November 17th

Good morning to you! Enough jokes now to last the Christmas period, I think, and here's your Message for today.


The white wine was warm.

She could see how cross it made him. He beckoned for the waiter immediately. ‘Ridiculous,’ he shouted.

‘Please,’ she whispered, ‘can’t you leave it just today? I know it’s annoying but this is our anniversary.’

‘Exactly. That’s why everything needs to be perfect.’

She could feel the panic rise in her chest, just like it did at home when he’d come back from work and start to criticise. Why were the children still up? Why were their bags littered round the hall? Why was everything such a mess? Why couldn’t she make more of an effort. Why? Why? WHY?

He was thumping the bottle on the table now in an effort to gain attention. She looked down at her plate, not wanting to catch his eye in case he started on her.

‘All I ask for,’ he shouted, ‘is an evening out with you where nothing goes wrong for once. A chilled glass of wine, some pleasant conversation, no stress. Do you have any idea of how stressed I am at work. How tired. Do you?’

She shook her head. Why couldn’t she have checked the wine first, popped into the restaurant that afternoon to make sure everything was perfect for him? She was such a fool not to anticipate this. She’d spoilt everything now.

‘I could swear that waiter’s avoiding me deliberately,’ he said, waving his hands wildly.

She looked up then, caught the eye of the woman sitting at the next table who smiled sympathetically.

Maybe it was that smile which finally gave her the courage to stand up and pour her glass of white wine all over him.

Then she floated out of the restaurant, curtseying left and right to thunderous applause, as light as a bubble in a fine clear glass.


  1. She wonders what keeps her going, hoping that he’ll break the silence whilst she makes up their lives in her head. She imagines how she could fill the void, the time between his measured, economic utterances that she is sure are deliberately spaced to taunt her in believing that one day, he will unburden himself of a torrent of emotions and banal thoughts like her own.

    She fantasises of walking down the streets and running from every police car she sees so that they give chase only for her to say ‘I’m just running’; she goes to the Meat & Fish Counter in Sainsbury’s each week, asks them to dice some casserole beef but never goes back to collect it; she queues up to buy gadgets from Argos, collects them and goes to Customer Service for a refund only to do the same again repeatedly; she goes to all the travel agents in the town in turn, collecting brochures for holidays that are never booked; she goes to the McDonald’s Drive Thru but never buys anything, just drives around and around; she takes up art but paints wearing a blindfold and then throws it away before she has unmasked herself; she goes up in the shopping mall’s glass lift and down the escalator; she cooks meals and throws them in the bin; she washes clothes, puts them in the tumble dryer and back in the washing machine again; she reads a book backwards and it makes no difference to her understanding of it; she’s still clueless.

    All of these things she does in her head as she goes crazy and in her weekly routine, she feels like she really has done them all regardless of whether she actually has or not.

    She keeps hoping that one day, he’ll join her.

  2. I can feel the panic rise from my chest to my throat.
    "Let`s step outside Kim."
    "Oh, it`s that voice is it mother dear?". Once I`m outside I breathe, like I`ve been taught. "Why have you come back?"
    "To see you, him..."
    You`ve ran out again haven`t you?"
    "You`ve bloody well ran out and you`re using us as an excuse to..."
    "Whatever, Gretta!"
    "You still haven`t got the faintest idea how you, appearing then disappearing messes things up. It messes things up so badly."
    "Nellie, Nellie, Nellie. Me, me, me. Thinking about youself as usual?"
    "That`s cheap coming from you Kim!"
    "And how much are things messed up for me eh? Do you hear me complaining? I just have to get on with it. You`ve got everything and I`ve got nothing, Nellie. Sweet F.A. "
    "I have to go back in."
    "Of course. Can`t let your dinner go to waste now can we?."
    "Not this. Not now Kim. I have asked you before..."
    "I know. Don`t embarrass me in front of the old farts."
    "Can I go back inside now?"
    "You mean am I going to follow you back in and create? Do what you want. I`ll be calling around tonight anyway."
    "We`re out."
    "I`ll wait."
    She is walking away. Part of me is longing to hug her. Hold her tight. Another part of me wants to bury her inside the ground with a shovel. "Kim, don`t walk away from me." She can`t hear me. Too far away.

    The door opens and it`s the nice girl waiting on us. "Nellie, you okay?"
    "Yes love. Get me a brush and I`ll clean my dinner up."
    "I`ve done it and there`s a fresh one waiting for you at the table." She winks. "And I don`t just mean the food`s getting cold!"

  3. The house was quiet and dark when she got back.

    She let herself in and dumped his spare car key on the table. She had always resented his insistence that she carry it, in case he needed it, but this evening it had been most useful.

    She was glowing with happy anger, the first true anger she had allowed herself since her wedding day, since he had pulled the same warm-wine stunt at the reception. It had to be perfect for her, he had said.

    Thank God the kids were at her Mum’s. She knew why he had suggested they stay over. Not so that she could lounge in bed with a mug of cocoa, that’s for sure. He had very certain ideas about what should happen on their anniversary, so that it would be perfect for her.

    She climbed the stairs slowly. She had plenty of time. It would take him ages to find the car gone, report it missing, rant and rage at the police about catching real criminals, and finally find a cab to bring him home.

    She packed what she wanted, what the kids would want (none of them had much anyway), and loaded the bags into her own car.

    Then, and this was the bit that she had been looking forward to, she trashed the house. She went through the bedrooms, the bathroom, the lounge, the dining room and, with the most satisfaction of all, his study. The kitchen, she left alone.

    ‘Oh, my God!’ he said when he got home. ‘We’ve been burgled. Is anything missing?’

    ‘Only some stuff of mine and the kids. I’m going to Mum’s. I know you wouldn’t want me sorting through your belongings.’

    She left him standing there, amidst the chaos. For her, it was perfection at last.


  4. Do you remember our anniversary? It was one of the early ones – second or third of seven. Six if you don’t count the one we separated on. Never marry on your birthday, that’s what I say. Nothing good can come of it. Buying people presents on your own birthday sucks. I’ve no clue why you were so upset that I bought you a chest freezer as a seventh anniversary present. The studio easel you wanted would have been cheaper but where would we have put it? In the spare room? I distinctly remember thanking you for the new vacuum cleaner that was my birthday and anniversary present combined, though it would have been kinder to have peeled off the ‘shop-soiled: reduced’ sticker before you gave it me.

    I’m pretty certain it was our second anniversary. The gilt on our wedding was still mostly intact then and you took me to the Indian place on Warwick Street in Redditch. Do you remember it? Flock wallpaper and sad tropical fish. You had to go through the take-away part to get to the restaurant and there was always a youth or two waiting for a curry, slumped in one of the low vinyl chairs with his legs splayed across the floor.

    The meal was good though you kept flirting with the waitress. I had a chicken madras and you had the tikka masala washed down with white wine and kulfi. You kept asking for side dishes just so that you could ogle her when she brought them. I had an upset stomach and spent forty minutes on the loo.

    You were flirting with her so much you thought her blush was for you. It wasn’t. My stomach was fine. It was just an excuse to fist the pretty young waitress in the ladies.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. The clapping slowly died away.
    One couple who had been standing cheering and stamping their feet eventually sat down, speaking animatedly to the people next door.
    The waiter came across, unable to ignore the cause of the hubbub any longer.
    "Is there anything I can do, sir?"
    Her wine which had stopped dripping from his hair felt sticky on his cheek.
    "The wine. It's not chilled."

    By now the maitre de had arrived. Fussing. Anxious to avoid further upset; he flicked an imperious wrist.
    "Bring the Montrachet, allez! Allez!"
    Everyone returned to their eating and conversation.
    In minutes the wine had arrived, been tasted, approved and poured.
    And as if by magic within seconds his starter arrived.

    Moments later a woman who had been sitting alone, approached the empty seat opposite him.
    "May I join you?"

    Without waiting for a reply, she sat down.
    Not a hair out of place. Her impeccably manicured nails faultlessly matching her immaculate red dress. Her flawless teeth forming a perfect, sparkling smile.

    A little wine was poured. She swirled it in a sensuous, circular motion, then sniffed appreciatively.
    She beckoned a waiter and gave instructions.
    His plate was cleared and a main course arrived for them both.
    "This is exquisite."

    A curiously perfect normality settled around them. Eating and drinking interspersed with talk of holidays and work, favourite films, theatre, books.."
    "I actually write myself . At the moment I'm back into Kafka. And you?"
    " Oh, no! I'm too busy working for anything heavier than Dick Francis or Stephen Fry."

    For the first time in two hours their tastes seemed not to exactly coincide.
    She smiled,
    "Thank goodness, we are not all the same."

    At about midnight a few people rose, said it had been a pleasant evening and put on their coats.

  7. There's a silence when she breathes; almost, the silence of water, the silence of trees. She hears it inside her. A constant hush as she tries to calm her nerves, stop her heart from beating in this tin drum way rat a tat a tat a.

    It's a warning to slow down and quiet these reactions gathering below her skin, the pinking of her nerves.

    Of course, she is always slow and quiet on the outside. Timid, he calls her, my little mouse.

    She remembers walking along the lake with him, when they first met. The surface of the lake was frozen with a thin layer of ice and he said, she was just like this lake, still, unmoving, calm. He didn't notice complex patterns frosting the ice, whorling currents under the surface.

    She should have realised. Instead, she smiled at his innocence. She watched pink dusk sink the day behind clouds, only city pylons betraying the calm.

    Now, she spends her time worrying all his worries, fearing his fears, while her own are self-contained. Growing old. Being alone. Forgetting herself.

    She takes photographs of her reflection in the mirror. September ‘89. December 26th ‘92. Today. She wants to remember these moments. Wedding day. The day Nicholas was born. All the days between and after. It’s not the dates she might forget or what happened or where she was. It’s her own self, her feelings. The way he stamps himself across all their memories and changes them into ‘our first day in the house’, ‘the day we met’.

    Sometimes, she almost screams: a noise rising from the pit of her belly, gathering speed and almost leaving her. But, she strangles it in her throat, just in case. She breathes her silence, hears the hush of waves, the rustle of leaves.

  8. Nothing was ever good enough for him.

    He would stride into the house every evening, barking out orders as if he was still in the office. She started to feel sorry for his secretary, who had clearly been chosen for her looks rather than her competence. He rarely got back in time to eat with the family, but would expect a freshly-cooked hot dinner to be ready and waiting for him, regardless of what time his train actually got in.

    He never helped the children with their homework, even when it was physics or maths which she struggled to understand herself. Instead he would sit down in his comfortable leather armchair, a glass of whiskey at his side and his attention focussed on BBC News 24. She sometimes thought that he expected her to be like a model 1950s housewife, smartly dressed and fully made-up, eagerly awaiting his arrival. In reality she was a typical modern mother, worn down by juggling work and home, exhausted by ferrying her children around to leisure activities and walking the dog late at night.

    She’d felt so much better after that evening in the restaurant. The look on his face, as she gleefully poured her anniversary wine over him, was a memory to treasure. She had expected severe reprisals the next day, but after a few sharp words and a lengthy sulk, things had returned to normal. She couldn’t let it end there, could she?

    She was making steak pie for dinner. Rolling out ready-made pastry, she lined both a large dish and a small individual one, after which she fetched the meat from the fridge. She crammed the large dish with all the filling then, smiling to herself, she placed the small pie to one side and opened the can of dog food.

  9. She took the car, leaving him to make his own way home. Pleased with herself when she arrived at the house, she locked the front door after the babysitter left.

    She checked on the children, who were fast asleep, then ran a deep bath filled with bubbles and relaxed for the first time in Jesus knows how long. She replayed the scene at the restaurant, and listened for the sound of the key in the door, which didn't come.

    She found an unopened bottle of Jacobs Creek Sauvignon and poured a large glass. The wine was perfectly chilled. Stretched on the sofa in her nightgown, she drank in silence. One glass. A second. A third. She switched from replaying the restaurant scene to role-playing the scene when he would arrive home, unsure whether she would open the front door. Perhaps she would leave a suitcase of his belongings on the drive. Perhaps she would let him in if he apologised.

    When the bottle was empty, she made her way upstairs and laid on the bed, still undecided on the outcome she wanted, but she knew it was time he stopped being so monstrously selfish. The time had come for him to listen.

    She was still thinking this when she heard the whoomph. She looked at the clock and realised she'd fallen asleep. The room span with the effect of the wine on her empty stomach. She staggered to the bedroom door and met a wall of smoke and flame, and the smell of petrol. She screamed, tried to get to the children's room, but the smoke and heat drove her back.

    She replayed the scene at the restaurant. What was it he'd said about the stress he was under at work? She hadn't really heard him. She hadn't been listening.

    Bob Jacobs

  10. He didn’t go off with the others to the Gasthaus.
    “Why not?” I asked.
    “I’m Tschusch,” he said.
    I was familiar with the derogatory expression the Viennese used for anyone that came from the East of their border. They couldn’t always tell, of course, so it was sometimes used when someone spoke funny. I’d even been called that myself when I tried to get my tongue around the local accent.
    “Me too,” I said.

    He’d come from what was now Kosovo. Had worked hard and drew a small pension he rounded off by helping out with the dirty work.
    “Tschusch work,” he said. “You don’t do that.”
    “Aren’t you hungry?” I asked.
    “Maybe some sandwiches? I can pay.”

    I cut some black bread and spread butter, then I added three types of sausage. He’d worked hard on the house. I wanted to do it. “No pork,” I said. “It’s all turkey clone.”
    “I don’t mind sausage,” he said.
    “Aren’t you Muslim?”
    He shrugged. “I like salami.”
    “And wine? Want a Spritzer?”
    “Just water.”

    We sat on the bench and he told me about when the Russians had come and he’d lost everything. He’d started again. Nineteen cows, a house. Then came the cleansing. “I’ve got nothing left to lose,” he said.

    When the fires raged through and water became scarce, he started to cry. “I have to go home,” he said. “Just for a week. See how things are.”

    On the day he left he’d had a haircut and clipped his eyebrows. I gave him some cuttings from the garden. “Their roots are soaked; they should last the bus ride.”

    Last week he came by and pressed a small bottle into my hand. “Albanian cognac,” he said. “Made the same way, in the same place, for 500 years.”

  11. Sally looked around the Annexe fingering the pearls Les had given her as a Silver Wedding gift. Everything was going well. They’d spent an hour saying hello to the sound of the three-piece live band and drinking champagne. The hired magician in a white suit wandered around taking wallets and watches, tearing twenty pound notes in half and putting them together again. Someone said, Who is that man? It’s Sally’s nephew, joked another. Hope it’s not her financial adviser, said someone else. Sally was pleased at the surprise entertainment and wondered where Les had got him from. They began to move into the River Room for lunch.

    Sally had planned the seating with care. She noticed Patsy Shannon in a red dress and was surprised to see the magician sitting next to her. There was something about him she couldn’t figure out. He was, she thought, good-looking and good-humoured to the point of being weird. Les must have offered him that spare place because Patsy’s Philip hadn’t come.

    During lunch, the magician entertained by removing Sally’s pearls and finding them in Les’s zip-up inside jacket pocket. He pushed bottles through table tops, crushed a Rolex watch to bits and produced it whole from inside an egg. He stole Patsy’s bra. The noise of chatter and laughter increased and it became very warm. Happiness and well-being wafted around. More bottles were opened. Speeches. Toasts. Thanks. Farewells.

    ‘Terrific magician you got,’ said Les later, ‘I’ve never heard of the company before. Arcana Entertainments, he told me.’

    ‘I thought you’d hired him,’ said Sally in surprise.

    ‘Not me, I reckoned the three-piece band was enough.’

    ‘I didn’t hire him.’

    They stared at each other for a long time.

    ‘He gave me his card. Look. It says his name’s Hermes Q. Silver’ said Les.

  12. This will be the last time. I try not to think about it, but this will be the last time. At the same time, I don’t want to forget – I don’t want to risk taking this evening for granted.

    She looks beautiful, elegant even, in the way of a forties movie star. It’s not clothes or make-up, or anything like that. It’s her eyes. Bright eyes full of dignified sadness. And her voice. Her voice that is smooth and refreshing as spring water, but with an edge of brittleness tonight, like mountain ice. Her light laughter sparkles, but sounds ready to crack.

    Yes, even in this desperate emptiness of final parting, there is so much beauty. Indeed, thinking over our short time together – brief afternoons snatched guiltily from our rushing lives – there has always been sadness in the beauty, the ghost of imminent ending breathing heavily at our dancing heels.

    Our words are of no consequence, merely disguises for the goodbye neither of us has the courage to say. But we talk anyway to fend off the temptation of risking a kiss in so public a place. But this will be the last time – surely now we can take that risk, when minutes march madly to their inevitable destination, far, far away.

    Yes. I lower my glass and lean slowly forward. She does the same, those beautiful, sad eyes drawing me closer, deeper.

    Suddenly, there is uproar. All eyes turn to a man at the far side of the restaurant, fuming and impotent, wine dripping from his plastered hair. A woman, haughty and flushed, sweeps royally to the door and out into the night, the door crashing closed behind her.

    In shock, we jerk upright. We look at each other, our courage lost. She stands.

    This was the last time.

  13. Of the five sisters, only Janice kept the same husband for 50 years. Unlike her lavish wedding at Atlanta’s exclusive Druid Hills Country Club, her anniversary party was decidedly dreary—and dry.
    Time had taken a toll. The youngest sister was alcoholic, especially raging at family get-togethers, and the offspring of each fecund sister drank and drugged their ways through precarious herky-jerky lives.
    The party was billed a 1950’s fling featuring bobby socks, poodle skirts, and Elvis. The disc jockey’s repertoire was decidedly white and dry, no Little Richard or Black boogie-woogie like the sisters had actually blared when their father wasn’t home. Prohibition and bland music left the dance floor empty. The family pined for the champagne fountain that had graced the event 50 years prior.
    Janice tried desperately to feel like a princess tonight. She wore a baby blue satin prom dress. A faux diamond tiara held up a barely grey bouffant—no startling red hair or false eyelashes long as spiders’ legs. Chemotherapy had taken the steam from her once heavy roller. She drifted demurely engaging in polite conversation. Her steely daughter, a survivor twice divorced, ran the show.
    Husband Lamar sat pathetically at a high table in the center of the room, wincing in tight shoes, hands fidgeting for a tumbler of scotch on the rocks. In black tie and white tux, and his beard trimmed into a white goatee, he looked just like Colonel Sanders.
    The youngest sister, an authentic hell child of the 1960’s, had swallowed a handful of painkillers in the parking lot. She wore an inventive back-country hooker style: strappy black lace lingerie shortie over hot pink footless tights. A two-inch thick wooden Apache warrior’s choker clutched her neck. She twirled alone on the dance floor, an endless Grateful Dead jam in her head.

  14. My backside is numb from metallic, sodden cold. I’ve occupied this step for forty three minutes. Rain continues spewing its unforgiving torrents from low hanging, swollen storm clouds.

    I killed him on schedule. It was easy; when planning for the best part of a decade, everything should proceed seamlessly. Shouldn’t it?

    A single arc of illumination, penetrating our back alley darkness from adjacent streetlights reveals his still warm, bullet punctured corpse, prone and twisted at my feet. In the distance, sirens wail, whilst rising volumes of panicked, uncontrolled yelling courses through massed crowds assembling at the narrow head of the murky lane, safe in the sanctuary of their intensely populated thoroughfare. I haven’t planned on shooting anyone else anyway. Only him.

    Even in sudden termination, his harsh words beat a relentless tattoo. No overwhelming sense of relief or vengeance exists.

    For every working evening of the past ten years, he crucified me with his cruelty. Not as a result of the person I am, only because of the role I played in his life. I was with him from the start; joined at the hip through good times and bad. I should feel something, yet closure thus far evades capture.

    Despite plaudits, infamy and wealth brought upon us by his unique culinary talents (along with reality TV superstardom), he was chef, I merely waiter; senior dogsbody with unique abilities tolerating hourly servings of humiliation and depraved callousness, all in the name of fostering a hollow image. His temperamental style caught fire in the imagination of a wider public remote from lofty perceptions of haute cuisine.

    His exit is deserved, never in a more fitting location than one representative of where his background originated, but hastily relinquished; the dingy, quietly hidden staff entrance far removed from the glamour of false deity.

  15. I forgot to leave my contact details, for post at 14.06...!

  16. “That’s why everything needs to be perfect.” Of course that was why everything never was even good enough. He was constantly complaining, criticizing, demanding his version of perfect. Even in those moments when he didn’t she was anticipating it.
    All these years she found that she had never measured up, she had tried very hard at first. To do it his way, or in some way that would please him. If it wasn’t awful it was ignored and in the end she had just given up.
    In the early years she had shared everything with him. Her hopes, her dreams – not grand enough or just silly had been his estimation of them. She’d shared her fears which he then used to torment her.
    She had been outgoing, full of life and laughter then but slowly she had been drained of all of that. Until now she was grey, nondescript. There was little of her left. When she looked in the mirror there was no light in her eyes. She had lost almost 40 pounds from her already slender frame.
    Every night she felt a little bit more of herself disappearing, until that fateful night. She had not planned for it to happen. All the anger that she had pushed down, blocked or held at bay finally came bubbling up. When she saw the sympathetic smile of the woman across the restaurant she knew it was her time.
    She stood up. “Enough!” She said. She threw the wine in his face and suddenly she was free. Everything that she held back was released. She floated out of the restaurant then know that seven years of dying was enough. She would no longer be his miserable, imperfect, unsatisfactory grey woman.
    She would be fully alive, satisfactorily imperfect and exceedingly happy without him.

  17. Internet dating. No, listen, it’s great!
    I’ve met three hundred and seventy-eight
    Men in my search for the one perfect man.
    I know that he’s out there. I’ll find him. I can.
    He’s tall, and he’s funny, and clever, and kind
    And handsome and caring and smart. He won’t mind
    If I don’t shave my legs for a day here and there,
    Don’t always wear make-up or blow-dry my hair.
    He won’t drink too much, he won’t take drugs or smoke
    He’ll like all of my friends and he will take a joke
    And he’ll never do anything horrid or weird
    Like play golf, or crochet, or grow a big beard.
    I know that he’s out there. I’ve not found him yet
    But during my quest, let me tell you, I’ve met
    Men with bushy moustaches and little round glasses
    Men who slurp, men who burp, men who can’t find their arses
    With both hands, a map and a pair of compasses.
    Some argue and rant over great weighty matters.
    I don’t want to leave their wee egos in tatters
    So I stick to the listening – that always flatters –
    And then when they ask if they’ll see me again
    I say, sweetly, ‘No’. Really. I ask you. Men!
    The worst one turned up in a deerstalker hat.
    My perfect lover would never do that.
    Oh, my perfect lover, I know he exists
    I’ve met him in dreams, been aroused by his kiss
    No odours, no tickles, no cold, no bad mood,
    Just wonderful loving, all earthy and rude.
    My friends say I’m crazy. They say he’s not real.
    They don’t know the strength of the way that I feel.
    I’ll show them. He’s coming. I sense it. It’s true,
    And then I won’t need them. I’ll be half of two.

  18. Jack, the wine waiter, had seen them alright. She'd told him last night - in bed - that he'd booked the restaurant. It was their wedding anniversary and no, she couldn't possibly ask him to change the venue.

    He would become apoplectic.

    He'd be seen as a man 'not-in-control' and Daniel liked to be in control at all times. Social occasions were his speciality, his party trick.

    Jack hovered beside the sweets trolley and watched the proceedings at their table with gathering incredulity. She appeared to be clutching and unclutching her napkin a lot while studying the design on the tablecloth. He was doing an excellent impression of Basil Fawlty on speed.

    If it hadn't been so sad it would have been hilarious.

    Jack couldn't understand why she put up with it. 'For the kids' she'd say in a flat tone.

    'Even so ...' and he'd give her one of his bear hugs.

    He'd been instantly attracted by her bubbly personality and sparkling chat. Her full-bodied figure was discernible underneath her unflattering track-suit. Bumping into each other at the supermarket check-out, he'd almost been knocked senseless by her sheer nearness and he'd been stone-cold sober.

    She was Australian - well, they're everywhere these days. It's a generally known fact that the Aussies like to travel.

    Still, he was pleasantly surprised by her sophisticated, dry sense of humour. He wouldn't necessarily have labelled an Australian with that description.

    They met up at his flat the following day. She was amazing. He was amazed that this suburban housewife had such a cocktail of sensual surprises. Their first kiss - the aperitif was, well ...

    Eventually, Jack caught her eye. He winked. She suddenly gave the idiot a shower of luke-warm house white. Foul stuff. She flounced off without a backward glance. Jack gave a silent 'hallelujah.'

    Louise Laurie

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. The condensation slithered down the glass and over her red fingernails. She ran her tongue over the drips, set the glass down and looked at him. He stared at her, obviously thrown by her question. She parted her lips and smiled, waiting. His glass was empty. He reached for the open bottle and poured himself another.
    ‘Well?’ she asked.
    ‘I don’t know what to say’ he said.
    ‘Just answer me.’

    He downed his drink and leant forward, cupping the glass in his hands and watching her. She couldn’t tell if he was nervous, amused or offended. They usually reacted more than this. His eyes were on hers, holding her still, wondering if she’d take it back. But she met his stare head on.

    They were interrupted by the waiter.
    ‘Excuse me, I have a phone call for you madam’ he said. She nodded an apology to her companion, and left her seat. She could feel his stare switch to her departing body.

    Once round the corner she thanked the waiter, who smiled his appreciation for the five pound note she slipped him. Perching on one of the high bar stools, she lit a cigarette. About five minutes should do it. It always did. To pass the time she ordered a vivid red cocktail and sipped it slowly, its sharpness washing away the clinging sourness of the smoke, and the sweetness of the champagne he’d insisted they drink.

    Lipstick coated the cigarette butt she stubbed in the ashtray; she finished her drink and slid off the stool. Turning the corner she met him coming to find her.
    ‘I’m so sorry, it was work’ she explained.
    ‘It doesn’t matter’ he said, ‘I have your answer.’
    She smiled expectantly as he looked down on her.
    ‘No thanks’ he said, and left the bar.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. Philippe shrugged his shoulders and muttered, ‘women, j’y pas’. Business for him comes first so he ordered his waiters to clear up the mess on table 14 and lend as sympathetic an ‘would you like some more wine, sir?’ ear to the gentleman before disappearing into the kitchen.

    Ah yes, his Celestine is a beautiful, slender woman. His house is fragranced with flowers freshly garnered from his ‘jardin’ of rhododendrons, lavender, lilac and red roses on her side and mint, peppermint, marjoram, rosemary, basil and thyme on his side. Yes, as you enter the garden a ‘melange’ of sweet and herbaceous fragrances drift towards you with that air of ‘je ne sais quoi’ about it.

    She is the epitome of perfection. His ‘cherie’, mother to his ‘enfant unique’, ‘qu’il adore’. Yes, ah yes. Each day he awakes to the aroma of croissant and ‘Bonne Maman’ strawberry jam and freshly grounded coffee. A paper sits neatly folded on the table by his breakfast, meticulously prepared exactly how he likes it. Ah yes. He returns home to meals beautifully presented on fine china. His favourite is often served on Sundays: Delicately sliced pieces of succulent beef in a port sauce with new potatoes and rosemary to garnish followed by ‘tarte aux pommes’ with crème fraiche,

    Yes, she knows how to make his happiness complete.

    He felt sorry for that gentleman on table 14 and muttered a word of sympathy in his ear, saying the wine was on the house. The gentleman thanked him profusely and apologised for the inconvenience caused and then sidled out of the restaurant in silence. ‘Goodnight, sir’ he mouthed.

    That night Philippe would make a special effort to please his wife and when he opened the door he saw a note, with ‘Darling Philippe’ written perfectly on it.


  23. At twenty, Kathleen had never had a boy friend, and her friends were beginning to despair for her. She was lovely to look at and intelligent. The problem was that she simply could not avoid telling the truth, to such an extent that she hurt people needlessly. Finally her few loyal girl friends came up with a last resort plan. She should go to a dating agency, but she must try positively not to be so outspoken.

    So here she was on her first date. She made an immediate impact. No excessive make-up, well dressed, altogether attractive. He felt hopeful, she apprehensive. He’d chosen the venue, quiet, easy for her to find. He handed her the menu. Several good vegetarian dishes to choose from. So far so good. She selected one and pointed to her choice He gave her order to the waiter. ‘I’ll have the rump steak please, rare.’

    ‘If you think I’m going to sit here and watch you cutting into a bloody hunk of half raw animal this date’s a non-starter.’ She left, disgusted.

    Date No.2. Arranged for an initial drink at a pub. Her opposite number suave, good-looking, conceited. His opening gambit. ‘I’m sure we’ll get along fine.’ Hers. ‘You may be but I’m not.’ He smiles. Her dislike increases. ‘Look, I believe in being absolutely honest – I’ll have a drink with you, but there’s nothing about you that I fancy in any way at all; She sips at her gin and tonic then holds out her hand. She can see he can’t believe his own ears.

    Date No. 3. Smelt. No. 4. Half-witted. No. 5. Went outside for a smoke half way through their meal.
    Date No.6. Never stopped talking about himself.

    That’s it, if that’s men, you can keep them, she tells the Agency.

  24. Many women educated and uneducated and village born fall a prey to the heart rending
    male chauvinism, a domineering temper that rifts the family harmony to a large extent. More
    often than not it makes men lose their temper, forget their limitations and overlap their
    propriety of thinking even in public places causing unpleasantness and a loss of decorum.
    It was on last Valentine’s day that I was an eye witness to a loud mouthed husband to please
    his sister who was all the times complaining about his wife, poured the hot coffee on Nandini
    for that was his docile wife’s name , who was nonplussed on similar occasions would not even
    to look at him, lest should aggravate his mood; the simple and silly reason was that the
    coffee became cold and it was not served as soon as he came from his school, after teaching,
    that the sole understanding person in the joint family was the husband’s grandmother who was
    Bundled in a corner, was sympathetically disposed, outshouted supportive of her,
    “Nandini ! you go to your mother’s place and don’t come back until he comes and pleads “.
    When , the affected stand ,helpless, cornered , a single voice or smile or even gesture is a mountain like strength. To save your face in public places, is a must, a talent. Haughty men who lose temper, lose respect, peace and dignity.

  25. Let me tell you a story. It’s a story about the warm domesticity of a welcoming family and a home in Oxford. It’s a story of writers and friends re-united on a cold November evening, of flowing wine and good food, of generously given hospitality and re-acquainted friendships.

    Let me tell you a story of absent boys, of borrowed rooms, of unmade beds, of abandoned socks, of Havana, Buenos Aries, Costa Rica, Mexico City and other far off places.

    Let me tell you a story of messages and men, of mothers and daughters, of tales within tales, of loneliness, laughter, life and death, love and loss, of private ghosts laid to rest, of holding on, of letting go, of mysteries without ends.

    Let me tell you ten stories, layer upon narrative layer. And beneath the layers, hours and hours of carefully woven words, constructed, crafted, to suggest, to show, to reveal – drawn from the labyrinths of the imagination.

    Let me tell you ten stories formed from fleeting thoughts, from traces of ideas, from shards of emotion, from places visited, from memories recalled. Stories set down on the page, re-drafted, reworded, reviewed and rehearsed to be read at an evening performance.

    Let me tell you a story of images that flow, from inspiration to thought, from thought to pen, from pen to paper, from paper to voice, from voice to ear, from ear to mind, where the images take hold, settle, unfold - memories in the making.

    Let me tell you a story without an ending – more words to be written, more tales to be told, more meetings of writers and friends, more wine, more words, and still more words.

    Raise a glass to stories, to absent friends, to Rachel and Richard and the writers who made it all happen.

  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

  27. The bubble enveloped her as she turned right, walking over cobblestones, her high heels slipping into the lower recesses, then clicking over the stone tops. The applause still rang in her ears allowing her to numb the voice shouting on her left shoulder to go back in, the voice that had the shape of her husband's mouth, stretching into larger and larger elastic band ready to snap and hit her in the face. She could see his words, dislodged, out of order from how he spoke them, floating in the air: ridiculous, anniversary, perfect, I, so tired, can't you see, I, swear, waiter, I, deliberately, I, I, I. then the number 257.

    Why 257? She wondered, then it occurred to her, as though her background in mathematics had revealed a truth she'd never seen before, that her husband had said the word I, two hundred fifty-seven times since he came home to pick her up and orchestrated their journey to the restaurant. She had not registered a single we. You remained accusatory. He never asked, Are you all right? That seemed to have escaped his vocabulary. 9.

    9 years. He hadn't asked after her for nine years. Every morning was a ritual of getting him out the door according to his I.

    She pulled her mobile phone out of her pocket, pressed autodial 001. He picked up. Before he could start into a litany she spoke, revealing the mathematical calculations that gave her an answer to a once elusive question. "It's that there hasn't been some affection leading to our years together or producing children. It's the lack of adding an accurate equation so that we could be a sum rather than individual parts in separate orbits. Therefore, the idea of any more anniversaries is illogical."

    His mouth snapped shut.

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. The white wine was warm: the kind of thing Carla minded about and David never noticed. First she tried looking disappointed, tutting a bit, hoping he’d ask what was the matter, then when he didn’t she tried not minding.

    But it was their anniversary, after all; they were supposed to be enjoying themselves. She beckoned the waiter and asked for a glass with some ice in. Her father would turn in his grave, she thought, but it was a pragmatic solution.

    The waiter glanced at David, then gave her an odd look. Surely not pity? It was her, not him, who’d made a fuss – if you could even call it that. She added a couple of ice cubes to her wine glass and smiled at David. He was pleased with his pate. That was a turn up: he didn’t usually like pate. She’d steeled herself to swap with him when he’d ordered it.

    When their main courses arrived she caught the woman at the next table looking at her. Their eyes met briefly and the woman smiled sympathetically. Carla frowned. Had she got a rip in her skirt, she wondered? A huge stain somewhere she couldn’t see? She investigated surreptitiously, but found nothing.

    “Good steak?” she asked.

    “Perfect. The chef’s good.”

    She nodded. “Where did you say you’d heard about this place?”

    “Oh – I - someone at work mentioned it, I think.”

    Now she was really confused. David was a proficient liar; always had been. How big a lie could that be to make him fluff it?

    Then someone she’d never met greeted David warmly as he passed, and she realised the pity was for her cheerful ignorance. Sod the wine, she thought. Sod David and his bloody steak. She chucked the rest of the ice in his face and walked out.

  30. Her love of books angered him. His reading was a quick glance at the Mail, but she was able to transport herself into another world, live another life far removed from her own where she was dominated by a control freak. When he caught sight of her lost in a book, he became incensed and his sudden outbursts of rage took away her peace, made her edgy, so she stopped reading. Instead she began to take an interest in the rather drab pictures they had dotted on the walls of the house. His taste, not hers. She wove stories around them entering them as though she belonged. She loved the one of a ship on an artificially blue sea. She often climbed into it and sailed away, knowing she would never return.

    During the dark hours of the night, as soon as he was asleep, she crept downstairs and sat in the kitchen, a mug of tea at her side and compiled stories that spilled form her pen like raindrops. It gave her the courage to accept this treatment.

    Writing began to take over her life but he knew nothing of her passion. It was her secret. She gained sufficient confidence to enter a local competition and came second. Her name was printed in the weekly newspaper and his angry reaction to her success bordered on madness. He tore the page into tiny strips and threw them over her, reducing her to pulp.

    Under cover of darkness, she doused the strips of paper with mentholated spirits, flung them towards the bed where he lay asleep and scurried from the house.

    As the flames spread from room to room she felt smug. She knew the result would be far more rewarding than any story she had written. She was so right.

  31. It had been so long since she had felt the thrill of success; of approval. She allowed herself to savour the sounds and the emotions for just a moment, before turning sharply toward the exit. As she approached the door she began moving her legs a little more quickly and once on the pavement she broke into a run. Knowing he would not take long to follow her, she ran as fast and as hard as any woman could in a pair of cheap M & S sling backs. Faster and faster, until the formal shoes and clothes no longer felt like restraints but part of the machinery that was driving her forwards. All of the frustration and anger peeled away as she imagined her old self ribboning in her new self’s wake.

    She didn’t have, couldn’t pretend to have, any control over it. Something very peculiar was happening to her. The strangers that she raced past were not startled, as she expected them to be, but instead were urging her on; shouting and calling out words that she couldn’t quite hear, but she was touched by them anyway. And she responded, increasing her speed just a little each time she felt some encouragement had been turned her way.

    Soon the world was blurring in all directions. How fast was she going? Faster than any woman had ever run before, she was sure of that. Sweat trails were working their way down her spine in an unbroken, smoothness. She deserved freedom from this life. For ten years she had endured his tantrums, his beatings, his immaturities and his inadequacies. Instinctively, she spread her arms and the wind responded to her plea by curling under them and lifting her. In a second she was flying. No, not flying; she was soaring.

  32. A glass half full? She didn't know. But the repercussions of her actions, well...

    “This is the news, reports of a riot in central Bingham, apparently starting in a small restaurant, people fleeing say a group of about 20 or so women, went on the rampage after witnessing an argument between a woman and her husband. They were heard shouting, 'no more, no more', police are sealing of area and appealing for the woman to come forward and help to settle the situation. A police spokesman stated more women seem to be joining in the spontaneous protest”

    He had been banging on the door for nearly an hour, now it was quiet. Peaceful in fact, she liked that, she had no tension in her at all, she nonchalantly moved some ornaments around, pushing them out of line, that was better, she smiled. She poured herself another glass of red, she really didn't like white wine but he always insisted, right wine right course and everything will be all right. She felt better now than she had done for years, a weight lifted itself from her shoulders, she stood taller, felt open and free.

    It was time to do something about the others, two hundred strong now, marching on the town hall. The police jumped at the chance to meet her, she said all the right things, calm, return to normal, status quo. It was exciting, being whisked about town in a police car, sirens, lights. It was hard to believe only 12 hours before I had been an unhappily married. Now I stood in front of the barriers as the crowd approached. Police tense behind riot shields, news teams with cameras ready. I raised the bullhorn and spoke. I relived the moment, the glass half full, and we were unbeatable.

    Jim Barron

  33. She wasn’t pleased with the dull highlights. She wanted something more dramatic, maybe a mixture of vivid colours to make more of an impact. It was becoming so competitive.

    There were too many escorts on the books. Aging women, just like her - over made-up, smiles too wide, skirts too short all eager to please the boring old farts who had more money than sense. They were plumping for younger women now, eager to hold on to their youth, to boost their morale. Poor sods, hadn’t they clicked that their bulging wallets were their only attraction?

    She remembered most of them, especially the generous tippers. She clung to their every word as though they were the greatest wits in Christendom. Compliments poured from her lips as smoothly as wine into a glass, and she needed a fair amount of that to keep glowing.

    She’d never met him before; he was new on the block. She stepped out of the taxi in her Jimmy Choos, nodded at the doorman and with a pout of her collagen enhanced lips sashayed across the foyer. He rose to meet her, younger than most, not bad looking, his breath reeking of whisky.

    They were halfway through the meal when he leant across and pushed a carnation down her throat.

    ‘That’s to keep you gagged,’ he said. ‘You’re such a boring old bird I’m almost asleep.’

    Now was the moment. She’d always wanted to do it. She picked up a bottle of wine and smashed it over his head, splitting it wide open. It was impossible to pick out the red wine from the blood as they seeped into the white cloth.

    ‘If that doesn’t wake you up nothing will,’ she laughed as he slumped across the table. She was still laughing when the ambulance arrived.

  34. “Tommy wants you.”

    Never a good sign. You come in for lunch shift and, before you can even clock in, the boss is looking for you.

    I make my way through the kitchen and knock on what looks like a closet door.

    “Enter,” he barks, ever the Marine. He’s nice enough, Tommy is, but he’s never been able to pull that military stick out of his ass. You’d think he’d be grateful, getting caught up in the “don’t ask don’t tell” thing before they shipped him to Afghanistan.

    “Hello Walter,” he says, not looking up from a stack of timecards. “What happened last Thursday?”

    “Nice to see you too, and welcome back.” He’d been visiting his folks in Indianapolis. “Thursday?” I coyly rejoin.

    “Mr. Franssu,” he says, initialing another timecard.

    Ugh. Him. A high-roller from the riverboat who has a stake in our steak house. Quelle jackass. He’d brought in of his dancers and was pawing all over her, mouthing off, and making a spectacle.

    “Apparently they disagreed about whether her tenderloin was on the menu, because she stood up, dumped her glass of Château Margaux all over him, and stormed out. Honey, she (and her Ferragamos) were fabulous.”

    “He’s made a complaint,” Tommy says, squaring up the timecards like an anal-retentive dealer before a televised hand of championship poker.

    “Really? All I did was hand him a clean napkin, show him the wine list, and recommend the Pouilly Fume, saying ‘You know, white wine gets out red.’”

    “Wally,” Tommy sighs.

    “What? Aren’t we supposed to upsell?”

    “He says people laughed at him.”

    “Gee, I thought they were laughing at me. C’mon, it was kinda funny, right?”

    Apparently Franssu didn’t think so. Word is that if I want to be smart-ass waiter, I should move to Manhattan.

  35. She was waiting for him.

    She didn't know if she was ready, didn't know if she would be able to do it, but she had to try. She had to put one foot in front of the other and try her best. Her mother always used to say to her: if you can't do your best at any one thing, don't do anything at all.

    She doubted her mother had been talking about murder, but the same rules still applied here. The children were with their grandmother miles away. Their neighbours were away so they would hear nothing.

    Besides, household accidents happened all the time, did they not? She hoped the one blow would do it, that she wouldn't be forced to touch him. The brick was rigged to come out of the wall the moment he opened the front door. If everything went alright, the blow to the head should have him out cold, or, better yet, kill him instantly.

    She didn't want him to suffer. Indeed, since she had found out about the affair, she had been trying to think of a way to leave him that would save her reputation and his.

    This was the only way.

    She had a few backups in case the brick didn't work, in case it went wrong. There was the knife at her feet. She had gloves on, soft plastic gloves. She didn't want to leave fingerprints anywhere. Didn't want to leave behind finger prints.

    In the end, it was so simple really. He had to die because he had lied to her. He had not kept his vows; he had not honoured and cherished. Just in case things went horribly wrong, she had the sledge hammer next to her.

    She heard the creak of the front step, announcing his arrival.

    Jamieson Wolf


Add Your Own Message Here
If you want to take part - great. All you need to do is add your response to our message here as a comment, but remember it has to be exactly 30 or 300 words, and it needs to be posted before 8am GMT the morning after the original post for each day. Please also remember to add your Name and Email Address to the end of your message, so that we can get in touch if your work is selected.