Archive | June, 2011

MRS. C

22 Jun

  

                   

Compared to the little woman whose personality could fill a football stadium and whose smile could brighten a lifetime, the cardboard box was anathema. Brown, beige, diminutive, it was pathetic. Delivered by FedEx, she’d sat patiently outside in hundred-degree Arizona temperatures until he’d finally arrived home from work, but hadn’t complained. Now the box sat on the kitchen table with utility bills, credit card offers, chances to win cars, holidays, and a million dollars in prizes.  

            He’d done his best to ignore her, the fact she’d left him was hard enough, but it was difficult. She permeated the house. Her scent was on everything he touched, her presence still apparent throughout what had once been a happy home.  

            She’d left clear instructions and in her final days had been adamant that he fulfill her wishes. Propped up in bed with giant pillows, she’d scribbled directions into a notebook, her gaze as weak as the lemonade that stood on her bedside table. She knew he would do as she asked. He always had. Why should the fact that she was going away change that? 

*  

            He’d spent time on the computer perusing containers and vessels, compared and contrasted, priced and checked, for availability. Something worthy, not too expensive but not too cheap either. The sky was the limit and for a couple of hundred he could get a one-of-a-kind, signed by the artist, in a limited edition. 

             She wouldn’t want that though, she wasn’t that kind of girl. She’d never been flamboyant or ostentatious – subtle as a brick, effectively understated, disarmingly charming is the description she probably would’ve used. He’d whittled the choice down to two. A biodegradable container her politics would have agreed with; the other, a Victorian styled ceramic her eye would have adored. He opted for the ceramic. Sod the expense. What did it really matter anyway?  

            The container he’d ordered sat on the table next to the FedEx box. They’d stood together for the best part of two weeks. Two brown boxes side by side, like bookends, or those china dogs old ladies kept in front parlor windows.  

            He didn’t have the heart. Sure, he’d carried her over the threshold back when they were first married, and to the car in the middle of the night when she’d been pregnant. But she’d been lighter then, and it had been no effort at all. Now that she was cooped up in cardboard she may as well have been made from lead, the table she stood on the height of Everest. He couldn’t get past the emotion it would take to conquer either. Instead he had breakfast with her in the mornings, chatted with her of an evening and told her about his day. At other times they enjoyed companionable silence. He’d watch some rubbish on the television and she’d stand on the table. 

            As the weeks passed he came to understand that she really wasn’t gone, that she was still very much with him. Hadn’t they promised? Hadn’t they made vows to that effect? Weren’t they legally contracted? He was sure that he’d signed something somewhere. She still had that same effect on him, knew when he was sparing with the truth, knew that given time she would wheedle it out of him. But showing emotion wasn’t the manly thing to do. As he held her in cubed remembrance, he shed tears that coursed down his face and dampened the cardboard. He fought to control himself. He didn’t want to burden her any more than was necessary – she had enough on her plate as it was.  

            He knew that he must, but didn’t want to. How does one decant ones wife of thirty years? Should he open the box and let her breath for a while? Walk her around the house one last time perhaps before interring her forever, or does one shake-and-scoop like old cat litter?  

            The day before he’d put her in the car. Sitting on the dashboard like a plastic saint, they’d revisited all the old familiar places. He’d walked with her down by the river, visited the blue-bell wood where they’d first kissed, and placed her on the bar at the Kings Head so that they could enjoy a last drink together. Ignoring the looks of the other patrons he’d placed the glass of wine in front of the box. 

He saw their glances, knew they would never understand. 

He’d drizzled a little over her. If it had been old times she would have squealed with mock fear, admonished him for being childish. A man of sixty five years, what was he playing at?  

*  

            The box was finally opened, the morning sun beaming through finger-streaked glass. Inside was a plastic bag that contained what looked like talcum powder. The only thing between her and freedom was the elastic band that held her captive within. As he released it, he watched as small mots of dust escaped from the bag and floated in the sunshine. Not so much dust, but her. He closed the bag quickly, his hands squeezing the bag a little too tightly. She puffed above the table, wafted in the draft, and slowly spread herself across the room.  

            He could hear her laughing as she draped herself on furniture, lounged on top of cupboards and danced across the tiles. She wasn’t the shy and retiring type, it was typical behavior. A social butterfly, she’d flit in an out of conversations at his Company parties, mist between guests, and waterfall her enthusiasm among friends and new acquaintances.  

            He poured her gently from plastic to ceramic, rather like a check-out a boy at the supermarket fulfilling the whim of an environmentally conscious customer. She didn’t complain, didn’t cry out, she simply slicked though his fingers and deposited herself. Task completed he looked at the bag. There was still a little of her left inside.  

            He took her to the sink, opened the faucet, and filled the bag with water. She swam easily with broad strokes, splashing and waving. He then carried her to the large-leafed plant she used to play music for and talk to, and emptied her into the plant pot. She’d sworn that it listened better than he did. She was right of course, even when she wasn’t.  

            He finally came to a decision. He couldn’t let her go. There was no way he was driving miles to abandon her in some secluded spot. Safely sifted and transferred he carried her gingerly and placed her next to the couch. The place where they cuddled up of an evening, where she’d asked if he still loved her after thirty years. Hadn’t she realized that thirty years through thick and thin were testament enough? Love etched in blood, sweat, tears, hard work, children, and second mortgages. But that was over now, no more worries, no more concerns. Now it was just him and her.  

            He turned on the television and flicked through the channels. The Antiques Roadshow – they enjoyed that. Some old boy was showing off a leather bound heirloom, avarice gleaming in his eyes. He turned to the porcelain vase. “What do you think Babe? Worth a thousand dollars?” Her silence spoke volumes.  

            “Expect you’re right,” he said. He snuggled down enjoying the moment. It was good to have her home.

 

 

THOU SHALT NOT…

20 Jun

  

Honey dripped from hazel eyes as she gazed back at him. Wearing nothing but a come-hither smile, her sunkissed,  beachdusted perfection, lounged lazily in Caribbean sunshine. He could smell her, taste her, wanted her so badly…

*

Suddenly there was a bang on the bathroom door. “What the hell you doing in there?” 

Sam shocked back to reality from girly-mag reverie, and quickly stashed the source of his desire behind the cistern.“Alright, alright, hold your horses!” 

“Don’t give me no cheek boy” came his father’s agitated voice from behind the door. “Bloody finish up and get out of there. I’ve got to be at work  in an hour.” 

He flushed, even though it wasn’t necessary, then ran the tap to simulate good  hygiene – playing the part and cloaking adolescent desire. What was wrong with him, why couldn’t he get a girl? He opened the door and his father pushed past. 

 “Bout time too. You’ll go bloody blind you know.” 

“Give over dad, I was using the toilet.” 

His dad closed the door.

Blondes, brunettes, redheads and ravens. Big girls, small girls, fat girls, thin girls. Cheeky school girls and air stewardesses. Robust farm girls and sultry teachers. Naughty secretaries and wanton bus conductors. Every kind of female imaginable was available at the turn of a page. He had access to them all. 

 The world of women had revealed itself since finding his dad’s stash at the back of the garage. It wasn’t as though he’d been snooping. It was his father who’d told Sam to clean out the garage and that’s where he’d discovered the mother lode. Like a gift from heaven he’d found legions of them hidden in cardboard boxes, just waiting to be manhandled, perused, and lusted over. He’d lost count of the sleepless nights he had endured, his mind focused and fixated on one thing – Girls.

 He’d come to understand them perfectly, learned about their psyche, knew what it was that real women wanted. Listed and catalogued within the pages of the magazines, alongside articles on super cars and real ale, the mysterious world of woman was revealed. As much as he enjoyed the features it was the pictures that truly expressed a thousand words. He’d imagined what it would be like,  pictured the scene, lived every detail a thousand times. He’d even memorized their names. Candy, Abby, Susie, Brittany. Names that rolled off the toungue. Girls you wouldn’t be ashamed to introduce to your mum. Course they were a bit flighty – open minded is what the magazines called it. But deep down behind the sultry looks and spread-legged invitation they were good girls, nice girls – the girls next door. 

So why was it then, as the uncrowned king of adult literature, he couldn’t capture one of those sloe-eyed beauties for himself? He was quickly discovering that the old adage “the more you know, the little you know” also applied to the female fraternity. He wasn’t a bad looking lad and he certainly wasn’t stupid. True he didn’t have a lot of money, but that wasn’t really what women were looking for. Right?  

His mum had told him he was good looking and a couple of his cousins had said the same thing. Q.E.D. he was a catch. So why was it he couldn’t get caught? All his mates were seeing somebody. Some of them had even done the deed, and if what they were telling him was true, then he was missing out. Maybe he’d never find anybody? Maybe romance and love would slip by without him ever knowing a woman. He had to be quick about it. If he didn’t meet a woman soon, he’d probably die. The buildup of seminal fluid in his body would turn toxic, and if he didn’t burst he would surely drown. The paramedics would find him leaking from every orifice and he’d be interned and beatified in the local church yard. But who wanted to be revered for sainthood? There was already one virgin in the church, they didn’t need another!

That evening Sam went to the pub, The Queen’s Legs, open from six till ten-thirty – a standing joke in the small village. His mate John was standing at the bar, pint in hand, fag in mouth. There was totty everywhere, girls dressed-and-bested in makeup and high heels. They were out there waiting in the wilds of pub land to be hunted down, amused, wooed and cosseted. It wasn’t for lack of trying, he’d given it his best shot. Used all the one liners, tried to be smooth, offered to buy drinks. The best he’d achieved so far was a half hearted smile, a  bugger off  and an, “ If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll tell me boyfriend.” John understood his pain, he’d been through the same thing. 

 “You ain’t got no strength, that’s your problem. No pulling power, no manliness about you. Women can see that, and I knows what women wants. A real man, someone who’ll chuck ‘em about a bit, or stand up for ‘em if needs be. They want a bastard see, not some bloke that’s going to buy em flowers. You’ve got to be tough with ’em.” 

Sam had tried that, walked into the pubs like he owned the place, and ignored the supping-sirens. Only problem was the women he was supposed to be ignoring had done the same thing to him. In a Mexican-standoff of unrequited lust, he’d spent hours in pubs alone, sipping half-pints of shandy. Pathetic. 

“What you need is fairy moans. It’s like elixir. Gives a man an edge, if you know what I mean,” said John as he winked, waving his forearm in front of him. “Once you get some of that on you, you’ll be irresistible. Women will fall at your feet. None of the snooty-cows will be able to resist you.”

 “Fairy moans,” Sam asked,“ what’s that then?” 

“It’s like a chemical see. You put it on your self after a bath. It works like magic. Dabb a bit here,” he said pointing behind his ears, “and down there,” he pointed to his zipper, “and Bob’s your uncle. You’ll have more pulling power than a Russian weight lifter.” 

“ Where am I going to get some of those then?” Sam asked. 

 “Look in the back of those spank-mags you found.” The discovery in his father’s garage had travelled far and wide and was the only thing keeping him afloat in his friends estimation. “Fairy moans, they advertise them in the back.”

*

The next morning, nobody was at home. Sam locked the bathroom door and sat on the loo, reached behind the cistern and pulled out the magazine he’d hidden earlier in the week. Quickly skipping past Miss October, past the twins and the reader’s wives section, he flicked to the back of the magazine. There it was just as John had told him. Fairy moans.  

Pheremones. The inner strength a man requires. Discover the secret of love – what truly attracts woman to a man. 

 The article took up a full page. Lots of color photos of women with cherries gripped between their teeth, or holding tightly onto baseball bats and metal poles. 

Liquid engineering for lovers. The chemical concoction for copulation. Bliss in a bottle. Get any woman you want instantly.  

What more did he need ? If his suave patter and trendy clothes weren’t doing the trick then he was going to have to up his game. A hundred and eighty pounds was a lot of money and he’d have to dig deep to come up with the cash. It didn’t matter – the rewards, according to the advertisement, were clearly worth the financial sacrifice. Sexual strength and animal man-ism were within his grasp. It was precisely what he needed to do.

A week passed before the goods arrived. He tore open the brown nondescript envelope, mindful of the fragile sticker. The bottle was as big as an eyed dropper, with a picture of a roaring lion on the front.  This was it – bottled, backboned brawniness. The missing ingredient required to improve his manly fortitude. Sam was satisfied with his purchase. If this was going to turn him into a steam roller of love, a stalwart of sexual tension, then he’d spent his savings wisely.

It was Friday night and he was supposed to be meeting John down at the pub. Showered and shaved, suited and booted, Sam was dressed to impress. It was the weekly disco and he was determined to succeed in his quest for love. Things were coming to a head, relief was no longer at hand; he needed a girl. Sure he was prepared to be charming and funny but there was an urgency. It needed to happen, and it needed to happen soon. He opened his bedside drawer and looked at the roaring lion. 

 What the hell. 

 He opened the bottle. There was a faint smell of almonds. He used the plastic applicator, dabbed it behind his ears, on his neck, and for good measure stuck it down his trousers. In for a penny, in for a pound.

* 

The pub was full, there were girls everywhere. John was at the end of the bar. “What you drinking mate, lager? Garcon, two pints if you please.” 

A girl pushed up beside Sam. The usual stuck-up-bitch that wouldn’t give him the time of day. He ignored her and turned back to his pint. The hand on his shoulder surprised him. He turned to experience minty breath and perfect dentistry. “Hey, I’m Anastasia. What’s your name?” 

Sam nearky choked. Nothing came out of his mouth. A unitelligeble hum of air hissed over his teeth, but nothing else. The brunette with the perfect complexion reached forward and kissed him full on the lips. He could taste strawberries and his brain exploded. “Give me a call,” she said and wrote her name in lipstick on the back of a beer mat. 

Bloody hell. What just happened? 

John smiled. “Told you fairy moans. You can’t go wrong. You’re going to get more bum than a toilet seat!” 

A blonde pushed between them, waved to the bartender and then turned to stare at Sam. “Do I know you? She asked. “You have the most beautiful eyes. There’s something about you; would you like to go for dinner, drinks, anything?” 

And so it went on. By the end of the night Sam had a pocketfull of telephone numbers, chapped lips, and had committed a carnal act with a mature Sharon Stone lookalike in a PVC dress in the mens bathroom. Truly anointed by the gods, Sam couldn’t believe how his luck had turned around. Life was good. Life was fairy moans. The only disappointment was that he’d only been blessed with one Willy! 

“Last orders please!” the bartender called. It was time – the disco was closing and people were making their way to the exit. 

Sam, finally unencumbered by female flesh turned to his mate, the gratitude in his eyes obvious. “John.  I can’t thank you enough, this has been the night of my life!” 

John smiled. 

Sam stuck out his hand in appreciation to shake the hand of the man that had changed his life, and then recoiled in horror, nearly tripping over the bar stool. What the heck? 

John’s palm was covered in thick, matted hair. The two men stared at each other. 

“Fairy moans,” said John shrugging his shoulders, and walked towards the exit.

JOSEPHINE…

18 Jun

  

             

Northern England, 1960’s (written in black-and-white)

 The factory whistle blew. A single, solitary blast that reverberated off smoke-blackened brick.

                “Thank fuck for that. Thought it was never going to end. Any plans for the weekend Jim?”

                “Might go down to the United ground and watch the match,” said his mate.

                “United are shite, they are! You want to support a decent team like Villa. Now they’ve got a manager who knows his stuff.”

                A man in an oily overall switched off his lathe and wiped his grimy hands with cotton waste.

                “What about you Alf? Anything special going on?”

                The man in the overalls turned to the two men. “It’s our lass’s birthday tomorrow. Her mother’s putting on a bit of a do.”

                The two other men nudged each other and grinned. “That’ll be your youngest, Josephine won’t it?”

                “Aye, that’s right, sixteen she’ll be,” Alf said.

                “Sweet sixteen.” The United man whistled. “Suppose we’ll be seeing her down at the dance on Friday?”

                The man with oily hands stared at his colleagues. “Don’t be getting ant funny ideas. I’ll knock your bleeding blocks off.”

                The two men laughed. “What us, Alf? You know us better than that mate!”

                Alf shook his head. He knew the buggers alright. “Anyroad, I’m here till seven. Got me sen a bit of overtime.”

                The two men turned to leave. “Right, then we’re off to The Lion for a couple of pints. Maybe see you down there?”

                “Aye, maybe.” Alf muttered noncommittally.

                “Happy birthday to your lass.”

                Alf turned back to the lathe, chucked the bit, and turned the power back on. Two more hours and he’d be out of this dump. Twenty years he’d put in at Rawlings Engineering and what did he have to show for it?

Fuckin nowt, that’s what!

 A small terrace down on Empire Street, where he shared a three bedroom, one bath with his wife and their three daughters. Heaven on earth it wasn’t. Over-time was a godsend. As the only earner in his family it was down to him to put bread on the table. God knew he did his damnedest.

                 Sweet sixteen. Bloody hell, when did that happen? Josephine, his youngest, had been a bit of a surprise. An accident after one of the work do’s. A little too much free beer and a romantic tussle with the wife had resulted in what had become the light of his life. He’d been through every emotion. From demanding his wife get an abortion, to tears at the hospital when she’d been born.

                He’d watched her grow into the lovely young woman she’d become and tomorrow she was turning bloody sixteen. He loved his other daughters too, but Jo was his baby, his favorite.

                 The lathe powered on, and the chuck began to spin. He watched his work mates retreat from the workshop, as they went to wash filthy hands before disappearing down to The Lion to spend the shillings they’d worked so hard for. “Leave Jo bloody alone, or I’ll cut your knackers off!” He screamed.

                His two mates turned, waved, and disappeared.

*

                Josephine stood in front of the shop window and stared. They’d been there for nearly a month now and nobody had bought them. Black patent-leather shoes with that new heel that was all the rage in the fashion magazines. Apparently even Elizabeth Taylor was wearing them. People pushed passed her on the street – men and women in long coats, carrying umbrellas and rushing to get home.

                She stood her ground and put her hand on the shop window. Ten shillings and sixpence. How on earth was she going to able to afford that?  She only made four bob a week at the hairdressers, and half of that she had to give to her mum. Those shoes might as well be a hundred pounds. As she looked, a manicured hand slipped into the window, pinched the shoes at the heel, and disappeared.

The shoes were gone!

 She pushed her face closer to the window. The shop girl saw her, shrugged and smiled. Looked like somebody else would be flouncing around the town in new shoes, and it wouldn’t be her. She tried to fight back tears as the bitter sting of northern rain froze her face, adding to her misery. She turned away from the shop window and joined the rush for the busses. She had to catch the six o’clock. If she missed it she’d be late home, and she knew what her mother would say about that.

*

                The two sisters watched as their father placed the box on the table.

                “What you got there dad?  Sommet  for us?” The two girls peered eagerly over his shoulders

                “No. Sommet for your sister’s birthday.” He opened the box to reveal patent-leather shoes. Beautiful jet black leather that gleamed from the box. “They’re for Jo, tomorrow for her birthday. She’s had her eyes on these for a while. Thought I’d do something special for her birthday, seeing as how she’s sweet sixteen and all.”

                His wife walked in from the kitchen, the smell of cooking following her into the small sitting room.  “Goodness Alf, they must have cost a fortune! What the dickens were you thinking?”

                 “Don’t worry luv. With the overtime these past couple of weeks, we’ve more than enough to cover it. Paid cash as well, none of your bloody never-never!”

                 His wife shook her head. “You spoil that girl rotten Alf.”

                 “Come on now luv. You’re only sixteen once. Don’t you remember being sixteen?”

                Those care-free days down at the Roxy, where they’d dance the night away with American servicemen. His wife clutched a sauce bottle to her chest and reminisced silently.

*

                The sisters scowled. It was always her and never them. If Josephine wanted it, well then she bloody got it. Spoilt little brat, apple of her father’s eye. When was the last time they got something nice? Little bitch didn’t know she was born. There they were, slaving away in the offices down at Rawlings while little-Miss-Special was pursuing her dream of becoming a beautician.

                 Stupid girl! There was no money in hairdressing, everybody knew that. The number of times they had to sit at the dinner table and listen to her dreamy tales of when, what ifs, and if onlys. It was time she woke up and understood what was really going on in the world. Life wasn’t all fashion magazines and film stars . There was a living to be earned, and as an apprentice hairdresser it wasn’t as though she could afford her fancy dreams. They were both working a full forty and brought far more into the housekeeping than she ever did. And yet once again here she was being given the best of the best. Weren’t they the deserving ones?  Shouldn’t it be them going down to the dance hall in fancy shoes?

                They watched their father close the box. Saw the smile on his face. The girls looked at each other and disappeared out of the room.

*

                The small house was packed with family and friends, everybody in their Sunday best. The table creaked under the weight of what her mother called a buffet. Cheese and ham sandwiches, sausage rolls, pork pies, and crisps. A cake covered in candles stood in the middle of the table, a gift from Mrs. Jackson next door. Nobody made cakes like Bella.

                Josephine stood behind the cake dressed in her favorite party frock, radiant from the light streaming through the window in the front room. She’d used her new-found skills to apply her makeup and fix her hair perfectly. She was the picture of innocence, the desire of every young man in the neighborhood.

                The look of surprise when she opened the paper-covered box was worth the overtime and the filth of the workshop. Her eyes lit up, growing ever larger as realization dawned on her. She looked at her dad, smiled at her mother and screamed with delight. These were the shoes from the shop, the ones she couldn’t afford, the pair that had been sold!

                “Mum, Dad, you shouldn’t have! These cost a fortune.”  She felt the texture of the leather, caught her reflection in their gleam. They were beautiful.

*

                The sisters stood by and feigned pleasure. It was their baby sister’s sweet sixteen; she deserved everything she got. And she would get everything she deserved. Enough was enough! They’d plotted and conspired. They had a plan. Nobody was going to get hurt, just a quick lesson, a good telling. Something that would put young Josephine on the right track. Wake her up to a little Yorkshire reality.

                They’d discussed it with one of their boyfriends. A quick scare on Friday night, nothing serious – just enough to put the frighteners on her. It was time she came down from her ivory tower. Why was she so special? Wasn’t it them that did all the work?  Wasn’t it them that deserved their father’s love?

                There was no turning back. Their well-laid plans had been crafted down at The Lion. As they sat there, drinking their rum and blacks, they’d laughed at how they would scare her. Smiled at the plot as they huddled together. “Mind nobody gets hurt now. We just want to wake the little cow up. She isn’t a child anymore. It’s about time Dad saw that!

*

                “Look after each other,” now said their mother, “and mind you’re back in this house at ten, and not a minute later! And stay away from those factory lads. You know what I mean?”

                “Yes mother,” chorused the girls. They trooped into the parlor where their father was flicking through the newspaper. “See ya dad.”

                “Bye girls. Be careful. And remember ten o’clock, or you’ll feel my hand.”

                They giggled. Josephine walked over to her father, leant over and kissed him on the forehead. “Love you Dad. Thanks for the shoes.”

                Alf smiled. The shoes looked fantastic. She looked fantastic. She was a young woman now. A tear crept into his eye. “Go on with you now, and be careful.”

*

                The girls linked arms as they walked down the street , their shoes tapping off the flag stones, the swish of petty coats as they made their way to the to the dance. The Roxy had been there for years and was the highlight of any young girl’s week. There was always a live band and sometimes they even had one that had made a record. Tonight it was Jimmy Jessup and the Lightning Bolts, who’d just charted at number twenty-two in the BBC hit parade. With mirror-balled decadence and the attention of the local lads, tonight was going to be a lot of fun. The bus had dropped them off down the street from The Roxy. It was only a five minute walk.

                As they passed the corner shop the girls stopped. “Jo, we’re going to get some fags. You go on and save our places. We won’t be a moment.” The two girls tinkled through the shop door, leaving Josephine standing outside on the cobbles. She noticed her reflection in the glass, she looked lovely. She looked down at her feet and admired her shoes.

                Josephine turned to go. Her sisters would be gabbing inside. She didn’t smoke, she’d tried to though, but it made her sick. All the stars were doing it, even Elizabeth Taylor.

*

                With sweating palms the man stood over the body. He hadn’t meant to hurt her, just put a scare on her liked they agreed. Now she lay on the ground in front of him, blood dripping from her temple, her perfect dress covered in mud. He’d grabbed her as she walked past the alley, pulling her in and forcing his hand over her mouth. She’d struggled, but he was stronger and had dragged her back into the gloom away from prying eyes and street lights. He was supposed to have just given her a good shaking, taken her shoes and disappeared. It was simple enough – they’d discussed it several times. What could possibly go wrong?

                She’d bitten into his hand, and as he released his grip, she’d started to scream.

                 It was a reflex move. He’d hit her with an open hand, forcing her head back and smashing it off the wall. The next thing he knew she was collapsing onto the ground, blood spurting from her wound.

                 Of course he was scared, wanted to run, but fear paralyzed him. He had to think quickly. He wasn’t a murderer; they were just having a bit of a laugh, a giggle. He grabbed the lifeless body and dragged it further up the alley to where the dustbins stood and tried to stuff her into one of the large metal containers. It wasn’t easy, however with a little effort she was completely hidden. He ripped the stocking off his head and threw it to the ground. Taking his chance, he ran down the alley, his shoes splashing through the puddles, echoing off the walls.

*

                The sisters laughed as they came out of the shop. Josephine would be in tears, her perfect makeup washed down her face, standing there in stocking feet. They were so clever. They had planned the whole thing by themselves. This would show little-Miss-Favorite! From now on it would be them that got the special treatment, and little sweet Josephine would have to learn to start taking a back seat.

                They looked around but there was no sign of their sister. She should be here. There should be a flood of tears and a distraught girl. The street was empty. The music was starting to play in the dance hall and people were queuing outside for their tickets, however there was no Josephine.

                Suddenly one of the sisters let out a cry of alarm as the other covered her mouth with her hand. There at the entrance to the alley was a scuffed black shoe. They held each other tightly and peered into the darkness. They called her name but there was no response. The looked at each other, tears welling in their eyes, and disappeared from view.

*

               The clock ticked on the wall. It was eight thirty. The girls would be at the dance by now. Alf put the newspaper down and looked at his wife knitting across from him.

                 She looked up and smiled. Silly old fool. He was a good man, she thought, but he didn’t half spoil that child.

A BOMBERS – LOT…

16 Jun

 

“Approaching target skipper. Hold her steady.” 

The pilot fought to keep the bomber on course as the pressure bursts from exploding anti- aircraft shells rocked the aircraft. The bombers moved through the night skies above Germany, their objective clearly lit by the torch of Berlin burning in the distance. As part of the thousand bomber raid their squadron was the last scheduled to fly over the target. The firestorm that raged twenty thousand feet beneath them was more than adequate to hold them on course. The pathfinder squadron had done their job well

Berlin was home to the Nazi party, the Gestapo and the feared S.S. The source of the fascist jackboot stamping its way across Europe, subjugating and confiscating as it went. Nobody was safe from the evil that emanated from the city. Berlin housed armament factories, the party headquarters and even the private residences of some of the most despotic leaders the world had ever seen. The storm clouds of war, that coursed across scorched earth all emanated from this one place. If destroyed and reduced to ashes the world would once again be a safe and harmonious place to live. 

This was the Lancaster crews’ thirtieth mission, and if successful would mean six months of well deserved rear echelon duties – the possibility of training assignments and a cushy billet in South Africa or the States. Exotic locations where peace reigned supreme, where they could share, with up-and-coming aircrew, the richness of their own horrific experiences. Not quite as lucky as the Yank-flyers who could call it quits after twenty missions, there was little respite for the British crews. Once their six month was done they’d be back in enemy skies risking life and limb to bring peace to their besieged island. 

If the raid was a success then maybe the Brass would be right for a change and the war would be over by Christmas? They would have earned the right to go home. Peace after fighting and winning the Second World War of 1939 – 1943! 

“Watch out for those searchlights skipper. We don’t want to get caught by those bastards.” 

Huge pillars of light fingered their way through the blackness trying to pinpoint the enemy aircraft and so bring their ack-ack guns to bear. The crew had borne mute witness on previous missions to aircraft pinioned by light, before being blasted into oblivion. 

“Roger that number two.”

* 

The crew crowded into the briefing room to hear the word, a lecture from a senior commander, who would pontificate over the injustices between the evil-empire and their own sovereign nation. How they were bringing the sword of righteousness to the battle field and how along with the Americans and French could also count on God as an ally. The group commander stepped up onto the stage, drew the curtain on the wall to reveal the mission map, and turned to address the bomber crews. The map showed red chalked lines leading from their island home, pointing towards the doomed target deep into the depths of enemy territory. Unaware of the hell fire and damnation about to be brought down upon them, Berliners would be going about their daily business. Men cycling to work, wives tending homes, children playing in the street. There was no sympathy from the crews who’d seen enough of their own crash-and-burn and who’d witnessed the Luftwaffe-bombed streets in their own neighborhoods. It was the right thing to do, to take the fight to the enemy, to crush the beast in its nest. 

“Berlin, gentleman. Finally we’ve set our sites a little higher. Anyway there’s nothing left to bomb in the Hamburg docks and the Ruhr is as flat as a pancake.”

 A cheer went up from the men. It had cost hundreds of lives to do it, but they’d moved the mission forward. Berlin, the city that housed those who threatened to rape pillage and burn the good people of the England, was about to receive divine damnation. It was time to strike back, to crush evil in its bed. 

The officer went into mission details, followed by an intelligence flight-lieutenant who addressed way-points and grid locations. After an hours briefing the crews knew all there was to know.  Now it was down to them. Brave men in canvas-covered steel that would bring the battle to the Bosche doorstep. 

“Remember gentlemen. Steer clear of the eastern batteries and don’t get yourself caught in those search lights. You been briefed you know your mission. God be with you and good luck.”

The men grabbed their caps and cigarettes and made for the door. Two hours until take-off. It was time to suit up and get ready. 

*

 The Lancaster bombers stood on the tarmac, their crews safely loaded. Pilots, navigators, bomb-aimers, radio-men and gunners, all fingering good luck talismans and saying final prayers. Nervous before the off, but confident in their abilities. The flight line mechanics waved their flags, fitters dragged chocks from wheels and pilots pressed starter buttons. The huge Merlin-engines coughed, spat, and then breathed flame as they crashed into life. The four hug propellers rotating faster than the eye could see, creating the thrust necessary to lift the bomber, its fatal load and the seven brave souls into heaven. The yellow tipped blur whirred before the ground crews eyes as the planes pulled away, waddling precariously towards the runway.

*

At twenty thousand feet the air was frigid, the air so thin that the men would suffocate without the masks strapped to their faces. With their sheepskin collars pulled about their ears and their electrically warmed suits, they looked like revenging angels preparing to swoop like vengeful Valkyrie upon an unsuspecting enemy. 

“Enemy at four o’ clock skipper. Bank to starboard, to starboard,” screamed the rear- gunner into his throat microphone. The pilot’s headphones crackled and he expertly maneuvered the stick, slipping the aircraft sideways. The shadow of a German night fighter prowled in the darkness beyond the tail-gunner’s eyes. The two machine guns crashed into life, spitting flame and destruction – the hot brass cartridges cascading onto the floor. Tracer whipped away from the ball-turret, streaking through the darkness toward the enemy aeroplane. Flashes could be made out where the bullets struck home on the steel fuselage, and then imperceptibly a ball of flame erupted. 

“Got the bastard skipper. He’s a gonna!” 

“Well done scotty. I’ll get you that beer I owe you when we get back.” 

 Scotty grinned into his mask, one final mission and a dead jerry to boot. 

The radio lay in tatters, the blackened paneling still smoking from where the flight engineer had extinguished the flames. The dead radio man lay on the floor. The antiaircraft shell had caught them amidships and the shrapnel from the exploding shell had riven devastation inside. Blood streamed down the pilots face, the navigator slumped dead in the seat next to him. Of the seven of them who’d taken off, there were only three off them left. Through the gun shot wind screen the captain could see the silhouettes of the other planes in the squadron ahead of him. 

Had to hang on, had to make it. This was there last bloody trip. 

“Steady as she goes skipper. Steady, steady, bombs away.” 

The cargo hold opened and the bombs fell away into the darkness to join the others already exploding on the ground below. 

In the city, shrapnel cut down the running civilians. Fire swept through the streets, the flames leaping from building to building. As the inferno intensified, the draft increased,  the ensuing firestorm consuming everything in its path. Bodies were instantly charred as the air was sucked from their lungs, the flames devouring their corpses. The city had ceased to exist. What had once been a thriving metropolis was now a smoking mass of rubble and molten flesh. 

Seeing the desperation in the city the gunners renewed their efforts, determined to revenge themselves on the English cowards high above. 

“Achtung. Schnell,” screamed the unterofficiers. 

The guns banged away, the search lights stalking the night sky for victims. Suddenly transfixed in the light was an enemy bomber. As if made of stone, the aircraft was petrified in a million watts of candle power. Other searchlights quickly honed in on the hapless victim and within seconds there was no escape, the sheltering darkness no longer obtainable. Gunners adjusted their sights, and guns screamed blue-murder into the heavens. 

The Lancaster stood no chance. The remaining crew, blinded by the light, covered their eyes. Each man petrified in the bright white of search-lit revenge. The guns found them quickly, the high explosive ripping the plane to pieces. 

Far below the doomed bomber, the city shimmered in fire.

ARK-ANGEL…

9 Jun

 

 

Jose shut the door, double-checked the locks  and ensured  the bolts were firmly in place. Secure in his own mind the door was locked, he then walked around the house shuttering the windows. The windows were iron-barred on the outside. The purpose of the inside shutters was to ensure the house was impregnable. He’d a family to protect – a wife, his two children, and both sets of grandparents. Although the security was claustrophobic it was necessary.

Jose was doing the best he could.

He peered through the blinds of the last window. The light of a Police vehicle flashed in the street, striping him in color and washing the room in blue. The local cops were no doubt arresting one of the delinquents, that now formed the majority of what had once been a family neighborhood. A place where families could grow and children flourish. A neighborhood filled with friends and neighbors rather the hoodlums, drug pushers, prostitutes and all the other scum who’d usurped the value of family.

The house secured, he walked into the family room where his family sat watching television. They’d become used to his nightly ritual. Paid  no attention as he went from door to window, barring and shuttering. It had become mundane, ordinary, something that needed to be done. The world was a terrible place, they had to take precautions. Rather like keeping milk in a fridge to prevent it from deteriorating, the locked doors of their home prevented the mold and mildew of an aberrant society.

*

Jose’s parents had bought him to the country years ago. Taking great risks to cross the desert, they’d worked their way up in a society that didn’t care if they lived or died. Looking like all the other immigrants who’d filtered across the border, nobody paid them any heed, and so were allowed to scrape an existence from the barrel of society.

Growing up he’d watched his father work every menial job in the book to furnish the second-hand kitchen table with the bounty necessary to sustain an ever growing family. Work was work, the medium that allowed his father to enjoy the love of his wife and children. He’d inherited his father’s values and having mastered the new language at a young age, had found his way into a trade school and qualified as a mechanic. Jose was the best mechanic at the local Mercedes dealership. Customers asked for him by name. Sometimes it seemed as though everybody needed a little Jose in their lives.

Hard working, yet unambitious, he’d squirreled away his wages in the hope that someday his children could enjoy the luxury of the German vehicles, he never could. It had to happen. This was the land of hope and dreams, milk and honey. What could possibly go wrong?  As long as they tried their hardest, did their best, and did unto others as they expected to be done themselves, life’s cards would eventually turn in their favor. Critical values that would help his children, to navigate a path through a true and steady life.

*

It had all started to go wrong when the local armaments factory had closed down. Tanks and trucks required to crush the threat of impending Communism were no longer necessary. Peace was flooding the world, however, in its wake, whole communities were being washed away.  No longer able to afford their homes and mortgages, the newly unemployed had moved back to wherever it was they’d originally come from. Having nowhere else to go, and with a decent paying job, Jose and his family had stayed.

They’d watched the gradual demise. The houses that had been neatly painted were now peeling and derelict, the well kempt lawns overgrown and ravaged. Squatters had moved into the vacant properties and the Police, whom they never called upon in the past, were now regular neighborhood visitors. The loss of income and slip into austerity brought with it, everything he’d steered his whole life away from. His children were now forced to grow up among the addictions of a world that was literally slipping into hell. Syringes on the street were nothing uncommon. Cars with fogged up windows were parked on the sidewalk, as women with nothing left to sell but themselves, plied their trade. In the past there’d been music and laughter in the streets, now there were gangs and gun shots.

His children no longer played outside, and the walk to school was an accompanied car-drive away. Children were escorted by parents to the school entrance, before being allowed to enter through metal-detectored security. It wasn’t the life he’d hoped for, but there was nothing he could do.

When the neighbors started to move away, was when he’d first started to install the security measures. Baking in summer sunshine he’d fastened bars to the outside of the windows. Drinking the iced-lemonade his wife brought to him, he’d watched the hoods, and the working-girls cruise the side walk. No hellos, no neighborly chats. Just mute threats and disdain, for a man that continued to live the dream despite the nightmare.

*

“Have you ever used one of these before sir?” The assistant asked.

Jose eyed the gun on the counter, “No sir.”

Jose stood in the gun shop surrounded by rifles and the ephemera of self-protection. Glass cases filled with weapons squared their way around the shop. Accompanied by the salesman he moved to each, feeling the weight and balance of the various models. Coming to a consensus, a revolver and a box of cartridges were placed in front of him.

“Easy as falling off a log. Just point and pull. This is a nice pistol. You won’t regret buying it.”

Jose paid in cash. The attendant smiled as he closed the register.” Don’t seem much of that anymore Sir.”

He placed the gun and the bullets in a paper bag and wished Jose a good day. When a man needed a pistol to live in the greatest country on earth, what the hell was the world coming too?

*

Maria, his wife of thirty years, had cried when he showed her the gun. What about the kids? Why couldn’t they move?  Why did they have to stay?

Where were they going to go? It wasn’t just this neighborhood it was the God-damned city. It was sink or swim. Only the strongest would survive and Jose was a swimmer – his father had taught him that.

*

Weeks later whilst performing the evening ritual he noticed a glow in the sky – bright oranges and reds against the street lights. There was a smell of burning in the air and he could see people running up and down the road in confused panic. Gangs of youths were tipping over cars, smashing windows, and emptying the liquor store across the street. Jose saw a cop-car scream to a halt, scattering the mob that’d been helping themselves to that which wasn’t theirs. He saw a policeman fall to the ground, heard the whine and crash of bullets.

“Jose. Come quickly,” his wife called. He pulled down the shutter and rushed to the living room. “My God, they’re destroying the city,” she screamed.

On the television screen was an aerial view taken from a helicopter. It showed neighborhoods in flames, smoke billowing across the city-scape. Rioters ran through streets pursued by policemen.

 “What are we to do?”

Children and grandparents looked towards him. He was their only hope, their only lifeline in this sea of anarchy. He thought quickly. They couldn’t go outside. They were safest in the house. The door was bared and the shutters down. Nothing could happen to them.

*

Louds bangs and screams emanated from outside the front door. People were banging on the shutters. The mob was outside.

*

Rápidamente , quickly into the cellar.” Jose shouted. His wife gathered the children as he assisted the grandparents who suddenly developed new life in old bones. The house had been build back in the early fifties and completed with a full basement. At the time it had been advertised as a family safety unit, and came equipped with cupboards for provisions, room for beds, and even a bathroom. The biggest advantage to it was the airtight, steel-door that was supposed to be effective against nuclear attack. It was the 1950’s, there was a red under every bed, one couldn’t be too careful.

By the light of a naked bulb, crying children and scared grandparents huddled together. Safely ensconced behind the steel door Jose reassured his family.

CARAJO de MADRE – he’d left the gun in the bedroom!

He kept his ear to the door – heard the crash of windows – heard the shouts. He felt somebody tug on the handle to the cellar, but there was no way they could get in. In this moment of sheer mayhem, he could be sure, that no matter what was happening outside, his family were safe in the small brick lined room.

As the evening wore on, the family eventually drifted off to sleep. Jose was left alone with his thoughts. Earlier in the evening he’d heard more voices in the house, but those had petered out. The shouts, screams and wail of sirens had finally died down. Jose snuggled down next to his wife and tried to sleep. Unconsciousness ambushed, him and he slipped into a dream-filled sleep.

*

There was a loud crash and Jose startled awake. His wife put her hand on his shoulder to reassure him. It was just one of the children. He stood up and went to the door. With his ear to the cold steel, he listened intently.

Nothing.

There was short-wave radio somewhere in one of the cardboard boxes and Jose dug through the detritus of Christmas decorations and old baby clothes. Finding it, he fingered the on-switch. The radio came alive. The warm fuzz of the modern age – the static dispelling all thoughts of abandonment. Turning the dial he searched for anything that might be indicative of something.

 An emotionless voice crackled through the weather band.

“The authorities have announced that the violence and riots in the River-District have been repressed. The Fire Marshal has also informed us that the multiple fires caused by burning petrol stations, although not yet out, are under control. Citizens are to exercise extreme caution and to remain in their homes. Marshal Law is in effect. Looters and rioters will be shot.”

Jose stared at his family. His family stared back.

*

After spending another night locked in the cellar, Jose decided to open the door. With his father holding a baseball bat, and his wife a stiletto-shoe, he slowly loosened the bolts. The smell of burning was all pervasive. The house was destroyed. Furniture had been smashed, and the front door hung on one hinge. Children’s clothes were strewn across the floor, and anything of value was gone.

*

Jose and his family stood on what remained of the porch. The neighborhood was obliterated. Stick-built houses smoked, and the remains of torched vehicles stood abandoned in the street. A giant pall of black hung over the city and somewhere in the far distance they could hear the wail of a siren.

In a landscape akin to an apocalyptic aftermath, Jose surveyed what once had been their home. He put his arm around his wife and held her tight. With both his and her parents, plus the two children they stood like survivors adrift in an empty ocean. The cellar, like a lifeboat from a doomed passenger liner, had kept them afloat in a sea of uncertainty. Jose looked toward the sun, rising above the shattered neighborhood. Everything had changed. It was brand new day in a new and uncertain world.

At least they still had each other.  

HIGHLAND FLUNG…

8 Jun

 

 

“This is the maritime shipping forecast from the BBC at 0600. In southwest, southeasterly 4 or 5. In northeast, variable becoming southwesterly, 3 or 4. Sea State Slight or moderate. Weather Rain.Visibility In southwest, moderate or good. In northeast, moderate or poor.”

Water guttered off the wheel-house window, the useless arm of the single wiper hanging limp. John gripped the wheel, straining his eyes to see through the sheeting water. He could feel the pressure of the sea pushing against the fishing boat, the waves beat against the hull, the throb of the diesel in his feet, as he fought to steer the boat home.

“Come on ye bugger. Don’t let me down now.” The Scotsman snarled.

The voice of the BBC boomed through the speakers once again. A radio announcer in a warm, dry, studio at Broadcasting House telling him what he already knew.

“Northwesterly 6 to 7, occasionally gale 8 in north at first, decreasing 7 or 6 later. Sea State Very rough, becoming rougher.Weather storm to gale.Visibility none.” 

“You think I don’t bloody know that, ye friggin English idiot?” Frustration was creeping in.  After fishing in near perfect conditions for the past two days John and his mate had caught their quota, plus a little extra, and were ready to celebrate their good fortune upon their return to the tiny Scottish village of Ullapool. A settlement that for centuries was dependent upon men like John to supplement the economy, and the sea for survival to support the families who lived there.

Fishing was a mugs game but it was all John knew. Leaving school at fourteen he’d been straight onto the boats. He’d started out with old man McLeod, who shown him the ropes and taught him the sea. Over the years he’d jumped from boat to boat until he finally managed to set enough money aside to invest in something for himself.

*

Dressed in his only suit, wearing his father’s tie and polished shoes, John had waited patiently for Mr Ogilvy, the bank manager, to make his decision. He’d explained his situation. With a new wife and a baby on the way he needed to something to call his own. Jumping crews had been ideal as a younger man, always chasing the elusive pennies, but now he needed foundation, a little stability. A boat would provide that.

*

Ogilvy had signed a thousand such contracts over the years for the fisherman of Ullapool. Return of investment was guaranteed by the insurance policy placed at Lloyds of London, the maritime insurance company, financed by the borrower. There was no danger to the bank and the interest payments were high enough to make it good business. He waivered over the loan document. Took his time, before finally placing his fountain-penned scrawl at the bottom of the page. He loved the moment. Even a bank manager in a back-water like Ullapool deserved a little respect, and that’s exactly what these decisions gave him

“Congratulations Mr. McGinty. You’r now the proud owner of the BIG BLUE. He reached for McGinty’s offered hand and shook it enthusiastically. There was a sucker born every minute. The fisherman would either default or sink. It didn’t matter to him, the bank would get their money either way.

*

A huge wave broke over the bow, carrying with it one of the cross-trees and the winch.

A head appeared from the hatch-way. “John. What the fuck’s going on? We’re never going to make it.”

John turned and screamed at his mate. “Get the fuck below and make sure that diesel doesn’t stop. If we lose power we’re as good as dead.”

“God in heaven John, it isn’t worth it!” The mate scurried below deck.

John had heard the earlier broadcast. The crisp syllables of the B.B.C. stating the obvious. He should have hove-too, and waited out the storm, but he knew the waters, better than they did. What the hell did the English poofters know anyway? He’d fished the Atlantic since he was a boy. Once around the headland they’d be within sight of the harbour. A few measly miles and they’d be home and dry. At the time it’d seemed worth the risk, now he wasn’t so sure.

Suddenly the wheel stopped responding. The bow shifted in the water and began to turn broadside into the wind.

“Bob? Bob? What in Jesus name is happening?” The wind was howling around the wheel-house. He could barely hear himself think as he screamed down into the engine compartment. He looked through the window, quickly made his decision, jumped through the hatch and clambered down the ladder.

*

The engine room was silent apart from the creek of the hull and the clatter of his feet on the deck plates. Sprawled over the now silent diesel was Bob, blood pouring from a head wound. It wasn’t good. John had seen enough injuries to recognize the signs. He shook the first mate who didn’t respond. Pulled him off the engine, and rolled him on to the floor.

“Lay still you fat bastard. I’ve got to get this bloody thing started.” John pressed the red button on the control-box and the starter-motor whirred. He tried again. Nothing!

Shit! If he couldn’t get the boat started they’d both be dead.

Images of his wife and new born baby washed through his mind – happier days in a much happier place. The boat tilted and he grabbed for a hand hold. Water rushed down the steps into the engine room. He had to get to the wheel-house and turn the boat into the wind. He needed to send a Mayday before they lost the radio as well.

*

As he climbed back into the wheel house the radio squawked once more.

“Gale warning Ullapool. Northwesterly gale force 8 continuing. Wind Northerly becoming cyclonic mainly westerly or northwesterly, 7 to gale 8. Sea State Rough or very rough. Weather Rain.Visibility Moderate or poor.”

“Shut the fuck up!” He didn’t need telling. He grabbed the microphone hanging from the radio and screamed into the handset.

“Mayday, Mayday this is the fishing vessel BIG BLUE. We’ve lost all power. I repeat we have lost all power!” He let go and listened. The radio fuzzed.

He tried again. “Mayday, Mayday this is………Can anybody bloody here me?”

The radio crackled. ‘Fishing vessel BIG BLUE we hear you. Please state your exact location and emergency.”

Well thank God for that, he thought. “Aye we’re off the point by Ullapool I have a man down and me engines dead. I need somebody out here yesterday!”

*

Water smashed through the glass, the wave wiping out the wheel house, sending the skipper flooding down the hatch and into the engine compartment below. John tried to hold his breath, felt the force of the water as he was flushed into the belly of the ship. His arm snapped. He couldn’t scream. The boat capsized.

It was over. This was it. Choking on fuel-filled water, death was the fisherman’s constant companion. Davy Jones was knocking, and there was nothing John could bloody do about it.

*

He gasped for air as his head shot above the water. Floating in darkness, freezing in the Northern Atlantic water he’d somehow come up into an air-pocket. The water that had rushed in to destroy the fishing vessel had crammed air into a life sustaining bubble. John’s feet touched the floor, his arm hanging uselessly at his side. In pitch blackness he could feel detritus floating around him, the overpowering stench of diesel filling his nostrils.

He laughed out loud. They couldn’t bloody kill him. There was enough air to keep him going for hours. He’d sent off the emergency message. The search and rescue helicopter would already be out there looking for him. All he had to do was hang on. And by God he was going to hang on.

*

In a green-lit room, surrounded by computer screens, an operator leant over to the Chief of the watch.

“Sir. Just received a Mayday out of Ullapool. The rest of the message is garbled.”

The Chief put down his coffee, took the paper from the radioman and looked out of the window. There was no way the chopper could take off in this, even if they knew where the boat was. Bloody fisherman, would they never learn?

 Didn’t they listen to the B.B.C.?

VORSPRUNG DURCH TECHNIEK…

7 Jun

 

 

Nestled in the foot hills of the Bavarian Alps, lay the small village of Vichtenstein. An onion-church shadowed, collection of dwellings, and businesses untouched by the modern world. Every year in the spring cows would be brass-belled up to Alpine meadows, and in the summer, young girls dressed in Dirndls and wearing blond pig-tales, would dance at the Bier-fest for their lederhosen-wearing sweethearts. Life was good. Life was slow. Living in harmonious symbiosis, the people of Vichtenstein didn’t care much for outsiders, preferring the familiar to the unusual. They bothered nobody and expected the same.

Herr.  Davidhoff owned the local Metzgerei, the butcher’s shop, that served the village. His father had been a butcher, as had his father’s father. What Davidhoff didn’t know about Wurst wasn’t worth knowing. Inside the small white-tiled shop on the Marktplatz , commerce was swift.

 Every Saturday morning, after the trestle tables had been arranged, and the red-and-white striped awnings hung, the locals would assemble for their once-a-week shopping extravaganza. Being frugal folk, and knowing the value of a pfennig, they wouldn’t accept shoddy goods. Consequently the local stall-holders had become attuned with local taste, and offered exquisite produce. Beautiful garten-grown vegetables, fine alpine cheese, locally pressed wine, all wrapped in the essence of fresh baked Kaiser-brotchen.

 The butcher-shop was small, but adequate for the villagers needs. Four people at a time could stand inside to peruse the exquisite offerings Davidhoff had prepared. Undeterred and patient, the people would queue outside on the cobbled street, waiting their turn to purchase whatever the Herr. Butcher had for sale.

 Fine salamis, schinken , schnitzel und Schweinfleisch. Bomb-sized Sausages hung from the ceiling and smoked meats waited impatiently on shelves, ready to be devoured by the demanding volk of Vichtenstein. Business was good. Where else were they going to go?

 Size in this classic tale of meat merchandizing clearly didn’t matter. It was quality that counted not quantity.

Of an evening the butcher and his family would sit out on their porch and enjoy the serenity their occupation brought them.They were rich by no means however, meat offered them a good living. What they had, wasn’t much, but it sufficed their humble needs. Herr Davidhoff would smoke his long china pipe and watch the stars, whilst thanking Gott in Himmel that he’d continued in the family tradition. Vichtenstein was a paradise and they were living large.

*

The following Saturday he stood behind the counter, rasping carving knife against stele. “Guten morgen Frau Schmidt. How are you today?”

“Sehr gut. All is well. Thank you Herr Davidhoff.”

“The usual?” he asked, reaching for the sausages.

“No, not today.  Perhaps a couple of pork-chops, and maybe a small salami.

Unusual, he thought. Frau Schmidt had thirteen hungry children and was one of his best customers, always filling her basket with choice cuts.

“Danke ,” she said and left.

Frau Myers was next, another old customer. Her family had shopped with him for years. “Guten morgen. The usual?”

“Not today. Just a little bloedwurst and maybe a jar of sauerkraut.”

Money exchanged hands. DeutscheMarks clinked into the till. Herr Davidhoff called for the next customer. He wiped his hands on his stained apron and looked up. The shop was empty. But this was Samstag, the busiest day of the week? He walked from behind the counter, through the door and out to the street. There was nobody queuing outside his butcher shop, in fact there were very few people n the market place. He scratched his head and walked over to Herr Hiller, the cuckoo-clock maker whose stall tick-tocked incessantly, the occasional appearance of a carved cuckoo making for sprung-surprise

Was gibts? Whats going on, where is everybody? Hiller scratched his head, offering no explanation. Perhaps there was a holiday or festival in one of the other local Dorfs? It didn’t matter much. He’d take the rest of the day for himself, shut up shop and perhaps walk down to the river and do a little fishing. Might as well make hay while der sonne scheint.

Herr. Davidhoff closed the shop door, turned the key in the lock, and headed down to the river. Basket in hand, with some of Frau Liebstadts pumpernickel-bread, a hunk of his best salami, and a bottle of wine, he planned on spending a pleasant couple of hours. It was only when he got to the river bank that he understood where his customers had gone.

On the far bank, on the edge of the neighboring village, a giant monstrosity filled the horizon. A massive steel-shelled building,  imposed its gargantuan size on the local countryside. A Mecca of consumer consumption that would no doubt be the downfall of the diminutive stall-holders of Vichtenstein. How had he not seen it coming? The reusachtig cornucopia of produce was virtually pounding on their front doors. Realizing their impending fate and losing his appetite for fine wine and fresh baked bread he ran home, or rather walked rather quickly, to decide what was to be done. Their whole future was in jeopardy. How on earth could they ever manage to fight one of the Giant supermarket chains? It was the same all over Bavaria. Corporate kaufhalles where strangling the little man and taking no prisoners. Devastating neighborhoods for share-holder dividence –  killing years of tradition.

What to do, what to do? He climbed a wooden gate, and stopped to wait for a flock of sheep being herded up the road.

 “Guten morgen Herr Schwartz.”

“ Morning Herr. Davidhoff.”

Mundane and quotidian, except village life would never be the same again. 

*

Frau Davidhoff could tell something was wrong with her husband, he was never this quiet. The butcher was a garrulous man who enjoyed the company of others. He was never stuck for a story and could always tell a joke. But not tonight.

Was gibts shatz – why the long face?”

The butcher shook his head and told her about the titan-of-trade that had set up shop across the river. A behemoth of marketing-square-footage where no doubt the good people of Vichtenstein were spending there hard earned geld. He could only imagine the offers:

Buy one get one free!

Twelve for the price of two!

His imagination was running wild. Didn’t they know he offered old fashioned traditional value? That with him, their families were safe and secure from fillers, additives, and steroids? The Philistines-of- flesh didn’t care about them. Lieber Gott! It didn’t  even know the names of all of Frau Schmidt’s children!

Was all lost? Was there no hope?

His wife listened intently and then sat down beside him. “You have to speak with Oma. She always knows what to do in a crisis.”

Her husband nodded his head. When in doubt or times were troubled, and the scheisse was really hitting the fan, Oma always had the answer. He smiled at his wife, kissed her forehead and stood up. He would go to Oma and seek her advice. The woman who’d lived through two world wars, and one world cup had seen, and done it all. There was never a better shoulder to cry on than Oma’s.

*

Oma sat by the fireside as she always did. A glass of schnaps in one hand and a good book in the other.  Murder-mystery is what she preferred. It stirred the grey-matter, got her thinking. With her eyes closed she listened to her son as he told and retold the tale of the villages plight. Of course he’d an ulterior motive, but his concern for the village was well noted.

Oma stared into flames, whipped back her head, and downed the schnapps.

“Quality!” she screamed.

“Was  sagen Sie?” Quality. What do you mean?”

“Quality over quantity every time. Those schweinhunden may have more meat, but we have the best. Great things come in small packages. The only way we can take down the leviathan is to provide what the giant doesn’t.”

They’d always provided quality, thought Davidhoff, in fact, it was what made him stolz to be a butcher.

“We have to make our famous liverwurst,” Oma said. ”This will end the tyranny so that one again we’ll be able to live in peace and harmony with our neighbors. The shop will survive. The supermarket must die.”

Oma stood up, went to the schrank, and fussed with some papers. “Here it is. Your Opa’s famous recipe.”

*

All that night Herr Davidhoff toiled in his kitchen. A little of this, a pinch of that, and of course the secret ingredient – liver. If this didn’t work then he didn’t know what he would do. Oma had never let him down in the past. He had to have a little faith.

*

The following Saturday found him and his wife standing in front of the KaufHalle. Dressed in traditional garb, holding silver platters in front of them, they waited for the battle-royal to begin. Slowly but surely cars started to pull into the parkplatz . Former customers disembarked from automobiles.

 Taking himself by the Knossen and boldly striding forth, Davidhoff offered sliced sausage to the surprised crowd. Shamed customers grabbed eagerly at the little German flags that poked from the miniature morsels, and popped them in their mouths. He stood back and waited for the magic to happen. Slowly but surely he saw their faces light up, the smiles return to their mouths.

Victory. Sieg Heil!

People pushed and shoved to reach the food offered. “Oh Herr Davidhoff . We’d forgotten the true taste of real sausage.

*

The following Samstag the Metzgerei was filled. Just like old times. The sausage flew across the counter. Not just the butchers shop, but the whole market teemed with life, chinking to the sound of silver-marks, exchanged for quality produce.

They’d done it. With Oma’s help, and the secret recipe, they’d saved the Dorf. Herr Davidhoff, with a little faith and a tiny morsel of delight, had defeated the giant supermarket.

ALLES GUT, ENDE GUT, as they say in Vichtenstein.