This morning there was no eclipse and the sun stole over the horizon. Warming the world. Geraldine’s world, and she loved the sun. She remembered at school a partial eclipse and there had been crescent shadows on everyone’s white shirts. Today she was moving out from her parents into a very small flat. She didn’t have many things to take, her Bible of course, a few kitchen things and clothes.
She thought about her special clothes. Such a contrast to how she normally dressed. She remembered the lad from next door, Roger, in his final year at school when she came back home. She would go to her room and get dressed in them. He could see into her room as she moved about in the sun. If it was really sunny she would gradually take her clothes off until she was wearing very little.
As soon as possible afterwards she would contrive to meet him.
‘Hello Roger, how’re things going?’
‘Oh fine thanks Geraldine – are you ok?’
‘I’m fine – just going to the Church, would you like to come with me?’
‘Oh, ok – I’ve been studying, I could do with a break.’ Roger always seemed nervous to Geraldine.
‘What interests you at the moment – is it your studies or are you easily distracted?’
‘It should be my studies but I find it difficult.’
‘TV? Games? Sport? Girls?’
‘All of those things I’m afraid.’
‘Have you tried praying?’
‘When I go on my own it’s useless.’
‘Well, shall we go together and see if that helps?’
Under her coat she didn’t have her normal frumpy clothes on – but rather a short skirt and daring top.
Geraldine’s mind came back to today and the excitement of her new flat. It was a couple of blocks away from her rather dull job, but there was access to a flat roof. She had been to the flat for several visits before deciding. She had placed a red scarf on the flat roof and checked out she could see it from her work place. There was an office next to hers that seemed to be exclusively young men, called IGX – traders or something. She would have to see if any of them could be persuaded to go praying.
For the first week it rained – a fine summer rain. But the second week was glorious. Geraldine would rush home in her lunch hour to her flat and up to the roof. She just stood and stripped down to her flesh coloured briefs. She did not make a show but rather lay down on a bright green towel against which her body showed up nicely. Within minutes she saw a group of the men from IGX standing on the desks for a better view of her.
On the Wednesday she went for some office supplies. She met a young man in the lift who struggled to avert his eyes from her shapeless clothes.
‘Do you work in IGX?’ she asked.
‘Oh yes – you work in the office next door, don’t you?’
‘Yes – I’ve been there a while but I’ve only just found my feet really.’
‘Do you live close by?’
‘Yes, I found this really convenient flat – it’s close to work and also my church.’
‘Are you a great churchgoer?’
‘Well, yes I am – my religion is very important to me. I love nature and the sun too.’
‘That is interesting. Would you like to go for a drink sometime?’
‘Well I’m sorry but I don’t drink alcohol, but if they do coffee that would be fine – I’m Geraldine.’
The lift came to their floor and they stepped out.
‘I’m Phillip – would this evening be a good time?’
‘I’m sorry, I’m helping at the church tonight – would tomorrow be ok?’
‘Yes – certainly. What time and where would you like to meet?’
‘How about six? By the side door of St Mary the Virgin?’
‘Yes, I’ll find it,’ said Phillip.
Next day lunch time was very hot and sunny. Geraldine was slightly late to her flat roof – she could see there were a few men standing on the desks. She took off her pale dull office clothes looking up at the men, trying to make out if Philip was one of them.
When she got back to the office block she waited for the lift, and when it arrived Phillip appeared out of nowhere and they got in the lift together.
‘Wow, it is hot today, are you enjoying it?’ he asked.
‘Oh yes – I love the sun, it just makes me happy to be alive on days like this.’
‘I’m looking forward to this evening.’
‘Me too – see you then.’
Her wardrobe was rather limited. There were her every day plain clothes and then a few items she wore for special occasions. When she got home after work she changed carefully spending longer than usual on her hair and muted make-up.
She put her long summer coat on and went to the church. She was a few minutes early but Phillip was waiting for her.
She smiled at him – a lovely welcoming smile. ‘Would you like to come in a just sit for a few minutes before we go for our drink?’
‘I’m not sure I know how to pray but I am happy to sit and watch you,’ he said.
‘Ok – let’s go inside, I’ve just got to move some flowers but it won’t take a minute.’
He sat down in one of the pews and watched her walk to the other side of the church – half way across she took her coat off. She couldn’t see the expression on his face as he saw her skirt. She did see his expression when she turned round and moved the flowers. Her blouse was very sheer and the sunlight came through side windows on to her.
She looked over at Phillip – it looked like he had suddenly acquired the skill of prayer.
The minibus set off into the night – I could see my fellow travellers hunched in the dark, lights flickering. The noise was wearing and made intimate discussions difficult. It had been a long day and I slumped into my seat. I could not get comfortable and longed to get settled down so I could rest. As an adult I always found it difficult to sleep while travelling. Such a contrast to being a child when I could sleep anywhere, any time. The conversation, aka shouting match, around me started to abate. I looked round at all the gear we had in the minibus and worked out I could just manage to wriggle commando style under two and a half seats which were only occupied by colossal rucksacks. It took me nearly 20 minutes to get to the required position my head poking out of the rear seat by the back door. I’m not sure if the others noticed me but I thought I heard them shouting in the distance about me, over the roar of the engine and surface noise.
‘Completely barmy – he must have delusions of slimness.’
‘There is no way he should fit in to that space.’
‘Can you imagine him trying to get out in a hurry?’
‘Just suppose we have a crash – he’s bound to die before they get him out.’
I drifted off to sleep.
When I woke I was filled from toe to fringe with panic. One of the rucksacks had slipped off the bag seat and was caught a few inches above my face. The minibus was still on a continuous gyrating judder, snaking back and forth under the strain of the load. Slowly I brought my panic under control. I reasoned to myself I had not panicked all the while I was asleep. First I managed to push the fallen rucksack to one side then I started to wriggle back and out past the legs of the seats. I felt a sense of triumph in keeping my claustrophobia in check.
I sat up in the aisle and felt a bit sick. Sick but not squashed, no longer caught in fear of a finite space. I looked at my fellow travellers and saw them in a disarray of sleep, heads at different uncomfortable angles.
The sky was beginning to pale, soon it would be dawn and we would be at our destination.
Cold and Hot
Greg was a small solitary boy. The winter was in full flow and he burrowed through the snow across the lawn towards the shed. His mother glanced out of the window and saw his head bobbing about, at the same level as the top of the snow. It had fallen over night and was still soft, not wet as it was cold. Greg was very well wrapped up so he should keep warm. He did have a disconcerting habit of taking his clothes off when he was getting stuck into doing something so she would have to keep an eye on him. She opened the back door to call out.
‘Greg, are you ok? You MUST keep your coat on, and your gloves. You should have a hat on too,’ she said.
‘I hate hats and I’m fine – it isn’t very cold. Just slightly.’ His way of speaking made her chuckle and she shut the door and got on with the packing.
Just over an hour later she called him in. By that time there was a small ski slope in the garden and Greg had a miniature makeshift toboggan flying down the slope doing well over a hundred miles an hour.
‘Do you want to invite anyone round to see what you’ve built?’ asked his mother.
Greg looked at his plain digestive biscuit, his little cheeks still red from the cold. A hot mug of milk steamed gently.
‘Well it would be quite nice to see Carla before we go.’
‘OK – I’ll ring her mother and see if she’d like to come round.’
Next day they waited nervously hoping the taxi would arrive on time – they had a very long journey ahead of them. The day after, they touched down on the concrete runway. The sun was so hot it would destroy tarmac in no time. The first breath of the air outside the plane was furnace hot and dry, it was difficult to breathe.
Greg was energetic, his mother exhausted. They climbed into the front seat of the Landrover, Greg in the middle. Sa’id drove and had a shouted conversation with Greg. His mother gripped tightly and closed her eyes.
The sand and sun was as familiar to Greg as the snow had been. That afternoon Greg was out in the garden building roads made of mud – which dried so quickly and hard he could run his Dinky toys along the new carriageway, at slightly below a hundred miles an hour.
His mother called out to him, ‘Take care in the sun, stay in the shade and don’t take your shirt off.’
‘It’s ok I’m not too hot – I will come in soon.’
Greg made a small set of mud roads with junctions but no roundabouts. The sun shifted so he stopped building roads.
‘Is Sheila still here?’ he asked his mother over a cool glass of fresh lime.
‘No – they went back to England. I’m not sure who’s there now but we can see if there’s anyone who wants to play with you.’
‘Don’t worry, it’s fine like this.’
Counsellor: So how has this week been?
Chris: Well, it’s been OK – I’ve got on better with reasoning with him than I expected. He’s gone along with it better than I’d hoped. I’m not sure he likes me calling him Vince, but I think it has helped in a way. Also we’ve had a few funny moments – when he comes out with the most outrageous things – but again I’ve tried not to encourage him too much.
Counsellor: Has that been difficult – to keep a straight face I mean?
Chris: Oh yes – I was round at my mum’s fixing some shelving near the back door when one of her friends came round. I couldn’t believe the size of her bottom – it nearly knocked my step ladder over. Course Vince wasn’t going to let an opportunity like that pass. He said straight off ‘I’ve seen countries smaller than that bum’. I nearly burst out laughing, then he said, ‘She should go cheek to cheek with Kim Kardashian.’ Well I couldn’t stop a muffled guffaw – I don’t know where Vince found out about the size of Kim Kardashian’s rear end.
Vince: Can’t you keep a secret – going blabbing on to this little shrink about me. That was just between me, you and that bottom.
Counsellor: Is there something the matter?
Chris: Sorry, but Vince just started going on – he doesn’t seem happy that I’m telling you about what happened – I’ve told him before that I come to talk to you about the trouble I’m having with him. And he should leave me alone while I’m talking to you.
Counsellor: Well maybe this time we should engage him for a while and then ask him to leave us alone later on. Do you think that may help?
Chris: I can ask.
Vince: Don’t be so bloody patronising – you can both bugger off.
Chris: Oh dear, I think he’s a bit annoyed – he thinks we’re being patronising.
Counsellor: Oh well, let’s carry on and just include Vince if he wants to make some remarks.
Chris: Yes. Generally, the way I see it, Vince doesn’t actually listen to what I tell him – I’m not even sure that the way I react makes any difference to him. I’m getting better at just ignoring him when I’m doing something important – like sleeping, and my carving of course. But if I laugh or cry it doesn’t seem to make any difference to him, he still keeps on in the same way.
Counsellor: Do you think he ever gets upset himself?
Chris: I’m not sure – sometimes he goes quiet for no reason, sometimes he goes quiet if I get really cross and tell him to shut-up.
Vince: Oh for goodness sake – just because I’m not like you doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings.
Counsellor: Does Vince ever use words that other people say, like your mother, or things your father used to say?
Chris: Yes he does – and he says he does have feelings, I’m just not sure what makes him say the things he does. But yes, sometimes he says ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ just the way my dad used to when I got something wrong in the workshop. He’s usually right, but not always – yesterday he said it as I was crossing the road very safely.
Counsellor: Did you ask him why he said that?
Chris: Yes – he claimed it wasn’t him. What do you make of that? Just some other voice! Also he can imitate other people – I went to see Carol and we went out, but she got a bit tired so I walked her home and said good-bye. As I turned out of her front garden I heard her say ‘I feel better now, let’s go and have some fun’. I whipped round so fast I twisted my back – but of course, she wasn’t there.
Counsellor: Do you think there has been anything Vince has said that has helped?
Vince: Not just patronising but condescending too.
Chris: Well yes, I was looking through some wood I’ve collected over the last few months – to use for carving. Anyway, he hadn’t said much that day but suddenly he said ‘You missed one – go back and look again.’ I went back through the last few pieces and there it was. I made one of the best carvings I’ve ever done and Vince just kept quiet all the time.
Counsellor: That’s interesting – have you said how useful that was?
Vince: Like hell you did – I get all the blame when things go wrong but when I save your bacon, diddly squat.
Chris: No – I should do – Vince thanks, you were really helpful with my carving.
Vince: You’re welcome mate – better late than never.
Chris: Yes, I’m sorry. It’s really good when you help me Vince. But I can do without the crap – easily.
Counsellor: Do you feel you’re coming to terms with Vince then?
Chris: Well I’ve had him all my life – but I do think that things have improved between us since the accident, when I first started coming to see you.
Counsellor: Good. Have a good week.
Chris: Thanks, see you next week.
Vince: Can’t wait.
The youngish woman shivered in the dank morning – the mist caused beads of moisture to form on her lacquered hair.
The nightclub door swung on its hinges and she knocked hesitatingly – expecting another rejection of her talents.
A dissipated middle aged man with stains down his shirt came to the door.
‘Have you come about the musical act?’ he asked looking at her with watery blue eyes.
‘Yes – I can sing and dance,’ she said as brightly as she could.
‘Well I think you should let us be the judge of that,’ he said with a friendly grin.
She felt she was in with a chance – to make a fresh start. Leave all her emotional complications behind.
He looked kindly on the young woman without any designs – she must be twenty years younger than him after all. The club could do with some new blood and she was dressed to make an impact – when she moved across the stage he could taste the memory of Delilah in her prime. The takings were down, so much competition from new places and he had let the club slide; even before Delilah died, and since then, he had retreated into an alcoholic haze. He’d managed to cling on but now it was time to wake up before the bailiffs moved in.
He looked at her as she made a daring bow.
‘What do they call you?’
‘My name is Carol but I want a new stage name.’
‘I’m Alf, what was your old one?’
‘It was Delilah but I want to leave that behind and make a fresh start.’
‘Give us a pirouette and I’ll give you a new name,’ he said.
She lifted her hands above her head and touched her fingertips and rotated effortlessly.
‘Grace – what do you think of Grace as your act?’
She looked round the dingy but cosy club, ‘Yes, that’s grand.’
‘It’s best you change your name; my wife used the name Delilah for her act here. She died a few years ago now.’
Slowly she fell in love with Alf – it took him ages to notice but finally when he realised that he had made a success out of the club, it dawned on him.
She managed to avoid getting pregnant for seven years but then she fell ill. Just like Delilah – only she was younger so it was faster.
Alf was on his own with the bottles behind the bar – so he sold up. He read an article in the dentist waiting room. About wives that die from their husbands, through their love, through the cervix.
He thought of Delilah and Grace – so beautiful, if he had known of course he would have left them alone.
It was only just 9am but the heat was shimmering above the concrete runway.
For some reason the flight was a bit later than usual. We stood at ease with our rifles leaning slightly away. The flight was to take the Governor of Aden, representative of the Crown, together with the Commander in Chief of HM Forces on an internal flight.
The familiar crackle of radio came muffled to our ears.
‘Perimeter checks complete’.
‘Roger,’ came a bit clearer at our end.
In recent years there was always tension, the regular terrorist attacks. Today was no different – the tension felt oily on the surface but with strong currents beneath.
Radio spoke once more, ‘Governor’s car approaching gate E.’
The car made its way towards us; we were now standing to attention.
The Commander got out of the car first then came the Governor. The Commander stood to one side. They started to walk towards the aircraft, the Governor slightly ahead. A dark figure emerged quickly from the baggage cart.
A terrorist to us – a freedom fighter to them. He lobbed a grenade to the Governor’s feet.
‘Fire at will.’ Sharp order from our sergeant – I’d never heard in action before.
An order for us not the Commander.
Protect the crown. His orders came from above and from within.
The Commander leapt forward knocking the Governor out of the way while he fell on the grenade.
We shot the terrorist – his freedom ended.
The Commander hadn’t quite hit the ground when the grenade went off. A crack of death. He died and saved the Crown. The Crown walked away.
Of course my life changed today but not in the same way; mine goes on. A struggle of living, a struggle of thoughts.
The Commander already had medals for bravery so how can giving him a VC change anything? So he’s a bigger hero now, is he? Just in smaller pieces. I don’t think the VC is going to make things better for his wife, who’s a widow now… of course the Governors wife isn’t. Also his children will no longer have a father…
How could he make that decision? That his own life was more expendable than the governors? Of course he didn’t; his mind was clear – so clear in fact there was no hesitation, the Crown, Britain, must be protected. Duty stepped in and eliminated hesitation – otherwise the consequence could be fatal – for the Crown. He lived and died to protect the Crown.
That’s the reason why.
Was it a valid reason? If he’s right then what happened was just. I can’t agree. Which ever way I think about it ‘injustice’ screams in my head. The injustice came from the terrorist? The consequence from his sense of duty? I’m not sure.
He lived and died to protect the Crown – what a senseless waste. It makes no sense to me. Like fighting for peace. I’m afraid, afraid of dying, afraid that I signed up to the same thing that killed him.
The Door Closes
You’re the most extraordinary person – some days so perverse and difficult, impossible to guess what’s going on inside you; other days loving and flowing lyrical.
You take no hostages when you surprise them with your insight, your wicked sense of right. Like when your friend came to you for help, her life was shattered in pieces. You took the time to look inside her life and gently show her that there were parts still in good shape and firm. Like her relationship with her father – strong bonds with freedom attached. The closeness to her father made her life feel different and you could see this clearly. You didn’t try to wave a magic wand or tell her what to do. Instead you were there to show her little things that made the difference. Like how she’s the one that others depend on. I don’t know how you do it, to argue without heat or malice to show her; so she feels better about herself than she did before.
That day she came to see you a jangle of nerves, dressed so enchantingly but with no confidence. She’d met a man through her volunteering and now there was no doubt this was a real date. She’d been out with him in a group, but this time there would be silences in the conversation and she felt a total lack of confidence, first pancake out of the pan.
She came into the sitting room where you were plotting your latest fiendish scheme and immediately your brain changed gear. You’d most likely been lurking in a siding waiting for an unsuspecting prey but now, in an instant, your mind was working out the best route across a difficult terrain. You joked to start with.
‘You look lovely – it isn’t your man that will be the problem but rather stopping all the other men trying to muscle in.’
She smiled a thin misty smile not believing the flattery. So you go back for a more subtle approach.
‘The dress is well thought out – it isn’t too formal but it does tell him that you’re very interested in him.’
‘I’m not sure that I’m ready– it is so long since a man touched me, I’m not sure that I want to risk it again,’ she said blushing against her words.
You’re right there, guiding her over the uneven ground, ‘Of course you’re bound to feel like that after what’s happened, and while he doesn’t know exactly what happened, he’ll know you’ve been hurt. He’ll proceed with care and thoughtfulness; from what you’ve told me this is a new man of kindness and consideration.’
‘I hope you’re right.’ She seemed to agree with you more than her words alone conveyed.
You’re very good at knowing when not to talk. You wait with an accepting silence.
She says a tremolo, ‘Will he expect to go to bed tonight?’
You give no opinion but rather see what she feels and thinks.
‘Do you think it is as simple as that? Do you think he mightn’t know either?’ you say, serious and smiling.
‘Oh – I see what you mean. I’m not sure when he last saw a woman.’
Friendly seconds tick by as you let her think it over.
Finally you say, ‘Do you think he’ll sense you might need more time? Or do you want his touch sooner rather than later?’
She said with not a blush in sight, ‘I’m in no rush, I don’t want to scare him off – I’m more worried he’ll want to go faster than me.’
‘Well,’ you said, ‘Often men feel they’ve got to prove something but that doesn’t mean you can’t reassure him and tell him you’re not ready just yet.’
How did you think to put this so – it suits her to think like this; she looked surprised and pleased.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I’ve never thought of it like that before.’
‘Well how do you feel about going out now?’ you said neutrally.
‘Well I feel a bit more confident but not all together convinced it’ll go well,’ she said.
‘Do you think that once you settle down you may be able to enjoy an evening out?’
‘Well now you ask – I hope so.’
‘And do you think he will?’
‘I hope so – I’ll try to put him at ease and have a bit of fun, he’s good fun. I guess he’ll be nervous too,’ she said.
You said, ‘I’d’ve thought so.’
You’ve guided her gently, her confidence growing and thinking how it must be for him. Now she’s nearly ready to go but there’s no rush, slowly you make your way to the door, as she’s getting ready to take on the evening. She waves goodbye and neither of you say anything, she steps out. The door swings slowly shut.