The September 2016 TCWG Creative Writing Competition: Where to find the stories and how to vote

 

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All tcwg site members (and any other interested parties) are invited to read and enjoy the stories entered in the September 2016 TCWG creative writing competition.

If, having read all the stories, you would like to register your vote for the winner and placings, then please follow the voting instructions set out below. This is not obligatory, but if you choose to join in, your participation will be very much appreciated.
JUST FOLLOW THE LINKS TO ALL THE STORIES (which are listed below), AND YOU WILL FIND EACH STORY IN TURN.
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The deadline for entries into the July 2016 Creative Writing Competition passed at Midnight on the 30th. September 2016.

The topic for the September stories was set by the winner of the July 2016 competition , Peter Barnett who graciously agreed that there should be an open topic with each writer choosing his or hers topic of choice.

11 members have entered a total of 13 stories, and thanks are due to them for their efforts. Advance thanks are also offered to all those group members who I hope will now support the competition by reading the stories and registering their vote in the form of a comment below on this post.

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VOTING PROCEDURE.

As in previous months, when voting it will help if voters will make sure to quote the name of the story when posting their vote, particularly in the case where an author has entered more than one story.

Voting can now commence and will continue until 11 p.m. on Monday the 10th of October 2016.
There are no restrictions as to who is allowed to vote, all that is asked is that the voter reads all the stories and votes according to their preference. A brief reason for the choice is welcome but not mandatory.
Voters are requested to vote 5 points for first place, 3 points for second, and 1 point for third place.
Please do not submit any other point combinations such as 3/3/3, 4/4/1, 5/2/2, etc.
Writers are requested not to vote for any of their own entries, and voters are asked not to comment at length about the stories or record any thoughts that you may have on them, until after voting closes.

There will be no detailed summaries posted as to how the voting is progressing throughout the voting period but as soon as possible after voting closes a tabulated list of results will be posted separately and the winner declared. If then you wish to describe in detail the reasons for your choices, or comment at length about some or all of the individual stories, a separate page will be set up at the end of the voting period and after the result has been posted.

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List of entries received. (If I have inadvertently missed an entry or entries, please advise.)

JAVA LAVA. Written by Peter Barnett

https://aasof.com/2016/09/23/java-lava/#more-20343

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THE ROAD TO HELL. Written by Charles Stuart.

https://furryfeatures.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/the-road-to-hell/

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TEEING OFF WITH A BOILED EGG. Written by Atiller.

https://atiller16.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/a-september-2016-ctwg-short-story-entry/

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BETHANY’S CHAIR. Written by Capucin.

https://davidgoodwin935.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/bethanys-chair/

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A FUNERAL. Written by Colmore.

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/setember-2016-ctwg-story/

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THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY. Written by Araminta.

https://detectivemouse.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/the-persistence-of-memory/

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THE AUCHENSHUGGLE BIRD. Written by Lostinwords.

https://lostinwords2.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/september-2016-competition/

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THE FINAL MEETING. Written by tp_archie.

http://tparchie.deviantart.com/art/The-Final-Meeting-637202826

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THE RED SWEATER. Written by ExpatAngie.

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/september-entry-short-stories/

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TWO SIDES OF A DIFFERENT COIN. Written by Danthemann.

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/sep-comp-entry-two-sides-of-a-different-coin/

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BRIAN LARA LOVES BATTING. By Danthemann.

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/sep-comp-entry-brian-lara-loves-batting/

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INVENTORY OF A BEACH BAG. Written by Seadam.

https://seadamsblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/inventory-of-a-beach-bag/

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Mme. ROSE. Written by ExpatAngie. (To find … Scroll down from The Red Sweater.)

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/september-entry-short-stories/

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Pleasant reading and please  remember to vote.

 

 

The September 2016 CW Competition. Full details of how to enter.

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A FREE ENTRY WRITING COMPETITION OPEN TO ALL!
Details of the September 2016 Creative Writing Competition.
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The topic for September has been set by the winner of the July 2016 competition Peter Barnett who has graciously agreed that there should be an open topic with each writer choosing his or hers topic of choice.

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The length of the story in September has been set at between 250 and 750 words and competitors are reminded that multiple entries can be accepted on as many different topics as each individual competitor chooses
Closing date for entries will be Midnight on Friday the 3oth. of September 2016.
The period for receiving votes will be announced when the competition closes, and votes will not be accepted until after the competition closes.
The “prize” for winning this September competition will be to set the topic for November 2016.

Voting.
After the competition closes there will be a vote to decide the first three places.
Just after the closing date, details of how to vote and a vote collection point will be set up here on this competition blogpage.

How to enter.
Post your story on your personal WordPress blogs and post a link to your story in the form of a comment below.

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And a reminder to those still without their own WordPress site.

WordPress is not the most user friendly of sites but if I can manage it (admittedly not without some frustrations), then I am sure that we all can  … help in setting up your own blog is available, so please ask.

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For those unfamiliar with the workings of the monthly competition a list of detailed rules for the competition can be found here …
https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/competition-rules/

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Pleasant writing and good luck with your stories. After the encouraging increase in the number of entries last month it seems that we may at last be coming to terms with the new arrangements … please can we make September a bumper month.

 

The August 2016 TCWG Creative Writing Competition. Full details of how to enter.

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A FREE ENTRY WRITING COMPETITION OPEN TO ALL!
Details of the August 2016 Creative Writing Competition.

The topic for AUGUST has been set by the winner of the May/June 2016 competition  Seadams who chosen “ISLANDS” and has commented as follows …

ISLANDS.
“I’ve been thinking about islands and their connotations recently. I am quite fascinated by islands, and the idea of living on one permanently (but then, I suppose I already do.)

Island – isola – isolate…insula – insular…

I propose for August we write a story with an island setting – be it desert, tropical, luxurious; real or imaginary; legendary or metaphorical; Channel, Canary, Balearic, Pacific, Hebridean, Caribbean…stacks, reefs, atolls, archipelagos…but no cheating, please: no peninsulas.”

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The length of the story in August will be the regular “between 500 and 3000 words”, and competitors are reminded that multiple entries can be accepted, particularly of the shorter variety.
Closing date for entries will be Midnight on Wednesday the 31st. of August 2016.
The period for receiving votes will be announced when the competition closes, and votes will not be accepted until after the competition closes.
The “prize” for winning this July competition will be to set the topic for October 2016 when I am proposing that we will have a lower limit of 250 to 750 words, giving an opportunity for some writers to make multiple entries.

Voting.
After the competition closes there will be a vote to decide the first three places.
Just after the closing date, details of how to vote, and a vote collection point will be set up here in this competition section.

How to enter.
Post your story on your personal WordPress blogs and post a link to your story in the form of a comment below (“Leave a reply” panel.)

For those unfamiliar with the workings of the monthly competition a list of detailed rules for the competition can be found here …
https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/competition-rules/

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Pleasant writing and good luck. There are still a few teething problems (some more aggravating than others), but please persevere, and with Autumn approaching let’s try to get back into double figure entries once again.

Remember … help with your problems is available so please ask.

Trouble down at Donny’s farm – Nov CW competition entry

Sophie glanced around in all directions but could see only millions of heads of wheat dancing in the breeze, competing to interrupt the pale blue morning sky. She checked again over her shoulder and squatted down, dropping her sickle into the dry earth. She hoisted her stained and fading trouser leg up and fumbled at the sock on her left foot. She tugged a black metallic tube out. Giddy with excitement, she reached into her right sock and pulled out her Samsung phone. She scanned all around again and listened out, but could hear only the whooshing of the crops and the distant roar of the A road a mile and a half away.

Her hands were shaking as she slotted the white charging point of the tube-shaped battery-powered phone charger into the phone.

“Come on, come on, come on,” she whispered to herself through gritted teeth.

The screen on the phone remained in moribund black for a few seconds until a faint white battery icon appeared. ‘0%. Charging’ it said underneath. Success.

Sophie clawed an opening into the earth with her sickle and then tugged a few clumps out with her hand until a wide enough hole appeared. She wrapped the phone and charger in a plastic bag, tucked them inside the hole and smeared the soil back over the top. She brushed with her fingers to flatten the ground and try to make sure it didn’t stand out too much from the surrounding soil.

She sighed when she saw that despite her best efforts, she had left a patch with a much darker shade than the surroundings that had been lightly scorched by the dry summer. She stepped backward five paces and marked an ‘X’ on the ground.

Then she turned and ran all the way until the sea of wheat came to an abrupt end.

“Hey Soph!” said Jordan, “Donny was looking for you.”

Claudia tittered as Sophie’s cheeks turned a stony white.

“Funny man!” Claudia said. “We still haven’t seen the tractor at all again today yet.”

“I wonder what he gets up to?” Sophie said.

“Something better then this, obviously,” said Jordan, glancing down to his sickle and reaching to squeeze his sore right bicep.

“How many sacks are we on now?” asked Sophie. She turned to look at the three half-filled straw sacks encircled by piles of empty sacks being buffeted by the breeze. She regretted asking the question.

“Er, not nearly enough,” said Jordan. “Come and help us pack this lot up, and I can take a couple of sacks to the storehouse. Oh and if you can possibly help it ladies, no more toilet breaks please.”

“Aye aye captain!” Sophie said, figuring she should best play along to better disguise the true reason for sneaking off among the rows of wheat. Claudia gave a half-smile but Jordan did not look amused. He reached to push his sleeves up then wiped a drop of sweat from his brow.

Sophie reached for one of the half-full sacks and dragged it towards the uneven pile of freshly cut wheat. She knelt down and clutched as much wheat as she could with both hands before shoving it in the sack.

“Have you seen how the other groups are doing?” asked Sophie.

“I don’t want to even think about it,” said Jordan, who was furiously filling a sack of his own. “I mean, with George – ” He let the sentence end there, as he didn’t want to elaborate on his sense of frustration at seeing Donny chalk up the scores at the end of every day with George, who played rugby for Bath University, grinning with his arm around Belinda, who always looked just as made up as at the start of the day. Jordan also didn’t want to air his frustration at George also being allowed to have Alan on his team, while he had to work with two girls.

Donny had said he would change the teams if they were unfair, but adjudicating that fell on his shoulders, of course.

Jordan had looked on scornfully a couple of evenings ago as Donny congratulated George and his lover for their tremendous yield of 24 sacks for the day. Donny walked slowly past Jordan, Sophie and Claudia, wondering whether to berate or encourage them for their 11 sackloads. Jordan, red in the face, had been about to open his mouth when Donny said, all of a sudden: “And not only have you won at a canter, but in a fair contest too. Yeah, these teams are fair.” The farmer from hell could also read minds, it seemed.

Donny turned back to the winners.

“So, George, are you taking the phone charger tonight?”

“I think I’ll let Belinda have it again,” he said, squeezing her shoulder.

Sophie looked down at the concrete floor of the granary in disappointment. She badly wanted to write to her sister before her birthday on Thursday, and she had been without any battery on her phone for two weeks now.

Sophie had been in good spirits when she signed up online to spend her summer at the Abergyl Organic Collective. Over the last academic year, her posh friend from university had spent several evenings, as they sat together on bean bags and sipped herbal tea, raving about her time on an organic banana farm in Borneo, about how great it was to connect to nature and everyone was super friendly and you got to spend your evenings chatting under the stars with lovely guys. Seeing as Sophie couldn’t afford the airfare to anywhere quite as exotic as Borneo, she decided to go to Wales.

The collective had an extremely basic website, which seemed really trendy. There was a bold chunk of text in the middle boasting about how the place was ‘Completely free from all modern technological distractions, giving you a 100% natural experience.’ The thought hadn’t occurred to her at the time that this meant that the 50-acre farm was completely devoid of mechanical farm equipment. The lack of WiFi was something she could accept – she had packed her Kindle and she could always use the 3G on her phone for emails and Facebook, she reckoned. She hadn’t counted altogether on Donny, the farmer, not providing a single socket in the farmhands’ quarters and controlling access to the one universal phone charger he kept in his own house as a means to reward whoever he saw fit – i.e. usually George and Belinda.

Donny the farmer was welcoming at first, his stubbly face cracking into a wide grin as he treated everyone to drinks on the first night, cracking joke after joke and praising them for coming. A good number of idealistic young heads had nodded along when he said “Whatever you do in life, whatever you achieve or fail to achieve, you can say, proudly, that one summer you came and tried to make a difference.” He had a certain swagger when he patrolled around in his red wellies. You never knew from looking at him what kind of mood he was in though – it could change in an instant for no apparent reason.

He struck fear into the workers – all students from middle-ranking universities like Sophie – by the constant prospect of turning up at unpredictable moments to berate them. “Who’s the clumsy arsehole who spilled three cans of weed killer today?” he shouted when bursting into the quarters at two in the morning one night. “Come on, come on, own up or nobody gets to charge their phone for the next fortnight?” On one of the first days of the harvest, he called Jordan a “lazy scrawny piece of shit” and ordered him to go and sleep with the pigs, before running after him, laughing and saying he was only joking. “But if I catch any of you slacking, I will do it, you know!” he added.

There were some other incentives Donny provided, as well, for his favourites. George and Belinda were allowed to use a spare bedroom in his farmhouse on evenings when George had been particularly productive on the fields. A girl in the third of three harvesting teams had also been invited in to use Donny’s shower, instead of the rusted contraption behind some bricks in the corner of the yard that delivered a trickle of cold water they always had to queue up for. This favour was only granted when Donny complimented her on the fantastic job she had done on cleaning the tables.

Sophie didn’t like to think she was addicted to her phone, but after a long spell without any battery on it, it became all she thought about. She had put it on battery-saver mode when arriving at the start of July and managed to keep it going until the end of the month with a strict routine of checking emails and Facebook just once a day. After it died, she had waited three long weeks until George had one evening nominated her to use the charger he had won the right to use for the evening.  That was a massive surprise to her as she had hardly talked to the guy, although he had actually allowed her to use the charger just to spite Belinda, whom he had argued with earlier that day.

Sophie’s heart had raced as she knocked on Donny’s door to pick up her phone that night. She walked to the side of the barn and turned it on, along with the mobile data. ‘Ping!’ it sounded as ‘You have a message’ was displayed, which quickly turned to ‘2 messages, 3 messages, 12 messages’. There were 47 in total. One of her friends from university had split up with her boyfriend, another had fallen madly in love with an Italian guy on holiday in Rhodes while a third friend was stressing like mad while working for a solicitors’ firm.

Sophie typed out her replies. She wanted to call everyone but resisted the urge. She didn’t want to create any more jealousies among her colleagues who were still without phone access. She did find time the following day to call her parents and sister though. She put on a brave face when they asked her how things were going on the farm. It was an interesting experience, she said, the work was hard, but most of the people were nice – that was a slight exaggeration, although a sizeable minority were pleasant. The food was ok and they had some fun, which was all true, and every Friday and Saturday night, Donny left them with as much homemade cider as they could drink – something that was greeted with approval from Sophie’s friends. Soon enough, a couple of weeks before harvest, Sophie’s phone battery ran empty again.

Some friends had asked her if she was going to stay to the end, which had taken her by surprise – seeing as they were working towards the harvest the whole time, it hadn’t occurred to her to drop out. A few of the farmhands had left – three didn’t survive the first week without their home comforts, and another four had baulked after the first few days of hard graft at harvest time.

In theory anyone could leave at any time, but it was clear that Donny didn’t approve. You had to explain yourself to him first, as he kept all purses and wallets in his farmhouse for safekeeping. He made a big thing about leaving references on the volunteers’ social media pages, where friends and potential future employees could read them. The first person to drop out at the start of the summer was a silent guy called Mike, and the following day, Donny left his laptop on the dining table at lunch for all to see, with Mike’s LinkedIn profile open. A curt reference was on display: “Mike said he was going to work hard on my farm but he was a complete waste of space. His social skills are so poor even the cows ran away from him.”

Even leaving the farm on a Sunday was something Donny clearly frowned upon. It was a good 45-minute drive to the nearest town, where Donny promised he would take all the farmhands for a massive night out at the end of the harvest. Jordan had developed a couple of holes in his boots just before the start of the harvest and asked Donny for permission to hitch a lift to the town for replacements. “No need, I’m sure I’ve got some for you,” Donny promised, before producing a ragged old pair four sizes too big. When Jordan asked again, Donny asked if Jordan had heard of negative ions, explaining that they are some kind of wonderful bundles of energy that you can flood your body with while walking barefoot to live a happy life. “It could be worth trying, if you want to be a happier person?” Donny had suggested. When Jordan had insisted that only comfortable boots would stop him feeling miserable every day on the fields, Donny sighed and escorted him in person to the nearest outdoor gear shop, even shadowing him inside to help him choose.

Sophie, Claudia and Jordan had hacked the way across to the furthest edge of the field, and could see George and Belinda smiling with their giant yield of the day in the neighbouring field. Sophie was waiting for an opportunity to sneak and retrieve the phone along with the battery-powered charger. She had stolen the charger having seen it half-hidden under a rock between the barn and the shower. She felt bad at first, as she had never stolen anything before, but she was desperate to talk to her sister on her birthday and catch up with her friends. So she took it. There was an every man for himself spirit in the camp, and Sophie reasoned that while she had played no part in creating that, she would get left behind if she didn’t go along with it. She resolved to do some good – in the hope it might counteract the crime of stealing in some way – by sharing her phone with Jordan, who had been without battery all summer. He had told her after a few drinks the past weekend that he had an ill father and while he refused to reveal any further details, she sensed he had something serious. It would be nice for him to call.

“Seriously, I just can’t help wondering what Donny gets up to all day. He must have some kind of secret hobby,” said Claudia.

“What like child abduction, that kind of thing?” Sophie said.

“Hmm sounds a bit too tame for him,” joked Claudia. “What about kidnapping family pets and torturing them, that’s probably more his cup of tea.”

“It’s golf,” said Jordan.

“Jesus, how did you know that?” asked Claudia.

“I saw when he drove me to buy shoes. He had a parking permit for Celtic Manor golf club that had been renewed in May. Got to cost a fortune, that does.”

Sophie’s first instinct was to shake her head or express her disbelief by swearing, but instead she swiped ferociously at the wheat. They had reached the end of the field for now.

Sophie put her sickle down, and Claudia and Jordan both tossed theirs on the springy layer of corn.

“Hey look, Golden Balls and the Plastic Cow have sneaked off somewhere,” Claudia said, pointing to the adjacent field. She was stubbornly using her nicknames for George and Belinda that had failed to catch on, probably because most people were too depressed by their presence on the farm to even joke about them.

“I need the loo again, sorry,” said Sophie.

“I’ll come with you Soph,” said Claudia.

Sophie’s mind raced to try to think of a way to lose Claudia so she could retrieve her phone and the stolen charger without being seen.

“Are you sure you want to do it au natural in the field instead of going back to the quarters?” Sophie asked.

“Ah come on, it’s so damn far, I don’t want to even think about that stinky portacabin. I’m sure Donny probably approves – returning nutrients to the earth, saving money on fertiliser and all that…”

Sophie smiled as she thought how nice it would be to hear her sister’s voice tonight. Then for the first time she pictured how joyful Jordan’s smile would be when she surprised him by lending him her phone.

She thought of just running into the wheat with no explanation. In no time she’d be out of sight of Claudia, who carried an extra stone or two, then she could track down her fully-charged phone.

A deep shout from the next field made them both turn their heads.

George was shouting. Then came the sound of a struggle of sorts. Belinda was screaming at him. Were the king and queen of the farm possibly fighting in public? Sophie rubbed her hands together in glee at the prospect.

Then there were some swooshing noises, sounds of an object being struck and anguished howls floating around the wheat field. Sophie sensed something seriously wrong was occurring and rushed back.

Soon she could see Belinda trying to grab at George’s shirt, while he shook her off with ease. He was holding his sickle, and at his feet lay Jordan, writhing in agony with his grey T-shirt slashed with big bloody stripes across his chest.

“He bit me, he bit me, he bit me!” George was shouting into the air, perhaps at the millions heads of wheat. “First this pathetic little thief tried to steal our sack of wheat, then he bit me!”

Der Herbstmond

I am Fritz Backer and I am old now. I write this at my daughter’s house in Donau-Riess in Bavaria. I am 82 years old, a retired engineer, and I should be glad as it is 1976 and we have the Olympics here in Munich, our State capital, but my memories are only now sad. Until now, in the quiet of the lovely room my daughter, Maria, and her husband Franz, have made available to me following the death of my beloved Ada last year, I have been unable to write this.

I pray to God, for despite what I have experienced and witnessed, I still hope for forgiveness in the afterlife and to rejoin my beloved Ada. And no, I do not mean the horrendous sufferings we all so-called Germans experienced – along with millions of others – under the tyranny of that trumped-up backstreet  renegade from Austria. I say so-called Germans because my late father, and his father before him, were important advisers to the Bavarian court and to Princes Luitpold and Ludwig. I remember my father was always distrustful of the Prussian court and we always regarded ourselves as Bavarians, not “Germans”.

When I was 21 years old, and already courting Ada, quite the most beautiful girl in the world with her blonde hair, blue eyes and curvaceous figure, I was called up to serve in the Kaiser’s forces and, after initial training, I was sent to serve on the Western Front with the First Bavarian Infantry Regiment. After initial action in the southern sector opposite the French forces, in August 1916 we were sent to man the trenches near Thiepval where the Allied troops had launched a major offensive some months before and we were under pressure.

On 16th September – I remember it so vividly –  my platoon and several others were resting in a reserve trench as we’d been in action for a week previously when, at first light, the Allies launched a fierce attack and our commanders put us on notice to prepare to reinforce the front line. Sheltering in the trenches we could hear the sound of battle, feel the ground shake as artillery shells landed and exploded, smell the cordite, hear the cries of our commanders yelling orders. We also heard the intermittent scream of our soldiers and the Tommies as they were injured or worse and witnessed the procession through the reserve trenches of the wounded, their uniforms ripped and spattered with blood and bile mixing with the dark mud that stained all our uniforms in the trenches. The dead were left for another day when it would be quieter.

Around 2pm or just after, the battle quietened down and, after a while, the main bulk of the British had been forced to retreat although there was sporadic shooting, particularly from some craters halfway between our line and the British. Our commanders pondered whether to advance on the outlying British given the sky was beginning to darken in the west. So Major Reiss, one of our officers, was ordered to prepare two platoons to go forward and mop up opposition in the craters and to take prisoners – though we all knew Reiss would rather kill than be merciful.

I myself had sat in the trench drinking coffee with my colleagues but beginning to wonder at the futility of what we were fighting for. As I understood it, Germany had marched into this war all because of a squabble between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. Now here we were in western France exhausted, bogged down in trenches and filthy mud fighting and killing in droves people with whom, as far as I could see, we had no quarrel with and who had no real quarrel with us. How I longed to go home to Bavaria to my Ada, my family and my apprenticeship as an engineer.

Just as we were preparing to go forward, we began to see a glow on the eastern horizon. Major Reiss had a glint in his eyes. I knew that look, having seen it many times before when the prospect of killing seemed imminent. Reiss was from an officer family, a Prussian from the east near Lubeck, therefore of a militaristic nature.

“I forgot,” he announced proudly, seeming to lick his lips, “tonight we have the Harvest Moon so it will be a bit lighter than usual and if we are careful and quiet about our business, we can harvest some Tommies, ja? Get ready and we will go Brit hunting across No Man’s Land. Fix your bayonets but cover them in mud to dull the shine. The Tommy blood will help us later as that won’t reflect the moon either.”

As the blood red moon arose in the east casting its soft baleful light across the deserted waste of No Man’s Land, we set off and we crawled through the mud and filth looking for bomb craters or shell holes. The first one was found by Major Reiss with three British in it, spent of ammunition and exhausted and rapidly despatched as they weren’t expecting our attack.

A bit later, we found a large crater with ten or so British in, most of whom were wounded and unable to defend themselves.

“Get in there and do your duty,” whispered Reiss. “Kill the enemy. Kill them now.”

Four of us scrambled into the crater to find the Tommies defenceless, weary and half-wounded.

My colleagues set about bayonetting two whilst I moved to another three who appeared to glance silently at me, realising their life was nearing its end. Whether their look was of fear or silent resignation I couldn’t tell in the half-light of  the crater but suddenly my sickness with the war returned. I realised I could not kill wounded and virtually defenceless men, whoever they were.

“Stille,” I hissed as I aimed my bayonet just to their sides, appearing to stab vigorously, “stay Stille….”

The British understood me and lay still, feigning death. We climbed out of the trench. Reiss was waiting in the light of the moon.

“Well done. Let’s see if we can find more good hunting.” He moved stealthily off and I followed until we reached another crater with three more badly wounded British hiding.

“Stay quiet,” Reiss commanded the British. “We mean to take you prisoner. Reiss, you come with me. The others look around for more.”

He climbed down into the crater with me following, knowing he was lying about his intentions. As I followed Reiss, my mind was made up. Before he could move for the first Tommy, I thrust my bayonet in his back and watched calmly as Reiss turned, a look of incredulity on his face in the light of the moon.

“So the reaper comes to get you, you bastard,” I spat at him under my breath and stabbed him once more through the heart as he collapsed with a last gurgle of breath from his lungs.

The Tommies looked on in seeming terror and amazement.

“Lie down, like dead. Go for help later.” I urged them in my broken English. They seemed to understand, nodded silently and lay down in the mud pretending to be dead. I climbed out of the hole and made out two colleagues about fifty metres away and scuttled over to join them.

“Where’s Reiss?” one asked.

“Dead,” I replied. “We killed several Tommies then found three more in a hole over there.” I gestured towards the British line. “We went to finish them but one managed to stick his bayonet in Reiss first before I finished him.”

I was dreading my comrades going back to look for Reiss’ body and perhaps wondering why there was a stab mark in Reiss’ back but, just then, the British sent up some flares perhaps heralding a search party. Besides the moon was climbing higher as the evening wore on replacing the natural soft illumination with a harsher colder light.

“Time to get back,” Sergeant Muller snapped. “We’ve done our bit.”

Later, over coffee and rations, my colleagues asked me how the debrief with the senior officers about Reiss’ death had gone.

“OK, “ I explained. “The officers listened to my report but no-one was too concerned about Reiss. One of them merely commented that these things happen in war. They seemed pleased with our efforts.”

We fell silent eating our food until Muller, who was listening, broke the silence.

“You know, none of the officers liked Reiss as they thought he was an utter bastard. Nobody likes going hunting the other’s wounded. To me, it’s despicable. If the Tommies came looking for their casualties I wouldn’t shoot at them….. It’s a shit war if you ask me,” he paused. “In fact, if I’d been there with Reiss, I might just have finished him myself.”  

Deadly Sins

Peter Blake took his place in the first class carriage sweating and breathing heavily. He’d had to hurry for the train – indeed he’d nearly missed it – and he was cross. He’d told the local surgery’s receptionist in no uncertain terms that he had to catch the train in order to make an important appointment in London but the surgery had insisted on his regular follow-up with the Practice Nurse – a double appointment which, apparently, were difficult to fit in though Peter couldn’t understand the logic. Then, as usual, she was running late. Really, the NHS needed sorting out. Peter himself really couldn’t see why he should not have had a follow-up with that excellent doctor, or if needs be, a nurse at the Nuffield. After all, as he often self-righteously told his friends and business contacts, he paid enough for private medical cover, as well as large amounts of tax part of which went to feed the NHS. But then, he recalled, it was his expensive medical checks – albeit prompted by his wife – that had started all this fuss.

“Your weight and your blood pressure are still far too high,” the nurse had said to him. “Have you been following the exercise and diet plan we gave you?”

“With difficulty,” Peter had replied tetchily. “Do I have to keep reminding you and your colleagues that I am a busy man with a number of very important business positions for which I get paid a lot of money and the shareholders expect to see results – it’s called accountability. I don’t have that much time, to be honest. Being chairman of two listed companies and a non-executive of two more is very demanding, but I don’t suppose you here in the surgery would understand. I work long days, you know and I have functions and dinners to go to of an evening. I’m sure a bit of high blood pressure and extra weight are common to a lot of people in my position.”

“Well, the doctors and the nurses here are usually in work by 8am and we don’t finish until gone 7pm or later. I think we understand long hours. We have just as much paperwork, you know.” The nurse looked rather scornful. “Anyway, the next time you come in we’ll need to do blood test – check your liver function. But I don’t know what Dr. Jenkins will make of these results; he may call you back in earlier. We don’t actually do all this just for the good of own health.”

Peter had sighed and hurried off to the station.

The train departed and Peter felt slight feint and the intermittent chest pain he’d noticed some months ago hsad returned. He wished the staff would hurry up with the at-seat service so he could have a glass of water and coffee. He picked up his papers but found it difficult to concentrate on the work for the day ahead what with the doctor and his staff nagging him. Fortunately, he hadn’t told Pat the full story of his tests for fear of being nagged at home to boot. Something else for her to add to the list. She’d probably urge him to retire or ease up on his commitments, change his diet and spend more time with his family. But, for heaven’s sake, she didn’t complain about the lifestyle, the London flat – not that she often came to London – or the villa in Portugal, not that he found as much time as he would like to visit Quinta do Lago and it was sometimes difficult judging when those acquaintances with whom he liked to network over rounds of  golf or having supper at one of the more elegant restaurants would be there. That said, July and August would soon be here and no respectable company held AGMs or Board meetings then.

Then he remembered, he really must get a fresh supply of business cards before their next visit to Portugal. He’d speak to Carole about it on Friday when he went in to see the Chief Executive at Tusker plc. Charles Gladwyn ….  Inexperienced, and perhaps a tad too independent to Peter’s way of thinking, but making his way as a CEO, he mused. But with the right coaching and guidance he could do well, which the other non-executive directors agreed with – indeed they had asked Jim Collins to spend time with Charles, although Peter had indicated that as he lived reasonably locally he could more easily have helped. Still, he rationalised matters, probably better that someone other than the Chairman coach Charles. That said Peter found Charles’ vegetarian diet and abstemiousness a bit odd, even unhelpful, especially at formal business dinners. But Carole, his secretary, was so efficient, helpful and obliging as she fully understood Peter’s important role in the company and the business world in general.

He struggled as he sipped his coffee and downed a bottle of mineral water. He realised his trouser belt was too tight and he’d forgotten to loosen it to its usual position after his appointment with the nurse. Always dress to impress he’d been taught by his parents and look the part,  although secretly he did worry about his increasing waistline and his neckline too. He ordered another two coffees and mineral waters and it was only when he went to the toilet and was washing his hands not long before arriving at Paddington that he looked in the mirror. He saw himself looking flabby and rather grey which surprised him given how hot and flushed he’d felt earlier.

The queue for taxis was quite lengthy so, glancing anxiously at his watch, Peter decided reluctantly he’d have to go on the Tube, no doubt hot and sweaty. He then realised, since it was so long since he’d caught the Tube, he’d have to cross over to new platforms on the east side. He hurried as best he could, puffing away and beginning to feel hot again, with his briefcase and trusty little Burberry case dutifully following on its wheels. After half an hour sandwiched on the Tube he finally made it to Moorgate and the Conference Centre feeling hot and bothered and trying not to drip sweat onto his Armani tie.

“Hello, and you are….?” the receptionist enquired, wondering who Peter was as most of the guests for the event would be arriving by taxi.

“Peter Blake, one of the hosts of the Corporate Governance event,” Peter gasped, trying to sound important whilst mopping his brow. “I’m a bit later than I’d hoped, but prior appointments and travel issues – busy start to the day.”

“Oh, Mr. Blake, of course,” crooned the receptionist. “I am so sorry…. Please let us take your luggage. Here’s your badge and you should be in time for a coffee before the event starts.” She ushered Peter into a side room.

“Peter, hello…. How are you? You look hot and bothered.” Sir Michael Freer greeted him.

Now Sir Michael was an important contact – chair of an FT100 – and could open lucrative doors so Peter was suitably unctuous in his reply explaining his delay due to the trains. Best not to mention the surgery appointment, he thought. Michael asked after Peter’s family and well being – all fine, Peter assured him – and then complimented him on Tusker’s recent half-year results which prompted a brief response to the effect the new CEO was settling in well with guidance. In return, Peter asked the usual questions as to how the family and business were receiving stock answers in reply.

“Anyway,” Michael confided, “we must go in soon but I need to talk to you about Parsifal plc…. Perhaps over dinner if you’re free?”

“Of course,” Peter replied. Parsifal – an FT100 – what an opportunity to enhance his earnings and profile.

Peter thought the seminar went well except for feeling uncomfortable and quite hot despite the air conditioning. He felt slightly nervous when one young delegate from an investment company asked what Peter felt was an unnecessary question of the panel about non-executive directors’ remuneration. Well, the recent increase in his fee from Trodos was quite deserved. Surely a fee of £120,000 pa for what Peter calculated was nearly a day and a half per week was about right considering the responsibility he shouldered for chairing the Nominations Committee, although it seems the Employee Council at Trodos had questioned it after the Annual Report had been published last week. Did any of the employees have any idea how much work and effort was involved in finding suitable candidates to be directors of public companies? And on top of that the general work of being a non-executive director. Probably more like two days a week in total. And how much did this spotty young man earn as an investment manager, Peter wondered.

The seminar wound up with drinks and canapes, though Peter tried to be restrained with the wine as he was looking forward to dinner with Sir Michael and the discussion about Parsifal as the chance to become a non-executive at a company like that would be a real feather in his cap. Maybe lead to a Chair at an FT100 – now that would be the pinnacle. Of course, he’d have to give up one or two of directorships at Tailors, Trodos, Tusker or Marlike but they were only smaller companies, FT250 or, in the case of Marlike, FT350. Yes, the latter would probably have to go.

In the meantime, filing his dreams in the back of his mind, he schmoozed the guests, chatted amiably and felt flattered if one or two knew about Trodos’ increase in profit last year, though Peter preferred to talk about the increase in earnings per share which had sent the share price surging. Peter had worked out that was an increase in value of £80,000 in his shareholding. He idly wondered if he should sell some to fund the planned extension to the villa in Portugal. That should keep Pat happy as he knew she fretted about the time he spent away in London, although she would never join him.

“Sir Ian… and Mr Blake. How nice to see you both again,” the maitre d’h at “Torro” intoned unctuously, showing them to Sir Ian’s favoured table in the corner, one that Peter had tried to reserve a number of times, but without success. “An aperitif for you perhaps…..”

Sir Ian ordered a mineral water. Peter thought about a sherry then decided to follow Sir Ian’s example. The menus were produced, dinner ordered, a bottle of good claret selected and they got down to business.

“Peter…. Parsifal – of which, of course, you know I am the Chairman are looking for an additional NED. In particular we are looking for someone with good all-round business skills and also the ability to step up in due course to lead our Nomination Committee. Given your experience in this area we wondered if you could suggest some candidates. In view of the general board director responsibilities, we would consider paying a fee of around £300,000 pa plus expenses in view of the fact that the right candidate might have to give up some existing commitments. The role at Parsifal would require quite a bit of commitment plus there would probably be three or four trips overseas in view of the international nature of our business.”

The two of them discussed some potential candidates at length, although Peter began to think that Parsifal were aiming too low. Why with his experience he surely would be a good fit for the role? So, as the dessert and coffee arrived, Peter suggested he himself might be a candidate with his experience.

“Peter,” Sir Michael looked at him. “It’s very flattering of you to put yourself forward. And, of course, I greatly respect your achievements to date. But I think we need someone with a little bit more experience as I would think you need more time with your smaller companies.” Peter didn’t like the slight emphasis on the smaller …….To be honest, I would suggest a few more years in your current roles and continue to network and pick up valuable knowledge and experience…..”

“Also,” Sir Michael continued, “if I may say so – and please don’t be offended – you don’t look that well. Have you had a medical recently? I find regular check-ups so useful.”

“Er yes, quite recently, as a matter of fact,” Peter spluttered into his dessert. “I’m actually following a diet plan as I do need to lose a bit of weight.”

Sir Ian looked at him slightly askance and Peter realised that his companion had eschewed dessert. No wonder he looked so thin and angular.

Peter returned to his flat in the Barbican feeling quite humiliated. In addition he now had a constant pain in his chest. He rang Pat for a perfunctory conversation about his day although she seemed more interested in his medical appointment rather than the networking which was, of course, far more important. Feeling rather ill and tired he retired to bed with a couple of ibruprofen, the chest pain getting worse. About 2am he felt so uncomfortable he rang for an ambulance.

WPC Yvonne Arnold was very experienced and professional. She rang the doorbell at The Old Manor and patiently waited until a rather attractive lady with greying hair answered.

“Yes?” Pat answered. “Can I help you?”

“Mrs Blake….. Patricia Blake?” Yvonne asked. Then producing her warrant card, she continued, “I’m WPC Arnold from Gloucestershire Police. You may call me Yvonne. May I come in?”

Pat realised immediately something was wrong.

“It’s Peter, isn’t it? What’s happened?” she enquired.

Yvonne steadied herself as this wasn’t easy. Peter had rung for an ambulance from his London flat but when the medics had arrived there was no answer. The police had been called and the door broken down. Peter was, sadly, dead of a heart attack – the medics were very clear on the cause of death, although there’d need to be a formal autopsy, of course. Yvonne paused…. Pat offered tea which was accepted….. Then Pat went into the kitchen and burst into tears. She returned with the tea on a tray, her eyes red.

“I’m sorry,” Yvonne said quietly. “There’s no easy way to deliver this news. Would you like some more support? That can be arranged.”

Pat sniffed. “No thank you. I’ll manage. To be honest, over the last fifteen years, Peter had become so embroiled in his work and, I’m sorry to say, so obsessed with his position, or as I increasingly saw it his own self-image, so totally self-absorbed in the business world, that he became distant. Totally different from the young happy student I met at university; totally different from the young husband I had in my early twenties and thirties. Obsessed with money and status – he’d become so self-important – expected local people to know who he was and treat him like minor royalty.”

“And he put on large amounts of weight with all the entertaining – I know the local doctors were concerned although he wouldn’t discuss it or change his behaviour or take exercise. He never stopped to think about how I felt and I ended up not caring about the money or status. I just wanted the handsome young Peter back or just a normal Peter with whom I could share a conversation, a nice meal, real intimacy. I  grew to hate business dinners and the like so I stopped going. I hated the ridiculous tittle-tattle with the other wives or partners. I’ve been a business widow for years. Now I am a widow.”

After a pause, Pat blew her nose, wiped her eyes, straightened her back and confided in Yvonne,

“To be totally honest, I had made up my mind to leave Peter. But at least he’s saved me the both and the expense – which would have irked Peter greatly as much as the loss of standing. I know you’ll think me cruel and heartless but I’ve just been so fed up these past years.”

Sloth and lust – Oct 2016 CW competition enty

“Bloody hell, it’s true!” said Gavin, staring incredulously at the plant bursting out of the yellow plastic plant pot. The plant, with its the orange and black flowers, shone amid the scattering of items adorning the desk – old receipts, a pair of lost and since refound Oyster cards, a crumpled version of the Economist, a few dusty socks and a remote for a long since broken TV.

“Yeah, well, I was in the shop and thought I’d add a little touch in here, you know,” Tom said, wafting the hem of his T-shirt as he talked.

“A little touch,” Gavin repeated. “Better than just touching yourself as usual, I suppose.”

“Piss off,” Tom said, grinning.

“Do you reckon those flowers are going to even last a week in here?” Gavin said, tilting his head towards the single window in Tom’s room. It was a small rectangle of frosted grass, designed to obscure the view of the dingy path at the side of the house that housed the wheelie bins – plus a heaped assortment of food packaging that had failed to make it into the bins over recent years and had since rusted or faded.

“Says on the label it’s suitable for all interior environments.”

“Pah, must be genetically modified or something.”

“I dunno. Looks nice, I think,” says Tom.

“Nick told me there was some bullshit sales talk on the tag?”

“It’s a harmony tulip plant. Go on, enlighten yourself!”

Gavin stepped gingerly over the haphazard layer of newspapers over the floor. He wanted to avoid stepping with his polished office shoes on the smattering of discarded beer cans, at least a couple of which had been abandoned with some contents lingering inside.

“Madagascan Harmony Tulip plant,” Gavin read out loud. His suit trousers stretched while he bent and read the label. “This delightfully bold plant offers the ultimate botanic solution for those seeking a constant dose of harmony in the home.”

“Nice, isn’t it?” asked Tom.

“Dearie me. I think I’ll stick to my own botanic solution for guaranteed harmony, thank you.” Tom placed his index and middle finger to his lips and made a puffing gesture. “You coming to Nick’s room later for a smoke? He’s trying this new supplier.”

“I think I might pass. I picked up a 12-pack of Grabnius on special offer at the supermarket along with the plant.”

“No wonder it’s on special offer. That stuff is rank. You need to try some Pontius Praga.”

Tom was taken aback. Gavin had been raving about how wonderful Grabnius was just a few weeks ago when be brought a bottle back to share in the kitchen after a night out.

“Pontius Praga – that’s not one of those poncey micro-brewery beers they don’t even sell you unless you have a beard, is it?”

“Ha – well they don’t do it in multipacks, so it’s not one you see many unemployed people buying.”

“Go and get high, you loser!” Tom said, grinning.

“Oh sorry, I’ll leave you to enjoy your mass-produced cats’ piss in the presence of your mutant tulips. Actually the plant might love a few sips, it’s got a hint of Miracle Gro to it.”

“Very funny. Nick told me you had a letter for me?”

“Oh jeez, yeah I think it came when you were over at your parents. I dunno where I put it, but I’ll take a look.”

“Yeah if you can, I’m still waiting to hear back from the civil service graduate scheme.”

“Ha yeah, like they’re going to employ a pisshead!”

Tom slammed his door shut and smiled. He went to the plant and sniffed at the flowers. What he hadn’t told his flatmate was that he bought the plant as a ploy in winning Marianne back.

He’d never before noticed there was a small garden section at the supermarket, but as he was picking up the beer he overheard a couple of arty young women buzzing with excitement over the harmony tulips.

‘That’s the kind of thing Marianne might like,’ he thought.

The yellow pot was a nice touch, and the swirly blue font carrying all the spiel on the pot-shaped label added a hipsterish touch. Instead of feeling like a middle aged man in a garden shop as he took the plant to the checkout, he felt like a kind of pioneer – perhaps a Scandinavian web designer getting a trendy plant to brighten up his office.

Tom was feeling pleasure at his purchase until his flatmate Nick laughed when seeing him holding the plant at the front door. At the same time he was struggling with a carrier bag threatening to burst from the weight of the beer cans.

“Sorry mate, I don’t know what’s so funny about you buying a plant, it’s just….I think that’s the first time I’ve seen you buy anything other than booze or pizza,” Nick said.

Tom sat on his bed. It was time to call her. His conscience had been nagging him all day. “It could be your last chance, what have you got to lose?” it had called out as he clicked his way through a few games of internet poker after breakfast. “Do you really want to wait till it’s too late and realise you’ll never know what could have happened…if you’d only just have picked the phone up,” it had argued as he thought about it at the chicken shop as his lunch sizzled behind the counter. “Just man up and do it!” it had cried as he strolled around the giant supermarket.

He was going to do it, that much he was sure of. He could feel his heart racing through his hoody. He’d have to be ready for it though. Tom looked at his laptop and closed a couple of porn sites that had been left open since the morning. He circled his neck around to relax his muscles.

Then he reached down to the plastic bag and picked up a can of Grabnius. The metallic ‘ping’ of the ring pull as the can opened immediately sharpened Tom’s mind, a bit like a referee whistling to start a match.

‘What to say exactly?’ he thought to himself. ‘Should I start by apologising for last time or just hope she’s over it?’

He raced through the first can, his gums feeling sore from each fizzy gulp.

By the start of the second can, his mind was clearing out the anxieties that troubled him from time to time – not relentlessly, but a bit like a nuisance neighbour who you might get annoyed thinking about even when they’re actually on holiday. For instance, the poorly disguised disappointment in his mother’s voice when phone conversations turned to “how are the job applications going?” which had developed into “still no luck with the applications?” and more recently “how are you spending your time these days?”

He picked up his phone and scrolled through his contacts to find Marianne’s number. His heart protested with a thunderous pulse and he put the phone face down on the duvet of his IKEA bed to placate it. He sighed and tilted the dregs of the second can down his throat, before placing it on the floor.

Tom liked his bedsit room. An outsider might presume his life there was defined by inactivity and boredom, but the other guys were quite alright. The lack of a living room and its location in Zone 7 also helped make the ground floor apartment somewhere Tom could live after his parents had begun capping their rent contributions and still make the occasional interview easily on the tube. The lack of a living room meant the bedrooms were a little bigger than in other flats on the market. All the better to offer him his very own splendid isolation – a space where he could drink what he want, watch Netflix all night until the early hours if he wanted to, even bet on Mexican football at four in the morning.

But tonight was all about Marianne. He’d been thinking about her a lot again recently, especially when he was trying to sleep. All those thoughts seemed to have some kind of momentum propelling him to act, and didn’t that also mean there was something in it – something indicating that it was all meant to be?

Tom clicked on the laptop to look at the photo he loved – Marianne grinning as she leant against a railing on the South Bank in a blue summer dress, a glass of gin and lemonade in her left hand with a pink straw poking out. It was the same grin she’d sported when he’d watched her dancing with her friend in the pub on the night they met – sweet, authentic and brimming with positivity.

He sipped and slurped his way through another can as he watched a couple of Sinead O’Connor videos on YouTube. A song of hers had been playing the moment he met Marianne, and he wanted to transport himself right back into that state of mind. It had been a night when the pints in an Irish pub in Islington had given him an easy smile, and the mixture – all so difficult to recreate – of just enough alcohol, the right company, the right mood on the day and the perfect vibe had made him feel ultra-positive. A time when the cogs that wound to produce whatever came out of his mouth, often so clunky and stiff, and unable to express his true intentions, whirred and buzzed with ease.

“See that blonde over there, I’m gonna ask her for a drink!” Tom had told Gavin back on that night.

“Uh, oh, move over Casanova!” he replied, giggling. “Tell you what mate, if you don’t end up getting slapped, I’ll get you a pint.”

Tom kept on repeating the videos. He put his torrent of thoughts about Marianne to one side, and reflected for a moment about how good Sinead O’Conner is. Given her stunning voice and catchy songs, it struck him as bizarre you don’t hear here more frequently, but then she’s too rocky for the pop radio stations, too poppy for the rock stations, too unpopular for the classic hit stations and too weird to be heard in cool bars. But a couple of clicks on the internet, and there she is, in 1989, a bouncy 21-year-old Sinead O’Connor revelling in her very own niche, belting out a song at the Grammy’s with a skip in her step and grin on her face.

The more he replayed that song, the more it helped oscillate dormant stores of passion inside him. He guzzled through the rest of the can and grabbed another. Tonight he’d try to win Marianne’s heart, and tomorrow he’d get a job, Tom decided. All these graduate schemes with never-ending online application forms were a draining waste of time, he realised. He was going to take the fight to them. He would call employer after employer and if there was any opening he’d drop by their offices, then shake as many hands as he needed to until he landed his dream job. His 2:2 in English was an uncomfortable focal point to his CV, but he’d joke about that and concentrate on everything else he had to offer. He’d been quite good at French and only hadn’t taken it further as his best friend at school called it a waste of time and badgered him that for all his studying he was nowhere near as good as Google Translate. He could pick French up again, hell, he could maybe work in Paris for a while. He could even sing a Sinead O’Connor song at the interview if he needed to.

But Marianne?

His inebriation was reaching the stage when his thoughts became slow and base, yet deliberate and determined. Time to call. Go on!

Tom pressed the dial icon next to her name on his phone.

He closed his eyes momentarily. ‘Please don’t answer, please don’t answer, please don’t answer,’ he thought to himself – so determinedly it almost spilled out as a whisper.

It was ringing. The clock indicating the call time wound to 0:05, adding a second after every pair of Tom’s heartbeats, until it reached 0:10 and 0:12.

Tom clicked on ‘end call’.

Phew, he thought. That was a close one, what was I thinking?

He scooped a can off the floor and tried to take another gulp, only to have accidentally taken an empty can. He corrected his error.

Having made a missed call provided the perfect excuse to send a text message. That should be less stressful, Tom figured.

“Hi Marianne,” he began to write.

“I can’t say sorry enough,” he typed in. He liked that. It was to-the-point and honest.

“What are you doing tonight? I’m listening to Sinead O’Connor and admiring my new plant – it’s a Harmony Rose”. Tom clicked send. Better not be too to-the-point.

He turned his phone face down again and leant against the bedroom wall as he drank some more. After five minutes he flipped the phone over. Nothing.

Damn. Maybe it sounded too contrived to now be listening to the artist he had nodded his head to when he carried the rum and coke back to Marianne on the night they met. Too obsessive.

“It’s the first time I’ve listened to SOC since that time we met. You know what’s really wired – I always thought she was singing ‘Hand in Glove’ on that song, and she’s actually singing ‘Mandinka’. I do like her accent though.” Tom clicked send.

Oh no, he thought, looking at his phone, I’m drunk. Only a drunk could have written that message. He had written wired instead of weird, and dished out empty praise on Sinead O’Connor’s accent just because Marianne’s mother was from Sligo and he didn’t want to imply it was tough to understand Irish people.

Tom took a few more long sips of the Grabnius. Still no reply from Marianne. Maybe she was asleep. Or in the cinema. Or making love to another guy.

Damn it, this tiptoeing around isn’t going to get me anywhere, Tom thought. I have to be clear. Ask the question, just like when he held his hand out in the bar inviting Marianne to dance, just like when he said she had a pretty smile, when he grabbed her by the hip, just like when her friend went to the toilet he asked her if she wanted to sit, just like when they chatted and laughed like long-time friends – so much so that neither of them ever got around to asking that horrid ‘so, what do you do for a living?’ question –  just like he was able to laugh along with her talk about the characters on a comedy show he’d never even heard of, just like he ran to get some napkins to help when she knocked her gin and tonic over and just like when their lips first met.

“To be honest, Marianne, I’ve been thinking about you a lot these past days.” Tom tapped on ‘send’ again.

He couldn’t help but cherish his recollections now. He remembered how amazingly snug it felt to have Marianne clinging on to him, squeezing his hand as they kissed, oblivious to the rest of the bar, and still holding on as they waited to take a taxi home.

“Things have been a bit tough recently, but when I think of you I always cheer up.”

Tom burped. He smiled as he recalled leading Marianne by the hand to his bedroom that night.

“If you want to relax while I go to the toilet, and then we could maybe watch something?” he had said. She had responded with a knowing smile. Then he had gone to vomit in the toilet, and had knocked on Gavin’s door, as quietly as he could in the circumstances, which was actually unbearably loud, to ask for a condom and some tic tacs. Then he had become filled with anxiety as he pinched at his numb privates through his alcohol-stained jeans and reflected he was likely too drunk to perform.

It had been a relief to see Marianne sleeping in his bed – clothed and still in shoes – as he returned to the room. He climbed in next to her, put his arm around her waist and felt her soft heartbeat. He woke up a few times that night near ecstatic to realise it wasn’t a dream, and that this beautiful young lady had entered his room. It was as if a few strokes of a masterpiece had just been dashed on the gigantic empty canvas of his life, with the paint not even dry to the touch. He clung on to her tummy and stroked her hair while she slept.

“I’ve got to be truthful with you Marianne. I dream all the time of just holding you again one day – even if it’s just for a few seconds, it’ll be the closest I ever get to heaven.” Tom clicked ‘send’ again.

A whirring in Tom’s stomach alerted him that the beer was making him queasy. He tossed the phone aside and snapped close the computer, which was still displaying the photo of Marianne by the Thames on her Instagram page. Sweat formed on his forehead. Wasn’t her behaviour the morning after that night, seven months ago, a sign she wasn’t interested? He had been awoken by a shriek, and Marianne said, with startled eyes “Oh my God, oh my God! How the hell did I end up here!?” before grabbing her jacket from the desk where the tulips now stood and darting out of the door. That was the last he had seen of her.

Tom closed his eyes.

He was awoken by a frantic knocking on his bedroom door.

“Tom!” cried Gavin. “Two coppers are at the door! Don’t tell me you’ve been contacting that girl again?”

Tom was silent. He didn’t know what to say.

“For heaven’s sake! You’ve got to leave it!”