Photo Prompt Story: Black Widow

This is a short story of 1,110 words. It was prompted by the above photo, seen on Sue Judd’s blog.
https://suejudd.com/

“More tea, Scott?”
She leaned forward with the teapot, ignoring the shake of my head that indicated I didn’t want any more. Joe had told me to contact her, said it would be a human interest story, and lapped up by our readers. I hadn’t expected her to agree to see me, especially as the news of the body being found had only been on last night’s telly news. But when she answered the phone, her voice went all silly and girly.

“The Herald you say? Oh yes, I would be happy to give you an interview, everybody around here reads our local newspaper. Shall we say two in the afternoon tomorrow? That will give me time to make myself presentable”.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wouldn’t be bringing a photographer, though I did ask if she could find a recent picture of her husband we could use.

She had crossed and recrossed her legs so many times, I was now presented with a ridden-up skirt and an unwanted view of far too much leg, given her age. When I had asked her age for the piece, she had adopted a strangely coquettish expression.

“My, you journalists have to always add someone’s age, don’t you? Well I am happy for you to put down that I am sixty-two, as long as you don’t want to see my birth certificate”.

She smiled so wide when she said that, the wrinkles each side of her mouth formed visible cracks in the powdery make-up covering her face. It reminded me of ice inside the windscreen of my car in the winter. I pushed on with the interview, asking her why she had waited so long to report her husband missing.

“I wasn’t expecting him home at any given time, Scott. He had planned his trip meticulously, Justin was a very meticulous man. He had said that he would walk the whole of the first day, then stop at a bed and breakfast before completing the rest of the forest walk the next day. He might even stay a second night, if it got too late to get a bus home. He didn’t drive you see, he had never learned how to. He said he didn’t have a lot of time for cars, though he seemed happy enough for me to use one to get our shopping from Sainsbury’s. So I went to see my friend Rosemary, and stayed over after we had too much wine. When he didn’t come home the second night, I wasn’t concerned. I didn’t call the police until he didn’t show up for dinner the next evening”.

I asked how long they had been married, ignoring the fact that she had slipped off one of her shoes, and was casually adjusting the nylon covering her toes as she looked across at me as if she would like to eat me for breakfast. Could this woman really be flirting with me so blatantly? She was much older than my own mother.

“Seven years, Scott. It would have been eight in June. We married late, you see. I had been married before, but Justin had never married. I think he wanted company after his mother died. He never showed any interest in me in THAT way, if you get my meaning”.

I got her meaning, and she continued.

“He was my third husband, Scott. My marriages seem to have been blighted by tragedy. Andrew was my first. The brakes failed on his MG sports car one afternoon. I used to tell him he should never have done his own car maintenace. Then Stephen, oh poor Stephen. He insisted on using that old ladder to fix up a new television aerial. I warned him it wasn’t safe, and said we should get someone in to do the job. But he wouldn’t be told”. And now Justin. How was I to know he would fall over a tree root, and fracture his skull? Lying there for almost four days until he died of exposure. So awful”.

She adopted a stylised expression of grief, looking much like a bad actress in an amateur dramatic group performing in a village hall.

“Things were fine until he retired. Then he became obsessed with keeping fit, as if he wanted to live forever. Hiking, power-walking, woodland walks, he was hardly ever here. And he became extravagant too, which was most unlike him. Four hundred pounds for a pair of binoculars that hung around his neck. I don’t think he ever even looked through them. Then two hundred dollars for a small red backpack that came all the way from America. One hundred and seventy for special hiking shoes, then almost three hundred for hiking boots needed for bad weather, or so he said. His last big purchase was his high-visibility walking outfit, bought to replace his old camouflage gear. That cost over five hundred pounds. Can you believe that, Scott?”

I checked my notes, and asked her why he wasn’t wearing the high visibility clothing when they found his body. It occured to me that the search and rescue helicopter might have spotted him earlier, if he hadn’t been wearing camouflage clothing and lying on top of his red backpack.

“Well he had tried it out the day before in Beulah Woods, you know, just up the road from here. But when he got home I noticed mud splashes on the trousers, so of course I threw the whole outfit into the washing machine. He was none too pleased when it wasn’t dry the next morning. So ungrateful”.

She leaned forward and placed a hand on my thigh. This woman had no concept of invading personal space.

“Now how about a slice of cake? I made it myself, a delicious Victoria sponge”.

I declined her offer of cake, but she left her hand on my leg, I could feel the heat coming from it through my trousers. I asked for the recent photo, and she gave me one taken at their wedding. I guessed that seven year old picture would have to do, and stood up, telling her I had everything I needed. I was never so pleased to get out of a house, I can tell you, and by the time I got to my car, I had started to wonder if she had put anything in the tea.

On the drive back to the paper, I wondered what Joe would think if I asked for a front page feature, and a big headline.

I thought ‘The Black Widow’ sounded about right.

Ollie And The Cows

For a while now, we have been unable to venture onto Hoe Rough, as the Wildlife Trust wardens are allowing a small herd of cattle to graze there.

One of them in particular doesn’t seem to like dogs, and gave us the ‘evil eye’ when I fist noticed the cows there.

It was a lot like this one.

Now Ollie pays no attention to cows, but they certainly pay attention to him. That means I have to walk extra circuits of Beetley Meadows instead of going to Hoe Rough. Ollie doesn’t mind that at all, even though I find it boring.

But the cows are still watching…

Earlier today, i spotted the big black and white one staring at us from across the river. It carried on looking at us until we rounded a bend and were out of sight.

I will be pleased when they are back on the farm.

How Much Fur?

Ollie is a short-haired breed of dog, but when it is moulting season, you might be forgiven for thinking this makes no difference. The amount of fur he can shed on a daily basis is nothing short of phenomenal. It is a miracle he is not completely bald, believe me.

Substantial tufts of hair dance across the kitchen tiles like tumbleweed in a wild-west town, and the blanket on his bed looks like the floor of the local hairdresser’s shop. No amount of brushing makes even the slightest impact on the constant shedding, and our clothes bear witness to the fact that he only has to walk past you to completely cover you in a mulitcoloured selection of hairs.

Even as I type this, stray hairs have migrated from my sleeves onto the keyboard.

Of course, we try our hardest to tackle the seasonal fur invasion. Using the vacuum cleaner every day, often twice a day. The only thing in the container when it is emptied is a compressed cylinder of Ollie fur, which does at least show we are not untidy or messy otherwise. But no matter if I spent all day running the device back and forth across the carpets, I would never get to the point where it stopped scooping up yet more fur.

Ollie’s appearance suffers as a result. He is now at least seven different colours, with patches of dark brown in amongst lighter shades, and thin areas of fur on his legs that look like the back of a balding man’s head. This ragged patchwork appearance makes him look neglected and scruffy, which is a shame. Especially when I know the opposite is true.

Next week, he is going for a bath and grooming session on Thursday, the earliest appointment available. The last time, the lady removed a full bin-liner of fur before washing him.

This time, I suspect she might need a second bin liner.

International Dog Day

My friend Julian from The Usual Muttwits has reminded me that today is a special day.

Because you love muttwits, why not do the following:

– Go for a long walk in a new place. Most dogs love exploring
new and interesting places with their best friend. …
– Bake a dog friendly treat. …
– Donate to your local animal shelter. …
– Tell your muttwit you love them.

Every day is dog day with Ollie, but let’s make this one even more special!

Writing Challenge: Opposites

Maggie from https://fromcavewalls.wordpress.com/2020/08/09/a-writing-challenge-opposites/ is doing a writing challenge based on the above photograph. The idea is to find inspiration for two completely different emotions from the same picture, and write two short stories. I thought I would try it, as I rarely do blog challenges.

1) Grief.

Scott.

Walking across to the car at the usual time, Scott felt his phone vibrating in his jacket pocket. He had been in a meeting until finishing time, and it was only polite to have turned off the ringer. He smiled as he looked at the screen and saw the picture of his lovely wife come up above her name. No doubt she would be in Mario’s convenience store, and calling him to ask what flavour ice cream he wanted after dinner, or whether they should have some white wine later this evening.

Swiping up the green buton, he smiled as he spoke. “Hi, honey. If you’re asking, I will have chocolate chip, and it’s a yes to wine too”.
There was a pause, and he didn’t recognise the voice that replied.

“Sir, this is Officer Martinez of Metro Division, who am I speaking to please?” Scott felt a chill run up his back.
“Why have you got my wife’s phone? Oh, I am Scott Andersen, and you are using my wife’s phone. Annie’s phone”.

The pause that followed made Scott’s heart beat faster, too fast.
“Sir, I have to tell you that there was an armed robbery at a convenience store. The owner was shot and killed, along with a young woman, presumably a customer. She’s around twenty five years old, five feet-two, short blonde hair, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. They took her purse, so we have no I.D. I found this phone in her back pocket. Your number was first in the list of recent calls. Does that sound like your wife sir?”

Scott tried to reply, but couldn’t speak through the tears. He didn’t think he would ever be able to speak again.

2) Self-pity.

Kevin.

As the concrete started to set around his legs and feet, Kevin was surprised by how hot it felt. Uncomfortably hot in fact. The man sitting across from him was leaning back in the captain’s chair, a smirk on face. “So you thought we weren’t serious? You thought you could take us for fools? Look where that got you, Kevin”.

It had started out the way most of those things do. Too much on credit cards, an expensive car he couldn’t afford, and a luxury apartment too fancy for one guy on his own. Kevin liked to impress people, make them think he was somebody. Hand-made suits, the right watch on his wrist, and the right girl on his arm. But it all cost money, money he didn’t earn as a realtor, especially when the bottom had dropped out of the housing market.

But he knew someone. Someone connected. He had sold him a house, a very expensive house with its own lake frontage and private boat dock. It was obvious the guy wasn’t kosher, but he didn’t care, as he made the sale and got the commission. Mr Anzorov was an American citizen, but only God knew how he managed that. After he signed the house purchase papers, he shook Kevin’s hand. “Come and see me if there’s anything I can do for you, Kevin”.

So Kevin went to see him, and asked for a loan of twenty thousand dollars. Anzorov handed the money over without hesitation, then spoke quietly. “So here you are. You understand that you now owe me forty thousand dollars, Kevin? No paperwork, just a handshake. You have six months to pay me back the forty thousand, or you won’t like what happens. Please take me seriously, Kevin”. Kevin nodded, but already knew he had no intention of taking him seriously.

So what was he going to do? Some old Russian guy with a big house and a clothes-hanger trophy wife. He could hardly go to the authorities, or through the courts. He was bound to have some skeletons in his cupboards. Kevin forgot about Anzorov, and enjoyed spending the money. He even had a nice vacation down in Grand Cayman. The six months passed, then nine months, and Kevin smiled to himself when he heard nothing.

Two men approached him as he left the office on his way to show a house. One opened his coat and showed him a gun in his waistband, and the other grabbed his arm in a friendly gesture and walked him over to a minivan parked nearby. When they sat him down in Mr Anzorov’s home office and placed his lower legs into a large container, he was sure it was a joke. Then he was sure it was just a scare. Then when they started to mix the concrete in the container, he was no longer sure about anything.

As the tears flowed, all he could think about was the lake, and that private boat dock.

My Last Year Of Hedge Clipping

Front of bungalow from across the road

In the photo above, (click to see full size) you can clearly see the larger and smaller beech hedges that are in front of our house. They are taller than they look in this photo, which was taken after they had just been trimmed, in late 2013. From street level, they reach to about eight feet in height, and are considerably higher than that when fully grown before they need cutting. On the plus, side, this height is reduced when cutting the back, as the ground level in the front garden is some twelve inches higher.

I bought some very good clippers when I moved here, as I also had to tackle the huge rows of leylandii hedges at the back. Compared to those, the beech hedges at the front were a breeze, easily finished off in a morning or afternoon. But then I got vertigo a couple of years back. And then I got older of course. I could no longer cope with the ten-feet high leylandii, and had to pay someone to cut them earlier this year. But I was sure I could still deal with the beech hedges.

After deciding that they were unacceptably shabby, I made up my mnd to cut them this morning. It is a hot day, 27 C, so I took Ollie out early, just after nine. On our return, I got straight on with the beech hedges, sweeping up the mess as I went. After managing just one quarter, the first battery gave up. I put it on charge, and went on with the second battery. I was very hot, and finding it difficult to stay steady on top of the step ladder as I tried to get the straggly stems in the middle. After two hours, I swept up, and had a lunch break.

When I went back out, I decided to use a proper ladder to reach the top, and jammed it as hard as I could against the hedge. But is was very wobbly once I got up there, and I was having real difficulty keeping my balance and cutting at the same time. When the second battery went flat, I had at least finished the biggest hedge, and can do the small one easily tomorrow. Sweeping up and tidying the things away, it dawned on me that will be the last time I can safely cut these hedges.

As of next year, I am going to have to pay someone to do it.

The ‘Phantom’ Badger

With Ollie more or less back to his old self after the recent illness, it is good to see him so active again. Unfortunately, it also means he is back to bullying some younger dogs that he wants to dominate. One of those is the lovely Bertie, a Dogue de Bordeaux. (A French Mastiff, identical to the dog in the film ‘Turner and Hooch’)
This is not Bertie in the photo, but he looks just like this one.

At six months old, Bertie is already twice the size of Ollie, and he’s a big softy who loves other dogs and people. But he is not neutered, so Ollie has decided he must submit to him. Even though Bertie is happy to do this, Ollie keeps growling at him until he becomes scared. So when I spotted Bertie in the river with two other dogs, I quickly diverted over to Hoe Rough so that Ollie would not be able to start bullying him.

Now that there were no playmates to romp with, I needed to find something to divert him. As we got to the spot where he chased a badger some time back, he stopped and sniffed at the ground. His ‘smell memory’ is amazing to behold, and he has never forgotten the exact spot here he got the scent of that badger last time. I pretended to see a badger in some far off bracken, and using a low tone of voice, I hissed, “Ollie! Badger! Find it”.

He took off in pursuit of what wasn’t there, and had a good run around for more than ten minutes trying to find the phantom badger.

Ollie’s On The Mend

With my usual hesitation of not wanting to speak too soon, it would appear that Ollie is feeling much better, following his recent breathing problems.

Yesterday, he chased a pheasant around on Hoe Rough, and didn’t seem to want to go home after his walk.

He wants me to say a big Thank You to everyone who was so concerned about him, and sends tail wags from his curly tail to you all.

Photo Prompt Story: The Freedom Of Flight

This is a short story, in 620 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, sent to me by Shaily Agrawal.
https://fishinthetrees.home.blog/

I remember it still. That feels weird. I never expected to remember, but I do. All of it, right from the start. My mother holding me as a baby and smiling down on me. Her voice, even the smell of her. I can choose any moment from fifty-eight years, and recall it as if it happened one hour ago.

This wasn’t what I had expected at all.

The day of the diagnosis, we knew it was bad news when the surgeon moved his chair close to mine and leaned forward, clasping his hands between his open legs. “I have to be totally honest, Stephen, we didn’t manage to get it all. The scan shows it is back, I’m afraid. And it’s inoperable this time, as it is in a part of your brain that we cannot possiby remove.”

My hair had only just grown back to a decent length, and I had bought new trousers to wear to the appointment, as the weight loss after months of chemo and radiotherapy had reduced me to a shadow of my former self.
I had been stupidly optimistic as I watched Alice driving me to the hospital that morning. I turned up the radio when one of our favourite songs came on, and sang along badly to it. Alice wasn’t so relaxed. I could tell by the way her smile didn’t move for the whole of the fifty-minute journey.

I asked the obvious question. “How long?” And he shrugged in reply, non-commital. “Hard to say. Months, not years. Perhaps even weeks”.

Alice was crying softly as I shook his hand and took the leaflet from him about the hospice and available palliative care. My only option soon.

There was no bucket list to try to complete. No wild last celebration. No trip of a lifetime. No emotional letters sent to friends or family.

Scott flew back from Singapore to see me. What do you say to your son? “Goodbye” hardly seems appropriate. I settled for “Look after your Mum for me”. He cried, and so did I. I knew he had to go back to his job, and I hoped I would die soon enough so he could support Alice at my funeral.

Alice and I didn’t talk about anything much. There was already a will, and insurance was in place. I said something about never having that sixtieth birthday celebration we had often spoken about, and she cried all day. After that, I left it at pleasantries. We walked around each other as if in a minefield. Our steps precise, and our concentration focused on the moment.

When it began, she wanted to look after me at home. She said Scott would help, but I wanted to be away from them as I lost the power to cope. Lost the ability to clean myself, to speak and see properly. To be Stephen.

They were there when I went. Alice hugging me, Scott sitting in a chair next to the bed weeping openly. They thought I couldn’t see them of course. They had been told that I was unresponsive, but that they should continue to talk to me. They didn’t talk, as they had no idea what to say.

This morning, I woke up feeling light, as if my body weighed nothing. My vision was incredibly sharp, and I was looking down at the garden I had worked hard to keep nice for more than twenty years. I could see Alice sitting in the conservatory, sipping a hot drink from her favourite mug.
I knew she would be okay.

Stretching out my strangely familiar wings, I stepped off into the morning air.
Enjoying the freedom of flight.