The Peloton (Short Story)

“Maman! Papa!” Henri bellowed. “They’ll be here soon!”

The boy, aged 8, threw back his bed sheets and leapt from his bed. The sun had pierced through the parted curtains turning into nature’s alarm clock.

Indeed they would be here soon.

Grabbing his shoes, Henri flung his bedroom door open forcing the wood to bang against the wall. He ran down the small hallway to the staircase that led to the lower level of the little house in which he dwelled.

As his feet pounded the wooden stairs, the boy slipped but his firm grip of the railing kept him from falling face down the steps. Taking a deep breath, Henri composed himself for but a fleeting moment. Then he hopped down the remaining stairs and landed in the forayer of the home.

“Henri,” his mother began, “slow down. Come. Eat your breakfast.”

Henri responded by violently shaking his head. No time for that nonsense!

As he ran to the front door, he felt his father’s firm grip on his shoulders. His father turned his faced down toward the boy and began to smile.

“Henri. They haven’t even started yet.”

Defeated, the boy permitted his father to lead him to the kitchen at the back of the house. Henri dropped into the chair and stared at the bowl of homemade yogurt and granola.

His mother placed a bowl of fresh strawberries in front of the boy and stated, “It will be a long day. You need to eat.”

Henri nodded grabbing his spoon and began to devour his breakfast barely coming up for breath. Once he showed his mother he’d finished his food, his eyes begged her to allow him to go.

She smiled and then looked over toward her husband waiting on approval.

“Go! But stay close. We’ll meet up with you.”

Henri stood up in such a hurry sending the wooden chair to the floor. He was in too much of a hurry to bother erecting it back to its normal position.

He barely uttered as much of a goodbye as he ran out the front door. Henri ran toward the side of the house, grabbed his bicycle, and began peddling down the gravel road.

Two minutes passed as he escaped the small hamlet and neared the French town of Morzine, nestled in region of Rhône-Alpes.

The morning air was somewhat cool but the day would see temperatures as high as 28° and the anticipated crowd would only make it warmer.

As the boy approached the town, he could see a crowd of people along the main road. Peddling faster, Henri began to plot where his position would be among the human barricade. He had to be near the front. He just had to.

Suddenly a police officer stopped Henri telling him the road was closed to traffic and ushered him to the side of the street. As the officer guided him toward the crowd of people, he looked down at Henri’s eyes expressing some sort of desperation. The man sighed and gazed over at the mass of onlookers.

“Here,” he smiled pointing toward one of the barrels. “Louis! Help me move this.” Another officer approached the man and the pair pushed the barrel aside to create enough room for the boy and his bicycle.

“Merci!” Henri gasped.

“Just remember us when you become a famous rider,” the officer laughed tapping down the bill on Henri’s cycling cap.

He couldn’t believe his luck. There he was at the very front waiting for the convoy to arrive. Impatiently he kept craning his neck for a simple glimpse of the procession of men on their wheeled horses. It wouldn’t be long, he thought to himself.

The anticipation began to build with his heart began racing faster and faster. He knew they would be arriving soon in all their glory and he would be there to witness the grand parade.

Then without warning, the crowd erupted in a loud roar. Cheers, whistling, flags waving. They had arrived!

Henri’s heart leapt as he spotted the leader of the peloton with two other riders close to his back wheel. His heart beating faster, the spectators growing louder. It was almost too much for him to contain.

The boy held is breath as the leader flew past him in a blur of colors. Then the two in close pursuit sped by. The herd of watchers continued its thunderous applause as the rest of the peloton approached.

Soon Henri found himself caught up in the crowd’s hysteria. He began cheering and waving. Then in a brief instant, he saw one of the cyclists look over toward him, nodded and subtly waved at the boy. Amazed Henri clenched his fists and drew them to his chest. He squeezed his eyes shut tight in an effort to capture and retain that moment like a photograph etched into his memory. Standing with his eyes closed he continued listening to the crowd roar and felt the wind from the cavalcade encompass his body.

As the audience continued its chants, Henri’s ears began to ring and the sound soon became muffled. He pressed is eyelids tighter together and held his breath. Praying this moment would never pass.

“Henri! Henri!” he heard a voice calling. “Time to start!” Henri opened his eyes to see his teammate Andre pointing toward he crowd of cyclists lined up in front of him.

Inhaling a very long breath, Henri nodded and began to peddle his bike. As the peloton began to move forward, he looked over to the sidelines and spotted a young boy on the sidelines with a bike propped up against his side. The boy couldn’t have been more than eight years of age and was screaming wildly.

Henri locked eyes with the child, nodded and gave the boy a slight wave. The boy gasped and waved back.

Henri began smiling recalling that magical day 13 years ago when he stood on the sidelines watching the racers. And now he had become one of them. He wondered if one day that boy would grow up to compete in his first Tour de France just like him.

The Mourning (Short Story)

Sylvie sat at the shabby kitchen table rapidly drumming her fingers on the wood dampened by the stifling humidity. She gazed at the August morning sun that was creeping its way through a thin opening in the linen curtains.

Dust particles performed a rhythmic dance through the rays of light that invaded the stuffy room. Sylvie watched the specks swirl and float lightly through the air.

Hmmmm. I really should dust, she thought to herself. Maybe tomorrow.

She had never seemed to notice how loud the wall clock sounded as the second hand jerked its way passing each hash mark and number. Tick, tick, tick. The clicking grew louder and louder muffling the silence that saddened Sylvie.

How she missed noise. At times she swore the quiet was slowly killing her.

She gazed at the clock bobbing her head to each tick and click. 8:00. They would need to be leaving soon.

Sylvie slumped downwards forcing her back against the chair as she dragged her hands along the tabletop. Her arms felt heavy as did her legs. Her stomach felt dense as her heart sunk deeper and deeper.

Slowly she grasped the table with her hands and heaved herself to her feet. As she stood, the chair screeched backward along the linoleum flooring.

She picked up the half-filled coffee cup and carried it over to the sink. As she poured out the remaining brew, she glanced at the side of the mug. Her heart plunged further toward her stomach. Painted on the side of the mug was the letter I followed, by a heart, then the word you and finally Mommy. Sylvie stared at the faded art that was created by her daughter Harper. As she ran her fingers over the child’s painted design, she mouthed the words I love you too Harper.

The blaring horn of the 7:55 train startled Sylvie. How she loathed that sound. The locomotive hollering at her. The bells of the of the barricade taunted inducing a sense of nausea to take hold.

Gazing at the clock she muttered a loud, “Why is it late today? Why today? Why not…..” Salty water blurred her vision as she battled the lump developing in her throat.

She wondered where Albert was. We’ll be late, she thought. Can’t be late.

Pausing by the oval mirror smudged in fingerprints, Sylvie gently wiped her eyes trying to avoid smearing her mascara. She stepped back and gazed at the almost unrecognizable face in the reflection. The swelling around her brown eyes had diminished somewhat, but evidence of her crying still remained. She ran her fingers through her light brown hair spotting small threads of silver. Her cheeks bore red splotches which she began to think would become permanent. Sighing she resigned to the fact that life was beating her.

Sylvie scuttled to the back porch. Spiders left their artwork in forms of intricate webs in the corners of the overhang. Holes marked the squirrels’ victory of ripping through the screens.

She popped the rickety door open and gazed into the large backyard. Surveying the area she noticed the rope ladder to the tree house blowing ever so slightly in the warm breeze.

“Albert,” she whispered. She paced toward the small, wooden cottage atop the branches of the large oak tree. Her hands trembled as she reached out and took hold of the swaying ladder.

Sylvie recalled the day Albert and his cousin Ronnie had built the tree house for Harper and Madison. They’d bartered for the lumber and spent an entire day and into the evening creating a dream cottage for the two little girls. Sylvie added the finishing “girlie” touches of pink, purple and white paint and frilly lace curtains.

“Honey,” she called out. “Are you up there?”

She could hear sniffling from within the small dwelling.

“Albert,” she began, “we need to get going. We’ll be late.”

Sylvie waited for some sort of reply but was given nothing.

“Honey. Please come down.”

A moment later she heard the thud of footsteps overhead. Albert poked his head out the cottage door. He gazed at his wife, feigned a smile and began to descend the rope steps.

As his feet reached the ground, he reached out toward Sylvie and grabbed her tight.

“I can’t do this,” he murmured burying his face into her shoulder. Sylvie nodded as she rubbed his back.

“I can’t either. But we can do this together,” she replied. Pulling back she grasped his face in her hands. A vacancy took over his dark blue eyes that were now lined in red. She had no concept of how long he’d been crying up in the tree house.

Staring at her husband it was first time she saw him as fragile and broken. He was no longer the strong, fearless guy who stole her heart 10 years prior.

Will he ever be the same again? She wondered.

“Sylvie? Sylvie where are you?” a familiar voice called from the house.

“Coming,” Sylvie responded taking her love’s hand firmly in hers.

Bethany, her sister, appeared at the back door.

“Aw sweetie,” she began, “You’re going to be late.”

Sylvie nodded as she and Albert approached the house. Bethany took Sylvie by the shoulder and patted Albert’s arm ushering the couple into the house.

“A lot of people have already arrived,” Bethany said.

“Mom and Dad?”

“Yes.”

“Clark?”

“Of course.”

“Nana?”

“Yes.”

Sylvie nodded. For a fleeting moment, she began to gag but managed to keep the vomit down.

“Albert, your mom is here too. And your brother George. All waiting.”

He couldn’t seem to utter a word but nodded his head in some form of acknowledgement.

Picking up her purse, Sylvie gazed around the small front room of undersized farmhouse. Once again she swore the quiet was trying to kill her. Slowly it would win she imagined.

As Bethany ushered the pair toward the door, Sylvie stopped.

“I almost forgot,” she choked. “Be right back.”

Albert was fumbling with the keys to his truck but stopped when Bethany firmly placed her hand on his.

“I’ve got this,” she said. “You’re in no shape to drive.”

Albert stared down as his feet, nodding his head as tears silently left his eyes plummeting toward the floorboards.

“Okay,” Sylvie stated.

Albert began to sob as his wife appeared holding Bunsy and Tulip; the two plush rabbits each of their daughters were given the day they were born.

“They got these when they entered this world. It’s only fitting they have them now,” Sylvie whimpered. “Right?”

Albert clutched his wife unable to control his tears. “Right.”

Bethany paused allowing the couple to share this solemn moment. Then she gently reached out and touched them.

“Let’s go,” she whispered opening the front door.

As Sylvie spotted her sister’s car, the all too familiar lump in her throat made yet another appearance as she read the word FUNERAL on the card nestled between the dashboard and windshield.

The Phenomenon Known as Bellowhead (My Thoughts)

There’s something to be said about arriving to the party fashionably late. I tend to err on this side, and my discovery of the former folk institution known as Bellowhead falls into the category.

Now I shall mention that I do not wish to divulge too much in this short thought-story as I am in the process of outlining a novel on the subject of English folk music and perhaps possibly veering toward penning a book on this wonderful band that many have come to know and love.

So take heed that what you are about to read is but a snippet of what is yet to come.

What exactly is Bellowhead you might be wondering? When referring to this band I struggle with the usage of past tense. Sadly this is the reality as 1st May 2016 an intimate crowd in Oxford bore witness to their last ever performance. Yes, I rigorously attempted to score tickets to this much sought-after show but sadly to no avail.

Bellowhead 101

Bellowhead was hatched from the minds of folk duo Spiers and Boden in an effort to headline at a folk festival. Anyone out there, please correct me if I am wrong. I will not hold a grudge.

Calling on all corners of the musical spectrum, John and Jon gathered musicians versed in jazz, classical, folk and other genres. Brass, percussion and strings were united in marriage resulting in the birth of Bellowhead. 11 unique individuals who somehow made this concept work. Technically this should not have worked but amazingly it did.

So there is my short and brief intro to this musical ensemble. Now why am I writing this you might ask? Bellowhead was my official introductory to English folk music.

Accidents do happen

I was on Amazon placing an order, and for the life of me I cannot recall exactly what the item was, but Beginner’s Guide to English Folk was offered as a recommendation. I took a chance and added the 3-disc compilation to my basket not having listened to a single sound clip. Actually if memory serves correct, sampling the item was not even an option. When my purchase arrived, I curiously popped the discs into my CD player, and the first song presented was “Yarmouth Town” by Bellowhead. This would become my baptism into folk music.

I was accustomed to American folk music. Guitars, singers and little accompaniment. But I was not prepared for what I heard on my newly acquired musical playlist. As the next songs followed, I began to realize that what I was hearing were various interpretations of age-old songs. Needless to say I was online ordering Hedonism by Bellowhead because I knew I just had to hear more. And then the domino effect gave way, and I was purchasing music by a multitude of artists.

This was a struggle at times as it was difficult to find affordable folk music in the States. So I found myself on Amazon UK ordering CDs and waiting impatiently for them to arrive.

Speaking of Hedonism……

Bellowhead’s discography consists of eight full-length CDs, that is if you wish to include a best of, live and compilation of individual band member pieces. They also spawned an extended-play disc consisting of five tracks.

As a connoisseur of music in general, I have a tendency of listening to songs with a very critical ear. In Bellowhead’s case, I found it rather difficult to find fault among their catalog. Given that, each album contains pieces that, in my opinion, are pure genius. Therefore, I honestly enjoy all of their records if just for a few tracks.

If I were forced to choose a favourite I would have to select Hedonism. Why? Perhaps the answer lies in the thought that this was my first Bellowhead disc. But mainly because it contains a brilliant rendition of Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam”. As a fan of Jacques, I was waiting to hear the band fail at their attempt to bring justice to this haunting song. However, I was wrong. If anything, Brendan Kelly’s melancholy arrangement highlighted singer Jon Boden’s vocal abilities compelling them to greater heights. To this day I still well up a bit when I hear it.

So I tend to pick Hedonism out and take it for a spin quite often. However, I do find myself pulling out any of their other pieces just for a change of pace.

If you do not own a Bellowhead album, I suggest you add one to your library. They are all strong in their own merits. If you tend toward more eclectic and art-driven arrangements, might I recommend either Burlesque or Matachin? If more fun yet quirky is your speed then Broadside is for you. But I cannot omit Revival solely for the sake of “Roll Alabama” and Pete Flood’s quirky “Moon Kittens”.

The Quintessential Live Band

As I continued my self-schooling on all things folk, I began to work my way around YouTube in an effort to see any footage of these acts performing live and learned of various folk festivals throughout England.

Then it happened, I stumbled upon a video of Bellowhead live, and I knew that somehow I would have to experience one of their spectacles if not in the States in England.

From what I saw, they presented not a simple concert but a spectacle, if you will. The audiences were on their feet dancing and singing along. It was almost as if Bellowhead was allowing the audience to be part of the band for that night. Jon presented choruses so the audience could sing along. Their performance was something I had never seen before.

Being that Bellowhead was a massive band, I knew the chances of them ever touring the states was nil. So I began to determine a logical way to see them perform live in England. After all from every account I have heard and read, their live shows were something you had to experience.

I had been informed that they typically hosted a November tour each year. A brilliant plan began to unfold where I could combine my research trip (see above reference to folk novel) and a Bellowhead show. So I patiently waited until the next round of tour dates was to be announced, and finally the email appeared in my box.

Farewell Tour What??

Have you ever read something and you knew for sure you read it wrong? That was the thought that kept racing around in my mind as I scanned the email announcing Bellowhead’s final tour. I must have studied the email a good three times before it sunk in. The band decided to perform two legs: one in November 2015 and one in April 2016. Pulling out my calculator I began to devise a way that I could attend both legs. In any case, I had never seen them live and this was the prime opportunity.

I selected dates that I called “Plan A” and “Plan B”. At the top of Plan A’s list were tickets to the Oxford finale show followed by other logical options based on regional locations. Can I tell you that 4:00 AM is far too early to attempt buying concert tickets? Due to the time zone difference I found myself in front of my computer around 3:30 to ensure everything was working proper. As the clock leapt to 4:00 I was on the ticket website with a pair of Oxford tickets in my basket. As I checked out I received the “We’re sorry but they are no longer available” message. What the hell? So off I went in search of my next options happy that I least managed to obtain seats at two shows in November and two shows in April.

The Bellowhead Experience

I lost my Bellowhead virginity at the New Wimbledon Theatre on 18th November 2015. I took the Tube to the very last stop at Wimbledon and wandered my way toward the theatre.

Surprisingly my seats were not located in the nosebleed section and were center stage. Eagerly I awaited with immense anticipation for the entrance of Bellowhead.

Now I must pause for a moment to describe the difference between the concert performances I have attended in the States (and there have been many) to this one in London. I had been informed that in England if the show is a seated performance, the audience is not supposed to stand and dancing seems to be prohibited. As the colossal band invaded the stage the audience was thrust into an upheaval of cheers. But I found it fundamentally impossible to sit still while watching this decreed “party” band dish out one fabulous song after another.

Eventually I found myself standing by a balcony dancing with audience members from all walks of life. This is where I spent the remainder of the performance until the band finished their audience-demanded encores.

After spending the next several days compiling research on folk music and dodging the cold, blustery weather, I found myself on a train to lovely Bath for my second helping of Bellowhead.

The venue, The Bath Forum, was quite beautiful and as I was directed toward my seat I kept staring at my ticket knowing there was not way possible I could be seated this close to the stage. This never happens to me you see. I ended up in the third row.

I don’t know at what point it was during the show that Paul Sartin invited the audience to come up to the front and dance. Sitting there I watched a woman dance her way toward the stage followed by another. I turned to the woman sitting next to me and asked “Seriously?” and she shrugged her shoulders. So I jumped out of my chair and made my way toward the stage joining the dozens of other attendees hopping up and down and enjoying every minute.

Bellowhead had been known for offering “after show sessions”. These sessions would occur in a pub situated in close proximity to the venue. They were random, and I was fortunate to attend an after show session at a local Bath pub. Here several band members sang and played their instruments while inviting local musicians and those in attendance to join in. They have nothing as far as I know like this in the States let alone where I live. I spent most of that time just drinking it all in along with several pints. To me this far exceeded my expectations. And so ended my November journey but April was a mere five months away.

The month of April 2016 brought me two more shows. First up was in Sheffield at City Hall. What a stunning theatre I might add. My seats were situated in the Stalls. I wasn’t quite knowledgeable on what that actually implied but the end result were 7th row. Once again this was a seated show but midway through we were all on our feet dancing the best we could and singing at the top of our lungs.

This particular night there was an after show session. I believe it was a pretty new pub, which was quite small yet, open. The crowd poured in and was packed around the table vying for a chance to sing along and perform with members of the band. I quietly sang along reminding myself that I sang like a donkey according to one of my primary school teachers. I seized the opportunity to play the fiddle attempting to keep up with all of the established players. But I had just one regret. Well I really shouldn’t use that word because I don’t believe in the notion of feeling sadness over doing or not doing something. Rather if I had one do-over, I would have Morris danced. I have been studying that for several months now and wanted to reveal the skills I had learned. But I held back. Should’ve. Could’ve. Would’ve. And as quickly as the musicians arrived, the singing session came to a quiet end.

23rd April found me at the London Palladium for my final Bellowhead show. I vowed to enjoy every foot stomping, vocal shredding moment. I needed to savor every second, as this opportunity would never approach me again. And savor I did. The time seemed to rush by in a quick blur. And then, in a flash, it was gone. As the band departed the stage for the very last time, I realized I wasn’t sad at all but rather delighted. I was witness to something that touched so many lives and for that I was thankful.

On Meeting Members of the Band

At this point I need to digress for a moment. Having had worked in the music and radio industry for a number of years, I seldom found myself “star struck”. Let’s face it, all of our shit stinks no matter who we are. Perhaps I had grown jaded over the years, but I really think we are all equals with some of the fortunate getting paid for that which they are gifted and that which they love to do.

Conceivably this might be why I have no problem whatsoever talking to anyone. I am also not one to put  false fronts. What you see is what you get. I’ve nothing to hide, and if you don’t like me then move along. So I have had no problems talking to the myriad of musicians, singers, and actors that I worked with over the years. Hell, I had no reservations speaking to the late Mother Teresa even though it was through an interpreter.

During both of my trips to England, I happened upon a couple of opportunities to actually meet a few members of Bellowhead. I am uncertain if they were simply putting on polite façades but they were very pleasant, funny and good-natured sports.

I’m sure the theme music to “Psycho” must have been playing in the back of their minds, but you would never know it. They were cordial and kind. And I hate to disappoint my readers they are just regular people.

As I was crossing the street I spotted Sam Sweeney and John Spiers. Being the geek that I am, I muttered some comment to the pair that I thought was humorous at the time. In hindsight, I realized I was just being a total imbecile. But I do believe I threw them a bit of a surprise when they discovered I had come from America to see them.

Now, I need to interject a quick story here. Ed Neuhauser and I had developed a Twitter rapport on the subject of beer. I told him that I was going to buy him a Budweiser if I should ever meet him. When I spotted him in a pub, I casually strolled over and asked if he’d ordered a Budweiser. The confused expression on his face was priceless. Then eventually he inquired, “Patty?” We shared a good laugh, beer and walked over to the venue. Ed is a genuine and kind guy. I will hold onto that memory for a very long, long time.

How is this for down to earth? While perusing the merchandise after a show, I saw Benji Kirkpatrick standing by the table. Being one that does not afford opportunities to slip past, I simply thanked him for such an entertaining evening. Once again the question about my being from the States was posed. I soon began to wonder if they thought I was some sort of nutcase. Benji, by the way, is a good salesman. I left with a copy of his CD and it has been in high rotation in my stereo ever since.

As I mentioned before, I was fortunate to attend an after show session in Bath. The band members in attendance who were not participating in playing or singing were just carrying on casual conversations with customers. See? Regular Joes.

A few pints in I discovered myself thanking Pete Flood for answering my 101 questions about various mushrooms indigenous to my area. When I said that he asked, “Are you Patty?” Seriously. How many people are following him and he actually recalled who I was.

I saw Benji there again and found myself talking politics with John. I wish I had more time to have a an all-out discussion because it was nice to be able to express my views on the state of America without fear of offending.

The few remaining members of the band saw me in all my somewhat drunken goofiness. And good sports they were. I convinced a guy to take photos of me with the band including one of the musicians that was playing with them all evening. I vividly recall saying “Dude you need to be in the picture too.” So to whoever that was, thank-you for joining in.

The one obstacle that blindsided me was meeting front man Jon. The first word that comes to mind is “intimidating”. He is such the powerhouse fiddle player. And for someone who is still learning her way around the instrument, I found myself so humbled. If one day I can be merely 1/16th the player Mr. Boden is, then I would call myself a success. So I found myself in unfamiliar territory where I could not form intelligible sounds or educated words. This was a first for me.

During my second trip in April it was like meeting up with old familiar friends. While attending the after show session in Sheffield it was time to play catch up. If memory serves me correct I spent quite a bit of money that night buying rounds of drinks. I consider it my “thank you gift” to the band for instituting my love for folk music.

I will be the first to admit, that I am far from a memorable person. I had a boss once who seldom remembered my name. So for these popular musicians to take a moment, recognize me and acknowledge that we had met meant the world to me.

John and I shared a beer. I caught up with Ed, Benji and Sam. And then there is Adam Dalton, the band’s merchandise manager extraordinaire. I first met him in November when he inquired where I was from since my accent was of a foreign nature I presume. We chatted only for a few moments. But damn if he didn’t recall meeting me when I saw him again in April. He, too, enjoyed a nice pint compliments of yours truly.

But once again I found myself struggling with Jon. The ability to speak logically evaded me. It has nothing to do with him as a person but rather the intimidation that overcomes me when I am around someone who I perceive as anything but my equal. And in all fairness to Jon, he seems to be a regular chap just like the rest of them but a little more serious in my opinion. Unfortunately I could not rise above my musical insecurities to discover that.

However, through the help of James Delarre from the fabulous band Mawkin (check them out as well), I was able to play Mr. Boden’s fiddle, albeit quite poorly, but nonetheless I played.

Perhaps one day I will be able to talk logically to all of these genuine nice guys. Perchance when the time arises for me to begin composing my book.

In closing…

The evening of their final bow, I sat in the warm sands of Ed Walline Beach with the sun drenching my face. With a cold beer in hand, I raised a toast to a band for which I owe my gratitude for cultivating a love in me for folk music. A love that has led me down the path to so many novel ideas.

I think for me, the opportunity to spend a short amount of time with some of the band and the chance to see a few shows made their final curtain call sting a bit less. They certainly left a hole in the folk stage curtain and one day another artist will arrive to repair the hole and bring the folk world closer together again.

All 11 members are uniquely talented and there is no doubt they all have promising adventures on the horizon. So as the self-proclaimed musical connoisseur, I will listen to their projects with an open mind and a closed critical ear.

Here’s to you Bellowhead. Cheers!

Happy Christmas? (My Thoughts)

I will always remember Christmas as being a happy time when I was a child. The lights, the Christmas tree, decorations, holiday carols. These all brought joy to my heart.

Growing up Catholic we observed the tradition of Advent. I found this to be special not only because this signified the countdown to Christmas but also because as the youngest child, I was assigned the task of lighting one candle on the wreath the first full week of Advent. In addition I quite enjoyed attending mass. Not so much for the readings or hearing the priest jabber at length about what he felt Christmas was and how we should behave but rather listening to the choir. A multitude of voices lifting on high. This was my connection to the ceremony.

I also recall being afraid to ask Father Christmas or Santa Claus or whomever you might call him, for what I truly wanted for Christmas. I cannot explain why to be totally honest. Perhaps self-consciously I felt guilty about requesting a gift or maybe I feared that what I wanted was out of the norm. Either reason be, I would find myself given very nice and thoughtful gifts but not what I truly wanted.

Growing up, holidays meant family time. This was not inclusive of just my immediate family but also included the aunties, uncles, cousins and grans. Usually the full family gatherings occurred the week between Christmas and the new year. I always cherished this as my favourite time of the holiday season.

However Christmas lost its sense of joy and exuberance the year my father passed away. It seemed as if we all made attempts to pretend my father’s death never occurred in order to keep some happiness in the holiday season. I remember crying myself to sleep that Christmas night. My holiday innocence was lost forever at that moment.

The following Christmas was worse. The vast hole my father’s death ripped in my heart grew larger. Maintaining any happiness became increasingly difficult. But I donned my happy facade in an effort to offer others the happiness that eluded me.

Year after year, the holidays remained a difficult time for me. But I made every attempt to seek out something that would offer some semblance of happiness. My attempts were not always successful but I did find myself enjoying this time a tiny bit more.

Then life threw me a curveball when my mother suffered a stroke from which she would never recover. That last Christmas with her will be ingrained in my memory until my last breath. We all knew it would be the last time we shared the holiday with her. I wanted to deny it and banish any such notions. But deep down I knew that I would never get to share in the joy of Christmas with her again.

I will always cherish the gift she gave me that year. Two photographs. One of my father when he was younger taken perhaps around the time they wed. The other of Mum in her wedding dress. This was the best gift she could have ever given me. You see, she gave me a final memory not only of herself, but my father as well, both in their prime.

The clock reads 12:11 A.M. on the 25th December. I find myself once again trying to capture a slight piece of happiness this holiday. While I am not alone I feel a sense of utter loneliness. I miss the days of full family holidays. I miss the sounds of the choirs raising their voices as one. Perhaps I slightly miss the priest rambling on about Christmas and what it should mean to us. I know I should be happy but deep down the feeling of solace creeps in. I do know the family members I am spending the holidays with will somehow unknowingly help me find the true Christmas spirit I once owned.

I will not give up the battle of uncovering a small semblance of that childhood innocence from years past. I know I am deserving of that. We all are.

I wish I could ask Father Christmas for what I really want for Christmas. What would i ask of him? To fill the vacancy in my heart with the love of my parents that has been lost. Since that is not a reality,  my Christmas wish is that each and every one of you find joy this holiday season. Then hold tight to that joy with all of your might and never let go.

Happy holidays to you and yours.

The Honest Truth (Short Story)

Do you really want to hear all about it? Well, if that’s true, I’ll start by saying that I was duped. Plain and simple. I trusted him and that was probably my biggest mistake. That and leaving my hometown for a shot at something better than I had there.

My mum once told me believe in yourself and everything is possible. What a load of crap. But when I was younger I took everything she told me as gospel. Ha! How ironic right?

I took off for the city to follow my dreams. I thought that if I truly believed I could become a famous actress then it would be so.

I stayed with my cousin Pete when I first moved; a strange fella, that Pete, but I needed a place to stay until I found work.

He met me at the train station and as we walked back to his flat he laid down the ground rules. I was to leave his stuff alone and clean up after myself. He wouldn’t charge me to live there. Fair enough.

My first night there Pete took me to the Black Bear Pub and that’s when my life changed. We sat at a high top. The smoky pub was small, loud and crowded. Through the veil of smoke, I spotted him. I swear it was only a matter of minutes before he came over to our table.

Martin asked Pete if he was going to introduce him to the “pretty bird” sitting at his table. Pete rolled his eyes and told him I was just his cousin. He rolled his eyes! So after he introduced us Pete pretty much disappeared. I guess he thought we might want some “alone time”.

Martin was good looking and smart too. I swear he looked like he stepped out of a Ralph Lauren catalog!

We spent the next hour or so talking and for me it was love at first sight. We talked about where we came from, how we got there, our dreams; the kind of stuff you talk about on a first date or something. I know is sounds pretty corny but this is how you get to know people, right? I guess looking back I was really wrong.

About a month after we started dating Martin suggested I move in with him. We did spend most of our time together and he claimed to have contacts in theatre. Maybe he could help me get a job.

It sounded like a good idea to me. Plus it would get me from under weird Pete’s roof. I mean Pete isn’t a bad bloke at all. But I always felt I was the unwanted guest. Mum convinced him to take me in. I’m sure it didn’t sit that well with him at all.

Besides I was in love with Martin and it was all too exciting. The start of a new life with a wonderful guy.

The next few months were bliss. Martin didn’t disappoint. He got me a job at the theatre as an understudy in Merry Wives of Windsor; a Shakespeare play! Can you believe it? I was in a Shakespeare play! Okay so I was an understudy but I knew one day I’d be out there on the stage in front of a packed house.

Every day Martin brought me flowers or gifts. He cooked all the meals for us too and when we went out, it was always on him. I couldn’t believe my luck. I found my “prince charming.”

One evening we went out for dinner. He took me to my favourite Indian place Little Bombay. After dinner, we were walking back to the tube station when Martin’s mobile rang. I couldn’t really hear the conversation but when he hung up he told me he needed to take care of some quick business and did I mind coming along. Big mistake.

He flagged down a cab that took us to a pretty creepy area of town. The cabbie dropped us off in front of this old run down building. I remember the air smelled really bad. Like stale beer mixed with piss; something like that. Martin paid the driver who took off really fast. I didn’t wonder why he just didn’t hold the cab for us. It never really crossed my mind at that point.

It turns out his “quick business” was picking up drugs from a dealer to give to a client. He was a drug runner! I had no idea.

We stood outside the building for hours. Well it wasn’t that long but time did seem to creep by. Finally this guy walked toward us who Martin waved at. I started to feel nauseas. But I figured Martin knew what he was doing.

And this is where it all falls apart. You see the so-called dealer was really a cop. As the man pulled out his badge, Martin shot him and took off running. All I did was stand there staring at the man on the ground; blood coming out of his neck. It was horrifying.

I heard a woman scream and the next thing I saw were two men running towards me. They pulled out their guns and I really thought they were going to shoot me. I was frozen. I mean I couldn’t move an inch. My heart beat so fast I thought it was going to jump out of my chest. I felt dizzy and my ears began to ring. Everything was happening way too fast.

As the men got closer I saw they were police. I felt relieved at first until one of them told me not to make a move. He yelled at me to drop to my knees, which I did. One of them was calling on his radio for help.

I knelt there on the ground staring at the dead man. I realized that Martin was nowhere in sight so I started telling the cops that he had run off. I pointed in the direction where I saw him last but all they told me to shut up.

One of them grabbed my hands behind my back and slapped on a pair of handcuffs. This couldn’t be happening. He jerked me up to my feet and started patting his hands all over my body trying to find who knows what. Then he half dragged me to a squad car that pulled up at some point. I don’t recall when the others appeared but I do remember seeing flashing lights.

As he pushed me into the car, I hit my head on the doorframe. Damn! That hurt. I sat on the vinyl, cracked seat covered in who knows what with so many thoughts running through my mind. I think I was in shock.

All of a sudden I couldn’t swallow. But there was nothing to swallow at all. My throat and mouth were so dry and felt numb. I started to gag and fought back tears. But I lost that round. Once I began crying I thought I was never going to stop. I wanted my mum. I wanted to be back home.

The driver kept telling me to stop crying and to shut up. And the ride to the police station seemed endless. It was as if time literally stopped. We finally arrived and I was yanked out of the car and pushed up the steps to the station door.

I won’t bore you with the sordid details of the booking process. Let’s just leave it as any shred of dignity I had was stripped with my clothes. It was totally humiliating. After the papers were filed, my mug shot taken along with my prints I was taken to a holding cell; much larger than the one we’re in now.

I sat in the cold, damp room thinking about Martin and how he left me there to be arrested as an accomplice to murder. So here I sit in prison while he’s out there somewhere free.

Father, you asked if I had anything to confess. Well since I believe god is a fairytale I don’t believe in confession. I am sorry you wasted your time but thanks for listening.

Two Worlds (Short Story)

Author’s note: The story below was a notebook assignment from a recent writing course I just completed. The first two lines were provided to me by our instructor from which we were to develop a story. I hope you enjoy it.

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She wondered what it was like in his silent world, and wished she could tell him. Instead, she traced his eyebrows with her fingertips.

Running her hands down his face, her fingers landed on his slightly parted lips. A faint smile began to draw upon his mouth and grew in a toothy grin.

Anna found herself rubbing her nose along the prickly stubble that covered his chin as she cradled his face in her delicate petite hands.

His warm hand grabbed hers and dragged it down to his chest. She could feel the rhythm of his heart beating fast as if he had just finished a race.

Throwing her arms around his neck she buried her face into his chest. The scent of flannel mixed with lavender invaded her nose. How she loved his scent and how it would cling to her every time they touched.

She wondered if he truly knew how she felt. How her stomach would draw up in knots whenever he was near.

Her mind raced to when they first met through a family friend. It was the typical set up that Anna was all too familiar with. She had grown use to people feeling sorry for her since her marriage ended two years prior.

What was intended to be a courteous gesture blossomed from a budding friendship to a loving relationship.

The fact that Tom faced the world in silence did not faze Anna. As they grew closer and closer, the communication obstacles were knocked down and they learned to communicate through feelings.

But Anna desperately wanted him to hear the words she uttered countless times to an empty audience. Pulling back from him gently she mouthed the words “I love you”.

Grasping her fingers Tom helped her sign the same sentiment. His fingers manipulating hers into every letter. But then he continued molding her trembling fingers into unfamiliar words. Anna shook her head letting Tom know she didn’t understand.

Gripping her fingers tighter he formed the words again. This time at a slower pace.

Warmth crawled up her face as she felt tears beginning to fill her eyes.  Marry me? Was that right?

Freeing her hands, a loud sigh escaped from Tom’s breath.

Anna wiped a tiny tear drop from her flushed cheek and nodded her head. Yes she would marry him.

Their bodies pushed against each other in a tight embrace as their mouths met together. They relished this moment as they were preparing to embark on a whole new adventure.

Tom pulled away from her and gently slid a ring onto her thin finger. Anna gasped as she felt the cool metal touch her skin.

She ran her finger over the modest sized diamond and smiled imagining how beautiful it must look.

Moonlight Snowfall (Short Story)

The young man was sitting on the sofa. His body twisted in such a way it allowed him to gaze out the small window behind him. He found himself amused observing the snowflakes dancing downward from the sky to kiss the earth.

“What are you doing honey?”

He looked back at his wife who had silently entered the room carrying two glasses of red wine.

“Just watching the snow,” he responded smiling at her before he returned his focus to the outside world. She strolled over toward the couch where her husband was sitting.  She placed the glasses on the coffee table that was buried underneath an array of books, magazines and paperwork.

Sitting down next to her love, she tucked her legs underneath herself so she, too, could watch the snow show. It was such a beautiful sight. Countless, unique, frozen bits of rain twirling through the night air.

“What time is it?” he inquired.

“After midnight,” she replied in a hushed tone. She rearranged herself and leaned toward the mis-matched pair of wine glasses. Then she tapped him on the shoulder handing a glass to him.

“Why thank you,” he gushed. He turned around and leaned his back against the tattered couch.

She then curled up and leaned against him. A sigh of contentment rose from her throat.

“This is nice,” she whispered.

He nodded as he took a long sip of the wine. “Nice and quiet,” he responded. “That’s the one thing I like about snow. It is so quiet. It’s like nature is lulled to sleep or something.”

“Like our little ones?” she smiled.

He held his finger up to his mouth making a shushed noise. The couple began to giggle.

“I wonder if the schools will close tomorrow,” she pondered.

“Oh good God I hope not!” he laughed. “But just in case, I guess I need to pull out their boots and coats yes?”

“Good idea,” she responded. “Another good idea is for you to put some more wood in the furnace. It’s getting a wee bit drafty in here.”

“Nice way to kill the moment,” he remarked. He pulled himself up off the sofa and headed toward the front room to refuel the furnace.

“Oh, blimey. We’re out of wood,” he observed. He returned to the small room pulling on his coat. “I’m going out to the shed for more wood. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“Need any help?” she inquired.

“Nah. I got it,” he answered as he left the room and wandered to the front door.

The young woman jumped up from the couch and strode after him. “Wait. I want to come with you.”

Her husband waited patiently as she tugged her boots onto her feet and grabbed her coat. As she fumbled with the buttons, he shoved her knit cap on top of her head.

“You’d hate to get a cold,” he smirked. She pecked him on the cheek as payment for his kindness.

Slowly he opened the door in an effort to avoid it creaking. Then the couple snuck out of the small cottage home and trudged through the snow toward the shed.

“Wow! It’s really coming down!” she exclaimed. The pair watched in awe as the tiny wet particles glistened in the full moon’s light.

The man looked up blinded by the flurries fluttering into his eyes. As he was wiping the snow from his eyes, he felt something strike him in his right arm. Startled he looked at his sleeve and saw it splattered with snow. He then looked over toward his laughing wife who was jumping up and down clapping.

“So that’s how it’s going to be eh?” he remarked. The man bent over and gathered two handfuls of snow. Patting them together he created a large snowball.

When his wife saw what he was doing she yelled, “You wouldn’t dare!”

“You know I love you,” he said as he lobbed the ball of snow directly at her.

Screaming she jumped to avoid being struck but stumbled and fell face first into the deep snow. She didn’t move but just laid there. He observed that she wasn’t stirring. Panic took over, and he ran to his wife lying on the white blanket of snow.

“Honey!” he yelled. As he approached her, she grabbed his lower leg causing him to sprawl down into the snow.

As he attempted to regain his footing she slammed him with a snowball.

“Cheeky!” he yelled as he grabbed more snow and threw it at her. The couple began to laugh and frolic like two children in a winter wonderland.  The pair started a snow ball war hurling snow balls at each other until both were covered in wet slush. This behavior continued for several minutes until they dropped down to the ground winded.

“Oooooo when I was a young girl I loved making snow angels!” she exclaimed. She began to wave her arms back and forth overhead while kicking her legs apart and then bringing them back together.

“More like snow devils if you ask me,” he mocked. She smacked him on the arm and stuck her tongue out at her love.

“Come on! You should try it!” she yelled as she continued making her angel creation.  He rolled to his side propping his head up with his hand gazing at his wife.

“What?” she asked as he stared at her.

“You’re just so beautiful,” he commented. He then crawled over to her and leaned in to kiss her.

Just as their lips touched, both were startled when a lump of snow smacked them each in the face. Shocked they both looked up only to see their 8 year old daughter standing there.

“Do we have school tomorrow?” she inquired.