Sheila. A short monologue

Sheila, 55, is in a dressing gown, trainers and reading glasses. She has just had a shower. It is 4 a.m. and dark outside. She is stood in her kitchen, reading yesterday’s horoscope from a tabloid newspaper. Her laptop is on the table; next to it is a mug of strong black coffee. Her washing machine is washing a few clothes. It rattles, there is a belt and bag in there. Sheila is anxious.

Reads aloud

Hold onto your hats, dear Librans, because you are in for a few surprises. Try to keep your cool today or things could get a bit bumpy. Remember good friends are hard to find. Want to know more? Get my premium rate horoscope… blah blah

Throws paper down again and takes off reading glasses..  

I should have read it yesterday. What a bloody nightmare! No, worse than a nightmare. Is there anything worse? Oh god oh god, I wish it was just a dream.

She peeps through the curtains. Looks up and down the street. Washing machine kicks into loud full spin.

 

I’m washing him out of my knickers. I thought I might burn them, but at this point I think it’s usual to act normal. I chucked all of my clothes and my bag in just to be on the safe side… I doubt the bag will survive. (Shudders)

I’m cold, (feels forehead) I think I might be in shock. Come on Sheila pull yourself together. You’re cool in a crisis. Think… think…

Right. I’ve watered the plants. Set a rule on my inbox, set the video up for Orange is the New Black, Corrie, Strictly, Call the …

Ginger cat walks in to the room.

 

Oh Toots, come here. (scoops cat up) Mummy might have to go away. She’s ever so sorry… she didn’t mean it… (sad) She only wanted a cuddle… (cat jumps down) Please yourself.

 

Picks up mug

 

I’ve seen him around, with his mates. Nice smile, smart clothes, good arse for a man of his age. Fit, you know, like a runner. I’d got separated from the others. They all went out for a fag, I expect. Anyway we got talking, bit of a laugh, bit of a drink, bit of a dance. He was well gone; so I said I would drive him home.

Puts mug down

Do you think four will do it … I really can’t drink anymore?

Holds out hands, they shake.

 

Nice house. Good taste. I had to help him upstairs. He was slaughtered!

Looks at watch then with a sad smile

 

The sex was pretty bad… messy…. I don’t score… but from a possible 1 to 10 with 1 being bad and 10 blowing your mind… he was a… 0.75…

I can’t remember the last time I got held in someone’s arms…

She checks the street again

 

(To self) How long do these things take?

(To audience) Anyway, he said he felt sick and he thrashed his way to the en suite. I was still being nice, you know… optimistic… so I picked up the tissue box from the bedside table… there was a photograph frame underneath… face down.

She picks some fluff off her dressing gown

 

Well you’ve got to look, haven’t you?

Pause

Oh God, Tracey, I am so sorry.

Looks at the audience fiercely

 

The hours that I have spent listening to her telling me that she thinks he’s up to something. The hours… when we should have been doing stuff at work… watching her crying in the stock room… texting him…

Me? I’ve been saying that he was probably working too hard. Depressed…

Was he bollocks!

Pause

I could hear him throwing up into the lav… then he fell against the door, heavy like. So I got up, stuffed my clothes in my bag, put my coat on tight and left. It was dark. I came out of that estate like a bat out of hell.

Poor Tracey.

I was so disgusted… so guilty… so embarrassed… so fucking angry with myself. Well, I just put my foot down, I wanted to be at home, doors locked, in a scalding hot shower… scrubbing….

Pause

I didn’t see him… the drunk… lying in the road… he made a pretty loud bang.

Pause

How do you get blood off your engine block?

Turns to look out of the window

End

 

 

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The Four Spectres

Already late for work and head fizzing with caffeine, Sophie stepped from the bus into a squall of rain. It was dark and very cold. The bus slapped though puddles, sending high arcs of gritty water across her path. Then it accelerated away, leaving her engulfed in a haze of diesel fumes. The hospital entrance was a good ten minutes away, and she was running late, so she pulled her hood up against the persistent rain and stepped briskly into the cold night.

Her morning had begun with the usual shakes. She had woken to a pounding head and a cruel need for a drink. Sophie had passed out in her armchair the night before and her hip still hurt where the wooden arm had dug into her flesh. She had found the letter under her whisky bottle. Condensation had formed an almost perfect circle around her name. Moisture had seeped through the brown envelope and dampened the letter inside. The ink had bled across the page, but it was still legible. New Angel Nursing Agency, (she hadn’t heard of that one), was offering her some temporary night work, in Ward H, of the City Hospital. She had to report, register and get into uniform by ten p.m. tonight. She was horrified at the thought of going back to work.

Sophie had searched her foggy memory for any recollections of a decision return to nursing. She couldn’t remember anything, but then her days slipped past in a haze, and there were gaps in her memory a mile wide. She must have applied; after all, nursing agencies don’t do cold calls. At first she was physically sickened by the thought of returning to nursing, but after a drink or two she calmed down and asked herself; what was the worst that could happen? She doubted that her life could get any worse and this might just be a way of picking up the pieces. So she attempted to clean herself up, scraped her hair back, tried to disguise her scars with makeup, found some half presentable clothes and with her heart in her mouth, set off to try to pick up the pieces of the career that she had once loved.

Five minutes from the bus stop, she was breathing heavily and feeling dizzy. Her phone alarm beeped, Sophie glanced down at her pocket and barged into a group of four youths who had emerged silently from the shadows. She was momentarily drawn to their alcohol breath. They swore loudly and roughly bounced her from one to the other.
‘ Sorry, sorry, I’m late for work’ she apologised, trying to block their groping fingers. She elbowed away a hand that was searching for her breast.
‘You want to be more careful’ said a quiet voice in her ear. She looked up and saw a youth with a knife thin face, inches away from hers. His sour breath smelled of cigarettes and beer. Cold eyes, appraised her body, and left an icy trail on her skin.
‘Sorry’ said Sophie pulling her bag from their grasp, as she pushed her way between them. Laughter and jeers followed her as she stumbled away from them.
‘ Sorry! You will be’ shouted the youth. A passing car headlights cast a flash of light onto the nearby hospital gates and Sophie ran for safety.
………………………

A single lamp, suspended from an iron arch, illuminated the rusted wrought iron gates and dense evergreen shrubbery that lined the path to the old City Hospital building. It had once been a workhouse and still held a place of dread in the minds of many of the old people in the area. The old building could be seen through the bars. It had been built to be stern and imposing and it loomed dark and sinister in front of her. Sophie felt a rising sense of foreboding as she stepped reluctantly through the gates and began to walk up the drive.

She was cold, wet and her resolve was weakening with each step. She really didn’t know if she could do this. Her legs felt weak and she seriously needed a drink. She glanced up for a second, the hospital was four floors high and the darkened windows looked as if they were barred. Large puddles on the drive reflected a broken mirror image of the face of the building, making it seem even taller and more forbidding. An almost full moon silhouetted a derelict cupola in the centre of the slick black roof.

……………..
The entrance lobby was empty and silent, disturbed only by the sound of her laboured breathing. The lobby smelled of disinfectant and old flowers. The heavy door slammed behind her, sending an echo rebounding along the dimly lit corridors to her left and right. A dusty, flapping entrail of a cobweb hung from a lantern hung high in the centre of the imposing dark wooden staircase.

Briefly illuminated by the moon, a stained glass window showed the Victorian workhouse when it was newly built. Underneath, she could see black spidery letters
Beware the four spectres: old age, poverty, sickness and idleness.
The hair rose on the back of her neck. She could see four ragged figures peering through the windows of the workhouse, one on each floor. The moon slid behind a cloud, the window blackened. As it re-emerged she looked at the window again, and her heart missed a beat, the ghostly figure on the ground floor was gone.

Trying to gather her courage, she decided that her eyes must have been playing tricks on her. It was perhaps the fear of returning to work that was so unsettling. Sophie knew that this might be her last chance to pull her life back together. She couldn’t afford to fail. A movement in the corridor to her right caught her attention, but there was nothing to be seen. She shivered and began to walk.

Checked in and changed into her nurse’s uniform, she began to walk along the corridor leading to ward H. The lights sensed her movement, lighting up the corridor in front and plunging it into darkness after she had passed. She felt as if the bubble of light was shrinking around her. It seemed as if she was walking into darkness; and she feared that if she stopped she would be engulfed by the predatory shadows at her heels.

Sophie closed the ward door behind her with relief. The ward was an old nightingale ward, long, with high windows running along one side. The nurse’s station was in the centre. A single reading lamp cast a cone of light onto the desk but seemed to deepen the gloom in the rest of the ward. The smell of the ward was familiar and reassuring, she began to feel that she might be able to cope.

She checked the medical notes and saw that the men had a variety of ailments but the common factor was that they were all failing to thrive; they were fading away. A man died in his sleep, of what was described as ‘causes unknown’, every day or perhaps two. The notes reported that the men’s behaviour was calm during the day but unpredictable and violent at night. There was an element of self-harm, with bruising and scratching happening almost nightly. Sedation had been tried but was unsuccessful; the men seemed to want to stay awake, it was almost as if they feared sleep.

Sophie glanced up from the notes. Curtains were drawn around each bed and a cold ribbon of light ringed the floor around each bay. The atmosphere was one of tense anticipation, no one snored, they just lay silent and still. Behind her in the darkness, a cooling radiator clicked.

Usually the sickest patient was placed nearest to the door, so that they could be taken to the mortuary without disturbing the ward. She began at the other end, intending to work along the beds to get a sense of how the men slipped toward death. She parted the curtains of the first bay and stepped into the gloom.

A gaunt birdlike man lay unmoving on the bed. He was wearing faded striped pyjamas, buttoned to a knot of curly grey hair at the cleft of his throat. His eyes were half closed and ringed with shadows. His skin was pallid and he had deep scratches on his cheeks. For a moment she thought that he was dead, but then he took a deep shuddering breath.
‘Hello. Have they found us another one?’ His voice was a gravelly whisper.
‘Hello, yes, Mr. er…’ she glanced at his name over his bed head ‘Graham. I’m here until breakfast. Is there anything I can get you?’
He looked past her; his face was expressionless, bereft of hope. As if nothing she did, would ever help.
‘Anything?’ she said softly.

His eyes widened in terror and he shrank into his pillow; there was something behind her. She felt a chill around her ankles as if she was standing in an icy wind. Sophie stepped back and looked at her feet, a cold grey mist trailed across the floor and wound between her ankles and around her legs. She felt a wave of nausea as it touched her skin. It snaked around her body, up onto the bed, and along Graham’s body.

Sophie watched in horror as the mist condensed in front of the man’s face. She could still see him, but the mist shimmered, it was as if she was seeing Graham through a horrifying ethereal mask. Deep black voids where the eyes should have been searched her soul. Sophie was transfixed as the grotesque lips began to move. A chill spread through her body. She didn’t hear so much as feel the words vibrate inside her head.
‘Sorry. You will be!’ he laughed, course and hard, like the rough youths that she had met earlier. Sophie was terrified, her heart pounded in her ears. Then the mask blurred, the mist thinned and fell, heavy, to the floor, where it trailed silently under the curtain into the next bay.

Released, Graham screamed, clawing at his face. Sophie grasped hold of his thin wrists to stop him tearing his flesh. She could feel spittle hit her cheek as he leaned toward her and hissed,
‘For god’s sake do something.’
She stepped away from the bed leaving a scent of whisky and cheap perfume; Graham breathed it in, as if it might ground him in this world.

The mist had passed along the row of beds, slipping below the curtain of each bay, leaving man after man screaming in agony. Sophie ran to the far end of the ward and snatched back the curtains.
The ghostly mist had gained substance as it drew energy from each man. Sophie realised that it was one of the spectres that she had seen in the stained glass window. It was kneeling on the bed, rags flaring behind him in some otherworldly wind. It reached down toward the shivering and terrified man, and plunged its spectral hand into his chest. His heart ceased to beat.
‘Stop it! Stop it at once. Leave that man alone’ Sophie hissed at the shrouded spectre. It’s face melted and then reformed in front of her. ‘ Leave this place, leave my patients alone.’ She felt as if the words were freezing in her mouth. Ice-cold eyes searched her face. She heard the spectre deep in her bones
‘You see me, do you nurse?’
‘Yes… get out … leave …’ Sophie felt as if her legs would fail her.
The spectre’s laughter remained long after he had passed through her and disappeared into the night.
…………………..

Sophie stepped from the bus into the diesel ladened fog. She watched the bus melt into the night. It was bitterly cold, and the air felt solid and impenetrable.

She had been awake all day trying to decide if she dare go back, finally she had fallen into a whisky fuelled sleep at about seven. She awoke two hours later, still shaken by the events of the previous night, but found to her surprise that she was angrier than she was scared. Something was killing the patients in her ward and for the first time for years she knew just what she had to do.

Pulling her collar up to her ears, Sophie walked toward the hospital gates. Her footsteps were amplified in the gloom. A car drove past, monetarily illuminating her path and leaving a swirling trail in the darkening fog. A man stepped silently from the shadows. She reached out for the rusted gate, hoping to step through them and avoid him. A smell of stale cigarettes and beer reminded her of the thin-faced young man from the previous night.

‘Thought I would find you here’ said a low whisper in her ear ‘ you really should take more care.’ He reached out and caught her coat sleeve.
‘What?’
‘Give me your phone’ he demanded
‘No’ said Sophie taking her phone from her pocket and clutching it to her chest
‘Like I said, you should have taken more care’ growled the man as he pushed her hard against the gate. Her face slammed against the cold iron. The scars on her face and neck flared with pain. She felt a spike of static electricity as he ripped the phone from her hand. The light above flickered with the impact. He held the phone up in victory, and laughed before stepping back into the fog and disappearing from view.

Shocked and angry she turned and ran for the safety of the hospital. She ran through the lobby and into the corridor. Desperate to get to her ward she ran headlong into the darkness, the bubble of light stuttered behind her. Sophie threw her coat on the back of the chair and sat down at the nurse’s station. She was about to pick up the phone and report the theft when Graham called from the second bay
‘It’s ok lads, she’s come back, I can smell her. Perfume and whisky. It’s definitely her.’
There were murmurs of relief from behind the curtains. Feeling curious, she got up and began to walk along the ward. It seemed different, but she couldn’t quite work out in what way. As she passed, each man called goodnight, through the curtain. Sophie smiled; she was back where she belonged.

Her smile turned to horror as she began to feel a familiar oppressive coldness. There was a presence behind her, reluctantly; she turned around to find that she was looking directly into condensing ectoplasm. It slowly formed the face of the spectre that she had seen the night before. He had come to kill again.

‘Stop.’ She sounded braver than she felt. The grey figure mocked her with his laughter. Summoning up her courage, she stepped forward ‘ I will not let you kill another man’ her heart pounding in her ears, she added ‘no one else will die on my watch. Do you hear me? I will not allow it?’

‘Not this time?’ he mocked. The Spectre seemed to grow, to rise and hover over her head. Sophie was consumed with dread. Still laughing it opened its mouth wider and wider until it had engulfed her completely. A gaping black void snatched Sophie from her feet and threw her into a spinning darkness. She tumbled over an over. Blackness surrounded her and all that she could hear was a haunting, baleful wind. The tumbling ceased, the moaning wind rose to become the sound of mothers screaming the names of their dead children. The stench of rot and decay hung around her like fog. She looked at her hands and they bled from picking oakum. She was cold, bone deep cold, and she was starving. Her clothes turned to rags and she felt centuries old.

She stumbled forwards, towards the heat of a lighted candle and in a rush she was back in the ward, face to face with the spectre.
‘It doesn’t have to be like that’ she spoke with compassion
‘What does it matter if they die early? Who cares?.’ spoke the spectre into her mind
‘ Society cares about them now’
‘Does it?’

Summoning all of the pain that she felt for the things that she had done, and all of the self-loathing for the things that she hadn’t, Sophie closed her eyes, stepped forward and reached for the spectre’s soul. She showed it heat and light, a hungry child being given breakfast at school, a homeless soldier being led to a warm bed, a nurse kneeling to dress a wound, tenderness in a place of refuge, and in the end a peaceful and a pain free death.
‘No one dies in a ditch these days’ she said softly.
The spectre howled ‘Say it isn’t so!’
‘It is so’ she whispered

A rush of wind pushed Sophie back, the curtains around the beds whipped and strained against their rails, snapping in the wind, as the spectre screamed and spiraled faster around the room. Windows shook in their frames, as it gathered speed and with one last howling blast, the spectre exploded from the ward and raced along the corridor. Seconds later there was a loud bang and the clatter of breaking glass.
………………………..
Graham sat on a chair in the reception area waiting for a taxi to take him home. He was the last man who had suffered at the hands of the spectre, to leave ward H. They weren’t sure why it had stopped its nightly visits, but they knew that it had something to do with a nurse called Sophie who had fought for them. She returned each night to guard them as they slept. They knew that it was Sophie, because if they woke, they could smell her perfume and a faint trail of whisky.
He looked up at the boarding over what had once been a stained glass window and smiled.
Graham picked up a newspaper from the table by his side. He glanced at the headline and then scanned down the page. His eyes were slowly drawn back to the headline.

BODY OF NURSE FOUND IN CITY HOSPITAL GROUNDS
Workmen repairing damage to a vandalised window on 15th December, found the body of Sophie James. Her decomposed body was found in undergrowth near the gates of the City Hospital. Tests suggest that she was stabbed on the night of 15th November. The motive is not thought to have been robbery, her phone was found close to her body.
Well-known, 35-year-old James was decorated for bravery after rescuing patients from a hospital fire in 2007. Ms. James was single handedly responsible for the rescue of ten children, for which she was awarded a prestigious medal for bravery. Friends say that she was unable to forgive herself for the deaths of the remaining two children and she gradually became a recluse. Neighbours report that she was a quiet woman who kept herself to herself and that they are shocked that something like this could happen.
Anyone with information that might help the police with their enquiries should contact Crime Stoppers 0800 555111

‘Oh Sophie’ Graham sighed as he touched the picture of her smiling face. Then he smoothed the paper, folded it and slipped it into his bag. He sensed the faintest trace of perfume and whisky and smiled, and then he stood up, picked up his bag and stepped into the sunshine.

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my jigsaw life

the corners
the bottom line
the boundaries
the curled up edge
the broken tab
the male piece
the female piece
the first piece
the last piece
the big picture
the centrepiece
the piece in the wrong place
the borrowed piece
the gift
the impossible piece
the lost piece
the gap
the space
the wrong piece
the piece with nowhere to go

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The spanish waiter

Snake hipped
the spanish waiter slipped across the room,
his second silver eyelid flicked.

He leaned over, inhaled and
vibrated her scent upon his tongue.

And for you pretty lady?
Back to the wall, a book, no ring.

A flourish of wine, the pause for approval
he nods slowly.

Tonight, little lady,
you will drink vinegar and smile.

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She lost

She’d lost. She’d lost the argument. She knew she’d lost. He’d gone.

She’d lost. She’d lost his presence. She’d lost a future. He left the past.

She’d watched. She’d watched him count. She’d watched him count his shirts.

She’d watched him count his surplus shirts and put them in a bag. A bin bag.

She took them to the clothes bank. He never said.

She’d lost. She’d lost the money. He took it all.

Then she lost it.

Proper lost it.

Then she lost it more.

He’d taken the wine. He’d taken all of the wine.

She didn’t lose his address. He never gave it.

She paced. She paced the fields. She paced the fields and sang.

She paced the fields and sang I AM WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR.

She wrote. She wrote a list. She wrote a list of all the reasons why she hated him.

She stopped at two sides of A4.

She made a paper boat and sank it with a rock.

The sun shone.

She lay on the jetty and smiled.

She found. She found the joy. She found the joy of peace.

She found the joy of peace inside her head.

She took. She took permission back. She took permission to hurt her back.

She keeps it safe.

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the place of crows

the place of crows

(A stage adaptation of The Implausible Impostor: Tom Castro, by J L Borges)

by Linda Nicklin

January 2015 The place of crows

by Linda Nicklin

Dramatis personae

Arthur Orton also known as Tom Castro and Roger Titchborne

Anthony Bogle. Closest friend and supporter of Arthur’s claim

John, friend and supporter of Arthur

1st man in black lawyer

2nd man in black news reporter

Guilford MP and supporter

Tom local landlord and fundraiser

Hotel porter

Police officer

Police officer

2nd Lawyer

Newspaper boy 1

Newspaper boy 2 THE PLACE OF CROWS

SCENE 1
WOODLAND, MORNING 14th MARCH 1868
A man is standing in a wooded area. He leans against a tree trunk and looks up into the treetops. The light is dappled and moves so that it looks as if it is filtering through branches that are swaying in the wind. He speaks with an accent that is hard to place; it may be cockney or Australian and possibly have some South American tones. It is not an English upper class accent. There is a sound of crows. He sighs and looks at the audience
ARTHUR: (sadly) I am beset by crows. They haunt me (pauses). They have bedeviled me, my whole life
(The crow sound is louder and more menacing. He looks up again and shrinks into his coat)
ARTHUR: They have persecuted me from here, to the ends of the earth. (Pause) Aye and then back again. (Pause, thoughtfully) But I fear that they have done for me, this time.
He looks up into the treetops again. Off stage a loud gunshot is heard. The crows screech and there is a powerful sound of flapping wings as the crows move on. Seconds later there is an urgent call of hello off stage, Arthur moves off stage towards the voice.

SCENE 2
THE INTERIOR OF A HOTEL ROOM, LATER 14th MARCH 1868
ARTHUR is hurriedly packing his clothes into a trunk placed at the foot of the bed. A second man JOHN is helping to take things out of the chest of drawers and places them on the bed ready for packing. The sky through the window is dark and promises a storm. Treetops can be seen moving to and fro through the window. JOHN is a small wiry man, bouncy with undirected energy.
ARTHUR: Dead you say? When did she die?
JOHN: The day before yesterday. We heard this morning
ARTHUR: That poor dear lady, she was a mother to me, an angel
JOHN: Quite so, but her children are not, and we must fly before they find you.

ARTHUR: Aye… (He rushes to put the last clothes in the trunk, then picks up a bag and puts the clothes on the bed into the bag) What time is it?

JOHN: Two, we really must go

(The sound of horses pulling up outside the hotel, people are shouting. There is the sound of hurried footsteps coming toward the room. There is a gentle knock on the bedroom door) Enter ANDREW BOGLE a first generation freed slave from Jamaica. He is tall, well built gentle man; he has a stately posture and has graying hair. ARTHUR and ANTHONY greet each other urgently but warmly.

ANDREW: (to Arthur) Hello my old friend. (Shaking hands with John) Hello John. We must be quick! They are downstairs. I saw them arrive as I was talking to the landlord. He is keen that you settle your accounts before you go.

(Arthur and John look at each other and then continue to fasten the cases)

ARTHUR: Of course (he picks up his bag and makes for the door) as soon as we are…

(The door bursts open and the tree tops can be seen to move in response through the window. Two men dressed in black burst into the room. The first man in is a lawyer and is serving court papers. The second is a news reporter from the Pall Mall Gazette, lead supporters of the case against Arthur. Andrew and John move to stand beside Arthur)

1st MAN IN BLACK: Arthur Orton, or Tom Castro I have here…

ARTHUR: (interrupts indignantly) You will address me as Sir… Sir Roger Titchborne

1st MAN IN BLACK: I have here court papers (he reads) On the sad and untimely demise of Lady Henriette, Dowager of Titchborne her descendants demand that you are to surrender all properties and claims against the estate and to cease your claim to be the heir, Roger Titchborne

ARTHUR: (interrupts) Never, never. I insist that I am Roger Titchborne, as recognised by my dear… (He corrects himself) dear, late mother. (More gently, he turns and enquires of his friends.) What kind of mother would spend years searching for a lost son, only to claim an impostor as her own, and harm her other children? Her heart knew that I was her lost son!
(His friends are moved by his words. To the increasingly irritated men in black, more sternly)
You are denigrating a mother whose love knew no bounds. Despite what she was told by others, she knew that I was still alive. (Preaching) I was her prodigal son. She never stopped loving me and when I returned to ask for her forgiveness and mercy, she took me in with open arms. (Calms down) Despite this, her children, my unchristian family, would rather see me beggared. Their jealousy will bankrupt us all!

1st MAN IN BLACK: but sir (holding out papers)

ARTHUR: (Arthur is on a roll) She searched the globe and found me in Australia sir, in the outback. I had fallen on hard times…

1st MAN IN BLACK: Ridiculous! That was Tom Castro

ARTHUR: It is a hard and desolate place, the kind of place where men change their names to hide from the world. It would have done me no good to be titled in Australia, in fact quite the opposite. I needed to be lost. Those other names that you mentioned were mine for a while, along with many others… I left them there, where they belonged.
I am sure that other men will have used of them after me. The truth is that I was and always have been Sir Roger Tichborne and I only ask for what’s rightly mine.

1st MAN IN BLACK: What you have sir, is a family in Wapping and a trail of debts that circle the world.

ARTHUR: (indignant) Not I!

ANDREW: (steps forward) I can vouch for him; I have known him since he was a young man.

2nd MAN IN BLACK: (draws a notepaper and pen out of his pocket and steps forward to speak to Andrew) I believe that you were a servant of the late sir Edward Doughty?

ANDREW: yes I was

2nd MAN IN BLACK: Is it right that the Tichborne estate stopped paying you an allowance?

ANDREW: They did, but…

2nd MAN IN BLACK: (notes it in his book, interrupts) and would you say that this is your revenge?

ANDREW: (with dignity) I would not!

2nd MAN IN BLACK: yet you support a man who is a butcher’s son in his attempt to steal the title from the rightful Titchborne heir?

ANDREW:I know this man to be Sir Roger Tichborne. I also know you to be married to a member of that same family. There is no surprise that your paper campaigns against him

1st MAN IN BLACK: (exasperated) Sir Roger is dead! He went down with the ship, called Bella. She sank on the way to Jamaica

ARTHUR: He did not. For I am standing here in front of you (angry) you are looking at him

1st MAN IN BLACK: (angrily) Sir Roger was slight and frail; you are two stone heavier than he

ARTHUR: I put on weight (with a flourish of the hand), people do.

1st MAN IN BLACK: He grew up in France, and so he spoke French. Do you?

ARTHUR: (English accent) mais oui. Understand, I lost many of my finer faculties and some memories during the horrors of being shipwrecked. I am lucky to be alive.

1st and 2nd men in black snort

2nd MAN IN BLACK: He had a tattoo (stepping forward)

ARTHUR: I don’t know anything about a tattoo. It is a trap! Gentlemen do not have tattoos; butchers sons and cabin boys do. I do not have one! Enough of this! (He snatches the paper from the 1st man in blacks hand) I am done with this… this posturing. I will win this game. No imposter would dare to take you on. I am taking you on because I am telling the truth. I claim the title. Now just watch me win!

(2nd man in black makes notes)

1st MAN IN BLACK: Just one more thing (he waits for attention from the others) The Titchborne family request that you stay away from the funeral. You are not to attend. Do you understand?

Distressed, Arthur collapses against his friends, they guide him to the bed.

ARTHUR: Oh god, that’s so cruel. Am I to be prevented from attending my own mother’s funeral? (Pause) The cruelty of my own family! I can’t believe that they would do this to me.

Andrew finds a cloth and fans Arthur’s face. John steps forward

JOHN: Enough, enough (he ushers them towards the door) you have done your worst now leave Sir Roger to grieve for his mother. Go! You will not pick at the bones of this man a moment longer. (They resist) Go! (Louder)

The two men in black are bundled out of the room. John closes the door and rests on it for a moment then turns to the others

JOHN: Arthur in gods name why did you take the letter!

SCENE 3

THE HUSTINGS EVENING MARCH 1869

The trial has been underway for almost a year. Arthur is travelling the country to fundraising events to help to cover his court costs. This is a first floor hotel room with a balcony located through almost closed French windows at the back of the stage. The sky is dark but you can see the glow of streetlights in the square outside. The room is well furnished. Coats and hats are hung on a stand by a door at the side of the room and there is a black leather valise on the floor below the coats. The sound of Arthur speaking from the balcony and the roar of the crowd can be heard in the background. He is making a rabble-rousing speech to his supporters. John, Andrew and Guilford Onslow MP (a leading supporter) are sat listening to the speech in the comfort of the room. Andrew Bogle’s hair is whiter. There is a glass frame on the table with three stuffed crows mid-air jousting inside. There is a selection of newspapers by the chairs)

JOHN: He’s on good form tonight, Guilford

GUILFORD: Yes, he is. It’s a pity we couldn’t get more people into the hall this afternoon; (sound of cheering outside). We could have sold double the tickets if we had the space. We should get a good collection though.

JOHN: He has a way with them; he speaks to their hearts. They see the common man in him and he makes them believe that they are just as good as the rich man in his castle.

GUILFORD: Yes, like lady luck has smiled on them all (he gets up and helps himself to a glass of wine from a table)

ANDREW: He is their champion. (Joins GUILFORD at the table, pours a glass of wine) He is fighting the upper classes on behalf of the common man. His claim to be a Tichborne is shining a light on the conceit of the rich.

JOHN: Underneath the ermine, they are nothing!

GUILFORD: Ah but they are fighting back, defending their right to privilege. They believe that he and the working classes cannot be allowed to win. The recent Reform Act took the power to govern from the lords and gave it to the lower house. They are still smarting and now they’re after his blood.

ANDREW: Then they have bitten off more than they can chew!

JOHN: He doesn’t have to fight very hard. They make such fools of themselves without his help. (Picks up a newspaper) In court today, Bidulph said that he could point to several gentry who would not pass muster as English gentlemen.

ANDREW: (Returns to chair and picks up another newspaper) Yes, he said (reads) that he knew English gentlemen who were so illiterate in conversation that you would take them as pig trader.

The men laugh, Guilford gets up and pulls the balcony door further ajar; Arthur’s words can be heard more clearly

ARTHUR: The great lawyers of the land have tried (louder) and failed, to prove that I am not Roger Titchborne. (He emphasizes each phrase for effect) My own mother, members of my family, men that I served alongside in the army, my servants and many more have correctly identified me as Roger Titchborne.

Cheers from the crowd

Lawyers, the newspapers, the Jesuits, the judiciary, and most of all the upper classes have fought me both inside the law courts and out.

Boos from the crowd

They changed the law to make it harder for me to raise the money to fight them.

Boos from the crowd

They have slandered me, combed the globe for stories to discredit me.

Boos from the crowd

And when all else fails they make jokes about my girth… and you never see a fat lawyer do you…

Laughter from the crowd

I am here tonight to tell you, no, to thank you sincerely, for it is good honest, hardworking people like yourselves across the length and breadth of the country, that I have to thank with all of my heart. For without your generous donations, without your support and without your backing I would not be standing here…

Cheers from the crowd

ARTHUR: Now go, my friends and spread the word. And know that I Roger Titchborne will always be forever in your debt. Thank you.

Applause

(Loud applause and cheers. Arthur enters from the balcony, sees Guilford and nods to him. Andrew gets up and pours a drink for Arthur. Arthur shrugs off his coat and hangs it up, then takes the wine from Andrew. He is obviously energized by public speaking and needs to relax. He paces across the room and then sees the crows in the display box and is visibly shocked. Andrew takes his arm and moves him away from the crows)

ANDREW: (Gently) Come Arthur, they are just dead birds. We are a long way from Wagga Wagga. We are in England now, not the outback.

ARTHUR: (Quietly to Andrew) I know, but do you ever wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t stopped in that place of crows. If we had kept moving on? I should have stayed at sea. There are no crows there.

ANDREW: We chose to seek your fortune this way, now take a drink of your wine and take a few moments to calm down. Public speaking takes it out of you. I can feel you shaking.

Arthur takes a drink and then sits down with the other men. They smile and Arthur raises his glass to them.

ARTHUR: Ah good evening, Guilford. It’s good to see you. How was it in court today? What is the word in the papers?

GUILFORD: well as ever there is little talk of anything else. Even though they moved the hearing to a larger courtroom there is still such a battle for seats. I swear we could fill the Royal Albert Hall, gods and all. The court is quite the place to be seen.

JOHN: Yes, people complain of the newspapers talking of nothing else. Whilst at the same time they buy the very same papers so that they can debate the latest developments with friends. If they are not up to date with the latest twists and turns of events, then they are excluded from the conversation and quite out of date.

GUILFORD: There’s been nothing quite like it. There are rumours that the Titchborne estates are close to bankruptcy.

ANTHONY: It’s a monster, that’s for sure.

ARTHUR: Thank god for my supporters. Despite the gossip, the rumour mongering and the lies in the papers, they still turn out to support me. They dig deep and subscribe to our fighting fund with their hard earned money. They are remarkable and I am forever in their debt.

JOHN: They come out to support you in defiance of what’s in the papers, Arthur. They love you, for how you fight the fight.

ANTHONY: The way you stand your ground and argue for your name

ARTHUR: (wearily) Yes Anthony, but how much longer can it go on? It’s almost a year now. They have combed Australia and South America for witnesses, grilled everyone I ever knew and many more that I never met. What more can they throw at me?

GUILFORD: But your name? Isn’t it worth it?

ARTHUR: Ah what’s in a name, my friend? If I were a woman I would change my name and people would celebrate. If I were a young woman in trouble I would move on, call myself married and take the married title and people would assume I was a respectable widow. If I were fleeing persecution from a foreign land I would change my name to hide, and modify it to fit in to my new country.

ANTHONY: You would indeed. Many of our royalty have a family name and a different title. In truth the queen does not call herself Saxe-Coburg even though that was Prince Albert’s surname.

ARTHUR: And at the other end of the scale people who want to leave their past behind, to muddy the water of past crimes, simply change their name.

Arthur stands up and paces the room, still animated; the seated men glance at each other

ANTHONY: Abroad, men will hide inside another man’s name. Even though they may never have met him they will borrow it. Because you can sin in another man’s name and get away with it. You can destroy his character, his good reputation or even his life from inside the protection of his name. And then, when you have no further use for it, you can just slough it off and steal another.

Arthur picks up a newspaper and glances at the headlines, then throws it down on the pile of old newspapers.

ARTHUR: And in more (said with sarcasm) civilised places, (pause) you can get away with anything if you have a name with privilege attached, or enough money to not need to care about your reputation. You can devastate a country like Ireland, destroyed by famine. You can feed on poverty and degradation, while you picnic in your park. You can buy justice…

GUILFORD: Careful, careful Arthur

ARTHUR: and if you go too far, they simply send you off, to build a life in the new worlds of the Americas or some such far off place, until the fuss has died down.

ANTHONY: For the upper class it means power and influence over generations, or even over centuries. (Pauses) For the middle classes it is like sand cupped in your hand, ever in danger of slipping between your fingers. Good reputation and disgrace, in an ever-turning sand timer

JOHN: And for the working class it is a label that pins you down. Forever know your place, poor man. It is your prison cell. Expect no more. Never dare to hope.

GUILFORD: (recites from memory)
How comes it that ye toil and sweat
And bear the oppressor’s rod
For cruel man who dare to change
The equal laws of God?
How come that man with tyrant heart
Is caused to rule another,
To rob, oppress and, leech-like, suck
The life’s blood of a brother?

The three men applaud him, and cheer. The sombre mood is broken and they walk over to take another class of wine from the table. There is knock at the door and a man TOM walks in. He is one of the local public house landlords. He is the organiser of the local claimant supporters group and has been collecting donations. He carries a bag of coins and has an evening newspaper under his arm. He places the money on the table and the newspaper over one of the chair arms. Arthur leaves the group and goes over to shake his hand.

ARTHUR: Hello, Tom. Thank you so much. We had an excellent turn out, didn’t we?

TOM: Yes, sir, we had a good night. They travelled in from all the neighbouring towns and villages to see you.

ARTHUR: And I hope that they stop off for a drink before they travel home again.

TOM: Me too

ARTHUR: So how much did I raise today?

(Tom looks at him for a moment)

After your expenses are deducted off course

Tom nods

TOM: I have counted one hundred and fifty pounds six shilling and eleven pence into the bag. A good nights work

ARTHUR: Thank you Tom, one of our best nights. Now will you stay for a drink?

TOM shakes his head and moves towards the door

TOM: No Thank you sir. I mean to do good business of my own tonight

Exit Tom. The four men look at the bag of money approvingly. John takes in and puts it in the bag by the door.

GUILFORD: (holding up his glass) cheers everyone. Here’s to better days

The others hold up glasses

ALL: To better days

They turn and start to wander towards the balcony. There is a loud bang as the door is thrown open. The coat stand is knocked over. Hats roll across the floor. A PORTERand four men in black coats and hats burst into the room. Two are POLICE OFFICERS in uniform and capes, one is a LAWYER, who is there to make sure that the arrest is made correctly and the fourth is the previous NEWS REPORTER. There is much flapping of capes and hats. The hotel porter follows close behind, looking flustered. Arthur and the three men by the window spin around in shock and alarm.

ARTHUR: What the devil?

PORTER: I’m sorry sir; I had to show them up to

1st POLICE OFFICER: (Interrupts loudly) Arthur Orton, also known as Tom Castro I am arresting you

ARTHUR: I am Sir Roger Titchb…

LAWYER: (interrupts loudly) Indeed you are not! Arrest him! (Shouts at police officers) Arrest him at once

Porter slips out of the room.
Reporter takes notes of the conversation and wanders around the room noting details like the wine glasses. He uses his pencil to lift some of the newspapers on the floor to see the title and tutts in disapproval. He taps his pencil on the newest paper that was placed on the chair arm by Tom the publican

ARTHUR: I am Sir Roger…

LAWYER: your claim was denied in court this afternoon

ARTHUR: but why did?

LAWYER: Judge Bovil stopped the hearing and has demanded that you be arrested for perjury. (Shouts at police officer) do it man!

GUILFORD: Good Lord. On no account say anything

The two police officers step forward, grab hold of Arthur and try to bundle him out of the room. He walks out with dignity. The lawyer follows close behind. The reporter stays for a moment, noting down the expressions of the remaining three men then walks out calmly.
John and Guilford burst into action grab their coats, hats and bags and rush out of the room. Andrew stands for a moment, visibly upset. He picks up the evening newspaper sees the headlines and drops back into a chair

ANDREW: (Quietly) Oh Arthur

Outside the horse and carriage can be heard pulling away, the sound of the hoof prints morphs into the sound of flapping bird wings.

SCENE 4

IN A COURT WAITING ROOM

Anthony and Andrew are waiting for another day of the perjury trial to begin. The trial has been running for almost a year and it is in the final stages. The judge has been summing up for a number of days. It is clear to both men that the end of the trial is almost here. Anthony has aged. There is a table and two chairs, but they have pulled the chairs to the front of the table so that they can be closer. There is a high window and people can be heard walking on the street outside. Arthur is bigger in size and is hot. He is putting on a brave face for Anthony.

ARTHUR: don’t worry old friend we’ve been through bigger scrapes than this

ANTHONY: (leans forward, he is having trouble with the hearing in his left ear) Sorry, Arthur, I don’t mean to seem worried

ARTHUR: Try not to, it doesn’t help. We’ve fought a magnificent fight. Kenealy has been our champion, a lion of a man, and he couldn’t have done better.

ANTHONY: No he couldn’t, but I fear that he is roaring in the face of a thousand years of English history.

ANDREW: I know, the English lord’s vision is fixed on five hundred years in the past and five hundred years to come (he gestures side to side to indicate the length of history)

ANTHONY: And the eyes of the poor are fixed on the next meal

ARTHUR: (sadly) and so many don’t even make that.

ANTHONY: We have challenged that thousand years of comfort, plenty, power and entitlement, (he nods to emphasise words) and all the layers of privilege dispensed beneath them.

ARTHUR: We shone a light on it, Anthony. They scuttled away like centipedes seeking darkness under a rock that they thought was the sky. We proved them to be as greedy, feckless and stupid.

ANTHONY: With just the profound belief in their own superiority to distinguish them from the rest of us

ARTHUR: They have twisted the rules, broken the countries flimsy scraps of trust in them, lost respect and become a laughing stock

ANTHONY: Yes they are a laughing stock, but a powerful one. I fear that their revenge will be like a tornado. They will pluck you up and tear you limb from limb

ARTHUR: Fear not my dearest… longest… friend (he reaches over and touches his arm thoughtfully) I do believe that under all the storm and lightning there is nothing

ANTHONY: Are you to live in the eye of the storm Arthur, while the rest of us watch from the edges, praying that you are still alive?

ARTHUR: I think it may be so. We have started a movement, a political one. It challenges everything that they stand for… Oh I know we didn’t mean to, but here we are none the less. (He stands up and looks at the window for a moment and then turns round to speak to Anthony) and it matters not a jot who I really am.

ANTHONY: I know (sadly)

ARTHUR: This is no longer about who I am, Arthur Orton, Tom Castro or Roger Titchborne. I am the man who dared to challenge them.

ANTHONY: and they are using their power and influence now. I can feel it, here in my bones (he hugs himself) and they will break us.

ARTHUR: I think that we shall know my fate soon enough, let’s not dwell…

ANTHONY: (interrupts) I dreamed last night that I saw you stepping through the prison gates, and I was not there to greet you. You we’re alone, Arthur

ARTHUR: did I step out as Arthur or Sir Roger?

The door opens and an usher speaks to Arthur

USHER: Mr Keneely needs you sir

Arthur and Anthony stand, they shake hands then after a seconds pause embrace. Arthur slaps Anthony on the back heartily and then stops and rests his palm on Anthony’s back for a moment

ARTHUR: Don’t worry Anthony our journey is not over

ANTHONY: (quietly) May you live long Arthur, long and well…
Arthur leaves the room with the usher and after a moment Anthony leaves too.

SCENE 4

ANTHONY’S DRAWING ROOM

Anthony’s drawing room, it is sparely furnished and not well lit. He is sat in an armchair there is a stack of newspapers by his side. There is a window and half glass door with sky light above, shafts of light are streaming in through the windows and casting bars onto the floor. He is quietly waiting for something. He is still; as if he is holding his breathe. Outside a newspaper boy can be heard shouting

NEWSPAPER BOY: Pall Mall Gazette! Pall Mall Gazette! Shocking end to the Titchborne trials! Claimant jailed for 14 years! Get your newspaper here…

2nd NEWSPAPER BOY: Kenealy struck off by the law society. Get your paper here…

Anthony, gasps in shock, gets up, picks up his coat and rushes out of the door. His shadow passes the window. There is a sound of horses. Arthur shouts in alarm above the sound of an accident. A horse and carriage have knocked him down. Horses scream. People shout in alarm, over the shouts of the crowd and unseen voice is heard.

UNSEEN MAN: Cover him with something, for god’s sake. The man is dead. Move on, please!

Shadows of people clustered together walk past the window. The light flickers and the sounds of their heels become the sound of flapping wings.

THE END

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Xmas party

We held each other closer this Xmas.
Showed our inward looking faces.
The washing up was shared.
We smiled more softly
At each other and
Another empty chair

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News

No news yet, but some to come…

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Holding post…

Well here is my first play. I am tempted to do an ernie wise quote but that would seriously date me…

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Wendy, after Peter

It goes off like a timer does your heart,

Much like a ticking bomb,

It bleeds and twitches

On your outstretched hand;

The back beat to your needing song.

 

I sense your ticking crocodile

With its sinus rhythm grin;

It circles round my consciousness

And hooks me further in.

 

Your world is full of traps and debts

You dream of keeping hold

You ask a price I will not pay

You cannot have my soul

 

His heart is the compass of my soul.

Cross stars I hear him sigh,

We shared the moon

But that’s enough

 

We recognised our mutual dance

Of moth and flame,

And let each other fly.

He lives in never-can-be land.

And I must live in mine.

Well, as dear-John letters go, thought Wendy, that one’s a doozy. She brushed the poem flat, and stuck it on his laptop screen. She turned around once more to memorise the room, the view from the window, and the pile of books by his chair. Resisted the urge to shake his cushion out, breathed in, held it; then let it go; picked up her bag and left.

Wendy supposed that there was a time when she hadn’t been used to the sound of closing doors. Now she hardly noticed the final… tock.

Once on the pavement Wendy took her phone out of her pocket and deleted his contact details. Then as an afterthought she deleted his mother’s and best friends numbers as well. The upside is that she can’t be tempted to slip back… to call him. The downside is that she might answer a ‘number unknown’ and it be him calling. She knew that there would be wobbly days, but probably less this time than usual.

Wendy kicked up a few curly brown leaves, and then stamped on a pile. There now, that felt better. She checked the street and wondered where Nan was; she hoped that she wasn’t going to be too long.

Wendy knew that she couldn’t stand still in case he came home. He called them surprises, she called them checking up. He didn’t like it when she sat by the big window watching the stars blink in and then out. She didn’t notice that she was doing it. In fact she’d been doing it for as long as she could remember. He didn’t like it when she made grey lace, said it was like shadows, and that she should make white lace like everybody else.

Wendy wrapped her coat around herself. The wind was stirring. Her kicked leaves tumbled back into place.

At last! She could see Nan’s car turning the corner. The windscreen caught the sun and sparkled for a moment. Wendy stepped out between two parked cars and waved.

‘Hiya, thanks for this’ she said as she threw her bag onto the back seat.

‘ Not a problem, anytime’ said Nan accepting a kiss on the cheek ‘now where too? Mine? The spare bed’s made up…’

‘Thanks, if you don’t mind. Just for tonight’ said Wendy strapping on her seat belt. She patted her coat down and smiled at Nan.

‘That’s good, I’ve got the wine in, oh and our favourite DVD’.

Wendy smiled; but she didn’t feel like the boozy conversation and the sad end movie. Tonight she felt like doing something different.

‘Oh I don’t know maybe we could try something else’ said Wendy looking at her old friend.

Wendy and Nan had known each other since she was little. Nan was only a few years older than Wendy. It seemed that she had always been in her life.

…………………..

Evening found them, walking arm in arm down the street. They had been for a meal and were walking back to Nan’s. The streets were broad, and lined with parked cars. Rosy streaks of the sunset reflected in the windows of the houses casting a children’s picture book beauty onto the unloved streets.

‘I know, let’s take a detour’ said Wendy pulling on Nan’s arm. ‘I used to live down there, let’s go and have a look’. They turned into a side road. It was sorely in need of rediscovery and yet in the dusk you could almost get a sense of how it used to be.

‘It’s all a bit sad and neglected around here’ said Nan’ in fact I think your old house is flats now’

‘You check?’

‘Well I come down here occasionally, when I need to walk and think’

‘Really? Do you have good memories?

‘Hmm?’

‘Of when I used to live here… I mean, your mum looked after us so well. Did you mind?’

Nan shook her head.

Tall chimneys were silhouetted against a deep coral sunset. Wendy felt a tingle of fear, excitement maybe. She wasn’t sure. She hadn’t been down here since she left home. .

‘What are you expecting?’ asked Nan

‘Oh I don’t know… to believe maybe?’

They walked on, Nan’s heels clicked on the stone paving slabs. Wendy walked on tip-toes.

‘Breathe, Wendy, it’s just a road’

‘Is it?’

Overgrown privet hedges tumbled over into the path. A crumpled crisp packet and an apple core, discarded from a child’s lunchbox, lay in the gutter. In the distance a car alarm wailed.

A movement in the shadows made Wendy jump. Nan reached down and stroked a cat. It meowed and followed them for a few paces, then promptly sat down and washed its shoulder.

‘Relax Wendy, I can feel you shaking’ Nan touched Wendy’s shoulder ‘I mean what is there to be scared of?’

Wendy wasn’t sure if she was more scared that he would be there… or scared that he wouldn’t.

‘I don’t know, Nan, I didn’t realise that it would be such a big deal’

They stood in front of the house. It looked small. The front garden had been concreted over to make space for tenants parking.

‘Let’s look round the back’ said Nan indicating an open side gate

Wendy paused and closed her eyes; she knew every inch of this garden. It came to her in dreams. It was a forest of sumptuous greenery and flowers, orchids, bougainvillea. Tall curling ferns arched over her head. Bird song filled the sky.

She leaned forward slightly and moved toward the side gate. It was always shaded and cool here, even on the hottest day. Wendy flinched; a sudden bright light blinded her. It was a security light, triggered by their body heat.

‘Come on’ said Nan ‘let’s be quick’

Wendy stepped through into her old back garden. her eyes gradually adapted to the dark. She peered into the garden, remembering how it had been. Over there had been the dog kennel, here, by her side was the place that she had sat and read books to her little brothers. ‘ She turned and looked up at the house. The curtains in each window were different. There were new down pipes taking water from new kitchens and new bathrooms.

Wendy stepped back and looked higher, her bedroom window on the top floor was still there. It was dark and looked unlived in.

‘Look, that’s my window, just there. ‘She said as she pointed toward the attic bedroom ‘I used to think that I could see forever…It used to be so much bigger’

‘You were smaller Wendy, just a little girl’

Wendy smiled sadly and moved further into the garden. There was a bird table in the corner. Wendy knelt down to look. It was the dead stump of an elegant hazel tree with a wooden tray nailed on the top.

This was my tree to heaven, thought Wendy stroking the bark. She ran her fingers along the trunk. There! There it was. She could feel something carved into the trunk. She had scraped their initials, PP above WD with an arrow through them, into the tree trunk. Wendy searched the carving with her fingertips.

Wendy’s heart sank; she sat down on the cool grass and hugged her knees. They had cut the trunk right through their names; all that was left was WD and the tip of an arrow. Nothing of him remained.

‘ Let’s go Wendy, I’m getting cold’ said Nan, holding out her hand.

‘I thought there would be more of us here’ said Wendy sadly as she brushed grass from her coat.

‘Oh things move on…. At least some things do’ Nan looked at Wendy sadly. She bit her lip for a moment and then said ‘ I got to say this… I can’t bear to watch it again, Wendy, really I can’t.’

‘Watch what?

‘You’ve got to stop looking for lost boys’

‘I don’t….’

Every one, every man you’ve ever shown interest in has been a lost boy, lost, sad, dependent on something, in trouble, needing rescuing, needing mothering…’

‘Really?’

‘ Yes, really and what’s more you make them your children. You organise them, you do everything for them, you make them a home, love them, you turn a blind eye when they behave badly, you forgive them.’

Wendy nodded slowly, astonished that she hadn’t noticed.

‘ And if they don’t go down that road they get clingy, manipulative, possessive, or attention seeking to hang on to you’ added Nan ‘ Please, promise me, next time, you have to find a grown up’ she put her arm around Wendy’s shoulder and led her back towards the front of the house.

“Think about it… Peter is the one who wouldn’t be found. He chose to stay lost. You have to let him go. Give up the search. It’s impossible’

‘I don’t know how?’ said Wendy. She felt so miserable. She knew that she kept making the same mistake. Some women keep marrying their father, or at least someone just like him, in the forlorn hope that she can make him love her this time. She keeps seeking out the same trouble, the same pattern kept repeating itself. She was drawn to men who needed rescuing…. Mothering’

They walked in silence back towards Nan’s house.

……………..

Nan poured them a glass of fragrant red wine and they sat quietly, thinking about their conversation..

Wendy swirled her wine around the bowl of the glass, and sighed.

‘So, if I am going to stop looking for lost boys, how will I know that I’ve found a ‘found man’? Do I have to be a little girl?’

‘God no! Look for someone who doesn’t want to be a white knight on a charger. You’re not a princess, that’s a whole other story. You don’t need rescuing, just a way to be yourself and to be loved for that.’

Wendy nodded slowly ‘I don’t know what to do… so maybe the answer is….’ she paused for Nan to end the sentence.

‘Nothing. Don’t do anything. Have you ever considered not looking for a man’

‘What giving up?’

‘No a sabbatical… time out… find out what makes you happy’

‘Happy…. Now there’s a thing’ Wendy smiled ‘God, imagine!’

 

………………

Wendy was awake, it was 12.34 a.m.

She was writing a new leaving letter …

I have to smash my compass heart,

The red tip point is killing me.

I cannot bear the flickering

Pull of the needle.

We knew the candle flame would

Leave us wingless,

Flapping on the ground.

I thought I’d die, there in your light

But your careless shadow cuts me down.

 

Wendy got out of bed and wrapped a shawl around her shoulders. She opened the spare room door and crept into the dark living room. She took a match from the box on the mantelpiece and crouching down, swiped the match against a firebrick deep in the throat of the fireplace. She watched the flame flare, waited until it had settled and then ran it along the bottom of her piece of paper. Once the flames had spread along the bottom and were creeping up the side of the letter, she reached out, and let it go.

‘Bye Peter’ she whispered then she blew a last kiss as the paper rose up into the chimney and disappeared

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