Short Fiction: Breaking News, Episode 3

Following on from the well-received and successful posting concerning local Oxford news, and after much cajoling from well-meaning readers, supporters, friends, family and financial backers, this next instalment turns the eye-glass lens toward current European news.
With fluency is 17 languages, including Swiss, Swedish and Swahili (usiniamini?), I have picked out and translated truthful media reports from a variety of viewpoints on the latest political storm to hit European leaders. As with my previous instalment, all now left for me to do, is to insist and encourage you to enjoy! reading this latest humble offering and get on with telling you the story. So… without further ado, in an un-matrimonial sense, I do.

DON’T LOOK, NOW
In a move that has stunned the civilised world, French Président Jean-Michel Macron (39), looks set to introduce a nationwide ban on men looking at their female colleagues in the workplace. In the wake of recent sexual harassment cases springing up across the western half of the globe only, many view this as a knee-jerk reaction. Some are saying the president’s wife Marie-Claire Macron, 28 years senior in age and now struggling to maintain her looks, may have used her widely acknowledged and significant ‘motherly’ role, to influence her husband’s decision. When I telephoned the Élysées Palace yesterday seeking verification of recent statements made in the media, Queen Marie-Claire, as she is known to close associates, informed me ‘Petit Poo-Poo’ remained unavailable for comment.
The German Chancellor, Angola Merkal, in a press statement issued to the press in the early hours of today, is quoted as saying “About bloody time!” While the Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs has already tabled an amendment to any future EU-wide edict, proposing only looks proven as ‘lustful’, would actually lead to disciplinary punishment. The Italians, needless to say, are up in arms over the whole situation, with no one in a calm enough state to issue any intelligible response or be heard over the cacophony that marks a usual day in the Parliament Italiano. Further afield in Estonia, President Kersti Getlaid quoting from a much longer speech thought to be in support of France’s increasingly isolated top frog, remarked “We know few are interested, but we say let the people of the free world know the citizens of Estonia are riding up the behinds of our French counterparts.”
Editor’s Note: Although we feel the point made is valid and accurate, editorial pride demands we point out Ms Getlaid only began with her once-weekly English language lessons at the beginning of the year.
Even further afield, with his usual candour, the Australiana PM issued a statement through a senior official, which simply read, “HAH!” Asked to expand on this, the official returned minutes later with, “The Australianian Government believes Mister Macron is a prize prick and has no further comments to add at this time.”
The Former North American Territories are remaining tight-lipped, with Whitehouse officials seen pretending to ‘zip up’ their mouths when asked about the feudal feuds, brewing in the motherlands.
One thing for sure, the question people keep returning to and asking is how long before the ruling spills out of the office, out from the factory floor and TV studios, onto the streets, into bars, strip clubs and homes? When asked for his thoughts, a shady local businessman based in Paris on the west bank of the Seine, replied “Quoi? ‘Ow could I know? I cannot see it into the future! Imbécile.”
And there you have it, an excellent point to finish on. As a member of a group of predatory venture capitalists, my recent investments include a small start-up company working on a contact lens with an apparent fixed stare, meanwhile allowing the wearer to study an entire scene unnoticed. On a personal note, my stock in sunglasses has risen twentyfold.
“The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”

Next week, “Why?” At last, an answer to that age-old nut of a question.

OCD Stories: Perpendicular Pat (part one)

No one knew where Pat had come from or how he’d landed the driver’s job. A transfer from an outlying British Oversea Territory became the favoured theory, amongst work colleagues. As a tall and broad-shouldered man, no one cared to challenge or question Pat.
During the household waste collection rounds, neighbours noticed how he approached the job with his precision handling of a seven and a half tonne lorry. He avoided blocking roads, allowing the morning rush hour traffic to flow freely. This man, wearing his plaid patterned flat cap, possessed a unique sense of anticipation and spatial awareness. An observant, early morning dog-walker watching Pat’s progress on a stretch of his route, would easily discern these qualities. He regularly adjusted the large, off side wing mirror and rotated the steering wheel vigorously, first clockwise and then anti-clockwise. The grim look of concentration on his face revealed a man finely tuned to a task and a master of clutch control.
He kept everyone happy, timing the movement of the refuse truck at a pace which served the operatives perfectly. Walking distances for the men reduced, while reports circulated of coordination akin to a military operation. Looked on from above, the streets pulsated to a rhythm of efficiency.
The tips flowed in throughout the year, not only around Christmas time. During early May, mothers held children up in their arms to thread flowers into button holes and behind the ears of the bin men. They became used to receiving greetings, even short and pleasant conversations. As noted, everybody seemed happy.
Everyone, except Pat.
“Something is missing.” He’d told the crew, one Friday. “There’s something more we can do.” The men scratched their heads and chins, with no idea what this might be. A few humorous comments surfaced, which Pat ignored. “Go enjoy your weekend boys, rest assured I’ll work on this over the next couple of days.” They changed out of their workwear and left the depot in silence, wondering what Monday held in store.

The new week began without the expected revelation. No one suggested Pat looked dour, as the team worked diligently through their rounds. Contemplative fitted better and more accurately described his state of mind. Each time after they’d completed a section, he would climb out of the cab and stand in the centre of the road. Stood next to his white charger, large hands rolled into fists and perched on hips, this Roman General scrutinised each detail of what lay before him.
The same routine followed for the next three days. Mild disgruntlement formed amongst the ranks, as the length of the shifts extended to encompass the analysis. Overheard grumblings in the dressing room at the council depot on the Thursday morning, prompted Pat to address his men.
“I understand the frustration you boys have been feeling this week.” He said. His expression had softened from the intense concentration, apparent the day before. “Time is of the essence, I’m hearing you say. Well, it’s not and never has been on my watch. The essence we are dealing with here, is service.”
“Boss, we’re doing a great job,” piped up Jakub, a Polish man of muscular frame. “I heard from Sylvie at the reception desk, we are likely to win the Local Council Award for Excellence this year.”
“Now boys!” Pat raised his voice several decibels to be heard above the chatter breaking out between the men, at Jakub’s news. “Mark my words, it’s never been about gongs, it’s never been about how fast we work. The public pay for a service, the role falls to us and we are paid well enough by all accounts, to deliver that service.” Pat paused, waited for silence before continuing. “You remember what I said last Friday, you’ve seen me assessing our rounds. Well, tomorrow I am introducing a new element to the our responsibilities, it is simple and yet transformative.”
“Why can’t we start it today, Boss?” Asked Lando, an Italian originating from the whitewashed hill towns in the heel forming Italy’s boot.
“Tutto a tempo debito?” Replied Pat, quoting an Italian proverb. The men sitting around Lando avidly watched him to see how he would reply.
“Okay Boss, you know best, all in good time I guess, as you say.”
“That’s right son, all in good time. Next week boys,” Pat said, looking around at each one of the faces transfixed on him, “we are going to raise the bar for household waste collection. We’ll be putting our names down in the history books, nothing will be the same afterwards. Now let’s go out there today and tomorrow, looking after ourselves and each other, and get the job done.” A spontaneous shout of approval reverberated around the changing room as the men stood up and walked out, in line behind their leader.

(end of part one (part two to follow))

OCD Short Stories: The Waitress, Part II

 

The waitress hadn’t noticed him, sat in the corner at the back of the dining area. Knowing she had an interest in literature, Frankie mentioned him as he took the food order for a cooked breakfast, about how the man is a writer. She’d not heard of him before, the name didn’t ring a bell.
Mia felt he had a certain look about him, one which drew pity, sat alone by himself. “He rarely enters with a dining partner.” The cook said, “I’m certain he’s in here listening to the conversations of others, as material for his writing.”
Watching him, while waiting for the order to be prepared, she noticed his apparent discomfort. How he played around with the cutlery, constantly re-positioning the knife and fork, making minute adjustments to their placement on the table. By the time he had finished setting out the salt pot, pepper mill, coffee cup and a glass of water, the table resembled a chess board. How he thinks I am going to serve his plate to him without a mishap, I don’t know! Mia thought, I wish he would stop messing around. She found all his fussiness irritating.
Shortly, Frankie returned, whistling as he arrived from the kitchen carrying a plate of food. Handing it over, he nodded in the direction of the writer. “Look Mia,” he said, “it’s not so busy now, sit down and chat with him, he’s a regular, we want to keep our customers happy.” An encouraging smile spread across his handsome face. “Go show him he’s loved.”
“Okay Frankie, whatever you say.”
“And keep your thumb off the side of the plate and out of the beans,” Frankie whispered, “you see he’s particular about presentation.” Mia sank her chin into her neck and arched her eyebrows, balancing the plate elegantly atop her finger tips.
Sat at the table, the writer strokes his beard. He appears restless and proceeds to remove the round-framed spectacles from the bridge of his nose, folding and placing them onto the table. Immediately, he picks them back up and slides them into his shirt pocket. He senses the imminent arrival of breakfast. As is the tradition in the cafe, Mia calls out the order number and right on cue, the writer meekly raises his hand, as if excusing himself from a school classroom. She shows him a brief, half-smile in acknowledgement and walks over, deftly weaving around the chairs and tables. Why did he have to sit right at the back when there are several empty tables, located near the service counter? She wondered.
Mia had got used to men staring and mentally undressing her, while at work. She wouldn’t act upon it, but occasionally, she enjoyed the experience – if she fancied the guy. This man looked old enough to be her father and observed in a lustful way by him, made her feel uncomfortable. The young waitress felt a mild sense of disgust when she noticed his tongue slip out and run across the front of his lips, as she approached. She’d have preferred to wipe down tables, only Frankie had said for her to sit down and make conversation.

“Good morning!” she said, gingerly lowering the plate into place and sitting down in front of the writer. Surprised, the man spluttered something unintelligible and in the confusion knocked over the salt-cellar, spilling most of its contents across the table and onto Mia’s lap. “Oops! It’s alright sir, I’ll clear it up!” Again, she felt his intense stare as she cleaned up the spilt salt and wiped the grains from her hands down the front of her apron.
“I am dreadfully sorry Miss.” His cheeks flushed red. “I am so clumsy, please accept my apologies.” To Mia’s embarrassment, her tummy gave out loud a gurgle. Earlier this morning at home, she’d managed a coffee and a giant-sized maple syrup pancake. Having already completed the breakfast rush and countless circuits inside the cafe, pangs of hunger had started making their presence known.
While the writer’s normal colour had returned, Mia’s cheeks reddened as she took her turn to apologise. “Oh dear! I’m sorry about that.”
“Are you hungry?” He asked.fork_sausage
Yes I am, she thought. “Well, a little, I skipped breakfast today,” she lied, “never a good idea.”
“Look, please, have some of my food, here.” He pushed the plate a few millimetres across the table towards her.
“No, I couldn’t, that’s kind sir, but it’s your breakfast.”
“I insist, try some of my succulent sausage – and the hash browns. They are cooked to perfection and bound to satisfy a rumbling stomach.”
Tempted, Mia stared down the length of a Lincolnshire sausage, which the writer held aloft on a fork. Then, before she could take a bite, the sausage disappeared from view as he dipped it into a neat whirl of sauce, positioned on the side of the plate.
With sauce dripping from one end, the sausage returned level to her mouth. “Go on, eat it, you know you want to.” The writer’s smile twitched nervously, as if his facial expressions were not under his full control. Smiling, Mia decided to take up the offer and took a bite, followed by several more mouthfuls, until she’d eaten all of it.

Feeling guilt about having taken his whole sausage, she felt obliged to continue with some polite conversation. Wiping sauce from around her lips with a thumb, she said “Frankie mentioned you are a writer and a celebrity in this town. Is that right?”
“I’m not sure about the celebrity bit.” He replied, dabbing at a bead of sweat running down his forehead with a paper serviette. “But yes, I am a writer.”
“What sort of stories do you write?” She asked.
“My latest stories form part of a series, based upon obsessive compulsive behaviour.”
“That’s a coincidence,” she tells him, “I have my own story about an OCD episode in my life. Perhaps you’d like to hear it?” His eyes widened as he nodded his head enthusiastically.
“Yes, yes, please tell me.”
“Don’t let the rest of your breakfast go cold.” Mia says, pointing at his plate. “You eat, and I’ll speak.”
As the writer takes a noisy slurp of coffee, Mia begins. “It happened two years ago, not along after I’d arrived here from Sicily. The employment situation back home isn’t good, so having studied English the previous year, along with financial support from my family, I moved here. I found a modest one-bedroom flat to rent and set about looking for suitable employment. I soon discovered it’s not so great for work here either, is it?” Chewing on fried tomato and mushrooms, he held a hand up before his mouth and gave a muffled reply. With an uncertain smile, Mia continued. “Despite the generosity of my family, funds were running out and life had become stressful. My self-confidence drained away and I harboured doubts concerning my original decision to come here.” Swallowing, the writer made sympathetic gestures with his hands and nodded his head to express understanding.
Mia observed how difficult he found maintaining eye-contact. His eyes wandered and  she noticed his focus return several times to the area between her neck and the edge of the table separating them. “Finally, I got a job waitressing at a cafe on the north side of the city, run by a Danish man. He was a hard taskmaster, paying little above the minimum wage. All I achieved was to add more stress and exhaustion into my life. At this point, something changed.” Hearing her remark, the writer’s line of sight moved swiftly upwards to her eyes, giving her his full attention.
“One morning, walking to the bus stop, I couldn’t remember turning the bathroom tap off. I recall the sensation, best described as a wave of fear passing through me.” A shiver went through Mia as she hooked a loose strand of dark brown hair behind her ear. “Naturally, fearing the consequences of a tap left running, I felt compelled to return to the flat. Upon reaching the bathroom, I found both taps closed with nothing more than a drip hanging off one of the spouts.” Her hands opened up and she shrugged her shoulders. “Now this will sound stupid to you, but when I reached the end of the street a second time, I wondered if maybe it was the bath tap left running and not the sink. I returned to the flat, to find the bath taps and also the kitchen taps, all safely turned off. With a sense of relief, I set out for work once again.
“Throughout the day, I felt uncomfortable. I wished I had gone back through each of the rooms, checking all the taps one by one before leaving. By the time my shift ended anxiety had taken hold, as I willed the bus to hurry along on the homeward journey. I actually ran down the street in a panic, back to my flat. Inside, I only calmed down once I’d tried all the taps and made sure they were closed off properly, by tightening each one.”

“And this happened again, the following day?” The writer asked.
“And the day after that and throughout the whole week. It simply continued and got worse.” Mia stared across the table at the half empty salt-cellar, with a look of dejection across her face. “The number of times I had to return and check increased. Frequently, I’d just stepped outside the front door and then had to rush back inside. On other occasions I returned all the way back from work, making up an excuse to the boss.”
“It sounds like your day-to-day life had become very difficult.”
“Oh this was just the beginning. By the end of the same month, I believed I’d left the oven on, the gas rings, lights, heating, windows open, refrigerator door open and the frontdoor unlocked! I had to get up earlier and earlier in the mornings, to account for the time it would take to complete the multiple numbers of checks and return trips.”
taps (1)“I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you.” The writer said, pausing briefly before placing a forkful of hash browns and baked beans into his mouth.
“It became exhausting and ultimately, I avoided going out unless absolutely necessary.” Mia watched him as he chewed on his food, she had begun to warm to him a little. He’d sat there listening attentively and without judgement. She sensed a caring disposition in the him, which she hadn’t read earlier. First impressions, she thought, be wary, of first impressions. The man sat opposite her, who up to this point had been systematically working his way around the plate, looked directly into Mia’s eyes.
“You’re okay now?”
“Yes, I am.”
“How did you pull out of the nosedive?”
“Well, I’d become friends with another waitress at the cafe and she’d noticed how things were getting difficult for me. The truth is, the obsessive behaviour had crept into my work.” The cafe door opening for the fifth time in three minutes, momentarily distracted Mia’s attention. A number of customers had arrived, looking to get in and settled before the lunchtime rush. While mostly made up of individual stragglers, a group of several old men gathered around two tables lined up with each other. They chatted about local news, with one man critical of the new shopping centre project, now nearing completion.
“It’s been badly planned, badly designed and Oxford, doesn’t, need it!” He declared.
The writer brought Mia’s attention back to their conversation with a question. “How so?”
“Nothing too serious, re-checking customer’s food orders and change from the till, re-washing clean cutlery. In comparison to home-life, light relief I’d say!”
“How did the waitress help you?”
“She recommended a therapist who made home-visits, which suited my situation perfectly. A friend of hers, she’d told me, had seen him for just three months and from what she knew, he sounded pretty good.”
“So you called him up, how did he fix you?”
“Well, he arrived, a polite man in his forties, quietly confident, tall, bearded and stylishly dressed. We talked, he carefully listened. Both calm and relaxed in his presence, I felt an immediate connection. Unusual don’t you think, when meeting someone for the first time?”

Does she feel a connection with me? The writer wondered. He’d begun constructing a carefully worded question to ask her and find out, when Frankie shouted over. “Okay Topolina, cinque minuti!” Standing at the service counter where a small queue had formed, the cook smiled and raised his hand, fingers splayed wide.
“Sì, certo Frankie!” Mia replied, turning her head and smiling back at him. “For the first session, I did most of the talking, I told him everything I have told you. He listened attentively, rarely interrupting except when needing clarification. At the end of the hour, he said he understood life felt difficult and assured me we would work this through. When I look back, just him saying this made me feel a little better.”
“So he simply talked you out of the obsessiveness?” The writer asked, unable to conceal a sardonic tone, after ruminating over the earlier question of connection. “Did you talk all about your childhood and upbringing?”
“No, not at all. It surprised me, his approach was entirely practical. We could discuss my childhood for six months he’d said, that this may prove helpful and serve a purpose. Alternatively, we could strategise and act to resolve the immediate malady. Out of our discussions during sessions one and two, he devised and we agreed a plan to implement. Using my phone’s camera in the mornings before leaving for work, I photographed each set of taps, the gas rings, oven controls, windows, doors and light fixtures. Anything I’d ever fretted about. The photos showed everything turned off, or properly closed.” As she spoke, Mia had been pretending to take photographs with an imaginary phone in her hand. She finished by taking a close up photo of the writer’s face.
“How did taking photos help?
“Okay, the act of doing this helped put my mind at ease, the same as running around the flat carrying out a visual check. I noticed the difference shortly after I’d set off to catch a bus. On the first morning waiting at the bus stop, I felt a familiar flutter of uncertainty.” Involuntarily, the writer glanced at the waitress’ shapely chest, where her hand now rested. He could feel his cheeks begin to flush, as they were prone to do. Appearing not to notice, Mia continued with her explanation. “I took out my phone and scrolled through the pictures I’d taken and felt reassured. I continued to do this for the first week, looking at the photos a few times over the course of a day, whenever I needed to.”
“That’s still quite some routine isn’t it? Taking photos every morning all around your flat.”
“It is, you are right. But it bought me an extra hour in bed compared to before and over time, I began not needing to look at the photos during the day. Just knowing they were there on my phone, seemed sufficient. Soon, I felt more normal, like my old self. Calmness returned into my life, I slept better and adopted a healthier diet.”
“And were you keeping up with the counselling sessions?”
“Yes, I did. In the sessions we explored all these new experiences and the counsellor gave me encouragement and praised my progress. By our sixth and agreed final session, I had stopped taking photos each morning. I know this sounds silly, but if I ever felt a sense of anxiety rising, I just looked at the pictures I’d taken before.”
“Do you look at them now, nearly two years on?” The writer asked.
“No. I still have them on my phone. I haven’t seen them for over a year now. We agreed to one more appointment the counsellor and I, about three months after the last session. It served as a ‘catch-up’ session, to see how things were going.”
“Sounds sensible.”
“Yes, it was. He gave me one last strategy, which has proven to be of value. If I go away, visiting friends or back home to Sicily for a break, I defrost the refrigerator and turn off the gas and electricity at the mains supply. I take a photo of the inside of the meter cupboard, showing the switches in the off position. I do this as an insurance.”
“I see.” said the writer, placing his knife and fork together centrally on his plate. “So you wouldn’t say you are cured, so-to-speak? There remains a risk.”
“Yes, I suppose you could say that.” Mia replied, “You know, everyone has issues. I guess I have learnt how to manage my situation, which lets me lead a pretty normal life.”
“MI-A!”
They both looked around to see a line of customers queuing from the service counter, out through the front door of the cafe. Frankie standing with both arms held aloft in a desperate gesture.
The waitress shifted the chair backwards and rose from her seat. “I hope you liked my story Mr Writer, every word of it is true – don’t go putting it into one of your stories mind!” She said winking and wagging a finger, as she turned to leave.
“Frankie! Aspettami, arrivo!

i repeat myself

I wonder of the last meaningful word I’ll utter, mutter,
perhaps merely think of, for that matter,
if I have lost the desire or ability to speak.
As a baby, I know for sure,
repetition formed my world.
Habits grew.
The least most era, spiked around my teens.
But since then, an ever decreasing and spiralling descent has closed in around me
with usage of the same words and phrases, the same dialogues and stories.
My time will come, when without realising I tell my own children,
of an episode I have told to them only a short while before.
I can imagine their patient faces.
Unless, I am able to do an unknown, unspecified thing about this now,
stop all this repeating
and say something new.