From the series:
Love has more than one colour
Above the clouds
A short story by David A. Thorpe
Paul always requested an aisle seat, even on short flights. This flight was no exception. He was on a business trip to Slovenia, his fist time there. Paul was one of the first to enter aircraft at the front entrance. After stowing his brief case in the above racks, he sank into his seat, whilst the remaining passengers passed by with confused expressions in search of their seats.
He courteously stood up to allow his other two row guests, an elderly man and his plump wife, to take their seats. The plump wife squeezed herself into the window seat.
Although it was his first visit to this client and he could not speak the language, Paul felt confident that his visit would be a success. The emails received from his client reflected an openness to the proposals of Paul`s employer for a business relationship. He was glad to have a break from the mundane work at the office and also to have time to think about the changes which had entered into his life, after the final severance of his relationship with his girlfriend. They had been living together now for four years, but the relationship had become estranged over the last twelve months. Paul felt relieved and had convinced himself he would enjoy his new found freedom.
Paul was suddenly roused out of his daydream by the sound of a small child crying, almost screaming.
“Thank God, the kid`s at the back of the ´plane,” he assumed. He remembered seeing his mother carrying the child up the rear steps to enter the aircraft.
Paul tried to ignore the screams of the child and succeeded for a short while, whilst the child stopped its crying to take in more oxygen to its lungs, in readiness for the next outburst.
To his dismay the next outburst was even louder and he realised it was nearer. The child was slowly approaching his row. Suddenly the toddler appeared at Paul`s side, tears streaming down his face and being pushed forward by his mother, who was burdened with two large bags of a well known super market chain, presumably one full of children`s requirements for a two hour flight.
“I knew it, I just knew it,” Paul told himself, this time not proud of his apparent talent to prophesy. The young mother had taken her aisle seat opposite to Paul, her two bags at her feet and the sobbing chid on her lap.
“You can forget about reading your novel now,” admitted Paul with remorse.
The take off was delayed by fifteen minutes due to heavy air traffic but once in the air, the young child was constantly playing with one of his toys his mother had thoughtfully packed into one of the plastic bags. He opened his novel and decided he could chance a chapter or two.
He smiled to himself remembering a story his mother had often repeated to him. Paul admitted to himself that he was not really anti kids, on the contrary, he had always thought about having his own family but as yet he had not found the right woman; that was his excuse but deep inside he knew he was afraid to take the `plunge´.
Pushing this home truth to the back of his mind, Paul closed his eyes and relaxed for the first time that day.
Something landed with a thump on the floor near to Paul`s feet. It was a toy, thrown down on purpose by the young child, who had a cheeky smile on his face. Paul retrieved the toy and handed it back to the apologising young mother. Paul nervously assured her that it was of no inconvenience and on looking at her, he realised how attractive she was. Her dark melancholy eyes invited him to continue gazing but he looked away embarrassed. Not resisting he looked again into her eyes, this time having the courage to ask her if she was also staying in Lubljana.
“Yes, I am staying with my mother for a few days,” she replied in good English but with an accent. “I am taking my son to see his grandmother for the first time,” she added.
Paul did not stop chatting to her till they were requested to fasten their safety belts for landing. By this time Paul had found out that her name was Nyoma and she lived alone with her son, whose father had never accepted his parental responsibilities.
Further, Paul had also her telephone number and she had invited him to `show him around the city´.
Although somewhat apprehensive, Paul accepted the invitation and he met Nyoma as arranged the following evening. They enjoyed a night out in each others company and dined at a restaurant, serving typical dishes. To his surprise and delight Nyoma had agreed to go back with him for a night cap at his hotel bar and he took hold of her hand as they strolled along the avenue to the hotel.
One night cap led to another, and finally ended his hotel bed, where they awoke the next morning in each others arms. Paul was just about to kiss Nyoma`s closed eyes when a hand gently shook his shoulder and kindly asked; “Would you like a snack and something to drink, sir?”
Opening his eyes Paul realised to his dismay and embarrassment that it was not Nyoma but the tall stewardess with the Nana Muskouri glasses. He managed to nod his head.
“The whole thing was a dream,” he reluctantly admitted to himself.
Satisfied with his short visit to his new clients, Paul took his seat in the aircraft and thought about his return home; relating his success to his office colleagues, his positive report to his boss and then his private life, alone without Sheila.
“Hallo, what a coincidence”, a young woman`s voice with an accent interrupted his thoughts.
“This time we have the next seat to you, my son and I,” she asserted.
Paul looked again at these beautiful dark eyes and stood up to allow the young mother and the child to take the seat next to his. This time the child laughed at him on passing and even uttered a greeting in his own private baby language.
“Well why not?” Paul convinced himself in silence and asked his attractive neighbour if she had enjoyed her stay in Slovenia.
Christmas Eve with Stella
A short story by David A. Thorpe
On the eve before Christmas Jim made a decision. He was not going to spend this year this evening with his mother. A perfect excuse had been his work schedule, which obliged him to be `on duty´ till late afternoon. He would visit his mother for the New Year celebration. His sister and family would also be at the celebration and he looked forward to seeing her again. Good friends since childhood, he and his sister had always been close to each other and also he enjoyed being `Uncle Jim´ for his two young nephews.
His affair with Rachel had ended almost two years previously and at first he had enjoyed his freedom but now he felt alone and had no close friends. He needed the warmth of a woman who he really loved, he convinced himself.
Moreover, it was his mother who had instigated the `match´ with Rachel and after he had terminated their romance, his distraught mother had ignored him and did not speak to him for weeks. During the following months she had continually reminded him how ungrateful he was not to have realised how lucky he had been to have had such a `lovely girl´; his mother´s sole description of Rachel. It was only after his transfer at work from the suburban town to the capital, that his mother had normalised her relationship to her son. Here in the capital he was out of reach of her meddling in his private life, although she called him twice a month but mainly out of curiosity to find out if he had found a replacement for Rachel. Much to her frustration, he purposely always gave a negative answer to this question.
No, this Christmas Eve he was going to do something quite different; something he had never done before but, in spite of his shyness, had always been tempted to have the experience. He intended to visit a brothel, or as it was called in the advertisement, `A relaxation and massage lounge´.
Just the thought of him not accompanying his mother to church this evening, but rather enjoying the expertise of one of the relaxation massage young ladies, seemed to him to be almost an act of parricide. He smiled to himself over this contemplation.
Jim stood in front of the establishment and fought with his indecisiveness. He had an uncomfortable feeling in his stomach but took the plunge and rang the door bell. After a short pause the door automatically opened and he went inside. The first hurdle was mastered.
To his relief he was not alone. Other clients were either standing around or sitting drinking and chatting with possible evening escorts in the, although intimately lit, tastefully furnished bar lounge. Jim headed for the bar. He needed a drink, he told himself. He ordered his favourite Irish whiskey from the plump lady bar tender. She seemed to understand his plight and on handing him his whiskey, she gave him a friendly smile and reassured him:
“Here you are my dear, the girls here don´t bite you know!”
Jim smiled in return and took his drink to a corner table and sat in one of the small leather upholstered armchairs.
From his corner seat he could observe the coming and going in the lounge. How the guests were first invited by one of the young `masseuses´ to buy drinks in exchange for some small talk and flattering attention; preliminary diversions before disappearing together up the dimly lit staircase. In the background the sensual music was a stimulus to the aroused feelings.
Jim became suddenly aware of a slim dark haired lady sitting at the bar, whose glance was fixed on his corner, directly on him. As their eyes met, her mouth parted into an enticing smile. In his embarrassment Jim smiled back but then took a quick drink of whiskey before his eyes returned again like magnets to her gaze. In an almost cat-like movement her long legs stretched away from the bar stool and he watched her slender but voluptuous body slinking slowly and seductively in his direction. He took another mouthful of his confidence and awaited her arrival at his corner table.
Without taking her eyes away from his, she sat down at his table and introduced herself with a proposition:
“Hello, all alone on Christmas Eve. I´m Stella. Why not invite me to a drink and we could have a Christmas party for two.”
Jim felt his throat suddenly becoming dry and remaining silent for a while, as if either ignoring or not understanding her suggestion, he then replied to his own bewilderment at his new found bravado:
“Hello, I´m Jim and I´m no longer alone. What would you like to drink to get the party started?”
Stella laughed and took his hand in hers and Jim held on tightly to this caress.
The ice was broken. No need for the irrelevant small-talk.
They talked rather about themselves, their hopes, their dreams and both drank their Irish whiskey.
Although he lacked experience with women, he saw not only tenderness in Stella`s large brown eyes but almost an appeal to receive the same feeling and the need for understanding and respect. Jim had already decided to make Stella a proposal.
As if in mutual agreement, they left the corner table and hand in hand walked up the dimly lit staircase.
In defiance of the rules of conduct
A short story by David A. Thorpe
Conrad entered the ward and suddenly felt sick. He thought he had entered a morgue.
It was his first working day at the nursing home for terminally ill patients and although he had been in the establishment before for his interviews, he had not experienced the feeling he had now in his stomach, Two weeks after his final interview, Conrad had received the letter of acceptance to work at the clinic for two years. This was an alternative to his being subscripted to the armed forces, which was an option in his country.
At high school Conrad had been a competitive sportsman and had won trophies. He was a good athlete and one of the best ever high jumpers of whom the school could proudly boast.
Conrad, however, had other talents of which he and his family became gradually aware. He was sensitive to the needs of old people and had not only been a willing comfort to his grand parents but also to other elderly neighbours: a rare talent for a young man of his age.
He stood in silence gazing down the long clinically white painted ward, each side of which were placed ten beds equally spaced from each other, their occupants lying motionless, some of them uttering groans or snoring. There was no human warmth in the ward with its bare white walls and grey linoleum stained floor. At the side of each bed stood a cabinet which, he presumed, contained the necessary `equipment´ for bed–ridden patients. Very few cabinets were adorned with visitors´ flowers or other personal gifts. This ward was for male patients and the light coming through the windows on this damp and grey winter morning did not improve Conrad`s cold and impersonal impression of his working area. The ladies ward was of equal drabness.
Conrad swallowed his feelings and decided best to start with his duties. The male nurse, who was to `show him the ropes´, entered the ward and greeted Conrad with a curt smile and suggested: “Let´s start with the bed-pans.”
During the following weeks Conrad became more confident with his work and explained to his parents how he had come to know the `patients´ more as `companions´ and not as bodies to be washed, shaved, in some cases hand-fed, and those to be taken to the toilet who could get up from their beds and, weather permitting, taken into the garden for some fresh air and to enjoy natures gifts of flowers, trees and a variety of visiting birds. These excursions, although of relative short duration, proved to be the most effective medicine available.
Conrad described in detail in his weekly letters to his parents
his daily work and how his `companions´ were becoming with each passing week, people to whom he could relate. He told of his deep sorrow when one of them passed away, especially if the deceased
had been a younger person.
Later in a letter Conrad admitted to his parents:
” I am now seeing life and death in a completely different aspect. Whereas at the beginning I was completely heart-broken when one of my flock passed away, I have now come to realise that although sad, in most cases it is a blessing and the fact that I am here to be with them and to comfort them as best I am able, means so much to them and in their way they are happy.”
Conrad`s parents did not fully understand their son`s words, at least not yet. It was only later that he explained to them what he had meant to his `companions´.
What really had happened took place one morning, whilst Conrad was working in the ladies ward, when he went to have a chat with Hilda, who normally responded to his small talk with a friendly smile and her joyful manner. As he approached her bed Conrad noticed that she was weeping. He tried to be cheerful but received no friendly response. He suddenly remembered that when he had visited his grandmother that she too was crying for no apparent reason and he had taken her into his arms and cuddled her.
“Do you feel better now, Grandma?” He had asked her.
“Yes Conrad, much better. That was wonderful.” She had responded.
Conrad never knew the reason for her weeping, but wondered if his grandfather or his parents had shown her little affection, never giving her the feeling of being loved.
On his return Conrad had told his mother about his grandmother weeping without an apparent cause and he recalled his mother`s off hand remark:
“Yes, your dad`s mother was like that before she died, just weeping for no reason.”
Conrad knew, however, what he would now risk doing at the nursing home, although he would be acting in defiance of the rules of conduct.
The next morning after serving breakfast, Conrad went to see Hilda, who again did not greet him with a smile. In fact she pretended to be asleep.
“Hello Hilda, you`re looking sad again,” he greeted her. “But I think I know what it is you miss. Would you like me to give you a cuddle?”
“Oh Conrad, would you do that please?” She opening suddenly her eyes and with a hopeful smile on her face.
“Of course I will, Hilda” agreed Conrad, smiling back at her.
He bent over the frail lady and took her in his arms and cuddled her to his breast.
On laying her head back on the pillow, Conrad saw the tears in Hilda`s eyes.
“Why are you crying, Hilda?” He gently enquired.
“Because I`m happy, Conrad,” she confessed pressing his hand.
“I would like your cuddles every day until I die,” she confessed.
Every day until the day she passed away, Conrad carried out Hilda`s request with pleasure, in defiance of the rules of conduct.
In the coldness of the desert
A short story by David A. Thorpe
The rain fell upon his bald head and drops trickled down the crevices of his face but his expression was one of sadness and grief, not of annoyance to be standing at the mercy of a cloud burst. The other mourners were more attendant to the words of comfort spoken in a monotonous tone by the priest, sheltered under an umbrella held by one of the young acolytes. His thoughts were far away in the desert of North Africa.
Slowly the coffin was steadily lowered into the grave, accompanied by sounds of sobbing from the gathered family and friends. It then disappeared from view. The mourners paid their last respects and then discreetly took their leave. The last to leave the grave was the widow, supported by whom he assumed were her daughter and son; he even remembered their names Silvia and Sam. On leaving they looked at him as if questioning his relationship to the deceased, but departed in silence without acknowledging his presence.
Left alone Jack tasted his salty tears diluted with the rain drops, wetting his quivering lips.
He allowed his emotion to overwhelm him and he cried bitterly. On controlling his feelings he turned away from the grave and slowly made his way towards the large iron-gate, rusting in the unrelenting rain. His thoughts were again reliving that day in the desert of North Africa.
The vehicle was making its way along the desert road, barely recognizable due to the sand drifts. The driver Bill and his co-driver Jack were in good spirits; singing the old `Tipperary´ song and looking forward to arriving at their base camp after having delivered two severely injured soldiers to the military hospital in Alexandria. Literally out of the blue, like hungry hawks in a downwards flight, claws outstretched to kill their prey, spitting fire the two enemy aircraft attacked. Apparently ignoring the clearly visible red crosses on the sides and the roof of the vehicle. The bullets missed the driver`s cabin but in an attempt to avoid the ricochet of the fighters` bullets, the swerving ambulance overturned, spilling out the driver and his companion into a sand drift.
Although one had a hand injury, they were not severely hurt and even managed to retrieve vital necessities, blankets, water and provisions, before the second attack set the vehicle in flames, reducing it to a blazing wreck. The hawks left the scene of their ravaging as quickly as their arrival.
They watched the enemy fighters fade away over the horizon and finally disappear.
Although they were in a state of shock, they smiled at each other and Bill said:
“They didn`t get us this time the bastards, no they didn`t get us this time,” repeating the fact to emphasise a positive outcome.
They both then fell into silence, contemplating that there would probably be a next time.
It was a miracle, they had survived the onslaught.
After packing what they had rescued from the ambulance, they began to trudge away from the wreckage. The merciless sun made no exemption for the two weary soldiers, hazardously making their way through the dune landscape, be-packed with the bare necessities for a march through this inhospitable desert. Only the appearance of a mirage interrupted the endless monotony. They were lost but ignored the fact as that could have meant a slow and painful death. They still clung to the hope of reaching their own front line and not to be captured or shot by an enemy patrol; for this was Egypt, late October in 1942, not far from the coastal town of El Alamein.
The horizon, like a magnet, was drawing the sun ever closer. The air was not as suffocating but was gradually becoming cooler. The two soldiers were exhausted and their progress negligible. They realised they must make a halt for the night and chose a sheltered hollow in the dunes. The sun suddenly submerged below the horizon and darkness spread its cloak over them like a silent shroud. They laid themselves down, their blankets wrapped around them. The temperature had dropped significantly.
Bill started to pray for their deliverance but his words were blown away by the bitter cold desert wind, covering with sand the two forsaken men. Jack began to weep quietly, fearing not to withstand the night. They both shivered and sought the other for warmth and comfort and the unspoken need to be near some one; perhaps for the last time.
They embraced each other and allowed their passion to escape from the darkness of its captivity. Their lips met in a tender kiss.
The first rays of the morning sun discovered them in each others arms. They had survived the night. They ate the last of the provisions and sipped the remaining water in discreet silence but their eyes revealed the unsaid. The moving desert and the cold desert wind had been witnesses but they vowed not divulge the two men`s intimacy.
Their prayers were answered. A patrol of two armoured jeeps spotted them half buried but alive in the indifferent sand. It was not an enemy patrol but part of the Australian contingent of the allied forces. They were brought back to Alexandria to the very hospital from which they had started out on their desert odyssey.
They had survived the night and also the war and were together till their discharge, after which they returned home but never saw each other again. They wrote letters to one another often, detailing the mundane news from their lives but never was mentioned that night in the coldness of the desert. That remained in a special place, deep down inside of each one of them.
The second battle of El Alamein was fought from the 23rd October to the 3rd of November , 1942, under the code name of “Operation Torch”. A total of 13,500 German and Italian soldiers were killed or wounded and 20,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers
Love is never too late
A short story by David A. Thorpe
Katherine stood gazing with satisfaction at the flower arrangement on the grave of her late husband, Harry, who had died 6 years earlier in an aviation accident, when his glider dived out of control into a wood. They had both celebrated their 62nd birthday and Katherine`s world had fallen to pieces after Harry`s tragic death. Although she lived with her unmarried son and had frequent visits from her daughter and grandchildren, they had been 5 long lonely years. The weekly gathering with her girlfriends over a wine or two at a local bistro and the
6 day holiday each year with the ladies were only moments of distraction for her.
Then Malcolm entered unexpectedly into Katherine`s life.
“I have something to confess, Harry,” Katherine admitted, still watering the flowers she had planted. “I have been true to you for almost 5 years now but I have met someone who finds me attractive and we get on very well together. His name is Malcolm and he is a 69 year old widower.” Katherine stopped here to take a breath of relief. She had done it at last; told Harry about Malcolm.
“You see, Harry,” Katherine continued, “it all started when I decided to take Dr. Clarke`s advice and go for 4 weeks for a spa cure. He had been trying to persuade me to go for weeks but I really didn`t want to go and leave Kevin on his own. But you know our son, he said he would manage alright and our daughter Sarah would pop in now and again to see that he had a decent meal. They both thought that it would do me good to have a break and bring my blood pressure under control.” Assured that Harry would also have agreed, Katherine continued to tell her story.
“Well bags packed I went by train to the spa town on the South coast with somewhat mixed feelings. First it was a relaxing experience to be away for a while and not to have to be around all the time for other members of the family. You know how tiring Sarah´s two children can be and her constant problems with her husband Tim. On the other hand I was thinking what I would do all day by myself for four weeks in a spa town where I knew nobody. The town, however, was very pleasant with a variety of shops on the promenade. You know my weakness for shoes, Harry,” Katherine confessed, “and then those beautifully kept parks with their cafés. I was alone most of the time though, except when I went for the check-ups, massages and water gymnastics. I almost rang Kevin after the first two weeks to come and take me home but then I thought, Katherine you are here for four weeks and four weeks you will stay.” She smiled to herself as she removed weeds choking the pansies she had planted the previous week week. She knew very well, of course, why it had been a good decision to remain at the spa.
“It was on the Monday morning, Harry,” Katherine related with a touch of excitement in her voice, “as I was walking from my room down the corridor on my way to the swimming pool for the water gymnastics, when I suddenly tripped up over my dressing gown. Down I went, full length on the carpeted floor. I didn´t really hurt myself, just a little shook up but before I could start to get myself back on my feet, two firm hands gently lifted me up and there I was stood on both feet looking into the eyes of this handsome man with twinkling blue eyes. I was breathless for a while I must admit and couldn´t reply straight away to his concern if I had hurt myself, and if he should call a doctor. I finally told him I was alright and he smiled and offered to accompany me to the pool.”
“It turned out that Malcolm was also going for his early morning gymnastics and we both went together. I didn`t see him again all day but in the evening, when I had chosen a table to have my evening meal, he appeared and asked politely if he could join me at my table. I said yes, and so our relationship started. We enjoyed each other`s company and he told me of his daughter and the two grandchildren. His wife had passed away 3 years previous and he lived alone. We enjoyed each others company and the walks in the parks and along the promenade. We dined together each evening and even went together to the spa dinner dance on the last weekend.”
Katherine broke off her story again and sat herself down on the bench opposite Harry`s grave.
After reflecting for a short while, she began to inform him again.
“You know Harry,” she continued, “I never even thought possible that I would fall in love again, but I have and Malcolm loves me. We decided to see each other once we were back home and that is what we have been doing. At first it was twice a month and now almost each weekend and sometimes we go for a few days to the spa town to the same hotel.”
Here Katherine paused and reflected. “At first Harry,” she confessed, “I thought not to carry on with Malcolm. What would our friends think of a person of my age starting an affair based on a spa romance? However, the family were all in favour and thought I should pursue my happiness with Malcolm. His daughter and son-in-law were of the same opinion. So Harry, here we are, Malcolm and I are having a fulfilled relationship and enjoying our lives with our late love.”
Katherine looked at the grave with tears in her eyes. “I wanted you to know about Malcolm and I, “she admitted, “and I know you will give us your blessing.”
Katherine then collected her watering can and her basket with the weeds she had removed from Harry`s grave. She said goodbye to Harry and made her way to the cemetery gate, stopping now and then to pay her respects to friends, who like Harry, would be greeted again on her next visit the following week.
The best ever Christmas present
A short story by David A. Thorpe
It had been raining all day, better said all week, but this did not seem to affect the good mood of Terrance, a 38 year old guitarist and lead singer in a Manchester rock group, `Manchurian Sons´. The band had been rehearsing all day, as every Saturday, for their forthcoming concert at the renowned down town club, `The Place´. This engagement could mean a breakthrough for the musicians and a possible recording contract. They had been working hard on their performance for the past month, rehearsing songs of the Beatles, The Moody Blues, The Rolling Stones, John Mayall and Jimmy Hendrix. The year was 1969.
Tired but pleased with the session, Terrance made his way back to his suburban flat. The thought of spending the evening alone, however, was not appealing and he decided to call in at the local pub. The music and the friendly crowd there would mitigate the feeling of loneliness he had been experiencing since he had separated from his girl friend three months earlier.
He was thankful that his parents and sisters lived relatively near in Bolton, his home town.
Terrance had however, if only few, good and reliable friends. One of which was Daniel, a frustrated poet and novelist a few years older than Terrance, who lived with his wife Bridget and dog Merlin in a renovated farm house in the Yorkshire Pennines.
Terrance, who worked as a graphic designer, looked forward to his sporadic weekend visits to his family in Bolton or his visits to Daniel and Bridget in Yorkshire. He enjoyed the long walks in the Pennines with Daniel, Bridget and Merlin; the interesting conversations with Daniel and Bridget`s good cooking. He would listen attentively over an after-dinner whiskey or two to Daniel`s candid advice and poignant stories and later, if not quite as attentively, to Daniel`s reading of a new poem or extract from a still unfinished novel, both of which were doomed to end up in the waste paper basket of some `incompetent´ publisher; at least in the opinion of Daniel. Terrance trusted Daniel completely and confided in him both his hopes and his fears.
On his last visit to his sisters in Bolton, he had invited them to the concert at the `The Place´, which they both accepted even before the invitation had had time to dry on Terrance`s lips. His parents declined with the excuse that they were too old for night clubs. Sally, the eldest sister, would come with her husband Neal, whilst Madeleine would bring the latest hero in her life. Daniel and Bridget also accepted the invitation.
Her mother had named her daughter after her favourite flower, Nelke (the German name for carnation). The 7 year old Nelke stared with her large brown eyes in astonishment at the house. She thought it was a palace as she had never before seen such a house.
Holding her mother`s hand they both walked up the garden path
to the front door, where a chubby smiling lady was waiting to greet them. Nelke held her rag-doll tightly and her mother carried a battered suitcase, trying to keep her poise under the strain.
They were carrying their only possessions. The year was 1948 and they were refugees from a small town not far from
Berlin. Their new home in the West was in Heidelberg, the old university town on the river Neckar. This warm August day was the beginning of a new life for both of them.
The chubby lady took Nelke in her arms and kissed her.
It had been a long, hazardous and exhausting journey of almost 18 months since they had flown from their home to escape the wrath of the advancing Red Army. Nelke´s father had been reported missing 3 years earlier. After the capitulation of the German Reich, they had miraculously arrived in the American controlled zone, and later were brought in army vehicles to Heidelberg, one of the few German towns almost unscathed by the war.
Twenty-five years later Nelke was on her way to Manchester, England, to visit a close friend, Miranda, from her student years at the Heidelberg University. Miranda had read German studies at the university. The two friends had constantly been in contact after their university years and Miranda had visited Nelke two years previously in Heidelberg.
Now relaxed in the ´plane flying over the North Sea, Miranda first thought of her boyfriend Kai, but with no regret at leaving him behind, Their relationship was at an end and Nelke knew she would soon have to look for alternative accommodation, even if it meant returning to her mother`s house. Her thoughts now turned to her meeting again with Miranda and she smiled; it would be a wonderful autumn holiday in Manchester.
As promised Miranda was waiting for her at the airport and Nelke fell into Miranda`s embrace. Suddenly the memory of the chubby woman`s greeting at the Red Cross Centre so many years ago came back into her mind.
It had been a wonderful week`s holiday and Miranda had taken Nelke to many places of interest and of course they had found time for `retail therapy´. For this last weekend Miranda invited Nelke to one of Manchester`s smartest night clubs, `The Place´. Andrea, a girl fiend of Miranda had organized the tickets. She worked with one of the band members, Terrance.
“The band is really groovy,” she assured. “Why not come with your friend Nelke? I can arrange the tickets. I work with one of the band members and we` ll have an unforgettable Saturday evening.” Miranda did not need much persuasion and agreed.
They did enjoy themselves. First savouring a splendid meal served by attentive waiters. They laughed as each one told of some earlier escapade. Men of course were the topic. Miranda told of her visits to previous concerts of the `Manchurian Sons´ and how professional they were. She had not underestimated. All three of them were totally enthralled with the performance and Miranda`s suggestion that she introduce them to the `boys´ found unanimous approval. Somewhat nervous Nelke and Andrea followed Miranda as she led them back-stage to meet the musicians. After a short introduction and the question if they had enjoyed the show, Terrance took the plunge and invited the `girls´ to a drink in the bar lounge.
He had his reason. On being introduced Terrance and Nelke had looked into each others eyes, unwilling to retrieve their hands from the handshake.
They both knew straight away that they liked what they saw and sensed a mutual attraction. Terrance assured his seat next to Nelke`s in the bar lounge and for the rest of the evening they seemed almost oblivious to their surroundings, flirting and telling each other irrelevances, each one a magnet for the other.
It was only when Miranda interrupted to suggest that it was time to leave, as it was now way past mid-night that Nelke seemed to awaken from a dream. Embarrassed she agreed.
She had no idea it was so late she apologised.
On saying goodbye to each other, Terrance kissed Nelke on her cheek, which sent a quiver throughout her entire body. She dared in return to grasp his hand and whisper in his ear a thank you for such a wonderful evening.
“I will never forget this evening,” she promised.
She turned away and joined Miranda and Andrea to leave the club. Motionless Terrance watched them disappear through the main entrance, a sad expression on his face but a joy in his heart. He was determined to see Nelke again. Tenacity was one of his intrinsic qualities. This brief encounter was not going to be the end he decided.
Terrance played down his true feelings for Nelke, at least in front of Andrea. She had teased him a little on the Monday morning in the office about his obvious romantic interest in Nelke.
He merely commented that he had found her very pleasant and had enjoyed her company and conversation but nothing more. Andrea did not pursue her curiosity but a slight smile on her face told him that she had not believed one single word.
As the weeks went by, Andrea never mentioned Nelke to Terrance and at first he was pleased she did not enquire further. He had asked Nelke for her address and had written to her to tell her how much he had enjoyed the evening with her. He also added that he missed her company and wished they could meet again. He did not, however, admit to her that he had fallen in love with her.
As the days became shorter and autumn was giving way to winter, Terrance had still no reply from Nelke to his letter. He was worried and downcast and became irritable. Daniel noticed this and when Terrance next came to visit, on handing to him a second whiskey during their game of chess, Daniel enquired what was on his friend`s mind. Terrance, somewhat relieved and glad to talk to someone, explained the whole situation to Daniel.
Daniel knowing his friend`s feelings; suggested that Terrance ring the telephone information and on giving Nelke`s address they should be able to provide him with her telephone number.
“Call the girl, you idiot and find out why she has not replied to your letter,” was Daniel`s final advice.
Terrance did exactly what Daniel had advised and was rewarded with a cold shower when the operator informed him that Nelke Schiller was not registered at this address, but rather a certain Kai Hefner.
“Had she not received my letter then?” He asked himself and the operator. The operator hung up on him without giving an answer.
They had not much more to say to each other. Kai just gave Nelke the letter from England, which had arrived for her after she had moved out of the house in which they had lived together for the past 5 years. He weakly apologised for not bringing the letter earlier as he had been working in Munich on a project, but Nelke, on seeing that the letter was from Terrance, ignored his excuses. Nelke looked at the postal date and noticed it was dated 2 months previous and seemed not to notice Kai turn and walk back to his parked car and out of her life.
The weeks before Christmas were busy ones for Nelke and she still had not answered Terrance`s letter. The truth was that she was unsure how she should answer it. Although she had often thought about him since her return from Manchester, she had never asked herself what she really felt for him. Her mind had been occupied with first moving away from Kai and then her mother`s stroke. This had completely changed her daily routine.
Nelke made up her mind. She would call Terrance on Christmas Eve. After all he had written as a p.s. his telephone number. He had convinced himself he had nothing to lose.
Nelke and her mother had the Christmas Eve diner together and
afterwards the `Bescherung´, which is the giving of Christmas gifts, which usually lye beneath the decorated Christmas tree. And so as every year according to tradition they exchanged their
carefully wrapped gifts and embraced each other. They talked for a while and drank together a glass of `sekt´, before Nelke finally took her mother to bed. It was 10
Terrance had planned to spend Christmas Eve with a friend at a jazz club in the city centre. His friend had rung to say he was unable to meet Terrance as he had a heavy cold. Christmas Eve alone was something Terrance had not planned and thought first to eat something and go down to the local pub. There would be a party there and that was a distraction. He was just about to leave when his phone rang.
“I´m ringing you to wish you a Merry Christmas Terrance, this is Nelke in Heidelberg”
His heart stopped beating for a second. He could not respond.
“Hello, is that you Terrance?” asked a concerned voice.
“Ah, yes “, he managed to reply.
“I`m sorry for not answering your letter but I……”
Before Nelke could continue to explain, Terrance interrupted her.
“Oh, don´t worry about that. This phone call is much better than a letter,” Terrance assured her.
Nelke did, however, explain why she had not replied to the letter and told him about her mother`s stroke and many, many other things. For his part he told her all that he had been doing since they last met. They talked and laughed and admitted to each other how they had missed each others company. This was Terrance`s best ever Christmas present.
The ´phone bill would arrive sometime next year.
Further Short Stories
The teller of meanings of dreams
A story by David A. Thorpe
Staggering, the fugitive ran as if inebriated and stumbled again, but yet again he managed to stand up and carry on running between the shanty housing leading to the harbour. Once there, he could perhaps find a vessel and, as a stow-away, escape his captivity. Out of breath and panting from exhaustion and fear, he leaned against the wall to regain some strength, listening to the silence of the night. He could not yet hear the sound of any pursuing horde or the barking of the hunting dogs, yet his heart was throbbing so loud that he thought it would explode. No longer able to bear his own weight, he slumped on his knees, his head resting on his outstretched hands. The stench of fear filled his nostrils and he realised he no longer had the strength to gain his freedom. He resigned to his destine of slavery and awaited his fate.
Returning back to reality and opening his eyes in fright, the prisoner gazed at the ceiling of his cell and imagined piercing eyes staring down at him, observing the sweat covering his face and forming a shallow pool in the crevice of his chest, a betrayal of his panic. His fear gave birth to a mournful cry, startling the silence. An attack of queasiness nauseated his senses and he reluctantly admitted to himself the hopelessness of his situation.
As if given the command to do so, he obediently closed his eyes and awaited in silence the dawn and his execution.
At the chiming of the hour, his speech taken from him, his quivering lips were the only witnesses to his silent plea for a merciful deliverance. Accompanied by the guards and a murmuring priest, he walked down a dimly lit corridor, at the end of which they faded into the rays of the rising sun, filtering without permission through the barred windows.
Mitch sat up abruptly in his bed as if aroused by a frightening experience. He had been dreaming the ever returning nightmare and was sweating with fear. Pearls of sweat ran down his face into his nose and mouth. His throat was dry and burning and he became aware of the tense feeling in his stomach he felt every time he recalled something disturbing. He closed his eyes in an attempt to go back into his dream but in vain. He was never able to retrace the happenings or, better still, to find out the meaning of this nightmare. He sensed the dream was admonitory but could not imagine to what degree this dream would change his whole life.
He looked at the bedside clock. It was 6,30 and he remained where he was, thinking about his dream and not even enjoying the fact that his alarm had not yet roused him out of his sleep. He suddenly realised that he wanted to awake early. He had to travel up to Scotland to visit his son, Connel and his daughter-in-law Rebecca. His first time visit since they had moved up to Aberdeen, where Connel had found employment with some oil concern after months of exasperation and endless returned job applications and a few fruitless interviews.
Mitch did not wait for the alarm to ring but threw back the sheet and blanket, sitting for a while at the edge of the bed before he stood up and turned off the alarm. He dozily walked over to the window and pulled back the curtains to take a look down at the autumn leaf-strewn street.
It was beginning to become light and he heard the early morning sounds. A milk float was making its way down the street and the driver stopping occasionally to leave the requested bottles of milk on the door steps. His neighbour across the street was starting up his motor bike to leave before the heavy traffic. He now saw Keely, his next door bachelor neighbour, a plumber, who was loading his van with his tools and materials needed to resolve some blocked drainage or to install new piping. Mitch recalled the many stories confided by Keely, of lady clients, who, attracted by his good looks, were more than willing to offer their après-plumbing services.
Mitch was a widower in his late fifties and although his full head of hair was now slowly greying, his slim figure gave him a handsome appearance. He smiled to himself at the thought of Keely`s amorous escapades and reflected over his own love-life. A reflection brusquely brought to an end as if he had been confronted with some terrible truth. He hastily turned away from the window and walked to the bathroom, trying not to recall the details. His unsteady hand, however, doing its best to give him a shave, confirmed the fact that Mitch was not at ease.
He locked his front door and made his way with his hastily packed suitcase to the garage at the side of the house. He saw Keely, now ready to leave. Ignoring his sudden dizziness Mitch went towards Keely to ask him to keep an eye on the house as he would be away for a few days.
Mitch had been travelling northwards for about 6 hours, and was now approaching the Scottish border and heading towards the Cheviot Hills. The weather had been slowly deteriorating for the last hour and he crossed the border in a steady drizzle. He had an uneasy feeling as he drove into the darkening evening, not the sudden pain in his stomach he had been suffering since his wife`s death, but rather a feeling of foreboding. The fog was becoming thicker and Mitch had to strain his eyes to keep the car on the left side of the road. He took his foot away from the accelerator and allowed the car to slow down, almost to a crawl.
“Dam it,” he muttered to himself. Irritated that he was going to arrive late in Edinburgh where he had reserved a room at a three star hotel near the centre, and that it was now becoming dark; worsening the whole situation.
His eyes suffered from the strain of trying to drive his car without leaving the asphalt and falling into the ditch at the side of the road. Mitch`s lips were dry and he needed to relieve himself. He stopped the car, opened the door and hurriedly jumped out into the inhospitable foggy night. Mitch had not paid too much attention to the fact that he had stopped the car almost in the middle of the road as he disappeared to the roadside. As he slumped back into his seat, it occurred to him that there was very little traffic, in fact none at all, on this almost invisible road. A fact the more he thought about, the more ill at ease he became.
He drove further, peering into the dense fog, no longer knowing exactly where he was and still not a single vehicle had either joined behind him to take part in the evening crawl or had come towards him travelling in the opposite direction. Before Mitch could ponder longer over this singularity, the car`s headlights lit up for a moment a sign indicating a right turn to what Mitch thought was a farm house or cottage. It was raining heavy now as he again stopped the car and hurried to read exactly what was written on the sign post. It was a wooden sign suspended on two chains hanging from a rusty metal frame and Mitch read aloud the barely legible three words, `Moor Peak Mansion´.
Starting the car and taking a small roadway to the right, Mitch slowly drove up this curving narrow lane to the foggy heights and, after what seemed to be a never ending climb, he began to recognise the outline of a dark and sinister building looming majestically nearer.
Passing through the open large iron gates he continued up to the main entrance of the mansion, his headlights suddenly trapping for a few seconds the elusive figure of a woman wearing a trench coat and a sou`ester. She disappeared almost immediately into the darkness. Mitch was reminded of a Bogart film from the forties. Relieved to have arrived he brought his car to a halt in front of the portentous manor house and turned off the car`s engine and headlights.
Mitch walked up to the massive oak door and as he took hold of the iron door knocker, he found the door was not locked. He cautiously opened the door wider and enquired if anyone were at home. He received no answer and so opened the door and entered into what was a dimly lit hall. In the darkness at the end of the hall, Mitch could barely make out a wide staircase, common in such stately homes. However, before he could enter further into the house, he noticed a door to his left, slightly ajar, and from which there came a stream of light. He walked to the door and opened it somewhat hesitantly and ventured into the room. To his surprise there was a table adorned with a silver candelabrum, bearing numerous burning candles and from the ceiling a dimly lit chandelier was suspended over the table, which was set for two people, with what he could well imagine, the very best porcelain dinner service. He was about to turn around and leave when his eyes fell on the figure of a woman seated in one of the armchairs, situated on each side of the fireplace. Although there was very little light, the flames of the inviting fire lit up one side of her face and her legs, crossed in a feminine manner.
She stood up and walked to the table, beckoning him to join her. Mitch accepted her invitation in silence and seated himself on the chair she indicted. He could now appreciate her good looks and enticing figure. Her long blond waved hair fell over her shoulders: a contrast to her long black evening gown. He wanted to say something but remained silent, mesmerised by the presence of this woman, who reminded him of a Hollywood diva of the forties but whose name he could not recall. She poured out red wine from a decanter and smiling handed to him his glass, her eyes captivating his.
At last she broke the silence and in an almost husky voice suggested:
“Shall we toast, let`s say, to a new beginning?”
Somewhat surprised at what seemed to Mitch to be an odd proposal, he automatically lifted his glass to hers, resulting in a mutual chime.
The beautiful and mysterious owner of the mansion served Mitch an exquisite dinner, which he ate heartily. He had practically not eaten anything all day, Mitch recalled, except for a sandwich and a machine coffee at one of the service centres, where he had made a short pause.
They dined almost in silence, their eye contact causing the occasional smile or comment from Mitch as to how much he was enjoying the meal. It was only after they had finished the desert that she broke the silence with the invitation:
“Let us sit by the fire and enjoy together an after-dinner Napoleon brandy.”
Mitch agreed and made his way to one of the leather arm-chairs. She approached him with two brandy glasses and a decanter and poured him a generous measure. Again Mitch noticed as she bent down to give him his glass, how her blond hair fell over part of her face, covering one of her downcast eyes. A sudden feeling of desire surged through his veins and he again tried to recall the name of the actress with whom she was almost identical. She turned from him and walked to the opposite arm-chair. She sat down and crossed her legs again.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” She enquired.
“Oh, no, not at all, please do,” replied Mitch with a nervous stammer.
She lit her exaggerated long cigarette.
On releasing the smoke she turned to Mitch.
“I suppose you are asking yourself, who I am and the purpose of this dinner together this evening.”ollywood.
“I overcame my impatience and was waiting for you to reveal to me the meaning,” Mitch lied.
After a short while she evasively countered:
“Let us say you were sent to me to help you understand what is torturing you, and slowly but surely eating away your reason.”
“What do you know about what is torturing me and eating away my reason?” Mitch retorted curtly.
“I know everything about you Mitch,” she divulged and mentioned his name for the first time.
Mitch looked into her eyes and asked himself if she was bluffing or telling him the truth. Her return look told him, she was telling him the truth.
“You are blaming yourself, Mitch, for the tragic death of your wife, Bronwyn, and moreover, you could not really mourn her because you no longer loved her, which added to your sense of guilt.”
This one statement from his host hit Mitch like a blow below the belt. He had not been expecting such an exposure of his concealed feelings. The untold secret of his infidelity was the root of his nightmares. Time would not change this truth.
It had all started on that summer evening seven years ago. Bronwyn had received two weeks earlier an invitation from one of her girl friends from their school days to a reunion dinner. Bronwyn was excited about the possibility of seeing again the friends she was so close to during those years and expressed her pleasure to Mitch.
Bronwyn and Mitch had arrived at a point where they had very little to say to each other and their marriage had stagnated. This had been a gradual process and although they both had long been aware of the situation, neither of them had taken any initiative to try to regain the happiness and equilibrium they had experienced in their relationship. Eventually Mitch had found affection with a lady he had known in his batchelor days and had met again by chance.
Mitch had invited her to a nearby café for a coffee and they confided in each other details of their private lives; she being devorced with two grown-up children. Mitch told her about his own dissatisfaction and frustration. They started a casual relationship.
When Bronwyn had told Mich of the evening out with her former school friends, Mitch not wanting to lose this opportunity to meet with his lady-friend, arranged a meeting with her for the same evening.
Bronwyn`s girl friends had reserved a table at one of the better restaurants in the town. The six school friends had agreed to meet at the restaurant that evening at 7.30. Bronwyn drove into the town in high spirits and had even treated herself to a new dress for the occasion.
The dinner, accompanied by the endless chatter, was celebrated with numerous bottles of French wine, in Bronwyn`s case too much. She realised that she should better not sit behind the steering wheel, but decided to do so, convincing herself that she would manage the short distance home. About half way home she took a curve in the road too fast and lost control over the vehicle, which resulted in the car leaving the road and falling down an embankment and overturning. From the wreckage of the car Dusty Springfield singing ironically her current number one hit `You don´t have to say you love me´ was being played on the radio.
Bronwyn was killed instantly. The year was 1966 and she was 45 years old.
Mitch`s remorse was profound and he terminated immediately his illicit relationship but his mind was plagued with the feeling of cowardice for never revealing to his son his whereabouts that evening and for never having the courage to tell him the truth about his affair.
Mitch suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder, which tenderly showed him a gesture of comfort.
He turned his head towards her and they were silent for a moment before she continued with her advice.
“You must talk to your son Connel about your feelings and release yourself from this torment and nightmares you are experiencing.” He turned away from her as if not wanting to hear more but she continued:
“Let me tell you about your dream of the prisoner awaiting his execution. This reflects you blaming yourself for Bronwyn`s death. You have convinced yourself to have committed a crime equal to homicide through your unfaithfulness and lack of courage to tell her about it. Your reasoning has become warped and has taken command over your life.”
Somewhat taken aback by these poignant words, Mitch replied reproachfully more in his own defence, “But what about the other recurring dream?”
“Here you enter the dream of the prisoner and share the fear of the slave not escaping his life of captivity. Finally the fugitive resigns himself to his destine and loses his hope of freedom and self dignity. To find the meaning of this dream within a dream, Mitch, we have to delve deeper into your subconscious.”
Mitch looked at her with a questionable look but waited for her to continue.
“This dream is a result of your own incapacity to free yourself from self-captivation. You are not only the prisoner but also the slave trying to escape from the feeling of guilt and finally resigning to failure, rather than persevering for his freedom. You were not responsible for the death of your wife, Mitch. Free yourself from this belief and come to terms with your son by confessing to him your infidelity to his mother and ask him for his forgiveness. Leave once and for all this dungeon in which you have banned yourself to self imprisonment.”
Mitch turned his head away from her without replying and looked into the dancing flames as if searching there for the courage to confirm her truisms. After a while he turned to face her again to reply to her advice, but she was no longer there. The room suddenly seemed to fade away into a bright empty void.
Connel and his wife had been at the hospital many times over the past weeks but had left each time with perturbed feelings and fading hope that Mitch would come out of his coma. It was on a late autumn Sunday afernoon that they both stood again at Mitch`s bedside, and Connel again as on many occations before, leaned over to his father and in an almost pleading voice, spoke to his father:
“Dad, can you here me? It is me dad, Connel. Give me a sign with your eyes if you can.”
At first it was as if Mitch were in a dense fog but gradually he began to make out the blurred face of his son peering down at him and then he recognised the worried face of Rebecca standing at Connel`s side. They became clearer and suddenly lit up with smiles.
“Dad, thank God you are back again with us. Can you here me? Say something, dad.”
At this moment, Mitch could only move his lips but he managed to whisper to the confusion of Connel the name of his mysterious and sensual host at Moor Peak Mansion.
“Veronica, her name was Veronica Lake.”
Mitch had laid in coma for almost four weeks.
On approaching Keely on that fatal morning before opening the garage door to request him to keep an eye on the house as he would be away for a few days, Mitch suddenly collapsed and fell on his head on the edge of the pavement. Keely called for an ambulance immediately and Mitch was carried away unconscious on a stretcher, the ambulance speeding him to St. Giles Hospital a quarter of a mile away.
His visit to Aberdeen ended in front of his own house.
The medical results diagnosed a slight seizure and the fall on the head at the edge of the pavement, was the cause of the coma.
He was later transferred to a convalescent home. On his release, Connel and Rebecca were there to take him to their home in Aberdeen, where he spent the following four months before returning to his own home.
Connel never knew the significance of the name murmured by his father as he came out of his coma and Mitch never mentioned it again. Mitch did, however, often reflect over his sinister journey into the world of the supernatural whilst in coma, and the soul-stirring conversation with Veronica Lake, who had curiously died only a few months prior to Mitch`s accident.
Mitch did openly talk to Connel and explained about the estranged relationship between Browyn and himself and also confessed about the affair he was having at the time of her tragic death.
Should Connel have nurtured any ill feelings against his father, he never showed them.
Mitch never had those nightmares again.
Veronica Lake Film Actress 14.11.1922 -