THE STRENGTH WITHIN

Anna hadn’t noticed the time slipping away as she worked in the library. Engrossed in her study of anatomy, books covered every surface of the desk, some lying on top of each other at an angle, others closed with scraps of paper marking various sections.

Suddenly the alarm rang, and a flurry of activity stirred Anna from her studies.

‘Ten minutes until closing everyone. Ten minutes. Please bring any books to the desk if you need to check them out.’ The librarian headed to another room repeating her message.

Where had the three hours gone? Quickly Anna slammed the books shut and dashed around the library returning a couple to the shelves. The remaining three she lifted into the crook of her arm and after putting her papers and ink pen into her satchel she headed for the desk.

‘There you are, dear. Better fasten up your coat, it’s a blustery night out there,’ said the librarian, recognising the diligent student from the past few weeks. ‘You’ll take the tram back, won’t you? Don’t get caught out in the rain.’

Anna nodded briefly, whispered a quiet ‘thank you’ before grabbing her books. She found it hard to talk to strangers and the warmth and kindness of the librarian only made her miss home more. There she never had a moment to herself apart from her brief solitary outings on the rocks, here loneliness engulfed her.

‘Goodbye. Have a good weekend,’ called the librarian.

‘You too,’ replied Anna with clarity and determination. ‘I wish you a lovely weekend too.’ There, she could do it. Everything would be fine.

The librarian had not been exaggerating about the weather as outside the wind whipped around Anna, sweeping her coat around her legs and rain spiked at her face. Undecided she stopped at the corner. To the left was the tram stop but she barely had any money and perhaps the girls might invite her out to a cafe with them tomorrow afternoon. She didn’t want to back out through lack of funds. To her right lay the shortcut to the school; only a kilometre, all along the streets. With a determined spin Anna turned and marched off down the road.

The lights were further apart than she recalled and as the temperature dropped mist formed on the ground and drifted around her ankles as she walked. Her feet scuffed the pavement and with a stumble she corrected herself, the books precariously balanced in her arms.

‘Not long now,’ Anna said to herself as she started to hum one of her mother’s lullabies. The fog became denser, the lights from the lamps dissipating until only distant balls of yellow hung ominously in the air. Where was everyone? Shouldn’t they all be going out to the cafes and bars? Of course, she realised, that was the opposite direction. Here there were only a few houses in the distance and to the left a park; she’d forgotten about that. She tried to peer through the murk into the park, to the lake she knew lay in the middle but saw nothing. Just blackness.

Anna walked faster, her shoes trilling along on the pavement, her breathing faster. Behind her she heard some steps. Loud and heavy. No, this was silly, she was imagining it. The steps sounded closer now and with a shock she started to run, the books flying in her wake, her satchel dropped to the ground.

Suddenly an arm violently grabbed her around the waist and started to pull her towards the park. Anna screamed and instinctively reached out to the black iron wrought railings at the park entrance. She must never let go.

The man had both arms around her waist, tugging, squeezing hard as he tried to drag her from the railings. Anna screamed and screamed. She couldn’t stop. Her shrieks pierced the air. His hands were over one of hers, trying to prise her fingers from their grip. She held on – just. All the time screeching for help. A feral animalistic wordless cry of sheer terror.

His fingers clawed at her fingertips and with another scream she finally let go. Her other hand remained clutched to the railing. The man released his hold for a fraction, Anna hoped for a second, he would leave her. In vain as she saw his arm rise and he threw a sharp punch in her stomach. Silence collapsed around them. Anna fell forward, her head slumping onto her knees, the man’s arms quickly around her and lifting her up. Like a rag doll she hung for a moment in his grasp. Limp. Lost.

‘What’s going on here? Let her go!’ The voice came from across the street and more shouts joined this first one. Footsteps echoed in the silence of the fog. ‘Let her go! Let her GO!’ On their command Anna was dropped to the ground like discarded rubbish and with a thud she hit the ground, landing on her side and rolling into a ball.

‘Are you alright?’ Tightly curled up, she lay unmoving.

‘Is she hurt?’

‘Where did he go?’

‘I’ll go and call the police, you stay with her.’

The disembodied voices hung around her. Anna felt a lady sit on the ground next to her, talking, saying something; the words remote and distant. Indecipherable. A jacket was bunched as a pillow beneath her head.         

‘Mamma, Mamma,’ moaned Anna inaudibly.

’She’s trying to speak. I can’t make it out. Can anyone give me their coats? Any blankets, anything. She’s shaking terribly. God, look, this is bad, I can’t stop her shaking.’

‘I’ve found her bag. And some books were scattered just a bit away from here.’

‘What’s your name? Where do you live? Listen, we need to call someone.’

The voice was becoming more emphatic, increasingly desperate.

‘I recognise the uniform. It’s Hellsson School – I’ll give them a call. I’ll be back in a moment.’

Hellsson School? Why did that sound familiar, wondered Anna. She was sure she’d heard of it before. Who were all these strangers and why wasn’t she lying in bed? With that thought she closed her eyes and found welcome oblivion.

©Annika Perry, July 2019

The above piece is a short snippet from my draft novel Island Girl. I know, it’s a long time coming and I wanted to share a little of it with you.

The weeks are flying past and owing to various commitments I am not able to be present on WP as much as I would like but this will change soon. Whenever possible I look forward to checking in with you all.

J is for … Jameson

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I was inspired to write J for … Jameson after reading an entry in Mslexia magazine for their regular ‘L is For…’ competition where a piece of creative non-fiction writing is inspired by a single alphabet prompt. Although my story is fundamentally non-fiction, elements within are tweaked to fiction and as a result I doubt I will be submitting this one but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the challenge, particularly the exacting and creative re-write and edit to be within the 300 words limit.

Young Creators!

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It’s been a wonderfully inspiring morning! Whilst preparing breakfasts, packed lunch, loading the washing machine I had the joy and honour of listening to the winning entries of this year’s BBC 500 Words short-story writing competition for children. The finale of the contest, which saw over a staggering 135,000 entries, was held at Hampton Court Palace and the Honorary judge was Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall.

Wow!

The ability and inventiveness of the children in their stories is astonishing. Their creativity, lyricism and themes were both heart-warming and funny. The Gold Winners in the 5-9 age category and the 10-13 age category were both stories I’d read from the short-list; both enthralling, very different but brilliantly written stories. These youngsters have so much to teach us all.  Below is the winning entry for the 10 – 13 age group. Enjoy.

Dancing on the Streets by Sadhbh Inman

Tai ya tai hi

 

Tai ya tai hi…

On a noisy, dusty road, a child’s bare brown feet are hardly noticed as she weaves in and out of the traffic, dodging cattle and halting at taxis. She presses her nose against the windows of vehicles carrying crowds of tourists. “Tissues ma’am, tissues sir, only ten rupees for a box”. Sita is small for a seven year old, but then seven year olds from the slums in Ahmedabad are often smaller than other children.

Tai ya tai hi

Tai ya tai hi…

The Bharata Natyam rhythm encourages her to dance, from car to lorry, lorry to rickshaw. On Sita’s tiny face a smile begins to form. She is so engrossed in the rhythm that she never misses a beat. A lady in a rickshaw spots her quick-footed movements and starts rummaging through her purse to find twenty rupees, “ten rupees for the tissues and ten for your dancing”.

Tai ya tai hi

Tai ya tai hi…

Sita is delighted about receiving that much money, and dances off to the tailor’s to get her Bharata Natyam dress made and her dream fulfilled. The tailor’s fingers work quickly with the silky, emerald fabric. The gleaming needle punctures the soft cotton cloth, creating neat rows of stitches. Sita watches as the dress is completed. Sita takes the dress, her eyes wide with excitement, her mouth open in anticipation. “That’s one hundred rupees child” the tailor says kindly. Sita carefully unfolds the notes she has been saving for over a year and with a hopeful sigh, hands them over.

“I’ll have that!” a voice booms. Sita stands, her back to the stranger. She strongly smells rum. “Oh! It can’t be” she murmurs. A dark shadow and fiery breath indicate his presence…”Uncle!” His eyes narrow menacingly, sending a shiver down Sita’s spine. “I’ll have that!” he booms again. Uncle takes the money off Sita. He turns around and slams the door behind him.

Sita knows it will be the end of her happiness. It feels like a part of her body is gone, fatally gone forever. Sita also knows that she should have given the money to Uncle, but it didn’t seem fair that he sent her to get money, to make him a rich man.

Tai ya tai hi

Tai ya tai hi…

On a noisy, dusty road, a child’s bare brown feet are hardly noticed as she weaves in and out of the traffic, dodging cattle and halting at taxis.

“Tissues ma’am, tissues sir …only ten rupees for a box”.

The 500 Words short-story writing competition for children contest started eight years ago and was originally created by Chris Evans, a Radio 2 presenter, and supported by the BBC, as well as this year by Oxford University Press and a multitude of volunteer readers. It is a competition that fosters not only the love of reading, but as evident here, the absolute joy of imagination and writing! To listen and read to all or some of the top 50 entries in both categories click here.

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THE ELEVENTH HAT

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This was Jensen’s tenth hat in as many weeks. The first, a cranberry felt Fedora lasted only a few days, before being replaced by a grey knit Beanie. He’d learnt a new word that time … Beanie and it had looked as inane as he’d imagined, even after he’d cut off the wobbly black bobble. His two ears refused to be tethered beneath its soft surface. Like two aircraft landing light beacons his ears poked out from beneath every imaginable hat.

Jensen had high hopes for the dark blue navy trilby with a feather tucked into its suave red band. His expectations were of course in vain. The tweed flat cap was anything but fashionable on his pathetic head. It rested neatly on the top, “a perfect fit”, the shop-keeper declared. What he did not say, did not need to mention were the ears, coming up and over the cap, stroking its sides. Nothing would hide these atrocities. 

“Buggerlugs!” they’d yelled at him at school. All those years ago. He’d tried to laugh along … at first. He’d even tried to take the daily abuse as a joke but failed as the non-stop flicking of his ears dragged on relentlessly for three long years. Every month his grotesque ears seemed to sprout further from his head. The fourth year offered respite as a new and younger pupil started school, a new ‘Buggerlugs’ for his tormentors to feed off. 

Jensen thought it was all over these last thirty years, that the school days were filed away in a remote recess in his brain, never to be accessed again. Until the luncheon at The Ivy eleven weeks ago. With his usual Moss Bros striped shirt and his long grey trousers he’d walked proudly into the coveted restaurant. The bar at the centre gleamed and glistened, the stained glass windows lent a mystical reverential aura to the meeting with his agent. Relaxed they’d chatted away until he spotted Slater. Two years his senior at school, an expert at delivering taunts and injury, Slater now sat at the next table. Jensen continued to sip his whisky, taking in the grown man that had been his persecutor. Dapper in a navy striped suit, Slater’s hands swung back and forth as his procrastinated with vigour and brashness. Slowly sinking into his chair, drink clutched tightly in both hands, Jensen hoped Slater would not spot him. No such luck, as with a curt nod, his adversary mouthed a greeting. Surely it couldn’t be! He couldn’t have said it! “Buggerlugs!”

Eleven weeks since the fateful meeting and the eleventh hat. Jameson whisky had become Jensen’s best friend and his head was reduced to a fug of memories. With shaking hands he reached for his most recent acquisition. So many had been discarded in disgust as they proved mediocre for their main purpose – to hide his blasted ears! A baseball cap was quickly disregarded, the beautiful cream coloured Panama hat had been sent flying across the room. The straw hat held such promise of summer days on the canal, however once in place it not only accentuated his ears but his shiny forehead too. 


This last purchase was perfect, Jensen was sure of it!  The tweed deer-stalker, as worn by the infamous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, had adjustable earflaps … no need for his ears to be visible in public ever again! It was the only answer he felt, apart from taping down the abominations on the side of his head. He’d tried that once when young but the beggars refused to be tamed and flamboyantly sprung up and out for inspection. 

“Sir looks fine in this,” insisted the shop-keeper.

Jensen checked in the mirror again. What a lying…

“Jensen? It’s you, isn’t it?”

Slater, shifting warily from one foot to the next, stopped in front of Jensen. Slater was no longer so dapper, his shirt partially out his trousers, his hands clenched nervously. 

“I never forget what we did to you. I tried to tell you there, at The Ivy, when you rushed out. So Sorry! For Sorry! I deeply regret our, my behaviour…”

Jensen smiled, then waved imperiously as if swatting away an annoying bug. With a small push and shove with his shoulder against Slater, Jensen walked to the shop counter. With a ‘harrumph’ he sent his latest hat flying onto the wooden surface, calling out at the same time to the shop-keeper.

“I’ll no longer need this one. Nor the others. I’ll return them promptly and expect an immediate refund. No more hats for me!”

©Annika Perry, March 2018

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This story was written in response to my writing group’s monthly ‘homework’ – the word ‘ears’ was an impromtu suggestion and immediately the basis for this piece of work formed in my mind.

Author Annika Perry Chats About Inspiration for Writing

I consider myself lucky to have known Christy Birmingham since my early days on WordPress and have followed her blog ‘When Women Inspire’ with keen interest. As the title suggests, Christy’s aim of her blog is ‘to showcasing the efforts of women around the world to change the world in positive ways’. Wow!! She succeeds brilliantly and her posts are always inspiring, informative and thought-provoking.

Imagine then my delight to be invited to write a guest post about the inspiration behind my book ‘The Storyteller Speaks’! I’d hardly emailed her my enthusiastic yes and thank you before I started to write the post…read on to find out more.

For this time I’ve turned off comments here and look forward to continuing the chat over on Christy’s blog.

When Women Inspire

Please join me in welcoming author Annika Perry to the blog today. I have known her for years now and always enjoy her uplifting blog posts. Now she has published a collection of poems, short stories, and flash fiction pieces into “The Storyteller Speaks: Powerful Stories to Win Your Heart”!

Upon hearing this news, I immediately asked Annika to come over to chat about the inspiration behind writing this book. She kindly accepted. And, you know what? Her taking the step to publish her writing has helped inspire me to keep going with my own short story collection. What a wonderful boomerang effect! Now, without further ado, here is Annika Perry on being inspired to write.

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Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Short Story – The Bike by Annika Perry

I’ve been thrilled to take part in Sally’s ‘Posts from Your Archives’ and it’s been a delight to both make new friends here on WP and say hello to existing ones. Thank you so much Sally for all your hardwork and the opportunities here on your blog.

This final of my four instalments features one of my shorter stories which is also included in my short story anthology out soon. Enjoy!

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Today is the last in the posts from the archives of Annika Perry and a short story that is very emotive and also I am sure will resonate with parents of those who love the thrill of riding two wheel racing machines.

The Bike by Annika Perry

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Death came to his eyes that day. The advert had gone into the paper on Thursday and since then three calls, two visits and now a sale. He’d never expected this to happen. Why couldn’t he see this? Since he was three he’d lived on two wheels. Scooters, bikes, mountain bikes, motorbikes and trial bikes. The one selling today he’d only got last year.

For two long summers he’d worked at the hotel saving up; hospital corner after hospital corner on the beds, scraping his knuckles endlessly on the dark wood frame, loo after loo scrubbed, room after room vacuumed. He’d had a…

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FRAZZLED!

My Desk

It’s never taken me so long to send an email before. 

I’m not referring to writing the message; its composition came easily enough. The actual act of pressing ‘send’ seemed impossible. My cursor hovered over the paper airplane icon; pausing I sat back and scanned the document once more. I stood up and paced around the room.

The momentous moment had arrived and my first manuscript was just a click away from the publisher. I was savouring the experience while being equally terrified of the reality. Many bloggers have used the analogy of giving birth with reference to writing a book; I can identify with this emotion to a certain extent…sending away my first book to an outsider felt like I was releasing my baby into the wider world. With another few tours of the room, I returned to my seat and pressed the button. No turning back!

After weeks of intense editing on my anthology of short stories my head seemed to burn with heat and a flu-like fever of concentration reverberated around my mind whilst the rest of my body struggled against the cold. A day or two of complete relaxation was in order to restore the equilibrium.

The editing process had been unexpectedly and contradictorily tougher and easier than anticipated. 

Hour after hour of close computer and document work took its toll on my eyes and head resulting in migraine-style headaches.

However, several useful editing tools were a fantastic help in bringing my manuscript to completion.

Grammarly, a proof-reading program recommended by Jacqui Murray at Worddreams (thank you, Jacqui!), was a most invaluable editing aid. After initially reading through each story a few times, amending the plot etc where needed, correcting typos and punctuation I then used Grammarly to check for any missed errors. Surprisingly it picked up quite a few; these included spacing gaps between words, spellings and punctuation. I did have to be cautious with my changes though as the spellings were corrected to American style and it had a predilection for commas which I disagree with – see what my editor says! 

Natural Reader  proved another excellent editing tool. Once again Jacqui recommended this on her blog and I was initially sceptical but decided to trust her positive experience with it. Despite the mechanical unemotional aura to the voice (although there are various choices) it made a huge impact having each story read aloud to me. Although I’d been reading some out to myself, listening actively to each word through Natural Reader allowed me to pick up on silly mistakes including one where I had put the wrong name for a situation in a story. Yikes!

As well as a dictionary by one’s side (or the website permanently on display) it is essential for writers to consider Thesaurus as one’s best friend. My original paperback copy from childhood is gradually falling apart so I now use its services online, consulting, searching for words to improve and sharpen my writing and this was even truer during these last editing weeks. 

Finally, never underestimate the value and effectiveness of good old-fashion pen and paper – or in my case pencils! With a few sharpened pencils in my arsenal, I printed out the stories when I thought they were ready and took them downstairs where I’d commandeered the dining room table (my desk by this time was overflowing with papers!). Here the final editing took place and with the change of room, my creative spirit was rejuvenated and the final changes were made. Some of these were minor, a word or two; in other cases, a whole paragraph was rewritten and paragraph spacing was slightly adjusted in the more complex ones. Furthermore, I was inspired to change the title of two stories. 

The stories for my anthology were now ready to be sent away to my editor; however, there were several more important elements to the book to complete before the full manuscript was whole. In my next post, I will describe how I tackled the all-important blurb, tag-line and about the author page. 

Thank you very much for following my exciting journey to publication of this anthology of short stories.The book is due out beginning December and I will reveal the book title and cover soon.

“I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice.” Andre Dubus

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CHIPPING AWAY!

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Editing is a strange process.

I’m finding the task both hugely satisfying and exhausting. Like a skilled artist, I imagine myself adding those final touches to a painting that will lift my work. As I carve away at my stories I’m falling for the characters all over again, getting to know them intimately, their stories engraved on my mind. Even when not at the computer, chipping and adding away, my thoughts are constantly with my creations…I want to honour them by presenting them in the best way possible.

My distracted state has not gone unnoticed at home. Returning from school one day my son cautiously asked why a breakfast bowl was on the laundry basket in the bathroom. A very good question and I had no sensible answer – no doubt a new edit idea struck me between rooms. I’ve warned him to expect a lot of these unusual distractions as I battle against my perfectionist nature and concentrate singlemindedly to complete my first book.

With a selection of my short stories with a professional editor, with discussions underway for a book cover, I have been reassured that completion before Christmas is possible.

Yikes! On hearing this deadline my stomach flip-flopped with excited elation (and terror!) whilst my mind nearly overloaded as I careered through everything that needs to be done. Then, ever the Virgo, organisation took charge and with a new notebook in hand, I made lists, lots of them. These I’m slowly ticking off…

Whilst editing I have noticed my predisposition for certain words which I’ve harshly erased; even as I berate myself for my persistent use of these lame and weak phrases, I’m pleased to learn more about my writing, how to improve it with immediate effect.

Who are the culprits? Stand up words, wave goodbye and bow out!

* Also   *Now    *Then     *At last     *Just

*After all    *Of course    *Finally

Finally (noooo!!) one chap’s name appeared in three different stories…sorry, there’s only need for one George!

‘My short stories are like soft shadows I have set out in the world, faint footprints I have left. I remember exactly where I set down each and everyone one of them, and how I felt when I did. Short stories are like guideposts to my heart…’  Haruki Murakami

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A GREEN CAGE

Bad Prison Cell Alcatraz

I pace the floor. Not for the first time. One, two, three, four and a half. The metal green door is cold to my touch. My head swivels round and captures the photo on the wall. Holding its gaze I walk methodically back. One, two, three, four and a half. The edges of the photo are frayed and its colours dulled; the past ten years have not only taken their toll on me. The photo was taken with my camera, one that used actual film. I hear those don’t exist anymore. Everything is digital they say.

Joe’s tiny face smiles back at me. He was only six months at the time and how he loved bouncing in that blue baby rocker. His red romper suit covered in white yogurt after he’d knocked my hand feeding. We’d laughed so.

Those days all my photos were of Joe. Joe smiling, sleeping, playing with his cuddly lion, eating, swimming, on holiday at Centreparcs. We were inseparable. Until his death. Three months later.

“Turner! Turner!”

The prison officer fills the door, her hair pulled tight into a functional bun, the khaki-coloured uniform bulging at her waist and arms. Hard to believe that had been me; squeezing into clothes. Now a size 10 hangs like a sack on my tall frame.

“Turner!”

Standing still, I gaze ahead. Carol, that’s my name. They took that from me in here; my self. Sometimes I repeat it to myself, just to make sure I don’t forget. “Carol. Carol.”  Daughter, wife, mother. Then child-murderer. Or so they claimed.

“The warden wants to see you. Now!”

I nod curtly and glance at the space above my table. The light green cement wall is covered with study notes, magazine photos and a calendar. A big red circle pulsates around tomorrow, marking my appeal hearing. My final hope.

The daily clamour of prison life continues around me unabated. After the silence all those years ago the constant barrage of noise is a balm for me. The silence of Joe and the day he stopped breathing.

The relentless rain had whipped around the car on the journey home from the nursery that day. Joe had cried non-stop. This in itself was unusual as was the pitch of his scream; twenty minutes of fractured tortured crying. Not that of hunger or exhaustion. Slowly it dwindled to a whimper and I hate myself even now for being relieved at the peace.

I stopped by the front door and rushed Joe, who was in his car seat, inside along with the shopping, before driving to park around the corner. On entering the house his stillness struck me immediately. Then I spotted his lips, tinged light blue. Panicked, I released the seat belt, opened his jacket and held him. I tried to get him to breathe. Those minutes turned into a lifetime. I must have called an ambulance. They took him away, lights flashing and sirens blasting. I sat in the corner of the ambulance, helpless. Watching the paramedics fighting to save my son’s life. In vain.

The hail had hammered upon my face as the police arrested me soon after Joe’s death. I wasn’t even allowed to see him again. Nor was I permitted to attend his funeral.

At least Liam had been able to go. Liam, Joe’s father, my husband, who knew me better than anyone. We’d been close friends since our teens and he always trusted me, when many doubted. Many times since we’d sat across the visitor table, surreptitiously clasping each other’s hands for comfort.

“It will sort, love,” he’d promised. With his dark hair straggling across his face he insisted, “It’s all a big mistake”. He’d been right, only we never guessed it would take ten years to prove it.

Salt, such a small innocuous condiment. The police and doctors said I had been feeding Joe teaspoons of this over time to kill him. My beloved Joe. My incredulity at the accusation turned to total disbelief, then resignation as expert after expert testified to the high sodium levels in Joe. The only possible reason given for its presence was poisoning.

I could never have harmed him but nobody listened. He’d been tired, lethargic even. Joe’s low weight had always concerned me. I’d asked for help but was told not to worry.

My raw anger and desperation at the trial hadn’t helped. I realise that now. Neither had my appearance with unruly frizzy hair which had long since been tamed into a short smart bob. Exercise, an anathema to me previously, became my new religion and I trained at the prison gym like a fanatic. Its bright green walls especially gaudy under the fluorescent lighting.

Once my body was in shape, I turned to my mind. Unused since school where I gained a couple of qualifications, I studied like one possessed and only last year achieved a degree in law. I’d almost laughed as I held the certificate. A degree! Me?! A care home child, no known parents and already convictions for petty theft. I’d had no chance at the trial. No chance afterward either. Until five years ago and the death of a baby girl. Then two more babies. All from salt poisoning.

“Expect the best, prepare for the worst.”

The warden’s words reverberated in my head.

The worst had already happened. Couldn’t he see that? I knew what he meant though, losing the appeal, being trapped a lifetime within the green cage.

For the best I reread Liam’s letter, which I’d received the day before. He’d prepared the house for my possible home-coming and redecorated Joe’s nursery as a study for me. I swear I could smell the fragrances from the flowers in the garden through his description and closing my eyes I glimpsed the bright sunflowers against the back wall.

“I found him in Joe’s nursery at the weekend,” Liam’s mum said to me on a visit early on. “Asleep on the fur rug, clutching Joe’s clothes, teddies strewn around him. The charity bag lay empty in the corner of the room.”

I’d covered my eyes.

“Carol, dear. Liam can’t sort it all out. Shall I help?”

Her offer was the first of many that Liam and I came to rely upon. Now she too was gone and we only had each other.

The warden gave me a box and with trepidation I began to pack. Law books, spiritual books even, such as my well-thumbed copy of “Stillness Speaks”.  I would never have believed it. Then reams upon reams of notes and finally the file of newspaper cuttings.

On top was the story of the two now discredited expert witnesses who had testified against me. Their omission to mention a possible medical cause for the sodium poisoning had sentenced not only me but also three other women to jail for child murder.

Finally I placed the photo album Liam had made for me into the box. Its blue spine long since broken and the silver heart frame on the front no longer shone. I opened it carefully.

There we were on our wedding at the local registry office, then at the pub meal afterward. So simple but perfect.

There I was pregnant, looking blooming and blooming huge as well. For that big bump Joe was born tiny, a light bundle with black hair streaked across his head.

Then the last photo ever taken of Joe.

Liam gently bouncing him on his knee, Joe’s face half-hidden behind the hood of the yellow giraffe dressing gown, his hands tucked inside the long sleeves, Joe’s sweet giggles audible from the photo.

In shock I dropped the album and started shaking.

Not for the first time, I cried; sobbed until my body heaved with grief. Angry clanging on the doors followed as my cacophony of tears refused to be silenced. Before long darkness enveloped the cell and by the light of a torch the green forest of night closed around me.

“You’re free to go,” my lawyer said the next day in court. “You’re free.”

The appeal had passed in a blur, too shaken, too frightened of the outcome to absorb much detail.

“Free?” I questioned and looked around for permission to leave.

“Carol!” Liam was suddenly in front of me and unrestricted we moved towards each other. Then stopped. An invisible barrier. Liam took the final strides towards me and he reached out and pulled me in. Saving me. I rocked back and forth in his arms before we headed out into the blinding sunshine. To face the press together.

Two hours later I was home. The butterflies fluttered erratically around the flowering buddleia; more calmly the bees buzzed over the red roses. Our garden was a firework display of colours. Golds, reds, pinks, purples. I gingerly stepped over the petunias which had spread over the path, wanting to preserve their beauty.

Inside, the house gleamed and his mother’s redecoration years earlier was evident in the modern minimalist style. So tidy. No toys on the floor, stairs, furniture.

Liam took my arm and gently guided me towards Joe’s nursery. Apprehensively I opened the door.

It was stunning. The sun beamed upon the large pine desk in front the window and light dazzled me, reflecting from the crystal framed mirror. A bookcase stood empty. In the corner was a white armchair and Joe’s cuddly lion rested on the soft seat. The whole room teemed with sweet peas, the multicolours a feast for the eyes as I spotted them on the desk, windowsill and coffee table. Their scent a crashing reminder of that first and only spring with Joe.

“”I love it, Liam. It’s just perfect. Thank you,” I whispered quietly in awe.

“The colour?” he questioned cautiously. “Do you like it?”

I hadn’t spotted the light green walls at first, now I moaned to myself.

“They say green is calming and restful. Creates harmony,” Liam reassured me. “I thought it would help you settle back home.”

“That’s kind of you. Very thoughtful,” I replied. However, deep inside my emotions swirled. Liam meant so well.

I still didn’t think it was the right colour.

The End

©Annika Perry

LASTING SANCTUARY

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Back and forth. The chair rocked gently, back and forth. Years, decades even, I’ve sat here on and off, rocking calmly, the squeak a welcome friend, the worn wood of the arms soft to my caress. Even as a child I sought solace here and closing my eyes, I drifted into a restful doze….

’Williams! Stop that rocking! I swear, I can see grooves on the oak floor. Williams!’

I’d only sneaked in ten minutes earlier and made straight for the rocking chair in its usual gloomy nook beneath religion and travel, navigating my way by memory with my spectacles grasped uselessly in my hands. Those bloody glasses! Bad enough they fogged up a hundred times a day, even worse they were NHS ones.

‘Caught any fish today, Snorkel face!’  That was the kindest thing anyone ever said to me at school. Even my name was a shout and a demanding, irritated one at that.

At last, the glasses cleared and my gasp of awe puffed audibly across the room. A gentleman in the opposite corner tutted disapprovingly, glared at me before returning his eyes to the book in his hands.  ‘Perfume’ if I wasn’t mistaken and one I could recommend to him. Books galore! My usual heavenly delight. The afternoon light shimmered through the windows, the dust danced around the bookshelves, the words within a promise of new worlds, of escape.

The coins in my blazer pocket clinked against each other as I reached for them. Two pounds altogether and well worth saving my 50p weekly pocket.  Who needed sweets anyway? For me it was all about the books. With a push the chair lurched forwards, depositing me on my feet with a satisfying creak and groan. I edged left around historical fiction, turned right at thrillers then stopped by biographies. 

‘What do you want to read them for?’ Dad always asked. Not waiting for an answer he’d reach for a beer from the fridge, his head lost within the cold vault as the muffled one-way conversation continued.

‘You should be out playing football with your mates. Out do you, hear? None of this bookshop rubbish.’

Why did he never realise that the bookshop was my haven, the dark wooden shelves my sanctuary, the books my guardian?

‘Mr Williams! Thank goodness, you’re awake. There was another complaint about that chair yesterday.’ I continued to rock, groggily, trapped in time, my Ralph Lauren glasses on the wonk. I straightened them slowly. ‘It will kill someone, one day, Mr Williams. That young lad, Joe, the one you always tolerate, who’s constantly here, was thrown off the chair yesterday when its arm broke right off. Yes, that one. I fixed it but it nearly killed him. Fell onto the floor, he did and banged his head. Nearly killed him!’

The laughter within me built up gradually, begrudgingly, relentlessly. 

‘Mr Williams, as the owner you’re responsible…’

‘For keeping things just as I want them! As I’ve done for over thirty years. Don’t change a thing! Now, where’s my laptop…’ Still chuckling I nudged it awake and started to tap on the screen whilst inhaling the muggy scent of books with satisfaction.

 A chair that takes people’s fate in its own hands is a story waiting to be published! And added to my bookshelves.

©Annika Perry, 2017

This piece was written in response to a prompt issued by my creative writing group – the options were eclectic and consisted of Lemon Tree Grove, Book Shops or Graveyard. I was tempted to write a short story including all three elements but fear this would become far too long for the group!

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Images courtesy of pixabay