Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name? – Yves – Be careful what you wish for by Sally Cronin


Welcome to the first of the short stories from What’s in a Name Volume 2 and this is also the last weekend of stories from this collection.. Today ‘Y’ is for ‘Yves’ a man who is used to the good things in life, especially if they come in the form of a beautiful woman with a large bank balance.

Yves – Be careful what you wish for!

Yves Bertrand spoke English impeccably with a sexy French accent. When romancing a beautiful woman he used anything and everything in his arsenal. He was now in his late thirties, and had spent the last twenty years acquiring an encyclopedic knowledge of the trivia of the world. The vast majority of middle-aged women that he honoured with his attention were delighted at his acerbic wit and ability to name the world’s most influential fashion designers. Not to mention his knowledge of the latest season’s ‘must have’ shoes and handbags.

The majority of the women were divorcees or widows with time on their hands and money in their accounts. Their generosity had financed his activities and allowed him to buy a spectacular villa in the Greek islands. Along with a substantial amount tucked away in off shore accounts, Yves had sufficient to fund his early retirement; which he had decided would be at the age of forty.

With only a year to go before his income would be reliant on bank interest rates; Yves decided that this summer on the French Riviera would have to be exceptionally profitable. He consulted with the various concierges of the top hotels who were on his payroll. It was money well spent and within days, Yves received a coded text message to his burner phone, indicating that there was a big fish ready to be reeled in.

A lesser man would have felt guilty about the methods used to part vulnerable older women from their cash, but Yves believed in giving value for money and his conquests seldom went away without happy memories. He had to admit however that it was becoming more difficult to play the role of amorous partner without some form of enhancement, and there were days when he wished he might retire sooner than the end of the season.

He received this particular text from the concierge at a luxuriously appointed hotel owned by a Saudi Prince, newly opened and a magnet for this season’s divorcees. The penthouse suite had been rented for a month by a mysterious guest who would be occupying the opulent accommodations on her own. This was indeed promising and Yves selected his most recent acquisition from his wardrobe; congratulating himself on his foresight in buying the expensive but eye-catching dinner jacket. An hour later and dressed to kill, Yves walked casually into the hotel’s garden restaurant and slipped the manager a suitably high valued bank note. He was whisked elegantly between the tables and the guests dipping into their caviar and duck breasts, and was seated at a table opposite a woman eating alone.

Surreptitiously, Yves peered over and around his menu at his target. She was stunning he had to admit. In her mid-forties perhaps; but possibly a little older. He would need to inspect her skin more closely to find the tell-tale signs of any cosmetic surgery. Long dark hair cascaded around her shoulders and her lightly tanned arms rested gently on the table in front of her. A waiter arrived and placed a covered plate in front of the attractive diner, and with a flourish, lifted the lid to reveal a whole lobster with a salad garnish. Delicately the woman picked up her fork and began to eat the white and succulent flesh. Yves found it very seductive and smiled to himself. Perhaps this summer was going to be more enjoyable than he had anticipated.

At that moment the woman looked up from her lobster and stared right back at Yves with stunningly green eyes, penetrating deep into his soul. He fought against the wave of desire that swept through him with devastating effect. But he was already lost, and for the first time in his life, Yves Bertrand was in love with someone other than himself.

As a waiter hovered at his shoulder to take his order, the woman lifted her hand and beckoned Yves across to join her. He rose from his chair and arriving by her side, picked up the elegantly outstretched hand, kissing the jasmine scented skin at the base of the wrist. The woman smiled at him knowingly and he pulled out the chair beside her and sat down.

He barely remembered ordering the same dish as his new conquest. He was too busy thanking his lucky stars that this last summer was going to be the most delectable of his professional career.

Three weeks later as Yves and Christina lay side by side in the palatial king-sized bed in her suite, he reflected on his good fortune. He turned his head to watch her as she slept, exhausted by his amorous skills of last night. He smiled to himself and began formulating his new plan in his head. He had discovered that Christina was the 45 year old widow of a multi-billionaire who had collapsed suddenly at the age of seventy on the golf course. Although there had been three other wives and numerous children, he had left his newly acquired wife over fifty million along with a wonderful home in Monaco. She had been devastated to lose this wonderful man after only eighteen months of marriage and she had sobbed in Yves arms as she recounted her unspeakable loss on the second night of their acquaintance.

Yves in turn had admitted to owning a stunning villa in Greece. He still felt unwilling to admit to the magnitude of his bank holdings, but hinted at a generous income from a family trust fund. This had reassured Christina that she was in the company of a man of substance; unlike some of the admirers she had encountered in the last few months. She had relaxed into a sensual and delightful relationship that she hoped would last longer than the original month she had planned on staying.

Two days before her departure back to Monaco, Yves asked Christina a question that he had sworn would not pass his lips. Her acceptance, accompanied by tears and a substantial amount of kissing, elevated his emotions to previously unimagined heights. A hurried wedding was planned, and it was decided that Christina would sell her Monaco home and they would live in the villa in Greece, until such time as they could buy a more opulent property together.

Yves could not believe his good fortune. Not only had he found a beautiful companion for his retirement, but she was bringing with her a fortune that far outstripped his own few millions.

The sun shone as the two of them left the registry office with their witnesses trailing behind. Two passing tourists had been well paid for their services and had been only too happy to accept the invitation. The jubilant couple returned to the hotel and picked up Christina’s several pieces of luggage. Within hours they were on their way to Greece and the love nest that waited for them.

Yves new wife suggested that it might be prudent for her to make a will to ensure that there be no challenge from her step-children should the unthinkable happen to her, and a local lawyer complied with her wishes. The document, leaving everything to Yves was signed and witnessed and placed in the safe of the villa. Yves at this point felt that he should of course reciprocate and detailed all his various bank accounts in his own will, leaving everything to his beautiful wife. She was grateful for his consideration, and told him how happy she was that they were so fortunate to have found each other.

The next six months were spent in blissful indolence and even the thought of selling the villa and buying another was temporarily shelved. They loved their home’s cool marble interior and the sloping garden that went down to the beach and sunlit sea. Their happiness was complete.

Then out of the blue tragedy struck. Yves was enjoying his morning swim a few hundred feet from the beach, when he felt a gripping pain in his chest and found himself unable to breathe. He lifted his hand to try and get the attention of Christina as she sat on the sand reading a book waiting for him to finish his swim. For a moment before he slipped beneath the waves, he thought he saw her smile and lift her hand to wave at him, but those images, like his last breath, were gone within seconds.

A year later when all the paperwork had been completed, Christina sat at the table on the terrace where she and Yves had enjoyed their breakfasts in the sunshine. In a metal waste bin sat a neat stack of shredded paper. Striking a match, Christina dropped it into the pile, watching it catch light. As she observed her old life go up in flames, she stroked the file of new documents in her name that gave her ownership of the villa, and the small fortune in the off shore bank accounts.

She had been down to her last 100,000 dollars when she had booked that hotel suite. But with her looks beginning to fade she knew this was probably the last summer of her professional career. There had been no husband, just a succession of much older men that she had nursed in the last years of their lives. Some had been more than generous in their wills to their devoted nurse; little knowing that their end had been hastened by rejuvenating potions. Over the years she would find new victims by spending the summer in one of the less expensive hotels along this stretch of the coast, but dining at the more luxurious accommodations. Like Yves she had paid the concierges well for their information. Most knew of Yves and his activities and suspected that he had earned substantially on the basis of their information. They also rather resented his success with the ladies and they were looking forward to him receiving some of his own medicine. And at the end of the day, a beautiful woman’s money bought a little more loyalty than his.

However, Christina regretted that the handsome and attentive Yves had to pay the ultimate price for their love. But she could not afford for him to find out that her house in Monaco and her fifty million was fictitious. He had begun to suggest that they sell this villa and go to live in tax exile in Monaco. The final nail in his coffin was his announcement two days before he died, that he had booked flights leaving in a week so that they could check out properties.

She could remain in this beautiful villa now, living in luxury for the rest of her life. She would miss Yves but knew that there were plenty of young men who would find her mature beauty alluring and possibly lucrative. She might have retired from her professional life as a nurse and murderer, but there was plenty of scope for some innocent fun.

©sally cronin

This story is from What’s in a Name volume 2 – which is also available in a combined print edition from me directly. The collection has recently received a wonderful review.

About What’s in a Name? Volume 2

Our legacy is not always about money or fame, but rather in the way that people remember our name after we have gone. In these sixteen short stories we discover the reasons why special men and women will stay in the hearts and minds of those who have met them. Romance, revenge and sacrifice all play their part in the lives of these characters.

Kenneth watches the love of his life dance on New Year’s Eve while Lily plants very special flowers every spring for her father. Martha helps out a work colleague as Norman steps back out into the world to make a difference. Owen brings light into a house and Patrick risks his life in the skies over Britain and holds back from telling a beautiful redhead that he loves her.

Meet Queenie and Rosemary who have both lost their husbands and must face a very different future. One that will take courage and the use of new technology.

Sonia is an entitled princess whose father has reached the end of his tether and Theresa has to deal with a bully in the checkout. Usher is an arrogant narcissist with a docile wife and is used to getting his own way and Vanessa worries about the future of her relationship with her teenage son.

Walter is a loner and is happy with just his dog for company, Xenia is the long awaited first baby of a young couple. Yves is a dashing romeo who has the tables turned on him unexpectedly and Zoe… Well she can see into the future.

In one way or another all these characters will be remembered by those whose lives they have touched.

There is also a bonus story at the back of the book The Village Square – September 1939

One of the recent reviews for the collection

on November 21, 2018

This second volume continues where the first book left off. The first story begins with “Kenneth,” and the rest of the stories flow through to “Zoe.” The author includes a bonus story at the end called, “The Village Square.”Prepare to be transported into the lives of the many personalities, Sally Cronin creates, inspired by a first name only. Each person’s name has a different tale to tell or life to lead, all carefully constructed to draw the reader into their experiences. Linking the stories together are the themes of romance and family. Need I say more?

I’m a great fan of short stories and find them some of the most satisfying bedtime reading there is. But, this book offered more than that. Sally Cronin writes in such a way that she evokes a range of emotions from the reader.

On numerous occasions, I couldn’t help but cheer or cry for several of the characters. The writing touched my heart.

Many of the stories are filled with plenty of sudden developments that will leave you guessing. Some, I couldn’t even attempt to guess the ending, which I found to be a special gift to the reader. Each story is character driven, and the author skillfully reels you in until a satisfying end is reached.

My favorite story was called, Queenie, who after the death of her husband, finds her way forward by taking on a project that matters most to her – her granddaughter’s happiness. Queenie’s granddaughter, Penny, is a psychiatrist and unmarried.

Nana (Queenie) decides that she must help her find a husband before she is called to her husband’s side in the great beyond. Of course, there are plenty of shenanigans that take place, but the underlying truths that unfold touched me deeply. This is the author’s style – she allows you to feel her stories.

The “What’s in a Name,” two book series, has proved to be one of my most favorite short story compilations. I’ll reread these stories, and greet them like long lost friends. Believe me; there’s something here for everyone!

MY RATING: Character Believability: 5 Flow and Pace: 5 Reader Engagement: 5 Reader Enrichment: 5 Reader Enjoyment: 5 Overall Rate: 5 out of 5 Stars

 You can read the reviews and buy What’s in Name- Volume Two: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0748MLZ1W/

and on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Whats-Name-Stories-Life-Romance-ebook/dp/B0748MLZ1W

The combined print edition of Volume’s One and Two is available directly from sally.cronin@moyhill.com..

Other print books on request and you can find out more about them and their most recent reviews in my directory. https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018

I hope you have enjoyed today’s story, and the last in Volume 2 is tomorrow.. thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name? – Jack a VIP visitor by Sally Cronin


We are coming to the end of the first volume of What’s in a Name? with the two stories beginning with ‘J’. From next weekend I will be sharing the stories from the second volume.

Jack a VIP Visitor

The gardens of the old house were kept immaculately by a team of unseen gardeners, so that others may visit to walk its paths, and smell the fragrances that drift like smoke through the air.

However, not everyone is allowed to wander unaccompanied across the green and luscious lawns, to discover hidden treasures behind evergreen bushes and ancient trees. This privilege is only for those, who in their lives have touched plants with love and respect. No ripping of the roots from the soil or unworthy cuts with sharpened tools when the blooms have faded and died; just a gentle touch prompted by love.

One such special visitor to the magic garden was an elderly man who walked delightedly amongst the riotous late spring colours of the flower beds and along the old stone paths. His name was Jack and he had spent a lifetime working in his own garden; gifting that love of the earth and all that grew within it to his three children and many grandchildren. As he walked in the soft late spring sunlight he caught sight of a flash of pink behind an old wooden shed and heard the tinkle of childish laughter. Intrigued he made his way across the dew damp grass to explore further.

His hand reached out and touched the delicate petals of the wall climbing rose and it reminded Jack of his two daughters. The plant was beautiful and vibrant; with the strength to grow and bloom every year in this hidden spot of the garden. He remembered how delighted Katherine and Amelia had been when Jack had bought them their first climbing rose to grace the wall of their home. He smiled to himself as he remembered the looks on their faces every time he arrived home with a new pot from the nursery on his way home from work. When their mother has died when they were still so young, it had been a way of bringing light back into their desolate home.

As he breathed in the scent of the pink blossoms an image came to his mind of a beautiful woman sat in a chair holding her beloved children closely. A feeling of joy spread through him and he stood for a moment relishing this precious memory.

This garden was not a formal place of worship but that did not matter as he knew that there was spirituality in simple things. Such as being amongst these beautiful plants and listening to the insects that hummed with the joy of spring. It was also in the sharing of fairy stories and cocoa before bedtime, hearing his grandchildren’s laughter and knowing that he was fulfilling his dying wife’s last wishes.

Part of that wish was that he continued to create a special garden for her daughters and son. She wanted them to grow to adulthood appreciating the beauty of nature and how to treat growing things with love and tenderness. It was a task that at first had been very painful, but over the years, it became a source of joy for all of them; and to those that they welcomed into their home. Many a stray dog or cat found sanctuary amongst the bushes and flowers along the borders of the lawn and even the wild foxes knew they could bring their young in safety.

Jack continued to wander, touching a rose here and a gentle scented lilac there. A yellow rose caught his eye as it was the only bloom of that colour in the garden. It stood out amongst the pale pinks and vibrant reds and he thought of his son Michael standing proudly between his two sisters and smiled to himself at the image it conjured.

He found a stone seat under a shady tree surrounded by funny little statues of dwarf musicians. He fancied he heard teenage laughter; and was that really the sound of a guitar playing nearby? Peacefully he sat drinking in the scene before him until a flash of colour and the whirr of tiny wings startled him. Hovering before him was a delicate butterfly decked out in vibrant gold and shimmering green. Amazed Jack held out his hand and the little creature settled delicately into his palm. They looked at each other for a moment or two and then the butterfly flew away back towards an old magnolia tree.

No words had been spoken but a message had been passed between them. Jack knew that he would be welcome to visit the garden anytime that he wished; a place to remember those that he had cherished and to touch again plants and petals he had loved.. But for now it was time to leave. With a lingering look at the beauty that surrounded him, he walked across the grass dotted with daisies and faded from sight into the walls of the boarded up house.

©Sally Cronin 2015

I hope that you have enjoyed this story and as always look forward to your feedback. Thanks Sally

On the subject of magic gardens….. Tales from the Irish Garden was launched this week…

About Tales from the Irish Garden

The queen of Magia and her court have fled their sun filled Spanish homeland and the palace beneath the magnolia tree. Arriving on the backs of geese and swans, they seek sanctuary in the magic garden of The Storyteller who welcomes them to the Emerald Island, a place where rain is almost a daily feature.

Grateful for their safe haven and the generosity of their host, the queen and her courtiers embrace their new surroundings with delight. As the seasons change throughout the year, they come into contact with many of the human and animal inhabitants of the garden and the surrounding forest, all of whom have a story to tell.

This is a magical fairy story infused with fantasy and romance, as well as opportunities for mischief in the company of goblins, witches and Lerpersians. Suitable for ages 10 to 100 years old…..

The book is now available in Kindle on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tales-Irish-Garden-Sally-Cronin-ebook/dp/B07HMXTFKG

And Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Irish-Garden-Sally-Cronin-ebook/dp/B07HMXTFKG

Here is a selection of my other books… an amazing gif designed by Paul Andruss… thanks Paul

You can find details of all my books in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/

Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name – Ifan and the Black Sheep by Sally Cronin


In the second of the stories from What’s in a Name this weekend we meet Ifan…who learns some valuable life lessons from his grandmother.

Ifan and the Black Sheep

Ifan Williams sat in the small velvet chair that usually held his gran’s dressing gown and woollen shawl. The green velveteen gown was now draped over the end of the bed; adding some extra warmth to her feet as she lay sleeping deeply on this winter’s afternoon.

The big double bed was one of the few pieces of furniture in the cottage overlooking the estuary, when David Lloyd had carried his young bride, Megan, over the threshold in 1920.

Over the next few years, other pieces, usually made by local craftsmen, had been carefully brought in through the wide front door at the end of the stone path that led from the main road. None of those hand crafted pieces had been replaced in the last fifty years; the sturdy old oak bed was no exception.

His gran lay beneath a patchwork quilt that she had made as part of her bottom drawer. She had explained that expression to Ifan during their nightly chats by the fireside where they sat together after supper. His granddad had died when Ifan was just three years old; whilst he was living far away in South Wales with his mother and father and two older brothers. He had never known him, but he knew his face well from the old photograph above the mantelpiece. A stern looking man with a big bushy moustache and eyebrows, who Ifan was just a little afraid of.

Gran had laughed at this notion and set about telling him tales of his granddad and his life on the mountain. Cadair Idris was on the other side of the estuary, where David had tended sheep for a large landowner all his working life. She told Ifan of his laughter and the way he would pick her up and swing her around the small kitchen when he came back from the pub on a Friday night with two or three pints inside him. She would smile as she sang the verses that David had romanced her with, even when they were middle-aged; tears would come to her eyes at the memory.

Ifan, his mother and twin brothers, Bryn and George, had returned to the valley to live with gran when he was five years old. His dad had been caught in a collapse in a mine and his mother Bronwyn could not stay in a place that held so many memories of him. It was not just her memories, but fear for her older boys who had worshipped their father and planned on following him down the mines when they were old enough. She dreaded the thought of losing them too and decided that a move back to her home away from that possibility was the only way forward. But it was her youngest son who had worried her the most. He would barely eat and at night he would toss and turn in the grip of dark dreams that had him waking; crying and calling for her.

After a few months it became clear that Bryn and George were unhappy despite finding jobs on a local farm. A soon as they turned eighteen they had announced that they wanted to return to work in the mines. They found this rural farming community too quiet and they missed their friends from the cobbled, narrow streets of the mining town. Despite her misgivings, Bronwyn knew that she could not stop them from following their own paths because of her fear. After some failed attempts to get them to change their minds, she arranged for them to board with a neighbour in the same street that they had grown up in.

Bronwyn had tried very hard to be brave for Ifan’s sake as they stood hand in hand on the platform, watching the train leave the station carrying the boys back to South Wales.

That was three years ago and despite initially missing his brothers very much; they made an effort to write to him often, occasionally sending photographs and also ringing to speak to him on the old black telephone in the kitchen. Ifan was now ten years old and had taken on the role of man of the house. Life had settled into a happy and stable routine and he had flourished. His mother too had gone back to work part-time in nearby Dolgellau in a store, walking Ifan to school in the morning and waiting for him when the bell rang at the end of the day. They would arrive home to supper on the table and Ifan particlarly loved his gran’s homemade berry crumble and thick custard.

In the summer holidays after his mother finished work the three of them would take a picnic part of the way up the track that led to the summit of Cadair, sitting on the mossy grass as they ate egg sandwiches and sticky homemade ginger cake. Megan would tell stories of David’s life as a shepherd and one story that Ifan loved to hear time and time again was about the black sheep.

One winter when unexpected early snow was deep on the ground, the farmer and David had trekked up the narrow path to find the flock and bring them down the mountain to safety. It was almost impossible to see through the still falling snow and they had almost given up hope of finding them when David had spotted the old matriarch of the flock. Black against the whiteness and surrounded by unmoving mounds that looked like snowdrifts.

As soon as the black ewe saw the men she recognised, she bleated and headed towards them, followed by the rest of the flock; visible now as they turned their dark faces in their direction. Within an hour they were all safely down to the lower slopes and feeding on bales of hay hungrily.

Gran said that in these dangerous mountains every flock needed a strong black ewe at the heart of the flock; wherever she was, they would be safe.

Now gran was very sick and the doctor had been in twice today. Ifan sat rigidly in the delicate chair holding a fragile, blue veined hand in his own small grasp. He looked up at her lined and much loved face and held his breath as he saw her eyes flicker and then open.

‘Hello Cariad my love,’ Megan turned her head on the pillow and squeezed his hand lightly.
‘Gran are you feeling better?’ Ifan leaned forward over the patchwork quilt and stared intently into her deeply lined face.

‘I am very tired pet, but so pleased to see you sitting there like a vision,’ she swallowed with difficulty but then smiled at the worried looking child. ‘Nothing that a good milky cup of cocoa wouldn’t fix.’

The boy stood up and removed her hand from his, placing it gently across the quilt… He rushed to the kitchen where his mother was making supper and grabbed her arm.

‘Mum, mum, gran’s awake and says she wants a cup of milky cocoa.’

His mother frowned and pulling out a chair from the scrubbed wooden kitchen table, she gently pushed Ifan into the seat. Resting her hands on his thin shoulders she kissed the top of his head before leaving the room.

A few minutes later, Ifan heard sobbing coming from the big front bedroom and he rushed down the corridor and burst into the room. His mother was sat in the velvet chair holding Megan’s hand up to her lips; tears filling her eyes. The boy went to the other side of the bed and looked down at his gran as she lay with her eyes closed and a slight smile on her lips. He looked across at Bronwyn and she met his gaze for a moment before shaking her head slowly from side to side.

A few days later the cottage was filled with mourners, most of whom had known Megan all her life and certainly since she had moved into the cottage with David Lloyd so many years ago. Ifan’s brothers had returned home for the funeral and were now on the back porch drinking beer with the men from the town. Ifan slipped away to his gran’s bedroom and sat in the velvet chair with his small fists clenched on his lap. Through his tears he looked over at the bedside table and saw Megan’s reading glasses perched on top of a white envelope. He picked it up and saw that it was addressed to him. The letter was unsealed so he pulled back the flap and removed the slip of paper inside. He read the spidery writing that covered the small piece of paper.

Cariad, please do not be sad. I am in a wonderful place now with your granddad and I want you to remember the story of the black sheep on the mountain. Your mum is now the heart of the family and if you stay close to her and follow her you will be safe and happy. Be brave and I love you my lamb. Gran.

After the visitors had all left; his two brothers’ and his mum sat around the kitchen table with a pot of tea talking about the day and exchanging memories of Megan. Ifan slipped away quietly and put himself to bed. For a few minutes he stared up at the ceiling above his head and then across at his album containing all the family photos he treasured. A white envelope protruded between the pages and there it would stay forever. He switched off the bedside light and within minutes he had drifted off to sleep, dreaming of a black sheep leading her flock across the green hillside in the sunshine.

©Sally Cronin 2015

I hope that you have enjoyed this story and as always look forward to your feedback. Thanks Sally

You can find details of all my books in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/

Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name – Isobel -Hiding in Plain Sight by Sally Cronin


Welcome to the first of the two short stories this weekend from What’s in a Name – Volume 1. And this week we have reached the letter ‘I’… the first story is a reminder that you don’t really know some people at all….

Isobel -Hiding in Plain Sight

Isobel Smith looked out of the window of her thatched cottage at the small garden that fronted the narrow lane. She would have to rake up those leaves soon. They would start to blow around the house in the blustery wind that came off the sea most days.The issue was finding the time between the autumnal downpours that plagued the coast at this time of year. She chuckled to herself as she contemplated this activity and wondered when she had become such a sissy.. after all it was only rain and not likely to kill her.

It was Halloween, and when Isobel had been into the post office in the village the other day, the post mistress, Agnes Flanagan, had reminded her that the handful of children left in this small outpost on Finigan’s Hook, would be trick or treating tonight. Agnes had suggested that she buy a couple of packs of the fun size chocolate to fill the buckets that accompanied the costumed tricksters, and good-naturedly, Isobel had popped the bags into her shopping basket.

Her life here was vastly different from the one she had left behind. A high flyer, Isobel had definitely raised the glass ceiling as far as women in her profession were concerned. She had been in demand around the globe and had a reputation of being able to resolve complex and seemingly impossible issues decisively and cleanly. She could have lived anywhere in the world on the proceeds from her long career, but with an instinct honed in the cut and thrust of her chosen profession, Isobel knew that a quiet, out of the way retreat would be the perfect spot to settle. She kept a low profile, avoiding the quiz night at the pub and did not venture onto social media, preferring instead to walk the coastal path every morning and watch re-runs of Midsomer Murders every afternoon.

She didn’t lack for company however as she had recently adopted a three-legged black cat called Lucky. He had a squint which meant he never quite met her eye, but in her career she had found that was also the case with people she had come into contact with. As she contemplated the leaf raking task and the upcoming trick or treating, Lucky jumped up onto the back of the sofa at her side and sidled up for a stroke to his arched back.

Later that afternoon, Isobel gave some thought to another problem that Agnes had divulged when she was in the shop this week. Agnes was oblivious to the fact that she was renowned as the village gossip and cheerfully dispensed everyone’s personal business to all who would listen. Isobel would normally filter out these minor snippets and nod knowingly from time to time, but something caught her attention.

‘Well you know, there have been six cats gone missing in the last month and everyone is terrified about letting them out at night.’

Isobel had paused and looked up from examining a new line of cat food on display.

‘Do they have any idea what is taking the pets?’ Placing her hand firmly on the post office counter, Isobel looked pointedly at Agnes.

‘Well…. I don’t like to speak ill of people… but there is talk that it is Patrick Feeney up to his old tricks.’

With Lucky’s safety to consider, Isobel was not going to let the matter drop there, and she eased the rest of the story from the obliging postmistress.

Apparently, Patrick Feeney was a vicious thug who had terrorised the children in the small village primary school before going to the secondary school in the nearest big town. He had been shipped off to a young offender’s institute at age 15 after being caught breaking into the village pub one night. There had been talk at the same time of cats going missing and wildlife being found mutilated and left outside homes in the village. Those disturbing and hideous activities had stopped when Patrick was away serving his sentence for burglary, but had resumed again very shortly after his release.

Isobel’s thoughts had returned frequently to the matter over the last few days. As she heard his rich and throaty purr, and felt Lucky’s bravely beating heart, she decided that nothing was going to happen to her only true companion.

That night the children of the village dressed as spiders, skeletons and witches and knocked on the doors of the cottages that surrounded the square and lined the lane to the beach. They were accompanied by their parents, but when they knocked on her door, Isobel could sense that there was an element of watchfulness and fear to the adults vigilance. She dispensed the various fun sized chocolate bars into the proffered buckets and the noisy group moved onto the next cottage down the lane; laughing excitedly and comparing their hauls.

Locking the front door behind her, Isobel headed off in the opposite direction to the revellers. She left Lucky looking out of the brightly lit window; no doubt surprised by his owner’s rare excursion into the night. Swiftly and with purpose, Isobel walked across the square and headed down the lane that led to the farmland to the north of the village. The road also passed the house owned by the widow Feeney and her recently returned son Patrick. Despite the cold wind, Isobel tucked herself into a small break in the hedge on the village side of the cottage, and with hands in pockets waited patiently.

The next morning the villagers woke to a bright and sunny day and discovered, as they went about their daily business, police cars and an incident van parked in the square.

Knowing that the person to question was to be found behind the counter of the post office, a crowd gathered and shot questions at a delighted Agnes.

‘Shush will you ever let me say my piece,’ she admonished the agitated group.

‘It would seem that Mr. Kavanagh was walking his dog Betty along the beach this morning and found a body.’ Pausing for effect, she pronounced authoritively. ‘I hear tell it is that rogue Patrick Feeney who must have fallen during the night when out on the prowl.’

Over the coming weeks there was a great deal of speculation about the demise of this detested and feared member of the community. Everyone commiserated with Patrick’s mother, who to be fair seemed to be relieved by the incident and she began to thrive as she became the centre of attention in the village. She had been so mortified by her son’s previous behaviour, she had imposed isolation on herself; even to the extent of shopping in the next village down the coast.

As Isobel was a relative newcomer she was not questioned by the police or her neighbours about the event. She therefore did not disclose her observations of the dead man on the night in question; which would have confirmed that he was indeed guilty of crimes against the domestic animals in the area. Nor did she feel it necessary to detail her actions following those observations.

However, one lucky tabby cat had been returned home to scurry through a cat flap and lick its sore ear with a likely determination never to leave its fireside again.

Over the next few years Isobel was taken into the heart of the village, and those who sought her expertise never discovered her sanctuary. But, in high places and low dives around the world, many wondered what had happened to the highest paid and most successful assassin of all time.

©Sally Cronin 2015

I hope that you have enjoyed this story and as always look forward to your feedback. Thanks Sally

You can find details of all my books in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/

Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name – Hector – The Homecoming by Sally Cronin


This weekend I am sharing two more stories from What’s in a Name Volume One.. and it is the time of the letter ‘H’. This is the story of Hector and his homecoming.

Hector – The Homecoming

Hector Gonzalez looked out of the plane window, over the wing and across the bright blue sky. Just in sight, dark clouds gathered beneath them and the captain had activated the seat-belt sign with a warning of possible turbulence. With two hours left of the flight from Mexico City to Las Vegas, and the airline magazine read from cover to cover, there was more than enough time to contemplate what was waiting for him on arrival.

The last time Hector had been to Las Vegas was thirty years ago as a college kid. He lived in San Francisco with his parents who had emigrated from Mexico when he was a baby. His dad had worked on one of the fishing boats that headed out into the bay each day, captained by his Uncle Pedro who had lived in America for twenty years. His mom had worked in his Aunt Maria’s restaurant and he certainly had warm memories of the fajitas and quesadillas that made their way home at the weekends. It was a great childhood and his parents never let him forget how fortunate they were to be living in this city, so different from their lives in Mexico where his grandparents still lived.

In the early days it was tough to keep in touch with the family that remained in Chihuahua, but letters and parcels were exchanged and when his grandparents had a telephone installed it was like Christmas to his mom and dad.

Hector turned to look at the man sat next to him but could see that he was not interested in a conversation. He was staring at his laptop screen; writing what looked like a report of some kind. The seat-belt sign was switched off which triggered the resumption of the refreshment service. Within minutes the attendants had reached his row and asked Hector if he cared for anything. He smiled, refusing politely and turned his head away to stare out across the never-ending sky.

Almost thirty years ago to the day over this holiday weekend, Hector and his friend Cesar had decided to use the break from community college to drive over to Las Vegas, picking up Cesar’s cousin Jorge in San Jose on the way. His mom and dad were not happy with the choice of destination. Las Vegas was a town that might appear cosmopolitan at that time, but whilst there were many Hispanics in the service industries, there were not so many at the gaming tables. However, the two boys promised that they would stay in a decent motel off The Strip and would avoid getting into trouble.

They threw their bags into the back of the car and headed out on a glorious spring morning to pick up Jorge and complete the nine hour trip in time for dinner. They arrived in Las Vegas and drove around the outskirts until they saw a reasonably smart looking motel with both vacancies and cheap rates for family rooms. They booked for four nights and were very happy with the large, clean room with three beds and set about getting ready for a night on the town. Jorge was twenty-one and the other two were big strapping lads; buying beer was not a problem in the bars off the main drag. After a few drinks they made a quick stop at the burger joint down the road then, with their saved cash burning a hole in their pockets, the three boys headed into one of the smaller casinos to hit the slot machines.

Two hours later they decided to move on having won a hundred bucks between them. Enough to cover their motel bill and some left over for food. Delighted they wandered down the main drag enjoying the bustle and lights that brought the place to life after dark. There was some debate about hitting more slots but both Hector and Cesar were tired from the early start and long drive, and they voted to return to the motel, starting fresh again in the morning.

They had just turned around to retrace their steps when they saw a commotion up ahead of them at the entrance to one of the bigger hotels. A man was waving his arms around and pushing a number of security guards who were attempting to eject him onto the street; the boys moved closer to watch the action. Force of numbers eventually ended the tussle as the uniformed men propelled the offending customer out of the big glass doors and towards the spectators who had gathered. There was a certain amount of laughter as the man tripped and fell to his knees but this turned to gasps of shock as he stood and pulled a gun from his pocket. Hector and his two friends froze in place on the side-lines as shots rang out on the now silent street; two of the security guards fell to the ground.

The crowd scattered and as sirens could be heard approaching from the north of the casino, the shooter turned and ran towards the south and right into the crowd including the three boys. For a moment he was face to face with Cesar as the boy stood in his path unintentionally blocking his escape route. He brought the gun up and stuck it into the terrified boy’s chest and smiled slightly as he began to pull the trigger. Instinctively Hector charged from Cesar’s right; punching the man hard in the side of his chest. He stumbled and before he could recover, Hector grabbed his gun arm and they struggled for possession of the weapon.

Hector was oblivious to everything around him. The screams from the crowd, the sirens, even the sound of his own breathing until the noise of the gunshot shattered the silence in his head. He expected to feel pain, but there was none. He expected to fall but he was held in the embrace of the killer who was staring into his eyes. But, suddenly the man’s gaze wavered and he slipped slowly to the ground to lie lifeless at Hector’s feet.

A day later Hector waited in an interview room for his parents to arrive. A detective sat across from him and asked him if he understood everything that he had said. Hector nodded silently. The door slammed back into the wall and his mom rushed into the room, around the table grabbing him tightly in her arms. His father stood helplessly by the doorway, white-faced and unmoving.

Within a week Hector was living with his grandfather in Chihuahua and working in his Uncle Julio’s garage. The house was basic but it was safe and it would be unlikely that the mob would find him here amongst his extended family and their community. His name had not been released but it was always possible that someone would be bribed to provide the name of the killer of the eldest son of one of the most powerful mob bosses in Chicago. Even the police in Las Vegas had not wanted to know where he was going. They were satisfied that it was self-defence and a murderer had been taken off the streets. He was slipped across the border into Mexico having said his tearful goodbyes to his parents and two friends.

It was hard to believe that it was thirty years ago and how much his life had changed. But not as he had thought as he had entered his grandfather’s house for the first time. At that moment all he could think about was what he had given up; having no idea how much he would gain. The family of aunts and uncles welcomed him with open arms and outside of work he found himself caught up in a whirl of fiestas and family celebrations where he met his lovely Maria. They had been married for over twenty five years and had three fine sons who all worked with him in his flourishing garage business in Chihuahua.

His parents had come back to Mexico when his father retired and lived close by in one of the new gated communities. Although so many dreamt of a better life in America; they relished in coming home to the warmth of their extended family and grandchildren.

Today Hector was going to a reunion. He had kept in touch with Cesar and Jorge over the years and this weekend they were going to be staying at one of the brand new resort hotels and casinos. It would be tough for him to revisit this place where his life had changed so dramatically. It had been several years before he had stopped looking over his shoulder and even now he occasionally felt he was being followed. However the mob boss was long gone and the world was a very different place. When he had received the email from Cesar he had almost refused, but Maria had persuaded him to go, meet his old friends and put the past to rest once and for all.

The captain announced that the plane was coming into land and illuminated the seat-belt sign for their descent. After a smooth touchdown the plane taxied to its stand and the passengers filed out of the front door. After passing through passport control and collecting his suitcase, Hector made for the exit into the concourse and into the toilets to freshen up before finding a taxi to the hotel.

A man followed him through the doors into the almost empty restroom. Hector went to wash his hands and turned his head to the man at the next sink. He was surprised to find it was the passenger who had sat next to him on the plane; now wearing a baseball cap and long black coat. The man turned to him and smiled and the next moment Hector felt a sharp pain in his side; looking down he saw his companions hand clenched against his chest. As his vision began to fade he saw the hand withdraw holding a long narrow blade. He clung to the sink as he felt the warm breath in his ear.

‘That’s for my brother Hector.’

© Sally Cronin 2015

I hope that you have enjoyed this story and as always look forward to your feedback. Thanks Sally

You can find details of all my books in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/

Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name? – George – Playing Away from Home by Sally Cronin


This weekend I am sharing two more stories from What’s in a Name Volume One.. and it is the time of the letter ‘G’. This is the story of George who has been courting, where he should not have been courting!

George – Playing Away from Home by Sally Cronin

George Horsefield slowly pushed open the door of the garden shed and poked his head through the narrow opening. He slowly scanned the immediate vicinity to make sure that the dog who lived in the house behind him was not lying in wait. It was a motley small mongrel with sharp teeth and there had been a couple of occasions when those teeth had connected with his legs in a very unpleasant manner.

All seemed safe and George eased himself out onto the garden path that led to the wooden gate, but not before a quick glance behind him for a last look at his beloved. He and Mildred had been having a torrid affair throughout the summer months with secret assignations in her shed or his own. However recent events made them both aware, that for the time being, their trysts would have to come to an end.

Both structures had been cleared out, cleaned and prepared for the coming cold months. Lawnmowers had been taken apart and oiled after the final grass cutting of the year, and had been stored in one of the corners. The floors had been swept and mousetraps laid to protect the bags of seed stored on the top shelves. Old grain sacks had been pinned across the window to prevent the intrusion of any winter sunshine and the doors would be locked to prevent gale force winds from blowing them open; curtailing their delightful activities.

Mildred was sleeping peacefully, partially covered by the old plaid blanket that had kept them warm and protected their modesty should anyone enter the shed unexpectedly. George smiled to himself contentedly and could not help adding a little swagger to his walk down the path. No bad for an old codger he thought to himself as he poked his head out and checked the pavement for anyone who might know him.

The coast was clear, but he knew that any minute now, the mothers would be arriving to pick up their children from the primary school on the corner, and the area would become very busy. Hugging the hedge he moved carefully, lifting one uncooperative leg after another; muttering under his breath at the stiffness in his slightly bent knees. His earlier smugness at his athletic prowess began to fade as he struggled to cover the distance between Mildred’s house and his home. He had two garden lengths to go when disaster struck.

Ahead of him he saw the aforementioned dog sniffing her way along the pavement, lost in the scents that assailed her delicate nostrils. George knew from his previous encounters, that the monster would recognise his smell within the next few minutes; coming after him without mercy. He looked to the right and noticed that his next door neighbour’s gate was slightly ajar; with a gentle nudge he slipped rather ungracefully through the gap. He didn’t want to risk the dog following him so he pushed the barrier shut with his backside. Hearing a welcome click, he manoeuvred carefully behind the shelter of the hedge, waiting breathlessly for the animal to pass.

Outside on the pavement the dog had definitely got wind of her foe. She knew that George was up to no good in the shed and it was her job to protect the house, garden and family; including Mildred. She sniffed the air and her eyes were drawn to the closed gate. Barking madly the frenzied demon pushed and snarled at the obstacle. All it did was draw the attention of her master who was walking along behind her carrying the afternoon paper. She felt her collar being grasped firmly and was then frog-marched along the pavement and into her own garden. All she could do was whine in disappointment as she stuck her nose through the bars of the closed iron gate.

Meanwhile George was weak-kneed with relief and had to take a few minutes to recover. The pavement was beginning to fill up with mums on their way to pick up their children and rather than risk being seen, he decided to take a short cut through a large gap in the hedge that he had discovered recently. As he began to ease through the foliage he realised that it was only just in time; it was clear his absence had been noticed. He might have been a bit of a Jack the lad with Mildred, but he felt he had just cause. The mother of his children, boys he loved dearly, was a fire-breathing dragon of the worst kind and through the evergreen barrier he could hear her shouting.

‘George, come out wherever you are,’ she paused for a moment obviously scanning his usual hiding places. ‘Come along you dirty old devil, I have got better things to do than chase you about the place.’

The subject of her ire stayed stock still; poised in the middle of the hedge waiting until he heard the slam of the kitchen door. It was now safe to make his laborious way across the uneven lawn. Carefully he tip-toed into the gloomy garden shed and feigning sleep, he settled down waiting to be discovered.

A few minutes later he heard childish laughter and running feet heading for the house. He knew that after a tea of beans on toast and rice-pudding with strawberry jam he would be joined here in the shed by the three lads. Sticky fingers would nudge him awake and he would be given delightful cuddles and regaled with the adventures of the day.

He was dozing happily, dreaming of Mildred and their next encounter when he felt himself lifted up into the air and gently deposited into a large plastic box.. Beneath him he could smell fresh garden compost and he wiggled his toes as he settled himself down. A lid was placed over the container and through the holes above him he could hear the one of the children whispering to him.

‘Goodnight George, sleep tight and see you in the spring.’

Then the dragon spoke. ‘Thank goodness for that, at least we will know where the old boy is for the next few months. I swear I never knew that a tortoise could be so much trouble.’

© Sally Cronin 2015

I hope that you have enjoyed this story and as always look forward to your feedback. Thanks Sally

You can find details of all my books in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/

Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name? – Grace – The Gift by Sally Cronin


This weekend I am sharing two more stories from What’s in a Name Volume One.. and it is the time of the letter ‘G’. This story is about a little girl who has lost everything she loves. It is a Christmas story so hope you forgive me sharing it now.

Grace – The Gift by Sally Cronin

It was Grace’s fifth birthday and the staff at the council run orphanage had made sure that there was an iced cake for tea and some small wrapped presents beside the plastic yellow plate. The children sat at tables for ten boys and ten girls, and meal times were expected to be conducted in silence. This rule was however broken on birthdays, when all fifty children would stand up and sing Happy Birthday enthusiastically in the hopes of receiving a thin slice of the oblong sponge cake.

Grace sat in silence as the noise erupted around her and gently fingered the blue and white wrapping paper on the nearest present to her. From the shape she could see that it was a book. It would not be new; a hand me down from one of the older children. Still, in this home of abandoned children, a gift was always treasured. A tear rolled down her flushed cheeks and slid into the corners of her mouth. She wiped them away hurriedly; being a cry baby was frowned upon. Gratefulness for the charity that put a roof over your head and food on the table in front of you was drummed into the children from a very early age.

The energetic rendering of the song ended and there was a scrapping of wooden chair legs as all fifty children sat down at once. Silence resumed as slices of bread and butter were grabbed and placed onto plates with well-scrubbed hands. There were four small dishes of jam around each table and the youngest children would wait their turn knowing that receiving a small spoonful would be an unusual bonus. One of the serving ladies, a local girl called Alice, took away the oblong iced sponge cake to be cut into thin slices. After Grace had been served one of the pieces; the large platter moved around the dining hall watched eagerly by fifty pairs of eyes.

Picking at the cake with trembling fingers, Grace managed to eat a few morsels before a coughing fit overtook her. The matron came across and slapped the child firmly on her back and offered her the beaker of diluted orange juice.

‘Come on girl, buck up,’ the stout grey-haired woman looked down at her sternly. ‘There is many a child here who would be delighted to have these treats’

Grace tried her best to smile knowing that being labelled ungrateful brought consequences and having been disciplined twice recently she was in no hurry to repeat the experience. It was not seen as cruelty, to stand a child in a corner for an hour at a time, or to send them to bed without even this meagre supper. Grace had felt the pangs of hunger more than once since her best friend Hope had left the orphanage.

The thought of her friend waving goodbye as she had left in her smart new tartan coat, made Grace catch her breath. To stop herself crying she pinched her arm as hard as possible. She hoped that Hope had not forgotten her now that she had a real mummy and daddy. The two girls had been brought to the orphanage within days of each other at only six weeks old in the winter of 1953; as toddlers they had become inseparable. They were so very different that no-one could mistake them for sisters. Grace had straight red hair that frizzed at the slightest dampness and freckles sprinkled her nose and cheeks. She grew rapidly into a gangly five year old whilst Hope, with her curly blonde hair and blue eyes, remained petite and doll-like.

It was always hoped that the babies who arrived at the orphanage would be adopted into a good home. Although there had been some interest initially, by the time the two girls reached four years old it was becoming more and more unlikely that this would happen.

However, a few months ago a couple had arrived and immediately taken to Hope and started the proceedings to adopt her. The two small girls had known nothing but this regimented environment, and never imagined that one day they might be separated so devastatingly.

The matron rang the large brass bell on her table. The children stood ready to file out to the games room for an hour before bedtime at seven o’clock. Grace trailed behind the other girls from her table clasping her three gifts; as yet unopened. As the older boys played with some wooden toys in the corner, some of the smaller children clustered around Grace and begged her to open the presents. As expected there was a dog-eared picture book of fairy stories which was passed around and admired. One of the other packages contained a small packet of sherbet sweets that were eagerly sampled, and in the third was a woollen scarf in a bright red colour. Grateful for its warmth, Grace wrapped around her neck and sat until bedtime looking at the pictures in her new book.

Grace had barely eaten since her birthday, and the head teacher at the primary school in the village, had rung matron to say that the child was becoming more and more withdrawn. Although strict and somewhat fierce looking, the matron was not an intentionally unkind woman and she called in the doctor from the local surgery.

He was a gruff looking man with a shaggy mane of greying hair. The children adored him because he always arrived with pockets filled with boiled sweets. He sat on the edge of Grace’s bed and having examined her carefully, he took her little hand in his.

‘Well little Grace what a pickle we are in,’ he smiled down at the solemn child. ‘It is nearly Christmas, and you will miss all the fun if you don’t start eating soon as you will have to stay in bed.’

The child turned her head away and whispered into her pillow. ‘I only want Hope to come back home for Christmas.’

The doctor returned downstairs and met with matron behind the closed door of her office.

Reluctantly at his request she made a phone call and proceeded to have a lengthy discussion with the person on the end of the line.

Having left instructions that Grace was to be fed every two to three hours with some chicken broth and a little toast and jelly if she would eat it, Doctor Baxter left to continue his rounds. He promised to return on Christmas Eve in three days to see how the patient was doing and also to carry out his annual duties as Father Christmas at the children’s party.

Grace did sip a little of the broth and nibbled at the toast, and three days later she was carried downstairs and sat on a chair near to the Christmas tree. The children had made all the decorations, and what they might have lacked in expertise, they had made up for in bright colours and glitter. Fairy lights flickered through the branches of the tree that had been donated by the villagers, along with a present for every child, in a sack placed by a big red arm chair. The presents were to be distributed before they would sit down to unusually overflowing platefuls of sandwiches, jelly and and as a very special treat, Christmas cake. The boys and girls were not sure what they were looking forward to most.

Hearing tyres on the gravel of the drive the children rushed to the windows of the dining hall and started clutching each other in excitement. Santa Claus sat in the back of a large open topped black car, and when the vehicle stopped; he opened the door and stepped out to wave to them all. They were so focused on his progress as he walked to the front door that the three other passengers in the vehicle went unnoticed.

Ten minutes later Santa was sat in his large comfortable chair. The children came up one by one to sit on his knee, and were given a present wrapped in festive paper, tied with either a blue or pink ribbon. Grace watched the proceedings quietly on the side lines until there was just one present left. Alice put down the jug of juice that she was serving to the children, and came over, picking Grace up and depositing her gently on Santa’s lap. The white faced child glanced up into a pair of twinkling eyes that looked vaguely familiar, but it was difficult to tell who was behind the big white bushy beard.

He leant down and whispered in her ear. ‘I hear that you would like something very special for Christmas, is that right little girl?’ he winked at her. ‘I hope that I’ve brought you what you wished for.’

At that moment Grace’s eyes were drawn to three people who had suddenly appeared at Santa’s shoulder. For a moment she froze in place, then pushing herself off his knee, she wrapped her arms around the small blonde girl standing in front of a smiling man and woman.

The two girls remained huddled in each other’s arms sobbing uncontrollably until the woman knelt down beside them and wiped their faces with a clean white handkerchief. Satisfied that she had managed to stop the flood of tears, she reached out and took each of their hands in her own.

‘Hope has missed you dreadfully Grace and we have heard so much about you,’ she smiled at the bewildered Grace. ‘We were all hoping that you would like to come and live with us too; as Hope’s sister.’

An hour later the group of adults watched as the two girls sat side by side at a table. They were talking non-stop except when selecting and eating another sandwich or a piece of cake. Even matron could not hold back a smile at the change in Grace now that she was reunited with her soul mate. As for Santa, he scratched his face behind the itchy beard and wished that he could capture this moment for ever.

Happy Christmas Grace…

©Sally Cronin 2015

I hope that you have enjoyed this story and as always look forward to your feedback. Thanks Sally

You can find details of all my books in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/

Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in A Name – Francis – In search of a new path by Sally Cronin


This weekend I am sharing two more stories from the first volume of What’s in a Name – both begin with the letter ‘F’ and the second is about a businessman who needs to find a new path in life.

Francis – In search of a new path by Sally Cronin

Francis Baxter checked into the hotel in the middle of Chamonix on the Friday night and tired from his long journey headed off to bed and slept for ten hours straight.

He woke to find the sun streaming in through the windows of his suite and a craving for several cups of strong coffee. He showered and sat in the extremely fluffy bath robe supplied by the exclusive hotel and waited for room service to send up his breakfast. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He didn’t want to think about Chrissie back home in Houston or Dane and Shannon finishing off their semester before heading home for the Easter holidays. He hadn’t informed anyone, not even his business partner of twenty years, where he was going; he had not switched on his mobile since landing in Geneva yesterday.

Unfortunately denial did not stop the rush of thoughts and emotions that had been triggered two days ago when Chrissie has asked for a divorce. Their discussion that had developed into a full-blown argument, replayed in his head over and over. Her accusation that he was more interested in his work and making money than their marriage, and that she no longer loved him, had established itself front and centre in his mind; he had not seen that coming.

He knew that he was ambitious and he and Richard, his partner, worked long hours keeping their accountancy business afloat in these uncertain times. Yes, they played golf at the weekends but it was their way of unwinding after a long week. He admitted to himself that there were too many dinners in the city with major clients, but they required constant attention.

The fact was that without the business, they would not have the big house, fancy cars and vacations. He had thought that Chrissie was content with the trappings that came with his job; he was furious with himself for missing all the signs and taking so much for granted.

There was a discreet knock on the door and Francis walked over to admit the uniformed waiter who wheeled in a laden trolley. Having slipped the young guy a generous tip, Francis settled down at the table and contemplated his breakfast. Suddenly he had little appetite, so sipped his strong black coffee, and flicked through one of the local guides that were spread out in front of him.

The truth was that he knew this area quite well as he had lived here as a child with his French mother and American father who was an artist. They had moved to the United States when he was twelve years old which is why, when faced with this bombshell he had chosen to run as far as he could; to somewhere he still considered his home. A picture captured his attention as he automatically turned the pages in the glossy brochure. It was of a place that he remembered from his childhood when he and his parents would take long treks at the weekend up the sides of the surrounding mountains. His father would carry the rucksack containing their lunch which always consisted of a fresh baked baguette from the local cafe along with fresh tomatoes and a tub of rich homemade mayonnaise. They would find a perch above the valley and the three of them would break the bread into chunks, add a dollop of mayo, a couple of slices of the bright red tomato and it tasted heavenly.

This reminded him that he was actually hungry right now. He decided to tuck into the now cooling omelette and croissant; he was going to need some fuel for the walk he now planned to take.

Francis opened his suit carrier which he had hurriedly thrown random clothes into and realised that he was not equipped for hiking. He pulled on some jeans and a sweat shirt and headed downstairs and out into the main street. The shops did not open until later in the morning, but he spent his time well, window shopping and popping into a bakery for another coffee and some supplies for his hike. He returned to one of the sports outfitters that he had scoped out earlier and bought some jeans, boots, parka and a rucksack. He also picked up a detailed guide to the trails, not trusting his memory completely, and a water bottle. He returned to the hotel and quickly changed into his new clothes. At the last minute he added his mobile phone to the essentials in his rucksack for safety reasons, and headed down the corridor to the elevator.

Two hours later, after realising how out of shape he was, Francis breathlessly reached his destination. The roar of the torrent of water that rushed down the mountainside from the spring melt filled the air and the scent of pine was strong in his nostrils. Memories flooded back of a different time when every spare moment that he had was filled with activities like this. His parents always seemed to be there beside him hiking, skiing and sledding down moonlit slopes close to the town. He remembered drinking hot chocolate around the fire at a local inn, and being included even when there were adult guests around the big kitchen table for fondue. What he could not remember was the last time that he, Chrissie and the kids had spent any time together or even enjoyed a family meal.

He viewed the narrow footbridge across the gorge that he needed to cross to reach the small building clinging to the rock face on the other side of the raging river. It had carried thousands across safely over the hundreds of years that it had existed, but a little hesitantly he walked over, watching the flood waters racing beneath him.

Francis knew what to expect as he opened the door into the little chapel, but was still unprepared for the wave of emotion that swept through him. Sunlight fought to gain entry into the tiny space through small windows fashioned into the thick outer wall. The faint rays illuminated the walls of stone and the shrine at its heart. Francis walked slowly inside and stood for a moment with his head bowed. Around him in the cracks in the walls, hundreds of small slips of paper caught the light. They were the prayers and supplications of people across time that had needed guidance and restoration of faith. Townspeople had walked up from the valley and travellers through the passes had stopped for a brief respite and comfort.

Their combined presence had created a vortex of emotion, and the hair on the back of Francis’s neck stood on end.

He had never been a religious man but he knew that this place was a spiritual oasis where all could regain their strength and sense of purpose. He remained for a few minutes longer and then gently closing the door behind him he walked back across the bridge.

Gradually the feelings that had been triggered so forcefully subsided and in their place came clarity.

He walked down the trail until he reached a point overlooking the town. He sat on a warm rock and opened his rucksack. He broke the baguette into four pieces and liberally spread fresh mayonnaise on each piece before adding a thick slice of tomato with a little salt. He ate his simple meal as he contemplated his next move.

Satisfied now in body and soul he picked up his mobile and switched it back on. Ignoring all the texts and messages waiting for him; he made two calls. The first to Chrissie that lasted a long time and ended with his satisfied smile; the second that was equally lengthy to his business partner. He packed up the remains of his lunch and headed back down into the town where he spent the next few hours visiting chalet rental offices

For the first time in years, Francis felt that he was where he belonged and a huge weight was lifted from his shoulders. Chrissie would be arriving tomorrow and then next week Dane and Shannon would join them. It was time to repair those bonds that had been broken and to forge new ones that were stronger and would last a lifetime.

© Sally Cronin 2015

I hope that you have enjoyed this story and as always look forward to your feedback. Thanks Sally

You can find details of all my books in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/

Smorgasbord Short Story – What’s in A Name? – Eric – Just Making Do by Sally Cronin


This weekend I am sharing two more stories from the first volume of What’s in a Name – both begin with the letter ‘E’ and the second is a story about a man who has given up on life until he is manipulated into action.

Eric stood in front of the mirror and for a moment deliberately avoided putting his glasses on. All he could see was a blur and therefore could just about pass muster. Behind him he could feel the presence of his wife Billie and knew what she was going to say.

‘Eric, love you have let yourself go,’ there would be disappointment in her voice.

He slipped his spectacles on and his image immediately appeared all too clearly. He did a quick head to toe scrutiny. Muddy red hair streaked with grey, too long about the ears and hanging over the neck of his dressing gown. Three days’ worth of beard as he only shaved once a week when going to the supermarket for the shopping. His tatty t-shirt that he wore over his ancient pyjama bottoms sported faded lettering that read Grateful Dead; his slippers had a hole where his big toe poked through.

Yes, Billie would have definitely gone to town on him.

He debated whether to pull the bedroom curtains or not and decided to leave them for two very good reasons. Firstly, letting daylight in would illuminate the state of the room which was a shambles, and secondly, it might signal to Mrs Green across the road that he was alive and would welcome her advances.

He left the drapes undisturbed and shuffled out onto the landing and down the stairs to the chilly hall. Damn, he had left the kitchen window open again. He wasn’t bothered by burglars since there was little of value to be taken except for his photograph album, and that was safely locked away behind the big seascape on the dining room wall. The safe also held a few precious mementos such as the leather box that contained Billie’s few bits of good jewellery; her bling as she called it. Her engagement and wedding rings, some earrings she had inherited from her mother and a watch that he had splashed out on for their 25th wedding anniversary.

He wandered into the kitchen and put the kettle on and measured out some oats into a bowl with some water. He stuck that in the microwave and closed the offending window that had let the cold night air into the house. Three pings announced that his porridge was ready and he threw a teabag into a mug of boiling water. There was a few inches of milk in the bottle in the fridge and he poured some over the oats and into the mug. That left enough for a coffee later, but having forgotten to put the item on his list three days ago; it looked like he would have to venture forth after all to the shop on the corner.

He carefully carried the bowl and mug into the dining room and stopped dead. There, sat on one of the dining-room chairs was a cat. A ginger and black cat to be exact and it was looking at him expectantly. Eric nearly dropped the bowl and tea on the floor and just managed to reach the table and lay them down before slopping hot liquid all over his hands.

His visitor remained impassive and kept eye contact, which rather disconcerted Eric who was not used to animals, especially cats. Billie had been allergic to them and since they had travelled a great deal, particularly when he had retired from the police force, there had never been an opportunity to bring one into their home.

The cat was virtually the first visitor to the house in the year since his wife had died. One or two of the neighbours had popped in with shepherd’s pie or offers to come to Sunday lunch, but after several polite rejections of both food and invitations they had given up on him.

Except of course for Widow Twanky across the road who was looking for husband number four. Perhaps his having been a copper had a bearing on the lack of neighbourly communication. There was no doubt that they liked having one on the street as a deterrent to some of the criminal fraternity, but socialising was quite another thing. You never know what guilty secret might slip out after a couple of glasses of wine.

His friends from the force had tried to encourage him out of his self-imposed exile too, with telephone calls asking him to join them at their old watering hole, The Bugle. He just couldn’t face their sympathy or the awkward silences in the middle of a busy night in the pub. Eric was also terrified that he would embarrass himself by blubbering into his beer at the first kind word.

Since the cat was making no move to vacate the chair he usually sat on; he moved to the other side of the table and placed his now cooling porridge in front of him. The creature was still giving him the once over and then offered its opinion in the form of an elongated meow that sounded rather unflattering. Eric raised his hand to his shaggy head and tried to smooth his hair into place. He felt very disconcerted by the direct gaze of his uninvited guest and thought perhaps an offer of some of his porridge might divert its attention.

There was a saucer on the table under a dead house plant that looked reasonably clean and he carefully poured a little of the lukewarm porridge with its milky topping onto the china. He laid it down in front of the cat and watched to see if this would be acceptable. With impeccable manners it delicately placed two front paws on the table and gently lapped at the offering; still keeping both eyes firmly on its host. Eric shrugged and proceeded to eat his breakfast and drink his tea, also keeping eye contact with his feline intruder.

Several days passed and Eric got into the habit of leaving the kitchen window open each night. Every morning he would poke his head around the door to the dining room and sure enough his new companion would be waiting on the chair expectantly.

In the first two or three days the cat would leave its designated chair and disappear into the kitchen after consuming its own bowl of porridge. Eric could hear the faint sound of paws on the marble surface; followed by the sound of a slight scramble as it left through the open window. He was surprised to feel a sense of loss.

It was not long before the visitor, who Eric had named Doris, was dropping off the chair and crossing to the sofa where she would settle herself in to sleep away the morning. She might pop out of the window from time to time but always returned to the warm patch she had fashioned for herself. Eric had established by careful scrutiny that Doris was indeed a girl and that he had not insulted some tetchy tomcat; within a few days she would lift her head when he called her name.

Eric found himself shaving every morning as he needed to go out more often to buy fresh milk and also tins of cat food. He began to open the curtains in his bedroom and the washing machine began to hum in the background more often. Doris would sit in a patch of sunlight in any of the rooms that he happened to be in, and gradually over the next month, both man and house came back to life. A visit to the barbers and a rifle through the sale items in the supermarket had resulted in some new clothes,slippers and also a couple of pairs of pyjamas.

They lived together but remained aloof. It was to be six weeks before Doris approached him as he sat leafing through his photograph album on the other end of the sofa where she normally lay. He tentatively put out his hand and stroked the top of her head and then down her sleek back which she obligingly arched. She nudged closer and he placed his arm around her. He was amazed by the loudness of the delighted purr that vibrated in her chest.

He looked back down at the album open to the photographs of his and Billie’s wedding day forty five years ago. It was the sixties and his long red hair hung down to his shoulders; his lovely Billie who had only been twenty at the time had sparkled in her cream dress and fake fur cape. She used to call him her Viking warrior, and would tell him as they lay in each other’s arms at night, how safe he made her feel.

Tears filled his eyes and they dropped onto the plastic film that protected the photos. Some splashed onto the hand that was holding his warm companion close to him and he felt her rough tongue lick the moisture away. He smiled down at her and then gently wiped the tears from the album. Billie’s last words to him had been to beg him to find happiness again one day and not to live alone. He took his arm from around Doris; closed the album firmly and placed it on the table beside the sofa.

‘How do you fancy a bit of tuna for supper Doris?’ He rubbed a tender spot beneath her chin.

‘Then I have to pop out for a couple of hours to meet some old work mates down the pub.’

©Sally Cronin 2015

I hope that you have enjoyed this story and as always look forward to your feedback. Thanks Sally

You can find details of all my books in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/

Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name? – Brian – The Birthright by Sally Cronin


In the Cafe and Bookstore summer sale, I gave away several copies of my short story collection free… as an indie author, and not tied to Kindle publishing, I can share my stories freely here on the blog.. Over the last few months I have been working my way through my books, and now I would like to share the 16 stories in this first volume of What’s in a Name.

There are names that have been passed down through thousands of years which have powerful and deep-rooted meaning to their bearers. Other names have been adopted from other languages, cultures and from the big screen. They all have one thing in common. They are with us from birth until the grave and they are how we are known to everyone that we meet.

Brian – The Birthright

The firelight from the hearth flickered across the stampeding beasts on the wall of the cave. The clan leader Brynyar lay on the animal pelts and tried to gather his thoughts through the pain. He was old at over forty winters and his bones ached with arthritis.

The gash in his side from the bison during the final hunt of the summer had not healed well, and despite the wound being packed with herbs by the medicine woman, it hurt like hell.

His time was near and he was afraid. Not for what was to come as that was part of the cycle of life. What really worried him was the future of his clan in the changing world around them. Even in his lifetime, he had witnessed the gradual warming of the sun and the melting of ice caps to the north, and this had resulted in massive migrations of the animals they relied on for their food and so much of their daily needs.

The clan would have to move from their ancestral winter caves here in the fertile valley and move with the herds to find a new home. He knew that he would be unable to travel with them, and although he trusted his eldest son of his hearth, he knew what a huge undertaking it would be.

Brynyar rubbed the back of his hand where a birthmark in the form of an arrow darkened its weathered skin. Each one of his sons carried the same blemish and it was right that they do so. They were the fleetest and most successful of the clans, and had a reputation as the finest hunters in the valley. Athletic and fearless they dared to go where others feared to tread, often resulting in injuries and even death. They were also accomplished craftsmen working with flint and bone to produce their much admired weapons. The women were also experts at foraging for the plants, fruits and seeds, needed to sustain them through these long dark winter months.

If they had to follow the herds north, there would be no guarantee that those plants they were familiar with would be available. Nobody knew what the earth so recently released from its icy prison would yield, or if the new rivers would yet be stocked with fish.

The future was uncertain and Brynyar fell into a fitful and painful sleep as the fire in the hearth died down for the last time in his life.

The small clan led by the eldest son of Brynyar’s hearth, packed up their belongings as soon as spring warmed the air in the valley. There were twenty five men, women and children all carrying heavy fur wrapped loads on their backs. With the women in the centre, the men and boys formed a protective perimeter, and as the days warmed they made slow but steady progress. Food was scarce in the beginning, but once they caught up with the herds, they replenished their stocks and set up their summer camp near a river. They were delighted to find that there were indeed fish in the fast flowing icy water from the north, and that the glacier melt had also nourished the surrounding land with its rich silt.

Scouting parties travelled north following the river to find a suitable winter cave, and after two months they came across another clan on the same mission. They combined forces and discovered a series of large caves above the river valley about fifty miles from the summer camp.

With their wind dried meat, rendered fat, constant supply of fresh fish, foraged plants and seeds the two clans settled into their new homes. Over the years more strong and healthy boys with the arrow birthmark were born. As the community grew, from time to time small groups split from the clan and would move on. These bands bearing the mark of the arrow travelled to all parts of the emerging continent; including across stormy seas to Britain and Ireland.

Present Day.

Brian Monaghan looked down at the sleeping child in his arms. His first great-grandchild, and the first to be named Brian in the family for thirty years. He lifted the delicate right hand of the baby and smiled as he saw the familiar arrow birthmark. He and his sons all had this distinctive characteristic. The tales of why they carried this reminder of their ancestry had been passed down through the countless generations by mother to daughter and father to son.

No longer hunters, the clan had dispersed to the four winds and set up homes in villages and cities. However Brian’s ancestors had remained nomadic, travelling through Europe entertaining all that they met with their acrobatic and dangerous performances. With skills honed over many generations, they became the most respected circus family of the present day.

At the end of the summer, the group of families always returned to their winter camp in the southwest of Ireland. Here they would gather their strength, enjoy family life and prepare new and even more daring acts for the next season of performances on the continent.

It was also a time of celebration and new life, and Brian held his great-grandson in both of his hands above his head and turned slowly in the sawdust covered ring.

‘Today we welcome the latest Brian Monaghan to the clan, and this fine strong and sturdy lad will one day take his place amongst you high above the ground.’

The baby’s parents looked on proudly as their son chortled and waved his hands around as if reaching for the trapeze bars in the roof of the tent.

Another generation of the famous Monaghan Circus had made his debut, carrying the mark of his birthright.

©Sally Cronin – What’s in a Name 2015

I hope that you have enjoyed this story and as always look forward to your feedback. Thanks Sally

You can find details of all my books in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/