A – Z Challenge Day 10

It’s the tenth day of this April’s Blogging Challenge and sees the final prompt from Kate’s dazzling sequence! Thanks for all your help, Kate, you’ve suggested some wonderful and often taxing prompts and through them I’ve written stories which I am quite pleased with!

Today’s word is “JACKASS”. Now, this one really gave me a hard time! I just couldn’t think of anything that I liked the sound of, or anything that didn’t sound obvious or cheesy. However, I’m not one to throw in the towel so I put several thinking caps on and came out with something I’ve deemed worthy of this Challenge. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks again, Kate, you rock!


By Adam Dixon

Lawrence sat in his cell, lost in his thoughts. Introspection was all he had to while away the long hours of his imprisonment, but thankfully he was an expert at it. He sat on the edge of his bed in his orange overalls, caressing his broad, scarred knuckles with his huge hand as he stared into space. He wasn’t feeling sorry for himself, he knew why he was in prison; it was to be expected when you killed a man, after all. No, Lawrence was reflecting on the events that had led up to the man’s death and wondering where it could have been prevented. A few moments stood out, and Lawrence saw with the clarity of hindsight what an emotional fool he had been.

Lawrence had always been emotional, ever since he could remember. It came with growing up as a large male in a backwards, masculine society. He was often cajoled and ridiculed for his size when he was a child, with the other children and their parents sniggering and calling him “Bigfoot” and “Ape-boy”. He thought that it would end when he grew up and became a man, as his size offered him prodigious strength and intimidation. To his dismay he found that it had had the opposite effect as the men around him felt the need to prove themselves against him, usually with their fists. They would seek to provoke him wherever he went, attempting to find a weak chink in his armour. Because of his size they thought he was stupid and that he could be riled up with ease, but Lawrence rarely gave them the satisfaction. He knew how to control his emotions, especially his rage. Rage was an emotion he knew well, they were almost like old friends and he found its fiery presence strangely comforting whenever it welled up inside him. It made him remember that he was human, despite what the idiots threatening him would insist. But that night, he couldn’t control it.

There you are! C’mon, you big fucker, you! Fight me!”

The man’s voice echoed in Lawrence’s ears as he replayed the events of that night in his mind. It was one of the thugs he had thrown out for being too drunk at the bar, and by the looks of things he was still angry and wanted to settle a score. He’d stood in front of Lawrence’s car, an already beaten-up Ford which was now sporting two flat tyres and a smashed windscreen. The man wore an idiotic sneer, his eyes bloodshot and daring him to make a move. He wasn’t small, but he wasn’t as big as Lawrence either. Exactly the kind of man Lawrence was forced to tangle with on an almost daily occurrence. He had stared at the drunk for a moment before turning around and walking off. The guy wasn’t worth it, he’d walk home.

You deaf and stoopid? Fight me!

The man had staggered after him, yelling abuse and waving his fists. He’d had a small group of buddies with him who were jeering and shouting encouragement. Lawrence had kept walking, doing his best to shut out the man’s voice by concentrating on the sound of his footsteps on the gravel. He breathed in the humid air of the summer evening and pushed on.

Fight me, you big ape! Or are ya scared?

The man’s friends had howled with laughter at that one, praising their friend for his bravery. It was an oldie but goodie, Lawrence supposed. It rarely bothered him though, he actually found it funny too. As if he’d be afraid of a lowlife like that? The man probably couldn’t string a coherent sentence together without injecting a curse word! Lawrence strode on, feeling rage’s familiar fingers snaking up his chest. He had it under control.

C’mon you fuckin’ oversized jackass!

Lawrence didn’t know why that word had made him snap. Perhaps it was because his father, also a big man, had often called him that as a child. Perhaps it was simply the final straw laid upon his back following his resistance to everything before it. Or perhaps it was the breath-taking lack of imagination the man had displayed in choosing it, who knew? All Lawrence did know was that because of that word a man was dead and it was his fault.

Lawrence grimaced and looked down at his hands. Those large, strong hands which served drinks at a cocktail bar and had carefully turned the pages of countless books. The same hands which were always gentle when shaking another hand or touching a woman. The same hands which had gripped the thick neck of a grown man and lifted him from his feet as he struggled and choked…those same hands had crushed the life from another human being…

All it had taken was one word. Two syllables had cost Lawrence his liberty and in a few short hours also his life. Lawrence wondered whether or not he should have accepted the man’s invitation for a fight back in the bar, or even in the first instance outside. He would have easily bested him, and his lick-spittle cronies wouldn’t have had the gall to get involved. He could even have called the police and had them move the man on, rather than having him hang around until closing time. So many ways he could have avoided this outcome…

When the time came, Lawrence stood and walked out of his cell and down the hallway in dignified silence. He was flanked by a large group of prison guards, all of them on high alert should the ape-man decided to make a run for it. Lawrence would show them. He wasn’t an ape, he was a man, a good man. He’d just had enough one day, that’s all…

A – Z Challenge Day 3

Third day of the April Challenge already! Blimey, I think it ought to slow down a bit!

Today’s word was once again provided by the wonderful Kate, and the word is “CONCUBINE”. Again, this is a great suggestion and not at all what I was expecting as a prompt, but it began to spark ideas in my brain almost right away. The idea which caught the kindling was that of ancient Greece and their penchant for concubines, and I was able to coax it into a blaze.

Here’s what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.


By Adam Dixon

Cassandra stood at the foot of the marble steps leading up to the palace, closing her eyes to better feel the breeze on her skin. She tilted her head back, enjoying its cool fingers caressing her hair. It had been a long journey from Troy and she was grateful to be back on dry land. She had had some misgivings about travelling to Mycanae, and her main concern had been its queen. Queen Clytemnestra had been awaiting the return of King Agamemnon, and she would surely not be pleased to learn that her husband would be bringing home another woman. Cassandra was Agamemnon’s concubine and had borne him twin sons during the Trojan campaign, but she was essentially just a trophy. Worrying over the queen’s reaction to the news had given Cassandra dozens of sleepless nights during their voyage and she had prayed to all the gods of Olympus that they give her the courage to face her. However, to her great surprise Clytemnestra seemed to already know about her. She welcomed Cassandra to Mycanae warmly and immediately offered her a place to bathe before the feast. Cassandra had been taken aback and had declined with what she hoped was the proper degree of humility. She had remained behind as the King was escorted inside his palace, preferring to collect herself before following him.

As she stood enjoying the breeze, she began to feel as if she were being watched. She opened her eyes and saw a tall, lithe man leaning against a pillar not ten feet from where she stood, staring at her with an unsettling look on his face. Cassandra felt her skin crawl and she cleared her throat loudly before turning towards him. She did not know him, but she recognised him by his description; his cold blue eyes, hooked nose and curled blond hair marked him as Aegisthus, the former ruler of Mycenae. Cassandra wondered why he was there in the first place, since Agamemnon and his brother had jointly forced Aegisthus from the throne years before.

“Good day to you, my lord,” Casssandra said nervously, bowing her head slightly. “I do apologise, I thought I was alone.”

“No apology is necessary, my lady,” Aegisthus replied coolly, his eyes gliding along Cassandra’s hips and thighs. “I am merely taking some air before the celebrations begin. You are the King’s prize, are you not?”

Cassandra frowned and adjusted her robe. She disliked having his eyes all over her, it made her feel unclean.

“I suppose I am at that, my lord,” she answered curtly, hoping she didn’t sound too brusque. Her grip on the politics of Mycenae was slight and she didn’t know how powerful this man was. She would tread carefully.

“To the victor go the spoils,” Aegisthus quoted with a sneer. He stood up straight and flexed his fingers. Cassandra had been around soldiers enough to recognise it as a pre-combat technique, performed almost without thought.

“Tell me,” Aegisthus stepped towards Cassandra, a terrible gleam in his eyes. “Are the rumours surrounding you true? Are you truly a Seer?” Cassandra took a step backwards, moving away from the stairs and back towards the shaded garden.

“They are…my lord,” she said hesitantly. “Mother Hera gifted me with Foresight, although its usefulness has been overstated, I fear.”

“Curious…” Aegisthus took another step closer, scratching at his chin thoughtfully. “I heard that your Talent is often ignored, and at the detriment of those who do so. Is that true also?” Cassandra grew fearful at this line of questioning, and attempted to change the subject.

“So, the King prepares for his feast,” she stammered, looking down at her sandals. “It promises to be a great event, with no expenses spared by the Queen on food and wine.”

“Hmm? Oh…yes,” Aegisthus seemed irritated by the deflection. “The Queen intends to provide a welcome which the King will never forget. It will go down in history, mark my words!” He gave a low chuckle which chilled Cassandra to the bone. As she stood wondering what to say next, a Vision sprung upon her without warning. As though through a blood-tainted window, Cassandra saw the King emerging naked from his bath with Clytemnestra holding a towel nearby. As Agamemnon steps forward, Clytemnestra tosses the towel over the King’s head. The King roars in surprise, for the towel has been weighted down at its corners, blinding and trapping him. A heartbeat later, Aegisthus runs forward from behind a screen wielding a sword which he plunges into the King’s chest. Agamemnon’s screams echoed in Cassandra’s ears and the present world flashed back into sight, the Vision leaving her weak and breathless. She fell to her knees, gasping and looking up at Aegisthus in horror. The man watched her, his smiling growing ever wider as Cassandra’s fear rose like a black flower in her heart.

“Guards!” She spluttered hoarsely. “Guards, help! A traitor is among us! Protect the King!” Aegisthus descended the stairs in four quick leaps and struck Cassandra hard with his fist. She fell onto her back and the world swam as her mouth filled with blood.

“It’s too late, my little whore!” Aegisthus snarled, wiping his knuckles on his tunic. “The events are already in motion and you cannot stop them! Enjoy your last moments whilst you can, for the Queen has plans for you!” He spat in Cassandra’s face before bounding back up the stairs and disappearing into the palace.

Cassandra groaned and struggled to sit up. Her vision was blurred and her limbs were weakened from her Vision. She attempted to call the guards again, but her voice would not obey her. She wept bitterly as she realised that nobody would believe her anyway. Nobody ever believed her…

Minutes later a cry of alarm was raised within the palace, and then the fighting began.

Where Were You?

Today’s post is something of a milestone. It marks the 20th short story to be uploaded on to my blog! Well, technically it is the 16th, but due to a bit of a cock-up by yours truly it ended up being sent to the lovely Esther Newton and was first published on her blog on 29th January 2016. I had marked it for use in a flash fiction competition, but I was happy for Esther to use it and my mistake did make me laugh! But anyway, I’ve recently remembered that I didn’t post it on here so tonight I am doing just that. I hope you enjoy it if you haven’t read it already!

Also, please check out Esther’s blog! https://esthernewtonblog.wordpress.com/


Where Were You?

By Adam Dixon


“Hush, my darling,” Sylvia crooned, stroking his thick, curled hair as he sobbed into her chest. She and her fiancé had just finished making love, their bodies bathed in sweat and their mutual ecstasy fading. Seconds after its conclusion, Dion had gazed at Sylvia, his shining brown eyes filling with tears. She held him close, her heart aching at his sadness.

“I shan’t be gone for long, my love,” she whispered. “In fact, you will barely notice my absence. Doctor Jonas has assured me that I will return within hours of my departure.”

“But what if you don’t?” Dion’s head came up, and he fixed Sylvia with an imploring stare. “There are no guarantees with time travel, and you know it. Christ, Sylvie, you might not even make it back!”

“We both knew the risks when I accepted the mission, Dion,” Sylvia replied, her voice still gentle but with a stern edge. “We knew what could happen when the time came, and we were both prepared for it. Or at least, I thought we both were.” She gave him a reproachful look and cocked her head to one side. Long red hair spilled across her left shoulder and covered one of her breasts. Dion’s eyes followed her hair, and he reached out to tangle his fingers in it as he cupped her cheek.

“I know, I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just that now it’s finally here…I don’t know…I can’t bear the thought of never seeing you again.”

“But you will, Dion,” Sylvia said earnestly, running her hand across his dark forearm. “A few hours we will be apart; a few days at most. We’ve endured longer periods than that!”

“True,” Dion smiled weakly, brushing the tears from his eyes. “I’m just worried about you, I suppose. I’m sure you’re right.”

“I am,” Sylvia said, winking at him. “Doctor Jonas has calculated every possible outcome to a minute detail. He is certain that I will return to this very house, and in this very room! Now, hush.” She pulled him close to her and they lay down on the double bed, drawing warmth from each other’s bodies. Dion nuzzled her neck as he got comfortable, and closed his eyes with a sigh. Sylvia gently played with his short, wiry hair, recognising that he would soon be asleep. Before he slipped off, he mumbled something.

“What was that, my love?” Sylvia turned her head to hear him.

“I’ll wait for you…” he said, almost asleep. “I love you, Sylvie.”

“I love you too,” Slyvia whispered, a lump in her throat. She lay in the darkness with Dion’s arms around her, listening to his breathing as the tears rolled down her cheeks.


Sylvia stepped out of the time capsule, the air crackling with the surge of quantum energy. The floorboards vibrated beneath her feet from the burst of power. She glanced around her and smiled. The doctor had been correct; she was in her old bedroom! It was night-time, so perhaps just a few hours on from her departure if her luck was in. A snort of surprise nearby caused her to turn around. She saw an elderly black man sitting in a chair across the dark room, his eyes agape.

“Oh, I do apologise!” Slyvia rushed over to the man, resting a hand on his shoulder. “It is rather startling, isn’t it? I was warned that there may be a temporal shift upon my return! I do hope it didn’t shock you too much! Are you alright, sir?” The man stared at Sylvia, his eyes wide with astonishment. Sylvia began to feel uncomfortable.

“Yes, erm,” she said, unsure what to say. “I wonder, who are you, sir? You see, I was expecting to surprise someone else entirely tonight!” She smiled at the old man, hoping he would say something. He did, and it chilled her to the bone.

“You’re back…” he rasped. “I waited…so long.” Tears filled his rheumy, brown eyes and recognition hit Sylvia like a slap in the face.

“Dion!?” She cried in disbelief. “Dion, is that you? It can’t be!”

“I waited for you…Sylvie,” Dion stroked her hand with his wrinkled fingers and wept. Sylvia stood dumbstruck, the horror of the situation creeping into her like a virus.

“Dion…” she stammered. “I…but how long…how?”

“Where were you?” Dion repeated between sobs. “It’s been forty years! Where were you?!”

The white-haired old man wailed into the night, and Sylvia’s heart broke at the sound of it.


High and Mighty, High and Dry

Picture found on https://pixabay.com/

High and Mighty, High and Dry

By Adam Dixon

Lady Sophia grasped the wooden railing as the Emerald Nypmh crashed into the rocks. The ship recoiled with an awful shattering of wood and the shock jolted dozens of passengers as they flocked to the deck. Lady Sophia screamed as she was lifted from her feet, her hip colliding painfully with the railing. As she righted herself and chanced a peek out into the ocean, a second, more violent impact wrenched her fingers from the railing and flung her overboard. She hit the water seconds later and the air was driven from her lungs. She cast about to and fro in a frenzy, salt water stinging her eyes and filling her nostrils. With an effort she broke the surface in time to gulp a mouthful of air before she was dragged back under. Her voluminous silken gown was trapping her limbs and pulling her down into the green depths. She struggled desperately, her heartbeat booming in her ears. She cried out in terror and the ocean rushed into her throat. She choked and thrashed, and everything went black.

The next thing Lady Sophia became aware of was a rhythmic pounding on her chest. She felt water being forced from her lungs into her throat and she began to cough and splutter. She heard gulls screeching and the sound of crashing waves as she ejected the salty water from her mouth and her nose. Strong hands turned her on to her side and she continued coughing and retching with her head hanging limply from her shoulders.

“Go on, miss, get it all out,” a voice said gently. A man’s voice. After what seemed like an age Lady Sophia was able to sit up. Squinting against the sunlight with her chest heaving, she looked at her rescuer. She saw a rough-looking man with a large nose and a square jaw crouched next to her, also soaking wet. He was at least twenty years younger than her, and his brown eyes were gazing at her with concern.

“You a’right, miss?” Lady Sophia noted with some distaste that he sounded like a commoner. She nodded slowly. He man smiled in relief, exposing uneven, brown teeth.

“Thank the Lawd!” He exclaimed. “I fort you was a goner for sure! The name’s Simpson, John Simpson. At yer service.” He thrust a large, calloused hand towards her. Lady Sophia regarded the hand with a mixture of astonishment and revulsion. She cleared her throat painfully.

“Yes, well, you have my thanks, Mister Simpson,” she croaked. Drawing herself up and attempting to find her learned poise, she glanced around. They were on a tiny island, essentially no more than a collection of rocks. Debris from the shipwreck floated nearby: a broken mast here, a plank from a deck there. The wreck itself was nowhere to be seen; it must have sunk beneath the surface.

“What in the name of the Almighty happened, Simpson?” Lady Sophia demanded. “How did the ship befall such a tragedy? More importantly, where are we?” Simpson’s smile faltered and he lowered his arm.

“Can’t say, miss,” he said. “I reckon we’s a few leagues away from the Indies. The Cap’n shouted somethin’ ‘bout rocks beneath the surface, an’ the next thing I know I was overboard on the port side. I spotted this ‘ere island an’ I made straight for it. I saw you thrashin’ about an’ I couldn’t just leave ya. I’d have ‘elped more if I could, honest to God, but most were trapped on board.” Lady Sophia paled.

“Trapped…” she whispered. “Have you noticed any other survivors?” Simpson shook his head sadly. “Dear God…” They sat in silence for some time, the gravity of the situation settling on their shoulders like a leaden weight. Finally, Simpson stood up.

“Well, we’re still ‘ere, praise the Lawd,” he announced, rubbing his hands together. “An’ we’d best not waste ‘Is mercy. We’ll need t’find some way t’catch fish, if there’s any t’be found. We oughta try an’ pinch summa that driftwood, an’ all. ‘Praps we can build a fire ‘an…”

“What, pray tell, do you mean by ‘we’?” Lady Sophia interrupted. Simpson stopped, frowning in confusion.

“Well, miss,” he said. “I mean you an’ me, o’ course.”

“First of all,” Lady Sophia said, her voice cutting. “It is ‘you and I’, and secondly, you must be out of your mind if you expect me to lower myself to manual labour,” she spat the words as if they had a foul taste. “And thirdly, I am not a “miss”, I am the Countess Sophia Hartford of Essex and I am to be addressed as ‘My Lady’. You would do well to know your place, Simpson, and perhaps then we shall deduce a reasonable way to escape from this dreadful island.”

Simpson’s jaw had fallen open. He stood for a moment in silence, stunned by the onslaught.

“Well?” Lady Sophia demanded, folding her arms. “What say you? Are you a simpleton, man?”

“No, I ain’t,” Simpson began slowly. “I ain’t a simpleton, milady, but you ‘ave knocked me back a fair bit, I’ll grant ya.”

Lady Sophia was incredulous. “How so? Surely even the simplest commoner knows how to conduct himself when in the company of a woman of noble birth!”

“’Praps, so, milady,” Simpson was struggling to find the correct words as he voiced his frustration. “But as you can see, we ain’t in England, and we ain’t even on board a ship no more. So as far as I see it, your title counts for nothin’.”

“How dare you..!” Lady Sophia began, but Simpson cut her off.

“How dare I?!” he shouted, causing Lady Sophia to take a step backwards. “I do dare, milady! I know I’m only a poor deckhand wi’ nothin’ to ‘is name, but on this pile o’ rocks, you ain’t  nothin’ either!”

“I…you cannot address me…in that tone,” Lady Sophia spluttered, her face a mask of indignation and fury.

“Shut up!” barked Simpson. “We’re in trouble, my lady, an’ you’d best see it sharpish! You need to ‘elp me if you wanna live long enough t’see England again. That’s yer choice, ‘elp me or die ‘ere!” With that, he stalked off to the other side of the island, picking his way carefully among the rocks.

“Insufferable man!” Lady Sophia raged. “When I return to England I shall see him punished for his insolence! I knew I should not have allowed myself to be talked into boarding that cursed ship! The Emerald Nymph, hmmph! A name as vulgar as that was certain to attract bad luck!” She stood for a few minutes watching Simpson searching among the rocks, the sun evaporating the salt water on her skin. She noted with displeasure the brittle, tangled mess it had reduced her greying hair to. Her fine dress was ruined also, and she thought sadly of the wasted work that had gone into creating it. She found a slightly less jagged rock and sat as straight and as primly as possible.

As the sun reached its zenith, Lady Sophia was sunburnt, thirsty and miserable. She had watched Simpson poking about in the rocks, and he had managed to catch a medium-sized crab. He had salvaged a small pile of driftwood after swimming a short distance from the island and he was drying them in the sun. Lady Sophia noted that the man was a strong swimmer, and felt ashamed for not expressing her appreciation properly. A short while later, her eyes bulged out of her head. She stood up and attempted to march across the rocks to Simpson, the effect negated by the treacherous footing.

“I say, Simpson!” she barked. “What in God’s name do you think you are doing?” Simpson was whittling a stout piece of driftwood with a jagged rock and ignored her. He had removed his scruffy woollen shirt and his simple breeches and had left them on a rock to dry.

“Are you listening, Simpson?!” Lady Sophia spluttered. “How dare you remove your clothes in my sight?! This is an indecent and disgusting display! Squatting in your undergarments like a savage! You will dress yourself at once!”

“I shan’t,” Simpson said, not looking up from his work. “It’ll only get cold again come the evenin’. I’ll not feel the benefit of ‘em if I’m wearin’ ‘em already, small comfort though they’ll be. You oughta do the same wi’ that ‘eavy thing yer swaddled in.”

“Remove my…” Lady Sophia was aghast. “Swaddled?! Why, you uncultured cretin!”

“’Praps I am, milady,” Simpson shrugged. “But I knows the weather in these waters, I been sailin’ ‘em since I was a lad. Take my advice or don’t. ‘Opefully I’ll ‘ave a fire goin’ before the evenin’, or else we’ll be ‘aving cold crab for tea.” He promptly went silent, and ignored all of Lady Sophia’s increasingly fervent attempts to force a reaction from him. Eventually she stalked back to her rock in a huff.

Simpson did not get a fire started and so they ate cold, uncooked crab in silence as the evening drew in. They were forced to slake their thirst on its blood, much to Lady Sophia’s disgust. Simpson turned out to be correct about the weather, and soon Lady Sophia was shivering violently. When Simpson suggested that they huddle together for warmth during the night, she threw a barrage of rocks at him and called him every vulgar name she could think of. He retreated to the other side of the island, and neither of them slept that night.

On the second day, a small miracle occurred. Simpson spotted something floating roughly a hundred yards away from the island and swam out to it. Lady Sophia then had the panicked realisation that should Simpson drown, she would certainly die on the island. She waited in agony, scanning the water for his bobbing head. He swam back to the island, pushing what looked like a large wooden barrel. It turned out to be full of water, likely from the stores of the Emerald Nymph, and it was untouched. They both drank mouthfuls of the clean, sweet liquid and praised God for their change in fortune. Simpson insisted that they ration the water in order to preserve it, and Lady Sophia reluctantly agreed.

On the third day Simpson managed to spear a fish with a sharpened stake. It tasted like another offering from God to the two of them.

During the fourth night, Lady Sophia walked over to Simpson and huddled close to him against the chill. Neither of them said a word.

By the eight day, disaster. Neither had eaten for two days, but Simpson appeared to be coming down with a sickness. He was cold despite the heat of the day, and sweating profusely during the night. Lady Sophia felt her panic rising once again. What would she do if he became too sick to catch food?

On the tenth day, Simpson’s sickness was much worse. He drifted in and out of consciousness, babbling deliriously. Lady Sophia knelt next to him in her undergarments, dabbing at his sun-scorched skin with her sodden dress, speaking soft nonsense into his ear.

On the eleventh day, Simpson died. Lady Sophia wailed into the air, cursing God and the vast expanse of ocean which surrounded and mocked her.

Fourteen days after the sinking of the Emerald Nymph, a cargo ship carrying spices bound for France passed by the small rocky island. The sailor in the crow’s nest spotted a shape waving to them and alerted the captain. The captain looked through his telescope and saw a dishevelled, grey-haired woman dressed in filthy rags jumping about desperately. He swiftly ordered a boat sent out to the island and accompanied the party personally. When they reached the island, a grisly sight met their eyes. The woman was half-mad, gibbering and weeping uncontrollably, and nestled between the rocks was an empty barrel and a partially eaten corpse.



Carol & Greg

Carol & Greg

By Adam Dixon

Carol and Greg Cotton were arguing again. It was the day before their thirtieth wedding anniversary and they could not decide on a plan. It had become tradition that they would go out on the evening before and stay out until past midnight, so as to be aware of the very moment that their anniversary occurred. They had done this every year without fail since their first and, as always, they fell to arguing about where to go. This had also become tradition, although neither of them would admit to it.

“I’ve told you, I don’t mind, love!” Greg rolled his eyes in exasperation as he listened to Carol reeling off the names of restaurants and bars. “I’ll be happy just to be out with you.”

“You always say that!” Carol was equally frustrated, practically slamming a fresh mug of tea down next to Greg’s armchair. “Every year it’s the same, and every year it’s no help! Why can’t you just help me for once and pick a place to go?”

“Fine.” Greg sat quietly for a few moments, deep in thought. At sixty-two, Greg was still much the same as he had always been; overweight, laid-back and quick to smile. What was left of his thin hair was now completely silver, and his pudgy face was decorated with wrinkles. He reached out absent-mindedly and picked up his mug as he pondered.

“What about that hotel in town?” He said finally, glancing up at Carol. “The one your brother had his wedding reception in? The food is nice there, and the bar is open all night.”

“The Veranda? No, thank you!” Carol sniffed. “It’s nice enough, but hardly the kind of place I want to celebrate my thirty years of marriage.”

“Oh, I didn’t realise it was just you.” Greg grinned mischievously and raised a mock toast with his tea. “Congratulations and all that.”

“Yes, yes, very funny.” Carol dismissed the joke with a wave of her hand, although a ghost of smile played on her lips. Greg’s humour was infectious to her, as always. “But not the Veranda.”

“Okay, how about the Winchester? It’s open late these days.”

“The Winchester!?” Carol looked at Greg, stupefied. “I’m not spending the first hours of our anniversary surrounded by those sad old drunks in that pub!”

“Those sad old drunks are our friends, love.” Greg laughed.

“Yes, yes, I know.” Again, Carol waved her hand dismissively. “But it’s hardly the most romantic of locations, is it?”

“Alright, alright, just a thought.” Greg shook his head. “Right, romantic…Well, how about a meal in Pinocchio’s and a couple of drinks in the Grape Vine next door? You’ve been saying how nice it looks in there.”

“Yes, but it will be full of kids!” Carol sighed. “It’s one of those trendy new bars that have been popping up lately. We two oldies will stick out like a sore thumb in there, and I don’t much care for that!” Carol sank heavily into the sofa next to Greg. “Why can’t you suggest somewhere sensible?”

“Bloody hell, Carol,” Greg groaned, placing a meaty hand in front of his eyes in mock despair. “You wanted me to make some suggestions, and I have done. Not my fault that they don’t meet your high standards!”

“I don’t have high standards!” Carol protested. “I just don’t want to go anywhere that you’ve suggested so far!”

“Then just pick somewhere!” Greg insisted, raising his voice in irritation. “Christ, you always make this difficult.”

“I’m not difficult,” Carol folded her arms primly in front of her and gave Greg a haughty stare. “You’re just not very helpful.”

“Give me strength…” Greg muttered to himself, imploring the ceiling above him. He took a long swallow from his tea, before slowly placing the remainder of it on the table.

“My arm is still aching,” He mumbled, half to himself. He rubbed his left arm, his face creased slightly in a grimace. “It’s hurting, actually. Seems to be getting worse.” Carol looked at him. A faint sheen of perspiration was becoming noticeable along his forehead, and he was looking slightly pale.

“Are you alright, darling?” Carol’s frustration was forgotten and she became worried. Greg normally wasn’t one to complain about aches and pains. He was of the ‘shut-up-and-get-on-with-it’ breed.

“I don’t know, love,” Greg’s face creased slightly as she watched him. His breathing had gotten shallower as he had been talking, but Carol hadn’t registered the fact at the time. She reached out and touched his forehead.

“You’re burning up, Greg,” She said, genuinely concerned now. “How long has this been going on for?”

“Oh, I dunno,” Greg considered the question. “My arm’s been hurting for about half an hour or so, and I’ve not been feeling right since then. Maybe…I’m just a bit peaky. Shouldn’t…worry too much…” Greg began panting slightly, his hand unconsciously clutching his chest as he leaned forwards. He grunted in pain, and panic flared in Carol’s brain.

“Greg, we need to call an ambulance!” She exclaimed, “I think you’re having a heart attack!”

“Don’t be…ridiculous!” Greg wheezed, feebly trying to wave Carol away. “It’ll pass in a…minute. I’ll be…fine.”

“No, Greg, I don’t think you will.” Carol seemed close to tears. Her voice wavered slightly, which caused Greg to look up at her. It usually took something quite serious to get her worked up like this. He reached out and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.

“Alright then, love,” he smiled at her weakly. “Call the…ambulance…I don’t want you to worry…But I reckon I’ll be…alright soon.”

“Stay there,” Carol stood up quickly and rushed off into the kitchen where their house phone rested on the wall. Her wispy brown hair flailed about as she hurried across the room. She struck her bony hip on the door frame in her haste, causing a vulgar expletive to issue from her lips. She glanced behind her, ready to glare at Greg when he made the expected sarcastic remark. Greg was leaning forwards in his chair, his face ashen and his jaw slack as his breathing became laboured. He hadn’t even heard Carol swearing. That was bad. Carol nearly tore the phone from the wall as she reached it and dialled 999. The crisp, clear voice on the other end of the phone asked her which service she required, and she barked her answer with nervous impatience.

“You have reached the ambulance service, what is the nature of your emergency?” A calm voice asked her. A woman’s voice.

“I think my husband is having a heart attack!” Carol’s voice cracked slightly as she answered, her hand gripping the phone tightly.

“Alright, madam, could you please tell me your address?” The voice continued.

“We’re at 95 Park Road, Croydon. Please come quickly!”

“Ok, madam, an ambulance has been dispatched and will be with you shortly. Please try to remain calm and stay with your husband. Ensure that he is sat down and is resting whilst you wait and do not allow him to move around if you can help it.”

“Okay, thank you. Please, come quickly!” Carol put the phone down with a shaking hand and ran to the drawer containing their medicine box. Whilst on the phone she had remembered seeing a medical advice poster about heart attacks. It suggested chewing aspirin as a way to slow blood clots. She reflected briefly at how unusual circumstances brought up useful information before she flipped open the green plastic lid and fished around in it. Finding the aspirin, she ran back into the living room. Greg did not look good: his eyes were closed and his face was dripping with sweat as he struggled to breathe. Carol fell to her knees in front of him and began frantically tearing at the box of tablets in her hand.

“I’ve called the ambulance, Greg,” She said lamely, not knowing what else to say. “There’ll be one along any minute now. Here, take this aspirin, it should help. Chew it, don’t swallow.” Greg merely nodded his acquiescence and opened his mouth. As he crunched the tablet, Carol put an arm around his shoulder and began rubbing his back.

“There, that’s the way,” She said, unconsciously crooning as if to a child. “You stay right there, darling. Everything will be alright soon.” Carol threw a furtive glance out of the window facing the street, silently praying that the ambulance hurried up.

The longest ten minutes of Carol’s life was spent anxiously waiting for that ambulance to arrive. She was trying to remain calm for Greg’s sake, who appeared to be spending all of his concentration on breathing. He occasionally gave Carol a pained smile and patted her hand, reminding her in a strained voice that he was okay. Carol was not convinced, but appreciated his concern for her, nonetheless. It also made her angry with herself; Greg was the one having the heart attack, not her! The paramedics arrived after what seemed like an eternity and Greg was given oxygen and stretchered into the back of the ambulance. Carol was permitted to ride in the back with him, and sat holding his hand tightly as they sped towards the hospital.

Hours later, Carol sat by her unconscious husband’s side, listening to his ragged, laboured breathing. She was alone with her misery and fear, her mind wandering. Her thoughts continually drifted into nightmare territory, where the worst always happened and she was nearly sick with terror. She had to shake her head vigorously each time her mind stumbled into that mental danger zone, and she often followed it up with a sharp clout to her temples for good measure. This eventually led to Carol’s tired brain being rattled around mercilessly in her skull and her head throbbing from repeated self-abuse. Unfortunately, it only succeeding in making her feel even more wretched and helpless as she gazed upon Greg’s still frame.

As the day dragged on, Carol found herself reflecting on the life she and Greg had shared together. She thought about when they had met during their late twenties, now nearly thirty-three years ago. Carol had been working in her father’s greasy-spoon café, a job which she had enjoyed but felt confined by. Greg had recently begun his employment as an early morning bus driver, a task which continued to be his job until his retirement at sixty. Neither of them could remember exactly how they had met, but both remember how drab their lives had seemed beforehand. Something had passed between them, and they began meeting regularly. Greg would come to her café early in the morning before his route began, and Carol would let him in before they opened and make him breakfast. They would chat whilst Carol set up, laughing and joking and enjoying one another’s company. Carol’s father had been surprised at her willingness to start work early every day, but had quickly gotten wise to the proceedings. He found it amusing and quite touching, and allowed it to continue uninterrupted. Besides, he secretly thought quite highly of Greg due to knowing his father.

With her nondescript brown hair, crooked nose and thin, sneering lips, Carol had never been pretty. The unattractive mole on her chin had never aided matters, and her aging had only rubbed salt in the wounds. Despite this, Greg somehow managed to make Carol feel both attractive and desirable. He had always found a way to compliment her, and had admonished her for her attempts to stop him. He had been able to make her smile and feel beautiful, regardless of how she felt when she looked into a mirror. Carol looked up from her bedside vigil and glanced at her reflection in the hospital window. She saw only an exhausted, frightened old woman gazing helplessly back at her. Could she ever bear to look at herself again, should the worst happen? She didn’t know.

Shortly after their morning meetings became a fixed part of their daily routine, Carol and Greg began spending most of their evenings together too. They delighted one another, and Greg was very kind to Carol without being overbearingly chivalrous. They quickly but very naturally became lovers, and for a time they were blissfully happy. Then, three years after they had met, Carol fell pregnant with Greg’s child. Greg was overjoyed with the news, and immediately got down on one knee and proposed. He had been toying with the idea of asking Carol to marry him for months, and this development had seemed like fate. Carol had accepted without a flicker of hesitation. She smiled at the memory despite her current low spirits. Greg had been so happy that he had picked her up and spun her round and round in a circle, tears streaming down his face as he laughed deliriously. He had been overweight then, too, but that evening he had moved like an energetic teenager.

They had gotten married mere weeks before their daughter was born. She had felt as big as a whale despite her beautiful wedding dress, and she had been extremely self-conscious as she had waddled slowly up the aisle, supported by her beaming father. But one look at Greg’s face and the adoration in his eyes had banished all thoughts of her appearance. He had winked at her, slowly blinking his left eye in the same flirtatious way he had used to when they had been courting, and she had readily taken her place next to him at the altar. They had taken their solemn vows, celebrated with their ecstatic family and friends, and shared a romantic honeymoon in Paris. Their daughter had come into their world soon after, and they named her Elizabeth after Carol’s grandmother. Those two events shone brightly in Carol’s memories as the happiest in her life.

Life had moved quickly after that. The years had passed by in a blur, but with plenty of moments standing out in their significance. Lizzie’s first words, Carol’s new job as a teacher, Greg’s fortieth birthday, her father’s death, Lizzie starting university… Moments in time which were filled with emotion, both good and bad, and were therefore unforgettable. But now Lizzie was a grown woman and had immigrated to Australia to start her own family. Her departure had been difficult for Carol and Greg, but they had wished her luck and given her as much support as they could. Their little house had been quiet since then, but they remained as happy in one another’s company as they had always been. News of the birth of their first grandchild had brought much joy to them, as had the photographs which had followed in the post. The baby boy in Lizzie’s arms reminded them both so much of Lizzie’s birth that they had shared a moment of tearful reflection together. They had made plans to fly out and visit her in the spring. The tickets had already been booked, and they were both eager to meet their grandson.

Carol blinked tears from her eyes and buried her nose in a tissue. The last thirty-odd years with Greg had been supremely happy ones, fulfilling ones, and she just couldn’t fathom having them end so abruptly. She took several deep breaths to calm her nerves before sitting up straight.

Greg’s eyes were open. He was staring intently at Carol, and she could only guess as to how long he had been watching her. She frantically scrabbled for his hands, seizing them in her own.

“Greg?” She choked out, half-sobbing with relief and hysteria. “Greg, you’re awake! Are…are you alright?” She felt monumentally idiotic at having asked that question. Greg merely continued staring at Carol’s face in silence. Then, he slowly closed his left eye and opened it again with obvious effort. Carol barked out a stiff laugh, the sound raw with emotion. Greg had winked at her! He was still himself despite everything he was going through. Her poor, poor darling! As if in response, Greg weakly patted her hand, the movement scarcely more than a stroking of their skin. He looked into her eyes, and Carol felt an icy hand grasp her heart. The merry light in Greg’s eyes was dim, and it was fading slowly.

“No!” Carol launched herself forwards, for once ignoring her hip as pain flared along her side, landing awkwardly on the bed next to Greg.

“Greg, no!” She sobbed freely, her voice rasping through her tears. “Please, darling, don’t go!”

Greg peered up at his wife, the pain of his ailment and seeing Carol’s distress was clearly marked with his own tears. As Carol held his hands tightly, he slowly closed his left eye again, barely managing to open it again before it snapped shut. After a moment of rebellion, his right eyelid slid closed as well. His fingers twitched once in Carol’s hands, and he was still.

Carol wept as Greg’s life signals disappeared. The room was filled with the sound of her anguish coupled with the cold, incessant beep of the heart monitor. The world suddenly turned grey, as if the colours had been removed from Carol’s perspective in an instant. She sat there gripping Greg’s hands for what seemed like aeons before she heard footsteps hurrying down the corridor outside. Carol sat up abruptly and quickly wiped the tears from her eyes as the door to the room opened. A tall, handsome doctor came striding in followed closely by a petite nurse. The nurse was clearly new to the realities of her profession, as she looked somewhat bewildered and mortified. She scurried over to Carol and placed a hesitant hand on her shoulder whilst the doctor felt for Greg’s pulse. After a moment he shook his head and turned to face Carol, his dark face full of sympathy.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Cotton,” he said gently. “Your husband went into sudden cardiac arrest. He’s gone.” Carol sighed deeply and gave Greg’s hand a final squeeze.

“Yes, doctor,” She replied calmly. “I know.”

Carol arrived home at eleven o’clock that evening. She was still maintaining her stoic demeanour, and was courteous when she spoke briefly to her taxi driver. She got out and walked briskly up the garden path to her front door, the motions automatic and efficient. As soon as she had closed the door behind her she became aware of the silence of the house. It was a strange, unfamiliar silence from a house which had frequently been full of the noises of everyday life. It would have been hearing Carol pottering about in the kitchen on any given day, listening to her sing along to the hits of the 60’s on the radio. It would have been hearing Greg laughing at something on the television, or his cries of exasperation as some dimwit didn’t answer a question correctly on a quiz show. But today, the house was still. It was a pregnant silence, as if the building was anxiously holding its breath.

Carol sat down heavily on the sofa, exhausted. So much had happened that day, and yet it seemed incredible that her ordeal had taken less than fifteen hours. It was then that Carol noticed the mug of tea. The very same unfinished mug that Greg had been drinking before their ordeal had begun.

“It’s half-empty”, Carol murmured to herself, her own voice sounding distant in her dazed, drained state. “But Greg would probably say its half-full.” She shook her head sadly. It no longer mattered what Greg thought. Greg was dead. Completely alone for the first time in more than thirty years, Carol gave in to her grief. As the time dragged onwards, Carol was unaware of the passing of midnight.