My Pen To Publish Competition Entry

A new short story from Stevie Turner! Check out the link on her blog.

Stevie Turner

There’s a new short story on my Amazon Author Page, which I have entered for this year’s Pen To Publish competition on AmazonIN:

Keith, a previously happy husband and father, learns that to save his marriage he has to rid himself of Damon, his alter ego who suffers from a chronic sex addiction. However, the path to redemption is not always easy…

If you want to take part, you have until March 10th to submit your previously unpublished manuscript. Good luck!

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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.

Tiny Story: The Confessions

I am reblogging this post from Shaily in my new series of ‘A Reblog Offer’

Short Stories | Fish-eye Perspective

The Prince kissed the sleeping Princess anxiously over and over again. Nothing happened!

His Squire let out a breath of relief, and said meaningfully, “I told you, she needs True Love’s first kiss!”

“I just needed to try. If the world’s most beautiful woman can’t make me fall in love with her…”

“It’s alright. Nobody would know. We can report that the Princess was dead.”

“I would know,” he slumped down on the floor next to the bed in defeat.

The Squire, now anxious, reminded him the urgency of the situation, “Let’s get out before the dragon regains consciousness.”

“And go back where? To my parents? Who sent me on a quest to become Dragon fodder? They knew I could never marry her.”

(Hesitating) “Nobody needs to know we survived the quest… We can go away; buy a farm… I can help you run it. It will be a hard…

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Tiny Story: The Silence

I am reblogging this post from Shaily in my new series of ‘A Reblog Offer’

Short Stories | Fish-eye Perspective

“Hey Girl!”

(Silence)

“What’s wrong?”

(Silence)

“I hope you did not give in to your mother’s threat. She thinks marrying a man will ‘cure’ you. But if you can’t bear the touch…”

(A gasp and silence)

“Look, I know! The entire group knows and we are okay!”

(A sigh and silence)

“I have a spare room if your mother doesn’t understand.”

(After a long silence) “Can you call an ambulance, fast?”

-Based on a true story

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Guest Post: Shaily Agrawal

Something different from book promotion, today I bring you a guest post, a short story from my Indian blogging friend, Shaily.
Shaily Agrawal is an Instructional Designer with a love of telling stories. This is her first Science fiction.

Shaily is a fully-engaged blogger, and a real part of our community. Please take some time to read her story, and perhaps visit her blog to find out more about her and her work.
https://fishinthetrees.home.blog/

The Phlebologist

2266 AD.

This assignment was a bad idea. The signs were evident right from the beginning—not sure how I missed them all. Maybe, the gold in sight had blinded me with its glare. Now I could do nothing but freak out inside this dark place, waiting for someone to return for me.

I wish I had missed that call from Mikhael, my employer, six days back. He had called me back from my vacation for the fourth time in a row. If I could spit venom, I would have killed his hologram that grew from my watch.

“You better make it worth my time. I’m killing my vacation for you. Again.”

But he knew exactly how to pacify me. “Petra dear, the client promises to weigh you in gold.”

With those golden words, he had all my attention. Nothing motivated me better than money. Love I had too much of—being a tall, curvy blond—and stopped counting after my 25th boyfriend.

“Can’t tell you the name for obvious reasons, but the client is a giant in the Blood Test industry. They own thousands of laboratories across Earth with the annual turnover of several billion dollars. They are looking for information about…”

“…Sangue Heder Labs,” I finished his thought. He nodded.

“Of course! The fastest-growing laboratory chain on Earth…I assume, our client is looking for the ground-breaking technology that diagnoses the complete list of diseases, including Cancer, from a single vial of blood, that too within minutes.” He nodded again.

The breakthrough was nothing short of a miracle and was all over the papers last year. By providing general health check-ups at unbelievably low rates, they had wiped out the smaller competition in a matter of months. Now, even bigger competitors were struggling to stay open.

“I’m on it. I’ll have results in a week or less. Keep that gold ready.”

Day 1

My internet search was the first sign that I should have backed out.

In a universe connected tightly through the Universe Wide Web, celebrities can’t sneeze without someone publishing it. Yet, hardly any information existed about the most successful lab chain on Earth. All I found was that the Sangue Heder Labs were owned by Marco De Rossi, the youngest member of a multi-billionaire family. In 2099, his family was one of the first to move to Proxima Centauri B, the closest habitable planet. They traveled on the legendary Spaceship Noah’s Ark, which was loaded with seeds of all kinds and pairs of all variety of animals in the cryopreserved state. Most of them survived on Proxima, unlike Earth, populating the nearly empty planet in the next 200 years and became a wildlife preserve and favored travel destination for the super-rich celebrities around the known universe. But the family declined to share any pictures publicly throughout its 500 years history on Earth and Proxima, a practice Marco De Rossi seemed to have kept alive till date.

His company was equally elusive. Sangue Heder Labs’ website stated an address on Proxima as headquarter. They mentioned using an “ancient technique” to diagnose diseases from the blood. But there accuracy was up to three decimal digits. Was it possible with anything ancient?

Next, I contacted the patent office, off the record, only to find nothing. Sangue Heder Labs hadn’t patented the “technique”. Or maybe they couldn’t, if it really was ancient. To check whether there was any ‘ancient’ technique offering diagnosis through blood, I deep searched medical sites from Earth and Proxima, but to no avail. Some Proxima health resorts offered ancient healing through local herbs, animal extracts, and solar heat but there was nothing about diagnosis through blood.

The pictures left me wondering how it would be to live on a planet where trees still grew in forests and not pots. Someday, maybe I will too.

Day 2

The next day, I moved to Plan B, looking for the employees of Sangue Heder Labs on Social Media. Employees are a treasure of information. There is always someone complaining about their job and technology challenges. But soon, I realized that they probably had some employee agreement barring them because I found no one.

With a couple of days gone, I decided to contact them personally. Everybody has a price tag: some talk for money, others for ‘love’. But the contacts from the Earth Employee Benefits organization could not dig out a single email, address or phone number since both the organization and its employees were ‘foreign’ and protected by the inter-planetary laws.

I should have stopped then but my reputation as the best Industrial Spy on Earth wasn’t for nothing.

Day 3

I decided to catch an employee during a lunch break and strike a conversation. A couple of drinks and an attentive listener can loosen a tongue easily. Usually, they begin with the rant about too much workload, bad managers and difficult clients, and, with careful steering, can easily overstep the line of discretion and divulge their technology without really knowing.

So, I donned a brunette wig and boarded my trusted faded-grey copter—both common and anonymous. Blonds and stylish rides draw a lot of attention and blending in with the crowd was imperative for my job. I flew to the biggest Sangue Heder Lab and parked in the overcrowded rooftop parking of the Food Court next door. I sat down next to the biggest window and could see the reception of the lab through the glass wall as I ‘worked’ on my palmtop.

The receptionist was a tall gorgeous man with red hair, and suddenly I wanted to visit the lab just so that I could look at him closely. I shook my head to clear it. Where did that come from? A couple of lab technicians—different races but just as breath-taking—collected blood samples. Are all Proxima natives like that? Does fresh air and unprocessed food make you look like Roman Gods?

I waited at the cafeteria all afternoon. The Food court was busy but none of its clients were Lab employees, only the patrons nursing their pinpricks and their attendants. The closest couple was discussing the blood results they had received via email within a couple of minutes of tests. The stream of patients coming for tests never ceased, and nobody came out for lunch. The organization was probably ordering food and drinks for its employees to stop them from leaving their desk to eat. I gave up at midnight.

The facility was the biggest and busiest, so I decided to try at a smaller facility the next day.

Something wasn’t feeling right about this assignment—probably the fact that most of the clientele belonged to the low-income societies. They wouldn’t have been able to afford these tests if it wasn’t for Sangue Heder Labs. They all could have died without a diagnosis.

Conscience pricked me for a short moment.

Then it passed. I could see myself luxuriating at the Proxima resorts, looking like a Goddess, with fresh air and unprocessed food, and preferably with a boyfriend from the same planet.

Day 4

On day four, I took the Airbus to a different city and haunted the streets outside a different facility of the Sangue Heder Labs, on my uber-expensive featherweight ecobike. It was ideal for following people. When needed, I could simply fish it out of my purse, unfold it and get going at a moment’s notice. It removed the need to switch between following on foot or rush to the parking area to retrieve my coptor first.

I had planned to follow any employees out for a coffee or stroll, and meet them ‘by chance’. When the female receptionist ventured out alone late evening, I saw an opening, but as I drew closer, I had an urge to walk over and touch her skin—so flawless that it glowed in the moonlight. Considering I am straight…

By the time I had collected my wits, she was gone and returned shortly with an icebox. The opportunity to strike a conversation had passed. I was exhausted and left for the day.

Day 5

Next day, I tried another facility. While I waited for the employees to walk out to a close by cafe for a break, I searched the employees online by uploading the pictures I had taken the day before. Nothing. One of the pictures resembled one of the war prisoners from the First World War, but I wasn’t interested in ancient history right now.

No employee came out all day. At midnight, they closed the facility and all of them walked out together. I followed from a distance, hoping to catch one of them once they split-up at the Airbus station, but lost them once they turned into a dark street.

I should have given up then, considering the next move was too risky. But I was nothing, if not pig-headed.

Day 6

Now that I had tried everything else, I moved to Plan C—entering the facility. The plan was simple in theory. Get in close to closing time, hide behind something until the place closes up, and spy around after it is empty of people.

Simple…in theory.

In reality, it is too difficult to hide my 5’8” frame in a lab. Huge head offices are simpler with too many unused rooms to hide in, but labs are quite small with less number of rooms and usually no cover. I had seen it before. At that time, I had walked back out pretending I was looking for rest rooms, because Trespassing is a crime. Getting caught could earn me jail time, and my pictures in the news as an Industrial Spy could kill my anonymity and career.

So, I saved it for the most difficult and most paying cases. This one definitely qualified as both.

I had deliberately waited till Sunday, a public holiday, and chose the busiest close of the day hours to ensure that the facility was packed with people to give me the much-needed cover and more time to hunt for information, in case I didn’t get a space to hide.

Three technicians were collecting samples of fifteen patients at a time with three to four minutes between batches. With 75 patients ahead of me, I had 12-15 minutes, if I did not get a cover (which seemed like a greater probability). The hidden cameras in my earrings were already capturing footage. As soon as the technicians took samples from the people in the front, I quietly left my place.

I pretended as if I was looking for the washroom and, stealthily, slipped inside the door with the “Employees only” sign. The short lobby ended in a hall—no cover. I had a couple minutes at the most before the technician came out for more samples and discovered me. I should have turned back right then but the lure was too strong—I was a bat, blind and focused on the target alone.

I peeped in the hall. It looked like all offices. The room was bustling with activity and sounds of chit-chat. Several employees sat on comfortable chairs with the latest Palmtops. Some of them used huge Wall screens with virtual keypad holograms floating close to their fingers. Small racks of labeled blood vials sat atop a drinks table in the middle. There was no microscope in the sight to test the blood. The gray-haired man closest to me had just finished filling a blood report form on his Wall screen and sent it to the patient’s email.

I focused on him as he picked a vial, excited to finally know the trade secret of Sangue Heder Labs.

He took a long swig of the blood, swirled it in his mouth and started filling the blood report form.

I let out a tiny gasp.

Suddenly, all the eyes in the room zeroed on me. The gray-haired man I had been concentrating on was suddenly behind me and had blocked my retreat. His canines grew. I think I fainted.

I remember hearing a voice from afar. “Set her aside for dinner, Luke. We are trying to concentrate on work here.”

Now I lay inside my coffin, probably six feet underground, complete with fangs and all. Having tried unsuccessfully to claw my way out for a couple of hours, now I wait for them to come back for me. I hope they might give me a job too as a Phlebologist.

A Question Of Communication

This is a fictional short story, in 170 words.

Something’s not right.

It feels different, wrong.

How do I tell them though?

Maybe if I eat a lot more, they will notice?

That didn’t work, so I will try drinking too much instead.

No good, they just gave me more to drink.

I know what to do. I will walk around in front of them, try to get more attention.

Didn’t help, they just gave me a toy.

Tomorrow, I am going to go home early. Just walk off in the direction of the house.

That seemed to work. Caused a bit of a fuss. Got more cuddles.

It’s still not right though, and I wish I knew what it was.

Panting hard got me noticed. That woke them up.

But not enough to do something about it.

Perhaps if I breathe really, really fast, they will do something.

Finally! And now I am in the car.

I can only hope they are taking me to get help.

Dedicated to Ollie, who cannot tell us when he feels ill.

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.

Photo-Prompt Story: The Red Door

This is a short story in, 690 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, seen on Sue Judd’s blog. https://suejudd.com/

Ellen thought it was high time the front door was painted. She couldn’t remember when it was that Norman had done it last. Some years before he died, that was for sure. She had never liked the sickly cream colour he had used, but he had half a tin left in the shed, and said it would save money. The door always looked dirty after that, with rain splashes and scuffs standing out clearly on the light colour. But she didn’t have the heart to complain, not even about the brush marks that were so apparent when the light was on it.

As she watered the plants that morning, she decided that now was the time to brighten it up. The walk to the High Street seemed to take much longer than it used to, but she liked to give her business to the local shops. Henderson’s Hardware had been there since before they moved to thr district, and after the old man had died, his son had taken it over. Norman used to say, ‘They have everything in that shop. Anything you need”. The young man behind the counter gave her a friendly smile, as she told him what she needed. “Something bright and colourful. But it must be hard-wearing, as it will be on the front door you see”.

He showed her what they had in stock, and she shook her head at the selection available. Unable to decide, she took some colour charts away, with the young man assuring her they could get anything she needed very quickly. After going through them all at home, Ellen chose her two favourites, and took them outside to look at them against the door in the light. Nodding to confirm her choice, she spoke out loud. “Poppy Red. That’s the one”.

The local free paper arrived the next day, and she looked at the advertisements for painters and decorators. Choosing one with a box around the ad, and a local phone number, she made the call. The young man had a friendly tone to his voice, and told her he could paint her door easily. He said he would pop round tomorrow, and give her a price for the job. He arrived on time, and Ellen showed him the colour chart. “Poppy Red, like this one. You can get it from Henderson’s”. He nodded, and told her he could get a good deal for trade but would need the money first, in case she changed her mind, and he got stuck with the paint. That seemed fair enough to her, so she handed over the cash.

On the Friday, he turned up as arranged. Ellen made him a cup of tea as he got ready. “Two sugars please, and don’t forget not to come out through the door”. She nodded, wondering if she thought being old also made her stupid. Two hours later, he knocked on the door. Ellen opened it to find a strange pinkish colour paint on the door. She pulled a face. “That doesn’t look right to me”. The man smiled. “It’s not finished yet, love. That’s only the first coat. I will come back on Monday when this has dried, rub it down, and get the second coat on. Don’t worry, it will look lovely. But can you give me the money for some more paint, as that one tin won’t be enough? And can you pay me for what I have done today too please?” Ellen set her lip. “Are you sure that’s Poppy Red? Doesn’t look like the one on the chart to me”.

He laughed at her, shaking his head. His reply made her feel silly. “It’s the old colour underneath, ain’t it? It’s not going to look like the one on the chart until the second coat goes on, is it?” Fetching her purse, Ellen handed over the money. Picking up the paint and brushes, he waved as he walked away. “See you Monday”.

As she watered the plants, the dustcart was at the end of the street. That meant it must be Thursday.

And the young man still hadn’t come back to finish the door.

Photo-Prompt Story: The Bench-Table

This is a short story, in 500 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, sent to me by Maggie, from https://fromcavewalls.wordpress.com/

Diana had always loved that bench-table. Keith had made it himself, using moulds purchased from a builder’s merchant, and mixing the concrete in some old buckets no longer used for any other purpose. It had turned out surprisingly well, and was solid and strong. Just like him.

In the garden, it seemed to suit the mood. They never did go for a cultured, or over-manicured look, and other than a few tubs of annuals, tended to let it slide. That natural, slightly overgrown atmosphere pleased them both, and also meant a lot less unnecessary work. Weekends away from the the city could be enjoyed, rather than endured, as there was little to do but relish the surroundings.

Most mornings, they would have their coffee sitting at the bench. And on fine summer evenings, enjoy a glass of wine before and after dinner. Sitting there, feeling the roughness under their clothes, it seemed to be perfect. It went with the surroundings, and gave that feel of something timeless, that would always endure. When the weather was at its best, it was not unknown for them to have both breakfast and dinner at that sturdy table, ignoring the flies, and the occasional wasp.

And just like that bench, their marriage endured. Two kids, lots of happy memories crowded around the table, squashed on the small seats intended for one, but managing to accommodate two on each side. As time went on, work got busy, and they rarely managed once a month around the bench-table. Cherished moments though, as the concrete weathered, mimicking their own ageing. When the kids got older, they made it out to the place when they could, the eventual grandchildren sitting on their laps around the table. Happy days indeed.

Retirement came, and was welcomed. They could give up the apartment in the city, and spend their days enjoying relaxation and peace in their countryside idyll. Keith seemed to be rejuvenated. Diana was so happy, she had never known a time when they had been so relaxed. This was the life that had always hoped for, and a part of them had anticipated. For more than six months of every year, they took their meals around the bench-table, talking of the times when they had hoped to be doing exactly that.

Now Diana smiled as she saw Keith sitting there, waiting for her to come outside. She took the big mug of coffee, and smiled at her daughter. “I will drink this with your dad, honey”. Melanie watched as her mother walked over to the bench. She didn’t seem to see the too-long grass as she sat down, smiling and chatting.

Feeling a hand on her shoulder, Melanie turned to see her brother Patrick, his eyebrows raised. “Who is mum talking to?”

She patted his hand as he looked over at her mum sitting alone at the bench.

“Dad of course. She still thinks she sees him”.