In a word: Pause

Yes, when you are going at it like a bat out of hell, it might be an idea to take a pause and regroup.

That being a pause as an interruption to an activity.

In music, it’s a mark over a note.

Perhaps it’s a good idea to pause recording a TV show while the ads are on.  Networks don’t like it, but it makes the show make more sense without the distractions of advertisements, sometimes quite inane, or annoying.

What I just said, might give pause to my opposite number in this debate.

Have you been in a conversation, someone says something quite odd, and there’s a pregnant pause?

How did the word pregnant get into the conversation?  That, of course, usually means something significant will follow, but rarely does.  But it can also be a conversation killer where no one says anything.

Is that a wide eye in awe moment?  You did WHAT?

Then there is the word pours, sounds the same but is completely different.

In this case, the man pours water from the bucket on the plants.

Or my brother pours cold water on my plans.  Not literally, but figuratively, making me think twice about whether it would work or not.  Usually not.

Or a confession pours out of a man with a guilty conscience.  AKA sings like a bird.  Don’t you just love these quaint expressions?  It reminded me of a gangster film back in Humphrey Bogart’s day.

It never rains but it pours?  Another expression, when everything goes wrong.  A bit like home renovations really.

Really, it means to flow quickly and in large quantities, ie. rain pours down.

And if that isn’t bad enough, what about paws?

Sounds the same again, but, yes it’s what an animal has as feet, especially cats, dogs, and bears.

One use of it, out of context, of course, is ‘get your paws off me!’

And one rabbit paw might be good luck, but having two rabbit pows, I might win the lottery.

If only….

 

 

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to write a war story – Episode 21

For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.

Whilst I have always had a fascination in what happened during the second world war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.

And, so, it continues…

 

Chiara knew the moment she told Martina that one of the Germans was dead, she would be in trouble.  Not only from the resistance but from the British or whoever they were, up at the castle.

The man’s name was Eric Carmichael, and he was a nice man, more of a boy really, having not suffered the full effects of a front line.  He wanted to, but the Gods, as he called them, were against it.

Now he was dead.

He had come to the farm, told she was not there and had left again.  The pity of it, on any other occasion, nothing would have happened.  Nobody went out at night, so no one knew of their association.

Of course, if he did tell her anything, which he hadn’t so far, she would pass it on to Martina.  And, perhaps the only annoying thing about him was that he kept asking about the resistance as if it was still operational.  It was one of the reasons who Martina kept her at arm’s length, so she had nothing useful to tell them if they took her in for questioning.

Now it was a matter of seeing if he had told anyone about this affair, and if he did, she would not be safe at the farm.  It was why she was in hiding, waiting, and watching to see if anyone came.

Along with Carlo, and the new man, Atherton.

Not far from where the soldier’s body lay in the ditch, one that no one had yet found.

Until now.

A car was coming along the road quite fast, heading towards her farm.  Atherton recognised it as one of the staff cars from the castle, and as it slowed to turn the corner, Atherton could see it contained three men, the driver, and the two men who had followed him down the stream.

Suddenly the car skidded to a stop.  All three got out and went over to the ditch.  The driver had seen the bicycle.

 

It was an interesting conversation.

“The fool looks like he run off the side of the road and into a tree, fell off and hit his dead on the rocks.”

It was the man who had set me free.  I’d recognise him anywhere.

“Or maybe some ‘innocent bystander’ shoved a wrench in the wheel and he went over the handlebars.”

The big man turned to him.  “You have a story that implicates every member of the enemy population, don’t you?  Where’s the wrench?”

“They could have tossed it away or thrown it into the bushes.”

“The kid’s an idiot.  He was out for some fun and had his mind everywhere but on the job.  If she’s that tempting, maybe I’ll go and have a look in myself.”

The driver took a closer look, then suddenly bolted for the bushes and threw up.  I’d expected more seasoned soldiers in the group of paratroopers, but maybe they were late recruits with only half the training, and barely out of school.  He didn’t look all that old.  Neither had the lad in the ditch.

The tall guy yelled out, “when you finish puking, get over here and help us get him into the car.  Then we’ll meander down to this farm.”

 

Carlo knew a quicker way across the country to their farm.  It didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what he was intending to do.

Three fewer Germans, three fewer problems.

I followed, trying to keep up.

“You got weapons hidden away?”

“Several rifles and a handgun.”

“It’ll do.  When we get there, you say out of sight.  Me and the new laddie here will take care of them.”

A look in my direction told me I’d just been recruited into the killing force.  Exactly what I’d been hoping to avoid.  I guess it was time to make a stand.

A few minutes later we were in the large shed out the rear of the farmhouse, retrieved the rifles, of which one was a sniper rifle, a rather interesting trophy, and not the sort of gun any soldier would leave lying around.

I was tempted to ask where she got but decided against it.  I had an awful feeling the previous owner had met a gruesome if not a sticky end.  Chiara was not just a pretty face.

“You know what to do with this thing?” Carlo said, holding it out in my direction.

“Vaguely, but I think I can manage.”

With it was a carton of shells, rather long and ugly and very deadly, even at long range.  But this time, we were not that far from the target area so wind and external conditions would not be a factor.

Also, I was hoping the sight had been calibrated.

After getting a feel for the weapon I took up a position on top of some hay bales and could see through a large enough crack when I put the barrel, and stretching out, found a comfortable position, and aimed for the back door.

It was like putting out my hand and touching it.  This was going to kick like a mule on the recoil, but I would only have time to worry about reloading for the next target.  Then I realised the driver might be a problem, especially when the shooting started, so I swivelled around to the back end of the house where a vehicle might come, and, saw the blue, altered the sight, and then saw the car approaching slowly.

I was hoping it would remain in sight, so if anything happened, I would be able to pick him off.  It would be all that much harder if he managed to try driving away.

I tracked the car to the point where it stopped, just pat the corner, with only the back half displayed in my sight.

Damn.

In the distance, we heard two car doors slam shut.

The driver was staying put.

Double damn.

A minute later we could hear pounding on the front door, then nothing.  My guess, they kicked in the front door.  There was no one at home, Chiara’s parents were away because they had no crops in the ground.  Their problem was water, and the river was running low this year.  Aside from the fact they were not going to feed the enemy soldiers who would simply take everything and give them nothing in return.

I heard rather than saw Carlo stiffen and resight the back door.  His shots would be far more difficult than mine.

The tall man came out the back door, stood on the ground not far from the door, his head filling my scope.

“Now,” Carlo said softly.

A pull of the trigger and the man’s head exploded, at just the same time as the other man came out.  A reload and another shot.  I missed the head, winged him, and Carlo finished him off.  Once shot at an impossible range.

Another reload, and swivel towards the car, now reversing, and making it very hard to see his face or body to get a clear shot.  Back, around and driving off, in a panic.  He’d heard the two shots.

“The fuel,” Carlo said, “shoot the fuel.”

I lined up where I thought the fuel tank was and squeezed the trigger.

Almost instantaneously the car exploded in a ball of fire.  Just under my line of sight, Carlo was running.  If the driver escaped…

I put the scope on Carli and then to the side.  I saw him raise his gun and fire twice.  The drive must have miraculously thrown clear of the car, only to find himself in Carlo’s sights.

Chiara had appeared behind me.  “We have to go,” she said.

I picked up the gun and took it with me.  It could come in handy later on.

Carlo was already heading back to the shortcut through the woods and we met him on the path about twenty yards along.

“That’s going to stir up a hornet’s nest,” he said.

More than that, I thought.  Now Johannsson knew he had a real problem.  There would be a price to pay for this exercise, and the villagers were the ones who would be paying it.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

Searching for locations: The Great Wall of China, near Beijing, China

This is in a very scenic area and on the first impression; it is absolutely stunning in concept and in viewing.

As for the idea of walking on it, well, that first view of the mountain climb when getting off the bus, my first question was where the elevator is?  Sorry, there is none.  It’s walk on up or stay down the bottom.

Walk it is.  As far as you feel you are able.  There are quite a few who don’t make it to the top.  I didn’t.  I only made it to the point where the steps narrowed.

But as for the logistics, there’s the gradual incline to the starting point, and what will be the end meeting place.  From there, it’s a few steps up to the guard station no 7, and a few more to get up to the start of the main climb.  The top of the wall is guard station no 12.

Ok, those first few steps are a good indication of what it’s was going to be like and it’s more the awkwardness of the uneven heights of the steps that’s the killer, some as high as about 15 inches.  This photo paints an illusion, that it’s easy.  It’s not.

If you make it to the first stage, then it augers well you will get about 100 steps before you both start feeling it in your legs, particularly the knees, and then suffering from the height if you have a problem with heights as the air is thinner.  And if you have a thing with heights, never look down.

This was from where we stopped, about a third of the way up.  The one below, from almost at the bottom.  One we’re looking almost down on the buildings, the other, on the same level.

It requires rest before you come down, and that’s when you start to feel it in the knees, our tour guide called it jelly legs, but it’s more in the knees down.  Descending should be slow, and it can be more difficult negotiating the odd height steps, and particularly those high ones.  You definitely need to hang onto the rail, even try going backward.

And, no, that rail hasn’t been there as long as the wall.

While you are waiting for the guide to return to the meeting place at the appointed time, there should be time to have some jasmine tea.  Highly refreshing after the climb.

NaNoWriMo – April 2022 – Day 18

First Dig Two Graves, the second Zoe thriller.

It’s time to delve into the past that Zoe tries so hard not to remember because the memories are painful.

It was a time before she became the emotionless killer she was now, and the people who had turned her into one.

Friends, lovers, teachers, mentors, but, in the end, all people who wanted her for one thing or another because they were selfish.

Alistair’s mother, Olga, was one, the woman who first had the job of training her, the first to recognize while gifted, she would be trouble.

She had been recommended to her by a man called Yuri, the first of many to take advantage of an innocent girl who didn’t know any better.

Once trained, she was placed with Alistair, and he too, wanted her for himself, until he found her replacement, a man who wrongly thought she was so emotionless she would be happy to share him with others.

It was a mistake he wouldn’t be making again.

It was Yuri she discovered who had been in contact with the kidnappers in Marsailles, and perhaps inadvertently inserting himself into her quest for those seeking to kill her. He would know who it was seeking her, and who the name Romanov referred to.

After ensuring John was safe, she contacted him.

There’s a conversation, and he agrees to meet her, reluctantly, as being seen with a fugitive might harm his reputation.

It’s going to be an interesting conversation and reunion.

Today’s writing, with Zoe traveling from Budapest to Zurich, 2,285 words, for a total of 49,911.

The A to Z Challenge – P is for – “Praying for a miracle”

The editor looked up from his seat at me, frowning.

“Who are you again?”

He was a busy man, he kept telling us all, and didn’t have time to remember everyone on staff, particularly the reporters whom, to him, seem to come and go as they please.

“Jenkins, sir.  New last week.”

“And you’re here because?”

“You said to come and see you about an assignment, sir.”

“An assignment?”

“Yes, sir.  An assignment, sir.”

He’d come past my desk and stopped, asking that same question, “Who are you again?” Before pretending to recognize the name and tell me to come to his office in an hour for an assignment.

“Jenkins, you say.  Not related to Elmer Jenkins by any chance.”

“He was my father, sit.”

“Damned fine reporter.  Assignment you say.”  He shuffled through the pile of folders on his desk, then plucked one seeming at random, and handed it to me.

“Odd goings-on at St Peter’s cathedral.  Go and see what it’s all about, will you?”

“Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir.”

Perhaps the better story here was how come the church seemed to get the best real estate in every city, and the bigger the church, the better the spot.

St Peters was where I would have expected the city center to be, on a few acres of perfectly manicured gardens surrounding an exquisite cathedral built in the mid-1500s.

I was not a Catholic, so I had not ventured inside, not realizing that it had always been open during the day, church services or not.

There was also a parish office, a school of sorts, and a priory for visiting priests, as well as those who worked around the cathedral, so it was not unusual to see one or more priests wandering about.

But the most interesting thing about this cathedral was the fact it had an exact replica if the statue of St Mary Magdalene by the Italian sculptor Donatello, considered to be an earlier attempt before creating the real one now housed in the Museo dell ‘opera del Duomo in Florence.

It was not an advertised tourist attraction, but it could be seen by special appointment only with very restrictive visiting hours because of its rarity and delicate condition.

But the report I’d been given was that a cleaner, working in the room where it was housed had seen something very odd involving the statue.  It had what she had described as tears coming from the statue’s eyes.

Of course, the editorial staff had rung the church to ascertain whether the reports they have received were true, and were immediately and emphatically denied, thus putting it into the category of “thou protest too much”, indicating, meaning there had to be something going on.

A second report, which was interesting in itself, had said there was an increased flurry of activity in the church, with several notable arrivals, particularly of the bishop, and a Cardinal from the Vatican, who was by coincidence in the country.

To the inquisitive reporter, that was embers in the grate about to create a much bigger fire.

“You heard?”  Jaimie was another of the ‘going to be famous one-day’ group, I was also a member of.

I arrived breathlessly at the entrance to the cathedral grounds, to find several other reporters already there, conversing.

They were my former classmates at university, working as junior reporters for various media outlets.

“The editor tossed me a sparse file with very little to go on.”

“They’re not taking it seriously, are they?”  Joey, never the one to take his profession seriously, was here just to meet and greet.

The three of us were juniors.  There was not any of the ‘serious’ reporting staff there, perhaps waiting to see what we came up with.

“No.  I mean, a cleaning lady and a statue with tears.  My guess, sap leaking out of the wood, though waiting four or five hundred years to do so is a bit farfetched.”

“Then it’s true that it might be a replica of the real thing.”  Joey seemed surprised, and it was him, never studying up on background before turning up.

“I’ve seen the real one in Florence,” Jaimie said.

“You’ve been everywhere, done everything, and seen everything.  Why am I not surprised?”

Joey never liked her because of her family’s wealth and privilege which granted her access to much more than either Joey or I ever had.  Including traveling the world twice.

“Can’t help drawing the parents I got, but that’s beside the point.  You should have done some research.”

Joey held up his cell phone.  “All the research I need is right here.  Where and when I need it?”

“Why are you waiting here?” I asked.  I would have expected them to be chasing up the relevant parish office person, if not the bishop himself.

“The doors are closed, which is highly unusual for a church during the day, and the sigh refers everyone to the parish office, who are telling everyone, and reporters, in particular, there will be a statement soon.  We have a line of sight to the office and one of the staff will call us.  Why wait over there when this area is so much more peaceful “

“So, you’re just going to quit?” I asked.

“What else can we do?” Jaimie was not the adventurous sort.

Neither was I, but this story could be something more, and getting the scoop might improve my standing with the editor.

“Do a little investigating of our own.”

“We might miss the statement.”

“You know what it will say, you could probably write it yourself.  Nothing to see here, move along.  I’m going to see if there’s a back door.”

“Churches don’t have back doors, Colin.”  Joey would not be coming, his preferred modus operandi was to do as little as possible.

“Then I’ll soon find out.”  I looked at Jaimie.  “Coming?”

She shook her head.  She liked to play by the rules, but it is getting a good story, there were no rules.

“Then no doubt I’ll see you later.”

I walked slowly towards the main entrance, but my intention was to do a circuit of the cathedral and see how many entrances there were, and if I  could gain entrance by one of them, acting like a routine might so as not to arouse suspicion.

After a few minutes, I realized just how large the cathedral was, having only been inside once; to attend the wedding ceremony for one of my uncles and then it had seemed small when compared to Westminster Abbey.

In the end, I found an unexpected obstruction, a fence between the walkway from the church, most likely the cloisters, to where the clergy lived, and the gardens alongside the cathedral.

There was a gate. I walked across the grass, and by the time I reached it, it swung open, and Jaimie popped her head out. 

“Come on, before anyone sees you?”

“How did you get in there?”

“Simple.  Did you try the front door?”

“I assumed it would be locked.”

“It wasn’t.  Then I guessed you’d been right here, after watching you leave “

She closed the gate. “Quick, before someone comes.”

She walked quickly back to, and into the church through what might literally be the back door, but more likely how the priests came and went.

Once inside, she led the way through the back room where a variety of vestments were hanging, out into the church, across the front of the altar to the other side where there was an archway, and steps leading down to a lower level, presumably where the statue was located.

“And you know this is the way to the statue because…”  The moment I asked, I knew the answer.  It was a dumb question.

“My parents had a viewing and brought us, kids, along.  At the time I thought it was a funny-looking wood statue.”  She spoke quietly because the acoustics for sound at this end of the cathedral was amazing.

You could probably hear a pin drop on the other side.

Then, she added, “It’s down in the basement.  They build a special room with all the environmental procedures built-in.  Been here for a long time.”

I followed her down to the bottom of the stairs, considerably more steps than the usual floor to floor level in a modern building, and the moment we came through the arch, the temperature dropped ten or more degrees, and I shuddered.

I had a strange feeling of unease, that something bad had happened here.

The light was very poor, perhaps because of the environment, but across the room I could see a glass-fronted space with a statue in the middle on a base, with lights shining upwards, giving it a strange hue.  To one side there seemed to be someone kneeling, as if in prayer.

Jaimie started walking towards the statue, slowly, as if she had been mesmerized by it.

I followed, but headed towards the kneeling figure, stopping just short.

Jaimie had stopped in front of the statue, staring at it.

The next second the kneeling figure jumped up and grabbed Jaimie and dragged her away, telling me, “get away from here, back to the stairs, and don’t look at the statue under any circumstances.”

By the time we reached the archway, he had sufficiently shaken Jaimie back to life, although she sounded confused, and dazed.

“What just happened?”

“You looked at the statue.  How did you get down here, past the guards?”

“There are no guards upstairs,” I said.  “Though we did come around the back way.”

“You two get out of here now, and I’ll overlook this transgression.  Do not mention anything you’ve just seen or heard, or God will, quite literally, smite you down.”

“Through the statue?”  I thought it a bit far-fetched.

“The cleaner prayed for a miracle.  She got one.  That statue now has some sort of power.  Now, you never heard that, and you cannot use it in a story or it will create panic.  I can tell you are reporters.  Just stick to the official handout.”

“What about the cleaner, she’s already told a lot of people.”

“She’s dead.  Her story has already been refuted.  Go, now.  I’m relying on your common sense.”

Outside back in the sunshine, we stopped before going back to Joey, who was still standing by the gate.

“What just happened?” Jaimie asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean why are we standing here.  I don’t remember coming here.”

“We were in the church?”

“No.  Who are you, by the way.  I haven’t seen you before.”

I looked at the alternating blank, inquisitive face trying to see if she was playing a joke on me.

“Do you know your name?”

“Of course, I do.  Mary.  Mary Magdalene.”


© Charles Heath 2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 29

Here’s the thing…

Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.

I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.

But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.

Once again there’s a new instalment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

 

“Where is he?” I asked, hardly disguising the annoyance in my tone.

“In the toilet.”

A minor relief, but what the hell was she doing in his room?

“You do know Vince is responsible for Boggs being attacked, and me too, by the way.  There was no mistaking that thug even if he was hiding behind a balaclava.

“You’re not telling me anything I didn’t know already.  And it might be my fault.  I told him, no, he all but beat it out of me, about the map and Boggs, and you, and Alex.”

“So, I can expect to see Alex in here sometime soon?”

“No.  The Benderby’s have their own private hospital.  No one will get to hear about it, except maybe when there is the retaliation.  This who map and treasure thing is about to get a whole lot more problematical.”

Boggs chose to return from the bathroom and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw me.  “How did you manage to get past the head of Gestapo, Nurse Jamieson?”

“I had an angel show me the way.  How are you?”

“This is a hospital; how do you think I feel.”

The nurse was right, he looked worse than he was.  The bruising was going to be very colourful in the coming days, before everything settled down.

“Vince?”

“Like I could tell who it was.  Only Vince can sound like Vince even where he’s trying not to sound like Vince.”

“Did he get the map.”

“One of them, but not necessarily the right one, just a better one.”

Boggs got back onto the bed and lay back.  I got the impression he was putting on a brave face for Nadia.  But it didn’t explain why she was there.

“What are you doing here,” I asked, with just a shade less annoyance.

“I heard what Vince did and I cam to apologise.  You were next,.” She said to me, “But, seriously guys, you were the masters of your own destinies with this map thing.  You don’t even know if it’s real or just another of a host of hoaxes.  Old man Cossatino reckons that Boggs’s dad created a lot of different variations, in the hope of selling them as the real thing.  He was, after all, just a common con man, and not very good at it.”

The patriarch of the Cossatino’s the one she referred to as Old Man Cossatino, was Nadia’s grandfather, and although Nadia’s father was nominally in charge of the clan, everyone knew who the real leader was.  And Old Man Cossatino was someone you didn’t cross, and that went for the Benderby’s too.

Boggs’s dad had worked for the Cossatino’s at one time, and it would not surprise me if it was Cossatino’s idea to create all the bogus maps, just to make money.  I couldn’t see Boggs’s dad having the brains to mount a scheme such as Nadia described.

It surprised me that I had forgotten about that.  Way back, when my father was still picking a side, he had said there’d been a rumour going around that a new map for the treasure had been found, and that both the Cossatino’s and the Benderby’s were in a bidding war for it, along with some other unsavoury characters.

And the rumour died as fast as it had risen, and not long after Boggs’s dad disappeared, later to turn up dead.  One rumour, he had gone looking for the treasure, though no one proffered an answer as to how he might have come across the original map which he had, at one time, claimed, and another, Cossatino had him make it up, then killed him so he would never reveal the truth.

That original map had never seen the light of day, nor mentioned since.

It didn’t explain why Vince was on the warpath.

“What’s Vince up to?  I thought you guys had the original map?”

She looked surprised.  “First I’m hearing about it.”

I realised then she would have been as young as I was, and Boggs, which was about five or six.  Precognitive memories.  She might have been too young to remember.  I only remembered it because my father had continually bagged Boggs’s father as a fool who should have got a real job and support his family, rather than let others do it for him, a veiled reference about the times Boggs stayed over and ate with us.

But it was not lost on Boggs.

“There’s any number of maps, yes.  I found a lot of them in Dad’s stuff in the shed.  I suspect those were the ones created for the Cossatino’s to sell privately, and I also think he double-crossed them and kept one particular map, the one he called ‘the map’ for himself, which may have been the original.”

That I was guessing, was the map Boggs had now.  “And you’re telling me that’s the one you said you found, and…”

“I still have it.  Vince has one of the half dozen that all seem to be slightly different, different enough from the original to keep him happy for a while.”

“What was the point of sending him to me?”

“I needed more time to figure out which variation to give him.  I’m hoping now, if he thinks it’s the original, he’ll start looking for it.  Save us a lot of time and effort if he does the groundwork.  And I’m sorry about what happened to you.  If it’s any consolation, I knew he wouldn’t hurt you.”

It seemed to me, judging from the expression on Nadia’s face, that discussing the fact Vince didn’t have the right may prompt her to tell him.  She was a Cossatino first, after all, and had for years toed the family line.

Maybe she’d changed, but I wish Boggs was not so trusting.

“That’s nonsense Boggs,” Nadia said.  “My brother doesn’t go easy on anyone.”

“How did you get in here?”

No mistaking that voice of authority.  The head of the hospital Gestapo had arrived.  She glared at me.  “You’d better leave before I call both the hospital security staff and the police.”  Then she looked at Nadia, who was getting out of the seat.  “You should know better.”  Much kinder voice for Nadia, suggesting they were acquainted.

She probably helped old man Cossatino with his interrogations.

“Had you told me how Boggs was, I would not be here.”  I’m not sure why I decided to take a stand with her.

“Don’t be impertinent.  You can see how he is, now leave while I’m in a good mood.”

I’d hate to see her when she was in a bad mood.

“Tomorrow,” Boggs said.  “I’m sure they’ll let me have visitors by then.”

I waved and left.  Nadia stayed back for a moment, then joined me in the passage.

“What were you really doing here,” I asked her.  “It’s bot as if you had any reason to visit Boggs, other than to cause trouble.”

“I came to apologise.  My brother can be a moron sometimes.”

“Does he know you’re here?”

“No.  And I want to keep it that way.”

“It’s Vince we’re talking about, or has he gone soft.  From what I witness during our encounter, it seems he’s got worse.”

“Which is why I don’t want to see him.  You want to come back to the room and have a few drinks.  Maybe we could talk about old times, you know, trash Alex?”

“Sounds good to me.”

A nightcap with Nadia.  I would never have thought that possible, even in my wildest dreams.  Had she changed, or was she up to something?

Time would tell.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

“Echoes From The Past”, a past buried, but not deep enough


What happens when your past finally catches up with you?

Christmas is just around the corner, a time to be with family. For Will Mason, an orphan since he was fourteen, it is a time for reflection on what his life could have been, and what it could be.

Until a chance encounter brings back to life the reasons for his twenty years of self-imposed exile from a life only normal people could have. From that moment Will’s life slowly starts to unravel and it’s obvious to him it’s time to move on.

This time, however, there is more at stake.

Will has broken his number one rule, don’t get involved.

With his nemesis, Eddie Jamieson, suddenly within reach, and a blossoming relationship with an office colleague, Maria, about to change everything, Will has to make a choice. Quietly leave, or finally, make a stand.

But as Will soon discovers, when other people are involved there is going to be terrible consequences no matter what choice he makes.

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The A to Z Challenge – G is for “Going out of my mind…”


Accidents can happen.

Sometimes they’re your fault, sometimes they’re not.

The accident I was in was not. Late at night driving home from work, a car came speeding out of a side street and T-boned my car.

It could have been worse, though the person who said it had a quite different definition of the word worse than I did.

To start with, I lost three months of my life in a coma, and even when I surfaced, it took another month to realize what had happened. Then came two months of working out my recovery plan.

If that wasn’t trial enough, what someone else might describe as the ‘last straw that broke the camel’s back’, my wife of 22 years decided to send me a text that morning, what was six months in hospital, to the day.

“I’m sorry, Joe, but enough is enough. I cannot visit you anymore, and for the sake of both our sanity, I think it’s time to draw a line in the sand. I know what happened isn’t your fault but given the prognosis, I don’t think I can cope with the situation. I need time to think about what will happen next and to do so, I’ll be going home to spend some time with family. Once again, I’m so sorry not to be doing this in person. I’ll let you know what I decide in due course. In the meantime, you have my best wishes for your recovery.”

In other words, goodbye. Her family lived in England, about 12,000 miles away in another hemisphere, and the likelihood of her returning was remote. We had meant to visit them, and had, in fact, booked the tickets shortly before the accident. I guess she couldn’t wait any longer.

My usual nurse came in for the first visit on this shift. She had become the familiar face on my journey, the one who made it worth waking up every morning.

“You look a little down in the dumps this morning. What’s up?”

She knew it couldn’t be for medical reasons because the doctor just yesterday had remarked how remarkable my recovery had been in the last week or so. Even I had been surprised given all the previous negative reports.

“Ever broken up by text?”

“What do you mean?”

“Frances has decided she no longer wants to be involved. I can’t say I blame her, she has put her whole life on hold because of this.”

“That’s surprising. She’s never shown any disappointment.”

“Six months have been a long time for everyone. We were supposed to be going home so she could see her family. Maybe that’s what it’s all about.”

I gave her the phone and she read the message.

Then she handed it back. “That’s goodbye, Tom. I’m sorry. And no, I’ve never had a breakup by text, but I guess there could always be a first time.”

She spent the next ten minutes going through the morning ritual, then said, “I’ve heard there’s a new doctor coming to visit you. Whatever has happened in the last few days had tongues wagging, and you might just become the next modern miracle. Fame and fortune await.”

“Just being able to walk again will be miracle enough.”

That had been the worst of it. The prognosis that it was likely I’d never be able to walk again, or work, and the changes to our lives that would cause. I knew Frances was bitterly disappointed that she might become the spouse who had to spend the rest of her life looking after, and though she had said it didn’t matter, that she would be there for me, deep down I knew a commitment like that took more internal fortitude than she had.

She ran her own business, managed three children into adulthood, and had a life other than what we had together. When I was fit and able, and nothing got in the way, it had worked. Stopping everything to cater to my problems had severely curtailed her life. Something had to give, and it had.

But, as I said, I didn’t blame her. She had tried, putting in a brave face day after day but once the daily visits slipped to every other day, to once a week, I knew then the ship was heading towards the rocks.

This morning it foundered.

I pondered the situation for an hour before I sent a reply. “I believe you have made the right decision. It’s time to call it and going home and take some time to consider what to do next is right. In normal circumstances, we would not be considering any of this, but these are not normal circumstances. But, just in case you are worried about the effect of all of this on me, don’t. I will get over it, whatever the result is, and what you need to do first and foremost is to concentrate on what is best for you. If that means drawing a line on this relationship, so be it. All I want for you is for you to be happy, and clearly, having to contend with this, and everything else on your plate, is not helping. I am glad we had what time we had together and will cherish the memories forever, and I will always love you, no matter what you decide.”

It was heart-felt, and I meant it. But life was not going to be the same without her.

I’d dozed off after sending the message, and only woke again when my usual doctor came into the room on his morning rounds, the usual entourage of doctors and interns in tow. I’d been a great case for sparking endless debate on the best route for my recovery among those fresh out of medical school. Some ideas were radical, others pie in the sky, but one that seemed implausible had got a hearing, and then the go-ahead, mainly because there was little else that apparently could be done.

That doctor, and now another I hadn’t seen before was standing in the front row, rather than at the back.

The doctor in charge went through the basics of the case, as he did every day, mainly because the entourage changed daily. Then, he deferred to the radical doctor as I decided to call her.

She went through the details of a discovery she had made, and the recommendation she’d made as a possible road to recovery, one which involved several radical operations which had been undertaken by the elderly man standing beside her. When I first met him, I thought he was an escaped patient from the psychiatric ward, not the pre-eminent back surgeon reputed to be the miracle worker himself.

It seemed, based on the latest x-rays that a miracle had occurred, but whether it was or not would be known for another week. Then, if all went well, I would be able to get out of bed, and, at the very least, be able to stand on my own. In the meantime, I had endless sessions of physio in the lead-up to the big event. Six months in bed had taken its toll on everything, and the week’s work was going to correct some of that.

It meant there was hope, and despite what I said and thought, hope was what I needed.

There had been ups and downs before this, fuelled by a morning when I woke up and found I could wriggle my toes. It was after the second operation, and I thought, given the amount of pain killers, it had been my imagination.

When I mentioned it, there was some initial excitement, and, yes, it was true, I wasn’t going out of my mind, it was real. The downside was, I couldn’t move anything else, and other than an encouraging sign, as the days passed, and nothing more happened, the faces got longer.

Then, the physiotherapist moved in, and started working on the areas that should be coming back to life. I felt little, maybe the pain killers again, until the next, and perhaps the last operation. I managed to lift my left leg a fraction of an inch.

But we’d been here before, and I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

Annabel, the daughter that lived on the other side of the country, finally arrived to visit me. I had thought, not being so far away she might have come earlier, but a few phone calls had sorted out her absence. Firstly, there was no much use visiting a coma patient, second, she was in a delicate stage of her professional career and a break might be the end of it, and thirdly, she accepted that I didn’t want to see her until I was much better.

She was not very happy about it, but it was a costly venture for her, in terms of time, being away from a young family, and just getting there.

Now, the time had come. She had a conference to attend, and I was happy to play second fiddle.

After the hugs and a few tears, she settled in the uncomfortable bedside chair.

“You don’t look very different than the last time I saw you,” she said.

“Hospitals have perfected the art of hiding the worst of it, but it’s true. The swelling had receded, the physios have revived the muscles, and I have a little movement again.”

“The injuries are not permanent?”

“Oh, they’re permanent, but not as bad as first thought.”

“Pity my mother isn’t here.”

“She was, day after day, through the darkest period. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. But your mother is an independent woman, and she has always been free to do what she wants, and I would not have had it any other way.”

“But deserting you in the middle of all this…”

“It’s been very debilitating on her. I can understand her reasons, and so should you. She will still be your mother no matter what happens to us.”

There had been a number of phone calls, from each of the children, decrying her actions after she had sent a text message to each of them telling them what she was doing. She had not told them she was leaving, in so many word, but leaving the door ajar, perhaps to allay their fears she was deserting them too. Annabel had been furious. The other two, not so much.

“And this latest development?”

I had also told her about the miracle worker, and the possibilities, without trying to get hopes up.

“On a scale of one to ten, it’s a three. We’ve been here before, so I’m going to save the excitement for when it happens, if it happens.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

It was a question I’d asked myself a number of times, one that I didn’t want an answer to. Hope was staving it off, each day a new day of discovery, and a day closer to the idea I might walk again. I had to believe it would happen, if not the next day, the next week, month, year, that it would eventually happen.

For now, all I had to do was stand on my own two feet.

It was ironic, in a way, that simple statement. ‘Stand on your own two feet’. Right then, it seemed so near, and yet, at the same time, so far away.

I didn’t answer that question, but did what I usually did with visitors, run a distraction and talk about everything else. This visit was no exception. I had a lot of catching up to do.

It’s odd how some call the day of momentous events D-Day because to me nothing would be more momentous than the invasion of France during the second world war.

Others were not quite of the same opinion. It was going to be a momentous day.

It started the same as any other.

The morning routine when the duty nurse came to do the checks. Then the physio, now a permanent fixture mid-morning, just after the tea lady arrived. Deliberate, I thought, to deprive me of my tea break, and some unbelievably delicious coconut cookies.

Then the routine changed, and the escort arrived to take me down to the room where the physio had set up an obstacle course. It looked like one, and I’d told him so when I first saw it, and he had said by the time he was finished with me, I’d be able to go from start to finish without breaking a sweat.

In my mind perhaps, but not with this broken body. I didn’t say that because I was meant to be positive.

An entourage arrived for the main event. I would have been happier to fail in front of the doctor, the miracle worker, and the physio, but it seemed everyone wanted a front row seat. If it worked, the physio confided in me, there was fame and fortune being mentioned in Lancet, what was a prestigious medical journal.

Expectations were running high.

The physio had gone through the program at least a hundred times, and the previous day we had got to the point where I was sitting on the side of the bed. We’d tried this ordinary manoeuvre several times, previously without success under my own steam but this morning, for some reason it was different.

I was able to sit up, and then, with a struggle move my legs part of the way, and with a little help for the rest.

What was encouraging, was being able to swing my legs a short distance. IT was those simple things that everyone could do without thinking, that had seemed impossible not a month before, that got people excited. I didn’t know how I felt other than I missed those simple things.

Then the moment had arrived. Hushed silence.

There was a structure in place. All I had to do was pulled myself across, at the same time sliding off the bed and into a standing position. There was a safety harness attached so that if my grip slipped it would prevent me from falling.

It was probably not the time to tell them the pain in my lower back was getting worse.

So, like I’d been instructed, and going one step further than the day before, I reached out, grabbed the bars and pulled myself up and over, at the same time, sliding off the side of the bed. I could feel the tug of the safety harness which told me I had left the safety of the bed, and was in mid motion.

I could feel my legs straightening, and then very softly landing on the floor, the safety harness letting my body drop down slowly.

The pain increased exponentially as the weight came down onto my legs, but my body had stopped moving. I could not feel the tightness of the harness, but a rather odd sensation in my legs.

All that time I had been concentrating so hard that I had heard nothing, not even the encouraging words from the physio.

Until I realised, from the noise around me, that it had worked. I was standing on my own two feet, albeit a little shakily.

And I heard the physio say, in his inimitable way, “Today you just landed on the moon. Tomorrow, it’s going to be one small step for mankind. Well done.”

© Charles Heath 2021

“Sunday in New York”, a romantic adventure that’s not a walk in the park!

“Sunday in New York” is ultimately a story about trust, and what happens when a marriage is stretched to its limits.

When Harry Steele attends a lunch with his manager, Barclay, to discuss a promotion that any junior executive would accept in a heartbeat, it is the fact his wife, Alison, who previously professed her reservations about Barclay, also agreed to attend, that casts a small element of doubt in his mind.

From that moment, his life, in the company, in deciding what to do, his marriage, his very life, spirals out of control.

There is no one big factor that can prove Harry’s worst fears, that his marriage is over, just a number of small, interconnecting events, when piled on top of each other, points to a cataclysmic end to everything he had believed in.

Trust is lost firstly in his best friend and mentor, Andy, who only hints of impending disaster, Sasha, a woman whom he saved, and who appears to have motives of her own, and then in his wife, Alison, as he discovered piece by piece damning evidence she is about to leave him for another man.

Can we trust what we see with our eyes or trust what we hear?

Haven’t we all jumped to conclusions at least once in our lives?

Can Alison, a woman whose self-belief and confidence is about to be put to the ultimate test, find a way of proving their relationship is as strong as it has ever been?

As they say in the classics, read on!

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Searching for locations: Washington DC, USA

Washington is a city with bright shiny buildings and endless monuments, each separated by a long walk or a taxi ride if you can find one.

We might have picked the wrong day, shortly after New Year’s Day when the crowds were missing along with everything else.  Or, conversely, it was probably the right time to go, when we didn’t have to battle the crowds.

Sunny but very cold, the walking warmed us up.

First stop was the Lincoln Memorial

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It was built to honor the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

It is located on the western end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., across from the Washington Monument.

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The building is in the form of a Greek Doric temple and contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and inscriptions of two well-known speeches by Lincoln.

The next stop was the Washington Monument

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The Washington Monument is an obelisk on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., built to commemorate George Washington. Construction of the monument began in 1848 and not completed until 1888.  It was officially opened October 9, 1888.


We then took a taxi ride to the Jefferson Memorial

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This monument is dedicated to Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), one of the most important of the American Founding Fathers as the main drafter and writer of the Declaration of Independence.

Construction of the building began in 1939 and was completed in 1943.

The bronze statue of Jefferson was added in 1947.