Feeding The Pigeons

This is a fictional short story, in 1520 words

Eric knew the best time to get to the small supermarket. He knew exactly when they would reduce all the soon-to-be out of date loaves of bread, usually cutting the price to a quarter of what it had been a few minutes earlier. The young man knew Eric by sight, and smiled as he stuck the reduced labels onto the plastic packaging. He guessed the elderly man would most likely buy them all, as he did most days. And he was right, as Eric walked forward and piled them all into his basket, having to carry the four that didn’t fit. It didn’t matter to him if they were white sliced, wholemeal, brown, or granary. And it certainly wouldn’t matter to the birds he would feed them to, he knew that.

Back at his tower block, Eric was sure the broken lift would not have been fixed. He hardly glanced at the Out Of Order sign as he began the long walk to the sixth floor with his bags of shopping. But almost half a lifetime spent in the services, and later in other jobs that kept him fit stood him in good stead. He wasn’t even out of breath as he turned the key in the front door lock. Hanging up his coat, he took the bags through to the kitchen, and began his routine. A special knife, two wooden chopping boards, and some large plastic bags. Once it was all laid out on the work surface, he began unwrapping the loaves, and cutting each slice of bread into tiny pieces. Then the pieces were deposited in one of the plastic bags, to keep them fresh until tomorrow morning.

It took a very long time to do this carefully, but it wasn’t as if he had anything else to do.

When he was almost done, he saved the last two slices, and made himself a cheese sandwich with them. Despite supposedly being out of date, the bread tasted fine to him. Washing it down with a cup of tea, he went to sit in the small armchair by the kitchen table, and switched on the radio. There would be a play on later, and once he had listened to that, he would get ready for bed. No need to use the living room anymore. It had been years since he had bothered with the TV, and there was nothing to see from the balcony, except the car park.

Almost thirty years in the navy had left Eric with no time to meet a wife, or start a family. During his last tour on ship, he had been informed that his mother had died, and offered leave to go home and attend the funeral. But he wanted to see out the tour with his pals, so left it all to his older sister to sort out. Once the navy was finished with him, they found him a job as a security guard. Lots of walking around empty buildings, and always working alone. He had got used to it in time, and the radio had become his best friend. He knew the times of all the best shows, including the plays, and discussion programmes.

But then retirement had followed his sixty-fifth birthday, and he wondered how he would fill his days.

One morning, he went for a walk in the local park, stopping to rest on a bench to eat a sandwich he had brought from home. Almost immediately, he was surrounded by pigeons. They were bold, happily walking right up to his shoes, to eat the tiny crumbs falling from his lunch. He started to peel off slivers of the crust, and drop them on the ground, delighted to see dozens more of the birds appearing, tussling over the bread, and cooing excitedly. He resolved to bring more bread the next day, so that they would all get at least one piece.

What started with a few slices soon became a whole loaf. Then two loaves, until he was carrying two in each hand, bought from the small supermarket just for that purpose. It became something Eric did, and stuck to in all weathers, seven days a week. He began to recognise some of the birds, and named them in his head. There was Twisty, whose deformed right leg faced the wrong way. Hoppy, a bird born with one leg significantly shorter, and Long John Silver, a bird with one eye. After the first week of this, Eric could see the huge number of birds waiting by the bench for his usual time of arrival. As soon as he sat down, they fluttered around him. Many were keen enough to take the bread from his hand, but he still never had enough to go round.

It wasn’t long before Eric turned his pigeon feeding into an art form. The careful cutting of the slices into tiny squares, the plastic bags to keep it fresh, and special large bags to transport the bounty to the waiting birds. Then he discovered the cheap reduced price loaves, something that saved him a lot of money. After the first year of his retirement, feeding the pigeons had become what Eric did. It gave him purpose, a reason to get ready to go out, and a regular routine that made him feel relaxed in his mind. He couldn’t imagine his life without the park, the bench, and the pigeons.

That morning was crisp and clear, and Eric wrapped up well against the cold. Despite the bright sky, it was very chilly. Carrying his two special bags, he didn’t even bother to try the always broken lift, and just walked down to the street. He knew it would take exactly fourteen minutes to get to the park, and he also knew that the pigeons would be waiting. No sooner had he sat down and reached into the first bag, then close to one hundred birds were around him. Most stayed on the ground, bobbing up and down as they waited expectantly. Others tried to gain an advantage by flying onto the bench, and the really brave ones actually settled on his legs and shoulders. Eric smiled as he flung handfuls of the neat squares around, making sure that the birds at the back got their chance too. He spotted Hoppy, amazed how long his old friend had managed to survive.

The young woman walking toward him looked stern. In many ways, she looked more like a man, with close-cropped hair, shiny boots, and a green uniform. But he could tell by her face and complexion that she was female, and he smiled as she approached. Her tone was officious, deliberately unfriendly. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to be feeding these pigeons, Sir?” She sneered out the ‘Sir’, as if reluctant to add the respectful term. The birds had scattered as she approached, but were soon back, rather than miss out on the bread. Eric looked up at her, reading the Council logo on the front of her polo shirt. “No, I didn’t. I have been feeding them every day for over a year. That’s what I do”. The woman shook her head, and removed a small notebook from a pouch at her waist. “Well not anymore you don’t. These things are dirty, and they are a pollution hazard too, with all their droppings. Besides, any bread they don’t eat attracts rats. The Council has banned bird-feeding, there’s a sign by the main gate. The fine is up to two hundred pounds you know”.

Eric flung another handful as he stared up at her. “I don’t come in the main gate, I use the side gate by the canal towpath. No signs there, not that I have seen”. She opened the notebook. “Please stop feeding them now. And I mean now. I suggest you put the rest of that bread in the bin over there, and go about your business. I will be taking your name and address, and issuing with a warning. If I see you here again, it will be a fine. Get it? Now, what’s your name and address?” It never even occurred to Eric to give her false details, and he supplied his real name and address. He watched as she picked up both bags and walked to the bin, emptying the contents deep inside. The confused birds gathered around the bin, seeing the woman as a potential new feeder.

She walked back to the bench and handed him the empty bags.”I did it for you, save you the trouble. Now you are welcome to use all the facilities of the park, but no more bird-feeding”. With that, she walked off, a smug grin on her face. Eric sat for a while, then stood up and walked to the bin. He stuffed the two bags inside, on top of the bread. He would have no further use for them now. As he walked back along the towpath, he wondered what he would do tomorrow, and who might buy the reduced loaves that evening.

And he hoped they had fixed the lift by now.

Photo Prompt Story: By The Tiled Wall

This is a fictional short story, in 1280 words.
It was prompted by this photo, taken by Sue Judd. https://suejudd.com/

Felipe was setting up the tables outside the cafe, as he had done every morning for the last six years. He could see that he was there again, the old man huddled on the steps beneath the tiled wall. The first time, Felipe had approached him, asked if he was unwell, offered him a coffee, or a glass of water. But the sad eyes looked up, and a heavily-veined hand had just waved him away without a word of reply.

Asking around some of the customers, he learned that he had sat there every day, for as long as everyone could remember. But even in a community rife with gossip and idle chatter, nobody knew anything about him. Or if they did, they were not saying. When tourists arrived, bursting like bubbles from the doors of coaches, they flocked to take photos of the famous tiles. But every one of those photos would also include the crestfallen old man, as he always declined to move away.

Occasionally they actually pulled at his hands, trying to get him to move. Some even offered him small bribes, so he wouldn’t be in their souvenir photo. But he never moved, and waved away their objections as he returned to his characteristic slump beneath the tiles. Felipe had never seen him eat or drink. He sat in the spot from first light until dark, not even leaving to use a toilet, apparently. It didn’t seem possible that this elderly man could survive all day without so much as a drop of water, especially in the summer months. But he did, that was undeniable.

Over the years, Felipe found his curiosity getting the better of him. How could he sit there like that, in all weathers? How did it not make him ill? Surely it must be boring in the extreme too? But most of all, why? Why would someone spend their daily life sitting aimlessly in one spot, with no good reason for doing so? That morning, once the tables were arranged, and the umbrellas raised, the young waiter resolved to try again, to find out all he could about the old man, and his reason for sitting there.

But the day was unusually busy. Felipe was run off his feet, with Gaspar the owner in a bad mood, and customers complaining about the delays in getting their food. Tips were scarce, and when Felipe finally got a break, he sat outside the back door, smoking a cigarette and enjoying the kick of caffeine from a very strong coffee. But it wasn’t long before Gaspar was harassing him to get back to his work, and clear away the outside tables at the front on the square.

As he piled cups and glasses onto a large tray, Felipe glanced across to the tiled wall. The old man was gone. For the first time in all those years, his spot on the stairs was empty during daylight hours. He checked his watch, not even three in the afternoon. Far too early for him to have left already. He spotted the road-sweeper, standing out in his bright orange overalls. Walking across to him , he spoke politely. “Excuse me sir, did you see the old man leave? You know the one, he sits on the steps under the tiles?” The sweeper raised his eyebrows, ash falling from the hand-rolled cigarette between his lips as he replied. “Oh him, yeah. An ambulance took him away about fifteen minutes ago. He wasn’t moving much, and they had him on a stretcher.” Felipe was shocked at the news. “Do you happen to know where they took him, sir?” With a shrug, the sweeper replied. “They didn’t say, but I suppose it would be the nearest hospital. That would be the São José Hospital, do you know it? Filipe nodded, adding “Thank you sir”, as he turned back to the cafe.

Gaspar was less than pleased when his waiter told him he was taking some time owed to him, and leaving early. Filipe got a tram to a stop close to the hospital, and walked the short distance to the Emergency Department. At the reception desk, it suddenly occurred to him that he knew no details about the old man, and as the receptionist looked up, he wondered what to say. “I have come to ask about one of my friends, a regular customer. I don’t know his name, but he is old, with lots of white hair. He was dressed all in black, but there was a grey and red pattern on the top he was wearing. An ambulance took him away from the square, close to the famous tiled wall”. The lady eyed him suspiciously for a moment, not taken in by his white lie. “Take a seat young man, and I will get a nurse to speak to you.” Felipe nodded, and walked over to stand in the corner. He wanted her to be able to see him, so she didn’t forget.

Almost thirty minutes later, a nurse appeared. She looked impatient as she scanned around the waiting room. A young woman with a lot to do, who didn’t need such interruptions. The receptionist nodded at him, and she walked over. Her tone was not unfriendly, just professional. “You were asking about Mister Cubas? Follow me, and I will take you to him”. She seemed unconcerned that Felipe wasn’t a relative, and he followed as she walked very quickly along a corridor to a small room with an open door. She pointed into the room, where the old man was lying still, under a sheet. “I must ask you to be quiet, and not agitate him. He has had a massive stroke, and we fear he may not last the night”. Felipe nodded. “Thank you miss, but tell me, how did you know his name?” As she hurried off to her next task, she spoke without turning. “From the letter in his pocket”.

It seemed to him that the nurse had been right. The old man looked gravely ill. His face was grey in colour, and the oxygen hissing through the mask seemed to be doing little to help him. On a small unit next to the bed was a crumpled letter. The envelope had a just a name on it, written in tiny neat handwriting. There was no address or stamp, suggesting it had been hand delivered. ‘Raul Cubas’. So that was his name. Felipe looked across at the man again. His eyes were shut tight, his breathing sounding little more than a faint rasp. Feeling guilty, he opened the envelope and removed the single sheet of paper. As he read, he felt he was intruding, but the need to know overwhelmed his manners.

‘My darling Raul. It is as we feared. I am with child, and cannot possibly tell my parents.
We must leave the city, as you suggested, and start a new life far away.
I will come to you tomorrow morning, and meet you by the tiled wall, where we first kissed.
Then we will turn our backs on this district, and be together always.
If I am late, I beg you to wait for me, my dearest, as you know I would always wait for you.
My love forever, your Serafina’.

At the top of the letter was the date. The 12th of October, 1966.

Felipe returned the letter to its envelope, and left the room quietly, a lump building in his throat. Now he knew what the old man had been doing for the last fifty-three years.

He had been waiting for Serafina.

Ollie The Tracker Dog

Just lately, Ollie’s tracking and hunting instincts seem to have reached a new peak of efficiency. Out walking yesterday, he suddenly picked up the scent of something, and took off, nose to the ground. In torrential rain and slippery mud, I had trouble catching up with him. But when I finally found him almost ten minutes later, he was standing by a thick clump of brambles, one front paw raised. On my arrival, he set off in circles around the brambles, snuffling at every branch. After some circuits had been completed, he stopped and stretched his neck, sniffing the air intently.

Suddenly, two small fallow deer emerged from the brambles, one was close enough for me to touch, had I not been holding an umbrella.They bounced away to the left, with Ollie in hot pursuit. It took me a while to find him again, and he was once again nose-to-the-ground, making zig-zag movements around Hoe Rough. He was so determined in his smell-tracking, he didn’t even notice me appear behind him. But this time, the deer had got themselves close to a fence bordering private land. So when Ollie finally located them and flushed them out, they escaped easily, by jumping the fence in one leap.

The weather was a little kinder today, and we even had some sunshine, despite a strong cold wind. After walking around for some time, Ollie became very interested in a tree, one in a group of six or so, some way from our usual route. He sniffed around the bark with great precision, returning again and again to one small section. Then he got his nose to the ground, and began to trot off ahead. I suspected that the deer may have returned, and anticipated a repeat of the previous day, trying to keep up with him. I kept him in sight, and stayed on the path as he headed north, on the diagonal. He stopped by the gate through to Holt Road, so I caught up with him quickly.

To my surprise, I found him staring at an elderly man by the gate. The man was wearing walking clothes, and carrying a map case and a walking pole. He seemed embarrassed as I approached, perhaps because I noticed that he was fiddling with the front of his trousers. He nodded at me, muttered a “Good afternoon”, and walked through the gate. A few minutes later, it dawned on me what had caused Ollie to track him in that way. He had probably stopped to pee up a tree, the one that Ollie had been so interested in. No doubt he had some on his shoes as he walked away, and Ollie was sharp enough to detect it. His trouser-fiddling was probably because he realised he hadn’t zipped up properly.

Ollie had done well. So the next time someone goes missing around here…

Photo Prompt Story: The Down Line

This is a fictional short story, in 1360 words. It was prompted by this photo, taken by Sue Judd, and featured on her blog. https://suejudd.com/

Sue suggested it might be something I could write about.

George was excited. He had bought a new suit for the interview, and checked out his travel plans. One train to the necessary station, around forty minutes. Say fifteen minutes to walk to the industrial estate, and that was fifty-five minutes. He would allow ninety-five minutes from home, just to make sure. Caroline was very excited. The prospect of a new job for her husband was a joy. After George had been made redundant late last year, things were manageable, but tough. She was so supportive, and he really appreciated her bringing in the money from her job at the local Council. She had been the driving force. Finding jobs online, helping him update his CV, and constantly boosting him up. Always so positive.

They just about managed the mortgage and bills, but holiday plans had been put on hold, and so had the decision to start a family. Caroline wanted nothing more than to have a baby, and George was totally on board with that too. But the unexpected news had put a hold on so many things in their life. He had been upset when they told his mother-in-law. She wanted nothing more than to be a grandmother, and George had felt personally responsible for the delay. Working in such a niche market was always going to be an issue. But Caroline had found the perfect job, even though it would mean a commute he wasn’t used to. She had helped with the updated CV, and even checked over his online application, suggesting various bullet points he should include.

The end result was success. His first interview since he lost his last job. They were both so happy, Caroline bought in a takeaway curry, to celebrate.

It seemed that the best idea was to book the train ticket online. They accepted lots of payment options, and they could send it to your email, or phone. George was impressed. He might even print out the ticket, just in case. Wouldn’t hurt to take a paper copy along. Just as well though, considering the local station no longer had any staff. The company had decided that there were not enough passengers to justify any station staff, let alone a ticket office. Besides, the tickets were either checked on the train, or at the destination. The prospect of random checks put off all but the most determined fare-dodgers. George was always going to buy a ticket. He would never even think to avoid paying the fare.

Caroline helped him to chose the suit. Smart, modern, but not excessively flash. Just the right look, for that sort of company. She put it on her credit card. A month before they had to pay, and he would have his first salary by then. They were sure of that. The night before, they went through his references, as well as all of his qualification certificates, and packed them in a very sensible business case. It would look like a shoulder bag, but nothing too casual. He slipped in his notebook computer, fully charged, just in case he needed to check anything on the way.

The weather forecast was for a sunny and bright day. Not cold, not too warm. So no coat would be required, and his transition lenses in the spectacles would cope. No need to consider separate sunglasses. One less thing to worry about. That night, he cuddled Caroline close to him in bed. George had to confess that he was quite excited about taking a train. For the last twelve years, he had driven to work. But losing the company car had made that impossible. They could only run one car on what they had to spend, and Caroline needed that for her job, as well as getting the shopping, and going to see her mum. He wouldn’t mind at all. He would be a commuter. A happy commuter too.

He didn’t get much sleep. Long before the alarm was due to go off, he was already in the shower, his clothes laid out in the spare room, so as not to disturb his wife too early. George shaved carefully, then did his hair just so. The crisp new shirt felt stiff as he dressed, but in a good way. By the time Caroline had stirred, he was dressed and ready, with two coffees already drunk. He was far too nervous to eat, so would save his appetite for the celebration meal later. Caroline was still in her dressing gown, when she kissed him goodbye. As he walked along the path smiling back at her, she called out. “Love you, honey. Text me with the good news”.

The station was a lot quieter than he had expected. There were only five other people on the platform, and George sat down on a metal bench. He leaned forward, more perching than sitting, unwilling to crease that immaculate new suit more than necessary. After five minutes, he took out his phone, and sent Caroline a text message. ‘Here in plenty of time. Far too early for my train. Better early than late! Love you, my darling xx’.

The next train came in, and he let it go without getting on it. No point being ridiculously early. He would just end up wandering around a soulless industrial estate, with nothing to do. He checked the time on his phone, and decided to wait for the next one. That would still leave him with more than enough time. If anything, he would still be too early. It seemed to be a long time coming. The platform opposite was filling up with people. He had no idea where they were going, but after a while, he started to get worried about his own train. Twenty-five minutes later, and he was getting genuinely concerned. Trains came and went on the other side, but there was nothing arriving where George sat, and as he got nearer to the time of his interview, he started to panic. There was nobody around to ask, and now there wasn’t even anyone across the tracks, waiting on the opposite platform. He decided to ring the company, and explain.

The girl was rather formal, but ready to accept his excuse that there was a problem with the trains. “I haven’t heard about any rail difficulties this morning, Mr Collier, but if you can get here by eleven-thirty, someone will see you. Later than that, and you will be too late, I’m afraid”. George thanked her profusely, and assured her he must surely be there by then. But that was less than an hour later, and allowing for the journey, even if he got a taxi at the other end, it was cutting it fine. Tired of pacing, he sat down on the bench again. Ten minutes went by, and he started to feel hot and uncomfortable in his new suit. He was relieved when two men walked onto the platform, one carrying a large paper cup of coffee. He stood up, and approached the man holding the cup. “Excuse me, do you have any idea when the next train to Swindon is due? I have been waiting ages since the last one”. He tried to subdue the panic in his voice.

The man looked surprised. “Swindon?” You are on the westbound platform, the Down Line. You need to go over there and get an eastbound train, on the Up Line”. George looked confused. Had he really been standing on the wrong side all this time? The coffee man seemed to know his stuff, so George pressed him. “I don’t suppose you know when the next Swindon train is due in over that side, do you? The man checked his watch. “Not for another twenty minutes. That will get you there just before twelve”. George nodded his thanks. He was starting to feel sick. Sitting back down on the bench, he took out his phone again, selecting Text Message from the menu.

But he had no idea what to say to Caroline in that text.

The Mighty Oak

I am reblogging this post from 2016, for the benefit of my many welcome new followers. I apologise in advance to everyone who saw it at the time, but it is one of my personal favourite posts on this blog.

beetleypete

There are lots of oak trees in this area. We even have two on our property, one in the front, and a larger one dominating the back garden. This is one of the biggest I have seen around here though, and it greets you as you enter through the gate onto Hoe Rough. It has been dated at around 350 years old.
The photo can be enlarged by clicking on it.

DSCF0238

It started growing in 1666.

As it grew, London was devastated by The Great Fire. Charles II was on the throne of England, and Samuel Pepys was writing his famous diary. When this oak was 110 years old, the far-off colonies in America declared independence, and started a war with England to achieve it.

In 1916, the tree had reached the grand old age of 250. That summer, Britain suffered terrible casualties at the Battle of The Somme, and…

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A Winter Moon

Spotted tonight. Misty, cold, 10:15 pm. The moon illuminating the garden, through the branches of the oak tree behind our house. Hand-held long exposure, (1.3 seconds) zoom range, 200 MM. Settings, F 2.8, Aperture Priority, Sony RX 10. A standard colour shot, rendered in monochrome by the available light conditions.

A Norfolk moon, as seen by the ancient Iceni tribe.

Ollie: A dog getting older

Ollie will be seven years old soon. Given that his breed rarely lives beyond the age of ten, we have to accept that he is now past middle age, and becoming old, relatively speaking.

There are times when he still remembers what it was like to play. He rushes around with a soft toy in his mouth, or gets excited when anyone calls at the house. But he doesn’t play with other dogs anymore when we are out, and his free-spirited joyous solo running has slowed down to a perky trot.

The shorter two-hour walks of winter seem to suit him well enough too. He is usually ready to go home before 4 pm now, and sometimes heads for one of the exits of his own accord, even when I am still happily trudging around.

There are some grey hairs visible around his jowls now, and he seems to want more to eat, having taken to begging when we have something, which he never did before. When he doesn’t get a morsel, he will return to his food bowl and finish up any remaining dry food. And he is always ready to flop onto his bed at night, as soon as either of us shows any intention of getting ready for bed. In the mornings, he is reluctant to stir, and sometimes has to be told to go out into the garden, especially when it is very cold, or raining.

But the biggest change in him is seen by his constant search for affection, and visible jealousy when I am giving that attention to anyone else. He seeks lots of cuddles now, and will push himself against my legs when I am reading, typing on the blog, or watching TV. He has always followed me around slavishly, but now he gets even closer, and can’t seem to tolerate me being out of sight.

Perhaps he is feeling those changes inside, the differences in energy, and that need for reassurance. It could be that he has noticed that I am also seven years older, and have slowed down too. He may just be following my example, who knows?

But he can be sure that he will continue to be looked after, loved and cared for, no matter how old he gets.