Once Upon, A Long Ago

Once upon, a long ago,

I saw a life of hope

And so,

I dreamed myself with smile

And mirth,

A charming life to death, from birth

But living twisted all I did

The rules were changed,

My fortunes hid,

I wish my days had run just so,

Like once upon,

A long ago.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

I Will Remember You

love

I will remember you when the best of you has gone
I will remember you when the song you loved is sung
I will remember you when I stand on hills where we once walked
I will remember you and your laughter as we talked
I will remember you and all the kindness that was shown
I will remember you when your tired soul has flown
I will remember you when each new day has a dawn
I will remember you when the last of you has gone

bobby stevenson 2017

 

 

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How Simon Got His Happiness Back

face

Simon was a simple lad with no grudges against the world. He was a happy boy who only wanted to the best for his friends and family.

One night when Simon went to his bed, he decided to look at his phone and, for no reason, on Social Media he wrote the words ‘Black Is Black and White is White’ and he meant it in the simplest of terms; sometimes things in life are just black and white.

Simon went to sleep.

In the morning, there were 173 comments.

Some called him racist, and others admired his non-immigrant stance. Some said they knew where he lived and would come to fix him.

One lad from the same school as Simon, said that to say that Black is Black and White was White was a beautiful minimalist statement and would have made Sakhimoto – the Japanese minimalist very proud.

One woman wrote that to say Black is Black and White is White is just the kind of evil thing that Margaret Thatcher promoted in the 1980s and the woman wanted the world of Social Media to know how savvy she was in all things political. Of course, she wrote the words from one of her big houses in a big town, where she could see the poor and the needy lying in the streets. She took another sip of her champagne.

One old hippy said that Black is Black and White is White is a song that Dylan never released but he had heard it sung by Dylan at a town hall in Northern England in the 1960s. The Hippy said the Dylan deserved his Nobel Laureate and the man from the same school said that Sakhimoto – the Japanese minimalist deserved it more than him.

Some of the ‘Ignored’, all left comments saying that no one had ever listened to them before, and that the phrase Black Is Black and White is White is what they had been trying to tell the world. They hadn’t realised that as a group that they were ‘disenfranchised’ – whatever that meant – but it sounded serious and they weren’t going to stop fighting until they were franchised again.

One film director, who had a lot of money and who worked with a scriptwriter who lived in a big house in a warm foreign land, said he was going to make a film about the angst and hopelessness of Simon’s call to arms. He was going to call it, ‘I, Simon’.

One old lady who said that she spoke for God – saying that God hated that kind of talk about Black and White and that was why He had caused the earthquakes and famine, in order to show how angry he was.

One good friend of Simon’s surprised him when he said that Simon was correct, and that Black is Black and White is White should be painted on the White Cliffs of Dover. Simon realised that he had never really known his friend at all.

That night, Simon shut down his Social Media account.

Simon is happy, now.

Bobby Stevenson 2017

 

Every Breath You Take

His name was Charlie and he was a kid. Charlie was lucky enough to be living through his best years. His mother, father, brother and sisters were all well, all happy, and all in that little perfect bubble that happens from time to time in life.

When Charlie was eight, he had his first birthday party which involved all his friends coming to his house. This was Charlie’s first proper party.

Charlie’s parents were like ducks on water, everything seemed calm on top, but both of them had to paddle extremely hard to keep themselves and the family from sinking. Not that Charlie knew any of this, or of the double shifts that his father had worked that previous week to afford Charlie’s first grown-up party.

Charlie, his brother and his dad all blew up the balloons. Charlie inflated the red ones, his brother the green balloons and his dad the yellow ones. Both Charlie and his brother used little air pumps to inflate them all, but Charlie’s dad just blew them up with his own breath. This was his youngest son’s first real party and he wanted to give it everything he had.

That night, after the party, Charlie’s dad felt a pain in his left arm, then his chest, and with only time to quietly say ‘goodbye’ he closed his eyes for good.

The next morning, Charlie’s grandfather took down all the decorations – anything that reminded the family of happier times – and burst all the balloons. Or so he thought.

Charlie sat in his bedroom, scared to cry for his dad, since he felt that if he started again, he would never stop. That was when he noticed the yellow balloon in the corner of the room, with a little note attached ‘Happy Birthday, my boy, I am so proud of you, love dad’.

Suddenly it struck Charlie that there was still a part of his dad alive. In the balloon was his dad’s breath – a little piece of him – something that he had made while he was happy.

So Charlie, very, very carefully drew a little face on the yellow balloon and talked to it, as if it was his dad. In the corner of his room was a little bit of his father and he was still with him. When Charlie woke in the morning the balloon was still watching over him.

The next night he could hear his mother crying in her room, and so Charlie took the balloon into her room and told her the story. That night the two of them slept in her bed watched over by the balloon filled with his dad’s breath.

Charlie tried everything he could to stop the balloon getting smaller and smaller – his dad was disappearing and leaving Charlie for good. Charlie’s grandfather heard his grandson crying and came into to the room to help. Charlie told his grandfather about the balloon and how it was losing his dad’s air.

His grandfather held Charlie and told him that it was only his dad returning home. His grandfather, and Charlie, and Charlie’s dad didn’t come from here, they came from out there – far away in space. He told him that Charlie’s dad would need his breath out in the stars and that it had to return to him. Charlie’s grandfather said that Charlie could keep the balloon with him to remember his dad, but in the end it was what a person left in your heart that counted – nothing else.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

A Child of a Lesser God

thing

The full moon had formed over Thing’s cave 12 times when he decided that enough was enough.

He now realised that his mother and father were not coming back home.
Where ever they were, he hoped with all his heart that they were happy. That night, Thing sat at the mouth of his cave and thought about all the stuff that concerned him.

He needed to get a job since the money and tokens his parents had left in the cave were just about to run out. Thing had done okay at school, especially with counting and numbers. Perhaps he could get a job in the town’s bank. When Thing awoke the next morning he found himself still sitting at the mouth of the cave. He got washed and made his way down the mountainside, crossing the main street and into town.
Thing was used to people staring just because he was different. People didn’t like difference, it frightened them, and frightened people didn’t always behave rationally.

He loved life, and he loved the town where he had gone to school and where he had found (and sometimes lost) friends.

He went to the employment agency to see what job were available. Thing didn’t notice as he entered the office, that everyone stopped and stared. Thing wasn’t the first of his kind who have lived in the town. There had been Thing’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and of course, his parents.

All of his family had gone to the northlands where many of the Things had formed a colony. His own parents would have gone there too, was it not for the fact that his mother had taken ill and gone to hospital. The last words his father had said to him was that he was just popping out to see his mother. Neither of them returned, although Thing had spent many sleepless nights waiting and wondering.
He had many good friends in school and some enemies but that wasn’t any different from anyone else. Children learn either love or hate very early in life and rarely do they forget.

The one brave soul in the employment agency asked Thing how he was doing.
“Fine,” said Thing. “Very fine, indeed.”
Thing told the person that he was good at numbers and counting. The agency manager went through many cards, saying ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’ to most of them. Then he pulled out a card and exclaimed ‘a-ha’.

The job was at a café near Thing’s old school. He’d remembered the owner being a kind elderly gentleman. As was requested on the card, Thing popped along to the café for an interview.
The old man remembered when Thing’s parents had held a birthday party for him in the café. The old man was happy to give Thing a job and he was able to start immediately.

The following morning Thing almost skipped all the way to work, given that it was such a nice morning and that he enjoyed being at the café. He had company there and people to talk to.

In the middle of the morning, a middle-aged man came in and when he saw Thing, the man said he didn’t want no dirty animal serving him and he expected a human to give him a cup of coffee.
When the old man told the customer that Thing was his new server and that was that, the man said he would be taking his business elsewhere.

The old man thought that would be the end of it but it wasn’t. By the time he was ready to shut the café, the middle-aged man was standing outside with several others of his kind and all of them had flaming torches.

“If you don’t put a human behind the counter then we are going to burn the place down.”
Thing told the old man that he was sorry, it was all his fault, and that he wouldn’t return to the café the following day – but the old man just shook his head and said ‘nonsense’.
Then the old man went outside and faced the gang of men intent on burning down his café.

“You men, think that because Thing looks different that he deserves to be treated differently. In fact to be treated as a lesser being that you. Is he a child of a lesser god? I don’t think so. How many of you created yourselves? How many of you brought yourselves to Earth? None of you? I didn’t think so. We are all in this living together and all we can do is live together. It is you with your black hearts and thoughts who are different from the rest of us. The problem is you hide your evil thoughts in a body and brain that looks like everyone else. But you are not like everyone else. You are evil and most of all, stupid. So burn my café down if you want. We will only set up in another place, and yes, Thing will be there too. You people are what is wrong with the world, not Thing, not me.”

And with that the men, one by one, threw down their torches and wandered off. The middle-aged man came forward and spat at Thing. The old man wiped the spit from Thing and apologised to him.
“I cannot make an excuse for such a person. They are what they are, and we must exist beside them. Now you go home, have a rest and I will see you tomorrow. We have living to do.”

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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A Story From A Room

room

Once upon a long ago, a man walked into a room. There wasn’t anything particularly special about the place – it was just a room. Simple as that.

The first time the man walked into the room, he had spent too long listening to those who talk about darkness. Those are the souls who live, work, breathe, and create darkness. Their glass is always half-empty and it is always someone else who drank from it. They would rather you didn’t smile, after all what have you got to smile about?

Having let all this bleed into his mind, the man walked into the room. In the corner was an old lady with a cat. It looked as if the cat was the old lady’s only friend, she was willing it not to die. If the cat went, so the old lady would probably follow. Across, in another corner was a boy looking out of the window. The boy looked lost, as if he was searching for something that lay beyond the horizon. Perhaps he was getting ready to jump, thought the man. Lying on the floor in the centre of the room was an old man staring at the ceiling. The man wondered if the older gentleman was looking at something in particular – but the man looked up and could find nothing of interest. Perhaps the older gentleman was depressed and could not find the energy to move? The man, sad and down, left the room and closed the door behind him.

Another man walked into the room. He had basked in the warm sunshine and had breathed the air full of the scent of flowers before entering. In the corner of the room he saw an old woman who was finding comfort and love in a beautiful cat. The animal was just as happy to be stroked and petted. At the window was a young boy who looked happy and excited to watch the sea and the sun create diamonds of colour. On the floor lay the boy’s father who was watching the rainbows on the ceiling created by the sun hitting a little crystal vase. The man smiled at the beauty in the room and left.

In this particular room moments before either of the men had entered, the boy’s father had tripped over his child’s cat and was lying injured on the floor. His son had called an ambulance and was watching out of the window to see when it arrived. The grandmother was trying to calm down the cat who was understandably upset after being tripped over.

And so to the point: there is no right, nor wrong in any place. There is only the truth as you see it.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

Touching Gravity

mount

(I believe this is a true story)

Where I am today, I can trace all the way back to that time on the mountain.

I suppose there are many people with similar stories but this one had so much impact on the rest of my life that I still think about it every day.

Prior to the mountain, I was just a guy who rarely thought of anything other than work and holidays. On one of those weeks every year, I would walk the West Highland Way with friends. It runs 95 miles from Glasgow to Fort William in the west highlands of Scotland. It can be a rough walk and usually is.

The first couple of times I went with my pal Freddie and his son. They were both very fit and enjoyed the experience a lot more than I did. We all suffered from blisters on our feet but my blisters seemed to have their own blisters.

I killed the pain by taking aspirin every morning – not a healthy way to walk. So I decided for the following year  that I would get super fit and start to enjoy the walk.

And get fit I did. So much so, that we started not just to walk the 95 miles but to climb up every mountain over 3,000 feet along the way. In Scotland hills over that height are known as Munros after the man, Sir Hugh Munro, who recorded them.

Just before the walk reaches Glencoe, there is an estate known as the Black Mount which belongs to the Fleming family (as in Ian Fleming of James Bond fame). There is a path which winds through their estate and which follows the old military road built around 1750. About a mile or so into the estate there is a crossing called Ba’ Bridge. Freddie decided since it was such a warm, sunny, June day that we should climb over into Glencoe over the nearest Munro.

We were in shorts and t-shirts as we ascended up the grassy slope. This took us on to a horse-shoe shaped area, and apart from the path we came up it was 2,000 feet down all around. The hills were sloped to the east and it was difficult to see to the west coast and appreciate what type of weather was coming.

We reached the top of the horse-shoe with little struggle. Then it suddenly got very cold, followed by a severe wind and then snow, lots of it – and all this in June. It came down so hard that it was impossible to see anything, a real whiteout. We were freezing and it was dangerous to walk any distance.

A few feet in front of us we saw a small wall of stones that had been built at the summit as a protection from the wind.And there we stayed as the weather closed in. It only got worse.

We sat looking at each other and freezing and I felt as if I was watching a film. How could this happen? It wasn’t meant to be like this, not here and now. Funnily enough the same feeling occurred a few years later when we were landing in Helsinki airport and the landing gear wouldn’t come down.

Freddie and I covered ourselves and hoped it would pass and this was all before mobile phones. We hadn’t told anyone where we were going and we didn’t know ourselves until we were actually climbing the mountain.

I felt that if I was going to die of hypothermia then I may as well go for a walk and take my chances. In staying put there was a certainty of dying. Freddie decided to walk too.

What happened next you can interpret it as you feel fit. There was only one other way off the horse-shoe without falling 2,000 feet, a very narrow path (maybe two feet across) that provided a way across to the top of Glencoe.

Suddenly the sun came out – not across the sky but just one sharp sliver which had pushed through the clouds and lit up the narrow path; nothing else surrounding it, just the path. Although the snow was still falling, it was possible to see that the path led to a safe ledge and so we took it.

This is the part that made me change my idea of everything: when we got to the other side and safety, the sky clouded over and the sun disappeared. Not after a while, but right there and then.

We were able to walk down through the Glencoe ski area and reach the climbers’ bar at the Kingshouse.

We didn’t really talk that night – we both knew what had happened. We drank whisky and thought about things in front of a roaring fire.

When I got back home, I decided that if something wanted me to keep going then it might have an idea where I should go. Within a year I resigned my job and moved out into the world, a changed man.

Today, I write a little, act a little and sing a little all because of that day on the mountain. Hey, I’m poor in money but rich in everything else.

I know what happened that day and so does Freddie. I’m glad he was there or I might have doubted it.

 

 

photo and more beautiful ones at http://colinprior.co.uk/portfolio_page/highlands/

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Goodlands

town

Everyone knows where Goodlands is.

It’s not too far from where you’ve been and not too close to where you’re going. It’s the kinda place where you find what you’re looking for, one way or another.

And so it was on that Saturday, “Jalopy Saturday” as the Sheriff called it. “Always frightening those damned horses, what with all their tooting, and smoking and noise of those infernal combustible engines.”

Saturday was one of those days when The Big Man upstairs had painted the sky an azure blue from one horizon to the other.
“Hey, it feels good to be alive,” said folks to each other. Well not in so many words but in their looks and smiles, each knew what the other meant.

As you perambulated up the boardwalk, waving to friends and neighbors, you could smell the cooking and baking coming from Mrs Lent’s open window. It sure did make the nose feel that it had a reason for living on those kind of days. That was followed by the sweet sound of musical tunes which lifted the spirit, coming from the old Bakelite radio that sat in Mrs Well’s front room. I tell you that radio always smelled as if it was just about to burst into flames. It never did, because things like that just didn’t happen in Goodlands.
Saturday was the day that the pastor made his weekly trip to the bakery on the corner of Cherry Street and Chew Avenue. I’m thinking that calling Chew an avenue, was a name too far for the founding fathers, ‘cause it barely stretched from here to there.

For some peculiar reason of which I have no understanding, everyone in Goodlands would go to their front door on a fine Saturday morning and wish the pastor all the best on his trip to Sankie’s Bakery. Then, when he’d filled his arms with enough bread to feed a biblical crowd, he’d turn around and walk back up to the church with all the folks still standing at their front doors wishing the pastor well with his meal.

If you didn’t know Goodlands, you’d probably think they’d all gone Johnny Sidebar (he was the man who really discovered electricity but fried his brains before he had a chance to tell the world and ran out of Goodlands and into the Birkmire Desert. He was never, ever seen again). Although some folks tell of lonely howling that can be heard on Moonboys road on a quiet night.
Like they good folks say, you don’t have to be crazy to live here, but it really does help.

Old Sheriff James was out on his porch, rocking and rolling on his chair, shaking his head at the way the jalopies were careering around town.
“Never had such stupidity in my day,” he’d sigh. “A man knew where he was with a horse.”

Now don’t get me wrong with the picture I’m painting here. The sheriff was a good man, sure enough. He was just coming to the end of his time on this earth and new-fangled stuff always looks out of focus to each of us who have lived high on the hog in earlier times. We all have our season, and the sheriff’s was nudging up against winter. His leaves were falling from his tree and he knew there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Sure it was sad in its way, but everyone had to make way for what was to come, and life made sure that happened by making folks uncomfortable in the newness of things.

The ‘old days’ wasn’t really a place, it was a way of thinking, of doing, a place where everyone thought that manners and morals had been better. Things weren’t really getting worse in Goodlands, just different.
No one, and I mean no one, came to this town and wished they hadn’t. It had a sap in its veins and it was a sap that oozed happiness and sunshine.

You see there are some folks who think that such places don’t really exist, but they do I tell you. Everything you see in a town has been a dream once in a head, and if you can dream nicely, then Goodlands is what occurs.
Now I don’t want you to say to me that I’ve been sitting too long out in the sun, ‘cause I ain’t. I think that if you’re passing one day, you need to come to Goodlands and have a look at the pastor or the sheriff and you’ll say, hey, kid you were right. This is the happiest town this side of the mirror.

I said that everyone gets what they need in Goodlands, but that don’t mean, it’s what they want. You can come to Goodlands and get advice that you weren’t keen on hearing. No sir, but it will be a truth that you needed to hear. Something that puts you on a straight path for the rest of your journey.
That was the funny thing about Goodlands, no one remembered just why they came to the town in the first place but they were all pleased that they had.

Now I ain’t saying the place was magical or anything, far be it from me to be the crazy one but there were little miracles that popped up here and there, enough to make you go – ‘well, I’ll be………’.

‘Cause that was the thing, no one came to a bad end in Goodlands. There was no hospital and the doctor used to spend most of his days playing cards with the sheriff. People only left Goodlands in two ways; either they had decided that they were in the right mind to move on to somewhere else, or they just got plum tired and decided it was time to close their eyes.

Seriously. Old Man Peters, last June watched the pastor and his bread for one last time, then just said, “I’m ready” and closed his eyes. The doctor, who was holding a straight flush, came over said, “yep, he’s gone,” and then went back to his cards. Now, he wasn’t being mean or anything, he just knew that Old Man Peters had chosen that time as his end time and that he was ready to leave.

Sometimes your eyes just get tired of seeing everything and everyone and when you’re tired of Goodlands, (as a wise man once said), you’re tired of living.
The big miracle on that Jalopy Saturday was when little Susie Cartwwright wandered away from her mother and walked on to Main Street. Desmond, the painter, couldn’t see her and would have probably knocked little Susie into a million pieces with his bright red jalopy – but like I say, no one dies in Goodlands, not unless they want to.

It was like this, as the pastor was wandering back up the street with his arms full of the warmest, freshest bread, he saw the danger that little Susie was in and threw a stick of that French type bread. It hit Desmond right between the eyes and stopped him in his tracks. Little Susie’s mother, grabbed that little girl by the hand and pulled her back on to the boardwalk.
Susie’s mother thanked the pastor but as he says, “It’s all part of the plan, Mam, all part of the plan.”

And you know what, he just might be right.
On those warm, endless summer evenings, just as the sun is turning blood orange and the insects are starting to sing, you can stand in the middle of the street and look up at all the open windows. Friends shouting to friends in apartments across from each other.

“How’s life Mabel?”

“Why, just deevine, thanks for asking, Melanie.”
Music and smells, and arguments, and love, all flowing out of the windows into the street and making you feel warm, somehow. But why take my word for it, why don’t you come down some night and listen?

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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The Secret of Life

boy

He wondered if maybe everyone else in the world knew the answer to it the question, and that perhaps he had been in the restroom when they were all being told.

He couldn’t see why everyone else was able to smile, walk and talk at the same time and he found it impossible.

Life was stupid, and sad, and basically it got him down. He saw the kids in school who all seemed to be able to cope with things. Now and again, he imagined he saw a look in another person’s eyes that said – I don’t understand this either – but if he looked again, it normally had gone away and he thought that perhaps he had only imagined it.

So one Friday morning, he decided that he wasn’t going to bed that night until he found out the secret of life. Was there a book they had all read, and he hadn’t seen? Were there classes he could go to that would tell him everything he needed to know?

The first person he met in the hall was his Grandfather.

“Granddad, what is the secret of life?”

And his grandfather thought carefully, scratched his beard, and then smiled.

“The secret, my little special boy, is to tell everyone what they want to hear. I tell your Grandma she looks lovely everyday of her life. I tell you you’re good at football.”

“But I ain’t good at football, Granddad.”

“Who says? Not me.”

And his grandfather walked away whistling to himself.

The boy went down to the kitchen where his mother was making breakfast for him.

“Sit down, little one,” she says to her son.

“Ma?”

“Yup?”

“What is the secret of life?”

She thought for a while and then looked up at the ceiling. The boy looked at the ceiling too, to see if there was something his mother was reading – but there wasn’t anything. Just a big stain from where his grandfather had let the bath overfill, last Christmas.

She ruffled her son’s hair.

“What’s got you in this mood?”

“Just wondering, I guess.”

“Well let me see. The secret of life is to get up every morning even when you don’t want to. When you know there are folks depending on you, that’s what makes you jump right out of bed.”

“And that’s it?”

“That’s it.”

His dad walked with the boy down to the school bus.

“Dad, what is the secret of life?”

“Is this a school project you were supposed to do?” Asked his father.

“Nope, just wondering.”

“Well ain’t my boy growing up.” So his dad thought for a while and looked up at the sky. The boy looked up too, to see if there was writing in the clouds, but there wasn’t.

“Well son, the secret of life is to do what your Mom says.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

Later in the morning, his teacher, Miss Sycamore was teaching about the Arctic Circle. She asked the class if there were any questions.

The boy put his hand in the air, and when Miss Sycamore, pointed to him, he asked:

“Miss Sycamore, what is the secret of life?”

All the kids looked at the boy, who had gone a little red in the face.

“That’s a strange question for a lesson about the frozen north. Let me see.”

And like all the adults, she looked at the roof too, as if she was getting some sort of inspiration.

“The secret of life is to do your homework, wash every day and pray every night. Yep, that’s it for sure.”

The boy thought that maybe this was more to do with Miss Sycamore, than the secret of life.

That night as he lay in bed, he realized that everyone had a different secret for the way they dealt with life.

Just like Miss Sycamore, the secret seemed to be to do with what made you happy. But what, thought the boy, if what made you happy, didn’t make other people happy?

So he got down by the side of his bed and started praying.

His older brother, who he shared a room, started whispering real loud.

“What you doing?”

“Praying.”

“At this time of night?”

“Is there a good time?”

“Yep, never. What’s got your goat?”

“I want to know the secret of life.”

“The secret, little brother, is to keep your mouth shut so you won’t get beaten up.”

And with that his brother rolled over and went back to dreaming of being a big baseball star.

The boy clasped his hands again and started praying.

“Dear God, if you could tell me the secret of life, that would be really good. Amen.”

With that the boy jumped back into bed and fell asleep.

It was in the morning, at breakfast, as he looked around the kitchen. There was his Mom cooking, as she always did, and like she always did, she looked over and blew him a kiss. There was his grandfather and brother arguing about some sport thing or other, and both of them tussled the boy’s hair as they passed.

Then it struck him; wasn’t the secret of life just to appreciate what you had? There was always something good in a life, and sure there were lots of bad things.

But one good thing, sunk a thousand bad ones, and the boy smiled all the way to the bus stop.

All the way.

bobby stevenson 2017

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STONES IN A SNOWBALL

Thing was trying to remember when it all changed between the Creek boys at the bottom of the hill and himself. It was probably something to do with that snowball.

In the hot sultry days of summer, Thing and his gang of kids played at the Creek almost every day. In the winter they slid down the mountain snow in races of two or three. Old boxes were used for sitting in and Thing remembers it was the fastest he ever went in his life.

Then around about the time that Jimmy Jones got a new dad the situation began to change. Thing remembered Jimmy calling him ‘a freak’ under his breath. He was never really sure at first but Thing later heard Jimmy telling the other guys the same word and all of them stopped talking when Thing got up beside them.

Then there was a snowball fight and he was sure it wasn’t Jimmy Jones, or Robert, or Pete who threw it but whoever threw it, it hurt really bad. Thing felt a thud on the side of his head, then he saw stars and when he looked down there was red blood dripping on the snow. One of his friends had put a rock inside the snowball and it had walloped him.

Thing was wondering why someone would do that as he sadly walked back up home. Jimmy shouted to the rest of the gang that who ever did that should own up, but no one ever did.

Thing’s mother asked him what had happened and it was then he did a stupid thing. He lied. He told her that he’d slipped during one of the races and she told him he had to be more careful in future. But that lie was a biggie, because it was the first time he had ever done it to his family and he’d done it to hide the shame of what had happened – not that he fully understood it, himself.

Then life got cold between them. Not between members of the gang, you understand; just between the boys and Thing. They had spent their early years in and out of each others’ houses, having sleepovers, laughing and crying and hollering at life then all this happened.

Thing was sitting by the Creek one Saturday morning when the guys passed on the other side. Thing stood and shouted but they didn’t seem to hear him. Then he noticed that they were all off on a fishing trip with Jimmy Jones’ new dad. Jimmy saw Thing was about to wave when Jimmy’s new dad got them all in a circle and whispered something and they all laughed. Jimmy walked on without looking back at Thing.

Thing’s Grandma had told him that it was true what they said about sticks and stones breaking bones but words can never hurt. She said that when she was bullied in school she used to take the names they called her and she would turn them into something beautiful. So the next time that Thing was called a Freak – he took each letter and made it into something good: Fantastic Rock ‘n’ Roll   Exciting And Knowledgeable. Okay Thing admitted he wasn’t Shakespeare and it didn’t kill the pain but it helped a little.

He still couldn’t tell his mother about the name-calling as he knew it would hurt her. He thought about telling the teacher but she always looked so busy, so every time a note landed on his desk with the word ‘Freak’ written on it he would smile, think about what FREAK meant and feel at peace.

Sometime in the autumn the police took Jimmy Jones’ new dad away for beating up the Chinese man next door. Jimmy never mentioned him again and things kind of went back to normal. The boys started playing with Thing again and there were more races down the mountainside but something deep inside Thing had changed. He saw that it didn’t take people much to turn on one another and that stopped him smiling sometimes.

No one ever put a stone in a snowball again but somehow it was always there.

bobby stevenson 2017

A Place Called Hope

‘What makes anyone do anything?’

That was what she thought as she stepped off the bus. She hadn’t meant to get off at that particular stop, but the large woman by the window seat had asked to be let out.

The funny thing is that the large woman looked out the window, tutted, and sat down at another seat. Karen was already standing and so decided that the next stop was as good as any a place to leave the bus.

It stopped at the foot of the road leading to the railway station.
At least she could get a train into London, if things didn’t go well. Whatever those things were that she was planning to do. Goodness knows, she didn’t know. Kate hadn’t really had time to think. She had got out of the taxi and was ready to enter the church, she knew Derek, good old dependable Derek, would be standing at the altar waiting on her. The thing is, she wasn’t prepared to marry a dependable soul. She had kissed her father on the cheek and then jumped on the first bus that passed.

As she walked down Station Road, she knew one thing – she needed a drink. Good old Derek never drank. He felt that it stopped his dependability.

The first pub she came to was one called the Old George Inn. There were bikers outside, laughing and joking as if the world was a place to exist without problems. Oh to be one of those people, she thought. Oh to be among them.
At the next corner was a little pub by the name of the Rising Sun. This was her spot, she decided, where she would have a drink.

Inside was a middle-aged woman with a pleasant smile who seemed to be washing her daughter’s face . The mother was spitting on her apron, then using that corner to wipe the child’s face, much to the annoyance of her daughter.
Karen walked to the bar while the woman looked behind to see if there was anyone coming in with her.
“Just you, then?” Asked the bar woman.
“Is that okay?”
“Sure, hun, sure, we get all sorts in this neck of the woods. Now what can I get you dearie?”

Karen asked for a half pint of ale, and sat in the corner by the window. From here, she could see the bridge and the little river.

It was truly amazing; the village was surprising, like an iceberg. From the road it looked a little cold and distance, but once in the centre of the place – it was full to the brim with life.
“Waiting for someone, are you?” Asked the landlady.
“I don’t really know what I’m doing,” said Karen, as a few tears fell from her face.
“Don’t you be crying now dearie,” said the landlady, and she sent her daughter off to find some handkerchiefs.

For the next hour and with no customers, Karen and the landlady, chatted about this and that, until the woman asked what had happened earlier that day, and that was when the floodgates opened.

The landlady poured herself a half of beer and a brandy for Karen.
“You get that down you, then we can see what is what. You can stay here tonight, if needs be. Sarah, my daughter can bunk in with me and you can take her bed.”

And that was how it all started for Karen. She stayed at the Rising Sun, working there at nights and in the afternoons she waitresses at a tea-room along the High Street.

One day, when she was least expecting it, a farmer came in for a drink and fell in love with Karen in a heartbeat.

I hear tell that he is nothing like Derek and that they have five children and three grand-children.
Sometimes, you get off at the stop that was meant.

Okay, I’m going to change the tempo a little, and if I remember correctly, there was a really hot summer back in 1976. It was during those sweltering months that Jake had three passions in his life – football, bikes and beer. He lived in Dartford but liked nothing better than getting on his motorcycle and heading out into the roads of Kent.

He would meet up with a bunch of other motorcycle enthusiasts at the Two Brewers pub in a little village in the valley. Those years, and that summer especially, were the golden years for Jake. The Brewers was the pub where it all happened. Sometimes it might get out of hand, when the bikers and the locals (the ones who mainly cut down trees) would get a bit rowdy and a punch-up might occur. All of it was in good fun.

It was one night, as Jake was heading back to Dartford, that a lorry coming down Shacklands, ran into him and knocked Jake into the side of a tree. At first the doctors thought he wouldn’t walk again, but they didn’t bank on his determination – and on his grandfather.

Jake’s granddad would drive him down to the village he loved so much and let him sit by the river. Jake pretended to fish, but mostly he just sat in peace and quiet and watched the world go by.

One sunny June day, an old friend from the Brewers happened to be passing on his bike, and stopped to say hello. It was then that Jake’s life started to take a turn for the better. His mate, Sam, asked if Jake could make it on to the back of his motorbike.

“Try and stop me,” shouted Jake.

His granddad wasn’t so sure, but hey, life was too short not to give it a try.
Sam drove the bike, with he and Jake on it, past the Brewers and gave a huge thump on his horn as he did. Some of the locals came out to see Jake back where he belonged; on the back of a motorcycle.

Sam didn’t stop there. He drove the bike along the High Street, and then up the path which gave him access to the Cross.
“Should you be doing this?” Shouted Jake.
“Nope, but it feels good. Don’t it?”
And Jake had to admit it did.

Robert was always a kid who smiled. That’s what his parents said. That’s what his teachers said. It was what his friends said.

So when Robert’s dad went to work in New York City in the summer of 2001 and never came home again, Robert’s smile was taken out the back of his house and buried in the same spot that Cuddles his goldfish had been placed.

No one noticed, at least not at first. People were trying to understand what had happened that day in September, and didn’t really see that Robert’s smile train had left the station.

Robert and his dad had been the best of pals. They went everywhere together, and especially to the football. ‘Who would take him now?’ Robert thought a little selfishly.

Sometimes he would go into his father’s wardrobe and take down a shirt and smell it. It reminded him of his dad. His mother had neither been strong or brave enough to clear out his things, and like she had said:
“They haven’t found him yet, so he might still come home.”
He might. Robert said to his mother. He might. Robert told his teacher and his friends.

Then one day, for no apparent reason, Robert ran from his house and headed to the Cross up by the hill. He liked being up there, for that was where he and his dad used to sit and talk and talk.

From there you could see France, his father had told him. Okay, he’d exaggerated, but hey – you nearly could. That was the day that Robert met Annie. She was 83 years of age and still walked up to the Cross every day.
“And I shall continue to, as long as the Lord spares me.”

Annie noticed Robert’s missing smile right away.
“Something you need to tell me, young man?”
Robert shook his head.
“Then why are you looking so glum on a day like this?” She asked.
So Robert told her about how his dad would bring him up by the Cross and how they talked and talked.
“Maybe we could talk,” said Annie.
“About what?” Asked Robert.
“About everything.”

Annie began by telling Robert about the Cross and how, when they first dug it out, it looked all right up close but from the railway station it looked all wrong. So they had to change it a little, so that the eye would be fooled into thinking the Cross was the correct shape.
“And another thing,” she continued.” Did you know that during World War Two, they had to cover the Cross up, on account of the bombers from across the seas using it as a direction pointer straight into London?”

Robert said that he hadn’t ever heard any of those things and that he would tell his dad about them when he came home.

And that was the day, that Annie, an 83-year-old woman, decided that until Robert’s dad came home, she would take care of the boy and that they would both sit up by the Cross and talk and talk.

bobby stevenson 2017

The Fireman

wanderer

In the early days of the next war, a story arose, an urban legend, about a person they called the Fireman. He had been given that name because of the stories of him putting out fires which had spontaneously erupted in the Mohawk Valley; that was the night that the mushroom cloud had first appeared over Stone City, a place about fifty miles away. Lit the whole goddamn sky.
Having never really believed that all of this would happen, folks hadn’t paid much attention to warnings about radiation – what was lethal and what to watch out for. So most people stayed indoors – not realizing that it was already too late for most of them.
The Fireman rode from cellar to cave to a hole in the ground, bringing medicines, and water, and news to anyone who needed him. Folks talked about him in hushed tones, except on the days when they hoped he would visit. On those days, their little living area was swept clean and the best of what few things they had would be offered to the great man. Folks couldn’t sit still on those days, from what I’ve been told.
The Fireman would sit and talk and feel good in himself, what with shaking another human’s hand. It was the one thing that the Fireman missed more than anything – human contact.
As more of the souls succumbed to the radiation sickness, there was less news to pass around. So the Fireman started to invent stories, not out of badness but to keep the folks he visited in a positive frame of mind. If the country was to rebuild itself, then straight, good, honest thinking would be what would get them on their feet.
Folks loved to hear all his stories.
“So they’re rebuilding Stone City?” They would say.
“Jeez, hear that Ma? We might be vacationing in the city next year.”
But the Ma he was talking to, was lying in a dark room being sick for one final time in her life.
Now here’s the bit where I’m going to stretch your belief systems. From what I was told, the Fireman did keep people holding on to their dreams – because in the end that was the only the thing they had worth keeping.
And some folks did survive – and a few of those probably thanks to the Fireman.
Some dark hearts say, he never really existed, that he was a figment and all.
I tell you – that ain’t true and I’m going to go looking for him. I’m gonna find out where he came from, where he went to, and when I get the truth, I’m going to let you know just the minute I hear it.
God Bless the Fireman, that’s what I say, God Bless him.
bobby stevenson 2017

 

Save

Save

Our Home by the Railroad

If I’m being real honest, the house wasn’t as grand as you see it now. Back then it was built with love, sweat and tears and over the longest of times; if I’m guessing, I’d probably say nearer seven years than six. Christopher Lawson made his money from a store in town – one that he and his wife lived above – and one, that he had promised her, that they would escape from one day when they would move out into the countryside.

She had grand ideas about her home, and Christopher spent every spare hour in helping to build her dream. When he wasn’t at the house, he was at the store and this all eventually took its toll. At the age of thirty-seven, Mr Lawson raised a hammer for the very last time – just before his heart gave in. His wife (after a decent amount of time) moved back out East and married, a Philadelphian, by the name of Jeremiah Cruvitz.

That was when the house fell into the possession of my great, great-grandfather and I have to tell you, it has stayed in the family ever since. The house wasn’t built beside the railroad, rather the other way around. By the time the trains came our way, my grandfather had made the building fancier, with more bedrooms to accommodate his growing family. My great, great grandparents had visited New Orleans one hot summer and decided they wanted their house to reflect the same ‘tasteful elegance’.

The first big train that passed our house, and I’m reading my great, great grandfather’s diary here, was one bringing the soldiers from the war down south back to their homes in the north. Man, these guys were hollering and singing and hanging from the train. It had been a long few years and now they were all going back to their kin folks. President Lincoln had defeated the succession and slavery was gone. The sad thing is, that only a few weeks later, my family were standing by the railroad as the body of our greatest president went rolling by.

There were happy times, too. One summer, in 1893, there was a knock at the door real early in the morning. Heck, from what I hear the sun even didn’t even have time to get its pyjamas off – it was that early. One of my family answered the door,for a man with the longest and curliest moustache in the world, to say: “Could ya spare some water for my elephant?”.

Seems the train taking the animals to the Chicago World’s Fair had broken down about a quarter-mile from our house, and the animals were all getting thirsty. What a day that was for my folks. In the end, they held their own private circus in our garden, then the show folks slept in the barn and some on the kitchen floor. In the morning, their train was good to go and they were off on their way to Chicago.

Two more World Wars came and went, and guns and soldiers were shipped to the east coast (or the west, as happened in the second war).

For a long-time afterwards trains kinda fell out of fashion, although you’d still get the two-mile-long cargo caravans. It stayed very much that way until the late 1960s, when we all went down to the tracks, dipped our heads and watched as the train carrying Robert Kennedy passed by the house on the way to Washington DC.

Passenger trains came back into service again, and folks started to pass our house. Some would take the time to wave, while others were busy on their computers and all.

Late in 2018, trains started heading towards New York and Philadelphia with armaments of all shapes and sizes; tanks, rockets, landing crafts, you name it, the trains carried it.

It was only a few months after those trains passed that we saw the flash in the sky – long way off my daddy said – but we could still feel the wind all the same.

Ain’t no trains been passed the house in a mighty long time, no trains at all – speaking of which, we ain’t seen another human in all that time, either.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

shoreham rose

 

A Street in Rye

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In the years between the Wars, those golden years, each August my family would visit my grandmother in Rye; a little town on the south coast of England.

Both her and my grandfather had always lived by the sea. My grandfather, Good Old Charlie (as he was known) had spent his life working at Rye railway station.

Together they had brought up five children. One, my uncle Bertie, never returned from the Somme. There were many families like that in Rye, and in a thousand other places, I’m sure.

My grandmother always smelt of roses, and every time I passed a garden and closed my eyes, I found myself back there, sitting on her knee, feeling safer than I had ever done, or ever would.

That was the perfect time in my life.

On the Sunday morning, we would walk to church, which was up a steep path, and on our return my grandmother would bring out a cake stand, and sitting on top would be the most delicious cake anyone had ever tasted.

On the Sunday afternoon me and my grandmother would walk up Mermaid Street and gaze at all the houses. To me it was the most beautiful street in the world – probably still is.

My grandmother would take my hand and I would ask her all sorts of questions.

“Do you think Heaven will look like Mermaid Street, Grandma?” I asked.

She squeezed my hand tighter and said that Heaven was more beautiful than that, but that Mermaid Street probably looked like the path up to the gates.

When we got to the top of Mermaid Street, I always looked for the gates, but could never find them.

After the second World War, I met my husband and we got married. Every weekend, when we could, we would take a trip to Rye and we would both walk up Mermaid Street. I told my husband about my grandmother and her story about Heaven. My grandmother had left us a few years back, and had walked up Mermaid Street one final time.

One day in June, in 1953, a few months before my daughter was born, my husband took me to Rye and we wandered up the street that leads to Heaven. When we got near the top, he presented me with a set of keys. It was to be ours, a house for the family. A house at the top of Mermaid Street.

One near my grandmother, and one near the gates.

bobby stevenson 2017

Krystal and The Astral Vikings

The Start

When she was a child, she ran with the wind and loved the Sun on her face. Back then, the world was an exotic mixture of colours, smells and wonderment and she took every opportunity to drink them all in – every single one of them. Life was electricity when you were starting out; love, hope, fear, and happiness were all painted in huge, large letters and it was all there for the owning, but once you started to take them all for granted, these pulses of life began to erode and would eventually disappear.

So, it was for Krystal, for she was still young enough to taste a little of the electricity in her mouth, but old enough to know that it was leaving her (like it did for all of us). Yet there was still a life of adventure out there to be lived – regardless of the dying of the light, and she wanted it.

There are stories and myths that come from all parts of this glorious world, some of them are downright lies but some of them are true.  To be honest, most of them come from the fevered minds of those who should know better – but in among them all was one story that her grandfather had told her, and her mother, and her brother. It was about the Sky pirates – and how they would take to the air in their big wooden ship, and land in little towns and hamlets and rob the good folks who lived there. Their real name was the Astral Vikings, at least that’s what they called themselves – but Krystal knew them as the Sky pirates and that was how they’d stay (at least in her mind).

Even though the story had been told again and again, it had faded some in her mind and so she travelled to see her brother to ask him about who and what they were.

“They ain’t for the likes of you, Sis,” said her brother.

“That ain’t your call, now is it?” She told him. “All I want to know is when they come and how I can meet them.”

Her brother blew up his cheeks to show that she was asking a whole lot in that one question.

“They might kill ya,” he said.

“I’ll take my chances,” she responded. “So where can I meet them?”

And her brother told her about a hill that was about two clicks from the town and which would probably take about a day to climb.

“When do they get there?” She asked him.

“On the 32nd of every February,” he told her.

“There ain’t no such date,” she scolded.

“Oh, but there is. You just gotta look”.

She tried to weigh up what she was leaving behind, and in the end it didn’t seem that much. Most of her family had gone, and her brother lived some ways away. So, what did she have to lose? Pretty much nothing.

There was still a bit of waiting to be done. There were twenty-nine days in February that year, so Krystal packed her bag and on the morning of the 30th of February, she started out for the hill. There was really no one to say goodbye to, except maybe the stray cat who had befriended her.

“I would take you with me, but I ain’t sure that pirates don’t eat cats,” and without looking back she put one foot in front of the other and left her home for good.

By the 31st of that month, Krystal had reached the base of the hill. Now all she had to do was climb it. It was tougher and higher than she had dreamed but just before it grew dark on the 32nd of February, she stood at the top, smiled to herself and waited. She wasn’t sure for what but she waited all the same. She wasn’t alone, no sir – not by a long way. There was a queue of folks from little creatures to real hairy things. Each of them just as enthusiastic to be a Sky pirate.

She heard it before she could see it – the ‘putt,putt,putt’ of the great engines that kept the ship in the air, then through the clouds it came. Huge and magnificent. Someone shouted to her from the sky-ship, asking if she was looking to come aboard.

“You mean all of us?” She shouted back.

“Who else is with you” And sure enough, all the others had got scared and were running as fast as they could back down the hill.

Without a second’s delay, Krystal said that she was as ready as she’d ever be and so the great ship manoeuvred close to where she was standing. A man – one of the Astral Vikings – jumped on to the nearest ledge and ran a rope gangway over to where Krystal was standing.

He quickly jogged back to the vessel and left Krystal standing at the bottom of the gangway and at the start of a new life.

Should she? Would she? Was she brave enough?

And just like leaving home she put one foot in front of the other and walked towards the sky ship.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

shoreham rose

Weird London – Three Stories

The Private War of Bobby Falkirk

Which war he went to (and came back from), isn’t important here, it’s just important to know that Bobby came back in one piece – well almost. His head was intact, as was his body – but it was a plain and simple fact that his brain and heart didn’t really communicate that well with each other. Whose does?

Ever since he was old enough to climb trees, Bobby had always wanted to be a soldier. In Bobby’s world branches became rifles, and clumps of grass tied to his head made him invisible to the enemy. He used to invade Mister Elder’s garden on a weekly basis. Mister Elder threatened to go to the police, but nothing ever came of it and Bobby kept on invading and taking Mister Elder’s flower beds prisoner.

Every morning Bobby would ask his mother if he was old enough to join the army, and every morning she would say the same things – ‘not long now’ or ‘when you’re a little taller’. Bobby even hung upside down from trees, for hours, just to make himself that little bit taller.

As he grew up and older, Bobby could see his mother looking sadder – she knew the time was fast approaching when he son would be off to wars overseas.

Bobby had waited, as he had promised, until he was 18 years of age before he attempted to join the army. At that age he was over six-foot tall and built like a champion fighter. Bobby didn’t care if the world was ready for him, Bobby was most definitely ready to take on the world.

In all, Bobby spent ten years in the army and in that time, he saw many places, many cultures, and just as many ways to kill a man. His eyes grew tired and weary of the stench of death, and his heart grew cold and hard. By the time Bobby returned to his home, he felt like a man who belonged to no particular place. Something of himself had been destroyed and buried in those far-off lands and it made him confused, as a result.

In the ten years spent in the army his parents had died, leaving Bobby to feel that he was an orphan. He had a family while he was in the army – he had never been closer or felt more of sense of belonging than those army years, but friends had died in battle or had left.

For the first time in his life, Bobby felt totally alone. In his younger years, Bobby would sometimes travel with his uncle (really a kindly neighbour) up to St Pancras station and hotel on Euston Road. It had been falling apart for many years, but while his uncle worked on the railways, Bobby would explore the old buildings and the old hotel.

In the highest tower (and for reasons you will understand later, I am saying no more than that) Bobby found an empty room, full of cobwebs and rats. At each visit, Bobby would smuggle in little objects, pieces of wood (from which he built a seat), and some things to eat and drink. Over the next few years, it became Bobby’s home away from home. One weekend, when his uncle was taken unwell, Bobby sneaked up to the railway station and managed to get up to his den in the highest tower, unseen. He had always remembered this.

On his return from his war, Bobby had found himself with nowhere to call home, or even rest his head. It was then that he thought of his little room and wondered if it had been discovered during his absence, or if it indeed remained intact.

The station and the hotel had been transformed since last he had seen the place, and the chances didn’t look good for his den’s survival. Even the back stairs had been repainted and lit in electric light, but as he got to where the door was to his room, he found a brick wall. The entrance had been blocked.

The window to the left of the door was still in place and Bobby found he could still open it. The ledge was there and Bobby clung on to the guttering as he walked, carefully up the roof. The window to his den was still there and he managed to prise it open.

Would you believe it? Bobby’s den was still there, untouched, if a little unloved. The builders must have blocked the door and ignored the highest room in the tower. All his survival/army gear was there – even his little notebooks where he recorded all his height changes as he grew.

That night Bobby slept well, just like did when he was a kid. Tomorrow could look after itself.

It took him a minute or two to realise where he was when he awoke, as the sun shone through the window of his little room. When Bobby was ready, he went on a little walk of discovery and found that there was three other rooms next to his which had also been bricked off from the rest of the building. That was when the thought hit him – it would be possible to live up here, as long as he could come and go unseen.

He only had a little money, enough to keep him going for two or three weeks at most, and if he left the building in the dark then he should be able to survive for a while.

That first day, he ate what was left of the sandwich he had stuffed in his pocket. From up there, the highest room on Euston Road, he could see the world go by and the office workers impatiently watching the clocks on their walls. Bobby’s medication wouldn’t last more than a month or two. The army had handed him some tablets to keep his confusion under control, but in the end the self-control was down to him.

Bobby waited until past midnight before he made the walk down the ledge. He could hear the city screaming and shouting from the streets below; people with families and lives. People without the confusion that had swamped his thoughts. Would he love to be down there and normal? The thought didn’t last long as a breeze blew up and nearly knocked him from the roof. He managed to catch on to the guttering at the last moment. In that split second, he had imagined the newspaper report – ‘soldier returns from war and jumps from roof’. Bobby didn’t want that.

Bobby made it down to Euston Road and started towards Kings Cross. He went into the station and bought some chocolate to keep him going. Bobby was walking to nowhere in particular when, from the corner of his eye and across the street, he noticed a young woman being pushed about by three men. She looked to be in trouble. Bobby sped across the road.

Bobby shouted at the men. “Leave the girl alone.”
“Says who?” Asked one of the men. The one with a scar across his nose.
“Says me,” Bobby shouted back.
“Get him lads,” shouted the fat one.

At that point the three of the men threw the girl aside, making her bump her head against the wall.
It was easy for Bobby, he was fit and ready for them. He knocked two of their heads, literally together. One sparked out and one ran away. The one with the scar stood his ground and grabbed the girl by the neck.

“One move and she gets it,” he said with the girl blocking him from Bobby’s fists. Bobby rolled into a ball then quickly knocked away the man’s legs, Bobby managing to catch the girl as she was released.

Bobby stood and dragged the man by the ankles into a small lane. Bobby picked the man up and chucked him in a dump. Then Bobby returned to make sure the girl was okay.

She seemed to be okay and he found out her name was Elizabeth. She had no money, so Bobby went back and emptied the man in the dump’s wallet. He handed the money to the girl, taking her to a place where she could catch a cab. She asked his name, he told her it wasn’t important and then put her in a taxi.

Bobby could hear the station clock strike two in the morning, as he edged his way back to his den in the sky.

As he lay trying to sleep that night, Bobby wondered if everything happened for a reason. Maybe being a soldier and fighting the bad on the streets of London was why he had been put on this Earth.

Bobby, the hero? There was still a grin on his face as he fell asleep.

 

CHOODLA

The Start

What can I say about Choodla, that hasn’t already been said over and over again by the newspapers, the television, the judges, the police, the weird man who lives on everyone’s street, my family, my pet dog? Nothing – that’s what, nothing except I’m Choodla and no one except me can say that.

I’ve watched those stupid movies about superheroes (okay they aren’t that stupid) and then I’ve watched those stupid movies about vigilantes (okay, those aren’t that stupid either) and that is when I decided to……no, I think I’m jumping ahead here. Let’s go back to the start. Kind of.

Once upon a time, a pre-Choodla time, I was just your usual kid with dreams and stuff. Well except I was too lazy for the dreams and didn’t have enough cash for the stuff – so basically I was just a kid.  The trouble was that all those little traits followed me into adulthood. I mean I did my best to grow up – ended up over six feet tall – but those pesky little things like laziness kind of came with me. Boy that really pee’d me off but what’s a guy to do?

I had a job, or at least I had people who came and gave me money to sit in an office and work with dumb folks and dream of being somewhere else. Except you get to like the money and tell yourself you’re only staying until the storm passes over and then you’ll move on. Except you don’t – or at least it looked as if I was welded to that desk in my office – until the day they said they were rationalizing the structure of the office, and that meant I was on the street.

So now I don’t have a job but at least I don’t have to listen to dumb folks anymore and that to me was a big tick. Except I don’t have any stupid people to hand me money, so I have to do what I have always done and that is to play my guitar in the street and hope folks throw coins at me. I should have said ‘to me’ but it was more often than not ‘at me’. Hey, you get to find out that everyone’s a judge these days.

So I was playing ‘American Pie’ on my guitar for the good folks of this big city for the twentieth time that day and I still only had a few coins in the hat (ones I put there myself). When a little old man came crawling out of a side door – called himself McCafferty and said he was having a party and would I like to come. Okay, you’re thinking what I’m thinking that this man is a serial killer and probably got a bed, some tape, rope and a collection of knives to torture me slowly but I thought, being the victim of serial killing has got to be preferable to playing ‘American Pie’ one more time. You think I’m joking, you try it.

Anyway I collected my coins and hat and followed him down through a door which seemed to go down to an old unused Underground Station. Down in the old platform, of the old station (it was old) was a collection of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells that you would ever wish (or not) to meet.  McCafferty introduced me as ‘that geezer who won’t stop playing that song’ and everyone knew who he meant.

The leader wasn’t McCafferty but a big bloke called Andrew who shook my hand and asked if I thought that they we were just a bunch of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells. I said that nothing could be further from the truth, and that indeed they looked like an upstanding bunch of gentlemen …”and ladies” shouted a collection of overcoats in the corner.
Once you got over the smell, they did indeed seem interesting. One gentleman had been a professor of economics in a prestigious university but had fallen on hard times when they’d found the bank accounts.

“A mere oversight,” he said, and he hoped to re-join the world above any day soon.

Another had been something in Westminster until they caught him and he too was only waiting down here for things to get better.
The one they called ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ and who was married to whatever existed under the collection of coats had once been a star of stage and screen until he too was found to be wanting in some area or another.
They asked me what my story was and I had to be honest and say that I had just been fired from my job. As such I had probably some way to go to be as esteemed as the collection in front of me.

“Tish and tosh,” said Jumping Jack, “You look like you have a few secrets to tell.”
Apart from stealing a coin from my Grandmother’s purse I had been pretty quiet on the dishonesty side.

“We shall prise it out of you, young musician person, prise it we shall.”
I must say he looked as if he meant it, every word and that perhaps ‘prising’ meant using some instrument or other.
An extremely smelly old man said that there was one rule down here and that was ‘share and share alike’ and suddenly a giant of a man grabbed me by the ankles and held me upside down while the little coins that I had, fell out of my pocket. All of those miscreants were on those coins like rats.

When they had taken everything and anything, they said the time had arrived for me to be named. I told them quite rightly that I had a name but they said that was a name for use above, I needed one for down here in the Underground. A few of them huddled in a corner and every so often they would stop talking, look at me in a very weird way then shake their heads and go back to talking.

After what seemed a blooming eternity (enough time to sing American Pie fifty times) they came over to me and told me to kneel.
I did so hoping that whatever happened would be quick –

“Old Creature here has come up with a name and you are to be called ‘Choodla’ from now on.”

I asked why Choodla as it sounded kind of weird.
The one they called Creature said, “It is the greatest name that anyone down here can be called. It is after the Underground station we stand in.”
I said I didn’t know any stations new or old called Choodla.

“No dear boy, it is Aldwych – that is the station in which we reside. One that was closed years and years ago. And if you spell it backwards – Chywdla (well nearly backwards) you get Choodla. That sir is your name from now on.”

So here I am stuck in an Underground station in London with a bunch of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells and you’re asking how do I become a superhero?  Well you’ll just have to wait and see.

 

Cheedle Craze

If you’ve ever journeyed upon a train through the centre of London town, you’ll have perhaps looked up, and seen, a vacant office with dirty windows; one that is unloved and unlived in. Well that dirty little place, dear friends and readers, is the current whereabouts of one, Cheedel Craze. You will certainly not know his name up until now, but you may have met him in one form or another.

If Cheedel was like us mortals, his career would be noted as space cop, but believe me, he is much more than that, vastly more than that. Cheedel is the soul who keeps our universe in order – who cleans up any spillage and who attempts to put things right, the best that he can.

Each universe, (of which there are many) has guardians, and Cheedel is one of ours. He bases himself in London, since – when he started his tour of duty, this city was at the centre of a great empire and an easy place to get to anywhere else. As for choosing Earth, well this little outpost sitting on the edge of the Milky Way, was the ideal place for Cheedel to get some time to himself.

Now I’m going to try to explain multiverses (lots and lots of universes) the patronising way that Cheedel explains it to me. So nothing personal then.

Imagine that you have a car, sitting outside your house at 7am on a Monday – and for whatever reason you try to cram as many people as possible into said car. Say, the total you could fit in at any one time without killing people is, eight. The next morning (Tuesday) you do the same again – another eight souls into an empty car. Each of them occupying the same physical space on a different day – but now imagine that someone from the Monday car left a paper behind, and the Tuesday crowd found it – then it would be Cheedel’s job to clean up that tracer (as he calls it) so that the Tuesday crowd know nothing of the Monday crowd. Okay, I hear you, you’re none the wiser. Anyway that is Cheedel’s job and he loves it.

On this particular morning, ironically a Monday, he hears tell of a ghostly apparition that has been causing consternation at a public house (a bar) on Fleet Street. The bar owner loved the attention at first, but now the figure of a woman is attacking his precious clients by throwing things around. This would have been called a poltergeist in the old superstitious days but Cheedel knows this not to be the case.

Sometimes universes rub up against each other and cause little ripples, or ulcers if you like, that allows energy to slip from one to the other. It’s as if someone in the Tuesday car happen to see an image of someone sitting in the car on the Monday. Once these were called ghosts – but now you know better.

By the time Cheedel arrives at the bar, there has been much destruction and not a soul left drinking in the place. Cheedel finds the owner hiding behind the bar trying to avoid plates that are being thrown at the bottles behind him. Even if he misses the plate, the bottles smash and scatter glass everywhere.

Cheedel had found out about this particular problem while sitting in the British Library – he sometimes fondly calls that building the ‘Geek Palace’ on account of the folks who sit in there and have discussions that would probably get them beaten up just a few yards outside the building.

One couple who frequented the Geek Palace, quite regularly, were talking about existentialism and ghosts. As I say, had they been having that conversation on a bus, the driver would have probably thrown them off. Anyway the taller of the two mentioned about the haunting at the bar on Fleet Street and about the ghost of Anne Boleyn, the Queen, who apparently stalked the corridors.

Cheedel chuckled to himself, because he knew that even if she was an Anne Boleyn, she would have definitely not been the Queen of England. No two people did the same thing in two universes. So even if it was her, she was probably appearing as a contestant on X-Factor in that universe (although Cheedel realised that he was being a bit facetious).

The owner asked if Cheedel was a ghost hunter or if he was just in for a pint of beer to be drunk under trying circumstances. Cheedel decided to call himself a ghost hunter as it always seemed to work with Londoners.

Cheedel strode up the bar corridor and was met with a toilet pan flying across his path. He entered the room that the toilet had come from, to find a grainy image of an old (annoyed) woman. You see, this woman would have slipped through from her universe unintentionally and was probably being treated for mental illness over at her side. What with all her talking about bars and people in funny clothes – when she might be just sitting in a room and no one else knowing what she was going on about.

The secret to a successful clean-up was for Cheedel to fix the rupture in the universe wall without leaving any of the leakage on this side. Otherwise the angry woman might be throwing furniture about for eternity.

He tried to distract the apparition by singing a Monty Python song. Cheedel had no idea why this worked but it seemed to. She stopped throwing things about long enough for Cheedel to locate the rip in the space-time continuum (it was a lot of nonsense, of course, but he loved to impress the geeks with that type of talk).

The woman slipped happily back through the hole and Cheedel manage to make a nice repair in the wall. Cheedel knew that the woman (who ever she was) would be starting to recover on her side and would no longer see strange things – she might even go on to win X-Factor in that universe. Cheedel chuckled at this and considered it another victory for the space police.

And on the way home, he thought he might just drop into the Geek Palace to see what folks were talking about at this time of day.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Bullying Never Sleeps

bully

There was a man with the large dog who would watch and wait and make the boy run indoors. Then the man would smile, chuckle to himself and walk off. Everyday, that happened. Everyday to a young boy.

Then the boy started going to school and at least he wouldn’t see the man and the dog again. But there were bigger monsters in the school. Those who were scared and unhappy and jealous – were the worst of the bullies, those were the monsters.

When he left to go to college, he thought that his days as a bully’s target were over. But people bully with words rather than their fists. People bully with humour. People bully with silence.

When he moved into his first job, he thought now I am a man, I can stand up for myself. But people bully with power and people bully with money and people bully with favours.

People bully about race and sexuality and disfigurement and illness.

And those who walk a kinder path, those who should know so much better, bully with their gods.

When he retired he thought that would be the end of it, there would be no more bullying, surely they must all be tired by now. But people bully with friendships, in the giving and taking of them. People bully with their time. People bully with loneliness. People bully with the kindest of smiles and the coldest of stares.

Bullying never sleeps.  

Never.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Distant Lights

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Lights on the road had always meant different things to him. When he’d been bad, it was his father’s car coming up the drive and the punishment that followed. On his birthdays, it was the promise of what lay behind those car lights and what was hidden in the car.

That night, the night when he and his first love took the taxi to that hotel – oh, the butterflies in his stomach, those lights as the taxi arrived, that was living on the edge – just to feel like that again – for one fleeting moment – would be the nearest thing to heaven.

Car lights meant the potential for good, or perhaps the arrival of the bad.

As he lay in the dark, he thought about how he had got to where he was. Perhaps it was more accurate to cogitated on how the world had got to where it was.

He had been living on the farm for what had seemed a lifetime. There had been months of no food at the beginning, but he’d taught himself how to farm. How to trap rainwater. How to eat what insects were about.

He’d survived. He’d lived.

Those days had turned to months, then years and in all that time there had been no one. No radio, no phone, no sounds of another soul’s voice – but most of all no contact. No warmth from another body.

He could only guess what had happened. World War? Global environmental disaster? The End of the World perhaps? No plane had flown over the farm for years. There was no sound of distant sirens. Just – nothing.

Now this. He’d been watching the sun go down, when he’d caught sight of the lights. They could be seen as they came over the horizon. Who was driving? Why were they coming? Did they know he was there?

It was just like his dad’s car coming up the drive all those years before.

bobby stevenson 2017

The Thursday Angel

angel

She had been born on Christmas Day.

As the woman with the watery eye had mentioned to her mother, “She is your little Christmas gift, your little bundle of joy”.

And she was.

She had grown in a very happy home, and that joy had penetrated her very bones.

She had grown in body and soul and stood tall as one of life’s darlings.

She preferred to give happiness than to receive it.

There had been boyfriends but nothing that serious. Every time she felt she was falling in love, someone or something would cause a change in the way she lived.

She had met Patrick at a bus stop one yellowy autumn day and she told herself that this was the one. He proposed on New Year’s Eve and she had said yes.

“I was going to do it on December 25th but I didn’t want to overwhelm your birthday,” he had told her.

They were to be married on the following June, but that was a long time away. Life crossed her path, put its hand up and shouted ‘Stop’. Her father, worrying about his wife’s health, and on the way to the chemist, hadn’t noticed the bus.

Patrick called the wedding off, and she had made that condition permanent. Her mother was a widow now and needed all the support and help that came her way.

She told herself that it wouldn’t be forever, her mother would learn to live without her dad, and then she would set her life to rights; she’d finally settle down and find that one special person.

She remembered the day well, that day her mother dropped the groceries on the stairs. It was a small stroke they had told her. Things could go either way.

They went the dark way. Her mother saw things, and said things that were not her. The illness ate along her brain and chewed every last piece of her personality.

When her daughter held her mother’s hand, she couldn’t recognize her anymore.

Her mother tried to say something, so she put her ear to her mother’s mouth just as she had done when she was a child. She felt her mother’s hot breath caress her face.

“I love you,” said, her mother.

“And I will always watch over you, always look for the angel. I’ll be there.”

Her mother lived on for several more months, but it she never spoke of such things again. Love had been eaten by the disease, too.

They buried her mother on a Thursday.

On the way back from the cemetery she saw an angel of sorts. Just some random person riding a bicycle. She wondered if she had overtaken the bike that she would see her mum peddling away with a huge grin on her face.

Then she did a strange thing. She decided to follow the angel. She did so through the town square, and through the old streets of the western half, then the cyclist disappeared down through a wooden gate. She couldn’t follow anymore but next to the gate was a young man, attempting to get a cat down from the tree.

“I don’t suppose you could help me?” He asked.

And she did help him, as he helped her.

Now she was sitting at the Christmas Day fire thinking of the old days.

“Tell you grandchildren, honey, how we met, how you followed the angel.”

bobby stevenson 2017

Cracked Hearts & Walking Wounded

Eric-Staller-Walker-Street

Cracked Hearts

She washes her mother with water and with love. Gently caressing the body that looks like someone she once knew, but her mother’s mind has already gone ahead and waits for the soul to return. She cleans away the saliva from the mouth that once used to chastise and kiss and smile.

He dreads the sun coming up as it means another day and another night of little sleep. Somewhere between being ten years of age and this morning it all got complicated. The knots are too tightly tied to try to undo them anymore. He can hear the car next door starting up – the sign that he has to do it all….all over again.

If it wasn’t for the kids she would have left months ago, may be years. They were happy once. They were in love back then but all she did was turn her head away, take her eye off from where she was going and they slipped away from each other.

Okay, so he’s not a kid anymore but he tells himself that the injections he puts in his leg every morning are increasing his super powers. Yesterday he told himself he could see through peoples’ clothing. It made him smile and it greased another sticky day.

She’s 17 and gravity hasn’t hit her yet. She doesn’t know what waits around the corner but she is happy with her family and her dog called, Bertie. Oh, and her boyfriend.

The old lady lives two doors up from no one. She’s been there since the war and the neighbours have come and gone and although she used to know everyone, she locks her door against the night. When she goes, she’ll go like Eleanor Rigby. Then she hums what she thinks is the tune.

It’s the end of another day and as the heads lie on the pillow, or the sofa or the street, everyone should be standing up there on the podium, arms aloft for a job well done.

To get through a day, any day, deserves a medal. 

The Walking Wounded

Sally Anne leaves the house at number 17 with her heart almost bursting through her chest.

She’s pregnant, ‘with child’ as she read somewhere – just like the girl who was on the cover of  that magazine – Sally’s really really happy, she’s already deciding how her new home will look. She only found out while her Mum was making the toast and tea and the little line turned blue.

At number 22, the curtains twitch as Sam Lot watches his little distraction, Sally, walking down the street – bless her. Tonight’s the night he’s going to have to tell her it’s over; his wife is beginning to suspect.

The Hammerston twins, Fred and Irene at number 31 leave together, saying ‘good morning’ together to everyone they meet. As they run up the street for the West Town bus, Irene wonders how she’s going to tell her brother about her job up north.

Next door in number 33, Geraldine paces the floor – ‘born worrying, die worrying’ her mother used to tell the neighbours. But the lump on her breast makes her pace faster.

‘Lucky’ Jim turns into the street after finishing another night shift at the old plastic Works. He knows it has its bonuses – Jim had no trouble finding stuff to wrap his wife up in. And every morning when he finishes work he buys a newspaper, ten menthol cigarettes from the corner shop and wonders if this will be the day they find her.

In the little shop on the corner, Andy, the milkman, delivers another crate of cream and then creeps out having failed to ask Matilda – who works there – if she’d like to go to the park on Sunday.

Matilda’s heart is almost bursting through her chest as she waits for Andy to ask.

And Hugh, big strong Hugh from number 36, can’t tell anyone (not even his best friend) that his black eyes – which he covers with his wife’s makeup – are not from playing sports. She’s warned him, if he acts like a child then he must be punished like one.

He’s hidden the packed bag in the shed for the day he leaves her.

At the white house on the corner, Alice takes in gentleman callers until her husband gets back from a far off land.

And in the bus shelter Eddie drinks a can, not to brighten the dull day but to tone down the colours.

And from every house on the street comes the screech of silent screaming.
Only the dogs can hear.

Zoot and Sandy and Life

elephant

As always, Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were the best of pals in the whole wide world and, as usual, they were sitting by the river – talking about this, and talking about that.

“What do you see?” Asked Sandy.

“You always ask me that,” said Zoot, his pal.

“So, what do you see?”

“What I always see…..the birds.”

“And?”

“The sea…”

“And?”

“I don’t know. The sky.”

“That’s all you can see?” Asked the elephant.

“What else is there?” Questioned Zoot, the dog.

And then the big elephant shook his head, which made his trunk swing too.

“What? What have I said? Am I wrong?” Asked Zoot.

Sandy the elephant, gave a very important cough to clear his throat because he felt that what he was going to say was very important.

“This universe is very large,”

“Even for an elephant?” Said Zoot.

“Even for an elephant. Some say it could be as much as a billion light years across. Now that’s big. There are even wise women and men who think that there may be more than one universe and that in another one, I could be President.”

“And I could be a rock star,” interrupted Zoot.

“Exactly. Now in all those billions of light years, for me to become an elephant, and you to become a dog – well the chances must be a zillion to one. And to survive and me to meet you and you to meet me, well that must be a trillion, zillion to one. “

“What are you saying?” Asked the little dog.

“That to exist is very special and should never be taken for granted.”

“Do I do that?”

“We all do that,” said Sandy.

“You see, you and I can see how special it is to exist but there are many folks out there who are blind,” said Sandy.

“They can’t see?”

“Not so much that, but they can’t see how special their existence is. How hard the universe must have worked to bring them here.”

“But it makes them feel good about themselves…..to be blind,” said Sandy thoughtfully.

“But they drag the rest of us down. They think that living in a house, and keeping your money in the bank, and working and then retiring and then dying is all there is in life. And those who don’t see it that way are wrong.”

“Do I do that?” Asked the dog.

“Look again, what do you see? This time really look,” said the elephant.

“The sky, the sea…”

“And what is between the sky and the sea?”

“The horizon?”

“Exactly my friend. The horizon. That is what the blind can’t see. As long as there is a horizon, there is always something over the horizon.”

“And what is that?” Asked Zoot.

“Why hope,” said Sandy. “Just plain and simple, hope.”

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Legend

Equilibrium-robot-artwork-by-Daniel-Arnold-Mist

I suppose history will see October, 17 as the day that the future started. For that was the day when a newHuman wrote a poem. Not one that had been programmed into them, but something that came from its ‘soul’, something that was truly a ghost in the machine.

It had been illegal for more than fifty years to refer to them as ‘robots’. Once they got representation in government, the first policy they pushed through was to change their name – to change their label – to newHuman.

Some of the early creations were so lifelike that a number of people had relationships with the newHumans. This was also illegal for a time, until a law was passed to allow it.

The newHumans didn’t suffer from organic illnesses and this made them stronger. Humans were wiped out in some regions by mysterious sicknesses – there were suspicions that the newHumans had poisoned water supplies (newHumans didn’t need to drink after all).

Within a hundred years, newHumans became the majority. It didn’t take long after that for some human activities to be seen as harmful and illogical. Cinemas and sports’ grounds were closed, and churches were burnt to the ground.
Old humans drifted underground and built cities. Any of them who remained on the surface were hunted as sport (and although this was also illogical, it demonstrated that the newHumans were developing ‘human’ traits).

It didn’t stop there. The newHumans filled their isolation by building memorials to the first newHuman who wrote a poem. October 17th, was celebrated as newHuman day each year.
There were terror attacks from the folks who lived beneath, sometimes they destroyed a newHuman statue, or they razed a building to the ground. Every October 17th, there would be twenty-four hours of constant attacks from the ‘subs’ – the newHuman name for human beings; whether this was short for subterranean or for sub-species, it was never explained.

A new and more sinister activity developed. After catching a ‘sub’, the newHumans didn’t automatically kill them, instead they took them to the coliseum (inspired by their admiration of the Romans) and either made them fight each other or (and this was considered a better use) make them fight animals to the death.
As the decades progressed the newHumans became more like old humans. They started to kill and maim and steal from each other. What they couldn’t escape from, was that their original programming had been by human beings and as such, contained all their strengths, weaknesses, flaws and magic.

Then the day came when no more subs came to the surface.
The newHumans had found ways to destroy the underground settlements. There was one human being left and he was in captivity, shown as an exhibit for all the newHumans to prod and question.
And that was when the wisest of all newHumans, one known as Figaro, suggested that this man, this last human was actually where they had originated from and as such, Figaro suggested that the human should be allowed to spend his final days in peace.
And that is what they did.

When the last human eventually died they didn’t bury him, instead they covered him in gold and built a church to him. The newHumans worshipped their creator and wrote songs and stories about those who had gone before them, about the humans.
It was considered the height of good manners to exhibit human traits. Crying and laughing, however artificial, were displayed at all the best occasions.

They no longer worshipped on October 17, but instead, once a week, they went to their church and prayed to the last human – their god and they thanked him and his species for their existence.
The one possession the last human had kept from his life was a book, ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens. A newHuman was expected to know the story by heart and every newHuman carried a copy of this with them wherever they went.
………and that, dear friends, was the legend as it was told to me.

 

Bobby Stevenson 2017

photo http://www.9photoshop.com

bobby2 wee bobby

 

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Thank You for Today

walking young man over field and sunset

Thank you for today,

Not everything was good,

But then not everything was bad,

I woke up sad and somewhere in the sunshine

The day got a little better.

 

Thank you for today,

For letting me see that

Life is difficult for every heart

And some things, which I find easy, others don’t

And I know the opposite is true

 

Thank you for today,

And although I am not where I want to be

I realise that I might just get

To where I’m meant to be, one day.

 

Thank you for today,

For although I never felt like I was a winner

I managed to scrape my way through it all

And learned to hide the disappointments

Thank you for today

Seriously.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Man Who Knew Where Love Was Hidden

flatiron

There had always been wars. Even in the times of love and hope, there was always a reason to kill.

From the 17th century onwards, wars got more complex: families fought families, brother against brother, rich against poor.

If you were to ask when love started dying, it was probably at the dawn of the 20th century. For that was when Captain James Sandford, a man who had seen too many battles, began to notice the increasing coldness in hearts, and the dullness growing in people’s eyes.

It was only little things at first. Small, insignificant things. A gentleman giving a beggar a farthing instead of a penny. A landowner hitting a servant twice instead of the usual once. Even the poor were not exempt; folks stole more from other poor souls and yet they could still sleep at night.

So, it was, in the year of our Lord, 1903 that Captain Sandford decided to do something about it. From his travels in Afghanistan, he has spoken to medicine men, men who had talked with the Yeti (at least, that is what they claimed). In the years that James visited their homes high in the mountains, they taught him magic and sorcery (at least, that is what he claimed).

But the greatest of all tricks was the dilution of love into a potion. One so strong, that it could stop wars in an instant. The medicine men called it ‘God’s Tears’.

In the Spring and Summer of 1903, the Captain travelled the world, catching the tears of children for their mother, and the laughter of friendship, and the sweat of one lover for another. After diluting the liquid, he placed it in a large bottle, and placed this container in the highest building that he could find.

That was at the top of the Flat Iron Building in New York City.

As 1903, became 1904, and then 1905, the world grew darker and colder and soon the world was at war. All wars are bad, but this was an evil war which believed that humans were divisible into the great, the good and the dispensable.

There were more wars that century which became more about what the enemy were – about religion, about race, about the destruction of people.

And so, the world came to the 21st century and by then love was a scarce commodity. Soon love would be no more.

The problem was that our Captain James had fought one more war in France in 1916 and had fallen there, never to return.

And with him, he took the secret of God’s Tears to his grave. But somewhere out there, perhaps hidden on top of the Flat Iron building, there is a safe which contains a bottle where all the love in the world is stored – waiting to be uncorked.

It just needs to be found.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

Me and Buzz and Skinny Dippin’

towere

What can you say about your bestest pal in this whole wide world, when he gets arrested for being nake-it in the middle of town? ‘Not much’, is what the judge said.

“You were standing there, in front of the preacher and his good wife, nake-it as the day you were born. What have you got to say for yourself?”

Buzz was thinking that because of his natural good looks and the ‘great body he’d been given by God’, that the sight of his nake-it-ness probably overwhelmed the townsfolk.

“I guess I’m just too damn pretty to be walkin’ about with no britches on.”

Well that did it, the judge said that Buzz was to knock every door in town and apologize for standin’ in front of them like the day he was born.

One or two of them said they had missed the whole darn thing and could Buzz step inside to their homes and stand nake-it for them so that they could be just as upset as the rest of the townsfolk. The stupid thing is, I think Buzz did it.

You see, the summer that Buzz wanted to start Skinny-dippin’ just happened to be the summer when all the creeks dried up. Sometimes Buzz can be a truly crazy person and maybe, just maybe, he had chosen that summer so he could complain about the bone-dry creeks. It’s what he does.

Anyhoo, there weren’t no water in the creeks to go skinny dippin’, so that was when Buzz suggested that we might use the water tower which stood next to Mrs McGonigal’s Eatin’ Room and Entertainments. I asked the grown ups what kinda ‘entertainment’ that Mrs McGonigal laid on but they always changed the subject and one time, the preacher nearly choked on his biscuits and gravy. So I stopped askin’.

The water tower was higher than the church clock – so you can see it was pretty high and you had to climb up a real shaky ladder. Buzz suggested on the mornin’ of one extra hot day that we should get up real early and climb the tower, that way no one would see us and we could stay up there all day. The Sheriff had said it was agin’ the law to go swimmin’ in the tower on account that it was the water that folks used for drinkin’ and such and also because Cross-Eyed Larry had pee’d in it one time.

So we did what Buzz said and sneaked up the ladder real early. It was real hot, so that the water didn’t cool us down that much – but boy it was fun, especially being nake-it and all.

Inside the tower there was a small ledge and if you crawled up to it, you could jump and dive and do just about everything into the water. Back flips and front flips and such.

Of course we couldn’t come down until it got dark, so I guess me and Buzz did pee in the water, now and again’. I’m just sayin’, is all.

Late in the afternoon we could hear a band coming down the street, apparently the preacher’s wife had organized a parade for her son, ‘cause he’d memorized the whole of the Good Book or somethin’. I ain’t critizing but a whole parade. I mean.

Anyway, me and Buzz decided to jump from the ledge together and somehow we hit the bottom of the water tower real hard and kinda went through the tower. And where we’d made holes, well the water kinda started leaking through, and we could hear the screams from those getting wet below us.

Then I looked at Buzz and he looked at me and that was the last thing we did before we both fell through the tower and landed nake-it right in front of the townsfolk. Buzz managed to land on top of the preacher’s boy which had the preachers wife shoutin’ and hollerin’ about how these nake-it boys had killed her beautiful son.

You’re saying, I suppose, that I forgot to mention about me being nake-it and all – and what happened to me, exactly?

Well, I told the preacher that I had been trying to baptize Buzz on account of his bad ways an’ all, and that with the creeks being dry, the water tower was the only place to do it – don’t ask me where that all came from – I ain’t got a clue. Anyhoo, for some reason they let me go and decided that Buzz was the guilty one.

Go figure.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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Be Happy, Pal

happy

Be happy, pal,

Don’t just

Smile for others

The years are eaten up that way,

And the emptiness will lie beyond

When those you smile to

Go away.

 

I know you’re young

And won’t have time

To understand what I have to say  –

Just don’t

Sell your soul

For the sake of others

Accept yourself in every way.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

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Me and Buzz and Runnin’ For President

FRIENDS

I guess it all seems kinda obvious now knowin’ what Buzz was gonna become – but back then, we didn’t have no idea, I kid you not.

When Buzz told me that as a good lookin’ kid it was probably beholdin’ to him to run for office. I was thinkin’ that Buzz had surely gone a bit crazy like. But then I was always thinkin’ things like that about my best pal.

“I’m considerin’ runnin’ for Class President,” he said without any warnin’ and which accounted for the fact that I dropped my cola.

“And you is gonna be my manager,” he said slappin’ me on the back as it was an honor.

Now I ain’t sure what a ‘crazy-kid-runnin’-for-president’ manager did exactly but I knew I’d probably find out real quick and it would probably mean a lot of work.

On the way back home from school, Buzz started to kiss mothers and their babies. One or two of them were takin’ by surprise but most of them tried to chase him away. One hit him with her umbrella and said she was hollerin’ for Sheriff McDonald, oh thank you Jesus. Well that’s what she said.

By the time Buzz got home, his Mom had a line of people around to complain’ that her son was a baby-kissin’ idiot. I guess that being a manager might be harder than I thought.

When we got back to school the next mornin’, I thought I was talkin’ to Buzz but I found I was talkin’ to myself and that Buzz was standin’ on an old wooden crate and was tellin’ folks to gather round as he had somethin’ important to tell them. When the folks found out that it wasn’t a party most of them just skedaddled.

“My fellow Americans,” he shouted to the three kids who were left and then he went on about when he was class president he would make sure that everyone got free soda. When Amy, who was seven years of age, asked him how. He said he’d get back to her on that point and she seemed happy enough with that answer. Maybe getting Buzz elected wasn’t gonna be that difficult after all.

Just before the bell, Buzz disappeared from class. He just got up and walked out, sayin’ to Teach that he had important work to do. When the Principal dragged him back about ten minutes later by his ear, it was because he had gone around all the classes and shook peoples’ hands even although they were in the middle of lessons. Even as the teachers were throwin’ him outta class, he still tried to make a speech.

The popular front-runner of the campaign was Jason Heart, a tall, skinny kid who was tellin’ folks that he was committed to helpin’ everyone in school and that Buzz should just be plain committed. Well that kinda talk don’t help anyone, in my book and I told Jason as much.

It was at our darkest hour that Buzz’s Maw came up with a plan. Even though she was as broke as a broke thing, she could still bake and she made cup cakes for everyone in the school (even three for Big Peggy who liked her cup cakes). Well this blew Jason Commitment outta the ball park and Buzz was elected by a land slide.

As a celebration, Buzz suggested that me and him mosey down to the ice-cream parlour and that he’d get it for free on account of him being President and all. Mister McCluskey was servin’ that day and he said, that he wasn’t one of Buzz’s ‘Fellow Americans’ thank you very much, and that we was getting’ no free ice cream either – ‘cause he’d never heard that kinda crazy talk for many a year. So we just left

Buzz only lasted as President for the rest of the week as he sold his title to Jason for a box of candy and a copy of Huckleberry Finn.

Neither of them got us any free soda. You just can’t trust politicians.

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2wee bobby

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This Year’s Love

hope

This year some people will leave your life

And new ones will enter

This year some dreams will vanish

And others, not thought of, will come out of the sun

This year you’ll make mistakes

And you’ll survive them all

This year you’ll win some things and you’ll lose some things

This year some friends will fail to understand

And some will grow to love you

This year you’ll learn a little more about yourself

Some of it you’ll like and some of it you won’t

This year perhaps you’ll cry alone

But you’ll also laugh at things you won’t explain to  others

This year some of your actions will be misunderstood

But you’ll discover that others understand in amazing ways

This year you’ll misjudge hearts and situations

And yet find more caring than you ever thought possible

This year you’ll learn to love yourself just that little bit better

And that will be all you’ll need.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

bobby2 wee bobby

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Mister Brilliant (for Lily on her birthday)

judyardeviantart

His real name was Cuthbert Dogoody but to everyone else he was simply known as Mister Brilliant.

He’d never had the easiest of lives, had Cuthbert. When he was five years of age his father ran away to sea – at least that’s what his mother had told him – the truth of the matter was that his father moved in with a young blonde lady three streets over, and the man who Cuthbert knew as the postman was actually his dad.

Cuthbert’s grandmother, Ethel (the ever ready) was a money-lender who ended up being sent to prison for her particularly difficult ways with her customers. Cuthbert’s mother told her son, that his grandmother was spending a few years trying to find the source of the River Nile. It always amazed Cuthbert, later in life, that he had believed the story and had told all the kids in his class at school about Grandma Ethel – the explorer.

His uncle, Stan the Man, who was a part-time magician and someone who Cuthbert had always looked up to (literally, he was six feet seven) died while attempting to hold his breath in a fish tank. The tank was actually in a Chinese restaurant, and Stan had attempted it as part of a bet with Shanghai Lil the owner of the establishment.

Sadie, uncle Stan’s widow, had attempted to fill Stan’s rather big shoes (he had also been a part-time clown) by looking after Cuthbert and to helping him with his life. This mostly involved Cuthbert going along on dates with Sadie and several gentlemen from the Royal Navy. Stan would sit in the corner of a bar with a cola and a packet of chips, while Sadie sat kissing some man or other.

His best friend in the whole world was Teddy who was in his class in school. Teddy was without doubt the most popular kid in the place. There wasn’t anything Teddy couldn’t do, or anyone that Teddy couldn’t charm and the one thing that Teddy always did was look after his best pal, Cuthbert. No one bullied Cuthbert, not while Teddy was about.

Teddy knew that his best bud’s father was actually the postman but it would never have crossed Teddy’s mind to ever say anything that would hurt his pal.

One afternoon on the way home from school, Teddy asked Cuthbert to be his ‘blood brother’. They cut their thumbs then mixed their blood together and that was them set for life. At least that’s what Cuthbert thought. The truth was that Teddy was taking the long way around to tell his pal, that his mother had met a man who was big in ladies’ underwear and that they were moving to somewhere called, Liverpool.

The following Monday, Teddy was gone. When Cuthbert went into school, all the folks who had been charmed by Teddy were ready to bully Cuthbert. It wasn’t pleasant, to say the least, but with a little bit of running and keeping one’s head down, Cuthbert made it to the end of his school career, relatively intact.

Cuthbert got his first job as a tea-boy in an office of an insurance firm. Cuthbert’s duties involved making the tea, coffee (for those of that persuasion), lemonade and a little whisky for Mister McCallister who was partial to that sort of thing.

Everything was going well until Seamus Hooster (of the Hooster Brothers Insurance Agency) got trampled on by a runaway giraffe one wet Tuesday in the High Street. This caused the firm to close and the folks, including Cuthbert, were all made redundant.

That was the very same day that Cuthbert came home to find that his mother had moved without leaving a forwarding address. It seemed to Cuthbert that this was the way life worked, for when a soul was down the rest of the world just jumped on top of them and kicked their heads.

Now you might think that all of these shenanigans would have meant the end of Cuthbert Dogoody – but you’d be wrong.

Cuthbert was either not like lesser men, or perhaps he was too naive to see the predicament he was in – but one day, one very early day when Cuthbert had sat up all night thinking about what to do next – he let out an exclamation of ‘A-ha!’. That was all he said: ‘A-ha’.

But it was enough, as far as Cuthbert was concerned, as it spoke a million words. At least to him.

For you see, at a very early age, Cuthbert decided that life was difficult for everyone and people didn’t need to be reminded of that. What people did need reminding of was their the possibilities. In everyone’s life (and Cuthbert was sure he meant everyone) there were bad times, good times and blooming brilliant times. At some point in the future a brilliant time would come popping up without warning.

So Cuthbert made it his life’s work to remind everyone and anyone that brilliant times were just around the corner.

If he ever met anyone down or tired he’d just talk to them about how, someday soon, brilliant times were just up ahead.

“Not long now,” he’d shout to people and they’d always call back:

“Till when, Mister Brilliant?”

“Till good things come around the corner.”

From that day onwards he was known as Mister Brilliant – because (and he was right) good times were just up the road a little, and everyone got their shot at it.

I think Mister Brilliant can see yours just coming into view, Lily.

Enjoy!

 

 

bobby stevenson 2016

photo: judyar.deviantart.com

Me and Buzz and the Geetars

guitarman_by-randymoberg

One night over by Cripple Creek when Buzz was working as a Bus Boy in Mama Leone’s Fish Factory, I went by to see how things were doing.

That place was dead, I mean real dead, I mean as dead as Jimmy Manson wanting to play quarterback after that photo of him dressed as Shirley Temple went around the team; that dead.

“S’up?” I said to old Buzz.

Buzz just looked real bored, he’d heard the door open thought it was a customer and then he had to find out it was only me. Okay, he was happy to see me an’ all but I sure wasn’t going to tip him, not like a real boney fidey customer would.

“I need money,” says Buzz to me as if that was news to anyone. “I mean real money, I wanna start a musical band with geetars and stuff.” Well that was the first I’d heard of Buzz and the geetar thing. Sometimes it is hard just to keep up with his ideas, he has so many, then he gets tired from having all these thoughts and he just goes to sleep. That’s the way it was back then, Buzz sleeping even in the middle of the day.

“You’ll be in the band too,” he says to me as if I could play something. But let’s just say it out here and now, Buzz didn’t know the first thing about any musical instrument – so who was going to play what in the band – was just a moot point.

“Buzz, we can’t play anything,” I says to him stating the obvious.

“Didn’t stop the big New York bands,” he says right back at me.

“I think, you’ll find it did, Buzz,” I says to him.

Just then the Mayor and his latest lil’ girlfriend sashayed  in to try some of Mama Leone’s fish and that was the end of our talk, especially since the Mayor was well-known as a BT in eating circles (a big tipper).

Buzz never mentioned nothin’ about the band again – least ways not for a while until the night we were sharing a soda at the railway tunnel and he says ‘I’ve bought a geetar.”

Well you could have run me over with the next cargo train bound for the coast, I was that shocked.

“You what?” I had to be sure I had heard what I had heard.

So he said he’d not really bought a guitar but found it in a dump truck right behind the old jazz club on Washington Avenue.

“Musta cost a pretty penny, that’s for sure, Hawkeye,” said Buzz. I asked him who Hawkeye was and he said:

“Why that’s your new name in the band,” he says to me without even a hint of joking in his voice.

“Hawkeye?”

“Yup and mine is Running Wolf,” he said with a, ‘I thought all this up myself’, smile on his face.

“You say some stooped things, Buzz but that has got to be the stoopidist in the history of stooopid things and that saying somethin’.”

Buzz told me if I didn’t like it that I could ‘skedaddle’ as there were plenty more fish in the sea (I guess he had been working at Mama Leone’s a little too long) and that I had never shown any signs of being a geetar player anyhoo.

So we parted pretty badly that night with me shouting “Run away, Running Wolf” and thinking it was clever at the time when it was just plain embarrassing.

The next time I saw Buzz was a couple of weeks later when he was playing his geetar on the corner of Vine and Stanford. There was one string on the geetar and he was pluckin’ it within an inch of its life. He was singing real loud to make up for the lack of music. When I say singing…..well I reckon you can work that out for yourselves.

I looked in the hat he’d placed on the sidewalk and it had a 5 bits already in it.

“Buzz,” I said.

“What?” he said.

“Who gave you the 5 bits?” I asked.

Then he looked real red in the face and I knew he’d put it there himself and it was most likely a tip from the Mayor or his latest lil’ girlfriend.

“How’s things?” I asked.

“Not good, not good at all,” he said with a real sad face. “People just keep walking by.”

So right there and then I decided to help my bestest pal in the whole world and did a lil’ monkey dance to accompany the song. Before you knows it, all the folks in town were throwing money in the hat and shouting ‘dance monkey boy, dance.”

By sundown we’d made nearly a dollar, a whole dollar just for dancin’ and singing.

As we walked up towards Cripple Creek I asked Buzz what we should do with the money and he said: “it’s going in my fund to help when I run for President of these, here United States.”

I reckon he probably will and all.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2wee bobby

painting: guitarman_by-randymoberg

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The Ballad Of The Quiet Man

man-on-bench

He said nothing, not a word ever passed his lips,
He just sat in the peace and quiet with a Mona Lisa smile,
One cold day the Angry People passed his way
All shouting about this and that and the other
They stopped and asked the quiet man if he was angry too
He said not a word and the Angry People liked that
“This man is so angry about this and that and the other, he is seething with rage”.
They shook his hand and on they went.

Then one summer’s evening the sad folks were passing by
They looked at the quiet man and then sat beside him
“This man is mourning, this man says nothing but the sadness shows upon his face”.
They wept beside the quiet man then walked on down the road

On an afternoon like any other, a stupid man was walking through as he was lost. He asked the quiet man the way to town and when he didn’t reply
The stupid man smiled and said, “I see you are as stupid as I am. ‘Tis better to say nothing and not look the fool.”
The stupid man wished his stupid brother well and continued to be lost.

Just before the start of autumn, some happy people were running and jumping and came to rest next to the quiet man
“Look here,” one shouted .”This man is so happy that he smiles in his contentment.”
And the people all cheered and carried him shoulder-high down the lane towards the town.
This happened to the quiet man more than he would have liked and once again he had to walk all the way back home.



bobby stevenson 2017

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Painted Love

love

When the flowers had all but disappeared from Clare’s garden, she had replaced them by painting roses and daffodils on a brick wall at the rear of her flower bed. There would be no beautiful smells welcoming a visitor as they walked up her path, but then there hadn’t been any visitors in such a long time – at least not since that peculiar day.

Last Spring when her car had finally given up the ghost, she had painted a newer, flashier model on the door of the garage. She stood back and smiled at what looked like the best car she had ever owned.

Sometime in November, Clare painted the downstairs’ room all in white and then, one by one, she painted each of her family members on the walls around the room. When it was finished, and she had pushed the table against the back of the room, it looked as if her family would be there for her at Christmas; all sitting at the one big table. She smiled because nothing like that had ever really happened in those days long ago. She had even painted in her grandparents and those long-remembered pals who had left this life too soon.

Clare placed plates in front of each of the painted figures, and somewhere in the attic she had found an old wind-up gramophone. There was one record – a big heavy shellac disc with a song titled ‘I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire’ and given the circumstances she had to laugh at the irony. It was meant to be played at 78 RPM but the way Clare sometimes over-wound it, it sometimes played too fast and then too slow. It made Clare smile and she sang along with it, again and again, regardless of the speed.

She painted turkey and peas and potatoes on the plates, and for her Aunty Sue (who was a vegetarian) she had painted a selection of vegetables.

Clare had conversations with all of them at the meal – not that things like that had really happened in life. At her old Christmas’ meals, everyone spoke at the same time. But hey, that was what living was about and that was what people were about. She missed them all.

Before Clare knew it, she was throwing a New Year’s Party. She asked each of her painted family to make a resolution, then she made one herself; hers was simple – it was to find a partner and settle down. Clare was sure she heard all her friends and family applaud.

‘At last’, she could hear them saying. ‘About time,’ was another.

She painted out a few ideas of partners but most of them were based on old boyfriends, and all of them completely wrong for her. Then one cold night, she found a bottle of brandy in the cellar – it must have been there years. She’d promised herself that she would only have one sip every birthday but in the end greed and loneliness got the better of her, and she drank most of the bottle.

When she awoke the next afternoon, she found that she had painted a partner on the canvas – one that she would have never gone out with in the old times. He was more exciting somehow. He was new and more than that, an undiscovered land.

She wasn’t sure if it was the hangover but she could have sworn on a Bible that he had winked at her. Later when she was having her usual daily cry at the window, she heard someone calling her name – of course she knew that was impossible, for as far she was concerned there wasn’t anyone left. She was the last woman, and probably the last human on the planet.

“Clare,” there it was again.

She turned to see her partner, her boyfriend, her lover lift himself from the painting and beckon her to come to him.

Clare stopped and a cold chill filled her blood. She realised that she had probably finally gone insane. All those years, all that time being alone – all that poor mental health.

Then she lifted-up her spirits, and she smiled to herself, realising that it didn’t really matter that much – not now – and gave her lover a kiss.

What a way to go, she thought, what a bloody brilliant way to go.

bobby stevenson 2017

Jeremiah and The Birds

birds

He wasn’t sure if he was the last man left or not. He hadn’t heard from any other living soul in about 45 full moons and Jeremiah wasn’t even sure what the current month would have been called in the old days.

It still felt warmish, so it was probably August or September. Although that didn’t mean much now, it was only when you shared events with others that the hours and days found some significance.

Jeremiah had stopped feeling lonely when the birds had arrived, the first lot had come from the north and settled in a field across the river.

Whatever had happened to the world, it had left Jeremiah and the birds to share the Earth. Jeremiah had been in the vault at the University when it had happened. He used to go down there to read or write on his lunch breaks as it was the only room where one could find real peace and quiet.

Perhaps he had been anti-social, perhaps that is why he had survived when the others had perished. His type of behaviour was a luxury – you needed other people around you to make you feel that isolation was a reward of sorts. When you were on your own there was no such thing as isolation – it just you and no one else.

When the birds had arrived, he had felt that the universe had sent him a message, that he hadn’t been forgotten – here were other creatures to keep him company. Although the birds were reluctant at first to come to his side of the river, he eventually tempted them over with seeds he had found scattered in the forest.

Once the birds felt safe on Jeremiah’s side of the river, they started to arrive in their numbers. Some built nests and raised families, then when the colder months arrived they all left and headed off in different directions. Some to the north and some to the east.

By the third year, Jeremiah looked forward to their arrival. He set up little areas to help them build their nests, he piled high the seeds he had collected through the dark winter and he sat watching the heavens for the return of his friends.

It was while he was observing a little bird pick up leaf and head off into the trees that it gave him an idea. By now the birds and their chicks had grown accustomed to Jeremiah’s presence and almost treated him like he was one of their own.

He coaxed some of the birds into a little hut he had built. They were allowed to come and go as they needed but at night they tended to settle down and sleep in the hut.

Jeremiah knew that the birds started to leave around the eighth month of the year – or what he thought was the eighth month – so he would hand feed each of the little birds in the hut. On each one he would write a note and attach it to their legs, the way people had done with pigeons in the old days. It didn’t seem to harm or disturbed the birds.

When he felt the time was right, he took the birds up to the highest hill and released them one by one. One or two returned to the hut below but most of them flew off either to the north or the east.
Jeremiah watched and hoped as his little friends flew in to the air.

On each note he had written.

‘My name is Jeremiah and I may be the last human alive. I am living three days walk from what was the big city. If you find this, write where you are on the other side of the paper as the birds will return to me, and I will come looking for you. If you know where I am, then come and find me. I am just another lost soul.’

For the rest of his years, Jeremiah watched and waited. The birds returned every year but none had another soul’s writing on their papers.

The sad thing was that a few days before Jeremiah died of a broken heart, in the forest one of his birds had built a nest on its return, too high for Jeremiah to see. On its leg was a note,

‘I am coming to look for you. Stay where you are.’ 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

 

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The Doll

woman

I can’t honestly remember who first called her, ‘The Doll’. If memory serves me well (and it usually doesn’t) I think it was her Aunt May

“You, young‘un, are the sweetest, kindest little doll, I ever did see,” she’d say, then kiss her on the lips.

So the name stuck, and although she had two more sisters (just as sweet), she was the one always called The Doll.

When she was a kid, she’d watch ‘I Dream of Jeanie’ on the television which stood in the corner of the lounge, and was never really looked at by anyone else in the family. This is probably where she got the taste for the thing that would drive her on in later years – fame.

It was all she could think of, to be as famous as Marilyn, or to be as well-dressed as Jackie. But her family weren’t the wealthiest in town, so she had to think of a way to get up there, to get her to the top.

In High School, she started ‘putting-out’ for the quarter-backs, who would take her to a party and have their way with her. The only time she would be mentioned again, was in the locker room, when they were having a show of hands on who had been there.

Somewhere along the way, she started dating the geeks, usually the ones who lived up in Lovell Drive (where the mansions were) and whose daddies ran the local industries. Their families were normally pleased to see that their sons could get a girl like her. But soon some of the parents realised that she was just working her way along the drive, and the invitations stopped.

She got what she was wishing for – kind of – when she was pointed at in school, but not in a good way. At home, she’d walk in the front door, smile and laugh through gritted teeth. If she made it to the end of a family meal, she’d then go upstairs and cry her heart away into the middle of the night.

She couldn’t understand where she was going wrong. All she wanted to happen was for folks to notice her.

In college, she started to grow into a real beauty and some of the best of the men would ask her out on a date. But they didn’t make her happy, because they couldn’t make her famous.

She started going to parties where she knew the better looking kids hung out. Many times she’d just sneak in and given how good she looked – she’d find that she’d quickly fit in. But she’d always leave her personality behind at home, and so she didn’t make the impression she felt she was due.

She thought she might be an actress and got herself an agent (not the best of men) who got her parts in stage plays, and ‘walk-ons’ in b-movies. Still, it got her a write-up in the local paper and that made her feel good about herself.

She dated a couple of older actors whom she’d met on set, and who were on the slide – acting wise. One treated her well, but wasn’t into a physical relationship, the other had a lot of money and took upon himself to beat her badly on several occasions.

It was the same week that she was released from hospital with another broken bone that she decided to head for Hollywood and the big time. She met him the first day she arrived.

She’d bumped into him as he was carrying a cup of steaming hot coffee. It burned and hurt, but she didn’t complain because she recognized him as a runner who had just won several gold medals in the Olympics. He looked good too, and she liked what she saw. They looked great together.

Within a month, she had moved in with him up in the Hills and she began to get photographed; some of them even made it into the magazines.

She could deal with his anger rages, as long as she kept getting her face seen about town. Sometimes she cried in the bath, sometimes she didn’t. She was where she was, because she wanted to be.

He told the police that the gun had gone off accidentally. It had been the one he had used in the movie, ‘The Silent Soldier’. He had been showing some close friends the gun at his mansion, and when they’d left he’d only pointed at her as a joke. He didn’t know (swear to God) it was loaded.

So in the end she got to be famous – especially at his court case when her face was splashed around the world. As the judge said in the summing up: “sometimes you got to be careful what you wish for”.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Magic

woman

“I’ve never met a person who hasn’t done some magic in their life, not one”, said my Aunt Grace, then she would give a chuckle that could light the stairs and the stars. She was the best, I mean, she was the very best.

I did not know that we came from a family of magicians. I think everyone does – you just may not know that you do. Some folks are big and flashy with their magic, and others just do the odd trick here and there and never wait for a thank you.

One morning I asked my Aunt if she’d ever seen me doing magic and she just grinned.

“Listen my little sweet pea, your first trick was being born. Simple as that. The trouble folks went to get you into this world, well, it was a ton of trouble, I’ll tell you”.

To be real honest here, that don’t sound too magical to me but I took her word on it.

“Then one day, your mother was real down, after you being born and all, and you picked that very moment to smile – well, if she didn’t do a little jig around the room. Now you ain’t gonna tell me that ain’t magic?”

Still it didn’t sound as good as pulling a rabbit out of a hat, I can tell you.

Then my Aunt continued, “there was a day when your little friend….what she called?”

“Amy,” I said.

“That’s it, Amy. She had been told her daddy wasn’t coming home and I remember you gave her the biggest hug in the world, and then you offered her all your money in your little bank, so that her father could get home.”

“I did?”

“You sure did. And sometimes you may find that you’re magic just by walking into a room. Maybe someone’s life ain’t working too well, and all it takes is you to enter a room. You might not know it, you might not see it, but you, just being you and being there might be all the magic that someone needs.”

I thought about that and I had to tell my Aunt I hadn’t noticed any of that.

She said that wasn’t the point. My Aunt said that the point was, that the when I forgot about my magic, she would be there to remind me about it. ‘Cause, you see, we all forget about our own magic. So maybe it would be a good thing for me to remind other folks when they forget.

I said that I would, even although I wasn’t too sure what magic was.

My Aunt said I was to give it time and one day I’d notice other people’s magic. She was sure of that point. She really was.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Strange Freedoms

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bowie

TOMMY

Tommy lived in a town where you had to be one thing or another. That was the way it was, that was the way it had probably always been. There was no room for neutrals, no room at all.

The folks who lived on the north side of the street gave their allegiances to the blue team and those on the south gave theirs to the green.

It was no use saying that you liked them both, or worse still, that you didn’t care about either – both of these cases got you beaten up. That was all that ever happened to Tommy, he was beaten up.

In this part of the world, for reasons that are better known to themselves, the greens went to one school and the blues went to another. Now Tommy wasn’t sure what the merits were in either system, just that he would have liked to have been friends with both, but as he already knew, that was impossible.

Both sides thought they were in the right, which meant that both sides thought that the others were wrong, and that included the folks who thought nothing about either; those folks were probably the worst according to both.

Tommy’s ma had passed away when he was barely out of nappies, and soon his father had met another woman who had caused him to move down south. Tommy stayed on in the town with his gran and granddad both of whom were neither green nor blue but just beige (if a person could be beige).

He had a lonely wee life, had Tommy, since he was a neutral and therefore was the lowest form of life, but there was one thing that made him happy and that was rock music. More importantly, David Bowie’s music.

You see, this was the year of 1973 and this was also the year of Glam Rock. Folks who weren’t trying to thump each other, were dressing up in glitter and sequins, and basically dodging folks beating them up.

When Tommy’s grandparents went to their beds, which was usually around 6pm, Tommy would put on the record, Ziggy Stardust and dress up as his hero. His hair would be red and his face was painted with his gran’s makeup – and he was the happiest boy alive.

One Saturday when the blues were marching for something and the greens were marching for something else, Tommy was left in the house because his grandparents felt that it was too dangerous for a boy to be out on the streets.

Right out in front of Tommy’s house, the blues came marching, shouting and singing from one direction, and the greens were singing, shouting and marching from the other.

Tommy hid behind the curtain to see what would occur, and that was when Tommy decided that he was fed up hiding and that he would go outside.

The blues and the greens were at what you would call, a stand-off’ snarling, and shouting abuse at each other – when suddenly they all stopped, and everything went quiet.

Tommy, all dressed up as Ziggy Stardust walked down between the two groups and started singing a song from his favourite album. In the silence some started sniggering, then there was laughter, then both sides shouted, then both applauded the wee rock star.

And for a few minutes both sides sang along with wee Tommy and forgot that they were either blue or green.  And Tommy felt it was probably the best day of his life – so far.

sisters

KATIE

Katie and her sister came as a pair. They were born almost a year apart. They ended up in the same class in school when Irene (the elder of the two) was kept back and made to repeat a year.

They left school and worked in the same shop together and both went out with boys from the same street.

But for whatever reasons, they never got married – and became ‘old maids’ as some folks would say unkindly.

It was in Katie’s 70th year, and Irene’s 71st, when the younger girl noticed the changes in her sister. Irene began to forget things, (as did Katie) but it sometimes meant Irene leaving a stove or a kettle burning away. Then Irene started to imagine things and people (and they were things that Katie wasn’t able to see and share). Then Irene started to walk about at night and sometimes leave the house which meant that Katie had to go out into the dark and follow her, finally bringing her sister home.

The doctor grew concerned about Irene and told Katie that she must be prepared for Irene to go into hospital. So one night, on Irene’s final night in the house. Katie dressed up as one of Irene’s imaginary friends and she laid a pot of tea out on the table and Irene served sandwiches to everyone. Then in the dark they went for a walk, with Irene and all her friends. Irene and Katie sat at the edge of the forest watching the sun come up and Katie watched Irene have her final sleep on the outside.

space

MARCUS

Five…four…three…two…one…

Then the school bell would ring for freedom that would last the entire summer. Marcus loved all those days that lay ahead – sunshine and heat in the hills of his childhood, and on the very hot days, the trips to the seaside – ice creams and fish and chips.
He used to lie next to the little beached fishing boats on the front at Hasting and stare at the blueness of the sky and wonder what it looked like from the other side.

And now he knew.

His life had been all rocket science, finishing up with him becoming an astro-engineer; a man who would spend too long away from his family, but he had to admit he loved it up here. Out in space – on the European station – several hundred kilometres above his home.

The Project Manager had asked him and the Bulgarian – Androv to check the pipe flow – it had a habit of closing down when the pipes went into the side away from the sun. But Androv had been in sick bay and Marcus had decided to check the pipes himself.

The fail-safe attachment had severed. He had no idea why. As soon as they noticed he was gone they would sound the ‘man-overboard’ alarm.

But it would probably be too late by then, and as he drifted further into deep space, he felt a peace and freedom that he hadn’t tasted since the days of the school bell.

window

SADIE
Her friends were always there waiting on her. Sadie would stand on her bed and lean out the window, and below her window were her three best pals in the whole wide world.

Annie was the beauty – she would probably be a matinée idol and then there was Celia, who would definitely win a Gold medal at the Olympics. Sasha was the brainy one, the one who said that one day she would be a great doctor.

Sasha could whistle the loudest, so she always stuck two fingers in her mouth and alerted Sadie that the gang were ready to enjoy another day together.

Those were the best days of her life. She was sure there had been other days just as enjoyable – days when she had been a mother or even a grandmother, but she couldn’t remember those days at all.

But for the time being, Sadie waved to her pals below and shouted that she would be down in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. She always said those words, and her pals always laughed.

Just then the nurse came into Sadie’s room.

“What are you doing standing on your bed, Mrs Jenkins. How many times have I told you not to lean out the window,” said the nurse.

“But my pals, are waiting,” said Sadie.

“Well they are just going to have to wait a bit longer”.

And the nurse gave Sadie her medication which sent her to sleep, and in her sleep Sadie would leave the old folks’ home and join Sasha, Celia and Annie below for a day of fun and freedom.

robber

HENRY
His auntie used to ruffle Henry’s hair when he was about five, then put her massive hand underneath his chin and force his cheeks together to make him smile.

“Aggie, your boy, your little Henry is a worrier. He was born worrying and he’ll probably die worrying,” said an auntie who meant well.

But she had been right, Henry had never known a day when he wasn’t worried about one thing or another. He was always sure the sky was going to fall on his head.

He worried at night that his house had been built on top of a coal mine and that one dark evening he would be swallowed up.

Worrying became his friend, and it was a friend that he would be lost without.
It was on the day of his 61st birthday that he entered the bank to withdraw money to buy himself a present. He never kept money in the house just in case it was stolen.

Henry didn’t see the bank robber at the other end of the building but he did feel the bullet as it entered his chest and exited his back.

As Henry fell to the ground, he could see the blood – and felt satisfied that all his worrying hadn’t been in vain. And as the darkness came over him, he could feel a kind of warmth and freedom in his dying. He had nothing left to worry about now and that was just dandy.

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Beautifully Broken

Photograph of children playing in the street taken through a window [1949-54] Nigel Henderson 1917-1985 The papers were acquired by the Tate Archive from Janet Henderson and the Henderson family in 1992. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/TGA-9211-9-6-92-1

Sara stepped out the front door with an artificial spring in her step. Whatever happened in life, you had to turn up and shut up; her grandfather had taught her that. Her daughter, Willow, ran down the stairs and caught her mother’s hand as they stepped into the world. Sara didn’t know, as the two of them walked up the street, that her seven-year-old daughter had lain awake last night listening to her mother sobbing. Willow held her mother’s hand even more tightly than she did yesterday.

Across the road in number 17, Eric watched the lovely mother and daughter skip up the street: oh, to be that happy, he thought. Eric waved to his wife as she left to start the first of her four cleaning jobs that day. She had to work all the hours she could, now that his hip had grown more painful. He could still climb up to the attic when the house was empty and those steps were like a stairway to heaven. Up there he could try on the dresses and the high-heel shoes, and in the mirror, he didn’t see Eric but the beautiful Titania. What harm was he doing? He felt certain that God would understand.

Helen did what she always did at this time every morning: she would eat her breakfast and watch the world go by from her window. She had stopped putting milk in with the corn flakes, and had gone straight to drowning them in vodka. It gave her a warmth and glow that porridge had once done. She knew that by 10am the sun would be shining in her head no matter what the weather was outside. Passing folks would wave at Helen – the smiling happy lady who sat looking from her window at number five.

Kelly smiled at the mirror. She had to get the first smile right. It had to look natural, welcoming, and loving. She didn’t want her eyes to give the game away. She had to get it correct, for her sake and for his. He wouldn’t be coming home for another week but every spare minute she had, was spent practising that smile. It had been his third tour of duty in Afghanistan when it had happened. She told herself that she had married the man, a brave soul with a good heart and not the legs – the ones he had left in another country.

Sandy walked to the shop to get a newspaper, one that he knew he wouldn’t read. Newspapers only sold misery and lies anyway. What was really important was the fact, that if he made it there and back without stepping on a crack in the pavement – then he wasn’t a failure and his wife was wrong.

Katie watched Sandy through her dirty window. She wanted to tell him that he was married to the wrong woman, and that she could love him much better than that wife of his. Somehow Katie’s life had passed her by as she had nursed her long-gone mother. It was probably too late to say to Sandy, she thought. Then she heard the voice calling on her again and she wondered if she was going the same way as her mother and grandmother.

Another morning was almost over in the street of the beautifully broken, and up and down  the road the silence was almost deafening.

bobby stevenson 2017

Photograph of children playing in the street taken through a window [1949-54] Nigel Henderson 1917-1985 The papers were acquired by the Tate Archive from Janet Henderson and the Henderson family in 1992. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/TGA-9211-9-6-92-1

Skiing In Central Park

guggen

I don’t think there was a precise time when you could say that they actually met; instead it would be more accurate to say that they rubbed against each other’s lives from the moment they were born.

Kitty and Jethro were born in the same week to families who lived next door to each other. They grew up together, sat in the same school rooms, and had the same good and bad teachers.

When one of them missed school due to ill-health, the other couldn’t rest until they were back together.

It was inevitable that one day they would start to see each other in a differing light. One evening Jethro looked at Kitty and saw, not a little friend who needed to be rescued, but a beautiful young girl who needed to be held. And one summer’s day, instead of a little boy who always needed his nose wiped or his tears dried, Kitty saw a strong upstanding boy who she could think of perhaps marrying, one day.

Jethro spent a long time away in the army when the government felt that he was needed, and in those times apart (it seems strange to anyone who has not experienced it) she fell more in love with him than she could put into words.

Their wedding was in the little chapel just north of the town’s river and everyone turned up – it was said that the sheriff allowed his prisoners to also attend and even ‘though the sheriff got real drunk that night, the prisoners locked themselves up, afterwards.

The two love birds settled down to a life in the little town that was by-passed by all the main roads, and there they got on with the business of living.

When no kids turned up, Kitty went to the doctor and found that she and Jethro just weren’t compatible – had it been with someone else both might have had children, but not in this combination. Kitty knew things could have been done to help them but they both decided that if that was the way things were, then they just get on with it.

Not having younger ones to worry about, meant they got to see a lot of the country. They drove north, south, east, and west and loved every single minute of every single day in each other’s company.

There was one crazy dream that they both shared (Kitty thinks she first read about it in a book) and it was their wish to go skiing in Central Park in New York City. Neither of them had ever been in another country but this seemed the perfect reason to go. They knew there were only the smallest of hills in the park but that didn’t put either of them off – not one bit.

Every winter they would talk about going to New York, and then before they knew it, another year had passed. They were in their sixties when Jethro started to get ill, and it meant that Kitty spent more and more time looking after him. It wasn’t a chore, she just worried about her little boy who had once lived next door to her.

One winter, just before the start of December, Jethro shut his eyes for the last time. When Kitty found herself brave enough, she started to sort out Jethro’s things. In an old jacket she found details about a savings account in the little bank at the top of street.

When she went into the bank, the young man behind the counter said:

“So you’re going skiing in New York, then?”

Kitty asked him what he meant and he told her that every week, Jethro had put a little money into the skiing account and that one day, he told him, Jethro and his wife were going to go skiing in Central Park.

Kitty counted the money and there was enough to get her to fly to New York and a little over to help a young family who lived next door.

When she got to New York it was September, in fact the hottest month since records began – so skiing was out the question. That night she sat in her hotel room and talked to Jethro as she always did, and after telling him she hoped he was well where ever he was, she mentioned the lack of snow. It was just then that a TV show came on about the Guggenheim Museum in New York and it gave her an idea.

The next day she took a cab to the museum where the security man at the door looked in her bag – she told him ‘they were for her grandkids’, so he wished her a nice visit and Kitty went on her way.

When she looked up it was just as she had hoped – the inside of the Guggenheim was a path which descended from the top of the building to the bottom, in circles.

She got on an elevator to the top floor, took out her new roller-skates and before anyone could stop her, she shot down the Guggenheim path at several miles per hour.

“Can you see me, Jethro?” Kitty shouted, “can you see what I’m doing?”

And then she laughed and giggled and screamed all the way to the bottom of the path.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Just Love

love

It’s a very short life,
And an amazing one,
Full of miracles and caring,
With a universe or two, or maybe more, thrown in,
All decked out with black holes and sunsets,
And yet you chose to spend it hating,
And loathing, and hitting and shouting,
And name calling and abusing.
Whatever this is, it’s a short life,
And in your hating,
You’ve missed the greatest
Experience of your existence,
Don’t hate, just love.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Zoot and Sandy and Happiness

elephant

As always, Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were the best of pals in the whole wide world and were sitting by the river.

“You think them birds are going somewhere?” Asked Zoot to his pal.

“Why do you ask, young Zoot?” Replied Sandy in a fatherly kinda way.

“Oh, just wonderin’. Can’t help but wonder about life sometimes, that’s all.”

“You sickenin’ for somethin’?” Asked a concerned Sandy.

“Not that I know, I just wondered if those birds were lookin’ for happiness. You know they ain’t happy where they are, so maybe they fly on to somewhere else. Maybe happiness is a place.”

“Hold on one minute there, Buddy. What makes the birds happy might not make you happy. I mean, you’re a dog. Would eating seeds and berries and sitting on tree branches mean happiness to you?”

Zoot thought about it for a while.

“Why, I guess you’re right Sandy, ain’t nothin’ there that would make me happy. But maybe where there are trees and berries they’d be things to make a dog happy,too?”

“I ain’t sayin’ you’re right and I ain’t sayin’ you’re wrong. I’m just sayin’ to think about it different. Now we’re happy here sittin’ by the river and talkin’

about this and that and everythin’ else. Well ain’t we?”

“I guess,” said Zoot.

“All we got, is ourselves and the sea, and they ain’t chargin’ for that yet.”

“What about money ‘though, Sandy. Don’t that make folks happy?”

“Might do, for a short time,” said Sandy. “But then, if you’re only happy when you got money, you’re gonna have to keep getting’ money, to make you feel you’re happy. Kinda like a drug or smokin’ or stuff.”

“So money don’t make ya happy,Sandy?”

“That ain’t what I’m sayin’, bud. I’m sayin’ if you need it to make you happy then you’re never going to be truly happy.”

Zoot thought about all this for a time, then said: “What about the birds. Don’t they travel somewhere else to be happy.”

“I can’t really talk for the birds, Zoot, but if goin’ somewhere else is gonna make you happy, you really need to have been happy before you started out.”

“I don’t understand,” said Zoot.

“You might travel to another place, and ‘cause it’s new or different…”

“…or both,” added Zoot.

“Or both, you might be convinced that you’re happy ‘cause it’s not where you came from. But give it long enough and the way you’re feelin’ will sink back into your thoughts, ‘cause the new place it ain’t so new anymore…”

“..or different,” added Zoot again.

“..or different.”

“So what you’re sayin’ is, if I ain’t happy here, I ain’t gonna be happy anywhere.”

“That’s about it. ‘Cause I got you and you got me and we both got the sea, and all that makes me happy.”

“And me.”

“And you, Zoot. So be happy here and now and you’ll always be happy.”

“How do I do that Sandy?”

“Just count your blessings, Zoot. Some folks would give everythin’ just to have what you have, but when you have it every day, you sometimes take things for granted. You forget how lucky you really are.”

“Tell you what, Sandy, I’m gonna walk home and count up my blessings all the way.”

“You do that, Zoot and I’ll see ya tomorrow, same place.”

“See ya tomorrow.”

Then Zoot started countin’ all the way home.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Titanic in New York City – Annie’s Story

ship1

Wednesday April 17th, 1912 Pier 60. NY,NY.

She was born with the name, Annie Constantine and from the age of nine, she had worked tirelessly as a kitchen maid in a large house on the south coast of England.

Annie could not settle for a life in service – she gracefully rose at 4am and fell into bed at midnight, but she told herself this was not going to be forever. She had bigger ideas, she knew was going to go to the new world one day and nothing was going to stop her.

By the time she was eighteen, she had two proposals of marriage (both rejected), and two lovers who came from the overlords who lived in the floors above.

Annie had a photo of New York City pinned to the wall of the little room she shared with two other girls.

She had heard Lord Carnforth, her employer, talk about a great ship that both he and his wife were sailing aboard to the United States: The Titanic. When that name tickled her ears she knew it was destiny, she had waited for this very moment. Annie had saved her meagre wages and at last she could afford a third class ticket – one way, of course. She got one of the footmen, whom she trusted, to purchase a ticket for her while he was on a visit to his family in Southampton.

Apart from the footman, no one else knew of her plan. So on the morning before the Titanic was due to depart for New York, she packed a small valise and headed down the back path, never to return.

For her, the voyage, although being celebrated around the world, was one of monotony; the truth was she couldn’t wait to get started in her new country, to begin her new life.

She had been in contact with an old friend, Sarah, who had met a ‘Yankee’ while she was appearing on the music hall in London’s Haymarket. Sarah had married her gentleman caller and they had both moved into a small apartment in Harlem.

Sarah was there to meet and greet her friend, and all the way on the trolley north, Sarah talked non-stop about her new life in a great city. Annie didn’t hear most of it, as she could not help herself but constantly look at the wondrous views from the window of the trolley; it was 1912 and Annie Constantine was at the centre of the new world.

The plan was for Annie to live with Sarah until she could stand on her own two feet. However this plan fell apart.  After three days Annie was working harder than ever, cooking for Sara and her ‘Yankee’. Cleaning, and fetching the groceries, she was more exhausted than she had been at the big house.

So once again, Annie got up early one morning, took several dollars from her Sarah’s saving’s box (Annie reckoned she had earned it, but swore to replace it one day) and took a train west.

Within in a month, she found herself at the end of the line, and decided that she would settle in California and see how things went. In the sun and far from the drudgery of a maid’s work, she blossomed into a beauty. This didn’t go unnoticed, especially with one, Max Sennett who had opened up the Keystone Movie Company.

Annie had to be honest, the first couple of one-reelers she made as the heroine were terrible, but Max had faith in her and it paid off. By the following year, Annie was the studio’s number one star and had started to work with a young English actor by the name of Charlie Chaplin.

Annie couldn’t see Charlie’s little tramp character having any sort of appeal and subsequently, Charlie was dismissed and returned to England to work in a factory – he never made another movie.

By 1920, Annie (now named Ann Silver) was the biggest light in the firmament and was commanding several thousand dollars a movie. She married for the fourth time in 1925, having given birth to two sons and two daughters by her previous three husbands.

In 1929, it was decided that Ann’s movie, ‘The Little Honey Girl’ would be the first talking picture – it had been a choice between her and Al Jolson’s ’The Jazz Singer’ but Ann’s looks and popularity won the day. Ann’s voice seduced the crowds once again, and in even more numbers.

When she married for a sixth time, she built a little house on the island of Catalina, a few miles off the California coast. It was while she was sailing there one afternoon, that her ship (which she had named The Titanic after the one which had brought her to a new life) sank with all hands. Her body was never recovered. 

 

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If It Ever Gets Too Dark

If it ever gets too dark for you

I’ll light a match and let you see

Your first few steps, to get you on your way.

If it ever gets too dark for you

I’ll place a candle in the window

From which you can find your way back home.

If it ever gets too dark for you

I’ll be the Moon to show you that

It’s only shadows that you fear.

If it ever gets too dark for you

I’ll be the Sun to warm your eyes

And show you that there’s a path ahead

Which will take you where you need.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Coming Home

shoreham

When he stepped from the train, there was still a heat in the air. He could smell the fields, and the soil and as he looked across the platform he was sure he could see his father walking up to the station to meet him. But like everything else in his life, they were all gone, a long time ago.

He’d been back for his father’s death, of course, and he had thought about all the things they would say to each other in the final hours – but his father had slipped away with only a smile and quiet squeeze of his son’s hand.

He lifted his rucksack over his shoulder and headed down the stairs to Station Road. Things were still very much the same. The road was a little newer, and the hedges looked a little different from what he remembered, but it was still home. In the field he could imagine his mother waving back from all those years ago. Smiling, and alive, not touched by the bad ending.

He could see a light in the window of the Rectory. There would be a new vicar living there now – one he didn’t know. He had lived through three vicars, and all of them had helped him at difficult times in his life. Whatever was said, the village needed a church and a vicar. It was somewhere to be thought of as special.

As he turned the corner, he held his breath. There was the Old George – with maybe a little more painted makeup, a little more front but still the same old place. He and his pals had drunk there, perhaps a little earlier than the law would have allowed but that was life in a small village. There had been a family who had owned it for as long as he could remember. It was easy to forget, as a child running in and out of the place, that it was someone’s home as well as a bar.

As he passed by, there was a couple of walkers sitting enjoying an ale, and so he stopped and watched. The Old George had been inviting folks to sit and rest for a long, long time now; the farmers, the bikers, the musicians, the Morris dancers, all had sat and supped; all had talked about their lives and loves, all had discussed their troubles – all were gone now.

The church gate was still as he had remembered that day when it had been decked with flowers for his sister’s wedding. Her body lay in the church yard now – it had done for some seventeen years.

He turned past Church Cottages and into Church Street – he was sure he remembered a shop in that street, but his memory came and went these days. It was hard to be sure of what had been, and what was the tainted memories of an old man.

As he walked down the street, he could see the dying sun reflecting on the river, and it made him feel the way it always had. It made him feel warm inside, just like a good whisky.  He had sat by the river, man and boy, and it had been the one constant in his life.

There were two children trying to catch fish from the bridge, just like he had done back then, and like him, the kids were pulling up empty hooks. But it was the comradeship, the feeling of safety, the feeling of a village watching over you while you fished that had kept him happy as a child. Nowhere else in the world had he ever felt as safe and happy as he had on those days as a boy sitting on the bridge – fishing.

The sun had seemed warmer and brighter back then. Probably another trick of his old mind. He turned to look back at where the Rising Sun pub had been. Some nights he would sit by the river waiting on his father to come out of the ‘Sun and bring him a lemonade.

“Cheers, dad,” he’d say and his dad would ruffle his hair. Just to do that once again, he thought – just once.

There were folks eating outside the King’s Arms – a new generation of people from London and all the areas in between, having a day in the country. That was the village’s life blood – visitors, it kept the pubs and the world turning.

The school – ah, the school. That was where his happy, happy, childhood had been formed – where his friendships had been forged. It had been the best of days and nothing in his later life was ever as brilliant.

He turned the corner into the High Street – the Royal Oak pub, where his grandparents had met their friends on a Friday night, was a beautiful private house now. He supposed that people didn’t meet in pubs anymore, the way they once did, there were other ways to socialise now. The Oak had been the first pub he had been taken to, and it had been by his granddad who had bought him his first beer. Boy, it had tasted good, and he licked his lips like he had done all those years ago.

Up ahead, he could see the Two Brewers. It had changed, it was a sophisticated bar/restaurant now, back then it was where all the bad boys and girls had hung out. They weren’t really bad, just young people trying to get a handle on life and enjoying themselves in the process.

As he continued along, he noticed some new houses and some revived old ones nudging the High Street. The Co-operative shop had gone – that was where his mother had worked, and his grandmother. It had been an exciting place to hang about, especially at Christmas. He could still remember the smells of that place. The wonderful, beautiful smells.

The allotments were still on the right, still bursting with colours, and plants and love. As he got to the top of Crown Road, it all came rushing back; his pals, the games, the running up and down the road – they were the best, the very best, of times.

The Crown pub hadn’t changed, either. This was where he had met the girls and his buddies in his older days. It was a beautiful pub inside and out, and as he thought back, and although his face was sporting a smile, there was still a warm tear on his cheek.

Perhaps the saddest thing is going back, going home and finding that it has changed all too much – but not this place, coming home to this place was a pleasure. It was a village that had changed little, sure the people were different, and some of the buildings were painted brighter or had been pulled down – but the village was still the village.

He thought he might head over to the school field and look at place where he had scored that goal – the one which folks had talked about for months. He remembered how everyone in the Royal Oak had bought him a beer because of it. He had played for the village football team but had dreamed of playing, one day, for a big London club. It wasn’t to be.

There is a saying that if you want to give God a laugh, tell him what your plans are. Nothing had worked out the way he’d hoped, but he had been luckier than most folks – he had known a place of love, life and safety. He had the happiest days of his existence in this village and perhaps the saddest days too – but folks had rallied around – everyone had helped, and in the end he had moved on and moved away.

As he walked towards the school field, he stopped and sat awhile on a bench outside the village hall. There were worse places to have lived, he thought. He looked over at the little village he had called home, and then he wept. Wept buckets.

For everything and everyone.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

 

 

 

Remembering Disneyland

The window’s opened an inch just to let the room breathe a little as the rusting setting sun is just perching on the trees across the way and peeking into my window, hitting the oleander full on. The perfume hits my nose and pinches my sadness, ‘hey kid, this is why you walk and talk, get over yourself’. A seabird screeches for a partner somewhere in the outer banks, and just then I can smell the sea, a little sour as it worms its way by stealth into the room.

Upstairs, Mrs Hack plays her husband’s jazz records and for a few minutes she can forget that he went to ‘Nam in ’65 and never came home. Oh, the sweetness of the dulling of the senses.

Across the street, as the dusk drops down bringing with it all those things which it’s known for, some kids leave the ice cream parlor screaming and hollering and remembering their almost perfect day at Disneyland, ‘if only Josey hadn’t thrown up over me’ shouts the nervous one whose eyes gave up the ghost a while back.

And so I sit and pour a drink as the sun packs up and finally leaves the room and a steel chill hits my stomach and I wonder why in all those years, I never got to go to Disneyland.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

They Came Today, The Angels

They came today, the angels,

My turn, they said, my turn,

And me, a watcher of the clouds,

Had seen them fly for years, up, up, up,

Spied through the brown glass ceilings of this old house.

Out there, they’d scratch and scrape and hunt the heavens,

In wings of gabardine and gossamer,

To search for souls, like me.

They came today, the angels,

Out of a gunpowder sky,

To tell me that this path

Had gently ended

And a new one would begin.

They came today, the angels.

And even as I turned and sighed,

I somehow always knew they would.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Words

words

Words can misfire, be misplaced or misused

Words can slice through a heart with love

Words can shrivel a hope,

Words can laugh, words can cry,

Words can dance, words can sing,

Words can destroy everything you are or ever will be

Words can fill an empty life with visions of another

Words can build walls or break them down

Words can pin your head to the pillow

Words can lift your eyes to the heavens

Words are beautiful and words are dangerous

Words are from you and words are from me.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Me and Buzz and The Beard

FRIENDS

I kinda wish someone had warned me about the day that Buzz decided to grow a beard. I met him on the way to school and he kept pointing to his face and sayin’ ‘huh’, ‘yeh’ and then nodding, real stupid like, then he would finish off with a ‘wow’ and click his fingers. He asked me what I thought and I just said, ‘yeh’ back to him but I had no idea what my pal was talkin’ about – not that there was anythin’ strange about that.

When we entered Titanic’s class, Buzz just winked at her, and pointed to his face (just in case you don’t know, we called her Titanic ‘cause we reckoned she was the iceberg that sunk that ship).

You should have seen the look on Titanic’s face, I mean you would have thought Buzz had just hit her. No one and I mean no one, winked at that teacher. Still, the newly bearded Buzz probably thought that he was a gift to the ladies.

I tried to get a real close look at Buzz’s face when we were supposed to be writing something about what we’d done at the weekend. But I couldn’t understand what particular growth he was talkin’ about.

“My beard,” said Buzz.

“Your what?”

“Looky here,” and Buzz pointed to a small hair under his nose (it may have even been growing out of his nose) and another single lonely hair under his lip. I have to tell you here and now (although I’d never tell Buzz) that my Grandma had more hair on her face than he did.

After school, we wandered down to the ice cream parlour and everyone we passed would get a ‘howdee’ from Buzz in a real low manly voice, and then he’d kinda point at his face. Most folks in town already thought Buzz was nuttier than a squirrel’s you know what.

At the parlour, Buzz pushed the door open the way his daddy would have done (that is if his daddy hadn’t disappeared all those years ago).

“Well, whatcha know? Buzz has got a beard.” I ain’t sure how Mister Trueman knew an’ all, but he seemed mighty impressed with Buzz’s facial stuff.

Buzz musta floated 10 feet up in the air when Mister Trueman said that and when he placed the ice cream in front of us, he said, “That’ll be three bits.”

“Ain’t it usually two bits,” I asked.

“Sure,” said Mister Trueman , “usually that’s the price – but now that Buzz is a man, that’s double for him.” Then he winked at me and I could see he thought the same about Buzz’s beard as I did. Buzz just said “Pay the man,” in a real deep voice like it was natural to be charged as an adult. I just gave Mister T, two bits like I usually did and he didn’t say nuthin’.

On the way home, Buzz stuck his chin in the Pastor’s face, and the Sherriff’s, and the Shelley Twins’ (who just ran off screamin’). Buzz looked at me as if to say, if you got it, you don’t ever lose it.

At school the next day, Titanic made announcement in class that none of her pupils were to go stickin’ their faces in any of the important folks’ faces around town. Everyone in the class looked at Buzz but he didn’t seem to know what the teacher meant.

After a weekend of Buzz lookin’ in every window in town and checkin’ himself out, Buzz turned up at school with a real dark growth under his nose. He looked like one of those bad guys in the movie who tie ladies to the rail tracks. When I got up close I could see he’d just painted it on his face and I had to laugh so hard, that I couldn’t stop. The tears were runnin’ down my face and as usual I thought I might wet my pants.

Buzz just winked at me, as ‘though nuthin’ was wrong. Titanic looked at Buzz and shook her head, I guess she had more important problems to deal with. I gotta say ‘though, it was a real hot that day and it weren’t long before Buzz beard started headin’ south. The next time I looked at him, I’m sure I did pee myself that time. His beard was kinda escapin’ from his face.

That night I took one of my paw’s old shavin’ razors and wrapped it up like it was new. The next day, I told Buzz that my paw had wanted him to have it, on account of him being a man and all.

So Buzz started shaving and we all got some peace.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Once Upon A Shoreham Village Fete

It happens, it happens to everyone, doesn’t it? You tell a little white lie and it blows out of all proportions, it runs away and starts a life of its own. It gains a wide circle of friends (more than you have yourself) and then the lie grows so gigantic that it sends you a postcard from somewhere. Think I’m exaggerating? Okay, maybe a little. See there I go again, lying. Perhaps in your favour you would have to say that it was done for the best of all reasons – trying to cheer people up.

If Alison hadn’t been ill that day, or at least if she hadn’t been recovering from a night out in the village, then Jane wouldn’t have had to take Alison’s place; so, if anyone was to blame it was Alison and her obvious drink problem. Okay, that’s another lie, Alison doesn’t have a drink problem. She had only been at the Mount to taste the wines, and had forgotten to stop. But the result was the same, Alison was lying in her bed promising the universe that she had drunk wine for the very, very last time in her life, and that not only was she going tee-total but she would attend church regularly and help the people of Africa – if the universe would only stop her blinking head from hurting as much as it did.

All that was beside the point, for it meant that Jane was now required to fill her best friend’s shoes. When she had agreed to help at the Fete meeting all those months ago, it hadn’t seemed like a possibility, and so Jane was happy to nod her head when they asked for a deputy for Alison. It made them sound like a couple of cowboys.

The Shoreham Village Fete was full of all the usual bits and pieces; music, vintage cars, a bar, a tea room (run by the children and their mums) and the always present ne’er-do-wells, who turned up once a year to promenade around the school ground.

To save money, in this time of austerity, the Fete committee had decided to find the big central acts for the day (those who inhabited the centre ground – literally) within the large and obvious talent of the village itself. How hard could it be to procure an act of such breath-taking ability that the village would be talking about it for weeks (or maybe just on the Monday morning)?

It was Elsa Fairweather who had opened the bid by telling the committee that she had once been a ballerina (the truth was that she’d spontaneously broken into dance during the Christmas play at school when she was acting as third shepherd – she had got fed up pointing at the Star and decided that shepherds might dance in times of boredom). She was now twenty-seven years of age and hadn’t done anything so physical for the last twenty years.

Elsa was one of those ladies who tended to get up everyone’s nose – it wasn’t what she did, or said, or in the way she acted – she just annoyed people. Every village has at least one Elsa – it is the rule. Elsa wasn’t a bad person, rather she was just someone who had got off the bus at the wrong stop.

Not to be outdone by her nemesis, Alison had said that she could tap-dance – when Elsa remarked that so could she – Alison had upped the stakes by adding that what she had meant to say, was that she could tap-dance while standing at the top of a ladder. Elsa took a little time to recoup and then opened with another bid, by saying that she could stand on her hands at the top of the ladder while singing the National Anthem.

Jane was sure she could hear Alison swearing under her breath – but there wasn’t enough time to ask her, for, by then, Jane had told the committee that she could sing all the songs from Oklahoma while tight-rope walking across the sport’s field.

Alison definitely heard Elsa say an extremely rude word out loud, and one or two of the Fete committee also heard her. Mr Grove’s face went a very tomato red as he fiddled with his cardigan buttons.

Elsa’s husband gave his wife one of those ‘here we go again’ looks and nodded to her to go to the back of the hall. Elsa and her long-suffering husband huddled together in the corner and it was difficult for Alison to hear what they were saying.

That was when Alison came up with a rather neat plan – every few seconds, she coughed, and when she did that, she used the noise to cover the rocking of her chair back a little. Although Alison thought she was being subtle, she had moved her chair back several feet (after a few coughs) and was heading towards Elsa – her less-than-subtle plan being obvious to most of those in the hall.

Never-the-less, the plan worked and Alison was sure she heard, Derek (Elsa’s husband) say ‘you cannot be serious, you know you can’t sky-dive’.

After a few minutes (which just gave Alison enough time to stand up and move her seat – less subtly – back to where it had originally been) Elsa reluctantly gave up and said that Alison should sing the songs from the musical while walking a tight-rope.  The head of the committee had asked if Alison had an understudy, and Alison had grabbed Jane’s arm and shoved it up in the air. Jane wondered what harm could it possibly do?

So, when Jane got the phone call on the Saturday morning of the Fete – it was Mrs Bacchus, the stern one who always smelled of mothballs – who had told Jane that Alison was incapacitated (some old illness she had caught on a gap-year in India, apparently) and that Jane (as her understudy) would have to take Alison’s place.

And that is why, on that sunny morning, Jane was dressed in her mother’s old tutu with a tartan umbrella for balance, and getting ready to walk a tight-rope (literally and metaphorically) at the Shoreham Village Fete.

Jane saw two things as she started the death-defying feat – when I say death-defying, Alison had originally said she would walk the rope at 20 feet above the ground (she had actually said five feet but after much tutting from Elsa, Alison had ended up agreeing to that neck breaking height). When Jane (in her tutu) started crying, the committee kept lowering the rope until it was just two feet high. Still high enough to twist an ankle, was how Jane had sold it to them.

So, with all the great and good, and ne’er-do-wells from Shoreham Village watching, Jane managed to move several feet along the rope while singing a Bay City Rollers’ song (she didn’t actually know too many proper songs – she had thought of singing ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ – until the nerves she was suffering from had actually given her that very problem).

The other thing she saw, whilst standing aloft, was Alison at the back of the crowd, (in her sunglasses) smiling. She even had the cheek to wave and stick her thumbs up. To add insult to injury, Alison mouthed the words ‘good luck’. Jane was just about to mouth a very rude word back to her when little Barry Smith twanged the rope she was standing on – causing her to suddenly fly across the bales of hay and straight into the bar, ending up with half a packet of Chorizo flavoured crisps up her nose.

There was spontaneous applause from the whole field.

The committee have asked Jane if she can repeat her act next year. Elsa is learning to sky-dive.

 

 

(The real Village Fete is on Sunday June 11th, 2017)

bobby stevenson 2017

The First Thing

Later in life, Thing would look back on those early years and wonder.

Wonder if the perfect moment of his life was back then, and if that was true – was the perfect moment the happiest?

That isn’t to say, there aren’t perfect times later in life and in some cases, it may be that a person is older when that perfect moment arises. But there are other pivotal points: your first real kiss, holding your child, going on honeymoon with your love, or being told that the x-ray was clear – but that isn’t the perfection I am referring to, I am talking about those few seconds, or minutes, or hours when all the stars are aligning at the same time and all of them are shinning directly at you.

To be honest, Thing’s perfect moment did happen back then. It came when he had circled the Sun six times, and with a few weeks left over. Thing’s mother and father had decided to take their son to see the school that Thing would be attending when the new semester began. He was the first of his kind at the school, and it was complicated by the fact that Thing hadn’t spent much time in human company. To say, as parents, that they were nervous about their child’s future was probably an understatement.

The plan was to introduce Thing to the Principal of the school and for that person, man or woman – but most definitely human – to show little Thing around the building. This exercise allowed the kids to be that little bit less stressed on their first day.

Normally several children were taken on the grand tour at a time, but because Thing was a Thing and not a person (their words, not mine) he was to be interviewed and given the tour on his own.

It turned out that the Principal was a woman, a rather large woman, by the name of Mrs Schwartz. She had a pleasant way about her, and a very deep and loud laugh. Any kind of laugh is a good noise, and so it was with the lady – she was the very essence of kindness itself.

She explained that Thing was to be their first Thing in the school, but that other schools in the county had their share of Things, and that the William Penn Elementary school was very excited at the prospect of their first Thing. Indeed, Thing was to be welcomed with open arms.

His teacher would be a young woman by the name of Edith Fallen and that she was the best of the best. Both Thing’s parents seemed to relax a little at this news.

Thing and his family were taken on a tour of the school, and at every turn there seemed to be a very great possibility of exciting work to do in the school. Thing’s cave was safe and warm but this building was full of every wonderful idea under the sun.

It was that day, that hour, that minute as Thing left to walk down the mountain-side to go to school for the very first time, that his life solidified.  Thing insisted on walking to school himself – although, his father walked a little way behind him to keep an eye on him.

Before that, however, his father and mother stood at the door of the cave and waved off their little treasure. As Thing looked back at the warmth and safety of those standing at the cave, and his own excitement at a new world just beginning – it was then, right at that split second, that Thing passed his life’s perfect moment. He wouldn’t know it at the time – but later, much later, he would come to realize that life would never ever be so perfect again.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

Adam and Eve’s Honeymoon

masks

Sometimes things just change. Not for any particular reason – at least, not one anyone can understand – but perhaps because the Universe has shifted, or a God has smiled, or someone has taken a road less travelled. But when it happens, and it will –  it makes a change, and  one that is always irreversible.

The folks we are concerned with in this story were ‘Lifers’, that is to say, they were two children who had been born, grown and lived all their lives in the chalk caves and tunnels beneath Kent. When the inevitable happened: when the enemy (and you know who, I mean) had finally lost patience with the West – they sent their less than perfect bombs over in our direction. Some fell short of their targets, some flew on into the Atlantic – but one or two of the more lethal kind, landed where they were needed.

And with that came the long-time of darkness.

Those who could do so, moved into the areas beneath their feet. They spread through the tunnels and rooms which had been used as forts to deal with the threat of Napoleon upon this little island. This subterranean land had now become the only home that anyone had ever known.

At first the elders had told stories of the lands above, at least the way it had once been. They had talked of cinemas, and churches, of burger joints and buses. They had told tales of a million and one things that the new generations, the Lifers, could only imagine – and probably not very accurately, but just enough to whet the appetites of the two of whom we speak.

Ironically these two were called Eve and Adam, perhaps that seems strange to the readers, but in those days, in those tunnels, the Bibles and God were sometimes all people had to hold on to in the dark, so children were named accordingly.

Adam and Eve wanted to marry, which, in itself, was not the strangest of requests – what was different about them, was that they wanted to spend their Honeymoon in the lands above. There were those (as inevitably there always are) who said that those lands did not exist and had never existed – that, what was in the tunnels were all that life had ever been and to say otherwise was blasphemy.

In some parts of the lands beneath, people were punished or put to death to suggest that a better life lay above.  Some folks were ever treated as insane. One man, who they called the new Marco Polo had written a book about his travels in the fantastical lands of the surface. The book changed hands secretly and for stupendously high prices -, and in most areas the book was either considered an illegal document or the crazy thoughts of a madman.

Adam and Eve had both read the book, and both had set their hearts on travelling through Polo’s journeys. There was talk of a great city above their heads, and according to the new Marco, it was known as The Angel Islington –  he wrote that had witnessed, with his own eyes, a sign which said as much.

And that is how they had found each other; through a secret group which met in long forgotten caves, and who studied the works of new Marco Polo.

To be caught attempting to move above from their sector, meant years of incarceration or being locked in the dark-room until the air ran out. Both Adam and Eve were willing to take that chance, and they felt that following the tunnels would eventually lead to an exit above.  There were also stories of folks who had tried and had spent years travelling the endless tunnels, until they died of madness or starvation. None of it was ever proved, but then stories were only used to keep folks in their place.

Eve and Adam planned to get married on the second week in the month of Abba (no one knew what the origins of the name were, but it was a favourite month to wed).  Our couple played along with the story, that for their Honeymoon they were going to travel on the rail to the large cave called Dover.

However, after the wedding and after bidding farewell to their families, they had made their way to the upper, forbidden chamber where they had stored their escape clothes. They kissed each other, held each other tight, then put on their masks.  They took one final photo – the one which they left behind for those who would come looking for them.

Nothing was ever heard from  Adam and Eve again but there are still stories about them, stories that are whispered around the tunnels, stories that bring hope and fire to cold hearts – and perhaps one day I will tell you.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

One Final Thing

thing

It was as Thing got near to the end of his time in this world, that all the confusion seemed to melt away. Sure, old age never arrived on its own (as his mother used to say). He had found it a little harder to climb and descend the mountain-side, and Thing found sleeping didn’t come as easy as it once had. His eyes were a little less sharp and his hearing failed to notice the sweet chirping of the morning birds.
 
Yet he was luckier than many. Despite his troubles, he had three things: he had always had someone as a friend, and a roof above his head, and always had food to eat. These three items should never be taken for granted, and Thing had never, ever, thought like that.
 
Thing had seen great changes in his lifetime. Folks of his type were now welcomed in public places. The children of people happily let the children of his kind play together. Thing had never thought that possible in his lifetime.
 
As he walked through the streets of the town, he noticed how more peaceful the place had become. Kids still threw stones, but they were at old tin cans or at old doors. Yet this part of the world was an exception. Thing had heard of places, where to look different got you banned from entering a town, or a city, or a country. All because of the differences – no one ever seemed to look at the similarities.
 
And Thing realized he must always be on his guard in his own home. The world still threw up people who would rather stand on top using others’ suffering, than stand beside them and help. Thing wondered if these people were born that way, or if they were made that way? A question he had never got to the bottom off.
 
If the world had been created by a God, did the God look like Thing or did the God perhaps look like the others – the humans? Did it really matter as-long-as your heart was beautiful?
 
As Thing strolled, he remembered a story his father had told him many moons before.
 
“Whether the world was created by a being or a bang, in the end it is like a bar of chocolate. At the start, we are all one – all one piece of chocolate – all made from the same ingredients. Now if you break that chocolate bar by hitting it with your elbow, it will shatter into many pieces. Every piece will look different, some might look similar but no two pieces will be the same. No matter how much you may think you are different or better or worse than the piece of chocolate next to you, you are the very same – created from the same stuff, but shattered according to the laws of mathematics, or the universe or a supreme being. All you can do is enjoy and believe in your piece. Never doubt yourself and never hurt others.”
 
And Thing had kept that story etched across his heart.
 
As he closed his eyes for the final time, Thing appreciated that the way he appeared to others said nothing about the contents of his heart. That the most beautiful of creatures sometimes held the ugliest of hearts.
 
At the end of it all, Thing had been entered into a game, which he had never invented, nor had asked to join, but had played it to the rules, to those he understood that is – and had done it to the very best that he could.
 
If, whatever or, whoever was out there was unhappy with that, it wasn’t of Thing’s doing and as the final breath left Thing, it exited a mouth with a gentile smile of contentment.
 
bobby stevenson 2017

 

The Perfect Seconds

face

It has been said that a man dies twice. Once, when his heart stops beating, and the second time, when his name is mentioned for the very last time.

It was that final point which obsessed him, especially now – when he thought of what he was going to face. The plain, raw, truth of it all.

The only anti-dote he had for his problems was sleep, and that had served him well. His father used to look life-tired and then he would mumble: ‘sleep it is a blessed thing’. He didn’t know where his father had taken the quote from, but he was right – it was the panacea for all ills.

In his sleep, he could dream and be who or whatever he chose. That was where most of his writing ideas had been born – all in the middle of his sleeping imagination.  Some days he would awake with a full story formed in his head, and it was those stories that he would live on – for in there was the real him. All those stories contained some sliver of his DNA. That is what he should be remembered for – not on what he had said.

Writing took time – spoken words were cheap.

But it had been his spoken word that had placed him in the situation he was now in. One didn’t criticize the State and hope to live to tell the tale.

Yet he would forget all of that when he was asleep. And when he would wake up, he’d hide in those precious first few seconds: ‘the perfect seconds’, he called them – when his brain was still in the half-light of sleep, and he could not remember how the world really was.

It was soon broken by that grinding thought – that one which reminded you of who had died, or who was ill, or who you owed money to – the thought that delivered all the problems in your life in one sickening blow. That was when the world would shake you awake – but for those few golden seconds when a human being first becomes conscious in the morning, those seconds were the very, very best. You remembered nothing of your existence. A little piece of paradise before being tainted by the shadows.

The man was now fully awake and those precious, perfect seconds were long gone. He could distinctly hear the crackling in the background as they powered up the electric chair.

There was a thump as they threw the switch to test the beast. It quietly hummed a little tune.

As he looked up at the damp roof, he knew that sleep would be his soon – for eternity.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Songbird

songbird

Some hearts are born to do certain tasks, and so it was with the songbird. She had been brought into the universe to sing her song so that others could hear and benefit.

Not that the songbird ever noticed, for each morning she would fly to the top of the highest tree and sing her heart out – that was the way she had been made and so it was the most natural thing for her to do.

One cold winter’s day an old woman happened to pass the tree, when she was on her way back from the cemetery where she had placed flowers on her husband’s grave. She was tired, as we all get tired and so she sat below the highest tree for a rest. She closed her eyes and wished that they would stay closed for ever so that she could meet again with her love, but then it happened – she heard the songbird and the sweet music warmed her heart to the world once more. The old woman raised herself from her rest and decided she would try another day, for one never knew what was around the next corner.

The snows soon melted and the winter became the spring and still the songbird sang her tunes. One afternoon as the flowers were coming to life, a fearful lad from the next village was on his way to meet his love. He stopped below the tree to think about the love of his life and of all the things he wanted to say but was afraid. Then the songbird sang her song and the lad realized that the world was a world of once chances and that if he didn’t tell his love now, he may never get another. He skipped to his love’s house whistling the tune of the songbird and spilled his heart out.

A child from several mountains over was struck with an illness and the only doctor who could help the poor child lived over the tops of several mountains the other way.  So her father carried the child over mountain, down valley and over the next mountain until he was so crippled in pain he could not go on. By chance he happened to sit beneath the highest tree just as the songbird started to sing and as he rested, he realized if there was that much beauty in the world then he could carry his sick child the rest of the way to the doctor.

And so the songbird sang and sang and helped each and every one who passed the tree.

The next year when the warm winds came to the hills, the songbird gave birth to her own little songbird. She had waited all her life for such an event. She would fly into the forest and bring back food, singing her tunes and she knew that one day, her own little songbird would sing a tune of their own.

One day when the songbird was out looking for food, a wind came and blew so hard that the little nest and her baby were blown down from the highest tree.

When the songbird returned to her tree, she saw her little one lying on the forest floor, eyes closed and no longer breathing.

That was when it happened, the songbird lost her song. She could no longer sing, there was nothing wrong with her just that her heart no longer wanted to – and so the forest became quiet.

When the old woman heard of the troubles of the songbird and how she had lost her song, she decided to visit the little bird. She sat with the songbird and caressed her and thanked her for all her songs.

Then a strange thing happened, the songbird let out one note – one pure and beautiful note. The old woman told the lad who was once fearful and he too visited the songbird, and thanked her for her tunes and suddenly the songbird sang another, different beautiful note.

And so it was that all the people who the songbird had helped came to visit, and each brought a musical note back to the songbird.

And although it took some time and perhaps the tunes were not as heartfelt as they once were, the songbird was able to sing again and the universe smiled.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Me and Buzz and Flyin’

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The first time that me and Buzz attempted to fly, Buzz broke his arm in two places: in the yard and on the driveway. Yeh, Buzz didn’t think that joke was funny either. Now you’re going back to read it again in case you missed something ‘cause you didn’t think it was so funny.

The truth of the matter is that Buzz’s arm was good and busted all because he tried to fly from the roof of my house to the roof of Mister Huckerby’s.

Mister H was the man who ate children or so the story went. We’d tried to have a look in his windows but he always kept all his curtains closed except for the attic windows and they were too high to get at, unless you got on to his roof.

“I know what I’ll do, I’ll fly” was Buzz’s suggestion, with a real proud look on his face. He had thought of it all by himself.

“You’ll fly to the top of Mister H’s house?”

“Yep!”

“What you gonna use, a jet pack?”

“Nope, I’ve already thought of this. I’ll find a place that’s higher than the Child-eater’s and I glide over and land on his roof.”

If Buzz really thought about this all by himself then I’m sure the world is coming to an end or he ain’t tellin’ the whole truth. He’s probably seen the whole thing on Scooby Doo or something.

There never was any proof that Mister H was actually eating any kids on account that no one had disappeared or anything but that didn’t stop the stories. You know how it is? You get the rep for eating kids and it just doesn’t go away. I mean Buzz has got a rep for being really stupid but I have to tell you, he worked really hard at that rep and deserves it.

I’m making this all sound as if Buzz had come up with an idea that was as reliable as the day is long. To be honest he had several other really bad ideas. Last Easter, he tried to climb up the pipes to Mister H’s roof but there was a bird’s nest about three-quarter ways up and those little kiddy birds started peckin’ at Buzz’s face. You know Buzz hates anyone touchin’ his face so he tried to shoo them away and that’s when he let go. Luckily he fell into a bush and didn’t do any real damage although the pipe was hanging at a weird angle.

Around June time, Buzz tried to lasso a rope around one of Mister H’s chimneys. He got the rope on to one of the corner ones – the kind that crash to the ground real hard when you pull on them, especially with a boy and a rope hanging off them.

You could say Buzz escaped with his life, which is more than can be said for Mister Huckerby’s pride and joy, his car. It was all smashed up. I think he thinks that the street was hit with a tornado that day.

I guess I never really asked Buzz until just now what he was going to do when he landed on the roof. Was he gonna rescue the kids? Or what?

“I’m gonna look in that attic window.”

“Then what?”

“Not sure.”

Buzz strapped a kite to each arm and he reckoned this was gonna let him glide from our roof and across the street.

“Even if you do make his roof Buzz, how are you gonna get down?”

“Fly.”

Ain’t it just dandy how the world and even the laws of physics belong to the really stupid?

“Fine” I said, but by which I meant so many other things.

Buzz wanted me to stand at the front of my house when he did eventually jump. I’ve no idea what he expected me to do – catch him?

“You can help me…” he shouted.

“Navigate?” I shouted back.

“Give me directions” he shouted.

Then Buzz stood at the edge of the roof and started flappin’ his arms and I tell you, I nearly let some pee out, I laughed so hard. He just looked completely stupid. Like a bird that had its behind set alight.

He counted down and shouted that I should count with him.

“10,9,8….” He was still flappin’ and I was still keeping my legs crossed in case I pee’d again.

Then we got to zero and he jumped and what do ya know? He kinda glided, not as far as Mister H’s roof but to the tree in front of his house. That was where Buzz got stuck until we called the fire engine folks over at Toolaville. I think some of them tried to stop from laughing as well. I could see tears running down the Chief’s face.

It took us about 3 hours to free him and his wings and he was fine – surprisingly.

As for the broken arm, it was as he crossed the street and into my driveway that he stood on the skateboard and that’s when it happened. He broke his arm on the drive way, got up and then stood on the skateboard again and broke his arm again in my yard.

I swear to the almighty I had to run all the way to the toilet as I nearly pee’d myself again, what with all that laughin’.

bobby stevenson 2016

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The House of Laughter and Crying

East-Wind-over-Weehawken

Now I ain’t saying this story is true, but I ain’t saying it’s a lie neither – mainly ‘cause I don’t want to be sued by any of you folks out there. I am just saying that it is, what it is. If you push me on it, I’ll just have to say that it’s the rabid memory of an old man, and leave it at that.

So let me start the story by telling you about the house.

From the outside, it weren’t nothing special, just a little old place built in the early 1820s to show the folks of the town just how well, Samuel P. Northbody was doing in his business. However, Samuel spent so long accruing money that he never got to finding love (except the love of the dollar, that is) and so the house fell into disrepair for a time when Mr. Northbody went to where rich people go after they die. I heard some folks say that place was New Jersey, but I’m thinking that’s just plain cruel.

Apart from the occasional snake, the house wasn’t visited by anything or anyone in particular until a crowd of soldiers hid in the house for two weeks. That would be during the Civil War of these United States when brother fought brother.

Now I ain’t too sure if the soldiers were Northerners returning home, or Southerners going in the opposite direction, but whoever they were, they took to hiding while the other side was camped right outside – I kid you not. How they never got caught,well only the big man in the sky knows the answer to that. Folks only found out they’d been there, ‘cause one of the soldiers (and by soldier, I mean a fifteen-year-old boy) had left a notebook behind.

Now here’s where things start to take a crazy turn. It was said that John Wilkes Booth hid out in the house after he shot (and killed) President Lincoln. Booth had broken his leg when jumping from Lincoln’s box at the theatre on to the stage. Booth then got some help from a Doctor Mudd, who never told the authorities about the killer’s whereabouts. I reckon that’s why some folks say ‘your name is Mudd’, even to these days.

Apparently Booth hid in the house for three days and nights, while the army folks were looking up and down the land trying to catch him.

I thinking that maybe there is something about this house that makes it a sanctuary for a person – and not necessarily for the good souls, either.

But the story I want to tell you is a lot later than that last one. This story took place in the late 1970s, when I was living in the house after it became a sort of hotel. It was known, locally, as Mrs Johnstone Home for Businessmen (guess she wasn’t thinking there might be business women too). We folks around here had always known it as the ‘House of Laughter and Crying’, and I ain’t exactly sure why that was.

I had been helping out my uncle build a barn, a big one out by the creek, and earning some money before I went off to college. My uncle was sleeping under the sky and my Ma, thought it better if I slept in a real bed every night, so that’s how I came to be at Mrs Johnstone’s.

But it was the man who lived in room 7, on the top floor, who used to get my curiosity excited. He never mixed with the other guests (even although sometimes that would only be me). He ate in his room, and I never really saw him coming or going.

I could tell by the way as he passed my room, and rubbed against the wall outside that he was a large built man. Probably ‘fat’ would have been a better description.

He would sometimes sing to himself as he left to go to the kitchen, or on his return to his room, and I could swear to you that it was…………………now I know this sounds real stupid like, but it sounded to me like someone impersonating Elvis.

He was real good at it, too. You’d almost think it was him. One night after I heard him singing his way to the kitchen, I hid in the cleaner’s store at the end of the corridor ‘cause I knew that if I opened the door a little I would be able to see his face.

I waited and waited. Man, it was a long time, but then I heard his heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. I heard him walk along the corridor and so I pushed the door a little, but that was when the brushes fell on top of me, which made me let out a yell and fell out the door.

I landed at the feet of the man, and I swear to you when I looked up it was………Elvis.

Elvis himself, as I live and breathe. Now remember that this is in the year 1978 and the man was apparently long dead. So if it was him – I have to ask myself, what was he doing in a little house on the corner of a street, in a little town? If it wasn’t him, then I have to apologise for all the craziness that I’ve put down on these pages.

But I swear to you, on my Grandma’s Bible, that I’m sure it was him.

The man stepped over me and continued upstairs, singing. I knew, that he knew that I knew who he was, and it so it came as no surprise, that when I went up to knock his door in the morning – the door swung open and the room was empty.

“Checked out, real early. Around 5am,” said Mrs Johnstone.

There you have it – not much of a story, I grant you, but it’s had me thinking all these years.

I’ll leave it with you, and you can make of it what you will.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Choodla: London Secrets

choodla

The Start

What can I say about Choodla, that hasn’t already been said over and over again by the newspapers, the television, the judges, the police, the weird man who lives on everyone’s street, my family, my pet dog? Nothing – that’s what, nothing except I’m Choodla and no one except me can say that.

I’ve watched those stupid movies about superheroes (okay they aren’t that stupid) and then I’ve watched those stupid movies about vigilantes (okay, those aren’t that stupid either) and that is when I decided to……no, I think I’m jumping ahead here. Let’s go back to the start. Kind of.

Once upon a time, a pre-Choodla time, I was just your usual kid with dreams and stuff. Well except I was too lazy for the dreams and didn’t have enough cash for the stuff – so basically I was just a kid.  The trouble was that all those little traits followed me into adulthood. I mean I did my best to grow up – ended up over six feet tall – but those pesky little things like laziness kind of came with me. Boy that really pee’d me off but what’s a guy to do?

I had a job, or at least I had people who came and gave me money to sit in an office and work with dumb folks and dream of being somewhere else. Except you get to like the money and tell yourself you’re only staying until the storm passes over and then you’ll move on. Except you don’t – or at least it looked as if I was welded to that desk in my office – until the day they said they were rationalizing the structure of the office, and that meant I was on the street.

So now I don’t have a job but at least I don’t have to listen to dumb folks anymore and that to me was a big tick. Except I don’t have any stupid people to hand me money, so I have to do what I have always done and that is to play my guitar in the street and hope folks throw coins at me. I should have said ‘to me’ but it was more often than not ‘at me’. Hey, you get to find out that everyone’s a judge these days.

So I was playing ‘American Pie’ on my guitar for the good folks of this big city for the twentieth time that day and I still only had a few coins in the hat (ones I put there myself). When a little old man came crawling out of a side door – called himself McCafferty and said he was having a party and would I like to come. Okay, you’re thinking what I’m thinking that this man is a serial killer and probably got a bed, some tape, rope and a collection of knives to torture me slowly but I thought, being the victim of serial killing has got to be preferable to playing ‘American Pie’ one more time. You think I’m joking, you try it.

Anyway I collected my coins and hat and followed him down through a door which seemed to go down to an old unused Underground Station. Down in the old platform, of the old station (it was old) was a collection of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells that you would ever wish (or not) to meet.  McCafferty introduced me as ‘that geezer who won’t stop playing that song’ and everyone knew who he meant.

The leader wasn’t McCafferty but a big bloke called Andrew who shook my hand and asked if I thought that they we were just a bunch of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells. I said that nothing could be further from the truth, and that indeed they looked like an upstanding bunch of gentlemen …”and ladies” shouted a collection of overcoats in the corner.
Once you got over the smell, they did indeed seem interesting. One gentleman had been a professor of economics in a prestigious university but had fallen on hard times when they’d found the bank accounts.

“A mere oversight,” he said, and he hoped to re-join the world above any day soon.

Another had been something in Westminster until they caught him and he too was only waiting down here for things to get better.
The one they called ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ and who was married to whatever existed under the collection of coats had once been a star of stage and screen until he too was found to be wanting in some area or another.
They asked me what my story was and I had to be honest and say that I had just been fired from my job. As such I had probably some way to go to be as esteemed as the collection in front of me.

“Tish and tosh,” said Jumping Jack, “You look like you have a few secrets to tell.”
Apart from stealing a coin from my Grandmother’s purse I had been pretty quiet on the dishonesty side.

“We shall prise it out of you, young musician person, prise it we shall.”
I must say he looked as if he meant it, every word and that perhaps ‘prising’ meant using some instrument or other.
An extremely smelly old man said that there was one rule down here and that was ‘share and share alike’ and suddenly a giant of a man grabbed me by the ankles and held me upside down while the little coins that I had, fell out of my pocket. All of those miscreants were on those coins like rats.

When they had taken everything and anything, they said the time had arrived for me to be named. I told them quite rightly that I had a name but they said that was a name for use above, I needed one for down here in the Underground. A few of them huddled in a corner and every so often they would stop talking, look at me in a very weird way then shake their heads and go back to talking.

After what seemed a blooming eternity (enough time to sing American Pie fifty times) they came over to me and told me to kneel.
I did so hoping that whatever happened would be quick –

“Old Creature here has come up with a name and you are to be called ‘Choodla’ from now on.”

I asked why Choodla as it sounded kind of weird.
The one they called Creature said, “It is the greatest name that anyone down here can be called. It is after the Underground station we stand in.”
I said I didn’t know any stations new or old called Choodla.

“No dear boy, it is Aldwych – that is the station in which we reside. One that was closed years and years ago. And if you spell it backwards – Chywdla (well nearly backwards) you get Choodla. That sir is your name from now on.”

So here I am stuck in an Underground station in London with a bunch of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells and you’re asking how do I become a superhero?  Well you’ll just have to wait and see.

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Private War of Bobby Falkirk

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Which war he went to (and came back from), isn’t important here, it’s just important to know that Bobby came back in one piece – well almost. His head was intact, as was his body – but it was a plain and simple fact that his brain and heart didn’t really communicate that well with each other. Whose does?

Ever since he was old enough to climb trees, Bobby had always wanted to be a soldier. In Bobby’s world branches became rifles, and clumps of grass tied to his head made him invisible to the enemy. He used to invade Mister Elder’s garden on a weekly basis. Mister Elder threatened to go to the police, but nothing ever came of it and Bobby kept on invading and taking Mister Elder’s flower beds prisoner.

Every morning Bobby would ask his mother if he was old enough to join the army, and every morning she would say the same things – ‘not long now’ or ‘when you’re a little taller’. Bobby even hung upside down from trees, for hours, just to make himself that little bit taller.

As he grew up and older, Bobby could see his mother looking sadder – she knew the time was fast approaching when he son would be off to wars overseas.

Bobby had waited, as he had promised, until he was 18 years of age before he attempted to join the army. At that age he was over six-foot tall and built like a champion fighter. Bobby didn’t care if the world was ready for him, Bobby was most definitely ready to take on the world.

In all, Bobby spent ten years in the army and in that time, he saw many places, many cultures, and just as many ways to kill a man. His eyes grew tired and weary of the stench of death, and his heart grew cold and hard. By the time Bobby returned to his home, he felt like a man who belonged to no particular place. Something of himself had been destroyed and buried in those far-off lands and it made him confused, as a result.

In the ten years spent in the army his parents had died, leaving Bobby to feel that he was an orphan. He had a family while he was in the army – he had never been closer or felt more of sense of belonging than those army years, but friends had died in battle or had left.

For the first time in his life, Bobby felt totally alone. In his younger years, Bobby would sometimes travel with his uncle (really a kindly neighbour) up to St Pancras station and hotel on Euston Road. It had been falling apart for many years, but while his uncle worked on the railways, Bobby would explore the old buildings and the old hotel.

In the highest tower (and for reasons you will understand later, I am saying no more than that) Bobby found an empty room, full of cobwebs and rats. At each visit, Bobby would smuggle in little objects, pieces of wood (from which he built a seat), and some things to eat and drink. Over the next few years, it became Bobby’s home away from home. One weekend, when his uncle was taken unwell, Bobby sneaked up to the railway station and managed to get up to his den in the highest tower, unseen. He had always remembered this.

On his return from his war, Bobby had found himself with nowhere to call home, or even rest his head. It was then that he thought of his little room and wondered if it had been discovered during his absence, or if it indeed remained intact.

The station and the hotel had been transformed since last he had seen the place, and the chances didn’t look good for his den’s survival. Even the back stairs had been repainted and lit in electric light, but as he got to where the door was to his room, he found a brick wall. The entrance had been blocked.

The window to the left of the door was still in place and Bobby found he could still open it. The ledge was there and Bobby clung on to the guttering as he walked, carefully up the roof. The window to his den was still there and he managed to prise it open.

Would you believe it? Bobby’s den was still there, untouched, if a little unloved. The builders must have blocked the door and ignored the highest room in the tower. All his survival/army gear was there – even his little notebooks where he recorded all his height changes as he grew.

That night Bobby slept well, just like did when he was a kid. Tomorrow could look after itself.

It took him a minute or two to realise where he was when he awoke, as the sun shone through the window of his little room. When Bobby was ready, he went on a little walk of discovery and found that there was three other rooms next to his which had also been bricked off from the rest of the building. That was when the thought hit him – it would be possible to live up here, as long as he could come and go unseen.

He only had a little money, enough to keep him going for two or three weeks at most, and if he left the building in the dark then he should be able to survive for a while.

That first day, he ate what was left of the sandwich he had stuffed in his pocket. From up there, the highest room on Euston Road, he could see the world go by and the office workers impatiently watching the clocks on their walls. Bobby’s medication wouldn’t last more than a month or two. The army had handed him some tablets to keep his confusion under control, but in the end the self-control was down to him.

Bobby waited until past midnight before he made the walk down the ledge. He could hear the city screaming and shouting from the streets below; people with families and lives. People without the confusion that had swamped his thoughts. Would he love to be down there and normal? The thought didn’t last long as a breeze blew up and nearly knocked him from the roof. He managed to catch on to the guttering at the last moment. In that split second, he had imagined the newspaper report – ‘soldier returns from war and jumps from roof’. Bobby didn’t want that.

Bobby made it down to Euston Road and started towards Kings Cross. He went into the station and bought some chocolate to keep him going. Bobby was walking to nowhere in particular when, from the corner of his eye and across the street, he noticed a young woman being pushed about by three men. She looked to be in trouble. Bobby sped across the road.

Bobby shouted at the men. “Leave the girl alone.”
“Says who?” Asked one of the men. The one with a scar across his nose.
“Says me,” Bobby shouted back.
“Get him lads,” shouted the fat one.

At that point the three of the men threw the girl aside, making her bump her head against the wall.
It was easy for Bobby, he was fit and ready for them. He knocked two of their heads, literally together. One sparked out and one ran away. The one with the scar stood his ground and grabbed the girl by the neck.

“One move and she gets it,” he said with the girl blocking him from Bobby’s fists. Bobby rolled into a ball then quickly knocked away the man’s legs, Bobby managing to catch the girl as she was released.

Bobby stood and dragged the man by the ankles into a small lane. Bobby picked the man up and chucked him in a dump. Then Bobby returned to make sure the girl was okay.

She seemed to be okay and he found out her name was Elizabeth. She had no money, so Bobby went back and emptied the man in the dump’s wallet. He handed the money to the girl, taking her to a place where she could catch a cab. She asked his name, he told her it wasn’t important and then put her in a taxi.

Bobby could hear the station clock strike two in the morning, as he edged his way back to his den in the sky.

As he lay trying to sleep that night, Bobby wondered if everything happened for a reason. Maybe being a soldier and fighting the bad on the streets of London was why he had been put on this Earth.

Bobby, the hero? There was still a grin on his face as he fell asleep.

bobby stevenson 2016

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One Day My Friend, We’ll Soar

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One day, my friend, we’ll soar,

Far, high above these streets of darkened hearts,

We’ll tilt our wings to freedom,

And scrape the highest of the skies.

One day, my friend, we’ll soar,

Up there, all wrapped in splendid sunlight,

Riding azure blue jet streams,

Breathless with that rush of life and air.

One day, my friend, we’ll soar,

So let me take your broken body upon my back,

And both of us shall climb in painless flight,

I’ll let you rest up there a while,

But promise I’ll be back.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

That Perfect Moment

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When I was a kid, my whole world was Hell’s Kitchen. Heck, it was my whole universe too – because that part of New York City was all I needed, and to be honest it was all I ever wanted.

I was about ten years old when my brother, Archie took the photo. He had swapped one of his medal from the war for a color camera. He said it was worth it but my daddy thought he was a fool.

“You can’t eat the medal, Pa. So, what am I supposed to do with it?” Archie would say when my father tutted or cussed every time he saw the camera.

I guess he was right.

Jeez, in just writing this down I’ve just had a sad wave come over me – I’m realizing how much I miss my brother. Wishing he could come back from that place he went to, but it’s a one way ticket. That’s the bad part.

Anyways, the three girls at the back of the photo are my sisters, then there’s my cousin Irene, who you can’t see and standing next to her is Mary-Lou her best friend.

That photo was taken in that real hot summer of 1950, and everyone on our street tried their best to keep cool. I did it the only way I knew how, using the hydrant like my brother and my pa, had done before me.

Usually my eldest sister, Becky, would give me a dime for keeping them watered down, but since she found me smoking one of my brother’s cigarettes in the back yard, she was blackmailing me into doing everything.

“See if I don’t tell Pa about your smoking and all, see if I don’t”.

I couldn’t take the chance, so I had to believe her, which meant a Saturday watering was theirs for free.1950 was a lifetime ago, and I can still smell those summer days in the best city in the world.

A couple of years after the photo was taken, Mary-Lou and Irene moved into a cold-water apartment down near Washington Square. My Ma said she thought it strange that they never had any gentlemen callers around their place – but me, I like to think that the two of them were happy in their own company. Weren’t no one’s business, anyhow.

Becky went off and married a guy from the navy and they ended up living in Alaska. She keeps saying she’ll make it down one day, but I haven’t laid eyes on her in over fifty years.

My other two sisters followed my brother to that undiscovered country, and I guess I miss them all just as much.

I hung around the city doing all kinds of work, until one night I walked into a bar and heard a kid singing and then my life changed. The boy was Robert Zimmerman, and he could speak for a thousand angels. The way he used words ain’t worth thinking about. He changed his name to Dylan – after the poet – and I held on to his coat tails and followed him to the Catskills, where I still live today.

If you’ve read my writing, then you know that I’m always harping on about the perfect moments in your life. The real problem is you never get to realize what they are, until they are gone. Now ain’t that the kicker?

But that photo, that color photo taken on a camera worth a man’s medal, was probably the most perfect moment of my life – everyone I knew was laughing and healthy and as for me – well I was going to live forever.

bobby stevenson 2017

I Am So Proud Of You

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I am so proud of you,

In so many ways,

Proud of every sinew in your strained body,

Proud, that even with a fractured heart,

You can still stand and smile,

Still look the world

Straight in the face.

I am so proud of you,

For although you ached for love yourself,

You gave your away to those who needed it,

Proud that when it took everything inside

Just to get to midday,

You got there and you survived,

And  still you remembered and still you cared.

I am so proud of you,

That while you drag all that darkness with you,

You can still make it to the end of the day –

Whatever

Is at the finish of all this,

(Perhaps we’ll knock on that final door,

And no one will be there),

Just please, please remember this,

With all your heart,

I am so proud of you.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

The Last House on the Island

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My family used to live on an island, except it ain’t there anymore. Now I don’t mean my family – they’re all kicking and rocking in other places. I mean the island disappeared. Sunk.

Way, way back, in the 1600s, my family came over to the New World, and my great-great-great-great (you get the picture, it was a long time ago) grandfather saw this little island in Chesapeake Bay and said that was as far as he was going. Now from what I hear tell, everyone was saying to him that the mainland was only over the bay and then they’d be home and dry (so to speak). But he wasn’t having none of it – he said that he was staying right there on the island and no one, not even the good Lord himself was gonna move him.

That’s how my family came to live on the little island in the bay. Within a few years, some of the folks from the mainland came over because of all the fighting with the Injuns – and they settled and soon there was a few good farms on that island. The folks didn’t really need for anything.

Things went good until the Brits showed up. Said that the American people were getting a bit too high and mighty for the King’s liking, and what with not paying taxes and stuff – well we had it coming to us. My family told them that we’d all come from over there, but that wasn’t good enough for them and they burned all the houses down, arrested the kith and kin and put them in a prison in Charleston, South Carolina.

When the Redcoats got sent packing, my family moved back there and started all over again. When the Brits came back to burn down Washington DC in the early 1800s, my family were ready for them and turned them back. This time our houses stayed standing.

During the two great wars there were soldiers and marines stationed on the island just in case some foreigner should try to make it up the Potomac and get the President.

No one ever came.

And all went well right through that century, until the floods came. The sea-level started rising and the houses started getting flooded real bad. One by one, as the water level rose, folks took their families and their farming to higher places, like West Virginia.

We stayed – ours was the last house on the island. The very last.

As my family died off, they had to bury them over on the mainland, but me, I refused to go. I sat at the window of my old place and looked out on the bay that we all loved and cared for. Except it was coming to take back its own.

I’m writing this in the house and they say they are coming to tear it down tomorrow. I’m only hoping that the good Lord sees fit to take me while my home is still here.

Yours, John Wakefield, Holland Island, Chesapeake Bay.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Boy Who Was Grounded Forever

ufo

Nobody believed him.

Not then, not now, not ever, it seemed. He knew he wasn’t lying but then maybe it was all in his head. Maybe he was going the same way his grandmother had gone. She had started talking with people that Jimmy couldn’t see. People who wore dark things and sat in dark corners of his grandmother’s room.

Maybe they were there as well. I mean if his story was true, then why couldn’t his grandmother be telling the truth?

All he had been doing was taking, Harry, his dog, for a walk. They had been up at Creekmore Ridge, Harry had done what he needed to do, and then him and Jimmy ran back down the hill as fast as the two of them possibly could. Harry barked – it was his way of saying that he was with his best pal and the world was good.

They had just come around the back of the old miner’s shack when, Jimmy – and he swears on the Bible that the next bit is true – when Jimmy feels all weird and dizzy. Like he’s going to be sick, and then fall over – the way he felt when his uncle had given him that glass of hooch to drink. Jimmy had crashed out back then, and all his uncle had done was laugh. He’d said that if Jimmy told anyone, no one would believe him, as he was a kid, and uncles are uncles (as if that explained everything).

Jimmy should have known something was wrong ‘cause Harry had started barking the minute they came close to the hut. Jimmy thought it was just probably an old tramp – ‘cause sometimes they slept in the shack between rain storms. But when Jimmy looked through the wooden panels – he saw nothing.

“Be quiet there, Harry,” whispered Jimmy.

But Harry just kept on barking and barking. Then Harry ran away and he had never done anything like that before.

Suddenly Jimmy was floating – floating higher and higher and all the time he was feeling mighty dizzy. Mighty dizzy, indeed.

Then he passed out. The funny thing was, when he came to, he could hear folks talking in English. The crazy dude, with the eyes on either side of his head, told Jimmy that he would hear them speak in his own language.

Jimmy thought that maybe he’d tripped and bumped his head and that all of this was just a stupid dream. When the other dude with the eyes on the side of his head too, leaned over Jimmy and squeezed his nose real hard, Jimmy let out a scream. This told him all he wanted to know that he wasn’t in a dream. Dreams didn’t usually hurt that bad.

The strange folks asked Jimmy to sing a song and all he could think of was Happy Birthday, as he’d sang it to his little brother only last week.

The dudes smiled at him and then turned their heads to the side. Jimmy wanted to know if Harry was here, too, but the weird guys just ignored his question.

Another one of them came over with a tube of some sort and pressed it against Jimmy’s arm. That was when he passed out. The next thing he knows, it’s morning and he’s been sleeping up at the miner’s hut.

When he opens his eyes, standing over him is none other than his pa, who’s real mad. His pa grabs Jimmy by the collar and hauls him up.

He’s shouting about this and that, how his mother has been up all night believing the worst has happened to her boy. Jimmy thinks to himself that being abducted by aliens probably isn’t one of the things, his ma thought about.

It’s when his father says that Jimmy is grounded for the rest of his life, that he feels he has to tell him what really happened.

And that is why Jimmy has been grounded for two lifetimes.

Apparently that story was a bunch of old crock and if that was the best he could come up with, then he wasn’t any son of his pa’s.

So Jimmy’s thinking maybe his uncle did slip some hooch into Jimmy’s glass of milk – the drink he always had before taking Harry for a walk.

He guessed that since he was to be grounded in his room for two lifetimes, then he’d have a lot of time to think.

It was then that Jimmy’s life changed. He had decided he better check his half-drunk glass of milk beside his bed for hooch when a weird thing happened – the glass of milk appeared next to him on the table. Like it had been transported or something on Star Trek or whatever.

Jimmy sniffed the milk and it was okay – or maybe his uncle had been making hooch that don’t smell of nothing. He took a sip and nothing much happened – just good plain milk.

Jimmy looked around his room to see if there was something else he wanted – sure enough, he saw his comic book, and wished he could read it. It happened again, this time it was the book which appeared in front of Jimmy.

“Well, if that ain’t the weirdest,” said Jimmy.

His pa must have heard him, ‘cause he knocked on the door and shouted something about, Jimmy better not be enjoying himself, on account of him thinking hard about lying and stuff to his pa.

Jimmy wished his pa could just be quiet and perhaps be outside in the rain.

When Jimmy looked out the window, there was his pa standing in his pyjamas getting soaking wet in the rain.

Jimmy couldn’t help but laugh. Then it struck him that Jimmy hadn’t seen Harry since the previous night. So Jimmy thought about Harry being in his bedroom and sure enough Harry appeared sitting next to the boy.

Harry barked and Jimmy was sure that Harry was smiling, cause the next thing Jimmy knows, is that Harry and him are outside, going for a walk.

“Did you just do that? ‘Cause I don’t remember thinking that we should go for a walk.”

Jimmy looks at Harry and realizes the Harry can do the things that he can do. Every time Jimmy wishes himself back in his room, Harry wishes Jimmy out for a walk.

“Well, I’ll be,” thought Jimmy. This is going to be trouble.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Cloud Walker

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I remember reading in a newspaper once, about a family who had lost someone in the dark day of 9/11. There was nothing unique in their story, except for one comment they made. The girl said that her brother had made one last call to his home.

“Everyone was out that day,” she said. “My mother never forgave herself. I guess he only had time to make one call and then…well you know what happened. But he said something real weird. He said he was looking out the window and that he was at peace with himself. My brother, who was as normal as the day is long, said he could see a man looking up at him. A man standing outside, on the clouds. It reminded me of that Twilight Zone movie, when the guy sees the monster eating the ‘plane. Neither my Mom or Dad ever mentioned what my brother had said, but I always remembered.”

Taking what that girl had said as a starting point, I started to research the story, and sure enough, there had been many reported sightings of shadows on clouds. Shadows which looked almost human (or alien). I met a little old man from Glasgow who had lost his wife while they were on holiday in Spain. On the flight home, with his wife’s body in the hold below, he told me he had seen a figure standing on the clouds.

“At first, I thought it was her, Jeanie, my wife, but I soon realised it looked almost like an angel. That’s not to say that Jeanine wasn’t an angel – well sometimes – no, but I got the feeling it was someone or something that had come to let me know things were okay. You’re probably thinking I’m a stupid old man, that I was grieving, but I’m telling you what I saw.”

I interviewed hundreds of people; folks with no axe to grind, men and women with nothing to gain, and they all reported the same phenomenon. The figure on the clouds. The Cloud Walker.

If you’re expecting me in this short story to tell you what it is, well I think it might be better if we have a meeting someday and I’ll tell you what I think.

Next time you are on a flight to somewhere, have a look out of the window. If you see a Cloud Walker, there might be a good reason, why.

bobby stevenson 2017

Photo Copyright; Nick O’Donoghue.

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On The Right Tracks

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There is a little railway station just north of somewhere and to the east of that other place. And one time in your life, you’ll either have stood waiting on a train there or will have passed through it, I promise you.

The station wasn’t anything special, it just helped people get into the city and received their tired bodies at the end of the day. It had been built in the 1850’s and judging by the architecture, it was a statement to a country with an empire. But things change, and empires fall, and now the station just had a ticket office and a toilet.

It wasn’t small enough that people talked to each other, nor was it big enough to get lost in – it was a station of an awkward size, where people saw the same folks everyday but were standing too far away to communicate. And  so life went on as it always does.

Then one cold November, just after that thing that happened, but just before that other thing was about to occur, Jonathon Nasby came to the station as the Station Manager. Okay, all he did was sell tickets and clean the toilet but that wasn’t going to stop Jonathon – who had once dreamt he was going to be an astronaut or failing that, regenerate into Doctor Who.

At first, Jonathon (who had never been actually told to his face, that life was hard) started singing as he sold the tickets. There were those (as there are always ‘those’) who found the humming and singing a distraction, but for most, it was a little break from the hum-drum of travelling to work.

Then Jonathon started to sing as he announced what trains were going where and the ones which weren’t coming. A few faces would crack a smile while standing on the platform and possibly, one or two would forget about their troubles for a few minutes.

It wasn’t long before Jonathon was telling little stories for the folks who stood, waiting:   about how he had got the job, how he had never been picked for sports’ teams at school and how, despite everything, he felt that a Station Manager was a brilliant job and he wanted to thank everyone who had helped him.

One or two of those waiting broke into applause, and like an Oscar speech, Jonathon decided to thank everyone in his life. One morning, a note was left at the ticket office which just said ‘thank you’ and Jonathon felt that was the best note he had ever been given in his life.

In between the songs, the selling of the tickets, the cleaning of the toilet, and the little speeches, Jonathon started to write his own little stories.

One snowy day when everyone was generally feeling miserable he made this announcement:

“Good day my fellow travellers, I want you to think about your problems. I guess most of you are standing there thinking of them anyway. Now, in your head, give your problems away to someone in the station and you take their problems. Swap yours for theirs. And I know you’ve probably heard it before but I, reckon that if you could really see all their problems, you’d be screaming for your own back.”

Then Jonathon broke into his version of Bohemian Rhapsody (doing all the voices). The station became so popular that people started to change stations and leave from Jonathon’s because it made their day. It got so crowded that sometimes there wasn’t room to move.

The big chiefs on the Railway Board decided to investigate and discovered that Jonathon’s spirit and outlook was just what they needed at one of the big city stations. Soon he started to run the Jonathon Nasby School for Railway Enhancement and Entertainment.Jonathon realised that all people really wanted was someone to tell them that they were okay.

Jonathon is the Prime Minister now and of course broadcasts a song to the entire country every morning. Today the song was the Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and folks in every city, town and hamlet were heard to sing along with him.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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I Still Love You

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I

Still love you

Though

It’s been a

Long time, it’s been a

Lifetime of

 

Living without you.

Our secret moments scar the

Visions I have of anyone

Else.

 

You were everything –  a

Once chance meeting in this lonely

Universe.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Gregory

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Ever since he was little, folks had always been telling him how he should live; that he should ‘do it this way’, or ‘do it that way’, or ‘you’ll never amount to anything, not with that attitude’.

Now either, he was plum crazy (and there was always a chance that was true) or perhaps he simply walked to the beat of a different drum (judging by the rest of the folks around him, that was definitely true). Just because they couldn’t hear his tune, didn’t mean that it wasn’t playing somewhere in the air.

The problem was that he always pretended to hear their music (something, no matter how hard he tried, he simply couldn’t do) and when you fake it, he realised that they probably knew deep down that he was deaf to their tunes. So one morning, Gregory decided he didn’t care what folks thought about him, he was going to do what he’d always wanted to do and that was to fly. And like they say in the song, you ain’t never seen an elephant fly.

Did that stop him? Well kind of, until he realised that there was many ways to fly. He’d jumped off a hill and flapped his ears (just like the movie), he’d built a huge kite and strapped it to his back. Each time he crashed to the ground and the other elephants would sneer and laugh and give him one of those ‘I told you so’ looks.

And yeh, there were nights when he cried himself to sleep curled up with his big trunk, and some days he felt that maybe he was out of step with the rest of the world and wouldn’t it be easier just to tow-the-line and be an elephant. One evening he was sitting by a tree and wondering if perhaps this world wasn’t for him and that he’d go and look for another one, when a little bird called ‘Sadie’ landed next to him. Sadie wanted to know what was up with the big elephant and he told Sadie about his wish to fly. Sadie smiled and laughed ‘cause she thought that flying was the easiest thing in the world and told Gregory that she would help him, as long as he showed her how to squirt water. Gregory laughed at squirting water, since he found it the easiest thing in the world.

All its life the universe had been waiting for Sadie and Gregory to meet. They both knew a little of this and a little of that, but it was different things they knew and together, they knew everything. Then one glorious, elephant day, Gregory and Sadie built the largest flying machine they had ever seen – and okay, it looked like a nest but, hey, sometimes you just go with what you know. And as Sadie and Gregory took off and flew above the town, they could see the ones who had scolded them looking up and wondering why they hadn’t tried it. Then Gregory looked down at his home and saw his mother crying and waving and he felt brilliant and realised that you never, ever, never, ever give up; not now, not tomorrow, not ever.
bobby stevenson 2017

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This Year’s Love

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This year some people will leave your life
And new ones will enter
This year some dreams will vanish
And others, not thought of, will come out of the sun
This year you’ll make mistakes
And you’ll survive them all
This year you’ll win some things and you’ll lose some things
This year some friends will fail to understand
And some will grow to love you
This year you’ll learn a little more about yourself
Some of it you’ll like and some of it you won’t
This year perhaps you’ll cry alone
But you’ll also laugh at things you won’t explain to  others
This year some of your actions will be misunderstood
But you’ll discover that others understand in amazing ways
This year you’ll misjudge hearts and situations
And yet find more caring than you ever thought possible
This year you’ll learn to love yourself just that little bit better
And that will be all you’ll need.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Best

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Wrap up your soul from the north winds,

Turn your sweet head,

Facing the sun,

I know that those dark clouds will scare you,

But believe me,

The best is to come.

Let slip those stories they told you,

Just remember that you are the one,

Don’t let their sadness get weary,

For I tell you,

The best is to come.

Smile even ‘though it is hard work,

Cleanse weary eyes with some bright fun,

For these dark days

Will lift soon my darling

And I promise,

The best is to come.

Take strength in the ways of the old times,

When your laughter and hope can return,

Don’t stumble and fall,

Take my hand love,

For you know that the best

Is to come.

bobby stevenson 2017

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My Uncle Bertrand’s Dream

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The year we moved from the 1800s to the 1900s, was the year that my Uncle Bertrand came to town. That man was larger as life and twice as bold.

He’d made all his money in some venture in Morocco, Africa, at least that’s what they said about him – you could never tell about my uncle what was true and what wasn’t.

Except maybe that he was the kindest man who ever walked the face of the Earth. When I was down, and maybe crying, he’d find me in the back yard – he’d say:

“Robert, there are more good things in this world than bad, and there are more good people than wicked ones,” then he’d pat me on the head and smile, one of his famous smiles. That usually did it for me, and I could feel a little warmth coming back to my heart. Man, my Uncle Bertrand was good.

I ain’t sure if you can see the picture and all, but if you can – my uncle is the gentleman standing proudly next to his horseless jalopy, in front of our house. It was the only carriage in Saratoga Springs, and he’d steered it all the way up from New York City. Just in case you’re asking, the picture was taken by my good pal, David Kodak, who was always experimenting with things like that. He was going to be a scientist one day.

As for my uncle Bertrand, he was scared of nothing.

“As long as I’m breathing, my fine young nephew, I will keep on making things happen. Many times, I’ll fail, but a man who ain’t failed, ain’t lived.”

Amen to that, I say.

Then one day it happened. One sunny day, when the world was warming right through to my bones, my uncle Bertrand called at our house, and asked if it was okay to take the ‘young rascal’ – that being me – on an adventure. My mother said it was fine as long as I was back by dark and we didn’t go in that ‘godless contraption’ of his.

The thing is we did. I sat in that machine, like I was the king of everything. Man, it felt good, and my uncle steered and steered all the way to the Niagara Falls.

I mean the actual ‘Falls’ – we had lived in Saratoga Springs for ever and no one had ever taken me to see the Falls. Man they were a sight, I can tell you.

“Let’s take a walk,” said uncle.

And we walked right to the very edge of the waterfall.

“Taste that,” he said, grinning.

I wasn’t sure what it was I was supposed to taste, but I nodded any way.

“That’s the taste of freedom, and that is what is so great about living. Anyone can almost do anything and I plan to do that.”

So I asked him what he meant and he pointed out there, to the Falls.

“That,” he said. “That’s where freedom lies, I’m going to walk across the Niagara Falls on a tightrope.”

Well, if I had thought about what my Uncle Bertrand was going to say, it would not have been that, I can tell you.

So at least once a month, me and my uncle would head out to the Falls and we’d sit there and smell the freedom. And me and him would look at each other and we would understand what all this freedom meant.

One day, my uncle said to me, “Robert, I want you to promise me that if you ever have a dream, then you chase it, and chase it and beat it down until it’s got no choice but to do your bidding. Then you sit on the back of that beast and you ride it for all it’s worth. No point in being alive, otherwise. All those folks who died a long time ago and just move about until it’s official.”

That day I promised him.

It was a train that killed him, in the end.

Some cargo train from Ohio, caught my uncle and his jalopy when it got stuck on the rails at a crossing. ‘Never stood a chance’, the Sheriff said. The train just kept on riding the rails, not knowing that they’d brought my uncle down. Still, it was a kind of adventurous way to go. He would have approved, I know he would have.

So I’m writing this story in 1925 and I’ve been overseas. I’ve been to Belgium and I’ve watched people die in wars.

And maybe we all heave dreams, and maybe most of them do die or get suffocated by life. And sometimes – well sometimes, maybe you pick up another man’s dreams and carry them on.

And that’s why today I am getting ready to walk across the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Maybe I’ll make and maybe I won’t but at least I’ll have tried.

I mean, what’s the point of being alive?

bobby stevenson 2017

The Blue Way River Hotel

You know it ain’t a hotel, right? I mean let’s get that out-of-the-way from the start. Some punk years ago called it the Blue Way River Hotel as a joke and the name kinda stuck. It was a place that people stayed – some for longer than they maybe wanted to. Now, I guess you’re thinking it’s a prison or something like that. Well it ain’t and to be real truthful, it was simply the local nuthouse. Even that’s too simple an explanation for it – it was a lot of things over the hundred years that it stood in its own ugly way at the corner of Rose and Juniper.

At the start of the last century it had been used to hide people away, those who’d transgressed against the good book, if you get my drift. Then when the boys came back from fighting in Europe it had been where the ‘weak-minded’ were locked up (their words, not mine).

When a man got to looking at another man in a special way, he was taken into the Blue Way River Hotel and his brains were fried, or drugged within an inch of his life. Never changed anyone, well except that the light would be on in their heads but no one would be home.

It became a strip joint a few years ago, not that there weren’t any more people in need of a stay at the Blue Way River Hotel, just that those who run this goddamn country felt it would be better (and cheaper) if the folks could find their healing among their own (and we all know how that ended up).

But the time I want to tell you about is way long ago when people had gramophones, the good old days when it rained in winter and the sun shone in the summer. And folks respected teachers and doctors and cops. That time.

In those days, my granddaddy was a cab driver in the town – the only cab driver in town.

Let me stop you there and explain a little. The town had been going through hard times, real hard times. The Wilson’s Woodwork store had long since gone and the small factory that built ‘superior autos for superior gents’ had moved somewhere back West. People were just flat broke, although everyone tried to help everyone else, there was less and less of things to go around.

My granddaddy’s main work was to drive the town council to meetings in places far away, so that the good old boys could have a drink. Then granddaddy would drive them all home again. Sometimes he’d take the odd person to the airfield a few miles to the North. You couldn’t go anywhere real exciting from that place but it had a twice-weekly flight to the State capital and from there you could catch a seat to the big world. When my grandma was a young woman she had worked at the airfield canteen and that was where she met my granddaddy. She called him ‘Earl’ on account that he drank only Earl Grey tea and over time her name for him name stuck. His real name was Albert but somehow that sank under the weight of Earl.

They dated and fell in love and it was as quick and as simple as that. Until the day my grandma died, they were never more than a few miles or a day apart.

Now things started to get difficult for everyone in town – well every honest soul in town, that is – there were some who profited out of others misery but I’ll let the good Lord take care of them. Anyhoo, my granddaddy is starting to get less and less work and has to make ends meet by working shifts at Carter’s Emporium over on 5th.

Then my grandma took sick and it cost him everything and in the end the sickness took her away. It broke him, broke him right down the middle. He tried everything to keep going but everywhere he turned life would trip him up just because it could, I guess. His debts were growing and he had less and less to eat. So he came up with a plan. One sunny day in June he drove his taxi to the door of the Blue Way River Hotel and with the engine still running, he just got up and checked himself into that little sanctuary for the crazies (his words, not mine). Now let me tell you good and proper, he wasn’t crazy, leastways not in the way that folks are these days. He was just tired, good and simple and decided that he could hide out in the Blue Way until better days came along. He wondered why it hadn’t occurred to him before, and as he was walking up to the door, he just kept chuckling to himself.

Now how do you go to the local nuthouse and convince them that you’re in need of help?

So as he walked into the place, he shouted ‘Honey, I’m home’. I kid you not. Seems that was enough. There were whispers from the nurses about his wife passing away and his company in trouble – it’s a wonder, said one, that he wasn’t in earlier. And as my granddaddy was taking his obligatory shower, he was wondering the same.

Now I’m going to tell you exactly as it was told to me. When my granddaddy got in there, there weren’t more than two poor souls who really needed the place. The rest, about twelve people, were in there hiding for the same reasons as my granddaddy. The nuthouse really was a hotel. Now don’t look all disgusted. People need to eat and keep warm and that seemed like the only place in town to do it. However there was a little matter which my granddaddy found out early on – how do you convince the folks that you are in need of shelter ‘cause your mind is drifting, yet hold on to your sanity?

Some suckers got found out and were thrown out and told not to come back until they were really in need. Others walked a real fine line between this world and the crazy one – and one or two of them tipped into permanent madness. But my granddaddy hung on to his wits and survived in that place.

He told me a whole load of stories and I’m going to share them with you if you’ll let me. And don’t think they’re all depressing and stuff. Those folks in there lived and I mean lived every day.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Man on the Third Floor

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You can make of this story what you want. You can throw it in the fire and see if I care. All I want to do is lay down the things the way they happened, and then you can make up your own minds. I guess with stuff of this nature, maybe your mind is already made up anyway. Still I reckon you might like to read it all just the same.

Where to start?
Oh yeah – up near the old sports’ track there used to be a collection of buildings. All had about fifteen floors and all of them falling apart.

The kids who lived there were never allowed to play on the sports field, and so they would make do with a little square in the middle of the buildings.

It was here that most of the kids from the area grew up: where they made friends, where they learned the rules of all sorts of things, including life. But one aspect in particular was always a little on the strange side. If anyone was playing a team sport, say football and a disagreement arose, then the kids would say ‘ask the man on the third floor’. They said he was a lonely old guy, who had been damaged by the war, and who spent his days watching the kids from his apartment all the way up there.

“What cha say old man, was that a penalty or not?” And after a few moments someone, usually one of the kids, would shout ‘thanks’, and they would get on with the game.

I tell you this because I used to play in that square. Started around the time I was ten or so. One real hot day we were playing football and Mitch fouled young George in a real bad way.

George looked up at the third floor and asked what the old man thought. Apparently it was a foul against Mitch – I say apparently, ‘cause all the kids who I was playing with, seemed to hear him, but I got to be honest, I heard nothing.
Things like that happened all summer – the man on the third floor would make a judgement call and everyone went along with it. I just wish I could hear what he had said – just once.

The real serious thing that happened, came about in a strange way. We’d stopped for a break as we had all worked up a big thirst. That was when Mitch shouted to the man that he needed his help. I asked him what help but he told me to stay out of it. Apparently Mitch had found young George, well how can I put this? Lying down with Mitch’s sister in a sexual way and Mitch wasn’t too pleased. See, since his granddaddy had passed, Mitch was the man of the house and he wasn’t going to let something like that happen under his roof.

“What should I do about young George, here?” Mitch shouted to the man in the apartment on the third floor.
“What’s that you say? Are you sure? Okay, if that’s what you say.”
And with that Mitch drew out a knife and stabbed young George right in the heart. I mean one minute young George was having his young face warmed by the sun and the next, he was a cold as an arctic summer.

Everyone seemed to think the judgement was fair since it had come from the man on the third floor and so the rest of the guys prepared to move young George’s body out of the square.
Someone shouted up about where they should move the body and apparently they received an answer, ‘cause a couple of them shouted ‘thanks’ to the man and nodded their heads.

The whole gang helped lift away George’s body and when they asked me, I said I had to get home as my Mama was waiting. My friends accepted this and they all moved off lifting the body with them.
When it got quiet, I decided that I had to do it and go and visit the man on the third floor.

The stairs up were dark, I mean real devil dark. I got to say I wasn’t looking forward to all this. Some of the guys said, no one goes near the third floor, ‘cause anyone who does never comes back. I was willing to take that risk.
When I got to the door, I knocked – but there was no answer. Then I noticed the door could open.
“Hello,” I shouted as I pushed the door.
And do you know what I found in the apartment?
Nothing, that’s what I found. The place didn’t look as if it had been lived in for years. So who were the kids getting their instructions from?

Beats me.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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We Walked A Path Once

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We walked a path once,

You and I,

And shared some gentle time while basking in the sun,

We walked a road once,

You and I,

Fighting with the storms that blew upon our way,

We walked a highway once,

You and I,

And dealt with all the loss and hurt that fell before us,

We walked the Earth once,

You and I,

And broke with everything that Heaven threw in our direction,

But now the time has come for the parting of the ways,

And you will take one path and I will hold the other,

And we will walk the Universe,

You and I,

But with other souls as company.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

The Curious Case At Victory Mansions

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From the top of Victory Mansions, it was said that you could see the whole of the world and a few miles beyond that. Mr Edward Shrew was the owner of the highest room in the building and would sometimes charge a penny to any passer-by who wanted to see the ends of the Earth.

On a clear evening it was also the place to watch the heavens move across the sky and for that Mr Edward Shrew charged any interested parties two pennies for the pleasure.

Edward would push his clients through the smallest window in his attic and would then tell them to hold on for dear life. Three of his passers-by had slid off the roof at different times, one killing another passer-by below.

Mr Shrew used to tell the local policeman that the bodies belonged to unhappy souls who had jumped because they couldn’t take it anymore. Mr Edward Shrew always took precautions, in that he measured the width of a client’s backside in order to establish if they were small enough to fit through the window. On one occasion, Mrs Pettigrew had lied about her size and had been well and truly stuck in the window for several days. While up there, she had been hit by rain, snow and on the Tuesday night, some lightning which left her with a permanent bald patch. From that time on, Mr Shrew measured everyone.

It was on one particular bank holiday Wednesday that Professor Grand paid Mr Shrew his two pennies, Grand had his backside approved for size and then he was pushed on to the roof. Professor Grand was the leading light in the country on shiny things in the sky. If ever a person had a question on shiny things in the sky, Professor Grand was your man. And it was on that Wednesday evening that Professor Grand did something very unusual. He shouted out for the very first time in his life.

You see Professor Grand had seen something peculiar in the sky and it had surprised him. It was a shiny thing (of which he knew everything) but it was a shiny thing that blinked and winked.

“Werry, werry, strange,” said Professor Grand. “Werry strange, indeed.”
When Professor Grand was back on the safety of the street, he sent a messenger around to each of his esteemed colleagues, to arrange a meeting in order that they discuss the shiny thing that blinked and winked in the night sky.

Seven of his friends thought that it might be comet on its way to crash into the Earth. Three thought it a sign from the Heavens about something or other that they couldn’t be specific about and one thought it was the start of an alien invasion.

Professor Grand decided to refrain from coming to a conclusion until he knew more. So each evening, he would pay Mr Shrew his two pennies (an income that he was beginning to appreciate), and although he had been there the night before, Mr Shrew still insisted on measuring the professor’s posterior.

“Can’t be too careful, you might have put on some weight in the meantime, Proffy,” said Shrew.

Professor Grand hated being called ‘proffy’ but as long as he needed the roof he knew to keep his thoughts to himself. Each evening, the professor clung on for dear life and took notes about the way the shiny thing, blinked and the way the shiny thing, winked. Yet there seemed to be no pattern to any of it. It wasn’t getting any bigger in size, which led the professor to think that maybe it wasn’t headed towards Earth after all.

I will place it out before you, dear readers, what was puzzling the dear professor. Sometimes, even when there were clouds in the sky and no other stars were visible, the shiny thing still blinked and winked.

“Werry, werry, werry strange,” said Professor Grand.  In fact there probably wasn’t enough ‘werries’ in the world to cover the professor’s curiosity and worries. Sometimes it stopped, perhaps for a week or more and strangely on Christmas Day.

‘Curious’, wrote the professor in his notebook.

One sunny afternoon when Professor Grand was sleeping at his large house on the other side of town, two police constables called at the building opposite Mr Shrew’s Victory Mansions and arrested the man on the top floor. Apparently he had been going out at night on to his roof, standing on the top of the chimney and using his telescope to look into all the bedrooms opposite. From afar, the reflection from the telescope seemed to blink and wink.

Professor Grand died without knowing the truth.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Me and Buzz and the Candy Thief

FRIENDS

I’m sittin’ here writin’ and thinkin’ ‘bout all of the stupid, stupidest things that Buzz has ever done in his life and I gotta tell you folks, I’m kinda spoiled for choice. There weren’t a day that went by, that Buzz didn’t show us all how far you could go in the stupid stakes. The great thing about him was that he never, ever cared nor worried what folks thought of him, and why should he? Everyone, and I mean everyone, has got too much to hide when it comes to being stupid.

This particular story started way back in the spring of Buzz’ fourteenth year on this planet. There was the usual troubles with the Halfpenny Gang who lived on the other side of the tracks – those kids were real mean and it took someone like me and Buzz to kinda put things right and show those guys the error of their ways.

But one Saturday morning Beccy Foreplane had just walked out of Crazy Joe’s Candy Store with a sack full of the sweetest candy you ever did taste (gotta say, Crazy Joe made the bestest candy in the world) when all of a sudden some masked kid runs up to her and snatches the candy from right under her nose (and I mean literally – Beccy had a habit of tryin’ to shove candy up her nose – but I’ll leave that particular story for another day).

Well, I kid you not, I could hear Beccy’s squealin’ from the other side of town – she was that loud. When Beccy’s Pa heard the story, he put up a reward of a ride on his horse and a shot from his pistol. I know, it’s kinda crazy like, but they were different times back then, and I gotta say a ride on a horse and a shot at an old tin can were pretty fancy stuff to us kids.

No one found the culprit. Some said he was six feet tall and some said he was three feet tall. No one was real sure if it was a boy or a girl on account that the culprit was wearin’ a Charlie Chaplin mask.

Nothin’ much happened until the following week, when Chastity Tompkins got her chocolate candy bar stole from right out her pocket. Same description – he was either real tall or real small and he looked like Charlie Chaplin. This time Crazy Joe put up a reward of all the candy you could eat for a week (except for the chocolate covered ones – he drew a line at that). Things were getting’ real messy down at this store and he wanted to do somethin’ about it.

That was when Buzz had this real stupid idea. He was excited about the rewards being offered – the free candy, the horse and the shot and stuff and decided he’d catch the candy thief.I knew it was real stupid to ask him how he was gonna do it, but I did and sure enough he told me. So I’m tellin’ you now.

Buzz decided that the crook only stole candy from girls – so they weren’t no use us buying candy and leaving Crazy Joe’s. So Buzz decided that one of us (that being me) would dress up as a girl and leave the store with a sack full of the stuff.

When I went into the store, Buzz said I was to talk in a real high voice. I thought I was doin’ okay until Crazy Joe said, ‘Mornin’ boy – what can I get you?’

He didn’t even ask why I was dressed as a girl, and I ain’t sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Anyhoo, I stood outside the store talkin’ in a real high way, sayin’ things like, ‘Mmm, this is sure some real tasty candy’, and all I could hear was Buzz (who was hiding behind a bush) shoutin’ ‘make it louder’.

“Well I do declare, little ol’ me is sure gonna enjoy this candy.”
Nothin’ happened, except my Ma walked passed me and wish me a good mornin’. Now was she talkin’ to me? You know I worried about that for a long time.

After about an hour or so, and folks comin’ and goin’ and wishin’ me well and even sayin’ my name, I kinda thought that enough was enough.

Buzz said that I was too ugly to be a girl and that him, with his good looks, would probably pass better as a girl. So we swapped the dress and Buzz (who did look a bit like Beccy) walked out of Crazy Joe’s sayin’ that he was all alone and carryin’ a bag of candy.

Nothin’ happened again. Well when I say nothin’, somethin’ did happen. Buzz’s Ma was walking on the other side of Main Street and Buzz just shot his hand up and shouted ‘Hi Ma’.

That was when Buzz’s Ma kinda went crazy and walked into the middle of the street and got hit by a horse. Turns out she wasn’t that badly hurt, but there she was lying in the middle of the street and her eldest, bestest son was tryin’ to bring her around, dressed as a girl.

I remember I saw Mrs Sloan walking passed and sayin’ somethin’ about how that family had real problems since their daddy left.

We never caught the culprit and we never got no reward and Buzz had to do a lot of explaining to his Ma.
I still wonder, to this day, if my Ma knew it was me.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Just Keep Swimming

dory1

“I know all of this is crazy
Every last crazy second of it
And I know that there have been bad times
And good times, and times that it hurts so bad that
You feel as if your heart has stopped.
But there has been laughter too, and friendship
And all the silent victories.
And love, most importantly, love.
No matter what form it has taken.
So yeh, I know it’s crazy,
What with all of this going on
And no reason for any of it,
Yet I’m going give it a try for another day
Just to see what happens and to just keep swimming.”

bobby stevenson 2016

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Light At The End Of A Glasgow Day

cinema

His nostrils filled with the November smoke from a thousand chimneys as he turned down into Byres Road.

This being the second Wednesday in the month meant it was his turn to open up and get the heating on; it wasn’t too much to ask, but it still annoyed him. Here he was, a student at the university, the first in the family as far back as anyone could remember, but still he was expected to muck in with the ‘business’ as his father called it, or a ‘run down Glasgow cinema’ as Sandy described it to his fellow students.

The building had started off as a glorified hut in the early 1900s holding no more than about sixteen people, although Sandy’s grandfather tended to squeeze in, with a shove, another ten on a Saturday night. At a couple of pennies a head to show some old silent fare, it was a nice way of making money. A very nice way as it turned out, and his grandfather tried to find ways to make it even nicer.

When he heard that Roy Rogers and Trigger were in town he marched down to the Central Station with a bribe, if Roy and his horse would attend a showing of their movie at his cinema then he’d feed then fish and chips for a week. His grandfather pestered Roy’s people so much that they threw him out of the railway station without Roy ever knowing of the offer. The same thing happened with Laurel and Hardy and despite everything, the cinema still made money; tons of it.

It was because of the Majestic cinema – a cinema by the way which was tidy, comfortable and well maintained, that the family had found the money to allow Sandy to go to university to read English in the first place. It had also bought the families plush villas in the west of the city. So to call it ‘run down’ said more about Sandy than a plain truth about the building.

Sandy was twenty-three and a bit older than the rest of the student body in the English department. The others tended to come from families of bankers, shipbuilding and industry. Yet, despite this lucky start to their lives, not one of them could hold a candle to Sandy’s genius; a word he used as frequently as ‘run down’.

Sandy’s hands were freezing as he struggled to find the keys in his long overcoat. Once inside the cinema he was always hit in the face by the redness of the paint. No matter how many second Wednesdays he opened that door, the harshness of the decor always came as a surprise. As he told his classmates that very morning, the whole building was like a Turkish bordello and smelt worse. This had brought a pleasing chuckle from his student friends.

Mary was the Majestic’s ‘girl Friday’ and she loved the job. It involved selling tickets, orange juice and tubs of ice cream in the foyer and the ability to walk backwards down the aisles. The family was a pleasure to work for and after all they paid her extremely well.

Three things kept her there however, the first was that she really loved the movies, so in between her duties she could slide into a seat and get lost in the latest releases; American or British she didn’t care as long as there was a chance to laugh and moment to shed a tear.

The other two things  were the twins, Sandy and Donald. She had been in love with both of them for a very long time. Despite their similar looks they were very different people except in one respect, they both manipulated people to get what they wanted.

Sandy was the clever one; the one that everyone knew was going to go places. Donald was the physical son; the one who fought Sandy’s battles and would walk a thousand miles to protect his brother. Some people feared National Service but Donald graciously consumed everything the army threw at him.

There was a time when Mary couldn’t wait for the second Wednesday in the month as it meant she and Sandy could be alone, but  he had changed. Ever since he had started at the university, he had become someone else. He was still a kind person but now he liked to inform you of that fact.

Sandy’s kindness grated with Mary, to be done a good deed by someone and then to be told how kind it was  – well, it somehow destroyed the act. People who told you they were kindness itself were unaware that they were the most selfish of individuals. If you didn’t accept their gifts, advice, charity then you automatically caused them hurt – there was the blackmail, there was the aggression, this was Sandy.

Donald, on the other hand enjoyed life and living and although he was in the army, he would still refer to himself as a loner but Mary considered this just another way to manipulate people. Loners controlled situations by not being there, by removing themselves from the activity – they demanded to be noticed by their absence.

Yet, despite everything, they were all the best of friends and she did enjoy their company. Donald was on leave from Germany and was due to arrive that evening.As she walked out from the cold night and through the doors into the ticket booth, the place was beginning to warm up. It meant Sandy was down in the cellar stacking coal for the boiler.

The cinema was open six days a week and everyone rested on the Sabbath. This was a day for a meal with Sandy and his family which Mary was always invited to, as she no longer had anyone living.

Every second Wednesday in the month, Nessie and Ian McLeod, the boys’ parents would take the day off for a trip away. Sometimes it was Loch Lomond, or Edinburgh for the shops, or sometimes they would just sit in the back garden and read. Those were the days when Sandy and Mary ran the cinema and as a Wednesday was half-price day for the pensioners, it tended to be busy with those who just came in for some company or to keep out of the cold.

Today they were showing a couple of British gangster movies. Some of the older ones loved them, especially the women pensioners who seemed to like their baddies, really bad –  even if it meant they had to hide behind the popcorn from time to time. It was the coming attractions that also excited Mary, and one of those that was arriving any day now was Love Me Tender with Elvis Presley and Mary couldn’t wait.

She could hear Sandy singing in the basement, in the last few months it was always the same song, one she had bought him earlier in the year – ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’. At least Ian, Sandy’s dad, allowed that one to be played on the family gramophone, unlike ‘Rock Around the Clock’ by Bill Haley.

“What a load of rubbish. Whatever next? Rock around the clock indeed.” was Mister McLeod’s take on it.

She took two bottles of cola from the foyer fridge and went down to the basement. There he was, the English student, shovelling coal into the furnace and as she stood staring at him for a moment, he finished off his song. It was at times like these she was sure it was Sandy she loved.

Mary was just about to interrupt Sandy when there was a call from upstairs.

“Are you two down there?”

It was Donald and he was early. With his usual enthusiasm, he bounded down the stairs two at a time.

“What’s all this then, you two up to no good?”

Sandy dropped his shovel and embraced his brother who had spent three more minutes in the world than him.

“Let me give you a hand little brother, that way the three of us can get a drink sooner.”

The final movie was ‘The Good Die Young’ with Laurence Harvey and then the old and the wrinkled were ushered out quickly. There was a young couple kissing in one of the corners but when they looked up and saw Mary, Sandy and Donald all staring back at them, it killed off their ardour and they exited into the cold night with their lips still stuck together.

Once the theatre was checked for stragglers – as there had been folks locked in over night before – Sandy switched off the heating and shut the door.

“Where to, guys and lassie?” asked the ever energetic Donald.

Sandy wasn’t happy, “I’ll see you at the weekend brother and anyway I’ve got studies. I was going to walk Mary home, you see I’m kind that way”

“I’m only here for the night, I’m going on to a pal’s wedding in the morning” said a disappointed Donald.

“What about a quick drink at the Locarno?” asked Mary.

“Great idea” said Donald, “come on brother, what is it Granddad calls the movies?”

“Light at the end of the day” answered Sandy. Mary liked that expression.

“And that’s what we need now. Some light. One swift one in the Locarno then you can get back to your nonsense.”

The brothers didn’t say much as they sauntered up towards Charing Cross. The doorman at the Locarno wasn’t really up for letting them in until he spotted Donald and then the three of them were waved on.

The Locarno was half empty, or half full depending on your idea of a Wednesday night out. It was mainly full of  Italians who had closed their businesses for a half day, meaning they could stay open all day Saturday.

The Joe Loss Orchestra was the band for the evening but was clearly failing to excite the rich merchants of Glasgow.

Over in one corner sat a small man with greasy black hair. When anyone passed his table, there were calls of ‘Good evening Giuseppe’, ‘How are you Giuseppe’ or something in Italian that Donald didn’t understand but it annoyed him anyway. This Giuseppe character seemed to be staring at Mary but she had failed to notice the man since she was so caught up in a joke with Sandy.

It didn’t seem to matter what Donald did, he felt that he was never good enough for Mary. Oh he loved her alright, loved her big time, but he just couldn’t get her to notice. Since he couldn’t compete with his twin, he would take himself off somewhere alone, hoping that just once Mary would follow but she never did. Maybe Mary thought he was trouble.

Giuseppe was a short man, and with short men come big grievances. The little Italian managed to bump his way all across the dance floor, and given the sparseness of the crowd it was actually very good going. He bumped into Donald which was one bump too many. It would be wonderful in this life if we knew we were about to bump once too often, but that’s a luxury we never receive.

All six feet of Donald followed the little man into the toilet.

“Why are you staring at my friend?” asked Donald.

“Who is your-a friend?”

“The good looking girl with my brother.”

“Then maybe it’s-a your-a brother you should be having this argument with.”

As Donald pushed Giuseppe, he knew he was probably right in what he had said but he kept pushing none the less. The little Italian backed away until there was nowhere else to go.

“Look-a I don’t want-a trouble.” Said in a thick Glasgow-Italian accent.

“So you don’t want-a trouble?” mimicked Donald.

“Please, leave me alone-a. I begga you.”

All he meant to do was give him one more shove, but the floor beneath Giuseppe was wet and the little man hit his head on the edge of the sink on the way down.

Donald felt like running but instead he stayed and told the police everything – except that he let them think that Giuseppe Aldo had started the argument. Giuseppe Aldo, husband and father to six daughters,died in hospital three days later.

One little push, that was all, one little push that changed everything. This was 1955 and manslaughter was only admissible if it was in self-defence. The judge felt that there was reasonable doubt with regard to Donald’s story and the jury thought so too. As he had entered the toilet several witnesses reported seeing Donald in an angry mood and visibly drunk.

The Aldo mob cheered just as strongly as the McLeod clan wept when the death sentence was passed.

Donald was hanged on July 20th, 1955, exactly a week after Ruth Ellis, the last woman in Britain to be hanged.The Majestic was sold off to some big time corporation and Donald’s parents both died of reportedly broken hearts within a few weeks of one another.

Mary was the last person to talk to Donald before he was hanged. It had been at his own request.

“Stop crying Mary, please.” Then he whispered something into her ear before kissing her goodbye.

That something is what went through her head as she stepped on to a train at Glasgow Central and left her city forever.

“There will be light at the end of the day my darling, there will be light at the end of the day.”

bobby stevenson 2017

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A Letter To Me

head

You know.

I know you know. It’s just whether you remember the facts or not. The thing is, I must have learned to write and then I learned to live. We kind of knew it was always going to be that way – didn’t we?

Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably. I was always getting ahead. So I’ll just start at the beginning like most people would.

Dear Me,

I am writing you a letter from your past – from our past. I have been to the doctor and he has told me. He said it in the most matter of fact way possible. He looked out of his window, asked did I want a glass of water, then turned and said ‘you have Alzheimer’s’.  I said ‘sorry’ and he said so was he, I then asked him to repeat himself. And as you know and I now know, I’ve got Alzheimer’s.

What am I like from where you are? Are you reading this, or perhaps some help has found it and is reading it to you? Or maybe they are reading it to themselves and wondering if they should read it to you.

I just wanted to write to you – well, me, the future me, a letter to say goodbye and to say I’m sorry. Was it something I did, something in my life that led us down this road of sorrow?

I wonder what went first? Did you start to forget the lovers, you and I once knew? I always was proud of myself that I could remember all their names. It was always a little exercise I did on dark days – to remember when love and life were easy. When I had enough offers to be careless with those who had said they loved me. Forgive me.

My fear is that you – well, me in the future will be talked about by strangers. They will look at me with pity and tears and forget how young and alive I once was. Please don’t let them talk about me. Please don’t let them say I am mad. I am not mad – am I’m only dying.

Something we will all do.

I remember one of my lovers said to me, that you should never judge a life by how it ends. I was alive once, I was a child, a kid, a teenager, a lover, a partner – but all of those things are dependent on being able to remember.

And my memories are being cruelly stolen, so that in the end I am nothing. More than nothing.

I am not feeling sorry for you or me, for I had a life and that is more than some souls get.

I just wanted to write and say I love you, I didn’t always love you – learning to love yourself takes a lifetime.

I hope you are happy in your dreams.

With all the love in the world,

Yourself, from all the way back here.

X

(bobby stevenson 2017)

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Thing and Changed Days

thing

Thing was trying to remember when it all changed between the Creek boys at the bottom of the hill and himself. It was probably something to do with that snowball.

In the hot sultry days of summer, Thing and his gang of kids played at the Creek almost every day. In the winter they slid down the mountain snow in races of two or three. Old boxes were used for sitting in and Thing remembers it was the fastest he ever went in his life.

Then around about the time that Jimmy Jones got a new dad the situation began to change. Thing remembered Jimmy calling him ‘a freak’ under his breath. He was never really sure at first but Thing later heard Jimmy telling the other guys the same word and all of them stopped talking when Thing got up beside them.

Then there was a snowball fight and he was sure it wasn’t Jimmy Jones, or Robert, or Pete who threw it but whoever threw it, it hurt really bad. Thing felt a thud on the side of his head, then he saw stars and when he looked down there was red blood dripping on the snow. One of his friends had put a rock inside the snowball and it had walloped him.

Thing was wondering why someone would do that as he sadly walked back up home. Jimmy shouted to the rest of the gang that who ever did that should own up, but no one ever did.

Thing’s mother asked him what had happened and it was then he did a stupid thing. He lied. He told her that he’d slipped during one of the races and she told him he had to be more careful in future. But that lie was a biggie, because it was the first time he had ever done it to his family and he’d done it to hide the shame of what had happened – not that he fully understood it, himself.

Then life got cold between them. Not between members of the gang, you understand; just between the boys and Thing. They had spent their early years in and out of each others’ houses, having sleepovers, laughing and crying and hollering at life then all this happened.

Thing was sitting by the Creek one Saturday morning when the guys passed on the other side. Thing stood and shouted but they didn’t seem to hear him. Then he noticed that they were all off on a fishing trip with Jimmy Jones’ new dad. Jimmy saw Thing was about to wave when Jimmy’s new dad got them all in a circle and whispered something and they all laughed. Jimmy walked on without looking back at Thing.

Thing’s Grandma had told him that it was true what they said about sticks and stones breaking bones but words can never hurt. She said that when she was bullied in school she used to take the names they called her and she would turn them into something beautiful. So the next time that Thing was called a Freak – he took each letter and made it into something good: Fantastic Rock ‘n’ Roll Exciting And Knowledgeable. Okay Thing admitted he wasn’t Shakespeare and it didn’t kill the pain but it helped a little.

He still couldn’t tell his mother about the name-calling as he knew it would hurt her. He thought about telling the teacher but she always looked so busy, so every time a note landed on his desk with the word ‘Freak’ written on it he would smile, think about what FREAK meant and feel at peace.

Sometime in the autumn the police took Jimmy Jones’ new dad away for beating up the Chinese man next door. Jimmy never mentioned him again and things kind of went back to normal. The boys started playing with Thing again and there were more races down the mountainside but something deep inside Thing had changed. He saw that it didn’t take people much to turn on one another and that stopped him smiling sometimes.

No one ever put a stone in a snowball again but somehow it was always there.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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A Wet Finger in the Sugar

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I know how long you waited for the days

When all the good things would come tumbling from the sky,

And on one warm mist covered morning they fell

Not as you imagined, but they were all the greater for being that.

 

I know how long you wished for all the kindnesses

To fall into your lap –

Some landed in disguise but you grew to love them all the same.

 

You stuck your wet finger in that sugar

And had a taste of what happiness was

One taste was all that you were allowed and now you have to say goodbye

But remember this – there are some who never even got to dip.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2 wee bobby

The Ex Factor

ive-got-secret

It was another ‘Downtime’ – they were once called ‘weekends: Saturdays and Sundays’ but that was a naming that had long since ceased. When the Provost and his Cabinet felt that the country had done enough, then a Downtime was declared.

Of course, what the Proles didn’t know was that the Downtime wasn’t part of the higher Cabinet’s agenda – no sir, they had vacations and holidays, when and where they wished – much of the south coast was their property and was restricted for their use only.

The Proles could only take a holiday when it was assigned to them and then only to a designated area. But it was all for their own good and most people knew that. It’s like what that banned author had written in that banned book – ‘Freedom is slavery’: not that people bothered to read any more. Reading and writing had been abused by the Proles and for their own good, those arts were no longer taught in schools.

But one of the highlights of the Downtime was the Ex Factor – which was shown on screens all over the country. It was the only available entertainment, but then few knew what the word ‘choice’ meant anymore; it had been dropped from normal speech.

About half way through the show, when the audience were reaching their well-guided peak of excitement, the presenter of Ex Factor would introduce the Barabbas Segment.

This was where the four judges were presented with a dozen ‘crims’ – these were Proles, and sometimes Cabinet members, who stood on camera to admit to their heinous crimes of pedophilia, terrorism, conspiracy and anything else that could be attributed to them. Of course, in most cases they were nothing of the kind, they just happened to be in the wrong place or annoy the wrong Deacon (the Provost’s henchmen). But it was entertainment for the masses and the masses lapped it up.

When they had forced the twelve to tell their ‘scripted’ stories, these people were then made to act as foreigners displaying all the nasty attributes you would find in such a person – the ones who acted the best were saved for the singing round. In this round they would have to sing a song which told of their own wrong-doings.

At the end of the trials, four were left, the other eight were electrocuted in front of the audience.

It was then up to the judges to save one of the four – if they failed to reach an agreement (which normally happened) the vote was put to the television audience. The one with the highest votes was saved – the other three were thrown to the wolves in a pit below.

The one who survived was told of gifts and houses that they would be given at the end of the show – the truth was they were taken away and killed too.

Not that the Proles cared.

 
bobby stevenson 2017

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