Friday Flash Fiction – Flat Earth Society

Vanden came back a hero, nobody had flown that high into upper space before. Even as he negotiated the precarious landing he was planning his next take off; he had to discover more, find out if his amazing theory was correct. But would the high council even believe him, let alone invest in another skyblast and a three person expedition. First he must address The Academy, his safe return did not in itself prove anything and it would take a while for his team of experts to interpret the telescopic recordings.

The ageing president spoke to the learned gathering first. ‘The fact that Space Chief Marshall Vanden has returned is proof indeed that upper space is finite, otherwise he would surely have been propelled further and further into infinity, never to return.’

‘Your honour,’ the vice president stood and bowed, a tight smile on her face ‘our rocketgalleons are programmed for reversal after 35% of crew sustainable capacity has been used, but the magnetron telescope saw far yonder with no sign of an ending.’ She nodded to Vanden to speak before the president could utter more foolish words.

‘Your honour, our ancestors thought our earth was finite, they feared to climb any mountain lest they topple over the other side into hell. Then a few brave women climbed the highest peak and what was on the other side, but more land stretching endlessly in every direction. Each generation has travelled, hunting, roaming, farming, multiplying so that their children in turn set forth to find new land. There is always new land and always will be, we are not a table top held up by a giant, but an infinite earth that I saw from upper space; our land has no edges, no corners, no curves, just beautiful undulations and landscapes of every hue. And what of the depth? How far down have we mined for the precious elements we need for our cities and our galleons? If it were possible I believe we could excavate down and down and never reach rock bottom. And so it is with upper space, infinite in height as the earth is infinite in depth.’

There was a cheer from at least half the gathered assembly and a young man stood up. ‘Should not the mind of Academecians be as infinite as creation? How high must be the mega stars that give us heat and light. Vanden has not even approached them, otherwise his rocketgalleon would have melted.’

Another voice called out cynically ‘Stars, did you count how many or shall you tell us there is an infinite number?’

‘They are infinite, but stars are not all that is beyond our reach. The magnetron detected reflected light from orbs, orbs of rock and land; I believe above us is a universe so different that the impossible is possible. Round earths with an atmosphere surrounding them, the same as the mighty layer of air that blankets us and perhaps…’

No one was agreeing now, everyone was on their feet exclaiming, gesticulating, but Vanden was determined to finish what he had to say.

‘…perhaps on these round earths there might be life, even intelligent life like us.’

Now there was uproar, the vice president pleaded for silence, it behove the dignity of The Academy to let the president answer.

‘Now we know for sure that the mind of our poor brother, our esteemed Space Chief Marshall, has sadly been affected and if he is not insane he surely speaks blasphemy. How could there be life on a ball of earth… people? They would surely fall off. There is but one earth that has no end, one body of air we breath and high above us the stars that warm us and nothing else.’

Sunday Short Story – 575 – School Uniform

Freddy was glad he wasn’t Scottish; Scottish children had to go back to school in August, but when he heard his parents talking about school uniform he felt those butterflies in his stomach. September was coming too soon and the Prime Minister said everyone had to go back to school now. When he heard his parents talking to the other grownups at the barbeque he hoped maybe it wouldn’t happen.

Can’t see how it will work, bubbles, ridiculous…

Bubbles, were stupid. When they went to see Grandma and Grandad in their bubble, he thought they would be floating in a gigantic rainbow bubble and he would push and be sucked in with a loud pop. When they got to their house and went round to the back garden for a picnic, there was no bubble; Grandma and Granddad were just sitting in their house waving through the patio door. Freddy wasn’t even allowed to go indoors and play with Daddy’s old Lego. What would a school bubble look like? Perhaps they would blow bubbles instead of doing work.

On Sunday morning Freddy’s bubbly thoughts popped when he realised Mummy was talking to him.

‘Hurry up and finish your breakfast, we want to get to the shops as soon as they open, Marks and Spencer for your uniform, then Clarks to have your feet measured.’

‘I don’t want to go to the shops, it’s too windy.’

‘But you like having your feet measured on that magic machine.’

‘It’s not magic and I don’t need new shoes.’

On the way to the shops he sat in the back seat of the car while Mummy and Daddy argued in the front seat, like they usually did.

‘Sunday, who goes shopping for school clothes on a Sunday?’ said Daddy.

‘No one, it will be lovely and quiet.’

‘I don’t believe it, the car park’s full.’

‘We shouldn’t have left it to the last minute, we’re never going to get all Freddy’s stuff for school.’

Freddy’s spirits soared, he couldn’t go to school if he didn’t have his uniform and PE stuff.

‘I don’t mind if I can’t go to school.’

‘Don’t worry, even if you have to go to school in your pyjamas you are going’ laughed Daddy.

Pyjamas… Freddy imagined himself sitting in the classroom with his Lego pyjamas on and everybody laughing, especially …

‘Come on, jump out, we’ll park here and walk down the road to the shopping centre’ said Daddy.

Oh no, look at that queue for Clarks’ said Mummy ‘and for Marks, well we’ll just have to be patient, oh there’s Sarah, look Freddy, Annabel’s here with her Mummy and Daddy.’

Freddy felt shy, Annabel looked different, then she smiled as the grown ups started chatting, standing carefully apart. Freddy smiled back, but couldn’t think of anything to say.

Annabel’s mummy had plenty to say.

‘How is it going to work? One child coughs and the whole class gets sent home? Or you get to school and they take Freddy’s temperature and say too high, he has to go home…’

Freddy’s smile got bigger as Annabel started laughing, then whispering, creeping nearer.

‘Freddy, when we get to school, let’s do coughing.’

He remembered what his parents were always saying when they had that hot weather. Stop running around getting too hot. All he had to do was run around and cough a lot and everybody would get sent home from school…

Friday Flash Fiction – 700 -Two Months To Live

If Sonya had known her ex husband would survive a good deal longer than two months she would never have let him come back. If Sonya had known a pandemic would come along and trap him in isolation with her, two weeks after he moved in, she would never have let him over the front door step.

When he had phoned her early in March and told her he only had two months to live, she was shocked. Sonya hadn’t seen him for years, didn’t even know his second wife had booted him out and kept the house. It seemed a Christian, a human thing to do; she imagined the alternative, the father of her children found in two years time, mummified in his dreadful bedsit. To care for him in his last weeks would bring closure to both the good years and the bad. One of her daughters said she was insane and on no account must she let him anywhere near her home. The other daughter said of course she must help him, he was her father after all and she would soon be back from Thailand to help. The kindly daughter was still in Thailand and the sensible daughter still in New York.

At first he did a few DIY jobs, they Facetimed the girls together and he made a good job of settling his few possessions in the back bedroom and making it homely. He assured her various medical teams and charities were on his case and all she would have to do was a bit of cooking.

Then he got his letter from the Prime Minister telling him he was very vulnerable and must not leave his house. Her house Sonya pointed out to him. The letter reminded him how frail he was and he couldn’t even help wash the dishes. His medical support teams could not visit because of Covid 19 and he no longer qualified for help from the charities as he was no longer homeless.

A new routine was soon established, as if they had always been carer and invalid in the midst of a pandemic. Sonya was heartily grateful for her rescue dog, the perfect excuse to get out of the house for exercise and a chance to have socially distanced chats with neighbours and other dog walkers. Vivienne down the road she had hardly known before, but now she and the dog would pause by the front gate when Vivienne was in the garden and discuss on line shopping. The other woman would complain about her divorced son who had moved back in and Sonya would regale her with the latest domestic dramas.

Her ex husband had his good points, well she vaguely recalled he did in the early years of their marriage, sense of humour, carefree attitude to life. That young man was long gone and his most irritating features were enhanced by illness. The husband who had once been glued to the television with football, war movies and endless crime dramas involving noisy car chases and shootings, now complained about the noise if she listened to Jeremy Vine on the radio and griped that the television was doing his head in if she tried to watch Celebrity Chef.

When he received another letter from the Prime Minister saying he could go out and about on the first of August, he showed a rare spark of life and decided it would be good for him to come out with Sonya and the dog. This was how she found herself today, plodding wearily back down their road, trying to hang on to the dog’s lead and being told to mind the bumps as she pushed his wheelchair. She had not seen Vivienne lately, only to be expected as Vivienne’s daughter and family were staying. A large camper van was parked outside her friend’s house and the door suddenly swung open as they passed, just missing the wheelchair. Two children tumbled down the steps and flew through the garden gate to the front door, yelling to be let in.

 ‘Bloody children, bloody camper vans’ said Sonya’s ex husband in a loud voice, just as Vivienne opened her front door and waved to her friend.

Friday Flash Fiction – 525 – School Holidays

A piercing scream penetrated the calm of James’ office and disturbed his important conference call with New York. Every sound in the neighbourhood wafted through the back bedroom windows, but it was too hot to close them.

‘Everything okay?’ asked the managing director in New York.

‘So sorry, yes, fine…’

For a moment James wondered if he should investigate, he vaguely recalled his mother mentioning they were in charge of the twins today while his sister and brother-in-law went to Ikea and she might have to pop to the corner shop... None of them believed that he was actually working from home, that it was Friday and he had a great deal of real work to do. Strange sounds had emitted from his nephew and niece at regular intervals since their arrival yesterday, either because they were having fun, or more likely they were arguing. There was the possibility that one of them had been impaled on one of his mother’s lethal gardening implements, or perhaps they had accidentally killed their grandmother…

 Eighty per cent of MPJ staff worldwide were working from home, but usually in their smart book lined studies, not from their mother’s back bedroom with sewing machines and ironing boards as a background for Zoom. It was hardly professional to interrupt discussion of the dreadful news from Beirut ( its importance to the shareholders of MPJ, not the suffering of the locals ) and disappear out of sight to lean out the back window and be heard yelling ‘JASON, JACINTHA what the hell are you doing now?

When his sister Julia had said they were going camping for their summer staycation he thought they meant a tent in a remote field, not a camper van parked outside his mother’s house. Julia insisted social distancing would be maintained, while her husband Jack queried whether social distancing was even a thing anymore. They did sleep in the van; James had not had time to look up council regulations and see if this was legal, but there was much toing and froing to the bathroom and the washing machine had been on constantly since their arrival. The twins weren’t that bad, not according to his mother anyway; they were just high spirited, Covid cabin fever and he just wasn’t used to children of that age, whatever age they were… he had forgotten and dare not ask, his family would be shocked at his lack of interest in the precious ones, his mother’s ONLY grandchildren as  she liked to frequently point out.

Another piercing scream rent the air. This time James did a few quick manoeuvres on the keyboard and the screen went blank; New York would either think England had been hit by a nuclear bomb or perhaps that his local wifi had gone down. He rushed over to the window and leaned out to see an arc of water gleaming in the sun. Jason was chasing Jacintha with the garden hose and this time she let out a screech of triumph as she ducked under the washing line and the family’s bedding hanging out to dry took the full brunt of the high powered hose.

Friday Flash Fiction – On The Radio

Sam always had the radio on when he was in the hotel room, just to own a radio and have somewhere to plug it in was a luxury. It was more than entertainment, he was catching up with what had been going on in the rest of the world while he had ‘been away’. By the evenings he was physically tired, but his mind could not rest, he did not want to be alone with his thoughts. Science programmes, current affairs, the arts, he lapped them all up; he was interested in everything, like he used to be in the old life. Perhaps he would have been a polymath by now, talking on intelligent programmes instead of just listening in.

Her voice caught him off guard, was it her, yes, the presenter repeated her name. Sam tuned into what she was saying.

No, I had never thought of being a writer, too busy living life, just an ordinary wife and mother, then my marriage broke up.

Broke up, like dropping a glass on a tiled floor, broke up… she had left him, taken the child… left him for no reason he had ever figured out.

It was just me and my little boy, it was hard, but after a while I realised I was happy, I could survive on my own, not just survive, make something of my life.

Sam felt his chest tighten; had she ever been happy, was that not a life they had? He was happy, she made him happy, Lucas made them both happy. He had everything, the new research project, promoted to senior lecturer, getting the mortgage for the little house that was the home of her dreams; when had her dreams changed? She was still talking, bright and confident, a mature woman now of course. He felt the physical blow of being left all over again.

…when Lucas started at the village school in Scotland I started writing and trying to run the smallholding I had inherited with the cottage…

And that is a story in itself and inspired one of your novels?

Yes, I was tracked down by the programme Heir Hunters and I wanted to find out more about this fourth three times removed cousin who was a recluse.

Sam found himself almost smiling, you couldn’t make it up, his suburban London ex wife in the wilds of Scotland, maybe she had made it up …  but then anger flashed through him, his son should not have been living in a dilapidated cottage hundreds of miles away, no wonder he had lost touch completely.

Now your fifth novel comes as people question why so few people own so much of the land in Scotland, your heroine comes from London on holiday to the highlands and ends up marrying the local laird. What gave you that inspiration?

I must emphasise that it is not autobiographical, my own laird Duncan is nothing like the haughty landowner in my novel. And actually Duncan and I are writing a book together about rewilding and good husbandry.

So your life now is very different from your dreary life in suburban London?

Yes I have the big family I always wanted, with Lucas, Duncan’s three and our son and the twins…isolating has been like a family holiday for the nine of us, teens and pre teens all getting  along  together.

Sam switched the radio off. She had everything and he had nothing. He had lost everything in the divorce and he wasn’t  even sure how, house and son gone, his own mother never forgiving him for letting her grandson be taken. But he must not descend into darkness again, think first. He turned on his lap top, the other vital possession the Big Issue had furnished him with, navigating the internet was still awkward for him. She must have been famous, just entering her name, or rather his name that she published under, produced results. Up popped her author website and a colourful blog about her highland life. Thousands of followers, perhaps he was the only one in the country who had not heard of her books. He tried to stay calm, at least in the interview she had not denigrated him, not even mentioned him, was that worse?

He needed to talk about this, not internalise, that’s what the counsellor told them when they had the ‘help’ during lock down. Most of them only put up with the do-gooders’ waffling to keep their hotel room, but some of it was helpful and he knew he had rights, a right to contact his son. But he had to stay off the streets and build some sort of life, even then it was unlikely his son would want anything to do with him. There would be no sleep for him tonight, but tomorrow he would tell his story for the first time.

Friday Flash Fiction – Geckos

Cassie sat admiring the vivarium, glad she had chosen the largest most elegant home for her two geckos. It was an anniversary of sorts, a year since they had arrived to complete her new home. They made a soothing break from the computer screen, from work, from the whole Covid business, living their simple lives unaware of the pandemic. Four months since life had changed for everyone, some more than others. Cassie really had little to complain about, life was changing in little ways for her. Doris next door’s family were back in the country, about to come out of quarantine. Cassie had ordered a much larger supermarket delivery for her yesterday, now she would relax and let Doris’ son take some responsibility, not that Doris was any trouble. Cassie was glad of someone to chat to outside of work.

Work, Zoom, MPJ, company policies, James’ plan… she stretched her back, rotated her shoulders… now the school holidays were underway tensions were high. She did not envy James’ task organising ‘the new norm’; some to continue working at home, others to alternate weeks, some to come in just one day a week. The trouble was, no one was sure which of the options they would be doing or when it would start.

Despite promising each other they would not talk about work, when James at last persuaded her to come for the ferry ride and lunch at the waterside pub, they had and what else was there to talk about? She didn’t want to hear any more about his mother or sister and certainly not about his ex wife, but she had enjoyed the outing, well the twenty minute ferry ride at least. Seeing those cruise liners moored up, going nowhere, James claimed to have inside knowledge of the cruise industry, but made her laugh. ‘Who would want to go on holiday in a floating petri dish, even in peacetime they always have that norovirus going round. Pay all that money to see nothing but your cabin and not be able to eat.’ When they discussed what type of holidays they enjoyed they both agreed Cassie’s sounded much more fun. James’ ex would only stay in decent hotels that did not allow children, decent seemed to mean hotels they could not afford.

After lunch James had walked her round to his mother’s house for a little socially distanced chat in her lovely garden. Cassie liked Vivienne, as she suspected, the woman looked younger and was livelier than one would believe when James was talking about her. They stuck to gardening topics, Cassie determined to keep the conversation light, however curious his mother might be about their relationship.

And still Cassie had her little castle all to herself, had not told James where she lived, implied there was some dark reason in her past, rather than not wanting to risk letting another boring chap get his feet under her table. But life was not bad at the moment. This afternoon she would go for a walk with Sam, accompanying him on his dog walking business. It had become a regular feature of their lives, good for her mental health as much as it was for Sam’s. The aim of MPJ’s helping the homeless project, now called Moving On, was to keep people like Sam feeling connected. Cassie was the first to admit he was the easiest of the group to have a connection with and they worked as a team. She had somehow found herself in charge of the project, James had thought her insane to allow herself to be put upon and she certainly would have been out of her depth without Sam’s support and help. But it worked both ways; he was managing to stay on at the hotel, paying his own way, with the grant quietly passed on by MPJ.

She hadn’t exactly told James about Sam and the time she spent with him, after all they were just a couple of friends in their forties enjoying a walk in the park, a walk and a chat about all sorts of things, he was probably the cleverest man she had ever met. How he came to be homeless was a mystery and none of her business, nor did it seem to matter. Everything was different in 2020.

Enjoy pre Covid short stories.

A second anthology from the author of ‘Dark and Milk,’ including recent prize winning short stories. As you would expect, some tales are light, others very dark and you will not know which are which until it is too late! Visit places you may or may not find on a map, discover the Hambourne Chronicles and meet people who may not be what they seem.

Friday Flash Fiction 555 – Phone Call

Doris danced round the kitchen, her mood lifted. What was this music, that composer who died young, they played it at that concert they went to… Thank goodness for the radio to ease the monotony of kitchen chores. She was having a big tidy up, making space. It was just as well her son and his family were not coming straight to her after flying in from the USA. Their delayed annual holiday was starting with a further two week delay in quarantine at an air bed or b&b; for the best really, she had managed to avoid getting English Covid, she didn’t want to get American Covid. Cassie next door would help her order a big shop next week, though goodness knows what the children’s likes and dislikes would be this year. The top cupboards would have to stay untouched, Doris had not used her stepping stool since lockdown, the last thing she wanted was a fall and end up in hospital on a ventilator. She just needed everything to look orderly so her son would see she was still coping fine.

Doris was startled out of her conducting with the wooden spoon by the phone ringing.

‘Hello.’

‘Good morning, my name’s Natasha and I am calling from…’

‘Hold on a moment, I’ll just turn the radio off, I can’t hear you.’

‘Noo… Wait, what’s that music, I love it, I’ve heard it before, but I can never find out what it is… ’

‘Lovely isn’t it, I know the composer…’

‘Who is it?’

‘…but his name won’t come to mind.’

‘Do you know what the piece is called?’

‘Some rhapsody I think, don’t go away, let’s hope they tell us what it was before the news comes on.’

Doris held the phone near the radio and strummed the counter top with her other hand, it was that time they went with Mary and her husband, narrow seats, no leg room for the men, concerts like that were off the agenda now with social distancing.

‘Oh that was lovely, thank you so much, I’ve tapped it into my phone, I’ll download it later.’

Just as well Natasha caught the presenter’s voice, Doris had been so wrapped up in the gorgeous music she hadn’t heard what he said.

‘You are very welcome Natasha, one of my favourites. I don’t do downloading, I still have CDs. By the way, why were you calling?’

‘Oh er um I understand you were involved in an accident recently and may be eligible for compensation.’

‘No, no I’m fine, I have been very careful, apart from that time with the secateurs, where are you calling from, council covid welfare ?’

‘So you have not been involved in a motor vehicle accident lately?’

‘No dear, I haven’t driven for years and Cassie next door doesn’t have a car. I usually get the bus, but we’re not supposed to use those now. Cassie orders on line for me, I’ll have to get a lot more next week. My son and his family are over from the USA, I think we’ll have a good old English roast and I’ll make him his favourite chocolate cake, even if his wife is on one of her diets and I never know what her children are going to eat… ’

Strange, the young woman had hung up.

Friday Flash Fiction – 1000 – Walking The Dog

Sam spotted her locking up her bike, hoping she was coming to the meeting, wondering if she would remember him. Two of his team had dropped out already, he didn’t imagine they had anywhere better to be on a Friday afternoon, but that’s the way it was; some homeless people didn’t like being organised and they didn’t like talking. He couldn’t remember her name, despite making such an impression on him. Katie, no, perhaps the earnest facilitator would say her name. He whistled to Sheba who helpfully rounded up his new charge, a snappy terrier mix the elderly owner claimed was a Jack Russell. He would have to keep her on a tight lead at the meeting.

Cassie removed her cycle helmet, took her shoulder bag out of the panier, stretched her back, stepped onto the path and nearly tripped over a little dog.

‘Sorry.’ Why was she apologising to a dog?

‘Bella, come here…’ a man’s voice called.

Bella! Maybe she was pretty as a puppy. Cassie regained her balance and carried along the path, wondering how today’s meeting would be. One of the others from work couldn’t come, he was actually back in the office so had a good excuse. All the more reason for Cassie to feel she should attend, even though James had suggested a trip over on the ferry and lunch outside a waterside pub.

She was aware of someone behind her, in these days of pandemic it wasn’t just women in dark lonely places who were nervous of strangers, anyone who took the virus seriously did not want people breathing near them. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a man on the grass, giving her plenty of space on the path.

‘I’m so sorry, the dog, not mine, exercising her for an old lady. You don’t recognise me, do you?’

When a shaggy dog bounded up she realised who it was.

‘Sam, oh sorry, haircut and wrong dog.’

‘No wonder you’re confused, you are going to the meeting again?’

‘Yes, yes, I’m a bit worried as one of my team can’t come and it was my company that started this in the first place.’

He laughed. ‘Two of my team are missing, not as if they had anything better to do, hope we don’t get told off.’

‘She is a bit serious isn’t she.’

Cassie smiled to herself. Sam brushed up well with his neat haircut and she found herself glad he was going to be there. Perhaps a reflection on her lack of a social life, no that was a condescending thought, Sam was as worthy of sharing her afternoon as James and probably more interesting.

‘You must like dogs a lot Sam.’

‘I like Sheba, not too enamoured with this one, but the lady who is fostering Sheba while I’m in the hotel suggested I get into dog walking, might be an earner.’

‘Oh yes, it was big business where I was in London, some walkers even had their own doggy mini buses.’

He looked crestfallen.

‘Oh I’m sure most dog walkers just have strong leads and a good supply of those plastic bags… hmm rather you than me.’

‘That is a downside, but I’ve seen worse in my life.’

‘Of course, I mean er…’

He smiled in a way that suggested he was worried about embarrassing her, rather than the other way round. ‘Hey, what was pre Covid stays pre Covid, new haircut, new man. That’s what I liked about the group, not dwelling, just looking for solutions, looking to the future.’

‘Will you still sell the Big Issue?’

‘Yes, I just started again, over the water is my pitch, small town, but no other sellers around. Trouble is, people haven’t really started coming out much, I need more strings to my bow.’

‘People going back to work – lonely dogs, people isolating – bored dogs, yes I’m sure there will be customers out there.’

That’s what Sam liked about Carol, no that wasn’t her name, anyway she was easy to talk to and positive. She was pretty in a quirky sort of way, not that she could ever be more than a friend, what clever career woman would want to go out with a homeless chap. Besides, she was probably married, children, teenagers even, hard to say how old she was, his age, younger… Still, it was good to have a nice sensible adult to talk to, though he would not mention the fact that he was likely to have to leave the hotel next week with no idea where to go. It was unlikely that well intentioned meetings could come up with solutions quickly.

They were all greeted by name by the earnest facilitator who seemed relieved that anyone had turned up again. Cassie, of course, why hadn’t he remembered that was her name. He smiled at Cassie across the six foot gap between their folding chairs, but was jolted out of his relaxed state by a familiar grating voice. Lindy, one of the other homeless staying at the hotel, Lindy who loved talking, Lindy who he tried to avoid.

She did not wait to be introduced but launched straight into her spiel.

‘So can your company, PMJ…’

‘MPJ’ Cassie tried to interrupt.

‘…JPM really help? I’ve been here before, talk, talk, talk then you all go back to your comfortable homes.’

Sam felt his stomach clench, mortified for Cassie, most people weren’t given life on a plate, what did Lindy know about Cassie and her colleague. He managed to catch her eye and wink, did she smile back or was she just cringing. For a moment he closed his eyes, imagining going over, clasping her hand and taking her away… but Lindy was still talking.

‘… and then there’s poor old Sam, gotta leave the hotel next week, can’t chuck me out yet, cos I’m a woman…’

Sam kept his eyes closed, could he ever really move forward?

Friday Flash Fiction – Open Space

Cassie was feeling more positive than she had for a while as she saw James approaching on his bicycle for their rendezvous at the austere offices of their employer MPJ. It was not because the pubs were opening tomorrow, something to be avoided, or because she believed the pandemic was over, it was not; but her mind was open to new possibilities.

‘How was the ferry James?’

‘Great, it’s so windy out there on the water this morning, I love it like that, blowing the virus away; only a few of us on the boat anyway.’ He laughed. ‘Less than a week of the ferry back on duty and they have taken away my hire car.’

Cassie couldn’t help feeling a little pleased that once again they were safely separated by the water and a limited ferry timetable. Their several meetings at the offices had been good, making life seem a little more normal, but would it be awkward now she had declined to join his bubble? Would he try and change her mind after she admitted on Facetime last night that Doris next door did not want Cassie to create a bubble for her. Doris’ son and family were now 85% sure they would be over from the USA for their delayed annual holiday and Doris was hoping they would quarantine with her, be her bubble.

James keyed them in at the side door, ushering Cassie in first and keeping a safe distance. At the desk the lone security chap looked glad to see them.

‘How many in today?’ asked James.

‘Three, no sign of the boss yet.’

They walked up the stairs; even if they had wanted to use the lift James had put several bands of yellow tape across the lift doors. The corridor was silent and Cassie stifled a giggle.

‘Why are we whispering.’

‘Strange isn’t it, I didn’t realise how noisy this place was when it was full. Coffee first? That machine must be the only thing still working at MPJ.’

It was still a bit awkward – just standing there a few feet apart. He was smiling at her.

‘I like this, having a proper chat, I know it’s not every girl’s… wom… lady’s idea of a date. That’s what I like about you Cassie, up for anything. I love the way you aren’t worried about what you wear and don’t fuss about makeup and stuff.’

Cassie wondered how to take his remarks, she couldn’t imagine him doing very well on the dating scene, but obviously she wouldn’t either.

‘Has anything new been decided about work? The parents in my group are going round the bend. The children are going back to school next week, but it’s only for two days a week, then in two weeks it will be the holidays.’

‘So what do parents usually do in the holidays?’

‘Don’t ask me, what does you sister do with her two?

‘They are too far away for my mother to help out, they take some time off for the family holiday, that’s up in the air this year… the rest of the time, holiday clubs I think.’

‘All grandparents can’t be isolating, they can’t all be old and have health issues.’

‘The younger grandparents probably have jobs, or did have. Anyway, the boss still thinks we’re all doing a wonderful job working from home and wants as few coming back here as possible till we’re absolutely sure it’s safe.’

‘You can’t blame him after losing his daughter and that girl in my department, but it’s never going to be a hundred per cent safe in any work place, safe anywhere for sure.’

‘He’s changed a lot,’ said James ‘those who have known him a long time say he’s changed completely. Now we not only have to treat all the staff as family, we have to look after the homeless as well.’

‘I know, I got the email, I volunteered.’

‘I didn’t volunteer, it’s been dumped on me, have to work out the logistics of using this nearly empty building to make sure nobody in this city goes back on the streets.’

‘Isn’t that the future of offices, that’s what everyone is saying, but what do the homeless want? That’s what I’m going to find out at this ‘People in the Park’ thing this afternoon.’

‘Oh that, don’t you go taking in strangers Cassie.’

‘Is that likely, I’m afraid I’m not that much of a do-gooder, my home is my castle.’

‘Don’t I know it’ said James.

Cassie smiled to herself as she cycled to the park. Poor James, she was still managing to avoid telling him where she lived, but would she feel home owner guilt as she met up with these homeless people?

Luckily some overly sincere volunteer was facilitating the little gathering in the park, a couple of other MPJ people and five men and women and a dog. Cassie didn’t think of herself as good with people, but this little straggle of folk must be feeling even more nervous. She found herself drawn to the chap with the shaggy dog, Sam he introduced himself. The others were happy to let him do the talking, he was engaging and had good ideas. He needed a haircut, but so did everybody till the barbers reopened tomorrow; Sam didn’t match the homeless stereotype. Staying in a hotel obviously helped and perhaps he was recently homeless without ‘complex issues’. The more he talked the more fascinated Cassie was, how could such a chap have ended up with nothing in the world except a rescued dog? But what he said was true, how would putting these people in an empty office building help if they didn’t have jobs to regain their self respect. Where would the jobs come from in a post Covid recession.

When they broke up from their carefully distanced circle, agreeing to meet next week, Cassie felt she was at least part of something new and positive, even if she couldn’t see how it would work out. She felt a cold nose on her hand.

‘Sorry Miss, Sheba doesn’t understand social distancing.’

‘Oh er, call me Cassie please Sam, I like dogs, or at least I’ve never had one… I have got a pair of geckos.’

‘Really, how about that, I used to have some strange pets when I was a kid.’

Sam’s route around the park, with Sheba glad to be on the move, was the same path back to where Cassie had locked her bike. He walked parallel with her, keeping to the edge of the path, a safe distance, but smiling and chatting. Yes, Cassie felt she was part of something new and positive.

Friday Flash Fiction – Big Issue

It was the dog she recognised first and even then she wasn’t sure it was him, without his red vest and his hair much longer. Vivienne was busy with the secateurs in the front garden, glad of the breeze and cooling of the weather. If she didn’t call out he would cross over to the corner and the moment would be lost.

‘Sam… Sheba?’

He turned and looked, would he even recognise her out of context?

‘Wednesdays, noon, I always bought my Big Issue when I came out of the library after my class.’

‘Of course, how are you, fine by the look of it, me too.’

Vivienne was relieved, she had always felt slightly guilty at not offering him a home, a room at least, not that he was homeless exactly, but it sounded pretty grim the room he had in some place where you might get your stuff stolen and they were always being threatened with eviction. She could imagine James and Julia’s reaction if she had taken in a complete stranger and one wouldn’t know for sure if they were honest and then they might never leave. That was one good thing about the pandemic. All In, councils had to get everyone off the street, so she didn’t need to feel guilty about any homeless people, especially when she discovered she could subscribe to the Big Issue, get it through the post. The money still to go to Big Issue sellers who now needed help with mental health issues and loneliness and boredom, stuck in hotel rooms…. What would she say to Sam… thank goodness for dogs, always a conversation starter, Sheba, a shaggy friendly rescued dog.

‘How’s Sheba?’

‘She’s got a foster family, couldn’t have her in that hotel they put me up in. Now I’m allowed out I take her for a walk every day, access visit’ he laughed.

‘Sheba probably gets out more than me, I’ve got my divorced son living with me, polices my every move, though I guess he was right, the virus is so scary.’

Vivienne felt she had provided an explanation why the spare room could not be offered to Sam; even though there was now the worry about the homeless being put back out when hotels were back in business. The mention of divorce also made her feel more comfortable, her family, her life, was not cosily perfect; James could very well have ended up in the same position as Sam, they were much the same age, though it was hard to tell. She had no idea what Sam’s circumstances were, she didn’t like to intrude, he had his dignity and she could look up to him standing as a working person, not like walking past and trying not to look down at a bundle in the doorway.

‘What’s it like, the hotel?’

‘My own television, comfortable bed, three meals a day, some of the other guests though… I’m glad to get out and about, bit too hot the past few days…’

Vivienne looked at the over insulated dog, panting even in the cool breeze.

‘Would she like a drink?’

‘No, we’re right, Sheba’s been kitted out by the RSPCA’ he rummaged in his bag, produced a bottle of water and unfolded a dish. ‘New lead as well.’

‘Very stylish.’

She looked up the road, conscious that James was likely to come bowling down the road on his bike, back from his work break and daily exercise.

‘Well I must be going, I hope the library opens soon, maybe I’ll be back on my patch in July, before Sheba gets too soft and used to her foster home.’

He stepped out and crossed the road, narrowly missing James on his bike.

‘Who on earth was that Mother?’

‘My Big Issue man, you remember, I told you about him.’

‘No.’

‘Wednesdays, near the library, anyway at least he’s okay, for the moment, staying in a hotel.’

‘Nice to be some, you’re as bad as Cassie, she’s worried about her Big Issue girl, but you should be careful, how did he know where you lived?’

‘He didn’t, just coincidence, the dog’s foster home must be near here. It would be a shame if the poor dog didn’t want to go out on the streets, now she has enjoyed home comforts.’

‘Never mind the dog, the point is it could be dodgy, you don’t know him…’

‘I’m sure he’s not a burglar and he knows I’m not living alone,’ she decided to change the subject ‘anyway, talking of living alone, how’s Cassie, you haven’t said how the bubble idea is going.’

‘She’s not sure, thought she ought to ask that old lady next door to her if she wanted to be in her bubble, have her in for meals, make her feel less isolated.’

‘Oh that’s kind of her.’

‘Cassie already does enough, getting her shopping and stuff, anyway I shall find out this afternoon. I have to go in to the office again, all my plans up in the air now two metres distance has suddenly changed to one metre. Cassie has a few ideas, suggested chatting over the coffee machine. I can sign her in for half an hour.’

‘Well I suppose that will make a change from talking on line.’

Vivienne thought Cassie sounded like someone she would like and certainly an improvement on her first daughter-in-law, but what Cassie thought of James was another matter.