She started aged seven with her parents and four siblings – The Flying Beneventis – though the family name was Mossop and the closest Granny came to Italy was sharing a Penny Lick on Blackpool seafront.
At the age of twenty-one Granny married her manager, Gordon, and shed her leotard to become a novelty act – The Linnet of Livorno. She’d stand alone in the limelight and whistle. One moment she was a blackbird, the next a mistle thrush, always ending with a song to make the heart break – the nightingale.
Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the picture prompt write, share and read the work of others.
I don’t know what the bird in the picture is – I’m pretty sure it’s not a mistle thrush, a blackbird, a nightingale, or even a linnet. But whatever she is, she inspired me to travel back in time.
A Penny Lick was a small glass for serving ice cream most common during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The glass would be rinsed off (not very well!) before being used for the next customer.
Wilton’s Music Hall is the oldest music hall still standing in London. It really gives an idea of what a typical Victorian music hall was like.
A group of boys were hanging out in the shelter of the bridge. Twelve to fourteen years old, skinny backsides slipping out of baggy jeans and cargo pants. They weren’t up to much – drinking, smoking, tossing rubbish and rocks in the lake. Old enough to get into trouble.
Maybe that’s where her Gabino would be in ten years time, hanging out with his cousins, boys from the neighbourhood. Boys with connections.
Marcia shivered, lit the second cigarette of her rest break. She was lucky. Her job was better paid than many, meant she had a little money spare each month as long a no extra expenses came up. If mother could only stay well enough to care for Gabino while Marcia worked, their little family might stand a chance.
She dropped her cigarette stub on the foreshore, pressed the final light from the ash as the phone in her pocket vibrated.
Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Earth as its prompt. See here to join in.
Tasha had taken the cold journey from home in her stride. She examined every passersby closely: the women with their head scarves in shades of mud; the men’s faces hidden by Party caps, their hunched, overcoated shoulders.
She watched the trams and buses jostle through the city, along Gorky Street. The child hardly spoke, her expression curious but calm – she hadn’t reached for her grandmother’s hand once, not even when a milkman’s horse reared as they crossed the road.
‘This way, Tasha.’
The girl followed Ludmilla obediently, wide, dark eyes everywhere as they entered the metro station. The vaulted roof was golden and blood red with Soviet stars, chandeliers and mosaic tiles blinding in electric candlelight.
Ludmilla caught a glimpse of Tasha’s reflection as they rode the escalator to the next platform. That river of brunette hair, the narrow, pale face – she could almost be her Kaya at that age.
The golden station glittered and dissolved. She turned away, not wanting her tears to be seen. Her poor, betrayed Kaya.
A small hand slid into Ludmilla’s and she shivered. ‘Aren’t you looking forward to me getting my special prize, Babushka?’
‘Of course,’ said Ludmilla, trying to smile.
Tasha held her hand for the rest of their journey and it took all Ludmilla’s strength not to scream.
During the Soviet period, children were actively encouraged to inform on adults, even if they were relatives – even if they were their parents. See the story of Pavlik Morozov. Though the truth of the Pavlik legend is contested, the fact he was hailed as a hero by the Soviet state is not.
To the Bobbies she’d give the names Molly Brand, Moll Prate, Maggie Gardener, according to her whim. But to us of the rookery she was always Madam Lighthouse – Light if she looked on you kindly.
It was Light who used the cabbies, the bill posters, the street sweepers and hawkers as her eyes and ears, gave protection in exchange for all they knew.
It was Light who warned us of fresh-faced beat coppers out for an easy collar, of gangs bringing their own toms and dippers into our patch. And when sober requests to move on were rebuffed, it was Madam Light’s boys who did what had to be done.
She shined bright, steady as Dover’s white cliffs, for twenty glorious years.
Until this morning.
She was found in her chair, boots on the grate, pipe hanging slack from her lips.
Light snuffed out.
Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as inspiration. This week we visit Silver Bay, Minnesota. See here to join in.
Rookery – dense collection of houses, especially slums.
Bobbies/coppers – policemen (I would say ‘police officers’ but in the Victorian period in which this story is based, there were only male officers).
Toms – prostitutes.
Dippers – pickpockets.
Last month was Word Shamble’s fifth anniversary and this is my 1,000th blog post.
The blog has developed over time – I’ve tried humour, book-based posts, a serial and now mainly write flash fiction. I’ve had a lot of fun and ‘met’ a lot of lovely people – both in the UK and abroad.
Thanks to all who’ve read and commented over the last 1,000 posts, my WP family. Hope you can hang around for the next 1,000.
Another share of the cracking writing prompt, What Pegman Saw which this week visits Silver Bay Minnesota. I’ll be joining in tomorrow, but in the meantime, why don’t you run along ahead, take a look around and see what you can find. Visit HERE to join in.
Today Pegman finds himself in the once-great forests of Minnesota in the American Midwest. Your mission is to wander around using the google photosphere until something inspires you to write 150 words. When you’re satisfied, post your link to this week’s InLinkz site to share with your fellow participants. Remember, reading and commenting on other stories is part of the fun.
Adam stood at the boundary between wadi and desert, one boot dipping into the gritty sand, the other in the grass.
The view summed up his family.
There was the desert, the grey gold dunes, the lush but hardy date palms, that blend of beauty and toughness – that was his Saudi wife, Cala.
Then there was the agricultural land. The swathes of emerald grass, the sorghum and millet sprouting in the fields, the non-native trees that were scorched by the sun but wouldn’t survive at all without the wadi. That was him.
And the narrow path between them both, that was their daughter Bibi. She had a fall of black hair like her mother, his snub nose – though the crease between her eyes was all her own.
He wondered how long she could walk the narrow path between the two worlds.
Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we visit Wadi ad-Dawasir in Saudi Arabia. See here to join in.
It was a forsaken place. Ten miles of scrub and baked grit between us and the nearest city, a scouring wind that carried nothing but silence. A stack of weathered concrete blocks had been dumped by the roadside, their hollows a haven for scorpions and vipers.
‘What do you think?’ Sol rested a boot on one of the blocks, slapped dust from his trousers. ‘Got some of the materials already. From the previous build, you know.’ He stared out over the site, hat flapping in his hand.
A heat haze of desperation rose off him. He stank of it. I would never have got the call if he hadn’t tried every other option first, not with our shared history.
He flashed me a grin, that might once have charmed, but I now saw it for what it was – flash.
I shrugged. ‘Nothing for me here,’ I said.
Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we visit Hadera, Israel. See here to join in.