Irish Holiday

It came as a complete surprise to us all, to see Simon back home. It must have been years since he'd upped it and gone off to France. To be quite honest I didn't really believe it, when my sister told me he'd gone. I'd heard about prodigal sons and all that lark, but this was one son, who hadn't been terribly prodigal and had no real reason for turning his back on all he knew. Of course, I had my own, perhaps not so secret reasons for not wanting Simon to go. I had hoped that we might end up getting together. We'd shared a couple of kiss and cuddle sessions at the local dances. Doubtless, I wasn't the only one, but at least I could hold my own in any boasting that was to be done. And we'd known each other ever since we were kids. Practically grown up together. He'd always been the big brother, best friend I'd never had and all rolled into one.

As to why he was so popular, it's difficult to say really. He wasn't exactly handsome. His shock of red hair was far too Irish to make him stand out in our company. Indeed, he looked like a hundred and one other boys you find in a small-town Irish setting. I wouldn't gamble on any one of them winning a beauty contest. But Simon didn't need looks. He just needed charm, and Mother Ireland had gifted him with all she had left to spare. The moment he looked at you and gave one of those cocky little smiles that usually boded no good, your legs melted beneath you.

Of course, not Mum in the village had a good word for him, and Dads often held him up as an example of what not to aspire to. But I understood him and I know they did him wrong. They couldn't understand his suffering. Indeed, with a father like that it was a wonder he found room even to breath. He was totally smothered. I think ultimately that's what made him go. Smother by ambition; by the ambition of a father who was still trying to become what he wasn't and was failing to come to terms with the fact. Simon's reaction was to deny ambition. Despite his intelligence he turned his back on school as soon as he could - he'd never done much work there anyway which was always a bone of contention with his father. I remember one afternoon we'd been swimming and we lazing around on the small island talking about this and that when he began sharing his ambition with me. For the first and only time in his life, his eyes had lit up and it seemed to me, he'd had something to live for. But the change was only temporary. We'd not been five minutes back in the village when his father had sought him out and succeded with one brief remark in putting that light out. So I guess he had to go away.

But no crying over spilt milk. It was Sissy who called me. And the moment she'd mentioned her brother was back, I was making plans to make sure he'd never leave again. I'm sure I must have got myself ready in record time, but it still took me upwards of an hour to get bathed, dressed, perfumed up and walk casually three houses down the street in a renewed attempt to land the best fish I'd hooked for. Of course, what Sissy had omitted to to tell me was that Simon was not alone. You could still sell my face for a ripe juicy tomato some two hours later, so embarrassed I was. And a queer, looking thing she was too. Looked almost Irish, didn't speak a word of English, but could string together more Gaelic than I ever managed. Well, you win some and you lose some. That's what I always say. Still, I'm not quitting town yet, because you just never know...


The news struck like a bomb. 18 months, of which only 12 were suspended. And all he'd been looking for was a little bit of solace. That he'd find none at the bottom of a bottle was obvious. The bottle was only there to smooth things along a bit, to soften the girl up a little before his natural charm did the rest. He actually remembered leaving the pub arm in arm with Maria. But the rest of the events were just a muddled blur in his mind. The taunts, the blurred fists swinging around in front of his face. The crack as his fist made contact. The screams, the blood pouring red all over, turning to blue, mingling with the sirening flash of the policy bulanamces... "have you anything to declare, Sir?" "No, only a broken nose and an enemy in a coma and in life of his danger."

It took three days before he realised what he had actually done. It seems Maria's brother would be in hospital for at least three weeks, and all he'd done was to ask her for a fiver to get back home by bus.

Those three days had been terrifying, but were nothing compared to the 24 hours to follow. For the first time in his life he started to face up to the truth; the truth that his life was empty. Yet, he had so much going for him; more than most. Now, he realised none of that counted. All he had built, had been nothing a house of cards that came tumbling down with a crash. And with this discovery came the tears. He cried out every last tear that he had in his body. And then he cried dry ones, until they finally came to a stop. And then, staring disaster in the face he began to dig for whatever really mattered. That digging was still going on. Indeed, he now knew it would the dig of a lifetime, offering no respite. And yet, it was in itself respite. He was learning to recognise the true value of things. And maybe, this time in prison would turn out to be far more precious than the pearls he had shared around to obtain so many favours in the past. This fact was true solace as he was said goodbye to his one remaining friend and was led away to the cells.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

The Date

"What another dance? You've got to be joking. I'm exhausted!"

It was New Year's Eve 1982 and Morgana and I were having a whale of a time at the musician's ball - an age-old tradition organised every year at her former university. Students who had not seen each other for at least the past twelve months would come back every year just to take part in this notable and quite unparalleled annual event. It was one of the most exclusive occasions of the year. Coming as it did on the back of one of the severest economic depressions in the country, it seemed quite incongruous to be celebrating the New Year amidst such opulence, but I was determined no to let that worry me. 1982 had been an amazing year and nothing was going to spoil it.

We had spent the first half hour making small talk with several people who had shared a class with Morgana. Most were strangers who had not been in touch since graduation but they still felt they had to give me the once over. I'm not sure how I measured up but I fear the one remark I did unsuspectingly catch was fairly typical of what most of the others were thinking, if not actually putting into words: "quite quaint, with a wonderfully lilting voice, but not quite up to scratch - not for poor Morgana, anyway." But I didn't let that bother me. To be perfectly honest I didn't really fit into this crowd anyway. We were here for some good fun and that was what we were going to have. I'd been practising my steps for months, so when Morgana grabbed my arm saving me from some pretty obnoxious comments about the rise of the number of foreigners..., I faced up to the challenge and lead her onto the floor. We danced three dances on the trot, and only during the first did I occasionally clip Morgana's toes. Indeed, by the third I was getting quite accomplished. But it was time for a break so despite Morgana's pleading I installed her at one of the tables and was soon back with a very bubbly bottle of Champagne and a few sticky cakes. Our respite, however, didn't last long, as just a few minutes later the orchestra struck up Strauss' acceleration waltz, Morgana's favourite, and ignoring all my objections Morgana was dragging me back onto the floor. There was just time for one last gasp of Champagne before my ordeal began.

You see, Strauss, not being satisfied with a simply, stately and melodic waltz like the Blue Danube decided to play a joke on his audience. Oh, it began easily enough but as the dancers' enthusiasm began to wear off, so the music got more and more animated, ending up in a crescendo of noise and speed somewhat akin to Keke Rosberg winning one of his several Grand Prix of the year.

It was the champagne that did it, I'm sure. We spun around the floor like we'd never done before and I didn't put a foot wrong. The pride shone out of Morgana's eyes as she let herself be carried off by the music and by her partner. This time, it was Morgana who wanted a break when the music stopped and I lead her to a solitary little alcove where we could be alone.

As I poured out another glass of champagne, I asked unsuspectingly:"Where do you think we'll be this time next year?"


Her reply brought me up short. Of course, I knew we'd get married some day. Indeed, it was quite to be expected. And I'd not been trying to avoid the question. Yet, hearing the word like that, so short and startling, well I guess it did come as a sort of a surprise.

"Darling, I've been dreaming for months that tonight we'd fix the date for our wedding."

"Date...!" was all I could stammer in reply.

Now things were getting serious.

"Wait a minute!" But no, it was for me to wait a minute. We were serious. Indeed, I had never been more serious in my life. I knew I was deeply in love with her. I knew I wanted to spend my life with no other person. So what was I waiting for. So once again, I stammered "Wait a minute!" and dashed out of the room. In a few minutes I was back with a single red rose I'd found in the antechamber and going down on one knee I declared: "Morgana, I want you to marry me on Easter Sunday next year, and I won't get up again until you've said yes."

It was probably the silliest gesture I'd made in my life, but the joy that poured out of Morgana's eyes as I did so, made it all worthwhile.

Media Circus

I guess the sudden press interest in our village took us all by surprise. Had we been a more worldly wise, maybe we might have profited a little more from it. Some of my committee seemed to think so.

"A golden opportunity to raise public awareness for our centre and for the principle of civic education." That's how my treasurer saw it. But despite his speed to want to jump on the bandwagon, the media circus came and left far too quickly enable us to react in any meaningful way. Here today and gone today may well sum up our history, but in our mega sounding, bit byte reduced computer age, well a day was just too long.

And to be perfectly honest I'm not sure that the celebrity status it would have brought us, would have truly been to our advantage. Celebretism - isn't it strange how you use some words in a foreign language that you've never actually used in your own. This word celebretism is a case in point. After, the events of the past few days, I feel perfectly at home using it in French, but never having had much to do with such hallowed beings in my previous English speaking life, I haven't a clue how to render it in English. So celebretism it will remain, and maybe one day it will bring me celebretism when for the first time, it receives an entry of its own in one of our language's more illustrious dictionaries. Anyway, to get back to what I was saying celebretism was scarcely compatible with radical ideas of 'culture for all' and 'a chance for the most disadvantaged' which lay at the heart of what we were trying to do at the centre.

Mayor Demille certainly seemed to think so. He, of course thrived through being in the spotlight. With the cameras behind him he took the whole world on a tour through the narrow streets of the village, mentioning Violette's connection with each place, not failing to drop in a word here and there about her friendly relations to his own family, but being strangely reticent about her friendship with Gérard.

Oh, but I get ahead of myself. I forgot to mention that the whole reason for this media circus was Violet's impending marriage to one of France's most eligible bachelors. The announcement some months ago had come as a complete shock. No one in the village, not even her mother, had heard a word from her since she left the village almost a year ago and took herself off into a hostile, friendless world. Rumour had it..., but I'll let rumour itself tell you what it had found it, never wanting to be on intimate terms with the havoc and devastation rumour sometimes creates. So how had this lonely, helpless girl suddenly turned her fortune around and ended up becoming one of the most envied women in France? And was she happy? Amidst all the euphoria of the announcement, followed by the wedding preparations, this was the one question which kept coming back to haunt me. I wished from the bottom of my heart that she was truly happy; as happy as I was with Morgana and the thought of our impending wedding. And in all the TV interviews she always smiled beautifully. But I myself had once looked into those bright blue eyes, and as I did so now, I couldn't help feeling a spent cloud was dimming their brightness.

... In Threes

This story picks up where the last one left off. I've included the closing lines of the previous story as a brief reminder. But if you haven't yet done so, you may want to go read the first part before continuing.

This was to be his one lucky day. In 48 hours he would be rich and his luck would change. Indeed, so lighthearted was he as he made his way to the local train station that he completely overlooked the large billboard outside the newsagent's which read:

Lightening Transport Strike Paralyses Eurostar

And this was where Jim's luck really did begin to change. Had he seen those devastating words proclaimed to the world by that billboard, his resistance would have been broken. He had staked his all on this one last plan in the hope of obtaining some little financial comfort for all his pains. But the words of the proverb "Where there's a will, there's a way" held little resonance for Jim. He would have turned around tail between his legs and headed straight back home, wherever home might be for a destitute like Jim.

But as luck would have it that he saw nothing and so he continued striding towards the international departures lounge at St. Pancras Station, blissfully unaware of what was going on. It wasn't until he arrived on the main concourse and saw the havoc there, that he realised something was wrong. A sickening feeling suddenly rose up from within, and the observant spectator may even have seen his tail begin to droop. But Jim's luck had changed, and with that change came a change in personality. Jim wasn't going to take this lying down. So he straightened his back, took three deep breaths and ventured forth onto the battlefield.

To cut a long story short the strike had not quite crippled Eurostar. Indeed, French law had recently been changed to insist upon a minimum service being offered to the public during strikes of this kind, so there two more trains leaving that day. And as luck would have it, Jim's ticket was for precisely one of those trains. The moment his fellow passengers realised that Jim was in possession of one of these treasures, he was inundated by people shaking fists full of banknotes and shouting out ridiculous sums in a bid to get a ticket. But as no one offered him the desired 10% of 70 million, Jim kept pushing his way through the crowds until he passed check in, and took his seat in the lounge to await the arriving train.

Everything went remarkably smoothly; so much so that Jim even began to suspect that something was up. Time and again he had to tell himself that things had changed; he was now a lucky man. Nothing would go wrong. But the extent to which luck had returned to him, was not fully revealed until that evening; Safely installed in the hotel, Jim decided to take an early dinner and get a good night's sleep. But the dining room door resisted his attempts to cross its threshold and Jim realised that in other countries they did things differently. Indeed, it was possible to dine out early in France, only early wasn't quite as early as he had expected. And as he had promised himself not to drink a drop of alcohol until the transaction was in the bag, he shunned the hotel bar, finding a seat in the lobby where he could while away the thirty minutes or so. Opposite him sat a young lady reading a book, the title of which seemed vaguely familiar. He tried to recall where he had seen it before. Unfortunately, he couldn't quite make out the name of the author. Gently he leaned across the table and asked if he might not cast a glance at the cover of her book.

Amis Kingsley by Oscar Lord Wild

Jim was incensed. He flicked quickly through the pages and it didn't take long before Oscar's subterfuge was laid bare. This was nothing other than his book. How many of the others had Oscar stolen from him? The discovery sent shockwaves up his spine and Jim soon found himself spluttering like a volcano about to burst its top. He could write, after all. Indeed, he was a published writer, even if the world ignored the fact. But he would make the world sit up and listen. Tomorrow, he would go to the auction and stake his claim for 10% of the selling price on the Van Gogh. Then he would return to London and set to right all the wrongs that had been done to him. On second thoughts, maybe he wouldn't return tomorrow. That could wait one or two days, at least. In the meantime, he would set about winning the affections of the charming, if somewhat dumbfounded young lady sitting opposite him. After all, all good things, even luck, come in threes.

What Now...?

In the week or so that I had now been out of hospital the one thing I still avoided talking about was work. It was going to have to be faced up to sometime, yet it was so full of potentially dark pitfalls, I felt safer trying not to think about it. I guess most of my friends considered it inappropriate too, as no one brought the subject up. Of course, try as I might to make it go away by not thinking about it, 1001 questions still went racing through my mind every day. To be perfectly honest I didn't even know if I still had a job to go back to. After all, my last conscious act before ending up in hospital had been to write my letter of resignation. And as I'd been found sleeping alongside the railway line, then I'd passed the centre. So presumably, I had actually dropped it into the box. There could be no doubt that my detractors in the village would seize on this gaping opportunity to be rid of me.

Even without the letter of resignation it was going to be tough to maintain any semblance of authority and competency in the light of what had happened. Several weeks in a mental institution was not the best recommendation for any job, and I could see all the behind the door sniggers and raised eyebrows painstakingly camouflaged but just as real. In addition, questions were bound to be raised within the Town Council even if the centre was no longer, officially at least, under their jurisdiction.

So leaving home that morning became an act of intense volition. I had absolutely no idea what was awaiting me. The only person to have talked about work or the prospect thereof was my doctor who had given me a certificate explaining I was exonerated from work until today. And he, not being from the village, would have had no idea as to whether I actually had a job to go back to.

It's hard to describe how I felt that morning as I stepped out onto the street to face up to the one reality I'd been hiding from for days. If an author seeking to plumb the whole gamut of emotions that can fill a human heart and mind had been able to perform some kind of mental dissection of my soul, he would have found there enough material for a shelfful of novels.

And yet, strangely enough, he would not have found any trace of self-doubt. That, it seems, had vanished... for the time being at least. As I strode off towards my future, I felt instinctively I would be up to whatever awaited me that day, including returning home immeidately via the nearest shortcut because I had no job to go to.

I arrived at the centre shortly before nine. A couple of young people were waiting around for the summer program to get going but they took little notice of me. A quick glance at the program in my office told me today's activity was jazz guitar run by Cedric and I'd hardly sat down at my desk when he poked his nose around the door and came to greet me warmly. His pleasure at seeing me was undisguised.

So let's get on with the job. Until someone comes to throw me out, this was where I belong and I no doubt I had a lot to catch up on. I began by trying to create a semblance of order in my office, so started flipping through the large pile of papers in my in-tray. They included a letter, written in my own hand-writing. It had been opened and on the envelope someone had scribbled the words:

"Urgent. Bring to the attention of the director as soon as he returns."

And once again, I thanked my lucky stars, or whoever else it was out there for giving me such wonderful friends.

Strangely enough he was one of those old friends I'd wondered about in the days before that fateful trip home. And yet, I sat next to him in the pub for ten minutes without a flicker of recognition. He'd recognised me at once but decided to remain silent. He'd enthusiastically cheered our group's attempts at karaoke, but then almost everyone in the hostel had done so; we were the sensation, not so much for our singing as for our sheer exotic allure. It was not everyday that Gymraeg received a group like ours.

A few acts later and it was his turn. I recognised him the moment he opened his voice. Grant Hinds. I'd played second fiddle to his lead in the musical comedy our school choir had put on in my final year at school. That unmistakable voice had given him away. And a flicker in his eyes told me he knew I'd recognised him. But was he doing here, in our old school haunt singing second bit karaoke contests? Just one look at him told me things obviously weren't going well. What to say? He finished singing and came over to embrace me. I uttered a lame: "How you doing mate?" His reply was as false as my question.

He was back the next evening and we invited him to spend Sunday with us. Slowly he started opening up. His studies, ejection from the Royal College, his struggle to make ends meet. His whirlwind romance and equally short marriage. The string of relationships which followed, none bringing any real satisfaction. Then, his face began to glow as he told me his current girlfriend would soon be joining him - from Thailand. I raised an inner eyebrow at that but tried not to show it. I didn't want to be judgemental. I wanted to understand.

The next morning Zoe was gone. She didn't turn up for breakfast and we waited another hour before someone went to check her room. Her things had all vanished. Grant too had vanished. And one of the group members told how they had spent most of the previous afternoon in each other's company.

There was little we could do. Zoe may have been a giddy, romantic young girl, but she was 25 and old enough to make her own decisions. So what was I going to Gifford when we got back?

The card arrived some three weeks later. Zoe was still very happy. Grant had begun voice training again and she was determined to get him to make something of his life. She thanked me for bringing them together. Had it not been for that chance encounter...

I still don't want to be judgemental, but this time my doubts are stronger. Maybe putting them down on paper, like this, will lay them to rest.

Today's Friday Fiction prompt tells me to write down random thoughts as quick as I can and without rereading. I don't know how good this is. I'm sure there are lots of mistakes and I didn't really get around to writing automatically. Maybe because I was typing this, and that slows me down automatically. So here goes...

I'm thinking abuot the kind of protagonist I want to create for my new sotry. And the more I think, the more I worry because he's the kind of person that I sometimes am, with all the thoughts and warts. Strange, but the moment I conceived this idea for the story - it's one I'm preparing for the distance short sotry writing course I'm doing - then I knew it had to be this kind of character. His main default is that he never succeeds in acting on time. Why does this particular kind of character appeal to me so much; more so because I'm often like this myself, and I get terribly upset about it, promising myself I'll be different next time. Yet, I never or very rarely am. But it never even seems to matter, so maybe I shouldn't worry about it at all. The one big project I took on this year came off a treat despite the fact that I was often pushed into action by alqst minute extremeisem i.e. if I didn't do it now then everything would fall apart. So this is the kidn of caharcter I want to creat for the story, and it will prove to be his downfall. But what about all those secondary things that are needed to round him out. Wghat will he look like? His interests; his peculiarities. And the thousand and one other fantzastice elememnts that go to make up a real person. A real person? Is that what I want to create? Let him at least be believable.

It hit my nostrils the moment I got into the house. This was going to be one very special evening. It wasn't so much a case of practice making perfect as one of the true craftsman coming to the fore. And the craftsman had been preparing for this moment for a long time. Strangely enough Morgana had never really cooked for me before. Of course, we had eaten out on more than one occasion and we had sometimes shared a quick lunch together, but that doesn't count. Not in France at least. The quicker you go, the less likely you are to get anywhere. That just about sums up the French attitude to dining, so I knew we were in for a nice long evening. In fact, we would only be alone for the first part of the evening. Morgana had invited Thérèse and Guillaume around to share desert and all that came after. So the likelihood of getting away any time before the early hours was not very high.

I was just about to settle myself onto the sofa when I saw the little reminder Morgana had prepared for herself lying on the coffee table. No bread, no wine, then forget love. Or was it a reminder to herself? It just might be... I needed no further prompting. I had ten minutes to go before the wine shop closed, but I knew once I was in there, Mme. Sachetou would so pump me with questions, I'd have more than enough time to choose at leisure. All I had to do was to encourage her with a few vague and general answers. I picked a local Chardonay to accompany the hors d'oeuvre and then went for a more full-bodied Bordeaux to bring out the richness of the dinner. On my way home I stopped by the local gardens and persuaded M. Gardou to let me pick a magnificent bouquet by promising to come back tomorrow and pay twice the regular price. Love knows no skimping. I attached a pretty little card to the flowers on which I'd painstakingly written the words "Truth is the spice that seasons any meal: Je t'aime."

Morgana's reaction was far from indifferent and it set us back another thirty minutes or so, but neither of us were complaining. When we finally did get up off the sofa I realised how true the old saying was: More you have, more you want. But all that was left for me to do, was to pour us both a deliciously cool glass of white wine.

Our meal began with something extremely hard and Morgana's face was a true picture as she saw me puzzle over how to get inside my cucumber-crab wraps. To get to the almond you have to crack its shell, dear. Promptly slicing her way through to the tender delights within. Eventually, I too succeeded, but before our wedding I reckon, I still had a fair bit of practising to do. Happiness knows no bounds and the Beef Daube Provencal soon had us both well on our way to that great culinary paradise in the sky when, suddenly, we heard Thérèse and Guillaume burst in on us. But since they had brought not only a wonderful blueberry tart but also a bottle of Champagne, we saw no reason to turn them out again.

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