Becky: Part Five

This is the fifth part of a fiction serial, in 750 words.

I was staying late at work one night, trying to make a few grand for the bank with some stragglers. Those dealers who waited until the last moment, the time just before the operation changed over to our night shift guys who worked on the floor above. The last-minute deals were sometimes lucrative, as they would haggle less, and often drop down to as low as half a cent on the dollar commission on any subsequent profit. And it didn’t hurt that I was still logged on to my terminal at nine at night, when everyone else had left the floor.

That wouldn’t go unnoticed.

As I stood up and closed down the screen, I turned to reach for my jacket, and saw her standing right by the back wall. She was wearing a green tabard over a simple dress, and carrying one of those plastic things that hold spray bottles and cloths. Encouraged by my screen going dark, she walked forward. “Okay to clean now, please?” The accent sounded Russian, maybe Polish. I apologised for making her wait. I had never noticed any cleaners waiting before, but I was normally gone by eight.

She just smiled, and started spraying something on the nearest desk.

When I got across to the row of lifts, I turned back before pressing the button. I watched as she cleaned rythmically, her natural black hair shining in the lights left on by the terminal. Older than me, maybe thirty-five. Neither skinny, nor overweight. I pressed the button, and carried on looking. When the ding sounded to announce the lift had arrived, she turned and looked at me. I smiled, and she smiled back.

The next night I joined the guys for a quick beer after work, then went back into the building. Checking my watch, I hoped I had guessed right. I almost missed her, as she was just walking into the service corridor entrance as I got to my floor. She stopped when she saw me. “You forget something? I get it for you?” I smiled and told her that I had come looking for her, and would she give me her number, so I could call her to arrange a date. It hadn’t occurred to me that she might be married, or have someone regular, and I was embarrassed as she hesitated. “Okay, I’m Justina. You can have my number sir”. I grinned like a kid, and told her my name was Francis, and she didn’t have to call me sir.

When I got my phone out, she called out the number loudly and slowly, as if to make sure I got it right. Then when I nodded, she took the phone out of my hand and checked it to make sure I had.

I rang her at five the next afternoon, and agreed to meet her on Saturday, though my heart sank when she told me she lived in Neasden. From Beckton to Neasden is a bad enough journey by public transport, but driving there would be a nightmare in shopping traffic. So I was very pleased when she suggested meeting in Trafalgar Square outside the National Gallery, by the steps. I wouldn’t have to drive, and with her suggested time of midday, we could make it into a long date. She was already there when I arrived, and suggested we go in to look at some paintings. As we went back up the steps, she held my arm, as if she had always been my girlfriend.

By the time we had walked across the bridge to see more paintings at the Hayward Gallery, then headed back to settle down for a drink in a pub on The Strand, I already knew that she was thity-seven, divorced, and from Lithuania. Despite her heavy accent, her English was fine. She had been to university in Vilnius, where she had studied English, got a degree, and then discovered there was no work. So she got married to the former boyfriend from her small town instead. She had been in London for over eight years, renting a room in a shared house, and doing crap jobs for minimum wage. I suggested a film in Leicester Square, then a Chinese meal in Soho after, and she nodded enthusiastically.

Between the film and the restaurant, I stopped in Newport Place and kissed her. She kissed me back.

As we waited for the crispy duck pancakes to arrive, I looked across at her, and she blushed.

That’s when I fell in love with her.

Becky: Part Four

This is the fourth part of a fiction serial, in 751 words.

Before Becky, there were a couple of others. We flashed our money around back then, and could often take our pick of the Essex girls who were also hanging around after work, or sometimes the posh birds looking for a bit of rough. I got regular with a girl named Charly who it turned out lived quite close to me. I thought her name was short for Charlotte at first, but it turned out her parents had actually called her Charly.

She was big on fake tan and tattoos, and spent over half her salary on beauty treatments and clothes. Her parents treated her like an Essex princess, and she acted like one too. I had learned to drive in college, and finally had enough money to get a car. But it sat on the driveway of the house all week, as it was no good even thinking about driving into work. So I used it at weekends to take Charly around, and her destination of choice was usually Lakeside shopping centre, or the snazzy one called Bluewater, across the river in Kent.

It seemed perfectly normal for her to want to spend every date in a shopping mall, as we could also see a film, and have a meal there. But getting together for sex was tricky. No chance in her house, and awkard in mine, even though I knew they wouldn’t say anything if she stopped over. So it had to be a quickie in the car, mostly in the sports ground car park near where I lived. Then after six months, her dad had a word with me about where we were going to live when we got married. He was thinking about an extension over the garage, he told me, and said it was ours if we wanted it.

I ran a mile after that. Well not literally, I worked out a plan for her to chuck me. Started by saying I wasn’t well and missing two dates. Then forgetting to ring her when I said I would. I waited to deliver the killer blow one night when I left her at home waiting for me to pick her up. When I was half an hour late, she rang me, and I said I had to meet an old mate. Well, a princess like her isn’t going to be messed about, so she told me. And at least I gave her the satisfaction of being able to convince herself she broke up with me.

That did make me realise something though. I needed my own place. I earned enough to get a mortgage, and I had the ten percent deposit saved, as my mum never took anything off me for living at home. She said she wouldn’t, as long as I saved it up for something sensible. Well a one-bedroom starter home in Beckton was sensible enough, and that was what I bought. My own dedicated parking space, open-plan ground floor with a small patio garden, and a bedroom with en-suite upstairs. Then I could get the DLR into work, and have an extra twenty minutes in bed.

My parents helped with furniture and stuff, and my dad took a week off to paint all the walls and ceilings for me. My first night alone in my own house felt really weird. I sat out on the patio and ate a pizza from its box, washed down with two beers. Beckton was a soulless development, with little going for it. But it would do me for now.

I found out that fending for myself was bloody expensive. Electric bills, council tax, water rates, all on top of the mortgage. I stopped eating out after work, and started to be careful with money for the first time in my life. The guys in the office ribbed me about not going out for beers, but I knew that would end up with a meal, maybe a club, then a taxi home. I might be able to do that once a month, but not four nights a week, like those guys. Of course, they did most of it on credit cards, but if I used a card to buy anything, the debt started to play on my mind.

I settled for lonely nights in front of the telly, and Sunday dinners at my parents’ house. They praised me up for being sensible, but I felt like I had already given up, and got old before my time.

Then I met Justina.

Becky: Part Three

This is the third part of a fiction serial, in 715 words.

I was aware that I had sat down on ‘my side’ of the bed. I smiled a grim smile, wondering how soon it might become someone else’s side. How had it come to this? It had been so different at the beginning.

When I met Becky, I was twenty-six years old. Unlike some of my friends, I had decided not to go to university. I wanted a job, not the chance of a career when I was almost thirty. I coasted through school, disappointing my parents with average O-level results. So I left and went to sixth-form college, where I worked a bit harder and came out with three pretty good A-levels. That got me a start with the biggest of the big four banks.

It also proved to be the kiss of death for the relationship I had enjoyed since we were fifteen. My girlfriend Paula was the only Chinese girl at the school. She was clever, much cleverer than me, and her parents didn’t really approve of her having a regular boyfriend at that age, especially one who was not Chinese. They owned four prosperous retaurants in Soho, and lived in a house three times the size of ours. Her older brother was a research scientist in some lab at Cambridge University, and they expected great things of her.

But she adored me, and they hadn’t counted on that.

So they did what rich people can do, and paid for her to go to college in America. Berkeley, the one in California. It was a big carrot to dangle, and I didn’t blame Paula for grabbing it with both hands. Maybe if I had decided on an Englsh university, she might have followed me there.
Then again, maybe not.

The same time I lost her, I lost Luke, my best friend. He went to university to study computing and electronics. As he had never so much as kissed a girl, he had very little to leave behind.
Except me.

But I had new friends at work. Or so I thought. It took me a while to realise that colleagues are not the same as friends, even if you go to lunch with them, then out for drinks after work. For one thing, they live all over the place, so it’s unlikely you will meet up at weekends. And for another, you put up with each other because you have to. You need to be able to cope with being with them for around nine or ten hours a day, so it seems only natural to continue that connection by going to the pub on your way home, or all grabbing a meal at TGI Fridays.

Even in my late teens, I worked out that most of those guys were not the sort who I would usually choose to be friends with. They judged on appearances, talked a lot about gadgets, cars, and money. They discussed women by type, as if they were pedigree dog breeds, and looked down on anyone who actually loved their girlfriend. My dad had a word for those kind of guys.

Shallow.

But I liked the job. I liked wearing a suit and tie to work, and didn’t even mind the boring train journey from Gidea Park into the city. I felt grown up, and the pay was pretty good too. I learned stuff. Stuff about money, and the money markets. How to buy Yen when the market closed in Japan, and then to hang on to sell it until the market opened in New York. Not real money, in the physical sense. Numbers on a computer screen, with some in red, others in green, and many in white. There were plus and minus signs, graphs, trends, and predictions. I was a junior in the section dealing with predictions. Millions made or lost in the course of a working day. Stress on steroids.

I looked over their shoulders, listened in on their phone calls. Always learning.

They worked late, so I stayed late. Even though I didn’t have to. Three years later, and I was sitting in front of a screen wearing a headset. I was talking to customers and agents, buying and selling international currency as if I knew what I was talking about.

And fortunately, I did.

Becky: Part Two

This is the second part of a fiction serial, in 712 words.

I waited until Luke had left for work before emerging from the bedroom. Sleeping on his bed had made me feel dirty, but there was no way I was going to use his shower, as that looked even dirtier. A quick glance showed that a large percentage of his too-long dark hair was living around the drain and the base. Using the toilet to have a pee was bad enough. I reckoned I could have had a competition to estimate when that had last been cleaned. The inside of the bowl looked as it it had been varnished. I would use the shower at home, when I went back to get more stuff.

Wandering around Luke’s small flat, I shook my head at the mess, and the stuff piled up everywhere. He even had his old Transformers, from the days when we played with them as kids. It felt as if he had never thrown anything away, and had lugged it all with him from his mum and dad’s when he bought the flat.

I didn’t understand why he didn’t employ a cleaner. He had a great job, and earned twice as much as I did. He could have even bought a much nicer flat, with spare rooms to hide all his crap away. But he said he didn’t like the idea of anyone looking around when he was out, so obviously preferred to live like a pig in his sty. The fact that he had money was evident in many other ways. The enormous television, the latest and best you could buy. The new car parked in the underground car park, a rare import that turned heads whenever he drove it. Fancy pairs of trainers that cost as much as one of my whole outfits, and the most expensive mega-speed broadband and streaming package on the market.

I knew I had to get moving, or my car parked on the street would get a ticket. Might even get towed away if I wasn’t quick.

Driving back, I took a stupidly long route, as I wanted to be sure Becky would have left for work when I arrived. That gave me too much time to think about the fact that I was going to have to go back to my parents later, and ask them if I could move in until things were sorted between us. There was no way I could tolerate staying at Luke’s. Not unless I got a firm in to deep-clean the place first. Besides, I didn’t intend to make the split too final, too soon. Going back to my parents would give a better impression than moving in with a single friend. Let her stew about things for a while, and hope that we could get back together before it became accepted that we weren’t.

So much to consider. Mutual friends, both of our extended families. Ten years of being together, almost like one person.

Maybe that was the problem. People said we were inseperable. Not just husband and wife, but best friends too. How many times had I heard both of us say that we no longer needed anyone else, now we had each other?

Even after one night away, walking back into my own place felt strange. Like I was a burglar, unwanted.

An empty bottle of Pinot Grigio on the coffee table told me that Becky had probably had to drink herself to sleep, and the smell of her morning routine was still clinging to the bedroom, making me miss her more than I had ever thought possible. At least she hadn’t packed up all my things into suitcases. I sat on the bed, my body feeling strangely heavy. We should have been going away for five days today. I had taken the time off, and booked the trip as a surprise. Becky’s face had fallen at the news, and she was adamant that there was no chance of her getting away. Work was too busy to allow unexpected leave, and she said I must have been crazy to think she could just ring in and say she was on holiday.

She was right of course. I had been impulsive, stupid. I hadn’t thought it through.

That was how the argument had started.

Becky: Part One

This is the first part of a fiction serial, in 635 words.

I remember the afternoon when Becky finished with me like it was yesterday. Perhaps that’s because it was yesterday.

She turned her back on me after she told me to go, and refused to turn around and discuss it further. I thought about pleading. You know, the usual stuff.
“But I don’t understand”.
“What have I done wrong?”
“Can’t we just sit and talk about it?”

They all ran through my head, but I decided against any of them. Something about her posture, or perhaps just how her hair looked so thick as she ran her hand through it, but I had only just noticed, I don’t know. I sort-of understood, even though I wasn’t happy about it. I picked up my car keys.

“Okay, I will crash at Luke’s tonight, and get some more of my stuff tomorrow, when you’re at work”.

She stood stock still, without turning or replying. I wondered if she was crying.

I hoped she was crying.

“I will take that as a yes then”.

I drove to Luke’s in a dream, and can’t remember the journey at all. He was fine about it of course, always happy to have the company. Secretly pleased to have his best friend back, he carefully avoided any I-told-you-sos, and went into the kitchen to get us both a beer. When he suggested a curry be delivered later, and he had a new game to play on the Playstation, I nodded without adding a comment.

“Your usual? Lamb Pasanda, Garlic Naan, and boiled rice?”

A nod. I had already finished the first beer, and he went to get me another one.

“Got the latest Red or Dead game too, if you fancy that?”

Another nod. I didn’t have the heart to tell him we were too old for video games now.

“Or we could watch a DVD. You know I have dozens you will never have seen. I got a great Chinese martial arts one last week. I’ve already watched it twice, but more than happy to see it again”.

Another nod. Had he forgotten I hated martial arts films?

He sat back down, looking awkward, sipping the beer through the bottle top. I had known him since we were five years old, and there were times I seriously doubted that he had ever grown up. He was wearing a heavy metal t-shirt that was so tight, it was lifting up showing his belly. And he didn’t even like heavy metal. His flat was like a tip, and smelled of his trainers which were arranged in a row along one wall. He loved to wear those trainers, and I couldn’t remember a time when he had worn anything else.

Except at our wedding of course. I told him not to show up as my best man unless he was wearing proper shoes.

“I can sleep on the sofa, Frankie, you can have the bed. Then I won’t disturb you when I get up for work”.

Another nod. I was wondering how dirty the sheets would be.

He had called me Frankie, just like Becky did. Becky and Frankie. I wouldn’t be hearing that anymore.

My parents always called me Fran, and pronounced it ‘Frarn’. I hated that, as it made me sound like a girl. They had named me Francis after grandad Frank, Mum’s dad. I had never even met the man, and I was stuck with his stupid name forever.

I ate my curry as I watched Luke trying in vain to kill cowboys on his Playstation game. After finishing the sixth beer, I told him I was having an early night, and got my stuff from the rucksack.

I was right about his bedding, so I slept on top of the bed, covered by my coat.

Not that I got much sleep.

Serial Overview: The Block

Whenever I complete a fiction serial, I always look back on the process, and how it was received. This interests me, and some readers like to read about it.
But if you don’t care about that, you can skip this post, with my blessing.

I had an idea about an ending, the ending that appeared in Part Twenty-Five. It was potentially shocking, and also had the benefit of leaving the story open-ended for a sequel. Or better still, readers could choose their own version of what happened, and therefore decide their own conclusion to the serial.

Once that ending was down in my notes, I had to ‘work back’, and decide how to start off a serial that would arrive at its predestined conclusion.

This story had an intentional ‘London’ feel, and characters based on people similar to (or exactly like) some people I had met during the sixty years I lived in that city. Although many regular readers embraced it happily, it did not get the same level of readership as the last three serials, and some violence in graphic detail in later episodes did disturb some readers too.

Despite that, readership actually increased as the serial went on, and the last episode had the biggest number of views. As of today, total views of the twenty-five parts stand at just over 1900. Comments were fairly high this time, with individual characters attracting many remarks, along with the change of pace toward the end which caught some readers off guard.

I really enjoyed writing it. When I write something set in London, heavily based on personal experience, it does give me an interest above my more regular fiction. If I did something like this again, I would consider adding a content warning for the scenes that some people found hard to read. If you are considering writing something with murders described in some detail, then you might want to think about that too.

There was some research involved, but nothing at the level required with historical fiction. I looked up some Law questions, and some of the history of Rampton Hospital, the maximum security psychiatric hospital involved in the story. The rest was all based on my experiences as an EMT, and from working for the Police in London for twelve years after that.

The serial will be available as a complete story in one long post, later this week.

Thanks as always to everyone who read, liked, commented, and shared on social media.

Guest Post: Lucinda Clarke

Lucinda is a writer and blogger, as well as a published author who currently resides in Spain. She is a great follower of blogs, and is always fully engaged with every post I publish, especially fiction.

I am very pleased to present her guest post, and to feature some of her books, including her latest novel. That’s her, in the middle. 🙂

Here is her unedited guest post, which includes a short bio too.

Thank you, Pete, for giving me this opportunity to appear on your blog. I am one of your most avid followers and especially enjoy your stories.

I hate writing about myself, but if I go to the big library desk in the sky tomorrow, I shall have no regrets, life has been a roller coaster ride. Born in Dublin, dragged up in the Cotswolds (a pretty part of England), and finished off in Liverpool (not as pretty). Taught in Bath (children), crofted in Scotland (disaster, bred small animals and Cairn Terriers), survived in Kenya (abandoned in the bush with 9 week old baby, no resources and tear gas riots), Libya (teaching, witness to public hanging, radio announcer, husband imprisoned, crawled through a hail of bullets to save dogs, deported), Botswana (teaching, ran very worst riding school in the world), South Africa (made legal history, teaching – fired – scriptwriter of the year award, wrote dramas and some acting, scribbled thousands of radio and TV scripts, all other forms of writing, set up own video production company, plus major concerts planning, lecturing on scriptwriting). Eventual retirement in Spain. I lie, I’m only pretending to be retired. Since 2013 independently (by choice) published 14 books.

For almost 4 decades I scribbled hundreds of diverse topics for the media eg climbing ladders; health; tourism for international conferences; educational programmes; banks; insurance companies; police and fire departments; city councils; international corporates; mayoral speechwriter; ads for radio and TV; – I could go on but I’d bore you to tears (I’m starting to yawn). I had my own newspaper column and still write for a local publication here in Spain.

I am was a freelance prostitute who wrote for anyone who would pay me and I excelled in propaganda and was wildly successful. I still don’t believe this, but the awards looked good on my study walls – when I had a study. They are now in a box under the bed. I’ve received lots more for my books, but shrank them down to fit in a couple of picture frames.

So, what genre am I unknown for? I began with memoirs, then an action-adventure series set in Africa – I was there for 35 years – a satire set in Fairyland and now I’m into psychological thrillers.

Can I scream about my latest masterpiece book, please? It’s the second in the “A Year in the Life of …” series. The first starring Leah Brand is a psychological thriller as a second time around housewife with a prosthetic leg, driven to the edge of madness by the irrational behaviour of everyday objects in the house.

mybook.to/LeahBrand

Book 2 “A Year in the Life of Andrea Coe” follows on – the nightmare is not over, as life for Leah escalates into chaos. The only person she can cling to is her best friend Andrea. But everyone has secrets and what was the attraction between a quiet, insecure housewife and an outrageous, confident, outspoken woman who lived life to the full. Was she all she seemed to be?

mybook.to/AndCoe

If the lockdown has depleted your cash reserves, you can grab a free book here – the true account of my very Worst Riding School in the World.

https://amzn.to/2TKwL55

You can find me at all these places and I’m very good at replying to virtual friends who contact me if you don’t mind chatting to an ancient wrinkly who has never grown up and who spends days torturing, killing, amputating, scaring and committing all kinds of nefarious deeds on paper. The most wonderful career in the world and I cried when I sold the company, left my team behind, and boarded the plane to fly to retirement in Spain. I love it here now but I’m just as busy.

Web page – https://lucindaeclarkeauthor.com

Blog link https://lucindaeclarke.wordpress.com

Amazon author page author.to/Lucinda

twitter @LucindaEClarke https://twitter.com/LucindaEClarke

Facebook Readers page https://www.facebook.com/groups/226303738779560/

sign up URL for mailing list for my exciting monthly newsletter http://eepurl.com/cz-Mpv

Please check out her blog, and her books. Lucinda is a great part of this community, so please show her you care. Share on any social media platform you are a part of, and feel free to reblog this post if you are so inclined.