The Owl and the Pussycat – the Cat’s Story

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The Owl and the Pussycat – the Cat’s Story

Granted my husband sang sweetly enough, but what the rhyme doesn’t even mention is his fowl temper. That and the regurgitation.  And that pea-green vessel? My beautiful face was pea-green maybe, under my tabby stripes.

Moonlight, a wide sweep of sand, a small guitar – it was all very seductive, but it wasn’t long before fur and feathers flew.  So it was twit twoo, toodle-oo and he flitted with a fiver and the runcible spoon – the latter all my invention incidentally.

No use crying over spilt milk; plenty more fish in the sea. And I can always invite the registrar over for dinner.

M J Lewis 2016

Must be the silly season – still in holiday mood and enjoying the last of the summer days as September approaches.

Thanks to all who visit and to our Friday Fiction host, writer and artist Rochelle whose productivity is an inspiration. To sail away, for considerably less than a year and a day, to a land where the Story Tree grows click here. Thanks also to Georgia Koch for the photo.

And I’ve also added this link to Edward Lear’s poem and illustrations.

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How to Cross a Bridge

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How to Cross a Bridge

(historical fiction)

At pitch of night? With a tiny chance of arousing huge suspicion – a flame-haired girl in Sunday-best coat and a hired man.

Far better, on market morn in the chaos of cattle and carts and cabbages, hair greyed with ash, an old shawl, scuffed boots. And the hired man in deep conversation with a herdsman as to the possibilities of late summer work, over West way.

Before doubling back – we hope – to where his lover waits in the darkening copse, listening to the soft rustling of leaves, the low notes of roosting pigeons and the secret flutterings of her own belly.

M J Lewis 2016

Arriving late to Friday Fiction (what, on a Friday?!) after a visit to Shetland to help celebrate a family wedding. Crossed various bridges between some of the many islands of that northern archipelago (love that word!), but this is not set in Shetland – would have definitely been sheep on the bridge if it had been and my poor heroine would have had to hide in a rocky outcrop, sheltering from the wind, there being much wind, multitudes of sheep and few trees. Quite tricky to get to, but well worth a visit for any lovers of nature, history and hospitality.

To travel with ease to a virtual land of stories click here. With thanks to artist and author Rochelle who keeps us all from straying too far, even in these summer months and to Adam Ickes for the photo.

The Lambing Barn

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The Lambing Barn

Placental blood and ewe’s milk: but she was used to the smell by now. Head down, pouring cider from the heavy flagon, the girl ignored the remarks of the hired men.

He was at the far end, one hand braced on the floor, one inside the ewe. She stood silently, watching. A pause, a long pulling together of anticipation and with a rush of liquid and an almost human bleat from the animal the sac slid onto the straw. The lamb was tiny, but alive.

He looked up. ‘She’s two more already – this one’ll need mothering.’

‘You mean  me?’

M J Lewis 2016

Here we are at Friday Fiction and it’s already Sunday. Thanks to our host the writer and artist Rochelle and, for the photo, thanks to Sandra Crook, a regular at Friday Fiction (and often the first to post).

What I know about lambing could be written on the back of a postage stamp – remember those? – but we’re all mammals, so based this on my own experience. Any sheep farmers out there are welcome to put me right on the details!

 

The Whole Wide World

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The Whole Wide World

She loved the big atlas in the dusty corner of the schoolroom. Her tiny fingers paddling across the mighty oceans, she visited the whiskered Chinaman and the black-skirted lady outside her little white house.

At playtime she tipped her chin to the sky, opening her arms to embrace it all and turning round and round as she pictured the people – North, South, East and West – living their strange lives beyond the stamped earth of the schoolyard.

Miss James sighed. At least that funny little mouse was a quiet one; but really, what was the point of educating farm labourers’ children?

M J Lewis 2016

Welcome to Friday Fiction, hosted by writer and artist Rochelle Wissoff-Fields. Thanks also to Jan Marler Morrill who provided this week’s photo prompt. To visit more 100 word stories from around the whole wide world click here.

Here in the UK – don’t shout it too loud – summer finally seems to be arriving. No rain so far this week of Wimbledon, that resilient Scott Andy Murray through to the next round (although wouldn’t have minded if the lovely Tsonga had won through) and the Welsh football team playing Portugal as I write this.

Hope all is well with you and yours in these uncertain and troubling times.

Miranda

The Soft Young Down of Her

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The Soft Young Down of Her

The days were short and the trees bare by the time he returned to the village in the valley. Twelve long months away, living hand to mouth: working the land, birthing lambs – whatever he could get.

He’d thought of her all year like no other – the soft down of her arms, her budding breasts, her spirit bright and nervous as a newly fledged Dunnock. But so young – and what had he to offer?

Now her face told it all: frosted ice over deep water. In his absence someone had taken what he hadn’t dared to touch. He was a fool.

M J Lewis

Arrived very late last week at Friday Fiction and apologies for doing hardly any visiting and commenting.

Thanks to Rochelle for all her hard work keeping us in order week after week and for also providing the photo this week.  To visit more stories inspired by this photo prompt click here.

The title of my piece is a line taken from The Farmer’s Bride by Charlotte Mew.

Go or Stay?

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Go or Stay?

Two am: one last time, you ask the hollow-eyed girl in the mirror that simple question: Go or stay?

If you could follow it back, hand over hand, when did it go wrong? Was it one day, one hour, one moment when doubt crept in? Or was it built layer upon layer, the whole sad, human edifice of seemingly insignificant details?

Don’t come to the airport, I might die of sadness, I said.

Meaning: Come to the airport, I’m already dying.

He sleeps on; scrumpled face, mouth slightly open. Sweet, vulnerable. But then love was always the easy bit.

M J Lewis 2016

Flying in very late to Friday Fiction, hosted by the writer Rochelle Wissoff -Fields at Addicted to Purple, with photo prompt from Rich Voza.

This post is not an allegory, a metaphor, a whatever – it’s just a piece of fiction. On the other hand, I did go to bed Thursday night here in London, UK, Europe and woke up in Little England. Frankly, still stunned!

America – watch and learn. Donald and Boris? Don’t even think it, only now I have.

 

Visit this lush natural garden in the heart of Wiltshire

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Visit this Lush Natural Garden in the Heart of Wiltshire

Great-Aunt Mabel: ninety-two, wheelchair-bound, avid armchair gardener, royal pain in the nether regions. And it’s my luck to be pushing her around this blooming garden.

‘Closer, child. Just smell those roses.’

‘You know, I’ve read about this garden.’

Aunt Mabel snorts.

‘Onward! The colour of that lavender!’

Two sturdy brown legs emerge from behind the delphiniums.  He’s not, is he? Yep, just the boots and gardening gloves. Mabel can’t help but stare – filched lavender cutting held aloft between bony forefinger and thumb.

‘You can admire all you like madam, but please don’t pinch what isn’t yours.’

Told you this garden was famous.

M J Lewis©2016

Actually, the famous naked gardener of Abbey House Gardens of Malmesbury in Wiltshire also used to wear a rather fetching tool belt, but that would have pushed me beyond the Friday Fiction 100 words.

And apparently you folks in the US also have a long history of poetry, gardening and nudity, via Walt Whitman.

Don’t have a clip of Walt, but here’s a very British (clothed) interviewer on Country File visiting Abbey House Gardens. Sadly I think it’s clothes-on every day now at Malmesbury and the famous clothes-optional visiting days are no more. Think I’ll just take up naked bathing, in my own bathroom.

Many thanks to our gracious host Rochelle,to John Nixon for the strange photo prompt (which it has to be said has produced some very weird stories, mine included) and to all who visit.

Circle Time

Wrote this a long time ago and (appropriately or not?) I’m coming full circle to edit and post it now. Having problems at the moment committing myself to anything longer than flash fiction. Keep starting things and abandoning them… Ideas are never a problem; it’s sorting the good from the indifferent, making decisions, keeping going that all feels out of sorts. So instead I’m reading and editing old stuff.

If you have a read, thanks! And do let me know what you think.

Miranda

Circle Time

Break time: movement, sunlight and noise fill the playground. Inside, a girl races along a shaded corridor, two long brown plaits streaming behind. Her face is flushed, exhilarated.  She turns a corner sharply and escapes through an open door, into the noise and light of the playground.

At the other end of the corridor in a large, gloomy cloakroom a boy – short and stocky – walks between vertical lines of coats and bags, his face scrunched. He is trying not to cry.  He holds a backpack in one hand and reaches into it with the other. Piece-by-piece he is emptying the bag – pencil case, football boot, water bottle – flinging things to the four corners of the room, bellowing as he lets each object go.

***

On Sunday nights Annie likes to stay awake as long as possible. Tonight, as usual, in the familiar shadows cast by her nightlight, object-by-object she checks the possessions spread around her, lingering over those that are most significant. She can sense rather than see the coloured edge of the 1000-piece Degas jigsaw amongst a pile of boxed games on a shelf. She has stared at the dreamy picture on the lid, of floating dancers in smudgy blue dresses, but has never tipped out the thousand pieces as far as she can remember. She pauses at the shadowy humps at the end of her bed; one is her Dad’s old teddy bear and the other the beautifully dressed rag-doll, with multicoloured hair, that her mother made for her, the Christmas Annie was three.

Annie hears her father coming up the stairs to bed and calls softly.

‘Dad! Dad!’

‘Did I wake you, Annie?’

‘No, I wasn’t asleep yet.’

‘Oh, Annie sweetheart.’ He sighs as he pushes open the door. ‘It’s half eleven.’

‘Dad?’ She holds out a hand to draw him into the room. ‘Mum was a vegetarian wasn’t she, ever since you met her?’

Annie’s father takes the offered hand, sits down on the bed.

‘Yes, since she was at university, before we even met. What is it, Annie?’

‘We had turkey nuggets again last week, at Auntie Pat’s. Me and Adrian. I had to eat them so he would.’

‘Annie, love, she’s your Mum’s sister. She’s doing us a big favour.’

Annie rolls over onto her side and curls her body around her father’s seated form, then snuggles her face into the pillow. If she were a cat she’d purr, both for the comfort of it and to keep him there.

‘Stop worrying and go to sleep now. You’ll be tired in the morning. You know what Miss Stevens said, about being a bit more with it at school, Poppet.’

It is her turn to sigh.

Gently he sweeps Annie’s fringe to one side, then strokes the mass of dark curls that spread across the pillow as she drifts off to sleep. Tomorrow morning, Annie’s Aunt will brush and pull and twist Annie’s unruly locks into two long plaits, to save time during the school week.

***

At eleven o’clock every Wednesday it was Circle Time in every classroom at Annie’s school. In class 5, Miss Stevens was sitting with her whole class in a circle of chairs, holding a small green wooden frog. Children had swapped places across the circle according to eye colour or month of birthday – all without too much giggling and bumping – and now it was time for the game of passing the magic box.

Annie enjoyed Circle Time with Miss Stevens. Her teacher was young and for the most part cheerful and she didn’t make you join in the discussion bits, unless you wanted to. The children passed the green frog round the circle as a signal to speak. Instead of the funny wooden animal, Annie imagined that she saw a real magic box, oval shaped with a pink varnished lid and delicate ornate hinges. She imagined it cradled by each child as she pictured each of their suggestions – in my box there’s a magic dragon, a jet-propelled skateboard, a fifty-pound note.

Terry, as usual, said he would take a football out of the box and some children groaned or laughed, even though in Circle Time, Miss Stevens reminded her class, you were supposed to let everyone say what they really did wish was in the box and it was not a competition. Can’t it at least be some sort of football with magic powers? Annie thought. She could tell Miss Stevens didn’t really like Terry and the way he and his friends tried to put people off, even if she had told them all not to laugh at Terry’s football.

The frog was passed to Annie.

‘In my box I’ve found a tiny ginger kitten, with lovely green eyes,’ she said, suddenly speaking up, her voice squeaky and unfamiliar even to herself.

‘Beautiful, Annie!’ Miss Stevens smiled encouragement.

Annie looked down into her lap. She didn’t like to see the way some children smiled sarcastically across the circle. Beside her, Hayley tapped Annie’s chair gently with her foot. It was Hayley who’d shown Annie the pictures of her cat’s litter of kittens at break time.

The game over, children shared an achievement or news, but you didn’t have to. Annie was still thinking about Hayley’s photos. How lovely it would be to actually own one of those kittens and to say something real in the news section for once. She’d had a lovely weekend with Dad, but that seemed a long time ago now and anyway too private, so she passed as usual on her turn.

‘So, any problems to report before we finish?’ Miss Stevens was using her singsong Circle Time voice. ‘We’ll go this way round this time.’

She passed the wooden frog. Tom shook his head, as did Jenny next to him.

‘One of my gel pens went missing from my bag again,’ said the next girl.

‘My new football boots ended up in lost property last Friday night. My Mum was fed up waiting for me,’ said the boy next to her.

‘Yeah! Stuff is still being chucked about in the cloakroom, Miss,’ said a tall girl across the other side of the circle.

‘Take turns please, Kirsty.’ Miss Stevens’ voice was sharp.

‘Okay, sorry Miss. But what’s the point anyway? We’re supposed to tell the truth in Circle Time, but we’re not allowed to say who’s doing it.’ Kirsty shrugged. ‘That doesn’t make sense.’

‘You said it might stop if we all talked about it.’ This boy was red and agitated, unlike Kirsty, nervous at speaking up. ‘But people are still being pushed about in there at home time.’

Around the circle children started to mutter in agreement. Head still bowed, Annie watched Miss Stevens from under her fringe.

‘And Abby got thumped yesterday in the library when she was changing her reading book, only she was scared to say,’ said one of Kirsty’s friends above the noise.

Several children looked at Terry who sat squat and defiant, protected by two taller friends left and right. Annie eyed his round cheeks and tight little features; tomato-face she thought to herself, stupid squinty little tomato-face.

‘Me?’ he mouthed, pointing a fat finger at his own chest and staring across at Kirsty and her friends.

‘Don’t worry, Terry,’ said the boy next to him. ‘She can’t mention anyone’s name you know, it’s Circle Time.’

‘You all know the rules; you can all tell me things in private, outside Circle Time.’ Miss Stevens’ voice was stern and hard as she stood up to gain control. ‘Then we can try to sort this out. Come and see me this lunchtime.’ She indicated Kirsty and her friend.

Miss Stevens glanced at the faces around her. The changing places games were designed to mix the class up, but she could clearly see the little groups, the clusters of friends, the alliances, arranged around her circle, the ridiculous Terry protected left and right.

‘Now let’s just finish properly,’ she said, resuming her gentler voice. She sat herself back into the circle. ‘Give Annie the frog please. Your turn.’ She knew Annie would just pass it on, get them back on track.

Annie stared at the frog in her lap. ‘I just think that, well I think that we should try to get along, to think about everyone’s feelings,’ she mumbled.

‘How sensible, Annie. We should try to think about each other’s feelings. I think that’s where we’ll finish for today.’

And Miss Steven’s stood up to signal Circle Time was over.

‘What about my go then,’ said Terry. ‘People over here haven’t said nothing yet.’

Miss Stevens stared at him. ‘Well go on then,’ she said coldly but she didn’t bother to sit back down in her precious circle or pass the frog. ‘And make it quick.’

‘I got thumped in the cloakroom too,’ said Terry. ‘And last time it was by her!’

He pointed across the circle at Annie. Miss Stevens watched as Annie looked up, her usual distracted expression replaced by a tense frown. And who could blame her. Terry’s friends started to laugh, whilst all around children talked to each other animatedly. Only Terry and Annie were silent, as Miss Stevens quickly stepped into the circle between them.

‘Thank you, Terry,’ she said. ‘Well you know I’m available in private at lunchtime to discuss any problems, if you can tear yourself away from your usual football game that is.’

Miss Stevens was aware that the sneer in her voice sounded nothing like the caring unflustered teacher on the Circle Time training video, but she was also aware of the smirk on Kirsty’s face.

‘Chairs away now please, sensibly.’

***

At five o’clock, Terry walks home from school. He’s hung around outside his friend Paul’s house for a while, having goes on his bike, until Paul’s mum has called Paul in for his tea. Now he’s slowly walking back along the high street, past the emptying shops, to his own house. Terry swings his bag back and forth across his body, banging his right leg then his left as he trudges along. He feels in his trouser pocket. There’s the note Miss Stevens has written especially and given him to remind his mum about parents’ evening. Miss Stevens hadn’t even mentioned Circle Time when she had given it to him at the end of the day. Stupid bitch with her pathetic frog and swapping games. Terry clutches the piece of paper, screwing it up inside his pocket.

Across the road in the traffic, waiting at the lights, Terry notices a white car with windows open and music pounding. Someone is waving. His sister is leaning across the driver, waving frantically, her blond hair draped over the steering wheel.

‘Terry! Terry!’ she calls. ‘Want a lift home?’

She’s supposed to get his tea when she gets in from school, before their mum comes home at six, but she’s usually out with her friends.

‘Come on, Tel, room for a little one.’

Terry’s face remains blank but he checks the road and begins to cross between the stationary cars. Just as he reaches the traffic island in the centre, the lights change and the white car moves off in the line of traffic, leaving him stranded there as cars stream by in both directions, gathering speed. He can just make out another girl in the back now, behind his sister. They’ll be having a good laugh at his expense.

***

Break time. In the corner of a large, gloomy cloakroom a girl sits on a wooden bench, gently tapping her feet against the wire shoe rack beneath. She is reading a book and humming to herself as she nestles against one of the hanging coats. A boy comes into the cloakroom, walks between a row of coats and tugs open a backpack hanging there.

Annie sees him at the end of the row where she sits. It’s Terry. She shrinks further back into her coat. Terry looks down the aisle at Annie. She’s not the sort of girl you would thump. Not that she would thump back, or tell. He starts pulling something from the bottom of the bag.

‘Annie! Annie!’ he says in a surprisingly soft, singsong voice. ‘Be kind to Annie please, children,’ he chants.

He turns to face her.

‘Your Mum must have hated you, to go and top herself.’

Annie feels squashed into her corner; she can hardly breathe. She looks at his round face, its tiny features and with a great effort she gets up and takes a single step towards him. She can feel her legs trembling.

‘And you must hate yourself,’ she says quietly. Her voice is shaking too, but it comes out louder now. ‘Be kind to Terry children, he’s fat and stupid!’

He stares at her, amazed. Would Miss Stevens really say that?  He wouldn’t put it past her.

Terry watches as Annie begins to walk directly towards him. She moves steadily, one step at a time. It is Terry who is frozen now, unsure how to respond. She raises the book to shield her face from his stare and then, as she passes him, with a tiny animal noise, half-way between a sob and a laugh, she slices the book sharply with surprising force towards the side of his head. Terry stumbles backwards, but Annie is too quick and the book catches his ear painfully.

***

Annie has passed him now and is out of the cloakroom. She can feel her heart pounding as she races along the shaded corridor, two long brown plaits streaming behind. Her face is flushed, exhilarated. She turns the corner sharply and escapes through the open door, into the noise and light of the playground.

M J Lewis 2016

Young woman of impeccable character and neat appearance required as schoolmistress for village school

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Young woman of impeccable character and neat appearance required as schoolmistress for village school

Must be: disciplined, self-assured, modest, patient. Skills to include: a fluent hand, flawless arithmetic, clear singing voice (soprano or alto), love of the bible and traditional literature of an improving nature, knowledge of the British Isles and her dominions. A passion for clouds and the still air at dusk; for bluebells in sun-dappled woods; your hand on my breast, a gasp in my throat. And forever a longing for the girl I left bare-headed under the wide blue sky, beyond the squeak of the chalk, the dusty depths of the ink wells and the high, barred windows of the schoolroom.

M J Lewis ©2016

Friday already, so this means of course I’m late for Friday Fiction. (I love a paradox!) And such an interesting photo, thanks to J Hardy Carroll. Not a school I’m assuming but, although the chairs are plastic and metal nowadays, I will forever associate wooden seating with schoolrooms.

Thanks as ever to our gracious host Rochelle and to all who visit. For more stories click here.

Spring Clean

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Spring Clean

A picture-perfect spring day: brisk breeze and fluffy clouds, hanging high against a nursery-blue. I climb the ladder to the loft to unfold stubby limbs of softest cotton, descend to wash away decades of dust in virgin suds.

They’re flapping on the line in tiny congruence. This one, and this I never dared to name. Ignore the idle chatter of forget-me-nots, the brash indifference of the tulips. Attend the bluebells, who nod their scented heads and say, it’s time. And I agree, as every mother must.

So one by one, unpeg them all and let them fly. At last.

M J Lewis ©2016

This is my hundred-word story for Friday Fiction, hosted each week by the gracious Rochelle. This strange and enigmatic photo comes from Mary Shipman. For more stories from around the globe click here.

Thanks to all who visit and especially to those who take the time to comment.