Impromptu Contest

My prompt for today was to write a piece of flash fiction containing as many names of US sitcoms from the 80s and 90s as possible. Quite a task! Very enjoyable. So, I’m going to share with you my writing. It occurred to me I could make a little contest out of this.

The contest is to read it and reply to this post with how many titles you think I’ve included.

You have until midday GMT tomorrow (so, 24 hours from now), and the person who guesses right (or nearest to right) gets to feature a poem or piece of their writing on my blog. How does that sound?

If lots of people guess correctly, I’ll feature all of you. It will be wonderful to be able to share some of the talented people I’ve met through blogging.

So. Here is my story:

The Memory Chest

treasure-pirate-chest

 

Emptying my mother’s house is harder than I anticipated. This intricate little box incites butterflies to float and dance in my stomach. The box, which is shaped like a pirate’s chest, is a deep plum purple and decorated with tiny green rhinestones and cut-out silver spoons. Mum was obsessed with spoons. I have already taken five complete sets to charity shops. I kept her favourite for myself. On top of the chest, Mum has written “Small Wonder”, her nickname given to me following my miraculous, if somewhat arduous, fifteen hour birth. It is a perfect title for the snippets of life I find inside. I lift the lid to a plethora of old photographs, newspaper cuttings, and letters.

The photographs are bound together with a length of purple lace so dark it reminds me of aubergines. I smile without trying when I see the first picture. It is taken at our old house, 227, Benson Road. Three girls, as yet untainted by the traumas of adulthood, smile awkwardly at the camera. On the reverse, Mum has written “Roseanne, Kate & Allie”, 1989. My smile falters when I look at the background scene. I see the looming figure of Mr Belvedere, our creepy next door neighbour. I could never understand how he made a living out of driving a taxi. He smelt of mildew and feet and was always watching us from his garden. One time, I ran straight into him when I was late for the school bus. I got to see his (not so) lazy eye study me carefully. It was too close for comfort. I was happy when we moved to our new house on Alf Tyler Street. Our new neighbours, The Jeffersons, were much less intimidating and, as far as I know, they never once smelled of feet.

I dig deeper into the chest and find my mother has lovingly documented every stage of my growing pains; all my happy days. There is a newspaper cutting, which evokes the fondest feelings inside of me. The picture is of my two friends and me. This time, we are smiling with all the confidence our new-found adulthood and sexuality has brought. The heading reads, “Three’s Company For This Homegrown All Girl Group” and underneath, the article continues, “The Golden Girls of Tucson land their first top ten hit.” Not just our first, but our only hit. I read the whole article, which gushes huge helpings of praise onto Saved By The Bell, a decidedly average song which, somehow, made it to Number 6 on the Billboard Chart. Mum almost burst from her pride in me. It was a magical time, a different world to the one I inhabit now.

Today, I am married … with children. Three children, they are my world and I am a full time mother to them. My life is still full of cheers. My full house of loved ones is more rewarding than all the bright lights and fame in the world.

Even so, I think I’ll keep this treasure trove of memories. When they are old enough, I will show it to my children. Maybe I’ll create my own box and fill it with my new beautiful family ties.

A Christmas Miracle

This is a short story I wrote this time last year. Bear that in mind when you read it: I wrote it in a different political time. This is story is a fantasy story, so I appreciate there is no chance of any of it ever happening (I did actually get a couple of people telling me the story doesn’t work because it’s not possible!), but I thought it was a cool idea for a story. I’m a bit of a dreamer, at heart.

A Christmas Miracle

For most of the year a small, round table stood in the centre of the Blue Room. Made of the finest mahogany, it sat underneath the two-hundred year old crystal chandelier. Barack lost count of the amount of awestruck gasps he had witnessed over the previous eight years.

With Christmas two days away, the chandelier had been removed in order to make way for a twenty foot high Norwegian pine. This year, Michelle and the girls had insisted on decorating it themselves. In keeping with the decor of the room, Michelle chose a colour scheme of silver and baby blue.

As he stood before the towering Christmas tree, the scent of pine needles filled his senses. He reached out and touched his fingers to the needles; jabs of pain shooting through his hand. Memories of Christmases from another lifetime, when happiness came easily, danced before his eyes.

“Sir, there’s a telephone call on your private line.” He spun around to see his personal assistant, Kiara, standing in the doorway. His cheeks flushed, as he took a moment to recover his thoughts.

“Who is it, Kiara?”

This time, it was she who blushed. “She says her name is Sophia Claus. She . . . ugh . . . she says she needs to you speak about her husband, and that you know who he is.”

“What? That’s a little cryptic. Can’t you get rid of her?” He pinched the bridge of his nose and turned back to the tree.

“I can’t, sir. I mean, I tried. I hung up the phone and cut off the line, like, twenty times. But she’s still there. She said she can’t go until she’s spoken with you.”

A shiver tickled the president’s spine. Sophia Claus? On the private line? About her husband? No way. A rash of adrenalin spread across his chest. “Okay. Thank you, Kiara. I’ll take it in the Oval Office.”

As he slid into his leather swivel-chair, he took three deep breaths, then hit the loud speaker button on his phone. “Mrs. Claus? It’s Barack here.” A line of sweat formed on his upper lip. There could only be one reason for this phone call.

“Barack? Mr. Obama? Hello, deary. You sound far away. Can you hear me?”

The old woman’s buttery voice reminded him of his Grandma. He smiled as he said, “Yes, I can. What can I do for you, Mrs. Claus?”

“Oh, wonderful. My husband asked me to speak to you. We’re in a bit of a bind. It’s my Fred, you see. The silly man had an accident on the chimney entry practice pad. Truth be told, he’s getting a little old to be shooting himself down chimneys. He could use the front doors, I tell him. But he prefers the traditional approach. Now he’s broken both his legs. He’s completely incapacitated. The most he can do is oversee the elves in the workshops from a wheelchair.”

Barack’s head buzzed as he tried to sort through the barrage of information. He turned and glanced at the Grandfather Clock behind him. The thought of what sat underneath, of the magnitude of this telephone call, sent shockwaves through his body.

“I’m so sorry. I hope he makes a speedy recovery.” Lifting the receiver from its cradle, Barack held the mouthpiece close and said, “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

A pause crackled through the airwaves. “Yes, deary, I am. Invoke Operation Rudolph.”

Before he could prevent it, a gasp escaped the president’s mouth. His hands trembled. This was the pinnacle of his career. “Okay. I will need you to give me the password, Ma’am.”

“Of course. The password is sprouts. Good luck, Mr. Obama.”

With that, the line fell silent. Barack stood and faced the Grandfather Clock. Never, in his wildest dreams, did he think he would be the president to push the Rudolph Button.

Every president, when they are sworn in, is told the location of the Rudolph Button. The clock is a replica. It’s made of cheap, light wood: easy to move on your own. As Barack stood before it, searching for a sign of its inauthenticity, he shook his head. This can’t be happening.

Throwing his arms around the clock, he heaved with all his might. He exclaimed as he stumbled backwards. Wow. That was easy. Cream carpet pooled where the clock once stood. You would never guess something so important could be concealed underneath it. Barack crouched down and peeled back the corner. There it is! A square cut into the wooden floor: two inches by three.

Three taps to the bottom, right-hand corner, and the president held his breath. His eyes widened as he watched the wood give way to a scarlet, shining button with the letter ‘R’ engraved above it in diamonds. The force of the movement sent him reeling backwards.

Eyes closed, he pressed the button before he could chicken out. He could only imagine the reactions of his fellow leaders as the Rudolph Alarm sounded in every corner of the world. The next move for him was to gather his own military and political colleagues in the Situation Room. First, though—for the next minute—he had to regain his breath.

“Sir, the switchboard is crazy. Every line is jammed up.” Kiara’s dark ponytail swished as she entered the room. “Are you all right, sir?”

“Yes. Can you patch each line through to the conference call system please? I need to speak with everyone.”

“But there’s at least twenty people on hold. I can’t put them all through.”

Barack exited the room, and said her his shoulder, “Normally . . . no, you couldn’t. But today is no normal day. Today, Kiara, I think you will be surprised at what is possible.”

Every screen in the Situation Room came to life as Barack entered the room. World leaders from Teresa May to Vladimir Putin, and from Angela Merkel to Xi Jinping, sat in squares on the five large wall screens. The Rudolph List had gathered as promptly as he ever thought possible.

As he began to speak, he steepled his fingers in front of him. “Thank you all for responding so quickly. Time is of the essence. I’ve just finished speaking with Mrs. Claus, and they need our help. We have two days to organise our countries’ aircraft. Christmas Eve deliveries must be carried out as usual.”

The room filled with voices muttering. Barack wasn’t clear whether it was excitement at the challenge, or annoyance at the enormity of the task. He scanned each face, and it occurred to him how foolish he had been. These people had one thing in common: a deep-seated hatred of one another. He pinched the bridge of his nose, and rested his hand on the black, leather chair in which he always sat with his government.

“I appreciate this is a tall order, folks. But we all signed up to be part of the Rudolph List. We can’t back out now just because the button has been pushed.” A silence settled in the air. “Okay. Y’all know where your warehouses are. You all have your bombers on standby at this time of year. The warehouses have lists and addresses. For those of you who finish early, check the main computer log—details will be sent in the next ten minutes—and see if you can help anyone. You know what to do.”

One by one, the screens turned black; save for the solitary face of Ash Carter, the president’s Secretary of Defense. The older man cleaned his glasses without looking up. “You sure about this? You really think we can pull it off.”

“We have to pull it off, Ash. Christmas depends on it. We have our B-2s and Lancers ready to go. There’s even the old B-52s waiting for the signal.”

Ashton Carter shook his head, as he placed his spectacles back on his head. This time, he looked Barack in the eye. “Okay. Let’s do it. I’ll notify everyone from my end.”

Barack sat at the head of the empty mahogany table, with his hands behind his head. All he could do now was wait. His part of the deal was done. Whispers of world leaders pushed to their limits clung to the air around him. If this works, it will truly be a Christmas miracle.

As the day moved along, Michelle joined her husband in the conference room. He wasn’t supposed to speak of Operation Rudolph: it was top secret. But, heck, he had spoken to Mrs. Claus: wife of Santa! The farther away he moved from the enormity of the situation, the more filled with wonder he became.

“She sounded like Grandma Madelyn. You remember her voice, right? The way she always sounded like she was smiling. It was incredible, Michelle. I actually spoke to Mrs. Claus.” A grin spread from ear to ear, and he hiccuped with delight.

Once Kiara set up the data for each country on one of the large screens, it surprised Barack how quickly some of the boxes were checked. It helped that there were varying time zones around the world. It meant everyone could pitch in to help others.

The resulting friendliness and goodwill toward previous sworn enemies was a side effect of Santa’s broken legs no one could have foreseen. Barack felt his heart stop for a moment when he saw Putin video high five-ing Petro Poroshenko. Whoever would have thought delivering millions of presents to children at Christmas time could cast such a unifying spell over the world?

At four-thirty EST on Christmas morning, the last presents settled underneath the tree of Jackson McNally in Alaska. The Rudolph spreadsheet lit up, and an animated Santa danced across the screen. Barack glanced at the faces of each world leader. They had all thought this would be an exercise of great stress and pressure.

In fact, it had the opposite effect. Each leader smiled at him, and their smiles stretched all the way to their eyes. Contentment filled the room. When Barack spoke, he stood and steepled his fingers in front of him.

“That’s it: we’ve done it! Every child will receive their presents this Christmas, and it’s all thanks to us. We worked together, as a world at peace. We helped our neighbours, put our own needs aside. I know I am not speaking only for myself when I say the feeling that fills me is one of pride. Folks, let’s build on this pride. We’ve seen what we can achieve when we come together. Let’s not waste this opportunity.”

Barack moved to his end of the table and loosened his tie. “I propose we safeguard the goodwill that is in our hearts today. No more nuclear weapons. No more wars. No more bombs. These evils are not necessary. We have so much more in common than in opposition. Let’s make this world great. All those who are with me, check the final box on your section of the spreadsheet.”

Tension crackled in the air. Some countries took longer than others to reach their decisions. Barack looked at his wife who was stood in the doorway beaming at him.

The final yes came in twenty-three minutes after Barack’s speech. Every country agreed. Lightness washed over the president’s body, lifting him high into the air. Cheers rang out from every screen. World leaders he had known for twenty years looked happier than he had ever seen them.

“This is the best Christmas ever,” he shouted. “Everyone, pour yourself a drink to toast the occasion. Here’s to a Christmas when peace and goodwill has reached every corner of the world. May it last forever!”

 

An Intercontinental Union

UK-and-USA

 

There is so much hatred and bad blood being spilt in the press these days. As human beings, it used to be that we had an inmate desire to be with others. That doesn’t seem to be the case any more.

Brexit, Trump, extreme nationalism. It all comes back to one thing: we only want to care for ourselves. There is no togetherness any more. We don’t trust anyone. A lot of this is due to the perpetuation in the media of horror stories that vilify certain groups of people. They incite fear, and in doing that, they incite hatred. And it scares me. It really scares me.

So, for today, I decided to write a story about how wonderful it can be to work together, even when you are from different cultures. You see, I’m British, and my husband is American. Okay, so they aren’t the most diverse cultures in the world. But,trust me, you would be surprised at how different they are. We work, though. We are best friends and we love each other to bits. It’s our differences that make our relationship extra special. So I wrote this story. It’s not a true story, but it is based heavily on my own relationship. I hope you enjoy it.

 

America

“Nana, Nana,” said Poppy as she bounced into her grandmother’s front room. “I’ve got a project from school.”

“Sorry, Mum. She’s been excited about this project for the last few days,” Anna said, placing her hands around her young daughter’s shoulders and squeezing.

“Oh, that’s alright, darling,” said Kathleen. Smiling, she turned to her granddaughter and said, “ So, you’ve got an exciting project have you, pumpkin?”

“Yes, Nana. America. I must do America.” The rosy-cheeked little girl clambered onto her grandmother’s lap. She swiped away the rogue strands of dark hair that didn’t quite reach her ponytail.

Once she was comfortable, she grabbed her favourite treasure; the gold locket with which Kathleen never parted. Poppy opened the locket and studied the pictures inside. “Grampy?” she said; her honest, blue eyes searching her grandmother’s face for confirmation.

“Yes, Poppy. Grampy Bill.”

“He’s in Heaven now? But he used to be in America, didn’t he, Nana?” Poppy fiddled with the gold chain while she waited for her answer.

“Yes. That’s right, pumpkin,” Kathleen’s voice faltered. Clearing her throat, she said, “So, what is your project? What do you have to write about America?”

“Lots. I’ve got to do a project.” She scrunched up her face and looked to her mother. “That’s right, Mummy, isn’t it? A project?”

Anna nodded, then turned to her mother. “She has to create a folder about another country and she’s chosen the U.S. You know how she’s been obsessed with it, ever since she found out Dad was from there.”

Kathleen chuckled and, when she smiled, the lines around her eyes highlighted the clear blue, passed down from generation to generation. “She does talk about it a lot. What kind of things does she need to know?”

“I think it’s pretty much anything goes. Things like geography we can do at home from the internet, but it would be really good if you have any photos to spare. Anecdotes as well; anything about the cultural differences between the U.S. and the U.K.”

“Nana, I’ll record you,” said Poppy, “Mummy has a recorder.”

“It’s just a phone, Mum, that’s all. I can record your voice on there.”

Kathleen sat back in her chair, sucking air in through her teeth. “Oh, I don’t know, darling. I don’t want everyone listening to my voice.”

“No, it’s okay, Mum. They won’t. It’s just so we can remember what you say.” Anna set the phone on the worn out arm of her mother’s chair and said, “I’ll make some tea. I’ll just set this recording and you can go. Thanks, Mum.”

Eyes wide with uncertainty, Kathleen pressed herself against the back of her chair. “So, you want me to talk about America, Poppy?”

“Yes! America,” her little granddaughter replied.

“Hmm. Okay, let me think.” The sitting room faded away as memories of her late husband and their home in Arizona came to the forefront. Her nose twitched as she smelt the dust that had a habit of stopping by.

“America is sunshine,” Kathleen eventually said. “Blue skies, freedom, and happiness. Long, open roads and lazy days stretching in front of you. Laughter, love. People who are welcoming and friendly. But, I guess that can be true wherever you are.”

Kathleen hugged her granddaughter. “You would love it there, pumpkin. You are very much like Grampy Bill.”

“You always say that, Nana.” Poppy was eager for new information. “Mummy said it’s different to here. She said you speak different.”

“It’s differently, Poppy. And yes, we do.” Memories of discussions over the pronunciations of so many words flashed through Kathleen’s mind. Her face animated as she reminisce. “Americans pronounce their vowels differently, that’s the main change. Like the word pen. It’s spelt pen, isn’t it? Spelt with an e, but your Grampy always pronounced it pin, with an i. It was a running joke between us, we always argued about who was right.”

Anna walked in and agreed that she remembered her parents constantly arguing over words. “You always thought you were right, Mum, and Dad would wind you up so tightly.”

“Yes, but in the end we laughed, Anna. Hover, that’s another word, Poppy. Hover, he pronounced huvver, like it was spelt with a u in the middle. I never understood that. Compost was compowst, elongating the o. Really rather strange. Your Grampy used to call it the ‘New Improved English’. But he was just wrong.”

“I’d forgotten how much you argued about language, Mum. I miss that.”

“Me too, darling. But it wasn’t just the language that was different. As long as I live, I will never understand American sandwiches which are described as ‘chicken salad’ or ‘tuna salad’. Poppy, what that means is they are chicken and mayonnaise, or tuna and mayonnaise. There is not one item of salad involved. It would be like me saying I am a twenty year old man. Just for the sake of it.”

Poppy giggled and said, “Don’t be silly, Nana. You’re not a man.”

“That’s right, Poppy. And for that reason, I don’t call myself one. There are different words for lots of things in the U.S. as well. You know jelly, Poppy? Like you have with ice cream?”

Poppy nodded her head.

“Well, Americans call it Jell-o. But jam, like you spread on your toast, that is jelly. It’s all very confusing.”

Anna noted the way her mother’s eyes sparkled and her face lit up as she spoke about her dear, late husband. New life seemed to flow from her fill her body. Tired, arthritic arms gestured wildly, and her words tripped over one another in her rush to relay every single memory.

“Come on, Mum. You shouldn’t get so worked up. Drink your tea and calm down a little.”

Kathleen took a sip, then continued. “Television is different in the States. There seem to be adverts every five minutes or so. And they advertise things like prescription drugs. That was a big shock, the first time I saw an advert for anti depressants. It reminded me that it’s all a big business.”

Kathleen paused to take a deep breath. “That aspect, I didn’t like so much. But I got used to it. There were lots of good shows, but the sense of humour is different to ours. They don’t really understand sarcasm, as a general rule. Things are a lot more literal. Humour tends to be more visual in the U.S., whereas over here, we used words more. They also have shows called roasts where they take a celebrity and have people who know them belittle them and make fun of them in front of an audience. I just don’t understand how that’s funny.”

Anna watched her mother’s face smile, then fall, and she wondered what was really going on behind her eyes. “All right, Poppy. I think that’s enough for now. Your Nana is getting tired.”

“They were such happy times, Anna.” Kathleen grabbed her daughter’s hand. “I’d go back to them, if I could. You know, all these differences made our time together more interesting and exciting. We laughed so much of the time. Do you remember that, Anna?”

“Yes, Mum, I do. You and Dad were always happy. It was lovely to grow up with.”

“Yes,” said Kathleen, feeling far away.

“Come on, Poppy, we have to pick Daddy up from football practice soon.”

“Football, that’s another one, you know? In America, football is called soccer. The game they call football is one where feet rarely go anywhere near the ball, let alone touch it. Very, very strange.”

Laughing, Anna said, “We really should go, Mum. Will you be all right?”

“Yes, darling. I’ll be just fine. I’ve got my memories.”

 

Killer Queen

 

Portia glanced at her diamond-encrusted Cartier watch. He’s late. Five more minutes, and he can forget it. Sipping from her glass of Moet, she scanned the room for a third time.

“Ms P?” The deep voice came from behind her and made her jump. Looking the speaker up and down, she narrowed her eyes.

“You’re late. I don’t care for tardiness. Two more minutes, and I would have left.”

“I’m sorry. There’s been a pile up on the ring road. I got stuck in tra—“

“I didn’t ask for your life history. I don’t care why you were late. Only know, it cannot happen again.”

She smiled as she watched him bow his head in shame; her thin, red lips stretching across her face. “All right. Enough with the dramatics. Pay for my drink, and we’ll be off.”

When he pulled his wallet from his back pocket, a photograph of two children fluttered to the floor. Scooping it up, he shoved it back in its home.

“Children?” She arched a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. “They look young.”

Her client’s cheeks coloured and he fanned himself with his wallet. “Oh, yeah. Six and eight. But I’m getting a divorce, so I’m not cheating on anyone.” His words tripped over one another in his hurry to absolve himself.

Climbing down from the bar stool, she leaned in close and said, “Not here. We don’t want the whole world to know our story, do we?” An auburn hair fell across her face when she spun around to leave. Immediately, she tucked it behind her ear.

With the drinks paid for, she led the way to the elevator, brushing off a couple of men who pawed at her as she passed. “My time is occupied right now,” she breezed and continued walking. “Call and leave a message on my phone. You have my number.”

Once inside, she hit the button for the twentieth floor. On the way up to her room, things became a little crowded as everyone seemed to be heading up to the roof. Backing herself into a corner, she recoiled as the intoxicated, sweaty people invaded her space. Human touch was something she allowed only in the confines of her own room; where she could be in control.

She didn’t occupy the penthouse suite. Her money didn’t stretch quite that far. Nonetheless, she had managed to sweet talk the manager into renting her the next best room. With a window that wrapped around the entire suite, the views of the city were breathtaking. Lights twinkled in the dark night sky. In the living area, the walls were off-white with rose gold flowers.

The first time she saw this space, she had gasped. She had always known she would make something of her life and have all the luxuries she had been denied as a child. But to see this beautifully decorated living room—that was bigger than her entire apartment back home—well, it made her proud. She was someone.

“Okay. As you were late, we’ll skip the foreplay and head straight to the bedroom.” The moment she said it, she felt guilty. She had no right to take out her bad mood on a client. That’s not how you made money. Softening her tone, she added, “You may pour yourself a drink from the mini bar first. If you like.”

The man, who she guessed must have been around forty, ripped open the refrigerator door. “Vodka. Is that okay?” When he turned to face her, his pale blue eyes watered. As he poured the drink, his hands shook.

“This is your first time, isn’t it?” she said, sitting on the bed and crossing her long, stockinged legs.

After swigging almost all the drink in one, he licked his lips. “Yes.” He stared straight ahead, unable to meet her eyes.

Her heart sank. This guy didn’t want to have sex with her. He wanted to talk. Oh, how she hated that. Such familiarities pushed her closer to vulnerability. “So, what made you call me? How did you hear about me?”

Draining the liquid from his glass, he paused before speaking. “My mate Buster uses—ugh, no, has called upon your services before. He said you’re the real deal. You know, like, you’re sophisticated, and all that. You come recommended at the price you charge. I liked the sound of you because my wife, my Claire, she’s sophisticated, as well. Likes all the best things in life, you know. God knows what she’d say if she knew—”

“Woahh. I don’t need to hear about your wife. You can keep that to yourself.” Opening the refrigerator, she poured him another vodka. Eyeing him as he took another long draw of the alcohol, she said, “So what would you like from this evening? From our encounter? What are you hoping for?”

A smile crept across his face, and he chuckled. “I would have thought that’s obvious, isn’t it? You’re a call girl, and I’m a red-blooded man. I want to try your goods.” Placing his glass on the side, he grabbed her head with two rough hands and suckered his lips to hers.

A couple of drinks usually brought them out of themselves. Pulling herself away, she stood and took his hand. “I think you’re ready for the bedroom now.”

 

***********************************

 

Alone again. The soapy bathwater masked the real Portia. It covered up the dirt-poor neighbourhood in which she was raised. It wiped out all traces of her drunk mother and way-too-friendly stepdad. As she lay back, feeling the bubbles caress her skin, she thought about the success story that was her life. She had made it. Not only did she have so much money she didn’t know how to spend it, but the things she did want to buy, guys tripped over themselves to get for her. She wanted for nothing.

Pulling back the rose gold covers on her king size bed, she climbed in. If only she could tell someone about her successes. Sharing would feel good. Grabbing her phone, she flicked through her contacts. She had over a hundred names in there. She could call any of them, and they would invite her over or out for drinks. But none of them would listen to her. None of them cared.

She rested her head on the pillow and pulled the covers over her. The black hole in the pit of her stomach expanded, filling her body. Closing her eyes, she drifted off to sleep.

The Show Must Go On

I intended to write a poem, based on this song. However, when I started writing, I knew it was going to be a story instead. I didn’t realise just how long it would get!

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

The morning of the dinner party just happened to be the morning after the night before. Jasmine clutched her bruised ribs as stood on wobbly legs. She stole a glance at Kevin. Even when he was sleeping, her husband’s presence stifled every last chunk of air.

In the bathroom, she dropped her robe and peeked at her skin in the mirror. This time, it hadn’t been that bad. The shoe-shaped purple mass just below her right breast had no counterpart on the other side, and for that she was grateful. Faded yellows and greens already created an artist’s palette across the rest of her body.

She held her breath as she ran her fingertips along the outline of purple. Pain shot through her core, forcing her backwards against the door. Sitting on the edge of the bath, she forced herself to breathe. Tonight, Kevin’s boss and his wife would be dining with them. She needed to be able to fake it until she really did make it. Entertaining Steve and Michelle left no room for errors.

Hot water battered her sore body as she stood under the shower. Scrubbing away the remnants of the previous night was getting easier with each time it happened. As she closed her eyes, she pictured her mother’s face. But only for a moment. Thoughts of her loved ones were dangerous. Kevin always knew when she betrayed him. Today, her mother’s face shimmered, as though it were blowing in the wind. “Oh, Mum,” she said under her breath.

Breakfast had to be perfect. Jasmine worked quickly, setting out their cups and plates. The moment Kevin’s foot hit the top stair, she put his toast in the toaster. Backing against the counter top, she averted her eyes when he entered the kitchen. He had to speak first. Holding her breath, she waited.

“Good morning, sweetie. How did you sleep?” You would never know by his voice or his manners that anything had happened the night before. His smile spread over his entire face, and his eyes twinkled—just as they had that night, ten years ago, when they first met.

“Ugh, yeah. Okay, thanks.” She lingered a look over his face, trying to gauge his mood. “You?”

“Oh, yes. You know me, Jas. I never have trouble sleeping, do I?”

“No.” It didn’t make sense. How could someone with so much evil on their conscience sleep a solid eight hours every night? She had been in too much pain to sleep more than a couple.

Once he was safely eating his toast, she sat opposite him and sipped at her coffee. His mood seemed to be genuine, but she didn’t dare take her eyes from his face; watching for the darkness to cross it.

“You haven’t forgotten about tonight have you, sweetie?” He didn’t look up from his breakfast.

“No. Of course not. It’s all sorted.” Her tone came out all wrong, and she regretted it the moment she spoke.

Kevin placed his cup on the table and levelled his eyes at her. The air in between them sizzled with static. He licked his lips, then said, “ All right. I’ll let that one slide. You’re probably still upset about our fight last night.”

Her heart hammered against her sore ribcage, trying its hardest to break free. The coffee she’d just drank nudged the top of her throat and she swallowed hard. “No. I’m sorry.” Time floated in between them, suspended, waiting for his next move.

“Come here. Come on; over here.” He patted his lap, and she edged closer to him. When he grabbed her waist and pulled her onto him, she sucked in the cry that threatened to ruin everything. Shots of pain ricocheted around her torso. All she wanted to do was to go see her mother. She needed to be hugged by arms that loved her; gentle and protective arms.

“I am sorry we fought, you know. I don’t derive any pleasure from it.” He suckered his lips onto hers, and the taste of tea mixed with raspberry jelly sent a wave of nausea swirling around her stomach. When he pulled away, she smiled. Acquiescence was her means of survival.

As soon as he left for work, she scrubbed her teeth, in an effort to destroy the taste of him. Rather than focus on the mess that had become her life, she would focus on what she could have control over: the dinner party. I can do this, she told herself.

After taking a couple of the painkillers she got when she broke her wrist in the summer, she got to work with prepping the food. Nothing could be left to chance. The more she prepped, the more her confidence rose. So much was at stake. She couldn’t even entertain the possibilities of what might happen if she got it wrong, but she had checked the menu with Kevin five times. He said it was perfect.

A tune floated around the periphery of her mind. Queen. Oh, what’s it called? One of the lines played on a loop. She sang it out loud, “I’ll face it with a grin, I’m never giving in.”

Leaving the kitchen, she climbed into the cupboard under the stairs, lifted the rickety floorboard and retrieved her iPod. Kevin would be livid if he knew she had it, but he wasn’t due home for another three hours, or so.

Jasmine flicked through the songs until she found the one she was looking for: ‘The Show Must Go On.’ With her earbuds in place, she sat at the kitchen table and listened. By the end of the song, tears streaked her cheeks. She remembered listening to the song as a child. Even then—before she ever met Kevin—she felt it had been written for her. Now, after ten years of living with the devil, she knew it had.

Every day, she played the required roles. With Kevin, she was the timid punchbag who let him do whatever he wished with her. Her friends, she rarely saw, but when she did, she was the woman with the most incredible relations ship ever. That Jasmine couldn’t be happier . . .

Her mother was harder to fool. She had this knack of knowing exactly how Jasmine was feeling by the tone of her voice. Even now, with 300 miles distance between them, she could still know her daughter’s emotions. That’s why Kevin forbade her from having any contact.

“Inside my heart is breaking, my make-up may be flaking, but my smile still stays on.” Fresh tears dropped onto the table. How did I get here?

The shrill sound of the telephone pierced Freddie’s aching voice. Blowing her nose, she said hello.

“Jasmine?”

“Yes, Mum. Hi. How are you?”

“I’m fine. Have you been crying? Are you all right? What’s he done to you now?”

“Slow down. I’m okay. I was just listening to a song I really like, and it made me a little nostalgic. That’s all.” She sniffed and wiped her nose.

“Oh, darling. You have to leave him. Please. He doesn’t love you. He treats you worse than a rabid dog!”

“Mum, I’m fine. I miss you and Dad. How is he?”

“Oh, you know your father. Likes to keep busy in the garden. His back’s playing him up, but it’s just his age catching up with him. I’m more concerned about you. So, that’s why we’re coming to see you.”

Jasmine’s heart leapt into her throat. Kevin wouldn’t allow it. How could she persuade her parents not to come? If they did, how could she keep it from Kevin? If he knew, how much would he hurt her? The show must go on. “Okay, Mum. When are you coming?”

“Monday. And don’t try to stop us. You keep telling me what a nice, big house you have, so we want to see it.”

Closing her eyes, she could feel the floor disappearing beneath her. “Okay, Mum. Let me know when.” She couldn’t tell Kevin today. Not before the dinner party. Standing to put the phone back in its cradle, the room swirled and she had to hold onto the table to steady herself. The show must go on. She had to do this. One thing at a time. Today, the dinner party. Tomorrow, telling Kevin about her parents.

As she waited for the baked cheesecake to be ready, she checked the vegetables in the tagine, added a pinch more turmeric, and headed upstairs to get changed. Clutching her side—that had started hurting more since her mother’s phone call—she showered and dressed in her long-sleeved, floor-length black evening dress. She popped a couple more pain pills into her mouth, before going back downstairs.

Despite her mother’s best efforts to disrupt everything, it was all going according to plan. Ahead of time, in fact. She poured herself a glass of water and sat. A smile crept across her face as she thought about her parents. She hadn’t seen them since Kevin dragged her to Cornwall seven years ago. As she thought of her mum, the scent of lavender tickled her nostrils.

When she met Kevin, ten long years ago, her parents had hated him on sight. They didn’t trust him. He was too possessive. But Jasmine didn’t listen. Honestly, she had liked how absolute he was in his devotion to her. No one had ever loved her that much. At nineteen, she was swept away with his sophistication and dark good looks. What a lesson I learned there.

Not for the first time, she entertained the possibility of leaving Kevin. Actually, it’s something she thought about most days. This time, though . . . this time, it felt different. Her parents were going to see her. They wouldn’t take no for an answer. Maybe she could leave with them. Maybe that’s why they were coming. They had an idea what went on behind the curtain. They knew how she ached to be free. Maybe life was turning a corner. Maybe . . .

Six o’clock: time for Kevin to be home. She rifled through one of the kitchen drawers to find their posh bottle opener. At the back of the drawer, sitting in plain sight, was a card her friend Nina sent her a couple of birthdays ago. A purple butterfly graced the front. Jasmine lifted the card and read the inside:

‘My Jassy,
I hope you know your soul is painted with the wings of butterflies. Fairytales of yesterday will grow, but never die. You can fly if you just spread your wings.
Love you.
N xxx’

Warmth spread through her body, and she clutched the card to her chest. When she heard the front door open, she hid it at the back of the drawer again and turned to greet her husband with a painted-on smile that was a little closer to being genuine than any smile she’d performed for years.