Hello? Short Story

Oh dear I am rather later than normal with this Sunday blog post – I’ve been busy decorating and time just got away from me. Afraid you’ll just have to make your own tea today but I can offer this little story as compensation – although how much compensation it is remains to be seen!  It was actually written in 2010 in response to the prompt “Trip” and this is where my trip took me!

Hello?

“Hello… is anyone there? Hello?”

My voice echoed back to me, the only sound I could hear apart from my own ragged breathing and the steady thud, thud of my increasingly rapid heartbeat.

I didn’t know how I had ended up there, but even worse I didn’t know how to get out. I was trapped, caught, lost in a darkness that offered no hope of rescue or salvation.

Far above me I could see the smallest pin prick of light, a suggestion of the world above, but if my terrified voice even managed to penetrate so high there was obviously no one above to hear me.

With my knees pressed up to my chest I wrapped my arms around my legs, my own embrace the only comfort I could find and that was scarce comfort indeed.

“Hello?”

I knew it was pointless, hopeless, but I called out anyway. What else could I do?

I tried to look around me but the darkness was all but absolute. The ground beneath me was solid, a cold compacted soil that my fingernails could only scratch the surface of, releasing a few particles of dirt to become embedded beneath my nails. The walls around me were the same, smooth and with no breech, no corner or sign of exit.

WellWas it a hole or a well? I had no way of knowing. Did I trip and fall into its depths? It seemed unlikely as such a fall would have at the very least caused injury and yet I felt no pain. No physical pain.

I didn’t realise how cold my skin was until the heat of my tears scorched my cheeks, my whole body shaking with a combination of hysterical sobbing and utter fear.

A million questions raced through my mind but not a single one of them was rewarded with an answer.

What the hell was going on?

With my eyes squeezed tightly shut against the darkness I began to rock. Back and forth, my arms wrapped so tightly around myself I could hardly breathe, I rocked, a methodical motion with which I attempted to soothe myself.

“Hello?” My voice was barely a whisper, tear filled and afraid; more than afraid, alone… defeated.

In my mind I tried to conjure memories of anything other than the darkness in which I found myself.

I could recall the warmth of the sun on my skin and the softness of the newly mown grass beneath my fingers. The fresh, alluring cut grass scent filled my senses, mingled with the perfume of the blossoms around me. There was a soft buzz as a honeybee rushed past my ear and the joyful song of a dozen birds as they perched on the high branches and sang of the joys of being alive.

I smiled at the memory, I felt almost as if I could get to my feet and run across the grass, flinging my arms out joyfully as I raced through a spring day.

Leaning back slightly I felt the hard wall at my back, its cold unrelenting bleakness stealing my memories, my dreams, from me and bringing me back to the cold darkness where I inexplicably found myself.

“Hello? Anyone?” I didn’t even shout this time. What was the point, there was no one around, no one able to rescue me from the pit in which I found myself. No escape.

Opening my eyes I winced at the brightness of the light, lifting one hand to block the beam that seemed to be directly right into my face.

“Who’s there?”

More silence, more stillness as my eyes slowly adjusted to the newly found light.

Rubbing my hands over my face I let out a small derisive laugh. I knew exactly where I was. There was no deep dark hole, no dirt beneath my fingers or glimmer of light far above my head.

The wall facing me supported a large brightly coloured picture of a man, his strong handsome features looking directly at me, his guitar held out before him, his full pink mouth holding the promise of a smile.

To my left was the window through which the early morning sunlight had begun to shine, its beams blinding me only moments earlier; and to my right was the door to the rest of the house and beyond that the rest of the world.

I was nowhere more terrifying than my own room in the home I had known for many years.

With a sigh I swung my legs from the bed, stretching up high to ease my aching muscles.

Looking around my brightly coloured room I still saw the darkness.

You don’t always have to be at the bottom of a pit to be lost in the shadows

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Freebie Time

It’s getting to the end of another month (ALREADY – how is that happening??) and I’m feeling generous so this Sunday only you can grab the kindle version of Assaie’s Gift completely free – and all I ask in return is that you leave a nice review once you’ve read it (assuming you liked it of course – if not I don’t mind you keeping that information to yourself 😉 )

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Magic – Short Story

Well hello once again, so nice of you to come back every week – and if you do come back every week please feel free to take a moment to say “hi”… I get the feeling I’m talking to myself some days… then again there are days that I do that – hey sometimes you just need expert advice right? 😉

So this weeks offering is another little short – I actually wrote this some time ago but I still rather like it – hopefully someone else will enjoy it too 🙂 Sit yourself down, make yourself comfortable and please have a little read.

Magic

There are still those days when I feel low. When it seems like there is no magic or beauty left in the world. When I feel like giving up.

On days like that I just take a moment to remember him. To remember that first moment when I saw him. To remember that short period of time that changed my life.

It had been a dreadful day, just the kind of day to end an awful week. Week? Who am I kidding, I felt like I had just escaped the month from hell.

I needed something to clear my mind and so on that evening in late summer I found my way down to the beach, watching as the waves gently lapped at the shore, wishing that I could follow their gentle flow away from my life. Although I would never admit it to anyone, it did cross my mind that evening, in the softly fading light, to walk out into the water in search of a final peace.

It was on that beach that I saw him. He seemed to come walking out of the water, although I was certain that he must have approached from further up the shore and I just hadn’t seen him.

The beauty of the man instantly struck me. He had a deeply intense gaze, touched with a hint of sadness. His hair was tousled by the wind; it was difficult to tell the colour with any certainty in the fading light, some shade of a dark blond. Long enough to cover his ears and curl gently over the collar of his light summer jacket.

As he came closer he turned his face towards me with a welcoming smile, his eyes sparkling with the reflection of the sinking sun. I smiled back, unable to tear my gaze away as he passed by. My eyes followed his passage, my head turning to watch his departing back. And then he stopped, turning back to face me. My cheeks flushed as I realised that I had been discovered watching him.

The man threw me another smile before holding out his hand to me. I don’t know what insanity had overtaken me but I quickly ran the few paces along the beach to join him, my hand slipping easily into his, as if it has always belonged there. His fingers curled around mine, his skin was soft and cool, but strong, I felt completely protected in his grip.Beach

He turned, and together we continued his journey along the beach. I don’t know how long we walked. It could have been miles, could have been mere paces. Time and distance held no meaning as we moved in companionable silence, there was no need for words as we walked together in the ever-fading summer sun.

Eventually we stopped, or at least he stopped and I simply mirrored his actions, waiting to be told what to do next as if I had lost the ability, or maybe the need, to think for myself.

His hands were warm as they cupped my face. His skin was soft and his touch gentle. His eyes sparkled as they looked at me, into me, and I felt as if he was the first person who had ever really seen me, maybe the only person who ever would.

I’ll never forget that shade of blue in his eyes. I’d never seen it before and I’ve never been able to find it again and believe me I’ve tried. It was a colour all of its own belonging only in those eyes, belonging only to that man.

When he kissed me it felt as natural as breathing. His mouth touched mine with a gentle intensity that made my whole body tremble and his tongue swept gently over my lips as if I was some delicacy that he wanted to taste.

I didn’t open my eyes as he pulled away from our kiss; it was as if I was trying to hold on to the moment for a little while longer. He spoke to me then, the only words I ever heard him say, in a voice that seemed to be whispering into my soul rather than my ear.

When I opened my eyes he was gone. I looked up and down the beach but there was no sign of him, no evidence that he had just been by my side, no way of knowing that he had ever existed but for the warm feeling still present on my lips.

Three months later I came across his picture. Even though it was in black and white I could still feel the power of the brilliant blue in his eyes and my breath caught in my throat.

As I read the newspaper article my hands began to shake and tears filled my eyes.

The stranger who had captivated me a few months earlier was dead. Drowned and been washed up on the very beach that I had met him. His death had been reported as a suicide due to the note later found in his pocket.

Sometimes you have to let go to find your way.”

The words chilled me and I could hear them clearly as I had on the day he whispered them into my ear.

For a moment I wondered if that had been the very same day he walked out into the sea, but then I saw the date in the corner of the page.

I was holding an old newspaper that I found whilst clearing away some rubbish. The paper was dated 1987.

There are still those days when I feel low. When it seems like there is no magic or beauty left in the world. When I feel like giving up.

On days like that I just take a moment to remember him. To remember that first moment when I saw him. To remember that short period of time that changed my life because I discovered that there was magic and beauty, you just had to take the time to look for it.

Coming Home – Short story

Ah here you are again. I’m sorry but I really don’t have the time to join you for tea, it you’d like to make yourself comfortable though. The kettle is on and you know where I keep the biscuits by now! Oh and please don’t forget to lock the door when you leave. Hope you enjoy this little short story offering:

Coming Home

doorIt had been over ten years since I had last set foot in that house, since I had walked out and vowed never to return.

Home. It’s funny really but there is something about the house of your childhood, the house of your parents, that is forever ‘home’ in your mind, no matter what other home you might go on to make yourself the house that saw you take your first steps and heard you say your first words would always be something special.

As I stepped over the threshold I felt icy cold fingers travel slowly down my spine, eliciting a deep shiver that made me look around nervously. Taking a deep breath I felt transported back in time, the aromas of the house, of my youth, filling my senses. The familiar wax that polished the wooden floors mingled with the scent of the lilies that stood in a crystal vase on the deep mahogany sideboard. Beneath the floral bouquet I could detect a hint of freshly brewed coffee that was percolating in the kitchen, hidden away at the back of the house.

Ten years ago I had believed nothing would make me return to that house but then ten years ago her death had seemed something too distant to imagine.

I didn’t cry when I got the call about her death, the overwhelming emotion had been mere emptiness, nothingness.

The woman who had given birth to me had died but I felt no great sense of loss, no need to grieve. People kept telling me that it would come, that the tears would fall when they were ready, but I doubted it. There had been little love between mother and daughter, no friendship, no connection, nothing but some vague bonds of blood.

I had been told that things were different once, that the baby I had been had once been held by a loving, doting mother but that all changed when I was barely 18 months old.

I had been crying and fussing all evening, letting out screams so shrill that they tore at the nerves and drove my mother to the end of her patience. In an attempt to calm his restless child my father had suggested the well known technique of putting me in the car and going for a late night drive. The motion of the car would be soothing he had insisted and, despite the lateness of the hour, my mother had agreed.

No one ever discovered what happened that night, the baby that I was had been far too young to bare witness to the accident, but it had been the night my mother changed. The death of her husband made her shut down, closing off her emotions when the grief became too much and she never allowed herself to truly feel again.

She never said it in words but a million different looks and actions told me every day. She blamed me. A small crying child had caused the death of the man she loved and she never learned to forgive. I’m not sure she ever even tried.

“You’ve changed.”

I didn’t realise I had been standing in the hallway in my silent contemplation till the voice broke my thoughts. Raising my head I saw a familiar, but greatly aged, face.

Mrs Jenkins had been my mother’s housekeeper since before I was born, and for a while she had been the substitute mother that I had craved, and, as I stood looking at the grey haired elderly woman who still possessed the brightest blue eyes I had ever seen, I realised I had never known her first name.

Mrs Jenkins had cared for me and played games with me when my mother showed no interest and leaving her had been my only regret when I finally packed up and left, but she had encouraged my departure, she knew that I needed to find a life beyond the stagnant walls of my childhood home.

“It’s good to see you,” I said, I could feel the smile on my lips as she moved towards me. Her kind face was deeply lined and there was a tiredness about her eyes that I did not recognise, but then ten years is a long time in anyone’s life. “I’m sorry I never kept in touch.”

“I never expected it,” Mrs Jenkins replied, her smile mirroring mine as we both relived the games of my youth.

I looked down as Mrs Jenkins held out her hand, shivering as I saw the object lying on her outstretched palm.

A key. A single key, much like any other, albeit of a large and old styled variety, yet I knew instinctively which door that key would open.

I had only ever tried to open that door once in my life. I must have been about five or six years old when I discovered there was a room that my childish interest had not taken me into. My hand had barely gripped the door handle when my mother’s voice had screamed at me with such anger that I cowered away, trying to melt into the wall behind me to avoid the blow that struck me hard against the side of the face, sending me reeling as I collapsed in a pile of tears and terror.

“Don’t you ever go near that room again,” my mother had hissed, her dark eyes glowing with such fury that I thought I could see the devil inside them. And I never had. Instead I would run past the forbidden room in fear that my lingering might be taken as an attempt to gain access.

I didn’t move as Mrs Jenkins held out the key to me, my eyes traced its shape against her pale skin, the dark metal seeming to glow eerily in contrast to the paper white of her palm.

“It’s time,” Mrs Jenkins said, her hand reaching out for mine and gently pressing the key into it, her touch soft and gentle as she curled my fingers around it. “This house is yours now, all of it.”

My legs hardly seemed able to support me as I began to climb the stairs, my body trembling as I touched my hand to my cheek, still able to remember the only blow I had ever received from my mother.

The key scratched against the lock and it took a few attempts before it finally slid home, my hand shaking uncontrollably as the key turned the lock with a heavy metallic groan before the catch was released and the door swung slowly open.

The air inside the room smelt stale and dusty and the furniture was grey and dull, hidden beneath years of neglect behind a locked door.

I don’t know what I had always imagined lay inside that room but when I finally saw the truth my breath caught in my throat, the dry dusty air clawing at my lungs, making me cough and retch but unable to tear my gaze from what I saw.

“Daddy.”

Spare Some Change? Short Story

Here we are again my friends (I think we know each other well enough by now to call you that!) Are you ready for another little story? Well I hope so ’cause that is what you’re going to be getting!

So get yourself comfy, open those choccy biccies, and off we go!

Spare Some Change?

“Spare some change please, can you spare some change?”

ChangeHolding out my small paper cup I wondered how many times I must have uttered those words. ‘If I had a penny for every time…’ I thought to myself with a small internal laugh.

If I had a penny for every time I’d said those words then I would have enough for a hot meal tonight, and that was rather the aim of the whole thing.

A hot meal. Was there ever a more wonderful thing in creation? With a wistful sigh I allowed myself a moment of daydreaming.

A bag of chips. OK not the healthiest of goals when it comes to food but there is something so completely comforting about them that I cannot resist.

I dream often about that large paper wrapping encasing the hot greasy strips of fried potato, savouring the warmth of the bag that seems to heat me to the very tips of my toes, before I slowly tear a small hole through the paper and extract one long golden reward.

The heat of the first chip invariably burns my mouth but I don’t care because it tastes so good. The sharp tang of vinegar mixed with salt coating the perfectly cook chip as I am torn between the desire to wolf them down quickly to assuage the hunger pangs of my stomach and the pleasure of savouring each delicious mouthful for as long as I can, who knows when I will manage to get another bag? I usually settle somewhere around eating the first half of the bag as quickly as possible, often ignoring the heat of the chips which continues to burn at my mouth, slowing down as I get near the end of them, trying to make them last as long a little while longer until I am left with nothing but the empty grease stained paper and, for a few hours, the warming comfort of a full belly.

“Spare some change please,” I said again as a woman in a smart business suit passes me by. She looks as though she could spare more than some change and still not miss it but none of it comes my way. Instead she adopts that expression that I have come to know so well. I have seen it often on a variety of faces as they hurry by, their footsteps increasing momentarily until I am no longer within their sight.

You soon learn to recognise those people who will stop and drop a few coins in your cup and those who will scurry on by, it’s in their eyes in that split second when they first notice you.

The ones who never stop always seem to suffer that moment of unease as they realise they are looking at someone who is sat, usually outside a busy shop, begging. It’s too late to cross the road so they know they will have to walk past and suddenly, instantly, their attention is urgently required elsewhere. They fish around in their bag for an item they desperately need, or their gaze is locked on some fascinating point off into the distance. Anything rather than focus on the poor wretch of a person huddled on the cold pavement, instead they hurry past as fast as they can, instantly forgetting the likes of me and returning to the thoughts they were having before we dared pollute them with our poverty.

The others actually take a moment to really look at you and in some ways that can hurt more than being so blatantly ignored because, without fail, there is that terrible pity in their eyes. Their pity is all encompassing, often increasing your feelings of self-disgust simply by reflecting that disgust back in their eyes. But you take it; you take their pity because you have no other choice. Along with their pity comes what you really need. Their cash.

The temperature had dropped since I first took my place on the cold ground and I shivered, wrapping my arms tightly around my thin, inadequate jacket and prayed that the dark clouds overhead would not herald rain.

The cold is bad when you’re sleeping rough, but the rain, the rain is almost unbearable. Suddenly every doorway will become cramped with bodies trying to seek shelter but there is never enough room and if you’re not fast enough or strong enough you will be left to huddle beneath a tree, the branches keeping off at least the worst of the rain but still leaving you soaked through once it has subsided. I have tried to sleep beneath my fair share of trees. Being only five foot two and female does not give you much sway when it comes to fighting for shelter, very occasionally someone will take pity on me and allow me to squeeze up next to them in a doorway. More often than not wanting a favour in return that will instantly send me back out into the rain. I’m not ready to prostitute myself for the sake of a nights sleep in a doorway, at least not yet.

“Spare some change please?”

I winced as I rolled my shoulders, the combination of the cold and sitting still for hours taking its toll as every part of my body seemed to ache and yet I barely had enough in my cup for a hot drink, let alone a meal. It seemed like it would be another long hungry night ahead.

“Spare some change?”

What was the point? The streets were growing darker and quieter as people headed home, I might as well give up and see if I could find somewhere to spend the night and, if I was lucky, someone’s half eaten and then discarded takeaway.

“Here you go.”

The man’s voice was soft and kind but it still made me jump as I hadn’t heard him approach and crouch down beside me, lost as I was in my thoughts.

I looked in surprise at the rolled up ten pound note that he had stuffed into my cup and was gripped for a moment with fear over what he might want for that sort of money. He looked kind and gentle, his eyes were a soft brown with messy tousled black hair hanging down to frame and almost handsome face, maybe it wouldn’t really be so bad if I let him… but he was already getting to his feet and moving away from me.

“God Jonathan you are such a mug,” a tall skinny dark haired woman said as she grabbed onto his arm and began to pull him away. “You know she’ll just go and spend that on alcohol and drugs…”

There was a look in the woman’s eyes that was different from those who ignored or those who pitied, a look that was sometimes to be feared. She looked at me with complete loathing, as if my very presence was offensive to her, and I expect that it was. She had me pegged as either an alcoholic or drug addict, possibly both, and as such not deserving of anyone’s help. People like her could see no other reason why anyone should end up homeless, if you were on the streets it was because you deserved it or wanted it and nothing else. You didn’t deserve her sympathy or understanding and you certainly wouldn’t get it.

The man, Jonathan, was different though and I couldn’t help but wonder what he was doing with her. True she was pretty, in that overly made up and styled way, but her eyes were cold and empty of any kind of compassion.

Jonathan was still looking at me as he walked away and he smiled. It wasn’t a pitying smile or a smile because he had just done something charitable and it made him feel good about himself. It was a real, genuine smile and was the first one I had seen in longer than I could remember.

I watched them walk away until they turned a corner and were out of sight before I returned my attention to my cup.

Ten whole pounds. I could eat for days on that.

With a genuine smile of my own I got slowly, stiffly to my feet.

I would have gravy on my chips tonight.


Sneak Peak – Spirit of the Book

Well hello there, fancy bumping into you here in the middle of the week! I’m afraid I have nothing to offer you at the moment. I’ve not even put the kettle on yet!

But if you fancy it I could let you have a little sneak preview of the opening scenes of my upcoming second novel “Spirit of the Book”.

I must confess part of the reason I’m posting this is to try and get myself moving to edit and publish!

Spirit of the Book

Ellie took a deep breath and wiped the palm of her hand over her jeans before taking hold of the key and raising it to the lock.

Slowly, carefully, she fed the key into its home, her knuckles turning white as millimetre by millimetre it slipped silently into the lock until her fingers brushed against the wood of the door. With an equal measure of concentration Ellie turned the key, her brow furrowed and her bottom lip caught unintentionally between her teeth until at last the lock gave way and the door was released.

The key slid free of the lock as Ellie quietly pushed the door open and stepped inside, turning to close the door behind her, manually turning the lock once more rather than letting it noisily close itself to.

Ellie let out the breath she hadn’t realised she was holding and dropped the key into her pocket.

The hallway was almost completely dark, the winter evening affording little light and the street lights not quite reaching the small stained glass window in the door. Ellie, however, needed no illumination to find her way. She knew every inch of the hallway, how many steps it would take until she was at the first doorway to her left and how many more until the second. Just two more careful steps and she would be at the bottom of the staircase and then a quick sprint upwards would take her to her bedroom, her sanctuary. Just one more…

“Is that you girl?”

Ellie’s head fell forward until her chin almost rested on her chest and her shoulders slumped as if a huge weight had just been rested upon her.

Just this once she had hoped to get up the stairs, just once, was it really too much to ask for?

“Girl?”

Apparently it was.

Pushing open the second doorway off the hall Ellie almost gagged as she was assaulted by a wave of cigarette smoke and perhaps something a little less legal mixed in here and there. Stepping into the room Ellie tried her best to breath as shallowly as possible, partly in an attempt to avoid taking in too much of the noxious smoke but mainly to avoid the chance of the smoke making her cough. Ellie had only once given in to the need to cough in the face of such smoke, voicing her distaste just a moment before realising her mistake. Ellie had worn long sleeves a lot that summer, it had been the best way to hide the bruises.

“Well?”

Sat upon, or rather sunken into, an old battered brown leather armchair the woman held out her hand to Ellie. The palm was wrinkled and her fingers nicotine stained, the long nails were painted red but that had clearly been done some time ago as they were now mostly chipped.

The woman’s bleached blonde hair, that some time earlier must have been styled and lacquered into place was now escaping its clips and pins to fall haphazardly around her face. Her make up, originally immaculately applied was smeared and faded, the dark circled beneath her sunken green eyes emphasised by smudges of mascara.

She had once been called beautiful but the woman was now just a shadow of that girl, the spirit of joy had gone from her eyes to be replaced by bitterness and the soft song of her voice had given way to harshness.

With a reluctant internal sigh Ellie handed over a small envelope of money which the woman snatched from her hand before squirrelling it away in the handbag at her side.

“How are you mum?” Ellie asked with a half smile, a question that was met with a sneer before her mother returned her attention to the cigarette in her hand, her daughter dismissed without another word.

Silently Ellie retreated from the room, allowing herself lungs full of clearer air once the door behind her had been closed to.

There was a time when her mother’s blatant disregard for her had been a cause of great sadness for Ellie, but that time had long passed. It didn’t matter any more. She had other things to concern her and her mother’s distaste for her was something she had learned to live with from a very early age. Now, at twenty two years old, it barely even registered.

Stephanie Forrester stared at the closed door for some time after her daughter had gone, her eyes not really seeing the nicotine stained paintwork or the faded wallpaper around the door frame that was beginning to lift and curl at the edges.

The décor Stephanie could see was glistening bright paintwork and fresh colourful wallpaper, just the way it had been, the way he’d done it. Before. Before it all changed. Long before her.

Stubbing out her cigarette in an already overflowing ash tray Stephanie got to her feet, kicking aside an empty wine bottle as she moved towards the mantle. One hand reached out to grasp the only ornamental item that had been placed there. An old photograph in a simple silver frame. Unlike everything else in the room the frame still glistened and the glass shone brightly allowing the smiles from the faces trapped inside to radiate from it.

Stephanie ran a finger slowly over the man’s face. His was the most handsome face she had ever seen. He would have looked at home on the silver screen of the Hollywood classics or on the pages of any fashion magazine promoting the latest styles or fragrance. He was neither of those things however, and if his looks ever caused heads to turn he rarely ever noticed. His heart was already well and truly captured. He was smiling widely in the photograph, his face filled with love and pride as he held out a champagne glass towards the camera, raised in celebration.

The young woman beside him was mirroring his actions, her head tiled slightly, subconsciously, towards him as they shared a toast for the camera.

Her hair seemed to shine in the camera’s flash, a golden blonde that she had spent hours weaving into place, allowing no single hair to go astray. Her eyes were a sparkling shade of green and even on a still photograph you could see how they danced, how they shone.

The photograph had been taken on Stephanie Forrester’s eighteenth birthday and, unlike all other years when she had been thrown an elaborate party, that year she had chosen to celebrate it with the one person who meant more to her than the whole world. Her father.

David Forrester had met his wife when he was just fifteen years old, his teenage heart had been captured completely and he had pursued the object of his affections relentlessly. Reams of bad teenage poetry and wilting supermarket discount flowers had been left on her doorstep until the fourteen year old Joanna Fielding had finally agreed to go on a date with him.

From that evening on the two had become inseparable and no one was surprise, or even objected, when they announced their engagement on Joanna’s seventeenth birthday.

Two years later the couple married in a small, simple but beautiful ceremony which had left barely a dry eye in the house, certainly not David’s who had openly wept at the alter when his bride swore her oath of undying love for him.

David’s job in a bank and Joanna’s work as a medical secretary gave the couple a comfortable life and they were truly the epitome of a happy marriage, nothing and no one could ever come between them, theirs was a love that would stand the test of time.

Joanna had almost burst with joy the morning she took the pregnancy test and David had raced to the spare room, eager to begin changing it into a nursery for their new daughter.

“It will be a girl,” David had said with certainty, “You just wait and see, a beautiful girl just like her mother… we could call her Joanna, a beautiful name.”

“No no,” Joanna had objected, “She should have a name of her own… how about Stephanie? I like Stephanie.”

So, with her pregnancy only a few weeks along Joanna and David’s first child already had a name and neither of them ever considered the idea that their baby could turn out to be a boy. Even when friends and family insisted that the baby’s room should be painted in a neutral colour like yellow the couple had stood firm. They knew, somehow they just knew, and baby Stephanie would be come home to a room designed for a tiny princess.

Joanna’s pregnancy had progressed uneventfully, her belly slowly filling and swelling as the child within began to grow and she would grab David’s hand eagerly each time the baby kicked, both of them revelling in the growing excitement for the new life that was about to join them.

When Joanna finally went into labour they were completely prepared, overnight bag packed by the door and the fastest route to the hospital mapped out, with several variations to take into account the time of day. Nothing could go wrong.

Then everything went wrong.

David stood by his new daughter’s cot in a daze. She was so small, so perfect and so innocent. How could she have caused so much damage?

The baby girl cried out, her hands reaching up, grasping for someone but David turned away, his cheeks soaked with silent tears, he was surprised to find he had any left to cry.

“Your baby needs her daddy,” a nurse had said kindly, her hand gently touching at David’s shoulder but he had shrugged it off aggressively.

“And I need my wife,” he had snapped back before racing from the room, desperate for air, desperate to get away.

David didn’t stop running until he reached the small chapel at the far end of the hospital. He had never believed in god and felt he had even less reason to now, but something still drew him in. The room seemed filled with a peace that he had felt nowhere else in the whole building and he slid silently into a seat, his head falling forward to rest on the seat in front of him.

It had all happened so quickly, or so it had seemed, David had been shocked when he caught a glimpse of a clock that several hours had passed.

One minute everything had been going to plan and then the next the midwife was rushing from the room, doctors swarmed in, words like “complications” filled the air as they ushered him from the room. David could see the fear in his wife’s eyes as the doors closed on him and he called out to her that he loved her. He hoped she had heard him.

Then the doctor was telling David how sorry he was, nothing more they could do, she had lost too much blood. The words swam around David’s head and he followed blindly when the nurse suggested he went to see the baby.

“Can I help you?”

David looked up at the sound of the man’s soft voice, shaking his head, there was no help to be found, not here and not today.

“No, I just…” David looked at the man. He was a small man, probably only a little over five feet and his slender build made him look even more petite, David suspected that the small moustache and goatee beard were an attempt to make him look more his age than the boy he might have appeared if he were clean shaven. The white dog collar marked him as the chapels, what was it? Priest? Vicar? Minister? David realised he didn’t know the different between all those titles, but whatever he was the man was still smiling at him, a look of sympathy in his eyes. “I just needed some space,” David finished, his gaze lowering to his feet. His shoes looked scuffed, when did he last polish them? Joanna would be cross if… no, Joanna wouldn’t be cross ever again.

“Well I’m around if you need to talk,” The man in the dog collar said kindly and turned away.

“Wait,” David said, “You, you believe in God right?”

“Of course,” the man replied, his hand touching at his dog collar, “It rather goes with the job.” His smile was kindly and warm but David did not return it.

“So tell me this, if there is some God out there watching over us then when do so many bad things happen? Why do good people die and the evil go on living? What sort of God would let that happen eh?”

“I can’t answer that,” the man replied, he understood the question and had heard it countless times in one variation or another, grief looked for answers, for blame, but that was not always to be found. “I can only believe that God has plans for us and although we might not understand them that doesn’t mean they aren’t for the greater good.”

“No,” David got to his feet, shaking his head. “No, sorry that just won’t do… no God would just let my wife die like that, there is no God.”

“I am sorry for your loss.”

“Tell that to my daughter,” David said, his lips curled in a snarl as he spat the words out, “To my little baby girl who is never going to know her mother… who doesn’t have her mother…”

“Or her father right now it seems.”

“How dare you…” David’s anger subsided as quickly as it has arisen and a torrent of tears cascaded down his cheeks while his shoulders shook in time to his silent sobs. He accepted the embrace of the man in the dog collar who believed that his God had taken Joanna for a reason and wept in the man’s arms until he was spent. “I have to go,” David said finally, his breath coming in hiccuping gulps, “I have a daughter who needs me.”

“God be with you.”

David did not reply.