The Way We Lied

“Are you sure of that Simon, are you really sure? Did you ever ask her how she felt? Did you ever ask her what she wanted to do with her life?”
“Don’t talk to me like that. I know Helen better than you do. I know how important her family is to her. Her home, the children and me. We are what matter to her, not all this other sodding stuff.” He was drumming his fingers impatiently on the table and she just stood there, head on one side, looking at him with that tolerant smile as if he was a badly behaved child having a tantrum.
“Oh dear, Simon.” She shook her head. “You really don’t have any idea, do you? That sodding stuff, as you so charmingly call it, is Helen’s art. It’s her life and her very soul. You have been so blinkered for so long, you have not seen what has been happening right before your eyes. Helen has blossomed into a serious artist. And now that she wants to be independent and do something of her own for once, you just can’t accept it, can you? Oh it’s too inconvenient, it’s too daring! It just doesn’t suit you and your narrow view of life, that’s the trouble.”
Simon thumped the table with his fist. “No! That’s not true! I tell you, Helen was happy till you came along and started interfering. And now all of a sudden she wants to travel, go abroad, leave us! She can’t go! I won’t let her!”
He put his face in his hands, shaking his head. “Why can’t things be the way they were? I didn’t mind her doing her classes and selling paintings at the gallery. She still had plenty of time for her painting and she didn’t want to leave us then.”
Mary poured the tea into large enamel mugs and brought them to the table. She sat opposite Simon, spooning sugar into her cup. “Look, I know it’s hard for you, but believe me, if you can accept Helen’s need to progress her work and make it a priority, it will be better for you both in the long run. It’s not like she can’t afford to go away. Her new work is selling extremely well and she will be able to develop important new material if she can take advantage of wider experiences outside her home and this small community. Don’t you want that for her? Don’t you want her to be even more successful?”
In a tight, angry voice, he said, “I want her here, with us. She should be here with us, not roaming around on her own.”
“But Simon,” Mary spoke in a reasonable, calm voice, “the children are growing up. They’re no longer at home. She does not have to be there for them all the time now. And your work is flexible. You could go with her some of the time, couldn’t you?”
“What the hell do you know about my work? What makes you think you can tell me when and where I can work?”
Mary sighed. “I just meant that you might be able to think of this as an opportunity which could enrich the two of you as a couple. Maybe you would benefit from broadening your horizons as well as Helen.”
Simon’s face twisted in an ugly grimace. “What the hell are you talking about? I design brochures. I have clients to deal with. I can’t just go swanning off for weeks on end and hope the business will run itself. My clients aren’t going to thank me for lazing around in Greece or Morocco or wherever. It is totally irrelevant to what I do!”
Mary shrugged. “If that’s the way you see it, okay. But I think people can gain a new perspective by having time away from their normal routines. Surely you would agree that you feel recharged after a holiday or a weekend away from home?”
“That’s different,” Simon snapped. “Holidays are relaxing because they are planned well in advance and everything is organised properly. And we don’t like having weekends away. Weekends are for catching up at home. Going away disrupts our routine. And I’m certainly not interested in doing the kind of hippy hoppy back pack travelling shit that Helen is talking about.”
“Oh yes, wandering free as a bird,” Mary said, fluttering her fingers under his nose. “That’s not really you, is it Simon? You’re more the package holiday adventurer; everything ticked off, everything pre-booked, nothing unexpected. I’d forgotten that you were quite so unadventurous, so very scared of things new.” She emphasised these final words with a deepened voice and wide open eyes.
“That’s not true. I do new things all the time. I learnt to scuba dive on our last holiday. I took lessons.”
Mary responded by laughing with great gusts of hilarity, rocking her head back and forth as she gave herself to her laughter. “So you had lessons! Big deal!”
Then her laughing ceased suddenly and she said softly, “ Scaredy Simon. Simple, scared Simon.”
“Stop it. I came here to be reasonable with you. I just want you to talk to Helen. Persuade her.”
“Scaredy scaredy Simon.”
“Talk to her! Tell her not to go!”
Mary shook her head, laughing, then continued her taunting in a voice from the school playground. “Simon’s scared. Simon’s scared to be alone.”
“Stop it, I tell you. You’ll be the one who’ll be scared when I show Nick’s wife this!”
He pulled the photograph from his pocket and waved it at her, then held it out so she could see exactly what it revealed. It was the photo he had taken the day he had first seen her, coming out of the show house at Dover Court with Nick.
She frowned and peered at it for a second and then she began laughing again, almost hysterically, gasping out words of contempt. “Oh my God. Whatever are you thinking? Did you honestly think I would care about that? It’s nothing! And even if I had been having an affair with him, I wouldn’t give a damn! You really are such a bloody stupid fool!”
“Stop it! You are being ridiculous!” He stood up abruptly, jolting the edge of the table and then sent his mug of hot tea flying across the floor with the back of his hand.
“Ooh dear, Simon’s angry! Maybe Simon isn’t so scared after all!” Then she started laughing again and would not stop.
So Simon hit her hard. One slap on the left side of her face, then one on the other side, and she fell backwards. The chair tipped over, crashing onto the stone floor. Then she stopped laughing. She was still and quiet.
He bent over her for a second, his hand hovering near her dark hair but never quite touching. And then he ran. He ran out of the house, across the yard and through the woods, never looking back, but always hearing her, always hearing those mocking words.

Breaking Out Grandad – Ben’s tale, chapter one

I blame Mum; it was her fault. Sort of. She was the one who chose to put him in that place. She and my aunt and uncle. I realise they thought they had to, though they never expected things to turn out the way they did. And I’m kind of glad we did what we did.

“We must do something about Dad,” Mum said at the beginning of it all. She’d had yet another phone call in the night and she and my own dad had rushed out, coats over pyjamas, hair all over the place, to sort out Grandad who was digging in his garden at three in the morning.

“Why can’t he be left to dig?” I asked when I heard.

“You can’t have someone his age out in the middle of the night, getting cold and damp,” she said. “Besides, he woke up the neighbours.”

“Yes, and we can’t have precious Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose’s beauty sleep disturbed can we?” I said, though some of my words were a bit ruder than that which made Mum angry and forget the real point. Which was, in my opinion, that Grandad was quite OK, just a bit eccentric, and his neighbour (real name Mrs Snelling, but she always stuck her nose up into the air, so Grandad and I had always called her Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose, much to Mum’s annoyance) was a nasty old bag who wanted him out of there.

Mrs Snelling and Grandad had clashed when her dog had dug up and eaten his turnips and then been very sick and she’d blamed him. They’d also clashed over who owned the fence that was falling down (OK, it was Grandad’s but he didn’t have any money and she did so she could have paid for it) and they’d clashed over Henry the cockerel when Grandad had started keeping chickens. Cockerels are meant to make noise and he was only trying to defend the hens from her dog.

Mrs Snelling shares some of the blame, though she sometimes does the right thing. Only sometimes.

***

I decided to cycle round to see Grandad after school. There was a storm threatening, and the odd rumble of thunder in the distance.

I couldn’t find Grandad at first. He didn’t answer the door but that wasn’t anything too unusual. I let myself in with the spare key he kept in the old watering can. Mum had gone on at him when he had one under a stone so he had obliged her by removing it and putting it in the can instead, only she thought he’d put it sensibly in his kitchen drawer (“What use would that be if I’m locked out?” asked Grandad).

“Grandad. Are you in?” I called.

Silence.

I walked down the hall looking into the rooms. Mum was always moaning about it being a mess and even I could see she was right, though if Grandad was happy, so what? But there were old plates and cups scattered around and not the best smell coming from the kitchen. Kind of burnt and rotten at the same time. A woman called Andrea usually came in to help him some days but I guess she hadn’t been for a day or two.

“Anyone home?” I called.

“Quick! Quick! Get under here! You’ll be safe!” came an echoey voice from under the stairs.

The door to the under-stairs cupboard was open a crack and I opened it further. Grandad was huddled at the far end, a tin bucket over his head.

I crawled in.

“What are you doing?” I asked, making myself as comfortable as is possible with a vacuum cleaner for a seat.

“Sheltering.” His voice echoed in the bucket. “I haven’t finished the Anderson Shelter yet, but this may protect us if a bomb falls.”

“Cool.” I hadn’t played war games since I was a little kid but why not? Grandad had always been up for them then. He had said it helped him make the memories better. I’d thought that was to make me feel that I was being useful and not ‘bothering Grandad’ as Mum used to say, but she also told me that he’d had a bad time in the war, got shot down and was on the run for months, so maybe it was a kind of therapy. So, until I was about 11 and went to Glorney Mead – that’s my secondary school – we’d spent our time flying Spitfires, creeping through enemy territory and making daring escapes from prisoner-of-war camps. Then I’d been too grown-up to play but I guess he still had the bad memories. I felt guilty. Perhaps we should have carried on playing.

A crash of thunder boomed overhead and I heard the spit-splatter of rain on the hall window.

“Some storm,” I said, but Grandad was more into the game than I was. He really looked quite scared.

“It’s OK, it’s just the thunder,” I told him, but he pulled the bucket down over his head. He was actually trembling.

I reached over and squeezed his arm. Slowly his hand uncurled from gripping the side of the bucket and he unfolded his arm and took my hand. He held it tight and we sat there in silence, listening to the rain. With every clap of thunder he gripped me tighter still until my hand hurt and I wished he would stop.

I don’t know how long we sat there until the storm passed.

“I’m getting a bit stiff,” I said, shifting on my bottom. My legs had seized up and I really wanted to move.

“We have to wait ’til the all-clear sounds.” He peered out from under his bucket.

“It did, just now,” I told him.

“Are you sure? I never heard it.”

“You were under the bucket. I had my head by the door.”

“Thank God for that.”

We crawled out from under the stairs and I looked at him. He was a bit pale and he shook and shuffled along towards the kitchen. He kept looking up.

“We don’t seem to have sustained any damage,” he said at last.

“Want a cup of tea?” I asked, deciding it was best to get back to normality.

“Thank you David,” he said.

“It’s Ben.” I was getting a bit worried now. David was my uncle, Mum’s brother, Grandad’s son.

“Ben. Of course.” Grandad’s eyes cleared. “How are you my boy? How’s school.”

“Ok. Good. Boring.” I picked up the washing up bowl and discovered the source of the bad smell. Some charred stew lay in the bottom of the sink. I recognised it as the dinner Mum had brought round on Monday. It was Friday now. No wonder it smelled.

“Hasn’t Andrea been round?” I asked.

“Who’s that?” he asked, picking up a couple of mugs off the table.

“Andrea. You know. Chin Woman.”

We both grinned. Andrea had the most enormous chin, and since she was also a bit frightening – she ordered everyone around – Grandad and I would call her Chin Woman to make us feel better. We did that a fair bit.

“Do you know, I have no idea. I think there may have been some message about her being ill or something. Biscuits. You must have a biscuit.”

We had tea and biscuits and I did a bit of clearing up. I didn’t want Mum coming round later and making more of a fuss about mess and him not managing. He asked me a few times about school and then I realised it was time to get going.

Grandad came to the door to wave me off. As I climbed onto my bike he said “Better get there before it’s dark. I don’t want you cycling in the black out.”

I turned to see if he was smiling but, no, he looked deadly serious.

Back in Time for Tea

Chapter Five

I thought Gran would ask me questions over tea, but she doesn’t. Instead she has her own news to share. She tells me Mum phoned today. She’s doing OK, it seems – maybe even a little better than she has for a while. This is good news! I feel guilty, though: I love staying with Gran and I’ve been so busy falling in and out of World War II that it’s only now I realise I’ve scarcely given Mum a second thought. Is Time Travelling a good enough excuse for forgetting your own mother, I wonder?

‘So what do you think, Ellie?’ Gran asks and I look at her blankly. I haven’t really been listening. I’m still trying to figure out how and if Gran could see June. Besides which, time travel takes it out of you.

‘Huh?’ I ask. ‘Er…sorry, Gran. Could you just say that bit again? I didn’t quite catch all of it.’

‘Which bit?’ asks Gran and I swear her eyes are laughing at me, though her face is serious enough.

‘Er…the bit after…um…’

‘The bit after you stopped listening?’ she asks. She is smiling now! Even her mouth has given up pretending. I swear adults are so unpredictable! Generally they get annoyed at you if you don’t listen. Apparently this time it’s amusing. ‘Ellie, you missed all the good stuff, my love! Your mum is delighted that you seem to have settled in here. She’s really pleased that you seem to be having fewer of your turns.’

Ha! If only they knew the half of it! Gran explains that Mum feels well enough to join us in a few weeks time and that we will all be living together in Gran’s house.

‘What about school?’ I ask, mouthful of mashed potato.

‘Finish your mouthful, Ellie!’ Gran admonishes. ‘Are you missing school?’

‘No!’ I reply, perhaps a little too emphatically. ‘But I’ll have to go one eventually, right?’

Gran says she and Mum have talked about this. Nice of them to consult me, I think, sarcastically. They have decided I should start in September, at the secondary school near here. ‘It’s only a short bus ride away,’ says Gran. ‘You can make new friends.’

‘I already have friends here,’ I say and I look at Gran to see how she reacts.

‘Good,’ she says,’ but if you mean that little girl you were with at the park, I was thinking about children your own age. She looks younger than you, Ellie. You’ll need school friends.’

A-ha, so she did see June! Before I can ask her more about this, though, she’s back onto the subject of Mum and our proposed new living arrangements. She’s very animated about all of this and I am beginning to think this was her master plan all along: to get Mum and I both living here where she could keep an eye on us and feed us beef and mashed potato. It’s a good thing Gran’s such a good cook, I think.

‘So what do you think, Ellie – about your mum living here, I mean? Wouldn’t that be great?’

This is what adults call a ‘loaded question’ and the only correct answer is an enthusiastic yes, but I want to check something first. I do want my mum back but I want her back properly.

‘Is she well enough?’ I ask.

‘She’s better than she was and getting better than that,’ says Gran, and I know that’s as good an answer as I’m going to get, so I nod. That doesn’t seem enough though, judging by Gran’s face, so I get up and throw my arms around her.

‘It would be wonderful, Gran,’ I say, and when I pull back to look at her she’s not just smiling but beaming with happiness. That’s when I begin to understand something: that part of this getting better business is going to involve telling little lies to start with. I realise that we are going to have to lie about how we feel, until we feel it for real. What’s the expression? Fake it ’til you make it, that’s it. I feel very grown up, all of a sudden.

After tea I ask Gran if I can pop back to the park for a few minutes. I want to see if June is there, of course, but I’m not about to say that: little lies, remember? Instead I say I thought I could buy us ice lollies at the shop nearby. ‘For pudding, Gran.’

‘Absolutely not, young lady!’ she replies. ‘I’m not letting you gad about the park and goodness knows where else, after the day you’ve had! You had another one of your turns. It’s bath and an early bed time for you, do you understand?

I nod, now feeling considerably less grown up than I did a few minutes ago. I begin to wonder if Gran’s enthusiasm for our new living arrangements is such a good idea after all. I can only hope that, with Mum here too, Gran will have someone else to boss around and fuss over.

*************

Next morning after breakfast I am really keen to go and see if June is in the park. I tell Gran I am feeling much better and that I want to pop out to post a letter to Mum.

‘A letter? I thought you young people only communicated via electronic means these days!’

Ha ha – she really doesn’t think Mum ever grew up, does she? ‘You young people.’ Mum is ancient! Well, not as ancient as Gran. Or June: the oldest nine year old of all time. ‘Of all time’. There’s a phrase that suddenly holds a lot more meaning for me. I take advantage of Gran’s bemused approach to my old fashioned ideas about the letter which, incidentally, I have not written, and slip out of the front door.

June isn’t there when I reach the park. One of the swings is swaying slightly and it’s one of those hot, still August days with no breeze, so I wonder if I’ve just missed her. Mum always says that an empty, moving swing creeps her out. I usually point out that it’s moving because someone has just jumped off it, but she seems to prefer her ghost explanation. I wonder for a moment if we’re both wrong and parks the world over are full of evidence of recently departed time travelling children. There can’t be that many of us though, surely? We’d have all got together by now, compared notes, worked out all the possible triggers, solved most of the world’s mysteries and been back in time for tea. Unless of course we’re all just missing one another, popping back and forth in our own separate time zones. It’s a lonely business, this time travelling. Except that I have June and possibly Lillian…and maybe Gran. I really need to find out more about that! While I think about all of this I settle myself onto the still moving swing. I’ve barely sat down on it, however, when there is an almighty, ‘Crack!’ and I’m pushed forward, tipped off the swing and onto the ground. What feels like only a nanosecond later, June is lying almost on top of me, half-sprawled on the ground.

‘Ow!’ I say indignantly, inspecting my knees for grazes and my elbows for bruises. ‘What did you do that for?’

June doesn’t reply right away. In fact, she is wheezing, trying hard to catch her breath. She looks even shabbier than usual and, as she lifts her face, I see that her lip is cut and bleeding. I remember Lillian’s account of one of June’s disappearances and realise that I must be on the other end of that time

‘Ow,’ I say again, but this time it’s in sympathy. ‘What happened to you?’

June pauses for a moment longer, her breath coming on short gasps. She sounds as if she ran here, but you can’t run from 1942; it’s an awfully long way!

‘Got me,’ she manages at last.

‘Who did? Who got you?’ although I know the answer.

‘They did – the Others.’

June’s eyes are wide, frightened, and I’m suddenly very angry on her behalf. I’m angry that these other kids should get such a kick out of terrorising June. I look at her again. She’s small for her age, just a scrap of a thing really, as Gran might say. She’s away from home and who knows where her parents are – we’ve never talked about it. Oh, and there’s a war on. The enormity of June’s situation hits me and I experience a tangle of emotions. On the one hand I’m angry and want to go back to that 1940’s and kick some wartime backsides! On the other I am almost overwhelmed with a desire to protect June, to stay with her and keep her safe. I put my arm around her shoulder and she sinks down into her own body. She seems defeated and this worries me. June usually has so much fight in her that I think she’d happily take on Hitler and his armies. This is a new side to her and I don’t like it. It makes me want to cry too. It seems to be just a moment though, as she quickly curls her hands into fists and uses them to rub her eyes dry. Taking a corner of her dress she wipes her nose and face, then takes a deep breath and says,

‘I will get them, Ellie. I will. How long have I got?’

‘How long? For what?’

‘The war, silly. You said you’d learned about it in school. You must know when it ended. How long?’

‘Oh, 1945. The Second World War ended in 1945. You’ve still got almost three years of it. Sorry.’

‘Too long,’ she says. ‘Too long. I can’t wait for it all to be over. I’ll have to get them now.’

I’m surprised that she doesn’t ask who won. Three years might not seem so long if you knew you were on the winning side, but I think she’s too busy fighting a war of her own. Her fighting spirit is back now and I’m worried she might do something silly, or dangerous. The fear in her eyes has been replaced by anger. What can she do, though? One small girl against an army of three who are out to get you. What have they got against her, I wonder? She’s different, she doesn’t belong here. Sometimes that’s enough to make them hate you, I guess.

‘Do you think they’re afraid of you, June?’ I ask hoping she’ll stop and think about it all.

‘No,’ she says flatly. ‘But they will be.’

 

 

The Way We Lied

He knew that Mary was at the cottage because he heard her whistling as he walked up the path. It could have been a workman, but he somehow knew it would be her because she was always so confident, so masculine in everything she did. And he was right.
Mary was standing in the backyard, an axe in her hands, preparing to split a pile of logs. A paint-stained dark blue fisherman’s jersey was paired with her usual tight jeans, tucked into muddied boots. She stood and looked at him as he walked slowly towards her. Then she lay down her axe.
“I rather thought you would eventually come here one day,” she said. “Helen told me how much you disagree with her plans.” She folded her arms and stood before him, her calm blue eyes and slight smile challenging him.
He could not speak. He could not find the words he wanted so much to throw at her. She was so unashamed, so strong and he had hoped and imagined she might have been contrite.
“Come in,” she said, turning towards the house. “I’ll make us some tea.”
He followed. He did not want tea. He wanted an apology and her cooperation. But he entered the warm kitchen and stood while she busied herself with mugs and boiling the kettle.
“Have a seat,” she said, waving at one of the sturdy wooden chairs placed beside the scrubbed table, which was littered with letters and newspapers.
“I’m perfectly alright standing,” he said, then sat down a moment or so later.
She leant against the sink, looking down at him while the tea brewed. “So, Simon, what have you come to say? You’ve obviously been brooding about what I said the last time we met. I can see it in your eyes.”
He frowned. “I’m entitled to my opinions.” He paused for a moment, considering his words. “I want you to talk to Helen again. She has too many responsibilities at home for her to go away and leave us. I want you to stop giving her these impossible ideas. I want you to persuade Helen to stay here with me and her family.”
She laughed at him. “And why on earth should I do that? Helen can make up her mind for herself, can’t she?”
“Look, she seems to be completely under your spell. She won’t listen to me anymore. She keeps saying Mary says this and Mary says that. I can’t make her change her mind, but I know that you can.”
“But why should I? All I’ve done is help Helen to think clearly for herself and decide what she really wants from life. It is absolutely nothing to do with me if she wants to leave her home and have new experiences. That decision is hers entirely. I approve of her intentions, of course, but it really isn’t down to me.”
He clenched his teeth in frustration, breathing quickly and looking angry, then said, “Well all I can say is that Helen never talked about leaving her home and family for months on end till you came along! She was perfectly happy! We all were!”

Next of Kin (3)

I stood with my hands over my nose and mouth trying to regain a steady rhythm of breathing. They gently explained what had happened. ‘During a routine patrol early this morning one marine has been killed and your son Edward has been very seriously injured’. I now know these words were selected carefully with just cause. The military have a categorization code where by ‘Very Seriously Injured’ means that it is uncertain that the injured will survive. I have little breath left for anything other than short staccato sentences. I hear their voices distantly, yet the two men are right in front of me. ‘May we come indoors please?’ We walk back up the drive way, the men either side of me. In the few minutes it took to answer the doorbell, my world has crashed. It feels completely wrecked. We go through the gate and into the kitchen.

The words spoken by the Casualty Notification Officer repeat in my mind as a whisper. One marine killed. This is one of those moments where the defining line between reality and a nightmare is difficult to decipher. Everything happening right at this minute is pure shock and adrenalin is racing around my body. I sense that we are right in the thick of something and yet as a Mother I feel an outsider, in the dark, on the periphery of what is going on.

I cannot begin to imagine the unbearable pain and horrific shock of the family whose Royal Marine loved one has been killed. I squirm at the bitter, ghastly, hateful ending that their loved one has endured. I look down at my feet – it is the only place I can focus on to try and escape what is happening right now. The gentlemen are just far enough away from me that by looking downwards they are out of my vision. I feel their presence though, hear their breathing. The kitchen is filled with an atmosphere of dread. The air is tense; the Casualty Notification Officer and the Padre are in control.

And Edward, I ask. Where is he? What are his injuries? They look through their notes to check their latest update, careful to quote what is in front of them. They tell me but their words evaporate into thin air. A few seconds pass. I apologise and ask again. I am listening but nothing is registering. I wish I could have the sheet of paper which they are using to help them get through this difficult time with me. I want to take it away in to another room in the house, hide and read it, as if it is my last gossamer link with Edward, and absorb it. Alone. Solitude has been my way of coping with difficult times for years and now in the middle of a crisis, that is what I would like more than anything. I am not used to sharing my emotions in front of strangers. When I am worried, I bottle it up. I clean. Or scrub floors. Or mow the grass. Or leave the house and go for a long walk. None of this is possible. The precise moment the doorbell rang, our normality extinguished. I had no inkling of what lay around the corner.

They suggest we sit round the kitchen table which is pressed up against the rustic brick wall.   One of them gets his laptop out. They quietly begin to try to get a feeling for our family asking questions about my husband, our daughter and me. As we begin to talk I finally grasp Edward’s injuries. It sounds like the damage is to his lower legs and then some facial injuries. I am trying to fathom out what his injuries mean. Has he lost his legs? Is he maimed? Are they broken? They seem unsure and not too worried about this.   I spurt out raw undressed questions at them both. I still have not grasped where he is. With incredible patience and compassion, they begin to talk about what occurred near Patrol Base Almas, Helmand Province – the frontline of the Afghan war. In fear, I have interrupted. I cannot wait for them to finish each sentence. Each sentence spoken by the two gentlemen propagates more half-formed stuttered questions from me. But there is more to come.

Fluffy’s HQ

fluffy-hq-s“See Captain Midlands out would you, Miss Defarge”

The petite Hit-Girl held the door for the visibly ruffled officer and motioned for him not to dawdle.

Lord Fluffy, who had not been officially ennobled, yet regarding his self appointed title as no more than his due, addressed Mad Jack:

“So what have you to offer, and what are you doing on my island?”

“One was holidaying with one’s other half and Jack Jr when your invasion began. These revolutionaries will be planning a counter attack. One knows them, fought them on the barricade in Cable Street. Thought one might be able to help.” Mad Jack frowned, “You had that secretary long? She seems a bit short and furry to be a ‘Miss Defarge’, what?”

“Thérèse? I got her from a local secretarial agency when my personal secretary went down with alcohol poisoning. She’s pretty efficient and a wizard at filing my top secret papers.”

“Hmm… Well… Now about these guerrilla chappies you’re having so much trouble with; one thought one might lead a sort of Chindit type force into the bush to hunt them down. Tally Ho and all that. Lots of sweaty testosterone fuelled bravado. Good for the old ego.”

Thérèse popped her head round the door.

“Just nipping out for lunch. Can I bring you anything back, Lord Fluffy?”

“Skinny Latté. The captain here will be gone by then, so he won’t need a drink.” Thérèse had ‘things to do’ in her break and she would return a little late.

“Now Mr Jack, you’ve given me an idea. Thérèse, get Midlands back… Oh damn it! It’ll have to wait till after her lunch. I was thinking I’d send Captain Midlands off into the jungle with your rag-tag circus. He deserves a change of scenery. How would you like to sort out the lack of progress up north instead? I’d make you a major.”

“Oh…” Mad Jack Belvoir was less than enthralled. Lord Fluffy put an arm round the Hussar’s shoulder and ushered him towards the door.

“Take your time and give my offer some careful thought. I will send my adjutant round to your rooms in half an hour for an answer.”

Mad Jack looked startled.

“Yes, I do know where you live. And I’m sure you will come to a sensible decision.”

That afternoon a fluffy grey and white kitten gambolled innocently along the footpaths of La Collette Gardens, chasing a leaf between the park benches with their slumbering tramps. Losing interest in her game, she scampered up a nearby tree and sitting on a low branch plucked at a dead twig. It came loose. Carefully she removed the twig from the secret hole that it plugged and peered within. It contained a memory stick, which she quickly pocketed. After a cautious glance round to ensure she had attracted no unwarranted attention the kitten replaced the twig and returned to the ground. Off she skipped in search of new fronds to chase.

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The Way We Lied

Helen looked anxious and pushed her plate away. “Simon, I do understand that it’s not ideal as far as you are concerned, but it would only be for a little while. It wouldn’t be for the whole summer. I thought I could go as soon as the A level exams are over. Emily is going off with her friends then anyway.”
“Well that doesn’t make life any easier. What if she has an accident? What am I supposed to do if there’s a crisis?”
“Darling, I’m sure there won’t be any crisis. The children are almost adults. They’re very sensible and capable. Nothing will happen.” She chewed her lip and looked at her hands. “I really want to do this, Simon. I want my painting to continue developing. It has become such an important part of my life now. I know this is what I have to do.”
“Yes Helen, I realise that. And it’s marvellous that you are doing so well and your work is selling. I appreciate that. But you have responsibilities here. You can’t just drop everything and run away like this.” Simon put his fork down and sat back. His food was hardly eaten.
Helen frowned and paused, as if she was wondering how to phrase her reply. “But Mary says I have a responsibility to myself and to my work. She thinks that now I’ve proved myself, I should regard my work as the priority in my life.”
“Bloody woman! She has no right to interfere in our lives! All very well for her, being unmarried and childless! She doesn’t know what it means having to think about others!”
“Oh but she does Simon, really she does. She is so considerate and kind to all of us. And when we talked about how far I had progressed, she said you should all be proud of me for being so dedicated to my work and that you would all benefit from it in the long run.”
Simon snorted with derision then stood and started pacing the room. “Benefit! Huh! It’s not your wages that pay most of the bills, is it? I’m the one who works to pay for everything.”
Helen looked up at him, “Oh Simon, I don’t think that’s entirely true, you know. My earnings have been very helpful and now that I’m making so much more from my paintings I think you have to admit it has made a big difference to us. And if I can gather fresh material and new ideas I think I will sell even more of my pictures. I’ve already invested so much time in my work and I just want to make sure I don’t waste all of that effort.”
Simon turned to face her, then leant over her at the table, “And in the meantime I’m still stuck here, going into the studio day after bloody day, doing sodding leaflets and brochures for bloody clients who don’t appreciate it, is that it? Is that what you want me to do?”
Helen was silent for a moment and then she reached out and touched his hand. “Oh Simon, I’m sorry. I hadn’t realised. I suppose it does seem a bit unfair that I might go away and you can’t. But you know I never complained when you had to go to South Africa to take photos for that wine company or when you went to Paris for that conference. It’s the same sort of thing really, you must see that.”
“No it’s not! It’s nothing like the same!” he shouted. “You seem to think you have the right to go off on a stupid whim, but I can’t, because I’m not the arty farty fancy artist. I’m just a jobbing designer who pays all the bills. I have to put up with fucking stupid clients who don’t know a good bit of design from their arse while you swan about with this Mary woman having airy fairy notions about your bloody art and your sodding artist friends!”
She was shocked and silent, then she finally spoke. “Oh my God, now I can see it. You’re actually jealous. I hadn’t realised that before.” She shook her head, tears coming into her eyes. “How could I not have realised? I thought you were just being concerned for me, even when you were not being supportive. But I’d never thought you were actually jealous. You don’t want me to succeed. That’s why you don’t want me to go anywhere. It has nothing to do with you needing me. You just don’t want me to go because you are jealous of what I’ve achieved and the opportunities that are opening up for me.”
She shook her head again and stood up. “I pity you Simon, but that won’t be enough to make me stay here if I feel I need to go.” Then she left the room and he stayed there, at the table, miserable and angry, with his cold food congealing.