The Stamp – A Very Short Story

   Adam hadn’t stolen anything since pocketing a bag of jelly babies in Woolworth’s towards the end of the seventies. The adrenaline rush, combined with the sugar from the stolen sweets, had been followed by such an onset of faintness and self-loathing that he immediately shelved his pubescent dream of becoming a career criminal. He had got away with it and that was enough.

   Back then he could have bought the jelly babies had he wished to and their acquisition had been in no way life-changing. The theft he now planned in his forty-eighth year, however, was of an item that he was unable to purchase and that would avoid his life changing from one of fragile respectability to one of humiliating penury, largely due to his lamentable investment strategies. As for any subsequent self-loathing, he felt that age, experience, and his work as a solicitor had long cured him of such trifling emotions.

   One of his clients was an ageing, unflattering philatelist called Mr Benson. Unflattering to Adam because the man held lawyers in even lower esteem than Adam himself did. Adam visited Mr Benson periodically at his Georgian town house and on successive visits observed how the old man’s mind and body crumbled before his eyes; the eyes that Mr Benson now increasingly depended on to read and reread what was to become the final codicil of his will.

  There was money, there was property, there were stamps and there was the stamp. Mr Benson possessed an unused 1841 Twopenny Blue worth a preposterous amount of money and which would finally be left to his great-niece because, he said, it would cause the greatest amount of annoyance to the largest number of family members.

   Mr Benson perceived during their conversations that, as well as being a lawyer, Adam also appeared to be a human being. He was flattered by the interest the younger man took in his collection and could often be prevailed upon to talk Adam through the more spectacular sections of it. Adam listened, apparently spellbound, to tales of heart-stopping auctions, startling acquisitions and devastating near misses which had occurred during the compilation of this neatly bound assortment of useless bits of paper. He had been shown the Twopenny Blue twice and had been suitably impressed by the stamp’s grandeur, not, however, becoming too emotional to fail to note the simple combination of the safe into which it was returned with trembling hands.

   Adam’s cash-flow problems did not prevent the online purchase of a rather expensive postage stamp and, like any good family solicitor, his concerns regarding the health of his most valued client increased in proportion with Mr Benson’s diminishing vitality. On one of his visits he plied Mr Benson with sufficient tea for him to require a visit to the bathroom. The stamp that fluttered against Adam’s heart in his shirt pocket as he said goodbye was not the same one that had lain there during this and his last three visits, although it too had a nominal value of two pennies and that same old blue hue.

   Mr Benson passed away that winter and his grand-niece was delighted with the computer games that the £150 she received for that silly stamp enabled her to buy. The twice-stolen Twopenny Blue was returned to its rightful owners in Gloucester and Adam’s two years in prison made him rue the day he walked out of Woolworth’s with the jelly babies.


Mirlo – A Very Short Story

   Mirlo emerged into the moonlight one night in April 1939. Victory rather than peace had been declared after three years of civil war and Mirlo was automatically one of the victors. He had spent almost three years in a hidden cave in the hills inland from Valencia, relying on a family servant to bring him sustenance and clothing; a risky business indeed for that faithful man.

   Cleanly shaven and in a respectable suit of clothes he came down from the hills that night and when he entered his town it appeared that he had arrived on the train from Madrid. His family quickly informed him of news enough to create a plausible alibi and expand upon the brief war reports that his taciturn servant had relayed to him on his nocturnal visits to the cave. Other men in Mirlo’s position had crossed the enemy lines to join their kind or had died attempting it. Mirlo would always be vague about his war activities, wishing, he said, to erase it from his memory.

   He resumed his legal practice with enthusiasm; there were many people to be tried and somebody had to make a pretence of defending them. He would soon make up his lost earnings through this vindictive legal circus. The faithful servant had been sworn to secrecy – every week for three years; he wouldn’t forget – and seemed happy to now receive no special privileges. The familiar status quo had been resumed with a vengeance and once again every man knew where he stood.

   Years passed and wounds, the press assured us, were healing. Mirlo prospered and was respected. He lived more quietly than before, but who knows what he had been through in the war which had changed many men and driven not a few to drink, whoring and even suicide?

   In the spring of ’49 an astonishing rumour began to spread among the lower orders regarding the venerable Mr Mirlo. It soon rippled through town and ascended to that social hub of the gentry, the Casino, where Mirlo took coffee, read the national papers, and did business. He laughed aloud and his peers laughed with him. Such a refined, patriotic man as he to have done such a cowardly thing! Happily for Mirlo the rumour subsided. There was no real proof and unwise would be the man who furnished such proof unless he wore the armour of considerable social standing.

   Some months later old Paco Belda was caught stealing some items of the Mirlo family silver – caught red-handed they said – although his trial was so summary and his removal to a distant prison so swift that his defence was heard by few. Never had a man acted so out of character, but you never knew in this country of remorse and revenge. The funny thing was that Paco Belda and Mirlo hadn’t exchanged more than a few dozen insignificant words during those ten years.

   Nowadays people can say just about whatever they think. People have more free time too and have taken to pursuits such as rambling in the countryside. It’s a thrill for the children to be taken to ‘La Cueva de Mirlo’ and shine a torch on the initials which are chiselled on a ledge in a corner of the damp, low roof.

   You can just make out an F, a J and an M.

Mortality – A Very Short Story

   The riders approached the foot of the climb in neat formation. Joe rode at the front of the group of twelve, alongside young Jason, and thought while he span the pedals easily. He was twenty-seven and feeling pleased with himself. He had a good job at the foundry and a pretty girlfriend who wanted him to ask her to marry him.

   He was the strongest rider in his cycling club, as he was about to prove once again on the climb up Hartridge Fell. He would steadily wind up the pace on the four mile drag until he reached the top alone, having left his club-mates scattered along the road behind him. Sunday was his favourite day.

   After less than a mile he could hear the laboured breathing of those behind him and he changed up a gear coming out of the first bend. He had considered taking it more easily today and keeping the group together, but young Jason needed to be put in his place. He was eighteen now and had trained hard during the summer. If Joe could just keep him at bay until he went off to college in September he would be happy. Should he come back the following year as a ‘racer’, Joe wouldn’t concern himself if he were stronger than him. Joe was a ‘club-man’ and a ‘proper worker’ and only felt obliged to maintain his hegemony over those of his kind.

   A mile from the top only Jason had stayed with Joe, still riding at his side, pedalling smoothly and breathing steadily. Joe shifted up another gear and stood up on the pedals to make his final effort. He increased the pace suddenly and Jason slotted into his slipstream, probably a sign of weakness. Joe powered out of the last bend with the signposts at the top of the hill in sight. His thighs were burning and he was gasping for breath when Jason came past him and Joe couldn’t stay with him. He sat back down in the saddle, looked behind him once, and ground the pedals bitterly until he reached the summit.

   He pulled over at the side of the road and slumped over the handlebars while he recovered. The other riders reached the top in ones and twos, not looking nearly as exhausted as Joe; they enjoyed their Sunday rides in a different way. As he assimilated his defeat he ran his tongue through the new gap between his back teeth. He had had a molar extracted the previous week – the first tooth he had lost – and had thought nothing of it.

   Now as he felt the gap with his tongue he did think about it, and also thought that it might soon be time to get married. He found it strange that this thought had occurred to him at that precise moment, but he didn’t realise then that for the first time in his life he had begun to perceive his own mortality.

The Camel Salesman – A Very Short Story

   John used to work at the Job Centre but lost his job and now when he visits he sits at the other side of the desk.

   When clients met with John they had to agree on three work sectors in which to concentrate their job applications. These, to give you a typical example, might be retail work, catering work and factory work. One day a small, gnarled man from an eastern country visited John for the first time. His daughter also attended as this man spoke no English. John went through the usual preliminaries, halting several times to allow the young woman to translate, after which the man would look gravely at John and nod twice; always twice.

   John asked the man what kind of work he was looking for and the daughter informed him that her father was a camel salesman. John explained that there was little trade in camels in this part of the country, but that his selling skills may well be transferable to other areas of the retail sector.  John typed ‘Retail’ into the computer, pointed at the word, and the daughter told her father what John had written. The man shook his head twice and spoke rapidly to his daughter. No, she said, he was only able to sell camels. He had sold camels all his life, as had his father and his grandfather before him, and he was too old to change now.

   John typed the job description Camel Salesman for the first time in his life and his fingers tingled. He then asked him what other work sectors he would consider and the man gazed at him, neither nodding nor shaking his head, and smiled. It was a winning, toothless smile and John typed Camel Salesman twice more. He pointed to the screen and the man nodded three times and smiled again. He was beginning to understand written English.

   Surely, you ask, John wasn’t sacked for this impulsive transgression? Surely a warning would have sufficed?

   Alas, the story does not end here. John was so taken with the new job category that he urged other clients to consider it. He spoke of an emerging market, a new direction, diversification and an under-skilled sector. Several people agreed that Camel Sales was a profession they could no longer ignore. What motivated the clients to make this choice I will leave the reader to surmise. I suspect that their reasons ranged from extremely lateral thinking, through bloody-mindedness, to sheer stupidity.

   When the quarterly report was published, much to the delight of a conscientious local journalist, it indicated that 172 citizens of this small northern town wished to pursue a career in Camel Sales. John was interviewed by a panel of mental health assessors, deemed at least as sane as they were, and sacked.

   John now sits at the other side of his old desk and, try as he may, he simply cannot convince his former colleague to type the words Camel Salesman under Category Three.

This story is one of ‘Thirty Brief Tales from England and Spain.’

101 – The Importance of Not Being Ernest

A great blog post from Tamara Essex…

A Foot in Two Campos

Who are we?  Those who are seeking the sun?  We who have packed up our belongings in one country, and unpacked them in another?  Los que buscan el sol.

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Writing Rhythms

  ‘You writing anything at the moment?’

  ‘No, I’m having a rest.’

  ‘What, recharging your batteries?’

  ‘Well, I suppose you could say that, yes.’

  ‘Except the human body doesn’t have batteries.’

  ‘By which you mean?’

  ‘Well, all the writers I’ve read about wrote all the time, or said they did. Their vocation, you see. Couldn’t keep their hands off the quill, or biro, or typewriter, or-’

  ‘-Yes, yes, but nor did they have jobs, most of them. It can start to feel like you’re burning the candle at both ends – and I know the human body isn’t a candle – and it’s good to take it easy for a few weeks.’

  ‘Anthony Tr-’

  ‘Yes, I know that Anthony Trollope used to get up before he went to bed and write 2,500 words before popping into work to design a post box or two, but we aren’t all superhuman. It takes me three days to write so many words.’

  ‘It’s a lot of words. Graham Greene set his limit at 500 and-’

  ‘-Broke off mid-sentence, I know, I’ve tried that.’

  ‘Breaking off mid-sentence?’

  ‘Well, no, but sticking to 500 words. The trouble is that if it’s going well you want to carry on a bit longer. Who knows, the next day you might be too tired to write much.’

  ‘Ever tried writing lying down?’

  ‘What, like Mark Twain? I tried it once, but I fell asleep.’

  ‘Must’ve been riveting stuff.’

  ‘Not as funny as Mark Twain, perhaps. I’ve tried writing standing up too, like Hemingway, but I kept sitting down and forgot to stand up again.’

  ‘Not as tough as him then?’

  ‘No-one’s as tough as he made himself out to be. A lot of it was Dutch courage, though.’

  ‘He never drank while he was writing.’

  ‘Thank goodness for that. They’d have published it anyway.’

  ‘Victor Hugo wrote in the bath.’

  ‘He wouldn’t if he was around now; he’d electrocute himself.’

  ‘Some writers still use a pen, you know.’

  ‘I’ve tried that too, but my handwriting’s so lousy that I struggle to read it afterwards.’

  ‘Best not to try writing in the dark then, like Henry David Thoreau did when he couldn’t sleep.’

  ‘I’d be tempted to flick the light switch on.’

  ‘I suppose so. Anyway, if you’re not writing a book now, why don’t you do a bit of blogging? That’s all the rage nowadays.’

  ‘What? And use up my ideas! I don’t get so many of them, you know.’

  ‘Write this down, or up, then.’

  ‘I might just do that.’

Imaginary conversation between a technophobe and a realist

‘Every writer worth their salt has a website or a blog, or both.’

‘Oh, not me. I prefer to keep a low profile.’

‘What? Like J. D. Salinger, or someone?’

‘Well, why not?’

‘You’re hardly Salinger, though, are you? You don’t even look like him. Do you want people to actually read your stuff?’

‘Well, yes.’

‘Where are they going to find it then?’

‘In the usual places.’

‘With all the other millions of books?’


‘Yes, millions. Are you a technophobe, or just plain lazy?’

‘More technophobe than lazy, I think. I’m not lazy about writing, and in my day job I’m more serene than lazy.’

‘Well, serenely get your arse into gear and have a look at this blog post.’

‘What’s that about?’

‘What it says. You can set up a blog that looks like a website. You could even do some blogging too.’

‘I can’t see me doing that.’

‘Are you a writer, or what?’

‘Well, yes.’

‘Then you’ll do it.’

‘I doubt it.’

‘We’ll see.’