Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name – Lily the Collector by Sally Cronin


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.

Lily – The Collector

Lily dusted off her hands. They had been covered in soil from planting the three little primulas that she and her mother had picked up at the nursery today. Her mother always let Lily pick the colours and this year the purple petals with their golden centres danced in the soft evening breeze. She picked up her small watering can and gently moistened around the base of the plants like her mum had shown her.

‘There you go Daddy, I promise to look after them all summer, watering them every day and picking off the dead flowers to let others grow like mum showed me.’

It was Easter and tomorrow, Lily and her little brother Owen would race around the house looking for the small cream eggs that her mother had bought at the supermarket yesterday. Both of them were very excited and it was really the first year that her brother understood what the egg hunt was all about. Mum said that three each was more than enough, especially as they were going to the dentist soon for a check-up.

However, the real prize was the two large chocolate eggs that were hidden in very special places. In her father’s wardrobe perhaps, or his study where he would read them a story before they went up to bed, or even the garden shed that her mum laughingly called his man cave.

The next day Lily and Owen got up early and began searching the house. It took them an hour to find the six small creamy eggs and by the time they had rushed into the kitchen to show off their finds, two of them had already been eaten. Their mother looked at the smeared evidence of their successful hunt around their mouths and took the remainder off them for later.

‘You need to eat your breakfast and then you can find the other eggs, I am going to hide them now so no peeking.’

The children hurriedly ate their bowls of cereal and drank their juice eager to get on with the hunt. After about ten minutes their mother returned to the kitchen and clapped her hands.

‘Okay, let’s see how quickly you can find the big prizes.’

Lily took their dishes to the sink and the two children ran off hand in hand heading for their father’s study to continue the search.

They found one egg after about five minutes. It was beneath the big oak desk in a waste basket hidden by some crumpled paper. There was a card attached to the egg with ‘Owen’ written in big letters and he clasped the colourful box in his small hands as they raced from one room to the other. Finally they gave up on the house and headed out to the garden shed. There hidden under a cloth in a large plant pot sat a beautiful egg nestled in its packaging with a note perched beside it.

‘The flowers are beautiful Lily and your daddy’s favourite colours.’

From the kitchen window their mother saw her nine year old daughter lead her brother up the path to the house. Owen was clasping his egg to his chest and beaming from ear to ear. Lily looked up as they entered the kitchen and smiled gently at her mother as a look of understanding passed between them.

That night Lily placed the egg on her bedside cabinet next to the photograph of her daddy in his army uniform surrounded by other men in his team. He was smiling and looked happy. It was the last picture taken of him two years ago and Lily stared at it for a long time before switching off her light.

Tomorrow the Easter egg would join the other one on the shelf in her wardrobe and would never be eaten.

©Sally Cronin 2015

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

You can find recent reviews for my latest release and other books: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2020

Amazon £3.50 :Amazon UK

Amazon US $4.53Amazon US

Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name? – Kenneth – A Love of Life by Sally Cronin


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.

Kenneth – A Love for Life

Kenneth Fitzgerald looked across the crowded ballroom at the woman that he had loved for a lifetime.

Georgina was surrounded by attentive male admirers, and was holding court as she always did, with elegance and grace. He watched as she tilted her head to one side to listen to the young man sitting next to her, cupping her hand delicately behind her ear, to better hear his comments over the sound of the band.

The handsome companion was her grandson Timothy, and even at first glance you could see the resemblance; the same blue eyes, golden hair colour and a long refined nose. Georgie was 90 years old and yet her beauty was undiminished. Kenneth knew he was biased. He remembered his stunned reaction to meeting her for the first time over 70 years ago, in this same ballroom on New Year’s Eve 1935.

Georgina Crowley was the daughter of a millionaire financier who had managed to survive the Wall Street crash in 1929, by converting his wealth in previous years, into a renowned art collection. Malcolm Crowley was an astute businessman and had never squandered his money on the trappings of wealth. He had also salted away cash and jewellery on his various international travels, providing a comfortable buffer for the family, and those that had worked for him loyally over the last thirty years.

He was as canny with his three children as he was with his wealth. His two sons had followed him into the firm after studying for business degrees, and Georgina had also been encouraged to go to college, where she was now training to be a teacher. Malcolm firmly believed that all his children should have skills that could support them, should the financial climate not improve significantly in his lifetime. That is not to say that his youngest child did not also enjoy the benefits of being part of a wealthy family. Georgina was known to have exquisite taste, and her slim figure was the perfect shape to model the latest fashions. To be fair, many of the designs were copied from the leading fashion magazines, and recreated on her treasured Singer sewing machine

Kenneth brought himself back to the present and felt his heart pounding in his chest. It was the same every year, when he remembered that first New Year’s Eve, when he had fallen madly in love at first sight with Georgina Crowley. It had not been a one-sided infatuation, and at that first touch of her delicate hand in his own, he had felt a tremor that caused him to look up into her face. Her pink lips had parted in surprise and her smile dazzled him.

They had danced all night circling the floor; perfectly matched in their love of the foxtrot and quickstep. The other partygoers had moved to one side to watch this golden couple as they seamlessly moved from one dance to another, and Malcolm Crowley paused in his discussions with a group of men, to watch his daughter’s delight in this young man’s embrace.

Kenneth had wanted to kiss those pink lips at midnight but was aware of the scrutiny from those around them. He had whispered in Georgina’s ear as they waltzed to the final tune of the old year.

‘Shall we slip away at midnight and find some moon and starlight?’

She had looked into his eyes and smiled, nodding her head in agreement.

As the clock struck midnight, Georgina rushed to her parents at their table and kissed and hugged them both. In the ensuing rush as the other guests did likewise, the two of them had slipped out of the large double doors at the end of the ballroom and Kenneth had guided her to his car parked along the drive. He grabbed a blanket from the back seat of the roadster and placed it around Georgina’s shoulders before helping her into the front seat. He raced around to the other side of the car and within minutes they were roaring down the hill from the house into the dark night.

Kenneth drove carefully as the road was slick with ice and he was aware that he was responsible for a very precious cargo. Although it was a cold night he knew just the place to take Georgina on this magical occasion. A spot high above the city, where the lights and sounds of New Year’s Eve would provide a backdrop for their first kiss.

He looked across at Georgina as she clasped the plaid blanket around her bare shoulders, and smiled at her obvious delight at this adventure. His eyes were only off the road for seconds, but it was still long enough for him to miss the broken down car around a curve in the road.

He regained consciousness and raised his hand to his forehead; it came away wet and sticky. He wiped blood from his eyes and tried to move his body. Finally he was able to push himself into a sitting position against the upturned roadster and he desperately looked for Georgina. The moon came out from behind a cloud and he took a sharp intake of breath as he saw her crumpled form by the rear bumper of the car. He crawled across and managed to pull her crushed and lifeless body into his arms… his heart was pounding in his chest and he tried to wake her by touching her face and calling her name. After several minutes he rested his head back against the car and he knew that she was gone.

‘Please, please do not take her … it is my fault and it should be me… take me… please take me and save her.’

On New Year’s Day, Georgie asked her youngest grandson to drive her to the cemetery. She came here often to visit her husband’s grave. Phillip had been a wonderful man and she had grown to love him during the long summer of 1942. They had twin sons born in 1944 but tragically Phillip had been killed in the last weeks of the war. He had been brought home and buried in the Crowley family plot close by her house and their sons. She still missed his loving kindness. However, she admitted to herself that it was a different kind of love to the one that has swept her off her feet that magical New Year’s Eve in 1935.

Whilst her grandson watched from the car, Georgina spent some minutes at Phillip’s monument. Then walking carefully, leaning on her stick, she moved down the icy path until she stopped before another gravestone. Tears gathered in her pale blue eyes as she read the inscription.

Kenneth Fitzgerald

Beloved son and brother.

1910 – 1935 Killed in an automobile accident.

It was 70 years ago, and yet every New Year’s Day, Georgie relived those dreadful first moments when she had woken in the hospital. She had a dreadful headache but thankfully didn’t seem to have any other major injuries. Her mother and father were sitting by her bedside and Malcolm gently took her hand in his. Her first words were asking for Kenneth, and she still remembered the look of anguish on her father’s face as he braced himself to tell her the news.

She touched the top of the headstone and smiled to herself. He had been there again last night at the family ball, watching from the shadows as he had done every year, and she had felt that same giddy feeling as that first New Year’s Eve. She suspected that this time however it was more likely that her medication was no longer effective in keeping her failing heart beating.

She felt a touch on her shoulder and looked up into the smiling face of her grandson.

‘Time to go Gran… It is getting cold and I need to get you back home.’

Georgie took his arm and they moved carefully up the path. She turned for one last look at Kenneth’s grave.

She whispered to herself. ‘Next year my love, next year we will dance again on New Year’s Eve.’

©Sally Cronin 2015

 

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

You can find recent reviews for my latest release and other books: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2020

Amazon £3.50 :Amazon UK

Amazon US $4.53: Amazon US

Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name? – Jane – The Surprise…by Sally Cronin


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.

what's in a name print

Jane – The Surprise…

The news of her pregnancy was a surprise to the 45 year old, and to be honest not a welcome one. Her two other children, both boys in their late teens, were very happily studying at the same university fifty miles away. Whilst she missed them all the time, she had sailed through the empty-nest syndrome perfectly well.

Jane had gone to the doctor to enquire about hormone replacement as she seemed to have entered the menopause early. Before prescribing the treatment, her doctor felt it was a good idea to rule out any other reason for her symptoms with a simple test. He delivered the news with a certain amount of care to a bewildered Jane; sitting at her side with a glass of water and a box of tissues to hand.

He had known his patient for twenty-five years and was well aware that Jane was looking forward to some long-awaited overseas trips with her husband Mike and that the planned six weeks in Australia would now have to be put on the back burner. Jane took the glass of water and sat in dumbstruck silence for several minutes as the doctor waited patiently.

It was at that moment that she felt the ‘surprise’ kick gently against her hand clasped across her stomach. Obviously the baby was keen to voice its opinion about the matter and was making quite sure that she knew there were now two of them to consider.

Following a scan the following week it was determined that Jane was just over five months pregnant and what she had thought was middle-aged spread was going to be little more difficult to shift than anticipated. She had insisted that her husband, who was still in denial about the whole thing, come to the appointment and saw the look on his face as he watched his latest child squirm and kick on the monitor.

‘Can you tell us what the sex is at this stage?’ Jane gripped Mike’s hand as he leaned forward to peer at the screen.

‘I don’t want to know Mike, please let’s wait until it is born,’ she smiled apologetically at the nurse who was just about to spill the beans.

Mike grumbled all the way home about how quick she had been to give away all the baby and toddler clothes and did she know how much it was going to cost to buy all new kit including one of those new-fangled pushchairs?

‘Darling,’ Jane reached over and laid her hand on his knee. ‘That was fifteen years ago and you never know; this baby might be a girl.’

He shrugged distractedly and Jane could see that Mike was not as invested in the turn of events as she already was. Of course he did not have the benefit of hormones racing through her system, which to be honest she rather enjoyed as she had thought they might have been totally dormant. Except of course after the office BBQ five months ago; she chuckled away to herself much to Mike’s annoyance.

Thankfully they had not reached the stage of paying for their planned six weeks in Australia and Mike now moved his extended vacation time to early the next year so that he could be there for the arrival of the new addition. He tried to be enthusiastic about his impending fatherhood but it was a process he thought he would never experience again…

He loved his sons but admitted to himself that he enjoyed them a great deal more now that the three of them shared similar interests such as football and heading down the pub for a swift pint on Sunday lunchtimes. Now that they were enjoying university he had found himself excited about the prospect of increased freedom to pick up some of the old threads of his life. He had been looking forward to scaling back at his firm too and letting his partner take the slack so he and Jane could take those trips they had promised themselves. He thought back to the sleepless nights with two babies under three and then again when they hit their teens with less than fond memories.

However over the next few weeks he found himself looking over at Jane sitting on the sofa with her feet up on the coffee table, knitting baby booties and matinee jackets in soft white wool and did not have the heart to be disgruntled for long. In fact she was blooming and he had to admit the re-emergence of her hormones was doing wonders for his love life.

The next hurdle of course was to tell the boys… Dan and Geoff came home for the Christmas break, six weeks after their parents had received their unexpected news. Mike had picked them up from the station and they barrelled through the front door eager to see their mum and enjoy one of her home-cooked meals. They flung their bags on the carpet before turning to give her a hug. Both stopped in their tracks, looking at the obvious and now very noticeable bump that Jane was cradling with both hands.

Nervously Jane searched their faces and was highly surprised when they both fell about laughing.

‘Great gag Mum,’ Dan was hanging onto the door frame to the lounge. Geoff whipped out his mobile phone and insisted on taking a selfie with his head next to her bump whilst Jane and Mike looked at each other in bewilderment.

Mike put his hand on Geoff’s shoulder and reached out his other to Dan who stopped laughing at the serious expression on his father’s face.

‘You are kidding, right!’ both of them stared at their parents before picking up their backpacks and heading silently up the stairs to their rooms.

Both boys had jobs over the Christmas break in bars in the centre of town, and during the day they would help out around the house as Jane tired easily. Her ankles swelled and she found it difficult to focus on household chores and preparing meals. Mike took over the cooking and in the evening, when the boys were at work, they would sit on the sofa and she would rest her legs across his knees as he massaged her feet. She also became very tearful,and the men in her life tiptoed around her in case they set her off again.

Mike spent as much time as possible with his sons over the holidays trying to persuade them that having a baby brother would be cool; they would be able to teach him how to play football and about girls. The three of them convinced themselves that it would most likely be a boy, especially as there had not been a girl in either side of the family since Jane had been born into a family of five brothers.

After a subdued Christmas Day with a rather crispy turkey and soggy potatoes cooked by father and sons; the more urgent business of preparing for the new arrival took priority.

Mike had decorated the nursery and he and the boys had managed to assemble the cot and various essential pieces of furniture before Dan and Geoff returned to university in the middle of January. Early in February he and Jane had gone to the large industrial park to one of the large stores that sold pushchairs and car seats and were both exhausted by the time they reached home. Mike had not been to the pub for several weeks and seeing that he was looking frazzled, Jane told him to meet his friends for a drink whilst she caught up on one of her weekly television shows. She assured him that she would be fine for an hour and reluctantly he headed off patting his phone in his back pocket.

His friends who were the same age as Mike, gave him a hard time in a good-natured way and promised to turn out for the school football matches to offer moral support when the other kids called him granddad. They then sat smugly back with their pints and reminisced about sleepless nights and nappies.

Halfway through the programme; Jane felt the first twinges and ignored them as indigestion. By the time the next adverts rolled around there was no doubt that something was definitely happening. She grabbed her mobile phone and dialled Mike’s number holding her breath as another pain rippled across her abdomen.

The next morning Dan and Geoff arrived at the hospital and were directed to the maternity ward waiting room. After a few minutes their father came in still dressed in his green gown and hugged them one after the other. He looked shattered and as he stared at them tears rolled down his cheeks.

‘Dad for god’s sake where’s mum and what’s happened?’ Dan grabbed Mike’s arm shocked and terrified what the answer might be.

Unable to speak Mike gestured for them to follow him and they walked behind him glancing at each other nervously.

Their father pushed open the door to the labour suite where they saw their mum, flushed and exhausted but smiling down at a bundle in her arms. Mike walked across and placed his arm around Jane’s shoulders looking lovingly down at the two of them.

The boys felt reassured by their mother’s smile and she beckoned them to the other side of the bed. From here they could see the scrunched up face of their new little brother and they both reached out to gently touch the blanket he was wrapped in. At their touch the baby opened his eyes and it seemed as though he was looking directly at them. They caught their breath and knew immediately that they would move heaven and earth for this little boy.

Jane glanced at Mike and they both smiled and then she turned to her two sons. ‘Meet your sister Imogen boys.’

Dan and Geoff looked at each other in disbelief and then Geoff touched his mum’s shoulder gently as he leant over to take one tiny hand in his.

‘Great gag mum……’

©Sally Cronin 2015

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

You can find recent reviews for my latest release and other books: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2020

Amazon £3.50 :Amazon UK

Amazon US $4.53: Amazon US

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


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.

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

You can find recent reviews for my latest release and other books: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2020

Amazon £3.50 :Amazon UK

Amazon US $4.53: Amazon US

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


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.

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 recent reviews for my latest release and other books: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2020

Amazon £3.50 :Amazon UK

Amazon US $4.53: Amazon US

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


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.

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 recent reviews for my latest release and other books: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2020

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


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.

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 recent reviews for my latest release and other books: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2020

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Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name? – Hannah – Finding a way to move on…..by Sally Cronin


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.

Hannah – Finding a way to move on…..

I sat in a corner of the pub nursing my sparkling water and lime juice. The Sunday lunch crowd was growing by the minute in this popular country inn; already there was loud laughter and raised voices of the customers competing with the background music.

We had first frequented the pub to sample their renowned Sunday lunch buffet over thirteen years ago, shortly after our marriage and move to the area. Two years later when our son Michael was born, he had been seated in one of the oak high-chairs supplied by the pub for their younger patrons. I smiled as I remembered the look on his face when handed his first roast parsnip. Distrust swiftly followed by a smile of delight as the crispy outside gave way to the soft sweetness. He was never a picky eater and I loved watching him discover new foods and tastes once he moved onto solids.

It was an ‘all you can eat’ buffet which was highly dangerous, especially for my husband Tom, who could rarely resist the temptation. As he sat contemplating his empty plate; I would run through the desserts up on the blackboard in an effort to move him on from the roast potatoes, but rarely succeeded. He always had room for apple and blackberry crumble; especially with piping hot custard poured liberally over the top of it. Michael was into ice- cream and usually opted for a scoop of all three flavours available. In the early days the evidence of his dessert was clearly seen around his mouth and down the front of his shirt.

As his sixth birthday approached I brought up the subject of a party for his friends and was firmly put in my place. ‘Mum,’ he looked firmly into my eyes. ‘I want to go to the pub with you and dad for my birthday like every Sunday.’

I rang ahead and reserved our usual table and having mentioned that it was Michael’s birthday, the manager offered to have a birthday cake made. When we arrived there had been helium balloons attached to the backs of the chairs and a banner on the wall behind the table. I have never seen such delight on my son’s face as the assembled Sunday crowd sang him Happy Birthday. Most of them had seen him grow into this fine young boy, and it was just the perfect day.

The noise from the bar interrupted my train of thought. The pub had changed hands about four years ago in my absence. I had been surprised when I had walked through the door to see no food being served and a completely different atmosphere. There were few families; just a four deep crush around the bar area and loud music playing discordantly in speakers at each corner of the room. Something had not changed however, and I recognised one tall man who stood head and shoulders over those he was drinking with. He looked like the life and soul of the party, and it was clear that his enraptured audience of middle-aged men were very happy for him to keep putting his hand in his pocket to pay for another round. Raucous laughter created a moat around this particular group as other patrons, excluded from this select few, moved further away towards the tables along the walls.

The man had been here on the day of Michael’s birthday party and had been the only discordant note of the day. Loud and brash he had dominated the crowd at the bar as he was doing today, knocking back several neat whiskies in the space of an hour. In fact it was his behaviour that had encouraged us to leave earlier than usual, having indulged in birthday cake topped with Cornish dairy ice-cream. The staff kindly packaged up the remaining half of the cake, and with one very happy birthday boy clutching the box in his hands, we headed home.

I remember that drive as if it was yesterday. My son strapped into his booster seat behind us still clasping the remains of his cake. My husband humming along to one of the CDs playing some jazz; turning occasionally to smile at me. The weather was not great with freezing rain beginning to coat the dry roads. Tom was a careful driver and slowed down as we navigated the narrow country lanes between the pub and our village five miles ahead.

Suddenly there was a blast of a car horn behind us and Tom looked into the rear view mirror at the vehicle that had suddenly and rapidly appeared around the curve in the road. Tom rarely swore and certainly not in front of Michael so his ‘What the bloody hell….’ both shocked and scared me. I looked over my shoulder to see a long sleek Jaguar sports car almost on our bumper; Tom slightly eased ahead as he approached the next bend. We had nowhere to pull into as a wall of granite stretched up on one side and there was zero visibility ahead. That however did not deter the driver behind us as he accelerated passed us across the solid white line and into the curve.

Tom and I saw the oncoming car at the same time and I screamed as it swerved to avoid the Jaguar and slammed straight into us at speed.

I was in a coma for five days, watched over by my devastated parents. My first words as I regained some form of coherent thought were to ask for Tom and Michael. I remember my father’s ashen face as he held my hand and told me that I was the only one that had survived. Despite my injuries I insisted on attending the funeral of my husband and beautiful son. I did not cry.

I did not cry at the inquest; or the subsequent trial of the man who had caused the accident. I had been able to give the police enough information about the distinctive car for them to track it down to a house at the other side of our village. This was not the driver’s first offence but armed with an expensive and clever lawyer he claimed mitigating circumstances. Including putting the blame on Tom’s slow and careless driving. In the end despite his blood alcohol level and his dangerous driving he only received a seven year sentence and a driving ban of ten years.

I had moved away from our home as I couldn’t live with the memories we had created together. I moved to the city and went back to work as a chemist in a large pharmaceutical company. I lived in a sterile flat with just the photographs of my husband and son and rarely sought out the company of others outside of work. I knew that Tom would be disappointed in me and that he would only wish that I would go on with my life and find love again. But there was no space for another love until I had received justice for those I had lost.

I came back to the present as the tall man at the bar threw back the contents of the glass of whisky and slammed it back down on the counter. He slapped a few of the men on the back and sauntered to the main door. I left my half-filled glass of water and lime juice and followed him out into the car park. I knew which car was his as I also knew which direction he would be taking. Although I had moved from the village my neighbours had kept me in touch with his movements; including the party he had thrown himself when he had been released two years early for good behaviour. It was clear that he had not taken his punishment seriously or the fact that he was still banned from driving for another five years.

I had counted every whisky that he had drunk this lunchtime and as he fumbled for his keys beside his car I approached him from behind.

‘Excuse me,’ I smiled as he turned to face me. He showed no sign of recognition despite seeing me in court every day of his trial. My long dark wig and sunglasses were more than adequate a disguise considering how drunk he was.

‘How can I help you sweetheart,’ he leered at me suggestively.

‘I know there’s a police speed trap around the first bend out of the village,’ I lied through clenched teeth. ‘I thought you might like a spray some of this breath freshener just in case they pull you over.’

‘Thanks babe,’ he held out his hand for the small aerosol. He opened his mouth wide and winked at me as he squirted a healthy dose onto his tongue. He handed the spray back to me and I headed to the car that I had borrowed from a friend. I sat behind the wheel and watched as he too slipped into the driving seat. After a few minutes I started my own engine and as I slid passed the Jaguar I smiled with satisfaction. He was slumped back in the seat clutching his chest and gasping for breath. I carried on driving out of the car-park and onto the road that would take me back to the city.

Two days later the paper carried the story about a local man convicted of dangerous and drunk driving that had killed a father and six year old son; found dead from a heart attack behind the wheel of his car outside a popular public house.

Three months later I sold my flat and moved to the West Country where I bought a coffee shop with the proceeds called Hannah’s. On Sundays I served an ‘all you can eat’ buffet with a wide selection of Cornish ice-creams. At last I could move on with my life.

© Sally Cronin 2015

I hope you have enjoyed today’s story and your feedback is always welcome.. thanks Sally.

You can find recent reviews for my latest release and other books: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2020

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


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. This story is slightly out of season but I hope you don’t mind.

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 recent reviews for my latest release and other books: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2020

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


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.

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 recent reviews for my latest release and other books: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2020