Extracts from An Irrational Fear of Dogs by Veronika Jordan @cookiebiscuit #shortstories
Double Bill (Extract)
Goodbye Sarah. I bet you thought we would be friends forever. How wrong you were. The two of us were going to stand here and watch as Bill’s coffin was lowered into the ground. We pictured ourselves distraught, crying on each other’s shoulders, coming together in our shared grief, holding hands and laughing through crocodile tears, taking turns throwing earth on the coffin, our airline tickets to Rio de Janeiro safely tucked away in our Gucci handbags. But now it’s just me standing here, watching as your coffin is lowered into the ground. Goodbye Sarah. You thought we would be friends forever. How wrong you were.
It all began two or so years ago when I started going to the Top Rank in Watford. I was a widow. My husband of fourteen years had died after being run over by an ambulance. It was coming towards him, sirens blaring and lights flashing but he was too preoccupied reading the Times Literary Supplement to notice it. When they took him to hospital they found the paper open at the review of a new book called ‘How to Survive in a Dangerous World’. They eventually found his will on the back of a brown envelope stuffed behind the radiator. He had left everything to his ageing mother in Worthing. I could never forgive him for that. He had left me penniless. For a year I was too distressed to go out, till I saw an advert in the Watford Observer. It was for a Salsa dancing class; you know the kind of thing, lots of single ladies of a certain age and rather less men, all looking for company. I decided to go on Thursdays. It was beginners’ night and that was where I met Bill. He told me he was quite an experienced dancer and went twice a week. It showed. He was good. He spun me round the floor, his hips swaying in time to ‘La Receta’ by Johnny Polanco. I soon picked it up. Two lessons and I was hooked on Salsa and Bill was hooked on me.
An Irrational Fear of Dogs (Extract)
The August sun was shining high above her, warming everything beneath it and casting its shadow all around the bushes where she was hiding. She watched the long summer-bleached grass waving gently in the breeze and shuddered. She could hear the children laughing and screaming as they played around her. She felt safe here, for now. But did they?
Her heart beat faster, her hands were hot and clammy, her breath shorter and shorter. It was as if someone or something was sitting on her chest while a noose was being pulled tighter and tighter round her neck and she could no longer breathe. She flung her arms around wildly, tossing her head from side to side, afraid to go back to sleep but more afraid to wake up. So the fear had begun a few years earlier when Phoebe was only four or five years old, this fear, this irrational fear.
‘Wrap me up Mummy, wrap me up, tighter, tighter.’ She liked to feel cocooned by something tightly and safely wrapped around her. It could be her soft pink blanket or the soap-sudsy bathwater or just sitting inside the car with the doors and windows shut tight.
‘Mummy, where are you?’ Phoebe shivered as the wind whipped through the bathroom window, making the time-stiffened plastic shower curtain crackle, leaving her feeling open and vulnerable.
‘I’m here darling,’ and her mother wrapped her up in a big fluffy white towel and she felt safe again, like a chick in the nest.
I was 27 when my mother went into a mental hospital for a few months. She had been on barbiturates for over 25 years and the doctor wanted to take her off them. I used to visit her once or twice a week. In the same dreary day room a middle-aged lady with half-closed eyes and tousled grey hair sat on a high-backed armchair and rocked backwards and forwards like a mother grieving for her long dead baby. She rarely spoke to anyone, not even when someone spoke to her. The nurse told me that she was being treated for an irrational fear of dogs. As a child in the 1950s she had been sent to live in an orphanage run by the nuns of Nazareth House. When she was naughty they locked her in the cellar and all she could hear was the barking of the dogs above her through the grating that led to the street. I didn’t think her fear was at all irrational.
The Sweet Smell of Lilies (Extract)
Lilies remind me of funerals. Not a very original observation, I hear you thinking. Why not roses or gardenias or boring old Sweet Williams or those plants that everyone loves the smell of except me, stocks, I think they are called. No there is something about lilies, especially white ones, that is associated with death.
The 8.22 from Cheltenham is rumbling past Didcot Power Station. ‘Choo choo,’ it goes. I look for the Fat Controller but he isn’t there. Only a thin man with a gaunt face and a copy of the Guardian and a woman with cheap luggage and cheap shoes. She has poisoned her entire family and fled her home in the country to run away with the thin man with the gaunt face. But her cheap luggage and the Guardian are too mismatched so I give up there and then.
At Paddington there is a crowd thronging around some event of which I have no knowledge. A minor celebrity has stepped down from the train perhaps and collapsed on the floor, having been shot twice in the leg and chest by a crazed fan with a Colt.45. I am sure I can smell sulphur. The police come quickly. Everyone will be arrested. I must flee the crime scene quickly in case they think it was me. The evidence is in my handbag. My fingerprints are all over the gun.
‘Help! Help! It wasn’t me,’ I cry, ‘I am innocent. I was on a train passing Didcot Power Station at the time officer. You can ask the Fat Controller or the thin man…..’
Suddenly a man with a small moustache stands up in the middle of the throng and brushes himself down. He is embarrassed, I can see that.
‘I am so sorry,’ he says, ‘I tripped.’
The crowd moves on, uncaring now. I move with them. I have an appointment with death. I am going to my uncle’s funeral in Willesden. He died in suspicious circumstances. He was poisoned. He was alone at the time you see…
The Indulgence (Extract)
‘How long have you been dead?’ asked the angel, not even looking up once at the pretty young woman sitting across the desk in front of him.
‘About 30 years,’ she replied. ‘I am not sure. Time moves slowly when you have nothing to do.’
‘Do you miss your children? Your family?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘I can’t remember. Did I have any? Children that is, I must have had a family of some sort. Is this a job interview?’
‘Some might call it that. Personally I would call it an “indulgence”.’ The angel dipped his pen in a bottle of Quink and continued scratching shapes on the page.
‘Have I been good? Is that why you are “indulging” me?’
‘It’s not about good or bad,’ he replied, ‘it’s just your time.’
‘30 years? Is that my time?’ She fidgeted nervously.
‘Yes,’ said the angel, never even glancing at this small, slight woman who was twitching and rubbing her hands together. Anyone with a modicum of compassion would have appreciated how she felt. But not him…
‘Am I still pretty?’ She asked.
‘I wouldn’t know,’ he replied. ‘That’s not my department. You need to ask someone from the Department of Girlfriends, Models and Attention Seekers, or DoGMAS for short.’
‘Why? Do they keep all our pictures in the attic? Do they age and we don’t, like Dorian Gray?’
‘Gray? Dorian? Oh yes, accidental death by poisoning? No, no, he was the one in the boat, when the engine caught….’
‘Forget it,’ she said, ‘It’s a book, by Oscar Wilde.’
Stage of fools (Extract)
‘It is a simple tale. What begins in love and jubilation ends in hate and misery. Fate turns all fortunes on her wheel and smothered fires grow hotter in every time and place…What will a righteous passion leave undared?’ King Lear by William Shakespeare
It was a fascination with Greek tragedy, brought on no doubt by a boy’s experiences of the Classics at public school that led Peter Meadows to follow his childhood ambition and stage a West End production of Medea. Now approaching that milestone age which shall only be spoken in whispers when one is quasi-famous, he believed it to be now or never. Justine preferred never, but then always more pragmatic and less self-indulgent than her husband, she was the one who paid (or frequently didn’t pay when they had no money) the ever increasing bills that fanned themselves out on the floor of the porch like the spreading flare of a peacock’s tail feathers, vying for attention.
‘They’ll take care of themselves,’ Peter would say if she tutted and then throw them over his shoulder to land in a pile on the floor.
‘Non cherie, they will not,’ she replied and picked them up, stuffing them into the sagging pockets of her long brown cardigan, before adding them to the teetering pile that was now becoming a fire hazard in the conservatory.
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