The best gift

by Penny M

I must have festivitis.

It’s a seasonal virus – let’s be frank, everything these days is viral. I feel like I went to bed in 2011 and woke to discover that 2012 was a dream and my resolution is still written on rice paper left over from decorating the Christmas cake. I still haven’t sent the cards, done any shopping or even admitted to myself another year will run out before I get over it.

“Tis the season to be jolly tra la la la la la la la la la!”

I won’t bore you with my light-hearted poem about jingling tills and Santas on every corner. The subject matter pales against the follies of so-called leaders using pothole repair funds to splurge on new wives or appease old ones. While sensible people e-file, cough up for the TV licence and plan one-gift parties, others run up credit limits, buy whatever they want and jet away with no intention of returning to pay for their tickets.

Where is the joy in giving to the ‘haves’ when the ‘have-nots’ can’t give at all? It doesn’t seem fair that I should have to dip into my retirement savings to give to the not-so-greedy needy when a major part of my income fills the traditional stockings that lie at the end of the beds of reason (and Santa didn’t put them there).

Don’t get me wrong, I love giving. There’s something eternally fulfilling about clothing a needy child or warming a belly with hope. The epitome of sadness is a pavement full of empty hats.

But there is cheer here somewhere. I discovered a secret. Somebody once said, ‘The best things in life are free.’ I’m inclined to agree. Money, whether given or received, can turn the humblest of hearts. It can lie, make or break. Wealth is a matter of opinion. True treasure grows in the poorest places; without small change, it makes the richest difference. Pure love is not for sale, yet each of us has the capacity to give it. It’s on everybody’s wish list. There is nothing more precious than knowing you are loved; that someone chooses to give you their undivided attention for a second. If you are fortunate enough to have received this gift, it can never be stolen or taxed.

Festive occasions are laced with hypocrisy for those who suffer hugs for hand-outs. Genuine goodies are not reserved for special days. No need for wraps and trimmings. It’s simple. Live for the moment and love every minute. It’s the best gift.

Now where’s that rice paper …?

By Sue Trollip

Some days start like this:The melodic tunes of Beethoven jar through my dreams and I clutch my pillow trying to lull myself back to sleep but the melody continues until I reach for my phone. Snooze or dismiss?‘Snooze,’ my body begs, but my brain ignores the plea. Groaning I roll over, swing my feet to the floor and sit up. Too early.With smudged vision I sway into the kitchen and put the ready-prepared percolator onto the stove. Going back into the lounge Iplug in my computer then hover in the doorway wondering which will come first, the aroma of coffee or the ping for my password. Lingering in the cool open fridge I add milk to my mug then hear the call of the computer.When the coffee’s ready I fill my mug and drag my feet over the cold tiles towards the window. The sky is dark as I stare out. Then slowly, as if whispering, curls of orange and indigo appear.

It only takes three sips of the Ethiopian brew before my brain ignites.

What is it that makes us want to know how the greats wrote? What difference is it going to make to me whether Hemingway wrote standing up? Yes, I’ve tried it. I paced a hole in the rug and I didn’t write much. I found it too distracting. I need to be in a chair because it’s too easy to wander off when you’re already standing.

Henry Miller wrote in the mornings. He said.

‘If groggy, type notes. If in fine fettle, write.’

I feel groggy most mornings, so I don’t think I’ll be adopting that attitude.

I much prefer the style of Simone de Beauvoir who said:

‘I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way.’

While I can relate to that start time I think for now I’m going to stick to my own schedule for the simple reason that it works for me.

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E B White

First Love

By Hazel Bond

I get this warm and tingly feeling
When I hear he’s at the door.
It’s a bubbly sweet excitement
That I’ve never felt before.
My face cannot help smiling
And my feet don’t feel the floor,
As I rush along to greet him,
Make him welcome here once more.

I am knitting him a trendy tie
For wearing at the office.
Sometimes I drop a stitch or two.
I hope he will not notice.
Next row round I make a few.
It gives a sudden fullness.
With all the scraps of wool I’ve used
The colours are stupendous.

There’s a sidecar on his motorbike
That just fits my friend and me.
Sometimes he takes us for a ride.
A glorious carefree spree.
Hurtling by at thirty kays,
Oh what bliss, this sense of speed.
I’d like to ride forever then
Just like heaven it would be.

He is always very sweet to me.
Also to my friend, what’s more,
But Dad says I can’t marry him,
This fine man that I adore,
’Cause he is my friend’s  father
And I’ve only just turned four.

Not Quite Cupid’s Arrow

by Susan Roberts
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The books on writing that adorn my shelves tell me that I should start with sex or a dead body on the first page. Since I’m not a “50 Shades” kind of writer, I generally opt for the dead body instead of the erotic one. With my latest novel “Benicio’s Bequest” I didn’t want just any old body, though, so I chose the ultimate romantic hero for my victim: Romeo, beneath Juliet’s balcony in Verona. He gazes up and is struck through the heart – not by Cupid’s arrow, but by an assassin’s bullet. And then another bullet, just to make sure.

No, it’s not Old Man Capulet hiding in his daughter’s bedroom hoping to prevent the deaths of his nephew, his daughter and half his household. Who is it? Well, you won’t find that out until much later in the book, of course, and by then that question will have become secondary to a more urgent problem. Oh, Romeo’s not the real Romeo, by the way, and Juliet exists only as a bronze statue. My story takes place several hundred years after their story, and doesn’t have much to do with either of them. Unless you count the romance between its pages. Will it end in tragedy or happiness? Those of you who know my writing can hazard a guess, but you’ll also know that my leading characters will be put through the mill before they reach the last page. If they reach it…

My story starts in Juliet’s pretty little courtyard in Verona, filled with tourists, and it involves an art teacher called Lisa, who visits it so she can take photographs for her students back home.

But enough of that. Other books on writing caution against too much preamble. “Don’t make excuses or explain things,” they say. “Just read it out and let it speak for itself.”

Here, then, is the first page of “Benicio’s Bequest.”

Lisa stepped back to get a better image of Juliet’s statue on her Nikon, and felt a foot beneath hers. She turned to apologise, and saw that the self-styled Romeo who had annoyed her earlier was so close behind her that he was almost welded to her shoulder-bag.

Romeo’s gasp of pain and his stagger backwards seemed a little melodramatic for such minor pressure from Lisa’s flat sandals. Lisa glanced down in exasperation, hoping he wouldn’t sue her for damaging his designer shoes.

And that was when she saw the dark red rosette spreading across his white tee shirt.

With a grunt that became a sob, Romeo’s body flinched as a second rosette opened next to the first. He stared up at Juliet’s balcony, then turned to Lisa, his blue eyes holding what she imagined to be a lifetime of regrets.

Too late. Everything was too late for him now.

Grabbing Lisa’s arm as he staggered, he crushed her beaded bangles into her flesh with surprising force for a man too weak to remain upright. He mumbled as if trying to tell her something, but only blood spewed from his lips, highlighting the pallor of his draining face as his eyes lost their focus.

“Matteo,” he whispered through red bubbles as his grip on her wrist slackened. “Matteo.”

He collapsed backwards, his blue eyes reflecting the sky above.

The crash of his head hitting the cobbles broke Lisa’s capsule of stunned silence and her discordant cry accompanied the tinkling melody of the beads clattering from her broken bangles. An answering cacophony of screams began around her as the little courtyard of Juliet’s house in Verona erupted into panic.


You can find “Benicio’s Bequest” as an e-book on Amazon, here:
www.amazon.com/dp/B009W36BYA