The Phoenix Time #63

Previously…….

‘You don’t fool me,’ she said,  pointing at him, her voice raised, ‘I’ve watched you two – the way you talk and the way you dance. Any closer together and someone would have called the police.’

‘Mmm,’ he said, ‘our dancing. Well, yes, I can see what you mean. Listen, we’re both beginners, we’re both rubbish at dancing and we know it – but we try to have a laugh camping it up. You and most of the others take it too seriously. It isn’t Strictly Come Dancing is it?’

……..Continued

Charlotte was lost for words.

‘Anyway,’ he said, ‘I didn’t come here for a row, but I’m beginning to think that you only asked me to come and help with the grass because a row is what you were looking for. Well, I’m not falling for it. You can have a row with yourself. I’ll see you when I see you.’

He picked up his coat. Charlotte was furious. She grabbed his arm.

‘Where do you think you’re going? Don’t you dare turn your back on me. I’ve not finished.’

Frank was angry now.

‘Let go of me you mad cow,’

She smacked his face.

‘I’ll give you cow,’ she screamed.

‘Just mad then,’ he countered.

She smacked him again but harder this time.

‘Oi!’ he said, ‘That’s enough. You try that again and you’ll get smacked back.’

She raised her hand to hit him but he grabbed her wrist, yanked his other arm free and raised it to smack her, but she grabbed his wrist.

They each struggled to free their captured arms, their bodies rotating with the effort. As they pulled, their angry faces moved closer together. It was Frank who broke the tension.

‘Are you dancing?’ he asked as they struggled.

‘Are you asking?’ she answered.

They both relaxed and fell into each other’s arms, laughing.

‘Daft bat,’ he said, as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

They kissed fiercely, his arms pulling her close to him.

‘For God’s sake Frank, come home,’ she said, ‘I’ve missed you so much.’

‘I’ve missed you too,’ he said.

‘I was so jealous when I saw you so happy with Janice. I was miserable and lonely.’

‘I know,’ he said. ‘Me too. There isn’t – hasn’t been – anything going on with Janice.’

‘Will you come back?’ she asked.

‘Will you allow me to help you?’ he asked.

‘I’m sorry I drove you away. I even missed you being in the kitchen.’

‘About that,’ he said, ‘I’ve been thinking about how we could get some builders in to make the kitchen and dining room easier for us both to work in.’

She hugged him tightly and kissed him again.

‘The family’s coming for their usual Sunday meal tomorrow,’ she said, ‘Would you like to make some of your rice dish?’

Well! That’s the end of this story. Love, like the Phoenix was apparently burned up but rose from the ashes.

Tomorrow, I’ll post one of my short stories. I have begun a longer story to replace the Phoenix Time, but I still don’t know where it’s going. In the meantime, while I make more headway, I do have a couple of other short stories to tell.

Featured Photo

Today I show another view along the Sankey Canal bank near Earlestown. Ted, my daughter’s Japanese Spitz dog, who was my companion on the walk, photobombed the shot – but I think that his cheeky face added to it.

I used my Pentax KP 64 MP cropped sensor camera and my 35 mm f/2 full-frame lens that. The shutter speed was 1/200 @ f/13 The ISO was 3200.

The Phoenix Time #62

Previously…….

‘Yes, Well? What of it?’ She was standing with her back to the kitchen sink, her arms folded across her chest, her face set in a sneer..

‘That’s almost three weeks ago; three weeks and I haven’t had a civil word off you since then Charlie. I sent you a text, offering to take you out for a meal but you sent me a really snotty reply. Okay, you wanted to see Gloria and spend some time on your own with her. That was fine, but there was no need for the way you expressed it.’

‘You’re right,’ she said. I do remember now, but I regretted it the moment I sent it. I’m sorry.’

‘Wow!’ he said, ‘At last. An apology from Charlotte the Great. Did you really think that I was going to go out of my way to speak to you after that?’

……..Continued

‘Well,’ she replied, ‘did you really think that I’d fall over myself to speak to you after you stalked me to the Dance Group and then went out of your way to seduce that Janice piece. Next thing I hear is that you’re moving in with her neighbour to be nearer to her.’

‘Word gets round fast I see, but I didn’t stalk you. You’d said how much you’d enjoyed going to the dance class, and it sounded as if it might be a good way to meet other people. You couldn’t wait to tell me how many men you’d met. I thought that I’d give it a try too, without cramping your style with your widowers’.

‘So that’s why you spent so much time chatting up Janice. It was to avoid cramping my style was it?’ she said, ‘Rubbish, you didn’t even notice me.’

‘There’s no need to be so nasty. I did notice you, but I didn’t think that you’d want your new friends to know who I was. Anyway, Janice is not a ‘piece’ – she’s a lonely widow with a great sense of humour. I enjoy her company, but I’ve not been chatting her up and I’ve never tried to seduce her – we just got talking when we were registering and found that we got on well together.’

Charlotte pulled a disbelieving face as he paused for breath.

‘Anyway, it was you who said that it was time that I moved out of Gloria’s house. I agreed with you, but finding a suitable place to rent is a nightmare. Janice merely recommended me to Mrs Edwards as a short-term tenant to replace one who is about to move into a new home.’

‘You don’t fool me,’ she said,  pointing at him, her voice raised, ‘I’ve watched you two – the way you talk and the way you dance. Any closer together and someone would have called the police.’

‘Mmm,’ he said, ‘our dancing. Well, yes, I can see what you mean. Listen, we’re both beginners, we’re both rubbish at dancing and we know it – but we try to have a laugh camping it up. You and most of the others take it too seriously. It isn’t Strictly Come Dancing is it?’

Featured Photo

Today I show another view from the Earlestown walk – this time along the canal bank. I liked the reflections.

I used my Pentax KP 64 MP cropped sensor camera and a 35 mm f/2 full-frame lens that I’m finding really useful in these times when it would be breaching lockdown to take a tripod with me. It’s light and compact – and it isn’t a hassle to try to take photographs while holding a dog on a lead. The shutter speed was 1/200 @ f/13 The ISO was 6400.

The Phoenix Time #61

Previously…….

‘He didn’t bring Janice back with him did he?’

Gloria burst out laughing.

‘Mum,’ she said, ‘You sound like a jealous teenager. Of course he didn’t.’

Charlotte asked to speak to Frank and asked if he’d mind popping round sometime in the next few days to cut the grass. He promised that he’d come on Saturday. He’d already arranged to spend Friday going through his things and deciding what he’d need to take with him when he moved in to his new home in a couple of weeks, and to do some shopping.

……..Continued

Saturday – Week Five

Frank was as good as his word. He arrived at Charlotte’s just after nine-thirty that morning. Charlotte had been shopping in Liverpool One the day before. She’d bought a new skirt and a blouse and treated herself to some expensive make up.

She’d been waiting for Frank since nine, sat on a chair near her front window to keep an eye on the street. She didn’t want to appear needy so she took her time answering the door.

‘Why didn’t you use your key?’ was her greeting.

‘Bloody Hell,’ he said, ‘I’ve not even got through the front door and you’re telling me off. I’ve a good mind to go back to Gloria’s and you can ask David to cut your grass.’

‘Oh don’t be so damn touchy. Would you like a cup of tea before you start?’

‘Go on then. Where? Kitchen, Breakfast Room?’

‘Let’s really live. Go and sit in the lounge. I’ll bring it in.’

When Gloria joined him carrying a tray with the drinks and some chocolate digestives, she found him standing in front of the fireplace examining the photo that Carrie had sent. He pointed to it.

‘Your work or your friend Carrie’s?’

‘Carrie’s’.

‘What happened to the photos you were going to send to me then – or didn’t you take any?’

Charlotte’s hand went to her mouth.

‘Oh Christ. Did I not send them? I’m so sorry. I really did mean to. Would you like to see them?

‘Of course I would. I asked you before you went to send me any you took of Durdle Door.’ He pointed to Carrie’s photo. ‘She’s a pro photographer isn’t she? I think you told me something about what she does. This is brilliant.’

Charlotte went to fetch her tablet and opening it she clicked and scrolled to the photographs that she’d taken and processed.

Frank asked to hold the tablet so that he could see the images better. He zoomed in to most of them and examined the detail.

‘Did you borrow Carrie’s camera for these?’ he asked. ‘They’re too sharp when zoomed to have been done with your phone.’

‘Let me show you,’ she said and went to bring her camera.

Frank admired it and scrolled through the unprocessed images.

‘And you took all these?’ he asked, ‘Not Carrie?’

‘I took them but Carrie showed me what to do.’

‘Well, Carrie’s a pro, but looking at these, you have a very good eye for composition.’

Charlotte was both thrilled and embarrassed and thanked him. He congratulated her on her choice of camera. He asked about the shots from the cemeteries and she explained that they’d been for the Local History group.

‘So, Carrie wasn’t with you at the graveyard?’ he asked.

When she agreed, he said that she’d done well, and that even if Carrie was an excellent mentor, Charlotte was obviously a quick learner.

She told him that she’d invited Carrie to come and stay for a week or so in June, given good weather, and told him her plans. He said that he hoped that Carrie would enjoy Devon and Cornwall. There would be plenty for her to photograph there.

‘Anyway,’ he said, ‘thanks for showing me your photos and your camera, but this isn’t getting the grass cut.’ He smiled and made his way to the garage to get the mower.

Charlotte felt that a weight had been rolled off her mind as she watched him handling the mower up and down the lawn, pausing every so often to empty the cuttings basket before continuing where he’d left off. He finished off the job with a strimmer for the edges and a lawn vacuum to suck up any stray cuttings. Even the different sounds had been relaxing.

He made to leave, but she asked him to stay with her a while.

‘Listen Charlie,’ he said, ‘I don’t know where I am with you these days. We’d been getting quite well again before you went to Dorset, such as that day at the bank, but ever since the day you returned you’ve been weird.’

‘Me being weird?’ she asked.

‘You came back, let me see, Monday May Sixth – Bank Holiday – Remember?’

‘Yes, Well? What of it?’ She was standing with her back to the kitchen sink, her arms folded across her chest, her face set in a sneer..

‘That’s almost three weeks ago; three weeks and I haven’t had a civil word off you since then Charlie. I sent you a text, offering to take you out for a meal but you sent me a really snotty reply. Okay, you wanted to see Gloria and spend some time on your own with her. That was fine, but there was no need for the way you expressed it.’

‘You’re right,’ she said. I do remember now, but I regretted it the moment I sent it. I’m sorry.’

‘Wow!’ he said, ‘At last. An apology from Charlotte the Great. Did you really think that I was going to go out of my way to speak to you after that?’

Featured Photo

A change of scenery today. Covid has been very much restricting where I can take Ted, my daughter’s Japanese Spitz dog for a walk each morning. The other day I ventured out to a different area of my hometown with him and I’ll share the images I shot today and for the next few days in this blog. The first one is a section of Nine Arches – an old railway viaduct at Earlestown. I was walking along a path that follows the Sankey Valley between St Helens and Widnes. The path passes through Warrington on its way.

I used my Pentax KP 64 MP cropped sensor camera and a 35 mm f/2 full-frame lens that I’m finding really useful in these times when it would be breaching lockdown to take a tripod with me. It’s light and compact – and it isn’t a hassle to try to take photographs while holding a dog on a lead. The shutter speed was 1/200 @ f/10. The ISO was 1600.

The Phoenix Time #60

Previously…….

She recalled what he’d said to her at the pub on the first night of their separation – something about looking for a landlady who’d offer extras. The prospect of that, or of such proximity to Janice, gave rise in Charlotte’s breast to acute heartburn.

Gloria saw her mum’s reaction.

‘Well I’m glad, Mum. I’m fed up of playing piggy-in-the-middle between you, constantly being expected to pass the latest morsel of gossip about each of you to the other. You’re going to have to start talking to each other, aren’t you?’

……..Continued

Thursday -Week Five

The thirty people who had booked to go on the coach stood chatting in small groups on the large car park that served the shopping centre and the Library. Charlotte noticed that Frank had brought Janice in his car.  They stood together with a couple who’d sat next to them at the dance class last week. Charlotte stood with a couple of ladies that she’d got to know the same way.

When the coach arrived, all eyes turned to it, watching it navigate the one-way system to the front of the Library. The seats at the rear of the coach were the ones that were filled earliest. Charlotte sat in the centre so that she wouldn’t be sitting over the wheels. Frank and Janice sat a bit further forward on the other side of the centre aisle. When he was putting their backpacks up in the compartment above their seats, he turned and waved to Charlotte. She didn’t wave back but smiled in return. All the way to Llandudno she could see the tops of their heads over the backs of their seats, close together, talking and laughing all the way. Occasionally he’d lean across Janice to point something out. It reminded her of times that she’d been the one sat with him. She wanted to tap him on the shoulder and tell him that he should be with her instead, but knew that she’d look stupid.

At that time of year, traffic on the A55 was heavy, so the sixty odd miles took them almost two hours. Even before the coach came to a halt, passengers were standing in the aisle to retrieve their goods from above. Before they left the coach, the leader asked the driver to open the doors. She took his microphone to give instructions to everyone about the meal, the afternoon tea dance and the time that the coach would be leaving.

Even though Charlotte enjoyed the meal, the dance was torture for her. Frank and Janice seemed to be determined to hold each other much more closely than was called for. When doing the rhumba they couldn’t seem to take their eyes off each other. Charlotte couldn’t wait to be home again.

After the tea dance, people were free to have a look around the resort town. Charlotte watched from the hotel lounge window as Frank and Janice walked arm-in-arm from the hotel and along the promenade.

Closing her front door when she arrived home, she kicked off her shoes and sat on the stairs sniffling back tears and feeling really sorry for herself. Eventually, she stood, removed her coat and hung it up before walking to the kitchen to make herself a drink. She decided to bite the bullet and, with her excuse at the ready, phoned Gloria.

‘Hello love, is your dad back yet?’ Gloria said that he was – he’d been back almost an hour. ‘Is he alone,’ was Charlotte’s next question, ‘He didn’t bring Janice back with him did he?’

Gloria burst out laughing.

‘Mum,’ she said, ‘You sound like a jealous teenager. Of course he didn’t.’

Charlotte asked to speak to Frank and asked if he’d mind popping round sometime in the next few days to cut the grass. He promised that he’d come on Saturday. He’d already arranged to spend Friday going through his things and deciding what he’d need to take with him when he moved in to his new home in a couple of weeks, and to do some shopping.

Featured Photo

Before we leave Widnes, it seems only right to feature a shot of the Mersey Gateway bridge that now takes most of the traffic that would previously crossed the river using the Silver Jubilee bridge.

Once again, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera, paired with my Pentax 35 mm f/2 full-frame lens. The Exif data were 1/640 secs at f/8. The ISO was 200.

The Phoenix Time #59

Previously……….

Carrie had enclosed a handwritten note with the photograph – and Charlotte had read and re-read it several times, before phoning her friend. By now, Carrie was touring Cornwall on the final leg of her tour of the South West. The two friends spoke for several minutes, during which Charlotte invited Carrie to stay with her whenever, in June or July, the weather forecast for the week ahead appeared to be favourable.

The Carrie photograph had sent now occupied a place of honour above the fireplace in the front lounge.

Continued………

Sunday – first day of Week Five

Charlotte stood in her dressing gown and nightie looking at the reflection of the dark shadows beneath her eyes and shrugged. She hadn’t seen Frank since he’d walked out of the dance on Thursday with Janice, her arm linking his. They hadn’t spoken to each other since before her Dorset trip – excepting only two brief exchanges at the dance group. The only knowledge that either of them had learned of the other had been courtesy of their children. She sighed.

After breakfast, she phoned Gloria and then David to check that they’d still be coming for dinner that night. She might find out something from one or both of them. Having established that she’d have a full house, she’d started getting ready before having a think about what to offer them.

She decided to cook a pork joint. She’d been to the local supermarket as soon as it had opened and bought some fresh vegetables to have with it. There had been some nice desserts on offer as well, so she’d purchased some of those too. Now, she was in the kitchen preparing. She’d dusted and vacuumed the place beforehand and laid the table. It had helped to take her mind off her unhappiness for a while; this separation business was making her feel miserable. Standing at the worktop, merely slicing things while she waited for the joint to be ready to remove from the oven, had allowed her thoughts to return to her unhappiness at the situation.

She’d thought she was self-reliant but she wasn’t forty anymore. She didn’t have the same energy. Even though she’d often shouted at Frank for being in her way, she missed his always cheerful willingness to help. She missed the times they’d been a team. She missed his smile, his voice, his presence – just knowing he was there. The other morning’s milk accident came to mind She sighed again, for the umpteenth time. She placed her elbows on the worktop, her face in her open hands and closed her eyes. On top of everything was the loneliness – the house always felt empty. Whatever effect not speaking was having on Frank, it was killing her.

“Something has to be done,” she thought, but she couldn’t think what that something would have to be. “Surely he can’t expect me to apologise. I do have some pride. He has to leave me some dignity at least.”

The oven pinged, so once the joint was out and on a grill rack, she started making gravy with the juices. She’d already peeled, sliced and parboiled some potatoes, so she put those in the oven to roast. Her next sigh was one of relief: everything was now ready for the imminent arrival of her guests bar the serving out of the food.

She waited until everyone was filling their faces with dessert before she started slipping subtle questions about Frank into the conversation. If she’d expected this to bring her comfort she’d badly miscalculated. She’d wanted to discover whether or not he’d found a house to rent, but,  instead learned from Gloria that he’d be moving into a Bed and Breakfast place – with a landlady who was a neighbour of Janice. She recalled what he’d said to her at the pub on the first night of their separation – something about looking for a landlady who’d offer extras. The prospect of that, or of such proximity to Janice, gave rise in Charlotte’s breast to acute heartburn.

Gloria saw her mum’s reaction.

‘Well I’m glad, Mum. I’m fed up of playing piggy-in-the-middle between you – constantly being expected to pass the latest morsel of gossip about each of you to the other. You’re going to have to start talking to each other, aren’t you?’

Featured Photo

I took this shot of the railway bridge that sits next to the Silver Jubilee bridge – both crossing the River Mersey between Widnes and Runcorn. The railway bridge carries, amongst other lines, the main West Coast line between Preston, Lancashire and London Euston. It’s normally impossible to photograph the bridge like this and it was made possible by the neighbouring Silver Jubilee bridge being closed to traffic until its re-opening the following day. I was particularly taken by the shadow under the arches.

I used my Pentax KP 24 MP crop sensor camera with a 35mm f/2 prime lens lens attached. The shutter speed was 1/640 seconds at f/8. The ISO was 1250. The shot was handheld and I post-processed my shot in Lightroom Classic.

The Phoenix Time #58

Previously……….

When he’d seen all that he needed to, they returned to the living room and arranged terms. From what she said the wi-fi signal would be okay for him. She told him that, nearer the time of her current tenant leaving, she’d phone him with a moving in date. At that time she’d require the rent for the first month in advance.

Returning to Gloria’s, his only reservation was about having to share wi-fi, because he was used to doing online all his banking, shopping and other sensitive matters.

Continued………

Thursday – Week Four

Another dance class

When Frank looked around the Community Room, having paid his dues for the week, he felt his stomach lurch. Directly across from him Charlotte was sitting talking to Janice.

“Oh, God!” he wondered, “What’s she been saying?”

It was what Charlotte may have said that he had in mind – and whatever mischief she may have been up to.

“Ah well. Only one way to find out.”

He locked a happy smile onto his face – at least he hoped that was how it would appear – and walked across to greet them. Both women looked up as he approached.

‘Hello Frank,’ Charlotte said, ‘I’ve just been introducing myself to Janice since you didn’t do the honours last week.’

‘Evening Janice,’ he said, ‘What poison has my ex-wife-to-be been dripping into your ear?’

Janice laughed.  She assured him that she’d not heard anything about him to concern her, and Charlotte said that she’d been on her best behaviour and wouldn’t dream of besmirching his character. She then said that she’d leave them to enjoy their dancing.

Once Charlotte was safely out of earshot, Frank turned to Janice:

‘Okay, spill. What did she really say?’

‘You do sound worried,’ Janice replied, ‘Honestly, she’d only been talking to me a couple of minutes. She hadn’t said much more than, that you hadn’t been seeing things eye-to-eye lately, and that you’re separated. But you’d already told me so much last week. Anyway, you should have introduced us then and she wouldn’t have needed to come and do it in person.’

Frank apologised and asked was there anything she wanted to know about him – other than his criminal records for rape, murder and embezzlement. She told him that she’d like to know a bit more about the rape charge. They both laughed. Frank told her about his visit to Edna, her neighbour, about lodgings. Janice said that Edna had phoned her and had said that she’d been impressed, but it was a good job Edna hadn’t known about all those criminal charges. Frank told her that he’d also formed a favourable impression of Edna and her house.

Their conversation was interrupted as the evening’s dancing started.

Charlotte watched the couple closely, looking for, but failing to see,  signs of anything approaching a romantic attachment. She was in a good mood. The morning’s mail had brought a welcome surprise. The postman had rung her doorbell and had needed her digital signature for a large, carefully wrapped package, which she took indoors with her to the kitchen. She had to use a knife to open the parcel which turned out to be from Carrie. It was a photograph, about A3 size she guessed, printed onto a metal backing. The image was one that Carrie had taken that penultimate night in Dorset.

The detail and colours were stunning. There were so many thousands of stars, more than she could remember seeing, tiny pinpoints of light, but dwarfed and outshone by the galactic core of the Milky Way as it curved above the arch of Durdle Door.

Carrie had enclosed a handwritten note with the photograph – and Charlotte had read and re-read it several times, before phoning her friend. By now, Carrie was touring Cornwall on the final leg of her tour of the South West. The two friends spoke for several minutes, during which Charlotte invited Carrie to stay with her whenever, in June or July, the weather forecast for the week ahead appeared to be favourable.

The photograph that Carrie had sent now occupied a place of honour above the fireplace in the front lounge.

Featured Photo

I’ve previously shown some photos of the Widnes to Runcorn Silver Jubilee bridge that I took in February on the day before the bridge re-opened. While I was there, I walked across to Spike Island, near the Catalyst Science Museum in Widnes and took a couple more photos of that area. I feature one of those today that show a lock gate where the St Helens canal meets the River Mersey.

I used my Pentax KP 24 MP crop sensor camera with a 35mm f/2 prime lens lens attached. The shutter speed was 1/50 seconds at f/8. The ISO was 100. The shot was handheld and I post-processed my shot in Lightroom Classic.

The Phoenix Time #55, #56, #57 (Corrected)

APOLOGIES

Looking back over the past two days’ posts, I see that, in posts #55 and #56, I managed to screw things up royally. From the ‘Previously’ onwards in post #55, I duplicated some sections and omitted others. In my defence, the process by which I have previously been able to copy and paste text from my original Word file and between my post pages has been changed for reasons beyond my control and understanding. I think that I now have a workaround. However, to help you to try to make sense of what you should have been able to read, I have checked and daisy-chained three days posts into this replacement post. Please forgive me.

Previously……….

‘That’s quite some speech for you Dad. Are you interested in this Janice then – or are you hedging your bets?’

‘Neither my love. She’s fun to be with but she’d never be interested in an old man like me. I’m not daft. She just needed cheering up. Both me and her have two left feet and we’ll neither of us ever be the next Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers pairing. But it was fun and we could laugh at our feeble attempts.’

‘I’m not convinced that you’ve answered my question Dad – either question in fact.’

‘Well, that’s all I’m saying for tonight. I’m quite worn out and ready for bed. I bet Peter’s wondering what you’re doing down here. You go and I’ll check the doors and turn off the lights.’

Continued………

CHAPTER EIGHT

Sunday – first day of Week Four

Dinner for seven

There was no place at the table for Frank at David’s house. Charlotte would have  refused to go if he’d been invited. She still hadn’t forgiven him. Gloria hadn’t told her brother about the goings-on of Thursday at and after the dance class. Charlotte made good that deficit in spades. She held forth over the dinner table and continued afterwards when they all retired to his living room.

Both Gloria and David tried to persuade her to calm down and to moderate her views but she would have none of it. The  couple of days between Thursday evening and Sunday had only fuelled her anger. Frank hadn’t tried to contact her and she had no intention of phoning or texting him.

Gloria did try to get her mum to see things from Frank’s angle but that seemed to make things worse.

‘You’re just siding with your perfect dad. Why was he stalking me to the dance class? That had been somewhere for me to go to forget him.’

Gloria put her head in her hands. ‘Mum, maybe he went to see who you were dancing with. Maybe he was a bit jealous.’

‘Then explain, if you can, why he didn’t ask me to dance with him, and why was he been flaunting this woman in front of me? Was he trying to make me jealous?’

They argued back and forth. Charlotte was anxious to know what Frank would  have told the woman about her; whether he would have told her he was already married; whether he would have pointed her out among the other dancers; whether the woman was married.

Gloria was at least able to confirm that Janice was a widow, but this merely made Charlotte think that, as a widow, she was probably more of a temptation to Frank.

When David tried to argue that she, herself, had discouraged his contacting her on the grounds of their being separated, he was accused of siding with Frank because he was a man.

The grandchildren took no part, seeing the discussion was something in which their contribution would be even more unwelcome, so they’d taken themselves off upstairs.

The evening ended without a resolution.

Monday – Week Four

Charlotte

Charlotte hadn’t slept well. She woke up with a headache which paracetamol did little to aid. She knocked the nearly full, four-pint plastic container of milk over when she was making a drink. She’d put some of the milk in the cup to colour the brewed tea it contained, but as she turned to bring her cereal bowl nearer, her wrist caught against the bottle. Fortunately there hadn’t been much in it but it seemed to spread everywhere. She couldn’t blame Frank for that.

That was just the start. When the landline phone in the living room rang, she ran to pick up the receiver, and tripped over the edge of the rug in the breakfast room – landing on her forearms and hurting her wrist. The call had been one of those scam calls from someone claiming to be her internet provider.

She then left her drink going cold, forgotten, as she sat with her face in her hands, sobbing. The eye makeup she’d so carefully applied streaked, and when she rubbed her eyes with her knuckles, the streak spread even further.

When she pulled herself together, she decided that she had to get out of the house. She thought for a moment, deliberating where to go to cheer herself up and decided to visit Chester, to browse the shops in the Rows. It was still only mid-morning and she realised that she’d be able to be there by lunchtime and treat herself to a nice meal somewhere. She remembered an Italian restaurant that she’d been to previously with Frank. The food had been nice there.

She looked around, saw that dust had been accumulating since she’d left for Dorset. “Bugger it!” she thought. She put her phone and purse in the handbag she’d chosen and walked out to the car.

Frank

Frank had slept like a log, untroubled in his ignorance of the maelstrom that had caused havoc in his former home the previous day. He’d been watching television in the living room when they’d arrived back. When he asked if they’d had a nice visit their response had been less than fulsome. He didn’t enquire further – he could guess what had been said.

Over breakfast he said that he had an announcement:

‘I may have found somewhere to stay so that I can be off your hands,’ he said. ‘When I told Janice that I’d been trying to find somewhere to rent, she said that she might know someone who could help. One of her neighbours takes in lodgers sometimes.’

‘Oh yes!’ Gloria said, ‘Is this possibly your loose landlady fantasy Dad?’

‘Well,’ he said, ‘Janice never mentioned anything about that. She just said that she’d have a word and get back to me.’

‘When do you expect to hear?’

‘That’s my announcement,’ he said, ‘Janice phoned yesterday while you were out. She’d spoken to the neighbour, and one of her regulars will be leaving to move into a house that he and his girlfriend have bought. They’ll be completing on the purchase within three weeks.’

‘How did Janice know your number Dad?’ Gloria asked, as she was clearing the table.

‘Leave those things love. You just get ready for work,’ he said. ‘When she told me about this neighbour, I gave her my number so she could let me know how she’d got on.’

Frank rose from his chair and lifted some of the dishes to take to the sink.

‘I phoned the neighbour after Janice rang off,’ he continued, ‘and I’ll be going to look at the place tomorrow to meet her and have a look at the place while the present lodger’s at work.’

Gloria was satisfied that there was nothing for her mum to be concerned about but she’d enjoyed having her dad stay with her where she could keep an eye on him.

When the family left, Frank washed and dried the dishes, put everything away and had a general tidy around the house. He hadn’t anything urgent to do, so he decided to visit Port Sunlight to look at the Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight. It had been a while since he’d been. It would be nice to see the collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings again.

Tuesday – Week Four

Local History Group

Charlotte had her own contribution to make to the proceedings. Following last week’s notice about the proposed tour of old local gravestones, she’d taken her camera and accompanied Renee and Hazel. Using the skills that she’d learned from Carrie, and the free software she’d downloaded, she’d photographed, processed and emailed copies of her images to Hazel.

After the break, Renee and Hazel made a presentation of what they’d learned on their visit, thanking Charlotte for turning up for the tour, and for her photos which they projected onto a large pull-down screen at the front of the room.

The talk and the images were well received and Charlotte’s work was praised.

She left the meeting feeling proud of herself. She was a lot more cheerful than she had been on Sunday. Her trip to Chester yesterday had also been a tonic. She’d treated herself to some new underwear and a new dress to wear to the dance next Thursday

She was also much more prepared now to put her misgivings about the events at the dance class into proportion. In her mind she recollected the points that David and Gloria had made. Maybe they were right. Maybe she had to see things from the alternative perspective they’d suggested. Nevertheless, she wasn’t looking forward to the coming class. She hoped that Frank would stay away.

Frank

Frank left the house soon after breakfast. He was keen to meet his prospective landlady. From memory the house wouldn’t be far away, on the outskirts of the town. He keyed the postcode into his satnav and set off. He’d dressed to impress in his grey tweed sports jacket and charcoal trousers with black shoes.

As he drove he thought about his visit to the art gallery on the Wirral yesterday. One painting in particular came to mind of a group of women grouped around a table in a workhouse. The nineteenth century work was by Hubert von Herkomer. His main reason for recalling the painting was that, on a previous visit to the gallery with Charlotte, she’d been moved to tears.

Both he and Charlotte enjoyed liked visiting such places. They were lucky to have galleries like the Lady Lever and Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery so close to hand.  Not all of his recent memories of his wife were tainted by the traits that had led to their parting company. She used to be more sensitive- he recalled another previous occasion – a Valentine’s Day concert at Liverpool Philharmonic that had included a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘Lark Ascending’ at; and there was another time in Manchester where they’d gone for a performance with surtitles of La Traviata by the Welsh National Opera. He was going to miss moments like those.

He drove along the road, looking for the door number. The houses were all 1960s or, perhaps early 1970s three bedroomed semi-detached and the one he stopped outside seemed to have been well maintained with a pleasant front garden behind a low brick wall. Baskets of brightly coloured summer annuals hung either side of the glazed porch.  This was much better than he’d expected.

The woman who opened the door greeted him and checked his driving licence photo-ID as they’d arranged. She identified herself as Mrs Edwards, though she asked him to call her Edna. He followed her into her front living room – she wanted to talk to him about why he wanted to stay there and his expectations. From what she said, it sounded as if Janice had already told her quite a bit about him.

 She explained that most of the people she’d provided accommodation for had stayed for fairly short periods – people moving into the area on temporary assignments with large companies or others who’d pre-emptively sold a house to have more bargaining power when buying their next home. Having satisfied herself that Frank seemed to be a suitable candidate, she showed him around the house. All the  décor  appeared to be quite recent and tasteful. He would have his own bedroom and free use of the bathroom, kitchen and living room. He’d be able to do his own laundry and cooking, although he’d be welcome to join her for cooked evening meals given notice.

When he’d seen all that he needed to, they returned to the living room and arranged terms. From what she said the wi-fi signal would be okay for him. She told him that, nearer the time of her current tenant leaving, she’d phone him with a moving in date. At that time she’d require the rent for the first month in advance.

Returning to Gloria’s, his only reservation was about having to share wi-fi, because he was used to doing online all his banking, shopping and other sensitive matters.

Featured Photo

A while back I featured a couple of photos of the Widnes to Runcorn Silver Jubilee Bridge across the River Mersey on its re-opening after refurbishment. Today, the image shows the view of the bridge looking up into its structure.

I used my Pentax KP 24 MP crop sensor camera with a 35mm f/2 prime lens lens attached. The shutter speed was 1/640 seconds at f/8. The ISO was 200. The shot was handheld and I post-processed my shot in Lightroom Classic.

The Phoenix Time #54

Previously……….

At one point in the evening, as Charlotte was dancing, she noticed that Frank was looking in her direction. He winked at her, before turning back to his partner. Just to top off a perfect evening, as Charlotte was changing her shoes, she looked up and saw him walking out towards the exit with the same woman. She was furious.

Continued………

After the Ball was over…

Frank hadn’t been home at Gloria’s long when the landline phone rang. Gloria called up to him.

‘Dad, it’s mum for you. It sounds like she’s going to put you on the “naughty step”’.

‘What in blue blazes was all that about?’ Charlotte demanded, ‘and who was that woman?’

‘Oh! We’re still on speaking terms are we?’ he asked, ‘From your text on Monday, I thought that you needed me to keep my distance. No more meals together – a sort of, “don’t call me – I’ll call you” relationship.’

‘My understanding was that we needed some time apart to reflect,’ she said, ‘not for you to start an affair. She’s practically young enough to be your daughter.’

‘Pretty though, isn’t she?’ he said.

‘Put Gloria on,’ she said, ‘I want to speak to someone sensible.’

He handed the phone across, laughing.

Afterwards, Gloria confronted her dad,

‘Mum sounded really pissed off,’ she said, ‘Were you really flirting with this woman?’

‘Don’t be daft, Gloria love,’ he said, ‘How do you think I felt when your mum told me about the men at the dance damn near fighting for the chance of a dance with her? How do you think I felt about her going off on her own to Dorset? How was I to know what she was getting up to down there?’

‘It sounds a bit childish Dad,’ she said, ‘Tit for tat – at your age?’

‘Maybe love,’ he replied, ‘but think of her text to me, on Monday reminding me that we’re not joined at the hip. I just thought I’d let her see what separation could entail.’

‘So who was this floozy then?’ she asked.

‘Her name is Janice,’ he answered, ‘She’s  not a floozy – she’s a young widow. We got talking when we were registering to become members. She’s been lonely and a bit depressed and we just got on well. I seemed to cheer her up. Whet harm is there in that? Winding your mum up was just a bonus. We’re never going to get back together until she climbs down off her high horse and stops being a bloody control freak.’

Gloria listened and waited until he’d finished justifying his behaviour.’

‘Well, I think what you did was cruel,’ she said, ‘From what Mum said you looked like a courting couple – her words. Are you sure that you want to get back together with Mum?’

‘Of course I do love, but not until she comes off her high horse and stops behaving so bossy.’

‘What if she can’t change?’

‘When you get to my age love,’ he said, ‘you realise that time is like money – but much more important that money. Your mum and I have been lucky healthwise, but I  read the “hatch, match and despatch” columns in our local paper, and I see how many people my age are dying. Every second that passes that we don’t make the most of is time that we’ve frittered. I don’t have enough to fritter. If she can’t change, then I may have to invest my time differently – where it may return more enjoyable interest.’

‘That’s quite some speech for you Dad. Are you interested in this Janice then – or are you just hedging your bets?’

‘Neither my love. She’s fun to be with but she’d never be interested in an old man like me. I’m not daft. She just needed cheering up. Both me and her have two left feet and we’ll neither of us ever be the next Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers pairing. But it was fun and we could laugh at our feeble attempts.’

‘I’m not convinced that you’ve answered my question Dad – either question in fact.’

‘Well, that’s all I’m saying for tonight. I’m quite worn out and ready for bed. I bet Peter’s wondering what you’re doing down here. You go and I’ll check the doors and turn off the lights.’

Featured Photo

A change of scenery today. I took this photo of a lone tree on 7th March while I was walking from Rainhill Stoops, Merseyside towards Pex Hill near Cronton.

I used my Pentax KP 24 MP crop sensor camera with a 35mm f/2 prime lens lens attached. The shutter speed was 1/80 seconds at f/8. The ISO was 100. The shot was handheld and I post-processed my shot in Lightroom Classic.

The Phoenix Time #53

Previously……….

He told her that he wasn’t expecting to be joined by anyone. He explained that his wife would probably be coming but that they were recently separated and he didn’t expect that she’d want to dance with him.

They sat down on adjoining chairs. She asked why he’d come in that case. He told her that it was his wife who’d mentioned that she’d joined but that she’d had no shortage of widowers wanting to dance with her. It had occurred to him that he too might need to find a way to make new friends after forty years of marriage.

‘Oooh!’ she said, ‘Are you jealous then? Will you be punching someone’s lights out later?’

Continued………

He laughed and explained that he had no problem with her dancing with other men. They were separated now and it was up to her if she came here to enjoy herself. He asked about her reason for coming. She told him that her late husband had died a while back and that she’d come for company and to cheer herself up.

It transpired that neither had any prior experience of ballroom dancing.

Charlotte walked into the Community Room at the Library while this conversation was taking place, and, greeting the group leader at the table, paid her subscription for the evening. It wasn’t until she turned to look who else had arrived that she noticed Frank on the other side of the room.

He was on one of the chairs at the far end, sat talking to an attractive woman whom she’d not seen before, who seemed to be hanging on to Frank’s every word.

Charlotte decided that it might be embarrassing to him or to herself if she went across to him. She was angry with him for coming – she could not, for the world, imagine why he was there. At the same time, she wanted to know who the woman was – had he brought her; had she brought him; or was it, for him at least, a happy coincidence.

The evening began with a solo warm-up dance and, after a brief pause for recovery, the leader asked the dancers to form a circle – as far as possible a woman on either side of each man. She told them that, since there were new members present, the next dance would serve the purpose of letting everyone meet everyone else. When the music started, each man took the hand of the dancer on his right and danced a do-si-do around, each introducing himself and herself to the other.

There were fewer men than women present and this nicely avoided the embarrassment of a man having to dance with another man. Such appeared to be the assumption. Charlotte, who’d been watching him closely, noticed that Frank and the younger woman seemed to laugh more when they danced together than when partnered with someone else.

Soon it was Frank’s turn to introduce himself to Charlotte.

‘Hi,’ he said, ‘I’m Frank. Nice to meet you.’

‘I know damn well who you are you bloody fool,’ she hissed, ‘Why are you here?’

‘Well, it was you who said that it was a good way to make new friends.’

There was no more time for conversation because it was time to move on to the next introduction. There were few enough members and the music was long enough to allow another round of  the dance.

Charlotte was even more annoyed with him the second time around. Later, at the interval, she noticed that he went and brought the younger woman a drink back for them both. The leader stood in the centre of the room with her microphone and reminded members of the outing to Llandudno that was planned for two weeks from then. Tickets were still available, but this was the final time of asking and deposits were also required for the coach and hotel. Frank and his partner went together to book.

They also spent the whole evening dancing together, even though there were several women who were only able to dance with other women.

At one point in the evening, as Charlotte was dancing, she noticed that Frank was looking in her direction. He winked at her, before turning back to his partner. Just to top off a perfect evening, as Charlotte was changing her shoes, she looked up and saw him walking out towards the exit with the same woman. She was furious.

Featured Photo

Another photograph today from when I was walking back from Happy Valley at Carr Mill along the woodland path – returning the way that I’d come. This image shows a large stone in the stream. When I was a child, my dad used to tell me that the stone was called the Beecham’s stone, and that, when the clock of local Beecham’s pharmaceutical factory struck twelve each day, the stone turned over. As a child, I was daft enough to believe him and wished that he would take me to watch it happen.

I used my Pentax KP 24 MP crop sensor camera with a 35mm f/2 full-frame prime lens lens attached. The shutter speed was 1/100 seconds at f/13. The ISO was 3200. The shot was handheld and I post-processed my shot in Lightroom Classic.

The Phoenix Time #52

Previously……….

He left the peeled and chopped potatoes in a pan of salted water, together with other vegetables that he’d prepared, washed and dried his hands and put on a jacket to look at a house.

It was another wasted journey. The house was still a work-in-progress. The landlord was there together with the builder who was plastering one of the walls. There were still a lot of other jobs that would need to be finished. Frank asked the landlord to phone him in two or three weeks when the work was complete. If he hadn’t found anywhere else, he’d probably be interested.

Continued………

Thursday – Week Three

A dance class

The weekly dance classes were held in the Community Room of the Library. It was the same room that was used by the Local History group, but it looked much bigger with all the tables moved out of the way.

The room was large, rectangular in shape with high windows and wall bars revealing one of its other purposes as a community gymnasium. The highly polished sprung flooring, marked out with white lines for use by indoor football and netball groups, was as suited to those as to dancing. A large glitter ball  hung from the ceiling in honour of the room’s current use, though, on this early summer night, there was no artificial light yet to reflect off it.

For the dance group, the Caretaker was finishing putting out chairs for the dancers. A table in one corner, next to the door into the kitchen, would be used later to serve refreshments. A smaller folding table in the opposite corner was being used by the dance teacher and group leader to accept or renew annual membership fees and to take entrance fees for the evening. She was just finishing checking her float when Frank arrived followed almost immediately afterwards by a woman, some years younger than him. They were the first arrivals. Frank had just received from the leader a membership form to complete when the young woman spoke:

‘Don’t you see some sights when you haven’t got a gun?’

He turned to see what she was talking about. He saw that she was watching the quite overweight caretaker picking up some scraps of paper from the floor. His wrinkled grey tee shirt had moved up his back as he bent, exposing an expanse of bare flesh above his low-rise jeans, together with a view of a stretch of the crack of his backside.

‘My God,’ said Frank, ‘You could park a bike in that.’

Frank turned to the young woman and they both burst out laughing.

‘Hi,’ he said, ‘Do you want to go first? I’m just filling in a membership form.’

‘It’s okay,’ she replied, ‘I’ll need to complete one too.’

The leader passed her a blank copy of the form and a pen.

Frank and the young woman introduced themselves, paid their fees and walked together across the room. The woman’s name was Janice. She was in her mid-fifties, slightly shorter than Frank, and quite attractive. She wore a brightly coloured dress over tights and white, heeled shoes. She was carrying a shoe-bag.

‘Are you meeting someone here?’ he asked.

‘No,’ she said, ‘Yourself?’

He told her that he wasn’t expecting to be joined by anyone. He explained that his wife would probably be coming but that they were recently separated and he didn’t expect that she’d want to dance with him.

They sat down on adjoining chairs. She asked why he’d come in that case. He told her that it was his wife who’d mentioned that she’d joined, but that she had no shortage of widowers wanting to dance with her. It had occurred to him that he too might need to find a way to make new friends after forty years of marriage.

‘Oooh!’ she said, ‘Are you jealous then? Will you be punching someone’s lights out later?’

Featured Photo

Another photograph today from when I was walking back from Happy Valley at Carr Mill along the woodland path – returning the way that I’d come. This image shows a couple watching their dog paddle at a bend in the stream.

I used my Pentax KP 24 MP crop sensor camera with a 35mm f/2 prime lens lens attached. The shutter speed was 1/125 seconds at f/11. The ISO was 1600. The shot was handheld and I post-processed my shot in Lightroom Classic.