Ian couldn't help but shed a tear as he saw the mangled state of Lenny the Lion, once the dog had finished with him. He gathered up as much of what remained as he could and put everything in a small plastic bag. Upstairs, little Davy was waiting at the doorway for the news. Not that even he could have had any doubts, once they saw the dog at work. At the sight of nothing but the plastic bag, Davy began to cry and soon father and son were engulfed in a duet of despairing lamentation.

Ian picked up his son and carried him into the living-room. He spread out Lennie's remains on the coffee table and turned to pick out a photo album from the shelves behind. It didn't take him long to find the photo. Three proud boys in the sailors suits sitting on the photographer's sofa, each sporting a lion of appropriate size on their lap. It had been Ian who refused to give up his lion. He had thrown such a tantrum that the photographer had let him take the lion home in a bid to restore sanity to his studio. Lenny was now his.

Years went by; Ian grew up, Lenny with him. He always remained a treasured possession even if Ian no longer slept with him. The day he left home, he placed Lenny in the large trunk in the loft. That way, he knew where to find him if and when the time came when Lennie's services were again needed.

Davy stared bleary eyed as his father began this story. Never had he imagined that Lennie was as old as his dad.

"I'm ashamed to say that I more or less forgot Lennie in the years that passed. I was very busy with all my exams and learning to do my job. Then, of course, I met Mummy and she was all I could think about. But one day, Granny fell ill, so ill that we knew she was going to die. So I went up into the loft and sorted through the old trunk where I had put all the things I had had when I was a child. That was when I saw Lennie again. It was just a few weeks later that we found out we were going to have our precious little Davy. And I knew Lennie would become your little friend. It was the first present you ever had, the day you and Mummy came home from the hospital."

Ian took another another album and flicked through its pages. The photograph of his wife sporting their little bundle of joy while Lennie looked on protectively, moved him once again to tears. Davy jumped and ran towards his room. He came back a few minutes later with his school book which he opened to an article on Dr. Christiaan Barnard. They had been talking about him and his work at school. He slipped onto the sofa next to his dad.

"Don't cry Daddy; all we have to do is send Lennie to this man. Our teacher says he could open people up and put new pieces in them. Then he would so them back together again and they would be as good as new. I'm sure, he could help Lennie."

The Slug

Arthur was easy prey. Not that he was stupid. Indeed, it took us a long time to find a way to get to him. I guess it was due to his secretiveness. He wasn't a popular boy, and was almost always alone. Being his next door-neighbour, I can probably claim to have known him as well as anyone, not that wasn't claiming very much. I've often wondered why we picked on him. He never did us any harm. I guess it's just part of evolution, the fittest taking it out on those weaker.

It was Arthur's sister who provided us with both the opportunity and the means. If anything, she was the worst of us all. I don't know what she was like when they were home, but in public she was ever tormenting the tongueless, little slug, as she alayxs called him. His parents, on the contrary, cherished and did what they could to encourage him to express himself. This included buying him an expensive leather-bound journal with a lock in which Arthur wrote every day. I learnt this from Maria the day she discovered that thanks to my brother, I was in the throes of becoming an accomplished lockpick. She had no idea what he wrote but was burning to find out, so together we hatched a plan. Arthur kept the journal locked up in the drawer of his desk at home. But Maria had the same desk and the same key. All we had to do was wait for an opportunity to get Arthur out of the way. This came sooner than expected, when Arthur blew up in class after being teased by one of the younger boys, I suspect at Maria's instigation. This happened quite often and the teacher found no better way of dealing with him than keeping him in the classroom for two hours after school.

To be quite honest, the journal made pretty boring reading. Arthur may have known how to write, but had nothing to say. Shakespeare himself would have had trouble making something of this guy's life. But one of the more recent entries contained the following:

"Enna walked home with me today. No idea why. She kept trying to talk to me. I felt afraid of her."

Looking back what we did was unforgiveable. We didn't mean any harm. But I'll never forget the interest that lit up in his face when I asked him if he didn't want to sign the ... Of course, he never even saw the carbon paper underneath the sheet he signed. Imagine our astonishment when, within a week of receiving that Valoentine's card, Arthur and Enna became an item.

What if...

There was one chance I didn’t take. That’s why I’m sitting here staring at the wrinkles reflecting from the bottom of my glass, playing ‘what if’ with anyone who might care to try and read my thoughts whilst Laura was travelling alone through Europe trying to forget me while painting the numerous historical sites we’d planned to visit together.

Alone! Who was I kidding? Laura would never be alone. One look and any self-respecting man would be lining up to accompany her wherever she chose. As to trying to forget me, I am still puzzled as to what it was that made her show any kind of interest in me to start with. And why then? After all we had known each other almost five years. Are the stories of Cupid’s arrow true? Maybe he misfired just for once.

Whatever, within the space of a mind-blowing five minute whirl around the dance floor the deed was done. We were inseparable after that, and before long we were making plans for a future together. I would go and join her in Athlone. The Irish countryside would doubtless provide the sparkle I needed to make my poetry come alive again. But first we’d promised ourselves a holiday visiting all those places in Europe she had dreamed of as a child.

And Gabriella? How would she take it? To be quite honest, I couldn’t care less. After all, it was she who had proved fickle. She’d even asked for a divorce. I had not been keen on the idea. I still felt that marriage was for life, even if… But all that had changed now. Gabriella could have her divorce.

Then came the phone-call. It was the day after my last class that year; my last ever class at Rowntree Community college. Three more days and I’d be heading for Laura’s hide-away cottage by the canal. She just wanted to see me, have a coffee and a chat together. That’s all she was admitting to. In fact, she had come to ask forgiveness. Maybe, we could even begin again, she’d said. And fool as I was, I fell for it. I believed in her. She was sincere, she had to be. We would begin anew, some place else. So I said yes. And I didn’t even have the courage to tell Laura. I just never turned up. I left her guessing.

Serve me right. It took just three days before the old arguments started again, and by the end of the month Gabriella was staying away overnight. She left me within the week; the day I found this bar, my one and only solace now. I’ve become great friends with the barman. He plays a mean game of ‘what if…’

A man without vision challenged a seeing world.
The seeing world ignored him.
The helping world, those who knew or thought they knew, rejected.
But one man...

One man saw, encouraged, pushed and opened doors;
the world sat up and noticed and wondered,
and then returned to sleep.
They saw, but it was different, so they couldn't see.

Despair followed.
He'd never been able to see, but had always had vision.
Now even that was prised from his eyes of faith.

Until another came.
He called to the world, which couldn't see,
Extoling him without sight, who could.
And this time like a flower slowly opening itself up to reality,
The world recognised, what it had never perceived,
Despite the fact that it was new,
Giving faith and hope and vision to millions
Who couldn't see.

This is a tribute to Louis Braille, the man who enabled the blind to learn to see through their fingers. Braille's system was at first spurned, because it was so different. One man lost his job and then his livelihood trying to help. It wasn't until years later that a second man forced the world to look, see and care.


Arthur had just one more reason for living; revenge! It was when he realised the best way to gain that vengeance was by ending his life that he returned to Bristol. 24 years of marriage had come to this. His few remaining thoughts went to what might have been. Would Enna cry? Would she even hear how he had decided to finish things. If only… But it was too late for that now. He’d played his cards and chosen duty over the bliss that might have been. One year later and the end was nigh. His mother’s words still rang out in his ears.

“He was the only one who knew about the trap door.”

That wasn’t true. His mother had known; now he too knew.

In fact, it took just five minutes to find. Arthur lowered himself onto the ledge. Unable to look down, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, counted one, two, three and jumped... No, his feet remained rooted to the spot. He couldn't do it. His only problem now was how to get back up through the trap door.

Coming Of Age

Stevie woke with a start. It took him several minutes to figure what he was doing lying on a bed next to a nearly empty bottle of brandy, a half naked girl smiling at him from the foot of the same bed. He looked at her and decided his one remaining wish was to go back home. He had been told umpteen times that coming up to university would make a huge difference in his life. Difference! He'd wanted that. He'd looked the word up in the dictionary. Its arresting letters beckoned to him from the page, their rhythmic beat drawing him in. He knew, he had to go.

"Wicked!" was the only commentary his brother offered. It was enough. He packed his bags and left Lower Water Backwood for London.

It had all begun well enough. His brother was there to meet him as promised and the first thing they did was to share a drink at the local pub. Stevie was, however, surprised to find himself having to pay for both the drinks and the taxi back to his brother's digs, as he insisted on calling them, despite the fact that the word had gone out of fashion years ago. Stevie soon wished he'd decided to take up the offer of a studend flat withing easy reach of the campus. He couldn't care less about the dirt. It was the noise which would surely drive him crazy. Not that there was anything rhytmic about the dog's barking. It was more like perpetual. But Stevie put a brave face on things, thought about cleaning up the bathroom but decided to leave that until sometime after his shower. But still not feeling up to such an act of extreme human courage he descended to the street just in time to see a police officer handcuffing his brother before arresting him. The young girl who had been sitting at the table with Mick sidled up to him, took him by the arm and led him to a downstairs flat next to the bar.

"You must be Stevie. Mick told us all that you were coming. I guess, we're yours now."

Stevie looked puzzled.

"Yours, us girls, who worked for your brother. Your wicked dreams made real in one fell - she winked as she slowly pronounced - b l o w."

Stevie turned a shade of green before passing out.

Tables Turned

Gina felt like she wanted to throw up. She wished she had never come. This was supposed to be a safe date. A nice easy barbecue together with some good friends. Things started to go wrong when some newcomers arrived and a guitar was unpacked. Within minutes her husband had ingratiated themselves with the newcomers and they were promising a sing-song after dinner. And now there they were, her husband and her son making fools of themselves in front of the crowd. It was not as if they were drunk. Indeed, when her husband was driving, he didn't touch a drop. But he didn't need alcohol to start singing. There they were, the two of them singing their hearts out and seemingly enjoying it. Did they have no sense of shame? Gina wished the ground would open up and swallow her whole.

The journey back was silent - not the happy silence brought on by tiredness after an evening well spent. This was a foreboding silence. Gina knew exactly what would happen once they reached home. Her misgivings, his recriminations, the tone rising with each sentence. They'd been through it all so often before.

Unexpectedly, Silvio broke the silence. Why did you marry an Italian? The question took her aback. She thought awhile but silence was the only answer she could find. How absurd it seemed to him now that she had once found his eccentricities romantic.

Well, if you haven't got an answer, then I've got news for you. Some people appreciate me. They appreciate me far more than you ever will. That's why I'm leaving. Jessica has not only agreed to publish a volume of my verse, she's also agreed to set up home with me. She'll be waiting at the lodge for me and we'll be leaving tonight. I admit to having regrets. I think, I'll miss you. But one thing I'll never be sorry about is not seeing that eternal scowl on your face again.

Opening Lines

"So was she playing the accordion or the piano?"

The tone in Inspector Grant's voice was beginning to reveal his frustration.

"Well..." But no answer was forthcoming.

"Well," encouraged the inspector.

"Well, he was carrying the instrument, so at first I thought it was an accordion. But then I saw the keyboard and I realised that it was, in fact, a piano."

"A piano! You're su..." Too late.

"No inspector. That's what I've been trying to tell you for the last thirty minutes. I'm not sure of anything. At least, not concerning the instrument. But he did definitely slump forward. Of that I am sure."

"You mean, you actually saw him."

"Or no inspector. I only saw him lying on his back. That's what made me realise he must have slumped forward."

"But had he slumped forward, he would most likely have ended up lying face down."

"No Inspector. Joey never went to sleep lying face downwards. He was far too afraid of the dark to do that. He always lay on his back so he could see the first rays of sunlight streaming in through the window."

Margaret tore the page out of the typewriter. It joined the others in the waste-paper basket sitting beside his desk. Yet, she was not downcast. With each attempt she was getting closer to the perfection. Surely, it would now be only a matter of time, before she came up with something people would spend the rest of their lives reading.

Slowly threading another piece of paper into her typewriter, inspiration struck her. She had to let her readers know that Joey was an unreliable witness, if not people would in fact take her testimony for gospel and never be able to follow her trail from crime to solution. All that was missing was that one, perfect opening sentence without which nothing would make sense, but with which no one could refuse her the crime writer of the year accolade. She began to type:

"Now inspector, let me make it quite clear from the very start, that I am absolutely sure about everything that happened and even if I wasn't in the room at the time I saw in my mind's eye the exact moment the piano accordion player slumped forward."

Ivor worked his way slowly through the museum. Nothing much had changed. There were a few new exhibits and some of those he remembered from younger days were no longer there. Couldn't really expect much else from an ordinary, little local museum. Still, he had been proud to have been a founder member of the Triallyn Museum Assocation and of his work in helping set up the library.

Occasionally, his children came up to him with a question.

"Dad what's this...? What did they use that for?"

They were what made Ivor so excited and proud: his children. Never during the hours he used to spend inside these walls had he contemplated the idea of one day coming back with his children. Today, 20 years after leaving Triallyn, he was fulfilling a dream.

Ivor wandered slowly into the back room. The familiar Penny Farthing was still there and soon his children were looking on with wonderous eyes, not only at the muti-storeyed contraption itself but also at the photos depicting the folly of those who actually dared attempt to ride the thing.

Turning round Ivor let out a little yap much like that a small dog would have made on having to defend his bone against a hostile fellow canine.

"David, Wendy, Christopher, come here, quickly! Look, this is one of the first ever record players ever made."

The children stared at the object before them. The winding cylinder on top that looked somewhat like a foghorn; the thick arm at the side with a long, pointed needle sticking out at the bottom - it reminded them of the photo of granny at her sewing desk they had seen so often when they visited her - and the black shining disk placed in the middle of the contraption.

It was Wendy who turned the children's bewilderment into words.

"Daddy, what's a record player?"

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