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Cuckoo

Published May 20, 2021 by Naomi Rettig

I sit in my car chewing on nicotine gum and watching the mourners seep into the church. I don’t recognise anyone. Leaning back and closing my eyes, I toy with the idea of driving off somewhere else, anywhere else. My overnight bag is in the boot. I could. I wouldn’t be missed.

There’s a tap on the window. I open my eyes. Keith. My brother-in-law is attempting to smile, his face almost pressed against the glass. I stare at him and press the button. The window drifts down. His wobbly face twitches. It seems he doesn’t know whether to start talking while the barrier is lowering or wait.  He waits. I chew. The whir of the window stops.

‘Kate. Hello.’ He exhales, expelling the essence of peppermint and meat. Cheap sausages, I think.

‘Hello Keith.’ I don’t smile, hoping my sour face will encourage him away from my personal space. It doesn’t.

‘How are you?’

‘I’ve just driven six hours to come to my mother’s funeral in bank holiday traffic with a hangover.’

‘Oh. Yes.’ He straightens up and recedes from my window, fidgeting with his tie. ‘Are you coming in with us now?’ He glances across the car park to my sister and their two adolescents. It’s odd seeing her dressed in black. I only see her wearing florals, bright yellow, or tacky Christmas jumpers. Josh and Max are in matching black suits. One is tapping away on his phone. I think it’s Josh. They’re both the same height now.

I take out my gum, wrap it in a tissue, and pop it in my pocket. Keith hovers as I lock up then we walk across in silence.

‘Hello Kate.’ My sister smiles. It’s a tired smile. She looks old.

‘Jackie.’ I smile back, but I’m not sure it translates to my face. My Botox hasn’t had time to settle.

She takes a deep breath. ‘Let’s go in.’

The service is short. A brief history of Mum’s life accompanied by sniffing and snivelling from Jackie. Keith and the boys look like they’re waiting for a bus. Friends of Mum give their condolences to Jackie outside the church. I don’t think many of them know who I am. I’m a stranger. To everyone.

Jackie says thanks to the vicar then turns to me. ‘Do you want to follow us in the car to the wake?’

‘I’m going to give that a miss.’

Jackie’s face wrinkles. ‘Why? You’ve come all this way.’

‘Exactly. I’m tired from the drive. I’m just going to the house.’

‘Fine. Do what you want, you usually do.’ Jackie sighs. ‘I’ll call in later.’

‘I’ll probably be asleep.’ I walk off to my car, judgement smothering me.

I pull up outside Mum’s house. I see a curtain in the house opposite quiver as I lock the car. Nosey neighbours in their narrow semi-detached houses with their narrow semi-detached minds. Yes, it’s me, the bad daughter, the one that left and only comes back unwillingly for birthdays and Christmas.

Closing the front door, I drop my bag on the floor and stand still listening to the almost silent house. That bloody clock is ticking loudly. Leaving my bag in the hallway, I follow the noise of the clock into the lounge. Mum’s beige threadbare wingback chair is still shaped with the indentation of her. The burgundy walls are still depressing. The flowery curtains are still deciding what decade to fit into. I wander around the room, looking at all the cheap ornaments on display like I’m in a mundane museum. Photos in mismatched frames are everywhere. Most of them Jackie’s kids in various stages of growth. I stop at a picture of Jackie and me. We must be about ten. Linked arms, smiling on a beach. Morecombe, I think. We do look like twins. That was when I believed we were. About a year later, my nan told me I was adopted.

I sit on the sofa, taking the photo with me. I trace my finger over the two smiling girls with matching swimsuits and matching brown bobbed hair. Nan had told me not to tell anyone I knew. She said it would upset Mum too much. It hadn’t even been a real adoption. Apparently, while Mum was giving birth here in this house to Jackie, I was left on the doorstep. I often wonder how my life would have been different if, instead of Mum and Dad registering me as the twin to Jackie, they had handed me to the authorities. I knew Jackie was the favourite. I understood why. She was the golden child, and I was just a cuckoo.

I realise I’m crying. Not big ugly crying but tiny veins of tears trickling down my cheeks. ‘Oh, Mum.’ I say out loud to her chair. ‘Why didn’t I tell you that I knew? Why didn’t you tell me?’

The clock ticks. That bloody clock. I discard the photo frame on the sofa and wipe my face with the tissue in my pocket. I forgot I wrapped my gum in there and proceed to wipe it over my eyes. ‘Shit.’ Removing gum from my eyelashes, I stride over to the clock, remove the batteries and fling them to the floor. ‘Shit, shit, shit!’

‘I never liked that clock either.’ A voice says quietly behind me.

I reel around. ‘Jackie! Why aren’t you at the wake?’

‘I went, but it didn’t seem right that you were here alone.’ Jackie puts her handbag onto the armchair by the door.

‘I’m fine. You can go back if you want to.’

‘You don’t look fine, and I don’t want to.’ Jackie picks the batteries up from the floor. ‘I don’t think Mum liked the clock either.’

‘Then she should have got rid of it.’

Jackie places the batteries on the mantelpiece next to the now muted mahogany clock. ‘Think she felt a duty to Nana Babs to keep it.’

‘How ridiculous.’

Jackie nods. ‘How long are you going to stay here? You can stay with us next door if you’d feel more comfortable.’

I’d feel more comfortable on a bed of nails in the middle of a motorway. ‘I’m fine here. I’m going back home tomorrow.’

‘Oh. I was hoping you’d stay longer.’ She sits on the sofa staring at her hands and then erupts into tears.

I freeze. No automatic instincts kick in. Does she want me to console her? Give her some space? Say something meaningful? I opt for sitting next to her and placing my hand on her back. She still sobs but is now more subdued. I awkwardly stroke her back. We sit with my silence and her soft sobbing. I feel tears formulating in my eyes. I swallow them down. One of us has to be in control.

Jackie wipes her eyes and takes a deep breath. ‘I miss you.’

I don’t know what to say, so I say nothing.

She takes another gulp of air and sniffs. ‘With Dad and Mum both gone, I’m frightened you’ll disappear from my life and leave me too.’

‘You have Keith and your boys. You’re not alone.’ Unlike me. My hand is static on her back. I remove it.

‘But you’re family too. We grew up together.’

One of those statements is true.

Jackie turns slightly towards me. ‘I know we haven’t been close since you left. I know why. But I’d really like us to build bridges.’

My hands clasp themselves like magnets. ‘You know?’

‘Yes.’ Jackie nods. ‘Mum told me.’

My chest feels like my lungs have been punctured. ‘Mum told you but didn’t have the decency to tell me?’

Jackie frowns slightly. ‘I guess she thought it was more relevant to me.’

‘Wow!’ I lean forward, desperate not to faint.

‘Mum told me not to tell anyone, but I thought you knew somehow when you moved away and didn’t keep in touch.’

I focus on the swirly brown carpet. My stomach feels like it’s trying to replicate it. Or decorate it. ‘Nana Babs told me.’ I swallow down bile. ‘And also told me not to tell anyone.’

‘I wish I’d said something to you before now. This secret has been eating away at me.’ Jackie reaches across to her bag and extracts a tissue.  ‘I’ve felt such an imposter around you whenever you came to visit.’ She blows her nose. ‘A cuckoo in your nest.’

I sit up. ‘A cuckoo in my nest?’

‘Yes. I know Mum favoured me a lot of the time, but I think that was because of me being abandoned like that, and selfishly I accepted it. And now I’m so sorry because it pushed you away.’

My heart accelerates like a cheetah chasing an antelope. ‘What do you mean you abandoned like that?’

Jackie stops looking at the awful carpet and turns her focus to me. ‘Did Nana Babs not tell you the full story? I was left on the doorstep. Here.’

I take deep breaths. I don’t want one of my panic attacks right now. ‘But it was me on the doorstep.’

Jackie stares at me, her eyes wide and wild. ‘No. Nana got that wrong. I was the doorstep baby.’ She reaches out and grips my hand. ‘You thought it was you?’

‘Yes.’ My speech feels weighted with granite. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes. Mum and Dad were both O blood groups, but I’m type A. That means they couldn’t be my biological parents.’

I feel Jackie squeeze my hand. A spike of emotions rips through my entire body. I implode and spew out a strangled shriek accompanied by a torrent of tears.

Jackie hugs me and cries too. We sit entwined in grief for what feels like hours but is merely minutes.

Jackie releases her embrace and reaches for more tissue in her bag. She hands one to me and frowns. ‘You’ve got something sticky in your eyelashes.’

I laugh. ‘Oh, nicotine gum.’ I take the tissue and pick out the remaining gum.

Jackie wipes her eyes. ‘I can’t believe you’ve spent all these years thinking you were adopted.’

I finish picking at my eyelashes, satisfied all the gum is out.

‘Why do you think we bought the house next door to Mum?’

I shrug.

‘Because I felt an obligation to stay close and look after her. She took me in and treated me as her own. In fact, better than her own. I felt that I owed her.’

I shake my head, still processing. ‘Meanwhile, I ran away like a selfish brat. Resentful to you for being the perfect daughter with your perfect husband and your perfect kids.’

‘Ha!’ Jackie sinks back into the sofa. ‘Keith thinks he’s romantic if he changes his underwear every day, and the boys are obnoxious ungrateful ignorant teens right now. You have it right with your high flying career and luxury apartment in the city.’

I laugh and flop back into the sofa too. ‘What? My boringly glamorous head of accountancy job and my microwave meals for one. I haven’t even got a cat.’

We sit in comfortable silence in the uncomfortable room. I close my eyes and almost doze off.

‘Why don’t you stay longer?’

‘I guess I could work from here for a few days.’

‘You could always move in here. Permanently.’

I open my eyes and tilt my head towards Jackie. ‘That’s quite a big decision.’

‘I know.’ She nods, then leans back, closing her eyes. ‘Just want you to know that I’d like it if you lived closer.’

I lean back and close my eyes again too. ‘Would Keith letch at me over the fence if I was sunbathing in a bikini?’

‘Probably.’

‘Would the boys get on my nerves with their noisy music over the fence?

‘Probably.’

I peep across at her. She’s still got her eyes closed and is smiling. ‘Can we burn the clock?’

Eyes still shut, her smile expands. ‘Definitely.’

My smile twins with hers. My heart rate reconciles itself.

The Money

Published February 10, 2021 by Naomi Rettig

The grubby gym bag, bursting with twenty pound notes, lay on the kitchen table between them like a corpse on a mortician’s slab. Hannah and Ollie stared at it as if waiting for it to come to life. The refrigerator clicked and a clock ticked.

Hannah hauled her gaze from the bag to her husband. ‘Should we call the police?’

‘No.’

‘But it’s obviously not legal.’

Ollie glared at her. ‘No shit.’

Hannah lowered her head and fiddled with a button on her tatty pink cardigan. ‘How much do you think is there?’

‘Let’s find out.’ He stood up and leaned over towards the bag.

‘Don’t touch it.’ Hannah bit on her lip. ‘The police will probably want to test for finger prints, won’t they?’

‘We’re not calling the police.’

‘But…’

‘My garden, my property.’ He planted his hands on the table. ‘We’ve lived here five years, whoever buried this would’ve been back by now if they were going to. They’re probably dead. Or if  Mrs Monroe’s buried her life savings then technically it was ours the moment she sold the house to us. And she’s dead now so she won’t be turning up to collect it.’

‘She’s dead?’

‘Christ.’ He stood upright and rubbed his head. ‘Yes, I told you. About a month after we bought the house.’

‘Oh, I don’t remember.’

‘Of course you don’t, you stupid cow.’ He pulled the bag towards him. ‘Get me a drink.’

Ollie started taking out the bundles from the bag. Hannah went to the other side of the kitchen and poured Ollie a glass of whiskey. Her hands were shaking and she was almost tempted to take a sip herself, but she didn’t, knowing what the consequences would be. Fading bruises reminding her. Instead she stared out of the window at their small back garden, at the hole that was going to house the foundations for Ollie’s barbeque patio. She stared at the hole, imagining the pond that she’d always wanted there. She heard Ollie laugh and was plucked back from her dreams. She placed his drink down on the table.

‘Five hundred thousand pounds.’ He took a gulp of whiskey. ‘Half a million.’

Hannah flopped down onto the chair. ‘Oh Ollie.’

‘I need to think how to play this.’ He continued staring at the piles of notes. ‘I can’t just stick it in the bank, that’ll look dodgy. I can buy a better house, but can I pay for it with cash? Would that get flagged up?’ He chewed at his bottom lip. ‘Probably.’

‘What do we want a new house for? We can stay here and pay the mortgage off and still have enough to live off. You could give up work.’

‘Give up work and have to stay with you all day?’ He took another swig of whiskey. ‘And you know I hate living here with that creep next door.’

‘Ray’s not a creep, he’s just friendly.’

‘He wants to get into your knickers. And if you ever let him I’ll kill you both.’

‘Oh Ollie, you know that would never happen.’ Hannah twiddled the button on her cardigan again. The thread it was dangling from was getting thinner.

‘These notes might be on a wanted list, I’ve seen it on the telly. People get caught when they try to spend it.’ He pulled a note from one of the bundles and thrust it towards Hannah. ‘Take this to the shop and spend it. If we don’t hear anything then it’s ok to pay into the bank in drips and drabs.’

Hannah gingerly took the note. ‘Ok.’

Ollie scraped his chair back and stood up. ‘Now get me some food, I’m going to have a shit and a shower.’ He knocked back the last of his drink and left.

Hannah stared at the money. She had an urge to shove it back in the bag and disappear somewhere but her fear was greater than the urge. He would find her wherever she ran. She slipped the twenty pound note into her cardigan pocket then started to prepare his steak. Saturday was steak night.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Hannah crept back into the bedroom. She had mastered the art of peeing quietly and then avoiding the creaky floorboard on the landing. Drawn to the bedroom window she tiptoed over and peered out into the blackness. She saw a figure by the hole and stepped back, bumping into the bed.

‘Ollie! There’s someone in the garden.’

Ollie sat bolt upright then leapt out of the bed to the window. ‘Where?’

‘At the back, where…’

‘There’s no one there, you paranoid cow.’ Ollie got back into bed, rubbing his eyes. ‘Get back in here and make yourself useful now you’ve woken me up.’

Hannah glanced back out of the window, and seeing no one in the garden, started to doubt herself. She got back into bed wishing she’d kept quiet.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Hannah answered the door to a man she guessed was in his late fifties and her first impression was that he looked like an undertaker. A long formal black coat covered black suit trousers and he wore highly polished black shoes. He was over six foot tall, thin but muscular. He raised his black trilby revealing a shiny bald head and smiled.

‘Hello,’ he said.

Hannah smiled back. ‘Hello.’

‘I’m Alan. Alan Monroe.’ He continued smiling.

‘Oh, hello.’ Hannah frowned slightly.

‘And you are?’

‘Um, Hannah.’ She didn’t like that his smile didn’t extend to his eyes. He reminded her of a shark. All toothy grin with predatory eyes.

‘Hannah, you bought this house from my mother.’

‘Oh, yes, Mrs Monroe.’

Alan took a step forward. Still smiling. ‘Can I come in?’

Hannah’s fingers tightened on the door. ‘Why?’

‘Because I’d like to talk to you, more privately.’ He kept his shark smile in place.

‘Well, my husband’s not here.’

‘And?’

‘He wouldn’t like it if I let you in without him being here.’

‘I can wait on your doorstep, but the net curtains are twitching already.’

Hannah looked around at the neighbours houses, no one was twitching their net curtains. Neighbourhood watch hadn’t taken off here, no one gave a toss. She almost sighed with relief when Ollie walked down the drive carrying a four pack of cans.

Ollie looked Alan up and down as he walked towards him. ‘Can I help you, pal?’

Alan stopped smiling. ‘And you are?’

‘I’m her husband. Who the hell are you?’

‘I’m Alan Monroe. Cynthia Monroe’s son.’

Ollie stood inches away from Alan, looking up at him slightly. ‘So?’

‘Can I come in to talk?’

‘Say what you want here.’

Alan frowned. ‘You have something of mine and I want it back.’

‘I don’t have anything of yours.’ Ollie moved past Alan and thrust his cans at Hannah, who held them to her chest.

Alan took a step forward. ‘The hole in the garden tells me a different story.’

‘So I’m putting in a patio. Like I said, I don’t have anything of yours. Anything I have is mine, bought fairly and squarely from your mum. If you think any different then call the police.’ Ollie stood on the doorstep and folded his arms.

‘I don’t think that’s necessary.’

‘No, didn’t think so.’ Ollie stepped into the house, shoving Hannah into the hallway. He glared at Alan. ‘Now fuck off.’

‘I’ll be back.’

Ollie slammed the door. ‘I’ll be back, who does he think he is, the terminator?’

‘Oh god Ollie. What are we going to do?’

‘Nothing. That’s what.’ He pushed past Hannah, into the lounge, grabbing his beers and plonked down onto the sofa. Yanking back a ring pull he took took a swig.

Hannah followed him in. ‘But he’ll come back. We should just give him the money.’

‘You’re so pathetic. I’m not giving it back, it’s not his. He stole it from someone else, and now it’s mine. Food chain darlin.’ Ollie took another slurp from the can and switched the tv on.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The bedroom light flashed on. Hannah and Ollie woke instantly. Ollie squinted. Hannah yelped. There was a gun with a silencer pointed at Ollie’s head.

‘I told you I’d be back,’ said Alan.

‘Get out of my house.’

Hannah noted that Ollie’s voice had less bravado than the day before.

‘Or what? You’ll call the police? I don’t think so. I will leave, when I’ve got my money back.’

‘That’s not happening.’

‘Then I’ll have to resort to dramatic persuasion.’

Hannah sat upright and pushed herself against the headboard. ‘Give him the money.’

Alan glanced at Hannah then back to Ollie. ‘You should listen to your wife.’

‘Shut up you stupid cow.’

Alan whacked the gun down onto Ollie’s head. It made a loud crack and Ollie cried and fell backwards. Blood ran from the gash. ‘Where’s the money? It’ll be a bullet next.’

‘No!’ Hannah screamed. ‘It’s in the airing cupboard.’

‘Stupid bitch.’ Ollie clutched his head.

‘Thank you.’ Alan smiled, turned, and started to walk away.

Ollie staggered from the bed and slammed into Alan’s back knocking him down. The gun flew across the floor towards the bed. The two men wrestled and punched each other until Alan managed to roll on top of Ollie and was pummelling his face. Hannah, shaking, got out of bed and picked up the gun.

Ollie looked up at Hannah. His one eye was closed and swollen. ‘Shoot him! Shoot him, you stupid cow!’ Blood spat out of his mouth like a rabid dog.

Hannah pointed the gun at Alan’s head and pulled the trigger. The sound from the gun with the silencer on was louder than Hannah was expecting. She recoiled back onto the bed like a ragdoll as Alan slumped onto Ollie. Sitting up she brought her breathing back under control. Ollie pushed Alan off and spat out a large globule of blood. They sat in silence.

‘Lucky we’ve got a hole in the garden for him to go in.’ Ollie spat out more blood.

Hannah stared at Alan’s body. She knew she should call the police but she didn’t want to be locked up. She needed to be free.

Ollie hauled himself to his feet and grabbed Alan under the arms. ‘Well don’t just bloody sit there, pick up his legs.’

Hannah placed the gun on the bed and then picked up Alan’s legs. They carried the body downstairs. Hannah dropped Alan’s feet a few times. Ollie swore at her. She was sweating by the time they’d lugged the corpse to the garden.

‘Where’s his shoe?’

Ollie whispered, but Hannah could feel the venom in his voice. She looked at Alan’s feet. One shoe on, one shoe off. ‘It must be in the house.’

‘Useless cow. Go and find it.’

Ollie rolled Alan into the hole while Hannah trudged back to the house.

She stood at the door watching Ollie. He was scratching his backside. She saw him notice her and she could feel his scowl even in the darkness. She strode towards him, shoe outstretched in her left hand. He snatched it from her and threw it into the hole. Hannah lifted her right hand up. It shook slightly as it gripped the gun. ‘Food chain, Darlin’ she said. Before Ollie had chance to react, she shot him straight in the heart, and watched as he dropped to the ground, his eyes wide and motionless. Next, she pushed him into the hole, where he fell on top of Alan, in a loving embrace. Tossing the gun in after him, she began to  shovel the excavated earth back on top.

Once completed, she lay on the grass, knowing she’d never be able to move house now. The makeshift graveyard tethered her here, forever. But, she was pretty sure the half a million in the house would help. Gazing up at the sparse stars she felt a calm radiating through her. She smiled. She couldn’t remember the last time she smiled. It felt good.

The Hair Slide

Published November 28, 2020 by Naomi Rettig

Monica wasn’t superstitious but she knew that her day wasn’t going to run smoothly for a Friday 13th. Having dropped her breakfast, peanut butter on toast, on the floor to be devoured by Jinx the Labrador, catching her finger in the kitchen cupboard, and tripping over a conker on the path outside her house, work at Craven Care Home wasn’t much of an improvement.

‘I’m not sitting by her, she’s a thief.’ Olive’s bony hands rattled her walking frame as she came to a standstill next to the dining table.

Beryl, seated at the table, shook her mop of grey hair. ‘The cheek of her! She’s the thief and a liar!’

‘Ladies please.’ Monica, already used to playing referee to these two after only a few days, was finding it particularly tiresome today. She’d only been on shift for a few hours and was already counting down to being home alone Jinx. ‘Let’s be nice.’

‘I’m not eating with her. I’d rather starve,’ said Olive.

‘Go on then,’ said Beryl. ‘Starve to death.’

Monica was frustrated that these grown up women were acting like toddlers. ‘Mrs McQuillan, come and sit over here.’

She steered Olive towards a table on the opposite side of the dining room and helped her to sit down, placing the walking frame by the side, like a playpen barrier. The dining room was heavy with the smell of cooked cabbage and disinfectant and the noise of pots and pans bashing about overshadowed the smatter of chatter from the residents awaiting their food.

‘She stole my hair slide.’ Olive’s eyes, milky with cataracts, stared at Monica.

Nodding, Monica glanced around the room. ‘I’m sure it will turn up.’ She caught sight of the metal food trolley with the wonky wheel heading their way. ‘Look, Joanne’s coming round with lunch now. Cod and parsley sauce, your favourite.’

‘I hope it’s not lumpy sauce like last week.’ Olive removed her false teeth and plonked them on the table.

Monica watched a globule of spittle slide from denture to table. ‘I’m sure it’ll be lovely.’ She walked away to the small tea room next to the kitchen. She didn’t feel hungry anymore.

Kyla had a coffee waiting on the worktop in the tiny tea room for Monica and stood drinking hers from a mug with the slogan I’m a carer what’s your superpower. ‘Thought we were going to have fisticuffs then.’

Monica grimaced and picked up her mug. ‘Thanks.’ It was a souvenir mug from Cleethorpes. No member of staff was from Cleethorpes or had ever been to Cleethorpes so it was a mystery mug in the staff cupboard that Monica had adopted. ‘I don’t know why they annoy each other so much. Ever since Olive arrived, Beryl has been more cranky than normal.’ She took a big slurp of coffee.

‘Cranky? That’s polite, she’s been a right pain in the ass. It’s not helping that Olive keeps going on about the bloody hair slide.’ Kyla rummaged under the work top and brought out a biscuit tin and yanked off the tight lid. ‘Custard cream or soggy gingernut?’

Monica still had the image of Olive’s saliva coated false teeth in her mind. ‘I’ll pass. Is there a hair slide? I haven’t seen one.’

‘Probably not.’ Kyla shoved a whole custard cream in her mouth. ‘Remember deaf Gordon? Swore blind he had a dog in here.’

Monica laughed. ‘Yes, the imaginary Goldie. Please shoot me if I get like that when I’m old.’

Kyla raised her eyebrows. ‘When?’

‘Cheeky mare, I’m forty-five not eighty.’

‘That’s old to me.’ Kyla reached for another biscuit.

The sounds of a busy canteen mingling with Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas. Monica shook her head. ‘Look, just because you’re young enough to be my…’

‘Daughter.’

‘No, younger sister, doesn’t mean I’m old.’

‘Yeah, whatever,’ said Kyla, brushing some crumbs from the front of her tunic. ‘Have you made it up with your sister yet?’

‘No. Not going to.’ Monica drank some more coffee.

‘But it’s going to be Christmas soon.’

‘And? What’s that got to do with anything?’

‘You don’t wanna be alone on Christmas Day.’

‘I won’t be. I have Jinx.’ Monica faked a cheesy grin, she didn’t want to talk about her sister, it was still too raw.

‘He’s a dog.’

‘Exactly. Loving, loyal and doesn’t betray me. Plus I’ve put my name down for the Christmas Day shift here. I see you’ve got it off, what are your plans?’

‘Staying in bed with our Liam and eating chocolate all day. Probably pop over to his mam’s house for tea when we’ve finished shagging.’

‘Kyla!’

‘What? You could be having that too. I mean, not with our Liam obvs, but if you got yourself another man, a nice one, not like Geoff, he was a prick.’

Monica pictured Kyla’s Liam in bed. It wasn’t a sexy image. The first time she met him he was waiting outside the home for Kyla. He was swigging from a can of supermarket own cider and had a collection of dubious stains decorating his t-shirt. Monica imagined his underwear would be equally, if not more, dubious. ‘I’m happy waking up with Jinx and then spending the day here.’

‘See, senile already.’

‘Thief!’ Olive’s shout echoed through to the tea room.

‘Bloody hell.’ Kyla rammed another custard cream in her mouth and shoved the lid back on the tin.

Brian the odd job man appeared at the doorway holding a sprig of mistletoe. ‘Alright ladies?’ A waft of Brut aftershave entered the room.

Monica put down her empty mug and turned to Kyla. ‘Finish your cuppa, I’ll sort her out.’ She smiled as she watched Kyla take the lid back off the biscuit tin and squeezed herself awkwardly past Brian’s teddy-bear tummy. ‘Sorry Brian, duty calls.’

On entering the dining room her smile slipped away when she saw that Olive had thrown her lunch on the floor and was continuing to shout insults across to Beryl. Joanne the kitchen assistant was swooping in with cloths and a mop. Monica, being careful not to slide in the lumpy parsley sauce, escorted the still shouting Olive to her room.

Olive flopped down into the wipe clean faux leather chair. The bedroom was generic beige with white plastic blinds at the window. A painting of a lavender field was above her bed. ‘She’s stolen my hair slide. I don’t want her here.’

‘Well she has to stay here, her old care home has closed down.’

‘I don’t want her here.’

Monica sat on the end of the bed facing Olive. ‘Now come on, don’t get yourself all upset. I’m sure if you got to know her you could be good friends.’

‘I don’t want to be friends with someone like her.’ Olive turned her head and stared out of the window, grinding her gums together in a gurning grimace.

‘OK.’ Monica hoped that Olive’s teeth hadn’t been swept into the bin. Retrieving gunky dentures from the rubbish wasn’t a thought she relished. ‘Well, have a little rest here and try to calm yourself down. Getting upset like this isn’t good for your blood pressure is it?’

Olive ignored her and carried on staring.

Monica stood up and smoothed the bed down where she’d been sitting. ‘Anything you need before I go?’ When no answer came she turned to leave the room.

‘Forgiveness.’

Monica stopped at the door, turning back towards Olive. ‘Forgiveness?’ She waited for an answer but Olive just continued to stare out of the window. ‘Don’t worry about the broken plate lovely.’

When a reply still didn’t come Monica left to go and find the false teeth.

Olive closed her eyes for the last time..

Monica showed the funeral directors out and walked back to Olive’s room. She always felt sad having to bag up belongings of patients with no next of kin. Throwing treasured items into the trash always seemed so tragic to her. Lost in her thoughts she was startled when entering the room. There in Olive’s chair sat Beryl. For a split second Monica thought it was Olive.

She placed her hand on her chest and exhaled deeply. ‘What are you doing in here Beryl?’

Beryl was staring at the empty bed. ‘Forgiveness.’

Monica had started to walk towards Beryl but stopped dead. Déjà vu prickled through her body. ‘Sorry?’

‘Forgiveness. Looking for forgiveness.’ Beryl was still, her eyes unmoving from the sterile bed.

Monica glanced down to Beryl’s lap as a sparkle caught her eye. A hair slide of marquisate and silver was being slowly twiddled between Beryl’s fingers. ‘Is that Olive’s hair slide?’

Beryl’s looked down at the hair slide and nodded.

‘You took it?’

Beryl nodded again. ‘Yes.’ Tears leaked down the wrinkles on her face. ‘I’m sorry.’

Monica sat on the corner of the bed, just as she’d done with Olive on that last time with her. ‘It’s ok.’

Beryl smudged her tears away with her hand. ‘I wanted to take something of hers.’

‘Why?’

‘She stole from me. I wanted her to know how that felt.’ Beryl stared at the hair slide.

‘I’m confused now. What did she steal from you?’

‘Bill.’

Monica hoped this wasn’t another imaginary dog situation. ‘Bill?’

‘Bill was my fiancé.’

Monica would have preferred an imaginary dog, they were more easier to deal with than betrayal. She tried not to think of her ex-fiancé Geoff but his face launched into her mind evoking emotions she didn’t want to deal with. She focussed her attention back to Beryl. ‘When was this?’

‘When I was nineteen.’

Monica did the maths. ‘You knew Olive sixty-seven years ago?’

Beryl nodded again and let out a sigh. ‘She stole him from me and married him. He was my fiancé and she stole him.’ She turned her head and looked out the window. The rain was running down the glass in crinkled lines. In her reflection the rain appeared like tears navigating her wrinkles.

‘Were you friends then?’ Monica leaned forward slightly when Beryl didn’t answer. ‘All those years ago?’

Beryl carried on watching the rain. ‘No. We were sisters.’

Monica sat upright, she was confused, or thought maybe Beryl was confused.  ‘Olive said she had no next of kin. I knew she was a widow but I didn’t know she had you.’

‘She didn’t.’ Beryl turned to face Monica. ‘I stopped talking to her when she married my Bill, when she stole the life I should’ve had.’

Monica frowned. ‘But she was a young widow. She told me her husband had died six months after they were married.’

Beryl stopped twirling the hair slide between her fingers and her eyes widened.

‘You didn’t know that?’

‘No.’ Beryl swallowed hard. She closed her eyes and exhaled deeply.

Monica’s pulse was increasing and her mouth was dry. She was wishing she hadn’t delivered that news and was concerned that Beryl was going to go the same way and in the same chair as her sister. She was relieved when Beryl opened her eyes.

‘I left the country after their wedding.’ Beryl stared at the now unmoving hair slide in her hands. ‘I moved to France. I couldn’t bear to watch them live a happy life. They were both dead to me from that day.’ She started to cry silently and closed her eyes.

Monica leaned forward and placed her hand on Beryl’s. Monica thought of her own sister and their falling out. She made a promise to herself to drive over to Amanda’s straight after work, before she could have time to talk herself out of it. She didn’t want to be bitter and resentful. She needed to forgive, to move on. She didn’t want to become Beryl.

Beryl let go of the hair slide and held Monica’s hand. The distant sound of carols echoed gently through the corridors of the care home. Beryl squeezed Monica’s hand and Monica squeezed back. They sat in silence and the hair slide slid to the floor.

Marzipan Cat Zombies

Published April 20, 2020 by Naomi Rettig

Phil pushed the bookcase against the door then wiped the sweat from his forehead with the bottom of his Captain America t-shirt. He noticed his hands trembling and balled them into fists so his friends wouldn’t see.

‘That’s pointless. Cats can’t open doors,’ said Joe. He slumped onto the bed next to Rohan.

Phil looked across at his two friends. Joe was wearing his Chicago Bears top. His dad had sent it to him and he always wore it unless it was in the wash. His scruffy brown hair looked extra tussled after running here. Rohan’s turban still looked immaculate but his shallow breathing and sweaty face betrayed his fitness level. ‘Just in case. Cats don’t normally turn into marzipan and eat people either. We don’t know what they can do now.’

‘I don’t think they’ll be able to open doors.’ Joe fiddled with his neon green shoelace.

‘Well, just in case. Humor me.’ Phil paced across to the bed and kicked Joe’s foot.

‘Hey, guys, c’mon,’ said Rohan. His chunky glasses magnified his big brown eyes blinking back the threat of tears.

Joe placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder. ‘Sorry Ro, you ok?’

‘Of course he’s not ok numb nuts, he just watched his sister being bitten by a marzipan cat and then turning into marzipan herself.’ Phil pulled up his desk chair and sat down opposite Joe and Rohan.

Joe stretched out and lightly kicked Phil’s leg. ‘I’m aware of that number nuts. I saw it too. And old Mrs. Terry on the corner, all her five cats had marzipaned. She had no chance.’

‘What’s happening guys? What we gonna do?’ Rohan’s eyes flicked back and forth between Joe and Phil, like a mole emerging into bright sunshine.

Phil sighed and stared at the skateboarding scab on his knee. He had to be brave for his friends. He tried to keep his voice as steady as he could. ‘I don’t know.’

‘When will your mom and dad be back?’ Rohan threw his question in Phil’s direction.

Phil rubbed his eyes, his hands slightly trembling, he clenched them again. ‘I don’t think they’ll be coming back. It was on the TV before you both got here. It’s all over the place, the cats, they’re everywhere. The news said to stay wherever you are and don’t go outside.’

Joe pulled his legs up onto the bed and tucked them under himself. ‘They can’t be everywhere.’

‘They’re everywhere,’ said Phil through gritted teeth. ‘It’s marzipan madness out there.’

Rohan knelt on the bed, spying out of the window. He could see yellow cats, lots of yellow cats, almond assassins, prowling and pacing along the hydrangea-lined neighborhood. ‘They are everywhere. What we gonna do Phil?’

Joe frowned. ‘Why you asking Phil not me?’

‘Phil’s the eldest.’

‘Ro we’re all thirteen.’ Joe raised his eyebrows and shook his head.

‘Yes, but Phil’s still the eldest.’

‘By five days.’

Phil stood up. ‘Hey, I think who’s the eldest isn’t really important right now.’

Rohan sat back from the window and trailed his finger along Saturn’s rings on Phil’s duvet cover. ‘Yeah, well, I was just saying.’ He shrugged while staring into the universe on the bed. ‘I dunno what to do.’

‘We can stay here? Wait for help.’ Joe nodded at his own suggestion.

‘Help won’t be coming.’ Phil sat back down on his chair and swiveled back and forth. ‘Everyone bitten or scratched turns to marzipan and dies.’

Joe turned and took up Rohan’s spy post at the window. ‘Why aren’t the cats dying? When they turn to marzipan, why aren’t they dying, like the people?’

‘I don’t know. I didn’t create the mutant marzipan moggies did I?’ Phil dabbed sweat off his forehead again. He wanted Captain America to be real, to swoop in and save the day.

‘Didn’t they say on the news?’

‘They don’t know. But the people, after they’ve turned and are dead, they come back to life. Zombies.’

Joe spun away from the window and looked back at Phil. ‘Shit.’

‘So they are ok then?’ Rohan blinked hopefully towards Phil.

Phil smiled. ‘Yeah they’re fine.’ He dropped his smile like a hot potato. ‘Of course they’re not ok, they’re made of solid marzipan, doofus. You saw your sister. Did she look fine?’

Rohan ran his fingers along the hem of his camouflage shorts as a make-do comforter while staring at the fabric planets. Joe slumped under the window and bit at his nails. Phil rotated slowly on the chair, trying to think what to do. What would Captain America do? A clock in the shape of a rocket ticked behind Phil on his desk. The tick-tock silence was broken by loud meowing and human screams outside.

Joe spun around to look out of the window again. ‘Jeez. Mr. Howard has turned. He looks like a Simpson. He’s trying to get into the Kiplinski’s porch.’

‘If no help is coming we’re going to have to kill the cats ourselves,’ said Phil.

‘And just how d’we kill them?’ Joe got up from the bed and started to pace the small room. ‘I mean, I know how you’d kill a normal cat, but one that’s made of fucking marzipan?’

Rohan looked up from the planets horrified. ‘Your mom would freak at your language.’

Joe stopped his pacing. ‘My mom is probably almond paste right now. I don’t think she’d fucking care.’

‘You’re such a grown up.’ Rohan pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them.

‘Fuck fuck fuckity fuck.’ Joe continued his pacing.

‘Hey, c’mon, both of you.’ Phil stopped moving on the chair. ‘We have to eat them.’

‘What?’ Joe stopped pacing.

‘The cats,’ said Phil. ‘It said on the news, the only way they can be stopped is by eating them.’

‘Eating them?’ Rohan grimaced.

Joe held his hands up. ‘Can’t we just chop their heads off?’

‘If their heads are chopped off they just morph back together. Same if you squash them.’ Phil mimed squishing and growing with his hands. ‘They just go back into their cat shapes. Guessing it’s the same for the people too.’

‘I can’t eat people,’ said Joe, clasping his face with his hands.

Rohan wiped his hands down his thighs. ‘I can’t eat cats. I’m a vegetarian.’

‘It’s bloody marzipan. Without the blood. Perfectly vegan and fine for your religion.’ Phil twirled around in the chair to face Joe. ‘Just like eating the marzipan fruits your Auntie Gayle gives you at Christmas.’

‘Eating a non-moving marzipan apple the size of my thumb is a bit different to eating a full sized marzipan cat in attack mode. Or a relative,’ said Joe.

Phil stood up and walked across to Joe. ‘We can stun the cat, or person, first, by whacking them with something and then eat them quickly.’

‘Can you stun marzipan?’ Rohan asked.

Joe shrugged. ‘At least we won’t have to worry about finding food.’ He attempted to laugh but just made a snorting noise.

‘Maybe we can make a pact though.’ Phil patted Joe’s shoulder. ‘I don’t think any of us want to eat our own family.’

Rohan gasped. ‘No!’

‘Gross,’ said Joe.

Phil looked across at Rohan, then back to Joe. ‘So why don’t we agree that if we get in a ‘situation’ with family one of us others will deal with it.’

Rohan started to cry. ‘I can’t.’

Joe slunk over to the bed and sat next to Rohan. ‘Look Ro, I know it’s hard but we gotta pull together here.’

‘No, I mean I can’t. I can’t eat marzipan.’ Rohan stifled his sobs. ‘My diabetes. I haven’t got my insulin with me.’

‘Shit.’ Phil kicked the bookcase. He’d forgotten about Ro’s diabetes. Why didn’t he bring his insulin pen with him? Why did he have to think of everything all the time.

From the other side of the door there was a hiss of a cat. Phil leapt away from the bookcase and door and almost landed on Joe’s lap as he launched himself onto the bed. The cat started scratching at the door.

Joe gripped Rohan’s knee. ‘Christ, maybe it’ll go away?’

The scratching at the door continued.

Rohan swallowed hard. ‘How can marzipan make a scratching noise like that?’

Joe realized he was holding Rohan’s knee and let go. He frowned at Rohan. ‘I don’t know, shall we open up the door and find out?’

Rohan hugged his legs again and lowered his head.

‘Sorry Ro,’ said Joe. ‘I’m not feeling myself.’

Phil shuffled across the bed a little. ‘You’re looking a little yellow Joe. You feel sick?’

Joe shook his head. ‘No. Just a bit spaced. Like you? Don’t you feel spaced?’

‘Wired. I’m feeling wired. Not spaced.’ Phil turned his head to Rohan. ‘Ro?’

Rohan shook his head and edged away a few inches from Joe.

Phil stood up slowly. ‘You haven’t been bitten have you?’

‘No,’ said Joe. He stared at his laces.

Rohan slid off the bed and stood next to Phil. ‘Or scratched? You might not have felt a scratch while we were running over here.’

‘No, I’m fine.’ Joe clenched his hands.

‘You’re definitely more yellow now. Look.’ Phil pointed to Joe’s bare legs, not covered by his shorts.

‘It’s the light in here.’ Joe grabbed the pillow from the bed and tried to cover his legs.

‘Shit Joe, you’re turning, look at the scratch on your arm!’ Phil took a step back, bumping into the chair.

All three boys looked at Joe’s arm. It was definitely yellow. There was a gaping gash, about an inch long, and thick yellow pus paste oozed out from it below his sleeve.

‘No! Oh God no. Guys you have to help me!’ Joe cried as he stared at his changing body.

‘We can’t do anything,’ said Phil, gripping onto the back of the chair. ‘There’s no cure.’

‘Then you have to kill me.’ Joe stopped crying and sniffed. He held his arms out. ‘Eat me.’

‘Jeez Joe! You’re not fully turned! I can’t eat you.’ Phil grimaced.

Joe lowered his arm. ‘Ok. Well, get ready.’

‘I don’t think I can do this,’ said Phil. He sat in the chair shaking his head.

‘You have to,’ Joe pleaded. ‘Rohan can’t or he’ll go into a hypo.’

Rohan shifted slightly from side to side, sniffing.

Phil looked at his friends scared faces, he needed to keep their spirits up. ‘There are bits of you that I really don’t think I can eat.’ He nodded towards Joe’s crotch.

‘Christ Phil! You can’t leave just my wiener running around after people.’ Joe rubbed the pus paste into his arm as a bit more oozed out. ‘What kind of sicko does that.’

‘What kind of sicko eats your wiener!’ Phil made a snorting noise as he laughed and stifled a cry at the same time.

Joe laughed and wiped yellow tears away with his sticky fingers.

‘Can’t you just leave?’ Rohan mumbled. ‘You could eat that cat on your way out.’

‘Wow. Really finding out about my friends now.’ Joe smiled at Rohan.

Rohan limply smiled back. ‘It’s because I’m your friend I don’t want to eat you.’

Phil took a step closer to Joe. ‘C’mon Joe, take one for the team. I’d leave if it was me infected.’ He placed his hand gently on Joe’s shoulder. ‘I’d push you out the door but I don’t want my fingers sinking into your fat marzipan middle there.’

‘I’d eat you if it was the other way around numb nut.’ Joe stood up and stepped towards the door. ‘I’ll eat the cat, then run away from the house, draw any others away.’

Rohan wiped his eyes. ‘Thanks Joe.’

‘Sorry bud.’ Phil’s voice cracked.

Joe nodded. ‘Get ready to slam the door.’ He started to shove the bookcase out of the way but his thumb mushed into the wood. Sighing, he scraped it off, remolded it, and stuck it on his forehead. ‘Unicorns rule.’

Phil laughed. ‘Numb nut.’ He dragged the bookcase away from the door and held the door handle. He locked eyes with Joe. ‘Ready?’

Joe nodded and smiled at Phil and Rohan. Phil yanked the door open and Joe shot out, Phil slammed the door behind him. Phil leant against the door and closed his eyes. Rohan sat on the bed, leant forward, and held his head in his hands. Cat screeching and scuffling outside the door was agony to listen to. There was a final high pitched feline howl then the landing fell silent.

After minutes of stillness, Phil stopped leaning against the door and turned, pressing his ear up against it. ‘Joe? You still there?’

‘Yes,’ said Joe from behind the door.

Rohan lifted his head from his hands. ‘Why didn’t you run?’

Joe’s voice sounded muffled. ‘I don’t want to die out there on my own. I’m scared.’

‘He’s going to fully turn any minute.’ Rohan whispered to Phil.

Phil nodded, then talked to the door again. ‘Did you eat the cat?’

‘No. Well, I tried to eat it, but it’s very struggly. I ate its leg. It’s not happy with me. It’s just staring at me now. I’m sorry’

Phil placed his hand flat against the door. He would have probably stayed too. ‘I’m sorry too.’ He turned and looked at Rohan, and raised his eyebrows.

Rohan nodded and stood up from the bed. Phil slowly twisted the door handle and opened it.

Joe was sat on the floor, not only was his skin bright yellow but his hair had turned from dark brown to yellow chunky strands. His thumb was still on his forehead.

Phil opened the door wider. He could see an angry looking marzipan cat in a crouching attack position further along the landing. ‘Put your thumb back where it should be, I can’t take you seriously.’

‘If you’re going to be marzipan, we will too,’ said Rohan.

‘No you should stay safe.’ Joe shuffled to his feet, removing his thumb from his head and molding it back onto his hand. ‘I’m just being selfish.’

‘You’re not being selfish. You’re just scared like we are.’ Phil shrugged. ‘No one is safe. If we don’t have our families we only have each other, but if we don’t have each other what’s the point in hiding out.’

The cat rocketed itself through the doorway, hissing and lashing out in a frenzied Catherine Wheel of almond rage.

‘It got me!’ Rohan stumbled back rubbing his leg.

‘Me too,’ said Phil.

The cat limped back out on its three legs, its tail twitching like a caffeinated cobra. Joe shuffled into the room and slumped his sticky body onto the bed.

‘D’you think we’ll still know each other when we turn?’ asked Rohan. ‘You know, when our brains are marzipaned?’

‘Yeah, sure we will.’ Phil put his arm around Rohan. ‘Friends and numb nuts forever.’

Joe widened his mouth into a Joker’s grin. ‘Marzipan’s for life, not just for Christmas.’

Lockdown

Published April 13, 2020 by Naomi Rettig

Day 21
I don’t know why I’m writing this and I don’t know who I think will read it but I feel I must write something down in case something happens to me. I’m scared. Maybe I’ll be less scared if I keep a journal, I might read it back and say ‘Kelly you’re just being silly’. I have about thirty minutes a day to myself while he has a bath so I’ll write then.
This lockdown is making everyone stir crazy so I can’t blame him for what he does. It’s being stuck in here with me day after day, that’s enough to test the patience of anyone he says. I’ll hide this little notebook in the drawer with my sanitary towels, he never searches through that as he thinks it’s disgusting. I wish he wouldn’t say that. I wish we could be the way we used to be, at the start. I love him.

Day 22
He hit my face today. He’s never done that before. I guess with me not going out he’s not worried about anyone seeing the bruises. It’s always been my legs, stomach, back and arms, but today it feels like the first time. He loves me and he’s sorry. He’s always sorry. He says I make him hurt me. I wish I could make him happy. I’m frightened. I love him.

Day 23
More hits to my face today. I feel ashamed. I looked in the mirror and I felt ashamed. I’m trying my best but I don’t understand what I did wrong today. He said I looked ugly and I’d let myself go so maybe that’s why he was upset with me. My ribs are hurting too. I feel sick and don’t feel like eating. I’ll cook a roast tomorrow, he loves a roast dinner. I love him.

Day 24
The dinner wasn’t hot enough today so I had to eat mine off the floor, even though I wasn’t hungry. It was difficult to swallow it down with his foot on the back of my neck and while I was crying. I tried to stop crying as this just made him madder but I couldn’t. I try my best to be a good wife but I don’t know what to do. I cried when he made love to me. I love him.

Day 25
I’ve got cystitis. He couldn’t go to the chemist as there are too many sick people out there and I’d be endangering him so I asked if he could order something online but he told me that would be a waste of money. I complain too much. I didn’t want sex this morning but I didn’t complain. I love him.

Day 26
I don’t recognise myself. He shaved my head. There was a hair in his food so he shaved my head. I have black and bloodshot eyes, and no hair. I look disgusting. He’s right, no one else would want me. I don’t know what to do. I nearly phoned his mum but when I called her in September she told me that he was my husband and what did I expect. She would say the same now. I’m scared but I love him.

Day 27
I don’t think I can take much more, I can’t even bare to write down what he did to me last night. How can he love me and do that? I don’t know what to do. His family won’t help me, I’m not allowed to leave during this quarantine and even if I was I wouldn’t have anywhere to go. I haven’t spoken to my friends or family in so long, I wouldn’t know what to say. He says they all hate me anyway. I don’t want to cause problems for anyone else. I’m a disappointment to everyone. I’m going to try and search on his laptop for a refuge or someone I can talk to. I’ve got the landline but I don’t know any numbers, only 999 but it’s not an emergency. I don’t want to cause a fuss. I’ll wait for him to have his bath tomorrow and I’ll find a number. I’ll get help.

Day 29
Can hardly write. Think hands broken. Forgot to delete history. Made him so angry. Chest hurts. Everything hurts. Can’t see left eye. Phone ripped out. Laptop smashed up with my head. Got to get out. He’ll kill me if I stay. I’ll leave tomorrow bath time. Don’t know where. Need sleep now. Maybe I deserve this. Need help. He needs help. I love him. Why?

*****

(According to the Office of National Statistics about 4.2% of men and 7.9% of women suffered domestic abuse in England and Wales during 2018. This equates to about 685,000 male victims and 1,300,000 women. Murders related to domestic violence are at a five year high.
One in four women and one in six men will be affected by domestic abuse during their lives. On average 104 women and 30 men are murdered every year in England and Wales due to domestic violence.
On average domestic abuse victims will have been assaulted 68 times before reporting it to the police.)

National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247

Men’s Advice Line 0808 801 0327

If I was writing for Emmerdale

Published September 28, 2018 by Naomi Rettig

Currently the only storyline I’m enjoying is Chas and Paddy’s pregnancy, and enjoying seems the wrong word, as we the viewer are about to hurtle face first into pain and anguish as baby Margarita’s appearance and exit is due next week. Three ply tissues at the ready. For me the scriptwriting for this has been excellent, and I hope Paddy and Chas can grieve together for support in the aftermath, that’s how I would write the continuation of this story for them.

To give them space I would move Charity in with Vanessa, Johnny, and Tracy, and have Noah moving in with them too. Cramped but it could be a fun family household. I’d like to see Charity making up for lost time with Ryan, and because I liked his ‘mum’ Irene I would like the pair of them to move into the village. I liked Irene’s unlikely friendship with Charity, even though prickly at times and I’d like to see this odd couple friendship develop. Irene tipsy at a club with Charity, and Charity making a quilt at a W.I meeting with Irene?

Eric and Faith are a good couple, so I’d leave them well alone, but I’d introduce Eric’s estranged brother Michael into the village. Having emigrated to Australia when younger he’s moved to reconnect with his brother after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He doesn’t tell Eric this though, so all does not go smoothly, and Michael takes a shine for Diane adding more complications.

I’d like to see Sam and Lydia get married, without a hitch, in a small outdoor ceremony. Simple but beautiful. And just as they settle into married life in Wishing Well cottage with Zak and Belle, Lisa comes home from Scotland. But she’s not alone. She’s back with a glam new look and a new husband, Adrian. Insisting she has just as much right to be there as Zak, and that she needs to be there for Belle after her ordeal with Lachlan. They all decide to try and live amicably together. But obviously there are a lot of problems and unresolved jealousy issues.

I don’t like Jesse and Marlon together, I just don’t feel the chemistry between them myself, so I’d have Marlon end their relationship when Jesse’s other son comes out of prison and causes tension, which I’m sure he will. I’d have Marlon decide on giving up on love but then falling for a food critic called Martha that visits The Woolpack, she keeps coming back as she can’t get enough of his pulled pork balls. They would form a long and loving relationship bonding over their love of food and zombie films. I’d have them become a solid couple, as Marlon and April deserve that.

Bernice and Dr Cavanagh are looking set for a fling currently, and I think they would make a good couple. I’d have Bernice end things with Daz properly and then start a legitimate relationship with Liam. Bernice having a doctor as a partner would feel like a queen bee, her airs and graces would skyrocket. And his daughter Leanna and Gabby having to spend time together could be made interesting with a lot of tension. I’d make Gabby turn vegan and become an animal rights campaigner as a new direction for her.

I didn’t enjoy the Rodney and Misty relationship, so I’d like to give Rodney a romantic break for a while. I’d have him attempt to flirt with a woman in her 40’s, Monique, when she turns up looking for him in the woolpack, but to discover she’s his daughter. A daughter from a one-night stand who Bernice and Nicola are horrified to know exists and do everything they can to try and make her go away.

At first I didn’t like Rhona with Pete, but they’ve grown on me like pretty moss, so I’d have a pregnancy thrown into the mix. Would Rhona want another baby so soon into their relationship? Would Pete? I’d write them going through with it and the commitment to each other. This would be hard for Paddy to watch, his ex-wife having a baby when his and Chas’s didn’t survive.

Another baby I’d launch on the village would be with Maya and David. She would actively seek to get pregnant with him, to control and take over his life slowly. This would be upsetting for Tracy even though she doesn’t want to be with David anymore it would still hurt her after her abortion. I would have Tracy cry on the shoulder of the recently single Daz and have those two get together as a couple.

I think the Sharmas need some new blood. I don’t like Rishi and Manpreet, so I’d knock that on the head. Like Rodney I feel Rishi needs some time out on the romantic front, so I’d have his sister Garima arrive to take charge of him. She would be bossy and matriarchal and want to interfere with his personal and business life. I would see this as light relief and potential for a good comedy element, but underneath it would be quite sad as Garima’s husband has recently died, all her children are living away and she feels empty and without purpose, hence the need to come and pester/nurture her baby brother Rishi.

Jai would also have a new love interest, as his eye catches a newcomer to the village, Bob’s daughter Roxy, who’s 23 now, as we know Jai likes a younger lady. Roxy turns up to stay with Bob, to escape a violent relationship, but doesn’t tell him that straight away. Laurel’s not happy having an extra body in the house but doesn’t say no. I don’t like Bob and Laurel together, so I’d put a lot of pressure on them to try and split them up. As well as Roxy moving in, I’d have Bob’s grandson T.J. stay for a bit, on holiday from Morocco. He’s be 15 now, and he’d have an unrequited crush on Gabby, even attempting to be a vegan to impress her. If I was feeling really mean towards Bob and Laurel I would have Bob’s son (Carly’s brother) Josh stay too, he’d be about 30 now. He could be a possible love interest for Priya, or Harriet even.

We know Kim Tate is coming back for a little while, so it will be interesting to see how she is written in, as she didn’t have anything to do with Joe Tate being his step-gran for a short time many years ago. I’d like to bring back the next generation of Tates. Joes cousin Jean would be 15 years old now, and Kim’s son James (Joes uncle) would be 22 years old now. They could bring a good vibrant dynamic to Home Farm. Joe, James, and Jean (Triple J) and Graham and Kim playing ‘mum and dad’ in a romantic relationship?

The Good Samaritan

Published March 31, 2018 by Naomi Rettig

Joe closed his eyes and felt the cold rain slap his face. It was perfect. It would be over soon. No more pain, no more anguish, no more self-loathing that consumed every cell in his body. He loosened his grip on the rail and took a deep breath.

‘Hey!’ A voice shouted louder than the rain.

Joe tightened his grip again, opened his eyes, and turned his head towards the voice.

‘Hey, what you doing?’ The voice in the rain belonged to a man in his thirties, black rain mac, dark hair made darker with the rain.

‘Isn’t it obvious? Go away.’

‘Well I can’t do that now.’

Joe stared back down into the agitated river. ‘Why?’

‘I couldn’t forgive myself.’

‘There’s nothing to forgive. Walk away, this’s nothing to do with you.’

‘It is now.’ The man took a step towards Joe. ‘You’ve kinda made it my business by doing it out here on a public bridge.’

‘I couldn’t find a private bridge.’

Again, the man took a step forward and was almost in touching distance of Joe. ‘Come down here, you’re making me nervous.’

‘Go away then.’ Joe stayed transfixed on the rushing water below.

‘Told you I can’t. Not gonna happen.’

Joe leant forwards with arms locked straight behind him. A glimmer of moonlight illuminated him, rain running down his face, like a marbled figurehead on the bow of a ship.

‘You’re really kicking off my anxiety here.’ The stranger shouted up at Joe.

Joe stayed poised in position.

‘My name’s Mick, what’s yours?’

‘Joe. And you’re an annoying bastard Mick.’

‘Technically correct on both counts, my dad ran off and didn’t marry my mum, and I have been told many times by many people I’m annoying. Usually by ex’s just as they dump me.’

Joe relaxed his arms and leant back against the rail. ‘Jesus Christ.’

‘I don’t think he’s here, it’s Good Friday, I imagine he’s busy, so I’ll have to do.’

‘What do you want from me?’

‘I just want you to come down here, stop me feeling anxious. And I’m getting soaked. I’ll probably get pneumonia. Do you want me to catch pneumonia Joe?’

Joe closed his eyes. ‘I just want to die.’

‘Can we make a deal? Some kind of trade off?’

Joe remained anchored.

‘If you come down, come back to my place and talk things through, if you still want to jump off a bridge I’ll find you a private one to do it from.’

‘Are you nuts?’

‘Says the man about to jump off a bridge?’

‘This makes perfect sense to me. More than you. You don’t even know me.’ The rain whipped at Joe’s face.

‘If you jump now I’m always gonna be thinking I could have saved you, and wondering why you jumped. Plus, there’s a crowd gathering here and I don’t want to look like a shit negotiator in front of them.’

Joe opened his eyes and turned his face to Mick. Looking down he saw five people clustered together. ‘Oh Christ.’ He turned his face back to the river. ‘Alright, make them go away and I’ll come down.’

Mick turned to the little group behind him and started waving them away. ‘You heard him folks, go on with your whatever you were doing.’

‘Should we call the police?’ A large woman in a navy anorak peered at Mick from under a pink polka dot umbrella.

‘No, it’s gonna be fine, I got this.’ Mick smiled at the lady. ‘I’ll look after him.’

She smiled back. ‘God bless you.’ She then dispersed into the night with the other onlookers.

‘Ok, people shooed away Joe.’

Joe turned and checked there was no audience, then climbed back over the rail and down onto the pavement. He stood face to face with Mick, inches apart. ‘You can go now.’

‘Are you kidding me? As soon as I walk off you’re gonna be straight up there again.’ Mick gestured to the bridge girder. ‘Look, I just live around the corner, come back to mine, chat, eat, drink, and like I said, if you still want to end it all I won’t stop you.’ Mick placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder. ‘Do it for me, give me a clear conscience when you jump.’

Joe stared into Mick’s eyes, the deep blue seemed to swirl like the river. ‘Ok.’

Mick patted Joe’s shoulder again and grinned. ‘Good, come on.’

Mick ushered Joe into his basement flat. ‘It’s not a palace, excuse the mess, I wasn’t expecting company, although to be honest I probably wouldn’t have tidied anyway.’

The living area was a riot of colours. Reds, oranges, pinks, and greens.

‘Let me get out of these wet clothes and I’ll get you something dry.’ Mick disappeared through a door at the opposite end of the lounge.

Joe stood in silence, dripping onto the doormat. He surveyed the room. A tired sofa had an orange woven throw draped over it. A terracotta tiled coffee table was adorned with different varieties of cacti and a New Scientist magazine. And the kitchen area in the corner, painted bright red, had dishes stacked up high on the draining board like a modern art installation.

Mick returned through the door, wearing jeans and a blue and white striped shirt. ‘I’ve put some clothes on the bed in there, you look the same size, and put your stuff on the radiator to dry out.’

Joe fiddled with a button on his jacket. ‘I’m ok, don’t want to be a bother.’

‘You’re bothering me dripping on my floor.’ Mick held out his hands. ‘Jacket.’

Joe slipped his jacket off and handed it to Mick.

‘Now go change.’ Mick smiled and hung the jacket up on the bulging coat rack behind the door.

Joe re-emerged from the bedroom in bare feet, with grey jogging bottoms on, and matching sweatshirt.

Mick was in the kitchen, the kettle boiling. ‘Sit yourself down. Tea, coffee, something stronger?’

‘I’m an alcoholic.’

Mick shrugged. ‘Ok. Tea or coffee then?’

‘Tea.’

‘Sugar?’

‘One please.’ Joe sat down and sunk into the sofa.

Mick pottered about and carried over two mugs of tea to the sofa. He handed Joe his tea and sank down next to him. ‘So. Cut to the chase, why do you want to kill yourself?’

Joe took a sip of his tea then placed it on the table, he shrugged. ‘I just don’t want to live anymore. I’m a failure, I have nothing to live for. I can’t go on anymore.’

‘Friends, family, colleagues. There must be people that wouldn’t want you to kill yourself?’

‘The only friend I had ran off with my wife, my parents are dead, my sister is a self-absorbed bitch who lives in France, I’m self-employed, well, I was, my business has just gone bankrupt. So, you see, no one would care if I’m here or not.’

Mick took a sip of his tea. ‘Ouch. That is pretty shit.’

‘Yep.’

‘There’ll be other women, I’m sure your wife wasn’t the first woman in your life and she doesn’t have to be the last. You’re a good-looking guy. Granted you haven’t got a lot going for you right now, so more of a potential catch than a current catch, but you’re not dead in the water in that department yet.’

Joe shook his head. ‘I could never love anyone again. I could never trust anyone again.’

‘You will.’ Mick combed his hands through his damp hair. ‘You can get another job easy enough, might not be your own business but you can earn money. What did you do?’

‘A chef, I had my own restaurant.’

‘There you go, everyone needs to eat, you can get a chef job anywhere.’

‘I’m too tired to start again from the bottom.’ Joe leant forwards, cradling his head in his hands. ‘I just can’t. I don’t want to.’

‘How old are you?’

‘Thirty-six, why?’

Mick tucked his legs up and under himself. ‘Hardly past it. You could have an exciting bright vivid future. Starting with this blank canvas in this moment right now. The future can be anything you want it to be.’

Joe lifted his head from his hands. ‘That’s just it, I don’t want the future to be anything, I don’t want a future. I’ve had enough.’

‘I think you’re lying.’ Mick took a gulp of tea and then placed his mug on the table.

‘What?’

‘I think you do want a future.’

‘Look, you’ve been kind to me, but you don’t know me, I want to die.’

‘Nope, you’re a liar.’ Mick folded his arms.

‘I’m not lying.’

‘If you’re not lying to me you’re lying to yourself.’

Joe sat up straight, frowning. ‘With respect you’re talking shit.’

‘With no respect, you’re the one talking shit.’ Mick grinned.

Joe stood up. ‘Thanks for the tea, I’m going.’

‘Where to? In my clothes? Gonna jump off the bridge again, oh no wait, you didn’t jump did you, because you don’t want to die.’

‘I didn’t jump because an asshole like you came along and interrupted me.’

‘If you really wanted to die you wouldn’t have let an asshole like me stop you. You’d have just jumped. You wouldn’t have even chosen a busy bridge to jump from if you were serious, you wanted someone to stop you.’ Mick uncrossed his arms and uncurled his legs. ‘Sit down Joe.’

Joe sat slowly back down. ‘If you didn’t think I was going to really jump why did you stop.’

‘Why didn’t you choose a whiskey?’

‘What?’

‘When I offered you a drink, you told me you were an alcoholic and you chose tea.’

‘So?’

‘If you were an alcoholic and wanted to die you’d choose a whiskey. Why stay sober if you don’t even want to live?’

‘Habit.’

‘Bullshit. You’re self-indulgent, loving to be the centre of attention in the drama you create.’

‘I don’t have to sit here listening to this crap.’ Joe stayed seated, his shoulders slumped forwards.

‘No, but you are, because you love being the centre of the drama. You certainly don’t want to kill yourself.’

‘I do. I’m just a coward.’ Joe started to sob. ‘I don’t want to live but I’m too much of a coward to kill myself. How pathetic is that.’

‘That’s pathetic.’ Mick sighed. ‘And sad. Pathetic and sad.’

‘You should have left me on the bridge.’ Joe wiped his eyes with the back of his hands and sniffed snot bubbles back up his nose.

‘To do what, be ‘rescued’ by a different passer-by?’ Mick placed his hand on Joe’s knee. ‘This cycle would just keep repeating itself, wouldn’t it? The torment would never go.’

Joe nodded. ‘I’m such a failure I can’t even kill myself.’

‘Do you know what’s not a failure Joe?’ Mick stared into Joe’s eyes. ‘Meeting me. That’s a definite result on your part. Do you know what I do Joe? For a hobby that is, my day job is butchering.’

Joe shook his head, his eyes not breaking connection with Mick’s.

‘I watch the bridge. I was in the café watching you. I sit in the window there and watch for leapers. Lost souls that don’t want to live anymore. Then I talk them down, just like I did with you Joe. A few leapers have a cup of tea with me, are grateful for my intervention, and go back to their lives, thankful for the stranger that saved them.’

‘You have some sort of a hero complex?’

Mick removed his hand from Joe’s knee. ‘Oh no, I don’t enjoy helping people walk back into their dreary lives. I enjoy helping the people who really want to end it all.’

‘I’m confused. You talk them out of jumping.’

‘Watching someone jump to their death is not a thrill Joe. Helping someone to their death is.’ Mick relaxed back into the sofa, resting his hands on his thighs. ‘When someone tells me they really want to die but can’t do it themselves, I help them. Assisted suicide.’

Joe turned to face Mick more, perching on the edge of the sofa. ‘How? Drugs.’

‘Administering drugs and watching someone slowly slip away is also not a thrill Joe. And it’s not good for the decider either. If you decide you want to die, you want it to be over with quickly. Don’t you?’

Joe nodded. ‘What do you do then?’

Mick’s eyes sparkled. ‘I use a knife. Quick and easy. People can request where they want to be stabbed. Throat or heart are the most popular.’

‘What happens after?’ Joe frowned. ‘With the bodies?’

‘What’s it matter? They’re dead. No one loves them enough to want to bury them.’ Mick sighed and stood up. ‘Your clothes might be dry now.’

Joe stared up at him. ‘What?’

‘Your clothes, dry. You can put them back on and go back to your life of drama.’ Mick started walking towards the bedroom.

‘Heart.’

Mick stopped mid step and turned to Joe. ‘Pardon?’

‘Heart. I want you to stab me in my heart.’

Mick walked back to the sofa and crouched down, he held Joe’s hands. ‘Are you sure? I don’t think you really want this.’

‘I do. Please.’ Joe squeezed Mick’s hands. ‘I can’t go back. I don’t want to.’

Mick’s voice was almost a whisper. ‘Only if you’re one hundred per cent sure. I’m not a murderer. I’m a suicide assistant.’

Joe gazed into Mick’s eyes. ‘I’m sure.’

‘Ok.’ Mick nodded slowly. He stood up and slinked silently into the bedroom. When he came back out he had an eight inch hunting knife and some plastic sheeting which he laid down on the floor, moving the coffee table slightly to make room. He indicated to Joe’s clothing. ‘Take my tracksuit off and lie down.’

‘I have to be naked?’

‘It makes it easier to clean up after, and saves me a tracksuit.’ Mick grinned. ‘Coz you’re gonna shit and piss yourself, everyone does. It’s perfectly natural.’

‘Oh, ok.’ Joe nodded, stone faced, and stood up starting to undress.

‘It’s only a naked body, I’ll only be looking where I’m stabbing.’ Mick started to unbutton his shirt. ‘I’ll take this off to avoid blood splatter. Dry cleaning bills are a bitch.’

Joe stood naked in front of Mick, his hands hung loosely in front of him.

‘Lie down Joe.’

Joe led down on his back. His hands alternating between by his sides and covering his privates.

‘Relax Joe, leave your hands by your side.’ A topless Mick straddled Joe and lined up the knife on his chest between the fourth and the firth rib, the tip of the blade resting gently on his skin. ‘Whenever you are ready I need you to say to me ‘please take my life’.’

Joe nodded. His breathing deepening. Mick leant over Joe, his two hands gripping the knife. The two men stared into each other’s eyes. The silence was deafening.

‘Please take my life’.

Mick thrust the knife at an angle into Joe’s chest, swept it swiftly along, then removed it rapidly. Joe’s eyes widened like a goldfish as a jet of blood volcanoed upwards splattering Mick. No scream came from Joe, just a gasp and a gargle, his eyes scared and pleading faded to acceptance and regret as he drifted down into deaths warm embrace.

Mick leant forward and kissed Joe gently on the forehead as the last beat of life left him. He sat upright on Joe and, with his head back and back arched, he massaged the blood that was decorating him into his chest. Licking his lips he started to undo his trousers.

Kiss

Published August 26, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

Misty pouted her blood red lips at her reflection. ‘Irresistible.’ She sprayed herself with perfume, Gucci Envy, and smiled. His last gift to her.

There was a knock at the hotel door. Misty took a deep breath. She carefully applied the gloss that she had mixed earlier over her lipstick barrier. Her lips glistened like syrup. A more impatient knock came to the door. She stood and walked over to the door, she undid her silk gown revealing a black corset and overflowing breasts.

She opened the door slowly. ‘Hello Joe.’

The man in front of her, Joe, appraised her body from head to toe, his eyes relocated to her chest when his surveying had finished. ‘What are you doing to me? You’re killing me.’

Misty smirked. ‘You don’t have to come in.’ She stepped back and arched her body slightly, glancing over her shoulder. ‘I just wanted to say goodbye properly.’

She turned fully back into the room, and heard the door close behind her. She dropped her gown to the floor.

Joe slid his arms around her waist. ‘This is definitely the last time,’ he whispered.

Misty felt his warm breath on her neck. ‘Definitely.’

‘I can’t leave her, not now.’ Joe’s fumbling hands stumbled up to her breasts.

‘Not now she’s pregnant.’ Misty twisted in Joe’s arms so she was facing him. ‘It’s ok Joe, you can say it. I’ve calmed down now.’ She started to undo his shirt. Her red nails a contrast to the white cotton. ‘You were going to leave her, weren’t you?’

‘Of course.’ Joe’s breathing got deeper as his eyes flitted between Misty’s fingers unbuttoning him and her slightly wobbling cleavage.

Misty finished unbuttoning his shirt. ‘I love you Joe, I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. Did you want that too? Did you want to be with me forever?’

Joe refocused to Misty’s hypnotizing dark eyes. ‘Yes, but -’

She placed her index finger on his lips and trailed it down to the bottom lip, parting them slightly, then releasing. ‘Tell me that you love me.’

‘I love you.’

Misty lifted her face to his, she saw his nostrils flare slightly as he smelt her perfume. ‘Kiss me.’

Joe immediately locked lips with Misty, like a screw on a magnet. They kissed with the hungriness of hyenas devouring prey. Misty pulled Joe down onto the bed. His hand slid up her leg to her inner thigh.

Misty stopped his hand going higher and pulled her lips away from his. ‘Hold me.’

Joe tried to kiss her neck. ‘But I haven’t got long.’

‘I know.’ She smiled sweetly, while pulling him closer and kissed him gently.

The slow tender kissing gave way to faster primal kissing and Joe started to fumble with his trousers, trying to undo them while staying glued to Misty’s lips.

Misty reached down and blocked Joe’s hand. ‘No.’

Joe froze. ‘What?’

‘You’re not using me anymore my love.’ Her hand moved up and stroked his face.

Joe frowned and studied her eyes. ‘But you called me? You said you needed to say goodbye properly? I thought this was going to be our last time together, to say goodbye.’

‘We can say goodbye without having sex.’

Joe pulled away from Misty and did his trousers up. ‘Why invite me here, to a hotel room? We could have just met for a drink.’

‘We couldn’t have met for a drink, that would be too public. I needed you here in private. I needed that kiss from you, now you couldn’t have kissed me like that in the pub, with prying eyes everywhere.’ Misty smiled at Joe, her red lipstick in place but the gloss gone.

Joe sighed and rolled onto his back, his hands flat on the bed. ‘If you’re trying to make me leave her again it’s not going to happen. You know I can’t.’ He glanced across at Misty. ‘Even though I want to.’

Misty shuffled closer and placed her hand on his chest. ‘I know you want to. That’s why I’m doing this.’

‘Doing what?’

‘I mean, if you’d said you didn’t love me anymore, or that you’d just be using me, of course I’d be heart broken, but in time and tears I would have got over you.’

Joe rolled back onto his side. ‘Doing what Misty?’

‘We both want to be together forever.’ Misty cupped his face lightly. ‘Just the two of us for eternity.’

Joe pulled away quickly. ‘What have you done to Claire?’

‘I haven’t done anything to her, why would I?’

Joe sat upright. ‘To be with me, to get her out of the way.’

‘I can’t believe you’d think I’d hurt her, pregnant too. I’m not a monster.’ Misty sat up too. ‘And if I hurt her I’d go to prison, and we’d still be apart.’

‘So what are you talking about?’

Before Misty had chance to reply Joe doubled up and moaned a guttural groan, collapsing back down onto the bed.

‘It’s started my love.’ Misty cradled Joe in her arms and stroked his hair. ‘It’ll start with me soon. My lipstick will have stopped it absorbing as quick into my system.’

Joe contorted in pain. ‘What have you done?’

‘Ssh, ssh, it’s all going to be ok. I put strychnine into my lip gloss.’ She kissed his forehead, then drew her knees up to her stomach. ‘It’s happening to me now too.’

‘You’re crazy.’ Joe started to pant.

‘Crazy for you my love. We will always be together now, for eternity.’

The Healer

Published July 16, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

‘I know what you’re doing, but I don’t know how you’re doing it.’ Dr. Lennox interlocked his fingers tightly together and stared across the desk.

Vivian volleyed the stare back across, her face set to neutral. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’

Dr. Lennox sighed. ‘How long have you worked for me Vivian?’

‘Just over five years.’

He unclasped his fingers and rested his hands on the desk. ‘Do you know what I did on the weekend?’

Vivian frowned. ‘Um, no.’

‘You’d never guess.’

Vivian studied Dr. Lennox’s blank face. ‘Then I won’t try.’

‘I went through patient medical files. All weekend.’ He stood up and retrieved a brown battered briefcase from beside the filling cabinet. ‘I’ve spent all weekend correlating data.’ Sitting back down he pulled out some papers from the bag and set them down on the desk, placing the bag on the floor. He indicated to one of the sheets with his right hand. ‘This is a list of all my patients who, having been diagnosed with terminal diseases, miraculously got better. Without medical help.’ He looked up from the sheet of paper to Vivian.

She remained perfectly still, hands resting lightly on her lap. The only movement was a pronounced swallow.

‘And this list,’ said Dr. Lennox. He pointed to the other sheet of paper. ‘This is a list of people who have suddenly developed the same terminal illnesses, seemingly overnight.’ He looked up from the desk again. ‘If you want to say anything, please, just jump on in.’

Vivian shrugged, staring at the papers on the desk. ‘People get sick all the time, and some people get better, that’s life.’

Dr. Lennox laughed. ‘Well, yeah, that is life, yet, do you know what the strange thing here is?’ His face crumbled the smile away and his eyes narrowed.

Vivian’s only response was to breathe a little faster.

Dr. Lennox continued. ‘These people on this sudden illness list, well, they got sick on the same day that the people on the sick list got better.’

Vivian tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. ‘Co-incidence.’

Dr. Lennox smiled broadly, yet the smile didn’t reach his eyes. ‘We both know it’s no co-incidence.’ He looked down at the lists in front of him. ‘Mrs. Ramirez had terminal bowel cancer, in June she no longer has it, but Mrs. Godfrey, of previous good health, now has terminal bowel cancer.’

‘That doesn’t mean anything,’ said Vivian. She crossed her legs slowly and leaned back into the groaning plastic chair.

Dr. Lennox rubbed at his moustache. ‘Not on its own no. But there are seven other cases I’ve found. Seven other terminally ill patients, spanning back five years, that have miraculously been cured without medical intervention. And seven matching patients that have developed those exact terminal illnesses overnight. Shall I read you the other six out?’

‘I don’t think there’s a need for that.’ Vivian folded her arms.

‘I checked on the system, and the dates that they appeared to switch their illnesses, both patients were in the surgery, and on all seven days, and for each of those patients, you took their blood.’ Dr. Lennox mirrored Vivian by leaning back in his chair and folding his arms. He had a smug grin on his face, as if he was Poirot revealing the murderer at the end of an Agatha Christie adaptation.

Vivian returned his smile slyly. ‘I’m your only phlebotomist and I’m in most days, so that’s not surprising.’

Dr. Lennox rocked on his chair slightly, loosening his arms to rest on his stomach. ‘So, you’re not going to tell me?’

Vivian tilted her head. ‘Tell you what?’

‘How you’re doing it?’

‘Doing what?’ Vivian uncrossed her arms and leant forward. ‘I’m not sure what you’re accusing me of, do I need my union rep in here with me?’

‘Vivian, of course you don’t need a rep.’ Dr. Lennox attempted a warm smile as he rested forward onto the desk. ‘This is just a friendly chat, completely off the record. Just between you and me.’ He picked up his silver pen and started to roll it between his fingers.

Vivian gazed out of the window, she watched flowers being blown from the apple blossom tree outside. ‘I don’t know what you want me to say.’

‘I merely want you to tell me the truth. I’m a doctor, I just want to know how you are curing these people.’ He tapped his pen gently on the desk protector. ‘And I know it is you because all the saved patients are patients you like, and all the inflicted patients are patients you don’t.’

Vivian’s eyebrows flickered up.

Dr. Lennox smiled and put his pen down. ‘I hear the gossip when I’m getting coffee.’ His smile morphed into a frown. ‘But I can’t logically work it out.’

Vivian’s shoulders dropped and she stared at her hands. ‘It’s not logical.’ She looked up at the doctor. ‘Or ethical.’

Dr. Lennox nodded slightly. ‘Go on.’

‘You won’t believe me, and if you report me, no one would believe you either.’

Dr. Lennox nodded again. ‘Try me then, you have nothing to lose. Because if you don’t tell me, I’m going to have to let you go.’

Vivian’s nostrils flared. ‘I have a contract.’

‘I have a Hippocratic oath.’

Vivian bit the inside of her lip and stared at the blossom tree outside the window again. ‘I can’t explain scientifically how I can do these things. I’ve researched, but it’s a phenomenon, and I’ve been afflicted with it since I was a child.’

‘Afflicted?’

Vivian focused her attention back to Dr. Lennox. ‘Yes. My Gran called it a gift. I call it a curse. It’s a power I have, but it makes me a bad person.’

Dr. Lennox frowned. ‘You have the power of life and death?’

Vivian twiddled with the jade crystal on her necklace. ‘You could say everyone has the power of life or death. You choose not to kill people so you could say you are giving them the power of life.’

‘I could quite easily murder my ex.’ A nervous laugh followed from the doctor.

Vivian shuffled the chair forward and tilted herself towards him. ‘What stops you?’

‘What?’

‘What stops you killing her?’

Dr. Lennox sat upright and smoothed his moustache down with his index finger. ‘Because I don’t want to go to prison, and it’s wrong.’

Vivian remained angled forwards. ‘So, you choose to give her life because of the consequences?’

Dr. Lennox picked up his pen again and flicked it on and off with his thumb. ‘Where’s this going?’

Vivian smiled. ‘Imagine if there were no consequences? If you could kill without repercussions, your choices might be different.’

‘Yes, but -‘

‘I’ve gone a little off tangent.’ Vivian repositioned herself back into the creaking chair. ‘Basically, I can take away illness but then it gets passed on.’

Dr. Lennox rubbed his forehead with his pen free hand. ‘Why? Why does it get passed on?’

Vivian shrugged her left shoulder. ‘I don’t know. When I first realized what I could do, cure people, I thought it was amazing, indeed a gift. But I found that whoever I touched after ‘curing’ someone else came down with what I had removed.’

Dr. Lennox stared at Vivian, his eyes flickering all around her face. ‘I have so many questions. When you say touch, would brushing past someone cause you to take or give illnesses?’

Vivian shook her head. ‘No, I’ve honed my ‘technique’ over the years. I now squeeze and concentrate my mind to make it happen. Kind of like channeling it.’

Dr. Lennox nodded. ‘When you transferred illnesses in here, was that random or planned?’

‘Planned. Sort of.’ Vivian smiled.

‘Sort of?’

‘I always knew which patients I wanted to cure, that was the planned part. Giving their illnesses to others was a byproduct.’

Dr. Lennox placed the pen down on the desk protector. ‘Chosen at random?’

‘Well, not completely random, I didn’t draw names out of a hat.’ Vivian laughed and fiddled with her hair, repositioning a hair grip. ‘I’d see who else was coming in that same day for bloods, and choose off the list who was the least deserving.’

Dr. Lennox sunk his head into his hands. ‘Playing God.’

‘I don’t believe in God, I was merely making choices.’ Vivian frowned.’ Wouldn’t you?’

Dr. Lennox lifted his head slowly. ‘No, I couldn’t pick someone to die. That’s against my oath. And my humanity.’

‘You think it’s fair that Annie Kenwood dies from cancer, leaving her husband to look after her two children, while Grant Bailey abuses his body with illegal drugs and lives a long and happy life?’

‘No, but that’s life, that’s not for us to judge that’s for -‘

‘God to decide, but there is no God so why shouldn’t it be up to you, or I, or anyone else decent to judge?’ Vivian pursed her lips together and curled her hands into gripped fists.

‘But you’ve given a death sentence to seven people.’ Dr. Lennox grimaced. ‘You’ve killed seven people.’

‘I’ve saved seven people. Seven more deserving people.’ Vivian smiled. ‘It cancels out.’

The doctor rubbed his head. ‘Why can’t you just take away the illness? Why do you have to give it to someone else?’

Vivian gesticulates with her hands, as if swatting a fly away. ‘I don’t know. It just happens. That’s my curse. If I take away illness and don’t deliberately pass it on quickly, say within a day, the illness transfers with less effort to anyone. If I didn’t choose someone and pass it on, it would pass on by a random handshake, or hug with a loved one, or squeezing a friend’s hand. So I have to pass it on.’

‘Why don’t you just stop doing it? Don’t take illnesses and don’t pass them on, just let nature take its course.’

‘Because having the power is addictive. It’s wrong and it’s consuming but it’s also an immense rush.’ Vivian’s eyes sparkle. ‘And it’s not all life and death, I have a little fun with it too.’

‘Fun?’

‘I don’t just have the power to cure terminal doom and gloom stuff, I can cure hay fever, migraines, conjunctivitis, colds and such like.’

‘And you give those to others?’

‘Yes, I give those to people who have only slightly annoyed me.’ Vivian laughed.

Dr. Lennox lowered his head in hands once more. ‘Oh Vivian, I wish I hadn’t asked you now.’

Vivian’s smile ebbed away. ‘Why?’

He rubbed his face as he lifted it up to look her in the eye. ‘Because I can’t have you working here anymore. I have to protect my patients.’

‘But I’m saving the nice ones, you’re only going to be protecting horrid people, that doesn’t make sense.’ Vivian’s eyes widened and her voice softened. ‘Think of all the good souls I can save here.’

Dr. Lennox’s face toughened up. ‘How can you save souls when you don’t believe in God?’

Vivian sighed. ‘So, you don’t want to work with me? Help me choose?’

‘No. It’s wrong, you have to go.’ He placed his hands down onto the desk. ‘And I can’t give you a reference.’

Vivian swallowed hard and reached across, squeezing his hands tightly. ‘But I’ve been so loyal to you.’ She stared deeply into his eyes, still squeezing his hands.

Dr. Lennox pulled his hands away and stood up from the desk. ‘What did you do?’

Vivian relaxed back into the chair and smiled a satisfying smile.

Dr. Lennox’s eyes flickered between his hands and Vivian. ‘Have you given me cancer?’

Vivian laughed. ‘No, that’s not going to keep me my job here is it? I don’t want revenge, I just want to keep my job so I can keep on doing my good work.’

Dr. Lennox clutched at his chest, pain escaping from his face.

‘On my way to work this morning a man had a cardiac arrest in the coffee shop.’

The doctor fell back into his chair, he tried to grab at the phone but just knocked it onto the floor.

‘I saved his life, the man in the coffee shop, he always let me go in front of him in the queue. I took away his heart attack.’

Dr. Lennox, pale and clammy, tried to speak but words were trapped and movement slowed.

‘I’ve been careful who I’ve touched today, I was saving it for pervy Duncan this afternoon. He’ll have to wait now.’ She picked up the lists from the desk and fed them into the shredder, then placed the phone back on the desk. Staring at the lifeless body opposite her she sighed. ‘Oh Paul, we could have worked so well together.’

Vivian picked up phone and dialed 999. ‘Ambulance. I’m at Mainwaring Surgery, one of our doctors has had a heart attack, please hurry.’ While holding onto the phone in one hand she opened the door with the other and shouted down the corridor.

‘I need some help here!’

Battenburg

Published May 6, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

I can’t move. I’ve got my eyes open, but it’s too dark to see anything. I can smell cake, and I can feel the weight of something against my face. I try to recall my last memory. Sleep. I was in bed, going to sleep. I’m not in my bed now.

I can’t hear anything so I open my mouth to shout, or say hello to anyone nearby.

‘Hello?’

My voice sounds muffled and distorted. I’m not sure if that’s because my ears are covered, or if there’s something in front of my mouth. I slowly force my tongue out of my mouth. It protrudes out for about half an inch before touching a surface, then retracts quickly back in. My taste buds tell me the surface it met is sweet. I persuade my tongue to venture out again. It complies.

My tongue gently licks the object in front of my mouth. Cake. It’s cake. I move my jaw out as much as it will extend and scrape my teeth along the cake surface. My tongue escorts the cake into my mouth. It tastes delicious, a light sponge.

Am I surrounded by cake? Is that why I can’t move? I think I am. How is this possible? If it were a dream I wouldn’t be able to taste and smell the cake, and I can. Someone must have drugged me and put me in a cake. That just doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make sense.

I feel my chest tighten as a panic attack attempts to take control of my body. I can hear my pulse rate speeding up through the blood vessels in my muffled ears. I inhale a deep breath, cake fumes filter into my lungs. I tell myself I am calm, and all is well. My body knows I am lying to it, but it plays along with me, for now.

I must eat the cake. That is how I will get free. I will eat my way up through the cake. There will have to be a surface, no cake goes on for infinity. I feel calmer, I know I can eat a lot of cake. My teeth start excavating the sponge in front of me.

The more cake I eat, the more I can move my head. My spirits are lifted. I’m feeling confident. I can angle my head back now to reach the cake above me with my mouth. I move up an inch at a time, shuffling my body up with my shoulders, arms still by my sides, my face facing to the top.

I’m starting to feel sick now. I want to take a breather and rest a little, but I don’t want to risk falling asleep and running out of air. My body keeps trying to remind me I could suffocate easily, it does this by squeezing my lungs periodically while making me want to breathe faster. I tell myself I can do this, and I will be out of here soon.

I think it will be soon. I’m starting to see now. I can see the cake above me, it’s yellow. I must be near the top of the cake for the light to be penetrating down to me. I can do this. I eat more cake. In my excitement, I bite off a bigger chunk, but almost choke on it. My legs attempt to kick out and my arms try to lash out too. I spray my own face with regurgitated cake. It takes me a few moments to compose myself. I continue eating through the cake.

Bright yellow. I can see bright yellow above me. My relief is joyous. I eat on. I can smell marzipan. A heavenly smell. Almond ambrosia. I devour the final layer of sponge between me and the marzipan. I push my face against the marzipan, attempting to break free with the force of my facial features. The marzipan just stretches with my face, and lowers back down with it. I lick at the marzipan, and try to bite at it. It just moves playfully with my tongue and teeth, keen to flow in the same direction. Marzipan, I’m finding out, is non-confrontational, eager to please, and far too flexible. I try forcing my face up through it again, but this time the marzipan, wet from my saliva, sticks to my face. The almond assassin clings to my nostrils and my mouth. I try to breathe but the overpowering essence blocks my airways. My lungs clench and scream pain I didn’t think possible. I feel myself zoning out, drifting away from my physicality. I’m going.

Air violently invades my face. My marzipan death mask is being ripped open. My mouth and nose compete for the air. My lungs stop screaming and merely shout instead. My eyes are blinded by bright whiteness. They struggle to compute my surroundings. I feel my head become free of the marzipan, and I feel hands pulling me out of the cake and place me on a hard surface. My limbs feel numb from their cocooned entrapment. I feel cold, and loose.

My eyes adjust in the harsh lighting. White floor, white walls, white ceiling. There is a man in a white biohazard suit stood stationary over me. A giant Battenburg cake is in the center of the room, crumbs scattered onto the floor, no doubt from when I emerged. A camera in the corner of the room rotates around to face me. The man in the white suit puts his hand to his ear, then nods.

‘Come with me,’ he says.

My mouth is dry. ‘Why? What’s happening?’

‘You failed. They don’t want you now.’

‘Failed what? Who are they?’ My legs allow me to stand up, but threaten to drop me at any moment.

The man walks towards a door. ‘You only had to get out of the cake. You failed so you have to go back.’

‘I don’t understand?’ I follow him to the door.

‘You should have eaten horizontally, not vertically, as there’s no marzipan on the ends of the cake.’ He swipes a card in a panel by the door with his gloved left hand. ‘You could have made it out alive that way.’

The door slides open with a faint hiss. The man steps out of the room, so do I.

‘But I still don’t understand what’s going on.’

‘It’s better that way. Believe me.’ The man walks off down the narrow corridor.

I follow.