maggie, ‘Please that gun is…’
‘Shut up! You are not in any position to give orders.’
She moved closer to Maggie and gestured towards the chair with the gun, ‘Now sit!’
Maggie sat down.
Carole leaned against the kitchen table. She took two cartridges from the box that she’d placed there earlier.
‘I’ll just pop these into my pocket for later. Did you know that Colin taught me how to use a shotgun? He said all women should know how to use guns, just in case…’ Carole’s voice drifted off. She suddenly started humming to herself and pulled the gun close to her chest.
‘We have to take care of each other, now he’s gone, don’t we?’
Carole’s eyes glazed over and she looked away.
Maggie seized her chance. She swung the chair around and jumped from it. She started for the door but Carole was too quick for her.
‘Oh, no please. You can’t go yet. You haven’t told me what I want to know.’
Carole raised the gun.
‘Now be a good girl and sit back down!’
Maggie staggered backwards into the chair.
‘Well?’ said Carole.
‘Well what!’ said Maggie, her eyes not leaving the gun. She was trying hard not to let Carole see her fear.
 ‘I want you to tell me about your relationship with my husband,’ said Carol.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ said Maggie.
‘Weldon hospital ring any bells?’
‘I was a junior nurse there but I…’.
‘You were his nurse while he was a patient at Weldon hospital,’ said Carole, ‘so stop treating me like a moron. Did you really think I didn’t know?’
‘He was a very special patient wasn’t he?’ Carole sneered, ‘and you - you were a very special nurse weren’t you?’
Carole place the gun barrel beneath Maggie’s chin and raised it. ‘Weren’t you?’
‘I may have nursed him. I nursed a lot of patients. It was a long time ago,’ said Maggie.
‘Oh come on!  Don’t insult me. I saw you there!’
Carole carefully removed the hat from her head and threw it at Maggie. Then, just as carefully, she pulled back the hair from her face.
‘Now you see it,’ she said. ‘And now.’ she positioned the hair strategically,  ‘you don’t.’
Stepping away from Maggie’s seated form, Carole raised the shotgun and spoke.
Her voice was ice.
‘Nurses shouldn’t take advantage of the people they nurse. But you did just that! You took my husband from me. I’m afraid I can’t let you get away with that!’
Carole aimed the gun at different parts of Maggie’s body.
‘Let’s see now, head or heart? Hmm. Perhaps the heart. More fitting and far less messy. Don’t you agree?’ Her eyes narrowed.
‘Carole you can’t! This is madness,’ said Maggie.
‘Is that so? Well you know what they say-“a fox will run with a pack of hounds if it think it won’t be spotted.”’
‘If you’re going to kill me you might as well do it now because I’m not going to tell you anything,’ said Maggie.
She closed her eyes. Carol Overton could not take from her that which she had shared with Colin.
Her past engulfed her at that moment as she went back thirty years.
She had been a junior nurse back then and knew nothing of war injuries; of what shrapnel could do to the human body.

Colin Overton had been in Vietnam. He’d married Carol, at her insistence before his battalion was shipped out. He had been in Vietnam for three months when a land mine ended his soldiering.
Three of his mates, guys he’d done basic training with, were blown apart in front of him. He was luckier, he was in one piece but badly injured.
He’d spent months in hospital and Maggie, who just happened to be on duty when he was brought on to her ward, was assigned to care for him. She changed the dressings daily, bathed him; did the personal things for him because he couldn’t. She also wiped the tears from his eyes when the indignity of his situation overwhelmed him.
Maggie remembered how Carol had behaved and looked, when she visited her husband. She always kept her distance. Perching on a chair at the foot of the bed, legs crossed, treacherous looking shoe heels thrust aggressively out in front of her. She always wore tight fitting clothes. The skirt, or dress came to just above her knees. Carole knew the effect she was having on her husband and she basked in the enjoyment of it. She would arrange herself at the bottom of the bed, in a seductive pose and smoke one cigarette after another until it was time to go. Then she would get up and creep her fingers along the bed, knowing exactly what she was doing. When she reached the door she would turn, touch her fingers to her lips and blow him a kiss.
Every time Carole visited the routine was the same, until, one day she came and took her husband home.

Back in the present moment Maggie was aware of Carole’s twisted face staring at her.
‘What,’ Carole said, ‘did he ever see in you?’
‘Possibly something he didn’t see in you,’ Maggie said gently.
‘He was useless,’ Carole paused, choosing her words carefully,’ in every sense of the word.’
Maggie smiled. That wasn’t her recollection of Colin at all. Her mind went back to a night, when, in the anonymity of her beachside cottage, they had found peace and comfort, in each other’s arms. No, she thought, she hadn’t found him useless at all.
Some time after that night Carol had suffered a stroke. It had affected the left side of her face and some muscles on the left side of her body. She never came to terms with what had happened to her and as a result she was temporarily confined to the psychiatric ward of Weldon hospital.
All Colin had wanted from Maggie, at the time, was for her to listen to him as he vented his hurt and frustration.
Carol’s condition gradually worsened and when the baby arrived there was really only one choice.
‘I’ll take the baby and go up north, find a job. At least that way I’ll have a part of you,’ she had said at the time.
Colin hadn’t objected.
Maggie called the little girl Ebony. She never saw Colin again.

Maggie wondered if, given present circumstances, she would have done things differently. Deep down she knew the answer.
She was tired now.
‘Just tell me what you want to know Carole.’
‘You and my husband had a secret,’ said Carol, ‘and I want to know what it was!’
‘After the baby was born Colin and I decided…’ Maggie didn’t finish.
The door opened and a young woman came into the room. She had short, black, curly hair, and piercing brown eyes. She looked at Carole first and then at Maggie.
The full force of both barrels hit the young woman in the chest and she crumpled to the floor.
‘No!’ Maggie screamed and rushed over to the lifeless form. ‘Oh God! Carole what have you done.’
‘I think you’ll find she’s quite dead,’ Carole said, her voice cold and distant. ‘You took my husband. So it’s only fair that I take something from you.’
She walked over to where Maggie was leaning over the body of the dead woman. Carole knelt down, and looked into the lifeless face.
‘She doesn’t look a bit like you,’ she said, ‘the eyes and hair are all wrong. But I can see Colin in her - oh yes she’s definitely Colin’s daughter.’
Carole looked at the uniform the dead woman was wearing, ‘Do you know I think I’ve seen her somewhere. She looks sort of familiar.’
‘She was a psychiatric nurse at Weldon Hospital and she was your daughter,’ whispered Maggie.
Carol stood up, ‘Oh No, that can’t be right,’ she said, ‘they told me at the hospital that my little girl was stillborn.’
‘No,’ said Maggie, ‘your little girl wasn’t stillborn.’
‘Such lovely brown eyes. But they should have been blue.  Blue is such a lovely colour isn’t it?’ said Carole.
She smiled and taking two cartridges from her pocket, reloaded the shotgun.
She placed the shotgun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.