Monday, 17 February 2020

The All Night Layover by Yvonne Witter

Changing flights at JFK airport in New York from London on route to Kingston Jamaica is not my favourite thing to do, but Delta and Virgin airlines have a relationship and had a super deal with Premium seats, so the inconvenience of an eight-hour layover 6th to 7th of June 2019, seemed worth it. I had it all figured out in my head that I would spend the night asleep in the lounge, but when I got there I was invited to look around and thought that for $70 there wasn’t that much on offer. The buffet looked tired, and people were lounging around on comfy chairs fair enough, but that was not what I was expecting to see. I had fantasised about little cubicles where I could really lay out and snore.  It was now close to midnight and my departure was at 7am. I realised that my phone had lost power and I didn’t have a charger on me with the correct electrical plug as that was all snug in my suitcase. Eventually, I found the parade of airport shops which were all closed apart from a few selling foods. 
As I walked around aimlessly wondering what to do next, I spotted a young woman of Chinese heritage sitting at a charging point, she had about three appliances plugged in, so I sat at the table, smiled, and asked her if I could borrow her charger when she was finished. I had no idea how long she would be around, but I was secretly hoping at least long enough for my phone to charge fully. She offered me her battery pack and I thanked her.

 As I was about to start reading my book another lady joined us. This charging point, with the spacious table and high stools, was a magnet. She plugged in too, and a few minutes later another lady joined us. There were now four of us, two on either side of the table.

It’s a shame that the names of these women escape me, but that is what menopause can do. Plus, I had no idea that I would be inspired to share this experience. The young woman of Chinese heritage had just completed her criminology degree and was trying to extend her stay in the USA by finding employment as a Police Officer, and she was literally applying in any of the 50 states where she could find an opening.  She had already failed a selection test in Boston and was now about to try again in California. She told me how on the last occasion she drove for two days interstate, and that her parents had come to visit and did the trip with her. She was a product of the one-child policy and she told us how she felt responsible for her parents and how much they were looking forward to her being married.  I could not visualise her out of that tracksuit and doc martins and into a wedding dress to be fair.

The second woman who joined us told us about her family of four children, two of whom were from her previous marriage, and two were from her husband’s previous marriage. She showed us photographs of her family and explained how the children were all in their mid-teens, and she and her husband parented them all the same, and how lucky she felt that things were working out so well. She was headed back home to Canada where she now lives and works as a college lecturer teaching Spanish. I asked her about Trump and the wall, when she told us that she was of Mexican heritage. She said that he was hilarious and that the wall was no more than a gimmick because the Mexican Government would not be paying for it. She mentioned the immigration changes and the challenges with Mexican students who no longer had a safe place in the USA.

The fourth person to join us was a woman of mixed Nigerian and English heritage from London and she had married an American and relocated to California. She was launching her interior design consultancy, whilst juggling a young family of two little girls, and was rushing back from New York in time for her little daughter’s school performance the following day. Her husband worked as an architect.  She spoke about herself and her brother growing up in Nigeria and her mother being white English and cooking delicious Nigerian Food which she liked too, and looked forward to when she visited them in London.  The way her flight was scheduled, she would need to literally get off the plane and go straight to the school.

We all ended up having a really lovely conversation about politics, work, food, parenting, and culture. We went off at different times knowing our hand luggage was looked after and we brought back snacks and water to share. The lady going to Canada made a pillow with her arms and a scarf and dozed off for a while. I can’t sleep in those conditions so stayed up all night with the other three. One by one we hugged goodbye and said we would stay in touch, as we departed for our respective flights, exchanged numbers and took a few photographs. We never did stay in touch, but I had a really unforgettable pleasant experience with three random strangers.

Charging Table

Monday, 10 February 2020

The Wonderful Wedding by Vivien Teasdale

The Wonderful Wedding by Vivien Teasdale

Wayne was a werewolf with wonderful ways
Who dreamed a daring dream one day.
As he stood in the shower, soaping his skin
He thought how thoroughly taut and thin
Were his cheeks and chops and charming chin
But, longing for lean and lithe-looking limbs,
He jauntily joined Johnny’s Junior gym.

Here huffing and hoisting, he heaved and hopped
And swore to sustain this sweating, and shopped
For carbs and calories in dinner and cake.
Then with plentiful proteins packing his plate
And arousing his appetite, amply he ate.
By devouring this diet, our doughty disciple
Soon ruffled his rivals with rhomboids that rippled.

Then one day Wendy walked in for a workout.
The gentlemen gaped, soon beginning to growl.
Such preening and pouting, and powerful pumping
Of iron, but ignoring their ill-judged insulting
She shook off their shameless, saucy saluting
Merely marking it down as unmanly madness
Or boisterous behaviour, or boldness or badness.

She took to the treadmill, the towers and the Trainer
Who welcomed her warmly. Of course it was Wayne.
Soon all was smiles and slim sultry silhouettes
They babbled of banns and, by bridesmaids beset,
The couple then crowed their encounter was kismet.
Love's lateness near left them both in the lurch
So the chaps and chapesses chased them to church

Escorting them easily, they entered the east door
But growling and grumbling, and greedy for gore
They howled and hurrahed, with hunger and happiness.
They yowled with yearning as yells of 'yes, yes'
Arose from the altar. The answers were awesome, as
Bridegroom and bride boldly barked back
at the preacher who led their peculiar pack.
Then they all danced deliriously,
singing quite seriously sometimes, you know,
as werewolves will do at their weddings.
But that is a secret, so whisper it low.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Whispering Time by Virginia Hainsworth

Earth spheres swelling,
shrouded in darkness,
sensing new warmth,
hearing the whispers.
Faintly at first
then beginning to call.

Needing to grow,
to cast off the clods,
not daring to breathe.
Follow the sounds,
words on the breeze
resounding within.

Slowly emerging
from winter repose,
the whispers of springtime
beckon the brave.
The first to appear.
in shy revelation.

And, confidence growing,
‘midst burgeoning green,
displaying their treasures,
each bud becomes bloom.
The whispering fades.
Spring’s song is beginning.

Monday, 27 January 2020

William Whizz by Dave Rigby

In his youth he whirled by, a passing blur, always on to the next thing,
‘No time’ his favourite phrase.
Always first in the 100 yards.
First in the dinner queue, first to finish eating, first for seconds.
First out of the exam room door, though never first in exam results.
First to spend all his pocket money, first to ask Dad for more,
Not that he got any more.
But in old age William has slowed down.
He stands by the pond for ages, counting the ducks,
Refusing to feed them because, you know, bread’s not good for them.
He walks slowly down to the shop to buy his Mirror,
Drinks his coffee standing up at the tea bar, slow sip by slow sip.
Ambles his way round the park,
Retired greyhound, Frank, longing for a bit of youthful speed.
Takes an age on the crossword,
Cryptically questioning his answer to every teasing clue,
Before finally filling each square with the appropriate pencilled letter.
Plays his thirty three and a third records, through the long winter evenings,
His bedtime cocoa cold by the finish.
When asked about the contrast between his older and younger selves,
He says simply:
“I liked being quick back then, saving time,
So I’d have more time left to potter and ponder in old age.”

Monday, 20 January 2020

The Poisoned Chalice by Jo Cameron-Symes

They sat around the table, poised, as if to see who was brave enough, who would take the first sip. Richard audibly swallowed, Gwendolynn coughed, Arthur flinched. There was an art in waiting and it seemed like they were all keen to be the victor of it. A chill wind blew through the ramparts and William shivered. He knew that he should be king by right and that none of these so-called contenders had any right to the throne, unlike him, the nephew of reigning monarch, Edward. Edward, who too, sat at the table, ailing fast, willing the victor to have courage and take a sip from the gold etched chalice in the centre of the table. 

The chalice filled with wine so sweet that it made angels weep, or so Gwendolynn claimed, though William was certain it was poisoned. Edward was meant to have procured and poured the sweet wine himself into the vessel but as he was so ill, he entrusted Gwendolynn to perform the task, a task that she was happy to fulfill.

“Now it is time,” Gwendolynn said. “Please take a sip from the chalice, then the ceremony can begin." She passed the chalice over to Richard.
“Ladies first,” he said, pushing it back.
“No, I insist,” she said, returning it to him.
“For God’s sake, this will take all day!” cried Arthur and he picked up the chalice and took a hefty swig from it. Everyone gasped and Gwendolynn’s eyes shone, reflected in the gold of the cup and the fire that burned in the corner. Everyone was poised, silent.

“Therefore, I am King,” shouted Arthur, who stood victorious, only to fall to the floor.
“He’s dead!” cried William. “You killed him, Gwendolynn,” he shouted. Before she could answer, a great noise shook the ramparts. A thundering, shaking vibration rocked the great oak table.

“Tis time, God has come for us! Have mercy!” shouted Edward.
“Don’t be ridiculous! Look outside,” said Gwendolynn.

They moved across and peered out of the window, pushing themselves against the wall to try to stay upright. A great army could be seen advancing on the castle. An army full of flags, carrying an unfamiliar insignia. Leading the army were knights, riding huge, giant mammoths. The battle had begun. 

Monday, 13 January 2020

When Time Intervened by Yvonne Witter

Maisie met Phil again after 40 years at the Rosebud grammar school reunion dinner in Coventry, they danced and flirted for most of the evening. Phil had aged well, he was on the athletics team at school, and had obviously kept that up, but Maisie had not liked him while they were at school together. He confessed that picking on her from time to time was the only way that she would have taken any notice of him. Maisie had rolled her eyes at that comment. Teenaged Maisie had turned young boys’ heads and had the girls gossiping about her even when she was asleep. 

Middle age was a turning point for many, and Phil having said that he was now separated sounded plausible, after all Maisie was a divorcee. No surprise when she had received a call from Phil a month later, telling her that he was in London and wanting to take her out to dinner. He had told her that he travelled to London quite frequently from his base in Madrid. Maisie has a fear of flying and was fascinated by anyone who was a frequent traveller.

They met in Mayfair on a Friday night and enjoyed a sumptuous Thai meal, and far too much alcohol. The next time Maisie saw street lights was on Sunday evening waving Phil goodbye as he jumped into a taxi.  She closed the front door and leaned against it, hitting her forehead with the underside of her wrist to check if her brain was in situ or not. 

Her decade old weekend routine was now truly messed up. She took a deep breath and tried to figure out what domestic chores could be shovelled into five hours, and instead grabbed an opened bottle of red wine, a clean glass and microwaved the yellow sludge that was chicken korma. She slumped in front of the flickering screen, tired but grateful and satisfied.

Soon, she had a handle on these weekends and looked forward to them, Phil and her rarely went out and his visits were never planned well in advance, and she nearly always felt exhausted but very happy on a Sunday evening. 

She had to be prodded by colleagues at work as she ruminated about the possibilities for their future together. Whenever she had tried to have a conversation with Phil he was always busy with the remote control while he farted in her bed. Their exchanges over WhatsApp were brief.  She had thought about sending him a long email to his Hotmail account but decided against it for fear of appearing rather desperate. She decided to wait, to see if he would suggest something more permanent.

The following eight months flew by and apart from four nights in the Lake District during August, his visits became pretty predictable in format. Short notice, short stay, short chats, short attention span if Maisie wanted to talk about her feelings. Long on sex, wine, champagne, dining in, TV, gifts and farting.

He left on Sunday 18th November usual time, to catch his flight back home. Having not received a single emoji or brief message of endearment by Monday 19th this was deemed unusual and by Wednesday the radio silence was totally out of character and by Friday still nothing! Maisie was frantic with worry as she had not been able to get through to him either. The Hotmail account did not reply, his phone line was active but all calls went to voicemail.  She now had the time to think more fully about this encounter and realised that she did not have any real basic information on Phil.

When she had called the organiser of the Ball, he read out the same number that she had for Phil, which he had described as a New York number. She did not contradict him because she did not want to appear stupid. She did however use Google to find out where the area code +718 was located.

Christmas was nearly a month away and Maisie had plans which included Phil, she had assumed that they would be spending the holidays together. She wanted to celebrate after a decade of being on her own, to finally have a man of her own for Christmas. She had already collected eggnog recipes via Google for Xmas morning. His gift was a trip for two to Corfu, as she had decided that he would be the one to help her get over her fear of flying. As she pressed redial and listened to the ringtone, Maisie was trying to remember the name of the company that he said he worked for. She threw her phone across the room, and was grateful that it landed on her sofa, as the voice message for the umpteenth time interrupted the ringing tone.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Ward 15 by Andrew Shephard

My friend, Keith, Kevin? You know who I mean. He helped me up from the floor and to his car. He drove me to the hospital. At the reception desk he told the computer to take good care of me and wished me a speedy recovery with a pat on my shoulder.

I answered a lot of touch-screen questions and sat on chairs outside three different clinics. Bright lights were shone, images taken, blood extracted from both my arms by robotic machines. A grey-haired doctor decided I needed to be kept in for observation. I asked if he knew what was wrong with me. ‘The computer is reading your epigenome now. We’ll have your entire medical history – and future – in a minute or two.  He invited me to sit in a wheelchair to be transferred to Ward 15 – a journey involving two lifts and a travelator, up, sideways, and up again.

The view from my bed close to the windows of Ward 15 was spectacular. I could see the stars in the night sky in crisp detail all the way to the other side of the galaxy without interference from street lights or the headlamps of cars. Was I on my way to eternity?

There were five beds in the side-ward. An occasional groan came from the bed nearest the doors, but it was surrounded by curtains.  I surveyed the other patients: a young man, with blond hair like mine, not much more than a teenager, hooked up to an array of tubes; a sleeping middle-aged, middle-manager type with his legs in plaster and an oxygen mask; and a fleshy man, younger than me I’m sure, but struggling for breath and sweating heavily.

Time passed, neither slowly nor quickly. My brain, deprived of all stimulus bar the stars, wondered about things. Where were the nurses? Why hadn’t I been given any pills? Where were the toilets? I attempted to swing my legs off the bed. They didn’t move an inch in response to my brain’s instruction. Nor could I raise my arm. When I opened my mouth to call for help no sound reached my ears. I was about to panic when I saw the assistance screen beside my bed and eyeballed the ‘Help!’ icon.

The grizzled doctor who had allocated me to the ward appeared by magic at my beside. I told him I couldn’t move. He nodded as though that was normal. He answered my queries with a smile. ‘E-beds. Sheet sensors monitor your condition, deliver the appropriate interventions and filter away any waste. Nurses are a thing of the past.'

I asked him if the chap behind the curtains was going to die. ‘Well that depends. It’s up to you.’ I followed his gaze around the ward.

‘Recognise these people? Do you really believe you deserve another chance?’