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Still scribbling, after all these years
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Extracts from
Seven Short Stories

1 : Room 33

Matilda said, "George is okay, just in a world of his own. You really have to live with him. The green and yellow outfit means he’s an escape risk, by the way – did you know that? They're talking about moving him to Category A. Anyway, he won't stop while he thinks he's bothering you, so keep your eyes on your work. Never look out of the window. If he sees just a glance he'll know he's got you."
"Got me? So I can't look out of the window any more."
"No, not when they're out."
"That's impossible though."
"No it isn't," she said, "ignore him."
It was easier said than done. Frank would discover how hard it was to avoid looking at someone who's just there, outside your window, staring at you, and usually he failed. His glance would be enough to encourage George. Such a friendly name though. But what was he trying to do? "Just intimidate you," Matilda said. "He doesn't need a reason."
But George did have a reason.

2 : Daytona Yellow

6.45am drizzle, car park outside Waterlooville, facing Portsmouth, engine purring. Turns it off, and slumps. Now real doubts about the car; should she take it? Stupid. You can't take it. Remembers the first time driving it though, so careful, Pride and Joy, just painted. In love then, she thinks, she with him and he with his Mini. Always careful with it, probably why he stuck with her. A fiancée for life, that was it... no more responsibilities, enough with the car. And her mother - what would she think? Not a lot. Shocked of course. Liked Frank - the son she never had, she said. Poor Frank, engaged and all that, full of hope for the future, then this. Well Mum, there's more for me. A whole world more. Now she feels better. But get going! Turns the key, presses the starter.

3 : The World Alongside Us

From the Lost Journal, Saturday 30th December 2023
There are so many things I can't understand. This house is not quite as it should be. There are differences. My books have strangers amongst them, and a stranger's clothes are mixed in with mine in the wardrobe. Yet so much of it is as it was. The Christmas presents are here, the tree, even the remains of the cake. I can't explain any of it. My wife, my friends, where are they? I'm in a crazy world where nothing adds up. I'm confused, and wishing it were a soon-ending dream, waking again to my wife, to my people, my work, my life, everything as it was before this nightmare.
I stood on the patio again in the sharp breeze, and looked down at the town. I do this a lot, remembering the view as it was, with lights and movement, and the distant noise. The aspect is almost north-west towards the first far hills of Wales, over a dozen or more farms beyond the outskirts of the lifeless town.
Found a shotgun at the farm down the hill. Tried it out in the garden. Didn't do it right, so bruised my shoulder.
Tomorrow I shall go on an outing.

4 : Sorry, Wrong Number

Anyway, I had this idea. Living alone is good and bad, if you like people. It's good because you get a break from the annoying ones, and bad because you don't want to lose the good ones. But if you don't like people, you're laughing. I miss people. The ones I grew up with are all gone and, well, I'm an old man now - all I've got are memories and photographs. But there are people who call in, to be honest. There's the postie – they chop and change, male or female, you never know. They usually have time for a chat. They never chat with Mrs J though because she can never get there in time, and that's her own fault. I'm always there for them. Then there's Steve from the Community Centre, who pops in once a week unless he's away somewhere. I see him twice a week at the Centre but he checks on me anyway as if I can't look after myself, but he's a kind person. Tomorrow's his day, I think.
Anyway, I had this idea. The postie brought me a new phone directory...

5 : The Red Bag

Signor Pagano, as he liked to be addressed even by his close business friends, was someone Steven could happily live without were it not for his unrivalled contacts throughout Italy and the world. Good contacts always meant good business, and Pagano's circle was in a different league, so anything special would always go to him.
He drank his tea with the treasure unrolled in front of him, and was too excited to eat. Pagano would come at seven with his knowledge and his airs and give his most excellent opinion on the beads, and which Steven already knew would be presented so as not to excite the seller too much, and lead to an inflated asking price. No, the beads would be good, very good, but if you look closely you see these minute flaws, just here... and here? There were no flaws, but this was part of the game, and Steven was used to it.

6 : The Immortal King

Then the King thought it necessary to lightly kiss Divico's lips to get his full understanding, whereupon the young man recoiled but was held close. Moments later the smiling King left them, placing one of the Palace Guards outside the door. The merchant, clearly in terror of the situation, came close and spoke in an undertone:
"I am to live in the next chamber, and to teach you our language." Then, almost in a whisper, and gravely, "I fear you are not of his persuasion, you understand me... but he will not be denied, upon pain of your death."
Divico said nothing.
"We are taught from childhood that our bodies are to be shared, but you are for the Immortal King alone. Do not forget that."
The merchant left then and Divico sat with his thoughts. Soon a girl came in with food for him, naked save for a thin golden belt around her hips, her head bowed in subservience. She left in silence.

7 : The Beautiful Greyness of the World

Poor Hubert. It was me who found him last Sunday afternoon. Me, summoned by the unanswered telephone and a growing feeling of something – but more of that later. The week before (a troubling week for us, if you remember) I'd met Flora in the woods as I sometimes did when we walked our dogs. It was damp and misty. She said to me, "How would you describe this morning, Alex?" That’s me, by the way – never Alexis. Too proper.
"Um... misty, overcast, damp. Not cold though."
"And what colour would you say this morning is?"
I looked around. "Well, grey, mostly."
"Exactly!" she said. "And would you say it's a bad morning?"
"No, I don't really mind this weather."
"HAH!" she said, and made me jump. I looked sideways at her and asked if she was all right. "My husband complains too much about the weather. Wish he'd find somewhere else to live."
She told me Hubert had promised to take the dog that morning, but when he got up and looked outside he changed his mind.
"He went on and on about the bloody depressing weather, so I said never mind, I'll take the dog. He was happy with that."
I mumbled, "I'm sorry..."
"He’s always saying how grey everything is – what’s wrong with grey?"
"Well," I said, "it's very British to complain about the weather."
"But why? – what's wrong with this?" - she waved her arms, to include everything, and went on, "I said to him, if you hate grey so much, why did you have that damned car painted grey? And do you know what he said? He said Flora, my Jaguar is silver grey..."

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