Just a Nickel

“Life had not been too kind to Declan just lately. But according to the horoscope in this morning’s paper that was soon to change. Not that he believed in that stuff. The thirty four year old factory worker had gotten used to being a magnet for trouble over the last few years. That was just how it was.

First of all he’d lost his job. Then the bank had foreclosed on the house. Caroline his wife had followed swiftly after taking the children with her before setting up home with a male co-worker. The stress of it all had made him sick resulting in endless visits to the doctor but so far they hadn’t managed to get to the bottom of his numerous and varied ailments. Finally he had been forced to admit defeat and moved in with his mother. Something he had never envisioned himself doing once he’d left home.

The only thing that he had going for him right now was the new job he’d managed to secure at the firework factory – such as it was. It was during one of his days off when he decided to go for a walk on Shelling Hill beach – a quiet little cove just outside town.

The sound of the ocean often helped sooth his negative thoughts especially when anxiety about his life was starting to spiral out of control. The fresh breezes blowing in straight off the Pacific went some way towards blowing away the cobwebs of the past.

Admittedly he had good days and bad days, just like everybody else. Sadly this was one of the latter. His heart felt as heavy as a brick as he trudged along and a weariness of spirit was doing its best to seep into his bones.

Contemplating a lone surfer, he stood and looked out across the waves, envying the carefree grin on his face. Clearly he was enjoying his life. What was his secret, Declan wondered?

While he was deep in thought, a young couple walked past arm in arm, whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears. Feeling a bit conspicuous as there was no one else on the beach Declan mumbled ‘Hi’ then looked away.

A moment later he glanced up again to find they were still only a short distance away. The two of them were focused on something the man had spotted lying amongst a heap of seaweed. He kicked at it with his shoe. His companion bent forward to see what it was then took a step back looking distinctly unimpressed.

“It’s just a dirty old five cent coin,” she said pulling at his arm.

“Don’t need any more of those,” said the man shaking his jacket. “My pocket’s bursting at the seams with small change as it is.”

Declan waited a while for them to go then continued his way along the shingle beach. Suddenly his phone rang, vibrating in his shirt pocket.

“Hi buddy! Jack here.”

“Oh hi,” said Declan. Jack was his supervisor at the factory.

“We were wondering if you could come in and cover for a few hours this afternoon. Lenny has had to go home. A family emergency or something.”

“Oh,” said Declan his heart sinking. This seemingly minor situation felt like a major decision to him. He really didn’t feel up to going to work today – mentally or physically. It was his day off and he felt as though he really needed it. But then again he also needed the money.

Whilst wrestling with the issue he looked down at his feet and caught sight of the five cent coin that the young couple had passed up. The way things were of late even that small coin might make all the difference between repaying what he owed and falling even further behind with his repayments, he thought glumly. He stooped down to pick it up, briefly forgetting the guy on the other end of the phone.

“You still there Declan?”

“Yeah.”

“So can you fill in for a few hours this afternoon or not?”

Tails I say yes, heads I say no, thought Declan. With a flick of his wrist he tossed up the coin and pulled back his hand to see which side was facing up.

Heads.

“Fraid I can’t Jack. I have to take my mother shopping today,” he fibbed.

“You sure? It’s only for a few hours. Four max.”

“I’m sure. I promised her last week. It’s more than my life’s worth to cancel.”

He laughed.

“Ok bud. See you tomorrow then.”

“Yeah. Bye.”

Once the call was over Declan thought about flinging the nickel into the sea, but no matter how disappointed he was with himself for relinquishing his free will to a measly five cent coin he could not bring himself to do it. He didn’t have the luxury of throwing money away no matter how small the denomination. He simply pocketed it instead and headed for home.

“Enjoy your walk?” his mother called when he arrived back. She was in the kitchen fixing them something to eat.

“Yes, it was good. Helped clear my head.”

Declan hung up his jacket and flopped down on the couch in front of the TV.

“Helped clear your head huh? What you got in there, rocks?” his mum said handing him a plate of bacon and eggs.

“Something like that,” he mumbled. He knew she meant well.

“You want coffee?”

“Please.”

He spent the rest of his morning watching day time TV with its endless repeats and chat shows. Around midday he nodded off, his head lolling on his shoulder.

“Guess that coffee wasn’t strong enough,” said his mum when he opened his eyes. She was sitting in the other chair doing a crossword puzzle in the newspaper.

Declan yawned and stretched.

“What time is it?”

“Almost two.”

More than half the day was gone.

“Think I’ll head to the shops in a minute and pick up a few groceries,” his mother said, looking over the top of her glasses.

Declan felt a little guilty that he’d been lying around all day doing nothing. Perhaps he should offer to get the shopping for her.

Once again he was struck with crippling indecision, just as he had been on the beach. Whilst his mother went to find her shopping bag from the cupboard under the stairs, he reached into his pocket and tossed the coin again.

Tails I go, heads I stay.

He lifted up his hand to reveal Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Tails it was then.

“I’ll go Mom,” he said, holding out his hand. “Just give me the list.”

“You sure you feel up to it?” she said searching his face.

He forced a laugh.

“Don’t be silly! It’s just shopping. Have to pull my weight round here some time…”

Reassured by this she let him go.

The Hypermart where his mother shopped was roughly four blocks away so it was hardly worth taking the car. She only needed a few things anyway and they would easily fit into the shopping bag she had given him. It was just a pity that it was covered in a loud pink and purple flower print. All he needed now was to meet someone he knew and his confidence might never recover.

As he walked around the crowded aisles the coffee he’d had for breakfast finally found his bladder. He saw no harm in leaving his trolley where it was and going to the back of the store in search of the customer restrooms.

The moment he undid his flies a strange vibration seemed to travel upwards through the floor. By the time it reached his knees it was accompanied by an ominous rumbling. Could it be a passing subway train, he wondered?

Suddenly the entire building began to sway like a possessed hula girl. So violent were the tremors that tiles began to pop off the walls and the window behind him blew inwards. Declan dived to the floor in terror. The Hypermart and every other building in the area seemed intent on tearing itself apart. He covered his ears in an effort to block out the blood curdling roar of Mother Earth stirring in her sleep.

I have to get out of here, he thought.

But standing up was nigh on impossible. From somewhere close by, a series of massive explosions shook the Hypermart to its very foundations, finally compromising its integrity.

The only thing that prevented Declan from being killed outright when the roof fell in was the fact that he was standing in the doorway.

When he eventually came to, he could scarcely breathe. At first he had no idea where he was. It was dark and there was something very heavy pinning him down. He discovered the only things he could move were his head and his left hand.

Everything was so unnaturally quiet. The silence ignited his panic.

“HELP!” he shouted. But being in such a confined space meant that the sound had nowhere to go. Would anybody be able to hear him?

With a jolt he recalled the terrifying earthquake and the moment the roof had caved in. What about his mother and his kids?

The phone in his shirt pocket began to ring. Perhaps that was her. Perhaps she was hurt or trapped. He struggled frantically, hoping to reach it. He needed to know she was ok. But he was wasting his time. It was impossible to reach.

Perhaps it was the stress, or the heat or maybe a combination of the two that caused him to start sweating. Either way, after an hour he was soaked to the skin. Before long he was also assailed by a raging thirst.

Two hours later there were more explosions and almost immediately sirens wailed in response. It must be pretty bad out there, he thought. How long would it take for them to reach him? Oh my God! It was probably the firework factory, he suddenly realised. Good job he hadn’t gone to work! If it hadn’t been for the nickel he probably would have.

Three hours later he started to worry about aftershocks. The thought that he could die there started to seem like a distinct possibility. Just like that the flood gates he’d been holding back were released and he cried beneath the rubble for almost an hour.

When the fourth hour rolled around he realised he was able to feel less and less of his body. Convinced that he was bleeding to death slowly, he fell into mood of deep reflection.

He went far, far back. Back to the days of his childhood, growing up in the country. He and his siblings had been lucky. They had many happy memories from that time. He thought about his own family and all the good times they had had together before the divorce and about how worried they probably were right now. He was fortunate in that sense also – that he had people who cared about him, no matter what.

His life had far more positives than negatives he realised, when taken as a whole. Up until lately he’d always had his health and had been comfortably well off. Plenty of people struggle with such things their whole life and never experience any respite. Yet many are still relatively happy. He mused on this for another few hours until he was interrupted by the sound of muffled voices.

“I’m here!” he shouted over and over again.

But no one appeared to hear.”

The elderly man stopped reading for a minute and wiped his eyes.

“Oh my goodness, Grandpa! What did you do?” cried the little girl. She was sitting on her Grandpa Declan’s knee listening to him reading his life story.

He smiled indulgently at his granddaughter Caitlin.

“Give me a minute,” he said. “This reading malarkey is thirsty work.”

He lifted his cup of coffee and took a long blissful drink.

“That’s better,” he said. “Now, where were we?”

“The rescuers were close by but you couldn’t make them hear.”

“Ah yes…”

“Pinned under the rubble all that time made Declan realise he did have something to lose. A lot in fact. Just like the nickel that the couple had overlooked on the beach he had overlooked so many seemingly insignificant things that were in fact priceless. Irreplaceable even. He had been so focused on what he didn’t have, that it had taken something monumental like an earthquake to reshape his values. Talk about being stuck in your ways!

Now though he was determined to claim back what was his. He wanted to live and start over.

Suddenly he remembered the nickel in his pocket. Perhaps that might attract their attention better with it being metallic?

Question was could he reach it. He doubted it. But then he hadn’t counted on his new found determination.

In order to reach into his pocket he almost had to bend his hand back to the wrist. The pain was eye popping. But he succeeded.

“I’m here!” he shouted as he fumbled with the coin. Feeling about with his fingers he found a hard surface next to his hip that he suspect might be a metal pipe. After taking a second to gather his wits he tapped the coin against it furiously.

It was very awkward as it was in his left hand and the space he had to work with was so confined. Before long he grew tired and had to rest. He listened carefully for a response hoping that the sound had echoed through the pipe system.

Disappointingly he could hear nothing. But he wasn’t about to give up. He tried again. Much harder this time. It was exhausting. Once again he stopped, tears streaming in frustration.

Then something touched his face. He was sure of it. A fine dust was falling from above. He sneezed twice and coughed.

Suddenly a dog barked and someone shouted overhead. They’d heard him!

“Over here! We’ve got one!”

Within twenty minutes they’d lifted off the door and all the other rubble that had been pinning him down. He breathed deeply as the blessed hands of daylight bathed and caressed his face. Everything else went by in a blur except for one last thing.

“My coin!” he said trying to undo the straps that now secured him to the stretcher.

“Coin?” said the paramedic holding up the IV.

“Yes. It’s a nickel. I need it. It’s very special to me.”

She looked at him closely wondering if he was delirious.

“It’s ok. I found it,” said a fireman trotting over. He pressed it into Declan’s hand and closed his fist around it.

“Thanks,” said Declan, closing his eyes. A heartfelt smile of gratitude graced his dusty lips as the ambulance finally whisked him away to safety.”

“I’m so glad you made it,” said the little girl, throwing her arms around her precious Grandpa Declan.

“Me too,” he replied putting his autobiography on the table.

He shook his head at the vividness of his memories.

“I was just wondering though…” said Caitlin.

“Yesss…?” said her Grandpa.

“Do you still have the nickel?”

“Of course,” he replied showing her the bespoke nickel pendant he wore around his neck. “My coin is always with me. I never take it off. You see, although small it saved my life on two occasions. But more importantly it serves as a reminder of just how blind a person can be. So no matter how bad things get my girl, you must always remember to take the time to count your blessings.”

Luck of The Draw

The scene was warm and homely with the family gathered around the TV. Like millions of other families in Britain they were relaxing after a hard day at work and school. In front of them they each had lap trays with a plate of fish fingers and chips.

Nicola wandered in from the kitchen with a bottle of ketchup and handed it to her father.

“What time does dancing on ice start love?” he asked his wife Gloria.

“Half eight. But the lottery results are on first,” she said, looking at her wrist watch.

They always watched the lottery results on a Saturday night whether they’d remembered to buy tickets or not. Gloria was a psychic in her spare time, although not a very successful one. Seven years ago whilst pregnant with her third child she had, had a dream that she would one day win the lottery using a particular set of numbers.

The numbers were not of any special significance to her. They were not birth dates or the ages of her children or anything like that. They were just a set of random numbers that had appeared to her in a dream repeatedly, for the first five months of pregnancy.

Ever since then she was convinced that she would win using those numbers at some point in the future. But as of yet nothing had happened. She had not even won a single pound.

At first her family had faith in her prediction. But after seven years of waiting it had eventually become a bit of a joke amongst the Hobson household.

“Did you buy a ticket this week mum?” Freddy asked.

She shovelled a fork full of peas into her mouth and mumbled something unintelligible.

“We’re never going to win anyway,” grumbled Nicola. She was sitting on the floor, pushing her food aimlessly around her plate.

Nicola was Gloria and Eric’s eldest. At fourteen years of age she was moody and always sullen. Vicky, the youngest poked her tongue out at her.

“Well, I still believe you mummy,” she said resting her head on her mother’s leg.

“Suck up,” growled Nicola, lashing out with her foot.

“Hey! Enough!” bellowed Eric. His mouth was half full of food and when he shouted bits of fish fingers and chips flew everywhere.

“Ewww! Gross!” Nicola cried, screwing up her face in disgust.

“Quiet now. It’s starting,” Gloria said, shushing them.

No one was really paying that much attention, they were just there to relax and chill out while they ate their food in the comfort of their living room. It was an age old routine they’d fallen into.

Music blared into their living room as the fanfare of the national lottery began. After a few moments of mindless banter, the presenter with the pneumatic cleavage and the dazzling smile initiated the first draw. The balls began to drop one by one, to the sound of a steady drum roll rumbling away in the back ground.

Gloria leaned forward, her dinner forgotten as the first two numbers were revealed.

“Those are your numbers mummy!” squeaked Vicky.

“Shhh!” everyone said at once.

Another ball dropped and Gloria unconsciously gripped the armrests of her chair. No one said a word as the next two balls rolled out.

All eyes were on the screen.

“Oh. MY. God!” exclaimed Gloria.

She must have been trembling with excitement as her chandelier earrings were swaying back and forth.

“BLOODY HELL!” shouted Eric leaping up. His dinner landed with a crash on the floor.

“And now for the final number,” grinned the presenter flashing her perfectly aligned teeth.

Everyone in the room sat dead still. Even Gloria.

“The final number is…”

Then the screen went black and all the lights went out. Everyone roared in disapproval.

“Well what rubbish timing! Did you forget to pay the electric again?” cried Gloria, feeling around for a box of matches in the dark. She always kept a box on the shelf for lighting candles and her menthol flavoured cigarettes.

“No,” replied Eric. “I sent the cheque last week. It must be a blown fuse.”

He hurried off to check the circuit board.

Gloria began to shake in the darkness. Her youngest, Vicky sought out her hand for reassurance. Like many children her age, she didn’t like the dark.

“Do you really think we won Mum?” asked Nicola in wonderment.

Her mum was strangely quiet.

“How can you be so calm at a time like this?” demanded Nicola.

Her mother stayed silent. Suddenly all the lights came back on and the television blared into life again. The end credits were now rolling but the numbers were there at the bottom of the screen, as large as life.

“We won!!! We won!!!” shouted the children shrieking with elation. They jumped up and down throwing cushions round the room. Eric burst through the door and saw the numbers on the screen.

“Christ!” he said in disbelief. He turned to look at Gloria still seated in her fireside draylon chair.

“Daddy, why won’t mummy wake up?” said Vicky in a small voice. She was still holding her mother’s hand only now she was gently tugging on it.

Eric leaned over her and tried to rouse her.

“Gloria? Gloria?” he said shaking her shoulders. There was no response.

“Quiet!” he bellowed at the other two. The kids stopped what they were doing, their smiles disappearing.

“Something’s wrong with your mother. Call an ambulance – quick!” he said, looking pale.

Nicola the eldest didn’t need to be asked twice. As she dialled the numbers her hands shook as though she had malaria. Everyone waited anxiously for the ambulance to arrive.

“It’ll be here soon,” their father said. It was more for his self that he said this than anything.

“It doesn’t seem real,” Freddy remarked, twelve hours later. “How can mum have had a heart attack? She’s not fat or anything.”

The family were sitting in a corridor waiting for her to come out surgery.

“It’s not like that son. You can have a heart attack even if you’re not over weight. Your mam’s arteries were blocked. That’s what the doctors are doing in there – trying to fix them,” his dad replied.

“Like drains you mean?” asked Freddy.

“Something like that.”

Vicky was sitting in his lap and the other two were leaning into his padded jacket. He was trying his best not to show the worry he felt, but it was hard. The thought that she might not pull through was painful to say the least. He tried his best not to think about it.

Instead he tried to imagine what they would do once she’d recovered. They were millionaires now. With twenty three million just waiting to be deposited into their bank account they’d never have to worry about money again. Perhaps they would go on one of those world cruises or buy themselves a yacht and go island hopping. He thought of Gloria sunbathing on the deck, martini in hand and smiled.

Then an unsettling thought brought him up short. Where was the ticket?

Oh no! It must be at home! He’d gone and left twenty three million in the house unattended! But what could he do? He couldn’t very well leave now. Gloria was far more important…but then again that was a heck of a lot of money!

“Well any news?” said a voice interrupting his panicked thought process.

Eric looked up and found his brother Tom standing there looking all sympathetic. All the tension he felt suddenly showed in the expression on his face. He looked close to breaking down. Taking a seat beside him, Tom patted his shoulder lifting his youngest niece onto his lap.

“Guess what Uncle Tom bought?” he said lifting the carrier bag he’d placed under his chair.

“What is it?” Vicky asked with a wan smile.

“Take a look,” he told her.

“Ooo…lollies!” she said delightedly. The other two lifted their heads now, obviously wondering if there was one for them too.

“One each,” Tom nodded.

“Thanks,” Eric said gratefully. He watched the children squabble briefly over who got the Magnum and who got the cornetto. A pronounced quiet descended that was only punctuated by the loud crack of chocolate and splintering of crispy wafer.

“So how is she?” ventured Tom.

“The surgeon came out about two hours ago. Said it seemed to be going well and that barring complications they’d be finished in an hour.”

“Oh.”

No one said anything for a while. Then suddenly the operating room doors flew open and a surgeon emerged wiping away sweat from his brow. He smiled encouragingly and took of his mask. He beckoned Eric to one side and spoke quietly.

“Mr Hobson…we’ve just finished closing up the operation site. Apart from a bout of uncontrolled bleeding that we’ve now managed to halt, she’s doing very well. We’re sending her up to the recovery unit in the intensive care ward and once she’s settled you’ll be able to go up and see her briefly.”

Eric sighed and bowed his head with relief.

“Thank you doctor. Will I be able to bring the children up?”

“Not today. But I would hope that they can see her tomorrow sometime for a short time.”

Eric nodded and returned to his seat.

“She’s ok,” he told the children. “They’re taking her upstairs now to get some rest. He said that you could maybe see her tomorrow.”

“But I want to see her now!” Vicky said starting to pout.

“I know you do,” Eric said patiently. “But your mum needs her rest. I’m just going up to check that she has everything she needs then even I have to leave.”

“So where are we supposed to go?” Freddy complained.

“Uncle Tom’s taking you home. That ok Tom?”

“Sure. No problem,” he nodded. He felt happy to be doing something useful.

Eric took Tom to one side for a moment.

“Listen Tom…I know the timings a bit off and that, but I kind of have another favour to ask.”

“Sure. What is it?”

“Well…just before all this happened we were watching the lottery results. You know how we’ve always done that. It’s a funny habit of ours. Gloria always believed she’d win using those numbers I told you about,” Eric explained. “Thing is Tom, we did win. Not millions or anything, you understand. Just a few thousand I think. Enough to get us out of trouble at least. Problem is, I don’t know where the ticket is, but I’ve a pretty good idea. Gloria usually puts it in the zip up in her handbag or else in the kitchen draw nearest the stove. Could you take a look, and if you find it bring it on over?”

“No problem,” said Tom. “Take it easy and I’ll see you when you get home.”

Eric’s eyes stung when he saw Gloria surrounded by tubes and wires. The monitor beeped steadily beside her and the drip feed meds soundlessly into her veins.

There was a chair placed conveniently by her bed and he sank down thankfully into it. Tired as he was he fell asleep and never even woke when the nurses came in to check her stats.

Meanwhile, back at home Tom had the children safely tucked up in bed and a bottle of wine open on the counter. He poured himself a few glugs and settled down in front of the telly.

He looked around the living room and smiled at the faces of his nephew and nieces looking down on him from the photo frames on the mantle. Eric had a nice little family. He really hoped that Gloria could pull through because she was the nucleus that held everything together.

There was nothing much of interest on the TV. He turned to his phone instead and perused the latest headlines. Elections were a top news item, as were the unprecedented floods in Germany. He checked the sports results and then scrolled on down to the lottery results.

He almost fell off his chair! Gloria’s numbers had scooped the twenty three million jackpot not a few thousand! He leapt up like he’d being stung as he remembered Eric’s request that he search for the ticket. Maybe he should give Eric a call – tell him the news. But wait – surely he must already know?

Feeling puzzled he rifled through Gloria’s handbag but found nothing. He’d forgotten all about late night TV now. With a glass of Chardonnay o keep him company he rummaged through every single kitchen draw, but found nothing.

He searched into the small hours, even hunting through the glove compartment of Gloria’s car. Eventually he gave up and flopped onto the sofa with a sleeping bag and only his disquieting thoughts for company.

He awoke the next day, to find that Eric had come home and was in the process of getting everyone ready for school.

“Daddy! Where’s my lunch?” called Vicky. She had her hair in pigtails and was pouring a bowl of coco pops to the point of overflow.

“Damn!” said Eric. He’d forgotten to make it.

“Here! I’ll do it,” said Tom sitting up.

The children laughed at his dishevelled appearance and sticky up hair. He pulled a face at them and then stepped into his jeans.

“Did you find the ticket?” Eric asked him hopefully. Something in his eyes confirmed that he knew full well the real amount they’d won. Tom decided to confront him with it.

“Oh, yeah – you mean the one for twenty three million?”

The children shot sidelong glances at both men. Obviously they were in on it too.

“Look, I didn’t want to tell you Tom because I simply wasn’t sure what the situation was. And then there’s this thing with Gloria. I’ve been worried sick – you know that.”

“I think we both know what you weren’t sure about Eric.”

Tom pushed a sandwich box into Vicky’s hands then lifted his jacket.

“And no, I didn’t find your precious ticket but if there’s anything else you need help with that doesn’t require your trust be sure to let me know. You’ve got my number,” he said closing the door behind him.

Eric sighed.

“Come on. Get your coats on,” he told the kids. “We’re late as it is.”

“Uncle Tom doesn’t seem very happy with you,” commented Vicky.

“No, and that’s exactly why we should keep this to ourselves – for now at least. Promise?” he said looking at each child in turn.

“God Dad! We’re not five!” exclaimed Nicola.

He scowled and they all knew he was deadly serious.

“Ok,” they murmured.

“Good. Now everyone in the car,” he cried shooing them out.

An hour later he was at Gloria’s bedside and glad to find her awake. She still seemed a bit groggy but was managing to ask him about the kids. He assured her that they were fine and that they were very keen to see her. She closed her eyes and smiled.

“Gloria, I hate to bring this up,” he said pulling his chair even closer. “But I’ve been turning the house upside down for that damn ticket.”

She opened her eyes and looked at him closely.

“Oh no,” she whispered, looking upset.

“What? What is it?” he asked grasping her hand reassuringly.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, her eyes filling up with tears. “But I never bought a ticket last week. I forgot.”

It was a crushing blow, but Eric fought hard to hide his acute disappointment for her sake.

“We don’t need it when we’ve got you,” he said huskily. He kissed her hand gently and stroked her hair till she dosed off.

She had no awareness of anything for quite some time, till something landed on her bed with a thump. Little arms clung to her neck and a soft cheek brushed hers. She knew even before she opened her eyes it was Vicky.

“Eric!” she cried sitting up in surprise. Instead of waking up in her hospital bed as she had expected, she found that she was now in her own bed at home, with her husband Eric bundled up beside her.

“What is it?” he groused grumpily. He was not and never had been a morning person.

Gloria’s hand ran across her chest trying to find the site of her angioplasty operation. But there was none. She realised in that instant what must have happened – it had all been a premonition. The whole thing was a warning and one that she must heed – just in case.

Turning to the bedside locker she grabbed the phone and started to dial. Vicky stared up at her curiously – she was glad her mummy wasn’t like other mummies. No one could ever predict what her mum was going to say or do.

“Hello, this is Gloria Hobson from nineteen Heathcote Avenue. Yes. I need an emergency appointment. I’ve been having chest pain off and on for the last couple of weeks.” There was a pause. “Ok, I’ll be there within the hour,” she said ending the call.

“What was that all about? How come you never told me you’ve been having chest pains?” complained Eric.

Gloria was out of bed now and hurriedly searching for something to wear.

“I didn’t want to worry you. But I’ve decided I need to go and get it checked.”

“You had one of your dreams again didn’t you?”

Gloria nodded.

“Right! I’m coming with you,” he announced pulling back the duvet. “Probably ought to ring Tom – see if he can mind the kids.”

“Ok. But we need to hurry because I have to stop off at the garage first.”

“Whatever for?”

“A lottery ticket of course,” she said with an enigmatic smile.

Punctuation – how much is enough?

There’s no doubt about it that at least some punctuation is necessary in almost all forms of creative writing unless of course you’re writing in hieroglyphs. But before we get into the issue of how much is too much it would be good to remind ourselves of the purpose of punctuation and the effects of too much or too little.
The Purpose

  • Punctuation marks serve to clarify or make the meaning of the text clearer to the reader.
  • They serve as signals or indicators that tell the reader when to pause, or when a new speaker has been introduced to the dialogue and so on.
  • They help the general flow of the piece making it feel much more natural and easier to read. This is because it mimics the way that most people speak, punctuating their conversation with gestures, voice modulation and pauses.

The Effects of Misuse

  • It can trip the reader and interrupt the fluidity. This is particularly the case with over use of exclamation marks or misplaced commas.
  • It can change the entire meaning of a sentence. For example, in 1963 the state of Michigan saw that it was necessary to correct a punctuation error in the constitution that drastically affected the meaning of the law, especially concerning slavery. For over 100 years it read ‘neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crime, shall ever be tolerated in this state.’ By inserting the comma after the word servitude it states that slavery and involuntary servitude are illegal unless carried out for the purpose of punishing criminal activity. In 1963 the error was rectified by repositioning the comma to just after the word slavery. The new sentence rules out slavery for any reason but allows for involuntary servitude or imprisonment for those who commit crime.
  • In the case of too little punctuation the reader can become disoriented, unsure of where one clause ends or a new sentence starts.

A good analogy for punctuation is to use it as you would seasoning in the kitchen. When cooking it’s best to add just enough seasoning to bring out the flavour and enhance the overall taste. Too much is overpowering and detracts from the main flavours you want to draw attention to while too little makes the dish bland and non- descript.

The best rule of thumb is use as little as possible as long as it still makes sense and reads smoothly. A good example of an author who manages to do this very well and still keep the integrity of his work is Cormac McCarthy, author of All the Pretty Horses, The Road and No Country for Old Men. He never uses semicolons and doesn’t use quotation marks as he sees no need to” blot the page up with weird little marks.” Click on the picture below to hear him discussing the subject with Oprah Winfrey.

October Photos

The colours have been glorious in Northern Ireland this October.  Lots of sunlight interspersed with rain showers and misty mornings.  Here’s a selection of photo’s from my travels.  Hope you enjoy them…           The Mountains of Mourne – County Down. River-walk-128                               Late evening sun over the back field. tygjk-0181                               Moonlight over Lough Neagh. rain-127                               Old canon – Armagh P10601552                               The old friary – Armagh P10602091                               Hole in the Friary wall P10602471                               Fungus on the forest floor rain-0342                               Robin rain-100                                    

A Fragile Idol

“Well! How did I do?” snapped Cora, pushing through the throngs of people standing outside her dressing room.

“You looked marvellous!” her assistant cooed, draping a stole across her slim milky white shoulders.

Cora snatched a glittery pink notebook from a ten year old girl called Hanna who was babbling excitedly at her elbow and scribbled her autograph with a haughty flourish.

“Yes, I know I looked marvellous!” hissed Cora through her perfectly aligned teeth. “But I was talking about that blasted Italian fouettes en point. I buggered it up again didn’t I?”

Her feet hurt like hell after being strapped tightly in her ballet pumps for hours and to put it mildly it was making her grumpy.

“Ahem!” said someone quietly, tapping her lightly on the shoulder.

Cora spun round in obvious annoyance to find an old woman who looked to be about a hundred years old – as frail as a bird and as wizened as the Dead Sea scrolls.

“Puzhalsta! I wondered if I might have a word…” she said with a tremulous Russian accent. “The fouettes en point is really very simple my dear…”

“God! Not you again!” cried Cora.

“Dear, sweet Cora. I…I only want to help,” said the old woman holding out a gnarly hand.

Her face drooped slightly as though she’d suffered a stroke at some point but her eyes still sparkled like dewdrops in the early morning sun.

“Get her out of here!” snarled Cora, smoothing down her satin bodice.

“Of course,” her assistant promised faithfully.

Jane pushed her glasses a little higher onto her beaklike nose then clicked her fingers at the nearest security guard.

“Victor. Kindly escort the lady out of here,” she said.

To her relief she went without a struggle, taking the proffered arm of the burly security guard as though he were her sweetheart. There was grace in the old girl’s dignified exit, Jane had to admit.

The brief series of events went practically unnoticed by the legion of fans baying enthusiastically for Cora. Jane shook her head imperceptibly. Why would they pay any heed to the ramblings of a seemingly senile old woman? Their eyes were fixed in exclusive adoration upon their glamorous idol Cora De Montfort – everyone that is except for ten year old Hanna, who was still holding tightly onto her glittery pink autograph book. But she was looking at it strangely now – confused and more than a little tearful.

“Smart girl,” smiled Cora, nodding sagely at Hanna. “One day my signature will be worth many thousands.”

Hanna looked up through her Slavic blonde eye lashes and sighed at her idol’s miserable ignorance.

“Maybe so,” she said breathing deeply. “But to me it shall always be worthless.”

And with that she tore Cora’s autograph into a myriad tiny pieces.

Cora gaped at her in astonishment then grabbed her by the elbows.

“Are you crazy?” she cried looking utterly bewildered.

“No. You’re crazy,” said the little girl flatly. “That was my grandmamma, the world famous Prima ballerina Natalia Karsavina – formerly of The Bolshoi Ballet School in Moscow. And she offered to help you, but you threw her out!”

“Rubbish! You’re making this up!” said Cora, wishing she could be certain.

“No I’m not,” said the girl turning to leave. “It’s true.”

“But she’s just an old woman!” Cora spluttered.

“Yes, she is…and that’s what you will be some day. So never judge a book by its cover…”

September Photos

Old pier at Oxford Island oxford-island-020-1024x529                               Oyster catchers at Tyrella oyster catchers                               Fungi on a broken stump at Oxford Island oxford-island-083-1024x682                               Crocus flowers at the Ardress House County Armagh ardress-032-1024x768                               Macrolepiota procera (parasol mushroom) oxford-island-095-1024x682                               Sun light pouring through the trees 9am 033