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COUNTDOWN

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

Sunday.13 days to go.

I haven’t written a diary since I was fifteen. I found it the other day and was transported back to those carefree days, the summer of eighty-five, cider by the river on a hot day, Simple Minds on the radio, ‘Don’t you forget about me’. Except, I had forgotten about me. Reading the teenage me I sound so vibrant and hopeful. Here I am now, anything but. I don’t recognize myself.  I don’t know why I’m writing this now, maybe I need a friend to talk to, but I haven’t got one. Diary, I will call you Claire. Claire is a nice name for a friend I think, someone who would listen to my ramblings over a glass of wine. I will obviously have to drink your glass of wine for you though, and I will chat to you every day. And chocolates, I think you’d be the type of Claire to share chocolate with me.

Monday.12 days to go.

I’ve had a shit day, Claire. I think maybe we can take it that every day is going to be a shit day so I don’t need to keep telling you that. Work was the usual. Vanessa was her top bitchy self, she ordered cupcakes for everyone in the office except me, because she thought I was on a diet. She didn’t need to say it as loud as she did. Becca squirmed on my behalf, then took her cake and retreated. I don’t blame her; I would have done the same. The urge to squish one of the cupcakes into Vanessa’s flawless make-up was high. I did it in my head. Slightly satisfying.

No sign of Malcolm when I got home, no take-away cartons, so he is eating out after work again. Or at his slag’s house.

I’m sat by the fire now, having our wine, LaVis Storie di Vite Pinot Grigio. It’s Italian and apparently is fruity with hints of ripe pear. I can’t taste any pear so they are very vague hints. It hits the spot though. Accompanied by a bag of Malteasers, standard size. Do you crunch or let them melt? I like to suck and melt myself.

Tuesday.11 days to go.

Vanessa ‘accidentally’ spilt my coffee over me today. She saw me coming through the door carrying it even though she said she didn’t. ‘Thank goodness you don’t wear expensive clothes’, she smirked and sauntered off. Bitch.

No Malcolm again this evening. His bed had been slept in when I checked this morning, so I know he came home at some point. I don’t know why he doesn’t stay at hers. He must think I’m stupid, or he doesn’t think about me at all. I should have left him years ago Claire, but falling out of love with someone doesn’t just happen overnight, it kind of erodes away, revealing layers you didn’t want to discover.

Our wine of the night is Cuvee des Vignerons, Beaujolais. A fruity style that goes well with chicken, lamb or cheese. I’m accompanying it with a Curly Wurly.

Wednesday.10 days to go.

Vanessa was on a training course today, hooray. The boss was in full perv mode, boo. He managed to collar me as I was photocopying in the stationary room. I offered to pass him down the staples but he said he didn’t want to interrupt me and he’d ‘just squeeze by’. A paralyzing smell of Jovan Musk assaulted my nostrils as he far too slowly rubbed his crotch across my backside, and then back again, as he retrieved the staple box. Either he didn’t have an erection or his cock was so tiny I couldn’t feel it through his non-iron polyester slacks. I’d punch him in the bollocks. If I could find them.

Talking of men with no balls, I saw Malcolm this evening. I was eating my microwaved Mexican rice when he came into the kitchen, said he had come home to freshen up as he was taking a client out to Oscar’s up town. Told me not to wait up. I didn’t speak, I wasn’t going to play along with his game of let’s pretend. I just finished my rice slowly. Years ago I would have been on his arm at a business meeting. Either he didn’t think I was an asset anymore, or he was lying and was going for a passionate night with the slag. Judging from the trail of Joop Homme left behind on his exit, it’s the latter. She bought him that for Christmas last year and he’s overused it since. I knew they were having sex when she bought him that, who buys their boss eau de toilette? Yes, Claire, a slag.

Wine of the night is Champteloup Rose d’Anjou, a perfect match to charcuterie. I’ve matched it with Galaxy caramel. The ‘sharing – but I’m a greedy bitch and not sharing’ size.

Thursday. 9 days to go.

Vanessa was back in full gorgon mode today. ‘I envy how you can wear sensible shoes and not care what anyone thinks. Although I guess because you’re so tall and broad you’d look like a transvestite if you wore heels.’ I’m now torn between a cupcake to the face or a stiletto in the head for her.

Malcolm graced me with his presence this evening. We ate separately, sat separately. I watched people competing to make the best quilt on TV, he did Sudoku. I’d forgotten how much his raspy breathing annoyed me. At least I won’t have to listen to that for much longer.

Wine of the night is Torres Vina Esmeralda, apparently it has delicate honey and fresh grape characters. I can taste the honey. Or that might be coming from the Toblerone accompanying it.

Friday. 8 days to go.

Vanessa was training a new girl today, Anna, she’s temping for Mandy while she’s off having baby number three. Vanessa introduced Anna to everyone in the office except me. How petty. Bitch. I was the invisible employee today, no one spoke to me all day, and even the boss didn’t stop to look down my blouse while walking past my desk. I don’t know what’s worse, being the target of nasty comments or being ignored.

Malcolm announced he was going away for the weekend on a golfing break with Jeff. I happen to know Jeff is on holiday in Portugal with Marie, there’s a photo of them both with green cocktails by the beach on Facebook. We spent the hour before he left in silence. Him packing, me reading Take a Break magazine. I had red lipstick on and wore the navy polka dot dress he once liked. He didn’t notice.

Our wine of the night is Beronia Reserva Rioja, with earthy notes of leather and coconut – thankfully not too leathered. Me and the wine. Accompanied by a Snickers and the crackling of the fire.

Saturday. 7 days to go.

The sun was out today so I wrapped up and went for a walk along the river. It was so relaxing. I felt like I didn’t have a worry in the world. I wish I didn’t have worries Claire. I know other people have worries too, maybe I could cope with their worries better and they mine. My serenity bubble was popped by a family enjoying a day of sunshine in the winter. It’s crazy how someone enjoying life can expose how much you’re not. I watched this young family, laughing and playing, and I started to crumble inside. I always knew Malcolm didn’t want children, I fooled myself that I didn’t either. I indulged in crying when I got home. I’m not a pretty crier. My eyes now look like I’ve had an allergic reaction to shellfish.

Wine of the night is Valdo Oro Puro Prosecco, fruity and bubbly. Accompanied by a Toffee Crisp.

Sunday. 6 days to go.

It rained today so I went and sat in the National Gallery. I didn’t look at the paintings, I’ve seen them many times before, I looked at the people instead. I spent the day seeing the stories of people passing by. An old lady was sat looking at ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ by Turner. She dabbed her eye with a tissue, I sat next to her and chatted to her about the painting. It was her husband’s favourite, he died five years ago but she came every year on his birthday to visit his favourite painting. Her husband was dead, and I envied her grief.

Wine of the night is Oyster Bay Merlot, an elegant wine apparently. What is an elegant wine? Elegantly paired with a box of Matchmakers, mint flavoured. An elegant chocolate.

Monday. 5 days to go.

Nauseous start in work today, I caught the lift at the wrong time. Morning rush crush. The boss was stood behind me and groped at my backside for four floors. I stood on his foot but I think he liked that as he squeezed harder.

Malcolm spent the evening working in his study. I heard laughter at one point. I haven’t heard him laugh like that since, well, I can’t remember when. That felt more of a betrayal than the sex. How dare she make him laugh like that. Slag. I turned up the volume on Bake Off, I’d rather listen to Mary Berry talking about soggy bottoms than listen to Malcolm laughing about pert bottoms.

Wine of the night is Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi, best served with saucy ribs or spicy, meaty pizza. Or Thornton’s chocolate covered toffee, as I am.

Tuesday. 4 days to go.

The boss commented ‘nice blouse Jane’ as he walked past my desk today. Vanessa said he was being sarcastic, then gave me death stares all day. How can she be jealous of me having the attention from a lobotomized sweaty octopus?

No Malcolm this evening, just a text informing me not to wait up, ‘tied up in work’. I bet they laughed at that pun.

Wine of the night is Vignale Pinot Grigio, it has a refreshing finish apparently, so I’d better finish it. Accompanying it with a Crunchie.

Wednesday. 3 days to go.

I spent all morning working on a client’s proposal, and I know I definitely saved it before I went to the toilet, yet when I got back it had been deleted and the recycle bin had been emptied. Vanessa looked very smug with herself all afternoon.

No Malcolm this evening, apparently a client wanted to see Mamma Mia. A co-incidence that the slag loves Abba I’m sure.

Wine of the night is The Hedonist Shiraz, voluptuous and silky. Just like me. Maybe not silky as I have stubbly legs today. Having a bar of Aero. Mint flavoured. Family size.

Thursday. 2 days to go.

Vanessa went into photocopy just after I’d come out. She made a huge song and dance that she couldn’t use the machine as I’d broken it. We both know full well I didn’t. An engineer had to come out and fix it, he said it looked like someone had shoved a pencil where they shouldn’t. I know where I wanted to shove a pencil.  The boss had me in his office for an informal chat, said I needed to start impressing him more if I wanted to keep my job. He licked his lips slowly as he told me this, while staring at my chest, I wanted to be sick. After dry heaving in the toilet cubicle, I heard Vanessa and Anna come in. Vanessa was telling Anna, ‘Jane does things like that all the time, any excuse to spend time with Mr. Warren, it’s disgusting really. Throwing herself at a married man all the time, as if he’d be interested in a frump like her.’ Bitch.

More laughing in the study tonight from Malcolm. I can’t listen to it anymore; I’m going up to bed to listen to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly instead. It’s ok to cry with opera.

Wine of the night is Cuvee Chasseur Vin de France, an easy drinking wine. I can confirm this. Paired with Ritter Sport marzipan. I will finish it in bed.

Friday. 1 day to go.

Best day ever in work. I bought a coffee and walnut cake from the W.I. stall in the library on the way to work. I chose one with the thickest buttercream on top. I deleted all my files and contacts from my computer, then retrieved the cake from the drawer I stashed it in. I had such an adrenalin rush carrying it over to Vanessa’s desk. ‘I have something for you.’ Her face was surprise/confusion/pleased, until I planted it full on in her face, then it was shock/horror/disbelief. I’m not completely mean though; I’d removed the walnuts from the top first. Seeing thick buttercream clinging to her false lashes was very satisfying. I licked my fingers then sauntered back to my desk, I picked up my handbag and coffee. It had gone cold as I wanted it. I walked back to the still shocked Vanessa and poured the coffee slowly over her expensive hair extensions. The rest of the office seemed to be in mid game of musical statues. The boss had stepped out of his room on hearing Vanessa’s shrieks and stood motionless, joining in with the game of statues. I walked up to him, adrenalin running on ahead. ‘You disgust me. Don’t ever touch anyone again without their permission.’ I grabbed his crotch and squeezed as hard as I could. I obviously hit the mark as his eyes watered and he let out a guttural cry and crumpled like a string less puppet. I let go of his sweaty groin and he dropped to the floor. I didn’t look back, I just walked to the lift, smiling.

No Malcolm this weekend, my choice though. I told him I had a friend coming to stay and we were having a girlie weekend of DVD’s and face packs lined up, so was there any chance I could have the house to myself?  He was so keen to get a free pass for the weekend it didn’t cross his mind that I’ve never had any friends visit or even mentioned any friends before. He smiled at me. A genuine smile. Oh how I wanted that smile to be for me, not just at me. He will never smile like that about me again.

Wine of the day is Jackson Stich Sauvignon Blanc, a punchy wine I am teaming up with Terry’s chocolate orange.

Saturday. D-Day

I treated myself to a pamper morning at Chiltern Spa. Manicure, pedicure, facial, hot stone massage and some reflexology. Maureen doing the reflexology was concerned at the amount of blockages in my body, I reassured her I was aware of them and it was being dealt with. She gave me a complimentary Indian head massage. She knew.

I started to feel tearful, maybe all the sessions released emotions I didn’t want freed. I escaped to the cinema to be distracted by someone else’s story. I was distracted by Captain America. After being amazed by superheroes I dined at the Ivy, feeling like a film star with my freshly manicured hands and glowing skin. I enjoyed an exquisite meal of rocket soup with walnut and apple salsa, fillet steak with a green peppercorn sauce, and burnt banana & butterscotch tatin with rum and raisin ice cream. I had a sedate stroll home and watched day turn to night. A curtain coming down on the final act.

Wine of the day? Hell no, Claire we’re having champagne of the day! Louis Roederer Cristal, with notes of apricot, hazelnut and Danish pastries! Blew £150 on this, it better be good.

My letter to Malcolm is written and placed on the hall table. It’s complete bullshit, in it I blame him and his affair for my suicide, declare my undying love for him and saying I can’t go on anymore knowing he is with her, blah blah blah. I know the guilt will eat away at him and slowly sink their ship of passion. It’s bad of me I know. I’m choosing to die today because I don’t want to die a slow and painfully lonely death as the cancer consumes me, but I want him to suffer too. I’m a horrid person. Although I’m not really that horrid, otherwise I would have made my death look like murder and framed him. See, I’m not that bad Claire. Just lazy.

I’m sat by the fire now, black and red negligee on, hair and make-up perfectly done. I have the one hundred co-codamol I’ve stashed by my side, and I’m washing it down with the champagne. I’m sharing my last moments with you Claire, but I’d rather be dying in the arms of someone who loves me. No offence. Would that make this more difficult though? Probably. No one is going to miss me, no children, no friends, and no loving husband. I wonder how long it will be before she moves in here? If haunting is possible I’m going to stay here and scare the shit out of her. Every day. Slag.

So here I am, D-Day. Death day. It’s our wedding anniversary today. I knew he’d forget. Twenty years ago I said I do. Now I’m saying I don’t. I have to throw you in the fire now Claire, our conversations over wine are not for anyone else’s eyes. You’ve been the best friend I’ve had. I’m sorry.

 

 

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NUTS

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

I stop pumping up and down on Harry’s chest. I think I have broken two of his ribs. He is dead, it won’t bother him. It looks like I tried my best to revive him though. I only started my revival attempts when I couldn’t detect a pulse anymore. So I guess you could say I murdered my husband.

I stare at his lifeless body. Part of me feels sad. I stroke his hair. I’d like to say he looks like he’s sleeping, but he doesn’t, he looks dead. We were so in love in the beginning of our whirlwind romance. Our first date was in an art gallery and we bonded over abstract art and champagne. Harry whisked me away the following week to Paris and proposed at the top of the Eiffel Tower. A downward spiral followed, passion turned to possessive obsession, mind games and manipulation.

A siren outside snaps me back. I sweep over the apartment quickly, double checking myself. I’ve placed the note telling Harry not to eat the pie on the floor, seemingly fallen from his view. His plate and fork still on the breakfast bar, my plate and fork washed up and put away. A buzz at the intercom. I answer. Footsteps run upstairs.

I fling open the door. ‘Quickly, you have to help him! He’s eaten nuts and is allergic to them.’

The paramedics rush over to Harry. I feign distress.

Glancing at my watch I note I have plenty of time before I meet Marcus at the airport. He’s whisking me away to Rome. I met him on the same website as Harry and he’s fallen for me. He wants me to leave Harry. Marcus is diabetic, but I’ll help look after his insulin levels. I’m sweet like that.

STILL HERE

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

The rhythmic low beeping of a machine lures my consciousness from its hibernation. I can also hear what sounds like a small bellows breathing life into a small fire. I try to open my eyes to see where I am but the inky black darkness remains. I can’t even feel my eye lids attempting to open; I can’t feel anything. I try to move my arms, legs, anything I can but I have no sensation anywhere. It smells of a hospital wherever I am. That acrid clinical smell, sterile and sour.

Why am I in a hospital? How did I get here? I have no recollection of an accident or any explanation of why I would be in a hospital, I remember eating out with Michael. His sister Grace and Harry just got back from their honeymoon and we were having a post wedding celebration. We’d dined at The Maple Tree as it was Grace’s favourite – Michael thought it pretentious and over-priced with smarmy waiters but is always generous with Grace. I think he still carried the guilt of her blindness, even though he was only young at the time of the accident. Maybe I’ve gone blind? Oh don’t be stupid, people just don’t go blind for no reason, and even if they did they would still be able to move or feel something. Surely?

Grace always amazes me, some moments it’s easy to forget she’s blind as she moves with the elegance of a dancer and seems to glide effortlessly through life, enchanting all who meet her, while I’m a clumsy klutz always managing to trip over my own feet. I wish I could feel my feet now. I wish I could feel anything now. Grace certainly lives up to her name. She reminds me of a ballerina, willowy thin with wispy blonde hair always tied up in a bun. Michael has the same blonde hair, short but still wispy, and the most vivid green eyes. His eyes were what mesmerised me when we met, almost recognising each other from previous lives. The five years we’ve been together seems like a glorious lifetime and I can only remember my life before him in fuzzy detail, but my life with him is always clear and in sharp focus.

I hear a door open and the squeak of rubber soled shoes on a floor. Hello. Can you hear me? The squeaky shoes move towards me. I can hear paper moving. The door opens again and another pair of shoes enter the room to wherever I am, not so squeaky though as the first pair of feet.

‘Oh, you nearly done? Her parents are on their way up.’ My parents are here?

‘Yeah only jotting down the vitals.’

‘Anything changed?’

‘No, nothing.’ Nothing? What do you mean nothing? What’s going on?

 The squeaky shoes and the not so squeaky shoes fade out followed by the door closing. Come back, I’m here! My parents are on their way up, I must be in a hospital, I must have been in an accident, why can’t I remember and why can’t I move? I listen carefully but only the noise of the machine beeping and the bellows blowing disturbs the silence. Time drags like weighted quicksand.

The door opens, slower and more cautiously than before, a few seconds of silence and machines pass. Did I really hear the door open? A clip clop of heels accompanied by heavier solid footsteps move towards me.

‘Oh George, she looks like she’s just sleeping.’ My mother’s voice is such a wonderful sound to me even with its forlorn tone. Mum! I’m here! I can hear you! I can smell her Nina Ricci perfume. Is she kissing me or stroking my hair? I can’t feel her but a sudden waft of strong scent must mean she’s close.

A chair scrapes the floor, heavy legs on tiles, being dragged towards me. I see a blue plastic chair in my mind. Why am I seeing a blue chair? Is my brain trying to compensate for my eyes not working? I hear a faint deflating sound as someone sits close by. My Dad? Why is my Dad not speaking? The image of the chair in my head changes from blue solid plastic to green padded vinyl, morphing Dali-like in my mind, playing tricks. I picture my Mum sat in the chair, fluffy plum cardigan with deep pockets like abysses that can produce tissues, nail-files, cough sweets or mints on demand, red floral skirt and tousled uneven bob, the same shade of chestnut brown as my hair.

‘Here.’ Mum says. Yes! I’m here Mum! Can you hear me?

‘I’m alright.’ Dad says. ‘I don’t need it.’ Dad! Can you hear me?

‘It’s ok to cry,’ says Mum, ‘let it out.’

‘Don’t fuss woman, I don’t need to let anything out.’

I’ve never seen my Dad cry, I can hear him sniffing, is he crying now? Don’t cry Dad, I’m here. They sit in silence, an occasional sniff from my Dad and some throaty sobs from my Mum is their only dialogue. I float helplessly in black space, tortured by their emotions, longing to move my arms to hug them. Concentrate. Think about moving your arms and make it happen. As much as I will my arms to shift even slightly I still cannot feel them. Are they even still there?

Why is Michael not here with me too? He could comfort my parents for me. Oh God, he might be in another room injured too. If we were both in an accident. Or if Grace was in the accident too he would be in her room knowing my parents were here with me. Yes, he must be at Grace’s bedside. She’s the only blood family he has.

I try desperately to remember more details, panic is scattering my thoughts like disturbed cockroaches and my claustrophobic cocoon closes in. Think. Focus. Go back to the restaurant and remember.

I remember the desserts, key lime pie. We all had the same. Well, we nearly all did. Grace squealed when Harry told her key lime pie was on the menu as they’d had that on their wedding day in St Lucia. She insisted we all had it. Unfortunately the waiter informed us that they only had three pieces left. Grace said that she and Harry simply had to have the same, they had also done this with their starters and main courses, so I opted for the raspberry cheesecake. I remember dropping the red fruit sauce onto my pastel pink dress giving the illusion that I had been shot, and Grace apologising to me for missing out on the key lime pie as it was so divine. I remember Harry having too many tequilas and being told off by Grace for telling us rude jokes and I remember Michael taking Harry’s car keys from him and nominating himself as driver as he had only had two whiskeys.

Michael was driving, I was shotgun and Grace and Harry were in the back. Harry’s tequila’s had hit him hard in the fresh air and he had tripped on the gravel in the car park and head-butted his car. He kept saying sorry to Michael, thinking it was Michael’s car. We were winding around the country roads, no other cars, just our headlights on full beam. Harry had shouted that he was bleeding, his head was bleeding. Grace was demanding Michael drive us to a hospital, faster. Michael was telling me to get a tissue from the glove box, it was only a little cut to Harry’s head. I got a tissue and tried passing it back to Harry but he was too drunk to take it, holding his head and moaning loudly. Grace was too busy telling Michael where the nearest hospital was. I reached behind me as far as I could to Harry but my seatbelt kept jamming. I undid my seatbelt.

‘The doctors will be here soon.’ Dad says.

‘No.’ Mum says. ‘Don’t let them. Don’t let them take my little girl away from me.’

‘She’s already gone Mary.’ No Dad! I’m here! I’m still here!

My Mum’s sobs increase. Don’t cry Mum, please don’t cry, I’m here, right here. Just listen really hard and you’ll hear me.

‘It’s only the machines keeping her body working,’ says Dad, ‘you know that. They explained it.’ His voice is monotone, detached, as if he too is trapped somewhere else. No Dad, make them give me longer! I’m still here! Your little girl who used to be your best garden helper, remember? We grew the greatest tomatoes that one summer, they were so vibrantly red and perfect in shape, remember? You said it was because we grew them with love. Give anything love and it will flourish you said.

The sound of the door opening is followed by footsteps, too many for me to distinguish. A mixture of squeaks and thuds my only clue as to my executioners.

‘I’m so sorry we couldn’t do more Mr and Mrs Grant.’ Says a solemn male voice. ‘Would you like to stay here or wait in the relatives’ room?’

No, no, no! I’m still here! Please, someone hear me!

‘I want to stay here.’ Mum says. ‘I can’t leave her.’ Yes, Mum. Stay here, don’t let them turn the machines off. I just need more time. I haven’t told you how much I love you, you need to know that. When I was younger you would kiss my forehead when I was ill and tell me you’d made the germs go away as they were scared of you. I need you to do that now Mum, I need you to make these doctors go away, because I’m scared Mum, I’m scared.

‘Come on Mary,’ Dad says, ‘she’s already gone. Let’s get out of the way and leave the doctors to do what they have to do.’

A scrape of chairs and my mother’s cries are overwhelming. I don’t want to listen to this, why did my hearing have to stay with me, Mum, please don’t cry, I can’t bear this.

‘Goodbye sweet pea,’ whispers my Mum, ‘I love you so much.’ I love you so much too Mum. Don’t leave me. Mum!

‘Nurse Barter will look after you.’ Says the solemn man. ‘Linda, take Mr and Mrs Grant to the relatives’ room please.’

No! Please! I’m still here! Mum? Dad? My Mum’s guttural wailing ebbs away in the distance and I imagine my Dad’s big strong arms wrapped around her, holding her up, holding them together as they grow smaller in the corridor outside.

I can hear the click of switches and paper rustling. Is this it? Is this how it all ends? I’m not going to go with the click of a switch. I’m going to bloody well stay here until I can move my useless body again! You hear that? Can you hear me you stupid people?

‘They can’t hear you.’ Michael says. ‘Your shouting is wasted.’

‘Michael! You can hear me?’

‘Of course I can silly.’

‘I knew you would! I knew you’d hear me!’ Its ok, everything is going to be ok. ‘You need to tell them quickly, the doctors, tell them you can hear me.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘They can’t hear me either.’ He emerges from the darkness, I can see him so clearly. He is so handsome and radiating a soothing glow as he smiles at me. ‘I’ve come to meet you, we no longer belong here.’

Michael holds out his hand to me. My hand reaches out to his. I can feel his touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE HOUR

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

Bournemouth: 1.09 pm

Barbara switched off the radio and looked around the room. Her lounge didn’t appear to be any different. The blue and cream striped sofa, with non-scattered scatter cushions, took up most of the space. A cream rug was positioned perfectly in front of it, all of its fringes fastidiously aligned. Aromas of furniture polish and potpourri lingered placidly. The soft ticking of a brass carriage clock, marooned on a circular lace doily, on the sideboard was the only sound in the room.

Barbara noticed her hands were trembling, she grasped them together, squeezing to keep them steady. After hearing the news on the radio the stillness of the room was no longer a comforting calm to her. The news reporter’s voice, which was being broadcast on a repetitive loop, still played in Barbara’s head. ‘In approximately one hour an asteroid will collide with our planet. The asteroid is so vast in size it will obliterate Earth from existence. There is nothing we can do to stop it.’

 

Bermondsey: 1.09 pm

Stephen dropped his empty mug into the kitchen sink and bowed his head. ‘Shit.’

‘Stephen, hush your mouth.’ Coral said as she placed her hand softly on his tense shoulder. ‘The kids’ll hear you. You gotta pull yourself together, now.’

Stephen snorted and shrugged her hand away as he turned to face her. ‘We’re all gonna die in an hour, a bit of cussing not gonna hurt no one.’

‘Now listen here baby brother, I got three kids through there and I don’t want them cryin and scared, so get yourself together and be funny Uncle Stephen ‘til the end. OK?’

Stephen’s nostrils flared as he stared at Coral. ‘I aint your baby brother, I’m twenty one.’

‘Well then be a man, baby brother.’ Coral raised her eyebrow before she turned to take a container of milk out of the fridge.

Stephen sighed and walked past her towards the lounge, stopping in the doorway. ‘Glad I missed my bus home last night y’know.’

‘I know. Me too.’ Coral kept her back to him, avoiding eye contact. ‘Now scoot, get from under my feet.’

Stephen hesitated a moment, watching his sister preparing drinks like she’d done so many times before, he took a deep breath and left the kitchen.

 

Brighton: 1.09pm

Tom flicked the radio switch to ‘off’ and looked across the room to Sophie. She was already gliding across towards him. They drew together like magnets, Tom wrapped his arms tightly around her, her face nuzzled into his neck. She inhaled his musky scent and squeezed him tightly in return. His hands moved slowly to stroke her hair, her beautiful golden hair that smelled of succulent green apples, and then he cupped her face, her perfect elfin face, in his reliable calloused hands.

‘I love you so much Soph.’

She searched deeply into his watery eyes and smiled. ‘To the moon and back?’

‘To the moon and back a million times over.’ He returned her infectious smile.

Sophie raised her eyebrows. ‘A million billion?’

‘A million zillion.’

They kissed tenderly, their eyes continuing their conversation. They hugged each other tightly again.

‘Our tree?’ whispered Sophie.

‘Yes, our tree.’ Tom softly wiped away the tears from under Sophie’s eyes with his thumbs.

They silently and calmly gathered up items from the hut; some bottled water and a fruit salad that Tom had just been preparing. Tom held up a dusty bottle of champagne but Sophie smiled and shook her head so he placed it back in the cupboard. She carefully slid her knitting off its needles and put it into a hessian bag along with a tartan blanket and the water and the fruit. They slipped their sandals on before taking one last glance around their homely hut. Tom carried the bag in one hand and held Sophie’s hand in his other, their fingers snugly entwined.

 

Blackpool: 1.10pm.

The Jack Daniels bottle was a quarter empty on the passenger seat. The stench of whiskey and sweat hovered thickly in the confined space of the car. Tom Petty’s ‘I won’t back down’ blasted out from the Chevelle’s stereo. Jason’s head was reclining on the leather head rest and his eyes were shut. A blast of a horn outside whipped them open, revealing a bloodshot left eye. Jason looked out of the window but whoever had disturbed his melancholic meditation was already moving away at speed. ‘Tosser.’

He had watched people rushing away on foot and in cars, all trying to get somewhere, be somewhere else, escape. There was no escape though. Jason laughed at their stupidity. He had parked up in the small car park overlooking the sea front. He’d grabbed the bottle of Jack from the off licence in the high street when he’d heard the news, it had felt good just helping himself to it and walking out without paying, he now knew how the thieves he arrested felt. An hour didn’t give him enough time to drive over to his kids at Leeds so he’d chosen to park up, watch the sea and drink.

 

Bournemouth: 1.13 pm.

Barbara closed her eyes and recited the Lord’s Prayer. On opening her eyes she kissed the cross hanging around her neck and took her telephone book out of the sideboard. Finding her daughter’s number she picked up the phone. There was no dial tone, nothing, just dead air. Barbara sighed and replaced the handset in the cradle. She felt a guilty relief. If she’d got through to Kirsty she wasn’t sure what she would have said.

Barbara put the telephone book back in its correct place and took out a small photo album. Sitting on the sofa she slowly turned the pages, watching Kirsty grow up, laughing and smiling with her dad, Barbara herself always happy to be a spectator behind the lens. They’d never had a close bond. Barbara had provided all the practical things Kirsty needed but just couldn’t give emotionally. Kirsty had been a ‘Daddy’s girl’ and her distance widened after he had died, emotionally and then physically when Kirsty had moved to New Zealand. Barbara gently touched Kirsty’s face in the photo.

 

Bermondsey: 1.13 pm.

Coral bustled into the lounge with a tray of drinks clinking together, she set it down on the table in the middle of the room.

‘Milkshakes!’ said Kyra clapping her hands, she was next to her sister Michelle on the brown leather sofa. Stephen was on the floor with his nephew Jerome playing with a fire truck and Gary was pacing slightly, hands stuffed into his jeans pockets, by the television.

‘I shut it off.’ Said Gary looking at Coral. ‘Just kept sayin the same thing. And the phone’s dead. Can’t get hold of no one.’

Coral nodded, ‘I ‘spect everyone is tryin to call everyone else and it’s got jammed up. Everyone’ll know we’ll be thinkin of them.’

‘Yeah.’ Gary frowned. ‘I feel like I should be doin somethin,’ he shrugged his shoulders, ‘but I dunno what.’

Coral moved closer to Gary, stepping over a police car on the floor. ‘Do what you do best, carry on bein the best dad and best husband.’

Gary bit his lower lip and nodded his head. Coral glanced around. Michelle was fiddling with her charm bracelet, Jerome and Stephen were still toying with trucks and Kyra was blowing through her straw to create large bubbles in her pink milkshake. Coral took a deep breath. ‘Right then. How about a movie afternoon? Who wants to watch a film?’

All three children put their hands up in a chorus of ‘yeses’ and were instantly chatting amongst themselves.

‘Coral baby?’ Gary frowned. ‘There’s less than an hour…’

‘Hush now, we’re goin to have a movie afternoon for the children.’ Coral raised her eye brows at her husband. ‘I need us all to be happy and be havin a good time, when we…’ She swallowed hard and Gary pulled her into a tight bear hug.

 

Brighton: 1.13pm.

Tom and Sophie strolled quietly up and along the dirt lane just like they were sauntering off on one of their regular picnics. Birds were quieter than usual and a light breeze tickled through the leaves on the trees. Open fields of lush green peeked through hedgerows enticing them to stray from the track and enter. They did so near the top of the hill. Squeezing through their gap in the hedge it was only a short walk through a buttercup dotted field to their tree.

A magnificent oak stood alone and confident in the field. It had become their tree from their first picnic date here two years ago. For every occasion since then their tree had featured, even in their hand-fasting wedding last year, where a few friends had gathered with them to celebrate love and life. Tom spread the blanket out and they sat on the ground in symmetry beneath their tree.

‘It’s so peaceful.’ said Tom. ‘It already feels like we’re the only people left on the planet.’

Sophie’s hand gently rested on Tom’s. ‘Do you think they’ve got it wrong? Do you think maybe we’ll be ok here?’

‘I think they sounded pretty definite.’ Tears trickled down Tom’s face and he wiped them away with the back of his hand, turning to Sophie. ‘I love you so much, and if there is another life after this one I will find you again.’

‘I know, I love you too, and we’ll be together for eternity.’ Sophie’s lips rose in a smile but the smile failed to reach her eyes.

 

Blackpool: 1.15pm.

Jason pulled the phone out of his jeans pocket and pressed redial for his ex-wife. Expecting the engaged tone again he was surprised to hear it ringing. After four rings it was answered.

‘Hello?’

Jason sat up straight. ‘Amy it’s me, Jason.’

There was a moments’ silence. ‘What do you want?’

‘I want to speak to the kids.’

‘Not happening.’

‘C’mon Amy, don’t be like that.’ Jason sank back in the seat.

‘I’m not being like anything. The kids don’t want to talk to you. I told you that last week when I had both of them crying cause you didn’t take them bowling like you promised. You preferred to shag some slag off the estate.’

‘It wasn’t like that.’ Jason rubbed his forehead. ‘Look there’s not much time left…’

‘Time ran out for you ages ago. You’re too late.’

‘Please Amy, don’t be such a bitch, just let me say goodbye.’

‘Piss off.’ The phone beeped as Amy hung up.

Jason pressed redial. It rang once then went to voicemail. He hit the end button and dropped the phone onto his lap. ‘Fucking bitch.’ Grabbing the bottle from the passenger seat he unscrewed the top and took another huge swig from it. Some of the whiskey spilled down his chin and he wiped it away with the back of his hand. Putting the bottle back on the passenger seat he picked up his phone again and scrolled through the contacts list. Stopping at ‘Beth’ he hesitated and then scrolled down to ‘Claire’.

 

Bournemouth: 1.19 pm.

The images in Barbara’s album flowed onto Kirsty’s children. These photographs had arrived in birthday and Christmas cards. She’d never really looked at them closely before, just filed them into the album after a quick glance. She’d had yes/no conversations on the phone with them when Kirsty made the dutiful birthday and Christmas phone calls, but knowing now she’d never meet them compelled her to study the pictures.  Kirsty had suggested chatting via Skype with them all but Barbara had kept putting that off, protesting that she didn’t like technology.

A flutter of ‘why’ butterflies filled Barbara’s mind. Why did she always wait for Kirsty to phone her? Why didn’t she just pick up the phone first for a spontaneous chat? Why hadn’t she visited Kirsty and her family? Too late for why’s now. Closing the album she looked at her hands rested upon it, mottled and plump, her nails painted a perfect shade of coral. She sat eerily still with the sound of the ticking clock counting down.

 

Bermondsey: 1.21 pm.

Coral pulled away from Gary. ‘I’m fine. Let’s not fuss.’ She wiped her eye with the back of her hand. ‘I got somethin in my eye, that’s all.’

Stephen stood up. ‘I’ll close the curtains, make it dark like the cinema.’ As he drew the curtains he paused and looked down. He could see others running, walking and driving off from the estate. From nineteen floors up they looked like ants. Where were they going? To try and get to their loved ones? He was grateful that he wasn’t in his own flat alone. He quickly closed the curtains, his hands trembling slightly.

Gary plonked himself down on the sofa between the girls, the leather releasing some air that made them laugh with its rude noise. ‘C’mon then, what film we watching? Stephen get them DVD’s out from under the telly.’

‘Frozen!’ said Kyra.

Michelle rolled her eyes. ‘We’ve seen that a million times.’

‘A million million times.’ Jerome said, abandoning his truck. ‘I wanna see Teenage Mutant Ginger Turtles.’

‘No way!’ said Michelle. ‘And its ninja not ginger, stupid head.’

‘Hey hey, that’s enough.’ said Coral, she looked across at Stephen. ‘Little brothers are never stupid heads, annoyin and silly, but never stupid heads. Why don’t we let Uncle Stephen pick the film?’

Stephen cocked his head to one side and raised his eyebrow at Coral. ‘Armageddon?’

‘That’s why.’ Gary glared across at Stephen.

 

Brighton: 1.21pm.

Sophie unpacked the fruit salad and ate a small chunk of melon. ‘This is the juiciest and the sweetest melon I’ve ever tasted, here, try.’

Tom leant forward and Sophie held the melon to his lips, brushing it lightly across then she giggled as she fed it to him.

‘Delicious.’ Tom smiled. ‘You’re correct as always.’

She leant forward and her lips brushed his hungrily. The passion in their kiss was intense, just like the one on their first date, when they both realised fate had gifted them to each other.

 

Blackpool: 1.22pm.

Jason touched his phone screen and listened to it ringing. He was about to hang up when she answered.

‘Hello?’

Jason smiled and rested his head back. ‘Hey Claire.’

‘Jason?’

‘Yep it’s me.’ Jason’s smile broadened. ‘How you doing?’

‘How am I doing? Are you kidding me?’

He laughed. ‘Yeah I know, crazy shit going down.’

‘Oh, do you mean the end of the world shit or the fact you used me for sex and haven’t called for months?’

Jason’s smile dropped. ‘Aw Claire, don’t be like that, we had fun, you know I had a lot on my plate with work and my ex…’

‘Tell it to someone who cares.’

Jason’s voice grew louder and snappy. ‘Look, I’m calling you now aren’t I, I want to be with you when it all goes tits up.’

‘I don’t believe you. I bet I’m just the nearest person to you.’

‘Don’t be stupid, I want you, I can be there in, like, five minutes.’

‘Well I don’t want you here, I’m with my family.’

‘C’mon, you know you really want to be with me.’ He laughed. ‘We can have some fun.’

There was a short silence on the other end. ‘Have fun by yourself you wanker.’ The call ended.

 

Bournemouth: 1.25 pm.

Barbara placed the photo album away and opened her writing bureau, where she retrieved a small round box of violet creams. Taking them out to the hallway with her she put on her beige brogues and cashmere coat. She checked her reflection in the mirror, smoothing down her silver bobbed hair and she reapplied her coral lipstick that matched perfectly with her nails.

Carrying the chocolates and hanging her handbag over her wrist she left her bungalow and locked the door. Barbara was the only person in sight and she noticed that the birdsong that usually greeted her outside was absent. Taking in a deep breath of air she took ten steps to the bungalow next door and knocked. There was silence from within and Barbara was about to turn away when she heard someone unlocking the door. It slowly opened about four inches.

‘Hello?’ Said Barbara.

‘Hello? Said a voice from within.

‘Hello, my name is Barbara Maitland. I live next door.’

The door opened a little more to reveal an elderly lady with fuzzy white hair and startled eyes. ‘I don’t know you. Have you just moved in?’

‘No, no I’ve lived next door for ten years.’

The old lady looked Barbara up and down while pursing her thin lips. ‘I haven’t seen you before.’

Both ladies just stared at each other. Barbara broke first. ‘Well, yes. Have you heard the news?’

The white haired lady looked blank. ‘Do you mean the explosion? Or has there been more news? My television stopped you see.’

‘No nothing new.’ Barbara shifted her weight from one hip to the other.

The white haired lady blinked a few times, as if she was sensitive to the daylight sneaking in through the slightly ajar door. ‘Righty oh’.

The ladies stared once again at each other, like two cats who had wandered into a garden at the same time.

‘Are you on your own?  I have these lovely chocolates you see.’ Barbara held up the violet creams. ‘And I didn’t want you to be on your own when, well, when the end comes, so I thought we could maybe sit together and share them?’

The startled eyes brightened and a smile spread across the fuzzy haired lady’s face, the door opened wider. ‘I’m Margaret, come on in, I’ll put the kettle on.’

 

Bermondsey: 1.25 pm.

‘Frozen it is then.’ Said Stephen. ‘I got a mean voice and can nail those songs. I think we should see who can sing loudest.’

‘I love you Uncle Stevie.’ Kyra gave Stephen a huge smile that revealed her two missing teeth.

‘I love you too Titch, and Chelle and my main man Jerome.’ Stephen looked across to Gary. ‘And your dad.’

Gary glared again. ‘Don’t be a muppet.’ A slight smile flickered on his lips then disappeared.

While Stephen set up the DVD player Coral went into the kitchen and when she returned she had a huge bowl of crisps and a packet of treat sized chocolate bars in her hands. The kids’ eyes widened like Jaffa Cakes when they saw.

‘What!’ squealed Michelle. ‘Where did they come from!?’

‘I have a secret hidin place. Or two.’ Coral squeezed the bowl and chocolates onto the table next to the drinks and sat on the sofa next to Kyra, Gary and Michelle.

Jerome scrambled up onto his mother’s lap and squished in beside her. ‘No room Uncle Stevie!’

‘That’s ok lil man, I’ll sit in front of you, like we’re in a for real cinema.’ Stephen pushed the table out a bit and sat down on the floor. Jerome plonked his feet onto Stephen’s shoulders and Stephen sniffed at the little feet in their blue socks. ‘Pooh! Stinky feet!’

Jerome giggled. ‘Stinky feet.’

‘Right then.’ said Coral. ‘Everyone tuck in, Gary press play. Are we all ready to ‘let it go’?’

 

Brighton: 1.28 pm.

They lay back on the blanket and Sophie took her unfinished knitting out of the bag and nestled close at the side of Tom. They linked hands and studied the sky.

‘It’s such a beautiful day.’ said Tom.

Sophie squeezed his hand. ‘Yes, it is.’

‘Elephant.’

‘Where?’ said Sophie searching the sky. ‘You can’t see an elephant.’

‘Yes I can, there.’ Tom pointed with his free hand. ‘Next to the lopsided butterfly.’

‘I think that’s a moth.’

‘Really?’ Tom laughed. ‘Ok’.

Sophie smiled. ‘You know I’m right.’

The clouds swirled and teased with different shapes as Tom and Sophie lay peacefully.

‘Bunny!’ said Sophie, then gasped slightly and reached to her tummy. The unfinished knitted baby blanket was resting where she had placed it not long ago, it moved slightly. She placed her and Tom’s interlinked hands on her tummy.

Tom felt a small kick too. ‘I think she likes the name Bunny.’

‘Bunny it is then.’ Sophie started to cry as Tom held her. He kissed her forehead and kept his hand protectively over Bunny. His tears followed and flowed with hers.

 

Blackpool: 1.28 pm.

‘Crazy bitch.’ Jason lurched for the Jack Daniels but knocked it over, the brown liquid started spilling out onto the seat. ‘Fuck’. He picked the bottle up but there wasn’t much left, knocking it back the alcohol clawed at his throat. Opening the window he tossed out the empty bottle. He shook his head and grinned at the thought that he was worried about the interior of his car when it was going to be blown up along with him. The grinning turned to hysterical laughter. The laughter turned into wretched sobbing.

Jason lifted his t-shirt up and used it to wipe his face, tears and snot were blotted up by Bon Jovi on tour. He stared at himself in the rear view mirror. Both eyes were now bloodshot and his face was red and blotchy. ‘Loser.’

 

Bournemouth: 1.31 pm.

Barbara stepped into Margaret’s home, hung her coat up in the hallway and was seated in a wing-backed pink chair, with floral embroidered headrest. Margaret shuffled off to the kitchen to make the tea. Barbara surveyed Margaret’s lounge. It was a cluttered room of ornaments and dust. China cherubs and a ceramic spaniel were staring at Barbara from the table to the side of her. The paint on the spaniel was worn away giving it a look of alopecia. A row of Victorian dressed dolls were on a shelf jostling for attention but Barbara’s eye kept getting drawn to a faded black and white photograph hung over the electric fire in the middle of the room. The subject of the photograph was a little girl with curled hair tied in ribbons and a broad dimply smile. The rattle of china cups heralded Margaret and the tea.

‘I thought I’d use my best cups, not often I get a visitor.’ Margaret’s eyes sparkled and her smile took years off of her.

Barbara opened the chocolates and placed them on the ring stained table in front of them while Margaret poured the tea.

‘Help yourself to milk and sugar.’ Margaret sat down in the chair next to Barbara taking a sip of tea. ‘Ah lovely, if I do say so myself. Can’t beat a good cuppa.’

Barbara poured some milk into her tea. ‘Thank you. Please, have a chocolate.’

Both ladies took a chocolate and popped them into their mouths.

‘Mmm.’ Said Margaret. ‘That’s lovely, I haven’t had one of those in years.’

‘They’re my favourites.’ said Barbara smiling, she looked up at the picture again. ‘That’s a lovely photograph, who is it?’

Margaret beamed. ‘My daughter Pamela.’

‘Oh, I bet she looks a lot more grown up now.’

‘No.’ Margaret’s smile faltered a little. ‘She died not long after, that’s the last photo we had taken of her.’

 

Blackpool: 1.33 pm.

Jason phoned Amy again. As he thought, it rang twice then went to voicemail but instead of hanging up he left a message. ‘It’s me. I know you don’t wanna talk to me and I get that so I just, like, wanna say I’m sorry for being such a crap husband and I wish it could’ve been different, I wish I could’ve been different. I just wanna say goodbye to the kids, and you, I love you, I never stopped. I’m just a loser.’

After hitting the end button he typed a text message to Claire. He read it back, his uncoordinated fingers, disorientated by Jack Daniels, made the words practically unreadable. He deleted it all apart from the word ‘sorry’. He then changed the recipient from ‘Claire’ to ‘all contacts’ and pressed send.

He cranked the stereo up to its highest volume and opened his glove box. Tom Petty was now singing ‘It’ll All Work Out’. Jason took out the handgun he had confiscated illegally in raid a few months ago. He should have handed it in but decided to keep it. It made him feel powerful having it close by. The cold metal felt comforting in his hands. He looked at himself in the mirror. Instead of seeing a puffy faced middle-aged man, red and tear stained, he saw Robert De Niro. ‘You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it’s all about.’ He ran his fingers through his heavily gelled hair. ‘I’m in control. I say what happens.’ He sat back. He released the safety catch. He closed his eyes. He held the gun under his chin with both hands. He pulled the trigger.

 

Bournemouth: 1.33 pm.

Barbara put her cup and saucer down. ‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.’

‘Oh you haven’t, we were blessed to have had her for the five years that we did. My husband’s already with her and I’ll be with them both very soon.’ Margaret placed her hand gently onto Barbara’s arm. ‘Have you got anyone waiting for you?’

‘My husband Gerald.’ Barbara looked down to the floor. ‘My daughter lives in New Zealand.’ She looked back up at Margaret with tears in her eyes. ‘I haven’t been a good mother to her.’

Margaret moved her hand down to Barbara’s hand and squeezed it tightly. ‘Don’t be hard on yourself. Mother’s aren’t perfect. I let my daughter play by the river on her own. You have to forgive yourself.’

Tears escaped from Barbara and she nodded her head, squeezing Margaret’s hand in return. ‘Thank you.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breakdown

Published August 14, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

I’m aware of someone looming over me. I feel the weight of their shadow hover across my chest. I hear the someone swallow, a natural reflex, but alarmingly sinister as I hide behind the dark of my eyelids. I try to steady my breathing. Whoever, whatever, lurks, seems to be in no hurry to attack. The presence sits on the end of my bed. I don’t know what is going to surrender first, my heart or my bladder.

I launch open my eyes. Judd Nelson is perched on the bed by my feet. In navy blue pajamas. Sexy navy blue pajamas. He smiles. I don’t smile back, this is a dream, there is no other logical explanation. I study his face closely, I’ve never had such a high definition dream before, every wrinkle, every handsome, gorgeous wrinkle…

‘Hello.’ He smiles again.

I am mesmerized by his eyes, his deep dark brown eyes like pools of delicious chocolate…

‘Oh, this isn’t a dream.’ Judd interrupts my thoughts again.

I play along with my dream. ‘I’m struggling with this being reality.’

‘It isn’t reality.’

I sit more upright in my bed. ‘Hallucination?’

‘Nope.’ He shakes his head. ‘Nervous breakdown.’

‘I’m having a nervous breakdown?’

‘Yes.’

I smooth down the duvet covering my lap. ‘I feel quite calm for someone having a nervous breakdown.’

‘That’s because you’re in your breakdown assessment zone. Or BAZ.’

‘Are you sure this isn’t a dream?’

‘You’re definitely having a breakdown.’ He smiles again. ‘Your physical body has gone into a coma, only your mind is functioning.’

I survey my body and my surroundings. Everything is clearer and in more detail than a dream, but I can’t feel the duvet as I’m touching it.

‘You can’t feel anything physically,’ says Judd, ‘but you can feel emotions.’

‘So what happens now? We stay here in my bedroom until my body repairs itself? You are staying with me aren’t you?’

‘I’m staying for as long as you want, you created me here. And it’s not your body that needs repairing it’s your mind.’

‘How do I do that?’

‘You just need some time out, to refocus your mind, it’s a very powerful tool and can correct itself. If you want it to.’ He stares intently at me.

‘Well of course I want it to,’ his gaze is melting my internal organs, I can’t feel this physically but I know it’s happening, ‘although being trapped in my bedroom forever with you is quite tempting.’

He laughs. Loudly.

‘Oh, obviously not for you then.’ I know I’m blushing. ‘Are you even allowed your own opinion? I mean if I’ve created you shouldn’t you agree with me?’

‘I’m here as your voice of reason, subconsciously you’ve created me that way. And I didn’t laugh at the thought of being with you for eternity, that would give me the greatest pleasure.’

I don’t even care if he’s saying that because I’m making him say it. My internal organs are continuing to melt. I think I just lost a kidney.

‘I laughed because we’re not trapped in your bedroom.’ He stands and pushes his arm through the wall. It just glides through and back, like a plane through a cloud. ‘We can be anywhere you imagine. Just concentrate and focus.’

‘Concentrate and focus?’

He stands by the side of my bed. ‘Yep. Try it. Where do you want us to be?’

‘A beach.’

‘Great. Now think about the beach you want us to be at. Is it deserted or are there other people there? What season is it, hot or cold? You won’t be able to feel the temperature but it will affect the look.’

I start to imagine. My pink carpet subtly undulates. The carpet fibers change into sand, the palest beige sand, almost white. ‘Oh wow.’ The walls of my bedroom slowly dissolve revealing a beautiful blue skyline meeting an equally majestic turquoise sea that I can hear gently lapping close by. My bed morphs beneath me and I’m reclining on a padded wooden sun lounger with an identical one next to me. ‘This is amazing.’ I see a figure in the sea. ‘Is that Jenson Ackles waving at me?’

‘It is if you want it to be.’ Judd is still stood next to me. ‘Can I suggest you imagine me into beach wear, these pajamas are a bit warm.’ He winks at me.

I concentrate and imagine him to be wearing a pair of shorts and a kitsch Hawaiian shirt, bright pink and yellow. He is instantly transformed. I will save the speedo look for later.

He looks down at himself. ‘That’s better.’ He gestures to me.

I glance at my Minion pajamas, hardly suitable for this beach. I imagine a black swimming costume with a pretty floral sarong wrapped around me. I am instantly wearing this. I rearrange to sarong over my legs.

‘You look a bit self-conscious.’ Judd sits on the spare lounger. ‘I should point out that you can imagine yourself to be any shape that you want, and alter yourself in any way if it makes you feel better.’

‘Really?’

‘Yep.’ He shrugs.

I imagine myself thinner. I watch as my body neatly deflates to a smaller size, but stays taut and reveals nicely defined muscles. ‘Oh wow!’ I convert my black swimsuit into a gold bikini. I inflate my breasts a little. And a little more. ‘Is this what heaven feels like?’

‘Yes,’ Judd stops looking at my chest and makes eye contact with me, ‘I mean I don’t know, I’ve not been there.’

‘It must be. I am in heaven right now.’ I lie back on the lounger.

‘You are feeling happy? Content? Relaxed?’

‘Yes, yes, and yes. And we can stay here for as long as I want?’

‘Yes. Well…’

I sit back up. ‘What’s the well for?’

‘Well the longer you are not mentally connected with your physical body, I’m not sure how easy it will be to go back.’

‘I’m on a beach with you, Judd Nelson, why would I want to go back?’

‘For all that you have in your real life.’

‘Let me think about that. I’m a waitress in a dingy bar surviving day to day on tips, I’ve been single forever as I don’t trust anyone, I have no family that I speak to, and my social life consists of playing online scrabble with strangers and posting photos of food on Instagram. It kind of seems like a no brainer. What am I going to miss out on if I stay here?’

‘Food. You can create whatever food you want here but you can’t taste it. You can give us cocktails here but you can’t drink them.’

‘I can live without that.’

‘Ok, Smells. You can’t smell flowers, coffee, the sea.’

‘So, I also can’t smell nasty smells. Not a problem.’

‘Touch. You can’t feel physical touch here.’ He touches my arm, his fingers caressing my skin. ‘See.’

‘Yes, exactly, I can see you touching my arm, that makes me feel emotions, and that’s enough for me.’

‘For the rest of your life? No touching, tasting or smelling?’

‘I can see and I can hear and I can go anywhere I want and imagine anything I want. That is enough for me. This is the reality I want now.’

‘Shall I flick the switch then?’

‘What switch?’

‘There’s a switch that will cut off your mind from your body permanently, you will remain physically catatonic in hospital but exist permanently here.’

‘But won’t the hospital switch life support off?’

‘No, they will still detect brain activity so keep your body plugged in.’

‘Ok then, let’s do it.’

‘You sure?’

‘Never been surer.’ I settle back down on the lounger. ‘Flick that switch, let’s get this adventure started with a bang!’

Judd clicks his fingers. ‘Done.’

A cascade of pretty firework explosions fills the sky, but silently as I don’t like the loud noises that accompany them. A Caribbean steel band plays in the distance. I jump up to dance. My toes fall off.

‘What the…?’

Judd looks at my feet casually. ‘Ah, you’d forgotten your imagination can be a bit of a prat sometimes.’ He smiles. ‘Put them back on then.’

I look down at my feet stumps and scattered toes. I imagine them back on. My toes wriggle through the sand and back into place.

Judd stands up and moves in close to me. He wraps his arms around me, I can’t feel them but it feels good. ‘Can I kiss you?’

‘Of course.’

Melt. There goes my spleen.

 

 

 

Touch

Published July 17, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

A stranger on a train made me cry. They didn’t say anything to me, they didn’t look at me, they were probably completely unaware of my existence, yet they had a profound effect on me.

On a busy train to London the carriages filled up. I tend to avoid having someone sit next to me by letting my face drop into ‘resting mode’. My resting mode face is a serial killer/prison warder combo. Plus, it helps that I am large, not many people want to squeeze into a seat next to the fattest person in the carriage. Especially on a warm day. Anyway, this particular day all the seats had filled up so I stared into space out of the window as we pulled into Reading station, resigned to the fact that I would have to share my personal space for the final half hour of my journey. I hate having someone in the seat next to me as I usually get people with foul aromas that smell of fish, urine, garlic, rancid armpits, or a combination of those. Or people who eat. But not pleasant things like mints or lemon sherbets, I get people sitting next to me who eat egg sandwiches, and, I kid you not, some woman once ate pilchards next to me, heads and everything. I had to close my eyes and coat my nostrils in peach lip balm to avoid vomit rising.

On this occasion though the only odor that wafted my way, as a man sat down next to me, was a delicious aftershave.  Lap tray down, laptop out, head down, answering his emails. I don’t think he even gave me a first glance let alone a second. I was pleased I hadn’t been joined by a reeker, an eater, or indeed a reeky eater. I carried on watching the countryside whizz by. Then something strange happened.

I was suddenly aware of the warmth from the strangers’ arm. Our arms were touching, aligned. Nothing remarkable, nothing exceptional, just two people squished together on a busy train. To someone else that may have been the end of the experience. But I felt an emotional surge. Feeling the warmth from another human being was quite overwhelming.

I have been single for a long time and those closest to me (my mum and my daughter) are non-touchy feely people, no I love you’s, or hugs or affection. Which is fine for them, that is who they are. I however am a touchy feely person. But I have lived without physical human contact for such a long time that I’d actually forgotten how it felt. And I don’t mean in a sexual way, just in the sensory form of touch. Sat next to the man on the train, absorbing his body heat I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry because it felt good and I remembered the feeling of being physically close with a loved one. The random thought that went through my head was ‘if I was sat on a sofa with a partner this is what it would feel like’. (It’s irrelevant that I don’t have a sofa to go with a non-existent partner). I also wanted to cry because I thought of everyone else having someone they love to hold and touch, yet all I had was this random stranger on a train. I felt sorry for myself and I hated that.

The experience has passed. I’m now back to feeling fine with my unwritten no contact clause. It now doesn’t bother me again, just that one moment on the train. Obviously it made a difference that the man on the train was good looking and wore a wonderful aftershave, if it had been the lady in tweed from a few weeks earlier who smelled of onions and eels I don’t think I would have had the same experience.

So the moral of my tale is enjoy your human contact, be it on the sofa next to a loved one or sat next to a stranger on a train. But don’t go touching random people or holding hands with strangers, that might get you into trouble. Just be thankful.

Emmerdead

Published May 22, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

Emmerdead.

When characters in the soap Emmerdale die they disappear from our screens, but secretly they have the choice of moving on to the afterlife or moving into Emmerdead which is a replica of the village, but just full of dead characters going about their daily lives. Residents in Emmerdale are unaware of the Emmerdead village, they might not be so scared of dying if they did, but Emmerdead residents regularly watch Emmerdale on their TV’s to keep an eye on any loved ones left in village. Or to just be nosey. Current residents in Emmerdead are:

 

The Dingles live at the traditional Dingle dwelling, Wishing Well Cottage. Head of the household is Shadrach, still drinking and avoiding soap, of the washing kind. His daughter Gennie is with him. She is a mobile hairdresser, zipping around the countryside on a pink scooter. Shadrach’s nephews Butch and Ben farm pigs to sell to the village butchers. The brothers constantly vie with each other to get Gennie’s attention. She keeps pointing out they’re cousins but they say that doesn’t matter as they didn’t grow up together. Alice Dingle watches over Sam and their son Samson in Emmerdale via the TV, she approved of Rachel but wishes Sam would stop mooning over Megan. Alice rears chickens and sells the eggs.

 

Pollard’s Barn is inhabited by two of Eric’s wives, Val and Elizabeth, and Dave Glover. Val and Elizabeth both constantly argue over who Eric will choose when he gets there. Dave hopes Eric will choose to go straight to the afterlife as he is currently Val’s toy-boy and won’t be giving her up without a fight. Val has a massage studio set up at the barn, ‘Valerie’s Heavenly Bodies’, and works as a masseuse alongside Dave. They regularly practice on each other. Elizabeth is a seamstress, making and repairing clothes. She is very disapproving of Val and Dave.

 

Butler’s Farm is home to one of the Sugden families. Joe runs the farm here with his wife Kate. Kates children Rachel and Mark Hughes help on the farm. Pete Whiteley also lives here and works on the farm. Kate felt guilty for killing him so employed him. Pete is now back in a relationship with Rachel, although enjoys flirting with Kate in private, taking advantage of her guilt.

 

Holdgate farm is home to the Tate’s. Frank and his two sons Chris Tate and Liam Hammond living under the same roof leads to a lot of tension at times. Liam is finally starting to bond with his estranged dad but Chris is very territorial in the son department. They own the factory next door and run a brewery from there. Their top selling beers are ‘Emmerdale Elite’, ‘Franks Feisty First’ and ‘The Knobbly Nob’. Liam gets his hair cut more than he needs to as he has a crush on Gennie Dingle. Chris wants Gennie to go out with him just so he can get one up on his half-brother.

 

Home Farm is back in the hands of the King’s. Tom King and Rosemary King rule the roost with Tom’s sons Matthew and Carl running the estate. Tom has forgiven Carl for killing him but favours Matthew at all times. Carl is now married to DCI Grace Barraclough and she lives there too. She clashes quite a lot with Rosemary. Frank Tate flirts with Rosemary King at every opportunity he gets, sometimes she flirts back.

 

Seth and Meg Armstrong live at Tall Trees cottage and Archie Brooks is their lodger. Archie is the gamekeeper at Home Farm, Seth often accompanies him to escape from Meg’s nagging at home. Smokey the dog is always by Seth’s side. When not tagging along with Archie at Home Farm Seth can be found in the pub.

 

Donald De Souza lives in The Mill. He is the village vicar now after finding God. He has forgiven Matthew King for withholding his heart pills when he was having a heart attack and then subsequently died. Donald’s church services are regularly busy, there are a lot of people looking for redemption in Emmerdead.

 

David’s Shop doesn’t exist here in Emmerdead, instead it is ‘Woods & Windsor’, shop and post office. The post office side is run by Vic Windsor; the shop is run by Terry Woods. Viv Hope works in both sides alongside each of her husbands. Donna Windsor works in the post office with her dad, and Dawn Woods works in the shop with her dad. They all live together next door in Farrers Barn. Viv spends alternative nights with Terry and Vic, this works well most of the time but does cause some friction between the two husbands.

 

Viv’s first husband Reg Dawson lives in Keepers Cottage. He doesn’t live with her like the others but watches from a distance and is quite reclusive. He tries to avoid bumping into Shirley Turner around the village as he feels guilty for shooting her.

 

Tenants cottage is occupied by Robbie Lawson. He watches over his mum Megan and baby sister Eliza on Emmerdale via his TV. He is the village postman and there is a fledgling romance between him and Donna, which started in the village Post Office. Donna watches Emmerdale with Robbie so she can check on her daughter April.

 

Cameron Murray lives at Jacobs Fold. He runs the garage, called ‘Murray’s Motors’ here. He offers free servicing for anyone he has murdered. Gennie brings her scooter here and Carl King brings all the Home farm vehicles in. Alex Moss chose to go straight to the afterlife so Cameron is saved a little extra work there, but he is still kept very busy.

 

Pear tree cottage is not Beuaty and Bernice here, but a butchers. It’s owned by Brian Addyman and his daughter Katie Sugden. They live above it but Katie is fed up smelling like raw meat so is trying to persuade the Kings to have a stables back at Home farm so she can work there. She also has the hots for matthew King and quite fancies living at Home farm too.

 

Dale View is home to Nick Henshall. He is still a policeman, partnered with DCI Grace Barraclough. He is still smitten with Katie Sugden but she does her best to ignore him here. He buys a lot of meat. Every day.

 

Connelton View is the home and practice of the village doctor Adam Forsythe. Even though he’s technically not a doctor as he was using his fathers’ certification to practice in Emmerdale, the villagers here don’t seem to mind. They just keep an eye on the fire extinguisher when being examined.

 

Graham Clark lives at Victoria Cottage. He is devastated that Rachel Hughes is in a relationship with Pete Whiteley, but she obviously doesn’t want anything to do with Graham as he murdered her. Graham no longer teaches; he is the delivery driver for the Tate’s brewery.

 

The Café is ‘Wyldes Wine Cellar’ here in Emmerdead. Owned and run by Mark Wylde who lives above it. During the day it is a wine shop and by evening it is a wine bar.

 

Brook Cottage has a reputation as a party house. Parties happen quite regularly and quite loudly. The residents are Linda Fowler, Luke McAllister, and Paul Marsden. All four work at the Tate’s brewery and have a habit of smuggling booze home with them. Linda disapproves of her brother Dave’s relationship with Val and tries to get him to party with ‘the younger crowd’ whenever she can. Luke has a crush on Linda but she has a crush on Paul. Paul just likes to party.

 

The veterinary surgery is run by Max King. He lives next door in Smithy Cottage with Mia Macey, they are madly and sickeningly in love. They bonded over their shared experience of being killed in car accidents. Mia is receptionist at the vet’s. They have a pet cat called Maurice and regularly go for Sunday lunch at Home Farm with Max’s family.

 

Mulberry Cottage has Jackson Walsh and Hilary Potts living in it. Hilary is Jackson’s personal assistant and they have a lot of fun and adventures together. Currently they are learning French.

 

The Grange is a B&B here too in Emmerdead. It is run by Tess Harris and Ruby Haswell. They also share a room, Tess discovered she was bi-sexual after meeting and falling in love with Ruby. They are very romantic and leave each other poems and messages around the B&B. When Ruby cooks breakfast for Tess and the guests she cuts the toast into heart shapes and fries eggs in heart shapes too.

 

Alan Turner is the landlord of The Woolpack. His son Terrence does all the heavy manual work while his granddaughter Tricia Dingle is everyone’s favourite barmaid. Alan’s wife Shirley also works behind the bar, as does his girlfriend Shelley Williams. This causes some tension. They all live in the pub but Shirley shares Alans bed, not Shelley. Shelley and Alan have a purely platonic relationship now. Reg Dawson is banned from the pub as he killed Shirley and Alan hasn’t forgiven him, but Dr. Adam Forsythe isn’t banned, even though he killed Terrence, as Alan thinks that wasn’t such a bad thing to do considering Terrence had sexually abused his sister Steph.

 

Edna is back in Woodbine Cottage, reunited with Batley the dog. When she arrived in Emmerdead she found Len Reynolds living in the cottage with his daughter-in-law Angie Reynolds. She agreed to move in with them but on a strict understanding that her and Len would be just friends. Len thinks this will change. Angie works in Wylde’s Wine Cellar and there is a great deal of sexual tension between her and her boss Mark Wylde.

 

Henry Wilks’ old house Inglebrook is occupied once again by Henry Wilks. Henry spends most of his time in The Woolpack though. He has a soft spot for new resident Edna and that is causing tension between him and Len.

 

Tug Ghyll Cottage is home to Peggy Skillbeck and her twins Sam and Sally. She is a regular visitor to both her brothers Jack and Joe’s farms, having a secret crush on Jack’s employee John Barton. Also living with Peggy and the twins is Sharon Crossthwaite. She was Peggy’s mum Annie’s cousin. Even though she is only seventeen years old she is Emmerdead’s longest residing villager, being the first murder victim over in Emmerdale back in 1973. She is the housekeeper at Home Farm and babysitter for Peggy. Peggy cleans at the brewery.

 

The Malt Shovel is featured in Emmerdead and is run by Gordon Livesy. It is not a popular pub but Gordon thinks he can turn things around. His main customer is Reg Dawson, Reg hasn’t told Gordon he is banned from The Woolpack. Other regular customers include Cameron Murray and Graham Clarke. Terrence Turner prefers to drink here than in his own family pub The Woolpack. Illegal gambling and after hours drinking occurs regularly.

 

The original Emmerdale farm is a working farm here in Emmerdead and is the other Sugden farm, in slightly healthy competition with Joe Sugden at Butlers farm. Joes brother Jack runs Emmerdale Farm. His two wives Pat and Sarah live with him, but neither share his bed as he can’t choose between them. His son Jackie Merrick, also Pat’s son, lives with them and works on the farm. Jacks granddad Sam Pearson lives there and so does Jacks father-in-law Leonard Kempinski. Leonard is waiting for his lovely Annie to join him. The two men are grumpy and cantankerous, think Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets, but enjoy each other’s company and misbehave quite a lot. John Barton works for Jack, and lives there too. John is having a secret affair with Sarah Sugden and often shares her bed at night. If Jack were to find out it would probably make his mind up about which wife to choose!