Cracked Head

Hello, everyone 🙂 I wrote this story a few months ago, using a first line prompt and I was very pleased with how it turned out. It’sa little bit different from my usual type of stories, but upon re-reading it I’m still quite fond of it. Please do let me know what you think 🙂

As always, thank you for reading!

Cracked Head
By Adam Dixon

“Is that what you meant to do?” Pete smiled at the memory of his question from three years ago. It was the crack in the headstock of Jimmy’s bass which had prompted it, or the lack of one; Jimmy had it fixed almost right away.
“Yeah, course it was,” Jimmy had replied, rolling his eyes. “Halfway through the gig I thought ‘you know what’ll liven this up? If I drop my bass on the stage!’ Bloody hell, Pete…” Pete remembered blushing at the remark. He had admired Jimmy back then, believing that his big brother could do no wrong. Pete’s smiled faded as he ran his finger over the spot where the crack had been. The instrument had always been lovingly cared for, so finding a layer of dust on it had been a shock.
“Well, d’you still want it?” Jimmy asked, breaking Pete from his reverie. Pete stood from his crouch and faced him in the small bedroom. Jimmy looked terrible, his face was pale and haggard, his blond hair was a scrambled mess and he had lost a lot of weight. His cheerful brown eyes were dimmed and bloodshot above deep purple bags. He was also sniffing constantly as if he had a cold.
“Well?” Jimmy insisted, frowning in annoyance.
“I…yeah, course I do,” Pete answered, thrown by Jimmy’s bluntness. Jimmy nodded and smiled, nibbling at a stubby fingernail.
“Cool,” he said. “Did you bring the money, then?” The hopeful tone in his voice made Pete feel uncomfortable. He pulled a wad of notes from his Marvel Comics wallet and held them out. Jimmy’s eyes lit up and he snatched the money in an instant.
“Nice one, bro!” Jimmy said gleefully. “And you told me you were skint last month!” He snorted and shot Pete a brief, accusing glance. Pete felt sick.
“I was,” Pete said. “But I’ve been saving up from my paper round; it’s taken me three months to get that. Why are you selling it anyway, Jimmy? You love that bloody thing!”
Jimmy barked an unpleasant laugh, and pocketed the notes. “I’ve told you already, it’s for food and toiletries and all that boring stuff. My student loan barely covers this place!” He swung an arm around the room for emphasis before winking and adding: “Condoms, too. The price soon adds up!” Pete smiled in response, but stayed silent. When Jimmy had gone to uni he had been attractive in a scruffy rock-star kind of way and had boasted of late-night encounters with his fellow students. Pete had burned with jealousy and curiosity, but Jimmy had changed a lot in a year. Their frequent phone calls and constant Whatsapping had trickled to almost nothing in recent months, and Pete was worried.
“Well, I’ll look after her, don’t you worry!” Pete smiled and changed the subject. “So, what’s the plan for today, then?” Jimmy’s brow creased.
“Plan?” he echoed, sniffing twice and scratching his head.
“Yeah,” Pete said, disbelief and anger stirring in his stomach. “You do have a plan, right?” Jimmy stared blankly for a moment then slapped his forehead with his palm.
“Oh crap!” Jimmy said, his eyes wide. “It’s your bloody birthday! Oh, mate, I’m so sorry! I forgot! Yeah, let’s totally do something! Like, we could go to the bar in a bit? Get you a pint, yeah?”
“I’m fifteen, Jimmy!” Pete snapped, unable to stop two tears from sliding down his cheeks. Jimmy’s face crumpled and he stepped closer. A strong smell of B.O. and cigarettes assaulted Pete’s nose; he didn’t know that Jimmy had started smoking.
“Course you are, I know that!” Jimmy said, placing a hand on Pete’s shoulder. “Course I do! We can still get some food at the bar, if you want. Or we could go into town and grab a meal somewhere, or – “
“Forget it,” Pete said, shrugging off his hand. The tears flowed as he lifted the bass from its stand. “You’ve got what you wanted from me now! I can’t believe I’ve spent two hours on a coach for this, what a bloody loser!”
“Come on, Pete,” Jimmy croaked. “Don’t be like that!”
Pete wiped his eyes furiously. “I’m going home. Maybe mum will still take me to see Logan.”
“Pete!” Jimmy tried to touch his shoulder again but Pete shoved him away. Jimmy’s wasted frame offered no resistance and he staggered backwards, shocked. Pete seized the guitar bag which lay at his feet and shoved the bass into it.
“I’m taking this,” Pete declared. He shot Jimmy a tearful, angry look. “Unless you’re gonna charge me for it, as well?” That hit home. Pete stormed out of Jimmy’s room and down the corridor, ignoring the pleading sobs which followed him.
***
“I just didn’t know what else to do,” Pete said. He had calmed down during his walk across town, and the bitter sea wind had given him something else to worry about. The left side of his head faced the beach and tingled as he sat miserably at the coach station.
“That stupid little…!” a strangled voice said in his ear. Pete winced and moved his phone an inch further away. There was a pause and a measure of control entered the voice.
“I’m glad you called me, darling,” it said. “I’m so sorry you had to see your brother like that, today of all days!”
“It’s okay, mum,” Pete said, relieved that the expected eruption had not occurred.
“No, it’s not okay!” his mother insisted. “You’ve just found out that Jimmy is a druggie on your birthday, for goodness’ sake!”
“Would it have been any easier on different day?” Pete demanded, then was immediately contrite.
“Oh, mum, I’m sorry for snapping,” he said, rubbing his puffy eyes. “I’m a little on edge, you know?”
“It’s alright, Peter,” his mother sighed. “Ooh, just you wait until I speak to that boy!” Pete opened his mouth to reply, then closed it. He looked down at the guitar bag which rested against his knee. He hadn’t let go of it since he had left Jimmy’s flat. Strong memories flooded his mind, and Pete swallowed back the lump that rose in his throat. He remembered Jimmy teaching him notes and chords on that very bass and helping him to save up and buy his own. He remembered his incomprehension when their dad walked out, and how Jimmy had seen him through it.
“Don’t call him yet, mum,” Pete said slowly. “Let me talk to him first.”
“I thought you were on your way home?” Pete’s mother was puzzled. Pete stood as the coach pulled up, gleaming in the dim sunshine. The doors opened with a whoosh and a hiss, but he turned away from it.
“Not yet, mum,” he replied. “I’m going back to Jimmy’s. He needs me.” Saying it aloud cemented his resolve, and Pete made his way back towards the university.
“I won’t cut you out, bro,” Pete said to himself. “Never.”
***
Up on stage, Pete revelled in the attention. He and his bandmates made use of the tiny space as best they could, thrusting their hips and nodding their heads with huge grins on their faces. They weren’t great, but they had pulled a decent crowd for the small gig and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The whole space smelled of armpits, beer and excitement, and Pete loved it. He plucked at his instrument, glorying in the pounding of the amp behind him, savouring the vibrations as he strung notes together. The old bass he was using still had life in her, and Pete had taken good care of it.
The song ended to a smattering of genuine, good-natured applause, and Pete scanned the room whilst the lead singer spoke into the mic. He saw a few of his school friends and waved at them, and they replied with smirks and crude gestures. He saw his mother in the crowd, beaming and doing her utmost to embarrass him in front of his mates. He grinned at her sheepishly and continued to gaze around the room. His eyes drifted towards the bar at the rear, and found the brown pair that he sought. Jimmy raised a hand in greeting, nursing a glass of Coke with the other as he leaned casually against the bar. His face and body had filled out since he had dropped out of uni and he had shaken off the haunted look at last. The singer reached the end of his melodramatic speech but before he could count the band in, Pete stepped up to his own microphone.
“Just a sec,” he said, wincing as the feedback screeched across the room. Everyone looked at him in annoyance and curiosity; Pete gulped and wished his heart would slow down a bit.
“Erm, I just wanted to add something quickly before we start,” Pete continued. “I’d like to dedicate this song to someone in the audience, someone who inspired me to get into music. It’s my big brother, Jimmy, who’s hiding at the back over there. Hi Jimmy!” Pete waved and laughed at Jimmy’s alarmed expression as the forty-odd people in the audience turned to look at him. Jimmy cleared his throat and looked down at his feet, his cool, casual poise ruined.
“Anyway, I owe a lot to Jimmy, and since it’s his birthday tomorrow I thought I’d embarrass him. Thanks for coming, bro!” Pete waved again and the audience clapped. Behind him, the drummer counted them in. One, two, three! The room was once more filled with the sound of something resembling rock music and Pete settled into his role. He caught Jimmy’s eye again as he strummed his big brother’s bass. Jimmy was smiling, and he raised his drink in a salute. To the casual observer, it would appear Jimmy was thanking Pete for the shout-out, but Pete knew there was more to it than that. It had been a difficult year for Jimmy, but Pete had been there for him through all of it.
“You’re welcome, bro,” Pete thought as the amps roared. “I love you.”
You can find me on Twitter here.

Image courtesy of pixabay.com 

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Difficult Questions

Hello everyone!

The following story is one I sent out a few months ago as a competition entry, but sadly it was not placed. However, I was quite pleased with it and would like to share it will you all. The theme for competition was to write a story using dialogue ONLY. I found this to be an exciting and interesting idea, and so I went for it! Have you ever tried writing a story in this way? Please do let me know in the comments section.

I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for reading!

“Come on, grandma, let’s run!”
“Slow down, please, my darling, I can’t keep up with you. Jenny, come back! Jenny! There are nasty people around these days, come back this instant!”
“Nasty people? Where, grandma? I can’t see them.”
“Oh, well, you can’t be too careful! Please come back, I don’t want to have to shout! Plus, people are looking at grandma now…”
“Grandma, why didn’t you run too?”
“I don’t think I can anymore, my darling. It’s part of getting old, I’m sorry to say.”
“That’s bad, I don’t want to get old ever!”
“Nobody does, sweetheart, but you can’t stop it.”
“How old are you, grandma?”
“Now, now, Jennifer, it’s not very nice to ask a lady her age.”
“But I’m a lady and I like it when I get asked! I’m four and a half now!”
“Yes you are, sweetheart. You’ll be catching me up soon.”
“Yeah, grandma! But I still want to run!”
“Oh, I don’t think we’ll be able to stop you! Come on, let’s go home, it’s getting dark.”
“But I wanted to play on the swings again!”
“I know, my darling, but it is getting late. Don’t pout, Jennifer, it’s very childish! I’ll tell you what, you be a good girl and I’ll buy you an ice cream in the shop. How does that sound?”
“Ice cream, before tea?!”
“Yes, before tea, but you must promise not to tell granddad. It will be our little secret.”
“Yeah! Yeah! I love secrets!”
“Then we’ll shake on it like grown-ups and…ugh, Jenny! What have you been touching? Your hand is all sticky! Dear me, you’d think that the council would keep that slide clean…”
“Grandma, when will I see my mummy again?”
“Oh. Well…she is quite busy now, my darling, but you’ll see her again before too long.”
“Is my mummy in trouble, grandma?”
“Why do you ask, my darling?”
“Cos only bad people go away, and bad people get in trouble. I think my mummy is in trouble.”
“Well…yes, I suppose you could say that…but don’t worry about her, sweetheart, she is being looked after. Now, which flavour ice cream would you like when we get to the shop?”
“I want strawberry! Strawberry and chocolate! Strawberry and chocolate and banana! Yum yum yum!”

***

“There you are, my two favourite girls! Come in out of the cold, that’s it! Scrub those shoes on the mat before you come inside, little love. If you get mud on my nice carpet, you won’t get your tea and you’ll get a knuckle sandwich instead!”
“Argh! Grandma, help me, he’s got me!”
“That serves you right, Jennifer. You shouldn’t poke your tongue out at granddad, it’s very rude!”
“Heehee, that tickles! Stop, stop!”
“Aha! Do you give up, young madam?”
“Yes, yes! I give up! Heeheehee!”
“Victory! You are my prisoner now, so be off with you! Into the living room to await your fate! Stick the telly on, if you like, I prefer my prisoners to be comfortable. Oi, take your shoes off first!”
“You really shouldn’t overexcite her like that, Daniel. She’ll never sleep now.”
“Oh, rubbish! What’s the harm? Besides, you’ve probably had her running around like a headless chicken all afternoon, haven’t you?”
“I did very little, as it happens. That girl is like a thunderbolt, Daniel. I take my eyes off her for one second and it’s as if she was never by my side at all. It’s exhausting!”
“I’m sure it is! Come here, my love. Oooh! Your nose is cold, Barbara!”
“Well don’t give me a bear hug if you don’t like it, you great fool!”
“You didn’t have to stick your frozen hooter in my neck, did you? Come on in, I’ve made a pot already and it should still be warm.”
“Daniel, Jenny asked me about her mother again.”
“Right…how did that go?”
“She asked if her mummy is in trouble because the people who have been bad get sent away. I agreed with her, sort of.”
“Blimey, not much gets past her, does it?”
“That’s what worries me, Daniel. She can tell when we’re lying to her, even if she doesn’t understand why. What can we possibly say to her?”
“We’ll think of something.”
“She’s still so young! I don’t want her knowing about that place! How are we going to explain it to her?”
“I don’t know, Barb, honestly I don’t. But we can’t keep on dodging her questions just because we don’t like the answers.”
“Oh, I know that, Daniel! I’m not a child!”
“I know, Barb, and I didn’t mean it like that. It’s not easy, all this, but we’ll need to tell her about her mum sooner rather than later. She has a right to know.”
“Yes, you’re right, of course…did Rebecca call again today?”
“Yes, she did, about 12ish. She seems to be as well as can be expected. Quite upset to have missed Jenny again, though.”
“Well that serves her right, doesn’t it? Ooh, it makes me so angry to think about her, Daniel! How could she do it, knowing what would happen to Jennifer? To us?”
“I don’t think she was doing much thinking at the time, my love. Getting angry won’t help, so we’d better roll our sleeves up and do the best we can. Like we always have.”
“But our best has led to this…but you’re right, we must persevere. Come on, Jenny will wonder what’s keeping us if we stay out here much longer.”
“Alright, my love. Pass me your coat. I’ve already put the oven on and the chips are on the tray. I’ll just stick them…hang on, is that ice cream on your scarf, Barbara?”
***
“Hi, mum.”
“Oh, hello, Rebecca. You’re calling early today.”
“Yeah, I asked the warden for an earlier slot. I was…hoping to speak to Jenny.”
“Well, Jennifer is at school now, I’m afraid. It is a week day.”
“Oh…yeah, of course she is…I forgot…”
“Hmmm.”
“Where’s dad? I expected him to pick up.”
“Your father is in the loft. He’s seeing if there’s anything he can take to a boot sale.”
“Oh…it’s not that bad yet, is it?”
“Well it certainly isn’t easy, Rebecca, but we’ll manage.”
“Mum…I’m so sorry.”
“I should hope so, but that isn’t going to help Jennifer very much, is it?”
“Mum! Why do you have to be so cruel to me? I made a mistake!”
“Yes, you did, and Jennifer is paying for it! She doesn’t have a mother, and her father is goodness-knows-where! Do you ever think about that?”
“Of course I think about Jenny! I can’t stop thinking about her! Thinking about her is the only thing that…keeps me going.”
“…”
“Mum? Are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m still here, Rebecca. Look…I’m sorry for shouting at you. Your father and I are under a lot of pressure. We were a bit too old when you were born and this isn’t how we expected to spend our twilight years!”
“You’re not that old yet, mum.”
“That’s beside the point! I feel it sometimes.”
“Mum, how is Jenny today? Is she happy?”
“Yes, I believe so. She was singing songs from The Lion King with your father as they left this morning.”
“Oh, bless her! I always loved that film, too…”
“I remember…Rebecca, Jenny has been…asking about you. Quite often now.”
“What have you told her? What does she know?”
“Very little, but…your father thinks that it’s time that she did, and…I agree.”
“Okay…please don’t make her hate me, mum. I couldn’t bear it…”
“I doubt I could if I tried, Rebecca. That little girl adores you.”
“That’s so…nice to hear.”
“It’s the truth, Rebecca. I’ll speak to Jennifer soon.”
“Do you promise? Mum, please promise me!”
“I…promise.”
“Thank you…I love you, mum.”
“We’ll speak again soon, Rebecca. Take care of yourself.”

***

“Where’s granddad gone, grandma?”
“Granddad is in his shed, my darling. He’s building some lovely things out of wood just like he used to, and maybe he’ll be able to sell something.”
“Is granddad building another chair like the one in my room?”
“No, sweetheart, I think it’s a table this time. I’m sure he will show you when it’s done.”
“Granddad is very clever, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is, my darling. Very clever, just like you!”
“My mummy is clever too, isn’t she?”
“I…yes, she was. Very good in school, just like you, Jenny.”
“I’ll be good at school so my mummy can come home.”
“That’s…wonderful, my darling. Jennifer?”
“Yeah, grandma?”
“Would you…like to see your mum? If we can arrange it?”
“Has my mummy stopped being naughty now?”
“I hope so, my darling! She can’t come home yet but she can have visitors now, and granddad and I wanted to know if you would like to see her. What do you think?”
“Do you think mummy misses me, grandma?”
“Oh of course she does, Jenny! She misses you very much!”
“I miss mummy, but she went away. Why did she leave me, grandma? If she was naughty you could have told her off and taken her toys away, like you do with me!”
“It’s…different for grown-ups, my darling…we need to go to a different place, like a Naughty Step, but far away.”
“Did mummy know I would miss her? I don’t like missing her. I wish she would come home.”
“I…yes, I think she would have known, but…but…”
“I would like to see mummy, grandma. May I see her? Please?”
“Yes, Jenny, of course you may. We can visit her soon, I’ll need to sort a few things out first.”
“But I want to see her now!”
“Don’t raise your voice at me, young lady! You will have to wait for a little while first, and only if you are not so rude!”
“I’m sorry, grandma…”
“Hmm…Jenny, why don’t you go and draw a nice picture to give to your mum when you see her? She would love that.”
“Yeah! Good idea, grandma! I’ll get my crayons!”
“Good girl…I…need to make a phone call…and speak with your granddad…”
“Grandma, why are you crying? Did I do something bad?”
“No, my darling…I’ve just got something in my eye.”

You can find me on Twitter here @ADixonFiction

A – Z Challenge Day 25

Here is my second post for today. Two down, one to go!

This prompt comes again from the very helpful Viki, and the word is “YURT”. I have only heard this word a scant few times and always uttered by my slightly posh friends when they were indulging in the baffling practice of “glamping”. So, armed with thoughts of double-beds in fields, I began writing. Thanks for the prompt, Viki!

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

YURT

By Adam Dixon

“Isn’t this lovely, darling?” Jackie said, beaming as she spun round and round inside the yurt. “Look at the carpets, aren’t they beautiful? Oh, and the fire-pit is amazing! Look at this bed, it’s stunning and huge! This is better than I’d hoped!”

“But you saw all of this on the website,” Peter said, amused. He was carrying their suitcase in one hand and a list of suggested items for their stay. It was a long list for a weekend, he thought.

“Yes, but now that I’m here, it all seems even more wonderful!” Jackie insisted, bouncing on the balls of her feet in excitement. Their infant daughter, Lily, giggled as Jackie jostled her around. She had caught the infectious joy pouring out of her mother and was beaming up at her with her brown eyes wide with delight.

“Careful, my love,” Peter warned gently. “You’ll bring up Lily’s breakfast if you’re not careful! That’d be a terrible way to start this break!” Jackie laughed and stopped bouncing.

“Sorry, Lily, sweetheart!” Jackie nuzzled Lily’s nose. “Mummy just got a bit over-excited about our lovely home for the next three days! Isn’t it gorgeous?”

“Wassat?” Lily asked, gesturing around her with one of her pink hands. Her blond curls waved as she twisted in Jackie’s grip.

“This, Lollipop, is a yurt,” Jackie crooned, stroking Lily’s hair. “It’s a lovely big tent based on ancient Mongolian design, and it’s for lovely families like us to have a relaxing, comfortable holiday!”

“It was your mother’s idea, Lollipop,” Peter grinned and tickled Lily’s ear. “She wants to try out this “glamping” nonsense and so we’re now essentially staying in a hotel room in the middle of a field!”

“Peter! That’s not true!” Jackie said, a petulant look on her face. Peter had always found that expression beautiful on Jackie; the way her lips curled at the edges plumped them out almost seductively, and the way her small nose wrinkled made his heart soar. He chuckled and kissed Jackie’s forehead, breathing in the flowery scent of her skin.

“I’m only teasing, love,” he said winking at her. “The yurt is lovely, and the orchid outside is stunning. I can’t wait to watch the sun set with my two favourite ladies.” Jackie’s face softened and her smile was dazzling.

“Oh, yes, that will be wonderful!” Her eagerness had returned in an instant. Lily mumbled and gestured towards the floor. Jackie obeyed and settled her onto the Persian-style carpet, the pattern of which seemed to captivate her. She sat tracing the pattern with her hand, gurgling happily and swinging her curls.

“This will be a fantastic trip, Jackie,” Peter said, slipping his arm around Jackie’s waist as they watched Lily play. Jackie leaned against him, laying her head on his chest and taking his hand. She played with his wedding ring absent-mindedly as they stood there. The yurt was spacious despite the large double bed in the centre and the cot alongside it. It was tastefully decorated in purples, maroons and yellows, with a luxurious chez-lounge on one side facing a small wood stove on the other. It looked cosy, comfortable and inviting.

“I wish mum could have seen this,” Jackie said, half to herself. “She would have loved it…” Peter gave her hand a squeeze.

“I know, my love,” he said, sighing into Jackie’s hair. “But try not to think about that while we’re here. She’ll be well looked after, Susanna and Derek will be visiting her more often whilst we’re away, too. She’ll be fine.”

“I know, I know,” Jackie replied, closing her eyes. “I just can’t help thinking that I shouldn’t be enjoying myself whist she is in that dreadful place, that’s all.”

“It’s hardly dreadful, Jackie,” Peter chuckled. “The staff are very good and she never has any trouble with the other residents. But you need a break from it all, you know that. You already do too much for her, so do yourself a favour and focus on enjoying this break. Do we have a deal, Mrs DeWalt?” Jackie smiled and looked up at her husband.

“I suppose we do, Mr DeWalt,” she laughed and offered her lips for a kiss. Peter obliged, and soon the small family were settled in to their new dwellings, happy and ready to enjoy themselves. They shelved their worries and concerns for the moment and embraced the world of “glamping”.

A – Z Challenge Day 4

It’s the fourth day of this April’s blog challenge and my prompt comes once again from Kate. Her suggestion for ‘D’ is “DRAGOON”.

This one was a bit of a head-scratcher, if I’m honest! I had a few ideas flit in and out of my mind as I pondered this word, but none of them seemed to want to stick around. Here is what did decide to cling on. I hope I did the word justice.

 

DRAGOON

By Adam Dixon

“Interesting thing about the Battle of Waterloo is that nobody’s sure about what time it began,” Albert said, gazing off into the distance, as he so often did when he was thinking. Debbie smiled and shook her head. She should have known that her granddad would start rattling off his impromptu history lessons as soon as they got going. Debbie was taking Albert to the theatre, and he looked very fine in his old grey suit. Albert had joked that evening that the grey “really brings out the white in my hair!” and Debbie had laughed and laughed. Shame about the silly tie, though, Debbie thought, casting a critical eye over the canary-yellow monstrosity. They were sat on a busy carriage on the Tube, and upon pulling out from Waterloo station Albert had begun his lesson.

“Is that so?” Debbie said as she settled into her seat. She loved to hear Albert talk about history; he did it so much better than any of her lecturers.

“Indeed it is, m’dear,” Albert said, nodding slowly as he continued to stare at nothing in particular. “It was fought on 18th June 1815, a Sunday, if you’re interested, in what’s now Belgium. They know all that stuff, but no-one is exactly sure of the time the French attacked. You see, Wellington’s dispatches say that ol’ Napoleon marched at ten o’clock that morning, but others say it didn’t start ‘til half-past eleven. It’s always bothered me that they never recorded somethin’ so important to the history of it all.”

“Do armies usually record the time battle begin, granddad?” Debbie asked.

“Oh yes!” Albert said eagerly, focusing his rheumy eyes on Debbie at last. “Each battle is a piece of history, m’dear! What good is it if history isn’t properly recorded, eh?”

“I think more people are interested in the fighting itself, to be honest, granddad,” Debbie replied, smoothing her blue dress and checking her cream handbag. She’d chosen the handbag because it had belonged to her grandmother. Albert laughed and slapped his knees, causing several nearby commuters to jump and gape at him in astonishment.

“Oh, I expect you’re right about that, Debora!” he chuckled, winking at her. Debbie smiled; Albert was the only person who called her Debora. “I know that I always used to! I was always askin’ my history teachers about the armies and the fightin’ when I was just a lad! Earned me a canin’ or two, it did, all ‘cos I didn’t want to hear about the politics! By the way, did I ever tell you that one of your ancestors was actually at Waterloo?” Debbie shook her head and leaned forwards, interested. A few of their ruffled fellow passengers glanced up too.

“Well, he was,” Albert grinned proudly and adjusted his huge jam-jar glasses. “His name was Thomas, and he was my great-great-great-great-great grandfather. He was there that day two hundred years ago, facin’ down Napoleon with his comrades. I looked him up a long time ago; he’s mentioned in the records!” Albert’s eyes glittered with infectious excitement.

“That’s amazing!” Debbie said, returning his grin. “Was he a soldier then?”

“Yep,” Albert nodded. “He was a dragoon, actually, one of those who fought on horseback. He must’ve been quite a good’un too, ‘cos he was part of the King’s First Dragoon Guards. Nice bit of family history there, m’dear!” Albert winked at Debbie, who gazed at him in wonder.

“Wow…” she breathed. “What did the King’s Dragoons do? Were they important to the battle?”

“Oh yes, in their own way,” Albert answered thoughtfully. “They were part a larger cavalry Brigade who were part of a huge charge against the French early that afternoon. They played their part, fightin’ in various places through the day, but many of them died before the battle was over. Our ancestor, Thomas, included. He was killed by cannon-fire, accordin’ to the records.”

“Oh…” Debbie didn’t know what to say. She felt a little sad and strangely proud of this hitherto unknown family member who had fought in a war that her generation cared so little about.

“Yes, it’s a shame,” Albert said, rubbing his nose with a liver-spotted hand. “But it doesn’t stop me enjoyin’ the story. Why, when my ol’ grandfather told me that when I was a nipper, I’d spend hours out in the garden playin’ at being a dragoon like Thomas.” He smiled at the memory and laughed a little.

“I’d gallop round on my imaginary horse and pretend I was fightin’ alongside Wellington all day long! I’d bully my younger brothers into bein’ French infantry, and I’d ride them down and lay about them with a stick! I used to get such a wallop from my mum when I’d get too into it an’ knock one of them over!” Albert broke off, laughing, and Debbie lent her own giggles to the sound. Some of the passengers nearby were smiling as they pretended not to be listening.

“That does sound like you, granddad!” Debbie said, laying a hand on his leg and giving it an affectionate squeeze. “I bet you’d have made a fine dragoon, too.” She added with a smile. They travelled the rest of their journey in a happy silence, and their thoughts were filled with scenes from old battle and of a familiar-looking man galloping amongst it on a magnificent horse. Debbie imagined that he looked a bit like her granddad, and that he waved his sabre bravely as he galloped down the hill towards the French infantry as the cannons fired upon them. She promised herself that she would learn more about the Battle of Waterloo after that night was over. She would go to her university library and borrow some books on the subject and she and Albert would pore over them together. He’d love that, and she’d urge him to tell her all the other stories he knew about the Battle. She could hardly wait.