Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark

Here’s a free story, to say thank you to everyone new who is following me (and all you lovely people who’ve stuck with me all along).

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark*

The orchestra pit smells of sweat and rosin. Here in the first violins the sweat smell is faint – it’s rarely a physical job, producing the sweet strains of fiddle music, unless they’re doing one of the long, complicated Mozarts or some tricky modern stuff. Of course, if the First Violin is playing a particularly demanding solo the sweat flies along with the fingers, and the ambience becomes just that bit riper.

Next come the cellos. There are interesting scrapes in the floor, marring its polished finish, all running more-or-less parallel to each other. The cellos’ points stab into the floor, and slip a little when the cellists really get going. The grooves are almost impossible to see in the darkness. They are sticky with rosin. It’s not pleasant to walk across this section – she does it on tiptoe.

It’s no fun going further forward. There’s that big box where He stands. He has a funny smell – pungent, spicy, makes you sneeze. Nasty – and the box is too high for a comfortable jump. Better to go back, into the woodwinds.

Here, there’s a faint metallic smell – flutes and piccolos well warmed up – and a whiff of the grease that lazy wind players use to make their instruments easy to adjust. The trumpeters are gone in a waft of Brut and Brasso, but further round some of the larger horns have been left behind, upended. She rubs herself on their fingerpads and winds round the chairs, heading for the percussion section.

This – this is her favourite part. Lots of things that swing, and glitter, and chime. It’s fun to pat the sleigh bells and knock them against each other. Tubular bells knock back, and she gives them a wide berth. It’s back here amongst the drums that the best smells lurk – yeasty, fulsome smells of large men with interesting body odours, drumsticks imbued with sweat and dirt, very nice to chew. And skins. The gorgeous, meaty, tantalisingly faint smells left in skins when they have been bleached and stretched out across drum heads, reverberating with the strangled cries of the creatures they once covered.

She jumps up onto the largest of the timpani. Its taut surface booms faintly as she lands, releasing a faint mist of dust that she analyses minutely, detecting the timpanist’s tuna sandwich lunch, his neighbour the triangle player’s athlete’s foot and even a faint scent of aftershave all the way from the rostrum. She sneezes and turns her back, and turns and turns again, enjoying the tiny vibrations that shake the skin. She settles down and regards her domain, before lifting a back leg and proceeding to groom her impeccable fur. The orchestra pit is ready for tomorrow, and the orchestra cat is ready for her evening snooze.

*Any relationship between this story and the New Wave group of the same name is purely coincidental.

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Making the Best of Things, or, Five Stay Home for Christmas. Part 2 – 5th December

Sugar

Here’s part 2. Page down to read part 1 of my Christmas story, or sign up to https://www.facebook.com/groups/737252102990447/ for Christmas with the Crooked Cats, a seasonal fest of stories from my fellow authors at Crooked Cat Publishing. I’ll post the rest of this 5-part story over the course of today. Enjoy.

“And then Lionel says to me, ‘it’s all sorted. You’re to stay with Anne on Christmas Eve, and either I or Liz will have you on Christmas Day, and the other one on Boxing Day. The only thing you have to arrange is your Travelodge on the journey, and tell Anne what time you’ll arrive.’ It’s typical.”
Val has been in full flight for ten minutes, long enough to walk up the lane and cross into the road that runs past the church. Annette’s beside her, listening, with an occasional sympathetic grunt to let Val know she’s still being listened to. Not that Val would notice if she stopped responding.
“I know exactly what the problem is. None of them want me. Christmas is ‘family time’. As if I’m not family. Anne must have got in quick and volunteered to do Christmas Eve, and now Liz and Lionel have to slug it out to see who has to have Mother on Christmas Day. I’ve a good mind to book a package holiday in the sun and tell them I’m not coming. That would serve them right.”
All the time that Val is talking, Karma pulls ahead, at the full stretch of his lead. His eyes bulge as he wheezes, trying to get one more centimetre of stretch out of his collar. Every now and again he makes ugly choking noises and Val releases another inch or two of the extendable lead, but he’s almost at the limit of it now. Saf is trotting beside him. Like a worried mother escorting a fractious toddler, she nudges him occasionally to break his stride. The distraction causes Karma to stop pulling for a moment, and gives him the chance to catch a much needed breath before he starts to choke himself again.
“I thought I might go to New Zealand. It’s supposed to be gorgeous there at this time of year. But you should see the prices they’re charging for air fares. Daylight robbery. I can’t believe they’re allowed to charge that much money for shoving you into a tiny seat, between a screaming kid and a shoebomber. Have you seen how many people they get into one of those 747s? Criminal. Anyway, I can’t afford it. I’ll be lucky if I can afford Portugal, the way things are going, that is if I still have a job in the New Year. Gone are the days when you put up with low Council wages for the job security. Nothing’s secure anymore.”
Behind the two women, Aggie strides up the hill, flanked by twin, white, bullet-shaped figures, each trying to veer in a different direction. They wear full harnesses, so pull as they might there’s no risk of choking. All that happens is that every now and again Max pulls a bit hard and Aggie yanks him back into line, momentarily lifting him off his feet. Each time this happens, Fliss barks at him. This ever-repeating scenario forms a percussive backdrop to the endless drone of Val’s voice. Aggie moves a bit closer and interrupts.
“Didn’t I see Sara Fraser at the bus stop with you again?”
Val takes no notice, but Annette turns her head while continuing to walk.
“Yes. That wee white dog is her Sugar.”
“West Highland Terrier, isn’t it?”
“That’s right. She’s a little darling. Bit jumpy and yappy for me, though. I prefer a big dog.” Annette looks complacently at Saf, who hasn’t needed a lead for years. On rare occasions when one is required (such as when walking at a beach or park adorned with notices specifying that ‘dogs must be on the lead’) she puts the lead on Saf and then gives her the end of it to hold in her mouth. Saf is perfectly happy to lead herself, and if anyone comments (as busybodies sometimes feel they have the right to do) Annette can point out that her dog is clearly on the lead, and the law has been complied with, to the letter.
Val is still talking. “I might just as well stay at home. At least then I wouldn’t need to worry about Karma. He doesn’t travel well, and I’m not sure kennels are the right place for him. They don’t appreciate his needs.” Karma pauses in his relentless struggle with the lead, to sniff an interesting deposit in the road before eating it. Saf sits on her haunches and looks at Annette. Eating another dog’s poo is definitely beyond the pale, as far as she’s concerned. Karma wags his tail and looks pleased with himself. Another successful foraging expedition. His face smiles as he pants, tongue lolling, and waits for them all to catch up.

Sara runs the duster over the glass shelf above the TV. She lifts the ornaments one by one, wipes and replaces them. Wafting the cloth over the bookshelf exhausts her and she sinks onto the sofa and picks up the remote control. Flicking through the channels, she leans back into her seat. Sugar whines hopefully and jumps into her lap.
With the dog draped across her knees, Sara settles down to watch. The other day she saw a pretty sapphire necklace she really wanted. Maybe today there’ll be something else she likes. Maybe today she’ll phone the number on the screen and order one. She knows she won’t, though. What would be the point of buying pretty things to wrap round such an ugly body?
Sara knows she’s ugly because her husband told her so, many times, before he died five years ago, still complaining. Before marriage, it had been her mother who told her what a disappointment she was. Now that her girls have grown up and left home, there doesn’t seem to be any point in trying to stay strong. She’s free to wallow.
On screen now, a massively obese woman is walking across a park accompanied by a fit looking man in shorts and a vest. Whatever he’s saying to the woman is drowned out by the little voice in the back of Sara’s head. “Pull yourself together, girl. How do you expect to find a man looking like that?” I got one, she thinks to herself. I got one all by myself. But she can hear Paul’s voice too, never satisfied, always wanting to improve her. “If you lost thirty pounds you’d be a goddess.”
Instead, she put the weight on, more and more of it, and now it’s a struggle to haul herself out of the chair and get back on her feet again. She does it: the program’s crap, and anyway she needs a cup of tea. On the way to the kitchen she takes one chocolate from the bowl in the corner. It’s only one. That doesn’t count.
While the kettle’s boiling she washes up the dishes from last night’s dinner. This is good. She’s in control of her life. Sugar sits adoringly at her feet, eyes fixed on her face, head moving to follow every movement. Sugar loves her. If it wasn’t for Sugar she thinks she might have just laid down and died when Kelsie left home.
Merys and Kelsie are Sara’s wee girls. Not so wee, these days: Merys is living in Dubai with her business consultant husband, and Kelsie’s at university in Glasgow. Kelsie’s going to spend Christmas with her boyfriend’s family in Aberdeen. They’re getting on with their lives. She’s glad of that: it proves she was a good mother. Neither of them is making the mistakes she did.
It’s lonely, though, now they’re gone. Some days it hardly seems worth getting out of bed, except for Sugar. With a sudden burst of energy, Sara gets the collar and lead and pushes her feet into her boots. It’s not fair on Sugar to keep her shut up at home. She needs a walk. Today Sara’s determined to make it all the way to the bus stop and back. There’s a flip-up seat in the bus shelter, so she can take a rest before heading up the hill to home again. She can do this. She’s doing it for Sugar.

Writing for Rescue

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Rescue-Karen-Taylor-ebook/dp/B00QZEI4GC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1418933255&sr=8-1&keywords=writing+for+rescue

Just published – all money raised goes to support an initiative that helps to treat (including spaying/neutering) and if possible rehome stray cats and dogs in Romania. Believe me, it’s a good cause. I’ve seen some of the conditions these animals are living in. I have two stories in this book, and there are other great stories in there – something for everyone, and it’s only £3.92. We’ve all donated our stories, and Karen Taylor has worked like a demon to get it published in time for Christmas. Go on – put that extra packet of mince pies back on the shelf and do your mind and your waistline a favour – and help out a few creatures along the way. You know you want to.

Leroy and the Camel – A Short Story for Christmas

Here’s today’s offering from the talented authors at Crooked Cat. Don’t forget, there’s a great range of titles and it’s not too late for Christmas posting! https://www.facebook.com/groups/737252102990447/?fref=ts

Vanessa Couchman

Christmas with Crooked Cats

Continuing the Christmas with the Crooked Cats seasonal feast of literary offerings, here is a short story about a Santa with a difference.

Apologies for the possible lack of political correctness. Not to be taken seriously.

[P.S. Check out our books at the Crooked Cat Bookstore – plenty of Christmas ideas there.]

Leroy and the Camel

It was Leroy’s 25th year in the store as Father Christmas. He hated it a bit more every year.

When he applied for the job, Ralph, the Toy Department manager, had sucked his teeth.

“I don’t know; a black Father Christmas. Mmm. Well, why not? It’s a novelty. Might well draw in the punters.”

Warming to his theme, he mused out loud, “Since you come from Africa, we can’t have a reindeer. What do they have down there? Lions – no that’ll frighten the kids. Elephants – too big. I know – a camel!”

Leroy sighed…

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A Musical Comedy of Errors (flash fiction prompt ‘the wrong end of the stick’)

It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t even realise the stick had two ends. They should have spelled it out better. Spelled it out. Pfft. Lol.

Let me explain. It all started at the audition for ‘Cats’. At least, the audition went pretty well. I got the part. All I had to do was make like a cat – you know, all that preening and pawing and making eyes at the Rum Tum Tugger. Well, that was no problem: Doug Airtson is dead easy on the eye. I could look at him all day long, in his skin-tight tights and his tabby-stripe stage makeup. That boy has definitely been working out.

Luckily I didn’t really need to be able to sing. It’s all kind-of tuneless yowling. I mean, I know Lord Whatsisname wrote some nice tunes for it, but us chorus types just have to hum along, you know. They didn’t really ask me to sing at the audition. That was a bit of a surprise, but after I’d got down on all fours in my skimpy leotard and arched my back and wiggled my perty kitty bottom, that seemed to be all they wanted to see. Nailed it, straight up.

The first rehearsals were a bit boring. I learned my cues straight away. No-one can accuse me of not being quick on the uptake. But when you’ve seen one bloke in tights you’ve seen ‘em all, and the Rum Tum Tugger might be a bit of a sex symbol in the script, but I can tell you for free in real life he’s a minger. Always got his hands where he shouldn’t, and frankly he could do with a wash. It’s amazing what an actor thinks he can get away with just because he has pecs to die for and can hit top C.

I got a promotion, toot sweet. Special assistant to Mr Mistoffeles. I didn’t have to do much, either. It was, like, totally not my fault that pretty little tortie kitty tripped coming off stage and broke her ankle in the lighting pit. I only meant to shake her up, after that mean comment in the dressing room about no amount of cold cream being enough to hide the signs of a common alley cat. I’ve always had faith in fate – if you act nasty, stuff will happen to you. Though fate sometimes needs a helping hand.

So, there I was in the wings, looking like butter wouldn’t melt and the director shouts ‘You! Get over here.” I look all around, like I think they mean someone else, though there’s no-one else there. Get in! Now who’s saying I can’t act? “Hold this. It’s Mr Mistoffeles’ dancing stick. You need to give it to him just before the end of the second chorus. Red end up. That’s very important, girl. Are you listening? Red end up, green end down.”

Am I listening? I was born listening! Anyway, it goes like a dream, the director says it’s perfect, he explains how on the night when Mr Mistoffeles bangs his staff on the ground a firework will shoot out the top – because he’s magic and all that. I don’t really listen – it’s all yadda yadda, and I’m too busy getting all dreamy over Mr M – he has the most gorgeous eyes underneath his cat-mask thingy. Dreamy. So I’ve got the part. I get tickets for my Mum, since it’s a big promotion, I’m not just any old yowly kit cat any longer, I’m a Cat. I’m Mr Mistoffeles assistant cat.

Opening night, and the director’s making his last minute checks. I’m in the wings holding the stick and he’s all like ‘red end up, green end down. Have you got it Kitty?’ Yes, I say, my eyes fixed on Mr M. They say he hasn’t got a girlfriend. If I play my cards right that situation might not last too much longer. The second chorus starts and I tiptoe out on my cute little kittycat feet. He holds his hand out without looking and takes the stick from me. The chorus ends and the saxophone wails out, drums are beating, cats are yowling, everybody in the audience is spell bound by the magic Mr M and he bangs his stick on the stage and all hell breaks loose. A firework shoots out the bottom of his staff, bounces off the stage and falls into the orchestra pit. Next minute there’s sparks flying up, the saxophone has gone squeaky and the audience are all screaming.

I mean to say, what a fuss. It was fine. The audience stopped having hysterics and were allowed to go out and have drinkies a bit early while it was all sorted out. The saxophonist had a wee lie down, and he was only burnt a little bit. The FX guys sorted out the stick and Mr M came back on and did it all perfectly. They wouldn’t let me be his assistant anymore, though, on account of having given him the stick green side up.

It’s not fair. One teeny weeny mistake and I’m out of a job. I should have stuck with the Rum Tum Tugger and his roaming hands. It’s all that director’s fault. He never even asked me if I was colour blind.