Smorgasbord Blogs from My Archives – The House by the Sea Part Three by Paul Andruss


Welcome to the third chapter of The House by the Sea. We left Patrick Noone coming to terms with life with his Aunt Biddy and Uncle Pat. At seven years old he took over the chores for his ill uncle and has learned the value of hard work. Paul Andruss picks up the story.

THE HOUSE BY THE SEA – Part Three – Paul Andruss

At the age of fourteen, Biddy put a word in and Patrick got the gardener’s boy’s job up the big house. The gardener, an amiable old chap who headed a team of ten good natured fellas, took bright eager Patrick under his wing, intending to teach him all he knew. Perhaps he felt sorry for him because he was quiet. At the end of his second year the old man sat Patrick down, knocked out his pipe on the heel of his boot and slowly shook his head.

‘By the holy Jeasus an all o’ his saints lad, you’ve a aul rare gift. No matter what I gives yer, by Jeasus, if it don’t curl up an die. I might as well save meself the trouble an dip it in saltwater. Now I likes yer, I do, an there is no doubt yer can graft, but it can’t go on. I’m supposed ta be fillin the place like the Garden o’ Eden, not leaving it scorched as the hobs a Hell.

‘Now Paddy lad, don’t be lookin at me like a dog off to be whipped, I spake to Danny, that’s Mr McEnery ta yer, an yer fixed ta join is timber gang, if he likes the cut of yer jib. It’s a good life lad, an yer gift for killin plants ain’t such a handicap to them, what with the business the’re in,’ he chortled.

That afternoon the gardener took him to be looked over by the Estates Manager Mr McEnery, or ‘that miserable aul’ get’ as everyone else referred to him. The estate had a logging team and its own timber mill, each run by a foreman under McEnery. At first Patrick was put in the timber mill, which he hated; especially with McEnery living up to his nickname, barking out his orders with a puss on him like he’d been slapped round the face with an aul kipper.

Lucky for Patrick within a fortnight one of the logging men had an accident and he was sent to the team, temporary mind, to help load and drive the cart. It was a wet cold miserable week. None of the other fellas were keen on moving out of the comfort of the factory.

Patrick loved the freedom, loved no one checking on you every five minutes. Most of all, he loved being in the woods with the scattered diffused light breaking through the dark green canopy and the rain on his face. He thought it was the closest he’d ever come to being underwater. It was like living in the sea.

Before long he was wielding an axe as good as any of them and loving every minute. The rest of the lads were like Uncle Pat, except fit and full of laughter. Even the foreman Ron, only got stiff when aul McEnery came sniffing round, which wasn’t that often as long as you got your quota to the mill on time.

In summer they would stay out for days on end, working dawn ‘til dusk and sleeping on canvass cots under tarpaulins stretched between branches like tents. They kept a roaring log fire on the go, cooking up a big aul frying pans a bacon, sausage, eggs n bread, n spuds roast in the ashes. With a big aul billie a tea, strong n sweet with condensed milk, stewing away night and day.

He worked six and half days, and it was hard, hard labour, but it filled him out. By the age of twenty he was weathered as seasoned oak, with muscles like ripcords, a strong back and broad across the shoulders. A quiet man, each Saturday afternoon instead of staying in the pub with the lads, he’d head back to Aunt Biddy to turn over the bulk of his wages and help out with the chores. On the way home he always made sure to pick up a couple a pint bottles of the black stuff from the pub and a pack of ciggies from the tobacconists for Uncle Pat along with a bag of boiled sweets for Biddy.

There was Mass on Sunday morning followed by a slap up breakfast and a slap up dinner. By suppertime he was heading back to camp with a week’s worth of clean clothes and a couple of large meat and potato pies in his backpack to share with the lads.

Winter was different. It was too cold to be sleeping rough. With the short days the lads headed off early to their homes or lodgings in the town. At one point, Patrick even suggested Auntie Biddy take in a few for the extra money, but by this time Big Pat wasn’t well enough. The poor aul sod looked like death, propped up in the big aul armchair by the grate day and night; asleep more often than not, with a burned down ciggie hangin’ from his lips.

He’d joke the doctor told him to stay away from the ciggies. ‘But I said to him,’ he’d say, ‘by Jeasus Doc, and where am I goin’ a get one a them fancy ciggie holders when I’m buggered walking ta the privy?’

Then he’d laugh, which would start the hacking cough, which wouldn’t stop. Biddy or Patrick would have to bend him forward and rub his back trying to loosen the congestion. Sometimes after a bad attack, Patrick saw Biddy bent over the stove, or doing the ironing, quietly crying. He knew better than to say something.

It was an early spring afternoon, one of them days with just a promise of what’s to come in the air. Patrick was walking home before twilight. There had been a filthy big storm the day before that left the logging camp like a sea of mud, with nothing movin’. The foremen sent them home saying they’d get an early start tomorra.

As Patrick hit the coast path leading down to the house, didn’t he see the strangest thing on the beach? At first, he didn’t know what to make of it. Then thought his eyes was deceiving him. There was something black and white caught in the surf. It couldn’t be; but it was. Jesus Christ and all his saints in heaven! There was a body washed up, all white, broken and naked: a woman judging by the long dark hair tangled by the crashing waves.

His first thought was she must have drowned. There were stories he’d heard, what with living by the sea all his life, how the riptide could strip a body naked. Holy Mary Mother of God, what a hideous way to go! He was debating what to do when he saw her move. He knew it wasn’t the waves, when she moved again. Jesus Christ she was alive!

Yelling like a mad man he tore down the cliff path. Within twenty or thirty wards there was a way down to the beach: he knew it well. He hit the sand running so fast he went tumbling arse over tip. As he struggled to his feet, he looked again. He was too late. She was gone.

A cry of anguish was ripped out of the heart of him. Patrick pelted into the crashing white surf, looking right and left, hoping to find some trace. Anything!

He was shocked to see the top of a head appear from beneath the waves. A slim pale hand wiped away the long dark hair plastered across her face to reveal large brown liquid eyes looking at him, full of curiosity.

He stared back uncomprehending.

‘You’re alive?’ he muttered after a moment.

Slowly the rest of her head emerged, a delicate nose and full lips, pinched and blue with the cold.

‘I heard you coming, I had no clothes.’

‘I thought you was dead!’

‘Me? No.’ she laughed.

‘You looked dead’, he protested, biting his lip, scared to offend her. But she had looked dead; lying white and broken; cast up like flotsam.

Slowly she rose from the water, her long sleek hair sticking like a pelt to her narrow shoulders as she broke surface. Under the water it floated like strands of kelp, obscuring the swell of her breasts.

Patrick blushed to see her rising naked. He turned away. He had never seen a woman and was desperate to look. But not like this. It wasn’t decent.

He felt a peck on his cheek. ‘You are gallant,’ she said, sounding as if she was laughing at him.

Before he could stop himself, he’d looked. She was holding something to protect her modesty, lank and dark like a wet blanket, or perhaps wet leather, or maybe moleskin, for it looked slick and glossy.

‘I was swimming.’ She took his hand in her icy one and led him from the water. ‘You will catch your death.’

‘And what about you?’

‘I never feel the cold’.

She saw him puzzling over this. ‘I swim every day.’

‘It must be marvellous… to swim’

‘Can’t you?’

He shook his head.

‘Perhaps I could teach you. Would you like that?’

They were out of the swell now. The waves crashing no more than calf deep still wanted to drag him under. She began to adjust her blanket, draping it over her breasts and torso, leaving her white arms and shoulders bare.

He must have been staring for she was laughed. ‘Go home. I have a long swim a head of me and you will catch your death.’

Obediently he waded out of the cold grey water. Reaching the beach he heard her say,

‘When?’

He looked back.

‘Your swimming lesson. When?’

Saturday,’ he hesitantly replied, ‘afternoon. Two?’
‘I am Muireann.’ She smiled. ‘And I will wear something more appropriate.’

‘I’m Patrick.’ He returned her smile.

‘What a lovely name.’

He walked up the beach, feeling her eyes on him. Reaching the dunes he turned to wave goodbye. She was gone.

©Paul Andruss 2018

©Images The Colour of Life Geoff Cronin

The mystery deepens.. who is the strange woman who is brave enough to swim in such wintery seas…. pop in tomorrow to find out more.

About Paul Andruss

Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.

Paul is the author of two books and you can find out more by clicking the image.

Finn Mac CoolThomas the Rhymer

Connect to Paul on social media.

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/paul.andruss.9
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Paul_JHBooks

Thanks again for dropping in and hope to see you tomorrow for the next episode…Sally.

Advertisements

Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives – The House by the Sea – Part Two by Paul Andruss


We continue with part two of the story of Patrick Noone whose life is bound inextricably with the sea. Tragedy has already struck with the loss of his mother, whose large and beautiful eyes are one of the few memories he has of her.  Paul Andruss shares more of Patrick’s childhood.

THE HOUSE BY THE SEA – Part Two by Paul Andruss

After his father’s death, the years rolled on; the last much the same as the next with little to choose between them. Patrick grew into a fine strong lad, wiling and polite, if a little withdrawn, but with something that made people warm to the ‘poor orphan’.

At seven he made his first Confession and Holy Communion before becoming an altar boy at the Blessed Virgin with Father O’Malley. He got new clothes at Whitsun and Christmas, but for the rest of the year Biddy patched and made do. In the years of his First Holy Communion, and later, his Confirmation, the new clothes were saved up for the big day, so Biddy could make a good impression on the parish.

Patrick remembered his Confirmation Sunday because everyone went up in a charabanc to the big church where the Bishop marked them with chrism, filling them with the Holy Spirit by whispering a secret name in each child’s ear that only God and the angels knew.

Over the years, Patrick came to learn his Aunt Biddy was not a cruel woman. True, she had a fierce temper on her and little suffered shenanigans; what, with the washing and the ironing she took in, keeping house and putting meals on the table. Patrick had his fair share to do, especially as his uncle’s health grew worse. As Biddy informed him one day when he was about eight, you’re the man now.

Each morning he cleaned out the grate, set the fire, and fed the chickens, before running down the farm for a pitcher of creamy new milk, essential, so Biddy claimed, for someone with contagion on the lungs, and to pick up a loaf from the bakery. After school he chopped wood and brought it from the woodpile to the house, saw to the chickens and weeded the small garden where his uncle grew cabbage, potatoes and leek.

Every six months, spring and fall, he used the old yard-brush to paint the inside of the privy with lime-wash to keep out infection. Brought up by Biddy, Patrick never feared hard work and cheerfully did every task she dished out. The one he liked best was the first job he did every day after school: running down the alehouse with a stone jug for a quart of black porter for Uncle Pat.

It would have been a couple of years after his father died Patrick asked if his mother drowned too. Was that was why his father hated the sea?

‘Yer mother didn’t drown’, Biddy snarled with the face on her screwed up ‘til lips and eyes were no more than gashes. ‘She ran off and left him. Broke his heart she did; the bloody fool!’

She looked at Patrick with something like a cross between pity and contempt; staring so long he wished he could turn invisible. He looked down at his feet, but could still feel her eyes burning into the top of his head. At last she snorted and spat on the iron. And with the hiss, the heat in his face evaporated.

Biddy was not a talkative woman. Usually she barked orders and stood gimlet eyed as he scurried to carry them out to her satisfaction. But that day Biddy talked and talked.

Perhaps it was the long firm strokes of the iron that soothed and left her in a sort of trance. Maybe it was the odd, sly, encouraging word from Uncle Pat. Whatever, Patrick had the sense to stay frozen; aware the smallest movement would break the spell. He learned more about his family in one afternoon than he had in his whole short life.

‘Yer father never hated the sea,’ Biddy told him. ‘Even had a boat, handsome Knox it was with a sail as well as an engine. Happy as a sand-boy; spent his days fishing for crab an lobster for them grand hotels down the coast what cater for the tourists who come down from Cork, an even far away as Dublin. He was mammy’s youngest an so handsome; the apple of her eye.’

Biddy worked in one of those hotels.

‘Housekeeper mind, not one of yer scullery maids, second only to the under-manager I was. But that was before I met yer Uncle Pat.’ She nodded to her husband in the big armchair by the fire, cradling his pewter pint pot. ‘He was under-manager for the next hotel on the bay. We met at the big staff Christmas party.

‘By this time I’d given up on walking out with a fella an was resigned to goin’ to me grave a dried up aul spinster, til the Holy Mother of God had mercy on me. One thing led to another an before we knew where we was, me an Pat was wed.

‘Well, married women weren’t like girls and widows; working wasn’t for us. Anyway in them days, I thought I’d soon have me hands full with a house full of me own. Not long after, we moved to Dublin. It was when yer got that job Pat wasn’t it. But the filthy air didn’t agree with yer did it?

Pat nodded and coughed pathetically to demonstrate exactly how it hadn’t agreed with him.

Biddy carried on speaking about her husband as if he wasn’t there…

‘It was his poor aul lungs. Shot thru thee was. Well I tell yer, it was hand to mouth for a couple of years, ‘til we came back an I got a job charrin’ for Doctor an Missus Lowther. By this time you’d arrived. Yer was about three or four by then.

‘Our Micky, yer dad, had built this fine big house by the sea for her; cos she liked the sea did yer mother. But I never warmed to her. A right cold fish, she was. Miserable as the day was long. You’d think she’d lost a half a crown an found a sixpence. I didn’t see your father much in them days, but he seemed happy when he came down with a nice bit of fish or a few shillin to help us out.’

After that day, Biddy gradually seemed to soften towards Patrick, as if whatever passed for a heart was slowly melting. Big Pat, always fond of the lad, became almost like a father.

As his health worsened, on fine afternoons Biddy sat her husband outside under the veranda in a wicker chair, with a blanket over his knees, to get the benefit of the sea’s ‘salubrious ozone’. But she took care to keep him out of the wind.

After chores Patrick liked to join his uncle. Big Pat smoked his Players Full Strength hawking and coughing so hard it would seem a mercy if he dropped down dead. When he nodded Patrick topped up his uncle’s pewter pint-pot with the thick dark beer in the jug.

They never spoke much, but enjoyed the company. Sometimes, not often, Biddy would stick her head out and on cue Patrick ran to fetch a chair from the kitchen. Biddy would let him pour her a half mug of porter and the three sat in comfortable silence until the evening turned chilly.

©Paul Andruss 2018

©Images The Colour of Life Geoff Cronin

Thanks to Paul for another amazing chapter and the remaining three chapters will be posted over Easter..

About Paul Andruss

Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.

Paul is the author of two books and you can find out more by clicking the image.

Finn Mac CoolThomas the Rhymer

Connect to Paul on social media.

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/paul.andruss.9
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Paul_JHBooks

Thanks again for dropping in and hope to see you next week for the remaining three episodes..

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Writer in Residence – The Legend of the Golden Flower (Part One) by Paul Andruss


PART 1

The priests kept the entrance to the shrine of the sun goddess Amaterasu, free of snow. It was here Okurimono sang and danced, protected by the temple wall from the worst of the mountain wind. Even in this sheltered place the wind’s ferocity drove all feeling from her fingers and face. The young girl stamped hard and clapped her hands around herself in comical exaggerated movements as she entertained, simply to keep warm.

Her mother’s maid, Ucosan, constantly reminded Okurimono she must learn to endure pain if she wanted to be like her mother. The mind and the body are at war, she said, and the will must conquer weakness. When Okurimono complained, Ucosan told her, pain is a woman’s lot. Everything in this world has a price. Art demands the greatest price of all.

Without hesitation or pause, Okurimono bowed when a group of pilgrims threw coins; no doubt charmed by the sight of a young girl singing and dancing so exquisitely. The payment was welcome. Ucosan had sold nearly all of her mother’s jewellery and silk kimonos to survive. Now with winter refusing to leave the mountains, money was scarcer than ever.

Yet money was not the reason Okurimono danced at the shrine. She danced to honour Amaterasu and her mother’s patron Uzume, the goddess of mirth and revelry. When the storm-god destroyed Amaterasu’s rice fields and killed her maid, Amaterasu retreated to a cave. The world grew cold and dark.

Not one of the gods could tempt the sun from the cave until Uzume, the dawn goddess, danced and sang such comic songs the other gods grew helpless with laughter. Overcome by curiosity, Amaterasu ventured out to see what caused the merriment.

Okurimono did not dare to think one of the goddesses may be gracious enough to notice her devotion and drive away the demons causing the bloody flux on her mother’s lungs. This hope she kept locked in her heart, in case an idle thought betray her to the many vengeful kami and yokai that haunted wild, forgotten places.

Uzume’s dance, to tempt the sun back to the world, was the first Okurimono learned. Her mother once said, they were the first steps Izumo no Okuni taught her when she was as young as Okurimono. Her mother had smiled, fondly recollecting those comic and often rude Kabuki performances. She told her daughter how the refined clients of Shimabara’s most famous tayū would have feigned outrage at such ribaldry; no matter how they might secretly enjoy it. Then she laughed, hearty and common as Ucosan. How Okurimono wished her mother would laugh like that again.

Tempestuous clouds hid the mountain tops. The day grew dark as night. The pilgrims hurried to seek shelter in the inn. The streets were empty and shadow haunted. A storm was coming. It was time to leave. The old priest tending the shrine came to lock the gates. Watching the wind shake powered snow from the pine trees on the hills, Okurimono pulled on her broad-rimmed bamboo bonnet and quilted kosode.

The peaks above the trees were lost to the swirling white of the blizzard. Snow women demons prowled blizzards. White of hair and skin they sucked warmth from any person they caught. She threaded the scattered copper coins on her purse-string with numb fingers; reckoning their worth in bowls of rice. Dutifully, she bowed to the elderly priest, leaving a few precious coins as an offering.

Turning a corner, the full force of the storm hit Okurimono. Stinging snow blinded her. Wind snatched breath. Feet froze, sinking past her ankles in the deep drifts. The world was lost to thick flurries. All she could do was to bow her head until her chin touched her chest and keep walking.

Approaching her home, the wind paused. Driven snow eddied helplessly, its purpose momentarily forgotten. In the eerie calm Okurimono saw faraway snow women searching for victims. She heard a snow woman scream. They had found her. It was not a snow woman, but a huge black eagle flapping over the roof tops. Birds did not fly in snowstorms, unless they were demons. This was not good.

Okurimono watched the bird drop something from its claws. A pale golden ball of fur hit the deep snow lying on the pitched roof. She watched it roll. Instinctively running forward, with arms outstretched, she caught the bundle, clutching it to her breast.

Only when she had it tight and secure did she dare look. A tiny fox cub mewled and stared at her with large intelligent eyes. Safe and warm inside her padded kosode she felt its little heart frantically beating. Sudden as it came, the squall died. The last snowflakes fell, slow and gentle. The snow women fled.

The fox cub was an omen. Okurimono was sure of it.

* * *

Okurimono took off her shoes to enter the house.

The old woman scowled to disguise her relief.

“Foolish child,” she snapped. “Have you forgotten about the snow women? What have you there?” she asked without waiting for a reply.

Okurimono took the fox cub from her quilted coat to show Ucosan.

With a look of wonder, the old woman cooed, gently stroking the pup’s pale fur.
The animal yawned unperturbed.

‘The snow women came. He protected me.’

“The goddess heard your devotion and instructed Inari to send one of his messengers. The good god of prosperity is smiling. Let us show your mother.”

Okurimono took off her wet heavy coat. ‘How is Mama?’

“She took some soup today,” said the old woman carefully. “Come, she waits.”

Okurimono’s mother was wrapped in quilts. Her skin looked white, except for a single patch of colour under the dark stained hollows of her eyes. She smiled; lips grey and bloodless.

Okurimono knelt before her mother, taking her hands and touching them to her forehead. Her mother’s hands were colder than Okurimono’s, and she was caught in a blizzard. In contrast, Mother’s forehead felt hot and damp as she kissed it. Her mother suppressed a cough.

“Come child, eat,” said Ucosan hastily.

With a backward look at her mother, Okurimono knelt before the irori, grateful for its radiant warmth. Ucosan placed slivers of tofu and dried fish on two bowls of rice and a ladled broth from the cooking pot. One she gave to Okurimono, the other to the fox cub.

Later, Ucosan told Okurimono to entertain her mother with a song. Picking up the long-necked gottan, the girl tuned the lute’s three strings. Her mother gently corrected Okurimono’s mistakes until stopped by a coughing fit. Okurimono did not mean to look as her mother took the cloth from her mouth. Seeing bright arterial blood, she lowered her eyes, ashamed she might shame her mother.

After making her mistress comfortable on the futon, Ucosan drew a battered paper screen to divide the room. Returning to Okurimono, the old woman thoughtfully stroked the fox cub’s silky fur, as it lay by girl’s side, nestling on the hem of her kimono.

Ucosan liked to reminisce about her mistress. Okurimono learned everything she knew of her mother from Ucosan. It was not polite for a woman of her mother’s quality to speak of herself. Her role was to serve others.

As always Ucosan began by saying her mistress, the Lady Fujiko, was the most accomplished tayū of Shimabara’s floating world. Okurimono knew the story by heart, but cherished the telling. It left her feeling close to her mother in a way she no longer could; now she was older with responsibilities.

As a child her mother was adopted by the renowned Izumo no Okuni, a priestess who danced and sang to earn funds for the temple in the dry river beds of Kyoto. Okuni became famous for her strange affectations of mixing men’s clothing with women’s and wearing the cross and beads of the sour smelling Portuguese black priests. Her antics shocked and amused the Nippon people, to whom politeness and obedience was everything.

Okuni taught a group of destitute women acting, singing and dancing so they could make a living. Known as kabukimono, ‘the crazy ones’, they put on amusing versions of the great sagas. Audience favourites were the Tale of Genji and the war story of Heike, with, most outrageous of all, its women samurai. The women played all parts, male and female, riotously mimicking love-making between man and woman, man and man, woman and women, or even men pursuing men, who were in fact girls dressed as boys.

The more famous the kabukimono became, the more the shōgun grew displeased. Their performances attracted crowds from all walks of life. The warlord of all the Isles of the Rising Sun did not think it seemly for peasants to mix with nobles and samurai. Order required everyone to know their place, and keep to it.

Angered, the shōgun banned women from performing kabuki, dismissing them as little more than harlots. Privately, many wondered what business was it of his, how they put a little extra rice in the bowl? The shōgun preferred all-male kabuki troupes. It led some to suggest the ban was prompted by his preference for men in other ways too.

Unable to perform, the female players fled to their old lives. Now they were celebrated as skilled performers, they were taken to the heart of the floating world rather than being forced to live on its fringe. Okurimono’s mother, still a girl, no older than Okurimono, was the most exquisite and talented of all the kabukimono. Okaa-san, the revered owner of the Spring Garden House trained her as orian.

“Of course, your mother became the most desired courtesan in the land,” said Ucosan. “So famous she attracted the eye of Tadanaga, the shōgun’s brother. Tadanaga was born with all the blessings: a great military leader, clever and charming. Loved by all, he loved only your mother. He bought your mother’s contract from Okaa-san and they lived together happily, until his jealous elder brother, the shōgun, accused him of treachery and ordered him to commit seppuku. Your mother, knowing she was lost, fled over the mountains to this village to protect your life.”

Seeing the child was falling asleep, she added, “Come let us all sleep with your mother for warmth. Bring our friend too. I have an old bed for him.”

‘Do you think he is really kitsune?’ Okurimono whispered, heavy eyed.

The old woman laughed. “He opened an eye when you spoke. If he is a kami, he is a young one.”

‘Perhaps he came to make mama better.’

“Spring will cure your mother better than any spirit.” Ucosan replied. Seeing disappointment on Okurimono’s face, she relented. “Perhaps he will protect her until Amaterasu comes to shine her warmth and bring the world alive.”

©Paul Andruss 2018

Part two of this beautiful story tomorrow.

About Paul Andruss

Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.

Thomas the Rhymer a magical fantasy for ages 11 to adult about a boy attempting to save fairy Thomas the Rhymer, while trying to rescue his brother from a selfish fairy queen

When Fairy Queen Sylvie snatches his brother, schoolboy Jack is plunged into a sinister fantasy world of illusion and deception – the realm of telepathic fairies ruled by spoilt, arrogant fairy queens.

Haunted by nightmares about his brother and pursued by a mysterious tramp (only seen by Jack and his friends) Jack fears he too will be stolen away.

The tramp is Thomas the Rhymer, who only speaks in rhyme. Lost and frightened Thomas needs Jack’s help to find his way home.

The race is on for Jack and his friends to save Thomas from the wicked Agnes Day (who wants to treat Thomas like a lab rat). And save Jack’s brother from Sylvie.
To do this they need the help of Bess – the most ancient powerful fairy queen in the land.
But there is a problem…
No one knows where Bess is… or even if she is still lives.
And even if they find her… will she let them go?

The latest review for the book

I stumbled across this book one day while reading a historical piece written by the author. He had included an image of this book cover at the bottom of his article which immediately drew my attention. This author often writes long historical dissertations so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I took a chance and purchased the Kindle edition. What a delightful surprise! I couldn’t put the book down!

What I found was a fantastic story about one of my favorite subjects, faeries! Not only was it geared to the YA genre, but it also included a fair amount of historical fact to make the story shine.

When Jack’s older brother Dan is abducted before his very eyes, he is stunned by the mysterious circumstances of his disappearance. The fact that Jack witnessed the strange abduction and doesn’t tell his parents only adds to his troubles. Jack’s mother is suffering from a chronic illness and his greatest hope is that the situation will rectify itself, and Dan will come home on his own.

One night, Jack starts receiving cell phone calls from Dan, and when he answers, there’s no one on the line. He tries to tell his parents and the police the truth about what happened, but every time he opens his mouth to speak, his throat closes up and he is unable to utter a single word. Faery glamours? Could be!

In the meantime, Jack starts seeing a dirty tramp hanging around his house who only speaks in rhyme. It becomes apparent that no one can see the tramp but Jack, so he enlists the help of his friends to help him solve the mystery behind his brother’s disappearance.

Jack and his friends are thrust into the magical world of the fey where the kids experience the light and the dark, of a failing faery kingdom. They learn about ley lines and how the fey evolved beside mankind. The story progresses with plenty of magic and suspense until you reach the satisfying end.

Let me just say, that this is one of the most creative books I have ever read about the fey. Jack’s friends are reminiscent of the characters in the Harry Potter series and I had no problem connecting with their personalities. The plot is brilliant, although I had a hard time separating fact from fiction. That’s what I call good writing!

I enjoyed this novel and will read it more than once. I feel children and adults of all ages will enjoy this book. Do you love magic and all things faery? Then, have a read because this book is reasonably priced and will keep you entertained for hours.

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

Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Rhymer-Jack-Hughes-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00EPQL7KC

And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thomas-Rhymer-Jack-Hughes-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00EPQL7KC

Connect to Paul on social media.

Blog: http://www.paul-andruss.com/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/paul.andruss.9
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Paul_JHBooks
Google+  https://plus.google.com/s/+jackhughesbooks

It would be wonderful to have your thoughts about the story and  hope you will join us tomorrow for part two. Thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Short Stories for Christmas – Three Mince Pies by Sally Cronin


Over the next few days I will be sharing some of my Christmas stories, most of which you may have read before, but if you are new to the blog, I hope you will enjoy..

Three Mince Pies

The little girl lay in bed asleep, blonde hair spread over her pillow. From her restless movements it was obvious that she was in the grip of a disturbing dream, and dark rings beneath her eyes gave her small face a pinched and unhappy look.

Downstairs, Jenny looked at the Christmas decorations and cards around the room. In the corner, the tree lights sparkled and flashed through the tinsel, and presents for Sophie were piled beneath its green spiky branches in a colourful heap. Family and friends had rallied round, determined Sophie would have everything her father would have bought her this Christmas.

Jenny rested her hands on the mantelpiece and stared at the photograph in front of her. It was the last that was taken of them all together. They smiled out of the picture, brown and happy on their holiday in the South of Spain at the end of October. It had been their first family holiday in three years as business had been tough and there had been no extra money for holidays or other luxuries. Ironically, she now had more money than she knew what to do with, but she would give it all back in a heartbeat.

Jack had inherited his father’s building business and although initially work had been plentiful, there was now more and more competition for fewer contracts. He had worked seven days a week and she could see from his face that this was taking its toll. Just after their holiday in Spain, Jack began to experience chest pains that he dismissed as indigestion after eating and drinking too much while they were away.

Jenny had grown more and more concerned and she had begged him to go and get checked out. To keep the peace, Jack had begrudgingly taken a couple of hours off one evening and gone to the surgery. The next day he was in hospital undergoing tests and that afternoon he was taken to theatre for an emergency operation.

It had all happened so fast they had barely time to talk about the situation and Jenny had been unable to take Sophie in to to see her father before he was rushed away by anxious staff.

Jenny had called out to him as he was wheeled away but she had no way of knowing if he had heard her soft “I love you.”

She and Sophie had sat in the family room, playing with coloured bricks and a jigsaw to while away the time. There had been other families in the room all looking nervously at the clock until doctors or nurses entered to reassure them that their loved ones were safely recovering from their operations.

They were alone when finally a tall man in a green scrub suit entered the waiting room, loosening the mask from around his face. Jenny took one look at his eyes and knew from their bleak directness that there would be no visit to the recovery room for them.

She allowed the tears to fall – here in private she could grieve – away from the eyes of her small daughter who could not understand why Daddy was not coming home from work every night. She tried to be strong for Sophie’s sake, but she had watched her normally lively child lose weight, become silent and withdrawn. Tomorrow was Christmas Day how could they face it without him?

She heard a noise from upstairs. Sophie would be having one of her nightmares, crying for her daddy, tossing and turning, and reaching out into the dark. Wiping the tears from her face, Jenny walked upstairs to her daughter’s bedroom. She opened the door quietly and was startled to see Sophie sitting up in bed, clutching her teddy bear and staring across the room.

Jenny looked across to the toy cupboard with a plate of mince pies and a glass of sherry on the top. Suddenly she felt warm air flow over her. She blinked and stared at a glowing light that grew brighter and brighter. Clamping a hand over her mouth, she darted a glance over at Sophie. Her daughter was smiling and holding out her hand to the light. Jenny’s eyes were drawn back across the room and she gasped as in the glow she saw her husband’s body materialise.

Riveted to the spot she watched Jack reach out a hand, take a mince pie from the plate and raise it to his lips. Taking a bite he grinned across at her. She felt the warmth of his gaze as it rested on her eyes and her mouth and an overwhelming sense of peace passed through her.

Jack nodded once and then walked across to his daughter’s bedside where he reached out and touched Sophie’s outstretched hand. A radiant glow spread across her face and laying back against the pillow her breathing settled into a gentle rhythm, and she was peacefully asleep.

Her father left her bedside and walked to the door. Jenny stood absolutely still as his body passed in front of her. He stopped and she looked into his eyes and felt a gentle touch on her shoulders. He smiled at her and all the love that they had shared was in that wonderful look between them; she knew in her heart that he was saying goodbye. He moved out into the hall and turned for one last glance over his shoulder. Gradually the light faded and the figure disappeared, but the warmth inside her remained.

She stood for a few minutes with head bowed, absorbing and taking strength from that feeling before crossing to her daughter’s bedside. She kissed her forehead gently and moved over to the toy cupboard where she stared at the plate with its two mince pies. Three had been put out for Father Christmas. This year he really had come to visit.

©Sally Cronin 2015

At the moment I am offering a free ebook from this choice of five of my books to find out more about them and read a review please click on this link: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/sallys-cafe-and-bookstore-buy-a-book-for-christmas-the-last-author-to-be-self-promoted-and-free-giveaway-sally-cronin/

How to get your free e-book version of these books.

Please email me on sally.cronin@moyhill.com and let me know if you would like a mobi version for Kindle or epub for other devices.  I have no expectation of a review but if you do enjoy the book a quick email to let me know would be fantastic.

Look forward to hearing from you.

The offer runs from today 18th December until Midnight Christmas Eve 2018 wherever you live

 

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Writer – ‘Disinterrment’ by Joy Lennick #shortstory #writing


Delighted to welcome Joy Lennick back again with another of her stories and this one will resonate with many of us I am sure.

Disinterrment by Joy Lennick..

If you are a writer like me, every now and then you have to practically dig your way out of a wordy mess to make sense of your world. Right? Or maybe you are one of those ultra-organized souls who I envy? Either way, I bet you have files or drawers full of half or unfinished articles/poems/short stories or m/s of books waiting attention. A sort of ‘semi-burial’ place. I find this sad, especially if your work is more or less finished. Obviously, if it stays buried, no other eyes but yours will see it.

What a waste of all the hours you worked and why are you withholding what could give another person much pleasure?! Why not have a ‘Disinterrment ceremony?’ Treat your literary efforts with the respect they deserve. Lift them out of their premature graves and say ‘Hello, my beauties. I’m going to polish you until you shine and publish you too. What do think of that?’ (Make sure you’re alone when this occurs…) A person very dear to my heart fits in the above category. Why, if you have a talent, hide it away? So, all you shrinking violets/procrastinators/lazy/lost-mojo souls lurking out there, GET REAL!

The above said, most of us appreciate that some of our early efforts should, quite rightly, be either buried or destroyed, but – every now and then – it’s good to double check and give promising work a new lease of life. So, is this leading to anything specific you may ask. Well, yes. The following was written for a newsletter and then filed away. See what you think…

A TIME TO KILL?

As we arrived – husband and I – the animals: packs of them, amassed and gathered near the enclosure. They were edgy, eager, impatient and hungry The morning was innocent enough. An already hot sun blazed down and the air was filled with the sweet smell of wood-smoke and the cries and calls of birds in the nearby trees.

In its eagerness to breach the enclosure, a more daring animal tried to push past the larger pack-leader, but its audacity was soon dealt with. There was a savage scuffle and dust rose up to form a small cloud as a great snarling noise erupted at the front of the pack which seemed to further inflame the other animals. Even from my safe distance, I could sense great danger. I grew uneasy and tense. My mouth was dry and perspiration wet my palms.

All at once – almost as if a starter had fired a gun – the packs surged forward as a gap appeared in the enclosure. With the scent of the prey in their nostrils, their eyes grew wild with greed, desire and hunger. At a safe distance, I cautiously followed, with feelings so mixed they are difficult to describe…A curious, unpleasant desire to be in at the kill? Perhaps.

I reached the opening in the enclosure and witnessed something I had never before seen. My eyes grew wide with disbelief as the scene unfolded before me.

A scene somewhere in Africa maybe? No. Bargain morning at a Lidls store near Los Altos, Spain. The ‘prey’? A few, highly reduced TV sets (we were buying one for a friend).

I had never seen human beings acting like that, EVER! About half a dozen human beings – their provenance a secret, lest it start World War 111 – acted like wild beings…Two actually charged each other with shopping trolleys, like rutting stags. It left me speechless!

©Joy Lennick

Thanks to Joy for sharing something we may have all witnessed in such an entertaining way.

About Joy Lennick

Having worn several hats in my life: wife, mum, secretary, shop-keeper, hotelier; my favourite is the multi-coloured author’s creation. I am an eclectic writer: diary, articles, poetry, short stories and five books. Two books were factual, the third as biographer: HURRICANE HALSEY (a true sea adventure), fourth my Memoir MY GENTLE WAR and my current faction novel is THE CATALYST. Plenty more simmering…

A selection of books by Joy Lennick

One of the reviews for My Gentle War

I found this book totally enchanting, not just for the way it was written (which was completely original being unfettered by any rules on writing and therefore delivered with great feeling). It evoked some long lost memories from my childhood, of family forgotten or misplaced by faulty memory. I thought of my grandmother clasping a homemade loaf of bread under her arm, giving it a good buttering, then with a large bread knife, sawing it off and setting a ‘doorstep’ sized slice free for jam or honey to follow. I wasn’t born at the time of the war, which doesn’t spoil any of this account and although I know it from history books and oft heard tales, was not a good time to live through, yet I’m left thinking there was another side to these times, told here with great fondness. Sometimes I think we’ve lost a great deal for all our modern ways. This is a lovely book and worth a read. Pat McDonald British Crime Author.

Read the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Joy-Lennick/e/B00J05CJLY/

And on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Joy-Lennick/e/B00J05CJLY

Find all the books, read other reviews and follow Joy on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3124773.Joy_Lennick

Connect to Joy

Blog: https://joylennick.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joy.lennick

Thank you for dropping in today and I am sure that Joy would love to receive your feedback. Thanks Sally

 

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Writer – Andrew Joyce -Short Story – One Word……..


A short story with a very important message from author Andrew Joyce

One Word

I’ve been angry all my life. Everyone was always out to take from me. I’d never had any friends. When I was in high school, the other kids would go out to lunch together while I sat by myself, just off the school grounds, and felt the loneliness that had become my life.

On Saturdays nights, the other kids would go out on dates or pile into a car for a night of adventure. I would hitchhike to the main drag, plant myself on a bus bench, and watch the world go by, wishing I was a part of it.

Things didn’t get much better after I became an adult. I existed in the world, but was not a part of it. I had no use for anybody. My loneliness had long ago morphed into hatred. Hatred for the whole damn human race.

Then one day, I saw a dirty beggar down on 8th Street, by the 7-Eleven. I took great joy in his miserableness. At least someone was worse off than I was. There was no way that he could have any friends. He was both lonely and homeless. I, on the other hand, had a roof over my head.

I tarried to revel in the spectacle. I was enjoying myself.

He held out a plastic cup, imploring me to contribute. Was he joking? Could he not tell from the sneer on my face what I thought of him?

I was turning to leave, when a well-dressed man came up to the beggar and grabbed his filthy hand. He shook it vigorously while saying, “How ya doing, Tim?”

“Not too bad, Jim. Not too bad,” answered the tramp.

“You know, me and the wife still have that room for you. It would do you good to get off the streets and have a decent meal every day. If you’d ever accept one of my invitations to dinner, you’d see what a good cook Ruth is.”

“Thanks. But I’m doing just fine … for now. Let me take a rain check on that. Okay?”

“Sure, Tim. Sure.”

Before he left, the man took out his wallet, extracted a five-dollar bill, and put it into the cracked, plastic cup held by the beggar.

I shook my head in disbelief, turned, and walked into the 7-Eleven to get my cigarettes and a few scratch-offs.

When I came out, the beggar was in an animated conversation with a well-dressed, good-looking woman. I figured that he was harassing her and decided right then and there to go to her aid—if for no other reason than to harass the tramp.

“Excuse me, ma’am. But is this man bothering you?”

She looked at me as though I had two heads. Then she started to laugh.

“Oh my God, no! It’s the other way around.” She turned to the beggar and said, “Tim, would you like this gentleman to intercede on your behalf?”

The beggar smiled and answered, “It’s alright. He’s a friend of mine. And he knows how I get around beautiful women. He was just trying to protect you from my lustful ways.”

The woman broke into a big grin. “Tim McCarthy, if you aren’t the living end. Okay, we’ll finish this discussion later. But I’m going to get you into a decent place to live if it’s the last thing I ever do.”

She dug into her purse and came out with a twenty and into the cup it went. She then wrapped her arms around that disgusting person and gave him a long, tight hug. She patted my hand before she left, saying, “You make sure to take care of our Timmy.”

I have to admit, as she strutted away, I was thinking what a great-looking ass she had.
I was brought out of my thoughts by, “She really knows how to swing that thing to hold a man’s interest.” It was the beggar.

Okay. Hold on one goddamn minute. What the hell was going on? I tore my eyes away from the rapidly retreating woman and her shapely butt and confronted the beggar. “Please tell me … what is it with you? Why do those people have anything to do with you?”

The tramp smiled and asked if I minded if we walked as we talked. He had someplace he had to be and did not want to be late. I shrugged. As long as he didn’t get too close to me as we walked, I had nothing else to do.

I opened the conversation by asking, “Why did you tell that woman I was your friend? I’ve never seen you before.”

He winked, took a few dollars out of his cup, and handed them to a homeless man as we passed by, without saying a word. Finally, he said, “Even though we have never met, I consider you a friend. I mean, here you are, accompanying me to my luncheon engagement.”

“I’m walking with you to get an answer to my question. I’m no friend of yours. So, tell me. Why do these well-off people treat you like a long-lost friend?”

We passed another homeless person and, again, he dipped into his cup and shared his bounty.

I had to know. “Why are you giving away the money that you spent hours begging for?”

“It’s only paper with green ink on it. It doesn’t mean that much to me.”

“Then why do you stand on the street and beg for it?” I had him there. Or so I thought.

“I do it to meet people. Like I met you this morning. I think we’re going to be good friends.”

“You do, do you? I can’t stand your smell, I can’t stand being around you. I think I’ve gone as far as I want with you. I don’t care why people like you. It has no bearing on my life. Forget that I even asked. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a life to live.”

“What kind of life?”

That stopped me in my tracks. I turned and took stock of the slight, skinny, disheveled man who stood before me. With contempt in every syllable, I said, “A hell of a better life than you’re living or are ever apt to live.” I was so proud of myself.

He smiled. “Please have lunch with me. It’s my treat.”

I was taken aback. “What restaurant is gonna let you in?” I mocked.

He held up his right index finger and simply said, “I got a place.”

Strange as it seems, I was starting to warm to the guy. I had hit him with my best insults and nothing bothered him. At the moment, I was unemployed and had the entire day to kill before my nighttime TV shows came on, so, for the second time since I met the dude, I shrugged my shoulders and decided to go with the flow.

“Okay. As long as you can find a restaurant that will seat you—and you’re paying—I’ll have lunch with you.” I thought it a safe bet. No one was going to let him through the front doors of any establishment, let alone a restaurant.

I’d never noticed before, but times must have been rough. Well, I was unemployed, but that was my own fault. I just couldn’t get along with people. But what I mean is, there were homeless people on almost every corner. And every time we passed one of ’em, the little guy passed out money from his cup.

After his last spurt of generosity, I sneaked a peak into the cup; there were only a few bills left and none of them were a twenty. He must have given it away.

At last we came to a restaurant, and I must admit, it was pretty fancy. I doubt if they would have let me in. But my new-found friend walked past the front door and around the corner. Did I say “friend”? That sounded strange coming from me.

“Follow me,” he said.

We went down an alley and stopped at a door. Obviously the back door to the place. A slight knock and we were granted entry. We walked down a short hallway that came out into the main kitchen. The head chef, when he saw us, yelled across the room, “I’m a little busy right now. Your table is ready. We’ll talk if things slow down before you’re ready to leave.”

Tim (I might as well call him by his rightful name; after all, I was going to break bread with the guy) yelled back over the clamor of the hectic kitchen, “I’ve brought a friend. Is that okay?”

The chef smiled a broad smile and waved the large knife he was holding, indicating it was just fine and dandy with him.

Tim steered me to a table over in a corner. Before we could get situated, a busboy came out of nowhere with two glasses of water and a basket of rolls. A minute later, he was back with two glasses of white wine that he placed on the table. He said not a word. But his smile bespoke many words—he was also a friend of Tim’s.

As we sipped our wine, Tim apologized. “I hope you don’t mind, but we won’t be ordering off the menu. My friend over there,” he said, pointing at the chef, “likes to feed me his special of the day. He’s always quite proud of what he comes up with.”

“No problem. I’m impressed. But now that we have a few minutes, please tell me why everyone loves you. I’m almost as old as you. I’m certainly a lot more presentable and cleaner, no offense, but I’ve never had a friend in my entire life.”

“No offense taken. I do have a secret and I will tell you what it is, but first I want to hear about you and your life.”

This was all new to me. Someone cared enough to want to know about me? I took a deep breath and then let out everything I’d been holding in for years. I held back nothing. I told of all the rejections and hurt I had endured. I told that man all my deepest, darkest secrets—all my disappointments.

And when I had finished, I was crying. Nothing loud or out of place, but the tears were streaming down my face. Tim handed me a linen napkin and pretended not to notice.

By the time the food arrived, I was composed and kind of hungry. The plates were garnished, and the presentation was like any of the plates going out the swing doors and into the dining room. Maybe ours were even a little bit better looking. The food was wonderful. It was some kind of French dish, and probably the best meal I had ever eaten.

We didn’t speak much while eating, but as I was mopping up the last of the sauce with a piece of bread, Tim cleared his throat and began to speak.

“You wanted to know what my secret is for having so many friends. Well, it comes down to one word.”

In anticipation, I leaned forward a little. But no secrets were forthcoming. “Hold on a minute. This is better said with spirits in hand.” He held up his empty glass and a busboy, a different one this time, but still with a wide smile, filled our glasses.

Tim raised his glass in salute and spoke these words:

“The one single word that you have to know … that you have to live by … is Love. It’s so goddamn simple. Love every person you meet as you would want to be loved. The more love you put out there, the more love you’ll get in return.”

I waited for more. And after a minute, Tim looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, but that’s it, my friend. Just one simple word. Love … Love with a capital ‘L’ .”

I leaned back in my chair, disillusioned. So there was no secret after all. Well, at least I’d had a good meal.

Tim saw my disappointment and said, “Why don’t you meet me tomorrow at the 7-Eleven? I’ll take you to the park and introduce you around. You’ll meet all sorts of people, and I guarantee you’ll like every one of them. And in time, they’ll be your friends too.”

Long story short … I took him up on his offer. Today I have a new job and I am one of the most-liked persons in the office—and it’s a big office. I have a girlfriend, and on the weekends, we help out down at one of the food banks, or just take long walks in the park and say hello to our many friends.

And when I see Tim on the street with his cup, I always put in a twenty and shake his hand. I don’t offer him a place to stay because I know that’s not in his cards. He has to be out on the streets … meeting new people, making new friends … saving lonely souls.

©Andrew Joyce

My thanks to Andrew for sharing this story… he did not want anything to distract you from the message…. I think we have all got it…. right…..Sally

 

Smorgasbord Short Stories – What’s in a Name? – Elaine – A Shining Light 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 first is a story about a woman who is saving up a secret to share with her husband on his birthday.

Elaine – A Shining Light

Elaine lay under the warmth of the duvet and her hand crept across the mattress to touch her husband’s hand. Not enough to wake him but just a gentle touch to remind her of his presence. Jack’s even breathing and gentle snore was comforting and Elaine smiled to herself, savouring the delicious secret that she was desperate to reveal.

She had been saving up the news until today as a gift for Jack’s birthday. They had been married for two years and she knew that his greatest wish was for them to have a baby. His large family had already provided his parents with six grandchildren, and whilst he might not talk about his desire for a family; he wanted to hold their child in his arms almost as much as she did. She had remembered the look on his face when she had thought that she might be pregnant but it had turned out to be a false alarm. This is why she had waited until she was absolutely sure; today would be the perfect time to reveal the secret.

Jack stirred beside her she turned her face in anticipation of his usual morning kiss on her brow and lips.

‘Good morning my darling,’ he gently stroked some stray hairs out of her eyes. ‘How are you today?

Elaine smiled at him lovingly and touched the tip of his beautiful nose. ‘Happy birthday my darling,’ and she leant over to kiss his mouth.

Over breakfast they discussed the final details of the birthday party that afternoon. Jack’s family lived too far away to attend, but he had asked one of their neighbours from down the street to join them. Jessica was always in and out and would pop in for coffee most mornings when Jack was at work. Sometimes she would also bring her children in at the weekend and they had a wonderful time playing scrabble and cards.

Elaine had butterflies in her stomach as the urge to blurt out her special secret became too much to bear. It had to be the right moment, when Jack was cutting his birthday cake that Jessica had kindly made for him. She was a much better baker that she was and it looked amazing. Jack had been in the navy when they met, and on top of the white and blue cake, a figure in a sailor’s uniform posed with an anchor. Elaine bet the inside of the cake would be delicious and would taste all the better when she announced her news.

After a quick sandwich for lunch and whilst Jack tidied the living room ready for the party, Elaine popped upstairs quietly to their bedroom and sat at the dressing table. She smiled to herself as she viewed her reflection in the mirror. There was no doubt about it; her skin had a definite glow. Artfully she brushed her blonde hair into a smooth bob and applied her makeup carefully. Not too much, but just enough to enhance her youthful beauty. Laid out on the bed were three outfits and Elaine was having problems deciding which to wear. Jack would always laugh about her preparations for an evening out. He knew she would try on all the options a couple of times before making her final choice.

This kept her busy for the next half hour and eventually she headed downstairs in her favourite cream dress with pearls at her neck and in the lobes of her ears. Jack took her hands and stepped back for a better look.

‘You look stunningly beautiful sweetheart,’ he gently straightened the string of pearls around her neck; they had been his wedding present to her.

Elaine almost gave the secret away at that point but held the temptation in check. Her plan was perfect and she must wait a little longer until it was time for him to blow out his birthday candles.

Jack left her sat in the lounge, surrounded by plates of neatly cut sandwiches and a pile of festive napkins. In the corner on a cabinet sat the cake surrounded by the birthday cards that had arrived over the last two or three days.

Just then the doorbell rang and it startled Elaine as the sound intruded into her secret daydreams. She pushed herself out of the chair and headed for the hall. Jack was coming down the stairs and held out his hand to her.

‘Don’t worry love I’ll get it,’ and he opened the door to find their three guests on the doorstep.

In they came, bearing brightly coloured bags of gifts and contributions to the birthday tea.

There was much hugging and chatter as overcoats were dispensed with and they all headed into the living room. Jack and Jessica took the food she had brought into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Sophie and Ben, who were in their early teens, entertained Elaine with tales of their antics at school during the week.

The food disappeared rapidly and two pots of tea later it was time to cut the cake. This was Elaine’s moment and she stood up to join Jack at the cabinet as he prepared to slice into the blue and white icing.

‘Darling, I have a very special birthday present for you,’ she held out the envelope that clearly contained rather bulky contents. Jack smiled at her eager face and proceeded to open the envelope carefully. He drew out the birthday card that had a huge heart on the front and carefully opened it to reveal the surprise. In his hand were a pair of knitted baby booties decorated with white satin ribbon.

Tears formed in the corners of his eyes as he pulled Elaine to him. ‘Thank you darling for the best birthday present I have ever received.’ Over her shoulder he smiled at their guests and they nodded and smiled in return.

Jessica’s children helped clear away the plates and carried them into the kitchen whilst their mother sat on the sofa holding Elaine’s hand. ‘That is wonderful news and I am so happy for the both of you.’ she smiled gently at the woman at her side. ‘We can talk about it on Monday when I pop in for coffee and we’ll get the baby knitting patterns out to look at.’

An hour later and Jessica kissed Elaine on the forehead and gently stroked her cheek. She headed off to the hall and gathered up the coats and handed them out to Sophie and Ben.

When she reached the front door, she turned once more and gave Jack a warm hug and whispered in his ear. ‘It was a wonderful birthday tea Dad and I will come in as usual on Monday when you go out to do the shopping.’

Jack went back into the lounge and stood for a moment looking at his wife, sitting calmly watching the flames flickering in the fireplace. The outfit that Elaine had finally chosen was her wedding dress, and she looked as radiant today as she had forty years ago. He sat beside her and gently moved some stray silver hairs from her forehead and took her face in his hands. He looked into her sparkling blue eyes that no longer recognised her daughter or grandchildren.

The most precious birthday present he had received today, was that his beautiful Elaine still knew him, and that even in the darkness, her light continued to shine brightly.

©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 – Celia – A Crisis of Faith


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.

Celia – A Crisis of Faith

Celia sat on the edge of the wooden chair and looked around the sparse room. The bare white walls were cold and seemed to be closing in on her as if in reprimand for her decision. This room was not the only chilly environment that she had been subjected to for the last months, as news of her defection was whispered amongst those at a senior level.

She had been told to wait here over an hour ago. Her uncertainty about the future was now solidified into an icy premonition that she had made a huge mistake. This had been her life’s work, her mission and her passion. At one time she would have walked across burning coals so strong was her belief, that the life she had chosen was perfect for her. For almost all of the last twenty years she had been an exemplary example of devotion to her vocation.

She had been named after her grandmother’s much loved older sister. Great aunt Celia had entered this very order at fourteen years old and had died sixty years later as the Mother Superior of the convent. The younger members of the family had never been privileged to meet her. However, her grandmother spent many hours with Celia, talking about how proud the family had been of the devoutness of this legendary figure. Even as a child Celia had felt the weight of obligation and the need to honour the previous owner of her name.

Once in her teens and slightly at odds with the changing world around her; it became apparent to the devout Celia that she was destined to follow in the footsteps of her great aunt. At age eighteen she had entered the convent and had never stepped outside of its high stone walls since that day.

Through the years as a novitiate and then following her final vows, she had embraced the life completely. The order rose each day at 5.00 am and spent the day in prayer and working within the convent and its gardens. When Celia retired each night to her small and austere room, she would remember her family in her prayers, even as their faces began to fade.

She couldn’t identify the moment with any certainty, when doubts about her life resulted in sleepless nights, and loss of concentration during prayers. She found herself experiencing flashbacks to a time when her days seemed filled with laughter and light. Though frivolous, she also remembered teenage years and dancing with her sister to the latest hit record, as a brightly coloured skirt whirled around her knees.

She had tried to put these forbidden thoughts aside, but she no longer felt peaceful or joyous, as she dressed in her habit each morning in the cold dark of winter. She certainly no longer had the lightness of heart of the early years here in the convent. Like cracks in the dry earth these doubts had grown and spread through her being; until she could no longer be silent.

What she did feel was a huge sense of guilt. The thought of the shame that she was bringing on the name of her great aunt, who obviously had been far more steadfast in her devotion, consumed her. Her spiritual family here in the order would also be confused and hurt by her betrayal. She could only imagine how much her parents would be disappointed, and she dreaded the thought of facing them.

Across the room on a narrow iron bed, stacked in a neat pile, were the garments that she had worn daily for the last twenty years. As she looked at the folded robes and undergarments, she reflected on how little there was to show for all her time in the convent. She felt very strange in her new clothes that had been sourced from a store cupboard in the depths of the old building. Just for a moment she missed the all-encompassing safety of her former attire. She raised a hand to her short hair that felt coarse to her touch. It had been so long since it had been uncovered in public and its blunt cut and greying red hairs make her feel even more self-conscious.

The door opened and the Mother Superior stood in the doorway. She stepped back and beckoned Celia towards her, and watched as she bent to pick up the old brown suitcase by her side, that held another set of equally dated clothes.

‘Come along now,’ she ordered crisply. ‘Everyone is in chapel and you need to leave immediately.’

Celia brushed past the nun’s voluminous black habit and the firmly clasped hands across her ample middle. There was no softness to be found there or comfort. Celia faltered for a moment and saw a slight shift in the older woman’s stern features.

Closing her eyes she steadied herself against the door jam and then put one foot in front of the other. She clasped the handle of the suitcase tightly; in need of its rough texture against her palm to strengthen her resolve. In her other hand she gripped the white envelope which contained her official papers and a few notes to pay for her travel.

In silence the two women proceeded down the dark corridor and into the hall of the convent. One of the other senior sisters stood by the large oak front door and seeing them approach, opened it to the front garden. Celia paused for a moment on the doorstep and turned for one last look behind her. Her biggest regret was not being able to tell her fellow sisters about her decision, or to say goodbye. She loved them all dearly and tears filled her eyes as she contemplated the future without their warmth and support.

The two nuns stiffened postures softened for a moment; as they remembered times when their own faith had perhaps wavered momentarily. However, the rules were clear and gently the Mother Superior placed her hand on the small of Celia’s back, and pushed her clear of the door. She then stepped back into the hall and there was a resounding click as the way back was firmly barred.

The sun was shining and for a moment Celia turned her face to the blue sky and warmth. She had been Sister Monica Grace for so long that even thinking about her given name confused her. Hands trembling as the fear continued its grip; she tried to move a foot down onto the first of the concrete steps leading to the garden. It was a long walk to the gate that separated the world from this enclosed order, and she saw another sister waiting patiently to unlock and open it for her departure.

Gingerly she took her first step and then another and she managed to navigate the path to the walls behind which lay the outside world. Silently the nun used the long metal key and pulled back half of the tall wooden gate. Celia was too ashamed to look her in the eyes and slipped through the opening and onto the busy pavement.

Shockingly she was suddenly in a world that was noisy and filled with vehicles that looked alien. Pedestrians hurried along the narrow pathway and seemed oblivious to her standing in the middle of them. Especially those who were talking to themselves with some form of device held up to their ears.

Then she noticed a car parked at the kerb and a man waving his hand to urge her forward. She saw that the vehicle had the word taxi in big letters on the side and shakily moved towards this life saver in the chaos. The driver took her suitcase from her and opened the back door. He smiled reassuringly and informed her that his cab had been booked to take her to the train station. Closing the back door firmly he took his place behind the wheel. As the car pulled away from the side of the road Celia took one last look at the high stone walls of her home for so many years.

00000

The driver navigated through the heavy traffic whilst his passenger gazed around her in bewildered confusion. So many cars and people and a blur of colour as shops and restaurants flashed by the windows.

Within minutes however they arrived at the station and she was shocked to see Margaret waiting for her on the kerb. How was this possible? She had not taken advantage of the offer to make a phone call to her family, in her certainty that they would not be accepting of her decision. The driver came around to her side of the taxi and held the door open with the battered suitcase in his hand. As her sister rushed forward, Celia grasped the top of the window and pulled herself out onto the pavement. Without any hesitation her sister leant forward and throwing strong arms around her shaking body, held Celia tightly.

The two women stood back after a few moments, and holding hands, looked at each other in wonderment. Celia reached out a palm and laid it on her sister’s soft cheek. It was like looking at a mirror image; but one that was brighter and lighter than her own. Soft curly red hair with just a few strands of grey shone in the sunlight and the green eyes with traces of tears sparkled back at her.

‘How did you know where I would be?’ she stroked her sister’s arm.

‘Mother Superior called me a week ago and told me that you were not going to call us,’ Margaret paused. ‘How could you think that we would not want you to come home Cel.’

Celia subconsciously moved her fingers through her hair and Margaret laughed and
hugged her close.

‘First stop the hairdresser sis when we get home.’ she stood back and looked at Celia’s old fashioned tweed suit. ‘And we need to get you a new wardrobe.’

She gently released her sister’s fingers from her hand and picked up the suitcase lying abandoned at their feet.

‘I have missed you so much Cel. Only once a year for twenty years is torture.’ With that she placed her arm around her waist and they moved off into the station.

000000

The train flashed through the countryside at terrifying speed but as the two sisters sat side by side the ice cold fear in Celia’s chest began to thaw.

She let her twin rattle on brightly about her house, her husband Robbie, the two boys Andrew and Patrick who Celia had never met. Margaret had also brought a large envelope of photographs of all the family, including her parents, surrounded by grandchildren and pets in their back garden. Celia touched her sister gently on the arm to pause the exuberant flow of words.

‘Do they understand Mags?’ she bit her lower lip.

‘They love you Cel and have your old room ready and waiting,’ Margaret leant over to kiss Celia’s cheek. ‘They have missed you so much and whilst they respected your decision to enter into the convent, they never really forgave grandmother for encouraging you.’

Celia didn’t take her eyes off the face so like hers as she continued to relate the events of the last twenty years, embellishing the stories in a way that she had almost forgotten. She felt bathed in the warmth of the outpouring as she watched her sister’s lips moving, entranced by the unfamiliar sound of a voice talking rather than praying.

For the last few miles of the journey they sat in silence basking in the sunshine that shone through the carriage window. They held hands as they had so many times as children; a closeness that only twins share. Celia had sat in silence when at prayer thousands of times in the last twenty years, but she finally realised that the missing element had always been this closeness. The simple joy of being with each other. Knowing that there is love and an unbreakable bond between you.

She had no regrets about her life and her chosen path but she also now understood, that when joy has left and cannot be recaptured, you needed to let go and move forward in a new direction.

She also pondered the unexpected kindness shown by Mother Superior in notifying her family. She had been so terrified of taking this step that she had forgotten the compassion that her religious sisters offered to each other as part of any close knit family.

The train entered the station and the two sisters walked arm in arm along the platform until they were swallowed up and smothered by kiss and tear filled embraces from the welcoming committee.

©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 – Flights of Fancy – Curtains by Sally Cronin


Welcome to another story from my collection Flights of Fancy… and this week an elderly woman reflects on her life and the different coloured curtains that have decorated her bedroom.

Curtains by Sally Cronin

The curtains at the small window fluttered in the slight afternoon breeze. The doctor has told me to rest, so here I am, tucked up under the pink eiderdown, a cup of tea cooling on the bedside cabinet.

I am not ill; I have just been overdoing it a bit lately. There has been a great deal of excitement in the family, my great grandson has just got married, and I was not going to miss out on something like that. After all, I had my reputation to uphold, as the fashion doyenne of the family. Much had been made of my emerald green suit with extravagant, black, straw hat. I had heard their comments ‘Trust Sarah to stand out in a crowd’ and ‘Doesn’t she look marvellous for her age’.

No, I was definitely not going to miss the opportunity to show that there was life in the old girl yet. It was a bit depressing really, as although I am nearly ninety, I still feel like a young girl inside. I often sit and remember the old days when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Those pre-war years were so much fun. The first war had been dreadful, taking away so many young men, that those who were left behind felt the need to live life to the full. It was almost as if we knew that the good times could not last. A premonition, that was to be fulfilled far too soon in our young lives.

I must admit that it is rather cosy, lying here under the cover, letting my mind wander. The curtains dancing at the window in their silly way are quite hypnotic. If I close my eyes, they seem to change colour from pale green to a pretty, flowery pattern, very similar to the first pair that hung at the same windows over sixty-five years ago.

‘Sarah, Sarah.’ I could hear my mother’s voice calling to me up the stairs. ‘Hurry up, your cousin will be arriving at the station soon, stop admiring yourself in the mirror and come down here.’

‘I’m coming mother.’ I called down, and with a quick adjustment to my saucy new, feathered hat, and a quick admiring glance in the mirror, I raced down the stairs in a very unladylike fashion.

My mother stood in the hall, her white apron gleaming in the dim light; sleeves rolled up and flour dusting her arms. I smiled; she always managed to get a white patch of flour on the end of her nose whenever she baked.

‘Sarah, how many times have I told you to act like a lady?’ She paused, mystified as to how she had produced someone as clumsy as me. ‘You are too old to be galloping around like a carthorse, try and behave with a little more decorum please.’

From my vastly superior height, I leant down and planted a kiss on her cheek.
‘Sorry mother, I’m going right now, have we got some of your special cake for tea?’

‘Food, food, food, don’t you ever think of anything else, you will end up fat and no one will want you.’

I laughed and opened the front door, and when I reached the little white gate, I turned and waved at my mother, standing in the cottage doorway. She lifted her hand and smiled, she looked so beautiful that I raced back and gave her a hug.

‘Oh Sarah,’ she laughed, ‘get along with you.’

I ran back down the path and crossed the village square to the small railway station. I arrived just as the train was pulling in, and as I reached the platform, the train doors started to open. Not many people were getting off at our village and I excitedly scanned all the faces as they appeared. Suddenly I saw Peter, my cousin, in his smart new uniform and I ran down the platform and was swept into his arms.

‘Peter, it’s so lovely to see you, and you look so handsome.’ He hugged me tightly and breathlessly I looked over his shoulder and up into a pair of twinkling blue eyes.

‘Do I get one of those too?’ A deep voice with a soft Irish brogue said.

I blushed furiously, and disentangled myself from my cousin’s arms.

‘Sarah, I hope that your mother won’t mind, but I have brought a friend of mine from the camp for tea?’ Peter smiled.

‘This is Patrick, Patrick meet my scatter-brained cousin, Sarah.’

For some reason, as soon as Patrick took my hand, I started to tremble. I was never usually at a loss for words, but right now, I couldn’t think of one single thing to say. He just kept smiling, holding my hand and looking down at me from his great height.

I came back to the present with a little start. I realised that I was breathless; the memory of our first meeting had exactly the same effect on me now, as it had then. I felt quite light-headed and as I looked at the curtains, they seemed to change colour again to a deep rich blue.

It was my wedding night and I lay in the big bed, staring at the new dark blue curtains, made by my mother in honour of the new status of my childhood bedroom, as bridal chamber. As I lay waiting for Patrick, I tried to calm my nerves by going back over this wonderful, exciting day. My beautiful dress, the simple service in the small village church and the reception at the hall in the square. Wartime had almost been forgotten, as dashing young men in uniform twirled the pretty village girls around the dance floor.

There was no time for a honeymoon, as Patrick had to re-join his unit tomorrow. My mother and father had gone to stay with an aunt and uncle for the night, and now we were alone together. I sensed movement by the bedroom door and I realised that Patrick was standing there watching me. He had removed his shirt and as I looked at his finely muscled, strong body, I shivered.

‘Are you afraid little Sarah?’ he said softly. I nodded; I could feel the trembling of my knees beneath the covers. ‘I love you Sarah, and I want tonight to be very special for you, something for you to look back on when I leave tomorrow.’

I reached up and touched his bare arm. With my other hand, I drew back the covers and without another word, he slipped off the rest of his clothes and lay down beside me. I felt his arms go around me, he kissed my lips softly and then with more urgency. His passion enveloped me and I felt myself responding with sensations running through my body that I had never known existed. Those feelings took over, blocking out my fear. As his hands caressed me, the girl disappeared leaving a woman deeply in love.

In the morning, I lay with my head on his shoulder. The window was open and the curtains moved gently back and forth across the opening. I sighed happily and felt Patrick stir beside me. We made love again, gently, slowly, only too aware that our time together was running out. I tried desperately to put the thought of his leaving out of my mind, but a cold fear of what the future might hold in store for us began to grow inside me.

The next time we lay together in our bed it was winter, and the curtains were drawn to shut out the cold, grim day outside. Patrick had been wounded and had come home from hospital the week before. He had changed so much in the year he had been away, his blue eyes were pain filled and he had lost a great deal of weight. He would lie upstairs in our bed for hours, recovering in body, but something was terribly wrong. He would smile occasionally, and accept everything that my mother and I did for him quietly and gratefully, but as if we were strangers. At night, we would lie in bed, not touching and if I reached out my hand to him, he would gently draw away and turn over silently to face the wall.

I felt devastated, as if I had been wounded too. I didn’t know what to say or do and I finally turned to my mother for help.

‘Be patient Sarah, give him time,’ she said softly. ‘We don’t know what he has been through, apart from being wounded; he must have seen some dreadful things in the last year. Keep loving him and let him know you care.’

This particular morning, I rose quietly, knowing he would only be dozing. I went downstairs and met mother coming out of the kitchen.

‘There’s an official letter for Patrick,’ she looked at me worriedly. ‘I do hope that they don’t want him back yet, he’s just not ready.’

I walked slowly up the stairs and opened the bedroom door. Patrick turned his head towards me and saw the letter in my hand. He held out his own and I gave him the envelope but I could not bear the suspense, and I left the room and stood with my back to the door on the landing. There was a moment of silence and then I heard great, tearing sobs coming from inside the room. I couldn’t bear the strain any longer and I flung open the door and threw myself on the bed beside him. I put my arms around him and held him tightly. The sounds that he made were terrible, I could feel his hot tears on my skin and I cried with him. I caught my breath as I felt his arms take mine and put them by my side and the next thing I knew, I was crushed against him and this time it was his arms that brought comfort.

‘Sarah, darling Sarah,’ he said haltingly. ‘I don’t have to go back; I don’t have to leave you again.’

We talked a great deal that morning. It was not fear for himself, that had caused him to be so distant, only the feeling that if he didn’t touch me, love me, share things with me, it would be easier for me when he left again. He couldn’t bear the thought of leaving me with a child, knowing as he now did, that there was a distinct possibility that he might never return. As we talked all that fear was swept away and when we hesitantly made love, I felt that he had finally come home.

The blue curtains fade away, to be replaced by a bright, cheerful pair. The bedroom had been redecorated and in the corner stood a crib. I lay in bed listening to the gentle snuffling noises, which filled the room, and I had never felt so happy in my life. I heard Patrick coming up the stairs and open the door. I turned and smiled at him.

‘You’re awake then,’ he said softly. ‘Is she awake too?’

I looked at the crib that held our daughter Elizabeth. ‘Not yet, but as soon as she gets hungry, we will all know about it.’

‘Sarah, I have something to say to you.’ I looked at him and saw the bleakness in his eyes.
‘I have to go back.’ He gripped my hand tightly in his. ‘My regiment is going to be returning to France in the next few weeks and I need to go with them. They say that in the next few months we could end this war and they need every trained man they can find.’

I stared at him, hoping that this was all a bad dream.

He gently placed his finger across my lips before I could speak.

‘I have been so happy this last year, now that I have you and the baby everything is complete and I can’t bear the thought of leaving you, but please try to understand.’

The tears poured down my cheeks and I realised that I was back in the present again. The sights and sounds of the past faded away and the gentle knock on the door reminded me that I was not alone. I rubbed my wet face with a tissue.

‘Come in,’ I called, trying to control my quivering voice. My daughter Elizabeth stood in the doorway.

‘It’s four o’clock mum,’ she said. ‘I thought you might like another cup of tea before I go home.’

She looked at me carefully. ‘You still look very tired mum, are you sure you’re feeling alright, would you like me to call the doctor back again?’

‘No darling, I’m fine, just a little tired, that’s all,’ I smiled reassuringly. ‘It was all the excitement of the wedding on Saturday, it’s not every day that you see your great grandson walk up the aisle, and I must have overdone it a bit.’

Elizabeth sat on the edge of the bed and took my hand in hers.

‘Actually, I was having a lovely dream,’ I looked up into her youthful looking face. ‘It’s hard to believe that it is over sixty years since your father was killed. I so wish that you could have known him.’

It is night now and Elizabeth has gone home with the promise of returning first thing in the morning. My companion, Betty has been in with a lovely cup of cocoa and gone to bed, as tired with the last few days’ activities as I was.

The window is open slightly and the curtains drawn back to reveal a clear, starry sky. I feel so tired, but somehow content, my eyelids drop and then I hear his voice as clearly, as if it was yesterday. His soft gentle tones came from the end of my bed. My eyes open suddenly; I am trembling and excited, my heart pounding in my chest.

He is there, in his uniform, looking so handsome and as strong as ever. He is smiling and his arms are outstretched towards me.

‘Sarah, darling, I’ve come to take you home with me; I have been waiting for such a long time.’

I flew into his arms, feeling them close around me. I felt so young, so alive and so safe.

Together we walked towards the window, and the fluttering floral curtains of my youth.
I took a last, long look at our bedroom and in the bed, I saw an old woman. Her eyes were closed and she was lying very still. On her face was the most beautiful smile I had ever seen.
©sallycronin Flights of Fancy 2009

Other short story anthologies.

You can find all my books at these links:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sally-Cronin/e/B0096REZM2

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sally-Georgina-Cronin/e/B003B7O0T6

Smashwords for Epub: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SallyGCronin

More reviews can be found on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7979187.Sally_Cronin

Thank you for dropping in and as always I value your feedback. Sally.

Writer in Residence Five Part Short Story – The House by the Sea- Chapter One by Paul Andruss


As regular visitors to the blog you will have already enjoyed the factual and fiction posts by Paul Andruss. When I mentioned that I was going to be spending the next week writing, he offered to write a story for the blog in five parts to keep you entertained. I was deeply touched, as would my father-in-law Geoff Cronin, by Paul’s dedication. It is wonderful to have your writing appreciated especially by someone who is himself a superb author.

I am sure you will enjoy this five part story over the next week and I have illustrated with some photographs from the stories of Geoff Cronin.

THE HOUSE BY THE SEA by Paul Andruss

Dedicated to Master storytellers
Geoff Cronin whose tales inspired the setting
& his spiritual heir & daughter in law
Sally Cronin whose short stories inspired me to try

Patrick Noone had liked the sea ever since he could remember. He liked the way its wildness stirred restlessness in his heart. His earliest memories were of yearning to plunge into the world beneath the waves; to hold his breath and let the current sweep him where it would.

Those memories came unbidden as he lay in bed, or at twilight watching a red bloated sun sink into grey. At such times, he remembered sitting in someone’s lap with protective arms wrapped around him. He believed it was his mother; although he remembered nothing of her. He imagined if he could only turn his head to look into her eyes he would see everything. But of course, he could not.

Sometimes when he had fallen into these reveries, he thought he heard low singing in a feminine lilting voice. Never words, just a soothing noise on the edge of hearing, like the whisper of waves on the beach below the house. At such times, he remembered large, dark, liquid eyes revealing his reflection and a wide expanse of seamlessly joined sky and sea. They were his mother’s eyes he supposed. They were certainly not his father’s.

His father hated the sea. His earliest memory of his father was of a bright day. Left to his own devices young Patrick wondered down to the beach and stood letting the water lap around his toes. He was entranced, lost in the sound of distant singing. Suddenly he was snatched up. Thrust face first into a musty corduroy jacket smelling of cigarettes, and carried roughly away.

His father did not say a word as he dropped him in a heap on the kitchen floor. He made to take off his belt; then stopped. He stood staring at his son for minutes. Or was it hours? Patrick did not know. When you are a child, time seems frozen and sometimes in memory, time is frozen too.

He remembered his father’s face crumpled as he let out an anguished cry. It left Patrick shaking and he burst into tears. His father knelt down and hugged him. Patrick remembered being held so tight he could not breathe. He fought as children do when feeling smothered. Without warning his father let go and walked out the house. Patrick must have been about 5 years old.

Patrick always thought his father died that night, although he knew it was not true. For some time they lived in two rooms, the kitchen and parlour next door with all the furniture pushed back to make room for a large cold bed where Patrick and his father slept. Not though his father ever slept in the bed, he always fell asleep in the chair with a bottle on the table and a pewter mug in his hand.

In the morning Patrick would creep around, looking for a crust. Perhaps he’d find scrapings of a leek and potato soup from Aunt Biddy, or scraps congealed on last night’s plates of cold boiled bacon and colcannon. Patrick did not wake his father. Not because he was afraid, but because when his father slept he looked almost happy.

He remembered Aunt Biddy in a blustering rage accusing her brother of not loving Patrick. She claimed he was afraid of him. Even at that young age Patrick knew not a single word coming from Biddy’s mouth was true. Even she did not believe it. Biddy had her eye on his father’s handsome house; neglected and forlorn as it was.

A crying shame she scolded, with no fire in the grate and filth in the corners piled high as the dirty dishes in the sink. This was no way to live, with a poor wee mite running round filthy and bare arsed as a heathen. And didn’t she make a great show of wanting to be a sainted mother to him, lunging at Patrick with her great white arms in which to smother him. A fate Patrick avoided only by hiding behind his father’s chair.

Biddy rubbed her eyes with the edge of her pinnie. Rubbed them in the exact place tears might appear, had there been any. Upon her life she sniffled, all she ever wanted was wee ‘uns of her own. But she couldn’t yer see. Not with Big Pat’s lungs shot through with the consumption. Her voice already a hoarse whisper dropped to inaudibility at the thought of any indelicacy passing her lips. The malarkey, she mouthed, not possible yer see. Over the years Patrick often wondered if Biddy had wanted wee ‘uns of her own why she never treated him better.

Biddy was the type of woman any man would struggle to best, never mind his father with all the fight gone from him. As Patrick could testify from experience, her powerful white arms and raw rough hands could land a clout to send you spinning clean across the room; if she had a mind, which she often did.

Not long afterwards, Biddy moved in with her husband, Big Pat, a small mean-built man, skinny and pale as Biddy was large and red. Before night fell, the whole house smelled of carbolic and damp washing, a smell even the tempting aroma of a mutton stew could not overwhelm. By the end of the week she forbad Patrick’s father from drinking in the house, which meant he went out drinking in the pub. Then she forbad Big Pat from going with him, which meant he carried on drinking in the house. From then on Patrick saw his father less and less. Which was good in a way, for when he drowned Patrick never really noticed he was gone.

Once the house was as she liked it, Biddy turned her attention to Patrick. Biddy took in washing and ironing for the big house, the doctor and the priest, and wanted him out from under her feet. Announcing she couldn’t have him running round the house all day long like a wild heathen, she scrubbed him, head to foot, with gritty soap on an itchy rag and inspected his head for nits by wrenching a fine-toothed comb through his tangled locks.

He was dressed in his Sunday best, a shirt with a starched collar that chaffed his neck, short trousers creased so sharp he might do someone mischief and black books so shiny he could see his face. Biddy inspected him critically and after a final scrub round the ears with spit and the edge of her pinnie, pulled on her good coat and dragged him, screaming every inch of the way, to the nuns for schooling.

‘Jeasus, Mary and Josef, what was yer thinking?’ she roared at his father. The woman could hardly believe her ears when Father O’Malley came round to tell her little Patrick was a real heathen and if she wanted him in school he would have to be baptised. Baptised he was that very day and started school the next; the youngest in the whole place, which was really just two classes.

©Paul Andruss 2018

©Images The Colour of Life by Geoff Cronin

A wonderful start to the story.. please drop in tomorrow for chapter two.

About Paul Andruss.

Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.

Paul Andruss is the author of 2 contrasting fantasy novels

Thomas the Rhymer – a magical fantasy for ages 11 to adult about a boy attempting to save fairy Thomas the Rhymer, while trying to rescue his brother from a selfish fairy queen

When Fairy Queen Sylvie snatches his brother, schoolboy Jack is plunged into a sinister fantasy world of illusion and deception – the realm of telepathic fairies ruled by spoilt, arrogant fairy queens.

Haunted by nightmares about his brother and pursued by a mysterious tramp (only seen by Jack and his friends) Jack fears he too will be stolen away.

The tramp is Thomas the Rhymer, who only speaks in rhyme. Lost and frightened Thomas needs Jack’s help to find his way home.

The race is on for Jack and his friends to save Thomas from the wicked Agnes Day (who wants to treat Thomas like a lab rat). And save Jack’s brother from Sylvie.
To do this they need the help of Bess – the most ancient powerful fairy queen in the land.
But there is a problem…
No one knows where Bess is… or even if she is still lives.
And even if they find her… will she let them go?

Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Rhymer-Jack-Hughes-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00EPQL7KC

And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thomas-Rhymer-Jack-Hughes-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00EPQL7KC

Finn Mac CoolFinn Mac Cool – rude, crude and funny, Finn Mac Cool is strictly for adults only.

When the fairy folk deliver a soldier called Finn (the first outsider in plague-stricken Ireland for a decade) Erin believes he is Finn Mac Cool – returned to kill the tyrant King Conor Mac Nessa of Ulster. and free Great Queen Maeve – Ireland’s true ruler & Erin’s dying mother.

The druids kidnap Finn – planning to turn him into the hero Finn Mac Cool – who will save the world by destroying it.

Erin goes in looking for Finn – so he can kill Conor Mac Nessa before her mother’s dream of a free Ireland dies with her.

Erin’s quest draws her ever-deeper into Ireland’s ancient mythological landscape; a place…
… Where dream and reality merge
… Where a man’s fate is written fifteen hundred years before he was born
… Where books are legends & a library a myth
… Where people hate Christians for defying the gods
… Where phony druids use real magic

Find out more and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Finn-Mac-Cool-Paul-Andruss-ebook/dp/B018OJZ9KY

and Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Finn-Mac-Cool-Paul-Andruss-ebook/dp/B018OJZ9KY

Here is an extract from my review of Thomas the Rhymer

Challenge your senses with a rival to Harry Potter by Sally Cronin

After 60 odd years of reading it is easy to get into bad habits. By this I mean sticking to the tried and tested with regard to genres and authors. This is not healthy when you are a writer yourself, as I have discovered when reading Thomas the Rhymer by Paul Andruss.

I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling when it was released. Whilst I enjoyed it as a children’s story, I really did not find myself engaged or inspired to read the other seven books or watch the movies. I felt excluded from the millions who did and usually keep my silence in the face of fans.

However, Thomas the Rhymer had me hooked from page one and continued to keep me engaged the entire 319 pages.

This is an ensemble piece with a cast of characters that would be happy in starring roles in Alice in Wonderland or any Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. Jack Hughes, Ken, Catherine and the delightful Rosie, along with Thomas with his foot in this world and that of the Fairies; draw you into their inner circle and hold you fast.

Each of these wonderfully drawn characters face challenges in their past or present that make them feel isolated until they join forces to protect the most vulnerable amongst them and bring a brother home.

Read the rest of the review and challenge you senses and pick up a copy today: https://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Rhymer-Jack-Hughes-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00EPQL7KC

Currently for a limited period Thomas the Rhymer is FREE to download via Paul’s website. It would be a great service if you could download the book and review and put it on Amazon and Goodreads.

Thank you to Paul for what promises to be another fabulous story.. I am sure that he would love your feedback. Thanks Sally