Thursday, 3 May 2018

Clara’s Story: A Holocaust Biography 8 October 1918, Berlin: The end of a phase



Clara shuddered. It was one of those strange uncontrollable little movements. Her mother used to say it meant someone was walking over your grave. What did that mean, actually though? They were walking over where you were going to be buried? How would you know now? It was nonsense really but she had no better or even any other explanation for it. It wasn’t as if it was cold in the kitchen: the Kackelofen was lit and the sun was streaming through the window.


She put the rest of yesterday’s birthday cake away. Ernst had insisted she should celebrate her birthday despite his illness. She’d baked one of her special cheesecakes but nobody had had much appetite for it. It would keep a few days, she guessed. Perhaps when he was feeling better they would all appreciate it more. 

 She looked at the clock. He should have called for his tea by now. It was half an hour past the normal time. She’d looked in on him earlier. He’d been sound asleep. Doctor Friedrich had said it was good to let him sleep. Perhaps she should go and look in on him again. 

The doctor hadn’t really given a clear diagnosis. “It’s a combination of things, Frau Lehrs,” he’d said. “His worry about this war has weakened him. The rickets has got worse. And now this chest infection…” 

“That shouldn’t kill a man, though, should it, Herr Doctor? He will recover won’t he?”

“I’m afraid I can’t say. He’s still quite young but you know this terrible war has taken its toll. It’s made men even younger than him want to give up. I’m sorry I can’t give you any better news.”
Damn men and their wars.  Clara made her way towards her husband’s room. So many men killed on both sides and so many left with half-lives. And now they were all so poor. It wasn’t so bad for them as for some of the people who worked in Ernst’s factory. But they had had to cut Imelda’s hours in order to pay for the nurse.

The door to Ernst’s room was flung open. Schwester Adelberg rushed out. “Frau Lehrs, you must come quickly,” she cried. 

Clara hurried into the bedroom. 

Ernst’s breathing was laboured. His chest was rattling. 

“Should we send for the doctor?” said Clara. But she could tell from the look on the nurse’s face that it was too late. 

“You must say your goodbyes,” Schwester Adelberg whispered guiding her gently towards the bed. 

Clara knelt down beside her husband and put her face next to his. She took his hand. He was trying to speak but she couldn’t make out what he was saying. Yellow bile streamed from his nose and seeped from the corners of his mouth and his eyes. He tried to push the sheets and blankets away. 

“Does he have a fever?” 

“It’s the blood rushing to his vital organs, trying to save them. His lungs are filling. That sound you hear is them working to expel the fluid but it has gone too far now.” 

“Is – is he in pain?” 

“He’s probably not comfortable and he’s very likely afraid and lonely. Talk to him.”
“Ernst – Ernst, my love. Don’t leave me yet. It’s too soon.” 

Schwester Adelberg touched her shoulder. “There’s nothing more we can do,” she whispered. “Try to comfort him.” 

Clara stroked his arm. “I’m here my darling. It will be all right. Sleep gently. You’ll soon have no more pain.” 

He looked at once like a child and a man forty years older. Her father had not looked this frail when he’d died. Ernst’s poor body was a twisted wreck. But it had been like that all of his life and he’d done so much despite his disability. She stroked his hair. 

He relaxed a little. He took one final breath and the rattle in his chest stopped. His faced changed and he looked peaceful. Yet at the same time he looked like a piece of paper. His lips and cheeks were grey. Yes, the life had gone out of him. That wasn’t her Ernst anymore. Even so she leant over and kissed his forehead. “Goodbye, sweetheart,” she whispered. 

She knelt for a few more minutes holding his hand and then she stood up. “We’d better get the doctor here to sign a death certificate,” she said.

“I’m happy to stay and lay him out properly after the doctor’s visit,” said Schwester Adelberg.

“Thank you.” 

“And would you like me to help with the arrangements?” 

“That would be very kind. Now, I’d better go and let the children know.” 

As Clara made her way down the stairs she realised that another phase of her life had ended.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Abigail’s Snowman




It was all going to melt soon.  By this time tomorrow it would all be gone. It was so completely freakish.  Almost a foot of snow in the early hours and throughout the morning, and now mid-afternoon, cars were driving reasonably easily through deep slush.  Yet, if you wanted to get the car off the drive, you needed to clear the pavement. 

She’d done that. And now she had an interesting pile of snow. “We should make it into a snowman,” she’d said to Jeff and Lester. 

“Mum, I’m a bit past that, don’t you think?” 

“I suppose.” She remembered when Lester had been a little boy and had got so excited about the snow. Now he was just miffed that he couldn’t go off on his mountain-bike.   

“It’s not worth the effort. It’ll all be gone in a matter of hours.” Jeff shook his head.
“Well, I’m going to do it.” 

She’d actually enjoyed shovelling the snow into a big heap. It had been better than being cooped up inside and the exercise not only kept her warm but also made her feel good. She didn’t want to stop.
She formed and honed the lump of snow into something vaguely human-shaped. She straightened his side, moulded arms and a square head with ears on it. She plumped his cheeks, shaped hands, and then fingers. She added, subtracted and sculpted.  

Soon two pairs of eyes were looking at her through the window. The front door opened. “I’ve found these round the back,” said Jeff. “I thought they might do for his eyes, nose and mouth.” He handed her some of the dark pebbles off the Japanese garden.  

Lester appeared at his side. “I know what else.” He dashed inside. He came back with the matching plaid scarf and ear-muffs Great Aunt Tilda had given him last Christmas.

“And I know what we need now.” Abigail was adding the finishing touches as the two men in her life looked on. “Go and get my sunglasses. The big round ones.” 

Jeff came back with them. She placed them carefully on the snowman’s face. “Perfect,” she said.
“Not bad,” said Jeff. 

Lester took pictures on his iPhone. 

When Abigail woke up in the night and looked through the spare bedroom window to see how well the snow was thawing, her snowman was decidedly slimmer. By then next morning his head had rolled off and the scarf, muffs and sunglasses were lying on the ground. By the following afternoon he was just a lump of snow that was barely recognisable as something someone had made.
“It doesn’t matter,” Abigail whispered. “You were still worth it.”  Tomorrow would come soon enough and she would have to be all po-faced and straight-laced at the station. Even a copper deserved a bit of fun now and again. 
                   

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Polite Society




Rod wound down the window. 

“Good morning sir.” 

“Good morning, officer.” 

“I presume you know that you are driving without insurance?” 

Was he? The heck he was. He paid for it monthly on a direct debit. What was he on about?

“I pay for it every month.” 

“Well, perhaps there wasn’t enough in your bank account, sir.” 

Could that be it? It might be. Every month he would get letters from the bank telling him he’d spent money he hadn’t got and charging him £8.00 for the privilege. 

“Could I see your driving license, sir?” 

“I don’t have it with me.” 

“Well you’ll need to report to your nearest police station with it within ten days. Plus proof of insurance.” 

“I understand.” 

“Of course, I can’t let you drive the car away. I suggest you give your insurance company a quick call.” 

Rod found the details out of the glove box. The police car’s Stop sign mocked him as he waited for someone at the call centre to pick up. He only had to wait four minutes but it seemed a lot longer as the cars whizzed by on the motorway. 

“That’s right,” said the girl at the other end after he’d explained the situation. “Your last payment didn’t go through, even though we tried it twice. Could you make a payment now?” 

He managed to find a card that still had some credit on it. The next two minutes passed even more slowly than the previous four. 

“That’s all gone through. We’ve sent a text message to confirm. The police database is updated instantly.” 

The police man tapped the window again. “That’s all in order now, sir. We’ll let you off with a caution this time. You’ll still have to make that little trip to your local station, though. Just remember to keep an eye on your bank account in future. Rightio, I’ll help you get back on to the motorway. Have a good day now.” 

Rod wound his window back up and gave the officer the thumbs up sign. 

As he merged into the traffic he wondered why he’d been so damned polite. He wasn’t a criminal. He hadn’t deliberately avoided paying his insurance. He was just too busy earning not quite enough money to find the time to check what the bank was doing with it.      

  

Thursday, 15 February 2018

When Time Went Crazy



The Jenkins were not the sort of people to party all night, right through to breakfast. In their youth maybe, but not these days.  Nevertheless, there they were, eating brunch and wondering where the night had gone.


“Did we finish the wine last night?”

“I don’t think so. We didn’t play Scrabble either.” 

It was a real puzzle. The last either could remember before they started breakfast was that they hadn’t quite finished their dessert from the evening before. 

Something must have happened, though, because they were wearing different clothes now.  

“It’s really funny,” he said. “That lemon sorbet was making me quite full but I’m starving now. What’s going on?”

“It’s weird about the photos as well,” she replied. 

They carried on looking at the shots of Gibraltar on his phone. They weren’t due to go there until the next day. 

As the plane landed he shook his head. “I was looking forward to my beach day on Sunday. Now I’ve got to go to work tomorrow.”

A short while later they were lying on the sun beds at the beach.
“I think I must be dreaming,” he said. 

“Well, so am I then.  But don’t you think it’s funny that we’re both having the same dream?” 

“Hmm.”

“Anyway, don’t forget the photos.” She picked up his iPhone and started searching. “Oh my. It looks as if our Sandra will marry Tony after all.” 

She handed him the phone. There was their daughter in a flowing white dress and Tony smarter than they’d ever seen him before. Judging by the colour of the leaves on the trees it was already autumn,  but was tat this year or another one?




          

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Weather Behaving Badly



Weather Behaving Badly

They talked about El Niño and La Niña. So we had quite a few years of proper summer unfortunately accompanied by drought. Then we had several years of miserable weather.  They talked of Global Warming and then renamed it Climate Change because the Warming was actually making it cooler for the posh people. But we hadn’t seen anything yet. 

They made a film about a new ice age arriving suddenly. It seemed melodramatic. Then came Katrina and the film seemed more reasonable. After Sandy it began to look tame.        
The stream winds started moving in the wrong direction. We got snow on snow followed by rain on rain and floods, followed by temperatures going up overnight. Two feet of snow fell and disappeared within twenty-four hours. 

Yet, one morning soon after, there was thick ice on the windscreen and cars sliding round the S bend though the temperature gauge said it was six degrees Celsius. Later, after the sun had shone all day and the gauge now said seven, there was, once more, ice on the car.
What’s going on?   
        

Saturday, 20 January 2018

January Stones 2013: When physics got sick



This is an excerpt from my first collection of Flash Fiction,  January Stones 2013. I wrote one a day in January 2013. The book came out last year.  Yes, that's how long it can take to get a book out sometimes.

It is currnelty being made into an audio book. 

Here is the first one:   



When physics got sick


The Scientist carefully took the shards of glass out of the cupboard, dropped them in the sink, and watched underwhelmed as the tumbler formed itself. It seemed natural, as if it had happened a thousand times before. Yet his constantly questioning mind wondered whether this, this first occurrence of something quite extraordinary, marked the beginning of the end as the second law of thermodynamics was breaking down.

As he filled the tumbler with water he became aware that at the same time as being in his kitchen he was also upstairs and at the other side of the universe, so clearly Planck’s Constant had suddenly become somewhat bigger.

Later, examining the internal structure of protons, he found that they were indeed made of cream cheese and constantly mumbled nonsensical German so the label “quark” was actually extremely apt. Yet there was a paradox because surely the cream cheese itself was made of atoms, and they, in turn, of protons.

And yet.

There was no problem for Newton. Apples still fell merrily on the heads of those foolish enough to sit under apple-trees in the autumn. The big nuclear reactor in the sky still reacted. His home planet appeared to be carrying on its Maypole dance around its star and keeping up its complex ceilidh with the rest of the universe.

The Scientist paused for a moment and pondered. Perhaps the Humanities people were right after all. Every physicist knew that all of these laws did not work all of the time. Everything was relative anyway – Einstein had shown this. There could be a god, then. Or maybe the Matrix was not so far-fetched. It might even be the philosophers who had got it right – that life is but an illusion.

Scientific advice by Doctor Martin James who identified two subatomic particles, some ten years or so before the World Wide Web was born at CERN, thereby gobsmacking his children’s science teachers. 

Read more about these collections here.