I Never Knew Her Name

I never knew her name.

I took this image in Roundhay Park and I wondered about the story behind it.  
This is one of my guesses

Retirement hit hard.  For the first three months I don’t think I moved far beyond my flat.  I wasn’t completely cut off.  I would do my little bit of shopping, speak to my daughter, speak to my daughter-in-law and sometimes I would call in at the local community centre coffee mornings, but mostly I stayed in. 

Thank goodness, after three months of slowly settling into place, I decided I was not going to come to a stop.  I started with a morning walk.  I would wait until the school run had finished and then I would walk the five minutes to my local park, half an hour around the paths, and then sit and overlook the small lake while I drank a flask of coffee.  And that’s when I met her.

She looked the same age as me and had the same air of striving to find a purpose.  I saw her every morning, and after a week or so I smiled in recognition, and she smiled back.  We were two old ladies sitting in the park, and we recognised the fight against drifting slowly into the sunset. 

A smile grew into a timid, ‘Good morning,’ and then a comment on the weather, and a little chat about the day, and suddenly we were friends. 

It was only ever that half an hour, between 9.45am and 10.15am, that we met.  I brought enough coffee for two and she brought biscuits.  We talked about our children, and their partners.  Her son was finding being a parent hard.  I talked about my worries over my daughter-in-law’s job.  She told me about her volunteer work at the library and I shared jokes about my time helping in a charity shop.  Then we would dust the crumbs off and set off in different directions to go back to our lives, a little energised and encouraged by that touch of contact with someone who understood. 

We managed to meet up in all sorts of weather.  If it was raining she brought a huge golf umbrella that we wedged between us and I had an old picnic blanket to put on the damp bench.  We used the umbrella for shade if it was too hot and I brought iced coffee.  I brought back sweets from my holiday to pass on to her grandson and she gave me cuttings from her scented geranium that flourished on my windowsill. 

But we never exchanged names.  That would have been ‘odd’.  We had talked about the weather and stray chitchat for so long without names that it would almost be bad manners to ask about names now.  I knew her son-in-law’s name, and the place where her daughter worked, but not her name.  And she knew where my daughter lived and my grandson’s school, but no name.  It was an unspoken taboo.  After so long, how could we bring it up now?

Then she stopped coming.  I was worried, of course, but what could I do?  I didn’t have a name or a telephone number.  It would be intrusive to try call her son-in-law or ask those regular dog walkers that greeted her every morning as we sat and talked.  One week turned into two weeks, and then it was a month.  I started bringing my own biscuits to have with my coffee.  But I didn’t dare miss a day in case my friend, my dear friend, suddenly was able to make it one more time. 

Then, after too many weeks, one of the dog walkers stopped as she walked passed.  “It’s so sad about Gwen, isn’t it?”

“I’m sorry?” I said.

“Gwen,” he said, gesturing at the empty space beside me on the bench.  “It was so sudden, and the family are devastated.  I didn’t see you at the funeral?”

I withdrew a little at the small but definite hook for gossip. “I’m afraid I didn’t know.” A cold wave ran through me.  “What happened?”

“A heart attack in her sleep, they said.  It was very peaceful.” The dog walker leaned over me. “Are you okay?”

“It’s just a shock.” I said.  “I’m glad it was peaceful.”

“Would you like me to take you home?” The dog walker said, tugging her dog back to her.

“No, I’m fine.” I said, lying, my hands trembling as I clutched my plastic cup of coffee.

“It’s no trouble at all.” The dog walker said firmly.  “Come on, let’s get moving.  I’m Rachel, by the way, and this mutt is Bruno.”

I managed a smile at the beautiful dog.  “He’s very handsome.” I said, as Rachel helped me to my feet.  “I’m Sarah.”

“He’s a bit of a mix.” Rachel said, and chatted about nothing as she guided me home and made sure I was safe in a chair with a fresh coffee.  “And I hope I see you tomorrow on that bench.  And if you bring the coffee, I’ll bring the biscuits.”

Rachel is a good friend now, and I have her name, and her phone number and I am always glad to dog sit, but I still miss Gwen.  Gwen understood.  Funnily enough, I didn’t know her name, but I knew her birthday, after all our conversations.  So today, after Rachel has left with Bruno, I can leave some flowers for my friend, with a name on the card, before I go home to the quiet. 

Guest Post: Riftmaker by Phoebe Darqueling

You could say that Jeremy was “lost in the system,” if Excelsior did in fact have a system for dealing with homeless kids. He spent a few years being passed around between disinterested relatives until finally finding his way to the orphanage at a rooftop settlement called The Kaleidoscope. Jeremy’s sticky fingers got him caught, but his Grace took pity on him and folded him in to her collection of kids. It didn’t take long before he became part of the ‘Scope’s extended family, and he met his best friend, Adam.

To makes ends meet, Jeremy started to venture down to the Grand Market and sing in the hopes that passerby would spare a few coins. Though he had a beautiful voice, the ‘crats didn’t have much of a taste for vocal music at all. It’s considered the realm of paupers and those who can’t afford to attend the Guild of Musicians and learn “proper” music. Evenso, Jeremy was so talented that he caught the ear of one of the maestros. The city’s elite would sometimes sponsor kids from the kitetowns in order to look generous, and soon Jeremy was an apprentice.

As much as the ‘crats liked having a few charity cases around to stroke their egos, it was hard to rise through the ranks regardless of his talent. So at 17, the age when kids in the ‘Scope have to strike out on their own, he still hasn’t reached the rank of journeyman. He may be bullied for being poor and the other students make veiled accusations that he’s really a Traveler, but maybe, just maybe, he can change his stars tonight.

Though anything that comes from the other side is technically illegal, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few Artefacts around. This includes a coveted amplified violin in the collection of Lord Corvid, the city’s most important figure. The aging lord is throwing a party tonight, and Jeremy will get to play a solo in front of all the lords and ladies. If all goes well, he’ll be promoted to journeyman and be able to afford a little place for he and Adam to share when it’s his turn to graduate.

Things seem to be coming up roses, but Jeremy has no idea that just as he lowers his bow to the strings, a stranger arrives in Excelsior and ruins everything…

I discovered Damien Escobar after I had already created the character of Jeremy, but when I saw this video of this passionate violinist, my heart nearly skipped a beat. He reminded me so much of Jeremy, I wanted to include the video so you could see him as clearly as I do.

Here’s a taste of Jeremy and his violin from Riftmaker.

Jeremy stood in the center of a Guild practice room, one of the only places he could ever be alone. He raised his bow and held it poised above the strings of the violin.

The air vibrates with anticipation. The storm gnashes its teeth. The sky above turns smoky and thick, and in the distance, the first patter of raindrops can be heard. The temperature drops ever colder. The thirsty earth stands ready.

Bile churned inside of his guts. His anger rumbled on the horizon like the threat of thunder. He inhaled deeply and stood on the precipice a moment longer before his bow plunged downward, breaking the storm in his mind with the first piercing note.

Lightning flashes across a patchwork of swirling clouds and the roar of their explosions follows seconds behind. The sky is torn apart, and the heavy drops of the lazy drizzle give way to the stinging pelting of rain. Muddy water streams in rivulets, exposing hidden colors in the stones.

All of Jeremy’s turmoil poured from his body and into the melody. The Guild violin was nothing compared to the exquisite instrument of the evening before, but the music in his mind was beyond anything either violin could have produced at the best of times. He’d worried that he wouldn’t get permission to use the school’s violin at all, but news of his warm reception had already reached the maestros, and they were glad to foster his interest.

The trunks of mighty trees groan with the force of the battering wind, the smaller branches cracking in the wake of its violence. Leaves of emerald, chartreuse, and jade shudder and glint in the moments the world is illuminated by the shattered heavens.

His eyes were closed, but the images were vivid in his mind. He gritted his teeth and swayed in and out of the crescendos of a melody of his own design, the lament only his shattered heart could utter.

Find out the rest of Jeremy’s story in Riftmaker.

Riftmaker is available for $3.99 from Amazon and a variety of other e-book retailers. Print price is $18.99 from Amazon and the Our Write Side store.

Find more character spotlights, book reviews, guest posts, and interviews with Phoebe Darqueling during the Riftmaker blog tour, Jan 24 – Mar 6.

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You can find more of Phoebe’s antics on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Sometimes You Lose

I tried everything, using every trick in the book.  He never saw me cross or demanding and I was always, always attentive.  I made him the centre of my universe in the stolen moments he could get away. 

I lived for those moments, when he kept one eye on the clock and one foot on the floor as we snatched some tenderness.  He brought me perfume and a gold chain that I wear always.

I never faltered.  I kept myself just for him, curled up on the comfy sofa with the soft cushions, desperate for the rushed phone call or hurried text.  Why would I go out when everything else was ashen compared to his vital passion? 

Then she found out and he chose.  I heard him telling her how little I meant to him as he dashed off back to the perfect wife.  He left me behind with his spare razor and a coat and hat he forgot in the rush.  I keep them hanging near the door and sometimes I spray them with his cologne.  He is still the centre of my world, and I am empty without him, but there is nothing I can do.  Because sometimes you lose. 


Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

Book Review: Patrick’s Chocolate Cake for Dinner Diet

I love love love this! It is a book of poetry but not stuffy or formal poetry in any sense. It is a collection of Patrick’s writings and thoughts in a very real and immediate way.

Patrick uses words like a kaleidoscope uses colours. He has the words twisting and spinning and soaring in all sorts of unexpected ways to wonderful and creative rhythms. I am in awe of his control of language.

I am also in awe of his subject choices and the determination he shows to positively portray love and the struggle to get by in a difficult word. Here is an extract from on of his poems, ‘Ode to Damaged Souls’:

‘Running too fast, trying to change the dye that’s been cast, I’m trying to make a positive energy and doing the write thing last. Maybe I need some chocolate cake for dinner… sounds good to me, sounds like a winner, you… see this writing thing, I’m just a beginner, an artistic chain of consciousness spinner. Sometimes I am a sinner, but I try to learn something new every day. I try to be versed in the art of play…….’

Patrick covers more than just self description. He promotes love, an open minded attitude to life and an enthusiastic acceptance of the difficulties of life, even though he admits that sometimes that life is a struggle. I feel a surge of positive energy reading his work.

You can buy ‘Patrick’s Chocolate Cake for Dinner Diet’ on Amazon and you can find the author Patrick Wardell on Facebook where he often shares his writing, and I recommend you do both.

Book Review: A Broken Seelie Christmas by AJ Fox and Daniella Clark

I dipped into this as something light to read. I love reading different takes on the Fair Folk, so this seemed like a good choice.

One of the best parts of this book is the world building that is subtly going on behind the scenes. You are plunged into the middle of the action as the exiled Queen Sentina and her bodyguard find a way to travel from their place of exile to the human realm at Christmas time. As the plot unfolds, small details of the world and its inhabitants leak out, so you find yourself gradually immersed in the background rather than suddenly having a lot of detail dumped on you.

I also liked the portrayal of the nature of the supernatural beings. I grew up thinking fairies were not safe, and this story echoes that impression. The Fair Folk are portrayed as scheming, difficult and indifferent to mortals and it’s incredibly entertaining, especially when they end up in our realm. The characters were shown to be unfamiliar with mortals and their culture and the clash was incredibly well shown.

I enjoyed the pace of the story, as it rattled through the entertaining scenes. There was some sex, which I thought was quite well handled. I don’t read much erotica, but I was glad to see that the sex was part of the plot, rather than the plot being an excuse for the sex. I suspect that sex will be a greater part of the plot in any subsequent stories.

This was a relatively short story. However, at the end of the story they advertised a trilogy that seemed to be focused on the same characters. I shall look out for it with interest.