Monday Motivations : Escaping the heat

Ball of flame

Image : Pixabay

Nigel pushes the door, boots clunking from the peeling cold of the airfield to the fug of the mess room.

A quick scan confirms what he’d hoped – that the men not currently up in the air have gone into the village. They’ll be lining the bar of the King Billy, a cluster of RAF blue among the brown clad locals. They’ll wink and smile at Sheila the landlady, hoping to melt that grim expression, fixed as a Tussaud’s waxwork. Bernard Faulkes was the only one who made the crows feet gather round her eyes, the only one to stretch the thin lips wide … He tries to shake the thought away.

He gives the door one last pull to keep out the worst of the snapping wind and heads for a chair by the stove. The place is in its usual state – boots flopped over onto the concrete floor, open newspapers, books and a half played chess game on the tables, a long knitted scarf and a dress shirt draped over the back of one of the chairs.

Unbuttoning his coat, he pulls a tobacco pouch from his inside pocket. He just wants to sit, let the warmth from stove fill him, smoke a fag, fall into a fitful doze. His fingers stumble, the cigarette paper slipping, strands of tobacco dropping to the floor. He tells himself it’s the cold but there’s a tremble he never had before, a constant shiver even in the warmest room.

Nothing official has been said and for that he’s grateful. He’s still on the same crew, still rear gunner. But a week ago, he would have been down the pub with the others, winking at Sheila, singing over the strains of a wheezing accordian. Pack up your troubles …

Now he’s always alone. Eats tucked on the corner of the room, shovelling potatoes and grey meat as the others smoke and laugh. A gunner’s cramped perspex dome is a solitary place too, draft tearing the heat from your hands and face, the rumble of the engines, the wind whistling. Sometimes, as the grey curl of the English coast retreats into the black and the stars pop into life above, he imagines he’s the only person left alive, damned to fly over the land forever, never catching the dawn, never touching home.

Finally, he rolls a cigarette, tucks the end between his lips.

‘It’ll get easier, you know.’

The voice makes him jump. He drops his lighter. It hits the floor with a loud thud.

Now he sees him. What he thought was just a pile of coats and blankets tumbled onto an old wing-backed armchair hides a man, cap pulled low, great coat high, so only his nose is visible. The coats shift, fall aside, the petals of a great blue flower unfurling to reveal Stanley Beard – a navigator on another crew – a short, red haired Scot he only knows by sight.

Nigel picks up the lighter, clicks it open, lights his fag in the quivering flame. He doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t want company, but Stanley is leaning forward, elbows on his knees, a sharp look in his green eyes.

‘LMF. That’s what they’re saying.’

The effect is instant. His skin burns, blood heating until he knows it will boil, burst from his skin in ruby bubbles. He can’t speak, can’t swallow. He sees fire, feels the gun triggers under his hands, unable to shoot. Bernard Faulkes’ Lancaster is burning again, flames falling, spinning, hissing to black as the sea swallows the wreckage. Bernard Faulkes with his easy charm, his sparkle. Bernard Faulkes melting in the heat.

Stanley inches forward, rests a hand on his forearm. ‘You’re not Lacking Moral Fibre, laddie. Ye don’t want te die and that’s just fucking sensible.’ A smile spreads across his face, compressing and stretching the skin so his ginger stubble pales and darkens. ‘Do ye drink?’

Stanley talks as he sips his whisky, as he stares into the stove, watching the flames die.

 


Written for Esther Newton’s Monday Motivations, for the prompt word HEAT. Why not pop along yourself and be inspired.

This was inspired by an article I read recently about LMF (Low or Lack of Moral Fibre). A judgement – sometimes official, sometimes bestowed by colleagues – accusing a man of cowardice, of lacking the will to fight.

Read more about the consequences of an LMF judgement here.

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Monday Motivations : An end to silence

Wooden staircase

Image : Pixabay

 

Silence was the melody to Nancy’s life.

No doors were permitted to bang in their house – no radio played. The windows were locked tight even through summer’s moist, thundery days, in case a neighbour’s harsh bray or the sound of children clanking sticks along the railings should penetrate inside.

Her movements were always smooth, measured, design to be quiet – ballet with no accompaniment.

The routes from kitchen to hall, from hall to stairs and on, upward through their skewed box of a house, were well worn zigzags from mats to rugs to runner. Her weight would shift as she reached for the correct step, avoiding the loose boards and leaning newel posts that prised such distress from Mother.

Occasionally – years ago – Nancy would be in the middle of washing dishes or scrubbing clothes on the washboard, lost in the soothing, repetitive action and a melody would spring to her lips, escaping in a reedy whistle. But she’d soon learned that the tunes were safer kept inside where they couldn’t cause harm. Mother didn’t like music.

One day, the silence was broken.

A sound like air battling through water pipes, shuddering through the house, making the boards flex and newel posts creak, making the pictures shudder on their hooks, frames tapping on the walls like a hundred eager fingers. It came from upstairs, from the attic, where Mother paced and paced in stocking feet.

There was a thump, a tumble of heavy objects on the floor above, then nothing.

Nancy wasn’t sure exactly what had caused the noise but she knew one thing.

It heralded the end of silence.

 


 

Written for Esther Newton’s Monday Motivations. This week there was a choice between DISASTER, LOVE and SILENCE. I of course chose SILENCE. See here to join in.

 

Esther Newton’s Monday Motivations : New Year’s Resolution

Ice on railings

Image : Pixabay

Fog slumps over the city, each car roof patterned with feathery wands of ice. Grant walks quickly with no plan of where he’s heading, just that he needs the burning cold in his lungs, the nip at his ears.

Already the second of Janury. Christmas hardly caused a blip on his personal radar. No tree, no presents, just a sludge of tinsel heavy television to prove its existence.

He used to love it – the glitter, the excess – but that was before. That was when he had someone to make a fuss of, someone to make a fuss of him. Now he’s single and has fallen from the whirlwind of present buying and food shopping, he sees things he never did before – the homeless guy in the shop doorway, cardboard for a mattress, his scruffy mongrel wearing a chewed Santa hat; the old man lingering by the freezer in the 24 hour shop, picking a microwave roast dinner for one, a pudding in a can for desert. Grant now realises Christmas is a members only club. If you’re alone, you’re excluded.

He reaches the harbour side as the fog begins to lift. The water is frozen, the ferries breaking the ice into slates, forging pathways for the swans to follow. Boat chains and railings are furred white, icy prickles swept to powder as Grant runs his glove along the metal.

He and Amy never used to make a fuss about New Year. ‘There’s no magic in the passing of time,’ she’d say. And resolutions are a pointless weight on your shoulders. ‘Only there to be broken. A reason to feel disappointed with yourself.’

He’d nod. Of course, ridiculous.

But that was then. Now every year he makes the same resolution and each time he believes he’ll keep it, that enough time has passed, that he’s stronger than he was.

The pavement is still icy in the shadows, mud ridged and stiff, leaves pressed by feet and frost. He looks up at the building. Each flat has a triangular balcony, like the prow of a ship but made in metal and glass, cluttered with flower pots and fold up chairs. He counts the floors – one, two, three – settling on the fourth. There’s the striped parasol, folded up for the winter, the terracotta pot that brims with scarlet geraniums every summer.

Every year he makes the same resolution and always breaks it.

‘Happy New Year, Amy,’ he whispers, turns and heads for home.

 


Written for Esther Newton’s Monday Motivations – New Year. Esther runs some great prompts and competitions – pop along here to see what’s happening.

 

Esther Newton’s Monday Motivations : The Gift

Christmas tree with baubles

Image : Pixabay

A festive story, concerning a very special gift … 


Robert had avoided spending Christmas with his mother since his father died over twenty years earlier.

There’d always been a valid excuse to stay away. After university he’d back packed around India, Nepal, Thailand, been an aid worker in Southern Africa. Later, his work in finance had taken him to New York, Paris, Munich. He’d even survived the frantic bustle of Hong Kong for two years, preferring the neon canyons and fevered press of the city to the chill silence of ‘home’.

He’d never felt entirely at ease in his mother’s company. There was the silence of course, the way she closed down conversations with chippy, clipped answers, as if her health or well being were none of his business. And the way, when he attempted a fillial hug, she stiffened in his arms, transforming into a Chanel scented carving of a woman, a wooden Madonna in an M & S cardigan.

And yet there he stood on her doorstep, staring up at a holly wreath through rain misted glasses. He lifted the knocker and let it drop, rain dribbling up his sleeve.

When she finally came to the door, he was surprised at how small she was, as if she was falling in on herself, slowly deflating.

‘Robert,’ was all she said.

For a moment they stared at one another, her body a barrier.

‘I came for Christmas,’ he said. ‘You invited me.’

‘Yes, of course. Come in.’

As he wiped his feet on the mat, he wondered if she’d forgotten all about him.

***

After dinner, he went to fetch the Christmas decorations from the loft. Clambering up the rickety ladder was too much for his mother now, but Robert couldn’t face the house without something to cheer it. In every room the paintwork was dull and chipped, the ceilings stained and glossy with nicotine. The poor state of the place surprised him – she’d always been so particular.

Searching the loft felt like reliving moments from his parents’ marriage. There was the tall lamp with the tassled fringe that had stood behind his father’s chair, spilling a pool of light just large enough for him to read the sports pages. There was a fur coat pressed too tightly in its sheath of plastic – she’d worn that to Father’s work functions, her throat sparkling with diamonds, hair piled high like a curl of auburn whipped cream.

Finally, he found the Christmas box, balding tinsel snaking from one corner. As he picked it up something fell to the floor. Stooping, his fingers brushed up against a large cigar box tied with raffia.

‘Robert.’ Mother’s wavering voice drifted from downstairs. ‘I hope you’re not making a mess up there.’

He tucked the cigar box in with the decorations and headed for the ladder.

***

He quite enjoyed the next hour, slotting together the artificial tree, testing fairy lights, digging baubles out from their tissue paper shrouds. With every decoration, Mother leaned forward in her chair, nodding at each as if reacquainting herself with old friends.

Once the tree was finished, Robert remembered the cigar box. ‘I found this upstairs.’

She nodded but said nothing, so he slid the raffia aside and opened the box. At first he wasn’t sure what he was seeing – there were postcards of brightly lit city skylines, clippings from newspapers and magazines, a plastic biltong wrapper, a paper twist from a fortune cookie. All were laid flat, pressed so tightly, one or two sprang out as the lid opened. It was only when he spotted the fanned sail of a junk he realised what they were.

Every item was linked to his times abroad – an article about New Year’s celebrations in Time Square, a picture of the Eiffel Tower lit up, an iron Christmas tree for a whole city. It had never occurred to him to send her postcards or momentoes of the places he’d visited, never thought her sentimental enough to appreciate them. He imagined her clipping the pages, brushing fallen cigarette ash from the paper. Imagined her chewing the leathery biltong, sharing a snack with him, thousands of miles away.

‘You were always so distant,’ she said.

He had never thought his absence had mattered to her, thought her life was full enough without him.

‘So, Fiona left you,’ she said softly. ‘Took the children.’

He laughed. ‘Well, the children are old enough to take themselves. But yes.’

‘And your job?’

He shrugged. ‘I’ve lost my edge, so I’m told.’

She nodded. ‘Horrible industry anyway.’ She stared at the Christmas tree, at a slowly rotating bauble. ‘Just the two of us, then.’

He reached and took her hand.


Written for Esther Newton’s Monday Motivations, the theme being The Gift.

Merry Christmas all and a happy and peaceful New Year.