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FREELANCE BABY…

19 May

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SHAKESPEARE IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN – A free-lance piece for the Arizona Magazine

(The surprising popularity of Shakespeare’s plays in a desert landscape.) 

An investigation into the popularity and influence of Shakespeare’s writings in 21st century Phoenix.

By Colin James 

            Margery fusses with her wig and quickly applies another coating of grease-paint. She can feel the swell of voices beyond the curtain — sense their expectation. An audience that’s wined and dined and who now expect to be entertained; after all they’ve paid their $15!
            The Pebble Creek Players have rehearsed for months, in fact the best part of a year. If they haven’t got it down by now they never will. They’re word perfect, and perfectly practiced. It wasn’t easy; a passage of trial and tribulation — long afternoons fortified with iced whatever’s. But tonight’s the night, the moment her amateur thespians will eke out their lives as shadows and poor players as they pace the boards of the Pebble Creek community center.
            Margery adjusts the prosthesis underneath her shirt, looks across the void, and smiles nervously at one of her fellow cast members hidden in the shadows. Slowly she ambles to center stage; difficult to do with one leg in Plaster of Paris however, assisted by crutches she does her best. Suddenly there’s a hush, the only voice that of the compere. “Ladies and Gentleman welcome to this evenings performance.” The voice is a mumble, the words barely audible through the thick curtain that separates the performers from the audience, or rather the Christians from the lions. “Ladies and Gentleman I give you The Greys, Pebble Creek’s answer to Shaftsbury Avenue and Broadway.” Applause. The curtain is lifted.

*

            Arizona sunshine beats down on black top as Snow-birds and visitors from colder states caper nimbly in newly acquired tennis sneakers defending their own side of the net. The laughter and mirth generated by an afternoon of tennis is palpable in contrast to the intensity of a small but dedicated “band of brothers” that while away the hours in rehearsal and recitation of a Shakespeare play in a private home across the street. Pebble creek, a Robson Retirement community on the west side of Phoenix, caters to those lucky enough to have left the work place far behind; an active adult retirement resort where no matter your flavor of distraction, it can be found behind it’s secure stucco walls. 

          Wendy Jackson, 65, a native of Madison Wisconsin and grandmother to six, holds a copy of Spark’s Notes “No fear Shakespeare” in her hand and reads aloud to the assembled mixture of silver haired ladies and gents who sit comfortably in a semi-circle around her. The text is Henry the V, the notebook a study guide for those introducing themselves to the works of Shakespeare. The Greys, the Pebble Creek Players is an erudite bunch who intend to perform the play later this year. The “happy few”, with drinks in hand, listen intently to Mrs. Jackson as she enunciates; sipping gratefully from freshly made iced-tea. 

            “Theater has always been in our blood,” explained Wendy, “My mother was a dancer and my father, during his military service, worked for a glee-platoon that put on productions for the troops. Although my father was often a little embarrassed of his service, he often spoke of his wonderful-war, entertaining front line soldiers. My father had been a painter and decorator before the war, so when they came looking for volunteers he was a shoe-in, as they needed someone to paint and construct the sets. I guess you might say that the grease paint and limelight was spooned into me as a child. Shakespeare came later for me, probably around the time I went to college.” 

            Wendy looks wistful as she relates her amateur dramatic experience. “Of course it all started in high school with the Christmas show and the annual production the drama society would perform for the parents and students. Once bitten by the bug, I never really lost touch with the stage, and the discovery of a deeper more thoughtful production developed in me with my first taste of Shakespeare. I remember it was Twelfth Night and I was lucky enough to get the part of the maid. Quite an undertaking however, clearly my director saw something in me that, looking back now, was probably a turning point. I’ve been involved in amateur dramatics, and in particular Shakespearian productions, even when pregnant with my two boys ever since. There is something in the language that is so enduring and meaningful. As my old director would say there is ‘cadence on the tongue and music in the ears’ when his plays are performed.” 

            But how much enthusiasm can there be for the Bard in a retirement community on the far edge of Phoenix? Is there really a market for a 16th century play-wright in the Valley of the Sun? 

            Wendy laughs, “You’d be surprised. Of course there’s always enthusiasm for the golden oldies,” as she calls the more popular Broadway productions, “but there’s always a lot of interest in Shakespeare. You’d be surprised how many people have made it to retirement, who only now are listening to, and enjoying his plays. She shakes her head and smiles, “Seems like a waste to me, but better late than never.” 

            The Pebble Creek Players have to date performed 3 sold out productions of William Shakespeare’s plays and alongside their theatrics have created both a reading club and a study group. “A lot of the residents,” explains Wendy, “can’t seem to get enough, and we’re always being approached by new people interested in joining our various groups.” 

            There is no age limit, or statute of limitations that makes the plays popular. When one thinks of Shakespeare penning his prose and performing his plays for the mob in London, clearly it wasn’t sunbaked Arizona that he had in mind. 

            It’s Friday night and a group of around 10 teenagers sit on a stage beneath florescent lighting at Saint Luke’s Church on the corner of 19th Avenue and Camelback road, a location popular on Sunday mornings with a largely Hispanic congregation. The group of young enthusiasts waits eagerly, chatting and browsing on their smart-phones. The teens have volunteered to participate in a Shakespeare workshop run by the Brelby Theater Company on the West side of Phoenix in Glendale. This older, less in vogue area of town, has suffered the effects of economic malaise. During the 16th century, when Shakespeare’s plays were being performed for a half-penny a time for the groundlings in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames in London, The Globe Theater hardly had an address to boast of either. Glendale is now populated by lower income families, with a large Hispanic demographic. At least half of the kids waiting for Geoff Shelby, the organizer of the workshop and one of the principals of the theater, are the children of Latino immigrants and not all of them are legal. 

            Geoff a tall, gangly, salt and peppered veteran of the theater calls the kids to order and hands out copies of this evening’s texts. Romeo and Juliet; the balcony scene. 

            “Something they all know about even if they don’t realize it yet.” Geoff throws me and infectious grin and launches into Romeo, oh Romeo. 

            “Alright then who’s heard that before?” asks Geoff. A couple of hands go up in the air. “Who’s heard of Romeo and Juliet?” Several more hands appear. “You guys have been holding out on me. Seems you’ve have already heard of this Shakespeare character.” Laughter ripples through the small group that’s excited to get down to business. 

            “Shakespeare,” Geoff tells me, “is as relevant today as he ever was. It’s simply a case of getting young people’s attention. With so many distractions and sources of instant gratification one has to bring the plays to the fore, sit the kids down, and show them what they’re missing. It’s amazing to see the transformation from disinterest to over-the-top enthusiasm; their pride in being able to recite and remember tracts of text. You literally see the kids grow as they stand on stage and recite for their parents at the end of the course. 

            The Brelby company has been a feature of the Phoenix theater scene for well over 15 years and was formed by Geoff Shelby and fellow thespian Anita Rodriquez . 

            “At the time,” says Geoff, “there was no real theater. Sure there were movies but it wasn’t the same thing. Live theater grabs an audience by the throat and forces their senses into the action without the distraction of popcorn and product placement. We originally formed the company to perform one play however, since then we’ve done over forty. Shakespeare has always been a main-stay of our revue, an evergreen that audiences don’t seem to grow tired of.” 

            The Brelby, a not-for-profit organization, has benefitted from Arizona for the Arts funding, hence their community give back. “Ticket sales,” says Geoff, “ are unfortunately only half the story, and alongside our theatrical work we all hold regular jobs. Theater is our passion, unfortunately not our profession.” The look on Geoff’s face at the interaction of the kids is worth the million dollars the Brelby Theater Company truly deserves. He believes that keeping Arizona’s kids on the stage and off the streets is money and time well spent.

*

            Arizona is a keenly diversified state where one can ski Flagstaff in the morning and bathe in Phoenix sunshine in the afternoon; a state known more for copper, cattle and cotton than Elizabethan English theater. One can rodeo-ride in Buckeye or sling six-shooters in old-town Tucson, but one can also find the theater in all its diversified forms throughout the state, and surprisingly that of William Shakespeare. There is a ground swell of enthusiasts and over 20 independent theater companies, private individuals and interest groups, who devote their time to either studying his works or performing his plays.

*

            In the heart of downtown Mesa a very different atmosphere can be found from that at Saint Luke’s, although their intent is the same. The Desert Rose Theater, “The best theater you’ve never seen,” as they advertise themselves, are in the throes of final preparation. Unlike the Pebble Creek Players who were surrounded by garden furniture and cooling beverages there is a sense of urgency, a heated atmosphere of needs-to-be-done; a group in excess of 30 people, swarm around the theater building preparing for an opening night that is only a week away. The posters are printed, the blurb gone to the local press, and ticket sales haven’t been too shabby either. They intend to perform William Shakespeare Midsummer Night’s Dream and Kathryn Stewart, the director of the theater, is in no mood for half-measures, and even less time for anybody not directly related to the play. 

            With tousled brown hair and eye-glasses pushed up on her fore head, Kathryn is the epitome of efficiency. She continuously shuffles papers through her hands while we talk, and despite the interview, is keen to engage several people in conversation at any one time. In between her directions for stage management and interjections between actors, I discover her passion for the plays. 

            “I finished college in Washington, and joined a theater group directly afterward. With a liberal arts education and a passion for the stage, much to the disappointment of my parents, I took to the road. For me it’s always been Shakespeare. I’ve worked with other companies in the past, but it’s always a welcome return home when I go back to doing what I love best.” 

            Kathryn has trod the boards for the past 30 years and is clearly a devotee to her art. But why Phoenix? Why Arizona? 

            “The Rose Theater first came to Phoenix in ‘92.  At the time we performed mainly for schools and colleges. Now, much to my distress, the study of Shakespeare and his works has nearly disappeared from the curriculum and so we’ve had to make ourselves more affable to the public. This has meant more elaborate stage craft and a sense of utter professionalism in order to attract paying audiences. Although we’re a volunteer organization we do employ several professionals and very often contract actors for our leading roles. This allows us to take our plays on the road, and during any given year we cover most of Arizona. Our season is generally made up of four plays two of which are always Shakespearian in nature whether Shakespeare, Marlow or Johnson for example.” 

            Judging by the amount of people involved and the projected two weeks of four performance plus matinees, Kathryn has her hands full. I leave her to her work and head for my final Shakespearian experience.

*

            My destination is the aluminum and glass edifice of the Mesa Arts Center, An opulent, outwardly expensive monument to the theater and performance art. The center features art, dance and music, and is home to the Southwest Shakespeare Company, the most auspicious of all the Shakespearian players within Phoenix’s city-limits. I step into a polished steel elevator and wend my way to the office of Margaret Monroe, the current publicity director for the company. As expected Ms. Monroe is dressed in impeccable business attire and exudes and air of supreme confidence. A total contrast from Geoff Shelby and his make shift accommodation in Glendale. 

            “You have to understand that Shakespeare can be performed in many different ways,” she explains, “and have been on many different occasions. The fact that we’ve this beautiful facility and the ability to hire top notch actors doesn’t detract from the work being performed by others. You have to remember that during Elizabethan times there was also a differentiation between those who paid pennies to stand and watch performances in the rain, and those who sat on cushions in the balconies. Shakespeare is for everybody and in order to proliferate his works we offer a first class location with a first class experience.” 

            Although the company does receive some arts-council funding, it is a self-sufficient organization and turns a profit. When not performing in Phoenix, they take their plays on the road and even internationally. “Phoenix is a great base for us,” explains Margaret, “as everybody here is from somewhere else. Many residents have come from larger cities where they’ve enjoyed quality theater and so expect the same.” A classic case of the market will provide.

*

            Mrs. Menendez watches her teenage son as he leaves the house, walks down the garden path, turns, waves, and disappears into inky blackness. Menendez crosses herself; not in fear for her son but in thanks for a certain individual who’s come to town — a voice that will take her beloved boy off the street and keep him safe from harm. She knows exactly where Jose will be for the next two hours; in fact she knows where he’ll be every Tuesday and Thursday for the next two months. Secure and surrounded in the caring environment of the Brelby Theatre and Geoff Shelby; free from the scum who pollute the streets.
            So who is this masked man, the caped-crusader that has arrived to save the youth of Glendale? No man of steel, rather a man of words; a warrior poet whose plays and sonnets have brightened the planet for over 400 years; a writer who has chased away the shadows and illuminated the lives of millions. Parents of Glendale and Phoenix take heart. William Shakespeare abides in Arizona.

 

The End

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SON OF A GUN

4 Oct

 

He’d bought the weapon for self-protection, for home defense as the clerk at the gun store had advised him. Gulled by the martial terminology and the shinning chrome of the new made-in-Czechoslovakia nine millimeter weapon, he’d been an easy sell. The clerk had been more than helpful and given him all the information necessary even down to the telephone number of a local pistol range where he could become proficient in the art of piercing paper at thirty yards. The gun had felt good in his hand the weight of it falling easily into his palm, his finger curling very naturally around the trigger. The clerk had taken his VISA and pushed the necessary paperwork across the counter for him to complete. While the man made the necessary phone calls, George filled the five minute wait shooting-the-shit with a fellow gunslinger.

The clerk came back smiling – George had been background-checked, verified, profiled and approved by the federal government. It was worth the trouble. After all, as the attendant had pointed out, you couldn’t just sell a weapon to anybody, even if they did live in the land of the free.

Not licensed to kill, George did feel a little bit gangster as he walked out to his car. The knowledge of the responsibility he carried in the plastic bag gave his step a substantial spring, the cold-steel bolstering his confidence and gun-oiling his ego.

His purchase was premeditated; it wasn’t something he’d done lightly. George had spent hours poring over the computer checking out websites and balancing the pros and cons, had joined the N.R.A. and was staunchly in favor of the second amendment by the time his lifetime membership arrived in the post. He’d the jargon down, the litany of the pro-gun advocate; how the police where always five minutes late, that it wasn’t guns that killed people, it was people that killed people. If guns were to blame for the innumerable shooting deaths in the United States then similarly pencils were responsible for every spelling mistake. That a gun was just a tool, just like a hammer or a cooking pot, it served a purpose, it was there if necessary – better to have than not. Convinced he was doing the right thing he was legally armed and dangerous. One man under god, equipped and deadly, fulfilling his constitutional obligation and prepared to fire in the direction of tyranny and civil unrest – a one man militia, a force to be reckoned with, a flag waving, gun toting, card carrying, tea partying patriot.

George had taken the clerk’s advice, called the gun club and signed up for the requisite causes. Having parked the car he walked up to a building that some enthusiastic architect had taken great pains to design as a military bunker. With a low roof line and black reflective glass and a lot of stainless steel he felt as though he were entering a top secret military establishment rather than a public shooting range. Once again his details were taken. Gun ownership, he was discovering, was all about paper work and he was enrolled in a training class with six other individuals, some of whom had clearly dressed for the occasion there being an all pervasive look of camouflage and military surplus. Taking the old adage of dressing to impress, some of his contemporaries had overstepped the mark with rubber knee protectors, knife proof vests and black fingerless leather gloves. It looked more like a meeting of old contemptibles rather than a group of like-minded armed-to-the-teeth citizens. This season’s color of choice was clearly olive-drab.

Listed as group Eagle-Talon they were assembled in a class room. Sitting anxiously waiting for the instructor George felt the thrill of pending battle as adrenalin coursed through his veins. He’d told his son a thousand times that you could achieve anything if you set your mind to it and George  was determined to put the hardware pressing into the small of his back through its paces. Born into the wrong time period but with but with a duelist’s heart he would master the gun on his side.

The quick and the dead, gun fight at the OK corral, storming Normandy beaches; all George wanted was a chance to prove himself.

The door swung open and a man with a crew cut and a thousand mile stare took his place at the front of the class. He cleared his voice and pushed up his sleeves, revealing deaths-head tattoos and crossed daggers. This veteran had clearly seen the edge of eternity and was about to impart some of his war- won-wisdom to the assembled.

Gun school had gone well and after three weeks of two hours on a Thursday afternoon George felt he was more than capable of handling the pistol. Stripping and assembling had become second nature and he could recite muzzle velocities and speak with authority regarding the differences between hollow- points and steel jacketed munitions. They’d graduated with perfectly grouped pistol shots and a state accredited concealed carry permit. Leaving the building he knew life would never be the same, now he was self-reliant, now no matter what life threw at him he would be ready.  Proud of his achievement the pistol had been placed in his bed side drawer, next to the massage oil his wife enjoyed, just in case there ever came a time when the police arrived five minutes too late.

*

Feeling a nudge in his side George returned to consciousness. He’d dreamt he was running on a tree lined beach, the sound of waves crashing on pristine white sand, whilst being chased by topless beauties wearing skateboard helmets

“George, did you hear that?” His wife was sat up in bed, her heavy breathing betraying her anxiety. “George,” she gasped pinching his skin and making him wince,” there’s somebody outside in the back yard, the security lights are on.”

 As if doused in ice water George sprang into action. Dressed in his birthday suit and slippers he opened the drawer and removed the gun. He pulled back the action, made sure the weapon was loaded, and stealthily made his way into the kitchen. Insuring he remained in the shadows, as the Vietnam vet had taught him, he cautiously slid open the back door. Cold white light bathed the yard, shadows danced around miniature date palms and made-in-Mexico ceramics. George could see a figure attempting to slither down the back wall. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end and he felt his palms sweat as he gripped his pistol.

*

“Whatever you do remain calm,” the instructor had said, “the element of surprise is everything. Just pointing a gun in the general direction of a person will scare the shit out of them. You don’t have to fire the weapon to intimidate but remember this; if you do pull the trigger it will change your life forever. Good or bad, justified or not, you will be held responsible for your actions. In a life or death situation it’s you or him. Is it better to ask for forgiveness and be alive rather than lying in a pool of your own blood? That will be something that only you can determine. Remember when it comes down to it the choice is yours. It’s up to you, nobody can decide for you.”

*

The would-be burglar was now down off the wall and making his way slowly to the side of the house. The safety was already off and in one swift movement George had adopted the firing stance and was cradling the weapon in both hands, a text book image of the position he’d been taught. The weapon had come up and George’s eye was focused down the barrel, the foresight nestled in the center of the intruder’s chest. It was a righteous shot, nobody would think the worst of him. It was do or die – his family against the rabble.

Pulling the trigger was easy, the pulse of the weapon in his hand electric, the recoil absorbed and counteracted by his flexed arms. The blinding flash illuminated the yard. Time slowed down everything went into slow motion. The bullet caught the intruder in mid-stride and George watched as the force of the bullet swung the killer around and pushed him to the ground. The report of the weapon bounced around the garden, the thunder crashing off the cinder brick walls. Taking one step forward as he’d been instructed, he fired again.

#Rule number two – Double Tap.  The terrorist lay on the ground.

Energized and alert his senses at full elevation George flicked on the safety and made his way cautiously to where the enemy combatant lay prostrated. George felt cool calm and collected, the shooting was justified, nobody would doubt him, he’d done the right thing. The psychopathic kiddy-fiddler on the ground was moaning in pain, there was a bubbling, hissing sound coming from an obvious chest wound, bright, pink, blood bubbled and frothed. At such close range, the bullet had ripped open the chest cavity and turned the murderer’s organs to goo. The hollow point round as expected had mushroomed and caused the maximum physical damage without harming any innocent bystanders.

*

The instructor had been very specific, “Use hollow points in your weapons. Maximum stopping power with maximum consideration for innocent bystanders. You don’t want your rounds to travel down-range, through brick walls and into your neighbor’s living rooms.”

*

The serial killer lay face down. Reaching out George put his hand on his victims shoulder, turned the body over, and looked straight into the eyes of his son! George froze unable to comprehend what he had done.

“Dad, dad…what?” whispered the boy.

George was shaking now, the pistol in his hand falling and clattering to the ground, realizing that the person who’d slipped over his back wall had been his son, Tommy. What had he done? Where had the boy been, what the hell had been doing – a romantic rendezvous perhaps, an illicit meet up with some of his friends?

A shadow expanded across the garden and he turned to see his wife standing in the kitchen doorway. “George what’s wrong? What’s going on? His son gurgled.

*

In the distance George could hear the sound of sirens. Uniformed officers were racing to the scene to investigate the shooting probably reported by an anxious neighbor.

“Right on time,” thought George. “Right on bloody time!”

 

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE – RAPE 101

17 Mar

 

Picking up his jacket, the man reached out to her. “Thanks gorgeous, that was amazing.”

Anna smiled the smile she saved for her clients, kissed him on the cheek and gently coaxed him out of the apartment. What was it with these blokes? They were paying for sex, not love. Didn’t they know her time was valuable? Jesus! If she lingered and whispered sweet-nothings to every swinging dick that came through her door she’d never make any money. Did they really think she thought they were special, that they were the only ones? On a good day she’d see six of them, all of them the same -married, single, with jobs, careers, professions, titles and university accreditation. All of them looking for non-committal, illicit sex, but always yearning for something more – a heartfelt conversation, an emotional connection, the feeling they were wanted for more than just screwing shelves to mortgaged homes, weeding gardens, forty hours a week plus over time. Lawyers, bricklayers, school teachers and mechanics, even the occasional woman. Apparently there were females out there, who despite having the physical accoutrement to score in an convent, preferred the seclusion and security that went along with the services she provided. It made no difference. To Anna money was money; her moment of rehearsed ecstasy was brief but lucrative. As her clients lay gasping on her bed from their exertions, pinning her under their matted chests and heaving bellies, it wasn’t exactly l’amour she was contemplating.

The luxury apartment she’d acquired overlooked the river Ouse; an old bonded-warehouse that’d been turned into yuppie condos back in the eighties. It’d cost a packet and the brand new German automobile parked in the subterranean garage, purchased to accessorize her new found affluence, hadn’t just materialized out of thin air. When people talked about working-girls they didn’t know the half of it! Between escorting and scamming she’d done pretty well for herself. Not bad for a girl who’d left school with three o-levels and a set of double-dees.

As a lass she’d enjoyed plenty of male attention, never having to put her hand in her pocket. Realization quickly dawned upon Anna that her path, thanks to her looks, was paved in gold. Single pot culinary masterpieces in dingy shared accommodation had been exchanged for the fine dining and silk sheets. Sure she’d dated in her teens, but the gooey-eyed, sentimental love songs sung by her boyish lovers where nothing when compared to the overtures of the mature wealthy men prepared to treat her like a princess and pay for the privilege Escorting hadn’t been her first choice. She’d tried to fulfill parental expectation and do the college-thing however, the lure of easy cash in the clubs and bars around the city soon made her reconsider her profession of choice. Weekends stuck in bedsits with mountains of homework were not for her and the quotidian indecent proposals she received offered her the escape from the working class purgatory she so desired.

Anna kept up the pretense of college for a couple of years before committing to apprentice in the oldest profession. She’d told her parents she’d found a job as an air stewardess, allowing her to account for her time away and the money she was earning. She hadn’t found it hard, the life style she led more than made up for the sweaty half-hours she had to endure. Beautiful clothes, perfect make up, fun friends and wild destinations became the norm. It was from this pedestal of feminine invincibility that she’d ventured into black mail; an easy enough transition. Having stepped over one line it was simple enough to leap over another.

Her first mark had been a man who’d approached her in Betty’s Tea-Rooms on the High Street. Not an unusual occurrence- the sexuality she oozed attracted men like lemmings to cliffs. Nice enough fella and judging by the shoes and clothes he was wearing a man of substance. It was the little things she noticed, the expensive watch, the silk tie, the oversized wedding ring. They’d talked, he’d asked her out for drinks and she’d said yes.

Child’s play she’d thought to herself; they made themselves targets. For some reason men who cheat love to talk about their home, their kids, their jobs, and their wives. It was a wonder they cheated in the first place given the conversations that were always so up beat – how lucky, fortunate ,happy, (pick the adjective) they were, and yet here they were trying to get into her knickers as though she kept the crown jewels down there! They’d arranged a rendezvous, set up a time and place to do the deed. It had been easy enough. She’d left him asleep on the bed, rifled his pockets, taken his watch and pocketed the wedding band he’d judiciously laid on the night stand. With his credit card in hand and his driver’s license there was no fear of repercussion. He’d be stupid to call the police, especially with the photograph of his doting family nestled in her handbag.

*

Frank had been one of the first people she’d really got to know when she arrived in the city, always seemed to be working the doors of the hottest night spots in town. Nice guy, big as a brick-shithouse but always smartly dressed – handsome in a rugged, aggressive kind of way. He’d ushered her past red-ropes, jumped her through crowds and set her on the arms of several different wealthy men. Not being slow on the uptake he’d managed to coerce her into a little business proposition. Didn’t want to muscle in on the escort side of things, wasn’t looking to pimp her out, but there was something they could do together that could make them both a lot of money. Shed accepted an invite for coffee and it was then he’d discussed his plans.

Wiping the cappuccino foam from his top lip Frank leant across the table.“Married fellas, out-of-towners and race-go-ers with money, are always asking me for girls. Not just any girls but something a bit special like you. Offering big money as well. Fellas like that have a reputation to keep and nine times out of ten a family as well. The last thing they need is publicity of the wrong sort.”

The plan was to entice punters into hotels, get them naked and then photograph them in compromising positions. No sex required just a couple of snaps of the punter in his Jockies, Anna in her bra-and-panties and the job was a good-‘un – the money theirs. They’d never know what hit them and they’d pay up every time.  A couple of thousand quid was cheap compared to a divorce and their faces splashed all over the local papers. It almost sounded too good to be true!

The first one she met at the Ebor hotel, told her she was the most beautiful women he’d ever seen. Of course she played the virgin, fluttered her baby-blues and blushed in all the right places. Anna embelished the occasion with the panache of Garbot; with long lingering looks, furtive glances and brushed fingertips. The small felt box he’d slid across the dinner table with the necklace had been his first inducement. He’d later dropped her off, at what he though was her apartment, had his advances rebuked, and his cheek kissed.

Gorgeous in the console light of the parked car she’d taken his hand, “Never on a first date darling. I want you to respect me. I want this to be special.” Worked every time, the idiot would go home and fuck his wife like they were newlyweds in anticipation of their next meeting. The second meeting was always at a hotel, something posh and very public; somewhere there would be no fear of retaliation.

In the room he’d open the wine, while she’d make the excuse to slip into something more comfortable. The sound of a shower running softly and the soft silky inducement for him to take his clothes off would always get the punter down to his y-fronts and socks. Anna would walk in smelling delicious wearing a little something from Victoria’s Secret – classically beautiful but expensively slutty, and then join him on the bed. His arms would barely be around her before the intruder burst from the closet. Frank dressed all in black, with a balaclava on his head and waving a baseball bat was enough to scare the shit out of anybody

“Get off the fucking bed,” screamed Frank. “Now! Off the bed you fucking nonce!”  Standing at the foot of the bed with the club in his hand he was a hard man to refuse. “You too, you fucking slut. Both of you stand over there.” Screamed Frank, pointing his weapon towards the cowering couple. The camera would flash and the john would look for all the world like a naughty school boy caught peeking at dirty pictures rather than the captain of industry or doting husband that he supposedly was.

Despite protestations the camera flashed again. “Shut up and listen you twat! In a few days you’ll receive a call with an amount and a drop-off. Don’t fuck me around or these photos will go around the world. Don’t try and screw me ‘cos I’ve already given instructions to release these should something happen to me. Understand, comprende, capiche?”

The john nodded.

“It’s simple see. You pay the money, shut the fuck up, and these go away.” Frank brandished the camera stared down the client, who would invariably cower behind Anna, and then leave. Left with the client to clean up the pieces Anna would quickly get dressed, promise she’d never see ,or mention him to anybody, and urge him to pay the money.

The money was invariably delivered. The photos and negatives would end up with the John and Anna and Frank would share the rewards. Not a bad line of business, and something they were able to pull off fairly regularly.

Anna looked at the clock on the wall – it was a quarter to ten. She had to get a wiggle on as she was supposed to interview with their latest target, a man called John who was the owner-operator of the Slug and Cabbage, one of the most popular venues in York. According to Frank the man was minted and needed to be relieved of some of his ill-gotten wealth. An easy target; married with a couple of kids he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants. Anna would interview for the position of barmaid, something she’d done in the past, and within a couple of weeks worm her way into John’s good graces –although according to Frank it probably wouldn’t take that long. Then using their perfected modus operandi they’d take him down. Frank reckoned he was good for a thousand or five, not the sort of money you could earn on your back or for selling muscle for money on a nightclub door.

She needed to jump in the shower and wash the client of her. She could stillfeel his breath on her neck and his sticky cum was still in her hair. God he was disgusting! It wasn’t as though she was doing it for the money. The man who liked to be tied up, spanked and occasionally pissed on was none other than Inspector Pinkney of the East Yorkshire Constabulary .

She’d first met Pinkney a couple of years ago when he’d busted her on a prostitution scam. She’d been expecting some well-heeled client but instead when she’d answered the door Pinkney had been there. He knew everything and had threatened to take her down the station and bust her. A couple of years in Leeds wasn’t exactly what she’d had planned. Given the crackdown on vice that was going on in the city, especially the clean up around the railway station and Lendel Bridge, there was little chance of leniency. Anna was afraid she’d end up in jail cell with a couple of dykes that would fuck her to within an inch of her life and so the invitation to suck Pinkney’s dick and to make the matter go away seemed preferable.. Of course she’d got on her knees but the inspector hadn’t disappeared and she’d been forced to endure his increasing list of perversions on a regular basis. Pinkney, good to his promise, kept her out of Jail, and on a couple of occasions had managed to get her out of scrapes. Although a literal pain in the arse, he was a good card to have up her sleeve.  If the shit really hit the fan she could always rely on the inspector.

 Anna walked towards the bathroom, picked up her clothes as she went and tossed them on the destroyed bed. Handcuffs and a strap on dildo still lay were she’d left them. She’d tidy up later, she had to get in the shower and get out of there.

*

Smelling clean and expensive she looked herself up and down in the mirror. The black skirt over sheer stockings and high heels would take his breath away; her bosom threatened to explode through the laced shirt she wore, a hint of pink bra peeked from beneath pristine white. Anna was a vision. John the man she was going to interview with didn’t know it yet, but was already dead meat. He’d be putty in her hands, and in in a couple of weeks she’d be counting his cash. Grabbing her bag and keys she walked toward the door.

The telephone started to ring. Anna was late, she had to get going, she had to be there at twelve and the Slug and Cabbage was on the other side of town. She closed the door to her apartment. The answering machine would pick up, shed get it later, probably just a booking.

The answering machine kicked in. The honey chocolate tones of the gorgeous Helen, Anna’s working name filled the void. “Hi sorry you missed me. Not here right now but if you leave a name and number I’ll get back to you just as soon as I can.”

“Beep.”

“Hey Anna, Anna, it’s me Dmitry – pick up the bloody phone!” The sound of a man with an eastern European accent echoed through the room

“Anna it’s Dmitry. I’ll be in town tonight, maybe we can get together baby. Dmitry’s going to make you rich baby. Call me back, I missed you so bad.”

The machine clicked off. The red light on the answering machine pulsed.

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WANNABE

11 Mar

 

“Life has a funny way of messing with you and putting you in your place. Doesn’t matter what college you did or didn’t go to, the length of your resume or even the veracity of your pedigree; once fate gets her gnashers into you there’s no point in struggling. There’s a plan, you see, however, it’s one that we just aren’t aware of. It ain’t God, it’s not the aliens and it’s certainly not the fairies at the bottom of the garden, and as much as I want to believe in Leprechauns, it ain’t them either…

  Funny little Irish blokes with their pots of gold, rainbows, big buckles and large hats.

 I just can’t force myself to do it! Given society’s p.c. climate, the pot of the gold at the end of the rainbow may just be a homosexual reference for something else? Have to be careful these days, can’t just believe in any old rubbish!

 The way I see it there is more to this world than meets the naked eye. Blind as we are at the best of times, without our rose-colored spectacles, the world occasionally offers us a glimpse, a peek behind the curtain – a glitch in the matrix as Neo called it. People see all manner of strange things from spectral entities and dead relatives to whole roman legions marching through the center of town. I mean if you’re going to make something up at least have the courtesy of making it believable. One roman yes, but thirty, dirty, battle-weary Italians? It’s a bit of a stretch, especially the bit about the Italians being battle weary! We’ve all heard the joke bout the Italian tank with thirty six gears; one for forward and thirty five for reverse? But I digress, the Italians aren’t a bad lot – I mean there’s Pizza and other stuff that we can thank them for. Right?

Thing is see, I think we live in different dimensions, different levels of consciousness that we just can’t access. Sure we have the mediums and the Russell Grants of the world who can tell us exactly what’s in our future – but can they really? At the end of the day we see seven colors in a spectrum of infinite color and our hearing range falls within the Mutton-Geoff. No wonder we have such a problem understanding what’s going on around us, we can barely see and hear each other. You’ve probably noticed in most job listings they ask for good communication skills? Given that mankind is tapping a white stick and popping new batteries into its hearing device it’s a wonder the human race made it out of the starter-gate at all!

Fate got a hold of me at an early age. Wasn’t much good at school, but the one thing I could do was color between the lines and cut out correctly – an eye for detail is what the infant-school teachers said. As I progressed through my comprehensive education I discovered that I was also a bit handy with a pencil and a paint brush, to the point that my work was hung all over the school and was winning competitions in the local district. An acclaimed artist, a boy with a future – which was  all very well and gave me a goal but what I really wanted to do was discover buried treasure.

 I grew up with Treasure Island and Burt Lancaster leaping from ship to ship in old Pirate flicks, black-and-white swashbucklers featured at Saturday morning matinees. We’d draw treasure maps and mark all the pertinent points in black felt-tip pen.

…Twenty steps north to the shed, turn east and walk thirty steps to the bird table, another fifteen steeps to the barbeque island and  then, “ YO HO HO ! There you have it me hearties – dig you blaggards dig…”

With plastic-spade enthusiasm we’d blunt our implements on the iron-hard ground as we attempted to unearth treasure, or reach Australia – whichever came first. Happy days when a pair of underpants pulled down over your head was an eye patch and a bamboo stick a cutlass that would run any passing poor- unfortunate through. Sailing for the horizon o’er the Spanish Maine until your mum called you in because it was getting dark and your fish fingers were going cold.

I used to spend hours curled up in front of the portable television in the spare room watching grainy images of Jacque Cousteau as he discovered the never before seen world under the waves. The occasional ship wreck and acres of fish – the stuff of Boy’s Own stories books and Christmas annuals, but with a French accent.

 Sun beating of the Calypso’s deck, the drip of Mediterranean water as you emerged from the deep, instead of cold rain beating off a Yorkshire window. I even had a red wooly hat, which to the initiated signified something special; however, the ignorant just thought I was a Liverpool supporter. I’ve been called many things but Liverpool? York city was my team – at least they were on Saturday afternoons when we were waiting for the pubs to reopen.

Well, life passed me by and I never did get to wear the scuba gear, ambitions of frogmen and sunken galleons were put into cardboard boxes and stored in the attic with the other relics of childhood. Exams were taken and failed and the only school that would have me was the city arts college. Always a place for a loser at the arts college, in fact I have the feeling the bigger the loser the bigger the welcome. Diversity is what they called it then although looking back it was a little weird.

 Tomatoes or ‘TOW-MAY-TOES’,  it’s all one!

So I spent my three years scribbling and drawing, growing beards and shaving beards, dating lads, because that was the new-romantic thing to do, then going back to lasses because they were less stubbly.

Which brings me to the present  and finds me here in my own tattoo studio. Not a bad life and it’s a nice little outlet for my creativity. All manner of people walk through the door and there’s never a dull moment. That’s a lie actually because, if I have to ink another star on another backside, I may just have to end it all right there and then.

There’s the door bell!  Got to go, that’s my three o’clock – a lady that wants a bull’s-eye on her lower back. Asked her why, and she told me her husband was a dart player! Don’t get it myself. Bit strange if you ask me, but business is business!”

SLASHED SEAT AFFAIRS

3 Mar

The six-thirty to London comes to a halt – pneumatics hiss, doors swing open. Men in grey flannel suits, camouflaged business attire, mount the morning steed and head to concrete jungles far from suburban greenery. With mortgages on their minds, the nameless, faceless, warriors of economic boom-and-bust climb into regular seats next to familiar-faced strangers. With a tip of the hat, a crinkle of the mouth, they wish silent good mornings to ‘old whatshisname’ whom they should have known, considering they’d sat next to the same perfect stranger for the past five years. Thermos flasks are opened and luke-warm coffee is enjoyed between mouthfuls of pressed-meat and fish paste sandwiches.

The doors close and the train moves forward.

Newspapers are spread and folded to desired locations – crossword puzzles, sports pages, the prime minister’s questions and lack of answers. Depthed in individual worlds of commuter bliss, the gentlemen of commerce prepare themselves for the thirty seven minutes to Paddington – barring of course derailment and leaves on the track!

The train has been cleaned but you can still smell the bleach from where the night porters washed away vomit and piss from the previous evening’s downtown revelers. Nothing like the inner city to bring out the beast – what happens in London stays in London, unless of course it’s left on the train on the way home. The empty kebab wrappers and fish and chip papers have long since ben removed by persons unknown with a basic grasp of the English language; men and women thankful for the opportunity to pursue a future in this other Eden.

 The leather-backed chairs bear mute witness to star crossed lovers, footballing rivals and pen-knife poets. The indelible verse goes unread by the daily commuters.

Graffiti on an otherwise perfectly good leather seat will incur the ire of the train manager who at some stage will have to invest taxpayer money to repair the damage

“Mick loves Charlotte,” but the grey-suited bowler-hatted gents will never share their joy. Their minds’ eye is focused on distant financial horizons; the love affair announced to the world and staring them literally in the face remains anathema. Mick may love Charlotte, but the world really doesn’t give a damn.

Bloody stupid anyway! What’s the point? What are they looking for – immortality on a train that’s twenty years past its replacement date? Eternal love scratched into substandard leather. The gents with the newspapers turn their pages in unison and concentrate on two-up two-down rather than what’s scrawled across the seat-back in front of them.

*

CRYPTIC.

2.ACROSS: Position taken up some distance away.

2.DOWN: Nice day contaminated with such poisons.

*

It’d been a Friday night down at the Bull and Bush – the local disco where the kids could hang out, drink their underage pints, and fondle each other outside in the car park. That was where Mick had first seen Charlotte.

A vision in taffeta and blue eye shadow, a sixteen year old woman of the world pretending to be eighteen going on thirty five. Liked them a bit younger did Mick, and this one had taken his fancy. The way the strobe light caught her in mid dance made her appear as if she was carved in marble. A virgo intacta, a monument to the virtues of womanhood petrified on a beer-sticky dance floor. The sparkling mirror ball screwed to the ceiling accented the glitter in her hair; the blond highlights from the do-it-yourself hair dye kit flashed in the darkness. He’d done the usual, offered to buy her a drink in the hope that it would lubricate the knicker elastic of her Saint Michaels. Three rum-and-blacks later and a slow dance to a top forty favorite and they were soul mates.

 As they lay in post-coital bliss, after consummating their undying love, their names dripped in condensation hearts off the rear window of the second hand Ford Cortina – fogged up windows that bore testimony to their eternal affection.

He who dares wins and he who plays pays. Wedding bells and confetti righted the wrong and the three of them moved into her mother’s. Not much to write home about but there again Mick had never been a man of letters. His job stacking tins down at the local supermarket kept him busy enough. Shelves filled with beans and spaghetti necessary to satiate the needy that plied the store to lay waste to Mick’s nightly labors; a population desperate for Italian cuisine and cheap heat-in-the-microwave dinners.

Connoisseurs who at the touch of a button, and with thirty seconds of RF radiation, could recreate the essence of the Mediterranean.

Not much of a job, but about as much as Mick could handle. With the baby and the wife there wasn’t a lot else to spend his money on. Friday nights down at the Bull and Bush were a thing of the past, now it was Friday T.V.  Game shows with the ever present parents-in-law. A house with one bathroom and paper-thin walls meant that all carnal activity was common knowledge. The short, sharp, tap of the headboard hitting the wall and the grunts of his mother-in-law in the room next door were hardly conducive to a successful love life, especially when the disco princess lying next to him looked more like her mother every day!

A year of dirty nappys and a manager that he’d swing for, boiled his piss and cooked his bile. It wasn’t the fact that the shepherd’s pie had been overcooked or that once again the baby had vomited on one of his favorite t-shirts. It was a combination of things – It was everything.

*

“Much too much, much too young. You’re married with a kid when you should be having fun with me…”

The Specials.

*

Memories of an easier life and a pocketful of cash raced through his mind as he pounded his fist into the face of his truly beloved – her split lip and blood-soaked dress sealed the covenant that would ensure ever lasting purgatory. As the police officers dragged Mick from his home, their night sticks smashing his teeth and bruising his eyes, he remembered happier days when a trip to London had resulted in scratched posterity on the back of a rail carriage seat.

*

The train pulls to a stop and the cloud of grey and black suits stand to attention and head for the exit.

“Tickets gentleman, please,” calls the conductor searching for errant free loaders as they try to exit without paying. Looking around the empty carriage, the blue uniformed inspector checks for dropped wallets and forgotten brief cases. There was always something to help supplement the stipend British Rail kept him on. Picking up a newspaper he peruses an unfinished crossword, clicks his tongue, reaches for his pen, and fills in the missing letters.

*

CRYPTIC. 

2.ACROSS: STANCE 

2.DOWN: ARSENIC

*

His eye catches the etched leather and replacing his pen he takes in the love heart knifed into the seat.

 “Bloody vandals!” It wasn’t as though he didn’t have enough to worry about, without some stupid, bloody-kids tearing up the place.

N.B. Slashed seat affairs is a lyric from THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT by THE JAM

NORTH EASTERN PROMISE

2 Mar

George rubbed his hands together and sucked on his dentures. Getting old was a bastard and something he really didn’t appreciate. The doc’ had told him that he needed to get away, find some blue sky and palm trees, but there was fat chance of that. With a wife to support on an ex-coalminer’s pension they weren’t exactly living large. Thirty five years he’d spent down the pit; man and boy giving his life for the black-stuff. What else could he have done? His dad had been a miner and his grandfather before him, so for his thirteenth birthday he received a pair of steel-toed boots and a permission slip to leave school early. A brown paper envelope with a couple of quid at the end of the week was far more important to the family than a leaving certificate, besides, higher education wasn’t for the likes of them, that was for posh folk. 

George coughed and tasted blood in his mouth, he was in his sixties but you would easily have given him seventy. The problem with working down the pit was that it took as much from you as you took out of it. The more coal the more aches and pains. With slipped disks, rheumatism, grating joints, stone lung and a lazy eye he’d paid the price and was more than thankful when they’d finally retired him. He’d just about bitten the pit manager’s hand off when he’d been presented with his gold watch and thanked for his years of service. Put out to grass like some old knackered horse, to enjoy the last years of his life stumbling around his vegetable patch and getting under his wife’s feet. Big gardener was George, took good care of his council allotment – nobody grew onions like him. The secret was pigeon shit but people didn’t need to know that! 

His long suffering wife would watch him through condensed pains as he pottered around the back yard, mindful of the strong virulent man he’d once been. The pit had crushed him like a bug and she couldn’t remember the last time they’d been physical. Loved him to death though, even if he was a cantankerous old fart. Liked his own way did George, but Mary made sure he didn’t always get it. 

For Christmas the kids had bought him a green-house, one of those modular all-year-round, bio-thermal units. Aluminum framed with special glass that would attract more uv’s and help the plants to flourish, at least that’s what the description read in the catalogue. They’d clubbed together and with a fortuitous win at the Friday night bingo had enough together to pay the thing off in twenty seven easy installments. 

Strange looking thing. It was like a crushed egg with a pyramid shaped top. Designed ergonomically to insure the maximum utilization of the space within. 

Christmas had come and gone and they’d hired a couple of strapping lads to help erect it in the back yard. They’d placed it out on the cobbles where the old wooden shed had stood. George had seen his wife eye the young lads sweating in the afternoon sun – he wasn’t jealous, just cognizant of a  reluctant acceptance that age and infirmity spared no one. Now it was full of tomatoes, peppers and various other greenery not indigenous to the Yorkshire countryside. 

George had loved the gift and from the very beginning had gone to work preparing his seed beds and perfecting his irrigation. The watery north eastern sun radiating through the polarized glass had felt good on his body as he toiled in the dirt and there was definitely a lessening of the ache in his joints. After working all day beneath the glass, and sitting in his comfy chair of an evening, sleep came easily. His wife had noticed a lifting of his mood and had even commented on the extra spring in his step; it was good to see a man who’d worked hard all his life enjoying his final years. 

George was amazed at the crops that flourished beneath the glass, he’d never seen tomatoes like them; giant, red, brutes that burst with juice and flavor. Even the onions that he prided himself on where larger and tastier and he no longer had to use the pigeon manure although, it’d been a hard habit to break. 

During show season he’d taken first prize in nearly every category, something nobody in the town had ever done. The judges had admired his bounty and his fellow competitors, green with envy, had patted him on the back and congratulated him. What was his secret and would he share? George had just tapped his soil-stained finger against the side of his nose and smiled noncommittally. “Now then lads,” he’d said, “a gentleman never kisses and tells.” 

He was a little baffled himself as he wasn’t the only gardener in the area with a green house, some of the other old boys had them too, and yet their produce, although fantastic, didn’t come close to what he was producing. His veg seemed to grow twice as quick, twice as large, and twice as tasty. George put it down to his green-thumb; his colleagues put it down to devious practices and cried foul play behind his back. 

* 

Sitting in front of the telly one evening, the fire blazing and with fish and chips in newspaper in his lap, he watched some random program on the B.B.C. There was horse jumping on the other channel. He wouldn’t watch I.T.V. (hated the adverts!) out of principal and so was stuck with whatever Aunty Beeb was showing. Some documentary about Egypt and the pyramids; alien technology and conspiracy theories! All very well he thought as he shoveled a couple of soggy chips into his mouth, the salt and vinegar biting into his lips. A man in khaki, wearing a Pith helmet was enthusiastically remonstrating about the power of the pyramids – how he believed that they were ancient energy sources, not just tombs as mainstream Egyptologists would have us believe. Obviously the fella was a nutter thought George but it would kill an hour before he went up to bed. The commentator went onto describe propagation theory, how plants placed within the ancient structures would flourish generating abundant harvests. It was also believed that the energy within the chambers had medicinal properties, and how the ancients had used the pyramids for their healing properties. 

“Codswallop!” spluttered George through battered Haddock and mushy peas. 

For a brief instant light swept through the front room as scudding clouds revealed a reluctant moon – the fleeting beams glanced off the green house at the bottom of the garden. 

George gulped. “Bloody hell,” he cursed under his breath. 

* 

“George love,” called his wife, “I’m going up to bed. See you in a bit?”

“Right-o lass. I’ll just finish me scran and I’ll be up.”

His green-house was an effing pyramid! No wonder the vegetables were doing so well. It was ancient Egyptian technology that was causing his onions to expand at such an enviable rate. 

No bleeding wonder! George wasn’t a big believer in coincidence but the titles running up the television screen on the rear end of a retreating camel seemed to be screaming out to him. Maybe they were bloody right? Maybe there was something in it? He wondered if just maybe they were right about the other stuff as well. George finished his dinner and then sat through a program on political affairs almost falling asleep himself until he heard the soft snores of his wife emanating from the upstairs bedroom. 

It was worth a shot what did he have to lose? 

* 

He grabbed a blanket from the airing cupboard, a thermos filled with cocoa from the kitchen and as quietly as possible stole from the house. Careful to make as little noise as possible he headed out into the yard. It was cold outside however, he felt warmth emanate from the green-house as he slid open the glass door. He’d obviously gone of his rocker. Folk would think he was bonkers but it was worth a try. He’d already noticed a change in his temperament and friends and family had commented on how well he was looking. Even the squeak in his dodgy-knee had somehow been lubricated and disappeared. He settled himself into an old deck chair, wrapped the blanket around himself and with the odor of warm soil and ripening tomatoes in his nostrils drifted into sleep. 

* 

Mary came down the stairs and entered the living room. She’d woken up alone, which wasn’t unusual, as George would often fall asleep in front of the telly. She’d find him fully dressed and unconscious in the big comfy chair – the television playing to an inattentive audience. She walked towards where she expected to find her husband but the chair was empty. Now she was worried. George never went anywhere without telling her first and even then those occasions where few and far between. She walked into the kitchen, called out his name, but there was no reply. Where could he be? It wasn’t like him. She eyed the telephone hanging on the wall, thought about calling the police and then dismissed the idea as silly. Where could he be, he couldn’t have gone far? She peered through the kitchen window out to where George’s pride and joy stood. Surely not she thought, but it was worth a try. Given the recent success he’d enjoyed at the local horticultural show she wouldn’t put it passed the old fool. She shuffled her feet into her slippers, pulled her night gown around her, opened the back-door and went down the garden. Silly old bugger! What did he think he was playing at scaring her like that? She’d give him what for. 

* 

“George? George, are you out here?” she called. Nothing except the clink of the electric milk float as it rattled past, but no sign of George. She walked towards the green-house and slid open the door. She was getting nervous now, a little bit afraid of what she might find. He may be half lame, blind in one eye and but he certainly wasn’t deaf. 

Mary screamed, slumped in a chair was her George. A look of serenity covered his face. 

“My God not George! Surely not her George? Not like this. Not now! 

* 

Mary’s scream caused George to shoot up out of this chair. “Bloody hell woman, what the hell are you doing? You half scared me to bleeding death. Are you trying to collect on the life insurance or somat?” 

Mary stood in front of her husband. One hand covered her mouth, the other pointed towards him. 

“What is it lass?  What’s wrong?” 

Mary couldn’t believe her eyes. It was George alright, large as life but not the George she’d said goodnight too. The man in front of her was buff and virile; his toned physique bulged through an unbuttoned shirt. His hair was thick and dark and there was the twinkle in both his eyes that had caused her fall in love with him those thirty odd years ago. It was as though he’d lost years. Shocked by the man who stood in front of her she felt her knees buckle beneath her. 

* 

George still not understanding what was going on caught her as she fell, gathered her up in his massive arms and carried her back to the house. Neglecting to take off his boots he pushed open the kitchen door, walked through to the living room and laid her on the couch. As he stood up he caught his reflection in the mirror above the fireplace, or rather the reflection of the man he’d once been. 

“Flippin Nora!” he gasped out loud. How was he going to explain this to the lads down at the working men’s club? This was going to be slightly more difficult than giant onions and pigeon poop!

“YOUTH’S A THING, WILL NOT ENDURE”

Bill Shakespeare – 12th Night.