As part of the process of learning about writing I have written short stories. Some of these have been written with a market in mind, aimed at magazines or for radio. These very short stories came from stimulus sessions at writing groups I attended. I have collected some of the longer stories in a compilation Beach Life 2, which is available in the Kindle E-book format.
The Last Supper (Caution, contains swearing and adult themes.)
Three Minute Monologue (Caution, contains swearing. For best effect, read with a Belfast accent.)
Hithcleef or Withering Hats.
This was a Lumb Bank exercise to write a short story with 100 words exactly. Apologies to Bronte fans! I couldn't resist abusing a classic, and of course: the English language, writing craft, polite sensibilities, etc. etc. etc. Interestingly, Turner did soak some his watercolours to achieve a faded effect.
"Hithcleef, Hithcleef," twittered Pansy into the sonorous gloom.
There was no answer, only the swishy wind on the grubby grass.
"Hithcleef, Hithcleef," she wailed again, her voice fading like a Turner watercolour given a good scrub in the sink. She turned, peering this way and that, and then this again, becoming quite dizzy. But of Hithcleef there was no sign.
Rain slopped from the sky, plastering Pansy's curly hair across her face, mingling with the tears in her eyes, and making her feel wet and uncomfortable.
She sighed, then went home to get a change of clothing and a hot bath.
"What's that, sir?"
"What's what?" Peter asks.
The boy, Daz, points at a small print on the dining room wall. "That, sir."
Peter glances at it before answering, "It's a famous painting, it's called The Last Supper".
Daz is still puzzled. "What's The Last Supper?"
"It's a painting of the last meal that Jesus had before he was crucified." Peter knows this is not completely true, but it should be close enough for Daz.
"Oh," says Daz. His eyes scan the print. "What sort of things did they eat?"
Peter looks down at his own meal of fish fingers, peas, and chips. What did they eat? He turns to re-examine the picture. The plates are all empty except for two large trays of fish. Small loaves of bread are laid about the table, looking remarkably like Big Macs.
"Nothing special," says Peter, "probably the same as we eat."
"Pies and chips, stuff like that," suggests the child.
Kenny, the other member of staff on duty, sits at the opposite end of the table. He smirks, enjoying Peter's predicament.
"So that meal, sir," says Daz, "that was held here was it?"
Kenny splutters a mouthful of food onto his plate, feigning a coughing fit to cover his amusement.
Peter manages a smile. "No it wasn't. It's just a picture."
Daz looks disappointed. "Oh," he says, then shrugs and resumes the steady task of loading food into his tiny frame.
After the meal a fight breaks out between two of the bigger boys; Bowker, the established leader versus the newboy.
There's always a newboy. There's always a Bowker. The confrontation is a brief skirmish in the war of pecking order.
It starts something like this:
Bowker - "You know Julie Brown?"
Jamie (Newboy) - "Yeh, she's at Southfield."
Bowker - "She rides. Have ye hud her?"
Jamie - "Everyone's hud her."
Bowker - "Yer ma's a better ride. Ah hud her last night."
Jamie - "Naw yer ma's better. Ah hud her this morning."
Bowker - "You callin' mah ma a cow?"
"Yuh did yah liein' wee shite."
Peter calls across, "Cut it out you two!"
The boys ignore him. It can't stop now.
Bowker feels he's been insulted enough to make his move. He pushes Jamie in the chest.
Jamie brings his hand up to push Bowker back.
Bowker forces the confrontation. "Keep yer fukin' hands to yerself," he roars, then presses forward.
Jamie pushes Bowker back, hard.
Bowker has his excuse. He punches Jamie, a short hard jab in the middle of the face.
Tables and chairs tumble away from the boys as they wrestle with each other. Peter grabs both boys and forces them apart. "That's enough, come on, break it up!"
Honour is served and the boys allow themselves to be separated. And Peter has applied some uncomfortable advice; 'If you wait for a winner, it won't start up again'. Unpleasant but true.
Jamie is smarting from Bowker's punch, but this is a small price to pay for proving he's 'no a bottler'.
The usual confused story emerges. Bowker is in fact the injured party, insisting that Jamie called his ma a cow. Peter guesses at the truth, but Jamie will 'get it' if Bowker is punished. Peter hasn't the energy too see it through, so he lets it go. Anyway, in twenty minutes Bowker will be crashing fags to Jamie and they'll be best of friends. They both know who the real enemy is.
The evening's outing is to a swimming pool. Peter checks the day-to-day log to see which pools have banned them recently. The page shakes as he holds it, so he presses his hand to the desk to steady it.
Tim, a spindly fair-haired child with an unfortunate high forehead knocks on the door then sneaks nervously into the office. "Can I get the front seat of the van?" he asks.
Peter looks up from the desk. The words; 'victim. - hurt me' seem to hover indistinctly over Tim's head. "Yes," says Peter, "you can have the front seat."
"Thanks," says Tim. He darts from the office, leaving the door open. Seconds later, and with perfect timing, Bowker appears with his sidekick Daz. He's smoking, which isn't allowed in the office, and talks with the hand holding the cigarette stretched towards the door as a concession to the rules. He takes a quick puff before speaking, "Front seat, sir?"
"Sorry, Bowker, Tim's asked already."
"That steamer!" says Bowker angrily. He leaves the office to go and negotiate a different seating arrangement with Tim.
Kenny will stay in the Unit with the newboy, Jamie, who's not worked-up to the privilege of being allowed out for evening activities.
Bowker, Daz, and Tim 'kit up' in Nike and Reebok trainers, Armani baseball hats and Berghaus jackets. Thus proving the tremendous advantages of being in care. The boys wait impatiently for Peter by the front door, their swim gear rolled into matching towel sausages.
As soon as Peter unlocks the passenger door of the van, Bowker and Daz elbow their way into the front seats and slam the door shut. Tim looks on with a tearful, questioning expression.
Peter opens the passenger door again. "One of you will have to get out."
Bowker glares at Tim before saying, "See you, yah wee steamer, you're getting it tight."
"We're not leaving," says Peter, "until this is sorted out. Tim asked first. You can get the front on the way back."
Bowker stares straight-ahead refusing to move.
Peter plays his trump card. "Well we're not going anywhere then."
Bowker kicks the front dash. "You're a fukin' wee prick, Tim." He starts to undo the seat belt, pantomiming his anger.
Tim climbs into the back of the van. "It's all right, sir," he says.
Bowker smiles and re-clips his seat belt. He waits until Peter is sitting in the driver's seat then pulls a cigarette from behind his ear. "Light up a fag, sir?"
"You know there's no smoking in the vans."
"It's OK, sir, I'll hang out the window."
"You're a steamer! Kenny lets us smoke in the van."
Peter hopes that Bowker is lying. "I don't care what Kenny lets you do," he says firmly, "the rule is - there's no smoking in the vans."
"You're a shite staff," sneers Bowker, "none of the boys likes you."
"Shite staff," echoes Daz.
Peter stares ahead, searching for an answer. Bowker's statement needs a quick flippant reply. "Good job I get paid to work here then," he says.
Bowker has his reply ready. "Shite money, I get more tanning a couple of good stereos."
Peter takes a deep breath and starts the van. They set off in silence, Bowker grinning at his imagined victory of words.
They pass through Niddrie on the way to the pool. Two police cars with flashing blue lights flank a battered saloon. The driver is being questioned.
Daz jumps up and down in a fervour of hatred, shaking 'vee signs' at the police and chanting, "Pig, pig, fuck the pigs, pig, pig, fuck the pigs." He presses his face against the side window as the van pulls out to pass the obstruction. He shouts again, his voice filled with loathing, "Bacon, bacon, I smell bacon." Then he identifies one of the car's occupants. "That's mah wee cousin Derek." He leans across to grab the steering wheel. "Stop, sir."
Peter knocks the hand away. "No!"
"Fuckin' watch who you're hittin'," says Daz. He speaks to Bowker, "Derek's coming to the home. He's a great laugh. Likes a wee smoke, gets it easy. Me and him go for a spin at the weekend."
Peter overhears the last part. "Joyriding, that'll get you put in secure."
Daz laughs. "Wee Derek's been in secure. Says it's a doddle. Says the staff are pussies, an' you don't do school work."
Peter tries to change the subject. "What is it Big Karen calls the police? Nee-naws, I like that."
Daz and Bowker exchange looks. Bowker shakes his head mouthing 'fucking dickhead' under his breath.
Peter pretends not to hear the last comment.
Safely through the Land of the Nidroids, the journey continues. By keeping the van moving Peter can minimise public offence. The 'bigot-bus' has something for everyone. The boys abuse; the old, the mentally handicapped, ethnic groups, women, the tall, the short, the fat and the thin - the police, and each other. The script is well rehearsed and no sooner has Peter quelled one abuse before another springs up to replace it.
Suddenly a large, noisy motorbike sweeps past and Bowker shouts, "Yah fucker! Ah could tan that." His eyes lust after the receding machine and he is prompted to share his motorcycling history with the van. "Pinched this boys step-thru last weekend, fucked it on the bing. They're shite bikes." He pauses remembering another moment of glory. "DT's a good bike for the bing."
Daz joins in. "Boy down my bit has a DT. Keeps it in his back yard. Dead easy chorey if we had a hacksaw. Lend us a hacksaw, sir."
"So that you can steal a motorbike?"
"Obviously," quips Bowker.
Peter shakes his head. "Forget it."
Inside the pool Peter watches the boys change. Left alone they will intimidate other kids and steal their locker money.
The boys tease Peter by calling to the attendant, "Hey! There's a man watching us getting' changed. He's trying to see our arses." They flash at Peter mouthing comments like, 'poofy bastard' and 'suck my cock'.
Fortunately the attendant knows Peter, and the boys. He laughs. "Smart little pricks. You won't cry much if one of them drowns?"
Peter pauses. No feels like a good answer, but he goes for the soft option. "I hope not," he says, "too much paperwork."
The air in the pool is pungent with chemicals. Peter watches the boys from high in the empty rows of hard plastic seating. A glaze of sweat forms quickly on his forehead.
The boys play chase along the poolside. The lifeguard's whistle echoes from the high ceiling, and his beckoning finger calls Bowker across. Peter leans forward; surely they won't get thrown out so soon. Can Bowker manage to take a reprimand without telling the lifeguard to 'Fuck Off'? Yes, it seems this week he can. Peter relaxes.
Ten minutes later and the boys have congregated on the top diving board. They lean over the railings and aim gobs of spit at the people lower down. The guards haven't noticed yet. The boys see Peter watching and send him one fingered 'spin on this' salutes. Peter pretends he hasn't seen them and they go back to their spitting.
A girl falls and cracks her head on the hard tiling. Blood runs down the front of her face and she leaves a spotted trail of red droplets as she shuffles towards the First-Aid room. The boys keep pace, swimming alongside her and pointing and laughing.
Tim is on the top board waiting to be noticed. He can do the top board. Peter waves to let the boy know he's been seen.
Tim pauses for a moment taking one last breath then topples forward and hurtles downward. His thin white body plops into the water and an effervescence of bubbles floats briefly on the surface. For a few seconds the boy is lost from sight, then he emerges from the poolside steps. Again he looks Peter's way to be sure he's been seen. Seeking approval, and a witness.
Peter waves back and smiles, giving a big 'thumbs-up' sign.
Outside the pool Daz eyes-up mountain bikes chained to a stand. He gets excited when he sees one of them is un-locked.
"Boy's an arse," he says. "That's an easy chorey."
Peter acts quickly and wheels the bike into the building, placing it in the care of a security guard.
When Peter gets back, Bowker stares at him in disbelief. "What d'you do that for?"
"The guy forgot to lock his bike up, it might get stolen."
"What a dick! That was worth fifty quid down my bit."
"Exactly," says Peter. "So we've done the guy a good turn."
Bowker shakes his head and stares at Peter with smouldering contempt, "You're an arse. I was goin' to have that."
Bowker explains. "The boy never locked it up. He's an arse, it was an easy chorey."
"OK," says Peter, "the boy was an arse. Now let's go!" He walks to the van and unlocks the passenger door, then the side door.
Bowker installs himself in the front seat. "Remember," he says, "I was to get it on the way back."
Peter is too tired to argue with Bowker's scrambled logic.
Tim shuffles dutifully into the back of the van. Daz sits beside Bowker, bathing in his hero's muddy ego.
Kenny has cheese-on-toast ready for them when they get back. Once they've put their damp towels and swimming trunks in the laundry basket, they sit down in the TV room to eat.
Kenny entertains the boys with a steady stream of nonsense.
Peter remembers a time when could do that but not anymore. He watches Daz build a small wall out of a pile of crusts on his plate and wonders how old the boy is inside his head.
"Was it good at the pool tonight lads?" asks Kenny.
Bowker relates the highlights. "This lassie split her heid open," he says. "Blood was everywhere. It was a real laugh." He fills his mouth with a piece of cheese-on-toast that he's dipped in his tea. Then he continues, talking through the moist ball of food, and spitting tiny lumps of it on the table. "We saw this bike! The boy hadnae locked it. Steamer Peter went and took it to the security man."
The boys laugh as if this is the funniest thing they have ever heard.
"I was gonna do a runner," says Bowker excitedly, "an' go back for the bike later. It was worth fifty quid to me. Easy chorey it was."
"Don't you think we did the right thing?" asks Peter.
Bowker shakes his head and flicks his ear with his index finger. "Dingie, dingie," he chants, dismissing Peter as an idiot.
Then, as a diversion, Bowker puts sugar on Tim's toast. Tim gets upset and storms through to the dining room to eat in peace.
"That wasn't too smart," says Peter.
"Crawlin' wee steamer," says Bowker, "he's always wantin' the front seat in the van."
Peter doesn't reply. He leaves the group and heads along to the kitchen, taking some dishes to wash and dry.
Tim sits quietly at the table next to the print of The Last Supper. He sips from a cup-of-soup and stares vacantly into the painting. Then his thin voice breaks the calm, "He wasn't killed straight away."
"What?" says Peter.
"Jesus. They locked him up first and tortured him."
"You're right. But I needed something easy to say to Daz."
Tim nods. "Did you see my dive?"
"Yes. It was good. Who taught you to dive?"
Peter sits opposite the boy. "How is your dad?"
"He's OK. Gets out in three months time. Then we're all moving down to Bristol. He's getting a job as a van driver with a laundry company and we're all going to live in a big house."
Peter recognises the plot of a TV play from earlier in the week. "That should be nice," he says. He hears the front door opening and footsteps approach along the corridor next to the dining room.
Jack the night man puts his head round the door. "How're we doing tonight?" he says.
Peter answers. "Fine. Just the four boys. I'll come along to the office and do the hand over." He turns to Tim. "Can you wash your own cup?"
Tim jumps up from the table. "Paint me black and call me Benson," he says. "I'm no washing nothing." Then he hurries away.
Jack laughs. "What was that all about?"
Peter contains his disappointment. He shakes his head. "Haven't a clue, Jack."
Jack looks at the cup and plate. "Just leave it. I'll get them later."
Evening's end and the boys huddle around the TV dressed in their pyjamas. Bowker sprawls on the big settee with his hand down the front of his pyjamas. He casually touches himself as he smokes a cigarette and holds court over his domain. He clips dissent with the hard stare and the threatening question, "What're you saying?"
It's rhetorical of course. The only safe answer is no answer. Bowker doesn't forget. Bowker saves up his retribution.
Jack settles in his seat and dismisses the day staff. "You not away yet," he says.
Kenny leaves first. "Night, boys."
The chorus answer, "Night, Kenny."
Bowker adds an affectionate, "Yah steamer."
Kenny makes out he's about to skelp Bowker's backside.
Bowker laughs. "Dinnae, Kenny, I'll huvtae get you charged."
Peter says his goodnight. The response is lukewarm. Bowker finds the TV has suddenly taken his full attention.
Outside it's dark and raining heavily. Peter's car is slow to start, then bursts into life. He uses the by-pass and urges the car up to the speed limit. The tape in the stereo is Patsy Cline. She sings of lost love and pain.
Peter passes a lorry - plunging blind into the billowing mass of spray thrown up from its wheels. For a few seconds he is lost in a liquid grey cocoon. But when he emerges his world is unchanged.
The embankment with the steep drop is coming up soon. Peter wonders if tonight he will find the resolve to steer the car over it.
All content © Alistair Potter.