133. What We Leave Behind

This short story was inspired by a writing prompt in a recent ‘Writing on the Wall’ Zoom class.

Photo by Jonas Tebbe on Unsplash

“Alright Linda, girl, I nearly missed you.”

“Hiya Mel,” said Linda. Then she burst into tears.

“Ay c’mere girl. It’s alright.” He put his arm around her shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

She let out a heavy sigh and said “I just need to um… just pop to the ladies.”

Linda had lost count of how many times she’d practised the expression she would have on her face and the things she would say if she ever saw her ex-husband again. But it was too late for all that now.

A couple of minutes later, she emerged from the ladies room, with tissue in hand and freshly applied lipstick.

“Now or never,” she said and looked at Mel, but her smile didn’t reach the corners of her glistening eyes.

“We’d best get a move on, I’ve only got another 8 minutes on the car,” said Mel.

She took off her coat and gently threw it on the back seat. There was a small, slightly deflated football and an action figure toy in the seatwell.

“You got kids then?” asked Linda.

“Yeah, two grown up and three grandchildren. All boys. Me missus, Claire said she would have loved to have had a girl. You?”

There was a beat of silence and then he said, “Sorry, Lin girl, I didn’t think.”

“No it’s alright, it was a long time ago now. We were only kids ourselves then. Me and Ronnie have got just the one, Simone. She’s training to be a dental hygienist. Says she’s not having any children” said Linda.

“Can’t fault her. It’s expensive these days. Me missus Claire, says you’re married to a schoolteacher?”

“Yeah, Ronnie. He’s a Special Needs teacher. He would have come with me today but teachers can’t get time off, and he’s got Scouts tonight and I said I didn’t know what time I’d be back.”

“It’s good of you to come you know. I know you didn’t have to, but Stewart kept asking for you and then one of me lads found you on Facebook and I couldn’t just leave it like that without knowing.”

“How is he?” said Linda.

“He’s only got days left now but he’s not in any pain. One of us is up there almost all the time. They’re really good with visiting hours up there.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

They drove the few miles through a city she’d once loved, past the old football stadium, the hospital and the park. A big Tesco now stood on the ground where her old school used to be. That dodgy council estate where she grew up in was now considered desirable real estate, with its larger than average houses and big gardens that were not found in modern builds.

There was a car already outside the house so Mel parked behind it.

She remained sitting in the car for a moment or two, breathing deeply to compose herself. She looked into the garden and watched a man she used to know, slowly move a long-handled tool up and down at the edge of the lawn. There was a small boy chasing and grabbing at bubbles as they floated away. The boy saw her, ran to the gate and peered over the top of it. She smiled at him and Mel unlatched the gate.

Photo by Ben Griffiths on Unsplash

“Hi Dad. Hello Trouble,” said Mel, ruffling the boy’s hair. “You remember Linda, don’t you Dad?”

“Hello, Derek,” said Linda. “Still keeping a lovely garden I see. I’m sorry about your Stewart.”

“Thanks love. You look well. Janey’s inside. She’s been looking forward to seeing you,” said the man.

Mel fumbled in his pocket for his phone.

“Are you that lady who used to be married to me Grandad Stewart?” asked the boy.

“Yes, love. I am,” she said and stroked the boy’s upturned face.

The boy slipped his hand inside hers and they began to walk towards the house. Behind her, she heard the gate close. Then Mel said, “Dad, that was the hospice. He’s gone.”

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

132. Made to a Secret Family Recipe.

Eva was an only child until she was 32. She was their “wonderful gift” and “happy surprise”. Dad had the mumps when he was a teenager, but they don’t talk about things like that in their family.
She overheard her Great Aunt and her Nanna whispering once about “test tubes” and “it” being “unnatural”. They stopped talking when they saw her and her Nanna fiddled around in her handbag for a boiled sweet.

Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV from Pexels


Eva first saw (some of) her siblings on one of those daytime TV chat shows.

‘Fertility Doctor played God and admitted using his own sperm to father dozens of children.’ 

There were 14 of them in the studio. Eva looked into her own eyes. Did that woman hate her nose as much as she hated hers? Another one had a smaller perkier nose and a softer chin. Eva now knew what she would look like if she was pretty. There was a more voluptuous, gorgeous version. An athlete. An aged druggie. A police officer. That one had the same kink in the same place in her hair. How many of them ground their teeth at night and got reflux from cucumber? They were all of the people she could have been. How many more were out there somewhere in the world?

Who could she call if she was affected by anything in that programme? 


Maybe her Mum and Dad already knew and were keeping it from her. Maybe they didn’t know. What good would it do to tell them? No, it wasn’t true. Her Dad was her real Dad. She know what she would do. Pretend she didn’t know and had never seen the programme. Follow the family tradition and say nothing. They don’t talk about things like that in their family.



One of my favourite films (about clones) is ‘Never Let Me Go’ based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.

In Response To…

Photo by Ricardo Cruz on Unsplash

I’m still working from home full-time and rarely going out. I’m not ready to start socialising in person or doing the tourist thing. So, when I recently took a week off work as holiday, I attended lots of on-line classes for creative writing and poetry. One of the common themes is to ask the delegates to respond to a piece of artwork in the form of a poem or short story. Here follows some of the prompts and my responses. All were written within the 5-6 minutes allocated in class. I think it’s a really fun exercise to do – to write without thinking about it too much, read it aloud and get immediate positive feedback.


MONDAY

The poem, ‘Richard’ by Carol Ann Duffy can be read in full by clicking here.

Grant me the carving of my name.

from ‘Richard’ by Carol Ann Duffy

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

This is my response to that poem.


Richard’s Third and Final Resting Place

Respect at last, gentle peace

you would not recognise this

City’s tribute. You’re home.


TUESDAY

The Heart of trees

by Jaume Plensa

This is my response to the sculpture (if you look closely, you can almost see the word, ‘Nicola’ on his body.)


Swept up under the carpet

a quiet protest

the weight on me to remain true

as he scars my name into his flesh

I am just, trust, a mast, ballast

strong like glue.


WEDNESDAY

Photo by Henry Lai on Unsplash

The brief was to write a short story in response to the prompt of an animal overcoming adversity.


I eventually found the hamster stuck in a pipe underneath the sink in the kitchen. How he managed to get out of his cage, I’ll never know. Well, I think I do know because the cat was crouching underneath a dining room chair, ready to pounce, and looked guilty as sin. I daren’t tell him off or I’ll get a scratch. Cats are the moodiest creatures I know – worse than any of my children – and I’ve got 3 teenagers.

You wouldn’t believe it, but there are actual YouTube videos on how to free trapped hamsters! I did it – eventually – by sawing the plastic pipe and pouring olive oil down the sides. It was the extra virgin stuff too. He plopped right out, bum first, into the breach.

Maybe I should have got one of the kids to film me doing it. I reckon it might have got a few hits.


THURSDAY

The brief was to write a haibun about a journey or place.

TERMINAL 5

Time is static, shocking, jerking me

I’m a tourist attraction in a glass cage.

Friendly, bored pods glide polite waltzes with lost teddy bears.

Waking up, smelling coffee just a sip or I won’t sleep.

overtired kids

it’s too late to go home now

air smells different.


It feels strange thinking about the time before, when we could travel freely. Maybe one day, I’ll be at the airport again. Is this living nostalgia? A yearning for a life we never appreciated at the time? Rites of passage missed? I feel like I’m thriving right now, so I hope that when we do start living normally again, some things will have changed for the better permanently.

My book of the week recommendation therefore combines the post-pandemic world and an airport. The brilliant ‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St John Mandel, which is soon to be released as a HBO tv series.

“The more you remember, the more you’ve lost.”



Be a lady

Be a gentleman

Be a human