The Desolate Tones of Madame Butterfly

Evaline Rawston flicked on her favourite CD and sank into a comfortable chair, closing her eyes as Madame Butterfly’s soprano soared. Memories of her final performance at the Theatre Royale flooded back: such applauds; such ovation. So many friends with promises of keeping in touch…

Two years had passed since her glorious, thirty-year career had ended. Her throat could have taken no more. Time to cease the hours of rehearsal and gruelling performances, before her voice completely failed. The heyday of her life was over; the fiery sun of summer set. No friends had flocked to her door. Autumn had hurried in fast, and once the mellowing colours had faded, years of cold, wintry loneliness and regret would follow.

For twenty years Geoffrey had wanted Evaline to marry him, but she had always put her career first, imagined he’d wait until she was ready. News of his leaving hit her like a hammer blow; six short months before she’d retired. How she missed his deep, soft voice, his gentle touch.

Beyond the window, October sunlight played on the ambers and golds. She loved this old house with its beautiful garden, drew comfort from its ever-changing moods. But even they could not lessen the loneliness she felt.

‘Miss Rawston, there’s a gentleman at the door. Says you know him.’

‘Really?’ Evaline smiled at her young housekeeper. ‘Then you’d better show him in.’

‘Evaline, my dear, how are you?’ Geoffrey asked as he entered the room.

Evaline gestured to an armchair opposite her own. ‘Much better for seeing you. I’ve thought about you often since we parted, and wondered if we might resume our relationship one day.’

Geoffrey smiled and wandered over to stare out the window. ‘It’s certainly been a long time, my dear, and a lot of water has flowed under my particular bridge since then… as, I imagine it has under yours.’

‘Evaline stared at his straight back, admiring the cut of his dark Gucci suit. ‘Life goes on,’ she replied, ‘though I’d hoped to be happier in my retirement. If truth be told, I’ve never been so lonely.’

Geoffrey returned to take the proffered seat. ‘My dear lady, you have no one to blame for that but yourself. Think of all those years when you pushed everyone away, wanting no one in your life other than your adoring audience.’

‘But you always stood by me, Geoffrey. You, at least, understood–’

‘Or so you chose to believe. I can’t recall you ever asking me how I felt. As the years passed by, I came to realise I meant nothing to you, other than as a pair of listening ears for your ever-mounting complaints and constant worries of failure. Did you ever stop to think that I, too, might need someone to help me through the difficult time when my dear sister died, or when my company teetered on the brink of collapse?’

Geoffrey shook his head. ‘No need to answer that, Evaline, I saw your shallowness years ago. But, as they say, we can’t always choose who we fall in love with and, believe me, I loved you dearly for a very long time. Once I met Bronwyn everything changed. She has loved me and cared for my needs as much as I have for hers these past two years.’

Momentarily choked for words as her tears threatened to flow, Evaline stared out of the window. But the solace she sought in autumn’s warmth was masked by the coldness pervading the room. ‘Then tell me, Geoffrey, why are you here? Was it your intention to witness how low I’ve fallen so you could share with your friends what a sad old woman I’ve become?’

‘No, my dear, I could never do that, if only because of how much you once meant to me. I’ve merely come to bid you goodbye and wish you well. Bronwyn and I have been married for the past three months and next week we fly out to start a new life in Australia. We don’t intend to return, but we take many fond memories with us.’

Geoffrey took Evaline’s hand. ‘So, it’s farewell, my dear. Do try to get out and socialise a little, perhaps meet some new friends. It’s the only way I survived when you rejected my proposal for the dozenth time. “There are plenty more fish in the sea”, a close friend told me, and I’m thankful to have netted the very best of them.’

Too emotional to speak, Evaline watched the housekeeper escorting Geoffrey to the door. She switched on her favourite CD and sank into her comfortable chair, her tears flowing freely as she listened to the desolate tones of Madame Butterfly.

On the Outside Looking In

Daryn stared at his reflection in the puddle, not for the first time wondering why he never seemed to fit in. He looked quite ordinary in the puddle and couldn’t understand why he felt this way. At school he was, somehow, different to the other kids, and spent much of his time on his own. At home all he wanted to do was sit in his room and write stories about heroes who saved people from evil giants, witches, or rampaging beasts.

In all of his stories, people worked together, a social response to attacks on their homes. Daryn was the outsider who rode in to dispose of the threat. But he never actually became one of those people, always staying on the outside, looking in.

‘You’ll feel different as you get older,’ Daryn’s Dad said, without taking his eyes from the newspaper he was reading.

‘That’s right,’ Mum added. ‘In the next few years the shyness will go away and you’ll make plenty of friends.’

Daryn often wondered how getting older would make any difference. He knew he wasn’t just shy, he simply felt uncomfortable being around people. Intended words formed readily in his head, but seemed to dissolve into nothing before they reached his mouth.

The puddle was changing, oily colours spreading across its surface, and with it, Daryn’s thoughts cleared. He saw himself as an adult, looking suave and confident in his expensive dark suit. The odd thing was, he was surrounded by people, all waiting for him to sign the books they held in their hands. On closer inspection he could see the author’s name on the covers: Daryn Tomlinson…

‘That’s me!’ he gasped, ‘I’m an author, a successful one, too.’

As an author, Daryn would soon be back at his desk, writing his next best-seller, away from the people he could not relate to. Being on the outside looking in suited him down to the ground.

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Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Featured Image by Thorsten Frenzel from Pixabay

The Observatory – Flash Fiction

The newly opened observatory was the pride of their little town. Bookings were full through the rest of the summer and well into 1902, and Patrick desperately wanted to go back for another visit. Last night had been magical. That huge telescope up in the dome allowed them to explore the mysteries of the night sky and Daphne had been delighted by the views of the harvest moon.

‘It was perfectly splendid, darling, thank you for taking me,’ Daphne enthused as they strolled around the garden of her childhood home whilst her mother chatted with the gardener. ‘I only wish I could have left my sour-faced chaperone behind. Miss Murgatroyd never took her eyes off us.’

‘There’s an easy solution to that, you know, sweetheart,’ Patrick told her, unable to hide his smile.

‘Oh, tell me, quickly,’ Daphne implored, bending to sniff one of the fading red roses before perching on a cushioned wrought-iron seat and inviting Patrick to sit beside her. ‘I so dislike the feeling of being spied upon. It’s as though Miss Murgatroyd knows we just want to be on our own.’

‘Well that’s true enough, isn’t it? We do want to be on our own.’ ‘I can’t even peck you on the cheek without her making some ridiculous comment about propriety.’

‘So… what’s this solution you mentioned?’

‘My darling Daphne, we’ve been walking out together for almost a year, and I can say in all honesty that I love you with all my heart and want to spend the rest of my life with you. And I think you feel the same way about me.’

‘You know I do. I couldn’t bear to go on if you weren’t here with me.’

Patrick retrieved a small, red-velvet covered box from his pocket, sinking to his knees as he flicked it open to reveal a magnificent, diamond ring. ‘Will you do me the honour of marrying me, Daphne? We could have a short engagement of six months at the most, after which we’ll marry and visit the observatory as often as we wish without Miss Murgatroyd’s company.

‘Don’t worry,’ he said, smiling at her small frown, ‘your father has given his permission and his blessing. And your dear Mama keeps flashing me little looks, as though urging me to get on with it.’ He laughed. ‘I imagine she’s run out of things to say to the gardener by now.’

‘My love, I thought you’d never ask,’ Daphne gushed as Patrick slipped the sparkling ring on her finger. ‘Let’s go and show Mama.’

Patrick smiled to himself as they headed across the garden. All was going to plan, and once they were married, and had a decent enough time together to make it appear a successful and happy union, the flat roof of the observatory would make a very convenient place from which Daphne would fall to her death.

Yes, Cynthia was good at devising plans. Utterly bored with the role of Miss Murgatroyd and babysitting Lord Barraclough’s spoilt and frivolous daughter, his sister was itching to get her hands on some of the family’s money. Then the two on them would move far away, where they could dupe another unsuspecting family with their talented dramatics.

How else were the offspring of an infamous pair of murderers expected to make a living? Left on their own after their parents had danced the gallows jig, they’d had years of drudgery in that measly workhouse. Still, it had taught them to live on their wits, and playacting had simply been a part of it. And very lucrative it was proving to be.

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Image by kalhh from Pixabay

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The observatory in this story is at the top of a low, wooded hill in the lovely Hesketh Park in my hometown of Southport on the Lancashire coast. The observatory is still open to the public today but only at certain times and mostly for previously booked visits.

 

The Photograph Part 1: The Prelude

She waited, poised and smiling, filling her lungs to a regular rhythm that would convey an air of confidence to the judgemental audience before her. At the piano, Edward’s fingers hovered over the keys and their daughter, Dottie, had a look of determination on her face as she prepared to turn the pages of music.

Jemima had always loved to sing. Music was in her very soul and as the dulcet tones issued from deep inside, she was transported to a different plane: a place where all that mattered was the meaning of the words she sang. And tonight, it was a love song of such sadness, Jemima’s tears threatened to flow.

At the rear of the room her beloved watched, waiting for the concert to end. He and Jemima had loved each other for years, but the time had never been right to forsake their marriages and growing children. Now they would delay no longer. Beyond the gates a carriage waited to whisk them away, to a place where no one would find them.

Jemima would miss her darling Dottie, and her guilt at causing her pain would stay with her forever. But Dottie knew naught of her Papa’s true nature: a jealous and vindictive bully who had watched Jemima’s every move, chastising her with his fists if she failed to comply to his wishes.

After twenty years of cruel abuse, it was time to leave.

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This piece of flash fiction forms the first part of a two-part story. Part 2 – which I’ve since titled The Outcome – was published back in May here.  Yes, I know I’ve done this the wrong way round, but I hadn’t written Part 1 then. It was done as an afterthought. (I seem to have a lot of afterthoughts. Lol )

White-Rimed January Morn – Flash Fiction

It was a white-rimed January morn when the witchfinders came. Restrained by Puritan soldiers, Will could do naught but watch as they hanged his lovely young wife from the solitary oak. All Martha had done was to heal folk’s ailments with her fragrant herbs; helped mothers during difficult births.

He’d buried her after they’d gone, his tears mingling with the loosened earth. Denied the right to consecrated ground by the pompous priest, Martha slept beneath the herb garden she’d loved so much. Village folk crowded round, commiserations from some, tears flowing from many.

But amongst them a traitor lurked. Will was certain of it: how else would the soldiers have known where to pounce? Easily earned blood-money was stashed away from prying eyes somewhere in this village, and Will would not rest till he’d sniffed it out. The traitor would pay dearly for his betrayal. An ‘accident’ could easily be arranged…

For its part in the deed, Will reduced the oak to a stump, the traitorous John Arnold buried deep beside it. Though rotting now, the stump was still there, twenty years on. At his side, Martha smiled: she returned to comfort him every year on the first white-rimed January morn.

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Chamomile

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This is the second short piece of ‘flash’ I’ve written about the plight of women unfortunate enough to attract the attention of those obsessed with the need to rid the world of  ‘witches’. I won’t go into the ideas revolving around witchcraft here. Suffice it to say that in many cultures in the past strong, independent women have often been viewed with suspicion. Any single or widowed woman able to run a household on her own, or skilled in herblore and its medicinal applications, would soon come to the attention of the witchfinders.  If she also happened to have a black cat, her fate would be sealed.

In some cases  grotesque forms of torture were used to make the woman confess to her sins (including the ‘ducking stool’) after which, she would be burnt alive at ‘the stake’ or hanged.

In my post from a few years ago, I added much more detail. Anyone interested in the topic can find it here.

 

The Hat – Flash Fiction

The Hat

 The Hat

It was Sunday when Minnie found the hat, just sitting there amongst the daisies and dandelions as though it was part of the parkland scenery. She stared at it, unsure whether she should move it at all, but the hat piqued her interest so she stooped to retrieve it.

On the grass beneath not a single flower grew, which Minnie thought to be rather odd – although it gave a modicum of credence to the idea that the hat was part of the park. The flowers must have been there for a few weeks, at least. But being a sensible girl of sixteen, Minnie dismissed the thought.

Yet still, she wondered… It was a pretty sunhat, and must have drawn the attention of more than a few ladies as they passed by, twirling their fancy parasols. She placed it firmly on her head, loving the feel of its comforting closeness.

I could do anything with this hat on, she told herself. I am invincible. I could swim to the bottom of the sea, or fly down from one of those tall hotel buildings and soar along the Promenade over all of those day-trippers. That would give them something to talk about.

‘What a good idea. Why don’t you try it out?’ a voice inside her head suggested.

Minnie took the lift up to the rooftop restaurant of The Savoy, the tallest hotel in the seaside town, ordered a glass of freshly made lemonade and seated herself on the balcony. The view of the Promenade was splendid and she thought about what she would do once she’d finished her drink.

‘Your hat looks perfectly lovely,’ an elderly lady remarked coming to stand beside Minnie’s table, her parasol in hand. ‘The odd thing is,’ she continued, adjusting her fine silk gown before sitting down, quite uninvited, ‘it looks identical to one a young woman was wearing in here just a few days ago.’

Minnie shrugged. ‘I know nothing about that. I found this one in the park and decided to try it on. Then I came up here for a nice cold drink.’ She paused, absently gazing down at the embroidered tablecloth and wishing this interfering busybody would go away so she could get on with her plans.

But the lady simply smiled and kept up her annoying prattle. ‘The reason I mention this, my dear, is because that particular young lady seemed intent upon doing a very foolish thing. If I hadn’t reached the balcony in time, she would have jumped right off. She really thought she could fly – and I don’t need to tell you how that would have ended.’

Minnie stared at this lady, who was still shaking her head and tutting at such a terrible thought. She looked very sweet, though rather la-di-da to an ordinary working girl from Blackpool. Yet Minnie had the feeling that this old lady could see right into her head. She glanced at the balcony wall. ‘Yes, that would have been a very nasty way to die,’ she said, removing the hat from her head and laying it on the tabletop. ‘I wonder what possessed the girl to do such a thing?’

The old lady flashed that infuriatingly honeyed smile again. ‘I think you know the answer to that as well as I do, my dear. And between you and me, I shall have strong words with my granddaughter for leaving the hat lying around. Cassandra really must test her magic elsewhere in future.’ She heaved a deep sigh, a small frown creasing her already wrinkled brow. ‘But you know what some witches are like… too fond of making mischief and practising their powers on people. She’s not a bad witch, just a little immature, and she must remember to try out her spells on her mice before inflicting them on people. I spent years perfecting my own but, like most young people, Cassandra wants everything done today.

‘I’ll take the hat back to her now, shall I?’ she asked, proffering a white-gloved hand.

Having no answers to any of this, Minnie handed the lady the lovely sunhat and watched as she turned to walk away and disappear into thin air.

Minnie strolled casually over to the balcony wall, admiring the view in the warm, May sunshine and smiling at the thought that the old fusspot had no idea of the hat’s true powers. Having it perched on her head for a mere few moments had been enough to make Minnie’s confidence soar.

‘Go on then,’ the voice in her head urged. ‘You haven’t come all the way up here for nothing.’

‘No, I haven’t,’ Minnie replied, heaving herself up and teetering on the wall’s upper edge. ‘It’s a good day for flying.’

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Picture prompt of the hat is courtesy of Pixabay

This post was partly inspired by the image above, but also from my many visits to Blackpool over the years. I can’t say Blackpool is my favourite seaside resort in the UK. Having been ‘born and bred’ in Southport, a little further south on the Lancashire coast than Blackpool, naturally I’m somewhat biased. But when all’s said and done, Blackpool does have that famous tower… This nice, colourful image is also from Pixabay:

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I wrote a blog post about Blackpool four years ago here but our visit at that time was on a grey day in late February. Needless to say, the seaside town was keeping itself well under wraps at the time.

Happy to be Back!

It’s been far too long since I wrote a post and I’ve really missed doing so. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way, and/or other things must take precedence. Last year was not a good year for my family. We had so many illnesses to deal with, some of them worryingly serious. All in all, I got little writing done at all, either on my books or my blog. So this year has been a mad rush to get Book 3 of my Sons of Kings series finished, edited and formatted and published on Amazon. And, at last, this is it:

It was uploaded onto Amazon a couple of weeks ago, so I can now start to relax a little and get back to writing a few blog posts. Well, that’s the plan… On the other hand, Book 3 didn’t finish either of my protagonists’ stories, so I am now writing Book 4. My trilogy has become a series (or perhaps a quadrilogy).

All three of my Sons of Kings books will be 99p/$0.99 until July 31st. After that, Book 1 (Shadow of the Raven)  will be 99p for a little longer, Book 2 (Pit of Vipers) will be $1.99 and Book 3 (Wyvern of Wessex) will be $2.99, the usual price for each of the three books.

My book of short stories and flash fiction pieces will be still at its usual price of £1.49/$1.97. Amazon won’t allow it to be any lower because of the number of coloured images I’ve included. I had intended this book to be permanently 99p!

*****

Time to Leave – FFfAW

Time to Leave

Amber sensed his presence before she opened the door. The air had that familiar chill and she sighed, knowing it was time to leave. The old man had come to replace her and change people’s lives for a while. They’d basked in her warmth and colour for long enough.

He entered the hut with an icy blast and she donned her russet cloak. ‘I am ready to go, Old Man,’ she said, tossing her auburn curls. ‘I’ll return when folks weary of the next summer’s heat and long for mellowing days.’

The old man smiled, tiny cracks patterning his glacial face, and swept through the room, turning all to white with his icy breath. Amber smiled in return, knowing he would delight folks with his tricks. Who else but he could order the snowflakes to fall, creating a paradise of white? Who else could style playgrounds of ice over lakes and ponds?

Old Man Winter raised icicle fingers and bowed his silvery head. ‘Your task was done well, kind Autumnus. Rest now, until next year.’

Word Count: 175

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This is my story for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers, a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a story from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

This week’s prompt was kindly provided by Ioniangraphics.

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To read other stories or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

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The Game of Life – FFFAW

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The Game of Life

Max stared at the iron bars, cursing the day he’d met Sophie. He’d been happy before then, his future stretched out like an unplayed game.

To Sophie he’d been little more than a prize bull, a trophy to display to her friends. One twist of the nose ring kept him compliant throughout each humiliating display. With her shapely body close to his, he’d gaze at her beautiful face and melt all over again.

But when Sophie demanded a diamond as proof of his love, Max panicked. At nineteen, that kind of money was not to hand and robbery had been his only option…

Alarms screamed before he’d left the shop, the old jeweller’s blood dripping from his knife. No hope of evading arrest; surveillance cameras didn’t lie.

He’d stared at those bars for two years now and dreaded the next twenty-three. Early release was unlikely for taking a life…

He refocused on his lonely game of Solitaire and reached for the pills concealed in his shoe. His game of life would be ending here.

Word Count: 174

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This is my story for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers, a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a story from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

This week’s prompt was kindly provided by MajesticGoldenRose.

Apologies for the morbid nature of my story this week. I really am feeling very down at the moment and happy thoughts seem to evade me. Perhaps I need some sunshine…or some fairy dust from Tinkerbelle. 🙂

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To read other stories or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

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Happier Times for Mum – FFFAW

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Happier Times for Mum

It had to be here, somewhere…! It was in his pocket a minute ago, then he’d taken it out to look at – and must have put it back in the wrong pocket. The one with the hole in it! He had to find it. Mum deserved something pretty on her birthday.

Jamie knew she’d been lonely since Dad had left, but didn’t know how to help. Dad had a new family now and forgotten all about him and Mum.

‘This what you’re looking for, son?’

Jamie spun round to see a nice-looking man holding out the shiny brooch. ‘Thanks mister! I thought I’d lost it, good and proper!’

The man grinned. ‘It was in a puddle back there, just waiting to be found. You Julie Henderson’s lad?’

‘You know my mum?’

‘Known each other for years – same school, same office… I’m on my way to invite you both out for a birthday dinner tonight.’

‘She’d love that … and so would  I,’ Jamie said, hoping this was the start of happier times for Mum.

Word Count: 174

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This is my story for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers, a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a story from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

This week’s prompt was kindly provided by Jessica Haines. Thank you, Jessica!

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To read other stories or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

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