Rose-Tinted Glasses

By John Turner

John is an aspiring writer living in Cambridge with his wife, senile old dog, and two cats, all trying to make sense of this strange and wonderful world (except, that’s not quite true – the cats have it sorted!)

I stare lovingly into her eyes. No-one else in the room exists. She glows for me; she shines for me. The band plays only for us; the waiters serve only us; the wine flows only for us; the beautiful people watch with envy only us.

Except, that’s not quite true. There was no real relationship between us. I just needed a partner for the formal dinner at the end of my academic year. She shared a house with my best mate’s girlfriend. And she had agreed – out of pity, perhaps, or looking for a night out with food and drink aplenty and, hopefully, some pleasant company. But there was nothing more to it than that.

Except, that’s not quite true. To her it may have been nothing more – for she had a steady boyfriend back home (somewhere near Newcastle, I seem to remember). But not for me – I wanted her from the moment we first met, although even then I accepted, as the saying goes, that she was ‘out of my league’.

Except, that’s not quite true. I couldn’t accept that. This was my big hope – the night when my natural charm and good humour would win her over, into my bed. Not that sex was high on my agenda (now, surely, that is not true!). The true romantic, I was besotted by my desire to find my one true love. Of course, it didn’t happen.

Except, that’s not quite true. The evening went well, very well. I recall the close dances, the snatched kisses, the walk to her house along darkened streets, the fits of giggles as we raided the fridge, balancing together on the rickety old kitchen chair to avoid the cockroaches, and the final wonderful denouement. My confidence sky-high, skipping home in the cool morning light, liberating a pint of milk from a doorstep, I could do no wrong. I was the consummate lover.

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Except, that’s not quite true. The details are mercifully blurred and indistinct. My first time (if you discount the rather inept fumbling with the girl from the kibbutz), she was probably just mildly amused. I remember the talk with Roger in the pub a few nights later – the gentle way he explained the reality, her as good as married (she was, soon after – I wasn’t invited), this her final fling, nothing serious. The need for me to remove my rose-tinted glasses. And so, I moved on.   

Except, that’s not quite true. I longed for her, certainly for months, maybe for years. Mixed-up emotions never quite resolved. The party a while later, a first reunion, but her not there – by design or circumstance, I often wondered. Everyone else excited about their new lives, planning for the future, but my mind elsewhere, stuck in the past.

Except, that’s not quite true. I did plan, I’ve had a wonderful life. We never did meet again. Although I heard of her often, through friends in common – her married life, her three children, her comfortable lifestyle.  She probably never gave me a second thought. Unlike me. She remains on a pedestal, for other women to aspire to, unsullied by future slights and disappointment. The rose-tinted glasses may have grown old, but I’ve never quite taken them off.

A Lie in a Jiffy Bag

By Chloe Shaw

After many years working as a marketing copywriter, Chloe now enjoys the freedom and creativity of writing short stories and flash fiction.

The untruth arrives one September morning in a padded envelope and sits composting in the pigeon hole at my hall of residence until mid-afternoon. I’ve no idea what’s inside but delay opening it till I find some breakfast.

As I’m eating, I wonder what the package contains and who has sent it. My sense of anticipation increases until, swallowing the final chunk of sausage, I rip the package open.

First the note – “How dare you!” I reach further inside the envelope and pull out a wilted plant. It’s a common sort of plant and holds no significance. I don’t recognise the handwriting and I find no clues from the post mark. I’m baffled.

Later, back at my room, ‘Anna, Anna, there’s a call for you’. I run to the communal phone and listen to a man telling me in low rushed tones that his wife will be ringing me shortly. I ask who he is. ‘David’ he says and hangs up.

David? The David I worked with over the summer holidays? The quiet, conscientious man who sat at the desk next to mine in the admissions office, processing grant applications? Why would he be ringing?

A minute or so after replacing the handset the phone rings again. This time a woman. She doesn’t introduce herself and I listen to a stream of accusations. There’s mention of a plant and a letter. She tells me David’s bags are packed and he’s waiting by the door.

I don’t get the chance to respond. I want to say ‘Are you joking? I just wrote to thank him for the leaving card and present. Your husband is just someone I sat next to in an office’. But for the second time someone hangs up on me before I can speak and the sound of the handset slamming down rings in my ear.

Then I remember the jiffy bag. Of course, my office plant! That peace lily sat on my desk that whole summer. I left it behind without a thought. Had it taken on greater meaning since?

A lie.

Impulse

It’s afternoon when I call by.  His brother opens the door, eyes bloodshot.  There is the solid tang of weed.  In the kitchen six stoned boys are passing round a spliff.  As habitual and present as furniture. 

Joe is not there.  Instead, beside his bed, is a can of pink Impulse, and a hairbrush, its bristles snagged with red hair.

His brother colours when I ask him.

‘You and she look the same,’ he says, ‘if that makes it any easier.’

It’s the first time I face infidelity and I take a much needed five minutes in the loo.  I’ve ploughed my first year exams, cooked weekends away on the munchies.  Flushed a year for a lie.  How to collect myself? 

Through in the kitchen I crouch amongst those clueless, and girl-less friends of his.  Reaching in, I steal a drag as the joint circles past, and with the smoke blowing from the side of my mouth, scan the circle.  Then leave, taking a piece of furniture with me. 

Happiness

by Annamaria Gnaccarini

Born in Italy but brought up as British. Mother, lover, dreamer (of becoming a writer of course!)

She walked down the aisle on her father’s side.

It was a late summer’s afternoon and the Romanic Church was full of friends and guests. All the benches were decorated with white lilies and in the background a violin played.

They were a beautiful couple, her in a cream short dress with a long train, him in a Romeo Gigli suit. They were the perfect picture of happiness. So why was she asking herself“Why am I doing this?”

She knew exactly why she was doing it. Not for love. Nor for money. She only wanted what she had always wanted: a family. She wanted to be surrounded by children, laughter and love. She wanted to feel safe……to fulfill her idea of happiness.

She had thought that love would come in time. That being good friends would be better than being in love, that lust would disappear after a few years.  Friendship would last the test of time. So many thoughts, so many lies she told herself.

She still remembered the night when she had written that list. Good points and bad points of the two men in her life. The safe option and the courageous one. And now the choice was made. Definite. “Till death doth us part”. Her vows were a serious commitment. They were for life.

She would try to be good, keeping away from that temptation. Later she moved a long way away. But love doesn’t die because of distance. Real love never dies.

Now after so many years she still wondered who was the biggest deceiver: the one who lied or the one who pretended not to know?

It is ironic how sometimes you might be lucky enough to get what you want.

Rock, Salt & Nails

Gog Magog Hillbillies

Nick Barraclough, Phil Meyler and Liz Taylor singing the lovely Rock, Salt and Nails, which was written by Bruce 'Utah' Philips. Nick is guitarist and vocalist with Telephone Bill and the Smooth Operators, whose album Pioneering is out now.  Liz's first album Living in the Lowlands is available here.  

On the banks of the river where the willows hang down
And the wild birds all warble with a low moaning sound
Down in the hollow where the waters run cold
It was there I first listened to the lies that you told

Now I lie on my bed and I see your sweet face
The past I remember time cannot erase
The letter you wrote me it was written in shame
And I know that your conscience still echo's my name

Now the nights are so long, Lord sorrow runs deep
And nothing is worse than a night without sleep
I'll walk out alone and look at the sky
Too empty to sing, too lonesome to cry

If the ladies were blackbirds and the ladies were thrushes
I'd lie there for hours in the chilly cold marshes
If the ladies were squirrels with high bushy tails
I'd fill up my shotgun with rock salt and nails


Guns are for our Protection

The Small Arms Survey, an international group, based in Geneva tracking gun violence, says that 66,000 women worldwide are killed violently each year, generally in the home, and usually by a partner. 

Emily Rothman, Associate Professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, in her research into intimate partner violence has studied 8,500 men, as part of the Massachusetts Batterer Intervention Program.  Her co-authored study included men aged between 17 and 72. Thankfully only 1.8% owned a gun.  However, that still amounted to 83 individuals, who she identifies in her paper as a 'dangerous subgroup'.  She found that guns are used more frequently to intimidate than to kill.  In her article in the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association, she shows that men use various intimidation strategies - in an argument they will threaten to shoot "a pet or other thing their partner cares about, take their gun out to clean it in front of their partner, or when the anger over takes them simply shooting it. 

Denial

By Alan Beach

Alan is a serving Detective Sergeant and Intelligence officer in the Cambridgeshire Constabulary.  A former Royal Marines Commando, he has years of military experience.  All proceeds from his Iraq set action novel, 'The Persian Gambit', when it is published will be donated to Help for Heroes.  He has also written a children's adventure story.

Did I know? Of course I did. How could I not have, the signs were all there, looking back.  Being in denial seemed to be the easier option. How often do we all pretend there's nothing wrong in our lives, no cracks showing in relationships? Just to get by, for self preservation, the optimist hoping to overcome the pessimist?

"We're all going to town, a friend's band is playing. Do you want to come?" staring in the living room mirror she slowly brushed her hair momentarily pausing as if waiting for an answer.

It wasn't what she had said, more the way she had said it. Having been away for sometime this wasn't the welcome I had hoped for.   

 The waiting smiles from her friends slipped into wide eyed surprise at my presence. The band soon opened up with their cover of Led Zeppelins "Stairway To Heaven".

"There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold

And she's buying a stairway to heaven." 

All eyes were on him, until I noticed the furtive glances at me and then to her and then following them back to the man with the hair. He wasn't singing to the audience and he certainly wasn't singing to me. Transfixed, she was the only one not joining in the conspiratorial looks around our table. With an unseen hand turning the vice around my chest, it felt like there was just three of us in the room and I was the elephant in the corner.

"When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed

With a word she can get what she came for.

Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stairway to heaven."

She doesn't need a stairway she could plait his lank greasy hair and make a bloody rope ladder I mumbled.

I finished my beer,"great song."

She didn't answer nor did she turn as I walked out.

I lied, I hated the song. 

Every Other Day

By Nick Barraclough

Nick is a Cambridge-born musician, broadcaster and writer. His musical career began in the seventies as guitarist and singer with Telephone Bill & the Smooth Operators. Thirty years in radio followed. In 1992 he founded the independent radio production company, Smooth Operations with a weekly show, on Radio 2, which ran for fifteen years. He has produced and presented numerous documentaries for Radio 4, Radio 2 and the World Service, on music, travel and social commentary.

Today Nick has resumed his musical career in a number of ventures. He continues to make the odd specialist music documentary for Radio 4. Nick is currently working on a romantic novel, with the working title 'Going Live', set in a Cambridge radio station in the eighties. This is an extract from his first, 'Kin, based on the life of the artist Wesley West.


Every other day he comes in, buys a stick of liquorice, waits until I close up, then walks me down to the canal. Arm in arm, like we’re a proper couple. Though proper couples don’t only meet every other day. They meet when they want to. And sometimes I want to meet him two days running. But he won’t have it.

  “Can’t tomorrow.” He says
  “Why, Donald?”
  “Seeing a man about some work who’s got a barber’s down Doon Street.”

  He’s always seeing a man about something. If there was many barbers as he says, there must be just about one every other shop in Southwark.

 He says he loves me but there’s something, or someone, else. It’s like in that book I read by Georgette Austin, Thundering Hooves, Beating Heart, where Jane forgets her old boyfriend with the bad leg, Thomas, and has her head turned by the Captain who is dashing but turns out to have a wife and five children.  The bell tinkles as he opens the shop door and there he is. Jet black hair, Brylcreemed back, flashing eyes, his overcoat buttoned right up. He always wears that, rain or shine. I have to shake my head because I always go a bit silly when I first see him.

  “Hello Gladys my love. Nice stick of liquorice, pl…”
  “That’s enough, Donald. Before we go any further there’s something I must know.”

  He looks a bit startled, but I carry on. “Every other day, Donald. That’s when I see you. Regular as anything, but a bit too regular, I reckon. What’s going on?"

  “Gladys, love, you know I’m looking for work as a barber. If we’re to have a future…”
  “Don’t you ‘if we’re to have a future’ me. Donald, are you taking me for a fool?” I didn’t know I was going to say that, I think Jane said it to the captain.

  Donald looks at me for quite a long time. Then he looks at the floor, then at me again.
  
  “Glad. You know I live with my brother Arthur?”
  “Yes.”
  “Well we’re both looking for work.”
  “And?”
  “And.” He coughs. “We’ve only got one pair of trousers between us, so we take turns. And…” he unbuttons his overcoat. “Arthur’s quite a lot bigger than me.”

  There’s this huge great pair of trousers hitched up round his waist and chest with bits of string.

  “Donald.”
  “Yes, Gladys?”
  “I’ll get your liquorice.”