Friday Fictioneers – The craftsman

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - The craftsman 180912

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

The craftsman

Hansel loved wood. His foot pumped the treadle and his fingers deftly guided the workpiece against the blade of the fretsaw, measuring it against the half-built clock until it was good and true.

At lunchtime he sat in the town square eating a sandwich and gazing at the church. He liked the neatness and order of its carved stone.

“Hey, stupid!” A youth strutted up, and snatched Hansel’s sandwich. “Halfwits like you don’t deserve food,” he sneered.

“Lay off him!” Hansel’s boss emerged from the workshop. The youth bolted.

“Don’t take any notice of him, lad. You’re my best craftsman.”

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Friday Fictioneers – Fulfilment

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Fulfilment 180613

PHOTO PROMPT © Jean L. Hays

Fulfilment

A peacock screeched.

Inside its pupa, a damselfly larva stirred.

Alice dabbled her hand in the pond, gazing through a haze of reflections at the coloured pebbles on the bottom.

“You look thoughtful. Not worrying about tomorrow, I hope?”

Alice smiled.

“Just nervous, Frances, that’s all.”

Frances hugged her sister.

“Silly girl! Everything will be fine.”

The damselfly’s pupa began to split.

Next day the church was full. Alice stood beside Matthew and wondered whether it was possible to feel any happier.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

Beside the pond the damselfly’s wings flashed. The peacock screeched exultantly.

Short Story – First Meeting

Not flash fiction this time, but a short story. It’s about 600 words long, so it won’t take long to read! I welcome constructive criticism, so if you have suggestions as to how I could improve it I would be very grateful if you would comment.

carousel-horses-180309

First Meeting

The cobbles were wet and slippery.

Susan skirted the edge of the market and paused at the butcher’s stall. She wondered whether she could afford their bargain offer of two rump steaks for £8. She shook her head. No. Too much Christmas shopping still to do and not enough money.

She was completely unprepared for the sudden shove and went flying, arms flailing, scattering packages all around.

“Oh, gosh! I’m terribly sorry. Are you alright?”

He was tall, about thirty, slim and dark-haired.

Susan sat on the cobbles and rubbed her right arm, wincing.

“Can you move it? I mean, is it broken?”

Susan flexed it gingerly, and grimaced.

“Just bruised, I think.” She glared at him and started to pick up her packages, ramming them into her bags. She stood up and tried, unsuccessfully, to carry all the bags with her left hand.

“Do you live close?”

“About a mile.”

He hailed a taxi, talked briefly to the driver, handed over cash.

“Give the driver the address. Once again, I’m really sorry.”

All she wanted now was a cup of tea.

It wasn’t until she was at home waiting for the kettle to boil that she realised her pendant was missing.

Sunday came. Jonathan wasn’t a regular churchgoer, but he woke early, the weather was fine, and it was, after all, nearly Christmas.

The sun brightened the east window and cast patches of light on the stonework above the choir stalls. Jonathan thought of how the light had gleamed from the corn-gold hair of the woman he had so unfortunately barged into on Friday. She had worn it in braids wrapped around her head. The colour was that of a schoolgirl; the style that of an elegant woman; but she was neither.

And he had her pendant, which was a lovely piece. How could he return it? He’d found the taxi that had taken her home, but the driver ‘couldn’t remember’ the address. Jonathan had the unpleasant feeling that the man had thought he was a stalker.

He’d probably never see her again.

He sighed, stood up – and there she was, right arm in a sling, hair covered by a headscarf. Her eyes opened wide. Jonathan suddenly realised how very much he wanted to know her better.

“Oh. You.” she said.

Jonathan looked at the sling.

“I’m so sorry. Was it broken after all?”

“Yes.” She looked hostile.

Jonathan fished in his pocket.

“I found this under the market stall. Is it yours?”

She reached out and grasped it. She pressed it to her cheek.

“I suppose I should say thank you,” she rasped.

“My pleasure,” murmured Jonathan.

He hesitated – and walked away.

Even though it was Sunday, the Christmas market was open. As he left the church, Jonathan could hear the mechanical organ of the carousel. He mooched, hands in pockets, towards it.

What on earth had possessed him last Friday? The raucous music had stirred him, lured him onto the ride, set his feet dancing as he dismounted – and sent him spinning into a young woman with golden hair and grey-blue eyes, knocking her headlong.

And now he knew that the accident had broken her arm. It was hardly surprising that she didn’t want to see him again.

He watched as the brightly painted horses, with their gilded manes, raced in endless, futile pursuit. There was no exhilaration left in the day. The sun had disappeared and a fine drizzle was slowly soaking him.

He felt a tap on his shoulder.

She stood, looking apologetic.

“I’m sorry I snubbed you in the church. You took me by surprise – not that that’s an excuse! I’m Susan, by the way.”

“I’m Jonathan”. He smiled. “Shall we have coffee together?”

Susan smiled back. “I’d like that. Thank you!”

 

 

 

What Pegman Saw – A resourceful rogue

A Resourceful Rogue

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the 360 degree view of the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location, St Petersburg, Russia, on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code.

WPS - St Petersburg 170916

“So many tourists, and not an ounce of piety among them,” thought the babushka, as she pushed her way into the gorgeously decorated interior of the church. Sergei, the beggar, didn’t bother to call to her. He knew she would give him nothing; she was probably nearly as poor as he was.

Ah! Americans! Sergei checked the police weren’t watching. He noticed a young woman’s eyes flick over him. “I’ll try the ‘Sick child’,” he thought.

“Please! My child is sick.”

“Oh, how awful!”

Stella pressed a ten-dollar bill into Sergei’s hands, smiled at him, and entered the church.

“Which icon is Jesus?” she asked. The babushka sniffed at the woman’s ignorance.

Jesus gazed down compassionately on them, the old woman remembering hunger from the long-distant past and the young one hungry for culture and the future. He grinned as he looked at Sergei. He’d always loved a resourceful rogue!

For those who are interested in Jesus’ love for a resourceful rogue, the biblical reference is Luke 16 vv 1 – 13

The circle of life

I’ve posted predominantly flash fiction for a number of weeks recently. However, I haven’t given up on longer forms, and I’ve been working at incorporating the lessons I’ve learned from flash fiction into a full-length short story. ‘The circle of life’ is a little over 2000 words, and will take about 10-15 minutes to read. I hope you enjoy it!

The circle of life - Lamb 170906

The circle of life

The blades of the plough sliced smoothly through the soil, peeling the ground into ribbons of compacted earth that rolled aside in long straight rows. Rooks followed the plough, feasting on the earthworms it turned up. Fluttering around telephone wires, the swallows were restless. It was nearly time to migrate.

Robert, as he walked alone, studied the pattern of the furrows, which the sun, low in the clear autumn sky, made stark. He strode down the gentle gradient from his cottage in Hillfold, lingered briefly at the Withy Brook to enjoy the chuckle of its tumbling water, and then on to Midham.

There is a post office and general store in the village of Midham which stocks everything you would reasonably expect and some things you wouldn’t. There are tins of Irish stew, tins of cling peaches, tins of sardines. There are sweets, tobacco products and booze. There is angling equipment, because the owner, Tom, is an angler. And, of course, there are newspapers.

Robert went in and bought ‘The Times’, as he did every day. The shop would have delivered for a modest charge – Robert could easily have afforded it – but he enjoyed his walk, and, more to the point, he enjoyed meeting people there. For Robert was a widower; he was retired, and he lived on his own.

As he chatted to Tom about the village quiz, a woman, a stranger, came in.

“Have you got anything for cleaning a ceramic hob?” she asked Tom. She had a noticeable accent; Yorkshire, thought Robert. Tom shook his head.

“Sorry. You’ll need to go into town for that.”

“When do the buses run? I suppose there is a bus?”

“Eight o’clock in the morning and five o’clock in the afternoon, but there’s no bus back in the afternoon.”

“So I’ve missed it, then.”

“If you like, you can use some of mine.”

“That’s very kind,” said the woman, doubtfully.

“No problem,” and Tom vanished through the curtained opening at the back of the shop.

“New here?” asked Robert.

“Moved in two days ago. Still living out of cardboard boxes.” Her hair was dark, streaked with grey.

“Here we are.” Tom handed her the cleaner.

“Thank you, I’ll bring it back in ten minutes, if that’s okay?”

“No rush.”

Tom watched her with a smile on his face until she’d left the shop, then he went to the window and watched her walk down the street.

“Number 11,” he told Robert. “Good-looking woman, eh?”

“Very pleasant,” agreed Robert, although truth to tell he’d hardly noticed her appearance.

Paper bought and conversation finished, he walked on through the village. Out of curiosity he glanced at the front window of number 11.

“Of course, she’ll be in the kitchen at the back,” he murmured to himself.

*       *       *       *

December came. The frosts were early and hard that year. Robert’s breath steamed as he walked. He watched diligently for patches of ice. “Have I reached the age when I would ‘have a fall,’ rather than ‘fall over’?” he wondered. The grasses beside the Withy Brook were rimed and white.

He noticed her as soon as he entered the shop.

“Good morning. Settling in now?”

She smiled. The skin beside her eyes crinkled attractively. “Yes. Only a few cardboard boxes of books left now. Why do they never build houses with enough bookshelves?” Her accent was definitely Yorkshire; her laugh was gentle.

“I have a spare bookcase in my garage doing nothing. It won’t fit in my cottage, but I could never bring myself to dispose of it. Would you like it?”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that. If it’s a treasure that you’ve kept, I mean.”

“Book cases are meant for books. I’d be delighted if it fulfilled its true function.” He looked at her, and then, surprising himself, said, “I’m Robert, by the way. Would you fancy having dinner with me in the Jester’s Motley some time?”

“A man who values books. A bookish man. Dinner in the Motley? I’d like that very much indeed, thank you, Robert. My name’s Helen. Just in case you didn’t already know.”

“Helen. Lovely name. I’ll bring the bookcase round this afternoon – Helen.”

*       *       *       *

March departed with a shout. April crept in, with gentle sun and balmy air, and Robert and Helen walked side by side past the Withy Brook. Water, turbid and brown, pooled upstream of the bridge. There were large puddles on the road.

“Two days ago this was under six inches of water,” observed Robert.

“You told me. You had to go the other way to visit me.”

“Oh dear! Repeating myself. A boring old man!”

“Never that, Robert. Not old, and certainly not boring.” She squeezed his hand. “I was amazed to see you in the stormy weather. You could have been squashed by that tree that came down! And the rain – I’ve never seen rain like it!”

They strolled on, comfortable, relaxed.

“Oh, look, Robert! That lamb must be new-born. Look how wobbly his little legs are. I must take a photo!”

Robert smiled as Helen pulled out her phone, and crouched on the verge to take the picture. She was sixty-one years old, medium height, with square shoulders. She gave an impression of brisk competence, energy and enjoyment of life. Robert realised suddenly that she was beautiful.

“Mind the ditch,” he called as she edged forward.

“Oh, you. Mr Cautious,” she grumbled, but cheerfully.

They ambled back to Midham. “Would you like a cup of tea? I’ve baked a cake. Carrot cake!”

“Sounds delicious.”

And it was.

“Why don’t you stay for dinner?”

Robert hesitated.

“Don’t you like my cooking?”

“I love your cooking. It’s just…” Robert paused. He couldn’t think of how to say what he felt he should.

“You’re afraid I shall drag you into my bed? Well, the idea’s tempting but I think I can probably just about control the urge.” She was grinning, but Robert was not.

“Don’t joke about it,” he pleaded.

Helen’s face softened. “I’m sorry, Robert. You’re right; it’s too important to joke about. But do you mind if I say something?”

“No, go ahead.”

“Well. We’re not old, Robert, but we’re definitely nearer our end than our beginning. We don’t know how long we’ve got. For my part, I’d like to spend as many as possible of my remaining years with you. And, yes, I mean in my bed as well as every other part of my life.” She scanned his face anxiously.

Robert had shrunk back into the far corner of the settee they jointly occupied. His hands were clasped over his knees.

“What’s the matter, my dear?”

Robert just shook his head. “I don’t know,” he answered eventually. “I’ve been on my own such a long time, and everything had settled down, and now it’s…I don’t know.”

“You must have loved Margaret very much.”

“How do you know about Margaret?”

“Oh, Robert, this is a village. Everybody knows everything about everyone.”

He was shaking.

“I loved her so much, and she suffered, Helen, she suffered, and I couldn’t help her. And now, I’m starting… I’m starting…”

He stood up. “I must go. Thank you for the invitation. I must go.”

She helped him put on his coat. “You’ll need that; it’s getting cold,” and then she kissed him firmly, on the lips. He gasped, turned aside, gripped her arms. They stood still, cheeks touching. Helen could hear his uneven breath, feel the tickle of it on her face. His hands became gentle on her, neither seeking to control nor to cling on. Then he kissed her, briefly, softly, once, on the cheek, and departed.

Helen closed the front door quietly and took a deep breath.

*       *       *       *

Nearly a week passed and Helen heard nothing from Robert. He would normally have phoned her on Thursday so they could go together in his car to the supermarket; but this week he didn’t.

Instead, Helen caught the bus into town. She was cross with the check-out girl, and then felt she should go back and apologise. Which made her late for the return bus. Which meant a taxi ride home, fifteen pounds that she could ill afford. And when she arrived home mid-afternoon, she realised that she’d forgotten to buy potatoes.

“Damn and blast,” she said, and stomped out of the house to the village store.

“Sorry, Helen, I sold the last of the fresh ‘taters ten minutes ago. I’ve got tinned ones.”

Helen took the can off the shelf, banged it down by the till.

Tom looked sidelong at her.

“Your friend alright? He’s normally in here every day for his newspaper. He hasn’t been in for the last three days. Looked a bit peaky, you know, coughing a lot. That’s two pounds seventy, please.”

“Oh, I think I’d better have a tin of soup as well.” She took down a tin of chicken broth.

“That’s four pounds forty altogether.”

“Tom, you’re a highwayman.”

Back home, Helen packed the soup, a loaf, butter and some fruit into a backpack, and set off for Hillfold. The Withy Brook swirled and gurgled as she passed, its dark waters sinister under the indigo sky.

There were no lights on in Robert’s cottage. Helen pounded on the knocker. There was no reply. Heart thumping, she went to the garage and lifted the door. Yes, Robert’s car was there.

The rear garden was full of shadow. She could hardly see where she was going. She felt her way to the back door, turned the handle and pushed. The door stayed fast shut. What now?

She went back to the front of the cottage and stood irresolute by the door. Should she try knocking again?

She took hold of the handle and turned it. The door opened. There was a moment’s satisfaction, and then her concern redoubled. Robert would never have gone out leaving the door unlocked. As she entered, her feet kicked envelopes aside.

“Robert?”

Her voice quavered.

“Robert!”

She reached out her right hand and turned on the light in the hall. There was a handful of post under her feet.

She looked into the sitting room. Nobody there, but she left the light on; it gave her courage. She glanced into the little kitchen. There were some dirty dishes on the table. Her heart sank. Robert never left things dirty.

“Robert!”

Helen, full of trepidation, climbed the stairs. This was the first time she’d been upstairs in his cottage. She listened. Was that the noise of somebody breathing? She pushed open the bedroom door.

The room stank. Robert lay on the bed, eyes closed.

“Robert?”

He didn’t move.

Helen placed her hand on his forehead. He was burning hot.

The ambulance arrived quickly, in less than fifteen minutes. Less than five minutes after that, Robert was in the vehicle, a saline drip in his arm and an oxygen mask over his face.

“Will he be alright?” Helen begged.

The paramedic gave her a look, full of compassion. “We’ll do our best for him, but he’s a very sick man. If you hadn’t found him, I don’t think he would have made it through the night.”

After the ambulance had left for the hospital, Helen sank down on the settee in the sitting room. How could she have been so self-centred as to assume that Robert’s absence was because he hadn’t wanted to see her again? Why hadn’t she called him? She shuddered with the dread that he might die.

Eventually she rose, extinguished the lights and set off home. She locked Robert’s door after her, and tucked the key into her purse. Tomorrow, she would come and clean everything, in the hope that Robert would pull through.

*       *       *       *

The summer sun was hot on Robert’s shoulders as he walked hand-in-hand with Helen. He wore a carnation in his buttonhole, and she a broad-brimmed straw hat on her grey-streaked hair. The Withy Brook was back within its banks, which were green and flower-speckled.

“Robert, look! That’s the lamb I photographed in April, all grown up – I swear it is! Have I got two minutes?”

“Go on, then!”

The bells of Midham church sang across the fields.

Robert and Helen looked at each other, kissed and strolled on.

Tom, resplendent in a college blazer that must have been thirty years old, emerged from the Post Office and Village Store and turned over the sign to read ‘Closed’, before joining Robert and Helen. Friends greeted them, and then followed them to the church. And there Robert and Helen exchanged their vows; for richer, for poorer (I couldn’t be richer, thought Helen); in sickness and in health (I must try not to be a burden on her, thought Robert); till death us do part (to which we can all say ‘Amen’, and hope that the parting is long delayed!)

 

The Stranger

This story is not set in any well-defined location. It probably most closely resembles the USA in the 1950s, but I’ve made no attempt to make it realistic. It’s a story about community. While a community is often very supportive to its members, it’s not necessarily welcoming to outsiders, and it can place obstacles in the way of those who dream of a wider horizon…

The stranger - church - winter 170325

The young man staggered down the hill and into the village.

It was Sunday morning. The night had been cold, and people were dressed in their warmest overcoats as they walked to church.

The young man was in shirtsleeves, and tattered ones at that. His hair was unkempt, and his eyes were wild.

“He must be frozen,” murmured Hannah, the pastor’s eldest daughter.

“He’s been drinking,” responded her aunt, tartly.

Although it was snowy underfoot, the stranger was wearing light shoes rather than boots; they looked as inadequate as the rest of his outfit.

He seemed glad of the support of the church porch, and clung there for a moment. A small queue started to form. The woman greeting people at the door caught the eye of the pastor, Charles Montez, who hurried over.

“Come in, sir, come in. Welcome!”

Charles Montez looked around the small building. He expected a full house this morning; he was baptising Jenny Holmes’s child. There was a stove halfway down one side, with a space beside it to allow coal to be shovelled in. He fetched a chair, and put it in the space. The stranger stared at him.

“Sit there, sir, sit there. And welcome once again.”

The stranger spoke.

“Da!”

He sat down. Gradually his shaking subsided. His eyes closed. Charles noticed. He fetched some old, heavy curtains from the back of the vestry, and covered the stranger, tucking the fabric close around him.

The church filled. The mayor, Jenny’s uncle, arrived in his civic robes and chain, and paraded to the front. His wife, Gloria, caught sight of the tramp, huddled under the blankets asleep. She frowned, and compressed her lips. She squeezed her husband’s elbow and pointed at the pile of curtains.

“David,” she hissed, “you just have a word with the pastor after the service. This is supposed to be a special day for us!”

Charles was patient. “What would you have me do, Dave? Throw the man out into the snow?”

“You know how it is, Charley.” Dave tilted his head in the direction of Gloria, who was holding court at the back of the church. Charles nodded. He knew.

“He turned up here just before the service. Come a long way by the look of him. Doesn’t seem to speak English either. I’m not quite sure what we can do with him. I’ll leave him to sleep for now, but he’ll need somewhere to stay tonight.”

The two men looked at the congregation drinking coffee at the back of the church.

“I’ll phone the police when I’m home. See if anybody’s missed him. I’ll let you know, shall I?”

“If you would, Dave. I wouldn’t want to park a convict on any of my flock. On the other hand, I can’t turn him away.”

Charles collected a coffee. Half a dozen people wanted to compliment him on the sermon. Three people wanted to discuss church business. As always, he deflected them gently. He didn’t believe in settling matters by the whisperings of two or three people; he insisted that if a decision was needed, the whole church should have a chance to speak. He drifted in the direction of Joe and Val.

Val was apologetic but firm. “Normally, as you know, Pastor, we would love to take in the stranger, but we’ve a houseful of guests, three people in every bedroom and two in the study. The family has come over for the New Year…”

In the end, Charles took him to the manse. Julieta rolled her eyes at him. Their house was almost as full as Joe and Val’s. What was she: a miracle worker?

“You’re my miracle worker anyway,” he said, kissing her.

“Oh, you! Go and peel the potatoes. I’ll see if any of your old clothes will fit him.”

First, though, he would need a bath; and a shave and haircut, too. She called her eldest son, Matthew.

“Just take our new friend – I’m sorry, I don’t know your name?” She looked at their guest. He looked back mutely, frowning. “Anyway, run him a bath, and lend him a razor. See if he’d like your sister to give him a haircut.”

Matthew grinned. He gestured at himself. “Matt!” he said to the guest, “Matt!” Then he pointed to his mom. “Julieta!”

The man’s face cleared. He pointed to himself. “Eevan!”

Matt pointed at him. “Eevan?” he said.

“Da! Eevan!”

Matt put his arm around Eevan. “Come on! We’ll soon have you sorted out!”

Half an hour later Eevan looked a great deal more comfortable, clean and in clothes the pastor had last worn some twenty years ago. Julieta blessed her habit of never throwing away anything that was still useable. Matt touched Eevan’s wet hair and pantomimed snipping with scissors.

“Da. Spasseebo.”

“Wait here. I’ll fetch Hannah.”

Hannah shuffled a university prospectus out of sight as Matt came into the room she shared with her sisters. She would love to study, but what would her family think? She coloured a little as Matt asked her to cut Eevan’s hair.

“Will you stay with me while I do it? He frightens me a little.”

“Course I will, Sis. But he’s a lot nicer now. Doesn’t smell so bad, either!” He wrinkled his nose.

Hannah laughed.

“You shouldn’t be so rude about a guest!”

Eevan sitting in a chair, clean and in old but serviceable clothes, was indeed a much less formidable proposal. As she spread a towel round his shoulders, Hannah noticed how the bones protruded. She was surprised by his hair. It had been cut in ragged tufts, and some parts seemed to have been pulled out altogether. But she just clipped away, keeping up a soothing flow of conversation, and every now and again catching Eevan’s eye and smiling shyly.

By the time Hannah had finished – it didn’t take her long – Eevan was quite presentable. Julieta put all his old clothes into the washing machine, and what remained of his shoes into the scullery. She clicked her teeth and wondered how they were to help their new friend. Never mind; sufficient unto the day.

Later that evening, Matt took his dad on one side.

“There’s an odd thing about Eevan,” he said. “On his left forearm, about halfway up on the inside, there’s a number tattooed. 576A, it is.” He raised his eyebrows.

“Interesting. Well, we can’t do other than take him at face value tonight, but I’ll tell Dave in the morning. He was going to check with the police, to see if anybody had gone missing hereabouts.”

But Dave’s enquiries yielded no answers.

Eevan picked up a few words of English. He helped about the house, and then in some of the heavier outdoor tasks. Charles began to wonder how he might be employed; it wasn’t good for a man to have no regular work. He wondered, too, whether Hannah might not be feeling intrigued by Eevan; he’d seen her glancing at him and blushing when she realised he’d noticed.

That would be awkward; Hannah and Stephen, Dave’s son, had been walking out for a couple of years. Anybody could see how attractive they found each other. The whole town assumed that they were going to marry.

“That’s a strange guest you’ve had since Christmas.” Stephen was scornful. “I reckon your dad should kick him out. Doesn’t speak English, doesn’t work. A freeloader.”

“He’s not been here that long, only a few months. He helps a lot about the house.” Hannah was gentle in her contradiction.

“Helps about the house? Well I should just think he does. Does he wear a pinny and do the baking?”

Hannah went pink.

“Eevan is a good man, Stephen. He’s gentle and thoughtful, and a friend.”

“Well, he’d better not get ideas, that’s all, or this town will be too hot for him.”

A couple of days later, Eevan asked Matthew if he could help himself to some wire from the shed.

“Sure. What are you going to do? Do you want a hand?”

Eevan shook his head. “You will like,” he promised.

He returned late that evening, carrying three young rabbits, and sporting a large bruise on his left cheek. He presented the rabbits to Julieta with a bow and a smile.

“Why, thank you! I wondered what we were going to eat tomorrow, and now I know. Coney stew! Eevan – Spasseebo!”

Eevan bowed again, and beamed with delight

Stephen took Hannah to the cinema that evening, picking her up in his car. Hannah wondered how it was that he could afford a new car, when her dad could only manage a ten-year-old Ford.

As soon as the feature started, Stephen started to kiss her. She normally enjoyed that – who doesn’t? – but tonight she wasn’t in the mood. She put her finger on her lips.

“I want to watch the movie,” she said, even though she didn’t.

When his hand started to reach under her skirt, she elbowed him hard in the ribs.

“Get off,” she hissed.

Stephen scowled.

When they were back in the car, Hannah let him kiss her. She couldn’t think of a way of stopping him without causing a quarrel. But when he tried again to pet her, she hitched herself away from him.

“I’m sorry, Stephen, I’m not in the mood. If you must know, I’m on my period.” Even though she wasn’t.

Stephen gripped the steering wheel and groaned. “Bloody women!”

Then a smirk slithered across his face.

“That precious lodger of yours won’t forget today, though.”

Hannah stared at him.

“Knocked him right out.” The smirk was accompanied by a wriggling in the seat.

“You knocked him out?”

“Sure. Well, me and Ken together. I don’t reckon he’ll want to hang around too much longer, now he knows the townsfolk don’t want him.”

“You beast! That was a horrible thing to do. I hate you!” Hannah jerked the car door open.

“Hey, where’re you going?”

“Away from you. I’m finished with you. I hate you!”

“Whoah! Do you have feelings for that lowlife? What does that make you then? I don’t know why I’ve been wasting my time on you!”

He hit her. She fell to the ground, weeping, and he drove away.

She was just in time to catch the cinema manager as he locked up. “No Stephen?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

“No. We’ve just split up. He hit me.”

“I’ll ring your dad.”  They went back into the cinema, and he rang from the ticket office and stayed with her. It was only ten minutes before there was a screech of tyres from outside, and Charles came panting in. He wrapped both big arms around his daughter and held her tight.

Her sobs stilled as they drove home, and she said “Can I talk to you about something serious, Dad?”

“Of course, love. Will it wait until we’re home?”

“Mom’ll be all over us. You know how she fusses. Anyway, it’s quite quick to say, although it’s quite slow to think about. I’d like to go to university, Dad. I couldn’t think how to ask when it seemed I was going to marry Stephen, but even then it was what I really wanted to do.”

Charles pulled up at the side of the road.

“You’ll have to live a long way from home,” he said. “Your mom and I will miss you. I don’t know whether we can afford the money, either. But we’ll see what can be done. I’ll back you if mom feels too concerned. Is that good enough?”

“Thank you, Dad.” The smile on Hannah’s face told Charles all he needed to know.

A fortnight later, Eevan disappeared.

Charles spoke to David. He spoke to the police. They took the details and made some cursory enquiries. But nobody in the town ever saw Eevan again.

 

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