I sell items which are associated in some way with my stories. The story-copyright is not for sale.


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Batch 2 story 2


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Autumn Friday afternoons are not always grateful for your week’s hard work. Sometimes they thunder and tip a lakeful on you. Matthew sulked in a cafe doorway, emptying out his unshined shoes, while the homeward 57 bus didn’t come and a fused lump of vehicles and headlights shunted and rumbled. He felt like one of those men from the desert who sat by the waterfall, waiting for it to finish. A raindrop hung from his nose, but his hanky was wet.

“I need a car.”

That was when the low-loader splashed him, and he, turning, stumbled soaked and miserable through the doorway into the darkness.

“Electric’s out, but I’ve got a spirit stove. Have some coffee,” whispered something in the cafe.

Perhaps it was jaundice or quinine or being indoors too much. He looked as if he had been dipped in that stuff they used to put on your knees at school when you fell over. Matthew needed the coffee and wanted to be polite without having to look at the bloodshot eyes, so he wandered around, looking at the junk – old photos, straw hats and so on – fixed to the walls. There was a mass of it piled on the shelf at the back. Only the curling price-stickers showed up in the gloom. He picked up a Spanish straw donkey but it crumbled. “Time I had a clear-out,” laughed Redeyes.

“And what’s the point of this?” Matthew pulled out a piece of broken pottery that glittered. “Where’s the rest?”

“There’s no rest.”

He took it to the window. “It looks like part of an old washstand ewer.”

“Oh, something bigger, I would have thought. But you don’t want that. There’s a first edition of Samuel Smiles on that shelf, and a gold coin.”

The nightclub sign opposite was now flickering, and the street was having a rainbow-moment. Tears of shot silk streamed down the glass and made the shard ripple. It had a china rose on it, and lilacs, just like his old granny’s garden: all tarmacked over for parking, now, of course. The sticker on the shard said £2.67.

“Your coffee’s getting cold.”

How can you charge money for something broken?”

“You don’t want –“

“Yes I do. I’m an art student. It’s my calling to want things like this.”

Matthew soggily turned out his pockets. He had two pounds and fifty pence, his season ticket for the bus, and bits of wet paper handkerchief.

“It’s also your calling to be skint.”

“Would you take the cash with my watch as hostage, and I’ll pay the rest on Monday?”

There was a bigger flicker than usual in the street, and the café window cracked across. The 57 bus went by. Matthew slumped on a chair, dumping the shard on the table.

“Lightning. No insurance. Looks like I’ll be shut on Monday. Why don’t I do you some soup and tell you about that bit of china? Then you can forget all about it, and maybe I could give you the gold coin for a couple of quid, instead.”

Matthew was tired, cold, wet, irritated and hungry, and had an hour to wait for the next bus. The soup won.

“OK,” he said.

In between clatterings-about with the spirit stove, old Redeyes nattered away while Matthew blinked sleepily at the shard. It was curved and heavier at one end, so that it reared up as it lay on the tablecloth.

“It’s supposed to grant as many wishes as you can make, but the first wish strains it so that one small section of it begins to break away. Each wish deepens the crack. When the piece breaks off – no more wishes, if you know what I mean. My forebears all ran junk-shops. The shard is smaller each time it’s returned to us.”

Matthew smiled, entering into the joke. “That story’s been done before. I’m not a hedonist. I only want a car.”

Inside the bus it was airless and the standing passengers steamed grumpily. The crush pinned Matthew’s arms by his side, and he could not remove his coat. A seated passenger opened a window, and sat there in the rain. Night air came in, with the odour of a passing fish and chip shop. Matthew was still hungry.

At home the kitchen smelled of Bolognese. There was Bolognese sauce in the dog bowl, and more in the bin, but fish and chips on the table.

“Changed my mind,” said Matthew’s mother. “You’ve been with that Angela again, haven’t you. You smell of lilacs. Wash your hands.”

After dinner, Matthew went to his room and removed the three layers of bubble-wrap from the shard. He examined it under the lamp. It had the faintest hairline across the bottom corner: obviously part of old Redeyes’ joke. He hid it from Mother in the sock drawer and shut the drawer gently. Dad’s photo fell off the top of the chest. Matthew put it back carefully because he missed his father.

Well, if that shard really granted wishes, I’d have that car by now, he thought. The doorbell rang. His parents started shouting in the hall.

Copyright © 2003 LS


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