The final two flash fictions!
Prompt 8 came from Richard an Albion Beatnik regular who dropped in for tea and chat: My girlfriend is coming back from Hull on a train. Why is she delayed?
The 11.59 from Hull
The best laid plans went astray before he’d even got started. He was at the station on time for the 11.59 but somehow he ended up at the wrong platform. There he was fiddling with the ring in his pocket with one hand, holding a bunch of flowers in the other, when he suddenly realised he should be at platform eight. By the time he’d raced up the concourse passengers were already streaming past the ticket barrier. He scanned the crowd trying to spot Jess, but as the flood of people gradually reduced to a trickle, he could see no sign of her. He had wanted so badly to surprise her, and now it was all going wrong.
He pulled his phone from his pocket. For some reason it was switched off; when he turned it back on again, three messages from Jess pinged into his inbox. He scanned them backwards, puzzled until he read the third.
Now arriving at 13:41 See you at mine at three? x - what?
Train’s delayed L x – why?
Missed the bus, and on the 9.57. Will be an hour late. Sorryx
He was just debating whether to wait or go over to her place later, when he caught sight of a woman emerging from Cafe Nero with a cup of coffee in her hand. She was about Jess’ height, had a blonde bob and was wearing a blue scarf, just like the one he’d bought her for Christmas. She looked just like Jess but she was some distance away, and he couldn’t be entirely sure. To his consternation, he noticed she was accompanied by a tall man with a familiar stoop, and a mop of ginger hair. That wasn’t Andy was it? It couldn’t be. In some panic he ran towards them.
‘Oi!’ shouted a woman as he cannoned into her, sending her flying to the ground. By the time he’d helped her to her feet, the couple were gone. He was considering whether to follow them, when his phone beeped, Bored of this journey now...Can’t wait to see youx. He must have been mistaken. Of course he was mistaken. He decided to stick to the plan and surprise her when she came off the train.
But when the 13:41 arrived, she wasn’t on it, and when he called, she didn’t answer. She wasn’t on the next one either, and by now his imagination was at work. Suppose that was her and Andy earlier? There was only one reason why they might be meeting in secret. And now he thought about it, they’d been very cosy at Jim’s party last week.
There was only one course of action open to him. He threw the flowers in the bin, ran down to the tube, and jumped on the Piccadilly line. Stay calm, he told himself as he rang the bell, stay calm.
It was hard to stay calm at the sight of Andy at the door. He took a deep breath and was about to launch into a tirade when an elegant brunette came out of the front room and put her arms round his friend.
‘You must be Richard’, she said, ‘She’s in there.’
Confused, he entered the front room to find Jess standing against a wall emblazoned, MARRY ME.
‘I hope you don’t mind the subterfuge’, she grinned, ‘I wanted it to be a surprise.’
Prompt 9 came from Lucy who had seen the notice and wanted to give me a challenge: two characters inspired by the nurse and patient in Girl, Interrupted, spend time together after a kiss. Needs to be gritty, 70’s, dark and light.
‘About last night...’
‘It was lovely,’ she says.
‘Don’t but me,’ Ella says, ‘No buts today. We’re having day out. I forbid all mention of the word but.’
Jim laughs and climbs aboard the bus after her. She runs upstairs ahead of him. It is good to see her like this, happy, free. She throws herself into the back seat; he sits down next to her.
‘Thanks.’ She rolls two neat cigarettes with her nicotine stained fingers. As she offers him a light her sleeve slips down, exposing the scars she is always anxious to hide. She pulls it up quickly, puffs on her cigarette, leaning on his shoulder. He shifts away. He badly - oh so badly - wants to put his arm around her, but it wouldn’t be right. Whatever she wants, whatever she thinks, it wouldn’t be right. Or fair. Instead, he sits up straight, becomes a tour guide, pointing out the sights: the police station, secondary school, Odeon. The hospital is a long way from her home town. If this is to work, if she is to get better, she will need to learn the local terrain so she can find her way with confidence. This is his job. Jim reminds himself. This is his job.
In town, Ella darts around the shops, buying sweets in Woolworths ‘to keep people off my back’, splashing out on a copy of The Trial in the bookshop ‘topical’, before buying a chunky rainbow jumper from the hippy shop on the High Street.
Lunch is burger and chips at the Wimpy. He slips Ella her medication discreetly under the table; she washes it down with a strawberry milkshake. ‘My last burger ever,’ she declares when she has finished. ‘From now on I’m a vegetarian.’ Jim loves this spontaneity of hers. Her airy declarations that this is what she thinks, believes right now, even if she changes her mind a week later.
They have two hours left, so he suggests a walk in the park. When she sees the boating lake she insists they take a boat; it is only when they are halfway to the centre that they discover neither of the can row. Round and round they turn in the water, laughing hysterically at their incompetence till the manager is forced to rescue them. Jim buys ice creams and they retire to a bench to watch the experts navigate the water with ease.
‘Do you ever think about infinity?’ asks Ella, head back against the bench, gazing up at the sky. It has been clear all day but now grey clouds are drifting in from the West.
‘Not much, you?’
‘On sad days, it scares me. The thought of everything going on forever into the darkness of the night. On days like today, I stare up ahead and think...anything is possible.’
He looks at her too thin face,, her blue eyes bright with hope and anticipation. He wishes he could kiss her again; he knows she would love it if he did. But, the but she wouldn’t let him express is always there. He wants her to be well. Kissing has to be out of the question.
A drop of rain touches his arm, reminding him that it is time to go. She sighs, gathers her purchases, and walks slowly back to the bus stop.
They take the bus back in silence.
Thanks to everyone who took part! And huge thanks to Dennis at the Albion Beatnik for hosting.
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