Sunday, 14 December 2014

Second Prize Winner in Greenacre Writers Short Story Competition

Click here for First Prize Winner: Shirley Golden - The Mad Schemes of Morris
Joanne Derrick - Autumn Blues 

Crisp brown leaves curl themselves around blades of fresh grass marking the end of a summer that wasn’t.
            Paige reads the inscription on a brightly-painted blue bench and I take a snapshot of her while she’s unaware of my presence. I often come here early on a Sunday morning and take photographs. They’re not all of Paige, of course. She’s learned to ignore me now. At first she reproached me for following her, but I think she likes it deep-down.
            She walks on, stopping once in a while to throw a stick for her terrier or to scoop up its mess in a turquoise plastic bag. Paige shouldn’t have to do such things. Dirt and mess should be for more slovenly creatures like my landlady or the woman who serves behind the bar in The King’s Head.
            It’s the Blues Festival next week. The weather should have picked up again by then, according to the Met Office forecast. However, friends tell me the Met Office forecast is always wrong. I’m going to play the new number I’ve written for Paige. She’s bound to know I wrote it for her. After all, most of my songs are for Paige. She’ll sit on the bar stool in The King’s Head tonight, twizzling the fluorescent cocktail stick in her glass of Tequila Sunrise, and I’ll entertain her with stories of when I played the big festivals. I’ll tease her, too, of course. I’ll tell her for the umpteenth time how she’ll never make it in the fashion world and how she ought to get a proper job. She’ll spill saccharin sweet words detailing her hopes and dreams, and I’ll pour petrol and poison onto them. Then I’ll turn and look around the bar to see the looks of horror on the faces of the landlord’s guests; the ones who have paid over the odds for plush accommodation and a three-course restaurant meal made up of local produce grown in the fields opposite my home. Those elegant rooms Lillian Bart is so proud of, little knowing that Paige, in her rush to finish her part-time shift, has neglected to clean properly. Those spots hidden from view, which are riven with dust-balls and dead flies. The couples on a romantic break who are too soaked with passion and cheap champagne to notice the scraggy cobwebs clinging to the corners of the beams above their heads.
            The Cider Mill Suite is my favourite room. They’ve changed the mulberry and gold satin bedspread since I took Paige there. I’m not proud of the fact I had to get her drunk on  double gin and tonics first. Not proud that I didn’t even have time to push the bedspread onto the wooden floor or slip on the condom I’d bought from the Gents earlier that afternoon.
            Paige didn’t refer to it afterwards. She used the bidet in the en-suite then dressed quickly, before hurrying into the kitchen to help Mrs Bart prepare the vegetables for evening service.
            I did feel guilty for a while afterwards. Paige stopped putting those pink sparkles in her hair, but to a casual observer she was still the same bubbly eighteen-year-old who gave as good as she got.
            The tinkling sound of water drags me back to the present. I can see Paige walking over the bridge and heading towards the Marina. I know she’s seeing a young lad who works there. He’s tall, too thin and has weasely eyes. I bet he has rough skin and it makes me shudder to think of his bony hands mauling Paige’s young lithe body. Christ, she has a figure to make grown men weep - and I have on occasion, I don’t mind admitting.
            Pine needles lie like scattered hairpins in the entrance to the Marina. Paige is cradling her small dog like a baby as she steps on board a forty foot cruiser, closely followed by lover-boy.
            I sit on a bench and take my guitar from its case. I like to think they can hear my music as they make love. I sing a Joni Mitchell ballad which cascades into some blues by Blind Willie McTell.
            Then a tousled head appears from the galley.
            “Shut the fuck up, Eddie! Just piss off, will you?”
            I’ve never heard Paige use such language before and it sends me reeling. I feel as if I’m being sucked down in a saltwater whirlpool.
            I pack up my guitar, hitch the camera over my shoulder and walk back the way I came.  
            Is it my fault I’m a passionate man? That I have boundless enthusiasm and energy for everything I do? That I have this unflinching curiosity and interest in the world?
            My ex-wife said I was like a child.
            Paige has had her fill of me just like all the other women over the years. Am I too much for them? I can’t tone it down. I have no off-switch, you see.
            On the way home I kick my way through a gown of golden leaves and wonder how I’ll get through the night.
            And then it comes to me. I will write a new song. A new song for Paige. Something about burning boats and blackened bodies. Or death mask faces beneath the water.
            It’s not only her words I’ll pour petrol on this evening.
            The next day I watch Paige and lover-boy climb aboard the cruiser. I shake my head. Some women never learn. I thought Paige would have just enough brain power in that ditzy head of hers to work it out. It was all there in the words of the song I performed just for her last night.
             I reach the bright blue bench before I hear the explosion and something inside me tears a little. 

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