Stan’s Park

This is a work of fiction. A short story of 1500 words.

Stan switched off the TV after the weather forecast. Set fair for tomorrow, which was good news to him. That meant a day at the park, the one thing he liked best. Living in a tiny flat with no outdoor space might have seemed awful to many people, but the park was just across the road, and offered so much more than any garden ever could have.

He had played in that same park as a youngster.
He had watched out for the grumpy park-keeper, always telling them off for something.
Walked hand in hand there with Valerie, when they were courting.
Sailed toy boats with Tim on the lake.
Pushed Emma in the swings, and spun her on the roundabout.
Family picnics on hot days, buying ice-creams from the van in the car park.
Years later, he had walked Bonnie there, always careful to keep her on a lead.

But it had changed since his schooldays.
No more park keepers, just an occasional van patrol.
And Valerie had been gone almost eleven years now.
Tim had been lost in the Falklands. His photo and medal displayed on the wall.
Emma was in Australia, with the two grandchildren he had never seen, except in photos.
Nobody had real picnics anymore; just fast food, wrappers discarded on the grass.
Bonnie was no more either, and Stan hadn’t the heart for another dog.
The house had gone next. Too big for one now, and it gave him some savings.

Winters were long and dull. Park benches too wet to sit on, and nobody to watch as he sat in his usual spot. Summer was Stan’s time. He could move around the large space; watch the football games, the kids splashing in the lake, and the older ones on the tennis courts, inspired by Wimbledon on the telly. Teenagers cuddling on blankets, loners sitting reading, joggers and serious runners pounding past, toddlers trying to learn to ride bikes with stabilisers. The whole world was there for the watching.

If he had some old bread, he would wander over to feed the ducks. On a good day, a brave squirrel might take nuts from his hand. The pigeons always fluttered around when he ate his sandwich. They had got used to him at the same spot, and seemed to sense his arrival, as he reached into the old duffel bag for his lunch. The park closed at dusk, so that varied throughout the year. Not long ago, Stan would have been there until closing, spotting the van arrive, with the man getting ready to padlock the gates. But he couldn’t stay so long now, not since they closed the toilets. Local gossip was that men used them to fiddle with each other. But Stan used them all the time for calls of nature, and he had never seen anyone fiddling with anyone else in them. So now when he needed to go, he had to go home.

He was up early, pleased that the sun was out, and the sky blue. Some time was spent on polishing his shoes. His old Dad always told him that clean shoes were the mark of a man, and Stan had never forgotten that. It took a while to adjust his hearing-aid. No point going out if he couldn’t hear anything. After making his sandwich, and pouring some tea in his flask, he put the things in his bag, and checked himself in the hallway mirror. Tie done up, trousers pressed, and hair combed. He was ready to face the world.

Walking through the distinctive iron gates, he felt right at home, ready to spend another day in his park. He always thought of it as his park, and the others that used it were just passing through, as far as he was concerned. Making his way through the rose garden, he stopped to admire some blooms. The soil looked dry, and Stan thought they could do with a good watering. His first stop was a good bench on the main path. This gave him views over at least a third of the park, and was close enough to some trees to get the shade too. Despite the weather, there were not many people around. But he would bide his time. It was the school holidays after all, so Mums would soon be out with their kids, and the ice cream van would be as busy as ever.

He sat for a long time, thinking about Valerie, and those grandchildren he might never see. But when nobody appeared nearby, he moved over to the fenced-off sports area. He would have his lunch on the bench nearby, see if anyone was playing football or basketball in there. Halfway through his sandwich, some older kids arrived, and went through the gate to play basketball. Stan had never played basketball. In his day, it had been football and cricket. But he had seen it on telly, The Harlem Globetrotters. These boys and girls were good, especially one tall girl. She seemed to float across the tarmac, and never missed the basket. He put his sandwich down to clap her fourth success, but they didn’t look round. Didn’t even seem to notice he was there.

Lunch over, and tea finished, Stan moved again. A long wander down to the play area, where there were sure to be people around the sandpit. It was different to when he had played in the sand there. Now there were things to climb on placed on the sand, and nobody seemed to bring buckets or shovels anymore. He wondered why they bothered to even have sand in it, other than to break the falls of the kids. The Mums didn’t bother to show them how to build sand castles, or half-bury them in the sand, like his Mum used to. They sat on the concrete wall surrounding it instead, mostly looking at their phones, or gossiping as they smoked cigarettes. They weren’t supposed to smoke there, but there was no park keeper to tell them off anymore.

After an hour or so near the sandpit, Stan needed to pee. He thought he had better get started for home, knowing exactly how long it would take him to walk from there to his flat. He had never had an accident yet, and he wasn’t about to start now. It was the water tablets of course. The tea went through him a lot faster these days. He retraced his steps past the ball court, and turned right onto the main path. He could see the gate in the distance, so was sure it would be fine. Before he got to the gate, Stan was surprised to be stopped by some men in uniform. He respected uniforms and authority, so stood still, when asked to do so.

One of them identified himself as a police officer. “I am constable Warren, Sir, and I need to ask you some questions. This is the park warden, and he is concerned about your behaviour”. Stan was confused. Why was he being stopped? And why was a policeman here? The policeman continued, “Can I take your name and address please, Sir?” Stanley was a law-abiding citizen, and replied immediately.
“Stanley McFarland, 116, Park View.” The officer wrote the details on his notebook, then asked with a stern look. “Do you know why I am stopping you, Stanley” Stan was still confused.”No I don’t officer, and I have to tell you, I need to pee. My flat’s just there, opposite the pedestrian crossing. I really need to go”. The officer ignored his reply, and continued. “Stanley, you have been seen watching teenagers at the basketball court. Then you went to watch small children playing at the sandpit. Does that sound about right?” His tone was unmistakable, slightly aggressive, and no-nonsense.

Stanley shrugged. “I am here every day, officer. I just sit in the park, and watch what goes on. It gives me something to do.” The park warden smiled, and turned to the officer. “See, I told you, most days, without fail. Watching the little ones, and staring.” Officer Warren turned back to Stan. “Look, if I were you, Stanley, I would find something else to occupy my time, OK?” We don’t need any old men walking around watching small kids and teenagers, do we?” The park warden leered at Stan. “Leave them alone, old man. We don’t need people like you in this park, do we?” Officer Warren was kinder. “Look, on your way now. Find somewhere else to hang around, and don’t let me get called back to you in future, alright?”

As Stan nodded, he felt the flow of the warm urine enter his underwear, soaking into his trousers. The park warden chuckled, “If I was you, I would change my trousers when I got in, old man”. As Stan pressed the button of the pedestrian crossing, he could no longer control the tears that flowed freely down his cheeks.


Guest Post: Third Floor Bingo

I am delighted to post this fictional story from David Miller. David is a published author, song lyricist, compiler of limericks, and an accomplished blogger. He lives in Nevada USA, close to Las Vegas, and is currently working on some new novels. You can see more of his work on this blog, and his books are available on Amazon.


Some years ago–I don’t remember exactly when–I got bored one afternoon, and so I called for a cab, and told the driver to please take me down to the local casino. You know, I thought I’d play me some bingo. I hadn’t played for a while. Maybe a good long while…
Anyway, once I got inside the casino, I looked around, and all I could see was playing tables, slot machines, a cashier’s cage, a buffet, and a bar. Everyone was busy, so I figured I’d ask a cocktail waitress for directions. I can’t picture her anymore, but I’ll bet you my bottom dollar that she was young and pretty.
“Young lady,” I said. “I’m looking for the bingo.”
She smiled–at least I think she did–and said, “Oh, it’s up on the third floor. Just take the elevator over there.”

Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
The bingo is on the third floor
The bingo is on the third floor
Third floor…

So, I thanked the waitress with a tip of the hat, and made a beeline for the elevator. Because there’s only one, you see. And it kept me waiting there for quite a while. When it finally did arrive, I stepped in, and took a look at the buttons. My stars, there must have been a dozen of them! And darn if I couldn’t remember which one to press! So I just pressed them all. When I got to the second floor, the door opened, and a couple of out-of-towners with a funny kind of accent jumped right in.
“I’m sorry to bother you, folks. But I’m looking for the bingo parlor. I don’t suppose you’d happen to know which floor it’s on…?”
“See that little sign up there? Bingo. Third Floor.”

Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
The bingo is on the third floor
The bingo is on the third floor
Third floor…

You know, those funny-talking folks were really nice because they made sure I got off on the third floor. And there it was, right across the hall–the bingo parlor! I walked through the big glass door, picked up a bingo card–they didn’t have all those fancy electronics back then–and I sat myself down at a table. There weren’t but a few people playing. But one of them grabbed me by the gut: a genuine pearl of a woman in a blue chiffon dress. She looked to be a little younger than me. And she was playing all by herself. So I upped and went over to introduce myself. That’s when I found out her name was Mabel.
“Mabel, would you like to have some company?”
“Oh, that’s so very sweet of you. But I’m expecting Mr. Sanchez at four o’clock.”
Or maybe she said five o’clock. I’m not sure. What’s important is that she was expecting him pretty soon. So I asked her who this Mr. Sanchez was, and she said they’d met a few years back, that they’d been keeping a correspondence through the post. After all that time, Mr. Sanchez had finally decided to come visit her, and maybe take her out on a date.
“And what if he don’t show up?”
She smiled–I do remember that smile! And she said, “Well, if he doesn’t present himself by four thirty, I’d be most happy to have you come join me.” She gave him half an hour past the appointed time to make good on his promise. So I prayed in my heart that he wouldn’t show up at four thirty–or five thirty, whichever it was.
“Mabel,” I said, “this suitor of yours might not be as punctual as you’d like. After all, it’s a big casino!”
But Mabel shook her head. “Don’t be silly! I told him I’d be right here on the third floor, playing bingo….”

Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
The bingo is on the third floor
The bingo is on the third floor
Third floor…

Well, that did it! I had to make a move, you see. So I asked her straight out, “If he don’t make it on time, would you be agreeable to go out with me on a date?”
She laughed–I do remember that laugh. And she said, “I suppose there would be no harm in that. Do you have a car?”
“You know how it is, Mabel,” I said. “We’ve got two cabs for every resident in town. Who needs a car anymore?”
And here, I’ve got to give Mabel some credit. Instead of calling me out for fibbing, which I’d done out of shame, she hatched a little grin, and–for just a moment, mind you!–she rested her hand on mine. Well, that hand was like a warm iron on my soul. It smoothed out the wrinkles, and I didn’t feel ashamed anymore.
You see, in my younger days, I used to tear up the county roads. Why, I even played chicken once, and kept a steady hand on the wheel while the other car ran off in the ditch! …But the time came when I had to give up the wheel. I don’t recall when I stopped driving–not exactly. But that ain’t important to the story.
Oh, and just so you know. Mabel didn’t have a car either.
Anyway, I went back to my table. And I played my cards, but I couldn’t get a winning pattern–or maybe they were playing blackout? Whatever it was, a few minutes before Mr. Sanchez was supposed to arrive, I got up and went over to Mabel, and told her I was going down to the bar for a drink, and that I’d be back soon, so don’t you worry about me. The truth is that I had to pay a visit to the men’s room. But I was coming back alright. I was curious to see what kind of fellow this Mr. Sanchez was.
So I got back on the elevator. And, to be on the safe side, I took note of what floor I was on before taking the elevator down.

Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
The bingo is on the third floor
The bingo is on the third floor
Third floor…

It seemed to me that the noise in the casino had gone up a notch or two. Maybe it had, or maybe I could just hear better because it was my spirit that was up. To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought because I had some urgent business to take care of.
On my way to the restroom, I played chicken with the change cart that was making its rounds. I nearly wet my pants, but I felt good afterwards because the change attendant avoided me by making a quick turn off the main aisle. Me, I just smiled and kept on going!
Now, I should probably mention that I didn’t need any help finding the men’s room. It’s pretty well marked, so you can’t hardly miss it. Anyway, I milked myself as dry as I could, and when I came out of there, I ran smack into that cocktail waitress again. And I realized that I’d somehow forgotten which floor the bingo was on.
“Young lady, just where is that bingo parlor, anyway?”
She must have thought I’d been looking for it all that time! Because she went to giggling, and nearly tipped over the drinks on her tray! Leastways, that’s how I remember it.…
“You see that elevator over there? You can take it to the third floor. The bingo is on the third floor.”

Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
Third floor bingo, wah-o-o!
The bingo is on the third floor
The bingo is on the third floor
Third floor…

Naturally, I directed my attention at the elevator. And what did I see? There was a curious gentleman standing there. He was wearing a white suit with a black western tie. And I knew right away that it must be Mr. Sanchez. My memory ain’t so good anymore, and, if truth be told, it wasn’t all that sharp back then either, but I’ve always had a keen sense of people.
So I excused myself from the waitress, and beat a path to the elevator.
I was so sure of myself that I walked right up to the gentleman in white, and I said to him, “Good day, señor! What brings you to these parts?”
Well, he was a friendly kind of fellow, and we began to talk. And, by golly, I was right. He was Mr. Sanchez, come to take Mabel out on a date. The elevator was busy as usual, but, of course, what goes up must come down. When it did, the arrow lit up with a ding, and Mr. Sanchez noticed, but I kept him talking, and we didn’t get on.
“I reckon you’re on your way up to Mabel’s room?” I asked him finally.
“No, sir…. She asked me to meet her in the bingo room on the third floor.”
“Now isn’t that odd? The bingo closed at three.” Or maybe I said four.

No more bingo, wah-o-o!
No more bingo, wah-o-o!
No more bingo, wah-o-o!
The bingo has just closed the door
The bingo has just closed the door
No more…

Well, by this time, Mr. Sanchez had come to trust me. And so he just nodded, shook my hand, and walked away–at least that’s how I remember it. I stood around a bit, waiting for the next ride up. The elevator was in no particular hurry, of course. By the time I got on, and looked at all those buttons again, I have to admit that my mind drew a blank. But then I noticed the sign: Bingo. Third Floor. So then I knew which button to press.
As you might have guessed, I found Mabel right where I’d left her. I waved at her as I passed through the big glass door. And so as not to give a hint as to what I’d done, I sat down at my old table, and I waited….
And when the clock ticked past the thirty, I went over to Mabel, and took a seat beside her. We played a few games, and shared a laugh or two. And she didn’t seem to mind that Mr. Sanchez had failed to turn up. So I reminded her that she’d agreed to go out with me on a date. And she gave me a gentle pat on the cheek.
Some things you never forget!

So that’s the story. We never got married. But we ended up living together here at the home. Mabel got to feeling feeble after a while, so they put her in a wheelchair. And after my fall, I was given a walker. Believe me, it ain’t much fun getting old! But the nurses here take good care of people, and they set up the bingo tables every Friday night. Mabel and I never missed a game! That is, until she passed away.… She passed away on a…Tuesday? It don’t matter. She’s gone now. And on Friday, when the nurse comes by to ask me if I’m up for a game of bingo, I always say no. My heart just ain’t in it anymore.

No more bingo, wah-o-o!
No more bingo, wah-o-o!
No more bingo, wah-o-o!
I won’t play that game anymore
I won’t play that game anymore
No more.

© David E. Miller (4/15/18)

The Number 29

This is a work of fiction, a short story of 786 words.

Andrius waved to Donna as he pulled the bus away from the stop. She was going in the other direction, probably due to finish soon, once she got back to Wood Green. The traffic in Camden Town was as bad as ever. Even with the bus lanes, it didn’t make much difference. They were full of buses, so still hardly moved. Andrius preferred working the night shift. Less traffic, no stress. Well, there was stress from the passengers of course. The drunks, the aggressive young men, and the rough sleepers who tried to stay on the bus all night. But during the day, everyone seemed to be sullen. They complained if the bus was late, and just as much if they missed it because it was too early. They asked to get off when he was stuck in Gower Street, and shouted at him when he refused to open the doors for them.

He did his shifts without complaining, and worked most of his days off on overtime too. The garage manager had come to rely on him, he knew that. “Good old Andy” he would say. Everyone called him Andy in London. They couldn’t seem to understand his actual name, and he had become tired of correcting them. But he wasn’t alone in the busy bus garage. Most of the other drivers were from abroad, so it seemed. Those that weren’t were of West Indian or African background, and almost none of them were actually from London. Except Donna of course, and old Terry. His accent made everyone assume he was Polish, but he never understood why. He quickly discovered that very few people had heard of Lithuania.
Even the few that did know the country had only heard of Vinius, the capital. He hadn’t met anyone who knew his home city of Kaunas.

Once people found out that he wasn’t Polish, they just assumed he was Russian. Lots of English people seemed to think that Lithuania was still a part of Russia, and nobody seemed to know much about the history of his country, or even where it was. To Andrius, London was just too big. Too many people, too many districts, and a population much larger than that of his whole country, let alone Kaunas. Not that he had seen much of it, or anything of the rest of the country outside the metropolis. He was there to work. To earn enough money to return home, and set himself up. He rented a room in a house in Tottenham, shared with four others. He didn’t really know them well, and kept himself to himself. Eventually, he had come to terms with the strange food, and bad manners he saw everywhere.

The English were nothing like he expected. For one thing, not many of them were English. They were Irish, Scottish, Indian, African, and Polish, at least where he lived. The ones that were not from those backgrounds were West Indian in the main, and the English people he met did not have the manners and bearing he had thought to experience. In this city of Shakespeare and Dickens, rich with heritage and tradition, he found only hurry. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry. As he walked to work, people barged into him. They ran for his bus, and rushed onto it without queuing. The London he had seen in the films was nothing like the city he lived in, which had been the greatest disappointment.

As he pulled around the stationary taxi, the cabbie pulled out right in front of him. Andrius didn’t bother to sound the horn or shout, like so many of the other bus drivers he knew. In a few yards, it would probably happen again, so why get so bothered? Once in Charing Cross Road, he relaxed. Trafalgar Square was in sight. A short break, and a drive around the square, before changing the destination board at the front back to Wood Green, and reversing the journey. All being well, he would be finished by seven tonight. He would walk home, and buy something to eat on the way. Perhaps watch a film later.

He would try not to think too much about home, or when he studied English, and hoped to live one day in that wonderful city called London. Try not to remember the beautiful buildings of medieval Kaunas, having coffee with friends in the old town, or walks along the banks of the river. He would definitely not think about Valentina, his first love, now married to an American.

He was on early shift tomorrow.

Still the number 29. From Wood Green, to Trafalgar Square.

Fictional musings

I have never made a secret of the fact that I enjoy writing short stories, and publishing them on this blog. I get the most satisfaction from writing fiction, approaching it in something of a style, and going from idea to published story very quickly, without too much time for research and construction.

That many of you read them and comment is always a source of delight to me. Whether or not you have enjoyed them, the fact that people take time to read them is very much appreciated. When I have received praise for them, or criticism, both are equally valuable to me.

As you may know, I have occasionally written some in the form of a serial. One of the first, ‘Travelodge’, was in three parts, later followed by ‘Tubby’s Toe’, a gangster saga, in six long episodes. The most recent attempt, ‘Gary’s hot date’ ran to four parts, and concluded last week. That was my first attempt at a real ‘happy ending’ too, and felt a little strange to me.

Today’s musings concern the idea of such serialisations, and one fact in particular. Easily able to estimate from the viewing stats provided by WordPress, I came across something that I found quite surprising. Although most die-hard followers and readers stuck with all the episodes of those serials, often commenting all the way through, most readers read only some, or part of them. If they read the first parts and decided it wasn’t for them, that’s easy to understand. But in most cases, it was the later episodes that received the most views, often twice as many as previous posts, including the beginning to each story, which in many cases received the least views.

I am now thinking about all those people that read parts five and six of a story that had four previous episodes. What did they think was happening? It would have made no sense as a stand-alone piece, and I always publish warnings about serials at the start of each post. The most recent four-parter enjoyed more views of the last episode, that the three preceding it. How did they ever manage to work out the whats and whys? I confess that does intrigue me.

But it’s not the end of the world. Just musings.

Late night shopping

***This is the concluding part to a serialised story. If you have not read the previous episodes, please do so first, or it will make no sense.***

This is a fictional short story of 1200 words.

Gary waited until the tea break to check his phone. After almost being late, he didn’t want to be seen looking at it at his desk. Sure enough, there was a message from Andrea.

Morning gary i hope you u had a good night i woz so excited i could hardly sleep
just today 2 go then we r out on friday i really cant w8 i hope im busy today so it goes by fast and friday comes sooner love andrea xxxxxxxxxxxx

He replied in his usual polite but restrained fashion.

Me too Andrea. Love Gary. xxx

Gary looked again at the new photos Andrea had sent him. He didn’t mind her short hair at all. There was a time when he thought girls with shorter hair were more attractive anyway. And what if she looked at least the same age as him? That was better than her looking too young, wasn’t it? He switched off his phone and dumped his half-drunk plastic cup of tea into the bin. Old man Wilcox was on his case this morning, and arriving back early from tea break would look good.

Not for the first time, Andrea was wishing she had someone to talk to about Gary. In most offices, girls would chatter on about boyfriends and dates, she was sure. But she was the youngest in her department, and the two other ladies were a little distant. Edna was really old, so old she was a widow. And Dorothy only ever talked about her son, who was a successful lawyer. Neither of them ever asked Andrea what she did with her spare time, or even if she had a boyfriend. She was annoyed with herself for forgetting to bring the tote bag with her high heels in it. She would have to try on the new dress wearing the flats she had on for work. Never mind, she would go on tiptoe, and simulate the effect.

When Mr Wilcox left early that afternoon, Gary was smiling. That meant that they would all get off on time, and he could get across to the new shopping centre, and buy that shirt. When he had checked his phone at lunchtime, there was no message from Andrea. He was a little put out by that. Funny how soon you get used to getting regular messages, even though they seem a pain at first. He smiled to himself, wondering how he could miss someone he had never met, or spoken to.

Andrea picked up the dress in her size. She took all three colour options into the changing room, just to be sure. The dark red had been the first one she had spotted, but finding the same style in midnight blue and sea green had made her doubt herself. She would try them all, and then she would be left in no doubt. As none of them would look right with the grey tights she was wearing with her business skirt, she stripped down to bra and pants, going with the red dress first. The changing cubicle was quite large, and the mirrors on each side allowed her to see the full effect. A few inches above the knee, and just low enough at the front to be suggestive, but not revealing. Quarter sleeves suited the design, and it fitted well, without being too clingy. But after trying on the other two, she was torn. The midnight blue really looked the part, much dressier. She decided on that one, and changed back into her work clothes before heading over to the cash desk.

Gary found the shirt, and quickly flicked through the rail, in case there was one he liked better. But he knew his mind well enough, and stuck with his first choice. After paying for it, and being handed back the shirt in a bag, he realised he had plenty of time. He would go down to the food court to get something to eat. As he approached the escalator, his phone went off in his pocket, and he stopped to look at the message.

O gary i just got the best dress for tomorrow its a gr8 colour and i think u r gonna luv it just 1 more sleep and 1 day at work then we will b meeting up at the chinese i cant w8 love andrea xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Gary smiled, stupidly content that she had sent a message after all. He slipped the phone back into his pocket and walked onto the escalator, failing to notice that he had walked straight in front of a lady who was just going around him. She tripped over his leg as he stepped out, tumbling straight down the moving stairway, head first. Her handbag and shopping bag went flying as she fell, and she continued almost to the bottom, until her fall was blocked by the body of a big woman lower down. Gary ran down the left side of the stairs, and before he could get to the lady, a crowd had started to gather around her, with some shop staff talking urgently into hand-held radios.

Andrea felt rather silly. She was lying on her back with her legs sprawled wide open and her skirt around her hips, displaying the comfort gusset of her tights to everyone around. Her elbow hurt, and as she tried to get up, a woman in the shop uniform told her to lie still. “Help’s on the way” she shouted, as if Andrea was deaf. Someone had pushed the emergency stop button on the escalator, so at least that had stopped moving under her leg. A serious young man pushed through the people around her. He was carrying a first-aid bag, and had a radio clipped to a tab on his shirt. “Lie still madam, that’s a nasty cut on your face. I’m just going to put a dressing on it. An ambulance is on the way”.
Andrea nodded, wincing as he pushed a bandage of some sort onto her chin. Looking over his shoulder, she could see a man a few steps further up. He looked strangely familiar, but she couldn’t immediately place him.

Gary couldn’t get down to the lady he had inadvertently tripped up. Shop staff and first aid people were around her, but she looked up and caught his gaze. Her hair was very short, and the long lines either side of her nose ran down to the edges of her top lip. Before he could stop himself, he blurted out a name. “Andrea?” The serious first aid man looked up. “Do you know her? Are you together?”

Andrea answered. “Yes we’re together. His name is Gary, and he’s my boyfriend”.

Years later, they would still laugh about spending their first date in the emergency department of the local hospital. They never did get to that Chinese restaurant. And Andrea never mentioned his height, not once. Just as he never mentioned the huge scar that ran right around her chin.

Friday looming

***This is part four of a serial*** Please read these first, if you haven’t already done so.

This is a fictional short story of 1045 words.

Andrea had tried to keep the messages to a minimum, but excitement was getting the better of her by Wednesday. She wanted Gary to know that she was still keen, and appreciated him rearranging the date. And despite hours in front of the TV, she was still none the wiser about Game of Thrones. It just wasn’t sinking in. She resolved to keep Gary interested by sending messages instead. Hopefully, he would forget about the TV show, and if she looked really good on Friday, he might not even get around to mentioning it. Before she left for work that morning, she sent another one.

Hi gary checked the menu of that chinese place online and it looks gr8 going to not eat 2 much this week so i can try lots of things on friday also thought maybe we could go 2 that bar after u know the 1 near the city hall sposed to b good i will treat u 2 a cocktail have a good day love andreaxxxxxxx

Gary read the message on his way to the station. She was certainly keen, no denying that. She had started to send good night messages, as well as the morning ones. Sometimes, there was one sent during her lunch hour too. He felt flattered that she was so interested, but he hadn’t managed to wade through all those Lord of The Rings films, and didn’t think he would manage it by Friday. They just sent him to sleep, with all the elves and goblins and whatever. Hopefully, he could be charming and attentive, and she wouldn’t think to mention it. Before the train arrived, he fired off a nice reply.

Morning Andrea. That bar near the City Hall is supposed to be very good, so I think it’s a good idea to go there after the meal. Looking forward to Friday. Gary. xx

Gary knew the bar was also very expensive, but he had been budgeting for Friday, and was sure he would have enough to pay for the meal and drinks. If Andrea offered to pay half, he would decline with thanks and say “No, it’s on me”. That seemed to him to be the gentlemanly thing to do. He didn’t really hold with all that equality stuff, not on a first date, anyway. He would get a new shirt too. Something smart for the bar, but not too dressy for a Chinese meal. Give the credit card a pasting, what the hell.

Andrea got home late. There had been a systems failure at work, and everyone had stayed behind to input all the missing data. Tomorrow was Thursday, so once that was out the way, it would be time for the date. She sat wrapped in her fluffy dressing gown, imagining how it would go. Gary would look nice, she was sure of that, and she would make sure to look her best too. She would avoid talking about TV shows and books. Maybe ask him about his job, or his family, or where he had been on holiday. If he invited her back to his place, she would politely decline. But she would invite him in for coffee, presuming it all went well. If anything was going to happen, it would be better for it to be at hers. But what if he didn’t even offer to see her home? She hadn’t considered that, and didn’t want to think about it. Better to think positive, as that made her all tingly. She sent a text to Gary, and went into the bathroom to get ready for bed. The sooner she went to sleep, the faster Friday would come around.

Gary had given up on all of it. No more Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, or Game of Thrones. If push came to shove, he would just tell her the truth, that he didn’t know much about any of them. Tell her he said it to get her attention, and hope that she would at least be flattered by that. His phone beeped, and he opened the message. It would be from Andrea, he already knew that.

Just sayin goodnite gary been thinkin bout u tonite and really lookin 4ward to friday still just wish it woz 2morrow i looked at your photos again and like the 1 of u in the red shirt woz that on holiday or something coz u look tanned and happy anyway sleep tite and cu friday love andrea xxxxxxxxxx

He decided not to reply, or it might go on all night. He wondered if she was always like this with blokes, or was it just him? In the back of his mind, he was still concerned about his height. Whatever else he had told her was easy enough to deal with, but being much shorter was something he could never avoid being noticed. Over the past few months, he had always imagined what it might be like to connect with someone so keen. Now it had happened, he constantly worried about being able to live up to the image he put across. What if she was really the one, but it all went wrong because he was too short? It took him a long time to get to sleep that night, with those doubts niggling away at his brain.

Andrea was up very early on Thursday. She felt great, and hoped the day would just fly by. It was late night shopping on Thursdays, so she would be hitting the shops right after work, to buy that dress she had already seen. She would take it into work on Friday, and change in the toilets before going to the Chinese. Looking around her small bedsit, she decided that she would get up early tomorrow; tidy up, and change the bed too. Just in case.

After a bad night, Gary was almost late for work, getting in with just two minutes to spare. He would go to the shops later, and buy that shirt he had seen. He could take it with him on Friday, and change in the staff room.

A date rearranged

***You will have to read the first two parts of this serial, for it to make any sense.***

This is a fictional short story, of 892 words. The third in a series.

Gary read the text, then scrolled down to look at the photos sent with it. So her name wasn’t Belle after all? And her hair was short, not long. Very short in fact. She is supposed to be three years younger than me, but looks at least the same age, if not older, he thought. But she did turn up, Gary believed that part. He decided to be kind, and perhaps not completely truthful. After all, he had never read a Harry Potter book, and had just binge-watched all the films, in case she talked about it. The tablets were taking the worst off, so he carefully composed a reply.

Hi Andrea. That was a surprise!!!!
Still, Andrea is a nice name, and I like it.
Your short hair suits you too. It’s probably easier that way, I guess.
Shame you didn’t let me know about being late, I would have waited. I thought you had changed your mind.
Maybe we can do something next Friday? Not that pasta place though, I didn’t like it.
How about the new Chinese in the Old Town, the one under the bridge?
I will wait outside for you at 7? Let me know if that’s OK. xxx

He pressed ‘Send’, and then wondered if she actually liked Chinese food. Too late now. He was sure he was right not to mention getting drunk in the pasta place, and disgracing himself. Best to have a fresh start next Friday, and put yesterday behind them. He also neglected to mention he was well under the six feet tall he had claimed to be. Hopefully, she wouldn’t be wearing high heels.

Andrea saw the text ping up, and excused herself into the staff toilet to read it. She felt the relief flood over her. Not only was she forgiven, he had asked her out again. And he liked her hair, as well as her real name. She liked the way he sent his texts in proper language too, never using abbreviations or emojis. In her book, that was classy. She would buy a new outfit for Friday. Something smart yet sexy, that would go with those nice new high heels. The rest of the day just flew by, and she decided to text Gary when she was at home, and relaxed.

After a shower, Gary decided to make the most of his day off, and go to bed for a proper sleep. He checked his phone, and noticed that Andrea hadn’t replied. Maybe Chinese wasn’t such a good idea, after all. It was almost dark when he woke up, but he felt a whole lot better. He was hungry though, and picked up his phone to order a pizza for delivery. Seeing the text icon, he opened it up, and it was from Belle. He hadn’t thought to change her contact name this morning. No more photos, but a rambling message, much in her style.

Oh wow gary i LOVE chinese!!!
No good with chopstix tho so hope you dont mind if i use a knife and fork
so pleased you dont mind about the name thing or the short hair even tho i feel silly for doing it and for not texting you i was gonna be l8 i was so happy to get your text and friday at 7 will be gr8
i waited to get home to text so no trouble at work so hope you didnt think i wasnt gonna reply
meeting outside is a good idea and i promise i won’t be l8 this time and i will be the one with short hair!!!!!LOL love from andrea xxxxxxxxxxx

He was pleased, but decided not to seem to be too keen. That wouldn’t do.

That’s great Andrea. See you on Friday at 7. Gary xxx

He reckoned he would have to watch those Harry Potter films again this week. He had already forgotten most of the names of the characters.

After work, Andrea rushed home, and changed into her pyjamas. She got the box sets out from under the TV, and loaded the first DVD into the machine. There were so many people in Game of Thrones, she was sure that she would never remember them all. Still, she had a few days to work through the box sets, and try to learn them again. By midnight, she had managed to watch six episodes, but still felt overwhelmed, confused by the different families and countries. She would just have to skim though some of the other discs, and pick out a few names. Tell Gary that they were her favourite characters.

After his afternoon sleep, Gary wasn’t tired. Just as well, as he had to start on the first Lord of The Rings film. But there were three films in the series, and he knew deep down he was never going to get through them all and remember most of the details. Halfway through the first one, he started to wonder why he had ever said he liked them in the first place. Or why he had said he liked Game of Thrones and the Harry Potter books either. He knew it was going to be a long four days.