In the spirit of ushering in a year of hope, I would like to share with you two seasonal short stories that are not only appropriate for this festive time of the year, but which also carry messages of promise and optimism for the future.
The first is the very witty Fate, Perhaps by Jill Anabona Smith. This short romantic comedy is about two people, a man and a woman, finding one another at Christmas time. Protagonist Maureen’s kindness and innocence are endearing and charming, although perhaps not all is at it seems?
And the final Showcase short story before our hiatus here at Write On! is from regular contributor Lynda Shepherd. Christmas Promises is another tale of love that twists and turns, keeping us on our toes throughout. And, while it features some sad moments, read to the end for the promise of hope, adventure and opportunity on the horizon.
Just like 2021? We sure hope so!
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to Write On! Showcase this year and thank you to all our readers. Like the rest of the Write On! team, I will be taking a two-week break to celebrate Christmas and New Year. I hope you all stay safe and take some time to relax, enjoy yourselves and appreciate the people around you, however you choose to spend this time of year. I look forward to connecting with you all again next year!
So, until 2021…
…keep on writing!
Dan (Associate Editor)
Fate, Perhaps by Jill Anabona Smith
You’ve never heard of the Isle of Thanet? Think of the outline of England and the bit pointing out into the sea — there, in the bottom right-hand corner of Kent — that’s Thanet.
But, you protest, an island is land surrounded by sea.
If you Google it and look close, Thanet might seem rather remote but is, nevertheless, firmly connected to the mainland; the very end of the line, literally, that the Victorians built to lure wealthy visitors. Zoom in further, though, and you’ll see that where the sea has receded, the Isle now is isolated by oceans of cauliflower fields; fields so wet on this late December afternoon that the sea might as well have never gone away.
At the Isle’s heart these days, too recent for maps to show it, lies a great lagoon of car roofs, the drenched horizon broken here and there by the raised tailgate of a 4×4, like surf on a reef…
As dusk fell, colours blended into the steely monochrome of the night ocean and, far across the car park, Tesco Extra twinkled through the squalls like lights on a distant shore as the Rotarians’ sleigh boomed out carols.
In this remote corner, though, it was very dark.
“Can I help?” The man’s voice made Maureen jump as she bent to unlock the car door.
“No, thank you. I can manage.” Aware of the dangers of seasonal muggers, she gripped her keys more tightly. One heard stories of men watching, following women who’d obviously forgotten where they’d parked.
“I said I can manage, thank you.” She used the voice that made the boys mucking about in the library — her library — fall silent.
“It’s just…that’s my car, you see.”
Horrified, she whirled around to see the dark-haired, neatly-dressed man duck just in time to dodge the spokes of her umbrella. She turned back to the car, sending another slew of water over him.
Oh, it was the same model, all right, but the jumble of clothes spilling from the back seat she could see through the rain streaming down the window, was definitely not hers.
“I’m terribly sorry.” Hoping the twilight was hiding her scarlet face, she jumped back, tripping on the kerb and her wet shopping, brolly and keys slipping from her grasp. Tins tumbled, clanging and banging down the car door and splashing into the puddles at her feet.
“Nice house,” he said admiringly, while she dealt with the double lock as they sheltered under her umbrella from the rain slewing horizontally off the Channel behind them. With him in it too, Maureen’s porch seemed suddenly smaller. Beside them, in the drive, her car waited where it had been all afternoon. “The view must be quite something in the summer. The harbour… always something to see.” He held the door for Maureen, then insisted on carrying in the runaway shopping.
“Bit big for just me. The people from London snap them up, spend fortunes on them. But you get used to the view. I hardly notice it most days, to be honest.” She pushed her way into the hall over the free paper and stacked the dripping brolly on the coat stand, colouring slightly at the fib. Even now, she knew there’d be lonely figures down on the East Pier, waterproofed from head to toe, numbly skewering wriggling worms onto their hooks. She could see their lights from her bedroom. They were there in all weathers, hooded in winter, bare-torsoed in summer.
“I don’t suppose…” she began. “No, silly of me. It was so kind of you to give me a lift. You’ll have to be getting off now. Won’t be a tick, I must give you my insurance details. Your bodywork–” she began, then stopped, hurriedly.
“My bodywork is fine.” He smiled. “And I’m in no hurry at all.”
How strong a man must be to hold all that weight so effortlessly.
“Do put all that down, please. You’re soaked. They rolled everywhere, didn’t they? A cup of tea, perhaps? It’s the least I can do. And I made mince pies this morning. Heaven only knows when I thought I was going to eat them all. Stupid of me. Completely forgot I’d got the free bus to Tesco’s. And when I got there, with Whiskas on special offer, I loaded up without thinking.” Oh, Maureen, stop prattling. Men hate that.
“Easily done, I’m sure,” he replied gently. “But I’m very partial to a home-made mince pie.” He followed her into the kitchen. “So, you’re here on your own, then?”
“Just me and the cat,” she said, warming the pot.
This was going to be easier than he’d thought.
“It just didn’t work out.” Head down, his voice was a husky whisper. “I thought we were happy. But she…well, she found someone else.”
Someone else. How profligate some women manage to be.
He shrugged and drained his cup. “Obviously, I couldn’t stay there. Threw my stuff into the car and drove all day. Never been to this corner of England before. The Isle Of Thanet, it said. That’s it, I thought. Sounds like the perfect sort of place for an escape. Was running out of petrol when I saw Tesco. Filled up and realised I hadn’t eaten since, well, yesterday, actually. I went in for coffee and a pee-paper. And when I came out, there you were.” He grinned. “So wet, I thought a mermaid was trying to get into my car.”
Maureen gave a little shiver of delight at the idea of herself as such an exotic creature.
“You haven’t caught cold, have you?” He was all concern.
“Oh, no,” she reassured him, “it’s just…well, it’s silly of me, but…perhaps it was fate? Like me making all these mince pies? Have another?” She shrugged her shoulders as he accepted. “Just silly.”
“I tell you one thing,” he munched appreciatively, careful to make sure any crumbs landed squarely on the china plate. “Tesco’s teacakes aren’t a patch on your cooking. And, now I think about it, you weren’t so much a mermaid as a modern-day Grace Darling, rescuing a drowning stranger.”
For a moment, Maureen couldn’t speak, so overwhelming was the sheer romance of it all. She gulped. “So, where are you heading next?”
He shrugged. “No idea, to be honest. I think I passed a Travelodge near the car park?”
“But it’s Christmas Eve tomorrow. You’d be all alone there. That’s too awful.” She stood and took the cups and saucers to the sink. “I don’t suppose…”
“What?” His head on one side, he smiled again and all the fairy lights in the world flashed and twinkled in Maureen’s rather drab kitchen.
She swallowed. Now or never. It was, after all, a Christian act at Christmas. “Well…there’s plenty of room here. You know, just for a night…day or two. Till you get sorted out.”
The rain was still slapping against the big bay window as Maureen sat up in bed, hands clasped round her knees, tutting at the draught moving the curtains. She’d have to get the man back to see to them again.
This nightie really wasn’t the sort of thing she’d usually go for, but it had been reduced in the pre-Christmas sales. The marketing team probably thought it would be snapped up by a man running out of time to find a present for ‘Her Indoors’, hurrying up the escalator, wild-eyed, to grab the crimson satin without further thought because, after all, she’d probably change it on Boxing Day. But it had been Maureen, idling past the rail, glancing down from time to time into the Tesco cafe below, who’d unhooked it carefully and watched it slither bloodily into her trolley on top of the cat food.
She turned her head at the squeak of the bedroom door’s handle slowly moving, just the way it did in films…
The hours she’d spent at this room’s window had taught her you need patience, and the right gear, to be a successful angler – wherever you fish. A ‘Seasonal Special’, toasted teacake and a hot drink for only £1.50, was unusual bait, but then the supermarket’s steamy café was no ordinary fishing ground.
Lowering the sheet a little, Maureen reeled in her catch.
This was going to be easier than she’d thought.
(C) Jill Anabona Smith, 2020
Jill Anabona Smith started writing on the UKC Combined Studies Creative Writing course and became involved in co-ordinating IsleWrite activities from its inception. Since then, she has won prizes in fiction competitions at BBC Radio Nottingham, story-tellers.co.uk, Ramsgate Royal Harbour Heritage Festival, the Winchester Annual Writers’ Conference, Kent Life and Writing magazine, who described her writing as ‘witty, thought-provoking and clever’. Jill’s short stories have been published in numerous anthologies and magazines. Novelist Louise Doughty said her writing ‘made my flesh creep’, which Jill took as a compliment.
Christmas Promises by Lynda Shepherd
Where was Shaun? It was better not to count your French hens, she knew, but after last night, well, surely Shaun would not want to go through with the divorce. The evening replayed like a cinema reel across her mind’s eye as they waited in the draughty boardroom.
Kirsten had gone to the Calling Birds bar, knowing this was the venue of Shaun’s company Christmas party. Walking up to him, she ignored the uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach and, conjuring a warm smile, she asked, “Darling, I’m not late, am I?”
“Just in time, as usual.”
She had done a lot of little spontaneous things lately: cooked his favourite food; turned up to important business events. He must have appreciated it.
Eleven Scottish pipers piped them into a dinner of garlic-roasted geese and veg on huge silver platters. Then came the dancing. The men, dressed as lords for the evening, had leapt to their feet, leading their ladies in traditional reels.
Later, Kirsten’s heart had started to beat faster and her nervous fingers had pleated the heavy organza skirt of her dress as the final lot of the charity auction was announced. Two tickets to see the dancing swans of the royal ballet on Broadway. It took her back to a promise made ten years earlier.
“Eight hundred, eight hundred and fifty, I am bid,” boomed the auctioneer. “Are we all done? Going once, going twice, do we have a late bidder?”
“One thousand pounds!” Shaun’s voice had rung out to oohs and aahs.
Kirsten and Shaun kissed, deeply.
“Of course,” Shaun said, looking around the room. Something had changed. Kirsten had originally visualised the evening would end with her riding in the back of a black cab alone. But Shaun had gone home with her and had not left until the morning, when the moos of the cows in the neighbouring farm had drifted through the skylight with the coos of the turtle doves. Shaun had said he’d see her later.
The door opened and Shaun strolled in with his solicitor on his heels.
“Well, well, I am impressed. What did you do, Google the nearest public house?” he said. The badly-fitted window looked out upon the Partridge In A Pear Tree pub across the street. Kirsten’s heart plummeted. It looked as though her efforts had been in vain. She pulled out the A to Z from her handbag. Shaun gave her a slow hand clap.
“Shall we get down to business?”
“But what about Broadway?”
“What about it? Manda and I are going to use it to impress our new client when we go stateside.”
She knew she shouldn’t be shocked. After all, he had broken so many promises before; but she’d hoped this time would be different. He knew how much this meant to her. Their marriage had always been tempestuous: he’d called her vain; she called him a miserable, tight…well, you get the picture. She’d thought maybe they could have got back on track. But Kirsten had been wrong; she had to stop dreaming.
Kirsten sighed. Signing her papers, she just wanted to get out into the crisp afternoon air. Scraping back the chair, she got up and left the room. She would not cry.
So, what now? She gazed at the mishmash of shops outside Bickerstaff and Jones and paused. Pulling up her jacket collar, her fingers met the glittering chain and she lifted it out. The five gold rings Shaun had bought her during their ill-fated marriage hung from its delicate links. Looking up, she realised she had come to a stop outside a pawnbroker. Not giving herself time to think, she stepped inside.
Thirty minutes later, she was back out on the slushy cobbles. Kirsten had a plan. Perhaps there should have been a twelve drum roll: she was going to Broadway!
(C) Lynda Shepherd, 2020
If you’d like to see your writing appear in the Write On! ‘Showcase’, please send your short stories, poetry or novel extracts to: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more fiction, poetry, interviews and author advice in the latest issue (6) of Write On! out now and available here.