Tuesday 20 November 2018

Opening Sentences

I was given the first sentence of this piece and asked to continue. It's a good exercise if you don't know what to write- just go with the flow... 
You could open any book and pick a sentence and see where it takes you.

The White Rabbit

The air was electric. Electric blue followed by a flash of pink. One of the kitchen light bulbs exploded into a shower of glass shards onto the floor. I tiptoed gingerly through the broken pieces.  I could smell rancid rubbish coming from a waste bin beneath the enamel sink. Beer, hash and a vague unpleasant odour that might have been vomit created a nauseating mix .The air was thick with the stench.

The grey haired man who suddenly appeared at my elbow tipped a cocktail glass to my lips again, the rim of it clashed against my teeth. A couple in the corner of the ill lit kitchen sniggered. The woman was wearing pink tights and a ballet costume. The man had a t-shirt that proclaimed him to be Strong Man. A dwarf sat on the fridge carefully measuring liquids from diverse bottles into a glass jug. Posters of Fossett’s circus were plastered on the walls. In one of them I recognised the grey haired man, his yellow teeth gleaming as he raised a white rabbit by the ears out of a top hat.

On a gleaming marble counter top ahead of me someone had carefully arranged six lines of white powder. A rough hand placed on the small of my back propelled me towards them. The conjuror’s face, a middle aged lined face with furrowed brows knitted tightly together, seemed to float in front of me. His gold fillings gleamed when he opened his mouth and leered. His hot breath smelt of whiskey.

I staggered towards the lines which now seemed to waver in and out of focus. I took another swig of the cocktail glass that was now in my hand. The lines mutated into Zigzags then into circles. I blinked and they reverted back to their original pattern.

“What do I do with them?”

The pressure of his hand on my back eased and I found myself enveloped in a tight grip that edged me towards the gleaming white substance.

“You eat it,” he whispered. “Dip your finger like so,” and he dipped a yellowish forefinger into the chalk white powder. “Then you lick it.” His purple, swollen tongue mimicked the motion. “Swallow. And wash it down with this.” In his right hand he conjured up a pink champagne glass bubbling at the rim. The magician stepped back as if his performance was complete. Then he disappeared behind a door that clanged shut.

Other faces began to hover and leer about me. Faces mutated from male to female and back. Someone began to chant and the chorus was taken up by the couple in the corner who rose to their feet and began clapping their hands slowly, rhythmically to the sound of the chant. The sound seemed to bounce and echo off the walls in a hollow way as sound does in a basement. My face was wet with sweat. I could taste salt on the corners of my lips. That and the sweet sickly taste of the concoction I had drunk with Ellie in the pub where we had met the conjuror and his cronies.

Ellie! The name of my best friend sounded an alarm in my head. Where was she now? The memory of my friend disappearing behind a closed door in this Victorian maze of a house suddenly came into focus. In my mind’s eye I saw a heavy metal door clang shut and then open again. Beyond it I watched Ellie in her new Abercrombie mini shirt and Topshop sequined t-shirt disappear on the arm of the magician.

Around me the pack of leering faces was still gathering.

“Where’s Ellie. Where is she?” I demanded.

“Where’s Ellie? Where is she?” the chorus repeated. The sea of open mouths ebbed and flowed. I stretched out my arm and scattered the white lines to the floor. There was a scurry of hands and arms groping to salvage the powdery substance that filled the air. Against the tide of bodies I pushed myself out of the kitchen and made towards a hallway, towards a metal grey door.

I leaned my shoulder to it and pushed. Nothing happened. I was met by a solid resistance. I heaved again. Still nothing wielded beneath the pressure of my full force. An array of dials glistened in a black metal panel beside the door frame. I pushed all of them. Somewhere miles away a bell rang. The heavy door began to groan. A high pitched metal noise followed by a heavy sound of something dragging. A dim lit corridor lined with doors on one side lay before me. Pot plants, giant ferns, dotted themselves along the length of the corridor at regular intervals. I hammered on the first door for what seemed like an eternity and then repeated this action at three more mute and closed doors. I called her name to blank white walls and metal grid windows placed high above my line of vision. Through them I could see the street, the feet of passers-by, the tyres of cars. We were in a basement. There was no escape.

“Sarah!” I heard my name whispered. I stopped dead and retraced my steps. The sound was repeated. It seemed to come from the street or from a vent above my head.

The great metal door through which I had entered the corridor screeched open. I dived behind one of the ferns. The heavy footsteps came closer. I heard the swish of trousers and smelt whiskey.

I could hear a clock ticking. Beads of sweat gathered at the nape of my neck and began to trickle, a slow stream that chilled my spine. Somewhere outside on the street a dog barked, a high pitched chilling howl. Then a cuckoo noise sounded from the clock. I jolted my elbow against the fern pot and a clatter of ceramic crashed onto the marble floor. I fell. The conjuror’s face hovered over me.

Behind him stood Ellie, her face white with shock.

The pub décor came suddenly into focus. In the snug of O’Rourke’s bar the tightrope walker’s heavily made up face, the dwarf in his check jacket and baggy trousers, the magician and Ellie were standing around me in a circle. The Strongman towered over everyone. In the background glasses clinked and animated cheers came from the plasma screen that transmitted the FA cup final.

“Sarah? Are you alright?”

“Don’t go with him, Ellie,” I managed to utter.

“Go where? What’s in this drink anyway? What have you given us?” She turned to the man who was now placing a rabbit on his head.

“She’s just experienced her worst fear, that’s all. She’ll be fine. Just fine. Your turn next.”  Then the conjuror placed the top hat on his head and disappeared through the saloon style doors of the pub followed by his troupe of players.

Somewhere in my head an electric bulb exploded into shards. Electric blue followed by a flash of pink and then everything went black.

Friday 16 November 2018


First Love

He was an Adonis, the new Science teacher. It was days before she could raise her eyes and take in the whole splendour of him.  On the first day of class she spent much time studying his feet, or rather his shoes, for which she was cruelly teased by a classmate who could not possibly understand her dilemma. Kate was in love, and for the first time.

On the second day a piece of chalk landed unceremoniously in her lap; this was his novel way of getting the attention of an erring student. Kate erring? She savoured every syllable he uttered. The truth was, however, that she was wedged between her ebullient-from-birth next door neighbour, Madge Sweeney, and her soi-distant third cousin twice removed, Alice Hamill. In fact, ever since she had started school at the age of five she had been misplaced between these two warring factions who waged continuous battle, in and outside of the classroom. As a result she had spent many of her school days kneeling on hard wooden floorboards, for kneeling in this school was a popular form of punishment. But at thirteen years of age Kate decided that it was high time to seat herself out of misfortune’s way.

The Greek Adonis had tousled fair hair, a Mills and Boon jaw line, sea blue eyes and bandy legs. But since love is blind Kate did not regard this latter apparent defect in his gait as a deal breaker. She thought that it even added a certain jauntiness to his appearance and took away from a certain severity of expression which she attributed to his rather tight lipped smile.
Her love survived the bandy legs and tight lips and thrived. And Kate, like many love stricken adolescents, spent much of her free time haunting street corners where she might be afforded a glimpse of the beloved in transit to and from church, the library or the football pitch, for his habits were simple and his itinerary easily discovered. Many an apparent chance encounter was, in reality, a carefully planned manoeuvre. She probably knew his school timetable better than he did himself and he must have been surprised at the number of times he encountered her on his daily toil to and from the staffroom. She welcomed every opportunity to deliver messages in and around the science lab and became, in short, the perfect pupil.

This frenetic activity continued for some months and could have gone on indefinitely but for a fortunate meeting that set her thinking abut the real disparity between them, apart from the age factor which she chose, rather romantically, to ignore.

Kate was on one of her sojourns to the library which was located at the bottom of Scotch Street and a long way from Adonis’ lodgings. But she had set out in the hope of finding him at the top of those thirty six steps in that small room presided over by Miss Beatty. This lady too had a look of severity that was unsoftened in her case by the adulation of this beholder. But the similarity set Kate to wondering if perhaps there was something in the nature of their chosen professions, as guardians and custodians of young impressionable minds, that caused them to take on such formidable expressions. She wondered if his face, after a lifetime of teaching, might end up like Miss Beatty’s, permanently screwed up in anticipation of misdemeanour. The prospect was daunting, momentarily, even to young love.

She could see from Miss Beatty’s raised eyebrow that the fusty middle-aged librarian did not approve of her choice of fiction. It was historical Romance, verging on the much coveted Mills and Boon, from which section she was rigorously debarred. A little deflated at her failure to make a sighting of the beloved, Kate decided, in spite of the inclement weather, the puddles and potholes to be negotiated and the library books to be protected from the rain, to take a detour up Anne Street, down Church Street; it would only add fifteen minutes to her journey and it had the added advantage of taking in Meany’s Greengrocer where she could purchase a Cox Pippin. It was not every day that she possessed the price of this commodity. Money was scare and treats few but a visit from Aunt Annie had refurbished her empty pocket and the coin was now burning a hole in her coat pocket. And, of course, the main advantage to following this alternative route was that it narrowly skirted the lodgings of the Greek Adonis.

She emerged from Meany’s into an autumn squall. She was carrying in precarious balance the three historical novels and the recently purchased Cox Pippin. She had just taken one delicious bite when her hold loosened. Her choice, in as far as she had one, was between the admonishment of Miss Beatty and the loss of the Cox. The apple fell. In dismay she watched it roll down the street; it would be another week before she could afford another. Her disappointment was acute. But the apple did not roll far, just a few feet, and given the sharp incline that was Church Street this short trajectory was a miracle.

She deliberated only for a second. Then she picked up the errant piece of fruit. It was wet but not bruised, not really dirty and she wiped it on her gabardine coat sleeve. Just as her teeth sank into the salvaged apple a figure overtook her on the kerb. It was a figure sporting bandy legs and a sour expression.

The schoolteacher uttered an unmistakable tut of disapproval; she heard the word hygiene pursed between tight lips. She recalled the dour face of Miss Beatty. There could be no doubt about it. Her beloved was doomed to end up with a permanent scowl on his face.
And so Adonis fell to Earth with the thud of an Icarus. Such is the nature of first love.

Monday 12 November 2018

The Bundle

This story was shortlisted in an online competition organised by Hungry Hill Writers' group from Beara Peninsula. They run interesting competitions for writers. See links below

The Bundle

The red rag lying on the grey stones caught her eye. It was cherry red like the cardigan she had worn when she was a girl. It seemed to Becky that someone had gone to a lot of bother to tuck the red rag carefully around the bundle.

No one else seemed to notice it. Apart from some people now strolling further along the beach; Bray Prom seemed to be deserted that morning. Becky leaned against the iron railings and pretended to scan the horizon. The bundle lay only a few feet away. Becky thought she saw the red rag shift as if something was stirring beneath it.

Looking around again she established that most of the walkers were regulars, sea junkies like her. The ex-shopkeeper belted past, stop watch bleeping, arms flailing, power- walking they called it. He had once run a successful news agency at the top of the town. Now he walked. He was so absorbed in clocking up miles he wouldn’t see a dead dog lying at his feet.

Becky stole another glance at the red bundle. It seemed to have edged closer to the steps that led from the prom to the shingle beach. Further up the prom towards the aquarium she could see Sean pacing up and down. He would be muttering to himself as usual, waving his arms frantically from time to time, as if engaged in some heated debate.  Then suddenly he would thrust his hands deep into his pockets and his chin would sink into his chest. Mothers always warned their children to ignore Sean. “Not the full shilling” they would whisper. And the children would grapple with this. And stare harder. But it was Sean, the ex-schoolteacher who ignored them. Sean would not see a red bundle if it tripped him up.

A corner of the red rag had become undone and was beginning to flap about in the November wind. Becky moved closer. Then she noticed him. He was not watching her, but something in his stance fixed her to the railings. He stood at right angles to a group on the beach, his stillness contrasting with their fluidity. Becky followed his gaze and looked at the group more closely.

There were ten or more of them ambling near the water’s edge. Each moved in his own pattern, different from and yet connected to the whole. The whole seemed to Becky lie a loosely woven garment. They reminded her of dancers, limbering up. Like a Greek chorus before the performance begins. Then Becky spotted the girl.

She was about sixteen and Becky had often noticed her about the town where she would scurry along the pavements and then stop mid stride. She would hold that pose right in the middle of Main Street. Just like a performer. Then with the same inexplicable suddenness she would resume her frenzied journey. Becky had once watched her drop suddenly to the ground to tie her non existent shoe laces, right on the edge of a kerb. She knew that the girl’s name was Molly and that she attended the clinic at the top of the town.

They were all here today- inpatients from the clinic, institute… whatever they called it. She watched them weaving their strange pattern on the sand and feared for the red bundle. What if the Greek Chorus should find it?

The chorus edged its way closer to the bundle and the red rag flapped and loosened in the wind.
Becky moved closer to it and sat on a nearby rock ledge. She was aware that the man was now watching her so she began to pick up stones, appearing to examine them. She had once kept a whole collection of these beach stones and placed them on the mantle place and on a window ledge. She recalled now the different sizes and shapes and colours. They had all reminded her of hearts. Broken hearts, chipped hearts, hearts with deep scars and some with crystals. She would run her finger along the scars and say, “That’s life. That’s how it is.”

On the edge of her vision she could see the chorus creeping towards her.

In a laneway that ran the length of high stone convent walls Becky was pushing a baby in a fold up buggy. The newborn was wrapped in a red cardigan. The baby cried when Becky stopped at the convent gate, but Becky let go of the pram and walked away.

The chorus encircled her now and the girl was gliding towards the red bundle. She stood poised over it and then she swooped.

“No!” shrieked Becky. “It’s mine!”

She was too late. The girl had whisked away the rag to expose a pile of stones carefully mounted beneath it.

“Give it back to her Molly. Give Becky the scarf!” commanded the man from behind her. The girl dropped the cloth and flung herself down the beach, arms extended in full flight mode.

“I think it’s time we went back everyone,” said the man. There were grumbles of dissent from the group. “Can somebody tell Sean; he’s drifted off a bit. Becky, it’s probably dirty now but if you still want it?”

Becky picked up the scarf from the sand where the girl had discarded it. Slowly, carefully she tucked it around the pile of stone hearts.

“I don’t want it,” she said and walked away.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018



Friday 9 November 2018

Knights on Ebay

 She had always wanted a knight in shining armour. So with her fiftieth birthday fast approaching, Meg decided that the time had come to run the gauntlet.
“And just where are you thinking of looking?” asked Janet, her friend, as she munched contentedly on Meg’s homemade Mary Berry flapjacks.
“On E-bay!”
“On what!” asked the matronly honey blonde à la Clairol.
“I mean to go on the internet, Janet. They sell everything on line these days.”
“Your computer just conked out. You said you wouldn’t be replacing it ‘til next year.” Janet stopped munching on the flapjack. “And do you mean to say you’d date a total stranger? Don’t you think that’s taking things a bit too far? I mean he could be a serial killer!” Janet stared bleakly at her friend.
“I don’t intend to date anyone, Janet. I intend to purchase.”

Whiterock’s one and only internet café was tucked away in a courtyard off Main Street. Meg had to walk through the cobbled yard and descend several stone steps before she could enter the ill lit den. She almost whacked her head on the painted crossbeam that announced Charlie’s Internet café.

“It’s like an Aladdin’s cave,” she said to the middle aged man perched on a high stool behind a desk that acted as a serving counter for Charlie’s fresh brew coffee.
“I hope you’re not looking for treasure!” retorted the rotund man with the big smile.
“That’s exactly what I’m looking for!” quipped Meg, looking around the small room that contained about ten computers back to back, all of them occupied by whey faced young men.  Not a head lifted as she watched them; each one intensely focused on the screen in front of him.
“They look like they live here!”
Beyond Charlie’s desk a small waiting room doubled as a salesroom for antique clothes that hung on hangers and pegs from the rafters. Leather bound books and china bric-a-brac bedecked old mahogany bookcases. A large shabby leather sofa dominated the room whose walls were hung with rich coloured red and burgundy tapestries. A thread worn Afghan carpet covered black painted floorboards.
“Do I need to book a computer?” she asked him, tilting her head to adjust her vari-focals as she gazed between the zombie youths and Charlie’s round jovial face.
“For special customers I have the VIP corner,” he announced pointing to an alcove behind her where three computers were set up in a semi circle.
“Oh! They’re well hidden. And do I qualify as a VIP?”
“For sure!”
“I may need your help,” she admitted. “You see I want to purchase a knight in shining armour.”
“I think we may need a cup of caffeine to sort that one out.” And he reached for the coffee pot and poured a thick mixture into two glazed coffee mugs. Then he directed her towards the sofa where she sank into a well worn hollow and told him about her mission.
“Well, I’ve heard worse,” he admitted when she had revealed all. “There was a woman who wanted to buy a ghost in a jar. Then there was the chap who wanted the vote in the American election. Although, to be honest, it’s usually old diaries, love letters, luggage labels, theatre programmes and that sort of stuff.”
“What do you reckon my chances are?”
“Let’s go and find out,” and Charlie with a chivalrous gesture helped to prise Meg out of the deep sofa and escorted her to the VIP corner. He explained the process of e-bidding, the registration, the log in and password and then they set off on a browse around the site.
The trip was a lot more exciting than Meg had imagined. Charlie did the clicking while Meg scanned for knights. He found a section called Weird Stuff, which Meg declared was a likely location for any dragon slaying knight worth his salt, but no knight to the rescue appeared.
“They’re all off saving damsels in distress!” joked Charlie. “Will we take a turn about another site anyway?” he asked coaxingly,” At my expense,” he added.
Meg said she’d be delighted and so they set off on an expedition that set them chasing original 1972 Olympic Games Posters, letters written by criminals on death row and Russian submarines. Meg, who rarely ventured beyond her own gatepost, was enchanted. Charlie explained that she should come back for follow up bouts, as it was always possible that a knight might stray within their gambit.
The following week saw them venture into Paper and Ephemera. This was, in fact, one of Charlie’s favourite territories. Two cups of steaming black coffee later and Meg had put in a bid for a five year Pre World War One Diary- fully written up.
“You’ll have to come back in a day or two and see if anyone has out bid you,” announced Charlie. “Maybe we could have lunch while you are here?”
 Meg agreed, and that Thursday saw them taking a detour through Stamps while Charlie served up Chicken Caesar on a bed of lettuce and rocket. On this trip he managed to inform Meg that he was a widower in search of a close friend with whom he could share friendship and possibly romance.
“You could look on E-bay,” she suggested. “For a damsel in need!”
And so it continued for several weeks. Meg was outbid for the diary and tried her luck at an old leather bound notepad dated 1946. The knight still evaded Meg’s mating call, but in the meantime, she and Charlie had a weekly date.

“You don’t think that maybe you’ve already found him, the knight?” suggested Janet to a surprised raise of the eyebrow from Meg.
“Charlie! You can’t be serious! I mean we’re just friends. He doesn’t see it at all like that!”
“And what about you? How do you see it?”

Two months later on a jaunt through Weird Stuff both Charlie and Meg were stalled mid click to see it.

Knight in full armour, with shield, sword and lance, mounted on life sized white horse. The installation set on wheels for easy movement. 1000 sterling. No bids yet.

“I guess this is it!” declared Charlie, hovering on unchartered territory.
“Do you think?” Meg felt suddenly tentative. Now that the possibility had arrived, the knight within reach, her heart faltered.
“It’s just what you wanted, isn’t it?”
“I’m not sure if it would fit into the workshop.”
“But you told me you measured the space and…”
“I wouldn’t see you anymore!” she blurted out, Janet’s words ringing in her head.
“I’m sure we could get around that, Meg. In fact, I’ve been meaning to ask you for some time.” He was avoiding eye contact and twiddling a pencil in his hand.
“Ask me what, Charlie?”
“About that damsel, Meg… do you think she could be you?”
“About that Knight, Charlie… do you think you could be him?”
His eyes followed the description again.
“Well, I don’t know about that sword and lance bit, but I could have a go at the horse riding.”
“Then I think I’ve found the knight I’ve been searching for!”
“And I think I’ve found my close friend….”

Tuesday 6 November 2018

Anyone for Coffee?

This is a lovely blogspot organised by Gill James of Bridge House Press. The idea is that each story lasts about the the length of time it takes you to drink a cuppa of whatever brew you fancy.

Saturday 3 November 2018

The Fallen


On All Souls' Day I visited the above installation to commemorate the soldiers killed in the Great War. 
To be frank, I didn't take in much of the information as I was distracted by the memory of someone I never knew, except in family lore, as Great Uncle Jim Joe, killed at the front on October 12th 1918 Age 30. 
Coming from a mining community he joined the Royal Engineers and would have been one of those who burrowed tunnels across the line into enemy territory. 

This reflection is for him- Sapper James Joseph Leonard, 137th Field Company, Royal Engineers.
Buried at Cambrin Military Cemetery, France.


The women thread fish wire through paper leaves that bear your names
One leaf for every soldier, it takes them sixty hours
of fine needlework to fashion this chandelier
of fallen souls, 36,000 leaves,
Fluttering from the ceiling
of St Patrick's Cathedral
Finally risen again.