At first sight – part V

Jon and Vikki fell for each other at a party in London – the day before Vikki returned home to Australia. They have been writing to each other, and Jon has arranged to visit Vikki in Melbourne within the next few months. But Vikki is settling back into her familiar life, and renewing old friendships. Meanwhile, her abusive ex-partner, Guy, is trying to trace her…

At first sight - Qantas plane 170624

If you’ve missed the earlier chapters,  you can read them here

At first sight

At first sight – part 2

Short Story – At first sight – part III

At first sight – part IV

It was the second morning in a row that the postie had let her down. There was no letter from Jon. It was windy, cold and raining. She shook herself. “Come on, woman! Pull yourself together!”

“Hi, Vikki! Fancy a movie this evening?”

“Dan! I didn’t hear you come in.”

Dan grinned. He and Vikki had been in and out of each other’s houses all the time as kids.

“Sorry! I should have knocked. Anyway, what about this movie? La La Land!”

“Sure, yeah, I’d like that.”

On the way home from the cinema, Dan stopped his car at the kerbside a few streets short of Vikki’s home. She turned to him, ready to tease him, ready to defuse any threat of intimacy with humour. His face, though, was too serious.

“What is it, Dan? What’s the matter?”

“Can we talk, Vikki? I mean talk properly, not joking.”

“Go ahead.” She still sounded flippant.

She saw the fine lines deepen on his forehead. There was pain in his grey-blue eyes. She had always liked his eyes. As a teenager she used to imagine him as a Viking, facing the terrors of land and sea without fear.

“I’ve got to say this, Vikki, or I won’t be able to live with myself. I love you. Will you…will you marry me?”

Marry you, Dan?” There was a little quiver in her voice.

“Don’t bloody make fun of me, Vikki. You don’t owe me much, but you owe me the respect of taking me seriously.”

“I am taking you seriously, Dan. I’m just flabbergasted, I guess. I hadn’t expected this.”

They sat together in silence for a few minutes.

“You haven’t said no, at least.”

Vikki turned to him. She put one hand on his shoulder, and with the other, stroked his blond hair across his forehead.

“No, I haven’t. And I haven’t said yes either. Oh, Dan, this is just so difficult. Because I’ve loved you as a friend for years, and I find you sexy as hell, but…well, there’s somebody in England who’s special to me.”

“Not that Guy fellow, I hope?”

“As if!” Vikki stopped stroking Dan’s hair. She took hold of his right hand with both of hers, and squeezed it, as though to convince him of her earnestness. “He’s called Jon. I can’t explain it, Dan. It’s a mystery, but it’s very wonderful. I’m so sorry.”

Gently, Dan removed his hand from hers.

“I don’t want your pity, Vikki. If you won’t have me, I reckon I’ll have to go away.”

“I haven’t said no, Dan. But I’m not saying yes either, not yet.”

“So, what the hell are you saying then?”

“Don’t be angry, Dan. I know it must look like I want to have my cake and eat it, but it really isn’t that. Can you give me a minute just to think how to help you understand?”

Dan nodded.

Vikki gestured at the two of them sitting in the car.

“This is kind of reality, Dan. The two of us sitting here; you loving me; you asking me to marry you; and me sitting here wanting to say yes, because I love you too, Dan, I do truly. But then there’s this thing like magic that happened the day before I set off home; this – connection I suppose you’d call it – between me and Jon.

Look, he’s coming out here soon. Next letter I get, I’m expecting him to say when he’s coming. Suppose I said yes to you tonight? And then saw him, and this thing between us boils up and I change my mind about what I said? That wouldn’t be fair for either of us, would it?”

“I don’t think you’re being honest, Vikki, not with me, not with yourself.” There was an angry edge to Dan’s voice. “You want to keep me in reserve in case it falls through with this – Jon. Well, that’s not going to happen. What kind of basis would that be for a marriage?”

Vikki took both Dan’s hands in hers, and looked him full in the face. In the moonlight, her amber eyes were dark, almost black, and luminous with unshed tears.

“Dan. If you want me to – if you want me to – I’ll say yes to you now. I’ll say yes, and I’ll stick to it. I’m sure we could make it work, be happy together. I’ll write to Jon and tell him –  it was just – it was just a… beautiful dream. And not to come.” A single tear escaped, glinting, and leaving a silvery track as it trickled down her cheek.

Dan shook his head gently.

“No, not now, not tonight, Vikki. But I will ask again, and then I’ll insist on an answer.”

He turned away from her, and started the engine. Neither of them spoke for the remainder of the short journey home.


“Dear Jon,

I’m thrilled that you’re going to be here next week! I can’t wait! I’d thought it wasn’t going to be until September!

I know we’ve written before about this in our letters, but you’d be more than welcome to come and stay with us. My mum thinks you must be “A real, old-fashioned English gentleman” because you’re planning to stay in a hotel for at least the first few days!

Now, there’s something I must tell you.

When I was little, I was a bit of a tomboy, and my best friend was a boy called Dan. He’s still my best friend now, Jon, and he’s very dear to me. You’re the person I cleave to, but Dan is close too.

The problem is, he proposed marriage to me this evening. I didn’t say yes, but I couldn’t make myself say no.

I must be completely honest with you, Jonathan. It feels to me that the bond between you and me is so special that it demands honesty, perfect honesty, or at least as close to it as I can manage. So – if I hadn’t met you, Jon, I would have accepted Dan’s proposal, and been very happy.

There. I’ve said it. If that changes your mind about coming, then I accept that. Oh, but I so hope it doesn’t! I just want to be close to you!

With much love

Vikki xxx”

Jon read the letter, frowned, and read it again. Then he picked up his pen and wrote.

“Dear Vikki,

Thank you for your honesty in telling me about Dan. I shall see you at Melbourne Airport at about 5 p.m. on July 10th. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it. I love you more than I can say.

With my whole heart.

Jon

xxx”

He took the letter to the post straightaway. It would, with luck, arrive before he did.


Jon was smiling as he tugged his suitcase into the Arrivals area. Where was she? He scanned the waiting faces, the family groups, husbands, wives; the people greeting men in suits who’d flown from England with only a briefcase and laptop; the taxi drivers displaying handwritten signs. There was no Vikki.

Jon frowned. Surely Vikki hadn’t stood him up? She must have been delayed. Perhaps her car had broken down?

He noticed a tall fair-haired man, who appeared to be waving to him. When Jon acknowledged the wave, the man beckoned to him. Stiff-legged, frozen-faced, Jon complied.

“Jonathan Hall?”

Jon nodded, curtly.

The tall man stuck out a hand.

“I’m Dan,” he said. “We have an emergency. Vikki’s disappeared.”

Intrusive Thoughts

My guest post today is a piece of humorous flash fiction titled “Intrusive thoughts”. The writer’s name “Flash 365” comes from a challenge he set himself to publish a piece of fiction every day for a year. I like his writing because it shows a wry sense of humour, a keen eye for the everyday absurd, and a beautiful ear for dialogue and its associated subtext. Plus, it makes me laugh!

Flash 365

thoughts

I reach for a cigarette, almost burning myself on my already lit cigarette. I am bored. With murderous frustration, I snuff out the lit one and stand up.

“I’m going to get a coffee!” I call to N.

“You just got back from getting a coffee,” he reminds me.

I pretend not to hear him. The shop isn’t far. I smoke half a cigarette on the way. The sun is bitchy today. I forgot my sunglasses. The shop is small. A woman–no, girl–is the only one in line. I wait. The barista chats away to her as she swirls cappuccino foam artfully atop a bit of harsh coffee.

I scratch one finger with another.

Finally, the coffee is placed in front of the not-woman. She says thank you. I open my mouth in preparation. Only to find, they are still chatting. The not-woman is opening a packet of sugar with…

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In the moment – barbecue time!

Living in the moment is when we pay attention to reality. We stop dwelling on the past, we stop planning for the future, and we allow ourselves to experience the present, the now. By the way, those of you who know me personally will realise that my wife Daphne was equally involved in the barbecue I tell about.

In the moment - barbecue 170620

Yesterday morning I cleaned the barbecue ready to entertain some friends. The weather here was glorious, so I took a bowlful of hot water and detergent into the garden, found a convenient shady spot, and sat down to wash the grill. I enjoyed being consciously aware of the warm breeze, the bright colours of the flowers, the sound of bees. I enjoyed seeing the grill start to shine as I scrubbed it.

It wasn’t perfectly clean – there were some burned on deposits that weren’t going to come off whatever I did.

Some other things that weren’t perfect for the barbecue last night; the patio had been brushed but not pressure washed; the water in the pond was rather murky; the flowers in pots had not been dead-headed; and, worst of all, I’m not particularly skilled at cooking on a barbecue (I started by dropping an uncooked beef-burger onto the ground! And I forgot about the sweetcorn, which is still in the fridge along with a few burgers and sausages that were too charred to serve…).

I would have loved everything to be perfect, but the fact that it wasn’t didn’t spoil my pleasure in the evening at all, nor did it affect my guests’ enjoyment.

Perfection was not necessary!

It’s the same in life, too.

Now, I would be the first to agree that there are some circumstances where we need to do a task to the very best of our ability, and where a mistake can be extremely serious. Driving a car is an obvious example.

But for most of us, most of the time, is perfection necessary? If ‘good enough’ is all you have time or energy to achieve, isn’t that sufficient?

Personally, I find that I am more relaxed and happier by living ‘in the moment’. I enjoy what I am actually doing rather than wishing I’d done better. I enjoy today!

 

From a liberal point of view – June 2017

The tragedy of Grenfell House is unbearable. I don’t propose to write about the event itself, because there’s nothing I can add to the testimony of those who were there, and those who survived.

However, there is an angle to the disaster that I have not heard mentioned, and it holds some pointers towards minimising the risk of similar events.

The Civil Contingencies Act (2004) places a duty on all Local Authorities to develop and implement a Local Emergency Plan.

That is to say, every Local Authority must carry out a comprehensive risk assessment of possible events that could lead to loss of life or serious civil disruption, and put plans in place to mitigate those risks. They must do this in partnership with other Category 1 responders, who include the Police, the Fire and Rescue Service, the Ambulance Service, and the Environment Agency.

Planning to mitigate the risks involves training and exercises designed to identify weaknesses in emergency response.

During my time working for the Environment Agency, I took part in training sessions and exercises in emergency response. Feedback from participants after the exercises showed how effective they had been at identifying problems. These problems were then resolved.

Now, I was just about to type “It’s obvious that a good risk assessment leading to an emergency plan that you practise must lead to a better result when a disaster happens.” But then I thought “No, it clearly isn’t obvious, or all Local Authorities would be doing it diligently”

So let me give you a (fictional) example to consider.

A tanker driver is suffering from Type 2 diabetes. He doesn’t realise it, and during his journey he feels progressively more unwell. He drives onto the industrial site which is his destination, and blacks out at the wheel. The tanker ploughs through the concrete wall around a tank containing a highly toxic chemical, and splits the tank. The tanker itself starts to smoulder, as diesel and oil from the damaged engine contact the exhaust.

You have a man slumped over the tanker’s steering wheel, a tanker which could go up in flames any moment and a tank slowly leaking a highly toxic chemical. What do you do first?

It doesn’t take Einstein to realise that if you’ve planned for an event like this, you’re more likely to respond correctly than if you just wing it.

So it’s extremely important that every Local Authority takes their duty under the Civil Contingencies Act very seriously, and does a proper risk assessment, and ensures that all responders have trained together.

I hope that post-Grenfell, every Local Authority in the country revisits its risk assessment and its emergency plan, and renews and intensifies its training and exercises to ensure that the plan will be effective.

At first sight – part IV

What do you do when you first meet your true love the day before she flies back to Australia? For Jon, the answer was simple; you follow her as soon as possible. One small problem – PhD students like Jon have very little money. For Vikki, his beloved, the answer was more difficult; handsome, clever, surf-hero Dan has carried a torch for her for years…

Jon rang his mum and chatted; about his work, her work, and the latest news from his dad’s parish; before raising the subject that was uppermost in his thoughts.

“Mum, I need to borrow some money. It’s rather a lot, I’m afraid.”

Carolyn Hall thought for a moment. It wasn’t like Jon to ask for money. He’d managed on his own since his first term at university.

“How much do you need, love?”

“About two thousand pounds, I’m afraid.”

“You’re not in any trouble, are you?”

“No, and I should be able to pay you back quite soon; within about six months, I think.”

“I’ll have to talk to Dad first.” She hesitated for a moment, and then added, “I know it’s none of my business, but Dad will want to know why you need it.”

She waited for the explosion. Jon had always made it very clear that he needed to be independent; that he was going to live his life without interference from his parents. She sighed. It must be difficult for him, being James’s son.

“It’s a bit tricky. And it sounds as though I’m going bonkers. All I can say is that it’s very real to me. I’ve met this girl.”

“Oh, Jon, I am pleased for you!”

“The trouble is, she lives in Australia. I met her just before she went home, and now she’s there and I’m here.”

“What’s her name? What’s she like?”

“Vikki; that’s with two kays and an i. She’s beautiful, Mum, just beautiful. And clever; she’s just finished a master’s degree in education at Cambridge. I knew the instant I saw her that she was the right girl…” His voice trailed away as he relived the moment.

“Oh, Jon, you’ve got it bad, haven’t you?”

Jon tensed, and then relaxed. He laughed.

“Yes, I suppose I have! But that doesn’t make the feeling less real, you know?”

“I know, Jon, I know. That was how I felt about Dad when we first met. It’s worked for us so far! I still feel the same about him. But it wasn’t the way he fell in love with me, if you follow me?”

“Thank you, Mum. For telling me about you and Dad, I mean. Do you think it would be better for me to ring him and ask about a loan?”

“I think Dad would appreciate that, yes. Man to man, you know.”

“Okay, I’ll do that. Thanks for the advice.”

Dressing table 170617 (2)

Vikki scooped up the letter from the mat, and raced to her room. The sun struck obliquely through the window, making the wall at her bedhead dazzlingly white. The petals of the posy on her dressing table glowed translucent in the reflected light.

Vikki looked at Jon’s handwriting, with its firm downstrokes, its well-formed letters, its fluidity. Her heart sang. His voice was vivid in her memory, and she imagined him sitting beside her on the bed reading the letter to her.

“Dear Vikki,

Thank you so much for writing. You made me really happy when I read that you had ‘danced with delight’ because I planned to visit!

You’re right; we don’t know each other very well. You say that matters to you, and that you guess it matters to me. Be reassured; it does. I want to know everything about you, the big things and the little things, the essential and the trivial. It will be such a joy learning about all these from you!

Or do you mean that you have doubts about whether what we felt that magical night will prove ephemeral? Is that why you say, “We mustn’t be carried away”?

Let me tell you how I feel. I love you. You have changed me. In the past, I’ve always thought carefully before doing anything, but you make me feel so certain that we belong together that I don’t need to think about it, I just know it.

I want you to know this, Vikki. The thing I want more than anything in the world is that you should be happy. If, in the future, my love for you becomes an obstacle to your happiness, I shall let you go. It would break my heart – I can hardly bear even thinking about it – but I would do it.

By the way, there is something more practical that I need to tell you. I had another run-in with Guy. He was after your address in Australia. I didn’t tell him, of course, but yesterday somebody broke into my flat. They didn’t take anything – and there was quite an expensive laptop on the desk in full view – so I suppose Guy might have been the burglar. Take care, my dearest.

I hope so much that I shall soon see you in Australia; I should be able to suggest some dates next time I write in a few days. How I wish I was with you now!

With all my love

Jon”

Vikki held the letter against her lips, smiling.

At first sight - letter and phone 170617

“Jonathan! This is an unexpected pleasure. How are you?”

“I’m fine, Dad. How are you? And the parish, of course?”

“We’re doing nicely, thank you. The occasional hiccup. If you want the latest news, the organist has just quit. I don’t suppose you want to hear about that, though?”

They chatted casually for a few minutes, until Jon said, “Actually, Dad, I had an ulterior motive in ringing you.”

“I thought you might have.”

Jon winced. That accomplished, cultured, know-it-all, self-satisfied tone of voice had haunted his childhood.

“Would you lend me two thousand pounds, please.”

There was a short silence. James Hall waited for the explanation to be offered. Jon struggled with his pride.

“I’m in love with a woman who lives in Australia. I need to go and see her.”

There was a longer silence.

“That’s a fair sum, Jon.”

“I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think I needed it.”

“There may be a difference between what you think you need and what you actually need.”

Jon struggled to relax, to remain calm, to remain courteous. This constant assumption that he didn’t know what he was doing, that he would screw up if left to himself…

“Dad, if you hang on a minute, I’ll explain. I met Vikki the day before she was due to fly home. It was – astonishing – stunning. I just knew immediately that she’s the one. She seems to feel the same way. I want to go to Australia to confirm what we feel.

You may think it’s a gamble. Maybe you’re right. But it’s my gamble. Your money will be safe, whatever the outcome.”

“Oh, for goodness sake, Jonathan, it’s not the safety of my money that concerns me. It’s your future, your studies, putting all that at risk just because you’ve met an attractive girl who’s bowled you over. What about your studies, anyway?”

“My professor is happy. In fact, he’s asked me to go into the University of Melbourne to establish personal links with the staff there. It’s a great chance to network.”

“I just don’t want to see you hurt, Jon.”

“Not going to Australia and losing her would hurt me more than anything I can imagine.”

“Mm. Yes, I can see that might be so.”

Jon waited.

“All right. You may have the money. I’ll transfer it to your account this afternoon. Would you be happy to repay it in twelve months?”

“I’m taking on some more tutoring. Can I pay it back monthly over six months starting in October, please?”

“Yes, that’ll be okay. Take care of yourself, Jon. I’m proud of you, son. You’re growing up into a fine man.”

Jon almost dropped the phone. He stammered goodbye.

James Hall replaced his receiver. Two thousand pounds was almost his entire savings. He would just have to hope that there was no emergency in the next ten months.

After the call, Jon put his phone on the desk and stared out of the window.

Right. Time to check availability of those cheap flights he’d found!

In the moment – The Mountain

Maybe happiness and joy don’t mix.  For happiness, you have to work hard and persistently. You have to learn how to find it in all sorts of humdrum situations. Joy is different. You have to step beyond the conventional; you have to take risks.What do you think? The story below is about joy, and the taking of risks – and the price that may be exacted.

In the moment - Mount Aspiring 170613

The picture is of Mount Aspiring, New Zealand, and is courtesy of Pixabay.

Of course, her parents had equipped her as well as they could for the challenge, but, even as she stood in the foothills of the mountain, Alys was aware that she was lacking both tools and technique. Never mind. She smiled as she looked at the trail in front of her. This was going to be one heck of an adventure!

She was well below the treeline and the going was easy. The track was broad, running between pleasant woods and close to a sparkling river. There were others following the same route. Alys smiled at everyone she met, and greeted them with a cheerful “Hi! How are you doing?”

Some of them were faster than Alys. She didn’t mind. If she thought about it at all, it was to remember the story of the hare and the tortoise.

The way climbed. Sometimes it went downhill for a short distance, before climbing higher and more steeply.

And then there was a rock face. At its foot was an opening from which the river, narrower now, bubbled and chattered.

There was a broad path leading to the left, away from the river. There were broken areas of rock going up the low cliff, that may, or may not have once been steps. Alys hesitated, and drew out her map. The path to the left led to a town; her route was shown going straight ahead.

As she was inspecting the cave that was the river’s source, she heard a voice.

“It’s up the cliff.”

It was a pleasant voice. Alys could imagine the man was a singer. She smiled.

“Thanks.”

“My dad told me to expect it,” explained the young man. “My name’s Robert. Would you like to walk along together? At least for a while.”

“I’m Alys. I don’t want to hold you back.”

“The route’s rough. We’ll be quicker together. Here, let me give you a hand.”

He clambered up, and stretched out his arm.

“I can manage, thank you,” said Alys, gripping a rather flaky rock edge to haul herself up. They climbed in company, but separately, to the top of the rock face. It wasn’t particularly difficult.

They were above the woods, and the mountain stood splendid before them. Alys turned around and looked back. She was surprised at how high she was, and how far she had travelled. The canopy of the forest stretched out for miles in all directions from the cliff. She could only just make out the town from which she had started. She took out her mobile and photographed the scene.

“Do you mind if I photograph you?” she asked Robert.

“Go ahead.” He smiled, looking relaxed against the mountains beyond.

“Now I’ll take one of you,” he said, taking out his own mobile. “And a selfie on both of our phones.”

Alys giggled as they snuggled up close for the selfies. The feel of Robert against her was comfortable, and just a little exciting. There was a moment when…but it passed.

“Time to move on,” exclaimed Alys. “I have a long way to go!”

Robert released her, and they walked on together. They scrambled up a scree slope. It was a long, dry ascent. They could taste dust from the stones. The scree gave way to bare rock, and still they climbed.

“Just a little further until we reach the top of this bit.” Robert took Alys’s hand, and they walked the last hundred metres together.

They crested the ridge, and stopped dead. To their right, the ground sloped down towards meadows, and beyond them, to a great plain. There were cities with spires and towers, set in fields of gold, brilliant yellow, purplish-blue, burgundy and green. There were rounded hills draped with gentle woodland, silver rivers winding into the hazy blue distance, where surely must lie the sea.

Robert put his left arm around Alys’s waist and pointed to one of the cities.

“That’s where I’m bound. I’m joining my uncle in his business. Would you come with me?”

Alys felt a sting of disappointment. She pointed up the mountain.

“That’s my way, Robert. I hoped you might be going that way too. You look adventurous.”

Robert shook his head.

“This opportunity with my uncle won’t come again. I’d be a fool to squander it. But please come with me. I can offer you comfort and security, and later I hope to become wealthy and powerful, like my uncle.”

Alys hesitated a moment. Her parents were poor. Comfort and wealth sounded attractive; she could help her parents as they grew older. Nevertheless, “I’m going to climb the mountain, Robert. I have to accept the challenge; it’s part of my nature,” she said.

They kissed, on the lips, each hoping the other would be won over; then they parted, Robert striding downhill, and Alys labouring upwards.

The going was harsher now. A wind blew down the mountainside, bringing the chill of the heights with it. Alys put on a warm jacket from her backpack.

Another cliff face reared before her. This was no scramble; it was a climb, and not an easy one. Alys studied the route she would have to take. She could see handholds and footholds for about twenty metres and then the rock sloped away and the higher supports were hidden. She took a deep breath. She had no rope, and no companion. If she missed her footing she would be lucky if she only broke a leg.

She climbed strongly, making each move positive and precise, never thinking of the drop behind her. As she went higher, the next footholds were revealed. Up she went, steadily. Then she paused. Her fingers were becoming very chilled because the rocks were covered with a thin layer of ice.

The last ten metres of the ascent were a nightmare. No matter how carefully she placed her feet, she always slipped. Sometimes it was just a stutter in the climb, sometimes her foot slithered all over the perch until she found the exact point of balance. And, once, her foot slipped right off the rock, leaving her hanging by her arms with her left foot perched precariously on the tiniest of ledges.

At the top, she pulled herself over the rim of the cliff and lay gasping. It was cold. She was lying in snow, crusty snow left over from the winter. It only took a minute for her pulse to stop pounding, but that was long enough for her to become chilled. Fumbling with stiff fingers, she opened her pack and took out a pair of warm, windproof trousers. They hadn’t cost very much. She hoped they would be adequate as she climbed higher.

The wind strengthened. She struggled to keep moving forwards and upwards. She was on the last stage. A narrow track led along a ridge to the peak. But the wind. The wind seemed determined to blow her off the mountain. She hesitated. Did it matter so much whether or not she scaled the summit? Surely it was the adventure and the attempt that mattered?

“I’ll wait fifteen minutes and see whether the wind drops,” she said to herself – although she couldn’t hear her own words for the noise of the wind roaring.

She found a boulder which sheltered her from the worst of the storm, and waited. The tumult was abating, wasn’t it? Another great gust seemed to shake the heights, and then came calm. Hardly able to believe her good fortune, Alys rose, swiftly walked along the arete, and scaled the last slope to the peak.

She was on the summit! For a few seconds, she felt at one with the entire world. Her spirit soared. She could see so far! She looked at her hometown, dwarfed by distance. There were other towns, other cities, too. Between them, she could just make out motorways, spearing across the plain, and the narrow scars of railways, arrow-straight. The whole power of civilisation was spread out for her delight.

Finally, she turned and looked for the city to which Robert was headed. She hoped they might meet again in the future. She took half a dozen photographs, and then realised that little blusters of wind were buffeting her once again. It was thrilling to have reached her goal, but it was time to go.

Quickly but carefully she worked her way along the ridge path. The wind was treacherous, now blowing fiercely so she leaned into it, then suddenly dropping, unbalancing her.

She was paying so much attention to the wind, that she didn’t see the tell-tale brightness of ice. Her foot slipped. She gasped. Her body lurched to the side. She fought to stay on the ridge. As her body slid over the edge, she grabbed at the path, and, for a moment, she held on. She heaved with her arms, scrabbled with her feet against the rock, sobbing for breath. There was no fear, just a burning urge to survive. She focussed everything on the task of regaining safety. She was only feet away from the path.

Her numbed hands slipped on the ice. Inch by inch she slithered further from safety. And then she fell.

At first the drop was nearly sheer. She heard the air whistling about her, saw, with a sense of awe, the rocks passing her faster and faster. Her left leg struck a boulder. There was a searing pain, and her body began to tumble. Her right hip struck the slope. An intense, fiery sensation stunned her with its ferocity. She rolled. She tried to spreadeagle herself, still fighting, still thinking of how she might stop herself from falling further. And then she rolled into a ridge on the mountain, her left arm shattering. Everything went black.

When she regained consciousness, she felt cold. She hurt. Her eyes gradually focussed, and she saw, with astonishment, how far she had fallen. She couldn’t move her left arm, or either of her legs. Breathing was difficult; little bubbles of blood popped from her nostrils.

Her right arm was still functioning. With what felt like an enormous effort she pulled her mobile out of her pocket. With a flicker of hope she saw that the screen was still illuminated. There was no signal. She tried the emergency number anyway. No response. She tried again. No. She was beyond any chance of rescue.

She clicked on the icon for her photos. There was Robert, smiling, happy. She hoped he would do well, that he had made the right choice. She scrolled on. There were the pictures from the summit. Even in her distress she felt the surge of achievement. She’d set herself the challenge, and by golly she’d done it!

Her vision was dimming. This must be it. Feverishly, she scrolled back. Yes! There were her parents. How grateful she was for their support. They’d let her follow her dream, helped her, supported her, even when they didn’t understand.

“Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Mum.” Her last breath fluttered in her throat, and she was gone.

Short Story – At first sight – part III

Short Story – At first sight – Part III

The forearm across Jon’s throat pressed harder. His breath whistled and rasped, as he struggled violently but unsuccessfully to break Guy’s grip.

“You are going to give me Vikki’s address. Nod your head to show you agree.”

Jon threw himself from side to side. Guy swayed, but his grip didn’t loosen. Then he pivoted on his heel and barged forward as hard as he could, crashing Jon’s face into the brick wall beside the steps up to his front door. Blood from Jon’s broken nose trickled into his throat, making breathing even more difficult. He focussed intensely on ignoring the pain and thinking clearly.

His father’s voice spoke in his memory.

“When someone grabs you from behind, use your heel to kick their shin, scrape it right down and stamp on the arch of their foot.”

As Jon kicked backwards, he heard Guy gasp an expletive. The grip on his arms loosened a fraction and he tore his left arm free, striking repeatedly with his elbow to Guy’s midriff. With a violent heave Jon freed himself from Guy’s grasp, and spun round to confront him. He balled his fists, raised them ready to fight.

“Go to hell,” he snarled, and flung himself forward.

Guy dodged, pushed Jon’s head to one side, and sidestepped the charge.

“Oh, I’ll get the address, with you or without you. But next time, it will be friends of mine who will ask you; and they’re not nice men at all. Tell me now, or face the consequences.”

Jonathan glared at Guy, who looked calmly back at him and seemed scarcely out of breath. He raised a hand in ironic farewell, and sauntered away. Jon pulled out a handkerchief and gingerly felt his nose. It was bleeding profusely.

*       *       *       *

“Dear Jon

I was so happy when your letter arrived, and I danced with delight when I read that you’re going to come to Australia quite soon! It will be wonderful to see you again, and to get to know you better.

Because we don’t really know each other very well yet, do we? That’s important to me, but it says something about how little we know each other that I can only guess that it’s important to you; I don’t know for certain. We mustn’t be carried away.

I wish we could be together.

I shall write frequently. I shan’t wait for your replies, I shall just write.

Oh, I’m so looking forward to your next letter! Write soon, dear Jon, write soon!

Love

Vikki

xxx”

At first sight - surfer 170610

Vikki was singing quietly as she dropped the letter into the post box.

“Hi, gorgeous! You look…” Dan waved his arms expressively, “…well, just fantastic!”

“Hi, Dan. How are you?”

“Pining for you. If you don’t come on a date with me soon, I shall waste right away! Seriously, Vikki, why do I have the feeling you’re avoiding me? Is there somebody else?”

“I don’t know you’ve any right to ask me that, Dan.”

Dan raised his hands in mock-surrender. “Just in the interest of clarity! I don’t want to pester you if you’re committed to somebody else.”

“I’m not avoiding you, Dan. We’re here chatting on a street corner. Do you see me making excuses to escape? You’re a dear friend.” She reached up and touched him gently on the cheek, and saw the hunger blossom in his eyes. “Let’s not spoil our friendship by trying to make out it’s more than friendship. Please?”

“Come to a movie with me tonight, Vikki. I won’t step out of line. I don’t deny I fancy you – I would say I love you – but that just means I want what’s best for both of us.”

Vikki’s face softened. Dear Dan. He was gentle as well as strong, and she valued both qualities. It wasn’t as though she didn’t like him

“That would be great, Dan. Yes, please.”

The answering smile from Dan was something special. His whole face lit up, and his strong, even teeth gleamed ivory in the morning sunshine. He leaned forward and kissed Vikki very gently on her forehead.

“See you tonight, then, at six o’clock!” He waved, and strode off, with vigour and purpose in every line of his body.

Vikki shook her head wistfully. Why was life so complicated?

*       *       *       *

That same night, Jon arrived home to find that his flat had been turned over. His files had been ransacked, and his diary taken. His valuables, such as they were, had been ignored.