Monday, May 19, 2014

Magpie Tales: Tea for Two, Dinner for One.

I'd like to say thank you
to  Magpie Tales
where this week's image is a 
delightful Edward Hopper.

It made me think of cream teas,
charming tea rooms,
cake-stands full of pastel pretty pastries.

In fact, it made me very hungry,
which lead me to those wonderful
fairy tales where someone's hunger
can be a very scary thing, indeed.

 Tea for Two, Dinner for One.

Two at table four, Margaret, please.” said the Maître d'. 

 Greta nodded, straightened her apron. She carried the heavy tray with the tea things and placed it, with demure ceremony, on the table. A smile, for the customers. 

The woman smiled back, her thickly painted lips as red as a glazed strawberry, then shrugged off a heavy coat to reveal a rather smart gingerbread coloured jacket. The man, however, just gave a hitch of his mouth and turned his attention back to the blank tablecloth.

“We have sachertorte and congress tarts.” Greta handed out the stiff, engraved menus, with their sinful miscellany of pastries. “There's the éclairs, of course, and the macaroons and tarte au citron and...”

The woman rapped her tea cup with her spoon. The ringing tone jarred Greta out of her rambling and she swallowed silent the description of patisserie.

The woman leaned forward, as if about to share a secret.”I think we'll start with the hot buttered crumpets and then we'd like to try everything that you recommend.” She gave a nod of her head, neatly wrapped in a cherry-red cloche.”Hans here is rather hungry, poor soul, so I'd like to make sure he gets to eat his fill.” She then stared across the table at Hans, who hunched his shoulders a little and nodded.

“Yes, Mrs, Cotter.” he mumbled.

Do call me Ginger, silly boy!”  Mrs Cotter suddenly tapped Greta's wrist with her fingers, flashing nails as white and smooth as blanched almonds. “Don't you think Hans is a silly boy?”

Greta wasn't sure what she thought. Hans wasn't a boy at all. He looked to be in his twenties, a good five years older than she was. Younger than the woman, though, so she wondered exactly what their relationship was. Mrs Cotter was older but not so old as to be his mother. A pampering aunt and a sulky nephew? Maybe. Maybe they were lovers, as Mrs Cotter's glances were full of greedy proprietorship as she smirked at Hans. He looked rather nice, clean and neat. He also looked utterly miserable. There were dark daubs under his eyes, as if he hadn't slept, and his face was all pulled tight. Maybe he'd been ill, she wondered? She gave him another smile.

No response.

Mrs Cotter lightly clapped her hands together, the movement releasing a fragrance of cloves and vanilla. 'Well, that's decided, then! Hans, pour the tea would you? There's a dear. No sugar for me.” She winked, rather coarsely, at Greta. “I'm sweet enough.”

Greta hurried away to place the order. She looked out the wide windows of the Woodland Tea Room, where outside the Bentleys and Talbots and Rovers splashed through the rain. The sky hung down grey, like wet mould. But inside, everything was bright and clean; the silver tea pots, the gleaming cake stands, the delicate, brittle bone china. All the conversation was muted, and broken by the happy silence of someone biting into a billow of light pastry. Genteel. Civilised. She smiled again, fluttering between the tables in her uniform, with the huge bow at the back making her a butterfly. A cake-bearing butterfly.

Returning with the imposing tower of delights on the cake-stand, she noted a strange scent. Mrs Cotter was smoking. That wasn't in itself unusual. Lots of ladies smoked in public. It was the 1920's, not the Dark Ages! But the smoke wasn't the usual acrid reek of tobacco. It smelled spicy. Greta stood the silver cake-stand on the table, for inspection. Mrs Cotter smiled and nodded, and blew a pale wreath of cinnamon-fragrant smoke over it.

“Thank you, dear girl. You really were very quick. Wasn't she, Hans?”

Hans gave the first sign of some kind of life. His head jerked up and he gazed around, like a sleeper woken by a sudden sound. Then he stared down at the plate, apparently transfixed by its design of hand painted ivy leaves.

“I'm not hungry.” he said to the plate.

“See?” Mrs Cotter gave her another vulgar wink. “I told you he was a silly boy. Eat up, dear heart! You're positively wasting away!” As Greta placed a plate and fork and napkin in front of the woman, she wafted it away, in a stream of smoke. “ No, no! Nothing for me! Nothing before dinner tonight.”

And with that, she rubbed a hand, pale as chantilly cream, over her little bun-shaped belly, smirking. Greta didn't know where to look and felt her face heat up in a blush. Mrs Cotter's simper changed to a plump pout of annoyance, as Hans continued to stare morosely at his plate.

“Come along now, darling. You need some meat on those bones.”

She gestured to Greta, who began to place frothy little confections onto Hans' china,  all the while feeling a prickle of disquiet. When his plate was a mound of mille feuille, choux, savoy sponge, meringue, macaroons and galette, Mrs Cotter struck the side of her tea cup with the spoon again, like a dinner gong.

Hans suddenly picked up his fork and began to put away the cakes as if he was stoker loading coal. A wedge of éclair. A whole tartlet, studded with raspberries. A cream horn stuffed with whipped chocolate ganache. As his plate began to empty, Mrs Cotter cleared her throat with some annoyance and gestured to the cake-stand.

“Dish him up some more, would you, and then bring us a fresh pot of tea and some more of these delightful pastries. Do you have any Linzer torte? Palmiers? I'm sure you know what to bring.” And with that, the woman leaned back, brushing some stray crumbs from her gingerbread coat, with its butterscotch glass buttons.

Greta was glad to get away. After returning with more tea and another tray glutted with confectionery, she was happy to wait other tables, with more conventional customers. Twice she was summoned back to Hans and Mrs Cotter, for more tea and even more cakes.

At five o'clock, Hans' resolute, mechanical shovelling had slowed. His face was pink now, and his sad, shadowy eyes were dazed and blinking. Greta saw Mrs Cotter lean over the table, producing a handkerchief, white as sugar, to dab chocolate sauce from his lips as if he was a child. He didn't move. He didn't move when she reached out with those almond-white fingernails and pinched his cheek. She left red marks on his skin.

“Oh, I think you're done, dear boy.” she breathed, then waved an imperious hand at Greta.

When Greta returned with the bill on its little silver salver, Mrs Cotter shook her head and pulled out another cinnamon bark cigarette.”I can't see all that tiny writing without my glasses.” she said, between tugs of scented smoke,” Give it to Hans. He might as well do something useful before dinner.”

Hans took the piece of paper with sweaty fingers. Then, with a chagrined expression, he showed Greta his hands were covered in chocolate ganache. He took up his linen napkin and began to wipe his fingers clean, one by one,  with great deliberation. Once they were cleaned to his  satisfaction, he opened his wallet and unfolded a crisp white five pound note, laying it gently on the salver under Mrs Cotter's amused gaze.

“Come along, dear boy! You don't have all night!” And with that, Mrs Cotter got to her feet. She stubbed out the cigarette in a rosette of whipped cream. Then Hans helped her into her coat, his face stiff with resignation.

When Greta hurried back with the change and receipt, Mrs Cotter just waved her away, impatiently.

But Hans leaned forward, gave Greta a polite tip of his hat. “Please, keep the change.” he muttered, and gathered all the coins into his dirty napkin, making a little package. He pressed the napkin into Greta's hands. “Please.”

“Come along!"

And with that, Mrs Cotter herded him out of the tea room.

Greta watched them go. She looked at the wreckage of the table, covered in cream and crumbs. Then she opened Hans' napkin, and the coins all tumbled out in a metallic cascade. Written on the cloth, in thick smeary chocolate  ganache letters, were the words


Afternoon Tea Party . Jean Etienne Liotard . 18th C

(Thank you so much for reading! 
If you would indulge me, I'd like to  point you 
in the direction of a giveaway, 
presently running on the The Narrator's Study.
There's all kinds of good things
being given away.
For free!
No cakes though, unfortunately)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Conversation with Oliver free eBook

is free to download from Amazon
18th to 22nd May.


If you don't have a Kindle,
no worries.
to your Mac, your PC or your very fancy phone.

If you go over to 
you'll find a giveaway in full swing,
celebrating the release
of this title.

And if you want more
(and who doesn't, right?)
where a doll
action figure
of the eponymous hero
is up for grabs!  

Oliver visits his tailor.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Magpie Tales: It's All Made Up

Here is another venture into 
with its weekly challenge of 
an intriguing image
and the freedom to do 
whatever you want with it.

Chair with the Wings of a Vulture. Dali. 1960
“It's all just made up!”

Sybil pushed the keyboard away in disgust. In disappointment, bitter as her tears. She'd sat up late into the night, tapping away fruitlessly, chasing a dream and now it was dawn. Another wretched day, full of noises and whispers that blistered the inside of her skull. Jealousy is a vicious beast.

All night she'd picked apart Google to find what she needed to know. She'd tried Voodoo. And then, Hoodoo. Witches. Wicca. Pagans. Heathens. Even Warlocks. She’d looked for spells and incantations and magic circles and secret curses and there'd been nothing. Just stupid hints and whispers of something better and bigger, just out of reach. Something hidden, like the little man behind the curtain.

“This is stupid. It's all pretend!” And she pressed her cold face into her hot, sticky hands and sobbed, howling like a kicked dog. It didn't matter how much noise she made. There was no one around to hear her.

Wiping her nose on her bathrobe, she peered again at the mosaic of windows she had open on the screen, pulling a mulish face at each one, with its scattering of symbols and hints of power and demands for credit card numbers.

“You all just make this crap up.” she sneered. “There's nothing there.”

Leaning back in the seat, Sybil stared out into the garden. The sky had desaturated to pastel grey, a new day was coming. Well, that was supposed to be all powerful, right? Stupid sunlight, bringing light and heat, driving away the evil things back to their lair..

Daylight also meant he'd be getting into his car, coming home, smelling of some sugary young perfume and eyes baggy with deceit and exhaustion. It wasn't just his infidelity, though that made her miserable enough. It was the lies, as if he thought she was stupid. As if he thought she somehow colluded in the act by nodding and saying, “Yes, dear. Of course, dear. Another late night at work.”

And she'd thought that there was some magical, powerful whatever out there she could use to fix this. Maybe she was stupid?

“It's just crap! It's not real!' she yelled, and threw the cup and its scummy cold coffee against the wall. It splashed in a sunburst on the white paint and ran like sweat.

Sybil got to her feet. She stared at the wall for a very long time as the blisters in her mind popped and oozed.
Just because it's all made up, doesn't mean it doesn't work...

She picked up the laundry basket and began shoving random things into it, in a panic of activity. The printer clicked and purred and matches hissed and bloomed flame as she worked. Muttering and giggling, she stacked the objects against the splattered wall.

An unfinished dream catcher.
The doll's chair made of spoons.
A pair of bird wings, from some forgotten flea market.
 The Woman.

Sybil cut out the photograph with sharp, savage slashes of the scissors. 

She'd gotten the image from his Facebook. She’d seen the pokes, the smileys, the stupid little hearts. She'd seen the messages, ending in a dot, dot, dot. All those ellipses, with their hidden meanings. And now she had the photograph of the Woman and made her a centerpiece of the rough altar. Sybil stepped back and gave it a critical glance, as if it was a flower arrangement.

It would do.

Magic was all made up. There were no great secrets, no hidden, occult recipe books. Which meant she could make it all up, just how she wanted, and imbue these tawdry items with the power they'd need.

The cross at the top was given a nod and a bowed head. She muttered words which sounded suspiciously like the grace they used to say at school.

“For what I am about to do, may the Lord grant...” she faltered, and thought hard. “wisdom, power and vengeance.” Another pause. “Amen.”

But how did she start? In that moment of uncertainty, the sun peered into the room. If she was going to do it, she probably needed to do it right now. Sybil threw aside her bathrobe and stood naked. She flung her arms wide, so that her belly lifted and her breasts rose and pink light bathed her flanks. She spoke to the altar.

“I don't know how to do this, but I know what I want to do. So you, whoever you are, can help me and heal me.”

She pointed at the candles.
“The light is behind her, so that when she walks, she walks in the dark. Bad things will happen to her in the dark. That is my wish.”

A gesture to the fraying dream catcher.
“Her sleep will bring no peace and her bed will be full of nightmares and they'll trap her. That is my wish.”

Sybil swept her arms up and down, like bird.
'When she speaks, a crow will thrust its head in her mouth and tear open her tongue, making her mute. That is my wish!”

A finger jabbed at the doll chair.
“....and when she sits, every chair will have a spoon and she will eat, and eat, and eat and eat and eat and eat, until she is swollen. That...' she sucked in a happy breath.' that is very much my wish!”

Sybil wiped her eyes on her hand. She stared at the runnels of brine, and flung them onto the altar, for sacrifice and yelled,
“ Grant my fucking wish!”

In the sudden silence, the sun bloomed bright, turning from pink to gold; dimming the candles. And Sybil felt soft wash of tranquility. She felt better. She felt calmer.

If this didn't work, it didn't matter. It worked for her.