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.

*

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 )

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.’

*****

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.

The Photograph Part 2: The Outcome

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Dearest Papa,

I hope this letter finds you well and you continue to enjoy teaching the piano to your eager pupils. Yes, praise for your skills and patience in this pursuit has spread far beyond Mayfield.

As you see, I have sent you a photograph, which I found whilst inspecting the contents of an old chest that had been stored, forgotten, in my attic these past ten years. I hesitated to send it for some weeks for fear of causing unwanted memories to surface, but my darling Arthur assured me that your memory of my mother’s death would have diminished after almost fifteen years, and the photo of the three of us may bring you joy.

I remember that evening so well, Papa. Mother sang like a nightingale; your piano playing enthralled and the applause from the audience made me proud to be your daughter. Later that night Mother broke your heart.

You never believed I didn’t know what Mother intended to do, but it was true. None of us knew she had a lover. My heart was broken two-fold when we found her letter after she’d fled. To see you so distraught caused me far more grief than Mother’s absence.

Rest assured, Papa, my lips remain sealed regarding your journey to Brighton on the day Mother was stabbed in her apartment. Even Arthur knows nothing of that. Mother’s murderer was never found and her lover simply disappeared. Though the man was never located, the police drew the obvious conclusion…

I chose to believe that the knife concealed in your dresser was simply an unwanted gift. I’ll take that belief to my grave. As you will, doubtless, take your secret to yours.

Your loving daughter,

Dottie

*****

I must thank my daughter, Louise, over at An Enchanted Place for the use of her photo, which is one of many taken on a lovely day out we all had to Warwick Castle a few years ago. (I scrounged a photo from Lou because her pics are SO much better than mine!)

I am currently in the middle of putting together another 85 stories for A Second Dash of Flash and hope to publish it later this year. This is one of the stories I’ve already written for the book – which, like Book One, A Dash of Flash, is an eclectic mix of stories of varying lengths and genres. It will make a nice change from writing historical fiction for novels for a while.

Part 1 of this story (originally just titled The Photograph) can now be read here. It was written as an afterthought, some weeks after this one: the reason for the additional information to the title.

Rainbows, Roses and Raindrops

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This is a little story I wrote 20 years ago! I wrote it for some competition at the time for a well known brand of tea here in the UK which uses little Tea Folk as part of its advertising campaigns. (I’d better not name this tea – I don’t want to be accused of advertising!) But I never did anything with it and the other day, I found the manuscript in an old file I’d kept. The paper was all yellow round the edges, reminding me of the way schoolchildren try to make stories and treasure maps look authentic by staining the paper with coffee or tea. Well, I didn’t need to do that. Anyway, I made the characters into gnomes, gave them different names and changed a few details and typed it up.

I love the film Gnomio and Juliet and am quite partial to gnomes. My husband refuses to have any in the garden, so I have to use my imagination. On one occasion, my mischievous daughters, Nicola and Louise, bought a few gnomes and hid them around the flower beds. My husband’s growls as he found each one, were quite hilarious.

So here’s the story:

Rainbows, Roses and Raindrops

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One warm and sunny summer’s afternoon, the Garden Gnomes of Greenwich were relaxing in Gerald’’s favourite tea garden. Horace was brewing the tea and Michael was sharing his plans for his next detective story, when a sudden flash and a puff of smoke made them all jump.

Seven pairs of eyes blinked as an odd little man, no bigger than a nearby plant pot, became visible through the smoke. Seven gasps of astonishment caused the little man to wobble precariously on the rock he’d landed on at the edge of Gerald’s delightful fish pond.

‘You’re a leprechaun!’ young Freddie blurted, pointing at the tiny figure.

‘Of course I am!’ the indignant elf snapped in crotchety Irish tones. ‘Sure, isn’t that plain fer all t’ see?’ He brushed down his velvety green jacket and breeches then, holding on to his tiny green cap, he sprang from the rock like a grasshopper before he found himself spluttering with Gerald’s goldfish beneath the lily pads.

‘B…but how did you get here? I mean…er…where did you –?’

‘Do stop burbling Freddie,’ Gerald reprimanded. ‘Remember your manners. That’s no way to greet a guest to our tea garden, no matter how he arrived!’

Samuel, the kindly grandfather gnome, decided it was time to intervene. ‘Won’t you join us for a nice cup of tea, sir? I didn’t catch your name…?’

The leprechaun proudly stroked his shiny, golden beard. ‘Me name’s Leopold,’ he replied, his beady eyes scanning the garden. ‘I’ve followed the rainbow all the way across the Irish Sea t’ this very garden. Me crock o’ gold must be here somewhere. So now I’m going t’ find it!’

Leopold clicked his bony fingers and six garden spades magically appeared, hovering over the beautiful flower beds, ready for work. Gerald’s face turned a ghastly white as he imagined his cherished roses in tatters.

Just then, a mouth-watering aroma of baking wafted across the garden. Leopold’s nose twitched and his tiny tummy gave a loud rumble.

‘My delightful cakes must be ready. Do excuse me.’ Tanya smiled at Leoplod, then rushed off towards the kitchen.

Gerald, tactful as ever, took the opportunity to repeat Samuel’s earlier invitation to Leopold, who now gratefully accepted.

Over a refreshing cup of tea, with a morsel of one of Tanya’s delicious cakes, the little leprechaun even managed a smile. Michael opened his notebook to jot down suggestions for helping Leopold to search for the gold, without spoiling Gerald’s roses, when a few glistening raindrops plopped in the middle of his page.

They scanned the clear, blue sky for the offending cloud, just as another few raindrops tinkled onto Horace’s teapot. A stifled chuckle drew everyone’s attention towards the fish pond, where Cyril was perched, with his fingers in the water. ‘Just my Rainy Day joke,’ he chortled.

Then, as he looked down, Cyril’s face took on a puzzled expression. ‘There’s an odd-looking goldfish in your pond, Gerald. It isn’t swimming about like the others.’

Gerald hurried over to investigate. ‘My goodness!’ he gasped. ‘I see what you mean, Cyril. But…wait a minute. That isn’t a goldfish…but it is gold!’

Later, Leopold stood clutching his crock of gold, his elfish grin stretching from ear to ear.

‘How did your gold get into our pond?’ Freddie asked.

‘Leprechaun magic,’ Leopold replied, tapping the side of his tiny nose.’ Now I’ll be thankin’ yer all an’ making me way home. The cup o’ tea was just what I needed. Following rainbows is thirsty work.’

With another click and a flash, Leopold and his spades vanished.

‘He must be travelling across that rainbow,’ Cyril remarked, pointing up at the sky.

Freddie now looked really perplexed. ‘But rainbows only come after it’s been raining…don’t they? And it hasn’t been raining!’

Everyone looked at Cyril, and laughed.

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