Christmas, Duet, short story collections, The Beach Hut Writers, The Beach Hut Writing Academy, Write by the Beach
A little bit of flash fiction for you at Christmas. I read this story at Rattle Tales last year, nice and festive. Remember when it was cold enough to snow? Here’s wishing you a fabulous Christmas and may all your dreams come true in 2016. I am looking forward to The Beach Hut Writing Academy’s first writer’s conference Write by The Beach in March which includes a short story workshop sponsored by The Brighton Prize which will be expanding this year. I’m also looking forward to finding a publisher for my short story collection. IT WILL HAPPEN. You can find out my thoughts on Christmas in BJournal
It snowed all night. Angel-feather flakes have left a shag-pile of white on the ground. I walk into town because there were no buses in sight, just a never-ending line of frustrated cars bumper to bumper. It’s a necessary trip; I’ve left it very late to buy my son’s birthday present and the things I need for his party on Saturday. Besides, I like the crunch of snow under my boots and the tickle of fresh flakes on my nose. Snow makes me feel alive. I think it’s because it’s never here for long, it’s something you have to embrace there and then or it’ll be gone and you’ll regret you didn’t make the most of it.
Town is deserted, the shops empty. It’s like a dream. I wander through the toy store as if they have opened it just for me like I’m Tom Cruise or Kate Windsor, somebody important enough not to have to mix with the plebs. Shop assistants sit behind resting tills flicking through today’s Metro for the umpteenth time. I finish what I have to do by eleven o’clock and it’s cold out there now, the snow has stopped but the wind is brutal. Instead of walking home right away I decide to go to M&S for a latte, my usual shopping treat.
There are more people in the café, though not as many as usual, a few solitary pensioners and some care-worn mums duelling with toddlers intent on smearing cake on their faces. Easy listening pipes loudly through the speakers – Wham, Chicago, Maroon 5– interrupted by the chink of teaspoons on china and the whirr of the coffee machines on the production line. The waitress brings the coffee to my table because I have so many bags. How lovely it is to be waited on. It’s usually me doing the maid duties, kids, husband, my mother, the dogs, there’s always something needs doing. It’s nice sitting here sipping frothy coffee; an exhalation, sinking into a soft armchair like a hug. I close my eyes.
Ella Fitzgerald comes on, Every time We Say Goodbye. Ella Fitzgerald reminds me of my Dad. She was his favourite singer. Every Sunday at tea-time he’d play Ella Fitzgerald on the scratchy record player housed in the side-board. ‘No one sings like Ella,’ he used to say. ‘Ella could shatter glass!’ When he said this I would always roll my eyes (because back then the only music on earth was The Smiths) and I’d reply, ‘she must have been a right pain at parties.’ To which Dad would roll his eyes and then we’d chuckle at this ritual display of our surface incompatibility. This particular song was Dad’s requiem.
A man’s voice joins Ella’s from the corner of the café, softly at first, barely a murmur. I open my eyes and look in the direction of the sound. He’s an old man, sitting alone, wearing a stained jumper, brown shirt and tie tied a bit squiffy, bedraggled hunting hat jammed down tight on his head. His face is an ordinance survey of deep lines, fuzzed with the beginnings of a grey beard, his nose bulbous and pitted. A small tea sits untouched in front of him filmed with tannin scum. His voice grows with the song, deep and resonant. By the second chorus it booms loud and clear across the café, word-matched to Ella’s, rising and falling in time, the perfect duet. Everybody stops, even the baristas, and turns to watch him.
‘There’s no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to minor…’
The song ends too quickly, no glass is shattered, and the man looks down at his tea-cup failing to acknowledge the smattering of applause.
The Spice Girls are on next.